My next posts will be bits of fiction. My sister would have enjoyed them, and if you are my other reader I hope you will, too.
Every so often I wake up.
I move through my life doing and being many things, and most of the time hardly notice. Every so often, I notice. I believe this is called lucidity. I’ve heard the word applied usually to a dream experience that seemed real. For me it happens when a feeling of awareness dawns and I know where I am, in a wholeness of reality. Lines of writing dance, I smell the sounds of the world, I hear and taste the colors, and it is beautiful.
But the occasions are rarely beautiful. Why the gift comes at mundane times I cannot fathom. Why should I suddenly grow acutely aware of my weight on the maroon vinyl seat of the chair beneath me? Why must I see every sparkling detail of each little flame shaped light bulb in the fixture over the restaurant table, and see it again, blurred and glowing in a hundred reflections on the silverware, half-filled water glasses, in the shiny, slightly greasy table top, in the eyes of my companions at the table? What is there to know that is so important to notice, in detail, the rancid smell and the colors of the brown, red, orange and green patterns in the old carpet covering the restaurant floor?
We are the staff of a church, gathered to talk God-shop at a cheap Chinese restaurant. Two tables are pushed together for the seven of us. Our menus, also slightly greasy, are in our hands. We are contemplating column A, B, C.
I lay down my menu, ask my friends to choose my usual for me, push back my chair (how vivid is the sound of the legs sliding over the carpet!), rise, and walk away toward the men’s room, which I know to be around the corner, past the reception desk, and through a narrow hallway.
I push open the door of the restroom with my elbow, wary of germs I cannot see but know to be lurking. As I step into the room I see a cluster of rather small men pressed toward the one urinal. They are wearing green felt coats. The ones in back have hats with wide brims and tall, rounded tops. A taller man stands close to the fixture. He wears a small, neat hat with a jaunty brim.
I wonder why I do not feel surprised to walk in on five of Santa’s elves, and do not question that urinating as a group is not something entirely normal.
I open the door to the stall on the left, and close it behind me. I unzip and as I begin I say, in what I hope is a companionable way, “Isn’t it handy that these stalls are so large?” I feel a silent awareness from my neighbors. I think I hear one of them say “Mine is really quite ugly.” I think, but do not say, in what would have been a pastoral tone, “Oh, nothing that God makes should be considered ugly.” A tremor, a vibration, perhaps a group snicker from over there . . .
I finish, tuck in and zip up, and exit the stall. I look at the elves. The tall one is watching me. His skin is ivory, his hair darkest black, his eyes like deep holes. If his face has an expression, I cannot recognize it.
Like Peter on the mountaintop, I speak a little polite nonsense. “Well, how nice it’s been to meet you. I . . er . . . do hope you will have a good year.” A stocky elf removes his hat, turns and faces his companions. He tells a joke. “If you ask Uncle if his wife has a cold, he will say yes. If you ask Uncle if he, too, has a cold he will (and here the elf’s face becomes that of an old grizzled man, hunched over a bit to one side) just -sniifFFFF-. A titter runs through the huddle of elves. I smile. I can tell it is a joke, and for a second I get it, but then it is lost except for a feeling of amusement.
The tall elf continues to look at me. His face shows no expression that I can match with any human face. Yet he is sizing me up with mischievous, deep, kind amusement. In fact, to look at him I see the very incarnation of mirth. I understand that these creatures, ancient craftsmen of toys for the children of the world, exist in some kind of air of humor and happiness.
I back toward the exit. Again I say, “So nice to meet you!” I walk halfway out the door and turn back in the doorway for a last look. The tall elf continues his inscrutable gaze, and I say, “I’m going to forget all this as soon as I close the door behind me, aren’t I?” Somehow I feel smiled at, which I take as assurance that indeed memory of my encroachment into this dimension of magic, in the oddest of places, will fade with each step I take back to my table and my friends and my Kung-Pao chicken.
I walk one step, then two, following the hallway back to the dining area. I tell myself that I will retain my lucidity long enough to at least remember that I will forget something wonderful.
Instead, with each step the restaurant lights glow and blend into a misty, shapeless light. I begin to forget why I came to this place. And as I forget I remember more and more of the elves. I remember and savor the deep green of their coats, the silence of their continuous laughter, their pure goodwill. I am given knowledge of the details of their uniforms; why I knew the tall elf was the leader by his unique hat, but also it is not a leadership of status but of role — he is the chief servant and spokesman, guide and coordinator of the spontaneous humor of his companions.
I begin to forget who I was. One reality is dissolving into a dream I can quite remember.
I also know this is a joke. That I am remembering backwards is quite funny. Well done.
Now I remember. I am smiling. But if you saw me, you might not recognize that I am smiling.