Etta sometimes feels her thoughts as tangibly as the doves flying out of a
magician's hat. That real. She is not expecting anyone out her lonely
dirt road up a hundred and fifty-nine steps through the firs on this light-and-shadows day. She is sunken in the green armchair, watching the windows which face the mountain in a full
beatitude of lonely grace. Over the arm of the chair Jane Eyre is opened to the middle.
She has just read the part where Jane supernaturally hears Mr. Rochester's
voice calling out to her across the ethers: Jane! Jane! Jane!
The gentle tap-tap-tap was so unlikely that at first she assumed it was the
fire shifting in the grate. The knock is not repeated, but the presence of strangers seeps
into the room and finally reaches her. She rises and moves towards the
door, retying the fuzzy pink robe, the one that makes infinite pink lintballs
which she likes to pull at for the pleasure of the tearing fibers. A small airy
pyramid of them rests on the flat arm of the chair, pink against green.
The kittens pounce in a herd behind every step to catch the strings hanging
down the backs of her Moroccan slippers. Six black kittens, a very pink
robe. Not another sound from outside.
The huge door creaks like the door in a Gothic novel. Temporarily blinded by the pillar of October sunlight that streaks in, it takes a moment to see their faces; the glittering pine needles behind
them make haloes around their silhouetted heads.
"Hello," she says, after a long, beautiful arc of time, as they come into
focus. Two men in old-fashioned-looking black suits and white tennis shoes
are standing there. Actually one old man and a boy.
The creaking of the door seemed to choreograph the growing of their
smiles. The trees sway together like backup singers. Etta can hear the
two breathing, knows the full-chested pleasure of oxygen moving into leg
muscles from the ascent. Their response time is just slightly longer than in
normal interactions, as though they are listening for their next lines.
"Hello," the old man says with great tenderness, so meaningfully in fact
that Etta looks closely at him, thinking perhaps he is a grandfather or
forgotten beloved uncle. He is not. She is reminded of the many different
lonelinesses for which she has cried herself to sleep; his face is the reminder. He has
a face like Nat King Cole sings, melancholy in syrup.
"We've come here to talk to you about your soul," the man says. The boy's
cheeks and upper lip are covered with a soft yellow fuzz. Etta has always
imagined her soul as an opaque, tadpole-shaped ghost that floated inside
her like the bubble in a shampoo bottle.
"That's wonderful," she says. There are magazines in the man's knuckly
hands. The boy's face nourishes her; she is sure he is the important one:
the old man is the magician, taking her attention away, and the boy is the
magic trick that will burst into rabbits when she is not looking.
"Do you know, personally, who Jesus really is?" the man asks. His
sincerity is colossal. The comb tracks in his grayblack hair are like the furrows a
plow makes in a new field. Through the slightly swaying branches the sun
causes a blob of light to appear and disappear from the side of his face,
as if God is flashing a message to Etta.
"I love Jesus," she says, meaning it with all her heart. Suddenly she is
worried for the boy. He is like a canary poised at the opened door of its
cage. Why won't he fly? The man's voice answers for her: it is a warm
sleep that you never want to wake from. The kittens, which have all been hiding
behind her robe, start to come out into the sunlight; they surround the
boy's white sneakers and sit between his feet.
"Do you have assurance that if you died today, you know you'd be in heaven
with Jesus?" the man asks, and the thought is so appealing that she can't
answer immediately. She closes her eyes and lets the cool breeze lift the
hair off her forehead and she is there: Etta, the boy, and Jesus together
"I think my soul is in good hands," she finally says. This is a good
answer; the old man immediately begins leafing through his magazines as though he
knows he has one that will exactly address her particular emptiness.
Because his hands are shaking, she vows to read every word.
Behind them, coming up the steps, is Etta's black cat, with something in
her mouth. As she gets closer, Etta sees that it is half of a gopher. The
bottom half. The cat drops it on the deck behind the two visitors. It is chewed
cleanly through so that it seems you could pick it up and flex it open like
a crushed Dixie cup and have a cavity in the middle as big as a thumb. Only
Etta notices. The cat comes up to her, full teats swinging, and rubs
against Etta's pink robe.
"Only 144,000 will be chosen, and we who are chosen know it with the
certainty of that blue sky," the old man says, handing her a magazine with
a color photo of a huge blue eye and a title that reads, CAN YOU SEE YOUR OWN
BLINDNESS? Etta looks up at the sky. It certainly is blue. A large white
lenticular cloud moves slowly across it. She looks back at the gopher.
The red blood on the edges still looks wet. She imagines it jumping up on its
back legs and running to find its head. Resurrected. With that thought, a
dove lifts its wings in her and its wingtips brush her insides.
"Wouldn't you like to have that kind of certainty?" the man asks. The boy
follows her eyes and turns to look where she is looking, and as the old
man's question hangs in the air, the two young ones gaze upon the gopher like it
was the meaning of their lives.