Come Whip the Earth!
Now as the world outside was flooding, there inside that house once called the Old Manor slept The Extra with his wife. She slept with her mouth open. Into her mouth and past her teeth, down her trachea, entering her left lung, as she took a breath, through the membrane of her alveoli, her bloodstream, a small arteriole, a sliver-of-a-river, down through the chambers of her heart until coming to the arteries that lead down to the placenta, that bright red leaf with its bulging latticework, past a layer of stratum spongiosum and into the hollow of the intervillous spaces that are filled continually like the basins of the deep with blood, diffusing through the sprigged fingers of the chorionic villi containing the umbilical vein entwined together with the umbilical arteries which carry off what has been received, flowing to the branch of the vein embedded inside the white gummy rubber, the Wharton’s jelly, of the umbilical cord near instantly traversing inch after inch until reaching the navel of his abdomen, bypassing other routes by poking up through the transverse fissure of his liver, entering the branch of the Arantius’ Duct, flowing into the vena cava, the right atrium of his heart, through the shunt that is called the foramen ovale into the left atrium, pumping into the aorta, up the carotid arteries until forking into the ophthalmic artery forking still to the central retinal artery that pierces near the optic nerve and spreads offshoots all across the surface of his retina, there is the organ through which the child, unable to sleep like his parents, senses his dark world for any light. There is no light inside that swollen cave he can tell in the fog of the fluid that wraps around his kicking limbs. He must content himself with his world as it is, the world swelled just so he could be inside it, just so he might have some place to grow. There is no picking and choosing for him now, there is no way for him to shape what has been already shaped out of the walls of his mother’s uterus. He is the one who has been shaped, he is the one who has only to rest. If he cannot rest, he is the one who must find some way to bide the time. Let them him jump on the pliant walls of the amniotic sac until he gets his mother’s attention. Then she could say, “See! He’s in there, he’s energetic and happy to be alive.” That would be a comfort.
But at that very moment, his mother’s dreams were dark. She dreamed of the life that she could have lived with her husband had the world not been destroyed. The extra and his girlfriend, Rachel, were in the same position that the child of the cave found himself in. The Old Manor is dark inside, wet. The only difference between her womb and the womb of that house is warmth. There is no comfort for them there in the cold, but sleep. They will throw off the questions they have about their new world until they wake up. They hear unconsciously the echo of the outer world’s sounds drift like dead shadows on the watery floors of the living room. These sounds influence what it is they dream of. It’s good they sleep. When they wake up they will call dreams dreams and life, life. For now, they dream about waves crunching light poles as they roll down city streets, shattering windows and lifting neat lawns. They dream about men out on oceans or lakes or ponds meeting towers that fall to devour their boats, bending bows to splinters and sides to hulks. The couple has no happy dreams that night, but they wake to the lie that their unhappy dreams were untrue.
If only they knew what price they buy the comfort of unhappy dreams at! It was not just in their dreams that the world met its end by water. Their sleeping hearts pieced together the truth long before their waking thirsts and worries could. Their sleeping hearts presented the truth inside their minds without any help from the two organs that assemble the fragments of the fractured world by the hands of a thousand saccades. The organ of our dreams is buried deep inside our guts. Like the eyes, it works only with fragments: scraps from our lives and rumors of our worst worries. Like the eyes, the organ of our dreams passes over these pieces, again and again, until it has come upon a settled picture. This is the picture it shows us. Many people, according to this narrator, give too much credence to the ability of the eyes to perform this task of grasping—and too little credence to our dreams. Why do we do this, when both give us the same service? It is because one organ works while we are awake to pass our own judgment upon its judgment, while the other works best when our hands are tied, our mouths shut, eyes bound. So we never see horrors with our eyes and take them as comforts, because we judge them as horrors. When we see horrors in our dreams, however, we wake and judge that it was only a dream. It was designed this way, so that we do not get a double portion of the horrors contained in this world. Instead, we get a half portion of mourning and a half portion of comfort, even though we saw more horrors than our eyes themselves revealed. Wise men take all the mourning and no comfort, because they know how it is.
