Wednesday, March 25, 1998

Of Figments And Such

    The grill of a huge semi loomed in Elmira's rear-view mirror. It was so close, it seemed almost in the car with her. She screamed and pressed the gas pedal to the floor, but it was too late. The truck rammed her rear bumper with brute force, and even in her terror, her regret was to have left Greg in anger.

    "I hate it when we argue," he said, trying to pull her close.
    She shrugged off his embrace. "Where are the car keys?" she asked. "I'm going for a ride to cool down. I'll be back in about thirty minutes."
    He handed her the keys. "Be careful," he said. "Try to remember we drive on the left here in Singapore!"
    "This beastly country!" she said. "Not only is it hotter than Hades, but they can't even see fit to drive on the correct side of the road!"
    "Please, Elmira!" he said. Let it go about my transfer here. Accept it!"

    Now the force of the collision hurled her forward, out of the seat belt, over the steering wheel and through the windshield.
    Suddenly she was on a grassy path lined with stately poplars. The sun's rays were not hot as they had been just seconds ago, but warm and comforting.
    She saw a tall, handsome being a few paces ahead of her, and she thought, because of its wings, that it was either an angel or an apparition, or perhaps that putting her head through the windshield had made her crazy.
    "Whatever you are," she called, "please wait-up! I have some questions to ask."
    The being waited for her to catch up, and then slowed to walk alongside her. He said, "Just call me Gabe. Everyone up here does. Allow me to welcome you, Elmira."
    She expected to be frightened by this, for she knew now that she was dead, but what she actually felt was curiosity. "I'm in heaven, right?" she asked.
    "Yes, you are," said Gabe. "Not in HIGH HEAVEN, of course, but heaven nonetheless."
    Elmira walked with him in silence, pondering these words in her heart.
    Gabe waved to a short, pretty lady dressed in lace and a hoop skirt. "Hi there, Becky! Up from Purgatory, I see. Great to have you aboard!"
    "Who was that?" Elmira asked.
    "Becky Sharpe."
    The name Becky Sharpe triggered a memory of how she nagged Greg for his disinterest in her love of literature.

    "Why are you pouting?" Greg asked.
    She looked up from her book. "You know darn well!" she said. "You know how starved I am in this God-forsaken place for intelligent conversation! Yet all you ever want to discuss is what's for dinner. I yearn to talk of philosophical things, of literary things, but oh, no! That bores you!"
    "Singapore is not God-forsaken," he said, "I didn't ask to be transferred here for two years. I had no choice. Why can't you just accept that?"
    "Oh how I wish our relationship were lovingly intellectual like Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning's!" she said.
    "Oh, barf!" Greg said. "I'm a little tired of being expected to live in your books!"

    Elmira looked up at Gabe. "Becky Sharpe?" she asked now. "What's she doing here? I thought she was just a figment of Thackeray's imagination."
    "Well, figments are up here, too, you know......anyone who has ever lived, whether on earth, (or on Mars, for that matter,) or in a book, or a movie, or whatever. It's all a mind-thing, you see. Becky was in Purgatory for a long time, but Thackeray kept nagging God to call her up here."
    Gabe nodded. "On earth it's called praying. Up here it's nagging. Thackeray looks on her as his daughter, you see. It's hard, I guess, not to feel responsible for your literary creations. It's almost like, once you've invented them, you consider yourself their god or something." "In spite of her excessive vanity, God wants her up here?"
    "He wants everyone up here. That was the original idea. But sometimes there is just too much evil to allow it. Like Hitler, for instance. Pfft! Right to hell! Not even a thought for Purgatory!"
    "God's a HE then?"
    "The jury's still out on that one," Gabe said. "For me it's a HE-thing. For you it may not be. But so what?"
    "What do you mean, so what? It's not a question of HE-thing or SHE-thing! It's an equality-thing! How like a man to say 'so what'!"
    "I'm not a man. I'm an angel, remember? The French say there are three sexes, men, women, and clergymen. But actually, angels are the fourth."
    "The French really say there are three sexes?"
    "I don't know for sure if they really say it or not, but that guy over there said the French say it. In fact, that's one of the things he's remembered for. He's even in Bartlett's."
    He pointed to a spry, well-dressed man in his seventies. "Yo! Sid!" he said, waving to him. Sid waved back, but kept walking.
    "Sid who?" she asked.
    "Sidney Smith, 1770-1845," Gabe said.
    Elmira actually snorted. "Smith? Come on! That's an alias if I ever heard one! You just now made him up!"
    "No, I didn't. Look it up. Otherwise, how could we have just encountered him?"
    "Well, that's true. But what about me?" she continued. "Am I remembered for something I said or wrote or did? Am I remembered for anything special?"
    Gabe was silent.
    "The jury's still out on that one, right?" she asked.
    "No," he said. "It's in. You're not."
    "You mean the jury's in, and I'm not remembered?"
    "You got it, kiddo! But what's the difference whether you're remembered for something special or not? You made it up here, didn't you? Isn't that what counts? You're never satisfied, are you Elmira? Have you ever been completely happy with anything?"
    It wasn't the first time she had been told she was hard to please, but now it was the first she admitted it to herself. Something Greg had once said flashed in her mind.

    "Why do you make me feel I never quite come up to what you expect, Elmira? I try to make you happy. I swear I do! But then, I doubt that you would ever be happy....not even in paradise!"

