Sixth



"How many lives does someone get is not a good question," Dikko says mysteriously, vaguely, with an air of unconcerned distraction. "One should never worry about how much they have, until they don't have it anymore, only then can you examine your actions to care for the thing you don't have that you now know you need."
"How many lives have I have?" she rephrases the question, hoping that with the correct query she can understand what is happening, although she's afraid that she grasps more than she can accept right now. The manky smell surrounding them becomes a feeling, heavy in her stomach.
"You have had many lives. Numbers are only squiggly and looping lines, marks on paper, or pictures in your head... they don't matter. They aren’t even real."
Tracy thinks about Dikko's answers. Clearly he's enjoying his mysterious role, his eyes are sparkling mischievously and his forehead is crinkled in expectation. His affected distraction seems to have been just that.
"I had a dream the other night that I was in this bright light, and it was cold, snowing. Was that a borrowed life?" she asks, remembering the fall and jerk of the night before. It seems so long ago, and her attention is diverted for a moment by thoughts of her animals. Who will care for them now that she's died?
"Let's see shall we?" Dikko motions with his hand, and the machine of light is moving again, tunneling. Tracy expects to feel the motion, they seem to be moving so fast that she expects to feel the pull on her organs, like being on a rollercoaster when you're jerked forward and your body stays a fraction of an inch behind yourself... but she feels nothing, and then wonders if they're even moving at all. Nothing has changed visually. This place is wreaking havoc on her perceptions, perhaps she's insane.
Or really dead.
Suddenly the white crystallizes and clarifies into a winter scene. Everything is still white, but somehow has mass and shapes now. It smells like fresh snow, the evergreens are different from when they were at the pool. But this scene is startling familiar also, because Tracy remembers it from last night's dream, but now she realizes that she remembers this place as well. And she remembers how and why she came to be here. Wish a sharp intake of air she realizes what this is. This is different.
*****
When Tracy was thirteen she had a difficult year in school. A teacher didn't like her, and she was performing miserably in all of her classes. She liked a boy, Michael Ingnell, and he didn't like her. Her parents worked split shifts at the local power plant, and that meant that they were passing each other twice a day, never actually connecting, and never connecting with Tracy. She existed on a diet of frozen dinners, peanut butter sandwiches, and loneliness. Her mother had recently purchased a VCR to record her favorite soap operas, and she recorded Star Wars when it came on television for a Holiday Extravaganza.
They had shown the movie on network TV, and then the eagerly anticipated Star Wars Holiday Special. Both had been lovingly saved, and Tracy watched until the tape threatened to break, although just the movie was worn, the Holiday Special was only watched once, cringingly.
It was the middle of January, report cards had just come out, and Tracy's transcript showed three failing classes.
She knew there would be a screaming match. She knew she would be grounded, and she was afraid of the wrath. So she decided to run away, being ignorant of the danger of being alone outside during a blizzard. Because that's what this was, a blizzard.
Looking at the scene Tracy realizes the reason everything was so absolutely white was because the snow was falling harder than she'd ever seen. In spite of that, she was able to notice the little lump sitting on a fallen log. It was a purple down coat, that was more than adequate to walk to and from school, but not to spend the night in these conditions. She noticed a rainbow tobaggon hat with a yellow pompom on top, and then she noticed them sliding off the log.
Again Tracy wants to rush forward, to help. She feels herself pulling, and again the IV taped to her hand, and it almost feels like she is strapped to the gurney now. She can't move, can't get to the colorful little lump.
"What happens?" she looks at Dikko for answers. How was she saved this time?
"In several hours a power company employee will find you. He's driving home, checking lines as he goes, and notices divots where your footprints entered the reserve. This is a wildlife preserve, just a few acres, which the company maintains. Douglas Hunt will find you, and will think you're frozen at first. The divots are my handiwork.”
His eyes crinkle again, he looks particularly proud. Tracy thinks it's a minor accomplishment.
"But at the hospital they are able to revive you and bring your temperature up."
"I remember this, but I got up on my own and went home," she says absently, almost to herself. "I went home, and since my parents worked such odd shifts and I never saw them I was able to hide my report card for several days... then I forged my mother's signature, which didn't fool anyone. When the school called her and made her come in she screamed for days about the two hours of sleep she missed to deal with my 'miscreant' ass.
"She changed her schedule, and of course it was my fault that they could barely pay their bills due to her losing the shift differential. But she would lock me in a spare room with just a desk and a lamp from the time I got home until 7 o'clock. Then I would get dinner, a bath, and have to be in bed by 8:30. It was a miserable six months."
"You may like to know that when you died, your mother regarded you as a frozen angel. She told people that snow angels were really your spirit. In that circumstance she didn't just lose her shift differential, she lost her job, and spiraled into alcoholism. She could never verbally blame herself, so she blamed you, but that guilt destroyed her. In her heart she thought it was her fault, and died sorry. The self-repudiation ate away at her soul. Louise was never the same."
Again Tracy feels the hot tears on her face.
She also feels the flutter of panic rising in her chest. Her breaths come in gasps and puffs, she desperately inhales again and again, unable to exhale. Groaning squeaks are the only sound she can produce as she gasps, unable to exchange air. Hyperventilating and panicking... it is a terrifying full blown attack.
Dikko places an unseen hand on her arm, and it feels like something is being pulled.  The panic is being drawn right out of her. Like the mania is a tangible thing, a tangle of ick that she had swallowed, or inhaled, but now it is simply being drawn from her, like a ghost character floating in a cartoon.
With a breath, she feels peace. Light. Okay.
She had never recovered from a panic attack so quickly. The feeling is exhilarating, unlike the usual aftermath of an attack, which leaves her clammy... tired and frightened.
"Did you do that?" she asked, relaxing in the euphoric feeling.
"It is not hard to do," Dikko replied.




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