Fiction for your imagination for March from Susan Chast, Mary J. Breen and Audrey Allen
In the waxen walls of his memory stirred the hummingbird who had led him backwards in last night’s dream.
It had been a contest, he recalled.
A red-winged blackbird had asked the question, “And before that?” each time he answered correctly, which was every time. How could he err about his own life?
He had seen the reddest robin stand his ground in several frames of the film, as if defying him to choose an image even one shade away from reality.
But was it reality that judged his choices in dream time?
He chuckled, enjoying holding another thought while continuing to concentrate on the questions. His amazement soared as he remembered faster and faster the farther back they traveled, the closer to his birth, which was—he grinned again—very far back indeed. He must be winning.
And how he loved winning! Even in board games and card games, the closer he got to the win, the deeper his intensity as if reading a suspense novel and watching a Hitchcock film.
His precision deepened now in this contest as if he were crossing a string bridge, hand over hand, slide after slide, instead of step by step.
And the contest had gone like this until–at the far horizon—he glimpsed the hummingbird; he was sure it was the hummingbird, because he could smell the lilac tree even from this distance, and he saw the actual lines of perspective leading him to this point. Impossible, he thought. He was winning, he thrilled! He now predicted what the last question would be: The answer was that his soft-skinned mother held him in her arms and directed his focus to a tiny green and yellow thing fluttering amid the leaves while an intensely purple smell wrapped him in enchantment.
He sped along, faster and faster in his answers, cocky now with certainty, casting aside doubt about whether he should play such a strange game at all. He was winning!
He reached out to touch the hummingbird just beyond his eyes, the mirror image to the memory in his head perfectly replicated in this dream landscape. For a second he recalled the burst of light he had felt as the bird’s wings magically moved and whispered and the bird’s beak sought the nectar within the tiny blossoms hanging like grapes on the delicate limbs of Grandmother’s garden. The win!
He opened his eyes then: A second too soon for the end of the contest, a second too late to refuse to play. As he touched the walls of perspective that cornered him now, they felt slightly waxy, as if he had molded them himself. Where was he when he began, he wondered as he touched the tiles tightly tucked and tilting forward and turning on and on before him.