I have returned from the great beyond, and by that, I mean New Hampshire, which isn’t so beyond, but it is quite great. For years I’ve been telling myself that I’ll hike more, travel more, do more, more, all the awhile doing none of these things and instead fantasying about things that are very much within my reach. This time, I’m hoping to stick true to my…not goals. Desires, I suppose.
As I was sort of on a mini vacation, I didn’t get a chance to blog as much as I would have liked, and upon returning home, I’ve been caught in a slew of obligations and distractions and neglected the blog…already. Sorry about that.
At least the vacation was rather wonderful. I spent the time with family and nature, and read quite a bit more than usual–something I neglect at home, due to too many distractions and the fact that I listen to audio books throughout much of the day and tend to get burnt out by the time I return home. I need to work on that–the distractions part. Anyway, I’ve been back for a week now, so it’s about time to return to the blog.
If you haven’t read the previous post, the next piece of this one will not make much sense. Thanks for reading.
The straitjacket must come off.
He left the wing behind, out through a once secure door left open, a wheelchair wedged between. Out of the wing and into a maze of halls and rooms unfamiliar. He chooses at random, quickening his steps with the setting sun too close behind. Too close. He doesn’t want to spend a night armless, and so he roams, more frantically by the minute, searching for some instrument or implement to extricate himself from these bonds. He finds a bone-saw discarded on a stretcher.
Surgical lights bend and twist down from the ceiling like arms broken at all the worst angles and joints. A scrub sink, gooseneck spout shining silver, sloped bottom clean and scrubbed. Makes sense. This is—was—a hospital. Everything should be clean, shouldn’t it? Even now, he alone remains? He does not know but nevertheless welcomes the seemingly sterile bone-saw. A soiled, bloodied blade would only burden his task. Blood that dried and rusted for how long?
Staring at the blade, he shakes the thoughts from his mind. Night comes soon and day is short, the last pale slivers slipping through the shades outside the door and across the hall.
The blade is toothed, too large for his hands, antiquated among the mystifying technology of the hospital. He recognizes the white plastic-like squares as defibrillators and patient monitors, but even off, lightless lights not blinking red and colored lines not pulsing up and down and beeping their beeps, even off, the technology alarms and confuses him. The saw, he thinks, is safe. Made for man to hold, to wield, to cut and sever, and saw.
The floor is hard on his knees as he kneels before the stretcher, rubs his straitjacketed forearms against the blade. Such tedious work, and the saw slides across the stretcher’s plastic covering. He corners the saw against and within the rails, the blade laying over the stretcher’s side as he inches his arms up and down against it. The slightest movement, yet the blade is sharp and the canvas old. Someone else wore this straitjacket before him; he almost feels the past owner struggling for freedom within him. His arms soon tire, his shoulders as well, but he hears the canvas ripping and tearing, watches strands and threads fall to the floor like an unraveling moon. The first strap is severed, his arms allowed more freedom, and still he continues cutting, feels the blade near his skin but continues until the teeth scrap against him. Moves higher up his arm, replicates the same motions; the saw cuts into his flesh, frees blood, so he moves to the other arm, higher up near the shoulder, then lower, along where his wrists are buried beneath the straitjacket, anywhere he can slice through canvas.
Darkness blooms. It doesn’t just settle into the hospital, but is violent in its suddenness, a wave of eclipse, light vanishing as if a hand gloved in shadows tore the sun from the sky.
In darkness, he does not cease, knows he must be free tonight. Soon. Now. The straitjacket is nearly shredded, his arms stirring beneath the ruined canvas yet not entirely free. Knees bruised and bloodied against the hard floor as he rocks back and forth, back and forth, body aching from the unorthodox movements, when all movement is unorthodox to him.
His hands and forearms break free and tear away what’s left of his prison, pulling at straps and buckles. He sighs in relief and, free, collapses.
The floor, cold and smooth. Night, dark and empty.
Sleep isn’t what it once was. Dreams are too many, too frequent, too cruel and real, snapshots that fade almost immediately. Flames rage, the world excruciatingly bright until utterly dark. Formless screams and screeches. He has not dreamed in a very long time, days and weeks and longer. At the end of it all, something he may remember. A ringing telephone? A police siren and ambulance echo. A lighthouse calling to a ship deep out at sea. The calls of a carnival proclaiming that someone has won the grand prize.
