It was a bright sunny day. A fresh wind danced in the foliage of a horse-chestnut tree, with roots anchored in a vast cemetery. A raven flew down silently and landed on a low branch. Directly below, there was the body of a dead raven. A man and a young boy walked near. The boy paused near the dead bird. He sought council on the nature of death. The man hesitated to answer. He was surprised by the boy's questions. The man saw the raven above and asked the boy to look at both birds. Then he asked the boy to observe all the differences. The boy enumerated all the differences he saw. The man said that death was a mystery with many different explanations. He encouraged the boy's curiosity. He said that people believe different explanations. He told the boy several versions. If he made a pretense of possessing the definite answer, the boy would explore no further. They began to walk and play football with a fallen chestnut. The raven made a loud croak. My eyes opened. I grabbed my alarm-clock, the source of the noise. It had been a dream.
I stopped the bell and smiled. It was my graduation day. I would not be there because I quit two weeks earlier. I had been researching a history assignment, when I made a startling discovery. There were parallels between the modern education system and the Nazi education system. I withdrew from classes immediately. My teachers were baffled. I told them I was busy with my own life. A bargain was struck with the Irish principal who had a heart of eider-down. I proposed to bring him a sheaf of my poems. If the poems were deemed worthy, I would be awarded a diploma. I delivered the poems and the Celt asked what my plan was. I would seek employment on a tugboat. The principal smiled and gave me a diploma. I saw him two days later, on the stairs of a bank. I was playing guitar. He smiled and politely asked if I worked on the tugboat. I assured him I would soon be on the water. Many friends came to visit me during the summer. On several occasions, we almost solved the mystery of existence.
One night, four friends came to dine with me. In the middle of our meal, we glimpsed the truth. It flashed like a multicolored snake in tall grass. Only a small part was visible. The head and tail were hidden, but the direction of its movement was obvious. A bookstore in San Francisco. There we would await further insights. Four of us saw it. One friend could not see it and he apologized immediately. I instructed him to sell my belongings and inform my mother after I was gone. It was almost dawn and we left in an old car. We first stopped at the university. We decided to purify ourselves in the sauna. Our salt water dripped on the cedar planks as we had a nice conversation with a literature teacher. After the sauna, we emerged into the light of day. We felt all the promise of youth. Before we had gone far, the driver remembered his sister's imminent wedding. We decided to go and detoured to his house. The bride's mother came to the car, followed by two dachshunds. She told us the ceremony had started and we were ushered inside. After several steps, I had a sudden strange pain. I wanted to sit down and told the group that I would come inside later.
I went back to the car and sat inside. I fell asleep and when I awoke, I was inside the house. The ceremony had commenced. All of the guests were in different historical costumes. It looked like a meeting of an anachronistic society. I guessed that the bride was a member of such a group. The men and women were standing in separate lines. I was near the end of the men's line. Directly across the room I saw a girl from my elementary school. Since the school was in a distant town, I was mystified by her presence. She wore a beautiful purple dress in the style of eighteenth century France. I stood near a small mahogany table. On the table was a likeness of the Roman god, Mercury, done in bronze. It was skilfully wrought and I was attracted. I knelt and turned it slowly around to admire the craftsmanship. After I withdrew my hand, the statue moved its feet, almost imperceptibly. I looked at the guests. All eyes were on the bride. I looked at the table again. The bronze statue was dancing! It was a Greek dance and I was enthralled. The little figurine whirled and capered on the polished wood.
The metal limbs moved with human suppleness and Mercury danced exquisitely across the table. I looked at the bride and looked at the figurine again. I noticed it was larger. The dance gave it power. I was transfixed by the complex foot movements, which reminded me of a serpent on sand. I shivered when the statue looked at me. The bronze dancer smiled and touched its winged helmet. I was angry, but I could not avert my eyes. When the figurine was the size of a doll, its wings began to pulse. The statue jumped up and flew around in circles. After each round, its size increased. The air was acrid and smelled like welded metal. My eyes ached and I could not shut them. When the statue was a meter in height, it hovered and struck me repeatedly with metal wings. Its mouth moved, but I heard no words. The blows from the wings were painful and I was disgusted by the emotionless bronze eyes. I tried to protect my head and then I was unconscious.
I woke in dazzling white light. Like a clear day on a glacier. I touched my head. My fingers were smeared with blood. I gently rubbed my bruised scalp and remembered Mercury's assault. It had been real. I was in a long corridor with white walls, a floor of white linoleum and a white ceiling. I was definitely in a place I did not like. I tried to open a door. It was locked. I ran around and tried dozens of other doors. I made a full circuit of the building. All of the doors were locked, except one. I entered another corridor. One side of the corridors had windows. The other sides had doors. The corridors extended along the entire circumference of the building. The windows of the inner corridor were opaque and I could not see through them. There were no people or signs of people. I ran to the outer corridor. The windows here were transparent. I saw an empty park and an old sycamore in front of a sign. Only the word, "School" was visible through a gap in the foliage. The surroundings were vaguely familiar.
I told myself that I was probably suffering from partial amnesia. I tried to remain calm. Through the window, I saw a white car cruising like a shark on wheels. It turned the corner. I ran along the corridor in the same direction. None of the windows could be opened. I ran until I had to turn. The corridor extended to the next street corner. At each corner, I looked outside at the street. Each time, I saw the white car turn the corner. The entire outside wall of my prison was made of windows and I could not hide. Because I had seen no people inside the building, I was not worried for my immediate safety. I did feel that the white car would intercept me when I went outside. I returned to the window near the sycamore. I smoked a cigarette and waited. Whenever I looked outside, I saw the white car. I could not see the face of the driver, but I felt his presence. When darkness came, I covered my fists with my jacket. The white car made another sinister circuit. I smashed the glass. The operation did not work exactly as as it does in films. I checked myself for injuries and felt lucky that I had only some minor scratches. I brushed the glass off my jacket and ran like the shadow of a bird.
I ran along unknown streets. My way was illuminated by the blue flickering light of TV sets. Nearly exhausted, I saw tall buildings. I entered an industrial zone. I smelled smoke and some type of soup. I heard screams and crouched behind a garbage container in an alley. There was light in front of me, so I crept forward cautiously. I heard shots. The screams got louder. Interwoven with the screams, I heard unintelligible commands coming from megaphones. I noticed another softer sound. It was like the sound of flowing water. It was not raining but the streets were wet and the drains were gurgling. I ran to the exit of the alley and slid on the filthy water. I wiped my hands and realized that the soup I smelled earlier was blood! I vomited violently. I staggered onto a street that was full of dead and wounded people.
Men, women and children had been butchered all along the street. Men in uniform kicked the bodies and killed any that were alive. My instinct for survival superseded my horror and I turned away. I fled back into the alley. I crouched in the gloom to assimilate what I had seen. I could not. I trembled like a dry leaf and I sobbed. I heard boot heels in the alley and ran like an animal. I saw stairs going down and I took them. At the end I crashed into a wall of people. They were dressed in nice clothes. There was light and the sound of applause. My eyes gathered the images but my mind was confused. I was inside a football stadium. I was in the middle seats. I recognized a face of an old friend. I went to stand beside him. My clothes were smeared with blood and dirt. He showed no recognition and took a bite of a sausage he was eating. One of the teams made a good play and he jumped up to cheer. I sat in an empty seat and closed my eyes.
I opened my eyes and found myself behind a market in Vancouver. I touched my head and felt some sore areas. My clothes were filthy. Wait! I remembered the stadium. But how did I get here? My mind reeled. I lit a cigarette and looked around. It felt good to recognize where I was. At least I did not have total amnesia. I promised myself, that I would never ingest a hallucinogenic substance in the future. Several years earlier I had taken LSD and if the past days were the consequence, it was not worth the experience. I wasted no time and walked two blocks to my girlfriend's house. I had known Lili for about a year, but I had never been inside her house. Her parents were Chinese and very traditional. I was the wrong color. To keep the peace, I always met her at the market. I decided that today I would break protocol. Compared to my recent experience, her parents would be an easy task.
I reached the gate and thought it was a good omen that Lili's misanthropic dog was not outside. During our first encounter, the beast had given me a permanent scar on the thigh. I knocked boldly on the door. I was curious to see a Chinese household. There was no answer. I walked to the back of the house. There was a vegetable garden that covered most of the yard. I began to feel a kinship with the gardener. I went up a staircase to the kitchen door. It was open. I called Lili and she did not reply. I knew she was a careful person, so I sensed something sinister. I went inside to investigate. It was an old house and very cluttered. A quick tour revealed that I was alone. I lingered in a bedroom that had to belong to Lili. Her clothes were scattered around and the air was fragrant with muguet. It was the scent she wore especially for me. My reverie was interrupted by the realization that everything was blue in color, except for the clothes. I had not known that she was fond of that color in particular. There were blue bed sheets. The walls were blue. I was standing on a blue carpet. I saw a chair that had been painted blue. There was a bouquet of blue flowers in an amethyst vase.
I smelled wax. On top of a table the color of periwinkle, there were several blue candles. I was beginning to appreciate the fact that Lili was a very deep girl. Then I had another revelation. The clutter was not normal. Someone had ransacked the house! I looked around the house again. Everywhere there were signs of a burglary. I was furious and I wanted to punish the bastard who was responsible. I went to the kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. Then I went downstairs and froze at the last step. The hairs on my neck rose up. Across the garden, I saw a huge brown shape near the fence. There was heavy fog and it was difficult to see details. I saw the unmistakable form of a bear and I tried to deny it. Within a heartbeat, the beast had halved the distance between us. My fingers tightened on the knife hasp. I made the decision to fight.
I yelled in Swedish, "Ten thousand little black long-peckered devils!"
I ran to fight the interloper. I was full of adrenaline and my body acted without the guidance of my mind. My mind occupied itself with the texture of the fur and the hot breath of my adversary. I pressed against the fur and explored with the knife.
I acted so fast, the bear was not able to avoid my attack. My anger was concentrated in the point of the knife and I found a space between two massive rib bones. We fell on the soggy garden, as one grotesque entity. I clung like a leech and sawed viciously. Finally, the bear was still. I staggered away from the warm body. The garden soil adhered to my gory clothes. I trembled convulsively and dropped the knife. It was dark. I found a faucet and washed my hands in the gloom. Exhausted, I walked across town toward my home.
I got home and the door was open. I walked in and left a trail of clothes to the shower. I went to my room to dress. As I sought for a pair of pants, I noticed the state of the room. Everything was scattered and torn. The mattress on my bed had been slashed. All the rooms were in chaos. On a table where my stereo system had once been, I found a carton of melted vanilla ice cream. The adjacent window was smashed and bits of glass decorated the cream on the table. Under the window I found a tire iron. I wanted justice. My mother had made a police report. I found a copy of it on the coffee table. A herringbone jacket, a five pound salmon, a stereo, and identification had been stolen.
My stepfather entered with a mug of coffee with whiskey. He sat amid the chaos and drank. The phone rang and he answered. As he talked, I saw a black antique car through the window. The driver motioned for me to come. I went out and got in the car. I told the driver about the robbery.
He said, "We shall look for an fool in a herringbone jacket, armed with a fish. If the bastard has identification papers, he is the culprit."
"I am Stone Eagle. First we will eat and then I have a proposal."
City lights formed symmetrical designs on the hood of the car. We agreed to have Indian cuisine. It was good to be with a friendly person. I hoped that my life might normalize. We had two beers and a bowl of lamb curry. We ate quickly.
"Do you know the Solomon Islands?", asked Stone Eagle.
"Yes. They are a small group of islands in the south Pacific Ocean, near New Guinea."
"Correct. Many years ago, I went there."
"Do you want to go there?"
"I have never thought about it. It would be interesting."
"My friend needs someone to return his boat and I cannot go. It is a special task."
"It is a very high honor to be chosen. In the islands there is a special animal like a small red cow. It has horns and hooves, but on its front legs, it has hands like a man."
"It is true. But you must never speak of it. The animals are rare. They possess intelligence, but they cannot speak. They communicate by telepathy."
"You seem sincere."
"I am sincere. You were chosen because you have an open mind and a good heart. We will talk with Sam. Sam is an islander and the guardian of one of the animals. The creature is old and must return. I brought it here. The islanders thought it might be discovered by forestry operations. The animal is a very capable navigator."
"What is the religion of these people?", I asked.
"It was not explained to me. Will you help to protect an ancient culture? They will remember you in their stories."
"Clear the path! In a sacred manner, I come."
We left the restaurant and my heart was light. Stone Eagle smiled. We went to Chinatown and Stone Eagle led me to a door between two restaurants. At the top of a steep staircase he knocked on a green door. A man, who was the color of mahogany, opened the door. He smiled and spoke melodiously. He was slim and agile. Only the lines on his face indicated his age. His teeth were perfectly white as coconut. His trousers were blue and he wore a pristine white canvas shirt. He clasped my hand. His grip was firm and conveyed honesty. We sat on an old sofa. Three cups and an ornate teapot were ready on an overturned box. Sam pulled three cigarettes out of a packet. I exhaled the smoke from my first puff and realized that Sam had not used anything to ignite these cigarettes. Stone Eagle gave me a cup of tea that smelled of spices. We drank the tea and Sam said that the boat was not seaworthy. He said that the voyage would be impossible. I was swallowed by sadness, but did not understand my powerful emotional response. Droplets of water accumulated in my eyes and gravitated to my beard. My wet cheeks were cool. Stone Eagle produced a cassette from his pocket and handed it to me.
"I want you to have this."
"It is music from Mbutu Gatukai, a town near the mountain you would have traveled to."
"Thank you," I whispered.
"Let him hear it," said Sam.
Sam took the cassette and carefully loaded it into a small cassette player. I relaxed on the sofa. Stone Eagle closed his eyes. Sam studied my face. The music seemed vaguely similar to the gamelan music of Indonesia. I closed my eyes and saw blue ocean swells, white spume and sunlight. Birds flew amid tangles of thick green foliage. My body began to sway. I was suddenly aware of a forked tube that connected my heart to each of my eyes. My water flowed profusely. It was as if a rusty faucet had opened, after many years. I felt at peace and tasted the ocean. I tasted salt, alkaline, metal, bitter and honey. Time was measured by the procession of flavors. At last I tasted dew on flower petals. My heart swelled and joy encompassed me. The music ended.
"Let him see the boat," said Stone Eagle.
We went to the harbor. Sam walked catlike on the undulating planks. He leaped onto an outrigger. In the aft there was a cabin. I came aboard with Stone Eagle.
Stone Eagle explained many things. Inside the cabin was the cow. She sat with the composure of a lioness. I stared at her human hands. There on a woven mat, I saw ten fingers and two well formed hands connected to two bovine wrists. She had two short horns and beautiful eyes. She breathed slowly and evenly through her nostrils. I wanted to touch her, but I did not try. There were photographs pinned to the bamboo walls of the cabin. Pictures of the men who had taken the journey. I saw a photograph of Stone Eagle. He was standing on a beach. Behind him was a forested mountain. He told me that the cows were hidden around the world to protect them. The animal's life span was relatively short and they must return to the island to die. The pilots for the boats were always chosen from another culture. Sam worked at repairing the boat while I listened. Night fell and we all worked together. At dawn, Sam pronounced the boat to be seaworthy. He showed me a sketch. It depicted the cow in the cabin. A naked man sat behind her. On his head was a helmet with two short horns. A belt of polished cowrie completed his costume.
"You will go."
"You will wear the belt and the helmet. When you want to talk, you must sit behind the cow and think of the music. The cow will speak to your mind. She will explain everything. My people will take care of you."
I was speechless with pride. Stone Eagle smiled. I wondered what the cow ate. I was about to ask this question, when Sam and Stone Eagle unfastened the bowline. I wore the belt and the helmet and sat behind the cow. I thought of the music and relaxed. I heard a beautiful resonant voice in my mind. I listened like a child and received a lecture about the boat. The cow piloted our boat through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. During the voyage, I learned about climatology, celestial navigation and all aspects of seamanship. I did not count the number of days of the voyage. I remember it as a time that was free of fear. Any questions I had were answered by the cow. I saw the Hawaiian Islands loom and disappear. The climate became hot and I wore only the helmet and the cowrie belt. My most vivid impression of the voyage was the act of communicating with the cow. The experience cannot be conveyed by mere words. It was in the spiritual realm. When I communed with the cow all of the non-physical aspects of union were purified and magnified.
We arrived at our destination at night. The motor was not needed for the final approach. Stars hung in the vault of the sky like crystal fruit in an inverted bowl of black velvet. I gazed up at the silver moon. I realized that I could talk with anyone who was also looking at the moon. The word buwan entered my thoughts. I tied the bowline to a palm tree. I was profoundly tired and slept on the thick grass away from the beach. I awoke and stretched my limbs. I was in a house and I smelled bacon. A beautiful little girl was looking at me. She smiled and said a few words to an old man, who sat in a bamboo chair near a window. He smiled and filled a cup with hot tea. He handed it to the girl and she timidly approached. I drank the same tea that Sam had served, many days ago.
"You will live forever in the memory of my people," the old man said in English.
"Where is the boat?" I asked.
"It is in a safe place. You arrived two days ago. The ceremony is complete. You will not speak of these things. Another journey will begin soon. We trust you to be silent."
I asked no more questions and I was served a full English breakfast by the little girl. Later, I went down to the beach with the old man. Several dozen islanders were gathered there on the sand. A man in an orange sarong made a photograph of me. The islanders celebrated and began to do a slow dance. My guide put his arm on my shoulder and led me to a rusty car that awaited me on the dusty coastal road. I was given some money and a packet of documents. The old fellow shook my hand and slapped the hood of the car as if it were a reluctant horse. I was driven across the island to a small port. The driver stopped at the quay and led me to a small boat. The captain told me that he could transport me to the Dutch ship that was anchored at a nearby island. That ship would go to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. I could disembark where I wanted.
It was a wonderful voyage. The food was excellent and I was nourished. I read dozens of books and made a friend of the engineer. He had a collection of classical music. We had many interesting discussions in his quarters. I decided to disembark at San Francisco. On my last morning at sea, I woke with a large sore on my left wrist. It looked serious and was painful. The ship's doctor said I had probably been bitten by a spider. They often hid in the cargo. After the ship was anchored, I took a taxi to Chinatown and visited a doctor. He consulted a book and confirmed the diagnosis of the ship's doctor. I was ordered to eat a handful of capsules immediately and to purchase more. I obtained the medicine at a nearby pharmacy and went to find food. I heard a familiar voice behind me. I turned and saw my friend, James from Vancouver! He said he had come to San Francisco to recover from a funeral. We decided to dine together.
