The Opening of a Novel No One Will Publish

by
Daulton Dickey.

1.

You don’t know when it started. Years ago. A decade or so, maybe. You remember waking one morning and staying in bed, unable to get out of bed, unable to move, really, or to think—barely able to think: your thoughts transformed into flowers blooming and wilting in the meaty soil of your brain. And so you stayed in bed and watched television, and when you look back on it later you remember lying in bed for hours, pretty much dead, or at least empty, until Jamaica got home, and yet when you think about it later you try and fail to recall a single thought. You can’t remember thinking anything. The image seared into your brain is one of a machine on standby, a machine designed to interact with other machines. But you’d fallen into disrepair, somehow slipped into a sort of malfunctioning state, and so you lounged, supine, and you watched television, and you didn’t think, and you only got up to use the bathroom.

A machine, a malfunctioning machine—an apt description.

Then you remember Jamaica slinking into the apartment, complaining about work. She switched gears somewhere along the way, somehow segued from work to the restaurant on Sandia Peak, somehow explained how she’d like to eat there again before the trip to Indiana. You noted the switched topics, and it took a second to realize she had switched topics. Reconstructing it proved impossible, so you, abandoning the effort, focused on listening again.

Then you remember jokes. At your expense. About how you were so fucking inert you probably couldn’t peel yourself from the mattress.

—I wish I could stay in bed all day, she’d said. —Especially today. I had a hell of a time getting out of bed this morning.

You remember the mechanisms firing and misfiring: Jamaica spoke and you responded, usually in monosyllables.

—Transporting the sculptures will be fun.

—Yeah.

—I’m nervous … that’s the only thing I’m really nervous about. The bust, the Romanesque one, took longer than like anything else I think I’ve ever worked on. It curdles my stomach, thinking about moving that, about god forbid losing it.

—It should be fine.

—Do you think we should use a crate?

—Maybe.

—I think maybe we should use a crate. It won’t hurt, I think.

And so on.

And you remember waking one night: the room was dark yet hazy; your eyeballs felt liquefied; your insides felt mangled and fried. A dream had pulled you, more like jolted you, from sleep, but you couldn’t—then or later—remember the dream. You do, however, remember feeling nauseated. You remember sweating.

A long forgotten association, or a long ignored switch, clicked in your brain. Like a once-fuzzy picture pulled into focus, things made sense. Your situation made sense. For some reason, waking up that night jarred your brain and you realized you were malfunctioning again. You were being you again. And so you crawled out of bed and grabbed some paper and a pen. You hunched over the kitchen table, chain-smoked, and wrote. You scribbled furiously—page after page after page. You remember filling those pages. You remember writing a sort of horror story, or the soliloquies of a madman: a single paragraph, articulating neuroses and depression, written in the second person, a dissociative technique you’d picked up from a shrink.

Empty and bleak, hollow and faded, wilted and dying—these are the feelings you remember when you recall that night. Of those feelings, none more than emptiness call to you. You were so empty you couldn’t vomit. You tried and failed. Managed to squeeze out maybe an ounce of liquid—and you remember somehow connecting your lack of bile to your emptiness.

And you remember that feeling, that new and unexpected feeling, like dread manifesting itself as cells and replacing the hemoglobin blasting through your veins. Dread or terror, even, or sadness or melancholy, maybe—or all four.

And you remember sitting there, you remember chain-smoking, you remember reading and re-reading what you’d written. They were garbage, those words. They were insane, those pages. Truly the soliloquies of an insane or, at the very least, a disturbed person. Or both. But you read it again, you remember reading it again, and you marveled at it. The prose implied insanity. The Sense of the words implied haunted emotions and states. Reading it froze your lungs, stopped your breath.

And you remember jumping up and throwing a chair across the room. Then you shattered an ashtray, a bowl, a plate. You tossed a lamp to the floor but it didn’t break, and that set off something, caused synapses to misfire, and so you slid to the floor and cried. You cried—a memory you’d love to erase but somehow preserve. Tears wet your face; they slipped into your mouth and burned your tongue. It actually felt as though they burned your tongue.

And you remember feeling empty and dead, like a somnambulist drifting down a darkened corridor with no terminus. Then you remember the light screaming overhead, audibly screaming, and you remember Jamaica rushing into the room, sleepy-eyed. She sounded hoarse. She spoke softly, then she yelled. —What’s wrong? what’s wrong? And you remember how she sat beside you and rubbed your back, how she pleaded with you to calm down, to talk to her just talk to her oh god talk to her. But you couldn’t talk to her because you were crying. You couldn’t stop crying because you were struggling to resist the urge to break things.

Anything.

Everything.

You cried as you struggled to overcome the desire, this desire creeping and strolling inside you, to run outside and assault someone, to hang yourself or slice open your veins. And you remember Jamaica crying—probably because you were crying; and you remember feeling empty.

Empty and in pain.

2.

