Waking the Clock

April 27, 2012 § 5 Comments

‘She’s breathing inside your head.’

Sandra opened her eyes.  She looked up at the ceiling, staying off the sudden grip of fear.  The stucco was long-faded from white to a sickened grey.  Water had created a cow-like pattern, except instead of a soft brown or slick black, the off shape ovals were a dusty green.  What sort of water greened rather than browned?

‘Breathing like a sick pup waiting to vomit.’

The miniature, rectangular, if not slightly warped, range of mountains hung upside down.  Normally just a part of the house, the design threatened to spear her one by one.  She could see how it happened.  One small peak would break away and grow.  It would lengthen and widen to just the right size before it would tunnel through her chest.  In a few days, when the smell of death reached the neighbors, police officers would find her heart thrust through the thin excuse for a mattress and pinned to the floor.

The neighborhood would gossip.  How could she have possibly been impaled by what looked like a stalagmite?  Where did it come from?  Was it murder?  It wouldn’t be murder, though.  No.  Murder would make sense.  At least as much sense as mindless evil does.  It would just be one strange phenomenon to keep the people interested for a while until the next best thing came along and then she, like so much else in the life of the world, would be forgotten.  The unsolved mystery of yet another cold case.

Only she would know she had willed the ceiling to take her away in whatever way it could.  After all, being as lifeless as a stone, the only way it could do her bidding would be to use the stucco.

‘She’s breathing inside your head.’

When the fear refused to abate, she closed her eyes and spoke aloud, “For every time I drown in fear, I’ll count the things I must hold dear.  Like the sanity of life and love, the success of winning push-comes-to-shove.  What I think and what I feel, aren’t always one or always real.  Stay my heart and breath in deep; take a moment to take the leap.  Count the days or count the nights, happiness and joy are in my rights.  Believe the truth of fearless mind, and rejoice in the sanctity I find.”

‘Three thousand four hundred seventy-nine.  That’s how often you’ve said that just this year.’

She did the math.  That averaged just about thirteen times a day.  She was absolutely certain that crazy had rented out her mind, making itself as cozy as a winter skier in a summer lodge.  Crazy makes the world go ‘round.  Climbing out of bed, shuffling to the door, she knocked gingerly at the metal-coated wood.  As she waited, she stared at the wall.  Such an off pattern.  Floral.  It was never a favorite décor choice and those who chose it, she believed, were as crazy as she was.  It didn’t take long before she began trying to will the awful, tacky vines of the wallpaper to reach out and strangle her.

‘Won’t you let her just speak?  She deserves it, you know.  You did this to yourself.  Did this to her.  She’s breathing inside your head.’

The vines reached out slowly, but refused to strangle her.  Instead, they stroked her head gently, fingering (so to speak) small locks of her hair with their tarnished thorns.  Roses on the wall.  It couldn’t have been something more poisonous?  Wolvesbane, perhaps?

The bedroom door opened to a woman who, despite her small stature, could have snapped Sandra in two.  She smiled softly, “Are you doing well?”

“As well as the crazy get.”

“Voices?”

“Vines.  Stalagmites.  I keep trying to will them to relieve me, but they just won’t listen quite like they should.”

“I see.”

“You see the vines about my head?”

“I see what you’re saying.”

“You’ll call Adramen?”

“Of course.”

With the door closed, Sandra returned to her bed.  Instead of climbing atop the flimsy excuse for a mattress, she dropped to her knees and looked beneath it.  She waited to see if she would conjure up some hideous idea, maybe blood seeping from the eyes of some broken child or wild dogs gnawing on the legs of kittens.  When nothing came, she ventured beneath and lay quietly on her side, tracing lines in the dust that had gathered.

‘Are you waiting for the end or just bidding your time?’

“Neither, I suppose,” she answered the new voice with comfortable familiarity.  Unlike the other, this one she knew well.  This one was an old hat, a gentle comfort who so loved to caress, pet, and stroke the shards of glass rooted in her mental soul.  The voice was an abuse she missed each time it found itself wrapped in silence, something that left her feeling lonely when gone.

‘Then what are you doing?’

“Hiding away.”

‘Why?’

“I’m crazy and sometimes it helps to hide from myself.  If I weren’t already insane, I’d drive myself there.  You can bet a buck on that.”

‘I miss–‘

“The sunrise?”

‘Sometimes.’

“The moonlight?”

‘On occasion.’

“Breathing?”

‘Rarely.’

“Life?”

‘Never.’

Not wanting to have that particular conversation, or inner-outer-monologue, she rolled to her stomach and pressed her lips to the floor.  Counting the stars she couldn’t see, she closed her eyes tight.  A shiver coursed her spine in a delightful wrap of pins and needles, leaving her stomach filled with acid and a nauseated sense of weakness.  She splayed her arms out to hug the floor.

‘Are you so lonely that you’d hug the mites of timeless dust?’

