The night is mine, my own time, to do with as I will, as long as I am quiet. As long as I don’t move. As long as I lie still. The difference between lie and lay. Lay is always passive. Even men used to say, I’d like to get laid. Though sometimes they said, I’d like to lay her. All this is pure speculation. I don’t really know what men used to say. I had only their words for it.
I lie, then, inside the room, under the plaster eye in the ceiling, behind the white curtains, between the sheets, neatly as they, and step sideways out of my own time. Out of time. Though this is time, nor am I out of it.
But the night is my time out. Where should I go?
Moira, sitting on the edge of my bed, legs crossed, ankle on knee, in her purple overalls, one dangly earring, the gold fingernail she wore to be eccentric, a cigarette between her stubby yellow-ended fingers. Let’s go for a beer.
You’re getting ashes in my bed, I said.
If you’d make it you wouldn’t have this problem, said Moira.
In half an hour, I said. I had a paper due the next day. What was it? Psychology, English, Economics. We studied things like that, then. On the floor of the room there were books, open face down, this way and that, extravagantly.
Now, said Moira. You don’t need to paint your face, it’s only me.
What’s your paper on? I just did one on date rape.
Date rape, I said. You’re so trendy. It sounds like some kind of dessert. Date Rapé.
Ha ha, said Moira. Get your coat.
She got it herself and tossed it at me. I’m borrowing five bucks off you, okay?
Or in a park somewhere, with my mother. How old was I? It was cold, our breaths came out in front of us, there were no leaves on the trees; grey sky, two ducks in the pond, disconsolate. Breadcrumbs under my fingers, in my pocket. That’s it: she said we were going to feed the ducks.
But there were some women burning books, that’s what she was really there for. To see her friends; she’d lied to me, Saturdays were supposed to be my day. I turned away from her, sulking, towards the ducks, but the fire drew me back.
There were some men, too, among the women, and the books were magazines. They must have poured gasoline, because the flames shot high, and then they began dumping the magazines, from boxes, not too many at a time. Some of them were chanting; onlookers gathered.
Their faces were happy, ecstatic almost. Fire can do that. Even my mother’s face, usually pale, thinnish, looked ruddy and cheerful, like a Christmas card; and there was another woman, large, with a soot smear down her cheek and an orange knitted cap, I remember her.
You want to throw one on, honey? she said. How old was I?
Good riddance to bad rubbish, she said, chuckling. It okay? she said to my mother.
If she wants to, my mother said; she had a way of talking about me to others as if I couldn’t hear.
The woman handed me one of the magazines. It had a pretty woman on it, with no clothes on, hanging from the ceiling by a chain wound around her hands. I looked at it with interest. It didn’t
frighten me. I thought she was swinging, like Tarzan from a vine, on the TV.
Don’t let her see it, said my mother. Here, she said to me, toss it in, quick.
I threw the magazine into the flames. It rimed open in the wind of its burning; big flakes of paper came loose, sailed into the air, still on fire, parts of women’s bodies, turning to black ash, in the air, before my eyes.
But then what happens, but then what happens?
I know I lost time.
There must have been needles, pills, something like that. I couldn’t have lost that much time without help. You have had a shock, they said.
I would come up through a roaring and confusion, like surf boiling. I can remember feeling quite calm. I can remember screaming, it felt like screaming though it may have been only a whisper, Where is she? What have you done with her?
There was no night or day; only a flickering. After a while there were chairs again, and a bed, and after that a window.
She’s in good hands, they said. With people who are fit. You are unfit, but you want the best for her. Don’t you?
They showed me a picture of her, standing outside on a lawn, her face a closed oval. Her light hair was pulled back tight behind her head. Holding her hand was a woman I didn’t know. She was only as tall as the woman’s elbow.
You’ve killed her, I said. She looked like an angel, solemn, compact, made of air.
She was wearing a dress I’d never seen, white and down to the ground.
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance.
If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.
It isn’t a story I’m telling.
It’s also a story I’m telling, in my head, as I go along.
Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden. But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else.
Even when there is no one.
A story is like a letter. Dear You, I’ll say. Just you, without a name. Attaching a name attaches you to the world of fact, which is riskier, more hazardous: who knows what the chances are out there, of survival, yours? I will say you, you, like an old love song. You can mean more than one.
You can mean thousands.
I’m not in any immediate danger, I’ll say to you. I’ll pretend you can hear me.
But it’s no good, because I know you can’t.