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I became a different person

Part 1, I think

I know people who go through changes (some brought on by external forces, some by accident, some by design, some gradual, some that stick, others that do not). The reason I mention this truism is that I wake up, and I’m an entirely different person all together. I get out of bed, all hazy with the morning mind fog, and suddenly things don’t feel right. Everything’s different. I walk to the bathroom, only taking a few short steps from my bed before I realize I’m not in my bedroom. I stop and look around. I don’t recognize the place. It’s a much bigger bedroom than my own⁠—circular with tall windows⁠—floor to ceiling, some covered in light sheer drapes glowing in the glorious low morning sun. The light carpeting is thick and warm, the bed large and round. This is not my bedroom. This is not my house, not even my own world. I’ve never even seen a place like this, not even in the movies.

I look around and find piles of clothing here and there, just strewn about, two curving low dressers on either side of the room, some drawers open with clothes spilling out. There’s a floor to ceiling mirror on the wall that’s really a sliding closet door, half open. I peer in⁠—the closet is huge, deep, and dark. There’s an ornate chair with cream upholstery. The shag carpet and ceiling are cream colored, the mullions on the windows are glittering golden brass. The low dressers are long and elegant, a golden wood that curves to echo the shape of the room. The twist of bedding is a light butterscotch satin with embroidered ornate white flowers. The entire place is stark, but highly refined and very fancy in an elegant mid-century modern way. Slowly I spin, taking it all in. Feels like a Texas kind of mid-century modern. Probably Houston.

A woman pops her head from the blankets and looks around. Hank,” she looks at me with a surprised smile. But Hank is not my name.

This is not my house,” I stand looking around in awe, wondering how I got here.

Aaahhh hhhaaa hhhaaa ha,” she laughs. You’re such a gasser, man.”

Then another woman pops her head from the covers. She looks around, then smiles at me.

Get dressed. We’re gonna be late,” the first yawns.

Do I know you?” I ask the second one.

The second one smiles at this. They both wear beehive hairdos, as if it were the mid 60s and we were down south, Memphis, I’m thinking now. Looks like a Memphis beehive. Could be Nashville. Maybe Houston.

I look myself over, then turn to the mirror. I’m wearing ornate golden satin pajamas with fancy dark golden flowers embroidered all over. I don’t look quite like myself. My hair is all slicked back. I wouldn’t recognize this person if he sat next to me on the bus and asked me annoying questions for a spell.

I look back over to the bed. I don’t know who you are,” I state to the women. I don’t know who I am anymore,” I sigh. Really, I’m not this person,” I point to the mirror.

The women just look at one another and giggle, then they both get out of bed and search the floor for their clothes. They only have on their undergarments.

You said we’ll be late,” I exhale, looking around. Are we expected somewhere?”

Oh stop it now,” one of them shakes her head as she steps into her dress on the floor and pulls it up.

Can you drive?” I ask. I’m feeling kind of lost all of a sudden.”

Part 2, I think

The other woman looks around, finds her clothes, and climbs into a tight cocktail dress.

One is peach colored, the other teal. Very pastel.

I dress in a nice old suit that I find draped over a chair⁠—thin lapels, thin tie, tight cut legs. It feels good. It’s a good suit. A great fit. A good suit always cheers me up, gives me a sense of being together, a sense of purpose, as if something needs to be done that day and I’m all suited up and ready to do it. Yeah, a good suit can make you feel that way if you’re in the right frame of mind.

We walk out and slide into an old 65 Lincoln, a blue so dark it almost looks black. The hydrangeas reflect in the mirror-like shine of the car. One of the gals drives. I sit in the passenger seat. So,” I exhale, Who am I?” I ask, but they just giggle. I’m thinking if I just follow along, maybe things will come to me. Maybe it’s all just an elaborate gag.

Oh, come on now, sweetie,” one of them whispers.

No, really,” I wonder as we pass through a suburban neighborhood that I do not recognize. Everything is overgrown. The houses are long and low, again a mid-century modern style. We pass several old cars from the 60s, as if I’m back in time. Maybe that’s it, maybe I slipped into a time tunnel or something and ended up back here. Heck, that was fine with me. Everyone needs a vacation. Or maybe I was so tired I accidentally drove to the wrong house last night, too tired to notice.

We pull up to a church⁠—a colonial looking number on a crisp, immaculate lawn surrounded by cheery trees blooming with large cotton puffs of flowers. We get out and go inside. Everyone is all dolled up and serious. We sit in back. Should we sit closer?” I whisper as we settle in.

The quiet one shakes her head.

The other one stares ahead and whispers. Oh, no. We’re sinners.”

Oh,” I whisper, still very much confused.

It ends up being a nice service.

Part 3, I think

After church we drive to a diner and eat. I pay. I have a ton of cash in my wallet⁠—more than I have ever had in my life. And crisp, new bills at that. Whoa, daddy,” I whisper as I leaf through my wallet. The quiet one giggles. The other one looks out the window and rolls her eyes. I search the wallet. It is not mine.

