Morning Classes

I was taking a class that was held in the very early hours of the morning.  I arrived at the school when it was still dark out, and even then, I was hustling, walking fast, afraid of being late.  The school building was just a large brick house.  There were three storeys to the house, and as I approached, I saw that it was lit from top to bottom.  Inside, the rooms of the house had all been converted into normal classrooms.  The number of the classroom that I was looking for was printed on the red stub of a carnival ticket that I pulled from my pocket.  I went from room to room, floor to floor, trying to find the right room, trying to match the number of the ticket in my hand.  I rode up in a newly installed elevator with heavy silver doors and blue illuminated buttons.  I made my way back downstairs by a grand staircase which had a thick white banister capped with posts on each floor that were mounted with the busts of different Greek philosophers, Plato and Socrates and Aristotle.

But there seemed to be no system to how the classrooms were numbered.  They weren’t numbered consecutively, or in any other sort of discernible order.  They weren’t numbered by floor or subject.  I held up my carnival ticket and worked my way up and down the halls, thinking I had picked up the trail that would lead me to my class, thinking that I had deciphered a pattern in the numbers.  But then I would find myself confronted by a seemingly random number posted on the copper plaque beside the door of the next classroom I would come to, and it would completely blow the pattern that I had thought I had established.  I would hold up the ticket next to the copper plaque and stare at them both in a stupor, as though holding them side by side would somehow bring one number into miraculous alignment with the other.

Finally, I thought I had found the right room.  I started to settle in at one of the desks in the back.  I dumped my books on the desktop, and I started to hang my coat on the back of the chair.  The class hadn’t begun yet, and there was hardly anyone there.  The teacher was at his desk up at the head of the classroom, and a couple of his students were there talking to him.  I had slipped in unnoticed, but when I set my books down, the noise had caught their attention.  I looked up from arranging my coat on the back of the chair and saw that they were all staring at me.  The teacher held his white coffee cup poised under his scowling face.  They said nothing, but they stared at me so insistently that I became certain that I had mistaken the room number.  Everything about their demeanor conveyed the idea that I was in the wrong place.  I looked at my red ticket again.  I went back out to the hall and looked at the room number again.  I blushed and laughed and gathered up my books and coat and slipped back out of the classroom.

I started to think that I would never find the right room; I would never make it to class on time.  The class was probably already in session, somewhere, in one of these rooms, the lecture already proceeding in muffled tones behind the closed door, vital information for the course already dispensed, all of it already lost to me, frustrated me, roaming the empty halls with my useless red ticket.  The books weighed heavy on my arms.  My coat was hot and uncomfortable slung over my shoulder.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.  I turned this way and that, stepping in one direction and then another with a purpose, only to find that purpose dissolving in uncertainty.  I had no idea where to go.

Down at the end of one of the halls there was a set of French doors with long lace curtains hung over their windows.  I went out through these doors and I found myself on the front porch of the old house.  There was a young lady there, wearing a white nightgown and swinging ever so softly on the porch swing.  She was turned away, gazing off at the morning glow on the horizon.  She turned back briefly to look at me, scanning me from head to toe with a quick nod of her head, and then she turned to look back out at the sky.  I thought of the red ticket still in my hand, still clutched in my fist.  Maybe she would know where my classroom was at.  She seemed like she was a fixture here, perhaps a daughter of someone on the faculty or on the board of administration, passing her time out here on the porch swing while all the daily business of the school carried on inside.

I turned my hand up and opened my fist, but instead of the red carnival ticket, I found a frail baby bird sitting in the palm of my hand.  It looked like I might have injured it a bit from the pressure of my fist.  Its feathers were disheveled and matted, and it struggled to its feet on broken bones and flexed its crooked wings.  It looked up at me, hoping that I could help it, but all I could do was hold my hand out and let it take its time there on my palm and gather whatever strength that it had left.  Then, suddenly, it sprang from my palm and took flight.  It circled around the porch there, its wings flapping against the posts and the corners of the roof.  The young lady and I both followed the bird with our eyes, smiling, our heads twisting as the bird bounced here and there above us in the dark.

