As the novel nears a finished state, most of the time that I spend with it now is in editing and small nit-picking changes. This is fine for something to do at the end of the day, and yet doesn’t really meet the needs that had me writing the novel in the first place. As a result, I’ve been working on several short stories involving characters from the novel. The one that is furthest along involves Mark, and takes place over a long weekend in Ohio, where he’s arrived to spend time with his daughter. The goal was not to create something semi-autobiographical, and yet I would be lying if I said it didn’t borrow a set of near constant emotions from the last two years of my life.
I wake before my alarm. There’s no sense trying to go back to sleep, my heart’s racing as if I’m being chased by a tiger. I thought I had pulled the window shades closed, but a light emanates through a break crack they come together.
I shuffle to the bathroom. Take a leak. And turn and look at myself in the mirror.
What a fucking demon. I’m not hung-over, I’m not strung out, but I might as well be. There are dark circles under my eyes, and my skin looks colorless and loose. I’m worse than coming down, I’m myself.
“Fuck you!” I scream into the mirror.
I swipe my dopp kit from the counter and the contents go flying across the bathroom. Shouting, I grab the edges of the counter, trying to tear it out of its foundation. It doesn’t even budge. The static drives me into an even deeper rage. I throw all of the well-placed hotel amenities onto the ground. But everything is cloth and plastic, and makes a dull thud when it hits ground. Even the glasses are sterile wrapped plastic cups.
I go back out into the room and tear at the sheets on the bed, throwing them into a corner and then straddling the naked mattress, punching it over and over again. I only realize I’m still yelling and cursing when I slow down, and the sound of blood rushing in my ears dies away. I’m sweating, drooling, but I don’t feel any better.
I look around the room. Despite my outburst, it’s condescendingly maintained it’s intent: clean and inoffensively temporary. The amount of people who have lost their minds in places like this must be staggering, and they know it. They consider it in the construction, and bake it into the bill: plastic curtains and tubs, fake wood furniture, mounted television, built in bulbs, with the only real glass being the bathroom mirror. ‘Your Personal Safety’, it could be another line item on my hotel bill, and they’d be right to collect it.
I roll off the bed and onto my feet. My legs maintain me better than I expect, and as I stand up, my mind moving over and past the pain in my lower back from the flight and unfamiliar bed, everything goes blank.
Where am I? I see the stripped bed. Housekeeping must be here. I came back early. No, I’m in my boxers. That’s not right. And slowly, with focused effort the dream returns: the last five minutes, why I’m here, my living nightmare.
I walk to the window and open the drapes. The window itself barely opens, it rolls out perpendicular through a crank at the base, and diagonal wind passes through an additional screen before entering the room. Safety first.
It’s not sunny outside. The sky is almost completely covered by a layer of clouds. The clouds are a glowing, radiating mass, and despite not being able to see the sun, the world seems illuminated. Below me is the hotel cement parking lot, around that a long thin circumference of short green grass, and behind the grass a ravine with overgrowth and adolescent trees. What’s down there? A creek? Why would they have left a strip of wilderness in this cost-effective first ring suburb?
As a child, that ravine would have fascinated me. What exists down there, just beyond sight, waiting to be explored? Even in the absence of extraordinary, I would have filled in the gaps. I’ve made Camelot with less: some ferns, rocks and mostly dead grass (when drought induced water restrictions would take effect). How easy it was to get wrapped up in those things as a kid. Worlds formed in front of me, neither bending towards me nor asking me to amend myself.
My imagination came to me so much more clearly then. How obvious now that the sacrifice of time spent living in this world is other-worldliness. Like my waking life, I have to force myself to manifest any fantasy, and when they do come they feel forced, blurred and laced with suspicion.