My vision blurs; the side of my face is swollen and sore, and my left eye does not open all the way. A nurse peers down at me, pushing at my ribs with her finger then stepping back to see my reaction. I look up at her, confused, trying to remember where I am, and how I got here. She takes off her clothes, placing them carefully on the chair next to the bed, then leans over me. Her breasts sway over my face, but her manner is completely business–like as she adjusts my sheets. She sits down on the chair and looks at me, not saying anything. I try to look back but blackness crawls across my eyes and there are only squiggly lines streaking across the reddened light that floats in the middle of the blackness. I follow one then another but each disappears as soon as I look at it. I find that if I just ignore them I can watch them for a while before they slither away.
Soon a bluish circle of light appears; I look without seeing – it brightens while sharpening into a point, growing smaller and smaller until finally after a few minutes it has vanished altogether. I fall away, my body no longer connected to me, my arms and legs waving loosely in the air. All of my pieces drift off, falling into the blackness. Then there is nothing.
The nurse smiles, gathers her clothes and walks out of the room, laughing quietly as she hums a little song under her breath. Outside, she puts on her uniform and shoes and walks down the hall, still singing to herself. She stuffs her underwear in her pocket, walks into an office, opens up a thick medical book filled with vivid graphics of body parts and begins to read. Her forehead crinkles in concentration as she studies the images; she closes the book and sighs, then crosses the room and puts the book back on the shelf.
The air vibrates; I toss around, struggling for breath. The nurse looks in the room, her face worried; she frowns, turns around and walks quickly down the hall. The others look after her, wondering if there is a problem. The room buzzes with a mechanical intensity, almost as if it were the thing that was alive. She arrives at a set of double doors and pushes her way through them, they swing back and forth behind her as she makes her way down the hall, navigating around hospital beds and drug carts and oxygen equipment. Finally she reaches the outside door, pushes it open, stands looking at the bright sunlight, breathes in and out deeply a few times and smiles, pushing her hair out of her eyes. She leans against the wall, letting the sunlight warm her clothes, feeling her skin begin to glow.
The cell phone hanging from her belt chirps; she answers, talking animatedly, waving her free arm around, then abruptly says good–bye to whoever she is talking to and puts the phone back in its holder. She begins to pace back and forth, from the sunny part of the loading dock to the shade. She stops, looks out over the trucks parked at the dock, then climbs down the stairs and walks up the slight incline towards the street. When she reaches the main street she stands on the sidewalk, waiting for the traffic to clear; when the first gap appears she runs across the street, then down another block, stopping at a small white Japanese car. She fumbles in her coat pocket, pulls out a set of keys, opens the door and gets in.
Her hands tremble as she clutches the steering wheel; her thoughts will not stay focused, she cannot see what she needs to see in order to understand the thing that is eluding her. Cars rush by her in the opposite lane, brake lights flash red, she reacts without knowing where she is going or why she is in her car and driving. The traffic begins to thin; trees line the road, fewer and fewer houses appear, then only farm house driveways open onto the road. She stops, looks around, trying to figure out where she is. Sweat drips off her forehead, down her armpits, between her breasts. She wipes her face, gets out of her car and buys a coke at the general store. A few pickup trucks drive by, raising a light cloud of dust. The locals look at her, curious, but no–one talks to her. She gets in her car and drives away, feeling slightly nervous.
After about an hour she pulls off onto a narrow, barely paved road and bumps slowly up it, making her way carefully around the worst potholes. She drives up a sharp gravel road then parks in front of a weather beaten cabin, gets out, walks up to the door, pulls out a big key ring from her pack, and unlocks the rusty padlock and goes inside.
The walls are clammy; blackish–green moss covers the mortar between the stones; a light hangs from the ceiling by its cord; a large man clenches his hands together in front of me, swearing under his breath while staring fixedly at the stack of papers I have brought him. He grabs them, shuffling them angrily on his desk while swearing out loud, then looks up at me, silent. His nostrils flare, almost in question. He looks back down at the stack of papers on his desk, taps his fingers nervously, then puts the papers into a drawer, signalling that our interview is over.
