Anthony Bourdain gave me hope. I felt trapped in an endless routine of work and sleep. That was my reality, but his show offered me a glimpse of a greater experience. His travels made me feel small. At the same time, his show allowed me to vicariously experience more of humanity. He visited countries in poverty. He ate with people going through problems I could never fathom. But they would laugh and eat together. Those moments made me appreciative of having meals with my friends and family. It was never a solution to all our problems, but it was a reminder that we’re all of the same species with the same primal need; and sadly, we as a species are prone to our demons. When he talked about his troubles in Argentina, my delusions of travel, fame, and money were dispelled. It made me realize my depression was his depression. We all feel trapped in some shape and form –that seemed to be a human condition. Nonetheless, he made me want to experience humanity to its fullest scope. Both the lows and the highs. His introspective writing connected people, and made me realize the best way to understand others is to dig deep into oneself. But he also showed me life was waiting for me to see all that it had to offer. I just had to be brave like him. I really look up to him.
Today I sat outside in the sunlight. I like my coffee when I can’t taste the coffee. I like my cream and sugar. I take a breather. I try not to smoke a cigarette. I watch my shirts flutter on their hangers. Today’s a nice day to do nothing. When you have all the time in world, you don’t appreciate that time. Then when you have a million things to do, all you want is time to do nothing. I like to think my mind is a high-maintenance woman. People like to challenge my masculinity. I get caught up in that sometimes. But then I remember its all ego in the end. I try to repress my ego. I try to repress my vanity. For a week, I embraced my vanity. I cut my hair and got a large tattoo on my shoulder. There’s this idea I’ve been tinkering with; one must be vain to have an identity in modern times. You are your clothes, your hair, your body, your words, your Instagram, your facebook. Anything deeper, more intimate, you don’t get to share save with a few special people. I think that’s identity. Vanity is how you show as much of yourself without the late-night, 2AM conversations. We’re just trying bypass that and we’ve gotten good at it. We’re all walking talking narratives of how we’d like to live our lives. I guess I’m tired of narratives. I think its from being in Hollywood too much. You have the beautiful people. Then you have the schizophrenic lying face down on the library’s lawn. The beautiful people have narratives that they wear and broadcast. The homeless dude is like, ‘this is me’ because he doesn’t have the consciousness to create a narrative. I think I want to be honest like that dude. I am sad. I am lonely. I am a feminine man. I am a rare human being. I am emotional. I am meeeeee.
A light rain flicked at the pane. It didn’t fall heavy enough to obscure the green hills that rolled on; yellow daisies specked the green in full bloom. She could lose herself counting them. They were thirsty, those sunbursts that she had walked around when she was young. She imagined if she had shrunk they’d eclipsed the blue sky with their swaying heads, shuttering. She could hear the wind speak as it grazed the grass. It whispered of cosmic machinations. She had heard the gears turning when she was small. Sadly she only understood now. It’s strange how much you hear when you were too young to understand. In her reverie, she lost track of time. All she would need was a light coat. She too could be out there. But that was something the young did. A light shower chilled you for days when you were old.
Once upon a hazy day, Madelyn rode her scooter on the country path. A light rain fell then, but she braved it with a youthful vigor. Up and down the hills, she zipped through with the world falling behind. Nothing could keep up with her. She turned with the twisting road until she spiraled to the top of a hill. Her scooter slammed against its kickstand. She breathed in the mountain air as she removed her helmet. The rain swirled and danced against valleys of green. She had been small once, and she didn’t appreciate the spectacle until she returned to herself. The world was so magical. But as she stood there, it was already a dream passing. Everything was lost to her as she sat by the panes. How could she have known that she should have savored the moment when the sun broke through the haze?
A heaviness weighed in her eyes. She propped herself against the pane, feeling the cold glass seep into her blood and bones. The room began to spin. Reality or reverie, she couldn’t tell anymore. When the world beyond her clock contacted her, she had also questioned her sanity. “What a strange occurrence,” she smiled one last time.
Before the world could be explained, a man wished to stop time. He had noticed the difference in his vitality with each passing year. His bones began to creak with each step. His face crumpled a little more. It was through his obsession with Time that he learned to make clocks. In his frantic attempt to stop time, he spent his entire life creating devices that filled him with anxiety. Time ticked on, and he lost himself in those sleepless nights, delicately carving beautiful, intricate clocks. Soon his work shop resounded with a simultaneous tick and tock. Every second, every minute, and every hour was accounted for with sound. In this perpetual anxiety, he labored with the hopes of finally stopping Time. But in time, he eroded to bones, then his bones to dust, and then the wind scattered him. His final breath captivated an entire life’s obsession, an energy so bountiful it could only be distributed. When his door broke down, a wind swirled about the dark, cobwebbed room. It scattered his spirit among the clocks. He seeped into them and created a timeless space.
