Blue Saturday: A novella written in 2002 thesis class in response to the stranger by albert camus

Vanity of the word experience. You cannot acquire experience by making experiments. You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. Patience rather than experience. We wait patiently—or rather, we are patients. It is all practice: when we emerge from experience we are not wise but skillful. But at what?

-Albert Camus, excerpt from Notebooks 1935-1951

The hot morning trade winds had come. They blew in offshore from the east, blanketing the island in volcanic fog. The humidity was 84% and the heat index read 93 for midday, and although only into the first part of seven o’clock, it was climbing by the quarter hour. The few early morning swimmers who had come to the beach for a dip were already packing their oversized pink hotel towels and bottles of water into their bright canvas beach bags and heading for their cars and the showers in the shade to rinse the salt off. Most of the tourists already had salmon sunburns on their calves and backs from previous days of vacationing. The local early morning risers—surfer boys, a few Filipino fishermen, and housewives walking their dogs—stayed longer. 

            On the far left side of W. Bay there was a pile-up of black lava rocks that had been pushed into place by the waves and tides. Flat gray and red-shelled crabs scattered across the rocks seeking out cracks of shade much like the tourists heading for their rented convertibles. Past the black rocks, around the corner there was another section of beach that could only be accessed by a small pathway hidden with lilikoi vines and part of a sacred Hawaiian heiau. This more secret and closed-off part of the beach was empty except at the far left end where two women in large sunglasses swam about in the water, happy.

                                                ***

Shirley and Jane swam in small circular patterns in a shallow part of the bay, a sandy-bottomed section carved out between the reef and mossy rocks below. Shirley had a neon yellow and black snorkeling mask on and was diving down to the reef and holding on to a purple piece of coral to look at a parrotfish’s vibrant scales that were rippling back and forth in the fractured sunlight seeping through the water. The fish was gnawing with its beak-lips at a swaying pile of algae that was attached to the reef by its stem.  Shirley kept her eye out for the moray eel she’d seen a week ago around this spot. She was scared she might actually see it but even more so that she might not see it and have it be there the whole time.

Careful where she placed her feet, she looked through algae and sea cucumber patches for something long and snaky trying to blend in to the sand. Finding nothing and running out of air, she plunged back up to the surface where Jane was floating. Her legs spread wide, her head was back and eyes closed. Sun drenched the top half of Jane's skin and she looked like she was asleep atop the water. Shirley went up to her and put a sea cucumber on her stomach. Jane, trying to pretend like she didn’t care or even notice stayed flat until the cucumber slid off and then she got Shirley and splashed water at her.

Save for the heat it was a perfect day at the beach; the sky truly azure with white clouds puffy and cartoon-like.

The water was absolutely fluorescent. Electric-blue and deep school-uniform blue. The reef fish bobbed about to various sea currents. Pulling and swaying, in and out, back and forth, constantly all day long, the in and out of the reef fish and the algae and general mood of the place. Small schools swam quickly by the slender legs of the ladies and realizing no food was coming from these two, slid off into another pocket of the reef to continue hunting. 

As Shirley looked around her she felt some kind of liquid transparency fall over her being as she eyed every living thing with quiet ecstasy. All became brighter and better, more beautiful and less believable as real and she knew it was the magic of the day because this sort of thing had happened to her once or twice before and she would say it was as if the day was living her and not the other way around. 

The morning light was so bright that Shirley squinted as she dried off and Jane grabbed her dark green sunglasses. The air was heavy as a Persian rug, instantly fogging Jane’s glasses against her damp cheeks.

The two picked up their towels, shook off the chunky sand and headed for the path. As they walked the top of Shirley’s head burned from the sun and the bottoms of their feet burned from the heating sand and as they walked up the hill it felt slightly like drowning, the air heavy with water molecules.

           The palms slowed and even the waves seemed to roll in at a deliriously sluggish pace. As they walked up the path Shirley felt odd—as if her breath had stopped because her adrenaline had suddenly exploded. It was an instantaneous feeling, one that made her think she could telepathically feel that right at this moment something was happening to someone close to her. Something big. Maybe something bad.

            Shirley stopped right in the middle of the narrow dirt path and turned around, swinging her red surfboard with her, to look about. She could feel the connection from the invisible psychic strings attaching her to Jane and Jane to her and her to the water and the trees.   Jane, who had been walking in front of Shirley and talking mindlessly, took a minute to notice that Shirley had stopped.  She proceeded to stand there in the middle of the hidden dirt path with the overgrown bougainvillea, agitated, darting her eyes. Trying to feel it out.  Jane motioned to the surrounding island cliff-side and shrugged her shoulders, trying to catch her breath, slightly irritated that Shirley had stopped their hiking flow up the steep path.  Shirley, not sure of what it could be, if anything, continued walking. 

