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.
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.