Friday, March 14, 2014

A Most Intriguing Riddle

It's a riddle.

Nighttime Wake

She wove her shroud
Of spider-silk
At daybreak and at dusk.
Hours between,
She slept sweetly
Reduced to wanderlust.
Nighttime, she woke
Shook off her pain
Bathed in the moonlight rain.
Ancient, she spoke.
“I have seen the past,
Future recast,
Fade with sweet midnight’s last.
Many asked
What saw mine eyes
As sunrise closed them fast.
But I will go
Into the vast
Unknown and unsurpassed.”
The dying of
The morning star
Marked her return to death.
Tell me, boy, what kind of thing

At dawn drew her last breath?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Deux Hommes

Inspired by this iconic Vogue photo, the one I can't seem to find anywhere.

Two men sitting alone
On a surfboard, rocking gently
In the endless waves.
The flat white surface is
Like paper in the midst of all that ink,
Soaking, drying, soaking, drying,
The continual blotting of a monstrous hand.
“I’m trying my best here,”
He says, “My very best, I’m doing all I can,
You know that, don’t you?”
And the other man says,
“I don’t believe you.”
Very strangely, under the influence
Of the soporific sea, the ink fumes,
the blinding layer of white laid like a feather
On a granite sea,
The other man shrinks and shudders.
His voice is that of a little girl.
“Why won’t you believe me? It’s all I can do…”
Trails off, hitches, begins to sob.
He sits there alone in the middle of so much sea,
Bawling his heart out.
Always one for dramatics.
The other man just looks out to the broad line
Of the perfectly flat horizon, watches storm clouds
Well and lisp on the edge of that line,
A millimeter of gold showing beneath,
Though there's only bronze water where they sit.
The other neither looks nor sees.
As he sits there, gently crying,
The other man takes his hand
And sort of gently pushes him into the water,
Frigid as a winter night’s decay.
He splutters, flounders, but never stops crying,
Just sinks, bewildered, and somewhat resigned.
He knew somewhere that he never was going to come back.
The other man
Sits alone on the surfboard, watches the clouds
Swell, darken, poise on the edge of release
And spill over into the endless sea.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Freedom or Reality?

           The girl stands alone on the edge of the roof. Her feet are a quarter inch away from oblivion. The wind is coming strongly into her, and it pebbles her bare skin, turns her pale as a ghost. The wind streams out her hair in a long scarlet trail. Her eyes are closed. She looks like a sleepwalker, a suicidal lunatic. Her face is very smooth and very white, but her brows are furrowed into little crinkles like crumpled silk.
            This is what she sees:
            Mirages flicker in the darkness. Ribbons and blotches of neon green, oddly faded, as if seen underwater. She squeezes her eyes tight and they coalesce, gather into pure heat. She is staring into the filaments of a light bulb. The figure wavers, distorts, becomes a woman who is dressed in long, flowing wings, who is haloed not by light, but by warmth. She smiles. And it is a smile of such utter benevolence that the girl gasps, shudders and nearly falls; she whispers a prayer that sounds like a desperate oath. The angel speaks. “Sleep soundly, angel child. May you never wake again.” The angel’s voice is melancholic, almost wistful. In the girl’s eyes there is pleading, but the vision fades. The angel is again only the dazzle of the sun as it meets the horizon.
            She climbs off the roof, slowly, dreading the shadows at the base of the eaves. It is twilight now, and the street is bathed in cobalt murkiness. No one can see her now. She wishes for silence, but the creaking of the ladder on the ancient shingles is unavoidable.
            When she descends, there she is, standing forbiddingly in the shadows, lurking like a mad old bat. It’s her mother. She can feel the ice of her stare through the darkness. When her mother steps out into the flickering streetlight, her face is haggard and lined with sharp creases, cadaver-like. Her eyes hold a revulsion that pierces the daughter to her bones. She is too terrified to cry. Her mother steps forward and doesn’t slap her, doesn’t scream, doesn’t remonstrate. She only hisses two words like bullets. “Devil child.” She turns and walks with quick angry steps into the house, and the daughter is left frozen to the ground. Then she thaws, and the warmth comes at last, comes in waves of shaking misery. She sobs.
            That night, she sleeps as if dead, soul-weary and miserable. The dawn comes harshly through her window, and she wakes reluctantly. She finds her mother has made her an appointment.
            She doesn’t want to be here. That’s what the doctor thinks, first thing. The girl is a scrawny specimen—bone-thin, dressed raggedly, hair dark and straggly with rain. Her shoes squelch on the linoleum, leave imprints of mud. Her eyes, however, are the most noticeable: a hard, dagger-like blue. They shout of resentment, and seething below that, a chaotic swelter of emotions. It’s hard to describe, how they pierce him, how he finds it hard to look away. She’s not the first to come here unwillingly. But she’s the first to protest it with such vehemence, and silently.
            His interest has been caught. She sits down stiffly in the chair across from him, and he notices the faded remnants of a bruise across one cheek. She catches his eye for a brief moment, her eyes still speaking, then looks quickly away and down. Almost as if she were embarrassed. The air between them is tense, the tension of a torrent of unspoken words. It’s up to him to break the ice, and he does so abruptly. He introduces himself, starts a volley of questions, and it’s strange; he doesn’t use his usual doctor voice, amiable and business-like, but the voice in which he thinks his own thoughts. It’s almost as if he’s talking to himself. He knows she doesn’t hear a word.
            He uses the time to study her face. She has a face, that if she let it, could be lovely—right now, it is too starved and too sad to be beautiful. Her eyes are still downcast. Perhaps the meaning of life is hidden in the floor beneath her feet. The light from the window is melancholic, and it turns the line of her cheek, the too-sharp jut of her chin, into cast porcelain. Unbeknownst to both him and the girl, his questions trail off. There is an acute, thoughtful silence between them.
            The girl’s gaze travels from the floor to the far corner of the room, to his left. She seems to be observing something there very intently. He looks as well, but there is nothing but bare, sanitary plaster. Her eyes travel like an arrow straight past him, and her pupils make tiny, flicking movements back and forth. She’s watching something moving there, where there’s nothing. The emotions play out on her face like an open book, and he can read it all: alarm, curiosity, terror. She seems to have forgotten he’s there. Something very, very interesting is happening in that empty corner, and he is captivated as well. He should make some notes or end the session, but he watches her watch nothing until the hour is up.
            When the minute hand reaches twelve, she stands up, suddenly, and pushes in her chair and leaves. It wakes him like a dreamer from a trance. He sits in the empty office, contemplatively. He’s learned a lot from an hour of silence.
            The girl staggers down the hallway, trails a hand down the cool white wall. She feels absurdly self-conscious, in her straggled clothes, unbrushed hair. But the doctors in their clean white coats have better places to be. They don’t spare her a glance, and she doesn’t know whether to feel belittled or relieved. She is still overwhelmed by the rose.
            It hovered in the corner, a crimson blot, a bloody shadow. It started as a tiny bud—then, conjured by her mind, it languidly bloomed, opening and unfolding. The heart of the rose was full of water. It glistened like midnight: a foreshadowing. The water trickled down the petals of the rose, formed small rivulets of mercury. Each drop’s fall was a separate heartbeat. A pool formed there, beneath the rose, and grew with every passing minute. She knew when the water touched her skin, she would sink into the depths of another dream. The water was up to her soles, almost soaking into her shoes, when the minute hand clicked in place and she escaped at last.
            Now she wanders through the halls—confused, lost, and lonely. She makes it to the front door. It is still raining. The rain races down the glass doors in clear, cold streaks, makes nonsensical music on the windows. Her mother probably expects her to walk home in this. Instead, she opens the door and begins to run.
            The day is gray and cold and clean. Rain turns the world loud and silent at once, empties the sidewalks, spells the street into rushing silver. She wants to lose herself in this momentary freedom. She wants to become as alive and newborn as every leaf on the trees, washed vibrant by the rain. She races through the downpour, and is soaked in an instant—her hair darkens and curls, her clothes hang. Her shoes splash through puddles that morph from gray into blue, impossible as a reflected sky—and with every step, she sinks anew into dreaming. Like the rain from the clouds she is falling, and another world rushes up to meet her. She makes it to the meadow in the moment before she collapses.
            All she has is freedom now.

            She’s nine again, living a dream that ended long ago. She’s lying on a surfboard, in a damp and clinging old swimsuit. Every wave that washes over her chills her to the bone, but she doesn’t feel it, doesn’t care. She’s in another world. The motion of the waves rocks her to sleep, soothes her. She feels so at peace, so bittersweet. The waves are growing larger, she’s drifting farther and farther from shore, but it’s not enough. She wants each swell to become a slope, to slide her down to Nod. She wants to be carried out of reach of everything—to drift on the ocean forever, beneath the endless sky. She could drown. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t mind dying if it means she can join the sea, become one small part of something larger. This is such a beautiful dream, and the sea is singing to her; a lullaby. Eternity is just so close, and she’s about to grab it, about to fly…
            Someone’s voice in her ear. Shouting. She’s awakened rudely, and she almost wants to cry. She was so close! It’s her father. He’s yelling at her, asking her doesn’t she know how dangerous this is, she could have drifted off, she could have drowned… She doesn’t care. She lets him tow her back to shore, lets him take the surfboard and sit her down by her mother, but part of her is still back in the ocean. Part of her wishes she was still drifting.

            She lets herself dream of drowsing on the waves, letting the ocean rock her to sleep. The water is cold and dark as blood, but the starlight warms her bones. She closes her eyes, feeling the undulation, feeling sweet bliss…
            “Wake up.”
            And she’s awake, and just as suddenly, terrified. It’s her mother’s voice, and it brings everything flooding back: dark night, lamp light, white walls and sterile cubes of rooms. Her mother’s face, creased in revulsion. The voice continues: “Wake up, girl. I’m not paying for another funeral—do you hear me? If you die, I’ll hand you to the state and let them cremate your bones. You’ll scatter to the winds, girl. Wake up and tell me why I shouldn’t disown you…”
            Her eyes snap open. Above her is a sterile hospital ceiling. Surrounding her, her mother’s harsh voice, continuing its tirade. Her face is bloodless. She can’t move her arms—are they restrained? She can’t move, won’t speak. She closes her eyes again and hopes against hope that her mother will leave, when a door swishes open and a breeze brings footsteps and the smell of disinfectant. “Mrs. Upton, the doctor would like to speak with you.” The nurse’s voice is carefully modulated, and cautious—she must have spoken with her mother before. She can hear the sound of her mother’s teeth as they click closed, grind. Then quick, sharp clacks of heels on tile and the swish of the door again. She’s safe. Her breath leaves her in a sigh, and her eyes open. The nurse is above her, looking concerned. She whispers, hoarsely: “Don’t call my mother.”
            A few minutes later, she’s unrestrained and sitting up. Her wrists have red marks on them—she must have struggled in her sleep. The nurse hovers by her side, looking apologetic. “Sorry, dear. You were trying to get up and walk away—you kept ripping out your IV. We had to restrain you, doctor’s orders.” The girl says nothing. She breathes fast, trying not to hyperventilate. She won’t—can’t—face her mother. The look on her face…she closes her eyes again. The nurse seems concerned. “Honey, do you want me to call the doctor? Do you have a headache, or pain anywhere?”
            “Don’t!” The girl says, too loudly. Then her eyes widen. Her mother’s footsteps are coming, clacking through the door. She’s terrified, frozen to the bed. Then her mother is standing before her, appraising her up and down. The cold weight of her gaze is upon her. Her mother speaks to the nurse. “Call the doctor, and get her out of here. There’s nothing wrong with her—it was just another of her fits.” The girl’s eyes flutter closed again, in relief and rumination. She remains unmoving on the bed until her mother leaves, and the doctor comes to release her.
            That night, her mother doesn’t come home. She sits in her bedroom alone, relieved, but miserable. When her mother isn’t home, she can’t leave her bedroom, even to eat, lest she have another fit. The door stays closed, the window boarded up. She’s glad. At least this way, she won't escape and make her mother yet angrier. She doesn’t think she can take much more of this—the fear, the guilt, it’s eating her alive. She’s angry as well, furious at herself, and that’s worse, because of how volatile it makes her. She could explode at any moment. It makes her bitter, and it makes her hopelessly depressed. The only place she can escape is into her dreams—here in this room, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Exhausted beyond thought, she curls up on her bed, falls into a leaden sleep.
            In her dream, she walks along a beach in her memory. She came here, once—when she was just a little kid, and her father was alive, and her mother still loved her. When she had a family. Before everything went wrong.
            This beach, this sea—it’s all so indescribably beautiful. The sun is just about to set, and all the sky is painted with swirls and feathery strokes of gold. Just above her head, the sky is a blue that speaks of approaching night; a quenching blue she can almost taste. There are cliffs by this sea, of crumbling, weathered chalk, and they too are gilded by the sun. Everything is gold—her mother’s eyes, the sea, the sky, each individual grain of sand scattered on the thin strip of beach. Even the stars in the sky are golden, it seems—even the perfect crescent of moon, sharp and pure as a slice of heaven.
            This is heaven, standing here, surrounded by the warmth of her family. She feels as if she belongs. She feels as if everything is in its place, at last. She faces the ocean and throws her arms wide, tries to inhale this moment: the sea, the sky, the beach, the briny air—as if by doing so she could carve it into her soul. She wants to keep this moment, like a lucky charm, deep and safe in her heart. So she could savor it whenever she wanted.
            This is just a temporary blessing, and that makes it all the more bittersweet. When she was young and safe and naïve—when she was, innocent—she had no idea how precious time was. But now she knows, and she wants to hold on and never let go. To never let the days and the years rush ahead, bringing her to a time when her mother despises her and her father rots in his grave…she wants to hold on to this little slice of heaven.
            But even so, the tide draws in, and the tide draws out, eternally. The gold light fades, and the evening’s rays, they turn a vivid crimson. The night creeps up. Shadows lengthen. The blue above her dims to black…
            With no heed or thought for the girl standing on the beach, tears streaming down her face, the ocean recedes. The sun draws its last gasp and falls below the horizon. The night swallows all, her parents disappear, and the girl still stands there, alone and lonely on the empty beach. She wishes she could hold on to this moment, this day. But it’s only just a passing dream, because…
            Nothing gold can stay.

            She wakes, as she must, cold and heart-torn in her empty room. The blanket has fallen to the floor, and her pillow is damp with tears. She’s alone. She lets herself linger on the thought.
            Because when she thinks about it, there’s really nothing in her life—nothing at all. There used to be. It used to be all full, of…gold. Now it’s just dust, and it’s her fault. They all say so, because it’s true.
            Yes. She’s alone.
            She lies curled up on her bed the rest of the night, without her blanket, needing the cold. She thinks, and she ponders, and she doesn’t dream, at all. Throughout the long night, she lies alone in the house, and when the dawn seeps blue and icy through her window…
            She’s made her decision.

            The sky is still dark when she steps out of bed, and there are ghosts in every corner of the house. Floorboards creak, even when no one is there—curtains dance in the still air, strange lights flash across the walls, and she thinks she hears something pawing at the door. Every successive fright shakes her nerves, until she swears her heart is palpitating. Night terrors are made real by the threat of her mother. At any moment she could appear out of the dark, just like a ghost, come to haunt her—or frighten her—to her grave. She’s probably hiding in the shadows in the walls right now, and the next sweep of car lights across the wall will reveal her, show her pale face starkly amidst the dark…
            Maybe it’s just the wind. But in the silence, she almost definitely hears something stealthily pawing at the door. She shudders and heads to the kitchen, not daring to turn up the light more than a fraction. What really gets her is not knowing, not knowing whether her mother is still absent or present, whether she crept in silently somewhere near the middle of the night.
            She turns her gaze to the kitchen window. It’s stormy outside. There’s something strange out there, where there should be only darkness…a gleam of light, a pale tossing of cloth…then her mind, slow to work, realizes what it is.
            Her mother is there, only inches from her face! Any moment she’ll look up, leer through the glass, right at her! She almost screams. Then she looks again, and she realizes the specter is nothing but the paper lantern they hung from the porch, tossing in the wind. She stands in the kitchen, hyperventilating, trying to calm herself down. Then she hears a quiet, but distinct, sound—a single scratch, as if that of a claw, on the kitchen door.
            It’s enough to get her going again. She sits down and tells herself that it’s just the dark and the night, that she’s still half-asleep and in the land of dreams. She would’ve heard her mother coming home, probably, very late and with malted scotch on her breath…
            Unless her mother decided to play Cat and Mouse. She can’t stand it any longer, dark night or no. She throws on her coat, and without bothering to take even a single slice of bread for breakfast—she couldn’t bear the deafening crinkle of the cellophane—she leaves the house. Best to get an early start.
            When she sees how dark it is outside, and feels the biting cold of it, she almost heads back in. But the front of the house grimaces menacingly in the streetlights, and the thought of her mother dissuades her further. The night looks as if it harbors evil intent for a young, petite girl of fifteen, disorientated and confused. Trash litters the street, and streetlights cast pools of malevolent orange on the asphalt.  But the girl is less afraid outside, where she can escape, than she was in her home. And now, just as she had in her dream, the girl begins to run.

