Another day of flicking through websites, obsessive FOMO, dunking teabags until the caffein leaves a permanent buzzing ring around the frontal cortex, daring the clock to start running backwards or the alarm clock ring to disrupt the lucid dream and restart the morning, a horrifying thought, a Sisyphusian nightmare with arms and legs wrapped up in permeable bags dipped in boiling water and served to the pleasure of the gods on Mount Olympus.
Six robed figures seated on one side of a stark wooden counter, their faces cloaked in shadow; the room is dark save for the food lights directly over each figure and the empty stool across the counter. They sit in judgement.
“Sit,” says one of the judges. The one furthest stage right perhaps?
Your throat constricts, blood rushes to your head, and you aren’t sure you can walk that far without passing out, but your feet shuffle and you find yourself sitting.
“Speak,” says another of the judges.
“I don’t know where to begin,” you say.
“Stop,” says a third judge. “You must tell the truth.”
You bite on your lips, your breath becomes shallow as the cold snow-melt river that meanders at the border of town. Your hands freeze like they did that day you last stepped into those cold waters with that burden over your shoulders. You can still hear the splash of that over-full burlap sack, the weight of it sending up an icy shower baptism. You are tied to that body you submerged as surely as the sack you cinched shut.
“Stop,” says the first judge. “We have heard enough.”
Were you speaking? Did your tongue betray you and tell this tribunal what you did? Or did they plumb through your thoughts and divine your actions? It doesn’t matter.
The judges rise as one and turn, walking into shadows leaving you to rot on your stool.
“Mommy, can we play outside?” She looked down at her 4 year old fraternal twins – all hopeful smiles and curly reddish blond hair. She smiled down at them, remembering looking up at her own mother many years ago. No smile then, just stories about what it was like when children used to play outside, sent out to find adventure and use their imaginations. She never got to play outside, what with the changes in climate that came faster than anyone predicted. Outside had become synonymous with danger, deep third degree burns, melanoma, and certain death without proper equipment. Daytime was anything but a time for play.
“Not today, sweethearts,” she said. “Ozone alert. Have to stay inside.”
Her encouraging smile did little to deter them.
“You said that yesterday. You always say that,” they said in unison. Had they rehearsed or were they just that must in synch with each other. They’d shown signs of freaky connectedness, but it startled her when it happened.
“Why do you want to go outside? You have so many fun things to do inside and we can still play at night. Night is a better time to be outside.”
“No, we don’t want to play hide and seek. We want to play ashes ashes we all fall down.”
Her brows furrowed. That nursery rhyme had changed so many time, and now mimicked the effects of the unrelenting sun. “Where on earth did you hear about that?”
“Grandma told us,” they said.
A shiver went down her spine. Her mother, affectionately called Grandma, had passed away before the twins were even born. All they had were pictures, admittedly some of them were interactive life recordings, but she’d never come across any mention of nursery rhymes, let alone this one.
“Places. Places. Top of the scene.” The actors arranged themselves for the opening scene. Spotlight center, Harold standing on a rickety wooden stool, a noose around his neck. The actors mill about the stage singing their parts and steadfastly ignoring Harold. Music swells to a crescendo and Harold steps off the stool. His neck cracks and his body jerks then settles into a grandfather clock arc.
“No, no, no. Where is Ophelia? We can’t have a grieving widow without the widow. Someone go get that woman and the rest of you reset the scene again, from the top!”
A stage hand lowered Harold to the ground. He removes the noose and swivels his head around and side to side. His bones crackle and pop their way back into place.
“You’re supposed to use the prop noose and a neck brace,” says the director.
“I’m a method actor,” says Harold. “Now let’s start over, shall we?”
A creature I don’t know is staring at me from the mirror. Wild confused look on its face, a disheveled spirit. But that’s not me. I know what I’m doing, what my weaknesses and strengths are and how to live within my limits. That’s not me. I’m self-assured, confident at times. How could this caged creature captured in a thin layer of silvered glass in any way reflect my own countenance?