THE OBSOLETE SOUL
Green auroras erupted over both poles as Claudine watched the series finale of The Knife Thrower and The Sword Swallower. It had been a good run of five seasons following lovers, Kaye and Sara, through their adventures performing in a traveling circus: Kaye was the knife-thrower. Abandoned as a child, she found some comfort in Season 2 by meeting the new character, Sara, who replaces the old sword swallower. It was a twist for audience spectators, such as Claudine, who thought “The Sword Swallower” in the title would always refer to Janice from Season 1, but she died by the hands of the ringmaster shockingly in the finale. In a supposedly desperate move, Kaye goes blind in Season 3. Naturally offended, she attacks her closest friend and lover, Sara. For every knife Kaye threw, Sara swallowed it steadily throughout, until Season 4’s relentless Sara trained Kaye by the sound of her voice how to strike targets again.
To try and make up for her past cruelty, Kaye bought Sara a double-edged antique sword for her birthday on the season finale. In Season 5, in practicing for their new act for the show, Sara had “an accident” with Kaye’s gift. Years of swallowing cold-steel sharp points had worn her down, weakened her, and she lost her ability to speak. Kaye and Sara couldn’t perform together ever again, until the main character of the series is revealed to be the comic-relief aerialist, Will, who decided to teach them both how to walk the tightrope, but in this last episode of the series, “License to Kill,” in her first truly defiant performance, Sara lost her footing by glancing down below and making direct eye contact with the newly hired sword swallower, Signora, down below. Sara fought for her balance, and Kaye rushed out trying to reach her, but Sara could get no words out, and she fell to her death.
“Kaye!” Claudine yelled (instead of “Sara!”) to no one in the den. Her TV show delivered tears to her eyes. Letters of salt-water raindrops fell from Claudine’s ducts as the screen flashed images of Kaye pounding her chest with the gifted gold hilt.
Claudine was connected with these characters in ways she couldn’t explain to anyone. She often found herself involuntarily repeating lines of her favorite program to others who always missed her allusions. The show was a part of her, although she was under the illusion she was a part of the series. As Claudine was sobbing, little flecks of white lights appeared in her vision. She winked and squinted, but the stars kept reappearing like hail shimmers through some unknown airs of the temperature-controlled den. She started to worry that the specs would never go away, and she grew very anxious. The roofs to her pores leaked tracks of tears as she yelled “help” to the first person she knew nothing of but always thought about, the very person that gave her life and who was therefore responsible for this sickness, the only one in the house with her:
Her mother came running into the living room.
“What? What is it, baby?”
“Mom, I can’t see!”
“What do you mean you can’t see?”
“I mean,” she huffed, “I can kinda see, but there’s all these sparkly little spots everywhere!” Claudine started blinking her eyes repeatedly.
“There’s bright gleaming dots — blocking everything out. I don’t know what to do...” She was trembling. “… they are blinding and they aren’t going away…” and finally, in a frantic state, “—they’re covering your face!
Claudine had a vision-flash of her mother warning her younger self as she lay on green blades looking up at the sun — “Don’t look directly at the sun!” her mother scolded her. “You’ll go blind!!”
Fearful, Claudine had never done it again, but the forbiddance had often made her curious enough to squint up at it, or glimpse at it through her fingers, and wondered what’d happen if she fully opened her eyes to that lethal intensity of ions.
Her short life flashed before Claudine and this recollection made her wonder if she would finally have to pay for past indiscretions of sneaking peeks. She then recalled a similar episode where she was alone in bed reading a book by the lamplight of her nightstand. She was reading Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket Comprising the Details of Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on Board the American Brig Grampus, on Her Way to the South Seas, in the Month of June, 1827. With an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivors; Their Shipwreck and Subsequent Horrible Sufferings from Famine; Their Deliverance by Means of the British Schooner Jane Guy; the Brief Cruise of this Latter Vessel in the Atlantic Ocean; Her Capture, and the Massacre of Her Crew Among a Group of Islands in the Eighty-Fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude; Together with the Incredible Adventures and Discoveries Still Farther South to Which That Distressing Calamity Gave Rise, and just as she was about to reach the novel’s ending pages, the 40-watt soft bulb lighting the white pages of the book made the spaces between the black words grow larger and brighter. As she looked up, she saw glowing specs of white light in the air all around her room. She closed her eyes and opened them, but everywhere she looked, snowflake speckles of floating stars frightfully followed her entire field of vision. She looked directly into the lamplight and could see the difference of the dots separate from the actual light the bulb provided, and she switched it off, closed the book, praying for God to bless her to sleep.
