It ended on a cool, moonlit night in the middle of France.
He had never known when it had started. Perhaps she didn’t, either. Perhaps it had always been this way, and they did not know it. Perhaps everything that had happened before they had ever met was an illusion, dreamed up and imagined simply for plausibility, simply for reason to continue to exist. He did not know.
All he knew was that it had ended, here and now, in this time and at this place. She gave him one last, long mournful look, and then she turned, and walked away, down the long, narrow sloping road, somewhere or elsewhere, wherever she chose to go.
He watched her go. He felt nothing.
He turned, and left.
Do you know what moments are?
No. I did not think you did. I do not think you know what they are at all.
Moments are not fragments of time. They are not slices of memory, not instants of revelation.
Moments are something more.
He would have liked to say he worked in a bank, or as a stockbroker, or as a lawyer. He would have liked to say that in his part time he tried to help the lives of African orphans. In his spare moments, he contributed generously to every charity that was worth its cause; that big, major corporations came to him – not begging, because the high and the mighty do not beg – but requesting his invaluable assistance. He was President of the United States. He was God.
He would have liked to say this, but it was not the truth.
He said, instead, that he had been fired from his only job a few weeks ago. He had been a mechanic. He had made planes. No, no, not the big ones, he said with a smile that was never really there in his lips and his mouth and his steady eyes - just the small ones. That’s right. The fighter jets, the helicopters, the bombers and the biplanes, made of plastic and made of metal mixed and rolled together, sold with cheerful smiles to eager hands, across the country. Yes. Toy planes. No, no, it’s quite satisfying. It pays quite well, I think you would say.
He did not say this, because it was an ugly truth, and ugly truths are worse than beautiful lies.
He was an actor, he said when he was asked, a broad, cheery grin across his features, and a handsome cherry–red sparkle in his beaming eyes, and it was true because his eyes said it, and you can always tell the truth from a person’s eyes. He had been working on a film, actually, for a few weeks, not with the big stars, of course, no, no, I’m not that good, it’s just that I’m late and I’ve got to run, nice meeting you, bye, and he would walk off, away from their smiling laughter, their boisterous chuckles, their easy jovial eyes, because he hated lying and did not want to deceive those friendly faces any more.
Moments are more than epiphanies. They are truths made small and ready, lies squeezed and crushed into tiny packets raining down upon you all at once, in bits and pieces and sizes incomprehensible on their own and yet wholly evident as one.
Moments are more than reality.
He woke up in a bed that for a moment was not his, under sheets he did not remember sleeping beneath, on a mattress that was warm and comfy and could not possibly have been slept in because it was, well, so warm and comfy. But it was his, all of it; this was his bedroom, there was his wardrobe, just there was the television – and right next to his bed was the telephone.
He reached over and pressed a button.
No new messages, said the phone.
No missed calls.
He felt his heart break, shatter a million times over, twist and tear and rip itself into pieces that shredded themselves before they hit the welcome floor. She could have called. He had wanted her to call.
But it had ended, hadn’t it? He could not expect her to call, could not ever expect her to call at odd moments and between nights again; and something cold and slimy washed over him as he realised that he could never call her again, could never dare call her, not now, when everything had finally ended...
He settled back into his bed, and waited for the phone to ring.
Sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes pictures are not enough. Moments are never indescribable, though they resist it with a passion and hatred as fixed and unnerving of an enraged snake.
Moments are more than just this.
A short pause.
“This is Inspector David Tarantella of the New York police. Do you know a person called Mary Weatherside?”
Again a short pause, but now his heart was beating faster, now his mind shuddered under the heavy weight of fear –
“I’m sorry, son,” the Inspector said at last. “I’m really sorry.”
And Joe began to weep.
Moments do not always have to be small. They can be long, and drawn out, but they are never longer than years, never shorter than an instant. The greatest minds know nothing of them, save that without them they would not be great minds: no flash of inspiration, no stroke of genius would animate their lives without these moments, without the sight for which they themselves had once been too blind to see.
But that is not all that they are.
Moments are much,much more than just that.
“She was killed in a terror strike last night. Her and fifty other people.”
