some fall in love. i shatter.

Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

A Bitter Taste (#27)

In Stories Volume 2 on October 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Tomorrow, the local assistants you’ve hired will learn exactly what happened inside my pyramid. Sixteen of them will flee the site, the city, the country; they will disappear. Two of them will take their own lives by slitting their necks with the knives that hang from their belts. The remaining two will tell you to leave, implore you, do all they can to force you to leave. They will return to the city with you and tell everyone what has happened inside the pyramid; you will watch as everyone’s eyes change and they suddenly look at you differently before turning their backs and shutting their doors. Nobody will aid you and you will have no choice but to leave for even the restaurants, cafés, and grocers refuse to serve you. They all understand the possible implications of contact.

 

Your foreign colleagues will not understand what the locals speak of but will recognize that no work will be completed with you at the site. All twenty-two of them will convince you to leave for a spell until they can work this thing out. It will bother you as much as it will inconvenience me, but you will agree to move on until hearing word to return. You will leave that day on a flight to Istanbul, followed by a connection to Phnom Penh, where an old friend is wasting away.

 

The following day, I will dispatch all twenty-two of your colleagues; plucking their wide, incredulous eyes from their fearful faces before dragging them into my hidden chambers, where they will waste away. I will find those two remaining assistants. I will carve out their hearts and leave them as warning.

 

Then I will leave Egypt to find you.

 

 

You will enter your Cambodian hotel room to find a single square of tattered linen, discolored from resin and the ravages of time. The meaning will not come together in your mind. You will think it is but a bit of trash blown in through the windows on a gust of the damp breeze. You will discount the unnatural scent and attribute it to rain that will not come.

 

Days will pass as you lose yourself in the lights of the bars and restaurants, how they turn hazy in the diesel air. In the night, whispers will slip into your room under the doorframe and dance about your ears before dissipating in the circling vortex of the palm frond-ceiling fan. The morning will come and you will have recollections of nightmares but know that I send them to you as love sonnets. You merely misconstrue them. You will also believe that the whispers were part of the dreams but that will not be the case. The truth is that I will be growing closer minute by minute.

 

Your colleague, Hart, will continue warning you though every vacillation and every bit of uncertainty he admits will cause you to discount what he is saying as legend. You recall how much you used to trust him, even when everything was stacked against him. You wonder why you don’t listen to him now, why you now claim that too many years amongst the prostitutes and narcotics of Phnom Penh have left him paranoid and anxious. You used to trust him despite these things but you will choose to distrust when he describes what you don’t want to believe. He will implore you to flee Cambodia, to leave Southeast Asia, to find a major metropolitan area where there will be some measure of safety in the numbers, and then to leave that city behind after no more than a few days. You will always be on the run, he will say, for fear that I will reach you and do to you the terrible, terrible things that I must do. His words, not mine. He will drink too much. You will have made him nervous.

 

Two days later, you will meet Hart again. He’ll look thinner, paler, and his sweat will be pushing through the linen suit he wears. A revolver will be concealed in the fold of the newspaper he carries. He’ll insist on going to the Bengali Bar, sitting on the balcony overlooking the water and the edge of the city. He will order a gin and tonic for you and a double whiskey for himself. He’ll barely make eye contact. He’ll suggest Paris and a friend who manages short-term rentals. He’ll keep his eyes on the masses below, his fingers tapping constantly. The night will end with Hart shouting; drunk, blaming you for whatever shall befall him. He will frighten you more than I have, but that will soon change.

 

You’ll never be aware of this, but two days after you leave Phnom Penh, I will arrive on your scent. Miraculously, many of these Cambodians do not see me as they grapple towards modernity. Only the older ones realize what I am. Those who mask it better than others I will allow to live, the others will meet terrible fates behind thin concrete walls. Your scent will take me to Hart. As drunk as he will be, he’ll fire six shots and they will all lodge in the place where my withered heart sits but he and I both know this does no good. As difficult as it is without a tongue, I will question him as to your whereabouts and he will crumble so, so quickly; his courage eroded by morphine, fear, and a misguided attempt to save his own soul. I will tear his eyes from his face and when he’s worn out his vocal chords from screaming, I’ll bury him alive along the banks of the Mekong River. Such a beautiful river.

 

 

The moaning that you will hear from your apartment during the hours when Paris has briefly silenced it’s gaiety will be I, seeking you through the uneven curves of your arrondissement. I will be that close to you. You will only then begin to realize the extent of my reach, the limit of my devotion, the insatiability of my need, and the inevitability of the Curse.

 

You will begin to feel my presence even when I am not yet before you. My fingers, crooked and crackling with absence, discover the skin of your neck; a sigh escapes my bandaged mouth, all dust and rot and longing.

 

Fleeing Paris will not be an option. The transit strike will have entered its fifth day. Planes, trains, buses; all decommissioned. In a surprising sign of intent, supporters will have parked and overturned trucks and buses along the major roadways in and out of the city. Mobs, sometimes peaceful and sometimes less so, will be patrolling the perimeters. They will be quite serious, blocking the exit of even the sick and infirm; so when you try to disguise yourself as a leper, you will be refused exit. These will be cold men that believe they are fighting for their families, their wives and their children, so they will have no sympathy for you. They will push you away. Hours, or perhaps days later, I will pass through that same checkpoint, for while exit is forbidden during the strike, entrance is encouraged; it adds to the mayhem. Your scent will still be in the air, becoming my guide.

 

You will not know how to expect me. Restaurants and cafes will accommodate your request to sit in corners, your back to two walls and your eyes on the entrances. You first amuse them, then concern them with your increasingly jittery orders of ‘un autre café au lait.’ You begin to fear the old comfort of sleep for all the unguarded moments it compiles together.

 

You’ll begin to exist in a haze, a world full of half-visions and half-imagined sounds. All the while, I grow closer. During the day, I will find refuge and rejuvenation in those streets that no respectable person ventures into and where the unrespectable know to leave certain individuals unmolested. I will be shocked by how many Parisians realize my presence – there is mysticism in the water here – and by how many of them leave well enough alone. At night, I lurch onward and know that I near you as the trails of your scent begin to circle in on one another. You won’t know how perceptive my senses are; if you did, you would have given yourself to me so much sooner.

 

In your ears will grow an unraveling sound and you will attribute it to the sea even though we are hundreds of kilometers away. We. It is your destiny you hear, the unraveling of my tattered strips of linen, the freeing of my form, our coming together, the culmination of what you call Curse and I call love.

 

Your paranoia will become worse and you will trust nobody. No longer will you linger in the same cafés for hours, content from what you consider a safe perch and I consider a pedestal. You will move from location to location, never lingering more than thirty minutes, afraid of how I will hone in on your stagnation. It shocks me how quickly you will have become a believer. I will be thankful that your fear prevents you from seeking shelter with others for you will not believe that you can trust anyone.

 

One night, I will find you. After what seems an insufferable eternity, my crooked legs will drag my twisted body past the Trocadéro and the Cimetière de Passy, hanging on just a few moments to smile upon those lost souls. My dusty form will lumber onward until eventually twisting and contorting through the iron gate defending the residential Rue Herran. It will be late. I will follow your scent and at such an obscene hour, I will know that your ground floor apartment, chosen should you need to run quickly, will be the only one on the street with lights burning from behind the curtain.

 

You will hear my bandaged fingers slide across your windows. Your head will jerk upwards from the book you’re trying to read, your shoulders will tense, your breath will falter. You will be close. The sound of my forehead tapping against the window. The air will be cool and the way your curtains hang, you will just barely see the condensation my breath forms on the glass.

 

Your scream will be so very loud. As I move towards the front door of your building, pandemonium will be erupting from your apartment. The sounds you produce will suddenly halt as I turn to splinters the heavy wooden door from the street. A stillness in the antechamber. A clear view into the building’s courtyard shows that nobody has turned on any lights. You will be left to fend for yourself.

 

Your bravery is admirable. As I silently begin my shuffle towards your front door, you will open it just a crack to see if I am truly there. You will have begun to doubt your sanity quite earnestly; I already find this endearing. Once you see me through that sliver of space, though, you will lose yourself. You drop the butcher’s knife that you’re holding and slam the door; neither the knife nor the door mean much to me.

 

I will break your door as systematically as I broke the street door. I will lurch into the tiny apartment to find you struggling to open the window where I announced myself to you. But it is winter. And you sought security. So you never opened the windows and you’re unaware of the two latches at the top, nearly ten feet off the floor. I will never understand how you were unable to smash the glass; perhaps your body was weakening from a sense of the inevitable.

