Quote: I should strangle you. I hate you. Imagine what it would take for me to put my hands around your throat and squeeze and keep squeezing as your face purples and your eyes pop out and your tongue too. Imagine what it would take for me to wring your neck till you flop in my hands, when I lift you up, still holding you by the neck, like a dead chicken. Ah, you say, such violent thoughts! So distasteful!
But we both know I can't do it, not as a matter of morality but as a matter of fact, and not for any jury to decide. Our little talks will never end no matter desperately I wish to murder you. We are, as they say, cut from the same cloth. And it does me good, talking to you. Like a gigantic bowel movement.
Tell me—why do we need so much sleep? If we can't sleep, maybe it means we don't need to. And yet I am exhausted the whole day long. More than that, I sense ground glass in my eyes; my heart scares me by stumbling in my chest; I have a mild urge to vomit. You would think, after enduring a whole day in this wretched condition, dim in the brain, like a brown out, that I would be able to drop right off as soon as I got home. But of course, no. That would make sense. No—it seems the hopeful business of climbing into bed and laying my head on the pillow acts as a powerful stimulant on me. My mind switches on like a spotlight. For hours I writhe in bed like a plague victim. I can't describe to you how angry it makes me. I want to tear myself apart with my own hands. Certainly I must fall asleep at some point during the night, but I never feel it. For me it's an advancement of the clock. And then the wheel turns. The next day I have more glass in my eyes, more heart stumblings, more quasi-retchings.
Once in a while I'll try to steal a few winks at work. (A stupid expression: a few winks.) I reason out my attempts. After all, if I need to will my eyelids apart the whole day long, then all I need is to let them drop and off I'll go. But again—no. I rest my head on my arms and close my eyes. For a fraction of a second I do get that feeling of tipping head first into a pit, the sleeptime falling sensation, but then my body jerks, as though jolted by a live wire, and I am maddeningly alert. And yet when I raise my head from my desk the alertness drains away in an instant, as though pouring from my ears, and I am worse off than before. The abortion has done something to my head, blessing me with, on top of ground glass in the eyes and everything else, an icepick to the brain.
It's like I'm afraid to sleep. No, it's not like I'm afraid to sleep; I am afraid to sleep. I wish I knew what I'm so afraid of. Maybe if I slept more I could figure it out.
Not to change the subject—people always say "not to change the subject" when changing the subject is exactly what they intend to do—but I've been thinking. I've been thinking that I would like to remember something interesting. I would like to tell someone about it and have them nod their head, jealous of me but not wanting to show it, and, at a loss for how to balance their envy with good manners, say, "That's crazy!" Here's what I would like to tell them about, my "crazy" story, though I wouldn't use their overcooked word to describe it. Let's see. . .my story . .I'm in the city, on a lively strip of clubs and bars, festooned with red, green, yellow and purple lights, very bright. I duck into one of the clubs at random. Maybe I'm evading someone I've just spotted on the street, someone I owe money to. That's a nice touch. Inside, the club's owner recognizes me and shakes my hand. The whole staff recognizes me and takes a moment of pause from whatever they are doing—pouring drinks, taking down meal orders, bussing tables—to wave to me. They consider me one of their own, as does the owner, though I belong to neither camp. I am my own camp.
"We could really use your help tonight," the owner says to me. He looks desperate, has the shortened breathing of a desperate man. The club is packed to the walls with an indistinct mob eating and drinking, talking, but a rumble of discontent can be sensed running through them like a crack in the earth.
"I don't know what to do," the owner says. He gestures to the empty stage and the lone microphone glinting in the spotlight. Now it becomes clear to me. Obvious.
"My guy crapped out," the owner says. "I know you weren't supposed to, but do you think. .maybe?"
I hesitate for effect.
"I'll pay you double," he says.
I hesitate again, this time haggling.
"Triple!" he says.
"All right," I say. "As a favor because I like you."
