Sunday, October 30, 2005

Something October Part 2

The gallery of faces twisted with synchronized grace to stare reproachfully at me. I was newly aware of the drip, drip, drip in the near distance, aware of my vulnerable back, not daring to turn around. The pawn squirmed as I held it between my thumb and forefinger. I put it down quickly. One square forward. Fine. If my opponent takes my knight, he’ll lose his bishop. A sigh of relief escaped me when the tiny faces turned as one back to my opponent.
The drip became more distinct. I looked toward it.

It was my mother. A faint aura of light revealed her sitting in a familiar position before her easel. Her housedress was soaked, as was her auburn hair, looking inky black dripping in the half light. She was working at a drawing. I could hear the scritch of her pencil.

Wake up, Sara. Oh please wake up.

My mother, who’d been healthy and beautiful and thirty-five. Who’d walked down the steps with a basket of laundry to hang in the sunshine on a lovely summer morning. Who’d pinned up the towels and underpants and put the extra pins back in the basket. Who’d put the basket on the stoop of her pristine porch, turned and walked down to the river and stepping in, pulled great lungfuls into herself.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Please let me wake. Her pencil went scritch. The twisted figure in the sketch had a paper mache mask. “Wrong room, Sara,” said the paper mache mouth.

I started violently, spilling coffee on the already ugly chair. It was still warm. I looked around the familiar room like a lost soul. There were my tables, littered with sketches and mechanical drawings of carousels and Ferris wheels, shelves of models, some working, some not.
“I’m working way too hard,” I said, wishing my family wasn’t quite so busy, wishing the house wasn’t quite so empty. I poured out the coffee, got a glass of milk instead.
After an hour of thumbing through magazines and half listening to television, I felt calmer and even sleepy. By eleven-thirty I was enjoying the cool feel of the sheets on my feet and the warm press of the cat against my back. The wind was picking up. I didn’t mind. It was the desert’s answer to rain on the roof and, in its own way, soothing.

There was the smell of sawdust. It was still, as though all the air had been pulled away, and waited to rush back in. I felt warmth on my face and opened my eyes. A hobo fire burned in an old metal barrel, its rusted holes creating a grotesque jack-o-lantern. An old man swept up wadded food wrappers, lost toys and ticket stubs and threw the bits into the flames. Shadows from the fire crawled over his intricately tattooed arms. His dirty undershirt, ripped in several places, revealed deep intaglio on his back and shoulders. A barn owl, white-faced and beautiful, perched on his shoulder. Rivulets of blood flowed from where the bird’s claws held him. More was caked on his shirt. Behind him was a tent, darker than the shadows. The sweeping man gestured to the open flap, then held out his hand. I stared dumbly for a second, then fished around in my pocket and found a crumpled twenty and three ones. I straighten the bills, folded them once and laid them on his outstretched palm. He dropped them into the fire and walked away, sweeping as he went. The owl swiveled its head to stare back at me as they retreated into the darkness.
I was inside the tent, back on the confessional stool, back in the game. I sensed others in the darkness, an occasional rustle, and muted jingles. I smelled the antiseptic, sharp and thick.
My opponent made his move. This time his hands were pale flesh, stretched tightly over large knuckled bones that looked too long. He captured one of my pawns with his bishop. My heart sank. The pieces were children. Now I knew what hopelessness looked like; it was carved into their faces. No, I was mistaken, these were not children, but ghosts of children, beyond hope or fear, which are privileges of the living. Some had been here as long as there have been carnivals. They were once children who’d laughed in the sunshine, fidgeted in church and rushed through their homework. Who’d stolen an extra turn on the Ferris wheel, chosen the wrong door in the funhouse and now they were here, wherever this was. His bony fingers handed my captured pawn to a dwarf standing beside the board, who accepted it with both his small hands cupped together. A tiny faded teddy bear lay in the square where the pawn had stood. Woodenly, I reached for it, but before I touched it, my opponent flicked it into the darkness with a finger. The dwarf pulled a pair of scissors from the impossible folds of his ragged clothing. I gagged. He motioned with his head to a bucket on the dirt floor beside my stool. I smelt his putrid breath and retched, puking into the bucket. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, dizzy but too terrified to black out.
The dwarf screwed a lid onto a glass canning jar. Formaldehyde; that was the antiseptic smell. He held it up. The tiny body floated inside, minus the head. He waddled over to a wall of wooden shelves behind my opponent and carefully placed the jar between two identical ones. A punk show. There were other things in jars I couldn’t recognize and wanted no closer look at. And one I knew all too well. My mother, in miniature, floated in her own jar, eyes open, her pink housedress billowing around her, a line of tiny bubbles streaming from her mouth and nose. I retched again but there was nothing left.
You’re dreaming Sara. Wake up. A gossamer thread of sanity. Hear the wind?

I heard muffled laughter. There they were. The carnival troupe. Sweet Pete, Jack, Bones, Lady Lamia, characters I’d sculpted in wood or clay. My opponent raised his head. Paper mache mask with painted cheeks and a blood red grin. “Your move,” said the paper mache mouth.
My remaining sanity gathered itself and broke through my will, escaping into the darkness, leaving me with a curious sense of freedom.

“ I’ve been here before,” I heard myself, from a distance.
“Yessss,” said the mask.

No comments: