His eyes burned red in the wall-length mirror. Fine particles of plaster in the air created an irritant. Not recognizing the public bathroom, the traveler knew he was at a place in sleep where he stopped willing his thoughts and they started willing themselves. He glanced down at the splashing tap, and over dribbled pages of his open journal lying beside the sink. He was writing earlier, but the runny, now marbleized ink was illegible. (It was not uncommon for him to be illiterate in his dreams.) Dabbing his eyes, the suitcase in the floor was noticed; torn pages from the journal were heaped in it. He tossed what remained of the intact book into the compartment and fastened the lid.
The trundling suitcase toddled behind him; its wheels hung up on larger chunks of plaster along the corridor. Aloysius gathered he was in that most dreaded of places: an airport. It was empty and, going by the spackled drywall, still under construction. An announcer’s voice broke up on the intercom, but the traveler knew exactly where he was. He was in Los Angeles, where halved hermaphrodites and Paleolithic tar pits dotted a fearful phobic map. The sky turned Pompeii red at dusk here, and spilled down from Benedict Canyon in disquieted, erythrocytic shades.
The leery dreamer stopped at a window. Below him, people swarmed on the tarmac and pointed at the sky. A twinge of vertigo nudged his sights up, although something more primal than the perilous drop gnawed at his reptilian stem. The runway beyond the gawkers was as wide as a football field, and stretched over to a crystal-clear horizon. The effect was one of parallax where, as on the Moon, a lack of atmospheric distortion makes it difficult to judge the size and distance of landscape features.
The tops of his feet began to itch; the septum in his nose tingled. He felt tremors of an airplane still too far away to hear and, not wanting to confront the enormity of it, melted away from the scene.
A single rental car was parked on the parking lot; the out-of-towner dragged his suitcase over the disobliging blacktop toward it. Sunshine turned to shadow on the back of his beading neck before the task was completed. He did not look up to see what blotted out the light, but his sense was of something winged, colossal, and frozen in place. It was not passing in front of the Sun, but the Sun was passing behind it.
Shoving his luggage in the backseat, the motorist sped off in search of an exit. His means of transportation better compared to a soapbox coaster than an automobile, and the scenery through the windshield was similar to an effect seen in old movies, where a moving background was rear-projected onto a screen behind a stationary car. He needed to get to the other side of town where the skyscrapers were, but it was impossible to judge the skyline’s precise distance given the briefness of seeing it between concrete parapets. In one glimpse the buildings were small models situated very close and cleverly camouflaged to fool the eye. In the next, they were towers of such immense height as to hurl shadows onto the San Gabriel Mountains miles away.
Northbound on the Four-O-Five, he presumed the ocean was to the west, where it ominously fused with the sky. There was little time to fret over the frightful panorama, however, since other cars, like corpuscles slithering over his fenders, urged him forward in a stampede. He needed to stay the course to get to his friend’s hotel, which required a trip into the hills.
Aloysius knew the LA City map well, at least from the Ten northward to Mulholland Drive. Unfortunately, each boulevard sign in passing was composed of randomly arranged characters of the alphabet:
At first palm trees on either side of him were as sparse, but shortly they became behemoths packed tightly together. The circumference of each could not be closed as an idea, though their respective heights offered the more daunting view. Shadows over the road suggested a canopy of prehistoric ferns. Only a few pencils of light escaped it.
As his climb continued, the road darkened more—not from trees but from a wafting haze the violet color of iodine. The narrow byway became nearly vertical, which required Aloysius getting out and pushing his feeble mode of conveyance through the thick smoke. Vehicles in the opposite lane resembled comets of crumpled steel dropping from the sky. He heard them before he saw them, and was showered in their hail of black ice.
Initially the cover was presumed to be a forest fire in the hills, but on reaching a clearing, the whole city was under the same bluish-brown cloud. The phobic man was grateful to be spared a view of the metropolis miles below, though peaks of swaying skyscrapers poked up in a thin grey line circling the horizon.
He crouched to minimize his vertigo, and spotted observation posts on the periphery, which placed him at the observatory in Griffith Park. Drawing courage, he scanned the western edge of the cliff in search of the Hollywood sign; large freestanding letters broke through the smoke in a greeting: HOLLYGHJIKLNMOPRQSTUVWOOD
Something peculiar lay at the base of the H. Aloysius knew instinctively it was a carefully folded coat weighted with a purse. He had no desire to venture closer to the perimeter and confirm his suspicion about the body of leaper and doomed actress, Peg Entwistle, being lower on the face.
He limped inside the Griffith Planetarium seeking relief from his excitable state, but found instead a scaffold-of-a-telescope peering up through a crack in the high dome. He need not look through the eyepiece to see on what it was trained. Huge gaseous objects cut a swathe through the visible gap. They were low enough to burn away the miasma, and terrifying enough to push his quivering body to the floor. The idea he was witnessing falling stars gave way when the pinchers of Scorpio appeared, and then the ragged, variegated edge of the Trifid Nebula.
Aloysius was looking at the nine planets aligned in the Zodiac.
The fitful sleeper broke his paralysis; sweat was spread thin like glue under his tee shirt. He clung to the edges of his mattress, still spinning. The shadows of his packing boxes were too high on the wall to be put there by the gibbous Moon. Even before squinting out the bright window curtains, Aloysius knew he was staring into the glare of headlights. His car was left unlocked, and the ever-opportunistic neighbor seized on his inattentiveness to turn them on. The fretful man kicked off the covers and charged outside to deal with the situation, and spied his wicked persecutor snickering from a kitchen window. The miscreant was backlit by a bare bulb, and his dark mouth dipped into the semaphore of the janitor’s dream: THESUNISALREADYUPSHITHEAD
Half the day was gone by the time Aloysius pried himself from bed. He staggered to the refrigerator, rough and pasty-tongued from his pills, but forgot about having finished the soda. He crossed back to where he had been rocking in place earlier and gently removed the photocopies of his coworkers from the wall. The ends of the Scotch tape were folded and the keepsakes placed in the last of the major boxes to be sealed up: the one containing magazine clippings of beautiful women. He admonished himself one last time. “The next time I will ask you out…”
Checking the hallway to make sure the neighbor was not around, the apartment dweller tiptoed down to the bathroom for a shower. His best friend was in town from LA, and the two were to rendezvous later for coffee.
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Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.