Long nights awake in bed, my tired circuitry is sparking with the energy of a jazz band. There is so much to be done in this life, but at 1am there is nowhere to go. Just to sleep. By 6am sunlight is faint, and my eyes are heavy enough to witness unconscious dreams of greatness on the dorm room’s concrete wall. The future on the concrete wall, a vortex of fog and the ghosts of future selves. The projector has been on all along – 8am awake to find myself sleep-screaming in the back of class. In the dream, someone telling me I’d been wrong. And in a few moments when I graduate I’ll be awoken by the screeching of a library desk. 8 hours of class, 6 hours of clearing tables. The kitchen is a cluster-bomb of aluminum line cooks, and the incredulous owner saying I yesterday called to quit my job. From my back on my mattress I had dreamt-up unemployment and I swear the projector had been turned on. The vortex on the wall it swirls; dreams no longer clearly separating from reality. Dizzying clouds of cigarette smoke in the heyday hours of a gentle trip. Today I am the professor of pharmaceuticals. Fog rolls down the basement steps to underground bars where bass-drops come in flavors of neon candy. I’ve been reading more Pynchon lately; Calvin and Hobbes for what might lie awake in the future’s fog. Tomorrow I can be a dentist; I can be a desk clerk. Tomorrow morning I can be quickly falling through the sewer grate, or founding an internet platform. I am going to write novels when I graduate, or I can uncover the next Watergate, or I will be the first to manufacture sheets of graphene. In a few years when I’m well on the road to my dreams, starting my own business and happily getting married, I’ll realize I’m awake in class, and they’re all frozen and watching me. Hope mocks me for being so dead wrong; the concrete wall is a facade, and all of life has passed me by on my back, long days awake in bed on my back. I awake to find myself still asleep in class, and everyone is watching, the vortex on my desk in a puddle of blood, where the pencil has dug a crater into the back of my hand.
Here on the roof day-drinking and we are quiet. The talk was small for the most part, and eventually when the talk began to loop ‘round to politics and the spirit world, we silenced ourselves, and gave ourselves room to think quietly. Up here on the roof day-drinking – Spring is new and Winter is old, and the cold that kept us cramped beneath blankets on the couch has turned into something refreshing and almost virile. The fresh air touches my groin. The sunlight fading near the end of a long afternoon, its grapefruit hues color the air. There is something faintly exciting about this time of day, a vague expectation of having something to do or to enjoy. Of places to go.
From up on my roof I can see the road and how it wraps the planet. Long dusty stretches of highway; rust-eaten gas stations in Michigan. Romance in Venice, let’s take a walk on the pier, and feel the anticipation of eager kissing as the lights in distant Malibu one by one come on. Finding matronly strippers at Brinkley’s in Philly, maybe later tonight around two. I could be in Denver by midday tomorrow. Brick alleys waiting to be explored in Hoboken, histories of unsung drunken melodies pitched into the ivy along Boston’s side streets. I can meet a young woman whose name is Mica and for a night pretend we’re in love. Pretend we’re in love and escape our shadows, we’ll leave them behind 1,000 miles down the road.
There is a black latex suit filled with stuffing beside my bed. Just standing there, really, for long afternoon hours.
Bills are tacked to the walls to keep them from getting lost. They’re difficult to find once the power’s turned off. I admit I have never voted: confusion filing my application to the Selective Service. I tried to drive to Walgreen’s to buy Benadryl for my existential allergies, and spent the day in the driveway listening to NPR. I can’t sleep at night because I get nothing done all day. I can’t do anything during the day because I’m exhausted, nightly staring at a blank ceiling leaves me exhausted. My wife leaves me notes in the freezer each morning, before she leaves for work. She must be suspicious I’ve been hogging her vodka. The notes are to-do lists.
- Keep kid alive
- Pay bills
- Buy health insurance
- Finish school
- Find work
- Don’t quit on me
I let her watch TV all day while I fall in and out of dream-drenched sleep. She stays put – I know she won’t get lost… There is a black latex suit filled with stuffing on the floor, playing dolls with my daughter.
The man is a black latex suit, a featureless creature keeping closets full of dead rats. The rats were allowed to feast on dreams and desires (To prevent these from reappearing through the ends of the rats’ intestinal tracts, the vermin were drowned in bleach). Flies swarm the closet, and this corner of the soul is closed tight.
The black latex suit wore a cap and gown down the graduation aisle.
The black latex suit couldn’t smile at the cake to celebrate anything at all.
The black latex suit finds it hard to speak with the bottom of his throat at the back of his teeth.
The black latex suit has made no mistakes. It understands what is required to fill the plates at the family table.
Strung up on the wall is the black latex doll, for the machinery to use for its pleasure.
We saw ourselves marching down the parkway at dawn, head-long into traffic, carrying signs and beatnik anthologies – at night while the city slumbered we remembered what the next day would bring: Defiance on the turnpike. Sitting on the footbridge drinking bum wine and trying to rap, at night, to pass the time; feet hung over the slab of concrete, toy cars sliding by down the highway beneath and we saw what the morning would bring: Revolt on the outer-belt. We dropped beer bottles into commuter traffic at dawn, would light sticks on fire for the commute home. And it all seemed so spectacular and raw to be spurning the throngs of traffic we said were traveling in the wrong direction; but we knew it was the better guess to assume, though we could never admit it, that there was only so much in us to fight against the friction.
