Fiction

Wild Water with Setting Sunlight, photograph by Merry Song

SMH

It begins. I’m terrified. I pretend not to be. I’ve trained for this. I know what to do. And I’m terrified.

 

I’m lying on my back on a long metal table, my left arm raised beside my head in a frozen wave to the ceiling and anyone who might be dwelling up there—angels, spirits of the dearly departed. Around me three technicians hover, move me this way and that, adjust my arm, turn my head. I think of them as angels; that is what I’m supposed to do, that will make it all easier, I know; it will change the whole experience into something positive, healing, even endearing. They are angels. No, they are technicians, that’s what they are. But they…. They tilt my head back and put the snorkel in my mouth.

I clench my teeth in seizure position. I have to wear this. While they administer the treatment, I cannot breathe, and the snorkel has its own little flap that snaps shut on command, stops me from breathing. Automatically. It clicks shut. I don’t breathe. I can’t move, there’s no way of getting the thing out of my mouth. This is one reason I’m terrified. But I’ve been trained on it. I know what to do. I’ve got it down. “Breathe,” they will say, and I will breathe and then hold my breath while they administer the treatment. I have to wear the snorkel. It will keep my heart safe. (No, it won’t). My heart is in the wrong place. (I’ve always known it.) So when I breathe in, I lift my self away from my heart.

The angels. Look, they wear white. Imagine halos, imagine wings. Imagine heaven. Dense, complex harmonies—or better, plainsong. They are singing. The technicians put a panic button in my right hand. I am less terrified. More: it is reassuring, needed. I clutch it. My hand is sweating all the fear out into the plastic. Let me press this button. Now. Let me panic. Let me out of here, let me out of this treatment, the diagnosis, the surgeon, the surgery– this toxic light that will leave me a radioactive pariah. Let me out. They are no angels. They are going to flash me out of existence. But I don’t push the button. I’ve been trained on this. I know what to do. I’ve got it down.

A technician puts a rubber clip on my nose, closing my nostrils. I am breathing through my mouth now, through the snorkel. Then they all leave the room. A massive door, like the thick door on a castle keep, closes with a heavy click. I am alone, a target of whatever that heavy door is keeping in here, keeping away from everybody out there. They are protected from me and from the poisoning light. I am not.

In the split second before it all begins for real, I remember too vividly the moment they told me – what did they say? What seemed hours of explanation from the oncologist, the nurse. Diagrams sketched out on a small pad of paper. Procedures to follow, patterns of concern tracing, untracing, and tracing again on their faces. My thoughts, as they spoke, elsewhere: Get myself out of this somehow. Take myself out. Easiest solution, scrolling through methods in my mind, their words fading in and out, so much nonsense.

But no. I am here.

A mass of metal slides into position above me. Loud. Like a military maneuver. Something will happen now. It will happen now.

“Breathe,” they say through the speaker.

I breathe. One breath.

“Hold.” A beep.

I hold my breath. Click. The snorkel snaps shut. I’m terrified again. No, I am not. Not terrified. I’m sitting on a sandy beach by the water’s edge. Gentle waves rock and curl into the shore, kiss, kiss, then rustle the sand; fringes of water stroke in, slide out. A gentle sun drenches down and warms me, breathing easy now, sighing light. I can hear seagulls and terns. A nightingale. Salt on the breeze. Above and to the right, a palm tree waves its fronds, etching tiny, delicate shadows on my face, shadows I feel as cat’s whiskers, and now I am cool and still. Light and shadow alternating; dear sand, dearly beloved beach.

But now, in the deep and dark, moving forward, out of the sea, breaking through the skin of the sea, something black and leviathan shifts and rises, floats, slithers in. No. What if? I wrestle with my own visions. The comforting images I have conjured pixelate and disperse. I try coaxing them back, but they resist all enticements. They are Proteus. They morph into pictures of hideous power, wrought, oneiric, weeping with rage. I have been trained, though. I know about this. I’ve got it down. I say to them: “That is OK. I accept you and I allow you to go now.” Ha-ha, they say. They don’t listen, that’s the problem. Ha-ha. Then I say, and they say, and it dissolves because: Beep. Hold. Again. All this while I have been breathing. Stopping. Breathing. Stopping. No one. Will ever know. The battle. Raging. My torn mind. The wreckage.

The heavy door opens.

