The following is an amalgam of an image I saw in a dream last night and my attempt to fill in some of the missing pieces. I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, if anything. All of this is happening while the haunting refrains of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and Ian Brown’s “Set My Baby Free”, respectively, float repeatedly through my head. I realize the contexts of the songs probably have absolutely nothing to do with the setting I’m describing, but delicately extracted and isolated from the main body of the song , they feel like they have meaning here. I post it because I don’t want to forget it:
A young woman stands in a backyard, a Polaroid picture held at her side in a trembling hand. The look on her face straddles the line between confusion and despair, an overcast expression on a sparkling, crystal afternoon. The grass under her feet hums a radiant green. Slightly behind her and to her right sits a classic metal swing set. The slide and swing furthest from her sit unoccupied. The swing closest to her is also empty but hangs suspended in mid-flight about three feet above the ground.
Slightly behind her and to her left stands a man, maybe a few years older than the woman. He is inanimate, not appearing to move in any way, not even the gentle rise and fall of breathing shoulders. His face looks like it just rolled off a mannequin production line, completely neutral. He stares ahead into a distance only he can see.
A few feet in front of her, a trio of children stand motionless, side-by-side, facing away from her. From left to right, they stand in order of increasing height and age. The youngest, a boy of about three, stands at the right hand of his sister, a girl of about five. She holds the same position next to a boy of seven, her older brother. The two on the left have mousy brown hair, the boy’s curly and unkempt, the girl’s long, wavy and wispy. The thick, sandy-blonde hair of the eldest rests like a snug helmet just an inch or so from his eyes.
The woman brings her quavering hand up to study the Polaroid. Her eyes move from the photo to the children and she steps around to face them. Recognition passes over her face and she moves her empty hand to her lips. After a slight pause, determination replaces recognition. She takes another look at the picture and carefully slides it into the breast-pocket of her blouse.
The woman steps toward the youngest and picks him up underneath his armpits. His position and expression do not change. She carries the rigid boy to the enchanted swing and lifts him up. She must reach high to clear the swing with the boy’s stiff legs. Once clear, she lowers the boy to the swing, angling him slightly toward her. The backs of his legs rest on the front of the swing and she bends the boy forward at the waist into a sitting position. She then bends one arm into position to hold the chain, molding his fingers around it. After repeating this with the other hand, the woman cautiously removes her hands from the boy and moves in front of him. She pulls the Polaroid halfway out of her pocket and quickly slides it back in. She bends the boys knees just so and moves close to his face. With her index finger and thumb spread apart to measure about an inch, she moves her hand to his eyelids and expands each of them. She uses both her hands to shape his mouth into a long “O”. The woman then takes a step back and observes what she’s done. Her hands immediately cover her face and she bends slightly forward.
I want you to set my baby free…
Recovering quickly, the woman moves her hands to her sides and shakes her head twice, as if to fend off a curious bee. She picks her head back up and quickly removes the Polaroid from her pocket. After studying the photo, she places it carefully between her lips and moves toward the other boy. In the same manner as his brother, the woman molds the oldest into the corresponding image held firmly in her mouth. The boy is pushing hard off his left foot, his right pulled nearly to his chest. He balances impossibly. She twists his torso to the right and gently moves his head to look over the right shoulder. With care, she creates a look of anticipation and joy on his face.
The woman again consults the photo, slips it back into her pocket and then carries the girl into position just behind her brother, hand reaching but not quite catching the object of her pursuit. The bottom of the girl’s dress hovers behind her on an imaginary wind. Her eyes are closed, yet somehow twinkling, a timeless giggle formed on her cheeks.
The woman wipes an eye and nimbly steps around the pair of frozen runners. The man stands in front of her, as lifeless as a telephone pole. She stops and gazes at him for a long moment. While still looking at the man, the woman slowly pulls the Polaroid from her pocket. She puts the picture in front of her eyes and studies. Her hand moves gradually to her side and she lets the Polaroid drop to the ground.
She moves to him and presses close. She takes his left arm and wraps it around her waist. Her hands tilt his head back almost imperceptibly and begin to sculpt his face. His eyes are squeezed into a flickering squint, his mouth wide open to allow hearty laughter to pour silently out.
But for all the manipulation of his face, she cannot manage to equal his jubilant expression. Hers verges on crumbling down her blouse. Finally, she buckles into a heap on her knees, elbows bent, palms flat on the ground, chin buried in her chest, straw-blonde hair enclosing her face.
I lost myself, I lost myself…