Now where to?” I slump in the booth.

You should check in,” the chatty one stares out to the street.

Hoo-kay,” I shrug. I am still confused, but figure it will all come to me eventually, everything will get sorted out. Other than not knowing who or where I am, I actually feel pretty good. You’d think if you woke up in a place you didn’t know, that you’d panic or have some terrible crushing anxiety hit you like a good, hard, stiff punch in the gut or something. But really, it isn’t all that bad. I’m wearing a great suit after all, and it’s a really pretty morning, warm and cool. Really, it isn’t that bad at all.

Part 4, I think

The talky one drives us to a car lot. Lots of old, shiny Lincolns are lined up⁠—streamlined and boxy, from the mid 1960s. Beautiful automobiles. Gleaming. We walk inside the glass showroom. We just stand there. There’s a couple of small shiny sport cars in the showroom and some old metal desks here and there.

Now what?” I look around.

The quiet one giggles again, amused, shaking her head and smirking as if I’m putting her on and she’s enjoying it all.

No, really. I still don’t know who I am. What am I supposed to do here?” I sigh.

Over there, funny man,” the talky one nods to an office.

I walk to an office, stand outside and peer in slowly. There’s just a modern desk there with some papers on it and an old phone, like one of those 1960s phones. I step in slowly. I stand and look out the door and shrug. The talky one raises her arm and shoos me in. I nod and sit behind the desk, then lean to look out the door again. The talky one winks and smiles, then walks off. I think she sits at one of the desks. I think I hear her settle into a chair.

I look around. The papers on the desk are well ordered and in neat and tidy rows and stacks. The phone rings. I answer it. Mr. Timmins for you,” the same gal who drove announces.

OK,” I say. There’s a series of clicking noises.

Hhheeeeeeyyyyyyyy there, sonny boy,” a great, deep voice booms. Top of the mornin’. Ohhh, Betty Lou, how was your night there, sonny?” the great voice chuckles.

Ah, I don’t really remember,” I spin in the office chair to look out the windows behind me (these are also floor to ceiling jobbies).

AAagggggghhhh hhhhaaaaa haaaa,” the voice explodes.

Are you God?” I ask, because the voice sounds like what I figure God would sound like if he called you on the phone.

AAagggggghhhh hhhhaaaaa haaaa,” the voice cries out a great amused cackle. Sock it to me, baby,” it chuckles.

This jocularity is very confusing. Yeah, that’s what she said,” I shrug, looking around, as if I found myself on one of those hidden camera gotcha prank shows and am searching for the camera.

Ooohhhh baby. Ahhhh. You’re my kinda people, sonny,” the laughter dies. So, what of it then?”

I’m trying to find the camera,” I look around, bend to look under the desk, under the chair, open the drawers.

Oh! Oh! So there was a camera now, was there?” the voice booms. Huh?! Whoa, daddy, you sure know how to party. I am definitely gonna be doing business with you, pardner,” the great voice huffs, out of breath from exertion.

Well that’s good to hear. I appreciate that. Perhaps we should get together for golf or something sometime,” I shrug, still confused.

Golf? Is that what you call it now? Ho, that’s a good code word. Why sure, let’s get together for some golf.’ Hole-in-one,’ as it were.”

Yeah. Sweet. Just call my sec and set it all up. I’m good to go bout any ol’ time,” I think it best to play along.

I bet you are, my man, I bet you are…Sure, I’ll give your gal a jingle…and you do the same now, hoo kay? I’ll be keeping an eye on you, buddy.”

Oh, no doubt. That’s what she said.”

AAagggggghhhh hhhhaaaaa haaaa,” the voice explodes and cries out again, I’ll talk atcha later,” and the phone goes silent.

I hang up and look over some papers on the desk. I search the drawers for any clues to my identity. I look in my wallet again, but my driver’s license doesn’t look like me very much at all. I mean, I guess it kind of does, but my hair is all slicked back in it, like the guy in the mirror this morning. I slump back in the chair, slowly spinning in the room. There’s an old pastel car calendar on the wall. I turn and stare out the window.

Part 5, I think

Out the window there’s scraggly trees and unkempt fields. There’s a small pond surrounded by tall weeds and cattails, as if a swamp. To one side there’s a large pole barn structure with a large sliding door on the end. The door is open, but it’s all dark inside. Someone in tan work overalls rolls out a great ball. Looks to be twenty feet high. It’s painted like the planet earth. He rolls the great ball around to the side of the building, disappearing around the corner.

There are fields of low golden grass beyond the pond and scraggly trees, and low nondescript buildings in the distance.

Maybe I’m in heaven. Maybe this is what heaven is like.

