“Time is always at a beginning and at an end.
And for this reason it seems to be always different.”
Aristotle: Physics (Book IV, part 10-13)
The Moon and the Darkness Fell Asleep
In the beginning, was the Moon, and the Moon was alone. No one knows how long the Moon was by itself because there was no such thing as Time. And because there was no such thing as Time, it’s difficult to speak of arrival, but I’ll try my best. After the beginning began, In some timeless moment before you were born, before the atom was discovered, before it was split, before particles were accelerated in the vacuum of a metallic machine, the Moon slowly became aware that it was no longer alone. It felt this thing that we call Darkness growing all around it. And that was when, to measure the movement between the existence of two things, Time was born. According to Aristotle, Time is a measure of motion and of being moved. The Darkness, pressing against the Moon, brushing past it, moved like velvet. To the Darkness, the Moon felt sticky.
“Was the Moon afraid of the dark?” asked a small Black Haired Girl.
“That was before there was fear,” The Mother One answered.
“When did fear come?” asked the Black Haired Girl.
“There is only One who knows the answer to that question,” answered the Mother One before she continued with her story. “The Moon loved the sticky velvet darkness. Then there were four things, the Moon, the Darkness, Time, and Love. One day the Darkness found a tiny crack in the surface of the Moon. It slipped inside. The Moon felt the deep silky Darkness filling it. Now the Darkness knew what it was like to feel contained. It felt safe.”
“And then there were rabbits?” asked the girl with black hair.
The Mother One laughed and said, “That part’s coming, but first the Moon and the darkness fell asleep.” The Mother One gently brushed the black hair out of the little girl’s eyes as she hummed her a soft tune to fall asleep in her feather bed, in The Other-Other World.
Four and a half billion years later, while the Moon and Darkness were still asleep, nine-year-old Naomi lay awake in her bed, in the Regular World. She was trying to forget the inferno of her father’s rage this afternoon. She closed her eyes tightly, but on the inside of her eyelids, she can see the poisonous mushroom clouds that bloomed out of his mouth as he shouted. He looked so tall that day, and the sky behind him was full of charcoal clouds.
But Naomi wants to remember her father differently. She can’t forget his gentleness- (like some do to punish him for his later transgressions- but mostly to soften the sharpness of loss.) The most exact illustration of her father’s gentleness occurred on one of those frozen coastal fishing trips he loved so much. This Time it was just him and her. She remembers falling asleep in the back of his truck, with the camper shell above them, buried in sleeping bags, the cold air striking only a minor chord. Before bed, they’d roasted hot dogs over a fire and ate them sitting on the open tailgate of his old orange Dodge. Looking up at the tall trees outlining a skylight full of stars, swinging her five-year-old legs in the light of the fire and a battery-operated lantern, Naomi felt warm and happy and safe.
The next morning they went fishing. Or rather, Naomi’s father fished and Naomi watched. He’d made a shelter for them on the beach; two chairs beneath a tarp that he propped up with some poles, positioned to block the worst of the wind. Naomi fell asleep. He makes sure she is covered up and continues fishing. He wakes her up a little later and they walk along the beach, stopping to inspect mysterious things the tide has left behind. They walk a few miles maybe, and then, “Look,” he whispers. Two or three yards ahead, a seagull sits on a piece of driftwood.
“Sweetheart, don’t move,” he whispers to Naomi, “It has something stuck in its mouth.”
The grey and white bird had a fishing hook stuck in the soft spot inside his beak, with a couple of feet of the fishing line still attached. Naomi watches as her father whispers to the gull, stepping closer and closer. “It’s okay” he whispers to the bird, “I’m going to help you.” He repeats this like a mantra as he draws nearer and nearer. The bird eyes him and shifts from one foot to the other, back and forth. The coast was isolated; birds here would not be accustomed to people. No commercial pier to draw in lazy tourists in cuffed denim, to incite small business owners to take up shop, not a charming inlet or peninsula, (her father preferred the peace of this isolated area,) and so it was even more unexpected that the gull, listening to her father’s quiet voice, allowed him to approach, allowed him to remove the hook.
The minute he felt free, the gull flew away. As he watched the flap of wings disappear into the clouds, her father seemed introspective and surprised. “He let me help him, he knew I was going to help him,” he said. “Did you see that, honey?” he asked her. That was her father’s true nature. And it should not be forgotten.
Fourteen years following, when Naomi was all grown up, something happened to her (which you will learn about later). And because of this thing that happened to her, she became someone else. Naomi became a girl named Tang. And after Naomi became Tang, she had to take brain medicine. She went to the doctor’s office once a month to talk about her medication. It was always very dull.
“I’m down to 0.5 mg of the anti-anxiety per day,” Tang told her psychiatrist, who was sitting with her back very straight and a clipboard in her lap. Behind her were old bay windows looking out over Fillmore Street.
