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Upward Spiral

by Karen Bookman Kaplan

Upward Spiral synopsis

A professional inter-dimensional traveler, Iris Perle, is visiting a dimension she calls “Upward Spiral.” Her presence there cannot be detected. As events unfold she more and more intensely longs to be known to a sculptor named Clara and her friends, whom she has observed many times before. Iris’ yearnings lead to a surprise revelation, and Clara finds an answer to longings of a different sort.


I have been following Clara every day for about a month now to see what she is experiencing from the white material. Its greatest effect has been her sensitivity to the emotions of her friends and those of her own. She more readily detects when someone is sad or angry or sarcastic or contented.

The other day it was Gray’s turn to see how she was doing. When he stopped in, and tried to engage in his usual sharp-tongued banter, Clara shot back hot retorts of her own, which she had at last released from their long incubation, to meet Gray’s own sarcastic barbs. “No doubt about it,” he said, “this stuff is affecting your brain. You sure are puttin’ up the barbed wire.”

She replied, “Somehow I feel more tired of your antics. Sorry, though. If it’s from the white stuff, then so be it. I, I mean, I know this is strange, but, but along with noticing the stuff we did that time, the smaller degrees of cold and hot and slighter shades of color and all that, I’m noticing the slightest tiniest hints of emotion. Yours. Mine. Everybody’s. It’s like I’m going deeper and deeper into a person’s head, you know, like my own personal archeological digging expedition into deeper and deeper layers, my own voyage.”

“Oh come off the mystic mumbo-jumbo, Clara,” Gray said. “Don’t you think you are carrying this experiment a little too far? ‘Personal voyage’? This is getting out of hand. Be real for planet’s sake.”

Clara made a surprise counter-attack to his volleys. “So what do you have in mind, wrestling with me over the white stuff, grabbing it, and burying it in some secret place? I can’t have you pooh-poohing me anymore.”

Wow! Go, girl! He looked more put-off than outraged by her reaction to his dismissiveness. He did not say anything more besides an obligatory goodbye. When he got home, he warned Hubert and Rose, who were to visit next, that Clara was irritable and getting conceited and that maybe the white stuff was toxic after all. He also told them about what she had said about sensing people’s moods, and made a sarcastic comment about how she should switch from art to detective work.

* * *

Hours later, Hubert and Rose come over. She announces to them, “I think I have figured out what is missing from the city sculpture. There’s nothing in it to make viewers feel elated or enthusiastic or light-headed or silly, you know what I mean?”

Hubert says she has a point, and asks what she is planning to do. From Rose’s look off into the distance, I notice her efforts to not form an opinion.

Clara is apparently aware that she has no means of disabling those efforts, so she does not try to redirect Rose’s attention, nor does she directly respond to Hubert’s question. She suddenly says, “Hubert, you seem more lighthearted since I saw you last. Do you have some good news?”

He looks startled. “To tell you the truth, Gray did say the material is having some strange and maybe some dangerous effects on you. You sure are acting differently. And it’s making you more clairvoyant or something, like your guessing I have good news. Not that I have anything planet-shaking to say. It’s just that I found a meditation master’s autographed letter, and not only that, with hand-drawn illustrations of two meditation poses. But anyway, I understand how exciting your new sensitivity must be, but it sure is unsettling.”

“Like white snow,” Clara muses.

After they leave, Clara immediately works on her city sculpture in her portable backyard studio; she has hit upon some idea. She makes the ice rink larger, and places several figures in it bearing cardboard signs. The signs have illegible writing, but maybe they are protest signs, because she puts intense expressions on the participants’ faces, and they hoist the signs up high, on toothpicks.

Some figures off to the side are carrying toothpicks that terminate in opened paper umbrellas, party favors when used on the human scale, at least from where I come from. I also see there on the side, toothpicks whose cardboard shapes are actually minutely sized playing cards. Are these frivolities a protest of the protest? Are they a gentle reminder to not take everything so seriously? She then positions a third set of figures to show they are passing signs to others not in the vicinity of the rink.

Meanwhile the figures in the area of the amusement park continue on, oblivious to the commotion outside the park boundaries. I think Clara has filled in the missing ingredient of her city sculpture; at last I myself am drawn into it. It makes me want to be there. I especially want to join in with the party favors and games and let go for once.

Clara says to herself, “Time to give this sculpture a real honest-to-planet title.” She goes to her idea book and free-associates some candidates, but before long, she rubs her face and quickly looks all around. She notes that she has exposed herself to the white material for several weeks now.

She stops and then says out loud, “I sense something, like there is something here from somewhere else.” She writes, “This is trite to say, but am I having an otherworldly experience? I feel some presence is here.”

She mutters, “Gosh, this is nuts already. Maybe I’ve gone too far with this white stuff. I’m calling Hubert and Rose and Gray like right now. Or hmm... I don’t know about Gray. And look at me talking to myself.” She looks bewildered and as she runs inside her apartment, she bangs her knee into one corner of her coffee table, winces, and nervously grabs the Instacommunicator.

I am uneasy that Clara is frightened, but I am dumbfounded. Could it be that the white putty is enabling her to sense my being near her? I hope she will harness her arrogant tendencies to catapult herself over her fear, and that she will go on with the putty to see if she senses more of a presence, whether it is I or something else.

Her self-importance may be the godsend that will let her trot down the bridge between us that has been gestating in my brain all this while. Meanwhile I venture into the studio when she is not there and impulsively place my hands on the putty, wondering if it will affect me somehow, even though I cannot feel it. So much for my own attempt to meet her halfway.

The next day I once again place my hands on the putty while Clara is elsewhere. But then I spring away from it as if I had set off a series of incriminating thumps and crashes throughout the apartment; I could feel it!

I quickly try to touch other items; I feel nothing. I return to the putty; I can touch it, even lift it. Startled, I make sure to move it back to precisely where it was, but cannot resist squeezing it first. It’s soft and inviting, warm like the top of a stove when the oven beneath it is turned on or recently turned off.

But what am I getting myself into? Like Clara, I do not want to retreat into the ennui of the familiar, yet I cannot stop myself from confronting the dread of propelling myself forwards. I have pleaded with myself to enter a land teeming with life, formerly inaccessible and tantalizing, and to do so despite being almost sabotaged by panic.

It is time to take the leap into knowing these people here if it is physically possible. I must believe I will not splinter into irretrievable pieces like the NASA Challenger that heated up too much upon reentry to Earth. I hope Clara will not lose her nerve and put the putty into quarantine. Then all the bravery I have been mustering will be for naught.

* * *

In the meantime, Hubert and Rose have come over to Clara’s apartment, worried at last for her welfare. Clara’s anxiety was so high she skipped all the usual social preliminaries one takes upon inviting friends in. As soon as they crossed the threshold and before they could even sit down on the heavily pillow-populated crescent sofa, Clara said, “Hubert! I think I sense someone from another dimension who is visiting me! You’ve been to other dimensions. You know a lot about this. Is this possible?”

Her anxiety narrows down her attention to her own series of thoughts too much to let him answer, and so she rushes on: “The putty is making this happen, or it’s making me think this is happening, or it’s causing hallucinations. Maybe I’d better get rid of it.”

She has been circling Hubert and Rose, their natural inclination to come into the apartment still arrested as they remain at the threshold. Hubert and then Rose put their arms around her to slow down her orbit and impart their encouragement.

Without meaning to, I say aloud, “It’s all right; I’m not trying to spook you.” Thank God she did not literally hear me; perhaps she subconsciously did, because now she has regained enough composure to giggle and pile on enough apologies to sufficiently bury her previous outbursts to convince them she has not lost her senses. Finally, with a modicum of dignity, she invites them in.

Rose and Hubert go keep the pillows company on the sofa, and Clara, still very keyed up, sits on a stool on the opposite side of the coffee table, indifferent to the discomfort of no back support.

“You know maybe the thing to do,” Hubert starts, “is for me to spend more time with the putty, too.”

Rose is perturbed enough to omit all her calculations that usually end up in curbing or at least delaying her speech, and she even goes so far as to interrupt with: “What? After all Clara just told you? She’s getting creeped out. And it might do something to make us crazy.”

Clara has regained more of her usual boldness and says, “Oh, Rose, just look at you! I think you already are being affected. You’re talking to us, aren’t you? And not only that, you sound divine!”

