It starts to rain while Lev stares at his sunglass frames and breathes back at God from his pool
chair. The flora of Annie’s house and all of Maryland flinches under pressure and her soft faded
reeds and leaves begin to atrophy and slump underneath the storm. Annie’s house, which is giant
and old, is on a plantation and sits basically in the middle of nowhere, where she would go every
summer because she is rich and her family has three houses and the feeling of getting away from
everyone was so important to her, even when she was three and seeing her third house for the first
time. Summer before sophomore year of high school she decided she would go to the plantation
house for a second time that summer, in August, with friends this time instead of her parents who
were distant and old fashioned and fine with Annie being at the Grandfather House for a week
because her mother Ainsley thought the worst thing that could happen was the boys getting
Annie’s mousey friend Sylvia pregnant, which would have happened either way, and her older
husband Grant said yes, distracted at the dinner table. The rain swells, and pullulates the pool and
Lev’s drink and accumulates milkily over his eyes. He takes his sunglasses off and is washed by
the grayness, blinking suddenly, spumed and refracted like the mimosa water in his cup.
Lev and Annie met Junior year, and she had a big crush on him and invited him to come to the
Grandfather house, which is kind of a stupid name, for basically a week with her and the girls and
Oliver and Owen, ‘who you know from the other night-‘ And Annie had an interesting face and
interesting friends so he drove up with them in Owen’s car and Annie had the best summer of her
life. That joy was completely gone and unreachable at this point, and not a single summer after
that one could give her the high she had felt when everyone slept in a pile in the living room and
she inspected his arms while he held her and fell asleep like they were in a coma together.
Annie gets out of the car she had just driven here in (Her pool is almost a quarter mile away
from the house, reachable only by a straight and brief country road that it’s easier to just drive
down) and hobbles barefoot over to Lev, holding her sunhat over her head like an umbrella and
then repositioning her left hand to her hip to precede the sentence she had been formulating
weirdly in her head on the forty second car ride over. “Joseph is back up at the house and I
thought we would make steak or something… for dinner… with the red bell peppers? Like
stuffed peppers if that sounds okay.” She had sort of already made up her mind about tonight’s
course, like she had the peppers on a plastic cutting board and the steaks on a wooden one next to
the stove, which was probably as old as the house was, Anyways, excitement or any kind of
precursory validation of her choice would be nice to hear. Joseph, her husband, sort of just went
with everything Annie said, he was happy to have a hot wife that could cook, and might have
been the most one dimensional man in the world; back at the house he was watching C.S.I. over
the baby’s head on the master bedroom’s ancient T.V., laptop open next to him where his wife
would sleep normally.
Lev hadn’t said anything out loud for the entire day, everybody had been wrapped up in their
own melancholy, aware of the rain that was coming and stuck in a preemptive rot from the
moment they all woke up, (Normally, there would have been more people than just Annie Joseph
Lev and the kid, but it was really different this year, the sun hadn’t been out at all for the past two
days, and Lev leaves tomorrow) So he hadn’t felt the need to speak at all. He shifts and looks up
at her, and she smiles fake-meanly, and as he gets off of the pool chair and stands, he steps on the
small book he left in the grass, now retrogressed and newly destroyed, like a soggy waspnest.
In the bathroom which branches off of the attic space he has been sleeping in, Lev steps out of
the shower and on to the old blue tiles and looks at himself in the mirror: He widens his eyes and
dries his stomach and back in front of himself, and touches his hair inattentively, putting on the
underwear he had placed on a step-stool next to the sink, and loose pants, which are pinstriped
blue like a sailors, floating into the bedroom to find a shirt. There is one window at the top of the
wall parallel to the bathroom door, suspended intersectionally between the roof, undressing a
singular beam of light into a dress shaped prism of lulled white dust. It had been probably a
decade since Lev had been in this room last; he and Annie kept in touch minimally after Coma
Summer ended and he disappeared back into his own life while school started again, and Annie
joined the swim team in Fall; it wasn’t until May of the following year that they randomly
reconnected when she saw him walking out of a store, and they spent a few days doing high
school things with each other and driving around in the car her parents bought her. When she
went to college she wrote him a letter once and they never spoke. Lev went to Annies wedding
when she was 24, which was awkward and pointless, and spent the night speaking with her gay
friend Ryan who was plastered and a pianist and involved in children’s musical theater; he and
Annie spoke for five seconds and Joseph said ‘Hey nice to meet you.’
