By S. p. palmarum
The author is an undergraduate student of integrative biology attending the University of California, Berkeley. Besides engaging in the composition of music and literature, they are captivated by the crossroads formed between ethics, thermodynamics, and evolutionary biology. Their favourite novels are Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley; and Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
[Chapter from an unpublished novel]
I recall that there had once passed an afterlife that had come too soon: an æon of mythical laughter and distant music, wafting in through open windows, over which were drawn heavy sheets in rejection of nature’s youthful, glistening eye. At intervals, the caprice of the breeze would open blinding crevices of sun within the floating curtains; and the infant perfumes of lawns and freshly painted houses would waft in, wrapping themselves about the soul like towel gowns. They would dote upon the sentiments but briefly, dissipating as the ticking of a dated alarm clock heralded an ever more lucid moment.
Every afternoon I would wake to the screams of children warring against one another with hydride armaments: partisans of factions organised along the lines of playdough politics and speeches in the crackling gravel. Enchanted by the aerial spices of the choicest blossoms, suckling daily upon their water sprinklers, my little spirit would always take a moment to rise from the slumbering stomach; to shake off the anæsthetic ethers of that eternal domain, and, with a bubbly alacrity, stretch its arms and tickle out a yawn from my chest.
Indeed, once upon a time I lived in a bedroom within a suburban home, the sole occupant of that vault of creaking drawers, of paintings stained by tears of the sun filtered through blinds; that incubator of midnight light, a closed palm amidst the unabating squalls of autumn.
But it was summer then, and a few days hitherto, I had passed my thirteenth birthday in my inveterate manner. I recall those cakes prepared with vanilla ice cream: those spoilt glaciers, upon which I would plant candles; I would even compose a playful strain for myself, which, in the minutes preceding the time of my birth, I’d twinkle out on the piano with a mother’s pride; then, my head swimming with mawkish sobs, I would begin to feed myself my treat, each morsel kissing my lips like a frozen little petal.
It was also drawing near the anniversary of my sequestration from all society. Two years had elapsed since I had been under the protection of my last caretaker, who, by assorted devices, I had deceived into the belief that I had acquired another who was to succeed her post, who had formerly occupied that position: Katherine.
When my parents yet lived, for the greater part of my earliest years, they had assigned Katherine to administer to me, who I believe possessed some relation to them as close friend or daughter thereof. I recall that she was a student just emerged from university, where she had applied herself to the study of physics; and, I conjecture, by some repulsive force unknown to me, she had grown to loathe the society of that science, and was seeking solace therefrom.
Katherine I regard as my true parent. Her arms in another life could have been the cradles of baskets of wheat; her legs, towering above me, the stately columns of a noble edifice, some statue of liberty. Her tender countenance, the limits of which were possessed of a slight downwards tendency, evinced a history of grapples with woe; yet, in my attendance, they seemed imparadised with a glowing euphoria. That visage for so long was my heaven; and my stars were her twinkling eyes, amber like those of a lion, always glimmering above me, playing peekaboo. Now, forevermore shall there be an emptiness when I behold the vast depths of a vacant empyrean, never having been properly weaned from a love, a devotion I thought immanent to the world.
She taught me to sit cross-legged with her as we surveyed exoplanets in documentaries, the raw preternaturalism of those fay orbs, and their fractal self-similarity, intimating a symmetry in reality reflective of my own infantine imagination; cultivating within me an incipient, unconscious intuition that nature was as some Aristotelian mind in contemplation, like to my own. Then, in the late hours of the night, she bade me sleep as she delighted in the entertainment afforded her by Korean dramas, wherein superhuman men yelled at one another under the assumption of perfectly elastic collisions; wherein time was governed by a physics unknown to me; and wherein all was purposed by the puppetry of invisible thoughts, which possessed predilections towards an idealism and a negative entropy not to be found in the natural world.
The grand view which our living room commanded grew upon her, and it quickly became her favourite haunt. Our home was situated on an incline three blocks distant from the ocean. Beneath us, the shore was fringed by forests, wherein wound quaint little strips of boardwalk; and ensconced in gravelly glades, playgrounds of ultramarine, dandelion, and scarlet plastics. From these environs, tender peals of familial joy were accustomed to issue, swelling with the evening breeze, reverbed by the bay and by the arboreal vault from whence they poured. We never did partake in the bliss that occasioned this beatific laughter, for its tranquil observation and its reception was a felicity, a eudaimonia augmented and rendered ideal by all the powers of the fancy: of hope, of care, of endearment, but never unmingled desire, which so often attends sympathies more distinct and personal, and sullies the lucidity of feeling; nor ascription to any memory, as I was not yet possessed of any such reservoir.
What would I give to forgive the world; to forgive all society for its indelible trespasses, that the black blot of acrimony no longer stains considerations of my fellow creature; that those innocent, innocent feelings of contentment might again find their halcyon roost in my heart, the same as that child who once felt in every soul a sublime ingenuousness!