But finally the bird found its way.  It ducked down low and slipped out under the roof of the porch and flew free out into the morning air.  It settled on the branch of a nearby tree and took up the song that it was born knowing by heart, hesitantly cracking out the first notes.  I took a seat beside the young lady, settling down slowly and taking care not to interrupt the steady, gentle rocking of the porch swing, swinging just enough to compensate for my own added weight, letting the swing drift back and forth in the same rhythm as before.  And so we sat, swinging quietly, adding no words to the situation, listening to the bird on the branch, and watching for the sun to rise.

Foot Work

Some friends of mine were sitting around over coffee, talking about what they would do in a dystopian scenario where everything was controlled and censored and no one had any privacy.  They proposed all of the usual measures, underground manifestos, clandestine groups of rebels, and so forth.  I let them talk it all out, getting all the details in order, and then I explained to them why their plans wouldn’t work.  In these scenarios, the government always maintains a tight rein on information and ideas, and they actively discourage the meeting of two or more minds, keeping people as isolated as possible.  Their manifestos would be found and burned.  Their subversive groups would be infiltrated and broken up the moment they formed.

I had a different idea.  The only way to hide the truth in these circumstances would be to leave it in plain sight.  I would affect a limp, possibly as the result of a manufactured accident.  I would walk with my right foot turning outwards from time to time in a way the would seem involuntary, like a spasm or a response to chronic pain.  But I would build a code into this limp.  The left foot would pace the spaces off evenly and the right foot would shift at different angles to indicate different letters.  And wherever there was an occasion to leave lasting footprints on the ground, I would write my message step by step.  I would teach no one this code.  I would just leave it there on the muddy ground to be deciphered by someone in the future.  There would be no meetings, no manifestos, no counter-revolutionary cells.  There would just be one man, walking, leaving the truth behind me everywhere I went.

Smiling Back at Me

Tucked away in a box of odds and ends, I found a lost photograph of me as a baby.  It was just a picture of me in a blue jumper, half smiling with my head resting on a pillow.  My name and age were scrawled on the back in smudged pencil.  I showed the picture to my wife.  She could hardly believe that it was me, although there was something that she recognized about the eyes.  She was so taken with this photograph, she commissioned a full-sized portrait of it painted.  She hung the portrait over the fireplace.  For the rest of my life, I had to see it hanging there, smiling back at me, every time I walked into the room.  I got so tired of it.

The Book Store

I was waking down the street in an abandoned quarter of the city.  It was late at night.  I huddled against the rain in my brown coat, dodging the puddles scattered along the pavement.  I walked with my head down, emersed in a sense of despondency engendered by the coldness of the rain, the shabbiness of my coat, the murkiness of the puddles, and the forsaken emptiness of the buildings around me.  I came to a spot where one of the streetlamps was burned out, leaving a pool of darkness along the front of one the buildings.  I was curious about what was there.  I had a flashlight in the pocket of my coat, and I pulled it out and tapped it against the palm of my hand a few times to get it to work. 

As the beam played off the walls in that dark space, I saw that it was an old book store.  The windows were broken, and the shelves and the displays had all been cleaned out and overturned.  There was no front door, just a cracked doorframe.  So I crept into the store, feeling my way with the flashlight beam.  Glass and splintered wood crunched under my feet.  I could hear soft, lonely drips of rain falling from the weak spots in the roof.  I traced the flashlight beam along the wall, and I found a single shelf, hanging crooked and nearly collapsing, that still held a few paperback books.  The covers were tattered and the spines were broken in white bands from long use.  But I saw a few books that I had been looking for for years.  I pulled one with a brown cover down off the shelf.  I flipped through the pages, illuminating the text with my flashlight.

As I stood there, getting lost in random passages and nearly forgetting where I was, there was a sudden snap and a low, groaning hum, as though someone had just powered up a generator.  Dim lights faded on around me from the corners of the store.  People, in coats even shabbier than my own, began to crawl out from different nooks and recesses in the walls, some of them knocking over shelves that were blocking their way.  I swept the beam of my flashlight across their faces.  They all squinted in the harsh glare, unaccustomed to the brightness.  They were curious about the book in my hand and the other books still on the shelves.  It was as if they hadn’t known the books were still there until I had come along and shed some light on them.

I handed out the remaining volumes at random, trying to explain what the books were about, what stories and ideas they contained, offering reviews and recommendations of a few spare sentences.  The people just held the books in their hands like they were life-giving portions of bread, feeling their weight and substance, staring at the illustrations on the covers, not really heeding anything I was telling them.  But they had the books.  That was something.  They clutched them fiercely and they nodded vigorously as they receded back into their holes.  The lights went out as the last of them pulled a bookshelf back over the entrance to their lair, as though tucking themselves under a blanket.  I was left there in the darkness to find my way out with the beam of my flashlight, still holding the two books that I had kept for myself.

Picture Perfect

I woke up in a dark hotel room.  I grumbled my way out of bed, and I pulled back the curtains to let in some light.  Rising before me, I saw two towering buildings randomly lit by various windows.  It was just a pair of high-rise office buildings, straight-edged and squared at the top, but they looked so clean and clear against the deep blue backdrop of the sky.  I wanted to take a picture of it.  I grabbed my camera off the table, and I took a few steps back to get everything into frame.  But then I realized that there would be a glare off the window, and that it would ruin the photo.  I had to go outside and take the picture out in the open air.

The lobby doors of the hotel opened onto a narrow street with walls rising on either side.  Down at the far end of the street, in the distance to the East, I saw a conglomeration of buildings that looked like a city made of white crystal set against stratus clouds and pastel skies.  This was an even more incredible sight than the pair of office buildings.  I needed to get a picture of this too.  I ran down to the end of the street, so that I could get a nice, unobstructed view of it in the open.  But as I came to the corner, I was met by the glaring sun rising over the edge of the land.  I knew this would wash out my picture entirely, completely outshining the soft colors.

So I tried to find my original subject again.  I made my way through the streets, looking over the pedestrians’ heads and keeping my camera poised for the right moment.  But I couldn’t find those same buildings.  I saw plenty of other buildings.  I saw all the morning bustle of the city, the congested traffic and the crowded sidewalks.  I elbowed my way through, turning corners at random.  But something had changed.  The light had shifted.  The magic had passed. 

Queen’s Gambit

I was wandering through a dense forest where shafts of morning light occasionally broke through the trees, and as I came to an open clearing I saw a white castle high up on the hill.  There was a procession of knights and horses and banners coming down the hill from the castle, and there was a princess with blonde hair and a long purple gown at the head of the procession.  From the other direction, a crowd of common men were approaching, an unruly mass of burlap and black leather.  They met in the middle of the field, as though for a duel, and they stood waiting as an old white-haired man, the personal attendant to the princess, scuttled out from the procession and set up a table and a chessboard in the space between them.  As the attendant laid out the board and the pieces, the princess stared with a cold and haughty expression, as though holding eye contact with every man in the crowd.

The princess was an extremely skilled chess player, and it had been ordained that a man would have to beat her in a game of chess before he could ask for her hand in marriage.  No one had decided on this stipulation; it was simply the way that it had to be.  Certainly neither her mother nor her father had wanted it this way.  They wouldn’t have wanted any unnecessary obstacles in the way of their daughter’s happiness or their kingdom’s stability.  And the princess herself hadn’t asked for this stipulation either.  In fact, it was quite clear from the way that she took her seat at her side of the chessboard, pouting and petulantly shooing away the attendant that kept fussing over her, that she resented the whole arrangement.

However, despite her resentment, she could not throw a match out of disinterest or from an inclination to let one of her suitors win.  They had to beat her fairly and honestly.  This was either part of the stipulation or it was simply due to the fact that the princess was such a naturally skilled player that she was incapable of not seeing through the game to unravel the most brilliant strategies and calculate the most complex moves with the meer flick of a piece.  In either event, it was clear, as the day wore on and one opponent after another was dismissed from the table in defeat, that she was growing impatient with the whole ordeal.  She lounged sideways in her chair, not even facing the board and barely bothering to look at it, making her moves with the thought of a moment and rolling her eyes.  And yet, she won match after match.  If she could have thrown a game, she would have, just to be done with it.

A variety of men came to take their place on the opposite side of the board.  They came with a variety of attitudes and demeanors. Some scratched their heads, bewildered by the game, and they stared at the board with their mouths open, shocked and crestfallen when the princess eliminated them with four or five easy moves.  Others came smirking, sly and cocky.  They would make their moves and then sit back with arms folded, holding their gaze steady on the princess.  They tried to sneak their pieces around her.  They would lay subtle traps.  She flicked aside their pawns and rooks and bishops like they were clothes pins.  They blinked at the board in disbelief before the attendant ushered them away.  Then there were the older men in the crowd, the ones who had studied with the greatest grand masters in the realm.  They pushed their way to the front, eager to display their skills before their peers.  The princess laughed out loud at every one of them and she sighed impatiently as she countered all of their obvious textbook maneuvers.

