Thursday, July 28, 2005

From the Forest of Dreams

After we found ourselves alone, my donkey, who insisted she knew where she was going, turned us onto a path that lead under a rustic wooden arch that bore the legend: Welcome to the Forest of Dreams.

"Wait," i said, looking at what lay ahead: a meandering path through an arcade of twisted trees, rooted in deep shade. Some of them had offerings strung from their branches, small tightly-wrapped bundles hanging motionless, or spinning slowly as in the wake of a unseen presence.

"Don't be afraid," replied Annabel the donkey. "You've been here before, many times. You've only forgotten."

"i think i'd remember, Annabel," i protested. "i can't see very well since i lost my glasses back there when we were running, but i'm sure i've never been in this place, and not at all sure i want to go this way."

"Put on the glasses Heather gave you," she answered, walking us resolutely into the gloom. "It is in the nature of this place that you are fated to forget all about it, no matter how many times you visit. Those who spend a lot of time here forget almost everything, even their own names. Sometimes all they have to hang their suffering on is a skeletal branch, by the narrative thread of betrayal."

We were well into the pooling shadows now, and i had to feel for the spectacles in my little pouch. Putting them on, i was astounded to find us standing at the edge of a two-lane interstate under a moonless desert night sky, before a ramshackle motel with an empty parking lot and a buzzing neon vacancy sign.

"Little Redz Inn," i read aloud. "Looks like a concrete-mattress, snack-machine-dinner, tepid-shower-tiny-towel sort of place, but i'll guess your hooves are tired..."

Inside at the counter we rang the bell amongst brochures advertising local attractions - "Visit the Teku Meteorite Crater!", and "See the World's Largest Ball of String!" and, further down the road, "Cave of the Serpent - Live Rattlers and Pit Vipers!!!" - and styrofoam coffee cups with little packets of instant, non-dairy powder, and artifical sweetener, along with a pot of lukewarm rusty water. After several rings a woman with her hair wrapped in a damp red towel shuffled out in fuzzy slippers, clutching her bathrobe closed with one hand and dangling a cigarette between the fingers of the other.

In silence she slapped the registry and a ballpoint on the counter, and studied my donkey-driver's license. After what seemed an unreasonably long pause, she finally cleared her throat and spoke in a smoky whisper.

"Phoenix, that's an unusual name."

"Yes, well, i sort of made it up for myself after coming out of a bad time in my life," i explained.

"Made it up, huh? That's a good idea. Maybe I'll make up a name for myself, move away from this wasteland. I can't remember the name my mother gave me to save my life." She stared past me, out into the warm night, lapsing again into silence. i heard cicadas singing and the thunk of the ice machine behind me.

"Why don't you ask your mother? i'm certain she'd remember."

She met my eyes briefly, measuring, and then returned her gaze to the night, asi f the words carried on her husky, ruined voice were directed to the desert itself.

"A scant teaspoon of bone ash in a small white ceramic box are that is left of my mother, but it is enough.

'Release me,' she pleads. I am unmoved.

I have my good days, of course, when I am the very soul of wise compassion, and I think: I understand, I empathize, I forgive - of course I do.

Yet always, before I can make the pilgrimage to the cliffs where I would give her remains to the sun and wind, even before I can tip her dust into the toilet, always the rage and despair rise up from deep in my belly, filling my throat, threatening to seep out from behind my clenched teeth - bitter, choking.

I replace the box on the shelf.

'Release me,' she whispers, but I turn away.

Don't misunderstand: an apology is not what I'm after. No explanation would satisfy. No justice is sought.

After all, I took no trophy from the wolf; our accounts are, as far as I'm concerned, settled. A wolf is only a wolf, but what sort of mother would dress her child in enticing crimson, give her a basket of seductive treats to carry, and send her into the woods, alone?

'Don't stray from the path,' she said, and then, extricating herself from my clinging five year old embrace, 'Release me, girl, and be on your way now.'

Before he showed me great gleaming teeth and the dark passage beyond, the wolf revealed the truth underneath her words, shapeshifting into eery mockery:

Release me...
you are a burden I
don't wish
to carry, not
protecting; be

And then I was devoured by darkness.

Perhaps you wonder why I keep her spirit captive, if no apology, explanation, nor justice will placate?

On good days I have a clear answer: I want only her love; to be cherished, to be comforted and reassured that it was not my fault; and time and her passing have not diminished my wanting.

But today as every day all she says is 'Release me,' and so I open the box, touch a wet fingertip to the grey-white ash, and bring a few gritty particles to my lips.

Maybe a seed of bone will take root in my womb, and I will birth a new mother; a better mother, one who will finally love me and keep me safe.

Until then, I drift through my days like a ghost, caressed by her sighs and whispers, captive of my captive, prisoner of my prisoner."

Again the innkeeper met my eyes, and held them; then without another word she took a room key from a numbered hook, and dropped it into my hand before stepping around me and walking out, into the waiting starlight.


At 5:08 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Lisa, this is a phenomenal take on the little red story, with lots of interesting psychological truths. The imagery of the hotel is really evocative. You've worked some great Jungian stuff in, though I am only a fledgling student of Jung! A great tale! By the way, we really do have "the world's largest ball of string" here in Kansas, Cawker City to be exact, AND a museum with pit vipers etc out on West I-70... I wonder if your travels took you to the great prairie...

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Lisa Phoenix said...

Karen, i very much appreciate your comments, thank you. i have driven across country, from California to Maine and back, twice, and acquired an enduring fondness for roadside attractions.
Glad to hear that the world's largest ball of string still guards the wheat fields.

One of my retirement fantasies is to buy a little camper and spend the rest of my life meandering and twisting fairytales.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Believer said...


This is truly wonderful imagery. You'll have many readers who identify with this piece.


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