I sat in a recliner and turned on the television. A cockroach scurried across the bed and up the wall. Outside, someone shouted. A sign flashed; it turned my curtain pink, then black. Pink. Black. Vacant. Blank. Vacant.

On the news the anchors seemed to delight in death and destruction. Commercials, crime and corruption, more commercials, poverty and ignorance—components of reality I didn’t want to confront. So I flipped through the channels and found a cartoon. It was rude, crude, offensive. Dumb enough to shut down my brain. Hopefully.

Kids cursed. A cartoon turd talked. It was funny but I didn’t laugh.

I ruined three sheets of rolling paper trying to roll a joint. The first joint was lopsided. The cherry kept falling off joints two and three. Number four was firm but the center bulged, reminding me of a snake after lunch. I wasn’t in the mood for perfection, so I smoked it while I watched a turd perform a song and dance. Then I reclined in the chair and chased my head as it swam.

Then … But then … The pot soothed my brain, shut it down, and I stared at the television and laughed. I laughed. Like a maniac. Salvador Dali crept into my skull, for some reason, but I couldn’t visualize or latch onto his face, so I grafted his mustache and hair onto a memory of my father—and envisioned him in the womb. Dali claimed to remember life in the womb. He even dedicated a chapter to it in his early autobiography. I’d long dismissed those claims, but now … now they made sense. Why not? Strange things happen. And if his hippocampus had prematurely developed, then weren’t memories of the womb at least possible?

But then anything was possible.

I’d heard it before, that phrase—“anything is possible”—but I’d dismissed it as cliché, devoid of meaning. But now, with marijuana tweaking my neurophysiology, the concept of “possibility,” the notion of twitterheader (2)it differed, I now saw, by degrees—or it at least served as a sort of working definition.

Language was the secret to possibility. If we could distinguish facts and things in the world, then we could at least gauge the—sometimes if only hypothetical—conditions necessary for a concept to slip from the epistemically possible to the ontologically plausible.

In language, an elephant could propel itself into space with enough force to slingshot off the orbits of nearby planets and reach Mars. Such an event was a possibility. But in reality it wasn’t probable. Physics limited elephants. It stuck them to a swath of land on a sphere spinning in the fabric of space.

The language we used to describe such events created a sort of virtual reality, albeit a model relegated to the closed system we called human culture, one in which such an event was at least conceivable—and if, staying in this system, it was conceivable, then it was possible. But just because something was possible didn’t mean it was probable.

Reality separated possibility from probability. Many things were possible; fewer, probable.

Getting up in the morning and going to work was a possibility. But it wasn’t probable. If my current reality sustained itself until morning, then I’d probably call off and lie in bed and maybe get stoned and maybe watch television. Dragging myself to my old house or to the theater, where I volunteered, was a possibility, but, again, not a probability. Getting stoned and maybe drunk and letting loose, getting into a fight or two or picking up a woman and maybe fucking her, getting my brain to shut down, to maybe permanently shut down—these events were possible.

They were probable.

Hopefully.

###

‘Dan.’

‘Hey. I’ve been worried about you. Everything all right?’

‘I don’t feel right. I’m going to take a couple days off.’

‘It must be serious.’

‘You know how it goes.’

‘I do. I didn’t think you did. Is it the flu or … ? I mean you don’t sound stuffy or anything.’

‘It’s everything.’

‘Must be serious if you’re calling off.’

‘I think it is.’

‘Anything I can do for you?’

‘A few days off? Paid?’

‘That shouldn’t be a problem. How many you need?’

‘Let’s start with three. If it’s worse, I’ll let you know, maybe take a couple more. But if it’s better, I’ll just show up.’

‘Get better soon. The Rand contract’s up for renewal. We need you.’

That all you care about?

‘I’ll try.’

Prick.

###

The couple in the next room fought. For three days. Music blared. They screamed and shouted. The music stopped and they slammed doors. They threw fists or feet or knickknacks—who knew what?—at the walls. All day and all night. Sometimes they’d smack the wall behind my bed and the thump would wake me.

I’d shout and punch the wall.

They’d shout back.

Or ignore me.

Now, a thump, a shout, a scream pulled me from sleep. I shouted at them. Another thump, then the music roared. Someone had dialed it to eleven. At least.

Then … more shouting, more screams, more thumps. I tried to drown out the noise by pulling the blanket to my neck and studying the ceiling, and I tried to listen to their argument, but the walls amputated their words, stripped the content but left the tone: angry and malignant, vicious enough to force me out of bed, to abandon any hope of sleep.

I went to the bathroom and picked up a cockroach and squeezed it between my fingers. I took a shower after I flushed its carcass. The couple’s voices jumped up, through the roar of water flowing from the showerhead, up as water slapped the wall, up, and tore into my skull.

They yelled.

They shouted.

They screamed.

