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Table of Contents
By the time we manage to push and shove our way up to the front, the cops decide to get ugly and brandish their nightsticks, looking, for all the spit and polish of their uniforms, like drunk, dangerous modern-day pirates. But we want to see, like everybody else, even though we're not smiling the way everybody else is -- that transfixed, gruesome smile you'd expect to see on the face of a real vampire just after he licked his lips -- the serial killer's smile. Melvin's with me, although since he's taller and wider across the shoulders than I am he has less trouble than I do fighting his way up there through the crowd. So, just what I thought would happen, happens: he gets so excited that he lets go of my arm. Normally when that happens in a situation like this I panic and race after him, all cold and sweaty like back in that time I hate to remember. But that time isn't tonight or coming anywhere near, and right now I'm feeling pretty safe even with this crazy slobbering crowd, because I can see his back and those two long shoulder blades sticking out like ridges beneath his plaid shirt. He can see, but the way these people are shoving -- ... just trying to hold myself up I step on a young girl's foot. I can tell from her features that she's probably Dominican, probably no more than fourteen.
"Why don't you watch out!" As she screams this at me, adding a furious que pendejo maricón , her face, otherwise pretty in a dark Caribbean way (like mine, some people tell me; definitely like Melvin's), contorts into ugly twisted rage. It's a little much, and before I can even begin to stammer out an apology she's already slipped away into the crowd, yelling -- it sounds like her voice amidst all these other screamers -- for someone named Noellia.
"They're bringing her out!" Melvin shouts. As I wave to him (a little more frantic now, I'll admit), he of course turns his head and misses me. He's not even looking for me; I can see him focusing in different directions like all these other people, with that same look on his face.
Get back here, would you ... but I've got to say this out loud so that --
"Mel! Yo, get back here, would you? Mel!"
-- he can hear me. All around you can feel a kind of rising hysteria: it's time to leave. But there's that voice I haven't heard in so long, a nasty taunting voice right inside my ear canal that always comes back to me when something bad's about to happen: If you leave now he'll never find you .... With a few good pushes it's just fifteen seconds until I'm behind him, then beside him, missing by only a few inches banging my knees on one of the blue police car fenders.
"They're bringing her out," he says, all out of breath. "She's young, too. Looks pretty bad."
I'm amazed all at once by how many colors there are, and their ferocity in the evening light: the cold red angry swirls of the ambulance light, the helpless pink and white hands of the paramedics, the snarling vicious-red faces of the police and the dark blue sweat patches under their arms, the dull refrigerator white of the ambulance and the awful brownish-red blobs and blots on the white sheets covering the thing they're putting into the ambulance -- whatever it is now, it can't be alive anymore, so lumpy and still. And that car -- ruined and smoking with a fragmented windshield ... the driver's seat so crushed in that you knew anything removed from there would have to be something maybe once pretty, now hideous -- mangled is the word; once a human, now -- what? A pile of something or ash? I can tell you right now that I've never been a soldier; neither has Mel, nor has anyone of our age or generation that we know. But here we are, looking. We see. It's all colored like what we imagine war to be. Here, in this place. There'll be screams somewhere tonight ... -- all of it upended over three or four dark pools, a glutinous mess seeping over the asphalt, shallow dark-purple lakes that make sticking-sucking noises on the bottoms of the paramedics' clean white shoes.
Just for a second I look down toward my hands to make sure they're still the same color. I can't find them. At the same time somebody else's hand brushes my side, only to pull away as if burned in the same instant. What feels like a large crotch presses an intrusive, creepy tumescence against my right buttock. Now the police are furious and move closer to us, nightsticks swinging like parade girls' batons, but less gracefully, more insistent.
He turns after a minute to look at me; his eyes saying, not with the light of drunken good-natured foolishness, that he's about to be sick.
"Come on. Let's go." He doesn't need to get sick here. I'd probably laugh to see everybody scream and push back to give us space, but it wouldn't really be funny.
"What?" Grunting, swallowing the mess rising in his throat.
"I said, let's go. Come on, now." I've got a hold on his arm, pulling him back through the crowd, but now it's as if they're glad we're leaving, making space for us as we walk, although we can barely feel our feet touch the ground -- at least I can't. And there's our parking space with our little blue Hyundai, still there (and why shouldn't it be?); I throw a glance his way as he opens the door on his side.
