Vacuum by A.W. Greene
IN THE EXPLICABLE, there is most definitely what is explicit. We are in no other way situated. To this undeniable truth, Saul G. woke up every morning, and according to this truth, followed through with the routine that had dictated the waning energies of his life for the last few years.
At the ripe age of 60, Saul had set down his foundation in a small suburb on the outskirts of a city whose shadow barely caressed the quiet neighborhood. He and his late wife had built a warm home and raised a child, who, exhausted by the dormitory lifestyle, and alienated by the suburban penitentiary, escaped to some far off corner of the world.
For Saul, this was somewhat disquieting, but he anticipated her move shortly after the child had reached the age of 15 and began hinting at a latent desire for egress. She would slip out her small window shortly after bedtime, frolic with her peers, and then return home, where Saul would be sitting up, silently awaiting the sounds of her clumsy entrance. When at home, she spent time reading of distant places, cultures, and ideas. By her eighteenth birthday, she had gathered all that she needed to free herself; she applied for college, went abroad, and traveled the country, laying the foundations for a life beyond the bourgeois ethos into which she had been raised.
By the time she had departed, Saul had become resigned to the inevitable, allowing his child to slip away from the prison of suburban monotony, and set to establishing a scaffold for his own monotonous life. Shortly after his daughter left home, Saul’s wife died. He was left to tend his garden and quickly fell into a religious, practically dogmatic routine.
One spring morning, in the low light of dawn, he resumed his routine without a second thought. He shot from his bed at 7 am, a launch from the warmth of his lonesome king-sized bed punctuated by his perfectly rehearsed struggle with the snooze button. He walked through the house with a level of grace typically reserved for ballet dancers. However, when he reached the threshold of his front door, Saul stubbed his toe…
The peaceful flow of the morning shattered around him. The pain in his foot reverberated through his body like the bullet of a .22, ripping through his muscles, tearing up his intestines, and rattling around within the hollow of his skull. Saul took a deep breath and attempted to shake off the sensation that had so rudely violated the tranquility and fullness of his morning.
Walking out of his front door, his ass showing through the holes in his old grey boxers, Saul donned his classic early morning wardrobe as best he could. The neighbors had gotten used to the constellation of holes in his boxers, his languid stroll, and the soft bend in his back as he reached down to fetch the paper. These silent observers had developed a fondness akin to something that ancients had once felt for the night sky. The residents in their living rooms and bedrooms, looking out from dark windows, would quietly remark on how these holes resembled Orion’s Belt, or Cassiopeia, or how his regular procession was matched only by the sun, the moon, and the paperboy. On that peculiar morning, by all appearances, Saul advanced as if all was as it should be, had been, and would be.
Internally frail, however, Saul was holding himself firm against the shock of the incident with the doorframe. He shuffled, in order to avoid limping, towards the morning paper. Inexplicably, Saul’s eyes were drawn to what he perceived as a hole in his lawn, an insignificant fissure in the immaculate yard that he had maintained for over twenty years. Quietly, attempting to retain his decorum, and acting with utter nonchalance, he pushed a small amount of dirt into the hole, patted it down, and fetched his paper before returning to his regularly scheduled life.
Frank and Greg had moved in across from Saul several years prior to this fateful morning. After living in pursuit of their personal desires, filling up the perceived holes in their own lives, they had come together.
Like so many marriages, Frank and Greg had met at a time when both felt that they needed to complete the narrative they had inherited from previous generations. While it was only due to a recent development in the grand political and social world that their relationship would finally be met with acceptance and be authorized by law, it was most auspicious that the two would come together in a quiet, yet upscale, bar just off the downtown grid, before going on to build their own domestic universe together.
From their den, Frank watched Saul’s procession, as he did nearly every morning. As it was with all the neighbors, Frank felt warmth erupt within his breast when Saul woke up, appeared in his doorway, walked out, and fetched the paper at 7:01. He felt the same way when Saul mowed the lawn at noon on Sundays, or shoveled his walkway during winter at 8pm. He was the suburban rooster’s crow, the first cup of coffee, some type of solar ray from over the horizon, a guarantee of a life for which they all longed.
Frank could not have noticed the brief flash of painful spontaneity that had caused a rift in Saul’s procession that morning, and when Greg came down the stairs in his thin white robe and slippers, Frank smiled.“I’ve been thinking about what you said at New Year’s.”
“About what?” replied Greg, still drowsy with sleep.
“About what’s missing from our house.”
“What do you think? Should we apply?”
Greg and Frank could both admit that they had both felt a gap in their lives, a sensation similar to the one that had brought them together – the same sensation that had driven them towards being a lawyer and a teacher, respectively. They felt that after filling rooms with photos, furniture, appliances, and all the objects that, as the saying goes, ‘make a house a home’, something was still missing. That morning, as Saul patched the imperceptible crack in his lawn, the couple agreed to adopt a child.
