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Fiction: "The End of the Telescope" by Lake Markham

It leaned in and out, it twisted and turned. It was raw, unyielding, it was cavernous—but it was always hard to catch it in the act. Bennie and Dexter drifted through it as though they were sculpted into it, as though they could negate time itself.

“I feel like we know more about this building than the people who work in it,” Dexter said. He pulled his bicycle along a bridge that cut straight through the towering facade, its windowed surfaces molded into a box-like shape around the path. When they reached a shift in the building’s architecture, they moved along with it as though it were clay on a potter’s wheel.

“It feels like a secret room from an old video game,” Bennie said, tearing off a piece of a Slim Jim with his teeth. “You can see it, but you can’t get in there.”

The building separated the island into two distinct parts, in the same way that the suspended bridge cut right through the middle of the building. Over there was that half, over here was this one. Over there were high-rises, floor-to-ceiling windows, an amusement park; there were skyscrapers, a private school, some museums. Over here was an outlet mall, an antique shop where you could buy something old. Over here there was a Subway sandwich shop, which seemed itself to be a kind of something old.

“You have to eat outside,” Dexter had told Bennie a long time ago, in the beginning, “because they won’t let you bring your own soda.”

It had made intuitive sense to Bennie—sometimes one thing just doesn’t belong inside of another.

Bennie and Dexter came to a stop beneath an elevated highway, where they could hear the cars roar past overhead. Dexter leaned his bike against a support beam and sat on the bench next to Bennie, who produced a small object from his book bag.

“Here,” he said, handing it to Dexter. “You go first.”

Dexter unfolded it—a small telescope—and looked into it, into out there, into the world beyond.

“Just by looking at it, you make it exist,” Dexter had said once, early on, in the old days.

“What do you mean?” Bennie had asked.

“See for yourself.” Dexter had handed Bennie the telescope.

The rest was history.

Now they took turns passing it back and forth, peering deep into its kaleidoscopic inner truth. They focused as much on perfecting the gaze as they did on what lay at the other end.

Bennie bit off a piece of his Slim Jim. They stared through the window of a deserted McDonald’s.

When they were done, Dexter folded the telescope, putting it into his bag for safe keeping. Carrying the telescope was a duty they traded among themselves, a ceremony held each time by the one for the other. It was in this way that they shared the universe, kept it in orbit back and forth. Bennie and Dexter stood up and walked away.

Leaning against the outside wall of the Subway, Bennie bit into his brand new sandwich. Suddenly the glass door flew wide open, and a bell seemed to ring a moment after, its frail metal body unable to keep up with the violent motion of the glass panel.

“Get out of here,” an old man said to Bennie and Dexter. The old man emerged from the sandwich shop as though it were a cave. He was its owner.

“I’ve told you before.” The old man lightly bashed a broom against the pavement in front of Bennie and Dexter.

Bennie nearly spilled his soda.

“You can’t stand around by the front door like that. The moment someone sees you drinking your own soda, it’ll put me out of business.”

“Sorry,” Dexter said to the old man. Dexter and the old man caught a quick glance of one another before Dexter turned away. The old man loosened his stance, like letting off steam after a dress rehearsal. He peered into their backs as the two trudged on.

“I had a realization recently,” Dexter said to Bennie later. The sun was beginning to go down. It was early evening.

“There’s so much time in a life,” he said. “So many things you could do with it.”

They were crossing the bridge again, passing through the big building. They moved along its contours as though it were living, breathing. Sometimes Bennie would reach out and touch an exterior window.

“You could tell a story with it,” Bennie said. He was still eating his Subway sandwich. “It’s a way to tell a story.”

“It’s already a story,” Dexter told him.

“Is it?” Bennie asked.

The island they were on had the rare opportunity to see itself in itself, to glimpse its reflection in its own windows—it seemed sometimes that this was its very purpose, that it had been built just to reveal itself to itself.

The island was put there for a reason.

“We’re walking through spaces that people made on purpose,” Bennie said. Bennie was sitting on a plastic bench in the concrete cavity beneath a commercial balcony. Dexter watched Bennie eat the rest of the Subway sandwich while he stretched his tendons.

“We’re standing inside a creation,” Dexter said, “that only existed inside someone’s mind once.”

