A Day in the Life
By Israfel Sivad
I wake up in the morning, and I lie in bed, listening to my alarm, waiting for it to stop ringing.
I think about my dreams. I had one the other night that I want to remember as vividly as possible. I hadn’t had anything to drink that night (I’d gone straight home from my café). And the lack of alcohol always lends a certain clarity and twistedness to my nocturnal wanderings.
The dream began in various odd pool halls and bars and strip clubs where I was simply wandering around with somebody who was my friend, and we kept winding up in all these situations talking to these sort of animé looking people with very sharp features and unusually dark hair… Men and women touching my arms and laughing with me but somehow always winding up laughing at me. And then they began threatening me with some sort of suffering that they were planning on inflicting upon me. I was trying to treat their threats as jokes, but the knowledge they had of my inner life terrified me and led me to believe that perhaps they really could hurt me.
And then one of the people who were constantly tormenting me directed me into a room. Inside the room was a woman with short, black hair and a lithe, cat-like body, and she was hardly wearing anything at all. There was a bed against the wall, and an eerie sensation, like being in a haunted house, permeated my psyche. She slinked around and smiled at me, and I realized that I’d slept with her before. She asked me if I wanted her right then, and I told her that I knew who she was now.
And then the person who brought me there wasn’t a person anymore. He was a demon with horns and a cape, but not in a Hollywood way. He was a terrifying figure standing in the corner, staring at us.
The woman approached me, and the door closed, and I was locked in the room with the woman and the demon. She embraced me, and we spun around, and I saw the monster standing silently in the corner.
I tried to disentangle myself from her, but I couldn’t. Some sort of narcotic began clouding my world as she described the various sexual acts I could orchestrate upon her. I was getting turned on, but I knew that there was something very wicked about that woman and that place, that all of the people who were tormenting me before had led me to her, and that if I slept with her again, I was going to unleash something horrible upon the world. Somehow, I extracted myself from the embrace, but I couldn’t get her arms completely off my neck. I told her I was leaving. I was scared to pass the demon, but he stepped aside and opened the door
But that beautiful and powerful woman was whispering things in my ear about how much we’d enjoyed each other before, and right before I stepped out of the room, the demon put his hand on my chest, not trying to stop me, just asking me to reconsider for a moment.
I turned to take one last look at the succubus, the enchantress, and I realized I was in love. I asked her if I would ever be able to leave if I made love to her again. She said that I might… someday. I embraced her again. We kissed. I bit her neck, felt her shoulders, licked her stomach. She leaned back in my arms. The demon put his hand on my back, and a red mist swirled around us. Black smoke mixed in, and I told her how much I loved her.
As the mist increased, so did the narcotic that was working on my senses. My thoughts were becoming cloudy. My limbs were heavy. Every time I touched the woman’s lips, I knew I was getting closer and closer to never being able to come back to any sort of goodness and purity because I knew those creatures were evil and that they wanted me to partake of and be an equal in all the destruction and depravity that they were capable of.
I said something to her about how I was going to impregnate her, and she said that was the whole point, that we were going to give birth to a king. I asked her if they were going to kidnap me forever, and she said, “Not forever. We will let you go.”
I was ready to lose myself until I heard the demon behind me mumble that only before they let me go, they would inflict upon me sufferings and torments and pains that I could never conceive of even in my most twisted thoughts. Somehow that made it into my brain, and I pulled away from the woman, laughing nonchalantly as if I’d always known what they’d had planned for me, but knowing that I’d almost lost.
I stumbled to the door and opened it and told them I was leaving.
As soon as I was out of the room, the red and black mist was gone. My mind didn’t feel drugged, but I was fucking terrified. I needed to make it to a car so that I could get away from that place.
I was outside of a castle, and I was walking with the woman again. She had the keys to a car that she was offering to drive me away in. We weren’t touching each other, but I was still in love with her. I told her that, and she said that would make sense since we were the same person coming from different sides. And I said that seemed true and that I hoped we could learn to be friends, that we were meant for each other in some sort of weird way. “That is,” I added, “If you are capable of being anybody’s friend.”
She gave me a very tempting look, and I added, “I often wonder if I am capable of being anybody’s friend.”
She told me that I wasn’t, but I got in the car with this woman who was suddenly saying she wanted to be my friend, and we were driving away. I woke up.
I was sweating. I was shaking. I was terrified. I got out of bed and smoked a cigarette. I tried going back to sleep, but I had to pray to God to send St. Michael to watch over my soul because my sleep-addled, dehydrated mind couldn’t shake the idea that all of that was real, that I had just gone head to head with a fucking demon, and that if I was overcome by her, the pain and the suffering that her demon was talking about would infiltrate the real world…
It’s not until my alarm clock finally stops ringing that I bother lifting myself off the sheets. I always double-check the time even though I know it’s too late for me to take a shower. I put on my pants. I find a tie, and I tie that noose, that yoke around my neck before I walk downstairs, down the block and around the corner to the subway.
The G train always takes forever at that time of the morning. It runs okay between eight and nine, but once the city figures everybody’s gotten to work, they cut the service.
That’s one of my favorite times of the day though, when I can crouch down against the wall of the station and read my book for about twenty minutes straight, when I can lean against the concrete, in the depths of the earth and be alone no matter how many people walk by me.
There’s a blond girl who comes down there every day. I call her the girl with the ass because her ass is so perfect. It bubbles out beneath the fabric of her pants. She has a mole on the left side of her chin. It’s the only blemish on her skin, but it makes her a little more beautiful. I try not to stare at her, but I can’t help myself. I stop concentrating on my book, and I glance up at her. I glance back down at my book, and then the whole train of thought is lost and I have to close my book and stare.
I want to talk to her. I’d like to say hello to her, to have a conversation with her, but I can’t. I can’t stroll up to her nonchalantly and say, “Hi, I see you here everyday, and I was just wondering what your name was because I’m sick of thinking of you as the girl with the ass, and I’d like you to have a real name and be a real person and not just a body.” But I can’t do that.
Here’s the thing. I remember the day, walking down the boardwalk in Laguna Beach, when suddenly it hit me. I had to sit down it was so hard for me to take. I pulled my journal out of my bag, and I lit a cigarette, but I couldn’t write. I could barely even smoke. Because I realized that there was absolutely no way that I was ever going to be able to spend the night at least once with every woman who’s alive. God, that hurt. I watched this girl walk past, and she wasn’t beautiful, but there was this thing about the way the straps of her sandals wrapped around her calves. And another girl walked past, and she was actually kind of ugly, but there was this quality to her skin color. And another girl went by, and she was kind of pretty, but she had these lips that made me… I hung my head. I was ready to cry.
I can never stop wondering what it would be like to have sex with the woman I’m looking at or talking to. Sometimes I’m simply wondering what it would be like to touch the groove in her back, like that girl on the subway the other day, the groove right around her spine where the muscles come together. Or what it would feel like to run my hands through her hair, like this girl who I see in the elevator at work every day. Because her hair is purple like midnight, and it always smells so soft, and there are these little curls waving through it, and I’ve touched that sort of hair before, and it always feels so nice, especially as it spills over my shoulder or tickles my stomach. Or what it would look like to unzip those tight pants that zip right up the back on the girl with the ass because I know that for a moment, as I unzipped them and watched her body slide out of them that that would be as beautiful as any sculpture I’d ever marveled at.
And sometimes I just wonder what sort of kinks a person’s mind is going to devise. Would she bite or not? Would she scream and claw, or would she lie there and moan? What does she like? Giving or receiving oral sex? What’s her favorite position? Has she maybe done something I haven’t tried yet?
What’s her kink, and how the hell did that one get into her head? Is it because of her daddy or her ex-boyfriend or her financial situation when she was growing up?