As the weeks passed, Frank and Greg made progress towards their dream, but something was amiss. It was not that their desire had waned, nor was the process of adoption going poorly. In fact, everything seemed to be going perfectly. Saul was the unexpected element in their life that had changed. Every morning, the pair watched the man who, like clockwork, had always emerged from his house at 7:01 and walked towards the paper on his lawn. However, they also noticed a small mound that had risen from the yard, and that every morning, as Saul G. walked toward his paper, he added a small amount of dirt to the mound.
“What do you think he’s doing, Greg?”
“I don’t know…maybe he started a project.”
“It just seems odd, he’s been doing it for weeks.”
Frank was not the only one who had noticed; the whole block had recently begun to feel a discontinuity, a disease that disturbed their lives. It was as if the shift in Saul’s orderly procession, the keeper of life in their suburban niche, had disturbed the equilibrium of the entire suburban universe. The affair was discussed throughout the neighborhood, and the din of intrigue and rumor could be heard as the local denizens met on their front lawns, gathering mail or heading to work. No one could figure out what had happened; all they could agree on was that Saul changing his routine was strange and unsettling..
As time passed, it became even more apparent that Saul had fallen out of his orderly procession, and had begun to act in an unpredictable manner. His work became more frantic and all consuming. The mound had swelled. After six months, it not only took up half his yard, but also ceased be a mere pile of dirt. It had begun to resemble a chaotic construction site. Wooden beams lay in a pile, and served to shape the dirt into a solid form, while thin fencing material supported and strengthened the massive foundation. The neighbors looked on in wonder, but few had the courage enough to speak to Saul. Something about him was alien… he was no longer recognizable. He was disheveled, engrossed in his building, and to those who looked upon his madness in a vain attempt at empathy, he was tragic. To them, he was a pariah, not content to let the world be “at rest”. Instead, he seemed to ask more from the world, seeking to build his bizarre monument ever higher. This frightened the residents of the suburban landscape, pushing them away, allowing Saul to build ever onward.
A year had passed since the first morning when Saul had suddenly and inexplicably begun to break from his twenty-year procession across the suburban yard. In that time, Greg and Frank had become proud parents to a small boy of five. Joseph, their son, had filled up their lives with vigor, excitement, and expectation. Moreover, he had created more demands, more desires, and more requirements for them to fulfill.
This new horizon was marred only by the continued insane efforts of Saul, whose “project” had moved far beyond a rudimentary pile of dirt. After repeated failures to secure the dirt into a secure structure, Saul G begun placing objects on the pile. Time and time again, his construction had been mangled and altered into new shapes. Eventually, a new form had appeared, including a king-sized bed frame bent crookedly into a retaining wall that was filled with cracked tiles. Appliance parts, wires, old shafts, and rusted ladders were manipulated into some semblance of a scaffold. What had once been a mound of dust and soil had turned into an inscrutable architectural project. The change was clear to the simple occupants of the suburban sprawl – madness had come to dominate Saul’s life. Not only that, in a strange, ineffable way, it had also seeped into their myopic worlds.
“I just can’t take it! It’s just that the pile is getting so large!”
“I know…I’m just worried about his safety…and ours! What if it fell on Joseph one day while he was playing?” Greg put down his paper in a huff, frowning at the thought of of such a calamity, the imagined tragedy nearly enough to shatter their almost perfect life.
“You know,” Frank mused aloud, “we should move.” He placed a loving hand on his husband’s shoulder. “I don’t like the school district around here anyways. It’s exhausting. The P.T.A is always fighting about silly things. Perhaps it’s time for a change.”
“You’re right. Besides, this house is getting too small for us…almost too familiar. A change might be good. Something is definitely missing.”
“How can we afford it though?”
“Well, it’s about time I told you…the good news…” Greg began to smile, the frown flying from his face and his eyes brimming with the aura of joy. The shadow from Saul’s mountain disappeared from his countenance. “They’re making me a partner, which means a raise and a company car…and we might have to move into the city.”
“You’re fooling with me, right?” Frank was now smiling too. In that moment, it felt as though they had discovered a new space to fill, a new life to occupy. Greg merely smiled back. Even with that exciting news, it would take time for the wheel to turn, as always, and Saul’s mountain grew ever higher in the interim. With ever-increasing artistry, the man-made mountain grew to dominate the skyline of the entire neighborhood.
After another year, the fervor of Saul’s energies burned like the sun; his old truck could be seen hauling massive quantities of raw materials, trash, junk, and the like to his yard almost every day. He would then unload it and climb the scaffold, which now extended beyond the limits of sight. The small clump of dirt that was first cast into the crack that only Saul could perceive had become a monument; its complexity rivalled the greatest wonders of the world.