Part 6, I think

Later, the gal peeks in the door. Come on. Before we’re late,” she shrugs, adjusting her shoulder.

OK,” I shrug. Can you drive again, cause I still don’t know who or where I am…”

She rolls her eyes and disappears behind the wall.

…Feels like I’ve been displaced in time. Like I don’t belong anywhere,” I continue to no one in particular, just thinking out loud, as if going over the various possibilities will trigger something, some answer for it all.

I get up and walk out. We all get back in the car and drive off. We pass a landscape of old strip commercial establishments⁠—gas stations, dry cleaners, car lots, grocery stores, muffler shops, motels, fast food joints, bowling alleys. All glass and neon under sloping roofs and behind tilted pastel poles. All from the 50s and 60s.

Oooo, a bowling alley,” I sit up. Let’s go bowling.”

Please,” the woman in the back whispers, smoking. So, where to now?” I ask.

Yeah, right,” the driver shakes her head and smiles.

You’re not gonna steal my kidney or anything, are you?” I ask, watching the world pass by, all shiny windows and shiny boxy cars.

Don’t be gross,” the driver whispers.

Whatever would we do with your kidney?” the one in the back looks down to remove another cigarette from her tiny purse in her lap.

Part 7, I think

We pull up to a low, stone-fronted building. Looks like a club of some sort. A bar or lounge. Maybe a supper club. Maybe we’re there to see a show.

Ah, cool,” I gush as we slow under a porte cochere to the front doors, get out, a valet taking the car. A supper club.”

Yeah,” the second gal nods patiently. A supper club.”

I stop outside the front doors, afraid to go in for some reason. This isn’t a prison, is it?” I look back at the gals.

They look at one another. Then the quiet one looks to me. Life is what you make of it, Sweetie,” she shrugs.

So this isn’t a prison?” I plead.

No,” the first woman shakes her head. This isn’t a prison. It’s a club, silly.”

Oh,” I say, feigning relief.

We walk inside. There is a small lobby with a well-dressed attendant who stands behind a podium. The attendant turns, raises his arm and parts a thick velvet curtain. We walk through the curtain. Inside there are booths on several descending terraces down to a stage area full of large amoeba shaped beds covered with large fringy pillows. The place is actually very small, the walls covered in lacy curtains. Again, a circular room. Some other women and men are there, kind of shimmying to some mellow loungey music and drinking. The lighting is dim. I look around. There are large candles everywhere, some on low stands, some on high stands.

Oh, a party,” I turn to my comrades. Happy hour. Of course.”

Someone hands one of the gals cocktails. She turns and hands one to me. Oh, good, some sin juice,” she mumbles to herself, taking a sip to taste it as more people come in, rushing past us down to the big pillows. They begin dancing wildly, one removing her ruffley shirt. Then more people rush past us, all giggling.

Someone walks through the crowd to me. He holds out a book as if I’m to take it, as if I’m expecting it. Though the room is dimly lit, I take the book and look it over. My grinning face is on the cover. But I’m grinning sickly. My eyes are rolling back into my head as if I’m really out of it, really drunk or something. But not only really drunk, it looks as though I’ve been up and partying for days on end. I’m all pasty and sick looking, all washed out, the photo somewhat unfocused, a blur.

Hey, that’s me,” I smile, amused.

Yeah, how bout that,” the man stands before me.

I look terrible,” I gaze upon my picture curiously.

Oh, man, you are a gasser,” the gentleman chuckles and looks around. He’s dressed in a nice, crisp suit, like me. I was wondering if you’d do me the honor of signing it for me. It’d really mean a lot to me,” he nods, looking off, as if uncomfortable to look me in the eye.

What is it?”

Your autobiography, remember?” he nods down to the book.

I turn it over, feel it in my hands. It’s a thick one. I flip through the pages, stopping to look over some of the photos. Mostly wild pictures of me partying. In one I’m at my desk working, but a scantily attired woman is outside washing the windows and I have a funny look on my face. I bring the book up to my face to examine myself in the images. I close the cover, read the title. The script is quite small. It reads: Were you about to call me an asshole? I flip through it again. There is a mug shot on one page, followed by a series of mug shots on the following pages. Mug shots from all different times. But with my face. All me. Yeah, it was definitely me, though my hair was different⁠—slicked back, a pompadour. And in each I was grinning various kinds of knowing smirks⁠—as if I were extolling with glee to the camera that I had in fact not only done whatever it was that they brought me in on, but that I had actually done that and a whole lot more⁠—a whole lot of worse things that I had gotten away with. Yeah, they were unhealthy looks to be sure⁠—no boundaries, no consequences⁠—those smirks of spoiled brats who have no regard for any one else’s feelings. No regard whatsoever.

