We are gathered here this evening within the space of the great brownstone arch, because it is raining, and though you can no longer feel the rain, I still can. Tell me, is the cold of the grave much like the cold of the rain?
My dear Miriam, what could I tell you about the grave that you could understand fully, unless you at last agree to meet me in death? You live. You exist according to the beat of the heart, the pulse of blood, the warmth of the sun upon your bones. There is no such thing in the grave. In the rain, the cold seeps into your bones, and you weep. In the grave, the cold IS your bones, and you smile. At least the ghosts around me do, as they tell me they prefer the cold.
I do not know. It is not merely cold bones that us ghosts prefer, it is a cold heart as well. In the grave you like it better if your neighbors do not speak to you. In the grave we prefer to greet each other cooly.
Then why, my dear Hannah, would I wish to step out into the rain and meet the fate you did?
Because then we could be together forever. As it is now you wish to be warm and I...cannot be. You will move on and live yet I do not wish to lose you. You cannot bring me back from the grave.
Can I not? I could dig up your bones and place them by the fire. Perhaps you would become lukewarm then. Tepid.
So is the grave, from how you describe it.
Less boring with you.
Suppose I get tired of you. Where do I go?
Alas, not far from your grave. Unless you wish to haunt a specific place. I could haunt this archway if you like.
You're haunting it right now. In the cold and rain. Can't we do this in the afternoon?
Sunrise would warm my bones beyond what I could withstand. I would...wish to live again. I would wish for warmth. And not being able to get it back in this world, I would have to move to the Great Beyond. I do not wish to go to the great beyond. Not yet. I just want to keep seeing you. Is that too much to ask for?
It's a hell of a lot to ask me to die just so we can lie in the grave together. You're not Pyramus and I'm not Thisbe. I've still got plenty to do in this city. Court cases to handle. Gall Bladders to remove. Beards to shave and cars to ticket. And how am I supposed to be sure that they'd bury me next to you anyway?
There's a space open next to me in the potter's field. If you hurry you can catch it.
You are missing the point, my dear Hannah. I still want to live. I want to be the one to light the beacon on the Tower of Travelers, someday. I want to ride the horses right off the carousel and around the Capitoline Park. I want to remove the tonsils of every child in the city. I want to enjoy the sun when it warms my bones.
Not all of those goals sound achievable.
The point is, you're asking way too much here. Is it not enough that we meet by night now and then?
We used to meet every night.
I could hardly get rid of you some nights.
Were there nights when I greatly bothered you?
I tried to much to avoid intruding upon you. Was I yet still too insistent?
I lost count of the times you said things like "It's the goldfish or me" or "It's the broom or me."
Just a jest.
Yet implying that you wished to be considered among the primary parts of my life. Well, you didn't have to do that much to make it clear. You had already made it clear by your actions, every day of our lives. You came to find me when I was lost in the woods. You kept bringing me fish from the river, despite the difficulty of climbing the great river wall. You were the one to suggest we sneak into the bell tower of the College of the Holy Trinity and stick a paper cutout of a hunchback in the window. And every day you found some reason to come calling. I almost felt as though you wanted my hand in marriage. I am ashamed I never expressed the concept before now. It is hard to think of things one dare not say.
You were too busy removing gall bladders from court cases anyway. Quite a tricky operation.
Not really, all you need is scissors. Anyway, you were equally busy designing the flags to fly over the Great Gold Dome.
True. And I wondered for a while if you wanted my company after all. I think my jesting was a means of forcing the question. But you made it clear with the little gestures. The bag of dead rats you got me before I realized I wanted a pet snake. The needles you found that were just perfect for sewing heavy canvas. Things like that. The little suggestions about places to go, like the River Wall or the Southern Wild. And sometimes, when you were not busy litigating beards, you came with me. For instance, when we found my son's body in the river.
How's he handling the grave, by the way?
He chose to haunt the house of the inventor of the typewriter. You remember he utterly hated the sound of typewriters. So now when the old man pours himself a glass of sherry while wearing his nice white suit, my son makes a racket and causes the man to spill all over his lapels. In any case, he thanks you for doing what you could to revive him.
I couldn't save him.
We didn't find him in time. I TOLD him not to go swimming in a river. He goes swimming in the river and what does he do? Gets his foot stuck in a branch. Ah well. He was as reckless as I was.
