The Dream of Giraffe

Francois Giraffe pressed his hands against his flanks to keep them from shaking. He clenched his jaws to keep his teeth from chattering. He said he was calm, but he wasn’t calm.

They spooned him cherry syrup before bedtime and it helped him sleep for a while. He dreamed he was crossing the blue-green water of the Niagara River, hanging over with his legs hooked to a wire. A breeches-buoy operated by an ape in white overalls winched across the river to save him. A ticker-tape parade ensued. A huge billboard illuminated by a golden sun portrayed his triumphant visage. Then he awoke to the sound of scraping. A man in a yellow tunic stood at the window with a metal scraper, scooping out filth from the sill. His shoulders rocked as he worked. The back of his head looked like the face of a beast. Francois wanted to ask him what he was doing but before he could the man put his scraper in his pocket and sauntered out of the room, the back of his head barking. Francois fell back asleep.

*

Someone brought him yellow flowers and they looked lovely against the bone white wall. Who brought them? A little man with big hands and feet. Someone else brought a book with a black cover, written by a man with a black beard and beady eyes. Francois tried to read it that morning, in the early light, but the words bored him and his eyelids closed. Then he dreamed he was dancing with a long-necked woman wearing a gown with black flowers and yellow stripes.

The top of his head nestled under her chin. She asked him where he had learned to dance so well and he said Morocco. When she reached down and bit his ear he awoke to the sound of a train rushing through his room. He pounded the bed and screamed but the train drowned him out. Then a green gas hissed from the vents and filled his room. He could barely see the walls. What rotten luck to miss another sunrise. He took his pills, blue and white. He took them under the presumption that they helped.

He pulled out a blue velvet sack from the bed stand and removed from it an orange. He peeled the orange and separated its segments. Oranges held sunlight in their core. Sunlight powered the world, fueled its slow green lifeblood. Otherwise all would be mud and rock, inanimate and sterile. Francois liked to watch the sunrise on occasion, but usually he did not. He put an orange segment in his mouth and sucked the juice from it without chewing. Then he spit the mush into his hand. The orange tasted warm and too sweet for his liking so he stopped eating it and chucked it into the trash.

His feet sweated under the blanket so he rolled it off his legs. His feet looked like aubergines, his toenails like chips of charcoal. Good thing the doctor planned to visit him that afternoon. If he failed to come Francois would hold him accountable. Last time he came late he blamed traffic, the tourists and so forth. Why did Francois have to suffer because of a traffic jam or because of some bloody tourists? What did he care about tourists? He had seen a hundred million of them in his life, more, more.

“Don’t argue with me!” someone yelled in the hallway.

“Get baked, you fucking retard.”

“Say one more thing!”

Sounds of scuffling and slapping erupted and Francois sat up in his bed and cocked his ears. They had worked better before, his ears, in the past, when it mattered. Now he heard the sound of rushing water all the time. Was that okay? He had lived in the Falls too long. The cataract and its incessant din had nearly deafened him, among other things. He had once dreamed of going over in a barrel. The idea of it made him smile. Going over in a barrel! Maybe he still would. That would draw the crowds. Then they would surely erect a billboard with his smiling face on it. The light looked rough this time of day—what time of day was it? Other people passing talked in street tones, cursing and dragging their feet like zombies. Francois had no tolerance for retrogrades and drug addicts. Were it up to him he would command a score of marksmen to load their guns and open fire on anyone who vaguely fit the description. But Francois knew that this would never happen.

*

A woman in a pale green tunic wearing her hair very short handled his wrist and looked at her watch. This wasn’t the first time she had done this. Indeed she often came. Sometimes another woman came, wearing pink, her hair not short. Her teeth reminded Francois of the gorge. The one in green never showed him her teeth. She never said a word, breathing calmly through her small black nostrils.

No one said a word, sleeping through the endless days with open eyes. Violins whined and oboes moaned and nothing made Francois sicker to his stomach than tepid music. Why not drums? Give everyone a heartbeat. Thump a little. Trash the joint. Francois smiled as he imagined all the noise.

“Let’s go see the scow!”

“Fuck the scow, it ain’t nothing.”

“It won’t hardly stay there.”

“Fuck the scow.”

Francois recalled the day he went down to see the steel sand scow and its rusted condition depressed him. He could hear the voices: “We’re going over, we’re lost!” People rushing to and fro. Never a dull moment in the Falls. Daredevils were common in these parts, testing nature’s fury, seeking acclaim and infamy, sometimes dying but dying well as it were. He had read of people fishing bodies out of the Whirlpool to harvest the organs. Other bizarre schemes for making money. It was all about the money.

*

He spent the rest of the morning reading the black book, making neither heads nor tails of it, and coughing up black phlegm. Then everyone came to play in the euchre tournament. They huddled round the table cracking their knuckles and grimacing. The dealer wore a red velvet tux for the occasion but his sleeves kept catching on the felt of the card table and he misdealt at least ten times. Finally they gave him the boot and brought in a liver-lipped woman wearing a yellow turtleneck with black designs. Hands squeezed. These people had spent time in the casino. They knew their cards, even though they lived inside their heads now. They filled up on grape-juice and counted their cards, then recounted them, then again. They slapped trumps on the table top with skill and fury. Someone steeped English breakfast tea and served it with stale biscuits. All good.

“He’s cheating!”

“No, I’m not.”

“Take him out.”

Someone took Francois by the arm and led him into the hall. After yesterday’s fall his face looked like road kill. He felt no different, though.

