A Day in a Night

Part One

I woke up late. I wanted to decompose between my stinking sheets. What a gas. It was Saturday morning, so I didn’t have to work, except I’d told Dad I’d get his car in shape. He and Mom had been staying the last week here in the city, and they wanted to start the trip home. What else could I do? I felt as though my bed was a tarpit and my carcass was sinking into it. I tried to dig something up. I knew that if I lay there any longer, nothing would be left above the tar. Already, I was sweating below my armpits. I thought I smelled sulfur, but it was just me. In spite of that, I didn’t think of any good reason to get out. Instead, I started thinking about why Jane left me, ancient history. I didn’t know why she left me, but I missed her anyway. Sometimes on weekends, we used to get up after the sun and go somewhere. Once we drove out to see one of those defunct Spanish missions. It had been reconstructed to match the original. It really moved me. I mounted the pulpit and preached a few words. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here . . . ” I pretended I had a whole congregation, but I didn’t. My bladder was bloated, so I got out of bed and made it to the toilet to pee. After that, I made a cold weiner sandwich, and got a cup of coffee, which tasted like rubber. I turned on the boob tube, and lay down on the couch. There was this movie on channel 7 about an old Italian lady whose husband had died. Her poor sons promised to support her, but they expected her to stay in mourning for a couple of years. They were very bitter when the old lady started living on the town and hanging around with this young hussy. She sold everything in the family house to pay for it all. They even bought a car. She was having a great time until, six months after her husband, she died. Anyway, I turned it off, and put on some dirty clothes. Then I called Dad at Jack’s. Dad said he’d meet me at the garage. I swallowed an apple, left my apartment, and made it down the stairs in one piece. The weather was hot and muggy. I ran down to the corner, for there was a bus about to leave. I paid my quarter, and sat down alone on the left by a window. “Does this bus go to . . . ” “What?” “Does this bus go to the zoo? You know, to the park.” “It goes to Seventh. That’s where I kick off.” “Huh?” “After that, ask the driver.” God knows. I could hardly stomach it. I stared stiffly back out at the giant cemetary. Traffic was thick, one grave piled on top another. The city had the streets dug up, and they were replacing gas lines. They were crawling down into the trenches after fossils. I felt sick. Everything was swallowed whole, and undigested. “Have you heard the news? Poor Linda is going to have another baby.” “Another what? That’ll make six!” “Yeah, and you’ll never know it in half a year again, to see her. So young!” I was curious, since it was carnal. I was sick in the stomach, rocked in the seat, in the city. The driver went through a yellow light, crossing the street to the corner. I got out and threw up in the gutter. This was three blocks off from the garage. Dad was at the garage before me, getting old on the street in his car. “Hi, Dad.” “Hellow, Walter.” “Wait there a minute. I’ll go in, and unlock the garage doors.” It was frozen inside the office, like a tomb. I went on to the coke machine. I took a bottle, and swallowed half of it on the spot. My brow contracted with the sudden cold. To steady myself, I leaned with one hand on the metal lid. Its compressors purred a moment, and then went off. I walked into the garage, and rolled the doors open. Dad was already idling on the other side. He drove in, and I stopped him in the middle under one of the lights. “OK. Turn it off.” The motor growled. Then it died. Dad got out. I smiled, and turned to the counter, where I found my tool case. I carried it over. Dad had found a stool, and was sitting before the car, as though it were a coffin with a dead woman in it. Opening the lid, I saw she had been spitting blood, but I didn’t say anything about it. She didn’t need a dentist; she needed a mortician. “How long’s it been since she had a checkup?” “A long time. We don’t drive it much at home. You know we didn’t plan this trip. Just get it running halfway decent, and call it quits.” I worked for a time in silence, adjusting the points and pulling the plugs. Then Dad started talking to me. He asked me what I’d been doing on my days off, and that sort of thing. He never asked me things like that before. “I’m happy,” I had to say. “I like