Rjurik Davidson has written short stories, essays, reviews, and screenplays, and has been short-listed for and won a number of awards. Davidson’s collection The Library of Forgotten Books was published in 2010 by PS Publishing. His novel Unwrapped Sky will be published in early 2014. His script The Uncertainty Principle (cowritten with Ben Chessell) is currently in development with Lailaps films and Neon Park films. “Domine” was first published in Aurealis in 2007.
I’m off the monorail and through streets littered with cigarette packets and strips of last month’s posters, peeled from the yellow and grey chipped walls. The air smells of rubbish and urine. A breeze would only blow the odour away for a moment; I’m in the City.
Genie and I moved into the place temporarily, with the hope of shifting farther out a few months later, where there might be a park for Max to play in, neighbours to help out, a house with a separate dining room and kitchen. Genie remained after I moved out, so every now and then I’m back in the old neighbourhood, with light rain misting through the little inner-city streets, trying not to look past the pavement in front of me in case I see one of the real things that happen here.
A shuttle slashes the sky overhead, taking someone rich to meet other rich people somewhere else. They don’t bother with travelling by land – easier to skip over the city like a stone over water. The deep red of the shuttle’s burners gives the illusion of warmth.
“Hey Mister, hey!”
One of the boys; there are a million around here.
“Hey Mister, bliss, bliss?”
I shake my head and keep my eyes on the stained pavement. No need to encourage them.
“Hey Mister, you come back.”
I’m there, at the old five-storey yellow apartment building. Bars on every window, so people don’t get in and others don’t throw themselves out. It’s a fair balance.
The city is still all stairs and four, five, six-storey buildings. Everything new or important happens out in the Towers, little islands of commerce in the suburbs, where things are clean and fresh and everyone’s teeth are white and gleaming and the girls in all the shops remind you of your hopes when you were young.
I’m into the stairwell and up. Three sets of stairs, four doors along the walkway. I knock.
I hear scrabbling from behind the door and wait for a while, noticing that my hands seem wrinkled. I am only thirty-eight but I’m getting old.
“Don’t you ever call?” I can see one side of Genie’s face through the partly opened door, her lank, colourless hair falling across her forehead. She has that look of exhaustion as usual, as if the world has worn her out and everything now is an effort.
“Look, it’s not a good time.”
“I brought something for Max.”
The door opens and I’m inside. The place is tiny: one bedroom, a one-room lounge and kitchen, a bathroom and toilet.
“He doesn’t even know who you are.” Genie starts picking up odd bits and pieces of junk from the lounge room floor: some socks, a fluffy toy bird, opened envelopes with their contents still inside. She always starts cleaning when I arrive. Max is playing by a water-filled bucket in the corner. The smell of something rotten floats from the bin in the kitchen.
“Hey, Maxy,” I say, and my one-year-old son looks up at me, his face round with splotchy, rosy cheeks, and his mouth open. A line of dribble runs from his mouth to his chest.
I walk over to him and squat next to him. “Hey Maxy.” Should I reach out to him? I’m not sure. It’s hard with children: they’re strange things. He looks at me and I’m scared he’ll start crying. At the moment he’s just frowning.
“So what did you bring him?”
I have no present so I change the subject. “Dany’s coming back you know.” I say. “Really soon. August thirtieth.”
“I know the date, Marek, but I don’t care. It’s too late for me to care,” Genie says. “You should concentrate on your own stuff. Think about Max for once.”
“But what am I going to do?” I reach forward and touch Max on the arm. But he senses my tension and tries to pull away, still frowning at me as if I’m an impostor.
A key rattles in the door and a big brawny man, his body too big for his legs, wanders in. He wears baggy khaki work-shorts and a blue singlet over a too-tanned body.
“I told you this was a bad time,” Genie says to me. “Oh well, this is Rick. Rick, this is Marek.”
“Oh, hi,” Rick says and walks over to Genie, gives her a kiss, walks over to Max, ruffles his thin blonde hair.
