The dawn light entered the cave stealthily before awareness. Ellen could see the caves across the valley etched into the rocky hills.
Suddenly the silhouette of Lem supporting a young man with one arm appeared.
“Father!” Yani rushed toward them. “What have you done to yourself?”
“He’ll be alright,” Lem said. “He’s just injured himself a little. We need to get him washed and patched up, and then he’ll be as good as new.”
“Who is he?” Ellen asked them both.
“Don’t you recognize him?” Lem asked.
She reached for the photocopy of the news clipping pressed between the pages of her notepad. Ellen looked at his picture in the clipping and back at the face of the man standing next to Lem, and back at the clipping. He looked like a much younger version of the man in the clipping. What kind of game were they playing with her?
“Let us get him fixed up and then all your questions will be answered,” Yani said to Ellen, thinking to Lem a lot of good that will do her.
Yani took the young man back to his bedroom and began to undress him.
“Thanks Yani,” he blushed. “I can do that myself.”
“Alright,” Yani said, “but you wash yourself thoroughly, especially that nasty gash on the left side of your head just above your ear. Call me when you are ready and I’ll patch you up.”
His limbs were stiff and sore. He removed his clothes slowly, careful not to increase the level of pain he felt. He stepped into the shower, turned the handle, and let the cool water flow over his body. He placed his hands against the rock walls to maintain his balance and closed his eyes, meeting the streaming quanta head-on. “That was Ellen sitting on the sofa in the living room!” he said out loud to himself incredulously.
He opened his eyes, turned the handle to stop the water, and dried himself quickly but carefully. He found a clean pair of pants, shirt, and shoes. As soon as he had dressed himself, Yani came into his room, looked him over carefully, and opened a small bottle of clear viscous tincture of something he had no inkling what. She put some on the palm of her hand and pressed her hand against the gash on the side of his head. There was a pleasant tingling sensation as the two sides of the open wound closed up.
“There,” Yani said, looking at her work. “Good as new. Do you have any place else on your body that hurts?”
“Well, my left shoulder and ribs hurt,” he said.
Yani opened the buttons of his shirt, put a couple drops of the tincture on her palm, and gently rubbed his shoulder and ribs. The tingling sensation warmed the left side of his body. She rebuttoned his shirt. “Are you ready for the interview?” she asked with a wink.
“Let’s go,” he said, kissing her hand.
They walked into the living room. Yani sat down next to Lem. The young man sat down on the sofa next to Ellen, but not too close … not just yet.
“Are you …?” She said his name, although she still could not believe it was possible. It had to be him.
“I … I don’t know who I am,” he said. “I’ve never had a name … never had a need for one.”
“Everyone has a name,” she said hesitantly. “Everyone needs a name … How would they … ?”
“I only give names to the characters in my head,” he said after some thought. “I make up stories, but … I’ve … never … written any books. Who would read them?”
Ellen looked at Lem and Yani for some sort of explanation. “What does he mean, he doesn’t have a name?” she asked them. “What is he called beside Father?”
Lem looked at Yani and then at Ellen. “Father is a term of endearment. It’s not really a name. He doesn’t need a name like everybody else does.”
“Why doesn’t he need a name?” Ellen asked.
“Because everyone knows who he is,” Yani answered matter-of-factly. “The fact is that you know who he is too.”
“Yes, I do,” she said, “but I’m not so sure. Look at him. He’s so young.”
“That’s because he is moving backwards in time,” Lem answered, “relative to us.”
Ellen was quiet for some time. Then she asked Yani, “Forgive me for prying into your personal affairs, but are you and Lem married or are you brother and sister?”
Yani smiled at the question. “We are married.”
“Whose father is he?” Ellen asked Yani.
“Both of us,” Yani answered.
“He created both of us,” Lem said, “just like he created you.”
“What do you mean he created us?” Ellen’s voice trembled.
“He thinks, therefore we exist.” Lem said.
“Here,” the young man continued, “let me tell you the story I was thinking about just before you arrived … please … don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you and I’m not crazy … at least I don’t think I am.”
Ellen felt rather dizzy.
The story is about me, I suppose, but it’s not a true story … at least I don’t think it is. I’m in this cabin … but now I’m in this cave … I usually am in this cabin and there is a faint knock on the door. I open the door and you’re standing there in the doorway. I say what I said to you or what Lem and Yani said to you and you respond the way you responded. I ask you to sit down and I tell you this story.
You claim you don’t recognize me. You probably don’t. There’s no reason why you would in this god-forsaken universe. But I know you. I’ve always known you … the last time … the time before that … and the time before that too. And every time I am hopelessly … but wait … I’m getting ahead of myself.
I continue with the story. You listen to the end. I’ll say that for you. You always do. You say how flattered you are to be the heroine in my story, but then you begin to look around you for the door, the window. There is doubt and the beginning of fear in your eyes. I can’t stand it, that I’m causing it, and I look away. Would you like a cup of coffee, I ask. Sometimes you say yes, sometimes no. This time you said yes. I walk over to the coffee pot, light the fire under it, spoon the grounds into two cups, and stare at the mirror, wondering whether you will still be in your chair or on the sofa by the time I return with the two coffee cups. You’re there or you’re not. If you’re not, then you are just outside the cabin or the cave walking slowly towards the cliff and I catch up with you and tell you there’s an easier, safer way to get down the mountain to the town. I’ll show you the way, I say, although now I’m not so sure I know the way down or up or sideways anymore. You remember the difficulty coming up the mountain and agree reluctantly to be guided by me. We walk without words until we reach the edge overlooking the gently sloping path meandering down the grassy mountain side. A breeze wafts up the slope, carrying the pungency of fallen leaves and over-ripe fruit. You become aware of the clicking of cicadas in a distant strand of trees and turn your lovely face in that direction. My arms ache to enclose you within them, as though they were wings folded around you. But …
But sometimes you stay in your chair. I set the coffee cup on the side table beside you. I sit down on my chair opposite you but this time I sit next to you, and try to keep my coffee cup from trembling. We sip at our coffees in silence. Would you like to hear more, I ask. More of what, you ask. More of the story, I answer. Go on, you say.
I jump to the end of the story. There’s not much more time. Time for what? Time for you to fall in love with me. Time for me to fall in love with you? It always comes as such a shock to you … more than anything else I say to you today.
You don’t waste much time, you say. You always say that. What should I expect? You’re half my age but now I’m younger than you. You’re lovely, you’re bright, and you’ve got your … These things take time to unfold, to evolve. You search your mind for every pertinent platitude you’ve ever learned, as though it were your wisdom, as though it could somehow extricate us from the terrible spiraling involution we are stuck in. You can’t rush these things, you continue saying. I feel dizzy, you say, and reach for your coffee cup but your hand brushes the side of the cup at the wrong angle. The cup is pushed over the edge of the table, spilling the coffee on the ground.
Don’t worry about it, I say. It’s interesting how every time, some details change and some remain constant. The coffee cup is always pushed over the edge. Do you want me to make you another cup of coffee, I ask. No, you say. Your eyes dart around the room, the door, the window. I hate that. I know, I’ve said it before. I still hate that moment.
You run out of platitudes to say. You run out of words to say. You have no feelings for me. Empty. Empty Dempty sat on a wall. Empty Dempty had a great fall. I don’t know when it happens or if it happens. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. I never know. What happens, you ask. You begin to fall in love with me. Why do I fall in love with you, you ask. I don’t know. I never do. I ask you each time it happens why you fall in love with me. Why do you ask? So that I can use it next time to make you love me quicker, I explain sadly. Why is it so important to you for me to love you quicker, you ask. Because there’s so little time left for us to be in love, I answer.