With the women I used to date, there are these flashes of moments, these memories of somebody reclining on my bed, melting an ice cube across her breasts in front of an open refrigerator, arching her back up off the floor, her eyes sparkling in a cab, holding my head against her chest, dancing for me in the lonely shadows of a building, drenched in champagne and rain, that makes it seem like everybody has at least one of those moments in them.
At this strip club one night, I remember thinking to myself how amazing it was that I could sit somewhere and have living art move around on every side, have the Venus de Milo come to life and slink across the stage with the same tone to her legs and her shoulders, the same perfect breasts and back. I could watch Cleopatra twirl around a pole and pucker her lips like she was kissing the snake that would eventually suck her nipple. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness could open up and spill out every bit of beauty that Marlowe ever tried hiding his eyes from. For that little while, the entire world disappeared. And God did I need that. Because my world of roaches and rats and stench and filth was unbearable. I was lost in the rapture of a moment of beauty, but bodies alone can’t do that for me anymore. They hurt too bad.
I can never figure out how to get one of those moments to stick around forever, as futile as I know the attempt will always be. I don’t want the moment to stop because as soon as that happens, everything comes crashing back down on me, work and life and lost loves and broken dreams and nightmares and violence and pain and shattered hearts (mine and everybody else’s) and death and loneliness and frustration. It’s my ability to descend so low that lets me fly so high, and I know that all of it, the highs and the lows, are all in my head, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they are real for me, but I’d be willing to trade that ability to see the world in such conflicting grandiosity and despair to just for once live with it as something that simply is: no more, no less, nothing beautiful, but nothing horrible either.
But the girl with the ass is beautiful. So I don’t say anything to her. I just stare at her and love having her near me.
The train comes. I never get to sit down. I stand there, holding the pole, smelling the stench of all the sick breath that everybody’s been breathing into the car, and I stare at the girl with the ass. We transfer at Court Square, and I follow her down the long hallway, between the bustling bodies, using her as my beacon to propel me to where I don’t want to go: the F train.
I never get to sit down on the F either, but sometimes I can get close enough to the girl with the ass that the scent of her shampoo will overpower the stench of the trains. She gets off at Rockefeller Center.
By the time I get to 42nd Street, I’ve already had a thousand arguments with myself about whether or not I should walk the two and a half blocks to work or not, but I always do. There was a time in my life when the mere thought of not going to work would have been enough to keep me from going there, but now I keep thinking about my options.
I know that I have a lease, and for some reason, I’m scared to lose that apartment. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I’ve tried really hard to make it mine. I’ve put up pictures and curtains. I’ve bought furniture and dishes. They’re all second hand, but they’re mine. It’s been a long time since something was mine.
9:30, I show up at work. I turn myself off inside. I avoid eye contact with my co-workers. I don’t engage them in any conversation. Not because I’m late again, but because my interactions with them are so frustrating to me. There’s nothing for me to say to them. They don’t know anything about me. They don’t know about what I’ve already put myself through that morning. And I don’t know anything about them. All I know is what they talk about with each other. And I can’t stand listening to them talk about all the new temp applicants. I’m a temp too.
I’ve been temping for three years, but I just started working at my agency three months ago. It hurts me to listen to the way they talk about the people because I know it’s the same thing all of these agencies said about me: He expects us to place him! Where did he go to school? Might as well throw that resume away. He has absolutely no skills. No, it doesn’t matter how smart he is. Is he polished? That’s the question.
But the silence is killing me. I sit here, and I think about all the mistakes I’ve made, and it tears me up inside. I think about how alone I am these days, and I remember that it’s my fault. I’m the one who leaves my girlfriends. I’m the one who never calls my friends. I think about how broke I am and that that’s my fault too. I’ve made plenty of money this year, but somehow I always manage to spend it all. On what? I used to have experiences, and I still do. But now they usually involve something that leaves me dead inside or terrified for months or weeks or days. I’m scared of STDs. Every blemish that shows up near my lip has me counting the seconds until I find out if it’s herpes.
I check my email every ten minutes (sometimes even more) just to see whether or not a magazine has accepted one of my stories or whether an old friend I’ve abandoned has tried getting back in touch with me. I think that when I go home, I’ll put a résumé together so that I can start finding a real job that might give my life some semblance of meaning. I never believed that a person could or should be defined by his or her work, but this world is slowly beating me.
5:00, I go home. I don’t read on the way home. I’m too sad, too depressed, too drained. I look everywhere for the girl with the ass, promising myself that I’ll introduce myself to her, that I’ll find out her name, and that I’ll ask her out on a date. But she’s not on any of the trains. She’s not at the station. Somehow, some day, I need to figure out what time she gets off of work because I know that my day would end differently if I saw her then.
When I check my mail, I always pray that today will be the day there will be a letter of acceptance from a magazine. I always pray that when I listen to my answering machine, a magazine will have called to say they want to publish one of my stories. But nobody ever calls. There’s never any letters other than bills and the occasional self-addressed return envelope with a story inside and a slip of paper that says: Thank you for sending your submission to (insert name of magazine here), but it does not suit our needs at this particular time. We regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes a personal reply impossible. We hope you will continue your interest in (insert name of magazine here).
The other week, I went straight out after work and started drinking whiskey. That night when I got home, one of those return envelopes was in my mailbox. I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw the envelope across the room, ran to the wall, picked it up from where it fell, and started struggling to rip through the stack of pages. I ran into my bedroom, pulled out all the stories I’d ever written (there were a lot of them too), and started ripping them into the smallest pieces that I could, scattering them across my apartment, from my bedroom to the kitchen, dotting the floor in an avalanche of white paper. I might have been crying, but I don’t think I was. I was just angry.
When I woke up the next morning, my head swimming and the world fluid, it was all gone, not the scraps, just the stories. Four years of work, gone, just like that, because I didn’t think anybody liked it. I swept the scraps into a pile and threw the pile into the garbage. Those stories are at a dump somewhere outside the city now. Maybe they were incinerated on a garbage barge somewhere. Either way, they’re gone. Nobody’s ever going to read them. I had to start all over from scratch. New stories that nobody still likes, but I’m not getting rid of them this time. Sorry, I don’t care anymore.
Because even if I do get published, my money problems aren’t going to go away. I’ll still be poor. Maybe I shouldn’t have come to New York. It hurts to be so close to everything but so far away from it at the same time. It hurts to talk to people who make their money doing what they want to do, when I still spend every day…
When I open the door to my apartment with all my second hand furnishings, I know that I’m a loser, but I don’t know why. I’m smart. I’m attractive. I’m conversational until I twist all up inside. How can you love being alive but hate life? How does that make any sense?
It’s easy to believe in yourself when you don’t have to. It’s a lot harder to do that when the belief is all you have.
I throw the story and the slip of paper away as soon as I walk in the door, and I wish that at the very least, a personal reply would have been possible. I wonder if they know how much that would have meant to me?
I sit down, and I smoke a cigarette. Outside my window, across the East River, the World Trade Center looms up, blocking the sunset. Sometimes the towers rise as a monument. Other times, they’re a deformity on the sky. And sometimes, they’re built from a child’s erector set.
The other day, a fog rolled across the river, and they disappeared completely. Manhattan vanished like the mirage that it is.
I open up a notebook.
There’s so much I want to say. So much I want to look at, to tell people about. So much I want to admit to myself but that I’m too scared to deal with. There’s drinking and violence and strip clubs and prostitutes and one-night stands and jobs. There’s the pain that I’ve caused the women I care about, and then there are the women that I’ve never called back even once. There are the ways I’ve hurt myself: not sleeping, not eating, smoking and drinking and drugs. I want to pull my life together a little better.
I close the notebook. I’m going to go work on my résumé. That’s what other people do, I think, but for them, it’s easy because they don’t have a dream. They don’t have a passion. They don’t have something that means more to them than food or love or happiness. They find a job they can be content with. They find a life that is stable and purposeful and allows them to fall asleep at night.
I don’t care about sleeping because I don’t care about comfort or purpose. I care about meaning. And I’ve made it my goal to create that meaning. I believe in my dream when nobody else does. I have a career. I’m a writer, goddamnit!
I decide that maybe I should take a shower instead. After the shower, I put on different clothes. I put on my clothes, not the stiff shirt and dress pants and black socks that I wore for eight hours, but jeans and a tee shirt and a pair of white socks that slide into my boots.
Sometimes I smoke a little weed, and sometimes I don’t. I decide that I’m feeling a little better and that it would be nice to get some coffee and to read and write. So I do that. I love that.
I love sitting in cafés and listening to people’s conversations. I love the subtle ways that people check each other out in cafés, never too overt, never anything to initiate contact, just enough to make everybody feel a little better about themselves.
I love living in Brooklyn. There’s a very strange thing about Brooklyn because the artists’ community is so young, the neighborhoods have a strange texture of the children and old folks who have never left and the under thirty gentrifying crowd. I often wonder if there really is anything going on in these little neighborhoods across the river. We don’t have the vibrancy and vitality of the city. Our neighborhoods are spread out. We stretch all the way across the waterfront. We can’t afford the city, but we don’t have a neighborhood. Everything is the new SoHo, the new Village, but those are as close as Williamsburg and Greenpoint. We’re as far away from each other as Harlem and Chinatown (and we’ve been known to pop up there as well). We aren’t a neighborhood of artists. We’re an entire city of them.
I blow my mind out on a book and my own stories, and I decide I should go to the bar to shoot some pool, to clear my head.
Around the corner to my regular bar. I sit down and wonder whether or not the bartender feels bad for me, coming in alone every day, even on weekends. It’s not that I don’t have any friends, I want to tell him. It’s just that I never call them.
I order a beer and set my cigarettes up on the bar. The game is on TV. If the Yanks are winning, it’s a good night. If they aren’t, well, who knows.
After my first beer, I pull a pen out of my bag and start writing on a napkin. By the time I finish my second beer, I’m ready to switch to whiskey. I move to the back of the bar to shoot some pool. I decide that this makes me feel good, drinking and shooting pool, not thinking about sex, not thinking about writing, not thinking about the girl with the ass, not thinking about anything. For those moments, I think that maybe I am just like everybody else.
New York’s a big city, and there’s always a girl in my bar who I don’t know. I always see her looking at me, and I always say that tonight there’s no reason for me to try to get laid because there’s the girl with the ass who I promise myself I’ll talk to tomorrow, and besides, there are more important things in the world than sex.
For me, through most of my life, even when I hardly ever did it, human interaction always revolved around sex. That was my motivation for everything: for going out, making money, writing, everything. I need to learn how to know people, to care about them, but I don’t know if I’m capable of that. That’s why I’m so terrified of herpes. They’d kill who I am.
But time goes on. The drinks keep flowing, and somehow, before I know it, I’m not the guy at the bar with the pen and the napkin anymore. I’m the guy who shows up at the bar every night and every night winds up talking to the girl that everybody else wanted to talk to as soon as she walked in. That’s why nobody ever talks to me when I show up. I’m that guy.
Before I know it, we’re heading to her place. Always to her place. We might not have sex, we might just drink or smoke pot and make out, but even if we do fuck that night, I rarely bother sleeping with the girl anymore.
I go home around two or three or four or five or six depending on when I get bored of her, when she gets bored of me. I go home thinking that it sure would be nice to fall in love and maybe she could have been the one, if only I had bothered getting to know her…
What the fuck was her name again anyway? Did I keep her number or did I throw it away as soon as she closed the door? I hope I don’t bump into her again. I wonder if she gave me a disease. I wonder if I gave her a disease that I don’t know I have. How much money did I wind up spending tonight after all? Why doesn’t anybody like my stories? Why didn’t I put together that résumé so I could be going to a different job tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask the girl with the ass what her name is…
Back to my bed, to dream and wait for the alarm to ring again in the morning.
Click here for more stories from Israfel Sivad’s collection The Cars Behind, Beside Us.