Alice’s Watch

I had a close encounter with a dolphin once. The dolphin was not happy, though I couldn’t tell you how I knew. Horses stomp their feet and neigh with irritation. Dogs bark and growl. This dolphin had its smiley face and was still but I could feel her angst as though it was an assault. She was a recent mother and had been pulled away from her calf. Her anxiety was palpable like a 3-fire alarm casting a 10 foot silent and thick perimeter in the water. I thought, “How unsettling it must be to be a mammal in the ocean.”  It took 12 million years for cetaceans to go from hooved terrestrial creatures to fully aquatic. I think they had time to adjust.

The komodo dragon is related to the mosasaurs, a prehistoric swimming reptile family. Mosasaurs came up to the surface to breath and are thought to have originally been terrestrial. They were the dominant marine reptiles at the end of the dinosaur days. Komodo dragons and mosasaurs are part of a superfamily of lizards called varanoidea. The snake is thought to have evolved from some early lineage of varanoidea.

When my son was one, we took him to Edisto Island in South Carolina. It was his first time at the beach. I was so excited and rushed into the water with him. For what seemed like many long seconds, the undercurrent almost took my little guy under. The undercurrent at Edisto can be dangerously strong, but I had not known. It’s long been a source of morbid reflection for me: my little 20 pound creature being pulled under and never seen again. I shuddered every time I remembered it. I kept it in my little bag of tricks to pull out when things just seemed too good or too calm or if I was too happy.

Recently, we took the kids to Anna Maria Island in Florida and my son, who is 4 now, jumped into the pool while my husband turned his back for a few minutes. The au pair jumped in with her clothes on and got him out. My son told me himself about the incident. He told me he had nearly “drowned-ded.” I thought of that time in Edisto Island and I remembered we had also taken him to the serpentarium, which is what you would think it is, and the little guy almost lost his mind. The first display we took him to, a black snake had risen up before him and begun to sway from side to side to his abject terror. That afternoon he kept waking up from his nap screaming. By the next day, his fear had subsided.

I have had dreams that resolve the problems I have in my waking life. I have even fallen in love in dreams and it has taken me days to shake it. I arrived to Anna Maria Island, exhausted and ill. I went to a white witch lady. I closed my eyes. I saw a Japanese print painting that was moving, like a GIF. It was a scene of shades of purple. They were flowers, the shades, some white, folding over a landscape like a fan. The petals were falling. The colors were so vibrant that I felt alarmed, like I usually do when the pictures behind my eyes first come. They fell before my eyes like a heavy velvet curtain and everything went dark.

I was under water in a shallow pool, near the shore. I could tell it was dark outside but a flashlight shone over me, perhaps from a boat above. My eyes focused in under the water. I saw myself holding a large medallion of some sort. I thought of pirates. I could see every single groove of it. It was more real than real, like a hallucination.

Then it went black again. I felt very sleepy. Somewhere deep in my mind, in the place that produces dreams, the dreams you have right before you wake up, the very strangest ones, a thought was born like a bead of sweat. The thought was that there were two sons. I have one son, but that bead of sweat produced a second son, a duplicate, an extra. The bead of sweat grew and grew and then dropped off under its own heavy weight. The reptilian part of my brain could breathe and I felt that resolution of a mighty weight gone, dispersed. I tried to protest, but it was so feeble and weak, “It doesn’t work that way. That’s not how it works.” The undercurrent of relief was so strong it snatched that thought down to the underbelly of the world.

Then I saw a painting of a rabbit in a suit. The canvas was a blotchy mustard yellow and the rabbit was outlined in black. It was a profile view. The rabbit was very serious. “What is this?” I thought lazily. “This was Alice’s rabbit? Where is his watch?” I thought drowsily as I languidly scanned the painting.

The witch lady spoke. She told me she was “rewinding” as she touched the top of my skull counterclockwise. My heart contracted. Then, she told me she was “forwarding,” and reversed the touch on the top of my head to clockwise. She told me everything could be fixed.

Although my mind does not believe such things, my chest heaved with the silent ache of finally uncovered gratitude.


The featured image is “The Tree of Life, Stoclet Frieze” by Gustav Klimt painted in 1909. The original can be found in the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. Works by Klimt (1862-1918) are in the public domain

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