“My Little Dimpled Thing,” Grandmother coos to me in the Assyrian language of my childhood, the words dancing in my ears like little bells.
Grandmother’s eyes always smile, even if her words hold no smile at all. She is—for lack of any better word in English—a shaman. She knows the old ways. She accepts my presence, even though I defy the realities of space and time.
“You visit with manners,” she says, pulling a white sheet out of a basket and dropping it over the clothesline. “You remove your shoes before you enter the house. You don’t bring in the dirt.”
My name is Chester. That’s not my real name; it’s just what they call me here in America. Chester is a cowboy with a limp in an old TV show we sometimes watch on one of the cable channels. I’m a girl, though, and the Americans can’t pronounce my Assyrian name. They don’t seem willing to try, but that’s okay, I like Chester. It’s pretty.
I do have a limp. My right leg is no longer strong. I also have this cleft on my upper lip that looks like a squashed kidney bean. I’m ugly, I walk like an old crippled dog, I have an illness in my head, and I’ll never have a husband or children. I’m busted up, inside and out.
But I know things.
I know there are worlds within worlds. What we know of as space—I mean physical space—is merely a concept. It’s not real. Not really real. We can alter it, reshape it, travel through it.
What about time? Time is actually tenseless. There is no past or future. There is only a continuous present.
Are you with me so far? Space and time can be joined into a single idea called a continuum that keeps on going. It continues.
Let me explain it this way: My parents, when they were alive, took me to a Japanese restaurant in the nearby city of Aleppo. I was fascinated by the little plates of sushi that looped around the friendly shop on a conveyer belt. We simply grabbed any passing plate we wanted.
The Japanese restaurant is gone now. The bombs have destroyed the city. But the little plates of sushi continue into other worlds.
We live our lives on a sushi-belt continuum. Even though we don’t see this belt and we don’t experience it any longer, who’s to say it’s not still there?
Because it is. Our lives are still there.
And guess what? We can go back and re-experience the plates of sushi we like. We can enjoy them all over again. We can travel through the dimensions of space and time—if we’re careful.
I’m with Grandmother now. There’s no other place I want to be. “These are empty days,” she says, pinning the sheet to the line and straightening it by slapping at its sides as it puffs. “We’ve been cocooned, sheltered from the realities of our universe for so long we can’t remember how things are outside of it. But there’s a whole universe accessible to us, and you’ve found that key.”
For the laundry, Grandmother uses the old wooden pegs, and when they break, she glues them back together so that they keep their little spring. She’s always been able to see things, though my mother never had this gift. Both my parents are in the house just a few meters away right now because it’s time—time for my birth.
At first, the time traveling was like rolling down a hill inside an old tractor tire. I had little control; the switches were preset. But I feel I’m getting better at navigating the tricky stream, and now it allows me to relax into a kind of easy groundlessness as I slip through to the other dimensions.
I always visit here in the year of my birth: 2004. Before the war. Before all the hate. Before all the killing.
But I look out now at the blue-tinged mountains that surround my village, and the breeze is warm and safe. I can see the minaret of the Great Mosque shimmering, beckoning in the sun.
In my real world, the world of 2021, everyone I love is dead. But Grandmother dies peacefully. My parents, however, die in war; they die with violence. They die with hate.
“I feel it, My Little Dimpled Dropping—your cosmic gadabout. Something’s different this time.” The clothes peg snaps, breaking, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s wondering what to say to me, weighing her words. “I’m sad to say there is a force that might stop your visits. You need to find what it is.”
I draw back, hurt, pulling up a dandelion from the grass, its broken roots dangling in surprise. “This is the only place I come. I want to be here, with you, in the village, at this time.”
She gives me a beady look. “What happens if you don’t remove your shoes before entering the house?”
“You track in so much dirt. Ewww!”
“You have to be careful... very careful.”
I feel I’m drifting, weightless, off the ground, not really touching it, my body translucent and strong—not the broken, seared shell of a girl that is really me. “Careful of what?”
Now I feel bad about taking the dandelion from the earth. But their roots are usually deep enough that, even though the surface dandelion disappears in the fall, it will survive the winter and regrow in the spring.
I can’t stop a silly grin. “Real monsters? Like in the movies monsters?”
Even when Grandmother doesn’t intend so, those sunny eyes smile for her, giving what she says an awful and prophetic variance. “These monsters are not like the movie monsters.”
She pauses, reluctant to say more. In the silence I can hear the sheets billowing in the soft breeze.
Whatever you call it—our universe, the space-time continuum—it’s pliable. We can bend it, stretch it, ripple it.
The problem is that we can also tear it. If that happens, then things come through. Bad things.
I cannot help but ponder Grandmother’s omen: If we don’t take off our shoes, what kinds of monsters come through?