by Matthew Sharpe
Whenever Rose closed her eyes she saw it. It greeted her when she lay down in bed each night to go to sleep, and at any time during the day when she wanted to rest her eyes. It was very big—hard to say how big because it was never next to anything. It was a rectangle of true black within the more hazy black of closed eyes. At first Rose didn’t feel one way or another about it—it was just there. Then she got curious and thought it might mean something, the way dreaming repeatedly about eating a peach in your underwear at your father’s grave means something. She read books both learned and silly about dreams and visions, but nothing she found in them came close to describing the rectangle that she saw even when, experimentally, she closed her eyes for three seconds here and there during the day. Rose was a high school English teacher and so the most obvious thing was that it was a blackboard, but blackboards were horizontal and this was vertical, and nothing was ever written on it, and in dreams and visions there was typically a story or at least a series of events or something living or lifelike, but the black rectangle behind her eyelids was not alive and did not change. And it wasn’t behind her eyelids—more like closing her eyes enabled her to see this thing that was always there anyway, though she could not say where there was. “What’s the matter, Miss Rose?” her students said to her when she did not get up to greet them as they filed into her classroom, but stayed seated behind her desk with closed eyes beneath which dark purple crescents had begun to grow in the last few weeks. Who wants to go to sleep with that staring at you? No, staring wasn’t right, it didn’t have eyes, it was using her eyes to muscle its way into the world. Muscle wasn’t right either of course—again it was not alive, could not be communicated with, certainly not reasoned with. Nevertheless, she began sharing poetry with it—reciting what she knew by heart because she couldn’t read to it: a few William Blake poems, some by Emily Dickinson, a little Li Po. Then she had to start memorizing poems in order to have new ones for it. She tried avant garde poets she’d never had luck making sense of, thinking she might be an uncomprehending conduit through which meaning would travel from the poem to the thing, so that even if the thing itself didn’t mean anything, it could at least be joined in a circuit in which meaning was somewhere. By the end of a year she knew a hundred new poems, and at parties she recited them to her friends, who were delighted and perplexed by this new ability of Rose’s, and when they asked her what had made her decide to do this, she shrugged. She had not told anyone about it and would not—the fact of the thing didn’t allow itself to be apprehended beyond her own mind. Rose was a young woman, hardly out of her thirties, married once, divorced, no kids. One day when she did not arrive for work and did not call in sick, a colleague went by her house after school and discovered her body, still in bed in her nightgown, a stroke, as the medical examiner later would say. When she was being lowered into her grave, a black rectangle whose meaning was intelligible, she was accompanied, though she could no longer think, feel, or see, by the one whose meaning was not.
Matthew Sharpe's novels, in reverse chronological order, are You Were Wrong, Jamestown, The Sleeping Father and Nothing is Terrible. His short story collection is Stories from the Tube. He is working on a collection of very short stories, of which "It" is one. He has taught writing at Columbia University, Wesleyan University, Bard College, New College of Florida, and Pratt Institute.