A Golden Wrapper Crane

Harin Lee
February 24

And they gaped at the hole.
I knew this because right before I blacked out, their silhouettes of their heads obscured by their hairstyles of ineffably endless variety were forming on the extremities of the hole. Or did I black out? I woke up with my eyes still closed. My body felt unusually light against the smooth, cold and hard floor. Impulsively, I opened my eyes to a pale blue sky with a rising sun upon a horizon that was as featureless as the floor I had just been lying on. I rose onto my bare feet where I felt the floor feel pleasantly cool under my soles. Feeling useless, I wandered without any particular direction until the sun had slowly crawled to an inconsequential degree in the still washed out sky. Time never seemed of the essence here.
I started to feel frightened by the peace. That was until I reached the edge of a large square pool of water that almost seamlessly connected to the stony pavement that I had previously just taken a trek upon. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the water. It was a small dinghy that was being towed by ropes that led into the water. The whole thing itself was creating ripples that dispersed almost immediately into nothing, as if the movements created by the dinghy were perpetually unavailing. Unperturbed by the leaderless boat I settled down on the edge of the pool until the dinghy arrived. Once my view was no longer distorted by the refraction in the water, I saw that a rather large coy fish had led the dinghy. It moved skillfully through the water until without any further notice it lifted its head out of the water and asked in a strong clear voice:
“Are you new here?”
Without any consideration I nodded my head. It had been clear that I had never been here before, and without a doubt it need be said that I was new.
“Then you need to come with me,” it answered with a distinctive importance in its voice even though I would’ve followed it nonetheless. At least I knew if I followed perhaps it would be of relevance. I gingerly stepped into the tiny boat and nestled between the boards.
Seeing that I had settled down, the fish began to swim with strong strokes of its tail toward an edifice that looked as though it was lightly floating on the water, rather than being rooted down. Once we reached there, the fish once again lifted its head out of the water and spoke.
“Go inside,” it said and smiled with its big fat lips.
Stepping onto the stone steps of the building I headed into an antechamber with a high ceiling into a huge empty chamber except for a crescent shaped stone table with twelve men sitting behind it. The men were garbed in white suits and black ties. Each of them looked old and yet their expressions held a timeless disposition that in no case made them look even more omnipotent. One of the men situated near the end of the table broke the silence with a clear voice.
“Do you know why you’re here?” he asked.
“I suppose I do”
“So are you here to stay?”
“I think so, but – “
“Is it not true you are the last living descendent of your family of all your brothers and sister?”
“Then what do you say to having a choice to go back?”
“To go back?”
I stood there with a blank expression. I had no idea that I was available to the choice of going back. I started biting my lip and the lines on my palms started to moisten with perspiration. I felt so useless again. I inclined my head to the side.
“We’ll give you until sunset to decide, we hope you spend it wisely,” said the same man, “Please go to the door on the right and get your receipt.”
“My receipt?” I inquired but with one look at the man I scuttled to the door as he had already diverted his attention to an intense discussion with the rest of his, um well I guess could be called, council.
The door lead to a small wood paneled room with a young woman with a smartly curled bun and porcelain veneer-like teeth. She sat behind yet another stone table, despite the wooden paneling finish that adorned the walls. Surrounding her were huge piles of paper stacked neatly with colored tabs poking out in random directions. The only technology that appeared to be available to the woman was a small receipt generator. The little machine started whirring rapidly producing a bright green receipt with crisp black letterings. The woman deftly ripped off the paper and gave it one sharp look and handed it tenderly to me. When her eyes met mine she had a sudden realization and twisted to the side of her desk and pulled out a golden plastic wrapped candy. She smiled with her perfect milky teeth and gave it to me.
Without much consideration I took the candy and when I looked up to thank the lady I was back where I had gotten off the dinghy. The sun’s angle was still one that was before noon. The coy fish and the boat were still there. The fish poked its head out and smiled its fat lips again.
“So what’d they say?” the fish asked. I stared at my bright green receipt and typed in centered font it stated:
“Let’s take a look,” said the fish. “Oh, you have an odd choice right there. Since you have all this time you might as well get comfortable while you think. Let me show you around if that’d be fine for you.”
“Uh sure,” I responded. I slid into the tiny vessel and the fish began to swim except this time it kept its head upright to accommodate its want for conversation with me.
“Call me Florence,” claimed the fish.
“Like the city?”
“Why not,” and Florence smiled again.