“That’s a big decrease,” her psychiatrist replied. “You probably should have reduced little by little.” She looked down and wrote something on the clipboard. Her hair was perfectly straight and parted on the left side of her head.
“They just make me so tired;” explained Tang quietly, “I couldn’t take them and work at the same time. They even made me depressed.” Tang looked down at her black boots.
Her psychiatrist said, “I understand. It makes sense.”
“But the tactile hallucinations are still happening,” Tang mumbled.
The psychiatrist repositioned herself on her chair, “Those are the hardest to treat.” she said, then asked, “What about the intrusive thoughts?”
“Oh, those are gone,” responded Tang enthusiastically, but what she meant was that they were mostly gone.
“Good, good. You should work on finding yourself a therapist,” replied the psychiatrist as she wrote another note on the clipboard in her lap.
Tang laughed a laugh that reminded one of stained glass breaking in a church, “You can tell I’m not seeing one now?” she asked the psychiatrist, then promised, “I will, I will.”
Her psychiatrist handed her a piece of paper, “Here’s a guide to therapists we work with and recommend. I like Peter and Richard.” she recommended.
Tang took it, “Okay,” she said, “thanks.” She folded the paper many times until it was smaller than a dollar bill and put it in her pocket. She would most likely never look at it again.
Tang and The Black Haired Girl Converse About the Imaginary Monks
Tang took a long and bumpy bus ride home from the psychiatrist’s office. She unlocked the security screen door and stared for a while up the staircase that leads to her dimly lit loft on Main Street. She looked older than she usually looked. The skin on her face was droopy, and her eyes were saggy. She appeared to be hunching her shoulders, and there was something wrong with the back of her neck. Her muscles were made of sand, and as she climbed the stairs, she grits her teeth. Finally, after a thousand years of climbing, she crashed onto an old crushed velvet couch. No one knew what color the sofa had been initially, but now it was the color of moss on the forest floor.
“Do you want to tell me something?” asked the Black Haired Girl.
Tang jumped, “I didn’t see you there,” she said, slightly annoyed. “But I suppose I’ll tell you more. It was freezing, and the windows were single-paned. Outside there were fifteen inches of snow. Inside the guest room was a medium-sized white Christmas tree decorated brightly. And monks were singing in the attic or maybe the sky… somewhere. There was a choir of monks humming night and day. Their humming sometimes sounded beautiful, sometimes ominous. They were there to narrate the story of this winter. Their humming made her feel endangered. They were invisible.”
She listened to their holy, menacing humming for weeks, wondering at the strangeness of it. In the middle of the night, when the humming began to sound more ominous, she went into the living room. She strained to hear it from the couch. Sometimes she could, but mostly she could not. She stared at the buck head on the wall across from her. She named it Harold, and they had some brief but meaningful conversations.
One evening her Mom came into the guest room while she was practicing Spanish in bed. “Can you hear that?” she asked her Mom, not guessing that she could.
“It’s the freezer, I think,” said her Mom, looking at the freezer in the corner, filled with see-through packages of meat.
“I don’t think so,” said Tang, shaking her head.
Her Mom bent her head closer to the freezer, got down on her hands and knees to make sure. “Yes, it is. It’s the freezer,” said her Mom when she was sure.
“I thought it was a choir of invisible monks this whole time,” said Tang.
Her Mom, to her credit, did not laugh or cry. Her face remained neutral, although a shiver of fear ran through her. She said again, “no, it’s the freezer.”
Tang started to cry, “Can we get it out of here, please?”
She heard her evil step-dad in the kitchen later that night, saying, “well, if she knows now, then why do we have to move it?” Her Mom answered him in a low voice, and the next day the freezer full of singing monks was gone.
The Black Haired Girl had been listening quietly to Tang’s story, but now she spoke, “was that when you became Tang?”
“That came later,” Tang replied.
“What was life like as Naomi?” asked the Black Haired Girl.
“That’s a stupid question,” answered Tang as she kicked off her sandals. Her toes were dirty, there was a scab on the back of her heel. The Black Haired Girl flickered in and out.
“I’m sorry,” said Tang, “here’s an example. It is a warm summer day, right at the corner of the late morning and early afternoon. Naomi is biking across town. Past the Downtown Park Plaza, a square mile of slick cement with a circular array of fountain heads spitting E.coli stained water through the air. Sparkling, beautiful water is glistening in the light, making rainbows. Beautiful water is splashing laughing children in the face, soaking the little one’s diaper. From that diaper, the beautiful water begins to spread contamination to no small percentage of that city’s populace. Beautiful Fountain Water, don’t let your children run screaming through it to cool their hot little heads.
