So we’re ambling along a sunny vale in the countryside, punctuated with old stones strewn along the sloping green. Everyone’s vacationing here; most of us are off receiving the summer wind as it feathers the far off and surrounding trees, or are otherwise busying each other with fleeting exchanges. A gravel pathway cuts into the hillside and points down to that overgrown monument, an immense figurehead enveloped with wild air steaming from the grounds around the stone. And there, walking up the gravel path he emerges through a staccato of birds with this silly smile, no doubt directed at my open reverie.
He gets right to it and shakes my hand. It eases the news: he’s resigned as my colleague and has readied himself to leave this place. We say nothing more, and then he goes, waving at me one last time before turning back down the path. Crunch crunch crunch away, the breath of the hillside swallows him whole. Another in his wake approaches, shakes my hand, and says goodbye, obfuscated in celestial sunshine.
But it’s not until she approaches me, beaming, to tell me of her decision to leave that I confront it at all. Her smile simply continues, and together with the brightness of the vale it turns me. She laughs big and directly, tells me she’ll miss me, that ‘you’ll be great’ with regards to my commitment to the organization. She turns and slopes away, crunch crunch crunch, and with her exit into the trees the whole long bright scene grows dark from a sudden incoming and roiling storm.
The basement of the organization is small, reasonably lit and survives our assembled rows of commercial office supplies, dusty surfaces with dead-pan computer equipment, storage bins stuffed with products or neatly filed — depending on the week — and correctly labeled. It feels crowded and cold. Two footsteps slowly down the iron stairs reveal a young man and woman in morning.
The woman has tall, porcelain skin, her head surrounded by microscopic buzzing insects, deep sunken eyes glow iridescent, hair bleached and dried out from bleaching. She stares only into the concrete floor. I know her — we worked together years ago, before she had snapped and left the city for the road, leaving her well regulated future all bagged up and tossed out with the garbage onto the sidewalks of Brooklyn. She holds a defeated gesture now, resigned to a new fate, one wherein her night has ended. I see her child, less than a year old, and her lithe body having become bent by the child, by the world.
Having no business other than it’s own, the world came at her viciously once she supposed a scheme to shudder off her cultural imprint, and unveiled the tendrils slithering forth to apprehend her… and the child, feeling this spectre seize her protector, would learn to walk with a spike cast through her little heart like a harpoon, made of the same insidious material as this spectral binding. I see her pulling this whole scene behind her much to the same music as my mother did, a beaten drum with the skin pulled too taut, the distant thuds still reverberating. The world dropped her off here, child in tow, so as to cast its net over her and her new little future.
The man is thin and pale, his thick hair licked violently and hung over his face like a mossy overgrowth. He has the face of a young man who never smiles and yet is smiling brightly, alighting his insides through pimply, translucent skin. He died in the world years ago, which may be why he only sighed and didn’t speak. But the sigh was enough to wash over me all the emotion of a man as confused as I am, yet held the courage to delve into the dark infinity of his mind. The glow that confronted him there, in this nothingness, pulled him away from love. I think it killed him, but I lost him long enough ago that I can never be quite sure of that. He was mad, possibly brilliant, and always had the face of a man encaged by his own tyrannical brain. His face here however, in this office basement full of cold things, stands illuminated and peaceful. His eyes, half open, watching. I couldn’t stand it to see him broken, or her for that matter, down here together with me forever with the ugliness of the world.
And I am gone as suddenly as I arrived, speeding up a steep hill in a large black SUV on a dirt track alongside the vale. I’m with my love in the back seat, and someone I know is driving but I can only see a blurred mass. Outside, it all rolls on through a blur of trees: the hot green hillside, the monuments ablaze with memory, the sun above, and beyond a deciduous sea. We’re fast approaching a bridge over a narrow ravine, the old planks firm and dark and silent as we pass over. Only in the way of dreams could this moment be so brief and so infinite.
A decade of bridges in my dreams rushed forth. Bridges shrouded in heavy blackness, or broken, and with such immensity as to become the path of my world. And my attempts to traverse them failing. Massive concrete and steel melted and crumbling into a vast river. The bridge of the night city shone only by flashlight, and me there too scared to pass. They were all my colossus, and I stood forever in the shadow of it’s gaze waiting, trying, then waiting again. It loomed with the birds and the big planes and it wasted no dream on me. Me, too scared to fall the dream would flicker just as I failed each ascent, flicker and restart the way games do, or the music you love too deeply. We pass over the little bridge and continue towards the top of the hill.
The SUV rolls to a halt at a perpendicular dirt pathway as we reach the apex. The path is dark from travel. We exit the vehicle and begin to poke around the surrounding area to figure where we are and why we stopped. Through the woods a little way sits a small New England victorian-style home. It’s unremarkable in almost every sense, except for the presence of a large present wrapped in shimmering metallic paper placed outside the front door. The bowed ribbon polka-dotted red yellow red. Down the road some is another house, exactly as my grandparents house when I was a child. Placed neatly outside on the sill is a present, similar in size and color to the first one.
Suddenly I see it all around us, and I begin to lose it. The houses, stretching off into the distance both ways away from the car are all the homes of my dreams. Every one of them i’d visited previously except now they stood together beneath the sun dappled canopy proposing gifts. They are each welcoming me to them, welcoming me inside. For so many years I had cautiously walked their hallways, feared their dark basements and quiet bedrooms, slipped through their cracks and secret doors. I had been wormed my way through them, landed on their ancient rotten doorways and crawled through to the musty underbelly and to the other side I emerged reluctantly onto a new path, a train track or an open field spread open before me. The old loneliness and empty spaces collapsed together, and new sweet vines were growing, and were looking to tangle upwards.
My love held me close, held me like a lover should hold you, and I gave.
I’m still drunk as I awake inside the passenger bus. It heaves as it pull up alongside a quiet road, the bus rumbling into otherwise quiet darkness at what appears to be the outskirts of a mid-sized city. Fumbling my way outside the bus, the other passengers are whispering of Costa Rica, but each unsure if ‘here’ was actually ‘There’. Did we pay to take this bus to Costa Rica? No one could put it together any better than — and suddenly I remember the sign for it posted on the highway before I fell back asleep again. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be sure of my memory and I was too drowsy anyway to care enough to find out for sure. We had arrived, and wherever we were the place we had all agreed to go, not a lot was happening.
We soon grouped and moved in the group away from the still rattling bus, that grizzly mechanical churn shrinks as we turned at the dead traffic light, then all but lost at the din of nighttime bugs that quickly rose from the earth. Further into the darkness only punctuated by streetlamps, we moved along the pavements edge, passing empty tenements and overgrown homes, sad plastic toys and peeling slogans of old political campaigns staked into the weeds, wet from recent rain. Pools of standing water swirling with bugs trembled silently. It was the kind of strange city quiet one hears deep into the night, when an acorn fallen on a leaf could be mistaken for an animal, or even ones own footsteps. This was nowhere near Costa Rica.
They jumped the fence it seemed at once, a surge of boots and hands bouncing off the feeble brick building. They swarmed the windows and doors and were absorbed into them, evaporating as on a black and white photograph into unlit places. Everyone moving in unison drew me after them, over the fenced barrier and into the floodlight that had somehow opened just for me, scorched the grounds and the dirt path pressed into the grass. The dirt path pointed to the rear entrance to the apartment building, but I climbed. Up the iron ladder and slipped through the nearest open window into a dim musty living room. I fumbled around, tripping over this and that before pushing opening the far door that revealed a rotten wooden staircase. I creaked upwards, ever upwards, slowly, towards the sound. The door at the top must have been painted a hundred times, and the edges faintly glow.
The apartment beyond is small, and barren if not for a TV and a few pillows on the hardwood floor. They’re sprawled across the room, the men and women from the bus, coupled on the pillows or spread alone and drinking cans of beer. I lower myself down and feel the floor buckle and creak. Someone hands me a drink with a limp hand. Candles dance in the windows. A girl stands up, starts twisting her hips to the flickering silence. I watch her dance, the part where her ankles show between her jeans and her little boots. Everyone laughs, claps, stomps. She bounces and throws her hands in the air one last time.
