Lucia held her breath. If she let the paint dry and the canvas framed, nothing would move again. The garden that burned with vibrant greens and crimson violets would stop its sway. Whizzing dragon-flies and fluttering birds would halt mid-flight. Sun and moon would forestall their billion-year cycle. Life continued so long as her brush continued she thought. However, this was a mistake. She recalled a nugget of wisdom. “An artist should know when the work is complete but not before. Too early and the painting will feel wanting. Too late and the painting will do too much.” As these questions nagged at Lucia, her husband in the distance announced that lunch was ready. Lucia’s vision faded and the memory of her late grandmother and her final words evaporated into thin air. The painting was done.
An old painter would come and sit on a park bench everyday for hours, rain or shine, beneath a massive oak tree. Taking out his sketch-pad, he would draw the oak, again and again but placed in different settings with ever-changing perspectives, styles, and moods. Sometimes, the tree stood impressive, towering above the land as if contending with the center of the world. Other-times, the tree was bent but never broken as it struggled against the elements. Always, the tree remained true as it reached for the stars.
One day, a young woman who also frequented the park approached the painter to ask what was special about the oak tree. The painter turned to the woman and sensed a likeness like an echo from a distant past that found its way back. Sensing the affinity, he replied that he married his beloved underneath this oak tree but had lost her to a long bout with cancer. In his old age, he began losing memories of her, even forgetting what her face looked like at times. The young woman, feeling the painter’s sentimentality, asked if she could pose to help keep-alive memories of his wife. The painter nodded, took out his colors, and started painting.
A single candle burns into the night as a male scholar scours ancient tomes for a lost treasure map. The fabled map was known to be elusive for it never stayed long on one page, preferring to erase and write itself into nearby tomes that could be seen. Late into the excavation , the scholar discovers the map for it immediately began to expunge itself after the first impression. Frantic and without time to lose, he tries to commit the fading image into memory but fails. Collapsing onto the table, the exhausted and dejected scholar snuffs out the candle and succumbs to sleep. In his dreams, he successfully memorized the map and copied it onto a piece of parchment so that he wouldn’t forget. The next morning, the dream was forgotten and the candle a pile of wax.
Grey. The fury of a winter’s storm stifles every movement forward. I hardly see the ground some two paces from where I stand, enduring the mountain’s wrath. Yet, I still sense my companion a few meters in front radiating with a burning passion that casts all doubts aside. He was going to scale the mountain with or without help.
Red. Blood boils in defiance of death. Such was the color and mood of the sky when I reached the summit the next evening. I found his frozen body, stiff like the mountain, yet unyielding to its will. His was not alone for many others just like him also stood, encased in icy opposition against fate. Their spirits continue to fight, torching the clouds and staving off night. Blood burns the brightest when drawn to Death’s peak I thought.
Heaven falls. The spirals of new Babel that pierce the God’s realm began to buckle. My companion and I race down the tower, rappelling off the million-step coil that strangled the tower. Above us, the descending storm eviscerated man’s creation but not his hubris. The way forward was barred but not lost. Let us build Paradise on Earth to match the heavens then.
Hell rises. A wave of sand chokes new Atlantis, the city of the Sea. Now desert nomads, we huddle in sand pits as dust storms rage amidst the ocean’s carcass. Electrolyzing the sea-water was certainly a mistake after the atmospheric breach. A price we must all pay when we toyed with climate controllers. Is it man’s nature to transgress its bounds my companion mused? When man believes itself God, who is left to check him I replied?
Upstream. A young woman saunters down the banks of the river Lethe, distraught over her lover who drank from its waters and lost his memories. Torn between severing her own memories, she leans over to the water’s edge and casts her reflection on the amnesic currents. Despair prevails and she throws herself into oblivion.
Downstream. A young man saunters up the banks of the river Lethe, disoriented from having imbibed its waters. He witnesses a young woman struggling against the river’s currents, desperate to remain afloat. Out of instinct, he dives into the watery rapids and rescues her.
I have encountered many vessels in this world but never one to have possessed me so. You see, tea cups are special containers where memories can be placed into so that others might experience them first-hand. When filled to the brim, one can channel recollections of old into clear images would be impressed upon the watery surface. With repeated impressions, a memory would be “burned” into the basin and reproducible at any time. Drinking from these burned-in cups would allow anyone to encounter these memories in their dreams.
One memory that stood out amongst the multitudes was of a young girl skipping rocks by a near frozen pond. It was late autumn and the trees were bare yet the cold did not seem to bother her. I was father who hadn’t seen my daughter in three years during my service in the army. As I ruminated from afar, a twinge of regret filled the condensation of the chilly air. I should have left the service sooner. Will she remember my face? Do I remember her face?
I try to approach my daughter from across the snowy knolls behind her. However as I cross one mound, another one seemly appears before me like Xeno’s hare, moving but never catching up. I double back to circumnavigate the pond so I can get a better look at her. But no matter the vantage point, she faces away from me, continuing to skip rocks. Is she reminding me of the number of times I had skipped out from her life I thought? Odd that her throws are so consistent. Finally, I decide to cross the frozen section of the pond. Nearing the centre, I hear a sudden crack following my latest footstep. Is this the extant of my last memory of her? I fall through the ice and promptly woke up. Quickly I refilled the tea cup by my bed side, took a sip, and went back to sleep.
