18 May 2045

Dear Cynthia,

My mind reels back, at what velocity I do not know, into the past, into the origin of my life. It intrigues me that here, thousands of light years from Earth, I have this access to myself.

I am sitting in front of my versatile console link to the central computer. I have a small material synthesizer connected to the computer, which can produce virtually anything, even things that have never existed before. Say you wanted a fine piece of Waterford crystal, or a cameo pin of lustrous cornelian shell, or a musical trout that can sing The Star Spangled Banner in any key. Or something new, however you think of novelty, an abstract shape or a device that has never existed before. You can have it. My fingers skim across the symbols and in five seconds I have a photograph album, my photograph album. Something not new.

You remember. The paper is black, thick and soft. The glossy black and white and color prints are mounted by gummed brackets at the corners. It was started by my parents and given to me. Page by page, I am going over these snapshots of the timeless present from my life so many years ago.

I am looking at the house in which I was born. I mean, the first house I lived in, since I was born in a hospital like you. It has two stories, is clapboard, and resembles a box. Smack in the middle is the front door set into a shallow relief, pilasters I believe they are called, and some crude fretwork. The pair of upstairs windows is flanked by ornamental shutters and is capped by gables. Some of the windows have shades and some frilly curtains. A drainspout comes vertically down the front in one corner. In the driveway is a beetle-like automobile built in the 1940s. The front yard is deep in snow. Snow! When was the last time I saw real snow? A snow shovel is sticking up in the middle of the scene like an enigmatic marker. The picture was probably taken by my father with a small portable bellows camera.

Now the house in which I grew up. The front door has a letter slot and a concrete stoop. I see aluminum windows and a chimney for the oil furnace. In the small front yard is a deciduous tree, probably gum. I am standing in the yard with a baseball cap on my head and a grin on my face, wearing shorts and a striped sleeveless shirt.

I was happy in this house. I got along with the neighborhood children, playing cowboy and Indian, marbles and improvised games of a group nature that were often competitive and involved rubber band guns and similar harmless makeshift weapons. I caught frogs, crayfish, minnows, water spiders, and poison ivy in the bushes. I played outside after school, watched television in the evening and did homework.

I can almost go back and sniff the purple lilac in the side yard, see how the forsythia has grown that started as a switch I picked up at the nursery. I remember standing in the back yard and looking up at the clear night sky brimming with stars over the silhouette of the peaked roof. I felt small, as I was, overwhelmed by the sky and house. A child’s picture of the world is full and rich. I turn the page.

Now the two of us, you and I, standing in someone’s yard. We are in high school. You are wearing a light print dress and I am in a dark madras jacket. Though our bodies are touching, our minds are not yet together. You are serious, self-possessed, your broad intelligent face canted to one side, your head crowned with a chaplet of ivy at a silly angle. You are looking through the lens, through the photographer, through time, already knowing things that you would not need to articulate for years to come and happy in the secret knowledge of possessing them.

Twenty-some years have passed, not quite that quickly. We have been married for some time. I am in a tuxedo and sport a new moustache, and I am gazing admiringly at you. You are wearing a full length white gown, pendant earrings and a string of pearls, and are launching out to greet someone with an exaggerated expression of interest. He probably was an academic bore. You are lean; I have put on weight. It is flash, outside at night, a bad picture.

I remember the party. It was at the university, yes, at the upward curve of our careers. Did we peddle influence or any of our books? Perhaps I signed a book, if anyone asked. As I recall, we kept a box of our published works in the trunk of the car, that righteous hunk of metal and electronics that could not have an accident.
The moon was full, a commanding white stone. You were standing, champagne glass in hand, by a magnolia that had just dropped its blossoms. I was in the shadow of a larger tree close by and you did not notice me. In the moonlight you were a goddess, immaculate and remote, standing in a pool of shimmering petals. I stood and stared like a school boy. Moments later you walked back toward the house where I joined you and you became the rare, loved and loving human being that I knew.

You had a magical quality to you. Things you touched worked; people you touched turned on and said the right things in your presence. Light was kind to you, as if you had the power to embarrass it. Bad weather only brought out your elemental beauty. Drenched, you joked that you looked like a wet rat, and drew extravagant praise.

Perfect? No, you weren’t perfect. How could I love someone who was?

Ah, I miss you, Cynthia. There are plenty of beautiful bodies here. Deformities are practically nonexistent. I do not lack for gratification. Nor can it be said that love here never has feeling. It’s just that my relationships now don’t quite have the depth of our life together. Is it the loss of earthly settings, our easier mores? I only know that right now I am thinking of you.

Always,
Max

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