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When on Earth
I go to a church in Boston, my first day out on my own.
Oh, another student is with me, really, as she escorted me as far as the city on this trip and is staying nearby, but here am I, no one walking beside me, and with a watch to tell me what time to meet Mattie for an early dinner. I go to a church. I saw it on my way to the historically important parts of town, from the bus window. I showed it to Mattie and she said, "All right. If you want to explore, just meet me by four thirty at the bus stop where we get off for the museum. Here, you had better borrow my watch-- I'll find clocks to use, and you'd best not have to depend on strangers for directions or time."
Mattie had the authority to do this, as the University staff decided that I was safe enough on the streets in my own behavior that I would not endanger the school's reputation. I have also not had too much trouble with people who don't know me, yet. They look at me strangely, but I smell no malice in them towards _me_. Sometimes towards each other, though. Just when I'm walking by on the street.
I don't like smelling anger of strangers towards each other. When these things happen, I act nervous or I say something and Mattie or the other student who helps me, Brina, takes me home where I can sit in my room in the dorm. But today I know I can handle the excitement and grey-blue strangeness of Boston, and I am proud to be on my own. I have a job to do. I have to remember. I feel I must, somehow, the way people look at me when we work on marsupial research and talk about where I came from.
I keep my mouth shut about that, lately. The doctors know these things. I dream and don't say anything. They said it is not all that unusual to dream every dream in black and white, when during the day you see in color, and that it is probably from how I lost my memory... I may have gone full-morph in the Tasmanian grasslands, and lost my memory, and my brain may not store colors.
But it does store colors. I have all the shorebirds in Massachusetts memorized, and I know my favorite shirt is green (with pink stripes, narrow, across the breast), and I recall the fish schooling with our liner on the way to America were a dark sky blue. I looked them up. They are a kind of fish called a dolphin, not to be confused with the mammalian dolphin.
Not to be confused with red, or green, or pink. But I keep my mouth shut. It hurts to see them look at me and reflect something they swear comes from _my_ eyes, something hurting, and not know how that could be. I am confused, I say. I cannot understand how this can be true.
You are diseased, they say. It stands to reason that your mind will fill in the blank spaces with memories that are not true. You need the stability. We will tell you your true self, and maybe someday you will learn to remember, too. You will not recover from SCABS. But your memory may recover.
Then they show more slides to the students, some of whom are my friends, and explain my diet (some kinds of marsupials, but they are not sure other than wallabies and kangaroos-- here and now I like Chinese. But that must be my human side, whoever I was, as my companions point out).
School is the best thing to engage in.
I am saving my allowances, which the University of Egypt, Massachusetts, gives me as if I am a member of their family, for I need wages to keep dressed and satisfied, and they can schedule me for studying and sampling any time they like. I save the money and buy clothes at the bargain sales, with Mattie or Brina, and try to eat in the cafeteria as often as possible-- though eating out is fun. I want to go on a whale watch. I have been on one and it was more exciting and fulfilling than anything we have done so far for the classes I myself am studying between being studied by the other classes. The whale watches are expensive and I will not be able to go often, but I save for them. I am grateful to the school for the money and the home.
Boston is a _big_ city. More closed-in than the even larger cities I spent some time in while in Australia, and so, to me, _bigger_. The stones and bricks are old and brown and bluish mossy grey and outlined in black iron fire escapes.
Some places here are modern, glass and green trim and shined as glistening as the surface of the ocean I study, but in this large, deep neighborhood the sidewalks are newest. I can smell old, old, old on the outsides of the buildings, even under a grime from automobiles. Long-ago old, like the moving picture Thylacine. Some of them are less old. And one of these is the church.
It has yellow brick, and what caught my curious eye through the bus window was the Jesus figure hanging on the flat wall outside. Facing the street, but looking down, exhausted, I think, from dying. Bronze-dark-brown, on the Cross as-- it's called a Crucifix. Yes. I have seen a church service on TV. Not in person.
I know Sundays are the traditional days of the church services for those of the people who worship this Christ, Jesus, and this is not Sunday, but I think I will visit the House, anyway. That is what I have heard people call it, and they smell respectful. A little of the Holy Bible has been read to me. Also, other Holy Texts. But this is difficult for me. So much to society! And all those bodies, during a service. Touching and brushing and who-knows-what when. Seeing it on the screen is all right. Maybe I will remember my old body and get better about strangers contacting me unexpectedly. But an hour in _such_ close quarters, how would I learn anything? I hear some of the services are all day long. I do not know if they sit so close in those religions. Well. I want to look inside this church. Now.
