“Listening To Voicemails” by Mike Corrao

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The answering machine sat on the end table, beside the doorway and the floor mat. There were pens and pads of paper in the drawer. A red light flickered on the face of the machine. It was pressed, the dial tone droned, and the message played:

I’m an audio-visual man. I see things and I hear things. That’s all I’ve got. It makes abstractions hard for me. I can’t fathom that ambiguous cloud in the mind that is sublime or ennui or whatever. All that is for me, is reality. There is the reality of a situation sitting in front of me. There are the things that I can hear and see, what I can put together from the environment and arrange until completion. If it’s made out of something else, a feeling of doubt, or the epiphany through religious icons, I’m damned. I can’t put it together. I’ll have a collage, but no coherency. Someone will have erased the edges, and allowed the colors to run out of the physical source. They’ll spread into the surrounding environment and blend in until I’m left with an inability to understand. It will all turn into a monotonous gray. My fear is this, in a dark pit, where there is no light, where I am for all purposes blind, my existence loses its meaning. I am not a physical being. There is no place. Places? There would be no places. I would be the floating and disembodied. I would not be. I would be separated. I would be the anti-matter in an oblivion. The total darkness wells up. I would lose awareness of my body. I would hear my mouth as it swings in the wind, carried away like ashes, circling the perimeter walls. I would remember that I have a face, and a torso, and legs, arms. I would know that my face was capable of contorting into different expressions, but I wouldn’t have the know-how to do it again. I couldn’t replicate the behaviors I knew before. I wouldn’t have a body to do them with. It would get away from me.

The light flickered again. The button was pressed again. A voice played loudly and clearly over the white noise of the room. It began to sync with it, and move at the same cadence. Both remained in the room, ever-present and droning.

Memories would resurface. I could. The tense? What tense is this? What time is it? I will. I will. In the resurfacing memories, I will build a nostalgia machine. I will understand the workings of myself through the mechanical tasks performed. A contraption of sorts, it turns its gears in a certain manner when the gears are attached to certain apparatuses. And these apparatuses will power the software that reenacts my memories. It will perfectly construct them in this oblivion. I will return to a body. Maybe not mine. I don’t care. A body. It is mine when I arrive in it. I will return. And the machine will let me live out in these memories, noting all of the specific and physical details that I remember from them. The world will be tactile, like I couldn’t be before. I will have a sense of smell, and sight, and hearing, and taste, and touch. The skylights in the living room will reflect strange shapes on the ground, bathrooms will smell like lavender soap, the television will be set to one of the music stations. Lounge music, if it’s there. But then those memories will collide. A nostalgia machine is weak. The nostalgias will begin to overlap and confuse each other. They will start to mistake themselves for different moments. The past will form a grid, overlapping and intersecting. It will overwhelm and the gears will melt. The machine will fall apart, and the oblivion will return to being an oblivion. And then I’m thinking about death. Or the way that I can’t materialize that event. I will think about death, and I won’t be able to move. And that lack of movement will create a death in my arms and legs. It will paralyze me. I won’t be able to move until I stop thinking about death, but when I start to forget and I try to move, and I can’t, I will feel another burst of complete remembrance and I will be incapable again. Oblivion will paralyze me forever. My mouth will continue to circle around the perimeter wall, my legs will be collapsed on the ground, my arms will be on the ceiling trying to crawl through the non-existent gaps, and I will remain.

 

Click. Another message. The voice. The droning tone.

 

There is an image in my mind of a measuring tape. It extends from the outer wall to the center of the dark pit where I assume to be existing. The distance doesn’t matter in inches; there is no light to distinguish what the end of the tape says. Instead it acts as a means of physicality. There is a measuring tape, and if there can be a measuring tape, that means that the hole is a physical place. If it is a physical place, then it can be comprehended. This is a room in which the lights have been turned off. The world is not audio-visual. It is now only sonic. One must listen to the architecture of the room and navigate themselves through by these means. The body is not oblivion, but it no more important than a body in oblivion. Or. This is not true. When I try to walk, I can’t hear myself walking. If I can’t hear myself walking, then I am not moving. If I can’t move my feet, it must not have feet. If they could move, they would be moving. Signifiers have called for movement, and there is none. The body is not moving. The measuring tape is not measuring. I can understand now. The oblivion. Not what it is. I do not know. I understand that is the lack of my awareness. I am not here, but I am confined. The non-corporeal form. There is not a physical means to escape. Ungodly. I can feel myself aging. Wrinkles are forming. There are grooves in my skin. How old am I now? I’m floating dust. This is oblivion. I’m in the dark pit; hanging residually in the air. Nothing here is real. I can’t grab onto the sides of the wall, or carefully walk from one end to the other. There’s an air of uncertainty. I cannot visualize it, or place what it is. The pit is real and it is not real. I find myself here. It is real. But it is not a place within the boundaries of existence. It is not real. I don’t know where this places us. There is no clear hook to latch onto.

 

Click. Another message. The voice. The droning tone.

 

The beginning of this problem cannot be a dark pit. It is more than this. I realize that, inside of this reality, where-ever I am, I have been constructed. All physical forms have been constructed. The dilemma of this circumstance is that I have thought through this problem as a problem solved through language. I would like to stop thinking in language. I would like a more pure way to conduct myself, not done only through abstract means. I could mutate my thoughts into pictograms, but these are language. They are allusions to physical objects, but not the objects themselves. I would like to rid myself of language.

 

Click. Another message. The voice. The droning tone.

 

At the top of the dark pit, maybe where the opening is, a blinking red light occasionally passes by. It circles for a moment before leaving the sightline. I don’t know what it is, or whether it’s alive or artificial. Maybe it’s some fragment of the nostalgia machine. How can memories be replicated without a light source? I look back and I’m not sure how a contraption is made, or how it could be maintained. Or how one is to rid themself of language. It might start with the sounds. If I found myself communicating in these sonic patterns instead of symbolic patterns. If I said: Luh-Luh-Awl-Ah-Om-Luh-Jah. Is the pattern still symbolic? Does it become the allusion of symbolism? Does it matter? Or. I can look for something without even the possibility of symbolism. There are no symbols here: __________________. But what does that accomplish? Do I exist without the thoughts in my head? Is this to spite someone? I’m still in the pit. There is still language looming around here, even if it doesn’t come from me. I can feel myself here. Nowhere specifically, not in any singular unit of area, but present in the completeness of the space. The body feels like a relic now. Remembering corporeality feels like an act of masochism. A throbbing headache begins, and then when I forget, it subsides. A hell is a hell is a hell is a hell is a hell. _________________________________. And nothing continues. I’m not sure what to do now. I don’t know if there is anything else to do. What does one do when they can no longer move, or see, or hear? Do I accept the emptiness and choose to exist in it? Do I get to choose whether or not I exist? I want to remember the physical existence that I had, and that I lost. I want to remember how I lost it. There is a sanity in retracing your steps. It is comforting to know exactly how you got from the first location to the second location. When something goes wrong, or an unexpected turn happens, I want to be able to see where that turn happened, and what led up to it. But now, instead, I am here. I was not here, and now I am.

The answering machine went silent. The red light stopped blinking A clock ticking. A near-silent breeze. A distant plane overhead. The dial tone buzzed.

Here I am: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Mike Corrao is the author of Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing, 2018) and Gut Text (11:11 Press, 2019). His work has been featured in publications such as Entropy, Always Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis where he earned his B.A. in film and English literature at the University of Minnesota. Learn more at www.mikecorrao.com.