I walk away, shrugging my shoulders, studying the pale yellow light thrown by the fluorescent fixtures. The hallway is quiet except for the echo of my feet. I walk past several doors until I reach the one marked S–202. I stand, studying the door, then walk into the room. The shades are drawn; I cannot decide whether it is day or night. I sit down at the desk in front of the room, looking out over the chairs and desks. My breath fogs slightly; light from the hallway floats into the room on a shaft filled with small moving shapes.
I walk over to the window, lift up the blind and look out. The early morning sun is throwing its reddish light over the fields outside. I unlatch its lock and pull up; the window resists slightly then pops open with a big creak. There are a bunch of small shrubs growing directly under the window; I angle my jump away from them, landing on the lawn with a small thump. The window glows with a faint light above my head, small animals run away, rustling leaves in their flight, then there is the silence of night. The moon shines brightly – a few days away from full it fills the sky and throws shadows on the ground.
The thorns on the bushes that line the garden tear into my clothing as I pass, otherwise my departure from the compound seems to go unnoticed. My nostrils dilate, my eyes begin to get used to the faint light cast by the near–full moon. Small glowing shapes float along besides me, their colors wavering between a green tinged fluorescent white and dark green. I pay them no attention, having learned my lesson, at least as far as such matters are concerned. As I walk further they shift over to red hues, which get progressively darker, until finally fading away into black. I am somewhat relieved, although I can tell that they are still floating to my left and right. One step at a time, I remind myself.
I stare at the wall, studying the patterns the paint makes, moving my fingers back and forth slowly, as if I were grabbing an invisible toy. The nurse walks into the room; I notice that her bottom is rounded and slightly more than well proportioned, in a good way, of course. She sits down next to me and starts talking, although I can't make out anything she is saying. Today she isn't wearing her nurse's uniform, which is something of a relief. I look at her, trying to make sense out of the sounds coming out of her mouth, but all I hear is a soft rustling sound, almost like water trickling over moss–grown rocks in a small stream in the middle of a dense forest. I look at her and shrug; she seems to understand and stops talking, which saddens me a little – the sound of her voice, even if I couldn't understand her words, was still pleasant, and helped ease my worries, at least for as long as she kept talking. The worries, however, begin to creep back; the silence gives them a place to rest, but they get lazy and fall asleep, at which point I simply toss them into the garbage with a little snicker.
There is something about her smile; I can't quite say what, it is as if she were telling me something even now, in her silence. This makes me laugh, as if I had suddenly understood what she had been saying after she had stopped talking out loud. Such things, of course, really don't need to be talked about. But still it's nice thinking the thought, letting it drape itself over my brain, melt into the grey tissues, slip into the neurons, fill in all the spaces in between with a sort of floating material that goes forever undetected by even our most modern instruments. She looks up at the sky, at the reddening orange clouds of sunset, at the distant mountains, at a small airplane flying off in the distance. Her face relaxes, softens, a little smile plays itself out over the corners of her lips. I reach out to grab a piece of the substance that has filled her but my hands stop halfway, empty, then fall to my sides. I clench and unclench my fists, feeling my fingernails bite into my flesh, pressing harder, then letting go.
She laughs, tossing her head back a little, then looks back at me. The water starts running in the distance again, her lips move in a way I cannot help but stare at fixedly. I realize that even though I might never understand a word she says I might never need to. She stops again, this time looking almost satisfied, as if I had finally understood at least a little of what she was telling me. The water runs on, in a variety of tones and volumes. It is like a little symphony playing an infinite score whose players interchange instruments while walking about talking animatedly to each other.
I am sure that some kind of story is hovering somewhere inside of the words her mouth is shaping carefully. Each is a little sculpture which I pick up as it falls out of her mouth; I hold it in my hands, not wanting to shatter it but not knowing where to put it to keep it safe. Because I am so concentrated on trying to care for the words I have managed to hold onto I am not able to actually connect one to the other; one thing, however, is for sure – the words are clearly words. I have come to see this, and think I can almost see their shapes float within the crystalline spheres that surround them. I begin to place the them around me where I sit, piling them into little pyramids that whisper in a delicate way I can't quite manage to focus on.
