There were only three patients now. Conner O’Brien, already bitterly resigned to a life in a wheelchair, his legs shattered beyond repair by the collision with the car. There was Avril Turner, a thin, shy woman, almost healed now, and Jessica Samson, her final session, little needed next week. For Jane, now carrying on her meagre practice at home, they were no anchor to this life. Duty had been fulfilled; it was no excuse any more. And so, finally convinced, if not to the process but to the conclusion, the state that she could see her friend was in, Jane had decided to follow Angela to paradise.
Jane had packed her bags that morning, left George a letter to say she was leaving him for another man, she thought it would be easier than an explanation that even she didn’t really believe in. A letter also was best. She could not trust herself if he confronted her, she would tell him of Nick, of her over a year long affair, her lies, her adultery. It would hurt him agonisingly and she would bleed herself dry in the process.
No, better for him to believe she had gone mad, run off with one of her patients perhaps, mid-life crisis. It left things open, not burning any bridges too badly, merely lightly singeing them. Maybe, after the…transcendence, she would go back to him, it was an option at least, if not what she could believe at the moment.
And so here she was. She hadn’t decided to come here, yet somehow, walking in a daydream she had arrived at his door. Strangely she wasn’t surprised, it was the obvious destination, the only place she was ever drawn to with a need that burned in her heart and made her cheeks flare with blood.
She hadn’t wanted to come here today, she had decided to leave Nick without a word, she could not trust herself with him. If she saw him, even if she told him it was over, they would end up making love, writhing, sweaty and blinded by their bodies in his bed, she would give herself to him and she would tell him everything. And probably he would laugh. She had decided to go straight to Evergreen Lane.
Yet now, as she stood here, at the house which was the seat of all the fear, worry, guilt and rapprochement over the past year, she realised that it had never even been an option. Despite her knowledge that he would inevitably destroy her, that the flame of their passion would, in the end consume her, still, like a moth, and with as much thought, she was drawn to the fire.
Calmly, resigned to her weakness, her heart though pounding with excitement as it always did as she approached this door, she walked forward, and rang the bell.
*** *** ***
Conner O’Brien sat, depressed, bitter, angry, exhausted. None of these words could describe the tempest of emotions that flooded him. He was a cripple, he thought to himself bitterly. His body, never the best, not by a long way, had failed him utterly. It had always been under perfect, the other side of mediocre in fact, slightly overweight for most of his life, bad back, acne-riven skin that lasted well into his twenty’s and the scars could even now still be seen if you looked very closely (and Conner did, on a regular basis, staring despondently into the mirror, bemoaning his fate as he watched others every day, walking past.
Some were worse than him, he knew he wasn’t ugly, but most were better, he also knew that. ) His life had been plagued by depression, mild of course, nothing medically wrong with him, maybe if there had been it would have been better, he would have had an excuse, or a solution. Conner had grown up overshadowed by his brothers, their multitudes of friends coming round, going out, filling the pub. Conner’s friends; the one or two who ever he felt a kinship with, that could stand hanging around with him, they left Lewiston for various reasons, their parent’s divorce, their father’s new job. They lost contact with him too easily, and Conner simply slid from having at least one person he could talk to to having no one.
Love had never happened, his friendships with girls worse than his male companionships. He wasn’t sure how romance had passed him by, uglier men than him found love every day, yet still somehow no girl had ever looked his way, and so Conner had never had the courage to approach them.
And yet Conner had coped, he hadn’t let it get him down, he was moderately intelligent, had been to university, his life wasn’t so bad, there were starving children in Africa for heavens sake, what reason did he have to get depressed with merely having no close friends and not being handsome. Besides, he preferred his own company anyway. His body was healthy, he used to tell himself, despite its problems; it was pretty good now you thought about it (and stopped staring, already depressed into mirrors). He had made friends at work, or at least one friend.
And then had come the accident. He had never really liked driving, preferring to take the bus on long journeys and walk on short ones. Yet he had chosen that day to drive, that afternoon. It had been a sunny day, Sarah had been round for a coffee which always made him feel good, he had needed to pick up a book from town that he had ordered and it was a good half an hour’s walk to the bookshop.
He had jumped in his car, driven off down the road, and woken up in hospital with two shattered legs and a dislocated shoulder. Just one accident, a single event, a slip of concentration perhaps or taking his eyes off the road for an instant.
He couldn’t remember how it had happened but it was possible, he mused, that he had just blinked at the wrong instant and destroyed his body forever. He would never walk again, his physiotherapist had said. Jane had looked him over, given him a token few sessions of attempting to get him on his feet, and then told him the good news. She had said it would help if he carried on seeing her, maybe, in time they could wean him onto crutches. Conner didn’t have the will anymore. Months, maybe years of pain and agonising work just to hobble uselessly around on a couple of sticks.
And yet, despite Conner’s bitterness, his groaning weighty depression that led him to lie awake, unable even to turn over onto his side in bed due to the shattered flesh and bone that jutted uselessly from his waist and screamed at him in the night, his tears of self-loathing and unhappiness rolling softly down his cheeks in the dark, despite all that his life had a single ray of light. Sarah had visited him in hospital, coming to see him every day, and sometime after she had left one afternoon, he realised that he loved her.
