Authors: John Crowley
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General
Copyright ©1994 by John Crowley
ElectricStory.com and the ES design are trademarks of ElectricStory.com, Inc.
This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.
Cover art copyright © 2001 by Cory and Catska Ench.
Edited by Ron Drummond.
eBook conversion by Robert Kruger and Lara Ballinger.
eBook edition of
Love & Sleep
copyright © 2001 by ElectricStory.com.
For our full catalog, visit our site at www.electricstory.com.
Love and Sleep
By John Crowley
Once, the world was not as it has since become.
Once it worked in a way different from the way it works now; its very flesh and bones, the physical laws that governed it, were ever so slightly different from the ones we know. It had a different history, too, from the history we know the world to have had, a history that implied a different future from the one that has actually come to be, our present.
In that age (not really long ago in time, but long ago in other bridges crossed, which we shall not return by again), certain things were possible that are not now; and contrariwise, things we know not to have happened indubitably had then; and there were other differences large and small, none able now to be studied, because this is now, and that was then.
Actually, the world ("the world": all this; time and space; past, present, future; memory, stars, correspondences, physics; possibilities and impossibilities) has undergone such an agony more than once, many times maybe within the span of human life on earth, as we measure that life now in our age. And whenever it does happen, there comes a brief moment—a moment just as the world turns from what it has all along been into what it will from then on be—a brief time when every possible kind of universe, all possible extensions of Being in space or time, can be felt, poised on the threshold of becoming: and then the corner is turned, one path is taken, and all of those possibilities return into nonexistence again, except for one, this one. The world is as we know it now to be, and always has been: everyone forgets that it could be, or ever was, other than the way it is now.
If this were so—if it were really so—would you be able to tell?
Even if you somehow came to imagine that it was so; if—seized by some brief ecstasy in a summer garden, or on a mountain road in winter—you found yourself certain it was so, what evidence or proof could you ever adduce?
Suppose a man has crossed over from one such age of the world into the next (for the passage-time might not be long, not centuries; a life begun in the former time might well reach across the divide into the succeeding one, and a soul that first appeared under certain terms might come of age and die under others). Suppose that, standing on the farther shore, such a man turns back, troubled or wondering, toward where he once was: wouldn't he be able to perceive—in the memories of his own body's life, the contents of his own being—this secret history?
Maybe not; for his new world would seem to have in it all that he remembers the old world to have had; all the people and places, the cities, towns, and roads, the dogs, stars, stones, and roses just the same or apparently the same, and the history likewise that it once had, the voyages and inventions and empires, all that he can remember or discover.
Like a mirror shaken in a storm, in the time of passage memory would shiver what it reflects into unrecognizability, and then, when the storm was past, would restore it, not the same but almost the same.
Oh there would be small differences, possibly, probably, differences no greater than those little alterations—whimsical geographies, pretend books, names of nonexistent commercial products—that a novelist introduces, to distinguish the world he makes from the diurnal real, which his readers supposedly all share: differences almost too small to be discovered by memory, and who nowadays trusts memory anyway, imperious, corrosive memory, continuously grinding away or actually forcing into being the very things it pretends only to shelter and preserve.
No: Only in the very moment of that passage from one kind of world to the next kind is it ever possible to discover this oddity of time's economy. In that moment (months long? years?) we are like the man who comes down around the bend into his hometown and discerns, rising beyond the low familiar hills, a new range of snowy alps. Brilliant, heart-taking, steep! No they are clouds, of course they are, just cast momentarily for some reason of the wind's and weather's into imitation mountains, so real you could climb them, this is just what your homeland would be if its hills were their foothills. But no, the blue lake up on those slopes, reflecting the sky, is the sky seen through a rent, you will never drink from it; the central pass you could take upward, upward, is already beginning to tatter and part.
Pierce Moffett (standing on a winter mountain road, in his thirty-sixth year, unable just for the moment to move either onward or back, but able to feel the earthball beneath his feet roll forward in its flight) remembered how when he was a boy in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky he and his cousins had taken in a she-wolf cub, and kept it hidden in their rooms, and tried to tame it.
Now had he really done such a thing? How could he even ask this question of himself, when he could remember the touch of it, how he had cared for it, fed it, baptized it?
