by Rowan Wolf.
I entered the Universe some time ago. I sailed it a while, leisurely, took in winter ways and dusty swirls, stars large and small, planets green and brown and blue. I saw purple cities and gray mountains, some draped in trees. Frantic oceans and placid seas.
Looking closer, I saw quaint painting by steady hands under furrowed brows, I heard symmetry of sound from throats and hands on strings, and saw dance, they called it.
Looking closer still, I heard amorous squawking by lovers wronged or not, I saw lofty seductions and stark betrayals, brutal slayings and happy resurrections. I saw brother helping brother, brother leaving brother, brother trusting brother, brother killing brother, or at least so my Inductor explained these things to me. I could not feel them for they had no pattern.
So I turned to him and I said, "What's the point?"
"You should try it with one of these," he said, and brought me over to a long rack of bodies they called them. We moved down the line of glistening skin (still cooling, he told me), until we came to the very end and a firm and strong male (he told me), cooled and in a white tunic. "Take a deep breath," he said, "and trust me."
So I took a deep breath and trusted him.
At first it was all wind, then everything seemed to happen at once. It was too fast, too many, too soon. Every little thing, until now simply a patternless something to me, sparked its own little internal response. It was walking around as weather. Storm everywhere.
Just walking - the Inductor nowhere in sight, by the way - my feet talked and talked about weight, about street, its coarseness, its temperature, its stone or not and about smoothness of marble, about ticklishness of grass, about slippery cool of water. Talked and never for a moment did not - about watch out for the curb and careful where you step. It was a strain, but I did listen - listen to my feet and my feet alone through a din of thousands, perhaps millions, of other voices clamoring for my attentions, each telling their responses to perceptions - the better to hear what my feet said.
As they talked of warm brick, cold brick, just right brick, hot brick, you need shoes, of hot sand, you need shoes, of sharp rocks, you do need shoes, of what a relief a balm would be if I'd only listen. Then, once I found shoes, they talked of shoes that were too tight, too loose, too wide, too narrow, too hot, too airy, too soft, on and on and on about shoes. Nothing but shoes. I threw the shoes away to shut my feet up about them.
But I was becoming a good listener to feet, I was getting to know them. They began to feel like mine although I knew they were just on loan. I still heard too, but ignored as best as I could, the many other voices, the other thousands, perhaps millions. Those other many tiny mines exploding constantly, everywhere, sparked by everything. From my hands about textures, from my nose about smells, from my knees about pain, from my tongue about salt, from my ears about what these reefs and reefs of surrounding vibration meant, from my eyes about light, and light reflecting and mixing, and re-reflecting. Through all this, I still listened, as best as I could, only to my feet, who now said, none to gently, that they hurt, they really hurt, and would I please sit down for a while, perhaps on the stone bench over there, by the side of this grand marble avenue, by the many, many feet rushing about. So I sat down, and my feet were pleased, they said.
I sat on the bench for I don't know how long. My feet were quiet. Maybe they were resting just like I, so I listened elsewhere. To my ears. To the throats of birds, growing as they approached, swooped near and fading as they rose again, telling each other who knows what in bird tongue, and constantly. There is wind among them, air caressing feathers and swooshing away as wings wave to gain altitude again, still singing.
The sandy shuffle of sandals on polished marble, of hundreds of feet out from under almost only blue robes belonging to half as many heads solemnly proceeding this way and that. Each foot made its own little sound touching down on and taking off from the whitish stone, but my ears much preferred to mix them all into a susurrous breeze which was very soothing and which lulled me into wondering just what could have happened to the Inductor.
I have eyelids. They fell and I didn't see. They have muscles I can use and they opened again. For every thing there is a reflection and it enters the eyes.
I saw the shifting deep blue of the many robes rustling by, shifting as the light fell differently from crease to moving crease in a symphony in blue with only the occasional white-robed frown parting the blue ahead of him like an irritated prow. And I saw the birds again, seeing me seeing them darting to greet me as if we were acquaintances, which maybe we were, I don't remember.
But most of all I listened to the ocean - that is what I called it, it had another name, this vast inside water - sounding again and again and again in response to every little voice by ear and eye and hand and tongue responding to every little thing perceived, and now I knew what the Inductor - where was he anyway - had meant, for I came to realize that the ocean - I could find no better name for it - was the heart of it all, was at the center, was the marvel of everything. The very thing he wanted to show me.
I saw a man and his child sitting on a bench similar to mine but across the marble avenue from me. Too far away for my ears to hear, but not for my eyes to see. The man sat tall and erect in a robe blue like the sky, his hair was white and his face furrowed, like a mountainside from far away. He had long hands. The child, she was a girl, was dressed in a tunic of the same blue, not of body length though, no, more like a little dress, with a white ribbon around her waist. Her pale knees were breathing and her hair was the color of straw, sparkling in the yellow sun. They were talking. The man looked stern, spoke loudly, I could tell by his face and hands. The girl talked loudly back. The man's long hand came up fast, like the tail of a reptile, and whipped across the girl's face. She stopped talking and stared a breath or two with large eyes at the man, at the hand. Her eyes were very blue and began to glisten as with water. The man looked away. Not to see, but to stop seeing. I saw it clearly and every movement, voiced by my eyes, was voiced again by my ocean, and when the hand struck it jolted me so hard from below that I almost rushed across the busy marble avenue to strike the man in turn. He had not struck me, only the girl, still this water within responded and demanded I act, like a rising, a surge. It was a marvelous thing, this ocean.
Then, as I saw the girl's eyes fill with moisture, and as I saw the first large tear leave and set out down her cheek, my ocean sang again: cross the avenue and embrace her, it sang, comfort her, take her away from him. I rose, not really of my own volition, more by the surge, and took several steps toward them when I collided with someone almost my size, stern, also in a white tunic. I stopped and he looked at me as if I had slapped him and not the man in blue, whom I had not yet reached.
Then without a word he continued. I stepped backwards to the bench and sat down again. I looked. Her eyes still pleaded with him for an answer. He still sat frozen and erect, seeing nothing I think. My ocean still sang, though more quietly now. I was no longer compelled to rush for her, that wave had crested and was now crashing to foam, though with another following I still wanted to, very much.
The ocean, humming to the words of my eyes, said: comfort her, rise, rise and walk to her, but I found I could tell the difference now between these waters and me, and as I did not want to stand and walk - I wanted to sit and see - to soothe the wave I looked away and up, to not see her, to see instead the yellow and brown building soaring straight into the sky only a few steps beyond their bench, where she sat still, crying.
Straight up, perhaps two thousand stories, perhaps twice that. They build them very tall in these parts, so I hear, or so my Inductor (seemingly vanished) had said. I began to count the rows of windows but lost count after seven hundred and a few. They had left when my gaze returned to the ground, to start again with one.
My ocean sang again. This time about birds. I had first seen them counting my way up the yellow to begin with the brown tower. Birds sailing darkly against the sparkling of windows, crossing my vision, almost distracting me at three hundred sixteen, three hundred seventeen, three hundred eighteen, gone again by three hundred nineteen. But here I saw them again at three hundred sixteen, three hundred seventeen, three hundred eighteen, no longer counting, but thinking about counting. As, as memory, he called it. As dark at first then bright wings flashing in the sun. Not the birds singing, swooping to greet me earlier, no these were larger and white and mute from the altitude, bright and winging again. It was a marvel. I had to listen. This ocean, this song, I marveled again, for here they winged again. So this was memory. I would have to tell the Inductor. But first I would have to find him.
