A Man Has a Job*

The job is on Franklin Street. To get to the job the man rides his bike. He leaves his house on Orleans Street and must ride down Orange Street to get to his job on Franklin Street. It is the logical path. He hates to be late or messy. Not because he is without "edges," but because he is good. He has held the job for a long time. The job inspires a kind of authenticity that immediately links it to pathos. Perhaps he is a clerk at a drug store. Perhaps he organizes small pieces of paper for a company. Then something happens—it may be complicated or it may be simple, but nothing matters more than this: the man cannot pursue the logical path to his job; Orange Street is no longer an option. The only other route to the job, for whatever reason, is down South Commerce Street. The man realizes he must, in order to get to work, go down South Commerce Street. On South Commerce Street there is a h

Earse. The man slows his bicycle. This quiet spectacle. This elegant machine. Made to carry the dead. To convey them. Something inside this elegant machine lets out a rattle as he approaches. Strangely liquid. The man can’t help equating this rattle with whomever the hearse has come to collect. A simple connection. The mortal remains. It is a fine old house, three stories with some gentle rust on the ironwork, fresh dead leaves piled up on the steps, but there has been death. Someone who lived there. For decades. The man realizes he has dismounted. The fact that he has stopped his forward-motion, is no longer, however circuitously, bearing down on his place of work, about to be there, makes him feel something unprecedented, something he is certain it would take him days to adequately articulate. So stay silent. Be still. Shut up. The hearse emits a rattle and a low ping, and it occurs to him to wonder whether or not what it came to collect is already on the inside, already in there behind the frilly windows, in a lacquered, padded coffin, waiting to be conveyed, while the individual in charge of the hearse has returned inside to settle some piece of business, add some further word or words of c

Omfort. The man starts suddenly. It seems to him his bicycle, which he has been using as a support, leaning lightly against, has emitted a sound much like the two made by the hearse. All this rattling. Since he stumbled upon it. Since he stopped. The sound from his bicycle is softer, paler, more padded. But it is still a sound like the one the hearse has made. What am I doing here? He finds himself listening for whoever has charge of the hearse and whomever he or she is speaking to. All silent. The city gone dead. Where are the souls? Something stirs. The old house above him seems to glower. The man has stopped himself well short of his place of work and is leaning, with slightly less pressure now, against his bicycle, while contemplating a hearse that may or may not contain the mortal remains of some individual (not, he thinks, he can’t imagine anyone, even the most casual attendant, letting a corpse sit outside alone, even safely loaded, in a street, for more than a few brief moments, and those have e

Lapsed) and this convergence of circumstance has begun to exert pressure on him, which he feels in his throat, the soft, wet tissues, which causes him to emit a sound of his own, a “ha, ha” of sorts, that leaves him feeling vaguely dissatisfied and, oddly, angry. All this silence. The souls stirring. I am late for work, he says to himself, then says it again, aloud. This person is dead, he says. Not this person, he says, pointing to himself. Not this person, he says. Across the street a man wearing a red shirt goes by in an electric wheel chair. The man in the red shirt looks at him. Studies him. Something is stirring. The house glowers. Tilts. Its leaves shift. The man in the wheel chair has vanished. Murdered by distance. Work today was to be about inventory, the man says, leaning close to the hearse, aware that he won’t be able to see past the dark glass, but cupping his hands and looking anyway. What does he see? He is a kind man. He has always been j

Ust. He is well-liked at work and respected for his fairness. I was to conduct an inventory today, he says. Mr. Beauprez will have begun to wonder, he says. His breath steams the dark glass. In a way he finds comforting. Memories of something Rainy days. Cold glass. Toys behind him. Waiting for him. The warmth of a fire. You’re joking. That’s ridiculous. Never happened. Was it just that he was smaller then, that there was so little to warm him that he longed for such claptrap and still longs? What the fuck? someone says. From the house. A pleasant voice, even curled, as it is, in anger. Oh my, another voice says from behind the first. This second voice has been grated. Raked. Hurt. Who is dead? he says to himself. Not this person, he says. There is a hand on his shoulder. He can see a faint outline through his breath on the dark glass, an indication of weight, of curve. Before or behind him? Something glowers. Who is dead. He turns. I was to conduct an inventory, he says. Today. At w


*The text is an exquisite corpse, of sorts, the first paragraph having been sent to me by Selah Saterstrom. The subsequent deformations are all my own.

Laird Hunt is the author of three novels, The Impossibly, Indiana, Indiana and The Exquisite. His writings and translations have appeared in, among other places, Bomb, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Conjunctions, Grand Street, Fence, Brick, Inculte and Zoum Zoum. A former United Nations press officer and faculty member of Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, he currently teaches fiction and literature at the University of Denver.