I am driving home from work in the rain. The traffic is heavy and I am upset. Not at anything, in particular, just a strange combination of angry-sad, non-focused malaise. I have a feeling of something is wrong, there is something missing. And the rain is coming down and I can’t see and that jackass in the Audi just cut me off. And I don’t know why I feel the way I do. So I grip the wheel tight and concentrate hard on the wet road and squeeze my brow together so tight it hurts my head. I grind my teeth.
I ease the car around a bend in the road. Toward the mountains, toward the setting sun and I see in the sky a new planet. It hangs there larger than the Moon, silver and ringed. It shines pale on the gray sky and for just a moment I am in awe. My mouth hangs open, and my face loosens. It is beautiful, it is magical and it is something new. The world will never be the same.
Lightning flashes. In the brightness, I can see detail. It is not a planet, of course, that would be ridiculous. It is a hot air balloon floating above a car dealership tethered by a silver rope. A promotion. The rings I thought I saw were just light reflected through raindrops and a pot-marked windshield. A trick of the light. There is nothing new. The world is exactly how it has always been. Nothing has changed.
I pull into my driveway and it is full of garbage. Something has gotten into my trash cans again. A raccoon, a coyote maybe a bear; it doesn’t matter. The result is the same. I had meant to put the cans away so it wouldn’t happen again. I curse myself for forgetting. I get out of the car and clean up the mess in the glow of headlights.
And the dogs are barking. Why can’t they just wait? I am yelling ‘hush’ and I am yelling ‘shut up’ and my hands are filled with garbage. Coffee grounds and wilted lettuce and wet paper towels and eggshells and things I can’t identify. I am growling when I go inside.
There is a stack of mail. The cable bill is due and there is a new rate on car insurance and a species will go extinct if I do not send money. The mortgage is late. I leave the envelopes on the table unopened and place my jacket on top of them. If you can’t see a thing it doesn’t exist. I learned that as a child.
The dogs are still barking. They are jumping and wanting attention; five of them – three beagles and two cattle dogs – all wanting me to give them singular attention; to focus only on them. But I only have two hands, I say. I have lost patience. I am on the verge of screaming, of losing my temper. But they are hungry. They are lonely. Just like me.
I pour out bowls of kibble and place them on the floor. I pour out a bowl of Cheerios and sprinkle it with sugar. The six of us stand in the kitchen and eat. We eat quickly as if someone might take it away from us at any moment. I place the bowls in the sink when we are done.
I open a beer and turn on the TV. It is a news program and I watch distracted. I believe this will be the end of the night. I will continue doing this until I eventually fall asleep. Nothing new.
Then the dogs begin to growl.
They move in slow unison toward the basement guest room door. Cut it out now, I tell them, nothing there, I say. But they persist, hackles up. The beagles begin to scratch the threshold to get in. Teeth are bared. But that back room has been empty for ages. Just storage. There is nothing in there, right?
So I go to investigate. I walk slowly down the hall and play all the common scenarios in my head. Perhaps this house was built on an Indian burial ground and the spirits are back. Maybe there was a killing here, an innocent spirit looking for release. Maybe a rift in space, dimension, or time has occurred. A demon or an angel or my future self waits. Maybe there is magic. With caution and trepidation, I turn the doorknob unaware but expectant of what may come…
A field mouse runs from the light and scurries under the baseboard.
A mouse. Of course, it was a mouse. There was no reason to believe it was anything other. Anything supernatural or strange. Nothing magic.
But I remember a time when there was magic. A time when magic was not questioned.
A time when there were dragons in the caves in the quarry at the end of the street; a time when there were haunted houses and ghosts in the school basement; a time when there were fairies down by the creek bed under the rounded stones and under the dandelions and clover.
There was a time when capes could be made from a beach towel and held on with a safety pin and this made you super. A time when a sword was an oak branch and a shield was a trash can lid. And this made you a hero.
A time when books were filled with magic words. Spells that took you back in time and to future times and to different worlds and distant places and you were a different person and you were the same person at the same time and the world was something so much more than what you expected. And things were different. And everything was possible. And anything could happen.
Of course, there was magic in the world. There was no reason to believe otherwise.
And then there wasn’t.
I stand in front of the TV. The news is on. I turn it off. I walk to the window and I open the curtains. I can see the stars and the trees and the dark, purple sky. I close my eyes and I can smell juniper and sage, raspberries, and lavender. I can feel goose flesh on my arms and the itch of hair standing straight. This seems right.
The world needs magic. Magic words. I open a tattered notebook and I write. In a sprawling hand. Not knowing what may come. And the world is different. It will not be the same.
Originally posted May 9, 2014