Up then spake the Queen o Fairies,
Out o a bush o broom:
‘She that has borrowd young Tamlane
Has gotten a stately groom’
– The Ballad of Tam Lin
He had no childhood memories.
He could not recollect his family; his teenage years; the place he had grown up.
It didn’t matter. Tania told him that again and again. It doesn’t matter, she would say, you are here now. Where you are meant to be. With me.
She was his wife. He could not remember their wedding or their courtship. He could remember nothing of the time before she pulled him from the water, puking and sputtering. His very first memory now was of her, beautiful and brave; standing above him in the burning sun, laughing and laughing.
Although she had told him she was his wife he could remember nothing of their life together; of the man he’d been previously. He didn’t understand how he’d managed to marry such a beautiful woman but here he was, and here she was and he didn’t like to think too hard about it being any other way.
You wouldn’t like to remember before, she had told him, so he stopped trying. He let the days go by. He played and he sang, and lay in the sun; drunk on the joy of his own voice. Music, that was something. He’d never forgotten that. The first night of his new life Tania had brought a guitar to him, almost shyly, kneeling down to hand it over. It was the only time he ever saw her cowed. He played without thinking, his quick fingers moving over the strings. Then moving over her. Afterwards, she had cried. She brought the guitar to him nearly every night, and nearly every night he could make her cry. Then she would sleep and he would look at her, in the big bed with its silken sheets and think “Well. How did I get here?”
There had been something before all this, he knew. Somewhere was another world, with other people in it, but he didn’t know how to get back. It didn’t seem important somehow. There was the highway that ran outside the house, but Tania wouldn’t tell him where it went to and eventually he stopped asking. There was nothing else around. Just the big pool down the hill and a big big sky. No neighbours. “We don’t need neighbours,” Tania said, smiling her smile that looked like stars. “Stay away from the water and everything will be alright.”
But the water sang more sweetly than he ever sang to Tania.
One day, after she had fallen asleep in the garden, he could resist it no longer. He stood up and slipped from the house, heart beating hard in his chest. He walked quickly to the water, knowing she wouldn’t sleep for long. He would look and then he would come away. This is what he said to himself. He’d said it to himself before but not dared til now.
The water was glassy and flat. And inviting, as he knew it would be. It lurked at the edge of his brain, always, the deep still pool. He lay down and looked at his reflection. Then he looked harder.
There was a girl in the water.
There was a girl in the water looking up at him. Is that why Tania didn’t want him here? He hadn’t known there was a girl living in the pool. She was reaching her hands up to him. He glanced backwards. Tania would not want him speaking to strange women at the bottom of pools, he was quite sure of that. And yet, she wasn’t a strange woman. He looked down at her.
“I know you,” he mouthed. She nodded fervently. Yes. Yes. There was a name in his mouth. “Janet?” he said. The girl slid closer to the surface. He could touch her.
He slid his hand into the water and her fingers closed around his wrist. He pulled his arm back in surprise and she came with him, spluttering out of the water. “Tom!” she said “my god! Tom!” and then she was in his arms, wet through and laughing. He looked at her. “Is that my name?” he said.
“Don’t you remember?”
“I only remember the water,” he said. “Only that.”
She had a tight hold of him, and she was stepping backward into the pool again. He tried to take her hand from his arm but she gripped him tighter. Her foot connected with his ankle and he slipped. She was pulling him into the water and he couldn’t stop her.
“You have to leave now,” she said, “you don’t belong here.”
He was in up to his waist. How had it happened? The more he struggled the firmer her hold. A wind began to blow, whipping up into a twister. The water churned around them. Is that what had happened before? Was this what Tania had rescued him from?
He lost his footing, began treading water and still she kept hold, pulling him down down and down. He couldn’t break free. The water closed over his head and he saw Tania running down to the bank, her image shimmering and fracturing as he slipped into the blue. She was saying something, screaming, but he couldn’t make out the words.
Silence. Whiteness. A light so bright he closed his eyes against it. And now there were noises, electronic beeps and whistles and an alarm and someone shouting ‘help please, quickly come, come quickly!’ Janet shouting.
He tried opening his eyes again, slower this time. A woman in a blue dress burst into the room. He realized she was a nurse. She stared at the two of them, open mouthed.
Water was running from the bed and pooling on the floor. Tom still attached to his life support machine and Janet clinging onto him, tangled up in the wires. Both of them were soaking wet.
“He’s back,” said Janet again, quieter now.
Everything on his body began to hurt, all at the same time.
“My god,” he said. “What have I done?”
(c) Em Fleming
Same As It Ever Was was a Juke Box Story in September 2012.
Did you guess? It’s loosely based on the Talking Heads song Once In A Lifetime, and the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin.