'Torch Beams, The End of the World'.
'It's really weird, but if you are in it, more will be revealed. I don't even know that you can take credit for anything. All these ideas – they weren't there before, now they're there. It's so magical. You didn't really make it up, they came in'.
- David Lynch.
'Was she ever there? Was she ever? Was it air she breathed? Singing, 'come to me'. At the wrong time. On the wrong day. All the lights are fading now, if I'm dreaming my life'.
- David Bowie.
If you are reading this, it means that I am wrong. The most deluded man who ever sidled on the face of the Earth, bar none. And I think perhaps I am wrong; certainly, the very act of writing this marks me out as some kind of disbeliever. Nevertheless, I think we can still give you a bloody nose. The ultimate bloody nose, plus a hell of a beautiful sight as the world dies, and that's the moral of the story.
Focus. Identify the time and place when your life started to follow a utilitarian course – albeit isolated, inhuman, wildly eschatological. Wild – Cosmo Kramer entering Jerry's apartment an infinite number of times. Cosmo Kramer skidding on his heels and falling in with eternity. And always we laugh at him, Hari and I, because it's surely the Implicate Order at play. And wild; the Buddhist Monk of Southern Vietnam, calmly getting involved with a wave of fire, fully in honour of this linear human debacle.
Phase One. The police summoned me to the rail bridge where my friend Gibarian had committed harakiri. Whether they summoned me in my capacity as his friend, his biographer or as an official psychological liaison, I never bothered to find out. To the salient points, though: it was a steely winters day; the factories behind us carried on regardless, arch-unemployed twenty-somethings sauntered across and didn't bother to look down. Two miles away, there was a crystal-clear stream with hypnotic, billowing water-reed, and reader, that's viz-a-viz everything. Accompanied by the hi-visibility police men, I clambered down towards the rail track. It seemed profoundly visceral to be moving through the normally-inaccessible scrub. Nevertheless, the subtle purple weeds were beautiful.
How much do you need to know about my friendship with Gibarian? The sequence of events seems arbitrary. A is for Arrogance. Arbitrary. Aghanistan. A is for Afterlife. In 1998, I wrote my magnum opus, a psychological dissection of the first of us who fell in with Marx. The publishers called it too specialised, too steeped in Jungian short-hand. Muck 'em. One well-known British publisher denigrated my manuscript as 'a weird love letter to communism', which I was deeply insulted by. I lusted after the cool sense of relief which writing gave me, but with no one willing to publish me? I resumed my work as a clinical psychologist. After a time, a friend of mine from the Ministry offered me the chance to write an expansive, door-stop-size psychological treatise on Khrushchev and the coming of perestroika. 50,000 rubles was the advance! But nothing would have depressed me more.
My patients at this time consisted of self-obsessed, Western-style yuppies and twee middle-managers who'd been referred down the line by their machine-like directors. Occasionally I was gifted a 'brave', 'traumatised' army officer, and these were worst of all.
Time to think, at least, came in the form of my customary lunch-hour hikes onto the disused rail line adjacent to the Gvozdev housing estate. Irrespective of season, the canopy of brown leaves was damp. A slight golden shimmer was granted, true, but this came from the dense yellow branches at the peripheral. And away it led to the most beautifully clear stream imaginable, inset with swirling aquatic plants. They flicked and danced capriciously, knowingly, hypnotising you at once.
I was just staring at the water and thinking about jack flip everything. Gibarian appeared at the little entrance and fell down in the mud. The man was hideously out of breath. I moved to help him up.
"Are you a fugitive?", I asked, all childish élan in an attempt to deal with the surprise, give some explicable human face to it.
"From the chain gang, yes", he said humorously, but did not really smile.
Gibarian was all about the twinkle in the eye. Something like, look at me, look at us, there's no solidarity, but here's an oil-painting with too much titanium white. In fairly little time, I came to understand that he was the most psychologically-dense man I'd ever met. He told me, the reason he'd arrived at the river bank so out of breath was simple. He worked at the screw-and-bolt factory two miles away, and this was his forty minute lunch break. It was a kind of reason d'etre that compelled him to run as far as he could, then turn and run back as his chronometer hit the halfway / twenty minute mark.
There at the river bank, I grappled with the understanding that this was the most mythical of intellectuals, the super-rare variety that doesn't work in the media, refuses to spend their lives at university, doesn't even have a desk to hide behind. This was the man who read compulsively, read Esquire even, yet also understood: life is about meditation, and true meditation can only be gained as a reward for utilitarian drudgery. It's the way the Gods designed it, or the way evolution designed it, but either way, desk-workers? You're about to have a supremely bad day.
We conversed for several minutes; we smiled and spoke insightfully. I looked at my watch.
"Your lunch break started when?"
"It started at the arbitrary time of Ten Passed One", he said.
"It's now One Thirty Five", I warned him.
The man shrugged, a picture of knowing hubris. "It's nothing. I'll simply run all the faster".
I remember scowling mightily. "! Go!"
The next day, I waited at the river at around the same time, and when Your Man appeared, gifted him an ice-cold can of diet cola. I had no idea if it would invigorate him, only that it was a brand which always refreshed me whenever I was hot or exhausted.
On the third day, now arch-companions, we conversed longer than ever, about Nietzsche, Fritzof Capra, of course, Che Guevarra. Linear time edged perilously onwards, several minutes past the twenty-five minute safety mark which would just-about guarantee his returning to the factory on time.
I asked him what would happen if he got back late.
"I'm a Section Chief, in charge of Line A. Therefore, for me to get back late would be particularly serious. The rules say my wages would be docked by twenty rubles, my performance bonus would vanish altogether, and almost certainly I'd be demoted".
I said incredulously, "Doesn't it make you nervous cutting it so fine?"
Gibarian, "Nervousness is an old enemy of mine. I do what I can to bait him. You see, Dr Kelvin, I have absolute faith in my own abilities".
I glanced and gave an angsty smirk at my watch, causing Gibarian to laugh. He smoothly flipped himself around and was away. All about solidarity, keen to see what all the magically-real characterisation was about, I ran along with him. Specks of creme-coloured mud played on my trousers as a miniature cosmos. A terrific speed was achieved, in between and in difference to our pounding heart-rates. The tunnels and junglescapes of urban green flicked past – you would have expected it to all blur together; in actuality, there were lucid snapshots which grew more and more vivid between blackout gasps. Zombie-wood fences made from child-scale two-by-four, the overhead iron pipes, ridiculously squat hedgerows against a sepiotone valley. We ran until we were thoroughly exhausted, my bad self riddled with crazy stitch radio. I sensed we were still far from the factory. Felt exhilarated, and this programme will not be signed for the deaf. Here are some subtitles. Your need for human solidarity will just have to die a little.
Our feet carried us as Hermes abstracted into two. We made it back at exactly One Fifty. Not turning around to congratulate me, Gibarian instead slipped inside the compound, raised his arms like Rocky, then disappeared within the vast roller-doors.
So myself, I walked around for a few hours, thinking of little, not bothering to remove the universe of mud from my trousers. Come the end of his shift, I was there again, a sort of ghost. The immigrants swept past me, embroiled in such animated conversations. Amazing, I thought, that after twelve hours of grey walls and monotony, they still have such excitement in them. The Moorlocks and the Eloi, and time-travellers, howl your distinctions at the moon. Gibarian and I followed them alongside the high metal fence. We spoke conspiratorially, as if we were their hunters. It was a night of vivid moonlight, in which I slyly examined my friend's profile for signs of tiredness. Yes, he was slightly hypnogogic, but this was surely a good thing.
I told him I wanted to write a book about him, and all he represented.
He asked me why, saying, "People either hate communists, or they think we're a joke".
I gestured at the factories behind the high fences; moonlit, mysterious, reassuringly oppressive. "Planet Earth is changing. Pretty soon, owing to the decadence sweeping across all social classes, industry will be relegated to the orient – before being swallowed up completely in overpopulated riots. All hell will break loose and civilisation will collapse. If humanity survives at all, I want it to have a record of how there were a few good men left".
surprised me by saying, "Is that the real reason you want to write it?"
I asked, "You don't think that's honourable enough?"
G., "I have my doubts about honour, and the myth that humility is a form of altruism. Having said that, I will gladly help you write your book, on one condition".
"Go", said I.
"You write it not as an exegesis to some everyman intellectual, but as a report to the Gods".
I identified the body, which was wholly unbloodied and still carrying something of his boyish resolve. On his side as he was, he seemed to be conceding some funny philosophical nit-pick to the grey gravel. As it funnelled into the town centre, the network of tracks arched steadily together in decadent semi-circles. Trains were still running on the other line; they seemed to be coming very near to us. And away from the town, such a broad landscape, such beautiful fields and aqueduct-style bridges, never offering any shade or a place to sleep - wholly beautiful nonetheless. Built for summer days, you might say, the meditation of creme stone and the god's-eye-mescaline contrast of burning sun, impenetrable shadow, super-dense ground. Don't forget about the humans, however. No cops actually look like Commissioner Gordon. A few look like Chief O'Hara. More look like Chief Wiggum. Asked me if this was definitely Gibarian. I understood about their painstaking thoroughness. I cheerfully fell in with it.
"Your friend was a very disturbed man", said the lead cop.
"People are allowed to become disturbed", I countered.
The cop nodded. "O.K. I'm just trying to prepare you. It seems Mr Gibarian left you a letter. Would you like to read it now?"
No, I wouldn't. Once the police had finished with me, I retired to a vaguely cosmopolitan café where I could read the letter in anonymity. The two girls who worked there, seven-tenths attractiveness apiece, smiled breezily, clearly assuming it to be a love letter. Certainly I could feel my brow sweeping downwards and my eyes buzzing with intensity.
This is Gibarian's letter, verbatim.
Our friend was a very disturbed man. I'm just trying to prepare you.
If you are reading this, it means that I am wrong. Even then, there is still something going on here. I've left you the evidence beneath the old fusebox on the riverbank where we first met. But finish reading this first, my friend. It'll make your head spin. He smiles like a man in an upturned boat, in the little pocket of air, and this, at least, is the Real World.
