What is, is not. Or is it?
by Henri Hadnot

What is, is not. I get that. But if that is true, what is?

It's a puzzle, and I've been up all night thinking about it. I decide to walk down the street to talk to my friend Axel about it. Axel knows nothing, but he admits that, so it means he's smart.

I arrive at Axel's apartment without getting mugged. I've learned to walk with my pockets turned inside out for all to see, so I hardly ever get mugged anymore. (If you live in the big city in this post-Dem era, you have to use your brain to protect yourself. However, being partially white and no longer a teenager, I have a bit of immunity, so maybe it's not really the pockets-turned-inside-out trick after all. Oh, and I also shave my head and have only the required tattoos, so nobody can accuse me of taking sides.)

Where was I?

Oh, right. I'm walking to Axel's place.

No, wait a minute: I've already arrived at Axel's. That means I must have already gone up the narrow creaking stairway, trying to read the overlapping graffiti on the walls despite the darkness. Let's say there were no answers there, so I must have knocked on Alex's door. I must have heard him unlocking all of his locks. I must have waited until he peeked out, saw it was me, and undid the chain to let me in.

So now I must be in Alex's apartment. His dog is staring at me from the bed. The dog has his head on the dirty pillow, as if he was a human and not a dog. I feel like his stare is suspicious, but maybe that's only my own level-three paranoia

Alex asks me if I want anything to drink, and I say no, and he says that's good because he doesn't have anything.

I notice that Alex doesn't have any clothes on.

I ask him why.

He says the TV said it was going to be hot later in the afternoon. He says it's good to be prepared.

He asks me what I want, so I ask him my question.

He thinks about it for a bunch of ticks of the big old grandfather clock in the corner. (I once asked him why he had a big old grandfather clock when he didn't have any other furniture except for his big, overstuffed, worn-out used-to-be green recliner chair and the bed. I say the bed because I don't think it's Alex's bed; I think it's the dog's bed. I think Alex sleeps in his big old recliner chair, because the TV is right in front of that chair, and I know Alex depends on that TV to tell him the world is still out there.) Alex said it was because his grandfather left it to him in his will, and it was the only thing of value the old man had. (So it really is a grandfather clock.)

After even more ticks of the grandfather clock, Alex goes to the bed, sit on it and gently pets the dog. He asks the dog the question. I'm not sure what answers he expects to get from his dog, but he always asks.

He just sits there in his big, overstuffed, worn-out recliner chair.

That means by now, Alex must have finished listening to the dog and has already gone to sit in his recliner chair to think about my question.

I stare at him, wondering how his brain works. Axel is startlingly thin, but so far, he hasn't starved to death, so I know he must have enough money to order food from Amazon.com. He dies his hair black, so I know nobody is about to hire him without an approved hair color, so maybe his grandfather left him more than the big old clock.

Finally, Alex, not the dog, speaks. He says signification and meaning are only understandable in terms of signs.

I ask him if he means like astrology signs or something like that.

He says no, more like a system of signs working together. He says I will have to allow myself to become entangled in a web of meaning. Then I will know.

I ask him what that means, and he says he doesn't know. It's just what the dog said.

Since I don't speak dog, I just thank him and go home, meaning he must have unlocked all the locks and opened the door for me, and I must have gone down the creaking stairs while once again trying to figure out what all that overlapping graffiti means, and I must have again somehow made it down the street without getting mugged all the way back to my own basement apartment with it's ever-present smell of natural gas that I can't find the source of and the always-wet floor that I do know the source of—the lonely girl upstairs who takes baths all day long by dumping buckets of cold water on her head. But that's another story, not this one.

Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

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