Louise walks into the hotel foyer which is opulently-silent with its deep crimson carpet and brightly-polished brass lights; and the reception desk staffed by a man in a suit and a young woman; both as motionless as mannequins; the man holding a white phone to his left ear, the chord twirling downwards, the woman looking ceaselessly, mindlessly, at her computer screen; not like people at all, but modern artworks, made of plastic. Incredibly real but real people would not be so frozen, so still.
She walks up to the desk, goes behind it, searches the pigeon holes and collects a few keys. She touches the cloth of the man’s suit, feeling its warmth. She touches the woman’s skin, on the side of her face; it is warm, soft, the flesh of someone alive but without volition; these strange, sad, unmoving people of the frozen past.
She heads to the elevator and presses the button for floor nineteen. She rides the elevator in total silence and when it reaches the floor the doors ‘ding’ and open.
She steps out into the carpeted hallway. On the floor outside the room directly opposite are the remains of someone’s meal on a tray: empty coffee cups, an empty glass, plates, knife and fork, a metal teapot, a half-finished croissant. Nothing decayed or changed despite it having been there for months.
She finds a room to one of the keys. She opens the door. Inside the lights are off and a man stands naked at the window, looking down, illuminated by moonlight. His pale-fleshed nakedness, the thighs and buttocks, the line of his spine, are like a marble statue. She admires him briefly, then closes the door. She finds another one. It is empty and made-up.
She goes in and closes the door behind her. She goes to the bar fridge and takes out a small bottle of gin. She pours it into a glass, opens a bottle of tonic water and fills the glass; adds ice cubes, then, ice chinking against the glass, she kicks off her shoes and lies down on the bed, sipping her drink.
There are no sounds. No cars, no people, no birds. Nothing. Just her own breathing and the sound of ice on glass.
On a roof, a couple of young teenagers lie looking up at the night sky.
- How long since we saw the day? the boy, Peter, asks.
- Over a year, Alice replies.
- No sun, no clouds, just darkness and stars.
- Yeah. Stars.
- Why!? Why!? he asks exasperated.
- You keep asking that question.
- I know. But why us?
- And that one, she says in a slightly irritated tone.
He turns to look at her.
- Shut up. You don’t ask yourself?
- Of course. But there are never any answers, so why bother?
- Do you think we’ll find someone else? he asks.
- We found each other.
He looks at her wonderingly.
- But could we be the only ones?
- keep asking questions I don’t know the answers to, she says irritably.
- The world doesn’t just come to a stop without a reason, but how do you fathom the reason?
- Do you believe in God? she asks, spinning their conversation around with her question.
- No. I don’t think so, he answers doubtfully.
- But God could do a thing like this.
- Why would He do it though?
She thinks for a quiet moment but can come up with no answer.
- You think it’s us? she suggests, just us and not the rest of the world? Everything else is normal and people are rushing around everywhere but there’s something wrong with us and we can’t connect with that world?
- Now you’re asking a question we can’t answer.
In her hotel room, Louise finishes her drink, then heads down to the kitchens. Women and men stand frozen over pans, sinks, cupboards. A fork hovers in mid-air, fallen from a tray. She touches the fork with the tip of her finger and it falls with a hard, metallic ring to the floor.
She looks at the plates sitting ready for collection. She chooses one and takes it into the restaurant. She finds an empty table and eats the dish, still hot, looking at the people around her. She takes a bottle of wine from a nearby table and pours some into an empty glass. She drinks it. It is over a year-old, this opened wine, but it is fresh and good.
Afterwards, she goes into the bar and finds a bottle of whisky. She takes it to a booth and sits down. She lifts the bottle to her mouth and drinks.
Time can’t have stopped, otherwise how could she drink? This whisky, it flows, yet the clocks remain forever at 7.46; the people remain as motionless as dummies; cars, with their lights on, stand still on the dark roads. The world as it was at 7.46, thirteen months ago, preserved and mummified by some unimaginable force which only she escapes.
She drinks more whisky, wiping her mouth.