I look up, look around. There are more women dancing now, many only half dressed. They’re smiling and grinning and thrashing their long hair in wild abandon, really shimmying and giving it their all. The other man notices me looking and turns to watch as well. I look over at him. The look of relief and hope in his eyes is inspiring. It’s as if he’s admiring their freedom, their throwing caution to the wind⁠—as if his suit is a kind of prison, a weight he must wear, as if the life he was raised to live is a kind of prison. Maybe it’s just too many expectations. Maybe he just needs to work fewer hours, get out more. Maybe he just needs a new tailor. Maybe his suit is just too tight. Or maybe his life is just too tight, too constraining.

Am I in heaven?” I ask.

He just smiles. Really,” he mumbles, bobbing his head to the party music.

Another man steps up to stand beside him. He’s wearing tennis whites. Head to toe. He’s holding a cocktail and also nodding to the party music.

I look around. It’s getting to be a wild scene, man. Most of the women are in cocktail dresses. Lots of pastels and big poofy hair. Some of the men are in nice, crisp suits. Very natty. You could cut bread with any of those suits. And I mean paper thin slices. There is a group at a table laughing it up in vintage tweed golf attire. They’re howling like friggin’ hyenas. One of them points to me, slaps the table, throws his head back in ecstasy, throws a fist in the air, then is obscured by a passing party.

The man looks back at me, then down at my so-called book. Thanks for throwing these parties, man. I mean, you don’t even know how badly I need this.”

Yeah. Sure,” I nod in wide-eyed confusion. I don’t have a pen on me,” I hand the book back to him. But see me later and I’ll see what I can do.”

Yeah, sure thing,” he nods, taking the book and stepping aside so I can get by. Oh, hey, thanks, man. Anything you can do. Really,” he looks to me with hope in his eyes.

I smile and shrug as I shuffle through.

So apparently I’m supposed to be here. I mean, seeing that people know me and all. At least I have a job. That must be my house back there. Apparently, based on the photos in the book, I throw wild parties, dress in undergarments best left to women, and chase girls around in great pillow fights. In one photo I’m doing something to someone in a mascot costume, but I can only imagine what it could be. The photo is grainy and blurred. It looks as though I’m wrestling the fuzzy mascot, but also looks like I’m not wearing any clothing. In another photo I’m wallowing in a children’s swimming pool filled with what I assume to be pudding and wrestling two women in bikinis. A rowdy crowd of partiers is standing around cheering us on. There looked to be a ring of people kneeling in front and placing wagers.

I scanned some of the passages. In the book I seem to use some of the most vile profanity you could ever imagine. And I seem to enjoy it all⁠—this strange lecherous creature inside⁠—this spell, this hell-puppy⁠—finally coming out, being released from the cage that is my outer being, me freeing it to run loose upon creation. I seem to be some sort of abomination.

As I descend to the stage, someone grabs my suit coat, just peels it right from me. The crowd is thicker now. I look back, but don’t see who took it. Then I see it fly through the air. Before I can chase after, two women slide my pants down. Someone throws a dress on me. It lands over my head and shoulder. I’m spun around. I stumble, trying not to spill my drink. The room spins.

Later, I find myself leaping about in women’s underwear, prancing around, shimmying low, then high, feeling so light and free and uninhibited, not a care in the world. The attire has changed me⁠—changed my attitude about things, set me free. I feel as if I’m floating. Someone sprays whipped cream all over me. Someone throws pudding on me. I cavort with women I have not previously known. They rub their bodies against mine, smearing the pudding all around. Some jello is introduced. Why not? Seems appropriate. The females seem to really like me, seem to bask in my debauchery, hedonism, and at least several forms of perversion. My energy draws something out of them. They revel in my abandon. It all gets to be kind of exhausting after a while. But for a while there, I danced. I jumped. I leaped about. I wiggled and shimmied⁠—high, then low. Up high, then down low. All the different ways. I skipped about the place. I partied. I carried on. Basically I frolicked is what you might call it. I frolicked in the grand tradition of frolicking. For I was free, truly, thoroughly, completely free, for these people were not laying down any kind of trip on me, no traps to try and make me look bad (and therefore themselves good by extension and contrast), no, they only needed me to be who and what I was, they only needed to draw it out of me, what was already in there waiting. That was all they wanted or needed from me, and that set me free.

Yes indeed, I frolicked. I played the fool. For a moment there, one brief, shining, glorious, radiant moment I was absolutely free. I was genuinely, legitimately free for a moment. Free from it all⁠—from memory, from expectations, from emotions, from thought, from previous arbitrary rules and norms, belief systems, systems of incarceration, from what was taught, from what was handed down. I was free. It was grotesque. It was glorious. It was only those two things.

Part 8, I think

Finally, I find myself lying on the gal who drove me here. My head is on her lap, my legs stretched out on one of the plush beds, entangled in some other gal’s legs. I’m wearing women’s underwear. I don’t know whose. The gal who drove runs her hands through my hair while I watch the others whoop it up. They seem to be having a gay ol’ time of it all, but for me, after a while, it all feels so empty, so lonely, without meaning or substance. I think it isn’t the excess, the acting out, the acting the fool⁠—that’s more of a release, more of an act, a put on, more a way to gain some measure of distance from the troubles of the material world. I think what’s bothering me is that I don’t know anyone here.

