A Short Story
The Hole In The Sky
Pages Lifted From The Memoirs Of Far Gresham 9/21/83
As you are well aware I am of that happy cheerful disposition and inquiring and curious mind that dispels despair and boredom. I have never really known the blues, but I would be less than human knew I not my highs and lows. The very weather system of our planet is based on highs driving out lows and lows supplanting highs. I too am one with the universe as are you, my friend, so you will not be surprised that at the end of the day as I sought to keep at bay those twin demons, Despair and Boredom, late in the evening at the time at which the raven comes knocking, I was reading. Not a novel or poetry, although I dearly love both, but in desperation I had sought that which requires greater concentration, more or a firewall between me and the demons. A history. Not a popular history but that research that passes into the limbo into which only the specialist and the terminally bored enter. Stimulation so rare that only the elect are allowed to participate. It was the Cambridge Ancient History. I had considered and rejected such topics as the Tethys and the midworld fold belt and the Afro-Asian (Hamito-Semitic) Family and settled on the early monarchy of Egypt.
The author was facing a knotty problem. He saw a faint glimmer of light of evidence to indicate, not prove, but indicate that the first Dynast of Egypt may or may not have been, the past was so distant and the light so dim that nothing could be made out but had anything to be made out it would probably have been that a man whose name was not known but who represented by the hieroglyph Scorpion, was the first Pharaoh of Egypt.
It was late, I was tired and perhaps my comprehension was inadequate, but as I lay the book down and stumbled off to bed I was dumbfounded that anyone could work so hard for such little recompense. It was as though in a desert one saw or thought one saw a faint glimmer of light out of the corner of an eye. It might have been from a campfire several dunes away; it might have been faint distant lightning; it might have been merely an electrical discharge in one’s own eye. But looking out into the dark desert night it was impossible to know.
I marveled at man’s desire to know as I threw the cover over me and gazed out into the blackness of my room, waiting for sleep to come. It came, and in its bosom was a dream. I do not fear dreams, I welcome them. They come with secret knowledge which cannot be seen when one’s eyes are open. They bring a balm to relieve the mind of the burdens of a troubling past and a confusing present.
They appear as the picture appears on a television screen after the power has been turned on. First it is dark, and then, in media res, the story appears. And so as my dream began I was standing beside an open manhole at the intersection of Despair and Despond, as the street signs read. I had apparently, like some modern day Jean Valjean, just emerged from the sewer as the manhole cover was just ceasing to quiver. I looked back down into the hole and nothing there was familiar; I had no memories of sewer life; it was as though I had just been born.
As I lifted my gaze from the sewer to the corner on my right, I noticed what must have been an apartment house. It had the very strange name of the House Of The Distraught. Who would want to live in a place like that I thought. As I gazed in wonder I noticed for the first time that a man was standing on the sidewalk in front of it, motioning impatiently for me to come over and join him. I took a few hesitant steps in his direction, for the firt time I could hear him saying to me: ‘Come on, my wife ran off with an Italian and I have to go correct them.’
An Italian I thought, How did he know it was an Italian? He answered me. He could read my mind, but the telepathy was only one way, I could not read his. ‘How do I know? Don’t be stupid. He wore one of those ribbed under shirts with shoulder straps and scooped neck and back so the hair shows and not the collar of the T-shirt.’ I elected not to further show my stupidity and said nothing.
We began walking down Despair Street leaving Despond behind. As I looked at him I noticed that there was a considerable resemblance to myself. He was my height and weight, had my hairline, eyebrows and eyes. I was astonished. As I looked around me the asphalt was shiny black and wet as though from a recent rain. The buildings were dismal five story apartment buildings with dreary looking shops on the ground floor. They were stained and crusted with the dirt of time and city excrecences. A dark grey sky lowered overhead. The lifeless windows reflected ourselves fleeing down the lifeless street. There was no one to be seen but ourselves, nothing moved. There were no leaves rustling because there were no trees. There was no soughing of the wind as the air was still and breathless.
In answer to my unspoken thought he said: ‘Oh, just down the street here a ways, I know where they are.’
But, I thought, why is there no one else around?
He stopped short, stepping in front of me to block my progress. Looking intently into my eyes, he asked querously: ‘You mean you don’t know?’ Somewhat taken aback by the irritation he showed I replied defensively: No. ‘Well there are,’ he said, ‘the street is teeming with life, the shops are full, the windows are filled with domestic scenes. It’s not that there is no life, it’s that you won’t or can’t see it.’
‘Why not, why can’t I?’
‘Well, my God, man, this is the street you chose when you came up from the sewer, this is Despair St.;
‘But I didn’t have a choice.’ I blurted.
‘Perhaps not, but this is where you are and this is where you’ll be until you find a way out.’
‘Well, why can’t I see and hear all these people you say are there?’
‘They’re on different channels, or different wave lengths. Some are party people walking down Happy Feet St. and they can’t see you. Some are devoutly religious and walking down the Via Dolorosa but you don’t exist to them either as you are not one of them. Why do I have to tell you this? Don’t you know who I am?’
In my anguish at being alone on this teeming street or streets I didn’t hear his question. But why are these people having a better time than I am, I thought, as I looked up and down the dingy dirty deserted street. ‘Don’t be silly, they aren’t.’ He said. Each one is trapped in his own reality, just as you are. Each is seeking salvation, just as you are. Each in his own way. Party people never get closer to humanity and religious people never get closer to their god. Each is as desperate as you are. Today, there is no salvation. Each merely gives this same street on which everyone lives a different name and despises all others. You are doing what you want you are just as happy as anyone else. Don’t you think that the party people envy the pleasure and satisfaction you get from your silly books full of knowledge that almost no can use? Of course they do. Look at you, you look satisfied with yourself. That’s what the world sees at least. But they, like you, are trapped or either live in their channel, travel along their own wavelength. Live and let live.’
‘Well, has anyone ever changed channels, found a different wave length?’ I thought.
‘Stories abound.’ He said. ‘Stories abound but I’ve never seen it myself. Once your locomotives on the rails there’s only one direction to go whether you do it backwards or forwards. That’s what I like about you, you’ve get enough sense to go forward.’
We had begun walking again earlier in the conversation and now he came to a sudden halt. ‘Wups, here we are.’ He said stopping before an apartment building. I looked up and saw the name Norsex Manor. Someone had puttied in the R. Jokers exist even in dreams. My own mind which had been set racing by the peculiar earnest scornfully delivered conversation of this other person was sobered by the reflection.
‘This is it.’ He said, his tongue flicking out between his parted and drawn lips. ‘Come on, I’m going to get them.’ He flung open the front door in a masterly way and strode into the vestibule. After a moment’s orientation he pointed to the left and said: ‘It’s down this hall.’
The building was one of those older apartment buildings that had made a stab at white collar grandeur circa 1890 but was now seedy but not yet slummy. Halfway down the hall, what appeared to be a theatre ticket booth jutted a foot into the hallway. ‘That’s it.’ He said. ‘Watch this.’
So saying he placed his back against the wall and inched toward the ticket window. Through the glass his wife and her Italian lover could be seen sitting at a table large enough only for two. It was the only furnishing in the room. She was facing the window, hair in curlers, frowsy bathrobe, and run down slippers. The Italian had wing-tipped brown shoes, black socks, brown pants, black belt and he was sitting in his undershirt which was ribbed with shoulder straps, scooped neck front and back with an abundance of chest hair showing.
‘Hmm. Must be Italian.’ I though to myself sardonically. ‘Yes, yes, he is.’ The man whispered reading my unguarded thought. ‘See, they all wear those undershirts.’ Moving down the wall, he squatted beneath the ticket window. I watched with great curiosity wondering what he was going to do. Then he did it. He jumped up, stuck his thumbs in his ears, gobbled like a turkey and then ran down the hall and crouched behind a column.
The Italian got up, came to the ticket window and asked, ‘What was that?’
‘Oh, nothing honey.’ She answered her lover. ‘Probably just that crazy husband of mine.’
‘Well, why doesn’t he act like a man?’
‘He’s not you, honey.’ She said rubbing her foot on his ankle.
I walked over to the column where he was giggling uncontrollably.
‘Did you see that?’ He said. ‘Did you see that?’
‘See what?’ I thought. ‘That was stupid.’
‘Oh, well. Then I know what to do.’ He said. ‘Follow me.’
He bolted out into the dismal street with me behind him. He walked very rapidly down dingy, dirty, lonely Despair. I was half running, half walking trying to keep up with him. As we were both the same height I couldn’t understand how he could walk so fast.
His eyes were started in desperation, he was obviously contemplating an extreme act. After his last performance I was almost laughing in anticipation. I shouldn’t have been. Soon we were at the corner of Despair and Despond. The manhole through which I had emerged into this homely world was still agape in the middle of the intersection. I looked up at the strangely named apartment building: The House Of The Distraught.
‘Do you live here?’ I suddenly thought to ask him.
‘Yes, on the fourth floor. But I’m not going there now. I’m going up on the roof. You can come into this building and you will be able to leave but no one who goes up on the roof can ever come down.’ Now as I looked at him there seemed something strange about him. As I looked around trying to understand what was happening I noticed that the House Of The Distraught was the tallest building around.
