Last

Even now the house remains unchanged.

That is to say essentially the same even though of course there are small details one might talk about.

But outside –

Outside it appears that the rules do not apply.

Or perhaps once they applied everywhere but today they are confined here, to this place, to this house, with the fire.

Assuming that there were any rules in the first place, anything to constrain the house.

Perhaps it makes more sense to speak of tendencies rather than rules.

In any case he is downstairs now, and the fire is warm.

The house shakes softly.

Somehow he has never realised that even the house could shake.

For a long time he has not come here.

That might be mostly because there has simply been no need.

It is standing before the door.

It is entirely awake.

“Well, here we are,” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

“It you think about it this was always bound to happen,” he says.

“No,” it says, immediately.

“Well, here we are nonetheless,” he says.

It paces and goes round in one tight circle. It goes up to the window once, its old habit, and then it comes back.

It turns to the door and goes up to it and comes back and then does it again.

“Here we are,” he says, to himself.

“I can help you,” it says.

“You have given me so much,” he says.

“Yes,” it says, “but no matter.”

He goes to the window, the low window, the one that looks outward at all the water.

Suddenly he feels lonely.

No, that was not correct. He is anticipating it, not feeling it now.

Although it might as well be the same.

All these things are always very hard to disentangle.

Come to think of it, it has never been clear what exactly why this window was built right here.

An error, perhaps.

The point is that one can imagine this window being better placed elsewhere.

In any case he looks out of it now.

The thing about the ocean is that its size can only really be appreciated like this, in the flesh.

The water moves.

The water becomes big and comes without stopping.

This is the kind of sea which stops all ships from coming.

In fact the water is so big that it goes over the house and comes right over a long ridge of mountains.

Over the mountains there a place where there might be many homes, clustered together, on top of each other, lights intimated by each other, coming all together in this way, even though he has not thought there could ever be others here.

The water washes it all away.

It hugs the buildings with its bulk and dowses them over.

It pushes all the air aside. It is all very huge and very grey.

All this happens very slowly.

He is terrified. He is so scared he can hardly breathe.

“Can it come in another way?” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

It looks at him and then all the water is in the house.

It is simply there, without any fuss, and all of it at once, too.

“Oh,” he says, marvelling now at how small it seems. “Oh,” he says, again, realising.

It looks at him.

Light is coming from the windows, although it is pale as milk.

“I know you,” he says. “I saw you once, near the place where Erth was living. You had a name, didn’t you? You had a name. Went.”

“Went,” it says, “yes, Went.”

It comes to him and its forelimbs go on his shoulders.

There may be more limbs but the point is that it is on his shoulders and it is a great weight bearing him down.

It stares at him.

For a creature so often given to sleep it appears to be surprisingly alive.

Not alive. The word was awake, that was the word he was looking for.

“Thank you,” it says.

It is hard to hear.

This is mostly because of the fact that it speaks very softly.

Although it has always spoken rather softly, if one remembers correctly.

He recognises something strange about the way in which all of this is said, however.

That is, the creature appears utterly heartbroken.

It is very close to him. He can see all the way inside its mouth.

It has always taken care, he realises, not to draw attention to its mouth.

“I’ve done something wrong, haven’t I?” he says.

“Yes,” it says. “Thank you.”

He waits.

“I can help you,” it says.

The weight is unbearable.

It lets go of him for looks at him for a moment and moves to the door again.

He goes to the window and looks out.

His hand goes on the sill.

He pulls the window open.

He struggles for a moment with the rusted bolt but then the window is open.

Water comes in and goes on the floor. He closes his eyes.

He just stands there getting wet.

It is a strange thing, that the water at this time feels so warm.

It does not come over to the window, which is to say that it remains by the door.

This behaviour is uncharacteristic.

Although he cannot precisely remember what it has done before the impression is still given that this is not characteristic.

“You should come and see,” he says.

“I know,” it says.

Why had he ever tried to hide his purpose? It strikes him that sometimes he is very naive.

“I’ll be going” he says. “I’ll be going now, probably.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” it says.

He comes to the door.

“You like it more inside,” he says.

He has no particular reason to believe this but it is true enough.

“I can come with you,” it says.

He reaches out with his hand which drips with rain from the window which is still open and he pulls the door open.

It moves aside to let the door open fully, of course.

Its feet, which it uses sometimes, make noises against the floor.

He remembers how the floor shone when he first let it into the house.

He stands in the doorway looking out.

“I think perhaps you should stay here,” he says.

“It is only a house,” it says.

That is impossible to deny.

But there is much to be said in favour of a house.

“I can make it go,” it says.

He seems to understand that well enough.

“How?” he says.

That was not at all what he was trying to say.

“It’s more than just that,” he says. “It’s not just the one thing.”

The issue is that when he attempts to speak to it he ends up attempting to say things that cannot, properly speaking, be said.

“I can make it all go,” it says.

“All,” he says.

He considers this

It considers this, too.

It appears to be striving towards something.

“Since that appears to be the problem,” it says. “All –”

He stays there in the doorway for a long time, and it remains beside him, both of them becoming drenched.

He steps through the doorway and gasps at the water.

He takes several more steps. The ground is wet and the stones are slippery and they shine. But it is not impossible to walk. It is a challenge that is not wholly unwelcome.

“The rest of them?” he says. “What happens?”

It is standing in the doorway, or perhaps it is merely sitting, or perhaps it has moved away from the doorway. Most likely it is simply standing there.

“If it all goes,” it says, “the rest go too. I can do all of this.”

“Don’t,” he says, although he takes a shudder in the middle of the word, a thrill. “Just stay with the house.” He turns around and walks on, following the very edge, swaying despite his best efforts. The water is like a physical thing, there is so much of it. But its basic nature is harmless.

“I can destroy everything,” it says, pleading.

He is surprised, but only for a moment, that it would use that word, in that way, now. But then it seems entirely predictable, once he thinks about it.

“I can help you.”

But he does not look back. If he does he might just fall apart with gratitude and he is moving now, and he is outside the house.

“There might be nothing left,” it calls, from far way.

He goes on for some time.

Then he realises something. It is an awful thought, unthinkable, even. He runs back to the house. He slips once and goes in the wet soil but he gets up immediately. It is still there in the open doorway when he gets back.

“The last thing,” he says, panting. His clothes stick to his skin, which is warm.“You were not threatening me. Are you – ”

“No,” it says. “No, I would never – How could I? You know me.”

He leans against it and finally cries without a sound. “You understand why I am doing this,” he says eventually.

It is a small thing in the doorway. “No,” it says.

“Well – if –”

“What? Say it.”

“I am sorry too. Will there be someone after me?”

“I do not know.”

“There is no rule for determining it, then.”

“There are no rules for any of us.”

“But I am leaving now.”

“Yes.”

“And there is nothing that you can do.”

“It makes no difference. “

He looks up. “Maybe there are some rules, then.”

“Maybe. Be careful of all the water.”

And he goes again. He does not come back.

a line of rain

“This house is not the refuge,” it says, “I am the refuge.”

That much has been clear.

That is to say, he has had some clear intimation of this before.

It is looking at him.

The house is wet.

It is not difficult to tell as there is water running down the windows.

“Well,” it continues, “make of that what you will.”

It is not obvious if it is referring to the water going down the house or what it has just said.

It occurs to him that that it is trying to help.

Make of that what you will.

His heart feels like it is going to burst.

It is painful, even.

Outside it is not stormy for once.

Indeed things are perfectly still.

Against this context the house has taken on a new patter of feeling.

Looking out at the sun and the way the light moves over things, at the objects it touches, he feels a huge and sudden loneliness.

He has something important to say.

“In the end,” he says.

It is not clear if he is starting a sentence or ending one.

In fact he is not sure what he intended to say in the first place.

Nonetheless it appears to have caught something of his intent.

“In the last,” it says, looking out, at the water going away.

He thinks about this.

“I don’t know,” he says, because this is true. “I don’t understand.”

“You knew that people would go,” it says.

It says this without malice, without condescension, without any gesture of counsel, perhaps with concern.

He fumbles with the latch on the window and it opens, letting in air.

“I was thinking,” he says, and stops.

It has appeared to become a sudden habit, this stopping.

It waits.

It is very good at that.

Unless he is misreading things, of course.

He used to worry about that possibility a lot but now it does not trouble him.

“I was thinking that this place can house more than two,” he decides, at last.

“Yes,” it says.

There might be something in how immediate the reply is.

In an absurd way, in an animal way, he feels sympathy for it.

That much cannot be denied.

It is grief-stricken.

What does one do in such a situation? What does one summon?

No rituals yet devised.

No rules that might speak clearly.

“I could open the door,” he says, “and see what comes in.”

It shakes its head.

Again he is at a loss.

Two crippled things.

“It is good,” he says finally, “to know that you are here. To know that you will abide.”

It is neither large or small.

It comes up to him and he puts a hand against its body, which is a fixed thing.

Its body is not warm or cold.

Instead it is like an extension of his own flesh, sharing an identical heat.

That is all that can be honestly said.

“I am with you,” it says, and it puts down its eyeless head.

He is silent.

“I am with you always,” it repeats. “Even unto the end of the world.”

It turns its head to him as if expecting some recognition.

“All worlds,” he says.

“Yes,” it says. “All worlds.”

He holds it.

This is not something he remembers doing.

Although maybe he has done this before.

That is only a passing thought.

He holds it and does not move.

Again a sudden sadness.

It is too much to demand that every lament have a cause and structure.

That thought occurs very clearly and brightly to him.

“You should know where my strength is,” it says.

The meaning of this is not entirely clear.

“You should know where my strength is,” it says.  “I should tell you so that you will know.”

He says nothing.

“Small things,” it says, “breakable things.”

He is beginning to understand, in a dim way.

“It is when others look in and say, see how weak this thing is, see how easily it can be destroyed.”

A quiver, a line of rain moving the light.

“And it is there that things change,” he says. “Are made known to be different.”

It looks at him.

“Because there is no weakness there. You cannot be destroyed.”

He stops and speaks again: “Deception.”

“Hiding,” it says.

“It is true then, what I say about you.”

It looks at him and the thought occurs to him that maybe it is the one that is uncomprehending.

It gets up and goes to the window and looks out.

There is no storm today.

In fact outside a glinting spreads unheeded.

It looks back in, twisting around to do so.

“The truth of it does not matter,” it says.

[Ref: Carrier; All That Air Outside]

All That Air Outside

There is a good wind going outside. Pale clouds lighter than the sky going very fast and low.

Waves come all the way, almost, and then move back.

As you would expect none of this can be heard as it is quiet inside.

Unless he tries very hard, of course. Then he can hear something although he cannot tell exactly what it is.

In all likelihood it is the wind, or maybe the sound of all that water.

They are the last ones left.

That is one way of looking at things, that much must be conceded.

Alternatively they were the first ones to leave.

The difference between the two appears to be entirely one of timing.

“To be honest,” it says, “it really might as well be the same. It all looks the same from here.”

He is not upset by that.

In fact he feels entirely new.

That is not the orthodox word but it appears appropriate, for reasons that are proving harder than usual to articulate.

In any case he is no longer tired.

A pity, therefore, about the house.

It is looking out of the window.

It does that so often that it might be called a habit, even.

“All that’s left,” he says.

That sounds sad, but he never intended for it to be. That was not put very well.

“I suppose we’ll be here,” he says. “If this is all that’s left. I wonder for how long.”

“How long,” it says, not turning from the window.

Yet again he is left to wonder if this is in fact a query of some sort.

He is thinking about time, of course, that is what he is referring to.

He is not certain that it will understand but he says it in any case.

“Time,” it says, and dwells on this.

Possibly it is thinking.

In fact it simply does not move or say anything and thus creates that impression.

“I suppose so,” it says. “What a word, though.”

It turns to him and gapes at him.

Its eyes close.

It comes across as a familiar gesture.

“In any case I’ll be here,” it says, closing the mouth, “So things can’t get that bad.”

“I wonder about the rest,” he says.

