The Moors by Ben Marcus
Do you work in an office? Do you have a break room? There is one brick wall and one table in the break room in the office where I work; there are fruit flies. You can't operate the microwave, the blender, the toaster at the same time; they will all stop working. The coffee pot sits on a stand separate from the other appliances -- a cabinet peeling paint with so much acidic abuse it looks like espresso graffiti. If you walk into the break room after 9:30, there is no more coffee. A tiny space between the table and the brick wall is the pathway to the coffee, and you will inevitably rub your junk against another's junk before the office opens for business. It is bodies maneuvering harsh and nasty under fluorescent lights. A surrendering.
Every room is a fun house if your face is broken.
Originally published in Tin House, Ben Marcus’s first piece in several years, The Moors, is a hot pustule of a story, filling 72 pages with the brain speak of “Thomas The Dead.” Thomas works inside a laboratory, inside a building, in some nameless city where birds drop from the sky to mark the passage of time. Minutes inside hallways last for years. “Buildings were coffins, of course, but that came later. First they were killing machines.” “Crawford Labs” hosts the eight-hour torture party in which Thomas bloats and leaks, masquerading as a living person despite constant small deaths. This space demands negotiation of the worst kind: bodily negotiation, movement, limb-allowance. Thomas offers what is perhaps the most approximate and perfectly fucked perception of an office break room: “Somewhere there were architects rubbing their hands together, laughing at the idiots who were daily demoralized in the spaces they designed. Demoralized, crushed, belittled, and then, just for fun, de-sexed in the most complete possible way. Genitals flicked off neatly at the base. Holes smoothed over with one of those Photoshop tools. Bottoms filled with putty.” No mercy for making living, only endless humiliation at the hands of builders constructing every embarrassing pore. Why pretend we are anything but scrubbed pigs shuffling from one sty to the next? A suit is a tie is a watch is a pair of pantyhose all fit to hogtie us in an assembly line of slaughter.
Speak Well or Be Killed
The excruciating possibility of chit-chat between Thomas and a female “colleague” is what drags us to “The Moors,” the break room in which Thomas thinks the woman killed, fucked, handled, all the while maintaining a facial expression he believes will contain his stinking consciousness. He wants to make words "that would not, when it was analyzed for content and style and delivery, by just whoever gave a shit, get him committed to a home, or tossed in a closet that someone somewhere must keep warm for the miserable and lonely and disturbed." Pray, no, beg (wait, same thing) for the gift of good speech. In Marcus's other books, The Age of Wire and String and Notable American Women, persons often stuff their mouths with cloth; the toxicity of language a thing to be understood and prevented -- sometimes through diet, sometimes through suffocation. Thomas tells the woman many things inside his head. The moment when he must open his mouth and produce sound to meet her casual "Hi Thomas, what's up?" with a satisfactory answer polite and coherent enough to pass as “civilized” is held off for ages until Thomas utters two sentences so catastrophic in their infantile desire they punch the air with dread. I can't write these sentences here; I can’t even say them a loud without swallowing. The shame is too great. It is my favorite moment in any story I’ve read this year.
Marcus is the kind of writer I obsessively underline, sometimes returning to certain lines and copying them in a notebook, maybe pretending that those are my words or at least enjoying the presence of such language-grace between my clunky alphabet. The Moors is a parade of perfect sentences exploding inside careful paragraphs. I read the tiny book two times in one night, and now my copy is marked, emphasized. It is a morsel for those of us eager to read his next book, The Flame Alphabet, but despite the serving size, there is much fat to be had.
The Moors by Ben Marcus