By J.C. Bostrom
Perhaps he entertains himself by watching the ink run through the rivulets of his fingerprints on his writing hand. Pink fleshy lines rise above the black ink, like reeds through streams, or, maybe it is the ink that seeps beneath, and into his skin; something akin to puddles sinking into dry earth until it dries out again, leaving caked cracks to face the sun. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t do this at all. Perhaps he presses his fingers down onto a piece of paper. Lifts his fingers slowly, sticky paper following after them, tacky tar-like noises as the membrane of ink separates, and compares the lines on the page to the ones imbedded into his flesh. Perhaps he notices a crease on the tip of his middle finger he had previously been unaware of, a crease that cuts across the swirls in a straight line and he wonders when that happened. Maybe there is no crease and just a missing splash of ink.
Perhaps he rocks back in his chair, finding the exact balance between pitching forward and falling backward. Perhaps there is a weak leg that will tip the scales sending the chair out from under him. Or maybe there is a worn groove in the floor that weak leg might slide into. Or maybe his own strength and forced overcompensation will decide whether he lands exhilaratingly on his back with rigid pegs digging into his muscles or disappointedly on his feet in which case he will have to tip his chair back again. Or maybe he doesn’t.
He might drop splotches of ink onto a piece of paper instead of his hand. He might watch as something that, when handled with practiced fingers, crafts winding swirls and sharp corners that in some way, shape, or form tell stories but when merely dropped onto a page create bubble-topped voids with spider-vein edges. He might watch as it flows and catches through the fibers, not unlike the ink that may or may not be on his fingertips, but he also might not do that. Perhaps he does none of these things.
There is very little to do. Very little to look at. And even less to contemplate; it’s how paper and skin simultaneously, and with fervid stupefaction, become intriguing and perhaps, he decides, really, what he desperately needs is a drink and not a window with a view. Except he cannot afford a drink, not on a paltry few francs.
So perhaps, instead, he contemplates all of these things and perhaps he does none of them and instead chooses to write to his friends about the nothingness and coffee beans.
August 25, 1880
I fancy I recently posted a letter to you, telling how I unfortunately had to leave Cyrus and how I arrived here after having travelled down the Red Sea.
Here, I am working in the office of a coffee importer. The company agent is a retired general. Business is good, and is going to get better. I don’t earn much, it comes to about six francs a day, but if I stay here, and I have to stay, it is so far from everywhere that I will have to stay a couple of months just to make few hundred francs so I can leave if I have to well, if I stay, I think they will give me a responsible job, maybe an office in another city, and that way I would be able to make something a little quicker.
Aden is a horrible rock, without a single blade of grass or a drop of free water: we drink distilled sea water. The heat is extreme, especially in June and September, which are the dog days here. The constant temperature, night and day, in a very cool and well-ventilated office, is 35 degrees. Everything is very expensive, and so forth. But there is nothing I can do: I am like a prisoner here, and I will certainly have to stay least three months before getting on my own two feet again, or getting better job. How are things at home? Is the harvest finished. Tell me what is new.
He might get up from his desk to wash the ink from his hands. The white cloth that rests next to the pitcher and basin might be tinted with black smudges far less opaque than the splotches he did not drip on the sheets of precious paper and, for whatever reason, perhaps it is their dilute color or the way in which the smudges look like poor mimics of his fingerprints, but he hates their inexactitude, and instead experiences the water as it dries in the palms of his hands.
He rotates his wrist and watches as the small pool of water slinks, thinner but not unlike ink, around the basin of his palm. He places his hand into the sliver of light coming in through his room window. The small pool of water heats in his hand and is lukewarm when he presses both palms together, one hand cooler than the other.
He thinks, perhaps, he might take a stroll to the beach. Clear his head. The beach is not too far and it might do him good to remove the coffee bean scent that seems stamped to his nostrils. Then again, he might not. But there is time left in the day to decide so he tips back in his reclaimed seat and hopes the leg is not weak.
J.C. Bostrom is currently a BA Fiction Major at Columbia College Chicago, Production Editor for CCC’s award winning anthology, Hair Trigger, and launching Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Hair Trigger 2.0. Her fiction is forthcoming in Habitat Magazine, and can be found on her website jcbostrom.com.