There are thirty-two words for the kinds of cold we sit in, and we created every one of them—a pitiful attempt to make the misery seem a bit pretty, maybe exotic.
"Well?" I ask.
You continue to look out a window that will never exist, ascertaining. "Growzing. Today's cold is Growzing."
"Yes," I say, feeling the spikey bite. "Definitely Growzing."
We settle back into our chains and do more nothing.
We exist in a Radiohead dungeon, all black lights and wet concrete floors and vermin and dark and dripping water, water pooling then running along the depressions, the depressions that lead to cracks so very impending at the feet of the walls and it's a reminder every day how each day hope is a word that has ceased all meaning and the only meaning we have is the dungeon and how it frames us.
The Bends will come on again and then 15 Step and then The Gloaming and then My Iron Lung and then Knives Out and then Exit Music (For A Film) and then Prove Yourself and then Idioteque and then Faust Arp and then Let Down and then Thinking About You and then How to Disappear Completely and then Knives Out and then Reckoner and then Everything In Its Right Place and then Give Up the Ghost and then Let Down and then Ripcord and then Optimistic and then Jigsaw Falling Into Place and then Creep and then Nude and then Pyramid Song and then Like Spinning Plates and then We Suck Young Blood and then Backdrifts and then Go Slowly and then Kid A and then No Surprises and then Pearly and then Codex and then Karma Police and then Fake Plastic Trees and then Stop Whispering and then Morning Bell and then Myxomatosis and then we sit there no longer guessing. That game died a decade ago as did our cognition of every lyric, the words now blackened and scrambled. The way all of the magic has drained out of their songs. The songs we used to swim.
Now, the music is just a dead thing we can't eat.
There we sit with our bones brittling, staring at the walls, sometimes musing about their thickness. "All the way to China," you'd say. I just nodded and thought about how stupid you could be. Walls can't be thicker than continents and oceans. You talk about how man will devolve back into apes, how man never walked on the moon. When you make that maddening clicking sound with your tongue then sometimes I am glad for the bars that separate us, but that feeling is dwarfed by how much I wish the bars did not.
We can't remember but I think it's your turn so you go. It takes you one minute with eyes closed. "Kilm." Kilm is when the nucleus of the cold harbors your bones. I take in, then nod. Kilm is a frequent.
I say, "Yesterday was Kilm." Might as well be I have skin.
You tell me I look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings and this means as much nothing to me as the words of the music that drowns us now.
"I wish I could read you the book," you say, knowing books were not something I came from. You do your best to tell me its tale, of world saving quests, bravery, sorcery and evil. Your filling in the blanks your memory can't provide does nothing to hinder my thirst for the story. I see you so pleased when I ask for more. Even though you are tiring, throat raw from speaking through the music, you take a deep breath and continue. Your description of the duplicitous Gollum is almost exactly what you look like. What I must look like. The same sunless film settled over both of us. The weak of our muscles atrophying in tandem. Men becoming cave-bottom things.
We are mirrors we are forced to keep looking into. That is the second dungeon we are in.
Our bodies have ceased wanting. You don't have the strength or desire to ask for my hand through the bars and I couldn't pump long enough to make it count anyway. We talk about the early times when we'd stretch the length of our tongues, marvel at the way our bodies could connect between our barrier. How we felt like we were winning, beating something. Now we save our strength for feeding. The movement of hand to mouth and jaw and tongue a weighted task we endure, our bodies a burden we aren't brave enough to make ourselves leave.
"We are flowers. We are rocks. We are trees and stream." I continue to lie while you tell us what we are, while I become each one of them. I transform and feel. It is truth. Nobody knows—on their picnic days, beyond their back fence, next to their driveway, where they take their animals— that there are prisoners all around them, in forms they have ceased to see. Forms that stand and take. Forms without choice or power. Forms that sit and exist.
This gift you give me, give us: "We are concrete. We are ash. We are branch and leaf..."
I lie, cold, chained, becoming and becoming and becoming.
A second day comes that is Flot and you are pleased. "I will lay above it today. Again." And you gather your strength, collect a length of chain, make your way a few feet up to the ledge and lie. I do the same. Flot lies low. Flot is one that can be outsmarted. Flot is one that makes us feel like victors. We have grown accustomed to fooling ourselves.
We have forgotten our transgressions. The walls and the music have taken them. Swallowed them as part of our punishment so we may suffer for no recollective reason; two creatures trapped in a shoe box being poked with a stick.
We spin fragments that stir in dreams. I try to tell you yours; the ways you hurt them, how you took things that could never be given back. "No," you say. "That was you." I shake my head. I do not want you to be right, but here I am.
My hands shake.
"Are you sure?"
We convince ourselves we are never sure, but I know the dreams where the faces come, the name that is always mine, never yours. I do not speak of these dreams as you never speak of yours. That is the third dungeon.
The day is cold as Sittle, which is very close to Twen, but it has a lightness that differentiates itself from Twen. Twen is heavier, pressing. Sittle never settles, it's a freezing flutter that sits and alights, sits and alights, never fully sinking in. A tease of torture is Sittle. A mean one, the cold of a father.
