Born out of Due Time, A Fantasy by Ched P. Rayson, Chapter One:
Chapter One (Part A)
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
He came to with a jolt, like someone regaining consciousness after being knocked on the head, but he kept his eyes shut, trying to remember what he had witnessed in the night. He had overslept again. Worn out from too much traveling in dreams, he was not ready to face another day. The visions of the night had exhausted him, but he could not recall any details. In the part of his mind that held the what, where, and when, a numb spot remained.
With his eyes still shut, he waited for the dream to seep back into his consciousness. A locale began to take shape. He had been in some kind of institution—a college dormitory or a concentration camp—with a girl he had known somewhere—Jane—and someone called Anderson something or something Anderson. Jane was a slender, almost boyish girl of 20, a college student who wore Villager dresses and loved old poetry. She could even quote Sarah Teasdale. She was quiet, thoughtful, and not given to retorts that went beyond dry irony. She had volunteered for the program, partly because she thought it was useful research and partly because she wanted to find out something about herself. Anderson felt the same.
Initially it had all been a lark--parlor tricks with a veneer of science. Still, they felt they were taking part in something significant. After a while, the routine became boring, especially after they could not longer go home at the end of the day but were required to spend the night. Eventually, they had become bored with the whole thing, but, when the subject of leaving came up, it became clear they were no longer volunteers. For the time being, they were being held as virtual prisoners, but none of them knew the answers to the questions that were asked over and over. The interrogators were all calm and pleasant and never used or even threatened violence or coercion of any kind, but the experience was beginning to wear on their nerves.
After a few days, Anderson had grown sullen and withdrawn, but Jane was increasingly distraught. In one session, the three of them had begun to see alarming visions. Anderson was convinced he was hunting bears in Canada, and, when one of the ferocious animals reared up and charged him, his gun jammed. At first he panicked and tried to run, but, in a few moments, he succeeded in getting hold of himself, and, as he turned to face his attacker, the bear withdrew and disappeared.
Jane, who had been brought up in a religious family, was beset by demons saying filthy things and tempting her to indecency. They called on her to join in their obscene revelries. With a scream, she had run to the window and jumped through it to her death. Anderson was not fast enough to stop her, but he saw her frail body, crushed by the fall of eight stories, spattering blood on the pavement.
The visions must have been caused by a drug their interrogators had given them in their afternoon tea. They had been so solicitous at the time.
“You must be exhausted. We’re terribly sorry to have inconvenienced you. This will all be over quite soon."
Anderson figured out what had been done to them, and he began to threaten the interrogators with what would he would do when he got out. America was a free country, he said, and people would not stand for this. They had practically murdered this poor young girl and for what? Neither she or they had any idea.
“You keep probing us to see if we have some kind of special insights or powers. We came here in good faith, and you abused our trust in the university. This is completely childish, and you can’t get away with any of it.”
He ransacked his brain for a motive, and all he could come up with was the idea that the three of them were laboratory mice that had been selected because of some peculiar talent the interrogators thought they had discovered. The interrogators seemed convinced by Anderson’s threats, but, instead of letting them go, they took the experimental subjects back to separate rooms and locked them in for the rest of the day. Their meals were brought in by nurses backed up by armed orderlies. The next day they were taken to another wing of the facility, where they were hooked up to a machine that administered powerful electric shocks until all memory of the experiments was either destroyed or forced to retreat into some dark corner of the unconscious mind. He did not forget who he was or anything in his life except for the days he had spent in the institution. Was there ever a Jane and was she really dead? Who was Anderson—Farley Anderson, was it?—for whom he had felt such sympathy?
He had had parts of the dream before, and in one episode he had shyly kissed Jane on her prim little lips, not a kiss of passion but only of kindness and reassurance. In another episode he had managed to escape and made his way, first to New York and then to Milan. Of the experiments, only a few traces popped up in the dream, like the images of childhood that sometimes invaded the present. His months in Italy he recalled vividly. Almost awake now, he realized that he had spent time in Italy, and those memories, at least, were real.
The events of last night's dream were coming back to him slowly. He opened his eyes and looked around the room, at the window almost occluded by an unkempt lilac bush, the austere chest of drawers that held his folding clothes, the small writing table with a reading light left on, still shining on a white legal pad on which he sometimes scribbled notes during the night. He was still here, stranded in this place and time. There was nothing to be depressed about. You could not always choose the millennium you lived in, though the thought had crossed his mind.
No, depression was not the correct word he would use to describe his state of mind. What was it monks were said to suffer from, acedia? He got up out of bed and took down from the bookshelf the Shorter Oxford Dictionary but did not find acedia. Refusing to ruin the beginning of the day by going online, he sat down and thought. It must come from the Greek kedos, which meant care as for relatives and friends, also a connection by marriage, but also the grief caused by such caring. Someone who did not care was akedes. The old Greeks did not have the noun akedia, perhaps because they did not suffer from the malady. Even an exile—like Odysseus on Calypso’s island or Themistocles in the Persian Empire—pined for home and family. He was no Greek, and he had nothing and no one to pine for.
