The Day After
And we are, already, through the big, big fields, arrived much quicker at the train station using the bike. Leo went into a snack bar to get a pack of crisps and something to drink. He misses the cheap wine already. The station is pretty much empty, as usual. People from around here, from the fields or the little town where the station is, don't seem to travel much. No red doors around here, either. I wonder if they even know about the Unification. Maybe they don't have to. What difference would it make, to them?
Leo is back. He got me a pack of crisps. They’re the first thing I eat today. “I’d never tried these before”, he said. “A bit greasy”. “Yeah”. I have to ask him. “So, what’s going to happen with The Bomb?”
The train arrived before he could say anything. We struggled a bit to get our luggage on the racks, and got a little confused with the tickets, and now the sky has turned black again and Leo is half asleep with his head resting on my shoulder, and I don’t know when it will ever be the right time to ask him again. He was so excited about leaving. How can we know what’s going to happen. There’s a bomb in the making.
I don’t know, he was so excited about leaving. As if the act of leaving itself, or the act of deciding to leave, was going to be the action to change everything. It isn’t. When the end comes, it’s going to feel like the end. It’s going to feel like people burning and houses crumbling.
I think we should tell people. I think we should do whatever we can to stop The Bomb before it’s too late.
The Day After, At Night
Our first red door. Leo is so excited. We’ve been eating nothing but crisps and raw pot noodles at the train station. We’re in what used to be the capital now, knocked on Celia’s door but no one answered it. I don't know if I’d want to stay there again, anyway. Not with Leo. Everything is different now. The streetlights are on, but they seem sadder this time. I think it’s the sense of urgency I feel, it is the opposite of dissolving and I need to grab it by any means.
We tried another door and were answered by an old man, or maybe not-so-old, his skin so tanned, thick and wrinkly he could be any age from fifty-five to ninety-five. He was wearing a yellow tweed suit, and he had a marble cane. Leo liked him immediately. He looked at me and smiled, sheer amazement on his face. “Oh, youngsters!”, the old, maybe not-so-old man said when he saw us, “Come in, come in, I love having youngsters over. I hope you two like lobster?”
“Lobster!”, Leo whispered to me, about to burst with glee. I’m pretty sure he’s never had lobster in his life. “Yes, yes, we’re very hungry, thank you, sir”, he said. “We’ve been eating crisps all day”. He had a blast saying that. This is how people talk in the Outside, he must have been thinking to himself, this is what they eat, this is what they wear, this is where they live. He couldn’t stop looking around, touching things, little porcelain gimmicks on the shelves, the velvety sofa cover and the voile curtains. A large woman, wearing a complicated, lacey dress, appeared from the kitchen. She seemed slightly flustered and disheveled at the end of a long day, but still smiled widely.
“Oh, we have visitors tonight! I bet my husband is pleased! He so enjoys having visitors!” She looked straight into our eyes as she shook our hands, but she didn’t care about us. This is how they say hello in the Outside, I could almost hear Leo thinking. “My name is Viola. How are you two? So, you like lobster, I heard? It’s my specialty. Here, can I take your bags? You don’t carry much, do you? Where are you guys coming from?”, she appeared to be moving around a lot and doing about six things at once, but if I watched her feet I saw that she was actually just standing in one place, slowly and carefully taking our bags from us. “My name is Alejandra”, I said, “And this is my...” I looked at Leo. He was sniffing one of the straw coasters on the dinner table. “My boyfriend, Leo”, I said. I don’t think he heard me. I coughed. He turned towards us, smiling vaguely. “Yes, I like lobster”, he said. Viola threw her head back and laughed.
“I bet you two could use a good rest before dinner! Why don’t you go upstairs and make yourselves comfortable? I’ll help you with your bags”
“Thank you very much”, I told her in a complicit whisper, and squeezed Leo’s arm to tell him to follow me.
There was a spiral staircase. Viola walked in the front of us, and led us to a little blue door, right at the end of a corridor which was just as full with bookshelves and tapestries and portraits as the hall downstairs. Compared to that, the bedroom behind the little blue door seemed quite bare. There was a double bed, with white sheets smelling strongly of lavender, a flower pot, a Quran, a Bible and a Torah on the bedside table, and a couple of empty wardrobes, their doors open revealing two full sized mirrors. Viola asked us if there was anything we’d like to eat or drink before dinner. Leo looked at me anxiously. I said no, nothing, thank you so much for everything. “Theo and I will be downstairs, if there’s anything you need feel free to come and ask us!”, she said, then left the room in a soothing cacophony, as was her way.
“So, this isn’t too bad, is it?”, I said, trying to re-establish some understanding.
“What’s not too bad?”, Leo kept looking around, at everything and nothing in particular. I couldn’t tell if he was in awe or completely numb.
