I will do my best to describe what I felt as I ventured into the wild country, but the best I can offer is a pale and hollow approximation. Any word, by nature, is not a thing in itself but a substitute for a thing. In the story that follows, I find them particularly lacking.
Human language is a transplant here.
“Mountain” and “plain” are saturated words; they color the mind with amber ripples and bluish crags. They were born in fat valleys, mist-wreathed and fertile, pregnant with night and the weight of the sky. What right do I have to twist them to my purposes? Can they be forced, by the will of my tongue, over thin, sterile landscapes in opal and grey?
“New” is a word for shoes; “old” for a man with lines on his brow. When I plant these letters in the dry homestead soil, will they grow to ideas? Or will they wither, incomprehensible?
-Amelie Andrezel, “The Rock of Saint Michael”
(by Amelie Andrezel)
Ferdinand walks down to the beach. The morning is clear, reverberating with the sounds of the dig above on the cliff and the laughter of his friends in the water. Konrad and Jordan are playing in the waves. Konrad is in his underwear, but Jordan wears an ankle-length linen shirt-dress over top of her scarlet-colored lingerie. Marcus lies peacefully on a blanket a few yards from the water’s edge. He looks at a book through the dark lenses of his sunglasses. Ferdinand takes a seat beside Bürger Wohlhändler. He stretches out his legs along side of his friend and leans back on his elbows.
FERDINAND: Good morning, Wohlhändler.
MARCUS: Good morning, Your Excellency. Did you sleep well?
FERDINAND: Better than yesterday.
MARCUS: All that exercise must have done you some good.
Ferdinand turns to face Marcus.
FERDINAND: You’re a lucky man, Wohlhändler.
MARCUS: I am.
FERDINAND: Professor Lindt is a good man to have as a friend.
MARCUS: I’ve been blessed with many friends. Carl and I have been close for years.
FERDINAND: There are many things about your life I envy, Marcus.
MARCUS: You’re a good man. Someday, you’ll be a Chairman. That’s a rare coincidence. Don’t wish it undone.
FERDINAND: For now, we’ll have to settle for the good deeds two good men can accomplish on a beach in the middle of nowhere, whatever those may be.
Out on the water, Jordan laughs and dives into the waves. Konrad jumps after her, looking vital and carefree.
FERDINAND: I’ve never seen him so happy.
MARCUS: She’s good for him. The island is good for him. With Jordan, there are no borders; all lines are blurred.
FERDINAND: Did you love her?
MARCUS: Did I love her? I love her every day.
FERDINAND: What about Constance?
MARCUS: You find me untrue?
FERDINAND: It does seem unfaithful to profess your love for another woman.
Wohlhändler shades his eyes and looks more directly at the Vice Chairman.
MARCUS: Do you love The Company, Vice Chairman? Or the Republic? Do you love the men who laid the foundation of our culture, or the land beneath our feet? Does that love detract from how you feel about Helena? That’s how it is for me, with Jordan.
FERDINAND: Why did you leave her?
MARCUS: She likes to collect lovers, but isn’t sure how to keep them. It’s nothing malicious, but she doesn’t recognize the effect she has, especially on men.
FERDINAND: She seems perfectly aware to me.
MARCUS: She knows people respond to her, but I don’t believe she understands why.
FERDINAND: You were willing to be her butterfly under glass?
MARCUS: She would have kept me, no doubt; perhaps we would have even been happy. But I couldn’t stand the thought of being there, tucked in her pocket, with her heart strung out like a kite, riding the wind. When I ran out of string, I let her go.
FERDINAND: You might have been good for her.
MARCUS: I’m forever in her debt. But I was selfish; I couldn’t bear the sacrifice of the one commodity that would have repaid her.
FERDINAND: Don’t be ridiculous. You would do anything for her.
MARCUS: Not enough. Why does it matter to you?
FERDINAND: I worry about Konrad.
MARCUS: Jordan will be careful.
MARCUS: Your opinion matters a great deal to her. She knows how upset you’d be if she treated him unfairly.
FERDINAND: I hope that you’re right.
