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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
By Paul Ford
He had just turned 30, and now he was sitting up in bed, ebbing in and out of sleep after hitting snooze on the alarm. His dream had been remarkable. He had been seduced, and he had told each woman, an older, brown-haired beauty, that he couldn't—that he wanted to, but he had decided to be loyal to his fiancé. He felt victorious and virtuous, having risen above his urges, and become more than savage. When he woke he remembered he had no fiancé.
Now he was thinking about the coffee shop where he worked, knowing that in about an twenty minutes, he would need to drive there and open the grate, bring in the milk, pull the cups from their plastic bags, and unlock the door for the early-morning customers, travelers and wanderers.
He thought of the chimps. Across town, in the university lab, the chimps in cages slepth through the dawn. It came through the grate of the windows, and cast shadows on their shaved heads. A friend worked there, tending the lab, and he had visited a few weeks ago, and now he thought of them constantly. What were they thinking? Were they unhappy? Did they suffer as we suffer?
He needed to get out of this town. 30 was too old, and to have your dreams settle down inside a coffee shop (albeit one he co-owned)—it was not enough. He began a series of self assessments punctuated by exclamation points: He had work to do! A screenplay to write! Or a concept album! Weight to lose! He would need a girlfriend, as well. Not just hook-ups with random 22-year-old baristas earning summer money for college.
There was something soothing in their blank, unblemished flesh. His own pale skin was beginning to rebel against its environment, breaking out in hives at slight provocation. On his chest there was a brown spot and a red spot. His body had begun to die, he knew. It was a slow process from here. And so he occasionally found himself at home with a barista, stroking blue-tipped pigtails as they slept, whistling through their noses.
This brought him to thoughts of of old girlfriends. None of them would call, but it would be funny to hear them, after the years. “Still living there?” they'd ask. “It's not so bad,” he'd say. All of them had gone on, left the town and its strangeness for other towns, or for cities. And then he had a glimpse of the pyramid skyline, that postcard vision of the city that came to him whenever he questioned his small life. It was only three hours to drive there, and yet he hadn't gone over in five years.
At least it was warm out. That was enough for now. There was probably some correct way to feel, some appropriate set of emotions that you take down when your third decade begins. He had no idea, and now the sun was truly there, and he was one speck below it. That soothed him, thinking of his essential speckery.
The garage door went up on the compound down the block. A cult lived there, a few dozen bunked together, speaking their own language, their children feral. Perhaps they were going to meet with the Neanderthals. He wondered what that was about.
He'd seen Neanderthals coming in and out of the compound, and it had shocked him. With a few exceptions, the community of Neanderthals had kept to themselves, avoiding discovery for hundreds of years, and somehow avoiding incident when they were discovered. They were tolerated, and their crafts, the hand-axes and tiny spinning tops, were prized by collectors, and as long as their women covered their tops when they came into town, the attitude was live and let live. The town, if it could be said to have a collective feeling, was protective of them; after all, how many small towns had a community of Neanderthals living with them?
The Neanderthals lived in the woods by the golf course, only about 50 of them left. But that was miles away, and yet here they were, often in the earliest part of the morning, slipping in and out of the the Brotherhood of Holy Union's compound.
Unable to make sense of it, he remembered that last night he had photographed the car. He hadn't known why. He simply took his digital camera out to the curb and took a few pictures. It was an old, brown car with a stick shift and bucket seats, made in a European country that was small, and populated by small people. His head brushed the seat when he firmed his back while driving. But it ran, and required few repairs.
Now he had the photos of it. It had seemed important last night, to photograph the car, but now he had no idea what had inspired him.