Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A short story

Station of Unification.

 Station Number 1

 John sits with his eyes closed. He holds his body rigid to prevent himself from rocking back and forth like a Rhesus monkey. He thinks about Marianne, his wife, buried these several days. Behind his weary head reddish light sneaks past the curtains. He cares nothing for the sun’s return. A wind enters under the door and stirs minute dust planets into spinning and weaving a heavy atmosphere. His mind reels with images of Marianne while his body succumbs to a weighing down; nothing seems important anymore.

 The room is cool and damp. A storm seems immanent. Clouds gather around John. In his mind a thousand accusations prod. His brain, a magnifying glass, stares down into the grave and studies the memory of her coffin as it was lowered. His ears still hear the squeaking sound as the flat green belts lower her down. His right hand anxiously plays with the golden ring on his finger.

 Marianne stands by the door. It is a cold morning, her breath comes out in small clouds. She wears his old, red jumper and his gumboots. Sleepily, she watches as he loads the canoe onto the roof of the white station wagon.

 'You'll be gone all day then?' she asks.
 'Yeah,' John replies as he checks the straps that secure the canoe.
 'I might go shopping.'
 'What do you want for dinner?'
 'I don't care.'

 She pushs the door fully open and steps down the two steps then walks across the wet ground to the car.

 "Well by then,' she says as she reaches up and kisses him. His hand slide around her waist and he turns to kiss her lips; feels her warmth but he wants to get going.

 'By love,' he says casually, his eyes back on the canoe.
 'See you later,' she replies then leaves him alone.

 That was the last time he saw her alive and it hurts to think of how different everything would be if he had just stayed as part of him wanted to.

 John is lost in the flips and eddies and strange turns of events. Outside the wind grows stronger; distantly he hears it wail. he recalls the wailing of Marianne’s mother as they stood silent and angry around the hole in the earth that wet afternoon only days ago.

 His hands rise up and cover his ears but the wind finds the nooks and crannies as it whistles his misery. Tears, like rain on glass, slide down his immobile cheeks. Memories of Marianne fill his mind. He remembers his joy when she smiled at one of his silly jokes. He remembers the way the sparkle of her eyes constricted his heart. Worst, he recalls the warmth and luxury of her curved sleeping position that allowed him to conform to her shape with the greatest amount of contact. He can see her standing by the sink in her flannelette pajama bottoms, green and blue stripes, that she loved to wear around the house.

 John looks down at his hands that are no longer his hands. He studies his legs that are no longer his legs. A ricochet of the tragic event continually cannons into the soft flesh of his heart. He remembers sitting in the lounge room watching the television. The news flash came on. He replays, again and again, the reporter’s damning words as, wearing a thick, protective overcoat, she struggled to maintain her balance and the excitement of breaking a major story out of her voice. Worst he remembers the knock on the door and the two policemen standing on the porch.

 John rocks back and forth in the chair. The rocking gradually increases. He remembers Marianne's parents coming to collect her things. John cries out to the empty room, ‘They blame me, they blame me! I shall never forget the look her mother gave me. She was never happy that Marianne lived with me. Me! They think I wanted this? They think they can judge me more than I already do? They feel robbed. Oh Marianne, if only I hadn't gone canoeing that day!’ John sobs as he fights for breath. His hands slam down upon his thighs.

 The music he had put on hours earlier finally runs its course. The frenetic moment passes. Silence settles. John stares across the room at his cd stack. The silence forces a decision. He moves out of the chair and crosses the room to replace the cd’s in the player’s cartridge with a new selection. He leaves the old cd’s out of their cases, scattered around the cd player.

 John glances out of the window and notices that his blue canoe is still tied to the roof racks of his muddy car. Tears fall freely down his unshaven face. He watches the wind as it strives to undo the ties that hold the canoe securely to the racks.

 The telephone rings. John waits. The telephone insists. He answers it.

 “How are you John?” asks Sue, a friend of Marianne’s. Images of Marianne and Sue as they played pool come to John’s mind and he fights to restrain the tears that, like children, stamp their feet and demand his attention.
 “I am fine,” says John emotionlessly, though he knows he isn’t. He wonders to himself, ‘What does she expect me to say? No I’m not okay. I’m horribly fucked! I want to scream until my lungs give up. I want to take a blunt implement and coarsely scrape the pain out of my chest. How can I explain to anyone that I can’t be bothered doing anything? How can I possibly explain that this sluggishness I feel is probably the only thing that saves me? It’s like I’m lost in water; nothing is easy.’

 John stands with the receiver pressed hard up against his ear. He grunts responses until Sue finally releases him. He drops the receiver and lets it dangle sadly from its stretched cord. After a moment he replaces the receiver; the little beeps it emitted more dangerous than the telephone calls that invade. John walks across the room and turns on the music then returns to his chair.

 John sits and ponders. Somewhere amongst the dust planets, like a spaceship, his lover’s face visits. He wants to sleep but remains awake. Thoughts spin over and. The wind turns cold and its tendrils ensure his alertness. Alone he sits through another night.