            The girl is deathly pale, clothes torn, an ugly bruise blooming like a black flower across one eye. Her skin is scuffed, her eyes wild, her lips luridly scarlet. She is still beautiful. Underneath the table, the doctor’s hands curl into fists. He wants to kill the man who did this to her. His face is a smiling mask, his eyes cold behind the gentle curl of his lips. They stare each other down across the table, and the tension is palpable.
            The girl’s gaze doesn’t waver, and suddenly he is heartbroken. He thinks, what right did he have to hurt you…and what right do I have, to not help you? To not tell you the truth as clearly as you are telling me? He drops the mask, and behind it, the man is haunted. His eyes search for a connection, but they don’t find it. The girl’s eyes have dropped to the floor.
            The girl stares at the scratched linoleum, her mind inevitably drawn to the events of last night. The pain of it still throbs, like an open wound. She can’t help herself from poking and prodding it, just like the bleeding hole in her cheek, where she’d bitten it. There are tears seeping slowly from her eyes, and she doesn’t want him to see.
            The doctor gazes on her slumped form, small and sad and desperate. Her shoulders are very thin and very small under the cloth of her shirt, soft as velvet from wear. He wants, inappropriately, to draw her close, to embrace her. In some ways, he is just as hollow and desperate for love as she is. He should never have taken this job. He can’t deal with this.
            The tears never fall from where they tickle her chin, never split open on the floor, and the girl wishes they would. Perhaps they would, with their destruction, take a little of this…impotence, with them. She relieves the memory, again. She just can’t stop torturing herself.
            It is dark and the girl is flying down the street, her trailing nightdress flashing intermittently yellow under the streetlights. Her feet make slapping noises, her breath sharp huffs. She is blind and going nowhere. She is deaf, hearing only the throbbing pulse of her heart.
            She runs into a void. She feels the anger before she sees it—senses the danger, like smoke in the air, elusive and warm with the hint of fire. She tries to dodge it, frantically, but she’s too late—her momentum carries her just a little too close. Her mother’s arm whips out, and like an iron bar, doubles her over and makes her fall. There’s a small, grunting gasp—nothing more. Then the girl is curled, almost comatose, on the pavement, and the shadow of her mother looms over her. She’s consumed with pain, devoured by it, to the point where speech is beyond her. The shadow kneels, leans over her incapacitated form. Her mother’s breath tickles her ear. “Did you think,” she says, “that you could hide?”
            The mask is off and now he is defenseless. Emotions flicker across his face, as he looks at the girl crouched in her chair, almost fetal-like. She seems so small, without those eyes pinning him, piercing right through his mask. Her eyes are the defining characteristic, like tiger’s eyes, almost feral, and omniscient in their raw power. Without them, she could be a child—still is a child, he reminds himself. Still a child, but both damaged and so much more. He sighs, just in time to cover the sound of her tears falling on the ground.
            She thought that her pain could crest no higher. Her mother proved her wrong. The first blow doubled the pain. The third debilitated her. Her mother muttered the whole time, blurred words she could not decipher, that jarred and broke with every solid hit. There was wetness on her face, and with every blow, she shrieked inarticulately. Then, mercifully, the girl could bear no more. She rushed gladly into the welcome darkness.
            She did not hear or see her mother cry, or bend over the broken body—so small, so defenseless, curled infantile on the bloody concrete. She did not hear her mother scream and groan, animalistic sounds of grieving, that filled the pressing night, that echoed harshly off the walls. She did not feel her mother take her in her arms, cradle the broken doll, and place her gently by the wall. Or know she stumbled, staggered home, singing all the way.
            “Softly, slowly, the ocean sang the moon;
            Give me a ray of sunshine, and I’ll give you this tune.
            Softly, sadly, the ocean begged the moon;
            Send me a little sunlight, and for you, this I’ll croon:
            Never was a kiss so sweet
            As sunshine from the moon.”
            The psychologist leans on one hand and thinks that he has to break the silence.
            When she woke up the next morning, aching and numb from cold, she couldn’t do it anymore. The rage and the defiance had faded with the dawn, and with it, any impulse of freedom she possessed. Alone in the bitter dawn, she knew herself a coward. So she went to her appointment, regardless. Because the alternative was going home.
            He can’t do it.
            Her tears are dry salt tracks on her face, shiny and fragile. They crack when she moves the muscles of her face. She unbends herself, looks up. Her eyes widen.
            The girl is staring right at him. He is completely unguarded, as is she, and for one moment there is a perfect connection. Then, at the same moment, they look away—and the connection is broken. They are uneasy, astonished. For one moment they looked deep into each other’s souls.
            The girl is the one who breaks the ice.
            “Are you alright?”
            What kind of doctor am I? The doctor thinks, and tries to answer carefully. “Yes, I’m fine.” His voice breaks and roughens halfway through.
            “I don’t think so.”
            Who’s doing the analyzing here? He thinks. “Well then, are you?”
            The girl looks down. Her gaze darkens—it had been clear for a few moments, off of her own troubles. Now her memory comes back to her. “I’m not…but neither are you.”
            “What’s wrong?”
            “Where do you want me to start?”
            “Who did that to your face?”
            “My mother,” she says, and then murmurs quietly, as an afterthought:
“Everything is over.”
            He had taken it for a man. But that was only experience, both his and his patients’, speaking. “What do you mean by ‘everything?’"
            The girl looks up at him. “Do you know that poem by Robert Frost?”
            “Which one?”
            “The one about transience…about passing gold.”
            He meditates for a moment. “So Eden sank to grief…So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.” He says it slowly, with a kind of somber finality.
            “The gold is gone,” she says. “It’s my fault.”
            “Tell me why.”
            She looks at him, really stares at him, searching his eyes. Unlike everyone else she’s ever met, he doesn’t flinch away from her gaze. She remembers the moment…the moment of perfect connection. “I’ll tell you. But in return, you have to tell me your secret.”
            “What secret?”
            “The reason why you feel so guilty. I can see it in you, you know.”
            It’s relief that flows through him now. Touched with a tint of guilt, but overwhelmingly positive. “Ladies first.”
            “…It seems like such a long time ago, but we used to be happy. Mom and Dad were so in love—back then, I thought it was gross, but now I know how rare that is. Dad and I were never really close. That was okay, because Mom loved us both.
            I started having the…visions…when I was nine. They would come at night, mostly, and back then I never screamed. Mom didn’t know at first. But then, one night…Dad came into my room, and I was in the middle of a bad one. He bent over me, to kiss me goodnight, and I...I...killed him." She whispers it. "Somehow, I had a knife in my hand. Clenching it. And when I woke...blood all over the floor...and on my sheets...and the knife was still in my hand."
            She bends over the table, weeping. She hugs her arms to herself and rocks back and forth. The doctor watches her, shocked, but more so heart-torn. She doesn’t deserve this. But there’s something…something about the way she moves, always hiding her face, staring blindly at the floor…
            “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
            She looks up wildly, a rabbit caught in a trap. Then she meets his eyes, and hers soften a little, thaw. She can’t help herself.
            “He used to come in my bedroom, at night. I didn’t know what he was doing. And when I was asleep, he’d…touch me, and…I’d wake up, and I had to pretend I was asleep. He said…bad things. He scared me. He used to breathe so heavily…he sounded like a monster.” Her voice is so very quiet.
            “This had gone on how long?”
            “…Since I was eight.”
            He leans back in his chair and looks at the wall. Two years, of monsters in the dark, of forbidden visits in the night. Two years to foster nightmares. He thought she had probably known, reading her father, that something was very wrong. Without prompting, he speaks.
            “Alison was my fault."
            "She was so very fragile, you see: like a porcelain doll. I always was afraid to break her, and ironically enough, that led to her death.
            "One day I said too much. I was so frusturated with the carefulness, with the constant tiptoeing—the doll was a beast if you poked her too hard. I said so many terrible things: that I didn’t love her, that I married her out of pity, that it was the worst decision I ever made. It was so much worse because all of it was true. I told her I had never loved her. I told her to go back to her parents; I was going to get a divorce.
            "The next day, they found her body in the train tracks, along with what remained of her car. The road she was on led to Westonshire, where her parents lived. I never could figure if she did it on purpose, to spite me, or if she was simply very drunk one night, and never saw it coming…
            "She went back to her parents, after all. They told me they buried her in the cemetery there, near her old house. But I never saw her again.
            “So you see, it wasn’t your fault at all…compared to me, you’re completely innocent. You have nothing to feel ashamed for, and your parents, everything. Sometimes in this world, I wonder if children are secretly wiser than us.”
            “It doesn’t even matter. What is my life but darkness?.”
            He stops swinging on his chair, drops and looks into her eyes. Softly, serious and intense, he says:
            “Spring comes after winter, year after year after year. Every day dawn comes back out of the gullet of the night. Gold will return again.”
            She looks back, and there in his eyes, she finds what she could find in neither rain nor sea nor dreams: absolution. There it is again, the moment of perfect communion, and it hovers between them like an unsung note.
            Neither of them notice when the minute hand reaches twelve.
            Then a hard knock on the door, and they are, again, rudely interrupted. “Mr. Gailman! Mr. Gailman! My appointment at twelve?” More knocking.
            Both sigh, lean back. They regard each other with mutual respect. “Come back Monday,” he says.
            She smiles, a little wistfully, a little sadly, but a real smile regardless. “I will.”
            And on her way out the door, just before it swings closed, she holds it open at the last moment. Looks back at him. “By the way,” she says, “It’s not your fault, either.”
            The door swings closed. The doctor leans back in his seat, and smiles a little forlornly. “Who’s the doctor here?” He whispers to the air.           

            It’s after sunset on the mountain. The horizon still cups the last remnants of scarlet and crimson, like blood shimmering in a bowl. As the girl watches, the colors run out, and the day turns to something dark and drab and gray. A glass of water after all the paint has run together. This world is worth living in, if sometimes only barely. She knows that now.
            Her mother would not let her live. She reveals the knowledge to herself, pulls aside a curtain of denial, and it gleams cold and sharp in her mind. Her mother has a knife in the bedroom drawer, and she never did manage to wash off that little drop of rusty black, right on the tip. She saw it, once, only a few years after her father died. She had pondered using it; whether on her mother or herself, she still doesn’t know. But she wasn’t desperate enough, yet.
            She lived in quiet desperation, once. Now she tastes nothing but bittersweet. She’s come to terms with her life now, with this belated ending, and she’ll forever thank the doctor for that. She knows it’s time at last. They had only been waiting, her mother and she, for the inevitable conclusion of death. She won’t wait for her mother to end her indecision. She’ll finish this thing herself; she’ll have the final say. And she’ll die, if not happy, then at least content. She’ll die amidst beauty, on her own terms.
            The show always has to end. Night will come, and with it, the stars.
            Sirius glimmers in the west, a solitary foreboding. The metal is cool and it cuts into her feet. She doesn’t mind. The wind prickles her skin and shivers her bones. She doesn’t care. She stands alone on the electric tower, and she is finally at peace with letting go—with falling, with freedom. She is alone but no longer lonely—she is complete in and of herself. The wind blows, the steel shudders, the wire sings a keening note. She falls, and with her, the first drop of rain.
            A downpour begins.

            Her mother howls to the moon alone, in the forlorn night, in the hollow house. She pleads for sunshine, for clear skies, for impossibility, but the moon makes no answer. The moon only gazes with mournful wisdom on the broken woman. The moon is forever out of reach of suffering. The moon can only orbit alone, a partner to the sun in a cruel, fixed dance.
            The doctor looks up from his porch at the midnight sky, luminescent with wisps of cloud. He sees her face in the gibbous moon, he sees her eyes in the thousand stars, he sees her spirit in the moment just before dawn. He never saw her again. He’s too selfish to not begrudge her it—too wise to wish things some other way. The woman was half-mad, deadly, a murderess. She had killed the girl’s father, after all. She put the knife in the girl's hand--she framed her daughter for the death. He knows it, with an unshakable, unprovable certainty. Too formidable to be challenged, too powerful to be suspected, she would have killed the girl as well—sooner or later. He only wished it had been later.
            He tracks the movement of the stars across the treeline, bright points of light in the darkness. He remembers her eyes, how they pierced straight through his mask. That’s gone now, like so much else. He couldn’t save her. She, on the other hand, was the only one who ever saved him. There in the stars, in the moon, in the silver wind—she’s saving him still.
            The night is dark and deep as blood, but the starlight warms his bones. He can only hope that she’s beyond this now…that an eternity of night only freed her, to live the dream of dreams.

Friday, November 29, 2013

In Love

I'll let myself fall hard and free,
And hope on the way down,
That I will live a century
Before I hit the ground.

Lost in Flame

I don't usually write fanfiction, but in this case, it was a school assignment--a script. Well, it turns out the script was never used once in the final product, but in any case here the story is. This is a mashup of Fahrenheit 451 and Of Mice and Men. Although it doesn't have to be--substitute any old name for Lennie, and it would work just fine.

            Montag sighs, looks at the sky. It is unseasonably blue; incredibly, impossibly blue. All is clear except for the tall plume of gray to the left, trailing east with the wind. Another fire. Someone, somewhere, is screaming, no doubt—screaming through the silver tape pasted on his mouth, screaming as he or she is dragged away by the policemen, packaged into a gray beetle and sped away, to a distant jail. Somewhere, books are burning.
            The smoke feels wrong. It mars the clear sky, a black cinder, an ashy mark. It feels like it should be only him and the sky and the grass beneath him, on this perfect day, under this sun. Feels as if…as if…
            Montag grimaces, shaken out of his reverie. Lennie comes running up the corner, sees him lying in the grass. Frowns. “Montag, what are you doing, just lying there? I swear, you get odder every day. We’ve got work to do. Some guy in West District with an attic fulla books--Beatty wants us to handle it.”
            Montag returns his gaze to the sky. “I dunno, Lennie. Somehow I just don’t feel like it today.”
            Lennie stares at him. “What’re you saying? We can’t just miss out on it. Besides, it’ll be fun!”
            Montag lets out a sharp bark of a laugh. “Fun! That’s right. Lennie, somewhere along the line this all just got…monotonous. For me, that is. I can’t get my heart into it no more. Sometimes I just sit down and wonder about things…about the books, about the words. Think, Lennie! Thousands of words…then we come along, and they’re gone in an instant! Dunno, Lennie…sometimes I just don’t like this job.”
            Lennie just stares at him, his face a mixture of anger and incredulousness. “I swear, Montag! What the hell’s gotten into your mind? Sometimes I feel like I don’t know you at all anymore…like you’re not the same guy I grew up with. You say these crazy things all of a sudden, that almost border on…” His words come out edgy.
            “Never mind. I’m not going, so just go by yourself, okay? Tell Beatty I’m sick.”
            Lennie groans. “Just this once.”
            Lennie walks away, grumbling under his breath. But before he leaves, Montag stops him. “Oh, and Lennie?”
            “Yeah?” He says, faintly resentful.
            “Do you ever look at the sky?”
            “Why would I? With my bad eyes, it’s just a haze. Fire is prettier, anytime.” He throws back, and leaves without a glance.

            Montag is walking the short distance from the fire station to his empty home, hands in his pockets, hat perched slightly down over his face. Suddenly, he stops, looks up. A girl is standing in the middle of the sidewalk. She seems to be about fourteen and fifteen, yet something in the quality of her demeanor makes her seem older than that, wiser. She looks at Montag and smiles.
            Montag smiles back. “Good afternoon, Clarisse.”
            “Good afternoon!” She skips to his side, and they walk home together, talking.
            Montag asks her a question. “Clarisse, why is it that I feel I know you so well? It’s as if you’ve always been here—as if we’ve walked down this stretch of pavement for years, not weeks.”
            She smiles. “That’s because we’re kindred spirits, Montag.”
            “Kindred spirits?”
            “This world is full of noise, noise and destruction. Everyone in this city is night-blind. They’ve spent so much time playing with flame that they can’t see the stars. We’re the only ones who look at the moon every now and then—we’re sky-gazers, you and I.”
            He is silent for a moment. “That’s right…no one ever looks at the sky, anymore.” He says softly.
            Then: “Clarisse, what if we escaped?”
            “That would be wonderful…if I could go with my family. We’d just travel and travel, with no one to tell us what we couldn’t do, and what we had to. At night, the sky would be clear…we could lie on our backs and watch the stars.”
            Montag smiles. “A wonderful dream.”
            When they reach his doorstop, Montag tells her to wait. He hurries inside, and retrieves something from inside his ventilator grille. He hands it to her. It is an old edition of the bible—leather bound, its pages fragile as moth wings. “I couldn’t bring myself to burn it.”
            Clarisse hugs it to her chest, smiles happily. “Thank you, Montag. I’ll treasure it.”

            The same meadow, the same sky. Montag lies down on the grass, stretches and casually hooks his arms behind his head. He closes his eyes, lets himself feel the warmth of the sun on his face, melting into his skin. The sun beats down, beats down, traces all of him with warm fingers, and he sinks into a blissful sleep.
            Lennie tromps down beside him, sits down heavily. Montag’s eyes flick open. He turns his head to the side. “Hello.”
            “Hello.” Lennie says cheerily. Then, “You shoulda been there last night!”
            “Oh. Really?”
            “Yeah. Two fires that night. First one was some crazy old bat, with an attic full of books. Neighbor called her in. God, that house went up like a tin can fulla petrol.”
            “And the second?”
            “Well. That was a strange one. Some teenage girl—weird, how they’re going cuckoo younger now. Whole family was cuckoo. Something called a bible…”
            What?” Montag sits up. His eyes are fixed on Lennie, piercingly, and Lennie shifts nervously.
            “Well, like I said, some teenage girl. She sure was attached to that book—even went back for it…”
            “What?” Montag says again, but it’s softer, almost despairing.
            “She went back for it, when we weren’t watching. Just when I lit the kerosene…”
            “You burned her? A teenage girl!”
            “Well, there was nothing we could do! By the time we saw her, it was too late!”
            Montag buries his head in his hands.
            “Geez. What’s with you? She shouldn’t have been reading in the first place…God knows it’s against the law…”
            Montag only shakes his head, slowly.
            “Dunno where she even got that book…” Lennie mutters, defensively. He gets up and paces, mutters some more. “Whole family was crazy…what was going through their heads…” and even, something suspiciously like, “got what was coming to them…”
            Montag still doesn’t move, and at last Lennie leaves. He takes one look back, a little guilty, a little angry, a little confused.
            Montag does not make a sound.

            The dawn streams in through the parlor windows, into the hall, illumining the faint blue form of Montag. He is feverishly stuffing items into a bag. Toothbrush, clothes, a book, another book… he stands up, violently zips up the bag. He swings it over a shoulder, and heads out the door. Just before he’s swallowed up by the light, he turns and takes a last look at his house. Bare white walls, rooms almost devoid of furniture. There never was anything here for him.
            He hikes through the streets with the bag thrown over his shoulder, a solitary figure. The sun is barely up, but loud music and chatter is already leaking from beneath the parlor doors. He passes the meadow, takes a last look around. The grass sparkles with drops of dew, like faintly winking stars. Then he turns, and continues on.
            Past the Car-Wrecker park, past the Window-Smasher place, past the fire station. He is almost to the city limits when there is the sound of pattering feet behind him. He turns, warily, and there is Lennie. He is still in his pajamas, hair tousled and plastered to his forehead. “Lennie!”
            “Montag! What do you think you’re doing? I was just out of bed when I saw you—Montag, where the heck are you going?”
            “Me? I don’t know where I’m going…I guess, towards a dream. Or is it that I’m waking up?”
            “You’re talking nonsense. Montag, wake up! Stop this crazy quest, journey, whatever it is. Go back to bed and maybe you’ll get up with some sense in your head.”
            “I couldn’t. Lennie, I can’t stay here. It doesn’t seem like I’m…living, anymore.”
            Lennie doesn’t hear him. His eyes have fallen on his bag. The corner seam has burst, and out of the gap pokes the corner of a book.
            “Montag, is that… a book?” Lennie’s voice is hushed.
            “What the hell, Montag? You’ve been weird for months, but this…I don’t know you anymore. You’re someone else. Someone insane.”
            “Lennie, don’t you see? I was insane, and it’s only now that I’ve..”
            But Lennie isn’t listening. He looks at Montag, and his eyes are hard. “Montag, I can’t let you leave. You’re under arrest.”
            Montag is speechless. He looks at Lennie, really looks at him, and realizes something. Or knows something, that perhaps he had already known. He stills. And he reaches behind his back, and pulls something from his belt. A gun. He had thought, when he brought it, that in case they came after him…
            He points it at Lennie. “Lennie, let me go. Don’t make me use this.” His voice is steady and calm, dangerously so.
            “You wouldn’t.”
            Montag just holds it there. But then, behind Lennie, there’s the sound of a kicked stone. Montag looks up. A pedestrian, that rare creature, crossing the street. He looks up at the two, and his eyes widen.
            In that moment, Lennie grabs the gun. “Just put your hands up, Montag.”
            But Montag’s eyes are firm on his, and he goes for the gun. A single shot ricochets off the wall behind them, loud as a firecracker in the still streets, and then Montag is on him. He grabs for the gun, finds it. But then Lennie pulls his arm, and his finger tightens on the trigger…
            And another shot sounds. Suddenly, Lennie is bleeding. He touches his arm, feels the wetness there. Looks up at Montag, amazed. “You…”
            Montag steps back. The gun clatters to the ground. His face is completely open, completely in shock. Then he is running, running, and Lennie makes no move to stop him. He just stands there, silently, the gun cold at his feet.
            A lone man strides through the wilderness. His bag is hiked up over his shoulder, and his cap is yanked low down over his face, shadowing it. He walks like a man in thought. Flowers nod at his feet, and cirrus scurry overhead, but he takes no notice.
            In slow motion:
            A boom. Montag looks back, startled. The horizon is overwhelmingly bright for a moment, and then the blast throws him back, carries him. The roar goes on and on and on, and the city is ash and dust and then just gone.
            He lies on his back, bag thrown to the side, looking at the sky. The clouds are gone now, the world silent, and the sky is utterly and impossibly blue.
            After a while, he starts to laugh. “I wonder…if you ever even saw it coming.”