In the evenings, we made our meal from the same parcel of Kraft Dinner; and, following our habitual repast, we would repair to the extensive windows of the living room, and together behold the sun sink beneath the liquid brink of the world. Not yet acquainted with the science of geography, I thought my father to be witnessing the same scene in some faraway land, some port in the south, hailing me in congruent contemplation. Tears would gush from my eyes at the evocation of this image; and Katherine, the only tangible constant in all the world, would cradle me against her bosom, and wipe away the droplets with her fingers, as gently as tending to a branch of berries shivering in the dews of morn. Even after the sun had dipped neath the sea, and twilight charmed the placid pond of heaven with a million million unhappy memories: of suns lost in the redshift chapters of time, turning round and round in despair like hopeless orphans; of days upon days falling down the horizons of the most endearing storybook planets, forever gone down the well of a universal amnesia; even in those drear minutes, when existence affrights the newborn, was I at peace, for to me daytime did not end with the retreat of the sun – Katherine was the star about which I revolved.
My mother and father had, doubtless, selected Katherine with my education in mind. I was acquainted with the concepts of multiplication and division ere I had acquired the art necessary to inscribe my first sentence; and, when I did accomplish the latter, it was with the lucid lexicon of the Georgians. For the credulous child of two or three, their bulbous head entangled in an overgrowth of blooming veins and resplendent with dandelions and sunshine, discourses on religion and tradition would have been the cork to their metaphysical curiosity; but elucidations on the nature of the physical world served to heighten mine, like some process of organocatalysis. The fay skip of the electrical charge was to me more magical than any petty trick effected by some top-hatted illusionist; and, impinging upon my senses, imbuing all reality with form, I discovered the celestial aura of the wave. In those sacred æons, when I was yet an angel being mentored for a fall into the terrestrial sphere – a thing that seemed to me as impalpably remote as the horizon – was my mind saturated, loaded with all those verities that I came to hold dear: I learnt of spontaneity, of molecules in motion, of strings and curved space and the transmutational powers of that phenomenon known as radioactivity; and my preternatural faith in their intertwined principles was more sublime than could be had with any religion.
Katherine was wont to lead me on lengthy perambulations to the coastal forests, proceeding to scarce-frequented recesses chiefly inhabited by the conifer, the squirrel, and the crow. As therein we trod, each sliver of sunlight that leaked through the leafy firmament and surrendered itself to pool upon the Earth she made known to me by the science of optics; each shadow, she exposed and delineated with thetas and phis. And, in those moments where the sound of the rustling wind and the rumbing wave and the reticent breath seem to commingle in the mind to inspire sentiments of such poignant peace as the primæval alga, had it our mind and senses, might once have felt, whilst it drifted upon the Proterozoic oceans of an Earth nearer to heaven – whilst its delicate membranes bent like a leafy sail to the Hyperborean winds of that superæon, currents it felt so tender and motherly, just as the fern and the leaf before us limped to the draft in a mawkish artistry – then, as the gust passed, as nature was again muted around us to quiescence and stillness, as a frost bit into our cheeks and the sea abated and we seemed to live upon the very, stony horizon – would Katherine be moved to expound those organistic theories of nature’s spheres of evolution, and intimate that our existence was perchance an emergent phenomenon in some greater tendency of progressive interconnection.
Sometimes, we roamed along the suburban sidewalks to the neighbouring community of L. The walkways thither terminate at perpendicular junctions, demarcating the limits of this quaint district: there, the narrow avenues are fringed by hedgerows of blackberries and the dense growth of the fir and the cottonwood, and a dull repose pervades every house withdrawn into the umbrage of the flora. The recollection of its askew signs, embosomed in the foliage and scaled by the lichen, evoke only seldom the rush of the meek car, or the pastel schoolbus; and, along the dirt perimeter of its lanes, amongst the shrubbery, would Katherine and I amble leisurely, sometimes bringing with us baskets to cull the blackberry, whose meats the golden fly would endeavour to pilfer.
Along the oceanward limits of this neighbourhood, we happened once upon a secret trail, which, thereafter we delighted in hiking. Its portal was but a fine aperture amongst a thicket of bushes and flaxen reeds – at evening, the light of the coarse path that was hid within would flicker in the breeze like the faint glimmers of an amber dream. The terminus of this passage of reverie was a forgotten quarter of spacious forest which overhung the sea. There, the plaintive suspirations of the ocean were but the distant poesies of another world: of one lost far beneath the feet; a domain of fantasy such as the child might imagine to appear neath their bed, when they have been swept away by the bark of a dream. There, the leaden sky, blushing with the glow of a brazen sun, was upheld by the stately columns of the fir, and seemed to circulate the rarefied aethers that suffused the very clouds. So serene seemed this retreat – nay, this domain – that naught but the solicitous entreaties of the world, marked by the remote sighs of the seagull, could one therein discern, lullabied by a solitary breeze which would wrinkle the fluffy windbreaker, pressing it fast against the torso, like a token of nature’s affection. In those moments, the spellbound crown would imbue the head with such a sensation as sublimated bone and flesh, that the ideal domain of the mind might materialise upon the Earth, swirling with the spirits of the wind; and mind and nature become one as the Kingdom of Preternature.
