Jump. Bray.

You walk in and everything's the same as you left it.

First the table, undisturbed; unanswered mail stacked at the left edge, a letter from a friend you've meant to write for two months on top. In the middle a crystal vase, empty of the tulips, wilted and out of season, you finally threw away a few days ago. You glance around the room and see your disorganized, poorly cleaned-up-after life dangling as sweaters on the backs of chairs and left open like books and magazines.

You throw your coat at its hook and miss, and as you use the bathroom you laugh once, a snap of understanding echoing in you -- that's why it's always unkempt here, idiot. You forget to flush and walk to the kitchen quietly.

You load the coffee maker with water and grounds and turn it on, the machine's rumble the barking of your most loving pet. The kitchen is yellow, angry and cramped, and music helps.

You hit start on the tape player on the table and sit down to the newspaper, left open from this morning's read, page C9, a story about rising fluoride rates in drinking water and the annual growth rate of children with attention deficit disorder. You're about to begin reading, the coffee gurgling on the counter a few feet away, when you hear it.

"Uh...(away from the microphone) no, leave it, 'ts fine...hey-o, hey there, hellooooooo..." begins a voice on the tape player.

There are staticy pops in the background, like a message recorded from a bad phone call, and you're blood is ice. The voice is not yours, nor Tim Buckley's (the tape you'd left in this morning), not Carl's -- the keymaster friend who you chose long ago to always have access to your life, to you.

"So you're a...Shut up, willya, I'm doing...yeah, just -- whatever, 'ts fine...so you're listening and, uh...r'you still there? Hello? (There's a sound of glass breaking) Fuck! Hey, what'chyoo doin'?"

You scan, nearly tipping your chair rushing out of it, steadying it with a shaky hand. The cupboard doors fly at your touch but your dishes and glasses seem fine. In the next cupboard, the pots and pans and Tupperware are the same. You take cautious steps to the refrigerator, ease the door open, and find mustard and milk and beer bottles and salad dressing and everything, everything disconcertingly intact.

But the room is very suddenly not yours. As you shut the door of the fridge you hear something, you think you hear something. You can't quite look at the tape player straight on.

"All right so you're still there...well, you gotta be, I guess, if you're...anyway. I'm -- my name is -- fuck, doesn't matter."

You can hear your own breathing now, anxious and furious -- tell me your name! -- and you're clenching and releasing your hands, digging your nails into your palms. The pause on the tape is too long and you move to the table, baring your teeth at the player.

"heh heh, yeah...Okay, well, here we are. In your place. Well, you can't be sure we're in here right now, while I'm saying this, and Gr...and he's back there doing whatever. Could be anywhere. Whoa, ya hear that?"

You focus and listen to everything -- the tape and its hiss, the human noise from elsewhere in the building, the grip of tires in the cobblestone alley behind the apartment building. What does he want you to hear? There's nothing on the tape but the sound of his shallow breathing.

"I don't know f'you could hear or not, but there was 'is lady just now in the street out back, shoutin. I think at her dog. You know, old hag, 'Get back here'r'll cut yer fuckin tail off!'"

You laugh at his imitation before catching yourself, pawing your cheek. How can you laugh at this? You sit down, your hands on your mouth, you can't think of what else to do.

"I suppose...(sigh)...you probably want to know what this is all 'bout, huh? Pro'ly jus coming back to your apartment, hoping for some crappy hippie music, right? Is 'at what you do, you come in an listen to shitty folk music? While you make your dinner? What'chya got here...you make couscous? Potatoes? Salad? Tortellini? Jesus you eat good. And pretty good beer too, this Kiernan's. Good shit. Cheers."

He's drinking your beer. You jump at the fridge and yank it open, and there your six pack of Kiernan's sits, six bottles still there. Alright, he wasn't drinking your beer.

"What is this?" You ask everything, the fridge/stove/table/tape player/air around yourself. You ask again, looking at the spinning wheels of the casette.

"What is this?"

You try to find someplace in the kitchen where you'll fit. Here's your day:

You wake up and plod through a cup of coffee, a story or two from the paper but headlines mostly, a breakfast bar, and a shower. You drive casually to work and when you park every morning at Morgan and Bartholomew Insurance, you take a minute as you shut off the car to think well of the casual and silent nature of the morning that you'll have to be leaving for eight hours. I'll come back you whisper to silence in your head, to the silence you envision as a mersmerising figure, something with relaxed shoulders and warm clothes. I'll come back in eight hours you tell it, and then walk into a building that, despite a glass facade, seems made of cardboard inside.

You stumble back to your car at 5:30, alien to fresh air and daylight and city noise after a day-long earful of telephonic tones and voices and carpeted air. You open your door and sit in your car without turning it on for a few minutes. You do this so the silence you've promised to return to will see how devout you are. You can't call it flirting but wouldn't know what else to say.

When you come home and go to the kitchen, you turn on the coffee maker, glance at the paper, and turn on the tape player. You settle in, you become yourself again. This is what people do, this is life.

"No, 'ts fine, leave it...hey listen, Gr -- my buddy and me aren't here to do anything. We didn't take anything, you don' even 'ave to look, take my word. And it's...Will'ya shut up, please? Gre -- fine, leave me alone 'm trying to talk in here. Anyway, this is probably...well, it's not what you think it is. The...the person I'm with is in your bedroom just because he's tired, not for any bad reason. And I'm here with you because I'm...(sigh)..."

You kick your chair. You kick it and it falls over. You're sure you're kicking the voice and as the chair falls and the tape rolls a sob dirobes from your throat. You look at the doorway and try to step toward it but can't. How could you leave a strange voice alone in your kitchen? You cannot.

"There's no reason, there's no...none of it. No good, no bad, no if-then anything. I'm here because you're listening."

Goosebumps raise in Braille and you can't blink or breathe.

"Because you are listening."

But you're not. You are.

"I mean, not like I'm gonna tell you to jump up and down and bray like a horse, you know? ..."

You look for a camera, for a set of eyes in any of the pictures on the fridge to move, to catch you. He exhales on the tape and speaks jarringly seriously. "Alright, do it. Jump. Bray."

You're remembering how to cry and forgetting how to move.

"See?" laughing. "Don't bray, I was jus'kidding. Don't do anything."

You're doing exactly what he wants.

You find yourself crouching, arms around your knees and biting your lip, a tear sliding across your face every few minutes. You've waddled under the table -- you, waddling, across your floor, underneath your own kitchen table -- to listen for the voice from above. You stay there, waiting for whatever it is you're listening for.

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About the author:

Whitfield Corduroy is 23, infatuated with Mos Def, bicycling, and Dean Young.