As I am doing with “Mantorville,” I’ll post a page for The Book of Seasons, although I don’t at present see myself finishing this antique. I will try to keep it up-to-date with the latest post. (I’ll also attempt to find and correct the auditory errors that I didn’t expect when I dictated it.)
If you don’t remember the plot outline, I went over it here.
The Book of Seasons
“Look, in growing up we all go through a multitude of ambitions. but, for most people, that’s all they are, ambitions. Only the fortunate ever satisfy, even partially, any of those aspirations.”
I never dreamed, even in my most secret pretensions, that I would one day be composing a book about myself (no matter how tangentially). I never dreamed, that is, until I met the rather peculiar person who originally uttered those sentiments. Our acquaintance, unusual in itself, proved the spark which has since become such a persistent flame in my thought that I must record what I have learned — simultaneously recapturing and exorcising that person and his portion of my life. So I discover myself in a position to speak somewhat about me on paper, all the better to clarify Mr. Durwood Wakdjunkaga’s quite singular life and definitely plural times.
Although trained to teach English literature, I have never had great cause to practice, let alone polish, my own literary skills. I have always been more an observer to participant. For that reason, my narrative abilities, as more than several informal anecdotes I have attempted to recount have revealed, are not among the best. I fear that I serve as an altogether inadequate and roughly made container for what is an extremely rare and very excellent vintage, an inappropriate and common medium for thoroughly extraordinary tale.
I am, as I suggested, a teacher. I have been teaching now for three years. In the fall of my senior year at college, I undertook my student teaching practicum at one of the high schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a fair-sized metropolitan area with a respectable amount of industry, citizenry, idolatry, complacency, insanity and skullduggery. In most respects it is a typical Midwestern midsize city; it is unique in that it is a place of distinct odors. Anyone who has ever passed through Cedar Rapids will assert that it is an unusually smelly town. Those who live there identify a variety of individual stenches: Quaker Oats’ aroma usually smacks of baking and industrial effluvia combined; the meat processing plant spews an organic order of rot; a cloacal malodor of sewage rises from either the river, which roughly bisects the city on a north-south line, or a small unnatural lake in the central northwest. These are the emanations which I became able to distinguish during my brief habitation. Residents of the community also claim a varying number of other minor reeks, including the essences of the local zoo and the less desirable students of Coe College. I never found the mephitis of Cedar Rapids annoying except on those days when all the assorted scents combined in an olfactory conspiracy to prevent respiration altogether; on such days one must breathe in slight, shallow inhalations as infrequently as possible — one must seek a delicate balance, avoiding not breathing at all (most desirable) and yet maintaining one’s existence. That is, of course, unless one is Wakdjunkaga, who was never upset by any combination of excremental fumes.
I first encountered the man on a Friday evening, a Quaker Oats evening, acridly warm and yeasty in the back of my nostrils. His arrival, as everything about him, was both startling and unique.
I was residing then in the Hotel Allison on First Avenue downtown, next to and on top of the Bishop’s Cafeteria where I ate occasionally. My home during those weeks of student teaching was a typical outdated residential hotel, and my room, 430, was exactly like all the rest in the building, somewhat larger than most, but in no major respect unusual. I had a lumpy double bed, an uncomfortable red plastic armchair across the room, a mirrored dresser along one wall, and a chest of drawers in a recess next to the closet. A metal nightstand stood by the head of the bed. Except for wear on these articles, the furniture and the room appear just as if time had ceased in 1953. More than once I would awaken in the morning to imagine I had regressed twenty years or so. This anachronistic sensation was particularly associated with the rather hideous carpet with which my room was adorned — a noxious pattern of intertwining roses and stems on a bland grayish background. I remember one time Wakdjunkaga remarked that the thing resembled the regurgitations of an unknown rose-eating creature of presumably revolting habits; I am not quite sure what he meant altogether, but the sense of vomit was right.
The night he arrived, however, Wakdjunkaga was in no condition to notice such marginalia as the room’s decor.
I was that evening reclining, as I usually did, in the uncomfortable red plastic supposedly-easy chair, reading. The hotplate (I am still not sure about its legality) was boiling a can of baked beans, and I could hear the sauce just beginning to gurgle — or I was finally aware of the bubbling. Regardless, several paragraphs remained to complete the chapter, so I let the sauce burble contentedly. My window was open on the sultry evening, but the air was not moving. The enclosed mud parking area below was accessible only by an alley across the far side, and as a result few breezes were bred there to blow into my room. It was a cheerless view, back walls of tall buildings, although I had not yet seen it at its worst, as I would when the winter slushes arrived.
I was sort of sitting, between cigarettes, my coke emptied, attempting to read but actually thinking vaguely about the beans and my supper. I was considering what my students would think of the situation, typical for me, at least at that time, but not at all a common pedagogical stereotype. As a student teacher that autumn, I was supposedly learning practical aspects of my future career. However, I still felt more like a simple college senior without any pretensions to the adulthood my students tended to impose on me. My present domestic situation doubtlessly would have shattered prejudiced images for most of my pupils.
I realized suddenly that I had no idea of what had occurred in the last several paragraphs, if not pages. I had succeeded in distracting myself even from my distraction. I was just beginning the process to decide whether to conclude the chapter now or eat immediately, when, quite instantly, someone else was in the room.
The peculiar sensation when one is no longer alone dropped over me, a shroud, a straitjacket, a tightness in my back and side.
I glanced in the mirror above the dresser along the wall to my right. I saw reflected there, incredibly, a man, or the shape of a man facing the door. He seemed to be standing three full feet off the floor, hanging in midair, above the middle of the bed. And, as I looked, I was certain that I could briefly see through his form, as though, strange as it seems, he was suddenly materializing then out of, as they say, the thin air. He remained for a moment suspended somehow, became solid, and then collapsed onto the bed. As he fell he twisted himself into a semi-foetal position — or rather, as he hit, feet first, then buttocks, then his left shoulder. He wheezed loudly, the fall knocking the wind out of him, and lay still a moment.
Five seconds. That was the longest possible time, I am certain, from the moment I first felt my privacy invaded until the stranger wheezed as he landed upon my bed. As you might expect, it seemed longer to me then.
My first thought, of course, was that I had imagined the whole scene. So I turned from the mirror, on my right, to examine the bed, on my left. He was, however, lying there, trembling, shaking as though from tension caused by a great effort. A sudden wind, a single gust of air, blew against me, quite hard, only for a moment. Then the evening was as still and sultry as before, and the man was lying on my bed, curled up, shivering.