Radiating energy stalked her thought spectrum. Plasma-sized worry consumed her. She turned the light back on, and as she examined EAP’s book pages that had plagued her, she started to think she was going blind. She called to her one-and-only since always, and her mother back then was a frantic mess. She started to panic about her daughter’s wellbeing, and she immediately got dressed and drove Claudine to the hospital. After a short wait, she was assured with doctor talk that her girl was perfectly fine. Claudine was just seeing, “what we call floaters – little empty vessels in her eye that others cannot see. They are just tiny breaks in the vitreous between the lens and the retina. As one gets older the vitreous gel turns to water, and sometimes not all the particles dissolve.” Claudine’s mother tried her best to understand, and her daughter eavesdropped… “the shadows of the particles in the retina are perceived as little drifting lights. If there had been flashes of light, that might be cause for alarm, but what she experienced is not abnormal,” the doctor assured them, placatingly placing his hand on Claudine’s shoulder.
While the curtain had closed on The Knife Thrower and The Sword Swallower and the credits were rolling on the TV screen, Claudine’s mother reassured her just as the doctor had done before.
“Just lie down and shut your eyes for awhile.”
Claudine would not lie down.
“No, Mom. They are not floaters this time,” she said frantically. “They are flashing!”
To Claudine, the shining stars seemed to not just be glowing, but blazing. They appeared to follow her until they surrounded her body of nerves.
“You’ve been watching that damned TV way too much!”
“It’s like the white dots ignite, becoming shriller and harsher.”
Whimpering, Claudine laid down on the couch, and her mother brought a cold compress and placed it over Claudine’s closed eyelids. The mother and daughter began to breath more easily – then, five minutes later, Claudine took off the face cloth, rattled, seeing luminosities bob over the living room.
“I am going blind!”
“No you aren’t, honey. Just breathe, Claudine. Please...”
“I am, I am!” Claudine felt the panic rise up in her like a jolt of radiant lightning that got so hot so quickly she saw a flash of ominous white light and fainted.
“Claudine!” Her mother called and shook her gently, but nervously.
Claudine found herself running away from a vision of a mummy birthed from a sarcophagus buried in the TV – until, discovering a shaky ladder, she climbed back to feel her mother’s touch in reality.
“OK, baby, come on.” Claudine’s mother picked her up and carried her out to the car. By the time they arrived at the hospital, Claudine still had not recovered from her vision problem. The stars were still in her eyes. Claudine’s head hurt, trying to process the blinding light she perceived. When they were taken into the doctor’s office, the fluorescent whites of the ceiling lights worsened her vision. Doing as doctors are trained to do, he shined another light in her petrified eyes.
“Well... I see no signs of PVD... and the retina is not torn… that’s a very good thing.”
Claudine told him how her head felt like it was splitting open.
The doctor nodded and said, “sometimes … the eye perceives light as a warning that a migraine is on its way. It’s a sort of signal to the brain just like all the others. Do you have many headaches?”
Her mother interposed, “yes. yes she does,” recalling all the ibuprofen she had given her to try and ease the pain of her only child.
“My dear, you may be suffering from chronic migraines. These lights you see are your body’s way of letting you know to prepare your body for one on its way.”
The room started spinning through Claudine’s perception. Your body’s way of letting you know your body’s. .. letting you know – the words repeated in her head until the room went fluorescent white, and she fainted back into a fog.
Claudine was prescribed with the migraine medicine, Topomax, which her mother made sure she took every day going forward. Time passed forward and pushed far behind Claudine’s understanding of the traumatic night episodes, where she almost lost her vision due to light. It became a thing of memory – just another thing that happened – it didn’t kill her, so no need for reminding or remembering. She persisted in loving to watch season runs and reruns of shows that made up her life’s series of episodes. She relentlessly continued to process all the green, blue, and red light of the tube through her absolutely normal red, blue, and green cones in her perfectly healthy retinas. As she figured everyone else saw it, Claudine was a sound girl who would grow up to be a star. It is true the young always want to be older, and the old always want to be younger, and Claudine was no different holding onto bright ideas for her unrealistic future.
