Monday, February 28, 2011

Red House

Always surprised by the pure bright crimson when they take the blood out of my arm: the life that can feel so feeble and dull, at times, is pulsing there, brilliant red, all the time. All the work that goes into making that fluid: spleen and liver preparing and purifying it, the lungs carefully oxygenating it to come up with that red -- the characteristic hue of oxygen working its Shiva changes: the rust red of corroding iron, the brilliant red of the radical blood -- it goes on all the time, under my drab pale skin, whatever the weather, whatever the mood.

We live in many houses, built and natural: we're so many intersecting series of hyperdimensional Russian dolls. Oh, but we believe specially in this house, the house of the red blood! Never mind that a clever researcher can convince you with ease that you've sprouted a third arm, one that you can feel and move just like your others. Still you believe the others are real, real as the cold pounding rain, indisputable. And we call this being hard-headed and realistic. Yah.

When we wriggle out of this carapace, in sleep, and wander into our other houses? Then we're dreaming. “It's only a dream,” we say. We could say that of many things.

A crow flies in the rain, cold, waterlogged, and resolute. I follow him and travel backwards into the houses of the past. I open my mouth and my teeth roll out like pearls, or like the pomegranate seeds of the fairy tale. (Find them all, before the Djinn comes!) I linger in the little red house of my childhood.

We tell a funny story about why our present house, the one we're selling, is red. One day when we were nearly finished painting, I came down the steps to look at the progress with Webb, our carpenter. “It looks pretty good,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I wasn't too sure about this red, but I think I like how it's turning out.”

Martha gave me a look. “You're the one who wanted this color,” she said.

I looked back at her in astonishment. “I thought you wanted this color,” I said.

Webb was not much given to laughing out loud, but this made him do it. He regained his composure, turned grave as turnip, and surveyed the two storeys of fresh paint. “Still time to change your mind,” he said.

I chose the color? Martha doesn't make mistakes about this sort of thing. I must have chosen the color. And I chose the color of my childhood house, though I didn't realize that till just now. What color should a house be? Why, red, of course: a good sober but powerful red.

My massage sheets? Red, blood-red: not the color they call blood red, which is the shade of blood that's darkened five minutes in the air, but real blood-red, the red you see spurting through the needle into the clear plastic vials. Chinese red.

To the Chinese, red is not the color of wrath. It's the color of luck, and the color of wealth: what we would call a golden opportunity, they would call a red one. I often wonder how much of the Western dread of Chinese Communism came, not from the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and so forth, but simply from a failure to translate fully. “The Golden Army” -- how much less sinister that sounds, to Western ears, than “The Red Army!”

Out through the sleet, the traffic lights on 62nd Ave burn bright red, and the neon of Ken's automotive picks it up. Everything else is rain-dimmed and indistinct: but that glow goes to my heart and lifts it up.

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