He awoke at 7:15 AM to a knock. Or what he thought was a knock. He was still groggy, like an old television that fuzzes grey and black when not on a proper channel. “A snowball fight at midnight,” he thought.
He was strangely scared and could not understand why. It was just a knock. Or was it the construction outside? Maybe a branch scraping against the window, caught in the mid-October wind. Perhaps it was somebody casually walking past his room, not knowing their footsteps would wake him and cause him so much fright. Or maybe the sound came from his closet. But nobody was in there, that he was sure of. The closet was jam-packed with junk from the past 5 years. Old memorabilia that took up space and occasionally filled him with biting nostalgia. When so much stuff accumulates for such a long time, something is bound to fall over. That was probably what the sound was. Still he laid there, full of fear, thinking about the knock, if it had been a knock at all. Was the person still there, waiting?
Perhaps it someone with a question. Our fearful friend would rise slowly, press himself against the wall and cautiously open the door, with bed-matted hair and sleep-crusted eyes. The visitor would ask to step into the room. Our fearful friend would retreat, allowing the visitor to enter, immediately feeling waves of shame and embarrassment roll over him. It was cold out, that’s why the windows were closed. The room was stuffy with sleep-smothered air. His bed was not made, the covers hanging off and touching the floor. He was wearing pajamas, plaid pants and a stretched-out, stained tee-shirt. The visitor would state his concern and our sleepy friend, full of embarrassment and shame (Why? We all sleep!) and unable to help, would shoo them out of the room into the hallway, forgetting to say goodbye and quickly closing the door.
Or maybe he would lie in bed waiting for another knock. He would wait fearfully for what seemed like an eternity, shivering beneath his sheets. Then, he would spring out of bed, erased of his fear, and eager to discover who the knocker was. He would open the door with a friendly, confident expression and greet the unrecognizable face at his door. The guest would look confused, would glance down at the paper in their hand, check the number on the door, then ask sheepishly, “You’re not ______, are you?” Mistaken and embarrassed, they would quietly apologize, turn, and quickly shuffle away.
Or, annoyed by the interruption of his sleep, our scared sleeper would shake his fear and angrily toss off the covers. He would quickly get out of bed, violently grab the doorknob and rip open the door. Outside would be nobody. He’d look to his right and see his neighbor’s girlfriend at the next door, patiently waiting, smiling. The neighbor’s door would open and the lovers would embrace. Our fearful friend would immediately lose all anger inside and feel nothing but a familiar, gut-wrenching emptiness. The emptiness that treads the thin border between desire and jealousy. It would stay with him, long after the lovers disappeared into the room. It would linger in his stomach as he would retreat slowly into his room and plop down onto his bed. It would come in waves while he listened to the lovers giggle through the thin walls, the damned emptiness.
Or, as unlikely as it may seem, the knocker might be the one person he would not want to see. The one person who did not know where he lived. He would wake to the knocking, gripped by an uncertain fear, and continue to lie in his bed, pulling the blanket up tighter. He would realize he was on his back, like a dead roach. He would lie there, waiting, fearing that next knock. The seconds would crawl by. Another knock. This lying, waiting, fearing, sweating would continue until, on the brink of madness, he would jump up and yank open the door. There she would be. He would stare in silence, with a new feeling in his gut. Not that familiar emptiness; something more caustic. She would stand there, an indecipherable look in her eyes. Our fearful sleeper would stare back blankly. He would not speak, for he could not speak. His eyes would communicate his thoughts: Why are you here? How did you find me? I came here to escape you.
Why are you doing this to me?
Or maybe it would be a killer knocking. He would answer, the murderer would force his way into the room and beat the life out of him.
Or, gripped by fear, our poor sleeper would lie in bed, trembling and sweating, eyes wide open, darting about like a fish dragged from the ocean or a bird with a broken wing. Waiting, the victim of time’s cruelty. He would run through countless scenarios, calculating what could or would happen, how he could or would react to each scenario’s potential outcome. He would rise, soaked with perspiration, lightly-stained shirt sticking to his chest, hair matted to his forehead. Hesitating at the door, near tears in his fright, he would slowly place his hand on the doorknob, trembling. With a slight whimper, he would slowly open the door with resignation on his face. His defeated face would meet nobody. A deserted hallway. Wallpaper peeling off the wall. Dim lights. No person. No sound. From the stairway he would hear light footsteps. Descending. He had waited too long. His visitor had left. Then he would remember to breathe.
At 8:22 AM he awoke in his bed. Amidst his fear and scenarios he had fallen asleep and dreamed of a snowball fight at midnight.
Tim DeMarco received his bachelor’s degree Georgetown University and his master’s degree from Middlebury College. His translations and original fiction have been published by Your Impossible Voice, Pusteblume, Cargo Literary and more. He currently lives at the Jersey Shore where he teaches at a high school and a university. www.timdemarco.com