Christopher Bernard’s novel “AMOR i KAOS”: Eighth Installment. (Search for earlier chapters by searching his name or the novel title on our site!)
But it doesn’t anymore. (Doesn’t what? she asked.) Happen as it used to. I remember you smiling at me. I remember me smiling at you. (I can’t say I remember either of those things. Or if they happened, they were pure reflexes. They were social smiles, meant to ward off hostility, to express harmlessness, peaceful intentions. They had no expressive meaning or intention whatsoever.) That isn’t what I remember. (You can’t trust memory. It lies.) Not always and not everywhere. (Where emotions are involved, almost always.) Then how am I to be so sure that what you say you remember is accurate either? If I have to choose between your memory and mine, thanks, but I think I’ll choose mine. First of all, because it’s more beautiful. (To you.) True: more beautiful to me. (And I choose mine because it seems more likely to be true.) No, because it’s meaner, and you think the meaner the thought, the more honest, the truer. Sometimes I’m afraid of you, you have a cruel streak, or maybe it’s just anger, and you’re looking for a reason, any reason, to fight. (You’re wrong. I don’t want to fight you, you want to fight me, everything you say is meant to provoke me. Everything you say is an attack. All you want to do is win.) No, no, no, I don’t accept your terms for this debate. (You’re trying to impose your meaning on me. I won’t have it!) I’m not trying to impose anything on you, I’m just trying to express what I feel and understand. (You won’t let this go, you’re being insistent and disrespectful.) No, I’m just not letting you win, I’m standing up to you and not letting you bully me. (You don’t hear what I’m saying! Stop this!) Stop what? Stop speaking? I can’t, I won’t. Don’t order me. (Don’t order me! You’re being selfish and childish in trying to impose your ideas and feelings on me.) I am not, that’s not what this is about. Why are we fighting? I don’t understand this, I don’t understand you. Why are you behaving like this? (What about the word stop do you not understand? You’re being violent in your insistence. I want no more communication from you. I will not listen. If you communicate with me again I will seek recourse to stronger action.)
A lot more money. Than you had at the time. And boy did you need it. As anybody would in your situation. But you didn’t know how to get it. There were the banks of course, “because that’s where the money is”—at least most of it. But that took a skill set you didn’t have the mastery of. Yet. And you might get caught. Twenty years in Vacaville is no joke. I hear the beds are pressed together like sardines, the wards stink of dry sweat and piss, they’re loud, they never turn off the lights, you may wake up once too often with somebody else’s dick in your mouth and if you don’t make like you’re loving every moment of it, you may end up dead before your time, and if you try to make any complaints about any of this, they put you in the hole, solitary, for weeks.
—Hell, caught? You might get shot. Security is trigger-happy since 9/11.
—There’s always drugs, of course. Making the connection can be tough. Don’t want to look like you’re mooching on anybody’s territory. That also can be fatal.
—What else? Pickpocketing? Takes a lot of practice, and time is one thing we don’t have a lot of.
—Mugging drunken techies on the way home from the clubs after 2 a.m.? Prob is they all try to look like teens, with their dippy convict pants and stupid baseball caps stuck on backwards—you can’t tell those motherfuckers from teenybopper types, and those guys ain’t got no money, not even credit cards with, like, fifty-dollar limits.
—Shit. Gonna have to peddle my ass on Polk Street.
-—Your 40-year-old butt ain’t gonna catch no ooga-booga, dude, you gonna have to pay them to pay you. This is called not a good return on investment.
—Man! What ya gonna do? Get a fuckin’ job?
—Hey, man, this is the Great fuckin’ Recession! There are no jobs. And they tell me the robots are comin’ to take the ones away they got left.
He looks at his empty hands and listens to the growl in his guts. A shadow passes, bends down and flips a coin into the hat lying like a sleeping animal beside him on the sidewalk.
Ocean. A drop of it in your palm. The smell of decaying seaweed, jellyfish, mussel beards, razor clam shells, crabs. The question of meaning never even comes up. It’s too, I don’t know, there for that. In your face. Whoever thinks life is meaningless has never taken a walk, alone, on a beach. Across a field. Into the woods. And simply been attentive. Look at the sky. Correction: try to look at the sky. What after all does “the sky” mean? One can only laugh, embarrassed, for the questioner. You deny our existence a meaning because you don’t want it to have a meaning. Because you’re afraid you won’t measure up to the one you find. Because it might impose an obligation. Because your pride wants to deny any significance that exists without your explicit consent. Because there is no depth of spiritual awfulness to which your pride won’t descend in an attempt to make yourselves the only value in the world. In the universe. A hubris of breathtaking scope.
