I’m ziplining with Chad. It was actually Chad’s idea. Chad usually generates the ideas. Chad foots the bill. People see me and Chad. They see Chad on his longboard, weaving with poise and confidence through foot traffic or actual traffic. I trail behind on a Razor scooter. I ride it better here than I do while awake, but I only know one trick — a kind of 180 kickflip — that I do adequately but not enough to impress people, let alone overshadow Chad.
From the looks of it I make up Chad’s entourage. People recognize Chad in some vague way and nod at him respectfully.
Chad likes to speak in buzzwords. He talks like he’s my life coach. He seems interested in getting me closer to personal transcendence. “There’s more than one way to transcend,” he tells me with a sincere, if overeager, grin. “That’s a trade secret.” Today I am transcending through the zipline.
I am more experienced here than I am in real life, but I still haven’t gone ziplining. Chad prizes ziplining above all else. It is not just a means to an end for him. When he goes down it looks like he’s flying; like he’s fucking Superman or something. He unhooks himself and starts waving his arms from the other end like he’s directing a jet on a runway. “Don’t look down!” he yells back at me. Of course I fucking look down. There are six red cougars or panthers pacing the ground and growling up at me. “Pretty sick, right?”
Remember, I’m a normal person so I do the zipline with little obstruction. But I close my eyes tightly as I do so. It’s a rush. Chad catches me at the other end and unhooks me. I start telling him a shameful secret that I’ve never told anyone. Chad nods rhythmically, smiling. “Can you repeat that, dude? I didn’t really get the last part.” This is his catchphrase, it has an autotuned cadence. His grin is perfect paper-white, but only white, no teeth. I tell him my secret with a few details omitted.
I actually just think Chad is really assertive in an exhausting way and I’m the last person who tolerates it.
There’s this hospital. It’s closed now, has been for a few decades. I’m in the hospital but it’s as it was before it was closed. The floor tiles have an ivory sheen. The walls are mint green-colored. I walk freely in the hallways. Nurses in white uniforms and hats with red crosses smile and call me “Your excellency.” Orderlies in light blue scrubs and tattoos nod and call me “Right Honourable.” I am wearing a brown suit with a rose in my lapel. My room has a wooden desk and a small flag at the corner of it. I don’t recognize the flag and knock it to the floor.
An orderly knocks on my door and tells me it’s time. He takes me gently by the arm and leads me down to an auditorium where people in yellow gowns tied up the back sit in folding chairs before a projector screen. Their hair is buzzed down to the same length; they sit in the same downfacing hunch. There is an empty chair in the section to the right of the projector screen where the orderly places me then stands behind the slide projector with his arms crossed. A thin man in a grey suit walks into the room and stands in front of the projector screen. He wears a pink mouth mask. He points to the orderly who turns on the slide projector. At the man’s direction, the orderly clicks the button that changes the slides. Each slide is some variation of children playing in a yard, or a family sitting down to dinner. The man says nothing. He just signals and the orderly changes the slide.
The orderly clicks to a slide reading “THE END” and is directed to stop. The man silently opens the floor to questions. No one says anything for several seconds. So I stand up and say “Fuddle duddle.” And sit down. The man nods and exits.
I sit at the head of the table at lunch. My tray is grey. The food — scrambled eggs, toast, rice pudding, whole milk — are also grey. People in the same yellow gowns look at me from their seats. The two seated nearest to me is get up to whisper things in my ear. I can’t distinguish what they tell me, but I nod to them as if I do.
I return to my room with a different small flag and a pile of papers. I shuffle and straighten the papers and knock the new, still incorrect flag to the floor.
An orderly comes into my room again and takes me back to the cafeteria. The tables and chairs have been pushed to the walls. Yellow-gowned people stand in a circle in the center of the room clapping in a slow rhythm. A nurse stands in the circle pointing to random yellow-gowned people and directing them to go in. The clapping rhythm speeds up. One yellow-gowned woman goes in and stands still for a few seconds before jolting into a flamenco. A yellow-gowned man goes in and does an Irish jig. Another does a Russian folk dance. The nurse points to me and I go in. I can’t think of what to do, the clapping rhythm seems very slow, almost plodding. My mind is blank. The nurse is getting impatient. The clapping seems to have stopped. Then, seemingly without a thought, I put my fingers on top of my head, raise my right leg to my left calf and twirl into a pirouette. I twirl and twirl and twirl, not mindful of the speed of the clapping or the possible censure of the nurse.
I am back in my room, seated at my desk. It is night. There are more papers in front of me. They will have to be dealt with in the morning. I look at the corner of my desk to find the correct flag. I hold it over my chest in the mirror and take it to bed with me.
It’s Dot Day, and I am a boy again. I’m walking to school. My mom set aside the appropriate Dot Day attire. I walk along houses adorned with all manner of dots. Small dots, large dots, medium dots, plastic dots, paper dots, aluminum dots, dots painted on walls, dots hanging by threads, dots spinning on wheels.
Michelle stands behind me in line on the blacktop. She kicks me in the ankles. I turn around. She laughs and smiles. I wave and smile back. She has on more dots than anyone.
The teacher stands before the class in a shin-length denim dress, loafers, and a brown blazer with no immediate evidence of dots. Michelle sits a few desks up from me at the row to my right. She turns to me with a cold look. She raises her hand, and when called upon asks the teacher — whose name I don’t know — where her dots are. “Oh dear!” the teacher says, and goes into her purse and takes out a yellow button and pins it to the lapel of her blazer. The children clap.
Everyone gets up from their desks and goes into their backpacks. Michelle appears in front of my desk holding with both hands a card with my name written over a big blue dot. She places it on my desk and waits. I freeze realizing that I left my Dot Day cards on the kitchen counter. They are generic store-bought Dot Day cards for the entire class. Michelle returns to her desk in tears. The teacher ignores this.
At lunch, the dots multiply. The menu is dot-themed: dot-shaped waffles, dot-shaped Jell-O, dot-shaped mashed potatoes, dot-shaped tuna salad, dot-shaped pizza with dot-shaped toppings. I am eating a dot-shaped cheeseburger. Michelle’s feelings are bitter, and also dot-shaped in their way. The principle walks up and down the cafeteria presenting his wide dot-patterned tie. The custodian has a hat with a dot. They pose for a photo. The children clap.
Back at class, the teacher passes out cupcakes with chocolate dots placed over the frosting. Michelle sits cross-armed looking down at her cupcake as if she was trying to make it combust. There is a knock at the door. It is my mom carrying the grocery bag containing my Dot Day cards. The teacher lets her in and I go to meet her. As she hands me the bag, I hear Michelle yell “No dot” indignantly. I look at my mom and see under her raincoat the top of her dog-patterned pajamas. “No dot” says another student, then another, and then the whole class chants it in unison. Michelle picks up her cupcake and hurls it at my mom, hitting her in the arm. The other children pelt her with their holiday-themed baked goods. I stand in front of my mom but it is futile. Two of my classmates push me aside as the rest arise and throng upon my mom until she is subsumed under a pile of children. The teacher is at her desk reading a Redbook. Michelle giggles and jumps in place as the pile flattens to a crowd. She turns to me smiling, her eyes like bulging black marbles. The children clap.