Jamie’s Breakfast Slippers
(an excerpt from a novel)
Right after breakfast, can you believe it, right after breakfast they called us in. I hadn’t even taken off my slippers, which, I’m sure, just from the first sentence, my initial utterance, my pinnacle whathaveyou, you’ve deduced bugged me to no end. Imagine it with me: called from breakfast, right after breakfast, and thank God for that, that they allowed us the privilege of finishing, but I’ll not get into it at the moment, it curdles the blood something I can’t much stand, not a bit; so let me tell you what happened: we’d just finished, or I had anyway, mostly that is, I had my egg, soft boiled, as is my pleasure, and the correct amount of toast, of which each morning I am inclined to indulge. Though, if I remember it correctly, which I am certain that I do, or anyway there’s a good chance, I still had a bit of coffee, a little bit of coffee left in my mug. I will not stress on that point. One more thing I don’t wish to think of, so wasteful and irresponsible, not to mention disrespectful, yes, I believe the latter is most to the point, disrespectful! disrespectful of little things, of rituals, personal as they may be, which, if I am not mistaken, makes the affront all the more sharp. A ritual abruptly disposed at so light an hour of the day. At breakfast for Christ’s sake. There’s just no forgiving it. But let me reiterate without going further afield. I will not harp on wasted coffee. Having just finished my egg and toast, endeavoring to finish my coffee, two sugars, one cream, one of the mallards came in, Pony, I believe, came in and called us in his dark, rippling voice, as if from out of the void itself came this declaration, one of the seven horsemen I’m sure, and apply named as if happens, comes in and calls us directly to the day room, whether finished our breakfast or not, straight to the day room, which was all set up for a meeting, chairs all in a line facing the cage, facing the nurses who watched us as we came in, eyes saddened and downcast, the nurses that is, not the mallards, they were stoic as always, as stone warriors or something, but the nurses, they were dressed in their sad countenances, way more sad than is their typical nature, which is sad just the same, and they told us don’t worry, they repeated that part a few times, like a chant, like saying it would make it so, which, I suppose, they were not absurd to believe, they said, but do not to go to your bedroom first, don’t worry, but there is no time to change, which was our custom at that hour, there will be time later, for now go directly to the day room, they said, we have something to say, they said that, so ridiculous I thought, said that they had something to say, something important. Imagine all of us in our slippers and PJs in the day room. All of us. Me. Me in particular. Sitting in the day room among everyone else, each to a man in his slippers. Can you believe it? Though, it is true I do prize my slippers. Suede soles with a yellowish, kind of a mustard top, embroidered with a dragon or monkey, I could never quite tell, toward the heel of the right shoe, red and bold and reaching out off the felt, kind of mustard top with its hundred fraying, almost imperceptible hairs stretching and flickering from the dragon or monkey or whatever, so barely there that I had to fold my body into unpleasant and ridiculous contortions, my head down almost to my ankle which was folded over my left leg, stomach squished into what must have looked like a mound of pitch trying to escape the bag that held it, and I made this maneuver despite the sideways looks of those on either side of me in order to see, with my eye almost on top of the slipper, that from each thread had separated thousands of smaller threads, each inching their way out into the air, slowly but ultimately out on its own, disconnecting with its mass of like-colored threads, that is to say, disconnecting with its form, its purpose, with the dragon or monkey or whatever, and out into the pull and spin and gravity of everything else, air and space and city busses and mail boxes and feral cats and tooth brushes and all the other things that are unlike it in every way and hostile in a fashion that has, by all accounts, not the slimmest concern or care for its little march away from my slipper, from the embroidery, and will ruin it (the loose string) without a hint of remorse or comprehension that it has done anything of the sort, but on these tiny hairs from the dragon or monkey or whatever go, toward that great space once inhabited by the hand that put them there, the sewer, who they now struggle against, each one away from the weave of their kind until, fate or no, one escapes, as is bound to eventually happen, and the whole thing comes undone, the embroidery unwound and each hair on its own in the wind, wiggling around the blow-tunnel of earth until pinned down to some other sort of thing, that thing most likely without purpose or form of any kind that a tiny strand of once embroidered monkey or dragon could aid in any way.
Then the slipper’s ruined.
It’s too much.
In front, looking out on the likes of us, the nurses crossed their arms and began to look, at the same time, both more sad and more stern. They have their ways.