I pull the stories out of this by listening to the left or right, to the birds singing outside or the leaves of the tree beside the house rustling in a slight breeze. Then, without warning, the thread that had tied one word to the next flashes out and wraps itself around the little balls while flashing brightly. As my eyes adjust in writhing orange lines I realize I know nothing. I try to reach back but find only vague flashes of streets and the bright yellow thrown out by streetlights. Someone is running, breath comes hard, in bursts that seem to cut my lungs, then my feet are falling on dirt, scattering dead leaves, branches cutting at my face, then falling, then only blackness followed by waking to a soft rain on my face.
She has been gone a long time; so long that people have more or less stopped talking about her. This makes her sad, but also determined to find a way back, despite the obstacles. Because she refuses to fight – or rather, she simply does not have the capacity to do so – she has to wait, and jump in wherever a place appears, accepting always the possibility that her stay will be very short. The threads she throws out blow everywhere, caressing in their way but always gone when anyone reaches down to grab them. Her biggest fear is of a day when no–one believes enough to give up whatever it is that is keeping her away. That is the one thing she can do nothing about. She finds it better not to dwell on such matters, however; the act merely gives her a headache and does not move anything at all, which in the end has to be the final determiner of value.
Everything has a beginning, that much I am sure of. And an end, and a middle. If I watch one part the others vanish; if I watch the others I don't know where I am. She has wandered off into the woods to do some project from which she will return quite soon, or so she said when she left. The moon has hit the point between waning and waxing where everything is in perfect equilibrium. Rather than waste this moment I turn to the shop bench standing against the wall, pick up the tools scattered across its top, turn the light on, place the object into a vise, directing the light at it to get a more clear view. I try to wipe her face from my mind as I study the construction of the small machine, but she has floated into the room and is laughing her head off.
I spin around, trying to catch her before she flits out of the space just beyond the corner of my eye. Her laughter bounces off the wind stirred up by my quick movement, scatters, then reflects off the mirrors in a almost strobe–like flashing. I put my hands together, looking up and around, looking over at the wall, grabbing hold of a handful of air; I close my eyes and let everything slip away, into an ocean that sounds with distant foghorns. My mouth fills with saltwater, I spray it out and look around: the oily swells rise and fall slowly; the sky is streaked with clouds. I move my hands around, feeling the water's warmth. The resistance of the water seems to increase as I start swimming towards the sound of surf I have just noticed to my left; it is almost as if I can hold onto handfuls of the ocean, or as if it were not fluid at all, but rather sand, or thick molasses.
The flames from the fire begins to warm my hands and dry out my clothes, which I have removed and draped over a sort of tepee of branches I assembled after collecting the driftwood and getting the fire started. I look down, feeling my skin get goosebumps and the hair on my legs rising as my skin stiffens. The waves slap against the beach; at the end of the sand a cluster of rocks juts out into the ocean. Whenever a breaker rolls in it smashes against the rocks and sends spray flying high into the air. The sound creates a kind of background rumble to the milder slap of wave to sand. I stare into the fire, watching the deep red and orange writhing around in some prehistoric dance in the fire's heart. It is almost as if it is speaking, gesticulating wildly, shouting out something so obvious that it is difficult to believe that we all don't just nod to each other in immediate recognition of the truth.
Sparks fly up, lighting trails in the darkening sky. I sigh, wrap my arms around my knees, put on my still damp clothes and begin to walk towards the rocks. The sand squeezes between my toes, clinging before falling away. I climb up to the top of the rocks and sit looking out at the sun setting over the ocean. The very first slice of moon has appeared, marking the end of the in–between time while raising up a cup of darkness in a toast to all that is good in life.
Nothing seems to quite fit in; the pieces are scattered around; the words rest in their little houses. Rather than worry needlessly I pick up the last unburned pieces of driftwood and carry them back to the fire. Much to my surprise she is sitting there, stirring the embers with a stick. She looks up, smiling, and asks me how I feel. I stare dumbly down at her, then sit, stretching my hands over the tiny flames. I throw some of the wood I had been holding down on the glowing charcoals. The wood smokes, I blow on the center of the pile a few times, until flames start darting around the fresh wood.
Something does not make sense to me; I look down at my hands, then up at her face, then out into the night, trying to pierce the blackness.
"There is", she explains, "not so much to say."
She holds her hands out over the fire, almost touching mine. Her finger brushes against my skin, sending shock waves up my arm. I jump back, startled, and look down at my hand for burn marks. She laughs and grabs my hand, holding it palm up. She begins to examine the lines on my palms, then the texture of my fingers. She bends my hands into a fist, then takes the fist and hits my face with it softly, once, twice, before letting go of my hand and watching my face expectantly. ~
I stare down at my hand, unsure what to make of its bony shape. Sprouts of green rub against my face; the air is cold and clear and the stars blaze evenly in the night sky. A light haze drifts in from the ocean, a wind stirs the sand at my feet, an animal calls in the distance. I walk back to the fire, looking out into the pitch black, trying to remember something, trying to find a place I had been once but which I had not seen now for many years.
The fire warms my back, my breath fogs lightly in the cold. I close my eyes and listen to the animals investigating just beyond the circle of light thrown by the dying fire, wondering if one of them will creep up and kill me. The stars beam steadily, the surf pounds, the night crawls into my veins and lets me rest.
She wipes my forehead; the sweat glistens; I toss and turn, wishing I could just vanish, or crawl under my pillow, into a tunnel where little rabbits scurry just ahead of me. Bright spots flash before my closed eyes; I follow them until they condense into one bright blue point, then fall away; the words have no meaning, my eyes stare at blank walls, I twist to avoid a series of traps while around me little men run to and fro, shouting and gesturing frantically in a language I can't understand.
Slowly matters begin to come into focus; the light that precedes the dawn unlocks the darkness; the church vibrates and breathes with relief, the stones creak slightly while overhead the beams simply stare down. This of course was what I had forgotten. I look out, letting the greys separate into distinct objects: pews and altars and statues and stone stands filled with the glint of water at rest. I open the door and walk outside – the streets are empty, a rooster announces the coming dawn, the first faint shadow falls across the cobblestones.
I walk through the village, out to the fields, through the orchards, up to the top of the hill overlooking the valley. The sun rises in reds and oranges, the sky is empty of clouds, the air is still. I reach down and scoop up a handful of dirt. It is tan, almost orange, dry, and filled with pebbles. Piles of stones have been made into walls and little workshops over the last thousand or so years. I walk over the hill, down into the next valley, to another little town. I stop in a café and order a cup of coffee; the locals stare up, mildly curious, then go on with their conversations.
Outside, the air is lightening while overhead the planets twist and turn, forming stories I can almost hear, but not quite. I run into a nearby church, sit down and look up at the light streaming through the stained glass windows. Sweat streams off my face; I wipe it away with my shirtsleeve, then let myself stop, thinking nothing but thousand year old stone.
My hands shake uncontrollably, a cough shakes my bones. I look up at the stained glass, seeing for the first time how the geometrical shapes point in towards a center that is not there. The mystery grows by the second, overwhelming me so completely that what had passed for understanding slinks off embarrassed while the empty place calls me in, reaching out to me with hands carved out of flesh but moving so fluidly that all I can think of is cool water on a hot summer day.
I let myself fall, away from everything, away from the grinding sameness of a world populated by endless processions of things to do and learn and see and touch and feel, away from every place I have ever known or even read about, away so completely that when I finally look up I am blank, the world is blank, the words are blank and fly emptily around, looking for circles and squares and lines and points but finding only a soft embrace that fills nothing and leaves everything so complete that more would be simply too much.
In this delicate state of affairs I am not sure how to go about moving – there is, after all, only so much you can do when you are surrounded by nothing at all. With this limited set of options serving as a guide only in its blankness I suddenly realize that there is nothing at all to do, and no reason to do it. A sigh slips out from between my lips, the moon glows down steadily, more steadily in fact than I had ever realized it could do, while the stone flows around my feet making strangely pleasing patterns while whispering something I can't quite catch although I am sure it must be both very interesting and important. The stone crystallizes and the whispered words fly off into the furthest reaches of the dark spaces above my head, from where they laugh openly at me, wondering perhaps when I will catch on to the joke.
Any direction I take will be wrong, and any advice I give myself will have a fool as its source – that much at least is apparent. I shift about nervously, waiting for discomfort to come but there is only the expectation, a little hole in the vast field of nothingness, a gap between two non–existent points stretched reluctantly out into infinity while hordes I might have called gods in some other time look on with an understanding sympathy.
Instead of trying to figure this puzzle out I place it carefully to one side, then look up, studying the area I'm in closely. Cobwebs hide the corners of the chamber, but I can see that the ceiling is very old, consisting as it does of large pine beams about one and a half feet apart. I breathe in deeply several times, then look around again. The room has vanished; I am standing in a space about ten feet across, void of any detail, so void in fact I am not sure if it is illuminated at all, or if it is even there. I close my eyes, breathe in again, count very slowly to four, exhale, then look out, forgetting why I am doing it but still sure that it is something I need to be doing.
She looks up at me, trying to see something in my eyes, then looks away, smiling to herself. After pouring herself a glass of water she walks outside, sits on the grass, looks up at the sky, watching the clouds roll by. She pulls out a notebook from a bag she had brought out with her and starts writing. The words change into little pictures, then back into words. She laughs a little when she sees the colors taking shape on the page; after a while she lies down on the grass and closes her eyes, listening to the wind rustle the leaves in the trees around the house.
When the sunlight is interrupted by a tree she gets up, closes her notebook, stuffs it back in the bag and walks into the house. She looks down where I had been sleeping, then around the room. There is no sign of me. She quickly goes through the other rooms of the house, then back outside, walking all around the house in expanding circles, until she has convinced herself that I am not there. She steps into the house slowly, sits down, opens her notebook and examines what she had written and drawn earlier. The colors swirl off the page, refusing to keep their form, the words swim like little black stick figures, waving their hands back and forth, floating around the page in slow circles and sine waves. She closes the book, looks around the room again, sees me sleeping on the narrow bed, smiles, strokes my forehead gently, then tiptoes out of the room.
She is tired today; her face shows it clearly, but she does not let it stop her work. She sits on the floor drawing in her sketch book, following the form of the sleeping figure in front of her with a pencil, filling in the parts she can't see, wondering if his eyes will see today or if they will stare around wildly, like a caged animal. His body begins to take shape in her little book, arms and legs and the tight face that has run too far for too long. She erases a part, checking to see the actual proportions but his face changes constantly. Sketching furiously she finishes the last parts, letting the face be settled by a quick look up.
All the while he is very busy, sprinting after one thing then another, watching the whirl of lights and the symphonies erupting all around him as he steps boldly down the street. He screams out over and over again, fighting against opponents who cannot be beaten, watching his hands crumble into a fine powder. Finally he tears his tormentors apart limb from limb, pounding their faces into a red–splattered pulp with big chunks of concrete that he has picked up off the river's floor.
She hangs the drawing on the wall, next to several others, and sits studying them, moving from one part of the room to another to get different perspectives. She looks down at the sleeping figure, brushes a few strands of hair that have fallen across her face back over her ear, and walks into the kitchen, where she begins to quietly prepare some food.
The kitchen table is empty with only her there, and the food tastes stale, almost dead. She eats mechanically, chewing long enough to release the sugars before swallowing. The flavorless food finally will not go down, no matter how long she chews the last mouthful. She spits it out in the sink, drinks a glass of water, then goes back into the other room. The sleeping figure is gone once again. She sighs, goes into the bedroom, pulls the sheets snuggly up to her chin, turns on her side and falls asleep.
