Whistling in the Dark – by SUSAN C. INGRAM

Whistling in the Dark

Susan C. Ingram

 

I walk the labyrinth[1] today. Shining white path in a field of green. A green not so green as grass but more like a blue-green sea. Shining white path on a blue-green sea. The sea, its color, its infinite rhythm. I used to go to the sea when I was confused. When I needed to steady myself. The breeze through my hair. The wind.

Now I go to the labyrinth. The sea, now, so far away sometimes I forget its color. The sound of life. Smell the smell of the living and the dead. When I have a riddle in my life I go to the labyrinth. Step onto the shining path[2] and place my trust in its infinite. I have a riddle today. [3] I step onto the path. Into the labyrinth. And hope that as I walk the seven circuits that my riddle is solved.[4]

  • ••

Dear ——–                         Friday, February 8, 1963

Thank you for writing! Your lovely letter left me feeling much better.

This hospital is one of the finest. I haven’t given up hope and I feel that this is the right place to get well. I am having all kinds of tests, and they have a very well equipped Hobby Shop where I’m learning to knit. The food is excellent but they don’t serve meat since it is associated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

I miss you terribly, but I’m trying to be optimistic. I’ve dumped the whole sickness in God’s hands and hope and pray for the best. My doctor here is very well trained and I have confidence in him.

Please give my children a love pat for me when you see them.

All My Love,                          Harding Sanitarium

—- —                              443 E. Granville Road

XOX                                   Worthington, Ohio[5]

  • ••

            I watch the path. My mind goes white. The crickets are chirping deep in the bushes. What riddle today? How old am I? or What will the next year bring? or What color were Bonnie’s eyes? or What color were mine. Before. The crickets sound like music. A chorus. No. A symphony of tiny fiddlers. It’s almost spring and the fiddlers are out and I remember. Danny Boy and Down by the Sally Gardens and the Fields of Athenry. No Man’s Land. And the dead boy.

Green her eyes were green. But not at first. They were blue at first like the clearest Hawaiian beach blue. Her pupils like circles of black volcanic Hawaiian sand against the blue sea. But they changed. We were so young we didn’t know all babies’ eyes are blue. At first. They changed, like everything. Like every thing changed. One day I looked down at her all wrapped in the white white towel after her bath and they had changed. Green. Not green green like the grass. But blue and green. Like the sea.

  • ••

Dear ——–                         Friday, April 5, 1963

I miss you, ——–. Wish we could have our old telephone chats.

My psychiatrist says that he thinks Nick needs help. This has been a terrible experience and God was my safety valve. Every time I think I can’t bear it any longer, I start to silently pray. Nick has filed suit for custody of our children. It was a complete surprise to me as I thought that Nick was beginning to realize his mistake. I talked over the phone to him yesterday and asked him “why.” He said that he had to protect his rights!  He said that I might take them from him!

——–, he said that I was a secret (excessive)[6] drinker in the petition. He knows that is a lie! I hope that God reaches Nick in time to stop this. He has changed so much. Please keep on praying for us.

If you see my children please give them a hug and kiss for me. To me they are very precious

All My Love and Devotion,             Harding Sanitarium

—- —                              443 E. Granville Road

XOX                                   Worthington, Ohio

  • ••

            I’m walking very slowly.[7] I don’t like to finish too soon. Before I figure out my riddle. Sometimes the short switchbacks make me dizzy. I prefer the long sweeping ones that take you to the other side of the labyrinth. That’s where my mind is clearest.

His eyes were black like the sand left after the volcano. But no blue sea surrounded the pupils. Only more black. They didn’t reflect anything. When I looked into Bonnie’s eyes sometimes I could see myself, my own eyes smiling down on her. But his eyes. I would get lost in them sometimes. Staring. Trying to see something there besides the darkness. Infinite dark. It was as if he knew.

Oh. Someone’s coming. I don’t like it when I have to walk the labyrinth with someone else.[8] I can’t think then. Forget what I had started out with. What riddle today? My birthday is next week. St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps they’ll let me have a beer with my corned beef and cabbage.

  • ••

Dear ——–                         Thursday, May 2, 1963

Thank you Honey for your vote of confidence in me. I need all the help I can get. As you have surmised I am broken-hearted.

Dr. ——- said that Nick needed professional help. Nick has two personalities, one is charming & the other is tyrannical. I was always trying to please him & when I couldn’t I’d feel that I should try harder. I had been so undermined that I had doubts about my abilities, character & worth. His own mother warned me to stand up to him, but I loved him so much I couldn’t fight him.

The end of the world came and passed for me. Now I’m building a new life and I want my children. They are the best thing that ever happened to me.

My lawyer here said that he felt Nick was trying to drive me to suicide. Nick even said I was suicidal in the petition. I admit that I’d rather die than be confined in an asylum for the rest of my life, but I feel suicide is a sin. God put me here for a reason and I hope that when I die (a natural death) that I will have made, in some small measure, the world a better place because I had lived.

Dear ——–, I can feel your hand extended in friendship. And it helps. It helps a lot! I wish we could sit & talk and talk and talk.

Please remember the children and me in your prayers.

All My Love and Devotion,             Harding Sanitarium

—- —                              443 E. Granville Road

XOX                                   Worthington, Ohio

  • ••

I’m at the center of the labyrinth now. I can breathe here. I’ll let my mind rest and let that other person go away. I’ll stay here in the center until she goes away. [9]

The fiddlers were playing. St. Patrick’s Day. I was having a beer with my corned beef and cabbage. Nick was having whiskey with his. Too much whiskey. It was our first night out since he said he wanted to reconcile. We were still living apart. There was a ceili band and dancing. We couldn’t talk. Not because of the loud music, but because there was nothing to say. We didn’t stay very late. Nick said he was OK to drive. He seemed so. He dropped me off and then went to pick up Bonnie and the boy from the babysitter on his way home.

