Amis had been grazed to the right of his spine by a bolt of lightning when he was an adolescent. That was the side he did everything with. Now, he sort of drooped there. Being forcibly dominated by the side of him that had no strength, he seemed to tug slightly to the left as he moved along.
Amis trudged down the corridor. His overalls sagged over his backside. His hair gave the impression of not having been cut or washed in some time. His toolbox had belonged to someone else before it had been his. Pliers, testers, wrenches, torches, ammeters, scrapers, these he had picked up along the way.
He pushed the button and waited for the bell to sound. The enclosure opened with its music that sounded distantly. He stepped into it, pushed a button, and turned a key to stop it from moving. He lifted off a panel with a screwdriver and looked at the wiring.
Being someone in maintenance afforded a kind of invisibility in the world. Maintenance of movement, maintenance of stopping. Not doing exactly, but something that helps doing, sustains it. Having to push higher, having to slow down a fall. There was up. That was a way. And then, there was the other way going against it. It was better, in general, not to let things get ahead of themselves.
Amis was the kind of person that simplified his thinking. He aligned everything along axes. A moveable axis was something alive. But sooner or later, every axis became fixed. Amis was the kind of person who secretly thought he could get to heaven, as long as he made sure the possibility of going up could be preserved.
There is a time to stop walking, to detain wandering horizontally, to wait for a change in closeness to the clouds, when the horizon opens as if under a light that ascends and distances itself from movement in the dirt. Colors, numbers, the attributes of things, all of that was horizontal. Aspiring to things or looking for attention, that was just more pushing, more bumping into each other horizontally.
Something done horizontally is just a stain. Hard not to be a package like that, when you are sent all over the place. Hard not to be a box of someone’s blame.
Bulbs, the sofas where the lobby used to be were full of them. They had trouble breathing. They wrapped themselves in sweaters coats, but could not be troubled to wear wigs anymore. The look in their eyes had been hollowed out by chatter. Roundy, and looking to dig in somewhere, they, and those that now never came out of their rooms, made up most of the inhabitants of the repository.
In elevators, there were only two indicators, speed and safety. You could have one, if you sacrificed some of the other. Speed did not matter much to anyone anymore. Occasionally, Amis thought of pushing everything in that direction, letting a side get stronger than the other.
It might have been something else before, when people had not stopped moving because of sickness, before, when there was all of that betweening going on. But now the name repository worked as well as any.
Amis was called here often. Breaking down was how this building breathed. With its wallpaper the color of roses that had already wilted, with its windows full of the shapes of fruit. Having to meet the manager on shift was like the instant of contact between those cars that bumped into each other for diversion when Amis was a child. Now, he signed the work order and had the manager sign it. Sometimes, during one of these visits, the bulbs would begin to wail, almost so it could not be heard at all, and they would hold their sides, as if they had indigestion.
Amis had come on the bus, and he would leave on the bus. It was easy to go from fare to transfer, and folks waited to continue living until after they got down off the noise caused by the gears and the old motors. The buses were like broken elevators, dragging you here and there just above the ground, and leaving you at a point along the circles they drew on it.
As the bus moved down the streets of the city, Amis looked out the windows. He watched the park go by, full of shadows that began as green and trembling slowly now because of the breeze. Maybe it was this movement that made the theater next to the park look like a palace cut out of the stone of a cliff underwater somewhere. The motor continued rumbling unevenly and that comforted him. It drowned out the thought that the other people in the seats were leaving their residue on all of the surfaces of the inside of the bus.
Amis dreamed that his insides were falling apart structurally. He could see the walls that partitioned some of him off from some other part of him, and how they were losing their integrity. His innards were without reinforcements and the materials were not going to hold up under the strain. In the dream, Amis saw all of this calmly. The membranes were disintegrating, and everything they separated was flooding in. Into his lungs, into his joints, even into what he was thinking about. Soon he would be unable to move within or without. In the dream, he barely managed to tilt his head back and look up, before everything inside him came together and he became one thing, like a brick.
Amis always washed his face when he got up out of bed. The water cleared his head; it felt like sunlight dropping on him. He liked to leave his room early, so he could get to the two or three repositories on his list before the suits got there and started to feed on the bulbs. Amis did not like hearing them all yell at once in response to the crooning, to the nudging of the suits. Then the suits would leave with the money, the noise and the lights, and after that there would just be the coughing. The bulbs would twist around on those sofas, looking for somewhere to plug in, coughing and wondering what had happened, looking in their pockets for lights to shine into their own eyes. Looking for lights that would talk to them.