Claudine had just gotten into the ultimate fight with her live-in girlfriend and went up to their roof to watch the lunar eclipse all by her lonesome. Claudine wanted to be entombed. “‘We can still be friends...’ The nerve!” she howled, drowning the metallic waves of saltwater she produced. She was like everybody else looking up at the sky that night, hoping to feel a sense of clarity, but Claudine’s heart was gripped with metal. She tried to focus on the white spotlight in the black sky. As overwhelming as she felt, Claudine was glad it was night. The moon was the brightest astral object she had found in her life that she could stare at endlessly without feeling a painful headache. She supposed, just as everyone had taught her, that she compulsorily saw a man’s face in the moon. She always guessed to wonder what kind of man he was. Sometimes she saw a jazz musician. Sometimes he was a plumber. Sometimes he was the spawn of Satan, and other times the peace of Buddha’s face. Whoever he was, she never saw an angel. She never saw an angel’s face in the man in the moon. At least – not until the night of the eclipse. As she stared into his eyes graver and deeper, she seemed to penetrate the space between them. As her eyes focused, the light blurred, and she saw something grow out of the moon man’s mouth. It was as if a great grapevine spurted out between his cracked and cratered lips unexpectedly, much the same way she had seen a blackhead pushed out of a skin pore. The exact longitude and latitude of where that grapevine ended – where it landed – she could not discern, but most definitely a grapevine had just come out the man’s lips diving all the way through the atmosphere, falling into the Earth faster than a train. As she stared at the active hole of the volcano and then the darkness of space all around it, she found admiration and resolve in looking away and counting the smallest shining pips of stars surrounding the infamous satellite. However, those dark obscurities started to move. She first perceived the shadows to be panthers, but then they morphed into creatures she identified as sabor-toothed cats that crawled out the crater mouth hole like the grapevine. She wondered if they were equal in life to the green it seemed to be chasing. Maybe it wasn’t from a mini cosmic explosion of the moon but birthed shooting from a stoma of the vine. It was too soon for Claudine to rest relying on a theory as an answer. She watched the creature travel down the vine, followed by another, and then another, but then, as hard as her perfectly healthy rods in her retina worked, she lost sight of the shadowy animals. They disappeared into darkness just as the sun and the moon lined up together to eclipse Earth. A dusky shade covered the mouth hole of the moon like a falling curtain which sliced the grapevine off, the severed plant snapping, then falling. The moon’s face mummified, and Claudine felt completely alone.
Unexpectedly, she noticed the pips of starlight again in the sky. She saw little light speckled floaters that brought her relief. She could not quite tell the difference between any of them until recognizing three that made up Orion’s belt. It had been quite some time since she stargazed. She wondered who had taught her about constellations? Who was it who had connected the lines between the stars first? A television program? What was the archer hunting still? The past? Egyptians? Industrialists? Neanderthals? She was in disbelief. She imagined hunted men on a train traveling back in time away from her midnight hour. Talismanic sabor-toothed-cat pictographs resurrected alongside the steam train but ran the opposite direction. As the Earth moved out of its line of orbit, the moon started to glow livelier from its holy partner, and Claudine had a moment of clarity. She unexpectedly knew then the difference between what were visions and what were stars, witnessing billions of other shadow-puppet holes in the night sky. As the moon-man awakened, these puppets were pulled into his hungry mouth as it all morphed into one gigantic hole in the ozone, where Claudine could see space breathe gasps of time shaped like tidal winds that entered the green-house atmosphere just as the great vine had. As if she had read it in a book or seen it on TV, the direction of the current was pushed or pulled towards the south pole. All the darkness turned into one giant light beam of energy instantly shooting through the ground and hollowing out her eyes which bore witness to northern Arctic ices breaking into fragmented flashes directly in front of her but reduced to slightly flaky soft flicks that suspended frozen in spacetime, and it felt like Claudine had created all of it from her head since the beginning of her head’s perception of saltwater world pools evaporating into snaps of black and white TV static.
After the failure of her relationship followed her mother’s passing. Five years after losing her one and only, Claudine was ‘blessed’ to land the role of her lifetime. She didn’t feel it was any gamble to play the part; she knew it had to be the reason she was still there on Earth. The realistic film would, in fact, allow her to sign autographs the rest of her life, but she didn’t truly know for what reason the fans would plead for her attention. Claudine had no idea that the part would end her acting career, but she had won it over thousands of others who auditioned, and so she knew it would be pivotal. Claudine was hired by Alley Oop Studios to portray the one and only: Mona Lisa. She would have to be nude in one scene, of course, but it was for the sanctity of art, to make history. It was set to be one of the biggest motion pictures of the century, and she would be the star. It was on a Monday that her soon-to-be infamous scene was shot. She sat poised, exactly as she knew Mona Lisa (who, today, was herself) would have been seated for da Vinci in the early 16th century. A male director asked her to sit still for him while he painted her the way he saw her. As Mona Lisa poised her figure, Claudine’s body began to prickle with sensations, and spots appeared once again in her line of vision, as if to tell her something. The floaters moved rather quickly, shifting and molding into one another while trying to communicate what she assumed was an important message, but Claudine stared through them as sharp as a blade, as if it was the first few moments of twilight. She did not feel a pang of panic. She simply sat composed, perfectly still, as a male actor painted various cracked numbers and letters into the pupils of her eyes in his portrait of Claudine as Mona Lisa, who gazed into the lens of the camera miming how she had seen it done before, and the cameraman zoomed in on the image of a bridge on the studio backdrop behind her, and the soundtrack song to be used for this scene was set to be, Neither One of Us Wants to be the First to Say Good Bye