A Perfect Host


Unpacking, 2021

by Marc Goldin

I received my notice of eviction last week but have been unable to seriously entertain thinking about it or addressing it. I suppose it was not a surprise, I had seen the warning signs but honestly, I thought I had more time. I didn’t panic – I never do, but it was not a feeling I was at all familiar with. It’s not that I haven’t been put out before, asked to leave, vacate or whatever it is people call it but this was unexpected and suffice it to say, a little startling. I wasn’t sure yet where I would go but I was not worried. I would find another place, maybe not as hospitable but a place that would suit me. I was surprised that I had any feelings about this event at all, other than the convenience aspect but I was very flexible and so convenience (or lack of it), as a state, meant nothing to me. If you’re looking for something familiar to describe this, I suppose simply, a task to be completed on a checklist that held other tasks, some finished, some not.

And yet, I felt what could be described as a twinge of sorts. Yes, that’s it. A twinge of something – regret? No. Despair? No, definitely not that. Sadness? Not at all. A more precise description might be the feeling one has upon having been in close association with someone or something followed by the knowledge that this state or relationship would soon be ending. I wasn’t sure I knew entirely what that entailed – endings, and at the opposite pole, beginnings? Time, or sensation, as I knew it to be was not really measured or demarcated by those words, or descriptors. My sense of things was more like a flow – I don’t recall a beginning nor end, I’ve always been here it seems.

Here, in this case, means a state of consciousness, at least in the various places I’ve stayed. I’ve always had a sense of being, shall we say, enveloped by that in which I’ve been housed. Housed also means something different to me. I’m not sleeping on a park bench (although that could happen) or in a forest but rather within a body and a consciousness. Oh, I know what you’re thinking – what is he talking about? Housed within a consciousness? Yes, more or less – it’s only inside of a certain type of configuration that I exist at all. Before I become present, as it were, I have to be contained within something that also exists, although that existence and mine are very different, even though we may share a path for a time.

Now you must be thinking that I have totally lost it but what? Lost something, you would say – your mind, your wits, yourself? Or else I must be under the influence of something mind or body altering to be talking like this. I assure you that I have my wits, such as they are, completely about me and that I am not altered by any outer or inner factors; I’m fine, at least by your standards of measurement

Mine is a simple existence, I’m not sure when or how I arrived but it seems like I’ve always had a type of awareness of where I am and what sort of consciousness I happen to be in. I guess the closest thing to that which would be understandable to you is companion. Someone with whom one shares a place, a path or an evening. I’ve had many companions over the flow that you call time, probably too many to recall. I don’t really deal in memories, maybe a moment or two but the instant that connection is broken and I’ve moved to the next occurrence, it’s all gone. Which is how it should be, I’m simply trying to survive and exist and whatever form that takes is what I’m left with.

The darkness came some time ago but I have no way of conveying an actual measure of time. One instant, all was light and warmth and the next, a dark and cold descended. This might’ve happened earlier but the cold darkness always gave way to the light. I do have what could be considered a sensory capability albeit a rudimentary one. It seems very binary – darkness and cold are states to be avoided while light and warmth are sought and I cannot exist for long in that previous state. So you see, I do share something basic with my living and traveling companions.

But then, the darkness returned and has not gone so I realized that something had changed or shifted. It became no longer hospitable for me to remain but I found myself unable to leave, perhaps unwilling, or the closest sense I have of that feeling.

H had just finished his meal while listening to an older record of music – jazz, I believe it was – a John Coltrane album. Sound filled the room, a beautiful sound. I didn’t have the sensory sophistication to determine that level of perception; beauty or its opposite, ugliness, but I can always tell by what chemicals or internal substances flood his body while engaged in something like this and what I floated in was warm and comforting. Through this, I knew that what he was doing was something to be appreciated, a state to be attained. Obviously I had no control over that but I knew when it was happening so it was possible sometimes for me to effect a small motion that might set the scene for something like that to occur. Whatever he had been eating must have pleased him as well because a similar reaction was present and produced the same feeling in me and I was glad I’d found him and signed on to travel along with him.

I don’t have the ability to remember as you call it but previous sensory events are somehow stored within me in some ordered fashion so at times, I can call back or retrieve various sensory recollections and attach vague time frames to them, although it wouldn’t, by any means, resemble the type of memory or time frame that you would comprehend. So in this way, I pulled back a sense of when H and I first connected, or rather when I slipped into his body and he first became aware of it.

