Thursday, July 01, 2004

Transcendental Etude X

It was one of her rare and unpleasant insomnias. A small middle of the night half-awakening had opened up into a full chasm of alertness, thronged with small discomforts and anxieties. In fact that's all there seemed to be, there in the darkness beside the heinous red glow of the digital clock. Frets about work, health, finances, her son, the future. All the small stuff that made up her life. Then came the swarm of regrets and the panorama of failures. Fear. Self-loathing. Thoughts of decline and death. Hers, her loved ones'.

"This is it," she thought. "This is all there is. The rest is bullshit."

A whole layer of mental activity had disappeared, like a bright rind shucked off and tossed into the trash. She was burrowing through the pulp of an ugly, mealy fruit. What had happened to all those fine thoughts about transcendence, and all those plans and schemes for achieving it ? She'd been living a strange fantasy life. A Merton groupie. A Zen Trekkie. An RC Wannabe. But it had simply vanished. All that remained was a sediment of dysphoria. Unlust as Freud had said.

Eventually sleep had returned, but she woke with a sour residual distress, nagging as a hangover. Two cups of coffee barely touched it.

Suddenly, while showering, she remembered a scene from her childhood. She couldn't have been more than ten. She was at her grandparents' house, and the adults were wallpapering the living room. They were removing the old paper. Steaming and scraping. She stood by and watched, fascinated, as layer after layer of wallpaper emerged. It was like the geologic strata in her books. Archeological. Free-form, 1960's amoeboid blobs. Then red velvet calligraphic scrolls on creamy white. Then bucolic scenes of country life complete with lords, ladies and horses. Next came a series of tiny patterened nosegays on pastel grounds, then layers of staid geometrics. Then cabbage roses. Finally, wide, funereal brown wainscot-like bars.

Last night she'd found herself in the horsehair plaster.

As she stood under the hot, restorative water, she realized that all the fretful stuff below the vanished rind of pleasant fantasy was also rind. Like the layers of wallpaper in her Grandmother's house. She needed to take it down farther and farther, layer by layer, through paper and plaster and insulation and woodframe and shingle, right through the wall to light and air.

And then through that.

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