From the Darkness§


His eyes opened slowly, lightly. It was dark, but he could make out the shapes of things in his room: he could see the empty pillows beside him, the picture on the wall of a woman sitting and sipping tea, the bookcases with the dozens of books — almost all of which he had read, from Dostoevskii to Woolf, from Kafka to Greene. His breathing was calm and steady. His breath softly surfed over the ripples of the stark white sheets that lay before him, the smell of freshly washed cotton echoed back in response. He had only the sheets on his bed: he had kicked off the lightweight blanket earlier in the night since it was so hot. Summer was approaching. And now, now it was later, but still not morning. He lay there, patiently. His awakening was dilatory in arriving. Nevertheless, it arrived squarely into the realm of consciousness, and yet without a sense of arising. He lay there fully, although he was awake. He did not rise, and yet he was more awake than if he were up and about. He was self-aware.

In the faintest but surest of voices, in a tone which could make some men into great orators, a voice that women had told him was his best feature, he said, “Well. I’m still alive.” His voice broke the silence that had been tittering in his exposed ear. It caused the dead quiet room to cease to stir, not from startlement, but out of respect. For a man who is self-aware, is lord.

He lay there for a few more minutes before closing his eyes again, refusing to continue in this state of self-awareness any longer. Instead he sought solace in sleep and hoped for dreams. Dreams did not come, but empty, respite sleep did. He had begun a new phase of his life, of his existence — he just wasn’t impressed.

Three months later he woke again during the night, still alone. He preffered being alone now, at this stage of his life. This time he could see his alarm clock with its soft, pale green background display. The alarm wasn’t set. He never set it anymore. It was twelve minutes after three in the morning. He ignored the time and had no thoughts of the following day’s schedule. Neither had he any concern for sleep. Instead, he thought of the infinite. He thought of the universe and gave consideration to the notion that if existence did not exist, what would be here, what would be. It wasn’t an easy notion to wrap one’s mind around. Normally, such an infinite thought can be held only for a fleeting moment. Here in the calmness of the night, alone and at his height of intellectual capacity, he was able to grab the tail of the infinite like a thrashing eel pulled from the abyss. He held it for as long as he could, as long as he dared: a finite cannot contain the infinite. Then he picked it up again and held it again, a tad longer, before dropping it in a fit. He picked it up again and again that night until he fell back asleep from exhaustion.

A month later he awoke again. Alone. At peace. He breathed serenely. He saw the infinite thoughts wiggling by, happily inviting him to try his hand at catching them. He refused to play on this night. Instead he looked forward and thought of nothing for what was probably an eternity, but by the clock was only three minutes. Then he drifted off to sleep again.

A few weeks later, self-awareness again bubbled to the surface of his mud thick mind. Working its way to the surface of his consciousness, it seemed to do so, only when he lay unaware. As he lay prostrate on his bed this time, he was unwilling to engage any thoughts. He instead began to feel reality around him. He sensed all of the things in his apartment: the book which he was reading when he went to sleep, but now lay on the floor by his bed with the pages curled and bent as it fell; the bookcases with their dust — he sensed the dust even — he sensed the dust on the top of the frame of the picture on the wall, of the woman sipping tea; he sensed the dust on the light fixture over his bed. He sensed all of this with his eyes closed. He then began to perceive his neighbors in their apartments: most were in bed asleep, but he sensed them in their various states of rest; one young couple, though, was awake and engaging in sexual activities; one young woman two floors below him was sitting up alone on her sofa watching an old movie and sipping chamomile; an older man three apartments over and one floor up was in his bathroom struggling to urinate so that he could go back to sleep. He could sense them all. He was fully aware. He thought nothing of it, though. Instead, he let out a frustrated sigh after awhile and debated whether to get up and get a snack so as to dispel this level of awareness. He didn’t get up. He stayed where he was and eventually let go of it and returned to sleep.

Two weeks later, the relentless state returned. He smelled chamomile wafting from an apartment below. He enjoyed the aroma. Still, he was bothered by his heightened senses and his stark self-awareness: ‘This is getting old,’ he thought. He turned his eyes upwards towards the ceiling while lying on his side and said aloud, but not loudly, “Well, I’m here. What do You want to show me?” The room remained respectfully silent, so as not to interfere in the conversation that seemed to be starting. There was no response, though. “I can feel You there watching me. You may as well speak.” Still no response. He went back to sleep.

“Good evening. How may I help you?” asked the gentle, lanky man from behind the glass case containing a variety of Italian pastries like canolli, napoleons, and a heavenly treat made with layers of thin pastry filled with rich cream pudding called sfogliatella. The man was dressed in a white t-shirt, and faded and tattered blue jean pants that were covered in the front by a long white apron tied at the waste with the top half hanging loosely in front of him — he hadn’t tied it around his neck. This allowed the shape of his slight belly to add contour to his front and to catch some flour, the tell-tale signs that denote all bakers.

“Hi. Any sesame seed-cake cookies left?” he asked hopefully while glancing around, but not seeing any.

“Ah, yes. We have them over here,” the man said with his bushy gray mustache bouncing as he talked and his balding head glimmering as he walked around the case to another case on his left. “How many would you like, sir?” He smiled in response and thought about how many he would dare to purchase, with nothing but the limits of the cash in his pockets and himself to restrain him.

