nocturnal and diurnal

I’m lying on the green, at the foot of a large oak tree, hands clasped, looking up at the stars. I don’t know if it’s actually an oak tree. What difference does it make? Whatever kind of tree it is, it’s large, the leaves rustle every now and then with the cool latenight breeze, and it’s planted there at a nice spot on the green, a bit away from the sand trap to my left. I don’t know golf either. It’s the part of the course where there’s no grass…it’s kind of smooth, an earthy patch with those long flags sticking out of the holes here and there. But the possible oak tree is an ideal spot for laying, and looking straight up on a clear night. I’ve wandered these links many times, late at night. Many times I’ve wandered these links and several times I’ve taken a piss into the holes here and there along the course. It feels good. There’s no one here to tell you no. Not at this hour. Not at night. The rich go home and piss in their own holes round this time of night. I don’t feel bad for pissing in theirs, at this late hour. It’s all good natured. And lately, it’s mostly just because I’m nocturnal. As a nocturnal creature, you feel a call. Go out and experience the empty world. Lie down in the middle of the sidewalk. In the middle of the street even…depending on the street. Stores open 24 hours are a different universe at these hours. I’m a nocturnal animal. I don’t really know animals either, otherwise I’d compare myself to another nocturnal animal.

 

The freedom to piss outside. For the male sex–no matter the species of animal–it’s one of nature’s great liberties. Man has overlooked it for far too long…

 

Back in the dirty little animal hospice (false advertising, they call it an ‘animal hospital’, with a cheerful little sign out front with paw prints in front of ‘animal’ and after ‘hospital’…how cheerful, to be sure…)…  The piss is not outside, but inside…and not intentionally, either. Dripping off the stainless steel of an exam table; in a cold, disinfected room. Smell of cotton balls and tongue depressors. For dogs. This is where dogs go to die. Not unlike the place from your youth, where you got your first TB shot or chickenpox vaccination. An unpleasant sense memory. Only…for dead and dying dogs. Worst part of that, maybe: who even knows if they know it’s the place that it is…the doggie end of the line…?

 

You could say for that reason alone, it’s a sad little tableau.

 

But the reasons get sadder with each visit… Dogs are no good at two things, I know: walking sideways, and now, accepting IV fluids, antibiotics, saline…dogs just weren’t meant to have tubes coming out of them, that much about dogs I now know…in addition to the not walking sideways very well at all… Try to make a dog walk sideways sometime. It’s about as unnatural as training a cat to shake hands, sit up and beg, or squat on the commode to do its business. I seen a dog do some crazy shit, if trained right–including squat on a toilet to do its business, and as unnatural as it may be, a dog can pull it off 9 times out of 10, it seems. A cat, on the other hand…that’s a whole other barrel of monkeys…

But, tubes coming out of dogs. There’s hardly another sight I’d call as unnatural as that one. Tubes coming out of dogs…dog or not, you could probably rightly say your days of pissing outdoors are over, once you got tubes coming out you. Nature’s great, male, animal liberty–pretty much gone at that point.

 

The pretty girl in the teal scrubs. Smell of dead and dying dogs on her pretty girl teal scrubs:

 

“I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road, Mr. —“ I hadn’t really thought much about the plain reality of the vet’s words until she’d just said them. She didn’t say anything else…it seemed plain I’m sure that I needed a moment and so she and the vet tech left us in peace. Quiet, dying dog silence. He was lying on the cold metal table, tongue hanging out, panting a bit, but otherwise (to me anyway) in good spirits. Why can’t they invent a dog that lasts an entire lifetime? …..the animal kingdom is a cruel bitch when it comes to bonding.

 

My very diurnal friend had been moping about, not finishing his kibble, only sniffing around it, taking labored bites here and there… not drinking much either. Lapping up a little bit of water then scuffling away, wobbling left and right just slightly, like a drunken canine stumble-bum. “God dammit, —, eat your dinner,” I’d say to the bitch. But she wouldn’t barely touch it. I always hated picky eaters.

 

As she ate less and got skinnier, I started sleeping less and waking earlier. The thinner she got, the sooner I woke. Soon, I was waking in the middle of the night. 3am. At least she still slept. She slept while I was waking up at 3 and then 2 and then 1 in the morning, and milling about the apartment, looking for things to fix….a rusty door hinge….a leaky faucet…a blown fuse. Actually, I found none of those things. And I looked really hard. Couldn’t find a thing to fix. Everything appeared to be working just right. Apartment spic and span, clean, sparkling….not a thing out of place, not a thing askew. Perfect.