It was actually quite an event and not necessarily a positive one for him. Internally, he had never encountered anything like me and his body was initially unsure of how to respond. All I know from the first moments was that there was a resistance of sorts, mounted by him, his body really, which made it somewhat uncomfortable for me to be there. I was having a difficult time orienting myself and getting situated because this resistance was making him sick and flooding him with the wrong sort of chemicals. Wrong, in the sense that the reaction caused a darkness and cold to descend which is an environment that I am unable to live in for too long. What I was able to do was to transmit some kind of signal that this was not a situation that required his bodily intervention, that nothing was life threatening to him and gradually, the forces of resistance subsided, returning him to a level of stasis and the light and warmth resumed. After this experience, I would continue to seek this state within him.

I recalled the place I had previously lived and remembered that it had proven inhospitable to me, despite my best attempts at internal serenity. The person was simply too damaged to provide a reasonable setting. No matter what I did to bring a level of relief, the continued onslaught of negative chemicals and liquid kept the dark and cold around constantly til I realized that I had to find somewhere else to be and it was then that I encountered H and jumped ship to travel with him.

H had regular daily rituals and customs, probably not unlike the rest of humanity; that he pursued. I guess he’d had to work as well, the activity that provided him the means to survive in the world, to live indoors and have nourishment. It was a simple existence and he did not seem unhappy on the whole but I sensed that there may have been frustrations on his part. As I mentioned, he loved music, visual art and literature, especially books. I think he fancied himself a writer, or creator of books, someone who worked in the medium of words but I know that this also proved an area of frustration and some unhappiness, most often when he was unable to engage or be fully present when working with his word constructs. He would remain in the same physical position for long periods of time, hours, I suppose, just staring off into space and not doing anything else. He didn’t realize that this aspect was sometimes necessary to the act of creating more word constructs – he seemed to feel that if he was not physically doing something, then he was somehow a lesser being. I didn’t know this conceptually, more felt it from the internal imbalance within him that would always end up impacting my state. I’m not able to experience or comprehend what he was actually feeling the same way he was feeling it but chemically and sensorially, I knew that the climate had shifted and not for the better. In the beginning, I tried to remain where I was, in some sort of suspended or dormant state so as not to make anything worse for him internally until his spell had passed. Usually his mood would lift after a time and the state of things would not feel so acute but it would not return to a level of stasis either. The best way to describe this to you would be a kind of residual vaguely melancholic state where it was not exactly light and warmth but rather the moment where the dark and cold just begins to dissipate. At these times, I would just stay quiet within him until the moment had passed.

On the whole, I have to say that H was what could be considered a happy person. Not happy in a shallowly giddy sense of the term but on a deeper level, happy in his world. Others of his kind knew or sensed this and reacted positively in his presence. In this regard, positively means that following his engagements with his fellows, the state of light and warmth would absolutely flood him and continue long after it should have in most people and I was the beneficiary of this good feeling.

One time, however, I acted in such a way as to influence H rather than simply react to whatever he was experiencing. He had been at his writing for a while and apparently not getting anywhere (at least by his standards) with it. He had become morose, that’s what I reckoned based on the lack of light and warmth chemicals within him so I sensed that he was not in a good place emotionally. I quite stumbled upon this accidentally – I moved or shifted a bit from my usual spot and this seemed to cause him some pain and discomfort as his physical defenses rushed to the fray. What was different here was that instead of curling up or taking to his bed as he had in the past, he became defiant and seemed to use his pain and discomfort as a force to drive himself on. The next several hours were a blur as he wrote and worked as if he were in fact experiencing this out of body. He was inspired and this corrected his earlier malaise. At the end of this frenzied activity, he more or less collapsed but from work well done. He was happy with what he’d accomplished and this seemed to make him feel better internally so of course, the light and warmth returned and glowed on for a long time after. I floated in my own small space as well and felt the strength of this glow.

Events like this happened periodically and I felt that I come to know him so well that I would make a pre-emptive move which had the effect of triggering the pain phase, at which point he would rise up, literally and figuratively so to speak, and work through his discomfort til something was produced. Ultimately, what he created brought him a measure of relief which in turn, delivered the balance and stasis that we were both seeking. In this way, we became collaborators of a sort, my urging him on with my somewhat unorthodox method finally got him to a place where time and space for him was suspended and he dwelled in what his more primitive forbears might call a holy spot.

This went on for a time and he achieved a level of acceptance and success, at least among his peers and colleagues which is all I believe he ever really wanted. Until the darkness returned and was different.

