A fifth-grade bully, a blossoming romance, a late-night crash
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Bruce Holland Rogers lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches writing at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts’s MFA program.
You sleep and wake up feeling shittier than a dozen hangovers at once. This is an improvement. You still want to die, but now she can make a difference again. She still can’t transfer her strength to you, no matter how hard she tries.
When I was sixteen, I worked at an all-you-can-eat buffet as the roast-beef carver. The restaurant manager taught me how to use a sharpening steel to give my carving knife a razor’s edge. I held the metal rod at an angle and then brought the knife down and across it. The blade sang as it came off. After a few strokes on one side, I would hone the other.
Grace used to meditate. She hasn’t done it for years and years, not since she met her husband and started a family. She won’t meditate today either. She won’t even think of meditation.
He has been making inferences, figuring out what it is to be. He invents a language that expresses his awareness. His sentences are marvelously efficient, each one containing a whole chapter of his philosophy. “Aglaglagl” is one. He says it when the dog’s nose comes to visit the bassinet.
You and the stranger to your left and the stranger to your right are one, without the barrier of language between you. Like beads of rain on a windowpane, you merge.
For the first hundred years at the bottom of the well, the frog prince rehearsed his memoir. It went like this: He was born into a sweet life of silks and pastries. Then one day this humpbacked hag of a peasant came to plead her case before the king. What did she want? He couldn’t remember. Something trivial.
When he was very young, he waved his arms, snapped his massive jaws, and tromped around the house so that the dishes trembled in the china cabinet. “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” his mother said. “You are not a dinosaur!
His biggest thrill was meeting someone new. Three or four times a day, at least, he would see a girl and just be unable to stop looking at her. Hello, gorgeous! he would think.
The big lights make everything as bright as day, although the sky is black. Lots and lots and lots of people sit in the stands, all looking down on the track, where he and the other boys are getting ready to run. His mommy ties his shoes for him. “How’s that, sweetheart?” she says and kisses his forehead.
The first time he takes a shower after coming home, he looks himself over: Ten fingers. Ten toes. No scars beyond the ones he collected in childhood.
Nothing has changed in an obvious way. The sunlight slanting into his bedroom this morning is just as bright as it was the day before. Outside on the street, the mounds of dirty snow are perhaps a bit smaller. Water puddles on the sidewalks. For breakfast he fries eggs. He fetches the newspaper lying outside his apartment door. It’s probably just his imagination that the paper is heavier than usual, as if wet. The pages are dry. He tells himself that when he turns them, they will not glisten with blood.
I am a dream. Once I was a man. Once I dreamed as you now dream, woke as you will awaken. I used to walk the world between earth and sky. Now I am a memory. If you awake to memories of a life you never lived, it is because you have let me enter your dreams.