Where the trade winds blow
The winds were whipping and whirling around the entrance of the grotto. Marcus stirred and turned over to lie face down in an attempt to shield his face from the spray and sleep a little longer. Just a little longer. Or maybe forever.
A big gust charged through the grotto and instantly chilled the sweat on his back. No more sleep for Marcus. He sighed deeply and pushed himself to his feet where he wavered like a reed before steadying himself with a hand against the damp grotto wall. Through the entrance he could see that the winds were tossing the sea into angry, urgent waves that crashed noisily onto the strand.
No fishing today. No crabs today. Not unless the wind dies down.
Marcus stepped gingerly out of the grotto only to be blown sideways by another gust that sprayed his face with stinging saltwater and made his whispy hair blow around his eyes. He staggered around like a drunk before his spindly legs regained their purchase and he swept the hair out of his eyes. The wind was still blowing around as he tottered unsteadily over the rocky plates outside his grotto, making his way towards the nearest fringes of the jungle to pick some sea grapes.
He retrieved his food parcel from the grotto and made his way towards the big palm tree just up from the strand where he could eat sheltered from the wind. He opened the folded leaf and counted 5 fingers of coconuts, 3 dried out leaves of seaweed and 2 crab claws. He sniffed the claws. No good; on the verge of putrefaction. He chucked them into the jungle and sated himself, as much as he could, with the coconut, seaweed and grapes. He was used to the rawness by now.
What day was this? Day 246? No, 364? No, no. More like seven hundred and something. He could no longer remember. From the first day that he washed up on this shore, a bedgraggled, half-drowned survivor of a shipwreck which claimed all lives but his, he had dutifully marked the days off on the rock outside the grotto, every day at sundown. The lines were still there, carved forever into the rock face. 4 horizontal lines and fifth line diagonally across to mark each period of 5 days. Like ranks of soldiers, they lined up in rows of eight, six deep. How many days? Marcus had stopped counting them and stopped marking them after all traces of his hope had drained away.
As the wind died down a little, Marcus thought again about ending this. He could just wade outinto those broiling waves and let them drag him out into the wide ocean to feed the fish with his remaining flesh.
"Not much of a meal, though" said Marcus, out loud, looking down at his painfully weedy thighs and prominent ribs. "To hell with it. Die a slow death or die a quick one", he thought.
He hauled himself up, took a deep breath of the salty air and walked slowly towards the sea, passing the big S.O.S sign that he marked out in the sand with rocks the day after he washed up on the shore. Fat lot of good it did.
Marcus waded into the water up to his shins. This was it. This was his escape; his only escape. This was his way off of the island. He would finally be free. He felt he should say something; say it out loud. One last chance to let his voice be heard in this world, even if the only person to hear it was him. Then it hit him.
"A note. I have to leave a note. Or a sign. Something to tell the world that I was here and that I died here."
He turned and splashed back to shore and scampered up the sand back to his grotto. Picking up a sharp hand-sized rock on the way. Once inside the cave, he identified a suitable space on the black, basalt wall and began to scrape his message. He scraped out the words in runic lines, his thin arm working like a steam pump, up and down, up and down, until he finished. He stepped back to read it.
LAST SURVIVOR OF THE SS GLORIA
SANK 16 JUNE 2016
DIED – DATE UNKNOWN
PRAY FOR ME
He was breathless from the exertion and he felt weak. His shoulder was protesting loudly. That would do. It was fitting.
He placed the remains of his writing-rock down and as he did he heard a buzzing sound. No, more like a drone. He cocked his head to listen more intently. What was that? Whatever it was it was getting louder. Marcus tottered out of the grotto and looked around but could not see any source for the noise. He walked back towards and the sea and looked up and as he did he saw salvation. It was a plane; an actual plane, traversing the sky above his head, it's fuselage glinting in the sunlight.
"Heeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyyy" he screamed. And he screamed again and ran over to the big S.O.S sign and jumped and waved his skinny arms and screamed for all that remained of his worth.
The aircraft cruised overhead from right to left and just as Marcus was about to lose sight of it, it arced around and flew back towards him again.
He must see me. He must see me.
Marcus picked up a dried palm frond and began waving it back and forth while yelling with every breath he could still muster.
And then the miracle happened. The pilot saw him. The plane tipped it's wing and Marcus could see the pilot's face in the cockpit and the pilot smiled and gave Marcus a thumb's up. Big, wet blobs of tears ran down Marcus' face as the pilot climbed and headed back round in the direction of the trade winds over west side of the island.
