Once and Evermore
rating: +10+x

The sand writhes, and the whalesong begins. He follows his ripples as he goes outside, the oily-iridescent heat-shimmer flashing like knives in the damp air, wet despite the broiling stormclouds ripe for tomorrow in the high, glass-blue, deadly-clean sky. It is a sky of preparedness, he decides, and he is looking up to match where he will-has-had been. Of promise, of retribution. But he does not know if the sky is dry this morning; he is too busy watching the bone-cold, frost-heavy whales lumber and form sand-channels, great bellies like turbans scraping, excavating great astronomy-watching dunes in their wake as they dive low, rising again after tunneling like sandworms, then shooting back to the clouds, drifting like parasailers.

He has made this very stand-at-the-porch at the same time every morning prior and future. Then the ripples of space and time move, and so does he. On a whim he is walking on the stepping-stone path to the herb garden that grows behind the grapevine pillars and trellises. The rain-catchers of the gutters steam, springwater rising and he can see capybaras, once, lounging in the hotsprings and cattails, cattails yes, and water cabbage, yes, and lizardgrass and bamboo and wild sugarcane, yes, and five carefully placed rocks forming like turtles rising in the pool and the stars are black and the sky is white, blue-white like lightning. He takes a breath no bigger than the inside of his mouth and plummets body-first straight through the ground, spreadeagled into the black beneath, not even touching the water’s surface but beneath it immediately, hot and then cozy-steaming down into the black warm void of the earth.

Strange times, strange lives. He loses sight of when he is, of when he wakes amidst the sea of shifting time waves and when he treads the dreams of things not yet happened – the sometimes confusion that claws at the walls of his skull like a caged beast. He leaves behind fragments of himself like fallen leaves, only noticing they're there when one crunches under his feet. Sometimes he welcomes them – recollections of a past he had not minded in ages. Sometimes he is filled with dread – pieces of incomplete, malignant futures he has already treaded and would have been best left forgotten.

But today the world is bright and the sun is high. He sinks, nevertheless, into the herb garden, gathers a mint in a wooden lotus-shaped bowl. Inside, his tea kettle makes the cry a kettle makes before it whistles and he turns it off, a butterfly-iridescent ripple shivering the kettle onto a lapis-edged countertop of the lighthouse. He is in from the herb garden that has been so much more in its lifetime, beyond his, and he steps over bamboo rhizomes and around the moss-patches that will occur two years from now — he estimates this from the wear of footprints on the wood tiles — when the valley floods again and the whales can sing like chickadees in the morning. And the tea is done, the basket of mint goes in the cupboard and then removed again by a ripple of himself, and it is dry and ready, pressed. It goes into the mug and the water, steaming hot as the spring that existed outside in the herb garden’s place, and he watches the water turn brown as his eyes when he catches himself in the mirror, sometimes. Other times they are green, blue, once a fiery red-orange that glows, catlike, in the night, and then day is streaming in through the window, slipping waterlike off his opaline skin, his hand raising the mug and his throat working to swallow.

The whales whumm outside, as they do. He ascends the lighthouse tower. Lantern in his echo’s hand, another ripple coming down — an infinite series, really, but he likes to focus just on one, to make things easier, and sometimes he wakes up unable to see them at all and goes about his routine anyways, and his views on those days interfere with how he sees himself on days when he can. The tower is clumpy, the stones glazed with lichen inch-thick and blue-white, wet. He is careful to avoid breaking the trumpets, the club-faced fingers, the mushroom-hats. And there are mushrooms, too, and glow-worms, too, like blue stars above him, not here now but much, much later, when the tower is submerged again and he is a diver breaking in every day until the ocean is gone again and it is a mangrove swamp, and he almost trips along the mangrove roots infiltrating the steps near the top, catches himself just a second after his ripple, green-yellow in the sunshine through an archer’s crag, catches himself on a branch of apple tree bearing fruit, even though it’s inside, that won’t be here for another two years, or maybe twenty, or maybe two thousand and thirty. There is an apple tree outside, but there always is an apple tree outside, and it isn’t as useful in knowing when events happen. Will, have, are currently.

The lighthouse beam, of course, is not operated by him every day. It is operated every second, wrested control of three hundred feet skyward, above the whales’ deep-sea dives and the coral reefs which will be there one day to drown the mint garden and the mangroves which come after even the ocean and the marsh and the peat bog and the cedar rivers, chopped down one day and their logs crack down on the still-living counterparts from yesterday. The rivers changing course from newfound erosion and yet still taking their same paths, salmon leaping despite all the timestreams he can see, invisible and sometimes visible in rivers like veins of opal to find where they will-have-future may be. And he is here, lighthouse-keeper, shining a beacon down so they may find their way. Hoping it can help, because they are many ships among the battering-ships of history.

