2005 Peder Hill, Dreaming Underwater. All rights
this section has been left especially untouched to
give you a view of the rough narrative at its earliest
though school attendance had dipped far below
stratosphere, there was still a slight bump of a
beginning of the year rush, when the prospective and
hopeful would flood the parking lots with their cars.
Not having an early class this semester, Theresa had
arrived after 9AM that morning. The faculty lot had
already been full and she’d had to wander far out into
the student lots to find a space.
by the time she finally reached her white falcon she was
completely soaked. Although the rain had subsided from
its former crescendo, it still poured relentlessly. Not
even her socks, protected by the red rubber of her
boots, managed to escape. In spite of the soaking she
jostled in the car as quickly as she could, leaving the
long end of her jacket outside when she slammed the
door. Opening it again she nearly knocked Regina’s
flaccid desert bag off the bucket seat, only the foam
palm of the rip in the seat saved it.
in she tossed her purse over the dashboard then slumped
into the seat, her knees nearly touching the white arc
of the steering wheel. Her tears shocked her, hot drops
running in broken trails with the cold rainwater down
her face. She’d been too lost in thought and the loud
sting outside to have felt them flowing. Now, sitting
alone in the car, the steady metal drumming of the roof,
wet through, she also felt a little embarrassed. And
took a deep breath to try to get grounded again and with
a cold hand and brushed the teardrops across her face.
Another breath and she fumbled the keys in the ignition,
turned the wipers on, and started the short drive to her
wasn’t much in the mood to think over the dismal
consequences of the Bishop’s coming. She already knew
it could mean nothing. He could be coming solely in the
interests of helping out with her father’s newest
she also knew that, somehow, this wasn’t the case.
Bishop always packed in as many things as possible when
he came. As Regina would say, he liked to hit more than
twisted the radio’s mushroom knob and pulled out of
the lot. The slow rickrack of the wipers across the wide
glass nearly matched the rhythm of the Patsy Cline song,
and she sang along as she drove slowly up McClatchy
why do I let myself worry? Wondering what in the world
did I do? Crazy for thinking that my love could hold
you. I'm crazy for trying and crazy for…
she turned it off. Too sad to be good medicine. And the
radio only picked up one station. Besides, she was
property her brother lived on was less the College’s
than the Church’s. On it were two building—one a
beautiful two-story wooden A-frame with a wide porch
strung along the length of the second floor. The church
used it to house visiting professors and clergy. It
faced the other building, which is where Owen lived.
was long, narrow, strange building, a mixture somewhere
between a military barracks and an old barn. The church
used it as a kind of childcare Sunday school. Owen was
the teacher. The building’s windows wrapped nearly all
the way around, and anyone who might look in would see
colorful hand painted pictures on the walls and neat
rows of little desks.
the classroom was the long narrow loft that was her
brother’s home. He’d been there for the past twelve
years, living in exchange for his Sunday school services
and for taking care of the grounds.
never ceased to be astonished at how well he performed
his maintenance tasks, being such a simple man.
impeccable flat of the lawns, the trees, plucked below
and above of old fruit, junipers carefully trimmed,
snaking sidewalls lined with round corsets of
roses—all so beautiful, and meticulously groomed.
Many at the church asked him if he might
extend them his services, but Owen wasn’t in the least
interested in spots of extra money, and, even if he
were, he wouldn’t be able to as it meant leaving
home—which, aside from walks along the nearby fields,
he really never did.
only taught Sunday school and watched the kids for three
hours a week, nearly all the rest of the time, including
Sundays and every other day of the week, with bare hands
and a few simple gardening tools, he’d lose himself in
the yard. His only other hobby was painting.
thought it was an amazing thing to watch him work.
