CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Catherine L. Kasper
When he bent his right arm up and around his head like a piece of drainpipe, he discovered he could focus on the fraction of a second between the green and white lights of each plane. This way, he could distinguish them from the stars that, even without his squinting, seemed to sway in the night sky. Planes emerged every two minutes, their passage occasionally intersected by what appeared to be a helicopter or some type of powerful, military jet. With his neck strained upwards, he sometimes could make out the small, golden windows and the shadows of the passenger’s heads peering downwards; as long as he was there to see them, they could not fall from the sky.
The compression of his nerves and muscles twisted his spine, and gave him acute headaches that made flashing lights flicker before his eye. His right arm, a heavy but necessary device, acted as a reinforcement for his weighty skull. Eventually, it lost feeling through the entire shoulder. Lightning produced the last stirring of blood in the contortion of his upper torso, where the spectacle gave him goose bumps. Soaked in cold rain, he walked home, satisfied with having learned to recognize the stringy cirrus that preceded thunderstorms.
In time he found he could not tie his shoes, nor gaze upon his own feet where he could feel his toe nails piercing through his socks. Unable to see his own penis, be suffered a punch in the eye for spraying the man next to him in a public rest room. Oddly, the swelling caused no pain, only a temporary darkness shadowed his sightings of public buildings. Within them, he studied iron ceilings, acoustic tiling, wooden lintels, and beams until someone inevitably returned him to his purpose in the natural world.
Gradually, he became enraptured with undersides: paint peeling from joints in gutters, the pale bellies of birds, the architectural appurtenances that supported the globes of street lights, and the proliferation of fraying, electrical wires. The world above his head was full of bird shit; it coated roof tiles and streaked clusters of cones on the top quarter of spruce trees. It encrusted viaducts, porch awnings and every cantilevered platform.
When he went to sleep at night, he contemplated the cracked plaster that formed a topographical map over his head in his attic apartment. He pasted glow- in-the-dark stars on the ceiling so that on cold nights, he could continue his watch on these symbolic counterparts. When it was warmer, he wandered the parks in the evening, fascinated by the sulfur street lights, Orion’s stretch, and the shaved moon. He learned to navigate through his neighborhood by cornices and transformers, sunlight and chimneys. He no longer kept up with plane routes, as he took on bird migrations and clogged rain spouts; a single glance from him graced each vista, insuring its safety.
The optical responsibility for this magnificent clerestory seemed to suffice, until he found that foot blisters and curled toe nails prevented him from putting on his shoes. In his celestially evolved stature, he could not examine his feet, or risk the dangers of walking barefoot.
Resting on a park bench with his neck bent into its permanent open hook, he decided he needed to find a wife. She would be a woman whose osteoporosis cultivated an earthly gaze. Awestruck by soffits, he would rely on her downward fixations, of mud, insects, rock. Her days would be spent combing the sidewalks for slivers of plastic and glass, aluminum cans, shoes, and bits of string, for microscopic creatures that he guessed must inhabit the lower world. She would be his perfect compliment, stooping where he stretched upwards, informing him of debris in his path. She could pare his toe nails, bandage his blisters, pick out his clothes, while he could teach her about tar paper roofing, tell her which days required coats or umbrellas.
She will stroke his chest, kiss his stomach. His hands will run through her hair whose texture he spends the rest of his life admiring. With his left hand, he scratches her scalp in order to observe the dead skin follicles under his nails; this is what he knows of her night after night, as she sleeps, her lips pressed against his groin. He rests his left hand on her magnificent scalp that smells of sage. When she grows weary, he tells her about the people who fly over her head, describes the curious shapes of clouds she will never see, and his atmospheric maintenance.
Nevertheless, she treasures newly salted roads, subway stairs, and car tires. She knows what makes those scurrying sounds along the train tracks, and sees what creatures are crushed under boot heels. Yearning to have her own domain, she stakes out a small patch of mud at the backyard foundation of his attic apartment. There she breeds earthworms, and beetles, ants, roaches, and anything born from the seeds and pods she collects in her daily scouring of the ground. She stands on a chair to spoon feed him thick soups that taste of earth and cement, roots, and leaves. From his window, he watches squirrels travel the wires, knowing she must be examining nails protruding from the floorboards.
He imagines that one day, he might rise from his bed, follow the crack in the ceiling to the bathroom, and on his way, step on pins she has carelessly forgotten on the floor, and puncture the soles of his feet. As an automatic reaction, he would reach for her and in doing so, crack his neck. Or perhaps, he will step on her village of mud, crushing its inhabitants who evolved from mere peat, and giving him an admonishing glance, she will sink to the floor sobbing. Unable to observe her tears, would he blind himself by staring directly into the sun, then fail to prevent her slip from a window ledge?
Why should these things happen? After all, he has been watching the sky for some time now, and has prevented it from falling. The moon will never leap from its orbit, and even the fiercest winds eventually calm in his sight. Altbough he no longer knows exactly what ground looks like, it holds steady below his feet supporting him as he studies church steeples. Occasionally, he has tripped over some object, and prone on the solid ground, the sky seems even farther away. Each time, he feels anxious until he can manage to get on his feet again, with the help of his left arm, measuring his ascent from edge of cloud to edge of cloud. To stare into each other’s domain, he reasons, might be their certain doom.
Her surveillance would have to prevent the earth crumbling below his feet, from cracking down the center to swallow him whole, while his must control the toppling of high rises, keep the satellites suspended. He decides she requires a basement apartment, one that would naturally cultivate dampness, and lessen the opportunity for visual intersection. There she nurtures her creatures— centipedes which slink into the drains—terrariums of insect larvae, moss. He has plush carpeting installed to soften her gaze. She grows caterpillars to reflect his sky. In the attic, he stands on a ladder to clear the cobwebs from the beams. At night, she counts the hairs on his stomach.