Lucy poured herself an enormous cup of strong coffee. Perhaps it would peel away yet another layer of sleep, revealing a semblance of alertness, if not awareness. Various levels of consciousness were a favorite locus and focus in her ponderings. Sleep had been winning lately. She gave a little prayer of thanks for the miracle of being awake. Today would bring contemplation and exploration, renewal and, if the universe chose to smile, recovery.
She lived in the boarding house on the hill, a faded Victorian. Her room was in the attic, which had been converted to house two of the residents under its sharply slanted ceiling-walls. Her tiny room had a window. From it, the view of Narragansett Bay was partially obscured by many small, proud houses; some had originally been summer cottages, but were now occupied year round.
Lucy had actually grown up in the house, but her family lost it during some bad times. The new owner offered her a room there when she came out of the hospital, after her own special troubles. There was a garage, and a guest cottage behind the house that they used to call the "little house". When she was a child, they were both filled with junk, some of it pretty decent old junk: a mandolin, a juke box, a roll-top desk, boxes of pulp sci-fi books with fantastic artwork on the covers.
At that time, the attic and cellar had a bewildering array of interesting objects, too. The most intriguing were personal items of those who, sadly and inevitably, had died. There were books, letters, quaint clothing, odds and ends of keepsakes. Once she found a lock of dull red hair in an envelope labeled "mother's hair"….whose mother, she didn't know. It gave her a queasy feeling. The past lives on in profoundly affecting ways.
In the little house, she found an old newspaper. The front page headline screamed "JAPS BOMB PEARL HARBOR!" Even as a child, she was shocked by the crudeness of this, which was a common term on TV war movies. Perhaps during World War II, this had been accepted word usage, at least when speaking of the enemy. The enemy… maybe that's why she felt strange as a small child when occasionally people asked, "Are you Chinese or Japanese?"
Lucy had an oriental look, something about her eyes and coloring, though she knew of no Asian ancestors…chance juxtaposition of genes or chromosomes or some such thing. Few if any people of authentic Asian origin lived in this New England town. She grew to feel quite comfortable in appearing as different on the outside as she felt on the inside…a fitting disguise for an ancient space alien. She certainly didn't belong here… this family, this house, this town, this planet…
The front porch, framed with rhododendron bushes, wrapped halfway around the house. A large oval window graced the front door. It was beveled around the edges, as was the grand mirror imbedded in the rich dark woodwork above the parlor mantelpiece. But the grandness peered out helplessly from a dazed and wounded condition. It was an old house, worn and tired, and haunted by memories of bittersweet chaos.
The porch floor was still as dilapidated as ever, the shingles still gray and weather-beaten by salt air, unprotected by paint in her lifetime. Bees still lived inside the porch walls. She had been stung on the thumb while lying in her uncle's army hammock at the end of the porch, next to the tiny entrance to the bee nest. Inside was an unseen dimension, a hidden bee world.
She never knew that uncle; he had hung himself in an army hospital at twenty. Sometimes wars do that to a person, if they don't get you another way. Another uncle she had known far too well. She tried to forget.
There was an upper porch, too, more broken-down than the lower one. She was forbidden to walk on it, because it might crumble, though she did test it, holding her breath. At night, shadows played on the front window; they appeared as eerie fingers wiggling close to the pane.
The living room windows were shaded by the porch roof. The reflection on the glass created a haunting dark mirror effect. Lucy encountered her eternal self there once, in the reflection of her eyes in the dark window. The person in there was very old; it amazed her, because she was only ten at the time.
The same ancient person still lived inside now, but the ten year old had been internalized, too. Peculiar cycle. She was now much closer to the end of life…a simple mathematical certainty. The present contained reverberations of the past, and perhaps vice versa, too?
Lucy sat at the kitchen table, staring at her hands, wrapped around the cup of hot coffee. Even in summer, they felt cold. The heat was gradually affecting the flesh, blood, bone, nerves, muscles. Life: an amazing concept.
The mocking words still rang, the laughter echoed. She'd heard it before, many times. She tried to be philosophical about it. That happens when you share your heart and mind… you risk some rough handling.
