Perhaps my presence gives her mono. She falls asleep whenever I come over. Or narcolepsy? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an excuse, since she keeps calling me over to visit and appears pleased to see me each time I arrive. And she never asks me to leave, as she stretches out on the couch and drifts off, still with that gradual glassy smile on her face. It hasn’t always been like this, though it’s been this way for a while now.
It used to be that I would come over and we’d devise all manner of miniature adventures. We’d paint seascapes with watercolors on the smoke-colored walls. Or move all lamps and lighting instruments into a single room to see how bright we could make it. Once we lit small fires with gum wrappers and whatnot in the fireplace to see if the chimney’s passage really stretched into the sky, or if it had been bricked up. The fireplace itself was just so clean we couldn’t believe it had ever been used. Mostly, though, we would lay on the ground with headphones on, the two cords running through a jury-rigged contraption that let us listen to the same music. Staring up at the ceiling we listened to Thickfreakness, Polly, Tango Habanera, Elenore, Great Indoors, Galileo, the ravings of Antonin Artaud trying desperately and once and for all to have done with the judgment of god. For hours at a time we would slide from track through track to track. Everything temporal and spatial beyond song released us. Storms outside our hearts became irrelevant. We never fell in love. And she never fell asleep.
Now she greets me with a hug, and the remnants of projects unfinished and unstarted both. Cigarette cartons and handicapped dress forms and sheets of butcher paper partially filled with partial figurations. And then she suggests what we might do with green bottles of white glue and circuit boards, as she lifts a stock of discs in my direction so that I can pick out dozens of pieces for tonight’s hodgepodge medley. The music that will arrive much sooner than it does in her mind. I say very little, knowing that soon and quickly she will find repose on the sofa. And as her sentences break up into remote islands of words, my breathing grows deep with resistance to the crack I feel forming beneath my sternum, caving into my stomach at gorgeous exuberance receding.
Silence succeeds sound. I put my headphones on. I put hers on. I rest my head nearby hers and press play. My eyes wide open, hers effortlessly shut, we dream together for the next several hours. Then I begin the long, ragged walk home.
If you could know one thing about everyone you passed or encountered during your daily goings on, what would you wish to know? If one piece of information became available to you about everyone on the street, like an unintentional confession printed in mid-air above each person’s head, what truth would you be privileged to read? And what would you give up to acquire this knowledge?
My allowance would be specifically aimed at people with iPods – portable media players, smart phones, all those music-playing devices that people plug their heads into. I want to know what each person is listening to at any given moment. I want to know for the same reason that will probably disappoint me: where is all the expression? What isn’t provoking all of these people to laugh aloud, sob uncontrollably, and generally move their bodies in eccentric and pleasurable ways? Not all of these people – and really not even any but a few – can be listening to relentless ambient noise that petrifies their bodies into a mannequin-like physical condition. Perhaps they are moved to sturdiness! They are strong and unshakeable! I don’t believe that. What is really going on inside those ears?
What would I give for this information? What is it worth? Maybe an old stamp collection. No television for a month. Not much. I’m constantly curious, but I’m afraid I’d just find it sad. And really…if I want to know I should just ask.