There is a fire in the house.

Thankfully it is contained in a particular place in such a way that it gives off only some light and a little heat.

A generous amount of heat, come to think of it.

If there is smoke, which there ought to be, then it goes somewhere else, goes out of the house into all that air outside.

It comes between him and the fire.

He can feel the heat all over his front, on his feet, on his knees, his thighs, his chest and abdomen, his neck, his face.

It isn’t so bad here, he thinks, looking at the fire, looking at it, what with the view and the rest of it.

“It is just us,” it says, from where it is between him and the fire.

It stretches in a manner that suggests that it is contented, or perhaps a little restless.

“I wonder about the rest,” he says, again.

“Do you want me to let them in?” it says.

“Could you?” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

“And you could keep them out, naturally.”

It appears to be asleep.

In fact it is very often asleep, is it not?

This occurs to him now.

Nonetheless it speaks.

“Well. Even I could not keep all of them out – forever, if you want to talk about the time.”

But then it is an open question if anyone will see them or want to come in.

“They might not see us,” it says.

It is true that the precise location of the house is obscure.

That is to say uncertain, even though not unfixed or imprecise.

“How will we see them,” he says, “if they come?”

“Look through the windows,” it says. “We don’t have to be down here. If you go up you can see quite far.”

There seems to be no reason to think that untrue.

There was that occasion where they saw that ship.

Although that might have happened down here.

In fact that might be happening only later.

They had both gone out, then.

He remembers that it had been raining.

Carrier

It is at the window, looking out. The window is open.

There is the question of its forelimbs, which are on the sill.

It puts its head out.

Water lashes its face.

He comes beside it and looks. “There is ship out there. Isn’t that a ship?” he says.

There is something with lights moving among the waves. It looks like an old one.

It does not reply. Then it says, “There is nothing wrong about that.”

It cranes its head out, all the way.

It likes the air outside, or so it seems.

In any case it does not talk about it.

“I have not seen a ship come this way,” he says. “I hope it makes it to shore.”

It is in fact true that the light is dim. This is the time of the evening when it goes fast.

“Is that in fact a ship?” it asks.

Water is running down its body into the house.

He says, “Look. All this water. Let’s close the window.”

It waits a moment and pulls itself in.

For a moment it is huge, but then it is small, and all of it inside the house.

It shakes itself although it is entirely dry.

It is dark.

Not outside, that is, at least not yet, but the other one speaking. It is entirely black.

That had escaped his notice.

Well, that would be inaccurate. It has never been entirely black before.

In fact it was something else.

He closes the window, and looks out. The ship is barely visible.

A dipping light out there. A little warmth.

“It is a ship, I think,” he says, and turns to go back to his room.

“No,” it says, “Not a ship.” It is still looking out through the glass like it is not there.

He goes back to the window.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Isn’t it a ship?”

It contemplates this.

How does one know if it is contemplating?

It is strange not to have an immediate answer.

In any case it thinks or perhaps it watches and then it says, “No, not a ship. The idea of one.  That is the idea of a ship, the things that make a ship a ship. An old friend.”

Water lashes its face.

But then again it is all dry inside.

He is very tired, impossibly so. He cannot bring to go into his room now. He sits in the chair and leans back and does not say anything.

Perhaps he should sleep here, head back, with his eyes closed.

“Should you go out to meet it?” he says.

“Always with these questions,” it says, “I don’t know. It’s been so long.”

There is also the issue of the rain but it does not mention the rain.

“Should I go out?” it says.

That might be a question, even.

He hasn’t taken his shoes off. That’s how tired he is.

“It’s not for me to say,” he says.

“I will take you outside. We will go together,” it says. “We have not gone out together.”

That is a bold claim. But it might be correct.

“It’s rough outside,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

And it picks him up and stands and puts him on its shoulders.

He is very small and very light.

It holds his legs.

It does this with hands, of course.

The door opens, perhaps because it opens it, and they are out in the wildness and the water.

He feels very safe.

Water lashes his face.

“This is something,” he says. “It’s really something.”

“Yes,” it says, holding him tight, bearing him, “Isn’t it really?”