I’m out of the door and on the landing, but Genie follows me. “I love him,” she says, “and he treats me well. Better than you ever did.”
“Yeah,” I say, still walking, my teeth clenched like a vice.
“What did you come back for?” Her voice is suddenly shrill. “Did you come back to fuck me?”
Another shuttle burns overhead, and I wonder where it’s going. The Towers no doubt.
“Come back and visit Max, though,” she says suddenly, hopefully, “He needs his father. You of all people should know that.”
* * *
Later that evening I’m in the small unit I can afford, out in the vast expanse of houses and apartments that encircle the Towers. The suburbs are like a sea surrounding a chain of islands, running all the way to the City. It’s a nothing space, each section interchangeable with another. The view from a shuttle would be of one infinitely repeating series of buildings and roads. It’s how I like it. You can get lost here; you can feel hidden and safe. It allows me to write my music in peace, away from all the demands of the world: partners and children and work. Still, I don’t compose much. All my creativity gets drained by the soundscapes I’m forced to design for the Towers. All my originality is sucked away into those.
Tonight, for some reason, I’m agitated, disturbed even. It’s August twenty-eighth.
The phone buzzes. I press the button and my older sister Leila appears on the screen. Though she doesn’t really like me, we keep in touch. Even now her hair is sculpted, like a blonde helmet. Not a hair out of place.
“I can’t sleep,” she says.
“I don’t want to see Dany.”
“I don’t want anything to do with him.” Leila clenches her jaw (we both inherited that from mum) and crosses her arms emphatically.
“Do you think that Mum was happy in her last years?”
“Christ, Marek, you’ve always been introspective. That’s your problem.”
“I think she was. I think finally, after everything, she found some happiness.”
Leila brushes her hair back with her hand, but it bounces back to its perfect shape. “So if you talk to him, tell him I don’t want to see him.”
“Someone’s got to be there when he comes back.”
“Well it’s not going to be me. And Marek, what good is it going to do if you show up? Huh?”
“She wanted to hold on, didn’t she? Just another year, just one more year. But she couldn’t.”
Someone is crying behind Leila. Must be her kid, whose name I can’t, for the life of me, remember. Leila turns from the phone to look over her shoulder, then back. “Look Marek, I gotta go.”
“It’s been all over the news,” I say, but she’s gone.
* * *
August thirtieth arrives and I’m in McArthur Tower: the procession has finished, the speeches are over; there have been medals and descriptions and hologram footage and everything else. I saw him on stage with the others, in their uniforms, but I could barely make it out from up the back. Now I’m sitting at the exit to the conference centre and people in suits are milling about being official and I wonder if I should go in and look around for him, but no, I stay put. Secretly I don’t want to see him. I think of leaving, eyeing the lifts far away down the corridor, but something makes me stay. It must have been a hell of a thing, after all, out there in space. The government made a fuss of Dany and the rest of the crew, that’s for sure.
A soundscape full of triumphant brass and rolling drums plays in the background.
I notice the captain walk out, officials surrounding him, talking in hushed, respectful tones.
To my right, windows open out to the evening. The vast bulk of another Tower stands opposite, its own windows appearing tiny in the gigantic structure. I struggle to see if I can make out figures, but all I can see is flickering, and that’s probably just my eyes playing up.
I look away and suddenly Dany’s there, with another of the crew, and they’re coming past me. It hits me like a physical blow: he looks in his early twenties. His light hair is short and jagged, his eyes slightly too close together, spoiling his otherwise beautiful looks. It hits me again: he looks just like I once did.
“See you soon then, Dan,” the other one says.
He nods and grins like a little boy, runs his hands through his hair and then says, “Yep.”
He walks towards the lift as the other one turns back.
“Hey,” I say weakly, and then stronger, embarrassed by the strain in my voice, “Dany.”
He turns and looks at me and my breath is suddenly taken away. He cocks his head and frowns for a minute. Then says, “Yeah?”
