Scarcity

Sometimes I am frightened by a feeling of scarcity.

Sometimes it is a scarcity of food or drink. We order pizza and I eat two slices – more than enough pizza for a meal – but then my husband takes a third slice and something inside me says, “If you don’t have another slice, he’ll eat it all.” And then I eat a third slice. And my stomach hurts the rest of the night.

Sometimes I am killing time, browsing through a store while waiting for an appointment, and I see a piece of clothing in a color that I love. “If I don’t buy it now, it might be gone later and then I won’t have that color in my wardrobe,” I tell myself. And I buy it. And that is why I own three blue dresses in the same shade and at least five red coats.

I guess it’s a form of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.

All the fear in the world right now is getting me down. What if… a dictator takes over our country, pushes out democracy, and we lose our freedoms? What if… coronavirus kills the economy and my company has to scale back and I lose my job? What if… coronavirus lasts a very long time – like the plagues of old – and I’m never able to travel, as I want to in my future? What if… Antarctica melts before I can make it back again?

We’re all a little on edge right now. Some of it is what is happening in the bigger world that might impact our personal world. Some is happening in the smaller world and will have no impact on the world outside us.

What if… both my parents die this year? Die without telling me what I need to hear?

I read a book once, a fantasy, that took place in Toronto. One of the main characters had a form of autism (?), which restricted her ability to make decisions for herself. Another character had worked with her to define and document – literally on a white board in her home and her place of work – a series of steps she had to take. Take a shower. Put on underwear, pants, bra, shirt. Pour cereal and milk into bowl and eat it. And she followed the steps faithfully and was able to function, and actually was pretty happy. She took pride in her ability to function. The last thing that always happened before she left work was that her boss said goodnight, using the same words every time, like the character I played once in The Curious Savage, “Goodnight, Mrs. Savage. Don’t forget your umbrella.” Or something along those lines. For my character, it was a code between them two, of saying, “I love you” and I said it every night, my last line of the show. Only after that could the play wrap up and my character return for curtain call, transformed from a drab little repressed creature with awkwardly applied makeup in the wrong shade, to a beauteous vision in pink tulle, transformed onstage – just for that moment – into what the character imagined she looked like every day. It brought a gasp from the audience very night. And, like Fairy Mae, the boss of the character in this book always said the same goodnight, some mundane words, that released the character from her work and allowed her to return home.

It turns out this character had – remember this was a fantasy – some hidden ability to make the world a better place, to maintain the balance between good and evil. And evil realized this and realized that it couldn’t act against her. But evil came up with a solution that served its ends – as evil often does – it killed her boss, just as her boss was about to speak the goodnight words that released her from work. And so the main character was frozen, she literally could not move; she was enscrolled.

I have been thinking a lot lately of a story that I used to tell my niece, when she was a little girl. It was about a little girl named Lucy who lived in a fairy tale (in the Grimm sense of the world) world, with her parents in a small cottage in the woods just far enough out of a village that they couldn’t see or hear their neighbors. At first, The Lucy is a good little girl, always saying, “Yes, Mama” and helping around the house. Suddenly, one morning, The Lucy is not a good little girl any more – she says “No, Mama” all the time, and complains that the food tastes like dirt, and begins killing the chickens. The Mama realizes that this is not her Lucy anymore and, one evening when The Lucy is not looking, sprinkles her with salt. The Lucy screams a horrible scream and disappears in a cloud of smoke that flies up the chimney. The Papa, coming in from outside, asks where The Lucy is, and The Mama tells him what happened but he doesn’t believe her. He thinks The Mama killed The Lucy; he leaves her, leaves the village, leaves the story.

The Mama roams the woods at night, calling for The Lucy. She doesn’t eat, she doesn’t sleep, she doesn’t wash her windows or do the other things normal wives do. Everyone in the village whispers about her behind her back. She just wanders the woods calling for Lucy. And one night, faintly, she hears The Lucy calling her back. She rushes through the woods and stumbles into a clearing lit by moonlight. In the center is an awkward circle of night-blooming lilies that glow with a ghastly light and let off a sickly sweet smell. And, just on the edge of the circle, she sees a small shoe – one of The Lucy’s shoes. She throws herself onto her knees in the circle and calls to The Lucy and hears her calling back, “Mama, Mama, Mama!” The Mama plunges one hand into the soft dirt, pushes it down to the wrist, down to her elbow, down to her shoulder, and grasps The Lucy by her wrist [and at this point, I would grab my niece by her wrist] and pulls her up, up, up out of the dirt, until she is released from her fairy prison. The two of them go on to escape – a wild flight, pursued by flying fairies who tear at their hair and clothes and scratch them like winter branches – culminated by a mad dash into the cottage, where The Mama has had the foresight to pour a line of salt along the doorstep, window sills, and hearth. In the end, The Mama hugs The Lucy and says, “I knew you were still out there. I knew I’d find you.” And The Lucy replies, “I knew you’d find me, Mama. I never gave up because I knew you’ll always find me.” And in the morning, they leave the village and move to Bolivia, to a house made of bricks of salt, where they always come indoors before dark.

So what is it that I need to hear my parents say? It may be that I may never know. It may be that they have said it and that I am just unable to hear. It may be that, like the character in the fantasy that I described earlier, I have to find my own way out of the prison, which she does, I believe, by imagining that she hears the person telling her goodnight.

And then she goes on to save the world.

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