"Are you sure you want to drive?" Now, this is brave of me and probably even at this point a crazy thing to offer, but I have to say it. It's Mel.
"Yeah. I'm better." He looks over at me. "Get in." And that familiar smile lets me know he means it, just as clearly as I can see the glow in his face -- that faint shine of sadness and weird pleasure at the uncommon fact that I am leading him away from danger, for once.
His voice was different on the way back:
"Pretty gruesome, huh?" This as he lit up a cigarette, checking the rear-view mirror in almost the same moment. The ashtray's there -- I found it after a minute (and it did take me nearly a minute, you'd think that by now my hands would know ashtray, lower left center ) and pulled it out for him. We were almost at the bridge.
"Well, wasn't it?" he insisted.
"The -- yes, yes . What do you want me to say? I didn't know her." And I don't think I would have wanted to, either, I thought. Hell, no.
"Some people. I don't know."
This didn't make any sense to me: a sign that he was going off into some unreachable thoughts of his own on the subject. Then he took a deep drag on the cigarette, turning to blow a long stream of smoke sideways, twisting his mouth as he did it, a mannerism of his I've always hated. It's always reminded me of a woman to whom I was introduced some years ago, at lunch with some friends in an Upper West Side Columbus Avenue cafe -- a place called Café Recherché, or something just as pretend-French-silly; the kind of place that got you wondering just what the French must think when they visit here: was this some sort of unqualified, hysterical Francophilia that had dreamt its way into one hundred silly, overdone restaurants? -- I remembered that woman, not so much because of the way she'd dressed, actually very becomingly in pink and lavender, but because of the way she'd blown cigarette smoke sideways out of the window adjacent to our table while rambling on about the benefits of natural foods and the company she'd soon be starting in SoHo, which would sell only the best balsamic vinegar and goat's-milk cheeses, and pure, fresh yogurt with absolutely no preservatives or canned fruit added. "I'm calling it Pains aux Naturels ," she'd trilled, very much like one of those mechanical songbirds you see sometimes on the tops of expensive music boxes. "Names are important. I love this one. A good name adds that certain some thing, a little panache." She'd invited a few of us to work for her as stock- and salespeople, but I was still in school then and couldn't spare the time. I still am and still can't -- now mostly because of the trouble of that time that put me out of school for a while. It all came down at once until the quiet time that helped. But at the table I'd been thinking that a better name for her company might have been Des Crudités . Of course I hadn't had the guts to say this. And then dessert had come.
"It's like some people," Mel was saying, speeding up to pass a small jeep dawdling in the right lane, "some people that kind of thing doesn't bother at all. It's like they live on it, like something out of -- gimme an example of a sick scary movie."
"A sick scary movie? Dag, now, Melvin. I don't know." (Talk about liars! I could think of a bunch of them.)
"But anyway it did bother me. So I know it bothered you ."
I turned the radio on. They were playing a song with slow, mournful lyrics, one we'd both heard before and liked. Somehow this song seemed right for the moment -- quiet and soft, like what you'd hear pouring out of a roadside stand in the country somewhere, a hazy summer night's song for a place without any people around -- until the deejay spoiled it by breaking in and announcing a new contest coming up, just keep it right there, on the power. I changed to something jazzy and cool and wild, music for the autumn season and these autumn moons.
"What do you mean, it bothered me? Why?"
He looked over at me, frowned, looked to his left and squeezed in behind a fat yellow taxi, cutting off an expensive-looking car behind us. The driver sped up and passed us on the right after making an obscene gesture at me; then wove in and out of the cars ahead, his brake lights flashing on, flashing off: quick, clipped warnings. Some of the lights were off on the bridge; Mel drove a little slower. A subway train was rumbling past on his side, grumbling over the tracks; you could see a big patch of graffiti: ROSA LOVES BILLY 4-EVER. Big white letters on the steel sides, moving over the tracks.
He was still frowning. "You know what I mean." He paused and gave me that look that made his eyes relax. He almost smiled. "Gimme another cigarette."