She remembers that first night, wandering around in a daze, looking at the motionless population. She had held someone’s hand, felt its warmth and softness, yet the man hadn’t moved and his eyes were like glass. There was another man she saw at a bus stop weeks later, so beautiful, so angelic; she had kissed his soft lips, her heart beating faster at the touching of their mouths, but he just stood there, his lips wet from her touch, like a waxwork-dummy, agonisingly lovely and serenely unattainable.
She remembers the tram, stopped in the middle of a crossroads, like a becalmed metal whale. She had walked beside it, her fingers tracing a cold line along its curved frame. She had looked up and a young boy was looking out; and their eyes met. She had started, thinking that he was looking at her. But she had shifted sideways, to the left, and his still-eyes had remained looking ahead. It was a moment of quiet heartbreak; one of many in those first few months alone.
And, she remembers the moth. After so much stillness and silence, the sound of it flittering under a lamp had astonished her. She had stood looking at it, grey and tormented, crashing into the bright heat of the lamp, until it fell, helpless and burned. It lay in the gutter, dazed, flapping. She had put it in her hands and felt its tiny wings, as thin as paper, tickle her palm. Her whole body had felt the thrill of that movement. Tender, gentle life.
For days she wandered aimlessly, calling out, hoping for an answer, but the city was asleep and only she was awake.
She takes the bottle outside the bar. She heads up to the swimming pool on the roof. The night is deathly silent. If she shouted, her voice would echo over the city and possess it. The swimming pool is illuminated from within. She kicks off her shoes and steps into the shallow end, wades out, fully-clothed, until the water laps around her waist. She drinks from the whisky bottle. She turns slowly, the water slapping gently. She causes ripples. Ripples which sing like bells.
Alice and Peter walk through the streets, hand-in-hand. He drinks from a bottle of lemonade, she eats an apple.
They know there are lapses in this madness. A wind sometimes blows, lifting leaves and dust; a fountain in a plaza miraculously flows and astounds them; a mouse skitters across the road in front of them, like a dusty ghost. Once there was bird; a single, fawn sparrow hopping about among the motionless pigeons and sparrows on the pavement beside it. They had raided a shop and broken up a loaf of bread for it and had watched her eat all afternoon.
These brief and strangely-wonderful moments give them momentary hope. Somewhere there must be someone else like them. They can’t be the last people on Earth still living and moving, can they?
Once, in a hotel, they had heard a splash. They had run to the swimming pool and it was lit with blue light. The pillars were mosaic tiles of aqua and azure blue. The water rippled. They dared to hope that there was someone swimming under the surface but it was empty; water reflecting and breaking up light as it swayed.
At the edge of the pool, was a woman in a red swimsuit, mouth open, in the middle of removing a white robe. Peter went up to her and put a hand on one of her shoulders, which was warm and soft. The woman stared across the pool, not moving.
They both stood, looking down at the rippling water, wondering what had caused the loud splash, watching its wake as the still pool swelled gently, mysteriously. They had held each other for comfort.
They find a shop that sells cakes. They look at all of the multi-coloured confectionary, laid out like soft jewels. He chooses a cake with lemon-coloured icing and glace cherries, she a tart with glazed strawberries on custard and a bottle of sparkling water. They eat as they walk, savouring the indulgent sweetness. When they finish, they hold hands again, their fingers sticky.
- Do you think it’s the Americans? she asks.
- Why would it be the Americans?
- Well, I read somewhere they were experimenting with a Quantum Bomb.
- What’s a Quantum Bomb?
- I don’t know. Something to do with disrupting time. Stopping time in a selected area so the troops can go in.
- That’s just comic book stuff, he says derisively.
- No. It was real.
- If they were doing that kind of thing, they’d hardly let it into the papers would they?
- It was in a magazine.
- Same difference. It’s just someone’s imagination.
She looks around her.
-This isn’t imagination is it? she says vehemently.
She is angry with him, but she holds his hand even tighter because she is sometimes afraid of losing him. They walk past a woman sitting on the front step of a shop, a bottle of beer poised against her mouth, glass touching dark red skin, the liquid poised like an amber globule inside a spirit level.
- Maybe it’s the Americans, he concedes, but I don’t know. Probably a force of nature.
- What kind of force? she asks curiously.
- How do I know?
Ahead of them, a building is on fire, the flames frozen, like sheet-metal, bright and reflective. A woman is petrified in mid-run, her clothes on fire. They rush up to her. They douse the flames with their drinks. They hiss and disappear. The flames have melted away but the woman remains transfixed to the spot, her clothes burned, flesh exposed and red raw.
- Let’s go back to the roof, he suggests.
- I like being near the sky.
Louise wakes. She has no idea what time it is. She laughs in the darkness. Of course: it is 7.46. She turns on the light. She undresses and showers. How can water flow when everything is still? It is something to do with her touch? Perhaps. She touches things and they come alive? But then, why don’t people come alive when she touches them? Nothing makes sense.
She stands under the water, soaping herself, then washes off the soap.
She dries herself then dresses. She goes downstairs to the café and makes herself a black coffee. She makes toast. See, the miracle of time in a timeless world where everything is frozen but here, in this café, when she touches the toaster, the toaster heats and turns bread into toast, hot to the touch and smelling of burned wheat.
She butters it, spreads on marmalade. The coffee is good.
Beside her, at an adjacent table, sits a man reading a book. He has an espresso cup lifted to his lips and a glass of port on the table beside him.
It is morning to her but, in reality, 7.46 at night; the day forever poised in that plum-coloured moment between late afternoon and night.
There were days, at the beginning, when she had left money for the things she had taken on the counter, but now she takes coins from the tills, using them in vending machines and coin-operated doors. Why bother worrying about stealing from those who can not use the metalled artefacts of a lost world? She could steal all the money she could carry and it would be mostly useless now.
She goes to the fridge and takes out a grapefruit. A young woman in a mauve dress stands beside the counter. She cuts the grapefruit into quarters and then halves the quarters. She stands by the counter, biting into the sharp-sweet flesh, sucking, chewing, until she is left with eight yellow and white rinds which she drops carelessly at the young woman’s feet.
She goes out into the silent, still street. She has long-since given up trying to find a word to adequately describe this silence; this terrible, night-loneliness; this empty space of madness.
She walks among the motionless world. She weaves in between cars and buses. Pedestrians are obstacles for her to meander through.
If only the world turned. If only the night changed into day. If only she could see the remembered-sun.
She sees her own reflection in the window of a shop. It moves. It makes her laugh, as if such movement in this world is a comic surprise.
Behind the glass are teddy bears and dolls. They look out with bead eyes, dull and hard.
- What do you want me to do? Alice asks.
- You don’t want me to do anything?
- I said so, didn’t I?
- But I’m cold.
- Well hold me.
- Can’t we go back inside?
- I want to look at the night and the stars, he says distantly and the distance scares her.
- It’s not going away, she says, Ever. And we could be in beds with cotton sheets and woollen blankets.
- Well go downstairs, he says coldly.
- I don’t want to be alone, she says in a quiet, childlike voice.
He turns his head, regretting his indifference.
- I’ll be up here when you wake, he promises.
- How do I know?
He looks at her.
- I won’t ever leave you.
- How do I know?
- Why would I?
- I don’t know.
He walks up to her. He holds her, wrapping her up in his arms.
- No-one’s ever been as married as us. Not in the whole history of time. We’re the only people in the history of the human race who can never let go of each other because we’re the only people we’ve got. Just us. No-one else. Forever.
She touches his face, stroking it. He smiles.
- Go downstairs. I’ll be up here waiting, he says gently.
She nods. She goes down into warmth and the gentleness of cotton.
Louise finds a cinema. She helps herself to popcorn and soda. The woman behind the counter is smiling, her mouth parted slightly, like a piece of art, imitating reality.
She goes into a darkened cinema. A few people sit in chairs around her. The movie has frozen on one frame: a woman, looking to her right, with blonde hair down to her shoulders.
