Farther Off From Heaven
Here's what happened, Frenchy. I sat at my table at the Bayview Club. Have you ever been there? It sounds much more prestigious than it really is. It's a small restaurant/lounge just on the outside of town, and as the name suggests, it's situated a block or so from the bay. Actually, the only way you can see the bay is to climb up on the roof and stand on your tiptoes. When it was originally built and named there were no tall buildings to block out the view but things change. It was some of those changes responsible for my melancholy mood that sultry, sunny, summer afternoon. I have an arrangement with Sonny, the owner, wherein he lets me use a corner of his place during the not-so-busy weekdays as a sort of office in exchange for my services from time to time. I was halfheartedly adding up some stuff on my battery powered, pocket calculator and enjoying the cool air conditioning when the darkness was shattered by the opening of the front door. I've told Sonny a hundred times he should screen off his entrance but old tight-wad just won't do it. Anyway, I see this form silhouetted against the bright summer sun that sets right in that doorway every afternoon. She held the door open for at least a minute and I just knew Sonny was going to go over and tell her to shut the blasted thing before he lost all his cold air. She ambled into the dark lounge and everything went black as the door shut and my eyes began adjusting to the low light. When I regained my sight, she was at the bar and ordering a drink. My eyes drank her in.
Now I wouldn't want you to get the impression that I'm one of those typical, construction type womanizers. No siree, not me. This gal was something else, though and I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was dressed in a shimmering black outfit that would have passed for skin if it weren't for the way it glistened and sparkled with every fluid move she made. I have seen tight dresses before but this one took the cake. Her hair was long, wavy, and the prettiest shade of orange I had ever seen. Her face was pale and slightly freckled and her large mouth and dark eyes stood out against the pale skin. She was tall for a woman, close to six feet, I figured. She was not skinny but she was not plump, she was...well, perfect, if you get my drift.
"Hey, whatta ya' think o' dat, Ben?" Rasped Sonny.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I hadn't seen him coming.
"Think of what?" I asked.
"Dat broad at de bar?"
"Oh, I hadn't noticed."
"Liar!" He spat out as he left my draft on the table and waddled off.
She took out a pack of cigarettes, opened it, and very carefully pulled one out. She regarded it for a good thirty seconds and then put it in her lips. She looked back in her purse, evidently for a light and then Sonny had his big, hairy ham in her face with a lighter. She stuck it in the flame and then as an afterthought she puffed on it. Sonny clicked the lighter shut and gave her his Bogart smile.
"Thank you." She purred in the loveliest voice I have ever heard, a voice that would put a choir of angels to shame.
Sonny stood there grinning like an idiot and trying to look cool as he wiped whiskey glasses on his apron. I must say he was an impressive sight standing there a full five feet high, two hundred sixty pounds, bald head, and three day old whiskers on his pudgy face. I don't see how she didn't just jump over the bar and ravage him right then and there. Somehow she found the inner strength to control her wild and raging passion and merely smiled at the behemoth. Finally a drunk at the other end of the bar called for more wine and Sonny waltzed on over. (I told you it wasn't very snazzy) She drew deeply on the cigarette and I never saw her exhale any smoke, I mean not ever! She crushed it out in the ashtray and then swiveled on the stool in my direction. Her eyes locked onto mine, I guess I just happened to be looking her way at the time. I melted into a puddle.
She slid off the stool and glided over to the juke box which happened to be close to my table. She stood in front of the machine and began running her finger down the glass, looking at the titles. Finally she must have seen something she wanted and she punched the buttons. She gave the jukebox a puzzled look and punched the numbers again. It was about that time that I remembered that I had legs and that I could walk. I got up and eased on over to the corner. I dropped a couple of quarters in the slot and in my coolest voice said: "Sonny insists on making us pay for our entertainment. Try it now."
She punched the number again and she had a look of pure delight on her face when the music started up.
"You've never been in a bar before." I stated.
"Not lately." she replied.
"It shows." I said. "Would you think it presumptuous or ungentlemanly of me to ask you to my table so I could buy you a drink?"
"Not at all." She cooed.
I waved at Sonny and stared into her eyes until he ambled over.
"Another brew for me, and the lady will have..." I waited for her reply.
"Wine." She said. "White wine, I like wine."
"Commin rat up." Sonny grinned like the Cheshire cat.
"Sooo..." I dragged the word out. "I've never seen you here before."
"First time here. I wanted to see it for one last time, before it's gone."
"Gone?" I queried with raised eyebrows. "Don't tell me they're going to level this joint and put in a high-rise?"
"Joint? Oh, you mean this building. No, I mean everything."
"Everything?" I was puzzled. "Everything as in what?"
She made a wide, sweeping arc with her left hand and repeated: "Everything."
It was the way she said it that sent shivers down my spine. Sonny arrived with the drinks, set them on the table and eased on off. I took a swig of my Bud and she sipped the wine.
"How's the wine?"
"I've had better, but it's not too bad." She replied matter-of-factly.
