by Ken Grimwood


TWELVE  (continued)

Past Revelstoke, the train sped alongside great, sombre glaciers as it began its climb into the Rockies. Thick forests of red cedar and hemlock covered the surrounding hillsides, and around one bend a field of heather trapped between two glaciers suddenly came into view. The pink and purple flowers rippled, shimmered in the soft spring breeze, their ephemeral beauty a quiet rebuke to the impassive walls of ice enclosing them.

There was a certain erotic quality about the flowers, Jeff thought: Their fragile, wind-blown caress against the unyielding glacier, their vibrant colour so like a woman’s lips, or …

He smiled at Pamela in the seat beside him, rested his hand on her bare knee and let his fingers slide beneath the hem of her skirt. Her cheeks flushed as he tenderly stroked her inner thigh; she glanced around the dome car to see if anyone was looking at them, but the eyes of the other passengers remained fixed on the passing spectacle outside the train.

Jeff’s hand moved higher, touched moist silk. Pamela let out a tiny groan as he gently pressed her cleft, and she arched back against the leather seat. He slowly pulled his hand away, letting the tips of his fingers trail lightly down her leg.

‘Want to take a walk?’ he asked, and she nodded. He took her hand, led her out of the observation car and towards the rear of the train. Between the club car and the diner they paused, maintaining a precarious balance together as they stood and kissed on the swaying metal platform. The wind whipping through the open window was at least fifteen degrees cooler than when they’d left Vancouver that morning, and Pamela shivered in his arms.

Their sleeping car was empty; everyone else, it seemed, had left to seek the panoramic vistas of the dome car or the diner. Once inside their double roomette, Jeff lowered one of the foldaway beds and Pamela reached to draw the windowshade closed. He stopped her, pulled her to him.

‘Let’s let the scenery inspire us,’ he said.

She resisted, teasing. ‘If we leave it open, we’ll be part of the scenery ourselves.’

‘Nobody to watch us except a few birds and deer. I want to see you in the sunlight.’

Pamela stepped back from him. Framed against the changing backdrop of snow-fed rivers and sheer glacial cliffs, she undid her blouse, slipped it off her arms. She plucked at the belt of her skirt, and the garment fell softly to the floor.

‘Why aren’t you looking at the scenery?’ she asked with a smile.

‘I am.’

She slid off the rest, stood nude before the rugged wilderness rushing past outside. Jeff’s eager gaze swept her body as he undressed, and then he moved to her, was joined with her, was pressing her urgently into the soft chair beside the open window as the afternoon sun flickered across their faces and the rumbling wheels on the tracks below rocked them with a steady rhythm.

The train took four days and nights to reach Montreal, and a week later they rode it back west again.

‘What about the Middle Ages?’ Pamela asked. ‘Imagine what that would have been like, the dreadful sameness of it, over and over.’

‘The Middle Ages weren’t quite as totally dreary as most people assume. I still think a major war, and the years leading up to it, would have been far worse; picture always coming back to Germany in 1939.’

‘At least you could have left, gone to the US and known you’d be safe.’

‘Not if you were Jewish. What if you were already in Auschwitz, say?’

It was their favourite topic this month: what the experience of replaying would have been like for someone in another historical period, how best to have dealt with a vastly different set of repeated world events and circumstances from those they knew so well.

Once the floodgates of conversation had been opened between them, it seemed there was no end of things to talk about: speculations, plans, memories … They had gone back over their own varied lives in detail, expanding on the brief personal histories they’d recounted to each other during that first wary meeting in Los Angeles in 1974. Jeff had told her all about the empty madness of his time with Sharla, the healing grace of his years alone in Montgomery Creek. She, in turn, had imparted a vivid sense of the dedication she had given to her medical career, her frustration at knowing she could never again put all that training to full use, and the subsequent creative exhilaration of making Starsea.

A tall, bearded young black man roller-skated past them, deftly weaving his way along the crowded East Fifty-ninth Street sidewalk towards the entrance to Central Park. Giorgio Moroder’s pulsating arrangement of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ blared from the big Panasonic radio he balanced on his shoulder, drowning out Pamela’s reply to Jeff’s hypothetical question about reliving the hell of Auschwitz.