He wasn't the only one with that view; the consensus was that she and the theory made no sense. Years earlier, he'd said with disdain, "you really ought to study some basic chemistry, biology, physics. And while you're at it, take a course in logic. You live in a dream world. Do you realize how stupid you sound with your 'theories'? I'm telling you this for your own good."
He had looked at her as if she were a piece of dirt on his plate. Of course, he was no longer officially in her life, so she shouldn't let those words get to her. If only… if it were only that simple…
Well. Time to pull in the sails, ride out another storm. It wasn't necessary to express this. She could hold it inside, where it had been for decades. But the drive to not be alone with it seemed unbearable. No one… no one could understand.
She had to go back.
It wasn't far. Just a few miles, really, and she could be there and back before anyone missed her. Did they ever? She had mixed feelings about going anywhere; fear was part of it. But this was necessary, somehow. She wanted to.
She slipped out the back door, through the sunporch, out the screen door and down the back steps, where once a lion had casually walked in a dream as, frozen, she looked down in horror from the upstairs window. The screen door was fragile, with one of those hook latches…couldn't keep a lion out, nope.
She hesitated by the grape arbor, momentarily distracted. The vines draped precariously through the frail lattice work, and her eyes followed them to their sturdy brown beginnings, deep in the earth. Such glorious, fragile twisted wood! Hard to believe the life force still traveled there, but it did: there were moist leaves and dusty deep blue grapes. They were green throughout the ripe interior flesh, tart tasting and full of seeds, but just inside the skin was sweet juice, in the fine velvety lining. She often wondered why the sweetness didn't go all the way through to the center. A farmer or other expert would know, surely.
Nature holds so many questions, and somewhere there are answers. But there's just so much time and energy to find them. Why did she suddenly feel that the injustice of the entire universe had descended into the grape arbor? Maybe because the sun went behind the clouds.
Lucy moved away from the grape arbor, and tried to decide whether to leave by the front or back yard. Maybe someone would be watching. She decided to visit some flowers, then leave by the back yard path.
But first, she had to check the parlor. She climbed the porch steps, carefully navigating the dried boards. Looking through the front door window, past the frayed lace curtains, she saw Lawrence, watching a sleazy TV show. He rented the room that used to be her grandfather's. He looked toward the door and leered at her, sticking out his tongue. Odd fellow. He made her feel rather uneasy. But he did listen to her interpretation of the theory, and didn't say anything which made her feel less than human. Briefly, she considered inviting him to join her, to be the first witness; but no… she couldn't imagine sharing this direct contact with anyone. It was for her alone.
She turned and walked off the porch.
She loved the yard; it was shaded by huge, fragrant lilac bushes on one side, and honeysuckle nestled nearby. A pear tree stood by the driveway and produced well. An apple tree squatted in the back of the yard. The blossoms smelled heavenly in the spring. Never pruned or cared for, the whole yard was rather wild; apples piled up and rotted, nourishing the ground underneath the low branches. When Lucy was a child, she saw a Daddy Longlegs spider there; it had legs a foot long. Or so it seemed. Long fragile legs, small body sitting on top like a water tower. Or a space alien?
She wondered what they did look like. She gazed up at the sky. Cloudy today, felt like rain. Probably no stars to be seen tonight. She loved looking at the stars, wondering at the vastness of space and her small personal insignificance. But in moments of greater clarity, she remembered… It gave her hope. Yes, she had reason to believe in significance, from the inside, because that's what really mattered. Size and distances and appearances were nothing. Maybe the billions of microscopic creatures on her hand, her very honored hand, contained undreamed of significance. Possibilities should never be dismissed. Can anything be known?
She looked back under the tree, to where she had seen the spider, ages ago. Did it remember her, too? It was dead, surely. The pets were buried under the apple tree. After they died, of course. Dogs, cats, birds, fish, turtles, hamsters -- you couldn't step under there without desecrating a grave. The same force of gravity that holds us to earth's surface, preventing us from floating out into the great somewhere, eventually sucks each breathing soul closer toward earth's center, to rest under the soil. Other forces, also, play their part in drawing the light of life toward the silent darkness.