working with my hands.” Now he stood up, while I adjusted the carburator. It needed cleaning, and the automatic choke wasn’t working right. “What are you going to do now?” I turned away from the body, wiping the blood off my hands with a rag. “After I finish with this, I’m going to go eat. Do you want to come with me?” I could see he wasn’t going to. He looked cross at me. It was getting late. “Your mother wants to be home by Monday. So we’ll have to leave tomorrow afternoon. I’ll tell Jack he can pick you up tomorrow night. He wants to go to a movie.” “OK,” I said. “Maybe I’ll see you Easter.” “Are you coming up?” “Yeah, I’ll try.” “Are you coming up?” After he left, I realized I was tired of working for others, and I didn’t have the equipment to work for myself. You resurrect a car, and the next day, some stranger drives it away. Everything evaporates, like gasoline. “Are you coming up?” I remember once, when I was about ten years old, I helped Jack fix his car. We tore its guts completely apart, and had to replace three valves. “Are you coming up?” Dad wasn’t into that stuff. He had found out early want he wanted, married Mom, and stuck it out. After he retired, they sold the house, and moved back to his home town. By that time, Jack had left the family, and I was working on cars. Now Mom and Dad were staying at Jack’s. He had a big house on the other side of the city. I didn’t see him very often. He wasn’t married either. Dad had asked me if, after Jane, there was anyone, and I had told him, “Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of people.” Bananas. I wanted to get away, but if I quit my job, I’d just have to get another. I decided I’d look around first. I couldn’t see living on the street. “Hi. Doris? . . . Yeah, this is Walter. Say. I’m down here at Frank’s, and I know it’s kinda late, but can I treat ya to dinner? . . . Oh, you are? I’m sorry to hear that. Did you know my parents are down here? . . . Yeah, Grandpa died.” I hung up the receiver and my dime fell through the machine. I grabbed the phone book and started looking through the yellow pages. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I saw an ad for a travel agency. It covered half a page with a carnival, hot-air balloon. I dropped the book, and it swung on its chain in the booth. Now it was after nine. I wasn’t hungry anymore, so I walked out on the street. The buildings were like the walls of a rock quarry, and I was right at the bottom. I looked up over the ledge, and there weren’t any stars. I guess the city looked like it always did, but I felt different. I wanted to yell at everything. Fuck the dark. Fuck the lights. Fuck the walls, the windows. Fuck the locks, the senseless things. Everything that never changed. I just started walking away, hot as hell, not looking where I was going. I closed my eyes, and carnivorous beasts came falling out of every door, grinning like greedy devils, and shaking their heads up and down. Their voices were jumping all over me. They were the people that put me where I was, all the ones I did something for. Dad was one of them too, but he wasn’t grinning. He was shaking his head. I started sweating. One of them was my high school teacher. She had three purple mouths. She gave me the finger. “You sucker,” she said. I jumped away from her and opened my eyes. When I stopped running, everything was the same. I got to my apartment after midnight. I made it up the stairs, and unlocked the door. It was dark inside. After I turned on the lights and the heater, I started going through my closets and drawers. First the closet in the hall. The shelf was empty, but, after the skeleton and the old coats came out, I saw the rubbers my mother once gave me. I never used them because it never rained hard enough. Behind them was my personalized bowling ball. I left it there, and went into the front room. There I found my old Playboys, some used candles, a matchbox, and a couple old letters from my correspondence with a Japanese girl. She was learning English. I sat down, and started to reread one of them. Hare are you there, Yesterday my brother this, Did you ever read that, the weather here, and so on. After that, I went into the kitchen. Cookbooks. Dirty dishes. Rotting rags, ammonia, and rat poison under the sink. Paper bags and so on. Garbage. Food in rusted cans, food on bloody ice, food in boxes. I ate a peanut, and went into my bedroom. My sheets weere still dirty. My clothes were on the floor. I had enough. After I took a shit, I came back in and fell into the empty bed.