 

She snores, and sleeps deep, and seems somehow happy….if a thing can be happy while sleeping, if that’s even possible. I imagine it is. But I can’t find a damn thing to occupy myself. My hands idle, my mind begins to sink lower and lower into a circuit of racing, pernicious thoughts. Idle thoughts. I become a creature of the night. Nocturnal. A mute songbird, maybe. I have to get out…and walk. Pretty soon I find myself prying open gas caps on random cars parked along the street and pissing inside them. I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t key cars, or smash windows, or steal, or commit any overt acts of vandalism. But releasing my bodily fluids into and onto various objects and fixtures along my way seems okay. It’s all good-natured. It keeps my mind off things. That circuit of racing thoughts, idle and racing thoughts alike, is held at bay. The dark is warm and cool and welcoming. I have seen only a few other nocturnal creatures along my route, and they always keep their distance, just as I keep mine. Somehow I think we all must be up to the same thing. Not pissing in cars and golf course holes per se, but simply enjoying the warmth and cool and welcoming of the night and the night air. I am also not a zoologist, but to me anyway, it seems nocturnal creatures enjoy a less stressful existence. Diurnal creatures are always in a hurry to be somewhere…usually more prone to fits of anger, impatience, rudeness… Maybe there are just too many people out there, period. Maybe we should all take shifts, some of use are diurnal one week, then nocturnal the next. Maybe it’s about balance. …….in any case, there is still something extremely freeing and primal about pissing outside, in public, and not getting in trouble for it.

 

Soon the night is over and I’m back in my spic and span apartment and she is just waking up. I spend some time watching the shop at home channel with her big bulldog jowls rested on my lap, pour her some kibble, and some water, and eventually I fall asleep. Around 3pm, I wake up to a persistent knocking at my door. I was dreaming about flying. I was loathe to leave that dream. I dreamed I was perched in a huge tree…I could see out across the whole world…observe every little detail and every person and every little action of every person…I was some kind of omniscient man-bird observer. The details of every little thing in the world were interesting to me…but then I got bored and flew from my perch. I didn’t know where I was headed, but it was exciting to head out.

 

And then I woke up.

 

The rapping at my door had a somewhat angry tone to it. “You don’t answer your phone,” she says, pushing her way through the door and quite past me.

 

“Battery must be dead.”

 

“You look tired,” she says. “In fact, you look like shit.” I offer her a cup of something and a seat. At the very least, I think, she can’t say the place is a mess. I’ve got that one all locked up.

 

“Not sleeping too well,” I say.

 

She looks over at the dog, lazing around her food dish, sniffing furtively…aware she’s being observed. “I’m sorry about —,” she says. “But you have to get your shit together now. How long are you gonna live like this?” She takes a sip of her cup of whatever and I think about the question, and the answer. I can’t think of an approach. How do you explain a thing like this? That you’ve found you prefer being nocturnal, a free animal in the night, a roaming thing that’s free to piss on anything anywhere…? And that it’s not just the pissing of course, but the freedom to piss. The freedom to observe the still and the cool warmth, all without being observed. To lie under a giant tree of indeterminate genus and look up at the stars… unobserved.

 

“I’m good,” I say, forcing a cracked smile. “In fact, it’s really okay…” I pause and glance out the window…the blinding sunlight glaring off a rusty old gas station sign, “….I found a pretty good position, working overnights. Not just wage-slave work either…it’s good. It’s blue collar, but it’s good. Middle management.”

 

“Really.”

 

“Hey,” I say, drawing the blinds, rubbing the crust from the corners of my eyes, “Hey, you realize the whole world doesn’t stop between the hours of 5pm and 9am.”

 

She’s finding her spot on the carpet, circling it once, twice, three times, and then plopping down as if exhausted. “What’s the prognosis,” she asks, coldly.

 

I find this one much harder to answer…even though I know the answer this time. “More tests. Blood. Poop. Piss.”

 

“Poop and piss,” she says, her arms folded, angry like. “That’s not a prognosis.”

 

“Piss,” I begin—

 

“And neither is blood.” She unfolds her arms and takes one, unfolded stiffly, like rigor mortis is setting in…and places a stiff, begrudging little hand lightly on my shoulder. “How long, I mean.”

 

“You know…nobody knows. When it comes to these things. Nobody knows anything.” That straining, understanding hand lifts off my shoulder with a nearly imperceptive quickness. Gone.

 

“That’s enough. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Eat something. Sleep and get a job actually…a real job.” By real she surely means “real”…I wasn’t fooling anyone. “Does she always make that sound?” Pointing to her…pointing out her wheezy labored breathing. She gets up and mills around a little, poking at things indiscriminately. “You need food. You don’t even have any.” Her breathing makes a whistling sound. She puts her coat on and leaves. Her breathing gets smoother then. Less labored. Like she could tell. She was relieved as much as me, I’m sure.

