How long has Homer been sitting here in the dark? A decade, a year, a day, an hour, a minute, or at least this minute, the one where his eyes pop open and his ears perk up, listening to the voice howling in the dark. Somewhere in the house, Langley is yelling for Homer to help him. Has, perhaps, been doing so for some time now. Homer leans over the edge of his tattered leather chair—the chair that once belonged to his father and has been his home since he lost his sight—then sets down his snifter, the brandy long ago emptied into the hollows of his throat. He stands, legs shaky at first, and for a moment he thinks he will fall back into the chairâs ripped excess. He finds his balance, takes a step or two forward, then loses it, crashing forward onto the damp floor covered in orange peels and pipe ash, the remains of the only forms of nourishment heâs allowed. Homer calls out for Langley, who calls out for him, and together their voices echo through the twisted passageways and piled junk of their home. Homerâs eyes long gone, everything has become touch, life a mere series of tactile experiences. He pushes himself upward, his hands sinking into the orange peels that litter the floor, their consistency like gums pulled away from teeth. Heâs disgusted, but has been for so long already that this newest indignity barely registers.
In a loud voice, he tells Langley that he is coming, but he doesnt know if thatâs true. Thereâs so much between them, much of it dangerous, all of it theirs.
Some of the items removed from the Collyer mansion include hundreds of feet of rope, three baby carriages, rakes and hoes and other gardening implements, several rusted bicycles, kitchen utensils (including at least four complete sets of china and several potato peelers), a heap of glass chandeliers that had been removed from the ceilings to make room for the piles and the tunnels, the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage, a sawhorse, a room full of dressmaking dummies, several portraits of both family members and early century presidents like Calvin Coolidge and Warren Harding, a plaster bust of Herman Melville, a kerosene stove placed precariously close to the stacks of newspapers in Homerâs sitting room, a variety of childrenâs furniture and clothing (despite the brothers being childless bachelors), the chassis of a Model T Ford that Langley had apparently been trying to turn into a generator, hundreds of yards of unused silk and other fabrics, several broken clocks and piles of clock parts, one British and six American flags, piles of tapestries and rugs, whole rooms filled with broken furniture and bundled lumber. There was also the matter of their inheritance from their father, which included all his medical equipment, plus his thousands of medical and anatomical reference texts, greatly expanding the already large, impenetrably stuffed Collyer family library. All in all, the accumulated possessions of the Collyer brothers added up to over one hundred fifty tons of junk, most of it unremarkable except for the advanced state of ruin and decay that infused everything. More notable items are specified below, but it is worth remembering that all had long ago turned to trash.
There were also eight cats, an emaciated dog, and countless numbers of vermin. By the time Langley was found, the rats had eaten most of his face and extremities and the cockroaches were beginning to carry off the rest.
2A. What Was Done About Your New Neighbors
It began with the newspapermen and their articles, their tales of the gold stashed in your halls, of stockpiled gems and expensive paintings and antique jewelry. None of it was true, but none of it surprised you either. The reporters have never worried about the truth before, not when it came to you and yours.
So the articles run, and then they come: not your true neighbors, but these new ones who replaced them. The first brick through the window is merely irritating, the second more so, but by the third and the fourth youâve had enough and board up all the windows. You have to go out at night and scavenge more wood, despite Homerâs protests, his pleas for you to use the piles of lumber already in the house. He doesnt understand that what youâve gathered already has purpose, is stock against future tragedies.
The bricks are just precursors, of course. There is a break-in, and then another. The first time you fire a gun in the house, Homer screams for two days, refusing to calm down no matter what you say. You count yourself lucky that heâs gone blind, or else he might have come down himself, might have seen the blood soaked into the piles of newspapers bordering the basement door.
Afterward, you move even more bundles to the basement, stacking newspaper to the ceiling, layering it six feet deep. Heavy and damp and covered in mold and rot, you know that no burglar will be able to push his way through the newsprint. It is your familyâs history that they are after, the cityâs that will keep them out.
4A. How I Came In
I came in through a history of accumulation,
through a trail of documents that led to you, Langley, and to him, Homer. I came in through the inventory of your home, through the listing of objects written down as if they meant something, as if they were clues to who you were.
Obsessed, I filled one book and then another and then another.
What I learned was that even a book can be a door if you hold it right, and I held it right.
When I arrived at your home, I did not climb the steps or knock on your door. Instead, I waited and watched and when you came out I followed behind you.
I watched your flight through the dark night air, watched as you pretended skittishness in the streets. I followed you from backyard to alley to dumpster, lingered behind as you scavenged for food and pump-drawn water and shiny objects to line your halls. I watched you take each new prize and clutch it to your breast, and when you were ready to return, I followed you inside.
I want to tell you now that I am a night bird too, a kindred breed of crow.
Like this bird we each resemble, I am both a scavenger of what has happened and an omen of what is to come.
Despite your fears, I am not your death.
Despite this assurance, you will not be saved.
I promise you, I will be here with you when you fall, and when he fails.
After you are both gone, I am afraid that I will still be here.
Thirty Harlem phone books, one for each year from 1909 to 1939: Individually, they are just another pile of junk, but read as a collection they are something else. The names change from Roosevelt to Robeson, from Fitzgerald to Hughes, a process that doesnât happen all at once but slowly, like the mixing after a blood infusion. By the 1920s, Miller and Audubon and Rockwell are gone, replaced by Armstrong and Ellington and DuBois. Read like this, they form yet another type of wall, one that is both harder to see and yet obvious enough once you learn the color of the bricks.
3B. Homer Hates the Weather in New York City
When it rains, water comes in through the ceiling, creates trickling waterfalls that cascade downward from floor to floor, from pile to pile. The wood of every chair and table feels warped and cracked while nearby newspaper bundles grow heavy with mold and damp, their pages slippery with the ink leaking downward into the carpet. Things float in the water, or worse, swim, like the rats and cockroaches and whatever else lives in the high press of the stacks. Other floors are similarly obscured by the often ankle-deep torrents, hiding broken glass, sharp sticks, knives and scalpels, even the dozens of light bulbs Langley broke in a fit when the electricity was first shut off for nonpayment.
Once, Homer remembers, it snowed in his sitting room, the flakes settling on his face and his clothes. Even with the freeze in the air, he had only Langleyâs word to assure him it was snow that fell that day. When heâd stretched out his tongue to taste the falling snow, he was sure heâd tasted ash instead, but said nothing as his brother laughed and refilled their snifters.
Caketrain is a literary journal and press based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our interest is in bringing you, reader, the very best in contemporary creative writing, full stop. Our goals are for each issue of our journal to submerge you in a birthing tank for gelatinous language monsters, young masses of tentacular foci undulating as directed (in all, at once) by our eclectic stable of contributors; for each new book we publish to seduce and ensnare you, sometimes intangibly, always undeniably; and for you, reader, to be able to draw at least one passage from our banks that prods your mind with such precision and power that it feels as if it was written for your eyes alone. To wit and to whet, here is a snippet, a slight nip of our delicious lit mix: