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Unplugged

by V.C. Nash

 

I'm sitting in a rocking chair in the middle of a shuttered room – well, not a shuttered room, but a room with blinds drawn. I've been sitting here for a long time. Sometimes I move to the bedroom, with blinds drawn. I am a creature banished to the dark.

I rock with a steady rhythm.

My father, his brothers, their father and the fathers before them were rockers. When we don't rock, we sway. My mother often cautioned me to stop swaying. It made her nauseous. It was, she whispered, a form of masturbation.

I have confined myself in this forbidden place. No one speaks of the unholy darkness. No one remembers whether or not the terror behind the sealed and barricaded door still lives.

I have not answered the telephone for more than a week. The tape on my answering machine is full. The machine has become confused, beeping quietly, persistently, begging for some small consideration – to be emptied of funny, sad, short, long-winded, concerned, irritated and finally just giving up messages.

I rock in my Mission Oak rocking chair that I bought without a seat from the stoop of an antique store going out of business for the last time. I rock on a braided rug, hand-tied by my friend Kelly with strips of wool torn from old Catholic school uniforms. I do this out of consideration for my downstairs neighbors and because the rug possesses a powerful comfort.

I have unplugged all of the lights and appliances in the apartment except for the answering machine whose weak bleating is the bedroom’s pulse. Without its hum the refrigerator seems lost.

My electric bill should be almost negligible. But I know better. People need to believe that there is fairness in billing, that they pay for what they use, that they can conserve and save money, that they can put one over on the public utility by tapping into the building's electric through the outlet in the compactor room. It's an illusion.

I once disconnected everything electrical in my parents' house. I compared the speed of the little wheel in the electrical meter before Operation Disconnect and after. The little wheel continued to spin at the same rate. I scoured the house for hidden appliances silently ingesting megawatts. I disconnected everything, even the boiler and the water pump. The wheel hummed and spun, hummed and spun, a hypnotists device.

I think about electricity. I think about what hides in the darkness. Sometimes I try not to think.

~

Although it is February, there is still one small grey house fly that appears and disappears in the shadows. We have made our peace, the fly and I. This creature of summer and heat seems unperturbed by the cold and shadows. I attribute an heroic will to its persistence. We struck up a bargain. As long as the fly does not climb up my nostrils or fly into my mouth while I sleep, as long as it does not buzz in my ear while I dream, we can co-exist. I have begun to worry about the fly. There has been no food in the apartment for more than a week. Perhaps it makes forays into the outside world through the ducts into the airshaft.

Sublimation occurs when a solid evaporates without first melting into its liquid state. How long does it take to evaporate? The ice cubes in my frost-free refrigerator take about two months to disappear. I never use ice; I just refill the ice cube trays as a ritual. In the warm damp of the now unplugged refrigerator, last week's silently sublimating ice cubes have become stagnant pools. How long will it take before I sublimate?

~

Everyone knows that the creature lurking in the shuttered room is born of some unspeakable evil – a terrifying breach of unwritten laws, a marriage of forbidden desires. It's never spelled out – what the horror really is.

The unspeakable horrors of my life flow past me like cartoons: age 5, pulling the legs off a daddy long legs, a terrible revulsion reflected back on me in my father's horrified gaze; age 7, strangling my best friend Andrea Lucci until she turned blue because she betrayed me with my former best friend Milda Sherman – the whole time Andie screaming, "Go ahead kill me, see if I care" and I screaming back, "I am, I'm killing you," wondering in a mad scientist sort of way just how hard and how long I needed to squeeze her throat and wanting to; age 10, pushing my brother Ralphie out the back window to smash his skull like an egg on the concrete porch, which didn't happen because I caught his foot before he fell and he was able to climb to safety – haunted with the guilt of trying to kill him and the guilt of failing to when I had the chance.

The big lie purveyors of horror perpetuate is that this creature of the dark seeks release, that the locks and chains and barricades are keeping it in. The truth is it wishes to be left alone in the company of darkness.

I sit in the dark on my rocking chair and wonder why it took me so long to get here.

I have memorized the throbs and whispers of the building that surrounds me. The thud, thud, thud stereo heartbeat from upstairs, the operatic wails and cries up and down the scale from downstairs, the laughter of children, the toenails of dogs, elevator doors, footsteps, water pipes, flushing toilets, and outside, sirens, shouts, gunshots, car alarms, wheezing and grinding garbage trucks.

