Madeleine by Chris Green
The past filters into your consciousness when your defences are down. It arrives surreptitiously at night. On waking, you find an episode from long ago waiting for your attention. Sometimes it is a fully formed memory, something you can easily relate to. Other times it comes shrouded in mystery, but like the famous one brought on by Proust’s madeleine, something suggests it is here for a reason. You need to focus on it to unravel its meaning. The one I find myself with this morning is one of these. It came in the night and stubbornly refuses to go away. It is not a memory I can recall revisiting before.
I am in a large house in the country. Jimmy Jazz, Rebecca and Sloggi are here along with another girl. I have not thought about any of them for years, perhaps decades, and have no connection now. It is high summer, one of those evenings when there is the possibility it will never get dark. Time Passages, the Al Stewart album is playing, strangely out of context here. There is something otherworldly about this place. We talk about lenticular clouds, arthouse films, and necromancy. The anonymous girl asks me to drive her to Bath railway station. She has a ticket on the last train home tonight. The station is not far, she says, about twelve miles. I do not have my car as I came with Jimmy Jazz in his big blue Ford. Although it is not clear who it belongs to, the anonymous girl says I can use the Land Rover that is parked outside.
I cannot recall, and perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I end up taking her or not. Or whether I make out with Sloggi. Although it is short on plot and there is nothing to hang on to here, everything somehow makes sense. It feels real, like that feeling of déjà vu you get when your brain tells you that you have experienced a moment before.
I am unable to explain it, but in the here and now, I sense I had a moment of great clarity that evening a lifetime ago. Revisiting it feels like there is a corridor to a different consciousness from the one you inhabit from day to day. Nor does it end there. It offers a link to an earlier experience in those enchanted lands around the Wiltshire Somerset border where magic abounds. This one takes place beside a rural railway station and a fast-flowing river. I am with my old friend Tony Flags, Domino and Lucy. The Lucy in the Sky Lucy, that would be. With diamonds. There are no timetables at the station. Time does not exist here. Trains stop regularly, but no one gets on and no one gets off. I am reminded of that poem. There is an inn that sells spiritual sustenance, there is a solar eclipse, and Burt Reynolds is riding the white water rapids like he does in Deliverance. Tony takes a swim in the river. Does he have gills?
This part of the country is overflowing with mysticism. This is the ley line capital, a magical place where anything and everything is possible. It has white horses carved into the chalk landscape. It has halls of ancient peace. There’s a sword in every pond. You can walk on water. There are starmen waiting in the sky. This must be why people visit Stonehenge and Glastonbury in such great numbers. I have never been one to take these ideas seriously, but there again, you never know. It’s best to keep an open mind and an open heart. After all, what am I doing now if not taking notice of an unexplainable feeling that all of this esotericism is important?
Such erstwhile epiphanies, if that is what they are, don’t have a habit of sticking around. They offer fleeting glimpses into an elusive dreamland. The magician might sparkle in satin and velvet, but these are not your day clothes. Inevitably, the mundane kicks back in, and you put away your nighttime thoughts.
But the following morning I awake once more in a state of grace, or am I still dreaming? I am floating in a cloud with a deep sense of connection to everyone and everything. Am I dead, I wonder? Is this the afterlife? Saskia, who I know to be dead, tells me I am not dead and puts a very good case forward for being alive. She has introduced me to Molly, she says, and Molly is looking after me. Molly seems to be doing her job as I feel an extraordinary sense of well-being. The ethereal music, Saskia tells me, is called Sweet Lullaby. It is a haunting mellow floater. The music, Saskia and I appear to be coalescing. It is becoming hard to tell where one ends and the others begin. We are one.
Like the other ecstatic recollections, this long-forgotten episode seems well worth revisiting. But this does not mean I need to get carried away by these nocturnal visitors. In the big scheme of things, they do not seem important. Saskia and I were little more than ships that passed in the night.
Stacy Vandenberg, my anxiety counsellor bangs on about the danger of getting sidetracked by random chatter. Stacy says these are dreams, Chet, vague recollections of past events, nothing more. They are not happening now, remember. Dougal in Father Ted might struggle with the dream reality distinction, but it shouldn’t be that hard for an intelligent person like yourself to get it. Stacy has this habit of coming out with binary oppositions to make complex things sound simple. I suppose this is what I pay her for. She is not big on dream interpretation. Simple is good is her take. I need to concentrate on the here and now.
But these are powerful flashbacks. They have a lot of weight behind them. They appear to have a message. I feel I will benefit from taking notice. At the very least the evocations offer a distraction from the depressing state of the world at the present time. The population explosion, the tipping point we have reached with climate change, the wholesale corruption in high office, and all the other heavy shit that is about to hit the fan.
By taking them seriously, other forgotten adventures appear. I suppose if I believed sufficiently in intuition, I could describe it as lucid dreaming. But whatever it is, the random epiphanies keep coming. Each morning there is a new one. There’s plenty to talk to Stacy about. There are lots of stories to relate. Like the recollection of the volcano erupting that day at the jubilee celebrations in Camberley all those years ago, the trip through the plush Palladian villas on the rolling hills of Swindon that I hadn’t revisited for a long time, and my first trip to the moon that I had completely forgotten about. I explain to Stacy how excited I am that these long-lost memories keep reappearing.
‘Let me stop you there, Chet,’ Stacy says.
Sometimes I wish she would lighten up a little, but I guess she has a job to do and you can only cover so much ground in the allocated fifty minutes, especially as we often spend ten minutes talking about music or culture or other things that have nothing to do with the task at hand. The departures are largely my fault, I suppose, but we have discovered a mutual appreciation of Mahler, Talking Heads and Smiley Smile. And although our tastes in film are different, we both agree on Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski.
‘These recollections you’ve just described seem a little different from the others, wouldn’t you say, Chet, since there is a strong possibility they refer to things that never happened in the first place.’
She takes out the dream/ reality diagram, and mentions the dim-witted priest from Father Ted, a reference which to be perfectly honest, is wearing a little thin. She draws a binary diagram to supplement the other one. This one reads, memory/ false memory. I have the impression that Stacy’s direct approach might be unusual for an anxiety counsellor.
‘I can remember the jubilee celebrations,’ I say.
‘That’s as maybe,’ she says, ‘But why would you be in Camberley? That’s the other side of the country and it’s a cultural desert. There’s nothing there. You would struggle to find a sentient being in Camberley. It’s wall-to-wall Daily Mail. And another thing, I’m certain there are no Palladian villas or rolling hills in Swindon. I’ve been to Swindon. It’s not like that at all. The trip to the moon? Come on! Your astronaut credentials are not strong, Chet. Look! I like you, but if you are not going to take these sessions seriously, there’s no point in spending your hard-earned cash coming to see me each week.’
‘I sometimes get details wrong,’ I say.
‘False memory,’ she says, pointing once more at the diagram.
‘The volcano may have been metaphorical,’ I say. ‘It could be that Amy, the girl I met at the jubilee celebrations came from Camberley. And it may not have been the jubilee celebrations. It was a long time ago, you understand. Ditto the Swindon one. Now I come to think of it, it’s possible Swindon may have actually been Tuscany. You know, in Italy. …… Easy mistakes, though, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Not sure what that is about,’ I say. ‘It may not refer to a memory at all. Or the moon.’
‘Shall we put that one down to false memory too?’
‘But there’s another one,’ I say. ‘It’s just coming back to me. I’m in Stanistan. Nathan Soul, a work colleague and I have strayed over the border. It is afternoon, but time does not exist here. Through the haze, we catch the occasional glimpse of the dome of a mosque or a distant minaret. These seem oddly one-dimensional as if they have been drawn by a child. As we approach, they fade into nothing. The ramshackle farm buildings are in an advanced state of decay and there are no animals or crops. We pass peasants along the track. One or two issue guttural threats. We are not welcome here. Their words echo in the sultry silence. Although it seems foolhardy, we carry on, regardless of the peril carrying on might hold. By and by, the sun starts to move across the sky once more, and Nathan and I decide to head back. We are due to finish work soon but we still have a job to do, although we are not sure what the job is. As we approach the border, we see that in the distance a group of men in dark robes has gathered. They watch us. As we get closer, they spread out and place themselves at intervals along the route. They block the paths through the scrub. Some of them are armed. We are afraid we will not make it back to our familiar world. We are already fading away.’
‘That’s clearly a dream, Chet,’ Stacy says. ‘How many times do I have to say it? Dreams don’t mean anything. They are not a window to the soul. That’s just hype and propaganda. People never used to take much notice of them. This is a recent development. I blame all those songs about dreams a while back. Eurythmics, Blondie, Fleetwood Mac. No end to the songs about dreams. The Jung Brothers’ Follow that Dream. Do you remember that one? Number 1 for nineteen weeks.’
‘I do. Big reggae tune, back in the day.’
‘More crossover, really. But the Jungs went on to do some funky tunes. What about Intuition.’
‘And Synchronicity. That had a wicked bassline. Yet they will always be remembered for Follow that Dream.’
‘Look! The alarm on my phone is about to go, Chet. We need to wind things up. Next time, we have to get back to talking about what’s really happening for you. Absolutely no dreams. Why would you want to waste a hundred quid every week to talk to me about dreams? I need to know what’s going on in your life, not that surreal nonsense that spills out at night. No recollections, just your real life here and now. Perhaps look at how, since Covid, you’ve backed off from everyone and everything. You can’t let your world shrink any more. For the last twelve months, you’ve been telling me you don’t want to turn into your father. I wouldn’t like to think that was what was happening. Give it some thought, will you! …… Until next week, then. Don’t forget to watch the Freud concert on catch-up. Good band. I think they are doing a few festivals this year. Why don’t you try to get along to one of them? It would do you good. And Chopra, Grylls and Dass are playing at the Bank Holiday festival. See if you can get Emma to go.’
‘You know. The new neighbour you mentioned last week. The one with the big cherry tree and rose of Sharon in the back garden. You said you thought she might be a university lecturer or a saxophone player or something like that. I thought that sounded encouraging.’
‘Oh, her, yes. I wouldn’t know what to talk to her about.’
‘Let me send you some ideas.’
Living next door to Emma makes it easy for me to be able to see when she is admiring her cherry tree or her rose of Sharon in the back garden and even to see when her husband is not there. But this is a long way from seeing when Emma is admiring her cherry tree or her rose of Sharon and when her husband is not there, and when she might be able to take the time to go to a rock festival with me for a few days without her husband over a Bank Holiday weekend. That’s a big leap. For all I know, she might not even like Chopra, Grylls and Dass.
I catch Emma in her garden while her husband Grant is at Taekwondo, and I strike up a conversation over the fence. After we have touched on Gustav Klimt’s paintings, Scandinavian furniture, and the new Channel 4 drama, The Spy Who Came in from the Shed, like Stacy suggested, I feel we are getting on well enough for me to mention the upcoming Bank Holiday festival. Would she like to come? Sadly, she has not heard of Chopra, Grylls and Dass. She doesn’t even know the catchy one about the Moroccan train ride. And it seems Grant is planning to whisk her off to World Volleyball Championships in Santa Margherita Ligure that week.
But perhaps all is not lost.
‘I woke up knowing I would have a conversation with you about Gustav Klimt Scandinavian furniture, and the Spy Who Came in from the Shed over the garden fence while Grant was at Taekwondo, Chet,’ Emma says. ‘Don’t you think that’s strange?’
‘It is pretty weird, yes.’
‘But I did not get to the bit about you inviting me to the Bank Holiday festival. That invitation came right out of leftfield. But the rest of it was more or less verbatim. What about that? What do you think it is that happens in the night? Where does all this strange come from?’
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘But my experience would appear to be the opposite of yours. I wake with the distant past spilling out onto my pillow.’
‘Perhaps it is not so different.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Time is central to both of our experiences, wouldn’t you say? We’ve got that in common.’
‘As in everything might be happening simultaneously, all the time, for eternity, but our brains are programmed to compartmentalise it?’
‘Something like that. Einstein said the separation between past, present, and future is an illusion, but a stubborn one. This would help to explain déjà vu, history repeating itself, and all those other time-related cliches.’
‘This must have been what Al was singing about.’
‘Al Stewart. Time Passages. It came up earlier. I was telling Stacy about it.’
‘Stacy? Is she your partner?’
‘She’s my, er, consultant. ….. I don’t have a partner right now.’
‘I see. You don’t realise how lucky you are.’
‘No, seriously, Chet. Marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Grant can be a monumental pain in the butt. He’s obsessed with sport. Not just football and cricket and normal sport. I could cope with that. His fascination doesn’t even stop at tennis and athletics. The other day I caught him watching Foot-Golf on one of those channels from the outer limits of Sky. Grant lives and breathes sport. He has installed a TV in every room in the house and networked them in readiness for The Something or Other Games which start on Saturday. It’s endless. It’s like living in JD Sports.’
‘The Commonwealth Games, I think it is. But I could be wrong. I’m not really into sport.’
‘Well, that makes two of us, Chet. Perhaps you might like to invite me round later. I could bring a bottle of wine, or some weed if you want. Or perhaps we could go out somewhere. There are stacks of interesting things going on. There’s a Darius Bro Retrospective at the Splash Gallery.
‘Bro? I like his stuff.’
‘Lots more happening, too. Red Sayles is playing at the Sunset Bar. Necromancy, the new Leif Velasquez neo-noir is showing at the Regal. Lenticular Clouds are playing at The Riverside.’
‘Lots of familiar names there.’
‘I had a feeling you might like them. And the ArtHouse Film Festival starts on Saturday, if you are into that. Oh, did you know too that Dream Reality have a gig at The Waiting Room?’
‘Not quite so keen on them.’
‘Of course, there are pop-up events and street food stop-offs all around the town at this time of year. When you look at it, we are pretty much spoiled for choice.’
‘What about Grant?’
‘Truth be told, Grant probably won’t even notice I’ve gone.’
Copyright © Chris Green, 2023: All rights reserved