I had these two dreams in August, of course.
August 20, 2013
I sat on the carpeted floor of an unfamiliar living room, drawing a graphic novel about women who worked in American defense plants during World War II. They used pneumatic riveting hammers to build B-17 bombers. Because of my eyesight, it was very hard to see. I had to lay my head on my left shoulder. That made me dizzy, but it was the only way to bring the drawings into focus. The women all wore bandanas on their heads, jeans with rolled cuffs, and men’s shirts with the tails tied under their breasts to show off their bellies. They were beautiful. I wanted to make them as sexy as possible, so I drew most of them from behind, as an excuse to give them round, taut bottoms.
As I drew, Peter Dinklage backed into the room. He spoke loudly to someone in the hallway and was obviously drunk.
“I never met such fuckin’ pricks in my life,” he slurred. “I ever shee those bassards again, I’m gonna fuck ’em up.”
His coarse, theatrical laugh stank of phoniness. Since he faced the doorway, he didn’t see me. He was about to walk on my book. I held up my hand to try and stop him, but I also realized that sitting on a living room floor to draw was stupid. I wasn’t a child. There was a sofa with a coffee table right next to me. Why didn’t I just get up and move out of Dinklage’s way? I hated him for making me admit to myself that I was an idiot.
He backed into my hand and kept going. My palm against his spine had no effect. He was incredibly strong; my arm just folded, as though he were a bulldozer. I snatched up my book at the last second. Dinklage stopped in front of me.
“What the fuck are you doing, you moron?” he asked with extravagant scorn.
When I opened my book to show him, I saw that it had changed. My drawings had become glossy, color photos of women working in American defense plants in World War II. As before, they were dressed in bandanas, jeans, and saddle shoes, but now they were all heavily pregnant. They’d tied up the tails of their shirts to display their large, naked, sweaty breasts and distended middles. It was no longer my book. I hadn’t taken the photos, which were incredibly arousing. Mortified at being exposed with erotica, I slammed the book shut.
Dinklage lunged at it. “Lemmie see that!” he yelled. “What are you, some kinda pervert?“
I tried to hide it behind me. Dinklage stepped into my lap and locked me in a revolting embrace, pawing for the book, his beard grinding into mine. I slid the book across the floor under the sofa, stood, and picked him up. He struggled powerfully in my arms; it was like trying to hold a thrashing shark. I carried him into the hall and set him on the floor. When I went back into the living room, Dinklage charged and grabbed me around the legs. I carried him into the hall again. After I set him down, he began punching and kicking me, screaming incoherently. He drove me into the living room.
This time when I tried to pick him up, he pummeled my face. I straightened, and he went for my groin and shins. The rain of blows was continuous, as if I were in the middle of a mob. He was like an automatic baseball pitching machine set on “high.” I began to panic and got so angry I wanted to murder him.
“Stop it!” a woman shouted.
I turned; it was Carmen. She wore designer jeans, a dark blue blouse with the long sleeves rolled up, four or five bracelets on each wrist, dangly earrings, and some kind of silver-wire-and-feather Native American charm on a leather thong around her neck. Her black hair reminded me of a lion’s mane. It made her look like a shamaness. Seeing her there within reach almost knocked me over with happiness. I was suddenly sure that she’d returned to give me another chance.
Dinklage kept hitting and kicking me. Carmen marched over, grabbed him by the back of the jacket, and yanked him off me. He dropped his arms to his sides, leering at her. She stood with her hands on her hips.
“Look, you have to stop this,” she said in the calm, ultra-businesslike tone she used on all the lunatics we’d dealt with in our five years together. “You’re not being reasonable. You can’t physically assault people just because they’re different from you.”
He smirked. “What would you know about being different? You think you’re such hot shit, lecturing me—”
“Don’t you try that with me!” she snapped. “That sort of garbage doesn’t work on me!”
I was filled with love and admiration for her, for the way she protected me and didn’t let his belligerence and manipulation intimidate her. This was the Carmen I’d known and missed. Dinklage stared at the ceiling, chuckling and shaking his head. He raised his hands, which were smeared with a layer of yellow-white material. It was on his shoes too.
“It’s like you’re covering me in government cheese!” he shouted.
That was ridiculous. The cheese on his hands and feet came from him playing with it and stomping around in it. Blaming it on someone else was pathetic. I almost laughed. This spectacularly successful, wealthy, beloved celebrity was the fool, not me.
Carmen took him by the shoulder and sat him on the floor in front of the sofa. He leaned back against it. She knelt with her palms on her thighs and spoke to him with great feeling, as if trying as hard as she could to reach him.
“Gouda,” she said. “Brie. Robiola. Camembert. Roquefort. Ementaler. Stracchino. Havarti. Cambozola—”
“Hey,” Dinklage cut in with a smile. “Can we at least talk about heterosexual cheeses?”
Carmen exploded in her deafening laugh and collapsed forward. With her forehead on the carpet and her hands on Dinklage’s shins, she laughed helplessly for several seconds. Then she sat up and kissed the tops of his feet, which were now bare. I was horrified. He’d totally taken her in. Just like that, her strength, resolve, and insight were gone.
