During the day, Gavin suffers but when he comes home every evening, his house rewards him with sugar. He works for the City’s Department of the Unexplored, a mere blip of budget, one line in a folder that hasn’t been opened for decades now. If anyone in City Hall even knew the Department still existed, the aging bureaucrat (aging only in a metaphorical sense, a matter of demeanor, since Gavin couldn’t really make out her age) perched (endlessly perched) in a cubicle across from his, would be very surprised. And she would express her surprise with that faint smile of hers that communicated anything but amusement, more like a snide remark that broadcast that she knew it would be this way, yes? She might even have told you so, right? With her, in a little office tucked into the back of one of the many destitute buildings which City Hall owned, Gavin worked as a surveyor. His job, to the extent that anyone even cared that he did his job, was to survey and explore the myriad places in the City that were not just unexplored but un-explorable. They were so not by virtue of danger or even of remoteness; a lot of them, like the bottom of overpasses filled with trash, large, hollowed out blocks of concrete by the river which ran through the City, abandoned floors of multi-leveled transportation hubs and the such, were readily accessible to the various dwellers of the City. In fact, multitudes passed pretty close by to where he worked, every day, hordes of bodies going to and fro on their business without even for once imagining that Gavin, toiling in the obscurity of shaded areas long forgotten, even existed.
And so, he suffered. It would have been one thing if Gavin had been someone who seemed poetically destined for such a position. Maybe someone who enjoyed being out of the way, in the peace and quiet of solitude, in the shade of abandoned places? Instead, Gavin was quite a charming and outgoing man, well built and possessing of many physical qualities which could be deemed attractive. He had a strong chin, a pleasing face, a shock of dirty blonde hair, and a well built physique. Nor was he any loner or hermit by nature; more than that, up until the time he had taken the job with the Department of the Unexplored he was even somewhat of a socialite, managing to avoid the usual pretense and disgusting veneer of superiority which infected so many of those who aspire to the title. And then, one day, currying the favor of this or that officiant of the City, he had agreed to have his name enrolled into the aforementioned Department. He no longer remembers what this favor was; undoubtedly it was nothing major, just another social bauble to trade away in the ever-flowing game that was the City’s night life. As he vaguely recalls thinking at the time, like he had thought of countless other baubles before it, he would be asked to perform some sort of degrading, uncomfortable or menial task for a while in exchange for said favor, a task which would quickly vanish as said officiant’s attention drifted elsewhere on the bloody playing board of political snakes and ladders. He didn't even remember what he had traded this task for! That's how fast he had expected all of this to go away, just political small talk, really. A thing you do and then discard, like a once-bitten cucumber sandwich, quickly forgotten for its blandness. But, in this case, for some reason, the job persisted. Make no mistake, the attention did indeed drift; the visits by attachés and vice-under-secretaries and consultants and adjuncts which had plagued him for the first few weeks of his job as surveyor quickly disappeared as he settled into the Department. He had gone so far as to buy a potted plant for the fecund, musk-filled cubicle he occupied.
