Jonah’s Memories on a Slippery Ground
by Antonino Fazio
part 1 of 2
The starship was slowly throbbing. Its near-musical vibration resounded for several minutes, like a cat’s purr, then it faded away, and the usual, mechanical noises replaced its sound. Jonah sighed. He knew that the acoustic phenomenon always preceded some of the oddities that his ship had in store for him, ever since he had left that damned planet.
A feminine figure was in the corridor, her bare shoulders turned towards him. She was wearing a red, close-fitting, low-cut dress glittering with sequins in the style of the early 1960’s. As the woman turned her blonde-haired head, he recognized her pretty, smiling face.
“Hello, boy!” she said cheerfully.
“Get out of the way, Marilyn,” he said roughly.
Norma Jean Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe, pursed her heart-shaped ruby lips. “What a bad boy!” she exclaimed, in a throaty voice.
While he passed by her rounded hips, he perceived the unmistakable Chanel No. 5 fragrance. The apparitions were very realistic. The first time he had seen one of them, he had been scared to death. He didn’t turn back, so as to not see her following him, with her waddling walk. He couldn’t bear to see that walk; it was far too sexy for a fake woman.
Pretoria planet had let him take off, but not his companions — none of them. Something else, or someone else, took their place. He perceived its presence as clearly as he had perceived the Marilyn fragrance. Moreover, he had no idea where the starship was heading, and most probably the hyperdrive was out of order.
It was quite a damned quagmire.
* * *
Piazza del Campo is a wide half-shell, lying at the foot of Mangia’s Tower. Connie’s hand touches his arm, drawing his attention to a groom dressed in period costume, a white and orange jacket, in the same colours as the Unicorn Contrada.
The first yearly horse race of the Siena’s Palio was held on July 2nd, the previous day. The second one will be run on August 16th, after their departure. They will miss both races.
Connie makes a droll face, pretending to be disappointed. In fact, even though she likes the people, she’s not fond of the confusion surrounding it. Jonah knows she is glad to avoid that square, as it will be overflowing with people during the Palio.
They are sitting at the table of a small restaurant. Jonah is sipping a cup of coffee, a delightful Italian espresso. A grey-haired man in blue overalls passes through the crowded square and casts a long glance towards Connie, who is eating a vanilla ice-cream cone. Jonah looks at his vaguely disquieting face, and their eyes meet for just a moment. Then the man disappears into the crowd.
“Tell me, Constance...”
When he calls her “Constance” instead of “Connie” she knows it’s about a serious matter, and he’s aware she knows.
“Why did you come here, with me?”
“Because I love you, Jonathan,” she says.
He cannot avoid asking the next question. “Are you pregnant, Constance?”
For a single moment, her face darkens. Then the girl shakes her head in denial. “No, I am not.”
He nods gratefully. “Will you marry me, Constance?”
She smiles. At this very moment, she’s as beautiful as a Madonna. “Yes, Jonathan, I will.”
All at once, it begins to rain. A typical summer drizzle falls light as a feather, wetting the red, fish-bone bricks of the pavement, the nine travertine stripes that radiate off from the straight side of the square, and the grey sandstone of the external ring. The sky is crying with joy, just as Jonah is, and the wide half-shell is now a sparkling wine cup, and all the people are tiny bubbles, and Jonah’s happiness is a perfect, unalterable diamond that will shine on for all eternity.
* * *
Stepping into the kitchen, he saw an old man sitting at the table. He had a cup of tea in his hand. As Jonah walked in, the man fixed his mild eyes on him.
“Oh, boy...” Jonah murmured. His surprise was evident. Whatever the reason might be, the usual sound signal had been absent that time.
“I hate the atomic bomb because of what it does to the dignity of human beings,” the old man quietly said.
“Mr. Yamaguchi...” Jonah was astonished.
Sutomu Yamaguchi, the Japanese engineer who had survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings! A real, genuine hibakusha, no doubt about it.
“No, I’m not,” the old man said.
“I see,” Jonah nodded. He had completely forgotten he was hungry. “Are you from Pretoria?”
“Pretoria? Ah, no, that’s not my planet of origin.”
“Where you are from, then?”
Yamaguchi, or whoever he was, mindlessly waved his hand. “It doesn’t matter. I’m here, now.”
“Yes, I see you. What did you do to the other crew members?”
“I did nothing. Pretoria did it.”
“Who, on Pretoria, killed them?”
“The planet itself did it. Pretoria is a very dangerous, merciless planet. Like all the rest of the damned universe, I suppose. It is strewn with traps. Hadn’t you noticed?”
“I never landed. Since I was on duty, I remained on board, and I took off, as soon as I realized they were all dead. Why didn’t you help them?”
“I arrived too late, and I couldn’t rescue them. I’m very sorry about it.”
“Of course. But what do you want from me?”
