Introduction: Door One
Hello and welcome. In general, I attempt to be polite and punctual and somewhat reserved. I open doors and offer strangers a smile. I lead with kindness not because I mistake the world as gentle or light, but because knowing well the darkness, I hope to offer a moment of respite.
Let me warn you that this tale, If I Should Become a Door, is not for everyone. But if you have experienced loss, if the death of a loved one leaves you searching for answers or stuck in the grief, then I hope to offer you company if not comfort.
Let me also warn that this tale crosses into the very darkness most of us spend a lifetime avoiding. I promise, as best as I am able, to keep you out of harm’s way. Yet some pain arrives unavoidable and some arrives necessary. If you decide to pass through these doors, take care. And God speed.
“You’re innocent when you dream”
I started drinking coffee in the 5th grade with a woman I believed to be my grandmother; with cream and sugar and a ghost in the room. I remembered Sammy lighting a cigarette and sucking on it with bright, red lips, while her free hand attempted to wave the smoke away from me. I remember I felt older than ten.
“More cookies?” she asked.
I nodded yes, and she extended a small plate towards me. I noticed her old, wrinkled hands accented with brown dots, and her hair dyed too black over her pale face. She inhaled deeply from her cigarette, which sparked the small embers, so they jumped to life. The room filled with a haze that circled and wrapped around itself-snakelike, easing slowly up toward the ceiling fan.
My heart jumped when I imagined someone else standing in the small trailer. Beyond the green plant stretching and dangling over the bookshelf, past the roll-top desk lined with glass knick-knacks, on the far side of the black and white photographs which hung on the wall, in the corner, a shadow of a person seemed to watch me.
My neck itched, thick, and seemingly full of sand. But when I looked again, no one stood there, so I smiled and bit into the hard cookie. At that moment I heard tiny, suppressed but undoubtedly, the laughter of a little girl.
I spun my head back toward the corner, but again saw nothing.
“He was a fool,” Sammy whispered. “How could you trust a man who never finished his meals or his drinks or a book for that matter? And he put the toilet paper roll on so it fed from the bottom! A fool!”
“Like all men he used things and tossed them aside. He figured that as big a mess as we made of this world, nothing could save it,”She paused remembering her young audience. “But he didn’t count on you, did he? He didn’t expect Johnny Caution!”
I grinned. I liked the fear her stories invoked. It tasted much better than the terror of the playground or the F Street bus stop. I found the tone and melody of Sammy’s voice as intriguing as the twists and turns of the yarns she spun. And I liked her superhero name for me:
It sounded much better than Calvino Johnson. Or Calvin. Or Cal. I glanced again at the corner of the room, but still no one stood there.
A young girl’s voice startled me. ”Do you want to see me?”
The terror in my stomach threatened to overflow my senses, but Sammy’s expression gave no indication that she heard the interruption, which left me as much curious as frightened. The two emotions battled until I slowly nodded yes.
In response, a girl about my age appeared. Her short, black hair fell an inch or so above her thin shoulders. She wore a black “Ramones”t-shirt, black shorts, and white tube socks with black stripes.
“My name’s Mary,” she said. “Don’t worry, Sammy can’t hear me.”
I failed to locate my voice, but I am sure my eyes grew wider.
“I should have known.” Mary shrugged. “You’re just like everybody else.” And she vanished.
“Wait!” I called out. “I’m not!”
Sammy looked off into the distance. The smoke from her cigarette no longer moved, but hung frozen in the air, twisted and in the shape of clouds.
“Come back,” I whispered.
Mary giggled. She stood behind me now. “I’m right here.”
“I’m not,” I said, “like everybody else.”
“I know,”Mary said. “You’re Johnny Caution!”
A few days later, on the porch to Sammy’s trailer, I saw Mary a second time. She sat in a metal patio chair and pretended to smoke a cigarette.
“Hello, Johnny,”she said.
“She’s not home.”
I shifted my weight from one foot to another and back again.
“Are you going to sit down?”Mary asked.
I shrugged and plopped down into the chair facing her.
“I don’t smoke.”
“Don’t you know how to play?”
“I don’t really have cigarettes. We aren’t really smoking. We just pretend.”