2.

 

            The women flung the water-heavy towels over the balcony to dry in the heat, squinting from the brightness of the day. Jane saw a family of turtles bobbing up and down next to the reef where they’d just been snorkeling out through the sliding glass porch doors. Clouds moved across the sky, stopping their pace when Shirley glanced up.

            Jane made darjeeling tea for two, twisting the little purple packet-casings off the string while she waited for the water to boil. Shirley went down the street to the gas station to pick up the paper and get fresh cream for the tea and check the mail from the box.

The front page story of the Island News was titled: “Young Girl Attacked By Shark.”  Shirley's eyes became extra focused as she read, crossing the street back to her place and hiking up the hill while she took in the events of the unexpected attack. What transfixed Shirley’s attention most was the vitality and instant life and death situations that just seemed to happen with no controlling force. There was no right way or wrong way to an event like a shark attack; there just was. That danger, death, and life could switch up so quickly, out of the blue, was a truth Shirley was not willingly prepared to face. 

Why? She thought to herself. Why couldn't she admit that this was a death realm too? She was not particularly squeamish, but there was something about it that she was aware she preferred not to confront as per the culture.

She saw sharks hiding in the plumeria trees and wondered if she too would be eaten by a shark.

They sat, drinking tea in silence as Jane read the article about the young girl.

She sighed and muttered, “Oh no, no no,” the way a mother says no when their toddler spills red grape juice on white furniture. 

Shirley pushed the shark’s jaws out of her mind and thumbed through the mail, opening a letter from her sister, Lola.

Shirley carefully opened it with her snake shaped letter opener and pulled out the letter. The stationary was light brown Japanese rice paper and he had used a hard black pen to write:

Dearest Sister Shirley,

I came across this Japanese stationary store today in the city and of course it made me think of you and how much you love all the beautiful accoutrements of this culture. it reminds me of when we were children and would eat those rice candies wrapped in paper and how magical it was because we could eat the paper too. Which, of course made me think of how our parents tricked us into eating seaweed when we were little by telling us it was paper.

Who does that?! Ha ha ha. Missing you here right now, where I'm having a cuppa and Daiquiri is snoring in my lap, oblivious that anything bad could ever happen in the world. We should only hope for as much.     

Big Love,

Lola XO

PS. Are you visiting Grace this summer? 

Shirley closed the letter and smiled and she told Jane we needed more tea. 

Jane had put down the newspaper and was thinking about getting some kind of chemical face-lift and if the pain and requisite redness would be worth it. Shirley assured her to at least wait until her 40's and to stop being so self-possessed and concerned with such minimal realities.

Shirley went through the rest of the mail that was wholly unexciting except for a small postcard tucked in between her phone bill and her car insurance bill. Shirley and Jane sat there, feeling accomplished and completely not-so at the same time. 

This was their summertime college break routine day in and day out when Robert was out of town. He worked in Honolulu on the main island during the week and flew home on the weekends to be with Shirley. On a very clear day if you squinted at the horizon you could see the thin sliver of Oahu where Robert was the coach for the university's sailing team. They were a top-ranked team in the nation and even worldwide and Robert loved nothing more than to fly free though the wind and air on the boats and race. 

During the week Jane, Shirley's lifelong best friend, would come over to Shirley's early and they'd swim before it got too hot. They tracked the UV on a website and would plan accordingly, but generally if they were in and out of the water and back into the shade of the house by 9am they were good on sun exposure. 

If the total summation their lives so far could be painted as one moment,  it would be this one. The two women in the living room overlooking the bay, with two cups of tea, sitting in silence,  resting from their morning surf and snorkel, letting their hair dry. It was a quiet meditation of days followed in routine that escaped most of the burden of everyday hustle and bustle. A special pocket that wouldn't be repeated as such.  

From the living room, the entire bay was in view wrapping around the island like a crescent moon lapping the sand.  The waves were now nonexistent, every ripple from this morning totally flat.

“Like mirror glass,” said Jane upon noticing this small fact.

The main island road was down the cliff and veered off to the right of the mountain, to head north. In the distance, from the house one could hear the two lanes of traffic steadily sliding forward. The bay dominated the majority of the view until met with the horizon line of a whiter blue haze. Some days the vog from the volcano came in with the East winds and bogged the sky. Today, the trades had stopped by mid morning and the air was too still for any vog to make its way from the volcano on the distant big island. It was a pleasant change from the trade winds that usually dominated the East Side of the island making low-laying trees grow at certain tilts and encouraged the tides to deliver more trash from Overseas fishing barges to float in through the channels and wash up on shore. As children we used to pick through it and make castles out of the foreign garbage.

