The thing essentially wrong with the majority of people today—nay, even those of a decade, or several centuries ago—is the ill-regard for spontaneity, for true existence, true life. Of course, one might live, in the sense of breathing, eating, working, in the sense of merely going through the motions, the mechanism of the mob, of madness, of organized and "conservative anarchy." But of the true life-experience, the satisfaction, the deep longing within each one of us to step away from the crowd just once, embrace ourselves, our existence, with open, welcoming arms and to shout in exultation from the rooftops "I've lived!"—of this, very seldom can one boast, if at all.
Emily Heatherly was, regrettably, in such a state as this. She was quite young and beautiful by the previous generation's standards, with her lovely pale skin and golden hair, yet quite old and wise and very esteemed by hers, with her green eyes that searched deep, looking for answers and, most importantly, finding them. And yet, to her, her life possessed neither the fresh anticipation of youth, nor the satisfied familiarity of old-age; it was all routine, routine, routine, nose to the grindstone, which she inwardly resented with every unknown fiber of her unconscious thoughts, but content to live with in her outer casing of society and respectability.
Her husband—yes, she was married—was a professor at one of the nearby universities, very respectable, a fresh new personality in the intellectual community. Ernest Heatherly, the glorious, magnificent, awe-inspiring Professor Heatherly, taking students and esteemed academics alike by storm. Personally, Emily didn't find his theories, his lectures that packed even the largest of the campus' lecture halls, to be all that interesting. Quite the opposite, really. All one had to do was spend a few hours in the library, and one could find Heatherly's so-called remarkable ideas laid out already in ink, bound, and rotting on the most derelict shelves of human history. Aristotle, Plato, Copernicus, Newton—it was all there, merely rehashed and given a new flavor, a few more spices and seasonings, and voila! A masterpiece of our time.
And, of course, the formidable Professor's personality and style merited a steep salary, for it just wouldn't do to have the Professor and his lovely wife living in destitution, now would it? Most scandalous, indeed!
It all shocked Emily initially, to suddenly find herself married to a famous personality, to wake up one morning and find a sort of celebrity in her bed. But Time, that marvelous Mistress Time, wove a thick blanket, encasing, suffocating, forcing one to become familiar with one's surroundings, so it was all quite natural now.
Oh, but how quickly things can change!
She was rather bored with everything one day; Ernest was entertaining guests in one of the many "parlours," reminiscent of the grand old days of yore, but she was tired of playing hostess, and decided to go for a walk. She slipped out of the large house silently, escaping all notice, stopping outside for a minute to gaze at the exterior. It was pristine, modern yet classical, very much the mirror image of her husband's ideas…though, she knew, around back one would find scaffolding and boarded-up windows and ugly patchwood and particle board, as they were having some renovations done.
Shrugging idly, she made her way down the long, sloping drive, to the meandering sidewalk of the exclusive neighborhood to a nearby park she liked to escape to, to merely sit on one of the solid wood benches and think and reflect, something, she noticed, very few people managed to find time to do in the hectic modern world. She was astounded, upon reaching the quiet neighborhood park, green in all its newly-sprung splendor, to find someone occupying her bench. Rather offended and angry all at once, she marched up to the unwanted intruder.
"Excuse me," she said. "You see, this is my bench."
The figure looked up, met her square in the eyes. "Is it?"
She blushed, tearing her gaze from his—for the person was a man, a man of slight build and dark complexion, with dark, coarse hair and dark eyes.
"I didn't see your name on it anywhere," he continued.
She colored again, indignant. "I don't see how you could, seeing as you have no idea what my name is."
He grinned a little insolently, scooting over to one side of the bench at the same time. "How stupid of me," he said, motioning for her to sit.
She sat, a little stiffly, moving as far away from him as she could, leaning sullenly against the arm of the bench in question. After a few moments of tense silence, however, she turned towards him again, feeling the need for conversation.
"My name is Emily, by the way," she said. "Emily Heatherly."
"Is it?" He was writing, scribbling furiously with a pen on a notebook that sat in his lap.
"Yes." She paused, watching him. "What are you working on?"
"My book," he replied, a little distracted and irritated.
"A book! How wonderful! What is it about?" asked Emily, for she had never met an author before, and found herself suddenly overflowing with questions.
"Nothing special," replied the man. "It's a fictional autobiography."
"About your life?" She leaned forward with interest, her eyes sparkling.
The man looked up, laughter in his eyes. "That's generally what 'autobiography' is taken to mean, yes."
"Of course, I only meant…" she said, blushing again. How dare this man make her so flustered! How was it possible that he could have such an effect on her? Didn't he know who she was? Who her husband was? But this question troubled her, for she had never identified herself through her husband's name. Others had, of course—oh, why, yes! You must be Professor Heatherly's wife!—but never her. She resented giving up her humanity, her identity in such a manner. It was crude, unspeakable, and her pride shuddered away from herself for a moment.
