A Day Remembered
I can remember a day long before. The mood was somnambulant and lazy, with the briskness of winter just brushing near. It was in the midst of autumn, a time when the great oaks and fine elms put on their golden glory before it was swept clean, one piece after another, by the rasping wind. I had, that day, wandered into a small town not so unlike this one. On foot, I strolled, crushing the now brittle leaves beneath and looking up upon the gaunt branches already protruding from the amber reds and soft yellows. Winter was already in the air, in the bitter breeze of icy breath from the arctic and the cackling of wild geese as they flew by. I can still remember that day, that last day of lingering laziness and that day of ... of a little boy and ... and of something more.
During my meandering through the town, past all the brick houses and the quaint little shops, I had come upon a crowd. Gathered near the temple, they stood whispering in ominous tones, gesturing wildly as their voices rose to a roar, spilling over and crashing all about. Curiosity had pushed me to the forefront of the crowd where it formed a circle about a creature strange and monstrous. Hunched over menacingly, it was covered with fur sharp and brittle, brown and tawny, a form more taurine that man, yet still strangely human. Growling low and fierce, the beast had within his grip something I could not discern. But as the crowd shifted and the form turned with a guttural cry, I saw that within his clumsy, ungulate grasp was a small boy, still of tender skin and tenderer years. Clutching the child close, the monster was shoving a mass of mottled purple down that tiny throat with an ungodly force. The boy gurgled and struggled, whimpering and screaming, crying out with fervent desperation coiled tight in a childish voice, "Daddy, Daddy, I do not want to die!" But despite that helpless cry and the tremors of its harrowing fingers reaching deep down into our own throats, no one would move and reach out to help him. Instead we stood frozen, watching as if witness to a secret and sacrosanct ceremony upon which not one would dare to intrude.
But in an instant, that stricken silence was broken as with rifles and guns they broke into the scene, shoving the crowd back. Sharp shots pierced the air and noisy wails released us from the stifling hold of that mysterious spell and within moments, screams and shouts shuddered through the crowd and there were pushing and shoving amid the yelling and screaming, and the undirected force of terror and anger and injustice and rage flooded forth in all its undiluted fury. The crowd had come alive, becoming a monster in its own right, a mob from which the voice of the multitudes rose in one, in hatred and in violence, against the horror, the deformity, the uncommon. And I saw, through the commotion, a vivid red spreading as the creature was gunned down, a vision of it falling, falling ... to come to an ungainly sprawl amid the sandy dirt and grime of the brown earth. The dust swirled and danced in a cloud before settling still, revealing the motionless figures of woman and of child as of yet a mere babe beside. His wife and younger son, who suppliant and blind, had readily ingested the poisonous plant and now ... now lie dead and mindless. A veritable monster, utterly depraved, to have done this.
The other boy was bundled up and taken away, amid its sobs, througth the dispersing crowd. I looked back toward that still creature lying in the dirt. For the first time, I was afforded a look into its face. Surprisingly, that mien was not so repulsive as I had afore feared. This was not to say that it was not ugly or grotesque for it was both, contorted as it was by the prominence of the jutting bones, its grimace of pain, baring fangs sharp and crooked. The stretch of the tight leathery skin over a unnatural jut of the cheekbone was revealed in obscene clarity and the smoothness of the skull seemed a mockery of the angry furrows and lines just below it, joining the eyes to the fierce crag of a nose. It was grotesquely ugly and bestial. In seeing it one would feel nothing but the vilest of loathing and the basest of disgust but for the shimmering wetness of its eyes. That glimmer of moisture upon such a barren and cracked land, so uncompromising in its vales and planes, seemed to bring him back in to the realm of man, reminding us that once this husk of matted fur, scarred and battered skin over crooked bones, had been living. It once had too been filled that heated, pulsing fluid of emotions and the secret yearnings and painful throbbing of the human heart.
Few knew what has driven him to this precipice and what monstrosity had so transformed him. He was now of a rather medial income, not as prosperous as before. But still ... no one had expected it. He had always been that quiet, unassuming, kindly sort of man. Routined and predictable, so easily understood and accepted, he had always been reliable in his life. But now it had all changed, no one expected it or knew what to make of it. So startling was this revolt it was as if he, an ox who through his life had been subservient and faithful had, upon seeing the husk of nothingness that he had become, turned in a roar of anguished rage upon everything he had served. Still there were whispers: of a terrible disease, of insanity, of a family curse, on the edge of poverty, scandalous, immoral, corrupt, unthinkable, heinous, atrocious, tainted. Infest. I donít know what all this had signified or how it has come to pass. But I have the irrepressible feeling that it has revealed something, something great and momentous and as hideous as that wretched creature, though I havenít the faintest idea what. I could believe none of the rumors but neither could I disregard any. There is nothing here but great confusion, a sense of unbalance mixed with wonder and bemusement, and a sort of morbid fascination.
