The lines around Eartha's eyes reminded Ray of a setting sun. He wondered whether he would have fallen for her if he'd known that she was a Dependent, and that withdrawal could produce such pronounced physical effects. Still, he reflected, the issue was not whether he loved her, but whether she could love him.
He drew in some air. "Well, can't you try to love me?"
She looked away, piqued. "You know I have been. We've been told often enough that 'violent, world-destroying love' is the only cure for Dependency." She rose. "I blame God. Take it out on Him, not me."
"Disobey some God-given urge."
He smiled dryly. "If I disobeyed God I might not go to Heaven." He made a dismissive gesture. "Perhaps we just need a change of space."
"There's always Germany."
"So let's go there then!"
"But the war . . ."
"When it's over, France and Germany will be a joint state. They'll be like one complete world - or 'monde', as they say here."
"In Germany, 'mond' means 'moon.'" She started towards the passage. "But in the meantime, my fix is overdue."
Several moments later she reappeared with a vial of violet liquid. It confounded him that she had to rely on a drug - even one authorized by centuries-old tradition - for the continuity of her perception. But what could he do? The drug's effects were so pronounced that they reached back in time. Anyone predestined to become a Dependent was seized.
Still, anything was better than the disorienting fantasies, the frightening deconstruction of withdrawal.
She withdrew a syringe; it looked like a fountain pen. Then she raised it to the light and tested its plunger. She laughed. "Here's to metaphysics!" A purple drop ejaculated from the needle, connected by a narrow, slowly-lengthening strand.
Shaking his head, he approached the door. He would go to church. Perhaps a curŽ would be able to advise him about Eartha.
He soon found a church. The weathercock on its spire whirled in the light autumn wind. The flower-beds bordering the path were full of syringa.
As soon as he was inside the church, a racket started. He glanced about, and saw at the altar some musicians, who were striking cymbals and triangles. Some were also playing reed instruments.
Blocking his ears, he went over to the curŽ. "What type of mass is this?"
The curŽ appeared not to have heard. His Bible was raised: superimposed on the stained-glass windows it was like a crystal from some kaleidoscope. But then he turned. "A comic setting of the mass, naturally. There've been so many serious settings that that's all that's left, now."
"Oh. Anyway, could I go over a small problem with you?"
Ray closed his eyes. "Well you see, I've fallen for a Dependent - but she hasn't for me. We've tried everything, but to no avail. How can I make her . . . see me as someone who stands out from the rest, so to speak?"
The curŽ appeared to weigh this up. Then, he went, "I think I know. Your lover's problem is semiotic, not religious. What you must do is discuss writing with her, and remind her of the play of the individual word, rather than the law of the text as a whole. Then it'll be just a matter of time before she sees you too as playfully individual and therefore lovable."
But how can I do that? You don't know her! She never listens to me."
"When you're out together, go up to people. Ask their names. If the names' nuances don't square with your impressions of the people, allude to this. Demonstrate that a love of words can achieve anything."
Ray thanked the curŽ, and made his way towards the door.
As soon as he was back at Eartha's house, he suggested that they go for a walk. Only an hour had passed since her injection, so there was no danger of her going into withdrawal. Once, he recalled, she had gone a week without a fix; and it had been as though she were on another plane.
Outside the gate, he stopped, and pointed to a woman with dun hair. "I'm sure I've seen that woman before - let's find out her name." He extracted his hand from Eartha's.
"Why? What are you up to?" Eartha moved after him.
Ray ignored this. Instead, he waved to the dun-haired woman. "Hi. What's your name?"
The woman looked him up and down coolly. "Bea - if it's any affair of yours."
Ray spread his arms. "But 'Bea' means 'content.' You don't look very content to me! Quite down in fact."
The woman regarded him disbelievingly, and walked on with a stiff gait.
Eartha applauded, albeit a little sceptically. "You really have a way with words. They say palmistry can give insights into character - but you read that woman's name rather than her palm."
"And I did it for a reason." He beamed. "Do you love me?"
"I - " she broke off.
A platoon of German infantry was rounding the corner.
Incensed, Ray approached a soldier who was making up the rear. "I hope you realize you've just ruined my chances of making an impression on my lover! What on Earth is up? Don't tell me the war's over."
The soldier stopped. "Yes. Germany has won. There's one reigning king, now."
Suddenly, Eartha pointed above their heads. "The moon!"
Ray looked up: and saw what resembled a massive white ball. He shook his head, dazed. "It's going to collide!"
He tried to compose himself. "It might break up before it collides, but the world could still be razed." He faced Eartha. "All we can do is try to put ourselves out of it. Do you have any pain-killing drugs, extracts of any kind?"
"Then I suggest we return to your place."
Soon, they were hurrying down the path. "How much time is there?" She urged him inside.
"Days. . . . Hours. . . . Why?"
She appeared hurt. "There's no drug between us now! Don't you see? I love you!"
Resignedly, he grasped her hand. "It's too late. In any case, you probably would have started looking on me just as an object, a mere presence. That's what usually happens with my affairs."
"Well, I can fix that!" Determined, she headed towards the bathroom.
"What are you going to do?" He followed her.
She reached into a drawer and held up a box of tablets. "These will wipe our recent memories. If we take some, we'll be able to keep discovering ourselves. Even in our remaining minutes. As soon as our love becomes stale, we can take a tablet and it'll be new - made strange - again."
He felt apprehensive. "Is that stuff addictive?"
"Is it important?"
He glanced out of the window. The moon now dominated the whole sky. Its terminator was like the edge of a razor; its craters reminded him of dark wells. "No, I guess not." He took a tablet and swallowed it.
She also swallowed one.
