Glen Pourciau's collection of stories

Invite won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press.

His stories have been published by failbetter, AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, The Literarian, New England Review, Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and other magazines.

We’ve published six more stories by Pourciau: “Self-Service,” “Salt,” “Yap,” “Yard,” “Stay,” and “Who.”


posted Aug 18, 2015

You see a man who looks familiar outside your window. Is he familiar or does he only seem familiar? Where could you have seen him? Has he been following you? Have you registered his presence subliminally? He can't see you from where he stands, he doesn't look up at your window, and his eyes don't go to the door you'd leave from. For years you've sensed an account building up and you suspect the time may have come for you to pay your debt. Should you go out there and see if his head turns toward you, walk in the opposite direction and see if he follows, turn into an alley and when he passes jump out and confront him? Why doesn't he knock on your door and say what he has to say, why spend his time watching you? You could approach him and look him in the eye and see if there's recognition. What could you be setting in motion? Would you be putting yourself in a position to be captured? You step away from the window, unsettled. You don't want to put yourself in danger, but you want answers, you want to know if your suspicions have a basis and if the man is what you think he is. You head out the door, alarms going off inside you as you bound down the stairs, slow down, don't race down the street, normal pace, normal breathing, unplug the self-consciousness. He doesn't look at you when you come out and walk in his direction, doesn't appear to see you until you're in front of him. He meets your eyes with no recognition but no sense of surprise. Who are you? you ask him. Who are you? he answers, and you have no idea what to reply. Nothing else is said. You start back to your place and he doesn't come after you, but a man walks a step past you and grabs your shoulder. Go there, he says as he hands you a folded piece of paper. He continues on his way, and you see the man you approached observing the transaction and starting away also, the two men moving in the same direction, though not together. You unfold the note and see an unfamiliar address written on it. Only a few blocks from the library, you go to it, log on to a computer and locate the address. Who will be waiting for you, what will you say to them, what will they ask, how will you explain yourself? You see yourself burning the note, but the idea of watching it burn fills you with foreboding, you have to find out what's coming to you, efforts to delay, you imagine, can only work against you. You leave the library and walk straight to the address, an old building with a store at ground level, a Closed sign hanging inside the door, and a second level with three windows covered by shades. You see two fingers push one of the shades aside just enough for someone to peek out. You walk to the rear of the building and look over the alley. The back door opens and a short man with almost no hair on his head peers out at you. He makes a motion with his hand, waving you in, and you move toward him and step inside. Downstairs, he says. A poorly lit stairway leads you below, no other path to take, the door doesn't appear connected to the store in front. He doesn't go down with you but pulls the door shut from outside. At the bottom you see a man dressed as a security guard in the middle of a vestibule. He points to a restroom on his right and then to a room on his left where he takes you, closes the door, and you hear his footsteps moving up the stairs. The windowless room contains a chair and a table, on the table a pitcher of water, an empty glass, a saucer holding three rolls, a spiral notebook and pen. A worn blanket and stiff-looking pillow lie on the floor beside it. You try the door, it opens, and you push it shut. You ask yourself if they could be watching you, and you scan the walls and ceiling for an eye into the room, but there are no holes you can see. You sit at the table and open the spiral notebook, hoping something will be written in it about what's expected of you. The pages are blank, and you can't escape the thought that you're meant to fill them. What should you write? A confession? What would you confess, where would you begin, what would be the context for the narrative? You could write about what's happening to you, but you have trouble imagining how to describe it in a meaningful way. Your mind grinds against the void of the blank page. You conclude that your subject matter should be the answer to the question: What are you doing here? You write the question and stare at it, but the answer doesn't come to you. You pour a glass of water and dip your finger into it and taste it before taking a swallow. You pick up the pen and write down the events that led you here, unsure whether it's true that events led you or you led yourself. You fill several pages but the narrative doesn't explain what you're doing in the room. Then another sentence comes to you and it's a kind of answer: You're here because you don't know the answer to the question. You get to your feet, look around at the walls and listen. You hear nothing, no voice and no footsteps outside the door or above you. What do you owe them and what type of answer is called for? You don't want to sit, you have nothing to add to the notebook at this