Viewing Rooms

She grew up addicted to the rooms in other peoples' lives.

At night she walked among the houses, hunting for the familiar blue glow of a flickering TV, the reassuring motion of a ceiling fan, ribbons of light cascading through half-drawn blinds. Every lit window a world–teenagers hunched over computers, adults reclining in their favorite chairs, babies screaming over lullabies.

She wanted to know where they came from, where they were going. She wanted their laundry list of regrets. She felt nostalgic for their childhoods–for the kinetic potential of childhood–for a calculus whose meaning exceeded its sum. Familiar things occupied unfamiliar positions, posing unanswerable questions in the unintelligible language of physical space; socks hanging from pots in the kitchen, broken pulls for curtains that never get drawn.

In a tiny bungalow behind the school, in the middle of a room with newspapered walls, she found a woman in a rocking chair listening to AM choir and finishing a large-print word search puzzle, alone. A single 40W light bulb hung from its wire over her head.

"It isn't real," she assured herself. "Nothing in this world is real."

She returned to old habits. People became alien, impossible creatures with bulbous heads and long, floppy limbs. Questions presented themselves without permission. What kind of cereal do they buy at the store? Which percentage of milkfat do they drink–do they still believe in drinking cow's milk? What's hidden in their underwear drawer, where there isn't any underwear? Whose crumbs are those under the couch?

In the morning they discovered an empty bed and went searching. The volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol turned up reports of ghosts. The entire city mobilized, which shocked her. The doctor observed her in this state and marked it a significant improvement; her prescription was made. On a narrow bed in a white room, in a glass-concrete hospital with a top-of-the-line HVAC system and full Basic Cable, she looked with wonder at the faceless men and women descending to save her, all the light of Heaven at their backs. They folded her in a gossamer gown, secured her with their golden chains, and then administered 225 volts of electrical current directly into her scalp until her eyes rolled up into her head and the first bead of spittle appeared on her chin.

***

The view outside is like a Rembrandt, a single row of live oaks crossing a landscape of purple and gold. A crop-duster flies low over the fertile earth, spraying a miracle blend of chemicals on to parallel rows of perfect little lives, planted one-at-a-time by mechanical dinosaurs, guided by satellites beyond the limits of human vision. Soybean, corn, wheat, peanuts, cotton; that's money being made, real money, that's Americans eating well, Americans on the moon, children growing up happy, healthy, well-fed. "Miraculous industry," reads all relevant literature. "Industry," she says, and she becomes a machine.

Paint

When I Have Not the Salt to Cry: Final Monologue on the Raft of Medusa