Naturally Rose blushes, since the initial stages of opening up one’s petals is when one would be the most self-conscious.

Hubert suddenly smiles and lifts up his eyebrows in acknowledgment of these multiple surprises springing open all around him like buds. “Now look,” he says, “I think we shouldn’t be so suspicious. After all, we are not in Dimension Monkey. So far, the effects of the putty have been benign. I say let’s go forward, but maybe it would be better to be together when we are near it. And,” he hollers, twisting his head all around like an owl and then looking upwards, “if there is anyone out there from another dimension, just give us a hoot, okay?”

Clara starts to laugh: “And you’ll protect me, won’t you, if they’re not nice?”

Meanwhile Rose had gotten up to get some of the putty from the backyard studio, stuck it on the kitchen table in the next room over and said loudly to it as she shook her finger at it, “I dare you to make trouble!”

The implications of Rose’s behavior must have started to make their way to the cerebral cortex of her spouse, because now he calls out to her from the depths of the sofa, “I think it already has, sweetie.”

That is a relief to me that they are going to venture forth together. If Clara had continued to face this on her own, this would have increased the possibility of her having a disenchanting first encounter with me. Still, even with her friends there, I am not sure how to handle this or whether it really is a good idea after all. What would we say to each other? Would they be alarmed because I am from what they refer to as Dimension Monkey? And would I really end up all right myself?

I must stop fretting. Surely it is worse being straddled atop this wall of uncertainty than to just jump on down and be done with it. There comes a point where uncertainty and indecision become the worst isolation chambers of all. Meanwhile, I see that Gray is arriving.

Gray arrives late, as he had shorter notice from Clara, who had in the end decided to call him. Everyone brings him up to speed about the discussion and ask his opinion about what they should do about the putty and Clara’s feeling that someone from another dimension is visiting her.

“All I know,” he responds, looking at Clara intently, “is that you are not acting yourself.”

I feel the tension of the as yet unnamed faux pas, namely his being invited after the others to discuss this quantum leap of results from the putty. The disdainful look she gives him then causes him to stall with his main point and lamely add, “And, yes, that also when I handled the putty I could feel the differences we all felt, like the slight variations of color in our clothing, and the smells in the apartment we never noticed before, and noticing which room is warmer and all that hoo-ha.”

Despite Clara’s persistent glare, he glares back and delivers his punch line: “But that’s all a side show compared with how you have been acting, Clara dearest. Like this business of calling me way after you notified Hubert and Rose.”

Somehow the way he said all this has made Clara struggle with contending emotions; her face is flushed and she has not responded, probably because she could not guarantee to herself that words would come out unaccompanied by telltale teardrops.

Hubert distracts himself from his own unease with Gray’s hurt by telling him to take it easy.

Rose cannot look Gray in the eye but at least could still speak, and her head facing down to the floor says, “Clara is confused about how to talk to you now. She needs some maneuvering room.”

Hearing Rose talk supplied just the right antidote to startle him into realizing the upside of lapsing into silence. Meanwhile outside, it is snowing a golden color. The flakes are like gold coins, all going clink! as they fall against their fellows.

After a moment of mutual quiet, weighted down with the absence of an apology from Clara, Hubert says: “As you said, Clara, I do have some experience going to other dimensions, like Dimension Monkey. As far as I know, no one was aware of me in any way, so it is certainly possible that someone is here, same conditions. Same sort of thing.”

Clara thinks this over and replies, “Or maybe not the same thing if the visitor does want to be known. And maybe the putty is a gateway between their dimension and ours.”

Rose speaks so unobtrusively it is as if she is expressing their collective subconscious: “Let’s invite the visitor in. Tell them to go ahead and communicate, if they can or know how. And if they are ready.”

Hubert adds, “Yeah, and even if they are from Dimension Monkey!” They all have a laugh at that and I blush at this mocking reference to my home.

They then end the discussion by saying they will meet in one week, and that if the Visitor wants to make itself known at that time, they will put out the welcome mat. If nothing happens, then they will just have a good laugh at themselves and try to find out more about the putty’s properties. Their plan will give me some time to handle the putty and see if it will be the entranceway into being fully present. Why not? They sort of know about me anyway.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2012 by Karen Bookman Kaplan

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