“Tell me,” she said, “about the shadows of the past.”
“Not yet,” he said.
Then she settled down alongside Joseph … alongside the world … prepared to await the awakening. The sky began to change colour, subtly and slowly at first, then faster and wilder than anyone could dream. Beyond the clouds the sun had set, and the light leaked out of the empty land.
“My sunset. And sunset for humanity.”
“I understand,” she said with a smile. And understanding is happiness, she thought.
So they sat together, symbols for an empire that had seen too much death, watching the sunset cool into night, bringing uncountable stars and a promise that dawn would come. Someday.
She was silent awhile. More stars appeared. The wind had gone cold. She thought of the rows of beans and the scent of the bean flowers. She thought of the small window that looked west. “I think we can live there,” she said.
There was no answer but then she had not really expected an answer. She unslung the sonador from her shoulder. It was programmed for guitar. She strummed a few chords. In a short while she was singing, while her feet went blithe in the measure:
Go gladly up and gladly down.
The dancing flies outward like laughter
From blossom fields to mountain crown.
Rejoice in the joy that comes after!
He stopped hesitating.
“You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages—they haven’t ended yet.”
The words remained in her mind.
“It seems to me that we do not know nearly enough about ourselves; that we do not often enough wonder if our lives, or some events and times in our lives, may not be analogues or metaphors or echoes of evolvements and happenings going on in other people?—or animals?—even forests or oceans or rocks?—in this world of ours or, even, in worlds or dimensions elsewhere,” he said solemnly, leaning into the wind as if he could will the future forward.
Then she grinned. “Healers mend quickly, you know.”
His anger faded. Left behind was a feeling he was not used to experiencing. It was fear. “How strange are the ways of the gods!” he gasped. “How cruel.”
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “The dead cannot hurt you. They give you no pain, except that of seeing your own death in their faces. And one can face that, I find.”
He stood up and kissed his intended, and forgot all about Walter Strawberry. “Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to—”
“No!” she cried, and thumped him on the chest, then jammed the ring over the knuckle of his ring finger. “This is for life.”
He looked a long time. Behind them the sky rumbled and turned black, another late storm rolling down from the Blight.
“Goodbye and hello, as always. Amen. And all that cal.”
He had said his last good bye. He walked away and he kept on walking.
She would not leave him: “There has been joy. There will be joy again.”
When he stopped at last, she looked at him with eyes that mirrored her smile and she said, “Kiss me again, please. I cannot let it end this way. Perhaps the next tunnel, or the next … ”
And he thought of Markham and his mother and all these uncountable people, never loosening their grip on their hopes, and their strange human sense, their last illusion, that no matter how the days moved through them, there always remained the pulse of things coming, the sense that even now there was yet still time.