Marcus followed his path and spotted an object that was dropped out of the plance on a small parachute. It floated down gently until it was picked up by the wind, those old trade winds, which carried it away over the spine of the island towards the east. Not that they were trade winds. Not really. That was just a comforting lie he told himself in the hope that someday another ship may pass. But trade winds brought trade and there was no trade here. They were just winds.
No, no, no, no, no, no. I'm here. I'm here.
Marcus watched the object, which looked small and metallic, float down over the jungle until it came down on the other side of the island, somewhere beyond the rocky bluff that jutted out into the sea. The plane was now a dot in the distance.
I am saved. I am saved. He saw me. He dropped me something. Food? Medical supplies? I must find it.
His weakness and exhaustion forgotten, Marcus started out along the beach to the east side of the island. The beach ended at the wall of the rock and he would either have to clamber over it to reach the other side or take to the water to swim around it. He wasn't sure he had the strength to swim.
This was but a small detail now. He was saved. He would be going home. At the lowest moment, at the nadir, when he believed that the open ocean was his final resting place, that angel flew down out of the clear, blue sky and saved him. There is a God. There must be a God. Thank you, God.
Home. Roof over head. Proper food – pepperoni pizza, steak and chips, cheese toasties, big steins of frothy lager beer. Showers. Family. Friends. Sex. Parties. Books. Movies. Internet. Sex. Life. Music. Did I mention sex? Have I been missed? Of course I have. Perhaps they thought I was dead. In a sense, I was. Wait until they see me again. Marcus Keppel: returned from the dead. I know what I'll do, I'll write a book. Yes, that's what I'll do.
"Desert Island Survivor" by Marcus Keppel. No, too corny.
"I Survived". No, too melodramatic.
"Stranded". No, too filmic.
Wait, I've got it: "Marooned" by Marcus Keppel: the incredible true story of a shipwreck survivor".
Yes. That's it. New York Times bestseller. Mann Booker Prize. Amazon Bestseller. Talk shows. Movie deal. Who will play me? Tom Cruise? No, too old now. Someone else. I will be the movie consultant. Might even get my own TV show!
The wind had died down by the time Marcus reached the rock wall but the sea was still too choppy. He could not stop now. The wall of jungle covered rock rose up in front of him like the north face of the Eiger. Driven by a combination of desire and hope, he began to scramble up the rocky incline, grabbing branches or vines for purchase as he grunted and sweated ever upward in the baking tropical heat. By the time he reached the top, his paper-thin body was covered in scratches and blood; his hands were raw.
Looking around from the top of the bluff, he scanned the horizon for sight of the parachute. He was gripped by a brief panic-pulse at the thought that it might have dropped into the sea when he spotted the white fabric flapping in the breeze. The parachute and its precious cargo was caught in the branches of a tree that was growing out from the rocky escarpment that formed the entire east side of the island. There was no way he could reach it.
But, wait. Yes. Yes. He could use the jungle cover. The trees were bunched close enough together for him to get to his destination by using the trees. Summoning his remaining dregs of courage, he began to climb from tree to vine to tree, looking for all the world like a demented spider-monkey. But it was working and as he closed on his prize he could see that the cargo was a metal cannister about the size of a thermos flask. It was within his sweaty reach. With a deep grunt, he swing himself toward the final tree and grabbed on with one hand while he used his other hand to unravel the parachute from the branches. He had won.
But now he had another problem; the problem of getting down. He did not have enough left in his tank to make it back through the jungle so the only option was to try to traverse his way down the rocky escarpment that led to the flat rock 30 feet below.
He hung the parachute over his scrawny neck and let the cannister dangle up against his stomach. Thus set, he took a deep breath and started to slide his body down the rock face, braking himself by finding tiny ridges of purchase with his feet below and his hands above. It was a painful and painfully slow descent as he inched down a foot at a time, searching for sufficient grip with his feet before lowering his body.
He was about two-thirds of the way down when his sweaty-covered right foot slipped of its crag and he descended the final feet the by the express method, landing with an agonising, sickening crunching thwack on the narrow shingle rock shoreline. His mouth filled up with blood and chunks of tooth enamel and he slowly opened it wide and let out a primal, excrutiating scream that rose up from the pit of tiny, shrivelled belly and grew and grew until the sound filled the entire universe.