I am sure now that I have not made a mistake. I do not know how or why I know this, the feeling simply is there. I look out over the sea, watching the whitecaps that indicate a breeze that has stiffened substantially over the last half hour. The waves get choppier, I hold onto a railing to keep from falling overboard then talk quietly with the only other person on deck. He nods his head, points to the left side of the ship, jumps in the water and starts to swim. The wind picks up, the skies turn black and grey, I look at the ship one last time and jump as well. The water is surprisingly warm, and supports my body easily. I swim with slow strokes, enjoying the feeling of weightlessness while wondering if there are any deep sea monsters below who might suddenly dart up and grab me in their tentacles and pull me under the water, but nothing much happens, just the regular splash of my hands in the water.
The beach has a familiar look to it; footsteps make several lines up and down it, above the high tide mark, disappearing where the tide washed them away. A blackened pit surrounded by logs and a little structure made of driftwood branches attracts my attention. I walk up to it, examining the scene closely while trying to remember why this all looks so familiar. A seagull calls from above; his cry is answered by several others. The gulls land on the beach about twenty feet away, strutting about as if there were some extremely pressing piece of business at hand, too urgent to be held up any longer.
I sit down on one of the logs, digging my toes into the warm sand while watching the breakers crash onto the beach. The seagulls watch me carefully, not quite sure what to make of me, but unwilling to give up the feast the beach offers them. The breeze dies down, the waves calm, rolling onto the sand with a light slurping sound. I walk up to the edge of the beach, where the sand is interrupted by larger and larger tufts of grass, then some squat bushes, then more grass. A few trees form a little grove just up the hill from me; I clamber up the hill, holding onto shrubs and clumps of grass for support, then walk into the little wood. The pounding of the surf has grown fainter; I walk further into the wood, which broadens with every step, grass turning into thick moss and leaves. The ocean sounds fade further and further into the distance; I have crossed one hill already and am in a valley of sorts, very narrow, but not too steep. I follow the bottom of the valley, where a stream has run in the past judging from the bare stones that form a sort of path. The forest sounds start up all of a sudden, as if my presence had been checked then ok'ed
At the end of the valley the land steepens; I reach a rock face and climb up it slowly, making sure my feet are secure before grabbing a hold of the crumbling rock to lift myself further up. At the top I can see the ocean again, and the sky and the sun, which is at about two or three o'clock. There is a ridge, which forms another sort of path; I look up and down it, then start heading upwards. The ridge reaches a plateau, at which point I stop for breath, hoping I have not lost my way.
I laugh suddenly, realizing that that is impossible. The plateau is open, with only stumps here and there to suggest the forest that must once have covered it. A small house, surrounded by flowering round fruit trees and a large, very green, garden lies in the distance. A wisp of smoke drifts out of its chimney; I set off towards it, reaching it in about half and hour. The door is solid, and very old. It is made out of thick dark planks held together by iron bands and large bolts. As I am studying it the door opens suddenly. A girl is standing there, looking at me curiously. I avoid her gaze, staring at the ground, the flowers, the stones of the walkway.
The girl is dark haired, and medium height. She is wearing a dress made out of a coarse woven material, which falls in thick folds around her solid thighs. She smiles at me, then motions me into the house with a questioning look. I nod, then step in. There is a little bed on the floor of what seems to be a living room. The blankets are rumpled and the pillows still hold the shape of the head that lay upon them. I sit down at a large wooden table, holding my head in my hands while she rattles in the kitchen for a few minutes before bringing out a little plate of food. I eat nervously, looking up at her every now and then, to see if she is really there, then picking up more food with my fingers, chewing so quickly that I taste nothing.
She brings me a cup of coffee and watches as I drink. After I finish we sit staring at each other, saying nothing. Finally she bursts out with a little laugh, then starts laughing harder and harder. She covers her mouth with her hand but her eyes continue to laugh, sparkling inside their brownish green covers. The room darkens; she lights several candles and one small lantern, then points to the little bed on the floor. I crawl into it gracefully, falling asleep almost as soon as I have put my head on the pillow. The girl smiles to herself, puts away the food and dishes, then sits on the sofa, watching me sleeping with a happy look on her face.