 Station Number 2

 I park the car close to the river’s edge and sit, staring at the water flowing. The sun shines overhead. Its warmth through the windshield makes me tired and I rest my head on the steering wheel, allowing the sunshine to bathe my face. I close my eyes and the haunting face reappears. It is the face of an old, one-eyed man. It is a wise face that has haunted me for several weeks. The haunting began a few days after I ventured back into the outside world.

 I find this re-emergence strange. I feel ghost-like. Things move through me. People speak but their words fail to connect. Marianne’s death still binds me; I wonder if I will ever break free of the continual pain.
 The old, one-eyed man visits whenever I close his eyes. ‘Who is this one-eyed man? Why does he haunt me?’

 Laughter breaks my revere. I look up and see a group of teenagers walk past the car. One of the teenagers turns her face towards me and Marianne’s eyes send me reeling. Hands shaking, I start the car and drive home, the canoe unused, again.

 Asleep that night, I again dream of the one-eyed man. In my dreams, I am walking along a gravel road, the loud crunching of the stones underfoot causing alarm; I become conscious of the one-eyed man either walking beside or behind me. I try to avoid looking but always do. When I look everything freezes. Sometimes the one-eyed man smiles. Sometimes he nods. Sometimes his single eye remains fixed in the distance and he ignores me altogether.

 Fourteen months after Marianne’s brutal death from a stray bullet that a madman had meant for a traffic attendant, I put the canoe back into the water. I accept the guilt I carry. I carefully step into the canoe and push it free of the bank.

 Light rain falls. A cool wind blows the rain into my eyes. I squint and grimace as the feral day catches me within its reckless spirit. Paddling slowly, the ache builds into my unused biceps and thighs. I immerse myself in the wet world that battles for control of my canoe. Hours pass and I reach the small jetty where I meet the ferry service that will take the canoe and me back to the car.

 I return the next day: and the next. My nights belong to the one-eyed man, my days to the water. The water allows my thoughts to untangle and I feel myself returning. Every time I navigate the river and return alive is a victory.

 One afternoon, as I gently paddle down a calm stretch of the river, I look in the distance and freeze. There, some distance in front of me, apparently standing on the water, waits the one-eyed man. The one-eyed man waves then heads for the riverbank. Panic coursing through my body, I paddle furiously and sweep past the vision.

 And so it goes for six days until finally I surrender and paddle to the riverbank where the one-eyed man waits. I pull my canoe out of the water. The one-eyed man squats on his haunches and his one bright blue eye peers into me.

 After a few moments I ask, “What do you see one-eyed man?”
 “Pain,” replies the one-eyed man in a gravel voice, “Pain and guilt and courage and more guilt.”
 “More guilt?” I say, fearing the tears that edge close to my eyes.
 The one-eyed man points a gnarled finger at my chest. “You feel you shouldn’t go on even though you want to.”

 I am shocked by the words and stagger back towards the river’s edge. The old man waits. I look at him and ask, “Who are you one-eyed man?” The one-eyed man vanishes.

 I am back in my canoe paddling down the river, very near the jetty where I must catch the ferry back to the car. If I miss the jetty, the rapids ahead will carry me far away. I will have no way of getting back. I manage to stop the canoe four meters from the jetty and only a few meters before I would have hit the new patch of white water.

 The next week I again surrender to the one-eyed man’s invitation. I feel must name the old man. “Have you hung from The Tree one-eyed man?” I ask.
 “I have.”
 “Have your feet swayed to the Rhythm as the wind sung our mistakes and our dreams fell like desiccated leaves?”
 “They have.”

 I don’t know where the questions come from but they feel the right ones to ask. Images of old Gods and Heroes, undergoing sacred trials and quests, flood my consciousness. My thoughts become a stream of silver light.

 The day disappears and a full moon suddenly shines above, its rays catching the water and the gleam in the man’s single eye. “Have you visited The Well one-eyed man? Did The Crone greet your ignorance with a brackish laugh and a wise nod? Did She pluck your bristles and return you to a babe? Did you stand before Her or fall at Her feet? Have you visited The Well one-eyed man?”
 “I have.”
 “Did you surrender your eye to She Who guards The Well at the dawn of time? Did you barter your kinship for Kingship? Did you sip from The Well’s waters and see the possibilities in our futures? Did you gain wisdom and plot your Father’s downfall?”
 “I did.”

 I am confident I understand. I point a finger at the one-eyed man and say, “If you have hung from the Tree and drank from the Well then I name you...’ but before I can utter the name the old man shakes his head sadly and vanishes.

 Light returns, bewildering my night-accustomed eyes. Again, I find myself in the canoe near the jetty. I paddle furiously and manage to land the canoe though the white water’s fingers slither across its hull.

