Promises

The air promenaded through his nostrils with nonchalance as if he were sleeping. Slow movement is better. The bottom of his foot itched slightly - the most irritating of places - but he let it tingle. No movement is best. When finally a tiny weight grazed his palm, his body had become a statue and did not betray him with a flinch. Then, like the slow fizz of an opened pop bottle that had only slightly been shaken, Silas let the corners of his mouth and the boundary of his eyelids float upwards. Sure enough, the tiny chickadee had dropped into his hand, her twitchy feet exploring the man's pleated skin. The bird's head flitted up and down and sideways at remarkable angles like a Thai dancer's quick wrists. Her darks eyes focused on the crumbled grains that had swept themselves into the creases of Silas' palms. The man watched, aroused by the way the bird's delicate beak extracted the treats while leaving no feeling for his nerves to interpret. His grey eyes alone were witness to the chickadee's indulgence.

Silas tried to remember the way his heart had so sneakily been stolen from him by a girl many years ago. Although images from the past were long lost to the reality of the present, distinct in his mind were old words - the ones that used to describe a sharp, spontaneous and beautiful redhead. A slender girl whose twitchy eyes had him in their focus and pulled him from his life and into the city. The city - where the hills stood at right angles from the ground and their infinite glass faces withheld images in their reflections and only sent light blindingly back to the concrete far below. The city - where the buzzing of wires and the smell of burning fossil fuels were inescapable. The city - where the aggressive sting of intense white to both ears and eyes was maddening.

Perhaps it was a mistake to take Shirley away from that life. Silas was a simple man and doubt was a foreign feeling that polluted his mind. The Confusion had come to Shirley gradually; the doctors said that it had been coming all her life. Nevertheless Silas believed that, like him, the young redhead had been profoundly unnerved by her move to the city in early childhood. Like him, Shirley belonged to softer hills, to earthy tones, to sunsets obscured by distant mountains and not rooftops. His wife simply hadn't realized it. The move back to where she had lived with a healthy mind would help her recover. The doctors agreed to the move using the clich├ęs of fresh air and sunshine. Silas was certain that it ran deeper than that. He prayed for the restoration of that certainty as much as for the return of his wife's sanity.

Springing away into the air, the chickadee left Silas with empty hands. With a long sigh, the man called upon his legs to lift him. They unsteadily complied and Silas left the house open to the porch where he had been sitting as he entered it.

As he wiped his calloused feet on the soft yarn of the rug in the entry, the rocking chair in the living room let out an awkward squeal. He hadn't thought that Shirley would be up already.

"Honey?" he put his hand to the taupe wallpaper and peeked his head around the corner cautiously. Shirley had propped her bottom off of her chair by pushing down on the seat with rigid arms and over-tilting backwards. Her shoulders hid themselves high in the chaotic foliage of her hair. She looked ready to jolt out like a jack-in-a-box from any of the six sides of a cube. "It's just me, Shirley." The chair sighed as she stiffly leaned forward.

"Then don't come in!" she shrilled. Her words did not come out in a fluid sentence, but in twitchy spasms of sound as if her mouth was a musical instrument she was learning to play for the first time.

"Sure thing." Silas ducked back around to the kitchen.

"Do you want some breakfast?" he shouted. "How about eggs?" Shirley answered with angry muttering but nothing was discernable. He winced at the unnatural glow from the fridge as he reached for the soft Styrofoam container. All the eggs from the city were too white, as if they had produced on a factory belt or bleached for decontamination. He cracked the first shell over the pan and broke the yoke. That wouldn't do, he'd have to eat it now before Shirley saw. She had grown abnormally particular about meal presentation, and of course couldn't prepare them herself. Better to keep her far away from the kitchen anyway. No use in increasing the hazards in her life; goodness knew Shirley made a big enough deal out of the smallest dangers!

The next egg came out a good sunnyside up. Silas wondered if humans too had a sunnyside, in the womb perhaps. He poured two glasses of water and called his wife to the table. He pulled out a chair as Shirley approached, but she eyed him suspiciously and pulled up a stool instead. Silas shrugged and was about to sit in the chair himself when Shirley let out a lightning scream.

