guilt

Stealing Books

I was working in a medium-sized open-plan office space halfway up a skyscraper. The view outside included streets, other buildings, and the landscaped gardens of some dark-stoned stately home. I answered my phone, and the voice at the other end said "Look at your monitor," in rather ominous tone; so, of course, I did.

What I saw was myself, in grainy black-and-white CCTV footage, hauling an entire shelf of books out of the front door of a large bookstore in a wheelbarrow. A moment of amnesiac confusion, and then it hit me all at once - oh Christ - that stupid, drunken night! I remembered: breaking a window, browsing the bookstore shelves blind drunk while the alarm sounded, tipping a whole shelf into my handy wheelbarrow and exiting in a relaxed, happy manner.

Now the full possibilities of consequences hit me. "God, I'm so stupid," I said, and the voice at the other end sounded amused but not moved. There was some kind of wordless communication of futures: prison, fines, humiliation. I thought of my family and felt so guilty that I'd let them down and failed in my responsibility.

Little head's 7 days of loneliness

Liadain and I were going on holiday. It had been a long time since we had been able to get away and we were looking forward to it; so much that when we arrived in Dublin city centre on our way to get a coach to somewhere in Europe, we barely noticed when Greta stumbled on getting out of the car and fell on her side in the gutter. Why was she with us in the car? Why did we not help her up, but instead continue on to our coach without thinking about her? There's no answer to these questions, this is just how it was.

The dream stretched out for a long time. I mean, we had a real week's holiday - there were plots and sub-plots, parties and strange drugs, odd friends and journeys through unfamiliar landscapes. Unfortunately all of this time became telescoped and faded into a few instants as soon as we arrived in Dublin again after a long coach journey back. We emerged in Temple Bar and immediately I saw what we had forgotten: there was Greta in the gutter.

Except it wasn't the whole of her; it was just her head, lying on its side with its eyes open and blinking.

"Oh my god, oh my god..." I ran over and picked up her head in my hands. I had to do it carefully, because she had been lying there so long, unnoticed and unmoved, that one of her eyelids was stuck to the road. Where was her body? Why had no one noticed her here on a busy street? Why was she still alive? No answers. This is just how it was.

"Oh...I'm cold..." she said. "I've been so lonely."

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..."

I ran to the Garda station, which was a small shop just a few doors down. They seemed annoyed that I thought the issue of Greta's head was so important, and the guard grumbled as he looked at her blinking, forlorn expression; then he seemed to remember something. Yes - they had a body, it seemed. It had been found last week and put on ice. Her head could be reattached, although, he seemed to be saying by his manner, he hardly saw the point, as she was so old anyway.

We were taken to a facility of some kind where I laid Greta's head carefully in a vat of viscous pinkish fluid (I think they called it "bacta" in The Empire Strikes back) that would regenerate her tissues and prepare her to be reattached to her body - although, as a white-coated scientist informed me, she would "never fully be her old self as regards walking and suchlike."

She looked up at me from the liquid, wide-eyed. The horror of what had happened suddenly overwhelmed me as I imagined what it must have been like for her to lie helpless and afraid and lonely in the gutter for seven days. How had she not died? How could I have left her?

I started to cry and ran out of the room, and Liadain followed me and sat beside me while I sobbed. I was responsible for the whole thing, because of my selfishness. The feelings were awful; but when I woke up and told the dream to Liadain, we both laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Lonely severed heads. It felt very real and devastating at the time.

Nemesis

Something was chasing me through underground catacombs, the same vaulted, rough stone that I always found myself running through, with muffled detonations from the surface shaking my breath in the cold air, and my family trailing behind me, half-conscious and vulnerable, hardly even alive in the same way as me. I'd shake them, "This is just a dream!" but they just looked at me reproachfully and turned their faces back towards their destinies again. So I'd stay with them, and sink back into the story of the dream, losing my wakefulness, until all that remained was a numinous awareness, an ability to communicate that exceeded most other beings in the dream.

Except the creature that caught me, finally found me, in some deep, fluted recess in the underground passageways of a forgotten citadel. It was golden and yellow and orange, shaped like an eight-foot-long lionfish, and it floated in the air, moving with implacable swiftness. I had been running from it for a long, long time, and I couldn't run any more. It was the end of a thousand dreams of flight from death. It had been following me all this time, and its purpose was to end my life. We had both always known this.



