The Jigsaw Floor – chapter 7
It was probably shame that kept Harper from ever speaking to Anders again. Anders’ voice never returned properly, not that he missed it all that much.
The Young Man they met that day was one of many Young Men, all immaculately turned out in olden-day-suits. Each one accommodating, understanding and infuriating in exactly the same measure.
One Young Man took Anders to see the Great Memorial, after a fruitless search in the Burial Index.
‘Her body was never found?’ Anders said, struggling to make himself understood.
‘More likely never identified, Mr Anders. Many, many people died in the bombings.’
Anders touched the base of the stone monument and allowed his eyes to travel up its height. He couldn’t see the top, obscured as it was by the mass tangle of green.
‘Trees,’ he said with a smile.
‘Yes sir,’ the Young Man said, ‘We import light from the edges of The Great Floor and redistribute it with a series of mirrors. That’s why we have plants down here. And why it doesn’t feel like we have a ceiling. Unless you look up.’
Anders was looking up and he still couldn’t see anything but life.
A gentle wind blew through the branches above them both, and whatever Anders said was quietly lost in the rustle of the leaves.
Harper never went to The Memorial. He had conceded her memory, and any right to mourn. Instead he asked a lot of questions, none of which got him any damned answers he was happy with.
‘How long have you been down here?’
‘Since the Floor was built.’
‘And when was that?’
‘We don’t know, exactly. We don’t record time in the way we used to.’
All of the Young Men had precisely the same answers. He knew that they were biding their time, humouring him, waiting for him to die. Then no one would ask those questions again. Because when he was gone, no one else would care.
‘Why are you down here?’
‘To govern. Silently.’
‘Why don’t you want the people up there knowing that?’
‘It was decided that was the best option. The safest way to continue.’
‘We have no record of that.’
‘That makes no damn sense.’
‘You’ll understand eventually, Mr Harper. Hopefully.’
Waiting to die.
The one that got him most was when he asked who won the war.
‘We’re not entirely sure. History doesn’t tell us.’
‘Ah, shove it up yer arse!’
He’d still ask, though.
Records show that Harper and Anders died on the same day, some three hundred and fifty five kilometres apart. Both of natural causes. Because of the way that information pertaining to births and deaths is stored beneath The Floor, it is impossible to say how long they had spent down here.
After many long evenings spent hunched over antique maps, Harper finally found where the Ultimate Picture House would have stood. He made it known how unhappy he was, to have to fill out so many forms before he could visit the location. But he did so anyway. He knew he wouldn’t make it on his own.
When he got there he is said to have remarked that it was just like in his dreams. The three Young Men accompanying him would not have understood the significance of this statement.
But sure enough the Picture House had survived. The walls (cracked but still standing), the doors (hinges buckled, but working), the poster advertising its last feature (singed, unreadable and all the more fantastic for it).
Harper smiled, something he didn’t often do anymore, as he approached the large wooden entrance. He couldn’t quite believe it was still there. Almost exactly how he remembered. And when he opened the doors he could indeed hear music, the most exciting music.
And he looked inside.