"The door! The door!" It had been left wide open for the trees to vulgarly peer inside, the morning air to burgle its way indoors, and to leave Shirley vulnerable to rape by the sunlight. It was Silas' duty both to open and close the door. The knight in shining armour simultaneously healing and protecting the fragile maiden. Although he worked harder than any other of the round table, he never seemed to make any progress. Too busy dancing back and forth for Shirley. Everyday battles were evident on Silas' face. Impossible to fight monsters that aren't there. Even for an old war veteran like him.

With the house safely sealed away from the wild, Shirley still would not come out of the cupboard under the sink - her favourite place to hide her pale face from the browning sun. Silas reached for the doorknob. Slow movement is better. He had hardly started to pull the cupboard door away when Shirley shrieked. No movement is best. This had happened before; his wife would come out on her own. Silas cleaned up his own plate and waited around the corner in the living room, again a waiting statue.

He didn't move until he heard Shirley yelp and the sound of smashed porcelain, impossible to tell which preceded the other. "It was staring at me! Yellow eye. Evil eye. Yellow evil, evil yellow. Never blinking never blinking just staring staring staring staring..." Her violent chanting was offbeat to her mad flailing. Shirley's arms seemed to multiply and she turned into a spider with a tangle of moving limbs and all eight eyes darting madly. The air cracked with static; even her hair seemed to be thrashing. Silas wanted to grab her, stroke her face, reassure her, but knew how any physical contact could pull him into her delusional web. Once with his hands on her skin he could shock and excite his wife, but now she was lightning and to touch was electrocution.

Silas calmly got a dustpan and a cloth to clean the egg and plate off of the floor. He imagined that he was sweeping his frustration away with the trash. A clean house for a clean mind. Shirley was soon exhausted and quieted down.

"Yes, Silas. I think I'd like an egg for breakfast," she said, and collapsed to the floor.

***

That night Silas lay awake watching the rain shine in the night as it caught the light outside. Each drop flashed and died, watery gore ricocheting off the wood of the porch. The flash-smash symphony was infinitely better than the anxious mumbling of his wife in the next bed, which had given away to gentle snoring, and then silence. A nearby growl, which surely came from Shirley's empty stomach, was matched by a thunderous rumble from the darkness above them. Silas didn't fall asleep for another hour, but when he did he dreamt that he was a raindrop, dead and flowing downstream, and then united with the sea. Floating in bliss.

He was evaporated away from paradise by an ear-splitting bang. He bolted upright at light and the noise, impossible to tell which preceded the other. For a fraction of a second, Silas' world was entirely white. Then darkness greater than he had ever known. Something was missing.

Not one to panic by a sudden surprise, Silas stayed stationary. A large draft pierced the room. The sound of rain on wood has immigrated inside. Then the smell of ash, charred wood and burnt hair. The sizzle of water on materials that clearly had been burning, if only for a second.

"Honey?"

***

Silas stretched out on the porch and yawned with the sun. His world was warming the wet away. He walked down to the shed and back a few times bringing with him several large potato sacks. One by one he slit the bottoms and dragged them into the entry, around the kitchen, through the living room and dumped the remnants in the bedroom over the spot where Shirley had fallen asleep for the last time. The city and the Confusion had left her, impossible to tell which preceded the other. All Silas knew is that both evils had departed from his home, and that this was cause for celebration.

The house's floor was now obscured with seeds and soils. All the kitchen cupboards were exposed, their opened contents littered everywhere, waiting for the forest animals to find them. The entire abode was left for the Earth to cleanse. Leaving the city had been the right move after all.

To Silas, it was the next step in nature's exorcism to take the door to the cupboard under the sink with him to the river. He threw the wood ahead of him and laughingly dived in after it. He propped his torso onto the door and floated happily downstream. Slow movement is better. The water was cold, but his leathery hands held fast to the knob until both he and his wife had rejoined the sea. No movement is best.