Johnny's hand snapped out to hit his alarm
clock. It hit perfectly, silencing the obnoxious beep before the
first had even finished. It had become an instinct by now. He
hadn't even had his eyes open yet. He opened them now and lurched
up. It was still dark in the room, of course. It was five in the
He turned to the side of the bed and stood. He
went through the motions of showering, shaving, and getting
dressed, thoughts elsewhere. His alarm clock had interrupted a
dream. He couldn't remember it, except that it was a good one.
What was it? It had filled him with a feeling of warmth, physical
Johnny started walking to the front door, then
paused to look at his watch. He still had time. He returned to
the doorway of his bedroom. Even in the darkness, he could make
out the outline of his wife, lying on her side. He sighed. They
hadn't been getting along very well. He thought back to the early
years of his marriage.
They had been happy then. They had both been
vibrant and young. He shook his head. They were still young. It
was just that he felt like he could be in his fifties instead of
at the beginning of his thirties.
He turned around and walked down the hall,
passing the two parallel doors where his two children slept. He
couldn't help but smile slightly. They were his children. They
were like bright neon lights in his life. His grin faded. If only
he could see them more than a few hours a day. And on the
weekends it felt like all he could do was sleep.
He looked down at his hands. They were
clenched, the very edges of his nails digging into his palm. He
exhaled slowly and relaxed his fingers. Johnny opened his front
door and stepped out into the hall.
The sixth floor of the gray apartment complex
was interesting only in how uniform it was. The wallpaper and
carpeting seemed to blend. On either side of him were identical
doors extending down to the elevator. The hall was
The elevator graced him with soft, repetitive
music as he descended. He closed his eyes. He had heard this
jingle thousands of times before, in tens of elevators. Or maybe
he hadn't. Elevator music was all the same. This could be the
same jingle he had heard when he came up the elevator the
previous day, or he may have never heard it before.
Johnny exited the elevator. He left the
apartment building and walked out onto the cold gray streets. His
legs complained. Not enough sleep. Never enough sleep. Sleeping
was a way to get to a warm place.
Johnny had walked most of the way to the subway
station. Twice, he had bumped into people. Normally he was quite
good at navigating the streets even when barely paying attention,
but today he was out of it. Luckily, his instincts knew when to
stop for traffic; when everyone else did. His feet thudded into
the gray sidewalk monotonously. How many times had he walked this
route? Nearly every weekday since his son had been born, at
Something penetrated his thoughts. A sound.
Music. Not the dull loop of an elevator. An instrument, or
instruments, and one not too far off. He raised his eyes from the
endless feet. He could see the entrance to the stairway leading
down to the subway station.
This station was located under a small square,
unlike most others, which seemed to be a hole in the sidewalk.
The sound came from opposite end of the stairs, where the railing
protected passerby from the ten foot drop to the stairs below, or
rather the five-odd foot drop to the packed heads of other gray
commuters. Johnny could only see a small collection of heads
through the larger group immediately in front of him. What could
be making that sound? It was like nothing he had ever heard
Johnny managed to escape the salmon run and
approach the small crowd. He (gently, he hoped) permeated the
outer layers of people. At the center of the group, almost
leaning against the railing, was a man holding a guitar. What
distinguished him the most in his dress was his bright blue
beanie, a refreshing change from the hatless, gray-suited masses.
This beanie was pulled over his ears, but not far enough to cover
the long dark red hair poking out from it. This fiery hair was
mimicked on his chin in a few days' growth of a goatee. His eyes
were covered with dark, mirrored shades. The lenses were large,
squat, egg-shaped, the kind Johnny's dad had worn, minus the
shade. Not Bono shades, but reminiscent of them. Bono on a
budget. The grin on the man's mouth was small, but encompassed
his emotions. The smile told Johnny that the street performer was
confident, enjoying himself. The smile bounced up and down
slightly with the rest of his head, in perfect time with his
fingers. He looked like a hippie who had missed his proper
generation; he was only about Johnny's age. His fingers moved as
if on fire along the neck of his instrument.
The instrument, which Johnny had assumed to be
an electric guitar, had only four thick strings. A bass guitar
then. His right hand slid up and down the strings, then just
quickly they formed a kind of thumbs-up sign, smacking into the
thickest string and producing an impressive percussive thud.
Immediately his curled fingers popped out, going away from the
string as fast as the thumb had slapped it. The resulting snap
sound was followed by another percussive thud. Johnny wasn't sure
why, but he knew that this hippie was making up this song on the
The rapid, punchy style was something Johnny
couldn't remember ever hearing. He felt the galloping of a
also the squawk of a surprised, but still incredibly musical,
duck. He heard chirping crickets, but also the power of man-sized
bells. Johnny felt a smile creep onto his own face.
"Hey! No panhandling in the streets!" Johnny
turned to the source, angry that someone would disturb this tiny
A police officer was gesturing to the ground in
front of the hippie, to a place where Johnny couldn't see through
the people. Presumably, a guitar case full of small bills and
pocket change. The cop was middle-aged, with an authoritarian
look Johnny generally associated with vice principals and Benito
Mussolini. His red face was angry.
"Oh come on, mate," replied the hippie,
indignation just slightly unconcealed under his undoubtedly
"Clear out before I fine you for disturbing the
Johnny closed his eyes. He directed them back
down to the ground, their usual domain. He opened them again. He
saw his hands, clenched again. He relaxed them slowly, noticing
nervously that his nails had formed indents in his palm. How long
had he stood there?
The crowd had dispersed, and the bold blue
beanie was nowhere to be seen. Johnny began to doubt he had been
there at all. He had been daydreaming, surely. What hippie would
be playing in the streets before six in the morning? And what
about a power source? Johnny hadn't seen an amp at all, now that
he thought about it. No amp, and no power source. He had been
dreaming. He shook his head and walked around to the staircase
leading down to the station.
A bit of doubt in the back of his head
whispered. You couldn't
see the guitar case full of tips either.
Shut up, Johnny replied.
Johnny sat in the subway car, packed in tightly
with others. He had gotten the last open seat. He was regretting
this choice. He felt rather like a fish caught in a giant net,
pressed into the all a squirming mass, all trying to escape but
with nowhere to go. Thousands of wriggling bodies in the cold
water, all of them the same dull, gray color. He
That's what you are, Johnny, came the
whisper. The voice seemed familiar.
Johnny felt his head dipping, only to snap up.
He was dangerously close to falling asleep. He opened his eyes
resolutely and looked around in an attempt to stay conscious. His
watch reprimanded him. He was slightly late, but it was nothing
that couldn't be made up.
The warm place seemed to beckon to him. His
willpower failed, and his head slumped. He dreamed.
The subway car lurched to a stop. Johnny
surfaced, albeit barely. He looked at the dull, muffled LED
lights dictating the stop. With an inward groan, he stood and
pushed his way through the people.
He still couldn't remember what the warm place
was like, exactly. He couldn't form any precise imagery. He began
to picture something, but then it was blown away like leaves in
the wind. Vague feelings. Warmth. Something else.
Johnny got off the subway car and started
making his way to the office. Not his office.
The office. The office was the place where he worked, in
a small fabric-covered box, surrounded by the others, who also
worked in small fabric-covered boxes. He could never consider the
gray walls of his box his, he hoped.
He reached the top of the stairs and looked at
the sky, confirming what he already knew. He hadn't even bothered
to look up before. It was a cold, dull, gray day. The clouds
formed a wet blanket over his feelings. His vision dropped back
to the horizon, invisible through the buildings and the
Johnny inspected the crowd. Dull men in gray
suits, dull women in gray pantsuits. They were all on their way
to cold, dull offices. There they would spend the day just as
they had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before
Just like you, mate.
Johnny recognized the whisper now. It was the
Johnny put his head back down to the earth and
moved through and alongside his cold, dull, gray duplicates. His
movement didn't seem like his own. He moved more like a piece of
food down the esophagus, pushed and pulled in the right direction
from all sides.
Johnny managed to get to the office without
being late. He passed the same people he had passed every day,
gave a vague wave to the same people, then sat down in his gray
box. He sighed, then yawned.
Johnny's boss passed by, dropping a thick
packet of papers on his desk.
"Look alive, John. Things to do."
Johnny put one hand on the papers, then
stopped. His eyes were barely open, despite it being so cold in
the office. Johnny ran his fingers through his hair and leaned
back. The papers were nearly the same papers he had filled out
for the last two months. Johnny dreamt.
A hand on the shoulder woke him. His eyes
snapped open. He could remember the dream a little better. He
tried to picture it. People. Yes, people. They weren't like the
crowds he had wandered through every day. They…sparkled. They all
sparkled in a different way.
"Wake up, John" said Johnny's
Johnny hated being called 'John.'
He looked up at his boss, still slightly
bleary. He wanted to go back to the warm place, the place where
Johnny's boss frowned. His clean-shaven chin
was pale, complementing his gray suit. This was the first time
Johnny had fallen asleep at work, but this was just one more
thing in a long list.
"Look, John. This is your job, my
What spiel do you got for me this time? And
you're not my friend.
"Think of the rent, John. Think of your kids.
Think of your pension, think of your future."
Johnny's boss gestured to the small window
about twenty feet away from them. It was a hole in a large gray
building, and revealed the sides of other large gray
Oh no, he's going to tell me again, please
don't tell me again. Oh n-
"Now there's a lot of people who would want a
job like this John…"
Johnny tuned his boss's rant out. He looked up
from his desk and straight into his boss's eyes. He surprised
himself with how firm his gaze was. Then Johnny closed his
He could picture it better now. The warm place.
The office was cold, that place was warm. The people in this room
were all dressed in a dull, gray color. The warm place was where
everybody sparkled. This office was full of apathy. The warm
place was where everybody cared. Johnny wanted to go
Johnny's boss was still lecturing
do I go there?
You're already pretty close,
mate, replied a voice,
not the hippie.
Johnny didn't tell this voice to shut up,
though he had wanted to hear the hippie. He leaned back, still
looking at his boss with his eyes, but his attention fully
Johnny got up from his desk and walked to the
men's room. He opened a stall door and sat down. How long ago had
it been since he had seen the brilliant blue beanie? A week? A
day? Had it been this morning? He wasn't sure. The days were one
continuous, blended stream.
It was almost the end of
the work day. The sun had refused to come out, but insisted on
starting the slow process of darkness. Johnny couldn't see that
though. The stall was lit up with the harsh glare of fluorescent
lights. Johnny looked at the gray linoleum on the floor. To his
left, in the next stall was another man; he could see his gray
Johnny sat awhile. The non-hippie voice
whispered to him. He could vaguely hear the hippie in the
background of his mind, there but strong enough to be
Johnny made a decision. Johnny pulled it out.
It was gray, of course. He didn't care too much though. Because,
in the light from the ceiling, it appeared to sparkle. Johnny
smiled. Johnny put the gun to his head and closed his
"I want to go to a place where everybody
sparkles." Johnny whispered.