Perchance: Part IV is the fourth chapter in the ongoing Perchance serial, wherein the more Joe understands about the very extraordinary island, the more complicated the unknown becomes. Click here for the previous chapter.
As they walked to the circular stone table, Joe studied the flowers beneath his feet. He and his father used to garden together when he was younger, and, even now, he recognized which were lilies, violets, petunias, a stray, short Rhododendron shrub, and tulips, which were his personal favorite. He appreciated the colors; they calmed him.
He took his seat across from Sandra, taking a wary bite out of a sliced cantaloupe retrieved from a platter on the table, which seemed to have been restocked since the night before. “I need some answers. Please.”
Sandra leaned forward. “So do I. Plus, I want an ally, a friend. And so do you.”
“Does that mean, are you a prisoner here too?”
“Not exactly, no. I’ve just always been here. And you’re not technically a prisoner here, I don’t think. My aunts don’t mean you any harm. They just don’t understand how you got here.”
“So this is just as much of a mystery to you, as it is to me?”
“That’s what they tell me.” Sandra pursed her lips.
“Why didn’t they just tell me that from the beginning? Why didn’t you?” Joe looked at her more closely. “You don’t entirely believe them, do you?”
“They keep things from me. I’ve known that for years.”
“What kind of things?”
“Like I said in the tent.” She leaned in further, like a child confiding an adult with secret information about an imaginary mission. “Dangerous things.”
Joe nodded unenthusiastically, but he caught himself, attempting to mime some genuine interest. “And the invisible coat rack?”
“It was always there. You just hadn’t looked for it.”
“But it wasn’t there.”
“It was to me and my nans. How do I explain this?” Sandra reached across the table for his right hand, holding it in both her palms “You see, that house – we call it the Lodging – the Lodging isn’t a simple, personal space. It’s a shared space, a place where we choose to live together, a connection founded on trust. It’s what makes something a home. We choose to see the coat rack there because that’s how we see our mutual space, and we’ve agreed upon it. But it’s not a conscious construction; it’s just how we three fit together. Without empathy, the room is empty.”
“I still don’t understand,” Joe said, chewing on a mouthful of berries.
Sandra looked around, eventually casting her eyes skyward. She pointed up. “We agree the sky is blue, yes?”
“Yes,” he gulped.
“Ok, but how do you know that the blue you see is the same blue that I see?”
Joe sat up in his seat, dropping a handful of grapes back onto the plate; he had thought about this himself in the past. “Like, how do I know that your blue isn’t my green, in terms of what we actually see? The spectrum may shift, even if the spacing is the same. Or something like that.”
“Yeah, basically. The Lodging works on a similar principle. Blue is blue just because we use that word to describe a range of electromagnetic wavelengths, regardless of how our brains may or may not process it.”
“So, I had to agree that the coat rack was there, with you? We had to use the word coat rack?”
“No, not quite like that. It’s not about the objects themselves; in a home, it shouldn’t be. It’s about the people you share the space with. You have to know the person, and only then can the objects, words, ideas begin to take on a common meaning. Since my family and I know each other, since we’ve lived together for years, that perspective is easy, and the Lodging is a home. And to you, even as an outsider, there’s some common ground, allowing you to see at least the bare exterior of a house.”
“So what changed?”
“When we talked in the tent, we got to know each other a little better, to see, even vaguely, some aspect of one another’s identity, traces of our minds, our interiors, although not quite with the dramatic revelations I had hoped for.”
“And our identities or connection or whatever were manifested as a coat rack?”
“That was just the first step, a foot in the door, or, more accurately, in the entryway. And we are going to work on it together.”
“But none of this is possible. Nothing works like this. Ever.” Joe’s mind, suspended in the temptation of temporary fantasy, boomeranged back to his realistic prejudices.
“You can choose not to believe me,” Sandra said softly, pairing her wide smile with mischievous, raised eyebrows, “but it’s unavoidable. You can’t stay out at night. And even if it takes months, the more time we spend together, the more the house will reveal itself to you. Sooner or later, you’ll see with your own eyes that I’m telling the truth, but if you work for it, it will only make things easier.”
“However long it takes to figure out what is going on.”