—The bankruptcy of humanism, the rot of humanist pride, he said at last, having mulled over these issues over several drinks and a toke of hashish.
—Having kept your freshness like a rose, she said, not unsympathetically, though not even trying to keep up with him.
He chuckled. The word, she decided, was, for once, apt. It was more comfortable than a snicker, less nervous than a titter, less self-conscious than a chortle, less blatant than a guffaw, less liberally open-jawed than a plain old laugh.
—Touché, babe. But we’re nowhere near enough. We need a god to save us.
—To quote your favorite philosopher, she said. Too bad he was a Nazi. (He winced, and she ignored him.) And what if we can’t find one?
—We’ll have to invent one.
—To quote another one! she laughed, open-jawed and liberal. Philosopher that is, not Nazi.
—The old gods are dead. Nobody takes them seriously any more. The fundamentalists are just the last spasm of a corpse. We need a new god.
—And what if we can’t find him—her—it? And if we can’t invent one?
—Then we’re stuck with the slow suicide of humanism.
—But doesn’t Darwin prove life is meaningless, without purpose, random and pointless?
—Natural selection proves nothing but natural selection. Apply a little chaos theory to it, you’ll see.
—And what about quantum theory?
—And fractals! Apparently random systems create patterns, shapes, order—purpose—meaning, just as simple operations, repeated ad nauseam, create extraordinary complexity: molecules, life, brains, Spem in alium, Finnegans Wake, the career of Picasso. What if the universe is a gigantic self-organizing system that aims toward ever tighter organization? Even mind? Even (gasp!) soul.
—I hate to spoil your little party, she said, with a sigh. But I have one little naughty word to disappoint you with.
—Don’t tell me.
—Ugh! But I have a way out.
—It better be way out.
—The second law of thermodynamics states that in every closed energy system, entropy increases; that is, all of the system’s organized structures break down and all of its energy is diffused, eventually, into heat.
—I’m already yawning. Is that what that old poet meant by “Not with a bang but a whimper”?
—But there’s a catch. What if the universe is not a closed energy system? If there is an infinite number of universes, then the “metaverse,” which includes, or embodies, or whatever, that infinite number of universes, is therefore itself infinite, cannot be closed: it regenerates forever, world (or at least multiverse) without end. In a sense each universe can be said to be creating its own god. Just have a little faith. Imagine a rose that takes a trillion trillion years to open. We are living on one of its smallest, most delicate, youngest of its petals. Yet even we can “see” it.
—Well. Maybe you can. In your grand cosmological theory for this week. Wait another week, and it’ll be shot down dead by some snarky, ambitious new astronomer, some butch femme with a mean streak and a deep desire to kick a man’s butt just because he could be an astronomer for the last 3,000 years and she couldn’t. She so wants a universe that no man will ever be able to understand.
The prevailing winds. Off the eastern promontory. Waxing and waning at will, like the moon in its phases. The tides rising, falling. The churn of birds above the corn fields. The waste of dust behind a tractor. The smell of exhaust fumes behind a bus. People appearing and disappearing like phantoms in the fog. A meritorious deed, somewhere between courtesy and heroism. Almost ignored at the time. Forgotten, as all acts must eventually be. A million years from now, who will remember it? Not I, I promise you. I’ll have too much on my hands. The wind moveth where it listeth. We may as well follow it as anything else. Though it promises a very meager wage. The tents are blowing at the end of the meadow. The ferns wave like big green hands around them. One of the flaps is open, and a small pale face peers out.
All because of the photographs. Or so they said. The curious ability to capture a moment and embrace it more or less indefinitely. To capture time. That was the golden ring. There was a kind of purity in that face staring out at you from its little niche in the past. Whatever awfulness it faced out of: famine, war, revolution, hurricane. Turning at the far end of the avenue, the distant crackling of gunfire, the occasional muffled shout. The chanting of fans in the old football park, like the sounds of ghosts in a Roman arena. The ominous thumping of a helicopter poised half a mile above the city. The thronging mobs. And among all of that, a face frozen in black and white on a piece of glossy paper, caught slightly off guard, both ugly and beautiful, staring toward you, past you, not seeing you, not even imagining you, hardly aware of the photographer, who was only an obscure figure behind a box and a fish-eye-looking lens, and disappeared almost immediately into the crowd, taking with him your splinter of afterlife. Who’d have guessed paradise would turn out to be a darkroom? she asked, with a little laugh, Or if we’re doing digital, not even that! The servers of the internet. A DVD. A smartphone. The cloud. A flash drive no bigger than your thumb.