The technicians come back, release my arm, remove the snorkel and clamp. Smile briefly. (Ha. They are angels after all.)

“Only fourteen more sessions to go,” one says.

“Thank you,” I say. Thank you for the terror and the torture and everything. I am truly grateful and relieved. It’s over for now, and I have survived. For today and for this moment.

I have a blood test this day, so I get dressed and climb the stairs to the lab on the main floor. I take a number and sit.

The waiting room is full. Yellow faces, grey faces, white faces, some with hair, some without. Some with head scarves, hats, fuzzy toques. Some eyes flat with fear. I’ve seen this before—in the mirror. I sit beside an old man, his daughter (maybe) beside him. I look across at a young woman. She is statuesque. Super fit. No hair.

We are the damned. And there are a lot of us, a city of us right here in this waiting room. A limbo just outside of hell with pretty mosaics on the wall and a chair for each of us as we wait. And wait. And wait.

A woman wheels a chair past the waiting room. In the chair, a boy. Twelve? Ten? Six? Who knows? His head is a normal size, but in the chair, a blue shirt hangs flat against the back of the chair and a pair of black pants lies flat on the seat of the chair, the legs hanging down, it is all like a paper cut-out of clothes folded against the chair, nothing inside the clothes, nothing to fill them, nothing left. This boy – how long? The mother, eyes dulled by a chronology of grief and exhaustion. I close my eyes. I have to, now. I can’t see anyway. I’m blind all of a sudden, can’t look anymore.

The old man beside me and his daughter (maybe) don’t speak. I know this too. When it comes to this, there is nothing to say. Silence is the finest prayer. In this waiting room of hundreds, few speak. In Dante’s Limbo too, few speak. Did you notice that? Is that so? I try and remember. I look down at my number: 082. I look up at the number in red lights on the wall:  031. It could be hours or it could be thirty minutes. It’s hard to tell, it depends. I glance up again.

Jesus. The number in red begins to glow, to shine, to emanate beyond the edges of number 33, a red halo of light. Stunning. WTF? SMH, as my nephew would say. I blink and look again.

Now it is throbbing with light like a heart, and the color is changing. It’s purple, now mauve, now tangerine, now flecked with points of white and gold.

WTF, SMH (shaking my head, so much hurt, so might heaven, some miracle happening). The light is streaming down now on all the people in the waiting room. You can see the separate rays like strands of a web or threads pulled taut on a loom. Their faces are not grey and yellow and white. They’re shining now with gold, and some of them have halos of blue, halos of white, halos of spring green.

Across the hall there is a door that says “Spiritual Guidance Department.” (Never knew they had a department for that in Limbo.) It is framed in gold, and streams of crimson radiate out from the top. The sun is right there, rising above the door frame, and I am witnessing it. At 11:34 a.m. I glance back at the wall. Number 41 is flashing in and out, dancing, spinning; by the time we get to 49, it’s Christmas lights. And not just on the number. Everywhere I look, it’s dazzling. I believe I see spots of light even on the ceiling.

A woman across from me gets up, supporting herself carefully on the arms of her chair. Behind her she leaves an image of her body, a glow of white light sitting there like an aftershock of her presence. Emanating from nothing, the light of her still there in the chair as she walks away.

It’s like this everywhere, almost unbearable. Shafts of lightning, blinding and painful—a stabbing beauty. Iridescent cascades of light pour down from the walls beside the pharmacy. The floor undulates in translucent green. Water. The glass of the pharmacy phosphoresces. We are all, all of us, drowning in light.

Finally, they call my number. They take my blood. As I look, the test tube lights up, pulsing with tiny solar storms, Catherine wheels of color that spin and shower the room with sparks; and the blood is whirling round and flaming out rays of blues and greens that ricochet off the walls.

I thank the man. He smiles briefly, a half-smile, because he doesn’t have time for more. I leave. I fall out, I am going nuclear. This is it. My eyes are emitting radioactive beams of light.

But no, I am here, just walking down the hall, and I expect these hallucinations to subside when I leave the hospital. But on my way out I see Tim Horton’s lit up like Santa’s Village, and the door to the hospital, the glass door, is opaque with a slow-turning vortex of misty white.

I walk out. Down the stairs. Put my sunglasses on. This has got to stop now.

But it doesn’t. Now I’m in daylight. I look up. WTF. It’s as if someone is snapchatting the sky. Swirls of color shoot off from distant trees; echoes of bright gold fan out from the tops of buildings. Windows dazzle. Memes of silver and flares of copper gleam in the sun.

A car passes. It’s just breathing the light and spitting out sparks that travel like zoom bugs across the street. The hot dog stand looks normal. That’s odd. But beyond it the entrance to the subway is sending out lightning bolts like love at first sight.

I’m in the subway. People are incandescent. The turnstile bars are laser-beaming to the far walls of the station. The stairs are carpeted in flames, licked with spears of blue light all the way down to the platform. I can hardly keep my balance because I don’t know what I’m stepping on.

On the subway I close my eyes. I can’t bear any more. It’s too bright, and the heat and the light are burning into my head. Once I peek. A woman across from me has a multi-colored halo.  Luminous arcs of pink, blue, green blaze up from the crown of her head, and above that, holospheres of light revolve in three dimensions. Her eyes are Klimt golden, and the toes of her shoes diamond.

At home, I sleep. I need to sleep. Sleep will solve this. It does. The light subsides, and the shock with it. Normal, normal, all is back to normal.

Night, 9:30. I go out for a walk and I’m calm. I look around at the houses and trees in the neighborhood, and they are slumbering and reassuring in their repose. It is all there as it was before: the houses are solid and still, the branches of the trees swaying a little bit, and all is in shadow and breathing dark. I look up.

It begins again. Oh no. I see the full moon in a thousand places in the sky. Now the silhouettes of trees begin to hum in ultraviolet, are limned in glowing bands of white light. Leaves go neon.

The streetlights strobe. Sidewalks reflect the stars, and comets dart across lawns. The dark facades of houses are setting suns, rising suns. In the windows, the familiar flickering glow of TV-screen blue becomes the electric light of the sea.

What the hell is happening? Am I radioactive? Toxic? Dying? Is it my eyes? Did they misdirect the treatment?

Or is it that…

Everything around me, every leaf, the roof of every house, every caterpillar and every worm on the sidewalk, every Bichon Frisé, every child and every parent, the hand of that child, of that parent, their shining eyes, every brother and sister, nephew and niece, their smiles, my own hand, my fingernail, my hair, my skin, the bones in my feet, my arms, this breath, and this breath again, this heart and yours, and that little boy fading away in the wheelchair, and his mother exhausted, and that silent man and his silent daughter (maybe)—all and every one of us lit up and alive as pure luminescence, spinning out streams of sparks at some vital frequency usually unknown to us, or most often ignored.

I go back home and glide into a slipstream of a deep and restful darkness, the featherdown dusk and curative of sleep.

 

In the Christian States of America, where religion rules, one woman discovers the only rules are about survival. Although she’s legally an adult, eighteen-year-old Meryn Flint must live at home until her stepfather, Ray, finds her a husband. That’s the law. But when Ray kills her mother and Meryn must flee for her own safety, she quickly discovers there’s no safe place for a woman on the run. Unless she’s willing to marry her former boyfriend—a man who’s already demonstrated his capacity for violence—she’ll be forced to live on the street. And that’s a dangerous option for a woman alone. As time runs out, Meryn is offered a third path: build herself a tiny house, a safe place to call home. Even though it’s a violation of her Family Duty as well as every moral law on the books, Meryn seizes the chance. But even a tiny tin house might not be enough to save her . . .
"A dystopian science fiction novel that is a believable extrapolation of current social, cultural, and religious attempts to restrict and roll back the rights and freedoms of women, Tiny Tin House is a masterfully crafted and riveting novel populated throughout by memorable characters.” ~ Midwest Book Review
L Maristatter has published poetry in the web journal Defunct and fiction in The Saturday Evening Post online. She is on Facebook and Twitter (regularly), and Instagram and TikTok (when she's feeling brave).
Support independent booksellers by finding Tiny Tin House on Bookshop.org or in your local bookstore. It’s also available on Amazon.

Bios

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. Her short stories have been published in journals in the U.S.A., the UK, and Canada, including Orca, Litro, Filling Station, Fairlight Books, Chiron Review, Fiction International, and the Masters Review.

Merry Song began creative writing at the age of six and started in on photography at 14. Now, as she heads toward the age of 70, she has found new, exhilarating energy for both fields. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a BA in Broadcasting and Filmmaking. Merry Song is a spiritual teacher for The Center for Sacred Sciences in Eugene, Oregon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *