For me, there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length, and there I travel, looking, looking breathlessly ...
Fiddling With Eternity
Fiddling With Eternity
She had dressed warmly. She was glad she did: the still, misty air was quite chilly, the silver radiance of the full moon now hidden behind very low clouds, which had moved soundlessly ashore. But her efforts toward her own comfort made her laugh—and her laugh startled her. She hadn’t laughed even once since the night of the crash, now a lifetime ago. Her own comfort, now meaningless, brought a string of giggles up from her depths, and their genuineness seemed to feed back upon itself, creating more. It took some time for them to subside, and by the time they did she had left Adele D. Hoffman’s home once and for all. She didn’t even bother to look back at it as she wheeled alongside her guardian’s SUV, turning right when she gained the sidewalk.
She advanced speedily down the sleeping neighborhood streets. The sun was still a good hour from rising, the hopeful half-light typical of so many southern
mornings gone. The low clouds seemed almost solid, a dome of gloomy cathedral
gray. They hung so low that she felt like ducking under them as she moved
along. The air was spiced with sea salt, the vines and flowers and lawns she
passed sprinkled with globules of dewdrops, tiny liquid worlds all their own.
The universe was still; Yaeko Mitsaki moved freely within it.
She moved west towards the
Ocean, Izumi’s Stradivarius safely in the wheelchair’s back pouch,
in its case, the bow sheathed in its fine burgundy silken cover next to it. She
wheeled quickly, the regular sounds of her breathing and the whispering hiss of
her wheelchair’s tires as they zipped through the occasional puddle the only
noises to be heard. She felt violently free, a wrongly condemned prisoner
suddenly sprung from captivity. She wanted to cry and laugh at the same time.
She rolled confidently, quickly, impatiently even: the blocks sped by, the
homes muted and colorless under the slate sky, soundless sentinels standing at
attention for the intent girl passing before them. And then, quite suddenly ...
She was at
Seacoast Drive, and the beach was there,
across the street.
She had one more duty to perform, and then she could die.
It took her a long time and an extended diversion north along the deserted beachside street before she spotted what she was looking for: a blue mailbox. It was at the corner of
Seacoast Drive and Palm Avenue, six blocks from where she
started looking. The box was next to a white run-down building with
two-foot-tall letters painted in battleship gray over its chipping paint. The
letters spelled out YE SCURVY DOG. She studied the structure for a moment
before wheeling up to the corner mailbox, depositing her letter inside it,
listening as the hatch swung shut with an amplified clatter.
She turned about, hesitating, and examined the building again. After another half minute of consideration she crossed the street, pressing ahead to the walkway leading to the edifice’s main entrance. YE SCURVY DOG was very obviously a bar, its dark windows cluttered with unlighted neon beer signs. The sidewalk continued past the building for some forty feet, ending abruptly at a series of thick wooden posts marking the end of the establishment’s parking lot. Past these was a ten-yard-wide strip of sand, hardened by the retreating high tide that had slopped over the seawall just beyond. The seawall itself was split widely in half: between it was a raised rectangular concrete platform that fronted a long jumble of dark boulders that thrust out in a long line into the open sea, like looking down the craggy black back of some partially beached sea monster. She rolled between the posts and then over the thin layer of hard sand with minimal difficulty. The platform was easily accessible. She pushed ahead onto it, and gazed past the jetty and over the leaden surf, which was still held under the heavy somnolent blanket of pre-dawn light.
She beheld the end of her world.
At the end of her world was the Pier. It reached over the water, strikingly beautiful, as if focused into hyperreality by a perfect lens, as though the occasionally obscuring fog and murky gray couldn’t blur its essential nature. It was just south of her, a half-mile distant, thin and long and solitary, the orange lights lining its walkway like guiding stars or guards standing at respectful attention. At its very end a lonely bright blue light shone atop the solitary structure there, like a beacon beckoning her. An American flag waved just above it. It was there, the Pier, she must go now; it was there she could finally end her relentless, monotonous suffering. She stared at the Imperial Beach Pier for a long time, fearlessly anticipating her very last moments of life. The Pier was inviting her. She would come.
Before she turned to leave she remembered a poem, one she had read over and over again. It was a poem her tutor had introduced to her as part of an English assignment months ago. She spoke into the roar of the oncoming surf:
“…All things have been and all things shall go on
Before me and when I am gone;
This self that cries out for eternity
Is what shall pass in me:
The tree remains, the leaf falls from the tree …”
Before me and when I am gone;
This self that cries out for eternity
Is what shall pass in me:
The tree remains, the leaf falls from the tree …”
Ten minutes later she was gliding soundlessly through the wide plaza at the foot of the Pier. The plaza was abandoned, the shops in its lone building closed up. She wheeled past it, barely noticing it, her chin locked forward, her gaze set straight in front of her. The Pier stretched before her as the hospital’s empty hallways once did. She advanced without hesitation upon it.
The wooden planks beneath her wheels were not quite smooth, making progress up the structure’s slight rise bumpy at times. Yaeko didn’t notice. She was staring ahead, moving with ever-greater urgency, aiming for the building at the Pier’s distant tip, her rapidly moving hands acting in unison, in a blur, pressing the chair’s wheels at either side of her for more and more speed. She fixed her gaze on the blue light shining from the building’s tower. She negotiated the short incline at the halfway point with ease, pressing ahead in near-manic haste, the lifeguard tower there dark and forbidding as she rolled past it. Her heart was racing, her eyes wide. The relentless sound of the surf was now well behind her and becoming more muted with each passing second.
Like the plaza, the Pier was abandoned too. The seagulls and pigeons were her only witnesses here; they observed her with a detached curiosity from the guardrails on both sides of her. She wheeled forward swiftly and surely, feeling as though her movements were no longer her own, but controlled by some remote and irresistible force, one that had waited for her for millennia. Her desperation, even here, even now, was flawless and controlled, as though the spinning axis about which her driving spirit clung was calmly unbreakable: even her decision to die could not unhinge that center. Her eyes were wide, were intense; they held the very same passion audiences the world over were once stunned by.
The end of the Pier had become completely shrouded in a bank of thick fog, the bright blue light like Sirius peeking from behind a supernal nebula, the flag above it waving directly at her, urging her towards its lonely orbit. The fog rolled and drifted dreamily shoreward, enveloping her seconds later. Her rapid breath trailed behind her in time with her pushing hands as she disappeared into the mysterious mist.
She felt a sharp twinge of regret: she had never been on the Pier before, and its beauty moved her deeply. She thought of the two times she had spied it: from way above as she flew over it; and later as Adele D. Hoffman drove her to
Beach that first day. The rock-solid sense of
affirmation, of defiance in the face of eternity … both were magnified hugely
now—now that she was on it.
She allowed herself to look over the south railing to the ocean’s surface, barely visible twenty feet below. The low-hanging fog unfurled in white, damp fingers to the sea; as she watched they feathered themselves teasingly over the iron-gray waters, moving slowly towards land. The fingers looked like ghosts … and it did not disturb her in the least to think that she would be one of them very soon. Her lack of fear was itself an object of fascination for her.
The seagulls that had been watching her had taken off and were circling closely overhead, weaving about lazily and effortlessly, riding the sea-salt-laden zephyrs that carried the misty poltergeists to land. It felt as though her wheelchair were rolling over gravel, with the knots and holes of the Pier’s walkway giving her a bumpy ride at times.
She was close now. As the blue light grew in size and intensity, as the structure it topped loomed before her, she felt a sudden stab of intense pain flash through her hips. It threw her forward to seize her knees galvanically, her wheelchair continuing straight ahead with the frantic momentum she had given it. The pain was so severe initially she couldn’t even scream—or breathe. The agony went on and on, as if she had been impaled with a spear straight through her lower back. When at last she could inhale she noisily sucked in a huge, gaping lungful of salt air just above her own thighs.
Her chair rolled to a stop before crashing into the building. With a detached sort of curiosity she realized the structure housed a restaurant, its interior darkened, the chairs inside standing on the tables. But the pain forced her eyes to clench shut again, her breath dammed behind the suffering, her face twisted in a tortured grimace.
With what seemed an eternity later the throbbing began to subside, at first very slowly; but eventually she reopened her eyes, unclenching herself in hesitant stages. She held her middle tightly, as though in an effort to keep her innards from spilling out. Had her strenuous physical exertions caused this unexpected anguish? She couldn’t remember feeling so terrible even when under the insistent ministrations of her physical therapist in
A seagull stared at her from the rail to her right. And next to the bird, on the broad walkway that curved around the restaurant, a weathered old Asian fisherman watched her, concern reflecting in his eyes.
She glared at him. Suicide on the Pier, she thought, was the perfect plan. It was fitting: one more chance to play the instrument that had defined her very being; then: an easy pull up the rail … letting go … the quick fall to the cold, rolling waters…. Drown. Simple. She had never been taught to swim; and the ocean’s sixty-degree temperature, added to the dead weight of her useless legs, would suck heat and life and will from her very rapidly. Death would be within minutes—at most. The sun was still probably half an hour from rising—and still the Pier had fishermen on it! Why doesn’t this old coot just go away?