They’d been in New York for six weeks, after more than a year of alternating their time between Jeff’s cabin in northern California and Pamela’s place in Topanga Canyon. Now that they were together, the isolation of the two retreats suited them even more. There was so much to catch up on, so many intensely private thoughts and emotions to be shared. But they hadn’t withdrawn from the world, not totally. Jeff had begun dabbling in venture capital, backing small companies and products that apparently had been unable to obtain adequate funding in previous replays and whose success or failure he had no way of projecting. One desk-top toy, a Lucite cube with small magnets performing a slow-motion ballet in a suspension of clear viscous fluid, had already caught on in a big way, had been the Christmas 1979 version of the Pet Rock. He hadn’t been as lucky, so far, with a holographic video system that had been proposed by two cinematographer friends of Pamela’s. There were continual technical problems with the camera, and maybe the idea had always failed for those reasons. It didn’t matter, though; the uncertainty of these schemes, their very unpredictability, was precisely what appealed to him.

For her part, Pamela had launched herself back into moviemaking with a new sense of fun and freedom. No longer bound by her self-imposed mission to elevate humanity to new levels of consciousness and being, she had written a lightly poignant romantic comedy about mismatched, mistimed love affairs. A young unknown, Darryl Hannah, had been cast as the female lead, and Pamela had insisted on granting directorial responsibilities to a TV comic actor, Rob Reiner. As always, her associates were aghast at her selection of such untested talent, but as producer and sole financer of the project, she retained final say in those matters. She and Jeff had come to New York so that she could oversee preproduction and location scouting for the new film. Shooting would begin in a few days, the second week of June.

They turned right and walked north on Fifth Avenue, resuming their discussion of historical fantasies.

‘Think what Da Vinci might have achieved if he’d had our opportunity,’ Pamela said musingly. ‘The statues, the paintings he might have done in different lives.’

‘Assume he did; maybe the world continued on a different time line for each of his existences, and has for each of ours. In one version of twentieth-century reality he might have been remembered more for his inventions than for his art, if he’d had the time to rework and refine them. In another he might have retreated into his thoughts and left absolutely nothing of note behind. In the same way, there may be one future that will remember you for Starsea, and another in which Future, Inc. has continued as a major corporate presence.’

‘“Has continued”?’ She frowned. ‘Don’t you mean “will continue”?’

‘No,’ Jeff said. ‘If the flow of time is continuous – uninterrupted as far as the rest of the world is concerned, ignoring this loop you and I keep experiencing, and branching out from each version of the loop into new lines of reality depending on the changes we put into motion each time around – then history should have progressed twenty-five years for each replay we’ve been through.’

She pursed her lips, thinking for a moment. ‘If that’s true, though, the individual time lines would be staggered. Each branch would have continued on its path from 1988, when we died, but the preceding one would be twenty-five years ahead of it.’

‘That’s right. So in the world of our most recent replay, the one in which you married Dustin Hoffman and I was living in Atlanta, it’s been only seventeen years since we died. The year is 2005; most of the people we knew would still be alive.

‘But starting from our first replay, the life in which you were a doctor in Chicago and I built my conglomerate, forty-two years have passed. It would be the year 2029; my daughter Gretchen would be over fifty, probably with grown children of her own.’

Jeff grew silent, sobered by the thought of his only true child still alive, yet objectively a decade older than he himself had ever been.

Pamela finished the projection for him. ‘And on the time line of our original lives, sixty-seven years would have gone by. The world we grew up in would be into the second half of the twenty-first century. My own children … they’d be in their seventies. My God.’

Their game of speculation had turned more serious, more troubling than either of them had expected it to. Absorbed in their separate quiet reflections, they almost didn’t notice the smartly dressed blonde woman in her late thirties and the teenaged boy who stood with her outside the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, waiting as the doorman hailed a taxi.

The woman crinkled her eyes with mild curiosity as Jeff and Pamela walked past. Something about the expression suddenly registered in his busy mind.

‘Judy?’ he said tentatively, stopping beneath the hotel’s awning.

The woman stepped back a pace. ‘I’m afraid I don’t recall – no, wait,’ she said, ‘you were at Emory, weren’t you? Emory University, in Atlanta?’

‘Yes,’ Jeff said softly, ‘I was. We were there together.’

‘You know, I thought you looked familiar just now. I could have sworn …’ She blushed, just the way she always had. Perhaps she’d suddenly remembered a night in the backseat of the old Chevy, or on a bench outside Harris Hall before curfew; but Jeff could see she was having trouble coming up with his name, and he spoke quickly to spare her the embarrassment.