Naturally, the beans boiled over at that moment, spitting beans and sauce over the hotplate and the dresser top — bubbling beans erratically over the sides of the can, stripped of its label, and spilling sauce on the electric heating element. I reached out reflexively and turned off the switch, stood, and, fumbling with the potholder, removed the can from the burner, displacing only a few more beans. Frustratingly, I could still see the man in the mirror.
In fact, he was sitting up.
I am afraid that then, only then, it finally seeped into the crevasses of my thought that he was actually present, and I rather feared suddenly to turn around.
And then he spoke: “God damn!” Bending over to rub his ankle, he added, “Rotten miserable joints. Always going bad in the pinch.”
Suddenly my trepidation melted away.
He was an old man. I had not noticed before, but he was about seventy years old — white hair, mostly bald, scrawny. A thoroughly unprepossessing creature, particularly hunched over himself tending his ankle, the overhead light causing his hairless top to gleam.
I turned around. He noticed the movement and looked up wide-eyed. His mouth sagged open.
“What the hell?”He clapped his hands to his head, running his fingers into the remaining locks. “Oh, Christ. Can’t I do anything right?”
Our minds are unusual, operating in ways we do not understand or even clearly follow. I can set these events on paper now and in a conscious order, but at the time I really did not quite comprehend what was happening. I must have been stunned, not accepting all I had observed. I know that I was vaguely thinking that he had actually climbed in the window, rather than what I had seen in the mirror (even though the room was four floors up), reasoning that what I had seen reflected was an illusion. I was also considering that since he was so old he probably could not do me any great harm. I am not certain how I was reconciling those two notions; it must not have occurred to me then that a decrepit seventy-year-old antiquity would have exceptional difficulty clambering four stories up the hotel exterior to enter my window. Nor did I bother to realize that someone who could perform such an ascent could certainly hurt me severely.
He stared at me. He had green eyes.
I said, rather weakly, “Hi.” I smiled, also rather weakly; I don’t have a very good smile even in the best circumstances.
He looked directly at me a moment longer. Then he, too, smiled. He had a rather nice smile, one that I always imagined my own to be like but knew it was not. “Hi?” he raised his eyebrows, bushy and unkempt, in question. “I suppose it is a greeting. It’s not —” He was going to continue, but suddenly he flushed deep red, swayed as he sat at the edge of my bed, and folded over, head between his knees.
Rather stupidly, I remained, still amazed, rooted to my spot, one hand still clutching the hotpad. He was moaning. Then he straightened up, his face now drained of blood, pale, his skin like new paper, whitely translucent. Exclaiming “Oh, shit!”almost inaudibly, he collapsed backward, like a stack of freshly washed clothes falling over, onto the bed with his legs dangling over the end.
Then, at last, I moved. I went over to him. His eyes were open but glazed, apparently not seeing. As I leaned over him, however, he seemed to focus his gaze on me momentarily. Then he shuddered, his eyes rolled, and the lids drifted closed.
Barely I heard him say, “Don’t tell anyone. Please don’t — oh, crap…” And he was unconscious.
I decided that the climb up the wall had been too much for him. I hoped he would not die.
Touching his forehead with my fingertips, I noticed that he was very cold. I jerked my hand into his chest and clutched his wrist, afraid that my hopes came too late. How could I explain a corpse? However, his heart was beating, rather hard, but evenly, and his breathing was regular. I am not sure what regular breathing is exactly, but I determined that his was. It had better be, I thought inanely.
After determining that he was alive, I was a little at a loss as to what I should do. My reason and my instincts told me, most insistently, to run, screaming, hysterically if at all possible, for help. I nearly did, regardless of his last words. However, I was by then certain that he had entered through the window, somehow, from above, from next door — a million possibilities were spiraling and shooting aimlessly but furiously through my mind. Somehow he had entered through that window, though, and people who enter through windows do so for no good or upright reason. What if he had expected me to be gone, intending to steal all I owned in my absence, and finding me at home struck on this illness as a ploy to send me away for help? And while I was gone, then he would complete his larcenous intentions. And this superb subtlety of the fellow to whisper, “Don’t tell anyone,” knowing that was exactly what I should do.
To be frank, I was afraid he was simply faking. So I remained, purely selfish and possessively paranoiac.
When he did not stir for some time and remained very cold, I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and covered him with my spare blanket in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Then I furtively ate my beans, cold at that point, while maintaining a constant watch on my intruder. He never moved; neither did he die. In fact he was a most undramatic specimen, despite his curious entrance. And that, although I was unaware of the significance of the occasion and the nature of his name, was how I first encountered Durwood Wakdjunkaga.
As I ate I looked him over fairly closely. He was very old. By that time I was already proficient about old age, at least of a certain sort.
The Allison is a kind of social dumping ground for old people, in which a lot of lonely men and women wander through the dreary ends of their lives, cigarettes smoldering constantly between stiff fingers. Residential hotels are common in every city — somewhat seedy, often bearing faded signs of a long-past, distant former glory, always tenanted by people whose lives reflect the history of the hotels. Run down, worn-out people barely still living, following existence in their own peculiar fashions, sluiced out of the mainstream.
I read a newspaper article, sometime after I left Cedar Rapids, about another similar hotel in Iowa. The reporter viewed life there is a kind of play performed in the lobby, the residents actors making daily ritualized appearances, delivering their similar lines over and over. Much like Samuel Beckett, I suppose. According to the reporter, all were desperate in a quiet, antique, brokendown fashion.
In a way he was possibly accurate. We all did perform in such a way, appearing at predictable times, acting in certain established manners. Looking for mail, that most vital of all tasks, asking for the ice key with water pitcher or ice chest in hand, paying the bill, chatting with the friendlier clerks, watching the old black-and-white television, or gazing out the plate glass front window at the cars and people passing us by. Static, but only on the exterior. That reporter never probed further than his most immediate perceptions.
Life at the Allison was dreary, to be sure. It was a bleak and cheerless existence, particularly to outsiders, accustomed to comfortable apartments or houses of their own — not threadbare, more recently furnished, younger. What outsiders could not see, would never understand, was that life at the hotel was not dead and static, but old age itself, undisguised.
