by Sam Dunnett | December 27, 2017
We’d been arguing for a while already before I became aware of the plant growing over the windowsill, reaching into the room through the open space left by the raised window as the light outside assumed red evening angles and multiplied the dimensions of things, its exploring fronds so distant from its roots so as to forget them.
“It’s not about that”, I said, “and it’s not about the salt on the table either, or the colour of the salt, or the unsatisfying chunkiness of the salt when it comes out of the shaker that was a gift, or how old the shaker must be now, given that it was second hand to begin with, or just how much salt there is in tinned soup, and it’s not about the way that tins can cut you badly if you’re not careful – I’m not talking about that – about the deep, red rifts that used-up and emptied-out tin cans can open in your palms if you’re transferring them from kitchen counter to household waste or if you’re rooting around in bins in the rain or not in the rain for that matter, and it’s not about the bins themselves or the crusted stains down their fronts, not about the reasons that people might root around in bins in the rain, or about the aching, dry-skinned workers who have to empty them either, who breathe fog over our frosted black bags in the pale mornings, not about any constituent part, in fact, of the exhaustive and complex infrastructure of waste disposal that criss-crosses the country, intervening routinely in our neighbourhoods in order to maintain a delicate balance between what is seen or seemly and what is not, drawing everything into its reach and reclassifying space according to its systematic needs as it does so, and it’s not about the landfill islands that drift across the Atlantic as if puppeted by swarms of seagulls, and it’s not about the way that systems including but not limited to waste disposal resist in-di-vid-u-al knowledge, not about the almost mystical inability of in-di-vid-u-al minds and bodies to grasp, to fully encounter, the machinery that we grow inside and through and on and around, and it’s not about actual mystics either, not about those medieval monks your brother is writing his thesis on, the men who would repeat single, arbitrary words over and over again, the same word for days at a time until the word forced the air they were breathing into carving strange new valleys through their brains the monks reached a state of transcendence similar to a drug high, or about the time your brother was in hospital for days after taking a dodgy pill and we all thought he was going to die and how the whole time he was in there had passed by in just a moment, for him – it’s not about your brother, and it’s not about frogs, or leather, or underpasses, or the number of times you can fold a piece of paper in half, or midwifery – it’s not about the first ever midwives’ strike in 2014, three years ago to the day now, not about the strange concept of an anniversary, not about any of the infinite chafing timescales that live inside a moment or the way they talk with each other or not, not about that time, three years ago, that your father and your sister almost came to blows over the midwives’ strike, not about when he said that these people didn’t give a shit about the public and called her juvenile and she called him a Tory which to him is an insult even though he supported the Conservative party last time but only because, in that in-di-vid-u-al case, it was the sensible thing to do, and it’s not about the way that he said in-di-vid-u-al, a skin of sound stretched out over hard consonants, bones jutting out like on a very thin person – I am trying not to talk about these things, I am trying to talk about this room, but not really this room, not literally this room, not anything to do with it, not the size of the room or the material of the floor or walls or the way the window-frames are crumbling slightly or where you’re standing in the room, where you’ve chosen to position yourself, or the percentage of the room’s contents that were bought for it, like the flat-pack bookcase, compared to the percentage that are gifts, like the salt shaker, or the spidery cracks on the ceiling or the actual spiders that skim the walls at night, presumably getting in through the crumbling windows or the cracks themselves, or the way that the people that live on the other side of the ceiling exist to us only as booming vibrations, rows or sex reduced to physical effects on the building, so that they could be said to be made of those vibrations, those people – I’m not talking about them, or anything else outside of the room – not the destruction of public playgrounds to make way for urban development or the ancient diseases frozen into glaciers like caught grit or the distance travelled by the wood for a flat-pack bookcase – it’s not about the way that a flat-pack bookcase experiences distance, or time, not about the anniversaries in the life of a flat-pack bookcase, or about those drinks that your mum drinks that are meant to be one entire meal folded down into viscous liquid, or about that article you showed me telling how those drinks are being given to long-distance drivers for big companies so those companies don’t have to give them time off to eat their lunch, they can just drink their lunch in a few moments instead – it’s not about that, however worrying, because this is not about what worries me or does not worry me, but is about something very specific, something that lives here but is not anything here – I am worried that I am not making myself clear, but this is not about being clear, or about being anything, because being is always being in a place and being in a place is about being in a different place next, or a different place before, and this is not about anywhere else or any other time – we are never born anew into a single place or moment, except, arguably, once – but this is not about being born – I said this is not about midwives…”
I hadn’t been listening to what I’d been saying; I had been somewhere else, distracted by the eyes opposite me, meeting mine with a fierce incredulity at first but then drifting, bored, to the window and the creeping, insistent plant, and I thought of the way that, by now, vine-tips would be overlapping with the crumbling square that had framed them, growing steadily into the building.
Artwork by Jiaqi Kang