Some people shiver the whole time. Some have perspiration pouring off of them, their bodies glistening, leaving pools in their wake. One guy, the whole time you’re talking to him there’s this tiny trickle of blood seeping out from his left eye.
Me, I’m always about to start sweating.
You show up like waking up from a falling dream, all of a sudden you’re looking around wildly at this huge, old building, one of those old east coast train stations but infinitely bigger than a real one ever could be. For the first little while it’s just you and a half dozen others, wandering around this building, squinting like you’re going to find clues in the stained old bricks and cracking murals. You rub your forehead, rub your eyes, over and over, but you can never quite seem to come to, remember how you got here. The veins in your temples bulge after a while, and then you’re not in the train station anymore.
You wake up, sometimes, and your body isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. I woke up once with a long nose like a fly has, a what’s it called, a proboscis coming out of my face, drooping down and banging against my chest while I walked around. I wake up some days with no mouth at all.
Most everybody starts out by looking for the guy in charge, like there’s been some sort of mistake, like you’re at the DMV and some teenager got stoned and misplaced the forms you sent in. There isn’t anybody in charge, not that anyone’s been able to find.
I’ve been looking for the guy in charge since I got here.
I met a guy once who ate people. That was his whole thing, he just lived to eat people, got hookers off of Craigslist and killed them quick, vacuumed sealed them and feasted for weeks. He actually said to me, he felt bad about the killing but how else was he supposed to get them to stay still long enough to eat them? That made a kind of sense to me, but then he tried to take a bite off of me one night and I stopped hanging out with him.
Probably in a Hieronymus Bosch painting this guy would have had some kind of ironic thing going on, like he gets a part of himself eaten every day or his victims get to come and roast him over a spit. As it is, he just sleeps every night in an oven turned up to 1500 degrees. Maybe that is ironic, actually, the whole oven thing, but mostly he just says that it hurts.
It’s really the flavors of pain that get to you, after a while. I get the feeling that if it were just a matter of burning, or freezing, or stabbing slicing skewering stomping, all those angry s-words, that eventually you’d start to cope. But some days you wake up and you don’t get to breathe for the whole day, just constant panic coming from your most primitive place, and then you’ll spend a month being slowly torn apart, and it really gets to you.
So I keep looking for the guy in charge. Because, I met the guy who ate people, and I met this chick who killed six of her husbands, and the little kid who shot up the school, and the serial rapist who isn’t allowed to hear anymore because he gets too much pleasure out of people screaming. I met the guy who cut on his daughter every day for sixteen years, leaving a little mark for every time he wanted to rape her but didn’t, like he was doing her some kind of favor. Nobody cares about hiding things down here like they used to, because we’ve all got the story to tell. We’re damned anyways. People brag, actually.
Except I don’t brag.
I still have that feeling like back in the train station, like if I just see the right thing, if I rub my eyes hard enough then I’ll suddenly remember what it was that I did. I remember my car, and paint on the walls of my house and the sound of my bicycle chain as it ran through the gears while I coasted down hills and then sometimes I remember a glimpse of a face that I try to grab onto and pull into existence but it slips away and I scream for hours trying to get it back.
So I think that there’s a stoned kid at the DMV who misfiled my paperwork because I don’t remember stealing from the retirement funds of little old grandmothers or selling guns to warlords in Central America or even pocketing a goddamned Snickers bar from a 7-11. I just remember the way my favorite song sounded, but I don’t remember any of the words.
And then one day I wake up without a mouth or a face or a body at all and I’m looking at the kind of guy who dresses like its casual Friday every day, so when Friday actually rolls around he’s just a mess, stains on his t-shirt and tattered khaki shorts that don’t look like khaki anymore. And he says, “Hey, buddy, I heard you’ve been looking for me.”
Now I’m still in the room with the guy, but I’m also driving down this little street, all leafy and pleasant, coming back from dropping my kids off at school, and I see these stupid teenagers sauntering across the street about fifty yards in front of me, no crosswalk, no nothing, just expecting me to slow down, and I feel my blood pressure spike and my teeth clench and I know that they need to be taught some respect so I jam on the gas as hard as I can and then they’re on top of me and I see the look on the girl’s face for an instant. The look says, this sort of thing is never going to happen to me. And then I make impact, and her face becomes something that isn’t a face anymore, and I can’t really see through the goo on my windshield, so I pull over and breathe for a while, and then I laugh for a long, long time.
“What’s funny,” the guy says, “is that I actually never wanted to show you, just because it was so much damn fun watching you scream yourself to sleep thinking that you didn’t belong here.” The guy smiles and you can see why people are always making deals with him and regretting it.
“Well anyway, somebody changed my mind,” he says, and he looks more bored than anything. “I decided to show you.”
These days I don’t grab for the faces that appear in my memory. I don’t try to pull them into existence. I try to shut them out, but it’s hard, because I wake up every morning halfway across the street, and then I get hit by a car and my face becomes something that isn’t a face anymore.
I guess the guy in charge goes in for irony after all.