I have been wanting to start writing fiction again. Or anyway, fiction without pictures. I am drawn toward the speculative genre, so that’s where I will begin. Some of my blog posts will be dedicated to this pursuit, maybe a lot of them, since talking about reality – directly, anyway – is pretty exhausting right now. I’m hoping this exercise helps me find my way to some productive sanity.
THE JADE CHRONICLES
Chapter One: News
I’m at the bus stop. I realize I have just missed the 151 to Union Station because my nose was in some article on my phone, and the thing just whizzed on by. Although I must now hail a cab in order to catch my train, I am not as irritated as I would normally be. Not since last week anyway, when I found out I am immortal.
Not immortal in the way that I won’t ever die. I mean maybe? But what I mean right now is that I have always been here. I shake my head and smile to myself at the bus stop, because “always” and “here” are words that carry a quaint absurdity from my past life. I am not sure yet what words do apply to my new reality. I have to wait for my next therapy appointment.
And now you think I am crazy. Suit yourself I guess. After I found out, that’s what I thought as well. I expected that the sudden flood of memories would kill me – or maybe not, because I am immortal? – but they just started appearing, at their own pace. Not all at once, because memories don’t do that. They need a prompt.
I almost miss the cab because I am prompted by an unremarkable building on the corner of State and Adams. I remember a particularly nice patch of ferns, and sort of a swamp, and feathered lizards who came to drink. The colors were completely different then (“then”), and the smells, and the passage of time (“time”). I hate that they had to replace all that with this blank stupid building.
“Union Station please.”
His eyes linger on me in the rearview mirror, and he smiles. This is going to be one of those cab drivers who flirts. I can’t help but smirk in return, and he will probably take that as encouragement. Sure, I want to say, I am a relatively well-preserved forty-something right now, but did you know I used to be a giant lizard? I mean I don’t even know; the memories so far don’t explain to me how I observed all the things I remember.
Was I always a sentient life form? That must have been lonely at times. Did I evolve with everyone else? I don’t remember my fins turning into legs. Was it painful? And what about the future (“future”) – will I become some sort of intelligent cloud that floats around between galaxies? That sounds potentially interesting, but oh god now I am remembering something about expanding gases and nascent stars, and I really don’t have the mental capacity for that in this cab with this guy.
“Are you married?”
Here we go.
“Nope. Never wanted to be.”
“Everybody wants to be married!”
I smile out of learned patience.
He shakes his head as if he knows better,
He shakes his head again and gears up for the lecture. Union Station is only a few blocks away, so I guess it won’t be too bad. And that learned patience I mentioned has become, I realize, another quaint absurdity. This conversation is now merely interesting from an anthropological point of view.
“Everyone should have children! Especially women.”
I stifle a laugh. He continues.
“Children are how we become immortal.”
I stop smiling.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“You are getting older. There is not much time.”
Now I just laugh outright. For longer than he feels comfortable with.
“Well anyway – I am in the middle of menopause. So I dodged that bullet. Sorry to be such a disappointment.”
Now he is helping me with my bag at the curb. His forehead is knit in a deep frown.
“Women should never mention their age.”
So now my patience is done. This guy. I take my bag and look him straight in the face, which makes him very uncomfortable.
“Should is one of the stupidest words in the English language. The way society is currently set up is one of infinite possibilities. Not necessarily the best one. And anyway, gender is an evolutionary fad. Get a grip, buddy.”
I walk into the station with a defiant air. Being immortal appears to make one talk like a gumshoe from a dime store novel, and to quote graffiti from that warehouse by the Western stop on the Blue Line. I think it’s because I am still searching for language. Language is also an evolutionary fad.
That fateful therapy appointment.
I had lost my job to some management politics. My even-keeled approach to work made me the easiest person to fire, so I was gone abruptly in one afternoon. They wanted to refuse me unemployment too, the bastards. But I fought it and won. That was vaguely satisfying.
But it had been almost a year since I lost the job, and I was thoroughly fine living on the benefits and my savings. I had no desire to look for more work. Friends did not think this was compatible with my character, which told me they didn’t know me as well as they thought they did.
I understood that my benefits and savings would not last forever (“forever” – HA!), but I didn’t care. I didn’t care with a resolve so firm that my closest friends insisted I start going to therapy. I love my friends, and I needed something to break up my day, so I went.
