Margaret's Home Page
by Margaret Magnus
copyright 1997, 1998 by Margaret Magnus
all rights reserved
About two years ago April, I took the children to Manhattan for the weekend. On Saturday morning we decided to walk from where we were staying near the Museum of Natural History across Central Park to the zoo. En route, I failed to notice that Arne had taken off his shoes, as was his wont in the meadows of New Hampshire, and on very short order, he had cut his foot rather badly on a shard of glass. Not 20 yards off there stood a policeman talking to a heavy set and much perturbed lady. I hesitated, considering the way I get in trouble with the local small town police ("Would you please keep an eye on that boy!") But there was no better alternative, so I approached him holding Arne and his crimson foot in my arms. After a couple minutes, when the conversation had not let up or seemed to have gone anywhere, I tried to break in, but the policeman motioned me to wait my turn. Considering the chastisement I anticipated and the fact that Arne was perfectly calm, claimed he felt no pain, and only asked if I would put him down so he could wipe off his foot and continue his walk, I waited another five minutes for the conversation to run its natural course.
When he finally looked up at me, and I braced myself for the, "Jesus, what did you do with his shoes, lady?" Instead he took me by the shoulder and said, "Oh, lady, I'm so sorry. I wish you had insisted." Then, "You must not be from New York. I'll call an ambulance." After 150 seconds, the ambulance pulled up and opened its back door. In it were 4 people. The driver was female, oriental born. The Medic was a man, African born. The MD was an Italian American woman. And the nurse was a Hispanic woman. They threw themselves over Arne with tenderness and good spirits, told him where he was going, hugged him, asked how he felt, let him investigate the stethoscope. They offered both children peppermints, asked Rachel what she thought of New York, if she'd prefer to sit up front. In another 7 minutes, we were at the emergency ward of the hospital.
Someone attended to Arne as I signed us in, and we sat back to wait. Rachel leaned over and whispered to me that she felt a little nervous. This was overheard by a black nurse at a nearby desk. "What's your name, honey?" she asked. "I'm Rachel." "Well, I'm Josie. Why don't you come sit here next to me. I have some paper and some crayons. We can draw pictures." Through all the hustle and bustle, Josie somehow found time that afternoon to draw four pictures of Rachel surrounded by flowers and butterflies and notes like 'Josie loves Rachel'. On hearing that Rachel liked butterflies, she stopped in one of the doctor's offices to heist a butterfly sticker she had seen lying on his desk.
After another 10 minutes, they wheeled a middle-aged white man named Joe in in a wheelchair. Joe was high on something. He was shaking violently and fairly oblivious to what was going on. It was pretty clear that Joe didn't carry Blue Cross Blue Shield. And everybody clearly knew Joe. The male nurse wrapped Joe in a blanket and asked if he wanted to throw up. Josie asked him if he'd prefer to lie down. Others took his pulse, rubbed his feet. No one said an unkind word to Joe. No one said a heavy-handed word to anyone. Just, "Had a rough day, Joe?" "Want some water, Joe?" "Are you warm enough, Joe?"
After about 30 minutes, we were brought into the doctor. She was a middle-aged intern, a Russian Jewish immigrant on one of her first solo assignments, determined to do her best. Arne started getting nervous at the sight of all the sharp instruments they wheeled in, so they called in a couple assistants to entertain him. Nonetheless, once she set to work, he writhed and screamed and finally had to be strapped down. The doctor spent 45 minutes disinfecting, triple checking for any remaining glass, and finally sewing in 5 stitches. From Central Park until we were released, the process took about 2 1/2 hours.
And that's what I know about New York.
After I graduated from college, I got a temporary job as a programmer to write a full text retrieval system for Lockheed's meteorological database. I had had one semester of Fortran, and the program was to be written in PL/I. I left after the 8 month term feeling guilty because I hadn't even come close to finishing. Only after some time in the industry watching whole companies of high level programmers struggle with just such a task, did I realize that I hadn't done such a bad job after all. I realized in fact that I had probably been hired more out of good will than because they needed a full text retrieval system. And I learned that if you set a person to an impossible task, but don't let them know it's impossible, they often accomplish amazing things. And sometimes I wonder if New York isn't like that.
by Margaret Magnus
copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 by Margaret Magnus
all rights reserved
Ellen and Zachary B glanced across at one another and threw themselves out of the bed. It was a very early April morning. "Shoes... Punnu der," said Zachary pointing at his feet. Ellen obliged him, going of her way to tie the laces with double knots. Zachary picked up his tropical umbrella the one with giant green and yellow flowers on it. "Open ne brella, pease." Ellen pushed it open, whereupon Zachary B thanked her, pulled a purple velour hat onto his head and left.
Zachary B was 4 1/2, and his sister, Ellen, was 8. Zach didn't talk much. One called him an 'interesting case'. One sought to 'motivate' him and applied to him labels such as 'PDD'. The diagnoses varied considerably, so we won't venture an opinion. What we can say for certain about Zachary B is that he was just what he was, so let's leave it at that.
He decided that his first solo jaunt would take him up the hill to the center of the village. Zachary may not have been very good at talking, but he certainly was at finding his way around. He could direct a willing driver by the shortest route from any point within 20 miles to the nearest ice cream stand, or into the city an hour's drive away where he had been only twice. He could even wander around aimlessly in a forest for an hour or so and then turn suddenly and point himself straight home, as unerringly as if a compass had been installed between his ears.
When he got to the top of the hill, he looked up and down the main road pondering the possibilities. They had once driven past some buffaloes on a side road north of town, and Zachary B had wanted a closer look. Mom was not much of a walker. So Zach concluded that today was the day to pay them a visit.
He started down the main road. For five or six blocks there was still a sidewalk, but when he got away from the houses, the sidewalk stopped, and he continued carefully along the shoulder. If someone bothered to look at him through the windshield, he would lift his hand to wave, "Bye, bye, car." For the most part, people smiled and waved back.
After a short time, an eldery lady pulled her Oldsmobile up beside him, and climbed out. "Hello, there." "Hello," responded Zachary, "How are you?" "Very well, thank you," she said with a smile. "How are you?" "Good," replied Zachary B succinctly. "What's your name?" asked the lady. Zachary didn't understand the question, and didn't respond. "Are you lost?" Zachary said nothing. "Where's your Mama?" "Mama der," said Zachary, pointing down the hill toward home. "Who is your Mama? What's your name?" Zachary only lifted his eyebrows and grinned. "Will you come with me?" she asked. "Come here," she said, pointing at the car. "No, kyank you," said Zachary B, "No car." The lady took him by the arm, and pulled him gently toward the car. "Le go, pease," said Zachary. "No car. I can't. I busy." By now several minutes had passed, and no one had come after Zachary B. The lady seemed suddenly very concerned, something Zachary didn't like much. "Wook!" he said, squatting down and waddling behind his umbrella so that it appeared to have little black sneakers. The lady didn't laugh. He stood up and looked out over the field behind him. "Da's woneful," observed Zachary, trying to make conversation. "You come now with me in the car," insisted the lady. "I can't," repeated Zachary patiently, "I busy. I working." The lady looked lost. Finally he requested, "Go away, pease."
At this our well intended lady got in back her car not a little peeved at having her assistance and authority rebuffed. From home she telephoned the local police and reported a small boy in pajamas, who wouldn't divulge his name. He had a purple hat and an umbrella, and was headed north on the main road out of town.
Zachary had meanwhile turned his attention to the meadow. He tromped through the grass for some minutes and glided eventually off into the forest. This brought him upon a magnificant oak which had planks pounded into its side. These planks made it possible for one to climb up with an open umbrella and some effort onto the lowest branch which one could then follow out and up to the end. After contemplating the tree for quite a few minutes, Zachary climbed up and seated himself, self-appointed master of the trees. A bird sailed above his head. "Hi, bird," he greeted it. "Hi, doggie," he added, acknowledging also the squirrels. He was a benign head of state.
A police car pulled up just where the lady had parked her Olds. It had been patrolling the main road and several side roads in search of a boy in pajamas. No missing person had been reported. Still the officer in a fit of thoroughness decided to cross the meadow and walk a ways into the forest. He paused just under Zachary's tree and surveyed the area. Zachary tore off a bud and dropped it on the man, who brushed it off without readjusting his gaze. So Zachary dropped another. And to prove the principle yet another. Still he didn't looked up. Zachary felt at this point that he had made his best effort to gain the man's attention, and so when he finally did set off through the woods toward the buffaloes, he did so with a clear conscience.
Zachary's Mom, whose name is Elizabeth, finally opened her eyes. Except for a slight and very early disturbance, it had been a quiet morning, and she had gratefully slept in. She padded now down to Ellen's room. "How d'you sleep, hon?" "Good!" said Ellen. "It's awfully quiet. Where's Zachary?" "I don't know. Outside, I think." Zachary's mother was typical in that she did not let this pass without some criticism and distemper. "Oh, Ellen! You know better! Why didn't you wake me?" After some pacing through the house considering her next move, she commanded Ellen, "Come now! Put on your shoes! Get in the car!" They drove up the hill. No Zachary. They cruised up and down the main road into town. No Zachary. They asked at the general store. No Zachary. Elizabeth finally gave in and stopped by the local police station. "Oh yes," said the officer kindly he required only that a mother display sufficient agitation and repentance in order to treat her equitably in such a situation. Elizabeth knew this subconsciously and had acted accordingly. "A small boy with a purple hat and umbrella was seen travelling north on the main road an hour ago. I checked it out, but I didn't see anyone. Let's go look again."
Zachary B had by now reached the fence of the buffalo field. The front gate was kept locked, but the back gate was wisely held closed only by a wire ring hooked over the end of the gatepost. Zachary wedged the ring up with his umbrella. The gate swung open, and he walked out into the field. There stood the brave creatures. Their eyes were remarkably large and remarkably brown. Zachary B squatted down on his haunches and watched them for many minutes. His mind slowed as a train pulls in at the station... and then the passengers debarked. He felt drawn especially to one smaller and older animal. He turned his eyes to the ground and felt her with his thoughts her musty fur, and then her eyes, and then he felt sorrow the little sorrow one feels when one is locked in a field, and intermingled with it a wider and older sorrow. He felt in her a wordless world of vast fields of brown grass, more time, more wind, more sky.
When he looked up again, the animal was gazing at him calmly. He approached her and stopped a few feet away. She was a silent creature. She was in her essence silent. When one took the trouble to look into her eyes, he saw that she had never incorporated into her being all the trappings of modern society. There was only a strange space which floated behind those eyes. And Zachary by contrast suddenly felt himself to be cluttered with things plastic dinnerware and Disney coloring books and fluorescent lampposts... Things. Different things. "Look at me!" they advertized. "Invest yourself in me!"
She finally approached him, and he felt suddenly in her presence an odd compression of time and memory. He led her out through the gate. He offered no words, for his native tongue was, after all, as silent as was hers. His head felt remarkably clear, and in this he recognized that he had long felt somehow muddled and asleep. They passed out through the gate, and started west deeper into the trees.
The Circle of Seven
Zachary accompanied the buffalo silently for as long as it took, clinging all the way to his umbrella. She moved slowly but purposefully westward. Toward evening they came upon a man a very old man of small stature. He stood on the far side of a broad natural meadow. His skin was dark and deeply lined, his hair long. His nose jutted out between a pair of intense but calm eyes. He stood comfortably as if his body had been not 80 years old, but 22. A well-used blanket lay draped across his shoulders. Zachary felt a peculiar relief at the sight of him. He felt prepared to remain there and never leave. His past life was no more. The man motioned Zachary to lay himself down in the grass at his feet. He then covered him over with the blanket.
Zachary dropped off almost immediately. After several hours, he awoke with a start. It was dark. The man with the long hair was still seated beside him. Zachary sat up. His silence grew more silent. His thought receded. The darkness surrounded him. It touched his exterior. It penetrated him until he was no more here nor over there, but existed as breath and mind alone. After quite some time, a strange sensation crept up on him. He pressed his eyelids together. For a moment there had seemed to be 7 very vague spots of light forming a circle in the grass before him. He looked again. They wavered in and out. Gradually seven figures became visible. They held their hands toward the center of the circle where a pole of light about Zachary's height had appeared. As this happened, Zachary's thoughts, activities, intentions, directedness had gradually slowed and then ceased, and there... in its place before him there spread a vast and ancient mind.
He was drawn instantly and deeply within. There he recognized his uncompromised gladness, each word vast and unspoken, each form and sound consumed. Yet rather than Nothing, there remained in him Something. What remained was very large... very large indeed... What remained, friends, was very large...
It opened before him with unspeakable certainty. Zachary arose, and approached. The pole caused his face to burn and buzz until it was turned aside back into the night. He sat down filled now deeply with strange light. There is a source of all that is innocent. There is One who does not stumble or equivocate. This we know. But we have not in this touched the Essence of what Zachary saw. For what Zachary saw Is, and all else Is not.
We may now well ask ourselves what becomes of a Zachary B, for we are each of us a Zachary who to a greater or lesser extent remembers a song such as his. There are those of us Zacharies who seek with immense efforts to push it out of our minds. We get a college degree and then go on to more or less illustrious careers in marketing or social services. This Zachary, being on the more silent end of the human spectrum, did not have this as an option, at least not to an extent that fell within socially acceptable bounds. This recollection which Zachary carried was a major burden to him in all social circumstances at first a source of intense confusion and later in puberty of embarrassment. He found his transition to the world noisy and otherwise unaesthetic, and walked through much of life feeling, 'No comment.' 'No comment.' 'No comment.'
As we know, the world which Zachary B reentered, was one of forms, specifics and details, and so we must answer what became of him in terms of forms and specifics. In the first instance, Zachary B received a blanket, a gift whose magnitude he understood well enough. He gave in return a brightly colored umbrella which was accepted silently but with no less understanding or gratitude.
