CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Winter Visits against His Cell
James Robbins


I used to live in an office, or rather, there used to be an office where I live.  People used to come here and rent things, places to put their extras, places to store the artifacts they were trying to forget.  Now they let me live here—so long as I keep an eye on the places, so long as I make sure the objects aren’t liberated from their places.  When I’m trying to sleep people knock on my door, want to know The Secret Code.  This isn’t the office.  This is where I live.  I’m not allowed to give out The Secret Code and besides, do you really suppose they’d even begin to make the mistake of trusting me with The Secret Code?  That’s what I tell them when they come around here, anxious to reinflict themselves with the gravity of their objects.
     It’s short enough to sweep, this office carpet, so I open up the door, sweep out the latest plague.  Clumps of hair mostly nowadays, because—just as I’ve always suspected—I’m beginning to shed, to prepare for summer, only it’s winter still and things are not going as planned.
     And listen: there are people all around here that are missing parts of things.  They corral them here together, supervised by individuals closer to being finished.  One of them, he wears an enormous wooden shoe—because he is lopsided, because he is inclined to totter round and round in exponentially shrinking circles. (A brick has been installed in one of his shoulders to alert passersby that he is incomplete.) Others try to swallow the smaller parts of themselves, try to invent these collisions for themselves.  Not enough rubber and glue, popsicle sticks, whatever may be attached, whatever may build a house that would withstand the constant assaults of electricity.
     I watch them from across the street, from my little ghost of a structure, directing them here and there with gestures of biblical proportions, pressing them here and there to pluck another bone from the steaming heap, to reevaluate the geography of their situation, to demand something more from the wind-swept portions of their creatures.
     On the side, I am learning a vocation.  For this I’m allowed: a booth, a chair, a shirt with my name attached to it.  People come up to my booth—affording themselves a quick look at my name, in the event that I am surly—and expect me to do things.  Even when it is cold, they have ways of making their skin hold still, ways of shuddering off their pores from the diseases of my breath.  The girls, I mean.  Their lips are patched with scales—winter having landed most severely on certain parts of their lips—so they paste them over with red to prevent them from disengaging from their faces.  They invest their walks with a memory.
     “I’m in touch with The Man,”; I say.
     Or: “You’ve come to the right place.”
     Or: “Those shoes … I don’t understand the latest trends in footwear.”
     Her sweater conspires around her to prickle me with a suffering.
     And a radio.  I forgot to mention that I am also allowed an a.m. radio.  It receives only one station and it leaks a foggy sort of music which is angled all wrong, which shudders along damp, dangling strings. (Crash some kitchen things together, club a dead walrus underwater, slow a siren down to a crawl—placing the whole mess in a semi-vacant jar of fuzz and that is the sort of music we are talking about.) When the sky goes away for me, I crouch into a corner of my booth, knuckles clawing at the window lip, dark figures crashing all against my booth, demanding desperate tasks of me, and all the while this static music flapping, flopping, straining for an empty moon-pinched place to inhabit.
     Consider me for a moment, an attendant to all things parked.

So there she is now, limbs buckling beneath her safety helmet, weaving her tunnels of wind, sucking up the cold gashes of air.  Her slow-thick tongue is stuck there in her mouth, dry and gurgled with seizures.  And do I really expect her to collapse upon the snow, to arc her arms and legs there, to press the fossil of her angel there into the snow?  From across the street in a wooden vessel I watch her, my palms searching there against a humming pane of glass, my breath pluming white beneath the naked current of a bulb.