I’m in a room, and it’s very dark.
Somewhere, nearby, I hear the sound of voices. They seem far away and faint, but familiar in a way. Something niggles at my mind. A teasing thing, a dream wiggling out of memory’s grasp even as the dreamer rises from the depths of sleep. I’m struggling to remember those voices, to hear them and put them with faces. The sounds don’t seem distinct enough.
The darkness of the room frightens me. I can’t see anything beyond just a short distance from my face, and everything feels cold and far away.
A light begins to grow, to bloom, a flower of glowing warmth which spreads to expand my view. Where the light grows, I see things — a grassy field, and trees surrounding a meadow. Deep, thick leaves on all the heavy, gnarled limbs. And yes! Yes, this place is familiar to me! I recall this…somewhere, far in my mind, this tickles…
It’s a park!
I hear Madeline! Yes, Madeline! I can hear her voice, and she’s there with me in the park! We’re running, and playing on the grassy field. I see us there, in the warm sunshine, with our wonderful dresses and shoes, and mother and father are there as well. Yes, I remember this, and I can hear Madeline’s voice, but not what she’s saying. And her face…her smile fades now, as she repeats the words, but…they don’t seem real. Like jumbled, baby-speak words, incomprehensible, unintelligible, babbles. And I can feel my mind fighting, fighting to understand her. I know understanding her is important — so important! — and I can’t. No matter how I try, I can’t.
“Maddy…darling Maddy, I can’t understand you…”
I see her face, and she’s crestfallen. She shakes her head, and she turns away, but I can’t tell if she’s sad…or angry with me.
“Maddy? Maddy, wait, I just need a moment to understand you…”
But she’s moving away from me and only casts a glance backward over her shoulder, and the daylight glints on her golden hair as she moves away.
Then the warm bubble of light shrinks , very fast, and I’m in the darkness once again. Alone, in the dark, and afraid.
Those voices are echoing nearby. I can hear them, and in my dark solitude they feel so sinister, so frightening, threatening and hateful.
Faces! Faces come at me from out of the dark. They smile but the smiles seem mean, almost resentful and angry and bitter. More jeers than pleasant visages.
“What is it? What do you want with me?” My voice pleads with them for mercy.
But my question doesn’t garner mercy or kindness or understanding from them. It garners only more sneers and angry sounding voices, some of them raised. As if I’m deaf! I can hear fine, I want to shout, I’m not deaf, I just don’t understand!
But my fear freezes my voice.
And then another bubble of light grows in front of me, and the inside of the bubble is warm and happy and I can see…
…I see Stella! Oh, Stella, my dearest friend! I’m seventeen years old and a senior in high school, and I sit beside Stella in the school cafeteria. We’re admiring the athletic young boys, though we try to pretend to be studying. They see us! Oh, goodness, duck! Behind the books, Stella! Duck! And the giggles come — oh, how they come! So strong, so uncontrollably! What fun we have together.
Stella puts her face near to me, and I smile at her. She must have a secret to share. What tidbit of gossip has she gotten hold of now? I can hardly wait to learn it! I lean forward and turn my ear to Stella, but…
…she grips my chin and turns my face to hers. She’s smiling but her fingers are strong on my jaw, almost painful. I’m confused…I don’t understand what she wants. She speaks then. She speaks, and God in Heaven, I can’t understand her either. It’s the same babbling, baby-talk as Madeline’s words. The syllables are different, but…they’re just that, syllables, random and jumbled. The words are garbled and I can’t decipher what Stella wants from me.
“What is it, Stella? You’re hurting me! What is it? I don’t…I don’t understand!…”
Stella’s face falls, too. She’s hurt. I’ve hurt her feelings, and she looks away from me, toward the boys or the cafeteria crowd, and her expression — oh, God, her expression! She’s in such pain, and I don’t know why.
“Stella, please, I don’t…I can’t…”
But she’s leaving. She lets go of me but takes my hand for a fleeting moment, and squeezes it. And when she lets go and backs away the bubble of light collapses around her and she’s gone. Stella’s gone.
“St-Stella? Stella, don’t leave me, please! I’m so frightened!…”
But there’s no one there. I’m alone in my darkness again.
At last, the bubble opens again and I can see Stephen! Oh, thank God! Thank God! It’s Stephen, and he’ll help me. I know he’ll help me. He’s always been there for me. He’s such a dear, so wonderful when father died. Such a dear when mother passed later. He’s so handsome! Even after all these years, Stephen is the most handsome man I know. How lucky I am to be his wife for…for…
How long? I can’t remember!
Oh, but here he is to walk me out of the church as husband and wife, and he looks so dapper in his tuxedo, and my ring — my beautiful ring! — I…
My hands…my hands are old and wrinkled, speckled with liver spots. And Stephen’s not here, is he? No, Stephen died a long time ago. When? When did Stephen die?
I can’t remember.
And so I wait. Always I wait for the bubble to expand, for the light to open up and show me what I have forgotten.
Copyright 2011 J. Dane Tyler, All rights reserved