by Lucy Tan
Written for Visual Arts Studio: Creative Inquiry (LARTS 291, Spring 2010)
I’ve been wandering for days. The sidewalk stretches before me, curving into a puddle. I watch oil stains swim in the water, my reflection smeared like a dirty palette.
Someone cries. The sound leaps into the sky, and I stand still, back turned against the grave, eyes searching through the halo of clouds. Rain falls, digging into the earth, cold and hard. My footsteps trace around the marks—the remains of what used to be. Beneath me, your favorite flowers pad my feet, the yellow stark against the redwood mulch. I clench my hands, skin taut across my knuckles, refusing to believe that a wish won’t bring you back. My chest quakes; my pulse shudders. Each breath strains against tears, clotting my throat like piles of mud. I imagine what passing out is like, what events ensue—no cries of alarm in a deserted street, no emergency phone calls, no mothers to fan my purple cheeks.
And then I feel the ground beneath my feet. Solid. My thoughts trail behind me. They lie on the ground, desolate. Watching the procession of umbrellas filter through tombstones, I wonder where the hell I am supposed to go.
How to replace a soul—one that should never have been lost.
I come home for the first time since the incident. The doorknob feels foreign to my fingertips; as I pull the wood forward, expectancy dies inside me. The house is silent. A pool of florescence washes over me as I step inside. Standing under the threshold, arms laden with luggage, I stare at the kitchen table, cluttered with dishes from last week’s meals. A gust of wind blows the napkins to the floor. Stepping inside, I release the bags and reach for the vase on the table. Where the water forms a ring around the bust, mold coats the stems like cotton. The blooms bow and stoop, petals flaking to my feet as I lift the glass.
I rest the vase on the table, and, stepping away, watch the florescence bleed behind me.
The study feels larger than before. I lean against the desk, daring myself not to look, but the picture draws me in. A video plays an event that died too soon. I watch the screen; my fingers reach out, tracing invisible lines. And again, I swallow the salty choke—refusing a ticket past the swollen barricade—the breathing drags through me like mud, and I lunge at the screen, trying to pry out the moving figures with my overgrown fingernails.
Sometimes it’s not so easy. It was never easy.
I sit on the bathroom vanity, one leg tucked under the other, licking salt off my lips and wiping sweat from my brow. The sponge slides from my hands, sinking into a pool of disinfectant. My foot goes numb, a reminder of my aliveness. My aliveness thrums with memories, stapled to my mental dashboard in pixilated snap-shots; these memories show me that the past still lives, not wiped out like streaks of chalk or foamy Windex residues. I wash the mirror—never failing to scrub the imperfections. Blue spray falls on my limbs, spicy on my skin. Watching the blue evaporate into a glaze, I ask myself if this is who I am.
Memories paint the walls—fifty eyes watch me drag my sleeping foot across the carpet. Unfinished stories echo in my ears, and sometimes everything gets so loud that I wonder if I’m really all alone. I sit in my chair, the cushions wrapping my butt in cloud nine, the sun skimming past my eyelashes and onto the golden floor. My hands see what is invisible to my eyes, reaching for remnants of a dream.
I wake up again and again, hoping to remember what I was dreaming, because maybe—I don’t know, I might be drowning in craziness—maybe there will be a clue somewhere, embedded in that grid of make-believe nonsense.
Manteau noir. Darkness surrounds me; brushing the plush of my cheeks, I wonder how it is to be born without eyes. The clock clucks its tongue. I race my pixilated snap-shots through a maze, unable to stop thinking about what happened. The seconds begin to tire, pushing a path through water, limbs weary against lethargy. Chapped fingers shuffle through the “lost and found”: an old sweatshirt, champions of the lacrosse team; two teeth-ridden pencils, erasers sunken to the hollow; the carcass of an umbrella; one ID badge, letters scratched beyond recognition. But, no good-byes.
For days, I stumble through nightmares, deserts without edge, clutching a map of trinkets that you left behind. In the dark—blankets huddled around me, a nocturnal glare seeping through vinyl rollers—I listen for your rap-rap-tapping on my door, the galloping steps down the hallway. Then I force myself to sleep, only to wake up feeling like I haven’t slept in years.