My lover and I are on the way to the theater for a show. We leave from different homes. I call her—or is it text? It’s hard to reconstruct dreams—and instead of her I get a man. I don’t know who he is but he seems older, established, white. He says he’s got her—or is it, she’s with me.
Dread expands the borders between my cells. Pulls me apart.
—Where is she?
I stand at the playhouse under red strobes that, as they rotate, mottle shadows on a wooden bar—its round empty stools, its disaffected tender a vague silhouette. Patrons gather at front-of-house, twittering, then herd through doors in the back marked stage. The doors open and close; the patrons glow then go dark like the abdomen of fireflies. I search their blur of faces. None is hers.
I have to go, I think, as I push the revolving door out and am deposited onto the night’s wet sidewalk. I see this scene from the side. I walk and cast no shadow. My feet molest a puddle in which the city reflects, rippling. I keep going. I pass alleyways, black fences bent by the branches of headstrong trees, blue trash bins that smell of rats. I look down. Concrete cracks where its heart beat too hard.
I’m in my neighborhood now. Harper Square’s to my left. I approach my building, a six story walkup embedded in one of the square’s spines. In this near dark, a second floor window glows blue neon words: Psychic Mary. She lives right under me. We never speak. The spirits do that for us. They enter through my floor and swirl around my dreams.
Go in. Over the street level doors to my building sits a stone plaque. It reads: The Columbian, est. 1917. Keylessly I enter these doors and walk past the rust-colored grid of mailboxes to my right. I make a right and go up the staircase, a spiral to a skylight six floors above. I stop on the third.
My apartment door stands at the hallway’s end, a stone at the mouth of a cave. To my right, my neighbors’ door. I hear them inside, chattering like moods, Where did she go? Where did she go? High voices, deep voices, a soft cacophony. At first my door won’t open. But when I say a magic word, I’mhome, it swings in.
I step over the thresh and behold. Dirt films my walls. Cobwebs droop from my ceiling like fur left over from a skinning. Dust piles dune in corners, dotted with flecks of skin and the halved shells of roaches. Dry baseboards flake like the lips of cadavers. To my right, facing the street below, my dingy bed: tattered fitted sheet on a yellow mattress. Coils of dusty hair (Mine? Hers? Hers.) It’s a ruin. Been a long time since anyone’s lived here.
To my left, the kitchen hisses like water on the verge of boiling. I turn to it, then enter slowly, my soles clacking on dry tile. Against the far wall, just below a window facing a solid brick building, my black kitchen table. To the left of the table sits a dead fridge, stove, and sink. Lesions of mold blacken their surfaces. Beside them, empty cabinets sigh. On the countertops, disheveled things: curved spoons, unopened bills, smoke detector. Three drawers overflow with papers. I go to shuffle through them and notice they’re all blank. As I toss them aside, they grow into a pile of sheets on the floor. But the piles in the drawers are inexhaustible. As one is removed, another generates in its place.
—You won’t find her there says a voice like a whisper with the volume turned up.
It’s coming from the window:
—Roy. You won’t find her there.
—Where did she go!
As I turn toward the voice, my stomach clenches and my throat weakens and I reckon someone’s been watching me.
I rush back to the hallway. My neighbor’s door is wide open. I look in and see a row of green front-loaded industrial washers repeating in a narrow hall to a blue soup vanishing point. Three women interrupted in their privacy stare at me as though I’d materialized from the air to intrude.
The woman closest to the door looks like a shorter, younger version of my aunt Eurydice, if Eurydice had been born Mexican and not Georgia Negro. She’s got the same sly slit of an eye-shape as me. Same thin mouth, always near laughter. She’s got none of Eurydice’s material weight. None of them appear to. They waft like holograms before the line of washers, O after O after O, gazing at me now as though I am less substantive even than a hologram, bodiless, an intimation of cool air in an open door.
