Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Second Later

I find myself standing on a hill of light brown grass and scattered oak trees. It is a place that I vaguely recognize although I can’t quite remember when I was here or why I came. I may have seen it only briefly, maybe in a photo, maybe as I passed by on my way to somewhere else.
It is nighttime and the wind is very cold against my skin, making me shiver. I hold my left elbow with my right hand, hugging myself to find warmth in my own heat. The wind makes a sound like loud whistling as it rides along the tips of the overgrown dry grass. The brown leaves dance all around me, a troupe of manic dancers glad to find some kind of audience.
There is some kind of processing plant in front of me, at the very top of the hill. It is enormously tall and strangely old, marked in black and brown by the passage of time. It towers above me like a giant palace of gray concrete, heavy and ominous and silent, completely silent except for a low drone that seems to slide out from the depths of its underground bowels, a low drone that I can feel crawling up my legs and making its way to my heart.
I recognize this as well, this huge droning building in the middle of nowhere. I can remember the two tall red walls which stand apart from all the grayness, I can recognize the half open metal gates, open just wide enough to let me in. I recognize the twin chimneys pouring translucent white smoke into the dark sky, swallowing the moonlight and turning it gray and thick and poisonous.
I turn around briefly to examine the rest of my surroundings. A wide flat valley surrounds the hills in all directions. I can see vague lights in the distance, maybe a road full of cars, maybe a small town, but nothing is clear or defined. Just tiny lights in the far distance that could be anything, that could be nothing. Here there is only the grass and the night and the large building with its giant tubes vomiting thick clouds of shining smoke.

His words come back to me. I don’t even think of him or wonder what to do. His words are just there, suddenly, without any previous announcement. They echo in my head like a soft melody played against the ambient background of the wind and the drone.
“The way in which I see this… the way in which I perceive it. You had a window of opportunity, a small window just large enough to move through, a tiny moment in which you saw something clearly, in which that something was shining brightly before your wide open eyes. It was there, for that one moment, and then it went away.”

I look down at my feet. By the light of the full moon, I see that I am standing on a dirt path that makes its way up the hill to the place where the metal gates are half open, inviting me to enter. I could easily follow the path and make my way into the processing plant. I envision dark tunnels that smell like the smoke that pours out of the chimneys (smoke which is too far away for me to smell and yet its thick appearance somehow lets me know how it would smell if I were close enough to fill my lungs with its gray chemical body.) I envision narrow walkways, I envision steam and hot metal tubes, I envision large underground chambers full of rumbling noise and the scattered echoes of some dripping liquid in the distance.

“The only thing that matters, the only thing that is truly crucial, is that when you see that small window again, when it is right there before you… what matters is that you move towards it, that you jump through it. This has to happen right then, right when you see it. It can not be any later, not even a second later. Right when you see it is when you have to move, there is no other time, there is no other chance.”

I turn my back to the large plant (now I think of it as a large factory) and I look towards the bottom of the hill. There is a single car parked there. I recognize it immediately. It is my car. Not the car I own, not the car I usually drive, but it is my car nonetheless. I know it. I search for the keys in my pockets but I find nothing there, no wallet, no money, no keys.
I look up at the sky above the parked car and I make a loud sound with my mouth, my lips make the shape of an O and I sing a long howling open vocal that sounds loud and shocking in the droning silence of the dark hill. I make the sound three times and then I am quiet again.

“When I say that it can’t be a second later, I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. I mean exactly what I say. You have to move in that very instant when you see the window opening. To stop to think is to lose it, to weigh possibilities is to lose it, to seek advice is to lose it, to do anything but to jump through is to lose it. And once you lose it, it might be a while before it comes back… if it ever does.”

I suddenly know that I am not supposed to be here. I have meant to visit a processing plant, some kind of large building, something somewhat like the one that stands at the top of this hill. I have meant to come to a place like this, but not to this one, not to this particular one. I am standing by the wrong one. I am at the wrong place.
The clear and sudden knowledge comes upon me with a rush of physical sensations, a wave of shifting tiny dancing rainbows that makes its way down my body from the crown of my head to my chest and down to my genitals and my legs, shifting everything it touches, changing everything it dances with along the way.
Right then is when I see the crow. It is flying in small circles above the car, spiraling lower and lower each time it comes around.
Without thinking, I walk towards the circling crow, towards the parked car. I can barely see the dark bird in the shadows, but the keys that hang from his beak betray him. The light of the moon shines against them and they act like a beacon that lets me know where to go, a beacon that lets me know where to find them.

“I emphasize this because it is extremely important. It is in that singular moment that the door opens. It opens clearly and distinctly, but only right then, only in that single moment. If you don’t cross it without hesitation, the door is lost. You won’t even know where it was or how it appeared. It will simply be gone, lost beyond recovery.”

I am standing by the car looking up, maintaining my eyes glued to the shining keys, my ears glued to their light tinkling sound. Just as the crow makes its lowest and smallest circle yet, I reach up quickly and close my fingers around the keys that hang from his beak.
The crow does not surrender them easily. He tries to pull back and away from my grip. I close my fingers tightly and pull down as hard as I can. The bird flaps its dark wings furiously, hitting my arm, scratching at my flesh with fierce claw that move too quickly for me to avoid them. His attack is harsh and painful but not lethal. I shake my head to resist the pain and I pull even harder.
Suddenly the bird is circling away and the keys are in my hand. I run to the driver’s door and unlock it. I jump in and start the car. The motor rumbles and the wheels start to turn as I push on the familiar accelerator. Everything about the car is familiar even if I can’t remember ever having driven it.
Without knowing where it is that I am going, I move westward (somehow I seem to feel where the west is, as if the wind itself can tell me, as if the road has west painted all over it and I only have to follow its subtle signs.) I drive on an extension of the dirt road on which I was previously standing.
The tall dry grass dances on the edges of the road and shines almost bright yellow under the lights of the car. I hear the wind outside louder than ever. I keep my eyes forward, fixed on the road ahead of me, never turning around.

“You can see it as a kind of game, a game where you have to jump at a very precise moment. The quality of the jump is important, you have to jump well enough to make it. But if you make the perfect jump too early or too late, then it won’t matter, it won’t matter at all. If you jump too early, the door will not be there yet. If you jump too late, then the door will be gone and you will just be back where you started, wondering what happened, wondering what went wrong.”

I hear the crow flapping his wings over the noise of the car. Somehow it is still following me, somehow it is close enough that I can hear its loud squawks. It must be flying low over the roof of the car, keeping pace with my movements. I can’t see it. I can’t see anything other than the road and the dancing grass and my own hands grabbing tightly onto the wheel.
I then hear a sound very close to me, only a few feet away. It is coming from inside the car. I hear it again and I realize that it is the sound of breathing. Someone is sitting next to me on the passenger’s side. I don’t turn around or try to speak. I simply breath in time with their breathing. We sit there quietly, breathing together, neither of us saying a word, neither of us turning around.
Maybe they jumped like I did, maybe they come with the car, maybe they were with me all along and I never noticed. I don’t turn around. We both continue to breathe slowly, in a soft rhythm that somehow matches the rumbling sound of the motor and the shaking of the old doors.
The dirt road turns into a highway and we move much faster now but I still don’t around. Not until the time comes, not until I am ready to meet the other’s eyes.

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