For the next hour we talked about the crew and what my expectations will be for the next three months. I returned to my cabin and prepared for my long sleep.
When the dreaded hour arrived, I made my way to the center of the ship where the hyper chambers were. Standing by my cold white chamber was Michelle, Drake and Dr. Luis Garcia.
I stated drily, “I hope. I ‘m too early.”
“On time, Captain,” Dr. Garcia responded with a slight smile. He pushed something on the wall panel, and my chamber door slowly open.
I could feel the chill, the chill of a Michigan December wind before Christmas. Unfortunately, my chamber would not have a large fireplace with pine logs singing Michigan bird songs as they burned into the wintery night. Michigan legend says a tree captures every song of every bird that sings on its branches. When the logs are burned, if you listen carefully, you can hear the trapped songs as the fire releases them. The beauty of the songs is supposed to give the listener a night of tranquil sleep. Why am I so far from home? For some unknown reason I have a yearning for hot maple syrup on buttermilk biscuits with fresh goat butter. Where did that come from? It has been years since I have had homemade goat butter.
“Is there a problem, Captain?” Garcia asked with a raised right eyebrow.
“No problem, Doctor. Just lost in a memory of childhood.” I stepped into the chamber and laid back. Placing my arms across my chest, I looked at the faces above me. “Sergeant Major, you still plan to visit me at nine each night and read to me for ninety days.”
“Aye, Captain, I have chosen the perfect book to read to you. He glanced at his reader and smiled.
“Don’t keep me in suspense. What will it be?”
“The Lieutenant tells me that you are a big fan of Marcel Proust. I have decided to read to you his greatest achievement – la Recherche du temps perdu.”
I gave Michelle a look – in three months you and I will talk. “Can you read Remembrance of Things Past to me in three months?”
“I may come during lunch to read to you, Captain, also. It will be a daunting undertaking for as you know it is the longest novel ever written.”
“Yes, Sergeant Major, I know.”
“And, Captain, I have selected all your favorite musicals to play at night for you,” Michelle grinned. “Tonight, it will be Romeo and Juliet.”
“We will have a lot to discuss when I awake, Lieutenant.”
“Now,” Garcia began, “Keep in mind, Captain, that you may experience some realistic dreams in hyper stasis. I will be monitoring your brain activity, and we will have a long conversation when you awake.”
“What type of realistic dreams, Doctor?”
“The dream sequence for each person who has undergone hyper stasis is unique to the individual. For example, if the Sergeant Major gives me permission to share some of his unique dreams?” He looked at Drake.
In all seriousness Drake replied, “Of course, anything to ease the Captain’s mind before you close the metal door on her.”
Was he being funny? I wondered. The metal door. A mausoleum in space.
“Captain, the Sergeant Major had a series of dreams where he was back on his ranch in Montana. Wrestling calves and taming unbroken horses. Playing with his border collies and games on his younger sisters, camping in winter among Fir trees, swimming in the pond with rainbow trout, etc…”
“Don’t forget the fishing trips to Yellowstone and cooking fish suppers.”
“Did you have any dreams about the war, Sergeant Major?” I asked.
“None that I can recall. All pleasant memories – like tranquil water from a snowy mountain side spring – fresh and cool to the taste.”
“Does that reassure you, Captain?” Garcia asked.
“Thank you, Doctor.”
“Close your eyes. Count silently from 100.”
After a minute Garcia closed the door. “She is under. I need to return to sick bay. Blasted reports to file. Good night.”
“Good night.” Michelle and Drake said in unison. “Well, I must go,” Michelle said. “Are you coming?”
“No, I will sit with the Captain for a while. I have a poem that I want to share with her.”
Michelle watched Drake as he stood there looking down on the sleeping captain. “Good night.”
“Goodnight, Lieutenant Hill.”
As Michelle approached the door, she turned and saw Drake take a seat by the Captain’s head. If he only knew, Michelle mused, that the Captain had done the same when he was in hyper stasis last year.
“My dear Captain, last century a poet by the name of F.D. Reeve wrote a poem entitled –Coasting. I would like to recite it for you.
When Drake finished the poem, he said, “Please remember this one thought – ‘adrift in uncollected time like sailboats invisible in fog . . . we circle the stars to find our secret place.’ You will awake from this sleep. I promise, Captain. For the future is before us, and we cannot return to the past from whence we came. Our shore is distant in the memories that haunt our dreams. I will be here by your side. I will return at nine to begin our Proust journey.”
Drake stood and walked to the door. He paused. For a moment he realized how much he was going to miss her, especially her smile and soft voice . . . the swoosh her uniform made when she walked into the chamber . . . the perfume of tiger lilies that she wore sparely . . . and most of all those emerald eyes . . .
He felt a lost that brought a resurgent memory to the surface – a cemetery in Montana near the family ranch on a cold, rainy October day, 21 years ago. A few months later he enlisted at the Billings Marine Recruitment Office.
Shaking his head, he went through the door to his office to file a report. He didn’t have time to dwell on the past, only the present, and perhaps, a whisper of hope for tomorrow – a tomorrow ninety-one days from today.
G. D. Williams © 2011
COASTING F.D. Reeve, The American Poetry Review, v. 24 (July/August 1995), page 38