He had been explaining how Claire, the undergraduate student, made him uneasy. It diverged somehow comically into a soapbox narrative eventually enveloping the 7th century Voyage of Bran. He told Gabriel the classic Irish fable was generally much like the tales of antediluvian trek of Mael Duin, who, not unlike Bran, son of Febail, encountered sundry exotic domains, among them the isles of Joy, and also Women, in a count of many hundreds of years at sea. This is not to mention a host of perils ultimately endearing to Eireann. A sailor is turned to ash; another, a purported thief, burned to embers by a solitary magic cat; yet another, a traveler, is overcome upon the island of Joy, and a crew member sent to his aid; but both are struck dumb, and left to gape crazily at the ship of Bran from the shoreline. Joe explained cats, and witches are often instilled by folklore with special power, not infrequently including an ability to cause hallucinations, or “kaleidoscope” effects, upon their victims. Duin’s magic cat, for instance, was said to wash his face and thereby, if it so choose, make it rain.
Gabe was more pedestrian, asking, “How many women were there on the Island of Women?”
Joe said,“Exactly seventeen, exactly. And for some reason there are twenty-seven couches: ‘three times nine,’ according to Kuno’s The Voyage of Bran, although I wonder about the translation.”
The recollection was prompted by an incident in a cab to Lou’s Restaurant, at Ally 13, in Brooklyn. He had seen a mostly faceless, and nondescript woman just outside of Lou’s, who wearing a black leather jacket, and ink, with an array of pink hair. He said she was “staring into space,” and her eyes blankly met his,” and he was “spooked” by it; except for one thing, on another take, the woman bore a fleeting resemblance, in a “glimpse,” to Claire, one of his students at Marsh College; straining to see her again, she was, in fact, taller, and more pale, with a larger frame; a third glance, and she was gone. “How often do these things happen?” he asked. Gabe offered an honest shrug. Joe grinned, “At least when they’re struck dumb on the Island of Women, there were twenty-seven couches.”
In a fog of the air about a quarter mile down Ernie’s beach, the Lenape seemed to be courting serious danger. He was puzzled, unable to recall any notable wars of the Lenape in New York, or Jersey. The Lenape, or “Len-AH-pay,” did tussle with the Susquehanna, long about the eighteen hundreds, but were largely able to migrate within familiar lands, as far south as Delaware, without incident. A number of medics were strenuously trying to revive victims, presumably Lenape. He didn’t know why he believed they were Lenape. He just knew.
He asked the supervising medic if the victims were the Lenape, but he didn’t know the name of the tribe. “They may have been Lenape,” said the medic, perhaps, as it seemed, to reassure him. The medic commented this was a day for Indian debacles, apparently, and they expected a “league” more of them, – Lenape, Susquehannock, Plains. “Whomever,” he breathed. These were souls “in disarray.”
He walked with Ernie through the banks of fog, and shallow, ponding water, traversing further down the beach, and found men and women, in groups, possessing mysteriously another anomaly. Ernie observed, wandering in the surf, “Big, large, small, medium,” about the forms, the anomaly, passing dozens in the surf. He said sometimes they reminded of the Korean War Memorial, in Washington, D.C., where statues of the soldiers were built to appear seven feet in height. Here, where they were, it brought to mind footage of the landing party at Coda; there, soldiers, outlined only by the darkness, constructed a vigil monolith, working together, and without a sound.
A “league” can be almost five statute miles, and these, appearing along the beach, were “souls” in gamut’s range of size, and intensity, many as flickering lights, some flint sparks of fire, they potentially grew like holographs into human forms. It would be easiest to call them ghosts; drawn into their midst, they saw others expire, merely disappear with the passage of time, each appearing to betray a story, their story, a story untold.
“Most perplexing,” Ernie said, next to him, “everybody says they were the ghosts. Nobody says they were the Indians.”
“Which isn’t possible,” he said.
