CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
From The Hour Sets
Michael C. Boyko
The researcher walks to the nine o’clock station and circles the cube, taking notes and making sketches. He removes a symbol from the cork and folds it neatly, slipping it into his pants pocket. He examines his fingers, rubs them together, then wipes them on a nearby towel. He walks to a pole and lowers a flag, removes it, then removes his sweatshirt and hoists the garment to half-mast. It lies limp. He re-lowers it and puts it back on. He picks the flag up off the ground and dons it like a cape. He leans against the pole and begins his ninth list.
Objects found at Station #9:
A cube of cork on a tripod stand, acting as a six-sided bulletin board, adorned with symbols inked onto paper and attached with thumbtacks. The symbols relate to no known language.
Several flags embroidered with symbols similar to those on the cork cube. Some on flagpoles raised to different elevations, some laid flat on the ground, facing up or facing down and weighted with stones, some folded simply or elaborately, some in crumpled heaps, some torn, or with portions cut out.
A small terrycloth hand towel, baby blue, folded into a square, slightly damp.
A book binding, front cover, back cover, and spine intact, but all of the pages missing. The cover reads Emotion as Entertainment by Muriel C. Brankoff, Heritage Potts, Editor.
I know this symbol, mine, but beyond that. It is my symbol, I have come to call it my name. Remove it from the cube, an empty place now on the north side. Take one from the top, single clockwise turn, pin it in the space left by mine. The flags come to life, snap west and ripple. Reach underneath, invert, fill the space on top. The animals become aggressive, begin to surround me, quickly replace the slip to calm them back into the trees. Try it from the west, keep it static, the late day sun scatters the clouds. Better. Rearrange the west side to no effect. Cautiously take from the bottom again, clockwise once, fill in the exposed west corner, my right hand goes to sleep. Ignore it, go east to bottom, north to east, south to north, top to south. The shadows detach and move along the earth, shapes fall out of my flags. I place my symbol on top, and this all goes away.
Sometimes I like to take a break and wash my hands. There is a rocky stream not far, small pockets of clean water appear after lunch, quickly warmed by the afternoon sun. I bring a small towel, spread it on a sunny rock so that it, too, is warm. I roll up my sleeves, neatly above the elbows. I sink my hands into the warm water and begin to work each in turn inside the other. When the water is so murky that I can no longer see my hands at work, I am done. Shake vigorously, pick up the towel, squeeze my skin into the terrycloth. I leave my hands a little damp, refold the towel, unroll my sleeves, walk home with the wind between my knuckles. When I return tomorrow, the water is clean.
My name has been struck through. Someone has come, decided to draw a clean horizon line, probably with a ruler or some other straight edge, straight through the center, I did not know my name had a center, someone else has found it. The environment no longer responds to my manipulation of the symbols on the slips. I have been crossed out, dismissed, no longer considered a variable. In my anger, I slowly remove each slip, begin striking them through, until I stand in a barren field, my hands covered in ink, unemployed and with no prospects. Directed toward a way to act without benefit, without hope.
The researcher walks to the eleven o’clock station and checks his hair in several mirrors. He picks up a small gold statuette and reads the inscription. He takes the loose book binding from his pack and reads the spine, then makes a note in his own book. He dons the mink, applies some powder, and pops the cork on the bottle, slumping into the chair beside the cosmetics table. As he drinks, he makes his eleventh list.
Objects found at Station #11:
1 faux mink coat. 1 bottle Veuve Cliquot, 1978, empty. 7 blurry tabloid photos of a woman in a two-piece bathing suit and dark sunglasses standing next to a man in swimming trunks standing beside the ocean. 1 small gold statuette of a naked woman standing straight and looking up. The base of the statue is engraved and reads: Muriel C. Brankoff [scratched out] of the Year February 26, [scratched out] 1 compact w/mirror. 1 cosmetics table with 3 mirrors set at angles to allow for full viewing of the complexion. 1 full-length adjustable mirror. 1 small stool with an angled mirror attached to the bottom, for viewing footwear while standing. 1 tax form, listing deductions for donations to various charities. 1 expense account record.
I win. What did I win? A good year, this. A false idol. I couldn’t kill a thing if it were already dead. No. How could I. I have kept. I have given. I have kept it up. Given. It. Up. Kept.
This Page Is for Things and Their Cost
There you are small face. You need more powder every day. There you are faces. All disguised to look the same. Cover yourselves. There you are feet. All dressed down and locked in a cage. There you are body. What's your excuse? Stand straight, now, hands by your sides, no touching. Look up. Not at me, up.