by David Adès
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Locus 2, Segment 2, Iteration 1
It was only when I stepped out of the hollowed trunk and through the thickets that I realised that I was shivering and made the mental connection that the shivering was not from shock but from a considerable drop in temperature. That seemed decidedly odd. It was the middle of a heat wave, and there was no forecast of any cool change coming. It had been oppressively hot, even in the shade whilst I was walking. The trees to some extent had masked the brilliance of the light. Now it seemed positively gloomy. I started back for the road a little dazed and very puzzled.
My puzzlement increased when I reached the road.
The sky was prematurely dark, heavy-looking clouds scudding by. My car wasn’t there. I was sure I had locked it. Checking, I found the keys still in my shorts’ pocket. It was unlikely that anyone would have stolen the car from the side of the road; most thefts happen in the suburbs, not some miles out of the city. And it wasn’t in any way a new or valuable car. But it was clearly not there. The little strip of grass where I had left it was empty, and there was no depression or marking in the grass to indicate that it had ever been there.
By this stage my intuition was on high alert, and I was feeling anxious: anxiety with a heightened feeling of oddness. There was nothing for it, though, but to start walking home and hope that I could hitch a ride.
Not many cars were on the road that late afternoon merging into evening merging into night, and none of them stopped. I had emptied my water bottle, eaten my snacks and was tired and sore and hungry by the time I turned into Clarke Street, trudging slowly towards my house.
I still hadn’t put two and two together but I’m not too hard on myself about that. Who would have?
I’d had plenty of time to ponder the distance between Cassie and me: that unbridgeable distance that I had turned myself inside out to bridge. It seemed that the more I moved towards her, the more she moved away so that the distance between us always remained the same. She wanted me to bridge the distance, and I thought that love could do it, but love couldn’t.
I thought it might be possible to reach out across the distance, to plant things together in it and watch them grow, and to otherwise respect it as the inevitable consequence of two very different lives intertwining. I could hold her close, but the distance between us never shifted and she wasn’t content with that. “It’s not about you,” she had said, “it’s about me.” But how could it be about her without being about me?
Trudging slowly down Clarke Street towards home thinking about Cassie, my body reacted to the sight of her before I did. My legs simply stopped walking. I was on the opposite side of the road, in darkness, about a hundred yards from my front yard. There was an impossible spillage of light from my front door and Cassie walking in it towards the street. Right behind her was me.
It was windy and quite cold now, and my shorts and t-shirt were completely inadequate, but I was suddenly sweating. My car was parked in front of the house. No, not my car: his car. It had the same number plate but the large dent on the passenger door was not there. I didn’t know if it had never been there or if it had been fixed. He looked almost identical to me but was wearing clothes I didn’t recognise in a style I’ve never worn. And Cassie... well, Cassie.
I stood there, not knowing what to do, shivering in my half-dried sweat. The weather was not my weather. The car was not my car. Cassie was not my Cassie. The house was not my house. And he was not me, so who exactly was he? I didn’t find my watch because it was in Horsnell Gully, but not this Horsnell Gully. I was not in my world but in someone else’s. Everybody else’s in fact.
I had to get back to that tree root and that hollow tree trunk. I wasn’t even sure that I could find it again, but I had to find it. I may have been miserable, and I may have mentioned suicide a couple of times, but some friends had rescued me from that impulse at my most vulnerable moments, and I wasn’t ready to give up on my life in my world.
I couldn’t get back to Horsnell Gully in the dark, though, and it was dark now and I was far too tired and dazed. And there was a chance to see Cassie again, Cassie with him, with someone, I presumed, very much like me.
In the meantime, I needed somewhere to rest and think. Instinctively I thought of just the place: in the dark behind the bushes in the courtyard garden between my house and the garage.
I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of the house as my house but of course it wasn’t. There was a large monstera bush near the garage wall that would provide perfect cover. I could drink from the garden tap, and for a night at least, I could go without food. I could sleep or rest for an hour or two until Cassie and — what do I call him? Josh Lentin? The other Josh Lentin? Josh? — until Cassie and Josh came home.