By now my feet were awake and wanted to move on, they said. Quietly at first, just a suggestion, then loudly, a demand: listen you. And so I stood up and we set off again. But I found now that I could stop listening to them, I found that I could let them mutter on as they pleased while I ignored. Instead I listened to my eyes, to their voices and in turn to their echoes in my ocean. Birds again, mostly gray and black against the sky, swirling in unison like a cloud of birds, many, many, and screeching softly through many throats above me, then behind me, then almost by my side before they soared again even higher, and I thought of patterns but saw none. No patterns, no, but something else, I found something warmer than that. A fusion of glad and sad, rising from the surface of these internal waters and filling my eyes, glad to see the dancing cloud. Glad despite the lack of pattern. Sad because of lack of pattern. But mostly glad. Glad because my ocean willed it. What a wonderful thing, these waters, which seem to give a meaning to everything.
I came now to the end of the marble avenue with the towering buildings at my back. I stepped off and down into dust and my feet objected, since I had thrown away their shoes, but not too much. I kept walking, following a single stray bird, separated from the cloud still dancing among the rising stories somewhere behind me, following it as it darted left, then right, then up as if to say: come; but always away, engendering new reflections, new murmurs in my ocean, a yearning to see where to, which was more than curiosity - curiosity I knew, this was more than that - it had color and temperature this curiosity, it was a yearning. So I left the city behind and set out on the dust after the single bird.
A thicket among thickets almost too far away to own color received it and it was gone. I stopped and turned around. The two thousand, or perhaps twice that, story spires sparkled in the sun, now sliding down the northern sky, but slowly. I turned and looked again for the thicket but could not make out the single one among the small galaxy of thickets so far away. I thought then of returning to the avenue of marble, but I did not. Perhaps I would find the bird again. The color of yearning still alive within. I walked in its direction.
I never found the bird, I never knew which thicket. But the road led on and with the setting sun the day grew cooler and I enjoyed the land. I walked the rest of the day and a night, and almost yet a full day when my feet complained again, this time with certainty and I looked around for a place to rest. There were no benches here, nothing. Only dusty road. Looking back not even the tallest of the towers was visible above the horizon. Only dust and grass and rock on either side of the road and more of it in the far distance to receive it on its way back to the city.
But there was a house, small and the yellow of sand, against the hills farther down the road. I told my feet to be patient and walked on.
I came to a wooden door, dark, oak, shiny in places from many hands. It was closed, and I knocked. I heard feet move inside and someone came to the door. A lock turned and it opened. There stood a tall young woman, about my height, clad like the many I had seen in a blue tunic, with a white belt gathering the cloth at the waist. It could not be the young girl that the stiff man had struck, I knew that, but my ocean sang briefly of her nonetheless. This woman's hair was black and ran straight back into a horse's tail which stretched half way down her back. Her eyes were dark and set deeply in a nearly brown face. Her nose was stately and straight above a large mouth, lips partly opened to let the white of clean teeth shine through. She looked at me but said nothing. Something else moved behind her. Something small. A dog, no, a child. Perhaps two. Nothing else.
Still she said nothing. She scrutinized me, her eyes did not blink. She looked at my face, at my tunic, at my feet, at my face. Still she said nothing.
She held the door open and shifted her weight from one leg to the other, still she said nothing.
"Good evening," I said. "I am new here. My feet are complaining."
She heard what I said and shifted her weight again from one foot to the other, then turned around and whispered something I could not hear to the one or two children inside, which now, as they moved again, I saw were two, one with light hair, one darker, atop blue little tunics. The yellow sun was now far down the sky, though bright still, and the inside of the house was all shadow, or mostly shadow.
"New?" she said as if she didn't mean it. "How come you wear white then?"
I looked down at the cloth and I found it white again. "I don't know," I answered.
She didn't reply and we stood facing each other some more without talking. I noticed how loosely the blue of her tunic hung on her long body, and how her breasts were almost visible. My ocean began to sing.
Less a song than an invasion.