When the Xing Pirates sailed into port, they brought the rarest artifacts. Of all the stands at the night market, theirs was the most visited. Many people stayed in line days before their arrival to peruse their collection.
The lanterns illuminated the street two days before their arrival. Kira was the first to stand in line. She had packed food enough for three days. She was ready to use a potty right there. Such were the stakes of a having first pick. As to pass the time, Kira had readied a stack of papers and an entire pot of ink. She inspected the faces beneath the red lanterns. When there was a face that particularly piqued her interest, she would close her eyes and quickly sketch the person. In the dark behind her eyelids, she recalled a fat man who bobbed as he moved. Kira smiled to herself as she outlined him.
With each passing hour, more people appeared behind her. She made light conversations with them, and offered to draw them. Many people approached her for a picture, which she gladly handed out. Initially, she handed the pictures out for free, but some insisted on paying. A bowl of gold coins soon gleamed before her. The second day was the most tiring. A minute felt like 15 minutes, and 15 minutes felt like an hour. Her head tingled with boredom. Her body shook with jitters.
The conversations at that point had died, and many people had retired to silence. However, there was the unspoken agreement that if you left the line for any purpose, you’d lose your spot. Kira chewed her cold dinner slowly, hoping that no one approached her. She was always one drawn to a change of scenery. It was why she left so many times. The novelty and excitement had inevitably died. In their place, Kira could only experience Time as it were, a slow trudge forward. She constantly thought about the moment she could step into the shop. She’d be the first to pick.
On the third day, when the sun was about to set, she fell asleep. She could hear shouting, but she tried to concentrate on sleeping. More voices and then squeaky wheels assaulted her peace. The trod of hooves finally tore her out of her sleep. The pirates had come. They wore adorned robes from the farthest ends of the world. A translator with a large, plumed hat greeted her. “Hello, young lady. You have waited patiently. Now it is your chance to pick from our collection.” He made a gesture towards a room that had been quickly assembled. Two men pull the entrance, which released a wave of light.
Kira quickly gathered her belongings and thanked the man. Artifacts from hundreds of cultures and civilizations were lined neatly against the sliding walls. Two men wielding swords followed after her. Kira crinkled her nose at the scent of incense. She looked to the corners, where the incenses were placed. Smoke began to cloud her eyes. There were many strange, unfamiliar things that demanded her attention. She walked past mythical daggers, beautiful, gemmed necklaces, dried spices and herbs, strange aphrodisiacs, enticing runes, mirrors, birdcages, dragon fangs, petrified flowers, and cracked skulls. Kira promised herself she would make a smart decision. She would ask about the origin, the artist, the market-value, and the reason for its rarity…
When she circled back, she felt disappointed. Nothing stood out to her. She turned to the two men, disappointed. “Do you have anything else?”
They nodded and slid a wall back into a compartment. They pulled another slate lined with many artifacts. Kira smiled in astonishment. The Xing Pirates sure were interesting. She scanned the wall, and again she shook her head.
The men, without the slightest annoyance, slide the wall back and drew out another one. She felt a little guilty, but she knew it was her prerogative to be picky. She did her best to focus when she saw something. It was an elaborate clock with an entire village carved against a hillside. There were miniature people walking the mountain roads. The rooftops were painted with designs and patterns. It ticked constantly, but the hands never moved an inch. It was stuck in that purgatory between 12:00 and 12:01. Kira approached it. “What can you tell me about this?”
“It’s a rare clock that archeologists found in the home of Henrique Tierra. Many were destroyed by time, and only a few have survived.”
“Can I hold it?”
The translator nodded and gestured to the clock. The two men lifted it off its stand and presented it to Kira. She held it, charmed and surprised that it had been so light. She felt elated with it in her hands.
“How many are left in the world?”
“There are 5.”
“What can you tell me about Henrique Tierra?” She examined it, making sure there were no noticeable effacements.
“He was a clock maker, famous after his death. An earthquake buried his home. When archaeologists found his home, they heard a collective tick tock. The walls were lined with these strange, beautiful clocks. But when they tried to take them, many crumbled to dust. Only 5 survived.”
