Time-slip. Abandoned project #5

Savanna could see the open door, plain as day, but she chose not to walk through. Not yet. It would disturb the counselors. She’d been in this particular asylum for two days now, and wasn’t yet bored. They treated her well enough, as well as could be expected, you understand. A time in the loony bin wasn’t a vacation by any stretch. The food was okay, and the beds were nicer than those in a real hospital, that was for sure. They weren’t hospital quality, of course, but they didn’t have the weird side-rails either.

Maybe tonight she would walk out and look at the stars. They never let the patients out to see the stars, or even the sun. Fresh air was forbidden to them, as if their disease was catching, like it could spread in the air. They were locked away in theory for their own good but really it was for the community. It wouldn’t do to have any sort of weakness on display. It was like how some communities banned homeless people from selling newspapers on street corners out of embarrassment that they were proof that homeless people lived within their boundaries.

She’d walk out as she always did. She would simply walk forward, shifting her vision to the past, back to before the building was there. She’d done this for most of her life. It would get her out of here. It was also what happened to get her into here.

Perhaps her unusual gift was a side effect of her amblyopia. Her eyes hadn’t worked together her whole life. Abnormal vision was her normal. She’d learned to switch her vision from her left eye to her right, because she didn’t have bifocal vision. Her eye doctors didn’t like it one bit that she could switch, didn’t understand it. But it made sense. You make do with what you have. You make it work, even when others think it is broken. If you don’t know otherwise, “broken” becomes a blessing, because it teaches you to see in other ways. Sometimes literally.

While figuring out how to use her (unknown to her) defective eyes, she learned to see the space between time, the shimmering edge between “then” and “now”. These days, Savannah calls this a time-slip, but then she wasn’t aware that what she was doing was any different from anyone else. She could push that shimmering line a little, bend it, fold it back upon itself. Then it was just a little effort more to focus with her inner eye to see what used to be. Thankfully her crib had been on the first floor or she would have been in for a terrible drop the first time she tried her talent.

The first time she tried she was six months old. She shifted back to long before the house was there, before the subdivision, before the town even. She fell 3 feet from what was the first floor of the house onto a rolling hill. Breath knocked out of her, she sputtered in her amazement and suddenly found herself in her own time again, but this time falling into the basement. Her Mama found her there, wailing and dirty near the abandoned coal chute. They never did figure out how she got there. She certainly didn’t know, and at that age wasn’t able to tell even if she did.

That experience stuck with her, and over the course of her childhood she learned how to stay in the past longer and walk around. When her Sunday School teacher told the class about Peter walking out of prison she had an idea it wasn’t an angel who helped, but she wasn’t saying. She knew better by then to not talk about it.

She’d noticed that her ability wasn’t just unusual, it was downright unheard-of. After a few tentative efforts to inquire about it, she learned it was better to keep silent. If nothing else, it made games of hide and go seek much easier.

She learned she could walk to wherever she wanted to while she was in the past and then refocus and return to the present. By that point she could be on the other side of the playground or the neighborhood. She could stay hidden for as long as she wanted, or if she was “it” she could pop in on her prey without making a sound. After a while the other kids stopped playing with her, but she didn’t mind. This gave her more time to play with her friends in the past.

They were native children, who had lived here long ago, but had been dispersed when the whites came. They were like wild animals to these new settlers, who were fleeing religious persecution. It was too bad that their religious practice didn’t extend to seeing the natives as neighbors. The natives were relocated – land was found hundreds of miles away. It wasn’t the same quality of land, but it was somewhere, and the whites thought them ungrateful for not accepting their “charity”. The thought never occurred to them that if they had lived in harmony instead of pushing the inhabitants out that such kindness of a gift of scrubland wouldn’t be necessary.

When she was on her early wanders, Savanna had thankfully shifted into a time before all that unpleasantness, a time before the natives had reason to be wary. Plus, she was a child. Nobody felt threatened by a child.

But this was now, and the amusement of being in a loony bin was wearing thin. She wasn’t afraid like most of the residents. She knew she wasn’t trapped. The counselors and doctors didn’t know (or didn’t care) that their locked-door policy only made the symptoms worse for the residents. Large signs warning of patients “eloping” were affixed to the doors to warn visitors to not let a patient sneak out as they left.

