I’ve been watching these things pass by the glass for years, almost since I was born at least. They come and stare at me, watching with bored eyes. They mouth soundless dialogues back and forth to each other, some nodding, some gesticulating, or laughing, or crying–some even speak at me. I say “at”, because that’s just how it is. They’re speaking at me, a silent, solitary form of soliloquy. I don’t really know what they are, but I know that they are ugly. They look at me with ugly, soulless eyes, and at night I have dreams about them mocking me. In my dreams they stand just as they do during the day, waiting impatiently for me to dance, or scream, or eat, anything to entertain them. But in my dreams they are different. Their odious eyes burn in a way I haven’t seen. They are accusatory and have a meanness to them. Their awkward hands become steady and menacing; they reach right through the glass, as if it wasn’t there. Grabbing me, they start to shake again, and they shake me. They yell their ugly nonsense at me, babbling ragefully, hoping that they can shake my perceived identity out of me. In my dreams, they want to see me in the way that they imagine I should be, and when I am me, they try to beat it out of me. With hands around my neck, I start to dance. I swing my long arms around me, and I shuffle my feet. I sing a song that they imitate, throwing their evil, ugly heads back to laugh an ugly laugh that consumes me, and while they seem amused, their grip still tightens on my neck. My vision starts to fade, their crooked faces begin to stretch, and they seem far away. Yet, I can still see their little teeth shine with a dismal grin, amused that my shuffle has turned now into panicked kicking. With all of my triumphant reluctancy, I meet their gaze, and in their far-away eyes and straight backs, I see Hell and know that I have lived my life awash in its company.
Thankfully, I always woke to the gentle cajoling of my brother. He was older than I and still had memories of our mother–when my kicking feet awakened him he, in turn, woke me and told me stories about her. She sounds beautiful. We were taken from her at birth, snatched away by pale hands and locked here in this glass cage. He and I tried escaping once–once–but there wasn’t a way out. The false imitation of rocks skirting the thick glass were too hard to climb, and even if we could, there’s no way through the ropes that link together like the ghoulish fingers of my dreams.
Every now and then, new faces would paint the cage with their dismay, wild eyes reflecting off the too-thick glass. Their rage and wildness hardly lasted long. The crushing weight of leisure and safety would bear heavy upon them, like an elephant’s foot upon a twig, and slowly each day you could look into their eyes and know that they had lost another piece of their soul overnight. The life they–and we–had was cancerous, and when it ran its course, those new, wild faces would turn into sinewy caricatures all day staring at the glass, never through it.
While the soulless gazed at eternity, my brother and I would talk. We would each day lay on the ground and stare at the sky through the lattice. We would talk about all the things we wished we could do, ideas for escape, and of our mother–I wish I remembered her. This is how we spent our time, what else was there to do? Then one day when my brother and I were talking, I told him I wished I were a canary. I told him that if I were a canary, I could fly right through the ropes and that I would never stop. I told him that I would fly straight through the clouds, all the way up singing sweet songs that would echo through straight to Heaven. I would fly away and never have to see these cruel faces again, and he told me I was a fool for wishing I was something so beautiful. He said if I were, then I might as well still be sitting in this cage. Before I could ask him what he meant, he was up, and calling for me to follow. He went straight to the big tree in the middle and started climbing, so I followed. At the top he was smiling at me. He was sticking his hands through the holes in the rope and making a bird with his hands. He was escaping.
But he got too carried away. We were up there pretending to fly away, and he started to talk ruefully. He talked of all the things he hated about being a prisoner, and everything beautiful we would see if we could just escape. He started to pull and rail against the ropes, screaming. He shook at the ropes as hard as he could, his eyes narrowly reflecting the hurt and the hate that we had known. Then he fell. His feet slipped from the branch below him, his fingers left the rope, and he fell. Then it was just me, standing on a branch and looking at the ruins of my love.
I tried my hardest to keep from becoming another soulless face, eyes gazing out from a head filled with nothing, but the attrition of imprisonment degraded me. I slept fitfully. The dreams increased in regularity and horror, but each morning I awoke to only hunger and sickening terror. Yet, when I was hungry, food was waiting for me. When I was tired, I could sleep–though I tried not to. But whatever I did, I couldn’t get away from the eyes that gawked at me. I could feel my soul slipping away, could feel my eyes becoming glassy marbles of thoughtless being, and I couldn’t fight it. I had no anchor to hold me from sliding into pits whose bottoms only hold darkness, and eventually I fell too. I didn’t fall like he did. I lived, and somehow that seemed much worse. No, I didn’t fall like my brother, but I fell from myself and became just another monkey, dancing with his reflection.