Joanna was carried around on the shoulders of her husband because she felt she could see things better that way. It wasn't because she wanted to see the ordinary things, like over fences, into cupboards, on top of shelves, or through high windows. It was because being there, up like that, gave her better insight into the extraordinary things, she said, made her feel more intuitive, philosophic, more clear headed, in general. She said it made her appreciate hundreds of things she normally would not think of, said it made clutter less noticeable, made her see a closer connection between God and life. And so she had demanded it as often as she could get away with it. Joanna's husband had grown used to it and it had become one of those things outsiders would consider odd if they knew about it, but between a husband and wife, one of those things perfectly normal.
It started incidentally, the way things like that sometimes do, started by the two of them rolling around and wrestling on the floor of their house, kicking table and chair legs, knocking over lamps, magazine racks, flower baskets, ending up with shoe marks all over the walls, and light plugs pulled out of sockets. Anyone who would have seen them through a window might have pounded on the door to offer help, or hurried to call the police, but since the nearest house was down the vast slope of lawn and beyond the tall and uncut eucalyptus trees, Joanna and her husband could have brought down the house inside, and nobody would have known the difference.
It started on a day that was particularly defined, a day where the air looked as though it had been cleaned by a strainer and all the dimness and gray and diffusing molecules had been poured over the side of the mountains like rind and pulp matter. The day looked as though it had been skimmed and then skimmed again, so that what was left to see through was clear as water, everything everywhere exactly to color and seeming to be outlined by a thin dark line, or a shimmering, disappearing line.
Inside the house the sunshine came through the windows yellow like in a child's drawing, and branch and leaf shadows from the trees outside moved on the floors and the walls, brown and black filamentous in contrast to the pastel flat tones of the vases, pots, and couch pillows. Joanna and Lester- Douglas lay laughing and panting, appreciating the feelings of their hands on one another's body, feeling the heartbeat and the breathing.
"Wus," Joanna said, "Weakling."
Lester-Douglas pushed her across the floor like she was a mop until her legs and arms were up against the kitchen partition and she looked like a spider. She laughed until she choked, upside down, and had to cough hard to breathe. "Give up?" he said and lay himself across her as if they were in a ring and a referee would have to come and look under and around them to establish the existence of body to floor contact and then count down who was on top.
"Uhhhhh," was all she said, looking across the ceiling to where her eyes were directed and seeing cobwebs and streaks of dried blood from swatted dead flies. "Lift me up," she said after a while, straining against him. "I'm going to get those ugly horrors right now. Lift me up," she said, neither of them moving. "It's different up there," she said when both of them had been quiet as though sleeping, for a few moments. "It's a completely different house. I'd forgotten." And she was quiet again thinking. Lester-Douglas shifted to lie by her side, putting his face into her neck and curling up in the rays of the yellow sun. "When I was little, sometimes I would hold a mirror under my eyes and look into it so that I could only see what was above me, and then I would walk around the house like that, by myself, seeing the ceiling as my floor, and it was as though I was in a different house where the walls were clean and bare and there was no furniture. The walls were white and all the doors and archways made high gateways and white forms to step over. It looked stark and sunlit and floating. It looked Arabian, like there was a garden to go out to, like I could stand against the wall by the door, and long green curtains would blow in and out of my view and veils and robes would disappear behind white corners, and when I'd step outside I would step into the sky and onto clouds and small airplanes flying." Lester-Douglas threw his leg over her and burrowed his face deeper into the crook of her neck as if he was looking for a well of the scent of her skin. "Lift me up," she said. "I've got to clean it." Lester-Douglas sat up and looked at Joanna like he did when she got one of her ideas, and she went to get a rag and a whiskbroom.
The first thing she noticed, riding on her husband's shoulders, was that it gave her the same feeling, that it put her in the same mind as looking down into the mirror, gave her what felt like a whole new dimension to be in, freed her thoughts from the usual and ordinary. Maybe it was the light that day, the purity of it, the way it made long shadows and triangular highlights inside the house; whatever it was, it got her started on a habit. Of course she had to duck under doors and beams and she couldn't so things she normally did, but she knew immediately there was nothing much she would miss, for that time, and she also knew this would be one of those favors she asked of her husband that she would follow up with a lowering of her eyelashes, a whispering of his name, her lips on the roughness of his neck before he shaved.
