Raymond is haunted by shapes. He sees them everywhere: in clouds, in food, in the steam on the bathroom mirror, in his cat's fur, and most recently in the grime on the stove and in the dust sediments that have been building on every bare plane in his apartment for six months. Until this moment, the apparitions have taken benign forms: animals, clownish mugs, celebrity faces (though as of yet no Jesus), and objects both natural and human-made, but just now as he watches, reclined on his studio couch on Alamo Square, an enormous flea is hovering over Pacific Heights, poised to dive-bomb an unsuspecting dog at Alta Plaza Park. Raymond is paralyzed.
A bag of potato chips tumbles to the floor, spilling half its contents, pollinating the tacky shag carpet with motes of maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, and other elements of the BBQ flavoring. His pint of cola, diluted with a fistful of ice cubes that have melted down to coin-sized discs, emits a spontaneous fizz. He doesn't hear it over his own breathing, a string of rhythmic wheezes and involuntary sighs, his body's struggle against the mildewed air of his domicile and its own girth, a trophy to Raymond's poor eating habits. The flea is not moving.
Its crooked legs could spring it all the way to North Beach if he were to startle it. The flea is fat, perhaps having just had its fill in the park below. Its backend is blurry, as if a huge eraser had begun to erase it, but there is nothing else in the sky. Raymond wills a gigantic vacuum cleaner filled with mothballs to appear in the west and mow this parasite down. As if by the force of his own lethargy, a wind stirs the insect and it begins to dissolve into a legless shrimp, then a hotdog, then a blue-white smear in a Salvador Dalí sky. Raymond's chest heaves up and down. He hoists himself up, reaches for his soda, which he passes to his other hand so he can frisk the floor for the bag of chips, or what is left of them.