After a long and awkward pause I realized that she wasn't going to initiate any conversation. I tried again, using one of my more original lines.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"Very far away." Was the informative reply.
Another minute passed and I went for the jugular with my most potent come-on.
"Say, what's a beautiful dame like you doing in a dump like this?"
"I told you, I came to see it before it's all gone." She replied with a sadness in her voice.
This was definitely not going in the direction I had intended.
"What in the world are you talking about? What will be all gone?" My patience was wearing thin but I gave her my best smile anyway.
"Everything." She made the gesture again. "All of your kind."
"Good grief, they're going to kill off all the rednecks in the world!"
She didn't laugh and eventually I had to take the stupid grin off my face. She took another sip of the wine and began to casually look around the lounge.
"Look," I said, "We are on different wavelengths here. Why don't you just tell me what it is that you're talking about. Pretend that I don't know a thing and start from scratch."
"We know how it will end now so it's time to shut it down, the game's over."
"Game?" I queried.
"Yes, THE game." She really stressed 'the' when she said it. "I must admit it was quite a run. There were several twists and turns and some really unexpected developments. We will be sircons discussing the implications and the possibilities of roads not taken."
"Sircons?" I was completely baffled and had lost all hopes of ever getting her to..."
"Unit of time...totally incomprehensible to your kind, static time as opposed to dynamic, linear time of this plane."
"Oh yes," I exclaimed, "That sircon." Just about that time there was the sound of a bar stool and a drunk crashing to the dirty wood floor. Ambiance.
"The nature of your time gives the illusion of forward movement." She continued, undauted by neither my sarcasm or the drunk. "Actually time, any sort of time, does not move at all. But since this is a temporal arrangement with creation and decay an illusion of the passing of time is created. In static arrangement, eternity if you would, nothing ever comes into being or is ever destroyed. There is no past or future.... or even present for that matter. Things just are. That is reality." She finished off her wine in one gulp. "Well, anyway, we have enough fuel to fire the ilikian for sircons."
"And which 'lickin' would that be?" I asked.
"Ilikian...the philosophy of our kind, our code." It was the need for new data for the ilikian that prompted this last project, namely the creation of your kind."
I had her now! "But you just said that in your world nothing can be created." I sat back and reveled in my logic.
"There is no creation in our existence." She stated. "We do create outside of our existence, however, in temporal, material universes such as this one."
Well, so much for my logic. "Your people created humankind?" I asked, hoping by now that she would simply get angry at me and walk off.
"We are not people, but yes, our kind created your world." She replied matter of factly.
"So, you're telling me that I'm sitting here in this bar conversing with God?"
She drew a deep breath and smiled at me. I'm glad I was sitting or I may have fainted. "We created all of this but we are not God. In your primitive state when you had so many questions, we created the concept of God to explain your existence. It was intended to be phased out quite a few generations ago but it has stubbornly refused to go away. Another anomaly to be resolved after the game is finished."
"For what purpose did you do this?" I drank the rest of my Bud and signaled Sonny for another. Okay, so she's loony. Nobody's perfect, right? I had an aunt once that saw aliens in her back yard every once in a while but she still cooked a mean Sunday dinner.
"Yes, you are so right! That's it. That's what I told them. I told them that was a hitch in the program from the beginning. I told them that the git-son would produce the illusion of substance to the point of the creation actually becoming delusioned with the concept of an actual... let's see the French call it 'raison de'etre'...reason for being, a purpose. The argument was that it was needed to perpetuate the illusion of reality at this high level of oompahie."
"If you had to say that again, would you be able to?" I asked with a straight face.
She seemed to have a problem with subtle sarcasm so she replied: "Your kind is obsessed with the idea that there is a purpose in your being. All of your greatest literature and music is somehow connected with this notion which is merely a byproduct of one subroutines of the program. It was presumed innocent enough in the beginning but it proved to be a bigger factor than some that were actually, deliberately programmed into the project."
"You are human just like me." I told her, trying desperately to shake her from whatever it was she as into.
"No, I am not." She said, not shaken at all. "I look and sound like one. That is necessary for me to exist and assimilate data in your plane of existence. I have condescended to this level for the purpose of one last look before it's terminated."
"You mentioned that before. Look, just for the sake of argument, for lack of better entertainment, let's discuss this." I ventured. "Your kind created my kind for some sort of game and we have no purpose beyond that and now the game's over and you are going to clear the board?"
"Yes!" She said and she sounded delighted that I had grasped the idea.
"You'll pardon me for not sharing your enthusiasm. We're talking about my demise here, not mine alone but the whole world. You're talking Armageddon and you seem happy about it."
"Armageddon is not a new concept to you. It's prevalent in every culture in your world. That was one of the first subroutines to activate. You have and always have had the concept of death, of a time that your existence would end, that you would cease to exist forever. And yet..." Her face frowned some and she became very thoughtful. Sonny put my beer down on the table, winked at me and walked off. The jerk thought I was actually making time with her.
"...and yet..." She continued, "Still you persist in the notion that you are somewhat relevant in the cosmos as you perceive it. Again, that is remarkable. You know that your existence is temporal, that you will one day cease to exist and yet you live your life as if it actually has any meaning. It is a strange paradox indeed."
"You have, on your own, somehow managed to overide the fatality clause at will and actually mimic your creators' concept of eternity. You have been able to reason on the finiteness of your lives and yet somehow deny your death. I find this fascinating, yet another anomaly to be resolved."
I kid you not, this gal was starting to get under my skin. "Now look here, this has gone far enough." I said with a tone of finality in my voice.
"Yes," She replied. "That's why we're ending it all."
"I don't understand any of this." I admitted in defeat.
"I don't understand that aspect of it either. Let me give you an illustration and then perhaps you can shed some light on the matter. Suppose you were on a train traveling at a high rate of speed, you along with several other people. You suddenly hear a voice over the intercom informing you that somewhere up ahead the track is gone and that the train is unable to stop and that everyone will be killed. The same voice tells you there's a party going on in the last car in the train. My question is: Would you be able to go back there and have a good time for whatever time you had left?"
"Certainly not!" I said.
"Why not? Isn't that the nature of your existence? You know you're going to die and yet you plan, build, dream, and carry on as if this will last forever. You marry, have a family, put a down payment on a house as if you are unaware of how fragile your life is, of how quickly you can loose the children you are so wrapped up in or your wife, or your house. Why do you do it?"
I had no answer. My wife had died a year or so earlier and the world that I had at that time had ceased to exist. I had built another one, much smaller and not nearly as happy as the other.
"Your story is somewhat entertaining, but I must quote one of my kind: ' I think, therefore I am.'
"That would have sufficed as logic ten years ago." She countered. "But today your scientists know that thought, your thought, is merely an electrochemical process."
"And yours?" I asked.
"Mine is real, yours is an illusion. You have the illusion of thought."
"I can't buy that."
"I'll prove it." She said. "What would happen to your thoughts if your brain were destroyed?"
I didn't say a word. Already, I didn't like where this was going.
"So by your own admission, your brain generates your thoughts. Chemicals make you happy, chemicals make you sad, chemicals are your memories, chemicals are your hopes, chemicals and electrical currents. When they cease, you cease to exist. If you feel pain, it's your brain generating that. If you feel fear, or anger, or hate, or love, or whatever it is you feel, it is manufactured in your brain. Your brain is tissue that produces chemicals and electrical current therefore, all of your thoughts, emotions, memories, every awareness, or presumed awareness, is a product of an electrochemical process."
"But we can control our emotions to an extent, we can think about what we want to. Surely there's more to it that that." I argued.
"An illusion created by the program. Actions are always preceded by thoughts, conscious or not. It is impossible for an action on your part to create a thought since all actions are themselves products of thought, ergo: you are not capable of actually thinking, only capable of reacting to thoughts formed by that electrochemical process."
Somehow and somewhere along the line I was swept up into her reasoning, however bizarre and unsettling it was. I found myself being drawn into her web.
"How long before you end it?" I managed to ask.
"Already your genetic engineers are discovering some of our programming and your physicist are at the verge of uncovering our little trick with the big bang. Once that is done and the data is examined, the whole system will...self-destruct. The knowledge will cause total and irreversible madness."
"When will this happen?" I asked in a weak voice.
"Oh, in about..."
Just then the front door swung open and the bright, afternoon sun violated the dark calm of the lounge's interior. A tall dark figure stood in the doorway. His gaze swept the joint until it locked on us, more appropriately, her. He walked over to our table and looked at the woman.
"It's time to go home."
"Hold on a minute, she was about to..."
"I'm sorry for any inconvenience or distress my daughter may have caused you, sir. We really do watch her very closely but sometimes she wanders off."
"I didn't do anything wrong, father, I just told him, that's all."
"I know, dear, now run along and wait for me outside."
She got up and left. The man watched her leave through the door and then turned to me.
"She's done this before, please don't let it upset you. She's a little...disturbed and well, she doesn't really mean any harm."
"Oh, that's okay." I replied rather absently, "I had an aunt that used to see aliens in her back yard."
"Exactly." He replied with a smile, "Good day to you, sir." He said and strolled off.
"Hey, Ben, was dat her ole' man?" Asked Sonny, holding my beer in his hand.
"Yeah, I think so." I said with my eyes fixed on the front door.
"You wasted too much time jawin'. You shoulda took her outta here afta she drunk dat wine."
"Yeah, Sonny." I said, not really listening to him, just staring at the now closed door.
It's been three months since that happened but I still can't shake it. I've never seen her since but in my mind I relive that afternoon every day. Was she insane, was all of that no more that gibberish, the ranting of a mad woman? It simply couldn't be true, could it? I can't pray anymore nor can I find even the simplest joy in anything nowadays. I just sit at this stupid table in this dark corner and I recite the poem by Thomas Hood.
I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky;
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 't is little joy
To know I 'm farther off from heaven
Than when I was a boy
-Seen it all, done it all, can't remember most of it-