She walks into the room, looks down at me, goes over to the windows and quietly opens the curtains, letting the sun fall on my sleeping face. The combination of light and warmth slowly makes its way into me, but I do not wake up. The light brightens, the sun seems to have lost control of its internal thermostat; it grows larger and larger, floating in an orange haze and consuming the planets one by one. The last flame dies away, then the colors fade and there is silence.
She watches my eyelids fluttering, then opens the windows, letting in the cool morning air. My eyes open slowly: the room is blurry and will not come into focus. I stare up at the ceiling, following the beams to the walls, where they disappear. The sleep gradually slips out of my eyes; I carefully look around the room, hoping not to attract any attention. Her back is to me, her long black hair blowing in the light morning breeze, along with the curtains surrounding her. I close my eyes again, feeling the sun on my face, watching the bright orange–red glow through my eyelids
I open my hand; inside there is a stone, circled by a red mark on my palm where it must have been pressed all night long. The stone is pale yellow, with white streaks running through it, very smooth, with a sort of oblong spherical shape. I let it rest in my hand, then rub it slowly with a circular motion, polishing its surface with the oil from my skin. I put it on the wooden chair by the bed; the sound startles the girl; she turns around, her mouth spread wide in a smile. She walks over to the bed, sits on its edge, looks into my eyes, nods her head, gets up and goes into the kitchen. A few minutes later she walks out with a steaming cup of coffee, gives it to me, setting herself once again down on the side of the bed, then asks me how I feel.
I ignore her question and sip the coffee. She has put in just enough milk to cool it; I savor the aroma, feeling my insides warm up as the coffee works its way through my body. She walks back to the window, opens it more, letting the morning breeze wash through the room. I shake my head, trying to remember something, but that elusive something refuses to cooperate, preferring to sit somewhere in the back of my head, nagging at me persistently. She picks up the rock from the chair, studies it for a few seconds, then puts it down carefully.
Before I have time to react everything vanishes. Somehow I am not surprised; the pressure had been too great, release had to come one way or another. A faint haze floats around me, words fly here and there, grey patches fill in the spaces between the white of the haze. A background of deep violet shows itself when the grey separates, or more accurately, disintegrates into long shreds. My nervousness vanishes as well; everything seems normal again. The memory fades further and further back, giving itself up to the long hand of time. I close then open my eyes quickly again – the haze has disappeared, my hands are dripping with a slimy fluid, the air is fluorescing, forming sheets of color, somewhat like the aurora borealis in the northern latitudes.
It is impossible to settle on one color to describe the long, curtain like folds of light – the colors, if they can even be called that, exist in some perimeter area which we are generally not allowed to peek into, and even if we do get to do it, the look is never long enough for us to create words to tell everyone about it. Maybe the best way to think of it is as a perfect silk dress dyed deep emerald green worn by a woman moving gracefully, but also slightly seductively, through a room filled with dark reds and blues. This glimpse would only be the smallest part of one of the endless moments that fly by in flurry after flurry, describing arcs and waves and little vortexes which pull me in despite any protest I might, but never will, make, having finally learned that nothing held onto has any value at all.
I concentrate, forcing my eyes to shut and open in regular movements. The space around me stops vacillating wildly; the colors settle into more or less stable but still difficult to describe forms and shades. Even the sounds actually begin to resemble something I have heard before while the ground pushes up at my feet, inviting me to walk here or there, in circles if necessary, or even more complicated patterns. The clouds and haze and shreds of broken color vanish – above my head the sky is bright blue, deep and unmoving. The ground is covered with rocks and little shoots of tall grass, the rocks themselves roll back and forth, creating a complicated mix of clunks and rattles and sharp, almost metallic bangs. I bend my ear down to the ground and begin to listen, wanting to hear every individual sound, from the time it is born to the time it passes away.
The day takes on a frozen aspect; I look up at the sun and find that the light, although bright, does not burn my eyes. Looking past its outside perimeter I search for what must lie just beyond that yellow band of flame. Amazingly a dark, impenetrable space exists in that border region, leaving something like a halo effect to pull my sight into itself. I follow the dark space all the way around, to see if there are any breaks, but the ring of darkness is unbroken.
Rather than panic I simply put my feet down and walk, not looking to my left or right. Even though I am sure I hear a faint voice behind me I stare ahead fixedly, not seeing anything, but also not caring in this instant, happy just to be here, wherever here might be in the greater scheme of things, a scheme I must admit I do not feel particularly connected to at the moment. I stop to breathe, tasting the air, feeling it as it enters my lungs: thick, syrup like, almost chewable. No food will be necessary for quite some time, although that does not stop my stomach from growling.
The faint voice is gone; around me there are vines, a creek, some big rocks, a few houses and a lightly rutted dirt road. The picture expands; my eyes blink rapidly, but the moon still puts out a far brighter light than I have ever seen before. Fortunately the light is blue and not orange, and so simply makes the darkness more so, although I find myself hard pressed to explain how this can be exactly. I breathe in several times, deeply, slowly, trying to remember what I have learned, trying not to lose my attention, or any lesson that might come to be applicable at this or any future moment.
I turn around, just to convince myself I tell myself, but there is no–one there, only trees and the road winding up into the mountains. I shiver, then set off again, not sure how to go about this setting but sure that it most certainly is time to be off, whatever that means. The thought makes me smile, while the stones and dirt under my feet remind me that they will always be there, if nothing else. I sit on the edge of a little wooden bridge, swinging my legs over the creek below, throwing some stray pebbles into the water, watching the ripples grow until they bounce off of the shore, after which the pattern gets too complicated to follow, although it seems to have interested a fish, which makes a leap for something, or maybe it is just trying to toy with the ripple.
There is a little wood shack downstream from me, which seems to be in fairly good condition. I make my way down the rocks of the stream banks until I reach it, then try its door. Much to my pleasure it opens; the brightened moonlight shines in it, filling it with a soft blue glow, revealing a little cot with a blanket and pillow. I walk around the shack a few times to make sure there is no owner nearby, then go back in and lie down, watching as the moon sets through the cracked glass of the little window. My body shivers then makes a spastic little jerk as I let go and drift away, carried by the slowing chirp of crickets and the last emptied memories whose spaces still leave me feeling oddly incomplete but also at once relieved, as if there had been a weight pressing down on me which is now no longer there.
The following morning I wake up shivering but rested. The empty space in my head has grown much larger – I am almost certain that it will consume me like a bottomless pit lined with cold steel blades. I lie in bed for a while, wondering if I can escape but there is no escape, just an endless procession of demons who must be killed one by one, in sequence or out of does not matter as long as their lifeless forms lie scattered across the ground.
I step carefully around them, looking down at my hands, wondering where all the blood has gone. They gleam white with blue veins, but there is no blood in sight. The door to the shack swings in the morning breeze; I peek outside to make sure there is no sign of the owner, then walk down to the stream and splash water over my face. The sky is already blue, although the morning clouds are still burning orange.
The road is unfamiliar again; the signs I had tried to fool myself into believing in are either gone or simply different from what I had taken them for yesterday. I keep walking, not really sure even of what direction I came yesterday – I am surrounded by trails and wagon ruts and streams and mountains and the shack I slept in I could not find again after climbing up to the bridge, although I suspect I am going in the same direction I was yesterday, although I might have gotten turned around at one of the many road crossings I have come to.
The houses that had appeared in the distance I am unable to spot; all in all I have not done a good job navigating at all I tell myself with something more than a severe reprimand. Because it no longer seems to matter I pick the roads and trails more or less at random; more than once already I seem to have recognized an intersection but then nothing seems familiar so I keep on, hoping that there is something or someone down the way but all the while my feet echo hollowly on the compacted soil of the narrow cart road I have been working my way up and down for the last half hour.
The emptiness I had hoped would drop off me has clung to me tenaciously, unwilling to let itself fall into its own nothingness it struggles to drag me along for company, although I find more urgent matters to attend to.