Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf -. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Everything is floating.
Faces. Sounds. Voices. Touch.
“Good morning, Alice. Sleep well?”
They all float, towards her, around her, away again, and then they are gone as if they had never existed. She can make no sense of them, can’t connect them, not with each other, not with anything she knows or remembers. She remembers nothing.
That is all that she knows, and sometimes, she doesn’t even know that much.
“Time to wash. Now be a good girl and hold still for me.”
She has a body, but most of the time, she can’t feel it. Like everything, it is floating, disconnected.
Time means nothing, she has no concept of it. It washes over her like gentle waves over the shore, soothing in its monotony. She has forgotten cold and warm, thirst and hunger. Whatever happens around her, it doesn’t concern her; it’s like nothing of it existed.
“Here, just another spoonful.”
Obediently, she opens her mouth when it touches her lips, but she tastes nothing. Her thoughts are far away; she is light, flying on the wings of nothingness.
“Good night, Alice. Frank.”
It turns dark around her, but it doesn’t matter. Sleep comes soft and dreamless, and she feels no difference.
The dragon is resting most of the time. It sleeps deep down in a dark cave that is forbidden. Wandering there means deadly fire; it burns her wings and slams her back into a body and mind leaden with pain. Nothing exists, then, but the agony and her own screams, and it goes on forever.
She avoids the cave and the sleeping dragon as best as she can; it is frightful down there, with disturbing images stirring just beyond her grasp. They scare her, and it is best not to touch upon them. But every now and then, they invade her thoughts unbidden, and it is then that the dragon wakes and roars.
A pale face framed with black. A scream. A red flash. Then the fire rolls over her and burns her to cinder, over and over again.
“What is it, Alice?” Two faces look down upon her. “She seems agitated again.”
She screams until there is nothing but screaming, until she doesn’t know there was any other existence.
The faces turn away. “Poor dear. I wish she could talk or just make a sound. It’s unnatural to always be so quiet.”
Another face floating towards her. Light hair, light eyes. Blue her mind supplies.
It’s a small face, she thinks, and somehow, that is remarkable in a world where nothing is capable of holding her attention.
“This is your mother, Neville. Sit down, she won’t hurt you.”
The small face comes closer still, then settles beside her. Wide eyes lock with hers.
“Well?” A hand appears on the light hair. “Say hello.”
She flinches at the sound of the voice without knowing why. She doesn’t understand the words, but this voice . . . A boy, something whispers. It’s a boy. Whatever a boy might be, it’s important to know this.
“Did I scare her, Granny?”
There are more sounds, but she can’t listen. All she can focus on is the boy’s face. It grounds her, unlike the other faces, doesn’t blur before her eyes.
“ . . . always liked sweets. Go on, try it.”
There is a movement, then something is dropped into her hand. For some seconds, she stares down at it, only now realising that she has a hand, before it moves without her doing.
A rustling sound, then something is in her mouth, and for the first time, she tastes. Sweet. The thought lasts as long as the taste, dissolving with it. But she still knows something good came to her, and it came from the boy, and as she looks back at him, she knows something else.
She knows that something good must come to him from her, that nothing has ever been more important. She searches inside her for something to give – Not the fire and screams, never! Never again for him! – and finds nothing. She is empty.
Her hands clench tightly – and that’s when she feels it. Again, she looks down on them.
The boy’s face doesn’t change when she holds it out for him to take, but he takes it nevertheless, eyes glued to hers.
“That’s kind of you, Alice, dear, but I think you had the sweet. You can throw it away on the way out, Neville, there’s a bin next to the door.”
The voice doesn’t matter, nothing matters but the boy, who keeps staring at her.
Finally, he nods softly. “Thank you, Mum.”
Mum. She doesn’t know what it means, but she understands immediately that it is vital. Mum. The word glows with a pleasant warmth she hadn’t known existed and burns through her, deep down to the place where the dragon sleeps. Right then, she is afraid it might wake him and almost wishes she would forget it like she does everything else.
“Come on, Neville, it’s enough for today.”
The boy gets up, but he can’t leave! Not yet. Despite the fear, she needs to know. Still, their eyes are locked, and just when it seems that he’ll leave without an answer, for a moment, everything is there in a flash.
She. A man. A baby. Her baby, looking at her from this boy’s blue eyes. They smile and are happy, and the only thing that floats is their laughter. They know who they are; there is no pain, no lurking dragon, and not the alienation from a world that is broken into unrecognisable splinters.
“Neville. We’re coming back another time. Now say goodbye.”
The voice tears her away from the knowledge, and she wants to scream. She can’t lose this! But then it is gone, a memory that is already fading, and all that is left is the boy looking at her earnestly.
“Bye, Dad. Bye, Mum.”
He hesitates for another moment before he turns and leaves.
Mum. She closes her eyes and wraps her arms around herself. The dragon stirs and breathes a cloud of soaring fire, and the pain takes her breath away, but for the first time, there’s a feeling that is stronger. Something wet is trickling down her cheeks as she smiles and rocks the baby from her memory.
Soon, she has forgotten about it, it floated away like the boy and everything about his visit. The word, though, has settled too deep inside her; it will stay with her, she is sure of it. For some reason, she knows that it lives close to the dragon’s fire and she’ll get burnt whenever she touches it, but she knows as well that it’s worth the pain.
She won’t ever again forget her name.