BACK to the Main Index
BACK to The Blind Pig
BACK to the Previous Chapter
The Last Remaining Wonder in the World
My side of the bed is furthest from the window, where moonlight makes the grey and brown room appear white and opal. I can't sleep, but I can't tell whether that's because I'm nervous about Gordy and his show that goes on again tomorrow, as I'm always more concerned about these things than he is, or whether I'm energetic from being with him and wish he hadn't gone to sleep so soon, or whether there's some bad mood that I'm not really defining and I don't want to stay in bed.
I hold my head up and turn it back to look over my shoulder, and see him on his side facing the window, breathing softly. I yawn, but don't feel myself fall asleep until I awake, and think I must have been dreaming. Something changed, but I'm not sure what it is.
The room is white, but night-white, like the moon makes it because of its angle on the hill and the blankets that look pale in the dark. Gordy's half of the covers have fallen down upon the sheets. He isn't in them, then.
Barely have I registered this when something stirs. It smells strong, rancid and black. Then it blasts out white, blue and searing sunlike, and I know what it is. I look under the blanket, jerking it back to my side, but nothing is there. Just the hole it's making as it flies up from above the mattress and spikes towards the ceiling.
The blanket edges where it's eaten away are creeping towards my hands. I fall back, and I know I'm not moving entirely on my own. I want to be reaching forward, grasping the other edge of the bed and looking down to see if he has fallen out the other side. But he's not here, and I can't look for him as the air blasts me back and I begin to stiffen violently in the arms, legs and jaws-- I know what it is, I've felt it before, and somehow it had to happen now; I can't say a word. I don't feel any burning. But it rips out the inside of my nostrils even as they're changing and I'm gasping to draw breath through my mouth.
It begins eating my side of the bed. It's tossed me out onto the floor, and I hit without any support, because my arms and legs are straight and tight out to my sides. They kick, violently, and I hear the fire screaming up the sides of the walls and curtains, chattering along the fringes of the bedcovers. I need to get out, I know, but I cannot move except in intermittent jerks of each body part, until I black out and don't recall the rest of the seizure.
On the floor, upright, bunched together with my elbows touching my toes, still the air is circling in my nose and lungs and sewing my eyelids together with needles upon needles and tearing them open again with light. Then it is black. There is no sound but a crackling roar, and no light-- no light whatsoever. Then I kick out, fold my ears back aching tight and run.
I skid about in a full circle and claw at the slippery floor, that has pieces of a billowing dark ceiling crumbling down upon it and my fur that stands out straight from my skin. The ceiling moves lower as it fills up the room, gouging out the walls and the normal ceiling and making itself out of them, and I choke on the breath that won't come in when I need it but forces itself up my nostrils and into my eyes when I try to close it off.
I dash under the cracking bed, to Gordy's side, but he is not on the floor. For a moment I think I know what must have happened, but then a piece of that hot-black blanketing air slices down into my fur and singes the skin, and I shiver violently and tear for the door.
In the hall I panic, digging my claws into flooring that won't accept them and coughing on the air I draw in in greater breaths the more tight and surrounded I get. The blackness is louder than the smoke alarm. I'm staring at the walls, seeming to press out from the fire within the bedroom, the opposite hall paper trickling down in ash from flames escaping by the door I just shot through myself. My eyes are on the sides of my head. It comes to me then that I have to not see anything but what is in front of me, or I will stay here and suffocate.
I focus on the drop-off that is the top of the stairs and launch myself towards it. I make the first step all right, then my long back legs toss me over my own head and my forehead collides with the banister. I slide down on the edges of steps, my ribs pressing my skin between them and the stair edges, and then I kick out with my right back foot and throw myself off the steps for another hard landing on the first floor. I can feel the fire following me. It's arcing up around the whole of the staircase like a ring in the circus for a tiger, only it's still coming on. Something from above falls in front of my nose, burning, a chunk of pock-marked ceiling tile, and I jump to one side, squeal harshly around the smoke in my throat, and run for the kitchen.
