Fiction: Selections from Addison Zeller

Let Me Go Through It Again

Let me go through it again. I approach from the street, stop to note the address, focus on the door: I don’t know it. Doors aren’t so different from each other, they act the same, at most they have a different color, and in time they are repainted. There’s always the time factor, which I’ll call the memory factor: I don’t mean for the two to be conflated, but they act, as I see it, like a jack-in-the-pulpit, though I’m not sure what’s the jack and what’s the pulpit, and a door will become many other doors in a memory—as many doors as have entered it. It’s not unusual; people’s faces, in the memory, gravitate to near-resemblance, eyes and noses overlay, doors change color and acquire windows, panels, and noises when they open. It’s a lucky thing to find unlocked: so lucky the mind catches on the fact, the thoughts drift off, night comes on. Let me go through it again. The car drops me off, don’t focus on the car. If I focus on the car I’ll picture the inhabitants, the different faces of the inhabitants: then I’ll go off with them, whether I want to or not—it works that way. Only look forward, not back: approach from the street, note the address, accept the door, open it. Call inside? Call inside. Call deep inside. No light on. There’s light on the porch. It falls on the glass inside—a hanging picture, a mirror, whatever it was—and a bookshelf, dust jackets, glossy ones that pick up the light faster than I pick up the atmosphere. Strange the sense that a feeling should come back immediately; more often you end up wandering in search of one thing at least. One thing your memory can latch on. The glass shivers. Feet are coming. The house remains dark; it was a mistake to call in; mistakes can’t be made good. Let me go through it again. Car stops—always need a catalyst, a sequence of events; needn’t be logical on paper, only convincing in the instant—car opens. I approach from the street, presume the number, push back the door, step in, switch on the light I know to be there. I say I know but I mean guess. The probability of a switch by a door. A lamp on, first memory back: now it comes. The strange thing called now. The waitful quiet: now it comes. The motionless humming of a house that waits to be returned to; all houses you’ve lived in have it, not just the one you live in. First instinct: not to find my bedroom, but the backroom, a room we had no designated use for; it was merely the backroom, where everything seldom needed went. That means passing through the living room, the kitchen, and the door to the backroom. I halt here. I have no faith in my power of description; it’s marshland to me. It’s good to see the chair and the bookshelf, to see that it is a mirror: I try not to focus on the face in it. The kitchen is smaller, dirtier than I remember; everything is closer together—the sink, the table, the cabinets: of course you have to expect this, nothing is learned in proportion. There are stains, I remember, on this floor; the way the basket weave of the chairs frays is familiar to me. The backroom door must always be opened with a little shove and the enterer must always remember there is one step down, there is a motion sensor light in the garage that entering at night flicks on. The windows gleam cold white. The enterer must be sensitive to that. The smell comes back. Potting equipment was stored here once and the smell is that, potting equipment. They’re here, what I entered to see: the plant boxes my mother tended, the glass cubes and terraria of thickly spreading plants that fold and bend over the edges, selves in their own world, trembling in their own air. There is no rain in these boxes, only a humidity of their own, an atmosphere of their own concentration. In the intervening years, the plants have felt their ways over the edges and toothed holes in the glass. They have learned to cling to the windows.