But as she finished the thought he moved to leave. He smiled at her tenderly as he hobbled by in silence.
When she felt confident the pain wouldn’t return, she composed herself and moved quickly around the building. The pigeons and gulls overhead had grown in number; some had landed on the rail just in front of her at the very end of the Pier. They watched her approach without fear.
An ancient, bent woman, also Asian, wrapped in an oversized turquoise parka and wearing at least three different, garishly colored scarves, all clashing, along with a worn straw cowboy hat, looked up from her work gutting a fish to notice Yaeko glaring at her. With no hesitation whatsoever, and at that very instant, the woman removed the half-gutted fish from the basin, placing it into a white plastic bucket at her feet, gathered her fishing pole and other belongings, and departed.
Yaeko glanced around. The gentle breath of early morning ocean breezes kissed her cold cheeks as she looked left, looked right.
She was alone.
She felt no fear, not even now. Another lifetime ago she should have died in a car crash; she should have died with those she loved most in this world. Izumi Ishikawa’s letter was in the violin case, still unread. She gathered the case and bow, laying both in her lap. She opened the case.
Izumi’s letter was on top of the magnificent Stradivarius: the final word from a man who had gone to extraordinary lengths to protect her in the event of tragedy. It presented to her a task far more difficult to contemplate and carry out than pulling herself from her chair to the railing, teetering over it, then releasing her grip and ending the life he so desperately wanted to see continue.
A tiny sliver of orange-red light from the soon-to-rise sun caught the fog bank above her and illuminated her face as she opened the envelope, pulling out and unfolding the fine ivory stationary. There were several sheets, all penned neatly in English.
Young Master, My Yaeko, My Friend,
If you are actually reading this, then Amon, your parents, and I are dead. You are reading this with thoughts of suicide, of joining us. These things I know because I foresaw them.
Soon after becoming your manager I was confronted by a series of incredible and terrifying premonitions: our death—though the premonitions never told me how we were to die—your convalescence, and your endless, heartbreaking grief. I was confronted by only two possibilities: one where you stay in Japan and are exploited mercilessly by the rabid dogs of the media, until miserable, used, used up, and forgotten, you die a very lonely death; and the other in America where you are confronted by my brother’s ex-wife, a hateful second-hand human being who, I believe, drove him to a premature death from heart attack. Here the visions told me next to nothing. Do you live? Do you die? I only know that death is something that you have thought about continually since your coma; and that of the two possibilities this one—the one I worked so hard to ensure—at least offered the possibility of peace, of eventual happiness. Of life—your life. A life worth living.
Tears streamed down Yaeko’s face. She was unaware of them. Her own disbelief and the overwhelming sense of being once more in the company of a dearly missed loved one was her entire universe now. She had lost all notions of where she was and what she had been thinking before she started reading. Izumi was standing behind her once more, his gentle hands on her shoulders, waiting to usher her out onto the stage and before the roaring crowd; he was sitting in front of her again in the limousine, smiling proudly at her; he was listening to her as she played, his face soft with pleasure. He was with her now; he had come back to her…. That was all that mattered in the world, and she desperately did not want the letter to end, despite the fact that her heart hurt so much she could barely breathe.
After a long time she continued reading:
I have written this letter hundreds of times. Hundreds. But it comes to you no better than the first time I penned it. It comes to you in its final form, written by a man granted the legal powers of executorship over your estate. With those powers, and with tremendous effort, I saw to it that you would be where you are now.
Did I try to warn your parents or Amon? Of course I did. It is to their credit that they did not believe me; that they humored an old man and gave him access to the people, processes, and institutions that would, at the minimum, see to your needs should these horrible premonitions come true, which of course they have. Please forgive me, my dear, if ever my fears overwhelmed my joy at simply being in your presence.
You are reading this on the pier there. I remember visiting it once, long ago, before it was destroyed by a terrible storm and subsequently rebuilt. You are at its end. You are crying. You are reading this very letter. You have come here to die. You have bore witness by way of my ex-sister-in-law and her family what happens to the human soul that is too cowardly to truly love, to truly listen to the music inside one’s own heart. They would never have the courage to be where you are right now, Yaeko, for they haven’t the courage to truly live. You are much different, Young Master. And this is why you must live. For you do have the courage to choose death—and may thus fully embrace life. It is life I implore you choose now.
Here is where the vision ends and Yaeko Mitsaki chooses. Put down this letter and take the Stradivarius from its case and play, Young Master. Play. Play as you have never played before. Play until the waters beneath you boil and the sky catches fire and you become the earth’s very heartbeat. If you do that, I promise you—I promise you—the very shape of reality itself will change and life will once again stretch out endlessly—and joyously—before you. Play, Yaeko.
Your parents loved you very much. So did Amon. And so did I. If it is possible to love after death, then know that they, and I, love you still. Go to that place, my friend—that place deep inside yourself, that place that dazzled the world for so brief a time—and it is there you’ll find us … and your happiness … and your life.
Sitting atop a cliff somewhere, listening intently—
Izumi Ishikawa 29 November 2002
She held the letter with trembling hands, looking up, looking around her, as if searching for Izumi’s gently smiling face in the somber clouds. She read the letter several more times, her eyes studying the writing with fierce intent, eyes screwing shut occasionally as she tried soaking his words into her spirit, wanting to keep them inside her forever, vanishing them from the Earth, making them her own words, to be shared with no one. After a long time she took several great, shaking gulps of air. She slipped the letter back into its envelope, placing it next to her hip. She sniffled, wiping her nose with her sleeve, feeling the chill of the tears as they met the foggy breeze blowing into her face. She looked down and lifted the violin in her lap; she unsheathed the fine bow. She peered past the instrument and out over the dark sea, the vague pinks and reds of infant sunlight like an abstract painting over it.
She took another deep breath, and then whispered: “Watch me now, Izumi….” She closed her eyes once more, brought bow to string, and began to play. She played the composition she had labored over her entire life, the very composition that had brought Izumi to her so long ago, the composition she had heard in her heart and soul since she was three, the one she had played only for him, her parents, Amon, and Rudolph.
It had been nearly a year since she had played last—and that was for Rudolph. But she had lost nothing in that time. In fact, she had—somehow, impossibly—gained. Her fingers were not stiff in the slightest, her wrist had not weakened … it was just as though she had never stopped playing. The magic in her spirit hadn’t wilted in the slightest as she had thought so many times sitting in her lonesome bedroom for hours, days, weeks, months on end. No. In fact her talent, her passion had taken another quantum leap forward—and then another—and now, finally freed once and for all from that spinning axis, had itself spun away with her spirit, charged with the kinetic energy of its breathtaking freedom. It gathered and reconnected into her very spinal fluid and boldly leapt again. It felt as though her soul were a great steel rod swiftly and confidently thrust into the roiling heart of a terrible thunderstorm. The voltage shot directly through her, into the crown of her skull, powering down her back and through the planks beneath her to the bottom of the waiting sea, there to tear through the Earth’s crust with supreme ease, bolting to the very core of the planet. It fed back up through her, to the firmament above—her bow glided back and forth: it had become that lightning—the strings trembled: the electrons sang like angels in the vibrations—her fingers flew up and down the fingerboard as if made of their ardent whispers…. The cocoon had opened; the butterfly had emerged, had spread its glorious wings, had taken off, had flown away; the gods themselves had gathered in the great antechamber of heaven and were now listening. The person Yaeko Mitsaki was no more, because the person Yaeko Mitsaki was now everywhere in the music that floated over the vast expanse of ocean before her.
Her composition flowed to its triumphant finale many minutes later; and Yaeko listened as the last note sang through her like a clarion call, announcing her being to the universe. She held the violin to her chin, still as a statue, the bow still at the ready, her eyes still closed, as if anticipating another great charge of electricity. She inhaled; she exhaled…. The mist from her mouth curled over and behind her head in slow, regular clouds of warm breath, the incredible sense of having tremendous, infinite lungs—just as she felt moments before the crash—adding to her joy. She let herself fall into the feeling for a long time before she noticed that the sounds of the ocean had … changed somehow.
She slowly opened her eyes.
There was a sudden, rushing sense of vertigo: for the panorama before her had altered dramatically. She blinked hard, once, twice, thrice. For what she was looking at now refused to register with her consciousness at all.
She lowered her violin and bow without thinking, the sea breezes teasing her long black hair past her ears.
The wooden railing she was once just three feet from—the one at the very end of the Pier—the one she was now going to climb over and fall from—had … vanished. The wood beneath the wheels of her chair was still there, just inches from where the vertical barrier once stood … but no: it now had the half-melted look of just-cooled lava. The lava solidified into more pier—an alien pier—silver-green in color, more like … like stone than wood. The extended pier opened up before her, much wider than the wooden one she was on now; it opened before her, stretching on, reaching into the lifting, oddly colored haze, reaching—
Yaeko’s chin slowly raised, her eyes growing wider and wider …
—reaching on and on …
For a long time she sat, disbelieving, her jaw slack, her mouth hanging open. The new pier had revealed itself as if by magic, a structure that—that continued on … and on … and on … and … on. The fog obscured her vision, but the fantastic pier seemed to reach miles out to sea. Miles.