Many birdie graves were under the apple tree.
On several occasions, neighborhood children brought a tiny lost bird to her, persuading her to care for it. Why they thought it should be her duty to do so, she never knew. Stuck in a cardboard box, the birds would wake early, peeping incessantly, and Lucy got a premature taste of motherhood. They were so cute, perched on her finger, the intense vibrations of their "tweet!"s trilling through her hand… the prominent heartbeat, cloaked in silky bits of fluff was a dramatic thrill to experience! Her heart would speed up in an instinctive attempt at beating in harmony with it.
Invariably, the weak little things would gain strength, only to eventually lose it just as they learned or regained flight. No one told her that birds couldn't survive very long on Wonder bread twirled up into a worm shape; they needed real live worms. She felt like a stupid failure, just thinking back on it.
At least when the blue jay family was slaughtered, she didn't feel personally responsible, but the helplessness was devastating as well. From the window at the top of the stairs, she watched them grow. The tree was next to the house, and the nest faced the window for a perfect view. First the eggs appeared, and the parents took turns keeping them warm. Then, the sticky matted heads poked out of the shells, one by one… five wobbly heads perched on five scrawny necks, beaks wide open and insistent. And loud. They kept their parents busy. They grew so big, Lucy was afraid there wouldn't be room in the nest for all of them. And she wondered when they would fly.
The empty nest on that Saturday morning was a shock; it was doubtful that all would have learned to fly at the same time. She soon found out… a squirrel had attacked them. All the little bodies were strewn on the walk below, wasted; not even eaten by the murderous squirrel. The balance of nature was hard to take sometimes. Plants were easier to deal with than animals.
Forsythia bushes bloomed first in the spring, in the front yard. Tiger lilies edged the driveway, and little patches of sweet violets peeked out from under the shady bushes. And perfect tiny lilies of the valley… In school, they sang a song, a round, called "white coral bells". Or was it choral, with an "h"? The words were, "White choral bells upon a slender stalk, lilies of the valley deck my garden walk! Oh, don't you wish that you could hear them ring? That will happen only when the fairies sing!" Oh, well, no fairies around here. Silence.
She enjoyed the music teacher's visits. Then one day, the teacher stared at her in the middle of a lesson and said, "you annoy me". Lucy felt stung unfairly by that. Her crime was smiling. For too long. Because the teacher made a funny face, imitating the wrong way to sing. Everyone thought it was funny, everyone had laughed. But Lucy didn't know it was time for it to stop being funny, so she smiled past the smile deadline. Bad, bad Lucy.
She smiled in the memory, and forgave the teacher. She was probably dead now. That was many years ago.
The rose bushes were full of thorns, but the roses were precious, tiny and pink. It was fun to tear the petals off and stick them on her fingernails with spit, for pretend nail polish. The petals were quite pretty, with their pointy white bases, where they attached to the stem of the flower. She positioned these points outward on her nails, so it looked like a French manicure style. Of course, they didn't stay on, they were for play decoration only.
She walked through the bushes, past the snake spit on the leaves, into the field; past the friendly tree with limbs low enough for her to have the courage to climb; past the pussy willow bushes, which she always wished would grow into real silver-gray kittens, but they never did. What a big playful family that would be if they ever did bloom like that!
Lucy reached the side road, Canonchet Avenue. Lots of Indian street names in the neighborhood; now the term was Native American. More accurate, up to a point, anyway…depending on how far back "native" means. Labeling by continent becomes meaningless, though. We all are native to the soil of earth, which itself is stardust… children of God and the universe. The thought made Lucy feel awake and alive! Though the coffee helped, too.
The beach would be the better route, less likely to be seen by anyone she knew than up on Narragansett Parkway. People were the strongest distractions of all. And at the beach, there was no chance of being knocked down again by that big black dog that always barked as she passed its house. So she took the side street down to its dead end at the bay. The last house on the street was washed away years ago in a hurricane. Everyone got out in time, but they rebuilt it further inland. Live and learn; sometimes live and don't learn. Sometimes don't live.