The crowd thinned as more and more men left in defeat until, finally, there was just one man left.  He had blonde hair, much the same shade as the princess herself.  He took his place at the board with with a simple, openhearted expression on his face.  He gave the princess a bright, warm smile and then he bent to scrutinize the pieces laid out before him.  The princess cast a knowing look at her attendant and shook her head.  But after the man survived the opening exchanges and matched her ploys move for move, she began to sit up straighter.  She turned to face the board.  She leaned forward, her eyes narrowing in on her pieces, plotting her moves.  And from time to time, she looked up at the man across from her, studying him as well.

With the crowd gone and only the players and the procession remaining, it was quiet on the field.  Bees buzzed among the scattered wildflowers that had sprouted up here and there in the grass.  The knights in their armor had dismounted and they stretched lazily on the ground, while their horses occasionally knickered and swung their heads.  The banners stirred in the breeze.  The attendant tapped the princess on the shoulder and hesitantly broached the subject of taking a break for tea.  The princess just glared at him until he finally nodded and slunk away.

The game went on with long pauses between moves, as pieces both white and black fell from the board one by one.  It was the princess plying her strategies now, probing for weaknesses, trying to get an angle on her opponent.  The blonde-haired man matched each of her moves easily, as though he had anticipated them, as though he knew her heart and her mind.  Something like hope, maybe even love, stirred in her eyes as she gazed across the table at him.  She placed her knight and he slid his rook out of harm.  She maneuvered her bishop and he blocked her play with a pawn.  She made a fatal mistake with her queen and she gasped as he plucked it from the board.  She looked at her remaining pieces, struggling to formulate a defense.  Her pulse quickened.  He had the advantage.  There was an actual chance that he might win.

But then he made the wrong move at the wrong moment and he left his king vulnerable.  She saw it immediately.  She didn’t want to see it, but she couldn’t help but see it.  Tears formed in her eyes as she moved her piece into position and whispered under her breath, “Checkmate.”  He shook his head in denial.  His fingers flexed over the board.  There had to be a move!  There had to be something!  It couldn’t be over just like that!  But it was.  She was right.  The tear rolled down her cheek as the attendant came and took her from the table.  I saw her look back one last time as the procession started away, and then the horses and banners streamed back up the hill to the castle and out of sight.  And the blonde-haired man was left alone on the field, sitting before the chessboard, wondering how he’d lost it all.

For Some Amusement

I went down to the amusement park with a group of friends.  We walked there on foot.  As we rounded a corner, the park loomed before us like some grand metropolis of whimsy.  There were bells and lights and freshly painted airplanes, ice cream towers and huge spinning pinwheels.  The most prominent sight was a ride called “The Zeus”, a roller coaster that wound around a bronze statue of the Greek god that was a few hundred feet tall.  He stood at the center of the coaster, scowling and gripping a lightening bolt in his fist.  I pointed at the statue and told my friends, “A thousand years ago, it would have taken them centuries to build something like that.  The project would span generations.  They would have ended up beating half the workers to death for stealing morsels of bread before the thing was done.  Now, they probably just flew a few helicopters over the site and squeezed the whole thing out of a giant tube.”

Inside the park, we somehow all got separated from one another.  I explored the place on my own.  To my surprise, there weren’t really separate rides with people standing in long lines.  It was more like a playground of interconnected oddities.  I climbed a ladder down a blue metal tube, feeling like I was descending into the bowels of a submarine, and I found myself among a choir rehearsing in the stands of a baseball game.  I navigated a hall of mirrors and ended up behind a circus tent where I peaked under the canvas and saw an acrobat doing tricks and handstands on the head of an elephant before a breathless audience.  There were truly amusements at every turn.

At one point, I came to a dead end.  The path that I had followed led me to a round courtyard that was closed on all sides, except for the way that I had come.  I turned and followed the path back to a library of dusty story books that I had just passed through.  There was a man in a black top hat behind the desk, and he lifted his head as I approached.  He pulled his face into a long, exaggerated frown and said, “Excuse me, young man!  You simply cannot come through this way!” From the exaggerated expression and the way that he was drawing out his words, I could tell that he was trying to do a very crude impression of a stuffy librarian.  Still, he was serious and steadfast in his refusal to let me pass.  I would have to find another way.

So I took another path.  This one took me through a sort of grotesque parody of a hair salon with warped, distorting mirrors and hairdressers with giant scissors.  As I got to the back of the shop where a bunch of women were sitting under the hair dryers reading magazines, one of the women, wearing what was clearly a very fake curly blonde wig, lifted her head and started shrieking at me.  I recognized the face of the man in the top hat.  In fact, he pulled away the wig and replaced it with the hat as stomped his way towards me, shaking his finger and saying, “No!  No!  No!  Not this way.” I stumbled backwards and ran back out of the shop.

Down every path, I eventually met with the man in the top hat.  He was wearing a monocle as he conducted an orchestra.  He twisted the ends of a fake mustache into sharp points as he baked a cake for a cooking show.  He blew a whistle dressed as a referee, kicking dirt at me and driving me back.  I had no other way to go.  I kept ending up back at the round courtyard.  I had only one more way I could try.  It seemed normal enough.  It was an abandoned office building, filled with dismantled cubicles and wires hanging down in places where the ceiling tiles had been removed, like someone had been working on the electrical system.  The prosaic nature of the place gave me hope.  I thought that maybe this was some neglected part of the park’s administration, rather than part of the park itself.  Maybe this could be my way out

But already I was on guard when I saw a maintenance man in blue coveralls standing on a ladder, working on one of the light fixtures with a screwdriver.  I tried to creep by him, but just as I was about to slip by, he yelled, “Hey!” My heart caught in my throat.  But then he just said, “Can you hand me that five sixteenths wrench?” Slowly, carefully, I handed it up to him, my fingers trembling.  He took it without looking back at me.  He just said, “Thanks” and started loosening a bolt on the light fixture.  I took a long breath.  But as I started to walk away, I could hear him laughing softly under his breath.  I stopped in mid-step when he said, “Not a chance buddy,” and I knew it was him.  I knew it was the man in the top hat.

I backed away and the man’s laughter got louder and louder.  I shook my head.  There was no way out.  The top hat appeared from no where and the man slipped it onto his head as he climbed down from the ladder, turning back to me and literally grinning from ear to ear, his teeth gleaming and his mouth opened to cartoonish proportions.  He stomped towards me, pounding each foot down for exaggerated and menacing effect.  I back away, still shaking my head, until I butted against a wall.  There was a window beside me.  It was open to air the room.  It was the only path I had left to take.

I closed my eyes and hurled myself from the window.  I felt myself falling free out into the air, my stomach gripping with nausea as I dropped.  I saw the concrete ground rushing up at me.  But just as I braced myself, a giant umbrella suddenly popped open below me.  It spread wide, spinning with blue and yellow stripes, and it caught me as I fell.  I landed with a bounce, and then I slid off the side of the umbrella and landed feet first on the ground.  I found that I was near the entrance to the park.  There was a gift shop there, and I saw my friends inside, browsing the racks of souvenirs.  I wanted to go in there and see them, find out what had happened to them and how we had all gotten lost.  But I just stood there shaking, the light glinting off of every surface, the crowds flowing past, everything, everything spinning around me.

Out to Sea

I had a job in an office and I couldn’t stand my boss.  There was a woman I worked with who hated the boss even more than I did, and she had managed to steal the boss’ briefcase containing all of his important papers.  She wanted to dump the briefcase in Lake Erie where he would never find it.  We drove out to the lake, and I pulled the front of the car right out into the edge of the water.  It was a cold winter day.  The beach was deserted and the sky was overcast and a rough wind swept in across the lake.  We climbed out onto the hood.  We had put a few bricks into the briefcase to weigh it down, and I held it out past the front of the car, dangling it from the tips of my fingers.