Kira inspected it some more. She turned it on it sides. It was perfect in her eyes. In the middle of the clock, there was a door. She tried to pry on the handles. It gave a little, but a force refused her.
Kira sat in her room as she painted a sun and a moon. She stared at her clock with amusement.
“What time is it?”
“It says 3 on my watch. But it said 3 since we came here.”
Alex and his little sister Emily had wandered for what felt like days. In one end of the world, there was a painted sun with mosaic light. The other, a frostbitten moon with iridescent clouds. Gears spun in relation to one another through the fields. Railways crossed the sky from one horizon to the other. By then, the wonder had gone. Fear and dread budded. Emily sniffled. Alex knew his sister missed their parents.
His stomach sank. What was it that pulled us in? Think. Think. Think…
The day had been rather mundane. Alex remember sitting on the bench, uncertain which key to press. He tried, but the wrong note came out. It sounded off. He stopped completely, and looked to his mom. She sighed, and pointed to the music sheet. “If that’s C, then count up. D. E. F, and?”
“G.” He replayed the line, and the melody sounded correct. His mom lifted his hands, and played. His rhythm was off. The way his mom played flowed better, though he would never admit this. He wanted his way to be correct. After all who cares if he couldn’t play the same way this dead person played? He tried again, but his attention was clearly elsewhere. He stared out the window, where he noticed that his day had already gone.
Alex sighed. “Can I stop? For now. We’ve been practicing for hours.”
“It’s been one hour.”
“Yeah, a really long hour.”
She gave a sigh of exasperation, and gestured for him to go. Alex sat in the backyard, where the sunlight reflected off the various vases. They refracted colors off their glass in hues of blue, red, and green. Alex enjoyed tilting his head at a certain angle, and catching the flare of the glass and the sun. As he and his sister moved through the strange world, he wondered if the light he saw back at home had any correlation to their abduction. His brain panged trying to understand how this world operated. The gears that lined the grassy hills creaked on, relentless, at a steady pace. Suddenly, he could hear the trek of the train as it matched the rhythm of their movements. It chugged along the tracks when it hooted and bellowed a great gasp of smog.
Emily pointed to the train and yelled. A strange woman parachuted out from a pastel cart. She drifted with the gentleness of a feather until she landed before the siblings. “Hi!” The woman had an air of familiarity to her. Alex thought her hair was the same charcoal black as their mother. The woman who wore a suit and bowtie extended her hand. Her crow’s feet crinkled as her smile pulled taut. “Alex and Emily. It’s so good to meet you. I never thought I’d have the chance to meet you two here.”
“How do you know us?” Alex asked.
“You don’t you recognize your grandma?” She embraced her grandkids and laughed. Emily laughed in delight and returned the embrace, but Alex was doubtful. He pulled Emily and himself away.
“I don’t know you. You’re nothing like our grandma.”
The woman seemed puzzled. She tried to reflect on how she was supposed to act. “Was I any different out there than I am here?”
“Well… yeah. You hardly ever spoke to us. And you kept to yourself. You spent your time painting.”
“Oh,” She said sadly. “I guess Time has a way of doing that… I guess I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I was completely your grandma.” She pulled out brush from her coat and extracted color from the sky and grass. She painted swiftly a bouquet with the cold moon’s colors. Their petals glowed like the aura. “I’m just a fraction of her spirit, I suppose!” She handed the bouquet to Emily.
“Grandma Kira!” Emily pushed aside Alex’s hand and ran to her.
“Emily! It’s good to see you. Come on, Alex. Don’t be so suspicious of me. We’re family.”
Together, they sat in the train that ran across the land. Alex looked out his window. There were always two sides of the day. But no matter how much they traveled, they didn’t approach either. They just cut down the purgatory between the two lands, perfectly on that timeless axis. Alex sipped his hot chocolate, which he had to admit was the best hot chocolate he ever had. This placed was rather charmed, situated in that ambiguous hour of either dawn or dusk.
“Alex, look at the clouds. They’re pink and white!” Emily’s voice returned Alex to his situation. There was something terribly wrong about all this. He looked to Kira, a little apprehensive. “Grandma, if we’re in here, how do we return?”
“Now why would you want to return? Out there, Time is slowly erasing you. Here you are preserved. Your spirit as you are now is forever. Isn’t that beautiful?”
“Does that mean I won’t ever see mom and dad? What about my friends?” Emily began to sob.
“Stop it, Alex! You’re upsetting your little sister.” She whistled a sharp note when a box of toys slid down the corridor to their table. She picked one up and handed it to Emily. Rabbits were her favorite… “Alex, come with me. You’re older. You have to understand.” They walked out of chamber, and slide the door shut. “Your fleshy body isn’t going to withstand Time. Look what happened to me out there. But here, I am still young as ever. We get to experience this paradise. Why would you worry about returning home?”
“Because I will never see my friends! My mom. My dad.”
“Well I hate to break it to you, but you don’t really have a choice. There’s no leaving this place.”
Alex pried at the door of the cart. The world flashed by as the air whipped in his ears.
“There’s no point in jumping! I’ve tried it! You don’t die. You just land there, and you’ll have to walk to meet him!”
He looked outside. The ground stretched away from him, as the trained climbed up the hill. A stone bridge awaited them. A pond, half shaded in night and half illuminated by day, glimmered. He told himself to jump, but he couldn’t. Alex froze there. The futility set in.
“Look, Alex. We’re family. At least we have that. Henrique Tierra has no one related to him. Why don’t we just enjoy the ride, and you’ll meet the others.”
The architects helped build the world. Henrique did his best filling in the emptiness. But when the others appeared, he demanded they draw from their imagination. Kira painted many beautiful landscapes for them to explore. Jimothy sculpted the most intricate buildings. Dominque paved great roads and bridges. It was the cost to live in such a place.
There was space for everyone who came here to create as they wished. And then there was the collective consciousness. The train sped onwards to a rising city. It was silver and gleaming from a distance. Alex watched the horizon with some apprehension. He tried to understand what his grandma tried to tell him.
Dominque was a tall woman with black frizzes shaped into neat spirals. She sat waiting for the train, doodling in her notebook. She turned her page and extended the drawing to the next. When the door opened, she smiled at Kira and looked to Alex and Emily with curiosity. “Oh I’ve never seen them before. They must be new.”
Kira and Dominque embraced. “They’re my grandchildren.”
“They’re meeting Henrique then.”
They walked into a building with multiple levels and windows. But inside, it was a simple room. Everything was encased in a layer of silver. Alex slipped a few times when walking. The room was all the brighter, and at the very center of the room, there was a circle. Hands of a clock were printed on floor. They moved by the second, decomposing then reforming. At the center of the circle, there was a man in a brown suit. His hair was combed neatly to the side. His voice boomed. “Welcome. My name is Henrique Tierra. I created this very space you stand in.” He looked to Alex. His eyes were icy. “Here, we escape time. We are the lucky ones. We as artist need time to create. Time is the greatest resource to an artist. Without it, we can never finish our work. Thus, this world is ideal.”
“But what if I don’t want to create anything? I want to go back.” Alex said, as he walked past Kira.
“You’re not the first one to ask that.” He looked to Dominque. “It is because you do not know what has fallen into your hands. Dom, why don’t you show Alex what we have here?” He extended his hand to door. She smiled faintly and took Alex by his hand. Alex felt troubled. He looked back to the man, who stood before a great light. Alex didn’t think much of the light. He imagined it was the artificial sunlight that powered half the world. But the light remained in his mind, a beacon of relief, when he peered out of the clock. He looked to his sister, who seemed perfectly happy, holding her doll. And then she was nothing but a silhouette against the light. He thought he could hear her say goodbye.
“What’s really going here?”
“There’s a lot to be appreciated here, Alex. Everyone thinks so.”
“But you didn’t. Why?”
She looked at him, her eyes trying to decipher him. “Well some people can accept another reality. And some can’t. Look at what I can do here.” She walked him to the nearest street. It looked familiar.
“You’ve seen this street before, right? Maybe in some magazine. Or photo. But look what I can do in this world.” She waved the road up, and another copy floated above the street. She smiled and then connected the roads with stairs. Dom waved for him to go. Alex walked onto the road with some hesitation. But the floor was solid beneath his feet. He looked down to Dominque on the first floor. She waved to him.
“This is cool, but it doesn’t answer my question!”
She smiled and collapsed the road into one again, bringing Alex back to her. “I could never do this when I was back in that world. But now I can. There’s room to control time and reality here. Isn’t there something you wish you could have? You can make it come true here.”
“But I’m telling you what I want. I want to go back.”
“Well that’s the thing, Alex. You can’t go back. That’s the one thing you can’t do. But you can do anything else here. You might as well enjoy your time here because it’s all we get.”
When Jimothy was young, he played with building blocks. He’d stack them as high as he could until they toppled over his city of building blocks. He waited for that moment when they crashed upon the streets. He like to imagine that there were people below, and that they’d run for their lives like in the movies. He could do this for a few hours, until he heard his mother calling from their kitchen that dinner had been readied. He’d snap awake from a reverie of sorts and run downstairs.
In the kitchen, he’d chew each bite with methodical counting until there was no longer anything on his plate. Sometimes he look to the clock, which hanged adjacent to a calendar. This was a piece of his childhood. For whatever reason, he would recall this moment through his entire life.
As he sat in his cubicle, he would think of those afternoons. He wondered what had changed, and he tried to capture that feeling he had lost. In that endeavor, nothing seemed to really do the trick. It was a fleeing instance of nostalgia, already forgotten. He’d continue eating, talking to his friends, or working, never processing the strange lapse in his days.
In his cubicle, he’d trace the designs of buildings for his next project. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened in that cubicle –just a slow trudge of the day until he left the office. It would have been a shocking realization that he had imparted a portion of his soul within that clock. Such was the way of the world though. No matter where we go, we leave a little of ourselves, a bit of our soul, into our surroundings. It just so happened the clock never let his go. Jim would never know that a clock his mother had purchased from a garage sale somehow snatched him as he were on that afternoon he returned home to help her move.
So a piece of him diverged from the greater whole onto separate paths. He would scatter himself throughout his life, as we all do until death. Jimothy was 24 when he entered the clock, and 24 he remained until the clock fell from the high perch, shattering into pieces, and only then the captured souls found eternal rest.
But until then, Jimothy wandered the world until he met Henrique Tierra. The two did not like one another. Henrique was controlling. The mechanics of a world that granted him absolute freedom required that he instated laws to bind the limitless stream of consciousness. That was the city. Everywhere else was acceptable. Jimothy was allowed his space, but his creations began to encroach into the city. Dark towers spiraled from the ground. Monuments erupted, each rising higher than the other. Their consciousness clashed for the city when at last the world was largely divided in two: one of day and one of night. Jimothy was exiled to the night, where the recess of his uninhibited imagination produced dark, troubling creations.
Alex could only think of that light. He reasoned that such an intense source could mean an outlet. Henrique stood before him and the light precisely because that was the way out. Kira and Dominque had told him repeatedly that there was no return. But Alex distrusted them. It was their resignation that troubled him. He did not think they truly tried. He reasoned his determination to return home to his family and friends was greater than that of his grandmother. Why would she wish to return when she had already died? She had lived an entire life, so it made sense for her to stay here where she could be preserved. As for Dom, she had the powers of her imagination. She could busy herself with that escapism while he figured a way out of this maze.
At night, he found Emily asleep by a great glass window. He looked out to a see a town aglow with lanterns. A clock tower rose in the background. The clock itself was a glossy yellow. It had been some time since they arrived, though Alex only had an approximate feeling of how long they’ve been there. It must have been months. They toured the different places that Kira had painted. They walked across wondrous bridges, buildings, through majestic lands, along fords, and against unbelievable waterfalls. Along the border between night and day, Kira found them a place of rest; they climbed to the tallest building.
“Emily, wake up. I want to get us home.”
She awoke with sleepy eyes. “Grandma said there’s no going back.”
“She isn’t our grandma. You remember how grandma looked. She had a hunch back and she drooled a lot. I don’t know who she is.”
“She paints like grandma.”
“We saw grandma being buried. That can’t be her.” Emily began to look frightened. “No, no. Don’t be scared. We can escape. I’ve been talking to a person as we moved through this world. He says he can help us reach the light.”
“It doesn’t matter. As long as we leave now. He’s waiting for us outside.” Emily grabbed her toy bunny, and the two tip-toed out of the building. She looked back to Kira and Dominque with tears in her eyes. If it wasn’t losing her grandma, it was losing her parents and old life. And now again, she would have to say goodbye to her grandma. She wanted to wake up Dom, but she knew her brother would protest. Emily followed Alex out of the building, and she wondered if that was simply how life operated –this constant uncertainty that someone would walk out of your life. Perhaps that was simply an effect of Time.
“Henrique Tierra,” Madelyn muttered, as she sat at the table. She could imagine the man. He would have a thick mustache. His eyes were ice. And he would have this intense stare that penetrated the souls of those who met his eyes. At least, such was the description of the man who stopped time. The shop owner told her he who wore the incessant sounds of tick tock everywhere he went. He was obsessed with time that he wore 100 timepieces on him at all times. It must have been hyperbole, but it was an image she relished. “Why did he carry time with him like so?” She had asked, half laughing.