“Good. Let’s try again. Would you like a cigarette?”
“Do you have a cigar?”
“You don’t know how to play!”
“I do know!”
“Do not!” Mary paused. “Are you going to cry?”
Her tone became softer. “It’s OK if you are.”
“I’m not crying.”
“OK, but promise me that if you do, I can watch.”
I said nothing.
“OK,” Mary sighed. “I am sorry. Here it is.”
She extended her hand towards me. I took the imaginary cigar from her, but made no pretense of lighting it. Instead I leaned back and gazed across the trailer park. Mary hopped out of her chair to stand in front of me. She exaggerated the pantomime of opening a lighter and flicking at it with her thumb. I leaned forward slightly and played at puffing on a cigar.
Mary bounced back into her chair, picked up a non-existent cigarette, put it to her mouth, and inhaled deeply.
She asked, “What’s wrong?”
“You should never lie to a friend.”
“What if that friend asks if you like his drawing and you don’t?”
“What if his breath smells bad?”
“I just can’t figure out,” I said, “why my imaginary friend is a girl.”
“Imaginary friend! Is that what you think I am?”
“That’s what you think?!” she screamed.
I searched for my voice.
“OK.” Mary stood. “Imagine me then!” She vanished.
I realized I still pretended to hold a cigar, so I set it down. I focused my imagination on making Mary return, but no matter how hard I tried she remained gone. I only achieved giving myself a headache.
Although I searched my mind, I found no memory of having a father; I had grown up living with my mother, my sister, and my brother. The man laying in the hospital bed—skin fitting too tight over his bones, eyes sunk in and gazing nowhere, one skeletal arm reaching up— looked both unfamiliar and already dead.
“He wants a hug,”my mother said.
I backed up and away until I bumped into a wall. The members of my family loomed tall and distant.
“Calvin, give your father a hug.”
I realized no one else saw that Death stood directly behind my father, moving his puppet arm already void of life. I suspected ill intent and heard Death angrily sucking at our air. No one else saw him, a giant, naked beast standing behind my dying father. A monster so grossly huge that it had to lower its deformed head to keep it from hitting the ceiling. Welted scars tattooed the beast’s face, torso, arms, and legs.
The room shrunk and the garble of people talking lacked any sense, a river flowing, dropping and rising, but never ending. I fixed my eyes on one square of tile in front of me.
“It’s OK that you fear him,” Mary’s voice interrupted.
I looked up to see her standing in front of me. I had not seen her since the day I called her my imaginary friend, nearly two weeks ago.
“I don’t understand any of it. There’s a monster and some old man everyone says is my dad.”I shrugged. “I think maybe I’ve lost my mind altogether.”
“The monster is not a monster but my brother, Samuel Tate.”
Mary added. ”He doesn’t make a very good first impression.”
I almost smiled at that.
“Sorry about your dad,”she said. “My brother and I have different dads.”
“I don’t want to hug him.”
Although the dying man now looked more sad than threatening, my feet still refused to move.
“I didn’t even know I had a dad.”
“I don’t know my dad either.” Mary smiled. “Hey, let’s get out of here.”
She ran. I followed her out of the room, down the hall, and out into the sunlight. The brightness stung my eyes, so tears began to leak from them.
Mary nearly shouted. “Can I see?”
I slowly moved my hands. She gently poked at a tear with her index finger, which she then lifted up towards the sunlight.
“Wow!” she murmured. “It’s more beautiful than I imagined.”
I felt an odd protectiveness over her at that moment. I cleared my throat.
“If you are ever in danger,” I began. “I’ll help you.”
She shifted her gaze from her finger to me. “I know you will, Johnny Caution!”
“I like that name.”I grinned.
“Ah crap!” Mary exclaimed. “Are you OK? I have to go. My brother’s calling me.”
“Yeah. I’m good. Thanks.”
“OK. I’ll see you soon.”
“Sorry about what I said about you being imaginary.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
She ran back inside.
I decided to walk home and chose to make my way along the railroad tracks, because I liked the vantage this gave me. I neared my apartment complex, which spread out as big as a small village. The white buildings all looked exactly the same.
A large voice barked, “You there!”
“I didn’t do nothin’,” I protested.
