Saturday, February 26, 2011
A well is a hole, a deep dark pit, it is a kind of hell. When she fell in the well it was a primal sin, a moment of separation, of death, of claiming the power all for one. A well is a bowl, a rabbits tunnel, a tomb, the birth canal through which we worm to find ourselves once again doing the jerk and tug marionette’s dance of organic experience. A well is the subconscious mind, the abyss confined temporarily. It is the deep, a sanctuary for cold sleeping water and all the things that are not.
It happened on a day that smelled of moist winter grass, that brittle yellow wild grass saturated with recent rain, a rain that had been consumed by the plowed up mounds of thirsty earth. The sky appeared to me to be blue, brilliant as a robin's wing, or a dyed Easter egg. The clouds had all blown away leaving the blue empty, undisturbed. The lake was swollen, empty coffee cans and pet food dishes were filled with clear cool water.
Six or seven, I must have been, walking in the field in my leather cowboy boots. There was an “X” on the heel of my left sole that had been scratched there by my father with a nail so I could tell which foot it went on. The dog took pains to keep stride with me, pressing her cold black nose into my palm or using it to sniff my ears before giving them a lick with her warm pink tongue.
I went to play in the grove of silver olive trees, leaving behind the fields, the enormous house with its red tile roof and chocolate trim and my mother smoking cigarettes on the veranda, the lake where egrets fished with long slim beaks for their breakfast, the mountains that were purple because that was the way my father painted them in his mural in the garage.
Lost in dreams and the startling newness of each twig and leaf which propelled me into richer imaginings I ventured deeper into the grove, past the tree whose trunk split to form a perfect “V”, beyond the mossy boulder that usually warned me that I had gone too far. It was too late to turn back when I found myself at the well, my little fingers tracing along the stones of its lip.
I tapped the wooden cover that covered its mouth like a round gray door, tapped it with an Olive branch, imagining that a white rabbit might answer, or a dwarf wearing a pointy red hat.
I knew I should not be there. I had been warned to stay away from the old well, and the knowledge that my presence here was forbidden lent every second an electric thrill. The sensation buzzed through me, expanding in my head until I was dizzy with it.
Overcome by that lightheadedness, but unwilling to relinquish it, I settled down with my back against the well’s cold stones. The dog finished doing her own rounds of sniffing and came to sit with me. She washed my cheeks and waited patiently for me to recover. Running one hand through the soft brown and white fur of her back while poking the moist earth with the stick in my other, I drifted into a dreamless sleep that settled over me like a leaden blanket.
When I awoke it was dark and the dog was gone. I had never been out in the fields or in the grove at night, and had never been out in the night alone. I called for the dog, and let a few hot tears spill down my cheek before I wiped them away with my shirtsleeve.
It was quiet and cool. The trees had taken on a new more terrible shape. I thought to run home but took no more than a few steps before becoming paralyzed by disorientation. Nothing looked familiar, I could not tell which direction led home. I began to wail gazing up at the white moon visible through the branches interlaced over my head.
I was shocked into silence by those words, by the child's voice that spoke them. I turned to face the little boy, who came to my side and placed his hand in mine. I felt an incredible jolt of recognition. My heart was warmed and I smiled. Like the baby toy that I had forgotten and then found in my mother's box of keepsakes, I remembered him suddenly, the brother that I had forgotten, my brother from long, long ago.
“I’m afraid.” I whimpered to him, but I was already feeling braver now that he was here. His hair was blond like mine and his eyes a pale blue.
“I’m here.” He said, confirming the foundation for my courage and squeezing my hand a little.
He looked into my eyes as if he were trying to peer into a shop window, leaning from side to side until we both giggled.
We started walking through the tangle of dark trees with him leading the way. I held tight to his warm hand looking all around me for the mossy boulder, for the tree with the “V”, but recognized nothing. At length I became interested in his clothes, in his red velvet shirt and pants and high white boots. I reached with my free hand over towards him and pinched the soft fabric of the shirt between my fingers.
“Why are you dressed like that?” I asked him.
He glanced down at his clothing then over at my own corduroys’ and cotton shirt.
“Because I’m a prince.” he answered in a matter of fact tone.
We broke free of the trees and I stared in wonder at the black outline of the mountains against the purple sky. My house with its red tile roof and chocolate trim was gone. The empty expanse of field bled into the shadow of the mountain. The lake, a shiny black mirror, remained reflecting the outline of a castle on its southern shore and the pair of torch lights that glimmered at its gate.
“I’ll take you to our father, the king.” my brother told me. I let go of his hand and took a step backward.
“I want to go home.” I said, my voice trembling.
“We will go home.” My brother told me. “Our father has finished his work here with the ambassadors. We were only waiting for you. We looked all day. Father thought that you were lost down the old well. He’ll be so glad that I’ve found you.”
I backed slowly away. My brother watched perplexed. He extended a hand and waited for me to come take it. I saw the sorrow stricken look break upon his face just before I turned and plunged back into the grove.
Running as fast as I could, heart pounding, lungs heaving, legs burning, I came to it, traced the outline of the cold stones with my little fingers. I climbed up onto its lip and looked down into its open mouth, into the yawning darkness.
A Well is a hole, a deep dark pit, it is a kind of hell. When she fell in the well it was a primal sin, a moment of separation, of death, of claiming the power all for one. A well is a bowl, a rabbits tunnel, a tomb, the birth canal through which we worm to find ourselves once again doing the jerk and tug marionette’s dance of organic experience. A well is the subconscious mind, the abyss confined temporarily. It is the deep, a sanctuary for cold sleeping water and all the things that are not.
The dog was barking hysterically. I opened my eyes and saw the late afternoon sun falling in patches through the canopy of leaves. I could hear them calling my name, my mother, my father, my grandmother. The dog was answering. Their voices drew nearer, guided by the dog's plaintive call.
I began to cry. Here my brother was not. I was an only child. The realization that by returning here I had lost him again broke my heart. Weeping, I climbed up onto the little wooden door that covered the mouth of the well. Screaming, I pounded it with my soft fists.
My father arrived first with my mother behind him. With big hands he swooped upon me, lifting me from the cover of the well. My mother was behind him, her voice high with hysteria. She cried my name.
“What are you doing?” Relief, rage, accusation, all were present in her wild voice. The dog was whining.
“My brother!” I screamed, “My brother is down the well!”
My grandmother had arrived and her eyes became owl like. My parents were shocked into silence by my shouting, but my grandmother stepped forward and placed a wrinkled hand on the cover of the well.
“She means Eban.” she whispered. “She means my brother Eban. My father put this cover on after he fell.”
“Ma…” my father started to speak but my grandmother raised her hand hushing him.
She took me out of his arms and stroked my cheeks pushing the hair from my eyes, wiping the tears from my red cheeks.
“You’ll make a new cover Daniel, this one is old, the wood is rotting.”
Saying this she carried me away, out of the grove, past the mossy rock and the tree whose trunk split to form a “V”. She carried me through the field of yellow wild grasses smelling of rain and damp earth, under the empty sky that appeared to me to be blue as a robin's wing. She carried me to the house with the red tile roof under the purple mountain and I gazed over her shoulder at the swollen lake reflecting the blue of the sky, at its southern shore where young trees were growing, where I had seen a castle and had left a young boy with a face stricken by sorrow.