Rain of Stars and Sea of Moon
RAIN OF STARS AND SEA OF MOON | A DRIFT BY TED HAYES
‘Drifting,’ yes, though it ceased to be an adequate word when I first caught sight of the whisping tail, the blinking flutter of pale muslin in an endless breeze. My frame of relativity became entirely ambiguous, I had never been moving, the tower had been searching me.
On the horizon throughout the drift were the unceasing eyes of the ghost that was running from me. She pursed her lips and looked at me. I knew she wasn’t looking at me, but I didn’t think about it. Don’t tell me, don’t ever speak, for your voice will destroy you.
The sinews of the cocoons stretched in the winds every morning, there was no exception to this rule: it was the objective reality of the tower and its family. If the winds (the unforgiving, infinite winds!) stilled themselves reluctantly for even a moment, it was merely the human scaled manifestation of an arcane and ridiculous fact of quantum energy. Stillness could exist if and only if it were eradicated within moments of its nascence.
I could distinguish between that ghostly flicker of white flame and the coverings of the cocoon with ease, I told myself. Only in my static nights could I fathom that the pale arms of the ghost(s) were the reaching spandrels of the radio tower, stiff but reaching ever starward, and that the translucent folds of her ceaseless dress were the glowing organs of space hung inside that tower. She turned to me in slow motion and said nothing. The line of her lips, straight and unbroken, was the finite horizon in the out-of-focus background.
The wind whipped and stabbed through the empty space between the cocoons, and ladders and wires draped from above and soared from below. Stiff aerilons of sheet aluminum braided many of these cables and ties into west-facing shields. Aeolius might beat forever on these, and they are unto the smooth boulders and canyon walls of other places wind-bleached by his illimitable reach.
Onto one of these I stumbled. It was night. It had always been night, my memory stretched back only a few hours, but it was my entire life thus transpired squeezed into that cocoon with the stretched walls. There were untold billions of stars in the universe: I could not yet see them, despite the doctor’s promises. I was yet blind, and his daughters (the ghosts) seemed only to conceal the stars more, as the city’s sodium lights scare them away into the ether.
I was shaking from the chill, though spared the bracing wind. I became instantly intimate with all four hundred and seven names for the winds the ancients once had, and just as instantly forgot it all as one foot plunged forth over the emptiness. I could see below me, through the expanded metal mesh, the black gash in the earth and the long sliver that sheltered parts of it and the very dim glow that emanated from beneath that sliver. I knew that the doctor’s wife was writing down there, but I had no conception of what time of evening it could possibly be. I knew with just as much certainty that the doctor himself was an equal altitude above me, in communion. The certainties of the doctor and the poetess stood in demanding opposition with the complete uncertainty of time and the daughters. I began to imagine violins and thought wretchedly that the sound of the violins must prove the existence of time, for the sound could not be perceived were it not for the vibration of air over time. Over time, over time. I kept fumbling towards the ladder, my legs were awaking from an eon of sleep. I was sheltered the whole way with the violin strings accompanying me: they stretched from earth to sky and held the ground to the tower.
I had left the light on in that cocoon. The doctor had a name for it (he had a name for everything) but I never remembered it. The cocoon, or the act of leaving a light on in one? Probably both. I pushed open the trap door, I had forgotten the lift in my sleepiness. The sound of static had begun to force out the tearing violins. My heart drew in painfully for a half a second at the thought of the violins; I had never actually heard them. They were only remnants of a verb, and an ancient one at that.
“Just like the stars, aren’t they?”
Down the platform to my left, the doctor was gathering a printout from an old and sputtering device whose many tails whorled around the struts and braces of the tower.
“What?” I asked after a pause, then remembered to haul my body inside all the way and close the trap. The walls of this deck kept the winds entirely at bay, so that they became the murmur of a million voices inside the mansion at the endless masque.
The doctor looked at me and adjusted his glasses, then explained, “The ‘remnants of a verb,’ as you said. Quite eloquent. I observed that such a phenomena is very much like the light of the distant stars that we are being bathed in.”
I hadn’t, of course, realized that I had spoken aloud. It didn’t seem likely to me that I had, yet it was substantially less likely that my mentor’s hypothesis was correct, and it was indeed possible to interpret the untold millions of signals radiating electromagnetically from my brain.
The doctor had gone back up to the communion deck, and taken his printout with him. LEDs blinked all around me in the darkness. The floor and foot of the walls of equipment were dimly lit with the sharp but muted light of many northern-hemisphere stars and a single waxing moon. I could have stared at that vignette for eternity.
Eventually I moved my head, slowly and stiffly. I walked through the gelatin air and climbed another ladder to the communion deck.