Behind The Mirror

Daytime is nighttime for them, night is day, and I suppose that’s how they go on, doing what they did living. That’s what I think, since if you break down what happens—cabinets opening and closing, the dryer lid lifting—you see what they’re trying to do. To me it’s comforting to know they’ll do it if I’m here or not. They’ll continue to talk through the same vents if I listen or not; they’ll continue to touch, but not successfully open, the doors in the hallway. Nothing to do with me. When you know that, you’re reconciled, aren’t you? No different from living with family, a roommate, a tenant, or a friend: separate lives in the same place, that’s all. There’s so much to do in a day, and if at night you can shut out other noises—cats in heat, for instance, and god knows they’re out there, circling the house, and they sound so sad, crying and wailing, until you remember what they’re after—well, you follow me. I lived with six brothers and sisters and two old grandparents and one uncle who kept to himself. I know full well privacy is impossible, solitude untrustworthy. To be alone is the same as being neglected or forgotten and I never wanted that, even if other people did my nerves in, or set me off: I made allowances—it was the price of being remembered. I never had ten minutes of my own; someone always barged in, saw me naked, undignified, and I had no illusions about them either. The same is true now: to see another face, I only need to wait until the mirror rattles with footsteps. And I was like that: I used to drift from room to room, looking to inflict myself on someone—even my uncle if I had to. He was the easiest mark. He noticed me more than the others, and he was willing to play and chat, though I don’t know what we’d talk about now. He sincerely tried to answer whatever he heard me say, and he was very sweet, but he grew so agitated—not with me, but with my parents and siblings—that everyone dropped into low voices and reassuring tones and smiled. He started to keep his door closed, and after seeing it closed so often, I stopped opening it and going in as I used to. Occasionally, his back to the mirror, he pulls it open; perhaps we’ll all come crowding in again. The way it used to be. Crowds at night. All the kids needing to pee, and so many of us: we were always passing each other in the hallway, lit up by the nightlight. Seeing each other, jumping back, pretending to be scared. Chatting in whispers, giggling, fooling around out there until a grownup cracked a door and peered into the hallway. I’ve never done that. In the day we dispersed, but at night we banded together in that clandestine way, with the nightlight glowing on our faces, and I’d never disturb that with my peering. Everyone should enjoy what fellow feeling they can, and be allowed to anticipate it if it’s still a ways off; I was going to call this a human privilege, but I guess it’s more widely distributed. Among mammals, certainly: even cats don’t always seem to hate each other. And there are birds. I wonder about spiders. Somewhere they’ve begun to hatch in big families. I keep seeing them blow through the house, anywhere a window is open. They’ve all day run in and out behind the mirror.

Flash Of Light

I don’t know who my friends are likely to be; most people seem so different, loud and open, rather than closed and quiet—a state I am not recommending as a good or equal one, but simply claiming for myself in the interests of balance. All my life I have grown progressively quieter, having started at approximately my loudest and likely to end at my quietist. Voices are aggressive things, perhaps best compared to clothing styles. They are projections of character. I dress in dull colors, even faded, my brightest clothes only bright the way a patch of grass, for instance, or the surface of a drinking fountain is bright, but none of my clothes could be said to be blinding, nor could my voice be called deafening, while my overall personality is unlikely to eclipse others. Is this modesty? I prefer to think of it as simple realism. Louder personalities never hit the mark: they’re always over- or underestimating; sadly, I find them exhausting, impossible to concentrate on. I mostly hide from them. Very loud people often wonder where I’ve gone. Sometimes I feel bad about it, because it isn’t a given that they didn’t like me, or that they don’t care for me, even deeply, or sexually, but they made a miscalculation: that’s the problem. They expected more liberty from me than either they or I allow ourselves, and I am dedicated to my own preservation, I do not wish to be eclipsed, only sometimes to disappear. But not forever. Ideally I would grant the precise amount of time to make a good, even, and touching impression, then slip away, to return only when my qualities have truly begun to be missed, and then just for a while, to derive some happiness for myself (I have never claimed to lack an ego) and bestow some relief on others; I then repeat this process, some mysterious alchemy is perpetuated, love is constantly in the air at its sweetest point, just as it hovers on the lips of confirmation. I remember a girl who thought about me probably every day for a year or more, an attractive person, kind, eager to prove herself: sometimes it bothers me to remember her, she never got it right, the alchemy didn’t work, I made mistakes. The last time we were together, her face was tilted toward mine, her eyes were closed, for a moment our lips embraced, our tongues huddled together in one mouth or other, and she appeared to stagger as I pulled away. I meant to return but I left her there, stepping backward, unsteadily disappearing into years ago.

Addison Zeller’s fiction appears in 3:AM, Epiphany, Cincinnati Review, trampset, minor literature[s], Ligeia, hex, ergot., and elsewhere. He is a contributing editor for The Dodge and lives in Wooster, Ohio.