The Edge of Heaven
The Edge of Heaven
Someone once told me that love can transcend time and maybe even defeat death itself. I don’t know about that but as the future becomes the present then the past, the fabric of reality gets more blurred at the edges with the rise and rise of technology. Maybe Heaven is within reach wherever that may be.
It’s a pleasant, spring evening. Despite the ambience of the time of year, there’s a cold breeze swooping across the viewing deck that’s commensurate with being eighty-six storeys in the air. We hold hands and stare out at the city. The amber sun is dipping below strung-out clouds on the horizon as twilight begins its brief reign before nightfall. There’s something exhilarating about being at the top of the world. Tall buildings scrape skies, a Manhattan amalgam of steel and glass. In the distance, the Hudson flows majestically skirting an urban hinterland.
We turn away from viewing the panorama and take our seats at a small, circular table with two chairs. It’s laid out neatly with champagne flutes, a bouquet of flowers and silver cutlery. A waiter dressed in black tie drifts over and pours from a magnum chilling in an ice bucket in the middle of the table. A waitress dressed in a maid’s outfit including frilly white pinny brings two starters on small, porcelain plates. As the food is laid out in front of us we exchange smiles.
There’s so much to talk about and yet it’s nice just not saying anything. I watch you sip from the slender, glass flute noting the gold leaf that winds around it. There’s just the two of us here, no tourists thronging the platform jostling for the best view. The food is exquisite: calamari cooked carefully in batter with legumes, carrots and new potatoes. I mouth “my compliments to the chef” as I chew on another piece of octopus.
As stunning as the surroundings are, they can’t compete with you. Watching you eat, I drink in your bobbed raven-black hair, cupping the sides of your face. Your eyes twinkle blue; diamond ear-rings dangle delicately from your ears. Your nose is sleekly aquiline and your full lips dusted a shade of rouge. You are wearing a black, strapless dress. You notice me looking and glance away demurely, then realise we have known each other for all of our lives. We have no secrets.
We eventually talk. I reminisce about the first time we met. It was at a noisy club in Dublin – Break for the Border. I was there for the weekend with friends as were you. There were people everywhere trying to get served at the bar. Through the madness, time seemed to stop when you started talking to me. Shouting over the noise, you remarked wryly about the bunfight for drinks. We laughed and carried on chatting in staccato exchanges keeping an eye out for an opening in the melee. It took a while to get served. I didn’t mind the delay. We stayed together for the rest of the evening; talking, dancing, kissing. It was a bind when we had to go our separate ways but we exchanged mobile numbers and the rest, as they say, was history.
It’s funny how it’s the informal moments that we remember the clearest. Notwithstanding, I reflect on our wedding day. We grin when we remember the glum looking driver of the horse and carriage that ferried us away from the church after the ceremony. Married at just twenty-three years of age, the pair of us. We revel in our current youth. You stand and hold your hand out. I take it as you lead me back over to the viewing glass. And then there’s nothing there, no barrier, just a sprawling collection of buildings below our eye line that stretches for miles into the distance. A matrix of roads criss-cross far below, moving cars and rows of yellow cabs, tiny, shuffling along streets. We continue to hold hands and….together….slowly….fall….forward….
A tired nurse on her late shift pads along a corridor at night heading towards a patient check-in. She opens the door to a private room and strides across the floor to an old woman in a bed. A monitor at the side is scanned carefully noting latest vital signs; wires connecting flesh to machine. Not many more assessments left; this could be the final time.
We look out across London and immerse ourselves in the nightscape. The Thames cuts a mighty swathe through a mass of buildings and monuments. Red buses motor over Westminster Bridge; tourists scurry across on pavements both sides like worker ants in a nest. Across the river I can see a block of trendy flats with balconies just set back from an embankment. The Houses of Parliament are to our right. Street lamps and neon signs bring the capital to life with the penetrating presence of inky night offset by a rash of amber and red. We are holding hands again, behind us a clock face with hands set at twelve and ten. Time is literally ticking, thundering in our ears. Standing on a circular rim, we take in the sights before us as midnight slowly nears like an arbitrary checkpoint in a parallel time.
This is one of your recurring dreams. We have disclosed many lucid experiences for shared analysis over the years. I remember this one well. We decided it was something to do with freedom. You said that life could be a gilded cage from which we sometimes escape. We argued about the gilded cage thing. No, no it’s not about us per se, you would speculate, just life as a concept in general and whether we can be truly free to do whatever we want.