 

Around 1am, I ventured out in my black jacket and slacks in search of gas caps. The kinds you can pry open, not the ones that you have to click the thing inside the car to get it to open. I still hadn’t figured out how to pry those ones open. I found a big obnoxious SUV parked askance just outside the rusty old gas station. Pried the cylinder open and twisted off the gas cap. Then pissed inside the tank. Full service. The guy who drove the thing I presumed was coming out of the rusty old gas station food mart place just then; I quickly and carefully zipped up my pants without taking the time to shake it two or three times. Shake it more than three times and you’re playing with it, my father always said. A lot of wisdom in that man. He also would wax philosophical a lot of times about how some women are bitches and some women are ho’s, and some bitches are ho’s, and when I brought home my at-one-time fiancé to meet the family he warned me never to marry a bitch. Or a ho. He also used to piss with the bathroom door wide open. Maybe that’s where I get it from. The inappropriate pissing. My dog at least, she had an excuse to piss in non-pissing places. My bladder on the other hand, it was just fine and dandy. She was pissing more and more, and drinking lots and lots of water, which is probably why she was pissing so much and in so many non-pissing zones. The floor. The freshly vacuumed carpet. The sofa. The tub. Like she went out of her way to piss in new and different places. I supposed I wouldn’t be surprised to find her out here one brisk night prying open and pissing into a gas tank alongside me.

 

“I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road.” …

 

Later that night I got arrested for public urination. I was reprimanded. The police officer was none too pleased, but more exasperated than irritated I’d say. I got a summons. A hefty fine. Maybe it’s time I start pissing where a man is meant to piss. Unlike her, I had no excuse. It occurs to me you can get away with a lot of abnormal behavior the sicker you are. People beat murder raps for being ‘sick’, after all. My acting out was not out of sickness, however. As she limped around that piss-stained apartment of mine, wheezing and taking in her IV fluids, I was out pissing in gas tanks, lying in the middle of the road at 3 in the morning, throwing rocks at stop signs and traffic lights. And the vet’s words came back to me every so often, as I picked up another rock and chucked it at a security camera mounted on the side of an office park suite. I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road.

 

Lucky not to be spending the rest of the night in a cell, I decided to cut my losses and head home to the dying, pissing dog. When I got in, she perked up and wagged her tail. She sat with her chin rested in my lap for awhile while I watched a preacher talking this and that about the bible…one of those God channels buried at the bottom of my cable package. Good news, folks: today may be bleak, but today is only one day, and Sunday is coming. A brighter day. He has a greater plan for you. …unfortunately, maybe, just not for your dying dog. Your dog is out of luck. Today is the dog’s last.

 

And that’s what I found. Two and a half days later, granted. A little off schedule, but sure enough—for the dying dog at least—Sunday never came. There is apparently no greater plan. God is a busy man, or asleep. Maybe obligated to appear in an obese woman’s tortilla somewhere in Mexico. Him or the Madonna.

 

The night after they took her body off my hands to be incinerated, I stopped by the rusty old gas station food mart and bought a quart of milk. Forgetting I don’t drink milk. She did, and she’s dead. I bought the milk anyway. I used the restroom before leaving for home (I had to bargain with the Indian behind the counter for use of the shithouse key). I didn’t stay up or go out again that night. I pissed in the toilet, and scrubbed the piss stains from the carpet with whatever I had on hand. Some hand soap and a worn out pair of underpants. I didn’t dream, either. I had a summons. No job. A freshly dead dog. And Sunday, I’m told, is coming.

hush

On a Wednesday afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, I made my move—lying down in the middle of the street. I curled myself into a neat little ball, slowly rocking at first, back and forth, gently. Then stopped rocking. The pavement hot under my flank, I very soon was perfectly and completely still. And very cold. A lot of people seemed to be gathering and quickly, but I was still as death, eyes wide open and fixed vacantly straight ahead. Quite a crowd gathering. A beautiful late summer day. I felt I would lie down, in the road, and not move from there. I felt I would stay there, still as death, until I was myself gone or else forcibly moved. I felt somehow this was the only way things could be.

