Jack Pedder was dead.
Having lived his life doing what I, Jack Pedder, have done, am doing, and am yet to do, he lay down and disappeared.
Two figures stood over his lifeless body: the first, his tall and majestic Guardian Angel, Haï, the second his short and gentle Ministering Saint, Fursey.
– The life of this man, whose life we have guarded and administered, is ended, intoned the majestic Haï, redundantly but impressively. I will wing my way to the Next World and prepare, as adequately as is achievable, a place strange enough in our normal eternity to house this strange soul.
– Your task, he intoned to the gentle Saint Fursey, who was stroking Jack Pedder’s head and weeping, is to divide the liquids of his soul, which lie dormant in his skull, into two parts. For it is ordained that the spirit formed on this earth shall be divided from the spirit formed in eternity.
-I leave you with two vessels, one of wicker, and one of gold. Into the wicker vessel you shall pour this man’s earthly soul, made up of memories. You must toss this liquid into yonder river. The angel pointed at a nearby river, flowing with the memories of the dead. And into the gold vessel you shall pour the eternal part of his soul, consisting of imagination. You must return this liquid to its eternal home, a home I shall now go and furnish.
Saint Fursey said he understood his task and bowed to the majestic angel, who promptly, and majestically, flew away.
The gentle Saint knelt beside the corpse of Jack Pedder and took a moment to contemplate the familiar yet, all of a sudden, unfamiliar face – a face which for several decades Fursey had seen host so much animation, expression, and light, but which now gaped back with the still, flat gloom of a starless sky – before turning it away and placing the wicker vessel beneath the already rotting mind.
After finding the correct patch of skin on the back of Jack Pedder’s head, the saint withdrew a sacred dagger of light and drove it in. From the ruptured skull, a rich, fast flow of memories began pouring out in reverse order, beginning with those moments directly before Jack Pedder’s death, and ending with those of early childhood.
Saint Fursey found himself so moved by the stream of remembrance that he shed tears into the pool of memory which had formed in the wicker vessel, each of which became a robin. He had been so close to Jack Pedder throughout his earthly life, that in seeing the only true record of this earthly life flowing away, and knowing he must deposit it in the river, the gentle Saint could not contain these inconvenient saltwater birds. The tear-robins flapped and twittered around Jack Pedder’s memories with a mixture of mournfulness and glee, freely occupying times and spaces which they did not occupy in reality, fluttering and tweeting, proud blips, in all climates, living rooms to lakes, churches to hospital beds, to fill the dead man’s material soul with their bright red breasts and bright silver songs. Suddenly, in a great splash of music, one of them flew out of the wicker vessel, carrying in its tiny beak a remembered pebble.
Saint Fursey rose to his feet in a panic and jumped around the room, clapping his hands, wafting his robe, throwing his rosary, trying all the tricks on his person to catch the robin, which neither allowed itself to be caught, nor dropped the pebble of memory. This mischievous bird, born of sobbing, flew out the window, carrying the pebble with it.
Fursey put his face in his hands and collapsed under the window, worrying what would happen to him now. Letting tear-birds into memories like that was not exactly ‘by the book’ ministering. He tried to think of a plausible excuse for where the robin came from, then reasoned, stroking his chin:
– It is only one remembered pebble. I am sure the river will not starve for lack of one small memory, let alone one as unimportant as a pebble.
Saint Fursey knelt back by Jack Pedder’s skull, and noticed, with horror, that a substance which wasn’t Jack Pedder’s earthly soul, but was – Alas! – his eternal soul, his crazy, crazy eternal soul, was pouring into the wicker vessel!
Fursey hurriedly withdrew the dagger, and looked into the wicker vessel, hoping the effect was minor and negligible.
It was not.
In the wicker vessel, flouting among the memories of the mortal, material world were ‘memories’ of such deep and overwhelming strangeness, such bright and loud peculiarity, such proud and unignorable lunacy, that the Saint railed against the day he was born, and wondered whether he could have committed a more noticeable and incriminating blunder. There was no question, when staring into the vat of such musical and impossible oddness, of removing the nonsensical elves and angels from this bucket of memory one by one. They were simply too numerous, too slippery, too illogical for a Holy Fool, let alone a gentle saint, to lay hand to. His sole task – that of separating what was eternal in Jack Pedder from that which was arbitrary – had been failed at with colossal aplomb.
There was only one thing to do: to pour the wicker vessel into the river and hope no one noticed.
Fursey ran to the stream, hurled the mad admixture into the water and, turning away as quickly as possible to avoid witnessing the effects, ran back to the body.
He drove the dagger of light back into the back of the head and emptied whatever was left into the gold vessel as instructed and ran to the gates of the Other World.
– May I know in what place Haï has prepared the soul of Jack Pedder, he asked the Doorman. The Doorman told him and he ran to that place and presented Haï with the gold vessel.
– Why, intoned Haï, is this man’s soul so small?
– Pardon, said Saint Fursey, coughing. Small? A small soul? I wouldn’t know about small. You think this soul is small?
– I would have expected a larger soul from he whose watch I have kept these decades.
– Well I suppose his memories must have taken up a lot of room. He had a good memory this man. Huge.
– True, but he also had extraordinary dreams, visions, and fantasies. Things bizarre, sublime and supernatural coursed through this man’s consciousness while he lived. Where are those qualities in this meagre puddle I see before me? Where that imagination which was wont to swallow up his whole corporeal life? Am I to believe, after a life so consumed by what was not there, that the only thing left of his eternal soul is this sliver of liquid?
Fursey, consumed with guilt, confessed to Haï that the majority of Jack Pedder’s soul was lost to the river of memory. The majestic angel admonished the gentle saint, and told him to return to Earth and sort his mess out as soon as possible.
– But how am I to discern in a river so large and so odd what is memory and what is fantasy?
– Go to the chief River-Reader, ordered Haï. She is an immortal whose devotion to the memories of mortals leads her to a constant study of the river’s passing, recording its various washings and gurgling in a language which we understand. She will know how to distinguish you fantasies.
Fursey journeyed to the river translator’s library, a colossal transparent temple on the river’s bend, on the steps of which master and apprentice river-recorders wrote in books their interpretation of the river’s memories.
Fursey sought out among this strange folk – each was bald from head to toe and dressed in skin-tight garments of pondweed – the chief river-reader. He was directed to a very small woman, the height of a seven year old, with large red eyes and grey skin.
She asked Fursey if he was here about the soul of Jack Pedder.
-How did you know my purpose?
– This man’s soul has made out work much stranger of late. We cannot tell whether a mistake has been made, or whether the material world has become more enchanted around this man.
– I came to ask…
– Whether we can distinguish between the fantasies of this man and true memories. I must say we are finding the task difficult. Perhaps as this man’s ministering saint you will have a greater knowledge of his soul’s imaginative language, and be able to discern it from the language of truth. Come, I will take you to our library and show you what our river has recorded.
Saint Fursey followed the sagely woman into the grand library, where golden books towered to the ceiling. From the bottom rung of the bottom shelf she passed him a golden volume. He began to read…