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Abscond!

Ben Janse

Issue No. 1 - Summer 2017. 

The following are eleven interviews conducted by the popular radio announcer Roger C. Barcomb, found among the thousands he left behind when, after a brave struggle, he died of embolism last July. Though they were set aside with only a paperclip binding them together, sometimes it’s something that small that will tie together a group into perpetuity.

 

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MARGARET

There was a new exhibit at the Whitney. James Franco had already brought in his students to see the work. The Nepalese guard had stopped him initially. The news had made the rounds and everyone had a good laugh. Of course then the head curator came down and gave James’ class the tour, even though it wasn’t yet open.

I was standing back to back with Lyndsey in the doorway between our galleries. We spoke without looking at each other, making sure to keep a close eye on our rooms. Mine was filled with tiny jackets with hand-made patches sewed on by the artist, many of which were miniatures of popular patches referencing the Hell’s Angels or various counterculture slogans. Lyndsey’s room was full of tiny pants, all folded on tiny racks like in a store. I kept being afraid a fairy would arrive and start trying it all on.

“Margaret,” said Lyndsey, “I know what sandwich I’m getting.”


“Don’t even start.”


“The farmer’s lunch. Cheddar cheese, sprouts, pickled peppers. They put this sauce on there, I don’t know what it is, but it’s amazing.”

“I think it’s just mustard.”

A couple walked into the room and Lyndsey and I moved a step apart. They looked at the clothing with their heads tilted.

“Look at the stitching,” said the man.


“So intricate,” said the woman.


They said this, as if they were appreciating the nuances, but I could tell they weren’t really appreciating the nuances. Not to say I necessarily did either, but being a museum guard, standing all day with the work, tended to bring you to a new relationship with the artist. It was all very hard to explain, but easy to understand. The woman brought out her phone. The man posed with his hand on his chin, as if trying to figure out which jacket suited him best.

I took a few steps forward. “Actually, there’s no pictures allowed in the gallery,” I said. “Oh sorry,” said the woman. The man looked down and they both hurried out of the room. This is what I do all day long. Lyndsey and I met back in the doorway. “I’m getting meatballs,” I said.

 

“Margie, you always get meatballs.” “With extra cheese, too.”

“I’d get fat if I ate like that.”


“Not me,” I said, patting my belly.


Wendy, our supervisor, came through the door and we moved apart again. She shook her head as she walked up to us.

 

“Margaret, are you on your spot?”

I looked toward the corner. “Um, no. I guess not.”


“Could you move to your spot, please? And you Lyndsey.”


I walked to the corner. We had spots where we were supposed to stand. Mostly, I think it was to make sure we didn’t talk to each other. Even when there was no one in the room they didn’t want us to talk to each other.

“That’s the second time today, Margaret,” said Wendy. “That’s a write-up.”

I shifted my weight to my right foot and lifted my left a little off the ground, giving it a brief reprieve, one of a number of contortions and mental manipulations I had learned in order to work a nine-hour shift on concrete.

“What exactly is a write-up, anyway?” I said.


“It’s just for our records.”


“Oh.”


Wendy looked at the jackets, checking to see if anything was out of place. “You know, HR.” I shrugged. “HR, right.”

She looked back. “In case we need to take action.”

I shifted to my other foot and pushed my hair to the side. “I guess I just wanted to know the repercussions. To be honest, this job kind of blows if you can’t talk to someone once in a while, you know? It feels like being a prisoner? Or maybe a lower class of person that isn’t allowed basic human rights?”

I leaned on the wall and checked the time. Another forty-five minutes until we rotated. I looked up. Wendy was still there.

“Margaret, you’re leaning against the wall.”


“What?”


“Look.”


We turned. The wall had a light brush of black where I had made contact. “Hmm,” I said.

“Listen, Margaret, I think we may need a meeting.”

Wendy had only been supervisor for a few weeks. She was wearing a purple skirt and blazer and looked straight out of an 80’s television show. We used to have this woman named Toni who was awesome, but she was fired suddenly and we hadn’t been allowed to ask about it.

“You see, we’re a team here,” Wendy said. “This art, this is our legacy as people. When you lean on the wall you devalue that. Don’t forget Langerhan who spent twenty-two years in his father’s attic making this exhibition. How do you think he would feel walking in and seeing the walls like this?”

