This is Part 4 of 5. One more to go… Part 1 is here, if you wish to start at the beginning.
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He must have gone for help, the little junco, because when I awoke there were two of them. One on my side of the window, inspecting the sill– making those erratic steps that come in packs of four or five– and the other one outside, moving only its head, looking around for the entrance.
It made sense.
I was too delirious to understand that it didn’t. Too delirious to comprehend the magnificence of the white-chested bird. The one inside. So much mystery hides under cover of the explainable, we just miss it. We’re drunken with explanations. There was obviously a hole in the bedroom large enough to accommodate a big-horned sheep. Case closed.
I looked across the room. Still one step behind myself.
She was gone. My messenger. The hallway was just a silent opening, a shadow falling across the room. Nothing more. A solitary sob chortled through me. The afterthought of a choking engine. Where had she gone? Had she ever been there?
Was I even wounded?
The answer shattered the question. The pain ambushed me like a line of pointed-teeth thoroughbreds released from the gatehouse. The starting bell was throbbing in my ear. Ringing within its ringing. My mind could block it out for a short time, while I was elsewhere, but the opened box of memories always pulled me back. The horn sinking into my flesh. The dull feeling of the couch at my back.
I turned back to the window. The outer junco was gone, too.
I wanted to consider carefully my condition. To reflect upon things. To organize my resources. Maybe if I rested, and gathered my reserves, I could navigate by the stars when night returned. Maybe I could tease a junco into delivering a message for me. It seemed possible. Never mind I didn’t know what to say, or where to send it.
Or did I?
I decided if the junco landed on my shoulder, I would sing the shape of the tree I used to climb in the backyard. Probably he would know the one. I could hum the tones of the knob near the bottom of the trunk, of the lowest branch that was always too thick for my hand to clasp, of the spot nearly halfway up where three limbs sprouted in quick succession.
Come here little friend.
The pain intruded again as it made the far turn, a seething crowd of teeth and hooves and dust. I watched expectantly as they came down past the grandstands. It was going to be close. A photo finish. They swept across the line.
Where I had placed it anyway.
I watched in disbelief as they swept across without even slowing. They dug in, and pushed the pace instead. The bell was still ringing. Their eyes were wide, their pupils dilated. Their lips slack. Their hearts afraid and hungry. It was a race to the end. I felt myself being diluted thinner and thinner. I wanted in that moment, more than anything, to set them free.
I began to hum the notes of that tree. Mercifully, I drifted towards sleep once more. The last memory that came was of his eyes. The dancing flames.
– – – – –
Next time I came to the surface I was reaching instinctively for a prickly sensation at my side. I searched tentatively with one hand until I felt something sticky and stranded, like cotton candy. There was a fibrous cord protruding from my wound. Soft moonlight from high in the sky was spilling onto the window and dropping straight down onto the floor. Poised on the edge of the light were the shadowed silhouettes of three juncos.
They were inside. I could hear them cheeping to one another. Raising valid questions.
The silk wire ran from my wound, down my leg, onto the floor, and then across the room to an electrical outlet, where it ended in a weblike cocoon. Prickly shapes were commuting up and down the outside of the wire like ants making trips downtown for supplies. I thought maybe this was it. The way healing came. I wanted to be grateful, to let them put me back together just right, but the spiders unnerved me. Their eyes were bright green dots that leapt from the darkness and stung my eyes. Red ones. Yellow ones, too. Like lasers.
But my pain had subsided. I was being sustained in some way, and my bleeding had stopped. My side was plugged by what seemed an infestation of cotton balls, and inside of that mess was the wire. Its electricity was cool and sugary. It even tickled a little.
As if responding to my attention, images began arriving, one after another. Flowing down the wire.
They were the answers we needed. The right ones. How to solve the political game. The key to ending poverty. In one, I was up at the podium, pointing to the slides. I was explaining the proper way to plant peas. To breed sheep. Most people know that chlorine in the water is bad, but they didn’t know the real reason why. I could see why. I was explaining this, too. I understood the punchlines to every philosophy. How to mix and match them like metal alloys– into lightweight, flexible structures– so that things worked. So we could get along. So that it could all make sense. And finally, people were listening.
These were good things. Needed things. These were the gifts I had earned. They were mine to offer.
I was at the beginning of an insight about solving the energy crisis when I saw his eyes again. Gentle and clear. Why was he interrupting me now? Couldn’t he see what was happening? I wanted to whisk them away. I glanced up towards the window. The juncos were trapped between the glass and the web. Nearly ensheathed. Their cheeping had changed into staccato clucks. My breath froze and broke into a thousand glassy fragments. Something inside of me– my best intentions– collapsed.
How could this have happened?
Across the room, the spiders were already working on the hallway. They were about a third of the way up the wall, covering it over with a silken sail.
What was going on?
That’s when I heard the soft, tremulous braying. From the bedroom. Her call wobbled, like a shaky leg, and then gave out on itself entirely. As if the very effort to sound her voice had sapped her reserves. My heart flared with an urgency I had never felt before. I crawled to my feet gingerly, nearly falling back to the floor with dizziness. I took a step towards the spiders in the hallway, and searing pain exploded in my side. The sensation of something tearing.
The wire wasn’t long enough to reach her.
I spun around and reached for the snips. My actions were coming swiftly now, unquestioned. The couch was covered in webbing. I grabbed hold of the cord and yanked it once, as hard as I could. The fibrous mass pulled free, but it was like being stabbed all over again. I nearly passed out. With one hand held to my side, pressed against the blood, I kicked through the webbing and staggered down the hall.