The Gathering Place
It seems I have misplaced the kitchen. It isn’t my fault; this house is crooked. The rooms are crouching on stilts and sometimes they stand up and switch places with one another. I go to the bedroom and find myself in the laundry room. I go to the kitchen and find myself in the bathroom. I open closet doors and find myself on the sidewalk, searching for my winter coat.
Worse yet are the hallways, inexhaustible, crocheted together by secret trickery. Some lead nowhere; others funnel into further hallways. I have lost hours here, hoping to identify a familiar landmark—a painting, perhaps, or a lamp on a side table—any breadcrumb to illuminate the way out. I study the wall colors but they turn to mud in my memory. I round a corner and come up against the blank wall of my mind.
A screaming unravels throughout the house. It is a fragile screaming, like a voice buried in powder, like a voice stuffed with yarn. I cover my ears.
“There you are,” someone says. The hallway straightens up and a woman appears, kind-eyed, offering her hand to me. “It’s almost time for lunch.”
I stop screaming. “Please help me,” I say. “I need to get out of this house.”
We drive, windows down to let the sun in, to a nearby park. We follow clean-cut paths through monuments like oversized toys: a pirate ship bedecked with children shouting about the North Star, log towers with netted cloisters where a boy has lost one shoe. We circle a pond, once perfect glass, now shimmered by paddleboats that churn and churn.
The woman gathers my hand in her own. My skin is so worn, I can see some kind of phosphorescence bulging beneath it. “There they are,” says the woman. I assume that she, too, has noticed the strange surfacing of my bones. But she is talking about a little girl sliding out of an enormous wooden swan and a man stooping to catch her.
“Who are they?” I ask to be polite.
The woman swallows. “My daughter and my husband.”
The little girl spins on a plate of mulch. Laughter cracks her mouth wide open. I can’t see the paddleboats from here, but I imagine they are spinning and laughing too, eulogizing the winter, stirring up what hibernates in the silt.
“Mom,” I hear the little girl say. “Mom. Mom.” But it isn’t the little girl; it is the woman and she is looking at me.
“They’ve let loose the boats,” I say. “The paddleboats. Last time, they were leashed to the dock.”
Her jaw unhooks. “You remember this place?”
“I think so.” I take a moment to gather my thoughts and they come to me, dulled and dog-eared and limping, but nevertheless they come. The woman’s hand was once the size of a grape and it curled around my finger, the sweetest fist. I squeeze my daughter’s hand now. “This place is. This place is the gathering place.”