Part Two

I was in a garage with my father. I don’t know what he was doing there. The garage was dark. Greasy ropes and tackle were hung on the wooden walls. It might have been a barn, but it was in a city. I was in the middle of the floor alone. I heard men talking on the sidewalk outside the big closed doors. I went over to the corner to change my clothes. A rusted can full of grease was on the floor. Rags were strewn all over. I heard the men swearing and grumbling. I realized that they were drunks. I took off my pants, and tried to get on the clean pair in the dark. One of the men slumped against the other side of the garage door. He slid to the cement, cursing. The other one had a half a bottle of beer. He was trying to rouse the other from the sidewalk. Then I was in a big car in the city. I wasn’t driving. I didn’t know the guy who was. He turned right from this street of apartment houses, onto a commercial street with motels, dry cleaners, and such. As we approached the second intersection, I saw the temporary barriers and warning lights for a great rift that cut across the road. It evenly bisected a side street, and prevented traffic in both directions. I could see the dirt and gravel of the fissure wall. It was about ten feet across. We didn’t get close enough to see the bottom. The car in front of us was diverted by a policeman. It turned left, and drove along the narrow ledge, which was one of the remaining halves of the side street. The guy that drove the car that I was in swore. He made a U-turn in front of the cop. Then he went back up to the next block. He took a right. It was a one-way street in our direction. There were a couple cars coming towards us. We pulled off to the right, so that a car could get by us. There was a theater in the middle of the block on the other side. People were coming out of it. The street was very congested. A policeman was giving the pedestrians tickets. They just took them, looked at them, and walked on. Then I got on a city bus I didn’t know the fare. I asked the driver. He was irritated. I put in 30 cents. I asked why it was a nickel more now, during the rush hour? The driver turned around, and said saomething that I had to ignore. I sat a couple seats behind him, by a little boy, who had moved over to the window. I talked with the boy. He was about ten. He wore a plaid short-sleeve shirt. I was on my way to buy something that they boy said he could get for free. He said he was going to a construction yard. He knew the foreman, and could take anything that he needed. I went with him. The yard was under a freeway overpass. The boy’s old mother was there. There were a couple of men running around with hard hats on their heads. The yard looked more like a dump yard than a construction yard. There was stuff piled up in rows on wooden platforms. The boy went over to talk with the foreman. I was left to look around. I picked up a big frontroom pillow. It was about three foot square, with a zipper on the side. It seemed just a little dirty. I undid the zipper. It was ripped up inside, stuffed with the shit that comes out of a vacuum cleaner bag. I dropped it. The boy came back, pullig a red wagon with a couple things in it. His mother told him to pick up the pillow. He piled it on the wagon. I walked by the mother towards a gate. Then I was walking along some low hedges on a sidewalk in a little dirty garden. There were buildings on each side of me, and one ahead about a hudred feet. The sidewalk turned right. Around the back of the building was a small tool shed beside a fountain overgrown with weeds. A girl stood hunched over beside it. I realized that this was behind the Mission Solano, but the garden was there instead of a street, and the buildings were changed. Aside from the old fountain and the shed, there was a low, open door at the back of the building. It was partially concealed by some thin shrubs. It looked like a cave, which, since it seemed undiscovered, I entered. I opened the door, and saw some stairs. I went down them. At the bottom of the stair-well, I was conscious of the restored mission church above me. Its floor was red tile. Its walls were painted blue, yellow, and green in a stylized design representing sky, mountains, and valley. On the right was a raised pulpit. On the walls were hung paintings of scenes from the Bible. On the altar were crooked candles and an old Bible. Before it was a wooden rail. In little ledges on both sides of the altar were imitations of Mary and Jesus, made out of paper maché. Other than this, the room was barren. But now, I turned in the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and I saw a beautiful church, nearly twice as big as the mission above. I was amazed. I had the feeling that this was where the Indians first prayed. The room was filled with a soft blue light. At first, the opposite wall, which I saw as I entered the room, seemed very far away across the wooden floor, as though I might have been gazing at some soft blue mountains above a gentle plain. I looked to my left. There was an altar of trees and bushes, growing in a symmetrical design. I walked toward the front of the sanctuary. On the left was an old piano. It stood up against the wall. It was a yard wide, about a foot and a half out from the wall, and four feet high. It was made entirely of ivory. The ivory was yellowed and cracked. I stood before it, not daring to strike its keys. A young woman came into the room through the same door that I had taken. She walked behind me, and went over to the ivory altar rail, looking at old musical scores. Three or four stange violins were strewn on top of the piano in the dust. Small, narrow, yellow, two-stringed instruments, with bows to match. They lay next to the frail music rack like the carcasses of dead insects. I turned around. The woman was leaning on the rail. She was playing an instrument similar to the violins on the piano. I was aware that I was in love with her. As I walked over to her, it was all over.