The dream always sets me in the middle of the building, far from a source of natural light. The space yearns for windows, for a skylight, for a glass panel above the doorways, something. Instead there are miles of low hanging ceiling tiles, oppressive fluorescent lights, industrial air-conditioning vents. There are a few scant variations in the terrain. Dips in the carpet. Steps that lead to lounging parlors. The seats are chiseled into the floor. There are plants drooping over the edges. They starve for photosynthesis. For all I know, I’m deep underground.
Fleeing the room, I find myself in another common space. The occupants are a hodgepodge of extras, cast from the college quads, break rooms and food courts of the world. They are the drunken parade, staggering home after bar close. They are the tailgaters riding your ass all the way down the highway. They cut in line, talk during movies, blare their subwoofers at all hours of the night. Their faces share a common expression. A sneer between laughter and entitlement. They strayed from the restaurant waiting area, from the line at the tow lot.
The transition from room to room is jarring. The substance of the floors shift beneath each threshold. Carpet turns to hardwood. Waxed gymnasium panels turn to buffered marble. The function shifts from mall to church, from dormitory to gallery space. The architecture is a collage. A honey comb of maddening spaces all jumbled up together. The only constant is that every space is teaming with people, loud animated people. People laughing and pointing, belly flopping on coffee tables. A chorus line dancing atop the bar.
After a mile of wandering, I pause to find a blanket trailing behind me. I feel its smooth silk binding. I’ve been carrying it for a while. It’s taken on cigarette ashes, the red and yellow pastes of condiments, the piss yellow stain of beer swills. I lugged one just like it when I was a boy. Perhaps I’ve been carrying it for a while.
I scan the rooms for a couch, a love seat, maybe a folding chair. I’d settle for a card table, a kitchen island, hell, even a salad bar. I luck upon a park bench fixed into a carpet in the absence of concrete. I drape the blanket over my legs, it makes it up to my thighs. A chill flutters through it. I toss and turn with my ankles hanging over the rails. The wood panels dig into my sides. The collective cackles fill my eardrums.
I continue to wander. I find myself trouncing through a stable of bathroom stalls, each without a door. Each occupant exposed. The toilets wear an impossible coat of rust on the porcelain. I drudge down a hall of showers, each without a curtain. The occupants snap towels, knock each other over. They howl. One of them always spots me. He mirrors my movements from afar, a monkey behind the glass at the zoo. He breaks reflection just to rush me, grasp my forearms and cackles in my face. Then he stumbles off in pursuit of another person to play tag with.
It doesn’t matter how far I walk. There’s no north star to guide me. It doesn’t matter if I keep to one direction or zig zag about the labyrinth. I will always wind up where I started. Exhausted, I crash on the carpet right where I awoke. I drape the tattered blanket over my legs and close my eyes. A thousand chambers of chatter echo in my ears, a cacophony of upwards inflections. Sleep comes like a truant date, a dispassionate dulling of the senses. The cackling choir bleeds into one long wordless tone. I slip into that heavy heavy dark. The tranquil fog of sleep. All is still.There is nothing in the world. At last I am at peace.
Then my alarms goes off.