Once it’s a little darker, in the dining room, gaping for more visitors and huge and filled with
cabinets and bookshelves. Lev sits across from Annie, a seat away from Joseph and the baby.
“Maxy and I have been on our asses all day”
“Yeah I heard the tv going all day... I have been staring at this email for six hours”
“I got a lot done actually I sent in that thing for Cooper”
“Okay, thats great.” Annie looks down at her plate and silverware and her oven wilted bell
pepper. “did he like it?”
“No, no, I mean I just sent it in he hasn’t responded yet. But probably yeah. He will like it.”
Joseph laughs and Annie stonely smiles and almost eats.
“Lev where were you today” Max the baby flops his head back like a Greek painting.
"He was down by the lake"
"Did you get to swim before it started raining? Its been shitty all day"
Lev nods his head methodically while processing his steak. A small bird, which had taken
shelter on the ledge of the dining room window looks down at the meal with one eye. Max is
immediately affected by this and begins to hit his hands on the tray of his high chair and cry,
incredibly disturbed and uncomfortable, causing the bird to jump down from it's ledge and onto
another chapter of the structure's circumference.
"Ugh, Max, let me get you. What happened bud?"
"He's been sitting still for too long... Give him to me, come on baby."
The bird continues to glide through the storm to a shed with a hose and wheelbarrow, and the
family’s untouched garden tools; a dirty floor slab and space for hundreds of him. The rain hasn’t
slowed down, but the space between the droplets has widened, affecting the storm’s tone and
signaling that the next portion has begun. He and most other birds measure every encounter they
have in the form of multiple overlapping visual timelines, a genetic technique resulting in the
constant mental image of a transit map-like blinking monochromatic chart, which appears to them
automatically where a human being would normally see a memory. Every time a new event
affects them there is a split in one of the timeline’s many threads, which continue to signal off in
their latest directions, swooping through the universe’s designated bird space in sine wave
formations identical to those of a church organ’s or an unspooling sweater. Realizing that the form
the downpour has taken will be harder on his wings, the bird consciouslessly decides he won’t fly
back home until later, and blinks at everything in the room at once, the shed just big enough to be
draped entirely by his widescreen vision.
After dinner, everyone sits in the living room and Lev watches Annie and Joseph drink, Max
lies upstairs in his crib, and it’s finally dark outside. Enough to warrant these long conversations
everyone would have when they were teenagers, once it was late and the whole group became
more lenient to thinking with your dick; Joseph was thrilled to sit next to Annie while they were
drinking because he could prop his arm up onto the strip of couch behind her head and show off
his tattoo, which was on his inner bicep and of a Janus head like the film company, Annie only
really found it hot in college when she met him (he was a grad student) and as they stayed
together and got married it remained dormant and stared at her when they slept. Joseph would
show her the movies he liked and was incessant about his love of them, she had no idea why she
was doing this to herself. When she was 23 He proposed because they had been dating for three
years and college was over so she said yes.
The rain enters another stage, and Lev stares at the wallpaper and this bizarre painting of two
dogs with depressing watery eyes that look like lips.
“You’ve been literally obsessed with that painting for like years.” Joseph laughs at Annie’s
sudden decision to speak and shifts to look up at the painting also.
“It is pretty weird.”
Four wet mouths trying to kiss you and two emaciated golden retrievers standing in a tobacco
Lev leans over to pick up his glass of water with out breaking eye contact with the painting.
He looks down into his cup and then cautiously back above the fireplace to see the dogs are still
staring directly into his soul.
“Who painted that babe”
“I don’t know. It’s been here since I was a kid.”
“Really awful vibes” Joseph laughs and Annie moves off of his arm.
“Don’t say that, I kind of like it”
“Really?? I’m sorry.” Joseph puts his hand on her leg, and then turns to look at Lev.
“Why do they look so malnourished. Somebody feed us! They look like somebody has been,
like, waterboarding them.”
