The Otherworld Experience of My Aunt Jackie
by Mark O'Neil
There was only one moment she would really remember of all this -- the moment she opened the door. The rest was confused and distressed. The rest she could only guess at.
How it was, she was alone with three children -- Betty's two and her own boy -- in an isolated farm house in Hamilton, NY. It was that part of summer where in Upstate NY the nights grow chill and quiet, the crickets and cicadas and everything else that had earlier droned through the night during the hot part of summer -- pretty much three weeks in late July and early August here -- have finally found rest. And finally, so had they, she and the three children, and Betty, wherever she was with whomever, and everyone else in this pre-air-conditioning-for-everyone-world of the early 1970's. Such as it was, they had the windows open, propped so on rulers, fat novels and forked sticks; the house was finally breathing again, the sheets and pillow cases finally cooled enough that getting in bed one might roll around between them, harrying the cotton folds like a dog dragging its muzzle in midmorning grass.
It was a small house, a two-bedroom, she and Betty in the master bedroom and the children all stuffed together in one full-sized bed down the hall. The kitchen and living room out front were conjoined; only a squat partition like those found today in trailers separated them. The front door opened onto just that partition, the space about it, between the door and that partition, offering a boot box and coat rack, comprised a rudimentary foyer from which you could choose the room you'd like to enter.
The walls on either side of the door were made mostly of smoke-darkened, mullioned windows, curtained and blinded, offering when everything was opened to the outside the grand sweep of the fallow fields and the long squat barns where now only a few cows and chickens were kept. Turned but not planted, scarred but for what reason?, the crosscut earth lay in a checkerboard desolation.
She had just gone to bed. She had never been one to go to bed early nor get up too early. She'd sat up alone hours after laying the children to bed sipping coffee and smoking and playing solitaire at the kitchen table, feeling the chill night move over the house as if the house had molted and were wearing a new and hypersensitive skin. With just such skin she lay for a time warming the chilled covers, waving her arms and legs through them as a child will, intent upon making an angel in less than an inch of new-fallen snow. She fell asleep with a fat paperback winged over her chest in a spurious cone of soft, yellow light from a reading lamp mounted directly over her on the headboard.
It was in the middle of this night that they came, not in any form she could make out, not as anything so organized as an entity or a spacecraft, but only as a blinding light from something immense just outside as if the white-hot full moon had ponderously sunk from the sky and had come to hover right there, seemingly inches from the house. Where she lay it seemed as though the light were cutting right through the walls -- in every room in the house it was of the same intensity, the same clear white brilliance. She woke immediately to it, as though a switch had been flicked in her head, and the rooms through which she moved were so negated by the light to appear as though her dreams had been lifted intact from the passageways of her mind.
It was impossible to orient herself to it. She wandered the rooms, checking for the children, seeing the cluttered iteration and reiteration of her life cast from room to room as though searching through sleeve after sleeve of black and white negatives. They were, after all, in total isolation. The Town of Hamilton proper lay several miles of winding gravel roads away; the nearest farm perhaps farther in the opposite direction.
It was so disturbingly bright, try as she would, she could see nothing out the windows and could fix no source for the light. It was the kind of light they say you see when you've died, which was in fact all she could believe had happened. She'd died, she'd somehow, reading, slipped through a crack in the cosmos and was now languishing in some dreamlike duplication of her former life, unable to give it up, unwilling somehow to break free.
Standing at the front windows, seeing how the light actually did pass through the walls, through the doors, through the furniture and everything else, she understood that it must also have been passing all this time through her as well, and therefore was not light at all. Whatever this was that was this light it was in fact a kind of seeing, the beam emitted from an omnipotent eye, as though there were a light tower newly erected outside, a panopticon of alien origin, that piercing her could read her every thought. Behind it moved an unbearably Godlike intelligence, one that seemed to be feeding her thoughts as it simultaneously read them; something that was drawing her near, sucking her in.
It was then that she made it to and opened the door. To her surprise, there was nothing there. Nothing, that is, but herself, but actually another edition of herself, one that had lived longer on this earth or so little as to never have garnered any expectations from experience. One newly risen from the tomb of her expectations for herself, who held no brook for the ways of this life in this world but only for the life and world of the soul. It told her very specific things -- how it'd come into the world with her, had chosen her way of life, had influenced her in ways she'd only understand were she somehow able to wrest command of her life from the form of herself that was actually made of other people's opinions. But it told her in something other than words; as though their thoughts traversed a closed circuit.
Finally, it knew how she was going to die and that she shouldn't be afraid of it.
From that day on, she told me, many years older now, ravaged by cancer, enfeebled yet somehow stronger than ever -- from that day on things followed her in the sky. Her son would testify to it. From that day on she knew there was something -- some benign star, some beacon light -- over her that was part of her. Something that steered and righted her even now, as the end was surely upon her, and would have been just as real had it never woke her that night. Because, what if, she said, leaning across the table, her voice gravelly and worn as her trembling body, what if it hadn't woken me at all? What if it was actually something in me that woke it?
About the author:
Mark would like to let you know that this story actually happened and that his Aunt Jackie is real and this story is how he remembers her. Then, that: Mark O'Neil does not think George Bush is a Christian because there is no way possible a person as obscenely rich as he could possibly reconcile that to Christ's teachings on wealth and worldliness without deceiving himself. In fact, the entire Neo-Conservative-Christian movement is far too materialistic to be legitimately Christian and, therefore, must be counterfeits, frauds.