Since the arrival of The Spheres, each evening, my love and I watch the burials. Like perverse spectators; winged things on high, gazing down from the forgotten hundred and sixtieth floor of impossible, scorched glass, we look on at the tiny, sullen shadows, carrying their dead down onto the Thames’ frost-crippled riverbed. This evening is no different. Within the age of normality, our daily ritual would have been considered macabre, and yet here it is never questioned, nor discussed, nor is it planned. The normality of old, spanning centuries, epochs, millennia, is now shattered; overgrown cobwebs of concepts, consigned to dusty textbooks, abandoned museums; bygone lifetimes at the base of a decrepit, collective memory, fading.
My love is called Deira and I have known her for fourteen decades. I have loved her for every minute of each incarnation; I have missed her every moment we’ve been apart. I feel her vulpine head upon my shoulder and know how many strands of hair cascade away from the neat parting at their base. I inhale her familiarly pleasant, tar-like odour, knowing the age of her flesh down to the millisecond. I handle the clammy warmth of her stomach, my palm lovingly handling her gestative swell. Our gestative swell.
With a wistful sigh, she hums her daily dirge under her breath, as we watch another cavity be filled with the fodder of failed flesh. I never voice it, but have theorised that the repatriation of fallen humans to the earth, though futile, subconsciously satisfies us both greatly. Closure. Her song is one that I remember, in a recollection, lacking coherence. It makes me unsure of myself, and I hum along in a bid to mask my agitation. The recollection is full of people I have not met; familiar, unknown faces, as elusive as shapes within drifting wispy clouds. I feel life, as her stomach thuds softly, but I do not say a word.
‘That’s thirteen today,’ she says colourlessly, once her song has ended. She has counted the distant graves with her ringed, index finger, twice. ‘Thirteen souls lost. Is it not sad?’
‘It is,’ I say, ‘But better for them there, than the land, or worse. We must be thankful for small mercies.’
I wonder if I believe my words; if my optimism is only a mask for my fertile distrust. Deira nods.
‘You are right, my love. You are right. I will bid them sleep.’
I instinctively kiss her bony hand, watching as she gestures the symbol empathetically with the other. In the distance, one by one, the scattered megaliths of the half-lit city vanish abruptly into cryptic, sulking darkness. We can feel it in the sky above. We all know what’s impending. Deira’s song echoes, pricking the far reaches of my unsettled mind like spurs against hide. I suspect that she is the same, yet different. It scares me. Scanning her half-exposed body, I find the absence of her sternum scar a silent insult. She turns to me as if telepathically, with a face I could sketch from memory far more accurately than her own.
‘Speaking of sleep, are you coming to bed, my love? We must rest well if we are to make the crossing, tomorrow.’
There is something in her voice that hastens my pulse, but it is not desire. As I respond to her, I wonder if the coarsening of her timbre is fatigue, hormones, or something else. Her narrow, angular grin trickles like a dam's tamed flow, simultaneously holding back a still, shadowy reservoir. Over her shoulder, the last of the city’s lights extinguishes.