The speck of dirt lived on the floor of the apartment, and somehow had, until now, avoided the broom. It was, after all, just one speck, and all its brethren had spilled out ahead of it and been taken up in the fan-like funnel tilt, then thrown away. The speck of dirt had watched, but impassively, as it had not been attached to any of its kin. Dirt glommed to dirt, but unfondly. What it wanted was to be left alone, but every afternoon the snuffing nose of either the vacuum or the broom threatened to destroy its existence, and it huddled under the bookcase and tried not to be seen.
The speck of dirt knew soulful others: the lint, who had seen God. The cat hair that understood something of love. The tiny broken half of pistachio shell that had been able to recite poems, poems it itself had created, about becoming one, about sheltering meat, about breaking off, decay, death. Those three had loved one another, had gathered near the speck of dirt to talk about life and their surprising consciousnesses, brains no one could identify but that were there, somehow, anyway, communication skills that only functioned with the other discarded members of the underneath. When the pistachio shell had tried to talk to the meat, it told the others, nothing had worked. I tried and tried, the shell said. How I courted it with villanelles and sonnets! Only you, here under the shelf, it said, can hear me.
The shell could not weep but it still carried an air of longing and emotion and a thickness to its speech; the cat hair emanated a boundless empathy in response. They all had been parts of larger, more desirable entities, and had been separated. The cat hair, of course, had once been on a cat. The shell had been the shelterer of food. The lint had been part of a swath of dryer lint, peeled off the screen in a blue-gray sheath, but this portion had separated out when the whole cat itself got ahold of the lint glob and whisked it joyfully to pieces.
How about you? they asked one day, turning to the speck of dirt. What do you feel, away from your group?
Happy, grunted the speck of dirt. Glad. What I want is aloneness, it said. Not these foolish mutterings of the set-aside.
But I feel a oneness, said the lint, and it said it in a way that made it sound true, not just something you heard again and again.
I’m not in that oneness, said the dirt. I am the oneness plus one. Please, can you go somewhere else?
But they could not. No one had legs, after all. They ended up where they ended up, and all four were stuck together unless the vacuum or the cat had anything to say about it.
What they wished, or what the other three wished, was to find a secure place where they could decompose together, a place of some beauty. I want to write poems of sky, said the shell. Even if I cannot see it. I want to feel the sunlight on my shoulders, said the lint. The gleaming eye of the divine. The cat hair beamed upon them. The speck of dirt would have been more than happy to assist; what he wanted, as he’d stated, was this place all to himself, and an owner who was vigilant about all other dirt except for him. He wanted to be the last remaining speck of dirt in an entire home, where he could remain quietly for a long time.
Eventually he too would break down into smaller parts and at that time he suspected he would lose whatever thinking he had available to him now. But he was fine with that. He just wanted to do it on his own.
But how to get them out?
The big break happened when the child, home from school, left the front door open on a breezy day. The wind scattered toys in the living room and finally reached an arm under the bookcase and lifted the group, moving them across the room to a far wall.
This is it! said the shell. It’s happening! It could not see but could sense the open door, the open door that would be the gateway to their beautiful cyclical death.
Lord! prayed the lint.
Wind! asked the hair.
The speck of dirt did not say a word, so aggravated was it by the interruption of its time under the bookcase and now exposure to the wide world by the wall.
The mother came in carrying groceries, and closed the door. The wind stopped. The items remained uncovered and exposed, near an electrical outlet.
Tony, said the mother, as she walked to the kitchen. Honey, will you grab the broom and pick this all up?
Tony didn’t mind sweeping; it was his main chore, by choice. To brush bristles against the wood, to find the clean floor beneath. In a minute he had all four of them up in the dustpan and down into the trash can. There, they sifted slowly to the bottom of the plastic baggie, next to orange peels and pasta curls and so many squashed paper towels.
This is not what I had in mind, sighed the cat hair, though within minutes it had made a nice bond with a shard of glass.
To read the rest of Aimee Bender's story, purchase issue 27.2 here.