In the second place, the entire local police force and 20 volunteers had spent the night combing the forest on his account, and so upon his return, Zachary was greeted less than warmly and slammed into the guest room. At approximately 30 minute intervals over the course of 3 hours, the door was opened and he was yelled at hysterically. Zachary did not have to understand English to get the gist of the conversation. This served in part to vent Elizabeth's nervous energy. It was also intended to make Zachary's behavior more predictable. Elizabeth when asked would not maintain that goodness implied adherence to a specific behavioral pattern, but in effect, she operated as if this were true most of the time.
One must not conclude from this that Elizabeth didn't often feel great warmth for Zachary, or that she was uniformly unfriendly. For the most part she was filled with good cheer. And in all ways she put out extraordinary efforts to do her best by Ellen and him. She treated them as equally as ever possible. She shared with them what she had learned to enjoy in life and rarely bemoaned her fate. She cooked them regular nutritious meals. She took photos and kept them in an album. Above all, she worked very hard with Zachary to help him overcome his 'syndrome', which she patently refused to believe was a permanent malady. Nor did she give in to the talk that he might be a genius, understanding how such a thought would destroy him and hurt Ellen deeply. She left both her children wide berth to choose whatever futures they could imagine for themselves. She praised them when they did well, and didn't when they didn't. In a great many respects, she was well above average as mothers go.
In this world, one is led to believe that those forces which will confound and interfere are easily recognized by their black hats and obvious evil intent. In truth, we are broken down by ordinary and on the whole good natured mediocrity. We are broken down by that which we are told has understanding, and in fact has none. We are broken down by that which is close, familiar, and on which circumstances have led us to believe we depend. We are not saying that Elizabeth was mediocre by most standards. She had an Ivy League Master's degree in biochemistry.
Zachary accepted Elizabeth as an authority figure, and you would be right if you inferred from this that he assumed that he had just done something very wrong. From the start, he therefore understood his preoccupation with the transcendental to be not only ill-fitted to most circumstances, but on some level basically wrong. This was one in a long series of confusions which began well before his trip to the buffalo farm. But now the ante on confusion had been upped considerably. For what was so obviously right was also so obviously wrong.
His sister, Ellen, was a great comfort to him. Once he had been released from the guest room, she embraced him, and assured him convincingly of how glad she was to see him. Then she put her finger to her forehead and twisted it back and forth a bit, looking heavenward and uttering in the process, "Mom... She's like that. Don't take it too hard." Zachary didn't have to speak English to get the gist of this conversation either. Had he been able to relate it, she would have listened with sober and open minded interest to his experiences. His mother, too, went out of her way to cook him his favorite dinner of macaroni and cheese later in the evening, and made other efforts as well to compensate for his unhappy afternoon. She convinced herself that her occasional reprimands were not all that extreme and would have no lasting detrimental effects on Zachary B's psychology, and in this she was correct. But she did misjudge the nature and extent of their impact. She underestimated a good many other things as well.
When he had come home, Elizabeth had almost immediately thrown his filthy blanket into a large trash can in the garage where he was very unlikely to find it. He had walked around the house in search of it most of that evening and the next day asking "Where banket?", and was met with shrugs and stares. The following evening, he finally found and recovered it. When he hauled it into the living room, where Elizabeth grabbed it from him and stuffed it back into the trash and in no uncertain terms forbade him to go close to the garage.
This was more than little Zachary B could bear. He retired to the bedroom and howled for an hour. But Elizabeth was a woman of principle, and once a decision was made, it was made. When he had not let up after an hour, Elizabeth marched into his room and commanded that he be silent. This had no effect, and so she pulled out a yardstick and began to whack him rhythmically across the back side. This was not particularly painful. It was rather his mama's wholehearted and one-pointed intent to 'break' him so viciously that finally brought him under. After a few minutes, his screams were reduced to a whimper. He whimpered for another hour and when he was called to dinner, he came immediately and ate every pea. From this Elizabeth had concluded that his character had improved, and she viewed the event as 'one of those things' which would soon blow over.
When a tale such as this is written from the perspective of a Zachary sympathizer, it is easy to think of the event just outlined as extreme and rare, and easy to identify. It's easy to think that this blanket is unlike other blankets and so deserved to be treated specially. It's easy to think of Zachary as the innocent victim and Elizabeth as the perpetrator of an evil act, that she should have known better, and that she deserves our scorn. In fact, the event is commonplace in nearly every family that has ever existed. Furthermore, Elizabeth had suffered to have a good many more blankets burned than Zachary ever would, and had been locked in a good many more rooms so many that any recollection of a meadow and its attending philosophy remained with her as but a vague whisp. She threw out the blanket not for her own welfare, but for his, and held out a full hour of Zachary's screaming before collapsing. She had no waking memory of an experience such as Zachary's and had it been related to her, she would have believed that it was an extremely pleasant but misleading experience, similar in essence to a high on drugs. Elizabeth was a single mother trying to do her best day by day for two small children. It was clearly Zachary who had all the cards in his hand. It is clearly Elizabeth who deserves our sympathy. It is Elizabeth who had been 'broken', and not Zachary. This Zachary had not yet understood. He started out like all of us seeing himself as sinner and then victim in an uninterpretable world.
It would have been literally impossible for anyone with Elizabeth's mindset to tolerate Zachary's screaming any more than she did. Elizabeth's error was not that she had been weak and collapsed. Indeed, she was remarkably strong. She only made the innocent mistake that Zachary's screaming did not cause her to reconsider the 'Hygiene before Heart' principle one which she took on, not joyfully, but with a sense of duty, believing firmly in the fatality of germs, which reside in all dirty objects. And it is no surprise that she did not surrender on this point. Being a biochemist, she knew in detail with what insidiousness a virus infects a selfless, hard-working and intellectually superior cell, and the magnificence of the end which this cell serves. And she had suffered the heartbreak of so many burnt blankets under very similar circumstances at the hands of people who obviously did really care for her, that she had very nearly no choice but to conclude that a certain amount of heartbreak is part of life and part of a healthy childhood. She saw stoicism, not reflection, as the antidote to heartbreak. This strategy of hers for dealing with the vicissitudes of life had made her much less hypersensitive than Zachary was that is to say, much less sensitive. She had learned to put things behind her something which she rightly concluded that Zachary would do well to learn.
We must add one more note on the fate of the blanket. While her little brother was being 'corrected', Ellen committed her first of what were to be many acts of civil disobedience. She retrieved the blanket, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and hid it in an abandoned shed she knew of in the forest on the fringes of their neighbor's property. When the blanket was observed to be missing, and Zachary was about to catch it again, she confessed to having given the blanket away to the neighbors. For this she was reprimanded, but this only rolled off her like water off a leaf.
On the Monday following his return, Elizabeth had scheduled Zachary B for an appointment with a teacher from the school district, Janice, who worked with 'special needs' children. On the whole, Elizabeth was not particularly enamored of the psych-profession, and so although Zach had attended day care, he had not regularly seen therapists. Zachary B was led back to a room where he was to be tested. First Janice stacked three blocks in a triangle and asked him to do the same. Zachary naturally did not understand the instruction, and it never occurred to him that he was asked to do something which had no obvious function or aesthetic value. And so he did what seemed to him most meaningful under the circumstances he fired one of his blocks at her little triangle and scattered them all around the room. At this he clapped and cheered enthusiastically attempting to rouse a response and improve the sordid atmosphere. But Janice did not clap. She had little sense of humor relative to blocks. She merely noted in her book that he was 'uncooperative', a mark which he received for his performance on very nearly all the other tests as well. She smiled kindly at him before they left, and even gave him a hug.
