I. Sometimes I feel like I’m the last person on earth. I get up early, before the sun has even risen, because I had a bad dream and can’t fall back asleep and I might as well get out and do something, and it’s a ghost town. No signs of life anywhere—just the sound of my own footsteps. No cars driving down the road. I think I hear a bird, but maybe I’m just imagining it. I turn down the path I walk at noon every day, usually humming with students hurrying by with shoes untied and backpacks half-unzipped. But not now. I don’t see anyone else around. It’s like they’ve been scrubbed from the picture, like someone just hit the mute button on the whole world, and for a moment I start to believe that all those people aren’t going to wake up soon. Because they don’t exist. At least not anymore—it’s just me. Nobody else is left. They were all wiped out by a plague or a nuclear bomb or whatever other name the apocalypse goes by these days, while I just slept through it. It’s the only explanation.
How do you even know when you’re the last of something? You can’t prove it; you can only prove it to be false. But nobody else is appearing, so for a while I believe. I don’t know what to do now—where do I go from here? I listen to the quiet, and I’m not sure how this really changes anything.
The sunlight starts to trickle over the horizon, and other people get out of bed. They’re fine, because of course they are. The world hasn’t ended yet. I’ve been walking in circles waiting for the sun, and I’m tired. I’ll go back to sleep for a little while, and maybe I’ll get the whole apocalypse thing over with before breakfast.
II. In that weird half-wakefulness right after your alarm goes off, but before you’ve decided whether you’re going to hit snooze once again or just get up, you’re not really sure for a moment what’s going on. You feel like you’re still in a dream, in this world but not entirely aware of its mechanics. If I don’t get enough sleep, or drink enough coffee to compensate, that feeling doesn’t go away. It’s like I’m still waiting for my alarm to go off to really wake me up. Like I’m wandering through the world with eyes still half-closed. Like the world could be ending this very moment all around me and I’d just never know. Everything is rushing by too fast and everything is too bright. Everyone’s talking so loud that I can’t hear a word they’re saying. I try to rub the sleep out of my eyes but then my vision goes black and I can’t see anything at all.
III. I lost my voice once but didn’t know it. I had felt a scratchiness in my throat the night before, but I didn’t speak to anyone all morning, so I didn’t realize it was gone. When I finally tried to talk, my voice crackled like a fire. I wondered when my voice was officially lost—if it happened in that moment I spoke, or if it was already long gone by the time I woke up.
IV. Blackout blinds keep the day out long after everyone else has risen. Don’t shatter the illusion. Don’t go outside. Don’t let anyone else exist, because that means you must, too.
I. It’s too early for Sparkie to be licking my face. I elbow him away as I try to wipe off his wet slobber, but he jumps back with a bark. As my bathroom buddy, he leads the way to the sink, and sits beside me as I brush my teeth. I hear a buzz from my phone: a meeting at nine, a conference at twelve, a lunch at one, and leadership planning until six. “Urgh, not another Tuesday,” I groan as the toothpaste drips from my mouth onto Sparkie’s fur. He gives me a toothy grin but I sigh, knowing I’ll have to wipe it off before he gets it all over the couch. There are only fifty-four minutes before I head out, and I don’t have time for cleanup.
After getting dressed I sit at the kitchen table drinking my extra-large mug of black coffee, and reading today’s news headlines. Nothing out of the ordinary to report: another hurricane, an earthquake, a shooting, and criticisms of Trump’s latest comments. Sparkie rubs against my leg, it’s time for his breakfast kibble. I drop the paper on the table and walk across the room in my new black leather work heels. They’re not broken in yet, and I nearly trip as I angle the oversized bag of dog food into the bowl. I catch my balance before it’s too late, and head back to my chair. Only seven more minutes until my taxi comes.
My days fit into a routine. Same delayed wakeup, same morning groan, same meaningless work. I slap down the paper on the floor. Sparkie rips it into pieces and I sigh as I shoo him away so I can pick them up and throw them away. Sparkie runs back and licks my legs as he drops a final newspaper shred. “Make today count,” it reads. I eye him as he looks at me pleadingly. He stares me in the eye, but I know I can’t refuse his big brown eyes. “Okay,” I say, pinning the piece to my fridge. I rub his fur, as I start out for my changed day.