"What is your name?" she asked, making an attempt at veiling her thoughts from this stranger, yet feeling that she failed, that with one look he could take her and all she was made of apart.
"Laurence. Laurence Miller," he said, meeting her green eyes with his dark ones as he said it, a gesture few bothered to observe anymore, and it made her feel suddenly very weak, very exposed. Perhaps that was why people didn't bother to look into your eyes anymore. They simply couldn't risk being read like that, couldn't risk the possibility of being uncovered in such a manner. For, after all, "the eyes are the gateway to the soul."
"Heatherly, huh?" said the man, a few weeks later. They had made it an unspoken agreement to continue to meet at the bench. "As in Professor Ernest Heatherly, that bigwig up at the University?"
The woman nodded, grinning wryly. "He's my husband."
"Oh. Well, in that case, I meant no offense."
"None taken. I'm not all that fond of him, anyway."
He looked at her, genuine surprise showing in his normally reserved features. "No?" he said, then returning to his peculiar scribbling in his peculiar notebook. "Why'd you marry him, then?"
"I didn't mean like that…I like him, the person I married…I just don't like his personality, the person he's become." Somewhere deep inside of her, she was mortified to be sharing such intimate details about her marriage with a random person she just happened to meet a few days previously, but she was far too caught up in the novelty of actually having a conversation about such things to notice.
"They're one in the same, though, I'm afraid. You can't go about picking at a man's personality, isolating what you like and what you don't like. In this case, 'what you see is what you get,' and you can't really do much of anything about it," he said, thoughtfully, pausing in his constant scribbling to look at her once more. "It's just not human."
"And you're an authority in this matter?" she said, smiling, mocking the many self-important colleagues of her husband's, the ones that always called to dinner, and seemed so inflated, so in love with themselves and their own false intelligence.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. You can be, too."
"How? How can I be an authority of what's human and what's not?"
"Well," he said, "all you have to do is recognize your own humanity." She looked at him quizzically, and he continued, "Which is harder than you might guess, in this day and age. You need to separate yourself from the machine. Listen," he said. "Can you hear it?"
"Hear what?" she asked, rather perplexed.
"The machine. It's taken over the world, you see, made slaves of us all, mindless robot slaves to its inexorable will." He paused, his dark eyes alight, then snatched up his notebook, furiously scribbling again.
"Oh, you are an author!" she laughed. "Do you do that often, say something so astounding that you have to write it down?"
"Unfortunately? I think it's wonderful! I think more people should be able to know how to do that."
"It's not a matter of knowing, but a matter of simple instinct," he said. "People should already know how to speak coherently, instead of the mindless gibberish that you hear so often today." He looked up, examining their surroundings in contemplative silence. "You hear that?" he asked, his voice barely audible.
"What? 'The machine'?"
"No, the birds, the wind in the trees. Now that is coherent speech, pure and unsullied. Not the shit gibberish that people spew out of their mouths every minute of every day."
Emily thought about this, and the more she thought about it, the more intriguing the notion was. So intriguing, she felt the need to talk it over with her husband.
"Ernest, have you ever stopped to listen to the birds, or the wind in the trees? It's quite remarkable, really," she said, over dinner.
"No, I can't say I have, darling," he replied, half-listening, as he was going over a lesson plan or some other important University document.
"Really? Well, you really should, just sit for a moment and listen. You know, a friend of mine said that sounds like these, sounds of nature, were coherent speech, and that our spoken language was just a bunch of gibberish."
"Imagine that," he said, taking a sip of his iced tea. "Have I met them?"
"What?" she said, irritated at being put-off in such a manner, then irritated with herself for being irritated at such a commonplace occurrence.
"This friend you've been talking about. Have I met them?"
"No. Though I think you should one day, he's quite interesting. He's writing a book. A fictional autobiography" she added, almost as an afterthought.
"A fictional autobiography. He's writing a fictional story, but incorporating his own experiences! Isn't it wonderful?"
"What a bunch of rubbish," he said. "Why on earth would someone want to waste their time on something like that? Did your friend tell you that, Emily?" he continued, too absorbed in his task to realize that she'd left the room.
"It was so insulting! I just had to get away from him, I suddenly couldn't stand him anymore!"
"Some people are just too self-involved that they don't take the time to consider anyone else," said the man. "Most people, actually. Just take a look around, just sit on a street corner and watch some of them, so absorbed, so insistent on living life the way they want, yet missing the point entirely."
"But what is the point?" she cried, throwing up her hands, her eyes crackling with the electricity of frustrated thought. "What is the point of it all? Pleasure? Pain? Advancement? Society? What?"
