Mace, are you awake?
I had a nightmare.
Maya, you can come lay next to me if you are scared.
We slept in bunk beds in a cold drafted hall of perilous concern to any random stranger that walked in. Only, the people that came in were not strangers, they were ‘buyers’, we were told. Buyers of what? No idea. I only arrived here a couple months ago myself.
We sleep in corners. They are called, north, south, east, and west, each housing thousands of ‘us’. North corner held the older kids, Maya and me are in the south corner. Maya and I are at the ends of the spectrum of ages here. Young children sleep in the east corner and infants in the west corner.
Maya is a little younger than me, arriving late into the night last month. I heard her as she arrived, screaming and yelling, awakening us all. None of us dared to lift our heads. The corner masters were excessively angry all the time. For some reason, once Maya was placed in the bunk below mine, she stopped. I mean immediately, as if she instantly accepted her fate. But every once in a while, she simply asked me if she could come up into my bunk. Well, she never outright asked. I think she was too brave to say, ‘I am scared, can I come lay next to you Mace’. So when Maya awoke in the middle of the night, I always invited her to come lay next to me, and she would, always lying on her back, tucking the cover up to her chest, staring up, up at the ceiling of nothingness, but always seeing something as she dozed off. It always appeared she was seeing past the ceiling, into another place where everything could be.
‘Mace, can you tell me one of your stories?’
One night I awoke, from right here in this bed. I hear a voice call me, ‘Mace, come with me’. As I walked towards the door, I looked back, but there was nothing there, as if Four Corners never existed. As I passed through the door, I was immediately in a big city. Not like the one we have, but full of life and color and people laughing, families dressed in their nicest clothes, all different from one another; people walking very fast, people eating and just talking. As I began to walk down the street I was on, everyone began looking at me and I couldn’t help but stare, stare at everyone. I couldn’t stop. I mean, I forgot who brought me here for a moment. Her name was Natalie, a young lady, but an adult, I think. ‘Would you like some popcorn Mace?’, Natalie asked, always interrupting me when I got lost in the scenery. ‘Sure, but I don’t have any money’. ‘This is the best Popcorn in New York City’, she says. ‘They drench it in butter’, and ‘don’t worry about it, I will buy this popcorn for you. It is my pleasure to do so Mace’.
I don’t know how she knew my name. You got any idea how Maya?
Me neither Maya. But Natalie was right, they do drench it in butter!
The popcorn Maya!
I want some Mace. Can you go get me some?
Maya, let me finish my story. You do want me to finish my story, right?
Natalie walks in front of me and pauses and turns to me, with a little wink and wave of her hand, ‘come on’, she says. Store by store, we see what’s in the windows. So many nice things Maya. I mean, everything was nice. People would enter the stores with nothing and come out with bags and bags of stuff with everyone smiling. Except, I did see this one little girl yelling and screaming about a dress she wanted. Her parents just dragged her by her hand paying no attention to her.
What color was the dress she wanted?
Okay Mace, I will listen.
As I was saying, we were walking down this street seeing store after store, block after block of people just enjoying being there. Finally, we reach a little wagon parked in front of a store. It said T-A-R-O-T on it. Natalie said you pronounce it TARO. Natalie said, ‘Mace, why don’t you go in and get a reading’. ‘A reading’ I said, ‘what is that’? ‘You will see’, says Natalie and ‘don’t worry Mace, I will pay this for you too’.
There were three little steps coming from the wagon with a dark purple curtain with nothing but darkness behind it. I was scared, Maya, but I looked back at the second step up and Natalie gave me a confident nod of go on. So, I did.
You mean you went in there alone Mace!
Maya, close your eyes and let me finish.
