Plunket in Wonderland

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A parent makes a leap of faith and love

from Chapter Twenty-Six: “The Fool on the Hill” 

Plunket stared at the lump in the bottom bunk of the triple tiered bed in the dining room. The lump did not move, which was its first mistake in trying to pose as Dean, the most restless of the triplets. Plunket raised his eyes to the middle tier where Brando should have lain. Its lump was less pronounced, the half-hearted result of someone who had known deep down inside that how well his effort was to be judged had little to do with how well he did his job, but rather how closely the examiner examined.

Plunket stepped onto the lowest rung and climbed another to gaze at the top bunk where Garbo, Dean and Brando lay innocently tangled up in one another. The bunk belonged to Garbo for the week. All three triplets wanted most to sleep on top and Plunket and Alice-Carroll had decided three years ago—when they had realized a three-tiered bunk bed was the only possible solution for the crammed space—that a weekly rotation system was the fairest. The system worked, at least for the first ten minutes, for nine out of ten nights all three ended up sleeping together on the top. The rotation mattered little, except that the person on the bottom bunk had the longest way to climb to arrive on top and therefore usually ended up in the least desired spot next to the wall, where the paper-thin wall monster might slip up between frame and wall and snatch you. Sure to form, it was Dean, Brando and Garbo, from wall to guard rail, all snuggled up with their stuffed animals—a variety of every conceivable shape and form from fish to fowl, although no sardine, which would have been the most apropos.

As he gazed at his sleeping offspring he thought about their first day home from the hospital when he had forgotten he had neglected to prepare for the surprise arrival of the additional two babies. One crib for three infants didn‘t work and the proud parents—reader and doctorate—like bookends slept on each end of their queen-size bed to sandwich in and protect their babies. Now, six years later, Plunket felt uncertain if he still possessed the necessary solidity to be a prop. More than the protector, he felt the need to be protected from the outside world and like a dried piece of bread sandwiching in three pieces of tough meat, he would crumble with the first unforeseen bite from the razor-sharp teeth of reality. Things fall apart exoskeletally, too; the outside cannot hold.

But something inside told him he must hang together, or else, as the Franklin adage goes, they would all hang separately. He was one half of the parental glue, and if he slipped, the other four would surely fall; if he fell apart—whether in the center or the outside—the family puzzle would never quite assemble perfectly again, no matter which way each individual piece was turned. He could not therefore slip or splinter; he could not therefore whither or die. With each faltering breath he felt the imbalance of his life tilting inexorably closer toward rock bottom. Too much oxygen—fueled by the paranoia of not getting enough—was being brought into his system and not enough carbon dioxide was escaping. It was the psychological hyperventilation that comes from being too excited, from being too free, and he wondered if a big brown bag, perhaps even the false comfort of his old cubicle, should be used to slip over his life to breathe into to restore a level head. Unlevel heads produced unlevel thoughts.

Stumbling a beat on the ladder as he took yet another step higher to get a closer perspective on his three sleeping children, he began to see things with a clearer vision and focus: Like his father before him he needed to move—not necessarily geographically, but at least spiritually and emotionally. He didn‘t know where and he didn‘t know how, but he certainly knew when, and when was now. All he sensed was a strong need to arrive. He would close his eyes tight and maybe everything would go away. He would close his eyes tight and be blind, and when he opened them again he would see that he was somewhere else. A need for a blind voyage. A need to tell his sleeping children it would be all right. But their ears were closed as their minds drifted somewhere else or simply slept. The blind telling the deaf not to worry, but the deaf couldn‘t hear and the blind couldn‘t see them not hearing. How does one assure a sleeping child that he is safe to sleep? What are the words to be poured into closed ears? What are the feelings that gush out, or should they trickle like deep watering to make certain the roots grow down deep and strong and not too close to the surface where they might get trampled?  “I love you,” he whispered in each one‘s ear, but each child remained unmoved. Not a stir. Not a gasp. Not a murmur. Not a twitch. Nothing. On the surface just a set of sleeping triplets—the hard, cold shell of smooth dispassion off of which all emotion must bounce and drip.  “I love you,” he repeated with the same frozen   response, but who knew if any droplets sank down to penetrate their sleep? It’s easy to love a sleeping child, but harder, still, for him or her to feel it.

Plunket climbed to the top rung of the ladder and needed to crouch down to keep his head from hitting the ceiling, which began closing in on top of him. His world had somehow compressed. He tilted his head toward his children, who lay midway between floor and ceiling, safely suspended in midair and out of harm‘s way by the uppermost tier of their bed. His eyes remained fixed on their three peaceful faces which shined brightly in the reflection of the street lamp outside their window. He shifted his eyes toward the light and stared directly into it and when he re-focused his gaze back on the triplets the aura from their faces expanded and merged into a solid blur that temporarily stole his sight, like snow blindness.

He snapped out of his daze and the images of his children‘s faces came back into focus. He glanced outside a final time for what he hoped would be a fortifying look at the stars, but they were whited out by the lights of Los Angeles. The moon was new and nowhere in sight and with no stars or moon the sky seemed lonelier than ever and the universe more empty and vast. He gazed at his children one final time from the uppermost rung of the ladder.  “I love you,” he repeated. It was all he could say. Three little words. Three tiny specks of certainty on the untold horizon. Without bending his eyes from his offspring to see where he might land, he leaped.

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