We See In the Day and In the Night
began as a ripple. A waver in the image projected into my
brain like the ebb of the tide, or a slight wind on the
surface of a lake, soft and barely perceptible, momentary and
then gone leaving the surface again flat and tranquil. It
didn't happen often but this is how it starts: just a waver.
then it evolves. A rip, a tear, a gash that floats across my
eyes like chasing the swimming detritus and amoebae. I worry
that I'm going blind; I consult a doctor. He tells me that he
can't find a thing. Let's wait and see, he says, if it comes
back maybe we'll do some tests.
say, what is it with you people and the waiting? Can't you do
shrugs, let's just see.
On Fridays I work at the Emporium. Massage-O-Rama they might
as well call it. Low-end. Pastoral colors and potted plants
and candles for fifteen dollars in the front, incense to mask
the otherwise pervasive mold. In the back white linens and
fabric covered walls so as to pretend a semblance of
cleanliness. More candles. Flutes on the portable CD player.
Fridays is ladies half-off night. At eight they line up, drunk
and squirming, and needing some love.
hands are amazing, they tell me.
that's just your back, I say.
never been attractive, not ugly either, just sort of brutish,
like a character actor, not beautiful enough to be the leading
man. But once you've been around enough naked bodies to
realize that we've all go some hideousness, you really stop
her birthday. Her friends come back once I've done their
massages and they've left and come back and ask if I've got a
girl. No. Birthday girl is pushed forward and asks if she can
kiss me, her face red with liquor. Okay. We kiss, brief,
I ride the train out, all the way out to the last stop. Ocean
Beach. Because I've never done it, I get on and ride out. Down
along onto Irving, out the Avenues. Numbered streets, I start
counting at Ninth. Passengers get on, get off. Old Chinese
ladies, pink grocery bags. Med students in green pajamas
carrying coffees. Cars roll by, red tail lights flagging
brakes as they pass. That little bell dings before we start
and the driver throws it in gear or whatever he does, presses
his button. A little man in a windbreaker, faded neon, his
thin hair pushed up over his scalp, wafting up when the doors
open, rides all the way out too. The whole time the little
man's staring at a spot on the ground. Old oil stain or
blackened chewing gum. Doesn't even look up when the doors
open and the pretty, young college girls get on all giggly and
inebriated with youth, with their eggplant purple nails, or
when the driver whips us all around a turn coming out of the
tunnel before Cole, that bell ding-dinging before we fly off
again. We pass forty-eight. A moment later is the last stop.
After that it's just street and then beyond that, over a
little wall and lot, is the sand, rock, and the ocean. You
can't go any further. We get off together, the two of us, the
last riders, him right before me, hesitant like that spot on
the floor is a hole in a dike he's been plugging. Got his
finger pushed up there good. You can smell the salt in the
stand there for a while. Can't see or hear the ocean but it's
out there, just over there. Leap of Faith. He shoves his hands
in his pockets and I mine. The train comes back round. Like a
worm, two heads or two assess, the doors open and we get on.
The doors close and then open and then close again. He's found
a spot. That bell and then we're off. Last stop Embarcadero.
Because it's something to do.
Again my eyes get the waves, white water foam at the edges,
rolling toward the center, blurring my vision. It feels like
someone ripping off the film of my eye, Doc. Like someone's
pulling the lid off my eye if my eye were a pudding. Cold
plastic chair. A bright light. He looks disconcerted and
leaves the room and is gone for awhile and then comes back in.
Here's the name of a specialist, he says and hands me a card.
Not the usual chicken scratch, good doc. Is it contagious, I
say. I have a date tonight.
don't rub them, call if it gets worse. We'll see.
Doctors don't have that sort of humor.
Pull up a ledge, the girl says. It's a long way down isn't it?