I was just about to drop it when the woman stopped me and said, “Wait!  It will probably just wash right back up onto the beach if we dump it here.  You should take it farther out.” I suggested taking it out just past the point where the bottom dropped off sharply, where the water was much deeper.  The woman agreed, so I swam out into the frigid water, dragging the briefcase behind me.  I could see the woman on the edge of the hood, waiting for me to swim back, waiting with her heels perched on the bumper and her chin resting on her hand.  I waved to her when I got out to the right spot, and she waved back.  The buoys that usually marked where the bottom dropped off had been taken down for the season, and I had to feel the way to the edge with my toes.  I didn’t want to stray too far over the line.  I inched my way as close as I could, and then I held the briefcase out into the water as far as I could stretch my arm and I let it go.  I could feel it’s weight drop away as it drifted down into the cold depths.

I turned to swim back to the beach, my feet teetering on the edge of the drop off.  I regained my balance, and I was just about to lunge forward into the water, when a big wave came and pulled me back hard.  I knew I had been washed out past the drop off, and I was flailing about wildly now, trying to get a foothold, trying to swim back to where I could still touch bottom.  But every time I gained a few feet, another wave would come and pull me farther out.  The woman was standing on the bumper now, straining to see me out there in the water.  I gripped the surface, trying to swim back to her, but she just receded smaller into the distance as I got washed away.  Finally, I gave up the struggle and the water seemed to grow calm around me.  The land was completely out of sight now.  I rolled over on my back and floated and drifted with nothing but the expansive water around me and the grey sky above.

The Caravan

I was lying on a bed under the shade of a canopy tent that had been set up on the desert plain.  I was recuperating after a traveling caravan had found me wandering in the desert, lost and nearly dead from thirst.  Every time I awoke there was a fresh glass of cool water perspiring on the table beside the bed next to a paperback book someone had left for me to occupy my mind with.  I took slow, drowsy sips of the water, and then I usually drifted back off before I was able to take much interest in the book.  Little by little, I took stock of my accommodations.  The bed had a thick frame with gold spires for posts.  It seemed a bit too permanent and cumbersome for the makeshift shelter of the canopy tent.  There was a large area rug spread out on the ground beneath the bed.  There was a long oval dressing mirror nearby, and a number of steamer trunks had been stacked up behind the bed to form a barricade against the sand and the southern wind.

Beyond the foot of the bed, there was an old weathered piano that was only partially under the cover of the canopy.  Once, I woke up to find three young men at the piano, one of them seated on the bench and the other two hovering over his shoulders.  They all wore white shirts and brown suspenders.  The young man at the piano played a short lullaby.  The keys fell with a dull thump as dry and dusty as the desert itself, but the sweet and soothing melody was still faintly discernible.  The young man to left of the piano player remarked, as a matter of passing trivia, that the song was famous for having no meaning.  The young man on the right said that the song had meaning just by virtue of being a song, and he insisted that all songs had meaning.  The piano player thunked a few random keys, and then he settled the debate by saying that the song had no need for meaning.  It had a feeling, and that was enough.  I was content to leave the argument to them.  I just lay there listening to their chatter and the flapping of the canopy in the wind.  I was weak and tired and down to simple things.

When the time came for the caravan to move on, I was deep into the paperback novel that I had been given.  My strength and energy were coming back to me.  Everything was being packed up all around me, but I hardly paid any attention.  I only noticed that the canopy had been taken down due to the new light that fell across the pages of the book, simmering gold against the black ink.  The bed was disassembled, the frame stacked in three separate pieces and the mattresses loaded onto a truck bed along with all of the steamer trunks, except for the one I’d taken for a seat as I huddled over reading.  I lay in the back seat of one of the cars as we pulled away leaving no traces in the barren plain behind us, and I turned another page.  The book was a classic comedy of manners, playing out in drawing rooms and on verandas over endless rounds of tea.  I was engrossed in the subtlety of it, the sly hints, the covert gestures, the spare glances.  I felt like I was going to meet these very people somewhere on the road ahead, and I had a sense that I had been given the book to prepare me for this meeting.  I had to study.  I had to get all the moves down, all the right words.  I had to be ready.

Grandmother’s House

My wife and I were driving through the old neighborhood and we passed my Grandmother’s old house.  It sat empty and abandoned amid the bustling community of stores and shops and offices that had sprang up around it.  It was an isolated spot of desolation, a lingering smudge of the past.  The rotted boards were falling off the house and the paint had nearly chipped and peeled off completely.  Even the leaves in the trees were dark and wet with decay, and the yard was a mire of mud and debris.  I was amazed that the place was still standing, that it hadn’t been swept aside by the progress surrounding it.  It was like a piece of death with deep, tenacious roots, something fixed and stubborn that they had been forced to build around.

