Jack is in that space somewhere between dreaming and awake. Oh, he knows he’s in bed. He can feel the heaviness of the quilt against his legs, and the unyielding lump of the pillow jammed into his neck. The pillow is in exactly the wrong place. It’s squashed between the headboard and his neck, pushing his head into an awkward angle. Still in that never land of almost sleep, or almost awake, Jack realizes that he’s getting a crick in his neck and his earlobe is throbbing. How can such a small thing as an earlobe make its discomfort so evident? Jack thinks that he should be able to just move his head slightly to get more comfortable, or even to lift his hand above his head to tweak the pillow just a bit, to give it a thump that will release his head from from being squashed against the headboard, and unfold his earlobe. But he can’t move. His legs are trapped by something – something heavy and soft, and his head is held in some kind of a vise.
It occurs to him that his legs might be in quicksand, but why would there be quicksand in a corridor? Jack cannot figure that out. He’s in a corridor.. He’s also in bed, in that never land of almost asleep, but he’s in a corridor in that never land of almost awake. The corridor isn’t the straightforward kind, wide and straight with doors on either side, neatly marked with apartment numbers, like the grubby corridor that smells ever so slightly of bug killer and other people’s dinners, in the apartment building where his friend Pat lives. It’s a fun house corridor, a Bugs Bunny cartoon corridor, where the doors leading off of it are strong colors that might have tipped out of a crayon box- lime green and strawberry pink, lemon yellow and sky blue. If he could hold his head at the proper angle, the doors might be proper rectangles. But they aren’t proper rectangles. The doors are askew with odd angles and uneven edges.
He wishes he could move his head.
Jack doesn’t like the corridor. He doesn’t know why. The colors are pretty and it doesn’t smell of cooked cabbage and curry, but it’s not a corridor that seems like it would lead to the home of a good friend, someone he’s known since grade eight, and lets, face it, if we’re going to be honest, and where else can you be honest but in a dream? - has had a bit of a crush on since grade nine. Not as big as the crush he’s had on Liz for the same amount of time, but if Pat wanted to switch roles from pal to buddy, he wouldn’t say “no.” No, this corridor reminds him of the ones in the haunted mansion exhibit at the amusement park. Soon, very soon, there will be a creaking and grinding of gears and the floor will buckle and spin. The doors will open and horrible things will leap out at him, cackling with laughter – evil clowns and walking dolls, drunks with grasping hands and bad breath - other, unmentionable frights.
Jack doesn’t want to be in the corridor, he doesn’t want to walk further down the corridor and further into danger, but his legs, traitors that they are, have somehow regained their ability to move, and they’re moving him forward.
“I’m on the wrong ride!” Jack screams out. “This isn’t the ride that I have a ticket for!
But his legs keep going,
“No, No!” Jack screams. And now things are getting worse. Somewhere, behind one of the doors, maybe the orange door, maybe the chartreuse one, there is banging. Banging and banging – construction work for more corridors and more scary things, and Jack doesn’t know what to do, and his ear hurts and his legs are going to sleep, and he sits straight up in bed and screams:
“Knock it off!”
He looks at the clock on his bedside table, yells louder:
“It’s three o’clock in the morning, I’m trying to sleep down here!”
And the noise stops. The people upstairs, the owners of the house from whom Jack rents a basement suite, keep strange hours, Jack has noticed. He doesn’t remember them doing it before, but now they’re constantly waking him up in the middle of the night, hammering on their floor, his ceiling with something that might be a broom handle. He’ll have to talk to them about. it.
Jack thumps his pillow into a soft and malleable shape and settles it behind his head. The quilt has managed to twist itself around his legs. He sits up again and untangles himself, then swallows – his throat dry and painful. He feels like he’s been shouting for hours, but how can he shout when he’s been asleep? It was a sound sleep, too, he thinks, a dreamless sleep, and his stupid landlord had to wake him up. Four hours before he has to get up and go to work, and then there’s the party at Pat’s. He can’t afford a sleepless night.
The room is dark. There is no light other than the faint glow given off by his bedside clock. Still, it’s enough to irritate. Jack buries his head into the covers. He’s not comfortable. He’s not relaxed and for some reason his earlobe now feels swollen and hot and full of pins and needles. And, oh great. He has to pee. He has to get up, out of his cocoon, take himself across the floor of his bedroom, into his own corridor, if you can call it that, the three feet of space that leads to his bathroom door and his kitchen door.
Into the corridor.
