He shuffled down the long hallway as quickly and quietly as he could, his frayed jeans dragging thick dirty strands of blue and white thread across the hardwood. Looking to avoid being seen before he found a place to hide, he stayed as close to the wall as he could without dislodging all of the family photographs. His stealth was motivated by his anti-social disdain for his place and time, and he was aided by the sounds of Bing Crosby reminding the household that Frosty was a jolly happy soul. Just for the moment he was not irritated that they had all been asked to remove their shoes when arriving. Maybe his shoelessness and Bing Crosby would help him make it to a secluded spot before an eggnog-sipping idiot in a reindeer sweater heard or saw him. Asked him how he was doing and where he was going. Started babbling loudly about being hungry and the awesomeness of the holiday meal being prepared, or worse, the stupid football game that had lured some other idiots into reclining chairs and stupors. If the conversation continued, the nuisance would bring up the difficulty of recollecting names, or the tale of another distant idiot who had to travel through a snowstorm to get there. I hate all of that crap. I hate talking with these people. He quickly veered into a bedroom just before a bald-headed man - in a detestable lumpy sweater - did an about-face and came down the hallway towards him.
That fool is looking for the bathroom.
He slid into the room and then quietly pushed the door towards the jamb until no light came through. He did not risk the noise of closing and locking it. He quickly squatted beside a dresser, a spot that would provide cover from the round bald head that he was afraid would poke itself in here, with those soupy eyes looking for a toilet. Inside the room and on the floor, he leaned his head back and drew a long breath in frustration. He was aware of just how miserable he was and the ugly nature of what he doing; hiding behind furniture in a bedroom during a family gathering that he had agreed to attend. He closed his eyes to better absorb the quiet, which immediately yielded to the sound of the cracked door being pushed inward. Damn. That stupid round head must be in. Maybe the heinous sweater too. I have no confidence that he will not start walking around in here. There are good reasons for it. The general behavior of skulls like his, and the ongoing plan of the universe to frustrate and anger me, especially at this time of year. He will see me, and then start talking to me. He will have the nerve to ask me what I am doing.
As he considered a reluctant explanation for his goofy antagonist, the head started whispering apologies and syllabic expressions while backing out of the room. Words intermixed with muttered sounds of contrition. Gosh and tsk and oh my mixed in with shhh and sorry. Then the door closed. Great. He’s gone. All thats left of him now is the nasty smell of bottled evergreen, some watery green cologne that probably came in a drug store box set with that sweater, whose cotton lumps it is now embedded in. That simpleton is definitely looking for a bathroom so soon he will smell like Glade.
But who was he whispering to? Did he see the top of my head? Could he have? He stood up only after he heard the sound of another door closing and a bathroom fan turning on. Then the jangle of a belt buckle. Yep. He's hoisting his festive red sweater right about now. Good riddance.
Standing in the center of the room, He knew what had happened. Fatso had seen the baby in the crib. So that's what caused his muttering departure I guess he couldn't see my head from there. I wish I had never seen his. He had been so quick to hide behind the dresser that he had not even noticed it.
He peered into the crib. and then flinched at his thought...something that he could not admit to anyone in this house. In addition to his caustic attitude and holiday misery, he had no familial affection for, or even a general interest in, his sisters baby. He did not at the present time possess the inner equipment to offer it. There was only a desire to hide a little longer, and curiousity enough to want a quick look at the infant who had driven sweaterman out of the room.
The baby was still and sleeping. Two careless adult intruders had not woken him. The tender stillness of the room was noticeable, even to a selfish trespasser looking only for escape. At least the baby could not irritate him like everyone else in the house, Not right now anyway. He looked at the child dressed in soft cotton and surrounded with colorful indicators of care. Yeah. What I wouldn't give to have that. The solace of a damn crib. Or hibernation. I guess babies are the only ones allowed to have it. For everyone else, it's a life of dodging jackals. And the babies are not even able to appreciate it. Yeah, that makes sense.
Rest and contentment had always eluded him, and he had learned to despise anything that challenged his bitterness and fondness for complaining. But today the baby was offering some solace, and today he could actually see it. Maybe even appreciate it. The silent child was able to arrest his seething just a little, and push gently against his frustration with this season, with imbeciles in sweaters, with his job and with himself. With everything.
Bach had supplanted Bing and a nearby toilet was flushing, but he was no longer listening to anything outside the room. Something else had his attention now. His mind was a swarm of unpleasant things, but this room, this baby, had something better to say. Even to someone who usually mocked anything that conveyed sentimentality. There was a tranquility here that he did not know and had never really known. If he ever possessed it, It was long gone and no longer remembered. As his hostility waned it was easier to acknowledge that he was not blameless after all, which helped him to breathe and ratchet his disgust back a bit. Staring at the baby and all of the cotton and color, he had a moment of reconsideration.
Then came something else. Something a programmer steeped in analysis and algorithms would notice. Even a severely alienated one. The baby had turned the volume down to the point that he was aware of something unusual. A strange inner tone just barely within his sensory range. Some little pest-like thing, like a tiny search engine deep in his own gut. Moving and looking around, like some unknown diminutive creature tapping away at a tiny keyboard. Or something weird like that. A little passenger producing a faint, nonstop sequence of indiscernible queries in the caverns within.
What is that?, he wondered. The holiday gathering was the just the same old thing, but this was not. Something inside of me seems to be digging around for something else. This was different from other inner pests that had introduced themselves before and that he was well aware of; the unfriendly negative narrative and the belittling, accusatory chatter Working together, those two acted like a toxic gall bladder, nestled deep inside and rarely leaving him alone. This was different. It was somehow neutral, or maybe distracted, like a restless and cryptic program that is too busy hunting for something to be interested in badgering him about his flaws. Curious. The pest lives and it seems to be busy at its work; aiming, missing, trying, failing. Then starting over. The inner chatter had its own mostly nasty characteristics, and he was wondering what the mannerisms of this thing might be. Maybe it is dim-witted and maybe it is intuitive. It does not seem to know what it is looking for and yet it seems to be engaging in the task of examining and rejecting stuff. Like low-grade tinnitus it is subliminal, either completely unknown to the person carrying it around, or only occasionally making enough noise to draw any attention. Yet still marching on, an inner agitation that is not acting on directions from its host.
The room dominated by the solace of the infant made him aware of it, alert to it. A baby’s small still world accentuated the newly discovered keystrokes and brought them into the light.
His attentions bounced back to the visual world. The little baby continued to sleep, still exuding that sense of harmlessness and a peace and that was foreign to him. His eyes were still on the child. Resting there in silence and security, clothed and covered by the hands of another, watched over and cared for, the baby was an undersized counterweight to his narcissism, the occupant of a crib in a small corner of the world that did not concur with his cynical judgments. A little oasis that his miseries would not spoil. The baby was better off. He does not have to work at it. He does not have to prove or justify himself. He is cared for just as he is.
As he thought it, the internal keystrokes stopped. The little search engine paused. All quiet.
The endless queries within are your attempts to prove yourself, vindicate yourself. Justify yourself. You are constantly looking for a way to pull it off.
Quiet in the room and quiet in the soul. A covered and cared-for baby in the crib. A paused search engine in the gut. He was hopelessly mathematical, always a programmer and never a poet, and here was an understandable equation taking shape for him. Right there in his own marrow. That agitation and straining stopped right when I envied the status of the baby...accepted...recipient of lavish goodness and care, just because. Just because someone loves him. No proving. No earning. Just because.
A baby and the many complexities within, and simple math connecting them. Silence and clarity in the place he went to hide.
The search engine, the restless seeker in his gut Is not toxic or accusatory, but it knows that anything and everything he does to satiate it is unacceptable and so it keeps looking. Anything and everything. If he could lay all of his efforts out on a continuum between achievement and altruism and from meditation to manners, none of it does the trick. Even when he manages to do any of it at all. Nothing that comes from him can produce what the baby has been given. Nothing he does will grant him what he sees and feels in this room. It is a mathematical certainty. The phantom program knows it.
Nothing that comes from me will make that happen. The concept was new to him. Nothing that comes from me.
It must be given.