As I entered, there was an older woman sitting in the dark with only a glowing ball to light up her face. I think it was called a crystal ball. ‘Mace, come have a seat with me’, says the older woman. As I sit down, I notice her eyes are completely grey. I don’t think she could see me. Anyhow, the older woman began grabbing my hands, never looking at them, just feeling them, slowly taking this finger right here and tracing these creases in my hands, saying things like, ‘uh huh, you, future, your future’. Then, she began laying out these cards. I don’t know what was on them, but they were really odd looking. And again, the older woman began saying things like, ‘you, your future, yours’. Once the cards were laid out in front of me, she completely stopped doing anything but making a humming noise with her eyes rolling up and her palms face up as if she was speaking to me. She then put her hands on this crystal ball thing and it lit up, lighting the whole wagon up. It was so bright Maya, I could not see. Once it got almost too bright and I needed to cover my eyes, but it began to dim and the older woman began to relax. ‘Mace, Natalie is waiting for you’. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t do anything. I just got up, walked towards the dark purple curtain and began walking down the steps. When I stepped off the last step, I was right back in this room and things were back to how I knew them to be. Before I walked into our corner, I turned to look behind me for Natalie, but she was not there. So I closed the door, walked back to my bunk bed and went to sleep.
Mace, how did you know that story? And all the others?
I don’t know Maya, I just do.
I am tired Maya. I am going to sleep.
Okay Mace, me too.
Just as normal, Maya goes right to bed, something Mace waited for before he himself closed his eyes.
Mace, it’s morning.
Mace, Mace wake up.
I am, I am. Is it morning already Maya?
Yes, I am going to my bed before the corner master arrives.
‘Okay Maya’. Mace asks himself if this will be an every night thing with Maya.
Every morning the corner masters come in and wake us up. We each have 3 minutes in the shower and 15 minutes for breakfast. So if you don’t get up, you don’t get your shower and you don’t get to eat. We only have breakfast and dinner, so it is a long time before we eat again. Missing your breakfast makes for the loneliness of being here much longer.
‘Wake up time’! The corner master yells.
Corner master Henry is a brute. Every single morning he wakes us with the same tone with the same thing, ‘wake up time’, flips the lights, starts throwing our covers down. It is brutal.
As I get up, I think about the story I told Maya last night. She had some peculiar questions, like ‘what dress did the little girl want look like’ and ‘how did Natalie know your name?’. I was more focused on Natalie. I don’t know who she is or how she knew my name, but she did. Also, Maya asked me, ‘how do you know these stories?’ and I responded ‘I don’t know’. I really don’t know. I never really thought about it until I began telling them to Maya. I presumed everyone had similar stories to tell. But it appears I am the only one. No time for all that now. Henry is a brute. I better get up and get in line.
‘Hurry up and get in line!’ corner master Henry Says.
I was just in time. I always have to stop my morning thoughts to get in line, but best to always do so.
‘Wait up Mace’, Maya comes running up behind me.
Mace, why can’t we ever sleep in?
I don’t know Maya. Ever since I got here this is what we do.
Maya, can you do me a favor. Can you keep my stories between us?
Sure Mace, but why?
I don’t know Maya, I guess it is just personal to me. Is that okay?
Sure Mace, I will not tell anyone.
As I enter the shower, I can’t stop thinking of Maya’s questions. I have always known these stories, but never told anyone, anyone at all, until Maya that is. I think it is best I don’t tell anyone else for now.
Time for me to get out, luke warm water only feels so good for so long anyhow. Straight to put on our clothes. We all wore the same things, beige long sleeve tops, beige long pants with some slip on shoes. We never got socks. It never changed, not once, not at least since I have been here. Even the corner masters wore the same thing, some ragged clothes, worse than ours. We also got a couple of minutes to go to the bathroom. The corner masters weren’t too pushy about showers unless we were standing around talking. Then we went straight to eat breakfast.
Where we eat breakfast isn’t much different from where we sleep. It is just a big room. There are only four corners to it, just like the room our beds are in, just like everything is here. Four corners, that is why we call it Four Corners. Or, that is why the corner masters call it Four Corners I guess. As we struggle in from our showers, still tired from just waking up minutes ago, we go into this room, where meals are placed across long tables with benches for sitting. The tables go on forever it seems. There is never one more meal than is needed. It is always the exact amount each morning, the same amount of food for each of us. One plate of food for each of us. This morning it is Sausage and eggs. We get eggs with every meal. Sometimes it is ham and eggs, sometimes it is oatmeal and eggs, but eggs every morning. It never changes. This morning, I have to force myself to eat. It is hard most mornings to eat so early, but this morning, my mind won’t stop thinking about Maya’s questions. I remind myself, if I don’t eat, the lonely day will be longer.