As you know, I started work in the factories when I was sixteen. Ever since then, I have wondered, what is this crippling humility I live by, this eerie, grateful servility? There are a number of possible explanations, yet none of them quite get to the big picture. Firstly, the most obvious explanation would be that I love my work. I do not; I hate every second of it. I hate it when we're run off our feet with some big international order, I hate it also when we barely have enough jobs to keep in business. Footnote: do I feel pride that at least our work is work, and carries some tangible, physical benefit for the world? Not pride, maybe just a variety of hypnogogic satisfaction. Successive theories: do I do it in honour of my father, who was the hardest-working bluecollar you can imagine? No. To do so would be a fool's errand. This is a different world than the one my father lived on. People recognised the need for their lives to become interchangeable with industry. Their souls were polarised between hard work and an unspoken belief in just - the transcendence of hard work, or God, or idiosyncrasy. It was the raw logic of survival of the fittest, happily coincidental with the flowering of God's inner life. Call it what you like. People of my Father's calibre did not have 'ambitions' or 'dreams', and going to university, for anyone other than a heart surgeon, would be the equivalent in arrogance of trying to sell a toddler's fridge-magneted drawing to the Lourve'.
I set the letter aside for a moment and stared intently at the two waitresses. They were having some kind of drama. One of them held her knuckles to her mouth in abject fear. The other was speaking in a hurried, 'don't alarm the passengers' tone. About what was going on, I could care less.
'Kris, I feel I have betrayed you, in that, through all the hours of interviews, I have kept from you the most telling, salacious details of my life. My neuroses are so weird and otherworldly – even now I'm laughing about how melodramatic they are. But it's really no laughing matter, sir. The fact is, I was a prisoner. Literally, a prisoner. Each morning and each night, I would catch my bus home, and it would be every kind of hell – simply because the thing was always crowded with students. Truly Kris, this is the worst generation the world has seen. The audacity of their arrogance and their thoughtlessness marks them out as the Plague of Locusts at The End of the World. Their musak would be blaring. That strange, curious musak, which to anyone sane -anyone with even a trace of aesthetic sanity- sounds like – a joke from hell, directed at all human consciousness. And I understand about subjectivity. Don't you see? It's hell and entropy trying to gain dominion of Earth using my tolerance of subjectivity as a perverse sacrament.
Frequently, one of my workers or a regular civilian would ask the students to be quiet. The students reactions ranged from, 'I'll do anything anybody asks me, as long as they ask nicely', or 'We have every right to listen to our music'. And because their sensibilities are not properly defined yet, the other passengers allowed it to continue. But I felt my mind start to go. I felt it being seared away. I started to sleepwalk, and would wake to find myself standing before the bathroom mirror – silently screaming with rage, my pupils dilated like I don't know what.
There was only one possible way for life to continue. I couldn't walk the ten miles to and from work; I was unwilling to utilise one of those capitalist slime-wagons, otherwise known as taxis. Yet I knew that if I sat and listened to the students for a second longer, I wouldn't be able to control myself. I would automatically rise, walk to the loudest one, press the base of my palm between his nose and cheek, seize the opposite side of his skull – then, with the controlled, kinetic jolt of opening a jam jar, break his neck. God knows –believe me, God with his infinite balancing of psychic acceptance and the implicate order, He knows—it would not have been an angry catharsis. It would simply have been an expression of sanity over vacuum-worshipping insanity.
Regardless, I found a way to survive it. I acquired a pair of handcuffs from an army surplus shop. Immediately on taking my seat on the bus, I'd lock myself to the rails of the seat in front, and with my free hand, hide the connection beneath my jacket so that no one would see. All of this, of course, relied on Bernd Eichinger, a young immigrant boy from the factory who was a loyal subordinate of mine. I'd prearranged it so that he'd take the key from me as soon as I'd secured myself, thereafter with Ulysses-style instructions not to give it back until the bus arrived at my stop. He was a good boy, not in the least stupid, just profoundly respectful of his superiors – and for this reason, he never once watched me as I locked or unlocked the cuffs, never once asked the nature of what was going on. What would I have told him, if he had? Here is a God, full of hate, an apocalyptic God getting to know Himself and everything He's about to redefine.
As ever, they emitted the noise of Hell, also barking out drunk-without-alcohol anecdotes about the unthinking desecration of every concept I love. To start with, it was spasmodic; you would have laughed, Kris, at the melodrama. You can still laugh if you want. My pride has an inconceivable threshold.
It was like some unfeasibly dark comedy sketch. Chris Morris. Frankie Boyle. And in the initial stages, I'd find my hand automatically trying to free itself, almost of its own volition. My jaw would ache from where I was gritting my teeth. But eventually, these things passed. I found myself entering a form of meditation. Not transcendental. I hate Buddhism, as you know. This was something which got to the heart of substance and tangibility, a place no human has ever been before.
My god, the feelings I had. At first it seemed I had become hatred, the very essence of hatred, and I was alive inside the soul of all humans. Then lightning flashes, a dive; U-boat survivors in a towering Atlantic maelstrom. Here at once was innocence. It's true; you feared having to fight the seeming omnipotence of entropy incarnate, AKA human arrogance, because you thought, like Medusa with her stare, it would render your innocence as stone. But hatred and innocence are simply expressions of the same power. The power to create a new world, entirely free from subjugation.
I never understood how eerily conspicuous it was that I'd spent my life giving our decadent, arrogant, anti-utilitarian society the benefit of the doubt. Why had I done it? I always thought of it as a grand mystery waiting to be solved. It never occurred to me that there was no reason. I exist to change things, and for the very first time.
The bus became blissfully silent, because I willed it.
In my hand, I felt something; it had materialised from nowhere. A key for the handcuffs.
Kris, I believe that I am Solipsism. I believe that I am God'.
Once again, I let Gibarian's letter fall to the table. He was right; he warned me in the very first paragraph that it would make my head spin. Indeed it did. And so, in much the way you get joyously distracted by a glimpse of some insipid TV show, I allowed myself to follow the drama of the waitresses. I assumed that one of them had just received a bereavement; she hurriedly slipped on her coat and ran from the shop. At around the same time, two –normally jovial- black men entered. With a kind of befuddled smile, one of them was saying something like, '…they said on the news, it doesn't even need to make an impact to destroy us'. Towards which, I was quietly impressed, because it seemed to mirror the high-dramatic tone in Your Man's letter. Then the newcomers took their coffees and their buns to a far table, and I was drawn back to the letter.
After all, no matter how insane, Gibarian was my friend, and I loved him.
'My life reached a threshold where, as soon I stepped off the bus and inside my front door, all I would do was meditate. Hardly any sleep or physical sustenance was called for. And increasingly I was put in mind of the stories of all those Yogis who were able to conjure small slivers of gold and rose petals, entirely from thin air. Sai Baba, Paramahansa Yogananda, plus one or two Victorian spiritualists such as Edward W. Graves and Madame Stephanita DeBelat. It was like child's play for me to have small objects materialise inside my closed fist. The second thing which came to me? I confess that I was trying to bring forth gold. What actually materialised was a lady's hair clip. The third thing? A plastic dinosaur. The fourth? A pencil torch, with an expired bulb. Number five: another pencil torch, but of a different design, though still with an exhausted bulb.
'Ha! Dr Kris Kelvin, I know how you will pounce on these objects, and savour them for their psychological significance. The hair clip, pathetically simple to understand in a Freudian context; something to do with the inadequate parenting of a too-girlish mother. The plastic dinosaur: an allusion to the way my communist ideology was both extinct and subverted into mass-produced capitalist nick-nacks. And, of course, the two torches represented my attempts to illuminate the furthest corners of reality, AKA my own mind, both before and after the revelation that I am God.
'Ah, but the fact that they had fused bulbs? This was the most significant factor of all. It shows that the time for pandering to my subconscious was over. I am God, and I do not need a friendly little psychiatrist snuggled away at the root of my mind, flipping out harsh little truisms and insights in the style of some solemn riverboat croupier dealing his cards. Humanity, you can conceive of sensitivity on an entirely conscious level. You can lead sane, utilitarian lives, I know you can. And in the unlikely event you feel stifled by life –embrace death. Death vanishes when your self-belief reaches a certain threshold, and as The Solipsist, I have ensured this will be so. The subconscious is merely a palette, into which you delegate your creativity, and from there to become manifest in the physical world. Yet I know you've heard all this before, through Carlos Casteneda, Alvin Swartz, Alan Moore. What makes this time different is that I'm going to illustrate things in such a way that no one can ignore.
'It was with this dapper revelation that I sat down at 3 AM, with some dry toast, before the television.
December 30, 2006. I tuned to a rolling news channel, and the very first thing I saw was the footage of Saddam Hussien being led to his execution. My mouth trembled and I wept. It's entirely possible that if I'd seen any other human being in pain, be they real or fictional, I'd have felt the same way.
'But let's not beat around the bush. Saddam Hussien was the perfect example of the wretchedness of the human condition, and never has the Western World been better exposed as the heart of hypocrisy. He was a power-hungry dictator who cared only about elevating his family members to the highest positions of authority. Meanwhile, civilisation is quite happy to allow itself to be polarised into those who work as slaves, 'just because', and those who feel they have the right to work only as administrators or academics, 'just because'. No one has any conception of humility. Saddam Hussien coveted his gold toilets and his gaudy, Frank Frazetta-style paintings. Meanwhile, Western World, how are you finding your new I-pad, your new sixty inch television, which you bought with the wages from your non-utilitarian, recession-invoking job?
'Kris, I think your mouth is cracked open, and you're desperate to remind me that Saddam Hussien was a masochistic torturer. I don't dispute this. But his evil was a sophisticated psychological inversion. The basic human prerequisites are to eat, sleep, have sex, worry about death. They are such shallow creatures. Between the poles of these prerequisites and any meaningful expression of love or hate, creativity or satisfaction – there is nothing, and the nothingness is surely the space of their lives. Who has the right to criticise someone else's harsh psychological subroutines? Peoples lives do not resemble profound Ingmar Bergman films. This is why they go mad, have nervous breakdowns, etc.
'I watched him as, with one breath, he sarcastically repeated the mocking of the rubber-neckers, then in another, prayed earnestly to his god. Of course he was not a delicate or pathos-evocative man. But something about his death moved me. And I've made my decision. No more. No one else should have to die in this fearful clamour. As they say, 'Not on my watch'. I've seen the patterns of eternity, the distant magnetic swirls and quantum blueprints made by my belief. I am God, and with this revelation, the terrible pressure felt by all mortals will vanish. Because I am about to become immortal, and free you all.
