He phoned in sick, having woken up vibrating. They had to pull him out from under a big pile of sweat.
On the news, reports of a national reality shortage. Also they read out a list of recently deceased dogs (they don’t normally do that). He had been reading a book that convinced him it might be possible for him, a human, to fly – that wasn’t what the book was about, but reading between the lines, he understood how it might be possible.
All day he suffered from moments in which perspective seemed to zoom out and he became aware of his nonsensical position in the world, in the universe, in time – and not just his, but that of everyone and everything else. In those frequent moments, he felt like he was going to fall and never stop falling, so he carefully made his way down to the ground and hugged it. He came to believe he could feel the earth’s bones moving, shifting to respond to his touch.
Late afternoon, they sent out an engineer to try and set him right.
“Get serious,” the engineer told him.
He wrote this on a piece of paper and stuck it to the wall so he might remember how serious he ought to be.
I woke from a dream and found a big wasp and a big spider duking it out on the ceiling above my bed. Then I woke from that dream and found I had overslept, the sky outside looked mad, storms thrashing around and heavenly sunshine all at once. I was late for rehearsals.
This was the first play I had been in – it was about a magician who set out to perform a long trick in which she gave birth to a rabbit. I played her flatmate, a character who didn’t really have anything to do with anything. The gimmick was that each time I appeared I was brushing my teeth, which meant all my lines were pretty much incomprehensible – the joke was that I would stumble in, gesticulate wildly and storm off again, frustrated at not being understood. The toothbrush was an electric one and I struggled to hear the other actors over its buzz, meaning I often delivered my ‘lines’ at the wrong time, which the director thought was great anyway. It added to the chaos. I was drunk for most of the performances, most of the rehearsals, dribbling toothpaste all over the place. I had a variety of costumes so that each time I appeared I was dressed differently – once in a tux, then in a wetsuit, at one point dressed as a vicar. As if my character were actually lots of characters. I never worked out what the play was about – I didn’t read the full script or see the other scenes performed. All I knew was that at the end, the magician gave birth to a small child wearing a bunny costume. Later, trying to explain the play and my role in it, I came up with a theory there was a secret plot twist that ‘Toothbrushing Dude’ was actually the father of the magician’s rabbit child.
By then, I was more settled – at nights I went to sleep, dreamt lightly, got up on time, got the children ready for school, dressed sensibly, went to work, produced. Yes, I’ve got the hang of this now, I’ve got this thing tamed.
One morning I decided to have a scratch around right at the back of my cupboard. Usually I opened the door a crack and shoved things in. After all these years it was pretty full, so anything new had to be really crammed in there. The pressure of my pushing new things in at the front of the cupboard squashed the old things at the back of the cupboard and they became broken down and smushed together, compacted into one indistinguishable mass. Until this morning when, feeling – maybe lost, maybe a little unhinged, certainly uncertain, certainly scared – a little bored, I decided to start excavating.
I was a big fan of cupboards. A cupboard was life. A cupboard was independence. A cupboard was a status symbol. A cupboard was somewhere to put things. In a land of inanimate objects, I was a living breathing animal thing and every day I wandered around, picking things up, putting things down, thinking.
Right at the back of the cupboard, in amongst some old letters that had been broken down by time and weight until they became indecipherable, a pulpy mess of paper and ink… I found a basketball, shrunken like an old tangerine. It was the size of a thumbnail.
But I remembered playing with that basketball, eras ago when it was all different.
On a Saturday afternoon, a friend and I would shoot hoops in his back yard. Neither of us were good at basketball, nor did we want to be, and we threw the ball listlessly – it was something to do as we talked about the tv we were watching, the books we wanted to read, pop music.
For about 20 minutes that tiny desiccated basketball transported me back in time, but I needed more so I put on my shoes and coat and left the building, mooching through town until I got to my friend’s old house – actually it had been his parents’ house because back then we were only kids. The house was still there, but in the back yard a block of flats had been built.
That back yard had only been, what, maybe ten foot by ten foot? Can’t have been much more than that. There was enough room for us to stand at the back door of the house and throw the ball at the hoop attached to the wall. I’m not saying there’s anything unusual about building a block of flats in such a small space but it threw me when I saw it. I just never expect the world to make changes, even after all these years.
I closed my eyes, brought my hands to my head and squeezed gently – the pressure on my skull felt good, comforting.
I opened my eyes again and looked up at the block of flats. It was quite tall. Wow, I thought. I wonder how many cupboards are in that thing.