Another siren, but this one differs from the rest. The ballad of the mythical deep out at sea, azure and emerald. Golden blond hair. Dark hair, brown but almost black, coiling ringlets against sun-touched dark skin smoothed by the waves, gentled by the sprays, salted by the sea. The siren lounges on stones slick with sea spray, surrounded by depths that only seem depthless. And the siren, she calls, lures, invites men to their deaths, where almost all men go willingly. A final embrace, the arms and lips of a beautiful woman, a woman who cannot be forgotten, words and promises you wish to hear, make yourself hear, lie to yourself to hear.
The siren calls, and with her call there is music lost and forlorn, and he finds himself humming along in sleep.
And another song plays, only he can’t hear it. It is the song of life—of his life. It plays in silence. For now, it is silent.
Asleep on the floor beside the stretcher and bone-saw and atop his mangled straitjacket. He bleeds, but not his lifeblood. He bleeds, and it soundlessly puddles around him. Red on white, liquid on solid.
He dreams, and maybe the siren sings—of course she sings, music being the breath of life—but he cannot hear her.
But he does hear music, finally, and it is beautiful, sad and mourning but not sad in its mourning. The mourning is part of the beauty, a key, the magic, eighty-eight keys, the music of a piano, alone, soft like the rain and equally solitary in its composition. The chords strike at him, the tone minor and strident, dissonant yet melodic. He has heard this song many times before, has perhaps even played it himself.
But no. He’s no musician.
Still, the song sings familiar and reminds him of falling leaves imprisoned in the air, floating and drifting and never quite reaching the ground. The leaves remind him of hair—a woman’s hair but not a siren’s. Brunette, long and wavy, wild at times but rarely when she wants it to be. When she runs, hair falls before her eyes and hides the world from her, hides her scars, for she has many. Some self-inflicted. She is beautiful then, and always, and will forever be. She casts her eyes down when she smiles, as if trying to hide herself and her pleasure, as if both spur sin and do not belong to her. She does not want to be seen, least of all by him. She fears. A good fear, surreal, electric from the beginning, beyond coincidental.
We all have scars, he has said. We’re all fucked-up, he has promised. Before.
The song reminds him of too much, the notes telling a story he can hear, and feel, but not remember or understand with anything more than images of a life not his own, memories perhaps belonging to him but not his to remember. Dreams are faceless and wordless, memories of mannerisms and nuances, slight quirks of fragility and vulnerability, a woman that may have never existed other than now. Unable to see her, but he knows she is beautiful in ways beyond sight. She steals his breath, governs his mind. He grasps for more, to hold the stars within his hands, and hold her hands within his own, and to give her the stars and the worlds.
And he comes away empty.
Stars fall from her hands, but they do not light his galaxy.
Stars burn the sky.
He wakes and finds himself on the floor sticky with blood. Feels lightheaded but free, and freedom is worth a much steeper price. He has bled, but not enough to kill or cause real harm. Just a little dizziness. He will tend to the wounds come morning, when he can see well enough and treat them with whatever treats wounds. He’s in a hospital, after all.
Only now he’s outside on a high-railed patio overlooking a field of flowers white and purple beneath starlight. If the flowers should have wilted, they haven’t, as if the ash hasn’t touched them. Leaves shift colors and hues and fall from their trees, but the flowers, at least here, in this small field behind the hospital, remain.
He doesn’t quite know where he is, remembers standing from sleep and stumbling out of the room in darkness, and more stumbling, half asleep, until finding starlight passing through a wall of glass running along a wide hall. One of the standing-windows lays broken behind him. He stepped onto glass to get out, suffered only a few slivers already plucked out, also by starlight. Everything lays beneath or in or within or inside starlight. The stars are many, and they shed light bright and clean. You can wash yourself by this light and smell like the stars. Fiery purity, scorched of all transgressions, bathed in benevolent austerity. Stars, and stars hold no judgment. They have never shined so bright.
And the sky holds them—millions and billions and trillions and numbers he has never heard of and never hopes to hear, for at some point numbers lose all value and meaning. Countless better describes the stars. Incalculable, without end. Forever. Always expanding, but into what? Questions not meant to be asked tonight, and maybe never, at least not by him.
He is…he doesn’t know what he is. But not a man who asks lofty questions about lofty subjects. At least not aloud. Maybe to himself, and to those he cannot remember.
Better to gaze at the stars than ask such questions. Ponder sky and space, but not enough to ruin simplicity. Stars sit in the sky, and the sky is forever, and so the stars are forever. Simple.
He sits down on the patio and wonders if this is what drove him to insanity. Did he stare at the stars for too long and question questions man is not supposed to question? Was he ever truly insane, and if not, why can’t he remember his past? Why is he here? And where is everyone else? Where is here?
He lays down, stares above, begins to remember, and falls asleep.