Sometimes she wanted to say to Lester-Douglas while being carried on his shoulders, "Ask be anything, ask me about the universe, about the creation of life, about death and suffering, ask me anything," but then she'd realize it was just the exhilaration she was feeling of being where she was and she didn't have the answers to anything. But it felt as though she did. Sometimes it was a sensation of the height being immeasurable, far beyond the feet and inches of two fairly regular sized human beings, one standing and one sitting; it began to be a sensation of stretching and breaking through to heaven in fairy tale books; of beanstalks or Pinocchio's nose growing; fast and dizzying and with a pop-slide sound, like she was on one level and suddenly she was shot to another, and there would be split-seconds of what she perceived was ultimate knowledge and clarification, and then nothing again, as when you rise into the air on a plane through sleet and rain and condensation, and have shuttered glimpses of radiance and light through a deep darkness. "Wonder what that was?" she would say, Lester-Douglas fixing a sandwich or making a cup of coffee underneath her.
For a while they didn't do it and Joanna felt grumpy and out of sorts and short. Everything looked to her bunched together and piled upon, their belongings like car wrecks, like garbage heaps; everything seemed jumbled, everywhere fingerprints and spatters and dust balls, her desk holding endless papers and debris, the laundry room multiplying into mounds of dirty sox and underwear; and she couldn't think. Couldn't think for the pictures in her mind of it all; they attached to her like burrs to hair, and she carried them with her from room to room, picking up more each time she passed through the house, becoming obsessed with the details and the mess until she felt to herself like a long-furred cat who had come inside from weeds and sat ratted up and stick-laden and looking crazed. On those days she tried the mirror as a substitute, but it was never the same as she remembered it. She could not bring forth the images, not smell the emptiness as she used to, the light and space, the chalky brightness, never imagine how far out onto the sky she could walk without falling. She thumbed through magazines of arid places trying to re-create her frame of mind; deserts with sand ripples like long snakes, white villages in the sun, high windows without glass, horizons crawling with heat undulations, tall towers on mountain tops, cliffs over seas; she thought of giving things away, of clearing away everything, telephones, beds, cabinets, bookcases, couches, stamps, envelopes, letters, everything; of lying in the center of the room with nothing to think about but small wedges of white knowledge. Yet it was complicated, and like more burrs and she went outside on the slope of the lawn and waited impatiently for Lester-Douglas to come home.
"You aren't light, you know," he said, giving in after a few days. "Let's move on to something else soon," he said. "You're pushing this one, Joanna."
"You're absolutely right," she said, not really listening.
At first, she couldn't get him to take her outside, but she wasn't able to get the idea out of her mind and convinced him to do it. It was March and the bushes were beginning to bud new green and leaves were beginning to uncoil from the ground, flowers were starting to push up as though there were rows of underground laborers nosing at them and lifting them; it looked to her like everything was on the tip-end verge of something, as though old things were backing away, as though any minute a silk would be raised, a light meter focused and adjusted, and she wanted to be in the middle of it. "Please," she had said. "Please, please, please," she had said, lifting a small foot.
On his shoulders, outside, she began to be aware of flights and feedings, of snail journeys and ant work, of calls and messages and signals, of patterns in the dirt and figures on rocks; everything minute and large, high and low; on tree trunks and blades of grass, on kites flying, and birds. She began to have a sense of long-reaching thoughts that went around corners and mountains and earth curvatures, echoing back to her in wide rings and waves. She described it to her husband and he stood still, listening and watching. "Lester-Douglas, we're not even close. We don't have a clue. There's something out there and it's almost like I can stick my hand through it and touch it, or like it's behind a revolving door and I have to step out and trick it to catch it. I can hear it and smell it as though it's breathing in my face."
Lester-Douglas put her down onto her own two feet and climbed up on top of the broad fence that ran down the long length of the lawn. He looked around in every direction. "It's nothing unusual, Joanna," he said to her. "It's nothing but the trees and the tops of the neighbors' houses and across the mountains. It's nothing unusual," he said. "It's spring," he said then. "It's just that the air is full of flowers, and pollen is being transported every-which-way and you can hear wings and such and they brush up against you is all. Flutter against you," he said. Joanna squinted up at him. "It's just that it's spring," he said, jumping down.
