[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
Now, some people, thinking on these events, might come to the conclusion that there’ll be some kind of reason Max’ll be able to come back.
Death’ll gallop through the sky on the last of days and Sid will reach up and seize him by the arm and pull him from the horse and down to shatter on the island below.
Crunch! Death will say, or at least emote, and Sid’ll steal Max’s life from him.
Somebody’ll find Max’s skin, just floating free on the chaos, and—because you shouldn’t waste a good skin—fill it up with booze. Then Max’ll show up, lookin’ all like Max, only he’s an ale-man now.
Spattle’s still got its hooks in everyone who’s ever been there.
Max can’t actually die.
He’s lived in Spattle.
Or maybe even:
Sid’ll buy some new luggage one day, you know, for traveling, and he’ll open it up, and there Max’ll be.
“Hey,” Max’ll say.
Hey, Sid says. Thought you were dead.
“It’s a special.”
And Max’ll indicate the display with his head, and it’ll turn out that it does in fact say, “Free resurrection with every suitcase; and luggage $179.99”
And maybe it’s just the kind of thing that happens, you know, eventually. People coming back.
The world’s really old, and it’s got a long future ahead of it.
We wouldn’t necessarily know.
So you could be reading this, you know, and come to the conclusion that there’ll be some reason, like a suitcase sale or a Spattling or a bit of a double thing, and Max’ll come back.
But that ain’t so.
Not exactly, anyway.
See, it’s an epiphany. It’s a mystery. It’s one of those things that’s like a seething well.
There ain’t no reason.
He just comes back.
It’s June 6, 2004, and he just comes back.
It’s like a candle lights, and suddenly where things were invisible, they are visible; and where things were inaudible, they’re audible; and the world fills out with the glistening blue and silver of the sea and the wind as it roars in the sky and the cold refreshing spray that generates when the waves strike against the brown-black rocks.
And the scattering of points and colors becomes the beach.
And swaying patterns become the sun, and the shadows, and the trees.
And there’s Max, right there, with a hangdog look, like he’s never been away.
Maybe someday it’ll be a little more explained.
You can get close to the truth, sometimes, even when there’s no truth to be had.
So maybe we’ll get a bit of explanation here, a bit of explanation there.
But not a reason, not whole and entire.
Some things in this world ain’t ever really explained.
People always fight the things they love.
I would hug you, says Sid.
A mirrored shape flicks out to show him his own form, and the terrible perplexities and sharpness of it, and why that isn’t necessarily a very good idea. And he can see the darkness that weaves through him, too: for siggorts, like most things that aren’t Max, are terribly, terribly easy to cut.
Max looks up.
“You’re real,” he says.
Like Sid’s the one who shouldn’t be there. Like Sid’s the one who, last we checked, wasn’t in the world.
And there’s a drop of chaos on Max’s face, under the shadow of his hair, and his eyes are brown and deep.
Hesitantly, he says, “Did you—“
Sid cuts him.
Not much. Just a tiny bit, to get the blood he needs, to get a flake of flesh. And he can tell that Max is yielding it, not suffering it, because just this once Max isn’t hard to cut.
He should probably have asked.
But he didn’t; and Max lets it be.
Sid begins to make the body of him, from flesh and blood and clay, and he says, Did I?
Max gropes for words.
“I figure,” Max says, “That Ii Ma said something like, ‘How can you live with somebody else’s guilt?'”
There is the rushing withdrawing of water and then the roaring of a wave.
“And ‘walk in like you own the place’ doesn’t quite work on that one.”
No, Sid agrees.
He’s almost got the body put together. They’re fast workers, siggorts. It’s the hundred hands.
Of course, Sid says.
Then he opens up the body of him and he pours himself into its core and he closes the hollow of the entrance with a hook of him, all Sid-like, snap.
And Max stands there for a long time looking at him, while Sid dresses himself with pants and socks and shirts and stuff that drift in from the sea.
He means: Can we . . . fix things? Is it okay now? Is it okay, even though I’m not still dead?
Because he’s a sharp one, Max, and he knows that must’ve been an answer Sid was using for a while.
Is it okay?
Can broken things be remade?
And Sid can hear these questions in his voice; and they’re not the only questions Sid can hear.
How can you forgive him? whispers the voice of Ii Ma, like it always does.
How can you forgive him? Ii Ma asks.
And Sid gives this great big smile like the morning of the world, and he kicks away a cardboard box drifting upwards from the sea, and he says, “Because I’d like to.”
Nothing more; nothing less.
“Because I’d rather,” he explains.
Because we make our own judgments, light and dark, and they are our servants—
Not the other way around.
The Island of the Centipede