<<Previously… you ever have deja vu?
written for the theme: time is the greatest innovator
Just outside of New Orleans, nearly two centuries ago.
The gentle humming of the music made the leaves twitch, made the trees bow lower towards the still waters of the swamp, as if they could glean more meaning from the tune by peering at their own reflections. As if they, too, found the that the music pulled at something deep within themselves. I followed the music further into the swamp, a gun in one hand and a musket strapped to my back, mud covering my boots and most of my uniform.
It was unearthly quiet, even for being winter, like everything living was holding its breath, listening to the air being channeled into that instrument. I licked my chapped lips. The wind brought to my ears the shrieking chorus of gunfire and of erupting carronades, miles away from where I walked. But through it all, the only sound that mattered to me were those notes being played. And I knew them – I knew those notes as if from a dream. As I moved closer, each step I took was familiar, each tree an old passerby. I knew that when I turned to peer around a tree, that a shack would be sitting there, hovering on posts over the water’s surface. I knew that even though it was cold as hell, the woman with the coffee skin would be wearing a summer’s dress as she sat on the deck, leaning back against one of the posts and playing a recorder, with one leg over the edge so that her toes skimmed the surface of the water.
She stopped and looked over at me. “I’ve been playing for hours,” she said. “About time you showed.” Her legs swiveled over the edge of the deck and she slipped into the water, up to her waist, and walked towards me. Creatures moved in the water around her, as if stirred back to life by the absence of the music. I stepped backwards and holstered my gun.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“You never mind that,” she said, walking up onto the land, her feet now caked with mud. “I have a message for your boss.”
“You mean Vice-Admiral Cochrane? I doubt he would give me an audience. And if you haven’t noticed, I’ve left the fighting. Doubt any of them would want to see me right now.”
“You don’t have to go on pretending to be British, Yankee.”
I laughed. “Well, whatever I am, I’m no Yankee.”
She was horribly beautiful, but wore the smell of my possible demise like scented oil. “You’re also no man of the sea,” she said. “Why would Pierre have you under his employ? And so many accents folded into your mouth…”
“I collect them,” I said, taking a small step backwards. “You’d be surprised how sloppy people are with their accents – they’ll leave them lying around just about anywhere.”
“And time,” she said, looking at my neck and chest. “Time is smeared all across your body… like hand prints… like blood.”
I shook my head. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to go,” I whispered. “You tell me you have a message for Pierre, a message for me to deliver to him. Then we don’t meet again for many years.”
She leaped at me, pushed me against a tree and tore open my jacket, then ripped my shirt open. She jumped back, her eyes wide. Looking down, there was a recorder just like hers dangling from my neck by a thin chain. The woman looked down at the recorder in her hands, then back at the one hanging from my neck.
“How do you get this?” she said, her hand clenched around the younger version of the instrument. She looked up at me, suddenly so vulnerable and so human. “And why have you brought it back here with you?”
“I… I don’t know. But this isn’t how things went. You weren’t saying this to me, and I’m not sure…” I looked down at my open hands, as if they held some transparent answer. My mind shifted around hazy pictures of what would be the future of this particular now, but no meaning would come from any arrangement of the pictures. Then droplets fell into my open palms, sliding down the muddy creases in my skin and rolling off the edges, free falling towards the soggy earth. They fell so slowly towards the ground that I looked up at the woman across from me and said, “I loved you, two hundred years ago. But so many things have happened since then, and I don’t know why I’m here, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or not do.”
Then my tears finally touched the earth, and stems erupted from the soil around my mud-caked boots, and from the stems leaves unfolded themselves, brilliant and green, and buds grew and opened into flowers of the darkest shades of orange. The flowers grew taller and fuller until they were nearly up to my waist and seemed content with how high they had grown.
“Did I love you in return?” she asked.
I looked up at her, and any tears I still had were absorbed back into me. “No.”
She reached out and touched one of the flowers. ”Do you ever find love?”
“No,” I said. ”But that’s not something that I’m looking for.”
“What are you searching for, man of many accents?”
I shook my head. “I… I’m not sure. I’m just trying to fix things.”
“Are you so sure that things are broken?”
Pain seared across my wrist and I pulled up the sleeve of my jacket. The wound there was black and crusted.
“The spirits have touched you,” she said.
“I know.” I gripped the wound and closed my eyes, feeling the episode losing solidity around me. “Not yet!” I said to it. ”Just give me a few minutes.” I opened my eyes and looked into her dark, widening eyes. She stepped backwards, accidentally pulling off the head of a flower. I nodded and said through my clenched teeth, “Yeah – I think things are pretty well botched up.”
all photo credits: Jan Kronsell
story Copyright 2010 by Andy Reynolds
for more stories and a menu of the episodes, visit my website: AndyReynolds.net