The man dressed too well to be from the neighborhood or the railroad. He looked old, but grown up old, not wrinkled like Sammy. His short hair and well-trimmed goatee both grew out dark black, with no signs of greying. He emitted an aroma of aftershave and his cold, blue eyes burned a sick feeling in my stomach.
“But you have“ the man chuckled. “Maybe without realizing.”
As the man took a step towards me, I bent down and grasped a rock nearly as big as my fist. The man laughed, but stopped.
“Smart. I like it,” the man said. “My name is Mr. King.”
I struggled to keep my legs from trembling inside my worn blue jeans.
“If you are going to throw the rock at me, then do it,” Mr. King demanded. “Otherwise, put it down!”
It landed on the tracks and echoed in the way that only a rock train tracks will. I looked away and waited, wanting to cry, but refusing to let myself. I asked. “What do you want?”
“Straight to the point. I like that. I want to make you a business proposition.”
“That’s stupid,” I spat out. “I am only a kid.”
Mr. King laughed.
“Only a kid,” he repeated. “We are all only children a short while, but grownups most of our life. Think of this as an early recruitment.”
“Are you a gangster?”
“A gangster?” Mr. King mused. “Of sorts I guess. But I am not here to recruit you for your abilities as a thief, although they are advanced for your age.”
I felt the trembling in my legs spread into my stomach. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold off the tears. I saw no way out. My mind had already calculated my chances of running: the proximity, the poor terrain, and the man’s athletic appearance all made escape an impossibility. I felt odd, almost as if I might float out of my body.
“Johnny!” Mr. King snapped. “Stay focused.”
“Yes, sir,” I muttered.
I needed to pee.
“You may not be aware of it,” Mr. King continued, “But you have done me a favor.”
“I don’t understand. I’ve never seen you before.”
“But I’ve seen you.”
“Earlier today at the hospital.”
“I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“But you saw the girl?”
I said nothing.
“And you saw Samuel Tate? You saw Death?”
I nodded and began to sniffle, which I knew in this circumstance was just as bad as crying.
“I am sorry about your dad.”
“Don’t be. I didn’t even know him.”
“Did Samuel Tate frighten you?”
“And the girl?”
“Stay away from her!”
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“No! Shut up. She’s my friend.”
“I think you and I will be good friends,” Mr. King said.
“I don’t want to be your friend.”
“Johnny Caution,”he continued, “I will visit you again.”
“My name is Calvino!”
“You have helped me more than you know. And I am indebted to you for this,” Mr. King explained. “Which means we have unfinished business.”
I looked up, “Fuck you.”
The well-dressed man only laughed at me and disappeared.
A few days later, while day dreaming, I lost my way in the maze of stucco siding and two-story apartments that made up my neighborhood. I happened upon a group of six or seven boys with light, barely brown skin. The boys circled around me and the tallest spoke with authority.
“You’re gonna fight my little brother,” he said, “or we’ll kick your fucking ass.”
I looked around at the faces of the boys, maybe a year or two older than myself.
“You’ll beat me up either way,” I managed.
“No. We won’t,” the older boy promised. “Tony needs to learn to fight. You fight him, win or lose, we don’t touch you. You have my word.”
I recognized Tony from school, same grade but in a different homeroom. The circle of boys tightened and their high pitched taunts filled my ears. The big brother shoved Tony into the circle.
Having watched boxing on television, I shuffled my feet and threw my left fist out in a jab that connected squarely with the Tony’s shoulder. His big, brown eyes looked straight at me, not blinking. He refused to move.
The noise of the yelling, my heart beating in my ears, tennis shoes scraping over the gravel, everything fell away and became distant. I saw my fist tapping on Tony’s shoulder. I noticed small white clouds hung in the pale blue sky.
Tony’s young, brown eyes began to fill with tears, and I became sick with fear. I knew if he refused to fight, it would be worse for me. He fell to the ground and curled into a ball.
“Get up, Tony!” the brother yelled
My eyes burned and I lost hold of tears, which flowed down my cheeks. I closed my eyes and waited for the beating.
“Go on, get out of here!”
When I opened my eyes, the circle of boys had parted. I ran all the way home.
