I had this dream last night that I was this cockroach fella, and that I was writing a very stern letter to the Kafka estate. What do you think that means? Probably means shit. I woke up and I wasn’t a cockroach. But come to think of it, that look Suzy narrowed at me Saturday at the movie when I copped a feel–I did have some sympathy for the critters. But it couldn’t just be that, could it? In the dream, the one about me being a bug and whatnot, my dead Aunt Esther kept rapping on the door, asking didn’t I need to call in sick to work being as it was four in the p.m. She said something about Uncle Billy eating ants.
And that last part couldn’t possibly have been true. Uncle Billy was a redneck contractor in Georgia. Pushed a guy off a roof once after the second time the guy dared him to eat Sushi. His fair warning came the first time, Let it be.
I called up Suzy but her brother Todd told me she was in the shower. I knew she wasn’t. I heard the bitch talking in the background. I asked Todd what he thought of my cockroach dream.
“Should I have Sue call when she gets out?”
No, I said. Don’t bother. Your sister’s a bona fide cunt. Did she tell you what happened? We’ve been steady for six months, no sex, no groping, and now this.
He said to me, Don’t call here again, don’t go near my sister. I’ll beat the brains out of your ear and (I’m paraphrasing this part; I don’t remember it exactly) when you’re a retard with floaties on your arms and a bicycle helmet I’ll feed you the brains in a soup bowl. It was actually real creative and I wish I could remember the way he put it. I would have recycled it, except the retard bit. Todd was an insensitive kind of guy that way.
I wanted to antagonize the dude but he hung up. Why do people always hang up after they threaten you? Like they have that one good line, receiver’s click the period. One of the rare few things that happen in fiction and real life.
And now what?
Suzy was not my girlfriend.
And frankly, I was starting to feel bad about what I said to her brother. He might save her the tears by not telling her, or worse, he’d tell her, they’d laugh. She’d tell him I had a tiny dick even though she’d never seen it, never asked.
See this was a predicament now, because I felt I should a.) call back, or b.) drive to her house and tell her even though this all ended like shit I’m sorry about being a creep. Then there’s this. a.) Suzy tells Todd where I live, Todd comes by, beats my brains out, or b.) Todd answers the door, beats my brains out, or Todd’s not home, Suzy answers the door, Suzy tells Todd where I live, Todd comes by–-
It’s hard to admit you’re wrong. That being so, I did not do a damn thing. I heard someone say one time it’s our actions that define us, not our words. I think that person’s dead wrong. We are defined by not acting. And the thing is I hate being right about shit.
If you asked me now I couldn’t tell you why I did what I did. My supervisor Mr. Frederick at Beany’s Coffee House had come on too passive aggressive about the length of the line at the register. Goddamn hippies writing on laptops and ping-ponging indie band names, rude as old ladies when they ordered. On the way to lunch this cell phone diva in a Beamer cut me off on 36 then flipped me the bird. I mean, how did she think this whole flip-the-bird thing worked, anyway? They repeated back to me through the drivethru speaker, no onions. Burger had onions. Suzy’s coldness gnawed at my stomach. Could have been any of these things set me off to do this thing I did. But probably not. Kafka wrote things that seemed weird enough to be true, but they weren’t. They were carefully weird, the words. There was a governor on the weirdness. Real life isn’t like that. There’s no obvious causality, characters don’t change.
I remembered last week Suzy had told me Todd was driving up to Tennessee that day and so I scraped change into a payphone and dialed her number. I gave a homeless guy 20 bucks to talk.
“Yeah. Who’s calling?”
He covered the mouthpiece.
Tell her Giles County Sheriff’s Department. Tell her Todd’s dead. Her brother. Car wreck.
The homeless guy gave me a that’s fucked up look and uncovered the mouthpiece.
“Ma’am, it’s the Giles County Sheriff’s Department.” But I heard her crying before this grizzled stranger could finish my crock of shit lie.
Then she really sobbed, It’s Todd, I know it’s Todd, pleading for God to rewind, for Todd not to have had the beers before he left. She wanted her baby fucking brother back and what did she do to deserve this. What? The thing was I heard the words she said but that’s not what I was thinking. I was thinking about dreams, and Kafka stories, and life, and how beautifully distant these things were from each other, like stars, but there they all were in just the one sky.
So I grabbed the phone from this guy and told Suzy, it’s me. Todd’s fine.
She must have been disoriented, thinking what was I doing in Tennessee and on the deputy’s phone.
We all three were sucked into this silence, this moment of pause. Felt like we were each the same person, waiting to speak but unable. Well I may be a creep but sometimes dreams are just dreams and I couldn’t let this define my life, could I?
I was compelled to exhale.
“I paid a stranger to tell you Todd was killed in a crash, to hurt you, because you hurt me, made me feel small.”
But you know what she did next? Nothing. And neither did I. We sat there with the receivers on either end of the nothing between us, and we stayed this way until we were different people. We changed, right there on the phone.
And it made me wonder, how different are the dreams we have awake and the ones that take us in our sleep?
Cockroaches can live for a week without a head. I remembered I had read this. It’s being unable to drink water that causes them to die.
I gave the man another 20, told him to take the phone. What the hell is he supposed to say, he asked.
Nothing, I told him. Nothing. Just listen to what she says, or stay on until she hangs up.
He watched me until I rounded the corner. I went home and I shut my eyes, waited for Todd to get the call, waited to hear the knock that would come when he returned from his trip, and when he came I wouldn’t fight. I’d lie there, his boot raised to stomp, and I’d be still.
The thing was, Todd flipped his Jeep on Interstate 65 in South Vinemont, never even made it into Giles. Isn’t that fucked up?