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.
I’ve shown up at Laura’s house in the middle of the night in my pajamas. Someone has brought the kittens from the henhouse inside, and they’ve all grown up but one. I pick that one up and take it to bed with me. Tammy is there, and then I hear Gina as well talking about two other people who are sleeping in the back bedroom. I realize that Laura’s been entertaining and hasn’t been to bed yet and didn’t invite me to the party. I decide to leave and tell her that I have to get ready for work.
I’m in my house in Iowa, and the place is a mess. Apparently I haven’t been taking care of things for a long time. I decide to clean up, starting with the kitchen. I load dishes into the dishwasher and then try to close it, but it won’t start. Somehow it tells me that one of the glasses is too tall, so I take it out. Then I’m trying to figure out where to put the soap in. There are a couple different compartments in the plastic. I try one first, and it doesn’t fit. I rub away the leftover soap and see that it says Refill. I insert the soap, a compressed square wafer, into a slot on the inside of the machine and watch it get sucked in with a little mechanical noise. I get the door closed with some struggling, throw the latch to lock it, and puzzle through the retro analog knobs and dials. Everything seems to be set for halfway, and I turn it all up to maximum. Then I turn to the rest of the room. There is the largest bag of garbage I have ever seen, overflowing. I pull it together and pick it up to take it outside, go out the front door and find two people approaching. An older woman is chaperoning a kid who is selling magazine subscriptions for the homeless. I interrupt the spiel to say I have nothing to give them. We’ve gone inside the house, and the woman must be off in the bathroom, because I’m there with the kid. He’s been in the room off the kitchen that’s filled with all my treasures, mementoes, and papers and pictures, piled up, waiting to be organized someday. He asks what all that is, and I’m embarrassed and say, Never mind, herding him toward the front door.
I’m sitting around a table with a bunch of people, and the queen bee from middle school stands up and says, I have to water the terrarium. I follow her over to look at it– a big green glass cylinder with plants growing inside. One of the plants grows up and out the top. I point this out. I’m being excessively complimentary and hating myself a little.
All the cool people clear out, leaving a bunch of stuff behind in their little alcoves. I go through looking for anything good and pick up a men’s wristwatch that looks expensive, but it appears to have stopped.
The world is falling apart. People are disappearing. Something is alive underground, and things are being sucked down the drains.
A man is horseback riding, and then he and the horse are falling, tumbling through the air end over end through the branches of trees. As they fall, the horse is turning into a bicycle. I’m afraid they’re going to crash, but he manages to land on the seat and, desperately at first, then more and more confidently, rides away down the trail.
A bunch of people are walking down a trail through the woods, when suddenly they halt. Up ahead is a family of wolves, several young and a larger black and white adult. We all freeze in place. There’s a heart-beating standoff feeling for several moments, and then the wolf cubs are trotting off down a side path, and the adult is talking to them in English as she follows along behind. I realize she is the mother wolf, and suddenly there is the father, huge with feathery white fur. He’s walking on his hind legs and has a man’s physique. He’s commanding them in human speech and is utterly terrifying.
I walk down a flight of stairs and encounter Masha coming the other way. I’m so happy to see her and say hi with a big smile. She hardly looks at me when she says hi and is continuing on her way without pause. I’m taken aback and ask, Was that a snub? She’s very blase when she says, No, I just need to get somewhere. I’m trying to detain her until she seems more recognizably friendly.
There are boxes of romance novels stacked around, and I think, That’s what I could do– become an editor. I’d be good at it. I’ve already read so many I could name drop a long list of authors easily. The rep walks into the office, and I’m chatting him up. I say I want to give him my contact info, and I take a little white card and am writing my name and telephone number on it. I’m writing in block letters and having trouble forming the characters and writing the wrong numbers down. I have to keep erasing and starting over but finally get it done and hand it to him.
He is going around and wiping dust from every surface with the palms of special gloves. He then brings his dust-encrusted hands up and places them against my face and holds them there.
I’m sitting on a log before a beach bonfire with Mimi and Mabs. I zip open one of our blue sleeping bags and pull it up across our shoulders. We all go to bed, and when I wake up in the morning, they’re gone. They’ve cleared out completely, leaving no sign they were there apart from two little black-striped silver flashlights they presumably used to find their way around in the dark.
