He said, "You are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded."
She put her fingertips to his cheek. "Sweet boy," she said.
He said, "Will I see you again?"
"Of course you will. I shall be right here."
"But it will not be the same."
"No. It will not be quite the same, I'm afraid."
"If only "
She waited to hear what he would say. He waited, too. If only the machine hadn't taken Simon. If only he, Lucas, were older and healthier, with a sounder heart. If only he could marry Catherine himself. If only he could leave his body and become the dress she wore.
A silence passed, and she kissed him. She put her lips on his.
When she withdrew he said, "The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless, it is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it."
She said, "You must go home and sleep now."
It was time to leave her. There was nothing more to do or say. Still, he lingered. He felt as he sometimes did in dreams, that he was on a stage before an audience, expected to sing or recite.
She turned, took her key from her reticule, put it in the lock. "Good night," she said.
He stepped down. From the sidewalk he said to her retreating form, "I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise."
"Good night," she said again. And she was gone.
Excerpt from Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham. Copyright © 2005 by Mare Vaporum Corp. Published June, 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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