I looked away, at the small jackets with the skull logos. I thought about how when you turned off the light they glowed in the dark. None of the visitors knew that.

“Didn’t he kill himself, though?”


Wendy gave me a look. “And what about the curator and the install team, Margaret?”


The fluorescent lights were above us. It was all quiet on the exhibition floor.


I crossed my legs so that my knees rested on each other. “I mean, no offense, Wendy, but I almost never see the curators or install team in here. We’re the only ones I see in here, to be honest.”

Her face was flushed. “You know what, Margaret, don’t bother coming to work on Thursday.”


“Okay cool,” I said and leaned back against the wall. Wendy’s eyes widened and she tried to say something. Then she turned and walked away. Her heels echoed on the concrete. I thought of all the things I could do on Thursday. I imagined a wind like a cool breath of trees. I imagined a blanket of leaves and moths.

“Margaret, what are you doing?”

 

Lyndsey whispered from the doorway, eyes alarmed. I could hear her, but I had the strangest impression that it was not a mouth forming the words, but the flapping wings of a scarlet tanager. A woman pushing a stroller walked into the gallery. Her baby was asleep in the carriage. Or there was no baby. It was hard to tell because the shade was down. I had noticed that some people pushed a stroller around with no baby in it sometimes. She smiled and looked at me.

 

“How many months along?” she said.


“What?”


The woman was looking at my stomach. She was very excited.

 

“Is it your first?”


“I’m not . . . ,” I started to say, looking up, but then I could no longer see her eyes, just two dragonflies flying in tandem through a pond, looking for a lily pad. I turned to the exhibit but I couldn’t see that either, only boulders along a dry stream bed in which aquatic insects waited for rain.

The building itself phased in and out, the walls becoming ivy, everything else a herd of wildebeests fording a river. Something was happening to me, but I couldn’t yet tell if it was something good or bad. I knew my only chance was to get the images to match up. To get what I was seeing to be where I was. I wasn’t even going to wait until Thursday. I was already gone.

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JESSE

New York City is a walled fortress, with everything about it designed to keep you in. I passed six toll booths just on the way out. I had to petition his majesty and roast a goat for the armed guards. The roads, too, are deceptive. You have this feeling of freedom, or know that you are supposed to, but then what are these lines that you have to stay between, and what is over that hill where no road leads, a forbidden, magical place? Most people were already aware of these limitations, but us New York City types don’t get out much.

“You’re Car2go has now left the home area,” said the automated voice.


I shifted into third. “Damn straight.”


It was a summer of construction. I could see smoke rising from manhole covers, sewer grates, yellow pipes sticking straight up from the asphalt, the tops of buildings, windows. Three men with metal poles stood working on a cargo truck. High above us six workers were tossing cinderblocks out of a window. A flock of house sparrows fought in a mud puddle next to the curb. There was always someone waving you in a direction. If you wanted you could drive for days without making a single choice. Driving in Manhattan is more about letting off the brake than hitting the
gas. Even the ambulances were at a standstill, their sirens calling out to the dying they would never reach in time. Cars didn’t have the right of way. Pedestrians didn’t have the right of way. Bicyclists didn’t even have the right of way. The city had the right of way, and its goal was to run you down. I made a left on Twelfth but didn’t make it through the intersection. Every car was in the middle of a turn. A short man in a bright green vest held a sign that said SLOW, as if we had any other choice. The trucks sounded like lions. The cars looked like buffalo. Nothing was coherent visually, with older squat buildings sitting among newer all-glass high rises, with lime green apartment buildings from the 60’s in between. The Colossus of Rhodes was there too, transported from its ancient faraway shoreline; no longer a wonder of the world, just another building among the rest. We nudged forward under the green light, fighting to make it through the intersection. An SUV cut me off, then a taxi, then a semi. They were in motion. They were going somewhere, somehow. It seemed unbelievable. The grasping arms of backhoes were just visible above the fiberboard construction walls that were labeled Post No Bills. Delivery men swept in and out of everyone’s lane, risking their lives for tips. Seagulls followed high above us as if we were ships on the sea. Two hours in, I knew I’d never make it out. I was failing even at leaving the city.

Continue reading: Issue No. 1 - Summer 2017. 

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