[ … Alopias vulpinus Petrochelidon pyrrhonota Consider evil. Consider the way it springs up premisewise. Consider the voice that comes from the bones and the air, the skin panelled about the faces, white faces with masks and no holes to let the air through, no breath, no word, no heat, no sight, everything crowded out by the burning intensity of life. The thing about evil. The thing. It is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast. It has no wrath or force. It is true. It cannot lie. It endures. It hopes against all things. It is flat and deep as water and as necessary. It seeks no hurt. It is complete. It does not stir except by virtue of its being the case, and it goes with or without saying, indeed despite it, that what is the case is outside its cause, a world strung out like flesh. Evil is not arrayed against the good, it is not arrayed against anything. The good will come, it comes. It is monstrous in is apathy, it points at destinations with mammoth intent, it is a paraclete that breeds no sound but its waking gibber, its morning and evening torments made worshippable only by renunciation, it acknowledges no fact, it sweeps up all experience before it to bring it finally thundering through the walls of this world like a ruthless word bent in bringing all of creation down its own beguttered gullet, down its own bespoke blackness. But evil carries Caspiomyzon wagneri Zonotrichia leucophrys Bitis atropos Morelia viridis Catharus ustulatus Trimeresurus monticola Gyps fulvus Rhodostethia rosea Aplysina archeri Nycticorax nycticorax Phodilus assimilis Pluvialis dominica Hysterophora maculosana Causus rhombeatus Gastrophysa viridula Archilochus colubris Arthrospira platensis Calypte anna Empis livida Anochetus rufus Acanthognathus teledectus Cathartes burrovianus Haloferax volcanii Anas acuta Melanerpes erythrocephalus Hexanchus griseus Elanoides forficatus Ancylis badiana Pandion haliaetus cristatus Polemaetus bellicosus Parkesia noveboracensis Carebara capreola Pyrococcus abyssi Halorhabdus tiamatea Tipula oleracea Lumbricus terrestris Thelotornis kirtlandii Synthliboramphus hypoleucus Chondestes grammacus Cirrothauma cirrothauma Acanthis flammea Proterospongia choanojuncta Plegadis chihi Gallinula galeata no such burden, it brings no airs. It is intimate. It is quiet. It hides and looks out under the great shadow at fulminations blind and holy and it cowers and hopes. When all is said and done it will emerge. It will call for you. It will take your hand. It will lead you. It has no need for loneliness. It has no need to ignore anything. It will take the fact even if it finds only one fact shining in the waste and it will hold it, hold it out against a newly electric earth. All this can be gathered and known but only by great thought. Centroscymnus coelolepis Methanococcus deltae Machaerhamphus alcinus Numenius phaeopus Cygnus olor Echinorhinus brucus Centroselachus crepidater Ictinia plumbea Cepphus Columba Clangula hyemalis Notechis scutatus Methanobrevibacter curvatus Etmopterus pycnolepis Centrophorus moluccensis Eisniella tetraedra Arianta arbustorum Buteogallus schistaceus Chen caerulescens Selasphorus rufus Seiurus aurocapilla Bucephala albeola Hydroprogne caspia Cepphus grille Strix albitarsis Coccothraustes vespertinus Hemachatus haemachatus Pipilo maculates Coragyps atratus Charadrius hiaticula Harpalus rufipes Somateria mollissima Sialia currucoides Pheucticus melanocephalus Phyllorhiza punctata Leucophaeus atricilla Oenanthe oenanthe Streptopelia decaocto Aquila audax Methanococcoides methylutens Aphodius rufipes Falco vespertinus Nanoarchaeum equitans Sympetrum striolatum Anthus rubescens Turdus migratorius Bombycilla cedrorum Echis carinatus Geotrupes stercorarius Haliaeetus pelagicus Squatina armata Geothlypis tolmiei Mnemiopsis leidyi Dytiscus marginalis Actitis macularius Chaetura pelagic Ignicoccus pacificus Fulmarus glacialis Gallinago delicate Crotalus enyo enyo Phratora vulgatissima Dolichonyx oryzivorus Coturnicops noveboracensis Accipiter castanilius Atractaspis congica Nasuia deltocephalinicola Icteria virens Palomena prasina Glyphis gangeticus Toxostoma rufum Brachymyrmex melensis Which beings know this? We do not know this. For us there is too much noise. But animals know this. With their minds they have no choice but to contemplate the universe. Their thoughts cannot be bent anywhere, they are not ordained or made sacred by any meaning. They have run themselves over and over again through the generations in ages unstoppable and in their running have come to this. Animals know this. And they having nothing to write with on and so hold this entire, a whole unshakeable ponderance of it, in their heads. They have no laments for us, Micrurus frontalis Centroscyllium granulatum Philaenus spumarius Chroicocephalus ridibundus Riparia riparia Aeronautes saxatalis Icterus galbula Caenorhabditis elegans Chaetura vauxi Gavia stellata Salpinctes obsoletus Sphyrapicus varius Melanitta perspicillata Spizaetus ornatus Limnodromus scolopaceus Caprimulgus vociferous Strix aluco Milvus migrans Chlidonias niger Morphnus guianensis Methanobacterium formicum Ptilopsis granti Spizella arborea Chlamydoselachus anguineus Asphaltoglaux cecileae nothing to match our songs, they have no grief left in them for our insufficiently opposable thumbs. We do not dare speak of what they have achieved. Nothing has changed since they began. Natrix natrix Tyto tenebricosa Lanius ludovicianus Notorynchus cepedianus Chordeiles minor Megachasma pelagios Stercorarius skua Aeshna grandis Sturnella neglecta Calopteryx splendens Plexaurella nutans Cistothorus palustris Camponotus adami Rhizoprionodon porosus Ornimegalonxy oteroi Syritta pipiens Tachycineta bicolour Chiloscyllium indicum Haematopus palliates Sterna hirundo Egretta caerulea Calvia quattuordecimguttata Butorides virescens Acropyga keira Brachyramphus marmoratus Spinus pinus Carpilius convexus Zenaida macroura Nitrosopumilus maritimus Araneus diadematus Scolopax minor Orthonama vittata Nitrosopumilus maritimus Melospiza lincolnii Limosa haemastica Larus hyperboreus Anser albifrons Polydrusus sericeus Acidilobus saccharovorans Stephanoaetus coronatus Hirundo rustica Dispholidus typhus Bothrops nasutus Camponotus caffer Cerorhinca monocerata Idaea dimidiate Elanus caeruleus Parascyllium collare Calcarius pictus Scymnodalatias oligodon Calamospiza melanocorys Luscinia svecica Buteo buteo Eremophila alpestris Motacilla tschutschensis Euprotomicroides zantedeschia Pseudoginglymostoma brevicaudatum Grallistrix auceps Cardinalis cardinalis Aythya affinis Heteroscymnoides marleyi Baeolophus bicolour Hepialus humuli Hydrophis gracilis Apristurus ampliceps Elaps lacteus Pelamis platurus Contopus virens Picoides dorsalis Pagophila eburnean Myadestes townsendi Thryothorus ludovicianus Ardea alba Agelas clathrodes Adetomyrma clarivida Heterodontus galeatus Rallus elegans Vireo flavifrons Paracentrotus lividus Stellula calliope Ammodramus savannarum Carcharhinus acronotus Gallerucella lineola Lepteithis gigas Bungarus candidus Carcharias Taurus Rhincodon typus Pseudocerastes persicus Junco hyemalis Epiactis prolifera Carabus nemoralis Helmitheros vermivorum Haliastur sphenurus I have learnt all of this from them and this is a debt I cannot unhinge and leave off. I have sought consecration from things with no bones. I have slept on a bed of birds, feeling their uninspected bodies wince softly and come forth, coverts going pale like stiffening breath. I have let insects interpret my interior, a fire of legs and wisdom, eyes invisible and brilliant, bodies cracking. I have held reptiles for warmth. None of this was part of a ritual, none of this real. But Thermosphaera aggregans Regulus calendula Tubifex tubifex Rostrhamus sociabilis Tropidechis carinatus Dalatias licha Dryocopus pileatus Leptidea sinapsis Botaurus lentiginosus Isurus paucus Dolichonabis limbatus Vermivora cyanoptera Puffinus puffinus Heptranchias perlo Pterostichus niger Aphriza virgata Colias croceus Leptodon cayanensis Alopias pelagicus Sistrurus ravus Naja melanoleuca Aipysurus laevis Bartramia longicauda Cephaloscyllium pictum Poecile atricapillus Aspidites melanocephalus Uria aalge Periphylla periphylla Enhydrina schistose Hylocichla mustelina Pristiophorus cirratus Polioptila caerulea Cenarchaeum symbiosum Chelictinia riocourii Gypohierax angolensis Calidris acuminate Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus Chondrohierax