Part I Annie
"When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
yerrrnnn umber whunnnn
These sounds: even in the haze.
But sometimes the sounds - like the pain - faded, and then there was only the haze. He remembered darkness solid darkness had come before the haze. Did that mean he was making progress? Let there be light (even of the hazy variety), and the light was good, and so on and so on? Had those sounds existed in the darkness? He didn't know the answers to any of these questions. Did it make sense to ask them? He didn't know the answer to that one, either The pain was somewhere below the sounds. The pain was east of the sun and south of his ears. That was all he did know.
For some length of time that seemed very long (and so was, since the pain and the stormy haze were the only two things which existed) those sounds were the only outer reality. He had no idea who he was or where he was and cared to know neither. He wished he was dead, but through the pain-soaked haze that filled his mind like a summer storm-cloud, he did not know he wished it.
As time passed, he became aware that there were periods of non-pain, and that these had a cyclic quality. And for the first time since emerging from the total blackness which had prologued the haze, he had a thought which existed apart from whatever his current situation was. This thought was of a broken-off piling which had jutted from the sand at Revere Beach. His mother and father had taken him to Revere Beach often when he was a kid, and he had always insisted that they spread their blanket where he could keep an eye on that piling, which looked to him like the single jutting fang of a buried monster. He liked to sit and watch the water come up until it covered the piling. Then, hours later, after the sandwiches and potato salad had been eaten, after the last few drops of Kool-Aid had been coaxed from his father's big Thermos, just before his mother said it was time to pack up and start home, the top of the rotted piling would begin to show again - just a peek and flash between the incoming waves at first, then more and more. By the time their trash was stashed in the big drum with KEEP YOUR BEACH CLEAN stencilled on the side, Paulie's beach-toys picked up (that's my name Paulie I'm Paulie and tonight ma'll put Johnson's Baby Oil on my sunburn he thought inside the thunderhead where he now lived) and the blanket folded again, the piling had almost wholly reappeared, its blackish, slime-smoothed sides surrounded by sudsy scuds of foam. It was the tide, his father had tried to explain, but he had always known it was the piling. The tide came and went; the piling stayed. It was just that sometimes you couldn't see it. Without the piling, there was no tide.
This memory circled and circled, maddening, like a sluggish fly. He groped for whatever it might mean, but for a long time the sounds interrupted.
fayunnnn red everrrrrythinggg umberrrrr whunnnn Sometimes the sounds stopped. Sometimes he stopped.
His first really clear memory of this now, the now outside the storm-haze, was of stopping, of being suddenly aware he just couldn't pull another breath, and that was all right, that was good, that was in fact just peachy-keen; he could take a certain level of pain but enough was enough and he was glad to be getting out of the game.
Then there was a mouth clamped over his, a mouth which was unmistakably a woman's mouth in spite of its hard spitless lips, and the wind from this woman's mouth blew into his own mouth and down his throat, puffing his lungs, and when the lips were pulled back he smelled his warder for the first time, smelled her on the outrush of the breath she had forced into him the way a man might force a part of himself into an unwilling woman, a dreadful mixed stench of vanilla cookies and chocolate ice-cream and chicken gravy and peanut-butter fudge.
He heard a voice screaming, "Breathe, goddammit! Breathe, Paul!" The lips clamped down again. The breath blew down his throat again. Blew down it like the dank suck of wind which follows a fast subway train, pulling sheets of newspaper and candy-wrappers after it, and the lips were withdrawal, and he thought For Christ's sake don't let any of it out through your nose but he couldn't help it and oh that stink, that stink that f**king STINK.
"Breathe, goddam you!" the unseen voice shrieked, and he thought I will, anything, please just don't do that anymore, don't infect me anymore, and he tried, but before he could really get started her lips were clamped over his again, lips as dry and dead as strips of salted leather, and she raped him full of her air again.
When she took her lips away this time he did not let her breath out but pushed it and whooped in a gigantic breath of his own. Shoved it out. Waited for his unseen chest to go up again on its own, as it had been doing his whole life without any help from him. When it didn't, he gave another giant whooping gasp, and then he was breathing again on his own, and doing it as fast as he could to flush the smell and taste of her out of him.
Normal air had never tasted so fine.
He began to fade back into the haze again, but before the dimming world was gone entirely, he heard the woman's voice mutter: "Whew! That was a close one!" Not close enough, he thought, and fell asleep.
He dreamed of the piling, so real he felt he could almost reach out and slide his palm over its green-black fissured curve.
When he came back to his former state of semi-consciousness, he was able to make the connection between the piling and his current situation - it seemed to float into his hand. The pain wasn't tidal. That was the lesson of the dream which was really a memory. The pain only appeared to come and go. The pain was like the piling, sometimes covered and sometimes visible, but always there. When the pain wasn't harrying him through the deep stone grayness of his cloud, he was dumbly grateful, but he was no longer fooled - it was still there, waiting to return. And there was not just one piling but two; the pain was the pilings, and part of him knew for a long time before most of his mind had knowledge of knowing that the shattered pilings were his own shattered legs.