They were headed unwittingly for Ardi’s skiff, where he stretched to relax, feeling safer cruising from there and beyond, in the sunlight, and the shades of darkness. He was gladdened to depart the medical scene. Ardi, whom Ernie always had to fetch, was a bonobos chimpanzee, the earliest progenitor of the homo sapien race. He did the work of rowing, although it was also plain rowing was unnecessary in a weightless locale.
Ernie told him, “The ones who arrive today are quite a distance from the places, and the lives they spent. They’re from Pandora, Earth, some actually lived on Icarus.” They required more attention, and certainly explanation, Ernie agreed, sheepishly, about the island, the inhabited inlets to the Other World, in the first of myriad stages of life, known as life after “death,” to most people.
“Earth,” Ernie puzzled. It was a mild chore to gaze into the sky, and find the tiny, blue sphere, as it has been called, and he nodded his head towards it, remarking, “From here, it’s probably six hundred, a thousand years after you left,” and “that always amazes me.” He said people usually recalled, in these early hours, “one, or two” memories from their life. He said, “Those are only because someone will remember them, – for a moment.”
Ernie traced the path of daylight in the sky to his island, to “Ernie’s beach,” he called it; it was an open dimension in the Milky Way, a path to this very spot, which existed in “a separate universe, with separate laws.” The man disappeared in the fog, leaving him to fret, and shuffle in the sand, until Ardi, hustling on all-four, approached, eager to row the skiff.
They tried to amuse the medic, who was cast with the job of reviving the gatherings of light on the shore. He mentioned physics to his fellow travelers, and it sounded mundane: the human eye can grasp a small part of the scales of color in space. He was taken aback by one of his students, who had asked, if the eye could see infrared, could they see “heaven in the sky,” or “at least Limbo,” and he said he didn’t think so, but now he wondered. The medic thought about it, and seemed entertained, but absorbed by the task.
The medic allowed, “the sky may look different, if we could see everything,” and he nodded, and seemed content about it, a moment before the medic saw him collapse on the beach.
He cleared his schedule after lunch on Fridays, ever since his earliest days as a student in New York, and wanted to save his energy for the weekend. He would either use the time for reflection, or rest for a late night out. One of his students, Claire, was due before noon, and it was last appointment. It was not an inconvenience to him, to provide guidance, or assistance. He was at home in his apartment in Coney Island. He yanked his cell phone from the charger on the table to check for text messages, or Skype from Claire, after taking a shower, and, swiping through the emails, began to cough. The cough was like sneezing after inhaling pepper; it refuse to stop, and recurred for nearly an hour. He was not so alarmed, as distressed, and ready to curse. The last cough didn’t end. He could not get enough air in his lungs to breathe freely, or the air and strength to end the cough, and it briefly widened his eyes. He fell to the carpet.
“Can you stand, can you walk?” the medic urged, inspecting him with a penlight.
“Can’t breath,” he responded, anxiously. His eyes rolled.
“Sure you can,” he said.
“Stay down,” the EMT, or emergency medical technician, instructed, holding him in place with the flat of her hand. A bead of sweat dropped from her forehead, and her frustration. His gaze darted towards the wall. He had to stand; every time he stood, the cough would end. He had to stand. “Don’t stand,” the EMT commanded him. “Do not stand. We need to dissolve it. It’s a clot.”
“Can’t breathe,” he said, and began to wheeze. She shook her head, not allowing him to stand, and reassured him, almost matter-of-factually. “It will diffuse. We have to force it. We have to force it to dissolve before it goes from the lung to the heart.” He couldn’t remember if she repeated it, or he repeated it in his mind: from the lung to the heart, from the lung to the heart. Her voice was as calm as someone preferring lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. It was stranger than the heart attack. She flashed a penlight into his eye. He viewed the Atlantic horizon, the soft surf of Coney Island, and the Lower Bay, and he was comfortable now with the unusual amber sky. “It’s a little foggy, but it’s nice otherwise,” the medic dissuaded. “I remember you. You were a Lenape.”