We walked to a restaurant. While we ate, James studied my face. As if my journey was reflected in my eyes. After the meal, James wanted to take me to a special place. On the way we walked past a large willow. I told James it was a species of salix and the bark contained salicylic acid. Aspirin. He laughed. We came to a small house. In the backyard, there was a beautiful tree. It was decorated with thousands of birds and butterflies. The birds were the size of finches and their color was green like immature oranges. Legions of butterflies extended their black and golden wings. I remembered that I had some seeds in my pocket. The little girl in Mbutu Gatukai had given them as a gift. They were small, shiny and black. She wore a necklace of them. I gave half to James. We offered our open hands to the birds. They left the tree and divided into two flocks. Symmetrically, the tiny green creatures left their groups and took a seed. I knew that each seed was a prayer.
When the last bird disappeared, I looked at the tree. The butterflies remained. James turned and walked slowly. I followed in silence. I decided to go to Vancouver. James accompanied me to the bus station. We sat in the cafeteria and waited for my bus. As I drank a cup of horrible coffee, I saw an old man by the door. He was behind James. He looked at me intently and I felt cold. I nodded. I watched in awe and the the old man's clothes became the robes of a shaman. His jacket became a leather shirt. He wore a necklace of bones and had raven feathers in his hair. His umbrella became a stick carved into the shape of a serpent. He quickly transformed to normal. It was a glimpse of an alternate reality that only I had seen. The old fellow adopted a strange stance and lifted his umbrella. He shook it and made it rattle. I was blanketed with fear and my mouth gaped. The old man hissed like a snake and made the sound of a raven. James placidly drank his coffee. Just before he exited, the old man sneered. I regained my composure and I chose not to speak of this.
My bus was announced. James said goodbye. I tried to sleep on the bus. At each station, people went out to buy food and drink. Because I had used all of my money to pay my fare, I remained on board. On the second day, an old gentleman gave a paper bag to me. He went along the narrow aisle and sat next to his wife. Inside the bag I found two roast beef sandwiches and a half-kilo of peanuts. I moved to an unoccupied seat near the man. I ate ravenously while we talked. I learned that he was an Australian. Our conversation focused on his past. The old man had been a soldier in Burma. He was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for four years. He sobbed as he remembered the torture and starvation that he had suffered. His wife threw me a disapproving glance. After his heart was emptied, we promised to correspond. I returned to my seat and slept. As I sank into sleep, I was aware of a dark pulsating substance. It alternated between incomprehensible expansion and infinite diminution. I felt each pulsation behind my eyes. Rain began to fall and I awoke. The light of oncoming traffic shone on the wet window.
I fell asleep again, but my conscious mind observed this process. I listened to my heart. I felt layers of warm water cover my body as I sank into a deep sleep. My breath was a mere whisper. I was suddenly amazed to be standing in hot clean sand. The smell of the sea filled my nostrils. I knelt and grasped a handful of sand. It tickled my fingers and I laughed. I rinsed my mouth with the salty water. It was real! I looked toward the vast silver sea. I began to walk and I turned to look behind. I saw twelve intricately carved thrones, with seats of red leather, arranged in front of some sand dunes. They were gigantic. I could not see beyond the sand hills. I stood in awe like a prisoner awaiting a verdict. I couldn't guess who were the owners of those seats. I sensed that they would soon come from the dunes. I was apprehensive and my body trembled. I did not want to stay and I awoke suddenly.
Earthquake Red Pajamas
The remainder of the the trip to Vancouver was uneventful. I was glad. I assumed that my old basement was occupied, so I went to a civic shelter. After a shower, I walked to my bed and used my jacket as a pillow. I was asleep quickly. A strong physical sensation woke me. When I opened my eyes, I was on hands and knees. I recognized the location! It was the house where I was born. I saw my tiny hands and understood that I was trapped in the body of an infant. I heard my father in the bathroom and I crept toward him. I wanted to see him. He rushed out and the toe of his alligator shoe struck me on the chin. I tumbled over and wailed in pain. My mother came and comforted me.
"It was an accident. Your father is late for work and he did not see you."
My father rubbed my jaw and hurried away. I tried to speak, to no avail. I felt a strong tremor and heard a loud thump and several rumbles. I was in the civic shelter again and all were awake! They murmured nervously. The earth shook its mantle like a dog drying its fur. The noise became a cacophony. I grabbed my jacket. The building swayed again and I heard a prolonged rumble. Small things fell from shelves. I saw a man with a map and I approached him. He said that the epicenter of the disturbance was located at the convergence of the borders of British Columbia, Alberta and Montana. He had a car and invited me to go with him to this location. We stumbled to the street. We traveled eastward under the gray overcast sky. Neither of us talked. Most of the earthquake damage was confined to the urban area. After several hours, I knew that we were near our destination. On a road lined with poplar trees, I saw a house that attracted me like a magnet. I told the driver to stop. We rang the door bell. A big friendly man opened it as if he knew us. He invited us into the kitchen and his wife gave us mugs of coffee.
I remarked that it was cold in the house. The man said that the heater was broken. I offered to repair it. We drank our coffee and the man led me to a staircase. In the cellar, I took the inspection plate off of the motor. I found the faulty wiring and I made new connections. I told the man to turn up the thermostat. The fires ignited, the motor began to hum and a warm breeze pervaded the house. The man came to thank me. I saw a small bedroom in the cellar and I asked who slept there. The man said that it had been his son's bedroom, but the boy had died. We went into the bedroom and stood near the window. I saw a sandbox in the yard. The woman came and summoned her husband to breakfast. I remained in the bedroom. When I looked at the window again, I saw a young boy, dressed in red pajamas, playing in the sandbox. He seemed to be unaware of my presence. I thought that he should be dressed for the outdoors. He turned toward me, as if I had spoken. I signaled for him to come. He dropped his blue plastic shovel and pail.
I heard a noise behind me. I turned around and saw the little boy. He had some books under his arm. Then he smiled and got into his bed. I sat on the edge of the bed and talked with him. I felt an inexplicably strong love for this child. I also felt intense sorrow. This admixture of emotions attained an equilibrium. I began to read to the boy from an illustrated history book. I paused to look at the boy. He had grown a mustache and his eyes looked ancient. I tried to conceal my amazement and completed the first book. The boy began to talk. He told me that money was a prime engine of history. He spoke as an adult. We discussed the the book. The boy said people cause evil in the pursuit of money. He spoke like a wise old man. I learned many things. After I felt that I should leave, I hugged the boy and told him I could visit again. He lay his head on his pillow and looked very sad. I extinguished the light. Upstairs, I told the man with the car that it was time to return to Vancouver.
During the trip there was no conversation. I saw many workers repairing the earthquake damage. Most of the men were working to restore electricity and communication. It was dark when we reached the city. I got out of the car on a quiet street. I walked until I saw a house with a massive laurel hedge that dominated the front yard. The laurel was in seed and the sidewalk was stained with purple berries. I hid in the protection of the branches and smoked a cigarette. I heard a soft rain begin. I was very tired and slept there in the hedge. I woke abruptly when I slapped a mosquito on my neck. I was soaked in sweat. The brilliant sun forced me to close my eyes. I rubbed my eyelids. I heard strange bird songs. I shaded my eyes and surveyed the area. My memory demanded a laurel hedge in Vancouver. Instead, my eyes saw a vast field of sugar cane. I was in the tropics.
Wary of snakes, I walked along a row of sugarcane until I came to a fallow field. The harvested area was bordered by the jungle. The lush vegetation was inviting. I walked to the edge and sat on a tree stump. I heard voices. I waited. A group of five people emerged from the jungle. They smiled and then came toward me. They laughed and spoke softly. The eldest man stopped and lit a small fire in the field. A woman spread a large cloth nearby. A young man began to roast skewers of meat, while a young woman peeled some large fruits. They invited me to eat with them. While we ate, I studied the face of the elder. His features were remarkably similar to a Filipina woman I knew in Vancouver. I spoke her name. Everyone laughed. The elder placed the back of his fingers gently against my forehead. I was certain that I was in the Philippines. After the meal, the women and the young men walked toward the sugarcane. The elder led me across the field. A black dog came from the jungle and ran toward us. It stood in our path and showed its teeth.
The elder took a machete from his belt. He ignored the dog and hacked at the emptiness behind me. I heard a shriek. I turned to look. The shaman I had seen in San Francisco was standing there! He made an incantation and brandished his umbrella. The elder took a small bundle from his pocket and held it in his fist. The shaman hissed, frowned and sneezed violently. He stepped back. A sarcastic grin stretched across his leathery face. His cruel, thin lips parted and a small black and yellow frog crawled out of his mouth. It fell near my feet and hopped toward the jungle. I watched until it reached the trees. When I looked again, the shaman and the dog were gone. The elder replaced his bundle and gripped my arm. He led me to a large tree and indicated that I should sleep. He stayed with me. We heard a dog howl in the jungle. I gradually relaxed and was given a piece of raw ginger to chew. My sentinel went to help his family cut the sugarcane. My thoughts centered on the Filipina woman in Vancouver. I recalled the fragrance of her hair and slept with the memory of her humanity and courage.
