In the Blink of an Eye
Havoc. The call has sounded. Events and tasks of the day play havoc with me. My energy pillaged. I fear that I am aging too rapidly. Unhappily. Grey thoughts lope through me. People don't keep promises anymore. Yet they continue to make them. Except for me, I tell myself. I won't be bothered with promises. Well, except for the one I made to my mother, that I would take care of her should she ever fall ill.
The sliding doors clatter shut behind me. I soak in the welcome humidity. The car is easy to find tonight since the hospital lot is fairly empty. As is the grocery store. As is my tired brain. Depleted. I buy bread, cheese and fruit as usual. At home, my old cat is lying in wait for me just inside the door. "You always have an appetite, don't you?" I drop the bag on the kitchen table and take out the wedge of aged Gouda, holding it up for him to see. "Want a piece of cheese?" He has already picked up the scent and this gives him the strength to get to his feet, though I see he is quite stiff in the hip. He sits down heavily, looks at me and blinks. Waits with dignity as I pour an ale and slice the bread and cheese.
We sit side by side on the couch. The cat fixes me with his wide blue-eyed stare. Wanting a little piece of Gouda with all his heart. I hold out a sliver, which he takes from me with great delicacy. My mind begins its musings and muddlings. It's the middle of July, the days are long. Yet each night, I still come home in the dark. Fourteen years ago, my mother found a stray kitten in deplorable circumstances. Brought him to me saying, "Take him! You need something to love." I made the promise to take care of him. The cat has finished with the Gouda and is licking a paw to wipe his face. My eyes are burning after a full day of work on the computer, miles of driving, and hours spent in brittle hospital air. I shuffle into the kitchen, drop the dishes into the sink and drop into bed. The cat has wobbled after me and the last thing I remember is his purr in my ear.
Goosebumps nipple my skin in anticipation. No blinking. Blinking is not possible in dreams, as we all know. Here, I find myself standing in a familiar park. Evening sky starry in a van Gogh way. Clarity clear as the cleanest water gently gurgling over smooth stream stones. Heat from the summer day lingers above the cool grass. A softness calms my skin. Breathing in, I detect a scent from a time of unity.
Someone is crossing the street, walking towards me. Yes. The one I met a month ago. At the recital. She sat there wrapped in silence next to the stage door, gazing into a scene only she was able to see, and in response, my mind had, for some moments, become a blank canvas. Now here she is, and that same sensation purls through me. She is wearing the black dress, the one she wore that night, ruffles smooth and still against her. This feeling as we look into each other's faces for the first time again. Recognition. And more. A familiarity that should be as impossible as blinking your eyes in a dream, for we have only had three short conversations within the past month. What do we know of each other?
We both stare wide-eyed. I know that she is here to ask me a question. A question for which I know I have the answer.
“Do you like my apartment?” she asks.
“In your absence, it's but a white canvas.”
That laughter. Laced with delight. She reaches out with both hands and I wake up. The cat is next to me on the bed. I blink. “Well cat, that was interesting,” I say. “Want breakfast?”
In the office, the workday stretches like a rubber band. It isn't until later, while I'm sitting in a tavern with colleagues that my mind has a chance to skip through the dream again. I take a sip of ale and then recall an evening two months past, when colleagues and I had talked until late into the night in a cozy, candle-lit efficiency apartment on the edge of the park. One of the women had subleased the two small rooms from the singer, who was out of the country for the year on a fellowship. That night, I held a glass of ale in my hand too, and sat relaxed on her green sofa, looking around, surprised at myself that I was even interested. The place was spartan, yet I was touched by the warmth in those few objects the musician had left in her apartment. She had obviously chosen them with care. A fine piece of hand thrown pottery, a Kandinsky print, white coffee table, white bed frame, white bookshelves filled with cookbooks and music scores and biographies. Volumes of french poetry. In French. And a copy of Leaves of Grass , in English. My colleague's stuffed childhood rabbit lying on the pillow looked decidedly out of place. And then it hit me that she-who-delights-with-her-laughter must have walked through dark times in her life. It gnawed at me that her past was undoubtedly studded with moments of claustrophobic fear. I asked my colleagues a few questions about her, but since they had made acquaintance mere days before the flight to Europe, there was nothing they could tell me other than "she's a soprano." Unexpectedly, I found myself sitting there that night, missing a person whose face was unknown to me.
I decide to cut short the happy hour and drive to the hospital. My mother is fast asleep, her eyelids seem to me so very thin and fragile. I sit for a bit at her bedside, writing a note that I fold and place on the nightstand for her to find. After checking with the nurse on duty, I make my way home. The cat slowly stands and carefully stretches to greet me as I walk in. "Feeling stiff, old man?" I say as I lean down to scratch his chin. He follows me over to the bookshelf, where I locate my copy of Leaves of Grass. I flip through the pages standing up. Ah! Here it is. "What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the words I have read in my life." That's it! That's the sensation. Pleased at having found Whitman's words, I stand in the shower, giving it all some more thought, letting cool water wash over me. Then I fall into bed.
Goosebumps again. Night sky crisp with constellations. This time I walk across the soft grass and reach the far side of the street just as she emerges from the side door of the old brick apartment building. We grasp hands and look into each other's faces. She has another question.
“When I have something to say, will you hear me?”
“With more than just my eyes and ears. My heart hears yours.”
Again that delightful laughter, already familiar and dear. Her arms open. Then, the cat. I blink. And realize with a start that I have overslept.
The workday is a hectic one, though I do make time for lunch. To think, to consider the two questions she has asked me. Afterwards, I order a double espresso to clear my head. It occurs to me that she-who-asks-questions might be in town over the summer and I begin to wonder if perhaps I shouldn't give her a call. Don't have her phone number though. And I am startled by the deep certainty that, if I do contact her, do indeed reach her, my life will change. Her life will change. Don't know if I have the strength for that, with my mother ill and my heart heavy. I decide to take the rest of the day off, visit the hospital early, then drive home, where I surrender to my exhaustion.
A sparkly chill under a star strewn sky. An eddy of calm. Here we are again. Brown eyes looking into blue eyes. A more serious smile from her this time.
“Am I beautiful?”
“How can you not know the answer to that question?” I shake my head. She leans closer, repeating the question. This time, I am the one to open my arms for her to step into a hale hug.
I'm blinking as I wake up next to a hungry cat. We both pad into the kitchen for an unharried breakfast. It's not a workday. I sit with my coffee, letting my thoughts wander through the three dreams. The third question. Why on earth would she ask me that? I remember the songs she performed at her recital. All beautiful, some grimly so. She sang exquisitely, taking the audience with her into each reverie.
Then it comes to me. I know exactly what she means to ask. There's a starkness in her soul which lets me recognize the starkness in my soul. And I realize that it will take time to fully answer her question. That I must make a promise of friendship to do so. Does my heart still have enough life in it. Sufficient light to show me the way to keep this promise?
Another search through Whitman's writings until I find it. "Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you." Her telephone number I do not have. But a bit of searching will no doubt yield her email address. Compelled, I turn to the computer screen. It is very white. I blink. I know just what to write. And I have a question for which she has the answer.
words: Rouchswalwe (Fünffingerplätze)
image: 'koan' by Stephen Hastings-King (Edge Effects), spin by D. Lang
a counterpart spin: Gone in a Blink (#23)