Chapter 34 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

A few hours later, at 11:20 AM, Jim staggered out of bed. He felt terrible. He had slept very badly. His head hurt, and his eyes seemed to itch.

He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. As he did so, he thought back on the dream he'd been having just before he'd woken up. He'd already forgotten most of it, but he remembered a scene in which he'd been driving a station wagon through a city. Commercial establishments lined both sides of the street: restaurants, movie theaters, posh hotels, nightclubs, department stores, and so on. Everything had bright neon lights and big spotlit signs. But as he drove past these establishments, he realized that they were all false fronts, huge walls painted to look like buildings but which were really just fakes. The city was a fraud, like a movie set out in Hollywood. There weren't any real people there at all. And he'd driven on, out of the city and across an empty countryside. Eventually, he'd come to the ocean.

He forgot about the dream and thought about Jennifer. At first he failed to recall recent events, but then the news hit him again and he felt a wave of unhappiness flow over him. Perhaps it too had been a dream, he thought, wishfully.

He went back into his room and curled up into a ball on his bed. "I can't believe it," he said, over and over, to himself. "I just can't believe it."

He and Jennifer had gone out for two years, and now she had dumped him, for, it seemed to him, no reason. It had in fact been very sudden, though as he thought about it, he realized that she hadn't seemed particularly happy during the previous couple of months.

He stood up and walked around the room. He felt a strange tightness in his chest, like a hand pushing on his lungs. He found it very difficult to breathe, and worked hard at filling his lungs completely with air.

He decided to call Jennifer at work. She worked in a photocopying shop. He picked up the phone, dialed the first six digits of the number, and then hung up.

He curled up in his bed again and cried.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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