J. R. Gerow
A stack of old issues of The Yale Review. Courtesy Pentagram
Courtesy Pentagram

How do they feel?

I said, when they see that wave coming, they start to panic. Some of them throw their bodies in front of the sandcastles – these meticulous, towering sandcastles they’ve built all day, or for days – but it rushes over and around them, and then they can’t get traction over the flowing sand as the first wave washes back out in the ocean – and they’re not even ready for the second, and then the second is on them. And now it reaches all the way past the edges of the beach, and they are running, but they feel queerly empty, and they don’t know what they’re running for, because it has washed away their perfect little worlds already.

And are they not afraid for themselves?

They should be. Maybe they should be. What are they, exactly?

Try again.

I said, when they see the wave coming, they’ve already started up the beach. They’re starting to shield themselves behind garages, they’re starting to jump behind cars. And when the wave hits the center of the village, they see the fruit stands buckle and start to swirl, and, what else, and baby carriages, and also the trash receptacles, and now there’s just trash everywhere, but they wouldn’t have time to care about that, that’s really a trifle. They’re only concerned for the village itself, which is a thing that isn’t quite physical for them, it’s a concept in a way.

Try again.

I said, when the first wave comes, they’re already waiting for it. They’ve assimilated into their ideal, the village. The knowledge, the culture, the ethical systems that they’ve built their existence around are invulnerable to the wave. It can sweep the town away, and it cannot touch them, because the meaningful part of their lives is just information, and they’re only physical vessels.

And if the vessels perish?

Then. Then there would be no way to replicate it. Not without starting over.

So try again.

I said, they are the wave. No, no, they caused the wave. How about that. And they caused the wave because they’re bigger than the ocean now. They live sprawling across this whole, this everything, everything up to the water and on the other side of the water, and they have been able to do that because they are social, because they build boats, because they sail and settle and make whole diffuse cultures and countries with borders and trade and bombs and energy and they set something off deep in the water, maybe, because the internal logic says if they’re too large for their environment, then they must be, they must be in conflict with it.

Why does there have to be a wave?

Because. Because three acts. Because if there wasn’t a wave then how would the story end.

Try again.

I said, the story doesn’t end. It is just self-similar. It replicates on smaller and smaller scales. The people lose everything and then they gain it back. Because having a village is in having a story. It is in having a model. And that model contains everything for them in reality and allows them to sustain it. So they build these sprawling sandcastles, up and down the beach, and they tell stories about the people who live there, who are them, aren’t they? And they understand that they are therefore contained there, the essential bit of them.

Where is the plot?

I don’t know. I don’t know. They have to imagine the arc. They have to imagine they started somewhere, that they are going somewhere. World, mass, heavens, creator. Let there be light.

And beyond the second act?

Maybe nothing. Maybe the second act goes forever. We would have to set them off somehow. We would have to give them crisis.

Try again.

Is this the first world I’ve created?

You can do it until you get it right.

J. R. Gerow is a Montreal-based writer, born in Buffalo, New York, whose fiction has appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Adelaide, Convergence, and Mobius, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Originally published:
October 29, 2018


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