Falling Awake

Posted on July 26, 2017


Another silly romance. I wrote this in hypnagogia, the state between sleep and wakefulness, Sunday morning. Come to think of it, I’ve probably written over one third of all my stuff on Sunday mornings in this state. I should get more sleep! At any rate, it was probably inspired by Bradbury’s Bright Phoenix, which I was reading. As I was writing it, I decided to punch it up by using quotes from the stories the character was visiting, very similar to a technique Robert Moss told me about when I met him on an airplane ride. Using other people’s words made it too easy to write and almost impossible to polish, so I will let it lie.

Georji consulted the three-ring binder cabled to the spaceship bulkhead, chose some coordinates and punched them in. The points of starlight became lines as the spaceship accelerated, and Georji settled in for the ride. This time, he thought, for sure. Eventually, even the lights faded as he sped through the space into the black between them, but it still took weeks to make his destination.

The ship came down with a bump and he climbed out. There it was, just like he remembered it, Green Town. The library where he had spent so many summer days and school nights. He started walking through town. The ice cream store, the ravine, the school, the tobacco shops. Way out on the horizon, he was sure that was the end of the trolley line, and over there the forest for picking grapes with his dad and his brother. Practically every corner he turned, there was another memory. Yes, the memories were pouring in now. His first kiss, his first fight, his first death; why everything once and then everything twice, that’s what it was to be home again. He smiled. He strutted. He looked up at every window, behind every hedge. Surely somebody would poke his head out and call…Call what exactly, what was his name? John? Bob? Joe? No, Douglas it was, that was his name.

Towards the end of the afternoon, he stood on a small hillock and surveyed all he had canvassed. He looked west and there was a bare spot in the terrain. What was supposed to be there? He knew he should know. He looked and thought, but it wouldn’t come to him. And then, a flash, out by the trolley end. He compressed his lips and turned down the corners of his mouth. Not again. For a moment, just a moment, he thought this would be the last time. Another flash, no more grapes, and another, no more brand new sneakers. He watch it all disappear, falling away to the deep empty of space. It was time. He would have time to get back to the ship and try again.

It was the same in Hobbiton when he returned to his Hobbit-hole. He sat there on his stoop and lit a pipe. He put his feet up and looked at the fur on his toes remembering his long life and many adventures.

“Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”

“Haha, haha,” he laughed. “So true. Ever on until now, but now I’m home!” He went through the names of all of dwarven friends: Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and…and… Thorin, how could he forget Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King under the Mountain. His pipe tamped and relit he started going through the riddles in the dark:

Thirty white horses on a red hill

First they champ

Then they stamp

Then they stand still.

Teeth they were! Ha, so obvious now.

And on he went through them all until he got to:

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt

Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.

It lies behind stars and under hills

And empty holes it fills.

It comes first and follows after

Ends life, Kills laughter.

He bit on the pipe stem. It would come to him. It wasn’t that hard, not like the one about daisies.

Night was falling, but he could already feel it, there was a glow at the edge of the Shire beyond the hills. “Darkness!” he screamed “No, I have it, I have all of it. I know all of the elves of Rivendell, just ask me!” but it was too late, too late. He watched all of Middle Earth dissolve around him, seeing it distant-close as it played through his memory, from Mordor to Lothlorien it came marching to him as hungry and finite as Smaug. Only at the last moment did he jump up and dash to his ship, the flames licking as his heels.

He drove across the country one, two, three times following the routes he had traveled with Dean Moriarty, burning, burning, burning like fabulous yellow roman candles, nothing behind, everything ahead of, as is ever so on the road. He really believed it then, in all the sun-tanned lands of the west and purple bruising of the eastern cities. He went through every line, every tone-poem, all of the stray thoughts and bits, but it came out in one short susurration of mumbling, read like it was written, the pages all taped together so they would go through the typewriter in a great whitewater fount. Too quick, he thought. Or, maybe if there was nothing to forget, if it was all remembered, maybe the magic was made fast. Maybe that had been his mistake: he thought too big. He drove on in silence, at first in disbelief, but gradually becoming more and more convinced. But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see? Haha! Yes, he had it all now, all of America in place, its hopes and dreams, its blood and soul remembered, each dust mote verse-dreamed into place.

But it was just a bigger canvas, burning more slowly, yet it was burning just the same. He got out of the car on a New Jersey pier, talking to Dean, expecting him to be standing next to him when the dawn light bathed the land. The sky began to pale. It wasn’t the dawn over the horizon to the east though, it was a raging fire at his back. Pennsylvania must be gone by now, he thought as he turned back the way he had come. This time, Georji was surprised, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The universe was suddenly rich with possibility. He had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars…

And Moriarty again, a different one, in the dog-swamp sewers and high Victorian living rooms of London, whose achievements shown like the Crown Jewels and whose secrets festered like forgotten leper colonies in its midst. Oh, yes, the long slow fall of the final problem at Reichenback Falls, not into cold water but into space and him barely making his ship, his skin crystalizing and his lungs full of the empty nothing of broken memories.

Ishmael, they called him, and he landed on a place not down in any map; true places never are. Alone on deck, another’s nemesis calling him across the void. He remembered it all, the names of the whales and the rigging, madness and tedium in equal portions, riding Queequeg’s coffin on a sea of dark thoughts. A great, sad tale, worth the living, but worth the remembering? There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And out there a beast, evil without intent, still it contained all that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought. He held his hands over his ears: this, there was no reason to recall. No, be done and gone with it. A plume of water on the horizon building to a great wave, curling back the blue world, ripping it free of the space beneath, falling on him in a crazy curl, the world atilt, the foam the rictus grin of the whale swallowing a world that could not burn. “Thus, I give up the spear!” he cried and raced to his craft.

It was not the best of times, but the worst of the best of times, over and over again. Program, fly, exalt, grieve. He would never run out of memories it seemed, but no home did they build in the stars. It was in Xanadu, where he sat on the lawn of the summer palace, his thousandth world. Too exhausted, too afraid to go on. He just wanted to rest in grass greener than exotic coral dwellers and put off the fate of his disenchantment, when all the charm was broken—all that phantom-world so fair vanished, and a thousand circlets spread, and each mis-shape the other, as a rocket landed near his. But not the stately settling on the fins – a crash and tumble, a great Humpty Dumpty entrance and exit combined, over the hill out of sight. Most likely from Porlock, he thought, as he sprinted over the hill.

And there, climbing from her little pod, was a lovely girl, the Scheherazade of all his broken dreams, her space suit hung on her like gossamer silks. She looked at her craft, hands on her hips, discounting him until she said,

“A savage place! as holy and enchanted,

As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!”

The refrain leapt to his tongue and shot from his mouth:

“A damsel with a dulcimer

In a vision once I saw:

It was an Abyssinian maid,

And on her dulcimer she played,

Singing of Mount Abora.

Could I revive within me

Her symphony and song,

To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,

That with music loud and long,

I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!”

“I think,” saith he, “this must be Heaven!”

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

He looked down, “All Hells so far have I made.”

“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

“And freedom, what has it gotten me? Alone I travel from world to world, dream to dream.”

“You seek dreams that become real, but when they do they fade. No, it’s not in the dreams you will find peace, it’s only when you fall awake, and live in a world you create, only then will it last.”

“And you, have you built such a world?”

“A thousand such worlds.”

“Why do you not stay in them?”

“Paradise alone is still Paradise Lost.” She held out her hand, “Awake, arise or be for ever fall’n.”

He took her hand, it was cool and pliant. He could not remember ever feeling this way. He looked about, but the world was not burning.