Sammy slept in the chair outside her trailer. She had dosed off mid-story:
“Sometimes you have to . . .”
I waited. Sometimes she drifted off only to wake up five minutes later and pick it up again exactly where she left off.
“Hey, you,” Mary leaned on the porch.
“She’s taking more naps.”
“Yeah. Where have you been?”
“Getting my education,” Mary moaned. “You?”
“Nope. Public school.”
She giggled. “You’re stupid.”
“That’s what my report cards indicate.”
“Except you’re not.”
I changed the subject. “I got in a fight.”
“That is stupid.”
She smirked. “Bravo.”
I thought about telling her about Mr. King, but decided against it.
“She’s not really my grandmother,” I said.
“Sammy’s my aunt’s mom.”
“That makes her your grandma.”
“But my aunt’s not really my aunt. My mom just calls her that.”
“Oh. That’s funny. I guess.” Mary squinted at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you hiding something from me?”
“No,” I lied. My eyes dropped. “I’m sorry,” I added quickly. “Friend’s shouldn’t lie to each other.”
“Never,” she agreed.
“A man who calls himself Mr. King approached me,” I told her. “He said I did him a favor when I saw your brother.”
The expression on Mary’s face turned serious.
“Johnny, you must promise to never talk to Mr. King,” she said.
“I need you to promise,” Mary continued. “Please, don’t ask me to explain. Even speaking about him puts us in danger!”
“OK,” I said.
“I promise,” I agreed. “I told him to fuck off.”
Mary started to smile, but stopped herself. “Don’t underestimate him,” she warned. “He’s tricky. If you let him, he’ll get in your head.”
I nodded that I understood, but of course, I did not really understand. How could I?
The last time I saw Mary, or the last time during our childhoods, she wore a large, black hoodie.
“I have to go away,” she told me.
Mary only shrugged.
“I may be moving, too,” I said.
Neither of us spoke. She looked down at her black, Chuck Taylor shoes. I sighed.
“Do you want a cigarette?” I asked.
“I don’t feel like playing.”
I added. ”I can get us some real ones.”
“That’s stupid. Promise me you will never smoke.”
“I promise I will never smoke.”
“Tell me a story,” she said.
“My first day of school, ever, kindergarten,” I paused. “No one came to pick me up.”
“Yeah. The day ended. And all the other kid’s moms were getting them, but mine didn’t come.”
“Our apartment caught on fire. I guess you lose track of time when something like that happens.”
“I know, huh?”
“No wonder you hate school.”
“Thank you for the story. I should go. My brother’s waiting.”
Involuntarily, I shuddered. “OK. See you around.”
“No, You won’t! That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
“No. I’m sorry for yelling. I’m such a bitch.”
“Don’t say that. It’s not true.”
“I’m serious! If I can’t smoke, you can’t call yourself names. Deal or no deal?”
“Say it!” I insisted.
“I promise I will not call myself names.”
We stood in silence.
“This sucks.”she said.
As I gave her a hug, I raised up as tall as I could, so as to reassure her that everything would be OK.
“Thank you, Johnny Caution.”
“I’ll see you when I see you,” I said bravely.“And I really mean what I said.”
“That you will protect me if I am in trouble?”
“That makes it sound like you’re my dad.”
We both giggled, but stopped abruptly. Mary hugged me, quick and tight, before turning and running off.
A couple years later, on the blacktop of my Junior High, a large boy shoved me hard with the palms of two big, thick hands.
“Ready to finish our fight?” the boy asked. “Come on!”
My mind first sped up and then slowed down searching for an answer of where I knew this boy from. My only fight ever had been with my friend Tony.
The classmate pushed me again. His shouts got the attention of a small crowd that began to grow. He stood no taller than me, but probably outweighed me by fifty pounds. His dark eyes glared with hatred.
“What did I do?” I asked.
“Shut up and let’s finish this.”
The over-sized hands pushed me again, so that I stumbled backwards colliding into a small group of boys watching. Their hands met my back, caught me, and sprung me back across the blacktop. The boy grinned or grimaced with pleasure. I began to sweat too much and my arms became thick, heavy.
“It’s a new school,” my mother had said. “A new beginning!”
