Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Finding the Question


"I shouldn't have read the other posts," I sighed. "They're just too wondrous and beautiful."

"It would be foolish to missssss the night ride," said Paisley, an exquisite shades-of-blue snake.

"I don't know where to tell the horse to take me."

The little snake, curled loosely about my wrist, patted my hand reassuringly with her tail, then slipped off and slithered over to my computer. "Go down to the stable, you can figure it out when you get there"

"Come with me?"

"Uh-uh, horses don't trust snakes."

It was dark as pitch on the path leading away from the House of the Serpents and what should have been excitement felt like a clenched fist in the pit of my stomach. A lantern hanging on the barn door gave out a paltry light and when I entered the stalls were empty except for the last.

I heard a startled whinny and then, "I thought you weren't coming. Where are we going?"

"I have no idea," I admitted, "I suppose we should go searching for the meaning of life or something like that."

"You need to narrow your focus a bit."

"This can't be right," I said after we arrived at what Shadowfoot swore was our destination. We'd ridden for hours over mountains, crossed corn fields, and highways and now we were clip clopping down the middle of a city street with rickety row houses on either side that looked like they'd stood there for a hundred years.

"There's only one window lit," she said, "that must be it. I'll wait here. Be back before dawn please."

I knocked and the door swung open. Inside the apartment, a radio was playing a Benny Goodman record from the 40's----and an old woman was sitting at a kitchen table sorting pieces of a jigsaw picture and tapping her toe in time to the music. She looked up, smiled and beckoned me to join her.

"Mom and I used to do these together." I said, smiling back.

"More fun when you have a partner," she nodded and her glasses slid down to the tip of her nose, "I was hoping someone would stop by tonight."

"I'm not sure if I've come to the right place."

"Not sure of a lot of things, I expect."

I had to laugh. "True enough. I've spent a lot of time in caves and forests and mythic places lately."

"Am I a bit too ordinary?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

"No, actually, our tour has been wonderful, but more exotic than I'm used to. This is just what I need."

"Splendid," she replied. "You do the blues and I'll do the greens"

"Where's the box top with the picture?" I asked.

"No picture on the box top," she said, shaking her head.

The music ended and the news blared out the usual mixture of violence and corruption.

"The world's going from bad to worse," I said with a sigh. "it's enough to make you lose hope."

The old woman gave me a funny look, picked up a piece and put it into place, then mumbled something under her breath that sounded like a name.

"Almost finished, and I still can't figure out this picture."

"What makes you think we're finished?" she asked.

"Well, we only have five -- make that four pieces to go."

The woman rose from her chair with some effort and rubbed her knees. "Don't drop it," she said, "and follow me."

I slid my hands under the cardboard base and, carrying it like a birthday cake, walked behind her into the next room. I expected a living room or dining room, but found myself instead, in a two-story warehouse. Ceiling-high shelves stacked with identical boxes lined the walls and scores of enormous square tables were covered with puzzles.

"Put it down here," she pointed to a puzzle twenty times the normal size in the same blue and green color scheme as ours.

"Amazing." I slid the puzzle into the opening where it belonged and stood back to study it. "Part of a tree? I don't get it."

"Time to start the next one," she said and, taking a box from one of the shelves, bustled back into her kitchen with me trailing behind.

She dumped the new puzzle onto the table and immediately began the process of sorting colors and searching for corners and edges.

"Can I make you a cup of tea?" I asked. Even accepting the strange warehouse in the next room, clearly the woman was obsessive and needed a break.

"If it will help you think."

"Help me think? Aren't you the one who needs to think? There are thousands of puzzles out there and they don't even make a picture! I mean, what's the point?"

She glared at me. "I don't mean to be unkind, but you've come a long way to find your answer and it will be dawn in less than an hour. You'd better concentrate and figure this out, young lady!"

The tea steamed while I fumed. Some night ride, wind up in an inner city slum, putting puzzles together with a crazy old woman who insults me. And what answer? I'd never asked a question!

"Jack Farley," she said.

"Excuse me?"

"Julia Cordoba."

"Look, I really have no idea what's going on, but I'll help you finish this one and then I've got to go."

