A Normal Day (An Excerpt)

For all intents and purposes, it was a normal day. And normal days, as well as abnormal days, tend to start the same way.

Open your eyes, Anna. The waterfall isn’t real. It was only a dream. And this is a normal day. A day like any other day. A day that takes its coffee black. A day that walks its dog to the park and back. A day that has yet to discover its purpose. And one might suppose that a normal day, as well as abnormal days, indeed has a purpose.

Okay, you’re awake. Good. Now wiggle your toes, Anna. Look out the window. There’s a green warbler on the branch outside—it’s got a song for you. Down the stairs, a record is spinning. It is not Lil Richie. And it is not Neil Diamond. And it’s not Velvet Underground. Down the stairs, there’s a plate of eggs sunning on the table. Would you believe your friend made it for you? Would you believe she awoke with your smiling periwinkle eyes twinkling in her mind, and thought she’d do a special thing to make your eyes smile wider? You’re a lucky girl, having friends like that. And she made the eggs just the way you like: a light shower of shredded Colby jack and a quick pinch of picante? Scrambled to milky perfection. A little fluff goes a long way. And so do good friends.

Life is a series of cycles.

We’re born alone. We grow up in a family, a tribe. Then we find ourselves itching for differentiation, a new name, and a vein of expression that is wholly our own. We find ourselves wanting to stand on the feet our mama gave us, prop ourselves up like flamingos in the waxing surf. We find that the pond—this pond that once seemed an ocean—is no longer big enough for us to stretch our big ole fins (to mix metaphors). So we head out. We pack a rucksack. No more sack lunches. No more notes from mommy. Who’s my sweet girl, Anna? I hope you have a wonderful day at school filled with learning and laughs. What a sweetheart that mother of yours, Anna. What a sweetheart. Let’s forget the time in fifth grade when Suzie Bondalucci looked over your shoulder at the lunch table as you exhumed that note from its brown paper confines and read it in the shadow of your own curls.

Oh wait. You didn’t have your curls then. You were too young to know you wanted them—that one day they would become as integral to your identity as your journal and signature space pants. You were too young to shuck off the husk of other people’s ideas to assert your own truth—the truth that one day you would grow out your curls and never look back.

So anyways there was Suzie Bondalucci sniggering over your shoulder like an invisible goblin with a lit candle up her butt and a donut in her hand. And there you were, stricken with a mixture of affection and embarrassment. The latter of which was only exacerbated by Suzie reaching over you, snatching the note from your hands, and reading it aloud for the entire cafeteria.

What a bitch that Suzie was. 

Anyways now you’re in the car and the sky looks like a half-finished Jackson Pollock. The highway overpass looks the same as ever. Droll. Drab. Dreary. Gray. Stone. Slats. A rumble of cars passes beneath it like an anthill built dead center between a troll’s legs. The troll in question—the overpass—is collecting its toll as usual; nothing material, simply that for brief moments, drivers have to subject themselves to the possibility that the troll could choose to pop a squat right there on the highway, or perhaps, a car—your car—were to fly right through the barriers as if mimicking its favorite Michael Bay scene, as if rushing to greet the vehicles below, as if smashing like a child’s toy Pontiac into another child’s whole collection of coupes, sedans, four-doors, SUVs, trucks, and go-carts, Lambos, Porsches, and Ferraris—too many foreign cars to be occupying the same roadway at one time unless we were in Italy, on some sundrenched coastal town sliced up by cement serpents rushing toward the sea.

But we’re not in Italy. We’re in America. In Kansas. This is prairies, and foothills, and too many pro-life billboards to count. And it is mundane office parks. And it is suburbia. And for a girl like you, it makes no sense. You stick out like a sore thumb at a pinkies-only party. At the mall, you catch a few too many stares for one human to be justifiably comfortable. Fortunately, you’re not in the mall. You’re in your car. And you’re crying. And you’re thinking about driving your car right off the overpass into westbound traffic. Of course, you’re too afraid to do it. But you’re thinking about it.

Advertisements

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.