The next morning, I came down early, set my bags by the car and waited until the host poked her head out the kitchen door to tell me my friend was waiting on the porch around the other side of the house. I had missed her coming downstairs. I left my bags and went to find her.
“Rose,” I called to her.
“Oh, there you are,” she said and rose from the white wicker ‘country style’ arm chair with its cheerful print cushion. Nothing cheerful about her demeanor, however; she was all business. I reached for her suitcase.
“Don’t bother, I can manage.”
“Don’t be silly, I insist.”
She reluctantly released her grip on the handle and I returned to the Subaru with the bag where I then waited for her to open the trunk. Loaded up, without discussion we got in and crunched out on the gravel drive and proceeded to make our way south. The original plan was to take the Southern Tier Expressway I-86 back east toward Troy but we hadn’t traveled very far before I asked Rose to pull over.
“Please. Just stop. Pull over.”
“There’s nowhere to pull over.”
“Yes there is. Please.”
“Are you sick? Are you going to – oh good grief not in the car, hang on.”
We scraped the gravel shoulder and bumped to a stop in a dirt tractor path headed into a vineyard.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Don’t be mad at me, Rose,” I said.
“I’m not mad. Breathe.”
I made an effort to demonstrate calm breathing. When she was satisfied I was not going to vomit or pass out, she relaxed.
“I’m not angry,” she began and reconsidered, “well, maybe I was a little annoyed I admit but I think I was not entirely unjustified, and maybe it was a touch of low blood sugar and a long day but really, I was – I really am trying to help. I’m trying to understand.”
“I know that,” I said. “I’m sorry, I have put you through a lot, it isn’t fair.”
“Oh honey, it’s not about being fair,” she said, and then without missing a bit continued, “I’m just concerned.”
“I’m so sorry about – there are some things I haven’t told you.”
“I’m sorry too and what do you mean, what things?”
I wondered how best to begin. Ever since waking up that morning I had begun to see what I needed to do, I had just not quite sorted out how. Funny, sitting there I could see everything unfold, like a play I was busily staging in my mind, although that might suggest my imagination was running away with itself again. I had done that already, hadn’t I?
So without getting into too much detail, I proceeded to explain how I’d been reading some books and had discovered what the real problem was. That it wasn’t William, and I wasn’t possessed and there was no one after me, no government agency trying to come and arrest me or punish me, it was just my overly active imagination running away with itself, and so all I needed to do was to enlist Rose’s help in forgetting any of this had ever happened. And then – and this is the part I didn’t explain, along with the business with Dick wanting to pop my head like a boil – then, with the coast clear, I could Fall in Time and do whatever it was I was supposed to do that somebody, maybe Dick, maybe some secret government agency or who knows who but somebody out there or back there or in there didn’t want me to do. The point was, I had no doubt there was something that had to be done that only I could do, and once I’d accomplished whatever it was I would be free.
Maybe it had never been about William, maybe William was a false lead. I could accept that it didn’t matter now. As the stranger had said to me all those years ago, there were things you had to do in Life, things you’d come here to do and you could do them now or you could do them later, either willingly or you could try and stall but it wouldn’t get any easier by waiting or procrastinating, you weren’t going to get out of here until you did them.
Except I couldn’t tell Rose any of that.
So we sat in the front seat of the Subaru, looking out at the rows of someone’s vineyard, ringed by woods, like the view from a stage out toward an empty theater, and I told her as much as I dared about my plan. First of all, however, I apologized for not being more grateful for everything she’d already done, and for the trip to Lily Dale and for all her support and encouragement.
“Well, thank you,” she replied. “And as for the other evening, I don’t – I wasn’t mad at you. We’re all trying to find our way, it’s not up to me to tell you which way to go or lead you to the light when half the time I’m stumbling in the dark myself. I’m just trying to be helpful – ”
“You have been very helpful, Rose.”
“ – and I’m trying to understand.”
“Yes, I know that and I really do appreciate everything you’ve done.”
“Thank you, Rose.”
“And so, hang on a minute, so you’re saying William is fine, he’s happy. According to Sarah.”
“Yes, it certainly sounds so, yes.”
“So the problem isn’t William now, is it?”
“Well, I mean I don’t suppose you could call William a problem anyway, he’s never been a problem…”
“Really? Okay, fine, whatever. So now you say the problem is memory, is that it? Along with analysis and imagination. The three ‘Impediments’ as you call them which oh, only every creative individual since the beginning of Time hopes to possess in good supply, works to develop to the fullest, as a writer, as an actress, a musician, a dancer – but no, you’ve decided that memory and the ability to analyse and imagine, that these critical talents just get in the way. Get in the way of what, exactly?”
“Of my being free?”
“Is that a question?”
“No. Yes, free.”
“I see. I don’t actually but okay, just trying to follow along here. And your plan, then, is to forget everything. And you want me to help you do that. Forget.”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“How else should I put it? You want me to pretend we never did any of this? Never came to Lily Dale, never found a travel diary of an actor named William Macauley, never met his family, we never drove the length of the state of New York – and you got this plan of yours from where?”
“I read it in a book.”
“Oh well then a book,” she said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Quite a plan.”
It had in fact seemed like a very good plan, until I tried telling it to Rose.
“Don’t you think it’s possible,” Rose began, and turned and leaned in so closely and intently I tried to shrink back against the passenger window. “Look at me,” she commanded, and when I did her face and voice softened. “Don’t you think you’ve already tried that?”
“Tried forgetting. Honey, don’t you see that? You must. You’ve been trying to forget for a long time now.”
At this she sat back again in her seat and sighed and closed her eyes and leaned her head against the Subaru headrest. We sat in silence. It was quiet out here, on a late morning in May in the middle of nowhere, in the rural obscurity of upstate New York. Not a sound rising above the level of the rustling in leaves and grass of the invisible world around us.
“I’ve been in therapy on and off for years,” she said at last. “I know a lot about what it means to not want to remember. Even to feel as if I’m remembering wrong. ‘You’re tired,’ my mother used to say. ‘You’ve been playing too hard and you’re tired and you need to lie down.’ Years later a therapist says to me, ‘I’m hearing a lot of anger,’ and I say, ‘Oh no, I’m just tired.’ I could not even remember how I was feeling or what I was feeling or what it was called and then I realized I hadn’t been tired, not then and not now, I wasn’t tired at all. I was fucking angry, but I didn’t know that, wasn’t allowed to know that as a child and is any of this making sense to you?”
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
“Fair enough,” Rose replied. “What do I know?” Then after another pause, she said, “I’ll make a deal with you.”
“What? You will? Okay.”
“Here’s the deal. We continue our little journey, and we agree that we’re not going to worry about any of this until we get back where we started from, how’s that? Just enjoy the ride, enjoy the scenery, have a nice time, enjoy our road trip, our excellent adventure, how does that sound?”
“Seriously.” I didn’t want to argue with Rose. Speaking of tired, I was. Tired of trying to explain. In the moment it no longer seemed important. I could proceed with my plan, with or without Rose. I just hoped, no matter what happened, that Rose would remember. I hoped that she would remember, at any rate, even if I didn’t, afterward.
“Good,” she said firmly. “Shall we?”
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”