Spindrift on the Seas of Time (from She…)

MY IMPRESSION IS AGAIN VERTIGO: I tumble head over heels relative to – nothing. Lights flash like shards of coloured glass. Acid burns my eyes, recoil stings my skin. I’m shattered like pottery, torn from end to end, side to side, inside out. Halved, quartered, fractionalised, fragmented, splintered, refracted –

With every trip I’ve felt pain and disorientation. I open eyes shuttered against dazzle. My mind moves in slow motion; around me everything moves too quickly, like double vision. Has the displacement stopped? Not yet.

At last the two tempos flow together and mesh. The madness ends – until next time.

Forgive me for leaving, Mother. I didn’t want to go. But Alia said I’d learn to control where and when I went, and that I could help you. You’d been in a coma for two days: the penultimate stage of Moroccan Fever. You were sinking fast. There was no time for goodbye.

The grey light resolves into order; I’ve arrived where none can see me. Other physical sensations replace the pain: being in my body; blades of grass tickle my bare feet. The air I inhale tastes like wine. No pollution. It flows into my lungs like a river of rich, ripe scents.

I find an old robe and drape it toga-wise around me. In the distance, the slap of feet on the ground, speech, meetings. But until I’ve done this for you, my life is not my own.

Rough-hewn stone streets lead me into the town. Villas surround me. As I advance they crowd together and loom over me. I feel trapped.

A figure approaches. Hair dangles over its eyes and face. Its robes are dirty and torn, like mine. Its greige hair hides its eyes. The exposed remains of breasts cling, leech-like, to a concave chest; that tells me its sex. Her bare feet are dirty.

“You!” she shrieks as we pass each other. “You don’t belong here!”

Panic swings my equilibrium in a dozen directions at once. How does she know? Then I remember my meeting with Alia, and understand. “Where is this place?” I ask.

“Why, Rome, of course!” Her voice creaks like cracked leather. She inspects me; I wilt under her impenetrable gaze. “You will not cheat death, nor will she to whom you seek to give life. You can only avoid it for so long.” She walks on.

She’s lost interest in me. I stare after her. Will this whole journey be in vain? Is that what she means? Is there no cure for the Fever? But how would she know?

And then: Rome? That wasn’t my destination.

I try again. A wrenching shift sideways. Colours glow and sear the darkness. A giant’s hand stirs the trans-dimensional broth and shakes me apart. The pieces fit back together at last, with subtly wrong reconstruction. My sense of being drifts free. I am mutable, mutable…mutable. Razors tear my skin. Kettledrums thunder in my head. Time impels me forwards and squeezes air from my lungs.

My feet touch the ground; I’m naked again. Alia warned me about that. This time I lurch to my feet before the world has stopped its orbit of my head. Before I can reclaim my balance there’s a huge percussion nearby. Where am I? A minefield?

A tangle snares my skin. “Barbed wire!” The blood congeals almost at once. I react instinctively to the danger. I trip again, before they can report a nude female on the battlefield. The thought of injury terrifies me as much as dying of the Fever does.

Once more the dislocation. I will continue to improve each time. The last day and a half have seen me trip up to two hundred times. My memories are awhirl with places and times. But the displacement wearies me mentally and physically. But I remember Alia’s words before this mad journey: “Use your memory and imagination. See where you want to go. It makes it easier to get there.”

I form a mental image this time. Perceptions transposed, I hold my breath. Blurs of colour swim around me. Neons illuminate the ether. Doubt assails me, despite my determination to take control. Rabid images mortify my flesh and emotions. I fall. Turmoil grows in proportion to my panic. I reach for anything to stop or slow the fall. There’s nothing there. How can there be? Surely Alia was a figment of my imagination?

My bones ache. I’m desperate, lost, exposed; ravaged by time itself. Where will I end up this time? Thoughts navigate my mind and body, my companions in this dream of places that once existed, or will exist. Will I ever rest again? I know fear, and it knows me. It’s too much to comprehend, let alone control.

*

I met Alia in a coffee bar…