- from Sea of Hooks
Of the great Victorian conservatory in Golden Gate Park, known formally as the Hall of Flowers, Christopher Westall’s mother had once said, “This is a place where glass is safe.” For some reason he thought of this first on finding her body, the plastic bag fitted so snuggly over her face. He held her hand awhile there in the cold. It felt reef-stiff. Her eyes were closed. She had somehow managed to tuck herself in quite tightly. Her face was soft, expressionless and tired. No hint of how it had been for her to die, there on the bed in his room, the bed under which he once thought knife-people slept.
When Christopher was in the second grade he told a first grader that his parents had taken him to the country and that all his fingers had been chopped off by some farm equipment and they had been replaced by a very special doctor with plastic ones and if you looked really hard you could see that his fingers were really plastic and you could see the little crisscross stitch marks at the base of each finger where they had been sewn on. The first grader started to cry and wouldn’t stop and told the other kids, and they told the teacher, and the teacher called Evelyn, so this created quite a stir. But nothing compared to when Christopher told his fellow second graders about the secret passage that ran from the play yard to his den.
Other People’s Dreams
When Christopher was a child he had dreams some nights that were not his own—dreams filled with people he didn’t know, places he’d never been, and circumstances that were unfamiliar to him. Christopher called this having other people’s dreams.
And once when he was twelve and studying Genesis for his confirmation, Christopher asked his mother if she’d ever actually seen a pillar of salt and what did it look like because he was having trouble picturing it. Was it glistening and transparent like a pillar of glass or rough and cloudy or gray and rough and sparkly like a granite slab? [End Page 51]
Early one morning in late September, before the markets opened, on a trading floor in downtown San Francisco, a disheveled banker, still drunk from the night before, stood slouched against his desk, staring through a wire mesh window into the shaft of a light well. He was experiencing, however hazily, the somewhat unfamiliar sensation of worrying about someone else. He was worried indeed, about his friend, who had dropped from sight after the suicide of his mother—sending only an envelope with the keys to her still fully furnished house folded in a note—saying only that he’d had to go to Asia. Now weeks without word—gone—no details of where—no explanation of why—not even a hint of whether he ever expected to return.
When Christopher apologized to the first grader for the plastic fingers story, the teacher was standing right behind him with her hand in the middle of his back. She was saying “Christopher has something to say to you and he is going to say it now,” and Christopher said the words that the teacher had told him to say in a voice more hers than his, so it was more like ventriloquism than apology, and he knew that her lips were moving very slightly as he spoke. The first grader was anxious and shuffling and he would not look at Christopher’s face, and he would not look at his hands.
Even as a child, Christopher knew that knife-people lie so flat that you cannot see them. But he could just hear them, sharpening themselves against each other like hands washing—that wispy, metallic, sweep, sweep, sweep, almost indistinguishable from their breathing. In the morning he would go under the bed and collect the shavings and take them to the trash, and he never said anything about it to anyone.
Her arms were out of the blanket and her hands...