‘Hi Amy. I hope this finds you well. I haven’t seen you in twelve years. Do you still have my underwear? Those white briefs? I think that you do. I wonder if you wear them. Can picture you next to the window, spending all your life thinking about me. Twelve years that are all about me. I’ve consulted the internet to see if this is true – if there’s some record of you in my underwear. Next to that window. Thinking about me.’
I go home, and then up. Stairs, and a door. I jingle the keys.
“You’re home!” says Amy, running at me.
I put out a hand to stop her, because I’ve a laptop to stow away, a jacket to remove, a phone to turn off. Then she runs into me, and suddenly I’m pressed against the door. I am a door, I think, as she clutches me so hard that I think her fingers are going to rip out pieces of my flesh.
“Do you want to go out?” I ask her. “Food?”
She whirrs and moans a response. I stare through threads of her hair at the studio – the pile of books on the island, her sweater on a chair. The dust against the far wall that she’s collected and just left there, as though it’s a permanent fixture now, that or just unworthy of being scooped up and put away. This is something I have to deal with now. Something that is mine.
‘You’re 38 now, Amy. It’s getting late in your life to start a family. Maybe you shouldn’t bother. Maybe an entire life can be spent thinking about someone you knew years ago, and that left. People spend their lives devoted to all kinds of things – why can’t I be one of those? I can be that for you, Amy. A particle on planet earth, on an adjacent continent, working through my life without a thought for you other than these occasional letters. But for you, I’m everything.’
Amy walks with a candle in her hand. It’s something she does. It’s not a real candle, just one of those electronic ones. But she holds it out in front of her, as though the streetlight brightness is somehow wrong. Somehow not enough. This is Amy’s response to March evenings. People look at her as she walks by, and once I swore I saw – down the road, just turning a corner – another person holding out a candle. Walking in a bubble of light, because the streetlights aren’t enough.
“I learned today that human beings are now influencing the mass of the planet,” she says. “No, really, it’s true. We live and die, make things and throw them out, but that’s a circle. The mass rises and then goes to rest until it’s resurrected, with no gain or loss. But now we’re on with this climate change business, and what that does is trap more heat in the atmosphere – a measurable amount of additional mass, all because of us. We’re making the planet heavier.”
“Amy, how about Thai?” I ask her. Across the street is a knot of people. They look familiar.
“Tomorrow I’m going to calculate how much heavier,” she says. “I want to know.”
The candle is out in front of her. The people across the street separate, until I can see their faces. One belongs to George Howard Reese. I’ve always enjoyed the company of people who insist on using their middle names – but George I can’t stand. I don’t understand his trenchcoat or his beard or the tartan cap on his bald head. His head swings our way, and I move off to the side, just out of the candlelight. A little further from Amy.
He’s watching her. His eyes follow her as she walks down the street, the candle out in front. I swear he’s smiling. But he doesn’t see me at all. George Howard Reese. I hate that guy. I really do.
‘I might as well tell you something, Amy. I’m writing these letters to you in the present. By that, I mean that I’m writing them while I’m still with you. I just figure that twelve years from now, we won’t be together, and that I’ll have the idea of writing you something. I might as well get started now. You’re in the bed, by the way. Sleeping in a t-shirt, and my briefs. You never snore. Never make a sound. You never get up in the middle of the night, so you won’t wake up to wonder what I’m writing. Well, this is still twelve years later. And you’re long gone. And I’m long gone too.’
Amy’s flirting with the waiter. Not really flirting, but a kind of intimacy – she always talks to people like she’s known them forever, that people on the whole are really one person, and that any conversation she has is a continuation of something already started. That never really ends.
“You’re beautiful, you know that?” Amy asks the waiter. He’s short, old and Chinese. And blushing. Fumbles with the order card and makes to leave, but then just stands there to see if she’s going to say anything more. So she does.
I get up and go to the bulletin board by the front door, because there might be something important there. Someone’s selling kittens – putting a price tag on living things. A handyman’s looking for work. I stick a note to the board, stealing a pin from the generous amount that’ve already been given to that matter of cats. In my jacket, there’s a pen.
‘Amy, fuck. I used to sit next to you, at the same table, and feel off. You give off something that I can’t regulate. Either I’m cold or hot, but I’m never comfortable. Back then, you always said that you wanted to travel with me, and wanted to make plans to do it. But you never did. It wouldn’t have made a difference, though. Remember that time we went to a restaurant and you flirted with a little Chinese guy? After twelve years, do you remember that? I want you to think back on it, and remember what I was doing at the time. Where I was. What I looked like and what I might have been thinking. Try to do that. See what happens.’
The food comes, and Amy talks about human bar-coding. “I want to be cloned,” she says, and my appetite evaporates as I think of many Amy’s walking about, candles held out front, or riding on orange bicycles with music blaring from the handle bars. An army of Amy’s. And then she catches me: “What’s wrong? Is it a bad idea?”
