The house was always bathed in a yellowish hue, but this couldn’t be blamed on the light bulbs. It was the inhabitants of the chamber, the vermin clothed as humans, the sticky sludge that resembled normalcy, the fluttering shadows that projected life, they were the ones that gave the house its distinctive yellow shade.
The two inhabitants looked like a couple. One acted like a pretty girl with school books and thin tank tops. The other one seemed like a skinny guy wearing an oversized suit. That is what they were but they were also something else.
She tried to conceal it in the corners of her heart, in the caves where secrets hid and rested, where they spinned their wool and catched blood-filled mosquitoes with eyes that had long ago been sewn shut. She tried to hide it all away, but blood always found its way out under the door.
The gray cloud above her head darkened her perspective. The steel ball shackled to her ankle ate away at her voice and jingled with each step that she took on the pavement. The pain was written on her face.
The disease dressed itself up in purple spots and lay quietly on his skin. The house smelled of vinegar and burnt tin foil and the books absorbed the smoke like the thick leaves of a jungle.
It was just a thin string that kept her from going insane, an invisible thread that tied her to the world she once thought of as unique, as solid and real. She could only escape from her secret knowledge when sleep overcame her and sent her off into lands unknown. Then she could forget about her present troubles.
But at the moment, she was wide awake.
She could not describe the nature of the impulse that pulled at her will like invisible strings raising a wooden puppet. She couldn’t speak about it clearly, but she knew that she smoked from the hands of red demons. Disguised as the glass vase for plastic roses, hidden in the product of water and fire and metal and coca leaves that combined into a surge of power, there was a brief full body orgasm that could instantly color her green and leave her wailing without tears, hungry with no need for food.
She smoked from the bumpy skin. She heard the bells of their choir and sat still while the earth spun and her stomach took a ride on the roller coaster that always ended twenty seconds later. Then she stood in line once again. She called for the conductor, she looked for the tubes and the white rocks and the dirty spoons. And again she took the ride.
And when it was over, when she was on her knees and drooling and looking for the foil, she took it again. The same rusty car, the same plastic seat, the same eternal loops that held her with hard plastic handcuffs.
Now there was concrete and tar and little else. She wished to move in the warm contours of soil and sand that now only lived in brief dreams of nearly forgotten chambers. She dreamed of woolen rugs and tapered yellow candles, crushed slivery leaves and stone bowls of water. But this was concrete, hard and unmoving. And there was no easy way to escape.
She followed her body into the yellow room and found the spoons and the powder and the carton of baking soda. She wanted to make rocks from powder and hear the choir and shake with the bells. She tried ‘til 4am until the small bag was empty and every ill-cooked rock had traveled in wisps of smoke into her lungs.
She called for more in the shower and spun as the water drenched her naked body. Later, she sat on the patio, surrounded by dying plants and a created world that made no sense anymore, under the night sky that felt more ugly and brown than she had ever seen it.
She sat and heard the bells. That’s when she decided to go out.
Now she stood at the corner, indecisive about the direction she should go in: south, north, east…Did they all lead to the same place?
The streets ahead were gray slate and drab and littered with old sandwich wrappers and discarded paper cups. The printed slogans drifted away on the wind, forgotten like the half eaten French fries. The gutters were a collage, a temporary museum to the unwitting Mexican artist that had unknowingly constructed it. The dark roads were long, each one of them marked by sign postings and shiny buildings that reached to the heavens in false praise.
Clouds dispersed in the wake of their unmoving weight. The clouds moved slowly. It seemed to her that they moved without care, without emotion. Their form merely shifted and scattered by the merciless force of the wind.
A sharp edge played with the tension in her back. It applied to her inner radio the mute song of a 90 degree angle. It talked in the only way it could.
She still gazed in the four directions. A bus bearing a hundred Asian immigrants passed by her, rustling her hair. Taxi cabs passed by as well, one after the other. They were only blurred colors and shapes. She saw them as unsentimental players in a hidden drama that was just a few steps beyond her. They came and went on command, the drivers, their cars, the lights. She wished she could swim with them, a sparkling fish in their school. But she felt distant from it all, she felt like she didn’t belong where she had once been and she didn’t belong where she was. She simply didn’t belong anywhere.