Shortly after that initial meeting, Miss Janice started coming to Zachary's day care for an hour each morning. In these meetings, they did a great deal of block-stacking, bead-threading, and puzzle-making. He had similar meetings with others in which he was force fed the American language. Janice and the others were kind to him and gave him a good deal of positive attention. Although the activities never started making any sense, Zachary gradually got better at doing what was expected of him. This was due primarily to the air of certainty that Miss Janice had relative to blocks. It very much resembled the air of certainty that his mother had relative to housecleaning and diet, and that very nearly everyone had relative to very nearly every mode of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Zachary had no conscious understanding of where this 'certainty' stemmed from. Janice, Elizabeth and most others had no conscious awareness that there was any alternative brand of 'certainty'.
Zachary himself had only ever felt certainty relative one thing, but he tried to act consistent with other people's certainties to the extent that they did not conflict with his own. This did in fact lessen the amount of foot stomping and hysteria that surrounded him. As far as Zachary could see, foot-stomping and all other forms of authoritative demand had as their sole function that of terrifying him into specific behavioral patterns and convincing him that this was right and just that is, that he would be a black sinner if he failed to comply. The very fact that hysteria was required was evidence to Zachary of the contrary had the cause been right and just, it would have been transparent, and the hysteria would have been unnecessary. But from the fact that people were so brazenly willing to appear before him looking so horrifically ugly in their fits of distemper, Zachary inferred correctly that they were prepared to damage or even kill for their cause. It was really this that did the trick. And so Zachary like all of us made every effort at conformity. But he still got much more than an average dosage of hysteria. For one thing, he had comparatively little sense for their alternate reality, and a much lower level of tolerance for block-stacking than most of his peers. Indeed this was the essence of his 'syndrome' and he came to look up to those children who could string beads at length without experiencing any urge to scream. He made every effort to improve his tolerance for these activities, but with only limited success.
And he paid for his compliance as well. He found being spanked or slammed in a room frightening, confounding and painful. But block-stacking is meaningless. And it is all the more insidious, because it is an activity you undertake yourself, and not an experience that appears to be thrust upon you. The meaninglessness always caught up with him on short order in the form of dull and nagging agony of 'quiet desperation'. Zachary B was, in short, trapped between block-stacking and hysteria.
But the picture is not actually as bleak as all that. For there is another dynamic as we have been mentioning, a Certainty greater than this 'certainty', which does not acknowledge the existence of hysteria. Zachary B had conscious awareness of it, and this was a mighty resource indeed. It was nothing more or less than a sense of profound well-being and safety. There was no wisdom or magic formula other than this. This was the beginning, the middle and the end. Every encounter, activity and conversation in Zachary's surroundings sought to unseat it, but it stayed with him steadfastly and guided him through his storms. The fact that he didn't understand most of what was spoken to him also prolonged his ignorance of the value of block-stacking.
Zachary's language skills gradually improved, in fact. It was Elizabeth's untiring devotion to him which was to be largely thanked for this. He was kept tight in sight for many months after his escape, and in this process experienced a gradual sickening collapse into block-stacking and obedience. The confusion and befuddlement he had known prior to his meeting with the buffalo was nothing compared to the befuddlement he experienced now.
It was only after a half a year that Ellen could pull him aside and whisper, "Zachary, I have your blanket," and be sure that he would understand it. English was still an unreliable form of communication to him, and Zachary B had learned to assume that the best possible interpretation of any sentence was wrong. But as Ellen sat with him, the reality of the situation gradually dawned on him. He sat dumbfounded for several minutes, and then he fell to his knees. This was not a gesture of gratitude he had learned, but one that came spontaneously. It was not gratitude to Ellen, but to something else, and not for the retrieval of a blanket, but for the nature of things. After he had cried a good many more minutes and with a good deal more feeling than Ellen had imagined possible from a 5 year old, he took her by the hands and put them to his face. The calm in his gaze would never abandon him for so long as it had in those six months.
Another event happened shortly thereafter which had a very positive impact on Zachary's daily life. Zachary and Ellen's father, Paolo, an Italian born theoretical physicist, had died three years earlier of leukemia. Ellen remembered him very fondly, so much so, that she had dealt with his death quite easily. He had left behind him a beautiful collection of books, some 17th to 19th century paintings, sculptures and furniture he had inherited from his mother, a Steinway 7' grand piano, and a couple hundred carefully chosen classical records and CD's. Paolo had listened nearly constantly to music, sometimes playing the same piece repeatedly for over the course of a week. The CD player had broken shortly after his death, and Elizabeth had never gotten herself together to have it repaired.
One evening a close friend of Paolo's, Aaron, came for dinner. He had just taken a position as professor of mathematics at a nearby university. Zachary liked Aaron immediately. After they had gotten up from the table, he had looked over the record collection, and asked Elizabeth if he could be permitted to put on some music. She explained that the player was broken, whereupon Aaron retrieved another out of his car and wired it quickly into their sound system. He put on the Brandenburg Concertos and poured himself a sherry.
Zachary looked up strangely at Aaron and Aaron glanced just as strangely back at Zachary B, who seated himself in a corner with his head in his hands for the entire duration of the music. He was then ushered up to bed. Zachary lay back on his pillow filled with the miracle of his good fortune. It would be fair to say that he didn't trust it. But the music never left him. And neither did Aaron.
It was another three full years before the surveillance on Zachary B was loosened enough that he found an opportunity to go out to the shed with Ellen. Ellen had asked if she should risk bringing the blanket home, and Zach had told her not to. We hasten to say that there was nothing special about this blanket. Things are what they obviously are, and this was a woven blanket, like any other woven blanket. Perhaps exactly in the fact that it was so obviously an ordinary material object lay its powerful effect on Zachary, for this confirmed the nature of an experience which lay in what to him by now was a dim and distant past.
Ellen led him out into the trees, showed him the bag, and then left him to himself. He walked yet deeper into the forest, wrapped himself in it, and seated himself on a stone. Images sailed through his mind... At some point, he had an inkling of a funny sensation, but it passed, and he returned to his reverie.
After another half hour, this sensation returned, only stronger, and then faded again. And shortly thereafter, he felt it yet again, this time unmistakable. An image came to him. Two men dressed like Laurel and Hardy were moving very swiftly toward him. One was very, very, very, very, very, very fat, and the other was very, very, very, very, very, very thin. He felt at once very, very, very, very, very, very fat and very, very, very, very, very, very thin. The sensation clearly came from 'out there', not this place. The sensation passed, and he tried to steady his mind again that it might return, but this time he had no success.
