I find shelter in the library.
It’s not cool, but it’s cooler.
A woman laughs over a book on organic DYI recipes for mosquito spray.
I’m not dying. People die from exposure. I am not dying, not at this moment.
It’s cooler in the library.
I can’t erase the sight of the woman–Martha Sally–lying at the edge of the swamp. I don’t want to erase the sight. I want to remember. I want to remember her and how I could not save her and how she passed a few hundred yards from the library where it is cooler. I want to remember.
Looking through the library, I see an article that brings a strange sense of deja vu.
The date of publication is July 10, 2017.
I must have read this in the Before.
The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable. (Wallace-Wells)
My body trembles as I read this. I can’t stop shaking.
What was the unimaginable? What did we turn away from?
Did I really witness a death?
I stop to breathe.
A few hours later, I’m in the community garden near base camp.
It’s evening. The sun is low and a breeze blows up from the river.
I try to put it all together–Martha-Sally at the edge of the swamp. An article I had read before. The warnings. The turning-away.
I realize that no one, ever, talked about it.
“How’s the Tea?”
I turn to see the gardener, standing with a wide grin. I smile, in spite of it all.
“I’m not so sure,” I say. “I can’t tell what I feel.”
“You look OK,” he says. “Not peaky.”
He asks if I’ve been handling the heat wave all right.
I tell him I don’t know. I think so. I tell him about Martha-Sally.
I tell him that I can’t really tell how I feel, and that I was trembling a lot in the library, and everything has a sort of black outline around it.
“Like double-vision?” he asks.
“More like a void,” I say. “I think it’s cognitive, not physical.”
But I don’t know what I mean by this.
“Are you having trouble processing?” he asks.
And I realize that’s it.
“That’s a natural response,” he says. “Take it easy. Don’t make the mind make sense of it. Let the body make the sense first. The story can come later.”
We wander through the garden for a bit. He waters. I walk.
My body trembles. I breathe.
We find ourselves having circled back to where we began.
“Would you like to hear about how we got here?” he asks.
I nod. I’m not worried to hear what he says. I know that if it is too much for me, I will not be able to take it in. These gaps in cognition will protect me.
“You remember when the jet stream broke up, yes?” he asks.
My body shakes.
He talks. I cannot hear him. Or I hear him, but I cannot comprehend the words.
But as he talks, I see the falling of cities. I see waves crashing. My body remembers running. I see people lining the alleys, winding through the streets, standing and staring.
He talks, and I cannot hear the words. I can hear his voice, but I cannot comprehend. But I remember them falling. I remember the hospitals closing their doors. I remember the stench.
He talks. My body trembles.
“You can run,” he whispers. My legs tense, and I break free and I run. I run through the garden. It’s crashing around me. My arms flail. I break free.
I am standing opposite him, and he is studying me.
His name is Jarrod.
“Jarrod,” I say. He studies me. I take in a breath, and it is sweet and cool like evening lemons.
“Is that a cricket chirping?” I ask. “Has it been here all along?”
“It’s a cricket,” he says. “Are you here?”
I take another evening breath. “I am here! How did I get here?”
“I brought you,” he says. “I’m a lightbringer.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“A lamplighter,” he says. “A lamplighter lights the way from one destination to another.”
“Were you in the Before?” I ask.
“All lamplighters were in the Before,” he replies. “We were all there. You were there, too. You’ll remember, one day, if you’re meant to. But what matters now is that you’re here. You’re feeling OK now, aren’t you?”
And I am. I am feeling OK.
Author’s Note: The concept of the Lamplighter was created by Brennachan for Monday Murkspiration #1. Monday Murkspirations happen every fortnight and offer ideas for writers and creators to interpret.