She wrapped her arms more tightly around her body as she entered another dead end. Not that it made any difference. They were in the rain. It was getter heavier. Tati had been told that this alley was secluded enough. Barb brought a styrofoam container as they sat down in the back corner.
"What is that?" Tati asked.
"Styrofoam," answered Barb.
"And what's inside it?"
"A structure of closed cells. Cells closed to the outside. Very unlike us. We squat down in our exposure to the elements. Density. That's what they have. Density. I wonder if we should change our names to Poly 1 and Poly 2. Short for polystyrene. Easy to work with. See how flexible we are. In this situation. See how flexible you are. How flexible I am. Flexible. Like a process of flexibly made of flecks being tossed against the not so tender surface of the reality of mess."
"Are you going to open the container or keep inundating me as if I haven't been already inundated enough?"
"Inundated? What would make you say a thing like that? Why on this flooded and voracious Earth would you speak in that manner?"
"I don't know. Like it was meant to come out that way. In that manner as you said."
"Meant. Meant. Meaning dies every time another year spills by that the world was supposed to end and it doesn't. The offer to fill out your subscription to join this mass project called meaning expires. Sorry. That expired centuries - millennia ago."
"OK. Incorruptible orator. Answer me this. What's the meaning of this story I was told? A woman and a camel are in the desert. No, not the desert. The camel was lost and ended up in a traffic circle."
"A traffic circle?"
"Not a traffic circle. Some kind of circle."
"Was it a whirlpool?"
"Yes! A whirlpool. Actually, no. A cul de sac. That was it. A woman and a very lost camel were selling Ramen noodles."
"My apologies. Caviar."
"More appropriate. Continue."
"The woman and the camel had been doing quite well since picking that specific cul de sac. Primo coordinates."
"They were finally making some revenue in the neighborhood (not the neighborhood they were currently located in), but vicinity of the upper single digits already."
"Then they were confronted with a police car parking along the curb. An officer opened his door and stepped out. He walked toward them. The camel - "
"He left the car door open?"
"Did he actually walk over to them without closing the door?"
"The one in the back?"
"The back of what?"
"That burnt out complex uptown?"
"The one where we used to stay?"
"That was downtown."
"It was either downtown or uptown. Either the complex you used to have or the one you still have."
"My complex, you mean?"
"I don't mean anything. Remember?"
"Why would the police officer walk toward them without shutting the door to his vehicle?"
"Of course he did. It goes without saying."
"I continue. Where was I? The police officer approached them and the camel began reviewing its inventory of poetry to both distract and impress. When the camel would get around to it eventually. It might provide some aesthetic quality. Realistically, it wasn't a police officer after all. Now that I think about it. A little girl about 6 years old stopped in front of their enterprise. She dragged behind her a sleeping bag that was stuffed with objects of some sort. The woman asked the little girl what she had in her sleeping bag and the girl said that it was full of her stuffed animals. They were all sick like her. Even though her parents told her to be well. They still got sick."
Barb opened the styrofoam container and revealed yet another unfinished collection of Chinese food.
Barb stated, "I believe there is enough for both of us."
Tati responded, "We'll have to use our fingers again. Unless you were able to find a utensil of some kind, Barb."
"Barb? I'm Poly 1 and you're Poly 2. Recall when I renamed us?"
"And why am I Poly 2?"
"I've led us."
"Into a dead end."
"Of course, dead ends from dead means. Like your story. Now, I have a story for you. Once there was a woman who had sacrificed so much throughout her life. Her life consisted of being served."
"Oh, privileged? Royalty, even?"
"Uh, no. Neither. You cut me off before I was about to say that her life consisted of being served. Served nothing but wounds."
"Terribly sorry. Proceed to the end."
"She was served nothing but wounds well into her 30s. Her late 30s. She had nothing left, but her clothes on her emaciated body. A body emaciated by messages. Letters, deeds, quit claims, memos, emails, texts, cut and paste, deletions, replacements, duplications, paper jams, breakdowns, reboots, boots to the face, the belly, the vanishing belly, emptying below sea level. Below sea level. Below the ground. Underground. Living under the ground. The voices still followed her there. They seemed to echo more under the ground. As if the voices were better suited for that abode. The only thing that worked her out of this residence was the passerby who offered her no assistance but the promise of getting clean again. That did sound all well and good. Meet him at the church he said. Her last confessional she thought he said. Was the number 3476 or 3746? She entered the building. Maybe the church was within. In the basement he said. Back under the ground. Where the voices banged around inside her skull. She opened the booth. A booth down there in the dimly lit corridor with the small poster that advertised a way out or was it an artist who was way out? There was no image of a man or priest or whatever he was that offered her no assistance but a way out and being clean again. Was he a religious representative or agent? The woman whose image appeared on the poster must be the artist that he represented. An agent of art? Are you going to eventually bring that chop suey up to your mouth?"
"My fingers are tangled in the noodles."
The rainfall got heavier.
Barb went on, "The poster was hard to read in the small amount of light she had. Something about the woman and her words of power. Power and light. Words of power that wrapped around its listeners."
Tati replied, "Light. When was the last time we saw some light?"
Barb echoed the words, "The last time. They go in and they don't come out. Following directions. Instincts. Intuitions. Insights. Always the voices. And always the tangents. Most of all the repetitions. The same dead ends. The same dead people that seemed so alive at first. Her back reached the dark wall. The door to the booth had shut. She reached for the handle to test if it had locked from the outside. Locked from the outside. That's when the remaining light went out. When the last remaining power went out."
"It's surprisingly comforting having one's fingers tangled in a discarded meal."
"No, not really. Trying to find a handle, I guess."
"Something to hold on to. Before the light went out. She reached to find the handle to see if it was locked from the outside."
"Locked from the outside. It probably was. She. She was probably finally locked from the outside. To resign herself to fall back against the wall that held her. No more exposure to the elements. Just words to wrap around her and embrace her density. Density of closed cells. So easy to work with."
- Max Stoltenberg