The Wake

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waking fellow?The Wake

 

 

I stirred and awoke to find myself seated on the couch. A glorious sun shone through everything, as if my surroundings were translucent.

The television was on and I was alone.

   I could not recall how I came to be on the couch, or even what I’d done that day. I continued to watch television, to eat and mope about. At some point I discovered that it was not just that day I couldn’t recall, but also many days before.

   Just as you begin to forget a dream, I was forgetting my life. The surroundings were familiar (it was my home, after all) but it nevertheless felt new – like reverse de ja vu.

   So I went to explore the rest of the house, and I found a mirror and stood in front of it. The reflection only seemed vaguely familiar, like an acquaintance as opposed to myself.

   This scared me.

   Back in the living room I discovered that when I searched through my memory, it felt like looking into the mind of a stranger. My memory wasn’t fading after all; it just wasn’t mine anymore.

 

I left the house feeling like a trespasser. Though I didn’t notice them at first, two people were on the veranda. They sat silently around a table, so when I saw them I jumped.

   One was a Hispanic woman – about fifty years old – and the other was a lean boy of, say, nineteen. According to my memory they were my mother and little brother.

   They didn’t notice me. Their eyes were glazed over with a shine, and they sat like statues. On further inspection I saw that my brother’s foot was tapping so fast that it was a blur. My mother’s finger was doing the same speed on the table. They gave off a hum that reminded me of computers on ‘standby.’

   A wind whooshed by and the door slammed behind me. I started again and my family came to life.

   “Huh? Leonard, what are you doing?” mumbled the woman as she looked at me.

   “Who’s Leonard?” I asked.

   “Where are you going, Leonard?” said the boy.

   “Oh!” I forced a smile as I realised: “I’m Leonard!”

   The boy turned away casually, but the woman’s stare intensified. It occurred to me that I might be ‘inhabiting’ Leonard, because I sure didn’t feel like him. I had to get out of there, so I began to walk toward the front gate, sweating under the gaze of the woman who was Leonard’s mother. “I’m just going um out…” I murmured.

 

A couple of days later, Leonard’s family picked me up wandering along the highway. The feeling that I’d recently awakened from another life had persisted all this time. I still felt lazy and I was regularly stretching my arms out and yawning. 

   The woman who kept saying she was my mother had a solution: to send me on a journey to find a famous doctor. She asked Eddie, her neighbour, to accompany me. Apparently I grew up with Eddie, an Aborigine.

   “No worries,” he said. “The doc will know what’s going on, if anyone does.”

   Outside the window, I could see the suburban houses huddled around as if to trap me there. “Let’s get on with it,” I mumbled.

   We said goodbye and climbed into Eddie’s Ford. He revved the engine and it slowly left the curb… The tires sank halfway into the cushion-like road, and in the distance the houses rose and fell as if on water. A crowd of homes in front parted to let us through.

   “What’s going on, Eddie?” I asked as the car pushed its way slowly through the Suburbs. I was lost already, but Eddie seemed to know where he was going.  

   “It’s all good,” he said, lighting a cigarette. “I went through the same thing last year.”

   The smoke-ribbon from his cigarette stretched far behind us until I couldn’t see the end. After winding through street after street – like the repeated background of a cartoon – I could have sworn that the end of his cigarette smoke was in front of us. “Where are we going?” I asked.

   “To find Doctor Livingston.”

   “Who is he?”

   “The only man who’ll know what to do.”

   “Where is he?”

   “Some years ago he journeyed deep into the Suburbs – the deepest part – and nobody has seen him since.”

   “He’ll understand, then?”

   “If he’s still alive.”

   Our homes were not too deep into the Suburbs. The tops of the city’s high-rise buildings could still be seen over the horizon. These were beacons, to reassure us. “We’re not lost as long as they are still in sight,” said Eddie.

   Yet Eddie drove away from them. My sense of direction disappeared when the high-rise buildings disappeared under the horizon. 

After winding through an endless repetition of streets it was no surprise that I became hypnotised. I don’t know how long I was under, but eventually Eddie nudged me and snapped me out of it.

   “Look,” he said.

   The car was parked in a street in front of a non-descript house. Eddie and I got out and joined a group of native Suburbanites on a neatly manicured lawn. They looked up at the roof, where an Indian or Pakistani man stood holding a bottle and a ream of paper. When I squinted at the paper there appeared to be writing on it. As we watched, the man rolled up the paper, shoved it into the bottle and corked it. Then he raised the bottle above his head and let go.

   The Suburbanites all applauded as the bottle floated away – upwards -- across the town on currents of the air. When the bottle disappeared behind some clouds, the crowd dispersed and the Indian fellow climbed down from the roof.

   Eddie and I waited for him on the lawn.

   “Doctor Livingston, I presume?” 

 

The doctor was a middle-aged man with a potbelly. He was originally from India. The strange thing is that he also had a boxer’s nose, all bent and flat – the reward for giving bad news to patients. He called me into his dank office, which was the spare room of a private house, and sat me opposite him on a hard chair. Eddie remained outside in the garage, which was converted into a waiting room.

