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ralph robert moore
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waving over her head a ruler
february 1, 2003
I used to sleep through to the morning. Now I wake up several times during the night.
That wasn't too bad, because the first time I'd wake would usually be after midnight, so at least I got a few hours' sleep. I'd roll over, pull a corner of the sheet out from under my ribs, fall back under.
The past week or so though I've been waking up about an hour after I fall asleep. I twist around in bed, look up at the red digital read-out, and it's, like, 10:05. P.M.
I don't know about you, but usually while I'm lying in bed, on my back in darkness, trying to fall asleep, I think about something. I never think about problems. I always think of something pleasant.
When this waking up after an hour thing started, I kept my eyes shut and tried to find a new pleasant thought, because I was getting bored with all the old pleasant stuff I usually conjured in the darkness.
I decided to imagine a large cloud, floating slowly in the sky. The cloud would be different from other clouds, in that it would be home to a castle.
So the first few nights, I thought of the cloud itself, to decide what its properties would be.
I wanted it to be huge, the size of a rolling English countryside, but, of course, all white. There'd be hills and valleys in the whiteness, soft white paths leading through the topography, or sometimes, leading nowhere.
Walking on the cloud, the soles of your shoes would sink slightly into a surface resilient, but slightly unsteady, so that sometimes, for balance, you'd have to lift your arms up at your sides, like an angel.
No part of the cloud would be solid. If you were walking alongside a cloud hillock, instead of the hillock having a well-defined slope, the hillock's surface would instead be somewhat wispy, to where you could pull off long strands of the cotton, roll it, and throw cloud balls, which I imagined, because of their light weight, would not travel very far, no matter how hard you pitched them.
I decided the cloud would also hold, a springy fifteen minute walk from the castle, a large pool of water, ice cold, so crystal clear it almost seems a shimmering mirage, until you bend at the knees and dip the tips of your fingers below its surface.
About the third night, I added a tall, continually-splashing waterfall to the cotton bluffs overlooking one shore of the pool. What the fuck.
So we have the cloud, we have the castle. What do we do with them?
After the first week, I imagined a troop of twenty marines helicoptering up from the earth to above the cloud, settling down, wop-wop-wop, on the surface, helicopter tilting slightly, but not too much, since I had been careful to outfit the helicopter with the broad landing gear used by seaplanes.
The marines don't jump out of the helicopter, because they'd bounce all over the place. They gingerly lower themselves over the sides, getting a feel for the footing before they plod out from under the shimmering circle of blades.
I liked the idea of the olive green uniforms, the big boots, all the clanking paraphernalia hung off their belts, in contrast to the white silence of the cloud.
It's not an invasion of the cloud. I don't see them as being aggressive. It's just that these men and women are well-trained, in excellent physical condition, and therefore best-suited to explore this odd phenomenon above the earth. Like scientists with guns.
Have they done this before, with other clouds carrying castles?
Probably. But not too many times. Such clouds, I sense, are rare.
Being marines, they're shod in something like snowshoes (cloudshoes), so they don't sink too deeply as they explore.
I slept well Monday, so I didn't think of my cloud. The marines stood by patiently that night, awaiting further orders, doing things marines do in movies when they're not on a mission.
Tuesday, my head again at ten o'clock came off the pillow. I settled back into the softness, closed my eyes, looked at the troops I had assembled.
For a while, I thought of what they would notice about the cloud. What would make it different from any other experience?
I decided that clouds, when you're on them, are noisy. Like a tornado. If you tear off a piece, the tearing makes a loud, gale-force sound. Walking stirs up the hoarse whistle of a breeze.
Do clouds have a smell?
A faint, ammonia smell.
The temperature is cool, in the low sixties, a blessing since the marines wear so many articles of clothing.
What was I going to do with my troops?
The obvious mission, of course, now that they had explored the surrounding white terrain, and tested the water of the pool, would be to march to the castle.
So what does the castle look like?
Well, it's made out of stone, a pale pink stone, the color suggesting a high concentration of magnesium, finely-grained, the heavy rectangular pieces fitted together with a careful precision. Tall and narrow. Probably four or five stories inside, but only a few large rooms per floor.
White cloud, pink castle, blue sky.
At first I pictured the entrance of the castle at cloud level, so you could walk directly through the front door, like a cottage, but then I thought, why not have a flight of wide, pale pink steps in front you had to climb. I put a broad veranda at the top of those stairs, all around the first floor of the castle, so the marines could stand on the veranda and look out at the countless other, castleless clouds floating nearby, tops illuminated with sunlight, each marine getting a sense of the height he or she was at, several thousand feet off the ground, above the cloud level, blue sky below their feet, the first time they had ever experienced the scariness and fun of that, seeing brown patches of land masses sliding by so far below, the whole sensation like sailing slowly across the sky, above everyone.
The castle, I realized, had to be heavy, all that stone, and so therefore must be somewhat unstable.
I decided that as the marines entered the castle for the first time, the castle would tilt forward under their collective weight.
Let's rethink this.
It was decided, Thursday night, absolutely no position I threw myself on the bed a comfortable position, that only one marine would enter the castle, immediately striding through the downstairs rooms to the opposite side of the castle. A second marine would then enter the front door, and using walkie-talkies, the two marines would coordinate their movements through the downstairs so each was at a precisely opposite point in the castle, like an image and its reflection, so the castle itself would stay balanced.
This innovation allowed me to put all the marines inside, each a balancing weight for one other marine, thereby allowing all the lower rooms to be explored, although I haven't decided yet (not enough nights of restless wakenings yet) how the first floor of the castle is furnished, and if the castle is inhabited, and if so, by whom or what.
The reason I keep waking up each night is primarily due to Lady, our female cat, who after giving birth to five kittens last October almost immediately went into heat, screaming at the top of her little lungs twenty-four hours a day with the persistence of a toothache.
I finally fall asleep after she wanders upstairs, muffled by the walls, but then I start dreaming of her screams, wake up, find her on the white carpet by my side of the bed, big as the Kleenex box on the carpet, screaming up at me.
We have three adult male cats, but they've all been castrated. She sidles up to them nonetheless, unhinging her back legs, flipping her tail to one side, in the frankest display of sexual availability since pre-war Berlin.
We made an appointment to get her spayed about three weeks ago, but the surgeon we wanted turned out not to be available that day, so we bumped it back a week. We took her in, the poor thing yowling and sliding across the bottom of the cage, but the pre-op blood work showed she had elevated liver levels, not that unusual after a cat has given birth, so we had to take her back home again, Lady screaming all the way, to dose her with antibiotics for a week.
She's now scheduled for surgery this coming Tuesday, February 4.
My next Lately will either let you know of the blissful peace that has descended upon our household, or will provide you with a great new wealth of detail about the pink castle floating on a white cloud.
Next week, Mary, in addition to her one-on-one speech therapy, will begin two sessions a week, each an hour long, of group speech therapy, where she participates in a discussion session with other people of all ages who have suffered a stroke, such as she has, or some other form of brain damage. The sessions are sponsored by the University of Texas - Dallas, and hosted by Baylor Medical Center. Unlike the individual therapy sessions, which I always attend, I won't be sitting in on the group sessions, a step in the ongoing process of building up Mary's independence.
As part of her continuing recovery, Mary was given the assignment of going into a store alone, without me, asking a clerk where a particular item was located, and then going to where that item was in the store, and examining it. She could, if she felt okay about it, then wait in line and purchase the item, but that step wasn't required.
The exercise is meant to build up her confidence in dealing with the world, and also to test how she handles stressful situations.
We decided we would use the local Office Max, since we had been in the store a few times already, and the staff seemed helpful.
That morning, Mary wrote out her question: Where are the rulers?
(We decided on rulers, because rulers are a fairly simple item. If we chose paper, for example, the clerk might ask all kinds of questions about weight, use, laser jet versus ink spray, color, etc.)
After her therapy session, we went to Office Max.
Mary rehearsed as we drove past the different mega stores in the parking lot. "Hello." She dug in her pocket for the slip of paper with her question on it (she was allowed to look at the question before she approached a store clerk, but couldn't hold the paper and read from it as she asked the question. Also, she couldn't tell the clerk she had had a stroke).
I sat behind the steering wheel, driving across storefronts. "Hello to you."
We parked. Mary held her paper in both hands, reading it, then looked up at me. "How are the rulers?"
"Not 'how', butů"
"Where are the rulers."
I kissed her on her forehead, to protect her. She got out of the car.
She came around to my driver's side, bending her back to be on eye level with me. "Hello. Where are the rulers?"
We squeezed hands. She made her way across the lot to the front door of Office Max, turned around to wave, looking so small, then walked through.
That took a lot of courage. Maybe even more courage than you and I have.
I said a prayer, staring at the front glass doors of the store.
It's funny how you don't know in advance what the significant memories in your life will be.
She came out after ten minutes. Waving over her head a ruler.