There is no regret, only memories, some bittersweet, some funny. He looks back and smiles, all the time listening to the breeze blowing through the bare branches of the trees. He sees the present, but his reality is in the past, although he no longer reads it as the past, rather as a possible future, or, better, a transition between futures. The present, the spectacle, he does not care much for, there is nothing there to inspire him, to make it worth more attention. In a strange way, he’s immune, to the air du temps, to the vagaries that pass for real in most people’s daily lives: he’s sheltered, wrapped, in voices, melodies and faces that are no more, but still more alive to him than the background noise “they” call now.
She observes his decline, but admires his energy, the way he polishes wood, cleans his boots, prunes the bushes, looks after the car. There is more, but she’s careful to spare those moments, those fragile bridges to the couple they once were. She observes him, does not let him out of sight too long. Best for her, is when he is at his desk, surrounded by Beethoven or Mozart, writing one of his weird and lofty stories. Then, his mind may be far away, but his cherished body is there, visible, close to her, she knows he’s not going to disappear, through the mist. Yet she cares about where his mind is: what would she do if, one morning, he did not recognise her? What would happen to both of them if he lost his sense of time, his sense of humour?
He took a last look at the now empty apartment: between those walls he and his companion had spent some very happy hours, but also known doubts, and even fear. Times were changing, now was the right time to go home, to retrace their steps. Looking for his lost dream had been the goal, and he had failed, in some ways. Looking across the avenue, out of the bay window, he did not concede defeat. The task remained incomplete, the story unwritten. His search would continue. He would miss this place, the city, the tree-lined streets, the vast parks and the lakes. How beautiful the country was, there, on their doorstep. Yet he aspired to escape, to hide from the beauty, to a different world of silence, and peace. He knew she was happy to go back, to her friends, to her garden. Life would be simpler. He drove carefully out and took the direction of the Autobahn. They had a long road ahead of them, landscapes they knew, places where to stop on their way. His wife was smiling, on the radio he overheard news about election fraud and forbidden demonstrations. In the past year they had not paid much attention to what was going on, elsewhere in the world. At least he had not, perhaps she was more attentive to the voices, out there, to the ripples that did not reach him. She switched the radio to classical music. The landscape was changing, they were leaving. He would drive for another hour, and then his wife would take over: they were organised, relaxed, thoughtful. He thought of their journey, back to the city from the west, three years past. Then the landscape had been frozen, the trees delicate structures of glass. He’d hoped then to discover the truth, the elusive reality behind the dream. But it was not a complete failure, contact was made, he could still hear far away voices, from a past that may have been his, theirs. His wife would soon be driving. Suddenly he was relieved: they had made their move, it was not the end of their search, only it would have to be done from a little further away. He smiled at the thought of their long rides along the Oder, the endless forests, the small villages nestled in the hills. They would go back, later, he was sure of that.
The place, their place, was so familiar, ramshackle, a little dusty. He walked to the bottom of the garden, inhaled the now moist and cool air, the small hollow was overgrown. He thought he would have to install a fence at the back, to guard against foxes and stray dogs. He laughed: this was so different, in its suburban quiet solitude, the city was far away. They would start clearing the brambles and dead plants, empty the shed of rubbish. They now had plenty of time, to plan, to decide, to work and shape the place the way they wanted. There was no rush. They would take the time to unpack, to clean the house, to make this space liveable. A place where to love, and write again, he thought. His wife was walking toward him, handed him some tools. Pruning was the word. He would have to prune, go back to bare essentials. He wondered about the gnomes, the small people, were they still around, or had they followed him to the city, and lost their way? He smiled at the idea of furtive shapes haunting the large avenues at night, perhaps hiding in the parks. No, he was sure they were still around here, spying, mocking, planning their next trick. A grey heron flew by, majestuous. It was getting dark, he must have been dreaming awake. His wife had gone back to the house, downstairs was lit. He would start working tomorrow, spend some time in the garden, then inside. As he started walking toward the house he heard a familiar chuckle. There you go, he thought, they are here all right, the mischievous lot. He would have to fix the outside light on the terrace. So many little and not so little tasks awaited him. He was looking forward to the evening. And the day after: the beginning of a new year.
“Another few hours and the sea will reach the beach: a small drop of time, the beat of an eyelid… Yet we have to wait, and even then we will not know much more, about us, about life, not even about death…”
“My dear, you are philosophical this morning. I know how to cure this! And we will wait for the tide together, afterwards.”
Her smile lits her suntanned face: they walk slowly up the hill, find the right spot. They could be alone in the entire universe. By now, they might be.
They have room, at least just enough to sleep, dine and read. Green is the garden, as the rain falls. They have time: to plan, to work, to love. They have plenty of memories, to edit, reshape, immortalise. They have books, some read, some to read, plenty of them.
The furniture may be in pieces, the rooms strangely expecting the new. They smile, they laugh, they love. They have friends, and peace.
Her voice was calm, and her friend understood she was merely stating a fact. She too had thought of the omen in the last nights, as they both laid, enlaced, on the soft land, under the moon.
They looked at each other, in silence. Evolution is about that, she thought: we live, we prosper, we ruin the land, and then we have to accept: someone cleverer than us will take our place. In a cloud, without a word. Gaia is always right, in the end.
As they prepared to leave and go home – a long way away – they started fantasising… There would be an island, a secret garden, a view over the old church, new colours and space for dreaming and loving. Perhaps even a shortcut to the lake from their porch?
They would have to invent a way to travel easily to the island, and there build a shelter. But would a shelter be needed? Wasn’t their place already basking in an eternal summer?
“Those worn steps,” she said as they stood in front of their door, “speak of our story…”
She was right, but he was pleased there was then no-one to hear, or see them. How could they explain? They were coming home, after so many years. Years? Ney, decades, or worse. This house his ancestors had built. When? He smiled, took her hand, and they walked up to the door. Their door.
Behind that door was their life, their secrets. And her, his lady, his immortal love. On the doorstep they kissed. He was already enabriated by her scent, the touch of her tongue.
The small entrance was dark. She shut the door, and led him to the back, to their room.
“And now, let’s celebrate!” she said, pushing him on the bed. This was worn too. As he felt the delight of her teeth on his throat, he knew they were really back home.
Is this you, running toward me, in the dying light of our star? Is it you, or your double, or your servant? I know it cannot be you, how much I wished it were. But I know: I lost you, eons ago, far away. Tonight I remember, the long voyage, the hopes, the battles. And you, your beauty, your strength, the knight this girl dreamed of. I see you, slaying the devils, archangel in a shiny armour. I see the broken sword.
And now this: a dying star, a dead sea. All hopes lost, so few of us left, waiting for the end, on the glistening sand.
They were back, still in a daze, amazed at the colours, the air, the clouds. She took his hand, in silence, knowing he could not be reached, yet. Was this real? Or was it a dream, another dream? If it was, then she did not want to wake him up, or herself. Not now.
If it was a dream, was there a purpose? Were they expected to go back, abort the mission, or go forward, further still into the future? Was this land their world, was it now, or was it down the tunnel of time? Then who was treading the sand under their feet?