* * *
Ayesha. Listen. I've been to the building, the temple, again. They were there. Listen. They were chanting and praying. Listen! Those two bald, greasy figures are women! Nuns, I guess. They were praying, shaking and quivering back and forth in their great bundles of robes and sheepskins. Their fingers, all brown and wrinkled, were playing with rosaries as they mumbled. Their eyes rolled, squinted and did not see. What are they? Where is this place? Ayesha? Do you hear me? Hello. Hello, I said. Answer. Answer, dammit! Am I still alive, or am I dead?
* * *
The rectangle of light framed by lightning crack branches was visible. And she was there. For a moment.
* * *
"Uh. Uh," said my brother in the hospital bed, tubes going into his mouth, tubes coming out of his nose. The oxygen bubbled. "Uh. Uh," he said, and exhaling, "Hum!"
* * *
"Uh, uh," she moaned beneath me, a sublime smile spreading across her face. "Hum," she exhaled, and looking at me laughed. "Why are you looking at me so intently? Don't look!" And in answer, I said, "I have to look at you. I have to look! You're angelic. The sight of you is such a delight."
I almost cry to think of that now, in the darkness. Even outside, whatever that means, the blizzard has obscured the mountain.
* * *
"Uh, uh," mumbled the nuns, "Hum!" and so forth into mumbled syllables, occasionally cracked open by a sharp handbell sound or the dull thud of a drum.
"HUM. UH UH. OH MALI PUNG HUM VAH-RAH HUM. OH. OH. HUM."
I did not understand. I watched and watched. Hang on. It will become clear.
* * *
"Oh! Oh!" said my brother with the oxygen tube in his nose. "Oh." He was aware of everything and his mind missed nothing. "Uh. Uh. Hum." His hands quivered and his feet shook beneath the sheet on the bed, unseen, like his wounds.
* * *
The snow was coming down slowly. The distant hills were visible, getting joined together more and more by the whiteness. I saw the nuns come out, collecting the "mud pies" which had been handprinted upon the outside walls previously. They took all of them inside. Later, another day, I saw the women use them for fuel to heat and make a dark drink to which they added chunks of butter. Afterwards they churned it all in a tall cylinder, laughing as they raised and lowered their arms in turn. "UH. UH," said the one churning. "UH. UH," the other said her beads, saying something like "AHMMONEYPEDDLE HUM." I must tell this to Ayesha next time. But where has she been all this time?
* * *
I don't see him. But I feel that he is nearby. I set my teeth and glare into the void. Aha! I hear him! "ERON-NOON-SHIM-TAL," as a whisper it comes, but also as a deadly knife blade to my chest. I lash out at nothing and am surprised by the results. Sparks fly out in all directions, in the darkness. I am surprised by all of this, most of all by my own hands. I look at them, amazed.
* * *
Ayesha. Listen! Do you know where I am? Dammit. I don't mean in the astral realm. I mean the world. What world is it down there? The mountain, etc.? Don't get cute. Just get me the straight information. It might help. If you can't do that, get me out of here. Ayesha? She's gone. Did she hear me? Did she listen at all?
* * *
Whisper. Whisper. What? Whisper. Whisper lapsing into silence. Just breathing.
* * *
"Operator. I would like some information. Will you please tell me the number of Miss Susan..... Oh. Yes. In Manhattan."
* * *
Once I was standing in the backyard of my building. Twilight came. The window was bright. She was there, as usual. Then I could not see her. Suddenly a naked leg rose from somewhere beneath the window in the room. It rose like a white pillar, revealing as far as mid-thigh. Then it descended and the room went dark. What the hell was that all about? Did I imagine it? Did that mean that she was watching me watch her?
The window was dark amongst dark branches all around.
* * *
Susan! Susan! Answer the phone! I know you've got to be there!
* * *
Listen Ayesha. What I think about is none of your business. Only this astral business concerns you. You got me here. You get me out. And why not? Can't you do it? You don't know? Come on, that is silly. How can you not know? I should stop thinking about Susan and perhaps you can do better? Come on, is this a joke? What are you talking about? Don't get hysterical. Ayesha!
Where are you?
* * *
Whisper. Whisper. Lapsing into silence. The two nuns.
* * *
What is there to watch? Here: darkness. Out there: whiteness. I watch myself watch darkness and lightness. No further visits from the blue man nor the monk. No sparks from my fingers.
Darkness watches light.
Light watches darkness.
* * *
My brother had had a stroke. He was pushing a car and he felt it hit. There was nothing to do then. He had had a previous one which had partially paralyzed his arm, but he had worked it out in therapy. "I should have watched myself," he said later, after the second one. "I should have watched my drinking, or stopped it. I should have watched what I did. A person gets older. You can't always push cars. It happened.
