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"Let her sleep, she needs her rest."
I looked at Sam skeptically: Delly didn't look like she needed sleep at all. Her nights had been fitful of late, that was certain, but as she slept her face carried a stern stoicism that made me want to stir her up out of whatever nightmare she was having.
But Sam had the trump card: She was Delly's mother, after all, and she should know what was best for her little girl.
"If you say so," I whispered, still not looking away from the little girls squirming, squinting face. "If you say so."
Within the gate on which the thorny roses grow, twirling and wrapping up and around as they reach out to the moon, blood red Man devouring each and every bloom before ithas the chance to burst open and spewing their juices onto the wrought ironwork that yields itself to the stony granite of the walls that stretch out in each direction until they can be seen no more...
... is where she lay, in the shadow of the archway, where the moonbeams couldn't get her (but the ragamuffin monsters could, their teeth bared to bruised and blackened gums).
Time to awaken.
This is the chamber. On the one end, there's a door with a strong locking mechanism: No-one can get in, no-one can get out. The door has a little plexiglas window in it, and other than that, there's no way to see in or out. In the ceiling, there's an opening for a dumb-waiter to drop food on a tray, just big (and strong) enough for the food. In the wall on the opposite end of the door, there's a spigot for liquids to be dispensed. In a discreet nook, there's a commode and a bidet, next to a shower.
The gnomes were on the march again.
Alone, they were laughable creatures: Diminuative, portly, hardly sinister. They didn't have the blood-thirst of the Redcaps or the unpredictability of the leprechauns. They were, by most accounts, affable beings content to stay at home and mind their own business.
So when they grew impassioned enough about an issue to muster into ranks, a few things were clear. First, the issue must be of the greatest importance, at least within their worldview. Second, they would stand firm as a force to be reckoned with, and to be frightened of.
Today was the day.
When she woke up, there was sweat on her brow, and she was very disoriented.
It took her a few minutes to remember exactly where she was: In her bed, in her bedroom, in her house. Alone? It seemed like it, but it was impossible to tell. It was still dark outside, so maybe Frank was downstairs making breakfast. Or maybe he was already gone.
How old was she? That was a harder question. She'd been dreaming she was little, and that always left her dazed and confused on waking up. She felt 31. But maybe she was 33. Maybe.
And a pause. Silence.
And a pause. Silence.
The room was closing in on her. It was her sixteenth birthday. She was going mad.
There was a pill bottle on the floor, just inside her line of vision. It had spilled, and some of the pills had rolled out onto the carpet. The ones she hadn't swallowed, of course.
Everything was numb. It was a nice break from the sensory rush that had become her daily life. Why couldn't anyone else feel it the way that she did? Why did everyone else seem so very calm?
She first felt the love of the Goddess in the arms of Adam (ironically named), in the pool room of his father's summer house, while his father was out on the grounds looking for goodness knows what.
It was beautiful; it hadn't been her first time having sex, but it was the first time truly making love, and the orgasm she felt there, at 17, would stay with her for years. Something happened: The sky opened up, the birds and the flowers glimmered with a warm glow, and for the first time in her short, tumultuous life, she felt peace.
There was once sense to all this. She remembered that much: A vision of beauty in between the rain drops. But now, it was just darkness.
She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. The crow's feet sprawled out, the dark circles under her eyes... had she really grown that old, and without any grace?
She tightened the handles on the faucet. The dripping stopped, and then the silence crept in. She needed to find her freedom, she needed to find her self. Somewhere behind the shadows and the crow's feet.
Helena sat on the edge of the cliff overlooking the river that ran through the town that lay on the edge of the county that represented the center of the state (at least, as far as she was concerned), and marvelled at how few people there really were around at this time of night: The lights in the town were twinkling off, and while away in the city the glow of the neon hid the moon, out here in the badlands she could see a wide array of stars, of all the sizes she could imagine.
This was her stillness.
"Don't you think it's about time you thought about settling down?"
"Mother, I don't want to be having this conversation again."
"What conversation? I just asked a simple question."
"It's not a simple question, and I've answered it before."
"I'm getting old now."
"So what, Mother?"
"I should have a grandchild before I'm too old to enjoy it."
"What? All I'm saying is that it doesn't seem like you're giving yourself enough of a chance."
"What about that nice boy you used to see in college?"
"He was a car thief."
"Well, we all have our little faults."
Hatred is a mask for fear.
Somewhere between then and now, she had put on the mask, feigning and, later, showing hatred for everything that would remind her of her former life, whien she had nearly lost control.
