A Lot Later – A Few More Frustrated Phone Calls, Some Ice Cream, A Long Conversation By The Fireplace And A Long Conversation In Bed With Leo Later
I can’t sleep. I’m just lying here watching Leo’s chest go up and down under the moonlight.
So, we talked. For a long time. About the Bomb. We talked about death. Not much. Just enough to know that we both agree it’s not a good thing. We talked about good things and bad things, what they are. We decided we do want to operate by those concepts, no matter how arbitrary they are, or run the risk of being, or whatever. It just hurts too much any other way, and at the moment we can’t deal with that hurt. We talked about loss. We agreed on that one, too. We think it’s a bad thing as well, just as bad as death, and we think that people should try to avoid it, both suffering it and inflicting it on others. We think that cuddling and rubbing our feet and giggling in bed is a good thing. We think that bringing your guests some ice cream, as a nice surprise and a hospitality gesture, is a good thing. We decided that good things should be acknowledged, celebrated, and practiced as often as possible. We decided that this would be a useful general guideline for how to go about things in our lives, at least for the time being.
We talked, and that means Leo had to say the words – “Yes, I am positively, absolutely sure that the Bomb is going to be finished soon. It was all designed and planned when I left, all that’s left to do now is a matter of execution, and we’ve all known for months now exactly how long we’ve got before it is finished. The Bomb will be finished on the 22nd of August 2022. And even though I can’t say it with total certainty, everything that was being said by the time I left suggested it was going to go off as soon as it was finished. It has all been planned for months, and it’s a flawless plan. I wasn’t just saying it when I said things were going exceptionally well. But I don’t want them to go well anymore. We need to warn people.”
And him saying that, meant that I had to say – “Sweeheart. Yes, I know.”
I think we got lucky with our red door, again. Beginners’ luck, maybe, like it happened with Jonah. Or maybe people who paint their doors red, just to let passersby know they are open to host anyone in need, tend to be nicer than most people.
Or maybe people are just good, all of them, exactly as they are. Maybe.
We had a good time sitting by the fireplace tonight. Theo and Viola are really nice. They listen. Each of them in their own way. Theo is old and sits quietly in his well-worn, honourable-looking leather armchair, holding onto his marble-topped cane as if it were his life, and Viola listens too. She moves around constantly but doesn’t do anything, and she hardly ever looks at you, but there is one thing she does, she asks questions. She’ll start with a “So, where do you guys come from?”, but then she’ll move on from there to wild, wild things, fun things, good things. She’ll always say, “No, no, carry on, I want to know more”. She’ll ask for details on silly little things you’d never even thought of noticing, and she’ll make those things seem different just by wanting to know about them.
She asked me where I came from.
I said was born near a lake that used to be famous ten years ago, when it had a name, in what used to be a very small national territory in what used to be the smallest continent on what used to be called the Earth, ten years ago. The lake used to be – and I suppose it still is – in what used to be a small town, or as I think they call it these days, a convenient aggregation of variedly skilled individuals.
I said that when I was born I lived with both my parents and my older brother in a big house. She asked me what colour the house was. I said yellow. She asked me, canary yellow? I said, I don’t know, I guess more like custard yellow. She asked me, how many bedrooms did the house have? I said three bedrooms. She asked me, did it have a lounge? I said yes. She asked me, did it have a dining room? I said yes. She asked me, how many bathrooms did the house have? I said two bathrooms. She asked me, and how many toilets then? I said three toilets. She asked me, what else? I said one kitchen, one swimming pool, and one big, empty, soft, carpeted room with each of the four walls painted a different colour.
She asked me, what colours? I said that every time I try to remember what that room looked like the walls are different colours. I said that as I was thinking of it now what I saw was one wall green, one wall blue, one wall orange, and one wall purple.
She said, “Wow. Please go on, dear. I’d love to hear more about that.”
I said we used to call the empty room the playing room. Because it was meant to be played in.
She asked me, how much older than you is your brother? I said, a year and a half. She asked me, and did you two use to play together a lot in the playing room? I said, my older brother died when I was two years old and he was three and a half years old. She asked me, how in the world? I said, he drowned in the swimming pool. I said, that’s all I know. I said, that’s all anyone ever told me. I said, I’ve never dared asking more.