Hope, I thought, can work as much against you as for you. In my imagination I fell to the ground in spasms or some sort of seizure, foaming at the mouth and pissing myself, so that the school nurse and eventually an ambulance came. But my physical self stood motionless.
The lips of the boy’s face contorted into a war mask of sorts showing sharp incisor teeth and red gums. I looked beyond him to the blank, hard wall. My mind flashed pictures at me, memories: Jim Rockford’s calm, silent stare; Uncle Bill and grandpa mixed up in a tangle of fists and flailing arms; James West’s wide haymaker; rows after rows of a hundred thousand uniformed soldiers marching into war; the Hardy boys with flashlights in hand entering a dark cave; Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson traversing the foggy moor; Rocky’s beaten, swollen face; James Dean; Kris Kristofferson in Convoy; Bruce Lee; Captain Kirk’s jumping front kick; Batman; Samuel Tate looming up behind my dying father.
The crowd grew. The sun burned down hotter. The boy pushed me again. And I ran. I sprinted to the fence that bordered the Junior High, climbed over it, and ran away.
“I’m not going back,” I told my mother.
“Calvin.” She sighed. “You have to go back, so let’s talk about how we can work this out. I’ll call the principal in the morning and make an appointment to talk with him.”
“I won’t go! Ever!”
I lay under my covers.
“Please,” she continued. “Be reasonable. You have to go to school. And everyone has to deal with bullies eventually. It seems huge now, but as it unfolds and you take steps to resolve the problem, it will become more manageable.”
“I won’t go!” I repeated.
“I’ll give you a little time.”
I heard her footsteps leaving the room. I imagined not running, not climbing the fence, but staying to fight. I ducked and dodged to avoid the gargantuan fists. Straightening up tall, my hand chopped the larger boy on the side of the neck, and the bully melted into a pile of sand.
My breath came back to me, warm under the blankets, and my heavy eyes closed. Sleep caught me. No dreams bothered to haunt me.
I woke with a start. The light startled me, leaving me blinking, and disoriented.
“I am not going to let you hide under your blankets,” my mother stated. She stomped out of the room comforter in hand.
I sat, then stood, and then hurried out of the room, not following my mother, but heading out the back door. The cool air of early evening met me. My eyes raced about looking for a place to hide.
I arrived at the railroad tracks out of breath.
“I’ll hop a train,” I told myself. “And go wherever it takes me. I’ll find a new family and a new school.”
Everything looked grey and dark; every edge appeared hard.
“This is life. It’s just how it is. Time for me to toughen up. Living in boxcars for awhile will do that.”
The sound of dress shoes crunching down on rocks startled me. “Hello, Johnny,” Mr. King greeted.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Me.”
“Leave me alone,” I said.
“I want to help you.”
“Because running away is a stupid plan,” he said. “I think you know that. I think you know if you run away from this fight, you will just have to run away from the next one, too.”
I looked at the ground: I remembered my promise to Mary, but I also remembered that she never understood that boys sometimes have to fight.
“You don’t have to run,” Mr. King explained.
I shrugged. “I don’t know what else to do. I didn’t even plan to run. It just sort of happened.”
“Will you let me help you?”
“Why do you want to help me?”
“I owe you, Johnny. Like I said, you did me a favor.”
“Right. I remember that now.” I looked past Mr. King at the darkening sky.
“Try something,” the man said. “Look at your fingernails.”
I held my hand up flat in front of my face.
“No!” Mr. King scolded. “Never like that. A man curls his fingers to inspect his nails, which he always keeps well-trimmed.” He showed me.
“OK.” I said and did my best to imitate him. My own fingernails looked long and dirty.
“Now,” Mr. King instructed. “Look down at your shoes.”
I glanced over my shoulder and lifted my heel up to better see my worn tennis shoe.
I straightened. “No?”
“Never glance. Move boldly or not at all.”
“Boldly or not at all,” I repeated.
“Now attack me.”
“How would you go about fighting me?”
I did my best Captain Kirk kick.
“No!” Mr. King scolded. “Never leave the ground. Your power comes from the earth.” The grown man, in his expensive suite, crouched nimbly, coiling his body, which he unleashed into a flurry of circular strikes, not punches so much as palm and elbow combinations that appeared to carry a smooth momentum or power.