The person is in the center of the labyrinth with me now. She’s stopped and is standing with her head bowed. Her eyes are closed. I close my eyes against the white and the blue green. I try to think of the sea. But there is only black now. Like his eyes. His eyes where I never saw my reflection.

  • ••

Author’s Note:

On the subject of infinite black. Of black with no reflection. Of the blackness referred to glancingly here, there is an experience one has when one finds oneself in the presence of that kind of blackness. Blackness so absolute that the concepts of space, time and dimension vanish and everything one knows about physics and the world simply melts away in an instant. And suddenly one feels a primal fear, against all reason, of what’s out there lurking in the dark. A fear that is as old as the universe itself. And as infinite.

I was working in Hollywood in 1983 as a camera assistant trainee. We were rotated through the camera departments of all the major studios in town. Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. I was working the swing shift at Warners. Four a.m. to noon. I worked alone until the morning shift came in about eight a.m. The darkroom was huge. In the old days it had been busy day and night handling dozens of movies and television shows.

I would set up about a half-dozen film magazines to download the exposed film out of and upload fresh film into. Once everything was set, I’d turn out the lights and a red light would come on outside, so no one would come in while I was loading film. I had never been in such a large space in complete and utter blackness. And silence. Alone. After a few minutes I began to doubt what I knew was there – walls, a floor, a ceiling. The bustling studio beyond where the door used to be. The sensation was so convincing that I felt that when I had to take a step over to the next magazine on the counter, that the floor would drop away and I would fall into another dimension. Disappear. Because in such total blackness it’s easy to believe that the world doesn’t exist. Can’t exist without light.

I am a realist. A pragmatist, atheist, cynic, skeptic and yet also an optimist. But it was during those long nights in the darkroom at Warner Bros. Studio where I learned to whistle in the dark.

 

[1] See James Truitt, “About the Labyrinth,” Oak Crest, 2009, p. 1. “A labyrinth is not a maze; you can’t get lost in it; it is not a riddle or a problem to be solved. From the entrance a path leads to the center; you return from the center by the same path.”

[2] Ibid. p.2. “A labyrinth may be described as a “walking meditation.” Known to have existed over thousands of years and among cultures around the world, they can be found in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. The use of labyrinths has meaning across all belief systems and faith traditions.”

[3] “…a labyrinth walk may help with making a decision, or dealing with stress.

[4]  “Having said that, it is not a magic pill that solves all your problems, and can’t be approached with a demand for particular results. It is a living experience that asks us to be open and ready to receive. It is this attitude that empowers a labyrinth experience in our lives.”

[5] These are actual letters given to me by ——– ——. They are part of a year-long correspondence between her and her friend —- — ——. Actual names have been deleted. Names that do appear have been changed.

[6] This word was added later by the letter writer and squeezed in above and between secret and drinker with an arrow indicating where it should go. Parentheses are mine.

[7] Truitt, “Walking the Labyrinth,” p.1 Oak Crest, 2009. “There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. The experience is different for each person, each time. Be open to whatever your walk brings you.”

[8] Ibid. p. 2. Share the path with anyone coming toward you. Step aside and then step back on the path. People also walk different speeds; feel free to pass or let someone pass.”

[9] Truitt, “Walking the Labyrinth,” Oak Crest, 2009, p.2 “Stay at the center, as long as you like, in quiet reflection. When you are ready, return by the same path. Your return walk is also part of the labyrinth experience – use it to continue in your reflection and meditation.”

***

IngramPic

Author’s note: The story is based on actual correspondence between my mother and a woman who is now deceased. The woman was institutionalized at the time. And while the letters are based on real letters, the story is fiction.

Formerly a film-industry camera assistant, then journalist, Susan Ingram is currently an editorial manager at a well-known wine journal. Stories from her (as-yet-unpublished) novel, “The Troubled Times,” including “Six Forty One,” and “Una: June 1941” were finalists in Glimmer Train’s March/April 2016 Fiction Open and January 2014 Very Short Fiction Award. Another of her stories, “Three Little Things,” from her memoir-in-progress, “Film/Addict,” made Top 25 in Glimmer Train’s July 2015 Very Short Fiction Award. She has been published in Jersey Devil Press and Seltzerzine. Susan holds an MA in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in the Baltimore suburbs with her two cats, Baine and Mack.

 

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. mandibelle16 says:

    Wonderful piece. I love your description of utter blackness at the end; very apt and true.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jayne Martin says:

    This piece is absolutely stunning. I read it twice and will likely read it again. The weaving together of the labyrinth story with the letters is seamless. The emotion flows from one to the other like gentle waves. Such skill and feeling. Beautiful!

    Like

    1. newzcook says:

      Thank you for your insightful comments. This piece came together with three elements I had on my mind: the letters my mother shared with me, an experience on a labyrinth and the remembered sensations from working in the dark. Some inspiration for the form, style and structure came from Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves.” And thanks to my mom for sharing the letters and her love of labyrinths.

      Like

  3. Steven Carr says:

    I really like this style of writing. It has a cadence all its own. The sentence structure and phrasing demands (nicely) that every word is paid attention to.

    Like

    1. newzcook says:

      Thank you. I tried to write it as if I were walking the labyrinth with the character’s life weaving through her sensory experience. The form is a nod to Danielewski’s “House of Leaves.” It’s one of my favorite stories, but was hard to place because of the form/structure. I was glad Kelly responded to positively to it. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

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