I’m the only staff at the library. Two janitors arrive nightly in matching designs. One is from Warsaw. One claims Durango. They take photos before and after every shift. They hold hands when they can. In the mop closet, they offer me cigarettes in Cyrillic. They offer me licorice and spinach. I stomp along to their songs, laughing like disturbed, distracted gods.

In the mop closet, the janitor from Warsaw is old. Poland, she says. Poland. On her lunch break, she lets me cut her hair. Poland, I say. My family, I say. Poland. I don’t change my shirt. Poland, she says. The lightbulb above us flickers and dies and brightens agains. Almost all of her hair is gone. I’ll clean, she says. She laughs. We laugh. The puddle on the floor is my last name.

In the mop closet, the janitor from Durango is loud. He has me wrap him in gauze. Gauze he found in the ceiling tile above our heads. Above, he points. Up. I wrap him in the gauze until the gauze is gone and he is gone and in my hand is a diamond the size of a die. The janitor from Durango doesn’t see. He’s looking at the wrap of his legs. He’s smiling, he’s saying something. The door won’t open. The door does not open. We water the lightbulb. We’re alive. We’re alive.

8 Comments

    • Jesse Wilson

      Dammit, there was supposed to be more to this comment. You really captured the vibe of a night library. “Water the lightbulb” was confusing to me at first but I love it now. Isn’t Cyrillic a written thing rather than a spoken thing?

  1. Bud Smith

    Hello Benjamin,
    When I read your writing I am in awe of the machine of that mind. I don’t know how you do it and I don’t know where this all comes from and often I don’t know exactly what it is doing but I have such an astonished look on my face as I am reading it unspool before me. I don’t have many criticisms of this piece, I am a fan of the receptive nature of the Poland, Poland, Poland. I really liked the man wrapped in gauze who disappears — perhaps the word ‘die’ could be a different descriptor, for some reason that didn’t totally sell me on the wonderment of the exchange, because I am thinking of the hand having shrunk, so I wonder if the hand could be a diamond the size mop bucket or something related to the items close at hand in this night library.

    Maybe the final lines of the story are extraneous. “The door won’t open. The door does not open. We water the lightbulb. We’re alive. We’re alive.”

    I think I would reduce that to just, “He’s saying the door won’t open.” And leave it there.

    • Bud Smith

      You could write a whole new piece about people who work on a farm that grows light bulbs and their job is to go out into the fields and water the light bulbs. Yeah, do that.

  2. Ben Saff

    Woah, what a dreamscape. “They take photos before and after every shift. They hold hands when they can.” I love this. The idea of two janitors working the night shift, secretly holding hands, is a gem in and of itself.

    I am interpreting these two janitors as possibly you parents!?

    The lines about the door not opening invoke more of an anxiety in me that opposes the charmingly odd final lines “We water the lightbulb. We’re alive. We’re alive.” I wonder if this is intentional. But of course dreams do ocillate extremes in this way so maybe it’s a good thing!

    I was a bit confused when the janitor vanished but was also still there looking at his legs, smiling, speaking. Ah reading again, I supposed “he is gone” means he’s covered in gauze completely.

    “laughing like disturbed, distracted gods.” I think should be “and we laugh like…”

    This piece reminds me a bit of Tarkovsky’s film, Mirror. I really think you nailed the language of dreams in this.

  3. Bill Merklee

    I read this as a prose poem, for the imagery and rhythms and that this small, separate world appears in a library after hours. I agree that you could start with the second sentence. At the end I would only cut “The door does not open.” The rest reads like an incantation. There’s something hopeful about watering a light bulb. This will stick with me for awhile.

  4. Anna V

    I agree with what other folks said here, and I have little else to offer critique-wise, so I’ll just say that this made me sad in a really nice, confusing way. A beautiful piece.

  5. Rachel Pollon Williams

    “The puddle on the floor is my last name” – whoa.

    This piece is really cool. It feels like a David Lynch film. A poem. A dream. The abstractness feels like the narrator. The librarian feels like the chorus. Is the librarian a mortician? Are they all in a coffin together? Is this a Rorschach test? 😉 A really cool ride.

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