I grabbed the base of the window, raised it until a crack of the dark abyss showed free along the bottom, and it all simply blew away.
I can feel myself falling, falling down. I sit at the edge of the bed, my gaze fixed upward, up at this ceiling. The air is warm, warm and thick, and my eyes have to burrow through to reach the top.
Yes, it's thick, too thick, an almost tangible coat of velvet pressed against me on all sides. Thick and warm. It rises up, this heat, rises from the bed beneath and the floor below, rises from some unknown spring at my feet. I'm soaked in it; I can feel it all around me, swathing me in bushy cotton. My eyes remain turned up.
The room is small, taller than it is wide, an absurd dimension giving it an uncomfortable feel as if drowning. Some would call it cozy; I would say I'm sinking, buried alive even, trapped in this forsaken sarcophagus they call a room. If I extend my arm outward, my fingers just graze the neighboring bed. No one sleeps there, so I don't feel bad reaching out and petting the gentle ridges that line the blanket's surface. It's too narrow, this room is too tall and narrow.
I lie out, lie out on this bed with my feet dangling over the edge. The sheets are bunched below me, still thrown about by the previous night's sleep. I make no effort to smooth them out, just keep looking up, up at the ceiling.
The light emits a dull radiance, sallow, soft. It all drifts down, landing on each item in the room with a damp thud. The opened suitcase at the foot of the bed, the dirty clothes strewn across the floor, my book – Notes from Underground – are all yellowed in the dirty light. It's a hospital light, that's what it is, sickly and fading. These sheets, once clean and white, look yellow, too. It's a sick man's light.
Noises drift in from the other room. They remain faint, even the occasional staccato bursts of an unknown movie next-door substantially subdued. I catch snippets of conversations – the call of my grandmother, my father's muffled speech, Ed's slow drawl – but can't make out any of the context. It all covers a low whirring in the walls, a subtle noise, one easily missed. Perhaps it is no sound at all, but energy, real energy whizzing about – not something heard at all, but felt, picked up in those delicate bones of the inner ear. When I close the door, there's silence but not complete. That energy remains, breaking up the monotony, the boredom of silence. But it's silence all the same.
I sink down in the bed, and my eyes involuntarily turn up again as my head hits the pillow. I try to close them, but this is no relief. It's early yet, only 10:32, and my body will have no sleep. The corner of the ceiling is occupied by a small smoke detector, every few seconds winking at me, bright green. The rest of the rough white surface is the territory of five intersecting lines. They're flat, raised only slightly off the ceiling itself, and the same color. They meet at three-way intersections, odd junctures randomly scattered, giving the impression of a forgotten Mondrian creation, a life-sized canvas un-colored and left behind in this tiny settlement on a lake outside Memphis.
I raise myself to leave the room but am stopped by these arresting pockmarks that litter the front wall. Three make out the corners of a rectangle, small and perfectly drilled wells; the fourth of a different nature, altogether deformed, so that a distance – that is, while standing against the opposite wall – it takes the appearance of a moth, flattened and with wings splayed out at each side. Closer inspection of the door yields an additional hole, just at eye level, an irregular shape undefined by the parameters of traditional geometry. It appears to run almost the entire thickness of the door, stopping just short of the atmosphere outside the room. The natural wood pokes out from the white paint at its edges. I try to look through and see nothing but a black spot.
I change my mind and sit back down on the bed, turning on the dusty lamp beside me. The base is bronze, or at least has an appearance as such. A vertical shaft gives way to two opposing bulbs, each covered by an old-fashioned orange-ish shade that matches the beds' blankets. I turn the knob at the bottom, and the far light turns off. I click through again, the far light coming on again; I click one more time. It turns off once more. The one nearest me must be burnt out.
I stretch out, my sock-clad feet once again hanging over the bed's distant precipice. It's all temporary, this temporary bed, these temporary sheets, even that temporary coat hanger on the wall across from me, this temporary life for a temporary weekend. It's all fleeting, gone in another day, gone after tonight when I'll drive back to St. Louis with my family. The temporary comforter grazes my shin, and I sit back up again.
Back to St. Louis – five more hours, miles and miles ticking off the odometer and no farther away from this temporary life. My father will push down his foot, drive down the sagging pedal, and the miles will tick by faster, outpacing the minutes flying off the clock. This still brings me no closer. I'll still be sitting on these temporary sheets, watching the endless expanse of a momentary farm pass by out my tinted window.
It's a repetition of moments, this life. Acres and acres of unknown towns speeding by outside, the muddy socks on the floor, the sick light above – I've lived this all before and will live it again, a dozen times, a hundred. Nabokov said of Luzhin that all the moments in his life were moves in a combination, a pattern that traced itself out over and over again. I take solace in that, that damning thought, that my life will play itself out before me again and again, over and over like Luzhin's. For when I was born, this moment here was with me, and now this one, too, this one and the next and the like. And when I die, for I most certainly will, still these moments, those moments just now, still they will be with me and ever after.
Sometimes, I can feel myself dead. I'm lying there, passed, and I can feel death work its way through me. It isn't cold, it isn't depressing; it's just there, a feeling, felt and unfelt, tracing its way along each appendage. All time lies behind me and all time before, and I can see it, I can see all that time. It's not a literal sight, of course, I can't watch it and replay, I can't zero in on any one moment as a Tralfamadorian surely can. But that time is with me, all time, staying within my breast for the repeat.
I am limited. I have this time – my time – but I have no one else's. This time is mine alone, mine to keep. I can't trade. I can't see anyone else's nor can they see this time I keep. My time remains solely with me for all time.
I look back, over all these experiences and memories that make up what I am, and I look forward, all this time yet to come, me a year out of college and unable to see through this murky water. It's there, it's there with me, all this time, as real a feeling as the mosquito bite that tickles my calf.
Often when I cut my fingernails, I inadvertently clip one nail too short. There is no telling beforehand which ill-fated nail it will be – though it is frequently the one accompanying my right index finger – but from the moment it is wronged, I know it. Lightning shoots up through my bones, bolts of sharp pain, infinitely precise. At this point, there is not much to do but finish the job on the other fingers and wait.
The healing takes days, a number that varies but generally hovers near three. In the meantime, I find myself pushing down on the end of the afflicted party, pulling more lightning out of that cursed wound. It is an agonizing pain, one of the most painful injuries I've received, accounting for size. But I'll continue to do it, over and over again, until the nail is normal again. I've found that when my hand is normal and I haven't clipped a nail too short, I have no inclination to pull on my fingers.
At times like these – sitting in this room alone, pen to paper, the heat turned up all around me – I wonder if I'm just tugging on my nail,