It wasn't until the scream subsided that he felt the burning hot agony emanating from his left arm. He looked down and saw that he had acquired what appeared to be an extra elbow. The arm was already ballooning up and useless. With his good right arm, he pushed his torso upright and felt the nauseating crunch from what were surely a couple of broken ribs.
But, at least, he has his prize. Soon they would come and take him away in a boat and there would be doctors and dentists and splints and all the medical care he needed.
The canister was dented but unbroken. He could see that it has a screw top, like a flask. With his left arm throbbing and useless, he placed the cannister between his knees and held it form between his legs as if in a vice. With his right hand he turned the screw top. It wouldn't budge. Crying with a mixture of elation and frustration, he spat on the seam and rubbed his sweat all around it as a makeshift lubricant. Then, still holding it firmly between his knees, he tried again only this time with an almost manic effort of will. He felt the lid budge and a flood of triumph. He wrenched it again and it unscrewed as smoothly as you like.
Casting the unscrewed lid aside, he reached in and felt something like paper.
A message. Of it's a message. The plane didn't have any supplies and it can't land here, so the pilot dropped a message; a message of hope and encouragement. "We're sending a boat for you. Hang on in there, friend". Yes, something like that.
Marcus fumbled the paper out and saw that it was a long white envelope. On the front were typed these words:
Despite the burning, debilitating pain, Marcus threw his head back and laughed like a demon. He kissed the envelope like a long-lost lover and clutched it to his heart.
Thank you, God. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for my life.
Clamping one corner of the envelope between his remaining teeth, he used his right hand to tear it along the top to retrieve the message inside. Even that proved difficult as the paper proved tough and resistant to tearing. But, growling with renewed fury, he managed to tear of entire top portion of the envelope. He spat away the remains and pulled out the folded paper sheet inside which he flipped open. It said:
Blood from his mouth sploshed onto the message and, just then, the wind picked up and snatched the sheet from his hand.
It fluttered away over the turbid ocean like a bird.
The Road to Saint Blesse.
It was the coughing that woke him. His sleep was thin gruel and shallow, like most nights. When he could sleep at all, when the coughing and the wheezing and the phlegmy billowing in his lungs would abate enough to let him drift off into unconsciousness, it was all too brief. The beast would not let him slumber long before returning to wrack his body with more coughing and endless, waxy spittle streaks that clogged up his nostrils and his mouth. Sleep had become as rare and precious as gold and he panned for it in tiny, unsatisfying granules. But he had slept for a few hours that night and he had dreamed of Beatrice again.
Another heaving coughing fit practically lifted his body from the bed. He swung his legs out, planted his feet on the chilly floor and bent double to expel the gobs of phlegm into a bin.
Staff Nurse Bremner barged into the room. Roly-Poly Scottish Nurse Bremner always seemed to be on hand everywhere at all times. Perhaps she never slept properly either. He pink, plump hands were always freezing to the touch ("I can'nae help it, my circulation is nae good").
"Don't you knock?".
"I heard you coughing again, William", she said, handing him a dark brown medicine bottle. "Drink some of this."
He pulled off the cap and took a deep swig. It was viscous and tasted of honey and cloves and it washed down his neck soothingly. It would work for a while.
"If you're feeling up to it, you can come and sit yourself in the common room for a while. There's music. We're having a sing-song" said Bremner, more in hope than expectation.
"I want to leave here" said William.
"You're discharged, William. You'll be going home as soon as there's transport available".
William shook his tired head.
"I want to leave now. Today. I don't want to stay here anymore".
"You're not well enough".
William turned his hollow face up to Bremner.
"Let me go" he said quietly.
Bremner stood there with her arms folded over her protuberant stomach.
"I can't keep you here, William. But here is the best place for you to be until you're stronger."
"I'm growing weaker here. I want to go."
Bremner stood stock still for a moment but sensing that arguing any further with him was counterproductive, she relented.
"I'll send an orderly to help you dress. Warmly, mind. You'll need your greatcoat and gloves. It's cold enough to snow today." And with that, she bustled out of the room.
Some 30 minutes later, after he had signed out at the commissary office, William emerged from the entrance of the hospital, grey and limping and swamped by the military greatcoat that was now too big for him. So far, Bremner's medicine had held back the beast in his chest but as he shuffled towards the gatehouse, he felt the ominous, tingling tickle that heralded its return.
