Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Job

This week's sentence was taken from Paul Auster's 'City Of Glass', from his marvellous "The New York Trilogy", and it was:

"Then, suddenly, with great clarity and precision, he saw Bartleby's window and the blank brick wall before him."

The Job

Then, suddenly, with great clarity and precision, he saw Bartleby's window and the blank brick wall before him.

The wall.
Always the same.
It stared him down.
Browbeat him.

The early morning sun burned the bricks a violent orange that hurt his eyes but it was not the squinting brilliance that he found intimidating.

It was the purity.
The very blankness.
The effrontery of it all.

It was Bartleby …

For blocks all around, every surface within reach of an outstretched arm was a scribbled tangle of graffiti. Layer after layer of tags and murals and adolescent brag and bluster festooned and swagged across wall and window, shutter and trashcan.

Yet no paint touched Bartleby's wall.

The bright bricks briefly dazzled him; a malevolent, blazing tabula rubra. He shaded his eyes against their glare.

The wall was around fifty feet long and went up three storeys. Bartleby's window sat just off centre on the middle floor; a stark, black hole into nothingness.

He couldn't see in.

There were no other windows.
There was no door; at least not out front.

He stood across the street and waited as he always waited in what had once been the doorway of a laundry but was now - like so much else here - utterly derelict; trashed, tagged, beaten and left for dead.

He looked at the payphone.
The only undamaged payphone for ten blocks; it stood at one end of Bartleby's pristine wall.

He waited.

He never had to wait long. Somebody would be behind the window watching him; maybe even Bartleby himself, though somehow he doubted that.

The phone would ring three times and he would leave, returning home to find in his mailbox the familiar A4 manila envelope containing a quantity of cash and Bartleby's enigmatic instructions.

The payphone rang.
He left.

He never walked straight back to his apartment but invariably varied his route in a determined attempt at discontinuity.

Some days he would stop for latte and a bagel; others he would browse the bookstores or linger at the library; maybe buy some groceries.

Today he walked to the nearest Metro station and caught a train to the park.
At this hour there were still empty benches. He sat in the shade of a plane tree, waited for a hefty jogger to pound past and opened his attaché case.

Trying not to think of what would be waiting for him at the apartment he read a couple of chapters of Auster's New York Trilogy.
He liked these stories. He liked to lose himself in the characters' Odyssean wanderings; the repetitive interactions between strangers; the vaguely mysterious yet ultimately futile assignments that ruled their lives.
Much like his own …

The envelope was there in his mailbox.
Back in the apartment he closed the blind against the sun and poured himself a stiff scotch, then sat with the envelope on his lap and reached for his letter-opener.

Taking out the single sheet of paper he began to read.

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