Exhausting Four Places
After Georges Perec's 'Exhausting a Place in Paris' (1975).
Three hours, four times, in four places.
Exhausting a Place, Abigail Holcombe
Today is March seventh, it is one-forty in the afternoon and I am sitting outside situated in a large rattan cushioned chair that I bought last summer at a thrift store (it is very comfortable). It has big curly wooden arms that curl and circle around in an ornate gesture. The sides of the chair have a chevron pattern that organizes and reinforce the rattan material. The coating on the wood is chipping off from being exposed to the weather - we had a cover but the dog ripped it up. The fragments of the cover still lay on the ground, cast to the right side of the yard.
A large crow flies overhead.
Other remnants of things broken or being repaired lay scattered about the yard:
- the metal fire pit that was miraculously crushed and bent by the dog
- remnants of old frisbees
- severed sticks
- a grill that's rusting
- another patio chair that has fallen victim to the dogs boredom
- a rake
- a plastic bucket from Ace Hardware
- wooden boards (awaiting new positions to repair holes in the fence)
- piles of leaves
- a severed limb from our tree that was brought down with the storm last Fall
There are moments that reveal, through remnants, who lived here before we did. (It’s a rental.) Long wooden planks are fastened horizontally, lining the bottom edges of the otherwise vertical wooden fence - my guess is for reinforcement. On the day we moved here our dog wouldn’t go to certain areas or patches of the backyard (although now she doesn’t do this). This leads me to imagine that those who lived here before had a dog. It’s funny the ways in which dogs leave traces for one another - like little messages - friendly or not so friendly. Anyway, remnants. There’s a nice little moment where a large brick, a slightly smaller stone and a small organically shaped slab of concrete rest against the bottom of the fence - leaned against the wood so as to cover a small hole in the fence - an attempt (I assume) to keep the dog in. We have done the same in our own ways. Two weeks ago I filled the Ace Hardware bucket with water and set it out in the snow in front of a rather large hole in the fence (caused by the fallen limb from our tree). It froze overnight and did the trick for a little while. Now it’s melted.
A dog barks in the distance.
Cars ‘whooshing’ by on the busy road just several houses down from us.
The wind comes in waves today, it’s blowing a little more now.
It is fairly sunny today too, no definitive clouds in the sky, just areas where the sky looks hazier.
A tall brick pillar attached to the school building can be seen just beyond our fence. Lots of trees surrounding as well - all bare.
The caw of a bird from one yard over.
The noise of the cars stop momentarily.
The wind stops.
It’s nice when things stop for a moment.
Now I can hear cars going by again.
An (motorcycle?) engine revving in the distance.
It is a good motorcycle day.
I hear the rustling of leaves and sounds made by our trash can just beyond the fence - Travis must be taking out the trash or recycling. But the garbage pick up isn’t until Tuesday morning.
I hear the fence gate creak open and the leaves rustling underneath as they get caught up in the swing of the gate, the sound of wheels turning. He must be going for a bike ride. Gate closes again.
The chair I am sitting in rests on top of a gridded pattern of cement square stones - three vertically in each column, seven columns, 21 squares total. Between the stones - wood chips, small twigs, bits of leaves and dog hair. We laid it all down last summer to keep the patio area from flooding when it rains. We moved in on a rainy day. Amongst the twigs and mulch various pieces of straw lie about. The surface of the yard is about ⅓ of the way covered in straw, this is to keep the mud at bay. There is a vertical stripe of ground (without grass or sod) that spans diagonally across the yard. Our neighbor told us there used to be a “sewer line” or “some sort of line or pipe” that ran through where our yard is now. Now when it rains it just becomes a mess, but the straw is helping.
The sun isn’t setting, but is no longer positioned as high in the sky, it’s mid afternoon.
A bird chirping from some way off.
A dog barking a long way off.
The wind picks up again, this time the branches on our tree rustle a little. The tree is positioned near the middle of the yard, its roots span nearly the whole yard.
The wind feels colder now.
The wind stops, and back again.
I have a small clementine orange sitting in front of me on another piece of patio furniture. I wonder if eating it will change my read on the tree or the wind. I check the time - still about two more hours. I sigh, staring off into space. My eyes glaze over for a moment. I realize I don’t listen to birds or cars very often. Another dog barks.
Time seems to slow when I notice it, and race on when I’m not looking it in the face. And when I look for more of it, it always seems to slip past me. When I want it to speed up it seems to slow and drone on.
The dog barks again. Now it’s gotten the attention of another dog. They’re saying something, but I don’t know what. The caw of a bird in the yard over. I see the silhouette of a biker pass by on the other side of the fence. I know it isn’t Travis - he’s much shorter and besides, he set off in the other direction.
“this way mom”, a small (I assume because the voice has that ‘small’ sound) child calls, riding along on a bike silhouetted against our wooden fence. More talking but I can’t make out any words. A car horn sounds.
A leash is tied around our tree like a belt, it rests against the ground.
The sound of some rock music.
The sound of a car door slamming shut.
More indistinct conversation from far off.
Another car door shuts.
Two beeps (to lock it I presume).
The napkin under my clementine orange blows in the wind.
I feel my attention fading.
I reposition myself in the chair (just my legs).
A bird sings a few yards over.
The shadows are getting longer now.
An inventory of objects within my view:
- A woven door mat
- A plastic box - slightly chewed up
- A plastic pot with a dead plant inside
- A bottle of “Roundup”
- A green and orange plastic bottle, I can’t make out the label
- A metal shovel with a wooden handle
- A square stone (different from the matching ones in the grid pattern that make up the patio area)
- Tangles of cords
- A pile of sticks - the shovel is amongst the pile of sticks making it hard to distinguish the two from one another
- I count eighteen large sticks but then give up, there are lots of smaller sticks and twigs making up the pile as well. I don’t dare try to count them all from this distance
- A hose
- A bag of dirt (can’t make out the label) in a green and yellow bag with a picture of unnaturally fluorescent green grass
I notice as I inventory these things I’m not able to continue to note the various bird calls and dog barkings going on, but they are still happening.
- A plastic piece that's supposed to be at the base of the gutter is detached and resting on the ground which is connected to a makeshift plastic piece tied to the end of the gutter (another attempt/remnant). And no, our property management company will not be receiving a five-star rating
- More sticks
- The Ace Hardware bucket, made out of white plastic with red lettering for the large print “ACE” and the rest of the words are in small black print. The bucket rests against the fallen tree limb, in front of the hole in the fence it was attempting to block.
- One frisbee remnant
- And another (I promise we walk the dog a lot)
- A rake on top of a pile of leaves
- Three tall wooden planks rest against the side of the fence to my right
I reposition myself again in the chair.
- The broken fire pit
- The rusty grill - black with a kettle-like red top
- Two tennis balls
- The remnants of the used-to-be-functional chair cover
- The patio chair (the one I am not sitting in). Its corners have evidence of chewing.
The (backfire?) of a car or a motorcycle. It speeds off with a loud acceleration.
- The patio stone squares
- The large rattan chair that I am sitting in
- A square foot rest/small table that matches the other patio chair I am not sitting in
On the foot rest/small table:
- One small clementine orange
- One glass of water with a lemon wedge floating inside
- (both are sitting on top of a napkin, waiting to be used
- An orange pencil
- A highlighter
- A blue pen
- A grey pencil
- A printed copy of the pdf with the description for this assignment, resting under my phone which is keeping the time
Now I add ten pieces of ripped up orange peel to the foot rest, I divide the orange into ten sections, eating two at a time until I get to ten. My fingers are now orange and have that weird white residue that always appears after peeling an orange - what is that stuff? I use the napkin.
The napkin has ornate detailing on it, along with what I think are supposed to be grapes and a vine with leaves attached - oh it's supposed to be a grape vine I guess. They’re kind of granny napkins, they were cheap.
A crow caws, I can see it from where I’m sitting.
A dog starts barking again.
A car starts up and I hear the engine rev.
The crow leaves its branch and flies from the neighbors backyard and towards the school, over the school and now out of sight.
I missed the sound of the car driving off I guess.
