The following piece is from my collection of short stories titled, Spectrum Light: A Collection of Short Stories, which can be found in kindle edition on Amazon.com
When he asked her what she was going to do about it, all she could think of was eight. It was a number that had recently begun to plague her, slipping into her mind one night when she was sound asleep, waiting patiently for the day it would make its first appearance into her thoughts with a grand plan of never leaving her alone, especially on a day like today, with its gravity and consequences. The number eight had an insidiousness that was only matched by its cruelty, though she would never view it that way, not even when she took it with her to her grave, she would always love the number eight, despite the relationship being one of obsession, something she could never give up, something that would either ruin her or set her free into the oblivion she secretly held as a comfort.
So when Darrell asked her what she wanted to do about the circumstance of the world now possibly being populated by one more Slocum, one more no good grease bellied son of a Slocum that of course would never make it out of that tarpit of a town, and when he went to the rusty white refrigerator to grab a beer just like he always did after work, and he threw his long, stringy black hair back like Anthony Keatis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and he asked again, “What do you want to do with it godamnit?” All Darlene could do just then was think: EIGHT. She didn’t think about eight because her mind was deflecting Darrell’s reaction to her news, good news she thought, and when he just looked at her when she told him of their new gift and he said, “All shit,” the number eight popped into her clearly right to the front of her consciousness, right where her third eye would be, and it was as clear as crystal.
In the time when she should have been formulating a response to Darrell the number eight shifted from the abstraction of letters into the concreteness of solid space so that she could take that incongruity and mold into something she could understand. There must have been a reason for that thought, and she feared she might have forgotten something important; it was in that instant she realized that there were eight eggs in the refrigerator and that when she told Darrell the news of their new life it was at exactly 5:08.
“Darlene, what are we going to do with it?” Darrell said again, his agitation noticeable from the way his hands started to shake like a convalescing octogenarian, and the flush of red across his skin that was as fast and drastic as that of a chameleon because his skin was a whitewash normally, and his tempers would frequently color him red, even under all that grease and motor oil.
“I don’t know,” she finally said after she thought about how they had been together now almost exactly eight years, and that the trailer they lived in was number 108 out of the 347 trailers in the park, and that the rent was due on the 18th there instead of the 30th like everywhere else
“Well we have to do something about it,” he said, whirling his empty beer can across the drab trailer kitchen, past the fake wood paneling walls, over the stained, green shag carpet, until it bounced off the Richard Petty poster on the far living room wall and landed square in the foamy barcolounger, brown with holes and leaning too far towards the east.
“We better goddamned do something about it Darlene.”
Eight words. She counted them. Eight words he said and they were as sage as she knew at the time. He stormed off into the desert night, slamming the trailer door, and she thought he would be back later, drunk, curling up next to her, whispering his sweet apologies, his promises for the future, but when he stormed out that trailer door like a dervish, spinning, grabbing things as he cast his way out she noticed that behind him he drug all of the guilt, all of the suffering, like he had an iron ingot in the seat of his pants he drug all of the misery behind him, the lack of attention, tired, wasted time all followed him out the door being drug on his slothful, greasy pants and she was fine with it.
Over the coming days she would stare out of the kitchen window towards the mesa walls, the high plateau, Darrell never coming back, ending up at his parents place over in Flat Botttom, the place he grew up. She won’t call over there to ask for him. She won’t call his buddy Earl, or Pete. She’ll just let him go. She will think, however, how Flat Bottom is 28 miles from her, how his parents bought the place in 1948.
She’ll stare at those walls across the desert valley and recall how the scientists said they were created, what, 80,000 years ago? She wanted to leave that town, go to a big city (and she would) and talk to people. She wanted to talk to people about things nobody in Table Leg would talk about, about the fact that spiders have eight legs, not nine, and how eight days a week would be nice for a change, you know, an extra day to consider it all, maybe take a rest, relax. She would only get blank stares there she knew if she brought such things up. The people there being old, worn out, too tired for such nonsense, they would just look at her and shake their heads. “Poor ponderous Darlene,” they would say behind her back. No bother. It would be eight days exactly before she left, caught a bus, changed everything.
“Wherever we are we are our true self.” That’s what the bumper sticker said on the VW bus as it passed by. Eight words. She counted them.
