Munchkinland

 

 


Approximately ten years passed. Nobody really noticed that I didn't age, living alone in Elwood Gato's house. No further news was received about Jacqueline Love. I studied hard and got my certificate in mining and then a degree. The work was easy - I could do it in my spare time - which gave me more time to investigate the new world I'd been resurrected into.

Mr. Gato had also invested over many years in an Encyclopaedia Britannica and I read it all, at first slowly and then with increasing confidence. Mr. Gato's private library also contained a book entitled A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys by Nathanial Hawthorne, which not only helped me to compile a primitive Atlantean-English dictionary, but introduced me to what the modern world called "Greek Myths". The myths intrigued me, as did the combination of religious texts called The Bible. Those were the days when I still loved and trusted the Olympeans and had not undergone, as the Bible described it, a "Pauline" conversion.

I have in front of me a notebook I wrote at the time - spidery pencil scrawls in vulgar proto-Greek and Atlantean shorthand and pigeon English..

For instance. A so-called World Atlas confused me unutterably. I could not work out where America was and where Atlantis had been. "Is the map a mirror image of reality?" I wrote. "Maybe upside down? Or spun through ninety degrees? Has the earth reversed in its spin?"
.
Another note to myself; "How long I have been imprisoned – is it five thousand years or fifteen thousand or fifty thousand? One timeline dates the creation to a mere six thousand years ago whilst another says millions. Has the sun begun to circle the earth faster than before? Did the Lords of the Sea and of the Sky re-order the laws of nature for their own purposes?"

Obviously the thing that obsessed me the most was the search for clues to the fate of Atlantis. It was an obsession as strong as homesickness. Naturally I particuarly intrigued by all the entries about "lost tribes".

Here's a note from 1952; "Danaan Women - described in a play by a Mycenaean author named Aeschylus. Apparently these Tuatha De Danaan 'refugees' may have built a stone edifice the British Isles named 'Stonehenge'. The more that I study the World Atlas the more I became convinced that Stonehenge marks my own unused Royal Tomb".

Linguistically there seemed to be nothing left of High Atlantean anywhere. Even my own name - 'Natla' - was unwriteable using modern consonants. I went through that library from first to last looking for evidence. A note from 1951 - "I have found one possible relic in an essay written by Mr. Gato about the Cherokee language. I can approximately write my name with the correct emphasis - NA-TLA - using the Cherokee syllable 'tla'. Is this an old memory of the language brought to the Atzlan Confederacy by the Mayan Regiment?" Other things that sparked any recognition were some syllables in Ancient Sumerian and a scattering of words from "the lost Bahraini civilisation of the Dilmun", things like 'na' - human being, or 'ti'- life. I wrote "the most important clue comes from the powerful Mesopotamian concept of 'la', meaning 'abundance, luxury, wealth; youthful freshness, beauty, bliss, happiness, wish, desire'. In other words, this 'la' must be a corruption of the 'tla' contained in the nouns 'A-tla-n-ti-s' and 'Na-tla' ..." The identical meanings had me convinced that I was on to something.

However despite all of my obsessive research I realised eventually, with regret, that the multilayered High Atlantean rendition of "Natla" - whose true meaning that can only be expressed with the correct overtones, facial expression, pitch, gestures and lights, so that the philosophy of "tla" melds gracefully together with the concepts for "water" and "container" and "god" - was lost forever, known only to me.

*******

The end of 1954 and the beginning of 1955 were the happiest days of my life. I dove into the 1950's American culture with glee. I had a group of Platonic girl friends picked up in college and during my nightly perambulations around the seedier parts of New Mexico. It seemed that engaging in sexual activity with girls although not actually illegal was not strictly "the thing". That was fine with me. Sex had been rather unkind to me as far as I could see.

My best bestest girl friends were called Candy and Mary-Lou. We were the queen bees, if it is possible to have more than one, of our small universe. We spent our time, for example, bringing the latest fashions to Los Alamos and Roswell. We were the first girls in our area to wear poodle skirts with actual poodles embroidered onto them, for example. We played every bit of rockabilly that we could find on the jukeboxes and we adored the movies, especially Westerns and Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe.

That girl almost made me fall off the celibacy bandwagon. I'd dream about her, pleasure myself to thoughts of her, and practically cream myself over my reflection in the mirror once I'd adopted a huge cloud of platinum blonde hair myself. Every time a curvy blonde with a squeaky voice came into my orbit, I was sorely tempted. I wanted both to be her and to make love to her. It was a gorgeous bit of narcissism, completely in tune with being a 50's teen.