I walk through the Winter Cabin, looking for a note from them. The place is full of things previous people left behind. My attention is briefly snagged by a pad of drawing paper, but I move on. I find a letter in Mabs’ handwriting on the table and pick it up and begin to read. But it’s written to the grandparents, so I put it down again. Someone hands me an envelope that is sealed, addressed, and stamped but hasn’t gone through the mail. I think, Ah, this is it, and tear it open. But inside are only some photographs. My sister is going through some photos of her kids, and I hand it to her. She’s holding a 4″x4″ negative of a cluster of pictures and holds it up to the light to look at them. I move around her to the front of the table where the grandparents sit in state in a sunken alcove in a set of throne-like chairs, which have apparently recently replaced the crumbling seating that was there before.
I’m driving through the cobblestone streets of an unfamiliar town in a car that’s not my own. There are three other people in the car with me, including the car’s owner sitting in the back seat. He is teasing and flirting with me, and I am trying very hard to stay focused on the curves of the road and my speed. We go up a hill and stop at a light at the top. Then I start rolling backward, the pickup truck behind reversing out of my way. I’m trying to stop or drive forward, but I’m stomping around on the floor and can find no pedals. We’re picking up speed, and in a panic I wake up.
A bunch of people from my life are sitting around in a big, loose circle in a room with a fireplace. I walk in to join them and sit down in a rocking chair and start rocking. When it rocks backwards, it keeps going farther and farther until I flip. I do a balletic move and am unhurt but still embarrassed. Someone removes the rockers from the chair despite my objection, and when I sit in it, I’m too low to the ground. We debate what it means to rock back over a cat’s tail.
My friend from college is there with a young child.
I’m flipping through a stack of photographs, trying to decipher the story they tell. There are beaches and waves but no people, and I can’t tell which place and part of my life is depicted. A family of HMC friends comes into the room, and I go over and sit and talk with them. The daughter, my friend, is there with her little boy. They’ve been planning a big party, and we talk about how it’s going. They ask about my dad, and I tell them of his cancer and chemo and radiation.
I go into the party’s one tiny bathroom and close the two flimsy doors and sit down on the toilet and defecate. I start to clean myself, and there seems to be no end to it– just shit and more shit. I look out the window and a girl from my middle school, now grown to a woman, is there with her husband and is following her little toddler son up a hill. Someone bangs into the outer bathroom door, and I’m alarmed because I’m not finished. They bust in through the flimsy door and stand for awhile outside the bathroom stall waiting. I just sit there, not sure what to do. Eventually the person leaves, and I get up to secure the door. The hook and eye latch has been yanked from the wall, and the plaster is all crumbled away, but I manage to find a place to screw it back in enough to close the door.
There are two raised garden beds in the snow. While others work on the one across the way, I’m trying to do as instructed over here. This involves standing, stomping equidistant boot holes into the snow as deeply as possible for planting potatoes. But snow tumbles into the holes from the sides as I step along, and the snow compresses under my boot soles as I stomp, preventing me from making the hold very deep.
I’m trying to lock the car, but the fob isn’t working. I press it and press it, but nothing happens. At first I think the battery has died and consider locking the doors manually, but I’m worried I’ll set off the alarm. I walk around the car and discover one of the doors is open. I close it and try again, but still no luck. I wonder if one of the other doors is ajar. I would leave the car unlocked, but it’s filled with all my stuff.
I follow a Hispanic woman into a cell phone store. She is getting cell phones for her family all on one big contract. We’re trying to exchange numbers, but she walks away before I’ve finished typing in the numbers to call her.
I’m on the ground floor of a big old warehouse building that’s been converted into shops and studios. There’s a restaurant full of people getting tea and sandwiches from the register counter. We’re talking about how many good places there are to eat nearby, and I’m thinking about how I thought the opposite was true when I first started working here.
I go sit on swings under an indoor arbor with another woman. We’ve just been in a shop with yearn and fiber goods. She’s telling me about the studios upstairs and how I need to visit them. I’m asking her how she knows about this place, and she tells me she’s taken classes here for years.
My head hurts this morning. My nose is irritated from the dry air. I get fleeting aches and pains in my knees or ankles– suddenly they’re there and just as suddenly gone. I’ve grown philosophical about it and ascribe it to growing older: these things will happen more and more.
I am listening to cars shush by outside over wet pavement and jet liner engines high above at this early hour, before 6 am. The wind makes a hollow sound around the corner of the building. The train rumbles by, sounding like it’s dragging chains. Chris’s rhythmic breathing comes from the bedroom, lulling me, luring me back to the warm bed with him and the dog. I stay up out in the lamp light, pushing myself to do the right thing, to write, unsure whether it really matters. Everyday I’m ashamed that I’m not doing something more substantive with my life.
