1 March 2004
Night of fear
Andrei Codrescu once opined that lorazepam and other cousins of Valium impaired our capacity to dream. I'm here to tell you that, as Ira Gershwin might have said, it ain't necessarily so. And since this is very long, it is going to be hidden.
Scene: A present, though not necessarily this present; I know this because I'm at my parents' house, and both of them are still alive. I'm going through my morning routine, and it seems to be taking longer than usual, which of course causes me to worry that I'm going to be late for work especially when it dawns on me that my car isn't here, but at my house on the other side of town.
The family is remarkably unhelpful. They wheel out a bus which has been customized to Monster Truck levels; I can't even climb into the driver's seat. "You're on your own," says a voice. Fine, I mumble, and hop on the cell phone, first to my boss "Get here when you can" is the unexpectedly civil response then to summon a cab. The dispatcher asks where to send the taxi; a little too loudly, I say, not the address I'm at, but the address next door.
A crowd has gathered in the street, and it seems to extend for blocks in every direction. I'm not too worried we've had this sort of eruption occasionally in this version of the universe but I don't see how any of this is going to help me. The cell phone rings with a tone I hadn't heard before, and it's a BBC newsreader who wishes to audition, not me, but a young woman who was reportedly at this address. It turns out that the person the BBC man wants is the nonexistent female doppelgänger I had created for online purposes back in the 80s; I'm trying to explain this to him without, you know, actually explaining this to him, when I spy a yellow Chevrolet out of the corner of my eye.
Not the usual yellow Chevrolet one sees in the taxi fleet, though; this one is a 1957 convertible, its tailfins enameled jet black, its interior some shade of red found only in boudoirs, and its driver, a slight woman in a dress apparently devoid of color, demands, "Well, do you want a ride or not?"
I climb into the back seat, and off we go through what seems to be a full-fledged insurrection.
As we pass an intersection, she says, "Keep your head low."
"How low?" I ask.
WZZZZT! something darts past my ear.
"Lower than that," she says.
I start to notice how utterly uncablike this car is; oh, there's a meter nicely integrated into the metal dash, but there are lots of buttons and gauges I don't remember from any '57 Chevy I've seen before. She pushes a button, gets out of the car, and gestures for me to follow. By now thoroughly baffled, I comply.
Behind the big wooden door is an ultramodern office of some sort, though I haven't any idea what it's for. The driver is known here, though; at least, she's giving hand signals to people as we walk down the hall.
Through another big wooden door, and there's the car, apparently driving itself, about twenty yards ahead of us. "Damn," she says. "Three-tenths of a second slow. Get ready to run."
I'm getting ready to run, as best I can, when a motorcycle, presumably from behind the building, accelerates to blinding speed, with all the noise that speed implies, and heads straight for the Chevy.
The crash is astonishing; the cyclist where is the cyclist? was this an unmanned mission? is conspicuous by his absence; the Chevy is stopped but undamaged.
We climb back in, proceed on a side street, and get out once more, this time at what looks like an auditorium of some sort. The door opens, and what I'm seeing, I think, is an emergency infirmary; there are neat rows of mattresses, though no bed frames to speak of, and about half the mattresses are freshly sheeted and unoccupied.
"Drop 'em and let's go," she orders, and I note to my amazement that she's already shed most of her clothing. She looks even smaller now, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, though no twelve-year-old I've ever seen had this many scars.
She's selected a mattress, and we're going through physical gyrations simultaneously feverish and perfunctory, when someone in the next row imagine Nick Nolte at ninety rolls toward me and croaks:
"You know, you could have a knife in your back, even as we speak."
And it was of course at this point that I woke up, ten minutes later than usual, realizing that if I didn't get moving, I would be late for work.
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