uncinatus Sagittarius serpentarius Protonotaria citrea Calonectris diomedea Anthrophila fabriciana Aeropyrum pernix Atta tardigrada I was told this finally by one which devoted its entire being to permit only a body, one that put its head to the ground because it had nothing to hold or walk with. It came through the grass up to me. Right there in the centre of my sight, in the centre of the scene. An unfalsifiable river green as creation itself. And yet the snake knew how to hold on its face a smile that while only barely there edged aside the rest of the world, a kindness unwarranted. Its eyes were dark and luminous and in them all the light of the world was contracted into a fleck, the universe eagled on its own afterbirth. A voice like ecdysis itself. All lustre and caring. It came up to me Haemadipsa zeylanica Oxynotus centrina Euplectella curvistellata Platynus dorsal Harpagus bidentatus Phalaropus fulicariusSitta pygmaea Tringa melanoleuca Vulcanisaeta moutnovskia Plectrophenax nivalis Staphylothermus marinus Laticauda colubrine Trichoplax adhaerens Trypanosoma brucei Helicolestes hamatus Nymphula nymphaeata Thermococcus hydrothermalis Ophion luteus Empidonax alnorum Picrophilus torridus Aphaenogaster maculifrons Troglodytes hiemalis Ginglymostoma cirratum Contopus cooperi Python reticulates Antaresia maculosa Zygaena lonicera latomarginata Stercorarius maccormicki Vipera ursinii Sulfolobus acidocaldarius Fratercula arctica Cynthia cardui Podiceps auritus Deania hystricosa Silpha atrata Larus canus Coccyzus erythropthalmus Oreothlypis peregrine Halorubrum salsolis Phoebastria immutabilis Acanthophis Pyrrhus Riftia pachyptila Heterocentrotus mamillatus Pyrodictium abyssi Tyrannus tyrannus Cerastes cerastes Oceanites oceanicus Isistius plutodus Carpodacus cassinii Methanofollis liminatans Nemateleotris magnifica Eristalis pertinax Ixobrychus exilis Agonopterix conterminella Ixoreus naevius Eucrossorhinus dasypogon Aenictus raptor Pooecetes gramineus and behind its head the reticulate body sketched out a language in the grass. My body was a violation of the dust. It spoke and its eyes were vast with kindness, a caring with no cognate. Ravish me, I said, show me the whole story laid out. I could feel its skin against mine and its patterns held out from the living surface like maps for the reading. Loxia leucoptera Colaptes auratus Euglena sanguine Amphioctopus marginatus…]
What sustained him. To speak even of such things. Coming out of the trench, covered in dust, on E–, the look of sudden familiarity. Light coming over the broken place. Wind coming like a prophet through the grass, like a prophet bringing rain. How many unaccountable accidents of history to make just this, here. What sustained him. It was a love that he knew like the memory of holiness, that made one hold the hands of the other even when only one of them would ever know or remember. Overwhelming. How to make yourself invulnerable then ultimately vulnerable to another. Water moving one way or another, not speaking of the places from which it was borrowed or will return. A circle of warmth on the bleating plain. One pool. On A–, the inescapable mountains rising. Staggering how beautiful. Against the complete blackness something rising like a perfect white cut-out, a live space without feature. So many things standing against the word, so many things designed against it. Under language and out of grasp. Basic needs. Nothing for which any apology can be made. Overwhelming.
He is in a house, in a home, in his home. There is something scratching at the door. It wants to come in. There is a window and outside there is a dim landscape with rain. There is nothing else. Outside it just goes on and on.
It wants shelter from the rain so he goes to the door and takes the handle and turns, and the door opens.
It comes in slowly into the light.
Water goes on the floor and then he closes the door.
The sound goes away.
It looks up at him and blinks, even though it has no eyes.
“After all this time, still all this water,” it says.
It goes into the kitchen and lies there. It shakes its head like it is disappointed or curious at itself.
He follows it and looks at it. He stands in the doorway.
He stands in the doorway and looks at it.
There is no rain outside. When did it last rain? It is hard to remember.
Maybe there never was any rain outside.
That is a possibility.
“How long will you be here?” he says.
“Don’t worry,” it says.
What is there to worry about? Except for the rain, perhaps.
It will make it difficult to go outside.
“I’ll watch,” it says, finally.
A canopy opens above, a dark pupil dilating down. The wood floor shines.
The superbunk was a big building and it took Hath ten minutes to find Ary’s bunk. Room 4364 was empty and Ary was in the lower bed right beside the window. He was curled up with the thin blanket all around him and was visibly shivering.
She stood there, unsure of what to say. “You should get food.”
“Hey,” Ary said. “Don’t, worry, I’m fine.”
Hath stared. She found herself doing that a lot around this boy.
“Its just the, shivering. No idea, no idea, why. Stupid.”
“I’ll get something from downstairs. It’s not too bad.”
He pulled the blanket back and sat up. He waited and then he said, “I’m fine.” He drummed his fingers against the bedframe.
“We could both go down,” she said. “If you are fine.”
“A drink would, be good, actually.” Ary said. “I’m not sure if, I can walk yet. Properly.” He put his hand out in front of him and stared at it. “This is not, not really, stopping, is it.”
“I’ll get something.” Hath said. She sat down on the bed opposite Ary’s. “Hynder’s not treating you too well, huh.”
All this for a little blinking green square. Ary could not understand it. But he must have understood it because he had made the decision. “Twenty,” he said, meaning minutes, meaning how long he had sat there while it happened. “Not bad. Not, bad, what do you think, hmm?”
“Do you smoke?” Hath said.
“Aah,” Ary said, looking pained and then thoughtful. “Expensive.”
“The thing is, I don’t smoke. But I feel I should get one now. You should think of trying it, you know. It might be good for you.”
“I think, what I need is just, a drink, really.”
“Okay. But I think you should try it.” Hath stood up to go and then she sat down again.
“Do you think it would be mad if I got Hynder? Do you think so?”
The blanket was a mess. Ary kept want to pull it over himself but he resisted the urge. “Don’t know,” he said.
“Hm?” Hath said, missing it, and Ary shrugged forcefully.
There was a roar. They looked at the window and saw one of the Big Reds rise on a column of blue flame.
“The amazing thing is, and I learnt a bit about this at uni, was that you hear none of that if you are inside,” Hath said.
“If they could make, that, they could get, me better blankets.”
“You are not trying to be funny, are you?”
Ary shrugged again, but he was smiling.
“You’re lucky I was there.”
“Yes.” Ary was looking at the Big Red. He frowned. It was very high now, going straight into the sun. The line of smoke threw a faint slanting shadow in the air behind it. Waves and ripples. “I wonder how many, can, can go in there.”
“Lots,” Hath said. “We’re all due the day after tomorrow.” She went over and looked out. “It’s something, isn’t it. Just imagine.”
Ary didn’t say anything because he was imagining it. It was not at all easy. “Yes,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Hath stood up suddenly, as if she was offended. But she was not offended. “Are you serious?” Ary did not say anything.“You’ll have to learn to walk all over again before you start talking like that.”
Ary was quiet again, looking out. “Not CM, not all, just being, on the Big Red,” he said. He voice was getting steadier now and he thought about going down for the drink. “I’ll come down for the drink,” he said. “Thirsty.”
“Have you ever wondered,” Hath said, “Why it’s a cube? I know it’s not really a cube but it sort of looks like one. Isn’t there a better way to make it?”
“I don’t know about these things,” Ary said. “It looks, good, you know, bold. I don’t know.”
“I don’t know how you’re still alive after that,” Hath said. “Gosh you know I could really use a smoke right now. Isn’t it awful?”
“Let’s go,” Ary said.
“I think I’ve got a cig on me somewhere but I have no idea where.”
“I’ll go down,” Ary said. He put his feet down and tried to stand up.
The door opened and a young man came in. “Hath,” he said. “I’m going to get us dinner, put us on the Big Red.”
Hath’s face changed and it was not good. She looked at Ary. “Hey, Gryzhas,” she said, “This is Ary.”
Gryzhas had a slanting look about him. He looked at Ary, at the shaking boy without compassion or hate.
