Time—something that work had always made easy to track—has long since ceased to function for Michael. It had effectively become meaningless back in May, but within the past few weeks, it’s gotten even more unclear how or why one day blurs into the next. Pills are put in his hand, food is put in front of him, he sleeps, he wakes up, it’s dark, it’s light. It doesn’t mean anything. Sounds echo emptily or seem muffled. It’s hard to focus. He can’t manage to write or doodle in his journal anymore. Even the prospect of talking to Lee is barely enough to get him to socialize. He wants to die more than ever.
His condition is thanks to a couple of things. A little while back, Lee had caught on to his starvation strategy; she’s far from stupid, and although it must have been disappointing to have to cut herself off from the bonus nutrition, she was adamant that he start feeding himself. He refused, explaining to her once again that he was simply a problem that needed to be solved, an imbalance that needed to be corrected—and to his shock, she went to the orderlies on him. He still doesn’t understand it. Lee can’t stand them, and the rules drive her crazy. Why would she do that to him? Why would she take that away from him, one of the only things left he could control about his life?
( birds were singing to calm us down )
It’s been about three months since Michael Ginsberg dove off the top of his tenement building. A lot of things about that night come up blurry when he’s asked to think about them during therapy; they happened too fast and too close, like the pavement going by out a taxi window. Some things, though, are crystal clear. Suspended. The view from the roof; the rush of adrenaline; the beating of the wind; the weightlessness and relief of falling; the overwhelming, unforgiving solidity of that stupid car. The doctors said it was landing on the car that probably saved his life. It hadn’t been there when he’d looked down. What a fucking joke.
( i can't find the light in my heart )
Lee Rosenberg almost never comes out of her room; like a ghost haunting the halls of the sanitarium, she’s more rumour than person. She’s barely even there at mealtimes, and when she is she sits by herself as far away from everyone else as possible despite the nurses’ urging to socialise. She refuses to socialise. It’s 1969 and she’s a schizophrenic transvestite homosexual Jew. She has nothing to say to these people.
But one day during group she shuffles out of her room and into the circle of chairs, sitting down with her head down and staring at the floor. She’s not dressed, like most everyone else, and her feet are bare. Her short hair is choppy and uneven like it was hacked off with a knife and the hems of her pyjama trousers are ragged like she’s been walking around in them for a long time. A shiny gold Magen David peeks out of the collar of her shirt. After a while she reaches into the pocket of her shirt and pulls out a packet of cigarettes, waiting for an aid to come around with a lighter, and she sits there smoking moodily and not contributing anything.
Someone makes a sarcastic kissing sound and the aid running the group shushes him but a few men chuckle knowingly. Lee says, “Fuck you,” gets up and leaves.
( we are lunatics from the hospital up the highway, psycho-ceramics, the cracked pots of mankind. )
Leah doesn’t live that far from the Lower East Side, it’s nearly in her backyard, but she’s only here intermittently. Usually to stop by a bakery or a deli or something, and then she leaves. Most of her friends live in the East Village, or in the Village, or in Chelsea still. And then Michael works in Midtown, so sometimes she makes the voyage all the way there to see him at work. But she’s here now, feeling acutely out of place. People stare at her anywhere she goes, she’s over six feet tall for God’s sake, but it doesn’t help that she looks like a hippie. Like people expect her to pay for things with pocket change. Or not pay at all. She’d thought about dressing up, but then she realised that she’s married. She doesn’t have to please him. So she’s wearing a dress that’s too short and her legs are too bare and she has her long hair loose and unstyled like Janis wore it. She’s already had two strange men try to sit across from her. ‘I’m married’ never works. ‘I’m waiting for someone’ only sometimes does.
She’s watching the door, so she sees him come in, though she doesn’t recognise him immediately. She only really met him once and then they never spoke again. He didn’t even come to the wedding. Should she stand up? Probably, but she came of age in a time when all the social rules started to change. So she doesn’t. She waits for him to sit down before she puts out the stub of her cigarette in the ash tray, then immediately lights a new one. She needs something to do with her hands. She doesn’t know why she’s nervous. Why does she care about this man’s opinion. He certainly doesn’t care about hers.