“So where are you taking me?”
“Um… anywhere you like. You name it.”
“Is there anything to see here except the building back there?”
“Well in your state all you can see is my lot carrying others like you. Oh! Actually there’s a little forum where you can meet them, it’s not too crowded today too. You want to go there?”
“Oh why not…”
Enthusiastic with the thought of having a purpose, Florence began making his way through the silent water towards another end of the huge square lake. Like an illusion slowly emerging from its former state, another establishment made of glass appeared as if it had always been there. Inside were a just a few number of people on each floor of the arising structure. Taken aback by the architecture, I sat in the dinghy with glassy eyes and a slowly dehydrating mouth from leaving them open wide. Appeased by my reaction to the building Fiji slowly made around the glass panels to a small wooden dock where a wizened man who would’ve resembled a sailor if it hadn’t been for his stark white clothes sat with his chin cupped to his hands. Curious as to his utter concentration I got off the boat, thanked Florence, and sat next to the man. My toes lightly touched the water. It was very soft and silky and yet kept the same consistency as water. Amazed by its texture I continued to sway my legs to make small ripples that dissipated as quickly as they were created.
“How long?” the old man suddenly said.
“Huh?” I was stunned by the sudden interjection of silence.
“How long do you have?”
“Oh, until sunset?”
“Ah… ”
The old man began to whistle a tune that had a rhythm just as intricate as the wrinkles that had formed on his aged face. His whistling was lovely. It was unlike any other that I had heard before. It was in the middle of his song when he suddenly spoke again.
“I was told I was to be here five thousand four hundred and seventy-five days. I calculated it. That’s fifteen years. I’ve lost count of those sunsets already. I forgot my life before. Don’t you dare forget it! Once you’ve lost it, you can never go back. I was told to choose too, but how can I choose between something I don’t know and the time I have right now? Can it be better? Or worse?”
Finishing his speech, the man returned his concentration to the water again, with his deep-set eyes watering from the strain of leaving them open for too long. I felt awkward next to him and his rhetorical statements, I wished to break the silence but it seemed inappropriate. Realizing that I was feeling useless so many times I decided to converse to the only being that had been eager to talk: Florence. Jumping back onto the tiny boat Florence steadily moved away from the forum and it evaporated away like it was never there. I sat with my knees to my chin and my hair falling about my shoulders.
“Why does it do that?” I asked Florence.
“Do what?” he asked back.
“Disappear like that,” I said and after observing the creaseless expanse of the pale blue sky I added, “Does it ever rain here?”
“It all depends on you, if you want to see the forum again you can but what usefulness will that bring? If you want it to rain, well again, it all depends on you”
“So I can wish it rained and it would?”
“Essentially, yes.”
I noticed that my back was starting to feel wet and I elevated my head to see that the sky was a pearly light grey with little flecks of dark stains like a tie-dye cloth. It was drizzling gently and the raindrops made a pleasant chorus on the lake.
“You like rain?”
“Yea… but only if it’s light. If it’s too heavy it’s too wet.”
“Huh, and drizzling would be any dryer.” Florence smiled. I reciprocated it.
“So is this… heaven?” I asked.
“Not really… I guess you can say it’s in between. But everything here is in between. Even you are. I may be a coy fish but I could be anything for that matter. It’s like I am a fish but not.”
“And I thought you were giving me a straight answer. You confused me straight back to square one.”
“If you’re like that old man back there it probably wouldn’t seem very important anymore.”
I grunted back. I suddenly remembered that I was holding the green receipt and the candy. I unwrapped the candy slowly and popped the translucent hard pink candy into my mouth. Sucking on it thoughtfully, I took the square golden wrapper and subconsciously started folding it into a crane. Noticing my furrowed brows at the receipt, Florence began swimming slowly and felt the drizzle fall on his bony head.
“Do you know what it means?” he asked me.
“You should listen to that old man. He’s right. If you forget your past you can’t go back.”
“But I already forgot it…”
“The suns past noon. You have some time before sunset. Let’s try to remember why they asked you to go back.”
I stared at my bony knees and looked at the crane I had just folded with the wrapper. I bit on the candy and started chewing it. The candy was very sweet and tasted of a flavor I couldn’t describe. I started to feel like I was getting heavier, or more like my mind was. I closed my eyes. The drizzle gently soaked them. I started to see images in my head that I had forgotten. My five other deceased brothers and sister. I was the last one alive in my family.
