ISSN 1545-2859




               TIMOTHY GREEN

Just A Teaser

What’s this keeping you from? some guy says, everyone packed too tightly into the orange plastic chairs to be less than conversational, amiable, intimate. As if proximity were the definition of physical love, like lovers were any two people who could smell each other, the public transportation system one big orgy. So many lovers, so little time, Harold thinks, not looking up but feeling the man at his elbow, sensing a blue blur, maybe a polyester suit.

I just meant, where do you work? Just a little friendly small talk, we might have a long wait. It’s the same voice, a little cautious now, a little apologetic, offered like a handshake. We’re in this together, a voice like that might say.

I’m a janitor at Wayland Middle School, Harold says into his book. But polite, civil. They are here to be civilians, after all, right? An hour bus ride, a transfer at the downtown hub, and then ten blocks to the courthouse to perform his civic duty, to be cramped and waiting. Hell, it might even be a civil trial--they have juries too, right?

The blue bulk of a man and his icy aftershave lean forward to read Harold’s name tag. Hoover? he says, a friendly chuckle. Like the vacuum cleaner?

No. But like the president, actually. My grandpa’s brother. My great uncle.

No shit? The voice is a cusser this time. Nothing wrong with that.

None at all, Harold says.

Well damn, son! And then a pause. There is always a pause right there, right before the voice says: Isn’t he the one that got stuck in the bathtub?

No, that was Taft.

Hmmm... The silent scratching of a chin, maybe some facial hair. Well what did Hoover do then?

J. Edgar Hoover, Harold says as he snaps his book shut and looks the blue blur square in his brown eyes, was the first president ever to wear a dress.

The Interpretation Of Dreams

Anyone, such as a scientific investigator, who pays attention to his dreams over a period of time will have more dreams than usual—which no doubt means that he remembers his dreams with greater ease and frequency. --Sigmund Freud

Whitman leans his head against the arm of the couch and shuts his eyes tightly. When he opens them again it’s as if the lights have suddenly intensified, like he’s draped in the gaze of God, blinded by it. These weekly visits seem daily; they leave his skull swollen and throbbing. Who would have ever guessed that the offices would look so much like the movies—the doctor hidden behind a broad desk, the patient strung out on a vinyl couch with his feet propped up like he’s fainted. Relax, relax—this is what he’s supposed to do. But who could relax in a place like this?

“Have you been having the dream again?” asks the doctor.

Whitman hasn’t been listening. “What dream?” he says.

“You know very well what dream,” the doctor says, his voice calming but disembodied, lost somewhere in the luminous gulf that fills the room. Whitman does know exactly what dream—it’s all they ever talk about at these sessions, and frankly he’s tired of it. What is he paying? Forty dollars an hour to repeat the same story over and over again? It seems to Whitman that the doctor just likes hearing it, the way he leans forward with his elbows on the desk and mutters incomprehensibly into his fists, stopping periodically to jot a note onto the legal pad in front of him—as if the details ever change.

The dream always starts in Whitman’s bathroom, a predawn moonlit quiet settled over the apartment, as if he’s gotten up to pee and decided to make an early start of the day. His shaving kit is out and waiting, and he runs the water warm, whistling a bit of a tune he can never remember later. Everything is normal, except the hour, until he bends over to splash his face. It is only then, the hot slap of fingers on his cheeks like some kind of switch, that he realizes he’s 14 and doesn’t need to shave at all.

He stands up to examine himself in the mirror, and suddenly, behind him, just inches over his shoulder, is Bill Murray, the comedian. His lips are poised there as if he’s about to whisper a secret into Whitman’s ear, but he never does.

The two stare at each other.

An unseen audience, or maybe just a laugh track, chuckles in the background.

This only seems mildly unusual to the dream-child Whitman. What’s more pressing, however, is that he knows, somehow, that he and Bill Murray share a birthday—September 21, 1950—and yet Whitman is 14 and the comedian is something like 50. He toys with the impossibility of this like a yo-yo, repeatedly pulling closer to an understanding, and then having it slip away.

Whitman dresses for school, but already it’s past noon. He’s missed all of his classes, but isn’t late for baseball practice, so he rides his bike to the park. The whole time Bill Murray is hovering over his right shoulder like a full-sized cartoon angel, waiting to tell him something important. Whenever Whitman turns his head or catches the reflection of Bill behind him in a store window the audience laughs. The degree of humor seems to vary. Sometimes Bill shifts his head to one side comically, like a dog, and they laugh harder.

The team is taking batting practice, and soon it’s Whitman’s turn to hit. He walks to the plate and Bill follows close behind, symmetric as a shadow.

“I have to hit now, Mr. Murray,” Whitman says.

They look at each other. Bill cocks his head. The audience chuckles.

“Really, sir, if I swing I’ll hit you.” Bill cocks his head to the other side and puts his hands behind his back. The audience is hysterical.

The two continue arguing one-way for several minutes, never face to face, necks craning to see each other in a series of ticks and spasms. At one point Whitman stands in the batter’s box and threatens to swing anyway, but his conscience won’t let him lift the bat from his shoulder. His frustration grows until it’s unbearable, until the audience is a thunderclap all around him, and he wakes up back in his room, just minutes after he’d fallen asleep.

He has this dream almost every night and can never sleep; it’s why he needs therapy.

“Well?” the doctor is saying, growing impatient. Whitman hasn’t said anything. He’s still on the couch, and he squints into the blinding light, trying to make out the voice’s source. He hears a watch ticking, a hum that might be a radiator, a dry cough somewhere far off. Time passes, seconds or maybe minutes.

“CUT! CUT!” the doctor finally growls from above him, more than just impatient. The lights dim to a tolerable setting as if on command, and the doctor materializes from behind his long mahogany desk.

The doctor is Bill Murray.

“Jesus Christ, guy,” Bill Murray says, chewing on a pipe like the ghost Sigmund Freud. “You have four goddamn lines to remember.”

Copyright © 2004 Timothy Green. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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