Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Between the Cracks

     The edges of things are what fascinate him: the changing of seasons, waves lapping against the shore, the first glow of sunrise. As he lies on his pillow, before putting on the eyeglasses that will throw everything into sharp relief, he savours the blurriness around him, the softness that his sleep-filled, myopic eyes afford him in the morning. It is now that he can see the spaces between the molecules that make up reality, the passageways that should allow him into different worlds. Alas, he has never found the way through those openings. He can only gaze at them and wish in vain.

     Washed, shaved, dressed and bespectacled, Albert is every inch the unimaginative accountant. His world consists of ledgers filled with numbers and hard facts. There is no room for the unknown, the speculative. He wears dark suits with crisp white shirts, neatly knotted, unassuming ties, and his thinning hair is cut short. You would not notice Albert in a crowd; there is nothing remarkable about him. In a police lineup, you would most likely gloss over him.

     But for some reason after work that particular Thursday, after reviewing a difficult client’s complicated accounts and developing a headache that made his temples throb, Albert decided to stop at a bar on his way home. He’d never gone in before, but it looked dark and quiet inside, and he needed darkness and calm to settle the pounding in his head. He found a seat in a corner where he couldn’t see the television—mercifully with the sound off—advertising some product for premature, male-pattern baldness on an eternal infomercial. The bartender came over to get his order and he asked for a single-malt scotch with no ice. When it arrived, he sipped it slowly, appreciating the slow burn as it made its way down his esophagus.

     Albert fumbled through his pockets looking in vain for aspirin. He took off his glasses and rubbed the sides of his nose where they left imprints, trying to shake the headache. Someone appeared to have joined him in his booth, so he put his glasses back on, only to see an empty seat. ‘Strange,’ he thought, and took the glasses off again. Once more there seemed to be someone sitting opposite him, out of focus, but solid enough that he could not be mistaken.

     “Excuse me,” he said aloud, addressing his visitor, “do I know you?”

     The apparition reached across the table and tapped Albert’s spectacles. “Try them now,” he heard someone say.

     He put the glasses back on his nose and this time the person opposite him did not disappear. In fact, where the bar had been empty, it was suddenly crowded with people, the bartender obliviously wiping a glass out with a cloth. He hadn’t seen or heard anyone arrive. Where had these people come from? Why hadn’t he seen them before?

     Albert studied the person across from him. He saw a woman with long silvery hair, but her face was unlined and her eyes were bright and alert. She was dressed in what he took for rags and then realized were pelts of small animals, dozens of them, sewn together so that they overlapped with heads and paws hanging over the ones below. Those periwinkle blue eyes looked like they missed nothing. How had he missed her?

     “Hello, Albert,” she said in a voice like rustling leaves. “You probably wonder why I called you to this meeting.” Suddenly she burst out laughing, and Albert heard the tinkling of a glockenspiel, the clang of tubular bells and the peal of a carillon as all the strangers at the bar joined in her merriment. He could not hide his amazement. Either he was hallucinating because of the headache and the scotch, or he was just going crazy. The woman reached across the table and took his hand as the laughter ceased.

     “I’m sorry, Albert,” she said. “This must come as a bit of a shock to you, but you are gifted with the Sight. We’ve noticed you, we’ve heard your longing to travel through the cracks at the edges of things, but we haven’t been able to help until now. Your life is so regimented, you never let down your barriers, and it is just today that you have done something different enough that we could take advantage of your weakness. Thank you for taking off your glasses.”

     “How,” Albert stuttered, “how do you know what I was thinking?” He started to blush, wondering what other intimate thoughts this woman—whom he now realized was very beautiful—had read. She recognized his discomfort and smiled, making herself even more lovely.

     “Don’t worry, your secrets are safe with us,” she said. “Call me Olivia. These are my friends. Would you like to come with us? Would you like to travel through the spaces at the edges?”

     Albert looked around the bar, at the strangers who glittered in the dim light, shining with gems and iridescent feathers and silver and gold and he thought, ‘Why not? This is what I’ve always wanted, isn’t it?’ He considered going home to his cold and empty apartment, heating up a frozen meal in the microwave, reading his journals and going to bed as he always did at 10:30, alone, with only the prospect of more of the same the next day.

     “Just a moment,” he told Olivia, and signaled for the bartender. Albert paid for his scotch and gave the man a generous tip, then rose from his seat and said, “I’m ready.”

     Olivia took his arm and together, followed by the rest of the throng, they walked through the dusky twilight until they disappeared between the cracks.