At the first bleep of alarm clock’s tirade my cinema head pops out of the rabbit hole. 3:38 am. I shut off the one-sided conversation and let myself fall back into a nest of pillows. I close my eyes. Inside my eyelids there’s an x-ray showing me the last scene of a dream. Mr. Dream State is looking good until anxiety’s screen saver pops up. Then my heart starts pumping adrenalin to somewhere outside of my body and I get out of bed. In the dark I fumble for the switch I need to start the day.

I head to the kitchen in my underwear. I flip on the TV and turn the volume down with the remote. In the kitchen I grab a pouch of oatmeal and start swinging it back and forth to settle its contents. I blink. Mr Dream State appears for a second. He is sitting in his cube facing pictures of his grandchildren. His wife smiles back from a shelf. I nuke the oatmeal, feed my parrolet Henry and make coffee. I head for the shower where the hot water is blazing hot. I’m the first contestant today. After the shower, a lobster looking woman is seen in a rain-forest video.

In the bedroom I throw on some pants and head for the kitchen for hot coffee and cooled oatmeal. On TV the weatherwoman is talking about wind speeds, precipitation levels and the temperature in May of 1952. I imagine that when I am ninety-two I might like to know those things.

Mr. Dream State shows up on my radar again. He and I are seated watching the weather together. I pour coffee and sip gazing at him on the inside of my eyelids. In my dreams he is always facing away from me. We are looking at the same things.

“Today will be mostly cloudy with a chance of…” It didn’t take long for me to realize that Duffy Adkins weather forecasts were recorded the night before and then replayed while she slept. There were just too many days when the actual weather was plus or minus ten degrees and plus or minus rain. The rain falls on the just and the unjust so I get dressed based on intuition and then suffer the consequences of humidity, wind chill and stormy weather. Isn’t that a song?

Outside my car is waiting for its cue. I crank the engine, turn on the fan and zip out of the parking lot of my apartment building. It will be a good day in Chicago if the weather and intuition hold up.

At the train station I stuff two dollars into the parking fee slot and walk over to the yellow line that divides me from the commuter. I wait. People gather. Gum chewing, smoking, dream people with large coffees and huge handbags. We wait. Soon the cyclopean search light of the train pokes out around the distant curve and heads straight for us. We wait. Clang. Clang. Clang. My head looks for another rabbit hole.

Two conductors get off the train and both say “Good morning.” I say “Good morning.” while my arthritic knee decides if it’s going to move. When it does I find my seat near the door where two women sit juxtaposed. The older one speaks with a hoarse guttural voice to the younger one who chews her gum in rabbit fashion. They know each other. They sit, chew and talk with the two conductors about the Bull’s chances in the playoffs. I read my Bible and then the latest copy of Vanity Fair. Mr. Dream State is sitting next to me reading what I am reading. I see him nod silently, appreciatively.

After an hour and ten minutes of the train’s stop and go lurching we arrive at the downtown station. We are on time today, plus ten minutes. Weather forecasts. Train schedules. Dreams?

I walk five blocks to my building and push the “34” plastic square which needs a push. I am shuttled up to my floor and find my cube as I left it – draped with drawings, spreadsheets and cut sheets. I push aside a set of schematics and place my tote bag in the vacated space. Coffee. I scrounge my purse for a few dollar bills and head back down the elevator to the cafeteria.

Veronica greets me. “Hola, amiga!” “Hola, Veronica.” “Como estas?” “Estoy bien. Y tu?” Bien, gracious.” Veronica hands me a small coffee and I say “Feliz Viernes.” She chirps, “Oh yeah, Feliz Viernes.” I walk the corridor to the elevator. I push “34” sipping black coffee, smelling Mr. Dream State. Notes of Havana.

I get off the elevator and at the receptionist’s desk I can only see the black octopus hair of Flor above the counter. Mr. Dream State used to have black hair but it turned grey. Flor is coughing again. Flor coughs loudly every day. Her sneezes are not for the faint of heart. I say “Good morning, Flor. Happy Friday.” She says “Happy Friday, Jennifer.” and coughs. I worry. My cube is within viral range.

Ahhh. Coffee, email and work to do. Mr. Dream State is happy for me. I smile back at him. Soon I will be in his arms (if he ever turns towards me). I lay out the displaced schematics and dive in.

Noon arrives as usual and I eat my now defrosted leftovers. After lunch I head out of the building for a walk in Millenium Park but Rahm Emmanuel is taking his oath of office under the Pritzker Pavilion so I head toward north toward the river. I walk slowly like the peg-legged woman I see all around. Arthritis is getting it digs at me. Mr. Dream State takes my arm. He’s my right side, my right leg. He is quiet, stable, there for me.

I push “34” thinking of my leg, his leg. I get off the elevator and see the flouncy-bounce of blonde curls called Carol. Carol subs for Flor during the lunch hour. “Hi, Jennifer.” ‘Hi, Carol. How are you?” As I walk past the desk I see that Carol is using a large paper cutter to slice rather small labels. I wince when she tells me that she uses the paper cutter on anyone who does not sign the registration book and then I smile. Mr. Dream State is scary-funny like that.

Back at my desk I read emails and pour over schematics until my eyes hurt and it is four o’clock. I gather my things and head out. On the way to the elevator I say “Have a great weekend, Flor.” Flor smiles her teeth out, takes in big gasp of air, coughs and says, “Have a great weekend, Jennifer.” I flee to the elevator and push”1”.

I walk the five blocks to the train station and I am early. I stand waiting (with Mr. Dream State who’s handsome and serenely confident) and some train buddies, regulars who ride in the same car. At some unknown time driven by some unknown force the big burly black conductor inside the coach turns on the coach car lights and opens the door for us clucking hens. He descends his throne room stairs like the king of Khartoum. He greets his passengers under his heavy breath.

I sit in an upper row of single seats. I begin to float away but arthritis doesn’t let me get too far. I find my place in the magazine and settle back, aching for a massage. Mr. Dream State, the conductor, doesn’t need to see my ticket. He just smiles and lets me ride.

One hour and fifteen minutes later we arrive at Friday night, the weekend and sleeping in. I’ll soon be sucking desire’s thumb and clutching the sateen edge of twilight to my breast. Mr. Dream State will be unrobed. And with him, R.E.M., just a few blocks from here.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved


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