Itís so difficult to separate truth from reality. But it no longer matters. It is gone. Years have passed. Thereís no longer any meaning in it. It has been forgotten. But then it is autumn again and nature had once more put on her cloak of yellows and browns. There is again that chill in the air and that restlessness in my spirit . I decided to go wandering again, what else was there for me? Perhaps I would even go back to that mysterious town, to see ... to see what? It has been a long time, there would be nothing there. I am a fool but still I went.
It is the same. Isnít it? I look upon the shuttered windows and the almost empty street and I listen to the quiet whistle of the wind and the far away sound of children playing. I smell the sweet wisp of fresh baked bread and I closed my eyes, swept back into that long ago day. I walked past the temple and saw nothing, no crowds and no monster, just a decrepit lone structure of wood and paint. There was a sense of disappointment, yet what could I have expected? A repetition of that scene long past? Another glimpse into ... into what? There was nothing here. It was like any other town of the past, slowly dying as the young fled from its small, familiar safeness. There was nothing here, no reminders at all of what had occurred. Perhaps I had dreamt it all. Yet despite my doubts and that unfulfilled, empty sensation of disappointment, I could not leave and so continued to walk through the town. Lost in my musings and the elusive whirl of my thoughts, the sounds of the outside world became fainter and fainter until the chirping of the birds and the rush of rubber upon concrete became entangled in a monotonous hum. I no longer expected anything but strangely enough, it was again in this state of languid ease and mindlessness that fate chose its revisit.
As I was leaving the town, I was stopped by a bright, red ball rolling onto my path. It was easy to bend over and to pick up that slowing ball to return it. But as I straightened, I found myself looking into two pairs of beautifully bright and glittering eyes, clear and unclouded. Oh, how very beautiful they were! These two children of the golden hair and the golden face, so glorious as to be born of the sun! Strikingly beautiful, they had a purity and a radiance all about them, everywhere where the brightness of their smiles touched seemed to shine and to vibrate with life. Indeed their smiles were beautiful, indecently so, beautiful and sweet and awfully, frighteningly vacant. Vacant smiles upon vacant faces with vacant eyes. Startled by those vacuous looks upon such cherubic faces, those that should be graced by the carefree animation of children, I found myself staring blankly at them while slowly, carefully, relinquishing my hold upon the blood red ball.
There was a slight wind blowing, lightly lifting the golden curls of the two creatures before me. The wind filled my senses and my head grew curiously light, leaving me to wonder vaguely if I was dreaming. The sun had started its descent and its warm afternoon rays burned into me. From far off I could hear the mindless bustle of the afternoon, the whirl of a buzz saw, the soft creaks of old gates, the heavy roar of a truck, the lazy droning of an insect, and sounds too enmeshed to distinguish. Over the insensate hum of noises, I could hear a woman calling over and over again.
It was the childrenís mother. Kneeling down beside them, worrying and fussing, apologizing profusely for the bother, gently scolding, smoothing her hands all over them, explaining that she was very, very sorry that the twins had disturbed me. I said, why it was no bother at all. There was a startled look in her eyes as her hands stilled and she looked up at me and told me that I wasnít from here, am I. I replied gravely no. Anxiously she glanced about and then stutteringly asked if I would like to have dinner with them. Iíd be delighted. Then the unnatural relief, her face relaxed into a smile and I noticed for the first time how lovely she was. A lovely lady with two beautiful children.
The dinner was stilted and uncomfortable, unexpectedly tense. I wished that I had not accepted the womanís invitation. Mary her name was. Nothing fancy and nothing exotic, simply Mary, the oldest and simplest of names. I suppose the name suited her for there was a purity in the line of her profile, a gracefulness in the turn of the head, a smoothness of alabaster and marble in her milky skin. She was indeed a lovely woman, a woman whose looks are marred only by the starkness in her eyes and the roughness of her chapped hands. And there was the nervous twitch of her body, rather like a rabbit or so I thought. Her husband I had once seen. He had been that little boy, that little boy who had in an urgent cry refused death, and who had, in that moment, been kept from it. Now he sits, apart, with an empty face. He does not speak. I do not understand how came this situation. I dared not ask, for fear of offending. Neither did she offer any enlightenment. She fussed over him, as if he were another of her children. He remained mostly unresponsive, oblivious to the world. Perhaps he exists in a reality outside of it. In any case, he was indifferent to this one, almost as if already dead, a living corpse, soulless and ageless. As for the twins, I soon came to realize that they too exist somewhere beyond the ken of this world. Neither of them speak, though their eyes are bright, like that of dead birds, or that of angels.
The dinner was endless but at last it comes to a close. I could barely withstand the tension. Hurriedly, but trying not to appear too much so, I made my excuses, empty excuses of business that needed to be attended to, much things to be done, gracelessly, awkwardly drawing out of any after dinner conversation. There was a sadness and a look of resigned understanding in the womanís face, but I ignored it. Still as I was going out the door, I turned back to say good-bye. Looking at the fading light touch upon that serene face, bathing her in a soft, warm glow, I realized again how lovely and enchanting she was. Though I understood no more than before, I was struck by the thought "What a great loss! Such a pity that the little boy had not indeed died.
A Day Remembered
The Meeting of the
A Ghost Outside