II. A new day. Today I have a couple of extra minutes to get ready. Sparkie follows me to the bathroom and sits beside me as I dress and apply my makeup. He’s more tired than I am today, and doesn’t utter a bark throughout the whole routine. I glance at my watch, and am surprised to find that I still have fifty-four minutes until I’m due to head to work.
The early start has made me feel more awake than usual. I pour some food in Sparkie’s bowl before I slip into my heels. It looks sunny out, and I decide to treat myself to some gourmet coffee. Sliding the newspaper into my bag, I head to purchase a big hot cup of something new.
A man sits outside the entrance to the Starbucks with an oversized vest, and gloves torn at the fingertips. He smiles at me, but I feel awkward, and hesitate before rushing directly inside. I order the first thing I see on the menu, realizing I only have seven minutes before I start my commute.
III. Today I wake up to a breeze from an open window. Sparkie doesn’t flinch as I start for the bathroom and quickly change. By the time he’s in the kitchen, I’ve already filled his bowl with food and his tray with water. I give him a pat, and shout “see you later,” as I shut the apartment door.
The man outside the Starbucks hasn’t moved. He smiles at me as I enter, and this time I smile back. I order a pumpkin-spice coffee and wait patiently. Still seven minutes until I’m due to start my day.
IV. Outside I see the man still sitting in the space I left him yesterday. I notice a cup near his feet and drop in some change as I wish him a good day. He smiles back and wishes me the same.
Inside, I read the menu and decide on the flavor of the month. I’m in no hurry. I still have seven minutes.
V. I purchase a coffee, but today it’s not for me. I hand the man his drink, and give him a few fresh bills from my wallet. I’m not sure how many, but it doesn’t matter; I’m done counting.
I. They say that people who grieve are often unable to sleep. Not me. In the weeks following his death, I dreamed about him every night. We were together, as we’d been just a day, then a week, a month, then two months prior. In these dreams, his mannerisms were all the same. When we kissed or made love, it felt exactly like it had before the accident, before I’d gone from that girl who was going to Princeton, to the girl who was dating the boy who died. And while I dreamt, I could feel my lips move into a soft smile.
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.
These were the first words that Joan Didion wrote after her husband, John, passed away. I read her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, empathizing, but not relating. She wrote that she wanted to keep her husband’s shoes because he would need them when he came back. I couldn’t imagine why she’d think such a thing. But at the end of the summer, his family called me and said they’d donated all of his belongings. I finally understood Didion. Corbin needed his shoes. On the night of June 28, I stood on top of my stoop. I watched Corbin unlock his bike from a tall parking sign. We’d said goodbye hundreds of times before. We’d said goodbye when the bell rang and everyone threw their books into their bags and fled. We’d said goodbye as I pressed his elevator button to go downstairs, him in his socks, me wearing my coat and boots. This goodbye was just like all the others. A kiss, I love you, see you tomorrow, text me when you get home. Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.
II. June 28, 2017. It was a Wednesday, and we’d just graduated. I’d taken photos with him and his family. We smiled and posed, wearing the same navy blue gowns worn by the last few generations of Lycée students. We adjusted our caps. Our cheeks grew sore from smiling, but we weren’t posing anymore. That night, we watched Forrest Gump together. We ate tacos for dinner. Fifteen minutes before the end of the movie, he started getting anxious, conscious of how late it was.
“So you’re spending the night, right?” I joked. He shook his head. “Stay until the end!” I pleaded.
He said no. He would see me tomorrow. “Finish the movie, and tell me what happens, okay?” I woke up the next morning to the sound of my phone ringing. Seven missed calls. Dozens of text messages from his sister. Call me, Tara, it’s urgent. Call me.
III. I pick up the phone. I hear his sister crying. Her breath is shallow and her voice is hoarse, but she speaks clearly as she tells me about the white Isuzu box truck, and the intersection at 55th Street, three minutes from my house. She tells me about the brain trauma and the defibrillator. She describes his mangled bike, the back wheel bent in half, reflectors shattered, chains come loose.
IV. After the accident, I wake up forgetting he’s gone. My eyes are still closed. I only feel and hear what’s around me. For just a few beats of a hummingbird’s wings, I know nothing.