Apart from the panoramic view of bay and beach, the only other view was out on the porch.  Sitting on the left side of the porch, Shirley and Robert could watch the sun descend over the mountains behind them, setting west and heading for the Sandwich Island Atolls. When the sun—taking its last flash for the day—hit the mountains, the entire range would light up, accentuating the carved details that waterfalls and volcanic eruptions had formed over the millions of years and gave it the true majestic fame it had been renowned for. In the radiance of the decreasing sun, soft oranges and singular strands of gold poured over the top of Mount Wai'ale'ale, showering down to the crests of waves on the East side until slowly it would turn to a dark blue soft gray and the twilight would emerge and it would be time for the remaining surfers to get out of the water.

The mountain range in the middle of the island peered over the right side of their rooftop and a slice of mountain and sea, both the most strikingly beautiful parts of the island, were the views they looked at each day. Day in and day out.  In the winter when the rains came the red dirt slid down the cliffs into the storm drains and made a red sea for half a mile out in the bay.  Being surrounded with all this natural beauty changed Shirley and Jane’s and Robert's lives.

Time would be generous during these silent moments because the two felt at peace with everything, despite the rest of the world situation. A click of a button and TV news was nothing more than an idea. Foreign wars and deceitful leaders vanished from the world of palm fronds and papaya.

Shirley and Jane weren’t saintly; they were middle class in a first world country that had not experienced war in their lifetimes, surrounded by an unfathomable natural beauty that made them trust in God if god was the reality around them, not despise.

Even the shark biting the girl. She lived. And this was all part of the cycle of this place. From the living room, they could accept that as truth.

After getting stoned on the porch many a time to consider this very fact in the late afternoons, lighting citronella candles and clearing their throats and washing it down with water, this is what they always came to conclude. That it really had nothing to do with them at all and there really was no free will. They were merely actors on a stage that had been predestined for them; pre-decided and therefore all that was required was participation. And compassion for the fellow actors in the scene.

Shirley would sit cross-legged and comfortable in a cotton dress while Jane preferred to stay in her leopard print swimsuit and lean forward on the couch in an English riding style with both legs on one side perched against each other like apricots. Smiling, tan. Her bathing suit would always leave a little salt-water stain on the couch that Shirley never pointed out but noticed. The women would sit discussing the latest book they’d read, the newest recipe almost always involving fish and mango with champagne, and they would allow the sun, not usually so intense, to dry their hair and warm their legs.  

Today was a day like any other in the order of things. A morning swim, a cup or two of Darjeeling, Shirley’s quite predictable and satisfying silent morning with Jane. Chitchat about the locals, investments, upcoming trips, health of family members. Life was not trite because after all, it was what was happening.

Something felt slightly different today, though. Something felt slightly "off" or nuanced every day, but it was usually expertly covered by mango recipes and headline news and tea with women. Anything to feel attractive and immortal.  

On this particular Saturday, Shirley felt conventional and alone.  Even though Jane was sitting with her. These moments in the kidney living room when the sun streamed in a flushing warmness were eternal for Shirley. They were ubiquitous, quiet, and calm and offered the peace of what was and what is and in the very least, Shirley and Jane could contemplate it. 

Jane would lean forward, her shining face illuminated against her jet-black hair, wild green eyes in the brightest of morning lights. She was usually laughing, a huge wide mouth with a set of perfect white teeth.

Shirley could feel the sincerity of Jane’s happiness pouring through her like water rushing and bursting the French doors on the balcony open, but couldn’t help feeling that it was of the ignorant sort. For hours and hours until improvement comes and an increasing awareness arises.  Jane was good at flooding Shirley with animated and transparent heat waves. Look good and make others feel good about themselves by looking at her and feeling that they too were capable of something as plain and simple as feeling good like how beauty just feels good.  But on this particular day—which had so far been balmy, repetitive in thought, and rather tiring—Jane wasn’t the only one to flood Shirley. She received a visitor.

 

3.

“Oh!” cried Rhiannon out loud, truly surprised.  She had been in a humid, aimless space. Shooting up from the couch, she ran over to a small white dove that had flown straight into the glass doors, and crouching down to inspect it saw that it was now laying belly up on the porch tile. Rhiannon frantically pulled back the glass doors, stepped onto the patio, and scooped up the bird that twitched its beak once and then stopped moving.

“Dead,” said Rhiannon aloud. She felt she was announcing it to an audience of silent judicial faces looking at her, who then proceeded to mark down on their notepads a guilty verdict. They were watching her and contemplating the next thing to do. To see if she were capable of dealing with a bird. 

With this heat, anything with a beating heart could surely perish, so Rhiannon—on the off chance that it were still alive—scooped up the bird in a towel, careful not to touch it’s little bird body and brought it inside. She didn’t want to further upset it or intrude on its simple nature. Little aviating orb.  She also thought one could never be too careful, never too antiseptic. The bird could be carrying a bird virus and Rhiannon had just finished a cold.  Sometimes she forgot to recognize her own self as organic and natural because she could get so carried away through her mind and completely detach from the fact that she too would one day perish. Like this bird, she would one day hit a glass wall and pop her lid off. And she was scared to die and that’s the real reason she picked the bird up with one of her pink, fluffy towels instead of her hands.

I’m afraid to die, Rhiannon thought to herself.

Rhiannon and Jane sat, watching the thing, silently sipping what was left of their tea.

“I hope it’s not dead. I saw my calico cat catch a bird once and hold it in her jaws as she ran up the yard towards me to give me the gift. I grabbed her and pried open her teeth and the bird flew away, alive and unharmed. That death could be evaded every now and then amazed me.”

Jane listened as Rhiannon talked, smiling sweet and rocking slowly back and forth on the oak rocking chair.

They waited for eight minutes, and then Rhiannon leaned close to the flying white one, listening for a murmur.  Life spit out fortune cookies and fireballs and the little dove must have just received a rather unpleasant fortune because who wants to smash into a glass wall?

It must be devastating. 

Suddenly the dove shot open its eyes, looked straight at Rhiannon and righting itself, took off around the odd-shaped room, flying and flapping uncontrollably. It rested on the TV stand and then the vase of white roses that were wilting and stinking up the room with the smell of rotting botanicals. With a slow swooping movement, the bird took off for the shiny glass doors that had been closed to keep the heat out. Now that they’d been closed, the dove slammed into the doors a second time and in horror Rhiannon knew that this time it was dead for good.  It bounced backwards with the precision of a racquetball hitting the back wall and dropped onto the carpet with a small and contained thunk.

This time Rhiannon and not the forever unknowing Blue Sky was responsible for the flying death escapade. A little trickle of blood dripped down the dove’s white coat onto the rug, making three little dots that absorbed immediately into the carpeting.  In a perfect line, Rhiannon noted, already planning in her head which cleaning solution would get it out.

It seemed that moment was to last a thousand cracks of Father Time’s whip.         Rhiannon stood there watching the bird hit the glass over and over and over like an art flick at the Guggenheim with lights streaking on and off, a distorted camera lens getting a shot of the three dots appearing on the rug. Thunk thunk thunk, black and white the color then nothing then darkness and it starts again.

Outside the glass doors, Rhiannon’s shout—shouted from the deepest of her heart-felt capabilities—was muffled by the waves that rolled again endlessly all over the increasingly hot island. Wailing noises came in volcanic eruption segments, eventually slowing to whimpers, silent, unforced, and then stillness.

Rhiannon was a watery little island. She knew she had been feeling like that all morning, and then this had to go happen and, for fuckssake, why the emotional heart-feeling? Could she ever just get on with it like a road worker laying the new asphalt, just ride the flattening machine and squint in the hot sun, too busy to think of anything other than the fact that it must be even and it must be flat?  Couldn’t this simplicity be okay?

Like a rock, her shout, followed by a steady whimpering, proved that today was truly a day for the gods to take to the party and tromp on, drunk and helpless, only to be left in the clogged bathroom to vomit up the events. An innocent died because of her stupidity.

In heat-induced delirium Rhiannon always forgot everything. Of course the bird would come-to and when it did it would be terrified to see her googly eyes staring down at it and the bird would bolt for the familiar blue sky that it was used to.

4.

Shirley was beside herself and cried for the little bird.

Jane, rather bereaved with Shirley’s actions, got up and made herself busy putting dishes into their cupboard homes, trying to stack quietly. 

Shirley decided to take the bird down to the beach and set it free of the boundary of the house—such an unsatisfactory place for the bird to leave the body—so that the bird would at least be released of the constraints set forth by human coincidence.

“Jane, I’m going to take this poor little thing down to the water. You know, give it a little ceremony. Let it decompose naturally.”

“Kay. Sounds good.  I’ll stay here. I’ve had too much sun already. I can feel it wrinkling me.” Jane touched her face.

“I’ve had too much too, but what’s another ten minutes in one’s life?” As Shirley said this she realized that for the dove those ten minutes were the difference between one world and the next. Between life and death. Between flying through the air and breaking its skull on the double-paned glass of the house that it couldn't see.

Because it had been frenzied and afraid. Shirley picked up the bird in the pink lace towel and took off for the beach.

*

As she left the house she could hear Jane putting on flamenco music and as she headed down the winding path she saw Jane start to dance wildly in front of the large bay windows. Shirley paused a moment on the path and stood there watching Jane sway and twirl, more of a Sufi Zikr than contemporary dance. She was all sex in her bathing suit and if Shirley listened closely she could make out the guitar strings plucking away over the rolling thud of water lapping the sand nearby.

As Jane danced, Shirley thought she was beautiful. She stood staring and wondered why Jane could feel free to dance in the midst of the day and she, Shirley, felt anything but, felt sadness and guilt and irresponsibility that she'd just killed a living being that was likely going about its day.

Jane had pulled her hair back with a nylon band and flexed her long slender fingers taut in rhythmic jaunts. Her eyes were closed and yet her movement indicated she knew the exact currents of every life energy in the room, music, island.

Shirley watched and felt her own mortal contraction as she watched her friend, like she was not allowed to know this freedom herself--that she was even scared of it!--witnessing something so free. A silhouette animated by a zinging current. Shirley looked down at the white bird that was folded in between the hand towel, wondering if it noticed these things when it was alive.

Why wasn't ecstasy the norm for Shirley? Why was she feeling so uptight? 

The  dove was flying along in the heat when down below he spotted something shimmering.  The shiny object which was a holographic spiral that Shirley had hung in the window because it reminded her of her mother who loved holographic anything and seeing it bounce around in the light made her think of her mother and smile. 

Glass isn’t a solid, it is merely suspended for long periods of time and if one were to stop the clock and check back at 112 Orchid Manor in a few decades one would see that the glass had slowly dripped down, pulled by gravity. And one day it would completely disintegrate.

*

Jane continued in her twirling dervish dance for the entirety of Shirley’s beach outing. Being fluid and flexible, ready and accepting—this is what was before us. Jane didn’t know that of course—that she was indeed doing such an important dance--but it could have been a help to her to know the more accurate and in-depth examination required of life.

Shirley made her way down the little secret garden pathway that separated the house from the scorching hot sand and little black crabs that scurried for cover as soon as you saw them. She got down onto the beach with the bright sun broiling down on her and smelled the algae rotting in the heat.

She was mad at the sun for being so bright! It made it nearly impossible for one to think straight, let alone perform an eulogy for a bird. She looked around to make sure no one was watching and then, holding the dead bird in both her hands she carefully climbed up the lava rock pileup on the corner of the beach. Standing on the furthest rock that jutted over the water she held the bird in the towel next to her body in an act of love and care.

“Today is a beautiful day and you are a beautiful bird. I am sorry my stupidity ended your life early. I hope you did not leave a family behind. I am very sorry. I wish I could take it back.”

Shirley tossed the bird into the sea and watched its small body hit the water. It sank a few inches and then bobbed against the rocks below and then took a progressive descent, until it was out of sight. Shirley sighed. 

Shirley sat down on the hot black lava rocks, letting it burn the back of her legs. It felt good.  She picked at the little weeds growing out of a clump of dried dirt and flung them where the bird had been descending. She cupped her hands over her eyes and looked into the water.

The ocean was like a lake, almost completely flat. It was the kind of day that tourists from far away like Duluth and Toledo were promised from their travel agents. The kind of day that secretaries had screen savers of in cubicles in Tigard and Valencia and Fort Worth. She was glad the visitors would get what they'd come for. It was the island's main economy.

Leaning over the smooth lava rock, Shirley closed her eyes and let the hot wind push her back and forth.

Small waves were slowly returning with the tide change and rhythmic lapping began again. Sweat slid down her cleavage and down her back. Shirley breathed deep and inhaled air into her lungs. But the air was musky. Heavy. Full of water. 

           Shirley was so hot that she leapt up and slipped soundlessly into the water, the only noise a few bubbles covering the place where she had gone under.

           Shirley felt relieved as she sank into the deeper water where it was darker and cool. She opened her eyes and her mouth closed; small bubbles escaped from her nose every few moments. Shirley relaxed into her floating sink, spreading her arms as her dress rippled through the water. 

She felt her body slowly rising back towards the surface. The water felt so good in all this heat.   

 

 

 

5.

