“… I can tell you that for as long as I remember, even before she was born, she has carried the scent of the edge of a wave, cheekily dancing on the early morning sands. Her propensity to smell like the sea was born long of generations of which she had no knowledge and was never likely to meet on paper or other ways. How could she know that the boatswain on Nelson’s flagship was but a single marker on the many fingered corpse of relatives lost at sea, returned to their origins and now, in this life, she smells like fresh seaweed, pulsing in the currents, caressed by shoals who dance their mystical circular underwater patterns around her legs, her arms, her body, her long hair and her lungs. Her heartbeat sounds like the relentless crunch of parrot fish on coral and has led many a doctor to wire her to an ECG machine before they can get paper proof of her existence.
But I have eyes that have seen mountains form and islands sink. Each crack and crevice has shown me its name and every blade of grass offered itself to me one afternoon when I was looking in the right direction. It has always been about looking in the right direction. I have ears that have heard ash smother the cries of infants and the songs of the bones of all those forgotten creatures that still occupy the bottom of the ocean and who can never reveal themselves for fear of, well let me leave that for your imagination. My heart has pounded until my throat bled when I felt the caress of a Bedouin minutes after being lost to the dust in a desert so vast that even the constellations were too lazy to join and communicate over such space. I have a nose that can smell the corners of fire and the compilation of nuclear contamination, but don’t worry – we’re safe right here, for now anyway. I am a timekeeper and a Timesleeper. It’s impossible to be one without the other. It’s the perfect combination for flight and contingency. I am the perfect combination for me.
Timesleeping allows me to lift my head and like turtle, examine safely and slowly what it is that unfolds before the next step. I switch and see wherever I wish to see, however I wish to see and whoever I wish to see. Sometimes it’s like looking down a long chute made of bamboo. At times I can be caught into the stickiness inside and its no easy passage moving soft of foot from here to there, sleeping all through tropical storms and waking before the intension is expressed by any other human being. Timekeeping, well that’s my pleasure and in order to keep the time of this curly head, I have had to sleep through centuries of uninvited noise and scratching of the surface of my face and skin. My hands and feet have been voluntarily bound in order for her to make it this far – it’s a deal we all do, whether you see us or know us or not. It’s a deal I did centuries ago and one that I happily stick to as now, this tousled head of hers is as much mine as my own.
Timesleeping is an art form. It begins with a chute, a slide of sorts and in the same way penny chocolates are rolled on the floor at Christmas time when children play, you can be given a line of time to rest upon and in that space, you can hang there for years and years until you feel your calling. She called me. She woke me and spiralling down I appeared for her, ready to keep watch, ready to keep time. I don’t know how long I have spent Timesleeping, but I do know that those of us who are called to such slumber are more than you might imagine and have been as much of a constant as time itself for how can time exist without the sleepers and keepers for it to spin out on its axis and rotate in the way the Apsara dancers of Hindu temples have kept the attentions of blood and bone for quite as long as they have. In the fingers of the dancers lies the messages of flowers and crowns, of lust and temperance and in the side glance and silver chute key I have on my chain, is stored the messages that you have presumed forgotten. Still here, they are all still here. The jigsaw of the world’s memory is still waiting to be formed from the combination of all sleepers – but how to wake us simultaneously? Perhaps we are the spirit dancers, stepping in and out of physics’ formulae. A favourite past-time, my digressions, after all, where is time but if not here, now kept by me? A candyfloss of experiences sticking ungainly and unapologetically to each part who dares to touch and admit the taste of time is as real and sweet as overripe persimmon dribbling down between each of your fingers as you dare to bite deep into the flesh, pushing your teeth and tongue into its flush centre, sucking back to retain as much of the juice as you can; allowing the smear of it to be left upon your lips and at the corners of your mouth. Yes, your mouth has corners like your eyes have pools within them. Just close them, take a breath in before you bite down and imagine. The neural pathways for memory and imagination are so closely patterned that I know you will not be able to differentiate between what I have just said and whether you have tasted it in reality. It is in your imagination and now welcome to the world of whispers, Timesleepers, Timekeepers, silver keys, lit bamboo chutes and the stickiness of unknowing.
When they made her, they spoke her name into the lake beside the cottage where they lay. They began by whispering imaginary names that were born of dulcimers and harps. These raw sounds pushed out of the waters and twisted in the rushes reforming and reworking until I heard them. In their new incantation, they appeared clear as the top line of a clarinet dancing melody with an oboe; in perfect synchronicity and then, as its long finger struck the inside of my, drumming rhythmically, I stretched out the presence I had to administer structure to the situation of her. That’s how I began in this timeline. I began as its administrator, ensuring that the keys were polished, the chutes free of oil and the locks were obscure enough for a beginning of note. It’s actually about timing and it takes aeons to manage it perfectly. I am managing it perfectly this time. I once knew a Timesleeper who came to keep time as a tiger. He chose a chute without due consideration being more impetuous than wise, landed in the wrong boat on waters black and purple. Before long, three young monks who were entrusted to care for him, let him slip deep into the ocean thinking that his demise might appease the remains of some animistic superstition that still occupied them. There came a wave so high they had imagined a demiurge to have thrown it at their boat and like a game played by children who are unsure of the rules, they felt compelled to throw something back by return. As their golden haired Timekeeper returned to his slumber, in depths only imagined by such small forms as them, they were reported to have discovered new skin grow upon their bodies, rough and bumpy, keeping them in a state of entrancement while they watched the sun rise and fall. It was not by accident that they forgot how to eat the simplest of foods and their mouths broke out in an army of ulcers. Their perspiration tasted of sorrow but then again, so does yours when you wake in the night. Sorrow and regret oozes out of every human in each unguarded moment of darkness. That’s why you need us. We keep you safe when it’s your turn to sleep and time is kept protected in the nerve cells of our petty cosmos.
Back to the chords of my heart that now has a face and for whom I heard the call of my name and I woke. She is five and I love her as each blow lands upon her back and as each kiss touches her golden head. Her soul was dedicated to the wind long before she could even know of the existence of souls or the minutiae of temporal responses. Whenever she sleeps, the earth’s surface splits open somewhere, spits out green seeds, a tiny red flame within and waits for her to find them and gather them. One day she will be ready to plant them on a daily basis, dream by dream, itch by itch, scratch by scratch, kiss by kiss, blow by blow, but until that day, there is the bilious earth who will not stray from such preparation for all the fulfilment of each soul through slices of time. But for all this, she is locked in love beneath soft swords and heavy feathers and it is the meaning of honour that finds the root of my actions.
At this time that I am the softness at her fingertips as she experiments with the dimensions of heartbeats, some smooth, some furry, but always warm and responsive as she carries the smell of the edge of the ocean and each wave into moments that flow upwards off the surface of this earth into the candy floss of memory and time, of hope and even of your own beginning and ending, concurrent as they run because she does remember these as being happy times and onlookers are inconsequential to the emotions and love of a child, as they should be…”
Image: © Predrag Pajdic, 2012; With Anthony Thévenoux and the Crow
Text: © JL Nash, 2012; When Dog Becomes Crow from her forthcoming novel The Adventures of Rocket Dog