To passers-by and passers-through, those in motion with somewhere to go, the young and the so-called young at heart, only tedium and repetition and exhaustion and waste remained. For the old, for the residents, the Allison was the ending, their dénouement, graceless compared to their more fortunate counterparts with families and pensions. This was a conclusory time when old dream search share rushed and the blood runs slow, when pain is admittedly the principal truth of our lives and death glides solicitous and smooth beside the arthritic elbow to be fended away, illusory, by a cigarette smog and incautious alcohol.
Mirrors are enemies, revealing the pain and the wearying faces of death. Hope is not even a word, forgotten, never learned, a deception not needed or used. Each day is different, with unique aches and new mishaps, and all are the same, alike in remembered pain. And every cigarette causes more coughing, sometimes with blood, even as each provides activity. Sleep is not restful though desperately sought, and nights endure aeons.
Not a graceful life, but undignified and frequently unbearable. It is existence, which we young are too immature to comprehend. We can only brush at the edges with our fears and premonitions. It is a life we are too childishly selfish and dreadful to ease.
And so, faded already, they deteriorate, and die.
Wakdjunkaga, seldom reverent, referred to my fellow residents as the perambulating undead.
But I am ahead of myself in digressing.
To be truthful, I was considering no such philosophically melodramatic thoughts as I looked over the old man. I balanced his age and the vast quantity of accumulated years around me in other well worn rooms, and I wondered that his appearance was so deceptive. My life at the hotel had taught me, if not the complicated sort of understanding confounded already, to realize that old people need not be as they seem. But this fellow defied even the superficial estimates of observation.
He was somewhat bald, the result of a much receded hairline, and he wore his remaining locks rather long and brushed back. He had large ears, and his nose was also exaggerated and bulbous. His mouth was thin-lipped and, even in his unconscious state, very evenly and tightly drawn, actually quite grim. His jaw had once been firm, I thought, but now the flesh sagged below as undernourished jowls, revealing the raw edges of the bone structure. His cheeks were also unusually prominent. I suppose his was one of those faces we call craggy and care-ridden — deeply seen with worn, well-defined creases and wrinkles.
Physically he was not very remarkable; he was really quite scrawny. I could observe the lines of muscle and tendon clearly in his arms and the backs of his hands.
His clothing surprised me. He was wearing a brown polo shirt, blue denim jeans, a green vest-like garment which hung as long as a sports coat with several pockets in it, and red tennis shoes. His costume, for it certainly did not suit his age, distinguished him in my mind from the Allison.
Indeed, nothing about him seemed to belong there.
I ate my beans meditatively, having covered him up. Then I looked at him a while. He lay on my bed, thoroughly oblivious, breathing now as though asleep (in fact, I noticed several half-snores). I fixed a glass of coke, smoked several cigarettes, and generally fidgeted in my chair, still watching him, until it became thoroughly dark outside. I tried to read, but my mind was too busy to be distracted.
Who was he? What was he doing in my room?
I was annoyed, really, for him to be there. I had work to finish before school resumed Monday. It was only Friday night, but I knew that unless I completed some more enjoyment reading, I would never care to peruse at all the tortured prose my students had submitted previously and expected to see again, graded, Monday.
Self-knowledge can be a curse, regardless of Socratic axioms: I sat there, attempting to read, but far too preoccupied with my aged intruder to concentrate, too stubbornly selfish to cease trying to read and begin trying to examine papers, and too self-consciously concerned with my own stubborn condition to be able to do anything whatsoever. I was a classic example of mental paralysis — furiously active and absolutely incompetent.
I wasted a good deal of time alternately reading a few words, looking up to check on the old fellow, staring down at him in wonderment, cursing myself for wasting time, cursing myself for cursing myself for wasting time, returning to the book, reading a few more sentences and commencing the whole process all over again. I reflected that it was altogether revolutionary, circular.
About ten-thirty, however, bored and upset, I laid my book aside and directly contemplated the old man again. After looking at him for awhile, I grew curious about the possible contents of the large pockets in his long vest. I was uncontrollably anxious to learn something about him, and the notion quietly, slowly, insidiously inserted itself into my thought that some clues could be obtained from those pockets, if not outright evidence of his identity and purpose. The more I thought, the more frequently the idea slipped into my considerations, with an ever-increasing certainty and forcefulness. Finally, without the slightest reason beyond the mere repetition of the idea, I decided to see what I might find.
Therefore, I proceeded to look through his pockets — at first cautiously, but when my probings seem to leave him undisturbed, more boldly and thoroughly. He had an unusual assortment of possessions, none of which, of course, identified him or revealed his reasons for appearing in my room. At least none of them informed me so at the time; now I see so much more about each telling object. Hindsight is marvelously perceptive.
His pockets did not hold as much as I had expected. Perhaps, however, it was the seemingly unimportant nature of the objects which instilled the notion of paucity.
The vest had six pockets in all: two at chest level in front, two side pockets, and within two deep inner compartments. In the right front pocket was a medium-size plastic flask, half-emptied. It appeared to contain a red wine; I did not sample it.
The left front pocket contained a bit of white ribbon with silver filigree on the edges, an old brown shoelace soiled with dirt, grass and lint, and a very old photograph. The photo was born and bands in the corners, creased and cracked along the middle, but evidently treasured, or at least preserved, by the old fellow for some years. It was yellowed and somewhat faded, so I did not notice details clearly. It was a shot of a girl about twenty years old, standing beside a white house on a sunny day. I did observe, to my surprise and confusion, that the girl was wearing a dress which ended several inches above her knee. Evidently the picture was not as ancient as its condition caused me to believe.
In his left side pocket a scrap of red and green plaid wool was wrapped around a fresh, green oak leaf and a small blue stone, which I thought was turquoise. The leaf was an unusual find, in late October, when all the leaves had turned autumnal colors and most had already fallen. I had no idea how we could have found a leaf in so vernal condition.
Three sticks of wood protruded from the right side pocket. They were all very similar, about eight inches long and one-half inch or so in diameter. One was black, and the other two were obviously also different woods. I learned later that the black one was yew, and the other two were rowan and elder wood. In that pocket was also a woven case, of willow, which contained several pieces of chalk — red, white, black, green, blue, brown and yellow — some tubes of paint in the same colors, and a small lump of clay in a plastic bag.
In the right inner pocket he had placed a sheaf of papers folded together. I decided these would probably tell me more than anything else, so I passed over them to examine the last pocket.
From the left inner pocket I removed a book. I was about to set it aside in order to get to the papers when I noticed it was a very peculiar book. It was made entirely of plastic.