Back at 112 Orchid Manor, Jane jutted her hips back and forth. Her black hair slicked against her face with sweat, wild green eyes flared with each pluck of the flamenco guitar. She went over to the stereo and turned the volume knob up and up.

She let the music outgrow the walls of the house, moving her cells. 

For the past twenty-five minutes she danced and it hadn’t occurred to her why Shirley would be gone for so long in such dreadfully hot conditions. At this time of day, she was likely to get sun poisoning! Jane snapped off the flamenco and put on an old recording of Bob Marley.

Jane slowly nodded her head to the reggae beat, closing her eyes and wishing she was stoned. She got up to go dig through Shirley’s nightstand in hopes of finding an old joint and as she went she floated by a mirror in the hallway. Parallel to the moment Shirley slipped off the small cliff edge, Jane looked into the hallway mirror and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she couldn’t quite pinpoint.

Jane flicked her hair, ignored the feeling, and entered the bedroom.

Opening the top drawer of Shirley’s dresser, Jane gasped as she saw a picture of herself with Shirley at last year’s Christmas party. In the photo she was wearing a dress she’d bought many years ago. In the picture, Jane’s eyes seemed to jump out of her face and she had too much black eye-liner on. As she looked at herself in the picture, Jane realized she looked vacant. Like she hadn’t yet developed any real sense of anything beyond basic superficial survival existence. In a moment of rare self-reflection, Jane realized that her entire sphere of influence up to this point in her life had been people her age that were nearly identical to her, taking clues from the fashion magazines and the movies and the books and internet about what it meant to be happy and live a full life.

Jane took the picture over to the mirror on Shirley’s vanity and looked at the mirror, holding up the picture next to herself. She examined both Janes. Again, the worried feeling returned as she looked at herself in the mirror. What was it? She looked harder at her face in the mirror, hoping the feeling would pinpoint. Looking at the old Christmas photo, she could see that in her eyes there was a vagueness. In fact, she was certain she had learned this look from the fashion magazines! And, in the picture of her in the dress, she could see she was trying to copy this look! Jane smiled and looked back at her reflection in the mirror and did the same pose as she was doing in the picture. Then she stopped smiling and examined both Janes more closely. The eyes. The vagueness. The sinking feeling was there again. It was the feeling that she was still vague in the eyes. She forgot the Jane from the picture and looked at herself in the mirror, trying to figure something out about it. For a moment she stayed like that, trying to source where she was.  She put the picture back in the drawer and continued looking for a joint.

She opened Shirley’s mother’s jewelry box on top of the dresser thinking this would be a good place to store hash. Jane remembered the story of this box and the jewelry in it that Shirley had told her:

“She told me to go through it and find a few pieces that I liked. She said that when she died she would give it all to me and Lola anyway so we might as well have it now.  I reminded her that she was only fifty and we laughed together.  I took diamonds, an old snuffbox, and an antique purse. I was scared. About death. That my own mother had been thinking about it.”

            Jane sighed and shut the lid of the box tight. Then she saw a tape cassette wedged between the jewelry box and the mirror as if it had fallen. She opened it and found a little roach in an empty tape cassette. Jane smiled at her unexpected success. Lighting up the small remains of a joint, and taking small, frequent hits, Jane sat at the vanity and stared at herself as she blew smoke. She fingered the various jewels that were Shirley’s mother’s.  When all had been smoked and Jane was stoned, she went back to the living room to wait for Shirley to return.

6.

Shirley poured herself another cup of tea, the hot steam rising from the kettle, briefly kissing her face on its heaven-bound journey. Relaxing in her cozy little front room, which always reminded her of the pituitary gland—the central unit, Shirley looked at the clock and thought about Robert and when he was due back.  She would stay in his arms until the sun explodes. 

7.

Shirley, who was feeling ridiculous in retrospect of the day’s events, sighed and asked Jane what was so interesting about her reflection as Jane had been looking at herself in the hallway mirror for the past few minutes. 

Jane did not answer but seemed to be experimenting with her eyeballs somehow. The vague smell of pot lingered and Shirley realized her friend was merely stoned. Shirley told Jane she was off to shower before Robert’s return home.  It was already late afternoon.

The soap and the steam, the little compartment alone, a compartment within a compartment within a compartment that’s what the little shower inside the little bathroom inside the little house on top of the little hill that overlooked the little bay on the tiny little island was to Shirley. The safest place she could possibly be in the whole world; a man-made womb, the very inmost chamber of the nautilus shell. 

But safe from what? Why the need for all the alone time and safety? From what, Shirley asked herself. 

