‘I don’t know what we were waiting for. The boy with the sand in his hair kept saying this is the news he was waiting for, that he doesn’t know why it’s not four inch headlines on the front of every newspaper on the planet. But I couldn’t see what he was talking about, even though I felt like I knew.’
The room is clean, like a prison cell. Outside the convent the sun is beating down.
The van was made for short people and there was a metal bar obstructing my view of the desert, splitting the earth from the sky, like a brain split into two halves. When the van stopped, when we needed gas or needed to piss, and I could see everything completely, it was like a riddle had been solved.
‘I used to think this kind of country was all false memories, life going so slow the landscape is populated by ghosts and it’s hard to remember if something actually happened or you just saw it on T.V..’
‘Like you could travel for weeks hearing the same story again and again?’
The guy chose two random Latin words from a dictionary and called his house Corpus Callosum. It was big. Really big. He was an accidental millionaire.
‘The sheriff had been run out of town because he’d been sticking his nose where it wasn’t welcome. Death threats, burning dog shit on the doorstep, cars without headlights following him down empty roads, all of it. The next day there was a story in the newspaper almost exactly the same, only the town was hundreds of kilometres away. I figured the innkeeper just repeated something he’d heard, for something to say, maybe even really believed it had happened there. In the next town we heard it the same as he said and the name of the sheriff matched the photograph in the newspaper.
‘Every time we heard the story, it was like it’d happened just last week. There was no projection of distance from what happened, as if the sheriff could flatten time.’
I take a long shower without turning the light on. The moon is out and I can see the stars floating above the courtyard through the bars of the tiny window.
In the middle of the entrance hall, there was a stuffed tiger, the same tiger he swore saved his life. There were other people living there, people like us, but he kept us all apart.
Eric paused to take a sip from a can of coke and the van hit a pothole. The coke spilled all over his shirt and he cursed under his breath. The other passengers, none of whom spoke English, turned and stared. After a failed attempt to clean the mess, he unbuckled his seatbelt and took the shirt off, tossing it on the floor amongst empty crisp packets and bottles of water.
Emily sits on the bed reading a book about nineteenth century evangelicalism we found in the drawer. She pauses to light a candle and stops to watch me dress.
‘The lama talked about the lesser lights, the spots on the horizon that look like far off civilisation, calling you toward them, asking you to keep going when you really don’t want to go any further and it takes all your strength to turn around and realise that the lights are where you came from. Only you turn around again and they’re not there. You’ve broken the thread, drifted out too far and there’s nothing holding you back anymore. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing.’
Eric escaped in the middle of the night. He asked me if I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to. That day the guy had shown us inside the locked room in the middle of the house. There were no windows into the room and you couldn’t see it from outside the house. If I drew you the plan of the house, I wouldn’t know how to fit it in. It was filled with sculptures, scale models of maximum security prisons from all over the world. I guess that explains the rheumatoid arthritis.
‘There are certain people who believe the corpus callosum may also inhibit certain faculties. For example, commune with the spirit world. The communication between the two hemispheres serves to undermine the truth of what each hemisphere experiences. The voices you can hear, the things you see in the dark, all of that is real phenomena denied by the consensus between the right and left, suggesting something is lost in between.’
Emily cuts my hair in the courtyard the next morning. The rough chop of the post office scissors reminds me of people knocking down the walls of ancient cities.
We are all missionaries, he told me, all of us here. The day of the operation, we ate the same thing we ate every day. Chicken curry heat-sealed in little silver packets prepared by chefs who didn’t speak. We entered the operating room through the greenhouse, walking through thickets of indigenous plants mutating into something different.
The van broke down just outside of the town. We could see it from the hill. The sun was setting and we didn’t have a lot to carry, so we decided to walk the rest of the way. I left my notebook in the van. As we walked, further than we expected, I tried to remember everything I’d written in it.
‘I liked thinking none of it was real, that I was moving just like the lights wearing nothing but the hole in my pocket I was trying to climb through, a hole in the shape of the sky. But then I looked out the window and saw a face in the street; I said that looks like a cloud and the lama said that is a cloud. I was confused, so I pointed at a building. He told me it was a building.’
The day after the operation, federal police arrived at the house. The guy was gone. They interviewed each person individually. The stories didn’t stick together; it’s like you’ve all been living in different houses on different planets, they said. So they interviewed us all together. Emily hadn’t had the operation yet. She always left.
‘Nobody needs doctors anymore. People can just do it by themselves. Anybody can buy everything they need online. You don’t need to ask permission from people who just want to make money. Fuck space travel, the mind is the final frontier. You don’t have to choose a direction, just stick your thumb out and look both ways.’
I didn’t think I’d ever see Eric again. I told him that when we were getting in the van. And then I told him again when he was planning to leave the house.
‘Do you know all the songs on the radio are written by the same five or six people?’
At the bus station, we eat ice creams that melt faster than we can eat them. The bus is an hour late and there’s no one there to tell us whether we have or haven’t missed it. We don’t have anything to do except wait. So we wait, the wind kicking dust across the low light of the sky, freight trucks passing, marking time.
Travis Englefield is an Australian writer who lives in Beijing. He has been published in Offset-13, Critical Animalia and Gore Journal. He writes short fiction about the things he wants to remember, even if they didn’t happen