The doors are two beside one another, yellow and with steel handles rubbed by layers and layers of hands having pulled them for years. I think the last person to imprint the steel was a man. I am always checking these things, even if they mean nothing to me.
Jesus looms, and looks down at the sidewalk. I smile-wrinkle up at him, statues always make me do that, as if their expressions are real. I said so to someone, and they laughed at me. Said I was still growing up, all over again. Maybe I said it wrong.
Cool, comfortable air comes forth from the main area of the church. There seems to be no Lobby, like in motels or museums; there is only a square opening into the seats and the spot where the priest performs his duties.
In one upper corner of the entryway wall there is a surveillance camera, like they have in stores. There is no one out here but me, however. I draw my tail quickly in through the doorway and the seam comes flush again behind me.
"Is there anybody here?" I call, softly, in a voice that you could almost call normal except for its soft huskiness.
No answer. I walk further into the church.
There is a small glow from within a red lantern at the far end of the building. Two doors leave, that I can see, in opposite directions, and there is a platform that seems to be the focus of the way the seats are facing.
In the front, maple-colored bench, on an end, sits a deep green pot with a rose bush inside.
The bush is red-flowered, some opened wide, and leafed thickly with forest green. It appears to be well taken care of. I have seen some of the potted plants in the dorms where I live. They are not, sadly, so full and glossy.
Beyond the rose bush, beyond the doors and the platform with its rock altar, is an entire wall tiled to form a picture of the Christ. This time, he is looking up, solemnly, with his golden hands held out wide. The tiles are put together in intricate detail to show his eyes, and hair, and a glow around his hair, and then the robes and a sky beyond. The side walls inside this place are plain yellow paint on brick-- the picture wall is the only decoration, but it is big. Small, compared to the city outside, though. I go in to sit down.
I think, it can't hurt, can it? If I learn to sit in these places alone, maybe things will come to me, little things about who I am. With an escort I can only think so long before we begin to talk about something. My dorm room is always the same. So I will try to be out, alone, like so. Maybe I can become used to the church, too. Then one less thing to worry about, if I ever attend a service. One less thing besides the bumping and claustrophobia. I get better every day.
Maybe the forests and the grasslands spoiled me. I do not recall. I sit down on a smooth-backed bench and reach for a book, kept in a rack in the seatback in front of me. Hymns. I read the words.
I look around, in between reading the tiny-print words in the newsprint pages. The air moves enough in an indoor breeze through this building that the leaves of the shiny rose bush rustle slightly, and I can ripple my nostril just a bit to catch its raspberry-tea scent. Pretty.
The smell of print and closed book rises from the "Missalette", as it is called on the small magazine-like cover. I would rather smell the rose, as it comes to me over the tile and stone and water essences here, over the scent of many individuals, clumped into one space for the services, gone now but lingering on the benches and in the air. I close the small book of hymns. I close my eyes and try to remember some of the words.
The tingles on the back of my neck are unfamiliar.
Something about the place, the Christ and the tile, is soothing, if a bit odd and out of place, being so empty in a city like Boston, and I stay seated with my lids over my large eyes and think. I try to remember things. The rose cannot be aware, I think, but I am smelling its self strongly. The strangeness continues. My hands burn slightly where I held the book. I look down, for a brief instant, but there is nothing to see but the bit of peachiness to my fingertips that may have come from lights in the ceiling, manufactured and not like the light outside.
My eyes shut again and I see the Christ walls, both of them, and then grey things from before the scientists told me to try to stop.
I do try to stop, to do as they say, but I see things I cannot _make_ go away. Cries, but not cries like those of people in pain. Dark, light. Dark. Light. Ripples. Breeze. All in shades of grey or tricklings of the most faded of rainbow colors into white and black. My ears turn to catch the mind-sound of the yipes or cries, but I have trouble getting them to do so. I must be distracted by the newness of the church and my thoughts-- my ears are oddly immobile. I think and think and the smell of the rose fades away. I hear a rustling, but it becomes a sound effect, like on television, for a form in a vision. My hair and face feel strange. I have to get out of here.
My eyes snap open and see the rose, closer than before.
I know I must be imagining things, so I nod to the rose-- I feel odd. I feel I must acknowledge something. I sense strange things. The rose bush in its pot seems out of place, a plant not explained by the building or people or my own eyes. I next try to nod politely to the tiled wall-picture of Jesus. The one of not the Crucifix. I want to pay my respects, as to a host, and in this House there is no host. Except God, I think.
I think some people say that animals don't have spirits. Christ. Are all the wolves in Heaven? Or not? I still do not understand this. Everybody tells me something different. Finally I asked a professor, straight out, "If the Thylacines are dead, all dead, a century ago, where did they go? Did they not go to Heaven?"
The professor looked at me. I still don't know. The answer she gave was overshadowed by one of those not-possible visions. I have not yet asked her again.
Truthfully, I do not think she knows. I wish to ask someone who _knows_. But that is hard to find. Someone who knows, and who can tell you they know so your sense feels right and the words and the person feel right. So they know, and I know they know.
The doctors, the teachers, tell me what is right, and for that I am grateful. I must not cross what they say, unless I have a reason. And there is only one of me. All of them say the same thing-- "You are a person, so don't worry about it. And do not hinder your progress by dwelling on these dreams you use to escape. Everyone has a different opinion on animal souls. We want to help you as a person. Do not fear; humans with SCABS are still humans. Concentrate on your studies, and who you are, and let us concentrate on the marsupial wolf. We will keep you informed. You are an asset to science."
I know. But I still ask about animal souls. And even as I get better at this society and University life every day, I do not _try_ to escape with my discolored dreams. They come, every day, every night. If it is wrong, I had better keep quiet, because I will yet learn to suppress them, and I will not be kept from free days like today.
The freedom is a little scary. I almost wish for Mattie beside me, instead of at the bus stop in forty-five minutes. I could tell her I am feeling weird, a little off, with all this thought and the new space of the church, and she would see me to a safe place.
The church _is_ safe. But I must get out. Somewhere else, I may come back to myself and be collected by the time I meet Mattie.
Whales. I curl the edge of my lip in a tiny smile at the thought of their washed, dark selves waving to us from off the side of the boat. Soon I will be able to make such discovering trips alone. Perhaps as soon as I have the money saved, even.
Not that I don't love the horseshoe crabs, and the fishes, and all of the creatures we seek and find in the sand in Egypt. I try to pay close attention to films in class, too, though the teachers' speaking is better for me to gain knowledge by.
It is that the whales _choose_ to come see us.
I wonder if there are other such beings, and other such visits, taking place elsewhere.
The wide, rimmed doorway to the place of the steel door handles. I pause in my slight confusion at a bowl of water, two bowls, placed one on either side of the entryway.
On the way, I pass the one on my right, and stop over it. The brass-hued holder seems empty at certain angles and in certain light, as I turn my oddly itching head this way and that, and upon closer inspection the water turns dark.
In the circle is a girl, or perhaps a woman, of blue eyes shimmered brass by the back of the water, and black hair curved at all the tips over her shoulders. I have never seen her before. I glance at the pale skin and solemn expression, then pull back and blink at the double doors beyond. Light. In the street is light, from the sun rather than fixtures in ceiling tile. I decide to go out.
Pushing the right-hand door, I break the seam and release myself onto the street. I have done well, I think, for a first time practicing, and I will come again to this building when I can.
For now I need to sit down. A bench, sunshined and made with slats, not solid and smooth like those in the church, curves its back invitingly across the street. I check for cars, but the street seems particularly quiet today. I cross to the bench.
My head still feels weird. I shake a little, and close my eyes. The tingling turns to burning, as if I have been sitting in one place too long, and then a tight ache-- then it is gone.
I look up. Jesus looks at the sidewalk across from me.
Someone walks by, steps scuffing along unhurriedly, and I wait for that glance that will say, oh, a dog, no, a-- and then that strange scent and look of nonrecognition, and the quickening of steps. People do like to have things defined. I know at least that much about our society, so far!
Mattie. The bus stop. I get up from the bench and go to meet her, as the passerby sees the SCAB, thinks, is confused, and discards. I ignore the walker and move in my own path.
I check the watch Mattie has loaned me. I seem to be doing well for time. In the windows of the shops I pass, I see clothes and jewelry, and my face. The thinly furred ears, cupped to trap vibration before me, as though my reflection might make a sound, and black nose tipping a tan muzzle, pointing at the face of Anne. Peering back at herself, looking in store windows in Boston.