When flesh is water-logged it swells and pushes oils out the pores of taut skin. Greasy, wet with a hint of green –
eat your lunch at the office.
When bones corrode the marrow sours. Rust holes eaten through –
your desires at the ends of their demands.
When time decays it leaves behind the taste of pennies, pine for youth to try again –
you didn’t have to be this way.
There is blackness shattered in the cracks of the small bare-wall room. Puke on the throw rug bought at Target left sitting for three days straight. The wracking of the nerves leaves shuddering on the bed the infant who tried to escape their fate by running for his god damned life, halfway across the continent to a city raw with beggars and transient thieves in the night. There is no woman here; there is no mother. There is nothing here but an empty desk and a waste-basket filled with ashes of a life of peace disregarded – contentment discarded, illusory harmony torn at the seams of the suit jacket and college degree: there are no Bachelor’s here, no dreams of vacations in Caribbean seas or the totalitarian pistons that deliver by degrees, the consumer success your privilege had blessed as something you could accomplish with ease.
Here there is darkness.
Synthetic Chinese amphetamines. Craigslist sex-list swapping fluids through a spectrum of genders, leaving you a hollow waste huddled on the mattress on the floor. Luckily, the internet has movies for free. What were your dreams? What did you sever the cords of the safety-net for? The map laid it all out: degree, career, marriage, a new TV and couch and color splotches to match the walls and you decided to get out. The map was well-defined. Skunked beer mixes with the spunk on your bedsheets. It’s been three days. Cold winter sunlight barely touches the floor and you’ve waned to a pallor of jaundice or piss. The hope that your parents miss you fearfully plunged down the toilet. The strange city, you immigrant; the cafes are filled with echoes and the shadows on the corner see you as the ghost. Weep out the window for the touch of a familiar hand.
Here there is darkness.
On the floor the bundle of books you backpacked ‘cross eight states, left untouched for six whole days. The paragraph you typed still up on the screen (great promise here, you tried to say), minimized behind the scenes of comedic relief that let you freeze, however momentarily, the blackness that rots through the cracks in the wall. You had peace on the map; follow the dotted-line they’ve defined as contentment. But here the darkness is allowed to seep and the oblivion of it crushes you to weep – you fool! There is nothing here past the boundary but the infinity of what you can dream and daily swallow. Fill yourself with the possibilities, you haven’t to be so hollow: These are the constellations of oblivion and they dance beyond the boundaries of their maps.
Jasper Kerkau, founder of Sudden Denouement, interviews SK Nicholas of A Journal For Damned Lovers.
There are rats in our ceiling though I know you didn’t hear them. The house was crowded, it was loud, little house reverberating with the sound of New Year’s tidings. You were speaking to your friend’s parents, the ones who work at a hospital, and my sister was planning her wedding day. Everyone was talking, everyone was watching the countdown on TV, everyone was enjoying the simple normalcy of things. But there was a scratching in the ceiling over the kitchen, a noise that isolated me. I had to focus to hear the little claws. I admit it was easy, to disconnect from the party and hear the silence in my head quickly broken by the scurry of little claws. And maybe the silence has been there a while, is why it was so easy to find – spaces in broken conversations to hone in on, like the air you find inside the cardboard décor of furniture stores. It is all empty air and the silence it was piercing my head. And this is when I first heard the rats, seated in silence at the kitchen table hearing friends go on about fantasy sports and TV shows to ring in the new year and the vacuity of it all suddenly transpired – in me a distant hollow ringing, the fear of floating away in the wake of a cruise that’s already left the bay.
I believe they noticed I was pale and clammy, these people at the kitchen table with me. They regarded me with a safe distance, like a child around whom you carefully choose your words. I was the idiot they looked at and had to repeat exactly what they meant when they said the stock market was a better way to hedge their bets. As if I were the idiot! They couldn’t hear the rats clawing six feet above our heads. The tendons in my chest began to tighten, I was sweating with a pain that could have been the flu or claustrophobia – more rats were filling into the ceiling, the scraping reaching a frantic pitch and no one could hear a god damned thing but their own platitudes and plaints. My eyes were stuck in the middle distance of nowhere, focused compulsively on the silence that surrounded me, filled me – and how quickly it was broken by the clawing in the ceiling! I had to act. Visions of insulation and wires being ripped apart by the clawing horde making nests in my ceiling.
It was the footsteps they heard, paired to the conspicuous vacation from the kitchen chair I’d occupied all night: they knew it had to be me on the roof. Figure, it would be only me they heard through the ceiling. I admit I was stomping trying to find a weak patch in the roof, a way to get through to the rats making nests in my ceiling. I didn’t notice them at first, my audience below, and the sight must have been something to see – the front yard matted with leaves I never raked, garbage bags piled in the drive I never took to the street, and the dozens who gathered in the cold New Years’ drizzle to see me stalking the roof with a flashlight and cleaver. My plan I hadn’t fully thought through. It was you who called up to me first. I waved you away and said go back inside, this was something I could handle. And this must have been the stroke of midnight, because somewhere behind our house fireworks were going off. And I imagine the fireworks put me in silhouette because the light of them was bright enough to hide the shine of my flashlight. I was looking up in the trees over the house, for the rats, because even on the roof I could still only hear the scraping somewhere above me.