 

Your apartment will be so small, there will be precious little space for you to escape towards. You still punch against the window frame in that tiny living room. As my foot steps onto the blue carpet, a thin layer of sand settling down in the shape of my foot, you will suddenly cease your screaming and run up the ladder to the small loft where the bed lies. I will hear your guttural sounds, like a pig, embroiled in passionate anger or stuck with a knife.

 

It will not be easy for me to climb that loft ladder but I will advance. Nothing could stop me now that we will be so close. Slowly, my palms planting on each step as I walk like some wretched beast, I will ascend. Your limbs will flail and strike out over the landing as you attempt to fight me back. But just one brush against my supplicant frame and you will recoil in odd revulsion, dumbly seeking salvation backed into a corner. Your eyes will grow wider as I come closer, precious inch by precious inch, until it seems they will burst from your skull. Finally, they roll back into your head as my groaning hand reaches out for you.

 

As I bring my mouth close to yours, you will understand how the Curse of the Mummy is love; enduring, timeless, unrelenting, and unwavering love that pushes forward no matter the boundaries. No matter what those who have studied us believe, this is the truth. We knew the strength of love, the grips and hooks that can pull one through eternity even when the legs drain of all stamina. The Underworld was not the destination for those of us preserved, merely a stop upon the voyage. We never knew the destination. No one has and perhaps still none of us do.

 

But you, my dear, my companion, my liberator, my love. You will be my future. My key to what comes next. And we will do so together as I take you with me into the new room that only you can open the door to.

 

You call it the Curse for your society does not understand the depth of the implications and the actions. But perhaps you and I, together, will bring swift truth to their undeserving minds.

 

 

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Bikeshare (#26)

In Stories Volume 2 on October 22, 2012 at 10:23 am

            I feel like a fighter a lot of the time. Fighting with myself, my instincts, my inclinations, my obsessions. I fight and then I always submit. Like tonight, I know what I shouldn’t be doing and yet know exactly what’ll come to pass. I can’t help myself though I wish I could. Everyone else in this crowded bar has self-control in excess, that’s why they drink; to release themselves of the bond of control. They keep a tight leash on their actions; they distinguish between right and wrong, choose to do what’s right, and then stick with that choice. Me? Ain’t so easy. I can’t drink anymore, not since adolescence, and the only right choice I ever seem to make is drinking tonic water when I’m in bars. 

            The Pugilist is all dark woods and banker greens with a boxing memorabilia across the walls and a smattering of kitschy pug-themed artwork here and there. I sort of love the dog art. It’s dumb and it feels like a descendant of T.G.I. Friday’s but I like pugs and silly art, and I love collections. Of course I love collections. So what’s kind of great about waiting for him in this bar is analyzing the different collections of people; how big they are, who they’re composed of, how the internal dynamics work. I wish that I could hear better but the bars I end up in tend to be so packed and so noisy that it’s all visual. Throws me off when some guy comes to buy me a drink. Happens every time, that I’m certain of, but I can never be certain how long it’ll take to shake them. Can’t you guys tell that I don’t care?

 

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“They must’ve cut the lock.” She stood directly in front of the ‘No Parking’ sign and he stood halfway between his bike, locked to a lamppost, and the sign that she claimed her bike should have been affixed to.

“They cut the lock and took it? What’s the point of taking a cut lock?” Three beers had left him a little unfocused. She spun to face him, her navy blue dress catching the breeze of her movement, her red hair bouncing and highlighting the unmasked frustration in her green eyes. “Maybe they were worried about evidence. Or proof of the crime.”

“The proof is that my bike’s gone!” He wondered if she was always so fierce.

“Right. Sorry.” She wondered if he was beer-dumb or deferential.

“Hey, look, I’m going to make a phone call real quick. Do you mind hanging around a minute?” She dug into an oversized purse with both hands, the sunflower pattern undulating with the movement of her searching knuckles.

“No problem.” She finally pulled free a slim phone and stepped away. He dropped his olive messenger bag to the ground, next to his bike’s back tire, and was puzzled to realize that he felt something akin to guilt; not for anything to do with the disappearance of her bike but instead for the maintained presence of his own. Sort of a survivor’s guilt. He wondered why his bike wasn’t taken. She’d said her bike was a Fuji Absolute, which was a good bike even if it had a few years on it, but his new Limited Edition 3-Speed Linus Roadster Sport was a better bike and much more valuable. Not to mention his lock was cheap and thin. He knelt down and fingered the braided steel cable wrapped around the frame and front tire. I really should get a stronger U-lock, he thought. The atmosphere was quiet around him. Barely any cars passed through the business district that, with the exception of a few bars hoping for better times, shut down after 6pm. He turned to see her standing behind him.

“Rethinking your choice of locks?”

“A little bit.”

“So listen, I just talked to my friend and she’s going to come pick me up but it’ll take her about half an hour. Is there any way I could convince you to stay with me until then? We can go to Black Star around the corner. It’ll only be thirty minutes, tops.” She had a nervous smile that was difficult for him to look away from and yet he usually ducked out of things by looking at his feet and speaking quickly before any engagement, emotional or otherwise, could be established.

“I… are you sure it’s only thirty minutes?”

“At the most, I promise. Thank you so much. I just feel really weird having my things get stolen and it makes me really want to not be alone, you know what I mean? But come on, no need to stand around out here. Let me buy you a drink around the corner.” He glanced back at his bicycle and the lock that suddenly seemed so thin. “Are you worried about your bike now?”

“A little bit, I guess, but that doesn’t make much sense, does it? The odds of two bikes being stolen from the same location at two different times in one night are pretty unlikely, right?”

“Probably. My assessment of situations is obviously off since my bike is missing while yours is here, but I think they would have taken what they wanted during one pass through.”

“You’re probably right. Okay, it’s fine, I’ll leave the bike. You said you wanted to go around the corner? You don’t just wanna go to the Pugilist?”

“I was just in there and it was too loud for me. I could barely hear a thing.”

“Black Star isn’t gonna be much quieter.”

“It’s worth a shot. Come on, I just had my bike stolen, let’s go to my bar.” He took one last glance at his bicycle and followed along.

 

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            I never understand the vagaries or the functions, the catches or the controls. I understand when something is beyond me and so many things seem beyond me sometimes. Who’s in control if not me? What if I were to be in control at this point – what would I do? I’m already enmeshed, he’s already entrapped.

 

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“Are you gonna bother filing a police report? Do you have insurance?”

“For my bike? No… and no, no police report. I don’t think it’s really worth the time. Do you know how many bikes get stolen every year and how many are retrieved? It’s a fraction, a tiny fraction.”

“So you’re just gonna let it go? Let the criminals win?”

“I filed a police report for a bike that was stolen from me two years ago. It made no difference. It’s not worth the time or the effort.”

“I would still do it on principal.”

“Well when your bike gets stolen, you can file a report.”

“Don’t say ‘when’ – I’m a little nervous about my bike right now.”

“Good, because I’m tired of talking about bikes.”

 

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            This feels different. This doesn’t feel right. This is too fast. This isn’t the headlong rush. This is me being dragged with my heels dug in. I hate this. I hate this. I can’t…

 

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She pulled her phone once again from the cavernous bag that sat upon the barstool to her right and checked the time. He couldn’t see the display but knew that they had to be approaching the thirty-minute mark. She looked up and smiled apologetically for pushing the limits on her promised timeframe.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m having a good time.” He leaned over towards her left ear as his voice had grown a little bedraggled from competing with the bar crowd.

“Thank you for being so patient. I couldn’t have picked a better stranger to pass the time with.” She glanced down again, the phone silent but the display alight. “I’m just going to run outside to try calling my friend. I won’t be able to hear a thing on this phone in here.” He nodded as she stepped down from the stool and grabbed her purse with a wink. “Even if you are a great stranger, a girl can’t be too cautious.”

Stepping into the quiet night, she was shocked by just how loud the bar had been. Ethereal fuzz permeated her ears, finally dissipating after a few uncomfortable seconds. Standing in front of the wide windows of the bar, she lifted the clamshell phone to her right ear and began the lazy wander of someone waiting for someone else to pick up the phone. She drifted out of the window frame and when she was certain that he could no longer see her, she dropped the phone into her bag and took off towards the Pugilist. She skidded to a halt at the street corner and peered around like an agent in an old, low-budget spy flick. Nobody lingered outside the bar. The coast was clear. She glanced back at Black Star. That coast was still clear.