The cover was not only laminated with a plastic or plastic-like material, as so many paperbacks appear to be, but it was thoroughly celluloid. About an eighth of an inch thick, more or less (I am not good at judging measurements at all: I later learned that the wooden rods were each nine inches long), the covers were thin sheets of plastic. And so were the pages, much thinner, but still plastic. The book folded and bent itself as if it were an ordinary paperback, but it could not be broken along the spine or toward at the corners from dog-earing. It was a vastly improved version of the paperback book, virtually indestructible from the abuses of ordinary reading.
I was astonished and puzzled. I knew of nothing like it whatsoever. I retired to my chair with it, temporarily forgetting all about the sheaf of papers I had passed over. The book was the strangest object among all his peculiar possessions.
The cover was brown with the design of a tree placed offcenter on the front. In green letters:
A BOOK OF TREES
On the back cover, in varying shades of brown was worked a subtle, convoluted ivy border, reminiscent of William Morris. Within the border was a complex and complicated painting of incredibly detailed inclusiveness, showing a man crouched before a fire in nocturnal forest clearing with the lunar phases represented among certain constellations in the sky. It was one of those pictures to which one can return again and again to find new little nuances, it was so compacted with details. It reminded me vaguely of a Tarot card.
Inexplicably the printing appeared to be within the cover, not impressed on it. I puzzled for a time over the painting and the method of getting the ink inside the plastic before I finally opened the little book.
It was a volume of poetry by this Wakdjunkaga person (I of course did not know then who he was). Nature and love poems, I judged from a quick perusal, and not altogether uninteresting. Some I even found excellent and memorable, sufficiently good to distract me into reading, when obviously I would learn nothing about my uninvited guest from them. The volume contained an assortment of poetic types, a large number of sonnets, an equal amount of free verse, some villanelles and terza rima compositions, and odd selections of other forms.
The poet seemed skillful at constructing memorable lines. I remember a villanelle which concluded:
Kiss-cleft and raven tressed, elder mare’s blood moon
wanton soft and silk like steel, Cretan cold, a Celtic rune.
And a line about “bit the burning in your teeth” in the same poem with: “trace a finger pointpath along your back.”
The busy music bends us on our way:
and love’s a rune we cannot shape or say
concluded another villanelle. Another poem began:
Woman, seek not slightly with moist words to fascinate,
nor calmly with the stars’ cold fires hex my sight,
nor in the mystery of your hair wish my rhyme to culminate.
Your voice is just the surf sound in a green cold sea.
The poet had a nice ear for assonance and alliteration, which appealed to me. I did not, naturally on a first reading, worry much about meanings and themes, but was content to let the rhythms carry me through the immediate experience each poem established. I did notice a concern, however, about defining love and discussing nature or the seasons, and with the stars and the moon as well as magic. Impressions only remained. I have since been able to reread the volume and therefore have more definite ideas, but from that first night only impressions and scattered lines and phrases remained in my mind.
I spent a long while reading the volume in an unmethodical scattershot fashion. Finally, quite by chance, I happened to turn to the title page reverse, on which all that legal information is printed concerning publisher, edition and copyright.
By then I was extremely sleepy; it was late, and I had been reading for some time. In fact, I turned to that page just as my eyes were drifting closed for a final time, and with the last flicker of vague consciousness I noticed a copyright date: 2015. Or so I thought and fell asleep.
From the moment I read the first poem in that volume I had been absently struggling against exhaustion. Today I frequently suspect that the chance which brought my notice, unperceptive, to the copyright was simply that I had lost my grip on the book while dozing; when I reverted to a semi-alert state, that page presented itself rather than one of the first selections.
At any rate, I half noticed that strange date, 2015, half realized that so far as I knew it was still 1974, and then wholly lapsed into sleep, which makes all dates nonsense.
Sleep in any chair is seldom very restful. Most chairs do not prove comfortable residences for the human body after extended periods of time. I did not sleep quietly. Soundly I slept, but not restfully. My thoughts were concurrently agitated, aroused, stimulated, confused and exhausted.
I dreamed copiously. And clearly. Confused but vivid dreams.
I was myself but not myself. I was middle aged, more or less. I was walking, wandering through an ancient edifice, a strangely eerie place built of old worn stone cold to the touch, a peculiar and bleak castle of the mind. I recognized the place; that more or less wakeful portion of my mind, which sometimes comments editorially on my dreams, reminded me that I used to dream of this structure when I was younger. It was a typically adolescent romantic image, a strange and somewhat medieval castle with endless winding corridors and stairways leading nowhere, up and down.
I wandered for a long time through various chambers and halls, which I, distantly mature, recognized as a ridiculously impossible blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with Elizabethan overtones in the woodwork and garnishes of high Baroque. Eventually I arrived in a large, vaulted room. An oaken table sat in the center like a big brown cat, and on the middle of the table was a huge silver chalice too big to hold in one hand. I took it up between both palms, deciding it was another adolescent affectation. Large and very heavy, it was an oversized and chunky goblet, presumably of pure silver, carved all around with strange scenes. Figures, human and animal and combinations of both, danced in an unconstrained Dionysiac progression counterclockwise among the wildly intricate pattern of arabesques. Each figure seemed to bear my face, or the face I thought in the dream was mine.
The chalice contained wine. I sipped — it was a dry, acidic red which left its residual flavor on the back of my tongue — and suddenly I believed I knew the name of this dream castle. I drank (the wine improved some after the first exposure), and I became aware of the origin of the chalice. I drained the goblet and heard small bells chiming clearly.
Across the room a young woman appeared in an entrance I had not previously noticed. She was very good-looking: blue eyes, silver-blonde, quite pale. Her face was thin, her nose narrow. She wore a loose blue-and-white garment which floated nicely against her slender figure as she approached me. She appeared to be familiar somehow, but I knew very well (that logical portion) that I had never seen her before.
She smiled, a lovely smile of course, and she had very white even teeth.
I felt I should speak, but I had no notion of what to say to her. Even so, inane words began to tumble out. I babbled; she smiled, laughed throatily, also lovely.
Seemingly an age endured before I exhausted my chatter. It became quite dark. Eventually, I grew silent.
She took the chalice from my hands. It looked incongruous somehow in hers. Gazing at me over the lip of the cup, her eyes hinting amusement (at me?), she drank. The cup somehow was no longer empty. She returned it to me, and I drained the contents. The wine was now quite pleasant.
I set the chalice on the table and moved close to this young lady. Took her in my arms, clumsily it seemed, and I kissed her.
