I woke, or was, or found myself, upon a stair – old, stone-built, spiralling below a bright blue disc that was surely sky, to judge by the little fluffed up puff of white that hung against its blueness. Who put that there? Some painter with exquisite taste in jokes and pure cloud on his pallet? I was, yes, on a case of stairs, but how or why or where I did not know, nor if this was the start of something or the end, or just an interrupted continuity.
The stairs were ancient, medieval or beyond, each one worn and rippled thin by the weight and rub of many steps – but whose? What shoe-soles tramping in their tens of thousands had made that slow erasure of the stone? Had barefoot pilgrims clambered up this narrow way and worn their heels, their hands and knees, red-raw with faith, but if so then to what? I saw no shrine or oracle above as far as I could see at all, no heaven’s gate ajar, no destination for devoted wanderings. So then, did water pouring from that little cloud which sometimes maybe turns to grey and fills the sky with heaviness, then lets it go like letting go religious faith, account for all this inundated indentation? Can running water be arrested, held accountable for what it does to stone? And next a chilling thought occurred: maybe no other person, element or force – but I alone, trudging up and up for centuries, had caused the weathering, perpetually in a dwam, a dream, a Sisyphean doom of drudgery, and Escheresque the staircase keeps on turning, corkscrewing me into somnambulant eternity. Alone? But someone else had built it, must have built so tall a tower, oh yes it was a tower, the stairs were not freestanding, they hugged the wall, projected from it, pegs with only one end fixed and down below I saw the sickening drop of this stone cylinder, this tunnel swivelled to the perpendicular, this barrel of a prehistoric, geologic gun. If suddenly it vanished into thin, thin air what distance would I fall or would I even fall or find instead I was in flight, a gull, an Icarus before he stopped believing in his wings? And the air was thin, Andean, fresh and icy, it caught my throat as I peched and panted on, seeing my breath blow whitely little mirror images of that cloud far above. My breath was in the mirrors and I took this as a sign I was alive. I surely was not dead, but what if I were sleeping, dreaming? I feared to wake and fall, I feared to sleep and find that this was all there was, that life is but a passing dream, where all is false but the things unseen. I feared to dive deep into dreams yet longed to go. The sound of rushing water filled my ears yet not a drop of water fell. I could not stop my feet, their endless climb, I could not feel my heart beat out the time yet all the while my breath came hard against the airless air. Could this be all there is, and nothing more? Life like a story told that in the telling waxes old, and in a second all the years are gone, you wake and find yourself somewhere you’ve been before, upon a stair – old, stone-built, spiralling below a bright blue disc that surely is the sky to judge by puffed up fluffs of white suspended in the blue put there by some exquisite painter for a joke. You are, yes, on a case of stairs, you don’t know why or how and if it is an end or a beginning but you’re in it now. Barefoot pilgrim, get on your hands and knees and wear them raw, there is no going back, the stairs below are folding up beneath you, the memories are fading, a million Icaruses tumble past your eyes and you are out of breath. Pilgrim, flap the wings you don’t believe in, make your soul take flight and soar beyond the crumbling ruins of the palace where once you roamed without a care. Ah, but your soul is not a bird, it is a sheet of paper torn from some great, ancient book and, if you look, look closely, there is nothing written on it, no message from the absent cloud in the sky that is no longer there, all you can see are sheets of paper blowing in the empty wind, the empty air.
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