Kage Baker loved the past. She loved it so much that she could never forget it, never let it go – what she had once had and loved, she had and loved forever. Once something found its way into her heart, it never left.
We’ve all heard the (much over-done) adage: If you love something, let it go. Well, Kage tried. It didn’t work. Her heart was a pavilion with no doors, only decorated arches; she always insisted her mind was, too. They were set with painted tiles and stained glass, festooned with grandiflora rose vines, and decorated by some madman with a fretsaw into arabesques and bas-reliefs and cavorting little creatures of dubious species. But they were wide open to the elements, and she claimed that other people and their memories were constantly wandering in and out. And they never left. She might even have preferred it if some of the ages of legend and remembrance she carried had packed up and gone, but they wouldn’t do it.
I’ve don’t know what inventory she took along with her when she died. But I do know that whatever she left behind has been settling down in my head ever since, through jimmied windows and lock-picked doors, and those hidden vents where the screening fails and you don’t notice until the attic is full of squirrels. Things run races in the ceiling in the middle of the night, giggling and muttering, sometimes shrieking when they slip off a stud and fall between the uprights. When I can grab ’em and hold them still long enough, a story results.
In the meantime, the candle carousel behind my eyes circles round the spark Kage lit in my head, and the shadows change endlessly. Plato didn’t know the half of it: the shadows we watch in the mouth of the cave aren’t just cast from momentous beings and acts outside. The biggest ones flow out from the darkness behind us, from the heart of the cave we never turn to see – at least, until it’s time to find the EXIT. Only then, for most of us, do we grin or shriek or goggle like morons, and wander off into the Lands we not only Do Not Know but seldom suspected were There at all.
Kage, however, must have walked on quietly, politely shouldering her way through the crowd with murmured excuses and little side-slips. She was good as easing her way through a crowd; good at being barely visible. If anything caught at her shoulder as she made her way out, she must have turned and pointed and told it: No, sorry, I’m just coming off shift, but see that lady there? The short one with the glasses? She’s the one you want.
And, since the past would never leave her, Kage sensibly left the past where it stood. Off she went into the Uttermost West, leaving me with all her pasts – and futures , too – and an ache like badly-poured concrete under my breastbone.
Another friend died yestreday. The Autumnal Equinox is in two days, so I’m guessing he left early to catch the outgoing tide and will soon be setting his sail by the westering stars. Being at the age where a lot more of my friends are dying than being born, I keep expecting to get used to this. No luck, so far … Right now, the past we shared is foremost in the shadow-play of my memories.
It’s not a dance, though, so much as a measured march, which is my clearest vision of him. Sometimes he’s dressed as a Landsknect, sometimes in the black leather of Night Security. Most often, though, he’s wearing a Centurian’s kit – something he never did, I think, but which he wears in my mind because of all the times he was on guard over us all. World-weary, amused, a little cynical, very wise; on duty in Darkest Britannia, watching the crazy natives leap through bonfires and sing about the Past …
Which Past, though all our loved ones slip inevitably away into the West, stays with us always, for sweet love’s sake.