- Emily Dickinson
A woman is standing on a corner waiting for a stranger. She clutches her bag, clears her throat, reaches for a cigarette, realises she no longer smokes.
Over the time that she has waited, which seems to her an eternity, but in fact is a period rather less than that metred out by the heavenly clock, she has come to realise that she has only two paths by which to map the events that have lead to her standing on a corner waiting for a stranger.
Confronted with the snail and the rabbit, she reaches for the black hat and tugs hard on the pair of large floppy ears protruding above the brim.
In short, she decides to decide.
It is clear, she tells herself that the first path leads nowhere, the second, everywhere.
Either nothing that has happened makes sense, or everything does.
She chooses the latter, prefering to see herself as the centre of a complex intentional plot, casting about wildly for signs and omens - a strange cloud formation, a message in a fortune cookie, a single blue button dropped on a sidewalk - anything that might make add up to an equation that can be totalised and grasped firmly in the palm of her hand.
A movement of air not unlike that left by the passage of angels causes her to stumble on the idea of choice, pattern, plan, to wonder at the somewhat predictable appearance of the white rabbit from the black hat.
She reaches quickly into her bag for her Apple Newton.
She wonders why her choice, her decision (every reiteration steels her!) is still subject to unreasonable vagaries such as the passage of an angel, to minor tragedies - like the child on the nearby pavement who seconds ago realised that while crossing the road firmly in the distracted grasp of mother that he had dropped the thing most loved - a hairless teddy called Bunky - right bang smack in the middle of the road, and that despite the terrible prospect of the death of Bunky beneath the wheels of a fast approaching red fire truck, nothing will be done.
He is screaming, tearing at the hand of mother, who grips hard, rooted to the pavement as the truck roars past, sucking up in its passage both the air around the woman standing on the corner and the denuded body of Bunky.
The woman on the corner thinks of that green apple falling on that bald head. Was it green? Was he bald? Did this ever really happen? Is this what her decision lacks - the weight and immediacy of an apple in a tree plummeting earthward towards a waiting pate? There is something about that rabbit that just won't do! She sees herself in a silver sequinned bathing suit, tottering on high heels towards a man in the dark suit, who reaches into his hat and hands her the rabbit.
Exit: rabbit and woman.
Man in black: bows, gestures offstage, where, behind a very velvet curtain she is struggling to calm the racing heart of a small white rabbit.
She looks down the street, across the road, into the faces of passers-by. A man raises his eyebrow, sneers, licks his lips. She looks away, closes her own lips tightly.
He wasn't just sitting around waiting for that apple to fall ... was he? Surely this was not the point of Mother John's lesson as she remembers it, dredged up from Grade Four?
Were he to have been sitting expectantly beneath the tree, having sized up a particular apple over early spring and summer, then the serendipity that would make this marvellous moment so ripe for the green and red sweeps of an illustrated children's book on the history of Great Men and their Epiphanies, would be lost.
And (she is indignant now) would gravity have seemed so enlightening a matter if the apple had fallen instead upon the tiny fragile hairless head of his only child propped up beside him in the shade of an English apple tree? (A Pippin, no doubt.)
If that little skull had cracked and split, just what would the Apple Newton have been called?
The child is on the pavement now, crouched in a tight ball, his skinny arms encircling his legs. All spikes, like an enchidna. Impenetrable. A red nose emerges slowly, dripping. Tissue in hand, arm outstretched, mother inches forward, and the nose is gone.
The woman leans heavily against the red brick wall, arms folded, waiting.
All this finds its way into the Apple Newton, via graphic interface, via the hard little stylo that feigns the familiarity and singularity of handwriting.
The woman on the corner scrolls through her notes. She reads:
"Thursday morning unusually cold day - a newspaper caught around my legs. Headlines - 'Rapist Dies - Woman's Wait is Over'
'144 people perish in a freak electrical storm on Lake Tanganyika. It came from nowhere, says witness.'
'The price of gold falls again- market predictions dire'
'Veterans Remember Fallen Comrades
'Tess the Baby Elephant Refuses to eat'
'Scientist warn of global warming'
'Inside Feature: The Forgotten Nomads. Last of their tribe?'
'The World Remembers Mother Theresa'
'Forgotten Cure for Alzeheimers?'"
Anxious warnings, dire predictions, freakish storms. Remembering and forgetting. Waiting for a cure.
Each screen a portent, a reminder of the threatening significance of things.
Scrolling up she reads 'Wednesday, storms - I saw a man with one leg. He had blood on his mouth. He asked me for money. I said, 'Nothing I can do for you will bring back your leg.' He said, 'Ma'am, when you're hungry it's just less to feed.'
'Tuesday evening - partial eclipse - an old woman at the store bought one can of baked beans, a loaf of sliced white, 150 grams of mince, one tomato, one carrot, and a New Idea.'
'Monday 3.30am. Why are my eyes brown?'
If all the black that makes up each letter on the liquid screen could be shook off like so much damp black confetti, then sieved, separated, pressed between two thin slivers of glass and subject to the gaze of an electron microscope, would she then be able to see?
What is it called when you know beyond doubt, absolutely, without hesitation, that despite missing a link (the critical link, the dreadful link, the link to end all links), that there is Something out There, someone, a central intelligence, a big Eye, a Stranger who you cannot risk recognising, but for whom you are compelled beyond reasonable doubt to wait.
It is a kind of madness.
Must there always be a stranger in this story? Must he (for she is certain of one thing!) wear that heavy cloak, that trilby pulled down on his swarthy face ... Must she wait, like Cathy and Jane, for dark doubles and redeemers?
As the man who licked his lips could tell you, there is a history to women who wait on corners.