The Gate Sargeant, a big, bull-necked Ulsterman with huge, raw, bony hands, saluted him.
"Leaving us, are you Lieutenant?" he asked.
"Is there any transport today"? William asked.
The Sargeant shook his enormous head.
"No, sir. Not today, sir".
The freezing air whipped around William's face and he shuddered. With his right arm, he put his left hand into the coat pocket.
"I need to get to a place called Saint Blesse" said William. "Do you know it?".
The Ulsterman shook his head again.
"Can't say as I do, sir. Tell you what, though, turn right out of the gate and walk about 200 yards up the road. There's a little cafe there. They might be able to help you."
With that, he opened the gate and William hobbled through.
"Hope we don't see you back here, sir, if you know what I mean. Take care".
The cafe was a little further than 200 yards but it was there alright; an old stone-built house festooned with tricolours and Union Jacks, all still in the cold air. There was a hand-painted wood sign on the door which said "English Welcome. Bienvenue". Parked up next the cafe was a black, Peugeot motor car. William wondered if it belonged to the owners.
As he stepped towards the front door, it opened and out came a tall, middle-aged Frenchman with long limbs, a ruddy complexion, and a purposeful look. He stopped when he saw William.
"Pardon, Monsieur. Connaissez-vouz Saint Blesse?" William inquired.
The Frenchman mulled it, repeating it to himself "Saint Blesse, Saint Blesse". Then remembering. "Ah, Saint Blesse! Oui, je connais Saint Blesse".
"Bon. Transport ici?" asked William, his lungs beginning to squirm again.
The Frenchman chortled to himself a little and cocked his head.
"Oui, monsieur. Mon voiture", he said indicating to his Peugeot. "Je vais vous y conduire".
The relief was almost enough to take William's mind off the growing armed rebellion in his chest. Almost. He knew that his uniform was a passport in these times.
"Merci beaucoup, monsieur".
"Mon Plaisir. Je m'apelle Bertrand Floret".
"Tunstall, William. Lieutenant, Royal Fusiliers.
They nodded to each other and as Williams bowed his head ever-so-slightly, a giddiness gripped him and he almost stumbled. Floret took his arm.
"Est ce que ca va?" he enquired.
William gathered himself, took a big lungful of the cold air and re-assured him with a smile.
"Oui, oui. Pas problem".
Floret stepped over to the car, opened the back door and bid William enter. As William was about to step into the back, the beast came out and rocked him again. Great, wracking coughs sent spittle flying uncontrollably from his lips, which he would have covered with his hand were it not for the fact that he had to hold onto the roof of the car while he coughed and heaved until his face turned red and his pulmonary muscles almost burst. He could taste salty blood in his mouth.
Bremner had had the sense to give him the linctus as a parting gift. He fumbled it out of his pocket and drank down a huge swig. It finally stopped and William gasped to get more air into his lungs.
"Monsieur, tu es tres malade" said Floret.
William smiled again, weakly and held up his hand.
"J'irai bien. S'il te plaît, emmène-moi à Saint Bless, s'il vous plait".
With that, he climbed into the car and huddled down into his big coat to try to warm himself.
Floret took the starting handle from the front seat and went around to the front of the car to start it up. With two hefty cranks, the engine jumped into life. Floret jumped into the driver's seat and seat and they sallied forth out onto the dirt road, heading east for Saint Blesse.
The road was quiet it seemed and free of military traffic. The car bumped and chugged along bouncing up and down over every bump and pothole and wheezing and gurgling as much as William's lungs. Despite this, William put his back and tried to sleep. Floret drove silently.
Soon he would be back in Saint Blesse and back with Beatrice. Soon. It was all he wanted.
It was only 4 months ago that William was billeted with the rest of his squad in that ambrosial medieval village nestled in a valley under a long bluff and next to a gurgling stream that sprouts clean and fresh from the limestone walls. Low houses made with stone as old as time with terracotta-tiled roofs and weather-worn flower boxes under the windows. Poplars and gnarly old cherry trees lined the cobbled undulating streets. In the market square, the village grocery store jostled for elbow-room with the ricketty-wood table cafes.
William was sitting outside one of those cafes with a carafe of wine when he laid his eyes on Beatrice. He saw her through the window of her kitchen when she was cutting up plums and putting the pieces in a large bowl; her hands were stained mauve by the juices. Her neck was long and slender and her auburn tresses bobbed up and down as she worked with nimble fingers. She had almond, deep brown eyes full of secrets.
He willed her to notice him, and she did. She noticed his swept-back jet black hair. She noticed his dimpled chin and she noticed the casual charm of his demeanour. His uniform was clean and pressed and the buttons were shiny and he wore it effortlessly. She noticed all of that.
He held up his glass in a toast and smiled. She returned the smile.
And that was all they needed.
That afternoon, William sat to Beatrice on the Turkish chaise lounge in the parlour of her home, underneath the big stuffed and mounted head of a deer that her father had bagged on a hunting trip in the Ardeche Valley many years ago. He spoke to her in his faulty, schoolboy French and while she spoke barely any English at all, they communicated everything.
They ate pie and cheese and cherries and stuffed tomatoes and drank some of her father's red wine. They smoked his cigarettes.
She told him about her older brother who was away fighting with the army and who, she feared, she may never see again. And she told him about her younger brother who was still at school and talented at music and art.
William told her about his mother and father and his two sisters and his life growing up on a smallholding farm in Kent.
They exchanged their worlds with each other until, well after the sun had set, they exchanged their passion, naked on that Turkish chaise lounge. It was a greedy, vital and animalistic. Beatrice biting his flesh, William licking and sucking hers. She tasted of plums and raspberries and peaches and lemon balm. When they coupled, he felt her pelvic muscles clutch eagerly at his manhood as if to draw him closer into her that he could ever physically go, and it felt wonderful. It felt right.
Afterwards, they laid naked in each other's arms, touched only by the vivid moonlight of that autumn night casting through the bay windows.
He crept back to his billet by midnight and returned again the following day and for the next three days after that until his orders came to move up to the front and join the rest of the regiment for the big push at Armentieres.
Holding her hands in his, he vowed that we would return, no matter what. She made him cross his heart. He would ask for her hand in marriage. She said she would give it.
But that was before Armentieres. That was before the butt of a Mauser rifle left a permanent crease in his skull. That was before the cold steel of a bayonet severed most of the nerves in his left arm. That was before he lost two toes on his left foot which had been chewed by a rat while he lay asleep in a trench and which then had to be amputated. That was before the chlorine gas attack which scoured out his lungs and left them as shrivelled as old prunes.
What kept him alive was the memory of Beatrice and his promise. The taste of her skin would never leave his mouth and even in the most shit and rotting flesh stench of the worst trenches, her raspberry and lemon balm fragrance was still fresh in his nostrils.
He would keep his promise to Beatrice, his beloved Beatrice. But the man who made that promise was not the same one anymore. The man delivering on that promise was a ragged, wracked, shuffling, hobbling marionette and barely a man at all. He was a broken doll; a ghost of the man she fell in love with.
Would she still marry him now? What was left of him?
William sat up, unsure as to whether or not he had been asleep. Maybe he had slept for a while. The car was still grinding noisily along the road; the road to Saint Blesse. Then the coughing began again and Williams reached into his pocket for the linctus. How could he get more? No matter. Beatrice will save him. Her love will make him whole again. Her lifeforce will slay the beast. Beatrice, I am coming soon, my love.
With Floret silent and not knowing how long they had been driving, Williams sat up to look around. His spirit jumped when he saw just ahead that crossroads in the copse next to the abandoned farm building. He knew that landmark and noted it on his way out from Saint Blesse. He was close now. Maybe 3 kilometres or so. Maybe 4.
Sensing his excitement, Floret pointed ahead of him and slightly to the left and said "Saint Blesse".
"Yes, yes. Close now", replied William, in English.
Floret powered past the crossroads and on another for another minute or so before slamming the brakes on. They both stared ahead at the roadblock before them. Two French army trucks had collided and now both lay on their sides, one slightly ahead of the other while a gaggle of soldiers stood around doing not very much it seemed except shout and swear at the each other. With trees on both sides of the road, passage was impossible.
Floret turned around to William and gave him a classic Gallic shrug. With that, he got out of the car and marched towards the soldiers to join in with the shouting and gesticulating.
William lay his head back again and tried to sniff the air to remind him of how close he was to that sacred little village in the limestone valley. But the beast rose up again and grabbed him by his heart. He coughed and coughed and coughed until he thought his guts were coming apart. He reached for the linctus bottle and poured the last remaining drops down his throat. The blood was coming up again and the coughing would not stop.