The roar of a diesel motor woke me. The sugarcane field and the jungle were gone. I was in a bus on a highway in the dark. The passengers were murmuring in English. The road signs indicated that I was in America. There was a new white cotton shirt on my shoulders and the taste of ginger was in my mouth. A memory of the shaman warned me to be vigilant always. I had become accustomed to experiences that defied the rules of space and time that I had once understood. I decided to ask the man beside me, if he knew our location. I turned toward him. He was sweating profusely. Distended veins wove Celtic patterns under his skin like rivers of ink. He appeared to be in great pain. It was impossible to ignore his agony. He moaned under his breath and his eyes stared ahead as if he was desperate to reach a physical objective.
He offered a trembling hand. I gripped it and closed my eyes. On the black screen of my closed eyelids, I saw a large shark that was hunting along the edge of a coral reef. Schools of fish avoided the hunter like sentient clouds of colored smoke. Orange, purple, yellow, green and silver. The sun's light illuminated the coral, but the depths beyond were only a blue potentiality. The shark was sleek, powerful and it moved with beauty. I heard a mechanical sound. A click and a twang. I saw a spear strike the shark's flank and cut a large gash. I felt the shark's agony and I convulsed involuntarily. The shark made spasmodic movements and its blood made pink billows in the warm sea. It swam toward the deep water. I opened my eyes and released the man's hand.
"Did you see it?" he asked softly.
"Yes. You are the shark?"
"Yes, if the shark dies, I will die."
"How can you be a shark and a man simultaneously?"
"I leave my physical body. When I am a shark, I appear to be asleep. However, because my shark body is wounded, I cannot completely return to my human form. I must divide my energy between both forms."
"As a human I have much responsibility."
"What will happen if both your forms are weakened?"
"I will try to reach a sea-cave. There is plenty of food, the entrance is easy to defend and the current helps me breathe without needing to swim. The problem is not only the wound. The smell of my blood attracts predators."
"Can I help?"
"No. I must swim to the cave."
"How did you learn to transform?"
"It was accidental. In some maritime cultures, sharks are worshiped. Each clan has a shark priest. It is an inherited vocation, except in an extraordinary circumstance. According to tradition, the priest anchors his canoe in the lagoon and beats a special rhythm on the hull. The sound travels a long distance under the water to summon sharks. I heard a shark priest in a dream and I transformed. Later, I could close my eyes, recall the rhythm and transform. With each subsequent transformation, the shark became more substantial. My predicament is a consequence of this practice," he explained with stoic resignation.
Our conversation was ruptured by the cry of a small child. The child's mother took a piece of cold chicken from a bag near her feet. She tore a tiny piece and poked it into the hungry mouth. He gnawed contentedly. I did not touch the man again. I did not want to see more of his struggle. Eventually the bus stopped and all the passengers disembarked. I was unsure of our location. The shark-man was awake. More than two hours had passed. I knew that he had reached the cave. We disembarked together. The pavement was wet from rain, but the sky was now clear. We bought coffee and my companion broke our silence.
"I came here to attend a special school. Do you want to come? It is very exclusive, but I can pay for your registration fees."
"What will you learn?"
"Yes, I want to learn. Thank you."
"I am confused. The other sharks ate me but my human aspect has survived. I feel different, somehow."
"You appear to be the same as before. Except your eyes."
The Three Methods
I followed my companion. We walked past a delicatessen which sold 'the best pastrami in Portland'. We soon came to an old building of red brick. Inside, we completed the necessary forms. I learned that my companion's name was Tim. We went directly to our classroom. We arrived before it commenced. In the adjacent classroom, a lecture attracted our attention. We put our ears near the door. The lecture was about the ancient Egyptian postulate that a human has seven souls. Three of the souls are immortal. When the body dies they return to heaven and obtain another body. The four remaining souls serve as the body's companions, during the dangerous journey to the west.
"Tim, I think that you used one of your souls as a shark. The other sharks ate that soul. Now you feel different because you have only six souls."
Tim did not respond. When the lecture ended, Tim spoke to the instructor. The gentleman gave Tim a slim book and advised him to read it. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was time to enter our classroom. We sat and waited. Soon, a woman entered the room. She was graceful and her demeanor was that of a goddess. She had brown eyes and her hair was the color of beech. Her costume was a radiant blue gown. Luxurious folds flowed like water to her ankles. The garment was fashioned to show her breasts completely. I recognized her attire. I had seen it in a photograph of a fresco at Knossos, Crete. A soft golden cord was tied around her waist.
"I am Phyllis," she said.
We made her acquaintance. More students came. When all was quiet, Phyllis began.
"Hello and welcome. I prefer to use a direct approach, texts will not be necessary. To begin, I will impart several techniques to condense energy. The first technique is the Concentration Method. Stand up please."
"Choose a spot on the chalk-board as your target. Imagine that a ray of light extends from your forehead. Direct the ray at your target. The second method utilizes your breathe. Breathe deeply and imagine your exhaled breath is a column of water. Direct the column of water at your target. Yes. Splendid. The third method utilizes your intent. Imagine your eyes are lasers. Direct the lasers at your target. Practice these three methods."
Phyllis sat and watched us. I tried each method. Phyllis asked us to sit, after an hour had passed.
"Do you have any queries?"
I asked Phyllis to explain the difference between the first and third methods. She told me to be patient and I would know the answer later. During the rest period, Phyllis placed small unlit candles along the edge of the chalk-board. Above the candles, she wrote our names. She went out to drink a cup of tea. Tim and I decided to practice the three methods. We aimed at our candles. After awhile, Tim's candle ignited. I was disturbed by this event and I quickly sought the exit.
I ran downstairs in a panic. Outside, on the street, I realized everything was different. I leaned against a wall. I smoked a cigarette and all the signs I saw were written in Japanese. I looked back where I had come from. It was no help. The building in Portland was gone. I sucked on my cigarette. My eyes darted back and forth. I saw one sign in English. It said 'Texas Fried Chicken'. I had not eaten since the meal in the cane field. I dug into my pocket and found some money. I felt conspicuous and tried to adopt a calm demeanor. I walked in search of food. I soon found a small restaurant with steamy windows. A man was cooking noodles in a large vat. I was entertained by his dexterity. I looked at what his customers were eating. A waitress followed me with her eyes. I indicated a dish being enjoyed by a man in a black sweater and sat next to him. I was served a large plate of crescent-shaped morsels. The man told me they were gyozas.
They proved to be delicious. I washed them down with green tea. It was dark when I left. I walked to a policeman and learned that I was in Osaka. The policeman gave me a map and showed me an inexpensive place to sleep. I thanked him and began to walk. I remembered something and it made me smile. I had a correspondent in Osaka! I had met the old man and his wife on board an airplane. We had never visited, but we corresponded. His name was Kanazawa and he owned a fish brokerage. His family bought fresh fish from the boats and sold it to restaurants. I laughed. I knew the address of his house and I had a map. My excitement was so strong, I almost went to his door. At the last minute, I remembered good etiquette. I found a phone booth and called the house. A woman answered. She identified herself as Kanazawa's daughter-in-law. She announced my visit to Kanazawa-san. She also hired a taxi to bring me in an hour. I thanked the woman and I was glad she spoke English. I waited and listened to the soothing evensong of the crickets. My body vibrated in unison. Soon, a black taxi arrived.
I was taken to the house. There, underneath an ancient maple I saw Kanazawa, his wife, his daughter-in-law and her two children. They were all in evening kimonos and geta shoes. Kanazawa paid the taxi and bowed. I bowed. His daughter-in-law bowed and smiled. I bowed again. The children giggled and bowed. I bowed to them. Kanazawa led me inside his house. The decor had elements of ancient, modern, oriental and occidental. Shoji, tatami, futons and a Zen garden; coexisted with a modern kitchen, a piano, a European table and a gigantic television set. I was introduced to the family. Kanazawa's wife, Suhiro, bowed and smiled. Her eyes betrayed she was disturbed by my sudden visit. The daughter-in-law, Yukio, offered to show me to the o furo. The Japanese bath. She explained how it was used and demonstrated the order of procedure. The children watched and giggled. I was to scrub thoroughly before I entered the bath. I thanked Yukio and began to undress. I heard a scratch on the paper door and it slid back. A slim arm appeared like a beautiful golden snake with a kimono and a pair of plastic shoes in its mouth. I washed with green soap and rinsed with a small plastic bucket. When I was clean, I got into the bath.
The water was volcanic and clear as quartz. Patience was required in order to submerge and not be boiled. I heard soft piano music and a chorus of insects. The Second Movement of the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven, accompanied by cicadas. Sweat and tension left my body. Yukio came again to the door and told me that Kanazawa-san was asleep. My bed was ready. I followed her and watched while she carefully smoothed my futon. She said the family would go to Shimoda City in the morning. I was invited to come. We would sleep at Kanazawa's brother's house during a local festival. I happily accepted her invitation. I slept well and awoke at dawn. We had a breakfast of rice and fish. Mrs. Kanazawa prepared our snack. I helped Yukio load the luggage. I tried to converse with Kanazawa about Buddhism and Shintoism. He told me he was a Christian. I was surprised and decided to remain silent. I saw crowded cities, rice fields like emeralds and thick forests of tall bamboo. I adored the cobalt roofs of the farm houses. From time to time, Yukio spoke to me. I went to sleep and one of the children woke me. We had arrived at another fish brokerage. Young men carried boxes of fish and ice to and fro. A fleet of motorcycles formed a neat row beside our car.
