These wild tales of flight. At first I didn’t believe them, wouldn’t dare myself to believe them. But as he kept telling them, as he continued to convey a picture of a planet that seemed ever more plausible and increasingly real, as he never seemed to contradict himself, as what he told always seemed to build on what he had said before rather than amend or subtly refine it, well, then I began to doubt my doubts.
Whether he was telling the truth or had caught me in a web that was more or less sophisticated in its spinning – a Scheherazade to my unwitting portrayal of Shahryar – time and the unfolding of this tale will tell. Hold your judgement, for you do not yet know what happens next, nor what after that; anything subsequent to what each of us, alien and human, has so far related.
We were so happy discovering what our bodies – alien and human – were together, and how they seemed less themselves, less our own, when at last we unwillingly separated the one of us from the other in order to pee or to eat. We talked and talked, words tumbling out of first one of us, then the other. Everything he said was a surprise, and I surprised myself with much of what I said, having through love become suddenly and shrewdly clear about my life and my art. We might be seeing everything through lenses the colour of rose, but every tinged-pink detail was sharp. The questions we asked of each other were the ones which addressed the formative parts of our selves, and we fished deep within for the answers, like ocean probes seeking out information far beyond the level to which light penetrated, the self-generated radial light of a previously undiscovered species being the sole source illuminating the murk as the answer rose back to the surface, thrusting aside the wash and plash of those everyday creatures drawn towards the sunlit fringes of the liquid mass.
The hearts of our minds were as much as each other’s disposal as the napes of our necks and the tenderest parts of our navels. We ate and drank of each other.
Nothing he said gave any hint that he had lived as a human and was now deceiving me, except his quickly established facility with a new language, that and the extent of what he described – without any sense of knowingness or irony – as his programmed knowledge about the earth. Physically and socially he was still as awkward as shy adolescent, but this only served to make his story stronger. There was a lot you could learn about humans from a distance, but interacting with them on their planet was always going to be a challenge.
Besides, after that one night at Sandy’s, we shunned the social for some time, content simply to develop the rules of our own intimacy, of first contact. How odd that he should be learning the nuance of look, touch and word from one who had almost forgotten what it was to be close to another; from one who had found proximity to another suffocating for so long, long ago. But I had to lead, and that gave me confidence, and an acknowledged pleasure in shaping the wild slim alien’s understanding of a relationship, of love, of what it was to be human. I was making him in my image, out of my own rib.
Of course, I got too comfortable. Imperceptibly I began to think that the present moment would stretch infinitley into the future. I should have known that it couldn’t last. The rebirth of his nightmares was only the beginning, but sure enough it was his screaming during the first reprisal of them which ripped me not only from sleep but from that state of bliss.
‘What is it my love, what’s wrong? Tell me what’s wrong.’ As if I had the power by listening to cure him of his terror, his madness, if that is what it was going to turn out to be. For that is what I would begin to fear, that he was simply mad, in an essentially human way, that this was not the inevitable pain and estrangement of an alien far from home. I ran my hands over his back, trying to smooth away the intensity of his distress into something more manageable, but my hands it seemed were sand-paper to him, and when they touched his shoulders, he screamed a scream of hurt. Startled, I fell backwards, and smacked the back of my head on the low, sloping ceiling. I must have lost consciousness, but his continued screaming was soon as effective as cold water would have been in reviving me. I could feel a bump swelling and an oncoming headache, but I knew I had to calm him down before – on a still night when there was no wind to mask sound – one of the neighbours called the police. I held him as firmly as I could by the arms and tried to hush him with eye contact. In between gasps of air that entered his lungs and hung heavy there, he spoke a few words. This is the sense that I made of it:
‘I dreamt that my wings were being severed. One of my own people, with a sharp knife. They would have to be strong to cut through tendons which connect wing to body. There is no greater crime, short of killing. Instances are rare outside of war now that the days of the ancients are long behind us. These Badezon were of a wing-taking sect that is as reviled as cannibals are by your people. How can they come to me as real as they seemed and yet I am unable to return to the world from which they travel?’
‘These dreams of yours. They are a curse. My species do not dream. Our sleep is short but deep and rarely troubled. We awake and we think of the new day, and sing our praises to it. Images of horror come only in conscious reflective moments. We control them, not they us. We turn them into art, drama, but we process such imaginings quickly, and we never dwell on them.’
It was as if he was calling down a curse not only on what was bad about our dreams, but what was good; and on the ambitious deliberations of what we might achieve in future that we also counted as dreams. A sentiment confirmed by the morning light when it revealed the raw red welts on each of the wild slim alien’s shoulder blades.