I didn't have to look at him, but I did, for a moment. The span lights overhead were forming bars, then small triangles, then crosses across his cheekbones and high, strong, dark forehead. In that light he was earth-colored; you could see in him the richest loam tones that matched his eyes and complemented the colors in both our skins. What a beauty, I thought. His beauty excited me. You know when you're lucky. I could say I had it like that. I thought about how strange it still seemed to me, sometimes, yet almost royal, a gift -- one man loving another, doing things for him and to him that no one else would -- or had better, I used to tease him. Loving another man wasn't strange; people can't hate the idea enough to change it, for us or anybody. The whole thing itself held the joy. And does. And having such things done to and for yourself -- that simple reciprocal whatever or shadowed look; the funny feeling of knowing all the secret, intimate things our parents probably knew but had never wished to discuss, and which withholding had inevitably led to those bitter arguments that would almost always end in the icy, intractable silences of untranslatable years. It seemed so just then as, pressing one of his cigarettes into the round fiery-hot lighter, I inhaled gently on it before passing it to him; that's when I knew his fingers would brush across mine the way they always did, our way. I looked down at his long, slim fingers, where they rested on the gear shift, and thought about all the rest of him that I liked. They were brown and delicate, bony at the knuckles for such a tall man (six-one). My glance was like a flirt, one he knew well, and shy. As well I knew his smell (bay rum and books), and which joints in his body would always creak at some times and snap at others to support him, and the faint whistle-and-grunt of his snore, and the dark-brown glow of his skin when the moon managed to slip itself over our roof and through our bedroom window ... things that were nice to know about somebody. I'd only ever wanted to know them about him.
I do have a thing about car accidents, what he was hinting at before, wanting to know if tonight bothered me. I don't talk about it much. My mother died a couple of years ago, just before I started freshman year. She had been missing for two days, on the way back from my grandmother's in Jersey, when we heard, first from the police, then on the radio news five hours later, that she'd driven her gray Sentra right off the road and into the Johnsons' lake. The lake adjoined the Johnsons' property, and they still hadn't returned from Algeria, where Mrs. Johnson had been writing a book on the effects of intermarriage in some populations. I've since forgotten which ones. All I really remember from that time is my mother, because soon after that was when everything to do with cars started to happen. My mother had been in that lake for two days. She'd just sat there at the bottom, seatbelted and progressively becoming a mass of wrinkles. When the divers did get to her, she, the thing she'd become, it , had become heavy with washed-over mud. The water had soaked into her wool plaid coat. And the eels. They'd had to tell us about the eels.
That was a bad time for some of us. Sometimes I can still see it, when Melvin's not with me and everything's far away and the city darkens and all you hear are the screeches of cars, and gunshots, and screams; everybody dying everywhere, the way they do now. I can hear the songs they sang to keep each other company then, back in that place where I spent time. I sang them too, through how many hours I can't remember. I can hear them in every breath of the wind our apartment gets, and the voices and the sighs, old as the oldest spirits I still sometimes see; and the fire of that time they tried to shock out of me. I just remember, past those white-lit. rooms and the strangers and the huge black spiders of that room I lived in, for a few years, it seemed. It was quiet with voices and water. Sometimes, now, I can just close my eyes and leave all this, leave Melvin and all of it, and see those leaves in that water and feel myself down there in the leaves, in the leaves. That peace.
The really bad part of it is over now. It's been over for a while. I look pretty much the way I used to, hair, weight, and all, and I don't have this thing anymore about going off piers or locking myself in with some good exhaust. It's not as if you could do it that many times, but you get better at it. And now it's like she's close sometimes, when I'm talking, and Mel's not in on it. He'd never understand how it feels when it's about to happen -- the time when everybody finally shuts up.
After all that, you just want to get away from it for a while. You feel like there's nothing really good left in you anymore. It had all seemed a good place to get away from, that place of lakes with eels in them, and winding roads and skid marks and stupid, slow-witted cops, and neighbors who had been away when they should have been there at home, ready to help and guide you on which way to walk if you couldn't see, even if your eyes had been open. My mother's eyes, when they'd found her, had been open and staring and just vacant, the rusty color of the leaves on the lake's surface. The brown of her skin had paled. My father's eyes have always been deep brown and since that time they have remained open and staring -- staring at nothing except the black doorknob of that room they put him in, that silent room that speaks to him with the same blue electricity the events of my time there still speak to me.