It had struck at a seemingly arbitrary moment. The pulling, the irresistible pulling on what I would only describe as the nucleus of my being…the epicenter of my self was pulled down with a tremendous weight, like an elephant brought to the cold hard ground by a thousand piercing barbs. Something massive brought down by hundreds and thousands of spears hurled into its side; something like an elephant, or a rhino, harvested for its tusks. My fall was flat and non-percussive, however. And while quite the crowd had gathered, I myself was no elephant. No rhino. In reality, small. Thin. Gaunt, even. An ignoble beast. My falling made no sound, I’m sure. It was not a dignified falling, either, I’m sure. Simply walking along one day—a Wednesday—I fell to the pavement, like a sack full of hollow stones—rather silently and with not much impact. The harpoons tethered to my heart, however, pulled with high speed and tension; I felt myself hit the ground harder than I’d likely appeared to. I didn’t feel like moving then. I felt I would stay there, instead. However long.

What it was that hit me, however, I’m afraid I can’t identify. Just something forceful and somehow, cold; a phrase danced on my lips, but did not escape. I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words—the cold, fricative whisper that pierced my senses and punctured my heart. Brought me down like an elephant. A phrase; several words; a sentence; something I could not recite even if the apparent shock that had overtaken my body hadn’t presently confined me to a neat little ball, lying perfectly, deathly still. A chill of words cruelly danced on my lips, which parted slightly to show my teeth, gritted shut. A peculiar chill of words that had first danced in my brain, then in and out of the exit wounds of my heart and in-between all those barbs and spears. Now on my lips, I only felt cold and perfectly unable to broadcast the simplest human form of expression to define the chill in any concrete terms; no language, no movement or indication would suffice; even if I’d scrawled the words in chalk alongside myself, nothing would be an adequate vessel to translate it.

A crowd had gathered, car horns honking impatiently and men and women and children pointing, whispering. Perplexed, annoyed, unnerved or otherwise inconvenienced at my stillness on the ground and my complete lack of intent to move. I was still as death, and they were volatile as life—wondering and raving and questioning and shouting in no organized manner. All at once, a symphony of confusion; as the piece progressed, however, the crowd and the noise from it became more that of a mob. Disorganized, still confused, but taking shape steadily to resemble a sort of hive-mind—a hive-mind that howled in unison like a pack of dogs. Shouting. Whispering. Honking. Barking. And my ignoble, unmoving frame at the center of it.

“Sir,” one man dressed like me said, kneeling down and speaking in a hushed tone, “What’s the matter? You’re blocking traffic. You should move, before you get hurt.”

“I can’t move,” I said, my voice hollow and empty. It seemed to lack weight, my voice. Just more hollow stones spilled to the pavement. Each one exited like blood.

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell you,” I said.

“Why can’t you tell me?” The man was beginning to show signs of irritation.

“Because,” I said, and stopped, realizing I had nothing more to say to him. The man looked to be in his mid-30’s, like me, and he wore a white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his tan jacket slung over his left shoulder and a bead of sweat on his brow. But I had nothing to say to him, and certainly, nothing I said to him would carry any meaning. I was meaningless. A meaningless, neat little ball. Still as death. I couldn’t translate or even begin to hush that fricative, cold whisper that danced on my lips. For a moment, my mind wandered: what would happen, I wonder, if I were to let that cold whisper spill too from my body? Whatever it was, it tasted bitter. It tasted like biohazard. Cold and radioactive. He couldn’t understand, unless I were to spill those words from my lips– allow him to wither and die alongside me. I supposed. And as long as this was the case, I thought, I would be lying there on the street, until men in white coats piled out of an ambulance and wheeled me off, snug and secure in their butterfly net. What else is to be done with a man who very suddenly shuts down, curls into a neat little ball, and feels a complete inability to move from his spot on city pavement?

The 30-something man knelt back down, said, “Sir, there’s a crowd gathering. I’m sure you don’t want me to call the police—have them physically remove you?” He tried to look into my eyes, but my eyes, but they were too vacant. Set perfectly still in the optic cavity, aimed dead ahead. At nothing. They were open, glassy. Nothing could look in, and nothing could get out. “Sir.” The man tried to get my attention, snapping his fingers and clapping his hands. “Sir! Listen to me. You can’t just lie down in the middle of a busy street. Do you hear me?”

By now, the throng of onlookers had multiplied—at least fifty people crowded around, cars pulled off at odd angles and children pointing and laughing. Dogs barking. Car horns honking. A real spectacle, it seemed. They were all crowded around in a circle, and a woman stepped forward through the barricade of bodies, attempted to look in my eyes and said, “He’s right, sir. You need to move. You’re making people late for work. People have places they need to be. You have to move. Please, sir.”

“That won’t work,” another man said, pushing his way through to the front. “He’s obviously nuts. It’s like one of those guys who threatens to jump from a bridge. We need to talk him down, is all.”

“And how do we do that?” another woman asked, throwing her hands in the air. “Is anyone here a psychiatrist? Or a hostage negotiator? No? Then let’s just call the damn cops! I have a meeting at 9:00.”

“She’s right,” a teenage boy chimed in.

“What do you know? You’re just a kid. Tell you what: give me five minutes alone with him, and whether he moves himself or I have to move him, your problem’ll be solved.” He began to usher the crowd back. “Step aside, now.”

The 30-something man broke in, “No! He’s obviously unwell. We need to treat him with a little more consideration. You can’t just go and manhandle a sick person.”

“Bullshit! He’s tying up traffic. At this rate, the cops won’t be here for another 20 minutes. I’ll take care of it.”

“Leave him be,” another woman said. “That guy’s right. Let’s just try to talk some sense into him until the police get here.”

But their words were all moot. They meant nothing to me. I felt I would lie there, perfectly still, and that nothing would change that. That cold phrase still dancing cruelly across my lips. I supposed it would take the force of fifty men to lift my body from its spot on the pavement—I felt so heavy, pulled down by a tremendous force onto that small spot in the road. Cold and intent not to move at all, I was–I supposed–stuck. That it might not be a question of intent at all was only now dawning on me. I supposed, for all that weight pulling me down, I was indeed stuck. And like biohazard, also contagious. I felt all women and children ought to back away. Clear the area.

Car horns honked in a delirious cacophony of confused street noise; the career-driven businessmen and women pacing in frustration. I couldn’t blame them. As far as they knew, I was just some basket-case—a mentally disturbed nobody threatening to jump from a bridge. Maybe that’s exactly what I am, my mind wandered. I certainly had no intention of inconveniencing anyone. It was simply unavoidable—inevitable—that something like this would happen. All the weight pulling at my heart—my nucleus—had probably been pulling for some time. I’d probably walked down this road many times carrying it, bearing the weight and the barbs. Today, however, was different. Today, I felt I would lie down and not move a muscle. And so, I didn’t. In time, I supposed, I couldn’t. And I still felt I should be regarded a disease—a biohazard or a human radiation. In a perfect world, my body would shrivel up and blink away, or else some apparatus would lift it—perfectly still and rigor-mortised—up and away somewhere from all the commotion. There was a certain guilt for having fallen, then and there. Then, a complete disregard. Before I could feel too guilty for becoming spectacle, I retreated into myself some more, and things around me became a bit muted. I supposed this might be death. Or a variety of it.

But the cold phrase dancing on my lips was not death; it tasted bitter, poisonous even, but not like death. It was, I suppose, a pearl of nihilistic wisdom—one that said in its own cold, fricative way, that what I needed to do that day, then and there in the middle of the street, was to simply lie down…and not move…and not be moved. And if others tried to, I felt they may well find themselves lying down in their own neat little balls—perfectly still and dead—alongside me. Maybe it’s just too heavy and too cold for me to really care, I wondered…

“…what’s your name?” the first man with the tan jacket asked, kneeling back down. His voice had softened. His words were deliberate, and they nuzzled up close to me. He was trying to play me. Trying to get on with his day and the inconvenience by being kind and understanding, if just for a moment. But I had no intention of playing his game. I felt more and more like the common cold; a human contagion ready to spread. “Just tell me your name, sir. Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

Now, it seemed, the group think had shifted strategic mental gears. And the leader of the three-ring circus was the man with the tan jacket slung over his shoulder, poking and prodding as fumblingly and gently as he could to engage me in something resembling a dialogue. To talk me off this supposed ledge. Everyone has their reasons. People have places to go…other people to see. And I moved more towards not caring with every word hushed to me. Towards contagion.

“I won’t tell you my name,” I said finally. “And I won’t play games with you.”

“You won’t play games?” another man blurted out. “What the fuck are you talking about, buddy? You’re the one playing the damn games around here! You want attention, is that it? Well, you’ve got it. So now what?”

The man with the tan jacket slung over his shoulder turned to shoot the other man a dirty look, said, “I’m not playing games, sir. The cops will be here soon enough. I’m just trying to see if—“

“If you can get me to move, right?” I interrupted. “To see if you could save yourself a little inconvenience, go on with your life and your work day and all your perfect little things…” Hollow stones of words spilled out like blood from my lips, and only as I heard them myself was I taken aback. A human contagion.

“It’s nothing like that, sir,” he said. “I’m just…”

“Curious?” I interrupted.

The man with the tan jacket looked sullen, then smirked a little bit, kind of nervously, and said, “…I guess. Yes. I’m just curious. Why would a person do something like this?”

“That, I can’t tell you,” I said. It seemed the man with the tan jacket at least, did have a legitimate claim to conversation. Either that, or he was simply a ghoul…a rubbernecked motorist gawking at a dead and twisted thing on the side of the road. With vacant eyes fixed straight ahead, I added, “…And you don’t want to know.”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Really. Tell me. Why are you doing this?”

I supposed there was no harm in a man slowing down to gawk at a train wreck. I supposed, there was no harm in entertaining him. “Really. You don’t,” I said at last.

“Why? Is it really so horrible?”

“Yes.”

“We’re talking in circles,” he said, “You and me, just you and me, now. Forget about everyone else.” He looked over his shoulder, looked back, and continued, “What is it?”

But it was impossible to oblige. I couldn’t separate his face from the fleshy mass of onlookers and gawkers. I saw the mob as one; one big, cancerous mass. “If I talk to you,” I said, “I talk to them too. And I can’t be held responsible.”

“For what?”

“For what might happen…,” I said.

The man with the tan jacket wiped some sweat from his brow. “Sir, listen to me,” he said, grasping my shoulder with his right hand, “nothing is going to happen. It’s all in your head,” he said, swallowing and proceeding in a whisper, as if his words were not fit for the rest to hear, “…you’re sick. That’s all.”

“I know I’m sick. And I know it’s all in my head. That’s just the problem.” My words were hollow stones dropped to the ground. I kept looking straight ahead through dead, glassy eyes. I could feel my contagion starting to spread.

“You need help, sir. Help is coming.” The man with the tan jacket rose to his feet, stepped back, and checked his watch.

“I’m sick of this!” another man shouted. He dropped down to the pavement, on his hands and knees, and peered into my glassy eyes. “Listen you little shit, either you get your ass up, or I’m gonna move you myself. And you don’t want that.” He jammed his index finger into my forehead. Poked and prodded. Back to his feet, he gave a half-hearted kick to my shoulder and moved away.

I felt the inexplicable, cold phrase that had been dancing across my lips begin to spill out onto the pavement. The crowd was settling down. Still staring dead ahead, at nothing, the cacophony of confused and frustrated whispers, shouts, the horns honking and even the dogs barking died out; at first more bluntly muted, then muted some more. And then silent altogether…the symphony ended, or myself deafened, I couldn’t tell which. And I supposed I would lie there. Until I was myself faded into nothingness, or else moved by force.

…however long…

 

inamorata

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the jellyfish

I had a dream. It was an awful dream. One of those dreams, the kind where you almost know you’re dreaming but also don’t—somewhere in between, crouched cold and quivering in the crawlspace beneath consciousness and above dreaming. That kind. I was at the aquarium. In front of the jellyfish. They were floating, drifting…..in that jellyfish way they do….these amorphous blobs, drifting through space, silken white tendrils of jellyfish pulled behind them, languidly in the water—like a bodily fluid spilled into a clear glass of water….like oil into water….or cream into coffee…..their bodies an uncertainty. An uncertainty.

When I woke up, I had a very unsettled feeling in my gut. Like indigestion. But worse, a feeling of something I couldn’t quite name or put a number to. It haunted me all day, this indefinable something. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, couldn’t really eat, or manage to say but two words to anyone; couldn’t do anything, really, but think of that silken-white amorphous drifting. I couldn’t figure why I might be dreaming of jellyfish. I hadn’t been to the zoo since I was a child. Couldn’t rightly say that I’d ever been to an aquarium, furthermore. Once as a child, I stepped on a jellyfish while at the beach with my family. It hurt, and I had to piss on my own foot to take the stinging away. It was a fairly unremarkable experience. Not the worst pain in the world, and far from the worst trauma I would ever feel. Other than that, I had no special reason to be dreaming of jellyfish. I suppose. I guess there’s no special reason for anything when it comes to dreaming. I had to ask myself, still, where this feeling of unease was coming from. When work was done, I had the strange urge to drive by the aquarium—way downtown, in the city, miles and miles out of the way—but decided against it. It was already dark by the time I got home. And by that time, I was tired. I made a ham sandwich with a soda, watched a little TV and then fell asleep there on the sofa. My unease relaxed like a knot of cramped muscles loosened with the sudden onset death…..a perfect Gordion knot taking up slack in my gut, loosened to a limp tangle of ropes. As the knot continued to untie, I returned to the aquarium. And the jellyfish.

