No one was listening, so the boy closed his eyes and said what he’d always needed to say. What he had to say splayed out before him like a meal he couldn’t keep down. It accompanied him wherever he had to go in the world, day and night, whether the boy was asleep or awake. It rode closest to the backs of his teeth at night when he slept, so that his teeth flapped out like swinging doors in a western saloon, his thoughts swimming forth like a pack of sad cowboys migrating into the street, fixing to initiate a gunfight.
We looked up to try to see the sky, but the oaks blocked out everything except for isolated streaks of shifting blue that managed to penetrate the foliage. The oaks were an ever-encasing species, arriving again and again at a place they had never arrived at before. Arrival is like that particular moment with the oaks. They begin their day in the dark, and again and again discover themselves in sunlight, now muted, now fierce. They find themselves where they have never been before, and where they have never been before is where they once were before they arrived again where they were never going to be. And they were always going nowhere, in the way of trees, swaying where the wind blows, reaching in this direction or that, straying from the upright, but always arriving back at a place they have never been, slightly swaybacked today, older than they once were, and on their way again to where they have never been before. At some point, as we stopped to look up, a violent wind – one that we could barely feel where we were there on the forest floor – tore at the tops of the trees, revealing a swath of blue that raised our spirits momentarily. But the branches snapped back, as though angry at being tugged aside so indecorously, and the small pool of hope we’d felt closed over again like the eye of an animal closing for the last time beneath the gaze of its stalker.
I knew that far above us clouds drifted in the blue sky, speckled occasionally by birds that from down here were nothing but black dots. Those dots shot vectors to the farms on the other side of the wood, and then more vectors to places beyond. Like umbrellas stripped of their skin, all wire pointing around and down in every direction. Upward were the planets and stars. Behind me, Mama was baking and the kitchen was warm. I lay on my back on the tattered throw rug, watching my hands fly away above my face.
There was a golden light deep within the house, speckled from the rain that had frozen onto the windowpane. It was so cold. My breath lifted away from me, rising and twisting before evaporating into the air above my head. Snow crunched under my boots. I’d been away a long time. I had no idea what awaited me inside. I stayed for a long time out by the window before going around the house to the back door.
The old man got up on a chair and looked out through the top corner of the window pane where the glass wasn’t painted over. He could hear the girl lying on the floor below him, crying and pounding her fists and kicking her feet. Something made of glass fell and shattered. There was no sound for a time. Then the girl started in banging around again. The old man thought the world was looking grainier today. It was probably just his glasses failing him. He would not get a new pair of glasses now before he died.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible to accomplish what I want to accomplish without touching things I wouldn’t normally agree to touch. Which leads me to believe that accomplishing what I want to accomplish might require a degree of insanity on my part. I mean insanity in the sense of ecstasy. Ecstatic. I mean, I would have to be in the throes of passion so overwhelming that it resembled insanity. In order for me to touch the things I have to touch in order to accomplish what I want to accomplish, I mean.
My father was on his hands and knees on the floor behind me. I was at the kitchen table. My father fell sideways onto the floor. He groaned. “My back just spasmed,” he said. He groaned again. “Can I do anything?” I asked. “No,” he said. I could hear him panting behind me, but I didn’t turn around. I was cutting out a stencil of a snowflake and it was intricate work.
I could hear when Dad went back to work on the freezer. He had melted all the ice before his back spasmed. Now he was putting the freezer back together. Every now and again as he worked he groaned at a fresh spasm of pain. “Do you need help, Dad?” I asked, still working on my snowflake stencil. “It’s okay,” Dad said. “I’m almost done here.”