We aren’t going to our education courses today. Corner master Henry said, ‘you get a day off’, go to your bunks and read. He always has a snarl on his face. It is weird. Everyone here is kind of weird. None of us talk to each other. We each just hang out with the person in our bunk. We never have time like today, to do nothing. We are always pushed along, never alone, always told what to do. Nobody is really too mean, but nobody is ever smiling or laughing, like in my dreams. Maya’s half smile when she asked me to read her a story tonight was the closest I have seen to it. I didn’t know how to respond.
We never talk about dreams. Dreams are just something we do not talk about. Ever. I wonder if Maya asked other kids about their dreams? Maya must be 8 years old or so, while I am 12 or 13. I am never alone just thinking like this, it feels odd. Everything we do during the day is told to us. And at night, when we sleep, it is even longer for us. Dreams come at night and dreams are filled with fear. Night after night I wake up and this is the only time we are happy, kind of. Escaping our dreams is what we all do. The daytime provides safety from night. I never sleep a full night, no one does. I wake up routinely, just scared. Why? I just know I am scared every night. In my dreams, I am always stuck or trapped, like I can’t escape. Sometimes there is a scary person, sometimes I die, sometimes I get hurt or sometimes I am all alone. It makes me so tired. The only way I escape my dreams is by waking up.
Mace lying in bed knows he is supposed to be reading. But he is relishing his peace. Mace has spent a considerable amount of time in routine after routine, and this freedom to be is having an immediate impact on him. His own thoughts are foreign, but welcomed by him. He is having a hard time doing what he is supposed to be doing. All he can do is fall asleep.
I hear that voice again, a girl’s voice, no, a woman’s. I go to the window again and I hear, ‘open the window to come outside’. I open the window to go outside and step out of the window into the field. I take a few steps into the field and stop to turn around, but the window I just stepped out of is nowhere to be found. So, I continue forward, I continue on into the field.
I walk forward and can’t help thinking about Natalie sharing her thoughts with me and her favorite spots. I can’t help but think this is her voice I am hearing. This field does not feel so special, it doesn’t feel so comforting without her. But I stay here a while, waiting for the wind to blow against my skin or the tips of the grass to brush my fingertips, but I am not feeling the wind against my skin or the brush of the grass against my fingertips. My only focus is on the tree line.
‘Go to the tree line Mace’. Thinking of Natalie, I continue forward, to my horizon. There is no wind yet the tree line is swaying with a motion of fate, as if each tree has its own movement, its own intention, like each tree represents each of my thoughts. My gaze is fixed and my feet begin to move forward without my intention, but slowly I acquiesce and let my feet be propelled, grazing the soil with my feet, gliding seamlessly across the tall grass until I reach the tree line and everything stops. The trees’ movements have ceased, the stillness in the air can be split into two; it is penetrating in its stagnation. It feels like it is no longer that I am focusing on the wind blowing across my skin nor the tall of the grass grasping my fingertips, nor the trees dancing to my intention, but that the wind, the grass, and the trees have their focus on me and are waiting for me, for me to decide. It is up to me.
The decision is mine, the path is mine. I look back, all I see is a field, an enclosed field, a field that keeps me here. Two steps forward, a pause, still nothing, the trees are still waiting. I feel as if I only have one decision to make, almost like it is inevitable, like I can’t do anything but enter the tree line. I do.
The tree line consumes me, the field no longer exists, just me, in here. I feel I am in a safe place, a place where I am meant to be. I continue to walk, but it is all the same. There are endless trees in all directions. I have no way of getting back, no way of knowing where I am or where I am to go. I simply am. Here, I am simply being.
There is no sound, there is no motion but mine, my own. The silence makes me look to listen, hoping I hear even the most remote sound, the sound of a tree, of a branch, of the ground, of the wind, but nothing arises, only me. Only I exist here. The trees are only the background, no longer giving or inviting, as they appeared to me; now, they simply are, just as me.
In here, I am here.
In here, I am free.
By R. Cary