The fear of the dead man in the living room gave way to something vaguer, and more ancient. It brought me all the way back, to those first months, in my bassinet, staring at the bars, losing and regaining the orientation of the room again and again, as the night spread out beyond the scope of my life and I struggled not to float up toward the ceiling.
I can feel it all now. My eyelids are sheets of rubber trying to close over smooth and squeaky glass, unbroken but broken-glass-sharp at the edges. The pillow starts to feel hard, and dry and stale, like a piece of packing foam left over from some antediluvian delivery.
This is the battle, now in full swing. The fear of jumping off across the black, between here and sleeping, where all the rest of it takes place, beyond the fear of falling into the black, because jumping over and falling in are surely the same thing, if only I could remember that, and believe it.
There is nothing to do but fall, but, with him downstairs, even that basic thing, just the necessary gravity, is gone. I hover itching on the surface, and can’t get down to where the TV show and the world of my better life are waiting.
I try to imagine that I have eaten a tremendous meal, full of thick sauces and drippings and gooey chunks of bread and hocks of stewed red meat, and wine so red it’s black, and caramel and banana and brown sugar pudding, and it’s all in my stomach now, pulling me down, inexorably, so tired that I can’t even change out of my clothes or turn out the light, but I am a feather, I’m an insect skimming in scum and sleep is itself asleep and will not stir to admit me.
He holds me hard and fast, stretching me so taut across the surface that laughing children come out with their ice skates and sketch angels on my skin, where it bubbles and sweats.
I can see the faintest glimmering outlines of a TV screen way down on the bottom, like I left it on in a room that I passed through long ago, glimmering now like mica among the pebbles.
They come crashing in downstairs, not even bothering to knock, like there’s no door, or maybe I’ve left it open all this time.
I listen to the sounds of their footsteps and decide that it must be the undertakers. It’s like they’re trying to bury him in the house, like this is the place where he was supposed to be, to keep the city safe from the thing that he is. I pray there’s still time to crawl into his grave before him, and down in there at last escape the day.
But it’s so hard, here in the house with him, stealing sleep like a tick steals blood. I feel him up above me now, hoisting me up, up and out of the hole. Maybe he’s saving me. I try to keep very still and picture the cemetery, the trees hanging overhead, the dirt that’s falling down, the words that go with it, my hands folded across my chest, and the dirt keeps falling and holds me tightly in place, pushing me all the way downwards, toward the center where it shakes and hums with snores and breathing.
I try to huddle in here and silence the thing, but it will not stop climbing out, trailing trash and murky weeds, on that long shambling walk across town.
If I could just, only, hurl myself across … to where it’s all automatic. To where it’s all good.
But you are not dead, I say, and I hear. You have no extremities long enough to reach the bottom. Stop lying around. Go spend what you have inherited, before the searching thing finds you.
He’s calling to me, holding out his hand, he says you can keep all the money, anything you want, just please, please come over here so the show can go on. Even if this has to be the last time.
“Are they here now?” I ask, with a thrill. “To haul me off to my drawer in the hall of fame?”
All those voices down there, that shouting. And the softness and warmth of my bed, the full and good and pungent afternoon light, streaming down over me where I lie like falling leaves, in through the window.
I hear them clattering up the stairs, and I cannot guess how many.
The heat of the lamps and then someone’s right up close upon me, dusting my eyelids with a brush, and I can smell the body’s sweat from where it lies downstairs, and I know that they have brushed his eyelids too.
A hand comes to me through the dark, and I reach into someplace and prepare to give it what it wants, and then I hesitate, and then resume.
We are on some kind of a horrible cusp.
Around the edges I hear footsteps, and the crunching of ice cubes, and the possibility of applause.