There is only one beam, and the ships don’t look like ships at all but necessary events in time. Or maybe that is wishful thinking, he thinks now and a second ago and again two seconds from now and again-again-again. He strains the light and mirrors, the fresnel lens like a fused candleflame in stained glass so knobbly and diamond-shaped under his ripped fingers, and he wrests the guiding lens to guide a lifeboat to shore, a storm wreaking over their shores already and they have drowned and fallen, — they blame it on the Bermuda Triangle, though that is so far from now — and then he is back in the desert, a sea of sand and purity of nothingness, shining his beacon at nothing at all.

Lunch passes without affair. Steamed dumplings from a visitor, sometime, are eaten, at some point. A trio of soft char siu bao, wrapped in cloth, warm the bottom of the basket. Leafy greens, with salmon caught fresh from outside and cooked when he turns on the fire and has saucepans, are made partway through and eaten in the same time as the dumplings, adjusting the flavour by looking into the future when it is tasted to find the perfect harmony of caramelized onion and the most delicious fish from the school decided by choosing which tastes the oiliest and is the least worm-bound to his belly in a week, a few months, seeking symptoms over time. It is exhausting, though, so he returns to the desert after a time, and he is full, though some part of him is still breaking a sugarcane with a machete at an aesthetically-pleasing angle and gnawing on that, too, just as another part of him distills raw sugar from that same piece and makes candied oranges from the apple tree, strange thing that he has made producing oranges, apples, pears from the same trunk despite his sure knowledge that this is impossible. He still isn’t sure how that works, even as he has found so much else. In the future or the past he catches some water from outside and pours it into the pan, and in the past he takes that salt, a little overdone and so he takes it from a more recent past, a little wet still, so he takes it from a middle past, perfectly done and still some seaweed, and coats the salmon after it is cut and boned and ready for cooking and it is delicious, perfectly seasoned and salted, as he bites in and its juices stream onto his tongue and between his teeth.

Life is beautiful, and he makes a slight adjustment to the fresnel-glass at the top of the lighthouse, seeing that he is error-bound a few hours ago through the window, a finwhale calf not quite matching up with her mother.

The dishes are done, the pans are neatly put away on their rack from when he has guests. And then right now, right now, his hand follows the echo a half-second, overlapping with his own, skin shining rainbow and then alone, alone, he is alone, he pinches shut his fingers and something burns, and then it doesn't.

The sensation, like its action, has no cause in particular. Just a pointless whim, but today he stops. From a candle just snuffed, a single, delicate strand of smoke evolves upward with the gentlest curves and loops. So fragile that at eye level, the strength of his observance is enough to fractalize the end of the string, and the smoke scatters into permutations that vanish into the vast irrelevance.

He watches the smoke. And he watches. And the keening of the whales grows quiet. And the wind and the waves grow quiet. And the creaking of the towerstones warming in the sun grows quiet. And the background wash of grains of sand shifting and settling grows quiet. And the roaring chorus of billions of lichen and fungi snipping and growing and mending and snipping and growing and mending their hyphae one cell at a time grows quiet. And the lighthouse beam hangs lens-down. It is both bright and dark. Right now, bereft of the beam, it is dark.

And the last rays escaping the crystalline array of the lighthouse streak across the night, vibrating with the all-consuming joy of directionality. And each wave-particle observes every bit of its journey like a slideshow: pictures seen in fragments, forgotten at once. The journey out, across the oceanic desert. The touch of a whale's skin. The return journey. Every tap-and-go down through the respectfully frozen molecules of flowing water, off a salmon's scale, back out again. Through the tower window, into the smoke trail of the candle, a flurry of bounces in a spiral up the strand and out atop the bouquet of potential. Just barely avoid diving through a pupil and instead reflect off the moisture of an eye, back out the window and up-up-up to fly away. To garden with Forever and have tea with Always and listen to whalesong with Now.

He watches the smoke while the noise of time bows its head in reverence. His echoes, one by one, join him, cease their busying and turn to watch the thready air, from when he will be and where he once is, unknowing or knowing but equal time makes for splendid memories, sometimes recalled and sometimes not, like his books that he sometimes can read coherently and other times cannot. For some the candle is lit and for some the smoke is long gone and for some the space is significant and they do not know why and for others the space is significant and they do. But in this time, he had been the one to snuff it. Him. Now.

One day, he shivers. Another day, he sweats. He is not cold. The candle is lit. The candle is not lit. The candle is yet to be lit. The candle is full, the candle is waning, the candle is new, blurred to dusk, full then gone, full-made-empty, fullness spilled out, fullness flooded onto the table. Here it is now, in his time and tangible: a pool of molten wax dripped down, stalactite-formed not to the floor, and a new full wax moon, a perfect circle of pale whispering across the old misshapen floorboards thickened in-between with sand, garden soil, coral sprouts that churn the feetflesh into red mud and vines that grow when this place becomes a jungle, too — that is where the capybaras come from, happy to stay when the marsh dries enough into the air that the trees can take in oxygen, and the lighthouse becomes a signal for migrating Swainson's hawks.

The candle is empty. Gone, and the wax will remain to soak the floorboards for the future flooding of the desert valley come twenty? Two hundred? Two thousand? Too many years.

He finishes the dishes, unsuds his hands and places the last pan, oil-free, on the bamboo drying rack, nudging the wooden handle from the to-be flame. He warms his hands in another time on a cold night, pleasant and grateful. The cherry-apple-plum-pear-orange tree's boughs nod in the autumn, heavied with snow, and yes, there too is snow in the desert. And just like that, at last and instantly, lunch is done. He is outside again, having followed a ripple there, movements matching exactly. He is in a long procession of other echoes, remnants, ripples, all the same thing but called differently for reasons he does not understand. They are synonyms to him now. They are not always: a blink, and he he is an incarnation that cares for such things as language, and he is so very different, as he always is between moments.

He attends to the lighthouse. He brightens the gloom. He thinks about the candle. He is a diver, cutting his fins on the coral sprouts in the floorboards, spreading the reef beyond the boundaries of his own sight. He is spearfishing salmon in a writhing silver river in spawning, the future of incense in the cedar making him sneeze. He is cooking that salmon, and he is feeling the scales, and he is raking the scales from the skin with a scraper; he is scattering a few back into the river to encourage the salmon to return next history, and he is passing the rest to his own future so he can dress a silver rainbow salad to share with the flying fish outside the window like starlings.

The candlesmoke tickles his nostrils, and in every moment where he should he blinks gummily. The iridescence from the rippling air before him makes his eyes water — more than this morning when he watches a cloud of blue-eyed, red-winged butterflies rise like amber from the mud of the peat bog at the doorstep; earlier, when he so carefully is laying their chrysalises in the windowsill; watching them unfurl their wings in a storm, beautiful and bloody and ready in the morning sun, and he thinks, this is what makes the sunrise red, and he is correct because he is still eating dinner, still collecting mint, still at the candle.

He watches the candle. He watches himself watching the candle watch through the multitude of recollections, reverberations oilslick-bright in the gloom.

And then the moment is gone. He is back to his usual regimen of working, wandering, splendorying. He sets up the nailless jigsaw cedar ladder beneath the plum branch of the cherry apple pear peach tree and passes himself a red and yellow cloak from its tapestry place on the lighthouse stair-spiral entryway. The tea kettle whistles before he is thirsty, and he drinks the garden honey from when he keeps an apiary, which he pours some of onto the tree's roots, steaming in the cold snow, warming the saplines for when he can provide maple syrup while the tree is young and spring is now; the plums are hard and green but the ones in his basket are plush, soft, bleeding red welling at his thumbnail when he presses because he gave them to himself to hold in another time. His echoes shimmer, their hands following a second before his own as he plucks the unripe fruit, leaving enough on the topmost and bottommost branches for the hungry foxes and birds, though he does not know when they will come. One is now, though: a fat robin, blue-speckled and purple-eyed, and then it is gone, an explosion of feathers fluttering into his basket which he collects in a gentle sweep through the summer wind, and dodges deftly the splattering droplets of crimson blood.

Off the ladder, he leans out and catches the blood droplets in a cup, to better flavour a blood pudding and rice bowl, because the rice fields are encroaching and beautiful in the autumn and snow, waffling in rippling waves beneath the deep sea crush of water, almost black, whalesong booming and echoing in the indigo ink, ruffled in the wake of a giant squid, a kraken. Thousands of leagues down, thick and wide, tentacles a mile long and half as long as the body. He watches it wash over, its presence oppressive, overpowering, godlike. A distinct aura: I am here. I am here. I am here. He watches, and when it is gone, so are the rice fields. So that is how they are gone.
Like a rogue wave's listing ship, the rice fields erase.

