At this moment I would like one thing: the small liberty to free my hands. The soft cords binding them outside
the sheet hold them in exile away from me.
I know this place by what it is not; it isn't familiar, it isn't home. I meant to get home and this seemed a
simple matter of moving form Point A (not home) to Point B (home). It's possibly my penchant for abstraction that's
got me in this fix.
From my point of origin the furthest I could travel was only halfway there. Like climbing the stairs of an escalator
flowing down, perusing this series of intermediary points collapsed my journey inward. This being the case it's
no wonder I was lost.
Whatever has happened might have been an interior phenomenon which carved my perceptions and enmeshed me in
its logic, or else it was an event of such magnitude that it did its work and erased itself at precisely the same
I remember only that I wanted to go home. This was so obviously the thing to do that I had only to mention this
to Mark, my host, and he instantly agreed. The irksome tension which had crackled between us evaporated as we considered
this plan whose rightness was as plain as dough.
The train, I thought, I'll get to the train, but then I remembered to phone for the schedule and then I needed
to find a phone. I said, "I want to go home," Mark said "Fine," I nodded too, and we set off
in opposite directions. Something wrong with the trees made them look sick, as if they were covered with goiters.
I remember a street paved with sheets of buckled slate. It was all I could do to climb those hills while trying
to get my bearings. Some handmade flyers described dogs who'd got lost. "Possibly injured" one of them
proposed. "A bit gloomy there, Buddy," I imagined teasing. "Why not settle for femur chunks and
In the chill of a mossy underpass a brood of matrons blanked out graffiti with rollers drenched in reddish brown.
"Hea -- Ash -- eat" disappeared beneath their furious swipes. By twilight a fine mist was falling. Though
safe behind the highway fence, the hissing glare of each car made me flinch.
I had come to see my old friend, Mark, who has surprised me with a phone call, an invitation. You never know
when he'll turn up -- such an active, mobile person. My childhood friend described for me his prestigious new position
which he had achieved effortlessly, easing along his glittering web of associates and familial connections.
Embedded in Mark's molluscan sofa I was able to peep out at him from either side of my knees. After the first
gymnastic feat of sitting up for my coffee cup, I virtually tossed it back on the table and sank back down again.
Time had passed since Mark and I shared a world and the friendly competition through which we'd vexed each other
into achievements. I had the light sensations of looking through a window at a passing train. Mark's narrative
swept me through several continents by means of small craft and helicopter and we waved casually to a pantheon
of embarrassingly familiar faces. I'd been taking time off from school to catch up on some reading I'd been too
busy to treat seriously, with all the papers they made one write.
Mark admitted his own surprise that a couple of little oils he had painted had been given tribute at a Soho
gallery, and he casually mentioned the dazzling sum of money he'd received for his contributions to the lighting
of a Broadway production.
Here I betrayed my dismay. I had always been the artist of the team and my work had stood out unmistakably next
to his distemperoid Snoopy's levitating above their ramshackle roofs.
"But," I ventured, "I thought you were color-blind?" A characteristic chortle was his only
"Since when have you been the technical type? What about that lamp you stomped to shards after the new
bulb wouldn't go in?"
Mark smirked. The eloquence of brows. "Ah, Matty, Matty, Matty," he sighed, shaking his head.
Here is one time I wish for a tiny vestigial head to bring forth from beneath my collar. That sort of drama
might provide an occasion to upend this irksome condescension and hurry us away from this excruciating Saki-esque
The surface of my coffee was striated. I had hoped to sound wry but my tone was raw and poignant as I said,
"Clouds in my coffee."
"S'got cellulite, I'm afraid," Mark sniffed, looking down his fine nose.
I ventured a few fractured anecdotes about the activities I'd observed in the Hotel Kesmon across the street
from my apartment but I found that my stories, which I'd been hoarding with a kind of glee, were telling in ways
I hadn't anticipated. Mark was settled with debonair ease in a leather recliner, an expectant half-smile on his
clean chiseled visage but a shiver of discomfort crossed his face. He glanced around as if searching for something,
one shiny wing-tip rhythmically swaying in mid-air.
The subject of my stories, I began to see, was not the fires, the brawls, the late-night raids, the parade of
tragic comedy I meant to portray, but the lonely view from a third story window, a life peered at through glass.
We were relieved by a colleague or friend of Mark's, his arch but weary double, who acknowledged my outstretched
hand with a brief pinch from his own soft claw. When Mark introduced me as "Matty" I attempted a smile.
A dining place was mentioned, more acquaintances threatened. The staircase was steep and lit only by a lazy
bulb. Mark sprinted ahead, talking in a faintly British, aristocratic lilt. "He's coughing up blood!"
he called cheerfully but I had missed what came before. I feared he meant our mutual friend Ted, who had been near
death for nearly year. We had watched by his bedside for many bitter months, urgent with assurances that there
was no reason, no reason at all for him to be, as he wrote, "so humiliat."
"Real blood?" I asked, all my questions mashed into one.