I. The sun’s rotund outline emerges. Blood orange around the edges, it eats up the darkness. The family stands on the sand, feeling the morning come into existence. The father tries to capture the emerging light on film—gingerly holding the camera, he bends below the horizon and clicks. But the photo cannot memorialize the sea breeze lifting their hair, or the light smell of the air yet to be weighed down by the day. The mother smiles and points to the sun as if it were a new discovery. The girl is preoccupied with the treasures that low tide uncovered—broken seashells, smooth stones, sea glass. The objects glisten a warm orange hue, and she picks up her favorites. By the shore, they eat breakfast: pancakes, melted chocolate chips, freshly squeezed orange juice, and porridge. They look at the newly taken photos and select the best ones to keep. Soon, orange evolves into a yellow glare, too bright to look at directly. And before long, hazy beach days shifted to rigidly cut routines. Mornings began before the sun awoke, and tall buildings obscured the sunrise from view. Mornings became the drive to Manhattan, carpool tolls, slow moving traffic, fiery tempers, hectic snow-shoveling. Mornings were a test of grit, grinding against roughened edges. The awake but in bed—head burrowed into the pillow in fake slumber—was a sign of weakness. So she fought against her body, begging to lay down. And splashed cold water onto her face until it felt numb. Once in a while, the old seashells displayed on her bookshelf would catch her eye. They were paler than she remembered, as if sunlight and salty waters were necessary to their pigmentation. Memories would color her senses until she felt calm, steady, ready to begin again.
II. Sometimes, she misses the gap between their bodies after unraveling at night. Her head resting below the crevice of his arm. The sharing of a new day. The way he pulled her in to stop her from leaving. The way he smelled after a morning shower and deodorant. The way they kissed goodbye. Sometimes, she saw mornings not as beginnings, but rather endings. The mornings came too soon, pulling them apart from some blurry opaque fairytale, and into their separate lives. Often, she awoke to his breathing and just lay there—in a space between dreams and reality. Those mornings were always like slow molten lava that she slowly sunk her feet in. Sometimes, she can still remember sitting on the bed and feeling the lyrics—will you remember me fondly—replaying, ingraining, staining her thoughts. And how every time they parted, she wondered how much of that morning he would care to remember.
III. The alarm blares between states of consciousness. She is awakened in stages—the half-asleep, the numbly standing, the muffled hellos. A high-strung temper that simmers by midday. Slippery thoughts and a blank slate to which nothing sticks. On the good days, mornings are rhythmic, timed to perfection, spotless. On the bad days, she unravels like spaghetti from meatballs. All mornings, she walks between an end and a beginning—letting go, erasing, mending, becoming something new.
IV. She twists her disheveled hair into a bun. Then she paints her face—dark eyebrows, smoky eyes, pink lips. Liquid skin underneath the violet under-eyes. Smoothing, covering, and making the pieces of herself whole.
I. My morning is your night. We are exactly twelve hours apart, half a world away. We operate inversely, like the righty-lefty pair we have always been. Yet we are no mirror images. Dark-haired and light, tall and short, strong and slender, we are an improbable pair, a living testimony to the infinite variety of genetic combinations. Do any twins enjoy a truly frictionless fit? We strike only an imperfect harmony between our unity and our autonomy. This spring we come together like clockwork. Eight in the morning here. Eight in the evening there. Every day I shut the door on my sleeping roommates and ring you as I trudge down the stairs and across campus for breakfast. In my memory, the cold morning sky is as dark as the night must be where you are. My new semester is bad. Yours is worse. It is so hard to be back from laid-back London. It is even harder to be lost in Shanghai. I go to bed too late and must wake up too early. You can’t sleep through the night. You always say you’re sorry that I’m not sleeping enough, but you can’t hide your happiness when we’re awake at the same time. Alone in the dining room at 8:05 a.m., I chew my daily bagel and banana; you tell me you’ve lost your appetite. While I fix my first caffeine infusion of the day, black with a desperate shot of espresso, you grieve the absence of coffee. For a moment I think I miss the years when we would carry steaming thermoses of tea to the bus stop, unspeaking. You recount today, I recap yesterday. The call drops a few times. Sometimes we stay on the line until I reach the heavy door of my 8:30 class. Sometimes we say goodbye sooner and I let my screen fill with other faces for a few minutes.