Jordan calls to the Vice Chairman and the statesman from the water. She waves her hands in their direction.
JORDAN: Come in!
Ferdinand and Marcus hesitate.
JORDAN: What are you waiting for? Come in!
The two friends jump from their seats on the blanket and rush into the water. There, they play ferociously in the cool, shallow bay, reflecting in intensity the decreasing time they have left in the Wild. When they are exhausted, they rise out of the sea and towel off on the shore. Konrad and Marcus are in a hurry to see the monolith before sundown, and race up the cliff, leaving Jordan and Ferdinand alone on the beach.
Jordan stands silently at the edge of the water after the others have gone. Lying on the flat of the larger stones on the beach, Ferdinand watches as she looks down at her reflection in the water. All of her imposing grace falls away, sloughing off like a sheet of rain from her shoulders. Her wet locks are coiled at the nape of her neck, her slender hands twisted in fists at the small of her back. The white of her clenched knuckles contrasts with the blue tinge the chill casts over her exposed skin. At once, she is small and vulnerable; Ferdinand can see her as the fragile and fading woman that she is, without the spell of super-human will and charm that she casts around herself. She is dying, but Ferdinand realizes he can only see it now because she sees it herself. Consumed by the truth of it, starring her in the face, she cannot sustain the outward illusion she so masterfully projects.
Suddenly, like a swan princess in a ballet, she turns, realizing that Ferdinand is watching her. But the terrified flutter of limbs lasts only a gesture before she draws back her composure around her like a cloak. With the regale-most of smiles, she addresses Ferdinand.
JORDAN: I thought you had gone with the others.
FERDINAND: You were mistaken.
JORDAN: It would seem that’s becoming a habit.
She walks to where the Vice Chairman is sitting on the grainy beach. Her wet gown clings limply to her body, projecting the impression of a ghost, dragging heavily in her purposeful wake.
JORDAN: Are you enjoying your respite from civilization, Your Excellency?
FERDINAND: I appreciate wild things more than you give me credit for, Mademoiselle.
Jordan pushes damp hair behind her ear. She wrings her hands absently about her knees.
FERDINAND: Marcus cares very much about you. Does it matter at all that he loves you?
JORDAN: He can do what he likes. I do the same.
FERDINAND: Do you collect men like Marcus because you like the way they look, mounted in your curio cabinet? Do you think that you can preserve them like butterflies, with chloroform and hairpins? It won’t work, you know. You can’t bottle time; it’s beyond even you.
Instead of being angry, Jordan turns her head so that she is looking Ferdinand squarely in the face. Her blue eyes flash with a passionate but layered emotion.
JORDAN: Why did you punch the policeman, that day in the square? Was there something you were trying to accomplish?
FERDINAND: It seemed like the right thing to do.
JORDAN: I think you were afraid. You’re always more afraid to do wrong than you are motivated to do right.
Ferdinand smiles and skips a stone out into the water. It’s devoured by the waves at first contact. It plummets into its frothy resting place.
FERDINAND: It seems you know me well. How easily you could mold me into something useful, given half a chance.
JORDAN: Stop being a coward. It’s very convenient for you to play the victim, but it’s childish as well.
FERDINAND: My restlessness is nothing in comparison with your own. And for what? When I fail, a country fails with me. What is the consequence you’re so afraid of?
JORDAN: Fair enough.
Ferdinand looks extremely puzzled. He was expecting Jordan to retaliate.
JORDAN: I loved Marcus very much. I don’t know how I would have survived growing into a woman without him. But I loved him because I loved the person he made me; I didn’t know how to separate him from that. A fire only burns so long as some of the fuel remains. I had to put out the coals or I was afraid there would be nothing left to burn.
FERDINAND: I can’t imagine you, afraid.
JORDAN: I’m frightened all the time.
FERDINAND: Of what? No, on second thought, I don’t want to know. I have enough of my own nightmares, I don’t need to borrow yours.
JORDAN: What do they feel like, these nightmares of yours?