Without any hint of the internal raging adrenaline on her calm surface, she turned the corner and walked purposefully to his Linus, locked up to the lamppost. She was barely in the slanted line of sight from the Pugilist’s windows but it would require someone purposefully looking directly at her to follow what she was doing; at this hour, such attention was unlikely. Who would watch her kneel down to get something from her bag? Who would continue watching to see her pull a pair of fourteen-inch bolt cutters from her large bag? Who would bother to see her set her feet, position the bolt cutters, and in a steady motion, bite that lock into two pieces? Nobody would bother doing all those things at that hour.

The bolt cutters dropped back into the large bag that was empty other than her wallet and cellphone. The mangled lock went in as well. She didn’t believe in evidence, she believed in rapidity. Less than a few seconds later, she was biking north on 14th Street and catching all the green lights that. Twenty minutes later, she reached the front entrance of her building and paused on the concrete steps before wheeling the bike inside. Her breath came back while she sat on the concrete steps and the bike leaned against the chipped, black iron fence surrounding the small plot of grass the tenants jokingly referred to as ‘the yard.’

She carefully wheeled the bike upstairs to her two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. The black, rubbery scuffs on the pale floorboards near her door were nearly as numerous as the nicks, dings, scratches, and scrapes around the doorframe and just above waist height. The spacious living room that she entered onto echoed back at her the squeaks of the tires and the clipped sounds of her own footsteps. No magazines or newspapers cluttered the coffee table, no shoes made treacherous the entryway, no dishes littered the kitchen sink or counters. She was anti-septic, a ghost, a living anomaly in the tableau of the minimalized and straight-lined apartment, and yet she felt so comfortable there. But to be honest with herself, she had to admit that it wasn’t the entire apartment that made her comfortable. Just one room did that. Just the spare bedroom. The spare bedroom, which the floor plan called the master bedroom, for she didn’t need that much space in order to sleep.

She drifted towards the spare room, leading the bike with one hand at the crux where the handlebars met the stem. The closed door was at the end of a short, dark hallway that she could just barely fit into with the bike rolling to her right. A glimmer of light shone from underneath; she’d left the overhead light on the night before, so when she opened the door wide, her pride and guilt came flooding and crashing on a chrome tide.

Dozens of bikes – twenty-seven at her last count, twenty-eight with this newest addition – lay piled up against the far wall of the room. They stretched from the floor to the ceiling, which admittedly wasn’t that high but was tall enough that she needed to flex her muscles and throw some of the lighter bikes to the top of the heap. Half the room was occupied with these bikes while one stood solo closer to the door. She propped the new bike against the door, lifted the solo bike, placed it on top of the nearest and lowest pile, and then placed the new bike in that solo spotlight. Everything in place, certain that the piles of bicycles remained sturdy, she shut off the light, shut the door, and took herself to the living room couch where she lay down with her eyes shut.

The guilt had come on surprisingly robust for that night, for that bike, for that guy. Something was different. Guilt, when it came, which was rare, never manifested for a few days and then it settled in for a week or two before dissipating and being replaced by the renewed urge to steal another bicycle. Men, women, tactics, time of day, type of bike; nothing ever made a difference. Something had been different this time and she was fairly certain it was him.

She walked back to the spare room to look at the bike once again. The track lighting was set-up like a spotlight and the bike shone with remembrances of the sun and less enclosed spaces. She gazed on it, wistfully and angrily, and she realized that she missed him. Against all logic and all expectations, she missed him. The guy she’d barely listened to a word of, the guy she’d picked out based on whatever equations operated in the darker spots of her mind, the guy who was nothing more than the deliverer of a thing. She missed that guy. She’d destroyed his defenses and gotten through but in the haze of the demolition dust, he’d also slipped past her defenses. Lodged himself in her mind. Made himself unforgettable.

And now she’d stolen from him, just for the sake of appeasing the tense kleptomaniacal beast that raged inside of her. She couldn’t go back to him, she couldn’t go back, she couldn’t. Weakness or fear, it didn’t matter, there was no returning to confront the victim; neither her body nor her mind would allow her to do it.

 

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The cab dropped her off just as the police car pulled away and turned the corner; a certain measure of reassuring serendipity. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, shoulders slumped, looking weak and directionless now that he’d done all he could with the cops. The cab door slamming shut caught his attention and he turned in her direction, eyes wide the moment he recognized her.

“You stole my bike.”

“I did. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, give me my goddamn bike back!”

“I will. It’s at my apartment. I have something I want to show you.”

“Is this a joke?” They maintained the space between them. He used it to store his overflow anger; she transmitted a jumble of emotion.

“Look, I steal bikes. I’m not proud of it, I don’t do it for money, I just need to do it every few weeks.”

“You’re like a kleptomaniac.”

“Look, I’m sorry, I can’t help myself.”

“And all that about your bike being stolen was a lie?”

“Yeah.”

“Unbelievable.”

“But I came back. I never come back.”

“I wonder why.”

“Because it doesn’t… oh, right. But I came back because… I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?”

“I’m sorry about what I did. I’m sorry about what I did to you. I’ve never cared before about the people whose bicycles I’ve stolen but I got home and something was different. I felt… sorry that I’d taken it from you, because I liked you, I liked talking with you, and stealing your bike meant never being able to see you again. Unless I came back to find you and, well, confessed.”

“You’re crazy.”

“A little bit. But I’m really sorry too and I want to know you better and I want to give you your bike back.”

“Why didn’t you just ride it back?”

“Cause I want you to see all the bikes I’ve stolen since moving here. Nobody’s seen them before. I want you to see. I don’t know if you’re a catalyst or something but my problems are bigger than just your bike and I can confess without you seeing them but it’s like confessing to an invisible crime. I need you to see my crime before I can begin looking for forgiveness.” He was silent, uncertain of her honesty, uncertain of her motivations, uncertain of the strong sincerity in her voice. “So will you come with me? The cab’s waiting. If you won’t, I guess I could just ride the bike back.”

He was silent, one hand holding the strap of the messenger bag slung across his chest, the other jammed into his pocket so fiercely she could see the outlined knuckles of his clenched fist. She could also see the fist loosening, the ice melting.

She appeared plaintive, her face pale in the darkness, her eyes wide and transmitting something directly to him. He understood her as little as she seemed to understand her own compulsions. Admittedly, compulsions were confounding him at the moment.

The cab honked.

“No, no, I’ll come.”

“Good,” she said.

 

 

 

LPN9 (#25)

In Stories Volume 2 on October 15, 2012 at 9:58 am

“It’s version nine.”

“You guys are already at nine? When did this project start?”

“About eighteen months ago in earnest.”

“So you’ve burned through a version every two months? That’s an astonishing rate.”

“We got lucky with the first run through. That took us probably six months to get in order. After that, forget two months. We were blowing through versions every two weeks or so. Version nine has undergone testing for close to seven months now. The beauty is that it’s something everybody wants so there’s no shortage of willing test subjects.”

“Even without knowing the side effects?”

“With knowing some side effects of previous versions, which is arguably worse then going in blind.”

“People are desperate.”

“Certain people.”

“May I ask about the side effects? We’ve all been hearing rumors across the spectrum about Laboratory Sixteen.”

“I don’t understand why there are rumors. There’re no secrets – we’re reporting everything and filing on a regular basis. Maybe I don’t grasp the extent of the rumors but the side effects have been expected or logical, if not… unfortunate. We’ve encountered depression, ranging from very mild to crippling; obsession; suicide; rape; murder; bankruptcy. That one surprised all of us – nobody anticipated bankruptcy.”

“How did bankruptcy come into play?”

“Gift buying, starting small and building increasingly larger. What was interesting with gift buying was that it happened both when things went well and when they didn’t. Gifts were either tools in the chase or a means of celebrating the person but no matter how it manifested, it amounted to a sort of bribery. Clothes, cars, houses, jewelry, elaborate vacations; you name it, it was on someone’s shopping list.”

“Those side effects make perfectly logical sense and yet it’s still surprising to see them pan out like this.”

“For us, the surprise came mostly from the rapidity and severity. At no point did we fathom the strength of what we were concocting.”

