Every year it was the same, crisp and bright, the sun coming into the garden at a precise, pre-solstice angle, the aching blue sky as empty as the motionless couple. Even the first year, when it was really year zero, that was how the weather had shaped them, as if the authorial voice had read too much Dickens, was too keen to meld their characters, too keen to have a tale to tell.
There is no tale; just the things that happened. The thing that happened. The thing that didn’t happen.
Years later the thing that didn’t happen sat at the centre of his soul like a glacier, a solid current running through his very being and everything he did. Strength, it gave him, enormous strength, strength to cut through the solid landscape of life, strength to destroy and carry along the greatest weights, the most fearsome barriers, an immutable power to proceed.
And rigidity, too, great rigidity, trapped in the valley of the past, bound up with the [bits of rock] and boulders of yesterday, yearning for a melting spring that somehow never came.
Once, she had been the melting force, long ago now, she had had the heat, the wit, the rushing incandescent flare of life: but she, too, and even more so, had had to bear the thing that didn’t happen, deep inside her, and the heat had gone, the magma had subsided to leave a terrible crevasse, deep into her being, a slash to the core. Every day she had to navigate around it, jump over it, build bridges across it, waiting for the skein of life to grow across it, and the years did indeed deliver, the skein thickened, but the vertiginous gape remained, at any moment capable of appearing as a rent through the surface of day to day life.
Day to day life had been where it started, of course. Before the glaciation, before the tectonics, they had been young and confused. The flat was as new and chaotic as their marriage, a gambolling adventure of partial carpets, clashing furniture, erratic eating, furious sex, working too hard, laughing too loud, Scrabble til dawn, better wine than before, and more finely rolled joints. Who knows. Outside it was San Francisco, or Zurich, or London. Inside, it was the late twentieth century, and the CD played loud.
Every year it was the same. Towards the middle of November, once all the leaves had abandoned their host branches, and for a period of perhaps three or four weeks, the geometry of window, nearby buildings and lovely orange sky ball brought extraordinary light direct into the living room, light as they rose in the morning to drink tea and shave and hunt for last night’s stockings and yesterday’s shirt and the calm delivery of worldly news, light that scythed across the narrow space between the ironing board and the bubbling coffee maker, light that danced across her knees and thighs as she moved lynx-like from stockings to skirt, light that fell onto his cigarettes to leave a shadow on the tiny fragments of dust that remained invisible until this time of year.
“Remind me what time the appointment is?” he asked, staring from the window for a moment to evaluate whether the light was enough to warm the air or whether he would need a heavy coat instead.
“Two” she muffled from somewhere behind him. “Meet you there?”
His morning passed, meetings and phonecalls, and so did hers, phonecalls and meetings. The modern world carried them on its shoulders, provided them with a view, a fine platform of information and education, medicine and civilisation, stable political institutions and an array of entertainments, technology and holidays, things to do and things to think about. They worried, of course. Who knows? There were plenty of things to worry about.
And then the doctor’s face changed shape, somehow, at the same instant that his friendly chatter had dried in his throat, at the same time as the nurse had blanched, at the same time as her hand had gripped his, at the same time as the fabric of the universe seemed momentarily to bend impossibly, at the same time as the early winter sun disappeared behind the day’s only cloud.
But there was nothing they could do. The baby, alive and growing, his heart beating, his fingers twitching, was incomplete. The dice had been thrown. He could live forever in a womb; but never beyond it.
He died quickly, the medical professionals assured them. The contractions of the womb itself are too strong for such a small baby. He would have felt no pain. He looked bruised, calm, beautiful, old. They held his tiny form. They held each other. They made arrangements. They kept it together. They held a funeral. They asked to be alone. They stood in the garden at the crematorium.
Every year it was the same. They no longer lived in the same chaotic flat; and their children were boisterous and growing, loud and hungry, wonderful and fulfilling. Their jobs were stable and interesting; in the mornings, the light arrived from different angles but still brushed against hurried shirts and snapped commands and questions and clashed with worldly news. Life rolled on. But somehow, whenever they visited him, though he was no more than ashes, no more than a memory, a boy who had never breathed or seen or spoken, somehow the sunshine knew that he had been real, knew that without him the world would have been different, would have been less, would not have had their other wonderful sons, would not have given the father the glacial strength, would not have given the mother the precarious power to balance, and out of pure cosmic respect, every year the sunshine delivered a morning of awesome light, at exactly the right angle, and they could lift their tear-stained faces to it and be warmed, be dried, feel the billions of years of life in the light, always outdoing the death.