'If you are reading this, it means that I am wrong, or perhaps I miraculously survived the fall? But I don't think so. Let these words be an epitaph for the Human Race. Goodbye Kris. Forgive the melodrama'.
Down went the letter, and I felt a funny sort of dispassion. One of the last communists outside of China and Cuba, and this was what happened to him. Through no fault of his own - madness. It seemed strange, less about an individual man and more about a pragmatic, dialectical discourse which, down through the ages, had acquired a mind, human emotions, human zeal. Also, it was much the same vibe as the final season of 'Prison Break', and after a few episodes, it no longer matters that the plot is ridiculously contrived, just because it's so feverishly involved. If only it was an audio-descriptive transcript, read by Mark E. Smith, it would be hailed as the greatest piece of underground art the world had ever seen, and all you'd care about is the satisfying drama. I came to wonder, is this what I'm like? Is this what we're all like?
The remaining waitress had clearly been waiting for me to finish my brood-athon letter so she could speak to me.
"Sir? We've just got permission from the owners to close early today, owing to the news about Planet Solaris".
I dimly heard what she said. If you are reading this, I am wrong. Or, if I am thinking or feeling anythingat all, you are wrong. Panoramic cloud-scapes versus an oil painting of panoramic cloud-scapes. Choose the latter, as you'll have to get used to the tiny brushstrokes sooner or later. I looked up, no doubt a little beleaguered. Tried hard to comprehend what the girl was saying. All human, us.
"I know Solaris", I said. "The rogue planet they found at the edge of the solar system".
"It's been across all the news stations. It's accelerating", said the waitress.
I was belligerent. "I'm sorry, and?"
"They thought it would take thousands of years to reach us, and even then it would miss the Earth by, you know, hundreds of light years. But it's changed. It's coming faster and faster. And it's heading straight for us".
You know what? I absorbed the apocalyptic newsflash in a heartbeat.
"Everything will be fine", I reassured her. "The universe doesn't act that abruptly. It just doesn't".
Actually, she seemed faintly heartened. Telling people beguiling lies is very satisfying.
Everything was broad and unobscured. Enter sunset-like-a-sunrise, the moon a shocker in your upper peripheral, all things inward of the horizon seven-tenths a silhouette, three-tenths a lucid snapshot. Life was easy. I was now just a few hours away from meeting Hari.
I returned to the rail bridge and poured a 60cl bottle of vodka over the edge, down onto the approximate spot where Gibarian had faded out. It seemed strange to be doing this. I could never stand vodka myself, though I knew it was his favourite. In the end, I also poured half of my whisky down there. That way, I thought exhaustedly, he'll at least know it's me.
I walked the two miles to the riverbank where we'd first met. En route, the clearness of the sunset changed. Super-low air-pressure let in gnawing gusts of wind, which harangued me, also gave my joints a therapeutic embrace. I remember the sound of straggler blackbirds and thrushes as they retired for the night. I once read somewhere that the increase in birdsong around sunset, in terms of evolution, denoted the birds reporting which trees it was safe to nest in. If so, I now thought, the theory of evolution is once again proved ridiculously obvious and ridiculously inadequate. The happy, inhuman chirps were being emitted all around me. There wasn't a single tree which wasn't alive with that wonderful, halting sound. A void, dense and meditative, slowly becoming like death.
Perhaps I've said, the bank which led down to the riverbank was steep. I took it recklessly. At the bottom, I moved directly to the cacky auld fusebox and retrieved the items which had been so fiercely hyped by Gibarian. Sure enough, there was the plastic dinosaur (a plesiosaur!), a hair clip and two broken torches. I placed them in my jacket, thinking very little, except to wonder if they'd truly been conjured from thin air. And Gibarian, you should probably have left the pie-in-the-sky scheming to Cosmo Kramer.
Heading back along the disused rail track, it was almost pitch black, yet I was somewhat at peace. Occasionally, the path would go high, and I'd be afforded an oblique look at the back of someone's house. Glimpsing through their windows, I'd see something like an old man sitting gangster-like, staring solemnly at the computer simulations of Solaris destroying Earth. There in the darkness I shrugged carelessly, simultaneously feeling mesmerised by excitement. The tree branches above were simply a strangled nebula, a black-grey canopy as itchy as you like.
This was barely a few hours since the news had surfaced and already there were signs of the societal breakdown. Or perhaps it was just business as usual. At a certain point, the lonely walkway entered a rise before diverging into three further paths. Climbing, I saw the jerky, affected-cool movements of a yob as he staggered backwards in laughter. I frowned and tried to think of nothing. I got nearer. Just audible: a number of other yobs laughing wildly, obviously at something small and vile; it was only then that I acquired a heavy fist and held it ready in my sleeve, the trajectory between my knuckles and some white T-shirt nightmare's teeth - no human calculations necessary.
Among them now. "Better get home, mate. It's not long now till we all go bang".
"Shame", I said, careful not to walk any faster. "I'm sure you were looking forward to getting a job some day".
His gang laughed, on our side? On our side because of our audacity? Our audacity will soon incinerate the skin from their bones.
The lead yob was irate. "What? You better come back here and say that".
"You heard what I said, you dross".
And maybe it was something in my shoulders which warned them to hang back.
"If you've got something to say, say it to my face" – a machine for relaying clichés and psychology-defying crassness.
"No. Take responsibility for yourself, for the first time in your nothingy little life".
Paces away now, part of me willed them to beset my bones, or knife me. Come on, either you're a proper nothing-yob or you're not. Paces, then feet, then yards, and they seemed to understand the delicate, bourgeois dynamic which allowed them to exist. They must shout their nothing conversations at the time when you most need peace, so that you despise them with every iota of your personality. They and their bourgeois, giggly-girl and yuppie counterparts must be omnipresent in every town and city, but forever be a mystical hairs-breadth away from the attention of any status quo politicians, who would finally have to act. It was all so delicate. I saw the delicacy. I saw the atoms and the quantum flashes, and they were nothing to me.
After all, children have the right to relax and be educated, and have all the opportunities in the world open to them And, no, it's got nothing to do with their being a unit of political currency for every vicarious, sans-personality couple the world over. That's just a weird coincidence.
"Oi, mate, you better -".
My heart-rate slowed to an odd, careless, nigh-sleeping whisper. Either fight them or don't.
"Come on, then!", I all-but spelled it out phonetically. I turned around and waited. They laughed nervously.
"Yeah", I said engagingly, as if responding to some heart-rending wisdom. "What a weird, strangulated situation. You should hear how my little heart is beating away, and I'm so angry, how will I ever get to sleep tonight, laying awake and thinking about how much I hate you? Or is my heart beating at all? Maybe I'm a ninja, and I'm already planning how I'm going to break your neck -"
I pointed at the white T-shirted leader, the one with the evil and uncomprehending face, and no one has time to muse the contradiction in terms.
"—kick your teeth in-"
I pointed to the one with the particularly young and animated face.
"—break your ribs".
The one with the doomed, squashed-up eyes.
"But actually, Solaris is going to fall from the sky, and you're all going to cling to each other's thin, pathetic little bodies, and all you'll feel is - hollowness".
I walked on, to much murmuring, no more shouts. Searched the sky for Solaris. Not long now.
When I was a child, about fourteen or fifteen, I rolled over in my sleep, in such a way that my numb right arm fell across my torso. It felt like it belonged to someone else. I awoke at once and shouted the house down. My mother and father came rushing in, and, embarrassed, I told them I was fine. 'Are you sure you're O.K?', asked my mother.
This was around three AM, and something prevented me from getting back to sleep after that. It wasn't adrenaline or fear. I carefully analysed it and was dimly aware of some kind of disappointment. I was a weirded-out kid, and viva to that. Back home. Once more we'll robbing a jewellery store, they'll be saying our names, but we'll be blazing over the bar, for the folks back home.
I slept; my mind, apparently, was an infinitely-spread clockwork. England! I was a psychological Atlas, simultaneously with the feeling of drifting far and near. Spontaneously I found myself in the arms of a beautiful girl –the way they always seem faintly radioactive, have you noticed that?- and for a few seconds I enjoyed it. How could I not? Then I sprang out of sheets. The beautiful girl did likewise.
We stared at each other from opposite sides of the bed, shock-and-awe incarnate. Except this was never a shock-and-awe kind of party.
Hari, basic physical description: she is inside thirty years old, slim, with red hair. Inclination of neck, spine and shoulders set to denote an infinitely-ahead-of-the-game intellectual on the eve of a too-easy war. For a long time I wondered if the essence of her beauty resided in the shape of her forehead, her eyebrows. Her brow is completely smooth, yet achieves the same fierce omniscience as Samuel Beckett with all his crags. By proportion, Samuel Beckett slapping his palm on the keyboard and somehow coming up with, 'The Unnameable'. This theory is not altogether borne out, however, as I recently covered her eyebrows with my palm, beheld her naked eyes and just saw – call it sated love. Implicate personality, as love. And in turn, I begin to love myself, and how do you like that, Magically Real Satan?
But that was after a few days-like-lifetimes. Imagine being confronted by such a wild philosophical discourse, from nowhere, in the middle of the night.
"Hari?", the name came to me from some deeper realm.
She said tentatively, "Kris?"
"How do you know my name?", I said, very awake indeed.
"How do you know mine?", she said pointedly.
When I didn't reply, she shook her head in wonder. "This is a hell of a vivid dream".
"Yes it is", I said flatly.
We embraced; I extracted a kiss of some passion. She blinked, and was not far from going cross-eyed; the sinews in her spine gave an impression of pulling away slightly, which of course she wasn't.
She asked, "How long do you suppose we have until I wake?"
The question had a sobering effect on me. She wore an extremely tight, band-I'd-never-heard-of T-shirt, stopping far short of her navel. Beneath that, some equally tight briefs which followed exactly the contours of her pelvis, encroaching not a millimetre onto her perfect, narrow legs.
"Put my dressing gown on", I commanded her. "Dreams are sacred. To use them just for sex is to dishonour both the dreams and the sex".
"What a principled thing to say", she once again shook her head in wonder. "I love you so much, Kris".
We waited for the dream to end. I sensed the hunted scowl sitting across my jaw. We waited for the dream to tail off, but it didn't. I clasped my fists together, reverberated them on my skull. Eyes screwed shut, I did it more and more violently.