Melvin's eyes were closed.
"Melvin -- Mel, wake up!" -- and it was true, as he told me later, that I'd actually screamed at him -- but that was the time when you felt like you weren't in a car at all; instead, you were on your way someplace else, high above everyone in the world, although you could still see them before it was all over. And also: that for one horrible minute I'd seen how Melvin would look when he was dead.
All at once he was jamming the car into first gear, then realized his mistake and pulled it back. It took me a short while, as we groaned and jerked and then swerved right up on the steel grid wall on my side, to realize that I was sitting bolt upright in the seat with the car door handle gripped in my right hand and my left knee in my left. That was the feeling you got when you were about to jump out, I remembered. From a car, from a car. This one.
Then we were off the bridge. A voice on the radio was singing a slow song now; the lyrics were incomprehensible and the singer sounded as though she were in tears.
"Christ." It was Melvin.
"D'you hear me? I'm telling you --"
"It's O.K." (It wasn't .)
"-- I'm sorry. Are you all --"
"You know I never do that. It must be later than I thought."
I remained silent: someone had once told me that it wasn't good for a man to talk too much, and anyway there was nothing to say except:
"Are you O.K.?" -- and when he nodded I shut up again. But you can imagine it. It's everything you remember: those minutes when you smell the electric shock in the air, just like when they say Hold still please, this won't hurt ; the shock in the shudderings of the car itself, as if for one moment we had been balanced like two eggs on the sloping bridge spans and could see every cold orange light over that water without end; -- then the deep blackness of the river below, knowing that we (with just a breath or a sigh) could have fallen into that blackness, unaware of any pain or trauma or sensation of falling; just that awful blackness and the power it would have to swallow us down into itself far away from any lights, lights which just then for us would have had the beauty of men on camels in the desert, bearing water and loaves of thick, crusty brown bread, rescue wreathed in smiles. I didn't release my grip on the car door handle or my knee as we drove the rest of the way home with the radio off, as we listened to all those ancient faraway sounds, like voices, echoing. Old voices, echoing.
It's our neighborhood: in this part of Brooklyn, one of those still-quaint, tree-lined brownstone-ish areas unctuously described by real-estate agents (who probably live on Park Avenue; ours did) as "charming," "up-and-coming," "the new per fect place to raise a family." A place a lot of white people have been known to call "delightfully ethnic." Many families do live here, most them poor, middle-aged Puerto Ricans. There are many beautiful, clear-eyed children, almost all of whom attend the Catholic elementary school a few blocks west of the park. I moved in here with Mel soon after we met just over a year ago, after I'd gotten good and cleaned up and away from everybody. Now that I'm back in school it's a long trip every day by subway. I don't really mind. I'd never think of asking him to drive me in, since he has to commute out to Nassau County every day, to the South Shore hospital he works in. Once I surprised him out there and we had lunch on the grass; it was pretty nice even for a hospital. Most of the time that I see him he's tired. That's what gets me scared, when he drives back late from out there. What almost happened tonight could almost happen out there. Or happen. It would happen, the way things are now. The thing is, you have to be ready for it when it happens. It would be what was left of him under that white sheet with red and brown spots all over it when he was brought back with all those people smiling and wanting to see; people we had never known. And if you looked into my eyes you would see how they would stay open for years, especially at night, because there would be those demons, those demons behind the door and the things that still live there. Because what--
(--what everybody always tells you, what they always rush to tell you, is never true, about how those things aren't there and can't get you. They do get you. Even if you're dreaming that they got you you never really wake up. Not ever. Never and can't.)
"Hey."Mel's voice. "Are you coming to bed or what?" He was giving me this very annoyed look.
"What's up with you?" he said. We'd gotten all the way up the stairs and into the apartment and through to the bedroom, and I was just standing there in front of the mirror with my shirt off, holding it in my right hand. He was smiling, weary and just at the edge of fatigued impatience, showing the smooth shoulders and pretty dark nipples that, from their place beneath his T-shirt, pressing perfect points up beneath the cotton, didn't tempt me tonight.
"Come on ."