   When I explained my situation to the doctor he wasn’t at all moved. I might have just described to him the common flu.

     “…I don’t know,” I said. “Have you ever woken up one day and wondered how you ended up in this life?”

   “Yes, yes, Lenny, very good,” he said in a deep voice.

   “Leonard.”

   “Leonard. Sounds common enough. How old are you?”

   “Twenty-six.”

   “A good age. Not a moment too soon. What I want you to do Leonard is to think back to your very first memory and tell it to me.”

   I searched through the memory again. It was difficult but I finally found that there was no recollection at all before one event: I was on a sled of some sort, though it wasn’t snowing. It was on a plateau and the muddy path led down a hill into the sea. It zoomed down faster and faster until all I knew was the feeling of speed. I plunged into the water and the memory ends there. I told it to the doctor.

   “Ah yes, very good,” he said.

   “So what’s happening then?”

   The doctor told me to stand and lift my shirt. He put a stethoscope on my back and went on through all the usual check-up exercises.

   “What you consider to be your Identity,” said the doctor, “is an accumulation of debris – additions that you have picked up through your life thus far. Are you following me?”

   I made no reply.

   “Very good,” he continued. “Imagine that you are up on the plateau you speak of. This is you as a young child. Your soul is only just taking control of its vehicle, which is, of course, the body. Now you are speeding down the ramp and into an onslaught of influences. It is at this point in your life that you lose sight of yourself, being distracted by all the learning experiences. You then begin to identify with your experiences. Thus you are no longer conscious of yourself as you were – before the experiences – and still are underneath them. And what does no longer being conscious mean?”

   “Um, I’m not sure.”

   “It means being unconscious. That core part of you is asleep. And all the while, the outer identity has kept on building up.”

  “Go on doctor.” 

   “Now then … you zoom along under the ‘sea-of-unconsciousness’, which takes you through your adolescent years, through school right up to high school, then university. And you are running through new experiences along the way. You zoom through university and all the people you’ve met, and into the workforce. The sled/identity is catching more and more debris until you no longer even see the sled. Everything is latching on –

   “Suddenly, in your twenties and in the workforce, the sled is running out of momentum. It runs out and just drifts … and presto! You wake up here.”

   “End of the path?”

   “Not quite. Before you the track leads up, out of the water, to yet another plateau. But you have reached what we call the Wake Up Period, which ranges from the mid-twenties to early thirties – depending on the person. Are you following me? Leonard, for many years you have believed you were this accumulation of flotsam. This week you snapped out of it and intuited that you are, in fact, beneath it all. You are awake underwater.”

   “So I’m not Leonard!” I stood up. Everything I felt was confirmed.

   “Leonard is the name of that collective outer layer of crud.”

   The doctor smiled and turned towards a set of drawers. He opened one and rummaged through it.

   “You’re a very cryptic fellow,” I said. “But thanks. Now I don’t suppose there’s anything to be done.”

   “Oh there is much to be done,” he said taking a piece of paper. “That’s why I came here to the Suburbs.”

   “Are you kidding me?” The Suburbs are like an elephant graveyard: people only go there to die. Very few people who disappear into the Suburbs are ever heard from again. “Why don’t you come back to the city with us – back to civilisation?” I suggested. “We need more doctors.”

   “Oh, I’m not much of a doctor anymore. Not since I woke up.” He began to scribble away on the paper with a pen.

   “Then what is it that you do out here?”

   “I practise magic.”

   “Magic?”

   “The most important thing for us is to rise above the surface of the water and reach that second plateau.”

   I considered the metaphor… if that’s what it was. I couldn’t see the connection between that and magic.

   “To do this,” he continued, while scribbling, “we need to establish a connection with the surface. White magic works vertically.”

   He took a bottle out of the drawer, went to the window and opened it. “Some woken people become magicians, you see. The others go back to sleep.”

   “What is that?” I asked, pointing to the paper.

   “Your prescription: It is an S.O.S. I am sending to the surface.”

   The doctor/magician stuffed whatever he’d written into the bottle, corked it and held it out the window. As he let go, he chanted some words that I didn’t catch, and then said: “So mote it be!”

   The bottle bobbed and floated, and then rose higher and higher into the deep blue sky…  

 

Eddie was seated in the waiting room near two other strangers. The other two sat under a faulty light bulb. As it flickered on and off, the two strangers flickered from Anglo Saxon to Indian. 

   Eddie stood as I approached and said: “Come on. I’m hanging for a smoke.”

   From the moment I stepped outside, I was disorientated again. Suburbia stretched out before me in all directions. Eddie led me to his car. He started it up and once again the crowd of houses in front of us parted to let us through. But this time, floating overhead, was a message in a bottle.

   In time I began writing S.O.S’s myself. And to write, of course, I needed to ‘spell’. I became a magician.

   I’m about to roll this story up, stuff it into a bottle and send it adrift. Maybe you’ll find it.