My therapist, Amy, is about ten years “older” than I am. She is a tall, rangy woman who makes me think of an heiress to a ranching empire in the deep west. I imagine her cleaning stables in the morning and presiding over sumptuous galas in the evening, her regal but pragmatic bearing sustaining her all the way through. She can also be a bit goofy and romantic, which cuts the spell a little. But maybe that’s an act. I am beginning to suspect so.
“You don’t want to go back to work. Tell me about that.” She looks at me with that blank, yet somehow engaging, therapist face.
“What is work – and what is desire?” I figure I should see what metaphysical stuff she is made of. Also I am being a jackass for fun.
Her grey eyes don’t even flicker. She really is an edifice of a woman, beautiful in a way that isn’t about personal attractiveness. Her steadiness gives me comfort. I know that is part of her job; so well done her.
“Have you always questioned the basic tenets of society?
I roll my eyes.
“I think it’s just that I never stopped. Don’t we all come into this world as a blank slate, and learn how to act – as in, how to perform, like in a circus – from a bunch of people who never knew what they were doing either? I just always realized it was a farce. That’s why I’m so even-keeled. I’m onto the scam.”
She smiles and, I think, giggles. This catches me completely off guard. I lose the attitude for a split second, which is what she was going for. Then she strikes.
“Okay then. You’re ready.”
It’s difficult to explain what happens now, because it is mostly internal. She leans forward, elbows on her knees, and watches me. She watches me, because something occurs that is worth watching. I suddenly have a vibrant memory of the final fire at the library at Alexandria. The color of the light. The smell. Some guy yelling about his mother. I stand up – I stand up right now in front of my therapist.
“What the hell.”
“There is so much more where that came from.”
I hear her, but I am looking around frantically for some evidence that she drugged me. She didn’t give me anything to drink. There are no needle marks on my exposed arms. Was it some sort of invisible cream on the arm of the chair, that soaked through my skin? I inspect myself for a rash. Anything.
“Jade. Sit down.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Okay, I get that you’re frightened. I’ll wait. You can leave if you want, but I really need to see you again.”
Her manner is measured and calm, but not in that creepy way that people get when they’re trying to manipulate you. Or maybe she’s just really good at this. I honestly don’t have any idea what to think or what to do.
The memory lingers, and now I am getting lost in the recollection of a strangely funny conversation outside of the burning library. That desperate humor that happens sometimes when all seems to be lost. I remember laughing for a very long time – so I was human at this point? – and I start laughing now. For the same lost, desperate reason.
Amy is looking at the digital clock she keeps on the client side of the room, next to the box of tissues and facing her so she can see it without being too obvious. But you can still tell when she’s ready to wrap up. It’s a quarter to one, and we have five more minutes in our session.
“You’re kidding me. Isn’t this the one time we could go over?”
“No, sorry. I have someone right after you.”
“Are you going to spring this on them too?”
She shakes her head and seems exasperated. She. Seems exasperated. I am ready to leap from a window.
“I’m sorry, but I had to introduce you to it somehow. We’ll continue to work on this in future sessions. And really – isn’t this what you want? Direct communication. No scam.”
“I’m still not sure what you’re trying to communicate, though.”
“Jade, you are immortal. We’ll take this one step at a time.”
Then she stands up and brushes off her neat tweed pencil skirt. I’m not shocked. Perhaps relieved, maybe with a surge of anticipation. This is the first time that funny language thing occurs to me. I understand what she just said, but the meaning blows by me like the breeze from a passing train. At least this will be interesting. Is my therapist crazy?
She smiles her vacant but compassionate therapist smile. I am comforted. She’s really good at this. I swipe my card through the square on her phone – these devices we are surrounded with seem suddenly so absurd and temporary – and we walk toward the door together. Before I leave, I ask out of curiosity:
“I had a memory, you know. It was about Alexandria. So I was Greek? Funny though, I’m not Greek now.”
“Yes, there is that,” she admits, ordering her papers for the next client. “But don’t try too hard to figure it out just now. You were Greek, you were Irish, you were everything.”
“Oh wait – so I was everywhere, too? What the hell am I? Am I God?”
I meant it flippantly, of course. But she shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know.”
“I’ll see you next time, Jade.”
That’s a hell of a way to make sure I come back.
I board the train. I’m headed to Milwaukee to meet someone, a “specialist,” at Amy’s request. I see her once a month, and our next appointment isn’t for another three weeks. She’s very busy and can’t squeeze me in before then. But she says this guy could answer some questions. And that I should bring my passport.
Apparently I have a mission. That’s good; it will pass the time.
To be continued…
Read Chapter Two here.