We spoke. I found that I wasn't afraid any more, now that it had caught me. I asked it why it was following me, why it had to end my life. It couldn't really answer the questions in the form I was asking them. I knew that I had once been a very different person, but to save my life, my whole psyche had been replaced, wiped clean. I could no longer remember anything about my old life and the person I had once been, so I asked my Nemesis what I had done in my past lives. It knew m,y thoughts and everything about me, but it wouldn't answer me. I kept asking, and he showed me images of a sick young man hanging around a school playground, tempting children away, waiting for them to wander over to him, the sun bright on their legs. As soon as I saw the images, I said "Yes! I knew it...I knew that in a past life I abused children," and it said, "You know everything you've ever done. You could tell me right now the whole story of your past lives."

>-<

The baby crawling towards the jagged hole in the upper story floorboards, like a scene from a movie rolling in slow motion through the water of my mind, and I spring forward to cath the child, but it's too late, it falls through the hole and falls three floors to its death. I stare down at its broken body, waves of horror and nausea washing over me. This baby was my mother's, and it had been entrusted to me. I had allowed something to happen that I could never get away from. I knew that I was as good as dead.

>-<

The man's body, bones broken, at the bottom of the deep, long staircase, where we had pushed him to his death. The air smelled musty and cool, heavy with memories from my school days, and around the corner was the tiny room, hidden in an alcove, where we played chess on Wednesday afternoons. It was a time without threat. Now we had murdered this man, and it was as if his blood became a tide washing over my mind, so that everything became dark and fluid, and the connections between my thoughts and my identity were lost. When I returned, and my mind was healed somehow, I was standing in front of my girlfriend and my father. They were crying, and lookinng at me, and I held up my hands in incomprehension, looking at the lines on the palms while they explained what had happened. I'd been in a lunatic asylum for the last 20 years, after something terrible happened in my past, something my mind couldn't bear, and sent me into darkness to keep me alive. The shock of all those lost years came upon me in that moment as I saw my own face, lined and full of sorrow and waste, and I looked at the people who loved me, and felt ashamed. But at the same time I felt free, like a soul coming out of purgatory. I'd gone as far down as you can go, and the sky was still blue and I was still loved, no matter how many years had gone, or how undeserving I was. I cried until I woke up.

>-<

I was crying while my nemesis talked to me. My mother was there too, and she told me that it wasn't in a past life I had committed these crimes, but in this life, only my memory of it was gone, destroyed. She showed me a bunch of small, plain flowers and a book of handwritten poetry that I'd sent to the parents of the children I'd molested, after I'd been caught and punished. I'd repented and become self-aware, and I'd been healed somehow, and that old me was dead, literally dead. I was crying really hard, because I didn't want to have done those things, but I knew that I had - that this was my legacy, my karma, my story that I now had to deal with.

I spoke to my nemesis some more. It explained that it was trying to find a way not to kill me. Its only purpose was to kill me, but it was trying to find a way out. I said "Is it something to do with stories?" and it replied, Not exactly, but close. It was something to do with stories and thought, and the inevitable repetition of old patterns and stories through the mechanism of thought. If I could change the nature of my thought, I could escape the destiny of the death that was waiting for me.

>-<

I went walking with a shifting-girl, an amalgam of several people I know, trying to explain to her the nature of thought. We wandered through nameless suburban estates full of white houses and walls covered with graffiti - "TEEN BRIDE IM SORRY", "CIRCULAR SELF PORTRAIT IN GREEN", "GOURANGA". I pointed out a tree branch, and said that in the mind, this was an 'image' or 'thing'. The image was made up of 'feelings' - the feeling of the bark, the feeling of the knots and shapes of the branch, its colour and weight - all feelings in the mind. And then I explained that when the branch moves or is seen to act, sprouting leaves, or moving in the wind, the mind tells a story to represent that action and explain it. "The branch is moving in the wind". But the story is false, because in reality the branch itself does not act, and there is no story governing its movement. It isn't even a 'thing'. Thought warps and alters reality by isolating portions of its flow and calling them 'things', and then telling stories to interpret the seeming actions of those things. This is the nature of thought. And it locks us into our already-written destinies, our personal stories, in which we are isolated actors reciting our doomed soliloquies to a presumed audience, poor little branches doomed to wither and fall, unaware of the life we share with the root, the blossom and the bole.

This is what my nemesis was trying to tell me, and I woke up explaining it to the shifting-girl, so that the last words about the branch were spoken into the silence of the bedroom before I even opened my eyes.

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