Those seconds in the grasp of the EMT blotted away the day, all of Friday, and possibly everything else; incredulous was how any result was a possibility, and there were too many for his rattled mind to tally. He wasn’t breathing. Huh. The moment of reality occurred to him, like a child at the first snow. He decided, if he wasn’t going to breathe, he would pass out, and somebody else could deal with it. Maybe not. The bottom line did not elude him; pass out, or breath, or die; though the ability meandered well away from him, and out of reach. “Can’t breathe!” he uttered, like the EMT might forget, or finally take it seriously.
He asked, “Will I make it?”
The medic was prosaic. “You’re not a Lenape,” he said. “You’re something else. What did happen?”
He answered, “I knew them. I stayed with them for a time. That’s all I remember. It’s silly, actually. This was a hundred years ago, colonial times. I probably wrote about it., that’s all. No. Not Lenape.”
The medic surveyed him, and repeated, “It’s like deja vu.”
He recovered his breath, and tried to rise out of the sand, but felt as heavy as a ton. He mentioned his family, and their medical history. His grandfather, who may have had heart disease. The medic nodded, distracted, but still attentive. He scanned over him again, and then frowned, and he shook his head. His expression became resolute, and slightly sad. He said, “Not sure,” and after another moment, “I don’t think so,” then “not this time.” He said, “Wake up!”
The EMT pounded his chest. “Wake up!”
The technician’s blow caused his chest to shudder, and it raised his legs; the cough elapsed with the dispersing clot, like a drop of water in water; fluid dispersed from a well in his lungs, the fluid unfiltered by his interrupted heart. There was damage. But air seeped triumphantly into his circulatory system; his eyesight focused, and straightened; blood to his head brought, and returned his color. He was detached; only the degree of the cough was new from the episodes of this malady, probably acid reflux, which happened a dozen times every day; it was part of life, part of normal; didn’t it happen to everyone? All of the time? He was normal. He had things to do. The EMT used a shoulder microphone, and dictated: “Transport!” A gurney was rushed from the ambulance, and in a matter of minutes, they strapped him into it, and hoisted him towards the stairs; one of the EMT’s mentioned it was his choice to go to a hospital, or not, and chuckled noticeably, to one side, when the new patient did not say anything, or reply.
There was no reason to ask; it was simply intriguing. He never saw Ernie, and Ardi, at the same time. He watched the medics, toiling away down the beach, beyond their eye-shot, sitting in Ardi’s skiff. They were going to “a mesa.” He was impressed by the medics; it was a noble effort; one day, he would help them. Most amazing, unspeakably, was how these were all new days, a new future, a past easing out of his memory, beyond an edge undefined, to a place he knew, but had never been, to the place he would go; it was the future, the end of the present. He knew the Lenape; yes, of course. The medic had allowed for his stupor. He was embarrassed, now; no, he wasn’t Lenape! He was a pale face; once, they called him a cowboy; that had been funny. Yes, now he remembered. And everything was alright. He had known the Mohawk. He observed calmly, in the skiff, they were inhabiting space, but there was no longer anything “in between”; in the galaxies, past the orbs, and spheres, and wherever they traveled, towards the “mesa,” there was space, but not time, and space.
He would see Ernie upon the mesa, and quipped how, for him, and possibly the Lenape, it had not been “a day at the beach.” Ernie observed he was a Lenape “like Glug.” He remembered Glug, with Ardi, riding in the skiff. Glug was mega fauna, a captive of the Lenape, in his camp. He believed the Lenape should have treated Glug, who resembled a bear, or an ape, with more comity. The Indians had hastily built a cage for Glug, a peripatetic known for bounding from the Coney Island woods to join their camp, and otherwise troubling them. He was easily captured, and was secured in a cage with a rope lock. He was younger, and more contrary at the time, prone to mischief, and pranks in any event, The Lenape went to sleep before daylight, owing perhaps to smoke or peyote, or the beverage of the campfire. He hastily tole away from the fire to untie the rope from the door, to the widening eyes of the ape, and, bemused, watched Glug scuttle into the woods. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “Only Time,” Enya | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-,” a myopic vaile, (No. 50)
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom,
[Complete Works, No. 01]. Copyright (C) 2017-20, ff.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom