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“…And Miles to Go Before I Wake.”

 

It is 6:25 a.m. This fact crowds into my every joint and sinew with a distressing certainty.  Seven feet away on the dresser, the alarm clocks bleats forth with the promise of incoming V2s. It is not visually evident, my view of the room obscured by mounds of bed clothes.  Nonetheless it is there, wailing, a scalding aural sensation, the drooling cavernous maw of Monday morning. Time is definitely not on my side.

Outside, in the cryogenic laboratory that passes for Chicago four months of the year,  the working week begins to grind arthritically forward. I cling desperately to the pre-natal ecology that is the bed, pillows and blankets afford, but the commercial world is driving an earth moving machine through the forests of the night. Z. begins to think about what you have to do today. Z. begins to think about how to get those things done, about what is expected of you. He thinks about how corporate structure defines your worth. He think about loss of soul and which tie to wear.

Suddenly Z. is in his office. The secretary comes with a stack of typing, the reports that he’d dumped on her desk late Friday afternoon, and it’s all wrong. It’s not even close. He’s irate and blurts out, “ You look like a Giacometti.”

She laughs, “You mean a Modigliani.”

She’s right. Z. made the same mistake yesterday at the museum. She’s an Italian with a long face. She doesn’t have a single club-foot. Z. tells her to re-do it all and she refuses, skipping out, laughing as she goes and saying something about he can’t fire her because she knows he fudged on the budget numbers. Z. finds this very disturbing. Z. never told anyone about that, not even his friends, not even when he was really drunk. He begins to worry, wondering who else might know when he’s disturbed by noise outside your his door. Several employees are there  drinking beer and throwing a Frisbee over the cubicle partitions. They are dressed in Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses and shorts and a boom box percusses, no actual music imminent. They tell Z. it’s all right because it’s Saturday. He’s about to argue the point when your phone rings. Z. looks down and it looks like a has more lights and buttons than the cockpit a B-movie spaceship. He has no idea how to answer it. He realizes that he’s sitting at his  desk in his underwear and the phone sounds just like your alarm clock.

It’s 6:28 and the infernal clock is braying. By now, surely everyone in the building is awake. Z.’s eyes sting, thirsty  for more sleep. He cannot open them fully; resisting. they bat open and shut rapidly clicking like Geiger counters, warning of the solar radiation seeping through the window. Yet, the world beckons and the job awaits. Z. Needs to get to the office at a relatively early hour this morning. He employs the morning mantra, “ I really do have a good position with this company and they pay me pretty well.  And Visa doesn’t take “ later”  for an answer.”

Z. throws the covers back, swings his legs over the side of the bed and sits up. It takes forty-five minutes to get ready and forty five to get to the office. This puts him in the office at exactly eight o’clock, which gives him just enough time to prepare fully for the product line meeting at nine o’clock. Perfect. He reaches over and hits the snooze alarm and, with the coordination and pure fluid beauty of a synchronized swimmer,

rolls back onto the bed and under the covers, ending with his head positioned perfectly on the pillow. A numb rapture envelopes him.

The mother of Z. Seemed to sleep a lot. Z.’s father, being an unassuming man, didn’t assume much. When she fell asleep in  front of the television seconds after dinner, he ascribed it to a long hard day full of the care and feeding of the six children. For his part, Z. did not think this unusual until he got old enough to get about the neighborhood.  Then he began to notice that the other moms didn’t take three or four ninety minute naps during the course of the day. Later still he mentioned this to his father, but his father thought Z. was exaggerating. And even if she did sleep during the day, was it not true that she got out of bed at odd hours to finish laundry, ironing or whatever it was that she had dozed off in the middle of during the day?

An immediate impression might be that she was a nocturnal person. But the truth was, she slept as much at night as during the day. Those unfinished things seemed an indictment of her as a wife and mother and pangs of conscience would overwhelm even her narcosis and drive her to duty. She really had only two speeds: sleep and guilt.

Whenever she sat, she slept. A couch, a lawn chair, at the kitchen table, on the edge of the bed, any place would do.  You could find her in any room in the house with a look of Buddhist serenity on her face, an almost imperceptible, purring snore.

A few transgressions on the telephone  once threatened her reputation in the parish, so she took to standing as she talked. This not only saved her reputation, it enhanced it. She became known as a woman of few words, serious and not prone to lingering on the phone, engaging in small talk or gossip. In fact nothing could compete with the siren song of a nearby couch or chair.

You might wonder if her children didn’t set fires, lose limbs, deal drugs or do whatever it is unmonitored children do. No, Z. and his siblings were sedentary children, relatively normal, fighting, though without passion, calling names though  without conviction, playing games without killer instinct. Television and books were the main entertainment and any mischief they got into was more likely the result of being dragged into it by friends. If they got into less trouble than other kids it was not for fear of retribution or danger, but rather that there was so much effort involved.

When the alarm rings at 6:41, Z. feels even more somatose than before. The bed clothes feel like a lead blanket as he budges them to the side. It seems the barometric pressure in the room has increased to the level of a diving bell.  Fearing a case of the bends,  he rolls slowly to the tocsin. Z. then realizes the problem is not environmental. His bodily fluids are coagulating, already approaching the viscosity of cold roofing tar. He wills himself to the clock.

 

 

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