Sometimes I wonder if I become another person entirely at night, not me as a sleepwalker but someone else, someone awake, someone whose money is coming to me, through some misunderstanding or pore in the quilting, for which he holds me accountable, someone who may show up at my door one day and demand it, all of it at once or in installments, with interest, or demand something else entirely, something in exchange, some cruel and fearsome tithe.
Or someone who has arranged it just like this, paying me for some undeclared service that, by accepting his payments, I have implicitly agreed to perform. Whenever a knock comes, I imagine that it’s him, and I try to imagine what I’ll do.
These were my thoughts when the knock came.
At first I didn’t get up to answer it. I sat there above my empty bowl, quivering, licking my teeth, looking down at myself from the ceiling, hosting the headache that always comes at the moment when the day begins, as the last remnants of where I’ve been retreat. The pain changes places depending on how I tilt my neck, like a little toy truck lost somewhere between my ears and behind my eyes. The knock was like a marching band beat urging the truck on, across the parade grounds, smoothing down the grass for this afternoon’s big event.
But it went on and on, so finally I left the truck idling as the scene around it dimmed, and went to the door.
There stood a man with a head sparking like a nest of wires all freshly shredded.
He had the attitude of deliveryman and package all in one. He said he was my father, as if I didn’t know that.
I didn’t want to let him in, but then he was in, and so it must have been me that let him. He came to the table and sat down, and then he was sitting there, and then time began to pass with him in the house.
All of these thoughts I’ve been having I may well have had in his presence. I cannot rightly say when the moment of his entrance was. No one can think straight around him.
He was sitting at the breakfast table, his shoes and jacket still on, smelling of soil and sweat, staring out the window, all but catatonic.
A fear comes up in me sometimes in certain moments, where I feel a thing that should be slack going taut, and I start to wonder if the show is running right now, and I better let go of everything, so as not to throw the carefully-scripted scene off its course. I survive according to some delicate give and take, and I struggle to keep it from slipping.
I slouch way down in my seat, trying not to use even the muscles that hold me upright, like lying down under a bear in the woods, hoping it won’t have to go any further today than a few long hours of playing dead.
I look at my father, comatose where he sits, and imitate him in every particular. He has come to teach or remind me how to do this.
Just that morning, before the knock, the magazine had had a full-page article on the recent death of the world-famous black box sleep transmitter one of a kind circus freak phenomenon metaphysical mind fuck man.
It said he’d died in his sleep and been buried right here in town, in a cemetery not far away. It said there were plans to come back with molten lead in a few days, once enough was ready, and seal his grave tight, given the special circumstances that, dear reader, said the article, are surely all too familiar to you.
It said also that the biopic was already in the works, to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, but the actor playing him had asked that his name not be revealed, so as to keep it fresh for opening night.
The man in my kitchen said he’d been trying to sleep when they buried him, and so he’d climbed up out of his grave when the coast was clear, and then, skirting the city, hugging the back places, he arrived here, and here he was, and he was my father, and the rest was up to me. He smirked and said he’d taken down at least five people when they’d tried to move him, but eventually he, like anyone, had been overcome.
It’d happened before, he said, this kind of confusion about death and burial, an occupational hazard in my line of work, but now I’m getting old, and I’m starting not to see the humor where I used to see it, and so here I go skirting around the city, and thanks for letting me in.
He did, I guess, look a lot like me. So much so that, when I saw him, my first reaction was to think it was me at a later date, come back to check in, maybe offer a few tips to take or leave, or finally to collect, and cash out.
Now here we are at the breakfast table, and I’m looking at him, and at the wall behind him, my eyes fully as glazed as his.
I’m not sure what it would take for me to be sure either way about if this man, or any man of about the right age and complexion, is my father.
So this man here, sitting so still, who came to my door and claimed that he wasn’t dead, may indeed be him.