But that’s the thing; he had bought a potted plant. He knew the name of his employer. He had a routine and rounds to make, discarded places to survey, details to jot down in a notebook no one would ever read (a fact which was obviously crucial seeing how the un-explorability of the recorded, discarded places must be maintained). He even had ever-nebulous but all-too-present lunch plans to go to. The political attention drifted but the work persisted; his back constantly hurt from bending over into umbra-filled caverns that were once highways of some sort or other, his eyes were regularly red and veined from staring into the lairs of bats, his clothes were be-smudged with the mud of the refuse heaps which now stood where the old Municipal Museum had stood before it was torn down in the name of “urban revival”. In short, Gavin suffered and, for the first time in his quite privileged, if somewhat unremarkable life, this fact did not ultimately lead to respite. There was no object coming, purchased by over-zealous parents, no modest yet not unsubstantial amount of money directed into the obscure coffers of City Hall (coffers which, ironically, he now often walked in cartographical attempts which, by definition, were doomed to failure) or some other mechanism conjured or traded for which were to cause the suffering to disappear. Instead, the suffering persisted and the job hung over his days, like so many fumes over a bog from which only a few return and none of the survivors named “Gavin”. Despite all this, he was committed to his work; he found that, somehow, for some reason, he enjoyed it and wanted to be good at it. It was as if the vapors of the marsh that was the Department wrapped around his heart and squeezed in staccato rhythm, eliciting a twisted similitude of a regular beat, pumping blood through his veins so that it may carry oxygen to his muscles, so that his muscles could take him deeper and deeper into the unexplored ligaments of the City, to where no-one, by definition, was ever meant to go anymore. Despite this dedication, he could find no true pleasure in his work and he suffered; he couldn't even not care. If he could bring himself to improvise reports, waste most of his day in hidden laziness or get lost on the way to assigments, maybe he would have suffered less. Maybe he would have, at least, enjoyed the sordid and moribund pleasures of the lazy. But alas, Gavin found that this was not in his nature. He was a climber and, even as the mud closed ever tighter around his ankles, his instinct was to climb. Cast away to a place where all his most worthwhile and innate attributes were useless, Gavin wilted in the shade of abandoned skyscrapers, parched in a sea of faces that had better places to be.
But there, in the draconian pace of the day, dictated by the crushing force of municipal labor norms (which his boss followed within an inch of her life, often literally), was the one saving grace of Gavin’s current life. Home was no longer a perk, not a place where work was expected to happen (refactored into an attention for the self, into the cultivation of a “beautiful” personality through the rigors of hobby, passion, and moonlighting). Home was part of the schedule; every day at five o’clock in the afternoon, when Gavin was probably just returning from whatever broken memory he had been exploring, everyone (that is, him and his boss) would go home. Promptly. Without excuse. Without failure. On pain of reprimand and scream and an Official Filing, the template for which his boss kept in her filing cabinet, locked away against a doomsday of insubordination which had, luckily, never come. Then, once the allotted time had come, Gavin would gather up the revenants of a sandwich (his lunch), some scrapings of paper (his reports for the day, which will go forever unread), and his belongings (a fine, dark green coat from a previous life, an attache case to carry said forever-unread reports, and an umbrella, when rain called for it) and he would head home. He would make the long trek to the other side of the City, where he still lived in an apartment leftover from his previous life, in a ritzy, linden bedecked, avenue ridden, marble infested, flashy part of town. This apartment he could afford by paying a meager part of the rent from his meager paycheck (the cost of which still left him with very little money to himself, almost as if it were engineered to make sure he could keep the apartment while constantly hanging at the edge of bankruptcy which, of course, was exactly the case) while the bulk of the payments were shouldered by his parents, happy to pretend that their son was still a social climber, if albeit a rather unfocused one and no matter that this outdated location forced their son to bear the brunt of the considerable punch behind the City’s traffic jams.
Thus, an hour and a half after he had left the office, the true pearl in the undeniably smelly and barnacle-heavy clam that was Gavin’s life was revealed: his house awarded him with sugar. Fumbling for his keys, he would unlock the unassuming door on the ground floor, and with his feet making a crunch on every step, he’d walk into the house to find his foyer covered with sugar. This began a year and a day after he had accepted the job at the Department of the Unexplored. One day, a weekend as it would happen, he opened his door, hastily grabbing an umbrella to fend off the rain and the wind which were making themselves heard outside, and was promptly buried up to his knees in sugar. It flooded in like a tidal wave out of nowhere, suddenly occupying the space which had before stood empty beneath the frame of the door with a million sweet particles, crystalline structures tumbling to roll on his lovely, gayly painted floor. Gavin laughed. What else was he to do? Suddenly, instead of outside, buried in the harsh, unrelenting, uncaring pace of the street, he was buried in the albeit chafing but ultimately pleasing texture of a veritable mountain of sugar. And good sugar, nonetheless; he could tell. What light shone from the moon through his window struck the crystals and grains of glorious glucose. Nor did this flood of sugar stop over the coming weeks though it was not consistent, seemingly regulated by some eerie, otherworldly, and unpredictable flow. Some days Gavin would come home and find no sugar there at all, though perhaps the smell of caramel hung faintly in the air. Other days it would seem as if the sugar would never end, threatening to fill every crevice and every nook and every cranny of his house until he would drown in it. But, somehow, never did; somehow, he found pockets of air in which to reside, marveling at the wonderland made of pearly walls he now occupied. Most days the flow was comparable to the original event, “simply” a mound of sugar which rolled into the apartment and up to his knees.
