Alice dreams. Snow. Sharp white. Disorientation in the field. A horse and rider appear. Black. She watches them move across the ground. A blank flat white landscape. Her vision shifts. From the window’s vantage point. Like a drone, swooping suddenly, point of view vertiginous, lurching. She is on the horse, clutching the rider hard to stay on the speeding animal. She looks forward over the rider’s shoulder, a juddering jumping like a hand-held camera jerking. Just the white ground. The sky at the horizon a slightly differentiated pale grey. Image of nowhere. She cranes her neck to try and glimpse the rider’s face. He turns and turns back. A face of nothing. She senses he is smiling. She does not feel afraid. Later when she wakes she shudders at the memory of the smiling no face. Sits up in bed and hugs herself tight as if to squeeze in the memory. Fix it hard. She thinks of death, of the deaths she has seen. Her son in the funeral parlour. A memory that recurred through so many nights. Now it seems at a remove from her present experience. The smiling no face - how does she know he is smiling? She doesn't, she senses it on some deep level. As she assumes he is a man. The memory of holding his body is still vivid. But he is a stranger. Tennyson's poem comes to her: ‘I want to see my pilot’s face/when I cross the bar.’
Brigg regained consciousness. Or, he thought later, another consciousness. Coming back to the diurnal in a brilliantly white room, sunlight streaming through windows that overlooked the city. Sterile, static, the modern house of healing. On Heron's tab, of course. Who sat in an armchair, peering intently at him.
‘I owe you the biggest debt. Hush,’ he lifted a hand as Brigg started to speak, ‘I know the Brit code of deprecation. It’s true. Whatever I can do, whatever you want. Medically, you seem in good shape, luckily. A few bits of shrapnel in your body, nothing serious, and easily removed. The bang on the head was the most worrying but your doctors seem confident there was no lasting damage. Your speed in reacting took us both out of range, it seems. Sergei was not so lucky, of course, the crazy old fart.’ Heron stood and approached Brigg, coming close and sitting in the chair next to the bed. Brigg lifted his head, replied, abruptly.
‘I'd like to go home. Retire from your employ, get out of the whole game. Could that be arranged?’
‘Whatever you want. Retirement, no problem. All aspects, I can fix that. But I don't think of you as an employee. You're a valued member of our floating circus. And a friend.’ He put his hand towards Brigg who lifted himself to offer his hand in return.
Stoned. She looks out at the early morning. She scans the view left to right and back. Woods. Hill. Irrigation ditch. Farmland. Machinery. Beyond, the village and church and tower. She sits down eventually. Considers the horseman and his mount. Could he be a hallucination? A ghost? A possibility I have conjured that bursts into the real. Related to my return from the desert?