“I wasn’t really expecting you to come,” she says.
( repair of the world; construction for eternity )
Sinclair stands outside the police station, blinking tiredly at his cell phone. He has over thirty missed calls and almost 200 unread texts. No surprise there.
As guilty as he feels, this isn't the time to respond to any of them. The longer he stands here, the more he's tempting fate. It would be fantastic if he could just hail a cab on his own and go home without any fanfare, but he's not that stupid and this isn't the time to play roulette. He's always telling the kids in the District to ask for help when they need it and he tries to practice what he preaches.
Who to ask, though? Someone who's probably not working right now, or is flexible with their hours. (Also awake or could be awake. What time is it, anyway...) Someone who can travel more safely than he can. Someone trustworthy. Someone who won't give him a bunch of shit.
He goes to his contacts, hits the name ‘Samantha,’ and puts the phone to his ear.
Lee is already in bed, sleeping again. They’ve been stuck at home for the past two weeks, unable to get back to New York without Michael’s help (or rather, his permission, since it’s not that hard to magic your way from one place to another) but having absolutely nothing to do in New Jersey. They’re bored. They’d picked New Jersey only because it was close and a lot cheaper than Manhattan, not because it’s a great place to live. Boredom and medication lead to a lot of long naps.
They stir when the door opens and raise their head briefly only to lower it again when they see who it is. They’re trying to go back to sleep, but now they’re awake, so when footsteps cross the room they roll over onto their side and pull the covers up around their nose.
“Mmmmmhi.” They reach out blindly with a hand, seeking Michael’s. Their fingers wrap around his and then they tug, pulling him down with them. “Where you have been?”
( and we're fighting for our lives to fill the corners up with light )
Karen’s office is clean but homey, with art on the walls and a mid-sized fish tank bubbling on a desk by the window. Two small blue fish currently occupy it. There is no couch, but two overstuffed arm chairs, one with a wool throw draped artfully over the back and the other with a small decorative pillow on it. Her desk is nestled in the corner, home to a desktop computer and a laptop which she opens when she sits down, the screen facing towards her though she doesn’t yet look at it. She gestures to one of the chairs. She’s wearing a blazer and grey slacks, her long dark hair pulled out of her face with a clip in the back. Her degrees and license are hung on the wall behind her in plain brown frames. A bookshelf to the left holds a copy of the DSM-IV and V amongst various workbooks on subjects like OCD and anxiety, a few titles that look like memoirs, and some binders with various labels.
“Michael, hello. I’m Dr Wu.” She inclines her head, but doesn’t hold her hand out to shake. She works with a lot of people who don’t like to be touched. His girlfriend is one of them.
( lie down on the couch. what does that mean? )
The day started like any other day; Lee was still asleep until noon, at which point they sent Michael a text reading ‘Ugh’ and later a rare selfie with messy bedhead and a mug of coffee as big as their head, face half-hidden behind giant sunglasses, captioned ‘Good morning ’. It was taken outside, which was good. Meant their paranoia hadn’t come back.
But around four o’clock a series of voicemails and text messages barraged Michael’s phone while he was in a meeting. 22 texts, 6 new voicemails, all from Kevin, the young mutant Lee had hired on to help around the shop despite not really needing the help. They were all a variation on the same theme: where the fuck are you? Answer your phone!
Kevin paced violently around the kitchen of Lee’s house, one bare hand clutching the petals of a daisy which withered and turned to ash. He hadn’t touched anything bare-handed in four months, not even to vent his anger. He never really came here, though Lee often invited him, and his very presence stuck out like an open wound. He whirled around when the door opened, the black coat he always wore from necessity swirling angrily around him, throwing his hands — one gloved, one not — into the air. “The fuck have you been? I've been calling all day! They took her!”