“It’s me,” I say, and am struck by the banality of it, “Marek.”
He grins uncomfortably, cocks his head to the other side and raises his hands as if to say: well, imagine that.
I stand up from my chair, take a few steps and say again, “It’s me, Marek.”
“Where’s your mother?”
A look of confusion crosses his face and then passes. “Well, come on then,” he says.
I follow him. Neither of us speak as we make our way to the elevator and then wind through one of the prospects: a wide boulevard with ground cars and unicycles zipping along in a chaotic frenzy, the stall holders at the side of the road, with their designer tattoos, calling to us as we pass. Another elevator, spiralling through the Tower in odd directions, takes us up to the Hotel Sector in the fifteen hundreds where Dany has been given a room.
He has an amazing sense of direction amid the massive structure of the Tower, with its thousands of winding corridors. He finds his penthouse calmly and easily. When he arrives he says to me, the first words in some time, “I’m going to get ready. I have to see some of this.”
He retreats to the bathroom while I sit and wait.
The view from the giant windows is magnificent. Two Towers, one at an oblique angle, and then the lights of the suburbs, flickering like a thousand shining insects. The clarity of it strikes me.
“We don’t wear makeup much anymore,” I say.
“Oh … What do you wear?”
“I don’t really know. I mean, I’m not really up with it. But there’s a fashion channel.”
Dany comes out, fully shaven. He looks even younger, though the dark makeup around the eyes makes him look like a thirty-year throwback. “Should I take it off?” He looks suddenly anxious.
“No, don’t worry. Some people still wear it.”
“I’ve got this card.” He says, “They gave me this card. It’ll get me clothes, all sorts of things.”
“Leila called me a couple of days ago.”
He walks across the room, presses a button and the fridge door slides up.
“Drink?” he asks, ignoring me.
“She’s doing well. All settled down: husband, kids, you know.”
Dany takes a big swig of something, throws back his head, and lets out a roar. Turns around, passes me a glass. “C’mon boy, this’ll put a glint back in your eye.” He grins his distinctive grin.
I sip the drink and try to stifle a cough. My throat is on fire, my eyes blurred. I hear a laugh off in the distance. “God,” I say.
* * *
Nightville, up in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds, is a complex of Middle-Eastern and African restaurants, hanging gardens filled with the scent of stone-fruit and dotted with indoor lakes, labyrinthine clubs climbing up through the Tower like ant-colonies so that after a few hours you don’t know what level you’re on. Nightville is a carefully planned planlessness, designed to give the sense of spontaneity, of a vast and sprawling confusion, imitating the red-light districts in the old cities. But nothing in the Towers is unplanned. So there’s always the element of irreality to it, a sense of the manufactured. Shambling through a club one might, lo and behold, stumble upon an Armenian restaurant run by the club’s owners, aimed at the very same patrons, in an expression of monopoly apparent only to those not doped up on rapture or blurred by alcohol. Nightville is one big franchise.
We’re in Arabian Nights, one of the popular clubs in the sector, a ramshackle series of levels where patrons surround hookahs in dark tent-like chambers, where everything is in the deep colours and intricate patterns of the Middle East, where belly dancers and pipe-players, tootling in exotic quarter-tones, make their way through the passageways, where camel-trains ridden by adventurers head for the mini-desert on the western side of the club.
Dany, dressed ridiculously in his space-suit and dark makeup (all blue shadow and grey undertones), is entertaining a small crowd in a side room. I’ve been edged out of the circle and have to crane my neck over a couple of skip-girls.
“Of course,” he says, “you’re unconscious during close-to-light-speed. A deep dark sleep filled with magnificent dreams. And then, suddenly, consciousness hits you like a blow, and you’re throwing up all over yourself, and you’re wondering who you are and what you’re doing there. And me, I’m thinking I could have bought this feeling for a hundred bucks at Arabian Nights.”
He pauses for the laughter and then continues in slightly more hushed tones.
“But then you look out and you see Centauri and everything is in a strange new light, filled with blues and greens that you’ve never seen before, as if you’ve been reborn into a world just slightly different from this one, and you know nothing will ever be the same again.”
Around him there is hushed silence, only the bass from dance music in the main rooms, audible behind his voice.
One of the skip-girls puts her hand on his thigh.
“Hey,” he says to me, “Come here.” He pulls me toward him and wraps an arm around my shoulder. “I want you to meet Marek. You have to look after him.”
Someone passes me a fluorescent blue drink, Ottoman Ice, and I down it in one hit.
He continues to tell his stories but his arm is around my neck and I keep thinking to myself: isn’t this what you came for, isn’t time with Dany what you wanted?
The Ottoman Ice has rapture in it, and before long everything has that tinge of silver, those floating motes of light dancing around the room like emblems of joy. I have another and the waves of heat begin to course up and down my body.
“Are you his brother? You look just like him,” one of the skip-girls asks me. They’re not that quick, skip-girls.
“What’s your name?” I say.
All the skip-girls have names like that: Sandy, Cherry, Peta, Ruby. Her lips are full and red and suddenly her little cherubic face sets off some reaction in my stomach. Skip-girls, I think, are gorgeous.
The Ottoman Ice no longer burns in my throat. Now it’s just a soft warmth, as if my throat is adjusting itself to the heat emanating from my body. Through a window on my left the mini-desert stretches out and in the distance I can see a little oasis.
“Can you see that?” I say, but there’s no one beside me. Everyone is at a table about ten feet away. When did we arrive at the observation deck? I wonder. I join them at the table. Dany is still entertaining: he’s charismatic, just as I imagined.
“And there, on the asteroid,” he says, “was what looked like a complex machine or engine, too structured to be natural, I swear. But how much fuel did we have? Who knew? Let’s go down, I said. I mean, here we were, how many light years from home, and there, within arm’s reach is evidence of alien civilisation. Let’s go, I said. Take it now, seize our chance. No, said the captain. Yes, said I. No, he said. When else will we get this chance? I said. We can’t risk it, said the captain. So that was that.” He grins his childlike grin.
Breaths of amazement. I look out over the desert again, not believing a word of it and suddenly we’re in the Turkish steam baths and soaking everything up and my body is on fire. All I can do is lie there, head back as the steam invades my body and I feel like I’m somehow dissolving and becoming the water and the water is me and I’m suddenly aware of Dany above me leaning down and he says, “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry.” He touches my shoulder and then walks off quickly and Sandy is looking at me from the sofa as I look over to the Towers from Dany’s penthouse while Christy and Dany are in the bedroom next door.
“You skip-girls,” I say. “You’re so full of life.” I notice her lips again, and this time the freckles on her little round cheeks. She must be in her early twenties, like most skip-girls employed to advertise the Tower, to give it a sense of glamour and sex. She looks out over the city and yawns.
“Do you and Christy work tandem?”
She ignores me and walks to the window. She looks across at the opposite Tower. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? That over there, there’s a whole ’nother city, and that people don’t ever have to leave if they don’t want to. A whole world.”
I walk up behind her, and there are little muscles outlined just so on her back, perfect, as if sculpted from marble.
“I’ve been to all of them,” I say, “every Tower.”
From the bedroom, I can hear a high-pitched whining, and then I think I hear Christy say, “Oh, yes, that.”
“Each one has my own little mark,” I say. “Soundscape Design. I’m part of the Soundscape Design Team.”
“Really?” Her eyes flicker with interest for a moment.
“Well, you know, part of the team.”
I’m looking down at her and have an urge to lean forward and touch her hair, metallic green and artificial, a typical mark of a skip-girl.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” she says, and she walks swiftly across to the bedroom and is gone. I wait for five minutes and then let myself out.
