The playground is empty though it’s the middle of the day, the middle of the summer, with laminated signs on stakes warning the slides are very hot from the sun. It’s like the heat made everyone disappear, until two teenaged girls and their smartphones turn up, spinning while they’re holding their phones, either dictating or just watching themselves, bobbing up and down on the see-saw facing each other but not looking at each other, trying instead to hold on with one hand while scrolling with the other. They look self-conscious about it, like it’s the first time they’ve tried texting on play equipment.
When I fall back to sleep I’m back at work down the familiar halls, up the same stairs, and everyone I see I recognize from the sides or the backs but no one shows their faces or answers me when I talk, I’m not sure they can hear me or if my voice is real or imagined.
So I take my kids to Capitol Hill, where I first lived when I moved to Seattle, past my first apartments, and we talk high-level about why some relationships end, then stop at my favorite bar, the Six Arms, and they get a Roy Rogers and I order Glen’s Burger, named after the first server who waited on me here in ’96 and died of HIV. I tell my server about Glen, how he had a silver 280Z he parked right there — but my server seems distracted, just smiles and says I’ll be right back. I left Seattle and when I returned, Glen was dead and they’d named a burger after him.
And the bar manager Steve died that same year too. There was some connection between the two of them, Steve and Glen, they were both from Eugene. On my last night in Seattle we met at the bar and Steve let me play The Fall disc in the jukebox from start to finish, gave me a cigar and a Zippo with the bar’s logo etched in it — but I lost the Zippo when I moved back to Pennsylvania and my mom said there was a message on the answering machine, some girl named Aurora who was crying, she’d gotten my number from a letter I’d sent Steve and her voice sounded like she was in a cave now, in the dark of the office on the answering machine, asking how I knew Steve — but I never called her back, she didn’t leave a number. My mom wanted to know how Steve died and I lied, I didn’t know.
Across the street from the Six Arms there’s the Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room, and tourists pooling on the curbside taking selfies, waiting to get in.
I point out the hospital where Lily was born, Group Health, which later we learned they call Group Death, fitting, given their lack of urgency when Dawn started hemorrhaging right after Lily was born and Lily couldn’t breath and everyone seemed mildly surprised but not moving fast.
It’s by the Swedish hospital that has a Starbucks in it, the one I was trying to find when I had a group of out-of-town people in for a project and was leading a tour of local stores with a mini-bus, and realized with horror I’d taken them to the wrong Starbucks, which is just a mile or so down the street, and didn’t know how to get to the right one — and it was like that feeling in a dream where you can’t move your hands or feet, you’re paralyzed with fear.
The bathroom at the Six Arms has a sense memory for me that’s not just urine, but the smell of the hops in the fermentation tanks outside the restrooms, the graffiti and rock stickers that used to be there on the walls they finally painted over.
There was a framed picture of Steve that used to be there next to a picture of William Burroughs, a close-up of his head: Steve on his motorcycle with his hair tucked under his helmet, smiling.
I wake from the dream feeling mildly sick and sad, that dream-truth you kick out from under a rock, something primordial that has too many eyes and legs and just looks back at you with its rawness, it’s too much for the waking mind, better put back there in the dark.