“What do I want from you? I don’t want anything.”
“Of course,” Jonah repeated, ironically gazing at him. “No, I don’t believe it.”
“Oh, well... if truth be told, I’m already getting what I want.”
“I was sure of it. But what the hell are you getting from me?”
The man with the Japanese face gently smiled.
“Your memories, old boy.”
* * *
Connie will get pregnant only a week later, as she will say later. Jonah will never be sure he is the father. A DNA test will not be done, and he will remain in an everlasting state of uncertainty, although “everlasting” is seldom too binding a word.
Sometimes he will not mind it at all. But more than once that troublesome thought will torment him like a bullet wandering through his brain. Several years later they will be divorced. But his agony will never end. Though “never” is a hard word, too. He finally will sail on a hyperdrive starship, and his ties with the Earth and with Connie will suddenly break. Or, at least, they will slacken.
But they are a happy, lucky couple, at the moment. At least, they think so; that is the same thing, after all. When she smiles, he smiles; when he’s sullen, she’s sullen; when she breathes, he breathes; when he sighs, she sighs; and so on.
Not to mention sex, naturally. Sex is the most glorious adventure they can conceive. Though sex isn’t all. There are glances and sensations, touches and thrills. In a word, love.
Jonah thinks every day is magical and that Connie is a magical girl. They are slowly walking in Siena’s main square, the Piazza del Campo, which gradually descends towards City Hall on the south side of the square, where eleven streets run into it like rivers into a lake.
On their left, Mangia’s Tower stands out against the blue sky. From the opposite side of the square, the gurgling jets of the Gaia Fountain can be heard. Connie’s feet skim over the pavement squares, with the same grace as a dancer’s on a glass floor, and Jonah tells her she is a water nymph, the beautiful Naiad of that fountain.
“I have never been able to swim,” she replies, with a faint smile on her lips.
He perceives that smile as if it is no more than a screen for her invisible thoughts.
* * *
“Do you intend to remove my memories?” Jonah asked, suspiciously.
The fake Yamaguchi shook his head in denial.
“Not at all! On the contrary, I intend to restore them.”
“I see. Mr. Yamaguchi... by the way, may I call you that? Why did you decide to present yourself looking like him?”
“Maybe I also am a hibakusha. A survivor, I mean.”
“Ah, okay. Tell me, Mr. Yamaguchi, are you an evil wizard or something else?”
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” the old man quoted.
“What the hell!” Jonah said. “Do you know Arthur C. Clarke?”
“I know everything you know,” the hibakusha nodded in assent.
“Do you mean you are telepathic?”
“Of course I am. And I’m something else, too.”
“What a thorough rogue!” Jonah exclaimed. “One would say you are preparing to make me an offer.”
“An offer? Yes, I am.”
“What are you exactly offering, Mr. Yamaguchi?”
“Your memories, of course. Your real memories, I mean.”
“My real memories? Not long ago, you said you needed my memories.”
“No, I don’t need them, I want them. Therefore, they must be authentic.”
“What do you want to do with my memories, old boy?”
“I’ll use them to make myself similar to you. For you are a terrestrial, and we are going to Earth.”
Jonah’s face suddenly darkened. “No, we are not. The hyperdrive is out of order. It’s impossible to reach Earth.”
“Not at all, old boy. I can mend hyperdrive. You will go back to Earth, and I’ll go with you.”
“Can you really do it?” Jonah seemed to be incredulous. “That’s great! How may I return the favour?”
Yamaguchi smiled. “It’s quite easy, my friend. I’ll refresh your mind. Give me your best memory.”
* * *
All at once, Jonah finds himself in the middle of a square that looks like a half-shell. For a single moment he’s quite astonished. Then he realizes what has happened. He has returned to the best day of his life. Sounds, noises, smells, colours, and a babble of voices hit him in a vivid, chaotic mixture, an indistinct hodgepodge that presses him to stir. The people inside the square are wandering around, as if dancing.
Moving amongst the crowd, he looks for Connie. She suddenly appears, sitting at a restaurant table, with a young man, dressed in cotton trousers and a white T-shirt.
‘Who is that chap?’ Jonah wonders at first. He then has a sudden insight. ‘That’s me!’
His eyes meet those of the younger Jonah, and he feels a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach. He then slips away, mingling with the crowd. He wonders if Jonah-with-Connie has recognized him. Not at all, he says to himself. He’s only a middle-aged man in blue overalls.
From a distance, he looks at Connie’s legs, as smooth as silk. Her hair falls to her shoulders, she’s eating ice cream. He would like to remember what Connie and the younger Jonah are just saying, but they are too far away to be heard and he has only a faint recollection of that conversation.
“What a pointless spell, Mr. Yamaguchi!” he whispers.
And, all at once, it begins to rain.
* * *
Copyright © 2011 by Antonino Fazio