When the nurse approached Jack’s bedside with a promise of morphine, there was no struggle.
Then Jack lay beside the window of his third floor room and he knew, that if his spirit went walkabouts, it would almost certainly return to him before dinner. Jack was always a sucker for weekly roast, no matter how greasy it was. Jack smiled, closed his eyes and gave up his spirit to the alternate reality of morphine.
The Spirit of Jack looked down upon his sleeping body, there in room forty-seven on floor three. He wafted around his room as a cool breeze that came from no open window. With a great sigh, the Spirit passed through the wall to the corridor outside and drifted through unnoticed. The nursing home offered streams of amber light at this time of the afternoon and as a novelist in his previous years, Jack had an eye for noticing every little chunk of crusted pumpkin decorating the chairs, every crooked painting on the wall and the stale, acidic air that permeated from each open room. The corridor was dim in the glow of the amber peeks of light and despite the shenanigans of the morning routine, all was quiet. Nothing but the tock of the clock by the elevator could be heard and with the lack of visitors these days, the absence of the elevator’s purr signified how it slunk from the top floor to the ground, curled up and slept, awaiting the next visitors.
Just before the entrance to the dining hall, was a yellowing copy of Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ and the Ghost paused to face this, then floated right through, to find himself on a bridge overhanging a very small lake, overflowing with explosions of coloured domes, sitting serenely on the water’s surface. He passed over the bridge, beyond the painting, to an emerald knoll where a small boy was sitting in a circle of stones. Jack knew these stones to be not formed by ancient druids, but by himself as a child, who came here to escape the call of his mother before the school bus each day. Jack moved towards his younger self, who, sitting in the centre of the stones, wasn’t phased by the rustle of the grass and lazy bend of the flowers. He always thought they seemed to speak to him, tell him of their day, of what they’d seen. The Spirit looked at the lake, then. And looking hard enough, time and space changed to show him one lake in the very same, and a small boy hugged by a tartan rug, hunched by a boulder.
This winter, he remembered the water lillies had not yet exploded and at night, the lake was a flat, crow black looking glass, that reflected a maze of stars and it seemed that the still reflection held frozen torches of light, as they were mirror images of the planets in the moonless night. The smaller Jack had always thought each star represented a story, one of the many to blanket the universe. Perhaps they were all the stories told in the ancient world, that floated up and became light for the new world, guiding luminosities in the night sky. Then, he would look down into the perfect mirror of these stories and reach out, to ever so gently, dip his finger in, to create a ripple, that disturbed the night scene, and each copy of the story, each image of a star, would dissolve into what seemed to be dozens more reflections of the one star, as they rode out the waves of the ripples, until, the lake returned once more, to the stillness of the night.
But that was in winter and as the Spirit traveled forward again to the spring afternoon, he found himself, once again pondering on his younger self in the circle of stones by the lily-laden lake. He remembered sitting there, trying to gain inspiration for a story. The budding novelist he was, he hadn’t yet settled on a style. Perched on a stone in the circle, Jack had clear view of the grass around and surrounding village below. He thought to himself.
Perhaps, I can write about the flowers and how they whisper in the breeze. Maybe I’ll meet a beautiful lady in the meads, full beautiful, a faeries’ child. No.
Perhaps, I can write about Mrs. Beynon in the village yonder. Perhaps I can write about her day, as a kind of diary. Or maybe I can record the sinister thoughts she’s thinking. No.
Or, I can write of her daughter and how she stole kisses from the night the last time sailor Leonard was in town. No.
What about if I write of her sister and how she stole more than kisses from Mr Manlowe before he left town. No.
I could even write of how and why Mr Manlowe left town, tracking russet footprints in the snow, feeling no need to answer questions of the missing kitchen knife. No.
Perhaps I am to write down this list, for this will form the basis of a good story for me today. But will the heavens accept my story as a new star? Or has my orientation, climax and resolution been lost in the list? Perhaps, I’m destined to write poetry.
And with that, the younger Jack had recorded all his musings of genres and thoughts, ideas and pains on the side of a stone, like a slate, and hadn’t ever returned til now, and if he did, he would have noticed a brighter sky that night. That spring, the clouds had lifted and dispersed into the heavens, opening up whole new constellations, but their light was weak, as each story he had mused had been left unfinished, and yet became the substance of the bright night sky.
As the Ghost of old Jack faded from this scene, he found himself backing out of a framed version of ‘Starry Night’ by Van Gogh on the second floor. Backing onwards, he wafted through the door into another person’s room, and found a small child, maybe a grandson, playing on the floor with a train set at the foot of his grandmother’s bed. Looking harder at the train set, the Ghost of old Jack found himself staring at a locomotive, pistons screaming and huffing puffs of steam that cloaked the train in a blanket of wispy mist. Floating away, so as not to get caught in the water droplets of steam, the Ghost moved closer to a seat bathed red in an aggravated glare reflecting the sunlight of the midday. He sat, aged 30, with a small notepad, a fountain pen in his hand, and a lead behind his ear. A woman came up to him then, sat beside him and crossed her ankles, to perch close enough for Jack to catch a hint of exotic fruits, maybe from her shampoo, like mangoes and citrus, as she leant closer.
‘What are yer writin’ there?’
He didn’t like intrusive people, even if they were elegant women. ‘I’m writing about a cat.’
‘Oh, what type of cat?’ she queried, intrigued.
‘I’m unsure yet…I need to set the scene…’ he fumbled through his notepad.
‘What does it even matter about the scene? If you say it’s a cat, it’s a cat, right?’
‘Yes, but I er- I can write about a fluffy white Persian that sits on your lap by the fire, or I may be writing about a stray tom on the prowl through your trash,’ he explained, matter-of-factly.
‘Oh, just leave it as a cat,’ she huffed in a fluster. ‘I don’t understand why you worry so much about descriptions when you could just … just write. If I was the reader, I’d understand, I’m sure.’
She picked herself up and wandered off to find another bench and Jack made no effort to raise his voice, but answered after her- ‘because it’s no fun for the reader to eat all they are fed!!’
Then and there, the Ghost of old Jack knew his past self should have left the conversation earlier, because they obviously didn’t meet eye-to-eye and he could’ve made some small talk about the time of day or something. But he was insistent on letting his reader interpret meaning for themselves, because he’d read choose-your-own-adventure books and knew they were a lot of fun.
And anyway, how could the reader understanding what he meant, when he hardly understood what he meant himself? The previous pages in the notepad had actually sported drawings of lions, big cats of the wild, untamed and unpredictable.
The Ghost of old Jack then lifted himself out of the dust jacket of the little girl’s copy of ‘Animalia’, the Graeme Base picture book that had been given to her for her fourth birthday. The small girl sunk deep into the sofa in the reception area of the ground floor in the nursing home and the Ghost of Jack drifted slowly from the presence of the girl towards the fire escape stairs and standing at the bottom of them, he looked up and up and up and up at the numerous flights of stairs that seemed to be going no where in particular, but each having a purpose and a duty to their floor. Floating up through the labyrinth of levels, floor one showed him a teenage boy reading ‘The Kiss’ by Peter Goldsworthy by the closed curtains of his relative, as the nurses turned her over. Floating up once more, he saw an older resident reading ‘The Kiss’ by Anton Chekov. Shaking his head, he wondered if each author had written a different or similar story, or if the readers knew they were one generation and one floor apart from becoming a new text. The floor above, showed Jack a scene of an old man, receiving a kiss on his papery hand and he wondered, if the texts of ‘The Kiss’ were of greater importance on the reader than the real kiss on the receiver. Perhaps the real kiss was of more importance to this man, than those stories, given the priest was in earlier that day to say the last rites.
The Ghost, passing through all the walls on the thirds floor to come to his own room, saw himself and with a great sigh, settled back into his own body. It was then, that every memory he had ever had came back to him, all at once. Flashes of important things, pens, paper, steam trains, stones, stars, books and fragments of his life revealed themselves to him in synchronic moments and he wallowed in this pool of memory. Do these fragmentations define who I am? Do these faint shadows and fleeting reflections of my life reveal the truth about my life, or how life in the 21st Century has become? Quick as he could, he reached beyond his tub chair to a pen and paper on the window sill beside him, but, in the time it took for him to reach, each memory slowly petered out until, there was a mere trickle of what his spirit had just experienced.
Then there was nothing.
And in Jack’s final attempt to find meaning of what had just happened, episodes of his life that he had visited and where he was to go from there, his memory gave in. Meaning was lost, it seemed, until next Sunday, when roast was on the menu again, and his spirit would venture abroad once more.