She sat completely still for a very long time, her mind empty, as though it couldn’t grasp what was now before her.
When she dared to think, the thoughts came as a jumble of questions, all fighting to get to the front of the line. Am I dead? Is this real? How is this possible? How could it be? She thought: I was playing, I was free … and now … and now this.
After another long moment she inched very tentatively ahead to the half-melted-looking interface. The front wheel of her chair glided smoothly over it. After several seconds’ hesitation she rolled her back wheels over it, watching them intently.
She jerked her head forward, expecting the hallucination that this experience had to be to abruptly end and her chair to pitch forward into a frigid and expectant morning sea. When that didn’t happen she inched on, with the tiniest bit more confidence, until she was completely on the new, impossible pier.
The fog was lifting, was transforming into puffy, low-hanging clouds. The clouds were on fire. They burned yellow, orange, red, pink, purple. The dawn, like the pier stretching endlessly before her, had taken on an unfamiliar quality, several degrees shifted from the norm.
She peered left, then whipped her head to the right, her eyes wide with fear. Just becoming visible, and on either side of her, two tremendous cylindrical monoliths rose into the flaming morning haze, like a giant’s spear hafts, so tall their tops were lost in the exotic, glorious mist several hundred feet above her. Each was perhaps two hundred yards out in the glassy water. They appeared to be the same color and texture of the magical pier itself, and were totally featureless save their very tops. At their summits, which peeked occasionally from the fog, were several floors of dark windows and a wide crown of a walkway, protected by ramparts. Lookouts? They appeared to be deserted, save the tiny white specks of seagulls taking off and landing upon them. There were large flags flying from their dizzying rooftops: white, with blue and green insignia (was that a bird?) and other unusual markings, but the burning clouds kept obstinately washing the details from view. She looked for entrances in both structures, but could not see any.
Her heart thumped like a hammer in her throat. She felt faint and close to outright panic. For a long time she simply sat there, dumbfounded.
She stowed her violin and bow; and that’s when the sound of a huge waterfall roared suddenly to life below her. The noise froze her with terror; but when death didn’t come she gathered her courage and wheeled cautiously left to the south edge of the wondrous pier. The—rock? wood? was much smoother to move over than the wooden structure just behind her, yet it still had the occasional odd knot or hole, though the holes did not seem to punch through. The pier’s guardrail was an abrupt angular incline; it wasn’t wooden plank, but very solid and dense, of the same material she rolled over; it rose seamlessly from the walkway and was somewhat higher than the guardrail of the Imperial Beach Pier. There were occasional openings here and there in it, large, long, horizontal ovals like portholes.
Yaeko stretched her head as high as she could and stared down at the water. Between the looming south tower and the pier the sea boiled with activity, as though a billion fish had gone into a frenzy, had found food or were under threat. The noise was impressive and deafening, the waters white and foaming. The sea roared for as far along the pier as she could see until the impossible, endless extension disappeared into the burning haze. Then the roar abruptly ceased.
When it didn’t return she glanced back behind her. The building that housed the restaurant was still there, the American flag atop it waving in the alien breeze, the blue light shining brightly through the little square windows in the lighthouse tower. Behind the restaurant was, to her immense relief, the familiar wooden Pier. The pigeons and seagulls still flew in graceful circles above it. She couldn’t see too much past the building just yet … but something seemed very different anyway …
It didn’t take long to discover what it was.
For the whole of the shoreline to the left and right of the fog bank was not the same.
to her right and just eight miles south, was … gone, the bluffs it rose from now barren and brown. She peered
north, squinting. She could see no lights shining from the city of San Diego, no orange urban
glow even, as though the city had simply never existed. And as the fog lifted
it became apparent that Imperial Beach,
just past the Pier itself, had totally vanished, replaced instead by a series
of low jagged cliffs and angry jumbles of hard black rock. The jetty was gone
too. Several of the jagged clusters of rocks fronting the cliffs had the
crushed remains of large sailing ships on them—great black wooden vessels torn
apart and scattered over them, as if dropped there like forgotten toys by some
thoughtless boy god. Some still had the remnants of sails attached to them,
tattered and browned by time and the relentless surf. Yaeko studied them for a
long time. Passenger ships? Warships? They appeared as if transported out of
the nineteenth century, almost fake, like museum pieces placed here and there
for her amusement.
