by edward j rathke
They walked across time and space. They walked until their shoes turned to sand and their feet bled black. They walked till their clothes unravelled, till the colour rotted off their eyes. They travelled over rivers, through forests, past cities, beneath mountains. The ground ever changing, but their pace never faltering. She lost a toe and his leg fissured. Under moon and star, under glaring sun, never ceasing, they walked and walked and walked. They heard bees buzzing, birds singing, crowds laughing, rivers babbling, waterfalls roaring, mountains praying. They heard the dawn of earth and the death of the sky, each new child’s cry and each gasped last breath. He pulled the moon from above and she stole the shine from the sun.
He watched from the tree outside her window, his tailored suit and bowler hat forming a slight silhouette behind him. He could not see her, but he watched until the light went out and then for an hour afterwards. The hoot of an owl textured the elsewise silent night. No breeze or fallen leaves, just a pale cheshire moon. He checked his pocketwatch and walked through the city away from her room.
Word spread of their journey cross the continent. From Deutschland to Portugal to Peru, stories sprouted of a well dressed Asian man and his Anglo mate. They said he was five feet tall, that he would never die. They said her face would stop your heart, a radiant goddess wandering through the land of mortality. They said they began before Sumeria, before time first ticked, that they saw the sun give birth to the earth, the torture of Prometheus, the collapse of America, the Four Horseman’s cleave.
She walked through the square and stopped across from the clocktower. Pigeons meandered through the crowd in a cluster unperturbed by human contact. The sun was low and the clock read 8:33, and the square slowly filled with people. The shopkeepers opened their stalls, the performers marked their territory, most of which were human statues of varying colours and modes, from clowns to historical figures to mythical creatures. She found a bench across from a Faun painted from head to hoof in brown. Sitting down, she pulled a worn copy of The Song of the Saint from her purse. It began with a parentless girl who sat near the edge of the ocean, the waves lapping, and so she danced in the tide, leaving impermanent footprints for only the sun. The girl spoke to the skulls of animals and took the dreams of lost bodies from their forgotten heads.
Time marched on and the sun raised its head proudly to beam into the square, which slowly swelled with soft German and crying or laughing children. The square came to life outside of her book where the girl wandered from shore to shore over South America drinking in the dreams of the dead. She grew and so did the range of the dreams she captured, from stillborns to the aged to fauns and bears and birds. She sang into their hollowness, replacing each dream with gratitude. Every page brought the sun higher and the day louder.
‘Hallo,’ a man with long black hair stooped into her view past the book, his accent familiar. She lowered her book and noticed a large sketch pad in his hand. ‘Sprechen Sie französisch?’
‘Un peu,’ she held her index and thumb an inch apart. ‘Anglais?’
He shook his head with a smile, his eyes squinted. ‘Non.’ He stood upright, his hand to his chin for a moment, then his eyes lit and his smile returned. ‘Vous êtes très belle, mademoiselle.’ He spoke slowly, helping her understand, asked if he could draw her.
Meeting his smile, her face warmed with a blush. ‘Oui. Merci, monsieur.’
‘Ça va!’ He stepped back and set up his stool and easel that she had not noticed. She fidgeted back and forth on the bench, looking this way then that. Non, non, non, he shook his head and mimed for her to pick up her book and continue reading. Magnifique! he continued drawing with the ascent of daylight. The clock struck noon and the glockenspiel began, miniatures dancing and singing around the tower. Her face bloomed and she watched the tiny figures play up near the clockface. The Frenchman drawing her lit up at the sight of her and his hand raced furiously over the paper to catch her beatific expression. She watched the faces of tourists turn towards the clocktower, mothers lifting children high to see better, fathers flashing pictures. A closed smile with full lips was captured on the man’s drawing.
‘Voilà!’ He tore the paper from the rest of the pad and, with a bow, handed it to her.
She took it in her hands and saw her reflection, the curl of her hair, her heavy eyelids, her Roman nose, the straight line of her eyebrows, and her thick lips. ‘Magnifique! Merci, monsieur.’ Her face flushed with his flattering pen. She handed him twenty euros, which he took with many smiles and Mercis, bowing graciously.
‘Au revoir, mademoiselle.’ He packed his easel and pad and walked off.