“You had a strange look. Don’t you like the idea?” she asks. And then Amy’s suddenly present, right here next to me, not in some cloudburst or other cosmos. She’s here, and I remember her. Staring at me, like I owe her something. “It’s just a fantasy,” she explains. “A way of looking at the things people can do, and what it could mean. It’s not real. What’s real is right here, me and you. What we’re going to do.”
“We should go home,” I tell her, and so we do. The food’s half-eaten, but the little Chinese waiter is well-tipped. On the way, Amy gives out bundles of cloth to homeless people – they’re stacks of quarters wrapped in little notes with hopeful messages. I’ve never read one, but I know what they say. Amy wants to hold my hand, but I say no. The rest of the way home, she’s very quiet, and for a moment I’m happy.
“I’m going to bed,” I tell her in the studio, but first I want to clean up that pile of dirt. Amy stands there, staring at the door. I am a door, I think. “Tomorrow why don’t we go for a hike? Can make sandwiches and eat on the trail. Okay?” In all my years of knowing Amy, I’ve never seen her cross her arms. I’ve never seen her cross her legs. I’ve never seen any part of her body tangled up with another, looking awkward or strained. At the moment, she’s standing straight, loose. I feel hot, then cold. “Amy, I’m tired. Really tired.”
The bedroom’s shaped like a piece of pie, the point aimed at a window. The bed’s warm, and I try to read a book by some guy who’s the next great writer, only he writes like a kid and that’s the genius of him. I guess that is genius. Eventually, I hear the door open and close. I am like a door, too. Exactly like a door, I think. The book is tedious, so I pick up a piece of paper.
‘People will tell you to get on with your life, Amy. That twelve years is too long to wait for someone. But they’ll be wrong, so don’t listen. Why would you want to begin a life that you don’t want? That would go ahead without who you want in it? Doesn’t it make sense to hold back and wait? Isn’t that what we’re all after anyway? Twelve years. I picture you on a bus, in a black coat. Hands on your legs, looking up at a map. Somewhere out there, I’m around. I’m married now, with kids. I know I told you that I never wanted that, and that was true at the time, but this is where I am now. A lot changes in twelve years, Amy. But don’t you change. Don’t shift for anyone. Keep waiting, and we’ll see what happens.’
And here we are, whirring through space. People like to think that they are faster than others, but in reality we all move at the same approximate speed. It’s a rotational activity, a spin. Some would argue that at its core, it’s also an outwards expansion, at a very high rate of acceleration, but that some day – beyond the time when days even exist anymore – the speed will reverse, and we will be heading in the opposite direction. But even if that does happen, we will still be together. And we will be moving at the same speed, no one person really much faster than the other, at least compared to all that other movement out there – the motion we don’t see, and never feel, but that is the fastest and most pronounced aggregate of our place in things. Wherever that may be. And a piece of paper floats out there with this: ‘Hi Ryan. I don’t know what to say. Scrap it. Sorry.’ And then it’s crumpled, a ball. And onwards we whirr.
More salient communications exist, as follow.
‘Hi Ryan. It’s Amy. I haven’t seen you in three years. I’m sorry about leaving like that, I don’t know what happened. I remember standing there as you went to bed, and I couldn’t stop looking at the door. And then I was through it, and outside. On the street, with my candle, and these two kids came up to me and asked if they could walk with me. I asked them why they’d want to, and they didn’t really know. But we walked down the street, and into the park, and sat on a bench. And we talked in the candlelight, while you slept. I made two friends that night. But I never went back to you, and I’m sorry for that.’
‘Hi Ryan. It’s been seven years. I wonder where you are, or what you’re doing. What you’re thinking, or if you understand. Do you know that I think about you? Is there some connection I still have with you through people, some way that what I feel transmits through them until it finds you? You’ll laugh, I know you will, when you hear – I’ve been cloned! That’s right, I did it. My daughter’s name is Jane, and she has red hair like her father. And soon I’m going to be cloned again! There’ll be lots of Amy’s that way. A little legion of me’s, plodding down the street. I fell of my bike the other day, and everyone was worried that the baby was hurt. I was in the hospital, and I swore that I saw someone who looks just like you in a waiting room, staring up at the TV. But when I went back to check, there was no one there. And anyway, the baby’s fine. It’s fine, this little Amy inside of me.’
‘Ryan. It’s been twelve years. I got a bundle of letters from you yesterday. I wonder why you waited so long to contact me, and at that, by letter. It seems like a lot of letters, actually. I have three kids now, and I’m working again – bioclimate science, mostly research. After we get the kids to bed, I’m going to sit down and read the letters. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe I should try harder to actually send these e-mails to you, so that you know I’m thinking about you. That I haven’t forgotten you. Maybe I will do just that, after I read your letters. Isn’t it funny, Ryan, the connection we have? That we always had? I always thought there was something that would keep us together, and now here it is. In a bundle of paper, and in this transmission. I’ll turn these words to the ether eventually, and you’ll find them. I know you will. And then we’ll go from there, okay? And then, Ryan, we will go from there.’