The Books of My Numberless Dreams

A first-class obsession

Posted on: April 30, 2007

“Give it up,” he told himself, shrugging, resting in the assurance that there were other means of diverting oneself. There was, for instance, a whole world beyond his room.

He thought he might try to get back in trim, though who was he kidding? When, in a life led almost exclusively indoors, had he ever been in trim? All right, so he was soft, his flesh pale and tallowy, his frown yielding two or three chins. Still in rare daydreams he disowned the endomorph, fancied himself angular and spry, leaping from place to place instead of walking. And toward this vision of himself, he tried jogging one evening through Riverside Park.

Winded after a few hundred yards, chafed by ill-fitting sweat clothes, leery of shady characters along the benches, he resorted to a nearby bar. Exercise having failed him. he surrendered to its inverse: debauchery. He would drink himself into a state of indifference. But as drink was never his medium, his overindulgence left him instead only crapulous and irritable.

Then there was food which — giving himself over to an orgy of eggrolls and blintzes — he flattered himself that he understood. He would eat to forget. But overeating and its attendant dyspepsia were, after all, nothing new to Bruno. What he needed was a more radical change of focus, something to get him over his broken heart. If broken heart he had.

So what was next? And of the extremes of behavior left open to him, sex was most certainly the ticket. Albeit a ticket he’d always found hard to get punched. Undeceived by his natty attire and complacent potbelly, women, sensing the driven nature of his needs, had kept their distance. Except of course Goldie, who, with her strabismus and thinning hair, had been as desperate as he.

And thinking of her, Bruno had a sudden realization: that there were no regrets. From what then, if not from Goldie, had he been so strenuously trying to divert his thoughts? Why departed from his customary routine? The answer came like the handwriting on the wall, or maybe the absence of the same. He was still feeling baited by the unfinished page in the typewriter, still hounded and absorbed. All other activities apart from working at his story — so randomly begun — seemed extracurricular, merely the tactics of evasion.

Insomnia, a nuisance of longstanding, kept him constantly fatigued. He brooded through the night over his page, wondering how he’d stumbled into such a first-class obsession. He, Bruno Katz, who’d successfully eluded commitments for thirty-five years. How was it that his future seemed suddenly to depend on the advancement of a mother and son through a carnival funhouse?

From “Bruno’s Metamorphosis” in the short stories collection The Wedding Jester by Steve Stern

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