"That is a question everyone has to decide for himself. Though, I personally favor spontaneity."
"But, there's no point to spontaneity," she retorted, still trying to sort it all out.
"Exactly! People are too busy planning out their lives, the way they want them to be, that they just can't accept life for what it is. Everyone has to have their turn at playing God, everyone had to be convinced that they are 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life' and won't accept an alternative. Or, they just go along with the masses, content to flounder, content to drown!" he said, his fist connecting rather solidly with the wood of the bench, his whole being alive with the fervor of his argument.
"I don't understand," she said, more than a little in awe at the sudden transformation of his features, his personality. She felt drawn to him, drawn to this sudden warmth, whereas his previously cold aloofness merely intrigued her.
He looked at her. "Let me show you something," he said, and stood, tucking his notebook in the crook of one arm, extending the other hand to help her up. She stood, taking his hand for a moment, and they walked.
They walked for hours, merely walked, wandering, making their way through the park, out of the sheltered neighborhood, and through the surrounding University district. The streets were positively crawling with life, people rushing to and fro, always rushing, rushing, rushing, pressing on, never stopping to take a real look at anything. She felt so very out of place, this aimless wandering, not having anywhere to go, really, not having any sort of place where her presence was mandated. It chilled her, chilled her to the bone to realize that these people, these streets, though seemingly filled with life, were in all actuality as dead and unfeeling as a piece of granite, and not even as beautiful!
What an illusion these souls lived! What an intricate illusion! It was a little cruel to think about, that these people, these self-important, self-proclaimed people believed that they were their own masters, superior, answering to no one but themselves, when they were actually slaves! And the worst sort of slaves imaginable, those enslaved to pleasure, the fleeting enjoyment and self-fulfillment they all longed for, and the never-ending search to get it.
And they believed they were living. Living! A more gross misconstruction could not have been found. The human had been swallowed up, the personal, unique identity had been consumed utterly and completely, leaving nothing but a vast maw of animalistic want concealed by the paper-thin sheath of manners and society.
The thought made Emily sick to her stomach. How could this have happened? And what could be done to fix it, to ensure that she herself did not fall prey to such a horrible fate?
It was growing dark, and they headed back to the park, back to their bench. "Now do you understand?" he asked her quietly, his head bent down, his dark eyes watching the ground.
"Yes," she said. "Oh, but it's horrible! I wish I didn't."
"But, now that you know, you can make sure it doesn't happen to you."
"How do I know it hasn't happened to me already? We—the both of us—we could be just like them, and not even know it!"
"No," he said, coming to a stop, looking at her.
"What? What do you mean?" she asked, stopping next to him breathing sharply, tucking a stray strand of her light hair behind an ear.
"Do something spontaneous," was the simple reply. "If you're able to do it, then you're not like the rest of the world."
She pondered this. What could she do? She could jump into the creek, would that be spontaneous enough? Oh, but then she'd be all wet, and probably catch a cold… She sighed in frustration: this spontaneous business was harder than it sounded!
"Just do it," he was saying. "Do the first thing that pops into your head."
She looked at him then, really looked, seeing as if for the first time the astounding darkness and depth to his eyes, the untidy placement of his dark hair. Then, she did the "first thing that popped into her head" and quickly leaned in and kissed him, only to pull away and start spurting off apologies right and left.
He smiled, though she could tell he was a little surprised, if not unnerved at her actions. "Don't apologize… That merely proves you're still alive," he said, and suddenly, decisively pulled her close and kissed her again and again, running his strong hands through her hair.
How wonderful it was to be alive, to be really, truly alive! How astounding, to rise from the fog, the waters of sedation, to take the first shuddering gasp of lung-stinging air! Sedation! Pleasure! Enjoyment! Noise! That's all it was, after all, that's all it boiled down to, the insatiable, overwhelming, incessant buzzing in the background, filling up one's emptiness with meaningless meaning. Noise, constant, unwavering noise, a black hole of fabricated emotion, sympathy, and passion! And it was gone. Gone! Evaporated, blown away by the quietest breath of wind imaginable, leaving only peace, and solitude, the music, the symphony of nature, of sensation, of the evening air.
Emily had never before felt so liberated, so free. How marvelous it was to be free! And yet tied together at the same time, pulled towards someone else by that mysterious bond of compassion, and love, and mutual humanity that few ever really experienced. Perhaps this was the true essence of freedom, this feeling, this sensation of liberation of the mind, of the body, but being inexorably entwined in soul, in spirit, with another, and not even realizing it.
"This is how life is meant to be lived, isn't it?" she asked, rather breathless.
"Yes," he replied, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. "Yes, I think so."