"Kris!", she seized my wrists and held them clear. "You're going to hurt yourself".
I remember the anguish in my voice, "This is a dream!"
I stared into her fragile, imperious eyes, wounded to the bone. "I don't have time for these tantalising little glimpses. I need permanence".
We waited for the dream to end. It did not. There was nothing to do but stare at each other.
"Are you god?", she asked.
I thought of Gibarian. "No. Why would you ask me that?"
"In the league table of handsome men, all the most handsome men who could ever exist, you have the most conspicuous, knowing face bar none".
"Exactly the same is true of you", I said matter-of-factly. "You're so beautiful, and visceral, and lucid, it's like being on the bottom of an ocean of goosebumps".
"How is it I know your name? 'Kris Kelvin', it just pops into my head like a piece of implicate knowledge, a millenium-old evolutionary reflex, the way a baby bird knows how to fly".
" 'Hari Sarabande' ", I reflected.
"Yet I don't know anything else about you. Do you know anything about me?"
I shook my head regretfully.
She said, "But we belong together. Do you feel that too?"
I frowned mightily. I didn't want to tell her, 'I never felt I belonged anywhere', for fear of sounding melodramatic. But sooner or later we must all climb inside the melodrama or else end up dead at the bottom of a rail bridge. Staring at her, maybe for minutes, or hours, I was completely overawed. She was so beautiful, I didn't know what to think; from her neatly-dilated eyes, I could see she was similarly effected.
"Do you know where you are?", I asked in a grave kind of rumble.
"Arkhangelsk", she affirmed.
Everything was so dynamic and lucid, physically. It seemed faintly childish to try and rat out the psychic aspects. Certainly dishonourable. As for placing any kind of doubt in her, I felt like the ultimate masochist, the ultimate sinner. But it had to be done. Was she merely soaking up ideas from my own mind, albeit with unprecedented lucidity?
I moved to my bookcase and picked out a novel which I hadn't read yet, all the while with my eyes fixed longingly upon hers. "I do remember something, Hari. You once read this book to me, out loud. Do you remember that day?"
"I remember that book", she smiled, almost as if she'd rumbled my game. Her knuckles glided silkily at her throat, more than a little sexy.
"The main character -", I pulled a name from thin air, but made sure I believed in it totally, "—Stanislaw; you said he reminded you of your father".
"I don't remember that", she said resolutely. "But I do remember page one-one-six".
She laughed and I did not understand. Dutifully, I opened the little paperback to one-one-six; the first line was carried over from the previous page '—related dreams I am well-to-do'. Scanning through the page, I saw nothing particularly striking. The book was 'Valis' by Philip K Dick. Admittedly, the page in question related to the protagonist's struggles with the nature of dreams and reality – but then, so did half the books on my bookcase. Admittedly, also, I was growing wary of the fact that I could frequently look away from the page, look back, and still see the same paragraphs. This never happened, even in the most advanced lucid dreams: it was beyond the mind's processing capabilities.
" 'Who am I' ", I read. " 'How many people am I? Where am I?'".
"Not that", said Hari. She plucked the book from my hands and ran a finger down the left-hand side of the page, the beginning of each line. She settled on the 'h' of '—here I live with my TV', then traced to the first letters of each consecutive line below. I was dazzled to see a vertical message, 'hAri aNd kris foreveR'.
"What's happening?", I gasped.
Hari closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. "I could tell you what's happening, but I'm not sure I could tell you - what's happening".
The morning came and I staggered from the bed. It seemed as though Hari woke at exactly the same moment, or perhaps we hadn't really slept at all, just drifted. As she drew keenly to her knees, I regarded the deeply-shaded tones of her taut flesh, thought to myself, 'in a thousand years, if I could ever get enough of you, I'd like to know how'. My pupils were constantly dilated; I could feel them gaping like some tiny section of exposed flesh in a winter wrap. She stretched her arms upwards; the white shirt almost fell from her. A crisp, white shirt on a conspicuously beautiful girl. What a cliché. I cared not.
She said, "I love it – the feeling of sweat reabsorbed into the skin of my back, on a warm summer morning. Hardly anything more carnal".
We stared into each other's eyes, par for the course.
"Are you actually trying to make my heart explode?"
And it's strange, the way that, after a lifetime of being a prick, outer-reality finally agrees to go out of its way to help you, but still you develop some form of ennui. It's the End of the World. I'm being interviewed on the Daily Show, talking in the eerie tones of a politician who's far too steely. Jon Stewart, all his grey hairs gone, is doing that thing. That thing where he's so casual it's all-but abstract. He doesn't ask for an example of the ennui because he knows there's surely one on the way.
Here's the thing, Jon. I looked at her and my heart and soul flipped in wild, ghostly-orgasmic somersaults. I'd known a feeling of profound intimacy with women before, but not like this. It was intimacy sated. And so – how could we carry on living in a linear timeline? I was haunted by the thought of our future selves, their minds. Even just a few moments away, we seemed like shining, unknowable, omni-artistic gods. I just couldn't grasp how this kind of capricious bliss could reinvent itself from second to second. Sorrow, in a way, had been easier, because all we had to do was shut down certain sections of our consciousness, or commit suicide. This new ennui was weird. This was the weirdest thing. I loved it. It made me awed, eerie, nervous.
'I guess what's happened here', Jon jabs at the shining table top with his fountain pen, 'you've found your Christmas presents too early, and now there's a whole Schrodinger's Cat thing going on inside the wrapping'.
'Well, this happens to a lot of Republicans, Jon' (I don't know anything American politics).
He holds up my austere, primary-coloured hardback and shouts to the audience, ' 'Hari and Kris forever!', published by Solaris Books, it's in the shops now! We'll see you tomorrow night at ten. Here it is, folks, your moment of Zen!'
We showered, and dried ourselves, and I carried her between the rooms in the style of a bridegroom or superhero. Presently, she sauntered around the edges, flashing her eyes between me and the houseware at joyously controlled intervals. One of the objects on my glass coffee table made her gasp.
"Kris, this is my hair clip. Where did you find it?"
I almost smiled. "It materialised from thin air, into the grasp of a crazy man, while he was meditating".
She gifted me a sardonic smile and shook her head in wonder. "Was he really crazy?"
"Up until last night, I'd have said, 'as krazy as they kome'".
She asked me his name and I said sadly, "Gibarian. He was my closest friend".
"What type of krazy?"
"He was a communist. The last communist for thousands and thousands of miles. And he was so isolated, his persecution complex became so profound, he felt it was far too conspicuous. He thought he was God Himself".
Hari smiled at me very softly. The reactor hums. Our submarine jolts and surges forward; the heavily-streaked sea, no kind of metaphor, the sky and the careless world above, no kind of metaphor. Her complicit smile already clipped for the scrapbook. "I was a communist, too, where I came from. The last for thousands and thousands of miles. And the ingratitude made all the moving parts of my soul flicker and shut down, and each and every day I just drifted. Over the black undersea lagoon of craziness".
"Nice", I said, reference the zeitgeist imagery. "And what kept you from sinking?"
"I was a frustrated novelist. Too good by half to be published in my lifetime. It was a kind of focusing tool".
I reeled at this. I imagined reading one of her novels, and how it would probably be like living a whole other life. "What themes did you write about?"
"Lots of things, but mostly about the way that I've got no right to complain. Absolute, idiosyncratic definition of your personality will automatically lead to the destruction of your enemies and the old ways. I'm simply not defined enough. It's an idea, tantamount to a religion, I suppose, I don't think many people would understand. What do you think?"
She stood nimbly at the broad window, enjoying the sharp sunlight. Inviting, the white gloss paint of the sill, and she climbed up on it using her knees. It was slightly too narrow and so I supported her, sandwiched her against the thick double-glazing. From somewhere, the faint sound of a car alarm going off, a yob yelling in meaningless anguish. On the horizon, an ominous column of smoke.
"You are idiosyncratically defined", I promised her. "I know lots of lovers probably think that about each other, but I just want to put my money where my mouth is and prove it. I feel like going out and buying the most luxurious oil paints and just – marvelling in you, moving inside the resistance of your skin-and-bones, the form, the shade, and all of it un-repeatable in the weirdest gulfs of eternity".
She held her arm low and traced the centre of my ribs; I liked that very much.
"I've forgotten Kris. How could I forget? You're an artist", she said.
"I've never picked up a paintbrush in my life", I smiled.
"A writer, then. Like me".
"Not like you", I said, wincing. "I wrote tenuously-cross-referenced psychological biographies. No room for creativity. But now? With you? I feel like Dali, with his very own Gala".
Hari faltered. " 'Dali'? Who is that?"
"Salvador Dali: Spanish weirdo, visionary, zeal-baiting intellectual, 1904 - 1989".
Unapologetically, she stared into my eyes and smiled. "I'm intrigued".
We moved to my bookcase and I withdrew a swish little Tacshen hardback of Dali masterworks. Hari, at once, was engrossed. With the book spread open in her hand, she paced backwards into my arms and I in turn paced backwards to the sofa. We fell into the cushions with a childish jolt. "I wish there was a beanbag".
She perused the Dali book for at least an hour, gasping and giving me a commentary on the things which she found particularly awesome. I suppose this might be how anyone who'd never seen a Dali painting before would react. But I don't think so. Her mouth pulsed in a little crack, her eyes flickered with godly-fascination; frequently, she turned around to check whether I felt it too.
"Was he insane?"
I thought about this carefully. "The consensus these days is no. I think people automatically mistake creativity and artistic devotion for madness, because we're generally such a broad, uncreative society. Hari, do you know who Harry Potter, Tracy Emin or Simon Callow are?"
"I do not", she said brightly.
I said darkly, "Never find out".
She pulled my arms around her and then flipped back a few pages. 'The Architectonic Angelus of Millet'. "I like the desert-scapes the best. They're so clear and lucid, yet so beautifully inhuman. Striking, bold. I've always known implicitly: the End of the World will not be psychedelic. It will be the most clearly-defined and requisite thing we've ever known".
'The End of the World', I thought glumly.
"Hari, since this revelation season, I've got one more to tell you about, and it's a hell of a monster. But first we should get some food inside us. There's a gas station in town where I usually eat. I'm assuming it's open. Go to my closet and pick out some clothes".