This exhausted him and he lay back and dozed. A man with long hair and a colorful umbrella appeared in a dream dancing strangely in a meadow. He beckoned Zachary forward tauntingly, and pointed him into the fog on the far side of the meadow. Zachary resisted the fog. Something in him just didn't feel like entering, but reduced now by block-stacking, he walked in as he was asked to do. The fog became exceedingly thick, and an immense workshop appeared. Legions of people with thick glasses were sitting behind desks each utterly absorbed in an array of various activities. One person was washing dishes, which would hop out of the sink once washed, dirty themselves, and return to be washed again. Another was sewing a circular seam that unravelled within a few inches after it was made. A third put away plates and cups into a cupboard which immediately fell in disarray, and had to be put away again. As he walked past table after table, a dense feeling overcame him. He did not want to live.
Once this feeling of hopelessness solidified, he was noticed by a man who looked up and shrieked. Suddenly in this man's arms appeared his sister Ellen with a knife at her throat. People around scurried to prepare him a desk where he would be employed, and another beside it was prepared for his sister, Ellen. It was clear that if he did not seat himself, her throat would be cut. He sat down, put on the regulation thick glasses and started stacking blocks which fell down as soon as he stacked them. Ellen was employed working subtraction problems written on papers that appeared on her desk in endless supply. The regular motion of bodies droned on and on and on and on. Zachary's head got thick, but the repetition gradually became bearable. And after some time, he saw nothing and heard nothing but the rhythm of bodies at desks in a fog of activity.
Days passed, weeks passed, years and millennia before the slightest hint of a memory of something passed through his consciousness. He imagined a buffalo. He looked up momentarily, and returned immediately to his work. After some time, the buffalo reappeared. He looked up again and noticed that at the desk in front of him, a man had a rectangular fence around his desk which he was whitewashing with singularly bad paint. By the time he had gone full circle, the paint had peeled off and the fence needed to be scraped and repainted.
Zachary watched him for a time mesmerized, and then suddenly something in his mind stepped back a few paces. Simultaneous with a new sense of breadth came another sensation bubbling up within him, and when it surfaced, it turned out to be... it turned out to be... a giggle. Yes, friends... as unlikely as this might seem, that's what it was nonetheless. And once the giggle had gained some ground, it turned to rolling laughter. Nobody looked up! He had requested and received amnesty, and a magnificent and unassailable space surrounded him. After some time he saw his sister, Ellen, watching him with a blank stare. She then glanced across at the source of his mirth. She continued to stare blankly for an extended period of time. But a small smile did eventually break out across her pretty face as well.
On short order, Zachary and Ellen lay rolling on the ground in tears and guffaws. They finally arose and looked across at one another with mirth and affectionate remembrances in their young eyes. No one had so much as raised their head. You see, laughter could not be part of this peculiar dream, and so the laughing man is invisible. Zachary lifted his little shoulders and raised his eyebrows at Ellen, who returned his gestures, and then they started walking to find a way out of this strange foggy factory. Each new desk that they passed provided a new source for wondrous mirth.
Suddenly Zach stopped up, seized with the fearful thought that they perhaps had only been lucky, and that they could be caught and made to suffer a yet worse fate. And shortly thereafter, a feeling of pity came over him for these poor mesmerized souls that he might yet waken from their sleep. In an instant someone rose from their desk and held a knife to his throat. For a brief flash, an expression of fright appeared in Ellen's eyes. But she composed herself and made every effort to remember... what was it... laughter. And it came to her in time as laughter always does. Zachary, convinced of his safety by her warm eyes smiled with her. He was instantly dropped on the ground, and his captor returned to his desk.
He returned home in time to be present as Elizabeth scurried around en route from one meeting to the next. "Zach! Come down here a moment, please!... Zach!... Zach! Please help me out today. Would you please take out the trash? I'm late... Ellen! I shouldn't be back any later than 9:00. Remember to close the windows if it starts to rain." She scampered around after purses and papers for another 14 minutes. "ZACHARY! What's with you? Will you kindly take out the trash this instant? Can't you see I'm late?" The chatter and the meeting and the tardiness and the trash seemed to him to exist for one reason and for one reason only, and that was to destabilize him. It used its hysteria to drag him from the Silence into its world and convince him of the urgency of the transition. And when his attention had been captured, he could be controlled. He was unable to conceptualize what was going on. He just felt his mind slowly dragged in as a pawn in a heavy and meaningless game of trash and tardiness and hysteria. He stared at Elizabeth, who appeared to him in that moment as a machine which sizzled through the house emitting sparks and firing random shots. But despite the chaos in her wake, she functioned with stunning efficacy in dislodging his Certainty. He thought, "What was that? Very, very, very, very, very fat..."
"ZA-CHA-RY! The trash! Take out the trash!" She stopped up before him and glared down for a couple seconds, then launched in agian, "Can't you see how I'm trying to make ends meet? I cannot work any harder. I'll wash your clothes and cook your meals. I'll earn the money and buy your food. I'm just asking of you one teensy eensy little favor today. Just take out the trash!" Two more minutes passed, as Zach just sat on the sofa contemplating his mother. Finally she pulled up again and glared at him very nearly shaking from rage and at a complete loss for how better to influence him, "The trash! The trash! The trash! NOW! NOW! NOW!" He looked up at her evenly and strangely detached. She finally sank, and continued. "I'm sorry, Zach. Are you sick? Please talk to me. I need to know what's going on with you... I don't understand. It doesn't make any sense to me." No words that came to his mind fit into the reality that stood quivering before him in the frightening shape of Elizabeth. There was no ground there for them to take root. They would only be met with, "Are you doing some holier-than-thou saint trip on me? If you're such a saint, then show me a minimum of consideration and take out the trash." The experience was far too near and too tender to risk it to those words. A confrontation with Elizabeth now would have run him over like a combine in a field of wheat. All the grain would have flown over her head and landed in a collecting bin at the back, for future use toward some uncertain purpose.
When Zachary came into the house after school one afternoon a few days later, he overheard Elizabeth talking to Aaron at the kitchen table. "But he has to live in a society with other people. He doesn't have any friends but you and Ellen. He's so withdrawn. It worries me."
"I find I get very good contact with him."
"You're very kind to him."
"No, no... I mean that literally. It's rare that I find I have such good and meaningful contact with another person. You should count yourself lucky."
"I do... I do love him, Aaron. He's kind and good-spirited. I envy his love for music. I just want him to be happy. He has to grow up, to find work. He doesn't work. If I ask him to wash a dish, I find him sitting on the picnic table weeping, because he can't pull himself together to turn on the water. How is he ever going to make it? I can't have him depending on me until he's 50. If I don't push him, he'll just hide up in his room with his CD's... He barely makes it at school."
"Does he seem to you unhappy?"
"How would I know? He doesn't let me anywhere near him. All I know is he locks himself up in his room all day and wants to be left alone. Is it so strange to imagine he might be depressed? I'd love to see him cheerful, out playing baseball with the other kids. He's not interested in anything."
"Elizabeth, listen to me... If he never does anything else in his life, let it suffice that I have felt some measure of hope in this life because of your Zachary. There are many ways of being in the world. There is a place for him. Not everybody has to run the race. God knows, the world hungers for a Zachary B.."