‘Merci,’ she waved and he waved back with his squinted smile. She fanned The Song of the Saint back and forth and closed it, leaving her story unfinished. The clock now read 1:11. She closed her eyes for a moment and opened them. The square was full with chatter and a Romani band played at the far end, which drew a halfcircled crowd. She leaned back, her face washed in light, and a closed smile dimpling her cheeks.
A Japanese man in a three piece suit had watched her all the while from beneath the tower, his bowler hat set parallel to his thick eyebrows. He sipped tea and watched a golden dog lick her hand while she pet it until the dog’s owner commanded its return. He watched the Frenchman draw her and the way she glowed in her two dimensional reflection and how the song of the glockenspiel kissed her heart. He watched her leave the square and followed her to the room she kept a kilometre from the park. Watching the light go out and the dark of her window, he checked his pocketwatch and left.
They were reviled. They took the abuse of children and adults. They showered in stones, curses, lashes, and hoses. They walked. Despite the tormentors, the abusers, the torturers, they prevailed. Each step in the right direction, always ahead. Their eyes, not yet washed clean, were off to the horizon, always. Thousands of miles, they looked ahead. Thousands of miles, they walked alone. His left hand in her right always, bound to one another, carrying each other through time and space, past graves and through births. They walked past shouts and threats and those that would make them stop. Patiently, they waited for the obstacle to remove itself, and so on they walked.
She began to notice him wherever she went. On the bus, on the underground, in the park, outside of churches, even in the same café, his bowler hat always straight, his suit always flawless. He sipped his tea without his pinky and checked his silver pocketwatch casually. After the second week of life under his shadow, she approached and asked in faltering German if he was following her. The din of the café ceased and the silence was pregnant with accusation. He was shorter and thinner than she pictured from afar and she leaned over him. They were eye to eye and her reproach caused his face to flush. He put down his tea soundlessly and looked back into her face. She asked if he spoke German to which there was no response. She asked again in English and he nodded with a thin smile. She asked what he wanted, but his mouth never opened. He sat calmly facing her, his hands folded together, the seconds reaching a minute, ready to burst.
She stormed away and shouted back to leave her alone. The scene caused a stir in the café and the man bowed several times to the other patrons, embarrassed. He rushed out the door and touched her arm to which she whirled around, seething.
‘What do you want?’
His mouth made no movement, but his black eyes spoke to her.
She shook her head and sighed.
In the dark of his eyes, she saw a boy sitting alone beneath a tree holding a bird. It sang, and he smiled and released it to the air. She saw the same boy walking alone. He walked when the sun turned into the moon and back again. He walked through snowy mountains and sweltering deserts. His journey brought him from trees and mountains to oceans and cobblestones. Over years of growth, his journey of life taken on foot.
He touched her hand for a moment and he weaved his way from finger to vein and rode it to her lungs and to her heart and into her brain. He walked past her and she followed a step behind. His steps were soundless as if he did not touch the earth and she followed into the park where he sat on a bench. She sat beside him. He did not look at her, but she watched him. She looked to where he looked, following his black eyes across the grass, past the trees and the bierhaus, past the rivers and borders, past clouds and sunny days. Her eyes swept back to him and his eyes were on her. She saw once more the little boy growing to a teenager with each step until the steps brought him to manhood over thousands of solitary days. His eyes were not sad as a suicide nor were they happy as a wedding. They were vast in space as if they held the expanse of the universe within them, untouched by time and it brought a glittering youth to the endless blackness. So vast, so hollow, she could live in them and experience the grand illusion of galactic time. A curtain fell and his eyes reflected her face. Shallow and innocent rather than immense, it beckoned to her, the existence behind the curtain, the eternal stage of a timeless journey.
Their clothes all undone. Their heads worn bare by the forever sun. Their skin burnt white to match their endless eyes. The sun and the moon, the light and the reflection, wore away at their colour, like a glacial valley formed over centuries. They walked together out of the twentieth century into all that was to come, out of all that was once. Now pure and radiant, two angels glowing as a pale white flame traversing the earth they documented. Every inch, every moment, from formation to destruction, they walked. They heard all that was and all that would ever be. They never spoke, never even parted their lips. They walked alone over epochs and planets keeping all history inside.
edward j rathke wrote Ash Cinema [KUBOA Press, 2012], Twilight of the Wolves [Perfect Edge Press, 2014], and Noir: A Love Story [Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014]. He is an editor for Entropy Magazine, The Lit Pub, and Monkeybicycle. More of his life and words at edwardjrathke.com