No. Yes. Maybe. After joy, bitterness, because the joy had led you to believe in an illusion. There’s no greater generator of illusions than happiness, you discovered to your dismay.
—Codswollop, somebody replied. Better a happy illusion than a miserable truth, if that’s the alternative. Better happiness than reality.
—But you can’t live without facing it sometimes. Then it bites.
—Then bite it back.
—But so fine was that bliss . . . !
Which is why he remembered his childhood with such fondness: he’d had so many beautiful ideas about the future. As he lost them, one at a time—the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Christianity, America, love, “greatness,” history, philosophy, art—the compensations betrayed him as well, even at the moment of possession.
He liked women however rarely they returned the favor. His personality was odd, his prospects dim, he had all sorts of old-fashioned attitudes, so women would, after a moment of curiosity, place him firmly back on the shelf. Then he would become obsessed with them, and stick like glue; in one or two cases, they had to summon with the police to scare him off their doorstep. Which left him shattered and in despair. Rather than blame himself, he took it out on them; he pretended to despise them: it felt better than despising himself. And he decided that, in the battle of life, a shrewd but ruthless self-love was the strongest weapon.
That was the one compensation he embraced.
He had hoped for a little loving, a modest happiness, a few trustworthy friends, a dependable, if small, income, the prospect of a happy and just afterlife, a caring and loving God, etc., etc., etc. Embarrassing, childish hopes, whose biologically salutary effect may have often inspired human beings to reproduce, but that had little prospect of being realized and, when they were, no prospect of lasting. He felt himself becoming a kind of court fool of natural selection, forever trying to convince himself that life was good, that he loved life, that it was of value to be alive, even if (he thought in his darker moments) that it was not, they did not, it had no value, and that he kept living out of habit and cowardice.
She was awkwardly silent throughout his latest discourse. This troubled him. In her case, silence did not often mean consent.
Of course, he may well have gotten it completely wrong. Knowing what she thought was, after all, as easy as listening to what she said. In other words, as difficult, sometimes impossible. Because so much of what came out of her mouth was like reels of barbed wire. That voice, at first so quiet, had become bright, adamant, spraying little splinters of a frantic truthfulness, a sincerity too frank to scorn, in accents of tireless rebuke. So much so that any sinking to softness, tenderness, even consideration, immediately put him on his guard: what did she want from him now? And she was, alas, one of the good ones, moral to a fault. So perhaps it was better not to know exactly what she was thinking at any given moment.
—Rectitude, where is thy gentleness?
The neonates on parade in the maternity ward. Of course, she would want to have a delivery at home. It would have been agreed to months before. How does one describe the muck-about of birth?
—Badly, sirrah, said the portly man. Pascal looked up. Night had fallen across the windows, leaving the interior lights a bourbony haze. The portly man went on: Having undergone it once myself and promptly forgotten it. The coming here even as the going hither. Naked and half-blind. The ludicrous necessity of it. To say nothing of the utter triviality that is its cause. Forthwith into the human darkness. Then out of it again. Forgiving where one can, since no one here had been consulted beforehand. Heave-ho, Romeo, and cheerio, in! Then heave-ho, Antonio, and cheerio, out! Between which were several decades of forced labor for the grand panjandrums of the era. With odd hours of recreation, even the occasional vacation, a few entertainments for consolation, usually about sods even worse off than one was, to take the edge off: music and art and philosophy and science and poetry and movies and dancing and novels, you get the picture, to keep you docile and malleable in the manipulative fingers of the aristos and the chromosomes. Wealth, power, fame, love, sex, the gaudy inducements to keep your nose to the grindstone, your attention on the task at hand, and your dick out of trouble. Poverty, boredom, obscurity, indifference, shame, ostracism and celibacy the threats and common fates of any who rebelled: they were too smart to kill you outright, that might turn you into a hero, a martyr. One of Lenin’s brothers is more than enough. To say nothing of Socrates and Christ. No: you must be made to look ridiculous: no reputation can withstand that. Destitution, misery, contempt, impotence and frigidity were the disciplining fears. Sweat, frustration, disappointment, worry, shock, the wall, humiliation, and death were the universal experience—even, in the end, for our masters, though they spent their lives pursuing the illusion that, with just a little more money, a little more power, they might be able to avoid them, to live, and live happily, forever. A recent delusion of theirs is the singularity.
