The old man’s spirit leapt up jumped up, jumped in. Norris wakened screaming in the dark of the bedroom. The old man’s spirit had leapt up and arched over and shot into him. The night engulfed him and he sprang from bed and switched on the light. The old man had died two weeks before; the dream had been so real.
Martha’s arm came up in the sudden light where she lay beside him.
What George? Why are you turning on the light it’s two in the morning?
I—I don’t know.
The memory of the dream had drained from him and he stood by the light switch wondering why he had risen and gone and switched it on. For some reason he shivered; cold was draining from him; some sudden cold drained from the legs and feet and dissipated into the floor.
I think I had a nightmare, said Norris.
Well turn off the light and come back to bed.
She buried her head in the covers against the light. Norris switched off the light and the dark rose around him like water rising and he felt odd about this because the dark had never come like this before so he took it as a sign. When the dark was over his head and to the ceiling he spoke into the dark toward Martha.
Martha I don’t think I can sleep. I’m going downstairs.
Whatever, came at him from out of the dark under the unseen covers. Norris left the room with the door half closed and walked barefoot across the carpet and down the stairs to the kitchen, and switched on the light. The light rose about him like water the way the darkness had upstairs; and when it was over his head and to the ceiling, he went and put a pot of coffee on. Black coffee, he thought. Need black coffee, hot; he had read a book about some Philosopher that said if you drink a cup of extremely hot black coffee down fast, it would be a good thing. And then The Philosopher said to his disciple, after he drank down the hot coffee, Now; go out and play.
Yes. Everybody needs to play. Go play.
This thought and remembrance of what he had read domed up in Norris and was quickly forgotten as the coffeemaker slowly did its work. He sat at the kitchen table to wait. Cold was in the house, from the night. He wrapped his arms around himself and thought two words.
The coffee being ready, he went and got a cup. He drank it down standing by the coffeepot, black and hot, all in one gulp; and the walls of the room suddenly turned plastic and shrank down around him and it was like he wore the room like a suit; like he was shrink wrapped in the room and was now drifting in some void the room had been in, but that was not a true void because it had a floor. The floor led him to the front door after he put his coffee cup down. The door opened at a touch of his finger.
He stood in the open door. The night pressed in on him, and he got suddenly afraid and closed the door walling off the night which was creeping into the door and winding around him. Norris stepped back from the closed door. The dark was much too heavy to step into with just pajamas on and barefoot. He went and switched off the coffee pot and the shrink wrapped room released him and he decided it was much too late to go out and play. But he could not go back to bed because the coffee he had just drunk would keep him awake. He sat in his chair in the living room without the light on looking through the half light at the turned off television. On the television there came a vision; the old man, talking to him from beyond the grave. Norris half slept, listening, hands lying palms up on the chair arms.
—you need to get a good union job with benefits and you need to get a haircut and you need to stay in that job for your whole life because once you get a job you can’t let it go jobs are hard to come by in this day and age and what are you doing bringing her home, she is just a kid; you have no business spending time with a woman no less a kid like that she will bring trouble they always bring trouble so you could say it was trouble brought you into the world because your mother was trouble but if it hadn’t been for all the trouble you would not exist; listen to me! Listen to me! Listen to me! Listen—
Not knowing he had been sleeping he sprang from the chair and ran into two words hung in the air like a flag; go play. Norris struggled free of the winding blinding flag writhing around him over his face and it disappeared and he stood in the doorway of the kitchen looking into the lit room the same way he had looked out the front door before; and the light from the room came out and wrapped around him so much different from the black of the night so much better than the black of the night—
—if it hadn’t been for all the trouble you would not exist—
Norris stepped forward through the words he didn’t want to know and went to the coffee pot and poured himself another black coffee which was still hot and which he drank down in one gulp nearly burning the inside of his mouth; he brought the cup down on the countertop with a crack and went to the sink and spit into it. The brown spittle clung to the bottom of the stainless steel sink like a lump of sludge. The warmth of the coffee came up in him like two words.
The clock on the wall said two thirty. Too early to go out and play. He sat at the kitchen table and the schoolyard came up. It was the middle of the night but the schoolyard came up and he went down the slide. The slide was hot. The sun blazed down. The children ran around the schoolyard and played king of the hill on a great mound of dirt by the side of the schoolyard. The brown dirt was soft and hard to climb; Norris let it go. Not his game. The spirit had leapt up, jumped up; the spirit led him to the far side of the schoolyard. The girls played jump rope. The boys played softball. Norris was in neither game. Alone games were his. Alone games in the play yard. The school stood to the side. The windows of the school stretched up like prison bars. The old man clutched the bars and spoke through the bars and squeezed the bars rhythmically as his words pulsed out at Norris who sat glued to his chair in the schoolyard. No grass, just dirt underfoot; no grass just dirt. The words spilled on the dirty kitchen floor.