Having a good time?” the gal stroking my hair asks.

Em, I’m not sure…Not really,” I ponder.

Why is that, baby? These people like you…They’re grateful. They bail you out.”

I don’t know. Feels so empty somehow. They all feel so distant…I feel alone,” I sigh. I think because I’m not connected to anyone. I don’t know these people. I miss the people I’ve known in the past, my friends. I mean, the Creator made angels so he wouldn’t be alone. He created Eve for Adam. But who did he give to me to be around? Who was ever there for me to hold, to talk to, to serve, to help occupy this void? . . I guess I’m on my own, like always. I guess I just have to find it for myself.”

Oh, baby, don’t be that way. Which one should we take home tonight?” she asks.

I notice someone sitting all alone on a couch, reading a book that I like. He looks like an old friend of mine. He looks exactly like me. Heck, he could’ve been me, and I could’ve been him. He looks like a comforting old friend, even though I don’t know him, never even seen him before. But who knows, maybe I could’ve been friends with him. Maybe if I had more time. Maybe if I knew the right words to say. Maybe if I were smarter. Maybe if I just wanted it more, if I had more ambition, more need for it, more time. Maybe if I were a better person. Or smarter. Smart enough to approach him.

Maybe someday I will know him,” I nod to the person reading the book.

Maybe,” the woman nods.

Maybe in the future I’ll have more time. Maybe when I’m smarter about all that. Maybe someday I’ll learn how. Or maybe we just only see people as we want to see them. Maybe he’s not like me at all. Not in the least. Maybe this is the last of it, that I’ll never see him again after this party.”

Well, I guess,” the gal coos. You never know, after all.”

The party continues unabated, bodies flowing in wild abandonment of what has been previously established.

You know, I saw a picture in that book, that autobiography,” I sigh.

Yeah?”

I was partying like a mad man. Me and a bunch of us.”

Yeah? So?”

Obviously we were at someone’s house. But it wasn’t the house I woke up in…Anyway, in the picture I’m naked, and riding backwards on a cow for some reason.”

Oh, yeah,” she smiles affectionately. I remember that one.”

So whose house were we partying in?”

Yeah,” she nods, staring ahead. Exactly.”

I mean, why didn’t they mind that we had a cow in there?”

Right.”

No. Really,” I plead, wanting to know the answer, needing to know more, wanting to have someone tell me the exact, absolute truth for once. Whose house was that?” I stress, looking for more context to fill in the empty blanks in my mind.

She shrugs casually. Someone who had the bad sense to leave town at the wrong time,” knowing that she isn’t the one who would ever have to clean up after such a mess. Besides, you found the place…Just like always.”

Part 9, I think

Then there’s a commotion. Through the haze of incense, cigarette and cigar smoke, flickering giant candles, dim mood lighting, and who knows what all else, I see some vague outlines in the background. Some police enter the party. A whole gang of them. They have their nightsticks drawn, clutching them close to their chests in anticipation.

Everything stops. The police weave through the crowd and walk up to me.

Alright, Hank,” one of the officers looks around. The party’s over.” He is tall, with red hair and long, pointy sideburns. He has a very suspicious bushy handlebar mustache. He looks around. Unless, well, …you know.”

I sit up. I certainly do not know what he is referring to. Oh, I’m sorry. Would you like to be invited?”

Someone up front releases a muffled guffaw. But he is dropped to his knees with a sharp poke to the gut from a nightstick.

Now, now, that’s not very nice,” someone in the background grumbles. He’s an invited guest. A dignitary. And you don’t go around poking dignitaries in the tummy.”

Well, OK. Hhmmm. Guess this isn’t your crowd then,” I look around. Would you like some money?” I reach around and grab my wallet, holding it in my lap and unfolding it sincerely.

They yank me up and jerk me outside. It is dark by now. The next thing I know I’m in the back of a squad car, going who knows where.

Where are you taking me?” I ask, watching the strip establishments, now all lit up garishly like Christmas trees in hell⁠—all blazing golds, throbbing oranges, screaming reds. The pollution of it all, the vulgarity of it all is crushing.

Shut up,” the driver barks.

You know where you’re goin’. You an’ your whole lousy crew,” the other mutters.

Is this heaven?” I chirp enthusiastically, looking around.

Shut up back there or you’ll fetch the beatin’ of your life,” the driver barks again. This one has a scary crew cut. I bet he thinks it makes him look tough. He looks like he’s never found anything amusing in his entire life.

Say, have you seen that autobiography of mine that’s been floatin’ around?” I chirp innocently. Man, whoo-eeee, that is one wild ride.”

