“Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity.
'Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love”
Dr. Eye, Dr. I., Doctor Ifekuanim, a feeling of hope she can’t name, and feeling of wonder she can, a dread that hides in clear sight. She smiles when he enters the room, rocking back and forth as he walks like his knees won’t bend. He’s a roly-poly man, roly-poly, roly-poly, roly-poly man, he’s a Christmas toy nobody wants but all the children squeal and squeal. Grace sits on the edge of her bed, waiting. She waits for Dr. I, her own sweet Da, to come closer, to offer the hug and kiss he offers always. And he does. Leaning back on his heels -- Grace is afraid he might fall over and bounce -- Da says, Grace, I’ve missed you terrifically. It’s the same way he would say the a footballer played terrifically. And Grace is not sure where she fits in this picture. The happy striped ball bouncing, the lightning flash of the boot, the flight, the great white enclosure of the goal, beyond the futile grasp of the keeper. She say, I missed you too, Dad. It’s not so hard to bring things back to the everyday normal, the cut and flow of mealtimes and school assignments. Dr. I comes to sit next to her on the bed and puts his arm around little Grace. I went to America, he tells her, and I met a boy who reminded me of you. Grace wonders what he had done to the boy, and whether he had liked it or not. Perhaps he’s still trying to remember, it was like that with Dr. I, her Da, a bright light and then a long time trying to remember what might have happened. There’s that feeling of dread again, plain sight denied, she leans into his soft side. Tell me about America, she says. What was it like?
The main thing, Dr. I says, almost sings, is the size of it, the time involved in getting from one place to another, and all the nothing in between. We traveled in an enormous vehicle -- he raised his hands and spread them as far apart as he could -- and I would fall asleep looking at one thing and wake up hours later looking at the same thing. It was spectacular. How have you spent your time? He asks.
Where did you meet the boy? What was he like? There would be time for the accounting of her time.
He was a black boy, blacker even than you, purple as indica juice, and what eyes this boy had, a different color every time you looked and I felt like he could see right through me. Not the only one seeing through you, Da, adds Grace, twitching her nose. Not the only one, not the only one at all, I’m seeing through you right now. She has to reign his in, willful mare. Dr. I goes on, and he lived in a little town in the middle of the middle of the middle of nowhere, but charming in its own way too, with only his father. Blue sky, red sun, bushes flying across the ground. Spectacular.
Why, Dad, did you go to see him, all that way?
It’s altogether too complicated to explain, he says, and asks again about her time and what had been in it.
I have read a great long book, she says to him, and crawls away from him, across the bed. Dr. I doesn’t turn, but he watches Grace in the mirror on the opposite wall. She opens the door on the nightstand next to the bed and pulls out a giant hardbound slab of a book made the way they stopped making them a very long time ago, but thanks to Dr. I they have a whole room full of such books. Listen, she says, and begins to read
“It is good thus to try in our imagination to give any form some advantage over another. Probably in no single instance should we know what to do, so as to succeed. It will convince us of our ignorance on the mutual relations of all organic beings; a conviction as necessary, as it seems to be difficult to acquire. All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.”
Darwin, Dr. I says. Rather grown up business for a little girl, don’t you think?
I looked up some words. Grace pulls suddenly at her hair, already a mass of curls and knots and friz. I console myself with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that’s the part I like best. No fear is felt, death is generally prompt. I like that too. She stands on her bed and begins to bounce up and down, three strands of black hair swinging across her eyes and mouth. No fear is felt, death is prompt, she sings.
Dr. I stands and turns, his face between expressions, stuck there. The vigourous, the healthy, the happy survive and multiply, she repeats to herself. Her eyes close, they roll, they open, rolled over and close again. She pulls at her hair. Dr. I does not get unstuck. He has seen now how his daughter has spent her time and he doesn’t like it even a little bit but he doesn’t show that. Or thinks he doesn’t. Grace sees with eyes of boy in the desert, he knows that too, she sees right through him. Maybe not the same kind of seeing through, more like a running through with a sword, this seeing. He’s having a hard time keeping his balance, and there’s a pain in his chest he’d rather not know about. She bounces and she sings her little song. No fear is felt, death is generally prompt. He wonders as he leaves the room, catching finally his breath, if she knows what she’s doing, or if she just does what she does unknowing, and he wonders which would be better. No matter. Won’t be long until she knows exactly and then some more after that.
Grace feels the urge to dance draining through her little toes. That went well, someone in her head says, and she has no quick answer to that. Her feet are still and she is hungry.
Momma sits at the glass table in the kitchen doing nothing. What you doing, Momma? Grace asks and sits down with a tall glass of purple juice.
I’m just thinking. About you. Grace knows she ought to say something but she sips instead. No tricks for her, no games with words and sentences and frowns. She sips.
I love this stuff, she says. I can see it all the way down, purpler and purpler. Is that a word? It doesn’t sound like a word.
There’s nothing wrong with purpler, Momma says. That’s just what I was thinking. About you. Owsy wowsy, says Grace inside, good play Momma, you little sneak. She gives in.
What are you thinking about me, Momma? Tell me it’s a box full of chocolate.
That’s what I’m thinking about indeed. She stands walks around the table away from Grace. Left arm hanging, then a little swing, then hanging like a flag with no wind. There had been an experiment. Circles the table and comes back to Grace, sucking still on her purple juice. The right arm around the shoulders, all the way around and some still for grabbing hold, for caressing the sharp shoulder blades of little Grace. I was thinking, Momma whispers, that you must be nicer to your father. You hurt his feelings.
I don’t mean to hurt him, Grace whispers, and all the purple juice is gone, down down below. They look at each other. Just a little, she says, so he knows that I know what I know. I see what he is.
We both know, Grace, what he is. And we know what you are too. He means no harm.
Hah! Grace shouts and jumps from her chair. I looked inside his little round head, Momma, and there’s plenty of harm he’s meaning. I saw it. She jumps back into her chair, or simply appears there, under her Momma’s arm and caressing fingers. The startle in Momma’s face doesn’t stay long, she fights it back, she puts it in its place, she hides it. But she knows it’s hard to hide from little Grace who can look into your head and see what’s stomping about.
I worry about you, Grace. I worry that you know too much, that all this knowing makes you ...
What, Momma, what does it make me? Sincere she is. But her Momma just squeezes her a little harder. It makes me me, that what, Grace says. And then she is gone as if she had never been there and both of Momma’s arms hang limp.
Grace goes out the door with some kind of chocolate shape in her chocolate hand. Her hair frizzes and flies, her features are mobile but her smile has fled the country. She thinks that she would like to meet this boy that Dr. I had spoken about, to see if she could see what he sees. To have someone to talk to. A kindred spirit, they call them in the books. It makes her made what her mother doesn’t see, in all her worrying about what they have made. Her. Grace. She’d like to take it all back, Grace thinks, go back behind the experiment that left her one-armed, that gave her this strange little girl getting not so little any more, and not so lovable either. It seems. Because she really did want to hurt her Da, hurt him bad, turn him inside out and set him up in front of a mirror to have a good long look. Look! Da, look at what’s inside you!
In the park she plays at sneaking up behind the rabbits. Lovely little rabbits who don’t nibble the flowers, a nip here and tuck there, and the genetic code is improved. Just have keep the kibble coming now that they’ve forgotten what they like to eat. They sit, in pair mostly, just under shrub cover, noses twitching and then there’s Grace, laying down in the dirt behind them. The rabbits bolt and she lets them, though she could hold them down if she wanted. What she wants is for them to turn around and look her in the eye but that would take some more nips and tucks she thinks, and Dr. I is too busy now for such foolery and Momma has given up the nipping and tucking altogether since her arm went missing, and what else with it she doesn’t say but Grace knows that there’s more and maybe more important that went poof! Now Momma drinks her tea and worries that Grace will grow up to be who she is, or that she’s already grown up to be what she is. But Grace is just guessing, because she can’t get inside Momma’s head like she can simple brilliant Da’s, he’s like a wheel of swiss cheese, so many holes to waltz through. But Momma, when Grace opens the door she finds she is looking at herself.
I would have you be more humble, Momma says. I would have you know your powers but I would have you know your blindnesses better. Sometime she and Grace talk serious, no matter what Grace wants. And it makes her queasy, this seriousness, and it makes her think once or twice about running her father through with the sword of her thoughts. Then she chases the rabbits like the not so little girls as she was that she now is, and they like that a lot better, not just because they can easily get away but because they know what a little girl is and what she can do. But Grace can’t resist causing a wee disappointment. There she is where the rabbits are running, before them, and they have no choice but leap over what was a second before running behind them, and Grace laughs and laughs and laughs.
One morning, when Grace is eleven, Dr. I and Momma come to her room and they have the serious painted on their black faces, it’s enough to make you weep all this seriousness. Grace thinks of doing a runner. She learned that phrase in an American book her Da brought her from across the sea. Yes she could do it, but no it would not make the seriousness disappear. Why the death came calling looks? She asks them. I haven’t done nothing to aggravate the Watsons in more than a month. The Watsons live next door and they are disagreeable people, the whole bloody tribe, with their collection of modified wallabies and wallaroos cavorting on the lawn, the kids all the time bonzo on drugs and drink, and the music streaming from the lawn gnomes. Disagreeable. Putrid more like. Grace had taught the wallaroos to do bad things, real live wallaroo things she found in her books and on the net. Shit on the floor, all the house plant consumed, at least the ones worth eating. The Watsons didn’t care much for that but they sure weren’t going to put them down much as they must have cost.
We have decided to send you to school, Grace. We feel you should spend more time around other children. This was Dr. I. Her Momma couldn’t send her away, Grace knew that as well as she knew that she really ought to go. What about Momma, though? She would need to go away too. They might talk about that later, after Dr. I had gone off to his room to do no harm. Grace had a wriggle around in a set of thoughts he’d thought to keep to himself, made his lip curl, made him almost say something. But not quite. Don’t want to talk about that, do you Da? Grace has given up pretending about her Da.
Where? She says. Where are these other children I need to be around?
We had thought of Prague, they say in unison. How cute, Grace thinks, choral thinking. There is a wonderful school for special children there. You might learn to channel your gifts. This was Dr. I again.
Be careful what you wish for, sweet Da, Grace thinks, loud enough for him to hear. Almost. Her Momma looks about to cry and it makes Grace so so so sad. She has to make that stop, so she says yes, it would be lovely to go to Prague.
I understand there are real Golems there now. Might I learn how to make one myself from Czechish mud? This makes her Momma smile. I would make one that would play the violin like a gypsy. Momma loved the Gypsy music. When do I leave, she says, and Dr. I smiles.