Going Nowhere Fast

            The road unfolds before me. All sunlight is this summer day, and the breeze is cool on my face, cool on the tears that are struck from my face by the wind. I look ahead and do not speak. The windshield has disappeared—somehow, the road has disappeared. I see nothing, and vaguely in me is the feeling that this is dangerous. I can’t bring myself to care. My face is flame and ice and beside me is my husband, sitting still and stolid as stone, arms folded, eyes glaring resolutely forward. I want, suddenly desperate, to be alone.
            The car forges steadily on, ninety miles per hour, straight and arrow-like down the smooth black road. The wind on my face, the sun in my hair, the world rushing blind and silent past me. I want the car to weave, the tires to skid and squeal. I wish the car to flip, to crash suddenly fast and violent off the bridge and into the glimmering sea. For this dead silent world to come to life. Anything so he will turn and look at me. Anything so I can say something, something to break this tension that lies on us still and terrible as molten metal.
            I want to be away from here.
            And so I wish myself into Anne, into a woman of rain hovering in the clouds. I wish myself flying through mist and shadow, into the glaring sun. I wish sweet rain that falls gently down, bathing myself and this man who sees nothing, hears nothing, knows nothing of himself or me or anyone. I wish this quietly mocking puppet show to end at last. I wish…
            The car slides softly into the driveway. All of a sudden, we are home. The car idles to a stop—my hand pulls the key from the ignition, a trembling white stranger. My husband punches off his seatbelt, pulls abruptly out of his seat, slams the door. I sit gently quivering in my seat, grasping for the dreams that slide ever faster from my reach.
            At last, the music groans to a stop. Salt is dry and crackling on my face as I smile, pull the corners of my face into an obscene grin for no reason, no reason at all. Slowly, almost gracefully, I take my purse and step out of the car. I leave it there, door open, still lowly rumbling in the callous August sun. I want to run away.
            My feet lead me to the door, but I stop. Half irrationally and half very reasonably, I don’t want to go in. I can hear the sounds of my husband inside, opening and slamming a door, throwing clothes into a suitcase and swearing as he does. What will this house be like when he is gone? Will I wander lonely through these halls, a silent ghost, no freer with a ring missing and the door unlocked?
            Every time I walk through this door, I’ll remember this moment, this belated and ungraceful leaving. Every time I sip a glass of water, I’ll think of his lips on the rim.
            I just want to be away from here. Take a ticket and a plane to Moscow, Houston, anywhere but here. Drive until the sun falls from the sky and the gas sputters empty, drive miles and miles away from this life. Go, go go…walk the world round. Take a rocket and shoot for Mars. Take a pill and thirty more, leave to that nebulous place called Death where he would never condescend to go. Just leave. Take a one-way ticket away from this mind, this life, these eyes that only want to close.
            I walk softly in the door, up the stairs, sneak up behind him like I used to do when we were young. Just kids, naïve, far away from life and death and lack of love. On the way, I take his keys from his jacket on the wall, muffle them in my hand and slip them in my purse. His wallet too.
            I light a hand on his shoulder. He turns around, eyes fierce, mouth wide and about to speak. I twist off my ring and place it in his open mouth. It closes, and I catch a hint of his confusion before I turn, flick off the light, walk softly out the door.
            This house is dim. These walls, eyeless. The world is deaf and blind and night before my hand on the door, my life cracking open. The almost-autumn light sets the world on fire, throws sparks on my dress and my open face, draws tears from my eyes. I am a child again, and this world is far and wide. There is anywhere to go. Anywhere, anywhere, anywhere…
            I get in the car. Twist ignition and whiz fast down the road, wind in my hair, sun on my face. Break speed limits all the way.
            I have a plane to catch.




            The desk was of fine, pale wood, worn and burnished by the hands of a hundred schoolchildren. It had been painted blue long ago, but the paint had chipped off from the years and the touch of childish hands. Now only a few traces of faded blue remained, edging the corners of the bottom of the desk, preserved beneath black medallions of petrified gum. The desk bore the badges of time and use. Children had come and children had gone: the desk had seen them all.

            It is summer now, and the desk sits with its brethren in the empty classroom. Sunlight streams in through the grimy window, lighting the layers of dust on desks and floor, turning drifting motes to sparks or stars. In a way, the old classroom is its own universe. The air here is full of age and memories--ghostly traces of laughter, faces of children long past and buried. Sunlight paints a mottled fresco on the wall, lights gently on the dust of ages past. Nothing moves, nothing stirs, but the room is full of the swelling tide of time.