Boundaries between the possible and the impossible in everyday life dissolve in this short story by Gunnhild Øyehaug.
The day I saw a person disappear through the side of a moving bus, just glide smoothly through the side, I was very surprised. I’d gone into town to buy fresh meat for dinner. That day it was raining violently, rain poured down the bus window where I sat, thick runnels of rain, like someone pouring transparent paint from the bus roof, making it difficult to distinguish what we were passing––granite, yellow leaves on November trees, a tunnel mouth, street lamps, all of it flowing together. A small river that wasn’t usually there flowed along the road, and the narrow stream that normally picked its cautious way down the far slope was now gushing from the street parallel to the main road, like all the water had entered a panicked state, rushing forward with all its pandemoniac hydraulic force. The bus wasn’t moving especially fast, but the windshield wipers raced back and forth, and it was as I shifted my gaze from the dissolving world outside the window back inside the bus itself that I saw a person get up from their seat, like any person wanting to get off, take a couple of steps forward, and disappear through the vehicle’s side.
I got off four stops later and I turned around to see whether that same person could smoothly materialize out of the air wherever and keep on walking, but there was no one else at the stop except for me and two other passengers who had exited at the same time and who left in the opposite direction. I was approaching the duck pond, which I saw had been filled up, what once had been a slope down to the pond was now just a mass of water into which the sidewalk smoothly transitioned. It sometimes happened with this kind of rain, sometimes the water would swallow the whole sidewalk, forcing all the children going to and from school to walk in the street for about twenty yards. At the moment a sliver of sidewalk remained, on the pond ducks navigated the thin, high reeds, they suddenly had a little lake in which to paddle. I wondered what it would be like to have the habitual boundaries of your life suddenly change like that, suddenly expand, just imagine, for example, if my house acquired another floor, I thought, or if the living room grew by three yards before returning to normal, would I think, how great, now I have three extra yards to try out, or would it just make me uneasy?
When I got home, I regretted not stopping at the school to pick up the kids, it was still a little early and I had planned on working. But I started to picture them tumbling into the duck pond, they’d be holding hands and one would slip and pull the other with them, and neither of them could swim. I paced anxiously through the house, going back and forth to the window, until finally I saw two rain-soaked figures coming up the hill, and when they entered the hall I had to hold them close just a little bit longer, to feel that they were here, the two of them, and that nothing had expanded into anything unknown, aside from the fact that I was mother to them both, perhaps. I thought about it again as I was cooking dinner and preparing to fry the meat, it wasn’t something I tolerated well, the smell of raw meat and blood. It’s a smell, I told my husband as he sat slicing carrots at the kitchen table, that we’re not meant to recognize. It’s a nauseating, body-concealed secret. We all have it inside, of course, but it’s not something we want to know anything about. My husband nodded. It reminded me, actually, of how a body writhing in birth smells. The smell that permeates the birthroom––flesh, blood, fat, amniotic fluid. It gushed out of you with the baby, everything you had inside, nothing you could do to hide it. You smelled. You transcended your human boundaries. And what happened? You smelled. Everyone in the room had been enveloped by the smell of my body’s insides, it was terrifying, and concise. The meat, sizzling now in the butter, had sealed itself again, had formed a fried crust, and that’s how it is, I thought, with everything. Things open and they close again. Blood now bubbled from the meat as it fried, with relief I turned the piece over.
It was twelve days before Christmas. When the kids were in bed and my husband back at work, I walked around, tidying up and listening to a Gregorian choir sing Christmas songs. I lit a candle on the living room table; a Christmas star, perforated with a pattern meant to resemble snowflakes, hung in the window and cast a prickled shadow on the ceiling. I moved the rocking chair next to the table beneath the Christmas star, intending to sit there and read, perhaps. I had my back to the window and was arranging couch cushions when suddenly I heard a slight cough. It came from the rocking chair. I spun around, convinced that someone had teleported into the rocking chair, maybe from outside, maybe from another dimension, what did I know, and that person now sat in my rocking chair coughing. But the rocking chair was empty. I glanced mistrustfully at the Christmas star, as if it had something to do with that cough. But the Christmas star placidly continued to throw its prickly pattern on the ceiling. I took my book and sat on the couch instead, but something was off, I couldn’t relax. When I turned toward the window again, someone was sitting beside me on the couch. It was Alice. Alice told me she’d come from the Beyond to inform me that her brother had departed this life and come to her. Also, he’d told Alice everything I’d done to him once, I’d seduced and abandoned him. I hadn’t understood the fact that he just wasn’t the type you could treat like that. He was a sensitive guy with a complex nature, plus he was engaged, a fact I had known. That was a chaotic time in my life, I was twenty-five back then, I heard myself explaining to Alice, I wasn’t myself, that was just how I behaved back then, he wasn’t the only one, it was like I was trapped inside a big, diabolical clown that was somehow myself, I wanted to be loved and I wasn’t, I said. Doesn’t matter, Alice responded. I wish he weren’t dead, I said. Wishes are balloons, Alice said, and death waits with a needle. I covered my face with both hands, I had expected this moment, I had expected my sins to catch up with me, I just hadn’t thought it would be today. I looked up and Alice was gone. The Christmas star was still doing its thing, prickly pattern on the ceiling, etc. The rain, which had stopped while Alice was there, suddenly gushed down, a river ran next to the sidewalk, there was no one outside, the asphalt was wet and still, the street lamp stood there and realized, but said nothing. What happened next was unbelievable: I walked through the wall like I’d never done anything else, like walking through walls was as easy as swimming, and it was, actually, the wall felt like another fluid element, just like I was a fluid element. And then I crossed the asphalt to the nearest street lamp, climbed to the light globe, and entered the lamp’s interior. Why I did that I have no clue, but it had something to do with my need to illuminate, to just be a lamp, to light the way for others, to simply fill up with light, to perform one single function: light.
After a quarter hour’s lighting it occurred to me that this wasn’t right, I needed to go back inside to the kids, they couldn’t be left alone at night, what had I been thinking? I tried to pass back through the wall, but it had closed. My expansive ability had obviously run its course. I ran around to the other side of the house and tried to open the door, but the door was locked, of course it was, I had locked it myself. But beneath the mat was the key I had set out for my husband. The kids were sleeping safely in their beds and hadn’t noticed that their mother, for a few minutes at least, had transformed to a street lamp. And that’s how it should be, I told myself when I stood brushing my teeth a little while later, and it seemed as if, with these bricklike words, I was intuiting something important about life, something that depressed me on the one hand and cheered me on the other, as if I’d discovered the card to play when I felt myself pressed into a corner, when life’s peculiar ability to be both good and bad forced me to choose sides. I just hoped future days would not be like this one and that my sudden expansive ability wasn’t one I had acquired.
© Gunnhild Øyehaug. First published in Dreamwriter (Kolon, 2016). By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Kerri Pierce. All rights reserved.