My family.
I opened my eyes and saw that Florence had drifted his under the water and was barely swimming. He flicked his tail every now and then and then paddles gently with his pectoral fins to keep steady. Feeling secure I closed my eyes again and I saw images again.
My family had been on a picnic. I came from a rich family, I inferred, the scene was garbed with enrichments that I doubted any middle class could own. My father. My mother. Me. A few other people were there too but I did not pay attention to them. I realized that I was wandering off the scene to the edge of the meadow. At first it seemed my path was random but I saw that I was following a stream with moss-ridden rocks and premature roads drawn by the scarcity people who came to tread upon the wilderness.
I knew why I was following the stream. I thought I had seen my brother. My deceased brother. Very suddenly, the ground beneath my feet gave way. I lifted my head from my knees. I realized that Florence was watching me with his glistening eye.
“You remembered.”
It was a rhetorical statement.
He smiled again. Suddenly his scales rippled like he was made of the water he had been wading in. He was speeding up again. The sun was still situated at an angle that seemed far away from the horizon. Reminiscent of my past my curiosity returned. I looked at Florence with question.
“No worries, I like speed. Tell me about your past,” he answered to my bewildered expression.
“I had a family that never really loved me until all my siblings past away.”
“Ugh, that sounds harsh. Are you sure they didn’t love you?”
“I was an afterthought, it’s always that tradition. Male dominance.”
“I’m sure they still loved you.”
I smiled a broken smile that had always been there before. Broken like my crippled heart.
“They thought I had a mental problem. Actually I think I did”
“You think you did?”
“Ever heard of schizophrenia?”
“Yea but I heard my dead brothers. I knew they were there. Well obviously I was told I had problems and I was sent to an asylum. I wasn’t stupid to keep staying there. I pretended that I no longer heard them and they sent me back out. That was when – “
I stopped midsentence. I closed my eyes to the rain again. I doubled over in pain.
“Your brother died getting you.”
I nodded and cringed over with my depression consuming my whole entity. Then I realized that I had not told Florence that fact. I lifted my head and Florence looked at me with a bleak smile that seemed unusually apt to the situation.
“He was here too, I took him to the same place and they gave him the choice. He chose to stay. April 17, your birthday.”
“The day he wasn’t in a coma anymore…”
I stared at the edge of my boat and started to etch the letter R until I realized that the entire floor of the dinghy was filled with etches. Studying the closest one I saw it was my brother’s initials. A raindrop fell on the back my hand and unlike the other splatters it was hot. I realized it was my tears. I smiled. Florence pitched his head to the side and questioned my utter bliss.
“I never cried since my first brother died.”
The rest of the day Florence just drifted randomly across the pool and had deep conversations about the philosophy of his job. He also spoke about the people he had met and how most of them forgot their past and just went on. I willed the rain away to the pale blue sky again. When the sun inclined to an angle that caught my attention, Florence had already swum to the edifice again. I got off and thanked him. He smiled back and said the last of his many words to me.
“Love is the sun as you are the moon. You can’t shine without it.”
I smiled with my teeth this time. My smile was no longer crooked. After thanking Florence I walked back into the large room again. It was identical to the one I stood in before. The same twelve old men sat behind the glassy stone table and were silent until one stood up and asked me again:
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Are you here to stay?”
The old man looked at me with a quizzical look. He looked neither surprised nor intrigued by my answer. It seemed that his timeless countenance was depleting him much of the sentient element found within the visage of a person. Without any change he asked:
“My family has lost all of its descendants except for me. I was never thought of as crucial member of the family, in fact I was partially discarded by the people who I thought were the closest to me. But I know they love. I’m sure of it. If it’s for any worth, it’s for my family’s happiness and love. I personally believe I deserve to return.”
“Please go to the door to the right.”
I had completely blanked out when the old man had asked me that question. When I returned back to my senses, I obeyed him immediately. I was back in the wood-paneled room with the towers of papers. The lady peered at me. She asked for my receipt, which I returned to her. I looked straight into her eyes. The corner of her mouth twitched into a wide beautifully toothed smile.
“Bye my little sister,” she said.
I opened my eyes to a very bright light. I’m in the hospital. My mother and father are next to me with glistening eyes. I looked at them and smile but I halt when my chapped lips crack and start to bleed. Still, I smile.
I look at my right hand. The golden wrapper crane is in it.
“Love is the sun as you are the moon. You can’t shine without it.”