Crane buzzes her in. She takes the lift to the thirteenth floor, new shoes too tight still. Has she dressed up to impress him? He looks older by a few years than the photos that are circulating, has lost most of his hair, a few clumps sticking up on top, grown longish at the side over his big ears, his face thin still, though getting slack around the jaw, baggy around the eyes. He has a paunch, thin legs, thin arms, well over six foot and stooped.
He ushers her in. She re-read a few articles on him on her way over, though she was fairly familiar with his case anyway, he was briefly famous, twenty or more years ago, bemused in documentaries or on TV shows, his case written up in newspapers and studied in journals, then forgotten about. Now he has re-emerged with this novel, Resolution Way.
Tea, he asks, or something else? I have some juice somewhere, no alcohol I am afraid. She accepts some tea and takes a seat on the leather sofa. The flat is sparse, she might even say spartan, bare walls, plain floorboards, no shelves nor ornaments nor books. Just the computer on a desk in the far corner, a wooden chair, the sofa, the square grey rug. In search of some relief from the plainness she gazes out of the window to the concrete balconies opposite, the plants, the vines, and creepers crawling over them, jewelled with grapes and gooseberries, green tomatoes, summer fruit.
After a few minutes he returns with the tea things. He has put a pair of thick-framed glasses on. They must be the same age, yet he reminds her of her grandfather.
To what do I owe this pleasure? Crane asks with a sympathetic smile
It was best to be frank. Well, I was curious more than anything. This book you have written, some of the studies that have been done on you, and so on. I have meant to pay a visit since the 90s actually, ever since I became aware of your case. I suppose the book galvanized that intention.
Ah he said, adopted a mock-theatrical tone. You still speak in the old ways. The book. Its popularity is a little mystifying. Do you like the book? he asked then rushed onward to cover up her answer. I am not sure I do, I am grateful for the opportunity to write and be read, something I have here that I would never have had back there, if i had stayed. None of this, he swept his arm out to indicate the bare apartment.
It has been found significant, Rose said. You have made your contribution.
Crane turned away from the window, his eyes trembling in the lowering light. Yes I have, haven’t I, he said eagerly. I have given, haven’t I?. Yes. That was all I wanted to do, but it was so hard for me there, so many barriers.
Well, Rose said I remember the old world too. Not so different from your world perhaps.
I fear, sometimes when I am waking up, eyes still closed that I will awaken into that world, that this has all been a dream, these thirty years since I went stumbling off the road in the dark, weak with hunger, felt myself beginning to drain away, the night crushing in on me, hearing my own breathing, my own distant screaming and then the rush, the shattering and the sense of being flung, finally, terminally, expelled you might say from one world and into this.
This world, Crane says, standing with his back to her, gazing out over the city, seems to me impossible. How has your world become this?
Haven’t you read up on our history, Mr Crane, she asked?
He turned, I have, oh, I have. It makes no sense to me of course, a man with my condition. A condition so advanced now. The books all seem to contradict each other, to be histories of completely different countries, different worlds and so I have concluded that I have simply died and gone to heaven.
He ran his hand up over his forehead, the head in which eighty percent of the brain has been slowly eaten away, morsel by morsel, drip by drip. How can it be that he still functions, more than functions, even if he is prone to delusions, ecstasies of confusions, incapable of maintaining a clear, coherent sense of events, thoroughly convinced of the reality of the world claimed to once live in?
She had joked with the students yesterday saying perhaps it is as Descartes said, the soul enters the body through the pineal gland and animates us, as long as that remains intact there is life, thought. She imagined it was all, perhaps, some great conceptual joke, some game that was being played, a performance piece orchestrated long ago and that soon enough the true author of the work, an arch-prankster, a wit, a satirist, one of the old guard, McFairlaine most probably, would reveal themselves, explain how they had found a willing actor, fabricated Crane’s non-biography and medical records, taught him his eccentric manners of speech and forms of thought and let him loose upon the world to make his claims, to summon something enigmatic, something impossible, uncertain, haunted into the world.
Eighty percent gone, all his abilities migrating over time to the thin outer layer of his brain, spreading in a densely trembling net across its surface, still intact for the moment, but the water levels were rising, isolating more and more areas, the faculties crowding onto the last few, grey overburdened islets, the overlap, the babble and deepening confusion of time and place, memory, sight and sound, a polyphony of coloured voices ringing in his ears until one day he would sit silent, mouth agape in this bare room in which time had slowed and stuttered to halt, a palimpsest of impossibly fine, overlaid moments sifting kaleidoscopically past his unblinking eyes.
Does this seem to be heaven to you, Mr Crane?
He smiled. It does, yes. No hunger, no fruitless work. Comradeship. Nature. The music! Though I miss the people I knew there, he said.
Well, even heaven has its discontents. She lit another cigarette.
I tried to tell their story at least he said. I thought that might ease their suffering in invisible, unknowable ways. I imagined I might reach across the divide between worlds and rest a hand on their shoulder.
Yet you have been here now as long as you were ever there.
He nodded. I was young in that world. I formed attachments. I had parents. I fell in love.
And has love eluded you here?
Well, he said. Love here is so general. So Universal. My love was formed elsewhere, has proven to be stubbornly particular.
A weak thrill went through her. Yes, she knew that too, with her morbid attachments.. Here she was, on the pretext of discussing his book, her intentions plain. Here was someone even more wounded than Barrow, but lost too and dying, growing daily more enfeebled.
She could imagine nothing more erotic than holding a dying man in her arms.
Something, someone was calling to me and I knew I had another self there, understood that my own life, all its volatility, my moods, the voices, thoughts, ideas, memories that assailed me didn’t come up from some hidden depth within me but were the ways that other versions of the same self, in those other worlds, impinged invisibly on mine. I determined to go and meet myself, stood up and found I was in a cave, the caves I was taken to see as a child, patterns worn in the limestone by the slow, persistent drip, the stalactites and huge dark lakes where shoals of tiny, translucent fish flashed and angled. The tunnels lead on to deeper caves where the air was colder, the water darker still, the shapes more elaborate, the colours wilder. And so I set off. Perhaps if one was brave, pushed on one might emerge, on the other side, in some other world perhaps, Crane’s world.
And so I came to a foot tunnel, dank light and dull enamel tiles greyed with age, I could have been thousands of leagues beneath the sea, my footsteps echoing and the concrete underfoot uneven and stained. I knew, in the way one knows things in dreams, Doctor, that it came out on the other side of the Thames, came up, not in this word, but in that one, the world Crane claims to have come from, the world he wrote about. And I set off to find myself there, running, almost frantic, along the darkened riverbank. I felt,
Hunted. In terrible danger, but compelled to know, and thrilled that at last I would be reunited with myself. That I would be able to take myself in my own arms and that I would be able to be an object of love for myself.
I know, she says, but this was not the child, the child I lost I am sure of that, this was a world in which so many, all of them were, the only word I can think of is benighted, and. She felt some tremor in Frink, almost imperceptible, and paused for a moment anticipating the slip, the pun, the double meaning, he might have caught.
I felt I had to know how and why we lived that way, what these other, human possibilities were. The terrors. The joys.
Oh all of us she said, all of us, you too, we were all there, ourselves but completely different in almost every way. Souls existed and were material things and took shapes and were iterated and reiterated across an infinite number of worlds. And when I awoke and saw Barrow was there in bed beside me I didn’t recognize him, not just for a second or so but for the best part of a minute as I lay there with my heart racing, trying to understand where I was, trying to make sense of his face.