It’s happening more and more these days, Baby, that thing I told you about, and I don’t know what to do anymore. I get in my car and I drive, and sometimes I barely know where I am or how I got there because I am so deep and thwarted in my head, just thinking. Sometimes I drive at night on the interstate and go into weird dirty truckstops where I don’t know anybody, where nobody knows nobody, and I sip black coffee and stare at the filthy greasy magazines spangled with fingerprints from God knows what pervert or lunatic or outright felon. I sit there and try not to catch eyes with the creepy truckers scarfing burgers or just sitting there smoking. I just don’t know what to do anymore, Baby, but sometimes I do this and it helps a little, but not really.
Visit me, Baby. I think you are the only one on this earth who knows me now, and sometimes I think you know me better than I even know myself. But there is so much space between us, all those dinky stupid towns full of hateful little people, so much distance to swallow before we can sit down and talk like we used to talk every night in the old yellow kitchen, playing backgammon and drinking tea. Those were happier times, weren’t they, Baby? Now those days are lost.
Let me tell you something awful. I keep having this dream about worms in my head. It’s such a horrible thing to think about, to contemplate I mean, especially first thing in the morning, that I wonder if I am not losing my mind a little. I have this dream, this nightmare, over and over, where my brain is a ball of squirming grey worms. What can it possibly mean, Baby? Am I losing my mind?
If this lasts much longer, this goddamn bus ride, I will scream in my chair. (I am writing you from the bus because I had a little accident with the car.) It’s not so much being on the bus that I mind. I can manage all right on a bus, even one chock full of creeps and crazies like this one, but there is a man who keeps TURNING AROUND! He has hard yellowy eyes like a snake. I mustn’t look at him.
Ah, Baby! What a world we inhabit!
I wonder if you remember something. The last time I saw you, after you met Izzy and everything changed and you went away, you told me something I will never forget if I live to be a hundred. Do you remember what that was? You were wearing your blue dress with the little hearts on the hem, and your hair was cut short and we were drinking mint tea in the back kitchen, and I was crying about something, probably about your going away because what else would I be crying about, and you took my hand, as gentle as the morning, and you said – Wherever you are, Petal, I am there too, and wherever I am, you are there with me, always and forever.
Are you here with me now, Baby, on this bus? Are you sitting here beside me? How I wish that were true.
What can I tell you that you don’t already know? I have done terrible things, things I would rather not speak about, and of course I am ashamed. I have done things in order to forget who I am – and to hurt people, to punish them. I cannot tell you what, though. Not like this, with this man who keeps turning around. Like he knows what I am thinking. I mustn’t look at him, reading me with his snake eyes. Maybe he isn’t even really there. Maybe he is just a nightmare clown, or a worm in my head. Last week I watched a circus magician change a fat man from the audience into a watermelon, slice him into wedges – and then we ate him! God, I wish I knew how to do that. I’d turn this creep into a chocolate bunny and bite his fat head off. Or maybe into an egg which I could chuck out the window and smash on the road.
What do you think, Baby? Is this it? Is this all there is? Life?
I’ve decided I will tell you everything. I will give you the truth of what I am doing here, riding on this bus. There is something growing inside me, Baby. Something foul and dangerous. They have pictures of it at the hospital, though I refused to look when they tried showing me. Doctor Pradesh says he can cut it out, no problem, but what I want to know, what I NEED to know is - how did it get inside me in the first place? Was it something I did wrong? Am I now being punished? Or maybe it was always a part of me, this thing, something that has traveled with me from the very beginning, from the womb? Perhaps I forgot to nurture it and now it’s dying. Dying and growing inside of me. A past failure of some sort.
There. That’s it. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you. But if I can’t tell you, Baby, then who can I tell? You are the only one who knows me.
As I look out the window, the telephone poles are flying by with such speed, and I wonder whose voices are zipping through those lines. Maybe your voice is among them, passing through one of those wires so close to me. Call me, Baby. How I would love to hear your voice again. Years have gone by. I have no telephone, of course, but there is normally a telephone in hospital rooms – though I don’t know if you are allowed to take calls on them from the outside. After the growth is cut out of me and I am all right again you could call the Esso station on Piedmont and maybe get whoever is working at that time to run across the road. They know me over there and sometimes they let me use their telephone.
I might as well tell you that I am more frightened now than I have ever been in my life. The doctor and his team are going to cut me open on a table and God only knows the outcome of that – and where will I go if it all goes wrong?
I guess I can’t help connecting everything together, Baby. Everyone is so far away now and in my loneliness at night I have done unspeakable things, and there are the dreams of the worms in my head and there is this great big dead worm growing somewhere inside me – and this shriveled-up little worm of a man who keeps turning around! (He is looking at me now, Baby! I can feel his eyes dancing around on my face. I just looked up and he smiled right at me. His teeth are black. I mustn’t look at him again.)
The telephone poles are whooshing past my window and the wires sag so low, it seems to me – the weight of all those voices zipping through. What are they saying to one another? What sadnesses and joys are they communicating?
We are almost there now, so I had better finish up. We just passed the old car wash at the edge of town, the one with the big plastic ice cream cone on top. Abandoned now, of course.
I will be incapacitated for quite some time, Baby. I know it’s not possible for you to visit, but please save a little of yourself for me and send it on, send it on in words. I need your gentle words, your affectionate voice. I need your kind approval. Yes, Baby, you are always here with me. Your soft eyes and languorous hair shadow my every thought - but only in silence.
So call me, Baby. If you can’t reach me at my hospital room, give me a try please over at the Esso station. As I said before, they know me over there. Just mention my name.