There are people below staring up, wondering what two people are doing silhouetted against the most famous face of the Elizabeth Tower better known as Big Ben. It’s cold up here, so high up once more. The wind rips through us, our bodies fighting against the swirling eddies. You reach out to me with your free hand taking care not to lose balance and topple over. There’s a droning noise that’s getting louder. I see geese flying in the London sky. They cross a shining, full moon in convoy formation, a straight line of avian splendour heading who knows where. It makes me think of the Disney Peter Pan movie with cartoon characters flying over the Thames.
You grip my hand tighter. I can feel your palm sweating, the gold ring on your finger pressing into mine. A huge shadow is appearing on the ground below cast long by the array of street lamps and other lighting. I look to my left and see a large zeppelin motoring towards us. The engines on either side of the sausage-shaped balloon spin furiously. We turn to look at each other. You have the biggest grin on your face. You shout that you want to jump onto the gondola. I reply that you are crazy. This is your wild side, the part of you that wants to holler and scream and let go of all things. I estimate the distance between us and the blimp. This will need to be the biggest leap of our lives. We’ll never make it….
The white-uniformed nurse checks her pocket-watch and makes notes on the sheet of paper attached to a clipboard at the end of the bed. She checks on the old man slumped in the chair at the side of the bed. There is a tartan blanket covering his clothes, lime green, crew-necked jumper and black slacks underneath make him look younger than his years. His eyes are closed, electronic nodes blinking on either side of his head in unison with the set attached to the cranium of the woman in the bed. Eyelids flutter with REM activity. She picks up his wrist and takes his pulse. He is eighty years old. Both he and the patient are octogenarians.
We are stepping off a coach along with other tourists. Our native guide leads us past a ramshackle wooden fence made of stakes into an expanse of greenery. The dew from grass kisses our feet, trees still hidden in semi-darkness. The sun is rising on the horizon. The expedition takes us through the Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) to the banks of the Yamuna River to look at the Taj Mahal beyond. I can feel a sense of dread as seconds tick down like rain bouncing off a car roof. There’s a desire to savour every moment without them ever ending. A young boy and girl, maybe in their twenties, are wandering ahead of us, professional-looking cameras hung around their necks. The expedition is meandering towards a Holy site, sleepy conversations uttered between half-awake devotees. The sense of expectation looms the closer we get to this morning’s tour destination.
There is a crooked line of people stood gazing at the magnificence of the white marble monument; its domes, arches and alabaster majesty enough to take one’s breath away. Pete and Jan are in front of us looking over in stoical silence. With his floppy hat and moustache, Pete is a lanky purveyor of wit. We met them over dinner during the holiday and get on well. Turning to me he whispers that if people look at the mausoleum for much longer, it might take off. We both laugh. You edge away towards a fruit tree in shade. Narcissus flowers in bunches all around. I follow you.
We talk about the children and what they will be up to while we swan about in India. The pretence of being young is over now. I know these are all illusions. Your illusions. These are the places you want to be; to touch and feel them again. I am grateful that you want to spend this time with me. Lifespans are finite, after all. At least, tangible lifespans.
The sunrise casts a silvery light that gives an ethereal feel to this time of day. You are holding your hands together in supplication in front of your face. I notice your toes painted different colours as they poke through your sandals. We look up at blue skies, birds fluttering from tree to tree. There is so much peace and beauty here. I put my arm around you as you put your head on my chest. We hold each other for a while. And then you look up into my eyes. I can see you fading away, your expression stoical. Your essence is pixilating, breaking into smaller parts; your features becoming more and more blurred. The sum total of your living cells is transmuted to mere dust as it trails away on the breeze. One last dream now over; disappeared. Gone.
“Mr Norton, it’s time to wake up.” I open my eyes slowly to see a woman’s face looming over mine. She has taken the nodes from the sides of my head and is checking me over. Everything feels hazy. I realise that it’s a different nurse from the one earlier; probably changed shifts. After a minute or so, I stand shakily with her help. She gently eases me to the bed where an old woman looks like she is sleeping. Her eyes are closed, the faintest of smiles on her lips. She is no longer breathing. The sheets are pulled up tight to her neck. Hospital corners.
“I am so sorry, Mr Norton. She went peacefully. Her essence has been transferred to the archive. You will be able to eventually join her when the time is right.”
I take in the words and feel a tidal wave of emotion about to wash over me. I should cry but, just at this moment, I can’t. I think of the virtual night we have just shared and what things might be like after we have both left this mortal plain. I stay and lament your passing; whilst waiting for the future.
Image free to use at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehtab_Bagh#/media/File:Mehtab_Bagh_facing...