In the week after Emily returned home she told John that she had dreamed about him. “You weren’t in the dream but I could feel that you were somehow apart of it,” she said over the phone.
It was five in the morning when John picked up the phone. He had not been able to sleep much that week and when he answered, Emily was surprised by how awake he sounded.
“What are you doing?” Emily had said.
“I’m sorry for waking you up,” she said.
“Not at all, I actually feel quite awake already.”
Emily had dreamed that she was on the roof of her apartment in Chicago. “It had been blown off. The wind tore everything up—the windows, the door frames, the walls, my furniture. I was laying there in my bed while it happened. Then all of a sudden, I sat up and looked at the moon. It felt so close like it was hovering over the edge of the building. The more I stared at it, the more it seemed to move closer while I couldn’t move at all. I don’t think I wanted to.”
“That’s funny,” John said.
“What’s so funny about it?”
“That you would dream of something like this.”
“I suppose so.”
This is the feeling you get when you lose everything John wanted to say, but didn’t.
“Did you sleep okay?”
“It was okay.”
The conversation died for a minute. After telling him about the dream, they didn’t have much else to talk about or wanted to talk about it. To fill the gaps, he said, “I miss you.”
“I miss you too,” she said, “What are you going to do the rest of the day?”
“I don’t know yet. It’s still early. But I’ll try my best to stay busy and be productive.”
“Are you still feeling down?”
“Somewhat. But what can you do about it?”
“I suppose nothing.”
“Just go back to sleep hm?”
John said good night and placed the charger into the phone before setting it back on the window sill.
There had been on wind at all in the past few weeks. The winter this year was cold and silent. While Emily had found it peaceful, John had found it stifling. He had wished it would rain at least, to break up the monotony, even just for a day. But nothing had happened and things stayed calm.
John turned the pillow onto its cool side and turned over so that he was now sleeping with his back facing the wall. He always felt more comfortable sleeping on his right shoulder. Knowing that there was a solid mass behind him made him feel secure. Sleeping with nothing but wide open space behind him made him uneasy. It made his shoulders tense. He put him in a state of constant expectation, as though some apparition, which never came, would appear behind him.
A slender ray of sunlight was forming along the edge of the bed where John lay. He got up and pulled the blinds down and went back to bed. He could never sleep for long when there the room was lit.
John drove out to Denny’s at around noon. It was Sunday and every table was filled. A congregation of church goers were waiting in front of him in the lobby. The were a group of elderly women in long flowing pink, black, and beige dresses. John stood by the window and realized how shabby he appeared next to them. He had not bothered to shower that morning and dandruff dotted the back collar of his wool coat. One of the women, wearing an elegant and understated netted satin hat, noticed John observing them. She looked at him and smiled.
“Happy holidays,” she said.
“Happy holidays too,” John said and smiled back.
He unfolded his arms and put his hands into his jean pockets and tried not to look so tired. He was aware of how he looked when he was in his moods.
“It’s a lovely day isn’t it,” the woman said.
She turned back around and looked outside at the parking lot.
“It is. It’s warm. It feels like winter’s almost going to end already,” John said.
“Oh I know. How wonderful would that be. The cold makes me feel older than I really am,” the woman said.
Seeing the waiter come back into the lobby, she adjusted her hat.
Janice table for five,” the waiter said while grabbing menus from the reception counter.
The group of women stood up and followed him to their table.
“Well, it was nice meeting you,” the woman said.
“It was nice meeting you too. You ladies enjoy your lunch,” John said.
“You too,” the woman said.
John got a seat at the bar counter. He ordered a breakfast slam: two eggs over easy, two pieces of bacon, two pancakes, and a coffee. Between bites, he kept his gaze on the frenzied activity going on in the kitchen. Their movements were a whirl in front of the sizzling flat top. Seeing them work, there was no room for thinking.
It was in the stillness that John’s mind wandered; he had little mental self-control over their direction and knew he would be plagued by doubts and confusion for the rest of his life. Even though he knew this he was at least aware of it but like his reawakening psoriasis, the tricky part was in learning how to live with it. Once that established, things would be fine.
Feeling full he pushed the last few bits of food around his plate. The syrup had drifted into the ketchup in the corner. The punctured egg yolk was with the whipped butter. He thought about Emily in bed with that other man. What did they talk about in their conversations? How many nights had it been? How many drinks had it taken? How was it different than being with him? Which of the nights that she had said to him “goodnight baby” did it happen on?