II. I am an early bird, but last spring’s endless raw mornings struck even me as bleak. I was transported back to high school, when every day my alarm startled me awake into the same pitch-black I had last seen before closing my eyes. I had to get up early to catch the bus to school; at least my stop was second to last along the route, granting me a few extra minutes in bed. I was never tempted to snooze the alarm, for I couldn’t risk missing the bus or chasing it down, the burn of public humiliation second only to the burn of my inflamed airways. You rose after me and hurried into the hot shower, after I had shivered while the boiler was warming. The wet hair clung to our necks as we styled ourselves to face the day. We took turns filling up the electric kettle and flipping the switch that made it glow.
III. Now it’s lonely, moving among a sea of sleepers; rising and readying for the day before anyone else, trying to dress quickly and noiselessly. Walking out the door alone. Talking to you, ten thousand miles away, can make the long morning better or worse. I hate feeling so powerless to help you, when all my advice is in vain and all I can do is agonize with you, all the while conscious that I will never know what it’s like to be in your place.
IV. This year, I’m sleeping more and you’re back to the right time zone. I picture us making coffee at the same time. You pour in cream and your favorite vanilla syrup. I forgo the espresso.
I. Eyes crusted by sleep. Humid air weighs down on dry bodies and dawn peers through rusted iron. No longer do piercing honks and the click of schoolchildren’s shoes permeate the resting mind. I wake to the crack of an egg and find myself under clear waters. Familial laughter echoes up wooden stairs and draws me to the hearth. A dearth of alarms and a slew of lateness construct morning in the city. Morning is turgid, lazy and a cradle of tepid limbs. The New York pollution is curated and alive. Cleanliness is alien to the morning; it is hot trash that whitens the red sclera.
A weaving of opposites that breathes life into slumbering skin. Now, I slip off cotton onto sterile linoleum floors and floods of pages. There is contentedness in shower shoes and lack of nutrition. Dew streams through crisp hair and untied laces. Mornings are obscured smiles and mutual complaint. Silence is deafening surrounded by the grey stone, but there is beauty in the litany of hushed voices. Milk crowds tongues in cramped caverns while mornings slide into porcelain bowls. Harmonies of crunching corn flakes and leaves serenade the piano. City mornings pass without my presence. They flow like the shuffling students falling into place. New mornings break off like crumbs and scatter with the breeze onto hot paper and ashen hands. My morning chooses to stand in between, stuck in two ways of life. Static yet attracted to movement, my mornings live in a world shrouded by chaos and calm, tyranny and tranquility. The morning is not idle. It is constant activity bathed in the sensation of stillness. Cocooned in oxymorons, I rest under the five-hundred thread count. They say opposites attract but not when you are trying to sleep.
II. You spilled coffee on me as I slept and silently laughed as it seeped into my shirt. The laughter fell below my skin into my dreams; I felt my ribs dance with your rhythm. We always danced in front of the mirror. Your reflection never truly captured your face. It missed the crescent lines under your cheeks and the spot of orange that hid in the corner of your eyes. I saw that fire in your eyes every morning when eyelashes fluttered on damp pillows. I never told you I was jealous of your color; I was lost in murky green and hazy blue. You weren’t diluted like me, like the school coffee we used to drink. You were my morning and the shouts in my ear. You were the caressing sheets and my first shave. The cut on my left cheek during that Tuesday morning in sophomore year.
III. I got high for the first time in the morning. Sun speckled my cracked nails and I exhaled. Thick smoke spun through the shadows of Brooklyn trees. The branches hugged my small frame and I whispered into the wrinkled bark. I wished for three inches and white eyes. You said using bible paper was okay because I was Jewish. Matthew and John burned into my lungs and clawed against my flesh. I coughed my collar bone on you but Eve was never born.
IV. It is a mating call that wakes my mother. She moved up north where pigeons outnumber people, and gray feathers blanket grey streets. Morning becomes night under flocking bodies and she sits awake, unable to fly.
I. Saturday morning sunlight comes in squares to my parents’ bed. My father and I sit there, cross-legged, mirroring each other. A white wooden tray between us plays host to three mugs—my sister is too young for her own. The chai he’s made me is cardamom, cinnamon, honey in concert. My tongue burns, but I sip more anyway. My mom is still asleep, and her body threatens to knock over the tea tray, though I know it never will. The sunlight mixes with the scent of coffee and so she opens her eyes and rolls over to join us. A book from the juvenile nonfiction shelf about Portuguese explorers lays open on my lap; my father reads the newspaper between sips of tea. We don’t speak, but I am sensitive to his shifts, and the small rivulets they cause in the sheets, my back hard against the bed’s footboard. My hair is messy and my parents’ comforter feels cool against my legs. The particles of dust trapped in the 9 a.m. light seem friendly and magical, and I wonder how many more there are in the room and in the world. We do this the next day too, but on Sundays there is the feeling of dread: a shower and a gloomy car ride to St. Brendan’s for Mass after morning tea and cookies. We don’t know anyone at Mass but my mom insists that we go most Sundays, and even when it is sunny, it is blue. In the winter, we come home and my mom makes chole bature and I make raita because all you have to do is mix spices into yogurt, and I always add extra sugar and boondi and we sit and watch football and the sunlight is cool and disappears early in the afternoon.
II. I wake up bleary; my sister is in the bathroom already. I move in the dark to my dresser and shift the needle to the outside track of my favorite record.
“Morning comes; you watch the red sunrise.”
I water the plant on my desk which is in the process of dying, and after I water it, it feels even closer to death. I make my bed and slowly become ready. I pull on a pair of tights, my plaid skirt, button-down, letter jacket, and saddle shoes. My sister, anxious about being late, calls me from downstairs. I’ve just gotten my license and driving my sister to school is my favorite part of the day. I love the trees and the way their skeletal fingers reach into the blue-pink dawn. I watch the Atlanta skyline as I drive over the bridge. I sip my chai from my thermos at stoplights.
III. Something about the air in Las Vegas would make me anxious, like I could never be safe. After my red-eye flight back home, I study on the train from the airport to my school. A languid sadness creeps up with the city sun; ice gathers on the train window. Everything was frenzy, hot sand, and neon just hours ago. I indulge in the unpleasant caffeine feeling in my stomach. I read about Matisse for the test I’ll have when I arrive.
IV. Houston mornings are humid and light-speckled. I run past faces, trampling patches of sun underfoot. I breathe deep the air thick with summer. An elderly couple on a bench smiles at me; I look back with green shyness.
I. When I first read about Nick and Marjorie, my heart broke. It was a Saturday morning, and I couldn’t explain why, because there was no obvious source of my sadness, no dramatic scene where they screamed or cried, and it wasn’t like they were forced to give up, like Life had handed them an unlucky hand—and loving each other just wasn’t going to overcome it.
In the story, they are fishing. They are fishing in the sun, in the autumn, I imagined, red and orange leaves just beginning to peel off branches, falling, and peppering the river. Marjorie is in a red T-shirt and light blue jeans. Perhaps this image is unlikely given the story takes place in 1925, but I actually don’t know what the fashion trends were then—so maybe it’s more possible than I believe. Nick is on the boat, waiting for the fish, and waiting for shore, and shivering a little every time he catches sight of Marjorie, with her hair flipped back in the wind—it makes him dizzy, panicky, I imagined, to think of the way their childhood is dripping away, both of them caught and breathless in the in-between years, no idea where they are going and forgetting a little more, every day, those happier and more carefree years they had grown from.
While they are on the river, still floating somewhat peacefully, Marjorie comments on the thriving town and mill that used to be there. She describes the place in its former energy and activity, even though decaying foundations are what remain. Nick notices, instead, “broken white limestone,” and “the swampy second growth.” Nick is sluggish, perhaps dried of words from trying so hard, perhaps exhausted from all the things he used to think and never say. He wants to “leave everything behind,” even “the need to write.”
II. Nick says nothing, for too long. He seems to start, mouth slightly open, an inhale that almost looks like a word is forming, and then he sits back. Stares at his hands, rests his eyes. Weary. Marjorie watches her pulse speed up, knock against her wrist, her neck, unusual places, she is beating with curiosity, doesn’t know what’s coming. Nick settles into laconic voids. Time crawls, stumbles, grinds almost to a halt. “Nick [says] nothing…they [eat] without talking.” Here is where I imagine melancholy crickets, distant grumbles of an industrial plant, the whispering stutter of the water on the rocky bank. The voices of engines and birds melding into one. Marjorie chews slowly, swallows, runs her tongue along the front of her teeth. Once Nick speaks, which, in the story, he hasn’t yet; she will announce she is taking the boat, stand up, and leave.