A kiss is an experience impossible to describe, I believe. One can focus on the physical externals of lips and tonguetips, teeth and moisture, of hands, fingers, arms, breasts and bodies, but a kiss is more than that. And any description which attempts to capture those sensations reads either like a lesson in oral anatomy or an amateur effort at pornography, neither of which is genuinely appropriate. One can also attempt to catalogue the kaleidoscope of internal thoughts, emotions, actions and responses, but such is likely to seem rather silly, definitely incomplete, altogether embarrassing. A kiss is simply wonderful, full of wonder, mute and palpable, perfect. And that is a real kiss; a dream kiss must transcend that infinitely.
At length we parted, and she looked at me, laughing, not mocking. I was embarrassed even so, and confused. Then she was gone. She vanished, utterly, completely, instantly.
And the wine I drank was dust which cold winds blew away.
Then, abruptly, so that even dreaming I was disturbed by the suddenness for a moment until caught up again, I was in a park. The sun was blazing in a perfect, flat and azure sky, almost but not quite uncomfortably warm. And I was arguing with the girl, my lover.
Only a few minutes earlier we had been walking together, her body pressed close against my side within the comfort of my arm — step for step, like cats in the sunshine, luxuriant, all senses glittering and numbed at once. Now ruptured.
The girl was rather short, auburn-tressed, with long fine hair, brown eyes, full lips. She was talking to me now, chiding me. Evidently I was a jealous lover, and my possessiveness upset her. She was haranguing me, yelling at me, disgusted with my suspicious nature. She would do as she pleased, go where she chose. And perhaps it would be best if we should terminate our relationship.
She glared at me for an answer to that, but I felt too weak to speak. She laughed: what? No words for once? And she turned away, to run off into the trees.
I could not let her leave.
I wanted to reach out to her before she moved too far away, to touch her shoulder and tenderly return her to me. An eternity she stood, poised to leave, but arms would not move to restrain her. And she began to run.
To call out. I wanted to tell her to come back. I love you; don’t go. But those words, no words came out. I was silent, and only the afternoon breeze spoke in the leaves with insect and bird sounds.
And, instantly, as she reached the edge of the cleared space through which we’d been walking, I thought:
You will not leave me,
though you will go
busborne into the southwest.
You will not leave me,
though you will go,
because I have your picture
smiling at me
within my wallet, upon my bookshelf,
xeroxed in the green and colored bodies
of my mind.
You will not leave me,
though you will go,
for I have preserved you in my eyes:
between the retina and the lens,
you pass a liquid double life,
performing periodically upon my sight;
and I’ll transform you someday
into a poem.
When she reached the edge of the open space. And she stopped there to look back at me. But no, she was continuing on at the same time, faster than before. No, rather she was standing quite still there, beside the trees, gazing at me, warm, affectionate. Even as she ran off.
She seemed to become two. And slowly the vision which had stopped grew very still, stiffer, awkward, straighter, narrower, stranger. As she disappeared, she who ran away from sight, she also became transformed, she who had stood so lovely beside the woods. Her appearance melted, shifted, flowed and flowered into a tree, a stunted linden grown all about with ivy.
And she was gone.
I removed my billfold from my pocket and opened it. Her picture looked up at me from the first plastic window, and the tree grew did to that spot. I smiled, quite warm in the sunlight.
But, of course, she had run completely away.
The dream became darkness, and I was confused, because I was now very cold. My limbs ached, and my back, as though I had lain uncomfortably for an excruciatingly long time. And it was damp; I could feel the cold wetness in my joints as the aches throbbed, and hollowly, distantly, echoingly, I could hear a steady, somewhat irregular dripping.
I lay in a dank, unlit place. A cave, I thought, as the constant whine of the wind soughing and howling through the earth became apparent. A rough, cold draft blew across me lengthwise. I was naked.
Suddenly light flickered and glowed beyond my head. I could not see the source, so I tried to twist around to see, and discovered that I was bound. I waited. In a moment a woman came to my right side. She was tall, with thick dark hair hanging onto her shoulders in heavy curls. She wore a simple white satin shift which fit her closely from neck to ankles; nothing beneath. Her arms were bare and pale, her eyes dark blue and deeply set. I did not recognize her, but she was very beautiful. Her lips, I noticed, were extremely red, and she had crimson polish on her nails, both in stark contrast with her pale skin.
She carried a stake of holly or some other small plant in her left hand and a small clay pot in her right. She stood silent, smiling mysteriously.
Suddenly another light at my feet. Craning my head upward with difficulty I looked painfully down my body. A young man dressed in brown was placing a torch in a niche beside a low manmade entry; the passage beyond was mere darkness. I could see, however, that the place was indeed a cavern. We three were within a small natural chamber, improved and evened by human chiseling.
The fellow finished placing his torch and came to my left side. He was very young-looking, smooth faced, with sleek light brown hair. He had brown, rather wide eyes. He looked at me, it seemed with a soft, pitying expression. Then he looked at the woman and spoke.
“The days are weakening.”
“I believe so,” she replied tonelessly.
“Today the sun has stood still.”
“It’s done so before.”
He reached into a pocket of his ochre garment; it was a simple kirtle. From the pocket he removed an apple. “I have the fruit. It fell from the tree into my left hand.”
“Your right hand is empty?”
He placed the apple on my chest, just left of the sternum. “I am prepared.”
The woman handed him the plant in her left hand. It was mistletoe, I realized. He took it in both hands; it was large and long, like a knife almost. I noticed it was cut to an extremely sharp point. She dipped the forefinger of her left hand into the clay pot, coaching the fingertip with a sticky thick red liquid. With that finger she made twelve small marks on my chest, in a circle around the apple. Then she reached over me and painted a single letter D on the young man’s for head, saying, “It is the dark of the moon, end of the oak.”
“Life is water,” the young man shrugged.
“Strike then the star,” she ordered unemphatically.
The young man raised the sprig high over me in both hands, holding it like a knife, his narrow face impassive, his clear eyes mild, and plunged the needle point through the heart of the apple over my heart, and downward.
I wanted to wake screaming.
And I awoke for sure, with a start, but silent. I was clutching the book maniacally, twisted in both hands. The night was dark outside the window. Rain was pouring in great gouts thunderously through the blackness.
The old man lay quiet on the bed. My back ached.
I felt exhausted. It was 2:30. I rose and switched off the lights at long last. Then I retired once more to my chair to sleep uncomfortably again, the book on my lap.
I sat quietly listening to the heavy rhythm of the rain droning onto the mud of the parking lot, drumming the city in the darkness. Eventually the rainsound beat my scattered thoughts to sleep.
And I dreamed the last dream:
I was reclined in my less-than-cozy red armchair, snoozing placidly, a buffoon becalmed. My chair had been transported, though, so it seemed, on angel wings elsewhere. Into a clearing within a forest. I slept surrounded by big, tall shapes, lumpy with leaves: slender firs, oval yews and irregularly spherical elms and oaks. Coniferous and deciduous trees mixed.
In the clearing, sprawled in my chair, I was asleep. But I could still observe somehow both myself and my surroundings.
I recognized the scene. It was the forest pictured on the plastic paperback’s rear cover. The fire was burning in the center of the clearing, a perfect boy scout pyramid of thirteen upright shafts all flickering and licked about with evanescent flames. My chair, and I, rested about a meter from the fire. Across the blaze, where in the painting the shaman squatted, lay the aged intruder on the ground, asleep or unconscious. A quiet wind, scented with foliage and sap, blew across the clearing.
Then, incredibly slowly, a thin pale yellow fog seemed to be early coalesced out of the air above the old man, undisturbed by the soft passage of the wind. So slowly that its gathering presence was imperceptible. Its gradual accumulation indiscernible, observed only through retrospective comparison. Slowly, slowly the yellow wisp condensed, Gradually thickening, acquiring, perhaps only suggesting, at first just not quite hinting, a certain shape, inspiring form, an asymmetrical pillar somewhat less than two meters tall and about fifty centimeters in diameter. Faint traces of other hues began to become vaguely apparent — light veins of red, overtones of ochre, lavenders and embers, traces of a lost celestial blue. And the cylinder painstakingly became a cloudy ghost, a shadow, anthropomorphic, and through several eternities that shadow became bones and organs, finally hair and flesh — or was it imagination? — until at last on man stood naked, feet wide spread over the old man, staring with sharp, very green, extremely animated eyes directly at me.
He noticed the book on my lap and laughed.
He was the shaman from the picture, six feet tall, slenderly well-built, although a trifle flabby at the waist, wearing his dark hair long to his shoulders. I recognized him as a considerably younger edition of the old man; his face, even laughing, had the same grim intensity.
I realized that the moon had appeared, a pale half, huge, pocked with purple.
The apparition knelt by the fire and gestured in a complicated graceful pattern over the flames. The wind became suddenly much stronger, and the trees sighed and moaned. He spoke a word, two syllables, and ceased his ritual.
Then rising swiftly he crossed to me, peering intently into my face. His expression was puzzled, but after a few moments’ observation he seemed somehow satisfied. He moved behind me and placed a hand on each side of my head, carefully locating each finger.
“This is going to hurt me a lot more than it is you,” he said. I remembered those words clearly; everything else he said seemed one with the wind to me. “Some things are necessary… to simplify matters. That is why we have come here. You must trust me.” He paused. The moon seemed much brighter, much whiter. The fingers of his left hand were very cold, the right warm. “You can trust Wakdjunkaga.” I knew that of course I could not. “Of course you can trust me.” I suppose I did. “Then we may begin.”
His fingers seemed to press tighter against my head: above my ears, on my temples, my cheekbones, my jaw, and beside the tendons in my neck — harder and harder, colder and warmer, pressing ever more firmly, and the wind wailed more and more loudly, until, as the moon screamed whiter than paper, apparently his fingers were sliding, melting, passing through flesh and skull into my brain.
And the terrible moon rushed right down from the sky and swallowed me then in a brilliant white iciness.
Eventually I was aware of the stars, in constant tiny jewels rarely eluding certainty, and the night sky was quite lavender eastward. Then Wakdjunkaga walked into my perception. He took the book off my lap and walked over to the old man, replacing the volume in the correct pocket. He straightened up and looked at me again, from across the fire, still burning strongly. “You understand?”
I had no idea what he meant.
He nodded and stepped into the fire. Rapidly he was reduced to smoke and the fire to ash.
I believe the sun sent a faint tendril of golden roseate above the trees, making intricate silhouettes against the lavender and amber sky. Then, gracefully, it began to rain, with a spit of blue-white lightning which flashed down agonizingly upon a tall oak at the edge of the clearing. That was the only violence, however; the rain was warm and gentle, and the sunlight continued to coyly warm the east with pastel watercolors.
Imperceptibly the edges of the dream blurred away, and the softly descending rain washed me back into the Allison, as gradually as the ghost form had first appeared, until I was no longer asleep but groggily awakening to a brightish morning as mild rain quietly beat the ground and buildings outside.
The book was gone. With reluctant concern I looked for it on the floor, but it was not there. Then I glanced at the bed.
The old man was sitting at the foot, facing me, reading from the book. He appeared perfectly at home, and in fact I felt myself that nothing was amiss. I realized that everything was all right; I was relaxed.
He must have noticed my movement searching for the book, because he looked up.
“Oh, you’re awake,” he croaked. “Sleep well? — I suppose not, in that chair. Sorry to deprive you, but circumstances were slightly out of control last evening. I’m not sure exactly what has happened here, but apparently I’ve twisted, possibly sprained my ankle from my ill-considered arrival. And I’m more than a trifle exhausted otherwise, but, actually, the best that I can tell, all is adequately perfect.”
And he was, of course, correct. Everything was fine. I sensed it in the rain pattering, in the ache in my back and shoulders, in everything. All was fine.
“I suppose,” he said, holding the book open, “you’re wondering who I am. My name is Durwood Wakdjunkaga, and I’m afraid I’ll have to impose on you a bit longer yet.” And, of course, that was all right as well.
Beginning with that moment, we two became the most excellent good friends, without any further thought on my part about it.
Now I have reached the difficult part.
You must remember that what you are reading is not a novel. This book is not fiction. What I am telling you happened to me. Or, more precisely, I suppose, it happened to Wakdjunkaga, since most of what I have to say he told me in one roundabout and circumstantial manner or another.
I don’t say this because of what you have already read, although you may have begun to suspect the unusual nature of the story. What I’ve told you is not my problem. Those three chapters — begun so long ago, as I write this fourth — are natural enough, really. They were relatively easy to record, once I made myself begin. (It is beginning which is the hardest in any effort, I think. After a start one must only maintain the exertion, not easy in itself, I know, but that is because one keeps encountering smaller little beginnings in the process. Like writing: it is vilely hard to get started, but once begun, that first sentence, perhaps even the first paragraph comes without much additional strain. But then, like an entirely new beginning, that second paragraph presents itself to be written, and there it becomes so easy to stop, having not yet fully commenced.)