John had lost. He believed that it was human nature to be driven by lost. Now the idea was playing itself out. It ate him whole. Feeling that he had been a pawn in a game he was not even aware of being in, he felt cheated. He thought of a line from This Side of Paradise; Fitzgerald had called it, “the kind of loss and sorrow that only a woman can inflict upon a man”. But John was not naive, he was well-acquainted with all the things in which he lacked.
Sick of his self-pity and melodrama, John asked the waiter for the check. He told himself to stop whining, it was stupid, and deal with it. He calculated the tip on his cell phone and left it on the counter. Things were tight and he needed to be exact.
The woman from the group of church goers smiled as John left the restaurant. He smiled back. He needed to lighten up.
Many of the shops were closed downtown. John thought he would spent some time at the bookstore. Now that lunch was taken care of, he had the intense desire to read. Even though he told Emily that he would be productive, he did not what he would be productive in.
Any book would do. Before leaving the house that morning, he had tried reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but it only made him feel more uneasy and coming upon the letters from Toru’s wife, John closed the book and slid it back into its place at the bottom of the bookshelf. He wanted light fare, summer reading for winter, but the bookstore was closed. He stood in front of his car parked on the sidewalk and stared at the store sign.
Not knowing where else to go, he walked the handful of blocks to Broadacre Coffee near the capitol. This was a spot of his at one point, on his way home from work. It was quiet and unassuming.
He like riding his bike through the alleyways, where he could pedal fast, avoiding the foot traffic and congested cars during rush hour, on his way there.
Besides himself and a few college students fixed in front of their laptops, the cafe was empty. The barista, in his slick curly hair, black pants, and leather jacket told John that they were out of coffee and he would have to wait for a fresh brew. “No problem at all,” John said.
He took a seat outside and watched the empty post-holiday street. The holiday season had dragged on this year and for a time, he had forgotten how things were like during normal days. The homeless were back in their perches and nooks, huddled up under sleeping bags by the Deloitte Tower and hanging out on the empty seats outside La Bou Cafe. The streets were clean again and as the woman at Denny’s had made apparent, the weather was warming. John took off his wool-coat, swiped the flaky dandruff off the collars, and draped it over the back of his chair. A sweater would be enough for the rest of the day. He leafed through the SN&R and all it’s advertisements for massage and marijuana clinics.
The barista came outside and placed the coffee on the table. He sipped it slowly and flipped through the rest of the newspaper. They were running a story on the cinematic history of the city. From the 1930s into the ’70s, there numerous movie theaters around downtown. The kinds with grand vertical neon signs and features for long forgotten films with fancy cars, now only in museums, dressed up and down the sidewalk.
A homeless man came up the street and walked from person to person in front of the cafe asking for change. John watched him as each person declined or ignored him until it was his turn.
“Excuse me man, do you mind if I borrow a dollar to get something to drink,” the homeless man said.
He crossed his arms and rubbed his shoulders.
John thought it was funny that the homeless man would use “borrow”.
“You know what. Why don’t I buy you something?”
“Thanks brother. I appreciate it,” the homeless man said, looking somewhat surprised.
“No problem. Why don’t you come inside with me?”
“That’s alright. I’ll just wait right here. Thanks man. I appreciate it.”
“Sure. Any cream or sugar?”
“Just black. Thanks man.”
John looked at the homeless man from inside the cafe. He was tall and gaunt, wearing a pair of faded sweat pants and dirty 49ers jacket. He was leaning against the iron fence with his hands in his pockets while staring down the street. The people tried their best to ignore him.
“Thanks so much brother. Happy holidays,” the homeless man said when John came back outside.
“Don’t worry about it. Happy holidays to you too.”
After the homeless man left, a woman at the next table turned towards John. “That was a nice thing you did there,” she said.
“It’s no big deal. The man just wanted something to drink,” John said.
“It’s better than just give them money. I can tell you that. I once offered to buy one of them a burger instead of some money and the guy just spit at my feet. I couldn’t believe it,” the woman said.
“Maybe some money would be been better for him,” John said.
The woman opened her mouth as if to say something but close it quickly and went to her book.
Maybe he could have used the money instead, John thought.
It occurred to him that maybe if he had money, the affair would have never happened. The idea was comforting in its simplicity and he laughed. Out of all the things he had thought about that week, this hadn’t been one of them, but it should have been obvious. John kept laughing. Of course this was it. Of course. And then he stopped. Of course. What else could it have been.