—Now, there’s a really human life for you! the portly man continued, with a royal smack of his lugubrious lips. Of course, only a god can save us, Martin, old boy! Good God, Christopher, we can’t!
—What is “the wall,” you say? The wall is what stands between you and what you most desire. It is stone-gray, thick as your desire is deep and high as your will is long. On each side it stretches as far as your lifetime. It is sometimes transparent. Just on the other side of it, there, almost within reach, is the object—she, he, it—dazzling, radiant, smiling—opening its arms to you, a breeze lifting a strand of hair—of your longing. A spectre. Against the wall all you have is your fists. They are bloody and shredded from your pounding.
You wake up in a sweat.
A pale tide. Stretching like a rumpled sheet toward a vague, cloud-banked horizon. That was how time felt then. And he was standing at the edge of the beach in a white T-shirt and a pair of tan shorts, his feet in the wave wash, staring, his mind wandering between possible futures. What shall I choose? What will be chosen for me? What will I be forced to do, to be? How many of those doors will be closed to me? Now he knew: the ones that had seemed most invitingly ajar were the ones that had been most firmly shut. The ones above all he had wanted to open. Or so he imagined.
Desire had been the trap. The world was a war of desires. He hadn’t gotten what he wanted; he’d gotten what wanted him. This had been the rule of his life. What does life desire most strongly? To last in strength, beauty, youth, hope. Precisely what it is not allowed to have. The most that’s allowed is to have them for a time, and then bear a child who can also enjoy the same imaginary enchantments for a time, who will then be able to have a child who . . . through creating a chain of generations who can touch, with their fingertips, the high floor of heaven at the price of regularly pressing their lips against the walls of hell. Human existence is such a ridiculous fate, the worst thing you can do to a soul is land it in the body of a man or woman; it really ought to be treated as a capital offense. Parents are murderers, the portly man declaimed. Yet we can only know the godlike spectacle of the world, its grandeur and beauty and power, to say nothing of its clever, cruel, wildly imaginative humor, all of which are often almost unbearable—well, actually they are unbearable, since they kill us in the end—by being born into it. It’s as though the universe had been created by a god blowing itself up, and we were fragments of him, rags of infinity, that have blown through the endless darkness ever since. The biggest of bangs. You are thus an ember of God as it slowly, over inconceivable stretches of time, millions of eons, flickers out. This gives your self-esteem a boost out of self-pity, and a certain respect for your fellow creatures: the sand crab near your foot, the gull puling overhead, the funny little girl frowning at you.
—That was me, she said, with a little cock of her head.
—What? he said, suddenly, from his daydreams.
—Yes, she said, you just didn’t recognize me. It took you long enough, I have to say, Christopher.
He gave her a look.
—I’m not so sure I have yet.
—Silly boy! she said. Ember of the god, meet ember of the goddess. Only she didn’t blow herself up. She has more interesting things to do. Though she sometimes needs her god to do them with. Is it not so, my lord?
He shrugged and smiled.
—Aargh! she growled gaily. When will you ever learn?
—Teach me, he said after a moment. Really. Honestly. Now. I want to learn.
She looked at him hopelessly. —If you don’t know by now, how will you ever learn?
Her frown indeed looked just like that of the little girl in his daydream.
She turned sharply to him. A cenotaph for his grave. Taps played on the horizon. An ashtray was gripped firmly in her hand. The feeling of the blood moving in low thumps through his veins, as he had felt that time in hers. He could feel it now in his neck, when he placed his fingers there. Soft as a drum. Quiet as the grass, as a tree growing, as a hawk rising toward the height of the sky like a little black boat on an ocean. He marked the silence behind the owl’s shriek, the wolf’s howl, the cicada’s shrilling in an August night, the chirping cricket, the sweetly cluttered singing of sparrows as the sun rose. A silence blind as the moon and deep as the sun. People couldn’t stand it, it was quiet enough to make you go mad, and so they made a racket to prove to themselves they were still alive.
—Am I wrong?
—You’re always wrong. But it’s too late to take back what you said. Even an erasure is a kind of dishonesty. A word once spoken. Always is spoken. The damage is done, the bone’s broken. It’s cruel and unjust, but there it is. The devil held his tongue in his hand. And yanked it hard.
—There’s a lesson for you.
She looked away with growing contempt, though he was not sure for what or whom.