There, too, we discovered the dilapidated frame of an antique playground, its emaciated shafts, inclining towards alien, spherical geometries, decaying by the gluttony of rust; and, behind this park, following a short incline, was the verge of the promontory, where a bench, inscribed with a date some seventy years since my birth, was fixed. From that prospect, impending over the tumultuous main, the undulating waters that flooded the vision felt shallower and more clement than that of a swimming park; and there, one might sometimes, by a ray of the sun peeping through the clouds, behold the twinkling eyes of a flight of marine avifauna, their wings skirting the stupendous billows of the splendent cumulus; negotiating its sublime, evanescent ridges, like a party of angels on sentinel, reconnoitring land and sea, and inspiring over all the Earth a downy peace.
For the greater part of those halcyon æras, there were never any other souls there but Katherine and myself. We would sport so blithely about our haunt, in the main repairing thither during the afternoon, following my daily instruction in literature and the sciences. Sometimes, if the climate were cordial, and the white sail of the bark in profusion, we would bring with us a light repast of fresh berries, bread, preserves, tea, and creams; and we would set out an embroidered sheet atop the great headland, and there, fringed by the elderberry and the arbutus, partake of a delightful little picnic, smiling at the poofy pillowstuff which sailed before us in the empyreal main, teasing the naive fancy with the evanescent form of the parasol and the dandelion. Habited as I was in my slanting overalls, straw hat, and cottager’s boots; and Katherine in her breezy sunhat, which she would adorn with flowers picked on our amble thither, and a blouse as brilliant as those clouds that glided before us; the pleasant scene we described could well have been conceived as the subject of a painting by a Monet or a Renoir.
Even in inclement weather, we would, occasionally, proceed to this secret recess of ours, that we might inhale the ozones of an atmosphere in the transports of those titanic overtures of emotion familiar to a northwestern clime; and thereby, to apprehend – nay, to sympathise with – the struggles of nature herself, which Katherine pronounced to be a sphere of feeling truer than that which actuated the common soul; indeed, it was that which moulded our sensible capacities, and was thence prior thereto. These were the excursions that consisted of my fondest instruction. Outfitted in our vibrant raincoats, rubber boots, and huddled neath the same umbrella, our presence during the rainstorm seemed to conciliate the glowering fir and the drooping geranium; for, drawing near to them, some colour would be returned to their drear frames, and our breath seemed to banish the bitter bloods, hurtling from the firmament, which pummelled their tender pelts.
The fierce airs of the storm, as it involved our lungs and howled in our frames, would inspire in us the revolutionary acrimony of heaven, violently contending to sunder the fetters which prisoned it to Earth; for, though it aspired ever upwards, it had been breathed into being by the Mother’s children, and thereby, was forever bound to her in servitude. As we battled towards the precipice, and together rose over the tempestuous main, Katherine would – her voice obtaining dominance over even the vociferations of the gods growling above – discourse on the nascent powers of the electron, whose supernatural authority, she would discover to me, held more sway than the very forces that instigated the romantic dance of the planets. And, when the lightning’s torn banner in its sublime menace would blink upon our overwhelmed visages, and the crash of celestial armies above erupted our very hearts – we, too, would feel our wills loaded with a divine agency – would sense in our limbs an unconquerable liberty to raise the very, trifling Earth, and the miniscule sea, which churned before us like a convulsing, pitiable beast.
Katherine was the only other living creature akin to me in that primordial, bygone age. She took much pride in me, and the precocious cultivation and intellect which my comportment and disposition, nigh the same as hers, bespoke. As I grew older, if we were to saunter past the public playgrounds nearer to home, she would sometimes suffer me to speak with the other children present, who slid up and down the chute and hung from the monkey bars like elementary physics problems. Then, from the margins, her amber eyes would observe me haughtily, a lioness over her cub, as I ventured to perturb their peaceable system, like a chaotic agent. However, in the main, she thought it improper that I should communicate freely with them, and delimited our conversation to my imitating a little professor, and expounding upon biology or some other science.
The children and their mothers grew to fear us, come as we seemed from an unknown sphere of society, much unlike the blunt pomp of the propertied bourgeoisie, and discrete from the austere, yet insipid manners of the intelligentsia. We seemed otherworldly creatures arrived upon this Earth to inspect its progress; and Katherine, who would sit beneath some great oak, a hardcover tome obscuring her visage, her hands there overspread like a butterfly, delighted in our isolation.