“Every forty-eight hours,” John observed. “As far as we know.”
“But it’s not usually as long. The most time I had lost up until now was about six hours, from midnight until early morning. This is the first time I lost a whole day.”
“Is it always around midnight?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Amy declined our offer to help her stay and sift through her webcam photos from last night. I was desperate to see what would show up but this was her bedroom and I suppose she had a reasonable fear of two creepy males clicking through shots of her dressing and doing the things girls do alone in their bedrooms. Lighting farts or whatever.
She promised to look through them and let us know. I told her that I was pretty sure I had moved the photos to a folder buried in printer drivers. On accident. John volunteered to stay the night and stake the place out, but Amy recoiled at that idea and said the night was mostly over anyway.
And so, feeling like men trying to work a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded and using only our butt cheeks to grip the pieces, we left.
I CAME HOME to see 3:26 A.M. on my wall clock. I turned on every light in the place, checking every room for any damned thing at all. I finally collapsed into a chair, thinking there was no way in hell I was getting to sleep that night. Too much adrenaline, too many nasty dreams waiting for me behind my eyelids.
I fell asleep.
THE ROOM CAME back into focus. How much time had passed? I tried to move my arms, found that I could not. Somebody here. Footsteps behind me. Tried to move again. Limbs not responding.
I’ve had this dream before. Just got to–
A thin face appeared, leaning down in front of me. Huge nose. My friend Robert North, from my Bronco.
He asked, “Can you hear me?”
I couldn’t answer. I was paralyzed, a brain inside a statue.
“Blink your eyes. Blink if you can hear me.”
I blinked, not to answer him, but to see if I could blink. I could. Is there a way to kill a man using only your eyelids?
He said, “Good.”
He walked out of view, then came back and extended his palm to me. On his palm, something was moving. He held it up to my face.
Huge, a body the size of a chicken egg.
Black legs with yellow stripes.
It looked to have been bred for war.
North offered it on the palm of his hand and said, “I want you to eat this.”
I was able to move my lips enough to say, “Fuck you.”
“I’m going to say some words. I need you to listen very carefully. Tractor. Moonlight. Violin. Clay. Thumbs.”
This went on for several minutes, North rattling off dozens of words. Maybe over a hundred. He held the arachnid up, legs twitching.
“Red. Sandstone. Trombone. Stain. Linger.”
And just like that, I was dying. I could feel a poison living in my body, shutting me down, rotting my guts, burning my veins. And there was only one cure—the thing in North’s palm. Suddenly the spider was my salvation, the narrow, bright window out of this dark room. I gathered every ounce of strength and leaned forward with my head—my hands still numb and useless—and then I sucked the spider into my mouth with greedy lips. I chewed through rigid, wiry legs and felt a hot, salty fluid burst into my mouth when I bit through the body. I quickly choked down the bitter bundle of legs and gristle and—
I SNAPPED AWAKE and leapt out of my chair. Alone. Still dark.
The clock on the wall said 6:13 A.M. I ran a hand over my mouth, a lingering bitterness on my tongue. I whipped my head around, confirmed that I was alone.
That was a dream, right? Eating a spider? What the hell did that symbolize?
Look at the bright side. At least it’s not a workday.
My phone rang.
I WOULD LIKE to pause for a moment, to talk about my penis.
My penis is like a toddler. A toddler—who is a perfectly normal size for his age—on a long road trip to what he thinks is Disney World. My penis is excited because he hasn’t been to Disney World in a long, long time, but remembers a time when he used to go every day. So now the penis toddler is constantly fidgeting, whining, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How about now? Now? How about . . . now?”
And Disney World is nowhere in sight.
Thus, one of the many awful things I can admit about myself is that the two years I spent with Jennifer live in my mind mostly as a series of frantic, breathy memories. Clawing hands tugging off clothes, heartbeat thumping in my ears, fingernails digging down my back, salty tastes lingering in my mouth. It’s biology. It’s hormones. As time passes I can recall fewer and fewer of our conversations and I couldn’t give you the details of our five most-fun dates (though I have a fairly graphic vision of how each of them ended).
If upon hearing this you pump your fist and wink knowingly, you can kiss my ass. She was a good friend to me. She put up with my bullshit and at times not even I can put up with my bullshit. But all that is gone and what is left is a big, black hole where the sex used to be.