On the street I kept up with him, urged on by a rush of angry pride. Such a display of haste and importance;
all calculated to belittle me and to mock my small ambitions. The iron fences we passed were tipped with rusted
spikes which pricked my hand. How I'd hate to fall on those," I thought. A small tufted dog was trotting past,
listing sideways. The plane which it seemed to consider the ground was dangerously askew.
Mark was describing a tennis match he had played with J. D. Salinger. "Enough now! " I said to myself,
quite sternly. "You certainly are extroverted," I remarked evenly. "But he doesn't come out at all,
I had to step out of the path of an oncoming bicycle. The rider had his head encaged.
"That dog BIT me!" Mark shrilled. He stopped to examine his ankle. I sighted a phone booth on the
opposite corner, which, by the time I reached it, was long gone.
My boots had got wrong. Their toes in an exaggerated arc, curved away from one another. I would have stopped
to correct the mistake but was instead borne by my elbows down a searing white hallway back out into the night.
I have a persistent, ugly memory of having done a sort of spasmodic dance, and it is possible that I was unencumbered
by clothing at the time. I may have tried to fit myself through a small and unyielding space, all the time watched
by many pairs of eyes.
The pointsmen of consciousness return panting with news; Shame waits at the peripheries. A rollicking slide-show
of my unguarded moments. Unblessed by amnesia, my memories await ready to come home to me in all their brutal candor.
In another vernacular: about to kick in.
Wild one," an amused person said from the other side of the gate.
"Pressure," someone warns. But it is a long thin pain in my arm, a crescendo of pain as something
of mine is siphoned away.
I shook my arm loose. A woman said, "We'll all need extra heads now, with the way it's going."
If the door had been locked I might have been warned but the lone brick house I approached seemed familiar.
A clutch of artificial fauna on the lawn posed some slight challenge though I cut through, confident they had no
"I'll just go home and phone the station from there," I thought, relieved, since the woman with whom
I shared my apartment and my life was the obvious person to turn to for comfort and clarity. After all, it was
from missing her that some of this terrible confusion arose. Away from her I felt diminished, only half myself.
The door yielded and I stepped gratefully into the gloom. Too dark for me to find the elevator and furniture
hulked around me in big dark shapes. "The hell with it," I muttered and bounded up the stairs.
I elbowed through the corridor and found that everything in my place was windblown or earthquaked into strangeness.
A bed with slick sheets in my dining room and a limp bag of a chair and alien foliage all conspired to confuse
me. The sound of waterfall was close and pressing.
The telephone had adopted a new sessile state, and would not be pried off the wall. "Big damn Limpet,"
I muttered to it, doubly annoyed now by the tapping on my back. "Shut up," I muttered to the ridiculous
person, dressed only in a towel, who was hanging on my arm jabbering away.
"What are you doing? What are you doing?" the man in the towel demanded. His skin was damp and the
hair on his chest was combed into glossy points. He annoyed me but I felt somehow tenderly toward him. "It's
really none of your business," I told him sadly.
My head was wet and something sticky was smeared on my cheek. The cement glittered with smashed glass and gravel.
The weight of my fall concentrated on my brow and prominent cheekbone (of which I once harbored a furtive pride).
They were not gentle with me. "Stop pushing, it doesn't want to go in," I tried to say, but they held
my hair like a handle and were grinding my head (my own head!) into the ground. Someone stood on my ankles making
me weak with fury.
It seems that one cannot be deferential enough when he has been denied the use of his own arms. "Sir, if
at all possible, might a phone call be arranged?" He was a young man, but with a brutal neck and he'd had
enough of me. Even in movies now people don't get their phone calls.
A reverse strip-tease, he eased himself into a white laboratory coat while the others stood by and laughed.
"John Doe's feeling a little under the weather," he called out with dubious solicitude. Then the light
again glaring in my eyes. "My, my, my but his eyeballs are all aquiver!" I decided to adopt tolerance
and resignation as my strategy though I suspect this decision was made a bit too late.
I observed in the back seat of the cruiser how the German Shepherd paced so rapidly, crazily spinning in endless
small circles, a dizzy organic echo of the revolving light on the car's roof.
The French windows are open and a strong breeze is fluttering the gauzy curtains. Sunlight glints on the glassware
and pools on the shining floorboards. A bird lights on my body. There is another, and another, a flock of speckled
birds -- starlings, most likely.
I think, "I am a field," and this seems resonant, perhaps as a joke. I giggle, pleased with myself.
If I could say this aloud, test it out, I would be able to tell if this were wit or just nonsense.
More and more oily iridescent birds swarm over me, hopping, listening, pecking. Their hard swift little beaks
stitch away at a surface roiling and gleaming with a thousand tiny creatures. My panicked hands are arrested in
mid-sweep and buried once again.
I miss my seat by the window, the round wooden table, the empty chair opposite, my newspaper, my books. The
woman in the kitchen punching the hot little life out of the rising dough. With a hiss it expired, its first efforts
so easily defeated. She did it so enthusiastically, with such fierce delight.
Once lately I ventured over to that counter where Mary stood among her silver bowls. I rose from my chair and
stretched my neck to peer curiously inside. But there on my side of that divide I sensed a tension, a polar opposition
which was better left unexplored.
The mirror image of me across the street: a furry arm wedged in the window, his short-sleeved undershirt and
captain's hat. He leaned his head out the window when she and I were walking on the street.
"My girl!" he shouted. Which I found very puzzling.
"Is that good for swelling?" somebody asks, with annoying insistence, even a hint of pride.
Not that I wear a captain's hat, and in fact we look nothing alike. We share only our window-life, an apparent
remove that creates proprietary interest in everything going on below. Perhaps on the night of the fire he got
a look inside our bedroom.
Remember instead my mother's lullabies, the strong hand of my father resting on my shoulder, the velvety drowse
in the car's back seat lulled by their murmuring conversation. Soft plush animals, a crayon's waxy snap. I would
like to. But all I can conjure is a bald man with a gleaming head holding in his two hands a cookie. Ferociously
is how he attacks this confection.
I was being battered around by gusts of fierce wind. Some limbs were down and the cars had to swerve to avoid
them. Someone called "Hello" as I kept walking. "Hello" the voice repeated more insistently
from the car which trailed slowly just ahead of me. I was beginning to be annoyed. "Hel-looo!" the voice
was screaming. Brake lights glowed. The car halted abruptly.
How crazy, I thought, They think I'm a woman.
I think of my girlfriend, the urgency of my attraction to her, the weight of her sweet coarse hair, the smoothness
of her neck, where I loose myself, the words for me falling uselessly away and I'm as much a woman as I am a man
But those in the car weren't the sort of men who would walk through the door marked "Does" instead
of "Bucks." Dismayed by their mistake, they frightened themselves with their own whistles and jeers.
Identity is so easily hurt. They needed to take something of mine. To insult, injure, feminize. Dogs chasing another
dog up a tree. But what is that to the predatory dogs as long as the one chased behaves enough like a cat? It is
not essential catness that makes them chaseable but they fact that they will run. I'm sure this is not the best
way to be thinking.
When did I pass the old woman with the awful deformity, a taut, veined, blue-gray bulb on her neck, like an
extra head, the head of some terrible friend leaning on her shoulder? How she must wear her sadness, I thought.
But then the amazing triumph of her bold fuchsia lipstick. Those who consider vanity a simple or dispensable human
attribute are so wrong.
On the other side of the white drapery there is a man (durable golden toenails cooling in the air). All of know
of him is the relentless clicking of the remote control device he manipulates, the chatter and the blur.
A team of white coats straggle in pulling a shiny cart. They lift his stiff form, pale beard aloft, onto the
cart and tuck him in snugly. He looks resigned, even contented with this arrangement. On the sheet where he lay
he's left his shape outlined in crumbs and ash. "I assume you'll be wanting this?" an old nurse says
The doctors seem so young. The person who rests his metal cup to my chest, extracting confessions I am unable
to suppress, he seems awkward and green and gloating. My awe before professionals used to so crushing, I thought
so highly of the world I kept out of it. Horrible to realize how I have squandered my time. Crouched jealously
each day over my extravagant feast of breath and space and blood whimpering while gobbling that it's isn't enough.
Now mere children are filling these powerful positions, wielding these dangerous instruments.
Some of these things may right themselves. Some of this may be sorted out. My boots did come back to me. My
shirt, pants and underwear, balled into a bundle, and then the boots. One hit my ribcage, the other struck my knee.
The abandoned screen gradually turns its face toward me, and there is a brown fatherly man with soft jowls and
a lush mustache working with sweet concentration fitting pegs into a board. Prominent (where?) leader (of whom?)
struggling to regain competence. Some embryonic monster of appetite awakes watching this man who after all he has
seen still wants himself back -- his memory, his words. Every day he patiently repeats the alphabet and he prints
a list in blocky capitals the names of his children and his wife.
And here is a man called Item M. whose mind was destroyed when his head was grilled like a roast. They made
this man's body an obscene joke. They cooked an egg, sunny side up, over one of his eyes, and sizzled a strip of
bacon over his mouth while holding his head to the grate. This much savagery caused Item M. to flee. He was drawn
out to a speechless world and while he was gone they burned his house down. His one black eye stares out at me.
The narrator maintains a sprightly tone. "Not just another New Wave snack!"
Another voice says: lost to us.
I kept saying Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary until the name detached itself from anything I could remember.
With this detachment comes a lull. When the wind makes its voice into human sounds, someone whispers "Hush"
and it hushes.
It is not the memory of the man who had leapt from the window lying shattered at the center of the awe-struck
and giddy crowd.
Instead it is the girl I once saw turn and slowly descend from the sickening height of the bridge tower and
with scared angry cops before and behind her step by step edge back down that slick path having lost the argument
with her pain and fear now holding on holding on.