We remind ourselves it could have been other dungeons; The Birds Flying Into Glass Walls, the Father Beating Sibling in the Basement Family Room, the Mother Crying in the Kitchen When She Thinks Nobody is Home, the Heart Monitor, the Scream, A Frenzy of Gulls. We had been spared to a degree. Our high level offenses, perhaps softened by circumstance, sentenced us to this musical one.
"I think any sound given to one every minute of every day, no matter what it might be, is insufferable. I think there is no difference," you say. I remind you of the studies done, the research. "We are a study," you say. "We are the research." I crumple a bit, into the memory of the beginning, when we stuffed straw into our ears to lessen the sound. How, when I begged and cried for you to please make it stop, you tried to give me other songs; your voice a wind that grew hoarse. How you placed your large hands over my smaller ones atop my ears to block the sound, leaving yours open and ringing.
We barely hear the music anymore. The music has un-become. It is the walls, it is the dark, it is the vermin, it is the many types of cold. It is our breaths and our excrement and the scrape of our skin on stone. No longer a refuge, no longer a separation, no longer a torture, no longer a cloak, and we cannot untie it any longer from the fibers of what we have become. It is a thing we would continue to hear-not-hear if freedom ever graced us. Those in charge must know the effectiveness had run its course, or perhaps there was a level of pain the music was inflicting that we knew nothing about, the damage working on us from the inside out. That is the fourth dungeon we are in.
My sobbing tells you what the morning's cold is. There is only one out of the thirty-two that causes this eruption: Zez. You are fine. It only happens in me, a mother's cold. On the days of Zez you make the effort to stretch through the bars, your skin on mine like a dream I have succeeded in waking up inside.
There was a time we'd try to keep ourselves alive with stories from before. You'd have more than me, a life lived with both hands immersed, a life lived longer outside. My favorite was your story of the long road bordered with cedars; the size of them, the details of the sky, the grit of the road bringing me there with you so much I could feel fresh air in my nose. How you walked so long on that road while the scenery never changed that you felt you were in a dream. Moving but going nowhere, a magician's trick, some cosmic time-stop felt only by you.
I did not live as long as you in the outside, could only tell you the one that dominated my memory: the dig. How my father drug me under sunlight to a stretch of earth that looked no different than any other. The bucket filled with spoons. The way he dumped it at my feet like so much garbage, it or me or both. How, as the spoons would wear, he'd fill it with more. The bucket, full of spoons, always full—my bloody knuckles, the peek of bone and the cursed hole, going nowhere—never fast enough for my father and how he'd make me pay for that.
"The dig never ended," I said, not telling you about the sharp stems of the finished spoons and how my father used them, how he let my older brothers use them. This poison knowledge is my fifth dungeon. Mine and mine alone.
The wettest cold is Dramzel. It is when we get the most sick. When one of us does the morning assessment and stays silent for too long we both know what to brace ourselves for. Dramzel is more than wet cold, it is true suffering, and it stays for stretches. This is the only time they give us an extra blanket, serve our meals hot. I wonder if it's something on the outside that lets them know we are in for greater torment, something like rain or flood. All we can do is wonder.
The walls told us nothing. Our eyes even less. The guards, well-hooded, reflected this back at us. We were the pinch in the hourglass, going nowhere all at once. We were standing still, unbordered by cedars, digging undiggable holes. This was our fifth dungeon together, my sixth.
You once told me about prisons. Places they held men that had beds, toilets, hot meals and warm clothes. I didn't believe you. "That is simply a house," I said. But you convinced me it was a place for punishment.
"They even had outside," you'd say. "Wind and sun on their skin once a day."
"Ah," I said. "Maybe there is the torture: giving them something and then taking it away."
You name the warmest cold Heneven. I wanted to call it Summer.
"Summer already exists. Heneven will be our summer," you say.
During days of Heneven we feel thick, like trees. We laugh. We make attempts to thwart the bars with our skin.
How we are on days of Heneven confuses the guards.
You have an alone dungeon too, your apologies screamed out of your sleep and into the music with such a force I believe I can taste your throat bleeding.
Your secret is a son and it is kept by us both. Sins can be forgotten or hidden in dreams, they can be pushed underneath things like stains on old rugs, but this son you cannot speak of was not separate from your soul, could not be covered and forgotten. He was between each bar in your cell, the chain around your ankle, each kind of cold you wrestled against. In the small mentions you let escape, I quickly knew this was worse than any dungeon for you. How when a chink of his memory jostled loose you'd turn towards the wall and not move or speak for days, as if a balloon of disease had been punctured inside of you, its black contents spreading, festering.
It was at those times I found myself trying to bite through the flesh of my calf, my gums doing no damage, the cuff of the chain holding me back from being able to give you a form of anything you had given me.
Those times, when you were alone in your dungeon, were my dungeon too.
The day you die I cannot determine the cold. It is a new one with no name. I give it yours.
After you are gone I assume your stories. There is no more dig. No more faces in my dreams. There is only you; my hand in yours as we walk down the cedared road.
I look up at you when you pause too long to ask for more of each story and the sun—the sun is on our faces.