“There was no way for you to know. This is cutting edge. Nobody’s done anything like this before”

“Still, to see the extreme end result of what’s supposed to be such a wonderful thing hasn’t done a whole lot for morale at the lab.”

“But version nine is it, right? That’s what we’ve been hearing.”

“I certainly hope so and I think it’s going to pan out that way.”

“Seven months is a good stretch of time to be testing just one version.”

“It is. We’re on the right track, we’re just doing some longer-term monitoring of individuals in order to chart the regularity of their moods and mood swings.”

“God, that must be so difficult to monitor considering the troubles you’ve had in the past. I mean, a certain amount of mood swings is to be expected, right? Hiccups, if you will, are bound to happen, no?”

“Yes, hiccups happen, they happen a lot, and they’re the bane of our existence at the moment. Just when we have a majority of subjects stabilizing, we get this cavalcade of activity that throws everyone into chaos. Thankfully, though, even though we keep getting this activity, it’s no longer leading anywhere drastic. It’s temporary, it’s fleeting, and most subjects return to their previous state. Others stay a little off but that generally means they’re trending upwards or downwards at a slow and steady pace and they’re working toward a new version of stasis. This is normal, this is safe, this is fine, this is something we’ve been expecting. We just don’t know for a few days or weeks what the outcome’s going to be.”

“So what brings you out of the lab today? Must be heading somewhere important.”

“Marketing department.”

“A clear sign that somebody likes the results you’re submitting.”

“I’m ready for this whole thing to be over. Market it, package it, sell it, and let me move on to something quieter.”

“Any idea what they’re going to call it?”

“They forwarded me some pitches last week and they were all pretty terrible but I never like what they do. It always seems so crass after we spend so much time fine-tuning. One, though, had a nice subdued name that I liked.”

“What was that?”

“Same working name that we’ve had for this latest version: Love Potion No. 9.”

 

 

 

 

A Dream Can Be A Dangerous Thing – Part IV of IV: Dreams (#24)

In Stories Volume 2 on October 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

(A minor note before we begin: the text in gray is from Part II of this story; the text in black, which is interwoven, is the new portion that makes up Part IV. It should all fall into place together. The easiest way to now read the entire four-part story (if you need a refresher from last week) is to read all of Part III and then all of Part IV, both gray and black portions, in order to follow the sequence of reality and the dreams that interrupt said reality)

 

R5

 

“There must… be more…”

 

 

D5

 

Trin fell asleep in Istanbul with the lights of the Hagia Sophia outside the hotel window and awoke to the headache inducing pollution of Beijing. While walking the ancient curves of the hutongs, both she and Flint were overwhelmed by the smoke and steam from someone’s kitchen and they reemerged in the fog of the Golden Gate Bridge. Gazing upwards, they could make out the curving arc of the massive International Orange beams but after Flint stumbled against an oncoming gazer, they looked back up to see the arc become the Gateway Arch.

‘What are we doing in St. Louis?’ Flint asked, only to be met with Trina’s puzzled face.

‘St. Louis? We’re in St. Petersburg, silly.’ And so they were…

Trina pointed to the statues atop the Winter Palace as evidence, her finger aimed directly, but as she began describing the statue to Flint, they both realized that Trin’s finger pointed at the statue above the Brandenburg Gate. ‘I feel so dumb,’ she said. Flint kissed her softly and Trina turned them down an alleyway where she ran her fingers along the wall, fingertips slipping into the chipped remnants of old bullet holes. Coming hand-in-hand to the end of the alley puckered with still more artillery memories, Trin and Flint sidestepped the red resin of a Sarajevo Rose in the asphalt. As they knelt down to examine the cracks, the loose petals from a cherry blossom tree came floating down over their still finger-entwined hands. They rose in unison to see the Washington Monument towering in the sky. As they strolled the length of the National Mall, the still water of the Reflecting Pool beckoned them on until it wasn’t the Reflecting Pool but the Seine; and it wasn’t the Mall but the Champ de Mars.

The shadow of the Eiffel Tower cooled them from the summer sun and the couple basked in the relative calm of the park until they began hearing car horns and shouting, and they smelled the busy scents of a city center. Trin opened her eyes to the Empire State Building in place of the Eiffel Tower. She held Flint closer.

‘I’ll go anywhere with you,’ she said.

‘Let’s just stay home for awhile.’

 

 

R6

 

The cold sterility of the doctor’s office reminded Trina of so many clichés that she grew increasingly uncertain whether she was dreaming or awake. Pop’s presence in the corner of her eye laid those questions to rest even as she tried not to look at him.

“I know you’re annoyed, Trin, but this is part of what you signed on for. I could never let you do this if there was no medical review. It’s not the story, it’s your safety, which is a part of the story, I suppose.” Pop pulled a steno pad from the jacket that hung wrinkled and worn looking from his broad shoulders, scribbling down a reminder to have Brandon write-up his notes on the doctor’s office experience. Trina turned to meet him eye-to-eye for the first time since they’d come in together.

“It’s not the exam, it’s your gunning for a reason to demand the pills back. It’s your lack of trust in what I’m doing.”

“You’ve copped to taking more than necessary or required. I gave you nine pills. That was for nine days. We’re on, what, the fifth day? You should have five left but you’ve only got four. This article’s about addiction and my reporter’s taking excessive amounts of a drug and hiding it from her editor.”

“I’m not hiding anything, Pop.”

“You ducked Brandon the other day. And now I’m to believe that you were legitimately sick yesterday? And you just didn’t call anyone? And didn’t answer your phone? Trin, it’s fine, you don’t need to hide anything. This was the notion we were operating under and the thing we were trying to discover. But now that we’ve reached this point, I can’t in good conscious allow you to keep going with it.”

There was a knock on the door and Doctor Richmond entered the room, clipboard in hand; the reporters in Pop and Trina tried to make out the small font on the page but neither could make out the words that mattered.

“Alright, Trin, Pop. I’m happy to report that there’s no actual indication of addiction. Nothing chemical, nothing neurological, nothing at all. But we expected that – you’ve been on these sleeping pills for,” Richmond glanced down at the clipboard he had been tapping his knuckle against, “four nights now and you’ve taken five pills. I don’t like that you’re taking more than the prescribed dosage and I have to recommend that you stop that.

“The most apt comparison I can think of would be an overeater. An overeater comprehends that continuing to eat is a bad thing with negative consequences, but chooses to do so anyway. Compared to a food addict, or any other addict, whose biology has literally changed and cannot stop doing the addictive action. Just as overeating can be a symptom of an eating disorder or something larger, your proclivity towards these pills could possibly be a symptom of some other disorder but that’s not something I’m going to be able to suss out right here today.” Richmond paused, catching Pop’s concern and reception before falling on Trin’s defiant and redemptive eyes.

“And that’s it, Doc?”  Trin tripped off the examination table where her legs had been dangling over the edge like when she was a child, her black boots knocking occasionally against the metal.

“Well… I suppose, beyond my recommendation that you kick the pills and find- ”

“Thanks, Doc. I’m still on the story and I’ve got research to do, Pop, but I’ll check in later. Oh, and don’t send Brandon to skulk around my apartment building. He smells like farts and I can detect it from upstairs.”

“Trina!”

 

 

D6

 

Trin’s right foot, wrapped up in a lazy white boat shoe, pushed against the graying and cracked wooden boards of the beach house’s wraparound porch. She sat on the beach side of the porch where she could see the dark blue water present itself to the land before transforming into tumultuous white waves crashing upon the shore. The ocean breeze carried sand, salt, and the eerie intimations of things unseen; that was Trina’s favorite part of the ocean: the mystery of it all. Seagulls squawked in front of her but none were hungry enough to dare approach no matter how enticing the crumbs of the mozzarella and tomato sandwich dotting the white plate on the table to her right. Trin lifted her foot and the glider swung forward, back, and then repeated the sequence once more before she pushed again to maintain a slow, steady pace. A glass of mellow Chardonnay sat next to the empty plate and was itself half emptied. The seagulls wouldn’t even stand a chance there.

Trin glanced at her cellphone sitting silent next to the wine glass’s stem. She hated waiting for these calls and hated it even more when they were late. Where was the commitment, where was the desire, where was the push they were always so eager to impress upon her. My mind’s made up, she thought, but I like to see robust strength of convictions. The clock on the phone’s display ticked ahead one more minute to 2:17pm. Trin picked up the glass and downed the remaining straw-colored wine. The phone rang.

– Hello.