I looked again, without appearing to - or so I hoped - at her breasts, or at their beginnings. With this glance all my ocean seemed to come alive and almost in an instant swelled and swelled throughout. Warmth rushed to my loins and into a limb I did not know I had which in response rose up and out, bringing with it my white tunic into a little, or not so little, tent. She noticed.
Her lips parted for what should probably have been a scream, had she been alone, then I saw blood rush to her cheeks and I knew she thought of her children as she drew a quick breath and backed into the room a step.
"I am new here," I repeated, looking down on the rising, wondering, and licking my lips for they had gone dry despite all that internal water. "This has never happened to me before. I'm not even sure what it is, this, this."
It was evident that she didn't believe a word of this and instead she took a second step back into the dark inside and slammed the door shut. I heard a latch slide into place, emphasizing the slamming. A dry silence arrived. I did not even hear feet inside, as if she were still too, listening for me to move as I for her.
I looked down again. This thing had now risen to fully erect and I knew where it wanted to go. It was all the ocean sang about. But she closed, and locked, the door. I looked around for somewhere to sit down, but I saw no such place. The ocean swelled and swelled and kept on swelling. I almost fainted with the need to place this thing into somewhere that I knew, don't ask me how, the woman possessed. I touched the tent. It jolted with electricity.
It was all very strange.
I thought of walking farther, but my feet would have none of it. Slowly the tent subsided and the ocean began to recede, tiny by tiny, tiny bit. I knocked on the door again. It sounded very loudly into the quiet all around.
"Go away," she said from just inside the door.
"Look," I said. "I only borrowed this thing. I don't know how it works. I don't know why this happened," I said. Truthfully, though quite amazed that it had.
"Go away," she said.
"My feet want to go no farther," I said. "I will try to make it not happen again."
"Go a-way," she said again.
"I promise," I said. "I will try to control it."
"Look," she said, a step closer to the door now, "I don't care if you wear white. I'm not opening this door."
"Please," I said.
"What?" she said, "What did you say?"
"Please," I said again.
I heard the latch slide back and saw the handle turn. The door opened a crack, then a little wider. I looked at her and then at what she held in her hand which was of blue metal and pointed right at my ex-tent.
"You cannot be a white," she said.
"I don't know what you mean," I said. "But I know I am not a white, as you say, because this is not really mine at all. I'm just trying it out. I've borrowed it from the Inductor."
"You've stolen a white tunic?" she said, eyes quite wide now.
"No, no. The whole thing. This," I said and lifted both of my arms and then pointed them at my legs to indicate the whole of the body.
"Have you eaten fertilizer?" she asked.
"No," I answered.
She took a long, hard look into my eyes and said, "Guess not."
My ocean started to stir again and I began re-counting storied windows to distract myself. Looking for white birds, three hundred sixteen, three hundred seventeen, three hundred eighteen. I smiled at her, my very best I am completely harmless smile.
"For a little while," she said. "To rest your feet. And don't forget this," she added, meaning her metal thing, a weapon.
"Thank you," I said.
"You're definitely not a white," she said.
"I know that," I said. "But what makes you sure?"
"Please," she said. "And thank you. Will never cross their lips."
"Because they are arrogant bastards," she said.
"Those who wear white?" I said, understanding.
"And you. Blue?"
"Freeholders," she said.
"Yes. Blue tunics. Greens are serfs. Blacks are rulers. Whites are the aristocrats, the real bastards. I've never seen a Black."
"The Inductor wore gray," I said.
"Who's the inductor?"
"He showed me this place, gave me this, this thing, this body."
"This is a joke, right?"
"No," I said, again truthfully, "It's true."
She examined my eyes again. Quite thoroughly. She thought something was wrong with me and motioned towards shutting the door again. "He lent me this tunic," I added, and saw her relax a fraction, although the weapon remained still and alert and pointed at me.
Then she stepped aside. "For a little while," she said again.
I stepped inside. At first I could not make out much, not even the children who were probably hiding somewhere else in the house. Then as my eyes adjusted I saw a table, two benches, a stove, an oven, a large kitchen. I walked up to the bench and sat down. My feet sighed and I with them.
"Better?" she asked.
"Much," I answered.
Then neither of us spoke for some time. She remained standing with the weapon trained on me. I heard the children move about behind a large blue door. They seemed impatient. Then I heard one ask, "Has he gone?"
"No," said the woman. "Be quiet."
What spoke next was my nose. And it spoke directly to my stomach and from there to the ocean within. Something was cooking on the stove and now my stomach began to burn for what the nose could smell. The ocean moved about and fanned the flame and finally I had to stand up and walk over to see and smell from closer up.
In a big pot simmered a stew of vegetables and meats. The aroma rising into my nostrils and down into my stomach was almost as vibrant as the tent had been. It demanded not only a feeling but an action from me. I had to bring this stew into my mouth and I had to swallow.
"Hungry?" she asked.
"If that's what you call it," I said.
"Call what?" she asked.
"The stomach fire."
"Stomach fire?" She laughed. "Good one," she added.
I saw her relax a little more with her laughing, but not so much as to put the weapon away. "I guess you would like some stew?" she said.
"Yes," I said. "Please."
I saw on her face that she wondered whether to dare. I was not safe, not yet. She decided in my favor. "Very well," she said.
She called to the two children behind the door. She told me their names were Lint and Freckle. They entered the large kitchen cautiously. I saw how they had gotten their names. Lint was a girl with the same color hair as the little girl across the avenue, like straw, shining almost of its own. This is the hair I had seen in the dark from the outside. Freckle, a boy perhaps a little older than his sister, was all freckles and red, bushy hair.
"What's your name," said the woman, looking at me.
"Leaf," I said, and that really was my name.
"How come," she asked.
"You don't look like one," said Lint.
Freckle, curious too for my reply, seemed to agree.
"Where I come from," I began, still truthfully, "names are more like patterns than things. Besides," I added, "our leaves are sure to be quite different than yours."
"How different?" asked Lint.
"Well, for one they are much larger."
"The leaf I made to find my name covered an ocean."
The woman looked at me closely with her steady eyes and could tell I was not lying. She put her weapon down. Then she sat herself down on a stool by the end of the table. "You are not from here, are you?"
"No," I said.
"It's true then?"
"There are other places."
"Yes," I said. "That is true."
Her eyes held me, but she did not answer. My tent was slowly resurrecting and I moved to conceal it. To stop my ocean from invading again, I focused on the smell, now quite filling the room. "My stomach is still burning," I said.
"Oh. Yes," she said. "Lint?"
Lint knew what to do and walked over to a cupboard that held plates and cups. "Is he staying?" she asked.
"For supper, yes," said the woman.
Lint handed four plates to Freckle who began to set the table. The simple, but beautiful process - it was almost a pattern - was repeated with cups and then with spoons which she took from a drawer. The woman stood up and ladled much of the stew from the pot into a large bowl which she placed on the table. The two children looked at her expectantly. "Our guest first," she said, and indicated for me to help myself.
I did and then for some time I'm overcome with eating. They looked at me eating at twice their speed. It was wonderful.
The woman then made a tea which she poured into the earthenware cups on the table. It was rich and hot, and I felt it fill me not unlike the ocean, only more gently.
"So," said the woman once she had asked her children to clear the table (and the children's process was reversed). "Where exactly do you come from?"
I took another sip of the dark tea, felt the cup warm my hands. I held onto the cup and looked at it for some time before answering. Truly, I wasn't sure how to explain.
"I'm not from here," I began.
"You mentioned that," she answered, and took another sip of her own tea, which she also seemed to savor. The children had stopped what they were doing and now turned to look at me, intent on my answer.
"I'm not really from anywhere," I tried.
She didn't answer. Nor did she understand.
"My home is not really a place," I said. "It's more of a how."
She still did not understand.
"I'm a visitor here," I said, which was a step back.
