In ‘Falling Into Emerald Memories‘ we explored an episode of Karen Zipslicer’s adventure where she uses a machine to relive the memories of the Lady Emerald. This installment continues the theme, with Karen moving on to explore more of the Lady Emerald’s memories.
“Go-away, go-away, time to leave Shaun,
We must not be seen together.
Hide-away, hide-away, hide yourself Dawn,
A maiden, you will be forever.
Run-away, run-away, love is foregone,
It’s been many a year since I’ve seen her.
Wash-away, wash-away, history’s done,
Now I drink the milk of amnesia.”
Every person has two sides: an inside and an outside. Not every person can recognize that truth. Some conscious minds cannot be reconciled to the inconsistencies they contain. Some people can accept the many truths of who they are; others cannot. The Lady Emerald was one person who could. She knew the truth of herself, and the truth of other people. Knowledge was mastery, ignorance was slavery. This was her maxim. She had once been a slave; she was now a master. She was a master, not a mistress, and others were slave to her. Most were imprisoned by their appetites; they longed to taste a fruit that only existed in their imagination. The Lady Emerald served them the garnish of an impossibly elusive and undefined freedom. A few showed more spirit, but she mastered them too. That might require a brutal touch at first, but once they were anaesthetized, they also learned to comply with her will.
The Lady Emerald knew herself inside and out, and was untroubled by the inconsistencies she found between her two sides. She had no reason to be troubled by them. What had started accidental had become deliberate. The face she showed the world had been her greatest invention. The truth inside was her motivation. She pitied those who wrongly thought themselves to be consistent, who could not conscience the difference between their inner and outer selves. They were living a fantasy. But they were not to be pitied. She had no desire to wake them from their ignorant bliss. Knowledge would set their brains alight, causing untold pain for them and everyone around them. This Lady Emerald would let people be. Indulging their natural inclinations was better than forcing the squalid truth upon them. Better still, it was what they wanted. There was nothing to gain by illuminating the misery of common life. She wanted to let the masses live and die in a comforting darkness. The darker it was, the better for them, because their imaginations would fill the space around them more effectively than any manufactured good. Better to encourage the cheap joy of delusion than ignite an uncontrollable fire of dissatisfaction.
The Lady Emerald had not always been the Lady Emerald. Karen now appreciated that, perhaps more than anyone else ever had. The Lady Emerald had once been a green-eyed girl looking out at a valley from inside her father’s laboratory. That girl was calm on the outside, screaming and crying inside. Her eyes shined like lasers, lighting her way. She shone outward; no-one could look in. Karen had now been that girl too, had experienced her suffering. She had sat in her place, and felt as she did.
They had both been Dawn, a green-eyed girl with sunny blonde hair and a look of distracted sadness in her thin, pale face. Karen had visited Dawn like a weekend tourist. The Lady Emerald had grown from Dawn like a tree from a sapling. Those experiences had changed them both.
Karen slipped from the chair where Dawn, the green-eyed girl, sat. The hours, the days, spent in that room were more than she could bear. No; they were more than Karen wanted to bear. Karen had passed through them like a guest being shown around a stranger’s house. Karen was a visitor. Dawn had actually lived there. Karen gratefully slipped away from Dawn’s memory, leaving it behind. Dawn desperately slipped from Dawn’s body, leaving it behind. Karen descended through the chair, through the floor, through the earth. Dawn’s soul ran, through the door, across the meadow, over the stile, down the road, then another road, up the mountainside, scrabbling to get to that place, that one place above all others.
Inside out. To know somebody inside-out. To be known inside-out. To know someone is to truly love them. To know them too well is to destroy them. It consumes the divide between inside and out. Closeness becomes annihilation. To step inside another person’s secrets, to unwrap their hiding places, was to burgle a soul, leaving the body empty. There are places in every mind where no one should dwell. The green-eyed Dawn had been loved to death, laid bare by her father’s intrusions. Her father knew her, through and through. Dawn had been charted, documented, recorded, and reported, until her every last refuge had been evacuated. Dawn last lived upon the mountain, alone. That was her resting place. In her father’s laboratory, the green-eyed girl died, and her remnants hardened into something new, something yet to have a name. It was cold but beautiful in its hardness, transparent yet refractive. In that room, the pressures of a man’s methodical searching coalesced something rare and terrible. Dawn was crushed, leaving an emerald kernel behind.
Karen was falling again, but not like before. This time she fell without concern, without emotion. Her emotions were purged when she decoupled from Dawn’s memory. She fell silently. This time, as Karen fell, she saw that lights twinkled in the darkness. They seemed very far away. She had not noticed them before. Were they stars? She looked at one, and as she did, she heard its song. In the void around Karen, there danced whispers of conversation and beautiful chords without a tune. They twirled around her, waltzed with her. She listened; she had the sense of a conversation between Dawn and a man. Karen could almost imagine them together. She listened more, and as she did, she was falling towards the star. The chords combined and strung themselves into melody. The song grew louder, and swallowed her. Karen fell into the star and back into Dawn, but this time it was an older Dawn. This Dawn was walking along the footpath toward the village. To her left, her father strode alongside her. Ahead lay the village hall, from where the music played, a mix of fiddle and accordion, and sometimes a piano. The village was celebrating the Harvest Festival, and everyone from the village would be there.
