at half past three he sat in a worn chair across from me in the waiting room and pretended interest in last year’s magazine reporting the price of a barrel of oil shipped from the Middle East, crossing the Atlantic, placing it somewhere opposite of Eden.
i was no good with directions. there was an old-fashioned map drawn on the wall above him: East would be to the right of the Middle West, but hardly a cowboy could be found. barrels of consecrated oil had dripped down my scalp. the price of something last year was meaningless.
he cradled the magazine but was distracted, perhaps unsure of the coordinates his life had struck. our glances alternated as the two hands of a clock. maybe if our eyes intersected, longitude and latitude, i would know where this was, in what time i sat, whose timeline i shared beyond my own. my gold tooth throbbed.
at four we waited alone except for the quiet chirping of a grandfather clock hanging over my head. the watchful eye of a sea maiden adorning the map heaved her chest with exposed nipples the color of wine you buy to impress a girl, like arrow heads, pointing somewhere South if you follow.
she said, ‘drill for petroleum the sea sands wait drill drill where the salt water hides oil beneath its skirt drill drill.’ i ignored the siren, lost in thought, wondering if he was a faster draw than me. nowadays who could tell but i always looked for a holster.
at half past four i withdrew a pocket watch from my waistcoat and checked the time. i listened to the lead seconds. two times did not sync which i found irritating, out of step. i could not tell which was correct without a third. but what a difference a half a second made. if repeated enough those half seconds could carry eternity. longitude and latitude were inadequate dimensions.
the siren was silent now which was more unsettling than her voice. at five he reached into his pant pocket and I reached toward mine but it was only a piece of dried beef in his hand. i got a good look at his hand, which spoke of him as a man, a soul stretched along the fingers whose nail tips reflected a youth unturned and knuckles white as an uncooked egg, translucent.
shouldn’t they be locking up now it’s half past five? his long hair was not-young but i saw none of the premature gray around his temples. the oiled hair was slicked back into a ponytail. i traced the space between the rows the teeth of his comb had left in its wake.
the magazine had no more words for him and lay limp in his lap. between us was empty space keeping us apart as if filled with flying buckshot. the map to the North depicted a flat earth rolled out like a scroll, a world that was not the world, the world between us unspoken, as strangers reckon. but we were not strangers. i searched for words to cross the gulf, this Southern divide that parted meaning, life shorn of sound, but my voice was lost. even if i could speak i don’t know if he would hear. don’t take hearing for granted.
at six i left the waiting room and went where all dead go.