As the kind and lovely readers who are following me on 'The Land of Heart's Desire' will appreciate, as I attempt to finish another chapter in that story I have longed for the day when I might post something that was not ten thousand words and counting… This came as an exercise inspired by all the wonderful one shots and vignettes here, and already perhaps wants to be more. I can see it dovetailing into a modern AU that I tinkered with the beginning of a few months ago, though the hook of this has now certainly changed. I foresee how this could be both a modern AU and simultaneously closer to canon, though that predisposes your interest in and patience for what is essentially a 'past lives' premise.
Cue: extravagant eye rolls and Rachel Lynde-strength tutting.
Thus whatever this piece becomes, if anything at all, it already owes a heavy debt to the myriad past lives literature out there, particularly in the YA market and especially Ann Brashares' 'My Name is Memory'. Additionally there is David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' and Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' and a few films too; the Kenneth Branagh directed and not-as-widely-known-as-it-should-be film 'Dead Again'; the sumptuous 'Somewhere in Time' and the book on which it is based, 'Bid Time Return'; and even (don't laugh) young Robert Downey Jr in 'Chances Are' (trust me, it's great fun!) There are innumerable others, of course, though they are my favourites. All of the above have swirled in my head as much as my start points in Anne and Gilbert (and Anne and Gilbert!) and Lucy Maud Montgomery's wonderful world and characters.
And now I have written a note nearly as long as the chapter itself!
I am very interested in your responses. I don't mind being howled down and told to stop ridiculous diversions. I love this community and I am both awed and nurtured by you all every day.
BETWIXT THE STARS
'We are but orphaned spirits'
In another time, she fancied to stare at the naked flame of a candle until it burnt itself down to a puddle of molten wax. She scratched out letters by it sitting at an upright desk made of rough hewn wood that still carried the faint forest-scent of its source. She read by it till the darkness shrouded the little east gable room and her grey eyes diverted to the darting shadows on the wall as they entertained in mesmeric dance. She prayed by it, pale hands clasped reverently, mouthing her unchanging incantation for nut-brown hair, and perhaps a few less freckles.
Who even owned candles now, much less used them?
The images would come in her dreams; sometimes so fleeting as to be insubstantial; sometimes dark and potent, gripping her as if by the throat; other times like a melody to lull her. She would awake in the seconds before her heart restarted, in the space between breaths, and she would truly believe herself dead; that she wasn't dreaming at all, but had been flung back through time, catapulted through the centuries. She would leap from the bed and pace, and she could almost feel the starched swish of a long nightdress with fluted sleeves, and her cascading hair held in a thick braid resting over her shoulder, and the creaking floorboards resisting her weight, and the kiss of the branches of a tree, blossoms snow white, against her window when it swayed in the wind. And then she would catch herself, and try to laugh. It was a dream. It was a nonsense.
It was a madness.
It was easier during the day. There was comfort in the cacophony; of a ping on her phone; of her computer screen glowing like a malevolent life force; of the rumble of the car engine before it settled into a satisfied purr; of the orchestral affront of the neverending news cycle. There was clatter and chatter and heedlessly hurtling headlong. There was no opportunity to observe; no moments to measure; no surrendering to the silence.
Occasionally there would be a break; a respite, and she could resume her regular self.
Till an unexpected echo would reverberate… a poem she shouldn't have recognised; a place she shouldn't have heard of; a thing she shouldn't have known.
Who or what was a Euclid anyway?
She wrote everything down, in fevered stream-of-consciousness freefall; every snatched snippet was offered not as a remembered recounting but as a reassuringly reimagined folly. She could pretend they were something she had fashioned, from her own creative pen; she was no slouch in that department on her own merit, but she battled to make anything entirely her own feel as vivid and true as things she didn't want to quite believe she had already somehow experienced…
… a falling from up high…
… holding a young girl coughing up phlegm…
… a small boat sinking…
And always, always there, just on her periphery, was a boy. Reluctant anger pressed in on her when she thought of him; tall, dark haired, teasing. She could never see his face and felt she shouldn't try to; there was a barrier there, a deliberate denial of him. Every time he turned to her there was the sense she turned away.
So in her free time, when she should be researching college courses, she was instead reading up on stress… anxiety… psychosis.
The summer she was seventeen her mother had looked one day upon her pale, pinched face and decided it was time for them to consider something drastic. They would take a holiday, before her final year of school. It would be an adventure, and hopefully a tonic. She came home resolutely armed with brochures spanning the length and breadth of Canada itself.
"I was hoping for something along the lines of Hawaii, Mom…" Anne looked about her in what tried to be bemusement but sounded like despair.
"Who needs Hawaii when you have… PEI?" her mother plucked a stray brochure from the stack fanned out on the floor, waggling it in the air enticingly.
"Mom, I am all for irony, but going to Prince Edward Island for the summer is akin to people who still go to Vegas to elope."
"It looks very picturesque…"
Anne's expression was dubious enough for her mother to take refuge in the delights of the Rockies instead.
"We could go hiking…" her mother suggested. "We could try glamping." There was a pause, and her attractive face fell in shadow. "Though that would rather have offended your dad; he was such a purist. If you were going to try camping it had to be proper camping… you had to feel the dirt beneath your feet…"
"… and the insects swarming…" Anne completed the memory, quietly.
"All his family were from the Island, going way, way back…" her mother mused, leadingly. "He did love his summers there…"
"When he was about twelve and he wanted to be Tom Sawyer, Mom."
"When did you become quite so tired and jaded with life, now, Anne Alexandra Ford?"
Anne bit her lip. Which particular life, there, Mom, are you referring to?
Anne reached out a tentative finger and flicked open the discarded brochure… Beaches … meadows … cattle … fishing … food… Red dirt roads and blazing sunsets. A lighthouse. Quaint villages suggesting bygone times. A quieter, steadier pace. She almost felt her pulse slowing at the thought of it.
"We could do a little tour around… some of the coastal towns, some inland, Charlottetown for shopping…?" her mother's voice had turned rhythmic in its cadence, in its attempt to cajole.
"Yes, I am very tired of all the shops here in Toronto."
Even Anne joined her mother's laughter on that point.
"OK, Mom! I am a bear at the stake. I can't hold my position. You win!"
"I do so worry about your metaphors."
"At least you don't have to worry about my spelling anymore."
"How I long for those days!" her mother's fond look lingered on the features she so loved, a definite throwback to her husband's side… auburn hair, pale skin, otherworldly eyes. "It might be our last time together, my lovely girl. You could be headed anywhere for college, you know."
"Or I could be headed to that little university just down the road."
"To undertake a Bachelor of Arts majoring in smart rejoinders, no doubt." Her mother's smile grew wide, and she commandeered a very specific brochure in victory. "I'm off to make some bookings!"
Anne tried not to fall asleep that night till she was sure she was too tired to dream. Over several weeks she willed herself to think of surf and sun and seaside shenanigans. She didn't want to contemplate quiet brooks, or gentle hills, or orchard groves, or woods, shadowed and haunted, but the images assailed her anyway… As did the newly visceral scene that wanted to replay itself… of the crunch underfoot of laced boots traversing a long country lane… a basket filled to the brim with wildflowers… the sun filtering through the dense canopy above… and of a tall, indistinct figure waiting by a gate, head bent to engage in earnest conversation that hovered on the edge of laughter.
I lovingly take my story title from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 25:
'A Heavy Heart, Beloved, Have I Borne'
My chapter title is also from Barrett Browning's 'Chorus of Eden Spirits'