The day, sitting just over my shoulder, was a sunny and hot one. Fuzzy and out of focus, a background of greens, yellows, blues, and browns blotted the canvas. The leaves, on a nearby bush, bobbed on the hot air, left to right – resisting the push, their necks genuflected involuntarily.
I wiped the sweat from my brow while I absorbed the details of the moment. The day reminded me of many field trips I took as a child to horticultural conservancies. The early morning air was always thick with the smell of leafy life – extending up, pushing forward through the humidity, through dark and moist earth and wood – reaching upward to live within the light and be free. Life removed and sealed behind glass, is still life, no? But to be free? Freedom is an illusory concept used by people without a god.
The heat rose from the asphalt in shimmering waves, producing a low, constant hum, like the sound of a thousand cicadas. I had never given much thought to the theories that lean toward a god that took a hands on approach to orchestrating my personal affairs – pushing buttons and pulling levers to control all the minutiae of everyday life – hands down in the mud and weeds. But neither did I believe the universe simply ran on it’s own. As if one day it discovered and unwrapped itself with the math and precision of near perpetuity already in place. A universe that balanced out the ledgers of right and wrong through the application of some universal scales of justice, ever seeking equilibrium. Neither theory carried much water with me.
I did, however, believe in the mathematics of the universe and it’s system of operations; potential energy becomes kinetic energy; mass and energy are interlocked and transmutable; work hard and you will be rewarded. I believed in the binary math that told me I was here today and one day I would not be; just a matter of balancing the equation; a matter of applying the math. Which meant I had the freedom to doggedly, maybe even dogmatically, pursue the affections and adulation of the good life, I so desired. My fate was in my hands. I had worked so hard and, now, here I was.
The door stood before me. It was a living dark wood, somehow cast in shadow, with nothing around it on a day like today to provide shade of any sort. I stretched out my hand. I’d spent many hours, dedicated many things, and sacrificed much to find the door to this room. I was entitled to receive the reward, I told myself. I did not hesitate to take the unassuming handle in hand and turn it to open it.
The door opened slowly, under the weight of it’s wood and metal. The hinge creaked, as it revealed it’s contents. A dimly lit room that was, by my observation, empty. Any outside light passing by the door fell into the gravity of the room; sucked in and illuminating nothing.
I crossed over the threshold and stepped inside. In looking around the huge room, I noticed it contained nothing but doorways leading away to other dimly lit rooms. As the door shut itself behind me with a near weightless ease, I began to hear laughter.
Human shaped shadows, stretched in length, slid along the walls, moving in and out of permanent shadow within the room. “What you bring across the threshold is all that exists in this place.” Said a voice, soft and low.
I spun around the room taking inventory, attempting to locate the owner of the voice. “What you bring across the threshold is all that exists in this place.” I felt something, someone near my elbow. I, slowly, looked down to see a child with a little brown face, looking up at me. “Who are you?” I asked the child. The echoes of laughter continued in the background; coming from things that sounded as though they were on the move; moving within the shadow where I could not see.
“I tend to the things that are contained within this place.” She replied.
Although I could still but barely see, I now saw the shapes of people sitting in shadow, in the dark corners of the room. “These are the chosen ones,” She said. “Generations and generations who sit in the darkened corners laughing, uncontrollably. They laugh because they know the secret.”
She took my hand. As she did so, the shadow receded a bit, just enough to bring definition to one of these creatures. The human shaped figure was seated behind a loom. “Their job is to spin songs for people to hear and desire; songs of alluring self aggrandizement and self service.” She looked up at me. “The chosen ones are responsible for the mythology that drives them mad with desire. People who find the songs sweet to their ears are driven to seek it, reaching for hand holds and sure footing, as they climb the mountain, sliding their bodies over the rough rock face. All done in service to seek out the door in order to find the prize. All to reach The Room.”
The child pointed to another room that was just as dimly lit. As we walked closer to it, I could see shapes contained within. The room was littered with twisted children’s bikes, deflated footballs, unstrung gloves, broken picture frames, dusty tea cups, stained and curled craft works, and broken hearts. Among the items, I saw a photo of my children. I turned loose the hand of the child and dove into the pile of things to locate the photo. I picked it up and blew the dust off. It was taken from one of the few times I was able to be with them all, out having fun. I remember the moment vividly as if it lifted itself from the paper, replaying the moment. They laughed so hard as I tickled all three. Really good and hearty children’s laughter, down in the gut. The photo began to crumble through my fingers as it rematerialized back where I had retrieved it, not minutes ago.
“These are the consequences of your decisions. The Room contains all the broken things you have accumulated to reach The Room.” All sitting quietly in the room waiting for my arrival. “All things sacrificed in service to your achievements.” The swirling ghosts of childhood dreams and children’s stories whispered about noisily. The desires of my youth, which should have been outgrown had strangled the gifts of the present. The echoes of nothing reached my ears almost as loudly as the laughter. “People are presented with choices. Incorrect decisions reset the lesson for some future date, until the lesson is learned.”
She waved her hand across the yards of broken promises and hearts, tucked in among the broken things within the room. “What is left in the wake of those incorrect decisions are the broken people you leave along the way. They can not be carried on. They are stuck where they were broken. Some of them will become new seeds for a new crop of ambitious ones, who will come along to find The Room, too.”
She motioned for me to come to where she stood. “Now that you are here. You will now be rewarded.” She took my arm and walked me to a corner and instructed me to sit. “Your reward, your job is to spin like the others, while you sit among the treasure of broken things you brought with you.” I looked into the child’s eyes quizzically. I still wasn’t fully grasping what was happening. She gently guided me into the chair. “The journey is more important than the destination. And all decisions lead to consequences. Your desire for good things, the good life, at the cost of nearly everything else, has brought you to The Room, like so many others before you.” My hands instinctively placed themselves on the loom as my feet began to pump the pedals.
“What you bring across the threshold is all that exists in this place. And you have brought loneliness, sadness, and broken hearts.” As I looked over at the child, shadow eclipsed my face and torso. The laughter began again, floating up from the other rooms. I knew I should run, I wanted to run back toward the door, but I couldn’t. My face bore the evidence of the struggle as it was happening in my mind. This was my reward for all of my struggle and sacrifice? But in that moment, a strange level of comfort and calm descended upon me, paralyzing my fear and keeping me still. My hands worked the loom with familiarity, as I added to the work of The Room.
Soon I heard nothing, but the laughter of my own voice, echoing within the hollow of the room.
We all laugh because we know the secret. We laugh because it is the only way to cope with what we know or else we would wail and cry.
The secret is that there isn’t anything here, but what you bring.
by malakhai jones
(c) Copyright 2016
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