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Jake

On the eve of his twenty-ninth birthday, Jake sleeps, and finds himself surrounded by mementos mori and melting clocks.

“This is it?” says Jake. “This is your symbolism? This is the best you could do.”

Like a dog in the cookie jar, the dream freezes and tries to distract him with ladies in knee socks. Jake scowls. “Those aren’t even my fears! I mean, skulls? Really? Have you been borrowing from the collective unconscious again?”

The dream explodes with white doves labelled INNOCENCE.

Meanwhile, a bunch of people dream of headless skeletons, and put it down to anxiety at work.

Jake

There’s short-term and its 7±2 little cubbyholes (well, -2, honestly), and then there’s long-term and its swarming depths, its endless opportunities for recrimination. But in between lurks a zone of Heisenbergian instability, like the part of a drain one can reach but not see. It’s murky down there. You could as easily rake up a fistful of glass as a goldflake, or flail for an hour and find neither, and you never know when it’s going to get flushed.

And that’s where ideas go when you don’t write them down, Jake reminds himself, scowling at the stupid bus window.

Jake 2000

“What were they thinking?” hoots Jake 2000, as they riffle through the yesteryearbooks. “I mean, hockey mullets? Perms? Mop-tops?”

“They thought they looked gooood,” says Louise.

“Or that, even if someone laughed at them in twenty years,” says Jon-Michael, “the edginess then would have been worth it.”

“That’s why I stick with this,” says Jake 2000. “No product, just a blunt cut straight across my forehead, squared off at the back. Classic. Timeless.”

“Like my feathered bangs,” agrees Louise.

“Or my frosted tips!” says Jon-Michael.

A click. Facebook serves up the next memory.

“Jesus Christ,” says Jake 2010.

Jake

“This is going to be stunning,” says Amy, “but I’ve come to the conclusion that most people don’t spend their idle moments replaying awkward memories, gripped by chagrin.”

Jake frowns. “That can’t be right. Seriously? They don’t catch themselves staring at walls, imagining what it would be like to hit one’s fourteen-year-old self over and over again, in the mouth?”

“I think they daydream about nice things,” says Amy grimly. “They may not wallow in past idiocies for two, three days at a time.”

“Is there some kind of medication we can use,” says Jake, “to make them start?”

Jake

Swallows dive-bomb the park, picking insects as they rise out of cooling grass. Jake dodges when they strafe by his knees.

Consider the eye of the predator bird: an instrument hundreds of millions of years in development, perfected while you were still a tree shrew looking out both sides of your head. Forget what it’s like to be a bat. Birdsight, like the Hubble, strains photons bouncing gnatwise from the deep field of dusk.

Jake’s headphones have stopped working. He pulls them off and runs on, puffing, a red-faced struggle to stay out of the ranks of the old and sick.

Jake

Jake discovers a cache of emails from 1999 and, this is the bad part, opens them. The resulting implosion leaves him a much smaller creature: crab-legged and huddling, trying to keep his eyes on four pairs of scuffed shoes. He has become the new god of chagrin.

The problem with godhood, of course, is that people will inevitably make sacrifices along the lines of your patronage. Jake scuttles for dear life from the ashes of their poetry, from the lunging silences that follow him like a misjudged word.

“Love us, o god!” cry the world’s teenagers.

Horribly, helplessly, Jake does.

Jake

Jake’s work-study career begins with a daylong research mission from which, haplessly, he returns with a single book.

His professor indicates her extant copy.

“Ah,” says Jake.

“Pothead,” she scribbles in his assessment file.

As a sophomore he scrambles to avoid envelope-stuffing at the admissions office; juniorhood sees him laundering resigned jockstraps for eight dollars a week. But oh, sweet senior sinecure! Jake finds himself richly compensated for cleansing the occasional froshgirl laptop, and armed with the master key to their dorm.

“How may we too prosper, Master?” ask his disciples.

“Fuck up until somebody promotes you,” Jake intones.

Jake

Already the real London he actually experienced–crowded, expensive, clear-skied and frequently sweltering–is confusing itself with the London of Conan Doyle and Gaiman: Cockneyed, fogbound, bursting with crooked alleys and metaphor. There were gnats in the park, he remembers, that crammed themselves into his mouth and eyes. Jake clings to the gnats.

Had some accident of birth allowed him more than those months as a tourist, he wonders, would he still value them as he does? Running and photography, cake and games. Jake sits in his rainy, quirky, river-hugging city and tries to be grateful for tumble dryers.

Jake

Jake shakes white pseudocheese flakes onto his sausage and onion. On the stereo, Perry Como demands that a snowman marry him, but the only precipitation out the window consists of soggy leaves.

He hasn’t actually been outside in twenty-eight hours, and he wonders what it does to you, running out of vitamin D. The lack of sunbeams to lounge in doesn’t seem to affect the cat. Maybe he should be eating cat food.

Supposedly the best cure for cabin fever is a good book. Jake looks at his shelves for a while, then refreshes the Internet again, just in case.

Jake

The focus takes Jake by his sixth chakra on a Saturday afternoon and drives him, scrambling and skipping, like a doll dancing on a springy plank. The wind of his passage is binary static: he could concentrate on listening and pick out the message, if he tried, but by then he’d be tumbling and ground to chuck.

After it leaves him, he assembles himself: hunched over, alone, sand-eyed with his back complaining. It’s dark outside and the clock is blinking with exhaustion. He’s surrounded by an impossibly intricate sculpture of taut wire.

He plucks it. The room coughs up arpeggios.

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