There was no sneaking out now. She’d had her supper and the night shift was signing in. It was as good a time as any. She squinted and saw the shimmer of time bunch up. A twist, a shift and she was over the threshold, neat as you please. She walked out into the twilight painted field and went west towards the sunset. A mile later and she shifted back near a corner café with a payphone. She had researched this place a year ago when she moved to the area. It was best to be prepared. She knew the area around the jail too, just in case. Fortunately she had not concerned anyone enough to get put in there, but you never knew. Some small towns didn’t know the difference between dangerous and delusional so they ended up erring on the side of caution.

How has she ended up in this hospital? A time-slip wander that led to a fall, and a trip to a regular hospital had been the beginning. She had not planned on that wander, not that time. She was tired, overworked. Not enough “work/life balance” as her job prattled on about. She mused that if they really cared they would let her work less and pay her the same. Five days of work with two days off wasn’t balanced no matter how you did the math. This was especially true when most of her time off was spent doing chores and errands. When was she supposed to have some of that “me” time that people were always going on about?

That Thursday afternoon she had wandered at lunch and never came back to work. She was found, unconscious, near the river. She had gone back two hundred years before the river had come this far west, before the flood that had rerouted it almost overnight. She had gone back without thought, without plan and lost her bearings in the foggy haze of sleep deprivation and anxiety which had become her normal over the past year. She had spent so long feeling bad that feeling good was a distant memory. She would have been suspicious of it if it had dared to show up.

But then she slipped and knocked her head while “then”, so she woke up “now”, her head bruised. She forgot what had happened, forgot to keep her mouth shut too when she was found, and babbled on about the past and her native friends, and that very night found her the newest resident of the funny farm.

Yet it wasn’t funny at all, and it certainly wasn’t a farm. If it had been either, or both, maybe it could have done some good for its hapless residents. As it was, it only made things worse with its insistence on mind-bending drugs and no exercise out in the fresh air. Her time-slip wander was the only way to get out in under a week, when most were freed in eleven days. Not because they were healed, you understand. That was just when the insurance money ran out.

But now she was out, and it was time to look for a new place to live. It wouldn’t do for word to get out that she was less than normal. She’d have to be more diligent in the next town. All this moving was getting old.

(The photo was found on Pinterest. Unknown photographer or location.)

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The garden gate. Abandoned project #4

They made a concession for the southpaws but not for large people. There was only so far they were willing to bend. Exception after exception had been made over the years in the name of inclusion, of being welcoming to all. But this was the final straw.
The gate to the embassy garden wasn’t the only entrance to these grounds, of course not. They would never presume to be that overt. The main entrance was large and welcomed everyone. It wasn’t quite ostentatious – it wouldn’t do to appear vain. It might attract the wrong sort of person who might defect, thinking Trevlig-staat was prosperous. It was, certainly, but not in how anyone would ever imagine. No, their wealth wasn’t something you could see.
They didn’t need laws in Trevlig-staat. There was no Codes department. There were no courts. Everyone who lived there knew the difference between right and wrong without being told, and certainly without it being written down. Laws written on paper can change in an afternoon, but laws written in the heart last forever.
Trevlig-staat was a country that had no national anthem, no flag, and no citizenship test. You were either in or out, and no money crossing the hands of an official could change that.
Being born here wasn’t enough, either. It helped only that you got a head start on learning the unwritten language of how to be a citizen. You weren’t even a “good” or “bad” citizen – only good ones were allowed to stay. Bad ones were ones that never mastered the rules, either through ignorance or intent. They discovered things just didn’t go well for them. They wouldn’t get promotions or they would get fired. Their property kept getting notifications about the height of the grass in the yard. They wouldn’t get approved for loans, or the interest rate would be astronomical. It didn’t take long before they moved elsewhere in search of better luck, never realizing that they took their luck with them wherever they went.
But there was still a need for an embassy. Citizens of Trevlig-staat liked to travel, and while they never caused problems abroad, sometimes they encountered them. Riots and civil wars would occasionally erupt in these less civilized locales, but that was to be expected. They didn’t have the high standards Trevlig-staat did. The embassy was modest and welcomed all in a genteel style, never fully admitting anything to any visitor until they revealed through their actions and language that they were citizens. There was no password, no shibboleths. There was no word or phrase to worry about others overhearing and using like a passkey to gain admission.
The garden at the Embassy was for citizens only. This is why it was so critical to ensure proper admission. The walls were 12 feet high to keep out idle curious folk. The trees provided shade but also provide privacy from satellite mapping services. And there was just one gate, with a center door-handle, and it was only 3 feet high and 18 inches across. Children could easily enter, but this made sense. They were the most likely to be loving and guileless. Adults had to be either very short or very flexible, able to bend low as if entering a Japanese tea house. Those who were very overweight were not able to enter at all, but they would never be citizens of Trevlig-staat anyway, for the same reason that gamblers or hoarders or braggarts wouldn’t. No, Trevlig-staat wasn’t for everyone, and it certainly wasn’t for those who couldn’t even get along with themselves. Self-control was an essential part of what made Trevlig-staat work, and why they didn’t need laws to govern people. They governed themselves.