There's a sluice, screened in, in the back corner of the kitchen behind the oven. I kick my way in through the gap between oven and counter, thinning myself out and reaching with my hot forelimbs, crash up against the screening and begin clawing and ripping at it with my teeth. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm relieved that I knew that it was here, but part of me is suffocating and purely certain of no escape. I know I can never get the double kitchen screen door open in time to get away.
Something gives, and I feel for a second it must be the fire destroying the attachments to the woodwork and it will char me before I work the bit of screen away. The stone the sluice is made of still feels cool to my paws, and I rip at the wood, knowing it isn't fire, sure it is fire, until I gasp and yank back and the screen bends up invitingly.
I cut out chunks of my skin and fur on the points of the detached screen, but I scrabble out and jerk back on my haunches in repeated drawing of clean-air breaths. I turn back to the house. It is still roaring and parts of the boards are shrieking and warning of intent to give way.
Fresh air is further from the house. I scuttle away, sideways, more slowly than I should, knowing the house is where everything is. I finally see a window burst out in the second level, and turn with tail in the air and flee to the top of the hill.
There, I cannot watch anymore. I shiver and my head and torso bob with each inhalation, and my eyes tear around the ash and needles in them.
The house burns well into the night. I turn back again, on the hill. My skin is scored by wire along the ribs, and I can't breathe any better than I could in my rabbit body. The night sky is completely obscured by charcoal-billowing waves. I can hear shouting.
It's cold, which it shouldn't be, I think. I can't really register what happened. Everything is memorable, but nothing makes sense.
"Sir! There's one up here."
"Two! There are two! There should be two! I'm their neighbor. We were coming home down the road an--"
Plastic-clad men with smokey faces tramp hurriedly up the hill and bend down to me with shining eyes from the same smoke that burned mine. "He's in shock."
"Breathe, son, calm down, you'll be fine."
I try to make my breaths slower and deeper and find that my lungs are not as crowded and dry as I thought. I blink repeatedly, staring down at the house, which is still licked at by edges of flame that the rest of the men are fighting. I didn't even hear the sirens get here.
I sit straight up. Someone puts a blanket around my shoulders and a stocking cap on my head. An ambulance rolls cautiously up the grass-covered slope to bring the medical people closer to me. I just watch the hoses and the chemicals. They take out more and more of the fire. And I just sit here. I can't make myself say anything. There is nothing to do but let them take him away. I see that the house is gone. There is a pile of wet ash like fresh grave-covering over a home-sized plot. I rub a hand across my cheek and allow the emergency techs to put me on a stretcher and I try to answer all their questions.
"There's one missing, this is Francis, there's one more," I hear our neighbor saying. I try to look at him, but he's behind one of the coated and thin-gloved emergency people.
"He must have been in the house," someone else says in a torn voice.
I shake my head, but there is no more answer to give and I can't see who is saying this.
"We couldn't get into the house beyond two rooms on the first floor," a fighter says defeatedly, trying to sound sympathetic. Still the team that has me is asking me questions and I'm swallowing my bitter-tasting saliva and answering them as best I can. I am lifted into the ambulance.
On the black pile of house, smoke spins up from dying places of fire. The hoses are continuing to drench the area. One line of flame fringes up, but the water is aimed along its fleeing length and it sputters down. The doors are closed behind me and I lay my head down.
"You'll be just fine, son," murmurs a doctor, the same way the fireman spoke to me.
"Is the fire out?"
He places a hand on my forehead, comfortingly. "Yes."
The moon comes out the next night and I see that it has changed. It is no longer a body in the sky. It is a hole. Gordy's going changed it; I can't think of anything else that would have done it. I feel sorry for the people that never even knew what made it sink away. And now there will never be a moon again, and the hole can be seen all over the world.
Gordy's sister, Mary, calls to tell me on the
day they finally decide that the evidence warrants
considering Gordon's passing to be due to
complications from the Martian Flu. Not that it
matters. It had been put down as 'fire.' Either
way. Mary calls me on the videophone that my
parents ordered for me as soon as they heard.
They want to be able to see me when they talk to
me, even from Canada, especially from Canada, to
know that I am really all right. At least, as
right as can be expected.
For days I wore grey sweatshirts and white tennis shoes. I folded my arms and stood on sidewalks by myself a lot. Mary sees me, not dressed the way I used to be, but what is she supposed to say. My clothes were lost. So was everything else. My parents couldn't stay forever and I didn't feel up to going shopping with them. They decided to give me time. My eyes are empty when I happen to look in a mirror.
"Francis, it's me."
"Mary," I say, surveying her face.
"I--" she has to make her voice stop wobbling, and she starts again. "Dear, come out and see me next week? Can you come on the bus? I-- I found a picture."
I draw in a sharp breath. "It's true," she assures me quickly, seeing that I would hate to spark my eyes for anything that isn't real. "It's an old one, from before he met you. Not his best. But a real one."
I nod. "When... do you want me to come out?"
"Anytime next week. I'll mail it to you by computer, too, but I wanted to tell you. I also-- he lent me one of his Carpenters greatest hits CDs. You could take the bus out and have my room for the night and ride back next day. I want to see you. I'm so sorry I haven't talked more."
"That's okay." I don't know what else to say.
"Please come see me. I can pay for the bus ticket."
"No! No. I'll make it out. I promise. I..." I just don't know what to say. My fingers are trembling and I fear losing my flat expression. If I lose it, the only alternative will come and I can't begin it in a phone call and then turn it off to go do other things.
"I will be looking for you, Francis. I _want_ you to come here. Please come."
"Shhh... I'll be there. Don't worry."
"Okay." Mary dabs at the underside of one eye and I have to turn away.
"I'll see you next week, then," she says softly.
I nod. "Yes."
"Good, and take care of yourself, please. Please take care of yourself."
I turn off the videophone. I go splash some cold water on my face and make some rearrangements in my schedule for the firm and school, based on a loss in the family. Then I go and sit like stone, sideways with my knees up to my chin, not seeing the wall in front of me. I don't feel like I have any space in this apartment. But that doesn't make any difference if I don't ever move.
At Mary's house the furniture is wide and comfortable, and suited to the round figure she has, although she never is what I would call anything but right. Her thick hair has the same highlights that Gordon's has. Had.
I didn't bring much with me, there was nothing I could bring that could do her any good except some flowers, and we've each had plenty of those. I set down my overnight case and she hugs me close to her before she ever bothers to latch the front door and bring me all the way inside. "Francis. Was your trip all right?"
"Yes." I try not to hug her too tightly.
"Anything to drink?"
"Please. Strawberry milk?"
"Yes, you're in luck." She smiles, that smile that can't help coming in over the ongoing expression, because humans are made to smile. I shine my eyes the slightest bit at her.
"Let me get you set down here on the sofa and put your things in my bedroom. I'd better take the couch. The bed is nicer."
"I can't take your bed."
"But Francis, please do. I don't want you sleeping in a living room. It seems all wrong. I've slept on my couch plenty and I don't mind."
"All right. Mary, are you all right?"
"Yes." She smiles, this time a meant-to-be-encouraging smile, and hands me my milk with the strawberry powder stirring itself around inside the glass. I sit on the sofa and hold the drink. She goes to a miniature filing box on a wicker dresser. "I found... this..."
All the pictures of Gordy that weren't on the web somewhere were lost. All of his music, too, everything he had owned. Even the stuff he would never have wanted me to have to remember him by was lost-- the old elementary-school vid-discs of his initial attempts at tap-dancing, or his childhood essay on ice cream or the tabloid magazine he laughed at and bought one day because it had something in it about Venusian Hamsters Taking Over the World. I don't have any of those things, and he wouldn't have wanted me to have them anyway, but I watched the investigators go through the rubble where no remains of Gordy were ever found, the seared left-behinds of an unnaturally hot, unaccelerated fire, and shook my head bitterly because those things, not _even_ those undesired or embarrassing things, could be retrieved. And that meant that the copies of music for his shows, like the Irish show, were so far beyond my reach that I could not hope to ever even desire their appearance out of the ash. And his picture of him in the maple frame with his glasses on, and the one of him in the company for _Tapfight_ with all the men in tight-fitting black shirts and devilish enthusiastic eyes.
