THE SON OF MAN
Skitter-skattering up the driveway, the scorpion was gliding with the focused, adrenergic energy of a fugitive in need of a nook or a cranny in which to hide. As it reached the upper third of the driveway, it slowed, crossing carefully over a giant crack in the old pavement. When it was safely on the other side, it seemed to stop ever so briefly, considering its options. Then it continued, making its way under the siding of the garage — apparently satisfied that it had found somewhere to hang its hat and coat, at least for the moment.
I gripped the mail tightly as I turned my wrist to check my watch. 3:14. It’ll be light and hot out for at least — what — four more hours. Would it stay under there that long? Were scorpions even diurnal? And what the hell was a scorpion doing in Massachusetts?
At some point I began to feel isolated standing at the opposite end of the driveway. And so, looking furtively around me as if I were afraid someone might be watching (though I absolutely could not tell you why), I began to make my way toward — had I really seen a scorpion in my Boston-area front yard? But I had no idea what else it could have been, and my curiosity won out. So I started the major trek, traversing cracks like they were fjords as big to me as they were to the scorpion, up the length of the driveway. I stepped gingerly so as not to scare the scorpion off, for something in my guts told me that that would be a major loss — that the scorpion could disappear forever, taking with it a sense of control I might never get back.
But for the moment I could only step, so step I did. I stepped with calm — with urgency. I stepped with control and patience. Patience with myself, and with the eroding pavement. Then a chill went through me. I took another step. The chill hadn’t subsided completely, and when it came back, it shook me. I faltered, but I regained my balance and continued.
A chill in this humidity? strange, and I don’t feel cold — my insides are shivery but they’re keeping it to themselves, but is it out of selfishness or charity?
And as I continued up the endless driveway, I began thinking about times I’d run the snow-blower over it. I wondered what had been hiding peacefully in the cool dark underneath all that snow and ice, and felt a pang of contrition as I realized how many thousands of innocent scorpions I must have blended up as I blindly cleared the driveway.
How could I have known? Who could possibly know about the scorpions?
Suddenly I saw a huge, sparkling, clear-as-day drop come catapulting down toward the ground and I realized I was keeping my head down as I walked. Another drop fell, then another, and as a third’s trajectory was cut short when it collided, with a small but audible shup, with my glasses lens, I started to become aware of the wetness — on my forehead; around the hairline on the back of my neck; under my armpits, my shirt now sticky; in my crotch; behind my knees. Another shiver (this one so brief that I wondered if I had imagined it), and I realized that the feeling in my gut was no longer simply the dull pain of loss (from thoughts of snow-blowing through a constellation of tiny frozen scorpions), but it was now of the gnawing, screw-tightening type — an existential tether connecting me to my destination. Approaching the garage felt like getting closer and closer to a nondescript beeping blob on a sonar screen, and as I did, the rope was getting shorter, coiling up and sitting in the pit of my bowels like a white-hot stove range. Then the toes of my shoes were pointing directly at the little space under the boards where the scorpion had gone in and disappeared. Looking up, I realized I was there.
I’ll need a flashlight if I’m going to be able to see anything — Christ, I can’t believe I’m actually about to go crawling around with a flashlight looking for a scorpion that all logic tells me I probably never even saw to begin with.
But before I was done having this argument with myself, I was holding a flashlight and getting down on my knees.
A part of me felt like I would be penetrating this dark, safe space unceremoniously with my canary-yellow shaft of light, as though obstructing some important path the scorpion was on. And yet I could not help myself so down I went, only to immediately find that kneeling was unnecessary. For the tiny hole under the garage was now exactly six feet two inches high, which I knew by the way the frizz of my hair gently grazed the top as I stood up and walked in.
But as I walked, it became clear that I was following the beam of a flashlight that wasn’t actually illuminating anything. Instead of reflecting the light off of objects and making them visible, whatever environment I had stumbled into was simply absorbing it. The result was a small, perfect circle of warm, vacant yellow that I was following to nowhere. Frowning, I shut the flashlight off. If it wasn’t going to help, I figured I should try to get used to the dark.