She shook her head. "Look, you don't have to tell me, it's fine. Tell me instead what you're doing here."
"Well, that's just it," I said. "I am visiting. The Inductor brought me."
"Who is this Inductor?"
"Well, he is," how do you describe him? "a guide of sorts. Knows of many places. Introduces you to them." For a fee, but I didn't say that.
"So, you're on vacation?"
"No, not really. I'm just looking around." Which was the truth.
"Where were you born?"
Well, that's just it. I wasn't.
"Nowhere," I said.
"I see your reluctance," she said. "It's none of my business, really. I am sorry I pried."
"No, no, that's not it. No." Then I added a little lie, "In a city."
"Yes. No. Not in Wealth. In another city."
She laughed at that. "What other city? There is only the one."
"No, I told you, there are other places."
"In the desert?" She looked a little incredulous.
"Yes," I lied again.
"There are no cities in the desert."
"Yes there are," I said. "At least where I come from."
"That doesn't make any sense," she said.
"It's not really a place," I said again.
"You said it was a city."
"Not as you know it," I said.
"More as one that you carry."
She shook her head again, and smiled. Her long hair was working its way out of the horse's tail and my tent stirred again. She was a very beautiful woman. "You're telling tales," she said.
"Not really," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"Would you like some more tea?" she asked and stood up.
She smiled again, not used to "please" coming from someone in a white tunic, I guess. She sailed more than walked to fetch the pot with tea and my tent rushed back into full erection. I began counting those stories again. The swelling of the sea was everywhere and she was more beautiful than anything I had ever seen. If only she would like to receive the tent, or the thing it held.
She stooped a little to pour the tea and I noticed her breasts again, loose within her tunic. I smelled her skin and her hair and her breath, the air was so full of her that I had to close my eyes to endure. I knew I must not act, not unless invited to, no matter what the ocean sang. No matter how proud the tent, which fortunately was hidden under the table.
She sat down. "You're wondering what I'm doing here alone with two children," she stated as if this was the thing on my mind. "No," I said, truthfully.
She heard but chose to disregard my answer. "I was married once," she said. "But he chose the white tunic instead."
She could tell I did not understand.
"He was offered the white tunic in the city. You've noticed I wear blue."
"Yes," I said.
"Well, white cannot marry, or stay married to, blue."
She cast me a glance, was I crazy? "Why not? It's the law, that's why not."
"So, he left. Two years ago now."
I didn't know what to say. So I asked, "What is your name?"
This seemed to surprise her a little. Whether it was at my asking or at her not having told me before I don't know. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "My name is Agate. When I was a girl I had cloudy irises, like marble. You can still make it out, but they are much darker now, of course."
I leaned towards her across the table and looking closely I could make out the swirl of color within the dark of her eyes. You had to really look though, but it was beautiful.
"That is very beautiful," I said. Again truthfully.
She didn't answer. Instead she continued, "So he left, just like that. We have not heard from him since."
"That's a crazy law," I said.
She looked at me with alarm. "You mustn't say that," and she motioned with her eyes back over her shoulder towards the children.
"Ah," I said.
"And your tunic," she added, almost under her breath, "you must return it as soon as you can. If they find you with it on, and it's not yours . . ." She didn't go on, but I got a good notion both as to who "they" were and what would happen if "they" found me. Again, I also wondered whatever happened to the Inductor.
As my tent had finally subsided again, I felt I could rise with impunity, and be on my way. I really should find the Inductor and get back. I swung around and stood up. And sat down almost immediately from the pain, the shout really, issued by my feet. I winced and grunted.
"What's the matter?" Agate asked.
"My feet," I said.
"Let me have a look," she said and came around. I looked down at them with her, at the dusty toes, discolored. She kneeled to take a better look, and again I saw her breasts, clearly. The tent stirred again, or threatened to, but with the help of my painful feet and very clear pictures of the road I had walked to come here, I managed to distract it and keep it dormant. Agate lifted my left foot to look at the sole. I winced again and she whistled softly. "Not much used to walking," she said.