I finished undressing and got into bed. I was trembling. His arms and shoulders felt warm and safe. I moved closer to him.
He turned out the light, butted my arm with his face, put a hand in its favored place on my ass and grunted good night.
" Oh ... yeah?"
"... nothing --" I couldn't sleep. It was close to a full moon. There weren't any noises. Only the sound of his breathing.
Four nights later, five nights, six.... I still couldn't sleep. Mel was working the four to twelve shift at the hospital and then had called to say that he'd had a fight with some loudmouthed do-it- this -way type nurse and had told them all to go fuck themselves good, and that with luck and clear traffic he'd be home a little before midnight, but first he'd be stopping off to eat at an expressway restaurant in Massapequa with one of the guys from X-ray -- Johnny Mercado, did I remember him? No . The rest of it was fine with me. At least for a little while yet there wouldn't be anyone else around.
-- That's what I was thinking after I hung up. I just didn't feel like speaking to anybody. In fact, I didn't feel like doing much of anything. There were a few papers I could have worked on, and some books I should have read a week ago already and discussed in the classes I missed yesterday and the day before, but instead I'd turned off the light early in the evening and had just sat there in the comfortable dark, thinking. It seemed like there was a lot to think about all of a sudden ... like the ocean at Quogue last summer ... that place where we'd spent a week with some friends of Mel's: a husband and wife neurology team at the hospital out there. They hadn't been all that bad for older people, in their forties, and they hadn't tried to make us feel stupid, either, the way some doctors do to people, all condescending in white. That had been their summer-weekend house, right on the beach, and we'd spent every evening but one, the rainy one, sitting and talking and drinking fancy drinks on the redwood porch facing the beach. You could feel the ocean everywhere -- eating its way along the edge of the beach and licking at the legs of the neighbor's little boy who had played at the water's edge every day. Sometimes he would waddle on chubby kid legs over to us to show us something he'd found -- a pretty shell or a rock -- and I'd always wanted to grab him to tell him to stay away from the water because couldn't he see it was dangerous? The ocean had been everywhere: in the air, in the house, on our skin, even inside us; you couldn't get away from it. Every now and then a town police jeep had bumped past on the beach, leaving huge tire marks and flashing its red light like an awful, swollen, bloody red eye. Even the sun had been red. The sun had been red and the ocean had been everywhere and you couldn't get away from them.
Except in the dark. When I'm in the dark and I can't see, I can tell everything's going to be all right. It's something you know. Even if any monsters or flashing lights or greedy oceans or black rivers are here, I won't see them and they won't get to me because I can't see them.
I can't see them!
That was me, in a loud, clear voice. Before the door moved with --
"Who are you talking to? I said `Hi,' for the second time," Mel's voice came from behind the kitchen door. He made it even sooner than he'd said he would ( but just leave me the fuck alone would you? Always breaking in like a goddamn --).
"Hi. What's this miracle? -- what time is it?"
"I don't know ... late. We didn't bother to stop. You know that place is not the real deal for any kind of dinner after eight o'clock."
"Um-hmm." It sounded clumsy. Had he come home early to see what I was up to? Why the fuck --
"So what're you sitting in the dark for?"
"Cause I feel like it. It was quiet."
"Yeah? Since when?" He was fumbling in the refrigerator for something; pushing aside things wrapped in tin foil, rolling around what sounded like cucumbers.
"What're you looking for?"
"I think we're out. See if there's any Coke."
"I don't want a Coke. What d'you mean, we're out? How could we be out?"
" I want a Coke. Oh, wait." A few days ago he'd bought two six-packs of some new Japanese beer that had sounded good and I'd promised to put them away. I'd forgotten. "Mel."
"What? You're right, we are out. Jesus Christ."
"No, there're two six-packs on the floor. By the garbage can. I forgot to put them in. On the floor, the Sapporuchi something."
"Warm beer? Unh- unh , baby. That ain't gettin it. So," he came into the living room where I could almost see him, tall and familiar in the dark, "since when're you into sitting in the dark? You going all loco on me, hombre?"
" Don't turn it on." With, quickly: "It's an ugly lamp. It makes the room look pink."
"It's nice like this, when you can't see anything. Check out the street lights, honey!"