Past the post office Naomi bikes, past the library, then the justice center: Center for Justice and Peace, across the railroad tracks, around that dangerous curve. Outside of town now, fruit stands stand, taller grasses sway under tallest trees. A left ahead toward the Train Car Graveyard, and everything is perfect: the breeze, the sky, the scent in the air of wet earth beneath the orchard trees, of strawberries in a cedar crate on the side-of-the-side-of-the-road. Yes, everything is perfect: the tick-tick-tick of the sprinklers as they flick to and fro in the shade below their big tree family. And within Naomi grew a feeling of weightlessness, of expansion. It was there and then that Naomi decided with resolve and something akin to surprise, that she loved him, unknowingly shifting her fate with that single, independent, isolated decision.
At that moment, Naomi looked up to see all around her, a shimmering net, hundreds, maybe several thousand dragonflies flying with her down the road, between the orchards toward the Train Car Graveyard. She could hear them singing one single note. Some say it’s just the sound of their wings, “Just, the sound of their wings,” that’s all. By being “just that,” it is, therefore, unimportant, insignificant, and meaningless. They say it that way because they don’t hear the Song Itself because their senses are deadened and filtered by a steady stream of overstimulation- a mental static induced by the Information Age- born from the depth and height and dizzying speed of the Technological Revolution.
Naomi wasn’t exceptional, but she overheard the sound of their single noted Song. She could hear their Song and decided among them as they flew, that she loved him, and they, the dragonflies, bore witness to the birth of her love. To her, this was the beginning and she was full of hope. Light of her hope shone through the cells in her body, and all the dragonflies rejoiced at the sight. So, maybe it’s better she didn’t realize it until years later, I’d like to believe that. Because by the Time she knew that she loved him, it was already over, or may as well have been. What she thought had been a secret, never was. Or so they say, or so they said.
While Tang explains that summer day as Naomi, The Black Haired Girl sits quietly listening. She is in two places at once. She is seated next to Tang on the crushed velvet couch, but for a moment, she is also in anFother room, an all but empty room which exists in a place we call The Other-Other World. The light is dim, with no visible origin. Without a source, the shadows remain locked away. She sits in a long white nightdress; her hair hangs down obscuring part of her face. To her right sits a tall young man, his face a mystery, his hair a massive curly bloom above. He sits in silence. These two seem unacquainted; they don’t look nor speak to one another. It almost appears that neither is aware of the other, maybe the young man and woman don’t inhabit the room simultaneously, though it looks from some angles that they do.
Suddenly and swiftly, the girl in the nightdress springs from her seat and runs lightly to the opposite wall, where she sits down at the only other piece of furniture in the room. The man does not move. His eyes don’t flicker or follow. She is eager to ply her fingers across the piano keys, full of song, without hesitation. She begins, but something is wrong. She looks, the keys are like chalky broken teeth (oh surely not like broken teeth, like something else less cliché.) Crumbled keys, crumbled to dust, sunken keys. But some will play. Her fingers find the working keys and play them. They float across the ivory, and a stuttering tune sends gentle vibrations through his curly hair, then falters, like a dying clock coming to a halt.
The room begins to vibrate, the light increases, she is up and running through the doorway, the vibrations intensify, chattering her teeth in her jaw. Strewn across the wooden floor are countless screws. She keeps running, across the room, through a doorway, and another, and another. Screws are coming loose from the vibrating walls, hundreds of them, large and small, bouncing across the floor. She runs, does not feel them beneath her bare feet, everything vibrating, vibrating, vibrating. The large screws begin to eat the smaller screws: eating and eating and eating. Until all the smaller screws have disappeared, the large screws remain, more substantial than before, gorged with the metallic bodies of the weak. The vibrations come to a stop; the last screws quietly rest on the unfinished wood of the floor. She stares.
Tangerina Lima Beana Sees a Ghost
The next morning Tang, (short for Tangerina Lima Beana,) opened her steel-grey eyes and closed them again. She’d slept for 11 hours on the crushed velvet couch and woke up feeling exhausted as usual. Next door, the welding had begun, and downstairs beat the neighbor’s drums. She fell asleep for another hour and a half. This Time when she woke up she knew she better get her ass out of bed. Her shift would start in less than three hours and she had some things she needed to take care of first. She started a pot of coffee. It was already dark outside. Stupid daylight savings, she thought as she turned on the shower. It took about 7 minutes for the shower water to heat up. During those seven minutes, she ate one banana and two spoons-full of peanut butter. She turned the coffee maker off and poured some over a cup of ice. Now the shower would be ready. She put the lid on the plastic coffee cup and set it in the corner of the shower. She was so tired that she couldn’t even imagine washing her hair, but she did. She took three sips of coffee and applied a deep conditioner.
While her hair was moisturizing, she cleaned her body with an almond-peach willow-bark scrub. Then she took three more sips of coffee. She left the deep conditioner in her hair and rinsed the rest of her body off. She sighed, bent over and wrapped her hair in a towel. Then she kneeled and picked up her cup of coffee. She stood there for a couple of seconds, looking at the wall. She closed her eyes. Her head felt light, and nausea began to creep into her belly. She breathed in slowly and placed her coffee by the sink. Then she sank to the floor and began to cry.
“Just for a little while,” she told herself. “I’ll just cry for a little while.” She cried for less than thirty seconds, but it felt too long. “Don’t be such a baby,” she told her reflection.
She opened up the cabinet and pulled out the wax strips. It would take her thirty minutes to wax everything. After that, she would have to rinse out the deep conditioner, and then she would be left with an hour and a half before work. She knew she would end up rushing, but she started slowly and carefully. Damnit, she realized today she’d have to touch up her gel manicure. She started moving more quickly, and the faster she moved, the less she felt. The caffeine began to rev her up a little. She almost smiled to herself at the sound of a dog barking in the night. Mood swings, she thought to herself. Maybe I have a borderline personality disorder. Perhaps I’m a hypochondriac, she countered. It would take her precisely twenty minutes to apply the makeup and fake lashes.
She pressed her lashes on and surveyed her work carefully. She was down to an hour before work. She took her whole situation out of the bathroom and out to the kitchen table, placed conveniently near the bed. She put her manicure set on the placemat and unplugged her phone from the charger. There was one text from her Mom. She ignored it and set to work on her nails, which would take her about ten minutes. Then she’d have somewhere around forty-five minutes left. She’d been moving slowly again without realizing it. She picked up the pace now. Dammit, she thought. I’m going to be late for the second time this week. She finished her nails and her coffee. Shit. She hated it when she finished her coffee too early. She blew her hair dry and let it hang naturally in shimmering waves down to her waist. She checked her phone, only running five minutes late. She grabbed the royal blue lingerie set and hurriedly slipped it on. She pulled on black leggings and added a white t-shirt. She threw her sequin heels in her backpack and slammed her front door behind her.
If she walked fast enough she might make it in Time. With her head down she plowed through the nighttime crowd. The street smelled like garbage and a woman walked by carrying an empty bag and screaming. Tang looked toward the brick apartment building she was passing and then up at the fire escape. She imagined herself sitting on that fire escape. Her fire-escape-self waved to her as she passed below. Tang waved back.
That’s when she saw him. He was crossing the street in a hurry but she would know him anywhere, the way his heels lifted off the pavement and set themselves back down sharply and with purpose. The way his hair waved a little bit this way a little bit that way. She recognized his elbow, her favorite part of him. He turned to look at her over his shoulder and smiled. She loved to see him. She glowed for several days afterward. There was nothing wrong with this, she assured herself. It was just the way things were, and she wouldn’t give this up. Even if it meant she was a complete mental case. She hadn’t told anyone yet. And she probably never would. They’d worry like they always did, they’d remind her to let go and move on. They’d advise her to take some meds and talk to a shrink. She didn’t see what the big deal was. He’d only been dead for three years. Give or take.
Ten years ago, he’d walked into her life, unobtrusively as ever. He wore a blueish-green polo shirt, which accentuated his dark, thick hair. He was cleanly shaven. After a couple of weeks, she’d figured him out. He was a virgin. Sure enough, a month later, he came to work bragging to everyone that he’d done it for the first time. She’d seen the girl too. She was elegantly thin and brunette with elegant clothes and a very relaxed and confident attitude. Tang didn’t know him, but she hated that exquisite girl deeply. She envied that girl in every way. The girl walked up to him at the counter, and they stood there looking casually tall and graceful and well-groomed together. Then one day, Tang heard that girl moved to New York, and then he moved on to a blonde version of her. He was just like every other guy, cared about one thing and one thing only. Tang sighed and continued folding the clothes. She knew what she was; messy, pudgy, and always being mistaken for a lesbian.
“Dykes scare me,” he’d said one day. It was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard him say. She challenged him about it. He didn’t notice. She made fun of him for a while and then went back to unpacking boxes. She could never stand directly next to him even though that was what she ached to do. She wanted to glue herself to him really, with super glue. But she carefully positioned herself with several people between them. She might manage to comment on something he said, and sometimes, once in a Blue Moon, she’d find herself standing next to him. All she could look at though was his elbow. She was too shy to look at his face, and so she memorized that elbow every Time it walked by. And that was how she recognized him now, or rather, verified his identity. People say you can’t disguise a person from behind, but really what you can’t disguise is your elbow. Mutely, She watched him walk through the crosswalk. He turned his head to smile at her over his shoulder; his heels kicked the air just like they used to. Then he was gone. Tang walked the rest of the way to work in a trance.