Personal Space

Nonfiction by Matthew Wamser

A worn field of cross-hatching cotton and polyester wraps around a dark, empty space. The field encloses the space on all sides but one, and a low, narrow ridge runs from the open edge down to the single point where all the sides of the field converge, giving form to a textile cone. The cone’s surface is flexible and changes its shape. Sometimes it inflates and other times it deflates. Sometimes it’s completely flat, but at other times it’s marked with geometric bodies. This is my pocket.

Pants Pockets
more precisely a
pants pocket filled with objects
that represent “me”

My pants pockets, like most pants pockets, are made from tetron cotton, which is a composite fabric that’s part plant-matter and part chemical. Chinese textile companies make pocket fabric and sell it by the kilometer on the Internet. The cheapest pocket fabrics require minimum purchases of at least 3,000 meters of fabric, although the biggest vendors require minimum orders of at least 10,000 meters. These minimum orders produce thousands of individual pockets for thousands of pants. I have ten pairs of pants, each having four pockets. I only use the front two.

In my right-front pocket I keep my brown leather wallet and my keys. My wallet holds my driver’s license, my student ID, my bus pass, my debit card, my credit card, and an assortment of United States paper notes arranged in denominational order, and then further ordered by serial number. I am a Wisconsin resident and organ donor. I am a university student. I have a checking account at the UW credit union. For official purposes, this is who I am and what I have. I keep my identity in this small brown case in my pocket.

I keep dozens of wires in my left-front pocket, which I’ve given to my parents, my friends, my acquaintances, my school, my employer, and to so many others. The wires stretch hundreds of miles to purses and other pockets, and some are so old that I’ve completely forgotten them, and they’ve become buried in the dirt like forgotten telegraph cables. Other wires hold taut and tense with activity. The school has already tugged me three times today. The corner pharmacy: once. My boss: twice. My mother: once. My friends and I have tugged, pulled, and prodded back and forth several dozen times. It isn’t even noon and I’m already sore.

The whole glass-and-plastic handful of wires weighs only 4.65 ounces but it pulls ever down in my pocket, as though it weighs 46.5 pounds. It brushes against my outer thigh, separated from me by only a thin layer of cheap tetron cotton. I can feel the tugs and jerks through my pocket, and then I know that someone is thinking of me. Sometimes I feel a twitch in my pocket, but when I look all is dead and still. The sinewy wires in my leg must have twitched. Sometimes my skin, my nerves, and my brain have a bad connection, and I feel these empty, imaginary jerks from my pocket. I’m nervous to fill this emptiness with what might be on the other end of the wire.

Shirt Pockets
a girl often teased
me for carrying a pen
in my shirt pocket

On the first warm day after winter I take a short-sleeved, double-pocketed shirt out of the back of my closet. I feel a hard little lump on my chest in the left pocket. I find a small rose quartz heart wrapped in silver wire. I feel the stone’s smooth edges, and it grows warm to my touch. I want to reach for a certain wire in my left-front pants pocket, but I’m afraid. This wire’s been buried under layers of dirt. This wire is so worn it could spontaneously snap. This wire might have already snapped, or been cut in two.

I go back into my closet. I hold the cold, wire-wrapped heart, and look for some shirt I never wear. Some pants too frayed to wear anymore. Some ugly coat that will end up in a charity shop.  Something with a pocket.

Haute Pockets
the deceased’s funeral
suit had ten empty pockets
what did he carry?

A woman in a three-hole-punched dress with a front pocket big enough to hold an atlas lies legless on the perfectly square page. Her open-handed arms extend in an indecipherable gesture. Her face is as blank as a molded plastic mask. What does she need that pocket for? An alien logo scrolls vertically along her contorted, sheathed body. Her glass eyes lie on the page underneath her chopped black hair. Why is that pocket so huge? Her outstretched arms seem to say “I don’t know, either.”

I’m off track. I need to do my assignment. I hold my hot pocket in the air, unready to take a bite. Unable to set it down. I should be reading an article, but first I need to know. Warm juice drips from my piping hot pocket onto Artforum’s glossy page. I look around. The library’s empty. I wipe the juice off with my handkerchief, but the woman’s dress is stained. Her upheld arms chide “What the fuck, you fucking slob!” I put the magazine back on the shelf and instead read the article, ad-free, online.

Coat Pockets
black plastic trash liners
—everything must be somewhere—
garbage can pockets

Tobacco has a strong will to escape. It always manages to find its way out of a tightly rolled cigarette and into the bottom of the cigarette box. But it’s never content to be loose in the box; it needs a space of its own. So it jumps, it crawls, it squeezes, and eventually it finds its way out of the box and into the deepest, most impenetrable corner of my coat pocket. At least it did when I smoked.

I haven’t bought a pack of cigarettes in a year, but every time I reach into my inner coat pocket for a pen, I find a little brown piece of old, dry tobacco. I’ve pulled individual pieces out. I’ve turned the pocket inside out and beaten and brushed it. I’ve had the coat dry cleaned. But some inexhaustible tobacco field continues to grow rancid, dead leaves deep in the coat’s seam. And then they cling to the pocket’s black felt walls, like deep-rooted weeds that die only to spring up elsewhere. Eventually they all fall from the walls to the carcinogenic colony in the pocket’s bottom corner. They entrench themselves in their filthy, linty corner, resistant and unbeatable.

I go to a thrift store looking for a tobacco-free replacement, and I try on a corduroy coat. I reach into the pocket and find six golf tees. I immediately buy the coat and take it to the dry cleaner the next morning. When I pick the coat up, I look for the golf tees, which I had left in the pockets, but they’re gone. I hope the dry cleaner was as excited to find them as I was.

Pajama Pockets
I’ve never reached in
my pajama pockets in
my unburdened dreams

I’ve lived with people who empty their pockets as soon as they get home. They can’t wait to take their hard, dirt-crusted shoes off, throw their keys and wallets down on the table, and sprawl out in an armchair. And every one of them has leapt up exuberantly from the chair, to dash-off to somewhere else, forgetting their keys on the table and locking themselves out in the cold.

I don’t like to be cold, so I keep my keys in my pocket until the end of the day, when I come home and change into my pajamas and slippers, and lock the door behind me. My pajamas have pockets, too. I’ve never used them. I only need to remember to refill my pants pockets in the morning.


About the Author:

Matthew Wamser is an undergraduate at UW-Milwaukee. He would like to write kitchen appliance user's manuals professionally.

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