Click on the picture to see an explanation of the inspirations behind the characters.
At the end of the story you’ll find links to the other chapters of Synaesthesia.
“Did I do that?” Ruby asked. All four of them were looking from each other to the movie screen and back again. It had seemed that the sound came from the theater’s system.
They heard it again. This time, Dorothy was paused in her walk along the yellow brick road, saying hello to a small yellow bird.
“Is that… supposed to be in the movie?” Kennealy asked.
“Is this just a coincidence? One of those moments of synchronicity?” Atticus asked.
Ruby looked at Helen expectantly, popping popcorn into her mouth one kernel at a time.
Helen considered for just a moment. She wanted to be sure. But she’d seen the movie hundreds of times, having shown it to her class at least once a year. “No… that scene is not in the movie. It never has been, to the best of my knowledge.”
“Well, there’s one way to check…” Atticus said, and backed the scene up well past where they’d all seen the bird. They played it through three times. There was no cuckoo. Dorothy never stopped along the road. It was as if the entire ten second scene had been edited in, then removed completely from their home theater system.
“Ruby, why did you think you had…” Helen began to ask, but Ruby was gone again. Kennealy protectively drew her against him, handing her popcorn to Atticus.
“You jaunte tomorrow morning, don’t you?” Atticus asked the chrononaut.
“Yes. We’re going to try 48 hours this time. If I’m here…” he touched his nose to Ruby’s forehead, careful not to disturb her. “…and if I can identify where I am… and if I can figure out how… I’ll try to find a way to affect the…”
He was interrupted by a loud static as the frozen image on the display screen turned to a gray fuzz for a moment. Then the movie resumed, Pink Floyd still playing as the background.
“Well. That was just rude.” Ruby told Kennealy. She was awake again.
“Was that me?”
“Yuppers, cuppers, that was you.” She looked around her, confused. “Who stole my popcorn?” she demanded lightheartedly.
“Here it is, sweetheart. Was Kennealy the one who did the cuckoo scene too?” Atticus asked Ruby. “We did all see Dorothy stop and say hello to the bird, didn’t we? Was that a hallucination?” This time he addressed his wife and the chrononaut.
Helen and Kennealy nodded that they all heard and saw the bird on the screen. Ruby seemed to be more interested in the movie. Helen risked pausing it and asking gently “Ruby, dear, we’ll finish the movie in just a moment. But do you know how the bird appeared in the movie? It was never there before, and it is not in the recording.”
Ruby continued to slowly eat the popcorn. Her forehead wrinkled, like she had a clue, but couldn’t figure out how to interpret it. “Someone else. But… with a hint of me.” She looked up at Kennealy, who was hovering protectively close as usual. “And you.” Then she turned to the older couple behind them. “And…” she turned back, obviously frustrated. “I don’t know. Not enough. Just some. Just the beak.”
Atticus absentmindedly touched his large nose. Helen said “It’s all right, dear. Let’s just watch the movie now.” and restarted the show.
Ruby was ecstatic when Helen gave her copies of all the mashes. She was annoyed at having missed random parts, as her brain kept shutting down.
She thought she ought to be upset about her blackouts, yet somehow she wasn’t. She wondered at that. Wouldn’t a normal, sane person be traumatized by the sporadic loss of conscious thought?
Sometimes, she actually liked what happened. When she discovered that something creative had come of it, or she woke up with an insight that, although she couldn’t quite grasp it, felt like an answer she’d been looking for.
She especially liked it when he visited.
She knew him. Although they’d met in person face to face only weeks before, she knew him. She knew why the ribs on his right were more ticklish than the ones on his left. She knew that his dislike of brussel spouts came from a genuine aversion for their bitter taste, while his abhorrence of Hollandaise sprang from a time in his childhood when he’d insisted he wanted some, and then had taken way too much. As a child, he had felt he had to prove himself by eating it all anyway.
She knew he was confounded by her affinity for listening to different pieces of music at the same time, and she also knew it didn’t bother him. He found it… not quite amusing, but interesting. He wanted to understand her.
She knew, with absolute certainty, that she was safe with him. She knew that, without her asking, without her doing anything at all, he would protect her.
What she did not know was why he refused to be alone with her.
He visited often, sometimes with someone else from the temporal lab, sometimes alone. But when he came alone, they stayed in the common areas where there were always other people close by.
Ruby knew her senses were scrambled. But she sat down with one of the female nurses one day, and replayed over and over the afternoon he’d spent with her. The other woman agreed, Kennealy liked her. He was flirting. Ruby wasn’t imagining it.
But he always kept himself at a distance, even though he would let her touch him, inspect his tattoos, and even accepted a warm hug now and then.
“He is probably concerned about the fact that you’ve been through a lot, and he thinks you’re fragile. And in some ways, that’s very true.”
Ruby had humphed then, and she humphed again when Kennealy said goodnight to her at her door. She’d even leaned in well past halfway, a difficult task when he was so much taller, but he showed no inclination to kiss her at all. He pulled her in the rest of the way, giving her a hug, then gently pushing her away before saying goodnight and turning his back on her.
Her senses might be scrambled, but there was nothing wrong with her long-term memory. She had distinct memories of beating away hoards of suitors with a very large stick. Back then she had aspirations. She enjoyed their company for an allotted time, then went back to work.
Her dedication had earned her the position as one of the very first chrononauts in human history.
She found herself in the shower with no memory of undressing. Her tom was rolling around the bathing room floor, quietly bleepling, always on hand in case she needed something. She glanced at the time and turned on the shower. After finding herself on the hard floor more than once in the past few weeks, she’d moved a chair into the room so she could sit comfortably.
She played with the various sprays for a while, creating a veritable deluge in the shower.
And he was there again…
She still wasn’t sure why sometimes she remained conscious while he was there, and sometimes she blacked out. She was beginning to recognize the differences in her visitors; but it was still difficult to express. Several had become familiar to her.
She always knew when it was Kennealy.
The water suddenly smelled like chocolate. She didn’t even open her eyes, she just breathed deeply, enjoying the sensation. And there were other sensations too…
She reclined in her chair, imagining the patterns of water on her bare skin were her lover’s fingers. At least, she imagined him as her lover. He was so much more cooperative when he visited her this way. It was frustrating when he was around her in a physical sense; his reluctance was exasperating.
Ruby surrendered to the water’s embrace, satisfied, for the time being, with the intimacy, wondering if he was experiencing the touch in the same way she was.
Wondering if… if he wasn’t… what he was feeling…
And hoping that he’d never stop.
The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-8K