There’s an alley right over here, Hank,” the driver swerves the car. One of many with your name on it.”

Ah, no thanks,” I sigh. Think I’ll sit this one out.”

Not for long you won’t,” the driver whispers to himself, but loud enough for me to hear.

Say, have you ever felt lost?” I ask. I mean, like you don’t know who you are anymore…You find yourself in a strange place…Everyone says you’re something that you’re not…Everyone needs you to be something other than what you are…You don’t know anyone anymore, don’t even recognize yourself.”

Things getting you down lately, Hank?” the other one looks back to me.

I don’t know, man,” I stare ahead. I find that I’ve become . . a different person somehow. One I don’t know. But why? …I don’t recognize anything anymore, don’t feel the same about things . . .”

You sicken me,” the driver grumbles. You an’ your whole corrupt, filthy kind.”

Partied out?” the other asks, looking out at it all, at all the distant flashes of light and color⁠—bright dots that appear for only a moment, then fade. Vague dark shapes change then fade. You don’t seem to have your usual glow of mischief about you.”

I’m thinking,” I look out at it all⁠—at the faint, mysterious lights in the dark oozing sludge of night, mysterious blobs of shadows, mysterious stars so far away in the shining sky. I wonder if I’m desperate…Desperate to recapture a youth that is slowly slipping away.”

I can’t wait to beat some justice into you,” the driver mumbles to himself.

Who am I?” I throw my head back against the seat and look up. What have I become?”

A night in the tank ll sober you up,” the second one mutters. Get some rest. Some perspective…You’ll see things more clearly tomorrow.”

I don’t know, man,” I exhale. But thanks for gettin’ me outta there…I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I got caught up in some weird scene, man,” I huff in realization. Thanks for pullin’ me out, guys, really…I just don’t know where things went wrong,” I sigh, exasperated, exhausted. I hear strange guttural groans beyond, like animal noises, noises of the street at night. Strange lights pass with vague shapes on the streets. You know, when I think about it, it feels like my life hasn’t really amounted to anything. Hasn’t amounted to much at all, really,” I sigh in desperation.

Going through some mid-life thing, eh?” the mellow one in the passenger’s seat sighs, looking to his side. A sudden mid-life crisis hitting you?”

I don’t rightly know,” I whisper. But it sure feels like something’s got a hold of me.”

I know it does,” the nice one whispers to himself.

They stop and drag me into the back of a building. It’s dark now, so I don’t know where I’m going. Turns out it’s the back of the jail. They drag me into a cell and just leave me there.

Part 10, I think

I lay on the cot, looking around. The cell is tiny. It’s dark. There are some vague lumps slumped in some of the other cells. I lie there awhile. Then someone stands from the back of my cell. It’s a large person, a strange mass, a big someone. The mass shuffles over to my cot, looming over me, looking down.

So,” the vague outline exhales. Here we are.” Excuse me, do I know you?” I whisper.

Finally. We meet again,” the large mass wheezes. I can tell it’s smiling, grinning.

How do you know me? I don’t even know who I am,” I whisper, trying to reason with the large person. I am lifted into the air, slammed against the cell bars, the bars digging into me, fists pushing into my chest, forcing air out of me. Before I know it I’m battling this big dude. For some reason I find myself to be an excellent street fighter. I didn’t know I had it in me, for in no time at all, just a flurry of blurry moves, a series of thumping sounds, and the large dude is sprawled out on the cold, hard floor as a limp mass.

Whoa, Hank, that you, man?” a voice whispers in the darkness.

I turn. Someone is sitting up in the cell next to mine.

I don’t know who I am,” I whisper. …They think I’m some Hank guy. Some partier.”

Yeah, man,” the dark figure wheezes. That’s exactly who you are. We know who you are.”

But who am I supposed to be?” I climb back on the cot, kneeling to whisper to the stranger next to me. Who am I supposed to be?”

You know who you are,” the voice whispers. You know what you’re supposed to do.”

No. I don’t,” I shake my head. Honest.”

Hey, check it out,” the voice whispers, then slowly, quietly rises off the cot as if floating. The scene is dark gray and grainy, the air damp and tangy with sweat, regret, frustration, confusion, loss, smoke, and alcohol. The vague outline floats away. I hear it breathing, see it drifting quietly as if a storm cloud. I see it loom over the cot next to him, just waiting there for a moment. Then it jumps high in the air, folding up its knees, dropping down on whoever’s in the bunk next to him like a hunk of granite. An uuffff” noise is forced from whoever the guy lands on. The guy on top then rises and smashes his fist into the mass in the bunk with a hollow thud, then steps back, still watching the mass in the cot. I hear an aauuugghhhh,” moan. Then nothing. The mass just stands there, looking down, breathing hard with a tight fist coiled at his side, waiting for more action, almost hoping the guy gets off the cot and fights back. Then he finally turns and returns to the bunk next to mine, a series of rough iron bars separating us. It feels like the bars are sweating. The entire place is dank and grainy.