(The photo was found on Pinterest. Unknown photographer or location. Copyright belongs to the photographer.)

The last trip home. Abandoned project #3

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Fouad rode his bicycle to the souk every day, except Friday, of course. Then, if he had to, he walked, carrying just the essentials of his trade. All week long he sold gold jewelry that he had made, but on Fridays he only did repairs, and then only by appointment. Otherwise he was at the mosque along with most of the town. Sure, there were some who went early in the morning and were done for the day, but not Fouad. He spent all day there.

He wasn’t especially virtuous. He just liked being there, seeing the men in their best djellebas, hearing the drone of the chanted prayers. He’d be there every day, all day long if he could, but the only way to do that would be to get paid by the mosque, and this mosque didn’t pay anybody. The imam wasn’t paid in this town and he wasn’t even a particularly noted scholar. It was whoever the congregation decided upon for the month. It was always a man who was learned, for sure, and respected, as well as someone who was comfortable leading the congregation in the prayers.

They all knew the words and the postures, sure, but it was important to have someone set the pace. A prayer service was a lot like a musical performance. Every musician knows his part, but still needs a rhythm, a framework to rely upon for it all to work together. For a band, that was the drummer. For a mosque, that was the imam. The imam set the pace, and his demeanor determined the outcome. Some were nervous and went too fast, others were more hesitant and self-conscious and waited too long between the prescribed movements. The mark of a leader was to be decisive, even if the decision was sometimes wrong. You could always fix it later but you had to have something to work with. Fear of making any decision at all was death.

Fouad had no worries about ever being picked as the imam. He was liked but nobody ever would mistake him for a leader. He could barely keep his own house together. It looked held together with twine and hopes. Everybody knew that leaders had something extra. They had more than enough. People who were just barely getting by weren’t leaders.

And then one day this all changed. It had been raining for a week by that point, and the roads were all but impassable with a thick mud that grabbed at the ankles. Most of the townspeople stayed home the whole week. Either the mud was too much to negotiate with or they were bailing water out of their homes. Friday found only three people at the mosque – Fouad, and two old men who lived just two houses away. The men went to the services there every day to get out from under their wives. They learned early on in their marriages that it was best to give a wife time to herself every day or the household didn’t work as smoothly as you might hope. The mosque was a safe place to retreat to.

The two men were so old that they could barely speak above a whisper, and they couldn’t even remember the order of the Salat if asked to recite it. They had performed the ritual movements so often that their bodies remembered them more than their minds. They both chose Fouad to be the imam for the day, and he agreed only because it would be rude to refuse the request of your elders.

His performance was flawless. Every bow, every recitation, every note was impeccable. He enacted the role as if he was born to it. The two old men could hardly believe it. This was Fouad? Fouad the goldsmith who never said a word unless absolutely necessary? He was an untapped treasure! He wasn’t a diamond in the rough – he was already cut and polished, ready to be shown to those with the most discriminating tastes. And here! In their little town! It would never be the same.

And it wasn’t. After much explaining to the rest of the congregation once they returned, it was decided that they had to ask him to be the imam for a week as a trial. They had just as difficult a time believing it was true as the two old men – and they had heard for themselves! A week would be plenty of time to discern the truth of things. Maybe the old men were mistaken? Maybe it was a fluke? But they had to know.

It took a lot longer to convince Fouad. He was quite shy by nature, and very modest. This is part of why he was a goldsmith. Per Islamic law, he was only allowed to charge by the weight of the gold and not his artistry. He never had to worry about overinflating his prices because of the time and effort involved, or of underselling out of modesty. Charging by the gold’s weight meant he was just a middleman, getting to play with the magical metal in the meantime. Imagine if the Western art world did this with paintings. A paint-spattered piece like a Jackson Pollock would cost the same as a Rembrandt, purely based on the amount of the paint and canvas used.