The woman had a voice like a siren strung out on endorphins, or amphetamine. She screeched when she screamed and she screamed for several minutes. The man had a gruff voice, but not as loud as his rival’s, and, responding to her calls, he filled the gaps between her rants. Not a second passed in silence.

Not one fucking second.

I finished the shower and dried off and studied my reflection in the mirror. Purple, black, and yellow splotches had transformed my face and torso into a Monet—or possibly a Van Gogh, or maybe even a Francis Bacon. The scabs on my forehead and cheek were crusty. Their edges broke. Clear but slightly bloody fluid drained from the wound.

Although I hadn’t shaved in four days, my stubble could pass for a full beard, which somehow added to the overall impression of a Francis Bacon painting. I rubbed my beard and opened my mouth, Potemkin-style, to gauge the resemblance.

Fuck.

I was a sentient Bacon painting.

Still nude, still opening and closing my jaw, I torched the end of a joint and paced the room. My cock twitched and hung semi-erect. I considered masturbating, but screeches and screams and thumps blasting from the next room knocked those urges out of me. So I paced. I smoked the joint and paced the room. And my mind emptied. It jettisoned all thoughts from my skull, transforming them into wilting flowers.

I finished the joint and lit a cigarette. Thoughts dissipated. I sat on the floor in the lotus position. My breath escaped in gasps. Occasionally, it’d pop. The room dimmed, dimmed, but without going black, without disappearing. The resistance, the quantum battle between ass and floor, threatened to push me away, threatened to fire me into the air. I wanted to move from the floor to the air. I wanted to float. And … But … Then more screeches, more screams, more thump-thump-thumps filled the room, and so I jumped to my feet and put on my pants—but not my underwear.

I opened the door cursing and leaned into the furnace-like haze of mid-afternoon.

A man pounded on the neighboring door.

‘Open it,’ he said. Then, shouting: ‘Open the fucking door or I swear to god I’m going to leave your ass here.’

A response from inside: possibly ‘Good’ or ‘Go.’

The kicked the doorframe.

‘Goddamn it, woman, open the goddamn door.’

He rubbed the back of his head, muttered something about a cunt, or her cunt. He lowered his head, closed his eyes, and said something else. But I couldn’t make it out. Called her a whore, maybe? After a beat, he lifted his head and opened his eyes.

He glared at me.

The impulse to back into my room fluttered into my skull.

‘The fuck’re you looking at?’ he said.

His eyes dimmed. His eyebrows lowered.

‘I’m about to come over there, wipe that look off your face.’

I hadn’t known I was giving him a “look.”

‘You best go inside before you get hurt,’ he said.

I spit on the ground without breaking eye contact—a Bukowski move.

‘Fucking dumb goddamn retard,’ he said. Then he plowed his fist into the door. ‘I got the keys, you dumb bitch. And my wallet. You think I won’t leave your ass here?’

I went inside and closed the door. The room smelled like an ashtray and sweaty feet. I slunk into bed and tried to jerk off, but the rhythm of the screaming and the door-pounding threw my timing, and I couldn’t finish.

 

3.

And then eventually the room becomes malleable. It becomes more than a single thing, more than four walls, a roof, and a floor. You are inside it, hidden safely from the world, but it becomes part of you. You internalize it somehow, and it becomes more than a physical object; it becomes an integral part of your subjective experience, and when you graft something onto your subjective experience, you cannot detach from it—or you can detach from it but the risk of punishment may exceed the reward; and so you develop a symbiotic relationship with it, and you develop something like agoraphobia but not quite agoraphobia because you can leave but you don’t want to, or when you do leave you don’t go far; you stay within a short distance of the hotel, and you don’t stay away for extended periods. This thing, this place, this experience deepens, and you feel comfortable here, and you feel more comfortable lying on the bed or sitting on the floor or in the recliner than in your head. Your conscious and non-conscious states are locked in a duel, in a Clausewitzian struggle for disarmament, and each casts shadows, dims the other, tries to pin the other under cover of darkness, and too many things—indescribable, ambiguous, mysterious things—lurk in those shadows, and so you try to avoid them altogether; and so you get stoned and lie in bed or recline and watch television, and you shower and jerk off and get stoned, and you deprive yourself of sleep; you’re wary of those shadows; not certain of their contents, you stay awake, and you force your eyes open, and you only sleep when your body and mind shut down, when you more or less pass out … passing out decreases the likelihood of dreams or thoughts, decreases the likelihood of spending too much—or any—time in your head, in or near those shadows. And so you sleep. You sleep. Then you get stoned and stare at the television, refining and revising your thoughts until they’re transparent, until they’re thin and empty, until you see them for what they are: language games.

4.

My phone nagged me. It wouldn’t shut up. It hummed and chimed. All day and all night. A message here, a call there. People eager to discover my location. To diagnose my condition.

I listened to voice mail and glossed over messages.

But I didn’t reply to them.

 

Copyright © 2015 Daulton Dickey. All rights reserved.

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