Kind of getting away: 1

I came here to be alone, and now I am alone. I’ve done it, then. I guess I’ve done it.

My house is finished. It’s on top of a rocky outcrop, overlooking the ocean. The Berents is grey now. Helper is sleeping. The house is spacious. On the first floor there is the living room and dining room and on the second there are two bedrooms and the third is the attic. The Store is a little attachment out back with food and the allweathers and the car and all the other supplies. Helper wanted to make a little observatory, but I think that will come later.

In between my place and the water is the Wash. It’s a flat so big that it cedes from where I look right out to the horizon and into darkness. I went out there yesterday. I did not tell Helper. It’s meant to be dangerous, very dangerous, but there you go. I went out and it was mud and water everywhere. Very windy. The blue hour here is more a blue hour and a half. The mud came up to my ankles at first, and then nearly to my knees the further in I went. I think it must have been two kilometres before I turned back. I could see my house looking very small from that distance. I am fulfilled; I have done it; I am now fully cut off and twined in. The Wash is a place of deep sameness. Only the tides change it, a play without any syntax or drama, just two dimensions of very fine sand. Deep sameness.  It’s the sort of place where all changes you detect are canted by affection.

The house is good. The Perimeter is up. I wish I could do without it, but it’s part of the rules; protocol. I’ll have to stick to at least some of it. The window of my bedroom looks out to a peak. It’s very sharp and there’s snow down one half of it and some mornings the light catches it and bathes it in fire and that wakes me up. It’s not a bad way to be woken at all. This particular peak still does not have a name. But it won’t stay that way for long. I suppose, since I am the closest one to it, I should name it. But I’m not at all good with names.

Every day more names come in through the computer. So many names; piped in here, right to me, building up a taxonomy, putting down the quivering things. Sooner or later someone back in the Main Building will see that this part of the archipelago lacks names and will solve that problem. I will wake and find that the mountain has a name, this little outcrop too, and maybe even the Wash. That’s one thing I have named at least. I should log the name. It’s very easy to do, but I’m probably never going to get it done.

I’m here to be alone. Not completely alone, I suppose. That would be impossible. And I’m not sure that I would like it. The rest of us probably don’t mind being alone; it’s part of why we came, probably. But mainly the rest are here because this place is so absolutely new. They’re here to learn, for the big wet noisy concussion of knowledge. Look at how they jostle to get things named after them. They really do like naming things. There is no strategy to the names. They are static so they pile up. They accrete and for now measure out time. Fair enough. But the slate is so clean here that it’s bigger than the urge to arrange and when we arrived that was an unspoken arrangement and we all defaulted immediately to old names. Oaks, Elms, Fish, Birds, Snakes, etc. Now that I think of it, we haven’t used mammal names very much. Maybe something there traverses too close to us. We can’t have too many things made in our image. Or named in it, or put in a clade with it, so few junctions off the amniotes, a countable number of accidents of history, although I suppose it’s not quite the same thing.

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.

And The Days Are Not Full Enough: 1

Nothing moved, even though this was not true. Something moved. In cities something always moved. You could look at a scene and even though its entire frame and posture was quiet something would be moving. The Rail, for instance. The small tight glow of a car on the Eastbound. Signs blinking. Windows. Small functions of light blunted by distance.

The boy looked at the city and waited for the sun to come up. This is what he was thinking; that something always moved. Sometimes when he looked at a scene that was perfectly still and saw something moving at last he found it strangely heartbreaking. It was like looking at a person sleeping; like looking at this person breathe. Modest and necessary actions.

War had not changed the city. There was, in some way, a tightening of things. Prices gestured in faintly dangerous directions, as they always did. Until the war came, actually came, to the city, it would not change. That was the thing about cities. They grew voraciously and then at some point having received some sign or signal they stopped and started falling apart. It was decay but it was gentle, untamed but idle, and reassuring. It gave resilience. So even though war had taken people and money the city did not notice.

People would come back from the war, alive and therefore unmourned, but people forgot to celebrate. But the boy thought that in any case there was no need to celebrate. Things were always moving, even moving on.

The Recruitment and Transfer tent was in the shadow of one of the larger buildings. In an hour or so it would open.  The boy had watched military take people for several weeks. They took people; yes. They told people the truth; they forced no-one; they followed procedure; they kept you informed; they accepted only the consenting; and they took people. The process was immaculate and venomous. It was hard to say what was wrong with it and in any case the boy thought, in a way that few people his age realised, that the military did something very good. Alchemising pain into something more soluble. Even if people died, which they did, there appeared something in that function that was not easy to dismiss.  The boy had watched people return from the war. Their faces were blank. They came to the offworld terminal and walked out of the tent with blank faces and put their bags down just outside the entrance. They talked to people. They bitched about the military, sometimes, and laughed. Some of it sounded very genuine. The voices were blank and relieved. Sometimes they did not talk to people and just sat and cried. Some of them held papers in their hands and looked at them for a long while. Some of them put their hands on the shoulders of other people. The hands were big or small or dark or pale and they clutched or were loose. The thing was that the military did not attempt to hide this. You signed up for the military while you watched people return. There was nothing to hide. It was a trick made unassailable by its honesty. Tell people about the duty and the glory of it; tell them about the death. And then say: but there is money, and this a death you are allowed breathe about. In an incalculable way it was, as they said, worth it. They never said what it was because there was no need or because any need had long since bled away.

The boy stood on the hill and watched the sun come up. A train rumbled in its slow inertial flight past the Old Interbank building. Metal shone. Even concrete has its inflections of loss and grief. The boy thought this, or came close to thinking this, in a way he might not have been aware of. He went down.

The inside of the tent smelled of paper. There was a lot of it around. The boy stared for a while; paper was very expensive. But information on paper could only be stolen if you took the paper. In the war that had turned out to be important.

How did you fight the Kingdom? They had their Descendants; they had their Leviathan. These things people knew about and spoke about. Then there were other things people knew about but did not really understand or did not want to understand and these things people rarely spoke about.

It was not now relevant. The soft bustle inside the tent moved around they boy. Dates were mentioned; someone asked for the PT Forms to be passed over please before lunch this time; a sentence that ended with “…total fucking dickhead, that’s why…” – and then laughter; more faintly: “Well I mean yes but you know…” There were no queues at this hour. Some people stared at the boy. They knew what he was here to do. Maybe they pitied him. The boy did not know what to feel about that. Maybe it was not so much that he did not know what to feel about it as much as the fact that he did not feel anything about it in the first place.

A sign said: UNDOCUMENTED ENLISTMENT. The corporal at the desk leaned over to look at the boy. He saw a slender wounded thing that was grey everywhere. Grey eyes, grey hair, hands that came together in nervousness.

Part 2