She got up, trailing her fingers across my body, then keeping them inclined towards me as she left the room, just like a Raphealite nymph. I hurriedly got up, withdrew the little metal box which contained the photos and love letters belonging to the era of that nightmare Mary Viveash. All about stealth, I took them to the kitchenette, hurriedly doused them in kettle descaler and burnt them in the sink, making a point to open the window to rid us of the smell.
Mary Viveash, in my arms, smiled broadly, so feverishly alive. She burned quickly. Ah, poor, mortal Mary.
Hari appeared behind me and stared, shocked, quite fearless. "Kris, I remember where I come from".
Ignoring the specks of ash in the sink, she leant against the draining board and arched her spine to stare at the narrow strip of open sky above next door's roof. For a second I couldn't understand what there could possibly be to see. Then I drew a bead along her finger, beheld the small speck of luminous blue so high in the atmosphere. The one that was causing all the trouble / bliss / revolution.
Hari wielded the section of metal racking, appreciated the weight, then smoothly smashed the fancy little computer to her left. Bracing herself on the crappy terracotta window sill, she swung upwards and kicked the right-hand computer ten feet through the air. Bouncing at her waist was the 4 litre super-soaker filled with petrol – I wondered at her restraint in using it; myself I barely contained the glee at picking out the most flammable targets, plus all the obnoxious posters of yokel students and their housewife-faced lecturers. I slashed partitions, broke the glass in doors, used the petrol to spell out 'For Gibarian' in the centre of the floor. It was a largely circular room, with an oval configuration of desks. No doubt: teacher sauntering ostentatiously in the centre like some quasi-irreverent Roman senator, and sorry, Alan, we're about to set your whole little world on fire. Consolation? Extenuating circumstances? You believe society needs you and, weirdly -get your head around this—you're as necessary as a secret maggot-breeding unit in a pie factory.
'Factory'? What's that?
While dousing the whiteboard, the petrol fumes started to make me well-and-truly high. I grinned evilly and without guile at the yuppie jargon I was about to enflame. Headings such as 'Management skills for third-party delegation', 'Consolidating of international sourcing spreadsheets', 'Optimum webcam settings for protracted conference calls'. And the teenagers they taught this to, a hundred years ago, 75 years ago, 50, would have been wearing cloth smocks, drinking cider, and entirely grateful even to get a job on a dust cart. Burn them all, I thought.
Hari had activated her webcam and was uploading the footage onto a well-known clips site.
"Nebulous moral edicts go home", she said. "The universe is a single giant eye of profound and delicate morality. This place, I'm sorry to say, is an aberration, a doomed capitalist flea-pit, and you're lucky we're only destroying it rather than directly punishing those involved, which is to say, decapitating them and drop-kicking their zombie-groaning heads into the sea. O.K? O.K".
At some point she'd grown weary of smashing things and, very innovatively, had started to circle the tables, seizing network cables in her hand so that whole ranks of computer monitors made cacophonous drops to the ground. Our orbits came very close together. Naturally, absent-mindedly and flamenco-style, we seized each other and kissed passionately. Almost as a reflex, I ran my hand along her waist and raised her thigh around my midriff. We kissed for some time.
"Soon", I explained to the viewers at home, "we'll be like Che Guevarra and lead you to a better tomorrow. But for now? World, we are the Sex Pistols and you are Bill Grundy".
I spat onto the lens. Hari followed suit but missed slightly; I pulled her into our escape run, but she laughingly slipped out of my arms and stood before the webcam, spat again, hit the spot perfectly.
The floor below had a recording studio used for training anyone who left school and wanted to be radio producer – even though the nearest radio station was a hundred miles away and perpetually fully-staffed by locals. Still this place would be useful for something. We knew from the blueprints that the sound-proofed walls were made from explosive, super-flammable foam, which meant that if we ignited that, the whole block would surely be consumed.
I coolly examined the rack of CDs in the corner. "That makes it easier. It's a shame we can only destroy them once".
"Are they very rubbish, Kris?", asked Hari consolingly.
Time for critical action? I stopped the clock and leant back on the mixing desk. The chance to illustrate my musical hatred, in detail, was too tempting to pass up.
"O.K. Here's the thing. I hate Bob Dylan. He's got an annoying voice. But I'll concede to anyone, yes, he's done – three memorable songs. 'Times they are a-changin', 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', 'Like a Rolling Stone'. But what is this veneration that people have for him? His last single was stylistically and note-for-note an exact copy of the theme tune of 'The Wire'. And when you stand him up against McCartney, Bowie, The Fall, The Residents; these are artists who've brought out three dozen albums all with immaculate songs. They couldn't make a bad or mediocre song if they tried. By virtue of their existence, they make beautiful, memorable music. Yet everybody automatically loves Bob Dylan and barely gives any hype to say, Nick Cave, The Flaming Lips, or The Eels, or The Pixies. How can they be so shallow?
"And I'm not saying Dylan is as bad as the vocoderised shrillness that gets to number one nowadays, but he's a symptom of the same mindset. An unthinking dedication to whatever is handed to you on a bourgeois, over-hyped plate. And don't even get me started on that fat cow Van Morrison".
Hari was quiet for a long time. She was standing several feet away, barely blinking, smiling profoundly at my soul.
"I love you", she reflected.
I remember smiling back, quickly moving a hand to my face, blinking back a few spec-like tears.
"Do you even know who Bob Dylan is?"
"No", she laughed. "Except that he's the King of Pricks".
I then realised I was holding the one good CD from the whole rack; I slid it into the open-slot mixing desk and eased up the volume. The bass? The balance? Was a hell of a thing.
'You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you -'
We danced, just one or two sways, before making a very business-like, petrol-squirting retreat onto the balcony. It was harder to monkey back down the drainpipe than it was to go up. I felt it was conceivable that the thing might give way, but I knew it wouldn't. Plus I sensed her below, and it was as though every kind of gravity, bone-breaking concrete, -even the physical anxiety- were all my allies.
'You feel like heaven to touch, I wanna hold you so much-'
We collected our ruc-sacs, and kissed passionately, as is our wont. We turned –
'At long last love has arrived, I thank god I'm alive -'
-three policemen converged at speed and flicked out their collapsible batons. We hung back and there was really no time to ponder fight / flight / cosmic transcendence. Hari drew up her up weapon in a carefully-braced, firing-range pose. God, and we'd planned it so carefully. I'd made a decoy pay-phone call warning them there was a commotion at the other end of town, a crazy fat man with a concealed gun. I'd doubted we even needed to do that much, not with the amount of rioting going on everywhere else. But fate always conspires against you.
Hari, "Stay back, I've got a super-soaker".
"Unfortunately love", said the lead cop in his conceited drawl, "this is not the Sooty Show".
They all three of them advanced. We saturated them. They smelt the petrol and understood.
Letting my soaker fall slack on its strap, I brandished both my main and spare Zippos, flicked them on so that I had one in each hand. Hari did likewise.
"Move back, gentlemen. Mrs. Pink, escort them to edge of the car park".
Hari held the lighter in front of her like a crucifix before vampires. They shuffled backwards in trepidation. As they went, of course, they spoke about the whys and wherefores of why we should surrender.
"I know you think it's the end of the world, and there's no consequences", said a reasonable-looking cop. "But it's been across the TV all night long; NASA are converting a fleet of space-shuttles to fly up and set something off; they'll make some kind of repulsion wave, and we'll be saved. And you'll be spending decades in prison".
"We know about the Earth being 'saved' from Solaris", said Hari. "We do watch the news. Unfortunately, to simply carry on existing is not the same as being 'saved'".
A further cop said, "Whatever. You must know it's impossible for you to get away".
"Lads", announced Hari. "I stand here before you as an apotheoisis of the impossible. Now back off or blow up".
Sinews shaking with excitement, I threw my Zippo over-shoulder onto the College roof. I'd expected there to be a little period of calm while the more modest trails of petrol made their way to the mother-load. In actuality, there was almost no delay between the lighter touching down and an all-encompassing boom. It was mighty, that fire; seemingly alive and revelling in the uncontrollable swells. I ran towards Hari, just as a new set of cops arrived to back-up those which we'd compromised. Seconds One to Three: Hari deactivated her Zippo, but too quickly for the persecuted officers to see that it was now innocuous. She threw it towards their torsos and they limboed wildly. Except one of them, who recovered his hatred with lightning speed, swung a baton at our shoulders. Seconds Four-to-Six: we narrowly outraced the tentative baton-tip and ran across the deep-matte asphalt. It was neat little period. The scowling faces behind us recovered themselves just as the complacent ones in front pulsed in readiness, black-velvet trousers arching quickly from the cop-car doors. Never give them the time to assume a dynamic gait; we hitched the tips of our toes on the metal taper above the number plate. We moved boldly over the bonnet and then up onto the windshield. Seconds Seven-to-Nine: Hari stumbled a little as she cleared the bitterly-flashing roof-lights. In giving her time to recover, I awarded a furious flail-punch in the direction of a cop's herding-action palm. We leapt and landed satisfyingly on the asphalt on the other side of the boot. And away along the deserted road. Our lead, I knew at once, was good for just a fraction of a second. Seconds Ten-to-Twelve. But please don't think about the quantum-tenuous lead which we had over them. Don't ever imagine you think at the same speed as other people. I sensed the air-pressure of a clawing hand adapting itself to the outline of my shoulder, only to be left behind in an expanding gulf, somewhere out there in pansy-land. Hari seemed to be racing a few scant millimetres in front of me. Her body, initially, looked too enclosed; her limbs were stretching mightily, true, but not as mightily as they'd need to. Then I realised it didn't matter what they merely looked like, because we were giddy, capricious speed incarnate. Seconds Thirteen-to-Fifteen: my mistake was to allow a Zen-like bond with the race to engulf my mind. You always need to think. The Buddhists lied to you. Lack of conscious thought is simply death. An unusually forceful collision into the left-hand side of my spine brought me down. A spiteful little baton-blow to the right kept me that way. As I snaked forward, I was flipped over, while an energetic fist delivered an unbelievably visceral blow between my mouth, nose and cheek. Seconds Sixteen-to-Eighteen.
I saw Hari, still free, twist around in the air; not quite out of control -so I thought at first. In fact, she showed masterful control. Her legs went wide, then braced, then flew. The lovely Mrs Upper-cut; her fist caught my attacker cleanly on the upper palette of his mouth. Due to his lack of preparedness, it was hard not to think of it as a dirty punch. Except all's fair when you're the Gods' Anti-heroes. A further officer flanked around us, crab-style. Hari's kinky-boot caught him on the chin and it was as simple as that. I was up and running again. Our lead: respectable, slowly growing to insurmountable.
