He forgot to bring water. Seeing as how amped up he was to start a new jogging routine, being properly prepared had slipped his mind. So, Tam Rogan felt mother nature was mocking him when he spotted a gentle gush of water spilling out of a natural rock wall. He stopped to catch his breath–now in a deep and shady area off the forest path–and stared at the crack and the waterflow. “Water, water…and not a drop to drink,” Tam mumbled, smirking about a distant high school memory of his often-rumored-as-alcoholic English teacher. Now a parent himself, Tam understood why a teacher might be driven to the bottle. Despite a general understanding of the dangers of drinking unfiltered water out in the wilderness, Tam figured he would take a few sips anyway. He was desperately thirsty. Welp…nature’s filter I guess. Should be okay. He glanced at the multicolored layers of rock that stretched fifty feet up. Then, he cupped his hands and gulped mouthful after mouthful with total abandon. Surprisingly, it was ice cold. Tam wondered about contracting a brain-eating amoeba or guinea worm. He amused himself with his own dichotomy, imagining two tiny seeds implanting themselves within the dark cavity of his abdomen. One seed representing the tiniest of death wishes, and the other his desire to live a long life and better himself as a man. I wonder which seed will take root the deepest. He laughed, then turned and jogged back home feeling more refreshed than he had in years. ~ That night, Tam Rogan dreamt of the rock wall–which in hindsight he realized was the only one in the entire forest–and the delicious water that sprang from its only crack. And although he didn’t plan on another jog the following morning, he figured he could afford to come late to the office that day. It seemed to take him far less time to reach the water again. He sat down and let the water run over his head and back, then closed his eyes. For some reason, the memory of a glass of soothing bedtime milk from his childhood came to him. The water falling on him grew warm. He reached up to his head and felt a creamy consistency. “What the–” He saw the liquid was now white. Tam lurched several steps back. But, in spite of himself, he had to taste it. It started with one little bit. Milk! Over the next half hour or so, the man gorged himself on milk until he was so full, he had trouble making it back home by nightfall, let alone jogging and making it into the office for the day. Tam’s family prodded and demanded when he returned, but he wasn’t able to put into words what had happened. He was so exhausted on top of the fact that he was starting to question whether something in him had snapped. ~ Dreams again that night. Endless. Racing. Rivers of pure, white milk. Tam floated in the creamy stream on his back. Upon awakening, Tam Rogan had no concerns towards his family, nor for the fact that he could lose his job for missing work for the second day in a row. He slipped into his sneakers (without re-lacing them) and left at a dead run for the rock wall. … The wall looked more beautiful today, maybe it's the same but in his relief at finding it again, establishing that it was not a figment of his imagination that was making it seem enchanting. Breathing heavily, Tam reached the stream and closed his eyes thinking of cold refreshing water and he was granted enough to soak him to the burning heels. He tried milk, honey, wine and it worked every time.
To test further, he tried ice-cream but nothing happened. It probably works only for liquids, he thought, examining the surface of the wall. It was made of layers of multi-colored rock, formed it seems over thousands of years. He touched a layer that seemed pink and the surface came off like butter that’s kept out over a warm night. It smelled sweet and when he tasted it with the tip of his tongue he couldn’t believe it was strawberry ice-cream. Licking it he felt it was the best strawberry ice-cream he has ever had. Ok, maybe the second best. The best was years back when he had done well in school his father had taken him out for the first time for a treat. He was so happy but when he had looked at his father he could only see disappointment. Tam, you have potential and could do much better, dad had said.
Something flickered on the rock above.
He stepped back to get a better view and couldn’t believe his eyes, his father’s face was looking down at him more real than how he was imagining it, and it had the same disappointed look. A shocked waved stupidly. The father on the rock surface seemed surprised and waved back smiling. Tam thought he might be hallucinating, and tried to blink the dad away to no avail. It then struck him that maybe this happened because he remembered an incident from past that he had always tried to forget.
He tried thinking of the woman who he had fallen in love with, the first time in his life. She never did. The picture immediately changed to a version of woman as he often dreamt of, with the exact seductive look on her face and the revealing clothes.
This, in turn, made him think of his wife and their little baby, he felt pity as he was sure she would be tending to their son besides doing all the chores he didn’t do. The image of his wife, frustrated yet working flashed immediately.
Thoroughly intrigued and excited, he decided to investigate. Climbing however wasn’t an option due to the steep angle and lack of foothold. He walked into the ferns that flanked the sides, walking parallel to the wall and finally found an opening.
As soon as he was on the other side, the scene transformed into a barren expanse. There was sound of machinery coming from the top. The wall on this side looked like a contraption with thousands of chambers dug out into the rock. Each chamber had a miniature Tam working on a piece of machine protruding out of the wall, with a slot from which a retractable appendage seemed to be coming out with instructions. Most of them did their work with an intensity, as if they had a purpose and believed in it.
The ones who sat idle appeared to be sad. Every once in a while, they looked wistfully at the glass windows separating the chambers, the blinds on the windows were however closed. But there was nothing stopping them from opening and seeing through, maybe they were afraid. As soon as the protruding limb came with a command the sad mini-Tam got busy, once more with a sense of purpose.
Some of the chambers had people in it. Peering hard he could make out his father in one, sitting on his favorite couch and irritated by the Tam questioning him. All he must be looking for was a good sleep. There was one with the toddler sitting ignored while the Tam looked unhappy with having nothing to do, the baby started to cry. Another chamber had the seductive woman being made to wear clothes she didn’t want to, probably hated them. His wife in another chamber looked forlorn as she filled a bottle with milk, or was it wine. There was a chamber with books on a table and its Tam was reading one and typing into a keyboard.
This was overwhelming. Tam couldn’t decide on a single emotion or response to the scene, he kept looking at it mesmerized till he spotted a sleeping miniature Tam in one of the chambers towards the top. He was being prodded by the probe which finally managed to wake him up.
The mini Tam woke up and realized he was late for work. He looked at the window with the shades closed. There was a moment of doubt, maybe an urge to think about his life and what it all meant. But then he shuddered at the thought and got up, eager to go to work, there was too much of it piled up already.
This is an old post, and one of the few where I responded to a writing prompt. The prompt-provider Rachel is a brilliant writer, which must be evident even from the preface of this post, her prompt is a story in itself.
The reason I am posting this again is because of a conversation between me and R, or rather my analysis. I usually refrain from adding such commentaries, this was an exception.
R: WOW! I particularly liked this surreal quality that you created! The images that came into my mind were so amazing. The ice cream and the faces and the multiple Tams and the windows. So cool! Very very unique! I loved that. Now I have to ask about the ending. I take the shaded window is a representation of life’s big unanswered questions that none of us can know. Is this what you meant? Please explain I am so curious! Great job! Thank you so much for writing this.
E: The ending could mean many things, how one reads depends on one’s interpretative volition.
The whole piece, and not just the ending, can be interpreted in different ways. What is the wall? Is it a dream, is it Tam’s imagination, thoughts, or his life. Pick what you may, but beyond the wall lies what it needs to keep these things going. It is the price Tam pays for living, for his happiness, everything fulfilled at the expense of something.
Then comes the question whether Tam realizes this, the windows to knowledge, to the futility of it all. Life’s great questions, and their answers being on the other side of the window, one just need to open the blinds. But either they choose not to, or they are afraid of the reality, choosing instead to remain immersed in the immediate present.
The Tam who wakes up everyday, is no way different than the miniature Tam who wakes up by the prod, eager to go to work after a momentary lapse.
Maybe he is the same, one of the many Tams toiling for someone else. Someone who is enjoying the rewards on the other side of the wall, but choosing not to cross to this side.