Four minutes later, carrying a small, white paper box filled with thirty sesame seed-cake cookies, tied neatly with white string, carrying it with two hooked fingers by the cross of the string at the top, he stepped out onto the street and began walking cheerily along the sides of the parked cars. Nothing cheered him as much as this particular kind of cookies. He enjoyed immensely the taste, but mostly they reminded him of his boyhood and of his grandmother. She used to make them and always seemed to have two large tins of them hidden away in her cupboard closet. When she wasn’t looking, he would sneak into her kitchen closet and close the door quietly behind him, slowly turning the handle back before releasing it. As an adult, whenever he saw a kitchen closet door with a knob only on the outside, and just a flipper on the inside that would be difficult for a child to turn and pull shut, he would frown and think that whoever had installed it had no joy in his heart. Once the door was closed successfully, he would wait to make sure that his grandmother hadn’t heard him go in. It was dark in there, but he wasn’t afraid: he felt secure by the confinement, and the smells made him feel as though he were resting in his grandmother’s embrace. He could smell five-pound sacks of black tea from India, virgin olive oil in rectangular cans that buckled and made the sound of thunder when he accidentally kicked one, a small sack of rosemary on the shelf, another of bay leaves, one with basil, and so forth. Shifts of pleasant odors would go in and out as he moved about slightly in that capacious hold-all. Eventually, once he was sure that it was safe, he would sit on one of the large tins of cookies — they were five-gallon size — and pry open the other. He was small, between six and eight years old, so he would struggle with the big cookie canister between his legs. In time, from determination of will, he would manage to open it to get at the cookies inside. The noise of the tin top bending and popping off, though, would draw the attention of his grandmother. She would yell playfully from the other room, inquiring as to whether he was digging in the cookies. He would call out from the darkness, “No, mamá.” She would chuckle and say that he had better not eat too many.

With these thoughts in mind, with a pleasant smile on his face, he walked along with his head waggling slightly and the box of cookies swinging, the dry feel of the crossed, braided string chaffing between his two hooked fingers that held it. With these thoughts in mind, he was distracted from initially noticing the impact of the sport utility vehicle, the SUV, as its high, front bumper smacked the left lower portion of his back, giving his body a quarter turn to his right and splashing him with his arms down onto the hood of a small, pale green, parked car that he was just walking past. He did notice, however, the impact of the car speeding by when his lower legs were hit by its rear tires as his body lay limp on the hood of the parked car and his legs had started to slide back. He then began to notice vaguely what had happened to him, what was happening to him. He began to feel warm for a moment, then cold and faint. He heard someone yell out something, but he could not tell what they had said. With his arms limply at his sides, he arched his head up to see what was the matter. The effort displaced his weight and his body slid at an angle down the front end of the parked car. He felt its hood ornament as he slid over it, scrapping his chest. It hurt a bit, but not as much as the black asphalt pavement coming up and slapping him on the left side of his face. His head certainly felt a spin from the rudeness of that.

The sound of people talking frantically, the slapping of steps and the short pivots of people scrambling uncertainly around him as he lay on his stomach between two closely parked cars, his head turned to the right and his cheek feeling the grit of the wet asphalt, disturbed him. ‘What’s all the fuss about?’ he wondered. He lay there for a bit before he noticed an oily smell on the ground that reminded him of creosol. He remembered how in the hot summers as a boy the creosol would drip down the telephone poles in his neighborhood and bubble and harden. He would poke the dark, brownish black bubbles with his small index finger, popping them in a sort of slow-motion result. It would leave a stain on his finger tip. He remembered looking at his finger and wondering why creosol made it so dirty. He wondered why the sap of a telephone pole was such a pitch. He closed his eyes for a moment to enjoy the smell of oil before him, to reminisce about summers long past. He thought to himself, ‘I should lie down on the street more often. It’s pleasant down here.’ He was enjoying the confinement of the two parked cars over him, protecting him. He heard the sound of what he thought to be locusts in the heat — more reminders of boyhood. It may have been people whispering around him, though, or maybe an ambulance in the far distance beating its way towards him. ‘What fun it must be to drive an ambulance,’ he thought. He wasn’t sure of the source of the sound. He couldn’t make it out, but he didn’t really care. It didn’t matter.

He opened his eyes carefully, so as not to draw anyone’s attention to the fact that he was awake, so that he might lie there for a while longer. He could see his box of cookies under the car before him. It had bursted open and lay on its side. The cookies were scattered under the middle of the parked car. Only a few had broken — broken cookies don’t taste as good in his opinion, although he would eat them anyway. Without concern or worry, he wondered if somehow he could reach one, or if maybe someone might crawl under the parked car and get him a cookie. He made no attempt to move or to ask anyone to get him one. Instead, he lay quietly waiting for the disposition of the cookies to be resolved without his assistance or his instructions. He felt surely that it would be resolved in time.

He closed his eyes. It was dark. He heard no one now. ‘Maybe they all left finally,’ he thought with satisfaction. He lay calmly. He had no where to go. Life, time had stopped for him. Eternity was at his disposal. His mind sat on the edge of reality and looked across into the void with only meager curiosity — actually with no curiosity. From the darkness he called out, “No, mamá.” He thought he heard a woman chuckle in response. He didn’t open his eyes, though, to confirm it, to see who it was. Instead, he lay silently, feeling nothing but the soothing coolness of the silence, forever content with his self awareness.