‘I’m Jeff Winston,’ he said. ‘We used to go to the movies now and then, or out for a beer at Moe’s and Joe’s.’

‘Well, of course, Jeff, I remember you. How have you been?’

‘Fine. Just fine. Pamela, this is … someone I used to know in college, Judy Gordon. Judy, my friend Pamela Phillips.’

Judy’s eyes widened, and for a moment she almost looked eighteen again. ‘The movie director?’

‘Producer,’ Pamela said, smiling pleasantly. She knew exactly who Judy was and how much this woman had meant to Jeff, in another replay.

‘My goodness, isn’t that something? Sean, how about that?’ Judy asked the gangly young boy who stood beside her. ‘This is an old schoolmate of mine, Jeff Winston, and his friend here is Pamela Phillips, the movie producer. This is my son, Sean.’

‘I’m so pleased to meet you, Miss Phillips,’ the boy said with unexpected enthusiasm. ‘I just want to say … well, to tell you how much Starsea meant to me. That movie changed my life.’

‘You know, he’s not joking,’ Judy beamed. ‘He was twelve years old when he first saw it, and he must have gone back to see it a dozen times. After that, all he could talk about was dolphins, and how to communicate with them. It wasn’t just a passing interest, either. Sean’s going to college in the fall, to the University of California at San Diego, and he’s going to major in – You tell them, honey.’

‘Marine biology. With a double minor in linguistics and computer science. I hope to work with Dr Lilly someday, on interspecies communication. And if I ever do, I’ll have you to thank for it, Miss Phillips. You don’t know how much that means to me, but, well, maybe you do. I hope so.’

A tall man with greying temples came out of the hotel, followed by a bellman wheeling a cart of luggage. Judy introduced her husband to Jeff and Pamela, explained that the family was just ending a vacation in New York. Did Jeff or Pamela ever get down to Atlanta? If they did, be sure to stop by; the name was Christiansen now, here’s the address and phone number. What was the new movie going to be called? They’d be sure to look for it and tell all their friends.

The cab pulled away, and Jeff and Pamela locked arms, held firmly to each other. They smiled as they walked on up Fifth Avenue to the Pierre, but in their eyes was a recognition of mutual sorrow, for all the worlds they once had known and now would know no more.

Jeff poured himself another glass of Montecillo, watched the lowering sun highlight the steep, rocky coastline to the west. Below the slope where the villa perched, and past another hill green with almond groves and olive trees, he could see the fishing boats returning to the red-roofed village of Puerto de Andraitx. A shift in the still-warm October breeze suddenly brought the scent of the Mediterranean through the open window, and it mingled with the robust aroma of simmering paella from the kitchen behind him.

‘More wine?’ he called.

Pamela leaned through the kitchen doorway, a large wooden spoon in one hand. She shook her head. ‘Cook stays sober,’ she said. ‘At least until dinner’s on the table.’

‘Sure you don’t want some help?’

‘Mmm … you could slice some pimentos, if you want to. Everything else is just about ready.’

Jeff ambled into the kitchen, began cutting the sweet red peppers into thin strips. Pamela dipped her spoon into the shallow iron pan, held out a taste of the paella for him to sample. He sipped the rich red broth, chewed a tender bite of calamari.

‘Too much saffron in the rice?’ she asked.

‘Perfect as is.’

She smiled with satisfaction, motioned for him to get the plates. He did, though it was difficult for them both to manoeuvre in the cramped kitchen. The little hillside house was a ‘villa’ in rental agents’ terms only; it was much smaller and plainer than the grandiose appellation implied. But then, Pamela had taken the temporary residence with one simple purpose in mind. Jeff tried to think about that as little as possible, but it was hard to ignore.

She saw the look in his eyes, touched her fingertips lightly to his cheek. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘time to eat.’

He held the plates as she ladled up the steaming paella, then topped the rich seafood stew with green peas and the pimento strips he’d cut. They took their dinner back to the table by the window in the front room. Pamela lit candles and put on a Laurindo Almeida tape, ‘Concierto de Aranjuez,’ as Jeff poured them each a fresh glass of wine. They ate in silence, watching the lights come on in the fishing village far below.

When they were finished, Jeff cleared the dishes while Pamela set out a platter of manchego cheese with sliced melon. He picked halfheartedly at the dessert, sipped from a snifter of Soberano brandy, and tried again, unsuccessfully, to avoid thinking about why they were here on Majorca.

