Driver’s Side Airbag #43

The Return of the Repressed
by Carl Herr

It was late at night. David had woken up in a cold sweat. He was having one of those dreams again. They seemed not to go away. He couldn’t exactly remember when they had started. Maybe just a few months ago, but it seemed like forever. He had tried everything he could think of to be able to calm himself but nothing had really done the trick. Lately, he had been trying to avoid listening to any kind of music that would get him charged up and instead concentrating on the more mellow aspects of his c.d. collection. He had always been a fan of mid ‘70’s space rock. You know, Tangerine Dream et al. He had spent years and countless dollars amassing his collection of rare imports. His apartment was typically messy, but the c.d.’s he owned were carefully stored and placed and the rare out of print records were kept in such a way that they remained in pristine condition.

Having a lack of a social life, he had nothing better to do than listen in on the neighbors downstairs. Because of the acoustics from the way the building was constructed, he could hear everything that was going on downstairs. At one point, he could hear arguing between the woman who lived there and her boyfriend and the occasional muffled sounds of sex, but lately things had been strangely quiet. He wondered if she had moved out. Perhaps a few days later, he saw her.

"What’s your name?" he said even though he already knew, pretending to look sympathetic.

"Phyllis," she said, glaring back at him as if she had said, "Fuck you."

Phyllis herself had not been feeling well. The constant music upstairs had set her on edge. She wanted to go knock on the guy’s door and complain, but then again, what if he were one of those psychopath types. You know, like that subway pusher guy, whatever the fuck his name was. She wasn’t really the social type, anyway. She had only had sex once and it was, to say the least, clinical. No more than that. Right now all she could think about, though, was to make up for the sleep deficit. She didn’t want to go the whole Xanax route and depend on some elderly shrink for pills. Somebody gave her something that they sometimes used to cure insomnia. Some herbal thing. It was supposed to work wonders. That night, she took it.

The next day, Phyllis woke up in the middle of the afternoon with a splitting headache. She had a feeling that something terrible had happened during the night. She felt somehow unclean. Was it that date rape drug? But then she reminded herself that she had been alone all night, and besides that, only she had the keys to her apartment. She had trouble piecing everything together. Something akin to amnesia. Still, she vaguely remembered some people that had been her friends. She looked at the list of phone numbers she had on the fridge and called them one by one, but every phone call had the same response. A hysterical giggling followed by a quick hang-up. All day she was in some kind of state that she didn’t even leave the house, except to stop at the corner deli to buy some milk as well as tomorrow’s Times.

After eating a Dove bar while watching the Brady Bunch and then Bewitched, Phyllis regained her composure and decided that the best thing to do was take a walk. She noticed that she had marked off on some paper that the next day in Central Park there was an early morning walk. She decided to go, figuring that it would put her in a quieter mood that might help her get herself together again. The next morning, she dutifully hopped on the train and headed toward the Ramble at precisely eight in the morning as the listing had indicated. No one was there except for some homeless guy lying on a bench, loudly snoring. He looked harmless enough, but after a while she began to wonder if there was some kind of confusion. Fifteen minutes later, almost ready to go back home, she came upon a group of people.

"Is this bird watching?" she started to say, but before she could finish her sentence someone shouted, "Yes, we’ve been waiting for you."

A few paces over towards the Ramble when someone ran up shouting, "Look at the trees," he screamed, "and they’re naked, too," he added, laughing wildly. The bark began to peel off the trees like dead skin. Then with a sudden thud, birds began to fall from the sky.

"We collect them. You see," the man exclaimed gleefully. Phyllis did not run away, but instead paused for a lack of what to do. There was nothing except a scared squirrel running up a tree.

Whatever she was afflicted with seemed to have spread to the apartment upstairs. David was going out of his mind. The dreams had multiplied with an alarming frequency. They were basically all the same with some slight variations. He was lying on an operating table and there were these surgeons looking over him getting ready to perform an operation. But as soon as they readied to make the first cut, he woke up. That night was worse. When he woke up, there was an unpleasant odor around him. He realized that he had pissed in his bed. He hadn’t done that since he was eight years old. He was really freaking out. He gathered the sheets together and tossed them off the roof into the alleyway. They would never be noticed there anyway with all the beer bottles and used condoms that littered the walkway. As if by some weird coincidence, he didn’t have the dream for a full week after that. He began to get the feeling that something was wrong downstairs, but even when he pressed his ear to the floor, he heard nothing. "Perhaps, he should knock on her door," he thought, but chickening out at the last moment after he considered the fact that if a crime was really going on, then he might get caught up in it and have to be an official witness in a trial. "Better not," he decided.

Phyllis was in a real quandary that Monday morning. She knew she had to head off to work, but where? Vaguely, she realized that it was that damn hip boutique around the corner. She hated the fucking place, but losing her employment was not an easy prospect, especially with all the turmoil in her life now. However, when she entered the room, she knew something was seriously wrong. A woman with a severe, even dour tone, walked up to her. "Perfect," she said. "Just perfect." She motioned towards the wall. There was a mock-up of a crucifix and some very real nails lying around. "We’re doing a little body art thing," she said cheerfully, "Perhaps you’d want to get involved." Phyllis ran out as if her life depended on it. From now on, she reminded herself pointedly, she would avoid that side of the street.

