The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Dune

A Moon-lit Dune

Aurès I rarely think of those years, what Melissa calls my “lost years”.  Those times are immersed in a dusty landscape, tainted ochre like the small walls hiding death, a place where I missed her more than life, and my days were a long, uninterrupted, bloody nightmare.  Behind me then were the golden years of a happy childhood, her love, her hand in mine, the little town with the old library, and its staircase.  In front, around me, everywhere, was war.  Not the neat little war of cavalry charges: the dirty war of the djebel, where friends were foes, where death struck in the shape of a small child, where women were fighting, got butchered, dismembered, like the rest of us.  At night we – the leopards –  talked of girls, and homes, of all the memories we were fast losing, of our disappearing childhood.  In winter we crawled in the snow, in the sand tainted by the blood of our comrades.  We fought with knives, with rocks, with the deadly hand-grenades that sometimes “they” threw back at us, smiling of the devilish smile of the victors.

But those memories are deep buried, and I want to keep them buried.  I remember more about the “return” to civilian life, the despair, the chaos, and then the orgies.  For a while we met at our vet association, but leopards age badly. Many of us took to drink and worse.  I did not.  After a while I decided for myself that life was, after all, worth living. And I forgot her, Melissa.  In time I made money, and met you, my love.  There is no shadow anymore, just the neat certainty of a  happy life and marriage, writing, the mountains, and my sister.

But last night I dreamed of the dune.  It may have been just looking at the night sky too much the evening before.  It came back to me with invincible clarity.  It was a month or so before we left: the last operation in the Aurès.  My patrol had got separated from the main group.  The enemy was nearby, silent, deadly.  The night was clear, icy, and the moon was full.  I told my men to stop and I moved alone towards the top of the hill to take a position (no sat-nav in those days!) The hill was crowned with a sand and rocks dune, and it was lit by the moon that gave it a silver hue.  Silently I climbed to the edge, and in one fraction of second I saw her: she was lying flat against a small rock, her sniper rifle steady aimed at me. Her blond hair was bound under the small cap, reflecting the moon light.  I knew I was dead meat: I kept still, waiting for the bullet.  Nothing happened, she did not move, or at least I did not see her moving.  I closed my eyes: death could not be that easy. But then, she was gone: the blond warrior had disappeared.  I took the position with the little sextant and went back to the men.  “You took your time sergeant, we were beginning to worry”.  I smiled. I had seen Death, and She had spared me.

As I woke up this morning I could still see the lying shape, the dark green uniform, the moon light, the dark barrel of that rifle…  So long ago: where is that woman now?  Did she, like me, survived the war?  I have no idea why this came back to me now.  I did not say anything to Sarah, got up, and went to my desk.  Memories are strange constructs, with a life of their own, independent from us.  I know what they say about synapses and the complexity of the brain.  In the peace of my study, as I type these words, I am thinking of Elga, and of what Sarah told me about her: that she is a collective mind, an association of perhaps millions of individuals who pool their thoughts.  Is this our future too?  And is Melissa part of them?  Is this the message of my dream: we have been spared, but the way forward is to belong, to surrender our individual being, to mesh?  Those thoughts trouble me: is Melissa showing us the way, the abolition of death, the abandonment of homo sapiens for something else, as distant from him as he was from the Neanderthals?

I leave these thoughts to concentrate on the letter to my publisher: the first draft is nearly completed, perhaps in a couple of months I will ask my editor to proceed.  She’s very busy – and very competent – and I have to give her due notice.  And I would like Sarah to read through too.  She has read abstracts, she likes this version.  Yesterday she told me about Shikoku, Kafka, and Shimamoto, the eighty eight temples…  The shore… a moon-lit shore?

The phone rings, it’s Jane, she’s coming to dinner and she’s bringing the wine.  Sarah picks up the upstairs handset.  I leave the two of them chatting away.  As I said, I am a lucky man.  I finish my letter and mail it.  Then I pick up where I left last night in the novel: Susan is now Paul’s lover, the two of them have crossed the border…

Les leopards

An enchanted circle

Bene Tleilax My sister’s letter precipitated events. Through Sarah – evidently my only way to her – I contacted Melissa. Finally we met, not in the old house, not in a dream, not on Andromeda: more practically at the coffee shop at Foyle’s bookshop on Charing Cross Road.

Jane is right: my friend is perfect, not a blemish, all sober clothes and a smile which is still troubling, and incredibly seductive. What a beautiful woman Melissa is. Jane’s confession has left me in a state of jealousy: the women in my life are all good buddies, and more, and I feel bypassed. I told Melissa how I felt. We drank delicious coffee, looked at each other, and I remembered our first contact, her page, her meeting with Jane: was this reality? Nothing could be more real than us, talking, looking at the passersby in the street, here in London. She smiled and suddenly I wondered, and I asked her, since I could no longer hide my doubts. “Are you real? Or are you an artefact they – whoever they are – have created to confuse us?”

There was a pause. She was observing me, then took my hand: hers was warm, and I felt the contact of her hand as it was before, in the little town: a strong woman’s hand, the hand of a lover. “No, she said,” her smile now a sad reflection of what it had been a minute ago, “there is no artefact, I have just been lucky to meet Gabrielle”. And she added: “and I thought you were too…” I felt ashamed, and took her other hand, and replied: “Please pardon me, it has all been a lot to absorb. Since we met Elga I have felt overwhelmed. Then Jane told me about the two of you, and I felt encircled. The three of you, Sarah, Jane and you, Melissa, get on well, and I should be happy to have you as my friend.” Slowly Melissa came closer and kissed me, a light kiss on the forehead. “I know Julian. You should stop worrying. I am not here to intrude on your family. And I am no alien object. I am of flesh and blood. Your sister and me are very close, and we both adore you.” I thought of this enchanted circle: the beautiful wife, the loving sister, and the long-lost friend. The subject of a love story. I smiled to Melissa: “Thank you: I used to be a troubled young man, and now I am a just as troubled old one!” We laughed – the green eyes were probing me. Through Melissa’s gaze I felt many eyes were on me. I remembered the story – in Dune – of the Tleilaxu magicians who replaced Duncan Idaho’s lost eyes.

Then Melissa asked: “Did Jane tell you that Elga would be visiting us soon?” I replied she had. And I was wondering if Elga would appear to us as she did when we met on her planet. “Yes, said Melissa, Elga is as you met her: a beautiful woman, and an academic.”

I could hear the sound of waves rolling on the thin grey sand under a violet sky and three moons.