Joanna took hold of his hand and they leaned against the fence, listening to dogs barking and weeds being machine-eaten alongside someone's driveway or porch, nails being hammered, the sound repeating itself in valleys and against mountains, someone starting up a motorcycle, the mail truck moving, stopping, moving again along the road by their house. Clouds began to form, stringy and smoky looking, hardly noticeable except that the sky looked further away and like a retracted dome in an observatory, colors and sounds less than they had been. Joanna put her head on her husband's shoulder. "What did you mean by ‘flutter against you'?" she said after a while. "'Wings'," she said, " ‘hear wings'. Those were not your words."
Lester-Douglas looked at her funny. "Bees, I guess, butterflies and bees. Wasps and things. Spring things. Gnats." He smacked at a circle of them in front of him.
"I know there's no reason why you should, but did you feel different? Did you have a certain sensation like when a radio station comes in clear? Did anything happen?" She asked her husband.
Lester-Douglas closed his eyes and they rolled inside under his lids as if he was looking in his mind for what Joanna was talking about. "No," he said, opening them up, "just flowers in the air is all."
"Probably," she said and glanced back at the wall, trying to imagine what the difference might be between it and her husband's shoulders. Unsettled, she turned away. "Don't you wish things were larger," she said, "not so limited?" she said. "I mean, buildings reach up and up but what does it mean after all, how high they can get, what's the point? Church steeples and everything. It's frustrating. It's like we're trying to look into something, catch the gist, be there in case something flies by but we're not able to. We jump up ten inches and come back down like we're connected by a rubber band. Even with space ships we're just bouncing around like we're inside a bubble," she said. "You know what I mean?" she asked.
"Gravity," he said. "Where would we be without it, Joanna? We're only human." He said.
At night she lay awake thinking about it. She talked Lester-Douglas into more frequent outdoor walks, his conditions being that they were "winding down", that they stayed within their yard away from the front and sides of their house and that she didn't insist upon answering the gate bell if somebody rang, or didn't call out to someone passing, if someone did. These things agreed upon, they clipped high hedges, cleaned rotted leaves and webs from under patio overhangs, checked into and repaired bird houses, changed high flood lights, pulled down dead branches that swung caught from the wind off the edge of the roof, and otherwise unreachable, trimmed hanging plant arrangements. They scraped high-up loose bark from the eucalyptus trees at the end of the lawn and close to the neighbors, laughing and dodging as though they were running naked or making love. All the while Joanna gathered feelings and sensations like she was gathering bouquets of flowers; small clips of ideas, slivery rays of intuition, bright flashes of clear understanding, hard to see and hard to hold on to, coming just as she and Lester-Douglas went over steps or around bushes, seen sometimes like sun on glass, blinding and then dull and then not there at all; felt sometimes like curls of warm wind, pockets of cool air, changed with the turn of their bodies, of her head. "It is as slim as shale," she said to herself. "It is stratified and there is a layer the same as there are dinosaur layers, the same as there are dinosaurs pressed and compressed in their own age, in their own primeval garden, it is pressed and compressed too, flat as a mural, fragile and brittle as old fingernails, as filo dough. It is uneven and variegated and comes and goes. Maybe it is because of the Mexican currents or the eruptions of volcanoes or the hole in the ozone, that I can see it, that it is letting me see it, letting me see with it. Maybe there is trouble and something is emptying, leaking, coming too soon, too suddenly. Maybe something has been shattered, it is splintering off and I am catching the first reflections of it, the first rises of it. Everything is changing," she said, and imagined cliffs giving away, avalanches of snow and sand, ice regions plummeting aqua into the sea. "I'm afraid," she said out loud.
Lester-Douglas lay down the broom he was using to sweep away insect eggs and moth cocoons that clung to the corners of the porch. He bent over and ducked down so that his wife could slip from him, her dress cupping the back of his head like a monk's hood. "Afraid of what?" he said, holding her by her arms and looking into her eyes.
She pushed herself closer to him. "I don't know," she said. ‘Afraid of my thoughts, of the things I see. They're big and unwieldy and don't make sense."
"Joanna," Lester-Douglas said, putting the rakes and clippers and brooms into the tool closet, "don't always be making something out of nothing." Joanna stayed beside him, seeds blowing from far-away trees like a soft rain, falling into their hair and onto their shoulders, powdering them as though they were being seasoned. Flower petals blew across the grass behind them like tiny crowds running; flocks of pale birds lifted up. "I don't think we should do it anymore," he said. "It's disturbing you and stirring things up inside you I don't think either of us understands. I don't think we should do it anymore," he said. Joanna felt a blackness well up inside like he had said he didn't love her, like she had come across folded pieces of paper with another woman's name in the corner of his billfold; it filled out to everywhere in her not like dye in her veins but like air in a doll balloon; to her fingertips and the ends of her toes, to her elbows and thighs and around into the heels of her feet. Her head ached and her attention became a hard little ball like jealousy. "Not do it?" she said and suddenly laughed and kissed him nose-to-nose, teasing him and tickling him. "Not do it?" she said, laughing, not letting him move around her.
"No, really," he said, going inside.
And the following days passed like that, run-of-the-mill days, every-day days; sights, sounds, colors, ordinary; errands, groceries, shopping, taking walks, going to movies. They bicycled and barbequed, cut the lawn and read the Sunday papers. They drove into the country, buying honey beside the road, terra cotta pots; oranges, nuts, rugs, shrimp, Joanna feeling claustrophobic sometimes, ducking sometimes, by reflex, when they drove under low trees; in the house sometimes, wanting to push out the walls with her hands; losing her balance on the bicycle from looking up sometimes; stumbling. Sometimes she moved near to him, touched him, looked at him out of inclination and longing; half expecting him to crouch down, let her swing herself onto him, but she knew it was useless, knew by his refusal to even let her hint to him, by his resistance and firmness, that he had made up his mind, that the subject was closed, finished. "Don't," she wanted to say. "Let me see my way through this," she wanted to tell him. But she also knew it could not go on, that it was unreasonable, that she had taken it too far. She was able now to see it as though looking through someone else's eyes and it seemed ridiculous and peculiar and made her feel ashamed to want it so badly, made her too embarrassed to bring it up again. "But I would do it for you," she whispered as they lay in bed together entwined as though they were one, circled in arms and legs, moist where their skin touched, warm within their comforter and pillows, Lester-Douglas asleep and breathing noisily through his mouth, the scent of night jasmine and honey-suckle coming in through the open window like eels, slow and tentative and reaching out to the corners of the room. Joanna turned from side to side, placing the blame for her fitfulness on too many pillows, on sheets being crooked, on nightbirds and crickets; turned from side to side as though she hadn't paid the bills that week, as though she was picturing freeway accidents, had leg twitches, crawling skin.
When Lester-Douglas came home the next day he found Joanna coming from the garage. "I couldn't find a wrench," she said. "The faucet was dripping. It stopped," she said. He stared after her, not having been given a chance to say anything.
The day after that she had bruises on her arm and her leg was scratched. "I was trying to unhook a piece of T. V. cable that keeps flapping. It was driving me crazy. I fell of the damned ladder," she said. Lester-Douglas looked at her wounds and put iodine on the scratches. ‘What's with you?" he said. ‘Since when don't you wait until I get home? What's with you Joanna?"
"I can do it," she said.
The following day the fingers on her left hand were sprained and the palm of her hand was skinned but she was able to keep it from him by not using it in front of him. At dinner she used her right hand and when something heavy had to be lifted, she acted like she was busy elsewhere. He uncorked the wine, she passed the bread, he served the salad, she sliced the meatloaf. In the shower she winced washing her hair but he was not there to hear it.
"There isn't necessarily an explanation for everything." She said.
‘What?" he said, laying down the newspaper.
She looked up surprised.
"Why don't you go somewhere?" he said after a while, after he could see she didn't know what to say. "Maybe you need to go somewhere by yourself, Joanna. Maybe you need a change. Maybe it would make you feel better," he said. "Why don't you spend a couple of weeks with your sister? Something's getting to you. Maybe you need to be someplace different. Or somewhere else, Joanna. I don't care," he said. "Europe, if you want, a real vacation. Somewhere different and exotic. Mexico maybe, or France. Portugal or somewhere," and he clicked his fingers to sound like castanets, but she was getting up from the couch as if to cut him off. "I don't know what to do, Joanna. Tell me what to do."
