I was separated from him as a baby, before I could remember what he looked, smelled, or sounded like, although not before he’d permanently altered the course of my sleeping and sleepwalking life, and set me up to become the massively wealthy man that I have become.
As a teenager, with my foster family’s permission, I began a research project that I have continued ever since. What I found out was that my father is the black box transmission man, already a celebrity in those days.
That’s the technical term for it. Apparently, rare as the condition is, there are precedents. Mainly in Central Asia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan. Places with a certain kind of cool air and a night sky gagged with stars and cracks of mean, pristine light, all salt and rock crystal.
So there have been other men like him, but never in our time and place.
What it meant was that he was a cannibal of sleep.
He ate or drank up other people’s sleep, as he, and they, slept. Some hand extended into the night from his body wherever it lay, and it crept around the neighborhood touching all the bodies that were there, pulling the sleep straight out of them and balling it up into a fist, leaving them hollow, weak, and wide awake.
In his prime, he would lie in his bed, a big smile on his face, swallowing and sucking his lips. Then he’d wake up glutted, sated, stuffed with sleep, as everyone around him, not only in his house but on the whole block, woke up groggy, sapped, drained, as if they’d sat up all night with their face in their hands, drooling between their fingers and onto their knees.
He never seemed tired, in just the way that a man who’s always eating never seems hungry. I can’t remember what his eyes looked like, but, as I’ve imagined them over the years, they’ve tended to have a certain condescending narrowness, a wrinkle about the edges, maybe something akin to friendliness, but tinged with the knowledge that, whoever he looked at, he could drink up the milk of that person’s sleep as easily as if he or she had chosen to spit it out into a cup.
He could sleep eight hours and wake up with the bloated full sleep stomach of a man who’d slept thirty or forty, or he could sleep just one or two, and still wake up like a man who’d slept eight or nine, with the whole rest of the night before him to savor alone like an exotic dessert.
According to the articles, I’d had a sister too, born six years before me, who died before I was born because of the stress of sleeping, or trying to sleep, in the same house as our father. She may indeed have never slept through an actual complete moment, going rather straight from maddening awakeness into permanent death. His wife, our mother, had tried all manner of screens and sheets and curtains, as if it were some kind of radiation issuing from him, but eventually she’d had to leave, first to another part of the city and finally much further than that.
Whatever it was that made me how I am, able to act in this show in the way that I do, and to profit from it to such an extent, grew directly out of those few months that I spent in the same house with him, the first months that I ever spent anywhere.
In whatever way I am touched, it was he who touched me.
He showed no signs of moving from where he sat at the breakfast table, so, after sitting and staring at noon creeping by, filling our shoulders with dust, I hoisted him up, surprised at how heavy and stiff he was, like a real dead man, and carried the body into the living room, where I placed it on a table that had been cleared and decked out with a white tablecloth, and there were even fresh flowers arranged around the edges.
I took a step back, and it did indeed look like he was lying in state and the organ, from off in its closet, was just about to clear its throat.
I covered him most of the way with a blanket, leaving only his eyes and forehead out, to make sure I’d always recognize him.
I know that the transmissions emanating from where he lies are probably going to burn me, but I’m ready for them. I want to see if they still can.
While I waited, I warmed up the computer. I reread the legend of how he’d been taken to a desert facility when his cannibalism had gone too far, a place where he could sleep with no one around for miles and miles, not even desert birds or drug tribes.
And it was there that he’d started to age. Before that, he’d remained a perennially dough-faced, kind of abstracted, but robust-looking man in his mid-thirties. Now, eaten away by the years that’d caught up with him, here he was back in the city. Maybe he spent all of the intervening time wandering back. Who knows how far out he had been taken.
There was a forum for the greatest metaphysical predators of the twentieth century, and he was right on there, at number three. I was about to refresh the page to look up numbers one and two.
It hit hard, like I’d swallowed something and it was only a matter of time until …
… my bed and pulled the pillow hard over my eyes and ears … was streaming in, needed an orifice like this to stream in through, looking for the little version of me that lived inside the big one, and now here—I am, like a little last fish bone in a giant cauldron of wet, wet sour soup.