Tabula Rasa

Ryan Blackwell


In the Midwestern countryside lives a man.  He’s a workin’ man that runs an independent contracting business.  In fact, the house he lives in, he built it himself.  Every single inch.  This house ain’t surrounded by more than a few trees a mile in every direction.  To a stranger, it may seem like nothin’ more than a plain old house with white siding and a wraparound porch.  Oh but it’s much more than that.  The man considers that porch the crowning jewel of his labors.  He made this porch from strong cedar with banisters and a roof that wraps around the entire perimeter of the house.  He thought he’d be grillin’ dinner for his family and havin’ “the talk” with his future son right there on that porch.  It’s a shame really.  Now the man does nothin’ on that porch but reflect on his failures.  It’s nothin’ more than a time capsule of empty promises and shattered dreams.  But enough of my yappin’.  Right now he’s in his house, drinking a High Life just like his father did, while he sits in an old recliner that’s patched up with duct tape.  If loneliness could take physical form, it’d be the man sittin’ in that chair right there.

.           .           .

There they are.  The divorce papers are just sitting on my coffee table and my wife, Claire, wants them signed in 3-5 business days.  They’re just staring at me, expecting the impossible, just like my soon to be ex-wife always did.  I can’t deal with this right now.  I get up and walk through my tattered screen door to the weather beaten porch outside.  The porch I built for her.  I take a deep breath and try to exhale my problems for the time being.  But that doesn’t work because it’s like a sauna out here.  I look at the thermometer I have hanging in front of me and it reads 94 degrees.  Maybe I’ll take a nap and try to forget about all this for awhile.  I sit down in my rocking chair, close my eyes, and listen to the soothing sound of wind chimes as I drift away.

I wake up in a sweat. 

I can’t explain it but I know something is coming.  I feel it.  I get out of my chair, beer can in my hand, and take a look up at the sky.  Something is happening.  You know that hum you hear when you walk into a room and you just know there’s a TV on somewhere?  I like to call it, “electrical ESP.”  That’s what it’s like outside, only that feeling is coming from the sky.  I noticed it when I first walked out here but there are some dark clouds moving in.  Darker than dark.  The sky is unsure of itself.  It bleeds a dark shade of green and gray, camouflaging its true intentions. 

It starts to rain.

The speed and severity increases with every drop.  Soon it isn’t just rain falling, but hail.  Softball sized hail.  All I can hear is the waterfall sound of rain mixed with the thuds of hail striking the roof of the porch where the constant howling of wind causes the chimes hanging in front of me to shriek.  This is surreal.  I grab the thermometer, which is now dancing back and forth in the wind, and it reads 76 degrees.  My jaw plummets to the floor while the sweat on my body turns to ice.  I can hear it.  The sound starts off slowly in the distance but keeps getting closer…CLOser…CLOSER!  The siren ominously blares through the dense air and paralyzes me with fear.  Chills run down my spine while the warm beer falls from my hand.  The thing about warning sirens is you never see where they’re coming from but they’re just there, signaling your doom.  For a moment, I’m frozen in time.  I can feel every single hair on my body stand straight up, trying to escape.  My genitals look for a place to hide and tighten up into my body as the sirens scream like the Doppler Effect from Hell.  My beer hits the porch and I snap out of my trance. 

I watch as the warm beer pours out of the can and flows in between the cracks of the wood, dripping to the ground.  For some reason, I notice it’s getting harder and harder to hear the sirens now.  There is something else drowning out the piercing sound of impending disaster.  The new sound is getting louder and louder.  I can’t even hear the rain falling anymore.  I don’t know what’s making this sound but it’s something like the roar of Niagara Falls mixed with the stampeding of Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Violently, the sound starts to shake the porch.  I’m still looking at the now empty beer can but then the wind grabs it off the porch and whips it out into oblivion.  Finally, I look up and see that the rain is no longer hitting the ground.  It’s flying horizontally like a flock of birds fleeing from danger.  The rain is running away.  I look right, towards the direction the rain is running from, and I see It.  On the horizon, about a mile and a half away, is a spiraling pitch black pillar of destruction that starts on the ground and rises all the way up to the Heavens.  My heart feels like it wants to jump out of my chest and join in with the escaping rain, but I just stand there, captivated by this phenomenon.  For some reason, with my fingers pointing left, I stick my right hand out at arm’s length in front of my face and try to gauge how wide this monstrosity is.  It’s no use because it’s still wider than my hand even at a mile and a half away. 

What am I doing standing here?  I don’t have much time.  A drip of courage enters my blood stream as I run back into the house and flip over my sofa so that it forms an upside down “V” on the floor.  I crawl into my shelter and wonder why I didn’t build a basement.  It’s getting closer now.  I can hear it.  It sounds like a giant bowling ball barreling down the lane.  My house is the only pin.  The wind is getting aggressive.  It’s gotten a hold of my house now and is shaking it like a vending machine, trying to claim my life like it is rightfully hers.  I use the last ounce of my courage and peek out from underneath my cushioned shelter just in time to watch my roof get torn off like a sheet of notebook paper.  The world starts to spin.

I black out.

I wake up in my past.

I see my Father.  Man, he looks younger.  Wait, he’s building my tree house.  I helped him with that.  “Dad!  I’m here!”  He takes a sip of High Life and just keeps swinging the hammer.  Why can’t he hear me?  As I’m pondering the question of how exactly I am here, watching a memory from my past, I see myself run towards my old man holding a hammer that’s bigger than my head.  I hear my dad tell me, “Look here son.  Hold the hammer at the bottom when you swing it.  Just let it do the work for ya.  I know, I know.  I told ya a million times so enough of my yappin’.”  Look at me go.  I wish I could be that happy about something again.  I was about six years old when I helped my dad build that tree house.  Now, I am watching him teach me how to swing a hammer for the first time.  Before I get a chance to soak in this moment, everything begins to fade.  The memory around me starts to drip to the ground like wet paint down a canvas, and everything turns pitch white.  Tabula rasa.  As fast as the last memory faded, a new one starts to materialize around me.  The setting starts drawing itself in like lines in an etch-a-sketch. 

Everything is black and white until…a blinding flash!      

When I open my eyes I am in my past again.  Here I am watching my adolescent self at a party.  I don’t know if I remember this.  Wait.  There’s Claire.  Wow, she’s gorgeous.  There’s something about that smile that makes me feel like everything will be all right.  Now I remember.  I was obsessed with her red hair that night.  My friend dared me to go over to her and ask her if she was a natural, but I just used it as an excuse to talk to her.  Oh great, there I go.  My younger, smart-ass self goes up to Claire and says,

“Hey there.  I just have a question.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, you probably don’t get asked this every day but, how was it growing up with red hair?”

That’s when I fell in love with her.  She’s adorable when she laughs, the way she tilts her head slightly to the left and looks directly at you with her beautiful hazel eyes.  To this day, I don’t know why she thought that question was funny, but she seemed to like me after that.  The memory starts to dissolve once again and I’m back in white space.  But as soon as I get here I’m thrust into a new memory.

I remember this like it happened yesterday, whenever yesterday was.  This memory happened about three weeks before Claire filed for divorce.  There we are on the porch, ready to rip each other’s heads off.  I must’ve dropped in mid-fight because she’s already in tears.  I listen in as I yell, “All of this was for you Claire!  The house, the porch, even these damn chimes!  I hate these goddamned things!”   She tries her hardest not to hit me and painfully utters the last words she ever said to me, “This house was for me?  No…no…no.  We were supposed to have kids.  We were supposed to have a family, but lately, it’s like you don’t even care.”   With that, Claire walked out of my life and mailed me the papers a few weeks later.
 I didn’t stop trying.  I was just ashamed that there might be something wrong with me since we’ve been trying so long and she hadn’t gotten pregnant.  As I watch her drive away down the dusty road, the memory fades away and I’m back in the white room.  How did this happen?  Am I dead?  After that thought, the white room starts to shake.  The room viciously vibrates and I just stand there, defeated.  This is the end.  I look around and the white room is starting to stretch, further and further until…it shatters.  All I see now is black.  But it’s not pitch black.  There is a white haze that fills the black, almost making it brighter.  I hear the voice of a little girl.  She’s laughing.  She’s laughing the way Claire always did. 

I open my eyes.

I see a couple of nurses staring at me, tears in their eyes.  They take a mask off of my face and ask me if I can talk.  Kind of a weird question so I simply reply, “Yes.  Yes, ma’am I can talk.”  They continue to cry and tell me I’ve been in a coma for over three years ever since the storm and it’s a miracle that I’m awake.  I look to my right and there’s Claire, holding my hand while tears flow down her cheeks like rain dripping down an apple.  She kisses me and whispers, “I’ll always love you,” into my ear and introduces me to a little girl named Mira.  Mira is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen with her strawberry blonde hair and green eyes.  She smiles and I immediately feel like everything will all right.  It’s like I’ve known her my entire life.  She kisses my cheek, gives me a hug, and whispers into my ear, “I missed you, Daddy.”

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