The air is tight and thick around my throat. I’m dropped down into a hot tight place. There is less room for my body, less space for my breath. I try to take up as little space as possible. Such a big house. Such a little space for me. Maybe if I breathe less, move less, the rumble of the house will stop, slow down at least. Maybe I can be the perfect balance point, the eye of the storm in this chaos. Maybe if I stop breathing, stop moving, I will disappear and every fiber of my being will merge into the fiber of everything around me. Maybe I will just become part of the wallpaper, the carpet, the dark brown wood.
I am breathing now. I am open and alive. My body is free and spacious. I stretch like a lazy cat taking up more space unimpeded by hot tight air. I take in more breath, deeper breath, pure powerful energy. Everything is coming aware, awake and alive.
I drop in again. My tummy tightens. My chest collapses. Someone took the air out of the room like someone scooping water out of a boat with a bucket. The air is so tight. Its hard to look side to side, my eyes heavy in my head.
The room seems frozen in time. The scene frozen. The people frozen. I walk around them like mannequins in a department store. There she is at the kitchen table. Her cigarette smoke frozen in air like a snake dancing out of a woven basket. There he is frozen in joyful play, the cat equally frozen like an animal stuffed and posed on display. The scene unfolds one frame at a time, slower than slow motion. One gesture. One breath of smoke. One swoosh of tail. One smile stretched as eyes blink closed.
I don’t think any water flows through here. I don’t recall any rain. I can hear the thunder, dark and deep. I can feel the branches scrape the window trying to push their way in like prying fingers. I run away in my mind over and over again. The stairs in the house lead only to a hallway which leads down another hallway which leads down another set of stairs which connects to another hallway which leads back to the first set of stairs. A labyrinth. A maze. A Salvador Dali painting.
If I cracked the window maybe I could feel some air on my skin but the windows won’t budge. They are painted shut with 100 years of paint. Maybe I could part the curtains and find the source of light. The curtains won’t open much though, the fabric thick like burlap covered with ugly pictures.
What is brand new? Is there anything I haven’t seen before? A drawer? A keyhole? A piece of jewelry?
Does a house have a heart? If it has a heart, the heart of this house is in the dark bottomless closet under the front stairs. A portal. An energy vortex. The hole where Alice falls flailingly.
I find a picture in the closet. A framed picture about the length of my arm from wrist to elbow. It is a picture of a person – maybe Mary, maybe Jesus – and on the front of the body is a glowing pulsing heart covered in a crown of bloody thorns. The figure -- half woman, half man – is smiling a peaceful smile and the arms are floating up about waist high, palms facing up. It’s not an invitation for a hug or some other embrace. It’s not a limp gesture like someone shrugging their shoulders. It’s just a posture of surrender and serenity – if a posture can communicate that. It’s just a person, standing before me with an aching bleeding heart and a smile. It’s just a person with a glowing light around their pain. I think the figure is wearing a blue robe. I can’t say for sure. And the hair is long, shoulder length. And the features are neither masculine nor feminine. The hands are soft. If I could touch them, I think they would feel like my mother’s hands. The nails are clear and clean, like the eyes. The eyes are light blue or green, I can’t say for sure and although the details are so hard to describe the total effect is that I feel like there is a person hovering before me, not a picture at all. It’s not as if the picture is alive or some 3D optical illusion. It’s as if it is a person in a 2-dimensional frame, with a big fat exposed heart.
I want to cover up the heart with the robe and say, “Put that thing away!” It’s just hovering there. Not quite in the chest, but not quite detached either. I want to throw some water on the heart, put out the pain, but there is no water in this house. Maybe the heart will catch fire and burn the whole house down. Maybe that’s why the painting is here. Maybe God knows the evil that lives in this house and he has sent this saint to burn it all down. Could it burn me down too? Would the house burn around me or would I burn with it? I have the funny feeling that the house would burn down around me and I would be left standing on a pile of black ash like the piles of black coal stacked up around this city.
I like the thought of standing on a pile of black ash on the place where the house used to be. I like the idea of everything I know and everything I love burning to a soft quiet black ash. No more stormy nights. No more crazy chaos. No more screaming suffering in my ear. Just soft quiet black ash. I would dip my thumb into the soft black ash and make a cross on my forehead like they do on ash Wednesday in remembrance of everything that burnt down. I would make a cross on my forehead and stand in the ash in my dirty dress and breathe the air that couldn’t come through the windows because they were painted shut with 100 years of paint. I would make a cross on my forehead and stand in my dirty dress and look directly into the source of light that couldn’t get through the heavy ugly curtains that are now settled like soft fallen snow around my feet.
I can’t imagine this for too long, can’t dream it too deep or I might burn the place down myself. Who is this figure in the painting? Why is it here? Why was it hiding in the back of the dark closet under the front stairs? I see my reflection in the picture frame glass. Something about this painting, this person speaks to me. Something says, “I see you.” I squeeze my eyes closed. The image hurts my eyes now. Makes them burn like they burn when mom is smoking in the kitchen. The heart seems like it growing bigger and heavier. Is it moving? Is it beating?
I can’t look at it anymore. I put it back in the closet. Does a house have a heart? If it has a heart, the heart of this house is in the dark bottomless closet under the front stairs.