Height of an Era

In the beginning there was life. When asked to recount what it was like, he demurred, unable to bring up concrete memories. There were the phantoms of experience, lingering—fleeting—sensations of a bygone era, or the beginning of an era, or maybe it was the end. He could not know. But there once was life. Vibrant, abundant life, unrestrained and laughing, the kind only seen in a child. With the years, the color faded, no doubt a consequence of weathering: erosion, compaction, fracturing, melting, solidifying. He wondered, at times, whether that old life remained, but in a new form. Or if it was possible for something to be lost indefinitely, to leave a space permanently empty. That life had been present once; if not now lost, then it was morphed or hidden. Both, perhaps. They’d ask him again, where, where is that life, to which he would shrug, maybe walk away, maybe not. They might stand and watch, shrug as well and go about their day. Sometimes they’d chase after him, tap him on his shoulder, lock eyes with him, and, when he failed to say a word, move on, just like the others. Occasionally they’d grab him and keep repeating, life, life, life. He didn’t understand. He likely was unable to hear what they were saying, or see what they were seeing.
     They saw remnants of a different day, and seeing this, they prodded him, lightly, indiscernibly, and tried to put those pieces together. These seekers, they’d look as deep as they could, into a void only barely illuminated by the distant life. They’d say, there, there it is. do you see? see, there, there, and in the great glare of their own awe, their fabricated, faint glimmer of life would burst into a sun, suddenly illuminating the great void and allowing them to see. But that light was their own, a reflection of themselves, a projection of themselves as they once were, or might be. The void remained, a porous vessel now, just barely retaining what was presented to it.
     Sometimes a looker would pull back, say no. More often than not they said this right away. They saw the void and chose to remain distant. Others, seeing the void for what it was and knowing exactly what they saw, chose to fill it as befit them. Not like the awed suns, those desperate voices digging about blindly. These others knew what was there, reveled in the ability to play as they wished, to lull and to sway it, to infiltrate and toy with the remnants of that bygone life. He’d stand there and watch with his glazed eyes, trying to make sense of what was being done and how it was being done. Yet every time he had, or thought he had, a grasp of what was there, it would all slip between his fingers and fizzle away. The others, by then leaning back and fiddling their fingers about in the void, would smile something of a knowing smile, but maybe not. They’d say, hey now, relax, we’ve got the reins. just go along, don’t worry, which of course he didn’t. But he did. He did that day. The day before, he did and he didn’t. The day after was the same.
     They said that life was like a parabola: it started at the bottom, where you were born and pure, then slowly climbed until it reached a peak, somewhere in the muddled years of adulthood, then flowed back down to the other end, gone and pure. Yes, he said, it is all a parabola. But that parabola was just the fantasy that they’d unburden themselves of the climb’s detritus—enough to pick up the pieces of what had been shed at birth—and that maybe, just maybe, there would be life in the end as well.

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