'I love you ba-a-bby, and if it's quite alright, I need you ba-a-bby, to warm my lonely nights—'
Up through the estate we sped, the tight formation of bourgeois-shanty blocks giving us excellent cover. The ambience was eerily subdued, and hardly improved once we reached the hilly fields. Just a half a mile across the farm bypass, then back into housing estate land, and we'd be home free. The only problem was the exposure between here and there. We paused at a badly-cut gate in the wire peripheral. Up flicked our eyes at the space of sky immediately above the horizon. We listened intently for any search helicopters. Perhaps it would have been prudent to listen longer, but I was too awed by our continuing freedom, while Hari was too furiously determined. I fell in with her. We kissed, for a long time; the roller-coaster dip in tempestuous sea. And then we bolted. Funny, how you can move for almost a mile around the edge of a city, and not see anyone. Yet the overpopulation of Earth as a whole has been dragging us down for so long. You must pay taxes, no matter how desolate or wildly independent your soul is. And down our street, barely a few flat-footed betting-shop ghosts, mummified pensioners driving their little cars, fickle kitty-kats hanging around, always hanging around. I remember staring at the sky, just before we surged through my front door. Though it was surely just my over-adrenalised, under-oxygenated eyes being dazzled by a skewered light-spectrum. I longed to stay outside in the invigorating air. Fly a kite. Fly a kite with Hari and forget about death.
Dreaming. Where the narrative was about half as sophisticated as I'm used to, it was unusually visceral in recompense. Thru the vast rectangular avenues running between multiple production lines, I searched desperately for Hari. Auld men, women and teenagers –no immigrants, so dating the whole thing between ten to fifteen years ago—all stood primly beside their simple workstations. Some of them were consciously smiling while still managing to concentrate on their work. Copper solenoids, rope-sealed hubs, miniature circuit boards. Those smiles seemed so gentle and of-the-moment, it made me worry about the nature of the dream. I was disconnected. What if there was no emotional purpose to it? What if Hari was not there? It made sense. She was always too good to be true.
I passed a large component locker fronted with mirrors. I noticed that I had no reflection. A young man with a fickle-but-not-unpleasant face strolled breezily past me, ignoring me in the way I've always expected and always wanted to be ignored. I tottered through dim gantries (why not run?), ending up in a vast corner of the warehouse which seemed – promising. This production line was barer than the others, with a stripped down yellow frame and non-mechanical rollers. Also it was just darker. I felt acute deja-vu as every little detail and reverie-provoking nook brought me a sense of familiarity. From outside, the god-knows-what light playing on the transparent, corrugated plastic. The small dot-matrix showing the net output at the end of the shift, and how big or small will our bonus be this month?
I surged towards the end and I saw her. Young, as beautiful and thoughtful as ever. Except my fear didn't really let up. I realised, in conceptual terms, I was less than a ghost. Totally, horrifically inhuman - the way my point-of-view clung to her forlorn shoulders, her persecuted hands. She worked on the alarm clocks which trundled past with speed and care, and any latter-day human would have been unable to conceive of someone working so hard on something they don't love and only got paid the minimum wage for. But then again, don't forget, this was the place where love gets confused and no one has the strength of character to commit suicide.
Nothing to do, I simply watched as she tended the alarm clocks. One of her last actions before she passed each clock along was to remove a large pink sticker from the casing; 'RPO' they read, with boxes of hand-written text inset. She seized one of them with her fingernail, poised herself, then stopped dead. Staring up at the yellow industrial floodlights, she seemed absolutely lost. Watch? I had no choice. That curious, eye-of-the-storm sorrow where even your up-tilted facial muscles start to smooth-over, all conscious thought erased by entropy, your hatred of the bourgeois. I was no happier myself. Admittedly, there was a certain, Gibarian-style transcendence about it – for a while, I wondered if I was managing to relay it to Hari. She turned her head, roughly in my direction. She gasped. Her pupils moved to the corner of her eyes, where scant millimetres more would have brought her home to me. But then –
I awoke smoothly, attempted to rise, then fell flat through an intense, tingling pain in my spine. But let the records show that I don't hate the police. I never have. Weirdly, they're one of the only sections of society that I don't hate. Go in peace, Officer Dibble.
Hari lay down close and kissed me, and I felt better straight away.
"What did you dream of? Adventure?"
A lie seemed apt. "I don't remember".
"You must remember some detail", she said. "I heard you murmuring from across the room, then when I came over, I saw you were having rapid eye movement. Then you woke".
Out with it, Kelvin. "You worked at an alarm clock factory".
"That is correct", said Hari.
"And one of the things you did, as they passed you by on the production line, was remove a pink sticker which read 'RPO'".
Said Hari darkly, "Yes". The soft pause suggested long-endured emotional torture; also, the way she lolled her head in front of mine, never breaking eye-contact for a second – it suggested the baiting of that self-same torture by Eternal Love.
"'RPO' stood for 'Rated Prison Outwork'. The main case of the alarm clock was assembled in the workshops of prisons. We paid them hardly anything, about point-one-of-a-ruble per hundred units. Still it was an offer they couldn't refuse. Last year-"
She faltered, for a moment profoundly confused, a senile thriller-writer.
"Why do I say, 'last year'? It seems strange to say that. As if 'now' and 'last year' are fixed points on the surface of an expanding balloon, which we're now holding in our hands. But for convenience-sake, I suppose 'last year' – my counterpart from 'B' shift got an instant dismissal after she accidentally let through hundreds of clocks with the 'RPO' labels still attached. All hell broke loose. We had a fear-of-God meeting with the Front Line Commissioner. For the general public to see that our clocks were even partially assembled by prisoners was seen as the ultimate in bad publicity. Somehow even grubbier than employing buck-toothed sweat-shop hags, which is what every other company does. Perhaps the thinking ran, 'at least the oriental slaves don't exhibit any sign of desperation or dark humanity, nothing which will make us look at our own ruinous lives'. And the irony is – I was so depressed it was almost the death of me".
Smiling, her energised face gave the same sort of movement as REM bedazzlement –and of course the story was told as much by those post-irreverent smiling eyes as with words. The faultlessly-beautiful anarchist. The messiah having grown a personality. Queue up the counter-arguments as fast as you can, Richard Dawkins. You're spinning plates and your bow-tie is drenched with sweat.
"Here, the irony was something else, because my chief daydream was always to leave the RPO labels on, on purpose. Made by prisoners? Of course they were. How could the general public imagine otherwise? We were contained in the most embarrassing, soul-destroying prison of all. Every manual blue collar the country had left carried a million arrogant and lazy swine on their backs. And I think-"
She tried to formulate the insane concepts, reader, and it was beautiful. It was beautiful. Seeing her give an understanding to all that horror was a catharsis, like seeing a fox stare idly at a red-jacketed Prince Harry, and having him burst into flames.
"It seemed so strange that no one saw this. That mankind came to view this laziness-incarnate as just –something proud. Conspicuously strange, abstract. Like everyone, overnight, reading a magazine article saying that eating dog-dirt is the ultimate vogue, and then the next day, people fall to their knees and gobble it up en masse. You'll never hear a counter-argument, because the counter-argument is so blatantly obvious. This is a physical world. We are physical beings, reliant on physical things. If you aspire to just administrate, or design, or report, then you are weak, and you deserve to die. Sorry about that, but it's called being part of the world".
Having previously juxtaposed her harsh diatribe with animated smiles, I was equally charmed by the way she drifted at the far end of the room. Wrapped loosely in an ethnic shawl, she angled her head at the pale sunlight.
"I'm so glad we're not on Solaris. You would want to read my novels. But they were always such tame lions. I would create such delicate metaphors. Mist and silence. The-humility-of-communism as a haunted wood, with the lumberjacks experiencing increasingly sinister blackouts, these to represent the way madness comes to you so suddenly in a world owned by self-important yuppies. I tell you, Dr Kelvin: what a fool I was. People do not read anything except airport stand thrillers –a). b)—they really don't care about clever, compelling metaphors. I may as well have just chanced my hand and spontaneously inserted some direct, fourth-wall message -
"'Listen to me. You are vile, precarious oxygen-thieves. Preferably, you would spend your lives as nurses or doctors or paramedics. But failing that, the very least you need to do is spend your lives in factories, or on farms. And your lauded, oh-so-special children? If I could reach my hands out of this page and strangle every last one of them, I would'".
"Particularly dark?", I asked her with a smile.
"I have to be. Guess what books I read while you were sleeping?"
Hari did not sleep, while, as ever, I needed at least six hours. Thursday she'd read 'A Journey to the End of Time' by Sacheverel Sitwell. Friday: 'The Doors of Perception' and 'The Old Man and the Sea'. On Saturday she simply read my old copies of Vice. To start with I found it faintly disappointing that she hadn't watched any films, as surely there can be few things more satisfying than the one you love faced with a bookcase of unseen cinematic legends, hype-monsters, twisting Will Ferrell comedies –deliberating over them, then being overjoyed no matter which ones she eventually chose. But 'films are too sacred', she said. We have to watch them together.
So I tried to think of a book she might have entertained herself with, and came up with nothing.
"I don't know. The Communist Manifesto?"
"Well", Hari shrugged slightly. "The holy book of the communists is the same, more or less, on any world, be it Earth or Solaris or The Planet of the Ant-Men. And so are books like this-"
Across the blue bed sheets she slid 'Mien Kampf'. My eyes flashed with something between horror and grimy excitement. As if to give it a sense of intellectual reverence, she also pushed another book across the linen – the dizzyingly sensitive 'Third Reich: A New History' by Michael Burleigh.
"I read them word for word, so it seemed. But then, I'm pretty certain I spent an equal amount of time just staring at this-"
She held up Mien Kampf in favour of the anonymous Signal Magazine oil portrait of Adolf Hitler. She carefully positioned it alongside her own face as if to make a clear comparison. Her expression
automatically went to the surly side of solemn, though she could never have looked as dour, not in a thousand years.
"Adolf Hitler was an intriguing, zeitgeisty man, if only because those conspicuously cold eyes, the dour and inexpressive mouth –he was the exact embodiment of how I felt, before I materialised here with you".
