Swimmers Club

9th March 2017


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Treading Water

Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.


Who: John Trefry
Where: Lawrence, Kansas
What: Writer, Editor


Up around overarching walls of the great hall stratify balcony ambulatories forever with doors where housekeepers in varying states are paused. The shade of a cloud passes into the murk of late dusk and does not withdraw. The draped mobile in the hall hollow turns, or wobbles, through diffuse, indistinct compositions. The breathing exhaust fan of the hall hushes. All is still. Housekeeper, smock smoothed, housekeeper, smock smoothed, housekeeper listens at a door.

Lavender human voices with squared, crenelated edges scroll down closed doors, he came of age, the final months of his companion’s struggle, three bodies, a jeering crowd taunted a suicidal youth in a high window, one small knife and a plastic sack, the anticlimactic return to everyday life, his thigh high stockings, exposed to the toxin, hiding behind the bed, and stabbed her partner before stabbing herself. Housekeepers hold their position before doors, protected behind trolleys, listening. many thousands of bats, vacillating about wanting to end her life, a winch lifting the boulder snapped, causing it to crush her a second time, all while our physical bodies lie safely in bed, and then smothered him, lights sighted over Curie Lake, as he rummaged through a trash bin, accidentally, they spent several years on the intricate composition. Doorknobs are worn by soft fingertips over immeasurable durations, he waited in the half light, a hand written letter assured him, his exact double was being held, bore the mark and used a saw to cut off the hand, barricaded in a motel room on Grade Road, he pan fried it, solid urethane and held to the mirror by a suction cup, through the door behind the stage, in misty dawn, slid his satin panties across the cramped flesh of his thighs, teeth chattering, another died yesterday cleaning his weapon, organized around fragments of a melody. Housekeeper hums along, housekeeper sings a narration, he saw someone floating, crept over the frame rising at the foot of his bed, to cross a dust trail left behind by a comet, television voices. with a nail studded paddle, silently watching the intricate design of millions of grains of colored sand pour into a nearby creek.

Move to the next door. Housekeeper listens at an assuredly silent door, through a silent door rustles airconditioner swished curtains, the cool silence of enamel tile, housekeeper touches a doorknob, the master key, housekeeper stands in the shallow throat of a gray guest room, the carpet is deeper, pattern ends, grain begins. The soft shoes have low wedge soles. Bed tossed, thrown topsheet and spread slithered and stalled in the portal at the end of the entry throat, trail 'round the corner between the bed and wall. In the thrown sheets are clothes twined. Sheer curtains of no pleated graduation are drawn over oleaginous twilight. Though full and penetrating, the light mixing with gaseous enclosure doesn’t define the dimensionless room. Housekeeping trolley breaches the throat, housekeeper breaches the throat, throw the curtains, rags wipe, linens unfurl and smoothed, coffee crusted mugs stowed, tumblers changed out, stains ignored. Sheets steeped, sagacious green with a fine dusting of white wear. Movement ripples in the granular connotation of still things. Ripples, scallops, traces and tracks, streaks, stains running through surfaces.

Shade in the corner billows. A man weaves into the gray on crepuscular movements methodical, slow, uninterrupted rhythms of pure motorized instinct. In front of the mirrored closet door, all fours, filed in the space twixt bed and wall, propped on pillows. A painted over man is almost still, his movements operating within the grain of the room, and where risen from it, rise on currents of conditioned air. His definition is movement more than form. The movement locks into two terminal positions and transits between them. Only movement brings him into the field of housekeeper functions. The man is silent. Man is dotted into, blotched into the aged stains that draw faint and changing accidents of deeper gray into the dim fullness. The man moves. At terminal positions the man is still. Under the bedclothes, the floral bedspread butte’d about his humping outcrop, a form rises and falls. The pale grain of rooms secret inner frescoes move and are still. A human shape cinched up with the seams of daylong in its skin, in the gray of a dress shirt and pants worn to gauze, or a waxed down coat of fine hair through which still shows flecks of mole and apparel bondage. His hands fingers straight and palms flat run over the fabric or hair or skin. Only the seam leavings define his contours. The room is dim, the room is dim, the room lacks contour and depth. This is quick. The dusk light through sheers is fading. They lock eyes for a moment, lacking allure. Housekeeper backs into the throat before the door, housekeeper backs into trolley and tosses, “Forgive me,” curt and don’t look away, housekeeper watches his feet, his feet only are not in rhythmic motion. Housekeeper face isolates in the powder. Her displaced eyes are skipped a few moments ahead, thieving satisfaction. The door shutting pinches the blank gray wall opposite. Clicking shut doors click shut clicking tongues in pursed lips. Housekeepers retreat, take dabs from phials of lotion tinctured with myrrh, iron filings, and salty alkaloids, fan down their lashes and bind up their bowels, follow their shadows back into haunted bedchambers for the night.