‘Ten stories.’ He said. ‘All the others are five or six.’
Not sure what to do I looked at him again. Then I noticed that his teeth had the same form as mine. My mind reeled but then I saw that he had a scar on his left hand between the thumb and forefinger which I didn’t have, so that suspicion left my mind.
Not knowing what to do I suggested that I would accompany him to the tenth floor and see him off. He studied me for a moment, a little wry smile flickered across his lips. ‘Follow me.’ He said with a little laugh.
We entered The House Of The Distraught. I had never seen an apartment building like this before. All the apartments, no bigger than prison cells, were arranged around the walls. The center was an atrium which soared up through the center of the entire building. The atrium had a floor of red Spanish tiles with a huge fountain containing an inch of water in the center of the floor. In the middle of fountain rising up twenty feet was a spire that resembled a penis. Residents, I almost said prisoners, ringed the balconies looking down on us. They were a strange looking lot. Their faces all betrayed strong inner emotions, their eyes looked but saw only what was happening in their own minds. They could hear only the conversations going on in their own heads. All their replies were consequently non sequiturs. If they had been obsessed by apples and saw an orange they would have sworn that they had seen an apple. Objective reality had ceased to exist for them. I was terrified to walk by them but as we passed they all retreated into their rooms, or cells, glaring at us as we passed them, emerging from their holes to spit at our heels. He wealked by as though they didn’t exist. I have never shuddered in my life and I never will, but the hair growing on my head became very apparent to me. Floor after floor was passed, the fountain, the spire, the floor became more distant.
Finally we stood on the tneth floor which appeared to be unfinished, like an attic or something. Up above a bright blue spot shown through the end of what appeared to be an inverted funnel. It was the first color I had seen since I had emerged from the manhole.
‘Well, this is it. This is as far as you can go or you won’t be able to come back.’
It was then that I realized that this guy was crazy or at least suffering from some sort of abnormal psychology. I thought I knew why HE couldn’t come back but since I wasn’t crazy I didn’t see why I couldn’t come back besides which I had never been in a situation I couldn’t get out of. I laughed smugly to myself. He smiled serenely down his nose at me.
‘Follow me.’ He said.
A ladder appeared as if by magic, swinging loosely beneath the opening.
‘Come on.’ He said, leaping unto the ladder and scrambling up it. ‘I know where I’m going.’
Grabbing hold of a rung I ascended into the opening. It was breathtaking. After the grey skies, dirty besmudged buildings, foul streets and dour surroundings I emerged into a beautiful clear, bright, cerulean sky. I stood bedazzled for a moment on an immaculate dazzling white floor, for several minutes or for who knows how long. Then I began to see things.
The roof was very densely populated. All the people were preoccupied with their own problems. None seemed to interfere with anyone else. Unlike downstairs there was no evident hostility, no fear, no hatred. All was placid. I looked around for him but my cicerone had disappeared. Then I noticed that my left hand had a scar between the thumb and forefinger that had not been there before. I looked up at the sun which was a bright yellow disk immobile in the sky as time had stopped and no longer had any meaning.
The air was terrific, my lungs gratefully inhaled the fresh invigorating air, so different than the fetid fumes below. I felt good. As my gaze lowered from the disk of the sun I saw two men holding a giant knot on a pole. I immediately recognized it as the problem of my life. That part of my existence which had been troubling me but for which I could find no solution; there was my central childhood fixation.
The two men looked directly at me, firmed and steadied the huge knot, at least six feet in diameter, looked at me and shook their heads at me in expectation of my undoing the knot.
In my moment of consternation, I knew not what to do, but then looking down I spotted a pair of scissors lying on the roof. I knew the sweetest moment of elation I have ever known. There was my problem held steady for me and there was my solution lying on the floor needing only to be picked up and put to use. I let out a merry laugh of enjoyment and anticipation and leaped for the scissors, overjoyed that I had come up on the roof. But as I reached for the scissors they grew to enormous size, perhaps fifteen feet in length and the handles fit under my arm like a crutch.
I had wrestled the scissors into a position where I could open them but they were too big and too heavy for me to manipulate. Try as hard as I might I could only open them a few inches, but, even then, they were so heavy I couldn’t slide them forward to get at the knot of my problem. It was impossible. But having my problem and its solution in my hands I, in my eagerness for salvation labored long and hard at this impossible task. I looked to the two helpers for assistance, but each time I did they merely held the knot for me more firmly. In my excitement at being so close to the realization of my desires I was trying to tell them that I didn’t need help with the knot but with the scissors. But they didn’t seem to hear and no matter what I said they merely steadied the knot.
