Rain beat against the window of the print shop. The dull sound of it rattled in Gita’s head in percussion with the throbbing headache that was now in residence. She had ten minutes left in her shift before she could clock out. There were no customers in sight and she couldn't blame them a bit for not being out in the weather.
She rubbed her left temple absent-mindedly as she filed the last of the paper invoice copies for her shift and wondered absently if this was just a regular headache she was having or another episode.
“Time to close up shop, Gita,” Mr. Matthews interrupted her reverie as he walked past rattling the door keys, “Go ahead and clock out, I’ll finish closing up.”
She didn't hesitate to punch out, and grabbed her jacket and umbrella and slipped out the side door as she waved a hasty good-bye to the Prints Plus Shop owner.
“Be careful walking home, you might get washed away!” Mr. Matthews called after her. Gita just smiled and darted out into the rain.
Mr. Matthews was a kind man and good employer and she hoped she would find it easy to work at the print shop for a while anyway. If she could stay put. She’d changed jobs so many times over the last five years, and since she’d finally graduated from the University, she wasn't tied to staying in Riverton anymore. Her restless nature might just take her out of town for her next job.
The pain in her temple increased in intensity as she rounded the corner on Fifth and Market Street. This wasn't a good sign, she thought, and braced herself mentally. As she passed the pharmacy that was a block before her house, she saw the eerie glow through the steady torrent of rain and mist off the passing cars. I’ll have to walk right past it or go out of my way and cross the street, she thought.
The pain spread through her head and intensified as she neared the glow. She could see this was a full on apparition and at least eight feet across. It stretched across the wall of the pharmacy building next to the street. As she neared, she could see the sunlight streaming through the portal and reflecting on the wet sidewalk. No one else was on that side of the building, and passing cars took no notice of her or the vision anyway, so she stopped in the rain for a minute and studied the scene, ignoring the throbbing pain in her head.
A small meadow spread out before her in what seemed to be an opening in the wall of the pharmacy building. Wildflowers were sprinkled amongst the tall green grasses and they moved slightly in the breezes that blew through the otherworld, Gita could almost smell them. Instinctively she moved her hand towards the wall/vision as if to touch it or stick her hand into it. It looked so peaceful and inviting and she felt a pulling sensation, like you sometimes feel at the edge of a great height, as though you will be sucked over against your will.
As her hand neared what would have been the wall a tingling sensation began in her fingers and a buzzing began in her head that was already feeling as though it could implode from the headache. She considered ignoring the pain and give in to the pull just to see if she could push through…become a part of the vision…to see if reality would break, or if her perceived insanity would take her that much farther into the surreal otherworld. A car horn suddenly honked behind her and she heard the squeal of brakes. The sound broke her trance, and she dropped her hand away as she whirled to see two angry drivers exchanging profanities and hand gestures at each other in the immediate intersection.
As she turned back towards her vision she saw it was already fading. The texture of the brick was becoming more solid against the meadow background and the vivid colors of the landscape faded into the rain-dimmed reality of the sidewalk and city.
Gita sighed. Her headache eased and the buzzing in her head ceased. She wondered, as she had many times before, if these visions were psychological manifestations, or if there was some physiological explanation for her insanity.
She’d had them since she could remember, although they had never been as frequent or vivid as they had in the last three years. As a small child she’d learned not to mention them. It frightened people and led the Nuns at the Sacred Heart Orphanage to cart her about to several doctor’s offices where they asked her questions and wanted her to take medicine which made her feel disconnected and odd. They eventually blamed it on her traumatic childhood loss of her parents, and when she stopped talking about it, they thought she had adjusted. She had still been made to visit with the Orphanage counselor twice a week till she was ten.
Gita had been found in the ruins of one of the worst storms to ever hit the neighboring city of Greenport. Five tornadoes had converged on the city at once, laying waste to most of it in a few hours’ time. Lives were lost along with the main hospital, city hall, and churches. Entire neighborhoods were wiped off the map and people disappeared from the face of the earth in the storm’s fury. A volunteer from Riverton who was helping to clear debris had heard crying inside a concrete culvert that was partially covered with debris on the outskirts of downtown. As he pulled the debris from the opening, he found the toddler. Gita had been dirty and had several scratches and a skinned knee, but was physically fine. No one had claimed the little girl, and after a state-wide search, it was determined her parents or guardians must have been lost in the storm. Sacred Heart took her in, and several potential foster homes were interested in the little girl with the huge blue-green eyes and golden curls. Interested, until the headaches began and her stories about seeing things that weren't there, things no one else could see.
So she grew up at the Orphanage. She was doted on by the Sisters, and it really hadn't been a terrible childhood. She had been fed, and cared for. It had been difficult when she was younger, to see her playmates get adopted as she stayed on. She knew, even as a child, that she wasn't considered by most people to be quite normal. She had tried to be what passed for normal, tried to live up to the norm that was expected by society. She did a plausible job of it. But, it was as though she always felt she was just acting a part, and at some point the curtains would close and the play would be over, and she would go home. Trouble was she didn't know where “home” existed.