She sits sipping her drink, looking at the woman on the screen. Her eyes are brown, lit up. Her face glows with some distant light, perhaps a fire? She has a tiny mole under her left nostril. Her mouth is open, as if she is about to say something or perhaps let out a gasp?
The movie mirrors the world; a frozen moment in time, a piece of unfinished choreography waiting for the moment of its completion.
She eats her popcorn and drinks her soda, watching the screen and the face of the woman, which is as big as the side of a house. The cinema is lit by a pale blue glow and the people around her are in shadows, as still as statues.
In an office somewhere, on the twentieth floor, a woman sits at her desk. Her colleagues are gone and the sole occupant, aside from her, is a cleaner, frozen in the moment of picking up a bin.
She has returned to this place time and time again and again, though she has no idea why. She has spent the last year surrounded by silent, unmoving people, alone and lost.
Each time she returns to her old office, she looks at the cleaner, bent over to lift the mesh bin. She remembers speaking with her many months ago. She sometimes speaks to her still, like you might speak to a gravestone in memory of a loved one.
She stands at the window looking out at a city which exists always in night. Surely there must be other people like her, still aware and walking through lonely streets? She can’t be the only one.
She walks across the room and sits at her desk. She reaches for the phone directory. She lifts the phone from its hook.
She will be like a holy person, performing some long, hopeful ritual. Measuring the death of time with her fingers.
She opens the directory to the first page. The ‘A’s. The first name is Aab, a name she has never encountered before. She puts the phone against her left ear, listens to the dial tone, then punches in the number. Somewhere, in the suburbs or city, a phone rings. Loudness in the midst of silence. She lets it ring and ring. She gives it time. There are millions of names in this book. She will spend her days ringing every number. If there is someone else out there, they will answer. One day the phone won’t just ring and ring but will be answered by a human voice.
She hangs up, runs her fingers down to the next person, and punches in the number.
When Alice wakes from her cotton-warm sleep, she wonders how long she has been asleep. There is no way of measuring time anymore. No clocks or watches, no movement of the sun; just the ever-present moon, hanging like a lamp in the velvet sky. She still finds herself looking at the clock. The illuminated dial says 7.46. It is always the same and always a shock.
She climbs out of bed. She goes up to the roof.
He is not there.
She looks out on the eerily silent city and wonders, in a moment of panic, if he has betrayed her, though she can fathom no good reason for him doing so.
She sits, cross-legged, on the hard roof. She waits. He will come to her. Please let him come to me.
She thinks of her parents, still sitting in front of the TV. She wished she hadn’t left them but there was no point in remaining; touching them, feeling their warm flesh, the hardness of the bones underneath; looking into bright, glassy eyes. It was heartbreaking; they were there, within the realm of her touch, but gone; gone.
So she had wandered, alone, for months, before she had found him; the shock and wonder of another human being like her.
They shared their bewilderment and loss. They walked strangely among people who might as well be corpses. They both wondered.
He comes to her after a while. She is aware of him without seeing him. The sound of his footsteps and breath. She is ridiculously relieved.
- Have you eaten? she asks.
- I was waiting.
- Let’s go down.
- Did you sleep?
- A long time.
They ride the elevator down to the foyer, past the frozen reception clerks. They go outside.
- It doesn’t have to be God, he says.
- I was thinking. Last night. It doesn’t have to be God or Americans.
- It could easily be nature. I mean, I remember at school they told us that every now and then the magnetic field of the Earth changes.
- It does?
Well, something like that. You know, the way the water goes when you pull out a plug? Anticlockwise or the other way?
- Yeah. And every so often it changes. Reverses.
- So, what if, every now and then, Time changes?
- But it hasn’t before, has it?
- How would we know? What if it changes every million years? We haven’t been around that long have we?
- But what about us? Why has everything else stopped but not us?
- I don’t know that bit. I mean, it doesn’t fit, does it?
- Let’s eat. What do you fancy?
- Pancakes, he grins.