“Wow!” I exclaimed involuntarily.
“Yes.” the man agreed. “Wow! Do you want to learn this?”
I nodded that I did.
“I have a boxing school downtown. But that won’t fix your problem of having to go to school tomorrow, will it?”
“I can’t afford . . .”
“That’s the attitude of failure. That’s why this boy thinks he can pick on you. Instead, ask me what you can do for me to pay for your lessons.”
“OK. What can I do?”
“Do you know how to use a broom?”
“But what about tomorrow?”
“I am going to borrow your fear,” Mr. King said.
“I don’t understand.”
The man tapped the base of my throat just above the “U” shaped bone. The pain made me choke, but instead of being frightened, I growled at Mr. King.
“Excellent!” he said.
“What did you do?”
“Feel that spot with your own finger.”
“It’s a button,” the man explained. “It will stop a fight before it starts. But since I have borrowed your fear, I doubt you will need to use it. Bullies don’t like to pick on boys who don’t fear them. He’ll see it in your eyes.”
“I no longer have fear?”
“I’ll give it back after tomorrow. You will need it again.”
I gave no reply. None of this made sense, but I also did not doubt Mr. King.
“You should run home now,” the man said. “It has gotten dark.”
I looked around and saw that night had enveloped us. After thanking the man, I began walking home, but not in any hurry. I planned out the speech I would give my mother on how I wanted to confront the bully instead of asking the principal to intervene, because I must learn to deal with the obstacles life presents. My mother would like that.
And not a word about the boxing lessons.
Introduction: Door Two
In adolescence and early adulthood, Calvino Johnson, aka Johnny Caution, experienced a reoccurring dream about the beginning of humankind. During a creative writing class his sophomore year of college, Johnny got the idea to journal his dreams. Later, he compiled these into a story he titled “The Earth.”
No one answers. And when you open the door, no one stands outside. You nod at the empty darkness and say, “I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“In the beginning there was only darkness everywhere-darkness and water.”
— pima indians
At first she knew only dark, but did not think of it as dark. Just as she did not think of herself as self. Neither had occurred to her yet. The first flash of light changed everything.
Nothing had prepared her for light, or fear, confusion, excitement, doubt, pain—none of which she had words for until she experienced them. And someone asked, “Did we really see that?”
Did we see what? We? Who are we? Who am I?
That first flash of light planted the seeds for the idea of time. But she only perceived before and after. With no way to grasp hold of words, all the new experiences slipped in and out of her mind.
I know, but do not know. Did something happen? Something out there, bigger than me? Me? She found the words came and went; they lacked an anchor. Where do the words go? Light not dark? Me?
After the first flash of light, the dark felt different to her, empty, unsatisfying. After? Before. Me? I?
With the second flash of light, she experienced joy. She did not know it as joy, but knew she both feared it and wanted more. Also, after became between, which she struggled with, because it felt similar.
Two befores. Two afters. Before and after combine with a second before and after becoming between. Her mind tickled with alertness and impatience, which turned to anger. I want light! I need light!
When more light failed to arrive, she felt a heavy pain, a sadness, her eyes broke and water leaked out, running in streams down her face. And water from the sky fell down upon her.
I have eyes. A face. Me.Between. Light. Anger. Darkness.
She sat in a veil of nothing. She wondered if she only dreamt the light, an illusion. Dream?Woman? Nothing? Something?
A strange sing song ringing sounded in her head and sounded like, “hahahaha.”
“What?” she asked.
“You want too much,” the voice answered.
“I want everything!”she responded. “How could I not?”
The third flash of light was followed by a deep, low rumbling that filled up the world. The sound overwhelmed her with something new—a craving between the legs. And more fear. More joy. More pain. More excitement. More hope. And wonder.
Her eyes leaked. Exhausted, she fell asleep. But got no rest. Sleep? Dream? How do we know we are asleep? Tell me the story of the light. Story? Woman? In the beginning I knew only darkness. Dry. Wet. Before. After. Between. We are the water. Maybe. I am water and wind. Wind? Movement. Do we really want everything? Everything? Nothing. I am nothing, so want everything. Balance.
“You should rest.”
