It was as if someone had simply dimmed the lights. Crooked fingers on a yellowed dial, quietly rotating the knob. Not quite off but the position just before. Twilight. Perpetual twilight. The crooked finger with the cracked and dirt caked nail staying vigilant to keep the lights low as a fog began to slink in from stage left. Bringing a storm.
For all the straining of my eyes it became increasingly hard to see the house a mile down, as it seemed to back itself into the heaviness of the cloud. Even the nearer stumps of corn stalks in the field before me, soldiers sliced in half during a war with combine blades, washed together like water colors on a soaking page. Waving my hand in front of my face to dissipate the cloud has no effect. It's something within the air. An absence of something in the light.
I do not remember how I have come to be here. An unfamiliar open field surrounds this house I do not recognize. The fog is in my head as well. I am struck by the lack of trees around a country home such as this. There is very little time though, I feel, as the slinking fog begins to settle more, both in and around my head. A sense of something sinister steals its way up the tone bars of my spine, playing a tune that curls my lips and crinkles my nose. A growing lump in my chest, my throat, feels bigger by the second. I realize that time is slipping away. I start towards the house.
This house can not be mine, I think, as I bound the four steps up to the white storm door. The quaint outer decor, flowers in the sill, and wind chimes hanging so frail from their noose on the corner of the spouting. At the top step I stop, palm grasping the handle to the door. Something about those chimes.
The chimes' spiral is such that it plays a visual trick if you stare too long as it spins, never ending. Resonators hang close to each other; their tinks and pings a former beacon to an absent farmer in the lonely field. Something odd though...
I realize that it is not spinning. There is no wind; nothing to direct the chime and metal bars in their would-be dance. This fog is not a precursor to a storm, I realize. Winds precede a storm. As do lightning and thunder and barking dogs and hairs on end.
Those things are absent here and now.
This cloud is something other than a cloud; seems staunch against conceding ground. The stagnant light, the dial seems fixed. There is just a haze for the stage to be set for a dream. This feels like a dream. Though, more like a dream within a dream.
Down a rabbit hole of subconscious with a veil hampering the entrance, allowing just enough to see but not enough to recognize or glean clarity. The light never fades, it only gives the illusion that it will do so soon. If the anticipation felt like poise, I might be inclined to appreciate its regal stance, as it is unwavering. This wait, this refusal to cross the threshold into darkness, feels salacious with intent. A jaw unhinging as dense cigar smoke escapes its maw. I am a chunk of meat skewered on a tong, hanging in the smoke, being savored. I would almost welcome the clamping chomp. I would prefer the absolution of the darkness as a reprieve.
Inside the frilly appointed home, the fog permeates but only so far. The linoleum floor does little to muffle my footsteps to anyone who may inhabit the home. Knick-knacks perched on free hanging shelves. A cookie jar with a half dozen different types of cookies. A curio cabinet of glass front and sides, home to a full chorus of angel figurines. The little halos and white wings and praying hands ready for salvation that is not forthcoming. On the kitchen table, photo albums, opened. Left for me to see. I lightly flip through the pages and unfold a story of a woman, late in years, straining for more days that will be used only to appreciate her past - or regret it. She seems to do nothing more than hold a foot against the door as death knocks on the other side. The outside of this house and the woman's smile in the photographs agree that their facade is nothing more. Both protect against the emptiness found within. The fog and darkness are not new to this place.
I round the corner from the kitchen to the living room and there she sits. Stone faced and wrapped in a shroud. Sitting upright in a plush recliner. Her eyes wide open but seeing no more. Her left hand lays limp on her thigh, but in her right hand she holds a picture. A print of a man and a boy, against the backdrop of tall, full cornstalks. The cornfield just outside, it appears to be. The bright blue sky overhead as the child and the man kiss, sharing their love for the lens to borrow, for the film to keep, for the woman to cherish. As the glaze in my eyes seep I recognize the man - I am him. The scene once again flares into the surreal, as I realize the boy is my son. The lack of lightning outside is more than compensated for as memories suddenly storm my mind. I close my eyes and press the palms of my hands to the side of my temples, dropping the frame into the lap of the woman. My mother. I do so not to force the memories back but to control their onslaught so as to make some sense as they appear on the backs of my eyelids.