Finally I flung my left arm over the handles and stood leaning there for I don’t know how long trying to figure out what to do. No matter how I figured it my columns of figures would never total into sums. Finally I laid the scissors down, disappointed, and looked for the way out.
Stepping over the hole in floor up which I entered, I was surprised to find the ladder gone. Even though I had been told that once up I could not get down I had not believed it.
As I said the opening was in the shape of an inverted funnel, the sides sloped sharply away from the end of the funnel down which I looked. There were no hand holds possible. On the ground floor I could see the fountain with its inch of water in it. It was a long way down. I had read of circus performers that could dive from heights into shallow water. I had even heard of a performer who was able to dive into a damp spunge and survive. An inch of water seemed very possible to me. But directly in the middle below me was the spire. If I dove straight down I would impale myself on the spire. It was possible I could twist and turn and miss the spire but then I might not be able to straighten out and hit the water just right and level out my dive. The situation gave me pause to reflect. I walked over to the edge of the roof of the House Of The Distraught and looked down on the corner of Despair and Despond. Despair went on forever in either direction as far as I could see. Despond was a short street deadending only two or three blocks in either direction. Even if my dive were successful I would still be coming out of the House Of The Distraught at the corner of Despair and Despond.
In a quandary I gazed inthinkingly, seemingly so, for some time at the intersection of recent unpleasant memory. Then an association congealed in my mind. I had emerged from a round opening of the sewer into what must surely have been a better, if still despicable world than the sewer. Emerging through the hole in the roof of the House Of The Distraught I had left the dark, malodorous world of Despair, the Via Dolorosa of other times, and entered into a bright, pleasant, sweet smelling, fresh world above it all.
I looked up at the disk of the sun shining eternally, unmoving in the beautiful blue sky. Perhaps, I thought, that, as the manhole and the opening in the floor were entrances to better worlds, perhaps if I passed through this hole in the sky I would enter an even better world. I stood transfixed, meditating on the possibility of such a seeming absurdity. By some mathematical legerdemain I equated the distance from the sewer to the manhole and from the street to the top of the House Of The Distraught and from the top floor to the sun as proportional distances. As I stood musing I began to pay more attention to my surroundings. As I said, the roof was very thickly populated. I began to covertly examine the various inhabitants. Oddly, it seemed that they had all arrived at the same conclusion I had concerning the sun. They all seemed to be in a state of anticipation. Once more I looked over the side of the building. Could it be, I thought, that I, and all these people, have passed from the sewer to the street of Despair through the House Of The Distraught to the- and then the idea flashed on me in rays of transcendent beauty- Plateau Of Hope. Ah, there was Hope then.
In a state of mental excitement I began to pass through the assembled multitude. It became apparent to me that they had all assumed immobile stations of expectation. I began to understand what was necessary for me to do. They all seemed so serene, so complacent, that I had no objection to joining them. I didn’t want to stand while waiting for the sky to open to receive me so I looked for a place to sit. What to my wondering eyes should I see just a couple steps from me but a chimney pot, or something of the sort. Before I sat I looked at my immediate surroundings. To my right was standing what I thought must be the Eternal or Wandering Jew. He was standing facing the sun, staff in hand, arms outstretched in supplication. He was resplendent in a coat of rainbow colors. Very pretty, I thought, I hope he doesn’t leave soon.
In front of me was a fellow in a blue suit, a very interesting face with his hand inside his shirt scratching his belly. To my left was a group of businessmen throwing dice. Each member of the group had different colored dice: Transparent, blue, red, yellow, green, clear, and also Ivory, gold and silver. The dice diffracted and reflected the brilliant light in a scintillating manner. Ah, I thought, I think I’ll just sit here. So thinking I sat down. Then I began to wonder whether it was possible to prove that Scorpion was the first Dynast of Egypt. I wondered whether that flash of light was from distant lightning or from a campfire only two or three dunes away. I put my elbow on my knee and my chin on my closed fist and was about to sink into a reverie when I heard what seemed like distant thunder.
My eyes opened in the darkness of my room. Sleep with his dream had departed. I got up to investigate the source of the sound. I flicked the light on in the living room to see my little albino cat, Antonio, with his strange red eyes staring at me.
If I didn’t know that cats can’t laugh I would swear that he was laughing at me. On the white carpet where he had pushed it off the table lay my history book. It had fallen open to the page about Scorpion. Antonio’s grin seemed to broaden. Impossible, I thought, but Antonio still seemed to be sitting there laughing at me. Impossible…