Read What Is All This? Online

Authors: Stephen Dixon

What Is All This?




7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98115

Book Design: Jacob Covey

Editor: Gary Groth

Copy Editor: Gavin Lees

Editorial Assistance: Kristy Valenti and Ian Burns

Associate Publisher: Eric Reynolds

Publishers: Gary Groth and Kim Thompson

What is All This?
is copyright © 2010 Stephen Dixon. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce material must be obtained from the author or publisher. To receive a free full-color catalog of comics, graphic novels, prose novels, and other fine works, call 1-800-657-1100, or visit You may order books on our website or by phone.

ISBN: 978-1-60699-519-8

To my daughters:
Sophia Dixon
Antonia Dixon Frydman


It's been a long time. I don't know since when. Just a long time. That should be enough to explain it. To say that: a long time. Very long. Since I've been here, I mean. How could I forget? In this room. In this house. On this street. In this city. This state, to be sure. This country, of course. Naturally, this hemisphere. On earth, goes without saying. This solar system, what can I add? This universe, I won't even go into. Wouldn't try. We all go a long way. Very possibly we all go the same way. Maybe we all add up to the same thing. This time: who can say? Nobody, I think. Maybe some people try. Maybe a lot of people try and some succeed. I don't know. But what is it I began to say? That I've never left this room? No, I've gone out. Several to many times. But the number of times isn't important. Let's say I've only been out of this room once. But stayed away for eighty years only to return and never go out again. It would mean I've been out a long time by anybody's standards but only went out once. But that's not what I began to say. It was something about myself in this room. But too late, at least for now. Because my next-door neighbor comes in.

“Howdy do?”

“And how are you?” is what I answer.

“Just fine, and having a pleasant day yourself?”

“Pleasant. Couldn't be better.”

“Enjoying the weather and sights?”

“Wouldn't it be crazy if I didn't?”

“Well, please continue to have a pleasant day.”

“It isn't difficult to try.”

Then I'll see you then.”

“And a goodbye to you,” I say.

My neighbor leaves. I try to remember what he said. Nothing much. I look at what he left. Enough for a small meal. It takes little to feed me, and I eat. It tastes all right to bad. But a person has to eat. That's what one of my parents said when he or she spoke to me about needs. That's something I can remember that brings me way back. And a roof over your head. And clothes, if people where you live wear clothes or the climate you finally settle in gets cold.

The landlady comes in. “Hello.”

“Good morning,” I say.

“But it's evening.”

Then good morning for this morning and good evening for now. For how are you today?”

“Fine, thanks, and you?”

“What's to complain about, because really, what could be wrong?”

“I'm happy to hear that, and have a good rest of day.”

“And I'm happy to hear you're happy to hear that, and to you the same, a very nice rest of day.”

“Goodbye,” she says.


She goes. She left something. A blanket for me to wrap around myself and sleep under tonight. It's what I needed most. I had my meal. I've a roof and these clothes. Last night was cold. This morning, this afternoon, now this evening is cold. In my mind there comes a time in these seasons when it doesn't seem it can ever get warm again. Somehow she knew. But of course, for she lives in the same building and so must undergo the same cold. God bless her, I would say. Some people might think I should. Others might say or think I shouldn't. This is a world of many opinions, much diversity and different harmonies and strifes. I could almost say they're what I've come to like most about it, other than for the possibility of the new day.

Someone raps on my window. It's my super who lives on the other side of me. We share the same fire escape. My window is gated and locked. Bundled up like a bear, he signals me to let him in. I wave for him to come around and enter through the front door. He waves no, it's easier getting in through the window now that he's outside. Easier for you, I motion, but for me it'll take four times the effort to open my window than the door. Come on, he motions, you opening up or not? I unlock and open the window gate and window and close and lock them once he's inside.

“Nice to see you again,” he says.

“Same here, Mr. Block, and make yourself at home.”

Think by now you ought to be calling me John?”

“John it is then, John.”

“Fine, Harold.”

“Why'd you come through the window, John?”

“Because you opened and unlocked it and the gate.”

“I opened and unlocked them because you waved me to and then continued to wave me to open and unlock them after I motioned you to go around through your apartment to the public hallway and get in my place through the front door there.”

Then because I was out on our fire escape feeding my pigeons and thought it'd be nice visiting you again and, if I did, to get into your place through some other way this time but the front door.”

“A good enough reason I suppose.”

“Really the only truthful one I have.”

“Wasn't it kind of cold out there?”

“Actually, I could probably think up several other truthful reasons, and almost as cold out there as it is inside our rooms.”

“One day it might not be this cold,” I say.

“Something to look forward to?”

“One day it might even be considerably warm.”

“More to look forward to?”

“And hot. Our rooms, out there on the fire escape, the hallways, the whole building, will be hot.”

“It's always good speaking to you, Harold. Seems to raise my body temperature by a degree, which these days I don't mind.”

“Same here, John. And have a very nice day.”

“What's left of it I will.”

We shake hands. He leaves through the door. He left a pair of woolen gloves. I put them on. He once said he only had two hands but two pairs of gloves and one day would give or loan me one. He didn't say this time if the gloves were a gift or loan. No note either, which he likes to leave behind. But no matter. They're on my hands. My fingers are already warm. A person couldn't have more thoughtful neighbors.

Someone taps to me on the ceiling below. I get on my knees and yell through the floor to the apartment under mine. That you tapping, Miss James?”

Three taps have become understood between us to mean yes, and she taps three times.

“Having a good day?”

One tap means maybe or just so-so.

“Not too cold out for you?”

Two taps mean no.

“Are you saying it's cold but not too cold for you?”

Three taps.

“Well, one day it should get warm again, but probably not too soon.”

Four taps mean wonderful or great.

“Even hot. Maybe one day even very hot.”

Four taps.

Though let's hope it doesn't get so hot where we'll be as uncomfortable as we are when it's this cold. But that's such a long way off as to almost seem unimaginable.”

One tap.

“By the way, I've received a number of very nice things today. A meal from Mr. Day, blanket from the landlady and a pair of warm gloves from John.”

Six taps mean an interrogative.

“John…the super…Mr. Block.”

Eight taps for good. Then a long silence.

“If you're through now, Miss James, I'll be speaking to you again.”

Three taps for yes.

“You're through?”

Two taps.

“What else would you like to say?”

She taps for several minutes straight. Hundreds of taps, maybe thousands. I don't know what she's saying. A so-so here, a great, yes, no and interrogative, but that's all I understand. Then she stops.

“Well, that's something,” I say. “Anything else?”

Two taps.

Then goodnight, Miss James. And stay as well and warm as you can.”

She taps “I hope so” and then “Goodnight.” I go to bed. I put the blanket over me and tuck it in. I wear the gloves and my clothes. It's cold but not as cold for me as it was. And it could be considered a good day. When it began I had nothing to eat and no prospect of a meal and no blanket or gloves. Probably also been a better day for the rest of them because they gave me these things and for Miss James because she knows it and spoke to me tonight. I turn out the light and wait for what I hope will he beautiful dreams. Really, outside of my friendships and conversations here, dreams are what I live for most.

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