It could be worse. He was not in prison or in school. He was not an experimental rat forced endlessly to find his way through a maze. He could do what he liked with the day that was breaking. It must be Monday, the beginning of the week for people with a job or students with a class to attend. He was exempt. There was nowhere that he had to be. He was almost completely cut off from things. It was like having amnesia, except his problem was not so much that he had forgotten a few things as that he remembered almost everything else.
He showered and shaved, trimming along the line of his clipped red beard on the cheeks and under the chin. He put on a shirt and tie and a rumpled dark suit. He set up the coffee, and, as he boiled his egg and toasted a slice of bread, he ate an orange. When he was growing up, oranges were still rare enough that they put them in Christmas stockings along with walnuts and almonds. Now he could get tasteless fruit and stale nuts every day of the year. Hurray for progress.
He ate his breakfast in silence. He thought about turning on the radio for a little music, but he was not up to facing the chirpy schoolmarms burbling over Mozart’s laundry bills or his feelings about the flute. There was too much damned noise everywhere he went. There were movements for everything else—to liberate women, empower children, and save the whales; animals had the right to be respected, male convicts had the right to free sex change operations, blind law students had the right to tutors paid for by the school. Restaurants had menus for vegans and celiacs, and smoking was forbidden everywhere. Why not zones without recorded music, television, cell phones, and laptops?
With his second cup of coffee, he settled into his routine. First he read aloud parts of the Anglican Service of Morning Prayer and the passages of Scripture set for the day. He reshelved the Prayerbook and the Authorized Version of the Bible and took down Apollonius’ Argonautica and slogged through five pages of Greek whose difficult vocabulary required a dictionary. He was almost too old to memorize all the words he had to look up. Growing pleasantly tired, he put the books and dictionary down, stored his legal pad in the place he kept his documents, and set out on his morning walk.
It was roughly a mile and a half to the park that lay along the lakeshore, and he wandered the paths that skirted the hillside, looking at the few long boats that still plied the lake. Turning away from the lake, he walked down the hill, following the path to a stream that widened out to surround a small island with a short bridge on each side connecting the island to the the opposite banks. He stood on the island, lit a small cigar (Maria Mancini) and for a moment thought he was on Tiber Island, watching the swollen river rage against the concrete boat-prow formed at the end of the island.
He walked to the other side and went along the path up the hill to the the picnic grounds and watched the gulls swooping down to snatch bits of hotdog rolls, packaged ice cream treats, and watermelon rinds that had been left behind by families and children hoping to squeeze a few more summer days out of early September. Everything that lived in a city turned eventually into a scavenger or a feral predator.
He made his way back to his little rundown house in the dingy 1920’s neighborhood near the railroad tracks. It was time for his mid-morning Italian. This month he was reading the poems of Guido Cavalcanti, Dante’s older friend. After a few pages, he put down the book and did Italian lessons on the computer. This morning he was concentrating on the Tuscan forms that were no longer current in the rest of Italy—costui and codesto, fo and vo.
Before long it was time to think about lunch. So many decisions to be made in this action-packed life of his. Fifty years ago he might have been another Johnny Dollar. He cut two thin slices off a large wedge of Virginia ham and fried them quickly and ate them with a slice of bread and a small salad of cucumbers and tomatoes. Having no plans for the afternoon, he uncorked a bottle of a white wine from Orvieto he had in the refrigerator. He had intended to drink only a glass or at most two but, since there was nothing else to do, he finished the bottle. He should do this every day.
He cleaned up the few dishes, put away the morning’s books, and set up the Moka pot on the stove. When the espresso was ready, he put the pot and cup on a tray, which he took out to the screened porch. He went back in and took down a slim volume of Dino Compagni’s Florentine chronicle and an academic history of Florence for reference and went out onto the porch and sat down on the padded wicker chair. It was unseasonably warm for September—almost 80—and he felt the sun soaking into his bones. The wine made him drowsy, but he did his best to take in the narrative. He read listlessly the familiar pages and reminded himself that he was lucky to be where he was, with time to recover from his ordeal, though he could only dimly recall what it had been. Things could be worse. They had been much worse. But, after so many months in this blighted here and now, he was losing whatever edge he might have had. But where and when was he to go? It was still too early to say. School had once started in the second week of September, and every year at this time he began to feel like a hummingbird at the end of the season. It was time to stock up and head South.
For the time being, he had to be content to wait, though not for something to happen. Too much had happened already. That was the whole point of why he was where he was: It was to keep things from happening. He stretched out his long legs and propped them on a small wicker ottoman, laid the books down on the table, and leaned back, drifting away.
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