Still working through draft 1 of my latest short… getting there. No inspo quote today, just being accountable and posting some progress. Onward!
The night Piper left, Mike had a dream that was out of character. He was standing in a room of a castle he presumably owned, rough stone walls and all. The place has at least half a dozen bedrooms that he was eager to forget about, because he’d heard that the very wealthy find everything disposable. He gets the warm tickle on the neck feeling when someone is hiding and waiting to scare him. The whole place glows red. The children’s chorus from “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays with greater volume until he wakes.
Mike didn’t dream at all really, and when he did it was the warped edge of an action movie where he kept trying to reload his gun but the bullets are made of fruit snacks or various root vegetables. He poured a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and, defying a rule of Saturday morning cereal etiquette, ate them without joy. He was convinced that this new dream has something to do with her.
He met Piper through a co-worker at the magazine who had gone to private school with her. He needed a roommate who would be comfortable living on a sofabed for at least a year while he saved up for this self-indulgent journalistic odyssey to Mongolia that he never ended up taking. She was, to this day, the only girl he found beautiful but had no desire to fuck. Her hair was down to her lower back, the kind that you would twist up and pull during some tantric patchouli-laced session. Every piece of clothing she owned was silky or flowy or billowy or any adjective that implies that a light breeze might blow her sideways. She did all the shit you’d expect – vegan, power crystals, karma, astrology, Native American mysticism that spanned several tribes. She never had steady work but paid rent on time. He never heard her turn the shower, but she always smelled clean.
Mike’s next door neighbor was a 70-year-old woman named Stephanie. Names like Ethel, Gertrude, and Opal were now reserved for kids younger than 5 – the inevitable generational reversal of what was considered edgy. Stephanie was tolerant of loud parties and barking dogs, but today, as he walked past her in the hallway, she didn’t say a word and he can feel the heat of her look as he headed towards the stairs. Piper had once given her a chunk of rosy “healing quartz” and a tea that was supposed to treat sciatica. She had probably heard her move out the night before and blamed him for it.
The park was a good place for him to sit and think about this dream, but he needed to get there early before the first wave of strollers landed on the playground. He took the dream and pulled it apart for analysis. Details were already fading from memory, and he used a pocket notebook to scribble everything he remembered. Old reporter habit. The dream could have been at any castle estate in any Eastern European Dracula nest, but there was a recalled detail – he was in the kitchen of the dream house, and a burner on the stove was lit.
Glancing up Mike saw a handful of mothers and nannies throwing him looks. He resembled a “suspicious character,” some junkie time traveler with an unkempt mustache, growing bald spot, and eyes that he’d been told looked like they’re only made for fucking or judging. He couldn’t sit on a bench five minutes before whisper campaigns begin and cops asked him to move along. He wanted to tell them that something like 95% of child abductions are perpetrated by a family member, but his breath smelled like shit and he had bigger fish to fry. He left before anyone has a chance to spread paranoia.
Mike never visited bookstores, much less the ones that were off the beaten path and lack a coffee bar. But he remembered this one on Grand that she took him to once because it had a whole aisle dedicated to assorted quackery – the occult, magic, faeries, dreams. She danced through the aisles and read aloud brief passages of at least a dozen books before she was silenced by a 600-page whopper called “Love in the Age of Aquarius,” which recalled the sexual history of twenty men and women between 1965 and 1979. She left it when she moved out and he had noticed it on top of the refrigerator that doubled as her private bookshelf.
The place looked exactly the same except for the person behind the register. It used to be an old man who looked like he was ready to pull a book of spells out from under the counter. But now it was a guy in his early 20s with coke bottle glasses who told Mike that books on his desired subject were moved to an aisle that did not get direct sunlight from the store window, to protect their crusty pages. Under “Dreams and Slumber,” there were a few books about how to get a better night’s sleep, what happens to your brain while you sleep, and how well-rested people are the best lovers. The title “Your Dreams A-Z” jumped out at him as straightforward, so he flipped through it. Under “House” he found a number of listings, including “House – unknown to dreamer. Represents loss, or being lost.” and “House, large. Represents wandering, searching, foreboding. A puzzle or maze.”
At the register Mike reached into his back pocket for his wallet and felt the skin of his fingertips snag on the denim. They were raw with tiny cuts, and a few nails were split like he’d been clawing at something.
“What? She just left!? Why?”
“Maybe she had these really deep feelings for me that she’d been hiding for two years and she just couldn’t handle the pain of love anymore.”
“Well obviously that’s not it.”
Mike decided to grab lunch with Lewis because he knew for a fact that he’d hooked up with Piper a few times at his house parties, and thought maybe she’d had some revealing pillow talk.
“She called me yesterday morning so she could return a few of the movies she borrowed. I saw her for like 10 seconds at First Crack and I asked her if she wanted to get coffee while she was there and she, you know, floated away how she does.”
“What movies did she borrow?”
“Uh, Dead Poets Society, Shakespeare in Love, and – HA! Jesus – Rosemary’s Baby and The Witches of Eastwick.”
“That sounds about right.”
“I don’t know man, she was looking very Stevie Nicks yesterday. Out to lunch and kind of skipping down the street. Seemed happy though. Hey, what’s up with your fingers? They look like they got chewed up in an In-Sink-Erator.”
Mike should have written Piper off as just another post-grad drifter who needed cheap rent and had low expectations. He’d had a few like her come in and out of his life through the years – the self-righteous who would publicly shame you for eating meat, but fell to pieces in bedroom shadows if you criticized their Birkenstocks. Fragile and indignant and fiery balls of sweet earth. He wouldn’t have been so curious about her now if he hadn’t come home about a half dozen times before and found her looking furious but sitting completely still at the kitchen table with her fists clenched. Her eyes were focused, but on something he couldn’t see. Her nose would run, but she didn’t wipe it and it formed a quarter-size pool of snot on the placemat. After about an hour of this she’d spout off something so coherent and succinct about the state of society that he thought she’d swapped bodies with a Philosophy major. She quoted books he’d never even seen in her collection. Then her face would mellow and she’d make them pancakes and coffee and talk about her impending trip to the farmers market like nothing had happened. There was something more to her, and all the mini bonsais and Hopi totems in the world couldn’t hide it.
He couldn’t remember how the fight had started last night, sort of the way dreams never have beginnings. She’d known for weeks that he’d been assigned as a freelancer to go to New Mexico for a few weeks, but she few off the handle when he mentioned the subject her was going there to cover. There had been some back and forth about how she wasn’t his wife, how she wouldn’t date him if her reincarnated soul depended on it, and devolved into him stating that her rose-scented purity candles made the place smell like a funeral home, and she telling him that he shouldn’t throw stones in his glass…CASTLE. She had said castle instead of house, and he’d mocked her about it right before she started packing. They were equally shocked at the force of their anger.
He wished people still had address books. Emergency contacts written longhand on scraps of paper and taped to walls. Forwarding addresses. Each year he had the embarrassing task of asking for the addresses of his closest friends since he never saved them or deleted the text. Which is to say that he had zero clue how to reach Piper. She didn’t use Facebook or Twitter or anything else, as far as he knew. He struggled to remember the names of the strange friends who showed up at their place 30 minutes at a time to smoke a joint and rap about their sensei dujour. He came up with Cymbeline because he remembered complimenting her name. A flash of frizzy auburn hair pulled into thick braided pigtails.
It didn’t take long to find the three Cymbelines that lived in the area and narrow it down to the girl who had a profile picture of Bjork cradling an oversized butterfly to her bare breast. He drafted a private message.
“Hey Cymbeline, its Mike, Piper’s roommate. She moved out the other night, but didn’t tell me where she was going. Do you know where she’s going? Just want to make sure she’s OK. Thanks. Mike.”
The reply came 15 minutes later.
“Hi Mike. I haven’t seen Piper in months – she stopped coming to my book club. Last I heard she was planning some retreat…I think maybe in the Southwest. If you do get in touch with her, tell her she owes me my copy of The Devil’s Detail.”