What If There Is a Hidden World
That We Can’t See?
by Eleanor Lerman
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2,
3, 4, 5, 6, 7
I was totally beat by the time I got home that evening. I made myself a sandwich and curled up on the couch with a blanket and a beer. I feel asleep in the middle of some program I was watching about the solar system and poor Pluto, which had been kicked out of the United Federation of Planets. Yes, another Star Trek reference. Like Bobby, the whole series seemed to just hang out there, in my mind, waiting to provide whatever allusions came in handy. I woke up in the middle of the night, momentarily confused about where I was. But I got my bearings, found my way to the bedroom, and went back to sleep.
I woke up to the sound of Bobby banging on my door. The clock at my bedside said 6:30, the time he usually picked me up to go surfing with him before he had to leave for work. “Hang on,” I called as I made myself get out of bed. The old linoleum floors were cold, but I couldn’t find any socks or slippers within reach. I walked quickly to the front door. As soon as I opened it, Bobby burst out laughing.
“Jesus,” he said. “You’re a worse slob than me. You slept in your clothes.”
I frowned at him and waved him away. “Give me a minute and I’ll meet you,” I told him.
He left, and I headed to the bathroom, where I saw a ragged, dark-eyed woman looking back at me from the mirror. All she wanted was to go back to sleep. Sixty is just around the corner, I reminded her. Get on your board or you’re going to die. It was what I told myself almost every early morning when I didn’t want to move: I had to keep true to something, keep doing something that gave me some human identity beyond those that I had lately assigned myself. “Surfer” was way better than “tired wage slave on the pre-dawn bus” or “lowly counterperson smelling of potato salad.”
I changed into my wet suit, grabbed my longboard, and headed outside. I found Bobby standing at the foot of the stairs, waxing his board. Pale morning light was just beginning to push itself over the horizon. Overhead, the moon lingered in the sky, staring down at us with its moody face as we started towards the beach.
We made our way through the sharp-edged dune grass at the end of the street and started padding across the sand, towards the shoreline. The waves looked decent this morning, and there were already a few locals out on the water. Bobby had brought some towels with him; he tossed them on the sand, turned to me and said, “Okay, let’s hit it.”
He walked ahead of me and I started to follow, but I only got a few steps before something prevented me from going any further. It was like a big, cold nail made out of some potent mixture of fear and bad karma had suddenly been driven through my head and all the way down my body, pinning me to the ground. I knew immediately that I wasn’t going surfing today. Maybe I was never going again.
Realizing that I was no longer following along, Bobby turned back to me. “Come on, Chris,” he said. “I don’t have all that much time this morning.”
“You go,” I told him. “I’ll just watch today.”
“What?” he said. “Why?”
I guess the reason must have suddenly occurred to him because I saw the look on his face change from surprise to concern. Or at least, he was trying to look concerned; I think he was more amused.
“Honeypie,” he said, “there are no sea monsters.”
“How do you know?”
“The other day? That was just... a thing that happened.”
“Yeah, well. I don’t want it to happen again.”
Bobby stood at the edge of the water, where the dying waves deposited a thin line of foam on the mud flats. He looked as gangly as a stork, except for the beer belly.
“Chris,” he said, “really.”
I put my board down on the sand and sat on it, tucking my feet under me. “Just go,” I said, pointing to the water. “Be a surfer dude, old man. Catch some waves.”
He finally gave up on me and paddled out. After spending about forty minutes on the water and getting some good rides, Bobby came back to the beach and we walked home together. As I was unlocking my front door, Bobby put his hand on my head. “Here’s my wish for you,” he said. “Heal.” And then he went on up the stairs.
I heard him leave about half an hour later to catch the bus to Brooklyn. I had stripped off my wet suit and changed into sweats, but that was as far as I had gotten with making any progress towards what I was going to do with the rest of the day. Sitting at the kitchen table, staring out the window at the empty morning, I decided I wasn’t going to do anything, actually. So I went into the living room and turned on the TV.
* * *
Clicking through the channels I found news, talk shows, kids programs and a couple of bad romance movies, so I kept going. Finally, I came across a rerun of a show that looked sort of promising: it featured a modern-day sheriff in some southwestern state, though which one, exactly, seemed deliberately left unclear.
Because the program was already underway, I couldn’t quite figure out the plot, but as I watched, the sheriff drove his car along a two-lane highway that ran through a flat desert landscape. The driving scene seemed to go on and on. Finally, at a patchy crossroads, the sheriff turned down a dirt road and drove up to a ranch house standing alone against a distant horizon of low, brown hills.
Seen from behind, the sheriff, a middle-aged man who wore a battered cowboy hat and an equally well-worn jacket, got out of the car and knocked on the door of the house. No one answered, but when he pushed against the door, it swung open.
