The City of Mirrors Page 209

Fanning was dead. The wreckage of the city told her so first, then the bodies, curled and crumbling to ash. She took shelter in a ruined bodega. Perhaps the others were searching for her; perhaps they weren’t, believing her dead. On the morning of the second day she heard someone calling. It was Michael. “Hello!” His voice ricocheted through the becalmed streets. “Hello! Is anybody there?” Michael! she answered. Find me! I’m here! But then she realized that she had not, in fact, spoken these words aloud.

It was very puzzling. Why would she not call out to him? What was this impulse to be silent? Why could she not tell him where she was? His calls faded, then were gone.

She waited for the meaning of this to become clear, so that a plan might emerge. The days moved by. When it rained, she set pots outside the store to catch the drops, and in that manner she slaked her thirst, though she had neither food nor the means to locate it, a fact that seemed oddly unimportant; she wasn’t hungry at all. She slept a great deal: whole nights, many days as well. Long, deep states of unconsciousness in which she dreamed with fascinating emotional and sensory vividness. Sometimes she was a little girl, sitting outside the wall of the Colony. At others, a young woman, standing the Watch with cross and blades. She dreamed of Peter. She dreamed of Amy. She dreamed of Michael. She dreamed of Sara and Hollis and Greer and, quite often, of her magnificent Soldier. Whole days, whole episodes of her life replayed before her eyes.

But the greatest of these dreams was the dream of Rose.

It began in a forest—misty, dark, like something from a childhood tale. She was hunting. On cautious, nearly floating steps she progressed beneath the trees’ dense canopy, bow at the ready. From all around came the small noises and movements of game in the brush, yet her targets remained elusive. No sooner would she identify the location of a particular sound—a cracking twig, the rustle of dry leaves—than it would swing behind her or shift to the side, as if the woodland’s inhabitants were toying with her.

She emerged into an area of rolling fields of open grassland. The sun had set, but darkness was yet to fall. As she walked, the grass grew taller. It rose to her waist, then to her chest. The light—soft, faintly glowing—remained uniform and appeared to have no source. From somewhere ahead she heard a new sound. It was laughter. A bright, bubbly, little-girl laughter. Rose! she cried, for she knew instinctively that the voice was her daughter’s. Rose, where are you! She tore forward. The grass whipped her face and eyes. Desperation gripped her heart. Rose, I can’t see you! Help me find you!

—Here I am, Mama!

—Where?

Alicia caught a flicker of movement, ahead and to the right. A flash of red hair.

—Over here! the girl teased. She was laughing, playing a game. Can’t you see me? I’m right here!

Alicia plunged toward her. But like the animals in the forest, her daughter seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, her calls coming from all directions.

—Here I am! Rose sang. Try to find me!

—Wait for me!

—Come find me, Mama!

Suddenly the grass was gone. She found herself standing on a dusty road sloping upward toward the crest of a small hill.

—Rose!

No answer.

—Rose!

The road beckoned her forward. As she walked, she began to have a sense of her environment, or at least the kind of place it was. It was beyond the world she knew while also a part of it, a hidden reality that could be glimpsed as if from the corner of the eye but never wholly entered into in this life. With each step, her anxiety softened. It was as if an invisible power, purely benevolent, was guiding her. As she mounted the hill, she heard, once again, the bright, distant music of her daughter’s laughter.

—Come to me, Mama, she sang. Come to me.

She reached the top of the rise.

And there Alicia awakened. What waited in the valley beyond the hilltop was not yet hers to see, though she believed she knew what it was, as she also knew the meaning of the other dreams, of Peter and Amy and Michael and all those whom she had loved and been loved by in return.

She was saying goodbye.

A night came when Alicia dreamed no more. She awoke with a feeling of fullness. All she had meant to do had been accomplished; the work of her life was complete.

On the crutch she had fashioned from scrap wood she made her way through the debris, three blocks north and one block west. Even this short distance left her gasping with pain. It was midmorning when she began her ascent; by nightfall she had reached the fifty-seventh floor. Her water was nearly gone. She slept on the floor of a windowed office, so that the sun would wake her, and at dawn she resumed her climb.

Was it coincidence that this was the very same morning that Michael set sail? Alicia preferred to think it wasn’t. That the sight of the Nautilus, pulling away on the wind, was a sign, and meant for her. Could Michael feel her? Did he, in some manner, sense that she was observing him from above? Impossible, and yet it pleased Alicia to think so—that he might suddenly look up, startled, as if touched by a sudden breeze. The Nautilus was departing the inner harbor, headed for open sea. Sunlight glimmered dazzlingly upon the water. Clutching the balustrade, Alicia watched as the tiny shape became smaller and smaller, fading into nonexistence. Of all people, Michael, she thought. And yet he had been the one. He had been the one to save her.

A tall fence, curved inward at the top, fixed into the top of the balustrade, had once formed a barricade around the perimeter of the platform; many sections remained, but not all. Alicia had saved a little water. She drank it now. How sweet it was, the scavenged rain. She experienced a profound sense of the interconnectedness of all things, the eternal rising and falling of life—how the water, which had begun as the sea, had ascended, gathered into clouds, and descended from the sky as rain, to be gathered in the pots she’d laid. Now it had become a part of her.

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