Out of the Box

This one Dance recognized.

It was one of the better dreams, like the ones about laughing with his grandmother teacher over her piano keyboard, or when he was a baby, eating imaginary ice cream with his mother in a rusty-red back yard, with iron-tasting dirt all over his face.


Smells. Sharp, astringent, painful.

Ah, baby, you don’t remember your name? Oh, yes, baby, you had such a nice long nap. We just wake you a little while today.

Noises. So many noises. Muffled clangs and bangs and pipe gurglings. Some kind of cooling plant. Diagrams rotate, speculating how refrigeration equipment might be laid out, from the noise–
and then something blurs them away, eases them down into soft, sleepy fog.

Relax. Be easy. We got you, baby, you safe now. Don’t worry. We gonna get you home where you can do your music, and you don’t need to worry about any of that other stuff. None of it.

Touch like mother’s. Sleep.

Remember me, baby? Blink if you can hear me now. Good. You always be such a good boy. You ready to wake up from your nap?

Okay, we got help, you lay quiet and let us help move you. Blink if you hear me, baby.

Blink. Pain. Dazzle. Painful water dripped in his eyes.

Yeah, I know the lights are bright. Man, they look that bright to you? Oh, you so young, your eyes are good, better ‘n mine, sweet boy. You want we should put a cloth there, keep it dark a little while?

Noises. Voices that make no sense. Wheel noises. Clanking metal. Pipes.

You gonna be okay if Lacey puts a cloth there to help with the headache? Okay, if you’re sure.

Hands. Stranger’s hands. They smell of woman, of… something else… something that loves to be dry and dusty and baked warm in the sun. Something like him. Piney, resinous, something that clears the head.

Good, just lay still, lay really still, she’s helping me fix you up after your nap. I know, I know it’s cold, baby, we gonna get you warm. Lacey’s just getting you fixed up with some saline there, she’ll get you cleaned up, and then she’ll get the blankets on you.

Hot. Hot soft things close. Hot … hot blankets. Hot hot good. Shivering.

Well, maybe we shoulda chilled them blankets down a little more to match him, Lacey, but he’s good, he’s liking it. You hear me, sweet boy? Good blink, that’s good. You can call me teslamomma if you want. You give a yell like this in your head, you need anything, I hear you. Good shivering there. That’s good.

Let’s get you onto the bed, baby, just lay easy, Lacey can lift you, just relax. Relax, be easy. You still all stiff from sleeping so long. Oh, you cute as a bug, you sweet boy, you can cry if it hurts, really you can.

silhouette, child at piano, photo by Victor Bezrukov
photo by Victor Bezrukov

Don’t try makin’ noises yet, we want to give you a drink first, you just wait and get some of that water on your tongue. Just a little, good. That’s good, baby. Lacey and me, we’re so happy you feel better. You want to stay awake until the shivers stop, right? Good. That’s good. I’m gonna sing you some things, now, while you’re coming up through these shivers, warming up. We’re gonna sit here and enjoy some some music the way I heard it from some grand musicians. Some truly grand musicians, baby, you’re gonna like this. You can sing it too, in your head, if you want, don’t try using your voice yet. We gotta warm up those vocal cords first, then we hear your singing.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…”

Ahh, baby, you’re so good. You all tired out now? You all warmed up and tired and you in a nice warm bed, you sleep now. Lacey will come feed you when you wake up. Yes, you can sleep now, baby. I got some other folks I need to help, folks who can’t speak out for themselves like you can now. You be good in Lacey’s hands, she always takes real good care of you. Sleep now.

Hugs. He wakes up to being hugged. Warm, soft, pillowy woman’s body, holding him with his head on Lacey’s shoulder, the smell of Lacey’s strong neck, her hands, stroking his hair. Humming.

“Oh when the Saints come marching in, I want to be in that number, oh when the Saints come marching in…”


child's finger on piano key
yes, that sound

“You awake, child?” she says. Lacey has a husky, rich voice full of laughter.

“Mmm,” he mumbles, and kisses her collarbone, and sighs.

“You getting hungry?”

“Mmm,” he agrees.

“How do you feel about chicken gumbo, child? You think you’d like to sit up and eat some of that?” The laughter is so warm. She hugs him tight. “You just make me so happy we got you home, child.”

He smiles back, blurrily, at all the golden-eyed heads that weave about looking at him. “Hi Lacey,” he says slowly, blinking at them, and then he giggles when they lick his face gently with their narrow tongues.

“Okay, tilt a little more. Good, now you’re up. You think you can stay sitting up?”

“Yes, Lacey,” he says, wobbling a little and blinking. His body feels strange, off-balance, as if he’s not quite the right shape. He keeps wanting to lean back, and expecting something to stiffen and brace up, but all that happens is that he starts tipping backward, and he has to tighten his belly muscles and pull forward in time. The little golden eyes watch him, moving around, and sometimes her hand pats his shoulder or his back, steadying him.

“Here’s some water first,” Lacey says. “Sip a little. Good. Now a spoon of gumbo, just a little liquid to it, just sip that, see if you like how I spiced it. Real mild, just for you.”

He likes it.

“Good. Three spoons, then we’ll wait and see if your tummy can hang onto it.”

“More?” he whispers hoarsely after they wait awhile, Lacey humming while he sits up with his hand gripping Lacey’s shirt.

“All right. One bite of solid food, a little chicken. Anh Ha Neul, you are a fine big boy, but still wobbly as a toddler, so don’t you go dancing around just yet.” Another hug, and she guides him into laying down on the big soft bed with her. “Okay, Ha Neul, lie here awhile and see if that gumbo settles for you. I know! Let’s see what you remember of that music teslamomma taught you.”

He falls asleep humming Bach’s Air on a G String. The melody, the composer’s history, the repertoire that provides a modern matrix for it, all of this just as teslamomma told him, is quite clear in his mind.

piano with text about best lyrics
The Best Lyrics

Dance stirs, bumps into the warm body at his back, and blinks awake. He thinks, how odd. The two women were speaking Korean, the whole time. Singing those gospel songs in Korean, even though the meter is a little odd for it. Why would a black woman like Lacey, who makes chicken gumbo and smells marvelously of dry, scaley, heat–he has no explanation for the wonderful solemn little faces with the gold eyes that also belong to her, too– but why would she be speaking Korean to him?

“Mmmm?” Drin murmurs, as if he’s been awake but he’s very relaxed, and he brushes his hand lightly along Dance’s leg, up his hip, onto his belly, up onto his chest, with his whole arm hugging Dance.

“Mmm,” Dance answers, stretching a little into the hug, arching his back. His butt pushes into Drin’s belly. Drin strokes up and down his body, brushing down along Dance’s thigh.

“You’re so cute when you’re sleepy,” Drin murmurs, hugs him, and kisses his ear. “Shh, I’m fine, get some rest.”

Dance rolls back onto his side, shifts his back closer into Drin’s belly. He pulls the warm, freckled arm closer around him, hugs it to his chest, and kisses Drin’s hand. Then he can sleep again.

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