One of my stories, that could never fully appear here for reasons of language, concerns a mild-mannered, weak guy who has troubling waking up in the morning. Some really bad guys show up after a few thousand words or more, and theyʼre so bad their language is the problem. However, the story starts okay, so I thought I would see what you might think of the opening…
Right now it doesnʼt really have a title, although at one time I called it “Where Is Your Head This Morning?” I think you can see why itʼs essentially untitled at the moment from that. On the other hand, this guy is really, really having one of those mornings…
When I awoke, I felt as though I had lived through lifetimes. I often feel like that when I wake up. Today was one of the bad ones. I dreamed I’d awakened five or six times since the alarm first went off more than an hour ago, and every arousing–showering–coffee drinking–driving had been interrupted by the re-ringing of the alarm and my fumblefingered punching of the sleep delay, only to drift off into awakening again and endure another variation on my morning routine.
Only now I was awake for real and down to under forty minutes to get to work. 7:22. Ain’t life grand?
Forty minutes was impossible. It took forty minutes to drive to the office. Well, to the parking lot and then walk to the office. I’d never make it. How could I possibly have overslept that long? I must have conked the snooze button twenty or thirty times; or else it was giving me a heck of a lot longer than six minutes between ringings. What to do now? I’d just have to call in. I couldn’t show up an hour or more late. Not without some kind of explanation.
Some mornings, life just isn’t fair.
Most mornings, come to think of it.
Can’t wait for the shower: Lunging up from the bed, I reached for the telephone. It felt funny in my hand, too light. I stabbed my finger at the dial, but three buttons each hit just wrong beeped at me. Buttons? Beeping?
I felt confused for a half-second. I must be exhausted. Dial phones? Did I think I was ten all over again?
The brain is a funny thing. Take care of it, give it plenty of mental exercise and also plenty of rest—and it keeps you up on everything and solves your problems for you. Wear it down through tedium and too little sleep—as I had done lately—and it plays petty little tricks on you.
I punched up the office number. The line droned once, twice, popped and clicked:
“Richardson and Fielding.”
“Richardson and Fielding, Attorneys at Law. How can I help you?”
“I— I’m sorry. Wrong number.” I hung up, embarrassed. What the hell—? I was sure I punched in the right number. 876–5549. I tried it again.
“Richardson and Fielding.” I clapped down the receiver again. Damnation!
—What was I thinking of? 867–5549… That was our old number in Michigan, when I was a kid. Well, with a 3 for the 8, and the 67 reversed. Where was I getting these notions?
I dialed the right number. 876–5032.
“Vex and Blight, Realtors.”
“Hi, Stace. It’s George.”
“Georgie? What’s up, bud?”
“Yeah, Stacy. It’s me.”
“You feeling all right?”
“Feeling all right?”
“Yeah. You sound kind of strange…”
“Uh…” What the hell. “No. I don’t. I don’t feel all right, Stacy.”
“I thought so, George. You sick?”
Took the words right out of my mouth, kid. “Sicker’n a dog.”
“Staying home today, then?”
You got it. “Yeah.” What the hell? I didn’t have anything major on today. Did I?
“All right, George. I’ll tell them.”
“Don’t worry about a thing. You just rest. Get better.”
“Yeah, right. Thanks.”
“Goodbye, George. —And, uh, George, you really must be out of it.”
“You can tell?” Got her fooled.
“Silly, I’m Sara.” Click.
Sara? Who’s Sara? The receptionist’s name is… —Sara, idiot.
And you thought you were fibbing. Dweeb. Where is your head this morning? Where is it any morning? Same place. Ozone land. Wrapped in wool or something.
I shoved my hands against my skull, rotating the heels against the dry heat of my forehead, pushing hard.
I could feel the ice of my fingertips. What the—? That got me out of the bed, in a hurry. Straight across to the bathroom door—
Don’t you mean closet?
Bathroom’s down the hall, dork. Got your whole life upside over this morning? Must have. Would have sworn my bathroom’s just off the bed… Not here, not ever. What am I thinking?
While racing down the hall, rip open the bathroom door, and look into—the shower. Left side, braindead. Shower’s on the right, blue-green curtain. Toilet in front. Sink’s left.
I looked left.
And the face in the medicine chest mirror gleamed with a baldness I had never imagined. And I knew was not my own.
“Kee–raisss…—t.” Something was very wrong here.
What? Afraid to recognize yourself? Living in the past or what?
I’ve been bald for years. A decade. More. I was twenty-two and in Minneapolis with Karen and Guy, sitting in a booth in a Country Kitchen—it was Bloomington; we’d driven up after work and couldn’t find a motel, it was the fair weekend. We had finally paid too much for two Holiday Inn rooms just off I-35 and then gone to find something to eat at about one—and in the booth, as we finally got our food, they both started giggling like junior high schoolgirls when I leaned down to pick some crumb or something off my lap. They couldn’t help it. Mr. Hair was thinning out, right at the crown. Right where I always can feel—
No. That’s not right.
I was holding my skull again. I looked up. Same face.
Same face as always. Hairless skulltop gleaming fleshblue through the darkness of fingers. Glaring eyes between the palms expressing fear of everything. Dirty brown fingernails.
What’s with me?
I am not bald! …Am I?
Like I said, some mornings life just isn’t fair. Most mornings. …I must have been enjoying some pretty hairy dream not too long before the alarm first went off… Hard to forget your fleshy pate’s been your morning wake-up since… 1998—no matter how much hair, no matter how cut and combed, you have tried to part across the gap.
It just seemed so unreal, though, staring at myself. I had felt so sure. Not wishing, not nostalgic, just that’s the way it is, matter-of-fact… Better men than you have had trouble facing it, otherwise all the rug shops would have gone out of business back in George Washington’s day. And you only have to think of Harry Vex’s unhairy head buried in that medium brown Astroturf® to realize it.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m just joining Vex in a midlife panic. Nothing like two hard jabs to the lower ribs at once. Bald, that’s all it is. You’re bald, you’ve been bald, you’re still bald, and you’re going to keep getting balder. Accept it.
I still felt funny, splashing some water in my face, stripping off my yellow—no, blue-green—PJs, showering in the oddly tiny bathstall. I felt myself standing at a distance as if everything remained unfamiliar. I was a stranger in my own apartment, in my own body even—clunking into everything, finding the soap dish only after a search, having forgotten that I’d never used Head and Shoulders. Everything seemed inexplicably irregular.
I didn’t even recognize the doorbell’s asthmatic whimper when, predictably perhaps, it sounded just two-thirds of the way through the shower. This is the kind of crap I should expect, especially on a day like this.
After yesterdayʼs photo caption, maybe you can tell why this bit of this story seemed to rise to the top of my own unhairy head. And, yes, if you might be wondering, there is a big dose of me in this fictitious character, not just no hair. His long-ago moment of recognition about his evolving baldness is taken pretty closely from my own introduction to the joke of my genetic heritage. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I, however, have never awakened convinced that I wasnʼt me. I wonder, now, what it might be like to wake up and have hair… Or wake up as some other bald guy.
Kind of makes me wonder what it would be like to wake up one morning and find yourself Picasso — bit of time travel necessary or itʼd be a hideously messy corpse nightmare…
Say itʼs 1950…
Okay, back to the actual story at hand.
I have been thinking about this one a lot lately, rather than stories you are more familiar with. That explains its sudden appearance today. (That and sheer desperation to get something posted that didnʼt take any work last evening.)