Bennie and Dexter both stopped for a moment to run their fingers over this thought, consider all the possible ways it could be felt and had.

“Can I see it?” Bennie said.

“Yeah,” Dexter answered. Dexter reached into his bag and pulled out the telescope, extended it, handed it over.

Bennie wiped his hands and took a sip from his soda. Standing up and twirling around as though on a barstool, he looked out through the brief, metal tube.

“It’s good today,” Bennie said. He handed the telescope back over to Dexter.

Dexter pointed the telescope up into the overcast sky. Dexter put his eye to it and looked through it that way—something new—and Bennie could perceive a newness in the air, a sudden change in the cadence.

“What is it,” Bennie said.

“It is good today.”

There was a pause.

“Do you want to go to the store on the other side of the island?” Bennie asked Dexter.

“Oh, that one?” Dexter asked Bennie. “Hmm.” Dexter considered the distance. He lifted his bike from the wall he’d leaned it against a moment before. “Yeah,” he said, “I think that will be okay.”

By the time darkness had fallen, they had nearly reached the 7/11, and its lonesome sign suspended high above guided them in warmly like a lamp. It was as though it were a tractor beam, or the North Star, or else as though the North Star were a tractor beam. They were the wise men—they’d arrived.

“Remember last time?” Bennie said. He drew the telescope and pointed it through the brightly-lit windows. The store’s construction made it seem squashed, like it had been dropped there on the shoreline from a great height.

Sitting right beneath a bridge to the mainland, the store’s parking lot sprawled into an asphalt plot that gradually became a rest area. Rows of tractor trailers had already been posted there to keep watch through the night. How many were asleep in those cabs, on the other side of the darkened windows spread out in rows right before them? It was impossible to know.

“It’s bright inside,” Bennie said. “But it’s not weird like last time.” He passed the telescope to Dexter, who took it after chaining his bike to a bench outside.

Bennie and Dexter passed through the sliding doors that served as the threshold to another world.

“That was so long ago now,” Bennie said.

“Mm,” Dexter said. Dexter held the telescope up to some magazines, some items on the shelf.

The man behind the counter looked on, as though he expected a truth to impart itself to him. He remembered the last time.

“Is it in here, Dexter?” Bennie asked. He combed through some snacks on the shelf. This 7/11 had the good snacks. It was because of all the truckers.

“It’s everywhere,” Dexter said. He folded up the telescope, stuck it in his bag. “Do you want to get one of these?” He gestured plainly towards a selection of calzones on a refrigerated rack.

Bennie was silent.

“You can get one kind and I’ll get another,” Dexter said, facing the calzones. He turned to look at Bennie. “If one of us doesn’t like ours, we can trade.”

Dexter was microwaving his sandwich at the front of the store as Bennie was paying for his.

“Long time no see,” the man behind the counter said.

“That was so long ago now,” Bennie said, “I’m surprised you remember.”

The moon was a spot in the sky when Bennie and Dexter got to the bench where they parted ways every night. Bennie sat down on it, and Dexter looked at him.

“We did a lot today,” Dexter said. He was standing up straight, holding his bike there.

“Do you feel okay?” Bennie asked Dexter. He could still faintly feel the heat of the calzone on his tongue.

“I could talk for a little while if you want,” Dexter said.

“Can I see it?”

“Yeah,” Dexter said. Dexter reached over his shoulder and pulled the telescope from the side pocket of his backpack. He handed it to Bennie.

Bennie took a deep breath and pulled the telescope open slowly, so slowly that it felt like an eternity to everyone but Dexter.

“How is it now?” Dexter asked. Dexter pulled his bike around a pillar where he brought it to rest. He took a seat on the ground beside Bennie and looked up at him. Bennie was silent for a few moments as he peered out further and further.

“It’s fine,” was what he said when he said it. “Same as always.” He kept staring straight ahead down the vibrant, refractive column. Then he said, “It’s still you and me from last time. Just looking down the same telescope.” Bennie handed it back over to Dexter. “See for yourself.”

Lake Markham is a writer and musician who lives and works in Nashville, TN. Deeply rooted in continental aesthetic theory, his creative work focuses on the relationship of the artist with their art, postmodern alienation, and the hermeneutic continuity of existence.

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