“Is this the undocced guy?” he said, lightly. His voice was soft. His smile was dry. It was not cruel or smug or anything. Not even curious. It was just dry.
“Yeah,” Hath said, “Don’t be an asshole about it.”
“I’m not an asshole about it,” Gryzhas said, and laughed. He had a soft voice but a laugh that was too big. He had one of those laughs that was big but controlled.
“Was at uni with me,” Hath said to Ary. Ary nodded and looked at Gryzhas as if he was afraid.
“He’s scared of you already,” Hath said to Gryzhas.
“No,” Ary said, looking away.
“Why would he care?” Gryzhas said.
Hath looked at Gryzhas and said, “You must give a speech, go on, give it.”
“A speech?” Gryzhas said. He spoke very softly almost all the time, it seemed.
“Tell him what you think.”
“What I think. Why should I tell him what I think?” Smiling now.
“It’s now or later, up there. Better now, probably. Look, the thing is – that there are lots of people like you up there and he needs to know.”
“He already knows that. They all don’t like undoccs in this city. I am sure he has lived long enough to know. Nothing more I can do.”
“You know the speech you gave me? After the rally. We were out on the balcony and you said those things.”
“I can remember a bit of it but not all of it. Did you care so much about it?”
Gryzhas came over and sat on Ary’s bed, still looking only at Hath. Ary felt his weight on the bed, feel the frame move.
“You care so much, Hath,” he said. Ary realised he was not mocking.
“It must be a real relief for you, I think. Getting out of university, all these people and all their caring. Hm?”
Gryzhas shrugged. He turned to Ary. “You’re undocced,” he said. Ary nodded.
Gryzhas came very close. It was the wrong kind of intimacy. Ary tried to look at Gryzhas but could not. He spoke in undertone. The voice was silky and immovable. He paused a lot. “You should not be here,” Gryzhas said. “You are here but you should not be here. I’m not saying that I hate you. I don’t know you, don’t know anything about you apart from what Hath says, which is that you’re undocced. She lets things slip. But I don’t hate you. It is only that the idea of you, here, in this place, that is wrong, don’t you see? It’s tremendously simple. The amnesty was wrong. It was an easy solution, it was a way to get rid of you. It was wrong. People like you will come in, come here because they want to leave, because they want the money. But will you consider dying in this war? No. There is nothing about you that is about duty. I am so trite, I suppose, I am so old-fashioned. But these things are all true. I know you can see where I am coming from. CM is not an escape valve. It is not a tool of convenience. Most certainly it is not a tool to help the undocced. You only take. That is the problem. You take and take and give nothing back. If the undoccs knew better they would walk to the police, they would turn themselves in, they would go to prison and die there, or live and come out as new people. They could become citizens and they could work and help us all here, together. But that does not happen. And CM takes you in, helps you, and then says, come here, save us, save this society. Isn’t that absurd? How are you to fight to help us? How are we to work together? But now you are here. Not you, I mean. I do not mean this personally, any of it. But now that the undoccs are going to stream into CM we must learn to work together. That is difficult. That will waste time. That will make cohesion difficult. So the idea of you is wrong. I have nothing against you but the undoccs should be been gotten rid of. Do you know what I mean? Was that a good speech?” He smiled and turned to Hath, who was looking at Ary.
“You’re not like that at all,” she said, to Ary, or maybe it was directed at Gryzhas. “That was a good speech,” she said, now talking to Gryzhas.
“I knew all of that,” Ary said.
“Where are your parents?” Gryzhas said.
Ary was silent.
“Gryz,” Hath said.
“Wait,” Gryzhas said.
“Not here,” Ary said.
“Did they work?” Gryzhas asked, without malice, again.
Ary looked lost. He looked at Hath and looked at Gryz. “My – mother, she, she worked.”
“Really? How? Where?”
“Gryz,” Hath said.
“At the docks.” Ary looked at Gryzhas. “Canner. She put things in cans. She put fish in cans.”
“I think you are lying,” Gryzhas said.
“No,” Ary said.
“Gryz,” Hath said.
“It’s all machines,” Gryzhas said. “Why would anyone need canners?”
Ary said, “They couldn’t buy anything. It was cheaper. I don’t know. I think that was it.”
Hath said, “Gryz, there’s no need to bully him, you asshole.”
Gryzhas put his hand on Ary’s head. “I just wanted to know. He’s not so bad.”
“He’s got Hynder in him, do you know that? He’s braver than you.”
“Oh? That’s not bravery. That’s fear.” But Gryzhas had stopped for a moment before he said that. “You’ve giving it away to the machine. It will make the decision for you to abandon the war. That’s not bravery.”
Hath said, “Gryz, get out.”
He stood. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he said, mildly. “Do you want a drink?”
“Not now, Gryz,” Hath said, as Ary said, “Yes.”
“I’ll get you something,” Gryz said to Ary.
“We’ll go down,” Hath said to Gryzhas.
“I’ll come along,” Gryzhas said. “It won’t be that bad again.” Hath looked like she was about to say something but he went out and the door hissed shut.
Ary sat there like something stricken. Hath had thought that it would be much worse but he looked like he was trying to understand something.
“He’s not that bad,” Hath said.
And was surprised when Ary said, “I know.”
“He’s really committed to these things. His view was very unpopular in uni, you know. But he would write these long articles, explaining himself. They will be more, many more like him offworld. He really believes it, that stupid stuff about duties. He presses it way too far sometimes.”
“Aren’t you all supposed to believe it?” Ary said.
“If we knew no better, yes. But we were at a university. Yet he thinks he knows better than all of us. Sometimes I feel so close, really, so close, to hitting him. But he’s not all bad. We were in the same classes and he was pretty fun – after a while – and he helped me a lot with my work. Made some ridiculous sacrifices, if I’m honest. I think he felt obliged to do that.”
“I really need that drink.”
“He’s still outside.”
“Let’s all go down.”
Ary spent two more days in the superbunk before they all went on the evening Big Red to Anchor. It was not an unhappy time. The superbunk had been provided by CM as a gesture at something like generosity. CM had little to give except money offworld. It needed something onworld to make it seem right, make it seem kind in a way it could not be. So the superbunk was a nice place. The blankets where thin. But the food was free. It wasn’t bad, Hath said, and Ary thought it was very good. There was a theatre for movies. Hath took Ary once, for the first time in his life. He was so happy – “Like a fucking four-year old,” Hath had said, laughing, looking at him about the hour mark as he sat grabbing the seat in a paroxysm of sensation – he did not know what to say afterwards. He wanted to go again but as things turned out they only went once. There was a gym which many people went too, but Hath only mentioned it and never suggested going. There was too much of that coming for them, and there were too many people there who would look. Instead they ended up watching the Big Reds. Ary was hypnotised by them in a way Hath could not understand. “I don’t know,” he said, when Hath asked about it.
The afternoon when they were due to leave he asked Hath when her parents would come to send her off and was surprised when Hath said, “They’re not coming.”
“Okay,” Ary said, and did not dare to say more. There was too much grief that was shared. The sameness of it confused him.
But Hath had fallen back in her bunk and talked to the ceiling.
She said that her parents had their own problems. When she was young she remembered them being in love with one another, really being in it, or maybe at that age it only seemed that way to her and could not have seemed like anything else to her because there was nothing else that she could tell. But at some point it had just went. There were bills, many bills, and arguments over them, and many birthdays and arguments over them too, but these arguments were not in the living room but in the kitchen and the involved claims of ownership, of commitment, of truth, and of caring, and of daring – how could anyone possibly – but daring to use the children this way, to say these things about each other… And there were issues of money that Hath said she even now could not understand because they did not lack money, really, there was no problem over the money. She and her brother had listened, sometimes, and she knew there must have been a lot there that they did not see, and they had both wondered about what else was happening. There was violence too, violence once she had seen when her father had returned drunk or drugged for the third time in a week and her mother had stood in the doorway like a guard and said get out, get out, don’t you dare come in like this, in front of the children, but he had come in anyway, and when her mother had tried calling someone he had taken the console and hit her hard across the face with it, maybe broken the nose, and she had went down saying you don’t deserve the children, you bastard, you bastard, and even after that had refused to make it a police issue while the father had let the guilt metastasize into other things, even those same things that started it all, a desolate line bent back on itself again and again, and the mother had been silent because who knew the pathways of guilt and its weight, who knew how to tie off the arteries this way, and what with, one could ask, what with? for past a point remorse was no longer enough, fidelity neither, no appeal to the lie of love without injury, and the courts had come and put them apart, and the children were now also apart, and later the parents would not come because they would then have to be together, and because, even if she could never know if this was true, Hath thought that they thought that their own flesh was fleeing them and how could they bear in good conscience – that was the wrong word but one simply had to bear it – to come and celebrate, after years of silence that university had bought, their departure, stepwise, one at a time like a bleeding, how could they celebrate their children’s departure and death, likely death – why should she hide it – of their two children, in fact could there be any more cruel way to close a relationship whose internal life was all pain and mystery to everyone else outside it, and even to people within it, caught within it, insects in amber and all the things coming through and going out again, all the seams falling rather than coming apart, a tangle of gestures too chaotic for meaning and too horrifying to pull apart?
