by Joshua Eric Swedlow
A one-story house on a familiar street in the early morning can be seen as the sun rises. Light shines in a soft haze on the dew and mist hanging in the air. From the single window on the side of the house, above shrubs and plants underneath aluminum siding, a changing light, from a television set, gleams off the glass. Bore, a young man in a baseball cap and jacket, walks around the house. He climbs, stumbles through the poorly landscaped evergreen shrubs and up to the window. On his tiptoes, he peers into the house and lingers.
Bore turns away from the window and, with his hands in his pockets, walks the perimeter of the house. Then, passing identical houses, he makes his way to the bus stop, a few blocks past. Looming in the distance of a morning fog, a city bus. It stops, the doors open, and he gets in. Bore walks to one of the last seats on the bus and he sits down.
The bus makes several stops and slowly it fills with passengers. A middle-aged woman sits next to Bore. She carries a portable television set. Bore peeks over her shoulder and notices that the woman watches an elderly gentleman, bald, bearded and dressed in a bathrobe, brushing his teeth. His name, and the name of his television show, is Chore. A few stops later, the woman exits at her stop, leaving Bore again alone. Soon, he pulls the cord above him signaling his stop.
Bore moves through the bus terminal growing crowded with commuters. He passes magazine racks with people lingering, lines of people waiting for their buses or just making their way from one transfer to another. He passes rows of people sitting in plastic chairs equipped with coin-operated television sets. He checks his watch, realizes he has a few minutes, sits next to a fat, balding woman with a young child, surrounded by plastic shopping bags. She has plunked a few quarters into the machine and the television set runs at low volume. She is watching the elderly gentleman still in his bathrobe, eating a bowl of cereal. Bore looks down at the child squirming around on a leash that is wrapped around the fat woman’s leg. The child, no more than eight, looks up at Bore and gives him the middle finger. The television set that the fat woman watches runs out of time and she bangs on the side of it with her palm. Bore stands up and walks away.
Bore stands in line for his bus transfer. He adjusts his baseball cap down below his eyes and shifts his weight on the balls of his feet. In the cold morning, he exhales smoky air. The line moves, and he boards his bus transfer.
Bore steps off the bus and into the street, immediately beneath a large office building where he works as a mail clerk and he enters.
Approaching the security desk, Bore takes a pen, on a plastic chain attached to a clipboard, and signs in. Behind the desk, the security guard watches several surveillance monitors, in black and white, with running numbers beneath each. Off to the side of the security desk, a small portable television set plays at low volume. It has tin antennae, set up for reception. Bore peeks behind the desk and spies the program that the security guard has tuned into, again the elderly gentleman, ugly and decrepit, as he puts on a shirt.
Bore approaches the time clock, punches in. He sets his time card back in the file. He moves over to his station and begins to work the mail for the employees of the building, sorting through express envelopes and packages, filing on a wall of mailboxes.
As Bore walks past rows of cubicles leading a mail cart, he stops at each cubicle to deliver envelopes and packages. At each cubicle he stops at, instead of an employee at his or her desk working, each cubicle possesses a portable television set with tin antennae and Chore on at low volume. With each delivery, Bore lingers just momentarily to spy the program on the sets. The elderly Chore is seen sitting at his kitchen table, staring into space. Bore leads his cart around the floor and into the elevator, hits the button for the basement, and waits for the door to close.
After work, Bore slides through the revolving door of the office building and onto the street. He puts on his jacket. He makes his way down a few blocks to the bus station, sits, and checks his watch.
The bus stops at a nondescript corner, the double doors open and Bore exits. Hunched over and freezing, he walks along the sidewalk. He passes by the house with the single window and then returns to that window, climbs through the bushes and again, puts his face up against the glass and peers through.
Light from a television set glows around the back of a chair. The image on the television set in the room of the house, into which Bore spies, portrays Bore spying into the house. Bore turns away and pulls his jacket up around him, tires, falls asleep in the bushes around the house. He wakes up some time later, stands, walks down the sidewalk. The steam from his cold breath swirls around him as he exhales. He hunches his shoulders and pulls his jacket collar up around him. He makes his way back to the bus stop, sits in the glass shelter and checks the schedule again, checks his watch. Moments later, the bus appears, and he boards.
Later, Bore exits as the bus squeals to a stop and the double doors open. He has chosen a stop in a bad part of town and immediately upon disembarking the bus, regrets his decision. The street is strewn with empty metal garbage cans and cardboard. A tumbleweed plastic bag floats by. Bore begins walking in a dislocated way, passing tenement buildings and boarded up windows. He stops briefly at an old homeless woman to give her some change that he digs out of his pockets. He drops the coins in a paper cup. She pays him no attention, instead being focused on a portable television set she holds in her hands, tin antennae twisted and covered in aluminum foil. Bore peeks around her and dwells a second to watch Chore watching television on television. Chore sits comfortably in his house. Bore drops a few more coins into the woman’s paper cup and moves on past.
A few scattered passengers ride the bus on an early morning and Bore sits near the back. Each of the five or six passengers on the bus carry a portable television set with extended tin antennae crooked. Bore reaches up and pulls the cord to notify the driver of his stop, the bus stops and the double doors open.
Bore checks his watch, pulls his jacket up around him and bares the cold, walking down a large city street lined with office buildings. He passes by a large delivery truck and two men in lifting belts set a large screen television on a moving dolly. As Bore walks down the city street, the large screen television set rolls along with him at the same speed. After a moment, the set flickers on and the image portrayed on the screen is Chore, walking to his mailbox. Bore approaches the office building in which he works. He steps up to the revolving door, lingers for a moment. He walks off and the television set enters the building.
The house with the aluminum siding and the single window glows dully in frost, a changing light from a television set flickers and reflects in the windowpane. Bore approaches, hunched with his jacket collar up around his ears, climbs through the bushes at the side of the house and up to the window. He puts his face against the window and peers through. Chore sits before his set watching his own television show depicting a man peering through the window of his own house. From his jacket pocket, Bore pulls a portable television set and extends the tin antennae, flips it on and sits down, watching. Chore rises and looks out his window. When the kid notices him doing so on the portable television set that he watches, he throws the portable television set into the bushes and runs down the suburban street and into the night.
Chore, standing up in his living room, flips off the television set. He slowly makes his way to the bathroom, shuffling his feet in his slippers. He closes the door behind him. In the bathroom, he sets two mirrors opposite each other and stands between them. Looking left and looking right, he can see images of himself standing in his bathroom repeated to infinity in either direction.
About the Author:
Joshua Eric Swedlow is a visual and literary artist working on editing his first novel entitled The Book of Joshua, a fictional autobiography partially set in beautiful Paradise Harbor, Antarctica. He has completed a book of short stories that he calls Banned Book and a poetic manifesto entitled Nine. He lives in Palatine, Illinois with his wife, Katherine, and his two cats, Hobbes and Goose. His work will be included in the Spring 2019 edition of Infinite Rust and you can follow him on Instagram using @joshericswed to see outrageous pictures and the process of creating a painting, which he walks through in photographs from beginning to end.