THE VERB TO BE
The closest I can get to blindness is closing my eyes. So when I think of what it is like to be blind, I imagine seeing nothing but blackness. A clever person at a party might say that this is false; the blind can no more see blackness than you or I can see from our elbows. But how can you compare a symbol of nothingness to nothingness itself? Only a clever person at a party can tell you that.
Today is the last day that we’ll reach full daylight, at noon. After this, it’s a series of afternoons, then dusks, and then a few weeks of a bit of orange on the horizon. So we’re having a picnic. Actually, we haven’t bothered to completely explain the situation to my wife’s parents. Her mother wouldn’t understand -- she’s not all there. Her father is ninety, and can’t hear very well anyway. So we let them be. I think, actually, that not having them know is a kind of coping mechanism for all of us. If they don’t know or care what’s happening, then maybe we can just watch them the way you might listen to someone’s heartbeat.
They’ve named it the Orest Effect, or the Rest. No doubt they’ve given it the name of a person to allow people to relate to it and come to terms with it. The particular person it’s named for, Orest Chwolson, was the first to study the gravitational lens effect; that is, the ability of large bodies in space to bend light at large distances. To the point, the vast majority of the light from the sun will soon no longer be reaching us. Somewhere in the eighteen minutes it takes for light to reach Earth, the gravitational force of an entire galaxy rotated at precisely the wrong angle will convince our sunlight to shine in another direction, away from us. That’s why everyone has started to call it the Rest. Because it will be dark, and we’ll be going to sleep.
We chose to start our picnic just before noon at the art museum park, and we weren’t the only ones. A sizeable chunk of the city was joining us for the event. My wife and I set out a few blankets for everyone. I placed the baby onto the some warm grass, where she sat confidently and watched us go hurriedly through our nonsensical rituals.
After finishing a bickering conversation with her mother about who knows what, my wife’s sister began delving dutifully into a canvas bag with both hands, again and again. She brought out elaborate sets of clean, telescoping tupperware. Sweating, battle-hardened thermoses that had seen the comings and goings of many soups. She paused. Yet Can Not Eat These, she said to her mother. Her mother opened a container, put her hand in, and looked away, eating a chunk of something. My sister in law scowled and grumbled until the meal was prepared.
When it was time, we brought the baby near, and sat and ate. We used the normal chopsticks from the house. I admitted, pinching a seasoned cube of beef from a serving dish, that maybe my sister in law wasn’t so bad. Better to forgive her and just let it go. Now that there were no airplanes, I wouldn’t be going home, and she was the closest thing I’d have to a sibling. We’d all be developing personality disorders and anger issues shortly anyway.
Near the end of the meal, firecrackers deafened the air to the east. A parade from a nearby temple was inching by. On the road, old men marched slowly in bright colors. They played horns and shook noisemakers. Just behind them, teenagers carried neon Gods on their shoulders. Pretty normal stuff, really. I looked back. The baby seemed disinterested. I looked at my wife’s father, and opened my mouth. I said, When Time You Were Small Ocean, You Enjoy To Play What ... Game? He looked at me and smiled, and said, Ah? I looked at my wife. Louder, she said. Say it louder. WHENEVER YOU ARE SMALL CHILD, YOU ENJOY TO PLAY WHAT GAME? He looked at me again. My wife quickly repeated the question again, but with a better accent. He looked at her and responded:
“... ... ... ... Child ... ... Father ... ... ... ... ... Game ... ...
... ... ... Sichuan ... ... ... (He made a motion here like
his hand was going over the moon.) ... ... Rice ... ....
.... .... House ... ... .... .... .... Candy (?) ... ... ... ... ...
.... ... ... ... ... We Can Not (He shook his head) ... ...
.... .... .... .... .... Road. (My wife and her sister laughed.
‘Really?’ they asked.) ... ... ... ... ... Father, Father, ... ...
What ... .... .... .... Sichuan.”
He stopped here, and nodded his head at me, smiling. My wife then looked at me, swallowed some food, and explained. “He had a ball.”
“Oh,” I said. “What kind of ball?”
“I don’t know, just a ball, I guess.”
I imagined my father in law’s childhood with a solitary, dusty ball. I smiled at my father in law, who was again focusing on eating some potato. Thanks, I said, and he looked at me and mumbled happily. Excuse Me, I said, I Will Return Back, and picked up the baby. I carried her to some purple flowers in a tree. We remarked happily on them, in our own ways. We made noises at the flowers.
When I was a kid, and I was bored, I would rub my eyes and stare into my pillow. The fluorescent smudges left from the rubbing looked like galaxies. They even seemed to slowly drift to the edges of my vision. I would imagine that I was tunnelling very quickly through space. It didn’t help me sleep very well, but it made me less afraid of our wooden house, which groaned in the night when the wind blew.