"The Bomb Party, or What Goes Up"
featuring a new body of work by Grayson Alabiso-Cahill

On view January 11 − February 9, 2018

"The Bomb Party, or What Goes Up" installation view, 2018

CNN is playing in the background, above a whisper but below a conversation. More bombings, more casualties; nothing ever fucking changes. Ben catches a hint of his hands in the reflection of the TV screen, seeing himself for a moment in the eyes of the presenter.


“There’s no fucking way I’m ever going back to that fucking place - fuck it and fuck me for working there.”


His wife rolls her eyes and walks out of the room. “We need the money” she calls from the bathroom.


He sighs, knowing she is right. Who the fuck has time for principles, he hears himself think.


Out loud, he says, “yes, you’re right, I love you.”


He gets dressed, putting on his cocoon: a repulsive inverse of a butterfly, undergoing the daily transformation into the fucking creature he sees himself as. A shitty cheap polyester tie, over a shitty cheap polyester shirt, tucked into surprisingly expensive polyester pants. He hasn’t shaved for a week, but only has patchy scraps of a beard. He is gaunt, staring at himself in the mirror, his body hunched over the sink. There is no soul, no presence in the gaze returned.


The newscaster shifts from foreign news to domestic. Fireworks are planned for the weekend. She walks through their brief history and with a small wink tells everyone to be safe. Ben remembers being a kid and telling his friend that he should light a firework in his pants.


The asshole did it, almost blew his fucking dick off. He works at a hedge fund now. Piece of shit.


Ben kisses Carolyn goodbye and leaves, gets in the car, and slowly starts to cry. The newscaster’s voice rings in his head: 5 dead, Sanaa, 4 dead, Aleppo. The list rolls on like a teleprompter that plays just behind his eyes. He can’t, or won’t stop the tears. His wife told him this kind of thing is important.


Ten minutes later and he’s pulled himself together. His hands stop shaking. Somewhere along a freewheeling descent into self pity, he hits a bottom. He feels himself filling up with a newfound rage: a sleight-of-hand that turns a glass of water into a glass of water with red dye in it. He is the same person, slightly changed.


He drives past the giant LM that looms over the factory. Like a monolith, it constantly reminds the workers of the eerie power they fall under: something so removed from their lives, but with so much control over it.


Ben’s mind wanders to the assholes sitting around their boardroom tables laughing, like Scrooge McDuck, as they sell lives for profit: the pettiest versions of Mephistopheles and Faust (Ben remembers his dad reading him this book as a child, remembers his hands that always seemed more tender than they should be, remembers the day his father got him his first job, working under his best friend). Blood rushes to his temples, a dull pound fills his ears: the distant thud of drums or boots hitting the ground in unison.


The day begins. He takes up his post in the line, and gets to work. As he watches the machines he monitors assemble weapons, he pictures himself holding hands with a sculptor, forming a chain with the pilot and the general and every other person involved, each complicit in the digging of the graves, the raising of a statue or flag or some other empty symbol.


He pictures himself in line, against a wall, the fingers of the killed pointing at him, in unison saying “he’s the one who did it.”


It’s lunchtime. Ben and his coworkers shuffle through the cafeteria together. The air is dense and toxic. Not mutinous (yet, he thinks to himself) but far from happy. They file through dingy hallways with lights that flicker erratically, plaster peeling off the walls like the shell of  a boiled egg that’s been dropped. The pure plainness of the cafeteria seems designed specifically to sap any will to live, draining any notion of a better future.


Ben sees a flower pushing through the ground and thinks of how beautiful, how poetic, how absurd it is that something so clichéd could be so beautiful.


There are a couple of brief conversations. The workers talk in small circles, acting in turn as both confessor and priest. They are seeking, like Lady Macbeth, absolution from their sins: scrubbing hands until they are raw, running with blood.


As they meet they spread word of the discussions. The harder we are to trace the better, they say to each-other. Low murmurs fill the factory. The thin rustling of workwear and heavy clangs of metal hitting metal provide an ugly score for them to talk under. None of this is out of place, but the workers notice that their manager is paying closer attention than usual. He is wearing a grey suit, with tiny glasses that exacerbate the shiny dome of a balding head.


***


It is Friday, and the workers are meeting again, in a larger group this time. They talk about the pain they feel, about what it’s like to go home every night surrounded by ghosts and guilt, about knowing god or whoever the fuck it is will not look kindly on them.


