Posts filed under 'Driftwords'
Lying in bed one afternoon, I overhear my neighbor talking to someone on his cordless telephone. He’s outside in his garden, and he doesn’t realize – he never has – that everything he says floats up over the hedges and into my bedroom window. From my nest of pillows, I’ve overheard a great many intimate details… He should be more careful.
As it turns out, he’s finalizing his plans to deliver me to the enemy. I can’t hear everything, but I hear enough. It seems that this whole neighborly business was just a charade. Seven years… seven years he’s lived next door! And all the while, it was just a cover – in reality, he was peering at me through the drapes, and scribbling the details of my existence in notebooks. What vision this man must possess; not to mention stamina! The faith required for such a mission takes my breath away. I almost want to go along with his plan, just to reward him.
My driver is involved somehow, though I can’t quite make out the details. I suppose every time I get into the car I’ll have to wonder whether he’s really taking me shopping, or whether he’s taking me to my kidnappers.
Perhaps I can just stay in bed forever. He can’t, after all, break into my home and carry me bodily from the premises. Rather, he must wait for me to make myself vulnerable – to entrust myself to the care of another.
I wonder what the enemy wants with me. I’m quite curious, actually. Perhaps I’ll call my neighbor on his portable phone and ask. I’ll wait until he’s deep in conversation, until something particularly sordid has just floated up over the hedge, then I’ll dial his number and try not to giggle when I hear him, through the window, excusing himself to take another call.
September 29th, 2008
We started out just before dawn. Twenty of us, dressed in shades of dust and earth, running doubled-over from the weight of our packs. We tried not to pant from the exertion, tried not to leave iridescent plumes of breath behind to mark our passage. The sound of ragged breathing filled my head, and I trained my gaze on the ground, willing my feet and lungs to find some kind of rhythm. I didn’t look up until the first shots rang out, scattering random fire across my path. By then, I was running alone. There was no time to look back – no time to find out if the others had spread out or been shot. I got close – close enough to glimpse the river. Then the bullets came thick and fast, and I knew I’d been spotted. I had no choice but to turn back and sprint for the tree line.
There is another way, but it’s just as dangerous and far more grueling. The others dug tunnels to go underneath the river. They’re labyrinthine, these tunnels; excavated by hand with rudimentary tools, using no master plan, and no map. They were started, then stopped, then started again years – sometimes generations – later. Some run parallel for miles; others intersect, floors falling through ceilings, walls growing thin before eroding entirely. Portions are reinforced with concrete and rubble; others have collapsed, filling entire sections with mud and water. Oral history is the only assurance that the tunnels were ever once complete. A few people have tried this way, but no one knows if they made it across. More likely, they got turned around or trapped, and they’re still down there somewhere, buried in all the mud and darkness. The oldest of the others said it would take weeks to navigate the tunnels, weeks of dead-ends and cave-ins, with no guarantee of a clear passage. But they also said that on the other side, the tunnels break the surface several miles across the border. They said the opening is in the middle of a field, so far from the river that you can’t even hear gunfire.
August 12th, 2008
I run uphill, my long skirts catching under my feet and between my legs. The dense grass comes to my ankles – just high enough that each stride requires sinking a foot into the unknown. I try not to wonder what might be hidden by the smooth swells of grass: stones, small but fickle in their placement, or more sinister, lingering evidence of the battles that have raged in this place. The incline is gentle, but persistent; I feel my breath tighten my lungs as I race towards the edge of the cliff. It’s far off yet, but I feel it in the pull of the blue sky as it settles, a little too sharply, along the horizon. The animals arrive silently. Some species I know; some I’ve only heard of in stories. All are all motionless – carved from stone – and half-buried in the earth. They’re frozen in mid-stride, in mid-stampede, running the opposite direction. Downhill, away from the cliff, back towards where I’ve come from. The first animals I encounter are buried the deepest – I can barely see the tops of heads protruding from the grass, or the strangeness of a softly curved ear rendered in stone. As I move on, they’re less entrenched. Necks, then trunks, then bodies are exposed. Legs, feet, paws and hooves; and then I’m running through them and they’re all around me; dogs at my knees, zebras at my shoulders, elephants blocking the sun. I’m the only one going this way. I’m the only one that still has flesh that warms and blood that circulates. The hill undulates like a wave far out to sea; gentle curves belying monstrous strength. I wonder if this land used to be a sea; if one great wave transformed them all from creatures to rocks, then transformed itself from water to earth. The animals seem to zip past, but I see flies landing on their wide, stone eyes.
