The sun chose to stay abed on Thursday morning to avoid the leaden overcast October sky. It was one of those days that, having given itself over into self-pity, decide to drip away through all the chilly hours that remain. Thursday is the day before Friday and Friday is garbage day so Thursday morning’s tasks predictably covered preparations for the impending pick up and, most unexpectedly, a shocking glimpse into the mysteries of the universe.
The gilded doors to the unknown plane, oddly enough, swung open above the white hex tiled floor of my upstairs bathroom. As some of you may already know the unexplained lurks within the walls of my historical residence, in particular the back stairwell and upstairs bathroom. One might think I should be well acquainted with the mysteries of existence or lack there off. I would disagree and I must say that I am convinced that there will never be a time that a cynic’s heart will find me unaffected by the spans that breach and join distant worlds together.
Thursday morning, the key that opened the door just a crack was my son’s hedgehog, Joe MacHedgie. I’m still not sure what happened. I could make a semi-educated guess. Joe was seriously overweight, he had a stubborn temperament and he was a slave to his own nature. Joe was a grumpy spiky Walter Mathau of a beast. A foul-mouthed house gnome, Joe held a special place in my heart despite his temperament and abusive vocabulary of grunts and hisses. When Joe was young he was a playmate and active member of our family collective. Time and the teenage years sent Joe the way of “painted wings and giant rings” and almost overnight he disappeared into Puff’s distant cave. Certainly still loved in an abstract way but not always remembered.
Joe was absolutely filthy, covered in newsprint ink and his own excrement that he’d managed to smear all over himself while he waited for me to clean his pen (he definitely knew how to make a statement when he was displeased). An unscheduled bath in the porcelain shallows was the obvious solution. Hedgehogs are great swimmers. Their quills act like a little life jacket to help keep them buoyant. Never the less Joe had never liked baths and his already stormy mood picked up speed and became a full-blown hurricane as the ablutions commenced.
Joe stood in 2 inches of water at the deep end of the tub as I squeezed the facecloth above his head. Angry as always he hissed as the tepid water trickled over his face. He ducked his head into the water but that only served to irritate him more. As I continue to wash he worked himself into quite a state. I squeezed more water over his head and he curled into a ball with his head in the water again. The span of two breaths and I told him not to be so silly and rolled him over. He uncurled and looked at up at me his head just up out of the water. I picked him up and told him to snap out of it. I chided him, telling him that it was only a bath and if he hadn’t gotten so dirty he wouldn’t have needed one.
Lying on his back in the towel Joe’s face contorted. He took a deep breath and his mouth opened wider than I’d ever seen. He cried out in a voice I’d never heard before and I realized that this was no normal temper tantrum. His head lolled back as his tongue extended out like some horrible cartoon joke.
I was caught, held by his eyes. They opened wider, and then wider still. For the first time in the hand span of what had been his life he was focused, seeing, really seeing…something. Mesmerized I watched emotions chase across his face, wonder or horror, certainly not fear, maybe surprise. His dark eyes were impossibly black and wider still, so full of visions. The whole sky could be lost in that inky distance. He looked inside me, through me and beyond. Full up with the universe the key broke and the door began to close. Wild and fast, the darkness emptied out like the line of a reel on a rod that’s been hit hard and fast from the cool weedy depths below or the tail of a kite that’s broken its line and flung itself across the sky. The door slammed shut and Joe’s head sagged forward, eyes drooping in an eternal slumber, angry no more. The rod snapped back, the broken string fell to the ground as fish and kite disappeared into the great unknown.
Someone once wrote that death was so frightening because it was so ordinary and it happened everyday. As I stood shocked, full of profound emotion at all that had transpired, I did not feel fear but a lack of comprehension. What had been was now no more. All that was left, the broken rod, the string and the bobbin, was a pale shadow of the journey. Now after days of reflection on what I had seen and the context in which it was shown I could never call any death ordinary. For in this “small” death so to speak I had seen my own. The details and effects will differ but still in the end all that will remain is the snapped rod, the broken string and the bobbin it was once wrapped on.
It did not seem at all ordinary to me