Half-sleep on a Train
There - a novel
(the first several chapters)
I was asked recently if I meditate, and now I’m wondering what that means. I think meditation has something to do with clearing your mind in way to be present, and I do that all the time. I’m doing it right now, actually, or trying to, at least: I’m staring off into space, breathing, waiting for a wave of blankness to wash over me. I say this like I’m totally conscious of it, but I’m not. It’s more instinctive, I think. The most conscious part is of time passing.
I’m staring out the window. My eyes are pointed at a tree. Its empty branches sway in the cold wind. The color shifts as the sun peeks out through the clouds. I have anxiety about things, like so many leaves that cover summer trees. This barren tree speaks to me now. I’m not really looking at it, but through it, past its branches. Now I’m loosening. My shoulders relax, my eyes glaze over and my anxiety fades like the scattered sunlight into a grey overcast. The sky is a blanket. I snuggle into that. I imagine with every breath this wave crashing in slow motion and it suddenly hits me. For a moment, like the length of an orgasm, my mind becomes blissfully empty.
Fade to white. Blankness. My head is tingling.
There’s nothing but a hum, like the last sound of Radiohead’s Kid A album. I picture a soft light glowing, growing in intensity – it’s the summer light of New York City shining into my bedroom on a Sunday morning. I’m in Brooklyn, in bed with Allison, the soft duvet cozily encapsulating us, my feet peeking out into the still, sedate air, her head tucked into my neck, my skin brushed by her auburn hair and her hands on my chest, each of us between wake and rest.
“What do you feel like doing?” she asks me.
I sigh with content: “Nothing.”
“Great, nothing it is,” she says, and we continually drift in half-sleep.
Now I’m standing here like this is the dream. I’m an apparition. I’m still, barely breathing.
I’m not exactly holding my breath, but it’s like I forget to breathe, like I’m resting my lungs or something. I inhale. I see Allison’s porcelain face, her kind eyes opening, her smile growing, in sync with my lungs filling completely. A moment, a memory. Then a sigh – I exhale loudly. The image dissipates. The soft summer light vanishes with it.
Dissolve to black. Now there’s darkness.
My eyes are closed. Slowly, I keep breathing. The light shifts back to the flat greyness of this winter day. The clouds aren’t breaking. The trees aren’t swaying. Nothing’s happening.
There’s a whistle. It’s the kettle. Water’s boiling.
I open my eyes, unsure of when I closed them exactly. It’s a Thursday morning. I’m standing in my kitchen. I’m making coffee. I listen to the whistle, roll my neck around my shoulders and listen to the cracking of muscles. My back hurts. I pour hot water into the French press on the counter and stir the coffee carefully. Everything feels slow, intended. The radiator crackles. The clock ticks. The city carries on in the distance.
I’m relaxed but I can sense my anxieties bubbling just under the surface, like a zit you just know will surface. No steady money. No prospects. No solid career path. No real résumé even. And all these plans for a trip, hanging in the balance… Is this sustainable? Am I making smart decisions? Who am I and what have I done with my life? I don’t actually want to be thinking this.
I turn back to the window. It faces a large courtyard. I’m intrigued by the layout of old buildings. The architecture feels very European. That makes sense – after all, I’m in Berlin. There are lots of similarities between here and Brooklyn, but also lots of differences. None of my close friends or family are here, for instance. No stability. No Allison.
I’m humming to myself now, hearing music in my head: the soft synthetic beat and dancing melody of the song “Bored Games” by the band Wild Nothing.
♬ Where are you going? Can I go with you? I don’t feel right when you’re not here… ♬
I just want to be in a song.
I breathe, straighten my back, listen now to the clock. The seconds tick. I pay attention to the space between each tick and everything in it – nothingness, expanding – again and again, infinities of emptiness in every second.
It’s funny how it’s called a second. I read that it’s because it’s the second division of the hour, the first divisible unit being the minute. But why is the hour the thing to be divided? Shouldn’t it be the day that we’re dividing? The first division is really the hour – and it’s the first hand on the clock as well. That makes sense. The minute hand, then, is really the second, the second hand really the third. So shouldn’t seconds be called thirds?? It really bothers me, the imperfect system of timekeeping. I wish we could fix it. This is suddenly all I want in life, for this to be right.
I sigh, noticing my empty thoughts filled with such banality, seeing my passions awoken, my seething at the most mundane. I want the time back, in a way. I want it to cease. It’s dumb that it bothers me, isn’t it? That I’d be so consumed by this? It’s my own mind that bothers me. It’s stupid. Let it go, Ethan. Breathe. Lose yourself again. Care less. Just stare at the clock. Look at the minute hand vibrating ever so slightly as it ticks. The hour hand moves smoothly forward as well, though imperceptibly. I’m watching it… It points close to the 12. Almost noon. After 12 comes 13 – 13:00 in Europe – but 1 on this circle, this cyclical system. 1 and 13 are the same thing, an ace in blackjack is 1 and 11 simultaneously. Seems deep to me, as if zero equals infinity. I try to feel the weight of it.