It wasn’t that blinding passion he had fantasised first love to be. It was simply pleasure at her company, the way her appearance by his bedside, her bright, sweet smile made him grin happily back at her, the way her blonde hair shone in the light from his window which made his heart leap in his chest. And the way he thought of her when she wasn’t there, and lived for the times she was.
He hadn’t said anything of course. He was pretty sure she felt the same way about him, not as strong of course, how could she, but an affection just the same. He was just waiting for the right moment, he told himself; first he had to find out whether she would say yes if he asked her if she liked him, then he would do it. And so he put it off, week after week passed, there was no hurry, there were no other suitors battering at her door, and meanwhile he merely took pleasure in her friendship.
*** *** ***
The door of the great house opened a few seconds after the first ring of the doorbell, almost as if Angela had been waiting in the hallway for Jane to arrive. She looked past Jane and gently raised her eyebrow questioningly at her.
“I’m sorry alright” Jane replied to the unspoken question. “I couldn’t stop him, he wanted to come.”
“I’m sure it’ll be okay.” Angela replied warmly. “Come in, both of you. The others are waiting in the lounge.” With her blood warm within her Jane followed her friend into the hallway. They passed the stairs and moved further on, to the back of the house.
From Jane’s world, safe, ordered, plain, she moved on to the unknown, frightening, exciting, alien. She did not understand what she was doing, the forces that drew her on, was it curiosity, adventure, rebellion, not just against her husband and the middle-England choices she had chosen but against the world. Against the staid, dull, grey world of pain and sorrow and time stretched thin across the sparse frame of mild feelings and muted sensations. Experiences too transient to remember properly, even the present eclipsed by worry and doubt and distractions of flesh and mind.
That was part of it, the need for something else, something more meaningful, something more real. It was this need that had driven her to her adultery; it was this searching that had almost destroyed her. But it was this longing that had broken her free, cast adrift on a nameless ocean. She had leapt blind from the edge of the precipice and now she trusted to be caught by Angela’s offered salvation.
Yet now, lost, alone in her own mind, she walked on, each step a new action, each touch of her foot to the ground a new movement just learned.
Behind her Nick followed, a smile on his face. He followed out of curiosity, the longing within Angela he did not know within himself for he was not prone to such introspection. But it was there as it was within all humanity. Yet it did not drive him, his life, with its failings ignored and its faults enjoyed, his life was good. The suffering he caused, to his parents whom he never called, to the women he’d taken his fill from and discarded when bored, to the people he had met he did not care about for he did not think on such things. He lived for his own ride, his joyride of a life in a body too good for him, brought up in a family he did not deserve. His parents’ love was squandered with their money and his education was ignored despite his talents. His inherent creativity was squandered on meaningless paintings self-absorbed in their banality.
He lived for the self, for the feelings that raged untamed within him. He wasn’t in control of himself and the fire that burned within him, the potential, the meaning was ignored. All his life he had moved towards what attracted him without thinking, taking the plunge, risks embraced for the adventure itself. Slowly the easy life had slipped away, the money, the friends, lost to the past he did not care about.
And so he found himself in a bedsit in Lewiston, his painting flawed and worthless, his relationships broken and diseased, his family estranged, his days spent in drink and drugs. Yet still he did not recognise the pain in his heart, the need for meaning, the search for something real. He was happy during the days and the long nights of the soul were blanked out by cocktails of chemical defences.
As he strode into the house as if he owned it his eyes were everywhere, consuming what he saw, Angela’s face, her breasts, her legs, the chandeliers, now sparkling, the walls, his mind painting the blood of the past, the horror the papers had spoken of. Sensationalism was his god and he drank deep from the house, from his own ideas of it, feeding in on himself and fuelling the darkness of his own thoughts. He did not believe the fantastical tale Jane had spun for him but he would not have been the man he was without demanding to go with her to this place of darkness and past infamy and sensation.
He knew he did not love Jane, her passion for his body, his throwaway life, the excitement she found in his arms, was shared only by his lusts for her. She was beautiful and the sex, born from her fevered desires, fueled his desires: the love replaced by passion, the feeling with sensation, the union of bodies a battle of lusts desperate to be fulfilled. As she came to him she protested, desperately tried to rationalise, to turn her fall into a rise to a higher relationship than the one she had with George. She tried to turn their sex into love. He ignored her words, took what he wanted, laughed at her protestations, when she tried to leave him, knowing she would be back. And while she fooled herself he knew exactly what their relationship was. And he loved it.
The room was intended as a sitting room. Its large fireplace and heavy furniture would have been impressive. The fireplace had ever been unused and the furniture had been removed to the attic. It was a large, airy room, the windows looking out to the back garden, the overgrown wilderness already taking on aspects of order under Mark’s attentions. He had always loved the garden, the flowers, the life flowing so powerfully through the sinews of the plants, the leaves so eager for the sun, the branches so powerfully stretching, the scents and sights and textures of the life that flooded the large spaces and the animal life that merged and meshed with it in harmony and mutual need.
