My mother has dreams about choking on things. Peach pits, credit cards, her wedding ring, anything. I used to find her in the kitchen in the middle of the night, half-asleep, eating bread, which supposedly helps if you swallow something odd. That’s why, at first, I thought it was all a dream. Because of my mother. I thought, maybe it runs in the family.
The day it started, I kissed Bradley goodbye and watched his car move away down the street. Bradley is my husband whom I met on a subway. I noticed him because he had on this very interesting tie with a topographical map of Antarctica spreading down like a spider’s web, with the South Pole at the bottom. And so I said Hello.
I have always wanted to go to Antarctica. I think it would be very clean, and very quiet.
An hour later my mother called. Her voice was breathy and short. She said she’d been gassed while getting coffee in a Cuban restaurant. Someone spilled bleach into a heating vent, and all these invisible, burning fumes were seeping everywhere, and burned her lungs.
I took the train out to the house. She was lying on the couch in the sun room, and her face looked pale and slippery. I put my hand on her forehead and her eyes rolled back, just the whites, sort of fluttering. In this sleepy mumbling voice, thick like chocolate, she said, I think I swallowed that jewel.
I said, What jewel?
She said, That jewel I had in my mouth. Didn’t I have a jewel in my mouth?
She started to cry.
It turned out they had given her some antibiotics and something for the pain, and she was disoriented. I took her upstairs and put her to bed. I had to leave her high heels on, because the ankle straps were very complicated and I wanted to get home before Bradley did. I was glad I went, though—my mother had this wonderful black and white photograph of Tokyo that I wanted but hadn’t had a chance to get. Bradley likes me to be home during the day when he calls. He has a very stressful job.
The photograph of Tokyo was taken from above, and the people in the street look like a moving river. I have always wanted to go to Japan.
I got home later than I expected, and Bradley was waiting for me. He was very angry. He has a nice face and a good nose, but when he gets angry his chin turns bright purple and starts to quiver. We had words.
I went up to my room, and immediately I could tell things weren’t quite right. It’s nothing you would notice at first, just a sudden sense that something was off, and that’s when I realized. The rug. It was on the ceiling! Just stuck up there, like someone had glued it down! It’s one of those oriental rugs, rough like the fur of a horse, and very heavy. Well, I didn’t say anything to Bradley. He has enough to worry about without having to hear about the strange goings-on in my bedroom. He sleeps in his study most of the time, because he works so hard. I decided I would just wait to tell him until the time was right.
The next day I stayed home and watched one of those National Geographic specials on the Amazon. It was fascinating. I have always wanted to go to Brazil. It’s just terrible, what’s happening to the rainforest down there. They’re cutting down more and more trees every day. They call the Amazon “The Lungs of the World.” They say that when enough trees are gone, the world is going to fill up with bad air. I got so upset about the bad air that I walked around the rest of the day breathing very carefully. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the air was already turning bad, and that any second I’d be flat out on the floor, gasping like a spilled goldfish. And then—I went upstairs to lie down, and my dresser and my desk were both on the ceiling. Just hanging there. As casual as can be.
I wasn’t surprised. I almost expected it. I was a bit startled, of course, but I had some sweeping to do in the bedroom, and after I cleaned for a while, humming a forgetful little tune, I guess I just got used to it.
I didn’t mention it to Bradley that day, either. When he got home he was wanting to have sex right on the living room floor, where I was clipping out food recipes from Bon Apetit, and I felt a little hesitant about bringing it up right then. And the next day, well, that was the really amazing day. Bradley was away on a business trip, so I took my mother to a matinee at one of those old revival theaters. The whole place smelled like nesting birds, sort of stuffy and warm, dry and floury and a bit like unwashed scalp. All theaters smell that way. My mother was breathing in little gusts, sipping from an inhaler every few minutes. And I remember this—it was so strange—she took my hand while the lights went down and she said,
Louisa, nothing bothers you. Even when you were a baby. You never cried. Where is it?
I said, Where’s what?
She said, Your pain. You must have swallowed it. Eat bread, Louisa, eat bread.
They were very strange, the things she said.
I guess she’s right, though, I don’t get bothered.
I suppose I’m just a happy person.
When I got home, I immediately went to my room, because I wanted to see if anything else had happened. I rushed upstairs and flung the door open, and sure enough—everything was up there. My bed, my little night table, everything. And on the night table, there was a glass of water. Full. Even on the walls, everything had been flipped. My mirror, my photograph of Tokyo, and the little hook by my bed where I hang my bathrobe—you’ll never believe this, but the bathrobe was hanging upwards, towards the ceiling. Really. It was like—it was like what I used to think Australia would look like, when I was a little girl. I thought that if I ever went down there, everything would be hanging off the bottom of the world, just barely attached, and you would have to dangle like a chimp, swinging yourself around from town to town. I have always wanted to go to Australia.
Here’s what happened. I put one foot against the wall. Just to see. I leaned on it a little, and I felt a little bit of a pull, and then there I was, standing on the wall. I walked over and stepped onto the ceiling.
I went over to the bed, took off my shoes, and dropped them, to see where they would go. They fell at my feet. I drank some water from the glass on the night table, and then I sat on the bed, looking out the window. This is where everything changes. If you’re upside down on the ceiling and all the furniture is upside down with you, nothing looks different at all. In fact, it looks just exactly the same. But through the window—
I don’t know if I can explain it. Snow. Think about snow. Picture the way it falls. When I watch the snow from my window, it comes flying up from below thick and silent, like a flock of startled birds, lifting off a telephone wire or the roof of a house, and moving as if they are one body. And I know that if I opened the window and stepped out, that they would carry me up, and I wouldn’t fall.