Coffee into cream. Oil into water. Ejaculate into water. Amorphous. Silken white tendrils drifting and swaying in the water’s gentle ebb…somehow, this was a horrible dream. A nightmare, quite. Why, I couldn’t easily say, or say at all. If pressed, I simply would come up short—blank and empty for the correct answer or indeed, any answer at all. Like a school-child who’s not done the reading and is called on by the teacher. I was speechless—at a loss—more than at a loss…embarrassed. That I could find such a serene, tranquil, and verging on beautiful little thing of a dream to be at once confounding and nightmarish. Perhaps nightmarish for being so confounding. Or who knows why. Who knows why. In any case and for whatever reason, I woke cold and clammy in the middle of the night. Clammy and feverish. I went into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of tepid water. I nearly caught myself checking it for thin, white tendrils.

My cat was dead. She was now in a little sealed oak box, perched over the fireplace. The dust and ashes to ashes of incinerated flesh fur and bone. In a little oak box over the fireplace. I sat down on the sofa and looked straight ahead at it, like watching a movie or a TV show…watching an incinerated cat in a box. I watched it like it might possibly move, or otherwise change its state. This was also confounding. And vaguely nightmarish. She was dead of cancer. Cat cancer. Dead of it five weeks, and now in a little box on the mantle over the fireplace. Over the incinerator. I found myself watching the box more and more, and not knowing why. An amorphous, drifting spectre like the jellyfish. My stomach cramped up, and I began to vomit.

“It makes that sound,” the old woman whispered to me as I lay on my back. “That vibrating sound. I can’t play it like this,” she whispered. I could barely hear her, this woman who couldn’t play her piano because it ‘vibrates’.

It was the next day, at work, out on a call to tune a baby-grand for an apparently well-off old woman with laryngitis. I had spent most of the last night vomiting, and like so many things these days, not knowing why. “This will take a while,” I echoed from under the piano, my tools laid out beside me for what appeared to be quite a lengthy and complicated task. “Please,” I said, “Ms. Arlen, don’t speak. Your voice needs rest. And this will take a while.”

“Have you ever had laryngitis?,” Ms. Arlen said, directly ignoring my advice.

“Once,” I echoed. “As a boy. It didn’t matter all that much though,” I said. “I don’t talk a lot anyways.”

“Mm,” she said only. After several quiet minutes following that, I presumed she had wandered off. “It’s got to be quite the soporific profession, Mr. Lands…repairing and tuning pianos.” Still in the room, apparently, she went on, whispering and disregarding my advice to preserve her voice, “Is it?”

“Is it what?” I said, distracted by my work.

“Soporific.”

“Not really,” I said. “I don’t sleep much to start with.”

“Insomniac, eh?”

“Not really,” I said. “I just don’t sleep.” Wiping a bead of sweat from my forehead. “Bad dreams.”

“You need your sleep, Mr. Lands. You don’t know how crucial sleep really is.”

“I suppose not,” I echoed. “Ms. Arlen…your voice,” I added, increasingly frustrated.

“What do you dream of, Mr. Lands?” she asked me under her raspy whisper, which was becoming fainter with the syllable.

“Jellyfish,” I answered.

“That’s interesting,” she said, rasp lower and fainter still.

“You’ll be mute pretty soon, Ms. Arlen. And this will take a while.”

After several minutes of silence once again, I presumed her to have wandered off. This time I supposed I was right. I continued working, laid out on my back and sweating in the un-air conditioned day room. I was increasingly bothered, over the hours it took to come at last to a stopping place, by something again and increasingly typically amorphous. Vague. Whatever had inspired the bad dreams of silken white jellyfish, and my watching of an incinerated cat in a box. It was that. Whatever ‘that’ was…it was making me physically ill. My stomach was a tight knot, cramping and painful, by the time I left the old woman’s house for the day. I vomited in her driveway. Thankfully, she had already waved goodbye and gone inside.

Are you a married man, Mr. Lands? she had asked me before I left. No I said. She, likewise, was not married. Not married or at least widowed. I had an inkling but wasn’t sure, and wasn’t about to ask. I’d come to fix her piano. That was all. Like I’d fixed thousands of pianos before that. I’d never particularly enjoyed having to work in stranger’s houses…so often they would feel it necessary to hover about me in the same room and make conversation while I tried to work. If not for that, maybe I could call it a particularly soporific profession.