"I discovered this..." His sister comes back over to me, holding out a glossy print a few inches wide, offering it to me as if I may not be coming in peace, trying to make it right for me to be here.
I take hold of the photo by the edges. This is the time for this, then. We expected to cry, together. I motion for her to sit down next to me and I bar my face in between crossed arms. I hold the picture out of range of the salt water. Mary only sits still for a moment before she is sobbing beside me. I can't do this silently, forever. Eventually my voice can't hold itself in. Then Mary gives up too and takes my hand with the photo to make me place it on the small coffee table, and she leans and rocks against me and holds me and I don't really protest to anything.
Mary tries to speak several times, but nothing is coherent for a long time. Then, we both need handkerchiefs. I am usually a gentleman and have two on me at all times, but of course this time I would have forgotten and did forget and she has to go into her purse and bring some tissues out for each of us. "Dear, Francis, Hon, I'm so--"
"No," I shake my head almost angrily. "Shh. Just give me the tissue."
She does so. She shudders and sighs some more, and still clear tears are running down her reddened tan cheeks.
I take a handful of tissues in my left hand and wipe at my eyes with my right, forgetting. I can't focus on the photo. I was afraid of this. That I'll never really get a look at it because I'll never get past the fact that it's of him.
"It's not his best," she says, apologizing. "I don't know why he let me have it. But there it is. I didn't know where I'd even put it."
Gordy is blurred, not just because of my state, but because whoever took the photo couldn't get him to hold still for it-- it looks like he was yelling something and smiling, and it was windy-- the sun was out but there was something tossing his hair in two or three directions. And that's all there is. But it's something to hold onto.
"The Carpenters CD," I say, gasping around all the strangeness of breath in my throat. I'm not perfect in the lungs, since that night, and it may take awhile for the effect to subside.
"He lent it to me..." She begins weeping again. Immediately, she goes to a CD case and pulls the one she wants out without really seeing it, brushing at her eyes with the opposite hand.
I sigh, brace myself, and dry the sides of my cheeks. "Let's put it in."
"Okay." She does. The preparations for playing one CD seem to take a night and day unto themselves. Then it hums into action and begins playing. I remember that most of the artists Gordy most admired are dead, and begin weeping again before any song gets to me by itself. Then there's "Yesterday Once More", and neither of us is any more done crying than we were when we hugged at the door. We cease being any bit embarrassed around each other and just feed ourselves and each other from a bowl of chips from her kitchen, and use up packages of tissues.
Mary hugs me and pats the backs of my shoulders, backing off and smoothing my hair like my mother did when my parents came down to see me and I broke down then, too. It takes us an hour to calm down. By then we're not in the mood for supper. We decide to have fruit from the kitchen and watch old movies until she needs to get some sleep for her work in the morning. I'll take the bus home tomorrow.
"Melissa Etheridge," I say, "'Your Little Secret'. That one piece, 'I Really Like You'."
She laughs. "I know the one you mean. Francis, is it all right if I laugh? You have to understand he just amused me so much sometimes."
"_Please_ do. Please laugh. Yes, please do." I pause and take a sip of the strawberry milk I now have, my third. "Carly Simon. 'My Romance'."
"'My Funny Valentine'."
"You know it!"
She nods. "Yes. That was one he played for me over the phone when he couldn't find the 'right' card, he said."
There's a pause where neither of us says anything.
"It's just..." I try to think how to word this without making it seem like I'm trying to make her cry again. "I wish for that one. That CD. I could have cried to it so many times, and I never did. And now I have to use it and I don't have it."
She nods. There's another pause. The pause becomes yet another pause, and slowly I feel the air changing, past one point and into another as we sit still, and none of this is familiar to me. I've never had to have a conversation like this in my life.
Just as she says it, I open up and say the same thing.
"He loved you."
We look at each other carefully for a moment, then hug fearfully tight, "I love you, Brother." "I love you, Sister." We'll talk like this again, or we won't. It doesn't matter. "I love you. I love you." We need to hear it. We need to hear ourselves say it. Then, we watch some more movies. I sleep in the bedroom that night, and I don't like it. It seems enough like it could be a room of Gordy's that I can hardly sleep in it. But I know Mary feels better if I take what she feels is the most comfortable place.
In the morning, when the light has all shifted again and the outdoors seems blank and washed-out, Mary puts on her work clothes and work cosmetics and hugs me for good-bye. "You take care, Francis. Promise me you'll take care."
"I promise." There's not much else I can say.
"Call me if you need _anything_."
"I will." I kiss her on the forehead, and she kisses me on the cheek, tearfully, fretting over her appearance but knowing it's no use to imagine she'll go the day with dry eyes. I may; I don't know. She keeps the picture of Gordon with her. I keep the Carpenters CD.
Larry and I stand in his theatre in
Pennsylvania. He is holding my hand. He mulls
over a question I have asked him, about the place,
about naming its repertory company the Firehouse
Group. I know about the fire that Juliet set,
completely unknowing, how it took away the order
of her memories; I know of the loss of his brother
Thim and the wife, Rosemary. My counselor matched
me up with a support network of people with
similar losses to mine, so we would know we
wouldn't have to explain too much to each other
before just saying what we had to say.
"I guess..." Larry bites his lip and stares hard at the opposite end of the space where we stand, in an aisle between rows of director's chairs set up for the absent audience. "Maybe it's kind of like a memorial. Their names are on the Theatre proper, but if their deaths are also intertwined with the actors there, what with two Dalmatians being involved, and the Group name referring to an establishment that would try to save them, then... It makes them more immediate, in all parts of life. And someday I'll be gone. No one is going to be around forever. It could do more harm to let it go, to not remind Juliet anymore. So somehow I feel at home here." He looks at me, and his eyes are very blue. I'm still not used to them after having only brown eyes so close in my frame of vision. "And I hope you do, too."
Firehouse. Yes. But I can't exactly call firefighters my heroes. I can't call fire a demonic thing, either. I can't hate what Gordon became. He was my lover. Fire is him. But I can understand why it has to have the place it has. I tighten my hold on his hand. "I do. You're right, Fire means too many things to belong to one person's... sorrow. Meaning."
Larry turns away again, but he seems completely with me. "Ever notice... Seems the world always goes on. After my brother and sister-in-law died, and Juliet... changed forever, everything around us is supposed to go on. That's what they _say_. And that's how it _seems_. But in practice, there's always one thing that is never the same."
He looks to see if he's making any sense. I nod, feeling a tightening in my chest, and blinking back something I hadn't been ready for. Larry goes on: "For the whole of creation. Somehow, just never the same. It seems like now when I look at some things and I hear another person talking about something as if nothing is different, I feel like they are lying. Pretending for my sake that my perception never shifted theirs in one thought, one-- fear.
"Did you know the pyramids used to go up, and now they go down? The flow of their stones, the way they reach and weather, it used to all be towards the sky. After Thim and his wife died and my niece came to live with me, the pyramids changed. And everyone has been very polite about it ever since, but it's there all the same."
I feel my place that begins these things opening up, and I thought I was going to be clear and unaffected today, but though I manage to speak I know I may feel it all come back again before the end of the night. "I'm afraid I have had the same experience with the moon. It's not my fault as such, I know, but ever since Gordy disappeared the moon has not been what it used to be."
Lawrence puts an arm around my shoulders, standing taller than I, his brow furrowed. "Well, for whatever it's worth, I'm sorry about the pyramids."
"And I about the moon. I forgive you for the pyramids. Do you think perception can change something's reality for everyone else, forever?"
"I don't know... Yes."
I wonder, if it can, and if it has, whether all my being the rabbit has to do with is my own perceptions. And if I imagined Gordy going up like that, whether he was changed or whether he was immune to my perceptions. I wonder if Gordy realizes that he's gone.
I slowly focus on the figure sitting a few
feet away from the bed, his shirt glowing in its
light color with the dark of a brown or... some
other color of Cardigan around it. I shake my
head a little and get the black with orange trim
Cardigan clear, then Larry's beard, and his face
with one finger lining the side of his cheek as he
looks back at me. "Swamp rabbit," he says.
I respond, mentally, but no sound comes out. I lay back and try again, this time to the ceiling. I feel like I should have a headache but am too tired to have one. Changing really wreaks havoc on my body. I don't think I could take very frequent occurrences. "What do you mean?"
"Swamp rabbit. I told you I would get a book, and I did. It took me three books to find which one you look like. Here, there are two pictures. I'm betting on the swamp rabbit, instead of the marsh rabbit. You be the judge." He reaches to take a book from the bedside table, and hands it, opened, to me. "Right there." He points to a picture.
I look, blearily, then with clearing vision. It's always my eyes that take the most adjusting. I don't know why. Maybe they change more slowly or something. The rest of it sure seems sudden, so I don't know. "That one," I say finally. "Yes, the... swamp rabbit. Well, for what that's worth, now we know."
He nods. "You all right?"
I rub at my temple. "Yes. Don't worry about me. I remember you said you'd get the book. I was just so tired, and then it takes a minute for everything to come back. But it's all here."
"So you know what's been going on, then."
"I tried to come up here and tell you when you were still the rabbit, but you had gone fast asleep. It was quite cute, actually. Your eyes all shut tight and your little nose moving from your breathing."
I grin, slightly embarrassed. "Yeah... well..."
"You missed the first half of the speeches and all the other pre-exhibit jazz, by now. You still interested in going out?"
"Are you going?"
"Then I'm coming too." I make a few false starts at uprighting myself and heading for my clothing, but eventually I'm up. I fumble with my trousers right away and Larry chuckles, not unsympathetically.
"You all right there? Can you get dressed yourself?"
"_Yes_ I can get dressed myself."
I button my shirt swiftly, although my fingers are a bit clumsy yet, and slide my jacket on and find my yellow handkerchief to arrange at the pocket.
Larry watches me, hands folded over one knee. I smile at him a little while I walk back and forth on the flat carpeting. It seems I always have something across the room that I desperately need during each stage of dressing.
"Mm-hm." I'm lifting my chin, tying my cherry-red ascot. I have to cross the room to find my mascara.
"The first time I asked you."
I lean in towards the mirror, carefully considering how much my complexion will be affected by having just had a seizure. "Asked me what?"
He stands up, stepping closer. "To come East with me. You accepted, the first time. Why?"
"Oh." I grin up at him, small black brush in hand. It's all I can do not to swipe it through his beard, just once. I want to see him smirk or become agitated. "Something my lover used to say."
Larry leans on the wall by the mirror and seems to know I'm contemplating doing something to tease him, because one hand is just about ready to deflect any approach on my part. "What did he used to say?"
"Well... He didn't _used_ to say much of anything, really. I didn't... Have him long enough to hear him repeat most of his sentences and phrases. About the only thing he repeated that I remember him repeating was 'I love you'."
I realize that it takes several moments for Larry to react and suddenly I worry that I've offended him. I really don't want to have offended him. I'd do anything now to make him forget it if I said anything that offended him.
Finally he says, "That's why you came?"
I nod yes.
He smiles. Larry has dimples; they are nearly obscured by his beard, most of the time. I think he could stand a more boyish look, but who am I to talk. "I'm glad."
"Me too." Thank goodness, he knows enough about the pieces of me that need to be left where they are right now so that I don't put on anything but a professional face for the other art enthusiasts.
He leaves the topic details for after, in the dark, or some other time when we'll be talking alone over some drink or an art periodical. "Thank you," I add spontaneously.
"You're so welcome, Francis. I don't think you know how easy it is for me to say that. You are welcome."
"I feel welcome. Thank you."
Larry takes my arm to go out. "You're very nice to look at. I thought I'd say that now, before we spoke only on the appearances of Art."
I stop him at the door, turning to fix my eyes on his. "Thank you. You look wonderful, as well."
He dimples and almost turns his head away. Maybe I'm not the only one so easily affected.
"Let us go," he says with a dramatic cough. "You're making me feel unprofessional."
I grin. "Yes, let's. And I'm not sorry."