Issue 9: Horizontal vs. Vertical
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program

On Writing:
Neither Horizontal nor Vertical Be

Deborah P. Bloch


            She awakened in her green room. The setting moon shown through the long, low windows, turning her hair an ethereal white. As she threw off the feathers that had lightly covered her body through the many days of night, she realized that she was awake. She hoped she was still dreaming, but, no, she was awake.
            This won’t do. This won’t do at all. The Masters did not allow her and the others to begin by being in the awakening state. They must begin elsewhere. The Masters preferred that she and the others begin by being in the town they call inmediasres, but that town, as the Indian name suggested was in Indiana, and she was awakening in California. Perhaps there was some way out. Wait! She bolted upright. Once, a long time ago, one had been allowed to begin in the state of awakening. There was some hope. Slowly, she raised her nightgown. That took some time because the gown, as was the custom, stretched ten feet beyond her tippy toes and five feet beyond her fingertips. Her hope was not realized; she had not acquired the characteristics of a beetle. Then she knew,
            I had a little beetle
            So that beetle was his name
            And I called him Alexander
            And he answered just the same

Then she didn’t know, but she knew,
            But nanny let my beetle out
            Yes nanny let my beetle out
            She went and let my beetle out
            And beetle ran away.

            This whole day was too sad. Not only wasn’t she a beetle, but there was this very tragic tale of a beetle, and she was beginning in the state of awakening. Master Z would not approve at all. What punishment would ensue was uncertain. Perhaps she would not be allowed to begin in any state—anywhere—or finish. Then where would she be? Perhaps she would be forced back into the infant school of summer. In despair, she wrapped all those yards of yellow nightgown round and round her body, covering her head. No part of her showed at all.


            That didn’t work. She couldn’t breathe as the diaphanous yellow fabric filled her mouth and nostrils. Gasping, she pulled the gown away from her face and then she saw it: a means of escape. Through the long, low windows she saw that the moon had finished setting; a new day had begun. In the early blue glow of daylight, she could see giant wheels resting on the ground. With great difficulty, with all the fabric tangling around her with every move, she crawled to the window and peered upwards. Whatever was out there was big, and metallic, and—it had wings. It was a bird. It was a plane. Whatever superthing it was, it could carry her out of the state of awakening elsewhere, perhaps all the way to inmediasres. Quickly, she threw off her nightclothes, completing her undressing in two hours under the usual five required for the unwinding of the windings. She donned her required daytime uniform of tattoos and earrings and slipped through one of the windows.
            It was a plane, and there were stairs leading up to a door. She thought that was strange, wondering who had put the stairs in place or why they were there. But she knew she had to take advantage of this opportunity. She clambered up the stairs, through the door, and into the cockpit. She revved the engines and began to roll back the plane and think back on her narrow escape. And then she realized. This was one more trick of fate or of the Masters. Just as Master Z would not allow her to begin by being in a state of awakening, Master A1 would not permit anything at all to take place on a plane. She thought that perhaps she could avoid that injunction by flying the plane. Perhaps the injunction referred only to being a passenger, sitting in a narrow seat, leaning on a window or the shoulder of the person next to her, musing on the events of the past day or week or year, looking at photos that engendered memories. She tried to remember. What had Master A1 actually said? Was it:
            Fly me to the moon
            Let me play among the stars
            Let me see what spring is like
            On Jupiter and Mars.


            No, that wouldn’t do. That wasn’t about flying. It was a song, about kissing, and who cared about kissing at a time like this! What to do, what to do? Inspiration—that was what she needed.
            Somewhere over the rainbow
            Bluebirds fly.
            Birds fly over the rainbow
            Why then oh why can’t I?
            Yes, why couldn’t she fly? Because Master A1 had expressly forbidden it. To make it worse, unlike Master Z who had simply said you could not begin in a state of awakening, Master A1 had a total injunction against any time spent on airplanes. Her shoulders sagged beneath the weight of her tattoos and her face crumpled in on itself so that her nose ring almost touched her lip ring.



            She was lost. She felt tears well up in her eyes. Not tears! Master A2 had said that absolutely, under no conditions could she or the others describe tears. What would she do with the tears if she could not describe them? She looked up and saw that above the plane’s instrument panel, there was a visor just like the one in her car. She pulled it down, hoping that it held a mirror and that she could see the tears in the mirror and thus, despite the certain commands of Master A2, she would be able to describe the tears. No luck. No mirror. Since she knew she wouldn’t be able to awaken or fly, she thought she might be able to describe tears and win over Master A2 if only she could find a mirror. What shape were tears? What color? She allowed a few more tears to fall and raced to the lavatory behind the cockpit. Yes, there was a mirror, but her tears had dissolved. There was nothing to describe. She thought about her plight, and a few more tears fell, but they clouded her vision and when she looked in the mirror, she could hardly see her face and its many rings. She rubbed at the mirror. The cloudiness was not in the glass but in her eyes.
            She returned to the cockpit chair, and glancing around, spotted a computer. Perhaps there was a way out. She would Google tears. Wikipedia came to her rescue: “Tear fluid contains water, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, and potassium.”  And more, “Emotional tears contain more of the protein-based hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leucine enkephalin (a natural painkiller) than basal or reflex tears.”


            She wondered whether she had gotten away with it. She had begun with an awakening, she had described events aboard a plane, and she had described tears, at least in a biological sense. No, she was sunk. Masters Z, A1, and A2 would surely punish her. She hoped they didn’t still use the white-out or red rubbing things. She felt more tears drift down her cheeks, and reached out her tongue, expecting the familiar salty tang. These tears, however, had a distinctly chocolate flavor, dark chocolate, at least seventy percent cacao. And she knew: “A chocolate a day, leads the student-writer astray.”

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