by Jane Doe
I wanted to blame it on the cold weather. We were having unusually low temperatures this winter. The ground was frozen white between the patches of icy snow. It would snow nearly every day. Not much, not the fluffy, pretty kind of snowing. The air was dry and brittle. The snow designed hard crystals to sting your face. The sun shone part of each day, making such a glare that you couldn't see what you were looking at, though, it felt as if one had clearer vision.
It was like it is when photographing beaches the light has to go home in tiny waves. The shutter is squeezed to just a dot, so the light oozes in gradually, taking time to caress and define clearly, objects very close and very far away with the same exactness detailed
and all at once. It is a very different view than when some things are softened to a slush, making you notice only the one object that is clear. When everything stands out sharp, with their edges frozen and contained, there is the peace to see the spaces between the objects. In those spaces between, lies the reality. A good black and white photograph
The crust of snow helped to flatten the features of the land, to expose the reaches between the fence rows and the dark squares of windswept woods. Most of the country, except by the river, was flat, like a photograph held sideways. It looked more like a photograph than a photograph, or a photograph of the land more than the land was supposed to be.
Riding along in the school bus these winter mornings was an experiment in cold. The seats were stiff and cold. The metal surfaces reflected moving cold. The window glass felt like screen doors bringing in fresh, unused cold. Bumping along the frozen snowed roads with my face covered with the cold clouds emanating from the window, watching the stilled landscape turn and slide, I felt I knew the coldness that a worm which lying comatose in a cocoon in the soil feels.
I felt that the freezing had shrunken everything. Including me. Trees and farm buildings were also shorter. The sky and the fields were bigger. All the sleeping, creeping creatures were tightly balled and packed together so they took less space between me and the infiniteness that I usually didn't feel, because it was covered with such a mush of life. The bareness and glare was nothing to look at, but with it, I seemed to see more. More how the land lay. The little places where it was high or low that I had never noticed before. The gaps, the nothingness, that were all of everything I couldn't see, or define, if I saw it, but I knew it was there. Sometimes in the glare, I got glimpses within myself. I thought I looked inside just like the frigid landscape looked on the outside.
Some big things in my life had shrunken with rigidity. They were no longer pulsating issues that ballooned out over and around me.
The controversy about Darwin or the Bible was gone; also my silly dreaming desires about Mr. Strauss. That place in me which had been like a huge furnace fed with fantasies was laid small and cold. Seeing him up close when he was not being a teacher in front of a class, was like seeing him as the adult he really was and not the watered down version he had to present to students so they could understand him. I saw that I was not ready for the adultness of Mr. Strauss. I couldn't go back to dressing him up in medieval armor and fake electric fireworks since I had heard his few words that contained so much that I was still swallowing. He was too big of a person to fit into a dream world. I had to let him go.
I thought the cold weather affected my head as well as my hair. Last summer I had finally, terribly finally, been forced to cut off my long braids. It was my cousin Larry's fault. Mother had let my hair down for a Sunday visit to Uncle Carl's house. Larry was showing me his prize-winning cocklebur ball it was as big as a basketball, which I didn't admire adequately. I turned to walk away from his juvenile pride. In anger, he threw the cocklebur ball into my hair. In an instant it was so tangled mother and my aunt had to cut off most of my hair to free it.
My hair had been braided so long, that even now when it was short, the kinky waves were still there. I learned what cold, dry weather does to free hair. All day long it stood out in all directions as if it had an impertinent will of its own. When I brushed it, it snapped and crackled back at me. For the first time I saw, in the darkness, the tiny, flashing fires that spun around my head.
These mornings, when I got up, it was still dark, but, the snow and the clearness of the air bounced the night around until it was like light. I'd get out of bed to dress in the eerie light darkness just because it was exciting to pick up an article of clothing, not being able to see it with my eyes, but to see it with the something in me that only need a cold winter night to show me the worlds I couldn't see in the glare of other lights. I would prowl around my room, comparing, the way things were different.
At night, all pieces of glass, like the little vase I had won pitching pennies at the county fair, or the perfume bottle with bumps and dents on it Aunt Julia had given me, were shadowed. It was as if glass was asleep or dying. If the light didn't come soon, the objects would melt back into dark sand, which crumpled, pouring onto the floor with my touch.
The mirror was one big green eye that collected and held in reserve everything in the room. It didn't see clearly and tended to lump known objects into collages of unknowns, or "needed to be explored." The clothes laid out on the chair became part of the chair, without resistance. The way they gave up their form so easily worried me. If I put the clothes on the chair, they were part of the chair. If I put the clothes on me, they became part of me. If I sat on the chair, the clothes and I were part of the chair. I was more resistant, though, than the clothes. Parts of me stuck out of the chair, hinting that there was something unchairlike about me, but as soon as my attention wandered, the chair would overcome me to present itself as a very specially formed piece of furniture.
Alone, in the strange light with the metamorphosing objects, I'd get scared. I'd stop my thinking to listen if mother and dad were up making morning sounds of their own. Then it was safe to go back to the things I didn't know. But, then it was too late. The moment had fled. There was nothing to do but brush my hair until the crackling and the fires filled my brain.
Brushing my hair became an act; in some ways, like masturbating. I'd begin with a purpose to get the tangles out of my hair. In the some way, I washed myself, pulling apart the lips, two fat, two thin, rubbing my finger against all the surfaces, to pull off the soft white crumbs that gather there to hurt and make the skin redden when I didn't wash well with purpose.
After I had all the tangles out of my hair, I went on brushing it for the pleasure of seeing the wavy strands separate to catch and hold the light around my head like a halo. It was exactly the same with my changing body. A bit more of the rubbing, and warm lightning gathered there. Both places seemed to take on life of their own. Certainly a bigger, thicker, brighter existence than my ordinary life. Then, whether it was the hair on my head, or something hard between my legs, it only took some concentrated rapid movements. The hairbrush was a common instrument for both pleasures, in that it was constructed with bristles on one end and a smooth handle on the other. Just a few more ups and downs, ins and outs, and there would be a snapping and a clicking. Then came the flashes of fire, some blue, some silver hot, and yet, still cold.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010