*

He sat in his room and counted the cows he could see on the nearby farm. Twenty-four. No, twenty-five. A little black one gamboled away from the herd. Had a wolf appeared, great harm may have come to the calf. But later, the cows slept under a tree, shading themselves from the sun, yet so crowded their rising vapors propelled a hawk into the heavens.

Where was Francois then? For a time he sat there by the window thinking of nothing at all. Then he thought of how much time had passed when he had not been thinking but quickly lost his train of thought. He stalked around his room in a paper hat he made that afternoon in crafts class. Once a week a lady came from Niagara College and gave them little projects. Francois talked a lot to her but she never more than nodded. Her aloofness bothered him, but then that is the way with artists. They while away the time, crucify themselves to their work with nothing but fire in their souls and steel in their hearts.

A splash of cognac would have served him well in the dense afternoons when his eyes refused to open and his limbs felt like molten lead, spreading over his bed and pooling in its folds and wrinkles. But where could he get cognac now? It was an impossibility.

“Shut the fuck up!”

“I’ll shank you, motherfucker!”

“Go ahead and try!”

Someone screamed.

Then a herd of antelope clattered down the hall, cleared out the obstructions, and then it went quiet again. This happened frequently. These little bursts of violent sounds. Francois cocked his ear. He heard something creeping through the vent. Was it his friend, Maurice? Maurice, a wee man, came to visit him on occasion. He was odd. Never stayed long.

“Francois!” cried a squeaky voice from the vent.

“Maurice! You came again to visit me. I am delighted.”

“You’re delighted? No, I am! I am!”

“How are you doing?”

“Simply superb! And I must say you look very fit! Well, must be leaving, the little lass and so forth.”

“Won’t you stay for tea?”

But he was gone. Francois had never actually seen the chap but he knew he could trust Maurice with his life if need be. You can tell with some folks. Civilization itself depends upon the efficacy of these human bonds. A blue jay flapped across his nose, just missing. It vanished into the mirror over the sink. The brain is but a tool, Francois reflected. Manifold in function true, but a tool nonetheless. People go to school for years to sharpen their tool. The same holds true for people who better their minds living life directly. Never rule that out as viable alternative to years in dusty libraries and lecture halls listening to professors bark like seals.

People lose their marbles all the time and rarely know. But sometimes sadness gets mistaken for madness. Francois knew his heart had blown a tire. It was a long story that he could no longer remember. His life had gone reasonably well until … see, he could not remember. But the truth was that happiness eluded him and this made him blue, not deranged. Still, they forgave him for the fire in the belfry. They ignored his turgid letters of complaint. They tolerated his phlegm.

All this. All this.

True or not, he killed a bird the other day, while he gardened. Knocked it from the sky with a hoe, a bird with golden wings and blood-red eyes. One of the other fellows started whistling like the dolphins at Marineland when he saw the bird. Then he started hitting himself in the face. This fellow often hit himself in the face, he was always looking for a reason. Francois wept when he realized what he had done, but his tears made no difference to the world. Nothing altered for their falling. And everything must die; no one gets away from the chap with the scythe. Scream all you want.

After a moment a man in yellow pajamas arrived with a portable blue blowtorch. He fired it up and put on a pair of goggles. He aimed the rushing flame at the yellow flowers on the windowsill, carbonizing them in an instant. Francois wanted to ask the man what business he had torching his flowers, but he didn’t want to make a fuss. The man killed the blowtorch, removed his goggles, and departed without acknowledging Francois. This gesture, or lack of one, offended him more than anything else.

*

Two giant pandas escorted Francois to the yard for recreation. They were new to the facility, or at least he did not recognize them. He liked to walk in circles until he fainted. The pandas kept their eyes on him while he wheeled around the yard, pumping his arms. It was fun. I feel alive, he thought, for the first time in … he lost his train of thought again. But he didn’t have to think to keep walking, right left, very nice. He felt alive. This was fun! Then he ran into a tree stump and his fun came to an end. The purple skin of his feet burst, releasing a yellow goo that reeked like cheese.

They wrapped his feet with iodine-soaked bandages and suppressed his screams. He watched the sky outside, indigo through the tinted glass, the mist from the cataract whirling like a cyclone. Be cool, they said. Be cool. He tried to hide but where? Every corner held a camera. A camera over his bed had been filming him from the beginning. He could hear it swivelling as someone with a remote made adjustments.

*

We believe what we want to believe, that’s what Francois believed. The concrete of reality had nothing to do with it. If you drove your head hard enough into the wall it would come out the other side or be crushed. In the lavatory a man with a very long neck was shaving his face without cream. He scraped his razor along his bristles, periodically shaking it over the sink. Scrape, scrape. Blood flowed from his nostrils in two red stripes that carved into the mucous covering his upper lip and chin. Francois frowned and entered a stall. He squatted but maintained separation between his cheeks and the toilet seat. When he finished he noted the long green banana jutting out of the bowl.

The shaving man now toweled his head. He stood there waiting for something to happen or something to end. Francois wanted to tell him to fuck off but reconsidered. He padded back to his room. On his bed he spread the down-filled comforter, smoothing out the corners. As night fell, Francois felt bizarre. He glanced out the window and noted the moon, almost full but not quite. He could see the face of it, cheerful, serene, and smiled.

At dawn dark blotches whirled around the room. Francois blinked his eyes hard but the phenomenon continued. It frightened him. He huddled under the comforter. He heard water rushing, and voices, We’re lost! We’re lost! Then a siren started wailing. Was a fire burning? He sniffed for smoke. He had heard of a man down the hall who set fire to his hair. He ran out of his room screaming, turning and turning in circles.

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