Have you ever had that thing happen where you go to sleep in a bed and you’re asleep for awhile and then you wake up and you’re in a completely different bed? No? Like a completely different bed in a completely different place? Like, a completely different country? And you don’t recognize anything? And then you look over to the side of the bed, and you can see this old man peering up at you from some low place, as if he’s a dwarf, or he’s sitting on the floor, or he’s standing on a ladder and you’re up in a hayloft or otherwise very high? On top of a pole or something, like one of those — um — ascetic people….
And you realize you’ve had a fever, you’ve been close to death and he’s been paid to watch you, or he’s volunteering, while the others, who presumably care more for you than he does, even though you’ve got no clue who they might be, are off doing their jobs, or sleeping, or having intimate relations with one another, or otherwise taking a break?
And the old man takes very seriously the idea that he is to keep you company while you’re awake? And he knows when you’re awake too, even if you’ve got your eyes closed and are pretending to be asleep? And he tries to make conversation like, “Have you ever been in love,” or “Do you think it’s important to shred all your correspondence,” or “Those mosquitoes can be real buggers,” or “Would you like me to get you some licorice from the store?”
None of this rings a bell with you?
In my case, he gave me some information about the place where I was, though it wasn’t clear to me whether he knew that I didn’t know what I was doing there, how I’d got to be there, etc. He didn’t seem at all intimidated by my state of disorientation. The fact that I’d wake up screaming, in a cold sweat, ready to leap from the bed. My discovery of the two lost legs. He took very seriously the idea that it was his job to soothe me. He seemed to feel he could handle it.
In retrospect, I’d say he handled it.
He told me finally that what I shouted the most was the name of a woman, “Laura,” and that he didn’t know who she was, but that as far as he understood it, she wasn’t among my primary caregivers. That is to say “not.” She was not among my primary caregivers.
And so then I wept for a while, I don’t even know why. I didn’t think I knew a Laura, although maybe I did, and I wished I was back where I thought I was supposed to be so that I could find out for sure. But I knew that was impossible so I wept some more, and the old man reached up with his shrivelled little hand and placed it on the top of my head, like a birthmark. His hand covered up a bandage that covered up a gap in my head.
“You know they dug here once,” he said, very soothingly, his hand on my head. “And below this bed they found another bed. And below that another bed. And below that another bed. It’s just beds straight down, and they haven’t found the bottom yet, because before they could dig any further the sea water flooded in, and they couldn’t siphon it out. So they lowered a camera. And in the next layer down they found a chamber about the size of a railway car. And there was a bed in the chamber, of course. And in the bed there was a couple of lovers underneath a blanket; you could see a perfectly preserved hand coming out from under the blanket, and a foot, and a long section of hair, draped over the mattress and hanging down, and the hair was swaying, just a little bit, back and forth, and the hand was moving in a kind of — like this. The camera recorded it. The captain of the expedition said there must have been a very small tremor going on inside the earth while they were filming, or else it was the movement of the water, but I think the lovers were still loving, mind you, in some very old-fashioned way.”