The middle woman stands tall, thin, and pale, like a mulatto Virginia Woolf. I see her as I approach, for I have entered as though footless on a moving walkway, like it or not, and am now passing down the line. She watches me with Frida Kahlo eyes that widen like drops of oil on the season-skinned surface of a pot of cooking water, wider and wider till almost all I see— but I’m past her now, to the third woman, a woman stocky and brown like my mother, who reaches for me as I slip through her fingers to a dark beyond vanishing…
Underground now. A warehouse. Stacked train car crates, a maze of them, rise like windowless buildings under a rust-slatted sky. Am I alone? I’m not alone. Crowds of acquaintances (the latter end of Facebook friend lists) tarry like art show attendees, to be seen, to be seen. I have feet again. They’re bare, veiny, brown. I take them, one then the other, down this path. I approach a wall—right or left?—take the right as far as it goes, past vaguely familiar faces (Didn’t I see you at the record store the other day?). Mid-grinning, curated stares appear then vanish as though X-ed out of a window.
I’m by myself. Alongside cart after cart of steel I walk. Silence I had not recognized, like a deafening elevator pressure, releases and I can hear the voices now:
—Roy-Roy. Roy-Roy go back.
—He can’t hear you. He’s gone.
—Who’s saying that?
—Go back Roy-Roy!
—She’s not here!
But I keep going, past the steel carts, into a hallway-like corridor, further and further until my feet discern the carpet leading to my apartment. I’m standing before my door. It’s painted the color of eggs rolled in dust. An eye-hole under room number 301. Animal scratches and someone’s faintly scrawled Fuck You in the paint. Scratches like the ones I sometimes have on my chest and arms when I wake up that burn in shower water.
Somebody’s inside. I know it. The doorknob in my palm is cold as I turn it. Push the door in. It bumps something, a hefty body—whose body? my body? am I me?—gives, pushes back, almost shutting the door, but I push harder, battering ram in, and it—the body—tumbles.
I enter the dark. I see nothing. I feel for the light chain but can’t find it, and anyway don’t need to because what’s in front of me now, breathing, two lambent eyes, I see in the dark. A rabbit. More accurately, a rabbit man, a man in a rabbit suit, like the Easter Bunny, seven feet tall, watching to see what I’m gonna do next.
—What do you want from me! I ask.
Air disintegrates to rabbit panic. It pushes me—two long feet for hands, back against the wall. The impact curves my spine, dazing me for its getaway.
Through the front door into the hall it strides, a stimulus flight. I go after it, through my door to the hall, to the right, down another long hall at the end of which is a door I see the rabbit-man run through. I follow him. It opens to a staircase, spiraling down. I see him a flight below. His scampering feet make a hollow sound against the metal. He doesn’t look back. Only now does it dawn on me that he was the one who disrupted my apartment, who made it old and desolate.
I yell after him, and for a second he pauses to look up at me, then turns back to his scamper, fleet of foot ringing metal in a spiral. I give chase down the clanging steps against my still bare feet, fast as a stone’s fall, down one flight, then two, three, four, five, six flights, and we’re underground now, in a basement, the seventh flight landing against dirt ground, dark as the bottom of a well. And before me the open door through which he ran. I enter its light.
I’m in a room full of cages. A pet shop. I hear the whimpers of captive animals.
—Mommy, I’m sorry.
I see them through the circular portals of their cages. In each one, curled and naked, an ashen child. As I move along the rows, they look at me with expressions too big for their bodies. How many are there? A couple dozen. Cages like the ones they put puppies in, looking out at me as puppies might, sick as dogs. What happened to you? I want to open each cage. But I touch none of them.
Instead my eyes are drawn forward, to a door lit from within. The rabbit suit, dingy and ratty as an unwashed sheet, hangs on a nail by it. I approach. The door swings open and inside, shining, fetal, impish, a little white boy.
I open my eyes. I’m in bed. Light flows through my slatted blinds, blue honey on my comforter. My lover sleeps beside me, her head a smooth spectral glowing. I draw her close and close my eyes.
I wake up alone. Cool midnight disperses in my room. I pull the covers close.
RJ Eldridge is a writer, multidisciplinary artist and teacher. A 2017 Kimbilio Fellow, his photographic and textual work has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, Obsidian, AFROPUNK, wildness, Transition and others. He is a contributing essayist to The Whiskey of Our Discontent: Gwendolyn Brooks as a Change Agent (Haymarket Books 2017). His current preoccupations include yearning, blackness, dreams and being. “Pyramids” is excerpted from a longer work-in-progress. He tweets at @rj_el and Instagrams at @rj.eldridge.