Then the scene switched so that I was seeing things from the sheriff’s viewpoint, which took in a dim, empty room that contained a couch, a chair, a coffee table. There was a rug on the floor, a picture on the wall that might have been a landscape, but it was hard to tell. I found myself staring at that picture, trying to figure out what it was. Maybe it wasn’t a landscape at all, but a roiling sea?
The sheriff walked on through the house. He passed through a shabby kitchen, a bedroom with an unmade bed and another picture on the wall that I could make no sense of. The light filtering in through the open windows was dusty; it seemed to obscure the contours of the rooms and the objects they contained rather than help to illuminate them.
Suddenly, there was another cut: the camera angle changed again, and I was looking straight at the sheriff. What I saw on his face first surprised and then shocked me. It had nothing to do with his features; the actor playing the detective was lean and plain-looking. Rather, it was his expression, because I immediately related it to the man I had seen in the store the other day. That intense focus, that deep, penetrating stare at something that was not within his view: the detective had been called to solve a mystery connected to this house but, as yet, he had no idea what might have happened or might still be happening. Why did the man in my store look the same way?
I had no answer and, besides, the connection I was making was illogical. The show also ended without answering any of the questions it had set up: that would have to wait, I supposed, for the last of the many continuing episodes of this series.
I changed the channel and the next show to catch my attention was a about a group of people fighting an alien invasion that had devastated most of the earth. This time, the lead character was a middle-aged woman who headed up a ragtag militia.
On a night of lightning storms, the group had come upon an alien landing craft that had crashed in a woods and a few of them were about to go aboard.
Again, the audience’s first glimpse of the action came from the viewpoint of the woman. And again, the person at the center of the story was walking through a strange environment: in near-darkness, surrounded by alien machines, she picked her way through tangled debris as she moved from one part of the spaceship to another. The only thing certain was that there were no living beings aboard. Apparently, after the crash, the aliens had escaped.
As the woman moved cautiously through the ship, she stopped at one point to leaf through a cache of thin sheets of a pale, silvery material covered with incomprehensible markings on them. Her body language signaled that there was a great mystery to be solved here. What did the aliens want? What was their purpose? Might the answer be found in the writings they had left behind?
The camera then cut to her face to show the audience her reaction to what she was looking at and I saw it once more, that intensely searching look, that focused stare of someone who knew they were confronting a puzzle they were determined to solve. This woman — like the detective in the other show? — hadn’t ever wanted to be in this position; she hadn’t asked for it or ever anticipated that her life would take this turn, but here she was, and she was going to persevere.
And here I was, also having what seemed like a very unexpected experience, though maybe I was making too much of it. So a TV sheriff and an alien fighter reminded me of each other, and both made me think of a peculiar man who had walked into my store. So what?
I picked up the remote and changed channels again, clicking through cartoons and shopping programs until I happened upon another show centered around an investigator, this time it was a professor who apparently had been called upon to help solve historical mysteries. In this episode, the professor was shown walking along the ruined avenues of an ancient city on a piercingly hot afternoon.
It didn’t take long before the camera angle changed from showing his viewpoint to focusing on his face-and there it was again, that now-familiar look. I thought, this time, that the man’s face looked sandblasted, in a way, as if every human marking and emotion had been wiped away except for a powerful, penetrating desire to know. What was this place? What had happened to it? To the people, the civilization that had once animated the lives that had been carried on here?
I spent the rest of the day like this, clicking through the channels, coming across one then another then another investigator, seeker, researcher, detective, all encountering inexplicable circumstances that it was their job to deal with. Occasionally, they were able to solve a mystery; often, they were not. Often, the best they could do was find a clue that might later lead them to another clue that someday might allow them a glimpse of what lay behind some complex enigma.
As I kept clicking through the channels, it did occur to me that maybe it was odd to come across so many similar programs and characters over the course of a few hours. On the other hand, there were hundreds of cable channels I could tune in. If I’d wanted to, I could have spent the day watching dozens of different chefs cook up a hundred different meals, or a multitude of cartoon characters romping through an endless supply of made-up worlds. Was that really different than all my pursuers of secrets and mysteries? Maybe yes, but maybe no.
I stayed in front of the TV all that day and much of the night until I finally dragged myself off to bed. The next morning, I went back to work, but when I returned home, I positioned myself in front of the TV and went on watching for my seekers. And every night they were there. Men and women whom I recognized because, in their faces, I recognized the man who had come into my store.
It was always him, really, that I was looking for; him I wanted to see again though I couldn’t have explained why. All I knew for sure was that this became an obsession with me; it continued for weeks. As usual, Bobby came every day or so but I didn’t tell him anything about what I was going through. I didn’t know how.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Eleanor Lerman