Although the child could not see anything in his world, he could hear the muffled groans of his parents as they woke up to discover their own wombed world. They spoke to each other. It was the voice of his mother that he heard best. He felt it in his bird bones; it reverberated inside the amphitheater of his soft skull. His parents woke up and the child shifted his weight as she rose from the chair. His mother cried—but his father hugged her, pressing his stomach against hers, compressing the walls of his home. The child kicked back against him. They said something to each other and he felt his father’s hand on the wall. He kicked his father’s hand away and held fast with his fingers loosely around the cord that had him bound to his mother. He could not see a thing, but neither could his parents. All they could see was what they felt with their hands, like the blind. And like a blind old woman, his mother walked with her hands outstretched in the darkness of that night while her husband put his arm around her waist. Water slushed against their pants. They wished they could be as safe as their child, as care free. They heard sounds on the walls of the house, distant howls, screeching. None of these noises came to their waking attention.
“I’m hungry,” the extra said, “are you hungry?”
“I’m always hungry,” she said.
“You let me go into the kitchen, then. Stay here. I’ll see if I can find a flashlight and some food.”
She leaned against the railing of the stairs and said nothing, because she was going to be sick. She heaved and heaved until she vomited on the water. The image of three corpses floating on the water in the other room, bumping against her legs, came into her mind. As the extra was making noise inside the kitchen, opening and closing kitchen cabinets, another sound came from inside the house. The stairs creaked behind her, but not like someone was coming down them. They creaked as if they were being twisted. A light flashed on the water in the doorway of the kitchen. Two lines of shadow from the doorway scanned across the dancing diamonds of grey and dark blue, fitted like an ornament on the surface of the floorboards. He came to her and shed light on her. She turned to see what was happening, and behold, the stairs looked as if they were melting in heat. They were like metal that had just recently been plunged into the burning embers of a furnace, only to be pulled out and struck into shape on the anvil. The stairs of wood hammered together once sawn long ago gained the youthful looks of the trees that bore them. They had the look of white flesh once the bark has been peeled off a fresh, living stick. The stairs could bear no further delay and, as the soft flesh rose around them, plunged their finished edges into it and were swallowed. And those were now twigs that used to be called spindles in the railing. Neither of them could believe the miracle they witnessed and reached out their hands in disbelief to feel the surface. Where stairs used to be was now at the touch the soft inside of a tree. The extra stood at the bottom of the long-gone stairs. He directed the light up them. The stairwell grew rapidly upwards—as the hollow of a giant root. Those spindles, once twigs, had all too soon grown together and formed the sides of this root, on one side limpid, a hard bark on the other. This giant root pushed against the roof of the house, in order to puncture it, and the extra saw in a sudden moment what he thought would be the immediate death of his whole family. But instead of piercing the outer membrane of their safety, the root only carried on, high, higher up. The root was now racing off into the heights so far that the light could not find its end. The extra and his wife did not know why this happened, but they knew what it was: an offer. So they came to the bottom of that strange ascending well, and began scrambling up it. They found that the scrambling came easy, for the tissued walls of the root was kind on the feet and hands, nor was the incline too steep.
As they climbed, they came to a spot that they knew was well beyond the Old Manor down below, still sunken. They took a break here and heard the creaking of the root still expanding upwards, going before them to the world they had not yet met or seen. The hope overshadowed their hunger and thirst, but their exercise in hope only grew their desperation. There was no immediate answer to their appetites, which made it worse. They discussed whether or not to return to the Old Manor for the night, or to continue on until they came to the end. Neither seemed like a good idea. The extra shut off his flashlight.
He prayed in the darkness, his hands with her hands, “Please, if you can flood the world and give us a way out, bring us some food and water or show us what we are supposed to do to eat.”