Hardware Cafe

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Crawling out from under the toilet brush cover in the Hardware Cafe bathroom is a silverfish. I don’t know what else to call them. ‘Silverfish’ is a word as familiarly alien to me as the arthropod it names, because I never uttered the word, my elementary school friends did. They would tell me of the silverfish infesting their bathrooms. I never had silverfish in my bathroom. I had earwigs. Silverfish always inhabited some other domestic universe. And the word itself seems lifted from a lexicon undefinably different from my own, like how those who say “wash” and “warsh” and “roof” and “ruf” are different. Silverfish are troubling to me because to name them I have to be someone else. In other words for me they reanimate the trouble with all words, with the way language eviscerates.

What do silverfish do? Their elongated, water-droplet shaped partitioned exoskeletons look threateningly sleek. They seem to move without legs, and bend easily from head to tail. Insects and spiders might make one fear being bitten, stung, or crawled upon. The threat of a silverfish is not annoyance or pain, but rather undetectable violation. It could slip like a liquid into any orifice, even your ear. And once inside, who knows what it is that they want? They’re threatening because purposeless; they would mindlessly wander about inside the brain, the intestine, under the skin, until eventually they completely by accident run across something vital. This is not out of malice or biological need (they do not feed on you like ticks and mosquitos). Their evil is sheer ignorance, of an alien encountering an alien, not just ignorant of any harm, but ignorant even that anyone is there.

To the degree that our dealings with others are determined by forces outside our awareness, we are silverfish. It might be said that when we are most ourselves, we are silverfish. There are those things we can’t help, and then there are those things we don’t even know we do, that only others recognize. This is an especially strange line of thought to follow in a cafe because the knowledge of what another is unaware of might only come with intimacy, and even then it’s unclear. One notices all sorts of things about people, but their consciousnesses are lost to anyone else. And it’s not as if we carry around a catalog of what we’re aware of. One does not check off a little box that acknowledges that one is aware of X, Y, or Z. Awareness is not continuous, but momentary.

The silverfish has moved three inches, and now remains completely motionless on the floor, seeming almost to hide in the shadow the sink casts. I leave it like this and flush the toilet using the end of a PVC pipe labeled “push here.”