I only know I was not supposed to be there. And the scene? It wasn’t supposed to be happening.
Somewhere in the murky night this vision was buried, sandwiched between fragments that will have sped through my mind and then drained away, forever lost to me. This pig in the middle, this runt of a dream, should have gone with them, but it stuck around, there to be picked up in the morning and wiped clean. There was happiness in the scene, but it wasn’t mine. It was hers. Hers. And his. I should have known, despite his being a wild card. I have to say that he deserved her, having cruelly lost his last companion some time back. A good guy, I gotta admit. And he’d been patient—ever lurking, but inconspicuously, modestly, without the slightest hint of expectation. His attempts at humor were always dry and at best supplementary to another’s act. He’s a witness, an onlooker, a smiling member of the crowd. Benign, yet amiable, and ultimately deserving, he’d be a center of attention, finally. Was I jealous? Of course, but not just of him, but of what he was—of the type of man he was. He wasn’t me.
Me? I’m a derelict, a drifter. Ostensibly, I’m in with the crowd, standing near the front, and sometimes in front. I’m sometimes called up to the stage, and even as my stomach flutters and my mouth goes dry and I’m convinced I don’t belong I manage to utter a few words and command my share of the spotlight. It’s still there, that spotlight. It beckons as it shines upon a space that I could inhabit, that I have always known I could inhabit. It’s just that it might burn, that light. So I turn away and creep off to the side, yielding the floor to anyone who has the resilience, the talent or desire, or that stomach thing—whatever that metaphor’s about—to step into the space. Had I been invited to the scene? I will have looked out of place, at least, having not done my homework. That’s one of my problems: not doing my homework. The problem is that curriculums are ever someone else’s idea. Those are the demands of someone else’s ego, their seizure of the spotlight, and so they don’t merit my attention, I think. That’s not what I think. That’s just an inside truth that my middle-of-night vision is warning me about. It’s warning me with her face, with her smiling, happy, yet unavailable face situated at the center.
She’s a strong woman, a brilliant woman. She’s a better woman than any woman I’ve known. God, that’s a dangerous idea. Should I be thinking this? Or should the idea be there in my head, deposited by someone or thing else. You put this into me, you…woman. I’m nearly away now, having edged my way to the periphery of the scene. She and the guy—that ordinary yet deserving, stand-up guy—are still in the center of the action, surrounded by the pleased and admiring, and looking at someone else who is the center of attention but giving it back to them, the happy couple. Her gaze is bright and alive, and focused strictly upon a stage that is before her—her eyes settled and fixed upon a compelling speaker. There is no reason for her to scan the room, distracted or bored, and thus find me scurrying, headed for a corner, trying to escape like a wretched rat. I’m wearing an overcoat, I notice at some point. Mine is a hybrid look: with a torn cuff and a rip about my collar, I look like a Dickensian vagrant, or a private dick from an old film noir, only I’ve just gotten out of bed and forgotten the dress code of the genteel and knowing. In this sense, I stand out, and not in a good way, and if she were a troubled perfectionist with an eye or a nose for the inferior, she’d catch me with a glimpse. Then her smile would flatten, her eyes would turn dull and unhappy, and she’d wonder for a moment, about me.
I know him, she’d think. Have seen him someplace. Where was it? What’s he doing here? It would be a fleeting break from her life, the joy of her moment. Not even an annoyance, but rather a spell of curiosity, because that’s what her mind has room for. Endless room, it has seemed to me. Endless room, it has seemed, for me. And yet, once again, it’s not a room, a space, manifest or not in concrete terms, that I’m meant to inhabit. Any second now I’ll be gone from this scene, awake at last, and while this vision tried to hide amid the files in the mental cabinet, it stayed long enough to get this thought and hearing. Any day now, I’ll get to see her and tell her all about this, and she’ll listen and think, and make some interpretation that positions me in a triangle, with her and another substitutive man, but with a desire to be in her life. Forever bonded, in something drawn from hoary mythology. You know. I don’t know how long it will last, this arrangement. I don’t want to think about her. Next week I won’t even see her, which she thinks is the issue. See, ordinarily I see her four days a week, for an hour at a time. I pay her to know more about me than anyone, even a mother, has ever known about me, and I know hardly anything about her. That’s the way it’s supposed to be at her place, where I’m not supposed to be.