Monday, September 12, 2005

To have and to hold


The sirens are wailing again.
They have been wailing a lot during the last light periods, sometimes even at the dark times, that have been called night once, day and night, but there was no more measured time. The clocks are standing still, the pendulums are not swinging anymore, start getting dusty and cobwebby, if there are anymore spiders left.
There are plenty of cockroaches, though. And rats.
The clocks are dead, as dead as the power stations and the people that used to work in them, and the last batteries have given up a long time ago.
But the sirens are still wailing. Somebody still takes care of them, but sooner or later even this somebody is not going to be there anymore, and they are going to start getting just as rusty and dusty and webby as the clocks, their wailing a faint memory in the agonizing mind of the last dying man squirming with convulsions in the gutter.
And then the rain comes. IT comes with the rain.
When it first came, its lethal breath hidden in clear raindrops, many people died.
The warning was too late. There had been an accident, they say.
They say, in the end 98 per cent of mankind did. She once knew what that meant, but she has forgotten. That was a long time ago. A yellowed old calendar on the opposite wall next to the door with the number 1999 on it sometimes reminds her.
A weak memory of screaming people, honking cars crammed up hopelessly in the streets, desperately trying to escape something they couldn’t see, something that killed them.
The babies died first. Then the old ones. Sooner or later everybody who had been exposed to the rain did. The few that were able to survive the first wave just kept going for a day or two longer. And then, silence and the smell of death and decay filled the streets .
Now nobody is out there anymore when the rain comes, and the cars are nothing but a frozen caravan of fossils of an ancient time.
But rain is sneaky. It seeps and trickles through cracks and clefts, spreads out. It finds its way to them. Determined, eager, aimed. A deadly pling of a drop landing on a sleeper’s nose tip.
She vaguely remembers the frantic scream of the young woman next door when she found her baby dead in the crib.
She had always thought the lady was pretty, but there was no more beauty in those mad distorted lines of her face, when she staggered out of her door, wailing as the sirens, her stiff and cold infant squeezed to her breasts that had nourished it with plague and death.
And she had turned away from that insane being that kept screaming her little boy’s name
( K e n n y … p l e a s e )
turned away like the others that had watched her out of empty, indifferent eyes, but then the screaming had stopped suddenly, and when she glanced back, she saw the woman still kneeling there, but rocking to and fro, humming a lullaby, strands of her filthy hair caressing the infant’s blue face, and the woman had raised her dirty face towards her, in which tears had left clean traces, and she had smiled a tender lunatic smile and whispered: “Look…he’s not dead…he’s asleep…sweet darling is asleep…”, and she had returned to her apartment, humming and rocking, and when the sweet smell of putrefaction had thickened the air to almost unbreathable, a group of strangely masked men had come and taken the woman and what was left of the baby away. They had carried the baby in a plastic bag with a print that said Woolworth, and she had to laugh.
But late at night, when she lies awake, silence and darkness wrapped around her, dreams haunt her, hazed memories of the baby and she hears its mother’s cry echoing in her head.
There had been a time when someone
had called her a name. Something like…like…
But that had been a long time ago, long before that one night when these masked men knocked, and Momma had kissed her, called her a good little girl, and had gone with them, dressed in her old overall that was crusted with dirt and the blood she had started to menstruate after the sores and ulcers had broken out of her soft, fragrant skin like ugly, stinking volcanoes. She had worn that overall because it was the only piece of clothing that covered her body completely.
And she had wanted to tell her to put on something pretty, that pretty summer dress, but Momma said
- (It doesn’t matter honey It doesn’t matter anymore ) -

She had wanted to be good for Momma until she came back.
But Momma hadn’t come back.
She had waited a long time, and then she had gone out to look for her and had aimlessly wandered around between the rusty forgotten skeletons of the cars.
She had found a small funny soft thing
(Teddy bear)
clutched by something lying in those cars that would have looked a bit like her if it hadn’t been so paper dry and brownish grey and stiff and wrinkly. She had to break those stick-like things embracing the soft thing
(Teddy bear)
and dust whirled up, smelling a bit of dead roses, the ones Momma used to keep in a bowl.
The sudden howl of the sirens had startled her, and she ran home, as always, hoping for Momma to wait for her.
But Momma hadn’t been there. She had stood at the window, watching the rain, holding her soft thing on which a few drops glittered like morning dew.

Then the old woman (one of the few that had survived the first of the last days, Momma had called her a funny thing that sounded like immune) that lived downstairs had started to cough.
Once she had coughed when the girl passed her, and she had given her a frightened look, trying to stifle it, as though she was trying to hide it.
She had heard those masked men return one night and held her breath until the weak wailing of the old woman faded.

That had been a long time ago. The old woman had been burnt
with all the other ones, Momma and the pretty, mad lady and the Woolworth baby, that had started to show sores , that had started spitting and coughing up blood and mucus.

The girl cowers, hugging her bony knees, clinging to her arms as to make sure not to lose grip of herself. The fingers of her left hand sink into a soft smeary spot on her upper arm where the first ulcer has broken through, and the sudden flaring pain makes her hiss through her teeth, but she bites her lip instantly. Would they hear her?
Her lips taste of the salt and iron of the dried blood she has been coughing up in the past hours.
She crawls deeper into the dark corner next to the dresser as the bright finger of a helicopter spotlight shines into her window. Her foot sticks out a bit, and a wave of fear washes over her as the finger of light brushes her toes.
She freezes. Would they see her?
The finger of light moves along sluggishly and lingers for a few seconds on the puddle of blood on the floor, making it shimmer, reflect treacherously, telling on her.
It is so much. The bleeding hasn’t stopped. She feels limp and cold, and she shivers so hard with weakness and terror that her foot lightly starts tapping the floor.
Telling on her.
The finger of light rests on the puddle for what seems a long time. Then it slips away and at last disappears from the frame of the dirt-streaked window.
Silence, darkness. Comforting, enclosing her in its insulating walls.
She lets a sigh of relief escape her cramped chest. She waits for a long time for them to come back, not daring to stir a muscle.
No one comes.
Finally, she allows herself to slip on the floor and close her eyes, and sleep gets a grip of her almost immediately. Slowly, anxiety lets go of her like a dissolving shadow. It feels good to close those burning eyes after such a long time. Friendly sleep, embracing her with dreams of momma and summer and floral dresses and strawberry pie, cradling, enchanting, lovely as a lullaby.
Treacherous sleep.
She awakes, lying in a circle of light so white and screaming bright it makes her cringe.
The puddle of blood next to her seems to shiver.
Somebody knocks heavily on the door.

No comments: