Friday, August 13, 2010

Excerpt 3: From Chapter 3:

He was seven again, and his father had just come home from work. His cheeks were flushed and he pulled a second beer from the fridge as he loosened his tie and walked upstairs aggressively to the master bedroom. He felt like he was in trouble even though his homework was all done. Then there was yelling and the meatloaf got cold on the kitchen counter. Thomas and his sister hid in the basement, playing distractedly with toys until tearfully their parents called them up to eat. There was silence at the table. Nobody spoke as his father stood, walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. The sound of the bottle being opened was followed closely by the slam of the back door.
Thomas was vaguely aware of something cold and metallic being pressed against his cheek. There was a cool hand being laid on his forehead, and his hair was slicked back against his scalp. He was throwing up. Was he in the hospital again?
No. He was eight and still in his boyscout uniform. He didn’t have any merit badges, tonight he was supposed to get his first one. He had held back with all his might. He had felt the sickness coming on as he got on the bus after school, but he had held on. He ate very little dinner and bounced from side to side in his seat, claiming to be too excited, but he was bouncing to stop the nausea. He was turning down the shake n’ bake chicken because it wouldn’t have stayed down. It wasn’t until they pulled into the parking lot of the Lutheran Church on Delancey and he had stepped out of the van that it started. First the milk from dinner, then the warm ovenroll, everything came tumbling out of him. He fell to his hands and knees: fruit punch from lunch, a corn dog, green beans, a piece of gum, and finally a couple of bran flakes. The waves came and left him less. He felt empty and shallow, sweating there in the parking lot of St. Mark’s Evangelical. Hands came around him, lifted him to his feet, and a cloth wiped his mouth. “You made it out of the car at least.” A voice said. But all he could do was look at the vomit, it was failure, he had almost made it. He had almost gotten a badge, he was going to know how to tie knots, or maybe start fires, but that was all over now. With success so close at hand he had thrown up, all over it. Then blackness. And then a voice, humming worriedly, and a cool cloth being wiped across his forehead.
“where am I?” But the words didn’t come out that way.
“Shh. Rest now.”
His eyes opened for single second, expecting to find the lamp next to his boyhood bed, but instead there was fluorescent light, and a water stain above his head. A woman with blonde hair was seated next to him, and he saw the red fullness of her lips, and then blackness.
But in the background the vomiting had stopped.
And the blackness gave way to visions. He was in a crib, and above him was a white washed ceiling. And on the ceiling, above him was a tawny water stain. He reached up with hands too small to be his, and arms too long to belong to the hands, but the ceiling receded as he reached, drawing away from him. The sound of footsteps filled his ears, a horrid marching, as if columns and columns of soldiers were coming.
Thomas focused with all of his power on the water stain. He wanted, no, needed it to be everything but what was around him. He didn’t blink, and in the eternity of the approaching footsteps the ceiling slowly morphed. It wasn’t white washed anymore, it was a ceiling tile, but now his eyes were closed, he knew this, but he could still see, as if his eyelids were sunglasses, and the whole room seemed darker. He was in an aging hospital, and the stain wasn’t just a stain, but it was in the shape of a mating pair of monarch butterflies. This realization led to another more brilliant leap of genius, indeed the tawny water stain was not a butterfly, or even a pair of butterflies, but it was a whole migration of butterflies on their way south to Mexico to die and birth and birth and die. But soon even this was not enough, and the tawny water stain was not an image of migration but of the proud country Bolivia, or more correctly and grandly the Plurinational State of Bolivia, or even more grandly and correctly Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia.
As his mind focused on the stain, the sound of footsteps grew louder and louder ringing with military precision, echoing down the long corridors of the ancient hospital. He soon saw that the map of Bolivia was indeed a perfect cartographic record of the Crab Nebula. In his mind he hoped that might bear a passing resemblance to a scar he’d had since childhood. The scar on his left knee was a result of an experiment with a stolen lighter and various inflammable materials. The resulting explosion left him miraculously unharmed except for the burn on his left knee which now, but that wasn’t right, was it someone else’s knee? The memory seemed to have left him. He felt lighter, nauseous, maybe because of how light he felt. It was like being at the top of a roller coaster hill, only he wasn’t bound to the tracks, he could go down or side to side, or up, forever up held aloft by his own buoyancy. He felt sick with the choices.

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