“Are you sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream.”
~A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
10:46 PM. I closed my eyes. I was asleep before I finished my first breath.
I left my house, though it wasn’t my house, or rather, it wasn’t my current house. It wasn’t a home I recognized in its physical presence, in the scenery, in the sights and sounds and smells that make the apartment that I currently call home. It was a house, and it was mine. I identified with it as home. It had a door through which I exited. There were windows and a garden. There was a garage, and in that garage was my car. My actual car; the car I drive each and every day. The color, the smell, the feel, the sound of its engine waking up and scattering the settled dust of its own overnight slumber, the dashboard, the seats, it was mine, trash on the floorboard and all.
I walked along the path from the front door to the driveway. The grass was green; the sun was still reaching to pull up over the horizon. My car met me in there, exactly where the sidewalk intersects with the concrete squares which interrupt the front and side lawn.
I backed out, crossing the line from personal to community, from clean and cured to polluted and littered. I made my way down the street, a street I drove down daily in a neighborhood I haven’t lived in for almost a year. It was where neighbor looked out for neighbor, where neighbor looked at neighbor, where neighbor watched and witched at the drop of a sun.
I turned left at the end of the road, although I knew I should be turning right. A conversation bubble illuminated on my dashboard. It was orange, much like the one I see when logged in here and someone has something to say to me. I knew this meant a trip by the dealership for interpretation. My car needed something. It had something to tell me, but I didn’t know what. All systems seemed fine, but since I was headed in the direction of the dealership, I decided to stop there on my way in to the office.
My car was having trouble accelerating. No matter how hard I hit the gas pedal, it wouldn’t go any faster. I pulled into a deserted parking lot. Someone was following me, but I couldn’t get my car to speed. I didn’t know who was behind me, but I could sense it. The parking lot I picked was eerie. It was not the dealership as I expected. It was industrial. I looked around. There was a large factory, a milk factory, pushing grey smoke from stacks, but there were no lights. In front of me was a ramp. I opted to take the ramp to escape my stalkers. It was dark and narrow, and incline up into the unknown.
I started up the ramp, slowly, ignoring the glaring danger signs. My tires knocked barriers over the ramp walls like a paper football over a stack of pencils on a conference room table. I continued up. Wary. Shaking. Up and up, past warnings to keep out. As I leveled out I could see the ramp spiraled, dipped, rose, and curved like a roller coaster. The danger became overwhelming. I continued a bit farther along. I was approaching the first set of spirals; they went up, high. I envisioned falling. Careening off the ramp, down to the concrete ground below. I slowed. I stopped. There was no one behind me. I was free from followers, and trapped high above the cityscape.
I exited my car, squeezing between the barely open door and the concrete wall of the ramp. I surveyed the surroundings. I opted to walk back down the ramp rather than navigate the treacherous curves in my car, in reverse, in the dark. I needed to get to work. I was suddenly aware that I needed to get to work. I abandoned my car. It was safe. I left it on the ramp, unlocked. Someone would have to remove it were a milk truck to make it past to get to the factory to fill its tank for another delivery. I pictured a tow truck backing it off the ramp. There were Keep Out signs. No one would take my car.
There was a subway station nearby, and so I made my way off the ramp to cross the parking lot to get to the brightly lit double glass doors that would take me to the ticket booth. Suddenly three men appeared, surrounding me, grabbing at my phone. They were young, 20-ish, white, dressed like preppies. I was slammed against the side of my car. The tallest one tried again to take my phone. I reached my arm up to keep it away and he grabbed at it again. I snapped my arm behind my back and punched and kicked like only a panicked victim can punch and kick at three attackers. It worked. They left. I still had my phone. I was leaning against my car. I thought I had left it on the ramp.
Unperturbed, I continued toward the subway station. Inside it was bright and loud. Lights, neon and bright, flashed directions and information. Bells, squeaks, and announcements filled my ears. I could not understand any of it. I followed a path that led to the bowels of the station. I had to go up to go down. The stairs were inflated rubber. I lost my footing and it bounced me up, flipped me over, and bounced me back to my feet and through a curtain onto the train platform below.
I needed to email work. I was late. I left the subway as the train approached to go back outside. I knew I could make it back to the platform. I knew what to expect of the bouncy-house stairs a second time through. I opened my iPad to email about my impending tardiness. It unfolded open with two screens, like a notebook, but over five feet in length. I couldn’t figure out how to use it. There was a crowd gathering to witness my failure. A half-moon of people, watching, three deep all around.
Some people came over to help me navigate the large screen and multiple icons. The three attackers were in the crowd. I saw them, but I didn’t look at them. Several of us worked together to open a new message and a touchscreen keyboard appeared. We looked at each other. We looked at the screen. We all grabbed hands and jumped on the screen, and started banging out incoherent letters.
I gave up quickly. I could not send an email. I folded the iPad back into its large case, and placed it for safe keeping in the bed of an old 1950s style, rusted out, tan Ford pick-up truck. The truck was parked a few spots from my car. I was confused about my car. It was my car, but I knew I couldn’t trust it.
A hissing noise filled the air. Hoses started spewing milk – frozen, boiling, frothy milk. It covered the ground where my iPad had been only moments before. Some people watched. Some people played in the mess. Then the crowd started running. It was growing, and more and more people were running.
The crowd was massive, excited, shouting. We were all running in unison, and full of joyful energy. A wall appeared on my left. The road was underneath and the wall was grassy: short, stubbly, yellow grass like zoysia grass in winter. At the top was a metal rail. I could hear music, loud head-banging music. People started climbing the wall. People were shouting for me to climb with them. I climbed. It was tough. I was too short to grab onto the rail. The grass was coming off in chunks in my hands. I jumped and grabbed the rail. A hand reached over and helped me finish the climb up and over the wall.
I was at a rock concert with lights and fire and people, everywhere. I walked along the rear wall. I wanted to find someplace safe, quiet, with fewer people. A woman appeared at my side. She told me to go with her. I followed. I recognized her as a friend. Though she didn’t look like Celia, I knew it was Celia. I called out her name, and she turned around and smiled. She waved at me to keep following her. It was loud. It was crowded. I didn’t know if I could keep up with her dancing prance. I lost sight of her. I found her again at a single metal door. It was red, maroon-like red, with no door handle. She opened the door. It opened effortlessly with a deep groan, and behind it was a brightly lit spa.
Dozens of women appeared, clothed, toweled, and naked. Some were lounging in hot tubs. Others were steaming in showers. Still others sat on benches deep in gossipy conversations. Celia grabbed my hand. She asked me what I needed. I answered. Someone shouted there were no FBOs left but there were some EPOs in the back room. I was desperate. I accepted the only available option. I said an EPO would be fine. Celia snaked through the maze of walls and disappeared into a foggy room. I waited, and wandered. I saw more women lounging in tubs. Some walked aimlessly between showers and lockers.
Another friend appeared at my side. I recognized him. I questioned his name. Todd? He turned around and said I should follow him. I followed. He said he could get me to a room. A good room. A safe, quiet, empty room. We weaved through the crowd to a door. It was brown, like mud, without a door handle. He opened the door. There were stairs leading down. Along the stairs were other doors. More brown doors, with no handle, each with a number. The first door had the number four. Todd asked if I wanted this door. I answered no. We continued down, deliberate step by deliberate step, stopping to question each door. The three door. The twelve door. The one door. At the bottom I went through the two door.
It was a double door, heavy and wooden, unlike the other single, metal doors. It was dim inside. I turned around to ask my friend if this was the right room, but he was gone. I could hear footsteps above me. I continued in to the room. The floor was glass, thick and clear. In the middle was a body-length pillow. It was green, sage green. Near the pillow was my favorite chair. It is a basket that hangs on a frame and swings gently in the breeze, but the frame was not in the room. The basket lay on its side. I reached down to pick it up and it fell below my reach. I reached again, and again it fell farther down. I began falling with it while standing on the glass floor. I felt the falling. I stopped reaching for the chair. I laid down on the pillow. It was warm and soft. The sounds diminished. The light faded.
I opened my eyes. 11:26 PM. I was scared before I finished my first breath.