Modern Nightmares

I missed you in bed last night. If you had been there I would have shifted as I always do, so that your head could fit on my lap as I type, situating the weight of my arm along the back of your neck so that you know I am there, but not pressing on you too hard. It was a long day of sitting in front of a low-grade tractor beam, pulled a millimeter at a time into the world’s biggest pile of shit, images of infant corpses and burning hospitals juxtaposed with advertisements for PhD programs on foreign continents, mail-order diabetes medication, and discount ammunition, until I’m all the way in it, trying to dig a tunnel to the other side but finding it useless, so I give up. 

The radiation from the screen burns my eyes so I close them for a moment and pick up a guitar, but I can’t remember any chord changes, or any lyrics, and it doesn’t matter because my hands won’t move. I look down at them and see hundreds of pencil lines drawn in crisscross patterns from my fingertips to my forearms, and as I look closer, I see that they are not lines at all but Gordian worms who, having been seen, begin crawling. I brush them away and realize that I’m exposed, out in an open field, and I know that snipers will pick me off if they catch me in the sun, so I scramble for the nearest house. Inside it smells like shaved wood and industrial cleaners, it’s familiar but I haven’t been there all semester, fuck! I’m going to fail this stupid class, and I didn’t even know I was signed up for it, and so I won’t graduate, and so I won’t get a job, and so I might as well just leave. I empty my locker and get in the car and you are waiting there for me, crouched down in the passenger seat; I mash my forehead into yours and stroke your hair and start the engine. In a few minutes we’re on the highway, a little drunk and driving too fast with all three kids in the backseat, or maybe one was missing. We skid out of control and plow through the guardrail, sailing into the Ohio River. 

I can get my window open and swim to safety but the rest of you are stuck and I’m trying to figure out how to get to you before the car sinks too deep. Do I have something to cut the seatbelts with? Can I open the back end and pull the little ones out, at least one? How will I explain what happened? But then everything is okay, the children are in their beds and your frame makes its usual cursive ‘m’ under the blanket next to me. I reach for your waist and remember that today is the last day of freedom, that I’m going to prison for a long time, maybe forever, and it’s a misunderstanding but I have to report to the warden with a toothbrush and a book, only one book, so we cry together and we cry with the kids and we cry with everyone we know, and I grab the only book I can take, written in a language I don’t recognize, and the goddamn thing is covered with mud and wasps. I throw it down and run, and now I don’t remember what I’m running after or why, but you are with me, and someone is trying to kill us. We duck down a long corridor and snake through alleys behind mossy brick buildings, taking steps like injured cats, knowing that if we are heard we are dead, because everyone is in on this plot. I begin to wonder if you are even you anymore. 

Then we crawl into an old warehouse through a broken stained-glass window and we are safe again, forever; the breathing slows, the pulse returns to normal, the blood warms in the veins, it will always be like this. Do you remember any of it? Of course not. I try to tell you we’ve made it, how we fought and survived together, and my teeth fall out. I spit them on the nightstand and check my phone, then put a hand on the baby’s chest to make sure she’s still breathing. She is. Anyway I hope you are home soon, I’ll leave a small light on because it’s very dark and I don’t want you to stumble. •

Dan Canon is a civil rights lawyer and law professor. His book “Pleading Out: How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class” is available for preorder wherever you get your books.