"Who can see ... it's dark as hell ." He was tired, affectionate, just worn out, really. Not only had it been a long day for him, ending with that stupid nurse, but then he'd had to come home and find warm beer when it should have been fresh-cold from Japan, and me sitting in the dark, not even playing the stereo the way I used to do, sometimes for hours, until he'd come home. It was all so different so fast. And now it was like I wasn't even alone with him. I could feel it.
"Just leave it off. Did you bring my Coke?"
"Come and get it." I got up and went to him. It was all dark as I crossed the room and took the Coke as he gave me his hand and pulled me in a little. That was when I saw her. The leaves were covering her.
No sleep. Tonight there are a few noises, noises of cars and cats and the late street-sweepers. The living room faces the street, across the hall from our bedroom, and usually the few street noises there are don't reach us in here; tonight I'm listening for them carefully, watchfully. The sounds never seem to be enough; there are never enough of them. It gets so quiet you can hear your own heart, thumping like some soft clumsy thing inside you. I hear it: it's beating louder and louder, ocean-sounds. Well, the ocean's here. I see it, all white and gray and angry. This has to be Quogue or some other place, a nameless, faceless beach with only the ocean and me staring at each other. It's whispering, and the whispers sound like one big, ugly hiss.
What do you want? -- quietly, so Mel won't hear.
It's not answering me. Just staring and whispering.
When this happens, you have to make it answer.
What do you want? Louder now. I don't think Mel can hear me here. I'm on the beach and he's asleep. Sleeping like the dead.
You, it says, shifting and rolling itself.
Why? Rolling itself over and over, back and out to the edge of the sky and back again, until it says: Because .
Because what? Mel's so far away -- all these shadows here and him so far away with no answer from the ocean and these noises hurting in my head. Like Hold still please, this won't hurt . The scumbags lie, you remember it.
I nod. I'm nodding. I'm walking into the ocean and from some point far off in the distance I hear a voice calling me, Stop, calling my name, Stop! Mel or somebody. -- I'm walking in with my eyes open as the ocean keeps staring and oh dear God I will not stop walking in deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper. Marry me .
The radio was on. Brash as a buzzsaw and loud -- what time was it, what time? -- and then that voice, announcing ... a DC-10 crashed in Boston last night, killing all two hundred and seventy-three aboard. This was a dream, it had to be.
There was Mel, sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking and watching me. He looked more tired than ever.
"Umh." -- "What time?"
"Hup." It hurt to clear my throat.
"Are you -- are you --"
He wanted to finish with all right? I knew it. I hated him. I looked at him and didn't say anything. He should have been dressed already and on his way out. He was still in the T-shirt and undershorts he'd slept in, sitting there calmly looking at me; only he wasn't calm. I hated him. (Since when?) I hated him.
"I'm fine." I could hear my voice, so far away, as he looked down at his hands, then back up at me. " You look tired. You look like hell." He wouldn't stop looking at me. "You don't smell that great, either," I added.
"Did you sleep well? You didn't!" I couldn't take it when he looked like that. I felt like burning him with something, or tearing him to screaming bloody shreds. Bastard, sitting there staring at me. A born bastard. And now my head was hurting again.
"No. But take a look at yourself."
"Just do." (A surprise?) I jumped out of bed and went to the mirror.
So, I looked as though I hadn't slept for days. I hadn't. The only difference was that now there were black rings under my eyes, small black lines. But I still felt as though I could get into a high-speed car in two seconds and race off for miles, never touching the earth.
He was still looking at me -- his head off to one side, legs crossed, drumming his fingers on his bare thigh as he blew smoke out of the side of his mouth. That habit I hated all over again, as he put the cigarette out in the ashtray on top of the blanket and came over to put his hot, horrible hands on my head. Next it would be his mouth, and then he might even have tried to hold me down, looking at me the whole time, saying What's wrong? -- when there was nothing wrong at all. I just had to get away from him. It was him, today, now.
-- the leaves, the lake, the lights flashing dream-red, dream-white, so pretty ... I'd been there before, in those places, sometime. It had been so very quiet with no one.
I was already in the bathroom, trying to find something to hold on to -- the toothbrush, the toothpaste tube, soft, plastic, cold -- right there.
