Rosalind, The Repeater

David Rush

No, Betty, you’re wrong. People DO live more than one life. They die and get born again and again. The Buddhists are right. The fortune tellers, the hypno-historians, even the fakes are right. We come and we go. You have to believe it because otherwise it’s too awful to consider.

No, I’m not just trying to cheer you up. I’m trying to give you some faith. I want you to know in your heart that terminal cancer is not terminal and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Me? Of course it happened to me. I’ve personally gone and come and gone and come again so many times it makes me dizzy to think. And that’s just counting the times I remember. Heaven knows how many more are buried within me.

Are you alright? Shall I call the nurse? I can barely hear you.

How do I know? It’s all there, stored in your dreams and your muscles. Think about it.

Why do you have the fantastic dreams you do? You’ve never ridden a horse, and yet there you are, perched on a black stallion storming through some distant surf. How did your fancy know how to ride like that? Or: you may not remember living in Italy, but you love all sorts of exotic pastas: Fettucini, Cavatappi, Faglioni—without your help, your taste buds are all singing Verdi.

Think about musicians or athletes or even when you type at your computer: none of that is conscious. The scales and the arpeggios, the wind-up and the pitch, where the “shift” key is: all of those are in your muscles, right? So, if the muscles contain all those complicated signals, doesn’t it stand to reason they could contain signals from the past as well?

Or your fears. You’re afraid of heights. I’ve seen it; you get above the fourth floor and you won’t go near the windows. Clearly, at least once you fell to your death. And why have you never been able to learn to swim? When you get in water up to your waist, you start twitching. Certainly, you drowned. Maybe the deep storm cellars of your mind have blocked the memories, but your muscles never lie.

You don’t have to say anything: I know that argument. If you’re reborn, you’re in a new body with new muscles to start with. And you think that would indeed be the case, but it’s like a computer. Your body is the hardware; your soul, your memories, your dreams—all that’s the software. And when you upgrade, what’s the first thing you do? You transfer all the data. A few hits on the “return” key; some clicks and drags and there’s a whole new world to play with. This is the same thing; think of life as one
amazing “return” key.

Me? Where to begin? I’ve been an African tribal princess. A priest in Atlantis—you note that I don’t swim either. I was a soldier in the army of Henry V. I was a poor ignorant peasant in ancient China. I was Jane Austen; I was working on a new novel—called The Brothers, but the milk sickness took me too soon. They never did find the last chapters. When I came back next I wanted to finish it, but I was a slave in Virginia and never learned to write.

The best? There is no best; nor is there a worst. You mustn’t think of life as a totality – seeing the whole journey from birth to death as either one continuous joy ride or one unending torture. The truth is that all lives are roller coasters, taking you up the mountain one time and down it another. What you look for and treasure are the good moments, those little parcels of time that are like chocolate chips inside the cookie. As when I was in Henry’s army: yes, I was killed at Agincourt, but I had supper with the king the night before. He’d come, as Shakespeare has it, walking through the camps that night. We were roasting a rabbit and the king asked to join us. The king wanted to join us! And he told some of the dirtiest and most obscene jokes I’d ever heard and we laughed until dawn. Or when I was that Chinese peasant—I never had enough to eat or a dry place to dwell, but one day my sister’s friend took me into a field and introduced me to the pleasures of love. I was ten and her name was Yu Lin: I don’t know why I
know that; somehow, I do. I also went down with the Titanic, but the widow that I was had also been the mother of a concert pianist who’d seen her daughter play for the King of Spain. Those are the things that flash back to you.

The best moment? You’re going to force me to choose, aren’t you? Very well.

I must have been ten years old at the time. I was the child of a farming family; my father herded sheep and oxen on a small piece of desert in the Mideast. I think I may have been the only child, but I can’t be sure, because in the memory I have there were several of us, but somehow I’m sure I was the youngest. It was a warm spring night I think because I have no sensation of being cold or lonely. And the memory brings with it a smell of cooking. We must have had a campfire or—what were we doing? I thought
I told you. We were watching the flocks, that’s what shepherds do, even girl ones.

But I also think we were doing something illegal. There’s a feeling in the memory of danger: maybe we’d slaughtered one of our fathers’ lambs for our dinner, or maybe we were gambling with sticks, or maybe one of us was…how shall I say this? Misbehaving with another. I don’t know exactly what it was, but the air wasn’t clear. Yes, there were stars a-plenty and a moon like a goose egg, but something wasn’t right
about the wind or the shifting molecules. I have this strange and awful sensation of drowning, and yet I was with my comrades at the top of the tallest hill there was. Poets sometimes talk about ‘the world sleeping’; if so, this night it was having nightmares.

And then one of us must have said something or pointed because we were all looking up at the stars. And they moved. The stars moved. It was like they were some sort of stage curtain strung across the universe and something was drawing the curtain aside, revealing to us a sort of universal stage where some monumental play was about to be performed.

And then there was an angel. Yes. An angel. Well, perhaps you can anticipate the rest. It told us not to be afraid, for it had come with some very good news.

Well, of course you don’t believe it. That’s because you think it happened in December. The truth is nobody really knows when it happened. I did a great deal of research after I had that dream because, well—you can imagine how amazing it was even to me! But it seems that years later, they picked December because they had to do something to make the unforgiving winter tolerable. But Christ could have been born in April for all that.

I don’t remember any more details. I mean, I’ve poured over the gospels so many times to see if there was any mention of a young girl, but of course there isn’t. And try to tell this story to priests or scholars and watch them laugh. But, as I said, in my muscles and my dreams, I was there. I know what I saw.

So, don’t be afraid. It doesn’t matter how many times we die so long as it’s more than one.

Betty? Betty? Are you—?

Sleep well, Betty. I hope you come back a princess.