So I placed each foot carefully as I crept onward, the still-total darkness enveloping me — a cloud of impenetrable smoke stalking me everywhere I went. There were several moments in which I experienced the curious sensation that just behind me, the cloud had dispersed, and I was leaving a trail of perfectly clear light as I travelled along in darkness. But my cloud enveloped me fully, three hundred and sixty degrees around. Turning to check behind me for a physical incarnation of that slight tingle of light did nothing but confuse me about which direction I (thought I) was headed. So instead, I walked, with a constant percolating in my spine as if something important were happening in my wake.
I was constantly anticipating the moment when the darkness would fragment and start slowly to disperse, like a heap of smog disintegrating into the distance. My eyes would eventually become accustomed to the all-consuming dark and slowly but surely I would realize there was more light than I thought, as my pupils began to expand and let in the world around me.
Strange — this moment doesn’t seem to be coming…it shouldn’t take this long to get used to seeing in the dark — damn it of course, my sense of time is probably completely skewed, since I can’t see I’m hyper-aware of everything around me! god I wonder if I should change direction again? maybe I’m going the wrong way or fuck for all I know I’m not moving at a —
BANG I walked into something hard and sturdy and down I went.
I fell back but never seemed to land, and so, not able to tell whether or not I had actually stopped moving, my stomach panicked and migrated up into my throat, pushing a reeling pain straight into the front of my head; my eyes seared and bulged as if they were going to cannon out of their sockets, but instead what cannoned out of me was an intense bout of vomiting.
When my skull stopped rotating and my eyes felt securely back in their place, it finally became clear that I was lying flat prone. So I stood, my weight travelling gently through my legs, out the soles of my feet, and a few centimeters down into whatever I was standing on — some spongy mystery material, there specifically to help me up. And then, rolling up my spine one vertebra at a time, I suddenly realized I could see my shoes. The darkness was still unrelenting, and yet — curious, I stretched my hand out in front of me. And there it was: every finger, every knuckle, every hair and freckle hyper-visible now — so real that it almost felt fake, like a facsimile or an amateurish caricature.
And then I glimpsed, like a piece of lint floating in my periphery (sensed, more than saw), the scorpion again, pittering out of sight. Strangely, though, this time it seemed to be blue — a dark, shiny purple-blue like a stubborn bruise.
Is this a different scorpion? is it really possible there are two? then is it possible there are more?
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said out loud to myself. But my voice felt hollow, and the more I thought about it, the twistier and tanglier my logic became. If it was so unlikely for me ever to see one at all, then isn’t it possible, with that precedent now set, that I should be prepared for more inexplicable events? More moments to shatter my previous notions of the likely and the impossible?
I turned my head toward where I thought I had seen the new, bruise-colored scorpion and saw what was, unmistakably, the first scorpion — the black one — scuttling toward me with an alarming urgency.
I’m actually losing my mind….
And that thought was soon vindicated as, in response to the human-like determinedness of the scorpion’s approach, I found myself with the urge to talk to it, ask it what was wrong. Mechanically, I told myself again that this was silly, but continued to watch the scorpion with a silent fascination. Then its tail moved and I felt a prick on my ankle like a clumsily administered shot.
“Ow!” I recoiled, folding my leg up into my torso at the knee. But this was, I soon found, more a reflex than anything, for the sting had barely hurt at all. I had always imagined a scorpion’s sting to be more painful than that. It was somehow so anticlimactic.
What was the point of that? what did I do to it?
I felt welling up inside me a sense of guilt I couldn’t place — for what? disturbing its rest? trespassing? — mingled with a slow-burning frustration bordering on anger.
What is this what the hell am I doing here how the FUCK do I get home?