At this, Elizabeth broke into tears. "You have no idea how hard I try. You have no idea how it is. You think you can figure it all out. You don't know. You've never been responsible for a child like him. It's all so terribly easy for you. You sit back there so infinitely detached and philosophical. But I'm the one who carries the responsibility..."
Aaron protested, "Elizabeth, no... I do see..." But by this time she was beyond reach, collapsed in exhaustion and weeping. It remained only for him to say, "Elizabeth, I'm sorry."
Zachary B, being young and naive, took the advice that was given him in the dream quite literally. With time, it became clear that the air of certainty that surrounded block stacking and related activities did indeed concern fear for his physical survival, and this only confirmed his faith in the dream. As we mentioned, he liked his 'specialists', and eventually learned to handle them with a sense of humor. He wore his purple velour hat to all his sessions and learned how to assure the ladies of their charms, which already at his youthful age he had begun to appreciate. Elizabeth was a harder nut to crack, not because humor didn't work with her Ellen bailed him out of many a nasty circumstance in just that way but because he himself found it very hard to relate to her with any sense of humor. When she got upset, he tended to believe it was founded in something that required his attention and reorientation.
Time proved Ellen to be an extremely good student. She got two demerits for protesting what she felt to be the unjust detention of one of her fellow classmates. She had seated herself on the floor of the sixth grade classroom and refused to rise on repeated demand. But apart from that, she was clearly the best student in her class. Zachary had a much slower start in school, due not only to his 'language delay', but also to his tremendous internal resistance to enforced activities that served no obvious purpose. He tried for some time to carry them out, but it caused him such agony that he eventually resolved himself to barely muddle through.
Aaron came up to the house every couple of weeks. He came to see Zachary more than Elizabeth, and more for himself than for Zachary B. Aaron never so much as hinted at an attempt to get him to do anything in particular. He and Aaron would listen to music, walk through the forest. Already as a very small boy he would lead Aaron to a field or an opening between the trees. He would position his body on a particular spot, seat him and adjust his eyes just so... "Look," he would say.
When his voice cracked, Zachary had acquired a beautiful, calm and gangly manner, consistent with his steady gaze. Elizabeth wisely stayed away from the subject of sex, and left that to Aaron and Ellen. He had a much happier transition to adulthood than most of us. He kept almost entirely to himself except for his chats with Aaron and his exploits with Ellen, who at once included him and left him to himself. He walked through the world in those years insulated and glad. He didn't venture to talk to members of the opposite sex, but he was certainly grateful there was such a thing. Ellen had a wisdom relative to Zachary which was peculiar considering how utterly different she was in character. Zach himself fought to maintain some level of stability in the face of Elizabeth's worrying, but found himself continually brought under by her. In the winter of his 18th year, he was finally released from high school without a diploma. He had told Elizabeth he didn't intend to work, and they had agreed that he would move out of his childhood home in September. Elizabeth saw no other way to drive home to him the realities of life. Her perennial concern and upset had managed to cause Zachary equally perennial discomfort, but not enough to knock sense into him. And Elizabeth also deeply needed and deserved a few years of freedom and self-determination.
New neighbors had just moved into the house next door. They had a daughter, Lara, nearly 13. Zachary had kept his blanket in the shed where Ellen had first hidden it, and occasionally went back into the trees to wrap himself in it and think things over. On one such occasion, the new owner of the shed came through the forest and found him sitting on a stone.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," responded Zachary.
"Are you happy?" she asked.
"Me too," she said, "I'm mostly happy..." Zach smiled. "Do you come here often?" she asked.
"Do you know how to do anything special? Can you juggle?" she asked.
"No," he said thinking, "But I don't get lost too easily."
"It looks like you've had that blanket a long time. Where did you get it?" Zachary paused. Nobody has ever asked him that before. It was in this way that Zachary's friendship with Lara began. He and Lara met once or twice a week throughout that spring in the forest near the shed. Zachary didn't dare to take her hand, but his feelings grew deep and untouchably tender over the weeks. He used his few resources to buy her small gifts, and looked forward to their meetings with wild anticipation. Zachary had become shy over years of protecting himself from the 'onslaught'. Lara was much more easy and open about things, and with her help, Zachary recovered some of the fearlessness of the four-year-old he had once been. Lara's parents were somewhat worried about her new alliance, but they tried to leave her as much room as possible so as not to come immediately into conflict with their new neighbors.
One cool June afternoon, Zachary and Lara sat out under the trees. Zachary had wrapped Lara in his blanket. "Does it ever seem to you like it's not clear what is and what isn't?" asked Lara. "Like that tree... Is it? Or isn't it? Do you know what I mean?"
"Yes," said Zachary. "I know."
"Are you sure you know what I'm saying?" asked Lara.
"Yes, I'm sure," said Zachary. A long silence ensued.
"When you have feelings about things, what is that all about?" asked Lara.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, like when you really don't want to do something, but everybody says you should, should you, or shouldn't you?"
"You shouldn't," said Zachary.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yeah," he answered. They fell into another silence.
"Yes?" Lara was silent for some time. "Zachary..." Zachary couldn't respond. "Zachary...," she whispered. He closed his eyes. She touched his fingers gently. He lifted her hand to his cheek where he held it, his eyes still closed. Finally he could look up at her with a clarity he hadn't felt in many years.
The obvious change in Lara's disposition caused her parents to prevent further meetings between her and Zachary B, and two months later it was discovered that Lara was pregnant. An injunction was issued prohibiting Zachary from coming within a quarter mile of her. His baby was aborted, something which planted in him a silent seed of rage, which he knew would either sprout in time or rot, depending on the soil and nourishment it found. Lara's parents deliberated as to whether or not to press charges for statutory rape.
Elizabeth, as it turned out, was reasonably preoccupied with what was thought of her, and all of that preoccupation fell on Zachary's head. She marched back and forth through the kitchen in uncontrollable emotion, wringing her hands. Every four or five hours, she would march into his room to stand in the doorway and rant about the most fundamental of his character flaws and all of the nasty consequences she had suffered from them over the previous 18 years. After a week, she had more or less worn herself down, but a sullen cease fire reigned over the household for another month. Zachary just watched it with detachment. Never had he so clearly observed the peculiar natural law that the world responds to truth with hysteria. The truer an event, the more hysterically it responds.
His feelings for Lara were so clear, that his first impulse was to calmly walk out of the whole situation. What prevented that was that something in him waited to reassure Lara. Her acknowledgement in return, however sorrowful, would allow him to walk through the long days that awaited him with a measure of peace.
It wasn't for another three months that he made an attempt to violate the injunction. He caught her behind the junior high school as she was locking her bicycle into the rack. "Lara," he said. He felt himself flush at the knowledge of her inner realm, the nearness he felt. She hesitated, but didn't look up. "Lara," he repeated gently moving a few steps forward. She froze and kept her gaze to the ground. He finally edged forward and rested his palm on her shoulder. She paused a moment and then rose up in defiance, and marched into the school without a word or backward glance. Lara in that moment had denied love.
