He rubbed his short hair with his young hand. There needed to be a war someplace close. He was in his bathroom, running the hot water. The war, if it was a good war, would be in the summer. He stood in a white shirt at the mirror, knowing he'd have to go to the war once it came. And then there would be a woman he loved waiting for him in the hallway. She'd leave the lights off while he washed his face, because it was night now and she saw the white of his shirt through the dark. The two of them would wait together for a nearby violence, somewhere just past the summer.
He dried his face and lay down to sleep. His days were mostly sleep and he awoke to that state where you can't make one word suggest a second one. The clothes he put on were limp with his dirt—like his sheets, they were starting to show some color of him.
He went to school in buildings whose wide layouts evidenced a softening of the body. His classes were exchanges of vocabulary, the assignment of new words to things that were not ideas.
"Pain," he'd say. The others would scowl down at their papers.
"Negative stimulus," the teacher said.
After class, at intersections he waited for a car to come, crash into him, and help him finally feel his bones through the safety around him. The cars stopped. Housewives watched him cross, disinfecting their hands.
This was the interior of the country, where he hadn't been raised and where it was difficult to discern whether the people were capable of romance. In an attempt to produce that helpful anxiety, he'd stop eating and then when very hungry, he ate. This was useful for a week. He tried his religion again, but could not conjure the fear of oblivion that had once transformed him—back when he misremembered himself according to his best stories.
His own sense of death escaped him. His books sat unread.
A year passed. Friends moved. His rent went up and the university would still not surrender his degree. He withdrew from school owing to debt and took up with a nice girl who enjoyed her work. They lived together in a well-insulated apartment for young professionals.
There was a bar far into the cornfields where he sat away from the comfort of her and tried to remember himself. Moths circled the floodlight at the door. The men there spoke roughly when the women walked by in their long way. That night, this was years ago, everyone was silent while the men on the television news told them that the threat was no longer vague but was still far away. Explosions had been recorded. The war was there, they said, it was certain, and their best people were out looking for it. The man drank fast and then he left. He drove. He kept his foot clamped hard on the pedal while sweat stung from his pores. Oaks lined the road, grown thick from the size of the sky. Heat lightning flashed from the horizon. It must be true: he felt himself free with the possibility of capture.