The next day, feeling more than a bit apprehensive, Phyllis walked all the way in the other direction and got the subway at a stop she had never been to before. She was heading to some support group she had heard about for people with recovering identities. There was one in her neighborhood, but she preferred to go to one in the city to avoid running into people who might know her. The train ride was a horror show. The station was one of those old dilapidated ones that the city seemed to have forgotten about. As she was running around trying to find the right train, a drop of water hit her. At least she hoped it was water. A subway rat darted by. Phyllis noticed a sign on the demarcation between the tracks, stating that rat poison had been applied. Suddenly a metallic taste entered her mouth. She had an intense desire to scratch herself, but refrained from doing so because she didn’t want to reopen the cut she had accidentally inflicted upon herself while shaving her legs in the shower.

When she got off at what she hoped was the right stop, Phyllis heard footsteps. It seemed as if some guy was following her. She turned back and stared at some guy who was really too repellent to be frightening. A pathetic little creep. Some pervert who was probably following her, attempting to look up her skirt as she walked up the stairs. She shouted at him, "Be careful. I have explosive eyes." Phyllis had no idea what that meant or why she had said that, but she felt much better nonetheless. She tried to find her bearings because she realized that she was running late.

She had much trouble finding the building, which was located at a church on the Upper West Side, because there were so many of them near to each other. Phyllis entered the room late and the meeting was already in progress. Someone looked back and gave her a fake half-smile. It was one of those twelve-step groups. "Oh, well," she thought. When it came to her turn, Phyllis got up and related her story. "I had this dream," she said, "The same one I had when I was a little girl. You know the dream you have when you’re a kid where you’re standing in your underwear in the middle of class. Well, this was the opposite." Phyllis said that in the dream she was wearing this uncomfortable little jumper that her mother had made her wear when she was a little girl. All the other girls in the class were in their underwear. One of them who was practically naked walked up to her, pretending to lift her skirt and shouted in her face, elaborately mouthing the words, "What are you, square?" She was about to say something when the teacher shouted, "Fire drill". It was her alarm clock and at that point she woke up.

She then related how when she was in school, she had played what she thought was a harmless prank; putting pieces of chalk in the eraser. However, when her teacher attempted to erase the blackboard and heard the screeching sound, he had backed off, almost aghast, and shouted, "How dare you do this. Didn’t I inform the class I had a neurological problem?" The teacher had stamped off and students could hear him cursing the walls and the lockers outside in the hall. She was immediately sent off to the guidance counselor. She related how the guidance counselor had been with her in the office a long time, and while pausing for breath between the expected lecture he gave her about respecting other people, he had attempted to look up her skirt.

She then stated how she had never told anyone about this before and that after this happened she had defaced the Ramona books she owned (which were almost all of them) by painting over the lines, delineating clothing on the crude drawings of the characters in the books so that they looked like they were naked. After that, the pages in the books stuck together and ripped when she opened them. Her mother never found out about this because by that time, Phyllis was too old to have bedtime stories read to her. Recently, she had found one of those books under her bed. It must’ve fallen out of the bag that her mother gave her of her old stuff when her parents moved to a smaller house.

Somewhere nearby, in a fourth floor walkup at a support group for people with mood disorders, David was telling of his most recent nocturnal terrors. "The surgeons were laughing, saying that I was almost as good as new. Their lips were smacking in a disgusting way as if they were eating something."

Some woman in the group turned to him and said suggestively, "Don’t worry. You don’t need medication. You just need to eat more candy." She smiled at him, sucking on a blow pop. She had just reached the bubble-gum center and had started chewing at it furiously. David could see inside her mouth. Her teeth were brown and discolored. He edged away a few seats.

The dream that was in store for him that night was worse than any of the others he had experienced. David was half awake, so that he was at the point where he could almost wake himself up and put the dream to an end, but he felt it was important to sleep it out. The operation had finished and the surgeons were congratulating each other and repeatedly shaking each other’s hands. David looked up at his surroundings. He was in some kind of recovery room. There was a woman on the bed next to him. She looked similar to that woman from downstairs that had recently given him the cold shoulder. She looked feverish and was shaking a bit. She had this beady rash on her forehead. David had been seeing that a lot lately. He did not know why. The head surgeon looked him straight in the eye and said, "It was lucky we were able to extract her. She took a chunk out of your liver. Almost the whole left lobe. Any more and you would have been a goner."

David looked up, pointing to the woman, "But her?" he said. One of the surgeons, an older fellow with a southern drawl who David was sure was based on someone he had seen on TV said, "Don’t worry about her. She has one of them newfangled diseases. You know, probably something someone brought over from Afreeca."

"That’s so," David said. "Racist," the woman said, completing his sentence. Then he woke up.

It was the middle of the night after the fourth of July. He could hear the crack of firecrackers and the whistling ones that had an eerie sound to them. It was about three in the morning from what the clock said and most of the revelers had gone to sleep, but a few stragglers continued to make noise just for the hell of it. In between the outside sounds, David could hear the thumping sound and the vague orgasmic moans of the couple downstairs having sex. "If only..." he thought to himself as he inserted a CD in the clock radio next to him, hoping to drown out the noise.

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