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The slow unraveling out of sleep is so much better than the hard kick. I get the hard kick. Now the throbbing, pulsing desire-state. Food. Doesn’t matter what – eggs, scrambled, hard, shirred – not sure if it’s the food or the palate – what’s been altered [chemically] in that steady progress towards clean standardization – everything – every tiny bite tastes like cremated memories.
Calendar reminds me: it’s been 24 years since my resettlement. I need the annual reminder that life wasn’t always this. The anniversary must be quickly processed; reminders must not turn into memories. Radio breathing exercises. We mustn’t forget humans need to breathe. Must train our bodies to breathe naturally because daily survival in a modern world turns all that is natural unnatural. Clean breathing, clean eggs. Calm minds think hygienically. It’s in news article after news article. Placebo for the psyche. Infectious so that there’s this disconnect between autonomous belief and skepticism. I can believe and not believe. It’s how we survive.
In the lobby I run into the building manager. An old woman with the face of a fish. Psychic inheritance or genetic? Seeing her, I remember that I have indigestion. She says hello in a friendly way. She recognizes me while confusing me with a dozen different tenants, who, to her, look enough alike to be one person. This gives me anonymity/liability. Any one of us could annoy her and I will be the target of a snide remark: “You get so many packages. Don’t you?” The total sum of packages of a dozen, unrelated people who, to this old fish is the same one person because we do not look like her and her kind, will add up to a lot of packages.
I try to be reasonable. She is old. And she is a fish. My expectations are too high. There’s acid overfill in my stomach. The future will always be thus.
Every encounter has become like this.
The building manager is a fish. The woman on the corner is a dog. That man over there is a chipmunk. There, coming down the street is a rat. And him? Hedgehog? Mammalian city. How have I found myself in this world of animals? Animals – Is it because I dreamt of animals all night long? There’s a little black bird, trained to talk, pressing its head so hard against mine that I wake up with a headache. It couldn’t understand me. Animals. Animals breed anxiety.
- that across the old childhood home there’s an odd truck parked on the neighbor’s driveway. A man inside, wearing denim cap & work clothes – he’s trying to fix some dents with a blowtorch. Slowly, I realize the man is not a man but an octopus (maybe squid). Near the animal, lying half unconscious, is the truck driver. The animal knocks the man around with the blowtorch
- that I have an appointment to get my hair cut. Inexplicably, I’m carrying a briefcase-like cardboard box full of young rabbits. I keep wondering why I have rabbits. Inside, the salon is much larger than what it appears to be on the outside. The waiting room is crowded, boisterous, little girls wanting to get their hair done for a festival, all dressed in sugary dresses. Oddly, the salon is also an animal welfare center. The receptionist tells me I have to make a $30 deposit for my haircut, which baffles me. Sitting, sitting, waiting. The rabbits are as frustrated & antsy as I am, kicking the walls of the box. I don’t want to look inside; I don’t want to see the rabbits. Fed up, I go to the back to see how much longer I’ll need to wait. The back room is huge, noisy, like a warehouse, stacked with females getting their hair done. I think I should leave. But there, next to me is a machine like the kind you use to fill your tires at the gas station. Only, it’s for gassing animals. Easy solution, I think. I insert the nozzle into my box and gas the rabbits. Within seconds the rabbits are quiet. I turn the box upside down – just in time – the rabbits had nearly kicked the bottom open. I ask the receptionist if they take care of dead animals. Yes, she cheerfully replies. I give her the box and ask how much they charge. Oh, it’s free, she says. Relieved that I no longer have to worry about rabbits, I give the receptionist a $10 tip. She becomes hysterically upset. My tip is way too small, an insult. I flee.
Have to run errands. I notice the streets are now textured dry & granular (it’s like the streets have changed overnight, but I think this at least once a month; is it because the streets have changed or do I perpetually forget what the streets truly look like or is it that I perpetually reawaken). There is a curious high-end knickknack shop owned and run by an ogre. That is, a woman who has hidden her advanced age with thick, pasty makeup. This small district is a construction of tiny shops tumbling against one another, owned and run by ancient women. But most are not like the ogre. They do not even dye their hair. They do not hide where they are from or what animal they are. (The fish does not know she is a fish.) The old women shopkeepers are neither friendly nor unfriendly. They concentrate on running their businesses and want as little distraction or inconvenience as possible. Questions are answered briskly; cold coins hop from their fingers to yours. These women never smile, except the ogre, whose smile is a bait so she can lure you into her knickknack shop; once in, she won’t let you escape until you’ve bought something. I now realize I am afraid of her. How long have I been suppressing fear? In order to survive? Even in dreams, turning fear into disdain.
Sometimes, in this strange district, an ancient woman dressed in her native clothing will come up to me and speak in her mother tongue because the day is bright enough to communicate so what does it matter if I do not understand the words or sentences? (How does she know I am mostly spirit and so will hear through all animal forms? The scent of musk – where does the fumes of incense come from? The women themselves? Smoked deep into the fibers of their clothing to keep insects away? Or from their own ancient pores? Decay perhaps or fruition? I have never seen these women eat. Scent comes and goes like a subconscious river current.)
This is why there is no barrier between my waking world and my dreaming world. I wrote this in my dream world and am writing it down in my waking world. Or the other way around because not everything is inside out and there are no seams.
Another coughing fit. Blood. Mostly mucilage. The mammalian city is filthy and all that filth settles into the lungs. Which burn and make me feverish. Dry heat will sometimes convulse through my body. And then calm again. I am ill-suited for this place. A prison sentence with fungible crimes unremembered. Except the social ones, moments of cruelty, unkindness, ruthless thoughtlessness, crimes I still commit with less and less guilt but with more and more shame and after-thought like constant indigestion. This is too much like every other kind of writing. It will comfort the readers but not the writer.
I dread memories. I drain every paragraph of memories.
They will say that this is strange and quirky when what they should be saying is, “I am uncomfortable.” I have been forced to sit still and examine, and I will not be alone. I will not be dismissed with easy adjectives, the language of schooled fish. So, again, breathing: The slow unraveling out of sleep is so much better than the hard kick.
About J.A. Pak
J.A. Pak is the author of So Easy to Love. Her writing has been published in Lunch Ticket, Luna Luna, Joyland, Entropy, 7x7, Unbroken Journal, Queen Mob’s Tea House, etc. More of her work can be read at Triple Eight Palace of Dreams & Happiness.
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