I went home. I watched my dead cat in a box for a while and then ate dinner, and then threw dinner up. My stomach was in tight, taught contractions by the time I’d finished vomiting…pain only increasing. Maybe I had cancer too, I wondered. Just like my cat. Not cat cancer but human cancer. And in my stomach. Stomach cancer. Human stomach cancer. One of the worst kinds of cancer to have, to be sure. While my stomach tightened and cramped with pain, I thought again about Ms. Arlen’s question. Are you a married man, Mr. Lands? I’d spent the majority of my adult life alone, and for the most part I presumed it didn’t bother me all that much to be alone. I presumed but couldn’t say with conviction I knew. It was something I couldn’t know all that well, one way or another, having spent so much time one way. At a certain point, I’d lost touch with anything with which to compare it. I was increasingly spending my nights awake or in nightmares, my stomach contracting in acute pain as I silently watched the little box atop my fireplace mantle. That dead, incinerated cat. She had been about the only thing I’d had to call company, for quite a number of years…until she got the cancer and died. I was not emotional about it. She’d provided a little companionship, had run around crazy at 3 in the morning and dragged the trash across the apartment floor, and otherwise lead a rather full and perfectly fine cat life. Died at a ripe old age, the two of us parting as perfect strangers and happy to have known each other as such. I was good with that. I presumed. The weeks were dragging on and my dreams of amorphous, white jellyfish still plagued me night and day. What little sleep I got was filled with jellyfish. That amorphous, formless nothing that I now began to blame entirely for my stomach pains. The question remained why. That amorphous, formless question. Not like repairing or tuning a piano…not a simple, logical answer to a complex, mechanical problem…not that simple, and not that logical. Not at all. My tools could not address this pain. I could not tune this pain. It only gnawed at my guts, growing inexplicably from within. And without form or reason, as far as I could tell. As far as I was able as a tuner of pianos to determine. The mechanical breakdown of my insides was by all appearances completely resistant to a logical, mechanical fix. I dashed all my tools against the wall in frustration, my stomach pierced by an intense, white-hot agony.

“The doctor says I can resume my singing lessons,” Ms. Arlen said, her hushed rasp nearly gone. It was some time later, and I was out again to her place to replace a part.

“You’d have healed much faster had you kept quiet,” I echoed from underneath the piano.

“You sound as if you’re in pain, Mr. Lands,” she said. She was right. I was in pain. A lot of it.

“Just the usual,” I muttered.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I didn’t say anything.” My stomach spasmed. I winced, holding back a howl for the pain.

“Mr. Lands?,” Ms. Arlen said…

“Yes?”

“Mr. Lands, would you please consider meeting my daughter. I do believe you and her will enjoy each other’s company. Go to dinner with her. She’s a lovely young woman. You’re getting too old to play this ‘bachelor’ game any longer, you know.”

“Thank you but no thank you, Ms. Arlen. I don’t think I’m very good company for anyone.”

“Please, Mr. Lands. Don’t be like that. Consider this my thanks for your services, please.”

“Oh. So this is some sort of favor,” I bantered.

“Indeed, it is. You’ll see.”

“Fine. I’ll meet her,” I said flatly.

I went home and writhed about in pain for some time, then sat—still in pain—watching my cat in a box. I hadn’t slept for several days. Partly for fear of the jellyfish. What had gotten into me, to accept that odd old woman’s ‘offer’, I wondered. I would be lucky to make it through dinner with this strange young woman without doubling over in pain and falling out of my chair.

The time came, in a day or two, to fulfill my obligation and meet this stranger. I picked a moderately priced restaurant and a bland Hollywood movie. I doubted I’d make it to the movie.

“Greg?” a pert, female voice came from behind me. I was dressed decently in black slacks and a suit-coat. The woman who’d come from behind me was decent-looking and dressed casually. Either too casually or I was too overdressed; I couldn’t tell which. We exchanged the necessary pleasantries, the hi how are you’s and the like and proceeded to dinner…my stomach was oddly calm for a change; the sharp talons that typically gripped and twisted it were, for this night only, loosed, but only slightly. “Are you okay?” she asked as we sat down…

“I’m in agony,” I said flatly. “Most of the time, lately, I’m in agony.”

Her face reddened and she either feigned concern or was overcome by concern…I was unable to tell. “Oh my god, are you serious? What’s wrong? Tell me…”

Suddenly, my amorphous, drifting spectre of pain and nightmares began to take form. It was foreign, but form nonetheless. “I don’t know,” I said, sincerely. For the first time in a long time, I had said something sincere to a person. Just then. And the claw that gripped and twisted my insides loosed just a little more. “Do you have a cat?” I asked.

“What? …I,” she stuttered, stammered… “Yes. Why?” Her either feigned or real concern became something else then.

“I had one,” I replied.

“Oh. I’m sorry…” she said…reaching for my hand, which was not on the table.

“It’s okay,” I said. “…anyway, it’s okay. I’m starting to feel a little better, thank you.”

My hands remained where they were…still, on my knees. Under the table.