Michael Kimball


Michael Kimball is the author of four books, including Dear Everybody (which The Believer calls “a curatorial masterpiece”) and, most recently, Us (which Time Out Chicago calls “a simply gorgeous and astonishing book”). His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Bomb, and New York Tyrant. His work has been translated into a dozen languages and he is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard). His new novel, Big Ray, will be published by Bloomsbury on September 18, 2012.

There Isn't Anybody Expecting Me Anywhere Tomorrow

After we were finished, we lay on our backs in the dark. She rolled up onto her side, put her hand on my chest, and traced her finger along one of my ribs. I reached out to touch the lower part of her stomach and it trembled against my fingertips. There was just enough light in the bedroom that I could only see parts of her.

She kissed me on the chest and the neck and the mouth. She crawled over me and sat down on the side of the bed with her back to me. I reached my hand out and touched her hair where it fell down between her shoulder blades and then I let my hand drag down her back as she stood up. I kept touching her for as long as I could.

She walked out of bedroom, down the hallway, and into the bathroom. Her body lit up when she turned the bathroom light on and the light reflected off of her skin as she closed the bathroom door.

She was away from me in another room and it made me miss her. I got out of bed and went to get us both a glass of water. I wondered how much ice she would want and if she were thinking about me too.

She didn’t look up at me when I came back into the bedroom and that let me stare at her. I stood in the doorway holding our glasses of water and she lay naked on top of the bedcovers. She had her head propped up against the pillows and her legs turned open. She had the remote control for the television in one of her hands and had turned the television on. The light from the television screen had turned her skin kind of gray and blue. I wondered if she were sad. I wanted to make the color of her skin change to a different feeling.

I walked into the bedroom and turned the lamp on the bedside table on low. The light on her skin changed to a kind pale green tone and that made her look fresh and springy.

Me: You look pretty great naked.

Her: You can keep staring at me if you want.

She kept changing the television stations even though only the local stations came in. She held her other hand out for her glass of water and I handed it to her. She drank most of the water and then handed the glass back to me. She held her hand out again, but it was for me that time. I got back into bed with her and she turned to me.

Her: My main goal while I was growing up was to stay up past my bedtime. I was always afraid that something exciting was going to happen and I didn’t want to miss it.

The talk shows were already over, but she left the television on a local station that was showing an all-night news program. Tornados had touched down in parts of the Midwest. A reporter was trying to explain what had happened as the television camera panned through an area where the houses had been destroyed. Roofs were missing and walls had collapsed on each other. There were places where only the concrete foundation remained and the rest of the house had been lifted up and then scattered around the surrounding area. Nearly everything had been pulled away from where it was and then set back down somewhere else. There were clothes hanging from telephone wires and a tricycle that had settled in upper branches of an oak tree. In one front yard, the furniture seemed to have been arranged into a family room setting, except there wasn’t a television and all the cushions and all the people were missing.

The reporter interviewed a man who was picking through the debris where his house had been. The man said that they were still looking for their dog, that they couldn’t find him before the tornado had touched down, that they just hoped he was hiding somewhere until he wasn’t scared anymore. The man turned and gestured with his arm toward a woman who must have been his wife. She was off in the background with her back to the camera. She was holding her hands up to her mouth and seemed to be calling the dog’s name into the distance.

Her: This is too difficult to watch.

She handed me the remote control and I kept thumbing the channel button, but all I could find were infomercials, static, or other all-night news programs. I pushed the mute button on the remote control and she thanked me for doing that. I set the remote control between us and we let the sports highlights run with the sound off.

Me: Isn’t it amazing that human beings can do those things—run that fast, hit a ball that far, hit each other so hard and still stand back up.

Her: I had a dog named Princess when I was a little girl and I wish that she were still alive. She loved to play fetch in the backyard and she wouldn’t stop running back and forth until I stopped throwing the balls. My arm always got tired before her legs did.

I wanted to say something to her, but I didn’t know what. I wanted to do something for her, but I didn’t know what.

Her: She wasn’t like the rest of my family. She was always nice to me.

I reached out and touched her arm. I stroked her arm and squeezed her hand.

