I'm not sneaky. My brother owns a condo in Portland. I could get free cable. My girlfriend thinks god is a number and forever turns on her calculator, hoping to find his name in parentheses. I test business software for bugs, and know there's no underlying code to life.
Wednesday, I call in sick. Food poisoning. Soap. One way to keep clean thoughts. I watch television and call my brother.
He asks if I called mom.
I tell him about my girlfriend's calculator.
We talk about plastic flowers. He's for. I'm against. Then I stop.
Why don't you give me the picture? I say. I mean it.
He hangs up.
I'm no photographer but I know a thing or two about film. Don't expose it to light for one. Not unless you really mean it. My girlfriend works in a camera store. She finds miracles in film -- Jesus-shaped birthmarks in family portraits, a tearful Mary in overexposures. Our bathroom is moldy, but god doesn't leave signs here, only smells. We prefer ammonia. The towels are cotton and clean. I hide a miniature camera in the fan fixture.
The Columbia River is fed by the Snake. Here, it is wide. The sea follows. I'm unimpressed by the steel girders and the narrow lanes of traffic that guide us into Oregon. Downtown, and bridges everywhere. I've had a headache for two days, but only now do I swallow some aspirin. Talk radio tells parents to read to their kids. I park in front of my brother's building.
Brick and mortar.
The stairs climb, or I climb the stairs. My brother lives twenty floors above Portland. I've never liked elevators. There is a smell like cigars at each landing. Orange carpet. Bare concrete. Convicts become familiar with concrete walls and stairwells and even out of doors with brick and bars and everywhere this stoic structure to things until anything plush seems otherworldly and strange. Animals sleep in the zoo, objects of study. My brother approves business loans. He thinks there are numbers for everyone, that rational thought can find those numbers, that the numbers are meaningful and discrete. I showed him a map of the coast once, but he didn't believe me.
I have a key to his condo.
My brother's television is thin and hangs above his fireplace. There are many speakers, some large, some small, though he doesn't like music or film. I lie on his leather couch and look at our family portrait, framed opposite the television, but I think about where he might hide the other photo and if hidden cameras record me as I recline.
If you think of a family as one entity, one being, and each constituent part as nothing more than an organ or a limb, what then of viruses and misbehaviors? Is wrong thought symptomatic of some greater, underlying struggle? My brother plays basketball and goes to church. I like information and the internet -- I search questions randomly like, Why am bicycle? or Is this patriarch? or Where are camera?
Who can predict what I will say? I am only robotic in theory.
My brother used to hide my books in the backyard just before the rain. I wish I ate more. My girlfriend will call sometime.
I search the condo for cameras.
I would say I am my own beautiful friend if I could mean it. I hide a camera in a light fixture. I search the bedroom but only find linens and undergarments. I dump the expired milk. I wash the countertop.
I like the click of shoes on concrete stairs.
Clouds swarm as one and water appears whole and unfettered. My car could move faster. I meet my girlfriend for lunch.
She tells me I'm too serious. She tells me to call my mother. She tells me we need a new mattress. She tells me about a broken camera. She tells me about the fingers of God splayed across a photograph. She tells me to shave.
Her eyes are motherly, are round, are blue. Her mouth is shapeless and soundproof. Her ears are stuffed with film. There are exposures to consider. There are mirrors.
At home, I watch videos.
My brother calls.
Where is it? I say.
We talk about birthday presents.
My girlfriend comes home and makes a snack. I chew and say I'm tired and lie in bed. I watch videos. I bolt the door. My girlfriend showers. My girlfriend washes her face. My brother watches television. My brother romances his lady. I don't see the picture. I get up.
My girlfriend asks where I'm going. I'm coming with you, she says.
The car, the bridge, the water, the narrow lanes, the city, the brick, the concrete, the stairs, the passersby, the buses, the sky now dark and bright.
Families don't ride the bus together. I should've read more books. We are arm in arm. She says it, but soundproof, and film leaks from her ears. Her chin is so delicate. I could dry her hair forever.
We're not merely routines.
My brother answers the door. He says he has company.
I don't care. I find the camera and throw it at him. His lady laughs.
I want the photograph, I say.
I turn on his television. I dump his underwear on the floor. I move his toaster. We will never toast again, I tell him, not like when you hid my books -- you can't hide a person forever, not in a dresser or a car or a lie or a closet or a television.
His lady laughs.
My girlfriend crosses her arms and looks down.
Sometimes, we play chess and eat on holidays and my mother makes mashed potatoes. I never could win.
Here, he says.
I take it and stumble arm in arm with my girlfriend and we echo together in the stairwell. I think wrinkled. I think brown. Not so different, I think.
Dinner takes its usual precedence and I search the internet but names don't work anymore because there are too many of us who are the same. So I stay in bed for three days, then go to work. I hide the photo in a box in a closet in house that isn't mine. I find it later but it takes a long time and it doesn't look the same, and anyway, there are truer things than film.