When she graduated high school, the Orphanage had given her a scholarship to Riverton University, where she’d studied graphic design. She’d bounced about from employer to employer while working her way through her degree, always restless and ready for a change of scenery. She’d moved about the city from apartment to apartment, changing her residence at the end of each lease. Somehow a change of address always made her feel better, as though a new residence refreshed her soul. This last move had been her best find yet, she mused. The apartment complex was four blocks from the print shop, but located right next to a small, thickly-wooded, tract of land. There were signs about the neglected lot that advertised some new development soon arriving, but anyone who lived near-by would tell you that those signs had been there for at least ten years. Her apartment was on the second floor, and her balcony over-looked the wooded lot. It made her feel as though she wasn't still in the city, and was definitely more interesting to watch than concrete walls or billboards and storefronts.
It had also brought her Simon, and for that, she could almost stay here for a second year’s lease. She had been sitting out on her balcony, watching the sun set over the wooded lot while reading her latest find from the used book store, when she saw a small white blur streaking out of the trees. It zipped straight up the crepe myrtle which was right next to her balcony, and sat there, in the branches, blinking at her with two large sky blue eyes. She moved slowly over to the edge of the balcony, trying not to scare the already terrified kitten. The branch he was on was very close to the balcony, and Gita thought she might be able to reach him, if he didn't cut her hands and arms to ribbons. He looked quite terrified, but Gita could see no sign of anything that had been chasing him. She spoke quietly to him, and after a moment of intense kitty evaluation, he deemed she was not a threat and was far safer than the branch he was on, and leaped into her outstretched arms. His purr was as loud as any motor on the highway as he blinked up at her. She was immediately under his spell and knew somehow that a pet deposit would have to be paid sometime in the immediate future.
Simon grew to be a beautiful Siamese cat, and for the first time, Gita almost felt as though the empty space that forever existed inside her was filled. Almost. The two of them were quite at home together in the small, one-bedroom apartment. Gita had two good friends from college who occasionally stopped by. Denise would ring her up to go shopping, or to the movies. Marie would often stop by to hang out on her balcony and just chit chat about the lasted gossip in town. They all shared the same acquaintances from the University. Between that, and working at the print shop, she appeared as ordinary as the next twenty-four year old. “Appeared” being the key word.
Gita sighed as she closed her umbrella and climbed the steps to her apartment. In her mind she ticked off her abnormalities. Seeing things that aren't there…check, Somehow surviving the storm of the century as a toddler…check, Compulsive map-making…check, She jingled the keys as she opened the door to the apartment where Simon sat blinking at her as if he knew what she was thinking and reproached her for it. “Reading the minds of cats…check”, she said as she laughed out loud at herself. “I bet you just want food, don’t you?” Simon blinked at her and promptly flipped over on his back for a belly rub. She laughed again, “You’re so easy. Do all the girl cats know about this?”
She opened Simon a can of cat food and heated up a can of soup for herself. She felt damp and chilled from her walk in the rain and there were fringes of the earlier headache still buzzing faintly in the back of her head. She downed a couple of aspirin with a glass of tea and sat down at her small kitchen table to finish her soup and add a new entry to the map lying there.
The map was really quite beautiful, and she sometimes wished she could frame it, that is, if she ever considered it finished and could hang it somewhere that no one would see it. She’d created it on a large piece of vellum paper she had gotten on sale at The Starving Artist art supply shop on Third Street several years ago. She kept it tucked away from sight most of the time, in case Denise or Tara dropped by. She’d been friends with them for years, but she had no desire to try and explain the eighteen by twenty-four inch piece of insanity to either of them. She knew all too well from her childhood experience that people just couldn't deal with it.
Nonetheless, she’d used her best colored pencils on it, and her nicest set of drafting pens. She’d even written main street names and other important landmarks in calligraphy. The map was of Riverton, illustrated with landmarks and important building representations. It also featured several oval illustrations of each and every visionary place she had experienced in the last 3 years. She’d drawn them in as much detail as she could within the ovals, overlaying the locations. She’d even given them names as though they were places that actually existed and not imaginary landmarks of her own hallucination.
She drew a new oval right over the pharmacy location, on the side of Market street she’d seen the vision. This time she’d seen a broad meadow; there had been trees in the distance, and what looked like a forest of some size. She hadn't seen mountains this time, and it occurred to her, as she began sketching in the flowers, that it made a weird kind of sense. As she looked at her map she could see that any visions she’d had with mountains would have been located at her back. Oh great, she thought; Now my psychosis is making sense. That made her feel a bit queasy and she pushed the bit of soup she hadn't eaten yet away. Maybe she should put this away and go to bed. She boxed the supplies up and rolled up the map. Yes. Maybe sleep would make the crazy better.
She took a long, hot shower and climbed into her favorite over-sized t-shirt and curled up in her bed. Tomorrow was Saturday and she could sleep in. A good night’s sleep was all she needed. Simon purred in agreement as he curled up in the crook of her knees. Sleep makes everything better.
Unless it is filled with dreams.