The man handed her a cup of cold, mint tea. He sat down with her outside his shop. A cooling breeze brushed them, as they looked to the sea between the valleys of shops. “Well the obvious answer is that Henrique was insane. He was not right in the head. He would babble at people all the time. The man was a spectacle. I suppose when you’re strange enough, you remain in people’s memories. There is one version of the story that the man never made a clock. He simply collected them from trashcans over the years. He lived in a cave, which echoed of his watches and clocks. Somehow, he boarded a ship here and now we have a myth of the man.”
Madelyn burst out laughing. “That’s completely different from the idea I had.” It was entertaining. The image of the man she so vividly saw in her imagination shattered. “But why would you tell me this If you’re trying to sell me this clock? Its value lies in this story of an obsessed man. Why would you take away that idea from me?” She smiled at him.
He sipped from his cup. “Well I hear many things about my collection all the time. One person tells me one version. Another tells me another. They all have their histories, and they all have their share of owners. It’s really what you want to believe. And if you like it –if you feel a connection –then you buy it. I think the souls of people stay with these things. You know? And then they get passed on. But when a person feels that connection to that soul, they buy it. The story is just there to make sense of that feeling.”
“Well thank you for being perfectly honest. I will in fact take the clock.”
She stared at the clock when she returned. She imagined an entire world behind the two doors at the clock’s center. Her eyes felt heavy with sleep; the light of consciousness waned between their shutters. Her vision blurred as she drifted. But in that second before she plunged into dreams, she thought she saw the door open. A person who had been very shrunken stood at the arch.
“Is it strange that we can affect the world around us? It seems at times breathing is all it takes to leave our mark in our worlds. One could say that Time erases all. With each year, we pick up speed to our deaths, building momentum until we’ve collided with this brick wall. And that’s it –you’re gone. But Time is strange in that regard. Time is short and sweet. Time is long and tortuous. Time can make the shortest minute an hour. An hour a second. A day a blink of the eye. And a month, gone. A year, gone. Another year to endure.”
“That is strange. But this, I am tired of this. I’ve signed a contract that will never give me freedom.”
“It’s the freedom to do things that becomes restrictive. Those who have time feel the greatest weight of Time.”
“What about those who have no time?”
“Artists. They can languish with their work for an eternity. It will never be finished. It’s as if their work is on life support, sapping their energy to power their ideas until they have to accept reality and unplug it.”
“When you unplug, you kill it.”
“Yes. But that’s the point of Time and Art. All works must have an end, a death. There is no eternity to any work. Otherwise it’s unfinished. It floats about this timeless purgatory. It has no form, just unbound imagination. It’s not art then. All art must be contained. When the vessel is complete, the captured souls can rest. Therefore, artists have no time. They’re racing death. They must keep creating or they’re not artists.”
Jimothy cracked open the door and peered out. Madelyn was at her table. She scrunched her face and tried to type. But she mashed her delete button until her screen was blank. “How much time do we have?”
“In here, it’s an eternity for us.”
Many factors lead to the fall. Jimothy and Alex returned to the light in order to escape the reality they could not accept. Jimothy had confirmed the strange light did indeed lead out of this world, but he couldn’t guarantee they would return to their reality. “I looked outside once. I realized it was not my old life. It was another life. A woman was writing in a home I could not recognize. I thought it was pointless then. But just knowing that something’s outside there, and that he won’t let us have it, it makes me want to escape. It’s not enough that I have everything here, I need to have what I lost.”
Alex looked to his sister then. They were returning to the city, and his sister had finally fallen asleep. Everyone was telling him that he could not have what he lost. He didn’t believe them. He never had a say in the matter. He was taken away. He tried to think back to the moment he and his sister were taken. But the memory was not clear, and his mind seemed to fill in the blank with false conjuring. He stretched his memory to the most approximate memory. There he was sitting in the backyard. The sun was falling, and night would come soon enough. So he went inside where he and his sister began to play a game. But what was the game? He tried and tried, but the memory went dead. He realized he only had this moment as he held his sister above a speeding train. The wind was at his face and he watched the hair on her head billowed back, swaying like grass, shuttering.
They walked to the man in brown. He stood at the center of the circle as the hands deformed then reformed around him. “There’s no going out. I know what you intend to do. We only exist in this realm. If we go out, then we disappear. Our time is already lost. I stand here to protect you.”
“You can’t expect me to forget everything I know.” Alex ran to the light. Instead of moving forward, he retraced his steps back to the entrance of the silver room. The hands of time moved back.