It came on quietly and subtly but it was clear that something new was happening. H tired more frequently and even his own internal resistance began to wane.  I wasn’t particularly alarmed yet, I felt that collectively we could fight this off and return to the state of being that we both experienced and bathed in together. Alas, it was not to be – I began to see the signs of a kind of shutdown in the atmosphere of darkness and a newer sensation, dread. I was not able to personally experience or feel dread in the sense that H did but it was decidedly different and not a space that I could live in. No longer would he sit for hours, working in his word medium nor would he bother to find any joy in his music or audio sensations. I felt that perhaps I should be looking around for a new place to live but I realized that I couldn’t leave him. I found that odd – I had always been able to move on easily when the time came, from this one to that one, on and on but here I stayed.

Yes, this was entirely different for me. My usual procedure of quickly finding a new companion was not working for me the way it normally did and I didn’t understand why it wasn’t. My only thought was that I felt some kind of abnormal connection to H, something I’d never experienced before, and I found myself flummoxed. I had never felt that level of connection with whomever I was sharing a living arrangement so why now? It was so odd – like and dislike do not exist in my sentient state so it wouldn’t have been a matter of staying because I liked him or felt something for him in the classic sense. It should’ve been easy for me then to seek out another place and simply leave but I found I couldn’t. Loyalty is another human construct that does not exist for me so it was not a question of that either. As far as I know, every living organism has a built in survival mechanism that does not permit otherwise unless that organism is damaged and as far as I could tell, that wasn’t the case. Had I simply tired of the survival struggle?

The darkness was fuller than I’d ever seen and chemicals that I’d never encountered before now puddled around me, squeezing me from within my usual spaces. I now saw what dread looked like from the inside and I realized that this was not going to right itself, that it would continue in this way until the flame that was H’s existence went out and all would be forever cold. I was familiar with some of the various organ functionality within him and as I looked around, I found those functions shutting down or severely compromised. As I’d mentioned, my sense of time isn’t the same as yours but I had the sensory feeling that this darkening was occurring more quickly than I had assumed it would be. The opportunity to move on was still there but the idea of doing that repelled me in a kind of primitive way.

Externally, looking down from above, H was laid out in his bed surrounded by his human colleagues. The company was a comfort to him and that was evidenced by little occasional flashes of light and warmth in the midst of this subterranean darkness. I stayed where I was, not wanting to move and cause any minor upset, maybe hoping my presence would also bring some measure of relief. I also knew at this point it was probably too late for me to leave but I was oddly at peace with that knowledge. I had no idea what that would mean – to cease to exist. Maybe it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t be aware of my non-existence. What I did know was that I did not want to leave this person no matter what that meant for me so I would stay and see it out – to bear witness and be subsumed in the process.

The darkness was the same but it was starting to get colder, my sensory capabilities registered heat and cold and somewhere, I realized that the end was practically upon us. Us – what a curious construct. It had always been separate before. The vehicle only mattered so long as I was within, once I was gone, it was of no consequence. What faint light that had twinkled earlier began to go out, except for an occasional quick flash – I supposed these to be residual nerve synapses firing and I wondered what this felt like for H, or if it felt at all. Perhaps he had transited from this place as well but then I felt an infinitesimal twitch of sorts that let me know he was still there. I knew then all would soon be done and I curled into my microscopic nook to wait. I wondered if there was even the smallest gap between the end and one’s realization of it and I guessed that I would soon find out.

It was even colder now, I couldn’t recall, in my limited way, feeling anything like this. Even through my rudimentary sensors, it was jolting. For the first time I was aware of, it was cold through to my core and there seemed no possibility of any warmth. If it felt like this to me, I could only imagine how it must’ve been registering on H. With any luck, he was beyond feeling anything but I couldn’t be sure. Oddly, I was now experiencing a slowing down of my own sequence of sensations, almost like when one becomes sleepy. Nothing was occurring in any kind of order, at least that which I was used to and I found myself recalling for an instant, sensations I had felt in an earlier time, in a long ago different body. Very strange – I’d never had one of those instances of recall so why now?

Colder still, I thought I would just freeze over and stop. Suddenly, for a second, I felt myself rising up to try and fight my way out of here, the organism’s involuntary survival mechanism kicking in one last time, as if asking me did I really intended to stay and perish but I looked past that moment and dug myself in more. Everything had slowed down further, to the point of almost nothingness as a couple of stray sensations floated past, as if to bid me adieu.

About the Author

Marc Goldin writes fiction (and the occasional creative non-fiction piece) and has had a few pieces published. Work has appeared in Deep South Magazine, Crab Fat Lit Journal, Café Dissensus as well as a piece published in a music anthology collection, Stories of Music Vol 2. Short stories make up the bulk of his work but he has been at work on a novel for the past few years.

Based in Chicago, he travels whenever possible, both domestically and internationally and is at home in several cities in the US and Europe.

He immerses himself in music of all sorts and shares a space with an aging but still spry, one eyed Persian cat, who demands the world.

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