The World Is Held Together By Duct Tape
Carl Steadman

Everyone's got an obsession. Some, however, are stickier than others.

"The world is held together by duct tape." You can see it, there, in his eyes, he's at it again. He's thinking those thoughts: "The world is held together by duct tape." And on and on: all those thoughts he thinks when he thinks "The world is held together by duct tape." He told me once he played a game and someone whispered in his ear "Buckingham Palace is made of cardboard." He has never forgotten that, because he told me. And he thinks like that, I can tell. It's in his eyes, looking at me: "The world is held together by duct tape."

It's in his thoughts.

He talks about duct tape in his sleep. On previous nights, nights not much unlike this one, he has recited lists of things he has seen held together by duct tape: purses, umbrellas, Rubbermaid garbage cans, broom handles, range tops, picture frames, hockey sticks, garden hoses, radio antennas, car bumpers, old Converse high-tops. He has never once mentioned ducts. Tonight, he talks of smashing things, to put them together again better with duct tape. I stay awake next to him and take notes. I also write a reminder for myself: send the cat to a kennel. Tell him Snookums was bitten by the Marsoleks' youngest boy, Georgie, and it's just to be on the safe side.

He's thinking about it.

Sometimes I fall asleep, taking the notes I take of him talking in his sleep about duct tape. At first, I was worried that he might find my notes at my side when he woke in the morning and accuse me of taking what was his. But I found a solution--I went out and bought a fabric blank book from B. Dalton, covered in vulgar pastels and paisleys. (I have the receipt, in case anyone might accuse me of stealing it. I have the receipt, in case anyone might accuse me of being a kleptomaniac. I have the receipt. $5.99, taxable.) I told him I was going to record my dreams. I told him that each night before I go to bed I would say three times, "I will remember my dreams," like this: "I will remember my dreams. I will remember my dreams. I will remember my dreams." Then I told him that each morning right when I got up I would write down the dreams that I would, without fail, remember. I told him I had to write them down then because it would do no good to remember them in the shower, when I was washing my hair, because I couldn't write them down then, and, undoubtedly, I would forget them when I dried off. I told him that's the way dreams are. I told him I learned about all this on cable TV. I told him the pastel-and-paisley covered book was my "dream book" where I did my writing in the morning. I showed it to him and put it in its place, right there out there in the open, on my night stand. Each night, I mumble--loudly enough so he can hear--"I will remember my dreams. I will remember my dreams. I will remember my dreams." Each morning when I get up, I write in my dream book. He sees me write in my dream book. I write about rabbit holes, swimming pools with dirt embankments around, and trash cans brimming with filthy-smelling refuse. It is in my dream book that I hide the notes I take of what he says in his sleep at night. I am not worried of his finding out about my notes--they are well-hidden, in the dream book, in between the snakes and garden hoses. The one thing he is least interested in is my dreams.

He eats, sleeps, and breathes duct tape.

I might be able to understand him better if he sold duct tape, or if he owned shares in a duct tape manufacturer, or if he was even writing a book on the everyday use of duct tape. He could call it Doing It Better With Duct Tape or The Duct Tape Way. Maybe a duct tape consulting service. Anything. It all causes me to question his motives.

God. What if he gets his hands on the CD collection?

He has now stopped eating Grape Nuts, which he has eaten faithfully every morning I have known him, except for the one Sunday I made French toast for the both of us, and the one Sunday he made pancakes for the both of us. Instead, he eats Cheerios. I know what he sees in those little O's of toasted oat goodness. I know what significance he makes of them.

Last night, we went to Orchestra Hall to witness the performance of a great work of art. This is what happened: the second movement followed the first, and the third movement followed the second. It wasn't until after the intermission, though, that we got, in my opinion, the full value of our ticket prices. There, in the middle of the fourth movement, was an almost imperceptible--I wasn't sure of it at first, but I listened more closely, and became more sure--an almost imperceptible high whistling sound, which failed to complement the music.

I looked across at John, but he seemed, oddly enough, unaffected by the noise--he sat there, away from himself, away from me, intent on what he heard. I nudged his arm.

"Do you hear that?" I asked. He turned towards me.

"Yes," he said. "Isn't it beautiful?" He smiled. He lightly touched the back of my hand and returned his attention to the performance.

I focused on the sound again, and, yes, sure enough, it was there. I looked again at John. The smile was still on his lips. He scratched his nose. His eyes remained fixed on the stage. I followed his gaze.

It wasn't apparent at first, but then, there, you could see it, it was what he was looking at, there, you could see it, even from our third-tier obstructed-view seats--there, in the flute section, a small--ever-so-small, as difficult to notice as the whistling noise, but undeniably there--there in the flute section, a small patch of dull silver--almost gray--among all the bright, shiny, polished surfaces. There, you could see it: probably a valve wouldn't close, or maybe a joint between two pieces no longer made a proper fit, but, whatever the case, it was there. A small, irregular piece of duct tape, holding the instrument together, making a high-pitched hiss as the smallest jet of air whistled out the patch.

John and I argued last night, after the concert. We had an argument. But it's OK tonight, because tonight I realize--he has his fantasies.

He has his fantasies. Oh boy does he have his fantasies. Ooh ooh baby does he have his fantasies. And I will make them all come true.

Tonight, he will come home, as he usually does. He will come home. He will come home, and walk into our home, and say "Honey? You home?" Oh boy will I be home. Ooh ooh baby will I be home.

He has his way of seeing things. He sees things his way, through his gray, duct-tape eyes. Really, it was stupid of me to think it would be any different with John. It was stupid of me to think it would be any different. But then, that wouldn't surprise John. Except for the fact that it was him. Because, after all, he can only be expected to have his fantasies.

He can only be expected to have his fantasies.

Tonight, he will come home, and yell "Honey? You home?" And I will say nothing back. I will say nothing back.

Tonight he will come home. He will walk into the entryway, and through the entryway. He will walk into the living room, and through the living room. He will walk into the hallway, and through the hallway. He will come to the bedroom, and come into the bedroom, and he will see me there, laid out for him, splayed out for him. My arms, spread crucifixion-like, bound to the bedposts with duct tape. My legs, spread-eagled, bound to the posts with duct tape. My nipples, red and taut, bursting out of the teeny holes cut out for them from my bra of duct tape. Before my own waiting, yearning opening, duct-taped to my thighs, the yawning, gaping, center of a fresh, new, unused, never-opened roll of duct tape.

And he will be my fifth limb.

Carl Steadman ( is the cofounder of suck and a columnist for The Industry Standard.

InterText stories written by Carl Steadman: "The World Is Held Together By Duct Tape" (v4n4), "Two Solitudes" (v5n1).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 4 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 Carl Steadman.