‘I’ll be leaving in the morning,’ he said at last. ‘No need to drive me; I can get a boat back to Palma, take a cab to the airport.’

She reached across the table, took his hand. ‘You know I wish you would stay.’

‘I know. I just don’t want to … put you through it.’

Pamela squeezed his hand. ‘I could deal with it. I could be there for you, be with you … And yet, if it were going to be me first, I wouldn’t want you to see it happen. So I understand how you feel. I respect that.’

He cleared his throat, glanced around the earth-hued room. In the dim glow of the candlelight, he couldn’t help but reflect, it seemed exactly what it was: a place for dying. The very place where she had died, a quarter of a century ago, and would die again not two weeks hence, soon after his own heart had once more failed.

‘Where will you go?’ she asked softly.

‘Montgomery Creek, I suppose. I think you have the right idea about choosing an isolated place to … let it happen. A special place.’

She smiled, a warm, open smile of tenderness and recollected joy. ‘Remember that day I first showed up at your cabin? God, I was so scared.’

‘Scared?’ Jeff said, smiling now himself. ‘Of what?’

‘Of you, I guess. What you might say to me, how you’d react. You’d been so angry at me the last time I saw you, in Los Angeles; I thought you still might be.’

He put both hands on hers. ‘It wasn’t so much that I was angry at you; I was just concerned about the possible consequences of what you were doing.’

‘I know that now. But at the time … When you came into my office at Starsea, out of the blue, I didn’t know how the hell to react. I don’t think I even realized quite how lonely, how desperate, I’d become. I just assumed, by then, that I’d never meet anyone else like me, not even anyone who would believe what I’d been through, let alone someone who’d shared the experience. You’d withdrawn to the land, to your mountains and your crops … while I’d put up emotional barriers of a different sort: outward-focused ones, a very public form of solitude. Trying to save the world was my way of hiding from my own needs. That was a hard thing to admit – to you, or to myself.’

‘I’m glad you had that courage. It taught me I didn’t have to hide from my own feelings or my fears.’

Pamela looked long and deeply at him, tenderness in her eyes and on her face. ‘We’ve soared, all right, haven’t we? We really have.’

‘Yes,’ he whispered, returning the gaze. ‘And we will again, soon. Hold on to that. Don’t forget it.’

Jeff stood at the stern of the boat, watching the village and the hills behind it recede into the distance. He watched until he could no longer discern the figure of Pamela on the wooden dock. Then he lifted his eyes to the red-and-white speck that was her little villa and watched until that, too, had blurred into invisibility.

The wind off the open sea stung his eyes, and he moved into the enclosed section of the passenger ferry, bought a beer, and took a seat alone, away from the scattering of off-season French and German tourists.

It wasn’t really over, he forcibly reminded himself, just as he’d told Pamela to do. Only this replay, that was all that was ending; they’d be together again very soon, could make a fresh start of everything. But God, how he hated to leave behind this particular reality, this life in which he and she had come to know and love each other. They’d come so far, done so much; he was as proud of Pamela’s achievements in film as if they’d been his own. How heartrending to think of entering a world where Starsea, and the enormously successful string of touching, all-too-human comedies and dramas she had made in the years since, never had existed and never would.

He clung tenaciously to the concept of time lines that they’d discussed in New York, years before. Somewhere, he was sure, there would be a branch of reality in which her artistic legacy lived on, would continue to move and enlighten audiences for generations to come. Perhaps Judy’s son, Sean, really would find a way for the dual intelligent species of earth’s oceans and its land masses to communicate with one another; if he did, that supreme gift of shared planetary wisdom would have sprung directly from Pamela’s vision.

It was a hope worth harbouring, a dream to cherish; but now they would have to concentrate on new hopes, new dreams, another life as yet unlived.

Jeff reached into his jacket pocket, took out the small, flat package she had handed him as he boarded the boat. He removed the tissue wrapping carefully, and his throat tightened with emotion when he saw what she had given him.

It was a painting, a precisely done miniature, of Mount Shasta as it appeared from the hill on his property; and in the serene sky above the mountain, two figures swooped and soared on brilliantly feathered wings: Jeff and Pamela, like mythological creatures come to life, in eternal exultant flight together towards a destiny never before encompassed in reality or myth.

He stared at the tiny work of art and love for several moments, then rewrapped it and put it back into his pocket. He closed his eyes, listened to the churning of the boat as it cut through the waves of the Bahia de Palma, and settled quietly into the first leg of his journey home to die.

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