Like a mischievous child who knows he’s in trouble, the scorpion turned and retreated. The anger in my chest careened down through my stomach and into my legs. I was going to follow this damned thing wherever it went. I would not let it out of my sight until something began to make sense.
So I immediately started in the direction in which the scorpion had run off. I caught up with it just as it was passing through what looked like a doorway, and a breath of dry air hit me square in the jaw. This, I could tell from the frenetic buzzing of particles around me, was definitely a different room.
And then I looked down, and for a moment I didn’t believe my eyes. But there they were for sure: two scorpions. The black one that I had been following, and the bruise-colored one I had glimpsed earlier.
I stared at them for what felt like several minutes, and it seemed that neither of them was moving. Then I noticed that their relationship to each other in space had changed. The black one was indeed motionless, but the bruise-colored one next to it was moving toward me excruciatingly slowly. But when (not knowing what to do) I instinctively backed away, the bruise-colored scorpion suddenly broke from its ancient approach and lunged. I had never thought of a scorpion as a creature that could lunge. And then I felt the now-familiar needle prick. But this time, a slow, deliberate tingling moved up my leg in a wave, like an army of angry sunspots marching through me. I could feel it spreading in a spiral-like pattern — circular sweeps of increasing diameter, rising and falling at regular intervals as if I were being swung on a string around some invisible body, my innards kept contained only by an incidental centrifugal force — until I felt like I had been fully submerged in a gentle, briny bubble bath.
“Wouldn’t you like to know why you’re here?” a voice said. It was a calm voice, warm and cushioned, yet somehow also the translucent purple of the night sea through a sheet of ice. Assuming this voice would be emanating from a tall, gentle man — a man incapable of being overwhelmed, a man who always had an answer — I looked up.
What I saw first was a salient pair of eyes the same stained-glass shade as the early-September sky I had left behind only a short while ago. What I saw first was a comforting smile nestled among ripples of laugh lines; a smile that contented me with where I was even though I didn’t know where I was, and momentarily melted from me the need to ask any questions or receive any answers.
What I saw next was that this was still, mostly, a scorpion. The black-and-blue scorpion that had sent the wave of — what? — through me, which had — what? Shrunk me? Curiouser and curiouser.
But as I stared into his bewitchingly human eyes, I saw that his smile was not only soothing but conciliatory and expectant. Finally, I remembered that he had asked me a question I had yet to answer. But when I tried to remember what it was, I found I couldn’t.
…you…know…you’re here…wouldn’t you…
As if reading my thoughts, and in a tone devoid of any frustration or impatience, the bruise-colored scorpion repeated his question. (It seems inaccurate to call him simply a scorpion at this point — his features were so human and his posture so purposeful, it was like in a dream when someone else’s characteristics are pasted onto a familiar person without changing the person’s essence.)
“Wouldn’t you like to know why you’re here?”
That was it. I gulped. My brain was swaddled in several layers of cheesecloth and I had to wait for the question to seep through. When I finally took a breath, my throat felt like a hollow tube of cardboard lined with sandpaper. “Okay,” I conceded. “Why am I here?”
But the scorpion-man simply stared.
As strange as things were getting, and as close as I kept feeling I might be coming to an answer, Everything Making Sense continued to elude me.
So I stood staring at this anthropomorphic scorpion, hoping that after a long enough silence, he might answer my question — a question he had encouraged me to ask!
Wouldn’t you like to know why you’re here…he asked me, not the other way around, so why is he just standing there this giant man or scorpion or whatever the hell he is —
I encouraged these increasingly enraged thoughts to race through my mind, hoping he would hear them as he had before, and take pity. But instead of answering me or even saying anything more at all, the scorpion-man merely continued to stare back in silence.
And then, as I kept my eyes fixed intently on his, very slowly there appeared on his head, which just seconds ago had been bare, a black bowler hat; and then, as I pondered this strange development, the black-and-blue shiny skin of his shoulders and torso began to melt into the dark, decisive black of what looked like an overcoat; and then I was in bed, staring at a barely lit framed print of the scorpion, who was now a man in a red tie with a green apple obstructing his face.