A declassified CIA guide to petty sabotage is passed around.


They spend a month following the booklet word-for-word. They wear down their machines, lose paperwork, smash printers and lightbulbs, steal the bosses pens, anything they can do to raise tensions. Ben calls his boss more profanities in this month than he had anybody in his life before. He feels satisfied; his stomach stops turning over every night. He shaves and begins to look healthy again.


***


A man, who’s name Ben forgets, calls a meeting. They gather in a storage closet. The air is hot and sticky: what Ben imagines a butterfly feels just before it leaves its cocoon. They are lit by a single bulb, its light bouncing off cleaning product and name tags, casting threatening shadows across their faces.


In a whisper the man says that he knows the steps required to make fireworks. There is a silence that seems burdened by understanding. Ben takes a moment to catch up.


It takes them a week to gather the supplies. Ben drives to work every day carrying buckets of potassium nitrate, strontium chloride and a shitload of other chemicals that he can never pronounce but can somehow get his hands on. For the next month, they quietly switch out the materials. They keep expecting to hear something, but no news comes through. There’s a tension in the air. Their bosses never notice, or if they do, don’t care.



***


Ben catches his reflection in the kitchen window. It is dark and cicadas buzz, like drones, quietly in the distance. The TV is on in the background, and he’s been half listening to some news program that’s hosted by some asshole he can’t stand.


BREAKING


The voice cuts through his daydreaming, and he snaps back to attention. He walks into his living room, and stares at the TV. He catches the bottom of his hand in its reflection, and notices that he appears to be holding a small flower that slowly disappears, trails or petals quietly fading to black.


He turns back towards his kitchen window and stares into it and through it. He smiles slowly.


He sleeps well, and dreams of a desert. He remembers a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and clouds of dust. He thinks he hears his name being called and feels an intense pain in his stomach that is only matched by a feeling of clarity. He dreams that he is like a cup with a hole in the bottom, constantly being filled and constantly emptying.


He is driving to work, and his palms, sweaty, grip the wheel in front of him. He parks, locking eyes with his coworkers. They walk into the factory.


It happens quickly. The owner saunters in. He’s looking to place blame, talking loudly about how he’s not mad, about how no one’s in trouble, about how it’s not him, you see, it’s the board and the investors. A man pours an entire carafe of coffee on him.


Like a flash of lighting, or like the moment water begins to boil, or like the cacophonous eruption of a firework over a crowd of captivated (and maybe captive) spectators, it begins.


The owner is burnt, and on the ground screaming. Security runs over. Ben puts his hand on the gun he carries with him. He watches the men and women around him do the same. They don’t realize that security is with them, that they’ve quietly been having the same conversation. One guard winks at Ben, and kicks the owner as hard as he can in the stomach. The owner vomits.


***


Ben opens the door to his truck, and steps in. There are flecks of blood on his t-shirt, and a bruise is slowly blossoming on his cheek. Two tears come out of the corner of his eye, and he ignores them.

He pulls out of the parking lot, dead eyes staring straight ahead. A dull orange sunset stretches across the landscape. He feels the light hit his face and the traces of tears slowly evaporate.


He is home. He kisses his wife. He undresses, peeling off layers that litter the floor of his bedroom like molting.


He step into the shower. Water removes thick layers of dirt and blood, collecting at his feet and staining the ground. Taking a deep breath his eyes follow plumes of steam cascading upwards, colliding with one another in empty air and then dissipating. His thoughts scatter. He is staring at flat tile, suddenly feeling nothing but a deep disappointment. He hears the front door open and close quietly, feels the emptiness of the home sink into his skin and his heart.


He falls asleep on the couch, tangling himself into blankets until he cannot move any more: a feral animal caught in a childish net. When he wakes up he remembers a dream where a young boy was polishing his shoes. When finished the boy asked for absolution. Ben said he couldn’t help him, but he was sure he had a friend that could. He wandered the ruins of a once great city, that may or may not have existed, searching for his friend with the power to absolve; cutting his hands accidentally on the edges of sharp rocks,he watches drops of blood hit the ground and explode outwards. A trail of tiny craters marked in dust follows his solitary footsteps.


When he wakes up he watches a moth lazily circle a lightbulb. He watches it land on the hot surface and slowly keel over.


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