Entry Four (in which I draw a curtain)
Dear Mother –
I am melancholy today, Mother.
I am, perhaps, a large invisible rock.
All that is required to find me is an unruly detour.
So pay attention.
When I was little, you used to read me stories. Do you remember that? How I loved the space those stories carved around the two of us as we journeyed together through the words and pages. I remember I would sit close enough to you that I could feel when the story demanded that your breath be caught for a moment and exhaled to the rhythm of someone else’s thoughts. I remember your hair would sometimes fall between us as you read, a curtain I reached to draw with a single finger, looping the coppered strands up and behind the curve of your ear. I remember I used to demand that you start every story the same way . . . do you remember? Whether or not the words appeared upon the page, I needed the beginning to always be . . . Once upon a time. You used to laugh and say, “Once upon a time, there was a girl who was quite particular indeed,” but you would oblige me.
Once upon a time.
Those words lifted the story out of time for me, created a bubble in which the imaginary world existed. It did not matter what had gone before, although certainly things had gone before; it did not matter what might come after the confines of the story, although certainly things would happen next. Nothing mattered but the contents of the story — history and future could be extinguished and ignored for the duration of the words’ passage over papered lapse.
Mother, shouldn’t all stories begin with a promise to free the reader of context?
All that matters is this once, resting on a single time.
Once upon a time, a mother and a girl walked away from their house until they came to the wooden white fence that marked the boundary of their destination. The girl carried a small bag of carrots and celery to feed the horses, whose names were Penelope and Clara. The mother and the girl visited and fed the horses most afternoons after school, having been given permission by the owner, whose name was Joshua. Penelope and Clara, being horses, grew fond of the girl who brought snacks, and they quickly learned to anticipate her arrival, crowding every afternoon into the wooden-fenced corner where the girl would appear.
On this particular day, however, the horses were not waiting. The girl and her mother walked along the fence a short distance to look out over the entirety of the pasture, but the space was horseless. Instead, there was a car.
It was a smallish car, mostly blue. It lay on its back in the middle of the field, its four small legs tractionless against the sky. All of its glass was broken, the side-windows spider-cracked and buckled, the windshield in a pile of shatter in front of the car’s crumpled nose. The car’s visible door was closed and hollowed, as though the car had rolled over a large invisible rock, and where the car’s top should have been curved, it had flattened against the earth’s embrace.
The girl pulled her focus away from the car and traced its path . . . black gouges against the green . . . rendings of the earth that led backward across the pasture to the white wooden fence, which was intact. The girl stared, trying to work out how the car had both flown and tumbled, when her mother spoke, “Joshua must have been out here earlier to repair the fencing.” The girl nodded to herself and walked along the fence to where it had been broken and then mended, running her hand along the wood as she went, inhaling the fumes of the new paint as she neared the patch.
The girl considered. She and her mother had walked the perimeter of this small pasture before, and the only gate was up by the main house . . . a gate big enough for horses, but not big enough for a car. How would the car get out?
Her mother laughed, “How is he thinking they’re going to get this car out of here? Why do you suppose he didn’t call a tow-truck? He’s gone and fenced himself a lapse.”
The girl looked up at her mother, her face filled with horror, and she began to cry.
Her mother hurried to reassure, “Sweetie, I’m sure the people who were in the car are fine. Banged up a little bit, maybe . . . scared, I’m sure . . . but they’re fine. I promise.”
The girl was not crying about the people.
Her mother bent down, “I’m sure Penelope and Clara are fine . . . you think Joshua would have spent his day fixing the fence if the horses needed attention? I’m sure the horses are safe in their stalls.”
The girl was not crying about the horses.
Her mother knelt on the ground beside the girl, pulled her into a hug, “Sweetie, you’re safe. It’s frightening to imagine, but it’s all done now. This isn’t yours, this accident. You’re safe.”
The girl wept uncontrollably.
For the lapse . . . for the fenced bit of promised continuum . . . detoured irretrievably.
The girl wept for the holes that could open. For the chasms that could yawn. For the bubbles that could burst. For the space that could be violated. For the time that could be stayed.
The girl wept for storied violation.
The girl wept for the impossibility of her own story’s course.
Once upon a time.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who lapsed . . . into herself.
That’s not really the end, Mother. I just remember that when I was a child, I used to always like there to be an end. When I still believed in order, I used to like things to be orderly.
Once upon a time.
Do you remember how I used to smooth your hair, Mother?
Do you remember the damp velvet of the horses’ tears?
Say you do.
Yours from within,