The first three chapters are like the first paragraph in my acquaintance with Wakdjunkaga. Once I actually forced words to, often literally, drip from my pen (I found typewriters demoralizing) that much came easily. But there I balked, barely begun. He had only arrived; I had the whole story to tell yet.
I did not exactly know how to go on. And so, between composing the end of the last chapter and setting this down now, three years quietly elapsed.
I got the chapters typed. I did revision on revision of those pages, precisely as I taught my students to write essays. All in my spare time. For I had become a high school teacher a year after my stint in Cedar Rapids, and I was busy dealing with the youth of mid-America. I worked often on the story of Wakdjunkaga, updating all my personal references, which caused me so much initial embarrassment to record. But, although I tried as many as thirteen times, I could not proceed any farther.
It was Wakdjunkaga who stopped me, not in person, but in personality. How could I go on? How could I explain him?
You’re not reading a novel. Understand that. I don’t have everything neatly plotted in my mind, with outlines for each chapter, the action developed with appropriate conflicts, complications and character changes. Neither Wakdjunkaga nor his life fit well to outlining.
However, I have noticed that already I am beginning to forget individual details and events, important to recall if this story is to be told correctly. That time that the Allison is growing hazier to me each time I try to remember.
It’s not so much what I’ve written as what I have to write. How can I explain Wakdjunkaga to you? He is not likable, not really. You won’t appreciate him; you’ll think me crazy for calling him a friend, for telling his story, for allowing him this book. We like to find heroes in our books, and I’m not sure he was much of a hero at all. I’d be closer if I called him a clown.
He was a sissy about pain: I never noticed afterward that his ankle bothered him, despite his initial assertion. He preferred ease, comfort and warmth to any other conditions.
A coward, he had deserted friends to save himself, avoided facing crises at any cost. I remember once we were in a bar downtown where I had never been before. We entered at Wak’s insistence. Exactly as I had feared, it was a rough place where we did not belong, and Wak was already drunk, quite loud and, as we sat at the bar, beginning to be a little abusive. Not that anyone would bother him. Most people are very cautious about hitting an old man like him, even if he did not look his full age (in my initial estimate that first night I had grossly underestimated). Eventually one large and meaty character who had overheard Wak’s comments to me took offense, as I had dreaded and, speaking beer into my face as insults and threats, got so carried away he could not stand my presence any longer and took a heavy swing at the side of my head. I clearly recall my other ear ringing sharply onto the bar and then, from the floor barely noticing Wak’s feet scurry quietly passed as he subtly departed. I was stranded and in trouble. My ear was bleeding, so I rolled with that side up and pretended unconsciousness, reviving only when I was sure that the two orangutans who deposited me in the garbage behind the establishment had been gone for at least ten minutes. Wakdjunkaga never apologized or afterward mentioned the incident.
A liar and a fake, he had stolen everything he was, almost, from others, mostly to impress women — his favorite pastime, even past eighty, followed by drinking, spinning stories, fabricating fabulous philosophies and playing practical jokes. He would rather sit than do anything active, and I was always amazed he was no fatter or flabbier than he was.
But these are virtues to some, I suppose. He was moreover a hypocrite, pretending thoroughly, perhaps even to himself, to be what he was not — Byronic, noble, athletic, wise, and everything anyone he might be with would admire. His world-wearied, quixotic, craggy countenance and expression helped him most in this. But I don’t think he ever fooled anyone for long: a failure sham.
And wordy. He probably talked from birth. He babbled constantly. About anything. But mostly about himself or his ideas — he was expert, or it least informed, on any subject ever conceived. Frequently, however, when he became excited or overly involved in what he was saying, he grew associative and incoherent and hard to follow.
He did know a good deal. His references and allusions often stymied me. But his opinions could change faster than Time magazine’s. He’d blithely contradict himself the day after expounding one position and then establish a third stance on the third day. And laugh at you if you pointed it out to him, and prove that he had held a fourth conciliatory opinion, which you were just too simple to comprehend, all the time. He was certainly never above insult or innuendo.
“Damn protestants,” he said once, “purifying the religion. Took everything interesting or challenging and threw it out. Made Christianity boring as hell. History’s gone downhill ever since the Reformation. Killed in the Renaissance anyway. Puritans and methodites — hate them all. Empty air and vacant gestures — that’s all they are.”
On another occasion: “Catholics? Ha! Them and their hodgepodge of a religion — patchwork little devotional empire founded in ignorance, Imperial Rome, Mithraism, anti-naturism and everything but the New Testament. I never could have imagined such an irrational, half-baked conglomeration if I had to.”
I expected him to tackle Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Communists, Buddhists, Taoists, psychologists, Republicans, sports fans and any other group of True Believers in the same way, but he never got around to it. I did ask him one time what he believed in. Anything? “Of course,” he sputtered gloriously, and then smiled, “but damned if I’ll ever tell you.” And he swilled a beer. He never told me, either.
Once, when I was preparing a lesson in world lit on the Enlightenment, Wak intruded from his room (a story in itself, that room). He had been writing something.
“How do you spell judgment?” he demanded.
“Check the dictionary,” I laughed. “That’s what I always tell my students.”
He overlooked the chance to ask if I was unable to spell myself, referring everyone to the dictionary instead. “Got one?” I handed it to him, and he found the entry. “Damnation! Either way; with the ‘E’ or without. Why’d I bother?”
“Now you know,” I offered.
“Like hell! I’ll forget. I’m an old man. And senile. Or I’d’ve known already. I don’t have a head for rules. I know there are rules for these things, but I never can remember them.”
“I never learned them.” A fact I was discovering only too well as I encountered students each day.
“Never learned, and you an English teacher!”
“I spell all right.”
“But how does that help your students?”
“I’ll correct them,” I answered, more than a little piqued at his attack.
“That’s what got done to me. Look how I am now.”
“I never taught you. — Or will I? Besides, you’re the one who can’t remember the rules.”
“Were the exceptions,” he muttered. “It was always the exceptions that made learning the rules so damn silly.”
“That’s what we get,” I said, setting aside my notes, “for not setting the rules before the language evolved.”
“If we’d done that, you and I’d still be talking Anglo-Saxon or whatever it is. Language’d never grown up.”
“It’s grown up now?”
