He's not here anymore, but I definitely had a twin once. We were born together and that's what counts. I know it's true, that he's real, because there's a pale scar like the crook of a finger on my hip. That's where the attachment was--it's from the months we spent in the womb together.
The only time I was ever foolish enough to speak about my twin brother to my parents I used that worm-like scar as evidence. "You had an accident when you were very young," my mother said. But I could see her eyes trace nervous angles to a point far over my shoulder. I never spoke about him again. My parents, it became clear, were hiding something from me.
This is why I caught the Sandman.
There is no commonly accepted way to catch the Sandman. Not much has been written on the subject; even less on the topic of successful endeavors. "The Sandman is an elusive giver of dreams and has come to resemble that which he bestows. He is no more than a shadow, an instinct. Mist on the window." However I had an edge over my predecessors, because I had already seen the Sandman once. It was on the minute before my seventh birthday.
I knew what the Sandman looked like. Surprisingly he was young and wore a tall blue hat. There were stars on his lapel. He was letting an enormous cat out of a little bag. There were stars dangling from his ears. I didn't say anything, but he knew I was watching. I guess he didn't mind. I guess he was ready for me. Seven years later, he was waiting for me, too. So I suppose I didn't really catch him after all. Maybe he'd chosen the same night I thought I'd chosen, and the whole thing was pre-ordained, just to get me to crawl inside his little bag. But when you start thinking that way you never get anything done. I prefer to think of it this way: I caught the Sandman. And I did it to find my twin brother.
Where did I first hear about the Sandman? The man who sold fish told me. On that day I must have been a little past my tenth birthday, and it was the first time my mother ever sent me to buy the fish for dinner. I gave the man who sold fish the proper amount of money. In return, he gave me the proper amount of fish. While his wife took the fish into the back room to cut out their internal organs the man who sold fish asked me if I'd ever seen the Sandman.
"Who?" I asked.
"The Sandman," the man who sold fish repeated. "Have you ever seen him? He has a tall blue hat and wears the stars for earrings."
"So that's who that man was, that night."
"So you have seen him?"
"Yes. I saw him."
"I thought you might have." The man licked his lips like he was licking a stamp, like he was about to send me a long and important letter. "The way to catch the Sandman," the man who sold fish told me, "is to ask him a question he can't answer."
The man who sold fish's wife, who also sold fish, came back out with my mother's dinner. The whole thing smelled fishy to me. She handed me the fish, wrapped in brown paper, and sent me on my way. I never spoke about this conversation with the man who sold fish, not a second time or a third, much less a fourth or a fifth. I just assumed he must have seen the Sandman once, just as I had. But he only told me how to catch the Sandman. It would have been nice if he told me how to find the Sandman, too.
This is also why, four years or so later, I caught the Sandman.
It wouldn't have done any good to pretend I was asleep. No one can fool the Sandman that way. The Sandman comes creeping in between worlds--the one you know when you're awake and the one you trust when you're dreaming--that bridge you cross just before you sleep. That time when your thoughts start to come without you thinking. The whole fabric of your conscious loosens. Sentences become indistinct. Every idea takes on a life of its own. This is a real place, even though it's only a transition. It's a stopover and it thrives on transience. In this world the Sandman comes creeping. No one believes in him awake, but he's not a dream. He has a tall blue hat and wears the stars for earrings.
It took me those four years to see him for the second time: down by the foot of my bed, just as I almost lost myself to sleeping. There he was. Letting that cat out of the bag again.
"Where is my twin brother?" I asked the Sandman. "Where is he?"
"I can't answer that," the Sandman replied.
And that's exactly how I caught him.