Oberlin Alumni Magazine: Summer 2001 Vol.97 No.1
Feature Stories
When Worlds Meet
Visions of Oberlin
Safety Man
[cover story] Caught in the Act
Round Robin Takes Flight
Message from the President
Around Tappan Square
  Safety Man

by Dan Chaon

continued from page 4...

"This doesn't seem like it's appropriate," Sandi says, though she's hypnotized as the woman begins to descend the stairs into darkness.

She is thinking of her mother. "You sound depressed," her mother had said earlier, and Sandi had sighed.

"Not really," Sandi said. "Not especially, under the circumstances."

"Mmm," her mother said, in the same suspicious voice she used once, when Sandi would say she was too sick to go to school. "You know something, sweetie?" her mother said, at last, thoughtfully. "I'll tell you. I don't pity the dead. The ones I feel sorry for are those poor children. I think about them all the time, the little doomed things. You and I, Sandi, we probably won't live long enough to see the end of things, but they will. They'll see the beginning of the end, at least. It's going to be so hard on them, and I just keep thinking, what can we do to prepare them and make it easier on them? I don't know, honey. It's inevitable, now. There's no turning back."

Sandi had closed her eyes tightly while her mother was talking, and when she opened them, she saw that her hands were folded on the kitchen table, limp as gloves. "Mother," she said. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
But she does. That's the worst thing. She knows now, as they sit watching TV, and she will know later, when the girls are asleep, when the house is quiet: There are terrible forces at work in the world. She will sit in front of the television, but even with the volume up she will hear the noises as the house settles, creaks, sighs. She'll be aware of the sudden movement of shadows; she'll slip into the girls' bedroom, hovering over their beds, feeling their breath. Once, as she leaned over Molly's bed, the child stirred. "Dad?" she murmured, sleepily, and when Sandi touched her she relaxed. She even smiled vaguely, and Sandi knew that in the child's dream, her father's fingers were against her cheek. A feeling shot through Sandi's hand.

Perhaps there are times such as this for everyone, Sandi thinks, times when we draw closer to the spirit world, to the other lives. Allen himself had said as much, having grown up in a funeral parlor, with dead bodies always downstairs from his bedroom. "I don't discount anything," Allen had told her. "I've seen too much to think that death is really just death."

At the same time, it seems to Sandi that most people, normal people, would recoil from such intimations. Schizophrenia is merely intuition gone awry--intuition metastasizing and growing malignant. Sandi can feel it sometimes, and as she sits in front of the television, she can hear her husband's laugh among the audience that responds to a late-night talk-show host's punch line. "Allen?" she whispers, and Safety Man seems to glow in the moonlight as he sits by the window. He says nothing.
"So who's the guy?" says Janice one afternoon, while they are eating lunch. Across the room, the praying lady is solemnly bending over her salad, and for a moment Sandi is so lost in watching, so lost in thought, that she doesn't know what Janice is talking about.

"Guy?" she says blankly.

"The man I saw you with," Janice says, smiling. "He was riding with you in your car." She arches her eyebrows,
gently suggestive. "He looked cute, from a distance."

What can she say? "Oh," she says. "No, it's...just someone I know."

"That's a start," Janice says. "Knowing someone, I mean." She shakes her head thoughtfully, and her bobbed hair sways from side to side. "You know," Janice says. "I just wanted to say that...I don't know anyone who has gone through the kind of personal tragedy you've gone through, and I just want you to know how much I admire you. You really are a together person, and it's such an inspiration to me. I wanted you to know that. I mean, you're seeing people, and you're getting on with your life, and I'm just really glad for you."

Sandi thinks for a moment: a myriad of things. "Thank you," she says at last, and Janice briefly touches her hand.

"You're a real role model for me," Janice says earnestly. "I'm sorry, I just wanted to tell you that."

The old woman across the room has stopped praying. She now appears to be sobbing silently.

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