I pulled up into the dirt driveway and insisted on going inside.  My wife was reluctant to go in.  She leaned forward and stared up through the windshield at the forbidding facade of the house and the cracked boards near the peak of the roof where bats were probably making their home.  I told her that we’d just be a minute or two, and I was already climbing out of the car.  The front door was unlocked.  The knob was rusted and it nearly came off in my hand.  We passed through empty rooms pervaded with dampness and mold.  We could hear voices coming from somewhere in the back.  I heard my grandmother’s voice, saying something about the inevitability of death and despair.  We came into the room and found her sitting around a table with some friends, playing cards, like some afternoon gathering of the dead.  She looked younger, younger than I’d ever seen her, younger than I remembered her being even when I was a child.  There was color in her hair.  Her face was bright and clear, bearing none of the lines of age.  She looked up and smiled warmly as we walked over, and everyone else at the table turned and looked at us.

I felt like I was put on the spot.  For lack of anything else to say, I remarked that even though I’d heard her saying something about death and despair being inevitable, her being so young, her being here at all, would seem to prove otherwise.  All the ladies at the table rolled their eyes and made a bunch of sighs and dismissive gestures, as though I were putting them on, and they all turned back to their cards, waving me away with their hands.  Only my grandmother got up from the table.  She said she had something to show us.  She led us out the back door and off the back porch.  She led us out into the back yard, and we stopped a few paces from the house and turned around.  It appeared that the house had been resurrected, as well.  There was a fresh coat of yellow paint.  All the boards were straight and even.  Everything had been repaired.  The weathervane had been replaced.  It stood like a masthead on the peak of the roof, the rooster and the arrows mounted against the clear blue sky.  I stood gaping at it, baffled.  Were we seeing it all from some new angle?

But we went back inside and found new life there as well, new carpet, new furniture.  My whole family was there, preparing for a party in the dining room, hanging up streamers and lighting candles at the center of the table and laying out plates and silverware on the white table cloth.  They were all younger versions of themselves, years stripped from their faces, ages of disappointments cleared from their minds.  The house was the way that I remembered it now, and I showed my wife around.  I showed her the place where I would always hop the bannister rather than walking all the way to the end.  I showed her the hidden back stairway, the one that we all thought was some kind of secret passage.  I showed her all the best spots upstairs where we would hide whenever we played hide and go seek.  I showed her my favorite spot in the guest bedroom with its slanted roof and gabled window.  I showed her the high view of the town from the window, told her about watching the distant lights out there in the dark.  I showed her how I would hide under the bed, feeling the heat blowing up through the vent.  I could feel it even still.

As we came back down the main stairs, I saw a young blonde-haired boy sitting in a huge plush chair that had been placed in the hallway in front of a small black and white TV.  I knew this boy was me.  He sat there watching cartoons, totally absorbed.  He didn’t even notice us there on the stairs.  I could hear voices coming from the living room across the hall.  My mother and brother were in there, sitting at a table by the window.  They were arguing about something.  I could hear it in their voices.  I could hear the stress and frazzled nerves along the frayed edges of their sentences.  But the boy just sat there watching his cartoons.  I could remember that.  I could remember sitting there on a Saturday morning, catching snatches of adult conversation.  I could remember people at the window just like that, like a snapshot of strangers from another life, never knowing what it was all about.  I remembered this being the shape and shade of my earliest impressions, everything a whisper along the peripheral edges of a world of cartoon honks and rattles and whistles.  I remembered being that boy.

It was time to go.  Our minute or two had long since passed.  I went to the window, and I could see that one of the new stores that had grown up around the area had a flea market with stands and shops set up along a thoroughfare paved with red bricks.  One of the stands was selling sunglasses on a revolving rack.  My wife and I went over to check it out, and we stood at the counter, goofing around with the sunglasses, holding them up to see the evening sky through their tinted lenses.  I looked over and the house was still there, still freshly painted and new.  The sun had dipped behind the house now, and the weathervane stood sharply black against the rich medley of clouds and colors.  I felt like we had stepped out someplace else.  I felt like it would all be different now.  It would all connect back to this, leading on to endless fascinations, embarking from some exotic bazaar somewhere on the surface of the Earth in the darkening shadows of the day.