Positive Space Negative

Maybe I spend too much time in bed trying to remember dreams. But that is the primary function of beds—every single one I see in catalogues looks like a wide open field of dreams just inviting a bony old soul to lie down and recall all the collaged memories from years of sleep. But what else could I do in bed? Madelaine likes to rearrange her snapshots from the day on my comforter, asking me what patterns I see between landscapes, people, and blurry negatives. I have nothing useful to say, so I just lay curled beside her crisp prints and let a little drop of drool warm my cheek.

Madelaine imagines working for the city parks someday, so she could tell the trees how to stand. She clips them from her poster prints and rearranges them in the living room with coats hanging from them and fifties housewives laughing beside them with oven mitts. The weekend I went to help my best friend move into his new house she broke into my room and pasted my walls with her dioramas of pastiched interiors, so that I crashed with exhaustion in pitch darkness to wake up in a thousand strangers’ rooms. She even transformed my bedside lamp into a surrealist sculpture. I haven’t turned on the light in weeks.

Can you imagine the frustration of having all this creative energy with no output?
No, Madelaine, I have no idea what that feels like.
Are you being sarcastic?
I’m being nothing.
Don’t be so fucking coy. You sleep too much to be clever.
Well why don’t you just put your work up somewhere? Why is it hung on all my walls to confuse the hell out of me every morning? Don’t you have someone better to confuse?
I need the intimacy you give me.
Then find it.
Where? Under a rock on the boulevard?
Alright then, make it.
I will. I’ll make everything I need. Starting with you.

There was a time before either of us had to pay bills, when we thought we could rectify society’s sins by living like immaculately pure artists, painting children’s faces and decorating bridge underpasses—but then the rent was due and I shuffled behind every other stressed, underslept Joe, Jill, and Jaheed, to more coffee, more computer screens, more particle board desks, more recycling bins, shredding boxes, corporate email addresses, constipated small talk, polite anecdotes, polarizing sports pools, the tick’ick’ick’sh’ick’ick’ick of endless rows of keyboards—all to buy a couple hours every night to watch Madelaine cover her hands and chin in toxic paint. And if I had the misfortune to be reborn I would do it again & again & again.

Before we needed every last cent to pay the power bill we sold all the furniture in our living room. The sofa, coffee table, rug, tall lamp—the whole Ikea catalogue sold at ten cents to the dollar and replaced by carefully arranged photographs of our possessions, flat against the wall, to give the impression that either the room was bigger than it looked or emptier than one thought. Madelaine wanted a showing in our house, like it was a museum, and I refused. I argued with her from the bed, speaking to the pillow, asking her to understand that this is where I was the beast every person truly was in private but hid when they were together. If she wanted to show, she should do it in public, in her beloved parks, or galleries, or hallways—not in the same place where I walked around naked on the weekends. “Perfect, walk around naked when they come”—”They’re not coming”—”If you’re naked they will”—”I’m not going to be naked for perfect strangers”—”They won’t be strangers long after you’re naked in front of them; besides, what are you hiding?”—”This is my space, I want to keep it that way”—”You can’t own space”—”Well I pay a hell of a lot to borrow it”—”Then give it back”—but Madelaine never understood that my space was hers, as evidenced by all of our light fixtures that had recently been changed to elaborate chandeliers of rotting fruit.

Could you give the camera a rest?
Shut your eyes.
You’re obsessed with it.
And that’s wrong?
No, it’s just—
Just that you don’t have something you obsess over.
I was going to say, you keep capturing little narrow slices of experience and miss what’s going on in the grand scheme.
But the grand scheme is a collection of narrow slices of experience, no? Plus, I have a better memory than you.
Then you remember crying in my lap last year, saying how you were so depressed that you could remember kindergarten but didn’t have any photos?
It’s a shame.
No, it’s normal. You can’t control your memories with that lens.
Just watch me.

But how could I ever stand in Madelaine’s way? One Friday night I came home, undressed, and sat crosslegged in front of the collage of our old sofa, while people streamed past, pointing between me and the wall, the meaning lost on the sexually frustrated who stared way too long between my legs; myself lost on people who stared way too long at the photos behind me. It was either the late night or the stench of rotting bananas that emptied the apartment, and left Madelaine waltzing by herself in the naked room while I went to bed and lay empty under the covers.

I noticed the receptionist with the wild make-up started avoiding me when I walked in—not that I was any big shot executive who demanded a greeting and fresh coffee as soon as I walked in (the mail room had its own coffee machine and plenty of artificial greetings)—but I noticed that she only gave me sidelong glances when I wandered around eleven o’clock, when morning meetings drained the last of everyone’s energy and people were too caught up in their cynical inner monologues to notice that I was just spiraling around the office aimlessly. When I finally caught her eyes I realized why she was acting all awkward. I asked her how she enjoyed Madelaine’s show, and she said she was a big fan, even before the home installment. She said that Madelaine made her feel that space was more or less than it actually was, which was a sensation that reminded her of dreaming. I boldly asked if she dreamed about me, and she bluntly said no. I shrugged and casually remarked that I was sorry I didn’t notice her there; she said she wished she hadn’t been. Luckily the big shot executive took his cue and stole the receptionist’s attention, so I leaned on the reception counter and dissolved under the fluorescent light.

Maybe I do sleep too much. But that can’t be so wrong.
Of course not. It’s just strange because unlike other people’s possessions you can’t put sleep on a shelf.
No, I put it on my bed.
We should sell your bed and turn it into a shelf for the next installment. Turn everything into shelves: the fridge, microwave, and oven. I’ll become a shelf, too. We’ll put melons at chest height and orchids over my yoni, and stack eggs on my head. And you can sleep on your shelf. Then you won’t have to complain.
I never complained.
You complain with a lot more than your mouth.
I think you’re the one who needs sleep.
Me? For what? To get confused in the endless plane of imagination? No, I much prefer the confusion on this plane of imagination. At least I can leave when I want to.
Then maybe you should.
You don’t want that.
I can’t live like I’m a fixture in a gallery.
Then maybe you do need to sleep more.

And it wasn’t that I spent my time to earn the luxury of spending money, or that I had no furniture, or that the hip art community had critiqued my unimpressive body; it wasn’t these things that left me shattered when I woke up—it was that Madelaine had gone and left all her negative space for me to cower in, alone.

And if I had the misfortune to re-encounter her,
I would do it all again & again & again.

Jack Caseros is originally from Mississauga, ON. He currently works as an ecologist in Alberta’s boreal forest to support his writing habit. Jack’s work has recently been featured in steelbananas. His first novel, Onwards & Outwards, is finding a home.

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1 Response to Positive Space Negative

  1. Yes, I agree: Space is quite likely more or less than what one thinks (or dreams) it to be. Not to mention the wide (sometimes narrow) misconstruing of its shape! Or whether curved or straight. Which brings up the universal question: Is ‘certainty’ simple or complex? Hard to know for sure! 😉

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