"I don't think I could have had sex with Adolf Hitler", joked myself, causing her to beam.
"No", she resumed, casually, gently. "This horrific madman. I'm convinced, Kris, that he carried a large part of my soul. He believed in the paranormal: destiny manipulated by something as capricious as the movement of the stars. And most telling of all, I think: here was a man who looked and sounded unambiguously psychotic and emotionally deranged. He frequently ranted, spoke in generalities so broad, yet with such conviction, why would even one person follow him, let alone millions? It was insane and impossible, yet he almost took over the world. Explain".
I sighed, and would have given anything not to sound like some thoughtless, fart-minded college lecturer. Mr Magorium's Effing Imporium. "Germany, in the thirties, was an incredibly bleak place. Its economy was a mess. The people were unusually temperamental".
"As today", her eyes shone, Hari the fencer, "except people are no longer temperamental, just flip lazy".
I pictured us on a balcony, vast earthquake-crack ranks of infantry men beneath us. I felt no shame in admitting to Hari that I'd always identified with Hitler myself, and more so than any other political leader. Or could he even be called 'political'? He was just an angry man, someone who'd once dreamed of being an artist, who subsequently had to choose between death and becoming the most embittered man on earth.
"I always used to think, if I could go back in time, I could have reasoned with him. I could have persuaded him to close down the concentration camps".
Hari said, "Yes. I think so too. It's just a feeling, though".
I smiled faintly. "Maybe, maybe not. We do have very dynamic, compelling personalities, you and I. And no one can resist time travellers. Have you ever heard of 'The Planet of the Apes'?"
Said Hari, "The movie or the place?" And we both laughed joyously, because it was surely the End of Time. The bank holiday at the End of Time.
I got up, wincing mightily because of my spine. Sometimes the pain was almost unbearable. Other times it was just normal. We kissed; it felt less like a kiss and more like a carefully-deployed electric shock to perpetually invigorate.
Hari moved to my CD rack and put on Miklos Rozsa's masterful score for El Cid. What intuition could have made her choose it was complex and intriguing. Certainly it hit the spot. In the bathroom, she examined my wounded cheek; presently, it looked less like an impact mark than a very deliberate slice. She said it was my own fault for having such tight skin. Having looked through my family photos – the skin of my father.
We went about our business, ate a small breakfast of sausages, diet cola to drink. We increasingly looked out of the window at the beguiling sunlight. In fact, I laboriously got up to open the window as wide as poss, Mr Decadent
"I keep wanting to ask you, 'do you know what this place was?' But I think I would be insulting you. It's easy to cogitate in your own mind, difficult to break down into raw concepts".
"Hell". I felt my eyes grow matte, no less expressive, every bit of it steely Paddy Considine disengagement. "It was obviously the harsh but practical application of that famous phrase, 'If God didn't exist, we would need to make him".
There was a long silence, which we enjoyed immensely. That and the sausages.
"I do know what this place was", said Hari Sarabande. "Hell is a good word, but it was a particular kind of hell. It was consciousness itself being persecuted and struggling to exist. Consider mankind's sensibilities. On one hand, they allowed their emotional responses to be diffused into weird, crippling political correctness and twee, liberal chatter. On the other hand, they rounded up their perceived enemies and put them in concentration camps, even though this didn't make the tiniest bit of sense, either on a practical or an emotional level. Take the Nazis versus the Jews. It was insane. It could have been the case that ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the Jews were exactly as greedy as the Nazis made them out to be, but the very fact that there might be a handful who were humble, co-operative tax-payers meant that the concentration camps were Wrong. And here we have the human condition in a nutshell. You either fall in with wild, desperate acts of violence, or you become entirely thoughtless, tell yourself that everything's fine, let's have ten children, allow everyone else to have ten children, and there's no responsibility to do any tangible work, because someone somewhere will do it for us.
"And between these polarised points, there was just –jack flip. At certain points in history, the communists tried their best to champion the miracle of consciousness. The way you could use humility to bait orgasmic self-awareness and secret, intimate pride, in fact use it to power the whole world if you were determined enough. But mankind is stubborn in his laziness and lack of personality.
"So here we are in the present day, and our last chance has expired. Irony abounds. The Final Solution, which the Nazis wrongly employed with the Jews, is now the only option we have that can save us".
She looked at me, partially with a very soft, gentle pride, nee a cosmic affection deeply in play. I forked an immodest amount of sausage into my mouth, saying, " 'Work brought freedom' written above the gates. This time in the past tense, all too late. And the one in a million who knew about Auschwitz will see this clever reference and simply think, 'd'oh!'".
Hari assumed the happiest expression I've ever seen, although her tone was profoundly stoical. "I, Hari Sarabande, want to round up all students and send them en masse to gas chambers. I want to Agent Smith myself to become a million-strong army of inhumanly-passionate guards, beating weeping, tottering, neon-wearing girls around the head with the butt of my rifle. I want low-slung-jeans and pork-pie-wearing perpetual schoolboys to try and rise up against us, and then flail around as we incinerate them with flame throwers. I want to hear the opponents of our fascist regime, no doubt Polly Toynbee or the like, say, 'That this done in the veneer of necessary, utilitarian action is a fallacy. At the very least, you shouldn't have such brutal guards'. And I'll respond by saying, 'Brutality versus unthinking arrogance? Breathing versus asphyxiation, and –even though it's 'evil'- I'll take my chances with the one which is at least some kind of existence-affirming pro-activity, you chattering, shrew-faced sack of nothing'. And I won't even bother to silence her.
"Where the Nazis sorted vast piles of false teeth, we'll be accumulating swish mobile phones, then air-dropping them back to Taiwan where they belong. In the holding cells, we'll be observing the gawky hordes. And every time one of them says 'like', not even to fill in the space where they're thinking, just as a mindless affectation, we'll break one their fingers. And you just know there'll be a lot of them stumbling around with all ten folded backwards. My personal favourite, the empty, sound-proofed cell containing just a single chair and a guard disguised as a sleeping prisoner. In goes a feckless, unbroken student. After a time, the cell door opens to admit a bona-fide guard, who pretends to be friendly. 'You might be here for a while. There's a delay until we can get you a place in the work shops' (he's actually going to be killed, whatever happens, but it might be quick or slow depending on how he reacts). 'Here take this, I think there's still plenty of life in the battery'. She smiles and hands the student an I-pod, then leaves. The volume, at the time of the hand-over, is set at the point where it will be clearly, comfortably heard though the headphones, but will not extend more than an inch or two beyond the headphones. But oh dear. If the student turns the volume up so that his 'sleeping' cell-mate can hear even a trace amount of bass –
"The sleeper will promptly wake and shoot the noise-polluter with a tranquilliser. And several hours later, he'll wake to find his arms and legs have been surgically removed. He'll find that his stomach has been clamped open and cauterised, the factoid three miles of intestinal tract extending around the four corners of the room in an impossibly dense web of slime. And, obviously, he'll start to scream, at which point the guard will pop the I-pod into his mouth, briefly remove the headphones and whisper into his ear, 'Excuse me, this is a public place. Would you mind turning your music down?'. And the exact level of sarcasm used in the guard's tone can be left to his discretion, though I'd recommend nothing less sophisticated than John Lydon versus Bill Grundy.
"Anyway", she breathed. "That's my darkness".
She smiled queasily, caught her breath in deep, noisy, triumphant, exhilarated snorts.
"Are you going to eat that final sausage?"
I speared it and extended it to her. "An army marches on her stomach, ma'am".
It was a perfect day, ironically, right up to the point when I played her 'Perfect Day' by Mr Lou Reed
and she cried. The lachrymose was soon extinguished with 'Love is the Drug' by Roxy Music, by a game of darts, then Red Dead Redemption, then kite-flying from the window. We kept forgetting it was the big day, just hours until the hurriedly-constructed fleet of quantum-repulsor space-shuttles moved to intercept Solaris. We'd forgotten, but evidently, everyone else was deeply cognisant. Through the broadly-opened windows, there was an unusual silence, punctuated by the sound of distant rioting, feral children jumping through the streets. Your precious feral children. I worried for the sprightly, funny old lady I used to meet on the morning walk to my office. She talked about her adventures in the blitz with her young brother, and I never needed to fake my interest for a second. She was ancient, but young, with pretty, roving eyes. She told me about the sound of the doodlebugs, and the fires, and rushing for the bomb shelters. This interspersed with anecdotes about meeting crazy tramps, and the Council don't have a clue these days, and the speeding-by of the week can be measured by the way the pills in her daily-dosage planner were suddenly dwindling. It occurred to me that I loved her almost as much as I loved my own mother. The way that old woman always appreciated the innocence in me, even if I had just DeNiro-exaggerated to put her at ease.
"I hope she's OK", I said, leaning from the window in a vain attempt to see some of the route we used to walk together.
"Did she have any family?", asked Hari.
"She said she did. But I don't know. Old people put on such a brave face", I said, thinking of myself in metaphor.
"She'll be reassuring you in Heaven before you know it", said Hari. "Not that I'm not happy about that. She'll be young again, and she may give me a run for my money".
"Don't fish for compliments, girly-girl. You know I'm eternally insatiable for you. You know I just want to desperately kiss your nonchalantly extended arm like Gomez and Morticia Addams -"
And the rest. Obviously this talk developed into love-making. We were about it as the worst rioting of all passed beneath our window. The hateful dichotomy of casual shouting by slag children, and usually it would have made me seethe myself into frenzy—but I barely heard it. We were in an entirely different place, a kind of hypnotic metronome wrought by our spirits straining against radioactive skin, the slow-release pills better known as our frontal lobes. Synapses fired like Nazi-oppressed quantum waves; the metronome played out into sunlight, fire, a dizzying psychic link where we knew every rich thought in the other's head. But heed Hari's warning; the End of the World will not be psychedelic. It will be the most clearly-defined and requisite thing we've ever known.
T'aint no big thing to wait for the bell to ring. T'aint no big thing, the toll of the bell. The launching of the shuttles was due to be televised at 7.30,. This was a good old World Cup-style kick-off time. Again, Hari and I almost forgot about it. We orbited in around my TV and prepared to settle down with bottles of whisky. Then something about the whole scenario stuck in my craw, well and truly.
"This sucks", I said venomously.