It's getting late when Lee walks into the office of O&P, but the door's still unlocked. They keep long hours here. She wonders how many of their copywriters know they're allowed to leave at 5.
Her footsteps ring on the linoleum, her heels clack-clacking as she makes her way towards the corner office. She's way passed the point of having to ask a secretary where to look, but it's weird that everyone here knows her name when she's here maybe once a week, often less.
She pokes her head into the room, the smell of her perfume wafting in before her like the announcer at a formal ball.
It's slushy outside, not quite snowing, not quite raining, and she's all bundled up in a pale green coat with darker gloves, which she does not remove; she's not planning on staying long, she is not spending their anniversary in his office. She's gotten her hair set and she's wearing makeup, they're going to have a nice night out where she can ruin her dress sitting on the grass. She's not at all surprised to see the three of them in there. “I am sorry, I have to steal him. You can have him back tomorrow.”
It’s nighttime. The stars are out, bright in the clear grey-blue sky and shining defiantly over the city’s harsh lights. Michael sits on his bed and looks at them through his open window, arms folded on the sill. The breeze ruffles his overgrown hair. He wants to climb out and go to space.
This isn’t his home. Where he was before wasn’t his home either. Up there, that’s where he should be. He tried to go there once but he couldn’t see it, couldn’t get high enough, and it was terrifying. He almost got lost. Morris told him never to do it again.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been here: in this country, in this apartment, in this room. It seems like either ages or moments. It’s not like it matters, since he’s going to be here for the rest of his life, but it’s a weird feeling. The tenement seems empty, also; he can’t hear the small sounds of Morris’s existence through the door. Maybe he’s working late. Why can’t Michael remember?
When Lee picks the venue for dinner she picks a real dive. It's in the Village, the lighting is dim, it's cheap, no one cares what anyone else is doing, and it's the kind of place everyone is going to be comfortable in for all those reasons. She so rarely manages to talk Ginsberg into going out and being social, for reasons she absolutely understands; she doesn't like socialising either, and it's particularly tough when it's with all someone else's friends, but she tries to get him to go out and do something at least once a month, even if it's just sitting in the park hollering at strangers. It's good for him.
They arrived first and Lee's only on her first beer. (She's not supposed to be drinking at all, but she made a deal with Michael that he can cut her off at three.) The weight of the ring around her finger is still strange but welcome; she's had it sized so it fits perfectly without being irritating, but she's always aware of its presence. She still startles herself sometimes when she moves her left hand, which is always. And it feels nice to wear real clothes, not just her pajamas.
It's not a long wait until she spies a few familiar faces coming in through the front door. She tugs on Michael's hand to give him some warning, then stands up and waves. All she has to do is stand up to stand out in a crowd, though. “Sinclair! Over here.” A brief headcount assures them that everyone actually showed up, such a rarity.
Saturday. Shabbat. One is commanded to rest.
Despite the increased trouble he’s been having with sleep recently, Michael obeys. When he has access to a bed during daytime hours his body forces him down no matter how valiantly his mind tries to fight. Today is no different; he’s out cold until after seven PM. It’s a late start for him, and it will make Sunday and Monday even more difficult. Wolfgang will have to help.
At the moment, though, tomorrow and the next day are far from his mind. He’s just begun to wake up, pressing his face against whatever warmth is wrapped up all around him as his eyes squeeze more tightly shut against the small amount of light in the room. He breathes in deep and sighs it out. Already a tiny amount of listless energy is collecting inside him, but he can ignore it for maybe five minutes. There’s nowhere to be. He’s in Wolfgang’s arms. Good.
Except when he wakes up a bit more he realizes Wolfgang is also in his arms, and one of his legs is between theirs, and his face is right against their chest, and it’s not good at all. Michael’s not sure what to do. Should he roll over? Get up? Pretend he fell back asleep and wait for them to leave? In the end he does nothing but lie there silently, worrying and trying not to move a muscle.