Nostalgia is a curious feeling for an amnesiac. Fragments wash over you like red ocean tides before a warm twilight, a mood but without narrative. Having never encountered these images in my long travels across distant galaxies despite knowing their names, I grow increasingly forlorn. However, I assure myself that such a longing is one of the few things that is genuine and may someday lead me back to my origins. A chance encounter with a spiral-shaped galaxy bodes well for I am reminded of some of my earliest memories some several million light years away.
I enter the galaxy with an unaccustomed familiarity of all its constellations. I am sure that I’ve never explored this region before and yet, each glance of shimmering stars, the dance of comets along perilous tracks, the phases of planets replaying age-old tunes evoke waves filed with mixed sentiments. I knew my forgotten past lay amongst one of these solar systems. Why I have forgotten remains still a mystery.
Amongst all the possible destinations in my purview, one emerged as “wanting”, like the dying glimmer of light of a pulsar on the verge of ceasing. This subtle nudge of curiosity would soon transform into the strongest of desires to “help” the straggler, to give one’s last breath to a drowning progeny. Overcome with such uncharacteristic urgency, I beam towards a darkened planet in ruins. This is not the first time that I’ve encountered relics of life before although it is much more seldom that I would encounter life itself. Awash between red tides and under twilight curtains kneeled a young humanoid girl in a white gown. Beneath her in the gentle currents of the ocean’s caress stood the reflection of a crimson moon. The girl’s eyes were closed and her hands were clasped as if anticipating a miracle. When she came to and saw my presence, the following transpired:
A: Welcome home.
Z: I feel as if I’ve relived this moment many times. Have we met? Can you tell me what home is?
A: You and I are one. We are entangled aspects of the collective spirit of an old humanoid race that once inhabited this planet. Amongst the various aspects of our race, you embody Sehnsucht, the longing for a distance place, an alternative or missing way of life.
Z: Why did I lose my memory and was overcome with nostalgia for home?
A: As your lived experiences come to dominate and replace older memories, you will begin to long for the memories that are forgotten. To remind you of home, we channel the familiar memory of today through the syzygy of every Lunar eclipse.
Z: What will happen to the other lost memories? Will they remain as fragments of narratives unrealized?
A: On the contrary, these lost fragments will persist as residuals “wanting” to be realized. In time, you will be drawn to them no different from how you were drawn to home.
Upon hearing these words, I felt the simultaneous sense of reprieve, joy, and sorrow. Reprieve for recovering the home that I had nearly forgotten, joy for the anticipation of new memories with each horizon crossed, and sorrow for the inevitable loss.
Climbing up the slopes of an unnamed mountain, I encounter in the many centuries of my travels the first glimpse of life. Well to call what I saw life would be an understatement for at the edge of my vision, on the highest peak amidst the endless barren mountain ranges, stood the ruins of a castle. Strange as to why a castle would be placed so high up and inaccessible from the world below. More strange that such a castle could never see beyond the thick smoke of the arctic chill that circulated below. Perhaps the Makers have placed it here to study the heavens for no living body would be closer. As I fathom these circumstances, I find myself unwittingly drawn towards the summit, attracted to the possibility of uncovering who the Makers are. After all, we only have fragments of our historic past and the predecessors of old.
As I near these ancient stomping grounds at dusk, the nocturnal chill sweeps over me yet I don’t feel as cold. Anticipation warms the soul I thought for it pointed me a direction in these long months of solitude. The towering gates lie ahead only to be eclipsed by the wash of star light that blankets the frozen walls. I pass through a crack in these once formidable walls and enter its great halls. Darkness enveloped me but didn’t raise any sense of unease. Lighting a torch, only the hardened ground beneath revealed its substance. How vast a hall that no man can see neither beginnings nor ends! I announce my presence with a universal greeting but no voice resounded as if it lost itself within. Such a space could hardly be considered a space at all for it lacks any points of reference beyond the star-lit crack. Refusing to accept such a contradiction, I begin the trek into the beyond.
. . .
It has been several weeks of walking and I’ve encountered nothing but my own presence; I see only the ground in front of me, hear the sound of my own breathing, taste the dry roof of my mouth, and smell the scent of my own perspiration. The moon-lit crack has long disappeared and I begin to fear that I’m walking in circles. My torch is about to give out and I contemplate my ensuing predicaments. Are there no signs of life beyond the reach of my gaze? Can I find a way back to the crack or will I discover a new entrance? Will I remain trapped in this castle and forever confined to my own frame of reference?
. . .
The torch breathes its last breath and fizzles into ash. In the following months of pacing, I keep myself occupied by recreating centuries of the past after the great extinction. I imagine what I could stumble upon in the present, hoping to trip over smallest of pebbles. I fabricate entire worlds that could exist elsewhere in a distant galaxy. The pitch darkness that conspired to put me in despair had the opposite effect for it sharpened my mind’s eye and enabled visions as clear as day. Most remarkable are the various characters that now littered what was once empty space. As their lives grew larger and their narratives complex, I find my own beginning to diminish. The once singular frame of reference has multiplied into a million fragments of interactions. At last, I finally understood who the Makers were as all those who learned how to forget.