Friday, December 03, 2010

Double Clutch

The film, "Knock On Any Door" was on the television, and the room began to sway. The edge of the couch became very important, and I held onto it. Bits of pipe tobacco that I had spilled seemed to float in my mind, creating the impression that I was looking beyond them to the floor below. A space opened up. My eyes were turned downward, and I was afraid to look up for fear of losing my balance and falling off the couch. Distance became very hard to reckon. The brown flecks moved this way and that, like looking down on a cloud of confetti from a great height. But those little bits never settled. No gravity pulled them down, and no wind stirred them. They were just there, those machine cut scraps of tobacco were hovering, fixed in an impossible place. The floor seemed so damned far away, and I gripped the hand rest of the couch as hard as I could.

The silver aluminum mullions of the Empire State Building were pierced by a B-25, lost in the fog. The skyscraper shook, but I held fast. The sound of one of the plane's engines breaking loose and falling into an elevator shaft made me sick to my stomach. Everything shook. Fantastic distances separated everything, the planes and the buildings and the people and the steam pouring from a manhole cover 100 floors below. But all those things gathered together, like bits of driftwood that come together in the sea. All that empty space, but they came together. The sea met the city and they both met the sky, like a T-square. If I could have looked west as well as east, land and sea and the streets and buildings would have merged hundreds of feet below, then shot upward to where I was standing, like a geyser or stalagmite. But I couldn't see west, just horizon down and up through me to the sky.

The stairs were dusty, and speckled with little dried spots of coffee. With cream and sugar. My left hand was flat against the wall, and my right held the banister. Upward I climbed, carefully avoiding the acrylic painting of flowers set behind a gold frame, purchased at a flea market or Salvation Army store. I couldn't remember, but it cost no more than $5. I'd brushed it off the wall before, and didn't want to do it again. My eyes were still set downward. To look up the stairs or to the left or right would have sent me spinning. Fourteen stairs to the top, the second seven were a blur.

A faux antique umbrella stand on the landing. "Paris, 1889," but the second floor was as wide as the first. My neighbor scolded her child, Jay, I could hear her through the wall. A muffle, but the tone was stern and familiar. She has been my neighbor for years, and I saw her son so often, playing alone outside in the courtyard, that he never seemed to age. But he must be 10 now. I've known him for half his life. I spoke softly to myself, although I didn't feel like I was in the room, "Listen to your mother, kid." But I knew he would. A single mother and her child, from another country. American children run roughshod over their parents. But Jay didn't need to hear from his mother twice. All was quiet again.

The second floor landing and my sweaty, cold forehead met. It was soothing. My feet rested on the tail end of that B-25, allowing me to rest for a moment. The sky was spinning above me, but I was comfortably below it now. A fog settled in, and it brought some peace with it. So tired. So weak. Concealed in mist and alone in my flat, the seizure could now be gauged without becoming self-conscious. My exhausted unease was safe from discovery. I would sleep now, deeply and without a dream or nightmare to ruin it. The sky and the sea and the stairs and that flower painting and Jay and the fog-lost B-25 met within me and rose. Moving, but not going anywhere. A rumor of an invisible central point brought everything together.

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