Ground at the Monument
The endless pain of fortune. What a thing to have written. As the letter fell into the box’s stomach, they decided not to send it.
Treading the pastoral wash of a single, unbroken column of light, the youth dithered, their amber and mandarin folds of cloth catching ventilation winds. Blithe by any standard toward the revelatory cause of justice, the youth imagined the depths, then rolled their sleeve up easy.
The mouth of the mailbox squealed through friction as it opened. A pale arm, smooth as porcelain, pressed into the esophageal darkness of the postbox’s beginnings. The youth pivoted onto their toes, extending their entire shoulder into the opening. Submerged, they searched for solids finding only air and the soft pull of a distant vacuum.
Unsheathing their arm from the unmistakable lapis lazuli postal monolith, the youth recognized their folly, which hastes wrought. The box did not end but disappeared beneath the surface, the letter swallowed by an uncompromising efficiency.
Something caused a shuffling about in the single large pocket sewn into their robes. They peered down into the light of their quaking device. Unsettled, they absently read the words aloud.
They had anticipated their disciplining would be carried out at one of the more uncompromising sites. Still, The Virtues were hideous.
“I need a ride,” barked the youth to the rusting sky.
“The time now is twelve noon,” said the genderless voice of the idiot computer issued to the juvenile cohort.
Vexed, the youth outstretched an arm to gesture toward a smooth ovoid on approach. The vehicle slowed so cautiously it embarrassed itself. A melodic whisper beckoned its new passenger to take their seat in the center softness of its cabin. The whip took off with a hush—as was the machine’s design, its performance in this transaction appeared joyful.
A long narrow expanse of polished stone distinguished the viewing platform from the igneous rock. The gliding egg purred around a grove of too-tall, suicidal birches and came to rest after an unnecessarily cautious deceleration. The cabin door lifted, rising as a wing, allowing the downcast jingle of the vehicle’s sad farewell to escape and echo. The youth emerges frowning, their head a pale globe atop a spire of winding sunset linens. They follow a shadow up a flight of concrete steps and to the docent standing on the dais, watching.
“We shall begin,” announces the steward. With palms showing, they usher: “Come, please.”
The youth’s frown fell into a grimace as they climbed to certain admonishment. At the summit, the two figures put forward an elbow and brought them to touch briefly in greeting.
The designers of this place believed that to ease the great anxiety of separation, a reminder of everything left behind was needed. Stiff ersatz flowers rising from beds of kevlar mulch, dry birdbaths adorned with fiber plastic ivy: artifice screaming, hang in there. Here, enveloped in the dense concentration of furniture platitudes, the contrast of what was and what remained fell sharp enough to cause pain.
Outside the dome, the desiccated clay of the hillside looked burnt. Distributed across the rolling slopes were many small, white boulders, so uniform in their presentation that the range looked rife with fungal infection. The pox appeared to blister around dark voids where monumental shadows fell and deprived the ground of character.
Facing each other, they spoke in unison: “We witness to The Virtues,” and turning to the decorated hills, “so that we may endeavor yet to endeavor.”
The youth surveyed the site in trepidation, supposing some transcendent understanding would at any moment enlighten, though now they felt only the draining sensation of vertigo putting hands on their abdomen, grinding, nauseating.
Protruding skyward and arranged into six enormous forms were the naked bodies of four generations of diaspora colonists. Worked into each megalith of flesh, a stoic human face stared. Too late for the Earth and too soon for the stars, these interim generations are the compost to make the soil fertile. Fertile soil to make the planet familiar. Familiar to feel human again. Human again to thrive once more.
The docent sat on the platform’s hard stone surface placing their hands on a bas-relief pulsing with light. The youth straightens, watches as strain blossoms across the docent’s face—their body disturbed in exertion influencing some unseen force. Slowly, one of the tissued colossi takes a labored, wet breath.
Surrounded, vibration shakes the youth to their knees as the choral voice of the Virtue Curiosity rings through them.
“You are a fortunate survivor of the dying Earth, and the essence of an ancient race propagates through you.”
At once, visions of cave paintings burst upon the youth’s mind riding rough waves of déjà vu. How was abstraction born so long ago, so far away? See a horse, paint a horse, but why paint a horse unnaturally? Perhaps abstraction came from the clouds. See a cloud, see a horse, but not one so natural. The youth had never seen a real cloud, a blue sky.
The endless pain of fortune.
Youth with Virtues