It's just past one. I did myself in by eating a piece of chocolate cake before sleeping. I knew I'd regret it: The calories, the carbs, the sugar, the gluten. My legs writhe and jerk now; sleep eludes me. I dragged my heavy body out of the bed, pacing around the room in the dark. But man: it surely tasted good.
The ghost of a girl I knew crowds me. She settles her Peter Pan blouse around her big-boned body, easy and light. I see her in my rocker, there in the corner, just like she owns the place. She pushes her pug little nose up with the back of her hand, a move that tells me it's really her. You got them all beat, kid, she reminds me right before she vanishes.
I wave my hand at her and go back to massaging my calves.
Another flash: the storm seems to have settled in for good. I drove home in high water, through the city all the way. Eighty-seventh Street as far as it went, then the dog-leg over to 79th and into Missouri. Green lights kept me going for the first 30 minutes. I steered the Prius through intersections that had neither beginning nor end; only that emerald beacon calling me, Go, go, go. I couldn't make out the sidewalks for the pelting rain.
When I slid down my driveway into the space next to my neighbor's girlfriend's car, my stomach did a final flop. I pressed the button to cut the power and told myself that I had never been so scared. I knew it wasn't true but it felt good to say it outloud in the dark. Like a lie that keeps us walking under the moon.
The dog shook all over my white slacks when I let her into the kitchen. I scolded her but she knew I didn't mean it. She looked over her shoulder and trotted into the dining room, glancing briefly at the place under the window where we stashed her bed for a decade or more before I moved it into the TV room. I caught the guilt she threw me and huddled into it as I turned out the lights.
I dreamt a jumble of images in the hour or two before the ghosts rattled me awake. They crowd the room now: the people of my past; my mother, my little brother, a host of others -- some I don't know whether they live or breathe outside my nightmares. Or maybe it's the chocolate cake, or the carbs, or the calories sitting in my middle hammering at my quietude. What did you do to yourself, you're going to get fat again, you ate all that sugar and now look at you, muscles twitching, what were you thinking?
I think it's my mother in the rocker now, thirty-one years dead this Sunday, pushing the floor with her foot, knitting, hands quick with the yarn round the needle. I take a drink of water and bend down, touch my toes, think, How much yoga to work off that damn cake?
But it sure was good. I watched the two men who had just gotten married hold each other's hands to cut the first slice. I felt the storm as it broke; the wind knocked the vase of flowers from the table by the pictures taken at the courthouse that morning. We all moved to the front of the pavilion and sent a wave of applause in their direction. I hugged first one and then the other, and ran for the car clutching my cake, while the wind blew the fallen branches through the park and all my angels surrounded me.