point. You lie on the blanket, wrap it around you, and put your head on the pillow. Your mind is churning in the same way that keeps you awake at night, reeling with thoughts that agitate you, questions and demands no one hears but you. Eventually you fall asleep, and when your eyes open you sit up and see that nothing in the room has changed. You stand and go across the vestibule to the restroom, clean enough but painted-over graffiti on the walls. On your way back to the room you notice one other door in the vestibule, but you can't turn the knob or hear anything going on behind it. You return to the room and write down the raving and ranting you hear inside yourself. You let it out, better or worse, you've got a notebook to complete and what they hear should be your voice. At the end you write over and over that you want out of the room, you want to see the light of day, the momentum of your mind convinces you that coming here was a mistake. You close the notebook and put it under your arm and the pen in your pocket. Open the door, no one in sight, up the stairway, to the door and out, sun in your face, take a few steps, don't wait for them to close in on you. You stop. The man who let you in is standing across the street squinting at you as if you're a disappointment, but he doesn't seem inclined to interfere with your escape. He raises his fist and makes a knocking motion. Will he come to your door and knock? Does he want you to ask: Who's there? Who is he? Do you want to ask him? You walk fast at first, then trot a few blocks. You seem to have made a clean break, your pace slows, but you feel a grip on your neck that turns you limp. Bumps in the road wake you up. You're on the floor of a van, two boots a few inches from your face. No questions, the man wearing the boots says, your notebook at his feet. The van makes a turn that flips you over and in a moment comes to a stop. The side door slides open and you're hustled out and inside a building and down a hallway lined with doors, one of which is open. You see a man inside sitting at a table, an open spiral notebook, pitcher of water and a glass, a saucer with rolls. They take you to your own room, toss your notebook on the table and close the door on their way out. You wait a minute and try the knob to see if it's locked. The door opens and you see a man with a clipboard turn his head toward you with annoyance. You shut the door. You have a saucer of rolls, pitcher of water and a glass, thin mattress and pillow, tiny restroom in the corner, showerhead on the wall, drain at the foot of the toilet. You sit at the table, reluctant to open the notebook. You can't help asking yourself what you're doing here. You take the pen from your pocket and open the notebook to the last page you wrote on. You write all the questions and thoughts that occur to you, and after several pages you read over what you've written. Not all of it makes sense, but it does seem a reflection of what goes on in your mind. Will it hurt your cause, whatever it is, to reveal yourself so nakedly? Someone knocks, the door opens and a man you've never seen before looks in and tells you to follow him. He takes you to a room with a woman seated behind a desk. The man leaves, and the woman asks you to sit in the chair in front of her. She looks at you as if waiting for you to speak, and you wait for her to speak. After a few minutes she pulls a spiral notebook from her drawer and opens it and begins making notes. She doesn't look at you again until she gets to the end of a lengthy paragraph. She fans dozens of pages, her handwriting on the front and back of them. What are you doing here? you ask because it's the question that occurs to you. If she knew, she wouldn't be here, she answers. How long has it been? you ask. Long, she says, still trying to write my way out. Sometimes she thinks she hears pens scratching pages all over the building, and sometimes she thinks she hears her own pen grinding while she's asleep, but it's only the sound of her teeth. Our time is up, she says. The man who brought you to her returns you to your room, and you do some pacing before sitting down to write. You fill the pages with a combination of memories and whatever passes through your mind. You include your recurring dreams--a house you're constantly building but never complete and don't have the money to pay for; someone you can't see relentlessly chasing you; an overwhelming debt you can't remember incurring. You struggle with no success to provide a context for it all. After the last page you close the notebook and write DEBT on the cover. You wonder what time it is, what activity goes on in the rooms that surround you, how many spiral notebooks, used and unused, are in the building. How many questions that you can't answer do you ask during a day and will you ever be able to stop asking them? Is that what you want? You take a rest on the mattress against the wall, fold the pillow double to make it thick enough to support your head. You don't know how long you've slept, but you feel rested. You get up, eat a roll, wash it down with a glass of water, folded jumpsuit on the table for you to change into. The first notebook has been replaced with a new one. The sound of the pen on the page tempts you, something from your consciousness reflected back at you. You hear several voices talking over one another in your head, an asker, an answerer, a protester, a voice urging you not to react. A knock, and the man who serves as your escort opens the door. He again takes you to the woman behind the desk. She's