I couldn't save you.
What could you have done? The one thing I should have been open about, I kept a secret, and my gambling debts caught up to me before you could intervene. And you know how landlords and creditors are in this city. Turn you out of your home as quick as you please. You found my body on Van Buren Avenue because I was trying to reach you.
You could have asked someone to carry a message.
With not a penny to pay them?
You could have begged.
And risk my dignity? Anyway, it was an empty evening. We get few enough friendly tourists in this city, and in the cold rain there were none to approach. What was I supposed to do, knock on someone's door?
Plenty of people know you, Hannah. Or knew you.
I can keep coming up with excuses. But I'll admit it, I was kind of stupid. Getting evicted wounded my pride, Miriam. Like nothing ever before. I know grief, sure, I've had plenty. But humiliation? Never. I didn't want to risk any ore of my dignity by begging anyone...save the one person I could be sure would not judge me. But I was on Sycamore and you were all the way over on Franklin Avenue, and between here and there, I got the notion into my head that it would be nice to just lay down and rest a little while. And then I woke up in a box.
And you left your love wondering what in the name of Dog was keeping you that evening. This is the first real explanation I've heard of the situation, you know that? Nobody I asked could tell me just how you wound up in the rain that night. Well, now I know, and I know I'm going to be adding a couple extra bodies to the graveyard.
And risk your soul? Your body could end up next to mine, and the being I meet with your name would be a hideous thing, a face cracked with the light of raging fires shining out. I've seen the ghosts of those who die angry. They are not carried to the Great Beyond by the sun. They are the ones who do most haunting, forever bound on earth by their fury. Do you want to risk that?
Those men turned you out!
Into the cold rain!
They couldn't have expected me to handle it so poorly.
I don't understand how you're taking this so well.
Perhaps it's the cold of the grave. I quite like being able to think about things without getting all hot and bothered by them. Do you know, when you think about things without emotion, so much of human actions seem absurd? Why on earth would one person sacrifice themselves for another? The net gain is neutral. Why would a mother give her life for her infant when she's only spent a year's worth of her resources on its survival? Why would anyone react to an insult when it's just words? See, if you come to the grave with me you shall have a much clearer head about things.
If I come to the grave with you I'll start thinking like that. I shiver at the idea.
In the grave you will no longer shiver.
I have a much better idea. Meet me here tomorrow night.
Who are all these people and why are they carrying lanterns?
Oh, well. The state legislature is meeting tonight.
Are you planning your revenge after all?
Oh please. We're just going to make our intentions clear to our state representatives.
The lanterns look a bit threatening. Are they meant to illustrate a point?
No, they're for tonight's work. Maybe they illistrate the point. We're going to tell the legislature that we want them to pass a bill making evictions more difficult, and if they don't bother we're going to be out searching for the lost and the lonely anyway. After all, petitioning a congress and getting things done are sometimes two different things. Passing legislation and getting things done are sometimes two different things. And there's no time to wait, now, is there? It's raining just like last night and the creditors do not sleep. You died because nobody found you in time. Just like your son. I don't want that to happen again.
I thought this was a city where strangers were cold as the grave to each other. How did you persuade them to do all this?
They remember you, Hannah, every time they see your flags flying over the Great Gold Dome. Every time they climb the rocks you piled up against the River Wall so that they could also fish. Every time a beast from the Southern Wild appears in the long grass and they wonder if it's you wearing another elaborate costume, so they lower their gun and the beast gets away. I admit, considering the number of people who get tossed out of their homes by night, you'd think we would have put this organization together before. Maybe your death finally convinced them that collective action was necessary.
It is good that you channeled your grief into something constructive instead of destructive. All for me?
For them. You're dead. They're still alive. I'm still alive.
There is yet time for you to join me.
You know, Hannah, I never told you what creeps me about about that Priest in the church on Asylum and Broad Street. He goes on about how it's sweet and fitting to die for a Godly cause, and I always wonder if he's willing to follow his own advice. Or if he's one of those guys who says he has to stick around to direct the Truly Faithful into making glorious sacrifices. And just last week, I read Catcher in the Rye where the professor tells Holden about martyrdom. He tells Holden something like "It's more brave to live for a cause than die for it." And you know, I get that it's brave to die for a grand cause. It's hard. You must have felt awful out there in the rain.
