Monday, 4 January 2010
Voyage I – Songs from a Cold Sea
The afterlife always begins with a voyage across a freezing sea.
Sounds are muffled by fog but if you listen long enough on a still day, you can feel rather than hear a deep fluctuating note emanating from somewhere, rolling in and out. Sometimes it seems to be like a song coming from far out over the water, perhaps some primeval whale song. Other times it seems to be the sound of the ship itself. The sails are rarely fully unfurled, but we move anyway. The water is cloudy grey green, greyer in the fog, greener on clearer days. Sometimes shoals of metallic angular fish with jade eyes, ripped fins and mouths full of translucent pins for teeth can be seen just below the surface. Other times, enormous sooty black shapes move along deeper down. Sometimes there are what appear to be eels, and jellyfish pulsing weakly. There are birds too. White streamlined ones appear when the weather is fine, gliding along with us. Tattered black ones arrive when the fog closes in, fluttering up by the masts. In storms we are on our own.
The crew seems to be made up of a handful of silent seamen, bulky with woollens and oilskins, their faces obscured by collars and peaked caps or wool hats pulled low. The captain can be seen pacing the bridge sometimes but none of them are seen often. He is attended by a big shaggy ash grey dog, which seems to have lost an eye.
And then there are the guides who, I’m informed, are here to help us. They are dressed in pale grey and are understanding and softly spoken. They are dead, like us, but they have volunteered to stay back and help. They look after us in the first days, to stay warm, collect our meals, find the bathroom. Although none of us actually have physiological needs any more, these are comforting habits. In time we begin to wander about, talk among ourselves, or just stare out at this strange boundless grey water. Then the guides are there to answer questions if they can, and lead us through the next part of the journey.
My first view of the afterlife was of the sea. Like a lot of people, for the first part of the journey (apparently there’s a kind of art deco departure hall and a quayside), most people are still in shock, unsurprisingly. The first thing I remember was looking at a ragged black bird keeping pace with us a little off to port. I knew I’d been there a while, I knew other things had happened but I couldn’t find a memory of them – very like waking up from a long and interesting dream, when it seems the harder you try to remember, the more it slips away. A lot of the after life is like that.
I looked around me. I was on a vast wooden deck. There were masts and hatches but they were small and distant in a huge field of planks. The next thing I noticed was the quiet. Not silence – there were sounds, distant, muffled - a soothing sound of us moving along, the wind moving over us, and the water below, a faint clucking of the swell on the boards, and the gentle whir and rhythmic tinkling of the wind in the rigging, sometimes accompanied by a far away sort of whine – a gentle ambient symphony. And the air was full of a cold mist that softened and obscured the distance in pearly grey washes. It was very cold but I found myself cocooned in a downy hooded sleeping bag, on a wooden deck chair. I pushed the hood back. I could hear people talking. There were others like me along the deck. Some of them were closer to each other, talking gently, looking, like me, out to sea, at the soft misty horizon-less view, and that was when the bird glided past and I thought it was wonderful.
I was completely at peace, drifting in and out of sleep for I don’t know how long. Later, as it started to get dark, a young woman in a simple grey outfit asked if I wanted something to eat or drink. They brought me fresh coffee and orange juice and croissants, and I knew I’d died and gone to heaven.
Later that night, she showed me to my cabin, a neat, compact little room with a narrow bed with a port-hole by the head so I could lie down and look at the water just below. There was just enough light to make out shelves, cupboards, and a sink with a mirror on the opposite wall.
In the morning I'm woken by a knock on the door, and a young man brings coffee on a little tray. He smiles and tells me that his name is Joe and he will be my guide for the voyage and that if I want to talk about anything he's the person to ask. I arrange to meet him in the cafeteria when I'm ready for breakfast.
I look in the mirror on the back of the door. I look like a kid. I’d never noticed before. Why hadn’t I realised? I look so immature. I look about thirteen. Why couldn’t I just grow up? I look around me – the plywood shelves and cupboards are neatly built into the wall beside the door. There's a towel on a rail and when I open the cupboards there's a selection of clothes that I don’t recognize but which I like the look of. No school shirts. On the shelf is a selection of books which I don’t recognize either but which look interesting, and some art materials. One thing I recognize is there – a plastic fish from last Christmas – a silly stocking-filler but I liked the shape of it. Suddenly it all comes back to me like a tidal wave to the head – my home, everything I know, everything from back there and I'm suddenly sure I’ll never ever see any of it again.
To continue reading either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog
A life backwards
It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.
Thanks for your patience.