Another reason Fouad was hesitant was that he’d have to take a week off from selling his wares at the souk. He had no other source of income, but he’d saved his dirhams over the years. Yes. He could take a week off. It would be good practice to not worry about money for a while. He was serving Allah, after all, so who was he to worry about money? If he was following a true call, the money would sort itself out.

The elders of the community were skeptical until they saw it for themselves. Even then, they were sure there couldn’t be a repeat performance. Every day for a week they were surprised. They decided that they must make a way for this hidden treasure to be their imam for as long as possible. Even though they’d never paid an imam before, they knew they’d have to do something different now in order to keep him.

There wasn’t enough money to have an actual salary. Fortunately Fouad was a man of simple needs. They selected a corner storeroom inside the mosque to be his new home, and every day grateful members of the congregation brought him his meals. And as for his bicycle? He no longer needed it, so he rode it to his old ramshackle home and left it on the front stoop for anyone to borrow. That walk to the mosque was the last one he’d ever have to do from that direction, so he savored the sights along the way.

 

(This story came about because my friend Doug S. posted this picture on his Facebook page.  Another friend commented “That’s strangely beautiful” to which he replied “Yeah, it’s kind of like a picture of a story that you haven’t been told yet.”  I commented “Maybe I can help with that…”  And so I did.  I asked him to give it a name without seeing the story I’d written.  It was a good name, but I had to adjust the end of the story a little to make it fit. Copyright belongs to the photographer.)

The blue door. Abandoned project #2

The door was locked. I expected nothing less. Every day for three months I’d tested this door, every day since I’d first noticed it. Why hadn’t I stepped down this alleyway before? What was it about that Tuesday in July that made me take a different path? My walk to the university had been boring, predictable even, up until that day.

Had I even seen that alleyway before – really seen it? Certainly it had passed before my eyes, but just as certainly it had not passed before my mind.

A new path, once taken, changed the path-taker forever.

A part of me wanted to drink in every nook and cranny, every crease and crevice. I wanted it to stay new, stay fresh. I was wary of this new path becoming worn like my old one, so familiar and comfortable that I didn’t even see it anymore. I was wary of it becoming just a way to get somewhere, instead of a destination in and of itself.

But this door was different. I’d tested it unthinkingly that first afternoon because of the aromas wafting through the gaps created by a century of settling. I was certain it must be the gateway to the side courtyard of a restaurant. Only when the portal did not budge did I take the time to look for a sign on the wall. Finding none, I halted. If this was a home and not a restaurant, I should not persist.

The next day I chose to walk down that alleyway again, noticing even more than I had the day before. How much I had missed! Yet again I was drawn to this door. This time I could hear a child’s laughter and the sounds of a fountain. What treasures lay behind this ancient door? What Paradise was hidden just beyond these walls? To imagine that just a few inches of stone and stucco separated me from this treasure! A hand’s breadth away from the dirt and grime of this forgotten alley-street was another world. I would have to check this door every day from now on until it yielded to me.

 

(The image is from Pinterest – copyright belongs to the photographer.)

The red doors. Abandoned project #1

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And tomorrow I will go into the smaller door, the lesser door. Always and forever the grand door, the steps leading upwards, but not to the light, no, never that.

You’d think so, with the wide entrance, the columns and the arch. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. That is the way that leads to the world.

This world is the world of doing, of broken promises and prom dates and first kisses and grandparents who die. The whole ball of wax is there for the taking.

But the other door? The plain one, the one you can’t see in until you’d reached the top step, the landing? It isn’t for nothing that you have to take eight steps to get there. Too high for anybody in the room to peer in. It is the best kept secret after all.

Door not locked, not even there, even. Not even any hinges for the door. Never were. And that light! Warm and low, like a late afternoon in September, when the skies are clear and the summer heat is a memory.

No, that doorway you only go through once, because there’s no coming back, no backtracking – not as far as anyone knew. There could be a mind wipe, a re-cycling, an up-cycling, but we’d never know.

Yes, tomorrow it shall be.

 

(Photo from Pinterest. Bramham House, England. Copyright belongs to the photographer.)