Sometimes I talk to who I used to be. Sometimes I give advice. This is the sort of thing I say.
Last night, before you went to bed, you went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. You were careful not to spill a drop, because you knew that every drop of water on the kitchen floor is a hundred billion tiny moments in time that would have a drop too few, right across the world and through every bit of window and door. So you were methodical in your approach; you stayed away from the precarious ledges and corners of the counter tops. It was a dark night. Counter tops are not to be trusted.
Goblins and mothers – do you have a mother? – aren’t allowed in your room. That is an injunction. Lock your door from now on. Plug your ears when the doorknob rattles and the music sounds. And don’t be afraid.
You drank your water and went to bed like a good little girl. Then you started to dream. Now that you are asleep your ideas will tumble out of your head, where they will clatter to the floor. If only she could see the state of your room in the morning, with every available surface covered in half-remembered dreams. Your mother, I mean. Do you have a mother? Do you know where she went?
Somewhere, right now, there is a funny man in a suit, who lives exactly where you can’t see him. There. He has a very black hat, and no shoes. He is very big – bowlegged – and his eyes are too clever for his face. He is sharp and angular. His palms face backward, pointing up while the man is pointing down. His hair is white and his cheeks are gaunt and scarred. He is stoic and crusty – the way crabs are crusty – and he is so, so, painfully old. There is a bird that lives with him, on his shoulder. You have already met him: sharp and severe, tall and square. He is separate – taken from a maker and made to take and make shelters – cut off from friends he doesn’t want. He is not quite human but certainly alive.
This man lives in heaps and incongruous shapes, and he keeps hidden things. His home is everything: everything that has ever existed or almost existed, and everything that decided not to exist and was cast aside. He doesn’t have a name, but those who know him (and they don’t) call him the idea man. The idea man is the landlord. He is the only thing keeping starving and dying ideas off the streets. He never, never lets a drop of water spill from his glass.
Here is the idea man, sifting through garbage and useless trinkets and everything you’ve ever thought of. In the center of your room, he is collecting your dreams. He captures them or leads them with graham crackers or holds their hand and carries them out of the floods at the end of the night. Don’t worry. He doesn’t look inside, because that’s not his job. He would never look at your secrets, even if you asked him to. He wouldn’t know how. All he sees are gasping shapes and horrid little pictures of dwindling and loss. He saves ideas; he brings them to a refuge far away from the wayward minds that discarded them. They all have a place, somewhere with the idea man and his house of white lines. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Everybody knows where ideas come from.
Deep, deep below everything, the idea man sits in his hotel room and stares at the wallpaper. Greens and browns and purples and oranges swirl in and out and in again, coalescing into shapes of – coalesce just means change – into shapes of furniture and an old TV. But not just that – the sparks of electricity, the atom ideas sit at attention inside every piece of fabric. They shape a clock: 4:30. Almost time. The provided room phone is off its hook, bird-chirping and crying for help. Static. It is very, very dark here, in the hotel at the bottom of the map. There are no windows, but there are doors.
Endless doors. Wooden apertures, deep red mahogany. Layered, nested, infinity doors, untold trillions inside each other, spiraling through twisting hallways. Each door is marked with a small, white label, with the name of its occupants written in black sharpie above the doorknob. The idea man’s room, marked “management” in lowercase letters, has only one door adorning the wall, but that door leads to every inch of his territory. And tunnels, too. Little paths for stories to pass through, leaving chunks of bleeding words behind.
He rises from his dark armchair and makes his way to the door. When he moves, he doesn’t – not quite. His feet in black wool socks drift on the floor. He is motionless. He lets his environment speed and froth and change and take him to where he wants to go. Dirt roads and long, wilting fields melt into concrete and steel and blue buses and old hotel rooms below his feet and beneath his fingers. He opens the door, and the way walks for him. So we will try to keep up with him, as the world runs for the opening in the walls.
He adjusts his coat and fixes his hair beneath his very fine hat. He turns the knob and walks through, traveling with each step through uncountable rooms, speeding and changing like a flip book, or a firefly. He passes through rooms filled with marriage proposals and toasters that don’t scorch bread and third-grade homework and grocery store plans and a million, million novels. Haircuts and F-sharps and arguments and fish and debates and .22 derringer pistols and waking up early and sex and butter knives. He stops, after a step, at the end of a hallway miles away from where he started, and opens this door as well.
There are some ideas that don’t like to be disturbed: that slam the locked gates, screeching to be let out. He takes out a key. Some ideas are dangerous. He opens the lock. He opens the. He. Some ideas are malignant, and are locked away like prisoners in the hotel. He turns the knob. He turns the. He. Some ideas devour you from above, pulling you out of sight by your hair. You’ve heard that rhythm before. 4/3/1/4/3/1. How strange.
And never forget that nightmares are dreams too.
There, amid fairy tales and politics and ghost stories and where birds go when the sun goes down, is the last door in the hallway, and inside is another man, with sunken eyes and a smile that is a little too wide. He wears a suit, black and white and thin, with very fine shoes and no hat. His face is long, stretched and pulled like taffy, and his voice crunches and churns like broken light bulbs. The shadows in his room rise like mist, obscuring his waist and slim hand, which holds a knife. On his wrist is a broken watch. His reddened, silent slab eyes stare and bore over spectacles with no lenses. He grins, warmly and lovely, like a child, when the idea man opens the door.
Somewhere deep inside the music man’s room, in a crowded cabinet under the sink, a child is screaming beneath the broken, broken and breaking white noise. You. A little girl is trapped there.
Do you remember him? He used to live in your basement. He gave you a music box.
Or maybe it was me. Maybe I’m under the sink. Maybe it was all my fault. Hee hee hee.
Rims of the road and the shallow bedsheets, and somebody got inside your head. The doctor didn’t think you would ever wake up. Stay back, keep away, and try to remember how you died.
The music man, the little nightmare that you found under your bed, looked at the corpses of idle thoughts and schoolyard crushes scattered around your floor. Thoughts and crushes and brothers. Your brother Sam. I’m so sorry. In those days he was a simple melody, a jingle that had latched onto a confused child and refused to let go. The boy killed himself – jumped from a building to escape the noise, but the cunning nightmare traveled on his music to another mind, and another, and another, leeching and tearing his victims like tissue paper, and slowly a tune gripped the dreams of child after child after child after child. I remember the rooftop. The endless fall. Yes. You jumped too. Off the roof. But I did not die. I remember that night, when the world dreamed of the Atlantic ocean.
Counter tops are not to be trusted.
He looks around in your thoughts and feels them sifting around a short stretch of time that you don’t let yourself remember, and he doesn’t care. All he cares about is the note. He wants it back – he wants back what we took from him. So he brings me into the room. I am the child in the cupboard, and so are you, Sam.
I don’t have the note. I can’t tell him what it says.
There is the music man, the child in the cupboard, bodies on the floor, and the noise, growing and laughing and resonating inside my fingertips, and nothing more. And into the room comes the idea man, reaching into his back pocket and pulls out a thought. There. And as the he runs to the huddled little girl, and as the nightmare creeps from the shadows, knife in hand and pointed at her back, and as the world ends around them, the door slams shut, and the lock clicks, and the hallway beyond is very, very quiet.
And then you wake up, and you’re me. And then you know what was written in that note, and you begin to run, and you never, never stop. For almost two hundred years now, you never, never stop running.
-April 14th, 2013.