When he awoke the bulb was faint. He reminded himself he was still dreaming. He pinpricked himself to remind himself. It was she who had brought him here. She had beckoned him once with the thought of the bulb and now the chains were strict, tightening, a knot in his stomach, invisible cords made out of links. Everything was a link. She had first looked at him when the applause of the audience opened up in a roar of echo.
He had arrived at the auditorium from an ancient library that no longer exists. The library had a card catalogue, a device now futile in the age of convenient processors, sensors, and digital directories. The data was what caused him to get out of there. Everything he knew was about to change because he would make it change. He would grow old. He needed to seek out a way to change, a way to jump forward in time, and so he left. People are always coming and going, was what his mother reminded him. They are always coming and going, so why not become one of them? If you stay in one place you will grow afraid, lonely, and your heart will weaken.
The visit to the library had happened with a decision. It was a decision made under the influence of a moderate cup of coffee in a moderate café uptown, somewhere, any block, it didn’t matter. There were enough people marking their specific locations and he didn’t need to be one of them. It was an essence that existed in the larger ideas that was most curious, and ultimately held the strongest importance. His will was dictated and wholesomely defined through layers of dreams. He thought about the archaic though classic image of the light bulb stretching off its light into the distance. When a light bulb goes on, new visions are granted. He never owned a map, but he did have a knack for taste, and after the first few cups, he learned to swish the coffee in his mouth before swallowing it. The bitter was simply a prelude into the layers of warmth, and it was all chiseled, like on a stone monument in some exotic, decaying land that he would never be able to reach. Unless he shut his eyes.
He opened his eyes and stared into the crevice between the two buildings. These are ancient giants, he told himself. His mother had taken him to this place once. She was the photographer he always attempted to mimic in his everyday visions. Too poor to hold a camera, he instead made his life personal, and filled it with journeys. The alleyways became second nature to him after several years. He once met a man at a bar that told him about education and how all it teaches you is that some people have power, others don’t, and every problem is stemmed not from the existence of that power but the awareness of it. After meeting the man at the bar, he walked to that first alleyway, shut his eyes, and had nightmares that lasted hours. The monologues being transferred into him were frightening; the language was indecipherable. Where was he? What was real anymore? Had his mother died so soon? Was time really that finite?
One of his favorite memories was of a sunset over the City. The City could have been any city, any urban center, in the world, if you stopped looking at the terrain and started looking at the silhouettes of the buildings. Pay attention only to this, and the contrast with the sky, and pay attention only to the layers of comparison, and you could have a universal beauty. He didn’t know what to make of these thoughts as he slowly unfurled them, uttered them silently, and made motions with his eyes to identify each element. Despite his analyses, he always found solace in the body of water that dissected different bodies of land. This is what it means to exist, he told himself while watching the sun’s prolapse of animation. Everything is involved with difference and combination.
Before he left to go to the perch where he would watch the sun and the clouds and the water, he paid attention, for a moment at least, to the communication device that was at the beginning of the entryways that led up into his building, where he and many others he knew lived, called home. He wondered about speech and he wondered if anyone would answer if he simply pressed into the machine and started speaking. He had always had a key. His life had been perfect. He had never lost the key and therefore was never stunted by the ideas of entry and permission and exclusive space. Perhaps this was why he always felt the action to leave and seek broader space a need rather than a routine or imaginative activity.
They had spent the previous evening creating giant lanterns that represented rockets. He remembered that before the process of creation began, they each told themselves that they wanted to make something and make it beautiful but make it different. There had recently been a shuttle or two sent into space via rocket technology and so all the young people who were preparing the party and the space had decided that they wanted to recognize their specific point in time, in history, by making an homage, or at least reflection, of the larger events going on around them. They chose to make rockets. They wanted to make a statement on appearance, wanted to actively pursue a fun, interesting, neat alternative to the cold metal of the rockets they saw on the screens, on the televisions, dominating their idea of what a rocket could be. One little girl said to the group, and she must have been not much older than eight years old, that rockets were ugly. She wanted these rockets to be pretty. And after hearing this, that’s exactly what they chose to agree with, believe in. They proceeded to make the rockets and it took about three hours with all those hands working steadily.
What does this remind me of? he thought as he looked at the rockets dangling from the ceiling? On the boulevard one evening when he was very young his mother made him pay attention to the lights that were wrapped up in the trees. It was like the trees were wearing clothing, donning bright, beautiful garments for the entire world to see. He was so young but his mind registered that the trees were certainly being beautiful for themselves and not for anyone else. The trees had to deal with being in one place at all times so they might as well make the best of it. It was a cold season and so the lack of leaves made the trees look like skeletons. Are the trees dead? he asked his mother. No, dear, they are far from dead, she said, and smiled, but never took a picture of the trees. It was up to his memory to keep the record of this influential day.
When he was a young teenager he grew a love for exploration. He always read books about young kids his age traveling to magical places and fighting magical beasts or meeting marvelous people. Despite the variety of the people that lived near him, with him, around him, he never really considered any of them as special as the characters in the books he read. He dreamed of a drive to the woods where he was let loose and where he could make amazing discoveries like all of his heroes. But that trip, that day, never came, and he knew this, got desperate, and started making the most out of where he was. In the City, he learned that mechanics of the windows, the fire escapes, the feeling of crude metal on his feet. He knew the rooftops and the fire exits. He knew the backdoors and the secret passageways. He forgot the meaning of “bad smells.” And inevitably he found himself in Lima Cave, a small courtyard in between three apartment complexes. It was there he learned that other people like him needed havens and safe zones to keep their secret imaginations from spinning out of control.
I haven’t been traveling enough, the man thought to himself. It had been work for the past four weeks. He had been thinking a lot about his childhood. He had been watching documentary after documentary on New York and America and Corporate Uprising. He knew little of the language but pressed on, curious, flying after his addiction like it was all there was left to keep him from losing his mind in the daily struggle. He found a chair on a rooftop that he never knew existed, only three blocks away from his small apartment. It was dark when he got there and when he fell asleep he had no dreams and when he awoke he saw before him an ocean overfilled and yet empty and yet there was a single symbol waiting, like a predator, or a survivor.
His job consisted of repair and maintenance. It was an outfit contracted to local theatre companies to provide very basic, mediocre, but at the least artistic assistance for some of the most sacred in the City. After he was done his shift, and had put his tools away, he always stared at the mannequins like they were fallen angels, or undead beasts, waiting for the chance to strike him. He spent many minutes each night, before returning home, looking at the poses, imagining real people, and imagining the differences between the models and the living beings. Are we so different from these single-posed objects? Are we so different from that which we create in our image?
When he got home he would often be thirsty as he usually walked and it was a long walk, usually an hour long. Or two, depending on how much he tried to make sense of. He lived with no one. He always filled his glass to the top. He drank tap water because he found the taste dreamy and metallic and artificial and filled with purpose. His father had taught him to always recycle and reuse. He never threw away anything, unless the remains would bring him harm, and so his glasses had never been purchased as glasses but as jars filled with jams, jellies, preserves, or pickled vegetables. He enjoyed staring at these artifacts, which appeared to him as such because they looked crystalline when filled with such a simple, endless supply of that clear liquid. The light was usually natural, at least in the summer, when he had gotten in the habit of going to sleep with the sunset and waking up with dawn. Everything felt like a ritual to him, though he didn’t know the word ritual very well and he wouldn’t be able to tell you what he meant by it if you asked him.
Things must be very basic if you are always struggling. He heard the commentator on the television. Things must be very basic if you are always struggling. He took his binoculars, a device he bought at a thrift store for two dollars, many years ago, when he was a child, when he was exploring, and he brought them to the window. After lifting the binoculars to his face he stared out and the corner store was there, as always. When he was a child he imagined binoculars having magical powers to see magical things. Some television programs had given him the idea. But what he had in his hands now only offered him the chance to see things up close. And this was fine enough. He enjoyed watching the street from his apartment. He was only on the fourth floor so it was not very difficult. He had a good impression of what was going on. He never made a choice to live with anyone else and so he found his outward look a great way at being welcomed in by the world. He liked to stare at the Milk sign, which hadn’t changed in many years. He remembered when they painted it on. He remembered trying to keep track of the amount of milk purchases every evening, but he noticed no real change. The commentator continued: If things are so complex, how is it that all struggling looks the same in the end?
One time his mother quoted some movie. His mother was getting old and dying and was extremely worried about him because she knew he had struggled to find a person to love. If you don’t find time to love, the world will pass by and then it will be gone. Loving another person is the only way to make your life be as full as it possible can be. Did he believe this? One time at the park he saw a figure in the distance. The leaves were all on the ground and the person was off in the distance, barely noticeable through the decay of foliage. But he saw it. The image, mysterious and permanent, was that of a woman in a red coat. He hesitated but tried to follow her. He jumped up the steps, increasing his pace more and more. He walked around the bend in her direction and she was gone. He was stunned, but damn if he didn’t know why. What feelings was he right on the edge of discovering?
In his dream he does not have coffee, but alcohol. He is at a liquor store. He is addicted to gin but is staring at bottles, hundreds of murky bottles, of wine. He looks down the aisle and wonders to himself in silence if he should try the wine. His mother was an alcoholic. His coworkers were alcoholics. The voice of God was alcoholic. There was enough significant light in the store for it to feel dark and lonely. Had there been others there, browsing, just a single person, perhaps things would have gone differently.
The rows of bottles transformed into rows of books. He had stopped reading months ago after he discovered an answer to literature. It was a full stop answer. It was a liberation. But it required an erasure. He was required to abandon the name of the book and the words that were in it. So why was he back in the stacks of this place, this place that looked so foreign to him, this place that had absolutely no reason to be here? He followed his way up and down each row, columns and bays on both sides of him, keeping him silent. Again, there wasn’t anyone around to interact with. His dreams were usually filled with the people he needed in the City that he could not achieve in finding. But now there was nothing. Emptiness. The lack of balance was psychotic. Then he heard a voice telling him to leave, that he had made the correct decision after all.
He was on his way to the auditorium. No sign of the red girl in the park. No magical discoveries. But it was the same time of year as the first and last sighting. He could hear his mother’s last breaths, shallow and heavy in cycle, urging him on. He knew he would find something there, amidst the applause. He knew that it was only in continuing forward that he would find what he was seeking out. A remembrance. But then he stopped. The answer of from the book appeared to him at last. Instead of serifs, stems. Instead of sentences, waves in the leaves. So many people had read those words. So many people had walked through those leaves. Each a path, each without meaning, and yet full of meaning. The larger ideas. He looked up. There was no light bulb.