Zips From the room next door to his came the sound of zips being unzipped, zipped back

up, unzipped again, then rezipped. This went on all night. It made him nervous and he slept badly. Twice he got up, to check his gun was still okay. * In the morning he checked out of the motel and drove on into Iowa. He went for a walk round that evening’s motel, staring out into the desert. The sound of the zips hadn’t left him. He bought a soda from a dispensing machine and felt very glad that he was still only halfway across the country. He went back into the motel room and tried to focus on it, but it just wasn’t there. When he sat down at the desk (a desk was his only demand of any motel room) he wrote: No-one seemed to know how the first of the Letter Crazes - the Craze for the Letter D began, or where, or who started it, or why they did it. Some people thought the craze was to do with hiphop music. Others, that children as young as four were involved. Others, that literacy rates were now so low that it was nothing to do with the alphabet as such. Others still, that it was a sign from God. What is known for certain is that by September 9th 2008 the letter had disappeared from every building, utility, sign or noticeboard on which it occurred. Some were so inaccessible that the

thieves must have mountain-climbed up to them or abseiled down to them. Some (the HOLLYWOOD sign, for example) were so large that trucks must have been required. He couldn’t do any more, so he went to lie on the bed. He really wanted to get some sleep. This night, though, he missed the sound of the zips. In the whole of his journey across the States, it was the only sound that had in any way interested him. He hadn’t heard a zip since, when? 2004? When zips had gone, they’d gone fast. You saw a few crackheads wearing zip-fastened garments, and they appeared in documentaries about aboriginals and technology, and there was a brief fashion for wearing them as jewellry, but then they’d gone. That sound had gone with them as well. It was a sound he could remember from his childhood. Zip: it had lead into childish spaces the schoolbag, the pencil-case. Zip: it had been the two-part music of a million trips to the washroom. Unzip. Zip. With Unzip coming before Zip, in a paradoxical way. Zip: and, hello, here is your cock. Zip: and, gee, here’s her cunt. Fifty years ago. He started to feel nostalgic. * In the morning, he drove out of the motel and started back East. It was a break in his schedule, but he could afford it. He tried to think about the Craze for the Letter D, but he couldn’t. It had already gone. He stopped the car in the dust of the hard shoulder and wrote: In my house in Milan there is a tub of doublechocolate ice-cream with one scoop taken out of it sitting in the freezer. This has been

bothering me for two months now. What particularly bothers me is that I’m sure I left the top off and the spoon in. The tour has been on for two months and we won’t be getting to Milan for another two at least. We’re on the Pacific Basin leg: Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Beijing. I’ve been trying to think about what the most extravagant way of getting that icecream to me would be. I could always send a roadie, but that’s too obvious. I could send a roadie in my private jet, but that’s not extravagant enough. What I really want is something that destroys everything in the apartment - no, everything in that apartment building - except the double-chocolate icecream with the spoon in it. But I don’t think science has advanced quite that far, yet. So, what I’ve been thinking, seeing as it’s Milan, is that I hire the Mafia to do a hit on the housekeeper - and, as a rider, ask one of them to charter a jet and bring the ice-cream to me. Pretty crazy, huh? I never liked that housekeeper. She smells of piss and leaves cigarette butts in the toilet. He drove on. * When he got back to the motel, he tried to book the same room as before. The check-in guy didn’t even recognise him. ‘Which room is that?’ He didn’t know, and had to take him there.

‘Sorry, sir. That’s occupied.’ He asked about the one on the other side of the Zip Room. ‘That’s occupied, too.’ Nothing for it, he asked about the Zip Room as well. ‘Oh, that one’s vacant. You want it?’ He said he’d have to think for a moment. The check-in guy walked off across the courtyard. ‘Hey,’ he said, after him. ‘Who was in that room night before last?’ ‘Which room?’ ‘The one in the middle.’ ‘Folks.’ ‘More than one?’ ‘Guess so.’ ‘Did you see their baggage?’ ‘Their what?’ ‘They have any zips on?’ The man was old enough to remember zips. ‘I didn’t see any baggage.’ ‘Tell me all you remember, I’ll buy you something.’ ‘Are you a cop?’ ‘No, I’m just interested, that’s all.’ ‘How much interested?’ ‘What’s the biggest tip you’ve ever had?’ The guy picked what in a small town passed for a big figure. ‘I’m twice as interested as that.’ ‘Come back into the reception, friend.’ He followed the check-in guy back to the drive-thru cubicle. ‘They was called Cassady and it was a man and a woman and I saw no baggage or nothing.’ ‘Cassady. In a car?’ ‘Big car.’ ‘Model?’

