The room was already quite blurred. The Little Red Fellow likes it that way. He is fussy about how things should be set up: he stands to the right and rear (barely within peripheral vision), I stand to the fore wearing blue jeans and a shirt on backwards; only one candle in the room; everybody sits (except me); smoke everywhere, beer on the table, and the only weapon allowed is a serious club (which doubles as a drumstick). The rules were set years ago.
The boy is a 10 year old, very depressed (I can't imagine why). It seems 2 years ago, in a fit of severe depression, when mom and pop were having a very physical set of disagreements over a period of several weeks which were intermittantly interrupted by drinking and drug sprees, Brian hanged himself by jumping out the second story bedroom window with a rope wrapped around the leg of his bed at one end and around his neck at the other. Mom found him the next day when her drugs lost their effect.
Mom thinks she lost her luck after this and is wondering if I can help change it. I don't know if I can or not, but I can at least find out what happened to it.
The mushroom man calls the shots (there are a lot of rules with this guy), and I listen carefully: "No weapons-only ropes, no talking, only move when directed to do so, no companions except for birds-the owl has to stay home, no eating or drinking, . . .), and so on. The list is long.
Setting out, although no sight-seeing tour, isn't bad. The pace is comfortable. The trees are magnificent since it is late spring. Off the beaten path by the edge of a pine forest brightly lit in the midday. The grass underfoot is light and springy due to the spring rains (which have been sorely missed in my own country). I wonder why the rains are falling here and not at home. Why can't we just share instead of this game of 'all-or-none'. The pueblo peoples are the only ones I know who are smart enough not to piss off the owners of this forest so only they seem able to get the precious water needed for their meager crops. I wonder why Anglos haven't figured that out yet after all we can send a man to the moon. But I digress. The countryside tour ends at the top of a grassy low hill, and he we have to wait til nightfall.
The Little Red Man maintained his station to the rear and to the right. I never understand these guys–they can sit for hours on end never seeming to get bored. Me, on the other hand, I get bored after 4 minutes or so. Maybe someday I'll learn the secret of that kind of patience. No talking. A person can only only sing so many songs before the memory begins to fail. I listened to the breeze blowing through the trees which created a drone in my ear enough so to create a melody of two. (I used to do the same thing when I was a kid and had to mow the 2 acre lawn in front of the house. The lawnmower makes a ringing which served as the background for a lot of great melodies which I've long since forgotten.)
I sang and listened until the
tone changed to that of a setting sun. Lulled into reverie,
my attention floating across the humming red clouds, I felt the nip
at the back of my neck at first to be an insect. Then I felt full
force, the pain burning my upper back. "No talking," says the
Little Red Man.
The ice bear's back was a high as my chest. His yellow-white fur slowly wells over layers of fat like ocean swells. He reaches again, the massive paw drives us foward straight off the hill across the beam of light shot over the western horizon by the last pin-prick of a setting sun. He pushes past me, and grabbing a handful of fur we slowly steal onward into the darkening western sky.
There is a bridge, an ice bridge, invisible to me, under our feet. It is obviously invisible to my rolling guide as well because he carefully feels each step before taking it. Inching forward step by step we cross the night sky ever outward, veering more and more north by northwest.
Days past, and we travel on. Hunger has already come and gone. The thirst is on cooled by the night air. On for days on end; no breaks to relieve numb feet. For nine nights unbroken by a sunrise, we wade through the tiredness which weighs on me like icy, sea water, blackness broken only by unwinking stars to every side and nothing below but a bridge that I trust is there.
On the ninth night the sky in front of us begins to change. Brightening, growing whiter, like a winter sunrise without the sun, the sky begins to glow, and we are heading straight into the middle of it.
The ice mountain begins to rise up as the distance slowly closes. Still the bridge is under our feet and my numb fingers cling to the fur-backed guide. "No talking." The bridge is now a a thin narrow strip of frost no more than a shoulder's-breadth stretching out behind us like a comet's hair and, in front, to to top of the ice mountain which is now noticeably closer and which has spouted two towerlike structures on this side. A half-day's travel yet.
The last 100 yards. The bridge has become solid and broad with a surface if gravel made of crystals of ice. The air is bright with a slight, crispy, frozen winter mist which swirls gently as we pass through. My guide knows where he goes. I let go the fistful of fur I have held for so long, and he pads gently and quietly down a set of stairs spiraling largely to the left. Pausing only for a second to catch a long needed breath, I follow.
The bottom of the stairs speads out widely into a large, high ceilinged hall in the center of which is a table decked out for a Sunday brunch, lit overhead by a chandelier of curious construction, and one overly large chair with a 10 year old boy sitting. My guide is nowhere in sight. I stop. He's dressed in a T-shirt and a pair of school pants clean and groomed. He lifts his head, looks up at me sadly, stands up, turns his back and walks away towards a narrow flight of stairs leading up and out the back of the large room behind the table. I follow his sobbing. His back is always one turn of the staircase in front of me. Upwards and out a short distance to a grassed over hill top lightly hazed over with the ever present mist.
"She used to sing," he says with sobbing voice. He raises his sad-eyed face up to me. His blond hair, like his mother's when I last saw her, looks as if a hand had worried it's way through leaving some of the hairs sticking to old, drying tears. "She used to sing to me, but she doesn't anymore." He sniffled. I stretched up my neck and looked back through the eons traveled, and command mom to "Sing! He wants you to sing like you used to!"
"Sing! He wants you to sing!"
A quiet sob starts, and then the words to the familiar–
I turn to the boy who is smiling with fondness at his mother's forgetfulness. Still smiling, he turns and walks out toward the edge of the hill and points to the east where the sun is but a memory behind bright mist. I look into his face, but he doesn't see me–he doesn't see any thing past his smile. He's not leaving here; he never will.
I follow the finger across hills and through broad valleys tavelling throght the day. Evening comes. The mist clears. In the moonless darkness aheadI spot the target of that morning's finger, glowing ever so slight out into the night. The mouth of the cave is high and the mountain it is carved from blackens the sky in front of me. A low hum draws me inside. A few short steps inside the mountain, and I stop.
Before me is the most touching sight:
Very difficult to say whether they are men or women, and my feelings don't help much either because sometimes they feel like men or a mixture of men and women and at other times they feel like women. The dirty grey hair is long and unkempt and hangs like straw down to their chests obscuring their facesand hiding their gender, clothes are tattered and dusty. Four giant people are hovering over a sleeping body lying face down on bed of gold. They are carefully adjusting the leg here, the clothing there moving in harmony with one another like a single human mother crooning over a newborn. One slowly lifts the giant head in my direction and stops humming.
"We'll care for her. We have her luck, and we'll care for her until she wakes up."
"Is there nothing that I can do?" I ask.
"We don't know why she sleeping, but we must take care of her until she wakes." The large head turns again to its task and resumes humming.
The trip homeward was long but uneventful. The Little Red Man playing little jokes on me to keep me from falling asleep. The ice bear walks slowly ignoring the antics behind a skill well practiced on mosquitos and gnats of the Arctic summer.
I arrived home alone to find my client lying on the floor sleeping. Tears had mussed her make-up. Carefully, ever so carefully, I readjust her feet and then sttraighten the tail of her shirt.