Lucy chastised herself for that one, breathed deeply and decided to reel in the thoughts and stash them. This was an adventure, a quest; it would make the day worthwhile; the fresh scenery would be a reprieve from the usual toxic inner world. The trick was to find positive things to think about.
She walked swiftly along the beach. The waves were rough looking, with many white caps. Before she understood that expression, Lucy wanted to go out in a rowboat to get a cap to wear on her head, She learned that when you get close to them, they disappear into the foam, like a mirage. How ironic that getting close does that! Words are so maddeningly imprecise, and one by one, childish beliefs are toppled. Not that a white sailor hat is something so special, but to pick one from the water where they grow would be a magical experience.
The breeze from the bay was refreshing, but the smell of abundant seaweed was not pleasant. The horseshoe crabs reminded her of dinosaurs, which was quite exciting, though somehow overwhelming. They brought the distant past too near. It was as if the complete content of thousands of years since the dinosaur days, every experience, with all the heights and depths of the events, all the pain and joy and burdens and struggles of the lives of all the beings which had existed, everywhere, laid heavy on her mind and heart, and she couldn't hold it all. This, all amazingly encapsulated in a horseshoe crab shell.
This particular stretch of beach wasn't the most perfect for swimmers or sunbathers, but everything is beautiful in its time. The shoreline here was most striking at night. She used to come here at night for the yearly Independence Day celebration, on the 4th of July. She couldn't remember when she'd last attended the event; many memories were hazy in recent years… too much sleeping, even while awake.
The ritual was a national tradition, though she wasn't particularly patriotic. The whole concept was rude and divisive. How humiliating to celebrate an old war victory if a friend from the other side of the imaginary line on the map should happen to be visiting! Wouldn't they feel bad to be considered the enemy, if only in the history books? So why have "us-against-them" celebrations when those foreign, alien friends are somewhere that we can't see them at the moment?
Lucy considered war an absurd and horrifying event, to be respectfully ignored after the fact as an embarrassing mistake in a seemingly civilized world. Did no one see that the Emperor is naked?
War a mess she couldn't fix. One could only pray for the national leaders, that they not sacrifice any more children. Leave it in God's hands, and then try not to worry. Worrying leads to seeing things too clearly, and some realities are too hard to take. She'd prefer not to be hospitalized again.
The fireworks display itself was always pretty, though. For years, on that traditional day, she had been drawn silently to the edge of the crowd, hovering around the welcoming bonfire on the beach; those gathered from the neighborhood looked out across Pawtuxet Cove to Crescent park, where the outline of the lighted Ferris wheel was visible across the water. It seemed to take forever to get dark enough, but the fireworks provided a gorgeous and exciting show, colored light reflecting on the waves and loud rocket sounds echoing. And the finale always came far too soon…
Yes, it was better to focus on beauty, even if only in memory, than to dwell on grief and pain. And now, she would focus on the task at hand. Get to the cave.
She knew being there meant strength in a way she couldn't explain; a strength missing for too long. It was about meaning, somehow. And purpose. She had been given a gift, a task of honor; it was monstrously heavy, yet fragile. The most important things were invisible and from the inside, but that included negative things as well as positive. Thus, the fear, until now.
It wasn't really a cave, as in the side of a mountain. Up a little way from the beach, on the outer edge of a wooded area were high rock piles, set into the low tree-covered hills. As a child, she had discovered a space between the rocks which she could slip through and drop down into a small cozy retreat, barely big enough to sit up in, and hidden from view. Light came in between some of the rocks, but there was just the one narrow entrance. Lucy wondered if anyone else had ever found it. It was a special place.
She remembered the day she found out just how special it was; she was about twelve or thirteen at the time. A large rock on the floor of the cave had a quartz section imbedded in it. It was clear, with a pale purple tint, and smooth, as if it had been polished; very unusual. Wrapping the edge of her shirt around her finger, Lucy rubbed the quartz part to clean it. When the dust was gone, she could see through the bottom of the clear rock to the dirt underneath.
