The story continues. I’m finally making this a habit, as to not abruptly stop like so many times before. Little steps.
Thanks for reading.
“Have you danced beneath a harvest moon?”
The voice, belonging to a woman, sounds far away. He opens his eyes so slowly; anything faster would hurt. This hurts.
“With her in your arms? Are you still in love with her?”
His eyes open to near darkness. Faint light enters through a window across the room. There is no other light. The room is small, tiny, and he is tied to a chair by his forearms and ankles and abdominal. Tightly enough to hurt, tightly enough so that he cannot break free. He sees a shape in the dimness, sitting on a chair directly in front of him. He can’t make out her face and features. She’s nothing more than a speaking shadow. She has addressed him, questioned him, but he’s already forgotten her words. His thoughts are fleeting. His head throbs.
“Where am I?” he asks. Of course he has not left the building near the water.
The woman must know this, as she does not answer his question but asks another. “The harvest moon,” she whispers. “Have you danced beneath it?”
He thinks, truly thinks, perhaps longer and harder than he should, as if the question actually has purpose and meaning. “I don’t remember,” he says, only able to conjure images of moons, some full and others crescents and slivers, but none of him dancing beneath them. He recalls laying beneath moons, staring up at them and the stars, and how he once laid alone and now does once again. But his captor never asked for details.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and he is sorry. Sorry he can’t remember his own life and the people he shared it with. Sorry he’s a hollow man aware of everything he cannot grasp. A mental block, and maybe it’s better that he doesn’t remember, maybe his subconscious protects him from destruction, but this way of living is torture just the same.
“We’re all sorry.” Misery fills her voice. “The sun has set.”
He glances toward the window; light slips through, lingers outside.
“Not that sun.”
“Not that sun.”
He doesn’t know what to say, why he’s tied to a chair and what will happen next. This woman can kill him, and she very well may, but for some reason he’s not afraid. He can’t seem to make himself care. A fact rather than a threat—he may die here, and that’s that.
“Is that what you want?” she asks. “To die?”
He contemplates a few moments, wonders how she knew his thoughts. “No, I don’t think so. I want to live.”
He contemplates longer. This is an exceedingly difficult question with many answers, but what’s the right answer? “I want to remember why I ever lived. I want to remember, and hold onto those memories. I want to die remembering.”
She makes a sound and is silent for a long time. When she finally speaks, she sounds like she’s been crying. “You…lost your memory?”
“You don’t remember?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to remember. Memories, they return as glimpses and dreams, snapshots of the past I can’t entirely see or understand. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t, what’s mine to remember and what’s just stories of my mind.”
“You don’t remember anything?”
“Stars,” he says. “And dolphins. I enjoy dolphins. There’s also a woman, I think, but she’s gone now. Gone with everything else. And music. That’s all I remember.”
“Then why are you here?”
“”I must go somewhere. I can’t stay here, wherever here is. I just go, hoping to find memories and clues to what happened. Do you know what became of the world?”
Thick silence before she finally speaks. “We devolved. As people, we devolved and couldn’t coexist in a new world with new truths. Some still live, but most, everywhere, are dead.”
This doesn’t surprise him; he had been expecting it, or something very near to it. “Everywhere?”
“The entire world as I know it. You really don’t remember?”
“I’ve been away for a long time.”
“At the hospital up north? Green Lanes? There’s nowhere else around here. We’re in the middle of nothing and lucky for it.”
He nods and is sure she sees him; he’s beginning to see more of her. Hair cut short and choppy, prettier than he had expected but far from stunning, and cleaner than he had expected, too. She wears a long brown coat with many pockets and buttons and tight faded jeans tucked into black boots.
“Why were you up there all alone, all this time?”
Lying will get him nowhere; he’s already tied to a chair. “I woke in a padded room, in a straightjacket. I don’t know why I was there or how long. Why everyone left without me or what I did in my past. I don’t feel insane.”
“You don’t act insane. But why aren’t you dead?”
“Why would I be dead?”
She shrugs as if it’s obvious. “No one to feed or care for you, all alone in a padded room. The hospital has been vacant for years. Everyone fled in a hurry, a mad rush off the island. They thought the mainland would be safer. They were wrong, and none returned.”
