I have seen you many times. You are the one who held eye contact with me as the elevator closed, who mouthed a word I could not read through the window of a bus, who dared me to approach from behind your fortress and your sentinels of friends. These encounters, and even the glimpses of you in other people, they are like the flickering of a leaf in a constant wind; jittery but steady, easily understood but incalculably complicated, never the same but never different.
Any city is an aggregate, a grand statistical ensemble. It does not matter how random I think I am, how unfathomable my movements are to me, or even what coincidences and diversions enter capriciously into my day. There is a graph just the same of exactly where we drive, exactly how we shop, exactly when our lights go on, and I have seen it: crushingly, despondently, predictable. As for the collective miracles and inspirations, the lovers who meet by chance, the withdrawals from the world, the sudden deaths, and the manic bursts of energy—they are not excluded. It’s worse. They cancel each other out.
The traffic pulses, orderly, like the signals on a wire. A helicopter cameraman can see the cars form into a standing wave, stopping and starting again for no other reason than the brute mathematical inevitability of it. Then I see you standing across from me at the intersection, there, in the gaps between the cars—if only they drove at the rate of thirty-two per second, you would shimmer as in a film. And all I do is look.
Our habits are our jailors. We glide past a thousand chances every day to change it all, and all we learn to do is never dwell.
Next to you on the plane, I fantasize that it will crash, that we will feel it sweeping down, our stomachs fluttering like on a swing. Finally we are introduced. You tell me you play oboe, I tell you I take pictures. Perhaps then I take a few. Perhaps they are my best yet—honest art the impact will obliterate.
This city has burned to the ground before. They tell us that our enemies wish to obliterate us beneath a mushroom cloud, that even now their plans are ticking. Such explosions are said to be beautiful. Perhaps today the bomb goes off, it has been waiting in a skyscraper, in an office leased ten months ago, and the light from it is like ten thousand suns. Our shadows have become sidewalk ghosts of us, and we are in the fireball, the air itself on fire, the city core in vapours, glowing embers float high into the clouds. The two of us have turned invisible.
Now the dust begins to settle. It lands on your shoulders and your head, making it look like you have risen from this radioactive dust, like we both have, a new species. To see each other, we make ourselves a skin of ashes, rubbing, pressing in, immune to the terrible heat, like we are sketches of ourselves.
We are mute, now, but then we always were, and as we wander the landscape after this apocalypse, there is always dust for us to trace in. You write that our stories are told with light and I write back that sometimes accident does prevail. But what I always wanted, most of all, was to hear your laugh.