Random story 42.4.1, published in Sisyphus — here’s the link.
I was flipping through a book, squat and thick, faded green cover — one of my father’s old university engineering texts, each thin page crammed with words, numbers, graphs, schematics. I was trying to decipher some diagram but couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I scanned the facing page briefly, then looked back to the diagram. Now though it’s a paragraph of text — I must have erred in zeroing in on that part of the page where the diagram is positioned. I glance back again to the facing page: it seems to be laid out somewhat differently from when I’d just looked at it. Back to the page with the diagram: it too seems to have rearranged itself. I try to read a sentence but find it impossible to parse: is it the technical lingo that’s throwing me, or is it because I don’t have my reading glasses on? A few words start coming clear, but they don’t hang together meaningfully. Again I shift my focus; again the page contents seem to have rearranged themselves. I entertain another hypothesis: this is a dream. I start systematically shifting my glance, observing that the print on the pages also continues to shift. Probably a dream, I’m realizing.
And now, hovering between sleep and wakefulness, I begin to remember the long dream I’d had earlier. I was riding a commuter train, trying to get off at the stop, but the doors wouldn’t open. I was carrying a lot of stuff — a briefcase, maybe a suitcase — making it awkward for me to move through the full railway car. I encountered a couple standing near another exit. The doors won’t open, I told them; we’ve got to tell somebody, get them fixed. These two people looked at me with indifference. I scrambled back to the other door, the one from which I’d first tried to disembark. Open. I stepped out, set my stuff on the platform, climbed back aboard, ran to the other end of the car to alert the indifferent standing couple that I’d found a working exit. But now the train was starting up again, and I’d left my stuff on the platform. In my liminally conscious remembrance I’m wondering why the events in this train dream seemed to have taken so long, but that often happens in dreams, the stretching and compacting of duration.
Fully awake now, I remember having woken up at around 4 a.m. to pee, then lying in bed thinking about how I might respond on this website to the randomly assigned short fiction du jour. It’s a kind of Dickensian tale, the innocence of youth throttled by heavy-handed capitalism aided and abetted by the strong arm of the law. I’m on board with this story; it triggers an array of associations to the ecology and economy of homelessness. At the same time I’m wondering about the legalities and especially the logistics of the house roust. Wouldn’t the landlord find it more cost-effective to hire a locksmith to open the door rather than having the sheriff bust it down? Wouldn’t he be able to strike a better deal with the moving company if, after evicting the tenants, padlocking them out, and giving them a few days to pay the back rent as per due process, the landlord permitted the movers to transport the repoed apartment’s contents to a secure location, sort through it, and resell the more valuable stuff, instead of dumping it all at the curbside as a total loss?
Eventually I must have dozed back off, thinking not about the people in the story but about the door and the stuff. I begin to dream about leaving my own stuff on the outside of the train door. Then I dream about my father’s engineering textbook, idling on a bookcase in our house during my childhood and subject to incomprehension when on occasion I would pull it off the shelf and riffle through it. What happened to that book? I don’t remember handling it when I packed up the stuff in my parents’ house after they’d decided to stay in Florida year-round. Had my father purged the book during some prior consolidation, tossing it in the trashcan and setting it on the curbside for collection?