July 30th, 2008
I was only meant to be in the audience. But when my host offered to waive two onerous obligations if I would volunteer, I capitulated. In single file a dozen of us wound our way from the rough-hewn benches in the outdoor theater to the stage, which glowed from commingled fire and electric light. The proceedings were mostly hidden from view; all I could see distinctly were the backs of the people in line ahead of me as we inched, one by one, from the left side of the stage to the right. Finally, it was my turn. To my left stood the minister – his book in hand, his eyes and hands sculpting new depths and resonance into his words. To my right the audience watched and waited, breath bated, backs straight, tension and excitement blending to create a homogenous, nearly opaque cloud of expectation. In front of me stood the woman; the one who made it happen.
I was suspicious; I’d watched others climb to the stage, where they listened to the woman’s incantations, then fell to the floor, writhing, while the minister pronounced the meaning of it all. I didn’t believe. Or rather, I believed it had some explanation other than the divine. In spite of my reluctance to take the stage, I was excited to see this charade from the inside, to discover the clever trick that made the performances perpetually convincing. The man in front of me regained consciousness, picked himself slowly, and with great confusion off the floor, and left the stage. I shuffled into the spotlight and took his place.
No sooner had I stabilized my stance than the woman in front of me began articulating deep, guttural sounds that didn’t come from any language I could identify. I had a split second to notice that she looked slightly bored, and then the floor started heaving. Up and down, like I was on a giant trampoline – only I wasn’t jumping. I struggled to keep my balance, bending my knees and throwing my arms out to the sides. From the corner of my eye I saw the audience lean forward collectively and gasp; they were rapt, getting exactly what they wanted.
I had to close my eyes or risk vertigo. As dark descended, my body swept from vertical to horizontal, and started spinning in a circle, my head the fulcrum, my feet sweeping through space. Everything was black; I felt the presence of arms and legs but had no other proof of their existence. A wild wind blew about my ears, the sound ferocious, though only the faintest traces touched my skin. Frantically, I tried to recreate the reality that had so recently disappeared. I pictured myself on stage, the object of attention for hundreds of eyes, all hungry for a miracle. Spinning, spinning; I struggled to keep my arms at my sides while whirling through space; I’d been wearing a skirt – was the wild wind present on stage too?
At last the spinning slowed; over the sound of the gale, I heard the woman’s voice chanting again. My body righted itself slowly; my feet scrabbled for, and found purchase, on the floor and I was finally able to open my eyes. She finished chanting, still unmoved. One more disbeliever, one more irrefutable demonstration. The minister cried hallelujah with tears in his eyes and voice. I wondered what my body had done in my absence. Had I fallen to the floor and writhed? Did the wind toss and tear my clothing? Was the crashing sound all in my head or had the audience heard it too? Confusion battled with curiosity and shame as I stumbled off the end of the stage. The next person in line shuffled to take my place, and the woman’s voice dipped into otherworldly registers.
I shuffled through the comforting anonymity of the darkness to reclaim my seat on the wooden bench, thoughts spinning. There had been nothing of the spiritual in what I’d just experienced; no voice of the deity, no sense of omnipresence. It had felt, rather, like a brief, intense, mind-altering high that had blocked all other sensory experience. Is that how they were making this work? I scrutinized my memory for clues, wishing I could remember the woman blowing a fine powder into the air just before she began her incantations. But I couldn’t. Perhaps certain words, certain sounds, are capable of triggering a hallucinogenic state in the listener. How long have people known? To what ends, beyond religion and entertainment, has such knowledge been used?
April 7th, 2008
I woke up to the sound of my father’s cough; he was close, but separated by at least a wall and a floor. I mulled the sound over for a while. Was that really my father’s voice? Something in the timber resonated, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Is it possible that my father is here, one floor down? I lofted the question out into the distance and waited, and waited. I drifted back down to the ground, silently. All that greeted my mental eye was a blank grey wall. No clues, no intuitions, nothing. I nudged the question around a bit but it didn’t stir, and showed no inclination of taking its own initiative. Slowly, I went through the processes of initiative myself. I do know that I have a father, that much is certain, and certain qualities of his voice persist, even when I’ve completely forgotten my own identity. But for the moment, that’s all and there’s nothing else. Just a blank grey wall, and a tremendous sense of rest. Nothing moves here, nothing matters, nothing exists.
Later I return to the question and ponder it again, slowly. A tiny sliver of my waking-world brain has intruded, and it is needling me. I really ought to be able to figure out whether or not the voice I heard was my father’s. I stare at the blank grey wall a bit more, and then finally decide to cheat. I open my eyes just a tiny bit. A tiny bit is all it takes – I see my bedroom in Los Angeles and the question is answered in a flash too fast to ponder. No, that wasn’t my father’s voice. Because I live in California and he does not, and my apartment doesn’t have two stories. Quickly, I close my eyes and scissor off the inrushing data. It’s been contained. The grey world wins for the moment; all that exists now is my mental eye, and a tiny image of my bedroom that floats around, disconnected from any further information.
