Cornelius Wakes Up—Tom Gaffney
Cornelius Wakes Up
He had been having a fine time. A big party, lots of pretty ladies. An assortment of food and drink and intoxicants on platters and mirrors and a bar. Then there was dancing and the band sounded really good. He thought someone might be pumping oxygen into the room, he felt so fresh, awake.
Then he noticed her, and remembered her, her wild hair and tattoos, lithesome body gyrating to the beat. And he was naked, and aroused, and on stage: everybody looking at him.
He bailed out. A dream, thank you, a dream, just some anxiety, time to wake up, not like that party in Palm Springs.
Naked and stiff but lying in bed, mercifully at home. Mid-afternoon, maybe, so hard to tell in this springy-summer light. The alarm on his computer was going off, a recording of cummings, poem on a loop, “here is little Effie’s head, whose brains are made of gingerbread.”
Fuck. He thought the poetry alarm was kind of funny, but ee and Effie were downright disturbing this afternoon. It all felt weird, like something was out of sync. Grappa headache or no, perhaps it was time to rethink the alarm if the poems were going to enter his head like that.
Neil was relieved it was a dream, and the poetry alarm worked in the sense that it woke him up (no small feat). He liked to sleep until late afternoon when he could and liked to be up for sunrise, and he had done that too and then gone back to bed to escape the dreariness of high noon. He savored the palpable relief of realizing he had not been actually on a stage displaying his manhood in all its glory while Lulu danced in the crowd. Lulu though, her appearance in a dream had to be an omen.
Lulu: memories of bitter arguments, and sex on mesa tops where the skies were bigger than any other he had seen and the stars were huge and so many. There was the time she started a fight down at Joe’s, and he had been the one with a night in jail, six months of legal appointments, twenty five hundred in legal fees, and a month of Saturday mornings on the “adopt a highway” work crew up on I-5 near Shoreline. So many visions of Lulu, her crazy theories about aliens and rocks, entanglement, other dimensions, tourists, steamy pit stops in the staircase of the parking lot at SeaTac.
Yes, Lulu was special. Yes, his life would generally be considered fairly dull without her. But it was peaceful. And he did not have to face the conundrum of the, irrational, as he saw them, acts that his lust and affection and anger for Lulu would drive him to. Neil had made significant strides these past five years. He was somewhat under control and maintained the unorthodox schedule that made him happy.
He looked out at Rainier and the traffic of Columbia City getting a little thicker as the day wore on. But the traffic was pretty thick around here generally anymore. Sighing with the effort, he put together an espresso, sat staring out the window, and failed in his attempts not to think about Lulu.
Awake now, or thinking himself so, he cleaned the kitchen, got rid of the nasty bottle of grappa he had drunk last night. Remembering, as he did last night, how all he had wanted for Christmas that year was a bottle of scotch, preferably old and tasting like it had billions of unseeable pieces of peat settling to its bottom.
No, she got me a bottle of grappa. She said it was good grappa.
But he didn’t want to think about Lucille either, anymore than he wanted to contemplate his headache and the taste in his mouth, or scotch or grappa and the complications arising from the need to interact with people. Why, how, did he end with a Lulu and a Lucille in his rear-view mirror? Savoring his solitude, for today he had deemed a day without people, he sat like a cat in the window enjoying the sunshine, trying to think like a cat.
Against his better inclination he climbed from his chair and went to retrieve his phone from the freezer. Curiosity kills the cat. Freezer storage kept the phone from waking him up, and kept him from grabbing it while half asleep to monitor the world outside. He had gone a good twelve hours without checking it and while that hardly qualifies as a day without, it was pretty good, and Neil was the only one who might pay attention. The whole day without a phone thing had helped him wean himself from twitter. He was clean now, so he could look at the phone as long as he did not succumb to the urge to tweet. No shrill communications with the masses via thumb tips.
While the phone powered up he tried to think of a new alarm system, something not as freaky. Female poets had come to mind, but then his dreams would always be more frankly about sex or some symbolic castration. Nope, that wouldn’t work. For years, he had used the Melvins but those paths had gotten kind of worn. Plus, not really breakfast music, not anymore.
The phone beeped and buzzed and vibrated with what had to be a series of text messages. Uh oh. Perhaps it was time for some opera, a diva really letting it fly. That could help him wake up.
But the buzzing and beeping already had the hair on his neck standing. Someone was looking for him. Someone who did not yet have his current address or an awareness of his land line.
There was no surprise, just a dropping of the bottom of his stomach and a loathing of the naked foreshadowing of his subconscious, as well as just a hint of blood moving to his groin, as he looked at the avatar: a picture of a fist with several rings, “LOVE” tattooed on a woman’s hand, a letter for every finger.
The effect was like the last time she had hit him with that hand. Now, granted, he may have deserved it, and she had done it with an open palm and not a fist – she did not like to leave marks, it helped prosecutors – but it was a slap in the face indeed. And he doubted her contact was because she missed his touch and craved what he could deliver.
The first message read “honey – omg – rocks – lots of rocks.” Then another “best samples I’ve seen in years, maybe ever.” Followed by “you should see this pretty young thing and what she’s got around her neck.” Then there there had been a gap of about an hour, followed by, sometime right around when the grappa had given up its last drop, “Corny, where the fuck are you?”
Corny. Another reason to fear Lulu. Nobody called him that anymore. She probably didn’t even know he preferred to go by Neil now. In fact, if she knew he had adopted a new name she would laugh and laugh and laugh at him. Enough to precipitate some rage filled utterance or action from him that would certainly not improve matters.
Resigned, he went to the bedroom and got changed, pleased that he had a chance to put on some fresh clothes before it all hit the fan, when the door buzzer started going.
“Corny, it that you? I hear this is your place. Right last name, but whoever they are is referring to themselves as Neil. Really? Neil?”
He paused, thinking he could pretend he wasn’t here, have a few hours to collect himself.
“Corny, you dummy, the van is parked right here in the alley. I know you’re home. I’ve been watching the door for the last hour. Come on honey,” she found a little sugar, “let me in, I’ve got some friends with me.”
He undid the bolts on the apartment door. Noticing the paper on the stoop, he wound up to give it a kick, changed his mind but did not get the message to his foot in time, and he launched the paper down the stairs and right off the glass of the door. He cringed, but the sound of broken glass did not follow.
Lulu’s voice came from the other side, “hello Corny,” in a singsong voice. “Come on, let us in.”
He felt the blood pressure in his head increasing, Lulu on the other side of the door, “he’s just a little slow this time of day. He is really going to be quite happy to see us – and I’m sure he’ll put you up for a few days. No problem. He’s not dangerous like that skeevy Max.”
Oh great, Max. You can run Cornelius, but evidently, you cannot hide.
He opened the building’s front door, found Lulu and two kids on the doorstep. Alright, not kids, but young, very young.
“Delia, Nathan, I’d like you to meet my friend Cornelius.”
“Please,” he heard himself say, “call me Corny. Everybody calls me Corny.”
He remembered how she used to introduce him, reminding folks what Corny rhymed with.
Lulu leaned in and embraced him, pulled him close, her hand on his back. He immediately noticed other parts of him paying attention. She kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear “take a look at that necklace.”
His head swam. He did not know anything about the kids, but he sensed they had stepped into something quite a bit more complicated than they had considered. And he looked at the somewhat ordinary necklace around Delia’s neck, and the innocuous green stone necklace she wore.
“Come on in, who wants some coffee? I’m just waking up.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. He felt like he was swimming in a river, he looked up to the bank and watched what he had been calling “normal” recede as he went downstream.