When she awoke, the light had vanquished the dark. And with this she saw shapes, colors, depths and movement. The world played in front of her eyes. She felt the rush of everything.
Or nothing. And more.
With her new awareness she sensed sounds, smells. I have a nose. I have ears. Too much, too rapidly, the changes confused her. She felt both much bigger and much smaller. She began to miss the darkness, long for it, wish it had won. Unintentionally, she closed her eyes and the darkness returned. A smile formed on her face.
I have a mouth.
She sensed knowledge locked inside her and heard the voice, familiar and soothing, confirming the thought.
“All the answers lay within you.”
Inside. Outside. Before. After. Between. Eyes. Anger. All the answers inside.
She wondered if she really heard someone.
Someone other than me?
She asked, “Are you there?”
“Separate from me?”
She heard the song again, “hahahahahahaha.”
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”
Laconic, almost too quiet at first, the night brought the return of darkness. She saw two sets of eyes watching her, but only knew them as tiny round lights. Not anything to fear, not until the pain tore at her. And feverish warmth crept across her skin. Another sort of suffering followed, at the base of her skull, rising up, and circling around to her eyes.
“So begins the Basilisk’s attack,”her guide said.
The pain moved with its own rhythm, a definite beat, not stopping during the rests, but subsiding. Whines and cries filled the night at intervals. She understood they belonged to something other than her, but that the retching noises came from her.
The word described the sound she heard and a feeling within, but meant nothing else to her. Pain returned even larger.
Although instinctively she disliked the pain and knew she ought to move, she resisted this advice.
Learn from this. Pain. Degrees of pain. Pain asks a question.
She suspected a knowledge just outside her reach.
This will make you stronger.
Earlier, during the light, she noticed the contrasts in her view. She saw different shapes and hues. With no word for what she would later call a tree, she failed to recognize them as all the same thing. In her mind, a tall, green tree and a wide brown tree looked too different to carry the same name. And it would be much longer still before she learned to call one Fir and the other Oak.
Me. Not me. Other.
“You need a name,” her guide suggested.
Something else kept her still–her reluctance to participate.She suspected that even if she outwitted pain this time, it would return. Why play this game? If I am here where did I come from? Or is that like asking why day follows night? It does. I am here because I am here. But then what do I do? The purpose of all this is all this? Sit. Watch. Feel. Think.
“Are you hungry?”
I am hungry.
Hunger and thirst provided many lessons. Pain worked with dryness to teach her the value of water. Dryness attacked her mouth and lips, taking all the moisture from them, desiccating them, until her skin cracks and leaks red.
She tried to drink the red liquid, but it made her sick.
“Should I give you a name?”
The pain entered her and moved inside her, down her throat, and into her stomach. Stop! Please! Help!
No words of advice came now. With each cycle of dark and light the pain increased. She became so arid and brittle it seemed the wind might blow her apart. But instead, the pain joined with her anger and sadness until her eyes again leaked water. Stinging. Burning. My eyes. Apres? So much water rushed out of her eyes that it broke the sky! Cool water washed over her. She raised her open mouth to the sky and drank.
Ahh! Water! Quench me!
The rain washed the pain from her. Exhausted, she closed her eyes. Darkness. Blackness.
She learned that light begins each morning and departs every evening, replaced by the moon and stars, or sometimes just by darkness. She also learned about mobility. This lesson did not come quickly or without suffering.
Many befores and afters passed before she discovered that by concentrating on what lays before her, she could rock forward, which also resulted in her swaying back.
She also moved in another way–going back to times she experienced in prior moments. She traveled back to the darkness. She re-experienced the first flash of light. She strung together befores, afters, and betweens.
“You make the water that we call rain.”
She found no reason not to believe she created the rain.
“But you need a name.”
Her lesson with the pain continued until she moved. She did not plan to move, but her body took over. She rocked back and forth singing noises to chase off the pain. Blood exited her body, but she had no reason to fear this—it had happened before.
“Let me call you Gina,’her guide suggested.
“Do you like the name?”
“What you are called.”
“What have you learned, Gina?”
Dark. Light. Thirst. Water. Before. After. Apres. Blood. Pain?
She considered all this, but found no answer to pain’s question.
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