This morning, my waking-world brain is not granted immediate superiority upon demand. But neither does it give up. “What does your apartment look like?” waking-world brain demands, in its quiet, patient, incontrovertible way. Is it in a house? Is it in a building? Are you in the city? In the countryside? Is there any grass around where you live?
I ponder, but only because it’s hard to ignore waking-world brain’s slow, but persistent agitation against the backdrop of nothing. I wonder, but not with any speed or direction. I try to remember anything, anything at all about my home. Or about myself. There’s nothing. Just emptiness, and grey the color of a misty dawn. Or dusk. Or something permanent and in between the two that never changes. I am no one, I possess nothing apart from this single mental eye that is wholly content to contemplate the grey and silence. It is very restful here. But I only know it is restful because waking-world brain has managed to insert a sliver of a memory of what it feels like to be awake – and I have a basis for comparison that leads to the adjective “restful.”
Waking-world brain is like water that erodes thousands of miles of rock given enough time, or like the tiny plants that burrow into concrete slabs, then sprout and burst the immobile into pieces. It is soft, it is quiet, but it persists. Though I’m wholly content to contemplate the grey, I also feel no judgment or rationalization here; when the questions come, I turn to look at them simply because they’re there. Who are you? Where are you? Is there any grass outside your apartment?
The questions are there so I do their bidding. Mentally, I imagine myself getting out of bed and leaving my bedroom. Miraculously, as I walk, the hallway appears. Then the living room. Then the front door. I open the door and descend the stairs.
Ah, aha. Oh. Oh.
Clever waking-world brain. All it takes is a glimpse and the rest of my identity reappears, like a mirage reemerging after a bank of fog burns off. There is some grass where I live. Not much, and it’s all consolidated in a tiny decorative yard, but it is there.
Traces of the grey linger into the morning. The oscillation between constituted and dissolved, between present and disappeared, echoes in my imagination. It occurs to me, more often than usual, that the waking world is a mutually agreed upon reality.
March 17th, 2008
I had to go to an event for work wearing only my bathrobe. The event was on the other side of campus, and my bathrobe – selected for its sleekness – had no pockets for house keys. So now I have to slink back home, in this strange state of semi-undress, and find a way back into my dorm room.
There is a precedent for this, of course. Whenever anyone gets locked out, in the middle of the night, wearing something inappropriate, the thing to do is climb up the fire escape stairs at the back of the building, beg entrance into whomever’s dorm is attached to the stairs at the top, ask them to let you in their back door and out their front door, from which one can scurry down the hall to one’s own home.
So I run through the back of the building, down dark corridors, up several flights of emergency escape stairs until I am, I estimate, on the same floor as my own dorm room. I find emergency escape stairs that lead to a back door, and start running up.
But halfway there, I realize these are stairs that do not exist merely as a passage way, at the pleasure of those who use them. Oh no. First, they become detached from their moorings at the bottom, and begin to sway – as though in a brisk breeze. Then they begin to spiral crazily, and I’m bent double, trying to keep my footing in a high wind, while my pathway pitches and rolls with alarming velocity. My bathrobe catches the wind, and I have to devote one whole hand just to staying clad, leaving only one hand to cling to the handrail.
The wind dies down, but only, I sense, so it can pay close attention to my every move. For the stairs have just become a kind of two-dimensional Gordian knot. A second ago, the handrail was on the left and the stairs were on the right; now they’ve twisted like a ribbon and the handrail is on the right, with the stairs on the left. And to follow them, I have to flatten into two dimensions as well, and somehow compel myself along the twisty-ribbon two-dimensional surface until the stairs pop back into their proper shape on the other side. I take a deep breath and dive in before I can really contemplate what I’m about to do.
I don’t remember the second half of the stairs after that; maybe going into two dimensions squeezed the memories out of me.
The next thing I know I’m at the top of the stairs, finally. The stairs themselves are about two feet wide, and they’re connected at the far right side of a doorway that’s at least eight feet wide. To the left of the stairs, there’s nothing but empty space that goes down a very long way. The doorway itself houses multiple doors. There are pocket doors, normal doors, trap doors hung sideways into the wall. I stand on the handrail, on tip-toe, and stretch as far to the left as I can to slide one of the pocket doors open, then reach through for the next door. It takes hours and many precipitous reaches to disengage them all, and all the while, the unmoored stairwell swings beneath me.
Finally I break through the last door and tumble onto the ridiculously safe, stable, and sane-looking linoleum floor of someone’s kitchen. My dorm alternates between boys’ and girls’ floors; of course, I miscalculated and landed on the boys’ floor. In my bathrobe. My neighbors are polite, nevertheless, and I am welcome to walk through their dorm room and use their front door to access the interior of the building where I can take the normal stairs down to my own floor.
I know they think I’m crazy.
March 13th, 2008
Posts by Month
Posts by Category