Art Pact 273 - In the dust

I like it out in the dust. You can float there, surrounded by nothing more than the glow of your own suit lights reflected back at you. Kidderminster tells us that it's like fog back on the ground, and when we ask what fog is he just waves his hands and tells us that we should already know stuff like that.

"How can we know it if we don't know what we don't know?" Peppi asks. She's ten as she asks this, then eleven, then twelve, and now that she's thirteen she stops asking because she knows the answer - there's no way to learn these things except by listening to old people like Kidderminster and then immediately searching for any word they say that we don't understand.

So, this is what fog is - it's water in the air, so dense that you can't see it. Now Peppi wants to know why it is that the scrubbers let this sort of thing happen. Are they broken back on the ground? And Kidderminster shakes his head and rolls his eyes and says "kids!"

What's different between the dust and fog, according to Kidderminster, is the way that the fog will close up behind you, so that there is no way to know, when you walk into it, which way you're travelling from and which way you're travelling to. When you are moving through the dust there's an emptiness you leave behind you, the result of your suit pushing all the dust out of the way as you move, so you can see which way you're coming from. If you want to go back home you just turn around and follow that emptiness back to the gathering.

"Before we came here," says Peppi, trying out the words in her mouth. She's floating next to me, our suits tethered by a bungie cord a little too short for decency, and that slack. Someone coming out in the same direction as us could see it, the little blank line cut through the dust by the cord, the evidence that we are closer than good moral children are. I try to kick my leg back to disrupt the evidence, but I can't do it without the sort of violent movement that would disrupt Peppi's serenity, and I want to let her rest a little. She's having a hard time of things at the moment, she needs to be relaxed and to have nothing on her mind. "Before we came here."

There is no before, no after. There is movement, there is cause and effect, but we are here now and we are always here. Kidderminster and the other old ones like to use words like this to trick us. There is an order in a day, they say, and we say: what is a day? and they shake their heads and roll their eyes and they begin to talk about how children these days are forgetting their roots. But my roots are easy to see - they are the tracks that lead back and forth through the dust, the footprints I leave in the gathering. The fact that I am making Peppi happy is a root. The fact that I am floating in the dust in my suit, the suit I make myself, that is a root. Roots are what anchor the plants to their rocks, and roots are what anchor me in this place. Roots are not stories, roots are the facts of what is, not the fact of what is not.

"Before we came here," says Peppi, putting the emphasis on came. There is a word for fools. Kidderminster says it, as he is telling us the story of "our roots", as though he doesn't understand that he is a separate person from us. He can distinguish "yesterday" from "tomorrow", as if those were things, but he cannot distinguish actual things like "us" from "him".

"Before we came here," says Kidderminster, "we lived on the ground and walked under the sky. The light came from the sun and there was fog by the sea and gravity from the Earth below us, and there were birds in the sky and insects that were sometimes on the ground and sometimes in the sky and sometimes in our beds. That was a better time, back before we came here."

So many words that we have to look up. We look up sun, because we know about light and that seems to be something we could understand. I have lights in my suit, and there are lights in the gatherings, and if you're free of the dust you're in the life-light that makes the plants happy. The sun is a star, says the network. The sun is the star of Earth, a ball of plasma fourteen million kilometres across. This is hard to believe. It's eight kilometres from the gathering to the dust, and that's the farthest it's possible to go. A thing so big won't fit into the entire universe.

The sea is more believable, but still the size of the thing beggars belief: the sea is one thousand one hundred kilometres long, and all of that is filled with water that might be a kilometre deep. If it is a real thing you can pour it into the universe and drown everyone in it (if you want to do that, but who would want to do that?). This is the problem with Kidderminster's stories, the fact that even if you can tease out facts from the denseness of his archaic grammar, where he says "lived" instead of "living", "came from" instead of "comes from", you are still left with the mendacious nouns that describe things that cannot possibly exist. Even worse are those words where the two impossibilities coexist, like "walked". What am I, what is Peppi, to make of such a word? The grammar is old-fashioned, the action it describes ludicrous.

"You fall forward," says Kidderminster, "and catch yourself on one foot. Then you catch yourself on the other foot, then you repeat that. It was a very easy way to get around, back before we came here. People used to be able to walk for hundreds of kilometres."

"That sounds very boring," says Peppi. "You walk around in a circle for ever?"

"Not in a circle," he says. "In a straight line."

He tries to demonstrate walking for us, but the motion is nothing more than flailing his legs in the air. It doesn't move him so much as an inch. The whole performance is risible, but Kidderminster and the other elders are like that. They are always that way, talking about myths and stories and making up nonsense to try to fool the rest of us. But we're not so gullible as they believe. We know what's what in the world, we know which way is out and which way is in, and whatever they say doesn't fool us.

We are floating in the dust, the sum of all the things we are. We are listening to Kidderminster's tales of some fantasy world. We are staring into the shining motes all around us that are reflecting the lights from our suits. We are tethered too tightly to be just friends. We are having a good day. We are having a bad day. We are in the world, the huge world that other people call small, and we do not care what the sun is, or the fog is, or what all the made up words and chimeras of the elders are. We are together, and we are now.


Popular posts from this blog

Interlude - six of five thousand blades of grass

Art Pact 265 - Interruptions