My guide was Ian McShane. One of those actors you don’t know about for a long time and then one day you’d always known him. Ubiquitous, transcending time, like Forest Whitaker. Or maybe he’s one of those people with a gravitas that makes them seem like they’ve been in every situation and have always been. Anyway, Ian fucking McShane.
In a long, dark grey overcoat and branded black curly hair his pale eyes that held cool, mocking detachment while also warm imploring brought you in on the joke of which you were the butt. That’s a trick that’ll get you famous. And he spoke in that million-dollar way, authoritative and gentle. Omniscient but humble. He himself had made all the absurd and cruel rules of life, but he was standing with you in the midst of their consequences, also subject to them, comforting you in solidarity with your suffering his whim.
From where am I recalling all this, Ian McShane? Hard to say. From a dim twilit, frenzy of a time. From a post-evening, pre-night glow under heavy clouds and slimy smokestack exhaust. Even my understanding of who I am has been fractured and refracted in a prism that I’m still finding in scattered glass on the ground and trying to assemble treacherous shards into something big enough to see my whole face in, and every time I do I’m cut.
But Ian McShane, supporting star of John Wick: Chapter 2, star of the time before, I see clearly. With his grey overcoat and black hair and white teeth. We’re in a room that feels cramped. It’s lit by the pale light you find in greenhouses emanating down from far above and it’s full of sad, deprived potted plants. Most of the plants seem stunted. Too little green for the dry dirt and crusty terracotta they float in. Flimsy little spider plants and fat aloe writhing in agony. The nonlife between the plants was a lot of vintage-looking throwaway pieces haphazardly hoarded and jumbled together.
And there was Ian McShane standing in the room in a way that he could have been standing in any space no matter what was there or where he was, and he was speaking in the way his voice takes that I already described: that’s reassuring, full of empathy and understanding, but also emanating from a place you’ll never inhabit. He’s describing the rupture event that is about to happen. The Rupture the Rapture the Armageddon the Fracture the Apocalypse the Birth of Christ and His death, he says. He’s telling me about the feeling and the risks of what I will imminently experience. You’re gonna feel a little sick he says. And there’s another agency there I notice. It is a godlike presence that’s above and underneath everything. It’s observing, maybe, or driving the events. Is it a government or a deity, I don’t know. Nor do I recall if it was ever mentioned to me or by me or by someone else in the room or by Ian McShane, or if I just felt its presence there in that cramped greenhouse. Did he hold up his fingers and look me in the eyes and without the shadow of a smirk say, Feel that? Is that your god?
The rupture is going to be intense, Ian McShane is telling me. I remember that. Could we have stopped it? I asked him in a pleading and pathetic way. Perhaps we could have stopped it, he said in his way. There were some moments we could have stopped it, he says, or maybe he didn’t say so explicitly but I knew it then from the previous series of events that I’ve forgotten now: we could have stopped it. Oh, don’t fret, he says, not about that. What could you have done? What could you have done, really? Now like I said, it’s going to be intense.
There are many details I’m not remembering just now, from this side of the rupture. There was a logic to the course of events that made sense then, like a dream logic, that are so nonsensical now that my memory refuses to put them together. But Ian McShane wasn’t lamenting the rupture or the possibility that we could have prevented it. Ian McShane is beyond lamentation.
It would hurt, he had said. It would be anatomically damaging. Many won’t survive it. You may not survive, he said. But now it has to happen.
There’s a hooded figure I see now in this post-rupture dimness. She is mostly shrouded in a dirty cloak. She has a pleasant face that is familiar and symmetrical and seems like a composite of many faces. A benign, pleasing average all blended together. I attach a name to her of someone I knew once, though she doesn’t really even look like that person. She looks frail but content. And here I am still remembering Ian McShane in the greenhouse. How did we get to that brink? There was a younger man too, soft and gentle and in love with all but himself. Everything stripped off him, skin flayed from a core of outward-facing kindness. He didn’t look like Ewan McGregor OBE at all but there’s no other way to describe him.
The rupture itself was a timeless thing. From here it seems compressed into a few moments. But from within it there were no units. Minutes hours years millennia; didn’t matter. It wasn’t so bad. Ian McShane talked me through it all in his calm, amused way. There was a countdown. Don’t recall where it started but at the end of the countdown he became suddenly suspended in the air. The surrounding shabby room fell away but was not replaced with anything, neither void nor dark, just blind sensation. Then I too was suspended in the air all while Ian McShane talked to me. My clothes were scraped from me as if by drag. The intense velocity of that change stripping away from me everything not me. Not Ian McShane though. His overcoat just rippled a little. It hurt me too. The speed and the motion, or something else, hurt me horribly. It felt like a bad bellyache cramping in my center. But I was fine with that since I knew to expect it, and what else could I do?
Now, after, this hooded woman was talking to the gentle not-Ewan McGregor. Smiling at him. Clearly feeling that all was ok with him there smiling back. How could she have forgotten about him so quickly? She forgot about him in the rupture, that he was, that he had been before. He was in that greenhouse with her before everything broke and perhaps long before that. Long and intimate with her. She doesn’t recall and feels shame for that. But now here she was talking with him again after they were squeezed through that rapid sieve. They were sitting on the same lone vessel. They were now two small passengers on a long, broad canoe that was moving along on a monorail suspended in the smoky twilight world. Floating on metal through the sky. Foggy peach glow on a horizon. The man embraced the hooded woman in his attention and adoration, in the warm smile so reminiscent of yet also unlike the star of both Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2, among other films. Perhaps most memorably, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The hooded woman took ages to heal on that canoe. For her hair to grow back under the hood or her organs to kick back on course under her skin. Or whatever it was that had broken. It took a long time for her sense of a timeline to realign itself along a path as though raindrops fallen would finally form a river. From the traincanoe she did not mourn the passing of the pre-rupture world. She did not miss that stuffy, pale greenhouse with its sad plants. The loss and absence of that god or government was not something she grieved.
Her healing went through stages that seemed moments in duration, but from afar may have been packaged in years. I don’t know if it was Ian McShane who told me or if I knew it by some other way, but the gentle man with all his outward love was too injured by the rupture. He would not live long in this twilight. He would give his warmth to me on the canoe and then he would die. His innards would fail and he would perish and be gone for the remainder of this timeline worming back to itself. And then Ian McShane wasn’t there any longer either. He wasn’t there to prepare me again, or to talk me through my journey on the bizarre monorail. It glides as softly as a cloud. He vanished as though he’d never been there. Now I don’t recall exactly how I landed in that vessel or got the hooded cloak draped over me, or why Ian McShane was there. But the motion I remember. I just remember the motion.