He’d huddle down for hours on end. She’d never ever
seen anyone with so much focus. In those hours
there was nothing but what before him—the soil in his
fingers, the unwinding of the weeds. Outside the radius
of that gaze the world was entirely blotted out.
it even seemed spooky, it frightened her a bit. But then
again, nothing made her brother more balanced and
content. And anything that worked in that direction was
just fine with Theresa, whatever it was, for without a
pattern to keep him on track, bolting him down in a
single direction, Owen became susceptible to reoccurring
seizures that took a horrifying toll on the frail
tailings of his psyche. But it had been years since such
episodes—no doubt thanks to the pattern of existence
by which he now lived. Without that and her regular
visits, he could never survive alone.
was around eight when she drove past the open entrance
gate and into the clearing in the woods where the house
and school stood. Brief light shown down from three
windows that looked out from one side of Owen’s living
room. That was the only light there was, nobody at the
moment was staying in the guesthouse, and the solitary
lamp above the crude parking lot’s pine needle floor
was out. Another victim of the storm.
it was very slow business walking in the darkness from
car to house, with wanting to avoid tripping over garden
tools or one of chunks of granite that circled the
makeshift lot. And why hurry, she figured, already
thoroughly wet, the rain could do her nothing more.
caution doesn’t always receive its just award, and now
was just such the case, for when she reached the
supposed safety of the sidewalk her foot dropped down on
the spidery legs of a gardening fork, the slide of her
metal skate on the pavement nearly sent her plummeting
off into the rose bushes with the friar and chocolate
cake in tow. When her whisking legs steadied she was
mildly shocked to find herself still standing, even more
so looking down to find the game and Reg’s pie cake
still safely in her arms.
smiled. The shocks and disappointments of the day seemed
to be receding a bit, perhaps washed away a little by
the storm. She was definitely in better spirits as she
climbed the stairs to his apartment, looking very much
forward to the goofy mug and sweet, tempestuous company
of her little older brother.
smell of the brick of chocolate pie rising through the
wet paper made her mouth water as she knocked on the
door. When her brother didn’t immediately come, she
popped the handle and let herself in.
Hellooo? It’s Theresa. I’ve got something for
kitchen lay directly to the right, she kicked her wet
shoes off, and put her luggage on the counter.
then ripped and peeled the bag off the cake pan and
opened the fridge to check for room.
it was nice and clean, with several labeled plastic
containers rimming the top two shelves topped with
labels revealing their contents. They read things like
Chicken (eat by Sunday), Potatoes (goes with pot pie,
chicken or sandwiches—eat by Thurs.), Reg’s banana
brownies—only one a day), and Asparagus—with chicken
or sandwich (eat by Wed)—she pulled this last one out
and slid it on the nearby counter.
sat with top ajar on a lower metal rack. She closed
it—Fried rice (for Chicken or Sandwiches—eat by
Friday), then moved a few things around to make a nice
spot of room and, after giving the new cake another
brief examination—was in pretty good shape considering
its journey—she carefully placed it in.
a mixture of giddy amazement and guarded anticipation (Reg
had made real bad deserts too) she thought, God, this
sink’s sloping white basin was beginning to fill with
dirty dishes and a nearly completely full bottle of milk
sat on its bordering counter. She also put it away, then
turned to the room.
single blue plate, overlooked grains of rice on it, fork
on top, lay on the short wooden coffee table in front of
the plaid brownish couch. Across from the couch sat a
television—a parishioner had been kind enough to give
it to him—but in its neglect it had been pushed too
far away to really see (its screen being so small).
when it had arrived, about three years back, Theresa had
never seen Ryan once turn it on. She rarely even saw it
anymore. It had found new life—a bucket of potting
soil sat crooked on its splayed antennas.
small rectangular dining table sat midway into the room
opposite the door. One half was covered in a dirt
flecked array of gardening tools—shovels, picks and
forks of varying sizes, two dirty buckets, one in the
another, and lengthwise the stretch of a spade.
other half of the table was reserved for its former
occupation; it was where she and Owen would share their
it wasn’t the furniture or the odd abundance of
gardening wares that dominated the room. For anyone
who’d never been there before, the first thing they
saw was the paintings.
was drawn and then painted on the same shoulder length
sheets. They hung both length and widthwise, but
whatever the choice, each row would hold the pattern
from ceiling to floor. The loft’s ceiling ran down to
the height of your hips around its two sides then at its
center joist up to about twice the height of your head.
