I’ve been having vivid nap dreams for weeks, and today’s, when I woke up, made me exclaim, for in the dream, as I watched my friend Ken sort through old newspapers, his clipping scissors at the ready, in his plaid shirt and slacks and shuffley slippers, I said, “Ken, you are dead,” and Ken, as Ken does or did, kept right on talking.
And I talked to myself: touch him, touch him, he is dead.
When I awoke, tears streaming down my face, I knew the truth; Ken was dead, his visit was from the ether.
Touch him, touch him, he is dead.
He lived in a house, and he had a tiny, faceless wife with black bangs, wearing an apron with a story printed across it in tiny print, the words moving left to right. She cooked meals in a wok, and though I was a guest, the food was only for Ken.
When I awoke, I felt drugged, exhausted, but then my days are spent, me drugged and exhausted, as I think about not thinking, not being, not remembered, not loved, not accomplished, not more than a speck, an electron, spinning and soundlessly, endlessly, and unblessedly nothing.
I got up and decided to go out, and as I pulled out of my driveway, the sky a sere green from a dust storm in a desert far away, I saw a lone figure on a porch swing, across the highway, my friend Orville, and I drove into his yard and joined him and the sleeping barn cat curled up against him.
“You alright?” Orville said, asking a question which had no answer, for no one is alright and any answer is a lie.
“I’m good,” I lied. “You?”
“Oh, you know, in and out the doctor’s. ‘Take this, or you will die,’ ‘do this, or you will be in terrible pain.’”
But I didn’t know. He thought he had told me something, but he hadn’t. But my eyes told me weeks ago something was wrong.
“I am eighty-two, eighty-three in September—what the hell I want to live on for?”
He has cancer.
And I talked to myself: Touch him, touch him, he is alive.
But I didn’t. I once saw a mutual friend of ours hug him, and I saw the look of horror on his face, and it seemed funny then, and today, the cat pawed at him but he didn’t paw back, and I wasn’t going to set a precedent or make a fool of myself crying but I wanted to cry and my tears would have flooded the fields, the Sea of Eugene, the see of Eugene. Orville watched me watching him. He shrugged.
I cried inside, a fearful silence in an empty room in that delta of song and story and orgasm and bird and beast and tree of Eden and the shadows of the old folk . . . and there was Ken, by the blackberry bushes, watching, nodding, ready to escort me and Orville and Miss Halter the fourth grade teacher who told me I would be a writer and Angelina and Nicole my daughters and the cats Christopher Robin and Wheatstone Bridge and Tamsin and Scout—
“I ain’t afraid,” Orville said, interrupting me—interrupting my brain. “What I got to be afraid of?
“What has he got to be afraid of?” Ken said.
Touch them, touch them, they are