Through Glass Darkly
I step into a circular glass elevator. I find it terrifying–all the mechanisms of descent–blue tubes and looped hydraulics–showing so clearly against the ash grey shaft.
I am also concerned by several large gaps in the curved glass, uncertain as to whether I am supposed to hold on to the openings or stay away from them. I worry that I could fall through one of the gaps, but, at the same time, that I can’t squeeze into the spaces between them. I worry also about the several kids on the elevator, one with braids and a triangulated smile; there are mothers with babies too.
I decide at last to use the openings as grips– I need something to hold onto. But the openings are placed at such extended angles that getting my hands and feet into them splays me, spreading me into a position I cannot sustain.
Finally, I let go, just stand there. The kids, the mothers with babies, look at me with bemusement; they like the moving glass. I tell myself that they just don’t understand that gaps like that have consequences, though, honestly, the elevator moves down slowly enough.
We arrive at a party for babies; it’s being held in a loft; a place with old wooden floors, well-buffed, but showing the darkness of wear.
My mother is there, and my brother, and, for some reason, my mother has brought my dad, though he is dead. Maybe she has brought him because he, like a baby, is bald and also has rounded cheeks. (It is only as I write this that I realize the dad she brought is not my dad as he died, whose face was so gaunt as to almost look bruised, but an earlier dad, whose features shone with curves of flesh and bone structure.)
The babies are very cute, different ages, but all with the pale softness of dough not nearly full-baked. My dad lies in an adjacent room, I think of it as a back room, on a high cot, his skin considerably darker than the babies’ skin. It is not the darkness of decay, but the pored reds and olives of someone who’s lived in the world; a light grizzle bristles his chin.
The babies are mostly too little to crawl. When they are not being carried, they lie on a large double bed. At least one is the child of an acquaintance–that one is quite wet and me, not wanting the damp to spread to the entire bed cover, but also wanting to be polite, asks the mother if she’d like me to change him. I say something about how sure I am that I could do it just fine (as if there were a question on that point.) My seeming assurance makes her immediately take the baby from my arms. I leave that room then and go back to my dad.
I would like to touch him, to cradle his head, but am too fearful to reach out. I have touched, caressed, even kissed the just died, but he’s been dead now for a few years.
Though he does not lie still as one would expect of the dead. Rather he coughs, bends, twists. Each move shocks me–could he really not be dead after all this time? When I recover a little, I peer into his face. I realize then that his mouth is slightly open and that his body is acting as a kind of wind tunnel. I do not mean here human wind–the gases expelled by the dead when their bodies are tossed up to a shoulder, transferred from bed to gurney. Rather he is a channel for surrounding air currents–the coughs, the turns, the twists all caused by random air entering through his mouth, then moving around inside him.
I rub my arms, remembering the time-lapsed video of a sleeping baby I saw the day before. The baby, though never waking, angled about the crib through the night like the hands of a clock, only an extremely jerky clock, given the time-lapse. My father does not move so dramatically for this is real time, and my father a much larger person, at least he was before his last illness, which kept him from swallowing for about a year.
It’s harder than ever, what with his sudden twists for me to touch him. At last I get the nerve to brush up against his ear, which looks so red as to be fevered. It does burn to the touch, but it’s a burn of ice–I pull my hand instantly back. In the current stirred by my agitation, my father coughs powerfully, his whole chest torquing to the side, and now I jump away, which is both terrible–this is my father, my father whom I loved–but also understandable–for the touch of cold has let me know for sure that my father is still dead. This knowledge makes the movements of his body somehow more horrid. It is as if even air can push him about, treat his body, now left behind, as a marionette.
A part of me is upset that my mother has brought him here, to this party. Another part of me understands how she could not leave him at home, not in this condition.
And why had I not known this before, I ask myself, how the dead move, in air?
I look at him for a long time, the twists, the releases, the babies pale as ghosts in my vision’s periphery, until I decide the reason people don’t talk about this phenomenon, don’t even seem to know of it, is because the dead are usually in coffins, underground, where air cannot pass through. This, I realize, may be another justification for coffins.
Only now as I type this, I remember how my father used to always call me baby, even when I was a grown kid. He wouldn’t do it to embarrass me, just not thinking. I remember as he went outside, evenings, to call me in from play in the neighborhood. “Baby,” he would call, “Baby,” to my absolute mortification. I can see him, as through the round of a lens, standing on the small sidewalk that cut a path from the street to our front door, his face shadowed by the lavender light of late summer, the grass to both his sides so very dark in that light. When I look through that lens harder, it is not his face I see, but that grass, the blades that stand up straight, and too those blades that are bent, crumpled, even those.
Here’s a story of a dream that is probably way too long and personal to post or to link anywhere, but bear with me! Sorry for the length! I am linking it to With Real Toads Open Link Night.