I dreamed of my mother– not her living, breathing, walking self, only accidental snapshots my father found on an old camera. In the pictures she’s going down the staircase and back up again. My grief for her upon seeing them has weight and presence. I find a flower arrangement she’d made wilting in a corner with one large reaching orchid leaf, a bunch of red holly berries, and two protuberances that resemble cucumbers. I announce it to the others in the house as her final flower arrangement and tell them to say goodbye as I carry it to the trash.
The train, the walk, the pavement. I vary my route depending on the red lights on Michigan Avenue. There are, as well, the revolving variables. On the train or walking from the train to work, I see the same people over and over, as if I know them, though I do not know them.
The girl whose hair is always tangled in the back, as if she is a restless sleeper who has tumbled from bed into work clothes, into her army green duffle coat.
The tall dark-haired guy in the Members Only jacket and Adidas sneakers who seems to have walked out of the 1970s and bounces a little as he strides along long-legged, crosses streets on the diagonal, unbothered by corners and cross walks.
The guy in the red and black down parka with his bike messenger bag slung across his torso, who smokes in the morning. He meanders ahead of me as I jog side to side, trying to dodge by, trying not to inhale.
The panhandler who sits rocking forward and back, shaking change in a 7-11 to-go cup in the steady rhythm of his rocking, saying good morning to each passing person regardless of headphones and averted gazes.
I see the same clothes and boots and bags on different people– the furry hooded parkas with the round goose patch insignia, the navy shoulder bag with the leather straps. This uniform. I was absent the day they assigned it.
There are the two girls in scrubs– girls, not women, although adult– walking together to the hospital, chatting in their chirpy bird voices. Pretty grown up girls who were pretty little girls. I imagine their happy childhoods with healthful extracurricular activities. I imagine their lack of suffering more than the death of a beloved grandparent. Sometimes they’re joined in the walk from the train by an Indian guy who wears a cap with ear flaps. I imagine catching up to the girls and walking with them. I imagine making them my friends.
For several mornings I see one of them without the other and wonder: Did she just change shifts at the hospital? Has she gone away, to another hospital, another city, another state? Is the one she left behind lonely? And I, will I never see her again?
And then one day I step off the train, and there they both are, going up the escalator, having their morning conversation. And all is as it should be.
…walking with her old man, approaching the entrance of the Penninsula Hotel, barks once, pauses, barks twice. Pauses. Two more barks and she’s under the canopy, turning toward the small door to the side of the grand entrance. One more bark. Out bustles the doorman, says, “I didn’t know if you’d be here,” reaching across the valet desk and into a jar of treats. Her man replies, “She wouldn’t miss it. She would not miss it.”
last night I dreamed about your chickens. My life is lonely and sad and pretty much empty. I regret the things I’ve done, or rather not done. I keep failing to do anything meaningful or substantive, but am repeatedly unable to bestir myself. This will be nothing new to you.
Walking to work, I take the used tissue from my pocket and blow my nose and notice how the tissue smells like cinnamon gum which smells nothing like cinnamon.
Everything feels counterfeit, like a shell of something real.
A young boy with a backwards baseball cap is riding his bike down the narrow streets and back alleys of a city, zipping quickly, dodging obstacles. There’s a flash like a film cut to an older man, and I see him years earlier riding the same bicycle down the same streets. There’s another cut, and I see the boy in the present again.
I’ve inherited my parents’ house, which has the feel of my house in Iowa. I’m going through the contents and trying to determine what to keep and what to get rid of, whittling it away to space. There are a lot of strange and ugly objects from decades ago. One thing is a four foot tall orange lacquered wooden swan that is some type of oil infuser. There is a small cupboard like a bread box with an assortment of small bottles of essential oil inside. I’m sorting through them and taking off the caps to sniff and trying to read the labels, but I can hardly smell anything at all. I have already cleared out a lot of the crap that had been in the house. I’m pointing out to someone the shelves around the room and at the top of a closet and describing how they had been crowded and stacked with stuff. Now they are empty. I’m trying to find a place to put a small rabbit figurine. I’m standing at a table in the kitchen and wondering whether my sister, who is in town for grad school, will come be my roommate. Otherwise I’m not sure I can afford to live here by myself.
The world outside used to matter, birds and so forth. There are no birds in the city I live in. It is a tower with high walls and dark shadows. It is a lonely place where the wind cries in crevices and moans in hollows.
I’d like to swim in clear water and sit in sunlight and shade in a hot place with a cool breeze. I’d like to walk in an unfamiliar place and eat foreign foods and hear people speak in other languages and accents. I would like to be Away.
We’re in a room with computers on several workstations. I’m working on stuff with my small team. The big boss over at the other end of the room gets everyone’s attention and tells us her laptop case has gone missing, and we all start to comb the room in search of it. My team leader has given me a long list of work assignments, and I am carrying a stack of books and other related materials. I take my pile of books out of the room and down a number of hallways until I come to a big tall ceilinged chamber, a lunch room of sorts for the university. I sit at one of the empty tables. An older black teacher comes and sits down with his food and starts eating. I look at him expecting he’ll want to talk, but he seems content to sit and eat, alone even if sharing the table. Then another person comes and sets down her tray on the table. I have the sense that it’s filling up and get up and leave. I walk through the hallways, taking a blind stab at direction and end up in a part of the school that’s completely unfamiliar. I can see tall, broad Gothic arches off in the distance. I turn around and go in the other direction for a ways before I concede that I’m completely lost.
I go off with a small group of people looking for our department’s dumpster which has been stolen. We go into an alcove with two big green dumpsters side by side in it. We recognize one of them as ours and find a broken lock on a plastic-wrapped chain on it. An official shows up and starts working to restore the lock in preparation for returning the dumpster to where it belongs. I go around behind them and notice someone checking some kind of bins in the back underneath. I realize that they’re refrigeration elements. As I move closer, I notice that there are large tanks. In one of them I see several turtles swimming around. I point and exclaim, Turtles! with glee. The others come over to look, and I turn to the other tank and see an array of colorful underwater creatures in it. There are more turtles and something very big. I say, What’s that?, and then, as it turns and more of it comes into view, Is that a crocodile?? It is enormous and gorgeous with glistening skin moving in a musculature covered with patterns of many muted colors. It tuns in the tank, and we can see the ridges of its lighter belly. It looks powerful and terrifying, and I’m glad the tank is secure. Someone says, There is a boa constrictor. There’s something long and large and white with black markings twining around the crocodile. Then I notice that it has lots of small legs all down its length and say I think it’s a millipede.
A woman is standing at the opening of an alcove before an amphitheater full of people. She’s beginning an auction to raise funds for the endowment. She’s holding a fan of season’s tickets for the home team’s football games, and she’s saying she wants to top what they collected under her former boss, the University’s last president, $40 million. I wander off into the alcove behind her with a group of people from work. I say I’m thinking about getting tickets for the Michigan game, but it takes so long– first there’s the drive there, then the eternal game itself, and then the long drive back. I’ve been lying on the floor of the place and get up and realize my hands and pants are filthy. I try to brush myself off, but it does no good. I say, I have never been in such a dirty place.
In real life everything continues stupid and pointless. I’m on the treadmill of go to work, come home, read, make dinner, go to bed, get up and do it over again. As I’m walking to and from the train, I think back over my life, trying to understand how I got to this point. I think back to San Francisco, when it struck me that all the people downtown at rush hour looked like suited automatons. What was I doing then? Video production PA? Bar waitress? Cafe barista? I think about how I have become one of the automatons with my “good job.” And for what? I look at the parents with their children in the park and acquaintances announcing births of babies on Facebook and feel sick. My life makes no sense to me.