The serious news anchor came back on and the ticker flowing across the bottom of the television screen said there had just been another bombing somewhere in the Middle East. It was already morning there and the video footage showed medical personnel carrying bandaged people away on stretchers. The police and maybe also some army personnel were trying to keep the blast area contained, but too much had gone wrong. Some of the people were making gestures with their arms or their hands and others were waving flags. They showed close-ups of people who were crying or wailing, their mouths open, their hands on their heads or covering their faces. Nearly everything about their lives had just changed.

She reached out and touched my arm so I would look at her. Her face looked serious, worried.

Me: We should have an escape plan.

Her: Neither one of us has a car and I don’t know how to steal one even though I’ve seen people do it in the movies. We probably couldn’t drive out of Manhattan anyway. All the bridges and tunnels would be jammed with other people trying to do the same thing.

Me: Wait, what if we aren’t together when it happens? We should have a meeting place.

Her: It can’t be anywhere famous, no landmarks, no tourist attractions. It has to be somewhere other people won’t think of. It has to be somewhere that probably won’t get bombed or attacked, but where we can still find each other.

Me: We could just meet up right here. Then we could climb the fire escape up to the roof and try to see the best way to get off the island.

Her: We should buy some binoculars and maybe also gas masks and a good map.

She rolled up onto her side and into me. She pushed one of her arms under my shoulders, stretched her other arm around my chest, and pulled her body into mine. She smiled her relief, mushed the side of her face into my chest, and hugged me really hard. It hurt my ribs and I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t want her to let go of me. Lying there naked with her made me feel brave. I thought I might be able to save us if anything happened.

She rolled back onto her back and picked the remote control back up. She turned the mute off and clicked all the way through the channels, but came back to the same local station and the same bombing in the Middle East. She handed me the remote and I turned the mute back on.

Her: I would be afraid to take any of the trains—subways, Amtrak, NJ Transit, Long Island Railroad—but I suppose we could just walk through one of the tunnels—the Lincoln Tunnel or the Holland Tunnel if we were escaping to New Jersey, the Queens Tunnel or the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel if we were escaping to Long Island. It seems like the rocky beach at the tip of Montauk would be safe. I stayed in a summer house out there once during the wintertime. There was only one taxi for the whole town and almost nobody else was out there. The sand and the water are beautiful when it’s cold. But, no, what if the tunnels collapsed while we are under all that river water? Can you imagine how terrible it would be to drown in one of those tunnels—the water slowly rising until we were completely under water, the stupid fish swimming all around us?

The news program shifted to a reporter talking to a man who must have been somewhere near where the bomb went off. His hair was messed up and there were cuts and dirt on his face. His eyes were wild and he was leaning in over the reporter’s microphone as he tried to explain what had happened.

Her: Maybe we could get away on one of the Staten Island ferries. But what if too many people had the same idea? It would just sink. How well can you swim? What if we bought an inflatable raft? Would that work out on the ocean? How far away do you think we could get?

Me: Maybe we could just take one of the houseboats docked along the East River. We could float across to New Jersey or maybe down the coast to Delaware or Maryland. Or if there isn’t anyplace safe on land, then maybe we could just float out into the Atlantic Ocean. We could drop the anchor and live out there. We could listen to what is happening with the boat’s shortwave radio and watch the beachfront with long-range binoculars. We could do that for as long as we have food that isn’t rotten and water that isn’t salty. We wouldn’t have to come back to land until everything was safe again.

Her: We could go now. We could leave now and start over somewhere else. We could be different people.

I didn’t know what to say. I really only wanted to be myself. I didn’t know who that was, just that I needed to be somewhere else to be that person.

Me: I’ve had apocalyptic nightmares ever since I was a little boy and sometimes I still have them. I never know what has happened, just that it is something terrible, that it is always nighttime, that people are after me, and that nothing can save me unless I keep running away from wherever I am. There is always someplace safe, but it is never where I am. I have never gotten to that safe place. I always wake up first.

Somewhere outside, people started yelling and then we heard the sirens start up off in the distance. We looked toward the front of the apartment and listened to the sirens as they approached us. It was the kind of thing that happened every night all over the city, but these human emergencies are alarming when you hear them so close to where you live. I kept thinking that the emergency vehicles would stop somewhere else, but they just got louder and louder until we heard the fire trucks and the police cars and the ambulances turn onto the block where we were. We got out of bed and I went to the front door of my apartment, but my metal door was cool to the touch and I couldn’t smell any smoke.

