Infinity at the outhouse
From "Sliced Bread" by Rosemary Phillips
The wind was warm as I lit the hurricane lamp and headed to the outhouse located halfway between the big farmhouse and the hired-hand house where I was living. I was renovating the little building and had torn down all the old plaster and brick chimney and insulated the walls and ceilings with fibreglass. It was a magnificent little house which originally had a couple of bedrooms upstairs and a walled-in living room downstairs. When I removed all the old plaster the walls had to come down, so both floors were left as big open spaces. There was no power, just an extension cord from the main house, and the only heat was from an old wood stove which I had purchased for fifty dollars from Mr. Brown next-door. My brother and I had installed the insulated chimney during the first snow fall of the season, sitting perched on the crest of the roof in the blowing snow to put in rivets and tar the seals. It was by no means an easy job as our hands stiffened with the cold and our vision was hampered by the growing storm. It came as no surprise when I walked down the hill the next day to look at our efforts from a distance and saw that the chimney had a unique tilt to one side.
Without electricity and appliances the house was really quiet. In the evenings the living space took on a warm glow from the kerosene lamps as I huddled beside the wood stove and read before going up to my bed under the rafters. I could hear the winds as they blew against the windows and walls, and the rain as it fell on the tin roof. In the mornings I was awoken by the daily ritual of the starlings as they lined up in the sunrise for take-off, rebounding from the loose eves-trough like divers off a squeaky spring-board at a swimming pool.
There were no locks on the doors and yet I felt completely safe. A wild white cat had dared to come through the open door and sit by the wood stove to warm up. She had been injured and after a fair bit of coaxing, which meant leaving the door open a fraction for her to freely enter or leave, I used Friar's Balsam on the open wound, and as if thanking me for the healing work, she became a protector and slept on my bed at night. She was beautifully sensitive, and I know I did her an injustice by introducing a second cat to the home. There really wasn't room enough for the two and one day she came up to me in the yard, spoke a few gentle words then disappeared into the woods, never to be seen again. Over the years I have often felt her presence on my bed, still protecting me.
Nights in the little house were very long for it was during the night that I had strange experiences. I dreaded going to bed for fear of what I would encounter. It was an intense time of spiritual night-school for me. My dreams were full of activity and sometimes I awoke from them to find electrical shocks permeating my body, and my knees quaking. One night I awoke to see a tall figure standing at the bottom of the bed, his back towards me, guarding me. He wore a dark brown coat of Victorian fashion. In the dream I had been running in an underground tunnel looking for a hiding place. As I gained full consciousness the image slowly disappeared and I lay quietly shaking.
A family of field mice, in looking for warmth, had made their winter home in the walls. In the dark I could hear them scurrying along the rafters about three feet above my head. One night I was awoken by a loud scratching which continued for quite some time. I couldn't get back to sleep so I shakily lit the kerosene lamp and looked towards the direction of the sound. It was a spider, no bigger than the circumference of my thumb. It had slipped down the plastic sheet put up to protect the insulation and it was having a very difficult time climbing the great distance back up to the crest of the roof. The scratching was the noise made by its little legs as they tried to get a grip on the plastic. Once I knew what the sound was I felt reassured and blew out the lamp, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Before going to bed I usually took a last minute trip to the outhouse. Although the wind was warm on this particular night it was gusting. Thankfully the hurricane lamp stayed lit as I made my way along the path from the back door to the deluxe two-seater outhouse that my brother had designed and constructed. When I left the outhouse to begin the return trip a strong gust of wind blew out the lamp flame. I stood in the dark and leaned against the outhouse wall. After my eyes had adapted to the night they were drawn upwards to the heavens. I had never seen such a clear starry sky. There were so many stars that some areas of the night sky were milky with galaxies. I stood staring for quite some time and found myself drifting upwards in my mind to be in the heavens and wondered where they ended and where they began. I then felt a rush, a flash throughout my whole being, as I experienced space with no end, no beginning, no borders, no time. I recognized how minuscule I was in this immenseness, this overwhelming immenseness of the universe, this infinity. I felt that I was just a teeny tiny speck in some REALLY BIG scheme of things.
I panicked. I was scared shitless by this limitlessness but because I had already been to the outhouse I was at no risk of embarrassing myself. What I really needed were four walls and a roof around me. I sped like a rocket into the little house and slammed the door shut. As I leaned against the closed door, my heart racing, I reached out to the walls and let my shaking hands feel the rough timbers of the studs and the smooth covering of the insulation. These I could relate to.
Footnote: While trying to save this story under the heading 'Infinity' (1996 when .doc file names could only have 8 letters) I received the message, "File too large to save. Delete some text and try again."