"No," I answered.
"Is it bad?" I asked after a while when she did not reply.
"Cracked, and some blood," she answered, still scrutinizing. "I really should wash them clean. I have some balm that will help, too."
I didn't, couldn't answer, for now that they got all the attention they apparently craved, they were all pain.
She gently replaced my foot on the floor, and took a good look at the other. Then said, "You shouldn't walk farther tonight. You can stay here."
"Really," I said. "I should get going. I need to find the Inductor. I had expected him to follow me, but I haven't seen him since I came."
"As you wish," she said. "But let me clean them first."
This she did, with warm, soapy water. Then she dried them with a soft terry towel. Her balm was green and smelled of pine. It was very cool and my feet drank it with delight. I battled the tent twice while this was going on, her breasts far, far too inviting to ignore, like little mountains to nestle down in between.
"Like new," she said and stood back to admire her ministration. "See if you can stand now."
I did, and could, but not unpunished. My feet did not want to go anywhere tonight. I sat down again, again with a groan.
"Bad, huh?" she asked.
"Not good," I said. "But much better," I hastened to add.
"I still say you stay the night, I'll make a bed for you on the floor. You'll be better in the morning. Your inductor will just have to wait." She poked fun at the word Inductor.
"I guess," I said. Still wondering what had happened to him.
She cleared the table of the bowl that the children had left, and of our cups and the table cloth and climbed a short ladder to the attic, visible from below. I followed her progress and saw strong, brown legs under the tunic. I looked away lest I be overcome again.
"Hey," she said from atop the ladder, "give me a hand with this." She was battling with an unwieldy mattress, half visible over the attic edge. I stood up, winced again, but bit down the groan. I reached for and received the awkward thing. It came down on top of me and I went down with it, smothered.
"It goes underneath," she said, her voice smiling. I fought my way out from under it and said, "I see." She smiled again.
She found a blue sheet and a blanket along with a green pillow. "There, this should hold you."
The makeshift bed looked absolutely inviting and I was of a sudden overcome with sheer fatigue. I had not slept since I arrived, had in fact not even heard of sleep till then. Now it came upon me with a vengeance, and I suddenly seemed to know all about it. Again, it originated with that vast internal water. My eyelids drooped and my vision blurred. I sat down, first on the bench, then on the mattress. The last thing I saw was Agate moving into her room, weapon in hand. She turned and said, holding it in plain view, "Just in case you get any ideas." She didn't quite smile.
I didn't quite smile back, lay down on the mattress and for all intents and purposes vanished, which, of course, again, was very strange.
I slept for a good part of the night before I started to dream, and the dream was all ocean: tall buildings and white birds climbing and many Agates walking up and down the marble boulevard with her two children, hand in hand in hand, her with one in each. All with breasts. I knew, although I was dreaming, that the tent was rising again, and I could even smell her near me through it all. I could feel her fingers finding that limb and holding it warmly. I opened my eyes and looked directly into hers. "We must be very quiet," she said.
It knew exactly what to do, I was only along for the ride and hung on for dear life. When it happened, when the explosion took place, I thought something was seriously, wonderfully wrong with me, and I rolled back in amazement, no, shock was more like it. My breaths came deeply and often, I was shining with sweat. So was Agate who smiled very nicely and ate a piece of my ear. Then we were off again.
It happened twice more, each explosion was pure ocean. It was miraculous, the most amazing invention ever. I would have to thank the Inductor, he was absolutely right about these things. I looked into Agate's eyes again and saw within them her ocean, now receding same as mine. She was breathing quickly too, smiling still. "That," she said, "was wonderful."
"Yes," I said. It was all I could muster. I had to tell the Inductor about this. He would already know, of course, or would he? Also I would have to tell, well, the others.