Do I know you?” I whisper to the shadow next to me.

Yeah, exactly,” the voice answers.

I look down, exhale, think for a second. I was somewhere else once,” I exhale wearily. And now I’m here…” I look up. How did that happen?”

Yeah…exactly,” the person nods. Tell me about it…Remember that time you stole that chicken truck and let em loose in the library? …Hoo-eee, what a mess…And you began dancing around like a chicken, whirling about…Disrobing…”

I look around, just a collection of gray shapes in a gray darkness, just murky gray outlines in a hazy, gray landscape. I sigh. Am I fighting the devil?” I look down at the mass I have just dispatched to the floor. Is that why I’m here? Was I sent to fight the devil? …Or am I just fighting myself?” I wonder. …Or am I the devil? …Huh? …Am I the devil now? …Is it my turn to be the devil?” I shrug.

Yeah,” the guy next to me nods, whispering. I feel ya, man. Exactly,” he breathes in and out, huffing in the darkness. Man, Hank, you always know the score. You’re so in touch. If there’s anything you ever need, just let me know.”

Thanks,” I nod, thinking. Is the duality of my being finally being revealed? …Or have I trapped myself somehow? Painted myself into a corner?” I wonder. I hear the guy next to me settle back, turning in his bunk away from me, indicating it’s time to go back to sleep. I lean back too. I start thinking of better days⁠—days out in the sun, under a tree in the summer, cool breeze off the river, lying on a picnic blanket, a basket of food in front of me. Sammy’s pizza. Strawberry soda. Moist chocolate cake. The sun twinkling off the water. Soft white clouds hanging in a light blue sky. A nice, friendly girl next to me. Someone trustworthy, who’ll tell the truth. Someone who’ll laugh at my stupid jokes…Someone who’ll stick around…

Part 11, I think

I wake up in a bed somewhere. I can feel the crisp sheets, the warmth of the bed, the soft pillow under my head. Slowly I open my eyes. I see a bright curtain in front of me, the low morning sun glowing behind it. I know I’m not in jail anymore. I can’t remember getting out. I can’t remember driving here or going inside. I don’t know where I am again, but I’m getting used to that feeling. Slowly I rise. I look around. The room is grainy with morning light. I swing my legs around to sit at the edge of the bed. I look down at the old wood floor. The wood is rough planks, not finely finished strips. I stand. No use staying in bed and hiding from whatever all day.

I look around. The room is pretty sparse. I take a few steps, take it all in, see what I’ve been dealt this time. There is an old dresser (a brick holds up one corner where a leg is missing), an old wooden stool (who keeps a stool in a bedroom?), no door on the room (just a wooden door frame without hinges, an old stained sheet on a curtain rod for a door), peeling and stained wallpaper (really old wallpaper), and just a hazy sadness hanging about.

I walk to the middle of the small room. The ceiling seems lower than it should be, stained with various golden water marks. There is an apple crate standing on end next to the bed with a small old lamp on it. The lampshade is stained. The bed is small and low, almost like a child’s bed. There is no bed frame, just the mattress on the floor. This too is not my room. I don’t know this room. It feels like a child’s room. You can feel that in the air, but there are no toys around, nothing on the walls but the fading cartoony cowboys on the wallpaper. I wonder if I’m a child this time.

I spin around and face a mirror that hangs above the small dresser. The dresser is stained and peeling to reveal colors under colors. It has been painted over several times as if to cover over several past indiscretions and disgraces. It looks as though it has been left outside for years, then finally brought back in to get some further use of it, to squeeze more days out of it. The old mirror is one of those hazy ones that could’ve been around forever and is now barely a mirror at all. Inside that haze of mirror I can barely see someone standing there. I do not recognize that person. I lean to study the stranger. He leans in too, both of us asking: who is that guy? Who am I this time? The guy in the mirror has a goatee, sharp pointy mutton chop sideburns, and slicked back hair. Real tough like.

I see a snub-nosed .38 handgun on top of the dresser and a set of brass knuckles and what looks to be a butterfly knife, switchblade, and a blackjack. I turn back to the bed. There’s some old clothes scattered on the floor, and strangely an old Bible⁠—one of those small ones. There’s another handgun on that old wooden stool next to the bed, as if we’re expecting trouble to drop in for a little visit any ol’ time.

Someone stirs from the blankets. She raises her head. It’s the other girl, the second one from the day before, but her hair is different now.

Who am I?” I sigh, How did I get here?”

Yeah, that’s how I feel too,” she coughs.

So you don’t know this place either?” I look around.

Oh, baby, I know it all too well,” she sighs.

Who am I this time?” I hold out my arms.

Yeah,” she looks around, rubs her eyes, sits up. I feel ya, man.”

