The way it was. That’s what Mr Winthrop often talked about. ‘The way it was’ was a kind of device he used to refer to prehistory, to man in his child state, where decisions weren’t yet made about what was possible and impossible. People, he said, experienced things, unusual, majestic, mystical things as a result of their believing in their possibility. Those who had a greater degree of control over manifesting or experiencing unusual or majestic or mystical things were the leaders, the shamans, the fathers and elders, the progenitors of classes of people central to the functioning of tribes, and civilisations; the later magi, hierophants, priests and sorcerers of Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Mesopotamia. Now, he said, today, we are adolescents. We know indubitably what’s real and what’s not, possible and not, and debate on the issue will simply not be tolerated. We live by the cardinal points, the primary colours and the infinitesimal calculus. But there will be a day when we will cease to be dogmatic, near-sighted teenagers, and will be adults, with the wealth of our adolescent learnings, and the power of our former way of seeing—this he called the “New Age”. We will prove, he said, with the long mechanical arm constructed from our modern curricula, the fallacies of our childhood. We will be both magicians and mathematicians, and our fables will be our histories.
“The primary colours,” said Diane. She bit at her thumbnail and leaned back against the kitchen island, glazed eyes watching red flames lick at the sooty rim of the kettle. “I believe in the primary colours.” She said this aloud. She wanted the tempter to know she was no longer at sea, she stood ashore, she had high regard for the primary colours, for ordered thoughts, for sets and maps and the published theories of men with white beards and rheumy eyes such as seen in the halls and in the classrooms at university. God bless the man who invented algebra. Algebraus, the learned Greek. Again she felt acutely alone, untethered very suddenly, and placed her eyes here and there about the kitchen, the family room, absorbing facts about the Winthrops, Major Winthrop specifically, that would reconcile her to them, or to the house, which, in some very abstract way she felt also to be a person in the way a person absent is a person—the feeling or impression or memory of a person, and one that now was her adversary.
“Bless it, Lord,” she said very quietly, looking down.
She didn’t mean to mock the Winthrops, but she had to be careful, the things she heard and the things she allowed herself to believe. When her older brother left for the Pacific War Diane had unravelled a little bit and had had to stay at a sanatorium with a lot of other sick people, though she wasn’t sick. She stayed there for a year and didn’t like it, and spent a lot of time looking out the window in her room, looking at the snow piling up beneath the trees, at the horizon reddening in the morning, burning, then at night cooling blue and wasting to silver, then to black, and then the cold of night. They had called it delirium. After her brother’s funeral she had had nightmares almost every night, and couldn’t focus at school, all her words were jumbled up—every time she tried to speak she felt as though her tongue were tied. There was something about the way her brother had viewed the world, something in his mind that made him immune to worry, so unlike Diane, something contagious and bolstering. Seeing him was like a shot in the arm of whatever it was that he had. Without him, this person above all persons whom she knew, with whom she bore the same dim fire, their childhood, memories of their upbringing, traumatic things, but also wonderful, small and imprecise things one would never attempt to explain, would never read of for their minuteness. Like the bird they buried on their way to school, eaten by ants picked lovingly, wretchedly from the sinews of its little wings, feet, breast. They had done that together. Without him it had felt as though her room at her parent’s home had become smaller and darker, and she was struggling against a never-ending stream of at times empty and unintelligible, at times harshly critical and biting voices, not auditory hallucinations, just loud, persistent, fatiguing inner commentary, frustratingly self-reflexive, fatalistic, a near-constant awareness of the predetermined nature of all things, of being always several steps behind the devil, a constant questioning of her own motivations, the hidden, spiritual structure of decision-making, will and desire, the fluctuation, on a dime, between reading her life as a hagiography and a twopenny tragedy—possibilities grand and dazzling, if not certain then attainable, fulfilling, a life of colour and stimulation. Then grey. Then unremitting doom; affection, empathy, happiness, enthusiasm all cloying and nauseating abscesses of the human spirit, which was wafer thin and gratuitous. She had spent all her hours at home chasing small cockroaches around her parent’s kitchen, watching the flowerpots in her father’s sunroom and waiting for sunset and the onset of sleep, making peanut butter and celery sticks, and book after book, picked up and put down, picked up and put down, the words on the page no match for the words in her head, which boomed, vaulted, overshadowed, which would not ever stop, would not ever leave her alone.
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