“I…no. That can’t be right.” He’s at a loss for words, trying to comprehend what he just heard but knowing it will never make sense. However much he’s willing to accept, this he cannot. “You’re wrong. Years couldn’t have passed.”
“So you’ve been in a mindless daze for years now. Since everyone fled. Four years. Or is it five? Six? I don’t know,” she whispers to herself. “Years don’t matter. Not anymore. But someone walked those empty halls, caring for you, the lone patient, or else you’d be dead. You aren’t dead, are you?”
“Another man,” he says. “A dying old man. I found him, but he wanted to die. There was no one else. I searched. I looked everywhere, trying to find someone.”
Did he look everywhere? Did he somehow overlook his caretaker? If not, then how had he survived? Four years? How long had he laid on the padded floor and mindlessly wandered those halls? Four years. Four years since what? Answers are nowhere as helpful as he expected them to be. Four years.
“So you survived alone for four years? The straightjacket didn’t hinder you? You fed yourself with what? And the door…”
“The door was broken open when I woke,” he says. “Most things were broken, and there wasn’t any power.” How did the dead old man survive without power for four years? The questions hurt his head.
“Oh, then it’s even easier. To survive, alone, in a straightjacket, and without power. And you’re not insane?”
Now he isn’t so sure. “Why did you ask me about the harvest moon?” he asks as her first words return to memory, to change the topic away from questions without answers.
“The tattoo on your wrist.”
“There’s no…” But, looking down, there is. He begins to accuse her of tattooing him but realizes it will only make him seem crazier. He does not see any of the proper tools; his skin is not inflamed or irritated. Besides, the tattoo is far too elegant to be done hastily. The script is striking calligraphy, the most beautiful writing he has ever seen, somehow already seeming part of him. “Harvest moon, my moon, my stars, the star-touched eyes I saw from afar.” Tattooed vertically down his wrist, four lines in all.
my moon, my stars.
The star-touched eyes
I saw from afar.
The tattoo did not exist yesterday, he knows. Is completely sure of this. He has seen his arm many times, and always without a tattoo. “An old poem,” he lies. “It was important to me, once.” Maybe that’s true, but he doesn’t know why.
“And the girl?” She sounds interested now.
“The girl you talk about in your sleep, the girl who haunts you so deeply. You should have woken earlier. I didn’t hit you that hard, but something kept you asleep.”
At least that explains his aching head and why the back of it hurts so fiercely. “Did I say her name?” he asks, hoping so, hoping a name ignites a chain of memories, that he will finally begin to understand.
But she only shakes her head. “No names. You murmured about the harvest moon, how you need to dance, must dance, how you hate dancing but you’ll dance with her forever and to no music at all. And the stars, you went on and on about the stars. They still come out at night, you know. Only when the clouds leave. Never during the day, but sometimes at night, and they shine with brightness I never saw before the world ended.”
He remembers the stars from just a few nights ago, doesn’t he? Or had that been a dream? And more memories far older. “The world didn’t end,” he says. “We’re still here.”
“Us and others, but the world ended just the same. That’s why I haven’t left this island. I have everything I need here, and the mainland isn’t safe. Those who survived aren’t like they once were. The world ending does that, ruins you. Things can’t stay the same, you know. Nothing gold can stay. Someone said that long before I did. I forget who, but that doesn’t make it any less true. When the world ends, nothing gold can stay. It just turns to ash and soot like what’s falling from the sky even now. It’s been like that for years. And the wind blows now until forever, carrying ash to where no one will ever find it.”
“Fires,” he says. And from fires, ash. “The world ended?”
She nods, staring at his tattoo. He stares at it as well.
my moon, my stars.
The star-touched eyes
I saw from afar.
Where did it come from, and how? How is he supposed to explain the tattoo to her if he can’t explain it to himself? He’s an observant man; he wouldn’t fail to notice a tattoo on his wrist. It has meaning, he thinks, as everything has meaning, he knows, as everything is connected in far more ways than anyone realizes. He’s told himself this before, and he’s telling himself again so as not to forget. The moment he forgets is the moment everything is truly lost.
