By John Thomas Tuft

The old wooden gate is barely visible any longer, back among the trees and brush, the dim outline of a dirt track swallowed up in overgrown brambles. It is a path only for those who seek it out. Finding the old gate itself is not considered to be a desirable outcome in one’s life. Getting it open wide enough to pass through is a struggle and once through it the trees crowd close, and the light is dim as though it is always late afternoon in a dusty autumn. A traveler is drawn further up and further in by the force of their own desire, compelled by their need to ask the question as much as their desire for an answer. Through the gate they must travel and onward with naked need tucked safely behind their hearts. After a while, the trees begin to thin, and the edge of the great chasm comes into view. An ordinary human being making an extraordinary journey each time, to stand at the edge of this great space of rock and sky, terrified to transmogrify yet pleading with all of their heart, mind and strength: “Can you see me?”

First to arrive this day is Belinda. She is in her 50s, tired fear in her eyes, the lines at the corners of her mouth worn deep. She holds a picture of her husband, Frank, as she looks out into the distance. “Have you ever had to pack the open wounds of a cancer tumor that breaks through the skin? Smelled the smells, heard the screams, over and over and over, day after day? Have you ever been on your hands and knees on the floor at 3am, wiping up the vomit, the body waste, too tired to remember your own name? Then when you are about to fall asleep, his pain meds lose their grip and the agony of his begging for you to do something, anything? He rallied for the children when they stepped into his room, but then they are gone and you climb in beside him, his skin like tissue paper, his bones jutting into your side, as you try to hold him. But even that is too much for him. So yes, I did it. He asked me, he begged, he wept, he cursed. I opened the capsules and mixed them into his favorite alcohol. I wiped the tears from his cheeks while mine went untouched as he slipped away.” The picture in Belinda’s hand trembles with the fervor of her scream: “Can you see me?”

Next is a well-muscled man, Dixon, his age hard to determine. The unmistakable markings of prison tattoos cover nearly every inch of his body. His eyes are dark and fierce. Shoved into his back pocket is a tattered paperback copy of the novel, The Clowns of God by Morris West. He stands defiant on the edge, hands on hips. “I spent two years in the hole. But I didn’t snitch. Yeah, I was part of it but he had it coming. He went after my sister; I came for him. He’s a monster. Yeah, I did my nineteen years, five months and 29 days. I did my time living in hell. I was beaten, raped, starved, ostracized but I never broke. I stood with my brothers in the joint. Protection is the name of the game. Ain’t no justice out here, but in there…hell, in there, the crumbs of justice litter the ground. C’mon! You want to make me or break me!” He pauses for breath, his chest swelling as he raises his face to cry: “Can you see me?”

Time passes. At last, a tall, thin woman approaches the edge. Andrea, holding a little girl by the hand. She urges the child to wait at a safe distance from the edge, giving her a doll to cuddle, while she approaches the edge. Her voice is soft at first, seeming to gather strength from her own words. “I always wanted to be a mother. We had everything ready for when Jeremy was born. But…something was wrong. He is deaf and the genetics of his brain got mixed up. He was never a sweet little boy, but I loved him. I wanted the best for him. He strikes out at a world which makes no sense to him. He has always required constant care, constant attention, constant vigil. The school district said that he had to go to school with other children, so we enrolled him. His favorite teacher would put her jaw against his and begin to hum so that Jeremy would know about music…” She stops and looks back toward the little girl.

“He began to get so strong. He would grab at the teachers and the other children. I don’t know if he knows he is hurting them.” A huge sigh. “Then I found out I was pregnant again. Everything is fine with her, but Jeremy keeps growing and keeps grabbing and hurting. It was too much and too dangerous.” A breeze from somewhere tugs at her hair. “I put him in a group home. I drive there every Saturday.” A long pause. “But I cannot go inside. I look in through the window, see him in there without his family. I cry. I stand there and cry. But I can’t go in.” The breeze dies down so her voice is clear: “Can you see me?”

The little girl approaches her mother, peers over the side of the chasm. “Look Mommy! Look, I see myself.” Andrea looks down. Sure enough, at the bottom of the question cliff is a still, still lake. Like a reflecting pool. Like a giant mirror…wondering…can you see me?

Words are magic and writers are wizards.