Of course, there are no stars. No cricket can be heard. No deep night owl or the frantic scratching of a wild raccoon. Not even the dumb rooting of a possum. I swing the yellowed face of the lamp to the window, pull aside the curtains, and no swarm of bugs fling themselves at the warm eye on the window. Every creature is mad for light. That is the strangest thing about the city to me: the absence of bugs. At home, the night air clots with insects: small, buzzing bugs, wild about their copper wings, angry, frantic, twizzling in circles on our cracked concrete. I used to stomp on them when I was a child. Here, in the city, the night air is without wind and humid with many sounds: the growling exhaust of semi's, chainsaw motorcycles racing down the highway, sirens in route to calamity, the steady microwave hum of cars flowing by, a stream of muted colors under streetlight: weathered cotton, wild grass, serpent's tongue, the occasional fish-scale. It is almost midnight and the noise boils outside like a pot nearly gone dry.
A toilet flushes above us. Footsteps up there as well, and on the side. The muffled banter of television leaks through the sheet rock. Another flush. I am amazed at how often people pee. Our room is city-big: two rooms with a door between them. A fridge, dishwasher, basket with popcorn and coffee. The fridge judges me, I think. Shouldn't you be in Motel 6? The dishwasher collaborates. A suite, my wife told me. A hundred bucks, she added, familiar with my next question. Used a coupon. The plaster is knocked off a corner near the floor. I stare there waiting for the next word to arrive on this page. Some sort of aluminum or other metal glints from that absence. Earlier, I stood stunned with an erection in the pale light of the refrigerator. The empty fridge yawned. Cool air washed through me. One of the lampshades near the couch is warped and it casts wavy light. Two double beds, a large distance between them. She's sleeping with the baby; me, with the boy. It's just easier, she told me.
I was a King tonight, or at least a Lord in mention. A Lord, with a Lady, a prince, and a lap visitor, or whatever they named the baby. Medieval Times. I wore the paper crown, watched the horses prance in the sand, the muscles clutch in their thighs. The hooves clopped hard and kicked up dust. Ate chicken with my fingers, rife with grease. Lights spreading cones of amber that revealed the moments important in the performance. We should have such things in our lives. Lights that blare on to remind us to pay attention. Don't miss this. Mist. Orange sparks from the bark of battling swords. My boy's eyes wide, like someone had plugged him in. He would lean over and point something out, ask this or that. I couldn't make out a word of what he said. We waved our flags. I looked at the bosom of our waitress and let out long, slow breaths. Smoke from the performance flowed around us. The Lady and I took turns carting the lap visitor up the stairs to let her crawl on the cold stone in front of the king's throne.
We should settle traffic disputes with a joust. How I would love to ram a lance into that bitch's shield who sped up to block my access to the highway. To watch her eyes clarify in fear as she slips, feet flying up to land on her back in the packed sand. Beg for mercy, you cunt. I hold my thumb out sideways. The crowd roars its mock rage. Would the crowd ever make any choice other than thumbs down? Should I raise the blade? I do. I raise it and feel the crowd's lust reach into me, but--
--no, I slowed the car, crossed the line on the right into the gravel, weeds, and areas you are not supposed to go. Let her pass.
That better not have woken up the baby, my wife said. Why didn't you go over?
It's not worth it, I said.
She leans her head back. Sometimes I just want to strangle you, leaks from between her teeth.
I stand in the pale light of the fridge again. The hum of the fridge is quieter with your head inside it. Another motorcycle races by. Sleeping noises of my family in the other room and the clatter of the laptop keyboard in this one. The former sound has the better rhythm, regular, quiet, and sustained. Open ground has been compressed into strips and right angles, covered with yellow lines and concrete, contained. Buildings everywhere: tall, crashing alphabets of concrete and glass; squatting H's and lean I's, dots of white and yellow lights for punctuation. It's almost as if everything hums: the fridge, the window from the noise outside, this laptop. It's a cringing sound, wide and long in the country, but troubled here by the L's of corners and butting denial of glass. This whole city is a dense paragraph. The weight of it presses in and makes me tight, like a ball of aluminum foil from a fist. The false light of the city floods the night, a pale wash bright enough to stain away the stars.