It had all gone very well, Brooks told himself. Very well indeed. He hurried along the side corridor, his black dress shoes clicking hollowly on the old tiles. This was one of the oldest and most rundown of the Smithsonian’s buildings; too bad they didn’t have the money to knock it down. Funding. Everything was a matter of funding. He pushed open the door of the barnlike workroom and called out, “John? How did you like the ceremony?”
The south of the city is ours. London Bridge has fallen down, and Waterloo has gone under. Borough, Lambeth, Fulham, these are our places, and east all the way to the sea. Your little island enclaves are almost all gone now. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s bleached bones are emptied of you. We starved you out of the Passport Office on Belgrave Road, and when we came in force to the Victoria Palace Theatre you left of your own accord, paddling frantically on rafts made of doors and tables.
There was a man who built a whale out of wood. He built it in the middle of a field out in the dry country, where nobody bothered him but birds and a couple of farm cats. The whale was white, and it took two years to build. He made it out of planks from old barns, which he stole in the night. He didn’t steal them from anyone who’d miss them. Most people were gone. There were a lot of things falling down.
“We could have taken George’s courier ship and arrived in a quarter of the time.” “No, we couldn’t,” Harry said, scowling at Marlowe, who knew very well they shouldn’t be here at all, much less aboard her brother’s ship. But he seemed to enjoy mentioning her brother George and reminding Harry of the impropriety of it all. It was a long-running joke, and she let him have his fun. Marlowe just smiled.
I have written a thousand letters to her in my head. Part of me is always writing to her, while I sit in front of the dusty yellow windows in the coffee shops on Market Street, or roll sticky cinnamon dough on my cold granite counter, or stand in the smooth gray sand at the very edge of the sea. I never wrote to her while she was alive, not even at the end, when letters might have comforted us both.
Memories. Nauseous snatches of infinity trickling in, thumbing into my forehead, pinning me to this flower-smelling bed. My fractured thoughts are bursting away with the cannon-shot split of glaciers, broken towers that knife into a sea of amnesia. In all of the forgetting, there is this one constant thing. Her name is Sarah. I will always remember that.
Mei dreamed of a new Earth. She took her telescope onto the balcony of her North Philadelphia apartment and pointed it east, at the sky above the Trenton Strait, hoping for a clear view of Mars. Tonight the light pollution from Jersey Island wasn’t as bad as usual, and she was able to make out the ice caps and dark shadow of Syrtis Major.
You have a civilization! It doesn’t matter which one — let’s say it’s modern Western civilization. It’s got fast food and sporting events, which is all you really need. Western technology gives you great military power — you have fantastic unstoppable tanks, and heat-seeking missiles to keep you safe. It’s a good place to start.
I don’t remember her birth. My dream baby, the baby I have in my dreams, the one who crashed into my head one night and took roost. She is a day old, a week old, a year old, eight years old, three weeks old, a day old. She has fine blond hair, except when she has tight black curls. Once she had cornrows that lengthened every time I looked away. “Her hair grows faster than I can cut it,” I said to my dream family.
Sometimes the Eavesdropper remembered being a mother. She would stare at the single empty life-sac and think about the man who should have been lying there in cold sleep, the man who had once been the boy she’d held in her arms. At other moments she was convinced that she had done no such thing, that motherhood had never happened to her, that all she had ever been was what she was now.