The Trip to the Outside - All the Way Past the Big, Big, Incredibly Huge Fields
We’re getting ready to leave now.
Jonah hasn’t been to the Outside in over ten years. He’s 26 years old. Last time he was in the Outside he was 16. He went on holiday to an island that used to belong to what used to be the national territory called Greece, with his parents and his little brother. He never talks about his family. For all I know he just jumped over the back fence one Tuesday night and never went back again. He’s a member of the Kitchen Staff now. Unusual for someone so young, even more unusual for someone who hasn’t been here for a very long time. I guess he just showed an unusual aptitude for knowing where things go.
I’m sitting on his bedroom floor now, writing this as he finishes packing his stuff. I've only ever been in his bedroom when we were going to have sex, and I always left right afterwards. Other than that, I’d been to his door, but I always thought I risked being obscene if I came in. Today I just did it without thinking about it. There was a chilly wind outside that was bothering me, and I didn’t have anything warm with me to put on, so I just walked in and sat on the floor while I waited for him to finish packing. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me sideways, and laughed nervously. I said, “What?”, and he laughed nervously. It's my first time really seeing it, in daylight. It doesn’t look how I remembered it. It’s much emptier. Just a few beds and dull cement floor, with green and yellow curtains on the windows. He shares the house with five other people, I don’t really know who. I know Leo is one of them. I recognised his room instantly. There is a half-packed suitcase under it, and lots of clothes spread around it.
Jonah looks sad today. I’ve never seen him like this. He looks really tired. I wonder why they’re making him, of all people, travel to the Outside to get stuff for the Bomb. He’s not in the Bomb team, he’s never shown any desire to be in it. I don’t dare thinking he might be lying to me, though. Jonah doesn’t lie. He’s just not that kind of person anymore. A much too large part of who he is has dissolved over the years. He’s the youngest member of the Kitchen Staff, he’s in the Us, that’s who he is now. He knows where things go. He goes to meetings. He sips on cheap wine. He laughs, and he makes others laugh. He dances around the Big Fire. He sleeps with a lot of women, whenever he thinks it will help him, and them, to continue on dissolving.
He seems to be avoiding eye contact with me. “Are you nervous about going to the Outside?”, I asked him. He laughed. “So, are you?”. “No”, he said, “Why would I be nervous?”. He probably isn’t.
It is odd, though. This past week I’ve been thinking a lot of things are odd, since Jacques and I started using his portable stove. It’s like a switch has been flipped in me. Any sense of obscenity seems to be gone. It’s hard to explain. I’m writing this as Jonah walks around the room taking stuff off the floor and throwing it in his suitcase, taking stuff out of his suitcase and throwing it on the floor. Everything feels hard as concrete. I have stopped dissolving and there is no going back. I look at Jonah and I see a young man, pale, freckly, quite concerningly underweight, with green, nervous eyes he never lets anyone look into for very long, having a hard time over what he thinks he’ll be wearing over the next few weeks, his first time in the Outside in the last ten years. A lot has changed since his last trip away. For example, there are no national territories anymore, since a couple of years ago. That was a shock at the time, but we understood it to be just one of those things, something that happens sometimes, when it is necessary. National territories are just the kind of thing that, every now and then, gets abolished and forgotten about. Around the time that was happening, everyone started hearing about this place here, and the naked dancing under the sprinklers. From what I’ve heard, it had been an infamous thing for quite a long time, in a novelty kind of way, among a few particular circles, and of course among the locals of the big, big fields, but it wasn’t until national territories disappeared that the Newcomers really started coming. It was when I first came, too. Most of them only come for a few weeks, a minority for a few months, at most. They work in the vegetable gardens. They enjoy the sun. It’s always sunny here. They appreciate the beauty. The delicate beauty found in things, isolated objects, a patch of green moss, a tall sunflower, a fig tree. They don’t know what life here is really like. How things always stay the same. How hard we all have to work for things to always stay the same. They don’t know that the process of dissolving means letting go of precisely those little joys they’ve been learning to treasure and safeguard so dearly since the Unification. Most people in the Outside have become travellers now. They think they’re letting go of their material hang-ups because they’re no longer bound to national territories, to a home or a job or a family. They’re starting to appreciate the little things, or at least that’s what they keep saying. That’s what they come here for. It’s a beautiful place, always sunny.
When I first decided to come here, I knew what I wanted. I know what things feel like when they are about to end.
I wanted emptiness and the joy of emptiness only, the joy of being together in nothingness in no place, dancing naked under the sprinklers.
But it meant having to let go of so much. Much more than I could even begin to imagine when I first decided to come.
I think it wouldn’t have been so bad if they had let me join the Us from the beginning. The Us meet every afternoon, and most nights, in a little brick cottage on the Grassy Hills, which they built themselves, over five weeks as they sang Auld Lang Syne and sipped on cheap wine and laughed under the gentle sun. They light a fire when the nights get cold. They sit on big, colourful pillows on the floor and talk about the end of everything. They tease each other. They are always slightly drunk. They have sex, and Leo and Lily are In Love and they are all very happy about it. They cheer. For no reason. They cheer to a witty remark. They cheer to Love above all else. They cheer to The Bomb. They cheer to the fact that it is going so fantastically, so superbly well. They cheer to how it just has to be a miracle. They cheer to the party they’ll have before it’s all over. They cheer because they know that everyone, everyone will come. There isn’t a hint of doubt in their minds. I really think it wouldn’t have been so bad if they had let me be with them from the beginning. If I could have fallen in love with Jonah gently, by the fire. If Bebe had never had to tell anyone that we were In Love just so I would be allowed in their meetings, and if Jonah didn’t laugh nervously every time I invited him for a walk after lunchtime. Dissolving would have been a sweet, natural process then. I thought I was so ready for it. I still think I would have been.
Jonah’s done packing. He’s sitting on his bed, looking at his empty suitcase. He’s seen that I’m writing and doesn’t want to interrupt. He knows that journal writing is important for me, for someone like me, who is on such an early stage in her process of dissolving. I want him ardently. I still do. I want to crawl under his skin. He’s a beautiful man. I am now going to sit next to him and stroke his cheek with the back of my hand.