– Yes, this is she.

– Yes, Connie told me that you’d be calling.

– Not at all, I’m just sitting on my porch enjoying a quiet afternoon.

– He’s back in the city working. He loves his work and he’s back early every evening.

– This isn’t a vacation; this is just where I come to get some work done from time to time.

– A book, yes.

– I really can’t say yet. Simple superstition keeps me from telling anyone but my husband and agent before the first draft is written. Otherwise the idea dries up and I lose it completely, which has happened far too many times in the past.

– Yes, Connie told me what you’d be calling about and I’m really not interested. I tried to impress this point upon her but she told me how insistent you were.

– That’s a very flattering offer but I’m at a point in my career where I’m doing what I love and doing it in a way that I enjoy.

– I already have three Pulitzers and I don’t have it in me to put up with the stress and rigor that comes with fighting for it again.

– Even if it’s only sitting on the Editorial Board.

– No.

– I understand completely well.

– I am also very happy with the three novels, thank you. And a lot of adults say they’ve read the children’s books as well. I’m very lucky to have cultivated this following.

– No, newspapers to adult fiction to children’s fiction is not easy.

– I have some ideas on what to do next but I’m taking my time.

– No, I use that time quite purposely to work towards creativity. I couldn’t devote it to your project, I’m sorry; it wouldn’t be fair to my fans expecting a certain style of work nor to your company, which would expect a greater degree of focus than I can promise.

– That’s a very, very flattering number, don’t get me wrong, but you must realize that I’m not wanting for financial stimulation.

– Correct.

– Correct.

– Haha, don’t worry. I appreciate the offer, thank you for thinking of me, but I really am quite happy where I am.

– Yes, Connie is your point of contact.

– Thank you.

 

 

R7

 

The blinds were down and though all of the clocks had been turned off, radiant bursts of sunlight breaking through the edges of the windows betrayed the general time of day. Trin sat at her desk, that minimalist slab of stained black wood, absent any drawers, simply a stand that held a slew of stacked notebooks, a laptop, a pen jar, and now, an increasingly slighter number of purple pills, already released from their blister packs.

Pop doesn’t know what he’s talking about, she thought. Times like this she had a tendency to even hate his name. Pop. Just because Phil’s nickname is Pop doesn’t mean he gets to be a father figure. She tried to recall how many times she’d been this mad at him. She decided on three. Ironic, as there were three pills sitting quietly upon the dark wood in front of her.    

Trin stood up and walked over to the couch where she flopped down, fumbled for the remotes on the coffee table, and switched on another daytime atrocity. It was hard for her to say who she was trying to make a point for. I don’t need the pills, I don’t even care about the pills, they’re just fun, she thought. Comparisons weren’t coming quickly but she knew it was the kind of thing that everyone had in one way or another. Runners, she finally settled on, choose to run in order to transport themselves into this world where they’re athletes, racing from battles to deliver news of victory or chasing down gazelles for food. Fiction readers regularly put themselves into fantastic worlds purely for enjoyment or entertainment. What’s so different about sleeping pills that take me into a fantasy world where everything is right, everything comes easier, everything is beautiful? Trin lifted her head and looked over the back of the couch towards her desk. They were still there, safe.

She shut off the television – the inanity overwhelming and killing off her brain cells. Trin lay there, staring upwards, losing herself in the popcorn ceiling above. She had awoken, she thought, only a few hours ago but it was difficult to discern. A measure of fatigue permeated her body and mind, the clocks were gone (she’d even taped over that corner of her laptop screen), the blinds closed. But the sun had been pushing around the blinds when she awoke and it remained still. Tired but it had only been a few hours. The pills remained on the desk; there was no need to look. She sat up and looked.

Trin leaned over to the coffee table and pulled two unread copies of The Atlantic and an untouched yet dog-eared copy of White Noise. She tried one, then the other, then the other, each holding her attention for a few seconds less than the previous. Glossy page 87 of the May Atlantic stuck to her finger where it lay over Trin’s waist. She thought about the pills, told herself she didn’t need them, told herself she didn’t even want them. Hindsight’s making the dreams seem better, she lied to herself. Eyes on the ceiling, a tiny streak of light crossed from one side to the other; there were so many hours left in the day before she’d be tired enough to sleep on her own. The act was so fraught now though, so much like sleep the night before Christmas when she was a child, Trin wasn’t even certain she’d be able to sleep on her own. It’s so far away, she thought. No other assignments to fill the day, no desire to call friends, no desire to be outside. One day would become an eternity but she had to prove something to herself and to Pop.

Anyway, she thought, there’re only three left. Trina walked back to the desk to verify they were still there. Holding each one in her hand, one at a time, and flopping it around her palm like a slightly flattened glass bead, she began to wonder if by holding one tightly in her fist, she could warm the solidified gel and liquid of the pill and then begin to absorb the chemicals through her skin. A bit of sleepy osmosis. Trin sat down in the Ikea kitchen table chair that she used as a desk chair, lined up all three pills, and stared at them for a few minutes. “One, two, three,” she said aloud. “This is over in three days time anyway.”

Swiftly, she grabbed one purple pill with her right hand, cupped it, and then squeezed it tightly on the inside of her fist as she made her way past the clothes and papers on the floor to her small bedroom. She easily slid between the ruffled sheets of the unmade bed, kicking her legs through doubled-over curves and comforters necessary in the heavily air-conditioned apartment. Trin squeezed her hand tightly, sometimes loosening the grip to create a hole into which she would breathe warm air. Time and time again she checked but no change, no discernable shift in the pill’s state of matter. Every time she shifted her hand around and moved the pill across her skin, she hoped to feel some measure of slickness, some smear, but she met with nothing at all.

Trina’s knuckles groaned when she opened her palm an hour later to find the pill still fully intact. Her first thought was of failure but the second made her reconsider. What if, she thought, it doesn’t break down to a proper liquid but the friction over my hand allows for miniscule flecks to come off on my skin, to diffuse right into my hands. Such tiny little shavings would be able to do that. And what if I’m not noticing it yet as the amounts are so small, but I’ll feel a little something later? And if that’s the truth, then the potency of the pill is compromised and when I need it to finish my reports (at the proper time, Pops), it’ll be weakened. Shit, I’ve backed myself into a corner. It was an accident, but my experiment means that now I’ll just have to take the pill in order to maintain consistency and consistent dosing.

A tiny smile broke as she swallowed the pill.

 

 

D7

 

Trina had been spending more and more time at the beach house, allowing her synapses to slow just the slightest from what was required within the metropolis. Neither her brain nor her body were tired, it was more like a long-distance runner relaxing into a manageable pace after the energetic burst from the start line. Flint continued working in the city but the new rail system built by the Japanese meant that he could be commute in and out of the city in under thirty minutes. The station had been built just a ten-minute walk away and the trains ran as silently as the rain fell.

 

“You really don’t seem to have aged much, Mom.” Brianna sat on the red and white striped loveseat in the living room with a photo album open on her lap. She slowly ran her finger down each plastic-coated page as Michelle sat next to her and Trin mixed three iced coffees with dark rum just beyond the kitchen pass-through.

“Yeah, Mom, you look almost the same now as you do in photos from thirty years ago.”

“Are you two telling me that I looked sixty-eight when I was thirty-eight? I’ll down these three drinks myself if that’s what you’re saying.” Trin carried the three tall, round glasses, clumped into a tubular triangle, into the living room. Michelle tossed out three coasters before the sweating glasses met the tabletop. She dropped into an oversized armchair and toasted her daughters without a word.

“We’re saying that you still look thirty-eight, which is pretty miraculous having put up with us and Dad for so long.”

“You gals have been wonderful and your father has only aged me a little more than necessary.” Trin smiled as the glass touched her lips and two drips of the coffee and rum slipped over the edge and raced towards the bottom of the glass before dropping from the base and marring her loose, beige linen shirt. “Oh shit. Sorry girls, I’ll be right back.”

The guest rooms were located on one side of the house, the bedroom that Trina and Flint shared on another. One of the bedroom walls was comprised completely of windows onto the expanse of ocean. That wall seemed larger than the entire house appeared from the outside. Trin always chalked it up to the limitlessness of the ocean just a shout away, sneaking infinite tendrils through the crack and seams of the house. Before making it to the bathroom where she would remove her shirt and hold it under the stream of hot water while scrubbing with a bit of detergent, Trina was distracted by a bolt of lightening far off across the water that lit the sky like the flashbulb of an old camera.