She looked past the crags, just as the fog lifted enough for her to do so.
Her eyes grew huge as saucers.
For the world past those low cliffs seemed to just … end.
The horizon was razor sharp and a mile distant, breathtakingly close, like being way too near the edge of a cliff that one knows drops thousands of feet. Even with the obscuring fog, that edge confronted her every sense with its heady immediacy. Yaeko’s eyes convulsively traced it. It was as if the planet simply stopped just past the plaza, mere blocks away. She followed the horizon: it seemed to border infinity itself. There were seams in the haze, she could see into them, past them … the sky beyond was black as ink.
There seemed to be something out there, just past the sharp horizon, to the north, miles away … something tremendous … another building? But its sheer size made that impossible. The low hills fronting it seemed ludicrous, like anthills. Whatever it was, it seemed the same color as the pier she rolled over now.
The rising sun was still behind the fog. She turned slowly about, staring up. The gloomy gray breaking over the sharp horizon melted into pastel watercolors as she went from facing east … to west. The morning sun shed streamers of spectral radiance into the heavy clouds above her, misty rainbows that were visibly lifting and opening as they rose, as if consciously revealing the new world before her, and with great pride. There were islands out there, probably ten miles to the southwest, steep brown-black rocks like precious stones on display in the white cottony haze. Yaeko remembered seeing islands as she crossed the Coronado Bridge so long ago, islands just like these, in the same approximate place, though these appeared sharper, taller, shifted out of true from what she recalled of their counterparts back in another reality.
The fog continued to lift and break apart …
And then it became apparent why the sky was burning. Yaeko Mitsaki shrank within herself in awe.
It was as though the planet Saturn had been moved next to Earth, so close it felt as if Earth were but a mere fiction in its shadow, a forgotten ornament hanging at the very edge of its great rings, as though one could take a running leap from the peaks of those cotton-nestled islands and land upon them.
The great planet was half settled into the southern ocean. Its rings were nearly edge-on to the islands, sweeping upward at a thirty-degree angle; they swept up, and up, and up, just behind flaming patches in the rising marine layer, rings purple and yellow and red, close enough to touch. Saturn (was it Saturn?) was in a half-moon phase, half of its mind-numbing sphere bordered by a perfect yet indistinct curvilinear arc of thin white light. The tremendous south tower was tangent to that sphere, but even it seemed insignificant now. Quite without realizing she was doing it, Yaeko reached a hand towards the sight, her body feeling light as spring dreams, her thoughts completely frozen. Large, puffy clouds, angel-white in their centers, becoming unfocused prisms on their edges, drifted peacefully overhead, occasionally blocking her view.
Time had stopped for her. She had stopped thinking, breathing.
When she finally came to many minutes later, she decided to travel along the great pier’s silver-green length, if but a little ways, turning around frequently to make sure the original Pier and the building at its end stayed safely in her sight. The magic pier was much wider than
Imperial Beach’s: perhaps
two hundred feet across. In front of her, the overcast was evaporating,
A pier to ... forever.
At the north guardrail she turned around and looked back down the Imperial Beach Pier.
The original Pier ran back to where the plaza once was. But where the shops and quaint seaside park once stood was now imposing cliff faces. The silver-green pier resumed at that point and continued on through a narrow cut in a face, running for another mile through lifeless desert dotted here and there with white clumps and many more wrecked ships before simply extending off the very edge of the world and into empty space. The strange pier was atop a mammoth platform of some sort, under water here, beneath her, exposed out there, past the cut. The platform was the exact same color as the pier itself, and tens of miles wide. The structure she couldn’t make out earlier, the one that dwarfed the northern hills, rose in a smooth arc up, up, up above her head … a Great Arch … still half hidden by clouds…. It descended as she peered to the right, falling well behind the Tijuana Bluffs and out of sight. It felt almost as though she were a microbe sitting at the bottom of a keyhole, looking up. The pier and the platform upon which the pier rested fled away from her though the Great Arch and into the hard blackness, one so uniform and deep that it seemed almost solid. The Pier to Forever stretched away from her, extending miles … hundreds of miles … the thin parallel lines of the guardrails ran away from her, meeting out there, becoming a thin line … an indistinct line … an invisible line. In that crystal-clear blackness towered a needle-like spire, ridiculously thin and arrow straight, itself miles tall. The spire seemed to be part of the superstructure, though the distance discolored it to an austere purplish tint.