Joe nodded, his mind tumbling down through the cascade of a thousand thoughts. She was undeniably sure of herself, betraying no ulterior motive and nothing dishonest. He did not feel that she was lying, not that he trusted his own ability to tell whether or not she was deceiving him. He did not trust much about anything even remotely related to the situation, least of all himself. Then again, self-doubt had always haunted Joe, even before he arrived on the island. As much as he kept asking them and himself why he had been taken, implying the question of why he was specifically the one who was taken, whisked away, he could not come up with a single answer. His family was not wealthy enough to merit targeting for ransom. He did not have any notable ancestry or birth, as far as he could tell, and was certainly no secret royalty or Kal-El. His family wasn’t particularly interesting, from his point of view. It was small; he was an only child. He was not very religious. Although raised Christian, he doubted heavily that the trio were angels bent on saving his soul, not least because he had not done anything wrong enough to merit saving. Still, Sandra looked at him like he was important, like he was real, in a way that no one had before. She looked at him with eyes open, in the way that he had always wanted his friends to look at him. In most social situations, Joe often thought that no one wanted to look at him, choosing not to because he probably had too uncanny a gaze or because he was not particularly good-looking or, as he had thoroughly outlined for himself, interesting. To put it simply, there was probably always someone better to look at or talk to. There was always going to be someone better to choose, compared to the self-conceived below-average Joe.
“So, you need my help?” he wondered aloud, pushing the platter away from himself.
“I don’t need you. I’m sure that I could do things on my own. But I want you. I want your help.”
Without a second thought or a single word, Joe turned away, walking to the edge of the sand. As he watched the ocean’s waves crest closer with the rising tide, Sandra watched him for a short while, resting her head on the table.
And then, two hours later, he came back. He looked for her, eventually finding her in the same tent from the morning. “I’m sorry,” he insisted before she could say anything, sitting across from her in a mirrored position. “I don’t know what’s going on. This place, all of this … I feel so vulnerable. It feels like there’s something wrong with it. And I’m worried. I’ve acted immaturely. I don’t know why. Or maybe I do, as you seem to have been pointing out to me all day. You have to understand, what you said, it’s everything I can’t trust, every shred of self-consciousness I’ve ever known, boiled down into a few words. I’ve always been the guy that people needed, helping people out of tight spots, with work, with advice. But, with everyone but my parents, and I know this is wrong – but it’s the truth – I’ve never been wanted. I was never someone’s best friend. I was never the one people wanted to flock to at parties or at work or anywhere. And it might be my fault, even though I tried – I tried so hard and so often to show people that I cared” and, for the second time, Joe found himself tearing up again, “ – but that’s why it was difficult for me to believe that you would want me to help you. So, while I’m sorry that you didn’t get someone better, at the very least, I do know this: I don’t want to be alone. So, as I said, I’m sorry. I’ll help you. I want to help you.”
Sandra’s soft smile widened into an ecstatic grin. “Joe, I want you to be my friend.” Reaching into a pocket, handsewn by Sandra herself into her dress, she pulled out a weathered, folded piece of paper and held it out to him.
“Take a look at this. You and I, we get started tomorrow. And, if you could,” she commanded, trying to put on a stern face, “you’ll have to try not to sleep in as late as you did today.”
Mo and Cal stood on the edge of the evergreen jungle, having just returned from a hunting trip. Cal held up a dead, wild boar, slung by a length of rope over her shoulder. She was preparing to tie it to a tree so that Mo could dress it.
“They seem to already be getting along,” Mo observed from atop a small boulder, pointing to Sandra and Joe, who were walking along the edge of the beach back toward the Lodging. Joe was entranced by a rectangular piece of paper, holding it up close to his eyes and squinting, while Sandra pointed to the different tents.
Cal heaved the carcass over the branch, testing the weight. “And I was thinking that we would need to push things along.” She tied the rope into a rigid knot and stepped away.
Mo drove her machete into the pig, cutting it down the middle. Blood splashed onto the floral turf below. “We still might.”
Sandra opened the door for Joe, letting him into the Lodging while he analyzed every corner of the map. Without looking up, he began to pace around the room, following the edges. “Any ideas?” she asked, hanging her bucket hat on the visible coat rack. Disheveled and free, her hair looked like it had been cut by a whirlwind barber from the art-deco days of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as her curly, blonde locks flowed like a thundercloud and glowed in the afternoon sun.
“Maybe.” Joe was afraid to admit that he could make neither heads nor tails of the map, as of yet. To his eyes, he could not even tell how she had deduced that it was a map. Vague lines dashed along the ancient parchment, connecting and disconnecting into a fractured spider-web of ink and misplaced letters. If it was a map, it seemed to be unfinished. Or perhaps it was simply too complex a thing for Joe to understand, as nearly everything on this island was proving to be. Doubt crept in. He needed to figure something out. Joe paced more quickly, nearing three-quarters of a revolution around the room.
Sandra heard a thud behind her. She turned, walking, by her own vision of the space, past the entrance way and towards the stairwell. At the stairwell, Joe had fallen onto the floor. He had tripped. She witnessed the wonder and awe twitching through his face. “I can see it!” he exclaimed, picking himself up off the ground. “Not all of it, but I can see the first step! The stairs!”
As a sign of ultimate victory and progress, Joe held up his hand for a high-five. Sandra hesitated, looking between his hand and his face. She mirrored him, holding her hand aloft a few inches from his. “Why are we doing this?” she queried.
Click here for the next chapter….