I remember a talent contest held in an auditorium of the New Mexico School of Mines when I, backed by my best bestest girl friends, performed Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. I wore a glamorous "miner girl" outfit that I made myself, with a cute punk miner's helmet perched on my blonde mop, and a pink pickaxe and a pink magnifying glass to look at diamonds with. I cut off some tiny dungarees so that my long Atlantean legs were exposed, and wore the top bib without a shirt so that my breasts were barely covered. I'm surprised I wasn't arrested for public indecency, but I discovered that you could do things on a stage you couldn't do walking down the street.

Instead of men in dinner jackets I dressed up Candy and Mary-Lou in black tuxes, bow-ties and pants, and they pretended to be the admirers that I was considering and rejecting, just like Marilyn in the film. These days we'd have been branded a lesbian novelty act, but then it was all just an innocent bit of fun like pajama parties in the girl's dorm or Doris Day shacking up with her "lady friend" in Calamity Jane.

"I've heard of affairs that are strictly platonic," I sang in my vaguely Mexican accent, planting a fresh kiss square on Mary-Lou's lips, before pushing her to the floor and planting one of my pink-painted miner's boots on her chest, "But diamonds are a girl's best friend."
Of course we won. I wonder if, years later, when the girls were married to nice men and had nice families they ever remembered me when they made nice, respectable love?

* * * * *

One day I hired an excellent lawyer/factotum/amanuensis, Oppie, and what he didn't know about commercial law, employment law, state law and federal law wasn't worth knowing.

I'd better mention Oppie as this may be one of the only places in this memoir that he appears. It's ironic that one of the most important people in my new life should be so ... in the background. Maybe that was his strength.

Oliver Philo Farnsworth was born a Mormon and his father had been a sharecropper. He had attended Brigham Young University after having been a science prodigy at High School and first came to my attention when I read a article of his suggesting that ultralow frequencies might be used for communication underground. He lived in Fenton Lake New Mexico with his life partner Buck and worked for me until his mysterious death by defenestration in 1990. Personally I don't think that he killed himself and that one of my enemies arranged for his death. I missed him terribly when he was gone.

I can remember our first meeting. Although I had a company name - the Natla Mining Company - I did not have an office as such and so he'd invited me out to his home.

"Mr. Farnsworth," said Buck, showing me into the study. "Miss Natla to see you."

I looked around with interest - they'd gone for a Usonian style with overtones of All American Male. Oppie was dressed in what looked like a tweed smoking jacket with leather shoulder patches, and he held a lit pipe in one hand.

"Hello Mr. Farnsworth," I said cheerfully, holding out my hand.

Oppie peered at me through his Coke bottle glasses and returned my mannish grip. I had an idea that he was slightly phased by my height and the length of my arm.

"May I offer you a cocktail?" he said, holding out a cigarette box.

"Just water for me," I said, but I accepted the tobacco. I wanted him to be at his ease when I blew his mind.

I reached into my Krizia purse and produced twenty thousand dollars US in cash.

Oppie looked at the bundle I'd handed him with a cagey expression. "What's this?" he said, eventually. "Some kind of bribe?"

I popped one of my patent pep pills into my water and swished the glass to dissolve it.

"I'm paying you for your time as from now." I said, giving him a film star smile. "I want at least ten hours at 1000 dollars an hour."

"Miss Natla. This kind of money buys more than ten hours even of my time. What exactly do you want?"

"I want a lawyer is well versed in paytants ... patents." I had a problem with lapsing into what sounded a bit like faux Mexican accent at times; my English wasn't quite North American Perfect.

Oppie giggled nervously. "That's me."

I handed him a folder full of designs that I'd made. There was amongst other things "In vitro manipulation of deoxyribonucleic acid", "Flame resistant material aromatic nylon" and "Cinnamyl-piperazine derivatives as a treatment for motion sickness." Check them out in the US Patent Directory. I'm still proud of them.

He asked if he could keep them overnight to read them but I demurred. It seemed reasonable to me that for twenty grand I could get his undivided attention.

He gestured for me to put some music on whilst he studied my notes and so I chose Holst's The Planets. The irony of listening to a piece of music about the Olympean "Uranus, The Magician", named for
Οvρανός , the Greek word for sky, whilst selling Atlantean "magic" technology to a "Uranian" man amused me. Something I tell myself jokes that only I get.

I tried some of Oppie's "whiskey" - I'd come across bourbon but not this stuff, a "Scotch single malt". I found I adored its taste of smoke. Whiskey was the stuff to drink at the end of the world, both geographically and temporarily, I decided. It tasted of fiery destruction to me. I made a note to order some.

"I don't believe it," said Oppie after a couple of hours. "I can't believe it. You have nine basic patents here. Nine. That's basic patents. Do you know what that means?"

"Yes, I think so," I said, with what I hoped was a normal smile.

"Really? I wonder. It means, Miss Natla, that you can take Janssen, Hoffman-La Roche and DuPont for starters."

I went and refilled my glass. "In say, three years, what would this be worth to me?"

Oppie laughed. "I'm a lawyer not an accountant Miss Natla, but I'd say it was something in the area of three thousand million dollars."

I couldn't help myself; I started to sing and dance, linking arms with an embarrassed Oppie and whirling him around his study.

We're in the money,
We're in the money,
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
Let's go we're in the money,
Look up the skies are sunny,
Let's lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!

We agreed that Oppie would have complete authority below me for the various projects and that I wouldn't have contact with anybody but him unless I authorized it. I offered him 10% of net profits plus 5% of corporate holdings. Natla Technologies was on its way.

* * * * *

The high spot of my fun with Candy and Mary-Lou came on Valentine's Day 1955 at Roswell North Junior High School where they were staging Hank Show's All Star Jamboree.

Hank Snow was a huge Country and Western star and his "All Star Jamboree" was exactly what it said, provided you weren't too fussy about the definition of the word "Star". There was one act on the bill that none of us really realized the significance of until we got there, and that act was called "Elvis, Scotty and Bill".

There was also a new dance that we'd all been practicing which was rather vaguely called "Swing" or "Lindy Hop" but which we referred to as "The Jitterbug". No one was sure what the name "Jitterbug" meant; Candy said it was a slang word for a guy with DTs whilst Mary-Lou said it was from a song left out of "The Wizard of Oz". Not that it mattered much. If you were going to dance to rockabilly and be seen then you had to master Jitterbugging. We already had a Presley Trio record in our collection - "It's All Right Mama" - which lasted for over a thousand plays before it began to show signs of wear and tear. We practiced our synchronized chasses whilst trying to keep our shoulders level in a manner not entirely unlike a hyperactive version of an Atlantean court dance called the Prylis. Doing the Prylis to Elvis, and the Royal Figure-of-Eight to the King.

We bounced into the hall with a crowd of equally excited fans. I had a flask of whiskey tucked into the stockings I was wearing under my skirt and we took turns swigging that and smoking and giggling like naughty school children.

Elvis was very sexy in a white bread kinda way. I guess I don't need to tell you. He was like some young dumb stud straight off the farm, a dumb stud blessed with hypnotic powers and a hypnotic pelvic thrust.

I'm not sure why I caught his eye. I didn't fill my sweater as well as Candy and Mary-Lou but I did stand taller than everybody else, and I guess my blonde hair and blue eyes were pretty noticable.

We got invited backstage - natch.

To cut a long story short, much to the delighted fury of my friends - Elvis invited me into a back room. At first I just thought he wanted to teach me all about the Bible and try out some healing using the "laying on of hands", which actually interested me more than having sex with him, but it appeared that sex was on the agenda. I didn't object - when in Rome, do the Romans - and I was curious about everything to do with America.

I sat close to him listening to him very intently, with a hopeful expression on my face, and eventually he kissed me. He really was very shy for a boy with so many opportunities, and I wondered briefly if the shyness was something he put on to add spice to his encounters. Not that it mattered much, as he was very beautiful, had the softest lips and was an expressive kisser.

"Are you a virgin?" he asked me, almost coughing with embarrassment.

"Should I be?"

"I guess that means no."

Which apparently was the right answer. I've read a few things since about Elvis, including his remark "I'd never break a virgin - there's enough prostitutes around". Whether this means he saw me as a prostitute I'm not sure. However I didn't ask for money and where I come from prostitutes are priestesses, so I'm entirely unsure.

As we lay there afterwards - he lit two cigarettes and gave me one - there was a knock on the door and Elvis went to whisper to one of his Memphis pals. Apparently his "girlfriend" - a girl called Dixie Locke - was on route, and so it was time for me to leave.

Life was astonishing, I reflected cheerfully. Not only had I had sex with a strange man - it was a definite improvement on sex with my brother - but the man had been the equivalent of American royalty. I was definitely going to fit right in.

* * * * *

Two other notable things happened to me after that that I can recall, in the time before I fell ill.

I was pottering around behind Mr. Gato's house, experimenting with breeding the hottest possible chilies. I wondered why chilies were hot. It seemed unlikely that there was an evolutionary reason.

I stopped digging with my trowel to wipe my brow when I became aware of a small Mexican woman watching me, hovering.

"Hello?" I said. I'd picked up Spanish as well as English. "Can I help you?"

She looked about fifty but I guessed she was in her twenties.

"I'm looking for Miss Jacqueline Natla, the daughter of Mr. Elwood Gato."

I stood up and found I was twice her height.

"That's me," I said, holding out my hand. "Would you like to come into the house for a glass of lemonade?"

"I would wouldn't want to inconvenience you," said the woman, shyly, taking my hand very tentatively. "My name is Rosaura Quintero and I just wanted a quick talk with you."

Quintero?" I said. I remembered the dead woman in the cave whose identity I had borrowed when I first arrived. Maybe Quintero was a very common name and it was just a coincidence, I thought. "Look, please come in. You are welcome to my home."

Even in the kitchen after I sat her down she didn't relax and it was as if she only sipped the cold lemonade out of politeness. I could see her darting furtive curious glances around the room when she thought I wasn't looking.

She laid the facts out as if dealing out a hand of poker. Her husband was the Union Leader at the Natla Zinc Mine in nearby Lunar County. Mr. Gato had been the Union lawyer before he died. The Mexicans were not paid as well as the "Anglo" workers. The mine was dangerous. The Union was on strike. Did I know about it? Would I come and look?

It appeared that it had taken Rosaura most of the day to get to my house, walking and hitching, and so I called one of my drivers. While we waited I managed to get her to accept some food and when that was all done, we drove back to the mine in comfort.

There had been a picket line at first, but then the local police had thrown most of the men into jail, with many a beating. In the meantime other miners – white Anglo miners – had been bussed in, and the original Mexicans had been sacked.

I sat down with the mine manager, a Mr. Steiger, and tried to fathom out why he should have behaved in such a stupid fashion.

"Why are white miners paid more than non-white?" I enquired.

"Well, Ms. Natla, ma'am ..." said Mr. Steiger. He was a sweaty and flushed man, with a strange collection of fat rolls on the back of his neck where it met his close-cropped skull. He smelt rather strongly of the sort of body odor one gets after a long route march in tight leather armour. "It's the local rates. The Mexican workers - they always get lower pay."

"Why is that?"

"It's traditional, Ma'am."

"Well - that's easily remedied," I said, mildly. "From now on the same work gets the same pay, regardless of background."

Mr. Steiger goggled at me. "But Ma'am. The local whites ... there'll be an uproar."

I couldn't prevent myself from pursing my lips rather severely.

"You're young, perhaps new to the business," continued Mr. Steiger, mopping his lips with an off-colour cloth. "Young girl like yourself ... you don't need get involved in all of this unpleasantness."

"Unpleasantness, Mr. Steiger?" I couldn't help raising one eyebrow.

He leaned in conspiratorially so that I had to start breathing through my mouth. "Listen, Ma'am. I can tell from your looks and your accent that maybe you have Mexican blood in there somewhere. And I understand you want to stick up for your ancestors and all that. Who wouldn't? But there's ways and means of doing these things. On the quiet. If you get my drift."

I walked over to the window and took a deep breath of fresh desert air.

"You are a fallen man, Mr. Steiger," I said, icily.

I had to forcibly remind myself that one wasn't allowed to execute servants in 1950's America. And so, instead of wrenching his fat head from his fat shoulders I merely contented myself with sacking him and all of the "scab" labour that he'd brought in. I suspect that Mr. Steiger may have caught the glint of homicide in my eyes because he ran off without arguing.

I reinstated the Mexicans and paid them the "Anglo" rate plus a raise of 20%, with an annual increase linked to the cost of living. It cost me practically nothing.

"Now I wish inspect the mine," I said to Rosaura's husband, to whom I had given the position previously held by the idiotic Mr. Steiger.

The mine was an over-heated death trap, filled with lung-destroying dust. Peering around I felt a good deal of shame - terrible shame - and wondered if maybe the fleshpots of America had distracted me from my duty. A good Queen protects her subjects, said a small voice in the back of my mind.

I immediately commissioned the building of a new school, a new hospital and a new company shop (selling staples at knockdown prices). I then put the might of Natla Tech into making that the Natla Zinc Mine the safest and healthiest mine on the planet. I ordered that similar arrangements be implemented in all my holdings in whatever country. I instructed that inherently dangerous mines, those beyond saving, should be shut or sold off.

