I am standing in the top floor apartment of an old rundown Victorian. The moldings and window panes have been painted with high-gloss white enamel so many times they look as if they’re dripping marshmallow cream. The walls are cracked with high peaked ceilings gone lumpy with sagging drywall and the slump of old and rotten roof timbers. None of the locks work. Neither do the radiators jammed into the corners like long forgotten ribs from some strange sea creature. There is no refrigerator, dishwasher, or washer and dryer . . . because there is no electricity. The world had been flooded, and the water is still rising. Only those places far above sea level offer any sanctuary.
So I feel fortunate to have found a top floor apartment.
All my family is there . . . children and husband, four siblings, their spouses and children, and our mother. They disperse to investigate the various rooms connected to the tiny main space. I am left alone with the realtor to work out the details, but she is prattling on about the mess we’re all in. I leave her in search of my husband and kids, finding them at the top of the back stairwell looking down. Panic seems to spiral up at us like toxic gas, but I have to see what is happening. I move in and lean over the rail.
Below I see the water has risen so high there is no longer a way out of the building. It is pouring in from windows and over the ledge of the floors above the people crowding the stairs. They are screaming, pushing, and rushing to their drowning death. I think to myself, why?
Then turn to my husband and children and say, “There is no escaping this, let’s not be so foolish as them. When the water reaches us we’ll just swim out the window.”
We gather the others and make our way toward the void-of-amenities kitchen. The pandemonium pushes in at us from behind, below, and from outside. The realtor panics, climbs out and throws herself off the ledge. I look out the window and see the rivers that were once streets between buildings are full of thrashing, frantic chaos. There are those desperately trying to stay afloat, swimming against the strong current until they exhaust themselves and drown. Others cling to light posts, electric wires, even the buildings as the water rises up around them. But then I see how some simply disappear beneath the surface and I suddenly know that is what we need to do, where we need to go.
Once everyone has escaped the trappings of the building we huddle together for a moment. In that time I notice Tom Hanks in an old wooden rowboat. The actor drives a team of young swimmers strapped to the skiff like Santa his sleigh and reindeer. He approaches us then whips a golden braid into the air and says, “down, down, down.”
I let all the air out of my lungs and allow myself to sink. The others do the same. When we reach the bottom I’m amazed at our ability to survive underwater, but realize we are still in danger. There is a long line of tests each person must succeed before being granted access to the strange new world that awaits us. Those that cannot learn the new ways float off into the darkness beyond, many times leaving their loved ones to move on without them.
My family moves into the line waiting to do the tests. Wanting to be sure everyone moves ahead and into the new world, I stay back. Peeking around the long line of family members, I watch the man ahead of us struggle to achieve the fist task. He is in a panic because his young son, not more than four years-old, has already moved on, succeeded at all twelve tests and is about to disappear beyond the curtains that separate the learned and unlearned. I weep for him, knowing the ambivalence he must be suffering. He wants nothing more than to see his child achieve and survive, except maybe being able to stay with him as he continues to grow. The child is waving to his father, calling to him, which only frustrates the man, making his new attempt at the task even less successful.
I see that he must take two strange looking dolls, that are not really dolls but some unknown variety of creature, and sink them into the vat of transparent greenish goop-but that’s not all. I don’t know how, but I come to understand that the exercise is meant to teach us to communicate telepathically, that somehow such a power and the creatures are vital to our survival. I know, that like all twelve of the tasks, if you cannot learn how to do this one you will not move ahead and won’t get a chance to try the next.
But I also know . . . I know how to do this.
Unable to bear the thought of this man and his beloved son being separated, or anyone having to suffer such a loss for that matter, I step forward. “You must first stop doubting your ability to do this," I tell him. “We are all born with it and it’s not too late to remember how it’s done. But you can’t just try. You must do in order to succeed.” Not sure if that made any sense to the man I went on. “Have you ever thought of somebody, only to have them on the line the next time the phone rang? It’s the same thing. Find that source-”
And even before I finish what I am saying, he smiles. The creatures he has submerged in the green glop begin to wiggle and jiggle with joy. Gushing with emotion, the man thanks me and moves on to the next task.
But two large men grab me and drag me away. My family, children and husband scream and cry and I think how all I wanted to do is save that man from this same kind of pain. I begin to trash and cry out at the injustice. I am brought to a room with transparent walls. Out one side I can see my husband and children begging for my return. Their images ripple in the aqua-marine that pervades. I want to cry but am more angry than sad, especially when a Tom Hanks enters the room and tells me, in that Tom-Hanks-charming-guy way, “You have to go back to the surface to teach, help all the others out there who don’t know this stuff.”
“I can’t. My family needs me.”
“They’ll be fine. You must help the others.”
Ambivalence is folded into this dream so many times I feel like an over baked crescent by the time I shed all the layers of anxiety and wake up.
Causes Laurianne Macdonald Supports
The arts as President of Coral Springs Artist Guild and coordinator for the Signature Artist program for the Coral Springs Festival of Arts....