If Gavin was being honest, and about his sugary miracle he would like to be, it was not wholly unpredictable; during the day, sometime in between his dispirited attack on his sandwich (good bread, cheap, yellow cheese, fresh tomatoes and just a bit of onion) and the final waning of the labor hours, he would start to get a tingling between his ribs and his back, in a special spot nestled just off his heart. This sensation and its intensity afforded him a kind of stunted, limited premonition into what his regular door-opening would bring, whether fructose storm, light drifts of sweetness, a beguiling absence which nevertheless hinted at remembered presence or the more common slow, alabaster roll towards his knees. It wasn’t an exact science, mind you; like all things to do with sugar, gauging the right amount beforehand was a complex and unpredictable effort. So too here; sometimes, his sensation would seem negligible and minor only for Gavin to return home and be entombed in walls of caramel. Other times he would return expecting an onrush of sugar only to find himself disappointed, chasing after a fragrance rather than the substance itself. But there was one and only constant, a universal parameter that gave Gavin a guilty, wonderful delight: the sugar flowed for him and for him alone. In the first few weeks after the first arrival, Gavin conducted experiments. He would call what little friends he still had from his previous existence and would instruct them to meet him at his apartment (“yes, that apartment, yes I still live there, oh come on now Marcy, just be there at three o’clock, OK?”) where he, naturally, would not be. They would take the short flight of steps that led to his door quickly, expecting to use their momentum to knock only to find a sticky note pressed up against the unassuming wood varnish: “be right back, gone to get snacks! Please let yourself in”. Gavin, hidden in his nest up a flight of stairs would snicker as they read the note, imagining the look of frustration and eye roll which he could not see. His smile would quickly disappear however as their hand went to the door knob, a quick breath silently inhaled betraying his excitement at what might happen. But nothing happened. Time after time, on different days of the week and times of the day, a parade of his once-friends would open his unlocked door and step into the normal, usual, non-sugar filled foyer of his apartment. To his disappointment. To their chagrin Gavin would never return from his snack run. Of course he could have; he could have come down from his nest with a bag of chips in hand (the good kind) and apologize for the delay and spend quite a nice evening with people he used to like, some of them even love. But instead, he stayed in his concealed nest and waited until they left, muttering to himself and shaking his head at the recalcitrant attitude of sugar.