It was like a "pop" in my brain. Yes." I knew about it only accidentally. The woman he lived with, her mind half empty from mental problems and her veins half filled with alcohol, told no one, as if to protect herself. Maybe for the Social Security check, I don't know. I stopped to see him. But he was not at his so-called garage, that acres-wide warren of dilapidated barns. I found him, instead, at a nearby hospital. It was a bright blue sky day with balloons taking advantage of the spring weather. They rose, in the distance, silently, seen from his hospital room window. However, more audible were the AH. ROOM! AH. ROOM! from stockcar races closer at hand, but unseen, on the other side of the highway. He was paralyzed from the neck down. I didn't understand why his heart kept beating. I didn't understand why his mind was so clear, so unaffected by the body that might as well have not existed.
"Therapy got me out of this before," he said. "Therapy will do it again."
I wasn't so sure.
Balloons in the air, with red stripes, yellow stripes.
AH. RR-RR- AH. RR-RR.
* * *
The nuns said their beads in the near-darkness. "Uh. Uh. Hum," in a long continuous hums. "AHMMONEYPEDDLE HUM". I watched them for a long time, wondering why they did it. I watched, missing nothing. Not a fraction of a second. But I learned nothing.
* * *
Whisper. Whisper. I could not make out what my brother, with the tubes attached to his face, was saying. I did not know what he was saying.
* * *
Whisper whisper what? Whisper.
I looked at her face. Whisper lapsing into silence. Just smiling.
* * *
I saw the monk in the darkness coming closer. I felt myself panic and shouted at him to stay away. "Stay away!" I cried, lifting up my hands towards him, "or I'll give you what I gave the blue man!"
The oriental man's eyes closed as he laughed. "You certainly are a fool," he laughed, "if you think you did that!"
His hands raised and his fingers began to drop hot sparks. I gulped and looked at my own hands. Nothing at all was happening. What did I think I was doing, threatening the monk? What a hollow bluff!
* * *
"They're not giving me any therapy!" he insisted. "Without therapy, I'll be paralyzed forever! They have to do something soon."
"You should have watched what you were doing," suggested the doctor. Of course, this advice was too late.
The cars went around in circles, faster and faster. Who will be the winner?
* * *
"Fear not," the lips said. "Hold on to your mind. Do not let it be shaken. Hold on."
"Hold on?" I asked incredulously as the sparkling fingers came closer.
* * *
"Uh. Uh. Hum!" exhaled the voice.
* * *
Lights in the darkness. Flickering lamp in the buildings near the lakes. The nuns mumbled in the darkness, their fingers counting the beads of their rosaries.
"Uh. Uh. Hum!" exhaled the voices. From under the dusty scarves covering most of the image, the Buddha watched.
He did not blink for a split second.
* * *
"Hold on!" the voice insisted.
* * *
The smiling monk, with the flaming fingers, spoke to me in a number of languages. I could recognize them, but not understand them. Then he began to talk in English. "Ah," he congratulated himself. "You understand me. You are aware of what I am saying?"
"Yes," I mumbled, my eyes shifting, not able to stay glued to his for long. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "Where do you come from?" Even English with his accent seemed a foreign tongue for a short time, and I hesitated in my understanding. "I don't know," I started, "Ah. Uh. I am from ." "Oh?" he laughed. "You don't know very much, do you?"
My temper flared. I thought that I had caught it, but he had caught sight of it instead. Smiling, he asked, "Why are you naked here in the Nd Drwa?"
I frowned, in puzzlement.
"Nd-what?"I asked. He shook his head, glancing at the darkness around us. "This place, this realm." "Oh. The astral realm," I thought, and aloud answered, pulling my shoulders back with mock bravado, "I was sent here. To explore. To look."
"Sent?" His eyes popped in surprise. "Someone else sent you? Then how do you return? You are in someone else's hands." I knew that question too well, and did not answer. After a silence of unknown duration, he asked again, "Why are you naked?"
"You can't travel in a spirit realm with clothes!" I snapped, ignoring the fact that he was fully clothed in monk robes.
He laughed, turning as if to go, which jolted me physically. Upon facing me again, with his thin smile, he gently said, "You really are an innocent travelling helplessly!" He gestured at his own clothing. "Allow me to teach you a bit of courtesy. Repeat this prayer after me, and you will have covering which will keep others from needlessly looking upon your nakedness."
I was going to ask "What others?" or something inane, when I nodded instead.
"Tra-sam-dev...." he began, and I repeated after him, soon finding myself covered in flowing cloth akin to a voluminous colorless bathrobe.
"That's better," he said, squinting. "More civilized! More polite."
Inside, I agreed. Outside, I said nothing.
"Are you trapped here?" he asked suddenly. "Are you a prisoner sent out as a punishment?"
He had voiced my greatest fear with the first question. I responded immediately. "No! Not at all!" I exclaimed. "I came willingly, as an explorer."
He cocked his right eyebrow, and looked at his fingernails "I hope that whoever sent you knows what they are doing," he mumbled, as if to himself.
"Of course, of course," I laughed weakly, "she knows a lot about this sort of stuff."
His eyes were glued to my face. Then he asked "She? It is a female who has sent you here?"
"Yes," I answered hesitantly. "Why? What is wrong with that?"
But instead of answering, he floated backwards away from me, whispering, "Bad! Bad! Very bad!" as he shrank into the distance. I could hear it for a long time after he had vanished.
"Bad! Bad! Very bad!"
I did not feel happy about his departure or with his words.
* * *
"No one has visited me except you," my paralyzed brother had said. I did not know if this was true, since I suspected that he might be playing for more visits, for someone to talk to and plot with.
And plot he did.
"I've got to get therapy!" he insisted. "But they don't have any at this hospital. I've got to get out of here! You should call this social worker, tell her I want to go to or to . They have good facilities there. I've got to get out of here!"
I spoke to different people, to administrators, nurses and social workers on the other end of the telephone. "Hello. Hello. Are you there?"
Some were sociable and polite, some irritants None promised anything worthwhile. "After all, the government is paying everything, since he is old and penniless. He has to property. He is being taken care of. There is nothing for him to worry about."
Not much. Inability to move. Inability to go about his normal everyday activities. Concerns about his dependent drunken live-in girlfriend. Concern about time.
"Time is of the utmost importance! The sooner I get therapy, the better," he said, looking at the blue sky outside his window. "Delay will make this permanent!"
He did not hesitate to share this with everyone and anyone. Doctors, nurses, aides. They were not used to having stroke victims being so vocal. Nothing had affected his mind, as compared to the lethargic dazed minds of other patients. At first, he harangued them for service. "I shouted. Where were you?" But then later, he decided upon becoming charming. He enchanted all the women. He flirted with every one, no matter what their personality or appearance. I had only noticed the legs of the afternoon nurse. Aside from a few brief sentences, there were no words between us. I memorized her eyes, which was just as well for my brother, since I wanted to see her again. Thus, he also saw me. Always in the afternoon when it was her shift. I understood that her name was Susan, but I wasn't sure.
* * *
"We'd like to send you any information about his condition, etc." they had said.
"But what is this form?" I had asked.
"A mere formality," they had said. "For your address, etc. Please sign."
"It says that I am designated as responsible person. What does that mean?" I asked, glaring at the crisp uniform of the administrating secretary. Her eyes avoided mine. "Then you can make decisions for him," she began. "You forget," I snapped. "He is conscious. His mind is clear. He can make decisions for himself."
She seemed miffed by this obvious fact. "But he can't sign anything."
"And I'm not signing anything either," I answered.
"Aren't you a responsible person?" she taunted, as if to say I didn't like my brother.
"Yes. But not in that way. I'll take messages, but I won't sign anything."
"Well!" she sniffed. "If that's how it is to be."
"Yes," I glared, "that is how it is to be." And then, as an afterthought, as I left her office, "Continue to send the bills to the government!"
She did not look up from her desk. The door slammed harder than I had intended.
* * *
"I've got to get out of here!"
* * *
"Why don't you take me home?" he had asked. I knew exactly what he had meant, but gave a joke as an answer instead. "You're too heavy."
"You know what I mean," he insisted. "Then I can get out of here."
I shook my head, looking at the blue sky in the window, the window with the reflection of the nurse's station, the movement of the white figures, one of which was Susan "I can't take care of a paralyzed person," I announced. "I have no way to do it. I'd have to pick you up, I'd have to--I'd have to go to work. How can I leave you alone?" I knew that all of this was true, but I also felt as if I were making up excuses.
"I'd be no trouble," he said. I shook my head. "Maybe," he continued, "you can find me an apartment. I get a couple hundred dollars a month from Social Security."
I shook my head, this time in disbelief. "That would never get you an apartment. Besides, what would that accomplish? You would have no money for food."
"I'll give you my Social Security check." What a pittance. hardly a monetary inducement. But impossible. Physically no room; impossible. I shrugged off the feeling of imposition he had laid on me. I would not feel guilty. He was being taken care of here better than I could at home. So it was no desertion. I thought he was being self-deceiving and not realistic, living in an illusion, a fragile dream. A pity. Too bad. But then I realized that he was being very stubborn, clinging to his life, and to hope, concocting one dream after another; one illusion after another; one plan after another, until he found one which could help him to escape.
* * *
The storms had stopped howling, and the mountain reappeared, dazzling in the sunshine and snow. My insides seemed to ache at the sight of it. I was attracted to it so much that I felt that I had to resist or be overwhelmed. I chose to return to the darkness of the Nd Drwa. It was empty except for me. I wondered where the monk was. I wondered if the blue man would ever return. I should not have thought that he would not.