by Kristen Hintz
August 1, 2004
The glistening pavement beneath his face, wet ebony peppered with tar and charcoal, thrust a million miniscule knives into the contours of his skin. As he emerged from the intoxicating state of unconsciousness, he wondered where he was. Then, he realized he was wet and wondered about that for a piece. Still unanswered was the only question he could not solve through observations alone. Opening his eyes, he would see where he was and the rain that saturated his clothes. His eyes would not lie to him. However, they would not, could not, reveal his identity, even to himself.
It wasn’t until later, after a cold turkey sandwich and a half-can of flat Dr. Pepper, that he allowed the plaguing question to present itself.
He peered out from the window of his cramped apartment to the spot in the parking lot below where he had last slept. It was the only sleep he had had in four days.
“You need to figure out who you are,” the long-limbed psychiatrist had told him only one day prior. “This sleepwalking,” she had said, “stems from something deep within you. When, exactly, did it start?”
“Three weeks ago.”
“Did you ever sleepwalk before? As a child, perhaps?”
“What happened the first night? The first time you realized you were sleepwalking.”
He had awoken in a fully extended cherry picker across town.
“Was it frightening?”
He awoke in a different place every night. On a swan-shaped paddleboat in the middle of the pond at the park. Perched atop the swing set at an elementary school, twelve feet above the gravel. Lying atop a sunken grave marker.
He had taken to caffeine as of late. He spent every hour trying to discover a way to end it, to stop the dreams that turned into nightmares. When the knock sounded, he did not pause at the late hour but mechanically answered the door.
“You’re late,” said the man at the door in tones as deep as still water with an accent lacking the distinction of geography. He easily filled his monochromatic business suit with his height and breadth. He was an old man, but not elderly. Age comes with the nights left behind you; the elderly are measured by the sleepless ones. He had no umbrella and no rain droplets sprinkling his dark suit. He did not wait for an invitation to enter.
“Late? For what? Who are you?”
“Don’t be foolish. Our appointment. You’ve been coming to see me most every night for three weeks.” The large man paused. “Didn’t I tell you to meet me in the parking lot?”
“The parking lot—”
“Yes! I said I would arrive to pick you up at a quarter to three. It is now,” he examined a silver pocket watch with a heavy chain, “three-twenty-two. I grew tired of waiting so I parked the car and came up. We might as well just do it here.”
“Do what, exactly?”
“No time for that nonsense, as I’ve already told you.” The large man sat back, deeply, on the overstuffed couch, holding a blue fountain pen in his corpulent left hand. In his right, he held a pocket-sized spiral notebook, bound at the top. He flipped it open, passed a few pages scribbled with blue ink, and spoke again: “Shall we begin?”
“I don’t understand. What do I do?”
The large man sighed, hooked the pen under his index finger, and pinched the skin between his shut eyes with his thumb and middle finger. “You,” he explained slowly, “simply say, ‘Alex, I’m done with these childish antics and am ready to begin.’”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Sit down. Not there, on the chair. Now, you know full well I can’t tell you the answer to that question. Otherwise, these past three weeks would have been a waste.”
“Why? Why would they have been a waste?”
Alex looked at him carefully before answering, his coffee-colored eyes revealing none of the thoughts behind them. “For the same reason it would be a waste if I made you study every night for an examination only to give you a test with the answers filled in.”
“What’s on the test? What am I studying for?”
“Only one question: why do you keep coming to see me?” Alex leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “What are you trying to figure out?”
“And why do I need your help to do it?”
Alex smiled. “Well, that’s an easy one. You already know that answer.” Alex lowered his voice to a whisper and tilted his oversized body into his words, as if afraid he would drop a vital syllable if he were not careful. “Because, my friend, you can’t do it alone.”
“Why can’t I?”
Alex settled back into the mauve upholstery and began writing again in the notebook. “No one has the mental or emotional capacity to go through life entirely on their own. I showed you this at the pond. Until I helped you paddle, you could only move in circles. With only one side of the boat being powered, you couldn’t get off the shoreline.”
“You were there?”
“Yes, of course I was. I was also at the playground, the cemetery-.”
“And the cherry picker.”
“What? No. You did that on your own. That was before we met – before you came to me the first time.” Alex stopped writing and pulled himself from the couch. “What happened three weeks ago?”
“I started sleepwalking.”
“Is that the answer to the test?”
“I hate my brother. That’s not a recent development.”
“Why does that matter? What happened three weeks ago?”
“He took her from me.”
Alex shook his head. “No. People do not take other people the way they take candy from a jar. It was as much her decision as his. And yet, you are only angry with him. Why is that?”
“I don’t know. I loved her.”
“So? So, I loved her! I am nothing without her.”
“Nothing? What a ridiculously boring and lonely existence.”
“You mock me.”
“Why not? I’m just saying that for being nothing for the last three weeks, there certainly is a lot of you.”
“I need her.”
“Need someone else.”
“I don’t need anyone.”
“Make up your mind.”
I mean there will never be anyone like her again. There can’t be. God wouldn’t allow two of her in one world.
“This is true. But, there will be others. You cannot live in total isolation. That is the lesson it is imperative you learn.”
“Then will my sleepwalking stop?”
Alex laughed openly. “I’m not some crackpot old psychic. That’s not for me to decide.” Alex patted his suit coat pocket for the notebook and set the pen down on the table. “Did you go see the psychiatrist yesterday?”
“Did you make a return appointment?”
“Cancel it.” And Alex was gone without a puff of smoke or the opening and closing of a door. Just gone.
The next morning, he awoke in his bed. On the roof.