Luckily for Gavin, he quickly gave up his experiments and gave himself over to the inner sensation of being special, of being singled out, of having something that no one has or has had, to the best of his knowledge. Surely, Gavin thought, if this had ever happened to anyone else it would be documented in a book or a journal! He would have heard of it, even if only in the form of a childrens’ tale, its original meaning now lost to metaphor and rhyme. But there was nothing; technically while still on the job, Gavin scoured abandoned sections of libraries long given up to mold, whole wings of archival storage spaces lined with dust, and even the dreaded Shipping Archive down on Silver Street, where the door quite literally fell off its hinges when he opened it, rusted with disuse. As he went from place to place, like a bee seeking the honey of knowledge, leaving behind the pollination of presence and echo, thoughts of writing his own account of what was happening to him gathered in Gavin’s mind, like so many storm clouds of ambition against the mountains of the mundane, fighting to break free and bring forth rain. And he would have done it too, really; you see, inside Gavin there lived a need from which, unbeknownst to him, sprang his special attunement to the sugar, through which its flex and flow influenced him, from where sprang his delight in being chosen, the need to be special, the need to be heard, to be accepted. It was this need perverted which led him to take the inconsequential job in favor to the minor City Official even though something in the transaction had seemed off, some glint in the Official’s teeth as he spread his lips wide when Gavin signed the referral form which screamed to him of subtle danger. It was this need which had made him such a good socialite before that fated, barbed deal; people responded to this need in him, sought to sate it and then ride out the night on Gavin’s euphoria, basking in the warmth he radiated when pleased and perhaps tipping his euphoria into a heady rush of madness which often turned physical in ways which lead to pleasure. This need, this warm spot burning just below Gavin’s heart, in between rib cage and back, was only stoked by his isolation. In contrast, in the harsh chiaroscuro that existed between Gavin’s desires and the bare concrete of the monuments erected by municipal generations now discarded alongside the self-same generations which had built them, that flame burned ever bright. It yearned to dispel the shadow, to rally against the cold message of the alley, to beat back its inherent message of “you don’t matter”.
“I don’t matter?!” It cried and, in crying, grew stronger “oh, I’ll show you!” And so, after years of toiling in those destitute places, Gavin was ready to write of the miracle which spoke to him through his flame and was, he was starting to suspect, brought to life by the beacon within him, sugar called forth from the fog of war exuded by dreary existence. He would come back home from his exactly prescribed and circumscribed day at work, would hang up his fine, green coat from a past life and, right before wading through the mountain, or the slow roll, or the fragrance of the sugar which waited for him, set his mind to writing. He had his opening paragraph: “During the day, Gavin suffers but when he comes home every evening, his house rewards him with sugar.” He would start in his head, imaginary fingers furiously typing away his story, words rolling off of his passion and unto paper and into the world. But then, his feet would make contact with the sugar. The skin of his beautifully formed calfs would touch the infinitude of crystals, would feel the gruff yet somehow soft chaff of their presence on the edge of his hairs, and the image of him typing would fly out from his head alongside with the words which he had meant to write. He would gaze at the bounty placed before him, at the wonder which had invaded his common life, or he would sniff hard and deep of the fragrance of caramel which wafted through his house, or he would dive into the caverns of sugar which now criss-crossed what was, moments ago, his abode, and he would forget all about writing. Nestled in between the folds of the piles of sugar that were the bright spot of his life, their milky sheen lighting the rest of his travails with a not so flattering light, he would think of other things; he would dream of freedom, he would dream of the multitude of bodies called “a crowd” flooding into the empty places beneath the city, where only he had walked. He would dream of his boss, riding bats through the concrete pipes that poured into the City’s river carrying now not refuse but sugar, glorious, silken sugar of the finest kind, ringing with her wanton hollering, all schedules and forms thrown aside. He dreamed of his coat unravelling and his umbrella flying off, he dreamed of the City expanded and covering all the earth, he dreamed of the Municipal Museum rebuilt, refuse heaps repurposed, he dreamed of a cave by the river where the City will one day be, he dreamed of the stars so close to the Shimmering Sea, he dreamed of his friends coming over, arms burgeoning with snacks, he dreamed of post-it notes flooding from their mouths, erupting from their eyes to cover their feet, he dreamed of the sidewalks awash by a magnificent, final rain, he dreamed of Gavin, elated, raised, dais-ed, crowned, he dreamed of the God of the Forgotten Places made flesh and, finally, he dreamed of going home, away from this apartment from a previous life, away from this City and its forgotten lights, away from caverns of shade and a burning spot, bright beneath his heart, away from need and from delight, apart from it all and to home. He dreamed of that.
And as he dreamed, he ate. Gorging himself on sugar, no matter how much was there, he ate.Back to The Augmented World