CHAPTER 32

THE PRODIGAL

Anna (me):

As beholding my singularity was no less terrifying than unearthing one’s own personal mortality, I spent at least an hour in that early afternoon attempting to confound my last perceived enemy of the Day, now that my self/other had drifted from me, temporarily or otherwise, her journey as yet to be received by me. No, now that she, like I, was a lone battler (at that moment I still predicted her day’s routine at Griffin Hills would be nothing short of coma- inducing drudgery, and I looked forward to hearing of its emptiness, as further validation of sorts), my new adversary was nothing short of Time himself (for I see Him as a rapist, entertainingly), the same Time that thwarted all souls, since everything began simultaneously in a mismatched victory that Time has always lamented, allowing such potential as Life to exist at all, so that He must strive against it, punishing untold billions even as they churn away in the Cosmos, dying and birthing and dying again. Time knows he is Master and that he will ultimately be victorious, but God-damn-it if I like so many others won’t rail against Him while I can. So that afternoon, that’s what I did. I lay supine on the sofa in the lounge, with the delicate sun rays buoying me, warming the cushions and dancing on my skin. My eyes found the clock on the wall, noted it, then closed, removing one sense of Time’s development, for I could see no wind blowing no tree, no dust floating illuminated, no figures in movement, and gratefully the day seemed still in any event, the outside noise-world reduced to a minimum, so much so that it seemed easy to block it altogether, as if now my hearing was voluntary, and today, I choose not to hear. Such was my power, as a singular soul-entity, couchbound. My game was thus: I would allow my mind to drift to whatever thoughts it contained, the only requisite being that such thoughts could not escalate my heart, permeate worry or fear, elicit even in the slightest an urge for sanctuary other than my current state of repose — and though you may have deduced by now, dear reader, that I am one especially prone to bouts of self-inflicted terror magnified by my natural introspective state, allow me some autonomy in this instance, and trust that my mind can trifle with the best of them, on such subjects as where do birds come from, who controls the tides, are there any jellybean flavors left to invent, and what’s the deal with corn, anyway? After I was tangled enough in a web of such frivolity, to the point where worldly matters could escape me, if only for moments before rushing back like a mountain of blood, I would stammer a mental guess at the time on the clock, then open my eyes and measure my success against the absolute. To my utter glee, my estimates were in the whole overlong. Often I would guess five minutes, when in fact only one had passed. And what’s more remarkable, no matter how I tried to compensate for the imbalance in my guesses, I still granted Time too much, well, time. (Unless of course I forced my guesses into absurdity, but that would hardly be fair gamesmanship.) I lay on those couch cushions and smiled to myself, brought my shoulders up to my ears before shutting my eyes again, to play another round, to dive into battle yet again. And I found, in this way, that I could stretch what was in the out-and-out a true half-an-hour, into what seemed to me like the entire afternoon in itself, many hours, at least. Put bluntly, I had slowed Time in his tracks. Me, Anna Appleby! I had conquered Time! What a ruse! What a monument! Perhaps with enough practice, I could stop the whole damn Train itself! (Well, it was a charming notion, to be sure!)


Then, in the middle of my precious science, I was interrupted, and all my stowed fear then came pouring over my head to drench me in dread. There was a knock at the front door.


A knock?

Who the fuck could it be?

Best case scenario would be a salesman or religious nut, so of course it wouldn’t be either of those. So it must be the cops. I’m busted. I tried to replace my fear with relief — at least it was over, right? Maybe they brought a camera crew with them. Maybe I could become famous as the best zombi high priestess ever. Maybe they would spare me my execution. Maybe I even smiled a little to myself as I went to answer the door. What is this strange twinge called again? Pride? I opened the door, ready to meet…

 

Chloe.


Home early from school, on her own.

She appeared the same as when I left her, but she should know better by now than to just show up at the front door, knowing full well I would answer it. What if a neighbor saw us together?


“Chloe,” I told her calmly yet sternly, “come inside now,” which she did, and I shut the door quickly behind her. “Remember we can’t risk being seen together.” Chloe was silent as I eyed her up and down, looking for any problem on her body or demeanor, but finding none. “Come sit on the sofa with me and tell me what’s going on,” I said as I led her to my place of former peace in the living room adjacent. She sat, school bag at her side, looking at me pleasantly enough. “Why are you home?” I asked her as I sat next to her. “And so early, on your own like this? You know I’m supposed to pick you up.” I decided on the spur to lighten things. “And you know how much I like dressing up as mom.” Chloe smiled a little.


“I did right,” she said, “at school. Just like you said. But I felt sick. So I came home.”

 

“Did you go see the nurse?”


“No. I just came home.”

“You walked all the way home?”

 

“Yes.”


“How do you feel now?”

“All better,” she said. I put my hand on her forehead. She felt normal, but before I could say anything, Chloe uttered, “see?”


“Are you sure you’re okay? What was wrong before?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “I just felt funny. I had a twinge, in my belly, except, lower.”

 

“Lower?”


“Down there,” she said, pointing a little. I understood her perfectly. I wondered for a brief moment if Chloe had menstruated, if she was even capable of that in her new life. But then I thought of my dalliance in the shower earlier in the day. Could that have affected her? Of course, I thought, admonishing myself. There are always consequences, always.


“But you’re okay now?” I asked.

 

“Yes. Did I do right?”


Best to move on from this, I thought.


“Yes,” I answered, “you did fine.” Chloe just sat, but with a twinkle in her eyes that I hadn’t noticed before. I remember not being alarmed by it, that it seemed a logical way for her to grow. “Well let me tell you about my day first, for a change,” I said, more upbeat. “I have to tell you, I love having all this free time on my hands! I feed our mother twice a day, and the rest of the day I can spend reading or just dreaming the hours away! It’s so delightful!” Chloe never altered her expression: just the slightest, pleasant smile. “Oh,” I exclaimed, “let me read you something I read today!”


I got up from the couch and ran upstairs to get my book of Emily. I had just lied to Chloe a little, the poem I wanted to read her was one I had encountered days earlier, in my dark time before Chloe’s reawakening. But of course then I couldn’t share it with her. When I returned to the living room with the book, Chloe still sat as before, and I remember thinking that maybe I could be happy.


“Listen to this!” I said as I sat back in place. I read to her: “‘I felt a clearing in my mind / As if my brain had split / I tried to match it, seam by seam / But could not make them fit. / The thought behind I strove to join / Unto the thought before / But sequence raveled out of reach / Like balls upon the floor.’” I looked back up at Chloe. She looked the same as ever, her face never twitching, but for the twinkling eyes.


“This poem reminds me of us,” I continued, before asking rhetorically, “don’t you think? ‘As if my brain had split.’ Like you and me! In our mother’s womb! One brain, then two!” Chloe still just smiled the little smile.


“Hug me,” I said, “but remember to be gentle.” I outstretched my arms, and Chloe shifted over to embrace me. Her hug was soft and warm and lasted the perfect amount of time. I took a small refreshing breath before asking her the next obvious question.


“So,” I said, “how were Coach and Paolo?”

 

“They were right,” answered Chloe.


“But how did they act? Were they all weird and shit?”

 

“People said they were drunk.” I burst out laughing.


“Oh God! That’s too funny! I almost wish I could have seen that!” I howled with laughter a little more. When was the last time I did that? I dunno.


“Is there anything you’d like to do with the rest of our day?” I asked.

“You could read to me some more,” said Chloe, and I smiled, and spoke my next thought out loud.


“That’s perfect, my love.”