When Memories Dawn
by Bertil Falk
part 1 of 2
In the past they had told her that she imagined things, but not any more. When she told them that all the people she loved had vanished in front of her into thin air, they just nodded approvingly. The younger people were more understanding and more sensible than the older ones. They were of course better educated than the previous generations had been. They believed her when she told them the truth.
It was to her a source of sorrow that all people she loved had gone up in smoke as if they did not love her as she had loved them. And that was the most troublesome of thoughts, the idea that they had disappeared because they disapproved of her for some unknown reason. But how could her best friend have turned her back on her? How could her beloved brother possibly have left her, and then her mother, her fiancé and her child?
They were all gone, they had walked away from her into a mist and then they had not been there any more. Into thin air, yes. Perhaps they had been taken away, spirited off by some unknown agency, an agency that disliked her and wanted to hurt her. Did hurt her! But no, she did not believe that either.
So the Swedes were gone, and the Germans and the Russians and all the others who had been pestering them over the centuries. It was the third time in her life that the flag had been hoisted; this time it happened in front of her wheelchair on the terrace of slates outside the big hospital building.
Now their beautiful flag streamed against the sometimes blue, sometimes white sky – every day. It must have signaled an improvement of their situation. She knew it and she almost expected that they all would return out of that mist: her best friend, her brother, her mother, her fiancé, her child.
And yes, in later years new personnel had treated her with understanding. When she told them that those she loved had walked straight into nothingness, they agreed. It was soothing to be understood at long last, after such a very, very long time. But it did not explain why they all had walked out on her like that.
There was a magazine on the little round table to the right of her wheelchair, but she did not read any more. She had not read anything for years. Oh, days of my childhood, she thought. Days in the city, summers in the countryside near the southern frontier. The cows grazing in the rich pastureground, the gray wooden fences. Grandma in her kerchief, always outgoing and happy, always telling her the stories about Laima, the goddess of liktenis, of fate. Laima, the name of the chocolate bars she was permitted to eat on Saturdays. And when a cow calved, she was treated with beestings pudding made out of the first milk.
“Laima was so good to me, when your mother was born,” Grandma said while she milked the cows. “She saw to it that my pregnancy was good. She was in the house all the time until your mother was born.”
“Did you see her?”
“I felt her presence,” Grandma said. “She was there and her sisters Dekla and Karta were with her. They all have our destiny in their hands.”
Back in the city, Sara was her best friend. Sara with her dark hair in braids, her searching eyes always seeming to look for something. They played with their dolls and she knew that Sara loved her as she loved her, gently, dependably, gladly. And the flag, maroon-white-maroon, fluttered in the wind.
Soon after came the field-gray soldiers and the black ones. They too marched through the streets, the soldiers singing songs and the men in black with a standard-bearer who held another red flag with a round white spot in which an ugly spider stretched out its hooked legs. The hammer and sickle disappeared, and the old maroon-white-maroon flag was hoisted again in the city.
That day she and Sara had been building a sandcastle in the sandbox behind the house where she lived. And then they had played outside the church. After that Sara was tired and she wanted to go home. Sara walked away, and then she turned around and waved her hand and disappeared into a haze.
The next day she did not come to play in the sandbox. Mother had been very gloomy. Mother did not say anything at all, she just took her in her arms and pressed her to her bosom. She was not sure, but she thought she cried.
She waited every day, but Sara did not return the next day, nor the next. She never returned. That was the first time someone she loved had deserted her, encompassed by a haze. She missed her. She still missed her. And outside the church was a new sign with strange characters.
* * *
It was the young man’s first day at the hospital and it was the first time he made the round to the wards with the professor, who explicitly described the cases to him. The professor was an older Russian, who had been planted at the hospital during the worst years of Russification. He was held in high esteem, for he was a most competent and well-educated man, fit for his job as the chief physician.
His new colleague was a native, who just had passed his examination. They were at the end of the round and stood in the opening between two big glass doors, facing the back of a wheelchair on the terrace.
“This old lady,” the Russian said in his native tongue, “has been here for many years now. She suffers from the delusion that all people she loved left her without warning.”
“And how do we know it’s a delusion?” the young man asked in his native tongue.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your language very well.”
“How long have you been here?” the young man said in Russian.
“About forty years,” the Russian said. He turned red. “I see what you mean. I should have picked up your language by now.”
“Come, sir, we are all equals now. Let’s not argue about the past.”
“Are we? I will not get citizenship here, because I haven’t mastered your language.”
“And how do we know that she’s the victim of a delusion?” the young man repeated in Russian, as if he had not heard that last remark.
“She says that they all disappeared into thin air, as if they were being transported somehow.”
* * *
What a lovely day, the sun was shining. A breeze moved the paper of the magazine on her table. She almost felt elated. She was so happy, except for the lingering memories. They made her uncertain. Her elder brother, how she had loved him. And still loved him, but she had been most unhappy the day he came home in that black uniform. He said that he had joined the army in order to save them from the Russians, who were preparing to return.
She remembered all the black men who flooded the city the day Sara disappeared into that dizzying smog in front of her eyes. She never liked the black-clad men, and seeing her beloved brother, who was twelve years older than she, dressed in that black uniform, was depressing. He said he was going to the front to fight for their freedom. He embraced her and kissed her and then the same thing that happened to Sara happened to him.
She was standing on the doorsteps and he turned around and waved, as Sara had; and once more she waved back. And then he went straight into a fog just as if kidnapped by fairies. He never came back. Those who are gone into the dusk never come back. They just disappear. But they must be somewhere. But where?
* * *
The professor scratched his head. He was obviously disturbed by the young man’s reminding him of the injustice done when the country was annexed, incorporated as a dependent republic within the Russian sphere, in fact, a vassal state that had once been an independent nation. It had been done by force.
The young man broke the silence. “So this old lady seems to believe in what’s called teleportation?”
“No, I don’t think that teleportation is the right word,” said the older man, returning to the actual case. “Teleportation means a sudden disappearance from a point in space and the re-emergence somewhere else thousands of kilometers away or, as in science fiction, on another planet. And it’s an instantaneous thing. It has never been achieved and I don’t think it ever will be.
“Anyhow, she’s not talking about teleportation. She’s talking about sudden disappearances. Sometimes she thinks that it was done purposely, that it was a deliberate way of getting away from her. Sometimes, she thinks that they were transported as if by spirits or carried away as if by the devil.”
“So, she doesn’t really know what to believe?”
“In a sense she does. She knows that they disappeared in front of her. In another way she doesn’t, for she doesn’t know why they disappeared.”
“Do you know?”
“I think so. Yes, I know. It’s in her case-book.”
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk