A work of serial fiction by Noah Sanders
Silas stands in his bath robe – blue, coffee-stained and tattered, body fat and unshowered, teeth unbrushed, face unshaven, belly naked and protruding through the open robe and over the top of his pajama pants, belly sagging down over the pants’ green, fraying elastic waistband – and stares out his bedroom window. The sky looks grey and empty to Silas, empty but for the clouds, clouds white and shapeless in a kind of amorphous, boundary-less way, a way that scares him because he does not understand how the clouds can have both no shape and any and every shape at the same time.
Some background: When Silas was twenty-seven, he and his wife, now ex-wife, sold the rights to the VHS tape series they had conceived, developed, and filmed themselves – a training series on the finer points of word processor operation for computer users in the modern era – to a larger, now completely bankrupt digital-media training company. They made enough money that Silas hasn’t needed a job since. At times, he finds himself wanting a job. But, as it is never an issue of necessity, he never can force himself to put in enough effort to actually find one.
After Silas and his wife, now ex-wife, took a celebratory trip to the Bahamas, which he found hot and sweaty and the jellyfish positively terrifying, followed by a celebratory trip to the Swiss Alps, which he found freezing cold and the possibility of avalanche positively terrifying, followed by a celebratory trip to Paris, during which he found the hotel bell boy’s particular attention to his wife’s, now ex-wife’s, enjoyment and relaxation more than a little suspicious, after it became abundantly clear that he did not intend to take another job, to rejoin the workforce not for the money and not at the very least for some feeling of occupation, his then wife now ex-wife accepted a job teaching English in France, packed her bags, boarded a plane, and left him standing in the same robe and same pants he wore now, staring alone out the same window.
The clouds, at least, seemed different.
Every day at two, or at least close to two, Silas positions himself in front of his bedroom window to watch his neighbor watch his computer. Every day at two, or at least close to two, Silas’s neighbor appears in the window across from his bedroom window and watches the computer for an average of twenty-two minutes or an hour and forty-five minutes, depending on whether he is watching a TV show or a movie, and then disappears back into other parts of the house, parts Silas cannot see through his bedroom window.
At this moment, Silas is staring out his bedroom window at the chair his neighbor has just vacated. He raises his coffee to his mouth and slaps himself in the face with an empty mug. He forgot to make coffee. He walks downstairs to the kitchen to make a pot; this is his exercise for the day.
Silas had a dream last night. That’s something new; Silas never dreams. It wasn’t a bad dream, not a nightmare, but it was extremely unsettling: He awoke, in his dream, stiff as a board, lying floating in the air above his bed, which was made (it was this fact, that the bed was made, that convinced Silas he must be dreaming). Aside from the bed directly beneath him, nothing in his room was visible. Everything was hidden by a white cloud, a cloud light as snow and warm to the touch, a cloud that had billowed, was still billowing, in through the windows, through the walls, through the ceiling, and sat twirling slowly through the air, was the air, in his room.
When he awoke in the morning, he hadn’t remembered the dream. It isn’t until now – standing in his kitchen, holding his empty coffee mug and staring at the fridge, fridge white with red and green splotches, splotches from the leftovers of TV dinners and microwaveable meals that had never found their way to the trash overflowing in the corner next to the fridge – that his dream suddenly comes back to him.
Furrowing his brow in confusion, Silas tries to think about his peculiar dream. But thinking is something he hasn’t done in a long time and it hurts his head. Luckily, the sun has begun to set. He stops thinking, walks upstairs, throws off his robe, and climbs into bed. Part of him is ashamed of another day spent like every other, a day spent without direction or even an attempt at finding direction. But this part is small; most of him is relieved to be going back to sleep: deep, dark, and numb.
Today is the same as yesterday, the same as every other day in Silas’s life, except for the fact that he woke up without one of his hands. He is wearing the same bathrobe: blue, coffee-stained and tattered; it is open above the same naked, fat belly protruding out and over the same pajama pants still green and still fraying along the same elastic waistband. His right hand, however, is gone. Where his right hand would join his right arm, were it still in existence and/or still attached to him, is now just blurred space, a hazy interface where his right wrist fades seamlessly into the air.
Silas begins to worry about his hand, where it could have gone and how it could be faring now that it is on its own, but he remembers the effort thinking requires and the pain it has the potential to cause him. Prudently, he stops and proceeds with his day as normal, this time ensuring his coffee mug is full before taking his place in front of his bedroom window.
While Silas is waiting patiently for the day’s entertainment, while he is staring out his window at his neighbor’s window, window framed in black and streaked with bird poop, bird poop bright and white in contrast with the window’s black frame, he remembers that last night he had another dream. There had been the same cloud, white, light, and warm, and, again, it had been twirling around him. This time, however, his bed disappeared, was engulfed by the cloud along with the rest of his room, and Silas had not been lying stiff, but was twirling with the cloud, rising steadily as he spun, tumbled, and flipped, his body no longer his to control.
It is almost two. Silas stares into his neighbor’s house, watching his neighbor watch a movie. He can just make out the top of some tall building, a skyscraper in a city, before the screen cuts to a dark room filled with smoke. He can only see the top right corner of the screen over his neighbor’s shoulder, but he decides the rest of the screen contains a group of men sitting around a table smoking cigars and playing cards, men in suspenders and button-down shirts with the sleeves rolled up, men with heavy Russian accents, hairy arms, and thick gold chains hanging around their necks. Silas smoked a cigar once. It was a celebratory cigar, when he and his ex-wife sold their company. The tobacco had given him a headache and made him throw up, but he had lied, pretended he was going to the bathroom because he had drunken too much celebratory champagne and needed to pee. Cigars, he knew, were best left to the gangsters he was pretty sure existed in the movie he was watching his neighbor watch.
The movie lasted longer than usual: two hours and twenty-six minutes. The credits have just finished and the sun is beginning to dip below the horizon. With his left hand, his only hand, he sets down his coffee, cold and untouched (he forgot to drink it), takes off his robe, and lies down for the night. He is ashamed of another day spent like every other and relieved to be going back to sleep: deep, dark, and numb.
Today is the same as yesterday, the same as every other day in Silas’s life, except for the fact that he woke up without his other hand, his left ear, and part of his left foot, the part that contains his toes. He isn’t too concerned about the loss of his ear; he doesn’t really have much to listen to anyway. That he is now completely handless, too, does not bother him. He no longer has to decide whether or not to make coffee, or remember to drink it once he’s made it. What does bother him, however, is the disappearance of the toes on his left foot. Without toes, he is finding it difficult to stand in his usual spot and stare out his usual window without losing his balance and tumbling into his bedroom wall. He fears he will miss watching his neighbor watch whatever he is watching today.
But, if he cares, Silas can be resourceful. By placing his left knee on the bedside table, leaning backwards, twisting his torso ninety degrees, and squinting, he can see the top left corner of his neighbor’s computer screen. Although uncomfortable, painfully uncomfortable, this position is his best and only option for viewing. Hopefully, his neighbor watches something short today.
At four forty-three, after two hours and fifty-seven minutes of waiting, knee on table, back bent backwards and contorted, Silas gives up. No, he doesn’t give up so much as give in, give in to the pain throbbing up his spine into his neck and the slivers of wood sliding into his left knee from the bedside table. He collapses on the ground, too tired to move up and into his bed, not even sure if it is possible to do so handless, left-earless, and left-toeless.
As he closed his eyes, he remembers that last night he had another dream. Suddenly, he is in the dream; he is in the cloud, white, warm and light, and all of him is there: his hands, his ears, even his toes. All of him is spinning, spinning upwards towards a light, faint and pulsing red somewhere above him in the cloud.
As he spins and rises, eyes fixated on the light growing closer, pulsing soft and even, Silas realizes that he is no longer sleeping. Silas realizes that he is very definitely awake.
To be continued.