He remembered how in those days he had known the way to turn a lump of coal into the diamond that it secretly is, and had done it, too, once; remembered how he had discovered a country beneath the earth, which could be reached through an abandoned mine. He remembered the librarian of the Kentucky State Library in Lexington (Pierce could just then see her clearly, within her walls of dark books, a chain on her glasses), how she had set him a quest when he was a boy, a quest he had embarked on willingly, knowing nothing, not how far it would take him, nor what it would cost him. A quest he was sure now he would not ever complete.
He had once set a forest on fire, so that a woman he loved could see it burn, a woman who loved fire. Hadn't he?
O God had he actually once for her sake killed his only son?
But just then the road upward began to unroll again, and took Pierce's feet along with it; and he mounted a little farther toward the summit, where there was a monument he had heard of, but hadn't ever seen. The sun rose, in a new sign. Looking down at his feet, Pierce saw in wonder and dread that he was wearing mismatched shoes, almost the same but not the same. He had walked a couple of miles and more from home without noticing.
But it might be felt differently; indeed it would have to be felt differently, the last age ending and the new coming into being, felt differently by every person who passes through the gates.
Or it might not be felt at all. It might not be easy to notice, and our attention is anyway consumed almost all the time by the lives we have found to lead; we would probably just press on into the future as we have always done, even as the unnoticed scenery alters around us, feeling perhaps a little more sharply than usual that sense of loss or of hope, that conviction that, year by year, things are getting better and better, or worse and worse.
What Winnie Oliphant Moffett found was that she had solved the problem of forking paths.
She had not, before, very much needed a solution to this problem. She had never been a person who pondered the choices she might have made, or suffered regrets; she had, usually, been glad to find that a path of any kind had continued to unfold before her, for her to take.
Like her choice to sell the house in Kentucky where she had lived with her brother Sam and his children until Sam's death, where she had raised her son Pierce; and with the money to go in on this Florida motel with Doris, whom she hardly knew: she had followed the path that had come to be before her, and here she was.
Only in this winter she had come to think that she might have done something else entirely, not just about Doris and the tourist cabins but earlier, far back, choice upon choice; she couldn't imagine clearly what she might have done, but the possibility was suddenly real to her, and troubling. She could see, or feel, herself in another life, the one she had not led, and could imagine, with an awful tug of poignancy sometimes, that that was her real life, abandoned, still waiting in the past for her to live it.
"It's just your time of life,” Doris told her. “Your climacteric. I had funny feelings too. Oh I wept buckets."
What Winnie learned at last, the solution she arrived at, was that we must always choose exactly the path we most want to take.
Doris said to her that people
think the way they didn't take was the way they should have taken. The grass is always greener, Doris said. We are always supposing that the path we didn't take was our real destiny; we think it must have been, because we think that this one, which we
take, certainly isn't.
But we will always feel that way, Winnie saw, no matter what path we choose. And so if we
taken that other way, then we would surely by now be harking after
way, and yearning for its consequences, and knowing
was the one we should have taken: and we
take it, this is it.
So we have always taken the path we most wanted, the path that, if we had not taken it, we would now be longing to have taken. And we did. We took the right path. We always do.
A deep calm entered her with this solution, and a solemn sense of privilege, as she sat smoking an Old Gold and combing her wet hair in the sun of the back deck. Whether it had been entirely happy or not, and it hadn't, or very successful, and it wasn't, she was here living the life she would have tried to imagine if she had not lived it; the real life she wanted to lead.
She tried out her solution on Doris, who didn't seem to grasp it; but she thought she would describe it to Pierce when he came, if she could remember it, because he was surely a person who needed to know it.
But it was already departing, leaving only a shadow of absurd satisfaction in her spirit, on the day the service bell rang, and Winnie opened the door to find Pierce standing there: seeming to be in more trouble than she had thought him to be when he had called to say he was coming, and looking disordered and startled too, as though he had just been blown here by a sudden wind.
In 1952 when he was nine years old, Pierce Moffett did start a forest fire in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky. The fire burned from Saturday morning till Sunday night, from the hillside beyond Pierce's house over the hills to the No Name River in the east, where it stopped.
Every Saturday it was a chore of Pierce's and his younger cousins’ to carry the week's trash from the house to a burned and bare spot near a disused garage. Why a garage stood there, far from the house and without even a driveway leading to it, puzzled Pierce in those days, but one was there, and beside it two corroded wire baskets too small for a week's worth of litter. When the baskets were filled the rest was piled between them.