—play is a waste of time I would call you son but you’re less than a son—you’re a child of trouble the fallen Christmas tree you know what a child of trouble is for all the yelling and cursing that was inevitable you were born to bring it about—innocent in a way but responsible—you were the second child, the half son I had to share with her she wanted a girl oh yes we told you many times boy oh you’re wrong, you’re wrong, she wanted a girl to bring up like she was to believe like she believed and when you were born all scabby and rashy she said no that can’t be my baby—the first words from the mother to go in your ears were no, no that can’t be my baby did you know that son did you know that that’s the kind of Mother you had but here I am now behind these bars of death walled off sealed in unable to speak but able to know and you know you are a heavenly disgrace the things you do the way you are—
The words glued Norris more deeply to the chair and his feet kicked their heels onto the dirty floor with the children boys and girls all at recess behind him and the old man before him behind bars talking all because he never could talk until now freely to someone who’d listen.
—but you were always one who could listen so listen and listen good—don’t believe that stranger told you drink the coffee and go play—oh they’ll try and talk you into something, that’s what they’re good at, that’s what they’re best at—
The shadows of the sun glimmered around and it was almost time for the end of recess bell to ring and the old man knew visiting hours would then be up so it talked faster from the things it was saying it wasn’t a he, it was an it.
—they’ll say don’t you have an account of some kind with the money in it its only sixteen hundred dollars and we can do the job right today my men are up the street don’t you have an account or something no I can’t take a credit card—so you see you can’t play because when you play your guard is down its only death makes me able to talk this way its only in the distance of death you get wise see how wise I am so it’s too dark outside to play so what are you doing out here in the playground I see the sun dancing dancing you’re full of shit it’s not too dark to go outside and play you’re outside playing you liar liar liar to yourself liar liar liar—
The bell rang a blot of sound in the blue sky and the old man’s hands let go the bars and the bars became the window frames of the school auditorium and Norris stood and turned and saw the boys and girls formed up in a queue to go back in the classroom and the playground and the sunlight fell away through the kitchen floor melted away just melted away and the kitchen chair came up under him and there was the hot coffeepot there all hot by the side and it was now Two forty five in the morning too early to get up much too early to get up he sat in the room and it was bright yellow around him. Norris rose and his feet were like lead weights and he shuffled toward the coffee pot driven by the words Go play Go play—but play was a waste of time someone had taught him so he went to the front door and flung it open the blackness poured in and came over him like ash from some volcano and he was choked it was too dark to go out so he closed the door and the carpet tangled in his long toenails and his feet were cold. He went and pulled out the power cord of the coffee maker—in the morning she would ask who used the coffeemaker what are you sick using the coffee maker at two in the morning and he would say No, it was two fifty-five and he pulled out the power cord making a snap of spark in the receptacle the old man stood there. You’ll make a fire in the wall you do that, said the old man—you’ll make a fire in the wall and then you’ll be sorry you will lose everything everything from the fire in the wall you might even lose her here there who just came in wiping the black hair from her face standing there Norris’ wife stood in the door sleep in her eyes and she spoke.
What the hell are you doing down here at three in the morning? I saw the light glow from downstairs—I couldn’t sleep because of the light. What the hell are you doing down here at three in the morning?
Her bleary eyes sunk in her face and her lids half closed and her robe hung shapeless.
I wanted some coffee, he said.
At three in the morning? Come. Come up to bed. Be a normal person for a change.
I am a normal person.
She stood in the door with the dark of the living room behind her and its fingers came and started to come around her to pull her back into the dark to go back to the stairs to the upstairs and to the bedroom her look told him. The dark pulled her empty eyes back into itself and she went back upstairs to bed, Norris assumed. He should do the same but the words of the Philosopher spun around him on a scroll a scarlet scroll like from some church or convent or place like that it said Go play Go play Go play—
Playing is a waste of time, said the eyes of the clock. It said three after three.
But it’s a waste of time—
Norris stepped over and felt the coffee pot with the back of his hand. It was growing cold since he had made the spark. He stepped to the light switch and tripped it. The dark again as before rose around him like water and when it had reached the ceiling he went into the other room and to the front door and again opened it and the outside was the same as the inside all equal all dark all light yes it was all light so he went outside, at three ten in the morning, to play in the light that unfolded from the dark like you’d have a black envelope and open it and pull out a snow white piece of paper with a letter that said Go play. And once more recess had just begun and under the blaring light the boys were choosing up sides; overjoyed, he raced to join them.
Go play. Go play. Go play go play go play—
But the old man’s spirit was in him; it had leapt in at two thirty in bed; it bogged him down; he reached in and tore it free and it was like a writhing, grasping, slimy spiny thing and he threw it in the dust and there were no words and he went and played, first with the boys, then with the girls, then by himself. And it felt good. When recess was over he joined the queue and went back into the classroom and back up to bed with Martha and he slept.
Jim Meirose’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Collier’s Magazine, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and his novels, “Claire”,”Monkey”, and “Freddie Mason’s Wake” are available from Amazon.