Each box was an individual request, delivered by motorcycle. I was presented to Kanazawa's brother,Tetsu. He had a wife and two sons. Tetsu was a short energetic man, younger than Kanazawa. Before the luggage was unpacked, Tetsu gave me a bottle of cold beer and a package of cigarettes. Kanazawa was old and in poor health. His wife was not happy. Yukio was busy. I decided to interact with Tetsu. Supper was served on a low table, laden with seafood and beer. Tetsu laughed and told jokes. His English was limited and he recruited Yukio to be his translator. Two hours after supper, Tetsu and I had a poetry competition. Each drunken utterance was translated by Yukio and celebrated with a drink. I was very happy. After many bottles of beer, Tetsu's massive eyebrows lost altitude and settled over his eyes like tired caterpillars. He bowed awkwardly and went to his bed. Yukio took me to a small room, deep inside the house and prepared a futon. The house was built around an inner garden and the paper walls of my room were illustrated with the shadows of trees and moonlight. The serenity of the outdoors without the risks. I slept well. I heard tinkling laughter and woke. I raised my head and rubbed my eyelids. I saw three beautiful little girls, stationed near my bed. The eldest girl was approximately six years old. She bowed daintily. The other two girls imitated her gesture and giggled softly.
"Can you talk English?" I asked.
"Yes. A little. This is our house."
"Tetsu is your father?"
"Yes. Take us to the temple."
"Where is it?"
"Please. Please. Please."
"You can show me where?"
The three girls went out and closed the screen. I heard Tetsu snore. I decided to escort the girls. We could probably return before the others were awake. I followed the girls outside. They jumped and laughed. The eldest girl held my hand. The city slept. We walked to the ocean.
"What is your name? Were you at home last night?"
"I am Etsuya. She is Kaori. She is Kyoko."
I stopped and bowed. The girls laughed and bowed. Etsuya tugged my hand and indicated a road to the beach. The sea was the color of spinach. I saw a large pillar of rock about one hundred meters from the shore. It was crowned with a shrine, made of red and black lacquered wood. A braided rope was tied around the rock. The rope spanned over the sea and was tied to a large stone on the shore. The girls ran to a small boat near the stone. They went into the boat. Each one adjusted her hat and her ribbons and all looked very impatient.
I dragged the little boat into the water and started for the rock. One of the girls sang with delight. I saw the cause of her joy. It was a gigantic sea turtle. It raised its head out of the water near the gunwale and Kaori touched it.
"Kame-san," said Kyoko.
"Kame-san," I repeated.
I continued toward our destination. I saw a small platform and some steps. I propelled the boat the remaining distance and stowed the oars. I gripped the platform with both hands and asked Etsuya to help the other girls get out of the boat. There was no answer. I turned around. The boat was empty! I tethered the boat and went up to the shrine. I found only a small niche filled with fruit. There was no place on the rock, where the girls could hide. I looked at the ocean and saw the shell of the turtle. It submerged and began to swim away. My heart ached. I was certain the girls had not gone into the water. They were not not on the rock. I did not know how to explain to Tetsu. I returned the boat to where we had found it. The wind came from the sea and brought rain. The water was agitated with white foam. In town, the streets were busy now. I arrived at the house and tried to calm myself. I shivered in the yard and Tetsu appeared at the doorway. His son threw me a towel. Yukio brought a cup of green tea.
"Where did you go?"
"Yuki-san, I was at the shrine with Tetsu's daughters. We rode a boat. When we arrived at the shrine, the girls vanished."
Yukio looked concerned and moved backward.
"It is impossible to see Etsuya, Kaori and Kyoko."
After Yukio spoke those names, Tetsu shouted angrily. Suhiro began to weep and was taken into the house. Yukio implored Tetsu to relax and I waited. Tetsu bellowed and went inside the house. Yukio began to weep. She spoke to me, but I did not understand. Tetsu came toward me from the house, armed with a long fish-knife. His eyes radiated hate. Yukio blocked his path and was pushed to the side. I sprinted away. Tetsu pursued me for ten minutes. I turned to look. He sat on the roadside and panted for breath. I ran to the highway near the beach. I signaled to a truck, which fortunately stopped.
I ran to the door and said, "Tokyo."
The truck-driver smiled, gestured his assent and gave me a cigarette. The rain poured heavily. The truck-driver played a CD of flute music for our entertainment. I closed my eyes. The fat blobs of rain played a cacophony on the vehicle's roof. I heard an angry roar, followed by a shrill whistle. I covered my head. The earth around me was in convulsion. A storm of debris fell on my shoulders, when I was thrown out of the vehicle. I landed in a metal culvert and banged against its sides.
I stopped abruptly. I smelt spruce. I inhaled deeply and opened my eyes. I saw I had the body of a wolf. I stretched my limbs and shook vigorously. I curled up my tail. A plethora of forest aromas intoxicated me. I dug into the soft earth. I relieved my bladder on a tree. I was on a forested slope of mixed conifers. Behind the thin trees, I saw bare rock. The stone ledges looked interesting. I ran up the mountain with joy. A rivulet gurgled on the left side and I veered toward that sound. I drank cold water and continued. I reached a small waterfall and went to the top of it. I saw the valley below. The mountain behind me was crowned with snow. I heard the scream of an eagle. It flew high above the valley, as if held aloft by the power of my admiration. It circled and landed near a distant waterfall. I walked in a circle three times and sat down. It was a peaceful night. I began to sense a powerful female force. I knew the moon was coming. I looked between two mountains and was bathed in the yellow lunar glow.
I sang my questions and slept under a ledge. I stayed in the mountains and hunted small animals. I envied the eagle and was obsessed with its ability to fly. I asked the trees for the secret of flight. They did not know. I thought the moon might know, and I asked her many times. She heard my songs, but answered only with her light. Once, I saw a little snake, coiled on a seed-cone. It had green diamonds on a black background. I was fascinated and learned to communicate with it. I told it of my obsession. The snake knew how to transform to an eagle. We must go to where the eagle had its nest on the cliff. We must close our eyes and we must leap. We must pray for the transformation and believe it will be accomplished. We talked on our way to the cliff. The eagle's nest was empty. We walked to the edge of the cliff and leaped. I imagined I was an eagle. Fresh air streamed through my fur. I opened my eyes. The dark valley looked beautiful. I was the master of the moment. The valley floor ended my flight. The impact crushed my legs and cracked several of my ribs. My head ached and the thirsty earth absorbed my blood. I was immobile underneath a large hemlock tree. The little snake was uninjured and it slithered away, before I slept.
When I awoke, my body was doubled over a window sill. I was limp as a wet sock. I was too weak to move and had a bitter taste in my mouth. I had vomited. I raised my head and saw another window. It was only a meter away. A family was eating their breakfast. I recognized them as my former neighbors. They looked directly at me, but not with disgust. My sense of pride made me attempt to leave the window sill. The effort caused me to vomit yellow bile. Helpless in my shame, I watched the mother while she washed the dishes. A small gray kitten walked near my head, paused to chew on a flower and then walked away. I closed my eyelids and saw the silhouette of a man on a chess-board. The squares were red and black, but began to change colors rapidly. I experienced each new color as a taste. A warm wind began. The wind gradually intensified and the colors were absorbed by darkness, like the embers of a dying fire. With the emotionless roar of a locomotive, the wind became a furious tempest.
I was blown away by the maelstrom. I opened my eyes to the reality of my situation. I was in an abyss of wind with no reference point. Ascent or descent were unknowable abstractions; I was only conscious of motion. The only thing I saw was a thin silver cord near my face, which remained static. I grabbed the cord and it cut my hand. The storm pulled with mighty force. A sudden pain tore my heart. Simultaneously, my movement abruptly ceased. I discovered that the cord was attached to my heart. I grasped the cord with both hands and pulled to relieve the pressure. The wind swallowed everything except righteous anger and tenacity. As my resolve increased, the tempest diminished in perfect counter-point. Light returned and I was standing near the window. The neighbor woman was now drying the dishes. Her complacency was unbearable. It was a cloudy day with brief interludes of sunshine. I decided to go to the harbor. Clouds thickened on the flanks of the mountains while I walked. Cold rain began to fall. I was visited by a sadness that escaped categorization and remedy. My body was exhausted, my thoughts were turbulent and my heart was swollen with questions.
I heard something behind me. It was a small white dog, which diligently followed me. I saw my mother walking near the harbor and I shouted for joy. As I ran toward her, the rain became a downpour. She paused to adjust her umbrella and continued on her way. I followed and tried to think of an explanation for her behaviour. I got under her umbrella and tried to speak to her. I saw that she was sobbing. She stopped and dug into her bag to find a cigarette. I stood directly in front of her. She ignored me and lit the cigarette. I gripped her shoulders and she shivered. I heard raucous laughter. It came from three drunk men. They were wrapped in filthy blankets and sitting against a wall. The dog growled and showed his teeth to them.
"He wants his mother," said one man.
The others snickered and cackled. My mother ignored the men. The dog seized the blanket of one man. The man cursed and threw a bottle. The agile animal dodged. Green glass shattered on the wet pavement. My mother finished her cigarette and walked away. I implored her to speak. I stood with the dog, near the broken glass and we watched her depart. The drunk men coughed and spat. One man offered me a drink.
"Your mother cannot hear you."
His voice was familiar. I studied his sardonic face. I stepped back. He was the shaman from the sugarcane field! He tilted his head to one side and put on an innocent expression. He drank from the bottle and smiled. I regarded him with fear and contempt.
"Shit! Tell him the truth," said one of the other men.
The shaman laughed and looked at his companions. Then he turned toward me.
"Look at me," he commanded. I looked into his stony eyes.
"Kid, you are dead. You died in your friend's car, before the wedding."
I knew that he spoke the truth. I saw that the three men were looking behind me. Their eyes were wide. I turned around and saw a young man. His hair was braided and tied with green yarn. He put a hand on my shoulder and said my name. He opened a pouch and sprinkled a circle of corn flour around us.
"Texas corn-magic," observed the shaman with sarcasm.
"Do you think you can enter the circle?" the young man asked.
The challenge was ignored. When I looked back, two of the men were walking away. A large raven flew overhead. I threw my clothes out of the circle. A pattern was cut on my skin with the fang of a rattlesnake. Thin rivers of blood made an animated tattoo. I was rubbed with crushed herbs. Then I sat with closed eyes. I smelled sweet smoke and opened my eyes. I was in a small room. It had seven walls. The young man gave me a cigarette. I exhaled a cloud of smoke over the fire.
"Smoke gives form to your breath. I am Badger. I am your relative. You have many different bloods. Your Cherokee blood is strong. You were born on our land and we are your guides. We are the Wolf Clan. Your clan name is Kagali Unegi Waya. You now know three directions. Your birthplace was in the South. Innocence. You went to the West. Introspection. Then you went to the North. Wisdom. You lack enlightenment. It is found in the East. You are not in balance, you are between life and death. You have no child and you are the last of our lineage."
Badger took me to Ataga'hi, a place where wounded animals go to be healed. Without spiritual vision the broad expanse of purple water appears to be dry land. I learned herb lore and the hunt. I heard ancient stories. I learned to combat spiritual parasites. They are known as Raven Mockers.
When I was ready to leave, I went to the east. Each day I practiced what I had learned. I found a beautiful mountain and built a house on it. I planted a garden. I dried meat, fish and herbs. When this was accomplished, I went to a river to wash. After my bath, I reclined on a fresh carpet of sphagnum. I intended to have an active dream. I listened to the river and meditated on the old stories I had learned. Several hours later, I saw my recumbent body, in my dream. The skin over my heart was swelling. My flesh opened and there emerged a green sprout. It took energy from the sun and from my desire. The mature stem made flowers. The roots grew deep into the earth below my body, like organic lightning. My flesh opened and I separated from the stem. My wounds disappeared and I watched the corn ripen. Inside one of the fruits, I saw a human arm. A tiny woman was inside. I put her on the earth. I held her hands and she grew to my height.
I named her, Awiakta. Her hair was the color of a raven. Her eyelashes were the color of corn silk and her eyes were hazel green. Her teeth were like tiny clouds. Her face was the color of the sky. Her left arm was the color of cocoa and her right arm was like red clay. Her hands were strong and graceful. Her wrists were thick. Her legs and feet were the color of sand. Her thighs were sturdy. The color of charcoal covered her buttocks, and extended up to her neck and right ear. Her left ear and breasts were the color of teak. This coloration extended over her belly. She did not have a navel. Awiakta harvested the corn. I watched her with pleasure. She sang and her voice was honey to my ears. We brought the corn to our house. Awiakta re-arranged everything in the house. She made clothing from the pelts I had collected. We slept beside the fireplace. When the first full moon appeared, Awiakta slept under a pine tree. We did not speak. I woke one morning to the sound of Awiakta's singing. I walked to the river. Awiakta was washing in the cool water. She smiled and I went in the water.
Awiakta sang and scrubbed my body with fine sand. My rattlesnake scars glowed. She ran to the shore and I chased the sound of her laughter. Awiakta entered a canyon. I found her on a rock in the river. She collapsed with laughter, but armed herself with a stick. I advanced slowly because I saw fear in her eyes. I raised my arms and she raised her stick. I caught her wrist tightly and looked into her eyes. She dropped the stick. I released her arm and broke the stick. I threw one piece into the the river. I gave the other piece to her and she also threw it. We watched until the two pieces had disappeared. I led Awiakta to a grove on the shore. She stood like a statue. I combed her hair with my fingers and rubbed her shoulders. Dappled sunlight penetrated the foliage above. Discs of light danced randomly on her multicolored skin. I kissed her and tasted her sweet mouth. We joined our bodies and mingled our voices. Afterwards, Awiakta craved fish and fruit. Her skin developed a beautiful glow. I ate venison, peppers and corn. I told her everything I knew. I was her father, mother, husband, brother and lover. Her questions taught me much that I did not know. Her instincts were pure and undiluted.
Her common sense was impeccable and she was a complete woman. Her pleasure was to make us comfortable and I was fulfilled as a provider. We shared our time and our chores. We never parted company, except to hunt. We collected food and fuel. She taught me to make bird snares and she was an accomplished fisher. We made deer skin shirts. Awiakta decorated them. Gradually, her belly swelled and I rubbed it with herbs. Her breasts eventually resembled teak melons. Her water broke one afternoon, while she was picking mushrooms. The boy had thick black hair. The left side of his face was blue, like his mother. The rest of his skin was brown-red. We named him, Bjorn. I shared pleasant hours with Bjorn. Awiakta was a devoted mother. Bjorn and I invented a game. I would shake the seeds off a dandelion. Bjorn would catch them with a pine twig smeared with resin. The difficulty varied with the angle of the sun and the intensity of the wind. My son had the reflexes of a cat. We had neighbors to the north. A group of eight people, who lived in a limestone cave. There were five women and three men and they were very old. They had become refugees and died during a terrible winter, in 1838.
They were our only friends. Bjorn often walked to the cave to visit them. One cold morning, Bjorn decided to visit his friends. At twilight, one of the old men came to our house. His haste indicated a problem. He told us that Bjorn had not arrived at the cave.
"Please wait inside the house. Awiakta has made soup. I will search for Bjorn."
It was autumn and I guessed that Bjorn would choose his usual route. Foliage, the color of fire, swirled around my ankles as I walked. My will was focused on the location of my son. I exhaled clouds of frost in the brisk wind. I saw a small mound of twigs, two kilometers from home, under Bjorn's favourite tree. I found him underneath! He was pale and feverish. I carried him home. His hair smelt the same as his mother's hair. It was dark when we arrived. Awiakta was waiting near the door and she carried Bjorn to the hearth. His complexion had faded and he was delirious. Awiakta bathed him. I moved his bed near the hearth. He was not able to eat or drink. The next morning, our old friend returned to the cave. He said that others would come to sit with Bjorn. The three old women arrived later in the afternoon. Bjorn awoke and drank soup. His fever diminished and he slept. The old women stayed near his bed, because he had frequent nightmares.
Bjorn remained ill. The old women sat by his bed. I eventually saw a common theme in Bjorn's nightmares and I discovered the cause of his lingering illness. I used Badger's teachings to save my son. I found a certain kind of tree and I cut four twigs. I carved them into points. I purified them with smoke and sang a prayer, four times. I told the old women to go back to the cave and to send all the men to my house. After dusk, I pushed the twigs into the earth, near the path to the house. The next day, at noon, I heard a horrible scream and I ran to look. I saw two old men standing near a third old man, who had collapsed. Awiakta came out from the house. The stricken old man had a hole in his forehead. His skin shriveled like a rotten peach. His body became a pile of dust.
One old man spoke, "I was the second person to die in the cave. Now, I know this man stole our days. He continued the evil practice after he died. Bjorn has many days."
I explained to Awiakta. Raven Mockers attack people during an illness. They enter a person's dreams and quicken death. By curtailing the life of their victims, they increase their own. This man was not the shaman I had previously encountered, but he practiced similar magic. I was happy that Bjorn would recover, but a danger still existed.
During Bjorn's recovery, the horizon became unstable. The trees behind the house fluttered like reflected images on a wind-swept pond. The disturbance had a definite boundary, which coincided with my mood. The boundary was near when I was troubled and far, when I was happy. When the weather got hot, I was troubled. Awiakta knew of my discomfort. She suggested I go for a long walk. North over the mountains. I wanted to take the journey. When I reached the edge of the forest, the trees were undulating as if they were painted on silk. I turned to look at my family. They were working in the garden and neither of them looked at me. I entered the forest. The trees fluttered around me. I penetrated the forest and the disturbance became more intense. Soon, the trees were visible only on the crests of each undulation. All else was gray in color. It was a difficult walk on a fluctuating landscape. I had to infer, from the context of an incomplete terrain, where to step. Unexpectedly, I bashed my forehead on a solid object.
It was a street sign, in the midst of the forest. During countless walks in this forest, I had never seen any such thing. I rubbed my forehead and continued. After a few steps, I saw a traffic signal, among the pines. The light changed from yellow to red. Then I made a further discovery. Undulations, emanating from my house, created the forest. Others, which created the city, came from the direction of my journey. I saw a piece of a sidewalk and a trash container. A faceless torso paused to dig for bottles. I stepped on the sidewalk and looked back. From this perspective, I saw a big city street. There were a few trees here and there. I heard the sound of traffic. I walked along the street, until all vestiges of the forest were gone. I stopped before another traffic signal. A street sign indicated that I was walking on Broadway. I crossed the street. A man with bright green hair asked me to give him money. My eyes were stung by the fumes of the vehicles. I smelt a miasma of fried foods. I needed a cup of coffee to remedy a headache induced by monoxide. I saw a group of people, who were advertising different religions. They pushed pamphlets into the hands of the reluctant pedestrians. A prostitute, who was dressed in chamois boots and a pink silk blouse, walked among them.
One of the pamphleteers watched her.
"You can't push a horse with a piece of rope," said a bystander.
I saw a neon sign. Ouroborous Coffee House. I went inside and found a table. A slender Chinese woman put a cup of coffee in front of me. My headache began to dissipate. On my left, I saw a man who was writing in a small notebook. He placed a cigarette on his thick lower lip and anchored with his upper lip. He stroked his neatly trimmed beard and adjusted his eyeglasses. He looked at me.
"The style of your clothes seems to be south-eastern. The decorations are Sioux. Are you lost?"
"My clothes are Cherokee style. You guessed the decorations correctly. I love the patterns of the prairie."
"A very interesting combination. I am called Alun. I am pleased to meet you."
"Likewise. My name is Waya. Alun, is this city your own fabrication?"
"Yes, it is."
"I have a house nearby, in the forest."
The juke-box played an intriguing African melody.
"I have seen your house. In fact, one morning, I chased an angry raccoon out of the kitchen and followed it to your lovely house. Your wife is certainly interesting."
"I think I understand something of this phenomenon. Our individual realities emanate in undulations. Their intensity varies with our emotional condition. Their effects are polarized."
"By the twenty-four testicles of the Apostles! The same old conundrum. I have written twelve pages explaining all this, utilizing the theory of particles. As you know, undulations have no mass. I evicted a real raccoon from my kitchen, two days ago. If you are interested, I have another theory. An analogy, actually. I can say with certainty, you are partly Welsh."
"My father's mother was born in Cardiff."
"Of course. Think of a gigantic oak tree. Each acorn is not aware of every other acorn. They fall to earth and are scattered by animals. Each one is a potential oak tree. Many creatures take refuge in the physical manifestation of each potential tree."
"Do you suggest we are from the same tree?"
"I do, certainly. It is obvious."
"I am hungry. What food do you have?"
"Cous-cous. Tea and some fruit."
I noticed a change of ambiance and looked at the window. The street was full of people in Arab garb. The sound of traffic was replaced by the bleating of goats and the occasional roar of a camel. Alun put his hand on my shoulder.
"We shall eat in my private room."
He led me to a red curtain. There was a hammered brass table, surrounded by cushions, in the centre of the room. The walls were decorated with tapestries, scimitars and poems, written in beautiful Arabic. We got comfortable. A young man brought tea. He poured the liquid from the teapot to the cups repeatedly, until a light foam appeared on top. Our food arrived. We ate the spiced chicken with our fingers. Three musicians came into the room and began playing a lively melody. Our table was cleared. Small dishes of dates, candy and melons were brought. A radiant woman entered the room and began to dance. I gazed on her and licked the melon juice off of my fingers. Her hands told many stories. In the movement of her navel, I saw the rhythm of life. Her buttocks were like planets, in orbit around the sun. Her breasts were cornucopias. Her eyes were lakes of compassion. Her dance evoked fire and gravity. I heard Alun's voice.
"You may stay, if you want. However, there is a train station, across the street. From there, you can go to meet eternity. I have decided to remain."
I knew that I must go.
The Train Station
I stood up and told Alun what I had decided. I went to the door. It was dark and the street was wet with rain. The landscape had changed again. The city now seemed European. I paused to ignite a cigarette. Alun stood beside me. He indicated with his chin, the train station across the road.
"Thank you. Maybe we will see each other again."
"I would enjoy that."
I pushed open the door and went across the street. I threw my cigarette and walked inside the station. The roof was very high and it covered a vast network of rails. I saw a man with a yellow hat, dancing with a woman with a lovely red bonnet. They were oblivious to the throng. A large black man gave me a brochure, on the topic of Islam. I watched the dancers and studied the brochure. I walked toward a huge destination sign, which clattered frequently, as it was updated. The crowd muttered. Arrivals and departures were announced in every language. Evidently, there were different trains for each religion. I was to choose one of them.
I studied the sacred texts of the Muslims, the Hindus, the Jews, the Christians and many others. The first four were not difficult to assimilate. But, the multiple schisms, added to thousands of indigenous belief systems, was overwhelming. I strolled inside the train station and questioned people. How exactly is Jainism different from Hinduism? How is the Hopi creation myth different from that of the Cherokee? Do the Zoroastrians believe in a final judgement? Where does the Atheist Express go? Is there an Agnostic Shuttle? What was Nietzsche's decision? Was Goethe with him? Did you see Giordano Bruno? Trains came and departed. People asked me to accompany them. It was difficult to watch them go. I sat and contemplated. My choice was a very serious matter. If multiple truths co-existed, my choice was merely a detour. A farce. Yet, there were consequences. I sat and smoked cigarettes. My indecision caused me anxiety. I tried to clear my thoughts, but I was angry. Most people had worried expressions on their faces. I saw some people who were waiting for the Buddhist train. They looked serene, so I waited with them. I walked away before the train came. I went faster and faster. I was running when I reached the door. I saw the Ouroborous Café across the street. Alun was writing in his notebook and drinking coffee. I saw a taxi and decided to flee.
I watched the road carefully. Although the driver was going straight, the train station repeatedly appeared on our right.
"Go beyond the train station!" I yelled.
I wanted to return to Bjorn and Awiakta. The driver mumbled. I saw the train station again. The rain poured down. I tried to control my breathing.
"Jesus Christ!" shouted the driver.
I saw a tall pine in our path and then I heard a symphony of broken glass. I lost consciousness and when I awoke I was with Bjorn. It was a bright sunny day. A fresh wind danced in the foliage of a horse-chestnut tree, with roots anchored in a vast cemetery. A raven flew down silently and landed on a low branch. Directly below, there was the body of a dead raven. Bjorn paused near the dead bird. He sought council on the nature of death. I hesitated to answer. I was surprised by his questions. I saw the raven above and asked Bjorn to look at both birds. Then I asked him to observe all the differences. Bjorn enumerated all the differences he saw. I told him, death was a mystery with many different explanations. I encouraged his curiosity. I said that people believe different explanations. I told him several versions. If I made a pretense of possessing the definite answer, Bjorn would explore no further. We began to walk and play football with a fallen chestnut. The raven made a loud croak.
Ed was late. He hurried over to the cashier at a London Drugs Store and placed a TV Guide, a bottle of mouthwash, a can of cashews and a jigsaw puzzle on the counter. He then requested a carton of cigarettes.
The cashier looked up at him as she pulled the puzzle box across her scanner. Ed was just over six feet tall and had a thin, wiry frame. His hair was graying at the temples and thinning on top. His hands were calloused and his nails were dirty and split. He wore blue jeans and a red golf shirt. His biceps and pectorals bunched like bags of mud under the too-small shirt. By contrast, his skinny legs looked like denim covered match-sticks.
A mental picture of the poor old bugger formed in the cashiers mind. He was sitting in front of a small TV set eating the cashews and fingering the puzzle pieces. So many lonely people.
“It's a beautiful picture. The puzzle, I mean.”
“It's for my daughter.”
“Oh, well she'll love it. Those puppies are so cute.”
“Oh aye, I hope she'll like it.”
“Have a great evening, sir.”
Ed hastened to his car, an olive green Chevy Nova. He tossed the shopping bag gently on the seat and got inside. After lighting a cigarette, he opened the cellophane wrapper of the puzzle box with a long, dirty nail.
The cardboard smell reminded him of the paper mill where he worked. After digging out a random piece of the puzzle, he tossed it out of the car window. Then he closed up the box, replaced it into the bag and drove to his apartment.
There, Glissandra rocked back and forth in her chair by the window. She moaned from time to time and clutched at her shoulders with milk-white hands. Her shawl had slipped off and fallen to the floor. She had been staring at it the entire afternoon, a black pool of soft wool on the scratched wooden floor. It was too far away to be retrieved.
Upon hearing her father's footsteps in the hall, she moaned louder and a string of saliva escaped the barrier of her lips and fell to her lap. She stared at the little pearly puddle and rocked rhythmically.
Glissandra was excited, for today he would bring a brand new puzzle.
Across from her window, less than ten feet away, a set of stained curtains opened in the apartment next door. A young single-father, noticing Glissandra for the first time, regarded her for a moment. He felt a bit ridiculous to be in such proximity. Noting the drool and the way in which she rocked like an autistic child, he wanted to close the curtain again.
As he moved away, Matthew decided that he had better get used to seeing other people at this window because he needed the sparse light that filtered in between the two buildings. He put some music on and caught a glimpse of a man fussing over the red haired girl. Their eyes met briefly a while later while the man was setting his table for supper and Matthew was watering a philodendron on a desk by the window.
Matthew thought, “I need the light. I will learn not to stare.”
Ed thought, “She is not normal. I am doing my best.”