I said my father left us when I was eleven years old and he was 45 years old.
I said my mother died when I was twelve years old and my father was still 45 years old.
I said I then went to live with my father in an apartment, in a neighbourhood that used to be famous when it had a name, ten years ago. The neighbourhood used to be – and I suppose it still is – located in what used to be a big city, or as they call it these days, a highly inconvenient aggregation of unskilled individuals.
I said the apartment had two bedrooms, one living room, one bathroom, one toilet, one kitchen, and a little one-square-metered room behind the kitchen that never got used for anything. I said that was twelve years ago, in 2010, just before the Unification, when nobody could have imagined that it was ever going to happen.
Then she didn't ask me any more questions.
The fire was still burning. The night was young. Leo was looking at me with a mixture of embarrassment, nostalgia, neediness, and blissful understanding. It was only his first time in the Outside, but he knew what I was talking about. Death and loss, it’s like we practically share a brain when it comes to those things.
Viola had turned her attention to Leo. He started saying, “I come from beyond the big fields. And they are really, really big. Do you want to know how big they are?”
I closed my eyes, trying to visualise the big, big, big, truly enormous fields. I didn’t even know anymore. So big. I couldn’t even remember anymore. My brain didn’t have the power to process it. You would have to be walking through them to know.
Leo said, “Think of something really big”.
He said, “Now think of something bigger.”
He said, “Now think of something bigger. Now think of something bigger. Now think of something bigger.”
He said, “Now double that. Now triple that. Now think of something bigger”
He said, “That’s how big they are.”
Viola said, “Oh, well, that sounds very big! What’s the weather like over there?”
“It’s always sunny. Every single day.”
“That’s nice. I bet you miss it.”
“Not really, not yet. I had pretty good reasons to leave, you know. That are pretty hard to forget.”
“Oh, yeah? What kind of reasons? We hear so many stories from young people who come by here. There are nasty things going on in the world, I’ll tell you. So you’ve had your share of it?”
I was looking at Leo, trying to read him like I did when we first arrived. He didn’t look nervous at all, not out of his element at all. He was acting as if telling this story had long become second nature to him. I thought, this is who we are now. We are young people who have gone through some bad things. Sitting by the fireplace was a good thing.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve ever gone anywhere beyond the big fields, you see”, Leo said. “It’s just that, listen – it’s just that they’re so incredibly big, when you’ve never been anywhere else it’s hard to believe that there’s anything beyond them. It used to feel so unreal to even think about it. So far away and blurry.”
As I’m writing this Leo keeps dozing off and waking up and dozing off again, lying next to me in bed. He’s still fully clothed, soon he’s going to get up and change into his pyjamas, then walk across the corridor looking for the bathroom, and end up kicking something and making a really loud noise. He’s going to wash his face and brush his teeth and walk back to the bedroom – I will have opened the door and left the light on so he’ll be able to see where he’s going this time – and he’s going to lie down next to me and kiss my neck and whisper “Sweetheart”. About three minutes after that, he’s going to be snoring and I’m going to poke him on the shoulder to wake him up, and he’s going to say “What?” and I’m going to say “You’re snoring” and give him a gentle peck on the nose, and he’s going to say “I’m sorry” and roll on his stomach and say “I’m sorry” again, and a few seconds after that he’s going to say “I’m sorry” yet a third time, and then he’s going to fall asleep for good.
He just woke up and saw me writing. He murmured, “You write a lot, don’t you?”, and, with his eyes closed and already half-asleep again, he added – “Sweetheart”.
“I do now. When I was I living across the big fields I found it really hard to write. Bebe always said the thing that was going to help me the most in my personal process of dissolving was writing, that it was good to practice telling things, everything, without distinction. She always said that, almost every time we spoke.”
“Bebe”, he repeated emptily.
I think I never got to experience the things Bebe told me about, though. Telling felt like an effort, and the effort of daring to tell was rewarding sometimes, but it was never going to help me dissolve. You see, that’s where I got it all wrong. I would never have had the nerve to tell the Us, to tell them everything about where I came from, what I’ve done, what I could’ve done. It was different tonight, by the fireplace. It felt good to be sitting still, sharing stories.