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A Perfectly Empty Room



He kept dreaming of a perfectly empty room. He would spend all day carrying things out of his apartment, hauling them downstairs to the trash, trying to create a perfectly empty space; but somehow he awoke every day surrounded again by things. At night objects would infiltrate and colonize his home. Chairs would crawl in through open windows like wooden spiders, bookcases and potted plants would climb up the trellis, books and CDs would waft under the door as steam and reassume their shapes once inside, forming stacks and piles on tables, the floor, anywhere.


And each day he'd repeat the task of hauling his possessions down the back stairs to the garbage bin. It would take him hours to clear everything out. He worked at it single-mindedly, like an ant, with the image of bare walls and an open, sunlit expanse of floor in his mind. He discovered that old photographs the hardest things to part with, except for the books only exerted their pull on him while he was looking at them, but once they were gone he never thought of them again. He packed things up and carried them away with an attempt at blind detachment, forcing himself not to sort, examine or linger over the cargo as it passed through his hands on the way out of his life.


But even on those rare occasions when he managed to temporarily clear his room of real objects, he found it still crowded with the ideas of objects. There would be the translucent outline of a bookcase against the wall, the exact dimensions of a table in the center of a room. He would stumble over the place where a chair might be, knock over stacks of the absence of books. In the afternoon he'd catch himself pouring water on the windowsill to nurture nonexistent plants, gazing at a patch of unevenly faded paint on the wall that suggested a painting of a cypress tree on a hillside.


He could never empty his room. There was no emptiness around him, and not enough inside him to serve as antidote to the chaos of his surroundings. There wasn't enough void in the world to clear it all away. He could form a bucket brigade, ask his friends to help pass him pail after pail of nothing, flooding his apartment with absence and void, and still things would appear faster than he could wash them away. Sometimes it seemed that his possessions rose into the air and whirled around him, taunting him, taking on faces and expressions like a scene from an animated Disney film.


Why must everything be so present? he wondered. In a universe that is supposed to be mostly void, why do I only see things, everywhere I look? How does being create the illusion of outpacing emptiness, when the uncreated so outnumbers the created? And then he thought of the millions and billions of uncreated, nonexistent things that were inside him, around him, above him in the heavens and below him in the earth. And he knew that despite his present state of being, ultimately he was one of those uncreated, nonexistent things. He knew that he was only the possibility of himself, and the moment in which atoms appeared to arrange themselves to give him an outline was itself only one of many possibilities, none of them less real than any other, no less real than a song when no orchestra is playing it. An orchestra of molecules was playing the song of his being, and when they finished, the musicians would go home to their dinners and beds and forget about him, and eventually they would play other compositions, other themes. He would be unbodied, invisible, intangible, an idea that would haunt the cluttered space of someone else: some other bodied melody, frustrated in its quest for silence.




2001 Dave Awl



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