Angeline could not recall to me her life and so instead she recalled to me a dream. The smoky cataract in her ‘good eye’ cleared. She smiled. I glimpsed her wooden dentures. Around me the replicated diners and waiters went through their routines.
And she said, “I have no memories to speak of, though I try to recall what went before, my childhood, my…there is nothing left. A sadness. An ocean. It started long ago, I wrote down at first what happened…then one day I forgot where I wrote it…a book I guess…left behind somewhere…on a bench maybe, or on the deck of a liner. It had inside it all my memories. All that is left now is how it happened. When thinking back to past times, the walls to rooms seemed damp (walls to which rooms? Rooms in which catacomb of my life? Never again will I remember)…but when I could recall the details, I recalled the dampness. I used to look back and see people crying…in happy times, they were crying…my memories where changing. It was so confusing. There was no difference between the realities. I was in a whirlpool. Damp walls, tears…then puddles. Wet feet. Soon, I was paddling through my memories, desperately trying to cling onto something. A keep-sake buoy or a luck-charm life raft. Anything to keep the memory alive, tangible. But no…paddling soon turned to wading and wading to swimming, as all I loved, all I hated, all I knew began to not only be swept away, but to turn into water itself! Columns cascaded down like fountains, entire cities became tidal waves and in the centre of it all, only me and my belly. I was pregnant then…and though I don’t remember my life and worldly vision, I remember what was inside me - always lungs, always eyes, always liver and always a child. I felt as though I was on the edge of the sink of my mind and of my psyche and then the plug was pulled and everything whirled and swirled away. Soon I was left with an ocean in my mind. Adrift with child.”
Her words rattled me, not because of their obvious significance, but with the way in which she had spoken them. Her tone was hushed. Conspiratorial. And she ground her teeth. I mistrust her deeply, but am compelled to keep her close.
“The real memories I have formed,” she continued, “started many, many years ago. An abandoned harbour…of sorts. I was on a pier raised above red sand. There was no horizon. I had in my arms a baby. Already born. Look at him with his rank hair and sallow skin. He is the living drowned! I love him, yes, but here…in this place? It doesn’t seem real. Seems like I do because it is ever thus. Like gravity.”
Her voice hushed even further at this point. I leaned in so close that I could see the grain in her wooden teeth.
“In this place I don’t know him. Is he mine? I was pregnant before, in the waking life that is now an ocean, and then suddenly, in TheNeverRealm, he was born. He could be anyone’s child. He sits on my lap and I feed him, though not through breast. I cannot look at him sometimes and I will come to the reason why, but first the pier. The world had washed away, I was adrift and then, suddenly, I was on that pier surrounded by a great plateau of red sand. I stood, baby in my arms looking along the pier, into nothing but red. We walked for years and years with no food, no water, no sleep and no pain. Just walking. I counted each day, not by the sun, but by the ever moving cyclones in the horizon. Like a counter they moved back and forth across the horizon, never getting closer, always moving. Once across and back again I declared to be a day as my pendant watch had stopped.”
She opened up the pendant clasp on her neck, it was a beautiful clock stopped at ten-to-ten. I carefully showed her my pocket watch also. She nodded in agreement. Her cloudy eye swirled. We seemed complicit in our knowledge of this place.
“After years of walking with the drowned baby and counting cyclones on the horizon, we reached the first sign, not of life, but of death. An oil field! Huge towering pumps, still moving up and down. But these great pumps were not made of steel, but bone. Great femurs and tibias connected by monstrous patellas. Charred, black bone drilling down into the ground. And the sound! A wailing, wailing sound of a thousand voices crying out with every up-motion of the pump. We feared that oil-field greatly. It was hell. TheUnderSide, I have no real name for it, just what I have conjured. Maybe I have named that place a million times over and maybe that name has trickled away like a stream but the vision of the giant oil-pump legs remains.”
I was chilled at her words, for I know I have not been here for anything like as long as Angeline has. Not even close. Will I see such a sight as that monstrous oil field?
“And then, we were there. In that waiting room. A train was coming, and I somehow knew it. I don’t remember how we got there, or how we even knew a train was approaching. We were just there. Then the bleeding came. I thought hard about the ocean, trying to recall, trying to investigate everything. I concentrated and as I did, the bleeding came; the ocean of my memory falling out of my nose. And then you appeared. You with your stiff collar. You looked new and alive. Not drowned. Not waiting. You wrote, furiously you wrote. I recognised your fierce writing as the same as my desperate clutching to the flotsam, jetsam and derelict of my life as it crashed away in that maelstrom. I tried to get your attention. I looked at you and concentrated, hoping to climb into your battle, but I just bled more. I tried to show you the baby. Tried to strike a chord within you. You just looked repulsed.
Then, we were on the train and I knew I had to meet you. I must tell you why you are here! I must tell you about this place!”
I grabbed her hand at that point and motioned for us to leave. She resisted.
“We cannot. Not yet. I will come to you later tonight and tell you. We will sleep together and I will tell you why you are here, my saviour.”
We left the carriage and went our separate ways. I stayed awake, Paisley by my side. The shadow of the Valdez still there. I intently watched the crack under the door until her shadow appeared and she entered.