This post is part of a short fictional series. It comes with a brief apology about the length. I’m aiming to keep each segment under a thousand words, but, well… yeah… The beginning is here.
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They were gone.
The sound seemed to shrivel and disappear beneath the threshold, pulling every other sound with it. There was nothing left but my breathing, and the blank-faced stare of the walls. For a moment, I actually hoped the door would fly open and they would burst back into the room with smiles on their faces. With balloons on strings bobbing against the door frame. All of them fighting to squeeze through at once.
These desires only accentuated the emptiness around which I circled—an emptiness I was avoiding. Avoiding by dragging my finger back and forth across the upholstery. (It had a dull feel in one direction, and a more rippled one in the other.) Avoiding by hoping the next breath would reveal a way out– the arrival of angelic instructions, or the emergence of a secret passage.
On the in-breath I took hope. On the out-breath I sank to the bottom.
Take another. Quick.
I looked around the room. What was even happening? Anything? Maybe nothing was happening. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this. What had convinced me I was worth such trouble? How was I going to find the wire anyway? I looked at the snips, floating on the other cushion like a dead mechanical bird—already a symbol of my failure. Already out of reach.
When I turned back I saw the empty receptacle in the floor lamp across the room, and I remembered the preparations—the careful way Hafiz had packed up the toaster and the microwave, the way Jesus had walked the perimeter hour after hour the night before. I remembered what they had told me, the little things they’d slipped into our conversations during the last few months.
You have to sing your way to the wire…
Be observant of the openings. If there’s a window, be watchful of it…
The messages will come…
I remembered Hafiz had taught me to chant. That beautiful night at his kitchen table, in the fluttering of candle light, I had wanted explanations. Answers. He’d just smiled and begun to chant softly. For an instant the flame had seemed to dance with him. Now those sounds were inside of me. They were growing, starting to move around in my chest like baby bears awakening from a long winter.
I stood. I moved to the center of the room, facing the window, my throat dry and heavy.
I wondered if the boys outside would hear me. What about the neighbors? The people on the street walking home from the bus with groceries under their arm. What if they came knocking? This wasn’t even my place.
I took a breath. Hope filled my lungs.
The first feeling I released—the first one to leap across the wire and complete the larger circuit—was that question about being found. About being seen, alone in an empty room, falling apart. If someone opened the door, I would have nothing to offer. I don’t know what I’m doing either. Get me out of here.
I let it come.
I hummed the tune, shakily at first. My voice felt shabby in the void, tarnished. But the tune had a rhythm. Each round seemed to strengthen a configuration in the space around me. By the third round I knew I was building something. A refuge. A little while later, I was actually singing, and the silence around me– still full of the previous verses– rang as if a choir had gathered. It was joyous.
I sat back on the couch, warmed. Emptiness returned to the room’s corners, but crept no closer. There were waves moving through me. Soft assurances. I felt as though I had built my first fire in the wilderness. Perhaps I would make it through the night.
The messages will come.
I placed my whole being into that thought. My out-breaths began to feel more and more like invitations, like desires pouring from my heart, and soon I was rocking gently in place. Carrying myself. Trusting in what was to come.
All day, I waited, my faith falling slowly, like a sun, towards the horizon.
By nightfall my fire was down to simmering coals. The corners of the room were closing in again, and I could hardly see the stain on the opposite wall. No messages had come for me. No insights or revelations. I was laboring to quell a mounting despair. I knew if I let it overtake me, I would plummet into spaces beyond my reach. The night would swallow me whole.
Despite my premonitions, the descent was swift. A little later I was coiled on the couch. Begging. Please. Remembering the touch of Jesus’ cheek against mine. Please. Please.
Still, nothing came.
I was a tattered flag. Frayed strips of being. I was ashamed of my earlier hopes. Of my foolish desires. When the tears finally came, it took my whole body to shake them loose.
Sometime in the night a streetlamp flickered to life down the avenue, and a column of faded light shone through the window. It cast a yellowed rectangle high up on the wall. I watched it off and on for hours. Its presence was precious to me, like a beacon, but I couldn’t understand it. What did it mean?
I had nearly drifted to sleep when the thud of something heavy in the next room jolted me upright. I swallowed hard. My body felt like a rag, but I was instantly alert. Some spark deep inside of me had still been at the ready, had never faded. I listened to something clattering around in the bedroom—something big. Something with legs.
I waited for it.
The subfloor creaked as it strode in slow circles around the other room, searching. Then it came through the doorway into the hall, and paused. I could hear its breathing—a series of deep, full-chested draughts. I could feel its simplicity, its purity. The floor groaned once more and the sound of breathing approached until I could see two hot plumes jetting out of the darkness from across the room.
I watched, transfixed. My feelings escaped my ability to comprehend them. It was as if I was in ten places at once, but all of them right in that room. I felt both vulnerable and powerful. Like life itself. Minutes passed. An hour maybe. I just watched. She breathed. Two clouds of gentle mist. On. Off. On. Off.
Later I understood the realization had always been there, but it came to the surface slowly, like the way our bodies age. She was waiting for me. She had always been waiting for me. Since before I could remember. And now she was here, at the edge of the room, and her every breath was an invitation.