He had tended and cared for it before, ignoring the house as the living world beyond its walls took his attention. He had spent days just sitting and watching the flowers grow, the sun monitoring and controlling the actions of their leaves and petals, his transcended eyes seeing beyond the colours and the spread leaves and seeing the pores open in the surface of the leaf to release the gases of its energy, seeing the roots stretch luxuriantly into the rich earth, drinking deep from its minerals, seeing the petals spread and colour themselves and offer the nectar to the bees that came with a purpose of their own and carrying on the life as they did so. He loved nature and had lost himself in it.
Now was different, he had people to converse with, to relate to. The intricacies of the process of transcendence, once ignored in favour of the experience itself now fuelled the three’s imagination. Sean spoke of spreading the message, helping others, bringing others to this paradise they had found. Angela grew excited at the talk and had left the house to speak with Jane.
Each responded to transcendence differently. While Mark had lost himself in the beauty of the natural world Angela set herself to creating, she cleaned the house and made the chandeliers sparkle again, making the place a house of slanting light and vibrant colours, of golds, whites and yellows. With her creative mind she was turning the house itself into a thing of beauty, while Mark recreated his idyll outside. Sean responded to transcendence itself, searching his own form, his own abilities. He had picked up on Mark’s process of travelling by conscious focusing name. Mark had never bothered to name it, treating it naturally, a movement as simple as walking. He had never experimented or tried to see how far he could go or what else he could do. Sean called it ‘mindshifting’ and he spent hours practising it, days flitting from room to room, from inside to outside. He wanted to know the practicalities; he wanted to know what transcendence was.
Mark stood and watched as Angela led Jane and another man into the room. Jane clutched a large holdall in her hands, unwilling to let go of her past life. Mark suddenly felt instinctively that she would struggle to transcend. She wanted the other world of paradise but she was unwilling to leave the familiarity of her other world, more real to her than any offered ideal. Mark wondered how he knew this but then ignored such questions. Although Sean’s inquiries into their state were intriguing still he felt it of little value. He felt there was little point of knowing why when the experience of the thing itself was so much brighter. He smiled warmly at Jane.
“Jane!” He cried. “It’s great to see you.”
Jane stared in wonder at him. The change in his appearance rendering her speechless for a moment. Then she replied with breathless wonder,
“Mark? That can’t be you. “
“It is,” he grinned.
“The fuck you are,” Nick exploded. “I saw you in the paper. You were a mess.” his incredulity went silent as Jane stepped forward, herself amazed at the difference, and placed her holdall on the floor.
Mark smiled at their reaction. The difference when he’d looked in a mirror had astounded him as well. Gone was the thin, pale man with the stretched-too-tight skin, wasted limbs and dull eyes. Gone was the lank hair and the blotched skin, the haggard stance, slightly bent at the back, the thin lips, the bloodless flesh. Gone were the weak limbs lined with scars from the operations.
Now he looked like he always imagined he did, how he really should look, if the wear of the world, its pain, its changing fortunes was lifted from him, if indeed they had never touched him. He stood tall, his skin a healthy, glowing pink, his brown hair light and soft on his head, his eyes positively sparkling with life, his flesh filled out with blood and a layer of fat. He looked glowing with life, beautiful.
As Mark looked Nick over he realised the kind of man he was seeing, his character, his personality, his potential. It was there, in his face, in his eyes, in the way he stood and walked and looked and was. While Jane would struggle to leave the tank-like security of her body and move into the unknown beyond its solid walls Nick would relinquish his body easily. Though he loved it, its strength, its looks, its form, still he would treat his body as he would his life. It was a fast car that he had not earned or bought and like a joyrider he would discard it if a better offer were presented. If that offer was the pleasure of drugs or the sensations found in his decadence he would discard the health he had, the body he had, in favour of what was perceived as better, as more fun.
And if transcendence were offered, if he chose to go through with it he would slip from his old self and embrace the new with the carefree, throwaway attitude he had always shown.
“Jane told you about Transcendence.” Mark said.
“Sure,” Nick replied, confused but not to be deterred from his deriding expression. “I don’t know why she believes this shit. I’m just here for the ride.”
Mark didn’t react to the profanity, such crudity of language washing over him as the rest of the world’s crudeness did. He was no longer affected by the soiled world his form still dwelt within, for within himself he lived in a new world, one of feeling and of idyll.
With a warm smile at Nick Mark prepared the little spectacle they’d rehearsed to convince their new companions of the truth of what they were faced with. He reached out with his hand and let it pass through the wall, as substanceless as smoke, the brick and plaster giving no sign that the form of a man’s hand had just shared its space for a moment.
Jane gasped. Nick’s grin of amused contempt faltered. He stepped forward, anger at a possible trick mixing with his good-natured derision of what he could not understand. He grabbed Mark’s hand and stepped back as if burnt as Mark let his hand drift free of Nick’s clutch, his fingers disappearing into Nick’s palm and coming out again without any obstacle.
“What the fuck…” Nick managed. Behind him Jane let out a sudden cry of fright as Sean appeared out of the air, standing behind Mark. Nick froze, his mouth open, speechless.