Have you ever had one of those dreams where you had an idea, and it seemed so profound that losing it to forgetfulness seemed unbearable, so you wrote it down, and in the morning it seemed somewhere between banal and incomprehensible?
Well, last night I had one of those dreams – I had an idea for an event in a story – but even in the cold light of day I think it still has pathos.
It’s set in the middle of a story in a scavenger world. It’s maybe a hundred or two hundred years after the collapse of the high culture, and the characters – including a very old man, who grew up in the high culture, so he doesn’t age much at all – are exploring a tower suspended in the air. One of the characters falls through some rotten floorboards into the open air, and the old man drops a rope with a lead weight on the end, which catches up to her, so she’s able to catch it and climb back up. Meanwhile another member of the party has gone to an outer room, closer to the outer wall, where the winds blow faster and the structure is less reliable. The elder comments on how he’s a little worried about her off on her own, and she, on her way back (having endured an unexpected ordeal) says something to the effect of, “We don’t need your sympathy. It’s not like you put yourself at any risk – you don’t know loss the way we do.”
They continue, as he leads them over the structural beams of durasteel, which lasts longer than the common floor.
“I had a wife, once,”
“Good for you.”
“Before the fall. And after.
“We lived near one of the floating towers. It was over Paris. In those days there were still things to salvage, and still beautiful things to see. From the heights, the great cities looked almost as they had when they were still alive.
“On the day before the third anniversary of the fall, we had talked about going up one last time for supplies that would help us in our new life, and then going to ground forever, starting anew, to rebuild what we’d lost.
“Then that night, I was awoken by a thunderbolt. She was gone.
“I turned on our 2-way radio. We had one left over, we didn’t have to worry about interference, so we could boost the signal and talk over a long distance. I heard:
“‘Don’t be afraid. It will all be done soon. Oh!’
“I heard the wind rush past her. I told myself the wind had just picked up a bit, that she was still holding the tether connecting the ground with the tower, the tether we’d climbed together hundreds of times before in clear weather.
“‘It’s beautiful. Paris, oui.’
“There was no room in her last words for me. I told myself later that she’d lost her grip. Or that the wind had blown her off. I lied.
“She knew what would happen that night. Our new life was too much for her – no, too little. Too little compared with what came before. I was insufficient company for the many hundreds of years that must pass between our old world and the new one we would patiently build.
“So don’t tell me that you alone know how to survive. Or that you know what it is to lose the ones you love. The ones you love are mortal, you meet them knowing that some day they must die. I didn’t.
“You know that each moment might be your last together. I didn’t.
“Your death is inevitable. Hers wasn’t.
“But I lost her anyway.
“So don’t tell me I don’t know what it is to survive against all hope.”