She walked up to the front of my apartment to look out the front windows and I followed her up there. We stood to the side of one of the front windows in the shadow cast by the streetlight. We watched the smoke rolling out of the windows of an apartment building that was across the street and up the block. A crowd of people stood out in the street and even more people poured out of the apartment building—out the front door, out the windows and down the fire escape.

The emergency personnel stepped out of their different vehicles. Some firemen hooked up hoses and then other firemen ran into the apartment building with all their gear. There were paramedics attending to people on the sidewalk. It looked like everybody who got outside was still alive, but we didn’t know if there were other people trapped somewhere inside that apartment building.

I wrapped my arms around her waist and clasped my hands together over the lower part of her stomach. We looked out the window at a slant. She leaned back into me and I leaned back against the brick wall there. There was that momentary sensation of falling, but then we settled against each other. It felt safe to be inside with each other. It felt as if we could protect each other by holding on to each other.

We watched the people who were living in the apartment buildings on the other side of the street. Most of them were watching the fire and everything in the street below them too. They had come out onto their fire escapes or were leaning out their windows. But there were some other people who seemed to be leaving their homes with the important belongings they could carry with them—sleepy children in pajamas, cats in carriers and dogs on leashes, photo albums in their arms. Most of these people turned away from the fire, walked to their cars, and drove away from all the smoke. But one man carried a tall potted plant and we wondered if maybe he wanted it to feel more tropical wherever he was going. Another woman was wearing a nightgown and her running shoes. We watched her pull her hair back into a ponytail and then run away down the block and around the corner. For as long as we watched, she didn’t come back.

I thought about going out onto the fire escape, but we were both still naked and I could smell the smoke from the fire even though we kept the front windows closed. We kept watching all the people below us, though, and then we noticed that nearly everybody was looking up. There was an old man hanging out of the burning apartment building and waving his thin arms from one of the fourth floor windows.

The old man couldn’t reach the fire escape and it made me want to hold my arms out so that he could jump into them. I thought he would have to jump into one of those safety nets that firemen catch people in, but one of the fireman just climbed into a basket crane and we watched its two arms unfold until the fireman could reach out and pull the old man into the crane’s basket. Everybody clapped their hands and cheered when he did it.

We watched until we couldn’t see any smoke or any fire anymore. The firemen hosed the apartment building down, so it must have still been smoldering, but most of the people who still had places to live were going back into their apartment buildings. Some of the ambulances and police cars were leaving the scene too.

Watching the fire made my eyes feel scratchy and tired. She leaned her head back into my chest and looked up into my face. I tipped my face down to kiss her on her forehead. She reached up and patted my upper arms and I let go of her.

Her: Let’s go back to bed and hope that nothing else terrible has just happened in the world.

We turned away from the fire and walked back to the bedroom. The television station was still covering the same bombing in the Middle East, so I changed the channel to static. It gave off a strange light and made me realize how late we had gone into the night.

Me: Do you remember when television stations used to go off the air after the late shows? The national anthem would play and there would be the clip of the flag waving in the wind. There would be a little delay and then the television screen would go to static. I miss that.

Her: [ ]

Me: Do you think you will remember this part—us just lying here, the blankets pushed to the side of the bed, the sheets kicked off the end?

She laughed and spread her arms and legs out over as much of the bed as she could. She made a warm snow angel in the sheets and took up nearly all the space in the bed except for where I was. She pulled her arms and legs back together and then rolled over onto her side. She reached between my legs, cupped me in her hand, and lifted me up in the palm of her hand.

Her: It looks cute like that—tired, but cute.

She was playful and smiling, but I could see how tired she was too. Her eyes were still bright, but they were a little wild and she was fighting to keep her eyelids open.

I looked at the alarm clock that was on my bedside table and hated what time it was. I pulled the sheet up from the foot of the bed and we both slid down into the bed. I turned the television off and pulled the sheet up over us until its coolness covered most of us. I waited for my eyes to adjust until I could see the outline of her lying next to me in the bed. I closed my eyes and felt the sheet warm up where it touched my body.