III. My margin notes on the corners of Hemingway’s words thinned. First, interpretation. The foundations of the town aren’t anything, but there is a projection from each character onto them; Nick dismisses wistful moments; Marjorie is stronger, more independent than she initially appears; forgetting the past, or details of a shared history, is a subtle way to hurt someone. Then, sighs of “beautiful,” “so true,” and “wow.” There were no comments by the last paragraph.
IV. Nick finally says, “It isn’t fun anymore.” Marjorie replies, “Isn’t love any fun?” to which Nick answers, “No.” The clouds are rolling in. “Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?” It was evening and it was morning: the last day.
I. When you are young enough to be up early and old enough not to scream, the world is both big and yours. The light is white in my memory, filtered through wide, ashy clouds, cast through the windows. It won’t rain until late afternoon.
In the dining room, my father’s silhouette leans over a prayer book. His prayer shawl is over his shoulders, and the fringes at the four corners sway against the floor. Holiness as it comes to us normally requires distinction; in my home, it went so far as to beg solitude. That was a threshold I did not cross, not then, not yet.
When I peered through the doorway, I thought he looked like a priest presiding over the awakening of the city. He called the traffic lights back to life the same way he made the shades open in my room every morning, so I could wake up to the sun; the lights, like myself, like the sun, had rested.
It was a threshold crossed with age, when the world became less large and less mine, and it was crossed, in the end, not by invitation but by imitation. I pray in that same spot after my father has left for the day. I can see now that the street lights have been on all night, signaling no one. It was a disappointment to learn that he presided over nothing quite so far away, that my window shades were easily opened once I could reach them. I had misread. His caped outline was not an illustration of power. It was the opposite. It was a lesson in vulnerability.
II. Every morning I perform ablutions, which involves filling a two-handled vessel with water and washing each hand three times. “Ablution” is a word that oozes fanaticism. In “The Gilgul of Park Avenue,” Luger makes ablutions, and his wife asks him why he couldn’t have instead become a vegan, or a liberal democrat. Is it fanaticism to seriously subscribe to a system of metaphysical purity and impurity? There is something so viscerally pleasing, so evocative of that ancient power of pilgrimage, of repetition, of cleansing, in the washing. Hard to lose the message when it is not a message at all, but a most explicit medium. It is not a joke to me. It is an instinctual testament.
III. The words of my prayers were written a long time ago. I concede it is a curious obligation to reflect, meditate, pray, from a script. I didn’t immediately understand the enchantment in those mechanics, but I found that, like the washing, premeditation makes pilgrimage. A script maintains a potent buffer against that easy slide into “a phantom called ‘my religion.’”
IV. A friend left me a voicemail and at the end of four minutes, he said, “Good chat. I’m glad we talked.” Listening, I laughed at his breathtaking narcissism. I hope my voice into the void of a telephone wire, or into the air, heavenward, is just as endearing to anyone who might listen.
I. I’m staring at a Guest Services booth in the green grass of Commodore Barry Park. Everything seems okay until the backside of a black Mercedes penetrates the side wall. Slowly, it backs up until the back half of the SUV fills the booth and the snout of the vehicle juts out the side. The driver door swings open, and out steps my twin brother, Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons.
He’s pacing like a rabid animal in a cage, but what concerns me more is that he came to see me. He simmers in his cheap suit—a con man who’s run into trouble with the wrong crowd. He knots his trembling fingers and squeegees the sweat off the back of his bald head, grimacing.
“What’s going on?” I ask. He drags his fingers down his exasperated gargoyle face. He hates me. He doesn’t want to deal with me. If I open my useless mouth one more time, I will be demolished.
And I ask, louder: “What’re you going to do?”
He stares me in the eyes, and he starts to cackle. His face contorts into a mirthful kabuki mask as he wheezes and says, “Me? I’m not doing anything—” He has to stop to squeeze out more joyless laughter. “You are.”
His massive figure unfurls, and with a steady voice he declares: “Let’s take a walk.”
“Okay,” I say. “Sure.”
Now we’re in a small office. His back is to me—it’s almost as wide as the desk he’s leaning on.