 A week passes before I again meet the one-eyed man by the bank of the river. This time, I promise myself, I will only ask the questions that come to mind to discover where the one-eyed man might lead me. As I speak, my mind becomes a stream and I allow it to carry me away. Like the time before, the daylight vanishes and the full moon shines to illuminate the periphery of the world.

 “Where have you been one-eyed man?”
 “I have been to the heart and seen glory. I have been to the boundaries and seen sadness. I have been nowhere and found it to be the centre of the universe.”

 My questions demand release. “Have you visited The Island one-eyed man?”
 “I have.”
 “Did you slay the Gorgon? Did you steal the golden fleece? Did you seduce The Maiden?”
 “I did.”
 “Have you supped on the wise Salmon and learnt Her secrets? Have you been eaten by worms and found your inheritance?”
 “I have.”
 “What do you hear one-eyed man?”
 “I hear the wind’s secrets as it bends the grass to its desire. I hear the water’s hunger as it reduces the rock with its dance. I hear the fire’s passion as it consummates the forest. I hear the earth’s regret as it watches everything constantly alter.”

 As soon as the one-eyed man is finished speaking, another question tumbles forth. I waste no time on reflection. Nothing is as important as the questions I ask.

 “Have you heard the Dog’s three barks?”
 “I have.”
 “Have you bent your bow in your own house?”
 “I have.”
 “Have you rode the Centaur’s back and sung with a harp for your existence?”
 “I have.”
 “Have you flown with Pegasus and blinded the Cyclops?”
 “I have.”
 “Have you fought the dragon and descended into the earth?”
 “I have.”

 I lose all sense of self and merge with the images pouring forth from my unconscious. The questions come out in a blur yet the old one-eyed man never misses a single word or inference.

 “Have you crossed the boundaries and stood before lost worlds? Have you donned various disguises and unmasked the hidden word? Have you sipped of The Chalice and sated your sacred sword? Have you slept beneath the oak and rested upon the forge? Has the snake tasted your bosom? Has the scorpion stung your scrotum? Have The Three Women covered your hurts? Have the stars unraveled your questions? Do the vultures eat from your hand? Do bulls know your thirst?”
 “All of these things you mention have connection to me.”

 My thoughts slow and the stream becomes a silver trickle. I watch, fascinated, as the one-eyed man reaches out a withered hand and touches my right foot. My senses explode under the power of his touch. I hear the water lapping at the bank, the fish breathing in the river, the trees around whispering. I see the ant near my toe, a mouse scurrying past, and fish leaping for mosquito. I feel the immensity of the moment, the earth’s movement as it inhales and exhales, the sadness and joy of life. Most of all, I sense the possibility for anything and everything.

 Softly, aware the one-eyed man is slowly rising to his feet, I ask “What do you see one-eyed man?”
 “I see myself in all my could-have-beens and I survive to tell.”
 “How does it feel one-eyed man?”
 “It feels different every time, so different that it feels the same.”
 “Will you share what you have learnt one-eyed man?”
 “What I have learnt is not for the sharing.”
 “Can I ask nothing of you?”
 “You can ask.”
 “Will I receive?”
 “What do you dare to risk?”
 “Let us hope that will be enough.”
 “It is all I have.”
 “So be it.”
 “What happens now?”

 The one-eyed man laughs and says, “Farewell John.” He vanishes. I am back in the canoe being swamped on all sides by wild, white water. I crane my neck around and see that the jetty is a dot in the distance. The canoe is swept around a bend and I forget everything as I fight to stay alive.

 The battle rages for hours. My arms ache. My teeth chatter and the cold seeps into my bones. My legs quiver and beg for release from the cramped canoe. Suddenly the water ceases its madness. I find myself in a large lagoon. Ahead lies the black mouth of a cave. The cave is a magnet. I direct the canoe into its depths.

 Station Number 3

 A small canoe gently rocks on a pool of deep water. The water’s liquid wrinkles caress the canoe’s small wooden hull. In a subterranean cavern as vast as the cosmos, in a silence so profound it sings, John sits listening to the stalagmite weeping and discovers that in harmony, he, too, weeps. He weeps because the cavern’s ancient song begs an expression that his voice cannot attempt.

 Images of Marianne consume his thoughts. The images flicker, one to another, and the pain in his heart builds until his mind reels under the sheer potency of the moment. As it reaches the point of too hard to bear he breaks free. His soul soars out of his body and joins the immense expanse that merges the dark space with the entire universe.

 John’s body lies slumped in the canoe, unconscious. His left hand hangs over its edge and his fingers dip into the freezing water. The golden ring slips free from his hand and sinks below.

 Hours pass. Suddenly John’s head jerks up and his eyes open. His soul has returned. It is accompanied. He sits up and lifts his fingers clear of the water. He is aware but doesn’t care that the ring is gone. John takes hold of the paddle and turns the canoe around until it is facing a pinpoint of light. He rows towards the light. He is careful not to turn around lest the accompanying soul be lost forever to the cavern’s depths. As he paddles towards the light, John smiles.

No comments:

Post a Comment