The scattered perforation of propped open doors through the morning housekeeping defensive fills the hall with twists of sunlight from a few doors of proper azimuth on the outer wall arc projecting blades of burnt white day ash. The suspended sediment of the hall is ignited. In creeping circuits dried and pulverized debauches raining livid patches of flesh disfigured by pear blossom engram, roughened by eruptions, hairy surfaces eaten into holes by ulcers and excavated by chancres, the bright pink of a half closed wound and its brick brown pick’d scabs, plastered with black mercury dressing, smeared with green belladonna ointment, dusted over with the iridescent dashed windfalls of iron filings.

The conferees on the conference floor in conversation below the horizon in the rain of wholly invisible chaff, “immense scribblings, which incidentally gives them a remarkable childlike quality. In a sense, we find ourselves, there, on the margins of,” “something I want to explore in this context is,” “that no one ever found out what happened is remarkable because,” while fingering their scarfs. Glance after musky traces. Midnight, or morning, shimmers on painted, and painted, and painted pillars and ribs trace down through otherwise dim from the glass ceiling. The condensation ring from a tumbler has dried on a table. A momentary glare revives its mineral border. It is discovered by a damp rag. Housekeeper face is round while sunken. Housekeeper face is fleshy while taut, folded while brittle. She is wrapped in crackling parchment. They are wiry and mechanistic though alive. She is line drawn.

This housekeeper, this Connie, disappears when she is still. The wrinkles cave over her fled flesh roll and dip the harsh fabric of her smock, smelling of her conferee conquest, though it dangles limp from her clothes hanger shoulders. This housekeeper, this Connie, wrinkled pouches, melted candle stockings, gray skull sockets, and now again with precise latitudinal comb tracks up her finial topped head, boards the wan, worn service elevator alone. Hanging quilted pads billow. She smoothes. They billow. The car rises or falls. A metallic, salty whisper in the elevator cables induces her limbs stiff. Without sun she swims down to clutch the seafloor instead of up through the black to a breath. Breathe out. Keep blowing to sift confectioners guts through the black seam twixt sliding doors through the dirty fake gold bolts of lightning cast from housekeeping jingling dozens of open doors pocking the hall. Blow harder. Eye sockets choke with black stars and sink against whatever direction she and hanging trolley helicopter, and blow until there is no air left, and don’t allow any more, or stop still in the space left behind by all elsewhere inhaled breath.

The elevator door opens onto the narrow ambulatory precipice. The sure trolley supports her. The cavernous hall fogs out to the disappeared brown smoke lobby floor below. The action of the big casters whirs. At the double door to the first suite she nudges her trolley against the low railing separating the scant ambulatory from the plunging hall and its echoing dirge. She listens at the doors. The blank metal slabs are mute. The tracery threads of midmorning murmuring voices from below intertwine to a single syllable approaching her dry skin, a very large gauge needle bearing but not entering.

Before touching each door Connie braces her form. In the pale flesh of the doors effuses the faint green of tired, wracked copper, putrescent eyes dying, reflecting dying transparent colors in the peephole.

She knocks. Projected rustling from inside the door flows through the carpet. She blinks at the occulted black peephole and moves to the next room on her manifest. Each housekeeper does the work alone. They diffuse busily out through the hotel and meander among outlying conferees. Some conferees slowly make conversational inroads with the housekeepers. Most are hesitant and await the inescapable traps of their rooms. Connie brushes against the men in the narrow ambulatories outside their rooms, scans them with disdainful yearning. Morning glow still simmers. Connie straightens many rooms each day. The rooms are tossed in varying degrees. Beneath the disorder is an ordinary substrate. A few inefficient moments idling here and there accrue to the eventual loss of a few rooms off the manifest.