She analyzed herself and realized that she preferred to be disconnected to her feeling relationship to life nearly 100% of the time. In fact, she was so cut off from it all that she might as well be an inanimate object! 

Alone in the bathroom in the steamy and relieving shower, her mind could admit its deepest thoughts. She would sit down on the tile floor, right under the shower head and let it stream down on her. She would position her head right in the middle of the circle of water that danced down to her shoulders and back so that she could breathe and keep her eyes open while she was being drenched, immersed nicely with hot water. And today, as with all other days, she could let herself down and lower her shoulders. She soaped up with a lavender soap and scrubbed her pink washcloth up and down her face, hands, and legs.

Shirley thought of the cows in the pasture by the baseball field. She thought how they seemed happy when she drove by them the previous day. She thought of Mr. and Mrs. Macadangdang at the farmer’s market last week. They were so happy, selling tangelos and anthuriums, smiling under their dark green canopy, the sun slanting just so that their teeth were lit up against their Filipino skin. They always recognized her and called her by her first name. She was happy for this. 

Rhiannon thought of Robert’s mouth, always down-turned in the corners. How she was surprisingly intrigued by his pout. She wanted him to smile and loved it when he did. The stars, extra bright that night they first met, she was so shy that night.  As he signed the bill, his hand shook. That’s when Shirley began to smile, realizing he was as nervous as she was. She liked him all the more. Steam saturated the bathroom as Shirley dreamed away. His last name was Love, too. Can you believe it? Robert love. If she married him she could be Shirley Love. 

            She leaned against the side of the wall and let the water pelt, wrapping her arms around her legs for support.  Closing her eyes and tilting her head up she let the steam and hot water infuse her and let her go away from this place. Then she decided to shave her legs.   

But because she was daydreaming and not paying so much attention, Shirley cut herself with the razor. Blood dripped down her inner right thigh. She had cut herself shaving the curvy bikini area and blood poured down, mixing and diluting with the warm water. Shirley found the cut by blocking the water and seeing where a thin line of red popped up on her thigh and smeared it with her index finger and then put it to her lips and tasted it.  Dark and salty.  Deciding she would have to get out to really stop the bleeding, Shirley turned off the water and squeezed the extra water out of her hair while cleaning the glass shower door with the squegee. No rings of water this way; no residue for later. 

This is the moment everything in the day had led up to. And Shirley didn’t even know. How could her limited mind know? All she knew was that as she attached a piece of toilet paper to her inner thigh where the cut was, for some reason she got incredibly mad.  Everything in her life had been so controlled, so mediocre, and it would most likely continue in that fashion until her death forty or fifty years from now.  Her fury seemed to burst from the cut on her leg and take over. It traveled up her nerves and entered her brain suddenly, and with a dash of furious. And her eyes, her eyes that were so lovely took on a rage of their own in her white bathroom. They took her. And then she looked straight into the mirror and knew. Eyes wild, she breathed deep, a long infusing breath right through her nostrils and into her lungs and then she closed those wild eyes of hers and no longer needed them.  

 And she fell, arms open like Jesus.  She leaned forward like she was taking a swan dive.  Shirley fell through the mirror. It was foggy in her bathroom, the tiles were slippery and she felt her feet give way when she stepped out and then it was too late. She thought the countertop would stop her, thought she would in fact smash against it, like will stopping up against itself and offering no clue to the exit.  But she slid right into the mirror. No amazing Houdini tricks. No Bellagio fireworks water show and no delusions of grandeur. It was just part of the day. A scheduled appointment that you will never miss.  

A rather small and shimmering wall of quicksilver, she just soaked right up into it, lapping like a regular occurrence, a car wash on a Sunday afternoon by Girl Scout troop 139. And to tell you the truth, the truth that does not make it on to these pages, Shirley never returned. That moment, careening into the glass was it for Miss Shirley Mercy Pastel. 

8.

“You have wakened not out of sleep, but into a prior dream, and that dream lies within another, and so on, to infinity, which is the number of grains of sand. The path that you are to take is endless, and you will die before you have truly awakened.”― Jorge Luis Borges

With no brain, fade away. Gone. She stepped in and watched herself go, naked and rippling into the thousand machinations; the dawn light. A perfect fractal. A perfect golden ratio, nautilus mathematics, that’s how natural her death and re-birth was.  She watched from the other side and bore testament to her own flowering. She slipped into the mirror, black cracks and all, and went. It was a rather quiet event.  No one saw it happen.  And she knew no one would believe her. So she told no one. Real as the blood stains on the carpet, real as the alarm clock, and real as the Old Japanese Fisherman Dragging Net painting her grandmother gave her that hung in her living room to this day.

