To my ears, there was the cackle of stilettos and gin; a sidewalk rabble of celebratory women.
Immediately, that segued into something of 1970s New York City, a scene of sweltering bodega tempers and boombox Tito Puente.
I sighed, smothering my ears with another pillow.
I opened my eyes into the black contours of the pillowcase; the whorls of fabric tickling my lashes.
Somewhere, beneath a canopy of white string lights, a midnight ensemble was tuning violins, their chanteuse preparing her vocal chords for a wispy rendition of some old soul suffering standard.
I can’t sleep… The sniveling whine of a child. I hear everything.
There is nothing to even hear… My wife moans, an irritated yank on the bed sheet.
Whatever… Silently, I’m adamant in the existence of this ambient, ever fluctuating soundscape.
Do you think it’s ghosts? There is strident mockery to her question.
Yes, they’re everywhere. Floating, whispering and harassing me…
I woke, the window curtains billowing, my ears attuned to car tires sloshing through street puddles.
Rainwater plopped from the ledges and peaks of the house.
The cat snuffled about on its midnight trek.
My wife, bundled in sheets, was an obdurate mound of snores and grunts.
I was relieved, my senses had regained normalcy, the sprites and pixies responsible for conjuring those auditory phantasms having flitted away.
Alcohol, I thought, The succor of a nice gin and tonic… A spirit to vanquish the spirits.
Outside the bedroom, the house was a membranous, plush darkness…
Jesuschrist why is it so dark.
Above me, wings flapped…
My ankles were submerged in water, toes wiggling into crusty sand, seagulls cackling above me...
I was plunged into an undulating sea, my body buoyant, almost levitating, then abruptly dunked; my mouth gulping seawater…
After floating and flailing in the currents, the roisterous water began to calm, becoming shallow as it receded.
Then, like detritus, I was washed upon a cement floor.
Around me, light bloomed, gaining intensity into some sort of afterlife like radiance.
I squinted, turning away from this strange luminosity as it began to pulsate, the side of my face tender and seared from its fury.
Then, like a dying star, it imploded, vanishing into blackness.
Somewhere, within this void, there was the drip of water; a dismal, metallic plink.
In that nanosecond interval of my eyes blinking, light had returned: rows of flickering fluorescent tubes illuminating a cement floor where a—
What the hell is it?
I stood from the floor, baffled by the gigantic contraption before me, like it was some experimental abomination from the black and white days of the combustion engine.
Its cubed frame sputtered and shuddered as exhaust vents emitted grimy puffs. Glass pipettes, jutting from various areas and angles, pulsed with some sort of filthy liquid, leaving a black, speckled residue as it receded. Diodes flashed, as the red arrows of gauges went frenetic.
On the machine’s front panel, below a series of switches and sweating plastic pipes, a small slot had opened, its shape visible by the orange brilliance of internal, lashing flames.
Soon, a piece of singed paper unspooled from the slot, curling onto the cement floor, the machine’s emissions propelling it towards me.
“Go on, pick it up…”
A man had appeared: Older, slender, a precisely tailored suit; his face, the cheekbones, nose, eyes, lips, everything precisely aligned to the ratios of masculine beauty. His head and face, all shaven, was flecked with the most elegant grey and white stubble.
“Pick it up, sport.” He reiterated, a tinge of irritation in his voice.
I complied, kneeling down onto the floor to retrieve the paper, staring into the man’s completely bare feet.
“Well, aren’t you even remotely inquisitive? This could be your lucky day, bucko.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, still dumbfounded as to the absence of this man’s shoes.
“You fucking schmuck.” The man erupted. “Are you gonna unfurl that piece of paper or what? Bloody hell, do you think my existence is completely devoted to you? Oh, let me interrupt this fuck’s dream just to torment him?”
“What?” I dropped back onto the floor.
The man wrinkled his lips for a whiny, mocking imitation of my voice, “Whhhaaaatttt?” He kneeled in front me, “Look… take your stubby, incompetent fingers and unroll that piece of fucking paper, you got it? I can’t do it for you. I can’t touch it. I can’t impede upon my own universal laws… Got that?”
I nodded, fingers opening the paper.
“Now, is today going to be your lucky day?”
On the paper, there was a series of typewriter-like printed numbers, sets of single and double digits, arranged like that of a lottery ticket.
“Do you recognize those numbers? Concentrate a bit, sport. But don’t give yourself a whittlebittie headache.”
I blinked a few times, allowing my eyes to focus, my brain preparing itself to determine the significance of this code.
The man stood, “Yes? Yes? Anything? I mean—”
My mind was engulfed in a bewildering cascade of imagery…
“Good, I didn’t waste my time after all… Now, do you see it all? Everything your heart and soul ever wanted? All those mistakes you made in the past? And, I mean, past… All those previous, pathetic attempts at life. Do you see them? All of them, my little fuckwit?”
I nodded, crying, convulsing, tears plunging from the edges of cheeks, soaking the piece of paper…
“Do you see her? Her? From long ago?” The man went to his hunches, his smile devious.
I was blubbering, YesYesYes… I could even smell her perfume.
The man swiped the paper from my hand. The hallucinations, the flashbacks, the memories, all of it immediately halted.
He patted my shoulder, “There there, my sweet prince…”
I nodded, sniffling, shaken, shivering with goosebumps.
“Now, here is what you need to do, buddy boy…”
“Whatwhatwhatwhat?” I was pleading, desperate, my chin trembling like a small child on the precipice of tears.
The man held the piece of paper before my eyes and tore it into three sections.
He slapped me. “Shut up, you fucking sally...”
I exhaled, attempting to calm myself.
“Now,” The man extended his hand, the three pieces of paper displayed on his palm, “I need you to do something.”
He smirked, standing, dropping the pieces onto the floor, his feet smearing and scrunching the segments.
After he had completed this ritual, he lifted his leg, extending a foot to my face, where all three pieces were adhered to his dirtied sole.
“Now,” His voice was a fierce whisper, “Kiss. And. Swallow. Each. Fucking. Individual. Segment. Of. Paper.”
I leaned into his foot, lips kissing, tongue peeling the pieces from his skin.
He retracted his foot after I had finished.
“Now, swallow like a good boy.”
I was on a beach, the infinite expanse of the sea before me…
A few feet away, on top of a sand dune, was a toppled adirondack chair, worn of its white paint.
She was sitting on her blue and white striped nautical blanket, her billowy, white sun hat skittering toward the ocean.
“Don’t you want me to get that?” I asked.
She turned, “Evidently the breeze and the ocean are conspiring… So, if they really want it, by all means.” Her blonde hair fluttered, her blue eyes annoyed. “Anyway, it’s getting late.”
“I don’t feel like going to the bonfire tonight…” I yawned.
She stood, stretching her long, slender legs and arms. “I still got it, right?” She turned toward me with a smiling wink.
“I guess I shouldn’t wear this tonight, huh?” She was referring to her slim, white bikini.
“Probably not… I mean, they may think you’re willing to do more than just sing.”
“I hate these midnight concerts…all these vacationing, rich fucking New Yorkers and their private beach house parties.” She leaned down, kissing me. “Okay, I’m going to take a nap.” She walked away, her voice a soft melody.
I smiled, watching some errant scrap of paper whisked into the ocean.