“I’m not lonely.  I’m not hugging.  Why must you tease?”

‘I don’t mean to.  You are lonely.’

“I’m lonely at times.”

‘Loneliness is a sad place to live.’

“Please, don’t pity me.  No empathy either.  I don’t deserve anyone to sympathize with me.  Especially not myself.”

‘Won’t you just ask for a hug?’

“And who would I ask?”

‘Will no one else hug you?’

“Not likely,” she whispered into the dust.

‘Why?’

“I imagine hugging me is no more appealing than hugging a teddy bear that likes to eat little children.”

‘Do you make wishes?’

“On the rare occasion I have been known to grant them.”

‘Won’t you grant me one wish then?’

“What do you wish?”

‘Star light, star bright, oh the fifteen millionth star I’ve seen tonight, my windows are blacked and my soul is cracked, it’s been months since I’ve seen the light, but grant me this one wish I wish tonight.’

“Hilarious.”

‘I wish the grass would start to grow.’

“The grass grows every day.  Wish granted.”

‘No, I want the grass to start to grow.  I want the clock to tick again.  I want the world to turn.  It’s so cold on the dark side of the Earth.’

Sandra, sighing into the dust, lifted her eyes and watched as a small spray of settled time flew into the air, in motion again.

‘Yes, just like that.’

‘Her heart clicks and cranks in the depths of death, she breathes inside your head.  Are you listening for the chimes of the old grandfather clock you never knew wound down?  Tick-tick and tock-tock.  Tick-tick.  Tick-tick-tock, it’s the old grandfather swinging that pendulum back and forth in his chest.  Except it doesn’t move anymore, does it?  It stopped swinging and you made that happen.  You stopped all of time, killed everything that mattered.  Including life.’

‘Leave her be.  She didn’t.  She didn’t kill Life or anything else that mattered.  She didn’t kill anything.’

“Pendulum.”

‘Tick-tick-tock.  That’s the death of the grandfather clock.’

‘Shut up.’

“Someone always said, ‘Sandra, you live like a pendulum.  It’s always one way or the other for you.  If you stopped in the middle we could easily assume you were dead.  Wound down like an old grandfather clock.’  I hated it when they’d say that.  Who said that to me?”

‘It’s best not to remember who would say something so generalizing and all-encompassing.  No one is exactly any way others perceive them.  The world would be a bit foolish to assume one person could sum them up into a few words.’

‘If the sound of silence doesn’t take you, the breathing inside your head will.’

“She’s breathing inside my head.”

“Who’s breathing inside your head, Sandra?”  The outer voice startled Sandra and she jumped.  Dr. Adramen peered under the bed as Sandra rubbed the fresh knot rising from her crown.  “We’ll need to get that checked for you.  We don’t need you falling asleep with a concussion.  Come out of there.”

“Can’t we just talk while I lay here?”

“Why would you rather lay beneath the bed?”

“Life settles here, under the creaks and groans of sleep, much the way it settles inside of me.”

“Are you suggesting you might be the floor in which Life settles its dust upon?”

“That or I’m a great white porcelain god and Life eats far too many spicy meals.”

“Come out of there.”

“Not likely.”

“You can stay there if you wish, but it would be less awkward for my back if you’d come out.”

“I couldn’t care less for your back.”

Adramen nodded that understanding, maddening nod of hers and lay out across the floor as well.  She gazed under the bed.  Sandra stared into the eyes of a ghost each time she looked into Adramen’s.  The knowing (judging) eyes of Adramen were more like the dead eyes of Joy and Hope than any others she’d encountered.  The raised cheekbones, oval face, and gleaming smile made matters even worse.  She couldn’t help but snarl in return each time Adramen smiled.

“When will I have a new doctor?”

“You won’t.”

“But you said…”

“I said I would inquire.  I never said you would.”

“Bullshit.”

“In the fields, maybe.  Not here.  Not now.  Not ever.”

“You’re the worst doctor.  I hope you burn.”

“Feeling angry tonight?”

“Way to take a stab in the dark.  Your superior powers of perception have caught me once again,” Sandra’s cheeks blazed with embarrassment and frustration.  She’d been caught in her own emotions; called out she had to testify, “Blow.”

“Austin tells me you were hallucinating.”

“Is that a question?”

“Tell me about it.”

“I wasn’t hallucinating.  I was wishing.”

‘Star light, star bright.’

“And what were you wishing?”

“I wished for death.”

“Why would you wish for death?”

‘Because the world has stopped turning.  Because she’s breathing inside your head.’

“I’m locked up inside a tiny room because I wish for death; I’m hardly the one to be asking… Doctor.”

“You’re not locked inside this room.  You’re free to come and go as you please.”

“I want a new doctor, Leslie.”

“You called me Leslie.”

“I didn’t.”

Adramen sat up, reaching past her feet.  After a moment of stretching she laid back with a recorder in hand, “Listen.”