Zachary shrugged lightly, turned and walked forward a few steps. He then looked up briefly. The sky was bright blue spotted with fluffy white clouds. These suddenly started skudding across the sky with frightening rapidity. For several minutes, Zachary saw the world swaying and dancing about him. It went black for periods of a few seconds and then returned to its senseless spinning. He felt a knot as if of hot iron forming in his belly. His face had turned intolerably hot as if infused with pressured steam, and then reverted to cold, a white and frozen mask. He heard a loud hum at a low A# punctuated by a measured knocking at the back of his brain. Zachary B hardly talked, much less screamed. Zachary didn't scream.
Zachary B had barely existed in this world to begin with, but now he entirely disappeared from it. When he didn't return home that evening, Elizabeth, to tell the truth, was mildly relieved. For the first time since she could remember, she had the house to herself. It was drizzling, and she set a fire ablaze in the woodstove. She perused the bookshelves at length and finally selected a book. It wasn't until a week later that she called Ellen.
"Hi, Mom. I was meaning to call this week-end. What's new?"
Elizabeth felt something descend in her chest one step and then another. Zach wasn't there. "Is Zach with you?" she asked, for lack of a better question.
Since his trip to the buffalo farm 14 years prior, Zachary B had never disappeared anywhere. In fact, he had hardly left the house except to go to school and to take occasional walks with Aaron. Ellen felt her thoughts start to spin. "What do you mean?..." she stammered.
Within two days it had been ascertained that Zachary was nowhere. Elizabeth very effectively arranged searches, phone calls, posters, but she was all along quite aware of its futility. She did it more to convince herself nay, to convince the abstract mass of humanity which she constantly felt at her shoulder that she had done all she could do. On some level she knew now that her old life had indeed passed. Her actions now were a kind of a ritualistic parting with old ways, a last dance. The fuse had been lit when Zach had been born. She had felt it burning ever since, and now the bomb had gone off. It hadn't caused a loud or obnoxious noise, but it had been completely effective. Elizabeth was turned authentically in upon herself.
She didn't go for counselling. And she didn't talk about it with Ellen. She didn't talk about it at all. At first, Ellen found this extremely irritating. But in spite of her protesting nature, she had a fairly strong intuition, which eventually took over. She couldn't verbalize what was going on, but she could feel quite clearly why it was that Elizabeth didn't want to talk. Why she shouldn't talk. Something in Elizabeth waited for the return of Zachary B, but after about six months, it no longer consumed her waking, conscious thoughts. It just hung over her and in her. Zachary had left the house, but he hadn't left the house. Was she angry? Sure she was angry. She had been angry for 18 years. She had been angry for 50. She cleared out his room, but if anything, that only made everything that was struggling within her more immediate.
Elizabeth didn't share an intimate space with anyone. There was no one who could walk into her house unannounced, no one in whose presence she shed tears. Marriage had been for her a friendship, a household, a way of life. She missed Paolo, but she had never considered getting intimate with another. It wasn't sentiment or even Puritanism. A second marriage would just never be the family life that she was raised into. Once the pattern was broken, she preferred to reign alone. But she had a number of colleagues and acquaintances whom she thought of as friends, whom she would invite fairly regularly for dinner or bridge. When these perceived her altered nature, a few of them suggested that she might consider medication or counselling for depression. Elizabeth ignored them. And probably it was for the best. Her internal perpetual motion machine did slow down considerably. She entertained less. She dropped many of her activities. She read less. Indeed, she spent the better part of a year in her armchair, her mind relatively empty.
Elizabeth's reaction was gradual, but Ellen's was not. A ponderous bolt of lightning had struck very near to Ellen's house. The shock was instantaneous and total. Life in an instant had been cut back to its bare essentials. When Ellen found it impossible to talk with Elizabeth, she turned to the only person who had really known Zach, namely Aaron. In all the years that he had visited, she had more or less whizzed by him, cheerfully enough. He didn't push any of her major buttons. Nor had she observed him to hold any views which she considered outrageous. So she called on him unabashedly, unusually prepared to listen. And what she heard and felt were the faintest sounds and fragrances of another domain. She was not even aware that she heard them. She was only aware that something held her attention in odd moments as she was walking across the campus to her next class or waiting for the professor to appear for his lecture. Something brought her thoughts to Zachary and then to Aaron, and she felt somehow glad.
She still attended her rallies and posted her fliers, but Aaron somehow strangely took the edge off her wrath, and Zachary, she recalled, had done the same. In her clearest moments, it seemed to her that she had never loved anyone but Aaron, her father and Zachary B. All of them had something in common, she reflected. All of them were unlike her. She couldn't picture any of them at a rally. "Why not?" she asked herself. After all, her causes were right, and they knew it. What was it about them that saw the pain in the world and did nothing about it? What puzzled her more than that was why that was okay with her? She spent her whole life in furious protest against the apathy and mediocrity of mankind. What was so different about the indifference of her little brother? Something was different.
She had no regrets with regard to the death of Paolo, but she did with regard to Zachary B's disappearance. She felt that she had for years blasted through his silent kingdom, never really looking at him. She had always held a knowledge subconsciously within her, that her brother had seen something worth seeing, and now it was perhaps too late to ask. She had lived in his gladness, but not consciously. There had always been humor and hope implicit in him. Only now that he was gone had its value become obvious. She felt certain that he was responsible for his own disappearance. Although he hadn't made use of it in those 14 years, he had always had a disappearing act in him. She knew that. So she found herself asking another thing. If he could disappear when he was four, if he could disappear now, he could have disappeared in all the intervening years. Who had he been waiting for? Who but she and Elizabeth?
And the big question on her mind was of course where he was now? His physical location only marginally concerned her. What concerned her really was what it was that held his attention so entirely that he could simply abandon everything he had ever known? Without notice? Even if he had killed himself, he had gone somewhere. His absence was proof that this place existed. So it all had strangely little to do with whether he was dead or alive. So many things no longer made any sense to ask.
A few weeks after Zach's disappearance, Ellen committed an act of kindness which had no overtones of protest. She approached Lara. Political issues had always been Ellen's business, but personal matters had not. Now for some inexplicable reason, she took the emotional risk of involving herself. Lara recognized her. Ellen told her that she was sorry for what she had been through, and that Zachary had disappeared. For all her diffidence in the moment of her last encounter with Zachary and in the days that followed, that day had been branded on Lara's memory. She asked Ellen with the requisit aloofness about the exact date of the disappearance. And as that same date entered her ears, a shot sailed through her brain and lodged itelf in her throat. Her mind whizzed for a few moments, and then the realization sank like lead in her chest. She had made a mistake. She had done the right thing, but it had been the wrong thing.
She saw it now spread before her mind's eye. Only by disappearing could Zach bring her around. Nothing else would have done the trick. He had been faithful to her. He had disappeared. She sensed the total reorientation that lay ahead of her. She heard other voices. She saw her family, her school, her youthful gullibility recede beyond the crest of some hill which now rose high in her consciousness. She sensed how Zachary's mother and sister would grow silent. She sensed how she would burn until there was nothing left to burn. She too would walk through life with a 'No comment'. "This, then," she thought, "is the function of love."