She laughs and they run down the street, holding hands, heading towards a kitchen that has good pancakes and which they know has a plate piled high, just waiting for them.
Louise leaves the cinema, with the other people still sitting in their seats and the face of the woman still on the screen. She throws the empty popcorn box and soda cup into a bin.
The thing to do, she has decided, is to act as normally as possible; to live her days as if this is the every-day world. Days? Even the most fundamental thoughts are mocked by the world around her.
She passes a newsagent’s stand. She has read every single newspaper, with its news about a long-lost world. The man inside looks out, his jaw still in the same state of unshaven-ness. She picks up a magazine. She leafs through it but is only half-interested. She sees faces of famous people, more animated than the people around her.
She has a sudden desire to visit the train station, though she has no idea why.
She looks into the faces of the people she walks by. She has begun to think of them as Dolls, though they are real people. Perhaps it is she who is a ghost in their world? It is one of the possible permutations which have run through her mind over the months.
She finds the stairs to a nearby station. She heads lower, under the earth.
People wait, looking at newspapers, sitting, standing, craning their necks to see down the tunnel. There is a light from within. She stands on the edge of the platform. She jumps.
She lands on the tracks. She suddenly gasps, and thinks she is going to die. In the tunnel is a train, its lights pouring over her but, of course, it doesn’t move. She has commited suicide but only in the world which moves. In this world she can walk slowly up to the train; put her hands against its warm, metal frame; look up at the driver who stares blindly out of the window.
If the world were to become suddenly alive, she would be dead. She has thought of this often as she walks among stationary cars. This doesn’t stop her from walking beside the train, in the gap between its carriages and the curved wall of the tunnel, looking up at the windows lit from within and the lifeless passengers, reading newspapers, listening to silent iPods, talking, sleeping. Perhaps the sleeping have the best deal?
She climbs back onto the platform. She has ruined her cardigan with grease.
She walks past a young man, with his bling and tracksuit pants and cap back-to-front. She takes off his hat and flings it across the platform, across the rails, to the other side. She has no idea why.
She passes a man collecting for charity. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a handful of clattering coins and forces them into the box, pressing them in with gluttonous determination. A meaningless gesture.
She sees a man in a suit standing beside a young woman, his eyes preserved in a moment of leering at her cleavage. She finds his wallet and opens it. She peels out hundred dollar bills. She slips them into the girl’s jacket pocket and throws his wallet onto the tracks. She turns him so that he is leering at a drunk sleeping with his back to white tiles.
The two of them enter the fair ground. They are holding hands again. They wander through the stationery crowds; children, like them, with toffee apples and candy floss; adults, laughing, shouting, eating, drinking; a couple locked together in an eternal kiss in the corner of an alley.
- Have you ever been here before?
- When I was younger.
- It’s like we’re living in Madam Taussards.
She looks at a girl like her with red lips and bright blue eyes, beautiful and creepy at the same time, erotically-strange in her unbreathing loveliness. She looks away. Sometimes it is hard to look at these people, who might easily be dead or asleep or in a world between existences.
Look at the people on the roller-coaster. Those people screaming silently. They’ve been going down like that curve for over a year.
- Only to us.
- To them it’s probably not even a second. If this thing ever stops. I mean, if time ever gets back to normal I bet it will be the blink of an eye to them.
- Do you think it will?
- Get back to normal?
She looks at a woman standing beside her, wiping her glasses clean with a cotton cloth.
- How would I know? It might stay like this forever.
- Just you and me.
- Unless we find someone else.
- What are the odds of that?
- We can’t be the only ones.
- Have you ever thought it might be us and not the others?
- What do you mean? Like you said before?
- Yeah. That the rest of the world has left us behind? That everything else has moved on and it’s us who’ve fallen out of step with Time?
- But how?
- Maybe this happens sometimes? People slip through and get trapped in a moment?
- So my parents, they’re somewhere in the future? They’ve left me behind?
- They wouldn’t have had any choice. It just would have happened. They went on as normal but we didn’t.
She looks at the crowd around her. Will they live here among the silent citizens of a becalmed world for the rest of their lives?