FERDINAND: Nothing at all. Just numbness, and the dread of something about to happen that never does. It’s like the empty taste of winter air, the moment you remember what warm, wet summer air feels like. It’s the space left in the void left by a forgotten memory.
FERDINAND: Time is like that, inside of The Barrier. In there, we wallow in the vacuum left by the collapse of another world. We expand as quickly as we possibly can, but we can’t fill the space. But out here, something is different.
FERDINAND: Close your eyes.
Jordan looks skeptically at Ferdinand. He looks back with great seriousness.
FERDINAND: Close your eyes.
He puts his hands on her shoulders and sits behind her. They both close their eyes. The wind blows against their faces, gently but steadily.
JORDAN: My eyes are closed.
FERDINAND: Put your fingers in the sand.
Eyes still closed, Jordan frowns and does as she is told.
FERDINAND: Do you feel it?
JORDAN: What am I looking for?
FERDINAND: Don’t look. Just tell me what you feel.
Jordan purses her lips and digs her fingers more thoroughly into the sand.
JORDAN: I feel the warm sand, protected from the salt and the rain by a barrier of pebbles.
FERDINAND: What else?
JORDAN: I feel the wind, pressing against my face, hoping to wear me down into another grain on the beach. I feel the world, grinding and cementing my body to rock.
FERDINAND: Will it succeed?
JORDAN: Someday, when I’m willing to sit still. But for now, I’m too impatient to wait for it. I feel the emptiness of the sky and the solidarity of the ground and my fingers itch to move.
Ferdinand gently squeezes her shoulders, then relaxes his fingertips.
JORDAN: What about you, Your Excellency? What do you feel?
FERDINAND: It’s difficult to describe.
FERDINAND: I feel whatever it was that brought the Romantics here, so long before the Fall.
JORDAN: Have you been back to the monolith?
FERDINAND: No, but it’s not just that. I mean, there’s a sensation—an impression, if you will—of the generations that stood before us, the echo of their humanity, the commonality of our dreams and shortcomings, but I also feel something deeper than that.
JORDAN: Deeper than the bonds of humanity? Be careful, Vice Chairman, or you’ll be mistaken for a religious man.
FERDINAND: All of those generations that have walked on this beach have left their monuments, and not just the monoliths and the artifacts that Lindt brought back from London, but the unintentional testaments to their existence, like the guardhouse or the smashed pavement.
JORDAN: We leave a lot of rubble in our wake.
FERDINAND: On the contrary. You said yourself, when you are gone, the land will grind you down and turn you to stone. I’m beginning to think it’s a shame we’ve done away with burial—our bones are all this world has to remember us by.
They look away from one another. Jordan tosses some pebbles into the waves. Ferdinand pensively smokes a cigarette.
FERDINAND: It has no use for us at all—this Earth. We’ve done everything we could to hurt it—like petulant children desperate for attention. We set fire to the ground, detonated the sky, buried poison in the rocks. Sometimes, I think we would boil off the seas, if it meant we’d made an impact. We’re so desperate to have mattered, so determined to be remembered. But none of it changes anything. When we’ve finished with our tantrums, the Earth will fold them away. She’ll swallow them into her churning furnace like one more failed experiment among many. Our legacy will sink for millennia in the warm belly of the rocks until it dissolves completely in the basements of Hell. On the surface, it will be some other creature’s time. That’s the punishment, I suppose, for losing our grasp of Heaven.
JORDAN: Do you hate her for it?
JORDAN: The Earth.
FERDINAND: No. I think her independence makes me love her more. Under The Barrier, I have the illusion of control, but here, on this beach, I can hear her laughing at me, daring me to make an impression. Women who don’t need you are impossible not to love.
JORDAN: Why, Your Excellency, I think you’re going Wild.
FERDINAND: Don’t tell Helena.
JORDAN: What on Earth do the two of you find to talk about?
Ferdinand smiles and rises from his seat. He holds out a hand for Jordan, who takes it. Standing fully in the wind, she shivers slightly. Ferdinand rubs her shoulder.
FERDINAND: We’d better be going. The others will wonder where we’ve been.