“I already told you. You saw for yourself what reality waits for us outside this clock. Why would you mislead him?”
“I would rather have nothing than a lie. I don’t care if I can do everything I wish in here. It’s not real. I want to go back to my reality.”
Strange creatures leaped from the ground and attacked the man at the circle. The building began to shake. The ceiling crumbled, and the hands around Henrique began to move faster. They spun and spun.
Alex grabbed his sister and ran to the light. He could feel a warmth calling to him.
Kira and Dom shifted the room so that Alex couldn’t escape. He noticed the room had begun to spin until the light was far away from him.
“Alex, stop this. You’ll kill yourself if you keep trying to return. There’s nothing outside there for you anymore. There’s no going back because there’s nothing back there.”
“It doesn’t matter what you say. I don’t want to live in this fantasy.” He ran to the light again, gripping his sister’s wrist. They all watched him. He looked back. They no longer tried to stop him. He felt free. He ran faster and he vanished into the blinding light. The warmth embraced him. He glanced back to his sister Emily in the arms of his grandma. And then there was nothing. He was no longer anything that existed. There was a fleeting second that he saw another reality –a woman staring up at him as he became light.
The clock rattled. Madelyn got up from her seat. She saw the walls were shaking. She grabbed her computer and ran outside the room as the shaking exacerbated. The earth rumbled. The floor lurched. She turned back to the room to see if she had forgotten anything when she saw the clock unseat itself from that perch. She saw it falling slowly and then it was reduced to pieces.
The next day, Madelyn took her scooter and sped down the country road. She wanted to see the moment the sun would break through the clouds. She had always chased that moment. Though she didn’t always capture it, she felt confident she would this time. A light drizzle fell on her. It was not entirely cumbersome once she accepted she would be drenched after her journey. Already the clouds were shifting across the sky. They seemed to move for her. As she rode through the green fields, she thought about the people within that clock. Madelyn was torn.
Was there any meaning in the clock falling? It seemed almost divine, cosmic, that an earthquake would strike the countryside. Apparently the last earthquake happened more than forty years ago. At least that’s what her neighbor said. She dwelled on the irony. Not too long ago, she had purchased in clock in a faraway city by the sea. She thought of how she felt as she walked the hills. An arid wind followed her. She found herself in a shop, where she enjoyed a light conversation and a cup of mint tea. They talked for some time about the clock she would inevitably purchase. It was the clock she would choose to write about.
She saw death in the clock that shattered. The captured souls of those who owned the clock were released from their captivity. They were undeniably apart of her. She thought herself silly when she imagined their whole lives ending in that moment.
Up on the highest point, she stared at the clouds dissipate. Another inexplicable feeling budded. She felt that she had lived this moment before. She closed her eyes and smiled.
I surrender to the complete unpredictability of life. Nothing has ever played out as I had imagined. And I think that holding to any expectation leads only to disappointment. This isn’t to say one shouldn’t plan for or invest in the future. That’s probably exactly what one should do every day. And that’s disguised as work –whether it’s creating or practicing or whatever. But our ideas of the future are hardly ever concrete, and nothing is ever guaranteed to yield results. Therefore, it seems one must blindly sow seeds and reap whatever sprouts whenever they sprout. I remember attending a writing conference a year ago, and a guest speaker advised everyone to remain flexible. She said people who hold onto their dreams so firmly are more likely to be disappointed. A year ago, I thought she gave up on her dreams and it was an issue of conviction. Today, I realize she’s a lot older and smarter than I am. I’m trying to welcome and accept the many detours necessary to achieve dreams. And I open myself to the possibility that my dreams might change. The whole journey not the destination cliché is making more sense to me. I have somewhat of a destination, but I might as well just enjoy the ride. I want to be running with the cart instead of being excruciatingly dragged along. And in the end I’ll always have writing.
I pressed on the lone peppercorn. Its shell gave. Its essence released with a cloud and a scent. I watched it in the sunlight on the granite counter. Ethereal, it dissipated into nothingness, a drop into the air current, partly absorbed into my nostrils and the rest dispersed into God-knows-where. How silly that I would create this narrative. How silly that I would project humanity on a peppercorn. Yet, I looked upon the pepper-grinder with a shudder.
I’d like to imagine myself as a house. Strange things lurk behind my door. Things are usually self-contained. Once in a while, things slip out. You can peep into the windows though I wouldn’t advise you to. I imagine that goes for most people. Things that stay inside, stay there for a reason –they’re simply too much for the outside world. We’ve built ourselves to conceal things. But would you like to see what’s inside me? The door’s open.
