(A short story from my first book, LIGHT ONE ON AND POP ONE OPEN)
December. Night—a cold night.
A week before my thirty-third birthday I was nodding off on my couch; fully wrapped in a colorful, mesh blanket. My one and only lamp gleamed a dim yellow from the edge of the windowsill where it sat, barely lighting the room through the vanilla-colored lampshade. Underneath the blanket, my work clothes were still on me; still wreaking and dirty, every button buttoned up all the way, except my shoes. They were off, resting in some corner of my living room after I had flung them off aimlessly as soon as I had walked in. My shoes (wherever they were) were a testament to my day: a hardened layer of crusty mishmash spread over the black laces and in between the ridges of the sole. The sight of them said that I had earned my bellyful of beer and that I had earned the late night tacos too. The very ones that I ate in my truck while parked in an abandoned parking lot while listening to the sound of beat up cars clank up and down the cracked streets.
It was cold and late and I was dead tired. My eyelids started to press down, urging the rest of my body and my entire mind to go with them into the center of a warm feeling that began coating my insides and coiling itself around my bones and rubbed its muzzle deep up against the tissue of my aching muscles. Midnight was barely beginning when my breaths began a slow, rhythmic tide that drew in the smoky air of some burning palo santo that I had lit before wrapping myself from shoulder to ankle. They drew the musky scent into the shores of my lungs and my limbs and the fat that hung off of them drooped more with every inhal-, exhalation.
At midnight, once my mind had put me to sleep, it began to search within its vaults and several corridors for the props; the ingredients; the cast of characters; the makeup and lighting; and the narrative for the meatball-of-a-dream that it would produce for me (and itself) with whatever was at hand. I drifted deeper into sleep as my mind held me down with its soft hands while grasping at the remnants of life we had endured for almost thirty-three years together; then, simultaneously, began rehashing all of the events of earlier-today’s day: the pointless, the meaningless, the mind-blowing, and the mundane; noted them and began to throw them into the mix. It pulled into my fears, then threw in some childhood trauma, a few hyper-drug-induced self-doubting-mirrorings of my sexual orientation. All of that plus family. Always family. Family is the roundest Rolodex, the thickest file, the constant, sought after, never fails, extensive catalogue of material for dreams of the lucid, nightmarish, and false awakening type. It sifted through every color palette and every face we had ever either experienced or imagined, and began to slowly conjure a production that it and I would hardly remember before it was quickly shattered by the crashing dawn of tomorrow.
The laws of physics were decidedly going to be bent in this production. Time would be irrelevant and flux (unanimously so). The ability to fly was once again shelved for the umpteenth time in over two decades. I missed that feeling. Perhaps my mind thought that I didn’t handle it so well the first few times and figured it would save me the embarrassment.
My sense of smell would be marginalized unless it (my mind) could, in some way, think of how to tie it to a childhood fear of mine, given that the context of the narrative permitted it. Sex was out of the question; I would not be so lucky in this night’s dream. The entire dream would be in color, as per usual, and with minimal sound, or conversation for that matter. First person point of view—without narration (besides that of my brain as it watched and commented on its own work (through me)—streamlined in and into itself). And in the end, an abrupt ending that would leave me, as I awoke and shook off the charms of sleep (as a mere spectator steadily loses recollections soon after witnessing an event, no matter how spectacular) with only a dissipating imprint of the dream; with only still shots of dwindling scenery that would be ultimately rendered useless, as their value, or perhaps, symbolism, is eventually lost; like a yolk slipping through the cracks of a freshly laid egg that’s been jarred and rolled out of its nest and fallen on the dirt of a beaten path; I would be unable to tie any sort of meaning that is applicable to my conscious, walking, and waking life.
My mind and body were now ready. As the dream began within my interior, my exterior slowly bellowed the sounds of a well-earned sleep. I snored and smacked my lips while bathed in the dim yellow light emitting from my solitary lamp that washed its sickly hue over the pathetic affections that made up my cold living room: some stacks of papers and notebooks with my dribble in blue and black pen; some dying, potted succulents by the windows; a dusty acoustic guitar; my music collection of records (LPs and 45s); a few dozen books with tattered edges that stood pressed together on the shelves of a cheap, veneer bookshelf that stood behind me; all intermittently teeming with either dust or cobwebs. There was only a white mug full of pens and pencils by my feet, that by this time rested (crossed at the ankles) upon my low-standing coffee table, beside an empty beer can that sat on my crumpled paycheck that served as a coaster.
I let out a preliminary snore and began to enjoy the beginning scenes playing in my head. The colors and the feel, I recognized it instantly within seconds! It was a dream that I’d had not too long ago. My mouth rose and fell a twitched smile at the initial sights of it.
In this dream, I arrive on foot at the very top of a sandy plateau. Far down below, a raging blue ocean expands beyond my entire peripheral vision. The glistening shore lies at the bottom of the sandy hill I’m standing on. The sky is a swirling, blue elixir—the color of mouthwash. And as I begin to walk down toward the ocean, I can see, to my right, a long and high-rising wall constructed entirely of cinder blocks with several men at work on it like burly ants on a candy bar. When I’m about to enter the ocean I notice the most beautiful group of white men and white women frolicking in the ocean water wearing perfect bathing suits. What joy they emit! They’re all happy and unafraid of the ocean, but I’m frightened. They don’t ever seem to notice the giant wall in the ocean, or the men that hang all around it, some walking along teetering scaffolds while others hang at the ends of long thick rope and cables affixed to their belt loops. I get in the ocean up to my chest and wade around with the white people while they pay me no mind. The water is tepid yet choppy.
As I dream in search of secure footing with these white people in this vast ocean, my living room window begins to rattle. An angel jimmies open the window, holds it up and crawls in. Following behind him, another shorter, fatter angel crawls on in as well, huffing and puffing.
“This is the place, Lucius,” said the skinny angel.
“Yeah? Well, it damn well better be, Pete.”
Pete extended his hand to Lucius to help him get to his feet. They suddenly notice me but aren’t the slightest bit impressed.
“So,” said Lucius, “who do we got here?”
“Umm…” said Pete, thinking. “Ah! Eric Cocoletzi.”
“What the fuck is that? Italian?”
“Nah,” said Pete. “They said he’s Mexican. Or Mexican-American. Or I don’t know, whatever!”
“Looks like he’s asleep,” said Lucius. “Or are we too late?”
Pete held two fingers up to my nose, just below my nostrils. I let out a strong, healthy fart.
“Nah,” said Pete. “He ain’t dead.”
“Well then,” said Lucius, “let’s have a looksee.”
The two angels started walking around my living room, looking at all my things. They weren’t impressed at all. The fat one picked up a notebook and started going through it.
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a writer,” he said.
“Yeah?” said Pete, shaking my empty beer can. “Anything good?”
“Bah. He tries to sound the same as that drunken loudmouth we’ve already got up there.”
“That’s the one.”
Lucius spotted a picture of a girl I used to date hanging on my wall. He put the notebook down.
“Hey, look at that there, Pete. This guy’s either got a hot sister we don’t know about or he’s got the gift of gab, judging by the looks of him.”
“Yeah?” said Pete, picking up my crumpled paycheck. “Well, it ain’t money that they’re after. Look at this here paycheck.”
He flashed it to Lucius and they both doubled-over and started laughing out loud together.
“Holy shit, I made more than that during the Great Depression!” gaffed Lucius.
“HAHA!” cried Pete, pointing at Lucius “and it still cost you your fuckin’ life! Hahaha!”
“Hey, fuck you.”
Pete wiped a tear away. Back to the task at hand. “So what else is there?”
“Not much. Looks like he’s a musician,” said Lucius, pointing at my dusty acoustic guitar in the corner.
“No,” said Pete, noticing the dust, “he was a musician.”
Lucius curled his lips. Then he noticed my fridge and started creeping toward it, rubbing his palms together. “Let’s see what he’s got in the fridge.”
“You’re a fat fuck.”
Pete waited in the living room for the sound of the fridge door opening. He heard it and waited for a second before asking, “So what’s he got?”
* * *
The white people are one with the blue ocean; splashing jubilantly; joyfully laughing with every spurt that washed over them, as if it was curing them of any and all sins (present, past, or future). They flung every limb up towards the beaming sun and swirled the chilled ocean water with their wondrous legs. The permanent smiles beaming on each of their glazed faces said (the consensus) that all they know is that they’re in the right; there’s nothing wrong—absolutely nothing; and that there’s plenty of time for all of this and all of that and even for all of that that’s over there; there beyond everything that stands before us. We know we can’t see it, but whatever it is, it means less to us than one solitary drop of this entire ocean disappearing forever.
The sea foam drips and fizzles off their smiling faces; matching the whiteness of their teeth and clear eyes, and every corner of their perfectly formed ears and fatless cheekbones. They can’t stop laughing and smiling and looking and feeling good. And yes, they all know that they will have sex with one another on the beach and it will be amazing. With their perfect naked bodies all stuck together, sucking on different ends; wrapped in one another; heaving flat stomachs and perfectly round asses peppered with clumps of dark wet sand. They don’t notice me at all—not at all—as I walk through their bliss; as I’m stumbling on a path of sharp underwater rocks beneath my feet; the waves pushing off of me from every which way. They laugh and smile and continue to play their games with their impeccable bodies and renaissance faces.
* * *
“Mmmm…he’s got a few brown eggs, some serranos, a stick of butter, some rotting watermelon, mustard, mayo, marinara in a jar, some wilted cilantro, and some strawberries. I think that’s it.”
Lucius walks back into the living room, downing the last beer. “Not anymore, that is.”
“You son of a bitch! You do this every time!”
Lucius polished off the beer, exhaled refreshingly, then set it down on my coffee table, by my feet.
“So what’s the deal with this guy,” said Lucius, licking his lips and wiping his mouth clean, “we taking him with us?”
“No, it’s not like that. We’re supposed to watch over him.”
“Aw, fuck that.”
“‘Aw, fuck that’?” said Pete. “Why didn’t you say that in front of the boss when he sent our asses down here?—balls on you.”
“I’m just saying we’re a good team; our energy could be expedited elsewhere.”
“Could, but it won’t. Boss’s orders.”
“How old is he, anyhow?”
“He’ll be thirty-three in a week.”
“So what are we looking at, another thirty? forty years, tops?”
“Probably less. He’s an alcoholic and a chain-smoker.”
Lucius sat down next to me. He put his thick arm around me and crossed one of his chubby legs over the other. He closed one eye and peered deep into my right ear, closer and closer until he saw something that grossed him out and made him take his arm out from behind me. “All the same and like I said: we should be watching over someone that’s worth a damn, Pete, honestly.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Pete, looking sorry for me as he watched me sleep.
“Hell, I know I am,” said Lucius, spreading his arms wide open, “there’s nothing here. Look at it, Pete. Nothing. Nothing.”
Pete thought about it for a moment, then signaled for Lucius to follow him. They started back toward the window they’d come through.
“What’ll we tell the boss this time?” said Pete, opening the window smoothly then crawling out.
“You let me take care of that,” said Lucius, crawling out as well. “We’re a team. I’ll think of something.”
As soon as both angels had slipped out of the window and into the night, the window lowered itself gracefully and gently locked itself with a simple click.
My mind turned off the sun. In the residual sunlight, my mind began to drain the ocean of all its color. The massive wall was shattered into rubble that tumbled into the increasingly paler ocean, though all the clear water was being quickly sucked into the ocean floor, disappearing like water seeping through a mesh grate. Down the drain. The sands upon the beach were swept up and away into the shrinking sky that was now imploding from the point where the sun had once been, now a black hole. My mind drowned all the white people, though they felt no pain, as they never truly existed. Their lifeless bodies melded with the dwindling sand and became so fine that they blew away in less than an instant. The process of ending my dream was on its way and my mind simply sat back and watched what it had started to devolve. It knows, that in dreams, and when it comes to ending them, it’s best to begin by breaking down the major aspects—typically being the scenery. Firstly, start with the sky, then any major bodies of water (because they can take quite a while to drain), and then disintegrate the land. People are easy—they simply become dust.
My mind waited patiently. It began to pocket all the blues and the greens and the million different shades of brown it had used to create the sands. The rocks that lied on the ocean floor were now exposed as the ocean had completely dried up, and as soon as my mind saw them, they became brittle and then became sand, then black powder that mixed with the drying seafloor. Moments later it was a dark oasis and then nothing.
When I awoke, I stared in awe and wonder at the empty beer bottle by my feet, unable to recollect having ever brought it out from the fridge or even having ever drunk from it once. Everything else was gone forever.