The woman looked at the symbol on the tree stump


She closed her eyes and concentrated on the symbol. A pulse of energy began
to pulsate through her, pulsing out from her skin like a stream of pure
light. A tingling sensation ran down the back of her spine, down her legs
until the soles of her feet tingled. The tingling spread down her left arm,
and spread to her right arm.

Opening her eyes, she found herself staring into the sky through a dark
hole in the ground. A hole that had been covered over. A tree stump, now
entombed, resting amid the bones of a fallen sycamore.

Her brow furrowed. What of it? Why would she open her eyes through it? A
symbolic opening of her consciousness to the astral plane, or the astral
planes, was something of which she had heard stories. Something of which she
had no firsthand experience. What harm could come of it?

Her attention turned momentarily toward herself, and she saw the dark hole
for what it was: a portal into a dimension of her own creation. Through it, she
could look to the stars and tell the story of herself from the stars.
According to the stories, she was not only a star, she was the mother of all
stars, and a lover of them and everything that lived on them, and so on. All
of this had, in one form or another, been said to her, from the time she was
a child up to the present, many years after the story had first been
written. She knew that some of it was true, and that the rest of it was a lie.
But she had learned to believe in the stories because they were stories told
by people who were wise and had seen things that others had not.

This, now, was not, obviously, a story told about someone. It was, in one
sense, a story not told at all. It was a story of no one.

In the end, had it been true? Or an elaborate dream, a hallucination? What
was she to make of it, but to accept it as a truth, a truth she had
previously accepted from the mouths of others? Truth, after all, meant
something was real, and that truth was one she could recognize and take
comfort in.

Now, standing in the dark through the tree stump, she could hear her
breathing and feel her heartbeat. The air seemed to be vibrating, she thought
with some astonishment. As she reached down to touch her left arm, she could
feel in it the familiar pulsation of her life force, the heart of the star
system that had once been her mother’s.

She sighed, suddenly exhausted. The tree stump was all that was left of
her mother, and she was tired and wanted to leave the park and be alone.

Then she looked up again into the dark. She closed her eyes and, letting go
of the symbols that had been a window opening into her own existence, she
fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. She would awaken and the stump would
disappear. The stars would be there, she knew. Everything would be as it was
when it was alive.

A month later, she was in a room in the hospital at New York City’s Roosevelt
Fields, watching a man who had once been her father die. On a bedside stand,
was a small picture of her father. She did not ask to look at it. She did not
dare to.

She slept through the night, and in the morning, when she returned to her
room, she looked at the picture of her father, and she wept. She wept like
a girl, and she wept silently.

Her tears flowed down over the black, smudged background of the picture. It
was not her father, it was not her dead father, it was not her living
mother, whom she had never loved. But it was a picture of the father she had
had, and she knew he would live on and they would never be together again.

She wept because the man looked exactly as he had when he had died, thirty
years before. He was lean, with brown, dark-rimmed eyes that bore a faint
smile. His hair was as black as an African’s, but the texture was silky. He
was just that: just his hair. He was just that: hair, eyes, and a body.

His body was not hers, but she clung to it, as if she were the one he had
been, and wanted to take it with her. For what was she without hair, eyes,
and skin? She had never had a parent. Her mother had been a woman who lived,
who died—and perhaps survived—for years, before she left a man who she
wanted to be, but really wasn’t, the man she had hoped to have had. Her
mother had been a mother, and her father had been a man she could never
become. She had lost him. She had lost her mother. She had lost the man her
mother had wanted to be. All this was gone, gone in a moment when the
symbolic opening to the astral plane had given her a glimpse of it, a
moment of which she was ashamed but which, now that it was ended, she
couldn’t bear to think about.

She wept, and she wept in silence. She wept because she had lost her father.

For a while, she slept, and woke up and cried and cried again. She cried,
and cried, and cried again. She cried for her mother, and she cried for her
father; she cried for herself and her lost parents; she cried for her life
and she cried for this world of trees and stones and children and people in
the city below her window. She cried for the world.

She slept, and woke up, and cried. She wept, and slept. She wept, and woke,
and slept. She wept, and prayed, and cried, and cried. She prayed, and slept,
and woke, and cried, and cried again.

A week later, she was lying on her small hospital cot, a little piece of
cushion stuffed under her neck, a blue-veined arm thrown over her eyes, a
loose, brown hair falling across her pillow, a hospital sheet tucked
underneath her knees. On a nightstand, in a plastic case, was a picture of
her father’s face. She had left it there—a picture of a man who had been
her father, and had been dead for thirty years. She thought of him at that
moment, as if he were still in her mind, and felt sad and frustrated and
almost angry that she could not touch his face to touch his thoughts.

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