Mark Joseph Kiewlak
Wisdom Like a Wave
For some reason Jonathan felt that today he should enter the playground. Usually he was content to stroll on past, absorbing what joy he could from the children. They were unfettered by introspection. They shrieked their emotions, good or bad, for all the world to hear. Jonathan wished he could shriek his own.
He walked among the playful cries and the imaginary gun battles. He saw the older girls looking with new eyes upon their male counterparts. He saw all the old cruelties and kindnesses magnified by the recklessness of youth. But there was one child who was not participating. She sat alone at the foot of the sliding board. No one seemed to come near her. They went out of their way, in fact, to avoid her. As Jonathan approached her she lifted her head. Her expression was complex. She seemed like one of those old souls in a young body. There were tears in her eyes.
"The wisdom wave is coming," she said.
For a moment Jonathan doubted the reality of what had just occurred. It was as if the girl had spoken with someone else's voice, yet he felt certain that the child was just being herself. Perhaps it was the incongruity of the woeful expression that hung on her youthful face. The lifelong sadness she exuded seemed better suited to a woman of many decades. Jonathan's mind seemed to automatically superimpose a wizened visage where none existed.
"The wisdom wave?" he said.
She wore a black frilly dress, velour, totally inappropriate to her surroundings. Jonathan thought she might be in shock. Perhaps she had wandered in from another location.
"We can't stop it now," the girl said. "We've been fighting it for a long, long time. But it's here now. There's no holding it back."
"Where do you live?" Jonathan said.
The girl looked up at him like he was an idiot. "It doesn't matter now," she said.
Jonathan glanced around. The other children eyed him suspiciously, wondering, no doubt, what he was doing talking to her. He tried a new tack.
"Why does it make you sad?" he said. "This wave."
"I'm not sad," she said.
"But you're crying."
It was only then that she seemed to notice the tears running down her cheeks. "I'm crying for the old world," she said.
"The old world?"
"This world," she said. She pointed beyond the gates of the playground. "This is the old world," she said. "It's coming to an end."
"Maybe if you just tell me where you live..." Jonathan said.
The girl got up and walked away from him. She circled the grassy hill upon which the sliding board sat. Jonathan followed her to the far side. She sat down in the dirt with her legs folded beneath her. "I'm just going to wait," she said. "I'm just going to wait until the wave comes and sweeps over me."
Now Jonathan was thinking he had better go get somebody else to help him. The nearest child psychologist, preferably.
"Don't sit there in the dirt," he said. "You'll ruin your pretty dress."
"It doesn't matter," she said. "The wave doesn't care about stupid things like dresses. The wave is all light and energy and goodness. I wouldn't fight it if I were you."
Then it occurred to him: "This is a story," he said. "This is a story you saw somewhere and now you're acting it out. Very clever. You're a great actress."
She smiled at him like he was an idiot.
"Won't you tell me where you live?" he said.
"I live in the wave," she said. "Soon we'll all live in the wave."
"I'm going to get someone to help you," Jonathan said. "If you don't want to come with me, then please just stay right here."
"I'll be here," the girl said.
Jonathan hurried away, as much from fear as from a desire to help. For a moment he entertained the wholly irresponsible notion of leaving her there and forgetting about her. If this was truly some waking nightmare, wouldn't it be better to distance himself from it as quickly as possible? Then again, she might truly need his help.
Jonathan hurried down the block to his home. He unlocked the door and rushed to the phone, then pausing to get his phrasing in order before he called the police. Suddenly he heard cries from the street. Adult cries. When he emerged from his front door he stepped into shadow. The sky had been clear a moment ago. The shadow had overtaken the entire neighborhood, darker than any thunderstorm had ever been. Jonathan was afraid to look. He was never more afraid of anything in his life.
It was a wave. A translucent tidal wave. As tall as any building had ever been. Its progress was unnatural. It descended upon them at an impossibly slow speed. Yet it descended nonetheless. And a moment ago it hadn't been there.
Jonathan was mesmerized by the patterns of light within the wave. They sparkled like colors he had previously only imagined. An expression popped into his head: "Like a diamond without its flaw." He didn't know where the expression had come from. But he had an intimation of what it meant. Or he was beginning to.
Seeing the wave, all those around him began to panic. They ran inside their homes, bolting the doors, slamming the windows. They descended to their basements or dashed to their uppermost floors. Some merely stood in awe. Cars were stopped. Phones were ringing everywhere. Then Jonathan thought of the girl. He had to protect her. How did she know this was coming? Did she know what it was?
He ran down the street, through the chaos, toward the oncoming wave. Houses at the end of the block had already been overtaken. They shimmered within the body of the wave, as if trapped in amber. Jonathan rounded the chain-link fence and ran into the playground. All the children were gone. He ran toward the grassy hill, unable to see whether or not the girl was there behind it. She was. She was exactly as he had left her.
"The wave," she said. "It's here."
"What is it?" Jonathan said. He wanted to shriek now more than ever. His life had been a simple one. Uncluttered by friends or family. He had lost track of the days and found himself floating without purpose for a long time now. The guilt he felt over this lack of direction seemed implanted in him by the attitudes of others. He had never truly taken it as his own. Wasn't it enough to just exist? Why did we always have to impose structure where structure already existed within?
"Like a diamond without its flaw," the girl said.
"How ... how did you know that?"
"Everyone knows that," the girl said. "That's what we're becoming."
The darkness was descending rapidly now. The wave was curling high over their heads, shutting out more and more of the outside world.
"I don't understand," Jonathan said.
"The wave is singing," the girl said. "But you have to listen to hear it."
"All I hear," Jonathan said, "is a terrible shrieking in my head. I've never known what it is."
The girl got to her feet and took his hand. She gazed up at him with a sympathy far beyond her years. "Maybe it's you," she said. "Trying to get out."
The wave swept over them then. Because he was afraid, Jonathan let go of her hand. He found himself carried away, toward the street. The fluid surrounding him was viscous. He was moving in slow motion through a world of blurry images. It was getting harder and harder to remember the world as it had been.
He was carried past his own house. It seemed smaller now. And there was something else. A relation to the neighborhood that he had never felt before. It was as if his house possessed a personality complementary to those surrounding it. Jonathan was astounded. He began to see connections everywhere. How the lonely woman across the street, Edna, made frequent catalog orders in order to bring delivery men to her door, to reach out in the only way she could. And why the elderly couple down the block, the Hendersons, who were very much in love, had moved here, seemingly the last place you would want to spend your waning years, surrounded by screaming children and general chaos. Yet their presence had lifted the spirits of all those around them. Sometimes they had even made Jonathan believe in love.
The wave was rushing harder now. The scenery was beginning to blur completely out of focus. Jonathan felt something bump into him. It was the girl. Although it seemed impossible, he found that he still had a voice. "Why were you crying?" he said. "Why would you cry over this?"
"I was crying for all the years we spent outside," she said. "All the time we spent away from ourselves."
He took her hand once again. "We're losing our flaws," he said.
The girl looked at him playfully, but still like he was an idiot. "We never had any to begin with," she said. "We only thought we did."
©2010 by Mark Joseph Kiewlak