There were trees, great trees, far as the eye could see; they stretched up higher than any building, and the air was close around us, humid, stifling and perfumed with the cloying sweetness of jasmine past its time . If I was alone I’d have insisted it was one of my visions, but I wasn’t alone, Mildred was there and she saw it all – the great fronds hanging above us and the dense vegetation that shut us in. This was a vision she could not disavow, a story she had to believe, and this time I hadn’t been drinking, not too much, just the one last scotch to settle the nerves before the flight.
At first we did not notice the condition of the ground upon which we tread. We were completely overwhelmed with the sudden transition. One moment we were at Heathrow, drowsy and bickering in the lift, the next this strange other-world where the ground gave way beneath our feet as if we’d stood upon a mattress, and there was an odor, a fecund and earthy reek, the way it smells sometimes in the potting shack where I’ve got a bottle still hidden beneath a loose paver and where Mildred stores her bulbs.
We had just stepped out of the lift and there was a certain door marked Secret we mistook for the frequent travelers’ lounge. We’re not frequent travelers, as you can tell, but I’d heard of such places and thought we’d have a look. We meant no harm in it. It was really quite innocent. The door led into a dark corridor that seemed to descend to a level lower than the tarmac itself and we were soon in total darkness and turned back around, or thought we did, only to emerge there, in that place, where nothing made sense.
We looked at each other for a long while before someone spoke and it was Mildred who managed to get the first word out for a change and all she could say was John.
In a sort of helpless, childlike manner as if she had just smashed her mother’s favorite vase. What could I tell her? I didn’t know anything. My feet were sinking into the very ground below us and I felt quite vulnerable, very afraid, and I don’t mind saying it. This was not a right forest, if a forest it was, and forget about the fact, the inarguable fact, that we were at Heathrow only moments before. I am sure of it. I could lay out that morning in exhaustive detail. I remember it, damn it, I remember.
We were lost. We were lost and the situation was very dangerous because I soon gathered that we were, relative to everything around us, very small. Like that novel by Jonathan Swift. We had stepped into a different place, a different time, perhaps. I don’t know how it was possible, but I know it was real. I am a man of facts. It was supposed to be a holiday and that was supposed to be my last drink. I made a promise. My thoughts had turned quickly to insects. How big they might be here. Mildred was tugging on the sleeve of my overcoat.
John, I heard her say.
I did love her still. I’m sure of that too. We saved up for a year. It was to be a holiday and also a new beginning. I made a promise. I was staring into the forest thinking of insects. I despise them. Their mechanical, dogged efficiency. Their obscene and terrifying anatomy. Hornets and spiders.
John, she said again. And I hated the sound of it. John was something you pissed in. And Mildred. All that was missing was a strategic letter ‘a’.
I don’t know, I said. How would I know, Mildred? At this point I know about as much as you do. We’re lost. Yes, again. Lost. Go ahead and say it, I should never have had that drink, Go ahead, say it.
I hadn’t realized I had been yelling.
John, she said. I want a divorce.
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