Antarctica, 20th century. Alone with someone in a valley thousands of miles from civilization, the evening after we almost died that morning.
Listen: they have some archaic equipment there. A quonset hut of a device called a Jamesway. Canvas stretched over arched wooden braces. Inside dates and part numbers are military-stenciled, yellow against green. The Jamesway you care about right now is at the edge of a paleolithic lake. Perpetually frozen glacer bits make a lake a couple of miles long by a couple wide, and at the edge of this petrified pond there's a Korean-war era structure contains the only heat for as long as you could walk without dying. Inside propane is burning. Inside the ice has been melted for water. The last load of helo'ed-in food is in there. You can live there for a year if the world comes to an end. Then you have to get creative.
To one side of your lake the Matterhorn rises in shards of brown and white above the plateau, and you can see the striations in the rocks 11,000 feet up where the clouds blow.
Next to the Matterhorn, the Anti-Matterhorn, and the What's-the-matta-horn just beyond. It seems Robin Williams named these mountains, or someone so jaded he felt sky-tearing rock 12,000 feet high wasn't worth a majestic name or the name of a god.
The valley between the giants is humility. You're situated between the scree and the broken glacier, and among that company it wouldn't be worth God's time to give you a proper name, either. Most rocks are here bigger than you. Everything is bigger.
So go hide inside the Jamesway. Suffer the illusion of security in your little bubble of heat.
Inside the canvas rattles against the braces like a sail riffling on a forty-degree tack. Inside you sit on a folding chair pilfered from a Catholic church bazzar and she sits next to you. The rest of the camp is asleep and you've been talking for hours.
Someone could have been born, had a life, and died in the time you've spent and no part of you would need to know. There is nothing you need to know. What you called yourself back in the world has been dissolved to insignificance by walls of blue ice a hundred feet high.
Is it that you're running out of things to talk about, or is the silence addicting? Because when it's quiet there's nothing between you and eleven-million cubic miles of rock but your breath and heartbeat.
When you're quiet you can hear your heartbeat.
A nearly irrelevant ticking from a watch that measures nothing you can remember being important makes you tear it from your arm. Hers is digital. It goes too. Symbology. Poetry. You're living metaphor by metaphor.
Overhead the sun circles ticking way the moments the way the ice knows. Geologically.
Is that your heart?
And then lowering her chin, eyes still and locked onto yours from beneath her brow, you know you can hear hers.
Welcome to Antarctica.