SOMEWHERE IN MEMORY (An Excerpt)

Home is not a place; it’s a feeling. Some will spend their lives searching for it. They will wonder if there’s ever enough time. Some will find it in the rain, or a bottle of gin. Some will go to the racetracks; others to the alleyways; still more to the stadiums and the citadels; the pews and the synagogues. Some will stay at the office. Some will find it on the road, amidst a band of traveling musicians blessed with eternal life. They will find it while they’re sleeping in the back of their school bus named Sadie. Smart guys, lucky guys. They will have each other. Some will find it on an island, away from the world; a fortress of jungle and unexploded ordnance, rusted relics of forgotten wars, and a kitchen they built with their own bare hands. He will have himself. Some will find it in the Earth, in the sun-soaked garden and the soil black as midnight, others in the water, in tall waves and frothy surf. Some will find it in the mountains among the fairies and the sprites, in Diana’s backyard where the old gods cavort. Some will find it in pie, or a good hard fuck. But some will not find it no matter how hard they look. No matter how much time they spend running around, digging, digging, digging. It will find them. It will dawn on them one day while they’re out walking and the moon is rising where the stars can’t shine. It will swell up inside them like balloons full of rainwater and helium jelly. Surprise!

Home is not a place; it’s a feeling. Lodged somewhere in her memory. Somewhere shy of six, before the family moved south, before it really started to dawn on her—the realization that she was different; that beneath Anna’s freckles, and curls, beneath that soft smile of hers, something was just plain wrong.

There was no putting a finger on it. No clear indication of what ailed her soul. An unnamed specter loomed over Anna throughout her life. Faceless. Haunting. Five years old. She was five years old when she first started asking. Asking the big questions, the unanswerable questions.

“Daddy, what happens when I die?”

“Mommy, where did I come from?” And her mommy would answer, “You came from me, sweetie. You came from my belly.”

“But what about before that?” And her mommy would answer, “You came from your father.”

“But what about before that?” And her mommy wouldn’t have an answer. She’d pause, direct her green eyes toward the ceiling fan. And say, “Honey, that’s where it all started.”

But Anna knew better. “Really?” She’d say, rolling her eyes as little girls are wont to do. Deep down, she knew better. Five years old. That’s all. It doesn’t take a fifty year old to understand the world. The child sees it as it is. The child looks out; she looks at all the faces, the misshapen expressions; all the colors, and forms. She looks at the world through the eyes of truth, through the eyes of a beginner. And she knows. Down in her heart, she knows what’s real. She can’t tie her own shoelaces, but she knows what’s real. She can’t butter her own bagel, but she knows what’s real.

So she paints. She sings. She walks in the woods behind her house. She writes stories about eleven year old wiccans and ancient ghosts, about hawks named Lewis, and bearcats named Jessie, kingdoms of priests who stare at the sun; creatures who breathe fire and always seem to have heartburn, gems that glow at night, clouds that prefer willows to hickories. She writes about a three-legged mongoose who can never seem to keep his balance, about a hamster with invasive eyes and a cold fusion motor in his belly. She writes about secrets. She writes about the Moon. And the sea. She writes about Volcanoes, wonders if they get lonely. She writes about an old Shaman who cries alone at night, ‘cause his family is gone. She writes about flames, the way they crackle and hiss, the way they swallow everything important. She writes about the Sun falling on the purple hills. She writes about the red red woods, the way they creak and shuffle in the wind at dusk. The wind, that perfectly invisible force, perfectly audible. She writes about things she doesn’t understand. She writes about clocks, and walls; shadows and pastures. She makes a life up there in her head. It’s easier that way. More her speed anyways. She was not meant for this world. But she’s got to come down some time.

She knows who she is. But she is young. Too young to understand what she faces. What stands before her, poised to unfold. Her blue eyes can only see so far. She squints to make things out in the distance. Maybe she needs glasses. She sends her imaginary friend off like a hunting dog. “Go into the future, Bob… and tell me what you see.” She waits, and waits for him. But he never comes. He never returns. Not yet at least. The time is not right. There are things she must face alone. Trials and revelations. Transformations of flesh as well as mind.

She is not ready for the world to crash around her. She is six years old. Still a boy in the eyes of her mother and father. Still a boy in the eyes of her big brother, William, her little sister, Eleanor. She will grow up a brother and a son. In time she will forget what’s real. She will forget who she is. She will forget what is wrong, though it will remain inside. She will stop writing. Stop singing. The kingdoms will crumble; the witches will perish at the stake. Everything will die. A slow death too. Taking its damn time. A family will collapse. Friends will leave. Lovers too. It will be then. Then, and only then, that she remembers what is real, what gives her heart its beat and rhythm.

 

~<>~

 

The imagination is a fragile thing. The question of the human condition is simple: will we lose our imagination to the gunky buildup of time; let it atrophy like neglected muscles; shrivel like the cosmic carcass of a dying red dwarf; wither away slowly then altogether into the abyss of the lost?

Or will we retain it? Will we seek it out? Will we seek to remember what is real and what is right? Will there be enough time? Is there ever enough time? And will we hold it forever in our minds? Keeping the big questions with us. The unanswerable questions. The questions that follow Anna her whole life, tacked to her shoes like shadows bending in the light.

Her dreams will get more vivid with each passing night until they merge with the day, until the veil has dissolved completely.

She will wash ashore. And she will ask the old Shaman what happens when she dies? Where does it all go? And he will tell her. He will tell her to have a slice of pie.

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