Why is there so little time for us to be in love, you ask. But now we have all the time in this world because Lem reached out his arm and pulled you out of that loopy little dimension through the door, and rescued you and rescued me in the process. Now you don’t have to fall in love with me before dawn tomorrow morning. You can take your time, as long as you love me sometime because I couldn’t bear the weight of life without you.
Do you make me love you quicker each time, you ask. No, I answer. Every time the reason is different.
By now the light in the cave had thinned into evening shadow. They were unaware that Lem and Yani had quietly left the room for them to be alone together.
In a moment the artificial lighting will turn on. Is that alright with you? You haven’t said a word for some time now. Can we get you anything? You must be famished. When did you last eat? Please say something … anything. I could drink some water, my mouth is so dry. What about you?
I’m still here.
Yes, you are. I can’t believe my good luck. Can I –
Just shush for a moment. Let me process.
Do you want –
Don’t ask me. Just bring me what you know I need. I need for us to be silent for a little while.
The artificial lighting kicked on and the shadows leaped through the glass door into the engulfing night. The giant world rose over the black mountain range on the horizon. He rose from the sofa through the exhaustion that had surrounded him while he was telling her the story. He picked up the empty cups and walked into the kitchen to rinse them out. He ground some coffee and put the grounds into the metal pot which he filled with fresh water. He returned to the kitchen, lit the thermal unit, and put the pot inside. He found some bread that looked fresh and a few eggs which he put in a pan and fried on the stove. He rummaged around the drawers until he found a couple plates and eating utensils. He carried the steaming eggs and coffee out to the table.
They ate without speaking. He looked down at his eggs and fried bread, but he felt her staring at him. She looked away when he raised his eyes. He watched her drink down the coffee. He drank his silently.
She stood up from the table and walked over to the door.
His heart sank.
She turned around waiting for him.
He walked towards her unsteadily. They put their hands on the glass and it disappeared.
The night breeze whispered through their hair like breathing. Otherwise there was only silence. The light was pale and ghostly underneath the huge world around which they rotated.
She reached for his hand.
They walked the ghostly path almost to the edge of the cliff and looked down across the valley to the lit caves on the other side and the black sky behind the hills. She felt a sudden chill and put her arm inside his arm, so that he could feel the pulse of her breast against his arm.
“Let’s go back to the cave. There is a slight chill in the breeze.”
“Yes,” he remembered, “we’d better get back before the earth goes down. The darkness is absolute.”
They walked back up the path hand in hand.
They could see the light from the third cave thinning into the night. He placed his hand on the glass and they walked into the light.
She sat down on the sofa.
“Do you want some more coffee?”
“What do I usually say?”
“You usually say yes.”
“Then why do you ask?”
“I always do.”
“Then go make me another cup of coffee,” she smiled charmingly.
He walked over to the stove with the two empty cups, set the water in the pot to boil, rinsed out the cups, and refilled them with coffee. He walked back out with the two cups brimming, set one down beside her, and stood beside the sofa sipping his own coffee pensively.
He sat down beside her. Ellen kicked off her shoes, bent her long legs underneath her, and nestled into the crook of his arm. His wings folded around her and his arms no longer ached.
Her breathing became soft and even.
Soon he too was asleep.
He woke up suddenly. She was still asleep, her head warm against his chest. Her hair smelled like summer wheat from his childhood. He inhaled the smell of her hair deeply, recording it for future memory.
Ellen must have sensed his return to consciousness because she also stirred. In the darkness they searched for and found each other’s lips. In a few moments flesh also found flesh in the darkness. In a time which was not time they stretched out against each other, entangled one within the other, a single being.
He tried with all his will and might to stop time, to stretch it out to eternity. He tried to accelerate his senses to multiply them.
Ellen fell asleep again deep in the knowledge of being utterly loved, in the exhaustion of innocence. He opened his eyes wide against the night but at some point he fell backwards into a deep dream.
Birdsong entered his consciousness, calling him from his dream. The dawn sunlight pierced his closed eyelids, voluminous and insistent. He pulled her into him and she was still alive.