At first, maybe to subdue the fear, it was likened to the entrance of a fancy hotel: big open rooms with Victorian décor and mood lighting that makes you feel like you deserve it. It was there to sex you up; it was there to make you feel pleasured, make it worth your while.  Amidst it all, there was the luxury of the infamous hippopotamus mouth, letting you saunter by, stepping on his molars, excruciatingly holding his jaw open for you. She tasted them all equally and kept walking.

And then she was born.

The pool was really a dark and tiny little thing, with brown and yellow churning waters that kept splashing her, making her uncomfortable. No moon sky.

Time to go, they said. Surely there was a way out.  Into the dark, warm and stale water that was like hurricane seas christened red from mud that has slid from mountains miles away. It all mixed together in sharky momentum.

The fan was circulating and she could see blind. And she could feel in her heart and then things sped up. Shirley gasped, she grabbed the sides of the pool but they were slipping away from her, too slippery with blood to catch. The womb, inside the womb she was being placed and being shoved down into this unpeaceful place. She felt uncomfortable. She felt unsatisfactory to go down there. Roses danced and fell in and rotted at supersonic speed. She was delirious. She was fainting and falling into the world. Stars danced cha cha as the sun rose and out popped little pink and forlorn Shirley Mercy Pastel.  The sky was dark and brilliant in its light and all was surrounded by swirling, vibrant colors.

9.

            Robert waited for Shirley to return. He was wondering where she could have possibly gone on this muggy Saturday afternoon. He sifted through the closet putting his clothes from his trip in the laundry. Then he sat at the edge of the bed rubbing his temples and undoing the top buttons of his shirt. He pulled off his socks with his toes and laid back on the mountain of pillows that Shirley created every morning in various ways.

            Putting a pillow over his eyes he listened to the two red cardinals outside having a chirping war and he thought he could distinguish the sound of meaning behind all the high pitched tones. It seemed to him that the bigger of the cardinals was letting the smaller know that he was entitled to more crumbs because of the pecking order. But in hasty response, the smaller of the birds pointed out that it was he that needed more because he was still growing and would one day outgrow the larger one and have the control. It was in the larger one’s interest to serve the smaller so that that he would remember him when he was big and mighty.      

The chirping (seemed to) continue in this circularity and Robert tuned them out.  Laying amongst the pillows Robert tried to unwind from his trip. The pikake flowers outside spilled in through the air coming in through the window and slowly the heavy mess of the world faded.

            Rolling over on his side, Robert felt something jabbing into his side. Reaching down in his pocket, he pulled out a tiny porcelain dove that he’d bought at the airport for Shirley that day. Turning it over in his hands, he wondered why he’d bought it. He held the little dove in his palm until he fell asleep and it slipped out onto the floor and under the bed.

            Robert dreamed he was observing himself sleep in the room. He sat in a chair and watched his body breathe in and out. He moved around the bed and watched his form greedily sleeping, regaining his strength. He then went out the window and sat on the branch perch with the two red cardinals. They were still bickering about the pecking order and treated Robert with little interest although they knew he was there on the branch. Robert thought he was a bird too. He flew off that branch and onto the roof of the house where he saw the sun sinking slowly into the western sky. Completely undeniable. Cocking his head to the left with his eye on the sun, he decided he wanted to follow the sun. Surging forward, off of the roof, he flew towards the bright orb, happy.

He woke and sat up from his dream, and went into the kitchen and poured himself some iced tea that was in the refrigerator.  As he shut the fridge door, Shirley fell onto the shaggy white bath mat from thin air. Her body landed like a teardrop lands on a flat surface—one tiny little plop followed by many ripples. She stood up, felt her naked body, looked in the mirror, realized all was right, and put on her bathrobe to go and join Robert out in the kitchen.  All that remained were three small dots of blood on the white shag mat from where she'd cut her leg shaving.

            He was pleased to see her. They embraced and kissed. Robert drank the hibiscus tea and smacked his lips together. Down the hallway to the bedroom. Jane was nowhere to be seen although Shirley was sure she must still be around somewhere. 

            Robert and Shirley lay down in bed together with the pillows about, holding one another. They were peaceful and quiet. The stars had come up over W. Bay and a little sliver of moon could be seen rising over the mountains in the distance. The African tulip branches bent in the light winds and everything sighed in relief as the heat of the day died away and the brilliant sky could be tasted everywhere. Normal was the evening, quiet was the night, and as the lovers embraced, they exhaled simultaneous long, deep breaths that passed them both into their dreaming state. There was only one red cardinal quiet in the tree, the other flown away.