|The Last Ubiquitous Page.|
The Light that bounces off my face
Will travel forever.
But who will see it?
I have seen so many things in this tiny life.
Beauty can be wonderful, too.
This lesson was not so bad.
I stood up, wearing the Boots. Then I nearly fell down again, because my toes could not spread out and grip the Roof, and my ankles could not bend to help my balance.
Boots are little boxes that the people of the Floor wear upon their feet. They are hard, they do not bend, they do not let the toes grab things. But they are strong, and Hot and Cold and Sharp and Rough mean nothing to the feet when one is wearing them. They are strong, as boxes are supposed to be.
Walking is difficult in Boots, but I managed to stumble across the line of Light once again, in pursuit of the man of the Roof, who had stopped to wait for me. The Boots did indeed protect my feet from the heat of the Roof, but that allowed me to notice the heat of the Light upon my skin. It felt strange. It burned a bit, but the heat was also pleasant, and I hoped that the man of the Roof knew better than I did what it would do to me.
I reached his side, and then turned around, looking back the way I had come. A great distance indeed, it was, and I had crossed it walking upright through the Light, exposed to it, bathed in it. I began to feel proud once again. I raised the camera and took this picture:
It was a small walk for those who live their lives upon the Floor, perhaps, but for me it was the bravest feat I could ever accomplish...except for one other.
We walked past tubes and vents and other objects that I soon realized were the ends or beginnings of things that I had been living upon and among for most of my life. I stopped where I was and spun around slowly, taking it all into my eyes and head and Knowing it. To see the other side of things, the side I always knew was there but never had seen before, was a wonderful and frightening feeling. But there was not time to stop and look for long when I was so close to the end of my journey. I began to walk in the heavy Boots, and as I followed the man of the Roof once more I felt my back and shoulders straighten, as if walking upon this Floor that was also a Roof was something I was born to do.
We reached a place where there were only a few objects sticking up from the great black flatness of the Roof. He walked to a spot near the very middle of this space, where I could see a wide, empty box of metal protruding from the Roof. The heat cast by the Light had begun to bring out drops of sweat upon my skin, and as I approached the metal box there was a movement of air across my body and through my hair that cooled me nicely as it went, and I thought that this was probably Wind, of which I have read. Another revelation, it was; the last one before the one I had been waiting for.
I was frightened then, for those last few steps. I was not certain whether I wanted to see the answers that were inside the box. It was, after all, a box. Boxes are made by Box People, they are made of anger and snarling and hatred and despair. They are made of heat and noise and the wrenching movements of fearsome Machines. They are made of tall forests of cardboard and the Glue of Dreams. Long had I thought that something so terrible and wonderful must certainly be used to hold things even more terrible and wonderful.
But I took those final steps in spite of my fear. I took them because I could not stop myself. When I got to the box in the Roof, I stopped next to him and looked down into it.
"Well, here it is," he said to me, "This is where the Light has been coming from. We're installing a ventilation fan, and we had to cut a hole in the roof to get it in. The Sun came in through the hole during the days before I put the frame in this morning, and you saw it from below."
I stared down into the box. I could not take my eyes from it.
So this was where my quest had led me. This was what it had led me to. Now that I had reached it, and had seen it for what it was, I knew that no Magic from above had called me to my Destiny here. I thought that perhaps I was no different than my cowering people in the Ceiling below me, that the Glue had simply given me dreams and I had followed them to...this. I had been a Fool and had done a foolish thing for foolish reasons. I felt my spirit crumble and my shoulders slump. I felt as if the steel of the Crushmachine was closing around my body. It was a bad moment for me.
All my dreams came to this: a hole for the Sun, to be filled by a Machine.
But I did not crumble all the way. I did not fall, as I had at the sight of the Sky. I felt like I was made of stronger things now, Fool or not. I grew angry and ashamed as I thought about my reasons for coming up here. Yes, I had been a Fool, but only because I had been Fooled.
I turned to the man of the Roof and gave my anger to him most fiercely.
"You tricked me!" I hissed at him, "You tricked me into coming up here to ruin me!"
And then I struck him. I am strong, and he was knocked back a bit, but he did not fall. There was a roaring sound in my head like a fearsome Machine as I leaped upon him, striking at him with my hands and trying to bite him.
My people do not know how to do Violence upon others. When Violence threatens, we run, we hide, and if we are caught, we struggle to escape but still we do not fight. I did not know Violence, and he stopped me from harming him. But I kept trying for a short time, then suddenly I found myself being held by him, and instead of fighting, I was weeping.
I let him hold me in the Light next to my box of empty answers as I wept for a time. Then he carried me back to the Blanket and set me upon it.
"I think you've had enough Sun for one day," he said to me. "Wait here. I'll get us some lunch." And then he walked away.
I stayed with him on the Roof through the Summer and part of the Fall. He brought me food, and plenty of it, so there was no need to sneak or steal or starve. My body grew stronger than it had ever been, and I felt healthy and brave and full of energy and laughter. He would not touch the Glue when I offered him some in return. He brought us Wine instead, which I found much nicer. After a while, I did not open the Glue at all anymore.
In the days after his Work on the Roof was finished, he would go off elsewhere to Work during the day, but return to me there in the late afternoons. He showed me Moon and Sun and Stars and Sky, and I learned many other things about the World on my own that I could never have known through the computers in the office. I took him down into the Ceiling one night, and showed him all that I knew of it. He moved as if he had been there before, though as I watched him stumble about, I laughed at him and told him that he would not survive a single day as one of us. I taught him the ways of the Ceiling over the next stretch of nights, and he seemed glad to learn them.