"You're right", said Hari. "We're missing something".
"This is an event. An event that could make-or-break the world. We need to do something special".
Hari tilted her head, a hand to her throat in timeless contemplation. Back-tracking to the TV, like that Coldplay video, and yes, reference Coldplay even if they are poor man's Radiohead, she laid a palm on the TV, looked excitedly out of the window at the roof.
I lay flat, with my belly on the tiles, only my wrestling arm protruding over the edge into the window. Hari placed her hands either side of the 24" inch screen and leaned out of the window just as far as she could, manoeuvring the handy-handle into my groping hand.
"Whatever you do, keep your back straight", she instructed.
"My back don't hurt no more, ma'am", I said.
I glanced down and our eyes narrowly connected.
"I love you".
"I love you", she said, no particular tone, just Zen boxer excitement-infused. Boy meets girl where the beat goes on.
Rolling onto my shoulder, I hauled that mother up and, as a clever sign of success, flopped down the plug within a split second. I heard her giggle and I remember how my heart fluttered. I remember thinking, even if she loses her footing and falls, breaks her neck, I can jump as well, and it will still count as a happy ending. But she was up there with me in scant moments. I held her in my arms anew.
The pre-launch hype was on every channel, except one, which, whorishly, was contractually obliged to show a clipped version of the National Lottery draw -and even though barely a hundred people had bought tickets. Hari quickly withdrew a ballpoint and wrote what she imagined the winning numbers might be on her hand. Or rather, we decided to just write any numbers, and if either set turned out to be the ones, that would be a nicely coincimental. She passed the pen to me and I did likewise. "I will have my Buzz Lightyear this Christmas", I said determinedly.
"I can live without the money", Hari quoted 'The Jerk', which we'd seen the night before, "but the stuff… what about all the stuff?"
The numbers of my guess, were 04, 08, 15, 32, 45, 47.
The numbers of Hari's guess, were 03, 05, 07, 16, 23, 42.
The drawn numbers were 04, 08, 15, 16, 23, 42. We shook our heads in wonder, placed our hands together so that she obscured my final three incorrect numbers and I obscured her first three incorrect numbers.
"Well!", she breathed. But we said no more about it.
As a younger man, I'd read all the books. Buzz Aldrin's alcohol-tormented autobiography, 'Magnificent Desolation', the door-stop biography of Neil Armstrong, 'Road to the Stars' by Your Man Gagarin. I'd loved them, just because for a few hours I could forget about mankind's inherent lack of purpose, plus my own soul-rooted obligation to hate them. That night, I don't deny it, there were certain shades of those early space expeditions. The whole world is waiting and watching. All points of the globe are infused with the shine of that low, Florida ozone; the seven great rockets towering miles in the distance. Yes, there are shades of hope and divine providence – but this is different. Flooding everything is our terrible human desperation, characterised not by the way it makes anyone feel innocent or afraid, or brave, but if it suddenly abated, things would immediately go back to the way they were before. Worse than before. New sanctimonious zeal given to your unmethodical wars. Fat, cross-eyed women cuddling up to their yuppie husbands, considering how the world had been given back to them, saying, 'Let's have kids'. 'Kids' plural, because obviously if you had just one, you might have some love left over. And the world needs more kids, right? You are such vile creatures.
Some people, in those initial hours, did understand what was happening. Seemingly incidental news reports came through concerning a group of 'extremists' who'd penetrated the three-mile exclusion zone which had been set up around the launch site. Via an armoured personnel carrier, they'd scrambled to take aim with an anti-aircraft rocket before being seized by Uncle Sam's Shouty Patrols. I was intensely interested in this, as I felt more than a little solidarity with them. Unfortunately the reports were swallowed up in deathly-dull footage of gawky children staring at TVs, gawky old women staring at TVs, gawky heads-of-state staring at TVs, gawky celebrities, gawky housewives – I could go on.
Almost all of it could be forgiven, since the night was pleasant, courting us all with tendrils of room temperature air-pressure, then a motionless chill which extended deep into the valley. Street and window lights made for a universe of reassuring psychic touchpoints. Sorry, Van Gogh. You described the lifesblood of our torture well enough, but the End of the World will not be psychedelic. It will be the most clearly-defined and requisite thing we've ever known. Increasingly, Hari glanced away from the TV to brood on the distant avenues of lighted squares, the swirls, the puffy allotment beds. The beauty was almost oppressive.
Abruptly, there was a huge blackout; it swept across the city in a wave. The TV gave a second-long fizz of outrage, then went blank. The landscape – absolutely black, not just a silhouette, but a silhouette that was collapsing, becoming amorphous. In a little quarter of the horizon, the bright point of the night sky shone on, albeit as a retreating angel. Lavender. Lavender blue; a practical, tasteful shade.
"Kris, I have such a strange sensation. Do you feel it too?"
"I say: there's no need to be afraid", I told her.
"I'm frightened they'll succeed, and they'll repulse Solaris back where it came from".
I remember, I had no words, so I simply held her hand. And by degrees I started to feel it too. It reminded me a lot of when you're in a deep bath, and you relax all the muscles in your shoulder and allow your arm to float. Or rather, you try, since it's almost impossible to trust the prehensile fusion in your ligaments to just turn off. We're like giraffes, able to go to sleep standing up. And who says you can trust the tension in the water, either?
The feeling engulfed our whole bodies. It was coupled, from time to time, with the sensation you get sometimes while drifting off to sleep, of suddenly falling. Neuro-scientists had speculated that it was an evolutionary impulse left over from pre-history, when we'd all gone to sleep in trees and needed to guard against falling. Yes, that could be it. So why don't you go to an old people's home and give them a lecture about it, Darwin, you raging ponce, you four-star purveyor of the blatantly obvious. Tell them, in your farty little voice. With your dead wife. With your wife, who you 'loved', but you decided you could live without when she died. That's it, off you go. Get along there, and tell them all about evolution. In your top hat. With your dead wife, who you 'loved'. That's it. Tell them about the monkeys. Bye, bye. Ponce.
It was funny, though. Even as we were wracked by these strange, psychic-physical jolts, our awareness of each other's bodies grew stronger by proportion. Until it was all that remained. The physical world phased out. Force Ten From Navarone. When it phased back in, we were standing on completely the opposite side of the roof. Looking back to the spot we'd originally occupied, we saw another Kris and Hari, sitting quite calmly as if on a picnic, sometimes laughing, always in each other's arms.
Somehow we took this in our stride. Hari regarded the backs of their heads with interest.
"I wonder what would happen if we talked to them?"
"I'm not particularly interested in doing that", I shrugged. "There's no point, anyway. We're finally the same people".
Hari lolled her head onto my shoulder. "You mean we weren't before?"
Dismissively, "I don't know. All I know is that I was scared of them. His personality was so weirdly, unusually well-defined. She was beautiful and thoughtful to the point of being an infallible demi-goddess. What was in her head, if you could call it evil, no could argue that it wasn't progressive evil. She was perfect and I loved her, and that scared me to death".
I flicked on one of Gibarian's torches and handed it too her. The other, I kept for myself. We illuminated our faces, smiled coyly, all post-coital lucidity and undying energy. Once again, taking in the god-subtle exposition alive in her eyes, I reflected, 'In all eternity, if I could ever get enough of you, I'd like to know how'.
"Funny how fear just stops", I said studiously.
Hari smiled, quite tenderly. "We don't have to think like that anymore".
I regarded the other Kris and Hari. "And yet, I think she is afraid. You can see it by the way her head is angled at the sky. She's afraid they'll deflect Solaris, and she too will vanish".
"Solaris. 'The End of the World'. These were just ideas, projections. Like everything. Except us". Hari smiled primly, profoundly. She angled the torch beam sharply, the better to illuminate my searing eyeballs. I kept expecting it to rise too much, making me blink. But it never did. Similarly, some 'other' force controlled the steadiness of my own torch beam. It played with infinitesimal care at the bottom of her eyelids. The Blair Witch Project, if it had been about sudden religious contentment.
"You're so beautiful, it makes my head spin", I said.
Said Hari, "You're so handsome, it makes me want to gnaw my knuckles and flex my bones like someone about to turn into a werewolf".
Said Hari, "I want to us to go to the middle ages, to every cobbled medieval village, intoxicate the minds of kings and knights. Fill them with zeal and intolerance, every kind of religious fervour. But this time it will be different. We'll make it more tangible, more visceral. Our divinity will represent hard philosophical precepts. And a thousand years later, Yuri Gagarin will be the first man on the Moon, and kids will no more want to go to college than we would want to become managers of a whorehouse".
She smiled; the circle of light surrounding her moved not an inch.
"But first", she looked cheerfully at the other Kris and Hari, "we should do something to set their minds at ease".
The small walkway to the rear of a space-shuttle cockpit is a colourful place. Wires of blue, yellow, deep black – in fact, all the colours of a theatrical, un-defuseable bomb—ran in rivulets between anti-implosion struts and heating ducts. There were composite-metal links which resembled a goddess-giant's bangle.
I stood tall and felt my eyes pulse in the strange atmosphere. To be free of the tyranny of oxygen felt so immensely liberating. Similarly, I sensed the closeness of exotic new radiation and the miasma of dark matter, just a dozen inches beyond the metal shell.
I moved to the forward section where the two helmeted astronauts went about their business, the soul of professionalism. They directed lingering glances out of the window, but always returned their eyes to the fiendish control panel within a second or two. They say space is black, and I suppose from the human point of view, it is. But the true spectrum, once you have the eyes for it, is something truly dazzling. Jackson Pollock would probably have become lost straight away, never to surface again. Confronted with the naked sight of Solaris, as I now was, I simply saw a wondrous abstraction of Hari's heart, infinitely complex, rich, animated. And with such searing beauty. I admit it, I felt a little pull of madness. The awed blue light played on my body and the astronauts alike, bringing forth the sense of solidarity, which I enjoyed. The timing: critical. If it was off even by a second or two, Death would surely have a shiny new space-shuttle in its dominion.
"Capcom, we're preparing to engage the hi-energy proton accelerator, as of five -, four-, three-".
The co-pilot laid his heavily-gloved hand on a powerful-looking lever. I calmly laid my palm over the top of his fist. Hari laid her hand over mine. We heard the men scream. We felt their arch-incredulity at this manifestation of the impossible. They screamed and felt fear, as human beings are wont.