Then she slipped away and back into her room and through the window I could see the pink of early dawn. I fell asleep again and did not wake up until Freckle poked me with a stick and Agate told him to stop.
I stayed seven more days and seven more nights at Agate's house, waiting for the Inductor to find me or to appear, wishing at the same time he wouldn't, for each night was an amazement. This part of the ocean had no bottom, or no shores, or rather, renewed itself so quickly it returned as it receded. This was called making love, I deduced from her whisperings.
Each night was also sleep, this strange nothing that swallowed you whole and did not let go until the dawn came knocking on the panes. That obliterated but did not eradicate. One moment you're there, the next you're swallowed. The dark part of the ocean, I thought. I still think so, although I'm no longer altogether sure.
On the morning of the ninth day I told Agate I had to go. She asked, was I sure, I was welcome to stay. I said I knew that, and that I really wanted to, that I really liked Lint and Freckle too and would miss them as well as her, but I had to find the Inductor who by now should be quite worried about me.
"Who exactly is he?" she asked, not for the first time.
"It was he who brought me here," I said, indicating the sky and the earth with a sweep of my arm.
"Did you tell him you were coming here?"
"I haven't spoken to him since I arrived."
"How do you know where to find him?"
"I don't know where to find him," I answered. "But I think he may be in the city. That's where he took me."
She looked sad, I could sense her ocean rising to fill her, and with that rising my own rose too and I already longed for her, even before I had left.
"If you don't find him," she said. "Please come back."
"I will," I lied. Well it wasn't a lie, but I didn't know that then. "I will."
I said goodbye to Lint, who cried a little too, and to Freckle who was a man about the whole thing. His ocean was filling him too though, I could tell.
I looked back twice, and both times I saw her, the first time with Lint and Freckle, the second time only with Lint, looking back at me making my way away from them toward the city. Then I rounded a small hill and there was no looking back. Neither was there any Inductor.
I saw the city from afar early the second day after leaving. It glistened in the distance. It was covered by a transparent dome, in lieu of gates, which now began to withdraw into the earth. It was a beautiful spectacle. Still no Inductor though. I retraced my steps and left the dust for the smooth marble and entered the city. I even found the bench I had initially rested on. But no Inductor. Neither was he to be found in any of the many cafes and restaurants I entered, men and women in blue robes stepping aside to let me through. I entered the tall buildings and looked at the thousands of people milling around, mostly blues, one or two whites. No Inductor.
I would have to leave without him, then. It was not what the agreement stated, we were to enter together and leave together, after all, this was his Universe. But I've entered and left Universes before, unaided, so deciding that I had now performed the due diligence called for in the contract, I let go.
Nothing happened. No windy reversal, no upward chute, no exit into colorless cool. I was still here, dressed in a white tunic. I tried again, and let go completely. Nothing happened. Then I pushed, but it pushed right back, and harder, and my head began to hurt a little. I pushed harder still, willing now to split the skull to get out, but it only pushed back, and I thought the pain alone would drive me out. But it didn't. I was in a vice, made harder by my own efforts. I tried to let go again, to really, really let go this time, to relinquish completely, to simply: Let. Go.
But nothing happened.
And that was many, many, many days ago. Years, says Agate. I made it back to her house as I had promised but not intended, and for each turning of the world I am less and less sure how I actually came here.
Lint is a young lady, beautiful and fresh. Freckle a strong young man. Me, I don't seem to age much, but Agate has a wrinkle or two where there were none. We still have some amazing nights, in her bed now. I helped put the mattress back into the attic.
Now and then I try again, to let go. But nothing happens. I've even asked Agate once or twice if she remembers how she got here, but she just looks at me strangely and I drop the subject. At times I am very homesick, but I realize there is nothing to do about that from here.
For a while I expected him to return, the Inductor, to take me back, but I've never seen him again. I'm no longer sure I would know him if I did. He could be anyone, perhaps even Agate, I've thought on occasion.
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