would paint them in a running series, placing the first
one on the upper part of the wall right the entrance,
the second below, moving around and filling the room,
the short hall and his bedroom as he progressed. He
avoided the bathroom, not liking how the moist air would
curl their paper edges. Once he reached the last stretch
of wall space that ended behind the television, he’d
take them all down and start all over.
the moment their vibrant watercolor scenes stretched
nearly to the couch’s shambled left armrest, with only
space for about ten paintings more. When all the space
in the room was covered, a total of 123 paintings filled
the collection. Each of them centered around a story
from the bible, and, perhaps unsatisfied, he’d often
paint the same scene several times in a row.
hobby had grown into a perfect match for his Sunday
School chores, and the kids loved to sit Indian style
with him on the floor and, with lipstick brushes, fan
watercolors into their own bright compositions.
himself painted one every two or three days, and, as if
it were some bizarre calendar, one filling of the walls
was completed in strangely close to a year.
was Dr. Byron Tully, the broad nosed psychologist with
thoughtful eyes, who had originally given impulse to the
painting. He’d come to see Owen from a parish north of
the seven mountains at the request of Sue Tully, his
niece, also a member of St. Mary’s choir and one of
Theresa’s close friends.
the time Owen had been suffering one of the really bad
periods, his seizures coming in a series of blind raking
bursts, they would wrap him for days, and in fear of
their nightmares he’d fight against the unrelenting
gravity of sleep until his body grew shaky and gaunt and
reason left him. Then the body would finally give in.
had mainly been the one who’d stayed with him then,
taking a leave of absence from school. It was a period
of time she’d never forget; she discovered what most
people don’t know—how far down the fallow of
hopelessness can reach.
found him once—her sweet, exuberant brother—on the
floor of the apartment in the darkness. When she’d
flipped the lights on he was lying sideward with his
arms wrangling around a leg of the coffee table,
searching hands clutching wildly—manically…into the
blind space beneath. She could still remember his
breathing—it had strangled out in a series of low
shrieking pants, and his skin was so pale, filmed with
sweat, and so cold. And as she fell beside him yelling,
the eyes were lost in the face, his mind caught and
trapped in some dark, lurid dream.
That’s how much she’d give up on him. It had been
impossible to imagine that he might still be within
their reach—he was too far removed from the waking
world, his mind too splintered, too far gone for them to
stop him from spinning down to his fate of some endless
oblivion. Arrangements had already been made. There were
places for such people.
then Dr. Byron Tully had come. And the blue shimmer of
miracles had floated along with him.
first he’d gone through the regular
rigmarole—checking the medical and pharmaceutical
history, consulting previous doctors, exploring symptoms
and roots. But he was at a loss, the common avenues of
treatment had been covered, the competence of previous
doctors unscathed. It was only then that he’d
suggested the painting.
was an innovative new alternative—delving into the
subconscious using the expressive touchstone of art as a
means of therapy.
good doctor was never fully convinced that it was the
therapy itself that had brought Owen back from the deep.
Tully had felt the circumstances surrounding the episode
centered around what to Owen had been an overwhelming
jolt of stress (a common trigger), one that he’d
endured while amid the seemingly innocuous surroundings
of the town’s tri-centennial celebration.
many people, he had explained, too much noise from the
crowds and the rumble of Irish music, the fireworks. He
probably never should have been there…although he
couldn’t be sure this had instigated the
problem—understanding the fluid wiring of the mind was
a very hopeful and inexact science at best.
could have just bounced back naturally, he’d said,
back in his normal calming surroundings, time to heal,
time for the delicate threads of his mind to reweave.
in any case—no more parties!
would never nearly lose him again! That’s what she’d
decided back then. It was a decision born of
extreme—such was Theresa’s love for her brother.