In return he taught me the ways of the Floor. He brought me things like Brushes for teeth and hair, which I thought were very fine, and Clothes, which I did not put on, although he seemed hurt that I would not try them. One day he began explaining about things like Money and Taxes and Laws and Jobs and Government and Identification and Citizenship, and I was very confused. I thought that the ways of the People of the Floor were very scary and complicated, but he told me that it could be much simpler and more soothing than most of them made it. I asked him then how many of his people lived on the Roof, and his face wore a peculiar smile as he said, "None, that I know of."
And then I wondered if he belonged to the people of the Floor anymore, although he had grown up among them. I thought that perhaps he really had become a man of the Roof, as I had always thought of him. But there were no others. I wondered then what it was like to be the only one of something, and I was surprised to think that perhaps I already knew.
That night it was cold. He had two Blankets, and had given me one of them so that I could sleep up on the Roof with him at night. But sleeping at night was still hard for me sometimes, and this night it was hard. My thoughts, my feelings, and the cold kept me awake as Moon looked down upon us. I looked at my man of the Roof as he slept, for a long time I looked at him. He shivered a bit then, and drew his Blanket tighter about him.
I got up, and picked up my Blanket. I walked over to him, and spread his Blanket out upon the Roof, uncovering him. Then I lay with him and covered us with my Blanket as he woke and looked at me. I touched his arm and smiled then, and told him what else I wished to Know.
There can be many ways Out, and they are often easy to discover.
Which one to take and when to take it are harder questions.
"It will be too cold to live on this Roof soon," he said to me, "and I will have to leave and find another. The Sun is going South, and I must follow it."
He reached out and touched my hair and asked, "Would you go with me?"
My insides churned with fear and sadness then, for I was afraid to go. I also did not want him to leave. "So people of the Roof go South for the Winter?" I asked him, to keep from giving an answer. He gave me an odd look.
"Yeah," he said, "I guess they do." And we spoke no more about it that day.
I lay with him every night after that, Knowing him, locking the Knowlege within me where I could not lose it. But soon enough the day came. He stood before me upon the Roof as the Sun set, holding out the Clothes he had given me.
"Put them on," he said to me, "and come along. I want you with me."
I looked down at the clothes and my eyes filled with tears. I felt a tearing thing within me, a thing that I had not felt since Mother died.
"I cannot come," I whispered, "I am afraid."
He placed his fingertips beneath my chin and gently pushed it up until I was looking into his eyes. Then he said, "You are as good and as strong and as brave and as smart as any person out there, whether they are on the Floor or in the Ceiling or on the Roof. You have nothing to fear. People are all the same on the inside, even though they fear and hate the differences on the outside of a person. If you look enough like one of them, they will walk right past you and never know how different you are. They will treat you just like one of them, whether you would ever want to be that or not. If you put these Clothes on, you could walk out the front Door of this Box Factory in broad daylight and nobody would say a word or do a thing to stop you. They would not see a Ceiling Person. All they would see is a very pretty woman walking away."
His hands gripped mine, and he said again, "Come with me."
But I wept with fear, and would not go.
He held me for a time, and then as he broke our embrace, said to me, "I will come back for you if I can in the Spring, but the World is wide and sometimes dangerous. If I don't make it back, you should go out there on your own. You need it, and the world needs more of us."
His face wore that odd look again, and I realized that there were tears in his eyes as well. He kissed me then, and said words that I had not heard in a very long time, before backing into the shadows of the Stairtower.
Those words were still in my ears as he slipped off the Roof into a Tree and down, climbing and blending into the shadows in the way that I had taught him, until not even my sharp eyes could see him any longer.
The next day I discovered that he had set many boxes of food and Wine in his hiding-place in the Stairtower; enough to last me all Winter. In that moment I realized that he had known all along that I would not come with him.
I wept, wishing that I was brave, wondering how I could ever find him even if I decided to leave that very moment. I stayed on the Roof for many days after that, until it was so very cold that not even my Blanket could protect me.
Then I went back Inside, to the Ceiling, speaking to none of the Ceiling People, who were too afraid of me by then to speak to me themselves. I made myself alone-places in the far and dark corners, to hide from everyone. I got myself a large can of Glue, and as I began to write this story out I used it very much. But I found that the Glue made me feel ill, so I threw the can away almost immediately. And although I wished for the Glue very much at times after that, I did not touch it again.
And now I am here, on these computers, almost every night. I read and learn, read and learn, all the night long. Now I have told my story as well, although it took a very long time to write.
I think much about what he said on our last day together, as the Snows fall and the days grow dark Outside. I keep the Clothes he brought me in a place that is safe both from Box People and those in the Ceiling. Sometimes, in the still of the night, I put them on; Skirt and Blouse and Leggings and Shoes and Jacket, and then I climb to the top of the Stairtower and open the Door, just a little bit, looking out at Stars and Moon and Clouds until it is time to hide again.
My world seems smaller every day. Small like a box. The Door beckons, calling me; louder than fear, louder than the Glue. I do not listen to it. It is madness to listen, and be called out into the cold to die. I will stay in here, where it is warm.
But Spring is coming.