by Anne Trainor
If this were a story, it would start with: Once upon a time, there was this woman who was sleep walking. She tried and tried to wake up.
The problem was, she had forgotten about the little people. No, not people with dwarfism or people of lower class status, this is a fairy tale. The little people, the meekies. The pixies some people call them. They were everywhere, where she had grown up. In the stone fences that burrowed through the woods throughout the town, the bowls and bifurcations of the maple trees and the oaks, under the tufts of grass in the pine marshes. They danced through the house at night, played around the sleeping bodies of herself and her brother like the Lilliputians and Gulliver. Sometimes, they loved little tricks like this, they would lift the whole bed, gently floating it up into the night sky, send it spinning and reeling through the stars. It was a blast.
It changed slowly over time, or maybe all in a day. The color drained a bit from the world, there was fire and brimstone, cans of beer, stubbed out cigarettes, Strong men were laid low, strong women were crippled. Allegiances were made and broken and reformed. Years passed, they were made to walk long hallways with blue flickering fluorescent tubes lighting the way. The wealth and bounty of the small empire dried up.
Survival became a concern.
She heads for the phone to check the day’s messages:
Hi, this is Pam, Mariah’s teacher at Prescott. I just want to let you know that she has come to school the last three days with a marshmallow sandwich. I just thought you should know. Maybe you could just say something to her dad? I know you know this, but it just isn’t very nutritious…Thanks. Will we see you in class Thursday morning?”
It is night. She lies in bed, listening. The kids deep, hallowed breathing just barely audible from the next room. “OK, tomorrow…get up, pack lunches, do 20 minutes of exercise video, feed the dog…(she runs through the possibilities for clothes…crap, the laundry…gotta go over this months bills…
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP…
Mmmph, slap, snooze…BEEP, BEEP, BEEP…mmph, slap, snooze….BEEP, BEEP…
“I’m UP!” She stumbles through the fog, begins again, constructing a crude lathe with which to manufacture an everyday life. Turns the radio on while the kids wake up, “No rain…Today in the Rose City, the mayor’s office…” It’s a voice, accompanying her back to the land of awake.
Thursday, field trip to the park with Henry’s class. The park wasn’t far from her house, 5 blocks north, the school 5 blocks south. The playground there dated back to the era of her own childhood. A tubular steel slide and monkey bars connected by a bridge of industrial metal flooring, a small corner turret with a roof of the same stuff. Once painted bright primary colors, it now had an appaloosa sort of patchiness, with patches of exposed metal, powdery and granular to perfectly smooth where many small hands polished it regularly.
The triangular tubes of the swing set nearby were buried deep in the earth and given concrete boots to keep it that way. Much unlike the smaller, jumpier swing set her parents had bought when they were little. Not realizing the true nature of these things, they hadn’t bothered to tie its feet. Newly bought and erected in the yard between the houses, the children had all exuberantly grabbed a swing. Overcome by their collective desire to escape the gravitational field, the swing set had tried to fly. But, apart from hollow bones, it had none of the requisite parts needed. It managed only small levitations a few inches from the earth, before tilting back and down, nearly pinning them under its tubular spine. It was all right though, the grass in the field was long and tufted, the children bruised a bit, but unhurt, and now more experienced. “You kids won’t do that again, will you?” her mother had asserted (perhaps more of a prayer than she realized at the time, it would still be a while before she gave up the idea of wingless flight- the umbrella, the tree swing, the high dive board…)
“I have to go to the bathroom mama,” Henry and his field trip buddy hop/shuffle from foot to foot. They climb the hill with her to the brick and cinder block shed. Its heavy steel door could probably survive a nuclear blast. What were they thinking? That citizens could barricade themselves inside in case of tornadoes? Inside, the walls painted a bright schizophrenic inducing yellow, the air smelled of cigarette smoke and the tang of metal. A pallid fluorescent light hummed maniacally from the ceiling. The steel toilet and sink, standard prisons issue. Is it possible for them to use this facility without actually touching anything? She suppresses the electron microscope images of the unseen inhabitants of this section of the universe. Thank God they’re boys, they don’t have to touch much. The door shuts with a heavy thud, she suppresses a nightmare image of it wedging itself shut, her clawing at it to get it to open…
It is Wednesday, there’s a staff meeting at work:
“OK, let’s get started,” the manager, Naomi, sits at the table at the front of the conference room. An overhead projector lights up the white board with columns and rows of excellent information. The kind that passes for a representation of life.
