Friday, August 26, 2011

Part 1

Vera Langstrom was born in her mother's queen bed on a farm in Wisconsin, in 1925. She was born healthy, with bright blue eyes that later faded into a steely gray, and a healthy head of curly brown hair. She was born full of promise, as all children are, but she went on to lead an unremarkable life. She married young, and later moved with her husband to Washington, where he had a job selling insurance in the suburbs of Seattle. They lived in an apartment, and then when the children came they moved out into the same nieghborhood her husband paced with his briefcase. They bought a small house, where she laundered and cooked and reprimanded and consoled, and where she grew delicate flowers in tiny pots, and where first her husband, and then she, died.

Perhaps it is not completely accurate to say that she died in the house, but it was there that she suffered the heart attack that later took her life in a small, brightly lit hospital room. Her family was with her, but they left one by one as the night wore on. After a few hours, an orderly came and removed Vera's body, bundling it out of the room in a neat parcel. This left Vera herself alone.

At first, she was transfixed by the sheer brightness and lightness of the room. Even after the orderly had extinguished the lights, and she had remained alone for some time in the darkness, she was gripped by a queer sort of fascination. When she finally ventured a movement, the slow curl of her own fingers was a shock to her. She gazed at the hand—hers, familiar in every detail—and wondered.

Vera had never been a religious woman; her forte was more in the practical sphere, with mouths to feed and faces to wash and lawns to be mown. Sunday mornings had been sacred to her, but not for the usual reasons. She went to the church at the end of their cul-de-sac for the peace and quiet. While the rest of the congregation prayed, she settled in solitude with her own thoughts. Very few of those thoughts had been directed towards any afterlife; she would cross that bridge when she came to it.

As, it seemed, she had. She rolled off of the bed and stood, her knees creaking with the memory of arthritis. She dusted herself off, and felt the rough texture of wool under her fingers; she looked down to find that she was wearing her favorite skirt, which swayed around her ankles as it had in life, and the pink sweater she had received for a Mothers’ Day long past. Her feet were bare, but the cold floor did not seem to reach them. She rested a hand on the rumpled sheet of the hospital bed, but it felt as though a waxy layer of air separated her from its cool linen.

The room as a whole was unsatisfying to Vera. She looked from window to wall to door for a few moments, and found herself repulsed by the bright white newness of the walls; the floor was an affront in its scintillating flawlessness. The darkness beyond the window seemed more welcoming, and so she left the room, following the hallway towards the main entrance. She followed a woman in scrubs through the doors, which opened obediently for the living. The nurse leaned against a wall and lit a cigarette. Vera moved out into the night.

At first she did not think of a destination. Rather, they called out to her, enticing her closer. A copse of trees beside a market seemed inviting; on closer inspection, they were barely saplings, and from their midst gazed luminous eyes. A tall house in an old neighborhood sent out waves of solidity, stability, permanence; before she could touch its crumbling wall, a pale face surfaced at the window, and Vera turned away. What propelled her to search, she could not say—it occurred to her that perhaps she was now pressed on by the same unseen force that made birds fly south in the winter. That rang true; she was in search of a nest, perhaps. A place to abide.

The sun passed overhead, and Vera searched onwards. She did not know how far she walked, for her legs did not grow tired as they once had. Her stride lengthened a little as the pain of her final years grew more distant in her memory. The promise of shelter grew more distant as well—everywhere she looked there were new layers of cement, new buildings made cheaply of plaster, new churches that stank of fresh carpet and new, modern foundations. Every so often, she would wander near a more welcoming structure; every time, she was repulsed by a current inhabitant. Some were long and lithe, suggesting an alien grace in their few movements. Other were little more than a pair of eyes, glaring from the mortar between bricks or gazing down from the sockets of a statue.

A kind of hopeless rage began to well up in Vera’s breast. It was a wordless emotion, and it grew heavier and darker with every flimsy development she passed, with every gnarled tree or stately home that rejected her. The newness of the world was a blight on the earth, and she was trapped in a world with no places for her.

After many days—or weeks, or months; her search was as timeless as the earth itself—she was almost ready to give up. She trailed up the slope of a hill, the ground smooth and formless beneath her feet, the grass unmoved by her passing. She realized that she was not going to climb another hill; instead, she would simply sink into the unfeeling ground and dwell there, dissipating into the clay. As she came to the crest, however, a welcoming surge of history greeted her, as fresh as an icy breeze. She gazed down the incline to the rolling dunes and broken shore of the sea.

There is nothing more ancient on this earth than the sea, and the sea belongs to no one. Vera strode down the steep slope, waded through the coarse sea grass, and walked on into the depths of the ocean, where she was welcomed by the deep, timeless, teeming depths.

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