By Melissa Marni
No one of any importance had ever heard of Earnest Cole. No one had ever said things like, “Oh, that Earnest Cole, can you believe what he’s done now?” Or, “I wonder what Earnest Cole is eating for breakfast today.”
No one knew what he was doing and no one knew what he was eating (for breakfast or brunch or any other meal) because no one in the entire world even knew his name.
Except, mind you, for Sally.
Sally Cole was Earnest’s wife, beady eyed and bold, a woman of forty-three or four with a predilection for waving spatulas around the kitchen and telling Earnest about her one truth to life: “Everybody needs a gimmick.”
“Isn’t this ours?” Earnest would ask, sweeping his left hand with the brownish thumbnail – gardening accident – in a circular motion around the room, as if the great gimmick of life had been sitting right there on the dining table all along.
“No, Earnest, this can’t be it,” Sally would reply and Earnest would nod and agree because if the gimmick of his existence was really about being one half of a forty-something couple who lived in a little floating terrarium inside the sky and by the sea, secluded, concealed and encased in glass for who knows how long, then Earnest wasn’t sure how helpful having such a gimmick might prove, (at least not in the grand scheme of things). But would any gimmick ever do for such a peculiar dilemma as his?
The floating terrarium was split into seven parts: a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, a small, grassy yard and one part with no name, separated by a large, leafless tree where Sally would go most early afternoons when she needed “to get far away and do something more interesting than stare at my husband’s ruddy face.”
“What will you do?” Earnest would inquire.
And Sally would answer with any number of things: watch the gauzy clouds drift; organize her spatula collection; observe one of their hundreds of terrarium plants and try to figure out if she could see it grow.
“What a delight, Sally. See you later,” Earnest might say (and usually did).
“Goodbye,” Sally would reply somewhat coldly, although it was never goodbye for Sally because where could she go except to the seventh part of the terrarium?
This was how life hummed on for the Coles and always had since either of them could remember. They had no recollection of ever marrying – though they assumed themselves husband and wife – and no memory of being placed inside the glass. They also couldn’t imagine a time when they had traveled the lands or sailed the waters outside their home, seen as distant blue and brown splotches of something or other down below.
For Earnest, there was a foggy window of time – excuse the expression – when he thought he had been somewhere else, maybe someone else, instead of a man who lived inside this glass, teardrop-shaped house hovering in the ever-changing sky. Even if he had a tiny eyebrow itch of a notion that this wasn’t how it had always been, there was no way to pluck out the thought; it remained in his “excuse for a brain” (Sally’s words, not his) like some hazy idea of a sweet, melty hazelnut ice-cream he wasn’t sure he had ever tasted.
Speaking of food, tonight for dinner, Sally had made eggs. Not the fancy kind with wild mushrooms or unpronounceable cheese but eggs of the plain and scrambled variety, topped by several sprinkles of salt.
Outside as Sally and Earnest ate, a lavender sunset was busy draping itself across the sky; it was the kind of sunset that held on and on and wouldn’t let go, turning more beautiful by the minute until you think, ‘How can so much beauty be real?’ And the whole spectacular show gets a hint duller because you just can’t figure it out.
This was the kind of night Earnest and Sally Cole saw beyond the glass of their terrarium when there came a knock at the front door. Earnest heard the ratta-tap-tap before his mind could register the jarring unexpectedness of such a sound.
He almost had his hand on the doorknob when Sally, also delayed in her own reaction to the noise, finally gasped.
“My gosh, Earnest! Who can that be?”
The door had already been opened by the time the question was asked and an answer from Earnest seemed unnecessary so he let the visitor in without a word.
Inside the living room of the floating terrarium stood a singularly tall man with a short, wiry excuse for a beard, which broke apart into gray stubbles dotting his entire neck. He had eyes small and hard to discern and his hair was nowhere to be found atop his hairless head. This man certainly wasn’t anyone Earnest or Sally had seen before.
“If you wish to leave, I’ve brought a key,” said the mystery man.
There was a certain naiveté to his tone, a certain dryness laced with imagination that made Earnest listen closely to every word.
“I’m no hero,” the man continued, “but I can set you free. This way and hurry!”
Sally was hesitant but Earnest believed in the sincerity of escape and so took his speechless Sally’s hand and trailed after the visitor. They hurried across the yard, across Sally’s no-named part of the terrarium, across her leafless, favorite tree and finally, just behind a little blossoming oak, came to what was, without question, an opened door.
The sun had already fallen, so there wasn’t anything to see in the darkness of a black sky that sat beyond but Earnest could hear waves swishing in the great distance and almost felt them, too.
“Well?” The visitor was tapping at the glass of the floating terrarium – from the outside! – waiting for Earnest and Sally to join him. Again Earnest grabbed Sally’s hand, (the left one because she had a spatula in her right), and stepped through the door. As they floated – undeniably free – in the night sky beyond the terrarium’s glass, Earnest almost thought he heard Sally whisper, “Now I understand; the gimmick was us.”