From the kitchen, disembodied, my mother’s voice told me to drink a glass of dark water and brace for the bitter to come.
One gulp, and in the span of a wince, I invented a friend who is not a friend but there nevertheless to make me not alone, a companion, an ambiance. In this house forty years ago was a man who owned a bicycle with two bells, and whenever he woke at night and sensed a sadness coming, he took the bike out and rode over the river and back and over and back and over and back until the air that brushed past him chips it away to nothing. The man would get sick in the morning, and he would buy a glass of dark water from a lady on the streets. And like me, sitting down in the kitchen, he would brace for the bitter to come.
Two gulps, a stir, my mother from the living room telling me to stop – the dregs are no good. And that’s good, that’s one fifth less of a cup of ink, a remedy for the ailing. The body has been staying awake four nights in a row, thinking it’s in danger, ailing. Getting a cold from kicking pedals through patchy roadsides all night, ailing. Remedy, treatment for the trouble caused by what the body thinks is good for itself – are you not tired? Are you not tired? I have an answer, and so did he, it’s obvious. What matters is that I have a response, and so did he, and we, sick over and over and over, could only do what the body asks us to.
Three gulps. The man needed to make money and he needed to eat, and some days it’s easier to stay asleep, making up for the night rounds, waiting for the remedy to work. Either that pushed the bucket closer to his clumsy feet, or further away. Security was taken away and sold back to him. Security is taken away and sold back to us. Put the cards face down; I don’t want to tell my fortune. I don’t want to think about the future; I want to bike over the river in circles and be chipped away to very little, then nothing. Then, maybe, I could make money and eat. Forget about who breathes in every building and what they want of me. Forget that what they want of me is not what my body wants and want is a fickle thing, want is present not even in the space between molecules in the air and want is present there and everywhere and it’s heavy, but nobody has invented a metric to measure the weight of wants, and I’m tired. Breathe easy. The bells rang twice to greet the mailman in the late afternoon on Saturdays when the man would go to the pool and home in the evening. Breathe easy. I would rather not come up for air. But see, when he biked over the river he glanced down only once, and then ahead, to the road and the horizon with kites over it, homeward, homeward; then, he thought, that way a different river would run for another day, carrying more than a little dark water on its own.
Four gulps. He had the guts I lack, and I wondered if the bitter water ever made him feel better because it never does for me. He needed sleep. We needed sleep. What did they want of you? He said some of us are afraid of needing and that’s when the body comes in, unafraid to demand. And he is right; long nights spent digging my nails to stop my skin from crying only make it cry harder. Some days I wear my blood on my clothes. Some nights when he raced against the still-icy air, he would weep and let the wind carry it away. He did not have all the answers. He had hoped the dark water would run clear by the time it reached me, but along the way, it had only picked up much more filth. I couldn’t see through the rest of it, nor could I bike or swim like he did. I would like to run, though. I would like to run someday.
From the bedroom came my mother’s voice, asking if I had thrown the dregs away.