I’m dreaming that I am awake. I dream that I get out of bed and walk across the room, not this room, and
go out the door, not this door. I’m at home, one of my homes, and she’s running to meet me, in her small green nightgown with the sunflower on the front, her feet bare, and I pick her up and feel her arms and legs go around me and I begin to cry, because I know then that I’m not awake. I’m back in this bed, trying to wake up, and I wake up and sit on the edge of the bed, and my mother comes in with a tray and asks me if I’m feeling better. When I was sick, as a child, she had to stay home from work. But I’m not awake this time either.
After these dreams I do awake, and I know I’m really awake because there is the wreath, on the ceiling, and my curtains hanging like drowned white hair. I feel drugged. I consider this: maybe they’re drugging me. Maybe the life I think I’m living is a paranoid delusion.
Not a hope. I know where I am, and who, and what day it is. These are the tests, and I am sane. Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.
Greyness comes through the curtains, hazy bright, not much sun today. I get out of bed, go to the window, kneel on the window seat, the hard little cushion, FAITH, and look out. There is nothing to be seen.
I wonder what has become of the other two cushions. There must have been three, once. HOPE and CHARITY, where have they been stowed? Serena Joy has tidy habits. She wouldn’t throw away anything not quite worn out. One for Rita, one for Cora?
The bell goes, I’m up before it, ahead of time. I dress, not looking down.
I sit in the chair and think about the word chair. It can also mean the leader of a meeting. It can also mean a mode of execution. It is the first syllable in charity. It is the French word for flesh. None of these facts has any connection with the others.
These are the kinds of litanies I use, to compose myself.
In front of me is a tray, and on the tray are a glass of apple juice, a vitamin pill, a spoon, a plate with three slices of brown toast on it, a small dish containing honey, and another plate with an egg-cup on it, the kind that looks like a woman’s torso, in a skirt. Under the skirt is the second egg, being kept warm. The egg-cup is white china with a blue stripe.
The first egg is white. I move the egg-cup a little, so it’s now in the watery sunlight that comes through the window and falls, brightening, waning, brightening again, on the tray. The shell of the egg is smooth but also grained; small pebbles of calcium are defined by the sunlight, like craters on the moon. It’s a barren landscape, yet perfect; it’s the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds would not be distracted by profusion. I think that this is what God must look like: an egg. The life of the moon may not be on the surface, but inside.
The egg is glowing now, as if it had an energy of its own. To look at the egg gives me intense pleasure.
The sun goes and the egg fades.
I pick the egg out of the cup and finger it for a moment. It’s warm. Women used to carry such eggs between their breasts, to incubate them. That would have felt good.
The minimalist life. Pleasure is an egg. Blessings that can be counted, on the fingers of one hand. But possibly this is how I am expected to react. If I have an egg, what more can I want?
In reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange objects. I would like a pet: a bird, say, or a cat. A familiar. Anything at all familiar. A rat would do, in a pinch, but there’s no chance of that. This house is too clean.
I slice the top off the egg with the spoon, and eat the contents.
While I’m eating the second egg, I hear the siren, at a great distance at first, winding its way towards me among the large houses and clipped lawns, a thin sound like the hum of an insect; then nearing, opening out, like a flower of sound opening, into a trumpet. A proclamation, this siren. I put down my spoon, my heart speeds up, I go to the window again: will it be blue and not for me? But I see it turn the corner, come along the street, stop in front of the house, still blaring, and it’s red. Joy to the world, rare enough these days. I leave the second egg half eaten, hurry to the closet for my cloak, and already I can hear feet on the stairs and the voices calling.
“Hurry,” says Cora, “won’t wait all day,” and she helps me on with the cloak, she’s actually smiling.
I almost run down the hall, the stairs are like skiing, the front door is wide, today I can go through it, and the Guardian stands there saluting. It’s started to rain, a drizzle, and the gravid smell of earth and grass fills the air.
The red Birthmobile is parked in the driveway. Its back door is open and I clamber in. The carpet on the floor is red, red curtains are drawn over the windows. There are three women in here already, sitting on the benches that run the length of the van on either side. The Guardian closes and locks the double doors and climbs into the front, beside the driver; through the glassed- over wire grill we can see the backs of their heads. We start with a lurch, while overhead the siren screams: Make way, make way!
“Who is it?” I say to the woman next to me; into her ear, or where her ear must be under the white headdress. I almost have to shout, the noise is so loud.
“Ofwarren,” she shouts back. Impulsively she grabs my hand, squeezes it, as we lurch around the corner; she turns to me and I see her face, there are tears running down her cheeks, but tears of what? Envy, disappointment? But no, she’s laughing, she throws her arms around me, I’ve never seen her before, she hugs me, she has large breasts, under the red habit, she wipes her sleeve across her face. On this day we can do anything we want.