Caroline Wilkinson

With a single X, I crossed out "The Angry Child" before turning to the more substantial story I was writing, "The Fat Lady." The "Lady" was two pages as opposed to one, and she felt as heavy as an ocean. I was breaking through barnacle, trying to unlock what I thought was lost treasure, when the X that I had drawn over the "Child" started to spin. Explaining the movement, the "Lady" said to me: "The 'Child' whom you tried to kill is more mesmerized than angry. On the map of survival, the X you made is a mobile above a crib. The 'Child' under the X finds the mobile so fascinating because it is turning with a skeleton key to understanding. It is conveying the little that the shocked infant gets. With each turn, the X says to the 'Child': You are here."
      I ran for the bathroom, nauseated. I was trying to get away from the "Lady," but she followed me and said, "Not only is the 'Child' not angry, I am not fat." She ordered me to look into the bathroom mirror and I did. My reflection was that of a very thin young woman. The "Lady" went on to say: "Now unlock the X that is turning in your stomach and mine. This X marks treasure of our shared flesh." I studied what should have been my own reflection, but the face belonged to some starving lady who told me with her jutting bones and furious stare that I needed to move.
      I left town the next day. I drove through several states before pulling over at a rest stop. There among the parked trucks, I found the same unfamiliar lady in my rearview mirror, only now she seemed much larger. What she said to me when I looked into her eyes made sense to me at the time. It no longer does, not fully and truly, but that night, I understood her beyond all doubt when she said: "On the map of survival, every inch of our body equals one hundred miles."




"Key" is an attempt to write with precision about what it means to lack a sense of place and of home. The piece has been lost, recovered and revised many times. Over the years, I have come to see how the subject resists any home I make for it on the page. This resistance has become part of the story.