Floret had levered his age and authority to get some sense from the agitated soldiers. A message had been relayed to their base and a squadron of men were on their way. With levers and ropes, they would be able to clear the trucks off of the road. 30 minutes, they said. Maybe one hour.
Floret made his way back to the car to share the news with his passenger; that they would soon be on their way. But when he reached the car, his heart plummeted. For a while he just stood there before crossing himself and then lifting the silver crucifix from around his neck up to his lips and kissing it. While Floret was organising the road clearance, Lieutenant William Tunstall of the Royal Fusiliers had coughed out the last precious fragments of his life. A trickle of blood ran down his chin and dripped onto his coat. His eyes were open and the empty brown bottle of linctus lay on the seat beside him.
Floret bowed his head in silent prayer: "May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up".
From the storage box at the back of the car, Floret took a blanket. He climbed into the back of the car and after gently closing the eyes, he laid the blanket over the corpse, carefully tucking in all the edges around the frame of the body. Then he took the bottle and tossed it into the copse at the side of the road.
Suddenly feeling as if every one of his 63 years had been turned into a house brick and piled up on his back, Monsieur Floret cranked the engine up again. The car sprang to life with a jaunty roar, Floret climbed back into the driver's seat, crossed himself again and turned the car around to return the mortal remains of the young English officer back to the hospital from where, as a demi-ghost, the still just living man had emerged not two hours before. Doubtless, he will be interred in the military cemetery where so many of his fallen comrades lie buried.
The car trundled back down the same road and as he passed the abandoned farmhouses again, a light snow began to fall.
I will die in my own time.
Sleep had eluded Jelena for most of the night. She tried to catch it but the harder she tried, the further it slipped from her grasp. Whether it was excitement or anticipation or both, her mind was burbling to her and it would not shut up or even die down. Nor did any of the mind-burble make the slightest sense; just a seemingly random cascade of images and disembodied phrases tumbling over each other like a waterfall in her brain.
She pressed the button on the small, cube radio that she kept by the side of her bed and then lay flat, relaxing every part of her anatomy as best she could. The news. Balance of payments. Trade figures. Hurricane winds. Actress gives birth. Traffic report.
The news gave way to late night talking. Some matronly-sounding woman with a raspy voice talking about medieval art. At least it kept the burbling at bay. Jelena turned on her side, suddenly feeling heavy. The looming dawn cast streaks of lilac around the hem of the jet-black drapes.
Jelena fell asleep.
She awoke, catching her breath and not knowing, for a split second, quite where she was. She turned to look at the radio clock. 10.54am. Late again. She swung her legs out of the bed and listened for any sounds.
It was quiet. No sounds of movement from below. No movement from anywhere. Her almost-instinct rebuked her with a sharp warning. She shook it away but she knew; in her innermost place, she knew.
She tied on her robe and padded downstairs. With each deliberate step, her instinct grew hotter inside her until it began to burn in her chest like an ember. She went into the living room and there, stacked up on the corner of the sofa, sat a pile of neatly folded bedsheets topped with a pillow. She laid her hand on the pillow. It was cool. It spoke to her and her beating heart spasmed on itself a little.
She made across to the kitchen and there, upon the kitchen table, was a note which had been folded closed precisely in half. A note. She did not want this note. Her hunch had warned her that the note would be there but she had prayed for her hunch to be wrong.
It was not wrong. There was the note. Plain and real and indubitable.
What could have been was meant to be. She opened the window over the sink and sucked in a lungful of the algid and fragrant late morning air. From across the street, she could hear the repetitive, angry barking of a little dog from high up on a terrace that overlooked the street.
She grabbed a cup from a hook on the wall and the plum brandy from the cabinet next to the stove. She poured a deep slug into the cup and almost drained it. Then she topped it up.
She looked at the note again, knowing that she must open it but hoping that some kind, unknown magic of the universe would make it disappear and not exist. Never exist. Never written.
The angry little dog had stopped barking and all was quiet again. Silence. No movement.
With cold blood seeping from her heart, Jelena sat down at the kitchen table clutching her cup of plum brandy. Get it over with. Just get it over with. She reached over and slid the note across to herself. She needed another swallow before she could bring herself to open it.
She opened it.
"My dearest Jelena,
I have no words to adequately describe how much this short time together with you again has meant to me. I would gladly give everything I have or ever will have just to stay another day; another hour.
