By Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
Dorothy, a publishing project
The phone rang persistently. I let it ring a few times. Imagine, I thought, the possibilities on the other end. Another seed, all of this leading to Fra Keeler. Fra Keeler, I thought, and his name did an about-turn in my mind. I reached for the receiver. Death, I thought, it is so sudden. I picked up the receiver. One minute, I thought, one is going along, "Hello," I said, and the next, there is nothing with which to do one's going along, because one is horizontal somewhere, or lying dead in a pit, "Hello," I said again, but there was no one on the other end, or floating downstream in a river, I said, "Hello," one minute, I thought, and the next; it must be the mailman, stubborn horse of a caller.
But why would he be calling me? The mailman. I glanced over at the package. The wars, I thought, the mailman. And the wars spun in my brain like numbers in a lottery bowl, blasphemy, I thought, the mailman. He must have seen me throw the wars in the trashcan. And it wasn't only him who could see me, I thought, because with my mind's eye I could see him, sitting on a solitary chair holding the receiver with his fat hand. "Hello," I said, and thought, his hand is like a boiled lobster. "Are you calling about the wars," I thought to ask, but there was no one on the other end. Not a word out of his mouth. "Cat got your tongue," I said to him, "Mr. Mailman." And my ears got hot. I cursed him: "Dumb as a lobster," I said, "you are, Mr. Mailman," and hung up the receiver.
A minute later the phone rang. This time I picked up right away, half a ring, nothing more, and heard a clicking noise on the other end. An automated voice came on: "Welcome to Ancestry.com," it said, and I said, "Thank you," and hung up the receiver. And then the phone rang. I picked up right away, half a ring, nothing more, a load of white noise on the other end, "Welcome," the voice said, and I felt my mouth fat and milky around my tongue. I thought goats, a thousand goats, walking across my mind, milk the goats, I thought, and they kept walking across my mind. "Welcome to Ancestry.com," said the voice, and I thought what the hell is this, and I threw the receiver against the wall and then the phone rang, two rings, nothing more. I picked up, "Welcome to Ancestry.com," the voice said, "Press one." I said, "You piece of shit mailman," and heard the words come out of my mouth. "Welcome to Ancestry.com," said the voice, I hung up, and then the phone rang.
"How can we assist you?" It was a real person now.
"Thank you," I said. The mailman, I thought, playing games with me now.
"We would be happy to be of assistance if you have any questions," he said, "sir," he said, swallowing to smooth out his voice.
"Assistance, sir," I said, "I think I'm fine."
"In the event that your research is not progressing at an acceptable rate," he said, "sir," picking up force in his voice now.
What madness is this, I thought. "Thank you," I said, and hung up the receiver.
And then the phone rang, two rings, nothing more, "Press one," it said, the voice, and then the phone rang. And I thought, the mailman, the goats, the trashcan, the wars, and the voice started again, "Welcome to Ancestry.com."
"Yes," I said. "Sir, thank you." It was a real person now.
"We would be happy to be of assistance if you have any questions," he said, "sir," swallowing now.
"Assistance, sir?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "in the event that," and he was getting ready to increase the force in his voice and then the phone rang. "Welcome to Ancestry.com," it said, and I thought what madness is this, and the wars started spinning faster in my brain, a long list of wars flattened against the sides of my brain. And I thought: it hurts: the words, and then the phone rang and my blood was boiling so I threw the phone against the wall and shattered the receiver, and I thought the hell with this, the hell with the seeds and the connections, and crawled onto the couch and went to sleep.
In my dream I could see the receiver. At first it was huge, monumental. I felt my eyes were inside my brain, small as pearls. Then slowly my eyes got bigger. The size of marbles and then a pair of dice, they rolled back into my sockets, and it was as though my eyes had their backs to the receiver, so that the receiver got smaller and smaller, until it was tiny, curved like the tail of a lobster and I was very far away, with my eyes in the right place looking out of my brain. Then it faded. The receiver faded and my eyes rolling around the receiver faded and it was all world again and I was just a person in it looking out of my brain: I was in a theater. There was a woman on stage. There were red lights in the background; they cast a dull, pinkish hue over the stage. She said "Come closer," the woman on the stage, and I thought she said "Fra Keeler," but I couldn't be sure so I got up and walked closer. It was dark, even under the pink light in the theater, and an acid smell took over, then it was her face, and she said, "Come closer," and I thought she said "Fra Keeler," and I walked closer, and she said "You did this," pointing at her face, and I said "No, no I didn't," because I could see her face was burnt. Hardly anything left of it. And she said, "You did this," as she continued to point at her face, and I thought, this is a monologue, she is performing, and then again she said, "You did this," pointing at her face, and I said, "No, no I didn't, you did this to yourself," and then she covered her face with a black cloth and walked off stage, and I thought, it's mother talking to me in my dreams. I wanted the curtains to go down so I said "Curtains" but they wouldn't go down, and all I could hear was, "You did this, you were the one who did this to me," and I woke up and immediately drew the curtains and outside everything was as calm as a sparrow—the sun, the trees, the grass, the mailboxes: it was a new day.
I opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The dream, it was a flash in the pan, just an instance. I stared at the sidewalk, the plants, all in a row in the soil. I thought of the mailman, his pink, happy face staring at the plants, and the word sidelong inched its way toward me like a worm. Plants, I remembered thinking, they are good to look at, and I had thought this ahead of him, the mailman, because he had said something to that effect shortly afterwards. Ideas get in the air, I thought, and looked up and saw the mailman down the street knocking on someone's door. He knocked on the door for quite some time. I know because I stood there for a while, long enough for the word sidelong to inch its way toward my foot and crawl up my pant leg too. And for a moment there were two mailmen: the mailman as I remembered him staring at the plants, and the mailman knocking on the neighbor's door, until the first of the two images faded, and adjusted into one mailman, mailman supreme, with his fat lobster hand knocking on the neighbor's door. What a clear day, I thought, looking down the street toward the mailman. Any more sunlight and everything would have been whitewashed. I could see clearly. The mailman down the street, his boiled hand, and I took a step toward him, and I could have taken another hundred, and then someone answered his knocking, and the door swung wide open, and his hand did a cartwheel where the door was. I was still very disoriented from my dream—"you did this," her voice echoed, drumming against the sides of my brain—and then his hand came back down to rest by his side.
I wasn't very far away down the block. I had taken a few steps and could have taken a few more. There was an old lady standing in the doorway where the mailman's hand had been. She was standing in the doorway holding a candle in broad daylight. I took a step closer, and with all my steps accumulated I was two thirds of the way down the block now. Her entire house was pitch dark, and I thought, it's the dark ages, it's the dark ages through her doorway. Her hand trembled. I took a step closer to see if there were any red lights in the background, but there weren't any, and I thought, upstairs, there could be a reddish light upstairs, and I leaned over to see. I could see the edge of her staircase. There was a glimmer of white light, then the old lady handed the candle to the mailman and with two free hands took the package in exchange. "You have to sign for it," said the mailman. "Yes, sir, I have to sign for it," she said, and put the package down by her feet. I could see the mailman was very pleased; his whole posture relaxed when she signed for it. Then he handed her the candle, "A shame to be out of lights," he said, and she said, "Yes, indeed." I could hear their entire exchange. With all my steps having accumulated I was very close behind them. The mailman turned around to take his leave so that suddenly we were two men face-to-face. I thought, what a great frame, the mailman with the door shut behind him, and the old lady on the other side of the door with her candle and her package by her feet. Then I looked straight at the mailman because there was no escaping the situation.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello," I said back.
"It's a good day," he said.
"Very clear day," I said.
"Well then," he said.
"Well then," I said, "it's a good day."
"Yes," he said, and stepped aside to leave.
And then I stepped aside. In the opposite direction. And we both did what we had to do: leave. I thought for a moment, that was the wrong mailman. Not the wrong mailman, just not the right one, or the usual one. I turned around to look at him again, but he was already in the postal truck, pulling out into the street, and all I could see was the back of his postal truck, square as a nun. Maybe he is sick, I thought, the usual mailman. Or on leave. Or I hadn't studied his facial features enough. I should have asked for his name. I walked down the sidewalk, through the row of plants, then right past them into my house. Inside, I looked up at the skylight. I thought, it's as dull as it was before, flat and dull as before, the skylight, even if it's a new day.
There are certain surfaces from which nothing gets removed, nothing more accumulates. A steady humdrum of nothingness. And if anything accumulates it does so at an infinitesimal rate, so the next person to notice is a few lineages down, or not at all, I thought, because you'll never know if that person will stop to look up at the same surface, and if he does there would be no guarantee that he would have the same thought. But then thoughts get passed around from brain to brain, so that our thoughts are only ever a repetition of someone else's thoughts. A thought that came before us and planted itself in our brain as though it belonged to us, inextricable from our being. And that is exactly what the skylight is, I thought: inextricable. I thought of Fra Keeler polishing it, dusting it off, and then going to stand beneath it to see if the light shined through. Meanwhile the old lady in the dark with her candlestick, her package, and her near death. "Thoughts, you walk through them, they exist before you," I said to myself, picking the thought up again, and by some trick of the mind you think it was your thought, and you drag it out, a thread as long as your DNA, and you push at it with your finger and you say "Ah, Yes: This is my thought," and it breathes back against your finger, and you are very satisfied, you and the thought together, you thinking the thought is yours and the thought thinking back at you, right up against your finger. What an idiotic thing to think about, I thought, as I slammed the door shut. I imagined the thought getting stuck in the doorway along with the finger I had imagined pressing against the thought. I walked into the kitchen and took a drink of water by the sink. Death unto both of them, I thought, the finger and the thought, and swirled the water in the glass a few times because I was trying to pause the thoughts or redirect them, the finger along with everything else slammed out of the house by the door slamming shut.