Let me go back: I should tell you, much of the blather about erratic threads isn't truthful to the moment. Sitting in the day room, I mainly concerned myself with the indignity of the wearing of slippers in the day room, which was why I was staring at them, gawking at them, in the first place. I can’t believe I would have pontificated so endlessly about loose threads in that moment, and truthfully, I have no idea where it came from even now, what all that jazz about threads has to do with anything, what it means. You mustn’t think it’s a metaphor, a synecdoche for something bigger, The Great Sewer, or something stupid like that. Sometimes these things just come to me, shall we leave it at that? But in the day room, that day, in the morning, that morning, I had other more pressing issues on mind, e.g. my slippers and the anger for having them still on, righteously angry, red in the face is how it probably was, but with my complexion … Just as quickly though, this anger morphed, or I guess ‘wandered’ would better tell it, wandered accidentally into the age-old debate as to whether monkey or dragon, which I waver between and waste most every morning with, but no, this time, that day, I had things, bigger things to decide, so I found myself again, that is to say, found again my anger, made my way back to it, all that in just a few minutes while the rest of our troop were finding their seats and milling about, staring into space, whathaveyou, I was, during that time, finding my anger, and as the last were seated I began to have ideas of recompense for the affront, ways to make myself known, so I imagined that I would jump right up, right up in the center of the day room, with all my inmates around me staring forward, all blinklessly, or seemingly so, and pale, all of them, even the blacks, maybe especially the blacks, scattered around the day room like chocolate chips, though they were pale too, strangely enough, pale like their Caucasian counterparts, maybe bled from them, the paleness that is, either from them or the chalky-white of the walls of the house, everyone sitting below that smoggy pollution that gathered whenever we get together, a pollution like a horde of hungry gnats, a pollution that in fact was a unconscious leak of speech, no more than a mumble at a time, which just kind of sat over the heads of the crowd. Then it started. After Earring’s initial ahem, if there even was such a thing, if he could, for a minute, pull himself out of his drug-addled sweat and stupor and get to the mic to make the announcement, which, it turned out, he could and did, eventually, but right then, when the swarm died down a moment, I would, at my place, four rows from the back, five to front, squeaking my chair back, maybe even pushing the whole damn thing over with a crash that would jar and cant all the necks of the audience up at me, watching me as I proclaim to Dr. Earring that “I will not stand for this. It cannot be done. In our slippers, for Christ’s sake. In our slippers!” and sally out, unconcerned for my chair, crashed and fallen, which would lay on its side throughout the length of the assembly as a reminder, nay, memorial of my presence and protest. Maybe then, if I’d have followed through, I would depart the dayroom with a line of aggravators behind me, following, equally upset at such a disgrace, chanting and rising fists in solidarity. Hmm. Or would the act have been more profound alone, if no one were to follow? I’ve heard that deep in the pit of the soul there’s a revulsion toward the individual act, a great act alone, an act without president or peer has, under a certain light, misunderstood the nature of man, “birthed from woman and raised through infant helplessness,” I really can’t remember who said it, but whoever it was continued, “blah blah blah, origin of man’s nature is found here, blah blah balh, the belly button is our eternal reminder.” I don’t know. Would that mean my acting alone would be mutinous toward nature, even if there was justice in it. Maybe that’d be all the better! An act so outside the bounds of propriety would bring me praise and I would be lauded for such unbending character. A man, alone, stalwart in his beliefs, takes a stand for justice and decency despite the cowardly inaction of his fellows. Like Jesus on the cross. Like Jesus nailed to the cross. Yum. It makes me all tingly inside. Like Jesus nailed to the cross. How grand they both would have been, my act of protest, no matter the outcome, alone or leading a movement. All the same, these are my beliefs and I hold them sacred: After breakfast the slippers simply must come off. It’s not proper to wear them out into the day. There’s no dignity in it. My father, who had a way with words, unlike me, said that there’s a sliver of time in every day for everything, the rest of the time you work. I hated my father and his stupid sayings. But that’s neither here nor there, at least not yet. My slippers. Now, I didn’t “work” necessarily, or do what most would consider anything approximating work. I couldn’t, for God’s sake, I’m sick. And getting yourself better isn’t normally called work, though we could debate this point. People have different words for it: recouping, lazing, feeling sorry for yourself, attempting to stop feeling sorry for yourself. That’s enough. You get the point. Though people use these terms, lazing, crazy, sorry, sick, etc., and a few more, pretty much interchangeably, no matter the type, no matter the person, that is, if such dignity as personhood is so granted us, for which, I have grave doubts, I mean, the types of treatment such as I have had to endure: rituals upended, slippers in public! They’re not really, interchangeable I mean, those terms given us, but I guess I understand the desire to squish all types into one and use one description to catch us all. Anyway, at different points I’m sure I’ve been complicit in all the clichés of this sickness. Mind sickness or whathaveyou. I know, I know, how can I say such horrid things about myself. But it’s true. I can be horrible. It’s horrible to be cliché, even worse than being sick, even worse than being lumped in with everyone else in this place. Makes me sick. To be called by the same name as them, the very same name, by the great hordes everywhere, if they even know we still exist, which, I guess, there are certainly some that do, they come, you should see the poor and helpless that keep coming to beg at our gate, which is even more undignified than my slippers in public, far more, though I’ve always loved to give them things, those sad people, trinkets and food, sometimes medicine. I’d be the first to run up to the main building and bring something down for them, for their children, something small of course, chat with them a bit after they grabbed my little pittance through the fence, I’d ask, “And how are you doing?” with a smile and maybe a little eye contact, to which they would respond with worry and a tiny word. Never the conversationalists, those people. How did I get here? Oh yes, my slippers … no … the day room, that’s right, the day Samuel died, or no, he didn’t die, or maybe he did, we didn’t know then, but what Dr. Earring said was that he disappeared, said at the meeting that I wanted so badly to walk out on. He asked us if we knew anything. The room was quiet. Later it turned out he did die, or was dead. Vultures eventually lead us to him, in the woods. People told me it was gross. I didn’t ask questions. I couldn’t. Not enough time in a day for so many sad things.
Adam Shutz is the designer and (an) editor for Artichoke Haircut. He does other things too.