“You know, most people wouldn’t say, ‘Okayyyyy suuuuuure.’” My face gets hot with shame. But before I can respond, his wide shoulders swing around. The steel shell of a briefcase caves in my eye socket with a meaty crunch
and I wake up, heart racing, face flushed, still embarrassed.
II. The first thing I do in the morning: if I had a dream I can remember, I write it down. I plant myself in bed with my notebook, and I don’t leave until I’ve written down every little detail about that dream.
If I’m still terrified, that’s even better. Date it, close the book, never read that entry, ever. Now that I’ve added to an archive of meaningful happenings that never happened, I can start my day.
And more importantly, I can live free from the day before. If I have one of those dreams that was affected by how I felt the day before, then the day doesn’t really end until it’s either forgotten or recorded.
But it’s important to learn from experiences, so I’ll write it down.
It’s better than if a dream indicated how I would feel the morning after. Every dream would be me sitting down with a cup of creamed coffee and I would stare at the coffee and it would stare back at me and whisper, “This is as good as it gets.”
III. Freedom is being dropped off at school an hour before they unlock the doors—the only time that works for the friendly cab driver who speaks in iambic pentameter.
A “GOOD mor-NING” is sitting inside the lobby as the school buses pull up and kids start to pool around the locked glass doors.
“Can I let them in?” Not yet, the teachers reply.
Real power is students marveling, staring at you,
your nappy hair, your pureed plantain skin.
IV. MORNING AFTER [KIDZBOP]:
i’m sorry, fellow camper, i do not know
why i am in your sleeping bag
why you’re on the cold gym floor
why my sleeping bag is
on the other side of the room.
I. Every night my mouth grows in on itself, and I have to beat back the dry, spongy flesh with my tongue as I smack and gasp and run my toes in the sheets before rolling my shoulders, twisting my knees in, and turning onto my belly to smash my groin into the mattress because I have to pee. My dreams, like little children playing below a faulty dam, have been crushed by the flood of waking, and now all I can find is a finger or a dainty red shoe if I look hard. But they are soggy and do not move like they did just seconds ago before I shuddered up. Up—I was in a field on the top of a mountain: wildflowers and sharp rocks.
Morning light beams stained glass fractals through my eyelids. I shut them tighter. They riot. Gummed to each other, my eyelashes weed themselves. I rip out the roots. I look at the time. There are four minutes until my alarm will go off. I check it to make sure its not muted. I read new emails; I dodge things of the past preserved in my feed. I check on everyone else. I stop and look at my black screen. Stop—there were birds, a cloud of black birds, circling. I stopped. They turned their beaks on me; I turned and ran, down the slope.
I tuck my arms down below me and stretch out my legs and intertwine them and shut my eyes, but that second, inner lid isn’t there to shut and whisk me away. I give up after three minutes and dismiss the clock. I sit up and my feet feel for my shoes down below me. Down—it begins to rain and I slip over wet rocks as I stumble down the slope. There is a murder behind me and suddenly I am falling—
II. 1. How was your day? What was the best part?
2. Tomorrow you have a playdate with Brendan and then we’re going to get your hair cut but only after you practice your piano.
3. X marks the spot. With a dot dot dot. And a biiiiiig question mark. Trickle up. Trickle down. Trickle allllll the way around. With a pinch! And a squeeeeze. And a cool, ocean breeze. And a cracked egg! all the way down your back. Twice.
4. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The fee-fie-fiddle-eei-o’s are rushed towards the end because they are just nonsense words. Dinah is possibly “diner” or ”dinner”; but with a weird accent. The parts about the railroad are the best.
5. If Mom, then Our Father, recited out loud with frequent yawns. If Dad, then The Lion Sleeps Tonight. We have the harmony down and everything. Then eyes close. Beat. Morning.
III. She was there, and that was all that mattered. But she was also slender and the soft bumps of her spine made an archipelago up her back. And she was there, on the beach. She was Tiktaalik. She realized that swimming was a drag and washed up there, beached, with poorly formed land legs and fading fins that slid patterns into the sheets. The surf was stagnant about her. She was half in, half out.
IV. I wish I had it back. I wish I had it back. I want to remember. Or, I want to forget it ever happened. I want to go back to sleep again. Give me back the birds.