The buildings they made were dangerous to visit and the Makers themselves were dangerous to be around. As is known to all, the Makers were Improperly Engineered and Caused Many Deaths. These were the sacrifices we had to make and if I speak in generalities, it is because you couldn’t know all that we had to know. I don’t know that we can any more either. Maybe it is simpler to recognize that the Makers, a kind of lean and muscular industrial machine, continue to be deployed long after any constructive purpose can exist. We are surrounded by their buildings already. No one lives in them. No one can. But I guess no one really cares. We are still developing.
The Makers are inclined toward savage reconstruction. They lack meaningful safety constraints. Some of their structures are magical palaces of tree leaf, cardboard and flesh, and such things should never be allowed to exist. But I cannot say that out loud.
They came from a Nation Historically in Decline. I explain it this way because that is how it is explained. As I say, I don’t know who believes. I don’t know why the Makers are still in use. I only know there was a time you could see a horizon, and sometimes I wonder if that was not the better time. You could see further than you could throw a stone. We didn’t use to live in rooms so small, so crowded in upon by buildings no one can enter.
I don’t know. I honestly don’t care either. I have one of the few high views left.
“So, I don’t know why we’re here, and I’m guessing you’re not going to tell me, but—“
I pause to cough and to huff while I look around.
“You give up too soon,” she says.
“The fuck I do,” I say. “And anyway, I give up? Look at you. Ah well shit, no, don’t look at you. You’re, like, cheating death. Right? I just meant the way you look at me.”
She doesn’t look at me.
“No, you have that—I can see it—that way of looking.” I sigh. “Fuck me,” I say, holding my chest. “I’m getting a headache.”
“I said it already,” she says.
“I said it already.”
I’m tired, I can’t breathe, I watch her like a tired vulture—stooped and leering—but only because I’m about to fall over anyway.
“Wait…” I step backward. I curse. “No.”
“No,” she says.
“No. It is not me sapping you of strength.”
“No? This isn’t some vampire show of yours? I just want to go to sleep right now and intellectually, that’s about the last thing to do, don’t you think? Look around, right?” I sweep my arm around at the stilled men—accidentally bumping one guy, like running the back of my forearm into a tree—and I curse again. Not from the accident, but from how I seem to be failing. All around me is beauty, and I am falling to pieces.
“Wait…” I put my hands on my hips. “The air, the water, these men… but not you, and not me—that doesn’t work, you can’t stop all those parts and not stop us too. The physics is wrong. I can’t breathe, I can’t get air, but I can move?”
Sweeping the air is like moving through water.
“I should stop too. My blood like water, my body like theirs… my brain. For fuck’s sake, my mouth too. Why doesn’t it?”
She watches past my shoulder. Were I to type up her pose, I’d call her standing on the edge of looking to her wrist for a watch that isn’t there but she knows too that I am. That’s where her eyes lay, not over my shoulder, but suspended somewhere halfway between this one annoyance, me, and some other annoyance, whatever is right now late for her.
And catch up too quick. Enough so I can see them stilled and walk among them, one man mid-sneeze, another fumbling his drum, all of them with a foot in the air, Zhou included. She rests on his back, and, being dead, is the only one who looks alive.
I heave an asthmatic sigh, suck on enough air to speak, need to work out more maybe. “You’re moving,” I say.
“Nope,” she says.
“You are. There’s tension in your arms.”
She opens her eyes. “Fine,” she says. “You got me.” Her slide down off Zhou’s back is an awkward stop-start affair. She sways when she stands. Zhou remains crouching above his one foot. As a man he should fall over. They all should. But they remain planted like statues.
“You’re looking better,” I say.
She raises a hand, puts two fingers lightly to her jawline. Much of the swelling has gone down. Her skin remains discoloured but she, peering out beyond my shoulder, could pass for someone down with a cold.
She glances across at me. “You’re not scared,” she says.
“Maybe,” I says. “Let me check a minute.”
Watching her, I do an inventory. It’s a curious kind of self-check. I can see everything in front of me, the girl, the frozen breath of each man, the nearly glowing greys and yellows of the riverside earth, the rubbery, jello-like water left in the lake, and without moving I walk back from all that, see it still but the consciousness is little more than a gateguard now, searching inside the factory instead: worn body, aches in my side, tension in my emptied gut, ramming heart, and a thoughtless immediacy that I suppose I can call wonderment.
So “No,” I tells her. “Not yet.”
But that’s a lie.
She seems to stretch – arms around his neck, head pushed back so she’s looking to the sky, her shoulders bunch and her purpled waist appears below the edge of her jacket. Her feet trail the ground. I’d dive in. I get that urge. He leans forward instead, bends at the middle, and stops. They two hover there above the bumpy road, parallel, his feet planted, hers scraping. And he performs a bounce of some kind, from the knees, shifting her up his back and her thighs more widely around his hips. He stops again to gather himself.
At his signal, the mean around the pair form up. With that same unsophisticated music and crooked march, the procession moves off again. I watch their slow removal. My path homeward goes in the opposite direction and when I turn around I have another one of those moments of turmoil. In this cold air the path home is a good one. That small apartment I was given is nothing much but I’ve found ways to keep warm. I even have books to read. And if I get moving quickly, this feeling of loss will pass. But what if I accepted this feeling? What if I did not impress upon myself the need for regularity? What if I listened?
I step back closer to the water. The procession has moved on quicker than I expected. A brisk walking pace would put me back among them still.
I step out after them.