From my hiding spot, I could look into the rear rooms of the house with their large windows — at least if any of the lights were on — and watch without being seen. I could be a voyeur on my own life, although it was clearly not my own life, because in my own life Cassie was gone. But here Cassie was not gone, so maybe I could discover why my Cassie had left me but this Cassie hadn’t. Maybe I could find something out without envying Josh, without torturing myself. Maybe.
I discovered pretty quickly that I didn’t really want to be a voyeur on Josh’s life. It was too close to mine, and tapped too immediately into a pain that remained sharp and close to the surface.
It was clear that things were not well between Josh and Cassie as soon as they came home. I heard the garage door open and had time to crouch down behind the monstera before Josh and Cassie came out of the garage into the courtyard. Their voices were raised and the tension between them was palpable.
“I don’t know why you have to see so much of them,” Cassie said as she stomped toward the back door.
Not that old argument again.
“I’m not choosing between you and them,” Josh answered. “I’m choosing you and them.”
Not the right answer, Josh.
I couldn’t hear the argument once they were inside, but I could see the unhappiness on both their faces, how neither was hearing the other, how the rift between them was widening and the bridge narrowing. I really didn’t want to see this. I knew too well how it ended, the misery it was leading toward.
I realised that I needed to leave, to get away from them, straight away, without waiting another minute. In my hurry, I grew careless. I stood up just as the courtyard light went on again, just as Josh came out the back door to go back to the car to retrieve something he had forgotten.
For a moment we both stood, frozen, like rabbits caught in headlights. The shock was greater for him. I took advantage of his confusion to make a dash for it down the side of the house and back to the street.
“Hey!” he shouted.
“What’s going on?” came Cassie’s voice from inside the house. By the time he started his pursuit and she opened the front door, I had fled into the darkness.
Locus 3, Segment 3, Iteration 1 / Locus 5, Segment 1, Iteration 1
Josh Lentin is a good listener. He didn’t interrupt me as I recounted my encounter with Josh. In fact, there was an unnatural stillness about him as if he was etched in stone. Once or twice I paused in my narration, trying to find the right way to describe what had happened.
He waited in silence and nodded each time I resumed. It was just that: a nod. I had no idea what it meant. It disturbed me that I couldn’t read him at all. I felt that I should have known what he was thinking, that I should have been able to discern something from his body language. I was looking at the most familiar person in the world, and he was a complete stranger.
Locus 2, Segment 3, Iteration 1 / Locus 3, Segment 1, Iteration 1
I wasn’t surprised when my credit card wasn’t accepted. I thought I would try it just to find out. Fortunately, my cash was still good and, even more fortunately, I had almost two hundred dollars in my pocket. I knew I would have to be careful with it, but I knew also that it would keep me from going hungry for a few days.
I bought a fresh baguette, some cheese, a couple of fruit bars and a bottle of water. Although I was still cold and damp, I didn’t bother about clothes. The morning brought a clear sky and a bit more warmth than the previous day. I could cope with any temporary discomfort.
Without a car, it took me a while, but I made it back to Horsnell Gully. I tried to retrace my steps but, of course, it wasn’t the same gully. It took me most of the day to find the spot where I had tripped, to find a gnarled old tree root that looked like the one I had tripped over, to find the hollowed out old tree trunk and to get my bearings.
Once I was as certain as I could be that I was in the right place, I didn’t know what to do next. I walked around the spot, approached it from a number of different directions, walked through it, but nothing happened. As far as I could tell, I was in the same reality the whole time. If there was a portal, or whatever it was, I couldn’t find it. I tried to replay my inattention and my trip, but I was too self-conscious and aware. In the end, I walked around with my eyes closed until I tripped and stumbled, though without falling. When I opened my eyes, it was to an oncoming fist.
Copyright © 2016 by David Adès