She approached the panels, pressing her forehead up against the cool glass. It had been so warm and humid outside just an hour or two ago. Michelle had claimed to smell rain as they walked back from the beach and now Trin watched the lightening across the water, saw the clouds alight with the fire inside, saw the treetops and bushes blowing from side to side on a wind that forecast only one thing.

The water, black as night, was betrayed by that same wind, revealing itself in the foam and white caps that formed with the rushing winds that raced towards land. Trin stepped back and rubbed the flat, cool spot where her forehead had been against the glass. The lightning’s frequency picked up alongside the intensity. She was glad it was still so far off and quietly hoped that the worst of it would stay away, leave her and her daughters with no more than the steady drumbeat of rain to lull them to sleep.

She checked her watch, saw that it was just 9pm. Flint would be home in less than fifteen minutes. He didn’t mind the rain and almost always carried an umbrella, but he was brisk, disliked being away from Trin, and hated to be away from the daughters he claimed they never saw enough of, even in the days following their month-long visits.

A massive lightening bolt lit up the sky and Trin’s darkened bedroom. Moments later, a crack of thunder tore the atmosphere in two; Michelle and Brianna oohing and aahing in the living room. “Did you hear that, Mom?” one of them called out but she ignored the question and kept her gaze on the water ahead. It seemed so limitless, so endless, yet she knew this was only fanciful sentimentality. Or was it? It was limitless to her, endless to her tiny corporeal form. She could never conquer it and so the understanding and comprehension of the ocean for the world was not quite the same as it was for her personally. Anyone can fall into anything limited and disappear forever provided they afford themselves the proper opportunities.

Another bolt of lightning, another crack of thunder. Trina sat back on the bed behind her, her eyes awash in wonder.

She heard the sound of Flint’s key in the front door and instantly smiled, her lips a bolt of lightning across her face.

 

 

R8

 

“I smelled his farts. Well, I don’t know if Brandon was actually farting but he just carries this scent of fart.”

“You know, I don’t smell it at all.”

“Maybe that means you fart too much yourself, Pop.”

“Really great to have you back. You’ve heard the news, I’m sure. Fle’s been pulled off the market. Institutions with a little more prestige than Spyglass did their own clinical investigations and found essentially the same thing that you’re finding.”

“Does that make this whole exercise useless?”

“No way are we letting this go! Everyone else took the cold, scientific, big-budget angle; we’re the only ones I know of, or at least the biggest, that took the personal and experimental. Your story’ll be the one that people relate to, that they understand. People love an addiction-meets-redemption story. We’ll need it pretty fast. You can have it on my desk by tomorrow?”

“It’ll be tight. I didn’t keep the best notes. Bit of a haze a lot of the past few days, but I remember the dreams clearly and I can compare certain notes with Brandon to make sure I’m not fabricating anything, at least for when I was letting him around me.”

“Good, good. And to clarify – you told me you took seven pills, so you’ve gotten rid of the remaining two?

“They’ve been pulled, Pop, it’s not like they’re a viable temptation anymore. But either way, yes, I got rid of the last two this morning. Flushed them, only way to ensure I wouldn’t go hunting through the trash.”

“You know I’m sorry about the way things got tense. That wasn’t my intention.”

“I appreciate your intentions. Now let me go work on this – I’ll get most done today and finish the ending tonight.”

 

She hated lying to him – he really was looking out for her but that didn’t mean he knew what was right. Not all the time and not for her. He was a boss and nothing else. The finite amount of pills gave Trin an immovable schedule to work off of but she still felt as if she needed to dictate and manage herself and her situation on her own terms.

Trina stood in the far stall of the women’s bathroom on the second floor of the office building the newspaper was housed in. The last two pills sat in her right palm, open towards the ceiling, each one staring into one of her eyes. She bent over and held her left hand in front of the sensor at the back of the toilet. After a few seconds, a light clicked on, she moved her hand away, and the toilet commenced flushing. Trin dropped one of the purple pills into the toilet and watched it crack upon the porcelain and then swirl briefly, a purple bolt of lightening, before suction and gravity pulled it out of sight forever.

The other pill she put back into her pocket. She needed to end things on her own terms. She needed to find a way to say goodbye.

 

 

D8

 

“I know we haven’t spent as much time together as we would’ve liked all these years.”

“You’re crazy! I think we’ve done more together, seen more together, lived more together than any other couple that we know.”

She giggled in this slight, breathy way that only he could make her do and, oddly, made her feel fat, though in the way of someone terribly comfortable in her skin.

“You’re just looking for reaffirmation. You just want me telling you how much I love you. You’re a glutton for it. You can’t get enough.”

“I suppose you’re right. But admit it’s a little nervous making like this, me going away on this project. There’s no closing date.”

“Because you make the end date and anyway, you know I’ll be here for you. Nothing says we can’t visit each other. Nothing says you’re going through this alone. I wouldn’t leave you to that.”

“I love you an awful lot.”

“Good.”

He paused.

“I think I hear your car outside.”

She pulled back the lace curtains and saw the black town car idling in the driveway. No luggage, no carry-ons, no final, frantic panic throughout the house that had become normal when either of them flew. There was nothing left to do, no stalling the trip. She reached and took his face in her hands; she locked eyes for a moment and then kissed him slowly, savoring each component of it. She broke the kiss and hugged tightly the husband she couldn’t imagine distancing herself from. She whispered ‘I love you’ into his ear one thousand times and she was out of the house.

“I love you, Trin,” he called as she closed the front door.

A Dream Can Be A Dangerous Thing – Part III of IV: Dreams (#24)

In Stories Volume 2 on October 1, 2012 at 11:29 am

(A minor note before we begin: the text in gray is from Part I of this story; the text in black, which is interwoven, is the new portion that makes up Part III. It should all fall into place together)

 

R1

 

Five hairy fingers the shape and size of sausages came down on Trina’s desk in a swift and surprisingly gentle motion. They sprung back up again in an instant, leaving behind a sheen of residual perspiration and eight blister packs, each filled with a shiny purple pill the length and width of her pinkie nail.

“What is this, Pop?” She didn’t turn to address her editor, instead picking up the packs and taking a closer look at the pills. FLE was stamped in tiny white letters in the center of each pill. “What is Fle?”

“Jesus, Trin, you want me to fire you? What kind of reporter are you, getting your news from me?”

“Give me this one.”

“You should already have this one. Fle’s the big new sleeping pill on the market.”

“Oh, right, Fle. Why is it called Fle?”

“Means ‘sleep.’”

“Latin, huh?”

“Latin was already taken, this is something else that I don’t know and you should.”

“And why is this on my desk?”

“Because you’re writing a piece on it.”

“I’m what?”

“If you were present for a few more story meetings, you’d know this.”

“I’m at every story meeting I’m made aware of.”

“You’re physically in the room but you’re not present half the time. You’re falling asleep. And why are you falling asleep, Trin?”

“Like I’ve told you a hundred times, I have insomnia.” The realization came quickly. “Oh.”

“Exactly. You’re the perfect person to try these out and give us a little opinion piece. Some people have been complaining that they give these intense dreams. Unsure-of-what’s-reality-and-what’s-a-dream intense. FDA cleared them but there’s a concern about them becoming addictive. Not through the chemicals, but through the addiction to a more interesting, some might say better, world.”

“That doesn’t sound safe at all – why should I try these?”

“Look, we’ve got you covered here, we know what you’ll be doing, and you know what you’re potentially up against. For the public good, someone responsible, respectable, objective, and aware of the possibilities needs to check this out. Why did you become a reporter?”

“It’s easy and I’m not particularly good at anything else?”

“Pretend you did it for the good of the populace. To help out your fellow man.”

“Fellow woman.”

“Just try the pills and see if there’s a story, okay?”

 

 

“Oh, come on.” Drink in hand, Trina read the online directions for the purple pills as the clock ticked past 10pm. Her shoeless feet were up on her desk as she leaned back in the chair with the lumbar support that was supposed to be good for her young back but made her feel like she carried sixty-seven years in her spine. The comforts of home, she thought. The first guidelines instructed her to avoid alcohol for four hours before taking the pill. “That’s gotta be them just covering their asses.” The second told her to set aside at least eight hours for sleep, preferably ten. “Well if I skip the ‘no alcohol’ thing, I should be okay.” She looked around her lonely living room and wondered if she talked to herself too much.

