“What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” It’s my wife on the phone. I hang up.
Downstairs, I burn the toast, and then I burn the toaster. The car slips from the driveway into the tundra. At the end of the street, John from 4684 waves my window down. “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
“Going to work, John.” He’s watering his lawn. He’s soaking the snow. He’s in his slippers and shorts, and his robe is flying about in a wind spat by snowmen.
I get to the coffee shop. “Venti bold. Room for milk.”
Linda V takes my plastic. “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” she asks, as she hands me the cup.
“How do you know my name?”
She crosses her arms. She adjusts her uniform. Then she spits an epitaph at the ceiling, as though she is talking to God through her knowledge of my name, the illicit understanding that I would come into her life to not answer a question that she has been saving, saving since she was born and grew so skinny but ran so fast, into a waif, a delicacy, a girl who serves coffee in exchange for plastic. I ask her again. I ask her again. I ask her again.
I take my designated parking spot at work. Lacey the Secretary hands me a folder. “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
“You have my calendar… I don’t understand the question.”
“What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
And on the way to my office, Sandy of Spells and Sequins reaches over the printer and catches my eye, but she’s mute, she’s silent, she’s never said a word to me or anyone else, never will and never wants to. Blue eyes like flapping wings cackle as she hands me a piece of paper, and there it is as though it’s always been, hardened into letters that I can’t put away or spin into something else: “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” Blue eyes watch me without saying a thing.
In the office, the phone rings. It’s Bose from Delhi. “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
“Nothing. What do you want.” But he’s just breathing. Breathing. Here’s a man. A singular being made of celluloid, a bringer of profit at any cost, the type of man that you forgive any disgression because he is going to make you rich, and then make you believe that it is okay that he did so.
He keeps asking me. Keeps asking me, and I tell him, “nothing” as though that is my name and I am reminding him of who I am. He’s gone like he came: with a breath, a sneer, a click.
The phone rings again. It’s Joe from accounting. “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
I hang up. I close the door. I turn off the phone and the computer, and I read a three hundred page report, because this is the thing that I was born for, the sitting here and now, the being in this place, to read about the rape and pillaging of our earth by heartless bandits who are going to see it turned into dust – this is what I, Lloyd, had before me as a destiny when I was born 46 years ago. This is it. Right here. Right here. But fifty pages in, the words blur, they shift and backpedal, losing their meaning as they whisper that they have no stature over sanity, no power but that which we carefully take away from them to protect our legal interests. “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” they ask me, next paragraph over. Then again the next page. Then in a figure caption. A table title. Then every line. Every sentence. Every thing, every everything, every blighted moment or risen one, every denuded spot where my eyes flit.
I turn off the lights. Someone already did that. I pace around the desk. Someone is already doing that. Turn up the heat, because this is getting cold, this is getting strange, and there is no coming back from this.
The doctor’s office answering machine: “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” My wife’s voice mail: “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” The 911 operator: “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” The last thing I remember my dad saying to me before he passed away: “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?” The word of God, the utterance divine that comes from the worn pages of a soiled, sad book: “What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
I close my eyes. I breathe. And then the day is gone, and people are gone, and I am on my way home. The radio asks the question; so does a stop sign; so does a billboard. I park the car in the garage, don’t get out until the door closes. The labels on the windshield washer fluid ask me it. So do the instructions for the recycle bin. And the label on the bottle of vodka: it asks me in fifteen neat rows, each one getting smaller and smaller as though this is a test not just of my sanity, but of my mortal soul.
The world spins. It blurs. This is an untruth. This is a fallacy. This is a construct cobbled together by expectations, by realities, by pressures that exert themselves without surcease, doing the bidding of people who are not me, never were, that I never wanted to admit into my life except that somehow they managed the trick anyway, finding that opening or temptation, that weakness and vulnerability that whispered to me of the things that I must have – and now do. This is a treatise of impossibility, a drunkenness instead of existence. A potion. A spell. Everything I didn’t want.
In bed, the ceiling spins. My wife comes home. She undresses, puts her head on a pillow. “Are you okay?”
“How much did you drink?”
“How much didn’t I drink?”
She finds that funny, and kisses me. “Are you going to take that off now?”
“Take what off?”
“The words on your forehead.”
“There are no words on my forehead.”
“What are you going to do today, Lloyd?”
I go to the mirror. The words are there. They are etched deep into my skin in my own handwriting. There is not enough surfactant in the world to get them off. “I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me.”
“Who did it then?”
Under the covers, I get closer to her. “They did. Them.”
“They did everything, didn’t they, honey?”
I nod. Here is a sleep I can trust. Here is a dream that I can handle. “Lloyd,” she breathes next to me.
“What?” I ask her.
“Lloyd, I want to know…”
“I just want to talk…”
“I just want to ask…”
I turn over and fall away. There is a dreamtime beyond the edge of this metropolis, where the lights of the city are just enough to brighten the dark damaged forest that lies beyond. I walk through mist and heather.
I’m there, and here. I’m you, and me. I’m dreaming, and gone. One breath, I don’t know which, comes so hard that I choke on the embers of it. The room is dark. The room is cold. I’m awake.
I stumble to the bathroom. Turn on the light. It would be easy to look away. It would be easy to keep my eyes shut. It would be so easy to believe that I live in this dream, and that the abstraction of everyday life hasn’t overwhelmed me. But instead, I put my head close to the mirror, to make sure I can read the words properly. Because there are words there, letters written by my hand across the flesh of my forehead, letters culled from the deep dreamtime itself, simple words that I must have kept hidden in my pocket, because I don’t recognize them at all:
“What are you going to do tomorrow, Lloyd?”