He looked around. It wasn't familiar, this setting. . . . Where was he? Next to him was a middle-aged woman; she appealed to him, for some reason. "Who are you?"
The woman folded her arms. "More to the point, who are you, in my bathroom?"
He turned away. From the way she spoke, she was a Dependent. He could never fall for anyone like that.
He reeled against the sink. He had felt a massive craving. He tried to walk, straight away felt the craving again. It was growing; his mind felt as though it were hurtling through the sky.
He saw a fountain pen, no, a syringe; he cast himself towards it, scattering phials and boxes, and rammed the needle into his arm.
The moon exploded. Columns of heavenly violet light welled up in great waves, peaked, and rained on him.
Presently, he opened his eyes.
The field is a great empty space of sand which either because of the dawn or because Western Australia is largely red looks the colour of blood. Here and there are tufts of dried grass.
I stride through the field and try to take in its immensity. The red dunes might be mountains: the dawn light has made the sides of their long shadows almost parallel. Punctuating the linearity are boulder-like knots of sand. I grasp one, and there is a split-second jar, a sound too low for hearing.
On my left I notice a faint rectangular outline: the plot of some future building. Perhaps, I reflect, a whole city is to be sited here, a city that will reach to the stars themselves. Knowing that by altering a few surveyor's signs I could defer the founding of such a city gives me a sense of power. If I desire, I could raze the entire site.
But I hear the sound of footsteps. I scrabble onto the summit of a dune, and contemplate my domain.
Picking his way over my sand is an unsophisticated-looking preschooler. I feel confounded. Doesn't he know that there is the danger of rain, the grey lines that rule space? Does he want me to have to lead him back past Lake Richmond? I can see him now, calling out to me to wait!
"What are you up to here? This is my field." I climb down.
He looks apprehensive. "But this is going to be our school."
I narrow my eyes. "Maybe, but not the type you mean. It will be a school of red steel, whose bars will reach light-years to the red star Gamma in the Southern Cross. There are those who will alight on the plain and state, 'What is that city over the mountains?'. But the mountains will be clusters of stars, and the city itself will be called 'Southern Cross'."
The preschooler edges back. "Who are you?"
"My role is the beginning." I spread my arms. "And the pattern of our existence is in the stars, disseminating into the void." I stare levelly at him. "And did I say you could play here yet?"
He turns and runs.
When I describe the city as a satellite city, you will see a plain above which project circles of skyscrapers; but you will not be wholly right, for 'satellite' also implies the stars, and this city is one with the Southern Cross.
"But what is the city really?" you press, as I lead you past the Southern Cross hotel, where down-to-earth types are milling about, lost. "What constitutes it now?"
I stare idly at a mirrored console in which boil reflections of the twin blue suns of Alpha Crucis. By far the brightest of the Southern Cross's stars, their rays give rise to them, shifting effects. "You can't tie down the city to a precise moment, for then it will just spill out in the spatial direction." I gesture about. "As it has in fact."
You throw up your arms. "So what constitutes it here? 'Here' implying the twin, cool, blue states of Victoria and New South Wales."
"And then the city will spill into the temporal direction. Space and time are inseparable." I steeple my fingers. "Outside the city, they're the Kantian forms of our external and internal intuitions respectively, but in the city there's only one intuition, and its form is space-time."
"Space-time, or space's becoming time. A certain play. Under the Cross of erasure."
You draw yourself up. "I see. A spatial-temporal wordplay, which our relationship limns. An emerald passage, for instance, also means the passages of a text set in emerald typescript."
Steel complexes project from plots of fused sand. A low whirr diffuses through communicating doors, giving rise to complexes among those who would plot to steal. Stairs begin at the moon and end with those who moon. Reflections in planes where the reflective merely stare.
"An automatic teller!" You are beside yourself.
I stand between you and the machine and laugh. "Digits on the keys!"
"No need to wait for advisers? Because here free is the word?"
"And irrelevant is the separation of the mere plot, or the wait when the city is behind us."
You are disorientated as you soar through the chrysoprase torus of oriental bars spiralling about the city's highest spire. Praise Einstein, you reflect, for inspiring even a textual theory of differing and deferring.
Columns appear on which rain shattered glass. Shattering was the reign of the ruler of the red decade. Who crossed the pass and read his decayed columns of print? No prints are left on the hologram vaults you pass.
Stories are recounted: "Locked away is the diamond seized from the adamantine Locks of the Dying Seas. Dyed are the locks of those who bear the star sapphire creese. They have been interred in citadels of countless storeys."
But I sense you slowing. You are drawing near the city's margins, where the steel struts give on to an eternal void and the pale dawn of Delta Crucis. Its clear skeletal flame is already diffusing through your tufted perspex visor, taking time, and you ravenously let it sear your eyes. Soon, I know, you will turn back patronizingly at the city and me, feeling you dominate us.
"Sear your eyes - sere your I's," I call hopefully; but you regard me as if to say, "There's no point in going on. I know what the city stands for. Everything has fallen into place."
Apprehensively, I turn to contemplate the last quays of the city. What now? I am not sure if I have any part left to play. Relieved of my own creation! Will it eventually be razed, leaving only an outline? Will it become a shrine to its original possibilities?
You gaze from beyond the continent at the sunset figure who is feigning naivety. Tasmania is a triangle, and visible from it is Delta Crucis, but you can't see yet the whole of Crux. The separation. A stone. You consider the figure. He is up to something, but what? Time will tell.
You pause to reflect. "As if the city could really be bounded by space. And just think of its possibilities in time."
On the summit of a dune are two preschoolers: one of them is you; the other is me.
New: 7 January, 1997 | Now: 20 April, 2015