It projected like a spire into the cloudless sky – a menagerie of refuse craftily sculpted into a tower of epic proportions. By that point, the neighbors were both awed and aghast at what they saw; they had begun inquiring with town officials about the legality and safety of Saul’s Tower.
In the village hall, few had any answers. No one had ever attempted to make a structure taller than the church spires that punctuated the suburban blocks. No one had ever presented so strange a project for a typical application for renovations or reconstructions. In other words, there was no legal precedent or recourse against Saul’s project.
What many people failed to reflect on, a failure perhaps naturally found in suburbanites so occupied by their insular worlds, quiet dwellings, austere summers nights, baseball games and barbecues, was that no one had ever thought, let alone had the nerve, to approach Saul. By the time they recognized that particular failure, it was too late.
Frank and Greg piled the last of their furniture into the Big Boy moving truck. Going back into the house, Greg grabbed the loose ends during his final check, while Frank and Joseph walked around the house saying goodbye to every socket and sink. While placing the last few knick-knacks in the van, a shock shot through Greg. Astonished, he looked at Saul’s front yard, his eyes sweeping over the massive wonder that stood before him. He realized that Saul had not appeared in days; the old truck sat listlessly in the driveway, the tower was quiet, and the house was dark. He grabbed his phone and called an ambulance, trusting the sinking feeling in his gut. A police cruiser eventually appeared, followed by an empty ambulance, waiting to receive its delicate cargo.
Greg and Frank looked at one another in disbelief as the gurney carried the body of Saul G. out into the light of day. The neighborhood had gathered around to watch the spectacle. An uneasy feeling consumed the crowd. Saul had represented both order and chaos, the slow development of life, and its violent exhaustion; for the first time, he and that cycle were now still. Some wept, while others went back inside to silently ponder the tide of loss that swept through the neighborhood.
“Can we do anything?” Greg asked.
“Perhaps. I remember someone saying that he had a daughter named Ellen, but I don’t recall. I’m really not sure. Do you think you could find her through your law firm?”
“I don’t see why not…it’s the least we could do.”
Greg took out his phone and called his secretary. “Julian, yes, I have a non-work related action to file. Do you think you could find a woman possibly bearing the name Ellen G? Yes, Ellen G. is the name. She may have grown up in my neighborhood. Here’s an address to cross check….. Let me know what you find. I need to get in contact with her ASAP. Thanks.” Following the call, Greg, Frank and Joseph got into their van and drove toward the gleaming spires of the city.
Three months later, Ellen G. stepped into her childhood home. Outside, city ordinance workers had begun dismantling the massive tower. It was an alien place to her, but not because of her time away. The yellow walls, which had once been filled with family photos, stood barren. The rooms were emptied of furniture, and the nasty green shag of the carpet she had both loved and hated as a child had been ripped from the floor. All that had once filled the house – the stuff of her life, as well as her mother and father’s – was gone, save for what she had found in the room that Saul had occupied during the last, deranged years of his life. On the floor, next to a few cans – some full, some empty – was a king-sized mattress. A pile of books, mostly on loan from the library and far overdue, sat next to a lamp.
The books initially seemed unrelated. Some were related to structural engineering, while others focused on the subject of tectonic movements and geologic physics. Others had been penned by thinkers and philosophers, including Spinoza, Hegel, and Heraclitus. Little of the choices made any sense. After scrutinizing the collection, she came across a hardbound diary. The first page read in scrawled letters – “On the Great Fissure”.
Entry 1:“I awoke yesterday, as I have for years. I felt that my life was full, well lived, and close to complete, but for the absence of my daughter and the final day, which blows away all we have strived to make for ourselves. I was struck dumb, however, when I came across a small hole in my yard, one that had never been there before. I filled it, and thought little of the incident. This morning, however, I found that the hole had reappeared, and had even expanded! Once more, I filled it.”
A few entries deeper, she read, 34:“It is a never-ending gap! Day in and day out I fill the hole that has appeared, but I am afraid that my efforts are of no avail. The earth is swallowing itself up! The chasm grows deeper and I intensify my efforts to fill it. I have spent all I have to fill this hole that has appeared in my life; I must work onward!”
On the final page, there was a brief note. 784: “I wonder why no one else sees the emptiness. Why does no one offer to help me? I will fill this vacuum until I too am consumed by the earth.”
Ellen G. did not know what to make of what she had found. She cried softly over the pages, tears dampening the clean pages left behind by Saul. She wondered whether anything would have been different if she had been there. Would he have maintained his life until death with the same regularity of a pendulum? What had led to this apparent madness?
She did not know. No one could…nor would they ever understand what had happened. She asked herself if there had been a day long ago when everything had changed for her as well. Getting up, diary in hand, she walked out towards her as yet unplanned future. As she walked through the doorway, her toe struck the threshold.
Read more surreal madness in SN3: Bastille Day, available on Amazon now!