“Just like that?” he asks. “The world ended? Shouldn’t there be more to it? The world is a big place.” At least he thinks it is. Full of twists and turns. Blink, and the moment is gone. Blink. The moment that changed everything. Blink. And she’s gone.
“This isn’t something we talk about,” she says. “We made a pact to never discuss it.”
“Who?” He looks around the room. “Aren’t you alone here?”
“Everyone who’s still alive forged a pact of silence. The truth becomes real when you speak of it, so we just forget, choose not to remember, and then life is easier. Ignore the truth long enough and it becomes something else.”
Maybe he’s been separated from his mind for years—he still doesn’t know how that’s possible—but he’s fairly certain this is not how life works. You can’t just forget; unless, of course, you’re him. Painfully ironic, how the world is trying to forget and here he is, doing everything to remember.
“What happened to you?” she finally asks. “You don’t remember the end of the world. You didn’t experience it. You don’t know what I know, yet you’re haunted far worse than I am, than anyone I’ve ever seen. Something has you and refuses to let go. What is it?”
He shivers in his tied-up chair. “I lost something…someone. Inside here.” He goes to tap his head and remembers his bound arms. “Inside my mind. I woke empty. My heart, too. I lost something in my heart. I lost everything I am. That’s all I want now. To remember. I don’t care what happens after. I must remember.”
She stares at him for a long time, her face unreadable. “I should let you go, but you can’t bring the car with you. There’s miles of water, and on the other side, I don’t know. A world you probably won’t like. You’d be safer here. I’d let you stay with me, but you won’t, will you?”
He does not think, just answers. “I can’t find my memories here. I’m supposed to be somewhere else, to see more. The memories will return one by one.”
He shrugs. “And then nothing else will matter. Not everyone is meant for great things. I’m just here to remember, and to live or die by those memories. That’s all.”
“You can take one of the boats. You remember how to row, right?”
“I move my arms.”
She nods. “I’m sorry,” she says, “for hitting you. I thought you were someone else. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone. Maybe I should, but I don’t want to die. And I’m sorry you can’t remember your past. Whatever you’re trying to find, I’m sure you danced at the harvest festival, and I’m sure the evening blessed you both. I’m sure stars filled the sky, and a moon, and when you fled the dance floor and the torches and the music, and when you stared into the sky, I’m sure you saw everything you were meant to see, and felt everything you were meant to feel, and stood beside the woman you were meant to stand beside. I’m sure you danced and loved many more nights.”
He’s in a boat now, thinking and rowing but mostly just thinking. She saw him off and even helped him carry belongings from his car. Most he had to leave behind with her. The boat is small, the sea choppy and shrouded by fog so that he can see nothing around him. The woman had vanished almost immediately. He is alone now, completely alone. The rest of the world might as well not exist. Just fog. Looking down, he cannot see his feet.
The car feels far behind him, and Green Lanes even further. The jukebox, and Walking Back to Daisy.
“Rowing back to Daisy.” Only he doesn’t know where he’s rowing, and the sea, now still and calm, allows him to drop the oars so he can just float and stare into the gray nether. The wind is silent; the only sound is that of the oars dripping water into water and the sea lapping against the hull. The fog somewhat dissipates. Black ash floats down through the clouds and lands weightlessly atop the water, where it dissolves as if never existing.
He dips his finger into the water and his finger does not dissolve. The water is shockingly cold. His lips taste of salt and ash, reminding him of a cheap whiskey. A song about being blue.
The water should be bluer, but it isn’t. It’s gray much like the fog, perhaps because of the fog, or the ash, or that so few things are blue when the sun hides within smog. If he had a handful of sapphires, he would toss them into the waves and watch the gems twinkle into darkness like dying stars never to burn again.
Sapphires, woven through her hair.
Wild like the wind.
He will remember her.
He’s lost, so he sits on the hull and leans against the seat. He stretches his legs out and draws the oars over him. He decides to sleep, and when he wakes he will either be more lost or out of this fog, but that doesn’t matter.
Sometimes it’s good to be lost. To disappear. At least for awhile. Until you return.