Why, for just a second, was there a prickle of dread along his spine? He gets very tense. Listening for something that isn’t there, looking for something that seems to be just outside of his range of vision. His heart thuds, his hands sweat. And it’s dark, so dark. Even the numbers on his clock radio seem dim. He feels panic rise in his chest as he scrambles to sit up and turn on the light before…
Before “they” whoever, whatever “they” are, get him.
Light floods the room, illuminating his poor student basement suite that is all he can afford even though he isn’t a poor student anymore. Now he’s a poor working stiff. A poor working stiff who has to get up in… he looks at the clock… three hours and forty seven minutes. But there is Pat’s party to look forward to. Lovely Pat. He hasn’t seen his friends all week – Josh and Liz and Pat. They’ve all been too busy. So now he’ll go, he’ll have a few drinks, some laughs. It’ll be the Four Musketeers again, just like in high school, when they spent most of their waking hours together.
Jack smiles, leans against his pillows, drowsy and content. Now what was he doing? Why is he awake at – he looks at the clock – 3:12? Oh yeah. He has to pee.
The alarm goes off. 7:00 AM, and he feels like he’s just dozed off after a hard night of waiting behind dry eyelids for sleep to come. At 7:25 he yawns, pulls himself out of bed, pulls on the clothes that are folded neatly on the chair beside the bed. White button up shirt, dark blue pants. It’s started to feel like a uniform. A prison uniform. Stumble to the sink, brush teeth, swipe of deodorant in the pits – no time for a shower, and what does it matter anyways?
Now shaving, bleary eyed. He’s going to be late for work, and he feels like he hasn’t slept at all. If he didn’t have to shave, that’d buy him three minutes, he figures. He wonders what he’d look like with a beard. Well, he’s finished half of his face, so maybe half a beard. If he stopped right now, right this second, he could got back to bed for a minute. His thoughts tumble around, but his razor just keeps stroking his face, his hand automatically performing the actions of shaving and dunking the razor under the tap to clear out the shaving foam and shaving again without his mind having anything to say about the matter.
Tying his tie. Another waste of time. And why, in his position, does he have to wear a tie? Jack knows the answer: Company policy. Whenever there isn’t a good answer for something, it’s “company policy.” How long does this little morning ritual take? Another half a minute, maybe. Can he bill the company for four minutes of his precious morning time, following their stupid directives? Add it to his time slip once a week maybe. 4 minutes a day, five days a week – that’s 20 minutes. It would add up. Jack sighs. He doesn’t want to be paid for it. He just wants to not do it anymore. He wants the sleep. Two hundred and ten seconds of sleep.
And now he’s out the door and on his way to the bus.
Out the door and on the way to the bus, as long as Rover is in his fenced in dog run. Rover is the only dog he’s ever met with the actual name “Rover.” Rover is the only dog he’s never liked. Jack looks nervously towards the dog run – and a hundred pounds of slathering, barking Doberman/Rottweiller cross springs out at him, running full tilt into the chain link fence.
Jack jumps. No matter that this happens every morning, Jack jumps.
“Down! Rover!” he yells.
Rover gives him what can only be described as a contemptuous look and saunters away from the fence, checks out his water dish, and squats to pee.
“Some macho dog. You’re supposed to lift your leg.” Jack mutters.
Rover snarls and Jack backs away. He can see the bus coming, and breaks into a trot. Behind him, if a Doberman/Rottweiller cross can laugh, Rover is.
Finally, the work day is done. Jack is on his way to Pat’s apartment with a bottle of tequila in a liquor store bag in one hand and a grocery bag filled with chips and pretzels in the other.
He reaches the vestibule door of Pat’s apartment, and dials her number. Sounds of a party come out at him, and he smiles. The first time he’s felt like smiling all day.
“About time you got here,” Pat says. “Come on up!”
She buzzes him in, and he’s still smiling as he rides the elevator up and gets off at her floor, making himself walk, not run to her door. Even the drab, dingy corridor makes him feel welcome, and the smells of other people’s dinners that waft up through the closed doors of the other apartments make him realize how hungry he is.
Then there is a feeling of light-headedness and a shimmer, and the corridor is suddenly a fun house corridor with doors that are the colors of crayons tipped right from the box, and they aren’t rectangular doors, regular doors, straightforward doors, but doors that are too tall or too short, and rise to an impossibly high ceiling in weird angles and uneven edges. Jack wants to stop, to go back, but his traitor legs propel him forward.
TO BE CONTINUED!