What do you say to someone when you've lived a lifetime together and she doesn't remember a moment of it?
I'm sitting in the front room, watching her at the reception desk, stamping documents, clicking away on her mouse. I'm trying to remember what Ted said to me in that dream (was it a dream?). I've seen the way she looks at you. I mean, when you're looking away. Anyway, now she won't even acknowledge I'm here. For about five minutes there, it felt like maybe I wasn't totally alone in the world, but I guess that's over now.
Alice, the intern (did we always have an intern?), is in the other room, making some copies, smacking her gum. Everything is starting over, going back to the way it was.
I get up, drag my feet to her desk. I need to say something. "Hey, um—"
"What." The bitten-off word, the withering stare. Jacinta's back to the way she's always been.
"I just, um—I, uh—how's the intern doing?"
"Good, good. Um—"
"Shouldn't you be welcoming students or something?"
"Right," I say. "Yeah."
I back away, stumble into my office. It's quiet, and dark, except for the single shaft of dusty light coming in through the window.
"Ted?" I say.
Usually this time of day, he's already in here, or if he's not, he'll materialize the second I call for him—he's lonely, he's bored, he's desperate for anyone who can pick up a newspaper or a cell phone and tell him what's going on in the world.
But this time, he doesn't show up.
I collapse into my office chair and stare pointlessly out the window at Manny's favorite tree. It's empty too—is that—? That's not normal either. Where are my ghosts? It's like...suddenly being half-blind, or something.
I just need some air. I step outside, onto the wraparound deck, inhale in the salt wind.
"Oh hey, have you met Captain Doug?" says Sunny, who's gazing out at the water with two boys who—"Doug, hav you met Gabe and Ted?"
"—Ted?" I'm stammering, looking from face to face, trying to decide what's real.
"Yeah," says the kid named Ted, who looks suspiciously like the ghost I was just looking for. "I'm Ted. Are you—?"
"Yeah," I whisper. "Yeah, I'm the captain."
"Have we met before? You seem familiar—"
"You have no idea. Where you from, Ted?"
"Not a lot of ocean out there."
He laughs, shrugs. "Well—that's why I'm here."
"Because I can't escape the call of the sea, or whatever." He laughs again.
"Yeah," I say. "Listen, I have to go—"
"What? Oh. Okay, I guess—"
I push past the kids on the deck and down the pathway that leads to the dock and the ship below. The sidewalk is steep, heaving me forward, while behind me the black clouds in the sky billow like smoke, blotting out the sun that smolders sulfurous behind them. I stomp over the loading plank, across the poop, and throw open the door to the captain's cabin, where I'm greeted with the exact face I was expecting.
"Now how did I know I'd find you here?" I ask him.
The grizzled man in rumpled velvet shrugs.
We've been standing here, staring each other down, for way too long now. Finally, I break the silence.
"So I guess this isn't over."
"Can be. If you give me what I want."
"And what is it you want, Walter?"
His eyes narrow. "On this ship you'll call me Captain."
"Only one of us is the captain of this ship, and it's not you."
"I'd say history disagrees with you about that, Mr.—uh—what even is your last name, anyway?"
"It's Theseus, you moron. We have the same last name. I'm, like, your great-great-great-great...something."
"Well, sure, but that doesn't necessarily mean that—"
"Fine. Anyway, what was I trying to say? There's only one captain of this ship, and his name is—uh—well, I was going to say 'Theseus,' but now you've got me all flustered."
I sigh. "It's not your ship anymore, Walter."
"I BUILT THIS SHIP. I built it with my own two hands!"
"You built the first version of this ship, Walter. It's been rebuilt countless times over the centuries, and—"
"Well, I'd say that raises some profound ontological questions—"
"Which we are absolutely not talking about right now. Get off my ship, Walter."
"And what are you going to do if I don't, Mr.—uh—Mr. Theseus? God, it still feels super weird calling you that."
"You can call me Doug, I guess?"
"Can I? I'd feel a lot less weird saying that."
"Or, you can call me Captain," I say, closing in on him, "because you're about to get off my ship and never come back."
"You can't do that—"
"Why not?" I say. "I'm not sure whether we're back in Cape Cod or at the center of an imaginary volcano or what, but I'm pretty sure you have no power left. Like, zero. You wouldn't have been trying to get us to run your errands earlier if you had any. In fact—" I shove him into the wall behind him.
"Hey—" he says. But nothing happens. I'm still here, still unhurt.
"I'm about to do what I've wanted to do for a long time," I tell him. "I'm about to make you walk the plank."
He's not exactly light, but I've got about fifty pounds on him, and with the pure rage surging in my veins, I'm able to drag him by his fuzzy collar out the door and onto the deck. I don't have a plan, just a vague sense that this joke of a human being is the source of all of our problems and that if I throw him in the water it will be the end of at least a few of them. The sun burns my eyes and the salt air stings my lungs (for the last time, I'm thinking). I drag him to the railing, I grab his waistband, I heave him once, twice—
"What?" I look up.
Charging down the walkway from the black clouds through the gray air are Sunny, Gabe, Jacinta, Manny, and Alice the intern (or—?), all of them yelling "Wait!" and "Stop!" and etc.
"What? Why would I—? Are you guys gonna vouch for this guy, or—?"
Alice gets to the top of the plank first, collapses on the railing, gasps for breath. "Oh Lord," she mumbles, "I forgot what a pain in the ass being corporeal is." She looks up. "Anyway—" she heaves—"you can't kill him. Don't kill him."
"Listen," she says. "I've been just as confused as the rest of you. But I finally figured out what's going on."
Project CoNarrative is an ongoing multimedia experiment in collaborative storytelling from two award-winning authors. We're taking turns writing chapters and building on each other's work, improv-style. You can read them for free, here on the internet, as we write them.
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