Sandra’s voice played back.  ‘I want a new doctor, Leslie.’  The words echoed in her ears, in her heart.  The syllables were strums of a dispirited guitar back dropping out of tune piano keys.  Shattered music was the tune of the century, the only music she seemed to know.  Feeling weary, she pressed her lips back against the floor.  The pressure would ease the ache and help her to avoid the onslaught of a crying fit.

“This is no way to live.”

“And what way is that?” Adramen did care, she knew that.  The only reason she asked for a new doctor is because Adramen was, in the most evocative way, an exact replica of Leslie.

“I’d laugh at the question, but I’m afraid of the bitterness I’d hear.  Laughter should be warm, something you want to hear.  Not splinters of the wreckage inside.”

“Sandra?  What way is no way to live?”

“Yes.  I heard you the first time.  I want you to listen close, because this is the only time I’m going to talk to you.  Are you listening?  Do you have that infinitesimal microphone pointed this way?”

“I’m listening.”

“My life is no way to live.  Haunted by your doctor because the picture she is lies buried beneath the filth and dirt of the world.  Unable to take my own life because I’m scared to die.  Listening to the voices in my head telling me I’m not a murderer and that I am, too.”

“Voices?  There’s more than one?”

“Now.  Today.  Leslie’s voice is there.  And then my own.  A darker me.  An angrier me.”

“Sandra, you didn’t kill anyone.”

“I killed Leslie.  I beat her.  I ripped her apart piece by piece.  Then I buried her.”

“Did you?”

“I loved her.  Did you know that?”

“I know you did.”

“I really did love her.  I would have gladly thrown myself down at her feet.  I would have thrown myself down in front of the worst evils imaginable to save her life.  Instead, I killed her.”

“How did you kill her?”

“I don’t know.”

“You said you beat her.”

“Not literally, but somehow I killed her,” replacing her lips to the floor with her cheek, Sandra gazed at Adramen.  A small part of her began to awake.

“Where did you bury her?”

“In the world.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Have you ever loved someone, but never known how to do it the right way?”

“Possibly.”

“It’s either yes or no, but the answer doesn’t matter.  If you haven’t, you will.  I loved Leslie that way.  I loved her to no end, but I didn’t understand how to love the right way.  I always believed that if you just loved someone and was always there for them then that was all there was to it.  I was wrong.  So every day I woke up loving her and trying to make the right choices, but I always seemed to make the wrong ones.  Eventually, she and I… I don’t know.  We died.  By the end of time, she hated me.  Her biggest regret in life was having ever met me.”

“You feel as if you killed Love?”

‘She’s breathing inside your head.’

“I killed Love and Life and Leslie.  Now she lives inside my head.”

“Is she really dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve lost contact?”

“She hated me.”

“I don’t think she really hated you.”

“She said, ‘I wish I’d never met you.’  That’s a strong hate.  The kind that never goes away.”

“She doesn’t hate you, Sandra.”

The wallpaper lay still.  The ceiling remained intact.  The only sound in the room was their breathing.  Adramen smiled Leslie’s smile and somewhere inside of Sandra, reality woke up.  Sandra scooted from beneath the bed, ignoring the stillness of time come to life again.  All she wanted was to take Adramen’s hands into her own, to feel that contact for one moment.

“If she doesn’t hate me then why was I not enough?”

“Maybe you were too much.”

“I broke her.”

“Maybe you broke a part of her, but not intentionally.  You certainly didn’t kill her or Life or Love.”

“I broke the best part.  The part that loved me once.”

“No, you broke the part that kept her away from happiness and sometimes we can’t face the fact that we can’t be happy alone and those that can help us find who we are can be more terrifying than even loneliness.”

“I don’t think people hate people who love them.”

“Yes, we do.  When we can’t love as much as they can, we hate them for having more than we can possibly find inside ourselves.”

“I didn’t need her to love me as much as I loved her.  I just needed her to love me at all.”

“She did.”

“Now she doesn’t.”

“Even love ends when there are things in the world to interfere.”

“Nothing is forever.”

“Not even forever,” the moment was still.  Sandra closed her eyes and wrapped herself closer to Adramen.  “You’re not real.”

There was no answer, but that was alright.

“Leslie, I’m going to sleep.  This time when you leave… please… don’t come back.”

“I promise.”

More stillness as Sandra drifted into sleep.  She was crazy, she knew that.  Something had gone wrong inside her, but for one moment she could face reality and maybe when she woke that reality would stand strong, “I won’t stop loving you.  I didn’t know how to love you right and I don’t know how to stop either.”

“It’s okay.  You loved me the way Sandra was supposed to.  No one else will ever be you,” Adramen paused.  She closed her eyes, prepared to go.  “Sandra?”

“Yes?”

“I really did love you.”

As sleep covered Sandra, a clock began to tick in the darkness.

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