She took a sip of tea and fit a nice size piece into the frame. "Oh. Peter Jennings."

"He just passed away," I said.

"Yes, he was a good news reporter. You know, it's said, people reveal themselves in the first few things they say to you."

I hardly knew what to reply, but it was obvious either the names had some significance or she'd gone over the edge, since she was, by this time, almost chanting. Now and then she looked up at me as she said a name and then-------- without warning---------- I heard my own.

"What did you say?" I asked and suddenly in my mind the pieces tumbled into place!

She watched silently as I staggered to the table and sat. I found I had to talk, to verbalize what I'd just come to terms with, even though I knew we both understood it perfectly.

"My question was about loosing hope wasn't it?"

"It was one of the first things you said," she acknowledged. It's why you came tonight even though you didn't know it yourself."

"Too much communication nowadays. We hear and see it all, the violence, the hatred, the tragedies. How does anybody stay sane? Keep from being depressed? How do we make things better"

She scooped up some pieces. "Ivan Boradin, Molly Turner, Jason Masterson, Kimberly Stevens, Francesca Multi, Emily Ho, ordinary people around the world doing the best they can at whatever they do, trying to make a difference." She picked up my piece and dropped it in my hand.

"It's pretty small, I saw larger ones."

"Your life's not over yet. Try harder, make it grow. Work within your faith, be kind, encourage. Come into the warehouse a minute. I need to show you some things."

I wandered with her from table to table, scrutinizing the giant puzzles that were formed from the ordinary ones the old woman put together in her kitchen. She pointed to some of the larger pieces and named them. On the blue table, Eli Wiesel, Carl Sagan, John Glenn. On the yellow table I saw a piece that looked almost familiar.

"Vincent Van Gogh," she told me. "I worked in Thoughts and Quotes for a time before they sent me to Visuals. One of my favorite quotes was his, pretty much answers your question. 'So instead of yielding to despair, I chose the part of active melancholy. I preferred the melancholy that hopes and aspires and seeks to that which despairs in stagnation and woe ' Brave man Van Gogh.

"On another tack," she continued, "I'm basically in the middle, as far as production is concerned, me and thousands of others. When those last two tables are finished somebody'll come by to pick everything up and take it to be assembled into the whole."

"That must be something to see!"

"Oh, no one ever sees that except the Creator." She crossed to a window and pulled back the curtain. "Now one last bit and you need to get going. The stars are beginning to fade. I don't suppose you brought your glasses with you?"

"Of course," I started to reach for my purse, "I can't read a thing without them."

"No, not those. The ones the Enchantress gave you. Well, you'll have to use them when you return. The vision never lasts more than a few seconds, so make sure you don't blink."

She led me to the door and stood on the porch steps with me while I waited for Shadowfoot to cross the deserted street. To my surprise, I felt a wave of sorrow wash over me as I turned to leave.

"Do I know you?" I whispered.

"We almost met once, but that wasn't our time, nor is this. Some day, when our work is over, we'll be great friends." She kissed me affectionately on the cheek and reached over to give Shadowfoot a pat then watched us ride off into the morning mist.

It had been an exhausting night and when I returned to my room the sun was high in the sky. Paisley was still asleep and all I wanted to do was lay down and pull the covers over my head, but there was one thing I had to do first. I opened the draw string bag the Enchantress had given me and took out the special glasses.

I held the tiny puzzle piece in the palm of my hand. Such a small, inconsequential life I thought and, reminding myself not to blink, I watched it split into thousands of interlocking pieces that showed the days of my life and each of those splintered into kaleidoscopes of rainbows and colors and flowers and faces and mountains and lovers and raindrops and words and kite tails and sunsets and trees and butterflies and grandparents and kittens and . . . . . . . . . and . . . . . . . .


At 11:30 AM, Blogger Anita Marie Moscoso said...

I really NEEDED to take a short trip like this one right now...thank you for this wonderful work

Anita Marie

At 4:33 AM, Blogger Heather Blakey said...

This is just fabulous Barbara. What a journey. I am so glad you have taken me with you. You get a creative inventiveness award for this one darling.

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Karen said...


At 12:14 PM, Blogger Believer said...

I have been busy and see that I never said thank you, sorry about that. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)


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