They had arrived relatively late in the day. Families with younger children had been playing and eating and socializing for hours already. Dawn’s father had preferred to tinker with the equipment in his laboratory, though this was an excuse. In reality he was uncomfortable in large crowds. It suited him to wait until he could be sure that some of his older friends would already be sitting quietly to one side of proceedings, and he would join them. Dawn had to wait until her father was ready for them to leave together, though she did so without complaint. In recent years she had adopted more of the traits of her father, and had also become nervous in company. She was more at ease with the younger children; once inside the hall she immediately took the opportunity to join her closest friend Edith, overseeing those children who had been put down to nap in an annex. This ritual of the village’s events allowed the kids to tire themselves out during the day, leaving their parents free to mix with the other adults in the evening. Edith hovered by the doorway to the annex, able to see if any children were restless but still free to chat to anyone who wandered her way. Dawn stood with her. She asked Edith how the children had been, though Edith had little to say about them. Edith talked instead about the games and dancing earlier in the day, gently scolding Dawn for not joining in. Occasionally a parent would step by to look in on their kids, though there was rarely a need for them to do so.
With two young ladies to oversee the children, Edith grew a little restless. She knew that Dawn was shy, and did not want to leave her alone. On the other hand, she wanted to mix in the company, and to feel the sway of her dress as she moved in time to the music. Dawn knew this, and volunteered to stand alone, but Edith politely refused. Edith was energetic in her protestations that they would share the child minding duties. Her raised voice offered an excuse for Tim, a lad of her age standing within earshot, to come over and interrupt. His older friend, Shaun, came in tow.
“Do you want to dance, Edith?” asked Tim, plainly and directly.
“Can’t you see I’m looking after the children?” responded Edith, but her flirtatious manner belied her words.
Tim faced Dawn and was equally direct in asking her: “you wouldn’t mind if I took Edith away for a single dance, would you?” He had a knack of saying what he wanted in such a way that no-one could refuse him. Tim would smile broadly and look people confidently in the eyes, two traits that Dawn observed but could not emulate. Speechless for a little while, she first shook her head and then, realizing the ambiguity of what she had done, she clarified: “No, no, I don’t mind. You go ahead.”
“Edith,” and Tim held out his hand for Dawn’s. She had to go now, and Edith play-acted a hint of reluctance, though inside she felt none. She put her hand in Tim’s, and he led her away. Tim’s friend Shaun, who was a couple of years older than Tim though much quieter in nature, had looked on impassively. As neither of them were talkative, Dawn knew little of Shaun, though she had inevitably encountered him many times over the years. Both of them had grown up in the village, but a passing acquaintance had never granted an occasion for them to speak one-on-one. Now, seemingly by accident, Shaun was left alone with Dawn. A moment went by as he watched Tim and Edith walk away, and then he turned back to Dawn and spoke with an unexpected air of authority.
“They’ll be gone for more than one dance. See how he clasps her hand in the dancer’s embrace? I shouldn’t be surprised if the fingers of those hands are embraced by rings before too long.”
Dawn was stirred by the fluency of Shaun’s speech, though she could not match it. “Aye, you’re right,” and then she hesitated and falteringly added: “but maybe they shouldn’t rush their…” she groped for the right word, “courtship.”
“I don’t know. Their courtship has lasted a good while already, and it should progress towards a conclusion.”
Dawn stood mute. She lacked an easy way with words, and she was ill-equipped to rejoin Shaun’s exposition. His voice was deep and had a pleasing lilt; his family had moved to the village whilst he was a boy, and he retained some of the accent of his birthplace. She had not known him to talk so freely before. Dawn felt nervous and tongue-tied. This was not the kind of conversation that suited her. They were both looking at Edith and Tim circling the village hall. Neither danced well, though from their expressions they were not self-conscious. This afforded their movements a happy easiness that was pleasing to the eye.
“I’ll look in on the kids,” said Dawn, looking to break the silence and extract herself from the moment.
“You don’t need to look in on them,” responded Shaun. “We can see they’re all perfectly fine from where we’re standing,” and with this he looked into the annex, which was dimly lit but evidently at peace with the resting breath of two dozen sleeping children. His look directed Dawn to look, and her nervous ruse to distance herself from Shaun was undone. She realized that she had no good excuse to run from Shaun. Some time passed, awkwardly. Dawn could not match Shaun’s gaze; he was looking at her, whilst she looked to her feet.
“Your shoes are pretty; they should also be taken for a tour around the hall.”