Our dog is let out into the backyard, she looks at me. Another dog barks in the distance, she looks towards the fence in the direction of the barking. I watch her ears perk up. I become more aware of how much more observant she is than me in this situation. The rustling of leaves beyond the fence. She barks. Another crow flies closer to our tree, she noticed it before I did. Indistinct chatter in the distance. She’s investigating, she stands taller when she does that. The crow flies even nearer. Her head moves with it as it flies and perches itself on a branch of another tree that reaches over our fence. It caws. She sits down, fixated on it. More indistinct chatter in the distance. This time she hears the chatter and starts barking. She keeps barking. She is brought back inside.
I hear sounds in our neighbors yard just beyond the fence, he appears to be doing some kind of yard work, judging by the sounds. The dog jumps up on the window from inside, she wants to see what’s going on. I hear a siren in the distance. More indistinct chatter coming from a different direction than the last chattering sounds. Another and louder siren. It gets closer, it's coming down the busy street near our house. It starts to fade...now it’s out of ear shot.
Sounds of our gate opening and then closing, leaves rustling, wheels turning. Travis is back from his bike ride.
The shadows crawl longer, stretching further across the page as I’m writing. The sun is lower than the last time I noted its position. I check the time impatiently. Another car door shutting. Another engine starting up. More caws. More distant dog barking. The sound of the cars driving by on the busy street droning on in a distant “whooshing”. The dog is let out again.
She walks behind my chair, laps up some rain water from a bowl I hadn’t noticed was sitting on the ground behind me. Another car door slams. I watch her sniff around and approach a pile of sticks then walk away from it. She squats and pees. She walks towards me. The wind picks up. She lifts her nose to catch the wind as it rolls through the backyard, she always does that. She finally chooses a stick and runs in a few circles with it. She stops, she loses interest in the stick. She returns to sniffing the ground. The caw of a crow again. She pants as she walks around the yard. She returns to a hold she’s been digging, she sticks her whole head down into the hole, she looks remarkably like a cartoon for this moment. Then begins digging. She stops. She walks to the Ace Hardware bucket full of used-to-be-ice water. She laps up a small amount. She crosses the yard to a pile of leaves to sniff, then to another and another. She sniffs, seeming to look for something. She finds what she was looking for and squats. When she’s done she canters off to find the next thing to do. She returns to the hole and digs some more. She stops. She walks around the tree and sits. I see her breath catch the wind, it must be getting colder. The sun is lower now. The shadows are longer. I check my phone for the time. The dog circles back and around me, laps up some more water from the bowl again. More nose raising and sniffing as the wind blows.
I hear the car in our driveway start up and the gravel crunch underneath the heavy tires. She runs to the back gate. The car drives away. She walks back to the tree. Indistinct voices in the distance (tools clanking?). She runs to the fence and barks. I pick up a remnant of a frisbee and throw it, she chases it and picks it up and then sits down with it to chew on. She loses interest quickly. Back to the hole she’s been working on.
The sun is lower and further below the haze, it's shining more brightly in my direction now. I’m squinting. It seems to be getting slowly darker. I see the dog return to the Ace Hardware bucket for a few more laps of water. She walks across the yard, picks up a stick and then lays down, holding the stick between her two front paws and begins chewing. She loses interest after a few chews. The caw of a crow. She walks to the back gate then back towards me. She stops and scratches. Sounds of children playing off in the distance. The dog is let inside.
Birds chirping (BC) and crows cawing (CC).
The sound of little feet rustling in some leaves, maybe a squirrel?
The scream of a child playing, it sounded like a playful scream.
BC and CC simultaneously for a few seconds.
I hear a parent’s voice in the distance “come here!” and an indistinct response from a higher pitched smaller voice. More playing and yelling sounds.
Kids screaming again.
The whooshing sound of a car driving fast down our street.
I realize I missed all the car sounds while I was watching the dog.
The sound of a new bird call.
Dog barks in the distance.
Indistinct low voice in the distance.
Dog barks from the opposite direction of the voice.
More car whooshing.
A big wave of wind. My napkin nearly gets caught up in it.
I check the time.