In the first room, identical to the others on her manifest, its room number swung out on the outswung door, she freezes at the intersection of carpet and carpet in the ebb of a dazed stare. She moves the trolley through the room taking measure of all the furniture to wall and furniture to furniture berths. It fits laterally between bed and wall. It fits lengthwise between foot of bed and credenza. The proportions are customary. They occur repeatedly. Once ordered and once oriented she refers back to the manifest, puts her finger to the last unstricken room number, parts her considering mouth, throws open the drapes, whose weighted hems maintain pleats through all different wavelengths, to the ubiquitous view of a reflective salt terrain or placid lake reflecting white sky, and coronal mountain range from jamb to jamb. The block of time she spends in the most abused room is equal to the most remediated. Her movements are governed by the viscosity of an internal clock. The method for righting the vomit splashed and pillow forted is no different from the gently wrinkled bedspread and properly hung towels. Every human act is a disruption of equal weight. Her hands and eyes skating over surfaces don’t accommodate the miniature deviations of identical substance wrenched below the surface. A clump of lint between mattress and sheet, if the bedspread rides over, remains for bare feet to nudge in sleep. The sticking latch of a door, if the door stays nominally closed, remains withdrawn and the door unlatched. She operates within the bounds of the repeat. Whether ransacked or rhetorically rumpled, every motion is controlled by a master outline for straightening. She sings these in an oft wordless melody. First, gather everything from the room that does not belong. This is a wildly variable line item of straightening. Wear gloves. Second, strip the bed. A meticulously made bed, angelic in intent, is plagued still by the flaws unavoidable without freshly laundered sheets. Thus a made bed, surrounded by anything more than the distinctive footprints of a previous housekeeper, must be rectified. The soft fading of folding voices can be sensed by those who have once heard them rising in a locked room, slipping beneath chipping paint, beneath the sighing sound of cloth. The faces of the range of people who stand back from the bed after it is made to survey the smoothing over of their imprint linger vague, vapor sketched, but peaceful over a room, unalterably neat and clean. Strip these and bedclothes quickly. Below a headboard shadow the denuded mattress slab sits square to the room. Recognizable flowers, hyacinths and dandelions, aspiring across its private quilting are cropped abruptly at the piping. The mattress remains bare throughout the straightening process. Third, arrange and straighten furniture in relation to the bed. Things may seem in the right place. Nudge them deeper into their ruts. Fourth, wipe down surfaces. Spray disinfectant in rags first. Small objects like leaflets and ashtrays, pick up and wipe under them. Realign with vague discolorations found beneath. Leave large objects. Wipe up to their bases. Lamps and telephones are dammed into place with moistened and dried dust. This work extends into the watercloset and collects other implements of mediation, toilet brush, paper towel, and if necessary, abrasive pads, squeegee. Fifth, replenish items. These are replaced whether apparently used or not, toilet paper rolls, down to the paper spool or completely full, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, soaps. These are replaced only if clearly depleted, stationery blocks. These are never replaced unless missing altogether, stickpens. Glass tumblers and linens in the watercloset are replaced wholesale. Check the ice bucket. Sixth, woven upholstery is stiff brushed. All manners of unidentifiable debris fall to the carpet amidst the froth of fabric fibers averaging the foremost hue, champagne, old rose. Seventh, this froth and what sediment more was trod by the occupant is then vacuumed. Use the well established ef pattern beginning with the upper arm between still bare bed and window in side to side motions, backing around into the upper stem between bed and credenza with up and down motions, executing a serif around the teevee stand atop the final course, before turning side to side again across the lower arm between the bed and watercloset wall, back into the alcove stem. In closing, make the bed with fresh linens, same bedspread. This performance also follows a choreographed ef of rote footsteps with precise footprints on vacuum tracks. Over the bare mattress whose cropped field bore what resembled accurate pressings of recognizable blooms stretches the first fraught coat of fitted linen whitewash, then the pointed and tacked topsheet, upper arm taut, foot tucked, foot tucked, lower arm taut, smooth out trapped air. Smooth away recognizable flowers, hyacinth and dandelion and loft the grotesque bedspread flowers over the inert body of air across the bed slab. It falls slow exhaling. Back the trolley out. From the doorway vacuum over final footsteps from the alcove. The sheer curtains catch air conditioning. The oilcloth blackouts are stowed beyond window jambs. In the brief stir of light overflowed from the shutting door the flowerbed of the bedspread quakes and petals lift with evaporating dew.

In those half ruined rooms allowing a remaindered moment after making the bed she diffuses over the bedspread to be swallowed whole in the glowering gape of flowers. In a pristine room, the ef seal of footprints around the bed undisturbed, either misprinted on her manifest, already straightened by another housekeeper, or never occupied by the intended tenant, given the same duration, she is slowed to paralysis by the prolonged present and spreads out to fill in the empty space of day it affords her.