Amis preferred not being there for that. He was already on the bus on his way to his first stop. He liked drinking coffee. His grandmother had got him used to it before, when he lived with her. He had even carried around a thermos for a while. Now, he stepped into a café to get some in a paper cup. The wind outside reminded the people inside the café that it had been March for more than two hundred days. As Amis gathered up his toolbox and his pack, the movement in the window behind the woman who poured him his coffee made her glide as she passed by, a golden swan untouched by the cold of the street.
After that, everything clouded over. The rain began at midday, streams steadily coming down. The rivulets fattened up and increased their speed, like lizards chasing after each other. It refused to let up, first rain on top of everything, then rain running in the street, pushing the river, gushing off the eaves. Amis pulled plastic down over his head and walked out into it.
Late at night, the water began to move across the land. It gurgled under and over the streets. Were the large store windows of the toy shop on the town’s Mall Street still intact? The cows that grazed beside the church, just bones and skin, how were they faring in the current? At two a.m., Amis stared at the light of the lamp over his table. Then, at once, like the words for everything running out, as if everything had just decided to end, there was only darkness and silence. It was not until three-thirty that someone restored the power. By then, the water had burst into the repository. It waterlogged the tables and soaked the sofas. It pooled everywhere, on every surface facing up.
Amis was awake when he got the call to come in. He walked through streets washed and emptied by night-rain. Amis had lived in the town all of his life, and still the swan at the counter of the café asked him every couple of weeks whether he had just arrived from out of town. There were ducks on the lawn in front of the repository when he arrived later that morning. Inside, it smelled like mold. The walls were stained and things were tipped over. In the air outside that seemed to open, birds swooped and then rose to perches in the trees high up, letting out their calls. Above inside, in the corridor where the elevator’s trip ended, a window had blown open so hard that it had shattered an angel. Further along, beneath a firmament of plaster, pieces of the ceiling had come unstuck and were scattered like blossoms on the floor.
Amis worked away at tasks, one after another without much to them until he broke through to the inside of the roof. The rain entering incessantly, the hours of cascading water had penetrated the wood, and it was already beginning to warp visibly. It smelled like mulch. Light was shining in at spots. He could not help but feel that the repository would be rubble soon, that what he had been doing all morning and into the afternoon had been prettying up a cadaver. This thought off-kiltered the work. Minutes drew circles within hours, and still he could not seem to make progress. Still among the beams of the roofing, Amis felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.
Then something happened. Downstairs, there was a perceivable buzzing that seemed more than the flies that had gathered. The wallpaper wrinkled up and came unstuck with the heaviness of the humidity. The people who serviced the repository could not take the heat inside and soon left. As the bulbs squirmed in puddles that had formed on the sofas and chairs, they began to rock back and forth, waving their arms as if they were drowning. Like the drowned, they soon went still. After a few moments, the bulbs themselves began to crack and sprout. Out of their eyes came stems that greened down over their faces. The air thickened with germination where the lobby used to be. The stems that had broken open each bulb forked and grew. The air was shrubbing with entangled stems that now began to leaf. Vining became a broad exhaling. Surfaces were caressed as if written on. Walls were troweled into humility.
Once leafed, a flowering was inevitable. Colors would spill out from the repository in every direction. To bloom was to explode beyond ladders. There was not much of a chance that the structure of the building would survive such abundance. Even the fragrance seemed temporarily trapped. Color, force, contact, opening, all burst out of the husk of the structure.
Amis sat on the roof of the repository eating a sandwich. He was looking up at April. He was looking up at a sky that had transparency far up into itself. It was a clarity that could last forever.
Author’s Note on his narrative style:
About the Author
The son of Colombian parents, George Mario Angel Quintero was born in 1964 in San Francisco, California, where he spent his first thirty years. He studied literature at the University of California and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Under the name George Angel, he has published poetry, fiction, and essays in English and a book of short fiction (The Fifth Season). Since 1995, he has lived in Medellin, Colombia, authoring seven books of poetry, and three books of theater plays all in Spanish under the name Mario Angel Quintero. He continues to write and publish in both English and Spanish. Portions of his work have been translated into Macedonian, Portuguese, Swedish, Croatian, Bulgarian, French, Italian, Albanian, and Arabic.