Census Stories

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Rhode Island

They called themselves possibilitarians. They squatted in warehouses in Providence. They constructed houseboats out of trash and moored them off the docks.

They rode skateboards down abandoned off-ramps. They organized noise and folk shows in co-op basements. They screen-printed posters. They ate from dumpsters. They loved each other.

They recreated pronouns. They imagined communities. They spoke in slogans. They formed multiplicities.

They said another world was possible. Anything is possible. Everything is possible.

New Jersey

The room was full of portraits — photographs — hanging on the walls. It was a bedroom in a condo where I was staying for a couple days, out on one of the New Jersey Transit lines.

I took the 7:25 out of Secaucus Junction. The train stopped at Plauderville and I got off. I dialed my cell phone and listened to the ringer buzz. “All quiet in Pleasantville,” I said to no one.

“What?” said Lily. Mike shouted something. “It’s Jean,” she yelled.

“Pleasureville,” I said, “or whatever.”

Lily was at the table waiting for us when Mike and I strolled in. She started to say something, but Mike walked past her and I sat down. “What were you doing in New York today?” she asked eventually.

“Yeah,” said Mike from the kitchen door, “business or pleasure?” He had a plate in one hand and a couple bottles in the other.

“Pleasure is my business,” I said.

Mike laughed and Lily sighed. “Grow up,” she said.

That night after I went to bed I could hear them having sex. Their room was just across the hall. If I stared hard enough at my wall, I could peer straight through it and see their climax coming, rising like a skyline.

Secaucus was almost empty the next morning. A Chinese couple peered from sign to sign, moving in sad eccentric circles, the listless residents of northern New Jersey; the unwanted neighbors of New York.

The man stopped and called a kid over in some language I didn’t understand. The boy walked up to me and smiled. “Hello,” he said, “my name is Jun. Can you tell us how to get to Penn Station?”

“Sure.” I pointed. “Newark is that way.” The man thanked me and the lady pulled the boy away. “My pleasure,” I said to nobody.

Mike didn’t come to pick me up that night. He and Lily were already eating when I got home. “Hey Mike,” I said as I sat down, “I think your phone’s busted. I called a couple times.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It must be.”

“Mike,” Lily said, “don’t you have something to say to Jean?” He didn’t, but she did. “We want our bedroom back.” She took his hand in hers. “You can’t stay here anymore.”

We?” I said. “Ours? This place isn’t yours; it’s his. He wrote me. He said . . .”

Lily smiled. “It’s over,” she said.

I heard them leave for work the next morning, heading for the office together — copywriter and copy-editor. I got up and the portraits glinted. I leaned, looked at one closely. I moved from frame to frame. The subject was always alone. The faces were all the same. The room is full of portraits. They are all of me.

A minute passes. I look at the still-ticking clock. I had expected everything to be over after that, wrapped up neatly, like a story, but here I am, waiting for nothing.

Secaucus is ghostly, like a dream. Vague figures flit along the edges of my vision. The departure boards are empty. The floor stretches to nowhere. [What about the giant metal sculpture? — Ed]

I look up and see a metal marsh plant sprouting from the floor. Is there one? I’ve never been. The signboard behind it fills, numbers swirling from the center like drops of blood in a glass of water.

I walk into my house and Mike and Lily are having dinner. [Again? — Ed] This is the Raymond Carver part. She grabs her knife, holds it up and yells. Who the hell do you think you are?

Come on, Lisa, shouldn’t you be hiding behind your parentheses? I sit down and she steps forward. [They’re brackets — Ed] Whatever. Her knife is poised like a finger over the delete key, about to edit me out of this story forever, as though she even could. [Misogynist] You shut up.

“Shut up!” I yell. Suddenly I’m standing. The walls buckle and recede as Lily screams: “Do you even know what day it is? What year? Do you have any idea how long you’ve been here?”

“Max and I have known each other for a long time.”

“My name is Mike,” Mike says, and turns to me. “This is not about you. This is about us.” Who wrote that? [I did] “Who said that?” I look wildly around.

What are you talking about?” said M.

“You have to end this now,” said L.

You said this never should have begun.

What the hell is going on?

There is only white space. It is a junction, a point of connection, of intersection. It’s hard to see the whole of it from here, caught up in it, existing only in it, through it. So what about you (John or Jane, or whatever your name is)? Where do you think we’re going? What do you want to happen next?

– Max Krafft is the writer of Census Stories. He’s collected data from the U.S. Census, and used it to map out a series of 52 short stories.

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