Reaching into her messenger bag, she pulled one of the purple pills from an interior pocket. Her thumbnail wavered and then broke through the foil, the pill falling softly into her palm. Abandoning all restrictions, Trin swallowed the pill and washed it down the remaining gin in her glass.

 

 

D1

 

She saw his face for an instant before it disappeared back below the crowd. The sidewalks were packed. Trin kept trying to push her way forward faster than the slow, migratory pace of everyone around her but they were all packed so tightly. Any potential opening turned out to be filled with a shoulder bag, a purse, a briefcase, a suitcase. Instinct told Trin that she was on her way to work but she couldn’t quite pin down what street she was on. The guy up ahead, maybe a half-block away, had turned and arched his face upward as if he was looking for someone in the crowd. He had done it twice now and both times he’d turned back around and lowered his head, allowing himself to be blanketed by the sea of people.

Something about him called her forward. She was forgetting about work and becoming singularly focused, though the crowd of commuters had no regard for her. Everyone had fallen in step along regimented lines that eliminated any pockets for Trin to advance through. They may have as well been arm-in-arm. She looked toward the street but the traffic was bumper-to-bumper and when she glimpsed a tiny opening, a bike messenger would fly through. As she cast her eyes around, he turned around yet again, searching with his upturned face. Instinctively, she raised her arm and waved to him. His eyes lit up, a smile stretched across his face, and his arm reached up to wave back. He was looking for me, she thought, excitement coursing through her system. He was looking for me.

As these words crossed Trin’s mind, the woman to her right peeled off the line and entered an office building. The man to her left entered a waiting taxi. One of the people ahead kneeled to tie his shoe and everyone surged past him. Someone stopped to answer a phone call, someone stopped for a hotdog, three others turned down a subway stairwell, two stopped to talk to one another, one dropped his bag and stooped down to pick it up, disrupting everyone in line behind him. Then, quite suddenly, there was nobody left in her immediate vicinity. Everyone was gone – the cars, bikes, people; the congested and drowning-in-people sidewalk was empty of all humanity except for her and him. Two of them existing within a vacuum. She continued moving forward and he walked back towards her.

It was her first chance to see more than just a bit of his face. He wore jeans, a button-down shirt with the top buttons undone, and a blazer; the same slouchy and sophisticated look that she had loved on Benjamin, an old boyfriend. His light red beard that slouched down his face via his sideburns and the scruffy reddish hair reminded her of another guy, Tommy. His wiry build was like that of James. And when she finally met his eyes, they held her with an intensity she hadn’t felt since dating Kingsley years earlier.

“I’ve been looking for you,” he said.

“You have?” Trin ran his face through her mind, trying to recall if she knew this guy, if she had been supposed to meet him.

“Yeah, I’ve been looking for you for a while. No matter.” He reached forward to grip her arms, and when she looked at those hands on her arms, holding her in place, he dropped them with a blush. “I was looking for you because I was… well, I was hoping to ask you out. I know it’s sort of sudden but –”

“Yes!” she blurted. He smiled. Her words out in the air, she still struggled to remember where she knew him from but a thousand memories floated through her mind and she couldn’t pin one down.

She blinked and he was gone. Trina didn’t know his name. She blinked again and the world disappeared into endless bright white where streets and buildings had been moments earlier. Trin blinked again and she too disappeared.

 

 

R2

 

“So how was it? How did you sleep? Did you dream? This is Brandon, by the way, the intern; have you met? He’ll be shadowing you for this project, keeping tabs and making sure nothing too bad happens to you.” Pop paced in front of Trina’s desk, scribbling notes on a clipboard while she settled in.

“Too bad?”

“Got your attention. Now talk to me. I was worried. You’re late, you know.”

“I know. I got a full night’s sleep, eight and a half hours of solid, deep sleep. Pop, I haven’t slept like that in ages.”

“And did you dream?”

“So vivid, so lifelike. When I woke up, I had to figure out what was real and what wasn’t.”

“Shit. What did you dream about?”

“A guy, I dreamt about a guy.”

“A sex dream? There’s a story in that.” Salacious as it may have been, Pop’s voice betrayed disappoint that it wasn’t something bigger.

“Not a sex dream, Pop, just a dream about a guy. Meeting him. It’s hard to pin it all down now but I remember being carried through city streets, like being caught in a river, but the entire time I was looking for him. I knew he was there, knew he was somewhere on those same city streets, it was just a matter of finding him.”

“And you found him.”

“Yeah, I found him and he was wonderful. He was almost like a composite of all the guys I’ve dated before, all their good qualities bundled together into one guy.”

“What about all the guys that were complete assholes?”

“Even they had their moments.”

“So you had the dream, met the guy, what else?”

“There is no what else. The entire dream was this sequence so far as I can recall. Me being me and these pills doing whatever they do doesn’t change the nature of dreams being difficult to recall.”

“And you’re keeping a notepad by your bed?”

“I’m not that green.”

“You’re green to reporting on Sleep World. Get your details down, share it all with Brandon, and then get back to whatever else you’re working on. You’re aware of your other work, right?” Trin ignored him as began pulling notebooks of various colors from her messenger bag.           

“Pop,” Brandon chimed in as Pop began walking away, “what do you need me to do when we’re done?”

“Can you task him, Trin?”

“Got it.”

 

 

An hour later, Brandon finished taking down everything that Trin was recounting and putting into her notebooks as well. The details of her dream, what time she went to sleep, what time she woke up, her sleep history prior to this investigation, her dream history, the details of all the ex-boyfriends that the dream man seemed to be composed of. Trina helped Brandon fulfill his destiny as an intern and sent him for coffee. Once he was gone, she leaned back in the faded black office chair she’d wheeled in off the street since the paper was so cheap. Her feet up on the small desk, she read through everything she’d written down, sort of amazed that the dream had lived up to the hype.

She had awoken refreshed and rejuvenated in a way that she hadn’t felt in years. The deepest sleep and the most restful slumber, and yet the most vivid, enticing dreams that no matter how well she had slept, left her longing to return to the light blue bed sheets that looked so comfortable in the rays of the rising sun. Showering, dressing, drinking the coffee that she needed on any given day in order to function, Trin had constantly been fighting the low level desire to crawl back into bed. It wasn’t anything approaching addiction – I’m here, aren’t I, she thought – but there was an allure to this dream world.

When Brandon walked back into the newsroom with two cups of coffee from Roasted Nut two blocks away, he found Trina completely lost in a daydream at her desk, feet up, head back, eyes glassy. He called her name twice before she shook it off and looked at him in a stupor.

 

 

D2

 

Ice-skating at Woolly Rink, surrounded by dozens of anonymous people engaged in their own dances. A first date unlike any Trin had gone on before. Every guy she met seemed to lack imagination and, she admitted, even if ice-skating wasn’t so imaginative, it was more adventurous than just having drinks at a bar. Flint let go of her hand, a dangerous proposition given her skating skills, and skated ahead a few feet before turning around to face her. He was good – not flashy but solid in his skills. His moss green pea coat bunched up around his shoulders as he hunkered down and pretended to pull her in as if she were lassoed. Trin had a hard enough time maintaining balance and coasting – the idea of steadily speeding up to reach his arms was absurd. Her first glimmer of annoyance on an otherwise perfect evening. She was about to yell at him to give it up when she felt her legs beginning to pump. The blades audibly began to shave away at the ice below her feet and the cold wind presented itself on her face as she created a minor breeze. Trin was gaining on Flint even as he continued moving backwards. Her hands were closing in on his outstretched arms, inch by inch; their fingertips grazed each other through gloves and mittens. Flint grabbed Trin’s hands and spun her as if –

– they were on a dance floor sweat running down her back as the music drew down. She leaned over, hands on her knees, to catch her breath. Flint grabbed her wrist and pulled her to an empty seat at the bar.

“That was great!”

“I didn’t know you could dance like that!” she shouted over the beats pumping down from the speakers.

“Two years Panama with the Peace Corps. There was no way they were letting me leave without knowing how to dance. Couple dances almost ended in marriage; it got serious. What are you drinking?” He leaned over the bar and flagged down the only bartender working the crowd.

“Vodka tonic.” When he turned back around, Trina’s drink was in his hand. “So I didn’t think this what you meant when you said we should head out to a bar.”