The blue bay curved towards the mountains in the east. Cable cars clunked by interrupting the gulls overhead. Eight years had passed and she had thought about lots of things since the desert days in the trailer with Darrell. Ponderous Darlene read books. Ponderous Darlene talked to people. Coffee shops were full of people like her and she thrived in that philosophical soup. She finally let that beautiful auburn hair fall down to her shoulders, smiled at passersby, even said hello to men, young men, sexy in their jeans but she was free to think so now. She read How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Virginity and bought herself some tight blue jeans, walked down the street free as the wind off the emerald bay. Seven generations were what we were supposed to consider when we made decisions that affected the earth, Chief Seattle said, according to her latest reading. Why not eight generations, she thought, just to be safe. Eight more blocks, eight turns and she would be home.
It would be like this for her through all of her life, though she would try to stifle it in her late 40’s (48 to be exact) because she would realize that eight wonders of the world would never be accepted and that she was fighting a losing battle in her own mind. Nobody would ever listen to her about those things, not even if eight innings would make it a much more interesting game, though she could care less about silly games like that, knowing that eighteen men completed the first circumnavigation of the globe, that there were fourteen peaks above 8000 meters, eight hours in the workday. She tried for a very long time to stop realizing the patterns. Nobody else seemed to see them. They were everywhere and nobody else saw them.
But there was a period in her life when she stopped thinking like this, stopped looking for the meaning, the connected patterns that must signal something else like a veiled secret whose unlocking would open the entire universe to her. This period was when she met the conch shell blower. He was a quiet man. She saw him one day at the market pulling apples one by one off the display as if he were searching for just the perfect one, his meticulousness she saw as respect for time. They would spend the rest of their lives together in a small apartment overlooking the bay. He would go on Thursday evenings to blow his conch shell at just the right times with other Tibetan Buddhists, they beating drums, clamoring cymbals, chanting the right mantras sometimes repeated in threes, other times in eights. She only went with him a couple of times but decided she didn’t want the exposure. Her counting and cataloging had stopped since she met the conch shell blower, and she wanted to rest in that peace.
She admired how he would talk about the 108 rounds of mantra recitation, the 28 beads of mala wrapped around his wrist, and not once did he show signs of compulsion, not once did he seem rigid, stuck in a rut, rather he moved through life fluidly, like a heron, like an otter. He could drop anything on a dime, a fight, a plan, anything. And she loved him for it. He died one day when she was in her 70’s of a terrible fever that eventually melted him away. He died at 12:08.
She noted that and moved on dropping any impulse to fit it into a context that made sense with the past. That was the final time she thought of that number, final until she died herself. A quiet death, alone in her bed, it was restful, and warm.
When she was dying she thought how if you flipped the number eight on its side it looked like the symbol for infinity. And if she was infinite (which is a question she had pondered some 20 years), and when she died all of her elements would dissipate in all directions into the infinitude to pervade all of space, would she be reborn into one of the eight realms of rebirth? Or would she have to come back another eights rounds of rebirth before she herself would reach the unequaled blissful union?
When the last moment of her consciousness breathed life into itself, instead of thinking of eight she thought of a word with half its constituent letters yet with boundless quality and worth. For the second time in her life she felt the one thing worth counting. Love. Four letters. Half of eight. She counted them.
But she only thought of the number for an instant. The feeling itself was far greater in totality than the sum of its letters or the stultified meanings taught for the word in school or in life, and her understanding of it was as deep as the distance she was from her start in life to who she was in that moment. Greater than the distance of the red light from the clock on the table, which sat beside her bed, and greater still than the bluing moon outside her window. The clock now showing 7:08. Something she didn’t care about when she closed her eyes. Something only noted on the paperwork that followed her body until it was spread out in all directions, each element moving to its right place in all of space. But all of that hasn’t happened yet.
She still stands at the window of the trailer now looking out towards the desert walls and there is no way she could know anything of what she will learn later in life. For now she is small. For now she still thinks in terms of that little town, her concepts stuck, rigid. Eight days, she thinks. Eight days and she will leave. Not a day sooner. Not a day later. She wouldn’t want to risk ruining the possibility of all that her future may hold. All of it, for her, hanging on two rings on top of each other that when connected, she could trace forever.