Do you remember the way our shadows collected under the awning as the rain came out of pepto sky? And something like shadow puppetry as we waited for it to stop, boxes tucked under with us but getting wet at the edges? Or what about that night, with Twilight Zone sending gray light into our new place, TV on the ground, but the mattress was there too so it was okay? Or you wanting to christen the bed, the room, all rooms that were now ours, and how I breathed through the panic, yawned through it and said I was tired, maybe tomorrow? Do you remember how I suggested another color for the walls, and the way I stomached your disappointment because that was the color she’d gone with, the woman I was with before you, but I couldn’t tell you that just then? I’m sure you at least remember waking me up that night, telling me I’d been crying in my sleep, and was I okay, would I be okay? I remember being half awake, gathering the blankets under me, and waiting for the pounding to stop in my skull, acrid breath, and wondering if I was breathing underwater–did I ever tell you all that? I keep going back to that sulphur smell in our backyard, the one that wouldn’t wash away no matter how many times I dragged the hose over the lawn, and the way it seemed to have its own ecosystem, the trauma did, and I’d be out watering the lawn at 3 am; I’m sure you remember that? I wrote love letters without the sense of sight, and I hid them where I was sure you’d never find them, scrawled them out backwards so you’d have to hold them up to a mirror just to figure it all out, but I don’t think you ever found any? It’s that time I pulled up one of the floorboards, and I found a pit–withered, too large to be cherry, too small to be avocado, and you smiled a sleepy smile and said we’d turn it into a project before going back to sleep, do you remember that? And then how I spent a week in the attic, brought food and water for the journey and didn’t sleep for five days, and the way I spoke with you through the walls so it seemed like I could be the ghost of our house, and when you cried past the sleep, I tried to wake you with cooing songs? Or the way I floated down through the basement, edging past wires and pipes and nails to get at something like machinery-hum-quiet, and the more I focus on it, the more I realize you can’t see me, can’t really hear me, and I’m stuck here, without you? It’s seeing you come back home, dressed in black, finally putting my pictures away, bagging up my clothes, and wondering: Will you remember me?
I’m living in an apartment in Winston. I get up sleepily, and my roommate wakes up just as late. It seems as though I don’t know who my roommate is, although I do. I decide to go for a walk outside. It’s winter. I look around outside for my coat, expecting that there’s some sort of place where it’s being held. I look all over the place, only to find that I’m already wearing my coat. Someone’s calling me. I answer: It’s Donald Trump. It’s blustering cold outside as we talk, Donald overly friendly as if he needs to prove something to me.
I’m walking to Subway, and when I get there I order three cookies and a small drink. Trump comments on the fact that the small cups are pretty big now. I think about making a tiny hands joke but think better of it. I’m suddenly transported to where Trump is calling me from. He sits as I stand, some foreign dignitary beside him. My gym shoes graze his and I consider punching him in his orange face but think better of it.
Now I’m back outside, walking home. When I get to the door of the apartment, there’s a kid feverishly trying to get inside, yanking on the doorknob. He eventually backs up and I get inside. I don’t let him in.
A fiery blonde is waiting for me when I come inside, doe-eyed as she feels me out. I’m still on the phone with Donald Trump, and he asks what the matter is, why I’m not talking. I ignore him for a moment, taking in this mysterious stranger. She smiles as she slinks closer to me, engaging me in conversation even though I’m still on the phone.
She flirts with me until I have no choice but to hang up on the Donald. She moves up against me, grazing me with her chest mischievously. She turns and walks away, looking back to beckon me on. I follow without a moment’s hesitation. There’s a chair that reclines. I get onto it and she straddles me as I recline it fully.
We kiss passionately and I taste her hot, metal breath. She pushes into me, closer and closer till we’re nearly fused. Close is not close enough. We pause momentarily, look into each other’s eyes as we take in what’s happening between us. I look to my right and there’s my roommate sitting patiently, waiting for us to finish.
The fiery blonde gets off of me, looks around for a moment. Stalling. She makes up an excuse about needing to pee and moves for the door. The door is still being pounded by the little kid, but she opens it anyway: “Jesus, kid, you’re going to break the door down.” She closes the door and the kid resumes his fervent attempt at entry. His slams on the door reverberate throughout the apartment.
The TV is on, and a trailer for a new movie called “Bad Show With His Son” is playing. A kid has stowed away a massive monster in his parents’ attic. The monster’s fat folds are multitudinous, a single horn sprouting from his head, calcified. His eyes are hollow, yet still some warmth comes from them.
