Song without Words

Geri Lipschultz

You are not exactly trying to put yourself together or pull yourself together, not exactly trying to come up with an identity, but somehow, she makes you uneasy, the profoundly beautiful woman just sitting there at the foot of your bed.

You follow her gaze toward the window where a day is not quite ready to dawn, where the birds are not quite ready to sing.

“There is nothing you can say that I don’t know,” the young woman says, suddenly, her head still facing the window.

And then she’s gone, de-materialized, a mirage, a villain.

Sometimes your bed here feels like your bed upstairs.

Sometimes it seems as if you are home.

As a very young child, your dreams were of flight, but as an adult, all your dreams devolved into nightmares. How you dread that moment when it comes time to turn out the lights. Even in your own bedroom. Your children, they call it your sacred place.

Everyone knows the house is your fortress.

How the nightmares came again when King died.

Nightmares here, too.

Someone once had told you not to be afraid—never to be afraid. If you refuse to be afraid, this person said, you would live a long life. Refuse to surrender, even when you do. When your body surrenders, that does not mean you are surrendering.

You, Dottie. You, Mei Lan. You.

Dorothy Teng was her lucky name, the name she paid for, or King did. They called each other Dottie and King. Everyone did. With that name, she and King came to America. With that name came her freedom from the old man her mother and grandmother had picked out for her after the Japanese occupation, after they’d left for good. King had come to her knowing he’d have to leave, knowing he was going to America. He had a source. He was going to buy the documentation. Its price was greater than the money he had, and they had to borrow from her brother, so repaying her brother was the first thing they did. Well, the first thing was finding a room and getting a job. She had been a nurse, but long before nursing school, she’d taught herself to sew.

By the time she’d taken ill, she’d put in more than twenty-five years as a nurse. She retired, only to nurse her beloved King, not only backbreaking, but heart breaking. She lasted almost a decade without him and was certainly a good sport about it all, until the spirits—her villains—settled in, which is really when it all began—in her mind. They were like an invasion. She’d seen them on the street—even in the corners of the hospital where she’d worked not too far from her home in Flushing, so close that she could walk. Maybe they’d been with her all along, hiding under her bed, behind the windowsills. Maybe they had hidden in the mist in Hong Kong, maybe they wrapped themselves around tree trunks and rocks, or cowered inside cliffs. Maybe they were there helping her when the Japanese came.

They remained dormant for many years. Or else she was so busy raising children, working so many jobs, trying to survive—they seemed absent, certainly they were mute. But then they started up. They asked for favors, indulged themselves. She had no choice. After King died, she became lonely. But they shouldn’t have stayed. She hadn’t enough beds; she hadn’t enough food. Her children thought she was deranged.

In the hospital and the nursing home, they were there but silent.

She dared not speak to them.

And so, they had faded, curled up, and disappeared.

Or so she thought.

And now, she finds herself traveling, there, to her beloved home, as her soul begins to disentangle itself—and there they are, some of them, imps and villains, for whom she’d once left pieces of baloney and slices of cheese.

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Image by Ionel Petcu from Pixabay