A chip of paint fell from the ceiling to the carpet. It was white and small, shaped roughly like the state of South Carolina, a triangle with one side curved like a hull. The ocean washed one border, the forest spread from the other, a mesh of roots and leaves, trunks and branches stretching across the land, the trees messaging each other, speaking, listening. The forest covering, protecting the ancient, nearly primeval soil. From what? you ask. From whom?
But the question gives itself away.
—From you and me, she said, in the tone she used to drive a point home: harsh, clipped, slightly baritone. Then she said, to no one in particular, as though she had just surprised the thought inside her: I don’t want to be human anymore. People change their sexual identity with a few operations and six months of behavior therapy. They change their national identity by taking a test, reciting an oath, signing a document, they change their religion with a few mumbled words and a dunk in a baptismal font. DNA exchange is all the rage. So why must I consider myself “human”? Why is that so necessary? What is so wonderful about being human anyway? Not only are we making our planet uninhabitable, we are ugly, vulgar, selfish, ignorant, bullying, cruel, arrogant. Did any creature better deserve to be destroyed? Or abandoned? I hereby renounce my species, I hereby renounce my place in the human race, I hereby become an animal of unknown species, part fish, part reptile, part insect, part bird, with the head of a cat, the body of a lizard, the tail of a wasp and the wings of a hummingbird. I will have the soul of a dog, loyal unto death and forever howling at the moon. I am even willing to give up my wonderful brain – it was the human gland for generating thought that got us into this mess. The human brain cannot save it, it will only make the horror it created worse with its self-immolating solutions. I renounce it all. I give it up. I will give up my humanity to save my shame if not my life. To be human is a disgrace.
He listened, only mildly shocked. After all, it was like hearing his own thoughts spoken back to him in a tense, quiet, feminine voice. Making the words seem all the more shocking. It had been coming for some time. Her vehemence was all the more clear in the quietness of her voice, her eyes’ veiled shine, her hands that had not moved from her lap. As he watched her, she seemed to turn into the creature she had just described, and the room filled with the sound of her wings.
The dim cowering into dimness. You were leaving the human behind you. And with it the angelic and the demonic. Even the divine, for who without us would have dreamed of God? Your sublimest creation, your dream of a supreme creator, all good and powerful and knowing. Your metaphysical guarantee. You would slip back into the feral out of the gaudy prisons of civilization, the compulsive disgust of modernity, the gradual suicide of the industrial and its idiot savant son, the technological, revolution, the perversions of capitalism, its obscenities, the legal mass murder of war, the hysteria of the internet, the slow brain death of democratic culture—that long failed experiment called humanity. You would close this chapter with an ellipsis—who knows what would follow? You would move into the world’s past.
He could feel the cortical functions burn out, one by one, like short circuits, drawing a curtain gradually over his brain. Memory would be the first to go, as in a kind of controlled dementia, the verbal functions, the ability to make connections, to plan, abstractions would vanish in a cloud of sensations, numbers volatilize like comets between the orbits of the planets, the final loss would be imagination, sad magic now without a purpose, it would disintegrate in the acid of perpetual sensation and the relentless procession of dreams, instinct would invade action like an army of moths, fur would cover his cheeks, feathers rustle his belly, a beak harden between his perfectly round eyes, his hands metamorphose into talons, his feet grow claws, and wings sprout from his back like a falcon’s. Like Gabriel’s or Lucifer’s. But he would be no Gabriel and no Lucifer, only animal again, innocent in his violence and hunger. Anything to escape being the monster clown, the giggling obscene predator called man.
—But what if we’re missing something?
—We’re human, how can we expect anything less? We’re always missing something.
—Yes, but what if we are missing the point our humanity made possible?
He gave her an ironic look. For a change.
—Have you changed your mind?
—Listening to you (she said) has a perverse charm. But what stops me from quaffing off a beaker of DNA-decoder, mitochondria and ganglioside-decoupler, is the thought I won’t only lose the existential hypocrisy that so much of being human consists of, this house of lies I carry inside my cranium, but I will also lose the only truth I know.
—And what is that?
—That despair is also a lie. Maybe the biggest lie of all. Which is why it was always considered the greatest sin.
—Give me another. Cocktails are back in fashion this season, the classics—the martini, Tom Collins, gin and tonic, Manhattan, the daiquiri, the high-ball, the Margarita, the black Russian, the b-and-b, the brandy Alexander—and newcomers, flash-in-the-pans, nine-day wonders, instantly forgettable instant classics: the roto-rooter, the shrink’s bill (you drink one of these, you never see a shrink’s bill again), the stone of Aran, the Absolut quickie, the purple penis, and the Peruvian Pisco surprise.
The portly man sighed.
Drugs of choice of an older generation: barbiturates, Mary Jane, LSD, dexies, heroin, meth, orange wedge, hash, speed, Duco-Cement—and those of a later, nervier, crasser, stupider, more self-destructive, freer generation: ecstasy, serafin, Ritalin, steroids, HMG, opioids, etc., etc. Anything to make you numb for a few hours: just conscious enough to blow your mind to bits and leave you staring at them, spinning just past the ends of your fingertips, twinkling, like the stars in your pocket, the galaxies sticking to your feet like sand, the dust dancing an endless merengue in the summer twilight of your dilating eyes. Ecstasy! That’s it! Keep pouring it, Maxman, let the suds pour across the bar, over the floor, rise to the ceiling, flood out to the street, muck up the traffic for miles, cause chaos across the city, douse fires and traffic lights, stuff malls and subway tunnels and high rises and overpasses with its pale, fragrant softness and finally roll in great white frothing billows like a thick foaming fog across the endless bar counter of the ocean. Pour it, man!
—Why can’t you be kind? Even your enthusiasms are poisoned with sarcasm. Nothing must be praised without irony, loved without conditions, admired without reservation. There is no wrong you don’t remember, vividly and in detail. Of the evil of humankind one can indeed say “it hath no bottom,” to quote the rude mechanical.
You will be of that kind because that is all you can be. Slavery, war, slaughter, the wiping out of societies, of species, were considered, by the members of their societies, part of that thing before which everyone must bow: the demands of God, the orders of the king, the unavoidable thing called “reality.” What wrongs are occurring now, of which you know nothing, because “we must do our duty, obey God, face reality”? God, history, evolution, the economy demand it: the elimination of the Indians, the slavery of the blacks, the extinction of a dozen species a day, the leveling of nature for a maximized return, the persecution of the Christians, the extermination of the Jews.
—You’re becoming preachy again, says an unknown voice. Readers don’t like that.
I know. Look up. What’s that scent? Beyond the roses, the lilacs, the sweet bank of honeysuckle, what are those heaps in the field, burning? What is that strange fragrance? What are those distant yells, those cries, that sound of sobbing? The silence that followed was worse.
She followed his eyes for a moment where they stared in abstract sympathy out the window. She couldn’t help suspecting his sudden flood of moral sensitivity; she always suspected hypocrisy or at least self-deception. Another passing lunacy. An attack of persecution complex. A spasm of ludic virtue, or a momentary lucid mania
And yet, she thought, God help us.
There was an edge of hysteria in her voice. She was stronger than she realized, but seemed to think her sensitivity meant she was weak. She was not, of course; she seemed to collapse easily, then rebounded with a speed, a grace, that was sometimes astonishing. He, on the other hand, didn’t seem half as sensitive as she, and it took a savage pummeling to make him collapse. But once down, he stayed down. And might stay down for years. The consequences of bitterness and hatred and lust for revenge could be frightening indeed. She could recover (for example) from a broken heart, a romantic breakup, within weeks. And often did, as she had the habit of giving her heart freely, her kindness was so great (though heaven help you if you earned her hostility, which could happen as quickly, and for the most surprising reasons, as the winning of her affection). He, on the other hand, was as much a miser with his love as with his hatred: indifference was his usual gift to people, an indifference cloaked with impeccable manners, thanks to his upper-middle class breeding as a child. But if he fell in love, he loved to the point of despair. His heart did not break, it shattered. His few hatreds, curiously, never lasted long, or became diffused, as it were, politically: he felt a certain contempt for “humanity,” but could never bring himself to dislike anyone into whose eyes he had ever gazed. The edges of his heart were soft with pity: everyone he met, even the wealthy, powerful, famous, seemed helplessly vulnerable behind a thin, transparent mask. They had no protection; they too were open to the wind of peril and loss. The wind would take them whithersoever it listeth, as the phrase had it, despite their apparent strength, dreams of control, their fantasies of invulnerability.
Odd how things can strike you out of the blue. All you have to do is look up. And there you are, shaken and whirling in the wind.
(to be continued)
Christopher Bernard’s previous novels include A Spy in the Ruins and Voyage to a Phantom City. He has also published two collections of short fiction and two poetry collections. He is co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector and a regular contributor to Synchronized Chaos.