The boy’s father enters the attic, bewildered by the beast. He yells at his son for stowing away the creature and leaves. He comes back with a chainsaw and wields it, aiming for the monster’s horn. The beast evades him as the kid shouts at his dad to leave his new friend alone. In the struggle, the father accidentally chops into his son’s neck. The trailer ends by showing off the five horror awards the film has recently won. Black screen. The song goes, “Bad show with his sooon. Baaad show with his sooon.” The dream ends here.
There are no windows in this room, and not a door in sight. The room seems to be well lit, but the source of the light is as much of a mystery as my own name is. The walls are a stark white, a physical manifestation of a tabula rasa. Not a scrap of decoration adorns the room, and it isn’t silent so much as devoid of even the concept of sound. There’s a bitter chill in the air, but I see no vents that may be the bringer of the cold.
I reach for my left hand with my right. It exists and responds to my touch, numb though it is from the cold. My fingers have trouble assuming even the most basic of positions, but at least I have them. I don’t remember my name, but I remember that a human being is supposed to have fingers.
There’s a tickle lingering in the back of my throat, the kind that comes when you’re about to catch a cold. I find myself worrying more about the possibility of getting sick than the fact that I am a man who’s been wiped as clean as the exitless room he finds himself in.
If there are no windows or doors, then I’ll have to try the walls. I press my fingertips against them, and a rippling pain flows through them as I do. The outer layer of skin tears from the digits as I pull them away, the wall trying its hardest to keep them firmly attached. Any fleeting sensation my fingers had escapes as I blow hot air on them as forcefully as the wolf did in that old childhood story.
There’s something. People are supposed to have fingers, and there’s a story about a wolf from my childhood. What else can I recall?
I can’t specify why, but it feels incredibly important that I remember who and where I am. And the importance goes just beyond basic, yearning curiosity. A feeling pervades me, more powerful than the chill of the cold, and it tells me that I will die here if I do not remember.
I look down at my fingers then, and see that they’ve already turned black–victims of a frostbite that takes effect in seconds, it seems. Blowing on them won’t help anymore, but something tells me that’ll be the least of my problems. For a man with no identity, intuition is perhaps the most important tool I have.
I reach in my pockets with my blackened fingers, my movements stiff and awkward as my nerves refuse to send signals of touch from my dead digits back to my brain. As I root around my pockets for a wallet and any sign of identification along with it, a rivulet of blood trickles down my nose’s tip and drizzles the white floor beneath me.
I hurry to stem the flow, the red now mingling with the black of my fingers and the white of the floor. There is no gray here.
My head throbs with a sudden pain that distends my vision, a pang that is so strong it bypasses the usual feeling of nausea that accompanies such pain and jumps straight to threatening unconsciousness. I fight through this threat with deep, labored breaths, willing a piece of myself to return to me with each one. My body aches in more places than it doesn’t now, and the pain is blinding, but I must fight through it. I must remember who I am.
The pockets are useless; they’re as empty as the room is. I should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy.
A tone rips through the air, blaring as it threatens to pierce my eardrums. It’s a steady tone that refuses to waver, and I know that I’ve heard it before. I just don’t know where. It doesn’t let up as I raise my frostbitten hands to my head; plug my ears with fingers I can’t feel. I move to the room’s edge to escape the sound, but the attempt is ineffectual. The sound seems to come from within and not without.
The blood still flows freely from my nose as it pools between my feet, the flow even stronger now that my fingers no longer plug it up. I walk back to the room’s center, and my feet slip as they do, as if on ice. Before I can crash into the wall, though, I steady my steps.
Even the flow of blood from my nose seems to stop for a moment as something returns to me. Ice. Crash. And the tone, too, blaring as it is. It’s the horn of a car. My car.
The walls fall away from the room, and as they do the chill which had until then been somewhat abated comes full force and attacks my skin with its icy fingers. I am standing beside myself, in an icy ditch as my car’s right front tire spins lazily. The body inside is mine; I recognize its face even though that white-walled room afforded me no reflection. I’ve been in an accident. I am hurt and I need help. But first I need to return to myself.
I fight through the nose’s trickle; through the dull ache of my fingers, hands, and wrists; through the pang of striating pain that wraps my body up in a convulsive blanket. I walk beyond the metal frame of the car and into the human frame of myself.
I cannot move. That’s what my body tells me, but I won’t hear it. I move my fingers to my pocket, and find something other than emptiness. My phone is there. I dial the number, I report the incident, and then I collapse once more onto the steering wheel. But just before I’m lulled into that sweet temptation of sleep, another familiar sound reaches my ears. Sirens.