by Alizée Chesnoy
It catches my eye, the way he holds his wineglass; a twist of his wrist that is loud from across the room, both familiar and foreign. I take him in: track the déjà-vu across his shoulders, the dark dreadlocks, in the smile that blossoms when he catches me watching. His mouth feels like something I cannot remember.
I extricate myself from the crowd. He is all unpolished youth, sharp teeth. I’m sorry, I tell him. Have we met before? He smiles again, and the echo remains. The ghost of something just out of reach. Monaco, he says, the 1960s, and of course. The images float back to the surface, blurred and faded: blue eyes, laughter like honey, sandcastles and later, dance parties. Of course, I tell him. We were sisters, back then, weren’t we?
What life are you on? I have ordered another bottle, and we drink it slowly, puzzle-piece our way through the memories and the lives we live now. My eighth, he says. Or my ninth. I forget.
I cannot imagine living this long. Living this many lives. I cannot image being this close to the Longest Sleep. I am on my second, I offer, and he laughs. Such a young soul, still, he says and I laugh, too, because in this life he is young, and I am old.
Are you afraid? I ask, and I am being rude. We were sisters eighty years ago, but we are strangers in this life. No, he says. No, I am tired. I am glad. I cannot fathom that, either. I cannot imagine wanting anything else than to be alive for a thousand more lives.
The way her limbs melt into mine paints a spectrum of darkness, stark in the tangle of sheets, warm in the morning light, and I want to build a home under her skin. To never leave. I have loved before, in this life and in others; I know I have, and this is nothing like it.
The place where my neck turns to shoulder is made for her to rest her head. I am on my third life, and she becomes the beginning and the end. It feels as if, for every life to come, my bodies will be made to fit next to hers.
I will find you, I promise her. In my next lives, I will find you. She kisses the tattoo on my left shoulder. Until life brings us back together, she whispers.
The air conditioning across the aisles is on too strong, and the goose bumps flicker across my thighs. I let her push the cart, scan the shelves, distracted. Hey, what flavour HealthMeal do you think we should get, I ask, and when I turn around she is watching me, and the softness in her eyes is painful, almost. What is your True Name? she asks, and all of a sudden I am still.
My True Name is the one I chose for myself; the one I will take with me throughout all of my lives. It is not shared lightly; nobody has asked for mine before. I have never wanted to share it, until her. Sol, I whisper. My True Name is Sol, and her smile is blinding. What is yours?
Mamá, I ask, and she answers. She always answers, her steady voice, the music of it. Yes, mija. She looks up from where she is working, dulls the screen with a flick of fingers heavy with rings. Her hand in my hair, combing the knots out of it. Mamá, tell me again about my other lives. I hear her sigh, the smile in it. She calls me her question child, the curious one. You know I cannot do that, mija. I do, but I ask still. Mamás know everything, don’t they? I do not know about your other lives; only you do. The stories are there, in your heart of hearts. One day, you will Remember.
But when, Mamá? She is patient, I am not. When you are older, she says. The more you grow, the more the memories will come. I was eighteen when I started Remembering. I remember the frosting on Papá’s nose, the candles. Does eighteen come after five years old? I ask, and she laughs, a peal of a sound.
“Dying is like falling asleep, mija. You wake up on the other side.”
We are loud on the HoverTrain, conversation half-shouted, indignant and laughing. Rocio swears on her twin brothers that she Remembered something, yesterday, but nobody believes her. Fourteen is too young for memories to resurface; we tease her for it. The smog outside is yellow and thick, the line of the city half-invisible glass and cement, and I look out as the train pulls into Central. We clamber off, uncoordinated limbs that shove into each other, and I wonder when I will start Remembering, and that is when the bomb goes off.
It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt, but it is cold, and I am afraid, and the fog creeps in, and I think of my mother. Dying is like falling asleep, mija. You wake up on the other side.
I am seventeen when I sit behind a drum set for the first time and think I have done this before. Muscle memory inherited from lives I do not yet remember.
The months that follow are a mess of faded moments; blurred things I excavate and sift through, careful enough that I do not scare them away. I pluck them apart, taste memories on the tip of my tongue, build timelines. I am on my fifth life, I think, maybe my sixth. I try to remember them all. I look up images of Monaco, East London, Cordoba. I list Texan cities in alphabetical order; research bombings in the past two hundred years because a foreign part of me remembers the sound of detonation, the taste of pain. I wonder at all that I am missing. I remember my True Name whispered by a voice that sounds like prayer. Sol.
I dream of pearlescent creatures, drenched in purple and blue. Of tentacles holding me safe. Species I have no recollection of.
She looks at the pictures I have brought, traces out the colours and the wispy tendrils. I’ve never seen those before, she says. What are they?
Jellyfish, I tell her. The last ones went extinct two hundred and fifty years ago, give or take, and she nods. She tests out the placement on my shoulder. Do you want them to move? She asks. I lick around my lips. No, I answer. Just plain old school, please.
I look at myself once she is done, shoulder raw and red, bathed in watercolour, the purples stark against skin so white it is almost blue.
I think about the lives I have lived: the skin colours, the genders, the different-shaped bodies and how, for every one of them, I have gotten jellyfish inked onto my left shoulder. Something that is mine, that doesn’t just belong to the body I am in. Something to take from one life to the next. Thank you, I tell her.
I do not know what it is that makes me look over my shoulder: animal instinct entrenched in the reptilian part of my brain, or a gravitational pull hooked inside my belly, like I am finally re-entering orbit. Luck. It doesn’t matter: I look over my shoulder and she is there, on the other side of the sidewalk.
The grey of her hair, the clumsy movement of her body, the curious twist of her eyes. I have never seen her before. I have spent so many of my Lives looking for her.
Her True Name rips itself out of my mouth, and I am across the street, and breathing has never felt as easy and as fierce as it does now. She crashes into me, our skins warm and alive. Sol, she says, and I hide my face into her neck. I found you, I say, my voice broken, splintered shards, the same way my heart is splitting apart and building itself into something bigger. I told you I would find you.
I hold her in my arms, and she is new and more beautiful than the sun. I have had children before, I think, but in this life she is my first. I spend hours watching her sleep: trace her eyelashes, the curve of her cheek, drink in the sticky-sweet of her breath. Who are you, I ask her tiny, curled, hands. What lives have you lived before this one?
It all blurs, now: the lives I have lived, the people I have loved and have yet to love. Some days I am tired, more tired than the bones that have held me through this life can carry. I remember a man both young and impossibly old sat in an East London dive who told me I would one day understand it, how one can yearn for the Longest Sleep.
I understand, now. I remember blue eyes and sand, a kiss in the middle of supermarket aisles, I remember seeing jellyfish in the Tokyo Aquarium for the last time. I remember what the wild looked like and it breaks my heart. It is heavy, carrying so many lives with you. Sometimes I just wish for rest.
I have lived full lives, mostly. The pain and the joy of it steal my breath away, sometimes. I wish I remembered the taste of mountain air.
He tugs on my hands, fingers full of crumbs still, sticky and warm with sweat, and his hands nestle into my palms. Babushka, he says, tell me about my other lives.
The echo of something familiar, a ghost of a memory. Like I have been here before. I smile. Only you know about your other lives, Alyosha. The stories are there, in your heart of hearts.
Alizée is a poet in Canada. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her photographing street art, practicing sarcasm, and drinking unhealthy amounts of tea.