"Portugal," she said, not in the least interested, and as a matter of fact annoyed that he was missing the point completely, although not being able to see her face and the expression on it, he might have thought she was considering the idea. She shook her head slightly to herself. "Portugal or somewhere," she said, and walked away.
She hadn't wanted to actually go. She certainly hadn't meant not to come back. If Lester-Douglas had been home she would have called to him in the beginning, would have told him that she was able to do it, that by finding the right place and by adjusting her position time and again, she was able to do it; would have called out to him when she had the chance, to come up, that he hadn't given it time, that it was something to witness, something he shouldn't miss, that she hadn't been making something out of nothing; would have told him if she could, that she had been there finally, up on the roof, fine-tuning it, so to speak, taking in what she could, high and low, soft and loud, far and wide, listening, watching, experiencing, even though she felt anxious, even though she felt worried; had been there adjusting and readjusting, when it was as if, and here is where she would have had the most trouble, if any of this were possible to tell him at all, as near as she would have been able to describe it, if she could have described it, suddenly a train or a bus had come along, or a ride in a beautiful driverless car when she might have been sitting on a hot bench in the middle of nowhere, waiting. She would have told him it was like that, like when you are thirsty and fidgety and impatient and minutes seem like days, and what you are waiting for, although you don't know it appears as if you have willed it, as if you had imagined it into being, and that it was like not being able to make up your mind in a situation like that, where you are half in and half out, one leg up and one leg down and wondering about the consequences at the same time you are visualizing all the places you'll go, like out West or over the Canadian border or into Central and South America. She would have told him how she stood there with her shirt blowing like in the movies when you can see the heat from the ground and feel the wind, stood there looking out over the lawn and the other roof tops and down to the trees, looked out over the mailman stopping down the road, neighbors walking beside their houses, workmen working; not really seeing any of it, not hearing any of it. Would have told him, if she had any way to, before any move was made one way or another, before anything was ever really decided, if that would be the right word, that is seemed to her for all the world, that there was an invitation, some kind of attitude like ‘make up your mind', or ‘this is it, that's all she wrote', or ‘take it or leave it', almost like daring her, teasing her; how it seemed, it being she wouldn't have been able to explain what, possessive of her, admiring of her, having prior knowledge of her; how when she had even considered thinking of moving forward, even felt the curiosity of moving forward, had let the thought barely run through her mind about what he, Lester-Douglas, had said about something different and exotic, some kind of change, somewhere by herself, how she had felt herself immediately, dizzyingly edging into something, sliding sideways and up into something narrow; something narrow and split-apart seeming, sliding into it the same way you slide into theater seats when the curtain has gone up, she would have chosen to describe to her husband, if she were able to describe anything to him; sliding in, holding your breath and turning your feet the way you do when you don't want to bother anyone. She would have told him, if she knew how, if there was any way she could have, that once she had gone past that there was simply no turning back, no changing her mind, period, nothing she could do, nothing; that there was one last move, one last step which felt spread-out and rubbery. Spongy. Giving. And endless. Then vast, vast beyond vast. Huge. Immense. Mega-immense. Boundless. Illimitable. Dinotherian. Splendorous. That there was one last sensation she had of all things at once. All things at once. And at that point or time, or at that point in time or whatever it was, whatever it was supposed to be, if she had tried in every way she knew how, or had known how, she couldn't have said anything anymore, that she didn't know anything anymore, or she didn't know what she normally knew anymore, or she wasn't conscious of knowing it, or she didn't know it in the same way as she used to know it; or she was it. She couldn't tell. If she had been able to slip some kind of message to him quickly, throw out a note to have it fall by the door so that he could see it when he got home, or if she had thought ahead and left it for him on the table or the counter, having even the remotest idea that she might end up going somewhere, like he said she ought to, after all, she would have said it in this manner, knowing, because she would have still been capable of knowing things in some kind of a familiar way then, knowing that he would probably not be that surprised; "Lester-Douglas," she would have written, if she had not yet gone past a particular point, "please try to understand," she might have stated, if there was any way at that time she could have, "I tried to tell you," she could have added, if it was at all possible to convey any form of message to him, "Lester-Douglas," she would have written, "Don't be mad," she may have told him. "I couldn't stop myself," she might have explained. "I had to have it," she could have said.---------------------------