Next came the task of cleaning the bottom of the quartz, too, to make it clearer. Using a sharp, flat stone as a shovel, she scraped the dirt from around and finally from under the rock. The rock was still supported by its edges, but the quartz section was now accessible from underneath. Lucy was thrilled with her accomplishment.
Sliding her hand under the rock, she used her fingers to clear dirt from the underside of the stone. Looking down from the top of the stone, she could see through to her hand. It appeared distorted, and the distortions were strangely compelling. The clear stone acted as an imprecise lens, magnifying from one angle, then telescoping the view from another. A slight shift in position revealed a totally bizarre perspective. She was fascinated. Her hand changed color, shape and size repeatedly as she looked at it, and the effect was hypnotic.
A heavy silence descended on the place, and the air seemed thicker… then, an unusual sensation, though it wasn't in her senses, but more in her mind than her body, as if her brain were in her hand. She also felt a strong foreboding; these occurrences were new and unheard of. Yet there was a peaceful and relaxed excitement. Something was happening.
As she kept her hand rested under the rock, she was receiving impressions in her mind; not audible words, but definite thoughts. They were coming to her at a comfortable conversational pace, and she could respond in turn and even at the same time with her own thoughts! She felt the same relaxation brought about by staring into the waves, or into the fireplace or a bonfire on the beach.
Perhaps this was some sort of telepathy. She had heard about theories that thoughts could travel on unseen waves. Isn't it true that last century's magic is this year's accepted scientific fact? Last year's dream, next year's reality? These were the hazy paths her fractured mind took; a scenic route, no doubt, but certainly no superhighway. Lucy knew she wasn't very bright about the factual scientific realm, yet felt drawn to the cloudy outskirts of that shining kingdom of sleek precision. Voicing her ideas always seemed to guarantee proof of her identity as the village idiot, so she had learned not to.
Ironic that she, of all people, was communicating with a space alien. And the incredible thoughts Lucy received, the amazing stories she heard through this enchanted stone! Certainly she had contacted an advanced intelligence through this simple rock, but very human or human like; perhaps in another galaxy, millions of light years away, or was it the distant past or future? Or maybe both, and more?
The alien, whom she came to consider a friend, was patient with her earthly limitations and incredibly, even had a sense of humor which survived the communication gaps of vastly differing experience. And, of course, was brilliantly advanced in scientific knowledge, with profound theories about the nature of reality, which she didn't completely grasp, but she felt sure they contained significant insights. Though far beyond her comprehension, she would never dismiss any possibilities, especially after this astounding experience.
She was driven to communicate this precious information, to someone who could make good use of it, someone in a relevant scientific or humanitarian field, capable of developing worthwhile goals. But putting these thoughts and theories into words seemed impossible. She felt clumsy in her attempts; there seemed no reasonable framework for the concepts in this reality. Curious.
Lucy also received the imperative message through the stone that the theory and its ramifications could be quite dangerous in the wrong hands, or if handled without the proper knowledge and care. The strong impression was that this threat of misuse could do damage which might potentially outweigh the benefits of the concept itself; so her sense of responsibility in this scenario was overwhelming.
The theory involved time, space, gravity, magnetism, magnification, and so much more, too much to grasp. Perhaps the stone contained iron. She had heard that magnets had mysterious curative properties. The quartz section of the rock magnified her hand, or was that illusion? What is illusion, anyway?
The thoughts she received from her alien friend were like tiny sketches of distant puzzle pieces. She tried to assemble them into a coherent picture within her mind, but they were gigantic and cumbersome, and far flung throughout the universe. Was it possible to truly understand anything in theory?
The precision and delicate balance between and among the heavenly bodies were known and accepted fact, the miracle of gravity far beyond Lucy's understanding. But on a different level, they sang a celebration of legendary proportions. The vibrations were so fine, the song was beyond her capability to hear. A knowledge of mathematics might clear the path to the place where this universal music originated and lived; she felt certain that this held a key.
But was scientific knowledge necessary? Birds are blessed with sophisticated instincts; they tuned in to the song and reflect it in joy, or did they? Maybe that required a programming that she would not want. A blissful ignorance. Her own ignorance was of a different sort.