Funny the difference a few months can make. A few months ago, no one in the District wanted to speak to Wolfgang, an outsider and a flatscan; now, they can't go out without being barraged by people who just have a quick question that ultimately ends in a request for (free) help, or by grateful friendly people who hold them up at the bodega. Often going out is more trouble than it's worth. It's not that they're unsocial — okay, no, they're unsocial. Wolfgang is introverted; dealing with other people is draining for them. Not relaxing.
Still, even they need human interaction sometimes. And not just with their boyfriend. Much as they like spending time with him, even Wolfgang knows he can't be their only source of socialization. So sometimes, they go out.
They try to stay local — support local businesses, they tend to support you right back, and it helps your reputation in the community if you make a habit of spreading your money within that community. Also, who wants to take the train just to go to a fancy bar? There's a perfectly good dive bar a block from their shop, and Michael's working late tonight (he does that a lot), so instead of going back to their apartment, they go out to have a few beers. They've dressed down, not wanting to draw attention to themself, but they're a 6' 4" androgynous beauty queen with magic powers, it's a little difficult.
They sit at the bar and order something bottled — at least then you can be mostly sure it's not watered down — and put their head in their arms on the counter, and sigh heavily. Rough week.
It’s late. Michael’s not sure how late, but it’s dark out and it’s been that way for a while. He keeps forgetting to look at clocks, can’t remember what time it was when he left the office (or when he last ate, or when he last sat down). His singlemindedness continues to override any protest his body tries to stage—though by the time he makes his way back to the Village, he’s stumbling and blurry-eyed and sweaty, hair and clothes mussed beyond his usual level of disorder.
He climbs the stairs to the apartment with surprising speed and a complete lack of grace, sacrificing the rest of his energy for the home stretch. Michael uses the door to stop his momentum, catching himself on it with a thud and then scrambling for his key. He tries to get it in the lock but his hand is shaking too badly. He can’t concentrate. There are at least forty bees swarming in his skull. His skin is crawling, he could scream with how frustrated he is. It’s imperative that he get inside right away. Now. Five minutes ago. This is important. It’s the most important thing he might ever do.
“Lee?” he calls from the hallway, panicked. What if she’s asleep? He’ll have to break the door down, and doors cost a lot. “Lee!”
It’s around 8:30 PM on a Friday night, and Michael and Wolfgang are sitting in a booth at a Lower East Side deli. It’s quiet and slow for a Friday—Shem’s place is always slow—and it would be nice if that could help Michael feel any calmer, but it doesn’t. Nothing could do that right now. He doesn’t want to be here, he wants to run. Out the door, through the wall, anything, as fast as he can and as far away as he can get. He’ll take Wolfgang with him. They don’t understand why neither of them should be doing this.
The two of them have been looking for somewhere to live together, and although they haven’t yet found a place they can both agree on, it’s only a matter of time. That’s not the problem; that decision they’d sat on for three months (three whole months!) before making and although it scares the shit out of him, it’s something he’s grown to desire deeply. Wolfgang eventually mentioned, though, that they didn’t understand how Michael could make such a commitment when they hadn’t even introduced them to his father, who lives in town—who currently lives with Michael.
He’d been hoping they wouldn’t bring that up, that they wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care or that they’d get the hint that it wasn’t a good idea. He’d tried to tell them, then, that they really shouldn’t bother meeting Morris, it wasn’t important, but Wolfgang seemed hurt by that, and then he felt horrible. The more the two of them talked about it, the more his lack of choice became obvious. Morris had been getting suspicious anyway, and Michael had to give him a reason for moving out. Something he’d believe. Michael is a terrible liar and Morris knows it.
So now they’re sitting here waiting for Morris to arrive, and Michael feels anxious enough to be sick. He can’t stop shifting around in his seat, looking out the window and then at the door and then back out the window and then around the restaurant. He adjusts and readjusts his stretched-out shirt collar like it’s choking him. It feels like ants are running all over his skin.
“I can’t take this,” he mutters. “This is terrible.”