"What's wrong?" -- if I'd had a gun right then I would have shot him. Gotten rid of him . There were noises of him opening a drawer, the drawer that always stuck and made splinters, as he searched for a shirt to wear. Those little noises made my head hurt more.
"Nothing. I'll be late," I said. The newscaster was still snapping out details of the crash and quoting the statements of airline officials. There were so many victims: a tragic event , one official said. But this was peace for some of us. Just to stand there, and listen.
Another night and still no sleep. Now, at last, it was nice. Finally, just some time when you could stay awake for hours, staring at the walls, watching them move and shift in the dark. With the moon's passing it was darker tonight. No noises anywhere. I couldn't even hear Melvin breathing, or snoring. It was like I didn't have to pretend anymore that maybe he was dead after all and wouldn't ever wake up, just like I'd never go to sleep. The day after tomorrow and the day after that and on and on for years, he'll be lying there next to me as I keep sitting up listening to the ocean sucking out and back and the jets that crash and burn people to ash. And that small, sneaky sound of books that have to turn their own pages because I -- I -- can't read them.
Yes; today I pretended that I was getting ready to go to classes and then came right back after Mel was gone. Que estúpido! the Puerto Rican neighborhood ladies would say, anyone could fool him. I was here to pull down the shades. I sat in the dark to listen. Because you never know when there'll be an accident that you'll hear that you'll want to see, and you'll know that it's an accident with all those sirens and fire trucks and people screaming as they see the runway come up closer from way down there with those huge, beautiful engines as they burn up and you know that you will soon burn with them. I sat in the dark all day to listen; I heard the voices of cats. Also the floor creakings and the shadows. I could hear them breathing as I sat there thinking. They were here for hours until the woman came. And she's back now.
It is her. That bloody woman from the accident that was when? A month or three weeks ago? Standing by the door next to the mirror over the cabinet, looking at me. (How can she see me?) Seeping ... that neck is so shredded. I see the blood glinting on the walls behind her. I see that white sheet on her.
Mel, I'm whispering, you better get up. She's here. I can see her. Why don't you look?
The bastard's asleep. I have to wake him up, for this. Get up, Mel! Still asleep. That woman is standing over there.
(And you should know why, says a voice that is Melvin's voice but different. He's rising to sit. And I can see you better now than I've ever seen you before, Mel. I can see the demon that I always knew was in you the same demon I have been feeling these last weeks, this last year, however long the whole world has been hurting my head like this. Your face is gone except for those red eyes and red teeth red like the sun on the beach and the blood. Now you know because everyone knows as she bleeds and starts to cry that she is doing this, that you are doing this and that we will have to leave this room now, get out of here to live, because no one is crazy here, we are not crazy in any way or shape.)
A few seconds later you hear someone screaming, screaming like a monster or the way she screamed as the car smashing into the lamppost cut off her legs and pulled out her hair and ripped her neck from end to veined end; -- no, the way she screamed as the muddy water swept down her throat and made bubbles in her blood until it was all darkness and the leaves in protest swirled up like bat wings around her and covered her for the living to haul up because by then she was anyway sewage, dead with the weight of sewage; no, the way he screamed when smiling white cops told him she was gone and his screams echoed through the screams and laughter and tears until the final silence of that room they put him in: screaming like the dead who will never rise to inherit the earth or whatever kingdom is promised any number of kingdoms from one daynight to the next; screaming like him now with his mouth open and dry as something under his chin tries to push his mouth shut; earwitnesses will say It must be someone out on the street dying under the cold city skeleton lights in the alleyways where cats maul and screw ... somebody on the runway, stifling under all the foam they sprayed there, screaming for the ambulance. Trying now to remove those many arms about you; feeling the killing grip that will strap you into that place and drown you. What is that thing under your chin. A hand. A smell once familiar. The hand of the lake choking you choking all ... the last thing now in the world of fire; that other's burning face, Melvin's face screaming Let me help you: words spoken through red teeth until all dims to the black water color. And now
-- no noises. The girl gone. How many creatures swim through the water. And how he swims. He and he. And the silent screams and the sirens of that time. The red revolving lights like bright hungry fish. And the fire. Watching him.
I can't tell you what day it is. Maybe the next day but I can't be sure anymore when all I hear are lies, whispers, and lies. And now the days pass by so quickly, yellow, green, red, until the nights come, the black nights: there must be three or four of them at a time sometimes, they last so long. They just go on and on, like space, empty like space, and the moon's not full anymore so you can't see anything. You can't see the stars or the walls of your room or even the earth, although you know it's out there. Blue. You know it's out there and you look for it but you can't see it. It's dangerous, because if you can't see it you'll crash and wind up on the radio after the song hour. The sad songs they play at night, the songs of dreams .
They're playing a song on the radio now. The words to it are coming through clearly in this dream. We're in the Hyundai, heading for the bridge, some bridge I don't remember, to get to this hospital, a white hospital ... Mel's driving. He looks so tired, and now he looks different, like a shadow. He doesn't look real. He's a dream-person. He looks like the shadows the sun makes on bridges. I'm dreaming this, I have to be dreaming this. And the dream-pictures, like photo snaps all muddled, blurry-faced, come rushing up, stay for a second, then race off. To the bridge.
And he's driving too fast. This trip wasn't my idea . He planned everything as always. He thinks there's something wrong with me and wants me to go to the E.R. of this hospital so they can poke me around until I come out sounding stupid. He's not saying anything. I know him. After all this time I can read his mind. He thinks they'll be able to fix me because there's something wrong with me even though I feel fine. I just don't want to go to sleep anymore. In fact I'm never going to sleep again.
"Mel, you're driving too fast." I hate the way he drives and sits on the bed and stands up blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth--like that. He's doing it. I'm just glad he's a shadow. He shouldn't be real. People should blow smoke sideways when they're dreaming not when they're driving and sitting down and standing up. That woman used to do it .
"Mel, you're driving too fast." We're at the bridge now. What if he drives too fast and we drive off the earth? They'll tell it on the radio. People I care about will go out and have an accident. There are always so many trucks. The trucks that bring supplies, the trucks that block everyone's vision, the trucks of dreams.
This truck is in front of us and somebody on the radio is screaming. Watch out, we're going to go off the earth
"Mel, watch out! -- it's too fast! " And now I
-- reach over and hit him and see the bright red on nay hand. I must have hit him in his teeth. They're so red. Always red, more and more like his eyes. This is the steering wheel. We can't, we can't go off the earth .
In front of us, the noise of a crash: a plane must have crashed on the bridge, killing everybody aboard. There's a crash behind us and we are flying forward, hard, flying. I was belted in so I would never leave the bottom of the lake, but Mel's not belted so he can escape, flying, big black brown pretty jet right through the glass. I see him, there he goes. Too much noise .... Cracked glass, red, the smell of fire ... he's gone. He escaped and left me under this red sky. I would never ever have left him, never ... the radio's screaming about accidents; there are accidents everywhere.
But I'm out of the car, running. I know I should be waking up but I'm here running on the bridge, feeling the thin, dreamy-delicious air parting itself, carrying me up. Mel must be somewhere close by. What happened -- ... but you have to be okay, Mel, somewhere I can't see you . I'm running ... my eyes are open but I can't see and I'm still running. The sun is melting over everything like hot angry orange taffy, and even the bridge is running and melting under the sky that just keeps hanging there, a world of red burning dreams, burning gold ... the neighbors who could help me see and take me home are in Africa, writing a book. I have to cross the water to get to them. Maybe even the ocean. It's there, under the bridge.
I keep hearing the horns of cars, angry honks. Only they aren't cars, they're trumpeting elephants. I'm out in the open running with the elephants, and the plane that crashed is burning nearby under a red sky and a red sun as the ocean roars in anger, in terror, far away. Africa . I'm close. I can't find Mel anywhere. He must have melted into the bridge.
I have to cross the water. It's the dream . And there's the water: I can see it, black, old, deep, swirling to Africa, telling me not to be afraid, to walk on its back, to follow it to
Red lights ...
Dreams Voices calling. Calling --
The sounds of elephants ...
The bridge is burning.
And now listen. Just listen. This is the long dream beginning. The long dream . You can't see anything but fire all around here. Hot . And now all you can hear for miles -- for miles and miles -- are screams.
Copyright © 2000 Thomas Glave. All rights reserved.
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