Yaeko’s vertigo was back. The view held her attention, grabbed it, demanded it. She turned the opposite direction, back over the sea, noticing how the blackness through the gargantuan keyhole of the Great Arch quickly gave way to the gemlike blue sky above her, as though the Great Arch was a portal looking directly into space. The ghostly mists of the morning were lifting higher and higher, and her view along the great pier was now nearly untrammeled, a pier that indeed seemed to have no end, the two parallel silver-green lines she sat in-between meeting in hazy eternity over glassy water.
Yaeko felt crushingly insignificant and vulnerable.
There was another great spire out there; this one was over the water, and well beyond where the parallel lines met. It was much closer to her than the space-bound spire, and its scale, like everything else here, seemed magnified ludicrously, exaggerated to terrifying dimensions. It rose, piercing the jeweled sky with supreme linear confidence towards Saturn’s great curvilinear rings, two imposing impossibilities playing celestial tag. Yaeko’s precise, inquisitive mind kept trying to guess both the distance to that spire, and its height, but gave up when the numbers she kept coming up with made her arms crawl with gooseflesh. There were mountains—lands—to either side of the spire, very far away; strange lands that simply didn’t exist in the Pacific Ocean. She wondered what this ocean was called.
The sun rising over the jagged cliffs and through the great portal of space blackness behind her warmed her shoulders and cast a sharp yellow sheen on her hair. She glanced north, towards where
San Diego should be and
wasn’t. The shoreline up there was green and lush, the cliffs of a peninsula
beyond hard and pink against the remorseless blue of the ocean beneath them.
There were more needle-like spires way, way out there, running north to south,
so distant she felt certain she had been blessed with some sort of superhuman
vision, as though the world had been spread flat, like a pancake, and with her
new eyesight could see all the way across it. Above the peninsula were the
vague outlines of silvery-blue moons, at least three of them, rising one over
the other in a smooth arc. The morning clouds kept obscuring her view of them,
but the moons seemed quite odd, variously phased spheres bordered by thin
rectangles. How strange.
She felt joyously alive. But—was she in fact dead? Had she simply died back there earlier, playing the violin, and had gone to—to heaven? Or had she simply lost her mind? Could it be she was still at the end of the Imperial Beach Pier, her sanity gone, and was simply sitting there in some staring, drooling, vegetative state? None of this could possibly be real, could it? Could it? She rolled to a railing and reached a hand out for it. The great pier’s surface felt like warm granite, but also slightly fibrous, as though it were also wood.
She glanced up to the tops of the guardtowers. The ornate, regal flags atop them were limp against the poles they were hung with, the alien sea breezes very placid now, but she was sure the flags included a large bird of prey as their main feature, one with a red talon flying over a great ringed planet….
She lost herself in those extraordinary hours. The day passed as if comprised of only a handful of seconds scattered forgetfully in the rolling blue waters beneath her. She continued moving along the Pier’s never-ending length until the restaurant had dwindled to the size of a dollhouse left in the middle of a flooded country highway, the great cylindrical guard towers on either side of it looking like oversized grain silos, the Great Arch making them in turn appear ridiculous and insignificant. The gulls and terns followed her faithfully, gliding overhead in carefree ellipses, sometimes landing on the rails, spaced perfectly from one another as if they were her personal guards, protecting her along the way. On the smooth sea black cormorants floated and dived contentedly for fish. Up ahead, to the north, she spied dolphins, maybe a dozen of them, as they surfaced and submerged in perfect synchronicity.
How far she had come she was not certain. But the atmosphere-piercing spire up ahead seemed no closer; only the dwindling building behind her, and the ceaseless track of the sun over the languidly drifting, cottony clouds provided any bearings of space and time. This … this construct?—seemed utterly deserted. But why build such a tremendous thing—for nobody? What purpose did those towers, the ones next to the Imperial Beach Pier, serve? Were they protecting something? Or those jaw-dropping spires? Surely they weren’t natural, brought into being by natural processes! Where were the people, the tourists and tour guides? She was playing—gloriously, perfectly—then this! This!
The sun was setting over the astonishing western sky before she decided to return to the place where the Imperial Beach Pier ended and this fantastic infinite one began. The great spire behind her had caught the right edge of the falling sun. To its left Saturn’s banded rings skied from the mirror-like water, providing a startling backdrop to the nearby islands and the very distant, very minute snowcapped peaks to the right of them. The rings were like a bridge to heaven itself, red and yellow, the gaps between them infused with tiny sparkles, a dominating swath of curving radiance that filled her eyes with tears.
