The day, sitting just over my shoulder, was a particularly, hot and sunny one. It was not a day to go unnoticed. Fuzzy and out of focus, the day’s canvas painted itself with the blotting of greens, yellows, blues, and browns. The leaves, on a nearby bush, bobbed on the hot air, resisting the push of the wind. Their necks genuflected involuntarily, while sporadically shading the busy work of ants, moving with an obliviousness, cutting well, worn grooves into the stratified earth. 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. But it was life removed from it’s natural and organic state. Life sealed behind glass, nurtured and cared for is still life, no less? Then what is it to be free? Freedom, it could be said, is an illusory concept used by people without a god.
The heat of the day rose from the asphalt in shimmering waves, producing a low and constant hum like the sound of a thousand cicadas – organic machinery with its own sonic signature, accompanying it’s programmed work. 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, after all. I had worked so hard and, now, here I was.
The door hung in the air before me. Supported by nothing that I could discern as providing support – no rope, no cable, no stand. If I had to describe the door, it was made of a living dark wood, cast in shadow, with nothing around it to provide shade of any sort on a hot day like today. I stretched out my hand and reached for the handle. I’d spent many hours, dedicated many things, and sacrificed much to find the door to this room. I wholeheartedly believed that I was worthy, that I was entitled to receive the reward. This is what I told myself.
I did not hesitate to take hold of the unassuming handle and turn it.
The door opened slowly, under the weight of its own gravity. The hinges creaked and the wood moaned.
Beyond the door frame, I could just make out the outlines of a dimly lit room, that was, by my observation, empty. The light fell into the event horizon of the room, illuminating very little.
Given the uncertainty of what could lay immediately beyond the threshold of the door, I should have had some reservation, but I did not; such is usually the case, when terrible decisions are made.
I crossed over the threshold and stepped inside. Looking around the huge room, I noticed it contained many 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 my eyes around the room, taking inventory, while searching for the source of the words. “What you bring across the threshold is all that exists in this place.” Feeling a presence, near my elbow, I looked down, slowly. The creature standing at my elbow had the face of a child. With it’s little brown face, looking up at me, I asked, “Who are you?”
The child responded with a blank stare, with the echoes of laughter continuing to come from things 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, seated 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.” She looked up at me. “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. It was a human shaped figure 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 said. “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. 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. Turning loose the hand of the child, I dove into the pile of things. Picking up the photo, I blew away the dust. I recognized the photo as one taken from one of the few times I was able to be with them all – out having fun.
I remembered the moment vividly as the scene lifted itself from the paper. The three of them were laughing very hard while I tickled them, really good and hearty, down-in-the-gut children’s laughter. As I poured over the details of the photo, it began to crumble, falling through my fingers, as it re-materialized back where I had retrieved it, not minutes ago.
My mouth dropped open and I closed my eyes while kneeling in the dust. Thick saliva webbed across my lips. My jaw jerked as tears squeezed themselves through my shuttered eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I became only faintly aware of the horrible screams that began to come from deep within me.
“These are the consequences of your decisions. The Room contains all the broken things you have accumulated along your journey to reach The Room.” I heard the little girl say. “All sitting quietly here, waiting for your 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 said.
She waved her hand across the yards of broken promises and heartaches 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. I began to feel a strong desire to run, to find my way back to the door, realizing my children would make these same mistakes. 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 began to work 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