* * *
The next day I spend at home, occasionally staring at my computers and synths, turning them on, pretending I’m going to compose. But it’s too hard and my head feels like it’s been squeezed like a lemon. Oh no, I think, I’m getting old. Once I would have been fine on a day like today, but now my body has perfected the art of sabotage. I wander around distracted, moving from thing to thing, unable to settle. The synths sit in the corner of the room accusingly.
In the afternoon the phone rings and I shuffle towards it, press the button.
“So, what’s he like?” I can see Leila leaning forward, so she can see my expression more clearly on the screen.
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on, what’s he like?”
“He’s a great storyteller, I guess. I mean, he had a fan-club all around. You know, charismatic, I guess, kept everyone mesmerised.” I think of Sandy the skip-girl and her full lips, her cherubic face, her metallic hair. Some feeling washes over me that I’d prefer not to acknowledge.
“Is he immature? I bet he’s immature.”
“I don’t know.”
“Christ, Marek, listen to you. It’s always the same with you. You’re still under his spell.”
“I guess he’s young.”
“He must be. He left when he was young.”
“It’s like looking at me, only fifteen years ago … really, like looking back in time. I am, you know, older than him.”
“Yeah: the bastard.” Leila spits the words with satisfaction.
“You were too young when he left. I was what, eight? You, though, you were too young. That’s your problem. That’s why you can’t see.”
“He used to play with us though, remember? He used to build things with us, little ships that flew through the air, orbited that old planet we had hanging in our room. Remember that?”
Leila grimaces a moment. “He hit mum. Remember that? He hit mum.”
“She loved him. She waited for him all her life.”
“You’re both as bad as each other. Both of you. Look where it got her, Marek.”
“You’re the one calling to find out.”
“Fine. Listen, gotta go. Why don’t you come over for dinner?”
But I’m off the phone and I put Mozart on with the volume up. I close my eyes and lean back in the chair as the chorus comes in: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
* * *
I meet Dany again the following week up in the Towers. His makeup is gone, he is in the latest fashion – as far as I can tell – all straight sharp lines and black, of course. It’s always black.
“Have you seen this holographic porn?” he asks. “It’s amazing, really, I mean, God.”
I lean from one foot to the other, wondering what to say.
“God,” he says, “some of those girls. Some of those positions.” He shakes his head.
To change the subject I say, “Remember we used to play with little ships that flew around a toy planet?”
He cocks his head. “Do you still have those?”
“Christ, I loved those little things,” he says.
“You can come to my place and see them if you want.”
“No, can’t. I’ve got to get ready.”
“We’re going back.”
“The machine. We’re supposed to examine the alien machine.”
“But there is no machine,” I say, calling his bluff.
He shakes his head for a second, then adds, “No, you’re right. There isn’t.” He walks into the bedroom and I am left shifting my balance from foot to foot. Then he’s back again: “Here, I have something for you: I brought it back for her, but now I want you to have it. It’s from Centauri.” He leans over and passes me a piece of strange, black swirling rock, attached to a chain, alien and beautiful.
“She died of cancer, you know. Even now cancer takes people.” I hold the rock in my hand, and now I want to cry again, but in a different way. I want to reach out to him.
“Wanna go to a strip show?”
“Uh, I don’t know.”
“I know! I know just the place: baths! That’s one thing you miss in space: real water to float in. Come on.”
So I follow him to the elevator, and we rise, past the eighteen hundreds, nineteen hundreds, and then at twenty-two hundred we’re off the elevator and into the cavernous deck of the shuttle-port. Shuttles taxi around like strange beetles threatening to burst into flight at any moment. Others line a far wall at an angle.
“What are we doing?”
“We’re going to Holsen’s Tower, north.”
There is a line of taxis along the walkway and Dany presses a button, there’s a quick sound as the pressurised door opens – shhht – and we hop in.
The shuttle is a lot smaller on the inside than I imagined, only one long seat facing forward, a series of panels across the back of the seat in front. A glass window so we can see the driver, who has great rolls of fat at the back of his head and neck. The taxi shuttles across the tarmac, turns left, and I can see the runway, which opens out into the clear blue of the sky. We sit for a moment and another shuttle emerges slightly in front of us, lines itself up with the runway, stops for a minute and then suddenly its burners are a deep red, the air behind it shimmers, and it is gone.
Our taxi starts to shudder and I take a gasp of breath: surely we’re not going to be able to fly. We’ll get to the end of the runway and plummet to our deaths. This taxi, I realise, will crash. This is the one, the one out of a million that will break down in mid-flight, lose power, send us to our deaths. The unbelievable shuddering as we power along the runway confirms this, and I close my eyes. Suddenly the shuddering stops and I open them again, afraid of what I might see, and sure enough, beneath us the great metropolis lies like a model of itself. I gasp. Good God, there’s nothing holding us up.
“You can let go of my hand now.” Dany laughs.
“This is the first time I’ve flown.”
“It’s all right. It’ll be all right.” He gives my hand a squeeze and I feel calmer.
“Look,” he says. “Look at the city off there in the distance. Isn’t it beautiful? Like a ruined civilisation.”
The little city does look like an ancient ruin. As if it has been through a storm that left some of the weaker buildings as rubble, or just a few walls surrounding a mess, while others it stripped of their outer layer, leaving their mottled undercoats visible.
“I have a son down there.”
“Really? What’s his name?”
“You didn’t want to give him a Czech name? Keep your mother’s tradition?”
“No. We’re not Czechs anymore. Would you like to meet him?”
He sits for a while in silence, and then says, “You know, I think I would.”
Before long we’re north of the city and then into another Tower and the flight is over. Down in the eleven hundreds is Japantown and I find myself lying in a steaming bath, a sparse garden surrounding me and a pot of green tea just out of arm’s reach so I have to lift myself out of the bath to pour it. The roof is camouflaged and gives the impression of being sky. Thankfully there is no view of the city whatsoever. There are no sounds at all. Just silence – the Japanese really know how to do it.
“The silence is funny,” I say. “The Towers are almost all soundscaped.”
“Yep. That’s what I do. Soundscaping.”
“Yeah, wanted to be a musician, but you know. Soundscaping’s a good job. Keeps me afloat.”
“So you compromised.”
“No. I just, you know, you have to be realistic.”
“What’s so fucking bad about that?”
“That sort of realism isn’t for me.”
I pull myself out of the bath to pour more tea and wonder, annoyed: why didn’t I pull the pot closer last time?
We sit in silence for quite a while and I don’t know, perhaps it’s the silence, or the beauty of the garden, or the heat of the bath, but suddenly I begin to cry.
“Hey buddy, what’s wrong?”
I don’t say anything for a while, and then manage to get out between the sobs: “I’ve made some terrible mistakes, in my life, Dad. I’ve made some bad mistakes.”
* * *
Leila lives at the crest of a hill, and her husband, George, is a fitness fanatic with a shaven head. George invested in the Towers, or his parents did, and now they live in a mansion overlooking the aqua sea. They have two boats and three cars and a swimming pool in a basement underneath their house. “The sea,” George always says, “is for looking at, not swimming in.” At those times I want to break his teeth, but I always nod and smile and say, “Hey, who would swim in the sea nowadays? I mean, with all that pollution.” George works out and has huge muscles. He and Leila have one child, about three years old, whose name I can’t remember. George and Leila have everything.
The dinner is tiny and served on gigantic white plates: a piece of unidentified meat with two red slivers of what I take to be capsicum on one side.
“A work of art,” I say.
“Don’t be rude,” says Leila.
“He’s not,” says George, “He said it was a work of art.”
“A pure work of art,” I say to annoy Leila.
The kid starts crying at the end of the table.
“Here sweetie,” says Leila, and she reaches over to give him a drink. He keeps crying.
“Listen to ’im,” says George.
“I am,” I say.
“All day,” says George.
“Oh, shut up,” says Leila.
“What’s his name?” I say.
But Leila continues at George, “Like you’d know. I’m the one here all bloody day.”
“What’s his name?”
Leila turns to me. “Families,” she says, “take a lot of energy. You’ll know—”
But I cut her off, “That’s because you had him when you were too old.”
She looks as if she’s been slapped and I turn to my meal with satisfaction.
A moment later she says to me, “So did you. You had Max too old.”
Now it’s my turn to look shocked. No matter how hard I try, I know I look crestfallen. I look back to Leila and she meets my eye. The side of her mouth twitches and suddenly we’re both laughing at ourselves.
“You really should meet up with Dany, you know,” I say.
“I can’t. I just can’t.”
I reach over and place my hand over hers. “You should face him. You know. Say what should be said.”
“Is that what you’re going to do?”
“Yes. I think so. Yes.”
* * *
Before Mum died she looked an impossible colour, a kind of composite grey-orange. She was swollen, but in her inimitable way acted as if it was all some kind of joke.
“Look at me,” she said, “I’m a fish from the deep sea,” and she opened and closed her mouth and we all laughed.
I want to tell Dany something about Mum now, as we head to the city, but some part of me holds back. I know, somehow, that he’s not equipped to cope with it. He is, after all, in his early twenties. He’s young, I tell myself.
A minute later and we’re off the monorail together and Dany turns to me and says, “Jesus, look at this place. What have they done to the city?” I keep my eyes focused on the refuse: empty packages, indeterminate plastic things, toilet paper, but Dany, of course, doesn’t know about the street-sellers and suddenly there are three kids around us.
“It’s not really bliss though, is it?” Dany says.
“It is, swear brother, purest I eva had meself. Look mister, look at me eyes.”
“You can get your eyes wide like that with all sorts of poisons,” says Dany, enjoying the debate.
When we arrive at the building I turn to the kid and say, “Okay, you can fuck off now.”
“Aw mister, it’s good stuff,” one of the little kids says but they leave us alone as we scale the stairs. Three sets of stairs, four doors along the walkway. I knock. Again there is shuffling behind the door and then it opens quicker than I expected. Genie stands there, disappointment written on her face.
“Oh, it’s you, hi.” She says, then notices Dany and quietly adds, as if he’s not there, “My God, Marek, he looks just like you when we met. My god, he’s so beautiful.”
“Can we come in?”
She opens the door.
Dany sweeps Max up from the corner and says, “Hello grubby-chubby.” Max grins, revealing a little tooth and letting out another big dribble to join the one connecting his chin and chest.
“I’m moving out of this place soon,” says Genie, sweeping back her limp mousy hair, only to have it fall back across her forehead, another symbol of the world’s resistance to her desires.
“I’m amazed you stayed so long,” I say, looking over to Dany and Max, who are playing with a toy that hovers in the air but avoids being caught when you reach out to it. Both have child-like expressions on their faces.
Genie looks over and says again, quietly, “amazing.”
“I’m thinking of going back and being a musician,” I say.
Genie looks away from Dany and Max to me. “God, Marek. It would have been alright if you had really wanted to play music, but you always sat in that grey zone your whole life. You didn’t really try music, you always held onto it so you wouldn’t try anything else.”
“The openings were never there; you have to be lucky.”
“You were never ready, never good enough. You never wanted to work at it.”
“Jesus, Genie, you don’t understand how hard it is.”
She reaches over and takes my hand, and just looks at me.
After a moment I say, “I’ll try to come more often.”
“You won’t though, you know you won’t.”
There’s nothing else for me to say, standing there looking back and forth at the one real love of my life and the thin blond hair of my son, as he sits comfortably on Dany’s lap. Her hand feels soft in mine.
* * *
On Dany’s last day, before he shoots off to Centauri, I arrive at his penthouse and Christy the skip-girl is wandering about, topless, with a skirt that sits high enough to show her knickers underneath. “Where’s that top?” she asks no one in particular.
Dany is still in the shower and I can hear the running water above the soft sound of the ocean soundscape, carefully designed for relaxation but actually infuriating. Relaxation soundscapes make me want to smash something.
“Here it is.” Christy pulls the top out from under a couch, puts it straight on and then holds her stomach, looking down at it with curiosity.
Oh no, I think, not again.
Christy looks over at me, smiles, grabs her bag and heads for the door.
“You…” My voice trails off with my confidence.
“Oh, it’s okay.”
She waits for a second to see if I have anything else to add, decides I don’t and then lets herself out.
A few moments later Dany comes in, drying his hair with a towel. “Turn that fucking sea-sound off would you?” he says. “It’s annoying.”
I smile, head to the panel and turn all the soundscapes off.
He throws the towel on the floor, sits down, and raises his eyebrows as if to say, well, there you go.
So I hit him with it: “So, you’re going to leave, just like that?”
A look of confusion crosses his face and he says, “Don’t.”
He gets up, walks across to the windows and looks over to the opposite Tower. “This place is so strange,” he adds.
I look at him, and he looks small and young and out of place. I know now, that it is time to let him go. I know who he is: He’s Dany; he’s my father.
“I came to say goodbye,” I say.
“Okay,” he says and continues to look out over to the mammoth structure, with its thousands of floors containing whole social ecosystems. Whole worlds even. And beyond that the suburbs: filled with people who fell short of their aims and now settle in the grey zone of their life, their quiet desperation muffled. And even further, beyond that, the tiny speck of the ruined city, the dead heart of things, where lights once flashed and people once gathered before everything slipped off track so subtly, so we didn’t notice and found ourselves in a world new and strange and hard to bear. That’s how I leave him, staring over the geographies of our lives, a man who should have looked older than me, but could have been my own son. He is gone the next day, back out to the stars where he belongs and a few days after that, as I sit in my chair at home, Mozart’s requiem surrounding me and filling me. Lord grant them eternal rest, the chorus sings, and let the perpetual light shine upon them. I know it’s time to call Leila. She is, after all, my sister.
* * *
When Genie opens the door she says, “Oh, it’s you.”
I shrug, as if to say, “well there you go.”
“Come in. Come in.”
The place is still a mess but I don’t mind. Max is in a high chair and waves his arms around. I stand awkwardly across from Genie as she starts picking clothes up from the ground. She always starts cleaning when I arrive.
“He’s gone,” I say.
I look over at Max, who has now stopped waving his arms and is examining me curiously. I walk over to him, pick him up and sit him on my hip. He stares impassively and I’m afraid he’ll cry.
“Hi Max,” I say quietly, and then turn to Genie, hoping that if I act naturally, he’ll feel comfortable. “Leila … she really should have talked to Dany.”
“Yeah, why didn’t she? I thought he was nice. And so pretty.” Her eyes sparkle mischievously.
“You’ll never guess what’s happened.”
“One of the skip-girls that Dany was seeing – I think she’s pregnant.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. I nearly asked her but … it was awkward.”
Genie shakes her head: “He’ll never change, will he?”
“He’s okay,” I say, “He doesn’t really hurt…” I stop myself.
Max starts to cry and holds his arms out to Genie, who laughs. She takes him from me. Safe once more Max turns and frowns at me. I’m getting used to the frown.
“Don’t worry,” says Genie, “he’s like that with everyone.”
“Hey,” I say, “do you want to hear my new composition?”
“Sure,” she says.
“I got the idea from Mozart. It’s sort of a requiem.”
I walk over to the old computer in the corner of the room – my old computer. I start it up, touching its old keys lovingly.
Shortly afterwards the piece is playing, filling the room with the sound of deep voices and high strings. No complex beats but a few electronic noises fading in and out – I wanted to keep the classic feel. Genie and I sit on the couch together, Max on Genie’s lap, listening as the music fills the room around us. I close my eyes and listen as the voices come in, singing back at the past.