My mother never had time for a nervous breakdown. It was a luxury she could not afford. This is what she told me. Who would clean the house? Who would take care of the kids? Who would answer to the demands of my father?

Unlike my mother, I have taken the time from my busy schedule. I am making the assumption that the blind-slatted luxury of my sealed isolation is my nervous breakdown. "Oh yes," my neighbors will say, "the woman down the hall, she had some kind of breakdown. Disappeared . . . was never seen again." Then the speaker will lean in and whisper knowingly, "They say her ghost still rocks in the dark of night."

I think I might like being a ghost – popping up on people unexpectedly and causing them to drop their groceries. Keeping little old ladies company as they approach their own translucency. Winking and smiling at small children whose innocence allows them to see me.

If there is a choice involved, I intend to become a ghost. If everything goes as planned, I will trans-substantiate from my too sullied flesh directly into shimmering ectoplasm, thus avoiding the annoying details of a dead body and a costly funeral, sparing the backs of body handlers amazed at my dead gravity.

~

BAM! BAM! Someone's knocking on my door.

I freeze, catch my breath, stare at the door.

BAM! BAM! The entire building seems to shudder.

Don't breathe, don't move, don't rock. There's no one home.

I focus on the door, my heart pounding, my stomach clenching. I know someone is still standing there. I know someone does not trust my silence – the silence behind the door.

"There's no one home," my brain screams, "Go away!"

The knocker doesn't believe me. It's an instinct. To know when someone is lurking behind a mute and closed door. To know that someone is hiding, fearing discovery. The knocker is wondering what it is that this creature holding her breath behind the door has to hide.

My instincts are finely tuned. I know what to do. Slowly and quietly I begin to breathe and as I breathe I make myself invisible – I give up my gravitational pull.

~

The knocker is beginning to have doubts. He walks away but then stops, tiptoes back and places his ear against the door, trying to catch a telltale creak or sigh of the creature's relaxing vigilance. But since I am now become ether – weightless, transparent – the knocker walks away disappointed.

I resolidify, resume my rocking, spent but exhilarated. Has anyone ever noticed how close the pure sensation of fear is to that of an orgasm? Right now I could do with a smoke.

My decision to remove myself from the world and worldly things has placed me among the ranks of the holy mystics. As I rock I examine my hands for stigmata.

It's a joke. I don't take any of this all that seriously. Still I sit with my palms facing upward and conjure up visions of floating virgins and burning bushes, a halo to collect my waning inner light.

Sometimes the walls press in with a dusty stare. I rock, but I do not move. My eyes do not blink. But my heart betrays me – its beating. Under my shirt it pumps, up and down, up and down, and my chest expands and contracts with its rhythm. I raise my hand to hold it in and am caught. A paint chip flutters from the wall in warning.

Inside my closet is an envelope of glossy black and white photographs embossed with my name. Each time I rock the picture fades a little. In time the smile could belong to anyone – a refugee, long dead, whose image gazes out from a wall on Ellis Island.

Life is one long obligation. From the moment of birth, there's always somebody wanting, demanding – love, attention, homework . . . chores, a phone call, a little consideration. Life is a debt you're obliged to pay back until you die. On the morning I shut the blinds, I awoke bankrupt. No further collections could be withdrawn from the piggy bank of my soul.

~

So I rock. It's like floating – build up a little momentum, lift up the feet and let the chair take over. The perfect rocker would be like a perpetual motion machine. Each rock back would provide just the right momentum to fulfill the rock forward, then back, then forward again, feet never touching the ground.

The fly is back and I am relieved, even glad, to see him. He seeks my company, sits on my hand. He looks tired.

I try to imagine the multi-faceted fly's eye view of my face – my face a geodesic pattern in the darkness. I can't remember my face. Instead I see an old woman sitting on a porch, staring into the sunlight. She too is rocking. When she turns her head I can see that her eyes are milky white saucers. When her soul departed it sealed those portals against second thoughts.

My heart races. I increase my rhythm.

I review the list of my crimes like an executioner. When I was twelve I wished and wished, a chanted mantra, for my mother to die because she would not let me stay out late for Sandy Grundstrom's birthday party – the next day my mother had an appendicitis. When I was fifteen, I gave everything back to my mother – books, clothes, games, every gift ever received including balding dolls and hairless stuffed dogs. Now you have no more power over me, I said and handed her an itemized IOU for the intangibles –meals eaten, dentist appointments. First she laughed and then she cried. When I was nineteen I dropped out of college and flew away and when I heard my mother weep and my father threaten on the telephone, I told them my childhood had ended –you have no more power over me.

~

Sins too painful to confess cannot be forgiven. They spread across the soul like black oil on clear water. My reflection a distorted mask in this greasy rainbow.

"I know they're watching," I whisper to fly, "but I'll show them, I'll show them. They'll see that I wouldn't even hurt a fly."

~

BAM! BAM! The knocker is back. The fly and I freeze.

"We know you're in there Katy, open the door." Damn! I know that voice.

Another voice speaks gently, soothingly, "Katy, open the door honey, Katy, can you hear me?"

"C'mon Kate, we're worried about you."

Ah, friends.

"Katy, open up, you can't stay in there forever."

Why not, why can't I stay here forever?

"Katy, honey, we have the Super here, he's going to drill through the locks if you don't open up."

I hear the Super grunt and rattle his tool belt.

"Katy . . . Katy. This is it. You have 30 seconds and then we start drilling."

I wonder why they always give a time limit. They always do it with murderers, hostage-takers, spiteful children who lock themselves in bathrooms. "You have one minute young lady; don't make me come upstairs." I begin counting.

~

There's whispering: "What now?" "What if she's not in there?" "Who gonna pay for door?" The Super, always looking out for the tenants' interests. "She's in there." "Yeah, so, do we drill."

I ask myself – what if – what if I'm not in here, what if I'm already gone?

My 30 seconds are long passed. The mumbling continues. And I begin to rock. The jig is up. Either I allow them to rescue me or I take precipitate action.

I stand. I feel slightly wobbly. I haven't stood up in hours, maybe days. The fly has taken a position on the window sill where it can watch.

I walk toward the door. The mumbling stops. Ears press against the door. I can feel them absorbing my footsteps.

I reach for the lock. I flick it nonchalantly and fling open the door. The effort is monumental.

"What's going on, what's the problem?" I act surprised to see everyone. "I was taking a nap and suddenly all this commotion."

My course is now plotted. My fleeing soul flutters weakly, as it is drawn back from the void, caught in the sticky web of friendship and concern.

Everyone sweeps in around me. The Super hangs back looking annoyed. He's lost twenty bucks that these good folks would surely have tipped him had he drilled the lock. Tough luck, pal.

The afternoon of one thousand questions begins. "We were so worried." "Where have you been?" Messages . . . tears . . . recriminations. Remind yourself that these people love you; remind yourself.

~

"What is going on? Are you people nuts or something?" I look at them sternly. They line up on my sofa. Rebecca, David and Michael. And Ralph whose solid skull I failed crack, I can't believe my brother Ralphie is sitting in my rocking chair. Rocking.

They all talk at once. I raise my hand. Silence.

"Look, I don't know what's gotten into you people. And I'm really touched by your concern," it’s a sensation, a tingling in the chest, or is that fear, "but I just got back from Connecticut this morning. You knew I was going out of town." I say this with such conviction that I remember the train ride, the bare trees and iced over pond, the frigid wind on the gray beach.

"Remember, I was house sitting . . ."

It's easier this way.

"You never told me you were going out of town," says Rebecca.

"Yeah, how come they didn't know where you were at work?"

"What!" I'm stunned, "What about work?"

"The whole place is freaked out," replies Ralphie. "They even called the police."

"But I wrote a vacation memo weeks ago. I gave everyone a copy. I have a copy in my file."

I lie so well, no one believes me when I tell the truth.

They question, they cross-examine. No one notices that I haven't showered in two weeks.

~

They don't want me to be crazy. I am the rock they cling to. So we bicker about dinner – to go out, to order in, it's so cold, the fresh air will do you good. They let me take a quick shower, to freshen up from the long morning train ride.

By the time I get back home, my friends have filled my every evening for the next month with movies, meals and museums. Just in case . . . .

I close the door. Everything is back to normal. I sit down on my rocking chair. I look around for the fly. I feel suddenly alone. There's a chill in the room, an icy breath that stands my arm hairs on end. I see the fly on the window sill. I long for its company, but it is dead, its soul has sublimated.

"Help me," I whisper, "help me."

From outside the dark presses in against the windows having found a vacuum that needs filling. I float for a moment in its inky silence and then I begin to rock.

 

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