“It feels more like a bar to me than it does a club, you know? And please, I wouldn’t just take you to some bar for our third date; I’m still trying to impress you.” He laughed and Trin realized just how well she could hear Flint over the music. It no longer felt like they were shouting. It was as if –

–  we were made for each other. It hasn’t been that long but I love you and… what I’m trying to say is, Trina, will you marry me?” The breeze of early summer blew off the ocean and tossed Flint’s hair in front of his eyes so that he couldn’t see as Trin’s eyes filled with tears. She would blame it on the salt in the air but nobody would ever believe it. She bit her lip as he thumbed his hair away toward his ear. She steadied herself as he did the same.

“Of course I’ll marry you. I love you, Flint, I love you so –”

 

 

R3

 

“Why are we at Woolly Rink in the middle of summer?” Trina and Brandon walked the perimeter of the ice skating rink, searching for something that neither one of them could articulate. The rink was maintained but desolate as July closed. There wasn’t even a security guard to tell them to buzz off.

“It wasn’t the middle of summer in my dream, it was the dead of winter, though the whole thing seemed to be jumping around time. I don’t know what the connection’s supposed to be, or if there even is a connection, but this is as good a way to find out as any.” When Trina reported to Pop the location jumping of the previous night’s dream, he’d sent Trina and Brandon to find each place and figure their connections. He was intent on knowing why they featured so prominently in the dreams that built a second reality.

“So what exactly is it we’re looking for?” Brandon was using his $400 loafers to tamp down the bushes and weeds that hugged this one desolate corner outside the rink that hadn’t been fully maintained.

“I don’t know. Just keep your eyes open for anything that stands out.”

“We stand out,” he muttered, “traipsing around like burglars casing a joint in broad daylight.”

“You know, we could call off Pop’s scavenger hunt and I could go home and just drop again to see where the dream takes me. That’s the Interstate plan while we’re stuck out here on country roads.” Pop had expressly tasked him with being hyperaware of how she talked about the pills, whether or not she was consistent in her feelings towards them, how often she brought them up, and, most importantly, whether or not she looked for excuses to break away, to go home, to be able take another of the purple pills. Brandon’s right foot hovered in the air, ready to stamp down more problem weeds.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Then stop whining, okay?”

Stop whining, stop whining, stop whining. The words hung in Trin’s mind as she traveled back three years to a snowy night at Woolly Rink. She had been on a date. Pierce, who had seemed like such a great guy, someone Trin had hoped would last. She was back to the night when they’d gone ice-skating at her suggestion. Her father had taken her ice-skating every weekend as a girl. It meant something for Trina to invite someone to that special place.

But the whining had begun the moment he laced up. ‘These skates are too tight,’ ‘It’s cold out here,’ ‘This is really hard and my butt’s starting to hurt,’ ‘When can we go, Trin,’ ‘When can we go, Trin?’ The night had been pregnant with importance for her, for them, until Pierce became someone she’d never seen him be. A child, a person caring only about himself, someone that Trin couldn’t imagine being with. She’d snapped.

“Stop whining! Stop whining!”

“I’m sorry, Trin, I’m sorry.” Brandon’s eyes were wide at her outburst; Trin’s too. His eyelids slowly dropped though while hers fluttered as the hurdles fell away and she understood the locations. She waved Brandon back and out of the weeds, back towards the path out of the park that would take them to the subway. He wondered if she was feeling the pull of the pills, if she needed them for the breakthrough, or if she’d really thought of something.

“These amazing dream dates are all from places where I was supposed to have amazing dates that turned out shitty. One guy who couldn’t stop whining about his ice skates, a dance club where the guy turned out to be a not so closeted bigot, and the boardwalk.”

“What happened at the boardwalk?” They’d reached the exit of the park and, feeling uncertain about letting Trina leave on her own, Brandon hailed a cab to carry them back to the newsroom together. She carried wistfulness in her eyes, a sad daydreamy look that ferried her back and forth between the past and present.

“The boardwalk was a date where… I expected a proposal. We never went out there together but I loved the ocean air, the saltiness, the smell of the sand. The boardwalk itself wasn’t anything special but he knew that the water was. And we never went there until… we did. It was his idea, I thought it meant something, I thought he was taking me there because he loved me and wanted to do this amazing thing in a place that meant the world to me.

“He ended things instead. Said he couldn’t maintain the relationship, couldn’t compete with both of our jobs, couldn’t see us together forever. He took me there because I loved it so much. He imagined it would deaden the shock.”

“So the dream was creating an ideal world, righting the wrongs done in reality?” Trina looked over at Brandon, from one side of the backseat to the other. She took in the scene around them, only now becoming aware of their being in a cab. For the past fifteen minutes she’d been pulled between the world surrounding her and the one being built, or perhaps reconstructed, she thought, within her mind. Brandon, the grimy pleather and plastic of the cab, the remembrance of those things she’d chosen to forget.

It wasn’t much to speak of.

 

 

D3

 

From the backroom of the church, Trina could hear the sounds of the crowd amassing in the nave. The familiar voices of her family members, the strange and unrecognizable ones of Flint’s family, the click of heels on the black and white marble-tiled floor, the groans of the old wooden pews, the swoosh of formal dresses sliding back on the polished wood of those same decades-old pews.

Every woman in Trin’s family had been a wreck before her respective wedding. Her mother married her stepfather when Trina was just 11 and she could remember blotting the tears and mascara from her big eyes just moments before she locked arms with Trin’s grandfather. Trin’s younger sister was fast, but Trina proved to be the faster barefoot runner when she chased her down, half-naked, after the sister had bolted while in the middle of putting on her wedding dress. Becky, Trina’s older sister, had been deceptively calm and it turned out to be only because of the vodka that nobody had noticed her slipping into her water glass from the flask in her purse.

Trina had worried herself into anxiety about how she would be come wedding day and it was turning out to be for nothing. She wasn’t anxious, regretful, or uncertain of her decisions. Her cup held only sparkling water. She never was a runner and wasn’t about to become one. As unsurprising as it should have been, Trin was surprised to find that she was perfectly content and perfectly happy. She’d been that way for all her time with Flint so it was natural that she’d be so calm though a part of her constantly expected that something would go wrong. It may have been irrational and she may have known that, but she nevertheless couldn’t just purge the lurking notion in her mind.

A knock at the door roused her from the unfocused reverie.

“Yes?”

“It’s us, sweetie.” The door opened a crack and her mother and two sisters tiptoed into the room. They had each expected the same histrionics that the others had all been through and when Trin kept her composure, it only made them each expect an even greater explosion. “How’s it going in here?”

“I’m good, I’m good.” She smiled at them from her twisted position in the chair.

“Don’t turn like that, sweetie, you’ll crease your dress.” Her mother rushed over and began smoothing out the stomach of Trina’s dress. “Janice, come over here, don’t make your sister contort like that.”

“Sorry, Ma. Trin, you look fantastic! You should see everyone outside, they’re so excited out there.”

“Everyone is saying how beautiful the church is, how lovely the decorations are, how nice the limousines from the hotel were. Those little snack packs were a great idea. That Flint of yours is a genius. People think those pastries are better than the cakes at most weddings. He made those himself?”

“Yeah, his idea and his handiwork. He’s good at what he does.”

“He’s great,” the three of them said in unison. Trin’s mother stood her up, smoothed down the sides of her dress, and pushed a small ringlet of hair away from her eyes. “Your father’s waiting outside. Are you ready?”

 

 

R4

 

“Just once more… there’s time enough… to see…”

 

 

D4

 

Michelle grew up to be a doctor, Brianna became a lawyer. Out of a concern of sounding smug, Trina never said aloud how amazingly happy she was to have two daughters find success in such classically desirable professions. She’d always thought herself immune to such thoughts and on occasion she counseled herself by figuring it was different because they were women and thus still fighting against standard, male domination and hegemony. The girls were fraternal twins and they seemed so mature since the moment they emerged from the womb. Neither was a crier, neither was fussy, neither was prone to late night awakenings. Beyond maintaining a strict eating schedule that persisted through the nights, Trin and Flint slept nearly as well as they did before the girls were born.

Both girls went to Harvard, both excelled at the top of their class, and both egged the other on, constantly spurring one another to try harder, work longer, study more closely. They were natural motivators, each wanting the best for the other through bonds both familial and friendly. As they grew up and moved efficiently through the challenges of their lives, Trin was always reminding them to be thankful that they had dodged the bullets of so many potential calamities. The world was a place of danger; lives were fleeting.