I hear my son's voice, his tiny speech impediment sweetly intoned. "I miss you." It sounds like 'mith you' with his unrectified lisp. We will fix it at some point, I agreed with his mother. It wasn't so bad that it warranted anxiety. We were just happy that he was talking at all. For the first few years he was extremely quiet while seemingly soaking in everything around him. He never seemed to have difficulty learning or solving the problems that a small child encounters. After tests, a specialist told us he was just fine; he would talk when he was ready. He came around to talking and replaced the silence with questions and thoughts. The lisp was not a worry just yet. It was, in fact, an adorable trait for a little boy to possess. He was just a kind-hearted boy, unfettered by the world's toxic disappointment. Nothing, it seemed, could weigh down his blithe demeanor. He was innocent and happy; unapologetic behind his insouciance. He lived life on a sunbeam and pulled on-board anyone willing to share the ride.
Suddenly, more memories come to me. I begin to remember how I came to be here in this place that I never wanted to be again.
I had imagined the end of the world before.
Driving up and down highways, interstates, back and forth on state routes. I saw humanity's lease running out. The length of untilled fields stretching out, abandoned cars on the shoulder, collapsed overpasses preventing passage; the detritus slandering the once pleasant horizon.
I rode that way so many times. That vision, my navigator. Corralling my pervading hope for a future that I knew was a piss in the wind. When I tried to parse it out in my head to make sense in order to dissuade myself, the dread set in more firm. Like a Candiru fish in the Amazon, the spikes of dread spread out as it burrows deep into you. I felt it and tried so hard to get rid of that feeling. But the more I drove and the more I searched I could no more find a shining bit of hope than I could find the end of the road. Endless road and endless despair.
Then came my salvation in the form of my son. His light pushed back the dark. The road still stretched out before me but the daunting bleakness kept at bay. I finally had a companion, a sidekick. A guide. His warmth was a compass; my North Star. I would follow him wherever he went. The gloom remained but traveling the roads with him was like walking through a forest at night with the brightest lantern. He was pure effulgence and I basked in him.
Though I never fell down the well, I couldn't stop gazing into it.
Humanity was like that. So many staring into the placid waters of a deep, dark well. Like the frog staring up at its reflection, not realizing it was already free to run and save itself. It kept staring, wishing with pennies and penance and pleading for the answers, convinced that they would come from above and not from within. But when you wait too long, the weight becomes too much, and all you need...
is a push.
Then came The Dark Dawn.
In a small fishing village outside of Manila, a small Filipino boy bends and wraps small dark fingers around a hammer.
His father is on the roof, using the hammer to repair the thatched roof of their hut. A recent storm had tossed about the dried reeds layered on the humble home and with more storms predicted for the upcoming days, the father set to work before irreparable harm could be done. And just in time, he thinks, wiping his damp brow and gazing into the distance as the skies have suddenly begun to darken as far as his eyes can see.
The scent of dried fish oil fills the nostrils of the young boy, his eyes glazing over like polished coal. What little light there is now gleams off of the onyx eyes but does not penetrate. The placid veneer fends off even intangible things like light. His mind is no longer his own; it is no longer what we call a mind at all. The substance of gray matter remains but the brainwaves cease and thoughts evaporate, heeding way to instinct.
He moves and acts through sheer primordial mechanics. His bare feet shuffle through the dirt, dragging his small body inside, toward the corner of the hut where his mother is crouched. Her back is to him as she cooks their Sunday feast of boiled tubers and sea kelp. She barely glances over her shoulder when she senses him come in.
"Wash up and tell your father to come in for dinner, Mauriso." Her voice so sweet.
She is one of the lucky ones.
She does not have to endure the fear that accompanies seeing your own death being handed to you on a silver platter. Or in her case, on a carpet of earthen floor. The pain impulses in her brain barely register the strike as the stone head of the hammer buries itself deep into the cradle of her skull. By the time her husband's pained howl storms through the sun baked village, there is nothing more than matted hair and clumps of flesh, in a liquid base of blood, where once there was the head of a mother and wife. Mauriso's face remains as placid as the windless sky outside his mother's mausoleum of death. His father turns to him, ready to unleash his powerful fists onto the boy; fists made of hands that built their home with help from no one. Hands that once held a beautiful brown skinned baby that turned out to be a monstrosity. The father begins to lunge then stops as suddenly as a stone falling to earth.
His eyes glass over. Darkness fills them as screams and the sound of death fill the village surrounding.
The sounds of Central Park float through the open shutters of Britt and Kevin Harrison's loft on the Upper East side of Manhattan. Car horns honking and a dog barking somewhere in the distance harmonize with their daily ritual of bickering over breakfast. Their days, filled with avoiding each other vibrate with a subsonic hum of loneliness. Only two years into their marriage they sensed the weakness in the last remaining leg they lean on to keep their union intact. More and more often throughout the day Britt’s mind allows itself to ponder the what if…
What if she hadn’t been born?
“I’m going to be late!” Kevin calls from the kitchen, the red doors of the cabinets framing his pent up aggression. He stands, impatient, hands on his khaki clad hips.
“What is taking so long? I can NOT be late for this presentation today Brittany! This is going to make my career!”
He only uses her full Christian name when he’s on the edge of boiling over and berating her with his words. Still, she doesn’t respond.
Kevin’s black slip-on dress shoes click-clack on the hardwood floor of the hallway, and ricochet off the exposed pipes and brick in the loft. It was a short order task for the realtor to convince Britt and Kevin, a young couple at the time, that the shabby conditions were chique; that lived-in and full of character was the new retro-modern, not "run-down" and overpriced. The door to the nursery stood slightly ajar. Kevin’s hand presses hard and fast against the peeling paint and swings the hinged wood wide. The black soled dress shoes scuff the hardwood floor as Kevin stops, firm in his stride.
Brittany stands with a pink bundle of life-draining joy in her arms on the terrace overlooking the park. The feigned smile that has plastered her face through hardships and bliss, is absent, like their affection. In its place is a vacant stare. The blank canvas of Brittany’s face holds nothing familiar to her lifelong love. Kevin stands transfixed as his stomach knots up like tree roots. Her lips move slightly, but he can discern no words. Kevin forces his limbs to respond and takes a step forward.
“Brittany… what are you doing with Anna Lee?” Britts lips keep moving but she only continues to stare. Only, she isn’t really staring, he notices. Her eyes are black. Like the shoe polish still sitting opened on the kitchen counter. It is as if she is in a trance. Lips moving slowly, soundlessly. Another few steps toward the terrace. Kevin moves slowly, unsure of whether his wife wis even aware of his presence. Anna Lee stirs in Britt’s arms, then settles.
A few more steps.
“Sweetie, what’s going on? Are you feeling… sick? Just come here. Put Anna back in her crib and come talk to me. I’m sorry for yelling. The presentation can wait, I’ll reschedule. Just come off of the terrace before…” He realizes, from this short distance that Brittany’s lips aren’t just moving, but that she is actually whispering. It took him a moment of intent listening before he could make out her words.
“What if she hadn’t been born? What if she hadn’t been born?”
His wife's rumination over the birth of their daughter plays on her soft red lips like a scratched vinyl recording. Stunned, Kevin had never heard her actually vocalize what he had many times pondered; what he had suspected that they both wondered. “Britt, sweetie… come here. Come to me. We will be alright, we can work through these problems. I’ll see a counselor like you asked. I’m sorry sweetie.”
“I love you.”
Her lips quit moving. Her eyes fixed directly, unmistakably, on his eyes as the corner of her mouth curls up almost imperceptibly, just a modicum of a smile.
Kevin screams, and lunges forward, covering the last three steps to his wife as quickly as he can as she tosses their pink-swaddled, unwanted, often unloved, bundle of hope for the future over the iron railing of their seventh story loft. Kevin's arms grasp at air, and come up full of the same. The world around him goes hazy as tunnel-vision focuses his eyes on his daughter plummeting toward the concrete avenue below. All sounds wash out of his head, leaving a piercing tone to pang his eardrums. Even the screams from the alley across the street, the car horns blaring, and the small explosions from impacts throughout the city go unnoticed. He cannot take his eyes off of his daughter's tiny lifeless body, surrounded by a gathering crowd, aghast, looking over the child and then up to his face. Back and forth, as if witnessing some macabre tennis match, while they tried to make sense of the scene. Had he thrown her? Was it an accident? His heaving chest presses hard into the faded green iron rail, and his arms hanging limply over the side. His fingers still twitching, trying to grasp a swath, a stitch, of pink baby blanket. Behind him, his wife stands motionless; unaffected by what she has just done. Her lips no longer moving, her eyes stained black from her iris to her soul.
Slowly, behind her, her husband's body straightens erect. The ink-black heels of his dress shoes pivot, toes turning to point at his wife's bare feet. Her head swivels left, towards Kevin's face, as if directed by mechanical controls deep inside her neck. Her empty eyes meet his. Blackness looking into blackness; death unto death.