[Unnamed painting by Zdzisław Beksiński]
There was a time when words mattered. But then it stopped. And nothing was left but vague gestures and misguided intentions. But then, at that very moment, you entered the room. Suddenly all of our hairs stood on end. The dogs. The cats. The mice. The cattle. The angels. Especially the angels. And us.
We were afraid to ask where you had been, after so many days and interminable nights. Who knows how many? We guess we never really thought of counting. But still, we all wondered, where were you?
So … where were you?
We could tell by the scent of your hair that you had come from somewhere far far away. Perhaps from some nether region. Perhaps from across the food court. Or the laundromat. Or that shoe repair place you always spoke of so glowingly. Or perhaps from the airport, from a plane that had never left the terminal. The only thing we could agree upon was that wherever you had come from would be impossible for us to locate. And even harder to find.
But the scent of your hair was familiar, eerily familiar. Like burning raisin toast. Or an empty humidifier. Or perhaps a car wash. You had that washed away look in your hair, in your eyes. It was pretty unmistakable. We wish you could have seen it. We are pretty sure you would agree. Maybe someday you could help us better understand your hair. Or your eyes. Whichever you feel most comfortable with. But that doesn’t have to be today.
We thought of you a lot while riding the train. Glancing out the window, passing towns and forests bubbling with life, even in the winter, even in the dark, especially in the dark. We gazed in wonder at this marsh we must have seen a thousand times by now. But we never realized it was even there until just before we returned home, mere moments before you walked into the room. That could not have been a coincidence.
Some of your features had changed. Your hair was thinner but just as unkempt (which is not a criticism). Your skin was greener than we remembered. Which was worrisome to some of us. To others it was wondrous. It didn’t dawn on us that you were standing in the light filtered through our terrarium. But it was a nice mystery while it lasted.
But you did look more stern. Maybe you had forgotten how to smile. It’s so easy to forget. We imagined that if you could smile, it might take all of your effort. And we didn’t want to exhaust you, especially since you had just gotten home. What kind of welcome would that have been? Not a very welcome welcome. The thought that we might be asking you to smile against your will was unbearable. We, for one, could not handle it.
We could not tell if you had noticed that our home had been transformed into an Extended Stay America. Finally, we had a place to stay for as long as we wanted. We would have asked if you would like to stay with us, but we thought that maybe we should wait until you had actually entered the room. We might build up to that later. Or maybe that would be too manipulative. Maybe we should ask you to stay right now. But we thought if we had asked, you certainly would never extend your stay. You’d be out the door in a flash. In less than a flash. And that would be that.
But if we didn’t ask and you had left without our asking… that would really truly be something we could never ever endure. We would be at wit’s end. What would it be like to live at wit’s beginning? Or in the age before wit even existed? Just try to imagine.
We are imagining what the Earth would look like before the dawn of wit. It is almost as round as the current Earth, but the bottom is flattened out, and there appears to be a large crater hole at the top where incandescent light pours in. At the bottom of the Earth, we see a thin layer of sand, pebbles and charcoal beneath a second layer of soil, which resembled peat moss, as one of us pointed out. As we zoom in our gaze, we are surprised and delighted to see angel hair ferns, variegated spider ferns, African Violets, Venus flytraps, vermiculates and occasional Fittonia argyroneura sprinkled throughout the planet. But curiously, we do not see any other life forms, nor any discernable signs of wit. Eventually it dawns on us that the Earth at this time was simply a macrocosm of our terrarium in the Extended Stay America. It was so obvious, how could we have missed that?
So you can see what happened to our imagination while you were gone. We really missed you.
And even if we didn’t miss you, your arrival was a welcome disruption, especially when we saw your shoes. You always had such cool shoes. And we loved the colors of your shoelaces. You always wore these dark brown boots, leather grained like footballs. With fluorescent orange shoelaces. It was so perfect. (We recall you once told us that you can tell a lot about a person by the color of their shoelaces.) We wish we had your flair for style. We never really knew what to wear anywhere anymore. We never really considered that anyone else might feel the same. It just never occurred to us. We’re not sure why.
And that scarf you were wearing. It looked exactly like the scarf we saw in the photo of that guy in the newspaper, the one who claimed he was a data architect from New Zealand but who turned out to be a registered foreign agent lobbying for some fascist regime that had recently seized control over our school district. Suddenly people were disappearing left and right. It seemed like every day, another one of us would disappear to who knows where for reasons they never explained. Our ranks were shrinking in number. We wondered if you were amongst the disappeared. And we were getting alarmed.
One stormy night, we gathered in a forest clearing, formed a circle and began to pray for your swift return until we realized we had no idea what we were doing. None of us had ever prayed before. What if we were doing it wrong and it had the opposite effect? Perhaps we should just wait it out, just like all of the other guests who stay at our Extended Stay America.
And we knew no one would ever find us here, except for you. And here you are, at least for the moment. It’s really great to see you. We hope you do not mind if we tell you how much we love your scarf, in spite of who it reminds us of. We could never blame you for wearing it. And we certainly don’t want to make you feel self-conscious about it. You just do not fit the type.
Robert Metrick is a writer, composer, and director, currently based in Providence RI. He has created performance works, ranging from solo monologues to large ensemble opera and theatre productions, as well as installations, video and sound art. His work has been presented at the Rhinoceros Theater Festival, Chicago Cultural Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Randolph Street Gallery among other venues, festivals and digital spaces. He has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council and Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. He holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he was awarded the Ryerson Fellowship.