reading your notebook and doesn't look pleased, and she doesn't look up at you when you take your seat. Her eyes are puffy and red and ringed with purple. Has she been up all night reading? Drivel, you think she might say, but she says nothing as her eyes pass across your sentences. She seems different than before. Has she been spoken to about speaking to you? Have you been brought here to see her reaction to your notebook? She continues to turn the notebook pages, but not so much as a sigh or a smack comes out of her mouth. Finally she picks up her phone and punches in a three-digit number, hangs up, not spoiling the purity of the silence. The man comes in, gives you the signal, and escorts you to your room. You write SENTENCE on the second notebook's cover and put the pen down on top of it. Days pass without seeing anyone and with only a few halting attempts to make an entry in the notebook. Then a certain momentum comes over you unexpectedly and you write about people you've missed, deceased family members, people you've lost touch with. You realize they've been coming to you in your dreams, staring at you as if they expect you to answer for yourself. The image of their eyes on you causes you to look up at the air vent. Is it possible you're being watched through a device planted in the vent? You go to the door and open it, step in the hallway and lean against the wall. You don't intend to run, you wouldn't know what direction to take, you might end up deeper in the bowels of a place you don't want to be. Your escort appears from around a corner, brisk pace, eyes on you. You go back inside the room, half expecting him to come in and give you a look, but he leaves you alone. You underline the word SENTENCE on the notebook cover and resist the desire to smile at the vent. You want to know what could happen to change things, how deeply you're in debt, if it's possible to write your way out. Is the woman behind the desk an underling and is her role to make a recommendation about you? Should you ask her about it? You wish you were provided with a code of conduct. Your food hasn't improved, rolls and more rolls, which suggests to you they're not seeing progress. Are they deciding whether to take you down to the basement to live in less desirable conditions? You struggle to continue writing, the sound of the pen on the page is your company, and you feel a sense of accomplishment when the second notebook is finished. The next time you wake up, the second notebook has been removed and a new one is on the table. You gaze at the blank pages. Words can cover them, but when the words stop, blankness returns. You won't name the third notebook. You could call it BLANKNESS but why call it that? Can you leave the notebook blank? The idea doesn't seem natural to you, you can't shut yourself up forever. Is your consciousness a kind of voice speaking into blankness? Is your voice at the root of the problem? Did your thoughts and decisions bring you here? Should you assume the process is just? The knock, the door opens, and the same man takes you to the woman's office. You take your seat in the chair and see her turning the pages of SENTENCE. This time she gives you an assessing look and seems to expect questions. What answers do you have? you ask. She doesn't reply. What is the process? you ask. She holds up the notebook and points at it and sets it down. Her eyes return to its pages and she looks them over with what seems to be interest. Does she see what she interprets as signs of progress? She knocks on her desktop, the man opens the door and takes you back to your room. A piece of cheese is on the saucer next to the rolls, fresh pitcher of water and clean glass, clean jumpsuit folded in the chair seat. You put on the jumpsuit and leave the one you took off by the door, save the cheese for later. You sit, pick up the pen, and make your way into the pages. You create a house with dark rooms inhabited by people who act out their conflicts with loud arguments and fights. At other times they hide in their rooms and don't speak. All of them exist within a central consciousness, and that consciousness is yours. They argue about who the woman is who reads your notebooks and what she wants from you. They argue about your relationship to your surroundings, a topic for as long as you can remember. They compete to be heard and their voices influence you more than you want to admit. You feel exposed when you finish the third notebook, and when you try to read it your eyes resist the words. Your mind is out of breath, and you doze off in the chair and wake up in a sweat when your head dips. The notebook is no longer on the table, a second piece of cheese has been added to the saucer, and for the moment you have no notebook. You eat the cheese and wash it down with a glass of water. You wonder when they'll come for you, and you don't have to wait long, the knock comes. Your escort takes a different turn and leads you to a conference room, long table ahead, two men and a woman seated behind it, reading glasses on, each flipping pages in one of your notebooks. You sit in a chair in front of them, but they don't glance up. After a few minutes they stop turning pages and close the notebooks, no reaction or explanation about why you're here. The man in the middle writes something on a pad and knocks on the tabletop. The escort enters, and as you follow him questions about the visit start to form. In your room you find a new notebook on the table. Another one, you think, and imagine long rows of blank lines. You are on your own.