"There's only one condition to all this do-gooding," I said down the telephone to Oppie. "I want the workers to sign a confidentiality agreement and I want there to be no authorised visitors - especially from the press - in any Natla Company Mines. I don't want to be accused of being some kind of Communist by the Committee. No publicity, on pain of being sacked."

"What about government inspectors?"

"Of course. Render unto Caesar as Jesus said."

"I fear that news will get out regardless, Miss Natla."

"Can't we bribe them?"

"You want to bribe government inspectors not to give you too good a report?" said Oppie.

"Exactly," I said. "After all, I don't want to create the threat of a good example."

* * * * *

Being the hero of the local Mexican community (on the QT) was great. I felt a smidge of the old Royal charisma. People say that the flood of babies that were christened "Jacqueline" in the following years were named after Mrs. Kennedy, but I know different.

One sadness occurred, however, despite my intervention. Rosaura's soldier son died, despite the best medical care both from the New Mexico VA and from Natla Tech. He was riven with cancer. It was an unpleasant death and afterwards I attended his funeral.

"I have something for you, Jackie," said Rosaura, outside the church, dropping something into my hand and closing my fingers.

It was a set of dog tags and for a moment I thought she'd given me her son's.

"Oh," I said. "Thank you."

"Look."

I looked, and to my intense shock the tags were inscribed with the name of Jacqueline Love.

"Where ...?" I said, but the words stuck.

"She was your girlfriend, wasn't she?"

"How did you know that?"

Rosaura shrugged. "You are still unmarried," she said, disingenuously.

"But where … where did you find it?"

* * * * *

It was some months later when my chartered ship approached as closely as it was allowed to the Marshall Islands, site of the Bikini Atoll nuclear testing grounds.

I find it hard to describe how much the Pacific Ocean frightened me. Everyday one board ship I woke up with a cold sweat, thinking of all that alien water below me. I say "alien", because I felt an intense "otherness". It was as if I was on a separate planet, a planet in which Atlantis and Olympus had never existed. I felt like an endangered intruder, unknowingly desecrating the graves of a civilisation that viewed the hemisphere of the Atlantic with a malignant and ageless hatred, the hatred of an existing population for an invader. Maybe it was Mu or Lemuria or one of those mythical civilisations listed in Mr. Gato's Encyclopedia Britannica, but every second I felt as if some sort of sea monster would arise from the depths and pull us all under. Why hadn't the nuclear explosions awakened the horrors of the deep, I wondered?

Rosaura's son had been stationed on nearby Eniwetok during Operation Castle, a test that had resulted in the biggest nuclear detonation ever seen. The soldiers had ameliorated the long periods of boredom by building small sailing skiffs, and it was whilst on one rather ill-advised and protracted adventure that Rosaura's son and his mates had discovered an uncharted coral islet to the southwest of Eniwetok called Ralik Island. There, under a palm tree, they had discovered a bleached skeleton in a flight suit, complete with remains of bleached blonde hair fluttering in the sea breeze, and with eyeless sockets fixed on the horizon for a rescuer that never came. Had she been waiting for me?

The captain had managed to clear the paperwork with the Navy by describing our mission of mercy, namely, to take one of "their own" back home. It didn't take our crew long to retrieve the body. Of Jackie's plane there was no sign, nor any indication of how she'd flown so far without setting down for fuel. The whole thing was ... creepy, almost supernatural.

As we hot-tailed it out of there I could almost see the roentgens sparkling on the overly blue water. Jackie shared my cabin on the way back and I tried my best to stroke the remains of her hair without breaking it. I wept to think of Jackie's end, alone in such an awful place. She may as well have expired leaning against some lonely boulder on the surface of the moon.

Back in New Mexico we held a joint funeral. I took the Quintero family to the cave where I'd found the body of Rosaura's mother all those years earlier. They didn't ask any questions or make any comment about it. It seemed that it was a matter of indifference to them that I had dressed Santana Quintero in my regal garments. Now all wrongs had been righted in a Mexican version of karma. Just as Rosaura's son hadn't reported his finding of Jackie's remains, I hadn't reported my discovery of Santana, and as a result we'd all been bereaved.

Afterwards I spent many sunny afternoons sitting by the tombstone, reading or catching some rays.

Then on October 4, 1957, as part of the International Geophysical Year, the first human-made object to orbit the Earth in the twentieth century was launched; Sputnik. The Nuclear Age began to fade, along with the radioactivity in the bones of Jacqueline Love and the confidence in my heart. The nightmare of the Space Age - my private nightmare - was about to begin.


*********





He Gives Birth To Swimming Horses