The tea kettle whistles. He takes it off the burner, seamless with the granite marbled countertops, polished now, pickaxe swinging, cracking at the slab of rock there on the meadow, exposed. Almost. Ready. The mint green tea steams, he smells it. The leaves are dropped in. The sugarcane he swings his machete, cutting an aesthetically pleasing angle, a gnawing at it and he passes one chunk to the tea and the other to the plums, the oranges, he plucks sun-shaped oranges from the branch, standing on his top-toes to reach, grazing the supple skin, branch-ripened and aphid-sweet on the skin, sundew ants harvesting on the branches and intermittent ladybug swarms to keep their populations in check. No need for interference here, save for when they go after the blooming flowers. He squishes a few on a bundle like tiny lilies and tastes their residue on his fingers, wipes them on a drying slab of cattail rhizome strung to the ceiling dowels of the living room turned library, walking through spaces where bookshelves are not now, and then stuck briefly as he fetches a trinket behind one book, a silver pineapple a little larger than his thumb.

He brings the oranges to the kitchen and bundles them with the sugarcane in the pot, ready for candying in a particular way only possible with the smaller of oranges but these can be small, too, so he cooks them when they are unripe, hard and green, crystallizing sugar and caramelizing the insides, toughening the outside, then they are large again, cracked and beautiful, wet on the inside and he pokes holes to let the water out, and he tries again and it is uneven, and he sticks pins in and it is perfect, and he removes the pins and takes them out when they are small and places the ripe caramelized peels onto a plate and grushes the insides into a saucepan, orange caramel and meats, priests are delivering meats from their calves who have died, he leads them in and speaks to them in soothing tones, shows them the dam that he is building when the meadow is cedar and they ask, what? and he does not let them come anymore, holds conversations with the church beneath the shade of the orange-apple-peach tree, though they complain of the sun.

The candle is whole, it flickers, he pinches, it is out.

He drinks the tea. It is perfect. He tries a candied orange peel, hot, and watches the waves flicker overhead. His remembrances dilute throughout the lighthouse grounds, diaspora of himself soon to be and then and when and now and far to become. And through the ocean waves, the sun is setting at last, firework blasts of orange and cyan and white and green and steely blue and red, red, yellow orange red and new year's lion dance red. The sun is beautiful, setting, soon to be gone.

And somewhere, in another time, he is on a ship.

He is a tumultuous being: his four hands scrape the wind-frozen rigging, his skin flaps flutter in the gale like sailfish fins, his lips burn away. A contraption ticks on his chest, stolen from the deep sea, and he is in the stretch-marked belly of the storm, dying hypoxic or water-tortured on the wet wailing wells like liquid nitrogen. Lightning strikes the mast, rushes down like St. Elmo's fire, and rakes over his skin like dragon scales. The timer in his chest from the undersea, stolen from the gods who died down there maybe, ticks. And then the world becomes everything all at once, and he is sopping wet in the middle of the searing absence of sound or light or air or time, and then he has no name but his own, and then the past rushes in for purchase on the future. And then he is in the desert, he is no more.

He is still wet. Still electrocuting, still drowning by air. And yet he is here.

And then the moment is gone. He is nowhere near a ship, save for the one in a bottle on the shelf in the library, sparkling in the swollen red sun. He is nowhere near the ocean, save for the one sprinkling in through the splintering glass of the windows, the pressure from the fish-strewn sea outside pushing down, an unfathomable weight ruining the lighthouse. He is nowhere uncomfortable or loud or tumultuous or agonizing, save for as he is walking the salt-caked drying ruins of his tower, putting the warmed, heavy tower stones back up, stepping over sunbleached coral that clutches with a million-organ roots over every grey crack. He is nowhere he does not wish to be. He is peaceful, sweet, sanctuaried in his sometimes-maybe solitude between himself, himself, and the preachers who sometimes come by in this time when his world is still a desert and he is called upon to tell fortunes because it amuses him, and because he cannot see how time flows outside of his little bubble. And he does not try to leave, because the prospect of leaving and realizing that he cannot is more agonizing than never finding out.

He ignores — and forgets — the times in his life when he tries.

He takes the dumplings. Cloth-wrapped, warm and soft — the preachers tucked char siu bao in the bottom, it seems, as a gift, too. He passes the dumplings and bao to another time for a dinner, then thinks again and now, sweating in the sun, leaning against his tower, he eats one. Quietly, unfathomly, welcomely — he recognizes over the taste of pork, the steamed dough — the salt tang and cold wind — the death of silence is gone.

He is in the kitchen. The sun is warm. The candleflame flickers. And then, for an infinitesimal moment that does not break, stretches firewire-thin into tight eternity, the fresnelglass in the tower is the brightest star in the sky.

The stars are out. He does not often see them, blinded as his night vision is too often by the makings of day in another place, but they reflect in a drifting kraken-squid's great marble-melon globular eye like fire in rain. He sips his tea, watching the meteor-scars flicker through clouds. He is done with his tasks for the day, though he is still adjusting the lighthouse glass, still cutting the sugarcane, still spearfishing the salmon, still listening to whalesong like chickadees in the morning, still sweeping the floors, still reading his books. Still pouring tea, still waiting for it to cool. Still hunting venison for his first time, still flying high above the lighthouse on a valley-wind, still feeling the sun in his feathers and the rain flying like spears from the ground to sky.

He is still here, still him, even though he is so much. His recollections pass through him, oilslick grey, coming inside — but this time he stays outside, keeping the company of a few other times when he is tending the rice fields, walking the woods on an insomniac venture lidded with dreams, coaxing the moonflowers, the oxypetalum, the queen-of-the-night gracing the eaves and pillars of the lighthouse home attachment porchside. He watches the stars rise like fireflies, fingers of blue-black night staining the heavens high like oilpaints soaking cloth, the last grasping, trembling, screaming, bleeding phalanges of sun, muscle and sinew and bone, slipping from the cliff's edge of the horizon to collapse dawn at the bottom of the world. He sees the stars, now, closes his eyes and can still watch them through times when his eyes are open.

He wanders the rice fields. He sees through the waves, through the whales, through the minnows, through the kelp forest going into bloom all around when the ocean is lower and brighter with refracted sunlight, his garden a taller garden of sorts, sees through the clouds of silt when the leopardshark colonies scrape skin on the orange-plum tree and release cinnamon-fragrance into the current rushing down the meadow fields, into the cedar woods, through the low-lying mistfern forests of old.

The fireflies and their distant brethren burn his eyes. The candleflame is snuffed out today, today, today, not any other time but this one.

His chest is warmer than all the stars combined.

He walks back inside. He clicks the door shut. He walks upstairs.

So many of himselves are already in bed. Some tossing, some nightmaring. What he wouldn't give to wake them up. Some of him are not asleep yet; he is still walking a dreamer's walk, still tending the fields because the sky is burning so very hot and he is stealing night for himself, still in the cool and the snow before he remembers his reader's self and, one moment, converses with a book on ecological farming, on multi-crops, on sustainable serving of the land, and in a moment avoids uprooting avoids uprooting a thimbleberry when a minute ago it was his sole mission. Fascinating, he thinks, and changes his time to tend the snowberry bushes and huckleberries gracing on rotting logs piled at the stove-wall, warmed and he — he! — he made this happen, how beautiful is that.

He tends the Japanese garden. He stares into the candle, leaving green-blue washouts in his vision. Blinks it away in the gloom, in his bedroom. He is pouring teawater into a cup full of ground ginger root, lemon fresh squeezed from the tree. The remaining fruit is left on the branch for the lizards, for the clouds of blue-eyed red-winged butterflies, the sunrise birds. The mint curls, chocolate-mint, sweet mint. He eats it as he plucks it from the ground.

He takes a last sip of his tea, drains it dry from the mug. The candle is out. It is done, finished, ended for now but when he is close — in place and time and mentality — he can return. He is always, he is now, he is then and future and forever. But he is not omnipresent. Perhaps that is for the best.

For now, he is going to bed.

He is staring at the candle. It flickers. He shivers lightly in the snow, cranberry bog full of wolf spiders clinging to the spider-posts, the stag trees, the windowmakers fallen straight down from when his forest is cleared for lumber, never gone because a thousand years from now this forest is flooded, the dam breaks, the sea comes in and the kelp is yellow and green and blue and cyan and orange and green and green, green, green. The sheets are soft and made of wool that is sometimes scratchy and sometimes not. He is lying in bed. He closes his eyes. His pillows creak with pigeon down. His window breaks pieces of moonlight across his face. He is sleeping.

He is sleeping. He is waking. He is dreaming, waking, insomniac dreaming. He is in the cranberry bog, in the snow. He is falling, drifting. He is awake.

The candle goes out.

He is asleep.

This is how I experience time. This is why my memory is awful and I am ever a child yet an adult professional yet so many things all at once. Some people are onions. I am history in multitudes.

I hide small omens of things dreamt, then forgotten. Hide as you may, they will hunt you down somewhere along the way.

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