After Hath had said all of this she closed her eyes for a while. “I don’t mind telling,” she said.
This is what it’s all about, Ary thought.
“I don’t mind telling. But the other time I’ve told, the other times, I’ve said, ‘So you know why I’m so fucked up,’ which I always thought showed that maybe I was not in fact fucked up inside, or even forced people to think that because who wouldn’t pity me from that height, but I can’t say that to you, can I?”
Ary felt it like it was a fire. But he had never consoled before, because there had been no chance before now. He said, “You don’t know. I think you can.”
And then Hath had cried. Then she called herself an idiot for running away like this. But who knew if it was running away? Maybe she was going to her brother after all, the other person who knew all this like she knew all this.
“I’m sorry,” Ary said, and Hath said, “You know I don’t know what that means,” but tried to smile anyway.
They took their numbers and went in the evening to the Big Red. There were many people around them. Relatively few people chose to stay in the superbunk before the left; and Ary knew why Hath had chosen to do so. They all walked over to the gate in a ragged line, out on the cooling tarmac. There were people standing around, people who looked very formal in CM attire. They were not doing anything, since the computers did all the scanning and checking off names. But Ary thought that the people were here because this had to represent something, had to be made to represent some kind of rite. These CM people did not speak, except to each other, and only occasionally, and they did not smile. There were not like the people back at the recruitment tent. Crane had said that they were the nice ones.
People kept to their small groups. There was little taking and many tight smiles or still faces. Some people were alone after they left their parents and friends at the port and tried to make friends with one another, those small tight friendships that sprung up in unfamiliar and dangerous places for a short while and then either disappeared or lasted forever. The shadows of people were conveyed over the tarmac and were long.
Ary and Hath and Gryzhas did not talk. Gryzhas had been friendly in his distant way since that first meeting. Ary did not understand. He had not told anyone about Ary being an undocced. He seemed in a strange way no longer to care.
The Big Red was the final luxury before Anchor. They had two days before they arrived and there was little to do. There was a briefing that had to attend right before landing, but little else that was compulsory. Most people went straight to their rooms, went to sleep or fuck to not think too much about what was coming.
An announcement came saying that those who wanted to could watch from the viewing areas as they left. Some people went to watch. A surprising number did not. Gryzhas had gone to his own room, as had thousands more. Ary and Hath went to Bay 23 and after idling down a long curving bulkhead had come to a vast wall which showed the view, straight down. It was not the real view, Hath said, but Ary thought it looked real, completely real in a way that stopped him.
There was a slight rumble but there was no feeling of acceleration at all. For a moment a tremor of smoke obscured the view and then they were rising. The view shook slightly. The city in the evening shrank and the lakes became splashes of white fire. It shrank even more and became like skin, details alive but invisible, and then a wall of asperatus was between them and the only place Ary had known, and another wall of cloud, layers building up in the vastness of blue and orange air, and Ary could see in one corner a white pillar of white, its own faint shadow, marking their ascent. It was terrifyingly fast. At some point the curve emerged, the bulge of the world, and a line signifying where the air had finally ended, just there, and just like that. After that the lines became sharper, became geometry and colour, and the grey line, the terminator separating day from night, that became clear too. It was a strange thought to think that in that line all evenings had their existence.
And then of course the whole thing was before them, irrefutable, a world whole and entire. Ary was shocked and he did not exactly know why. It was not that it was small. It was not that it was huge either, though both were true. It was the starkness of it, the sense of everything pared down, the sense of a fact, that sense that this was really it. It was not a sense of majesty and it was not a sense of severity and it was not a sense of beauty but it was a sense of form and symmetry which spoke though necessarily dumb and silent, spoke to a revelation of things unsupported, a communion to some engram beslumbered in the devoid grindings of the brain, and the more he pictured it he more he could imagine it coming all apart just like that in the manner of all things not held but suspended whose lines furrowed through the night even now are a body problem whose collapse may come just here, just so, and all it would take is some surfeit of pity or contempt to unfurl things all the way down to the very quick and meter. The strange compassion inherent in purely ballistic objects. There was no reason for it, no reason at all. But there it was. There it was and what was to be done about it.
So much compassion and nothing upon which to spend it. It was a trite thought and Ary knew it but he felt it, he felt it right there.
The boy squats by the canal. His clothes are flecked with spray. In his hands he holds something slick and alive, like a bomb. It is struggling so he holds it out, away from his face. He laughs. The water in the canal is smooth and deep and muscular. The thing that is alive is fighting for its life. It is struggling. As it moves it nearly slips out of the boy’s grasp and its centre of balance shifts out, away, toward the water. The boy’s voice goes high with delight. It is a shriek with a small intake of breath in it, in the middle. Adults do not make this sound. Without knowing it the boy adjusts to the thrashing weight he holds, as everyone adjusts without knowing it. His hands go out further, he leans forward. He leans forward too fast and topples into the water without a sound. The water carries him away swiftly. He cannot be seen. The thing that he was holding, the thing that is alive, leaps briefly out of the water. Then it is a shape, moving arrowly away, holding against the current. The boy cannot be seen. The canal is long and straight. On one side is wildness and on the other the buildings come down right to the edge. The boy comes to the surface for a moment. He is far down the canal, further than one might think. His arms are out in front of him. They only just come above the surface of the water. His fingers are rigid and clutching. He cries out. The word is stopped by the water. The frail sound disappears fast. It is difficult to tell where he is because of the turbulence. Eddies, foam. He comes up again. His limbs are pale and thin or maybe the stretching water makes its look so. He turns, burbles. He turns and his face shows. He is not paralysed but the panic and terror of it is pure. He tries to see through the water and his hair. His hair is long and one eye is covered with a wet sheen of it. He cries out but the water grayly pulls him under. The movement looks graceful. The boy sees flashes of blind white sky and then black autistic water, bubbles. Sometimes the sides of his body feel the stony bottom. The boy tries to grasp at things but there is nothing to grasp. It is hard to see him in the water. His head looks like a rock beneath the surface. He tries to cry out again and again until he can only breathe and cannot afford any sound. Then the child is at the surface again. This time he does not disappear underneath. The child tries again and a sound comes like a miracle. It is high and bright with terror. It sounds like he is crying but surely a child in this dark water would be too stupefied to cry. The child makes the same sound again and again. A woman comes running down the canal. Her voices rises but not in the way the child’s voice rises. Her shoes make a stony noise against the pavement. Frantic she takes them off. She nearly trips but does not. She does not stop calling for help. Then she calls the child’s name. She says that she is coming. She tells him to wait. The child cannot wait, the water is taking him down the canal, past the buildings and the storm drains. He turns one way and another and he cannot see the woman but he can hear her. The voice of the woman is hoarse. There is an animal inflection to it. The second syllable of the child’s name she draws out. Not a scream, more necessary than it. Someone hears her. The woman points as she runs. She moves her finger as if tearing at the air. The stranger cannot see the child in the water. The woman is infuriated without feeling it because she can see the child very clearly. She can see him every time he comes up. His hair is grey against the current and it shows. There, she shouts, and the stranger runs to a bend and waits and jumps. The stranger swims well. He goes into the canal often. As he comes out of the water the child’s arms are around him. They are cold. They clasp so tight it is frightening coming from a child. The boy’s eyes are very wide. Water comes off him and his clothes and runs down the legs of the stranger. Even though in the canal it is massed and gray it is very clean on the boy. The woman ignores the stranger. She takes the child in her arms and wetness expands over her clothes. There are small pink cuts on the boy’s palms. His clothes stick to him. The stranger stands against the railings and bends over. He puts his hands on his knees. The child speaks. I was not afraid, the child says. His voice is slightly muffled. His feet are bare. The woman is crying and she presses the boy into her chest and she does not hear him as he says, Mother, Mother, I am not afraid.