I’m inside a woman’s house, and I’m invisible, watching her. She’s holding a young girl captive in the attic, and I’m laying low, looking for an opportunity to rescue her. While the woman moves around her home, I have to edge out of the way and try to be very very quiet. It’s dangerous if she discovers me. She has a key that she keeps stashed someplace on her person. It’s unlike any key I’ve ever seen, narrow and tubular black plastic, but it seems to operate simply enough. Somehow I get ahold of it and am working to remove it from its casing when it makes a small popping sound. Her head snaps up, and I freeze, holding my breath. After awhile she goes back to what she’s doing. Now I’m just waiting for her to leave, so I can make the rescue. I’m moving out of her way and go around to the side of a table where I don’t think she’ll go. Suddenly she’s heading straight for me, reaching to turn out a light, and the back of her hand touches my face. A delighted smile dawns on her face, and it chills me, and I wake up.
I’m sitting in the library with two of my scholarly colleagues from grad school. They’re talking about their progress on their respective projects and about what it means to have two or three masters degrees. I get tired of listening to them and make an excuse and leave.
I walk down some broad stairs and through the school building, heading back to my room to get the right books for class. I’m trying to figure out how I can minimize what I carry, going through in my mind what’s necessary, key card, etc.
I’m in a room, and my old high school boyfriend comes in. We’re being cordial, but then he’s got me in an embrace and is holding on. He seems deeply sad and lonely and to miss me a great deal. And then he’s talking about how well he’s doing in school, how he will probably get some monetary award. I’m annoyed and ask him what he’s going to do after school. He surprises me by not saying what I expect– answer has something to do with going to Riverside in New York City with another schoolfellow. There’s some organization there that they’re going to work with.
I’m walking down a long hallway and see someone turn into a room. I know that a woman chef works in there with her retinue of apprentices. Someone lets the dog out, and it goes bounding down the hall. I call it to me and lure it back inside. It’s bright and friendly and good-smelling in there. There are lots of tables. She invites me to stay, but I say I have to get to class. I head toward the door but realize there are several. I skirt a table and head for the door I think I came in. At the last minute I realize it’s the wrong one, but I’m already going through it and stepping across the green green herbs that are growing up between the paving stones.
I’m in a post-upheaval bivouac with a bunch of other people. I am the newbie, learning the ways. We eat meals of goop and glop from modular plastic containers. Afterward we take the trash and recycling out. We have to separate it carefully, scraping out as much food as possible and then cutting the containers up into small pieces before throwing them in the bins.
Back at the bivouac someone’s been ransacking my clothes. They’re pranking me, but I can’t find a pair of pants to wear. I didn’t have much to begin with, and now they’ve taken half of it away. A bunch of people come in, and they’re rearranging the room and stripping down and retrofitting the computers. The programmers seem to have beds because they work through the night so much. I’m envious and wish I were a programmer.
There is an enormous jade plant stretching out in all directions from the middle of the room. I turn it so that the light will hit its other side and it will grow more evenly. I notice a bit that has broken off and hangs from a narrow strip and pull it off. It tears off the branch it’s attached to in a long noisy strip. I want to take it to keep and sprout my own plant. Someone says, Why didn’t you just take one of these? and shows me a dish of tiny seedlings. I say, It was already broken off.
We’re playing around with two long-handled lollipops I’ve pulled out of one of the pencil holders on the desk. There’s a pink one and a yellow one, and they have little faces or flower designs in the middle. My boss comes in in the midst of this, and I’m anxious about being caught goofing off, but it seems fine, everyone else is too. For some reason this business with the lollipops is hilariously funny, and, as the author of the humor, I have crossed a rite of passage.
I’m setting out on the table six or seven tupperware containers of food I’ve cooked. They had only had a couple of measly pastries, and this is a virtual feast. Everyone is a little stunned, and I’m embarrassed. I cook when I’m nervous, I say. Eventually we all start eating, sitting around the table. We’re talking about somebody, and the woman next to me is nodding knowingly. I’m thinking she has some inside knowledge and ask, Did you go to prep school? Did you play field hockey? She says, No but looks caught out. She says, I played ultimate frisbee and something else and something else. She says she went to Duke and is disparaging it for being small. I say I would have preferred to go to a smaller college, that Michigan was so big you could zing around in it like a rubber band.