We settle down and get to talking. The TV watching everything with a dead screen. I’m somewhere between drunk and tired but it’s not long before i’ll get swept up again, the heat building inside, somewhere further into the unknown. Am I intoxicated with alcohol, or something else? What is it happening now, that separates us, that keeps us from finding these forms? The candles glow, a faint glow that permeates the atmosphere. The floodlight clicks off, and all that’s generated now in the darkness is the warmth of those windows atop the tenement. The candles burn, melt, and lay sighed down the sills in gray morning. The bodies gone away, the cans left to collect dust and light. Beer drips from a half drunk can down into the cracks between the boards.
I stabbed fourteen people last night. With a knife. And with no one around — there were lots of people around — doing much, or anything, to stop me. I don’t remember what it was all about. This isn’t exactly a confessional.
But it has something to do with love and all the bullshit that’s everything else. They fell before me, all pink and in slow motion. The knife dipped its probing end in with a madness. The madness that removes us from the world, or cracks it as a back cracks into the new sudden places. Then, with the juices of life pumping again to the brain, coming down slow and heavy like iron on string, you hit the earth.
And you clean up the damned mess because you know what is supposed to come next, and perhaps by tidying up for a moment they’ll forgive you. Each of them for each act. But blood stains and the streets aint made of fuckin marble, and so they find you, but only after a time.
I hit the earth, and the earth is soft. The tidying thing is inane. The blood regurgitates and drags black under the streetlamps. It’s a cartoon, I say aloud, with That’s All Folks never coming. There’s nowhere to change the channel, to hide them, so I give up and go home, tuck away the paper evidence, and cut a smile into my face. It still is bleeds whenever I am afraid.
And of course, eventually they come knocking. My home is raided politely, but efficiently. The bedroom nightstand. I smile red. Here. I took care of it best I could. Doesn’t that say Sorry? I remember sputtering through my face. You killed this many people, they say, stamping the paper. I disappear.
Next thing that happens is me staring at the grocery store paperbacks. A girls book, a girl I knew, her book humming along to some invisible tune in the shelf as I remove it. I fan the pages to the back notes and there are pictures, of people she knows, of me. My glasses float on my obscured face. I look up, and i’m at the dinner table across from her, lookin down, half in meditation half in sadness.
“Because of what we had,” she says, lookin up to my eyes. I remember what we had, but they each slip through the cupped fingers of my mind and spill out onto the pages, my name spattered everywhere in a constellation of blood.
I enter a conical tower built from weathering steel. The rooms close and open with sliding glass doors, revealing music and laughter as I walk past. The rooms are dim, or coated in neon, with low furniture, stretching on and on, around corners, and further up, one cone inside another. I enter a door through a breach of fog that floats among my legs and rises at the corners into ventilation shafts. Women and men dance, blacklit against neon bulbs and glow strips, gypsy arms in the air, to electronics.
A red haired creature adopts the form of a tall woman and walks past, her eyes glowing above the night crowd. The music grows, moving to the beat of her steps. Is she looking into me? Past me? Nowhere? A terrible and warm red descends and she pushes through it, a goddess among the men and women of the party. I see her suddenly in a coldly furnished and dark living room of crystal, steel, and black marble, reclining at the center of it on a hard leather bench, naked alabaster skin, like a roman queen across a triclinium.
She’s gesturing me on with those eyes, the beast, the harpy. Standing over her in that storms eye, she encompasses me.
Underground, through a wooden door off a old hallway, a dim room of old shoes. Under the lone light bulb I sift through musty leather laces and boots, one’s caramel marbled with rusty green, another one cobbled by hand: tall, black, shining. I leave and rise to the first floor of my dream, where I exit the building to be alongside my friends on the long promenade by the sea. Everything is like an overexposed photograph.
A seismic shift. The promenade cracks and bends sharply seaward, each of my dream friends slide and crash against the blinding edge of sky. I’m falling, sliding, but find a hole between the white stones large enough to fit through, and dive into it. I am back underground near the steps to the old hallway, full of fear and slow onset relief. I slowly climb the stairs to see.