A long way up too. There's stars out there, up there behind
that fog and city light. Way up. It keeps going, the universe
jumps up on the ledge, lithe like a cat. A cat wearing
overalls and pigtails like on those calendars in office cubes
and on the walls of lonely middle-aged women. Dressed like
that. What she eight? She's not eight at all, big tits in
there somewhere under those overalls. She walks along the
up here usually, I say.
sit then. Pull up a ledge.
Brooding type, huh? I like brooders sometimes, sometimes not.
You know people say that those quiet types they don't say much
but what they say is real important, real smart. Must be a bit
of pressure. Though I don't think it's so true, maybe you
don't say anything for a reason….
starts to peel, I feel a little woozy like if I go too close
to the edge I might fall over it, six stories. Just high
enough. In the corner where my eyes feel funny and wrong,
peeled back, I see her and me, together, we're in bed. Just
lying there, staring straight ahead. Not saying anything, not
touching at all though we're naked as the day. I blink and it
goes away, just her and the foggy night now.
here by yourself.
were here by yourself before I came up.
The woman's back is horribly burned. Fire, she tells me before
we begin, before she goes into the room and takes all her
clothing off except her underwear. Today isn't the special;
she pays full price. I'd charge her more. Not the scars. I
don't mind them, I've seen plenty worse. It's that I keep
picturing the girl from the roof lying there, all scar tissue
red. Her back like something from a horror movie where bugs
crowd under the surface ready to pop. I wish that my eyes
would roll back now. I keep blinking and nothing. The things I
keep seeing each time keep coming clearer and clearer as
though someone's fucking with the cable, screwing it in tight
and getting me closer to all access. The picture of the girl
here on the table that. Not what I want to see. She has red
hair, the girl does and this woman brown. Fire, she tells me
again all tense. First time? I manage. She is insecure with
the marks, could use love. These hands. These hands like gods.
If you could name them. Zeus. Aphrodite. One with a woman's
touch. A man with a woman's touch in his left hand: the best
masseurs. I move to her legs, scar on scar on cellulite. Roll,
I was wondering if you'd show. I thought I had scared you off.
I didn't did I? I hope not because there's plenty of ledge to
sit on up here. I don't mind sharing if you don't. She is
wearing those same overalls again. Her red hair pigtailed
again. Bare-feet. Country girl in the city.
what do you do.
none but still can't see all the stars. Light pollution. I
miss the stars. They make the ground feel closer. Do you know
what I mean?
The ground still feels far away. My eyes roll. I see us
holding hands, falling from the ledge toward the ground. The
ground coming up quick. The panels of sidewalk, passing the
fire hydrant, the sidewalk yellow-orange in the street lamp
rays which don't slat like the suns but encompass all at once.
Let's move back, I say.
on the roof using my sweater as a pillow so the tar and gravel
don't eat into our heads and look up. I can see the stars, all
of them. The ground doesn't feel so far away.
I ride around the city on my bicycle. Hard going, the hills
there's a lot. I ride up Bush. Fillmore, from the Marina south
where I can barely see the top. I push up 17th after Market.
Sometimes I ride the whole thing in one gear. I get home and
just flop on the ground, breathless, light-headed, legs
shaking, staring at the ceiling, close to death. This isn't so
bad, I say. I go up on the roof where it's cool and the fog is
like the mist off a waterfall. The roof's empty. She isn't
there I sit on the ledge and look down. This isn't so bad, I
say. In time I go back inside. She hasn't shown. I start on
floor six putting my ear to each door. Televisions, radios,
voices. None of them hers. I move down a floor and keep going
until I've gone through them all. On floor one a guy I've
never seen before steps into the hall after I've eared his
door. Can I help you? No, I say. Can I help you fucker? I step
at him and he don't know what to do. He goes back inside his
apartment and shuts the door and I put my ear to his door
again, I hear his voice. He's on the phone. He'll wait awhile
until they come. Response time in this city is shit. I
continue on down the hall. She's nowhere. I go back up to the
roof. This isn't so bad I'm saying when I hear the door open.
She's there silhouetted in the doorway. I don't say nothing.
Been waiting? I've gotta work too you know. I've gotta work
too. She comes and sits and puts my hand on her jean leg.
That other came back. Friday night women half off. This time
she's alone, no squabble of sorority sisters anywhere. I do my
thing. Your hands…Thank you. She's got big green eyes which
I can't see with them shut, she keeps 'em closed the whole
while. Not like most, all the others too nervous with me
standing over them, a big man, unshorn, wild black eyes that
haven't seen sleep. Each time I shut them they roll back. On
the way home I'll buy some pills and some sort of chaser. Your
hands… The girl works with children, teacher of all those
imps like I used to be. Those with special strengths or
whatever mumbo jumbo. Honest work. Not like touching the
germed skin of a thousand people that each in turn now
suddenly make me wish to never see at all again. My eyes roll
to a different place, but it's no go. Only when I wish it
wasn't do they do it at all. I meet with the specialist
tomorrow but it's no surprise what he'll say. And the other is
waiting for me outside when I'm done with the rest of them,
standing on the street by the door with a cigarette for
company. I knew you were a smoker, I say. Yeah. I could feel
it. Her desiccated skin, like parchment paper dried with lemon
juice and burnt on the edges. She looks at me with those green
eyes. We start walking in time, her heels and my sneakers
clicking on the city grimed sidewalk. The neon light of the
Emporium fizzles out. Friday night special is over. It's
uphill to her place, we make good time.
The building is art deco, lots of curves and a big thick rock
it was cut from. These days they don't put time into it at
all, the buildings look like overturned shoe boxes with holes
punched in 'em. The guard behind his granite desk and marble
floor. I go up to the fifteenth floor. Usual magazines and
eyeglasses in cases like slide rules in a museum of
antiquities. Zran is a short, paunch man with a gray beard
trimmed tight and a white lab coat and twitchy features. What
seems to be the problem, he drawls.
him and look out his office window, the city falling downward
on both sides toward the bay. Fat city buses on wires crawling
up Market. We move to the dark room. All the Es you'd ever
care to look at on a board. A machine like an aluminum
brontosaurus swivels its head into my chin and glares down my
Because she wears a thick sweater, wooly and not at all
comfortable looking with a big turtle neck like a beer cozzie
around her with her head popping out and her red hair caught
in the back of it and trailing over her shoulders and her
overalls with the hair going down her back and some of it hid
under the part of the overalls that crawl up to her shoulder
blades. She doesn't ask me where I was or wasn't last night. I
don't offer. We stare up at the stars with her yammering along
and then I stand up and go over to the edge and put my arms
out straight across like jeezus and stand there outstretched
until she comes over and from behind pushes my arms down like
shutting the blades of a scissor and guides me off the ledge.
A bus comes trundling by, shaking the building as if an earth
hiccup. She was there for the big one, she says, when the ball
game was called on account of it. She was in her car driving
to class and didn't feel a damn thing, she couldn't believe
that, how she could have lived for a moment always believing
it to be around the corner for her, a moment that might let
her know what there was to know and know that it was no longer
something to fear, everything after - the abyss - would be
collapsed into an unparalyzing future. You know, to put your
toe into a tub you just drew, feeling hesitant that it'll burn
and then you touch it and it's not too hot so you might get in
and no longer afraid….and I missed that moment in my car so
now it's still out there, waiting. You know?
and I put my mouth to hers just to shut her up.
The other has me over for dinner. Pasta and vegetables and
red. When I come out of the bathroom, she's in the bedroom
where there's candles and that shit new age music they play at
the spa. I know where this is going. I'll give you a discount,
I say. My family and friends rate.
giggles, her green eyes opaline in the flame flicker like
shards of glass reflecting up from a penny wishing well,
bright among all that rusty copper. She giggles some more and
rolls onto her chest.
serious, I say. That's my job. I get paid for my job.
turns her head up and scowls over her shoulder but gets up
anyway and comes back with some bills and slaps those lovely
greenbacks onto the nightstand by the candles. I blow a few of
'em out. The room is smelling of sulfur. I get to work. Those
The tests come back negative. Negative is not good, negative
means they don't have a clue, those doctors.
going blind, I tell Vras.
