I can manage to recall when it all began, but I no longer have a clear conviction that we were doing something worthwhile. I remember afternoons of impromptu meetings: the bored set that we were becoming, wanting to fight, to put into practice the arguments we’d learned over the years. As usual, the idea wasn’t mine but I was the one who advanced it, filled it with certainties and philosophies and standards. In the end, I even convinced the Idea’s originator, that friend of ours who was worn down by time but still hopeful for the future, despite his baldness and chronic heartburn. I remember the geographic survey, too. This was one of the most interesting aspects of the project. Maps, lines drawn on highways, checks and thumbtacks: the search for three cardinal points outside any urban center, the key sites that the walkers would have to pass, where sooner or later everyone would have to pass—everyone who still had hope, that is. We didn’t draft a manifesto or declare ourselves an association or anything like that. We weren’t a dissident or political group. There were so few of us. But we spent hours thinking about the problem, the solution, the means, the dreadful surety that it was all in our hands. We had faith, again: we had something to do. Similar things had occurred over centuries, but we wanted—mistakenly—to be different: we weren’t trying to change anything, only to warn of what we already knew without having to give an explanation. We had reached the conclusion that we had to live with the horror, and—given that there was no time to waste—we simply wanted to alert others, to announce. The annunciation. Such an old-fashioned idea.
And so we became a miniature army, organized and sedentary. As the one who always talked the most, made the ideas of others his own, was most serious about the battle, perhaps, I could choose my field of action. And I chose the meadow. The other watchers divided up the sites with less enthusiasm, stationing themselves at junctions where the hopeful—with their hiking boots or heavy duty bikes or horses—would eventually stop. They didn’t seem to care whether they waited by the end of the lake, just where the woods opened up onto a meandering path, where you’d be eaten alive by mosquitoes, or at the some other strategic point, on the banks of the river where casual fisherman sometimes passed in their rowboats. There, the path was more sinuous. The seekers on that route were oftentimes more daring, more steadfast and tenacious, more difficult to convince of their futility.
I chose the meadow. I know why. There was hardly anything else around, the path diverged from the fence in a final, decrepit effort. It was the easiest trail, the most heavily traveled. It was—in other words—the place where our philosophy would strike with the most momentum, where the surroundings (the grass growing long and untidy; the sandy track, wide and flat, defeated in the darkness; that useless fence in the middle of the grasslands, confirmation of human idiocy) were evidence of the absolute truth of our discovery.
I wasn’t always loyal to our cause. I suppose I stopped believing in it, like everything I’ve ever believed in. But in the beginning—before the defections and distractions, before boredom made us despair and return to our state as scattered creatures brooding over movements and not ideas—I swear to you that I took my time before leaving the house, that I looked at myself in the mirror for several long, gratifying minutes, and prepared myself for the hours to come, silent, decisive, easily convinced that the seekers needed me as their anonymous prophet. I imagined the pain they would feel—terror, for some of them—but I knew it necessary. Like you I had come to believe that, Olga. I didn’t want them to waste any more time.
I remember you and I watched the Trail in shifts. Sometimes, though, we preferred to go together. We didn’t say anything in those situations. We simply reported at the same time, regardless of who was on duty, and acknowledged each other, a slight movement of the lips. Then we sat at the end of the fence and looked out over the sandy trail. For hours, no one would come. Your hands would become increasingly agitated, an adorable tic you had when evening fell and you hadn’t had to encounter anyone, defend yourself, warn them that the trail led nowhere. Your fingers, then, would curl up in the palms of your hands like sick little birds. I loved watching you, watching how you undid your braid of curls, put it together again. In contrast, I did feel certain satisfaction when I saw them coming, the moment of apprehension before I hailed them. Before I spoke, a half a minute at least, I imagined their imminent frustration, the brutal distress in their eyes, and the satisfaction would stick in my throat, at my uvula. I savored it calmly, forgetting the intensity of the present moment, ignoring your questions, even. Relishing another’s terrible shock.