And, also, such was her own need. And her fear wasn’t
just that of losing the deep native connection between
siblings. It was something else.
felt somehow that if she lost him she would lose
herself, severing a delicate string that tied her to a
mostly it was love.
he was in the bedroom, she thought—snoring, wound in
blankets, lulled to sleep by the rain.
no luck when she turned the lights on, nothing but the
sheet strewn bed. The bathroom was empty too—she
picked his toothbrush off the floor, rinsed it and
placed it back where it belonged as she went.
walked back down the short hall that cut through into
the center of the living room and walked to the nearest
window that faced the back yard. He wouldn’t…
in the rain.
was so drawn up in his yard work that sometimes she’d
find him outside at night, a broken white patch of
flashlight drifting across bush and greenery, the squat
black hole of his kneeling outline moving steadily in
mute concentration. Crazy kid.
had to either love him or he’d drive you insane.
huddled below the slanted ceiling and peered out in
search for any bobbing, roaming circles of light,
pressing her cheeks against the glass for viewing
sideways. Although he could be out of sight around the
first the laughter sounded like the high resonant squeak
of a cheap brass saxophone, a reedy run of syncopated
rumble that slowly grew into great barking peels as her
brother finally let it go.
She stood looking over the table down toward the couch
and the source of the now hysterical unbolting.
want to give your sister a heart attack?” she said
smiling, little gurgles of laughter reaching around the
edges of her voice.
walked over, kneeled down and tilted her head down to
better look under the couch. “I’m going to kill
you!” She ran her fingers across the bottoms of his
dirty socks, which in response jerked madly about under
the lip of the sofa.
did you fit in there?” she asked, bewildered.
couldn’t, she figured, be more than half a foot of
space under there.
got you! I got you Theresa! “I…” another burst of
chortling momentarily stole his voice. “I got you
know what they say about payback, don’t you?” She
had another go at the jerking cotton heels.
Owen, I’ve got something for you. Unless you don’t
feel like coming out of there…which is okay.” His
feet stopped wiggling for a moment.
sat down, easing comfortably into the couch, “Oh, just
a little something from Regina. Something that I guess
weighs, ohhhh…about three pounds.”
feet started shimmying again, but this time in an effort
to slip and squeeze himself out from under.
Reg! Reg!” he shouted in tickled exuberance. In
response Theresa had to grin.
you don’t want any…”
No! Wait Theresa…Wait!”
okay. I will.” she said assuringly as she helped him
pull himself out.
she glanced to the narrow passage below, “How long
have you been under there, anyways?”
slightly cross eyed, Owen swept some old cobwebs from
his nose and his one unscarred cheek, spitting something
foul (judging from his expression) out of his mouth as
he did so, “I don’t know.” he said absently.
plucked webs he’d missed out of the shaggy bangs of
his hair, and left it at that. Some things you don’t
want to know.
can’t Reg come?” Owen asked with disappointment as
Theresa pulled the heavy brick of Reg’s choco surprise
out of the fridge.
has a lot of work right now. She’ll come soon, I
promise. But in addition to this wonderful treat, she
sends you a kiss.
this Owen pulled his hungry stare off the cake and his
eyes flash in smile.
it! …do it do it do it do it!” he begged as, bending
slightly, he shuffled out a spontaneous dance of
excitement. “Theresa….Oh, come on…Please…”
put the knife down on the counter beside the pan,
been prepared for this so fished the tube of ruby red
lipstick from the pocket of her pants. On the side of
her slender forefinger of her right hand she’d already
carefully drawn eyes crested by a wave of lashes and the
brief smudge of a nose. Not her best work. But she knew
Owen wouldn’t care.
swiveled off the tube’s top and twisted up the finger
of vibrant red lipstick. In anticipation, Owen continued
to dance. Then, with a practiced hand, she applied a
thick layer of pigment over the crease between her
forefinger and thumb. Clearing her throat, she prepared
herself to get into character.
was an extraordinary likeness to Regina’s grumbling
vibrato—this she had to admit; and, combining the
voice and the movement of the finger lips (in perfect
sync with the voice and expressive), it was a magical
impression to witness.
there, you little hamster,” the lips said. “ I
really hate to miss a Wednesday visit, but I’m being
held captive by a pack of your Sunday School
looked up at this, bellying, “Oh, Reg…No…”
just the same you know I love you. And would never leave
you without your Wednesday kiss.”
a shift of his head and a softness in his eyes Owen
extended his one flawless cheek.
with a puckered,
enthusiastic movement, Theresa’s hand gave him a kiss.