She reacted with a grimace when a tall woman in a nice dress passed by talking on a cell phone. She smiled at a short Mexican worker selling strawberries in the corner. Acting on pure impulse, she drifted like a kite caught in the clutches of a silent hurricane.
She knew that she was walking right to the edge between pure realization and final death. Then came an elongated honking horn, the stretched out music of a car in flight. It flew towards her, found itself caught up in the coils of her intensities, pulsing with the cold movement of her secret mechanical life.
You are here, she heard in the distance. The cries of bats and ocean waves crept in, the screech of old brakes and country songs curled together like strands of DNA. Distortion like nothing she had ever heard before. Teetering, she allowed the weight of the building to hold her.
A large metal door was half open. There was noise coming from inside. Inside was outside, and there was no safety anywhere, so she followed herself into the open doorway, squinting at the darkness that enveloped her.
A college-aged boy in a white T-shirt and jeans stood in front of a crowded room. His round Asian face looked towards the white pull-down screen in the center of the warehouse wall. An unused microphone rested in his left hand. The room was dim, the only light source came from the projection itself, which was a picture of the same boy, in another place, another time.
She leaned against the wall looking up, looking at him looking at himself. In his flat calm face, she could also see the contours of her own. She wanted to see it and it was there.
The boy in the photo was in a light filled greenhouse. His hard city mask had fallen and he beamed into the camera, holding a red ripe tomato in each hand. In the dark room the boy looked at a boy that was lost in the past. He could not recognize himself. The face that appeared to be his own was that of a stranger.
The boy in the room had been overtaken by death. He stared with eyes blinking. He looked, searching, searching for the self he now knew.
The projected photograph was a sudden flash…something used to be different. For a moment, maybe as quick as the snap of the shutter, he was different, he had been different. He smiled because of tomatoes. His fingers were dirty and his car was useless and all his friends and family were miles away. He was no one to the soil, no one to the trees. But he coaxed life from a seed. And life was given. Birth happened, and the tomatoes were proof.
The photo which he stared at now with strange curiosity, was a reminder of another life, one that faded the moment he left the greenhouse.
A tarot card drifted to the floor. She saw it but the boy didn’t see it, he didn’t feel its subtle wind. It lay face up. A skeleton in armor trampled everything underneath him with the strength of his horse. The flag of death waved in the red sky. A fallen king was lying next to his forgotten gold crown, two children wept at the feet of the white stallion.
The boy with the microphone did not see the fluttering death flag beside his own head. The boy could not recognize himself. But she recognized herself in his projected picture.
The stench of her physical death would take years, but this was just as foreign. It was like looking at her own corpse, the remains of what once was. She had been like the boy in the picture. She could still remember.
Her wide open eyes looked at the being that was left behind. The being had been forgotten, flowering just for a moment. Open and light-filled and caught forever. Caught for a moment that would always exist.
Death came uninvited.
Death came when she began to think, when she began to be “herself.”
A moment of sudden life had exploded out of the rotting experience of a machine, and that moment lived on in the photo. It lived in this dim room, lived in the one moment when she allowed herself to watch. It was the reminder that flowers can bloom in the mud, that a burst of lighting can cause a fire.
There were no words for her sudden realization. No words that could describe the bliss of creativity and birth. Nothing could explain the smile and the love of two tomatoes and the energy of a being spilling forth.
She recognized herself where the boy did not.
It was almost dawn when she looked in the mirror and saw a strange woman from a bleak distant land. A woman in the clutches of a force she had no language for. A stranger from a parallel world, a whore, a student, a woman…all could be possible, all were placed before her for the choosing, like doors leading in very different directions. There was some of each resulting character in her eyes.
The bumpy hands were tight around her ankles, the choir sang without rest. That is when she decided that this would not be her path. She would not surrender to the demons that tried to pull her down. She closed the door and sealed it shut.
She felt them call for many days. The invisible creatures kissed her ears and played in the corners of her mind. She buried herself in books, she buried herself in the open sunlight, she buried herself in a burrowed memory of a boy she would never meet. Working this way, she washed herself clean of the powder. And the call of the demons dimmed so much as to resemble silence. And the silence was just the sound of cars and of old friends who would forever forget to call.