15: LOST AT SEA
I am lost at sea, far from home. Everything hurts. Distance hurts.
Mum was gone? I’ve read that woman’s message over and over. I’ve read it all the way through and I’ve picked it up and read just random passages. I think of my mum, campaigning to death, trying to find her lost son, looking in all the wrong places. I want to visit her grave. I want to see her. It feels like I only saw her yesterday. She asked me in passing how I knew about lithium. Then I was in Dad’s car, and we achieved human contact despite being Australian men.
But now I am here, wherever here is. Her name is Fiona. “The Widow”, Future Bastard had called her. She has so far answered every question I might have except the one I most want answered–
What happened to Zonk?
Why would she tell me a squalid detail like her and my dad (!) getting together briefly, but deliberately leave out–
She said she’d read this book. She knows I’m upset about Zonk and what she did. She knows how I feel. It’s on my mind. I need to know what happened.
The future smells different. It smells weird. It takes me a long time to realise that I can’t smell the ghost traces of stale cigarette smoke everywhere the way I could back home. This room smells clean in a way that’s shocking. I’m so used to that dead fag smell it’s disorienting to be without it.
I’m in a bedroom, and the only clothes I have are a pair of black undies that are not quite my size. She guessed wrong.
I can open the window. We’re near a beach. When the window’s open you can sometimes smell the sea, the sea-breeze. That at least is familiar. Once or twice I’ve heard seagulls.
There are no power-lines, no power-poles. Where are power-lines? The cars I’ve seen are like Frisbees and spaceships, all sleek and curvy, like nothing I’ve ever seen on the road. Not that there are many cars. This is a two-story house of some sort, and I can see others nearby, all with expansive front yards full of rich green lawn. Some have boats on trailers.
Fiona said we were in an apartment. This does not look like an apartment. Sometimes I hear what first sounds like distant artillery fire, and realise that’s just her enormous dog barking at people walking by.
I have access to a toilet, and a small fridge with nothing much in it except a jug of water, small boxes of milk, cans of Coke, and in the freezer compartment there’s a thing for making ice. She seems to think I might also want to make cups of tea or coffee. I take a long time peering at the little paper tubes of Nescafé.
The bedroom door is locked from the outside.
Mum and Dad split up? But they were supposed to be all happy and together in the future. That was the whole point. It was the bit of hope to keep us all going, the thought of a happy retirement. But Fiona ruined that. And Mum and Dad weren’t just split up–Mum had died of grief disguised as cancer. Fiona killed Mum, as surely as she killed The dead man in my room.
It’s hard thinking about this. Reading it written here in her handwriting is not convincing. I’m not buying into it. It’s just a story. I know about telling lies you want people to believe. The main thing is you have to care about the people you’re lying to. You know you’re doing it to people you like or love. It raises the stakes. Makes for a better lie, one that will stand. But also one that will kill, once discovered.
Fiona giving me news like this about my family–I’m not buying it. Not yet. I want to see Mum’s grave. I want Dad to tell me in person. I want Fiona to tell me why it was necessary to do this to all of us.
The window won’t open far enough to allow me through it, and in any case the drop to the gravel drive would almost certainly break one or both my legs. I stand there, staring out at the world of the future. I remember what Future Bastard said about “the future”, as if it were a meal offered by a fancy restaurant, one so horribly disappointing and simply wrong that you’d send it back. What I see from this window is no future I imagined. This looks less like a future than like a “more like what you have now, but later”.
Those cars look pretty cool, though.
I wonder for a while about a huge rectangle of black glass attached, or possibly hung like a painting, to the wall opposite the bed. If I were going to imagine a futuristic TV, what would I come up with? I thought about the production design in 2001, where all screens are flat. There are no cathode-ray tube screens, with their characteristic glass bulge, anywhere in that whole film. I look at the black rectangle on the wall again. There is, now I take notice, a tiny red light in the bottom right-hand corner. There is a logo for a company called Samsung, that I’ve never heard of.
I’m starting to feel a little bit like I’m standing on the sea-shore of the future, and gentle little foamy cold ripples and waves are washing over my toes, giving me the most delicious chills and hints of things to come.
I go up to the black rectangle, thinking about the Monolith scenes in 2001, the way that touching those things triggered developments, plot movements, evolutionary advances, all kinds of things. Wheels set in motion. I’m close enough to the glass that I can see a blurry reflection of myself. It’s a very science fictional moment.
Do I really want to ruin this moment by finding out how to activate this artefact of the advanced alien civilisation? The hominids in 2001 touched their Monolith and were granted an understanding of tools and weapons. They learned murder and power. They became dominant: today the local source of fresh water, tomorrow the stars. What unbearable knowledge lies on the other side of this screen? Future Bastard has already warned me that it’s nothing good. That gives me a lot of pause. I think about his warnings. His disappointments. I go back to the notebook and read his last message again.