He was standing with the Inspector outside Times Square, in the chill of the winter. Snow floated down from the skies, blanketing and coating everything the eye could see, as if it was trying to cover up all the wounds and scars that had ripped open here, all the blood that had been shed, dark and crimson, upon the rocky ground.
“A group of terrorists hijacked a bus. She was on it, “ the Inspector said. “They took the bus all the way up here, lobbed a few grenades at the other cars. It was a hostage situation, we couldn’t do anything.”
Joe said nothing.
“They let out the children on the bus, after their demands were met. They wouldn’t let anyone else go, said that the only reason they were letting the children go was because they had not committed the sins of their parents,” the Inspector spoke with a shrug of his shoulders. “Funny, isn’t it? We expect all of our enemies to be cold, cruel bastards, yet they still don’t forget to remind us that even they can be human too.”
“They let the others die,” John mumbled through frozen lips, still staring blankly at the ground.
“Only because they believed the others had sinned,” the Inspector reminded him gently. “You can’t blame somebody for what he believes. If we had believed the same thing, perhaps we’d have done the same.”
“But we didn’t,” he mumbled, his eyes still vacant, still staring at the ground that refused to yield beneath his gaze and crack open so that he could fall and never, ever have to feel this pain that was there in his chest...
“No,” The Inspector agreed. “We didn’t.”
Joe could hear the birds chirruping somewhere in the distance.
“They blew up the bus after they let the children go.” The Inspector said after a while. “A bomb, or something like that. We think it was probably planned from the beginning, the hijacking and the suicide mission. Everybody on that bus died.”
He drew an object from his pocket.
“She was luckier than most. She was at the far end of the bus, away from where the bomb exploded. Some of her things survived.”
He handed him a battered and chipped mobile phone; its screen was cracked, but it was still functioning.
“She tried to call you seven times last night.” The Inspector said gently. “But the network was down, or something like that; she couldn’t reach you. It happens. It happens.”
There was silence again, for a bitter while.
“She took care of the children, you know. She tried to keep them from panicking, tried to comfort them while the terrorists were throwing bombs all over the place. The children tell us that she persuaded them to let them go. Said that if they died, then they were no better than the rest of us. They thought about that, they listened to her. She told them she just wanted the children safe, didn’t care about herself, she just wanted them to go back home where they belonged, away from this mess. She was a brave woman, Joe; I think I can honestly say that you were very lucky to have ever had her.”
He turned over the phone, numb and paralysed, staring at the only thing he would ever have of her again.
“She left you a message. It’s saved as an audio file.” He could hear the Inspector say quietly; then, slowly, he walked away, and Joe was left alone, with the snow all around him.
Dimly, slowly, he moved his fingers over the keypad. He found it, and pressed play.
He heard her voice again, that strong voice he had always admired, that clear tone he had always loved, and it said four simple words that could be heard, cleanly and clearly, in the winter air.
Joe, I love you.
And he felt his heart break all over again. He felt tears overwhelm him, drown him and burn him, felt agony sear through every bit of his frozen form, every piece of his dying flesh; he was dying because he deserved to die, deserved every bit of this tiny sliver of death that was being offered to him because it was punishment, and not punishment, because it was not enough, it could not drown the fact, could not scar into his flesh forever that he
had lost her, that she was gone, forever and ever and ever...
Moments are times of grief. They are harbingers of pain, messengers of anguish, deliverers of agony that has all the blessings of heaven: pain so intense that one would wish death than suffer through it again, so excruciating that even the devils will fight shy of it; it is remorse, and guilt so deeply entrenched that now it burns with all the fury of a star, now it licks the air with flames that are smoke and heat that is savage misery let loose upon the human form.
But pain is cleansing. Tomorrow Joe Berilyn will rise a changed man. Tomorrow he will rise with all hatred burnt out of his form, with only love and all the power of grief to help him stand and walk the road back him. Tomorrow he will go find a job, the day after he will find one, and years and years hence he will be the greatest man the Earth has ever known, fighting all those who hate not with hate itself, but with the love of a person whom he once loved. Decades from now, he will be remembered as the man who brought peace to a warring Earth, the man who stood atop a ruin and spoke of a woman he had loved, of a death that had happened, of the truth that had etched itself forever into his weeping mind: that we are humans, and we are privileged to love, and no more, and no less.
This is what moments are.