The mind she inhabited and navigated was a labyrinth of perplexity, with too many dead ends. Reaching for the right thoughts was an exhausting and discouraging process. As she became mesmerized with an overwhelming sense of awe, her mind became unfocused.
Poorly educated in the sciences, she remembered little from school… she'd had nervous problems as a child, and had dropped out early. Reading and focusing were difficult as a result of her illness; she couldn't even feed her mind reliably in informal education, though she tried, she really tried. This was a tragedy, because she felt she could have been the conduit for a great discovery from afar, through her distant friend and the rock. Still, she had always believed that in some fundamental, perhaps even mystical way, she grasped the essence of the theory.
Lucy had not been back to the cave for many years. Her family had tired of repeatedly hearing these starry-eyed tales… the wonders of the rock, and the esoteric wisdom of the alien reality theories which had, seemingly, no meaning, and certainly as Lucy told them, no coherence. They and other concerned people had discouraged continued dwelling on this obsession, as they called it, due to the effect on her delicate mind, as well as the fact that they just didn't want to hear it.
She reached the opening between the rocks, and remembered how thin she was as a child. In the intervening years, powerful medications had added extra weight to her frame. But she had stopped the medicine a while back; the numbing side effects were intolerable. Lucy was careful not to mention this change to anyone, because there would have been repercussions. Oddly, perhaps, no one seemed to notice. As long as she stayed quiet, it was easier to remain invisible. She was feeling more alive now, and more real than she had in a long time.
So she was again slender enough to drop easily through the space between the rocks. It looked almost the same inside the cave as it had years before, though leaves had blown in and rotted there, covering the quartz rock. A late summer storm whipped the trees outside the rock cave, but she felt warm and safe inside.
Lucy did feel negligent in having not been back here these many years. She belonged here; it was an honor to have stumbled so blessedly on the wisdom of the universe, and to be entrusted with its care, though chance also apparently determined her sadly lacking credentials. Still, there was always hope.
With great reverence and tender diligence, she slowly and deliberately cleared away the debris from the rock. Her body was shaking but her hand was relaxed as she slipped it under the smooth, clear stone, connecting her being with the larger cosmos. The familiar heavy silence descended and something shifted the air flow. Wind roared outside and fire burned in her blood.
The room created by the rock cave took on an unfamiliar glow. Impressions behind her eyes confirmed that the quartz represented innumerable crucial entities simultaneously: a threshold to the ages, encompassing multiple directions and dimensions of time and space; a strong dam, holding back the imminent flood of cosmic justice; a boundless depth of sentient awareness embracing both the energy of fire and the responsiveness of water; a pivot point of countless unseen and unfelt intersecting lines, planes, waves, and, she felt certain, infinite levels of being she could never fathom, even if she studied all those books she should have, and more. All manner of significance converged in this place of awareness and revelation.
Rain pounded on the rocks above and ran in sheets down the sides of the rocks, creating mud near her feet.
"A time to be silent, and a time to speak," she murmured. "All creation exists and breathes to speak God's truth…"
She suddenly laughed. "Didn't Jesus say that, to defy human silence, 'even the stones would cry out'…?"
Her eyes closed, and a gentle, eloquent inner smile expanded to illuminate her mind. The wonder of it bloomed on her lips as they soon harmonized with her brain.
She no longer felt inadequate to the impossible task of comprehending the incomprehensible. If she could absorb it, today's scientific knowledge might provide a better grasp of the wisdom of the ages, the hidden depths of the universe. Living science is an ongoing search for truth, the doors of inquiry never close. Tomorrow's scientific discoveries might complete her understanding of what and when…where and why…
Or maybe not. Truth is eternal, but science is fashion, and fashion doesn't keep.
"Yes, I do believe the universe is ready to hear. It's the only hope, the only way, Love: magnetic, never too close, never too far, always on time; and magnificent!"
Lightning flashed up outside; a flicker of soft light silently entered the space between the rocks and touched her soul as she waited for the thunder.