“Not the way you use it, English teacher. Or me.” He paused, looking a little distant, and smiled. “I take consolation in the knowledge that it’s growing easier to write as time goes by. I remember that someday ‘night’ and ‘light’ and ’right’ — ”
“The unaspirated -gh- holdover.”
“Pedant! Anyway, by the next century ‘n-i-t-e’ and ‘l-i-t-e’ will be the ‘r-i-t-e’ way to spell them.”
“I like the old way better. More character.”
“Romantic,” he scoffed.
“I don’t know. I like the way the language doesn’t fit the rules. More like the way life really is.”
“Heresy for an English teacher.”
“I know. But ‘n-i-t-e’ bores me.”
“There’s hope for you yet,” he bellowed merrily. “You’ll come around to my way of seeing things yet, as long as you keep on thinking like that.”
“Like what?” I asked the closing door, beginning vaguely to realize that I thought I had locked it, and picking up my notes again before I followed that thought too far: “Let’s see. Diderot’s Encyclopedia.”
Obviously he could change his opinion in less than two days, within the scope of a single conversation.
Most of all, and this rankles me deepest somehow, he was a gossip. I often noticed him in grocery stores sucking in the headlines on the scandal sheets as we waited by the checkout counter. Benjamin Backbite would have loathed him as a cheap sensationalist. And he firmly denied, in his laconic way, that this was so, proceeding next to revel in some new bit of scandal.
And I admired him, envied him sometimes, am pleased to call him my friend, and glow to be able to set him down (if I can) on paper for you to read. Although I doubt if anyone else who knew him has truly shared my admiration. Yet.
Yet. How can I say “yet?” He is my whole problem.
A joker. He once, about three weeks after his arrival and only shortly before he left, put a water balloon in place of my pillow. When I laid my head on it, the water erupted, gushing all over the bed and me. He thought it was very funny. The water was very cold.
Moreover he timed his stunt for a night when I had a visitor, with whom I shared an increasingly hesitant relationship. She enjoyed the drenching even less than I did, hard to imagine, and we since went our ways, separately.
He laughed, in friendship and malice, gleefully for five days. And he got mad and morose when I vengefully shot him with a water pistol I’d taken from a troublesome student.
He thought it was especially funny that I could not explain to the girl how it happened that my pillow was full of water. I couldn’t explain him to her. I did believe what he told me about himself, although I may never wholly understand why. I accepted that he had really returned from the twenty-first century, even when I had no inkling of his reasons. Of course, as Wakdjunkaga was overly fond of observing, I am exceedingly gullible.
Perhaps I should have told her; it couldn’t have made the situation worse. At the time, though, I was unable to devise an explanation of how we kept him secretly lodged in the empty room across the hall. Not that she would have listened if I had tried to discuss the rituals and incantations (I feel silly mentioning them now) which prevented that room from being rented, which caused the maid to clean it and then forget that she had. Maybe my silence was wise. Who would have believed the story of the midmorning seduction when Wakdjunkaga lured the maid into my room, worked his charm and somehow got the lock of her domestic hair necessary to work is intended magic? The scene in my room must have been magical enough — he always insisted they both escaped with honor intact, but satisfied.
My dripping girlfriend would never have understood. So I suffered her abuse and her silence and our separation and Wak’s chuckles.
The joy buzzer and the phony dog pile were his idea of man’s two most worthwhile inventions.
Is there a way to present him in a good light? You will see him as the villain, I think. And that’s all wrong. I think.
The point of the whole story, which I learned quite late, an unexpected fruit of the water pillow trick (he sympathized when the letter announcing the end of the affair arrived), leaves no other interpretation. I said he was a coward and a cheat, a liar, and a hesitant, weak-willed, self-centered clown. He admitted he was worse.
He may have driven off my visitor, but he once killed his own love and then lived another seventy years, becoming influential, famous, rich and old, before a real regret. And then, near death himself, he decided not to meet eternal justice in its own course and chickened out, and, running backward, paused briefly to meet me.
“It’s a little hard to explain,” he finally said, after an hour of hedging. “I was ninety-two, lonely, I guess. I began to notice that I’d lost my friends. Disappeared to other places when I wasn’t thinking. Slipped away. Dead.
“I’d never bothered to realize that getting old does that to you. I’d never bothered to realize much. Grow old and you lose your companions. They die. Completely they’re gone, people you’ve accepted like — seasons? — naturally, for decades, parents of people you’ve taken as granted. Snuffed. (I always liked that word.) It’s a most existential sensation, picking up the telephone for an everyday chat, and realizing that she died six years before.
“I actually did that. Frightening experience. Made me wonder about my mind. Made me wonder about dying myself, of course. Not that I worried. By then we were all looking forward to living past a hundred and twenty. Nice to think on, isn’t it?
“Still, I was — I don’t know… scared… I felt alone suddenly. At ninety-two…
“And one night, one night I realized, not sleeping, what was wrong. I was trying to explain, in my mind —
“Funny how thoughts work. I always have to set things into clear words, as if I were explaining it to someone.” He stopped, shaking his head, stared at the floor. He didn’t like to talk about himself, not so personally. It was too difficult. He’d rather spin stories.
I remembered then how we had spent the previous evening, me trying not to expect to the letter which did of course come. We had been boozing in a college bar on 1st Avenue. Heedless of my preoccupation, Wak had tried to pick up countless tipsy coeds. An ordinary evening in that sense. As usual, the girls found this ancient lecher amusing. Less typically he had scored.
He went on. “I was explaining the feeling I had that night. And suddenly I realized — something I’d never… consciously? … never thinkingly thought about. I noticed who I imagined I was talking to.
“I’d never noticed, but when I talked to myself… it was her. — For how long? It was so natural. And I’d never… noticed.
“And noticing, of course, brought it all back. What I had forgotten.
“I never did fall asleep again. Not then. Not until I crashed in on you. Couldn’t. I was afraid to. Dreams. I don’t know. Six days away, though.
“It’s funny. I never supposed she meant very much to me. Never bothered to think. Or maybe I’d forgot — tried to.
“Anyway. Things snapped completely. I spent a couple of days hating myself. That night and the next at least. Then I knew what I had to do.
“I’ve tried to forget that, too. I’d never believed anyway. Never noticed I believed anyway. It was appropriate, though, I guess. It was what she had died for.
“I did the only thing I could do. I came back. I made the preparations, racked my memory to get everything right, and came back.”
He shook his head and smiled. “I’m going to save her. From me.”