“I’m not much of a dancer,” this was an unusual admission for Dawn, as she thought to herself immediately afterward. Whilst it was true, she rarely deprecated herself, for fear it would encourage others to mock her too.
“Even so, you put them on for a reason. Silver shoes are made to be seen.”
Shaun’s words were gently spoken yet assured. She listened to them and looked to her shoes, then looked up to her interlocutor, then down again, and back again. He kept talking; he had a soothing manner. Before long, she was looking more to Shaun, meeting his gaze with her own, with only the occasional glance away. His disposition calmed her. Dawn wore silvery slippers. The slippers were sequined, and they the more they moved, the more they were guaranteed to reflect winks of light into the eyes of any onlooker. They were not suited to any purpose but being noticed. It mattered to Dawn that Shaun had noticed them, and that he wanted to do something about it.
“We can’t leave the kids unsupervised.”
“No. But I can ask that you dance with me when there’s somebody to replace you.”
With this last sentence, Dawn unconsciously looked about the room for Edith, or somebody else that might take her place. Shaun noticed this, but suppressed the temptation to tease her about it. Instead he commented that her slippers, though in a good state of repair, looked old.
“They were my mother’s,” answered Dawn. “I found them again after going through a trunk of her old things.” Dawn had few strong memories of her mother, who had died when she was still young. Because there was little she could say about her, Dawn never liked to talk about her. Going through her trunk had been a revelation. Mother and daughter wore the same sizes, and Dawn found she liked her mother’s precious finery. Though Dawn’s father had always been keen that his girl should dress prettily, her mother’s clothes were those of a woman, not a girl. They were beautiful and elegant, and they stirred something within Dawn.
Shaun felt equally uncomfortable at the mention of Dawn’s mother; he wanted to change the subject but was not immediately able to think of an alternative topic. Before he did, he spied his younger brother, Aidan, walking back from the toilets.
“It’s your turn to look after the children, Aidan.” Aidan was caught by surprise, but there was nothing to gain from arguing with Shaun when he was in the mood to command. Shaun forcibly escorted him, with one hand on his shoulder, towards Dawn and the annex. When there, Shaun swapped his brother for Dawn, taking her hand, and leading her to the dance floor.
The Karen-inside-Dawn felt her heart skip. Like Dawn, she had never danced like this. Shaun was deliberate and simple in his movements, but he possessed a good sense of rhythm. The woman in his arms was happy to follow his lead. Shaun did not speak much, and that suited Dawn, who needed to keep her mind on her footwork. With one hand on his broad shoulder, and the other held tightly within his, she was content to follow the band’s tune, and his pace. Around the room they went, and Dawn forgot all about the other villagers. She knew they were there, peripherally, but only peripherally. As her silver-slippered feet grew increasingly accustomed to the dance steps, Dawn started to enjoy an unfamiliar ease with herself. She was losing herself in the music, and the moment, and Shaun. Clapping the band between each song, neither dance partner gave any signal of wanting a break. At the first note of the next song, they resumed their embrace and continued as before, turning small circles within a great circle, orbiting the room. Karen, like Dawn, also lost track of the time spent dancing. Maybe the pair had danced for eight or nine songs; maybe they had danced a dozen or more. Karen felt the stillness within Dawn. The stillness complemented her revolution about the dance floor. A previously unknown peace had descended upon her; but then another person’s hand descended upon her shoulder.
“It’s time to go,” announced Dawn’s father.
“But it’s still early yet,” Dawn felt none of her usual inhibition in stating this fact. If they left now, they would be the first to leave the gathering.
“I’m not used to being challenged by you,” said Dawn’s father.
Dawn looked to Shaun, but his face was impassive. She hunted for affection in his eyes, but was unsure if it was there, or if it was just imagined. Shaun had released her the moment that her father had intervened. He looked on at Dawn and her father, turning himself into a silent witness, all his previous authority revoked. And then, when she had almost lost hope in him, Shaun spoke up, and directly to her father.
“If you would like, I will escort Dawn safely home after a few more dances.”
“Thank you, young man, but it’s my role to take Dawn home. Now’s the time we should be heading back.” Dawn’s father had no need to raise his voice; Shaun’s confidence could not override her father’s assertiveness. She briefly thanked Shaun for the dance, and bid him goodbye. Obediently linking arms with her father, they left together.
Neither Dawn nor her father spoke on the way home. The moon was full and reddish-warm, lighting their way, and Dawn would look to it for consolation. It was the harvest moon, hanging low and large in the sky. Though she looked up at it, her father paid no heed to her. He just marched straight ahead, taking them back to their home on the edge of the village. The sound of the music ebbed behind them as they got further away, though the air was still night and the melodies faintly carried all the way to their front door. Dawn’s father spoke up only once. As they crossed the sloping field that led to their home, in the distance they saw an owl swoop down for its prey. Dawn’s father commented: “nature is cruel, my dear, nature is cruel.” She took no notice.