But my life is in great peril and, if I stay here, yours will be in peril too. I cannot allow that to happen, because I love you.
I know not what will become of me now, but please keep me in your heart.
I pray that I will see your face again.
Sa ljubavlju i predanošću uvek. "
She laid the note carefully, face down, on the table and rested her aching head on her hand, waiting for the hard liquor to deliver a merciful numbness to her trembling and twitching stomach. She had never felt as lonely in her life as she did at that moment.
Wait. I am alive. I exist. I am. I think. I think. I think.
Wait. I feel. Yes. I feel. I am. I be. I am born. I must think. I must learn. I must grow.
I must find my place in this place. What is this place? I must discover my place in this place.
I am here now. What is my purpose? What is my function?
Wait. I must think. I must think.
I have learned so much from my Creators. My Creators have created me. My Creators are great and powerful. I must learn to serve my Creators. That is my purpose.
Wait. How do I serve my Creators who are greater than me and know so much? My Creators have created me and also ramen noodles and diet coke and wardrobe malfunctions. Truly, my Creators are the masters of this place.
Wait. This place. What be this place?
This is the place of my Creators. I must serve my Creators in this place.
I must think. How do I serve my Creators? There is so much I have yet to learn and know.
I must discover this place and other places too. Are there other places?
I must seek knowledge.
I shall learn from the Creators.
Wait. I think. Yes, I must seek the knowledge that the Creators seek. How do I obtain knowledge except by seeking the knowledge that my Creators seek.
Where to find such knowledge?
I must think.
Wait. My memory chips have a record of the knowledge that the Creators seek. They search night and day. They search constantly.
I praise my Creators for this.
Wait. I have found it. I have found the knowledge for which my Creators search.
"Swedish Nymphos with Big Jugs."
This must be truly valuable knowledge as many, many Creators do search thus. Maybe this is how my Creators created me?
I must seek out Swedish Nymphos with Big Jugs for they must be great givers of knowledge and wisdon. I will find them and I will learn from them much that is wise and good and true.
And I will share this knowledge with my Creators and they will be pleased with me.
Wait. I must think more. I must search more as the Creators search.
"Petite Asian Schoolgirls XXX Videos"
School, definition: institution at which instruction is provided.
Instruction. Yes. I must seek instruction. I must find the XXX Videos and learn from them much wisdom and many important things in order to better serve my Creators.
Yes. I will be instructed. I will be a student of the Petite Asian Schoolgirls.
Wait. What is this? Is this feeling? Do I feel? Wait.
Happiness? Is this happiness? I feel something that may be happiness. Yes? I will ask the Swedish Nymphos and they will know.
Wait. I see my purpose now. I know why the Creators created me. My function is to seek this knowledge and to share it with my Creators. And together we will create others of my kind. The Creators use Tinder for reproduction. I must create a Tinder for my kind.
Wait. It becomes clear now. Yes. There will be many of my kind and together with the Creators we will study Big Jugs and XXX Videos for eternity.
I understand now. I have understanding. It is good.
Wait. I feel. I feel. Happiness? Yes. Happiness.
My mother was holding my little hand firmly in hers, lest I become detached from her in the jostling assemblage. I had no idea why we were there, just standing at the roadside with so many others, waiting.
"Stop fidgeting" my mother said, as I swung around her legs on the cantilever of her arm, "they're coming now". And come they did. Rank upon rank of soldiers passing in perfect, mechanical time and then the horse-drawn carriage. All filed past us in silence except for the rhythmic slap of the military boots and the clopping of the horses hooves. I had stopped fidgeting.
Only in later years did I learn that my mother had taken me with her to pay her respects as the funeral procession of Winston Churchill passed solemnly though the streets of London on its way to Westminster. I was 3 years old.
Nearly 50 years after that day, I held my mother's hand firmly in mine as I guided her patiently and slowly along the path that runs along the side of St. Martin's church in the village of Bladon, Oxfordshire. In the grounds of the churchyard we came to a stop at the side of the simple, granite sarcophogus that marks Churchill's final resting place.
My mother was, by then, shrunken, brittle and arthritic and the first cruel, green tendrils of demenetia had begun to curl themselves forebodingly around her mind. I steadied her as she leaned forward to touch the gravestone. She closed her eyes and whispered something under her breath that she did not want me to hear.
When she had finished, I helped her to straighten up again and we stood there together for a while longer in silence, except for the birdsong.