Chapter 35 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

In the evening, Jim had a shift at "Dollars to Donuts," and he worked his hours like a zombie, barely aware of his surroundings.

That night he had a dream. He dreamt that he was planning a party at his apartment, which was on one of the top floors of a very tall high rise apartment building. People were supposed to arrive at 8:00 PM, but they were all showing up at 4:15 in the afternoon. Jim wasn't ready at all. He hadn't bought any refreshments. His record albums were still in the bathtub. He was standing in the living room, surrounded by guests, who were whispering to each other about what a terrible host Jim was. At last he shouted for them all to leave, to go away, to come back later on, much later on. But they didn't hear him. He stood there, shouting, and they completely ignored him. He felt as if he were invisible, as if no sound was coming out of his mouth. So he ran away. He packed a suitcase full of doughnuts and ran away. He ran down the stairs and out to his car, only to find that it, too, was crowded with people who didn't seem to notice him. People were sitting in his car, leaning against the side, and sitting on the roof. A small child sat in the driver's seat, pretending to drive, whirling the wheel back and forth, honking the horn, shouting "Get out of the way! Move, you morons!" And suddenly Jim realized that he didn't even know these people, that they were all strangers. In shock and amazement, the suitcase fell from his hands and broke open on the pavement. Doughnuts rolled in every direction.

Jim awoke to the distant sound of an automobile collision. He heard the screeching of tires, the thud of impact, and finally, the soft tinkling of broken glass. He looked at the clock. It was 4:30 AM. Jim rolled over and went back to sleep.

And continued to dream.

He was sitting in a bus terminal, waiting for a Greyhound bus to take him across the country and back to his house. He was passing the time by watching television on those small black and white TV sets mounted on the armrests of certain chairs. He had to put a quarter into a slot in the chair every fifteen minutes, or the television would turn itself off. Jim had spent most of his money on the bus ticket, but still had a dollar's worth of quarters in his pocket.

Jim dropped a quarter into one of the television sets and started watching "The Jetsons." In the middle of the broadcast, there came a special bulletin. The television announcer said that a major and important garage sale was going on in Jim's home town. The announcer said that people were coming in from all over to pick up bargains at this wonderful yard sale. Reporters interviewed people on the air who'd bought great things at this rummage sale. The bulletin went on for a long time.

Then suddenly Jim realized that the yard sale was going on at his own house! In fact, all of the stuff being sold was his own stuff! He saw a picture of his mom, eagerly collecting money from customers. He watched as a fat old man paid ten dollars for his Silver Surfer sheets and pillowcases. Just then, the picture went blank and Jim had to put in another quarter.

He saw his mom selling off all of his most prized possessions. Jim stood up. He had to do something to stop this, he thought. He ran over to the bank of pay phones, but they were all in use. He ran back to the television, and saw his entire coin collection being sold for 35 cents. He screamed. He ran back to the phones. One had opened up, but when he put in his quarter and dialed, the phone was busy. He hung up the phone, but it didn't give his quarter back. With tears streaming down his face, he ran back to the television. It had turned itself off again. He shoved in his last quarter, and watched helplessly as everything that had ever mattered to him was sold off to complete strangers. Finally, the television went silent, but the sound of Jim's whimpering continued to echo through the huge, empty bus terminal.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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