    As she and Gabe walked farther along, the path began to incline. Elmira saw now that the greenery was becoming more dense and lush, and the sunlight shone even more brilliantly than before. She hadn't noticed it until now, but there were actually diamonds embedded in the ground around them.
    "Oh, Gabe, it's so beautiful here!" she said.
    Gabe smiled and took her hand. "We're getting close to the Holy of Holies," he said.
    Elmira's soul stirred with reverence. "I wish Greg could see this!" she said. "How is he coping right now, the poor dear, with the accident and with my being killed and all?"
    "Right now? Well, right now he's devastated," Gabe said, "but he'll manage. He'll marry again in a year or so -- a pretty little native girl who works in the office. She has admired him from afar ever since you two arrived in Singapore. She's nice enough, kind of sweet, but not as bright as you. Greg will sometimes actually yearn for the discussions you used to try to force on him. He'll even miss the arguments, for she will treat him like her Lord and Master. Boring!"
    Elmira was pleased in spite of herself. "Will he eventually make it up here, too?"
    "You bet!" Gabe said. "He's always been a good guy. She'll get here, too...the future new wife."
    "Won't that make it kind of messy for the three of us?"
    "There's no mess in heaven," Gabe said. "Everything is sweetness and light. There won't be any jealousy between you and his second wife, either, because there is no marriage in heaven. No sex, either, for that matter. Good thing, too, because that would be SOME mess! I mean, we would become over-populated, and then, of course, we would have to wrestle with the questions of birth control and abortion, and all kinds of controversial stuff. It would not be a heaven-thing at all! Not at all!"
    "I see what you mean!" Elmira said. "But that's okay. For the first time in a long time, I'm really happy. Sex-and-marriage or not, I'm going to love spending eternity here!"
    Gabe smiled. "Now you're talking, kiddo!"

Wednesday, March 18, 1998

My Mother, My Daughter

They are all so confused, the poor dears.  They call this place “the home.”  It’s by no means anyone’s home.  It certainly isn’t mine!

I wonder what ever happened to my beautiful Steiffel table-lamp?  I don’t see it here anywhere.  I know it was frivolous of me to buy it, but, oh, it was so lovely!  It gave our whole living room an air of class.  I yearn so for class.  It was terribly expensive, and he had looked worried, but he said it was all right for me to buy it.   He always said that when I wanted something.  Sometimes he thought he cared for me more than I did for him.  It makes me feel like crying.  I really did love that lamp.  Later the shade became bent, but not badly.  It happened after he died, when I moved from the house.  They told me I should sell it and move, but I wonder if they were right.  That was when the confusion first began...slowly, little by little.  He had kept me sane.  What was his name?  I wish I could remember.  I think that’s his picture over there on the dresser, smiling at me, but I can’t be sure.  Sometimes it looks like my grandfather’s picture.  It’s hard to keep things straight.  My grandfather had red hair and a bushy mustache, so that can’t be his picture after all.  My grandfather was tall and used to carry me on his shoulder when I was little.  He said I was his favorite.  I think there were ten of us, but I’m not sure.  I think I was the oldest.  Everyone said I was the prettiest.  I think that’s what they used to say.

She came to see me again today.  She wheeled me out onto the patio because she said the sunshine would do me good.  “Vitamin D,” she said.  I think it was today that we were outside.  She says she’s my daughter, and at times I believe her.  Other times, I’m sure she is my mother.  I try not to call her “Mamma,” because it makes her forehead pucker.   Sometimes I forget.  I asked her again how old I am.  She said 91.  I think that’s what she said, but that can’t be right, because if I ‘m 91, that makes her well over a hundred.  Maybe I misunderstood, or maybe I dreamed it.  

My eyes are still pretty good.  I can see quite far without glasses.  It’s reading close that gives me trouble, but I don’t read much.  I used to love it, but now the words don’t have anything to do with me anymore at all.  I see far away, and I remember far away, too.  I lie here and remember things one after the other.  She says some of the things I tell her about are wrong – that I am confused.  I remembered aloud to her today how he had raised those two little boys because their mother had died and he felt sorry for them.  They came to live with us, although I told him, “We have enough to do with feeding our own!”  But she said no strange little boys had ever lived with us.  She said I must have dreamed it.  I have to remember not to reminisce with her anymore.  It really disturbs her, and then we argue.

She says I dreamed it about my wedding ring, too, but I know it happened.  She says I lost it here at the home.  She says it was too big on my finger since I am so thin now  – that it had come off in bed and was probably gathered up with the bedclothes and lost in the laundry.  That’s utter nonsense!   I distinctly remember that I lost it in all the confusion when the ocean liner sank when he and I were on our honeymoon.  I wish I could remember his name.  I think it must have been a nice name, because he has a nice face.  He smiles at me all day over there from the dresser.  She says he and I were never shipwrecked.  She’s lying; I know she is.  She says I either dreamed it or saw it on TV.  I never watch TV.  That woman does, but I never do...that woman who has the nerve to sleep in my other bed in here.  I used to scold her and tell her she’s not welcome in my house, but now I keep silent.  She’s old, and I feel sorry for her.  Maybe she has no place to go.  Besides, she may tell on me, and I just don’t know about the people who are in charge here.  They seem nice enough, but I don’t like it when they put that cage around my bed.  My mother says it’s not a cage, but just bars to keep me safe.  She infuriates me sometimes!  What is a cage, after all, but bars?  Keep me safe from what?  If she were not my mother, I would smack her.  I’ll just tell her she needn’t visit me anymore.  No, I won’t tell her that.  I can’t tell her that.  She will feel hurt.  She’s my daughter, and I love her.  I can’t hurt her.  I have always tried to keep her from pain.  I guess I always will.  I hope she comes today.  It’s lonely when she does not come.  

Oh, here comes that pretty young black girl to wheel me to the dining room.  I’ll ask her.   “Say, dear, do you know if my mother is coming today?”  

Look at her, she just smiles at me.  She always just smiles.  She’s an idiot!  They all are!