She was tense all the time, and that tension showed on her face. There were moments of release, of calm, during which the world would go gray and she'd feel like she was floating on air... but that would feel too much like losing control again, and that would not do. Not one bit.
So her mask would go back on.
The headboard banged against the wall, keeping her from sleeping. What were they up to next door?
No, scratch that, Helena probably didn't really want to know. They were newlyweds, in that apartment -- just back from Cancun a few weeks ago -- and they showed no real signs of stopping.
She closed her eyes and tried to block it out, but every few minutes she'd hear the newlywife moan or scream, and say something vulgar enough to be erotic.
It was no use. She thought about sitting up and watching TV, but then she wondered how many more nights there'd be.
Helena was born in the backseat of a taxi.
That wasn't her decision, entirely. Certainly, it large part, it was her choice when to be born (the day, or at least the hour... she could have waited, or otherwise found a more opportune time). But she was in no position to determine the appropriateness of this moment over another.
It started the tone for her life: To blame for something over which she had no real control.
"You were born in the backseat of a taxi. Couldn't you have found a better time?" her mother would say.
"No, I couldn't."
The metronome click-clacked on top of the piano, distracting Helena from the world around her. It was oddly hypnotizing, both in its sound and its motion, and she found herself slipping into a light trance.
"Kill for Jesus... Kill for Allah..." Robert broke her trance by sneaking up to her and chanting not-so-subliminal messages in her ear.
She laughed despite herself and clucked at him. "Yes, Master... Must kill..."
"You're adorable when you're entranced."
"You're adorable when you're a control freak."
Robert laughed his unabashed laugh and kissed her on the forehead. "I love you."
She returned to the metronome.
laying in the alleyway, feeling brutalized, wondering how she got here...
drifting back to the gnomes...
the gnomes had been trying so hard to get her attention...
it was so important to her, as a child, to get through to them...
there were flowers, somewhere...
and dancing fairies...
She looked at her watch. A few minutes past midnight. She could go straight home from the coffeeshop, or she could hang out for a little bit more. It was a nice night, maybe she'd catch a little more of the moonlight.
What difference could five more minutes make?
There was a Thompson Twins song playing on the radio. It spoke to her: It was about an introvert trying to deal with having an obsessive relationship with a party-girl type. "Love on Your Side," it was called.
Stephen definitely had love on his side. He didn't even seem to know she had feelings; she was a convenient hole when he needed "Sexual Healing" -- that was the song he sang under his breath around her, far too often.
But she was infatuated, and even though she knew he had no redeeming virtues, she was in love with getting his attention.
Floating out beyond the "No Swim" buoys, letting the world drift her away on the air raft, underneath the warm sun, the sound of gulls and the gentle rocking of the sea.
She was lost in a dream even more pleasant than the sea around her, and sliding in and out of wakefulness.
Time for that moment had no meaning: Everything was wrapped up in this one frozen moment; there was no past, there was no future. Somewhere on the edges of her consciousness were her husband, her child... but far on the edge.
Floating beyond the "No Swim" buoys.
The gnomes showed up for her 30th birthday. It was rather quite a shock: She hadn't seen them in fifteen years, and they acted as if it had been just yesterday. They thanked her for what she'd done, and when she asked what that was, they stared at her blankly, as if she should know. And she felt rather as if she should have known, and that she really did know, but didn't know what she knew... a train of thought that did nothing but give her a headache and confuse her even more. So she thanked them for coming.
Everything was coming together because everything was coming apart, and she truly felt that that was how it was meant to be.
Happiness and contentment are illusions for people who aren't equipped to deal with the real world. That's what her father had always told her, and what he'd probably still be telling her if he was still around.
That's not to be cynical, and anyone who sees it as cynical, well, they just don't understand. She used to see it as cynical, but ... that was before. In the time before. In the time between.
Those days were gone now.
Helena felt joy. True, unexpurgated, irrational, unreasonable joy from the tips of her toes to the top of her head, running though her veins and tingling through her heart. It was ecstacy, pure ecstacy.
That was her memory, and she didn't need to know what it was that was causing the joy, or how long it lasted. Those were unimportant details. She was happy, and that was what was important. That was all that was important.
Maybe the sun was shining, maybe it was night; maybe she was outside, maybe indoors. Maybe she was alone, maybe not. It didn't matter.
quiver tingle shake shiver oh yes oh gods that's it right there yes please deeper yeah that's it
And then, the day after, feeling guilty and used up, as shriveled as the condom still draped on the edge of the garbage can.
Helena thought too much about things. She wished that she could lose herself in the moment and, once there, accept that that was where she was.