A pizza box was under the coffee table. Carmen crawled over on her hands and knees and retrieved it.
“This was for Shannon Farren,” she said, “but you deserve it more.”
She opened the lid. Inside was a supreme pizza so hot it steamed. When Carmen lifted a slice, thick strings of melted cheese stretched and finally broke. She handed the pizza to Dinklage, who grinned at me, took a bite, and winked.
I watched in impotent rage that a drunk, violent, rude, insane actor spoke one sentence of drivel and was rewarded with what I spent an agonizing year trying fruitlessly to achieve.
August 22, 2013
Tim and I were in the TV room of his house in the middle of the day. I lay on the sofa, and Tim sat in an armchair. Dad came in through one of the back doors, carrying an electric reciprocating power saw. He wore his tan coveralls with short sleeves. I was surprised to see him, since he’s dead.
“I gotta cut off your right hand, Tom,” he said.
“What? Why?” I asked.
“It’s diseased. If we don’t get it off, it’s gonna kill you.” He stooped and plugged in the saw at one of the wall outlets.
He was crazy. “You’re going to cut it off with that saw? That’ll hurt like hell.”
“No it won’t,” he said. “I injected you with an anesthetic. You won’t feel it.”
“You did no such thing!” I shouted. “I can still feel everything! What are you talking about anyway? My hand isn’t diseased!”
Moving so quickly that he was a blur, he dashed toward me, pulled me off the sofa, threw me on my back, and knelt on my right forearm. He was as strong as he’d been when I was little, and I was as powerless. I whipped my head around, looking for Tim, but he was gone. Dad turned on the saw and began cutting off my right hand about four inches below the wrist. I lost interest.
The blade sliced through the skin, severed the tendons, and bit into the bone with a sort of wet screech. It didn’t hurt at all. I was reminded of how in Chinese cuisine, texture is as important as flavor; having my hand amputated made me hungry. Dad had the slight smile he wore when he did manual labor, his favorite activity. My hand stood upright and then fell off. When it hit the carpet, I heard the ascending dissonance of an orchestra tuning up. It lasted for only two or three seconds.
Then I was alone in the living room, still lying on my back. Feeling calm and slightly bored, I got up and inspected the stump of my right arm. Tatters of skin and muscle hung from it, and my detached hand clenched and unclenched on the rug. It looked ancient and cobwebby, blanketed in dust bunnies. Neither my stump nor the hand bled. By the time the hand stopped moving, it appeared to be made of light gray marble, as though it had been cut off of a statue.
I went out on the back porch, where it was night; it remained daytime in the house. Three black leopards were stretched out on the green-painted cement in front of the laundry room. They were covered with black kittens and adult cats that nibbled on the leopards’ skin, pulling it up into little tents. I recognized our late cat Syd the Second, a feral who’d adopted us, lived with us a year, and died on August 22, 2011.
“Don’t do that, Syd!” I said. “You’re going to make them angry, and they’ll kill you! Remember what a good cat you turned into before you died? Don’t die again! Please! It’d be a waste of all your effort!”
Syd stopped, peered at me, and then went back to biting the leopard, which raised its upper lip and silently showed its huge fangs. I had no idea what to do. If I moved forward, the leopard would turn into a slashing blur like my father and murder Syd. And because I had only one hand, I couldn’t pick up Syd anyway. Even after he became tame, he hated being picked up unless you used both hands to hold him firmly and reassure him that you wouldn’t let him fall. He was doomed.
A little Mexican girl of about ten appeared beside me. She wore her hair in two braids that framed her chubby cheeks. Her white dress was intricately embroidered in red, and she had a burnt-orange serape draped over her shoulders.
“We have to get out of here!” I said. “These leopards are dangerous! They’re going to attack us!”
She regarded me gravely with her dark eyes and then glanced to her right, where a man wearing a cheap chimpanzee suit stood. It had long black fur with two broad, white stripes that ran down the sides from armpit to feet. His plastic monkey mask was held on with a rubber band. He suddenly sprinted toward the gate that led to the alley, moving in a bowlegged, swaying gibbon-rush, his arms forming a heart shape over his head.
“We must follow him,” the little girl said. “He will take us to where we can be free.”
“No he won’t!” I said. “He’s not a real chimpanzee. It’s just some guy in a suit and a plastic mask! Look, you can see the back of his head! He’s a fake!”
The girl stared at me and then went after the man in the chimp suit. Worried that he’d do something terrible to her, I followed. The phony chimp threw open the wooden back gate that led to the alley.
Outside was a sunny, green valley, with thousands of people marching down toward a river at the bottom. The man in the chimp suit turned and beckoned, and the girl joined him, taking his hand. I hesitated. Everyone around me was deluded. They couldn’t see that it was all a fraud. If I tried to tell them, they’d ignore me the way Syd and the little girl had.
That didn’t mean I had to go with them. I stood on the mountain and watched as hand in hand, the man in the chimp suit and the little girl headed for the river with thousands of others.
Though I felt bad for them, there was nothing I could do.