‘Nope.’ ‘Colour?’ ‘Dark, I’d say.’ ‘Headed East or West?’ ‘Didn’t say.’ ‘I’ll take the room. If you remember anything else, tell me in the morning. We can settle up then.’ * The room was identical to the one he’d stayed in when he’d stayed in this motel before. Even the painting of the happy cat and dog up above the bed was the same. He put his stuff on the desk and opened the drawer. The Gideon was there, as always. He sat down. It was a habit of his to hack the Gideon and add a letter - just one letter - right in the middle - right where no-one would ever notice. The letter was an S, and he used to put it in front of the word He. A long time ago, he’d heard about a Gideon with a mistake like that which had to be destroyed by order of the Church. He wondered whether he should rewrite The Craze of the Letter D as The Craze of the Letter S. The Ice-Cream Rock Star thing wasn’t any good. Historical stuff didn’t sell. Not unless it was full of sex. He deleted the file. Then, of course, he felt like writing something really unsalable. So, he wrote: She began with the Camera Series - huge, neorealist, post-Ironic canvases depicting everything from Box Brownies to Canon SLRs. A year or so later, the Television Series began; and about eighteen months after that, Radio. Critics began to say she was repeating herself.

After a period of seclusion on the West Coast near Big Sur, she returned for a One Woman Show at the Whitney. A complete change of direction had occurred. She presented, instead of her usual canvases, plans for 3 Epic Series: 1. The Guggenheim 2. Jonah 3. Suggestions on a Postcard 1. A massive exhibition of photos documenting every single work of art - from Picasso to Picasso postcard, from fridge-magnets to kinetic sculpture - in the houses and gardens of every single employee of the Guggenheim Museum. Each employee was to have a section of the exhibit specially dedicated to themselves. 2. A blue whale to be delivered, whole, to a major gallery. The artist to live inside it until it had fully decomposed. Photographs to be taken and interviews given. 3. On postcard provided, members of the public attending the exhibition to be asked to suggest art projects. The first ten non-lethal ones to be put into practice. The ten suggesters to gather together with the artist for a group photograph and a soccer match against the Brazilian national squad. These projects, she estimated, would keep her

going well into the next millennium. The critics, of course, absolutely slayed her. He looked up, rubbing his eyes. This was getting way too autobiographical. He realised that he’d forgotten even to search the room. Not that he expected to find anything. So, he searched the room and found nothing. * Driving to a nearby diner, he had what he thought was an idea. Once he’d ordered his food, eaten it and gotten a refill, he started writing: I was never a great fan of ghost stories, whilst alive, but, in the few years since I died, I have come to find them quite amusing. God, was he losing it or what? He switched the damn thing off and called for his check. * Back at the motel, he couldn’t go to sleep. He kept thinking that he could hear the zips, only they were now in the room he’d been in the night before. When, eventually, he did get to sleep, he dreamt that he walked round to the room where the zipping sounds were coming from. He was wearing nothing but shorts and it was the middle of the night. The sky was bright with stars in arrangements that should have meant something. He knocked on the door. A big hairy man answered, a wrecked-looking woman behind him. ‘Hello, son,’ he

said. ‘Welcome home.’ This woke him up, so he went over to the desk and checked his gun was still there. He had some more dreams afterwards, none of which were any use either. * Waking up, something came to him. He immediately sat down at the desk and wrote: She had the kind of walk that could get you arrested in any state of the Union - and her hips would never make parole. Dolores Deluxe was her stage-name, a stripper. That was better. Now he was hitting it. At least he’d have gotten something out of the journey. He shaved. * Driving through reception, on his way back onto the highway, he shot the check-in guy twice in the belly. Shit, the way he was going, he couldn’t afford even small town big figures.

words: 1740 © Toby Litt 1996

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