“Here’s a breakdown of our revenue for the last three months, you can see in this column that we have projected a higher revenue based on the last four months, and that the operating costs over hear are in black, but when compared to the revenue accrued over the last year, you can see we are operating in the red, not in the black. Of course no one expects us to operate in the black, but they certainly need us to operate less in the red than we have been. Hysterically. Historically. We are going to have to increase the number of cases we’re covering by 15 %, at least…”
The desk phone rings:
“Hi, this is Carol Miller, the principal at Prescott. Henry and another boy were brought to the office today by the teacher at recess…for fighting. It sounds like the other boy was trying to demonstrate what he learned in his martial arts class and Henry started punching him. The recess assistant had to pull him off the other child.
“They’re both fine, but we have a zero tolerance for fighting at this school.”
“Of course, he knows hitting isn’t allowed! Did he think the other child was trying to hurt him?”
“Well he may have…in any case they both have to go home. They can come back tomorrow. We need you to come get him as soon as you can, we don’t have the staff in the office to watch him”
“Uh…yes…okay, I’ll have to let the manager know, I can’t just leave…”
“As soon as you can”
A new message on her voice mail:
Hi, Mariah’s mom? This is Jolie; I’m one of the recess assistants? At Prescott? We’ve had to suspend Mariah from using the tire swing. She just gets too revved up on it! She winds it up really really tight and gets it spinning way too fast. One of her little friends threw up today when they were playing on it, if you could talk to her about it? Thanks.”
She pulled the car up into the driveway. The house seemed quiet and empty. The radio blathered away, the news of the day repeating and repeating in her ear, “Don’t you know little fool, you never can win? Use your mentality, face up to reality…”
“Shut up!” She jabbed the power button, grabbing her over stuffed messenger bag on the seat next to her (built for biking, but living a bourgeois life, chauffeured around in the passenger seat of a family van.) Hoisting it over her shoulder she slogged up the steps. An in depth search of the bag eventually uncovered the house keys. She let herself in.
The living room was as it had been when she left: breakfast dishes on the coffee table, kids pajamas clearly marking a trail from there to the bedrooms. To the right: the dining room table…with the Labrador standing in the center of it, nobly gazing into the middle distance through the front window (couldn’t really gaze further than middle distance, it was after all a city neighborhood.)
“Yurt?”, he looks at her wagging his thick rope of a tail.
He tips his head trying to make sense of the noises she is making.
Gesticulating now, “Down, down, down,” index finger indicating the next sizeable horizontal surface nearby (he’s a bit large for the chairs).
“Dude, so good to see you!” He wags up to her. “I wanna go the park!”
“No time for that right now, Mariah and Henry are at Lawrence’s, and I have a bunch of work to do.”
“You need to go to the park! It’s Thursday!” He creases his fuzzy brow, tilts his head. Pangs of guilt tighten around her chest. Being a dog, his logic is straightforward, and impeccable. It is Thursday, the sun is shining, and it is uncharacteristically warm for a late June afternoon. As they head out, she suddenly feels the air in her lungs. It is possible that she has not really breathed in and out for a very long time.
The dog does crazy joyful orbits around the field, finally throwing him down in the clover under the perfect blue sky. She bends and picks 3 sprigs of the white flowers, puts the tiny bouquet to her nose and inhales. The light, sweet, perfect scent is a magic tonic. She lies down on the grass next to the dog. She remembers the meekies, and the rides through the stars at night. She can feel the curve of the earth under her shoulder blades, and the wild pitch of its roll around its axis. Gravity keeps her on, no problem. The sky isn’t even the limit, and she remembers her skin and her breath and the way the edges of things are really just pretend.
© 2011 Anne Trainor