THE WORLD HERE
by Matthew Sanborn Smith
To his sorrow, Oliver found that he was smitten with Wilma, the Beyondist, the one person who would never go to the second half of life. Wilma supplied the tools a person needed on the other side. Many hated her out of the ignorant notion that it was she who determined their purpose. Untrue. If anything, Wilma should have been praised by all for preparing them for the next world when no one else would.
It was Wilma who gave future earth dwellers their dark-eyes and scoop claws. She gifted the algorithmists their hyper-space minds which cut through everything in between, and without Wilma, what chance did the tomato flayers stand?
For too long Oliver had shunned her aid. He wept at the injustice, mourned the Beyond that was his birthright, the paradise just within reach. Each time he went to take it and put an end to his misery, the sight of her turned him. The biddies and busies, all younger than he, tutted as he passed them on the long streets and byways to his home.
He met her one night beneath the weeping willow whose branches rained brown leaves over the Farna Lake. He brought the sweet bread that she liked from the bakery across from the cat juicery.
"May I sit?" he asked as the sun set purple and orange behind craggy mountains. Her day was done and though she liked to be alone with her thoughts after working with the public all day, the bread tended to pacify her.
"Of course," she said. "Will you be ready to go tomorrow?"
"No. You needn't ask anymore."
"I have to ask. especially one so reluctant as you. You're curious curious aren't you, Oliver? You hover at the edge, no longer interested in this world but afraid of the next." She held her hand out for the piece of bread he tore.
"No, again," he said. "Curious curious but not for that place."
"You wonder what you'll do there? No one can ever know until they commit to going."
"Your mother sends her regards from Beyond. She has found true love with a five-legged man."
"What of my father, then?"
"He has his music. He draws it grinding and moaning from the bedrock. He's very famous, the first yuman ever to conceive of such a thing. He is happy."
"Everyone is happy there," Oliver said.
"Yes, and you will be as well."
"I didn't come to you today. I watched you at the gate and I realized that I would be the first unhappy one in all of the beyond."
"That is highly unlikely."
"It is true."
"And you know this? You're not the first unhappy person here, I can tell you that."
"I am happy here, in a way."
"Not like you could be. You're getting older Oliver. You should have given yourself over to it months ago."
"I wouldn't be happy there, Wilma, because you are not there."
"You don't need me," she said with a laugh.
Oliver took her dark and slender hand, brushed its smoothness with his thumb. "I do," he said.
She seemed surprised and slowly moved to pull her hand away, stopping when she knew he wouldn't let go.
"Oh," she said. She looked away, tracing the widening trails of the water spiders rippling across the Farna's glassy skin. "A life such as the one you envision is not meant for me."
"It is," he said. "You want to know what I envision?"
"I envision nights spent by this lake, beneath this tree, breaking bread and sipping wine until the sun goes down and then some. Listening to ten-thousand cricket songs until the darkness flows from without to within and sleep sways us softly into the gentle morn."
She said nothing, her face turned away from him to the north. He watched the lace trim of her dress rise and fall in a long, steady rhythm. He watched until he slept and as the dawn's light greeted him, he found her hand still in his, her eyes upon the western mountains.
"A rabbit, tonight?" he whispered.
Her eyes fell to her chest. He kissed her cheek and felt her weight push toward him just a little.
"I pity the ones on the other side," he said and was away.
He found her there, waiting for him upon his return that evening.