Slowly I wake up on the floor. My bare shoulders rest with gratitude upon the wood planks. They’re solid and unyielding. The small of my back curves up and shifts a little too much weight to my ass. Am I cold? I take a long breath and decide: no, I’m comfortable. I could use a thin blanket but I’m fine right now. I look up at the ceiling.
I remember where I am. My body seizes like it’s been tazed. I spring to my feet quicker and lighter than a man my age should be able to, better than I’ve ever done in my life. My leg reaches out for the first step out the door, and all the blood drains out of my head. The sound of my bare feet on the floor is muffled, my own gasping and moaning is muted. Before my knees give out I grasp the jamb and rest my forehead against the door. Head rush. Got up too fast. Not enough fluids. I draw as much air as my lungs can hold and slowly release it with an exaggerated, exasperated hiss.
Control. I have to stay in control.
My body rights itself as it recuperates, and I feel my shoulders and pecs shift with more deep breathing. Have to stay in touch with my body, listen to it carefully. Impetuous, lost control. Can’t make that a habit. I wrap my hand around the fixed brass doorknob and jerk the door free of its weak magnetic lock.
Sunlight streams into the foyer of the Victorian mansion I find myself in. It’s unfurnished: it’s lined with meticulously busy wallpaper, and a spiraling staircase rises just behind me, with archways and portals that lead to other unfurnished rooms.
Sunlight, but no fresh air, no song of birds. Definitely no traffic, no other people. My ears are starved for noises, like when you step forward, expecting ground, and you fall for a split second when it’s just a little further than you knew. Just a little difference of space, mere inches, yet it’s as disruptive as a near-death experience. That’s what my ears are going through: I expect lawn sprinklers and it’s like the sound is torn out of my head. I feel like there should be a kid laughing, crying, screaming somewhere, but my skin creeps with the absence of this, as though something horrible is in the process of happening.
The only noise I can hear, outside of my bare footsteps and the rustle of my over-sized felt pajama bottoms, is that dull, thudding stereo. It’s as far away, yet as all-pervasive, as thunder, without any of the treble. I can hear a man’s voice going mrr-mrr-muu-mrr for 20 or 30 seconds, slight rises and falls in tone, then music. Generic music, background music, the kind your brain would automatically generate out of boredom. That will go on for maybe half an hour.
Across the street is another house, a gorgeous, broad Dutch colonial in magnolia with white trim. Such an expensive neighborhood. Sheers and curtains in all the windows, empty driveway, and a wide expanse of that pebbly, rubbery green shit pasted everywhere in lieu of grass. I walk out of the house, treading what looks like molded concrete but feels like the protective plastic coating of a flatbed truck. My bare arms expect a breeze, cool or warm, and are denied. I’d have to be running pretty fast to experience any kind of breeze. Voice of experience.
Now I’m in the street. Even though I know for an absolute fact that there are no cars here, I nonetheless experience that slight thrill of naughtiness with standing in the street for as long as I like. I don’t know, it was just trained into me for as long as I could walk. This is something you don’t do, malingering in the street like this. I hop up and down a couple times, daring another person to come roaring up in a car and take a shot at me. I dare you. I’m inviting you, I want it. Please, anyone.
But there is another person. Not in any of the houses in the one-block representation of my neighborhood, not strolling up the sidewalk, not hiding behind the buildings with a lead pipe. As I stare at the last four houses up the street, two on my side, two on the other, a shadow passes over the sun and engulfs me.
It is a real sun, yes, streaming down upon Earth, through the bay window, through the sheers, through the polished Plexiglas panel over my section of town. But it’s not a cloud that occludes it, it’s her shoulder, or maybe her mane of hair. I look up and there she is, kneeling behind the houses with odd numbers. Hands clasped to her chest. Huge, too-wide, toothy grin shining in the middle of her silhouette. One hand lifts away from the other, and those long fingers waggle at me, thicker than telephone poles flapping in the breeze.
There’s nothing else I can do but slowly raise my arm and wave back at her. There is nothing else I can do. I’ve tried. I’ve run back into the house, slamming the door. I’ve screamed obscenities, tried to tear up objects, anything that wasn’t glued down, and hurl them up at her. All of that is unacceptable and, without words, she has let me know. Sometimes she simply withholds food and water until I exhibit the desired behavior. Imagine me, lying there on the injection-molded plastic street, feebly waving up at her with a wan grin, just to merit a nutrient kibble. Other times, she reaches in with that grossly huge arm and those ungodly large, splayed fingers and−
Never mind. It’s easy enough to pull the corners of my mouth back and wave up at her. Costs me nothing. Gives me so much in return, like another day of existence. Because who in their right mind wouldn’t want to continue existing in this toy village, under an insane god?
Smile and nod. Yes. Stay in control.