The painted dogs continue to stare Lev down with their milky squid pupils and Joseph takes
another sip of his drink. “Very Bacon-esque…”
Annie rolls her eyes.
“It’s literally not.”
“I don’t know, just the vibe is a little bit like him”
“Why are you trying to show off. Actually I think my grandma might have painted that”
Joseph looks back at the painting.
“Lev, you took a bunch of pictures of it when you first came here”
“Oh you actually do like it!”
Lev semi nods and gets up to go pee.
He walks out from the living room and past the carpeted staircase and their shoes which are in
a small pile at the base of a cupboard with a vase on it; everything past this point is quiet and dark
with the only light in the house coming from back inside where Annie and Joseph are whispering.
There are paintings on every wall, and photos of Annie when she was a kid in a swim suit or with
her grandmother Moma, a silent italian woman; Annie would tell Lev that they would get along
when they were teenagers but she died Annie’s second year of college. There is a sepia photo of
Moma that looks blueish in the dark on a cupboard outside the bathroom door where she looks
like a worn down version of Annie’s mom. Moma was a holocaust survivor, or she was living in
Poland when the holocaust happened, Ainsely didn’t remember or care. “She doesn’t have the
tattoo…” Lev pisses and looks outside the bathroom window at the tops of the trees. The radiator
whistles at him like somebody paused and unpaused a song very quickly and he wipes his hands
off on his shirt.
They don’t talk for much longer and all go up to bed. Lev will probably leave early in the
morning. Images of the Night Kitchen ruminate in Max’s mind, blending with his crib and feet
and stomach, comparing their colors to the wall’s colors, the illustrations somehow perfectly lined
up with the architecture of the room. He was not this conscious the last time he visited here with
his parents. He might have actually never slept in this room before… Thinking about it too hard
was tenuous and exhausting because in reality most rooms are shaped the same way and every
room he has ever been in has had the same purpose, (for him to be inside of it) and in that way
every room he has ever been in has been the same room. Every room is the same and operates the
same way. He attempts to roll over but for some reason is completely unable to move. Every
room is the same in the same that way his life is just like In The Night Kitchen. Truthfully, he and
Mickey are very similar, they both sleep every night by themselves, and they have the same
parents, (when Mickey sinks through the floor he calls out to two shapes alseep in their bed, like
Joseph and Annie) they both have penises and exist in rooms. This is a beautiful line of thinking.
If every room is the same, then when Mickey is in his room it’s the same one as Maxy, and
Mickey is nowhere to be seen. These parallells are sort of disturbing, though its reassuring to
know that he is accounted for. Maybe he’s just thinking this way because it’s night time. It is
easier to think at night when there is nobody else around. Maybe he could think like this if his
parents were there but they were thinking too.
My body is asleep but I’m awake.
The room’s corners are invisible because of how dark it is. Max begins to slip out of his clothes
and sink into his crib. As he rotates backwards through the mattress he is able to see every room
in the house at once.
Annie is up at four, and she stares at her knees under her blanket and listens to Joseph breathe.
She leans back on her palms.
It’s so bizarre that Lev is upstairs; she wants to go and talk to him but it would be terrible…
She doesn’t feel good when she thinks about him it’s like he makes her feel guilty. She couldn’t
leave Maxy with Joseph, he would be a good single father but if she would go she would take all
of her. She feels terrible right now. She is excited to talk to him tomorrow, he can probably stay
for lunch or dinner and then drive out. What if she killed herself… Annie steps out of bed and
Joseph exhales while she sits on the floor. This room is where her parents used to sleep. They are
both alive and trust funding her. She and Lev never even fucked. Joseph was good at sex in
college, probably, she did’t even have a frame of reference. She still doesn’t. She literally has
only had sex with Joseph. She could have fucked in high school if she wanted to. She looks at the
ceiling, and box-breathes while the rain eases into the last segment of it’s run outside.
In the morning, Joseph makes coffee for everyone, Lev sits at one of the kitchen chairs and
Max sits in Annie’s lap. The light is gray and nice and everything outside is wet.
“Thaaaaank you for coming man”
Annie walks him to his car with Max in her arms. She has flip flops on and the grass is cold
from the rain.”