The owner loves me. He breaks apart in thanks for me. Some other stuff happens, not sure what, but next thing is I'm on stage doing my act. Everyone's laughing. They laugh at each other laughing, and when they try to hold back their laughter they laugh even more. I stand in front of the mic; I pull it out and walk around the stage, gesturing, telling jokes. Some of my jokes are nothing but timed pauses. These are tricky—subtle but effective if done right. I can only see the first row of tables in the stagelight haze. But I can hear everyone laughing at all the right times so it doesn't matter if I can see them or not. They are, in fact, irrelevant to my act. Or I should say they have no impact on the substance of my act. They are the nails and I am the hammer. In that sense I guess we are made for each other.
Not sure how the story goes after that. My act is its usual hit. Maybe the owner pays me in a brick of cash, let's say 5,000 dollars. Maybe a beautiful high end hooker sees it and we go to a swank hotel, or maybe the guy I owe money to sees it and tries to rob me, and then I go with the hooker. I don't know. The ending dissipates like a cloud of breath in cold air. In a way the story never ends. At first I see it as a solid line but then it splits and then it frays off into a gray infinity. What a waste.
Oh ho! Look at you. I can see the frustration and hatred filling up your eyes as plainly as a glass filling up with water. You want to grab me by the nose and throw me out the door. Sly dog. You know how hard it is for me to throw myself out. I've grown so passionately fond of my straightjacket, of hugging myself. Not so fond that I wouldn't hug another body if I got the chance—in a good way, not like I would hug your neck with my hands—but we both know to what lengths I will go to keep that from happening.
Remember that girl who kept resting her fine right breast against my arm. Remember how cool I acted, as if I didn't picture second by second its soft contact, its imagined form, its weight and kneadability. It would have been a simple thing to disengage my arm and circle her waist, maybe rest my palm in the small of her back. A reciprocation but more importantly an invitation. A roundup. And yet I told myself to keep cool. I told myself she was a little drunk and might not know what she was doing. And then, I thought, she's a bit old for me, not half bad looking though not half good either. I let her and her breast fall away from my arm like a withered fruit. Stupid, but typical.
I know what you'll say. College educated, smart, good looking. Yeah yeah. You too. You're a turd covered in vanilla frosting. I should say, "Here, honey, have a bite. Don't mind the aftertaste."
You should admire my consistency if not my stubbornness when it comes to lust and flesh, but if you ever do I swear I'll make good on my threat to throttle the life out of you. Don't laugh, I'm serious.
Everyone I have ever known is dead by my hand. Not only that, so is everyone I ever will know. Another way to look at it is to say we're all already dead. Yes, I include myself in there; to claim otherwise would be hypocritical, absurd. Case in point is what happened just the other day. I know you know what I'm talking about. As I was walking down the street a seemingly disembodied voice shouted from the window of a passing car. Never mind what. You know what. At first it scared me and then I got mad, and then I got scared again thinking the car might turn around and run me over. Is that what you call life? Being scared and then angry and then scared again? Is life nothing but sensation? Emotion? I would say no. Emotion kills. I would say the cause of a voice shouting an insult out a car window, and the insultee's reaction, are the root of all wars, all evils in history. You laugh, but I'm deadly serious. If the voice had a gun it might have shot me, and if I had one, well, I probably wouldn't have used it, but I would have wanted to. Stop laughing. You look stupid when you laugh.
Instead of laughing you should say something. Tell me what you think in your own voice, with your own feeling. If I wanted a psychiatrist, by which I mean a patronizing mute, I would have hired one. I don't need to talk about all this; I've done nothing but talk about it; it's all I ever do. I need someone to talk to me, to tell me—something. It's not too much to ask. It's not a problem for everyone else, and yet for me. . .
He gazed across the room over joined fingertips. On the wall in front of him, a clock; on the wall behind, a mirror.
"Well?" he said. "Don't you have anything to say?"
This to an empty chair. He threw up his hands.
He looked at the clock. "Dammit," he said, picking up the remote and turning on the television. It bothered him that he'd forgotten the time and missed the first five minutes of his favorite show. No matter that he'd already seen the episode countless times. It still bothered him.