What am I supposed to do?” I look back to her, spitting my words accusingly, sternly, demanding. Who am I supposed to be?”

Yeah,” she nods sleepily, looking around absentmindedly. Exactly.”

What am I supposed to do?” I whisper to myself, looking around, as if finally realizing that maybe I’m supposed to be the one supplying all the answers. Who am I supposed to be?”

Part 12, I think

Are you a different person now too”? I ask.

No. No,” her eyes close tightly, trying to calm the sudden morning sun, the bright light growing to glow in the room. I’m the same…Always the same.”

So you don’t feel that? That change?”

No change…No change,” she slowly shakes her head, rubbing her mess of hair. Why? What’s wrong with you? Drank too much last night?”

No. It’s like I’m waiting for something to happen. Like I’ve been waiting my whole life. And suddenly I realize it’ll never happen. That this is all there is. This is all there’s ever going to be. There will be no more. Nothing to add. Nothing to happen. Just this.”

Oh,” she exhales.

No, really. Listen. Listen to me.”

I am…I’m listening,” she stretches to look out the little window.

There’s just fragments…That don’t make sense…That’s. . That’s all I have.”

Right…Yeah,” she exhales again, staring out the window.

No, really. I’m serious…Fragments that don’t fit…”

I know.”

I look around, surveying the few contents of the room. Just frayed, random pieces.”

I know,” she folds her legs under her chin and places her head sideways to rest on her knees.

I’m serious,” I whisper to the wall.

I know…I know you are. I’m just saying I agree with you,” she whispers. I mean that I see your point…But maybe everyone sees things differently.”

Part 13, I think

A shadow passes by the window. I reach to pull the curtain aside. The window is already slid open. Outside is that talky gal from the day before. She’s trimming the bushes with a hedge clipper, dressed in old clothes, a bandanna on her head tying her hair up.

Where’d you come from?” I raise my arms, really frustrated now.

Nice to see you too,” she snaps without even looking up. She’s really concentrating on the hedges, really giving it all she’s got.

Who are you people?” I look around in disbelief, exasperated. Who am I? What do you want from me?”

You are who you are,” the one in bed smiles, looking at the window. You are what you do. You do what you do, what you feel like doing. What your gut tells you.”

Who am I today? …Do I even exist anymore?” I slump.

Do you feel alive?” the gal in bed looks at me. ’Cuz I feel exhausted too.”

How should I know? I’ve never felt the need to question my own existence before?” I sigh.

I question things from time to time,” the woman out the window calls. I think I read in a magazine once that it’s probably normal.”

I wonder who I’ll be tomorrow…” I look around. …Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I should just…I don’t know…” I look down at the floor. I can’t figure it out…It’s like I got kicked out of my own life…All I had ever known…Never to return…”

The gal in the bed just watches me in wonder. She sighs. Don’t fret none bout it now, sugar,” she whispers. Life should be guided by love, not fear.”

I’m not who I am anymore. I’m not who I’m supposed to be…”

Lots of people feel that way sometimes…It’s probably perfectly normal.”

I seem to be who other people say I am. I mean, I know it’s good to have various perspectives available…But people only want to see their own perspective, only want you to be what they want you to be…Use you for their own advancement.”

The one out the window moves on. I hear her clipping some hedges further over.

You’re here. You’re alive,” the one in bed gestures. You’re lucky…Who knows what’s going to happen. Anything can happen. And that’s the whole point…”

Maybe it’s good to experience different things, see different things,” I look around. I hear a loud train rumble past maybe half a block away. The mirror rattles. The dresser rattles. The window rattles. I smell oil, as if we’re near a refinery. In the distance several large dogs bark sharply and with grave menace. Then I grow tired of this game. I don’t know what’s going to happen today,” I sigh, confused and weary.

Who does?” the one out the window calls.

I am who I say I am,” I look around. Not who anyone else says I am,” I spit sternly again, demanding.

Aye-Aye, Captain,” the one in bed mocks a lazy salute.

I mean it,” I nod. I look around. What am I, some kind of robot you all assembled?”

Oh, baby, we’re all assembled by other people,” the one in bed leans to look at the floor, looking around for something.

Come on,” the one outside calls. We should get movin’. It ain’t safe here.”

My shoulders slump. I stare at the floor. Then slowly gaze up to the gal in bed. She’s staring at me. What now?” I whisper.

Only say positive things today, OK baby? Only positive,” the one in bed instructs, leaning over and looking for something on the floor. That’s what now.”

Is that the key to it all?” I whisper to myself, searching the floor in wonder.

Only positive,” she repeats, leaning over to look under the bed, then pulling up a cigar box and setting it in her lap, opening the lid and pulling out a big fat ol’ wad of cash.

OK,” I nod, I’ll try,” I hang my head in resignation. …I’ll try…I’ll try…”

Tony Rauch

Website: https://trauch.wordpress.com/

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