“Magritte,” I realized blearily with a chagrined sigh and a shudder of relief. Awareness washed over me, pulling the hazy filters from my eyes and unwrapping the cheesecloth gingerly from my brain. The room came back to me as I came back to the room — two different processes happening simultaneously, coming to meet in the middle where things might once again make sense.
Suddenly, I instinctively turned my head to glance at the clock and found myself thinking, Another hour and a half till my next Tylenol. And then it had all fully come back to me: I had the flu. I was in bed in my bedroom in my Midwestern off-campus house on a Saturday and I had a gross, nasty flu.
6:14 the clock said, and I could tell by the way my torso and limbs were entrenched in the sheets — the mattress cradling me more out of habit than necessity — that I hadn’t left my bed all day.
My mind feels heavy and empty…
My body feels heavy and
My body felt achy and sleepy, so I rolled over to look for the thermometer I remembered leaving somewhere on my nightstand the night before. And as I did so, I noticed, coming from the ceiling, a white spark I thought, or — no, it was a glint. A glint of light off of a plaster ceiling? But the plaster no longer looked ragged and solidly white. Now it was a transparent, glassy white with a deep violet core, as if there were something on the other side that I ought to be able to see but couldn’t quite. As if I were underwater in a pond that had frozen over a long time ago.
My confusion started to make me dizzy, and in my dizziness I saw a flash of something that felt like it happened last night, only it was a scene I didn’t think I knew. I was sitting on the brown cloth loveseat in the living room and he was sitting on the matching brown cloth couch, facing me. His legs were drawn up and he was sitting on his feet — bit of a precarious perch I thought, before I noticed that I was sitting similarly. But I was also leaning forward, toward him, as if waiting for him to say something — the answer to a question I desperately needed to hear. He breathed in slowly, purposefully, but it was not the kind of breath you take before speaking. It was the kind of breath you take instead of speaking, in hopes that the right words might be floating in the air just in front of you, and maybe you’ll inhale them and know what to say. A mountain range of wrinkles gathered, radiating out from his nose. When he exhaled, the wrinkles became his skin again, but his face had been changed by their brief presence, and I could tell that mine had been too — for I knew what they meant, words or no.
A shiver brought me back to my bedroom.
Weird — last night I was alone taking Tylenol and periodically checking my temperature, and now damn it I can’t remember what I’d been doing — right, rolling over to find the thermometer I left on the bedside table last night.
But once I had finally turned over, before I could lift my head up to search the nightstand, I saw something even more confusing and quietly terrifying. The old beige carpet had been replaced with a black-and-blue one that was alive — undulating, like the scaly black back of an enormous, bruise-covered dragon.
The tiny scor
The tiniest wink of a thought sprinted through my brain at that moment, an infinitesimally short spark in which something suddenly made sense — although what that something was, I wasn’t sure.
But as I stared at this pulsating field of what looked like thousands of shiny ants, I was suddenly staring once again at his navy blue shirt on the couch across from me — I didn’t have the courage, or the desire (anymore), to look him in the eye.
“I’m really sorry,” someone else heard him say.
I felt myself nod weakly, meagerly, more of a failure of the muscles in my neck than an intentional nod. When I shut the door behind him, a tremendous tremor of relief shook me violently, and then I collided with abject hopelessness.
The collision left me on the floor in the entryway: a catatonia I hadn’t previously known possible was straddling me, its knees pinning my shoulders down, and it was all I could do to heave my body (now dead weight) into a standing position and clumsily transport it to the bedroom, dropping it with finality on the bed groaned slightly as I turned away from the old beige carpet.
But as my eyes passed over the nightstand, I did not see a thermometer. What I saw was, propped up against my alarm clock, the card in which, in his typical uneven goofy scratch, he had written:
“Happy three years! Love you always.”