Sometimes the body does things that science can not yet
explain, he says. He gives me a card too, cause he thinks I'm
a loon. I see a flame between us, a campfire with smoke
trailing languidly to the sky. The other girl is dancing
around us. All of us, all four, naked down to the waist. Me,
the other, the girl, Vras. I shake it off and look out his
windows and try to pretend he didn't just call me crazy and
that I didn't just call him a quack. He picks up the phone in
a strange sense of déjà vu, even more jittery now and behind
me I can hear him telling the guard which floor. I can see the
guard behind his granite shield getting perspiring and lifting
his walkie talkie and taking the elevator up. I take the quick
way down and somewhere we pass, him rocketing up in his
elevator like a casket being flung from the depths and me
calmly descending, looking down over the rail and seeing
straight down fifteen stories. It doesn't look so far.
It'd be so more easy if the one wasn't beautiful and the other
was ugly. Scratch that, it'd be so easy if the one wasn't a
trail of hope that needed following like bread crumbs. Or it'd
be so easy if neither existed. Then it'd just be me and the
ledge and the ground that didn't look so far especially when
my eyes waver and cloud with illusion.
then I start to wonder if she isn't just chimaera also, like
the flame in the doctor's office, both primal visions summoned
by my mind. How right is he? I take the card out which I stuck
in my pocket because I wasn't man enough to throw it back at
him calling me crazy. Then the door squeaks open and I feel
suddenly hungry since I haven't eaten all day since I rode my
bike hard again from the doctor's to here on the roof where I
lay until my heart, my lungs stopped ballooning against my
ribs. I put the card in my pocket and reach for her, afraid
I'll pass my hand right through her, but it don't. She pushes
back. She combs the hair from my forehead, plastered with
sweat. First time in a long time, since I known her, that she
doesn't start yapping right off. I look at her close and see
she's got green eyes too. Dark though, like the bottoms of
moss covered rocks. It's early, no stars for a long time, she
says, let's say we get some dinner. Grub is good, I say and
let her lead me back inside.
My hands are like love letters.
A blade of grass, almost transparent green in the sunlight
piercing through, so that the blade appears to have a backbone
and a lucid body. Gnats in dogfights spread out in military
disarray, dodging and chasing and hovering low on the blade
which is one of many. Cut. Uniform. A lawn and on its even
surface you are kneeled in trousers and a purple blouse, a
beige hat that droops over your head like those fishermen wear
adorned with hooks. You are bent over, a trowel in your hand,
a pile of pulled weeds by your knees.
you see the future? What if you see a different, parallel
I'm just plain crazy.
wouldn't be the only one. She smiles, her teeth like
tombstones in the dark. I set my head on her lap and she puts
her hands to my temples. Now?
too foggy to see them tonight.
Rain streaks and tears through the city on vicious winds
caught in the hollows between buildings. Umbrellas are
inverted, their metal appendages twisted and visible as limbs
in the wings of bats. We walk on, still moving under cover
when possible, though our clothing is soaked through long ago.
I carry a pink plastic bag coated wet, rectangular boxes of
Chinese food. All the way from the Avenues because she'd never
rode out that way and I wanted her too. She holds my free
hand, warm and dry inside our palms. We are full and happy
even in the rain. We look up the sides of buildings, the tops
of which, gray and erudite, seem so very far off. As if that
is where the rain falls from and beyond the sky might be
cloudless and blue, she says. Do you see it? I let them foam,
mixing with the wetness of the rain. I do, I say. I see it,
just like you said.