I hope you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes. Well, I hope you don’t mind the smoke either. The tenants have habits they’d like to quit. It’s a funny story. When one of our tenants was a boy, he begged his father to give up cigarettes. To him, it became a measure of love whether his father would. After years of haranguing him, the boy managed to help his father quit. He told me the other night that he never imagined he’d start smoking too. He said with some ambivalence, “Those anti-smoking ads aren’t wrong. But as a kid, I was naïve. I think I understand a little better now. Sometimes whatever you’re going through is too much. And if a cigarette can provide any relief in that moment, it becomes pretty tempting. I didn’t think too much about whatever my dad was going through when he smoked. To me it was just something he did.”
There’s some writing on the walls. I haven’t deciphered them yet. Have a look. I welcome the day I can leave my body. Oh, if you hear any violent sounds, don’t worry too much. We’ve got locks on his doors, and he’s been here for some time. Normally, he’s an all right person. But once a while, he escapes. A few times, he slipped out of the door and things turned quite ugly. Having talked to him a few times, I don’t think he can help those outbursts. This is what he said to me: “I know it’s not right. But it’s what I was taught. It’s what I learned from those around me. And when things slip out of my hands, I just default to that. There’s this idea I’ve been struggling with. Are we not just our parents’ flaws? Are those not the demons we have to fight every day? I’m not faulting my parents. I know this is entirely my problem as an adult. This is just my understanding… Inheritance is stronger than I’d like to admit.”
Well right here we could either go upstairs, or we can continue down. It gets pretty dark down there though. Maybe that can be for another time. There’s some sunlight upstairs. Can you see through the windows? I really wanted to replace those rose tints. They have a way of distorting things, and reality is usually all the more uglier when you see past them. I don’t think I can change them. They’re just the way they are. Then again, aren’t we all? Watch your step there. One of our tenants has a habit of digging. He’s a strange fellow who carries a shovel with him everywhere. As damaging as it is to the house’s integrity, it does make getting around a lot easier. You just have to watch out. You don’t want to fall into the wrong room.
If you follow me down this hole, we’ll arrive at the dining table. It’s a few floors down, but the fall is only a few seconds. That wasn’t too bad was it? Here, we’ll wait for the others. We let the tenants come out to eat so they’re not cooped up for too long. One of them gets a little… jittery. It’s probably best you leave after. After all, this is all a façade. This is all tailored to give us a form. I’d like to believe we’re all compartmentalized, but the truth is we’re the same person and if you believe that then this dissolves into something a little more frightening if you can you should get out now before everything dissolves and the locks are no more and the walls are melted into a homogenous blackness therein lies dark truths of me I am another side of the person I present I am violence and I am repressed anger and the urge to k-kkkk-k and dark darkness you should have left when you could have before you’re engulfed I am flesh I am teefff without skin and un-repenting for horrors that slink out the door the ttruthh es that aie me3t dis b4 I dsvlved en 2 dith I I I s-s-s-a-w-w-w dis side of me before. get out. Get out. GET OUT.
My skin is my cage. My cage is my house. I can only be me.
I took a walk down the empty road. I thought the silence would help me. My thoughts grew louder. Things I had repressed crept from the recess of my mind. They were troubling notions of my own existence. Is this the extent of my living? Haven’t I fought through this and that already? Haven’t I been blessed enough only to have my blessings slip from my hands? Thinking back a year, I could not have imagined how my life would change. I’d like to think that some people are excluded from the complete precariousness that is my life. I have this idea that other people have maps. They go through institutions. They climb the ladder. They put in the work and they’re somewhere better. Me, I’m staring up to the heavens, and I have to make a ladder out of thin air. Grab that from this. Grab this from that. The strange thing is I feel closer than ever to reaching something. I’m just scared to look down.
This question orbits my thoughts: when should I stop? I’ve debated this so many times that I’m bored of it. The answer seems plain. I don’t. I don’t until I die. I have this whole life to give. I have however many years I’ve been allotted to pursue this dream of mine. The concept of a glass ceiling terrifies me. You charge the sky with all your energy, and you just can’t break through. You see what you want so desperately, and you simply don’t have enough. You didn’t launch with enough umph.
My head’s in the clouds. I don’t want to be grounded. I pray don’t let me fall. I have this dream that I’m flying a plane into a gold sky. The clouds are canyons. I don’t know why this image brings me so much bliss.