THE SODA JERK

I find a soda jerk in the afternoon. He is not old, but he looks experienced. He passes an ice cream soda between two fountains, some foam drips steadily along his wrist, but he ignores it with a professional smile. As I approach him, he is quickly pouring colas in all directions, and when I reach the bar, he is gone — no one is operating the soda fountains. The soda jerk must have been a hallucination and I suddenly realize it. I am, actually, slumped below two people, a man and woman standing, the three of us looking very surprised. I ask the woman if she saw that soda jerk disappear, and she agrees with me, the man beside her nods along, and that is when I wonder why there was even a soda jerk here in the first place. This is a bank, I have a deposit slip crumpled in my hand. How did we all see this soda jerk at the same time, I ask them, and where are my shoes?

I step outside the bank, confused, and wonder where I parked my car. I even say it out loud: Where did I park my car. I do not drive often because I tend to daydream, which is dangerous. And my car is, or was, so large. Many things become difficult with a large car — parallel parking, seeing above the dashboard, turning. I prefer to walk places.

So I walk to the nearest parking lot across from the bank. Now the trouble is that I do not have my car keys. I also forget the color, and whether it was a truck or sedan. It could very well be a motorcycle, actually, because I am holding a full-faced helmet above my head. A man comes running toward me.

Put the helmet on the ground, buddy, he says, like he is threatening me. So I put the helmet on the ground and walk away, casually, and am careful to avoid stepping on glass.

At night I look through every house on this small street for my car keys, even using two bathrooms along the way. There is so much garbage in many of the houses, but none have my keys. I have not looked in any bedrooms yet. I will not go that far...

I am in the supermarket. None of the people I know are ever at the supermarket when I am, so I am usually stuck talking to the produce boy. I stand in the aisle nearest to the door. And the longer I think about it, I realize that I have never been to this supermarket before.

I am in the other supermarket, and the produce boy is unloading the morning load, marking prices, and putting red stickers over orange stickers. Or it may have been blue stickers over green stickers. Has anyone found a set of keys in the men’s room, I ask him, the night before, or early this morning?

He turns around from a line of cabbage—you should have seen how well-lined they were—and looks down at the floor, rubs his chin, only to tell me, No, I have not heard about any keys, and then he pauses, and looks up again. Weren’t you here last night?

Hours later I wait for the produce boy to leave for the night. He comes out, jingling a set of keys—keys that happen to look just like mine. We notice each other, and then I raise my hand, wave, but I am too far away for him to recognize me. He waves back, as if we are both saying hello, but, really, I am not saying anything.

In fact, I am humming very loudly.

He drives away, but not in my car. It is clear that my car must be in a hidden garage, or already stripped for parts and scattered around junkyards across the state.

A recurring dream, or vision, that I have, around this time: In it I am completely blind and must rely on my sense of touch. The whole thing comes as a complete shock, even though I know it is a dream. I make sure not to panic. First, I use my hands to crawl, to get from place to place, and somehow I manage to get to a point where I can cook and dial the telephone. But everything in this dream feels too long, or too short, and sometimes I will be doing one thing, and then suddenly I might cough, or turn my head, and then the next thing I know I am somewhere else, doing something entirely different. I am fooling everyone around me, too, acting like I have eyesight, even though I am on my hands and knees.

For instance, I inch to my car, enter through the passenger seat door and manage a squat in front of the wheel. The car is already running, all I do is give it some gas. With the pedal down, I am cruising. Oh my, what feeling—the freedom of the road, I hear a breeze, whoooooosh. I wave to everyone as I pass by, certain they are smiling back, even though I cannot see them. Then at home, my doorbell rings. I crawl to it and look through the mail slot. Who is there, I say. I cannot see anything.

It is the mailman, the mailman says. He slips the mail in, and it hits me in the face. But of course he does not know that. I am too polite to mention it.

I am back at the bank, awake. I begin to forget that I once saw a soda jerk here, distributing sodas to many people, until I see him, again. There, in the corner, to the left of the bathrooms! This time he looks at me, pours a cola into a frozen mug, and holds it out for me to taste. But it is actually a woman’s hat that I grab, and the woman begins screaming.

It must be that I need glasses, or someone is playing tricks on me.

The next time I see the soda jerk is in a dream. In it he is taking a sip of a new, fashionable flavor to entice three hesitant patrons off to the side. Soon, I am sure, I will place an order with him.

Later, much later, there is an unpleasant smell that wakes me, but I am not even in my house. I am actually looking down a grate on the small alley behind the bank. Warm smoke rises into my nose and mouth, and I see something twinkle below. Those are probably my car keys. They must have fallen out of my pocket, and slipped past the bars, into the sewer, at one point.