I wake up on the grass. A brilliant sun is in the eastern sky. Allover patterns remain in my eyes and over everything I see. I feel a cool mist upon my face and hands. It sparkles everywhere in this green valley.
He is beside me, sleeping still. I recall only the tropical place and the moment we silently agreed to revisit the cave. My mind strains to make sense of what I am experiencing.
“Art…I guess we fell asleep.”
Smiling, he looks around and says it is morning and we must have slept all night. I find the thought strangely soothing. The way he acts and the clarity of his statements create a sense of reality, of normalcy, in me.
And then, I feel a sense of panic.
“Oh man. That means the car was on the side of the road all night. I didn’t lock it when we stopped!”
He grins as I run back through the brightening woods to check. There, about 10-feet off the roadway I see the copper color of the Mustang and feel calm. I reach the car. It is shining, studded with dewdrops.
He has followed me back here.
“Everything’s OK, right?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“So let’s go check out the cave,” he says.
My tongue feels so thick I can barely speak. The sound of each faltering word echoes in my head.
“Keith. Do you know what’s going on? What kind of reality is this, man? Are you really here?
“Why does all that still matter to you, Art?”
I see him standing just a few feet in front of me yet he speaks as a disembodied voice.
“Just stop trying to make sense of everything.”
I can’t let it go. “Can we just talk about this for a minute?”
“We’ve been talking about it for hours. Look at the tape.”
There, on the hood of the car, is a micro-cassette player. The tape is pegged at the stop position with the full 90 minutes of recording time expended. He tells me that the tape ran out over an hour ago.
The dew has disappeared and the mid afternoon sun is on our backs. I have no idea what has occurred in the past hours. This analog tape recorder is from the 1980s. It is the little Panasonic I used to record our dialogs. But that was thirty years ago. I use a digital recorder, not this ancient relic.
“…this ancient relic…” I hear the words repeated as echoing sounds in my head. The words collide, reverberate and…slow…down. Time stops.
Shifting memories swirl through me. I experience, in an instant, a concatenation of moments, once discrete, separated by decades, but flooding me in a tide of recall. I strain to arrange them in some sequence so that I may study them, see them in some chain of causality – to have something make sense.
“Wait a minute. Listen. We’re on our way back to the city, right? You want me to pullover. We stop, park on the side of the road, and stand by that fence over there. I look at you and see you looking back at me. OK? After that though, it’s just flashes, scenes in my mind. Like a dream. And anyway…this trip…the whole thing – it happened a long time ago.”
He does not respond. For an instant, he stands silent, as if frozen in place. Then, from somewhere else, I hear his voice as though it is coming toward me fast and from a great distance.
“This trip…is all there is.”