interview at the crossroads
I will try to tell you what has happened to you, says the Companion.
But before that, I’d like you to—your surroundings, your daily life; could you describe them for me? Take as much time as you want. It’s important that you remember now, even though you will see that the idea is to forget, eventually. I think the reason will become clear in time. For now, just tell me about your—self, anything you like. Anything you remember.
Eva shakes her head slightly, a twitch, as if to clear it. She reaches up with her hand, puzzled.
My hair—is loose now—I wore it—up, there… (Touching the locks that fall about her shoulders.) I had it—done, that’s the word—at a place, the same place. For a long time. In a—building. There were many of them. Long rows…
Yes, yes. Good. What else?
The buildings were tall, and made of stone and metal. And glass. There were these—engines, many of them! I moved around in them—I mean, from place to place—they took me from place to place—to get my hair—a man named—what was his name? He had very short hair himself. He did it. He said things that made me laugh. It felt good to go there. The noises were all different there: sharper, longer, louder. That was—Downtown, it was called.
Yes. And were there any birds? Did you ever hear birds?
Oh yes, I heard them. We ate them, too—not the ones we heard, I mean—there were not so many of those. Where I lived (not Downtown, a place—outside it, with smaller buildings) there were some birds. They sang. And actually that was how it first, how I first—because they were singing about—no, that isn’t right… What they were singing was here.Wasn’t it? What I mean is, it was in their singing, this place, where I am now. Because when I first began to listen…
Not the ones we ate. They were dead too.
Yes, quite right. Well, dead, you know—isn’t exactly—we don’t—that’s to say, we just call it “other.” Because we truly don’t know about that.
Eva falls silent; birdsong and the chirring of insects pour into the stillness between her and the Companion. She looks at her surroundings: trees, shrubs, grasses, moved by the wind, gently, constantly. Clouds float above; the sky is vibrant. Its color is so intense it seems to be made of some substance other than light and air.
I can hear so many birds here, she says, wonderingly.
Can you tell me more? the Companion asks. What else do you remember? But Eva is still gazing around her, distracted. She blinks and breathes deeply.
The air is thicker here. I mean it’s more like—food, or something. I feel it’s—I feel I’m part of it, inside and out! It smells—it has a lot of different smells.
She shrugs, frustrated, losing the words.
Yes, of course. But there…?
I don’t remember smells.
The Companion waits patiently. Suddenly Eva looks down at herself and shudders violently.
I wore—I was covered in—cloth! All over! Someone else must have made it. I don’t know where—so much! I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to make it! It was just there. Some of it felt good. I must have been cold! We sat on stone and metal and something—smooth and cold, very cold… Oh no!
It’s all right, says the Companion, softly.
But just now—I felt I couldn’t breathe…
It’s all right. Don’t worry. Don’t worry about that part, now. It doesn’t matter anymore. Instead, why don’t you tell me a little about the others who were there? There were a lot of them, weren’t there? “Downtown” and—different places, yes?
Yes, yes. I remember that. But how do you know? How do you know that?
There have been a few—other accounts. Very few. That’s why it’s so important you tell me everything you can.
But I’m still not sure about any of it… Were the others really there too, where I was? So many, like me? And yet not like me; I’m here, and they’re not, and I’m forgetting what it was like. Was I asleep there? I don’t seem to be able to explain things clearly to you. Are my words different? I’m alive here! I know that! Where are they? You say, not “dead,” exactly. What, then?
The Companion is silent, and Eva closes her eyes as if to think, but quickly opens them again.
And it all seems so—faded, compared to here, now. It just went by—I don’t even know how long… Can I just forget it now, let it go?
Soon, yes, as I told you. You will forget. That’s why we have to speak beforehand. Go on, please: the others…?
Well, they were everywhere, but I really didn’t know anything about them. They were just there. Some laughed and talked, or shouted. I didn’t know who they were. Everyone was always moving around, everywhere I went. There were so many! There was nowhere to go where there weren’t hundreds, thousands already, moving around. Then others were just like, like—pictures I saw, but they moved. I assumed they—lived—there too, in different places, and you could meet them if you went to those—places. Maybe…
Interesting: pictures that moved—I don’t know that we’d heard that before. Please tell me if you can remember anything specific about the others. Or some of them, at least. You must have known some, among all those? Like—the man with your hair! Or others? What was that like?
Eva shrugs, resigning herself to the effort.
Well, yes. I remember some. Everything is so hazy; I suppose because we were moving about so much of the time. I don’t think I ever sat still like this—outside, under the sky, with any of them. I think because maybe the time passes…passed… is different here? But let me see. I knew some of them, yes. I must have. I had—children, perhaps? No, not that.
It seems unlikely. It would have tied you there, like the others. Well, it tends to, we think. It may be why, if there were or are so many, as you describe, we know of so few…
Or they didn’t hear the birds, I suppose.
And after that I began to look at the sky differently too. It became huge, suddenly.
Yes, that is important. But the others?
Yes, the others. Let me see. I went to a small room and sat there. Downtown. People came in and out; we spoke from time to time. I did this many times, I think. We all had machines; we watched them. Small, but brightly colored; they moved, or things in them moved, I guess. They weren’t—engines. We didn’t move around in these. I did as the others did.
All of them?
The ones I saw most often. Where are those machines? Are they here too? They were everywhere, like the buildings.
No, not here, not what you call—we have tools, yes. Many tools. Very fine ones, as you’ll see. Go on. What else did you do with the others? Did you make things?
Make—no, I don’t think so. I don’t think we made anything. We talked. We looked at things together sometimes and talked about them. Not the sky or the birds, though—other things. Pictures, words. Places. Drink, food. Some of it tasted good, but very sweet—I liked that, though. Someone made it for us, like the cloth I wore… Like everything there. We all moved around and didn’t make anything… Will I have to make things here?
Well, everyone does. Not has to, I think. Just does. You can learn. We all do. It’s a pleasure to learn and to make. It is what we mean by “pleasure,” really.
So I live here now. They’re all gone…
Well—they are still there, perhaps, unless…
That’s what we are trying to find out, you see… But before I try to explain that, what else do you remember?
I remember—lots of boxes. You opened them and they had things in them. Everything you needed came wrapped in a box or something like a box, but softer. Sometimes that was fun. I guess you don’t have boxes here, do you?
Perhaps I could try to make them.
Well, they aren’t needed much.
Maybe just for fun?
Yes, of course… Anything else?
I don’t know. It’s so hard to remember any more. Rooms, machines… People coming and going…
Did they ever die?
What—who? The people? All the time, I think. But I really didn’t know them, you see. Well, I suppose I knew a few. There was a man once; we shared a room—for a long time, maybe. Then he became sick. He went to another place, where there were others, also sick. They kept them there. Then he died.
Did you sit with the body? Or wash and wrap it? Or burn it?
Goodness no! It disappeared somewhere. Maybe they—took it away? Oh, I don’t want to try to remember these things. Must I? I feel more and more that I wasn’t ever really there, that I’ve always been here. That I’m from here, not there, and I always have been. I just fell asleep, and dreamed it all. That’s right, isn’t it?
Well, you see, it’s starting to happen. What has always happened before—so quickly! I’m not sure we can learn any more from you now. And yet, if you could just tell me—for example, did anything there—look like here?
Well, like I said, the birds, the sky—except here they seem thicker, fuller somehow, I think I said that…
But more specifically?
Eva looks around her again.
You know, it’s funny. The last place I remember being—the hill there where I lay down to look at the sky. You know: after I had heard the birds? When the sky suddenly—when I knew I had to pay attention to it? When everything, everything began to speak, and I began to understand it, I went there, to the hill.
Almost every place was covered in buildings; just a few weren’t. The hill was one. There were buildings and roads all around it, but there was a hill, with a tree on top.
Well, you see, this hill we’re on seems to have the same shape, even though there are no buildings, no roads. And many more trees…
Yes—just one was left, perhaps…
The Companion is distant, musing.
If we knew for sure, that could tell us what to do. But we don’t know yet.
I don’t understand.
The Companion looks troubled.
Look at where we are now. Try to take it in, with all your senses. Could this be the same place?
Eva shifts uncomfortably, for the first time, from her sitting position on the grassy hillside. She stretches her legs, somewhat stiffly.
May I stand and move?
She stands and arches her body, and then looks at it, truly noticing it for the first time. It is smooth, warm and unclothed, like the Companion’s. Eva raises her arms above her head, and opens her hands, as if trying to catch all that flows through and around them and sift it with her fingers.
Then she looks around her, intently, for a long time. And she says:
But it’s all just fields, as far as I can see. And woods. Then a river. And those few little buildings, are they houses? Made of clay with grass on top? So few of them. Nothing looks the same, nothing! And it sounds and smells totally different; all the sounds are insects, birds, and wind. The air smells like earth. And it feels different too—I’ve told you that…
Yet the shape. The shape of the hill…
No, no, it can’t be the same. It mustn’t be the same!
Because that was all dead, and this is alive.
It doesn’t sound as if it was all…
Yes, it was. I never had anything to compare it to before, but I can tell you now, it was. If you took the machines away it would all have stopped; it was dead.
Every living thing was being replaced with dead things. That was what the sky was saying, you see? Nobody saw it, because the things kept moving, so they thought they were alive, but they were dead, more and more of that place was dead, till one day—that day perhaps—everything—I too…
Oh no…! She moans, softly.
Please, you are very agitated. Don’t distress yourself any more.
But maybe I’ll have to go back? If I fall asleep again! Or if—when—I die? Perhaps the dead here…?
No, we don’t think that’s so. If it is really—a place at all, it only goes one way. But we don’t know which—direction, that is, you see? Is this merely an escape for you, or is it a warning for us? That’s the dilemma. That’s what we must try to learn. In order to know if we must take steps…
The Companion’s attention seems to have moved away from her again.
If it is the same time, in a way, but a fork in time, a different path that was taken at some point—well then, there’s nothing we can do. Nothing we need to do; it’s simply independent, it exists, as do many other paths perhaps; some continue, some end… We know of no others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In fact, there would have to be others, an infinite number perhaps. And the other accounts, each one with slight differences—I wonder…
Struggling to follow, Eva stares at the Companion, who is gazing down at the little group of dwellings by the river.
But if there is only one path, one Time-stream, and it flows from here to there—or rather, from now to then—if we are in some way responsible for what will come, if we are the past of…
Silence, filled with birdsong and wind.
Because we are alive, as you say. We don’t fear death here. Balancing life and death is our work, our pleasure. We maintain the balance, and it has always held. And so the world is—is as you can see and feel.
But there, where you came from—something seems to have happened…
Eva, for the first time, feels a chill on her bare skin.
We must review the differences between the accounts. Perhaps if I take you to speak with another who may also have come from there, and has arrived only recently, like you…
The Companion is looking at her again, kindly, it seems, although it is difficult for her to read the expressions in a face that seems to have no gender, no age.
If you are ready, let’s walk down the hill to the river, to the garden, you see it there? And I’ll take you to meet Adam.