Outside everything is ice and ash. Trains scream past on iron tracks, their cabooses totally iced over, a crystalline train on a black track. A big car pulls up, an Escalade or similar, my boss exits the rear door, smiling big and warm, his cap sun worn and dusty. He walks towards me, a sunny figure in a bleached land of ice.
A convention of notes and pamphlets. I meander the aisles and eye the vendors tables. A young woman approaches me, asks for my participation. Not now but soon, and it’s going to happen in Europe, so I say sure and sign the form. Soon I am home buying a plane ticket to Berlin.
The airport is grand and silent with sepia light warming the windows. I enter the plane and rest into a long chair at the window. The seating is sparse, each row only hosting two seats, one at each side of the cabin. Takeoff is smooth and the flight itself passes imperceptibly.
After landing I am taken by car to the city and then the city center. Berlin in name only, the city has a strong but approximate feel to the many familiar European streets which open into broad public squares. The roads are cobblestone and effulgent, buildings soft beneath an overcast and embering sky. There are blue ads for some business or bank posted about. I find my residence by following instructions given from the woman, open a steel door revealing a cluttered kitchen, dark and musty with a bunk bed in the center of it. Dust particles fall softly through slender crevaces of light. beyond the kitchen a hallway with several doors before widening out at the far end to a proper bedroom. The whole thing reminds me of the railroad apartments you see in Brooklyn. There are women, several of them, who emerge from the doorways. They’re here for the same reason i’m here, and i’m gripped by the sudden realization I didn’t tell my wife why I was coming here, or how it came about. I simply booked the trip, and left her in America.
This memory of my wife then collided with an insidious uncertainty as to why I am even here…Did I intend to participate? Did I fall in love with the young woman? It’s difficult to sense any knowing beyond the destructive threat I suddenly posed to my marriages trust. Even if she never discovers why I came here, would it eventually get around to her? Or would she continue on, tenderly, and never speak of it?
The women in the hallway direct me to the bunk beds in the kitchen. This is where I am to sleep. There are clothes and cooking items sprawled out on the mattress, so I push them aside and find rest rather quickly.
I wake and am set on heading to the convention. The hall is the same structure as the one at the beginning of my dream. The same young woman is there, and she is speaking with the other ones from the residence. We discuss something I can’t hear or understand. I am asked again to sign.
I wake. In the deep blue morning bathroom the threat persists. I find sleep again, later, after reaching out across the bed to her, the calm washing over everything in silent waves.
Hurrying up the sidewalk I slam into a wide man wearing a starched shirt with red and grey stripes, on the phone silently facing the peripheral roadway. My body check startles him and as I continue onward through the crowd, I hear my name from a voice that can only be my fathers voice. I spin around smirking defensively and flip the man off, who as it turns out has my fathers face. He’s there in his starched shirt tucked into a hideous pair of slacks floating above an oxblood loafer. He raises up, his eyes sad and buried into deep black sockets, staring eagerly and meekly towards me. We face each other. I drop my fingers and run to hug him and call him dad. My son, he says, stinking like red meat and sleeping pills. I hold him there for a moment, squished into his widening flesh covered in shirt and offer absent love drowned in wilted distance.
I carry with me a square tray made of iron with two shallow flat surfaces, covered in yellow grime. He gave it to me to clean. It smells like his breath and feels like soap dipped in oil. I walk up a hill between rows of black fences in an arid landscape. The fences separate me from cages, each cage holding tall, strong men that glint like chrome. They are shirtless and muscular, men of every culture and history imprisoned behind the cages, they halt to notice me as I walk diligently past. I come to a long perpendicular line of black fence, and settle myself down with the iron tray balanced on my knees. There, I polish the tray with a stained rag and steel wool, removing first the caked layers of grime and oil from the tray, then the bits of black that lingered along the grooves and piping. It takes some time but soon it is cleared enough and even shines a bit when hoisted up. The sun bears down overhead, and I am to bring the tray back to my father.
I hear him still as I wake, calling my name, and that face he made like a beaten dog. The tray never made it back to him in the dream. He waits, no doubt, until then.