(for Joe Pulver)
He is awake and walking toward the park. He doesn’t know how long this will take.
On an adjacent street a child is counting marbles, dropping colored globes into a leather pouch. The child counts to nine and stops to marvel at the final treasure, indigo cyclone in the palm of his hand.
In the alley behind the butcher shop the child’s father finds a shoe heel. He stands for a minute with his arms crossed staring at the ground. His wife, five years deceased, would have known what the heel meant and how dear it was and what it cost the woman who lost it. Practical dead wife, she might have also said, “This is common among women, throwing away a broken shoe, nothing to worry your sleep.”
He wakes at three a.m. and walks toward the park. There may be a musical air. There may be a carousel. Children gather to wait their turn.
At another intersection down the street, and he can’t say which one, the lights burn warmly enough but the shape of the road—a zigzag before the path runs north again—makes him dizzy until he reaches the next corner. A keen sense of vertigo seizes him, the revulsion and simultaneous, voluptuous wish to fall. He finds in the zigzag motion a sensation of being pulled or swept sideways. Once in a wind storm he had his feet knocked out from under him, had held tight to a lamp post and watched a rooftop tumble up the hill and bounce over a house. It landed with a squelch of pigs, mud, and manure in the garden.
He wonders if the rooftop, intact yet once free to roam the windblown neighborhood, is still buried in the garden. No one came to claim it. No one volunteered to excavate the site. In some dreams he scuttles down into the pit and sinks until his bare feet touch the shingled surface. In murky water he walks the length of the roof, willing the house to materialize beneath his footsteps.
Nothing you do while sleeping is beyond your will. (This mantra accomplishes what merely knowing cannot. Practice every day for seven minutes and continue.)
He buys a clock and sets it. He notices how meticulously and quietly the gears move in their gold case. This is the sort of object he knows he ought to revere and save but all he can think is how much he wants to throw it away. Throw it the fuck away. He searches for a bus or a train station or a familiar face.
A girl with a toy hoop dashes across the pavement. She stops before a crowd of pedestrians. A woman wearing a long apron over her dress shouts a name and the girl runs faster.
He is headed toward the park. On days like this he follows the custom of neighbors and the nagging instinct in his ribs. Pulling or sweeping, he doesn’t know which.
Three is the number he remembers most precisely; three and three and three times three, or three times three written three times.
Each child received a cure, one with medicine, one with mesmerism, and one with an excess of love. Let the mimed gestures of affection represent love. Let slumber dragging the limbs of a man underground, a man who is unable to sleep suddenly sleeping and falling under, and this is mesmerism. The medicated ones limped home eventually, rueful smiles tilting their lips, apologizing to mothers and siblings for the long, silent absence of their youth.
One is given the needle every morning. Two is sleeping. Three is mad and then dead of syphilis. Two is sleeping. His arms are heavy and he walks heavily, concentrating on not staggering. Three is home beside the fire. Two is sleeping under sedation.
He walks toward the crowd of children in the park. He has so far to go.
Ahead the pavement will zigzag. The stones underfoot are smooth, stolen from the beach and carried to the city in horse-drawn wagons. Workmen kick them aside when they climb from the scaffolding to the ground. Every house is under construction or reconstruction. Every apartment is either expanded or converted to storage.
Come on come on come on come on come on come on come on.
He is afraid he will reach the zigzag and it will enfold him. What if his mantra isn’t enough to ward away—what is this, evil or inclination? (When Mueller sent him home, he didn’t say. He only said the mantra and then he said goodbye.)
“Nothing you do while sleeping is beyond your will. Yet you have a deep intuition, telling you this is nonsense.”
He wakes up with a small scar on his ring finger. He walks toward the park to the noise of strangers, terrible and thrilling, drowning him, dragging him under to the sickening sweet odor of surgery. He floats, in this one, in the direction of the park and the swings, and the screaming in the overlapping shadows between trees.