She spends a different sort of time in these unwronged rooms. Time is not measured by the winding up of potential, made bed, and replenished supplies. She removes her nude shoes. Outside, trolleys move past the closed door. The knocks and hails of the housekeepers keep time. In a bin separate from the others on Connie's trolley, with an inventory form in a sealed pouch, thin red lotion spreads several liquid horizons against the jumble of their cubic glass phials. A few bottles share warmth in her hand. She squats in stocking feet in the shower, diffused behind the curtain, dips in the wide mouth of one phial and dabs a small peak of lotion on her throat. The astringent magnetism of the liquid in the open phial draws dimness from the room in exchange for a sweet, decaying essence released into the air, saponifying on the tile. From the other two bottles she dabs a fingertipful and relishes on her tongue lolling and lapping. Each bottle a different fingertip. Recorking each with her other hand, she scrapes each fingertip across the portcullis of her incisors and traces their dark side with her subdued tongue. Shadows are solid objects. She is free to indulge in the possibilities of a familiar place halted in an untouchable composition. Floating across the carpet, fair sun, fine dullness organize the room. The floral landscape consumes her vision. She matches her soft stocking footsteps to her predecessor effing and kneels to the made bed without touching. Both of her eyes draw wide and fight down lashes, consume and let be devoured, let be twisted into the outstretched field, into the flat depth casting shadows into itself, into the anxious fleeting of slender afternoon. Into the bedspread unfurled over those artificial mattress flowers aping the true, she scrutinizes the artificial flowers imitating natural flowers aping the false. This ignoble art of inhuman fine weaving delineates such truths as shade on falling away petals, fine silken hairs, and short velveteen caught up with dewy raiment. The profiles of petals and dry stem medusoids over the blank wall fabric color of cream and dull gold washes. A flower garden so incorporating, at the same time utilizing such unreal forms, hearts, tangled masses slender fingers with boyish knuckles, rusted through swords, fingered wings, a human tongue bisected. Forms fill with foreshortened textures of weathered metal stenciled with spattered blotches, rubescent syrups, sinuous tartans, diaphanous pleura exposed to fluorescent light, skins marked by imitation networks of veins. Wrapped in a little glossy pocket, the repeat appearance of a pink blossom stump of an amputated limb rising from cotton wool ties the whole pattern together and removes her from trance. Silent and still but wavering with wordless whispers. Fine threads in the weave are broken amidst the pattern of represented deformities. The falsified field expands beyond her vision, and in the distant misregistered and melding stems and undergrowth waves of blank fabric in the wind recede and cower from the sun. A high, coasting and cracked thread of air winnows the cool, damp air. Someone is singing in the room next to hers, far away, not far enough. The clammy voice is trapped beneath the accent of wallpaper. She spreads towels across the watercloset floor and pulls the door shut but not latched. She plays a game of self syncope in empty rooms. In the center of the towel pallet she squats and squeals shallow breaths, focuses on each breath, holds in one last packet of gasp and leaps floating to her feet embracing her chest as bright aspects of the room brighten, brown snowstorms overtake ghastly colors and textures, meet discrete darkness and coalesce into tepid silence. She lies coiled on thick folds of terry. For some time the hotel jitters with people searching down corridors, huddling together in conversation. The mobile of streamers on rods hanging in the empty volume of the great hall turns several radians undetected. The singing in the room continues, grows louder, and ceases when Connie's eyes struggle to flutter. Her blood is ferrous and flecked. She hasn't much blood. Her flesh is discrete. Her thighs sweat, soak towels delirious with ugliness destined for the laundry. Coming back just enough, still tamped down, she slithers to the watercloset door pushed open with her frizzled bun, her face on the carpet sweats cold, a sturdy, bland upholstered chair, a chapped brass lamp through a circular glass table before the blank wall. There arises a tinny, musical whir, the oscillation of a vacuum cleaner hides behind a sheaf of confidence writ, thin walls.

In comb tracks her scalp is pale blue. The rising moons of her fingernails are pale blue. Her eyes are thick, warm wax. Wax spent is unctuous in air, thick falling on skin, showered off, scraped bare, scoured away on abrasive pads, towels kicked under vanities, under waxy vanity undersides. She vacuums her way out, retraces the sealing steps of the bed making and backs out and she'd never been there.

John Trefry is an architect and writer of the novel Platsand the caprice Thy Decay Thou Seest By Thy Desire. His writing has appeared in Minor Literature[s], the Fanzine, Entropy Magazine, Full-Stop, Plinth, and The Quarterly Conversation. He is the editor of Inside the Castle--a small press.