- Will we grow old? she asks wonderingly.
- I suppose we will.
- What if we don’t? Maybe we’ll stay young forever?
He looks down at the ground. It is littered with papers; old tickets, scraps, sweet papers. Perhaps in sixty years from now they will come back to his place and he will remember this moment? The world will still be spellbound and nothing will have changed? The people on the roller-coaster will still be on their downward plunge, their mouths open in silent screams? But what will have become of them?
- Let’s do something silly, he says suddenly.
- Imagine if things get back to normal…
As he says this, he walks up to a red-headed man wearing black pants. He undoes them and tugs them down. He is wearing white underwear with a rose print on them.
- Do her, he says, gesturing with his head.
She looks at the woman standing beside her.
- Imagine time starts again, he says with a laugh, and they all have their trousers around their ankles. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
She smiles. Feeling a little shy, she pulls the woman’s pants down. They both laugh merrily. They wander the crowds, removing trousers and skirts until they are surrounded by dozens of people with pink-skinned, bare legs, clothes puddled around their ankles, like a scene from a silent movie. They sit in the saw dust, holding each other, laughing. She rests her head against his shoulder and he pulls her close into him, stroking her gently, hot tears rolling down his sobbing face.
Louise finds a wine bar and goes into the kitchen. She takes a sandwich and a bottle of white wine to a table by the window. She finds a CD-player and puts on a CD. Bach Cello Suites. The mournful music fills the café.
She eats. She looks at the people on the street. It has been thirteen months since she has spoken with a fellow human being; thirteen months since she heard a human voice. Sometimes she will go up to one of the mannequin-like people and touch them; stroking their faces, holding their hands, smelling their clothes, just to remind herself that they are real people, not painted dolls.
Once, a few weeks ago, seeing a beautiful man standing at the edge of a street, she had longed for the touch of another human being. She had looked into his blue eyes. He was handsome. She could imagine sharing a meal with him, going home, making love. She had unbuttoned her cardigan and had lifted the man’s heavy arm, placing his hand on her left breast. She had closed her eyes, feeling his warm fingers against her skin, yearning for tenderness.
She had cried. She had stood on the edge of the street and cried with this stranger’s hand held up against her chest.
He is still standing on the edge of the street. She knows with absolutely certainty that, if she were to walk back there, he would still be standing in the same position, still looking out across the street, with his mouth slightly parted, a sad reminder of hollow, manufactured intimacy.
She drinks her wine from the bottle. She finishes her sandwich.
Where will this end? she wonders. Will it stretch out into years? The rest of her life? An entire life lived without human contact or companionship?
She goes outside. She enters a hotel foyer. She rides the elevator to the top floor. She finds the steps to the roof. She goes up onto the roof and stands looking at the lights of the city. But for the absolute silence, it could a normal city, alive and thriving.
She drinks from the bottle, contemplating the endless darkness. It, too, has its effect on her. She is locked away from the day and sunlight forever. She drinks more wine, wiping her mouth.
She walks to the very edge of the building. The tips of her pink shoes are over the edge. She holds out her arms. She need only topple forward to drop twenty storeys to the street below.
That would end all of this.
Surely it would?
She takes a deep breath, tasting the city on her tongue.
To freefall to her death. It is a thought.
The neck of the bottle slips through her fingers and falls. It is a little time before she hears it, but the city is so silent, hear it she does, crashing below.
She laughs at the absurdity of it all.
She steps back.
- Damn you! she shouts defiantly, then heads back downstairs, where she will drink more wine, not yet ready to die.
Not only wine. Whisky, vodka, absinth, brandy, beer and champagne until, drunk, she finds a room and falls asleep in her clothes, with the clock beside her telling her it is still 7.46.
In the amusement park, they marvel at the rides, stopped in mid-swing or swirl. They laugh at a boy stopped in mid-run, being chased by a man waving a stick. They take sweets from stalls and munch on them as they wander the sawdust aisles. He picks out some flowers from a bunch and pulls out the yellow petals, dancing backwards before her, scattering them at her feet, as if she is a princess or goddess. She laughs gleefully.
He goes behind a hotdog stand and makes them hotdogs with bright-yellow mustard and relish.
They drink Coca Cola and search through show-bags to eat Violet Crumbles and Jaffas.
At a shooting gallery he shows off by putting a rifle to his shoulder, shooting at a metal duck, which he misses seven times, which makes her laugh loudly.
They walk past a band, their instruments still to their mouths, cheeks puffed. She bangs the drum and it falls out of the drummer’s still hand, clattering to the floor.
They stand under the Ferris wheel. People sit in carriages, waiting to ride. There is a queue. He tells her to get in.
She climbs into an empty seat, then he presses the button and it starts moving. He jumps in beside her and they ride slowly to the top, looking out at the bright lights of the sleeping city, holding hands while they circle around and around.
On the third revolution, they hear a phone ring.
They look at each other.
They are on the rise so have to wait until it ends its spin then jump out but, by this time, the ringing has finished.
The memory of the rings echo around them.
- No! he shouts, running around, trying to find the phone but, eventually, he falls to his knees in the sawdust. She falls gently beside him and lays an arm over his shoulder.
- They’ll ring again.
- What if they don’t?
- There’s someone else out there! We’re not alone.
He looks up at her.
- But what if they don’t ring again?
- It doesn’t matter, does it? There’s someone else out there, looking. One day. One day, we’ll find each other.
He looks at her and nods. He is crying. She wipes away the tears from his cheeks with her fingers. They kiss for the first time. Three quick, soft kisses. They hold each other tightly, lovingly. Above them, the Ferris wheel turns and turns and turns.
Louise wakes. She has no idea how long she has been sleeping. Instinctively she turns to look at the clock.
She sits up and stares at it in disbelief.
She puts a hand to her mouth, gasping.
Time has moved! A single minute. It has taken Time thirteen months to move a single minute. She slides off the bed. At this rate it will take, what? Fourteen or fifteen years to complete the hour. Time is moving infinitesimally slowly, but it is moving. This changes things, but she is not sure how. For the first time in a long time, she feels hope, though it is like the thinnest sliver of light in a dark room.
She walks to the window. From up here she can see the west of the city. The lights of cars not moving. The shopping precinct. The amusement park.
Something catches her eye.
The Ferris wheel is moving! She can see its multicoloured lights revolving in a pattern of red, yellow, white and green.
Is the world slowly awakening or is the changing of the minute on the clock and the slow revolution of the wheel a coincidence?
Last night she had wanted to kill herself but here she is, looking at some magical hope, some possibility of change. She watches the wheel turn beautifully, mesmerised, trying to fathom its meaning, wondering if she dare dream of salvation.
She goes downstairs, riding the elevator in a rush of impatient excitement. She steps out into the street. She walks past people standing in various poses. She wanders through the lines of cars. She doesn’t recognise this part of town. She wonders if she is heading in the right direction and, for a moment, panics. But, as she turns a corner, she comes across a street which heads downwards and there, not so far away, is the slowly turning Ferris wheel, brightly-lit, like a beacon.
She heads in its direction, having no idea what she might find there, but thinking that it might be some sort of beginning. It is a hope she tries to hold down but it flutters upwards like a bird.
As she heads closer she can smell sawdust and sweetness, the musty smell of horses and other animals. The wheel is magnificent, turning, turning, making the air sing, its gleaming lights lending it the quality of something sacred and ceremonial.
As she enters the front gates, she thinks she can hear voices. They are too far away for her to be sure, too quiet, but she begins to run. The lights wash the air with beautiful colours and the hurdy-gurdy music of the Wheel is making the world giddy and strange.
She feels like she is falling now; falling forwards into the vortex of the Wheel, like a leaf being drawn into a whirlpool. She prepares herself for astonishment or, perhaps – please no! - disappointment?
Above her, the stars, whose ancient light has taken hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years to arrive here, pierce the night sky with their astonishing brightness.