What would happen once she crossed that interface between the endless Pier to Forever and
Beach’s? Would she return to … to Earth (was this truly Earth?) and Imperial Beach
and—her heart felt suddenly heavy—to a hateful existence, a nonexistence
But that presupposed she could cross back. What if she couldn’t? What if this was her new life now, to wander along this thing totally alone, the gulls and the terns and pigeons her only company? The irony was hardly lost on her: going back to a ten-by-twelve-foot bedroom to while her life away—alone; or come here, to a limitless, mind-defying world, to its never-ending pier to while her life away—alone. If she couldn’t return, then how would she eat? drink? sleep? Where could she find shelter? What dangers awaited her here? She spied the skyscraper-tall watchtowers to both sides of her and the battered shipwrecks on the jagged rocks where the gold-flecked beach fronting a sleepy seaside town should’ve been. No matter how she considered them, it seemed quite clear: whatever peace she experienced here had come with a heavy price, one paid with lives unseen and blood spilled. Or whatever passed for blood here.
She had come to die, to end her life. Yet she still lived, albeit here, in a very different reality. She recalled Izumi’s seemingly prescient words: “The shape of reality itself will change …” Had he seen this too and had simply discounted it as evidence that he was irrevocably losing his mind and so didn’t include it in his final letter to her? She fingered the envelope at her hips, eventually lifting it indecisively, studying it, wishing it would now reveal her late manager’s final, secret thoughts.
She had felt no fear coming to the Pier to die early this morning; now fear was all she felt. Behind her head the implausible spire consumed more and more of the yellow-orange orb of the setting sun. She could face death; could she truly face life now?
She was mere feet from the interface. She studied it for a long time, her thoughts racing, her heart pounding in her neck. Behind her was … eternity. In front of her waited … oblivion. The hours of this miraculous day had passed like the single puff of a spring breeze. She could remember hours passing so slowly, so heavily, so tediously at that hateful house—her house—a name she couldn’t speak here, refused to speak here—that she was certain many times she was losing her mind.
Her life had been defined around a single unyielding urge: to learn—to understand—the melody that sang itself so joyously in her heart, in her soul; to perfect it with the instrument that seemed to be part of her very being, like her arms or legs; to work her fingers till they bled if necessary; to not fear the passion that seemed to swell uncontrollably within her when she played it; to let that fervor take her away, knowing it would always return her safely to Earth, to herself. Would playing help her now?
She reached behind her, bringing the violin case and bow back to her lap. She lifted the Stradivarius from its case, thinking how such was the measure of her existence: balance in every step: she came here with a melody; if she played another, could she return?
The setting sun was now partially eclipsed by the great spire. The subdued light thinned and bleached Saturn’s rings, their reflection a restless abstract painting on a blue canvas. Above her the Great Arch fairly glowed in the afternoon light, its back half cast in deep shadow. Yaeko thought of a time, now more improbable to her than this infinite pier, a time before the crash, when life opened before her, granting her all the moments she needed to perfect the music in her spirit. She was on a stage then, playing Beethoven, and incredulous over the audience’s impulsive, overwhelming response. She had touched them. The music within her wasn’t just hers, she found. It was everybody’s. They just had to listen.
She smiled. Yes, she thought; yes. I will play Beethoven. Beethoven, whose sweeping, grandiose, passionate music would be perfect here. And with that, she put bow to string and began playing Violin Romance No. 2, just as she had when she was nine.
The music issued from her bow, from her fingers, from the violin; it crossed the alien ocean and touched those distant lands far, far away, returning to her not as an echo but as the gentle breezes that buffeted her face, urging her to turn and follow them to their sandy shores. She completed the song; she stowed the violin and Izumi’s letter back into the case; she slipped the fine bow back into its burgundy sheath; she stuffed both into the pouch behind her seat.
She composed herself, took a very deep breath, and eased her wheelchair over the half-melted barrier.
Neither the building nor the wooden Pier changed, but as she pushed forward the sky grayed suddenly, melting into twilight blue. The air became abruptly cooler, as though she had just passed into an air-conditioned room.
She glanced to her left. The city of
San Diego glimmered in the distance, ten miles north, its
skyscrapers rising like jeweled shafts next to the ocean, the flimsy silver
ribbon of the
strung across them, the tiny yellow lights of cars upon it like slowly moving
stars on a celestial assembly line. Coronado
She spun back towards the west. The sun had abruptly vanished beneath the sea. The needle-like spires, the watchtowers, the shipwrecks, Saturn … all were gone.
“Hi …” came a quiet voice.
Yaeko glanced to her left. A girl was standing there, just feet from her, at the end of the Pier, her hand on the railing that wasn’t there just seconds ago. She was smiling weakly at her, tears in her large dark eyes.“… I’m Melody. What’s your name?”