about the author

Jill Summers writes short stories, puppet shows, and, once, a play. Her work has been featured by Chicago Public Radio, Monkeybicycle, Knee-Jerk, Stop Smiling Magazine, Ninth Letter, Featherproof, and MAKE Magazine, among others.

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Everything Seen and Unseen

Jill Summers

John T. Nangle is an unkempt man. He is held in perpetual halo by a dusty galaxy of dandruff and toast crumbs, a constellation of tiny sparks of brilliance, and the errant twinkle of eyes so blue they lowered the seventh. On the street where he is standing there appears the disembodied scent of churros, and he smells it and his appetite becomes excited and quivers. He does not like sweets, but the cylindrical shape of the churro, the powdered and crispy tube that now floats in his head recalls the similar shape though relatively smooth physique of the hot dog, which is his favorite non-food, eaten without caloric retribution, a food of the Gods, which satiates while leaving appetite enough to enjoy both the wanting and the consummation of the next meal. John T. Nangle thinks about hot dogs and decides he will buy one and eat it.

He is a young man. He does not look as young as he is.

He does not look both ways before crossing the crowded street to make his way to the hotdog stand on the other side.

On a bus stop bench near the stand there is a woman reading a book. She looks up and lowers her head quickly. He catches her eye and pulls it back up. He asks her something she doesn’t understand, and she laughs uncomfortably. But there has been a misunderstanding. He is not interested in charming this woman. Like the churro to the hot dog, she has sparked an association deep below the tussled surface of his scalp. She is a woman reading a book. He is in love with a woman who often also read books. But his woman is dead. He cannot walk across a crowded street and find her.

Far above them both in a far larger galaxy, an alignment is being planned in the midst of millions of lesser stars. Once achieved, this movement might inspire apocalypse or enlightenment. For now, the anticipation of this dance between the earth and a large ball of fire millions of miles and moments away is no secret to the man now eating a cylinder of beef in a steamed white bun. He knows that there is a significant gravitational force that will come from this tilt. It will not be like every other dance.

Years have passed since she died, so many that John has trouble remembering what her voice sounds like. Of all that has slipped away since then, this is the heaviest weight. Their first meeting was like a reunion. He, his Sun in Aries, loved to argue and debate, was witty and pugnacious, and adored being the center of her world. She, her moon in Sagittarius, looked for the good and the noble, wanted to know everything about him, and was overly critical in the loveliest of ways. They shared Saturn in the earliest degrees of Cancer, and with this came their common need to hold on until knuckles turned white and wrists were raw.

John T. Nangle finishes his hot dog, and licks a bit of mustard off the cuff of his sleeve. He finds a piece of onion stuck in his zipper and tries to act like he is scratching his lip when he hides it in his hand and eats it.

Not a day of these years has passed lonely of the dream of her soft white skin or of the laws of eternalism that might make it possible for him to meet her again, existing as she must, in the separate chunks of past and future that flank him on either side of the present. It came to him one afternoon as he sat on the front porch of his building watching neighbor girls move Lego pieces over and over from head to tail of long Lego strands. The afternoon sun dragged light from east to west, across porch posts, spindles, and spandrels, hiding everything’s flaws in shadows one moment and illuminating them in unforgiving streams the next. Time was a cylinder, a tube, infinite and spinning. He scrawled equations on napkins, recorded bits of theory on the backs of receipts, stuffed them into in his enormously over-stuffed wallet, and determined that it was all a matter of the right year, the precise alignment, of changing the course of a moment in midstream. He would wait for the equinox of March, and on the day when everyone else moved their clocks one hour into the future to save daylight for long gone farmers, he would keep his lost hour, hold onto it until November. John T. Nangle would move time.

When John first met his woman, she was moving a stack of boxes from the front porch into the until-then-vacant top floor of the apartment building he lived in. She was dressed in pajama pants and wellies and wore a tattered fur hat on her head. The woman turned when he spoke to her. She didn’t understand what he said, but she didn’t laugh. She had been thinking about the life of the 100-year-old building. She could see in-between the layers, she told him.

In another slice of time, she said, it is warm for late summer, but cool on this brick porch. In the center, right where we are standing, there is a small round table set with a white plate of tea sandwiches, cucumber and watercress on brown bread with the crusts cut off and fed to birds. On the perimeter there are four tall glasses filled with tea and mint. There are four woven wicker chairs, two that rock and two that do not. Two men in white summer suits rest their elbows outward on the arms of the rocking chairs and use their feet to push back and forth while they laugh at the stories of two young women in gauzy pastel dresses sitting across from them in the stationary chairs. Behind the women, there is a maid in a black dress with one hand on a tea cart and the other pressed up under her armpit. The small lunch plates on her cart quiver as the pressure of her clenched hand grips the bar of the cart. She wonders why they cannot see the smoke rising behind them, the flames that ravage the buildings, the people that run through the streets pulling at their hair. At the table the conversation turns to children, turns to politics, turns to love. The maid looks at them, looks behind them. Her knuckles turn huge and white, and she slowly disappears.

It’s happening right now beside us
, she told him. Can you imagine?

John introduced himself then, and the world beyond the porch, suddenly had no meaning.

Back in the present, John leaves the hot dog stand and is happy to see the sun sinking into the tops of buildings. He shuffles over curbs and sidewalks, past bus stop benches, and panhandlers and makes his way home. He hurries up the porch stairs and up into his apartment and busies himself gathering his notes, some written neatly on lined tablets, others scrawled on bits of paper towel, the corners of menus, and on shreds of sandwich wrappings. Long into the night, he retrieves them from tables and counter tops, from inside cabinets and under furniture, and from within the pages of her books. When he is sure he has them all, he presses them together, and takes this pancake stack and holds it in-between his chest and his crumpled oxford shirt. The alignment is right. Hand clutching the calculations against his heart, he shuffles back down his stairs, the dusty aura around him glowing. He goes to the street and locks himself in his car.

Elsewhere, women stand on step ladders wrapped in bathrobes and move the spindly arms of kitchen clocks forward. Elsewhere, alarm clocks and microwaves consult their internal calendars and skip ahead in time. Shut inside his car, John T. Nangle pulls the battery out of his phone and lets the vintage clock face on the dashboard move into the hidden hour with him. Within the filo dough layers of before and not yet, he has a single hour to find her. More than an hour and the layers, the light and crispy sugar-dusted layers will double up. Piled up on the fold, she will be harder for him to find.

He closes his eyes. There are no fireworks, just a small sigh, like the tearing away of wallpaper, like the fading away of a white knuckled ghost. Outside the window, clouds advance on the moon like flies swarming before a storm.

On the street, a dog barks. John opens his eyes. There is a woman walking the dog. She is tall like her, she holds her clothes around her with her free hand in a way that is painfully familiar. He sits forward in his seat and wipes his breath off of the window. She brushes her hair off her face and adjusts the collar of her coat. He catches her eye. They are in the same world. But it is not her.

John feels the mistaken stack of papers move with his breath, pulse inside his shirt with his heartbeat, and he knows she gone. She is dirt in the ground. She is dust in the air all around him.

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