“This house. Looks like we got lucky with our first red door”.
Leo was confused. “What do you mean?”, he asked, “Lucky?”
“Well, you know. It could be worse”, I said. He laughed in disbelief.
“What I mean is, could it be any better?”. I noticed he was smiling from ear to ear. I sighed, relieved.
I took my trousers off and lay down on the bed next to Leo. This where I’m writing this, right now. The clean sheets feel great. The Bomb, and all that came with it, Jacques, the portable stove, the process of dissolving, it all feels like a distant dream. Like Jonah, Leo seems somewhat smaller in the Outside. Sometimes I think my real mistake was going back. I should’ve known when I left for a week or two in March – it’s hard to even know how long it was, exactly – when I decided I was going to take my time crossing the big, big fields, sleep under the stars and not talk to a single person for days, and then take the train to that crazy beach the Newcomers kept going on about, always packed with travellers, full of old blankets everywhere, I should have noticed in my eagerness to surrender to all of it, all the waking up and going to sleep at any time anywhere, living off fried fish and the kindness of strangers, and especially how happy it made me to not have all those things to think about, everything that had to be kept in order so that things could stay always the same - I should have noticed then that something had gone wrong in my process of dissolving, something was, in fact, becoming solid and blocking transit in my body. And it only got worse when I returned. I felt bad for having left, I felt as if I was falling behind, but still. All I could think about were the merry nights sipping cheap wine and laughing with the Us, and the comforting relief they could give me. The times when I didn’t have to find my way back to the dormitories on my own. Falling asleep next to Jonah on a smelly mattress in a tent on the Grassy Hills, having breakfast before everyone else with the rest of the Kitchen Staff, before the sky started to turn pink again, and his languid and smooth goodbye kisses, that always made me think, maybe this isn’t so bad. Maybe I’m not missing out. Maybe I’m just all the more loved, all the more beautiful, for being consciously committed to my process of dissolving. It’s all going to be over soon, anyway. There’s no time to waste with individuality. We are working towards one organism, one mankind, one pile of ashes. I watched the sky turn pink again, sitting by myself on the big Sunflower Field, and I thought, “I kind of like it here. Maybe I’m fine”. But I never stopped to consider just how much it really took for things to stay always the same.
I move closer to Leo. I try to get as close to his face as I can without touching it. He smells of sweat and hay, just like everyone who lives in that place. I could hardly smell him on the train, because I’d grown so used to it, but right now, against the lavender perfume of the bedsheets this smell brings up a pang of nostalgia. It is still like leaving a place, a beloved place, a place filled with memories.
There’s something in the half-open drawer in the bedside table – a Tarot deck. It comes with a little book on the meaning of each card.
I start shuffling.
“Cards, why am I here with Leo? What is our mission?”. I pull out a card.
I pull out the Chariot card.
On the little book it says that’s one of the hardest cards to interpret. It has something to do with setting targets and knowing what you want, and doing what it takes to get it. It also seems to imply some sort of struggle on the way there, a need for determination. The Chariot. I start shuffling the cards again.
“Cards, all I need is an uplifting message that makes me feel everything is going to be alright. Now tell me what the hell Leo and I are supposed to be doing. Are we headed towards a massive fall?”. I pull out a card.
I pull out the Fool card.
Good one. The book says the Fool is Card Number Zero, or even – I like this one best – the Card Without Number in the Tarot. Being in the beginning of his journey, the Fool represents the totality of possibilities, and that the little sack he carries contains all that he will, or can ever need on his way, he can do or be anything he wants, anywhere, as soon as he stops and unpacks. The dog following him can be seen as a good sign or a bad sign. It can mean a good and loyal companion, safety and confidence, that will follow you wherever you go. Or it can mean a menacing distraction, a semi-wild thing that must be kept under control.
Yeah. I never really understood Tarot. I know that the World is a good card, and that the House of God is generally a bad card, even though there’s some debate. Leo is snoring. I think we’re going to make a good team. I’ve also heard that the Fool’s dog is actually his ego. His ego can serve as companion and comfort, but it must be gently domesticated, and cared for, in the right way, with the wisdom, restraint, and awareness of a true master – and, ultimately, it must be loved. Well, I think Leo is going to be a bit like my dog for this ride, and I’ll be his. I’m sure happy to have him. I’m really happy to have him.
Sitting here watching him sleep, it’s hard to remember that there’s a place we came from, that there are places we’re going to, it doesn’t matter if we have dared to speak about them or not yet. Someone’s calling us downstairs. Dinner must be ready. “Leo, Leo wake up”. “Sweetheart”, he mutters. “Sweetheart”, I say, and press my nose against his cheek. “Let’s go downstairs for dinner”. This is certainly the safest I’ve felt in a long, long time.