But instead, she let the flood of a lifetime of guilt and morality come crashing down on her head, and what was worse, she let it pretend it was her own idea.
Snippets from Helena's diary...
A quarter after midnight, and not much else to say. It's tomorrow, only it still feels like today. Isn't that always the way?
I want to be free of this buzzing in my head, but it seems to follow me everywhere I go.
There is peace in the petunias, stretched out beneath the full moon.
For once, I want to be one with myself. No more fragments, no more reliance on others. Autonomous.
When I'm dead and gone, all I want to leave is a pleasant memory. That's what's important. And that's all that is important.
There was a feeling of jealous rage deep within Helena's gut. She knew it was irrational, and inappropriate: There never was anything there between them, only a pretend fire that she tried to fan into serious flames. But still, it hurt to see him with that other woman, both of them laughing and happy... like she felt like she deserved to be.
She needed a voodoo doll. She needed to get drunk. She needed to break something. She needed to curl up in a corner and cry until the world stopped being.
She needed to be loved.
She needed peace.
"I've come full circle. This is where I started, and this is where I'll end: In the fields of green."
Helena swirled her coffee around in the cup and contemplated it. Racquel was babbling about something or other, and she wasn't much up to trying to figure out what it was.
"There is a time for birth, and a time for death. In between, we drift like lost soldiers on a rugged sea."
"Racquel," Harry said, "could you just cheer the fuck up? Could you do that?"
Racquel looked at him for a minute, looked at Helena, and shut up.
"Helena! Why aren't you playing with the other children?" Her mother looked very concerned.
"The gnomes want me to play with them."
"Now, Helena, don't be silly. Gnomes don't exist. Go and play with the other children."
Helena was defiant, though. The gnomes looked at her pleadingly. They had to get through to her. It was important. There were plans to be made, and if she didn't cooperate, then it would all collapse. It had to be done.
"No, mother. I'm staying right here."
Her mother sighed, looked out the window at the children playing, and then just gave up.
Treacle and Dandelions
A Poem by Helena Saffron
Sifting through the slow lazy afternoon
On the slumber of an empty sky
As if the lady in the gray dress
Had nothing more to say
Than, "I crave the life of a pirate
Floating on the open sea
With a Bowie knife between my teeth."
Lounging and scraping beneath
The desert sun,
Letting the time slip by
Until the moon is a saucer of cream
In a field of dandelions
And the lady in the gray dress
Says, "Once you let the wildlings be,
You will be one with the wildlings."
From Helena's journal:
Sleep deprivation has a funny way of making the world crawl to a stop at the same time that it sppeds along at twice its normal speed.
It's too cold outside. It's good snuggling weather, good for curling up around a hot cocoa and letting the world slip away.
Between the gnomes and the ogres, I think I've lost my mind. But that's all right, I suppose. Who needs sanity?
What I do need is a place to lay my body down at night, and some food for my stomach. Sometimes that doesn't seem to be easy.
Anger is cold. Empty. Hollow. Dark. Sliding down into the pit of solitude, without any clear anticipation of ever leaving. Spiralling down, further. This is the bottom, but there's a pit below it. This isn't the worst it can be, but there never seems to bde a way up. Down. Sideways. Life stretching out on a long night highway, and the scenario is beautiful but it can't be seen at night. All there is is the shine of the headlights out in front, behind, all around.
The one thing that had surprised Helena is that she never became an alcoholic.
The day after Helena died, the flowers were still blooming, the birds were still singing, the sun was still shining, all of the lovely things that, in her later years, she had grown to detest, were still going on as they had forever.
The human race had about fifty years to exist, because it was wiped out by a natural disaster. Ironically, their persistent rape on nature had nothing to do with their downfall.
Then the planet would lie dormant for several hundred years, before the little people crawled out from beneath the ground and took the planet over again.
None of the coming change had any real impact on Helena, though. She lived her life like most people come to live their lives: With the expectation that what was there before they showed up will still be there, more or less, after they were gone, and you were really just there for the kicks and for the ride. The thunderstorms and tumults of social change tended to work slowly and insidiously, so that if you really compared the day you were born to the day you'd die, you'd notice a difference, but not know when it all had changed.
"And so, here we are, right back where we started: In the middle of a mess, with no real resolution. Time marches on."
Helena blinked at him tiredly. She'd forgotten his name, but she was pretty sure it wasn't important. Nothing seemed very important.
"So what's next, then? Birth, death, love, hate, war, peace? Time marches on, but the song it marches to remains the same."
"What are you talking about?" she asked him at last.
"Does it matter? Does it really matter, because tomorrow, you'll be forgotten, and there will be something new for the world to worry about."
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