Tobacco and Dead Things
In his dream, Greg was stuck in transit. First, he was coming from work, smoking a cigarette and sliding the edge of his last paycheck over the tips of his fingers, staining the paper pink, then crouching by the creek, counting the seconds and hours and years as the tired brown flow forever pushed and pulled at mud and bank, then in the dark below the MARTA station, listening to the busy stomps and whispers buzz and echo above his head, then cold and huddled beneath a covered bus stop, watching the rain pelt the ground and hugging himself deeper into his poncho, then crouched on the open windowsill of an abandoned house, squinting through blackness and scratching his fingernails on the rotten wood walls and straining his ears against the bumps and creaks of human absence. The days and stations whirled around him like drops of black in the static between television channels. A few people shambled here and there, coughing and staring at their feet as they walked, fumbling with newspapers and wristwatches and bus schedules. Greg couldn’t remember where he was supposed to go anymore; the lines and routes on the maps crossed and blurred as he stared at them. His train hummed to a stop and he thought, time to change lines—always changing lines. When the doors slid open he found himself in the basement of his father’s house.
Dim shards of moonlight cut through the dark, stale room, leaving patterns of dust in the air and white lines on the wooden walls. There was a creaking on the steps and he looked to the stairs to see the glare of a flashlight followed by the outline of an old woman, maybe his mother. She swung the beam over the room, over old chairs missing legs and cracked mirrors and discarded toys and clothing. She sighed. “Take whatever you need; we’re throwing all this old, broken shit out pretty soon anyway.”
Greg squinted desperately through the blackness, scanning the floor for the train tracks he knew must be there. He didn’t want to be caught in its path when it rushed through the room, didn’t want to be trapped between its lights and crushed and flung lifeless aside from its screaming, impatient way. He could already hear the beeping and grinding as it stopped to trade passengers somewhere up the line, behind the walls.
The old woman sneezed and wiped her nose on her shirt. “Remember your fare, Greg, ’cause nobody rides this line for free. Even if you have nowhere to go.”
Greg could feel the rumbling now, and he knew the train was coming right at him, would roll right over him and he would disappear forever. He grabbed desperately in the air for a cord to stop the train, to give him time to get out of the way, to get home.
His hand disappeared and he realized he had been sleeping with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling. He was in his father’s house, in his bedroom upstairs. Two lines of moonlight ran down its length; the rest was shadow. He lifted his head and pivoted his feet to the floor. The room dipped and swam and with it his stomach and he knew he was hungover. He could smell the sharp, almost fecal odor of vomit, and behind it, tobacco and dead things. The smell was acutely familiar, though he could not place it.
He stumbled downstairs to the kitchen, careful not to wake his parents. Everything seemed wrong here, out of place, and he realized that this wasn’t his father’s house—it was his house. His fingers shook as he scooped coffee grounds into a filter. He wondered idly if he was still dreaming, if he would wake up and be a kid again, but the dream was already fading away beneath a growing headache.
“You promised me you’d quit.” Faith’s voice startled him, and he jerked, spilling coffee grounds over the counter. He looked around, trying to locate her, but the room seemed to tilt away everywhere he looked.
“I guess you have me figured out: pick up a white chip and I come running back to you. Then you get wasted and I’m the one who has to take care of you.” She walked into the room. She was wearing a white nightgown. Her eyes were puffy, like she had been crying.
Greg stammered and tried to say how the seconds had become hours and the hours had become years and, in an instant of distraction, the road ahead had become the road below and the road behind, with only the cracking of old bones beneath the tires to make the passage and, above all, all his crimes were crimes of love, be he stuttered and lost his thought and instead he told Faith he loved her and they went back upstairs and fell asleep together and Greg dreamed about being young again, again.
Daniel Chameides (1976-2016) was a computer programmer, mad genius, and prophet to all who knew him. He wrote poetry, short stories, aphorisms, and along with Jordan A. Rothacker he conceived the Art/Art Manifesto. He will be missed but his writing lives on.