Sometimes I thought our evenings on duty felt too much like a hospital waiting room, those awkward mornings one spends waiting for the results of some test, watching the clock like a mad person, feeling the sharp line of the abyss, fear. With the foolish distress of those who very well may be safe, those assembled there look for fear hidden in someone else’s eyes, in a nervous, twitching smile, the absurd companionship of dread. Later, it will turn out to be nothing, and they’ll flee, relieved, forgetting the faces they studied so hungrily in the waiting room. That’s how our evenings felt to me, some of them. Like we were imprisoned in the middle of the meadow, stuck there at the end of the fence, kicking at the rust on the gate, a cigarette now and then, the thermos of mint green tea you always brought. And the three or four times we decided to touch there, on watch over the sandy trail: I remember those times, a delirium that fills me with regret. I hadn’t wanted to touch you like that, but I did, nonetheless. Maybe we didn’t have a choice. But I didn’t know that I would later cultivate those images like crops, almost like a mirage. I didn’t know that I would come to need your skin chilled by night as it fell, your breath that crushed and filled me with doubt. I hadn’t sensed that it was anything more than the contact that I was permitted—almost destined—to have, and I thought I’d be satisfied with traveling your body like a drunk madman, gritting my teeth at the trembling of your knees, the pulsing vein on your forehead, tell-tale.
I remember the day that I broke out of silence like it was a prison, when I could no longer stand my cold knuckles and the chair breaking my back in two. No one had passed the whole afternoon, and you were so quiet, so unusually restrained. I didn’t know then that you recited those false prayers during your silences. And I just saw your body next to mine, the nascent outline of your shadow accompanying me that imbecilic afternoon, keeping vigil over nothing, keeping vigil so that not even a drop of time would drain away, not a moment of paralysis would escape. I was afraid it was all in vain. That you lived in vain, that we were just two masses of flesh lodged in beach chairs at the edge of a trail. That we were useless, and that we were so far removed from the enemy, besides. I had a hallucination about love, and I couldn’t understand how we could breathe without touching each other, how we didn’t feel blood-curdling pain with our bodies covered in clothing and not the other’s skin, the whole body in suspension, touched by the atmosphere, innocuous air without bones or words or pubic hair. Not only did I ask myself how two people who love each other could bear to stand up, swallow, think, without being inside their lover’s body, but how two people physically close, in chairs in the middle of a sorry field, any two people, could live without loving each other.
I didn’t want to love you, Olga. I touched you, lost my balance and swooped on your throat, chewed the damp strands of your hair, broke the silence of that sepulchral evening with your slow, strangled moans, simply to eliminate the difference between your body and mine, the bodies of all people in all countries, I wanted to abolish difference, I wanted not to fall, not to die inside that useless, viral idea. Resist.
You accepted the revelation of that moment like it was an obligation you’d previously agreed to, and not with me, but with yourself. You weren’t obedient, you were loyal to your solitude: you fed it just the right amount at any opportunity, but you never initiated our encounters, you never let me see your desire to be bitten, worshipped, pummeled. And me, so inept. I didn’t want to see. I wanted to believe that you fit the night like a glove, that you were a stupid blonde darkness, that you were afraid of spilled blood.
I remember that night I lost my balance over your body. After many hours without a single walker, someone came. Our flashlight had been switched off, struck by our legs as we moved. For an instant, your body went rigid and I felt the footsteps approach, but your mouth was open and vanquished and you sunk your nails into my ass so that I would move slowly, so that I would fuck you, no sound, no rush, no guts, and I did, I let myself be carried away by your womb that trapped me and gnawed my sex, and we let the visitor go by, perhaps he had seen us, ambiguous shapes on the ground, in the grass, barely moving but nailed to one another, consumed, and the traveler passed and you absolved me of your duty and my own with an orgasm full of spit-damp earth and I saw you die, so much night all around, and even then I didn’t want to love you, but I couldn’t help it. The traveler crossed the border. We heard the shouts few minutes later, as we pulled ourselves apart—you, embarrassed but changed and distant, and me, radiant. No shouts had ever caused me more pain. I saw his throat stretched, his vocal cords shredded, because of us. His screams hung in the air, populating the dark with words and anguish, the man staring in shock at the end of the trail. There’s nothing here, he said, again and again, there’s nothing here. Of course there isn’t. There is nothing. We were supposed to warn him, Olga, and we didn’t.