The thing with Jen ended with a pregnancy scare. She had seen my world and didn’t want to bring a baby into it. This led to some violent arguments during which I pointed out, loudly and in sprays of spittle, that if she got an abortion the fucking unborn fucking fetus would likely fucking haunt us—I mean literally haunt our home—until the day we died and possibly beyond. It turned out that was the wrong thing to say.
It also turned out the pregnancy was a false alarm but I was spooked after that, found myself backing off more and more, making excuses because, gosh, I gotta get up real early in the morning and it’s gonna be a busy day with inventory and all that and I’m just not in the mood right now, Jen . . .
We slowly went hands-off after that, Jen thinking this had something to do with me not loving her anymore, though the loving part of me and the penis part of me rarely speak to each other. She cried a lot. She slept a lot. We argued a lot. She left.
So I had been off the sex wagon for six months as I stood there at the counter of Wally’s Videe-Oh!, having dragged myself in for yet another unexpected shift on yet another frozen morning. It was going to be a bad day. The hormones come and go like the tide and some days it’s no big deal and some days it’s like being fifteen again. The other night a coworker had insisted I take home a movie called Ghost World, which turned out not to be about ghosts at all, but was instead some kind of coming-of-age story about a girl who, I noticed, had a fabulous collection of very short dresses. All I remember from the plot is two hours of Thora Birch’s bare thighs.
But I digress. It had been my coworker Tina on the phone this morning, asking if I could cover her morning because, gosh, even though the roads have been scraped clean she hears there’s supposed to be more snow today and she doesn’t want to get trapped at work, and I’m just the nicest guy ever, she really, really owes me. Tina, by the way, is short and blonde and bouncy and full of cheerleader energy. So I got dressed and drove in, cruising on those few hours of fitful chair-sleep. Tina is also engaged, by the way, with a kid. On days like this, Mr. Penis isn’t big on logic.
How about . . . now?
I folded up this morning’s newspaper and dropped it in the trash can at my feet. I had scanned it for news of a missing person, a manhunt, anything of the sort. Nothing. The front page was a shot of kids playing in the snow. The person in my toolshed was apparently not noticed missing yet, or they were such a total asshole that the town had gotten together overnight and decided that it was better left unsolved.
Three hours passed without a single paying customer. I looked down at one point and noticed the newspaper had fallen onto the floor. The day before we had put balloons up around the store for a promotion and during cleanup one of my coworkers had stuffed a balloon into the little trash can. Inflated. It literally filled the whole container, so that no more trash could be put in. This fascinated me for some reason. I heard the door open.
Officer Drake sidled in the door the way cops do, still in uniform. He sidled all the way across the floor and desidled near the counter. I found my hands clenching a nearby DVD case.
Tell me, Mr. Wong, you wouldn’t happen to know about a guy from across town who went missing last night? Your name was written on the wall in blood and a pair of your gloves was left behind and we have video of you killing him.
Instead he said, “That’s downright beautiful, isn’t it?”
I had no clue what he was talking about. He turned and looked out the glass doors and nodded. Out there was the aftermath of the ice storm, a world coated in crystal. The little landscaping trees in the parking lot gleamed with branches of blown glass. It was still sort of dark when I came in and I hadn’t noticed.
“Uh-huh. What’s up, Drake?”
“Haven’t been sleeping,” he said. “Neither have you, from the look of it.”
He shrugged. “Eh, probably just need a new mattress, right? Maybe one of those machines that make soothing noises. Like the sound of a waterfall or a jungle, something like that.”
“Jungle sounds?” I said, my face taking on great weight. “I don’t think the jungle sounds would help me sleep. Reminds me a little too much of Vietnam.”
Drake didn’t laugh.
“Me, it’s my little girl that’s been keeping me up,” he said. “She’s four. Wakes up every couple of hours, crying about a doll. We come in and ask her about the doll and calm her down. So two nights ago, I’m walking past her room, she’s not in there at the time and I see this doll. I never saw it before, a big china-doll lookin’ thing, the kind with the glass eyes, big, puffy dress, you know. And it’s sitting on the edge of the bed. I figure my wife bought it at a garage sale, because I ain’t seen it before then. Then I walk back by and look in there, not two seconds later, and there ain’t no doll there. Just an empty bed. I ask my wife about it, and she says she’s never seen such a doll. Never.”
“Yeah,” I said, as if that shed some light on it. What did he want me to say?