Though the first several layers of static had already been sublimated by my subconscious, my awareness of them came back momentarily when several more were piled on. The light in this deck was submarine-silence-red, and once the wash of new, soft noise was normalized, a series of low-power but high-frequency clicks and other transient signals bubbled up to the fore. Racks upon racks of gear, cobbled together from past labs and old parts, lined the extensions of the radio tower’s skeleton that shot forth into the sky at this, the highest occupiable deck. In a shallow spiral, the lab equipment gave way to living space: a quieter place that welcomed the lone stargazer as well as the family. At this time, the doctor was the only inhabitant, busy as he was with rows of quizzically outdated dual-pole knife switches and the dying traces of frantic oscilloscopes.
At the very edge of this deck, on the leeward side of the tower, facing the birthing direction east, Miridian leaned. I saw her through several layers of glass, and the instant I perceived her was the instant she ceased to exist. I paid it no mind.
Doctor Vesper never glanced at me while working. Instead he spoke to the shimmering CRTs: “EM interference in the very high upper harmonics have rendered these readings almost completely useless,” he informed me in an unconcerned, even uninterested, voice. “Luckily,” he continued, “that last algorithm you wrote is proving itself…,” he looked at me, “proving itself interesting.”
As I approached the doctor, I realized, That was her name. Miridian. I was surprised and scared at myself. She was a ghost, she wasn’t real, but she lived here, she was flesh and blood. I knew it. I had spoken with her. She had a sister. Or was there only one? What was the other’s name?
While the doctor and I reworked the last several equations, still burning holes into the worn whiteboard, I glanced over and over again at the railing at the edge of the deck. Leaning over the edge, into nothingness, a hundred feet up, a million miles down from the sun from whence she came.
* * *
It had always been night, and yet against all odds, it appeared to be day.
Misses Vesper was right where I suspected she would be: here, under the sliver, at her desk, and yet nowhere to be found. The stained teacup and crumbs recorded her existence. The paper strewn about the antique rosewood monstrosity of her desk had been marked and remarked upon in the last several hours. But no poetess, no long black dress.
She and I had never spoken with each other. Or had we? I knew we had, we must have. There had been dinners. She had spoken volumes with her slender, pale fingers. Her daughters had looked on, one out the window, and one through me. That mouth, the still, flat horizon.
“He was up all night, and now he sleeps,” I said to the air. I smiled weakly as I affected the tiny glass ring left on the coffee table. The doctor’s wife would hear me when she got back—the candles, the burnished wood and the stained concrete would absorb my presence and retransmit it to her.
Fondling that pale blue ring, I knew where Miridian would be found, and I descended. The stretching spaces of the ground level (underneath that long cantilevered splinter) gave way to a glass stair which gave way to a tunnel and the pit. Glass and steel pathways crossed the darkness, and recessed lights insinuated their luminance into the space, defiant of the half-daylight that seeped in from above. Silent bedrooms, now dark, angled off into the sand and rock, and I continued down another stair, this one having no purpose for translucency as the available light was dimming too rapidly to be useful to the realms below.
My heart quickened and I imagined nothing. All was concrete and granite. There were no ghosts, here, no hints of pale white muslin flitting in my peripheral vision. For some reason this only convinced me more, and I pressed on in the gloom. Carven wood sconces led me on down a passage into the earth. I knew this to be the daughter’s retreat, I had read it in the diagrams littered among the doctor’s findings. I knew she would be here.
In that darkness, still I imagined nothing: for the sound of violins I knew (this time) to be perfectly real. I resigned to the fact that they were evidence of time passing. My extremities were growing gold. My fingers were pale and slender. The violins—two of them—were real, and their harmonies radiated from a space somewhere in front of me.
I approached the sharp elbow in the path and touched the glass ring. It was the color of Miridian’s eyes. (No, I told myself, that color is only one of the colors, only one of many.) My feet had risen from the ground and I took out the paper I had absconded with from communion, the readout on which was printed
They were only remnants of a verb, and an ancient one at that.
The significance of that readout had disappeared, the paper fell to the ground and disappeared with it. The violins were close now. Light poured forth from a slit in the ceiling, a slit that carved all the way up to the surface and admitted a cold blue-white sunlight into the rock and dust. Turn the corner.
Around the thin wall, the light could reflect only so far, and the space beyond was thick with darkness. Its dimensions were as known to me as they were important to me: for there lay the ghosts of a thousand dreams, the wintry static I slept and woke with, one and many pairs of eyes, one and many pairs of frozen lips. In this space she beckoned me with her silence, the ghost(s), the daughter(s), Miridian and all the forgotten scents and raiment and souvenirs of a hundred disparate histories. I re/collected all these in the instant I looked at her. Drying roses, hung upside down. Ink-stained fingertips. The taste of milk and amaretto.
In this space and time we were all spaces and times: from the top of the tower, leaning into the west wind (the unstoppable west wind), we watched the skies of alien planets from the surfaces of dying suns.
Finally, the shower began: a parade of parallel meteors, smearing and burning, burning across that arcing dark-blue panorama, as I dropped to the earth in slow-motion. My vertiginous departure from the world of the tower into the world of the earth: I knew it had happened before, and I knew it would happen again.
And there I flickered out to be born again, face to the rain of stars, adrift in a sea of moon.