Aaron had taken the disappearance more easily than the rest. He had been concerned, of course, but not consumingly so. Zachary's disappearance said so much about where he was in this moment, and what he had been through trying to stay put in Elizabeth's house. The more likely alternative was that Zach had not been hurt, though it was thinkable to Aaron that he had killed himself in a moment of crazy anguish. In either case, he was somehow better off now. The fact that he didn't contact anyone said nothing about his whereabouts really. It just wasn't like Zachary to call around and apprise everyone of his plans, opinions and emotional states. That pattern somehow never jived with his sense of aesthetics. He was sure that Zach understood the effect of his disappearance. He had known it was the right move. And he had had the strength to carry it through. Something in Aaron stood in awe of Zachary B.
Even seven years later, Aaron found himself tempered by the absence. He felt strangely grateful for the demand to attention that it imposed. While his colleagues found themselves in quiet desperation, stagnating academically as they neared retirement, still quarrelling, still attending useless committee meetings, he found his last years at the university to be extremely fruitful. He talked less. He worked more. Somehow Zachary's disappearance made his entry into old age quite tolerable. More than tolerable. He found he welcomed it.
One warm October afternoon, the doorbell rang, and Aaron went to open. There on his doorstep stood a tall young man. The face which looked down at him was unutterbly beautiful. His mere form filled Aaron with peculiar light. The man stood there silently as if certain that Aaron had been expecting him at this very hour of the afternoon. Aaron's mind struggled for several seconds trying to recall what magical plumber or piano tuner he might have arranged for before he realized who it was that stood before him. "My God," he whispered. After a few moments, Aaron stepped back and noisily gestured Zach to enter. Zach dropped himself on the couch and looked at length with kindly thoughtfulness into Aaron's face. Zach's gaze at first made Aaron uncomfortable, but within the space of a few minutes, he found himself in tears. Still Zachary didn't withdraw his gaze until Aaron had collapsed entirely.
Zach stayed with Aaron for three days. He wasn't in a position to recount what had gone on in the seven years of his absence, but he reassured Aaron that some day, in some way, he would know. Aaron could in any case affirm with his own eyes what had gone on in that time just by looking at him. Aaron found himself tempted to call Elizabeth, but something held him back. On the morning of the third day, Zachary asked for Ellen's address. And that afternoon he disappeared again.
Ellen opened the door to find her brother looking down at her. She froze disoriented for nearly a minute. Finally she wrapped her arms around his waist and held him. And gradually she began to shed tears and then to sob obliviously into his shirt. Zachary held her head tenderly against his chest. There at last was the totality that she had battled for and studied for. There at last it had simply appeared out of nowhere on her doorstep. She eventually cried herself out and looked up to find him smiling down at her. "How easy life is!" she thought. "How unbelievably easy!" She turned to Zach. "We have to call Mom. You don't realize what she's been through."
"Yes I do," responded Zach. "But I need to be with you now. You need to be with me. That can wait a day or two... One day you'll have to give up fixing things and learn to play hard ball."
Ellen excused herself from work, claiming that there had been a death in the family. After all, the system was set up such that she couldn't claim a resurrection, and she had gotten no time off when the death had actually happened. She spent most of her days sitting across from Zachary asking the questions that had weighed within her the last seven years. And she turned into bed every evening overcome with light and disbelief. The place that began to come into focus before her mind's eye, couldn't exist, and yet it did so undeniably exist. It had lived unimagined within her. And yet this place was more familiar than her own front steps, more familiar than her face, her opinions, her dispositions, her fliers, her very thoughts. She had stared blankly for a mere 7 years, and now the smile had begun to sweep across her mind, and she was once again beautiful and gentle and strong and wise.
Ellen wasn't permitted to call Elizabeth for a week, but she finally dialed the number. After a few minutes, she put Zach on the line. Elizabeth didn't know what she felt. It wouldn't be true to say that her rage and sorrow just evaporated at the sound of his voice. But then, she had had long enough to discover that it wasn't actually Zachary who lay at the source of it. Had Zachary been weaker than she, she might have attempted the transition by mothering him. But she had never been a mother for Zachary B. As it stood, she didn't know how to be about Zachary. She spoke to him with some detachment. Did she want to see him? Yes... Probably... Sometime... But not this instant. Not this afternoon. Elizabeth called back two days later and apologized for her aloofness. She told him that it had been the best she had known to do. Ellen sat wishing that Zach would apologize in return, but he didn't. He told Elizabeth instead in all honesty that he was grateful for all she had been through on his account.
Elizabeth's mood lightened gradually in the months following the return. She decided to move into the city. She saw very little of her old acquaintances, and a number of new people began to appear in her life. She began to paint, and felt somehow strangely serious about it, though she told herself she was too old to feel serious about any new endeavor, especially painting. Five months later, she invited Zachary down for a weekend, and felt nearly at peace with it. Now faced with an adult, she saw clearly that she and Zach had always inhabited completely different worlds. He sat at her table like an exotic bird. They had never had any natural basis for prolonged contact. She saw suddenly how violently he must have struggled to stay anywhere near her. Now that she saw him in his natural state, she had no idea where he was. He was beautiful. That she could see. Her son was beautiful. Zachary was quiet through the weekend as he always had been. But the meeting allowed even Elizabeth to feel strangely touched by him. Indeed, the thought crossed her mind that probably no one else had loved her. Not even Paolo. No one but Zachary seemed to have ever really seen her. Why couldn't she see Zachary in return? The room he inhabited was somehow too big. The corners weren't visible. Why had life given her something so big? Something so big she could hardly manage it? "But," she reflected, "she had managed it." She had been through something. Her life had had a purpose. She remained the cheerful, busy Elizabeth throughout the weekend. But on the week after he left, she wept for a good many hours. And she wept again on the week after that and the week after that again. Whether it was from relief or sorrow that she wept, she didn't even know herself.
And Zachary found Lara no longer a child. She belonged now to herself alone. Zachary's disappearance had brought that about, but his return hadn't altered it. It had, however, intensified the awareness she had always held of him in her mind. He was near. She was not his, but he was near to her, very near. He was beautiful. She was overjoyed that he was so beautiful. And she walked at great attention in his nearness... entirely herself. And yet something within her waited. He looked on her often, but he rarely touched her or spoke. And when he did let his finger run slowly down her cheek and shoulders, she could feel the weight of eternity behind his hand, the Silence and Presence which no longer terrified her as it had 7 years before.
Within two months, he had implanted within her another child, a daughter, whom Lara named Anne. Zachary made no efforts that night. The blackness covered him over and filled him of itself. He felt the great spaces gather at his head. Something vast and infinitely competent descended into him and began at very high speed to make preparations. It was this before which he had walked in such silence these many years. Here it spread and moved within him. It was the mover. And all else fell away in stillness before it. Zachary felt the Presence of many. Zachary B had never been alone.
And when light broke, the Anne was born. Zachary wrapped the blanket well around her shoulders, and carried her off into the trees.
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