[Editor's Note: The following is Part X, the final installment, of a short story that the author and BlockRadius have been publishing in serial form for the past year. If you have not read Parts I-IX, and would like to do so, you may select among the links below].
PART I - Click here
PART II - Click here
PART III - Click here
PART IV - Click here
PART V - Click here
PART VI - Click here
PART VII - Click here
PART VIII - Click here
PART IX - Click here
From Berlin, I flew to Oslo, and from Oslo to New York. From New York, I caught a midnight Megabus back to Philadelphia. I slept for as long as I could, got up to go to work the next day, and then came back home. I made dinner, some rice, beans, spinach, and tomatoes, all mixed together in a pan with some Mexican and Indian spices, some soy sauce, and some sour cream. As has always been the case, with every trip away I have ever taken, it felt like I had never gone away, like nothing that I had perceived to have experienced had ever really happened, like all that was real was just... the simulation, Descartes’ evil demon, particles and waves and nothing more. It was a feeling I always had and never understood.
Understanding has its limits.
As usual, I ate my dinner sitting on the couch, watching TV. I turned on the breaking news. Everything breaking, everything new. From down the hall, I heard the door open, creak, and then slam shut. Heavy footsteps on the hardwood.
“Hey, man,” I said between bites, eyes fixed on the current events passing through.
Since my old roommate had gotten married and moved out, I had a new roommate move in, a good friend of mine from grad school. For the past few years, he had been living with his girlfriend, another grad school student, but she had graduated and gotten a job in New York. He had one more year to go.
“Hey, dude,” he said.
He put his things down and came into the kitchen.
We started talking.
“How was Berlin?” he said.
“Oh man,” I said, remembering Dresden, the magic of it all, the spirit, Alstadt, Neustadt, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Hallelujah,” Martin Luther and Bach and the Frauenkirche, the old and new, the Age of Man and Age of Machine, Richard Feynman, and friendship… “Where to begin?”
I had a sudden desire to ask my roommate if he wanted to join me for a beer out on the porch. It was quite cold outside, November in Philadelphia, but the porch seemed to be the appropriate setting for my recounting him the experience. I didn’t know how I would tell it yet; I just had the sense that being out there on the porch would give me the boost, or perspective, that I needed to tell it properly, to convey in a clear, straightforward manner just how I had found all sorts of signs of the apocalypse in Dresden and Berlin, and how these signs all connected so naturally to the feelings and sensations that had stuck with me from past experiences in Montreal, Bolivia, the Jersey Shore, the future i.e. Shenzhen, or even from right here in Philly, etc. But it was just so cold outside, and so warm in here. To ask my roommate out to the porch, at this time of day and year, would be a show of sheer lunacy. It just wasn’t right.
Instead, I told an anecdote from Berlin that my roommate likely did not believe at all, because of how crazy it was, even though it really was true. It is a long story for another time, with several twists and turns of fate, all crucial to the telling, a story I will tell over and over again if given five whole minutes (a long enough time) to tell it within the proper context of a conversation about “this small world,” God, or the simulation (certainly not about the apocalypse), to tell and retell it so as to keep the impactful memory of Berlin alive and present, presently impacting. Not just strengthening the memory through exposure to the present, but strengthening the present through exposure to the memory.
“Like it was too good to be true,” I concluded.
My roommate had begun cooking.
I cleared my plate and began washing the dishes.
As if making a show that I was a good roommate, I thought.
I laughed. What a ridiculous thought.
The porch was cold as I stepped out onto it alone. I turned the light on and sat down in one of the wooden chairs we kept out there. I blew hot CO2 into my fists and then buried my hands in my warm jacket pockets. I did not hear any people in the porches and balconies across the street. There were a few dim lights on. I sat in silence. November Christmas lights, the kind that never go out. No people. A few dim lights also coming from inside. Occasionally a car would drive by. Lights flickered on and off, over the course of minutes, hours, years. No people, just signs of people.
I closed my eyes.
The hum of the motors from streets beyond sounded like a river. Also a refrigerator.
It smelled of garbage. Also home.
One could get used to the cold, too.
Too good to be true, I thought.
And so it was.
True, and yet, too good to be so.
My eyes flickered one last time, capturing the silhouette of a squirrel on an electrical wire. Then it came for the squirrels, I thought, and I did nothing, hands clutching the felt of my inside pockets, listening as the silence filled with the kind of sounds that grow louder in darkness, which here in the city just means noticing the cars at different speeds, because I was not a squirrel, head racing with happy memories that spiral about and fall like stars into the shadow world of dream.