At least until the hypothermia kicked in, yes.
But it's also easy. You get to make a grand gesture, make the world weep, and then escape. And you get a nice shrine or something, you get a nice memorial fund with your name on it. And yet... you're still dead. You don't get to direct the disposition of your memorial fund or tell people how to build your shrine. Because you're out. You're finished. You made your point, you shot your wad, you gave it your all and now the rest of the team has to go on without you. You jumped on a grenade and now the rest of the squad has to move forward without you. You gave your life for someone else's and now everyone has to live without you. But if you LIVE for a cause...see where I'm going with this?
If you live for a cause you have some direction over its proceedings. But you have to fight for it instead of just letting the whole thing play out. You have to risk failure instead of just making a Parthian Shot and running off.
Bingo. But it's a hell of a lot easier if I can get people to help me. If I can get a bunch of other people to live for the same cause, that's less work for me, and it keeps them from thinking of revenge. I want them to live as well. And I want to be there for them. I can't follow you to the grave, Hannah.
Hm. I wonder if that is a pity after all. Goodness knows I don't like to see more people added to this graveyard. And sudenly I feel warmer than I did last evening.
Is that a good thing?
I don't know. I feel more solid when I am cold. When I talk to you, who are yet alive and warm...your voice almost sounds like the Great Beyond beckoning. If I talk to you too much and warm up, who knows what could happen? If you join me in death, we can still speak to each other without risking anything, and I will not have to go. Miriam, I have too many regrets. Too many things left unfinished. People I have not apologized to. Projects left incomplete.
It happens to a lot of people. Leaving old debts and half-built towers. It's not like you can wrap them up now. Unless there's someone you'd like me to apologize to on your behalf?
Even if you could, there's no way to make things up to them now. The most you could do is send my regrets. It's all moot, now, like my debts. Dammit. My son's moved out and if you're not going to follow me to the grave, I don't have much reason to stick around here. I could just decide to haunt you specifically until you finally die. But that would be rude, and I imagine that hounding you to death would render your spirit even colder than the usual ghost. Perhaps, then, it is time for me to do what I planned to do after all. I am sorry, my dear Miriam, to have insinuated that you ought to die early just for me. I think I was trying to say something in a roundabout way that I couldn't fully accept. I think I wasn't ready, until I was sure that you weren't going to make a fuss of hanging onto me. Heh. That's just me failing to make important things clear again.
Wait, ready for what?
There's someplace I want to meet you tomorrow morning.
You told me you couldn't go much farther than the grave. How did you make it to the train station? What's so important about the Hall?
It has windows.
So? Wait --
It's time for me to take your advice.
I didn't say anything about leaving.
Oh, NOW you want to hang on to me. Well, you made the case that you had to keep living, and you know, maybe I ought to try it again. Who knows what I shall find? Who knows if I will be able to wait for you on the other side? There is only to step into the sunlight and find out.
Don't go just yet, Hannah.
Alas that you could not have been there in time, on that rainy night, to tell me the same.
You're sure about this?
When have I been sure about anything? In each venture I have stepped forward without certainty. So it must be now. Miriam -- do not cry long after I am gone. Do not wear Mourning too long. You have made enough of a fuss about your lanternbearers, I would hate for you to make any more of a fuss over me.
I'll cry as much as I want, thank you.
Oh please. I don't want you to act like you're in a novel sitting at the feet of the bed of a perfectly angelic little blonde girl who's dying of some picture-perfect disease, oh how sad that the good die young, how glorious is God who is calling one of his little twerps home. My death was indignant enough, thanks. Here I take my dignity back. Here I step into the sunlight and bid you Goodbye. Well, not just yet. The sun's not up so high as to carry me away, yet. Sit with me until I go?
That's fine by me. Mind if I sing a song?
And am I born to die,
To lay this body down?
And must my trembling spirit fly,
into a world unknown?
A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought,
The dready regions of the dead,
Where all things are forgot --
Soon as from earth I go,
What will become of me?
Eternal happiness or woe,
Must then my portion be.
Good song. Here comes the sun.
Oh come on, I expected it to take a few hours!
It's all right. You'll be all right. I'm sure of it. Alright, here goes.