That bit about the temple in India with the monkeys shrieking and flinging shit at each other. Sounds like high school to me. I try to imagine growing up to find out modern, adult life is like high school, only the stakes are higher, but the personalities are the same, the bullying is the same, and the shit-flinging is the same. That can’t be right, though, can it? How can it be like that? I’m sitting on the bed with this notebook, and I’m staring up at the Samsung unit. Maybe it’s one of those funny mirrors cops have, where to you it looks like a mirror but to the cops on the other side it’s a window. Maybe it’s a 1984-style telescreen. What if you turn it on and it’s just Big Brother watching you, and proclaiming the greatness of IngSoc, or whatever the Australian version might be.
I go up to the Samsung again. How do I turn it on? What do I do? I’m used to huge boxy TV units with big chunk buttons, knobs and dials. It’s obvious with those what you have to do. It’s all clearly labelled. The only mystery with the TV set we have at home is what the UHF channel dial is for. I’ve fiddled with it ever since we got that TV and I’ve never gotten more than different kinds of static out of it.
I touch the Samsung. I feel chills go through me. Is this how it starts? My upgrade to Future Me? Have I just transmitted a message to Jupiter? I gently move my fingers all over and around the edges of the unit, and discover small, very discreet buttons–a great many buttons, and coloured, um, ports, plugs? I suppose they are where you would plug some kind of lead in? I don’t recognise anything I can see. There’s not even anything that says ON/OFF, which seems a little unhelpful, to say the least. So I start pressing every button systematically until something happens.
The red light goes out.
There’s a knock on the bedroom door, a woman’s voice, “It’s just me!”, and then a short bleep and a mechanical “chunk!” sound as the lock disengages. By the time Fiona enters with what I’m assuming must be something for lunch, I’m back in bed, only just, determined not to let her see me in just these undies. They’re horribly uncomfortable, and much more snug than anything my mum would buy for me.
Fiona is carrying a tray with something on a plate that’s under a cover, but smells like hot tomato soup, one of my favourite things, and I suppose she would know all my favourite things. There’s also a drink of some kind in a box, I think? She’s smiling and mumsy, and talking to me like we do this every day and it’s the most normal thing in the world, and I’m ten years old, and she didn’t just kidnap me. I refuse to buy into her bullshit. In fact there’s only one thing I do say.
“What happened to Zonk?”
She falters. The smile slips. Suddenly we’re not playing happy families. We’re playing kidnapper and hostage. She puts the tray down on the desk on the other side of the room. She handles it as if it were sweaty explosives that might detonate from the slightest movement. I get the impression her plan is already unravelling. At first this pleases me. Then I worry about how far she might go to keep me from doing to my future wife what her husband did to her. Would she kill me and run if everything goes bad here? How desperate is she? She can “swim” to another reality, but I’m guessing she can’t take passengers.
She stands there at the window, staring out at the wet afternoon. It occurs to me that I could attack her, something like I did to Stuart Cross in my “murderer phase”, and try to make a break for it. But then I notice something disturbing.
Standing just outside the doorway is another Fiona. The clothing is different, but it’s the same person. It’s another Fiona. That one looks a little blank, a little zoned out, but she’s there. In my way. She’s a drone. In fact, it occurs to me, the Fiona here in my room could also be a drone. The real Fiona could be downstairs or somewhere else in Perth entirely, running the whole show. I wouldn’t know.
Room Fiona, standing by the window, looking uncomfortable, glances my way, sees the look on my face, and maybe reads my mind. She has dead my notebook. Or at least Primary Self Fiona has read my notebook. The Fiona network knows how I feel about Zonk. She bites her lip, and that tells me what I need to know. She says, “It was very sad.”
It’s all I can do to stay in the bed. I could spit in her face. I don’t care if there is a standing army of Fionas. I’d be happy to kill each one. Why kill poor Zonk? What did sweet old Zonk do to anyone? Why did she deserve this? This is lousy. It’s disgusting. It’s cheap. Her life was important to all of us. It was extremely important to me. I loved Zonk. Seeing Zonk running up to me, barking and wagging her tail was the best part of my day. Those moments made everything else tolerable, just barely. She made me feel like a human being, that I was worth something, that I had value. She licked my face. To her I wasn’t a monster. She was happy to sit in my lap or fall asleep against my shoulder while watching TV.
I was prepared to believe what Fiona had written in my notebook when she said that time travel ruins everything. That in trying to fix things that you weren’t happy with you ended up making them worse, sometimes much worse. Made perfect sense to me.
But, I swear on my my mum’s grave, I will find a way to use time travel to rescue Zonk. I will bring Zonk back, and I don’t much care what it might cost.