Sunday, April 25, 2010

Plaid Dress

I am walking over a footbridge. People are moving under the footbridge, sliding downhill on sleds. They might be on something else I don't understand.

The footbridge takes us into the dark interior of a large cavernous building. I think we go this way to get on those sleds. I want to see how you do it.

I am little. Someone is leading me through the dark building, past lots of people playing loud games and talking. I want to see more of the sleds but there are different things we have to pass first.

I am an adult. I can't find my way in the building. Someone who should be with me is not. It's loud. It's hard to see through the crowds. I don't know where to go. The noises and flashing lights are bothering me.

I pay to get into another part of the building. I find a quiet library room. I am meeting someone there. It's Helen. But she's not there yet. Someone says she'll be there later.

Maybe this library has the lost book I have been trying to find. You have to ask at the counter and they would get it for you. Behind the counter is a polished stone wall. The ceiling is very high, so high it's almost lost in darkness. I think I have been here before. But I can't remember the name of that book, so I can't ask for it.

I walk a while and find myself in a more deserted part of the building. The cream-colored concrete walls are dirty, and dust hangs on the chain-link fence that surrounds the paid area I am in. I want to go back to the busy place.

Doors and halls lead to confusing rooms. I am in a museum. There are people walking slowly and talking quietly.

I am in a room with an exhibit of armor in floor to ceiling glass cases. I walk on. The next room has a few dinosaur skeletons. I walk on.

The next room is a large central space. I remember was here a few minutes ago. There are flags hanging from the ceiling. It has stone walls and stone archways into rooms in all directions. I am going in circles.

I go back into the armor room. Now there is a young woman in there in a black dress. She has blond hair with bangs. I don't know who she is. She tells me how to get back to the large building.

I am inside a wooden tower. I keep going up steep stairways or ladders. It's a little scary.

Each floor is one room. The floor and walls are polished wood. There are couches and coffee tables and people sitting or standing around. Some are old people. How do they get here? Is there an elevator?

At the top I go outside. A walkway leads along a parapet of the stone building and into the steel and glass building I was in before.

I go inside to the noise and semi-darkness. My little daughter is there waiting. She is the one who was supposed to be with me. She's OK. People in charge were watching her for me. I sign a book to take her. She smiles and calls me daddy.

I am little. My father is with me. I did not really leave the large building. I just imagined it. It's confusing with all the talking and noise. We're walking around in there looking at things.

I am a young adult. I am in a noisy space with some friends. It's not as large as I thought it was. We're playing Skee Ball. None of us play often enough to be any good at Skee Ball, but the strips of prize tickets spool out profusely. We laugh as our balls miss the holes. We pretend we can toss the ball where we want it.

We bring the tickets to the counter to get our cheap prizes. I can see the sun shining outside through an opening near the counter. That's the way out, right there.

I go out the opening. I am by myself in a foreign country. I am older. It's colder now, and cloudy, but I have a jacket on. I like it here but I am confused.

How did I get here? I can't remember. Can I still catch my flight home? I think I know where to go. I am not sure.

I see a railway station across the street. I can go that way. I use the ticket I found in my pocket to get in, and I take the first train that comes. It has shiny paint on the outside.

I am not in a foreign country after all. I am in a subway train in New York. I am tired and I want to go home. I leave the subway and go up to the bus terminal.

I am riding the bus to New Jersey. I am a high school student.

A girl my age has taken the aisle seat next to me. She's talking to me. I answer her questions, but I look out the window. I never look at her. She seems nice. I should look at her and ask her some things too, but I don't. Why is she talking to me?

I get off the bus and start walking home. I pass a place where there used to be an old stone house. When they tore it down, I could see the rough stone basement, but then they filled it in and paved it to be a parking lot. I wonder who else knows that basement is still there.

Finally, I am coming around the bend in the road near my house. Then I realize, I don't live here any more. This is where I used to live when I was a kid. This is the wrong house.

I have to go home to the right place. There is no bus service directly from here to there. I will have to go back to New York and come out again on another bus.

Before I do that, I remember, I don't live there any more either.

I am an adult. I have to go where I live now. I think hard, and I remember where to go. I can take a train from here, not a bus.

The train arrives somewhere unfamiliar. An announcement in the terminal tells me I can take a ferry to get where I'm going. I get on the boat.

I am little. My father is taking me home. We are on a ferry that carries cars on the main deck, and I am looking out the front at the river. I feel the damp cool air and I see gulls flying. It feels very strange to see the river and the gulls, but I like it.

The ferry goes into a windy building. I am confused. As we walk off I look up and to each side and we are in a building. We walk forward in the building and there are trains in there.

How can a boat and trains come into a building? Are we on land now? It doesn't make sense.

I am an adult. I am on the train to South Orange. I have done this many times before. I look out the window at the meadows.

I am a young adult. I am riding in an old train with rattan seats and high ceilings, with the sash windows raised to let in the warm air. We are passing through suburban towns. I see people getting off at the stations and walking home. Some of them are talking and smiling. The train goes past houses and leafy trees. I want to live here and walk home like they do, but I am not on my way home. I am just riding a train for fun.

No. I am who I am now, on a train, going home, arriving at South Orange.

It rained earlier and the streets are full of water. The station is an island. People are taking off their shoes and socks, and rolling up their pants, to wade through. I do it too. I walk home carrying my shoes and socks, even after I reach drier streets.

When I get home, Helen asks if I had a good walk. Yes, I did. I feel refreshed, not tired.

She wants to go to the store and get some things. I'm going to drive her. That will be good. It won't be weird there.

We go outside and walk up the driveway. We're approaching the front of the car. Strange. One of us must have backed it up the driveway. We never do that. I only ever did it twice, when I had to load a lot of stuff in the back, and that's all. Something feels wrong.

I let Helen in the passenger side. For some reason I walk around the back of the car.

There's a rumble seat. And there isn't. The back of the car is solid steel and glass like it always is, but at the same time also there is an opening with a padded bench seat in it.

My mother is sitting in it. She died fifteen years ago. She doesn't look weak and ill like she did the last few times I saw her. She's healthier, like I remember her most of my life.

I stare at her for just a second. She looks startled. "Oh, you're not supposed to see me," she tells me. She laughs at this.

I remember her laugh. And in an instant I realize that she has been taking drives with me, and with my brothers and sisters too. I remember my father often took us for drives. My mom must like it.

Then I notice that there's a young woman next to her who looks like my mom. No, she's just a young teenager. She's wearing a cotton plaid dress, red and grey, with little buttons down the front and a little white collar, and her hair is in a wave like girls had in the late forties, early fifties. She's smiling. I've never seen her before. My mom introduces her.

"This is your sister who was stillborn. She likes to come with me."


Next time: Bagels.

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