Hearing a knock at his door, Matthew turned away and let in his girlfriend, Jill. I was her first visit, so he gave her a five minute tour of the aged one bedroom apartment. Over dinner, he told her about the neighbors across the way. The two couples ate their respective meals in view of each other. While Jill washed up the cups and plates, Matthew put on a new record album. On the way to the stereo he could see the man prostrate on his living room floor pressing weights while watching TV upside down. At the adjacent window, the girl sat at a little table, rocking back and forth and working on her new puzzle.
Later, Jill closed the curtains and Matthew turned out the lights. They had a shower together. Giggling loudly, they went to the tiny bedroom and continued their play. They heard the man across the way turn off his TV and hoped that he hadn't heard them.
A siren wailed in the distance and dogs began to howl. A train whistle cut through the night air and Matthew decided with a grin that the little extra noise he and Jill contributed couldn't possibly be out of place in an ant-hill such as this neighborhood.
As he cuddled with Jill, they could hear the red haired girl moan and gibber. Matthew turned on his radio just loud enough to drown out the sound. They discussed her until they fell asleep. It was agreed upon that she was really lucky to have such a father who obviously cared so much and that it was far better to be home than in some institution or hospital. Matthew thought of his son, Steven and gave thanks that he had been born normal.
The following weekend it was Matthews turn to keep Steven. Jill joined them after her work and they all sat down to a big spaghetti dinner. They smiled and waved at the man across the way as he spooned bits of fish sticks into his daughter's mouth.
Just before his bed-time, Steven crawled up into Matthew's lap.
“Pa-pa, what that girl over there playing?”
“She's doing a jigsaw puzzle, Stevie.”
Matthew looked up at the now familiar sight of Glissandra rocking at her little table. She moaned softly.
“Why the girl sad, Pa-pa?”
“Stevie, she's sick. Some people are born with a problem in their head. Maybe she's not sad, maybe she just never learned to talk like we do.”
“Pa-pa, her sad.”
“Stevie, her Pa-pa loves her. Remember we saw him feeding her, just like I used to feed you when you were really little?”
“Oh, yeah. Pa-pa?”
“I want a puzzle too.”
“Sure, Stevie boy, but you'll have to get an easy one to start with. We'll pick up one at the market tomorrow.”
“That's a GOOD idea, Pa-pa.”
“OK, buddy, it is story time.”
Several months passed before Matthew spoke to Ed for the first time. Matthew had been at the record player, turning over an album of bag-pipe music. He had bought it second hand at the Salvation Army Store for fifty cents. From habit, he looked out the window to see if the red haired girl was at her puzzle and instead he saw the man leaning out the open window smoking a cigarette and obviously enjoying the music. The man had spoken first.
“Hey, you can turn that up louder. Are you a Scot?”
“Hi. Uh, no. Originally American. I just like all types of music.”
“Oh aye, personally I can do without that Hindu stuff you play, but I'm no complaining.”
“Right, well I'll put on the flip side. It's the Royal Scots Dragoons Guards.”
“Have you any others?”
“Nope. Hey, I bet you could tell me which ones are good to get.”
“Ah, well, the truth is that the Simon Fraser Pipe Band is one of the very best. They take ribbons nearly every year, even back home.”
Is that right? I'll try to find some of their recordings.”
“You do that, lad.”
“Well, good night.”
“Nicht. The name's Ed.”
“Ed. My name is Mat.”
After this encounter, Matthew played the record frequently for the remainder of the summer. He felt like this was his way of contributing a small ray of happiness to the long lonely evenings of his unfortunate neighbor.
Across the way, Glissandra moaned loudly. Three pieces to go! Before her on the table was a picture of a field of wild flowers. It was a two thousand piece puzzle and it had taken her most of a month to assemble the pieces. She rocked violently and jammed the small pieces of cardboard into place. There now, the last one.
Something was wrong. A portion of the birch wood table top showed through in the upper right area of the completed puzzle. Glissandra moaned and began to sob. As she stared at the blank spot, her mind was sucked down into it. She fell faster and farther. The feeling made her nauseous. Everything went black as the field of blue flowers disappeared into the puzzle shaped piece of table top.
Hearing the noises from across the way, Jill remarked to Matthew on the couch where they sat cuddling, “I guess she finished another one.”
Glissandra's mind stayed on the table top as Ed placed his hand gently on her shoulders and guided her across the floor to her bedroom. She remained perfectly still as he took off her dress.
Matthew rose from the couch and put on the bag-pipe album.
“Why do you keep playing that awful record, baby?, asked Jill.
“It's kind of a treat for Ed, the Scotsman across the way. I caught him listening to it at his window one day. I think it reminds him of home.”
“That's nice of you.”
“Let's go to bed. The music will shut itself off, huh..”
Months passed by in the inevitable routine of the working class. Steven grew increasingly independent and began to play outside with more frequency. His latest craze was catching ants to put in his ant-farm. Jill had bought it for him at the market and it was his main toy when he came over to stay. The red haired girl assembled an unbroken procession of puzzles at her table by the window. Matthew and Jill discussed marriage and decided to go through with it. A new war started in the Middle East.
One evening Ed came home from his pilgrimage to the London Drugs Store. He was late again. Once inside his apartment, he went to Glissandra and picked her shawl off the floor and smoothed it over her shoulders. He wiped her damp face with his handkerchief. Opening the shopping bag, he showed her the box containing a brand new puzzle. He slit open the cellophane wrapper and turned away. He lifted the edge of the box lid, fished out a piece and tossed it out of her window. Satisfied, he turned and placed the open box on his daughter's little table. She moaned softly and began to rock back in forth in her chair. This one would take her at least a month, Ed figured.
Steven came over for his alternate week-end visit. Once inside he ran to his father's desk where the ant-farm was kept. He smiled when he saw that everything was as he had left it two weeks before. He immediately asked to go outside and get some more ants. It was now early autumn and they were getting scarce. After gathering the necessary tools, he bounded down the creaky wooden stairs and started to hunt. He poked with a stick along the flower beds between the apartment buildings. When he finally saw an ant, he carefully followed it to the place it went underground. He began to dig with a soup spoon he carried in his jacket pocket, since taking on his ant hobby.
A smile spread across his face like the sun rising over a mountain when he unearthed the brood-chamber. Lots of babies! Steven scooped up ants, dirt and loads of little pearly cocoons into a jam jar.
He couldn't wait to show his father and Jill. Halfway back to the front door of the building, he saw it.
A puzzle piece. It was lying right underneath the red haired girl's window. The colored side looked like water from the sea or a big lake. It was a little dirty. Steven clutched it proudly and glanced up at the window far above his head before racing upstairs to show his treasures.
“Pa-pa, look! I got a bunch of new ants and I got a puzzle. Red haired girl dropped it.”
“Well, what a successful hunting trip you just had.”
“Hey Jill, hey Jill, look I got brand new ants!”“
Jill came to see, “Wow! Holy cow, Stevie. You got baby ants too.”
Matthew turned the puzzle piece over in his hand, “Hey Stevie, do you still have that Ninja Turtle Sword?”
“Can you go get it for Pa-pa?”
Steven ran to his toy box and rummaged out a long orange plastic sword. He handed it to his father.
Matthew stuck the puzzle piece to the end of the sword with a tiny bit of tape. He the fixed the sword onto a broom handle with duct tape and opened the window wide.
“What you gonna do, Pa-pa?”
“I'm going to see if I can reach it all the way over to the girl.”
Stevie took up a position on his father's chair and watched as Matthew leaned out and stretched to span the distance to the window opposite. The girl sat rocking and didn't look up, even when Matthew had maneuvered the sword's tip right over the box of pieces. She moaned softly.
“I wish Ed was home,” said Matthew.
“Hey girl, my Pa-pa is giving you your puzzle”, shouted Steven.
Long moments passed as Glissandra found placement for the piece she was working on. When she went to get another from the box, her concentration was drawn to an orange object in her field of vision. She then noticed the puzzle piece and methodically plucked it off the sword and let it fall into the box with the others. All this without looking up at her benefactors.
Steven cheered and Jill clapped softly. Matthew pulled the broom and sword back into the room and began to undo the duct tape. Steven and Jill were already busy loading ants into the bustling ant-farm. The red haired girl rocked back and forth and worked on her puzzle.
Ed came home a little later and fed his daughter supper. He then lifted some weights and watched TV.
Three weeks passed. Glissandra let out a yelp. In front of her on the table was a beautiful picture of some freighters, junks and tugboats in Hong Kong Harbor. The box held only three remaining pieces and she excitedly pressed them all into place.
She searched the picture for the empty spot. Her hands began to tremble and she started to stomp both her feet. Her heart was pounding and racing as her gaze darted back and forth over the picture in vain.
A powerful jolt of pain shot through her being. She moaned with a new intensity and began to cry hard. She gasped like a fish out of water and tried to find the empty space she could disappear into.
An unwanted movie began to play itself in her head. It was her in there! It was wrong! He was real!
Her chair clattered on the wooden floor as she stood abruptly. A mighty pain and an unfamiliar power coursed through her like a prairie electric storm. Her shawl fell off. She felt him for the first time. Dirty fingers unbuttoning her dress. Heavy and grunting on top of her. His smoky cashew breath.
Glissandra strode to the kitchen and jerked open a drawer. She went back to her room and righted the chair. She picked up her shawl and carefully adjusted it on her shoulders. She sat again and rocked back and forth. Clutching something under her shawl on her lap, she stared at the puzzle picture.
Across the way, they were playing the bag-pipe music again.