For the first time since Stella had entered the tent Chris’ eyes left her and acknowledged Noam’s presence. “Only your sexy little partner here gets to ask the questions, bro. If you can’t respect that, Bruno here can help you leave the tent. Got that?” His eyes locked back on Stella. A bit disgusted by his cock show, Stella scowled at Chris as she repeated Noam’s question word for word.
“Probably not, but maybe. Actually, yes. I would. It wouldn’t matter. They don’t care about what they’re going to become, they care about what they’ll no longer be. You don’t get it. Let’s go out tonight.”
“That’s not a question and no.” She let the rejection soak into the room. She still didn’t have another question. So to keep the effect going, she spun around, signaled at Noam and marched her gorgeous (so she’d been told) ass out of the tent without saying another word to Chris. Noam followed close behind her and once they were far enough away from the tent, he gently touched her arm. He had something to say.
“You did a great job in there, Stella. Your power can be very… powerful. You got him really talking… it was awesome.”
She tried to barely hear his compliment and pushed on, “I forgot what I wanted from the conversation. What my goal was. He got me distracted and unfocused.” She left herself drift off into shame before she briskly returned, “I can’t believe he thinks he’s helping people. He pretty much told us he works them to death.”
He nodded, waiting for her to say or do something.
“He really doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if we tell people about what he’s doing, and he doesn’t care about what he’s doing to these people. He’s a fucking monster.”
“Yeah. He’s pretty terrible.”
She felt impatient at him, and the situation and her anger continued to boil. What was the point of all this? Why was she here, with Noam, bearing witness to all the shitty things humans do? Why couldn’t she just have stayed at home and avoided all of this? What was the point of knowing this, and not being able (or willing, in the case of Noam) to help? Was she suppose to feel helpless? Was this suppose to serve her somehow? What did it matter that she knew the truth? What did it matter that Chris had ‘opened up’ to her? She felt herself cross her arms in front of her, protecting herself from her own doubt. She had a strong urge to leave. The park. The situation. The stupid city. And this odd country. She needed to get away from the feelings of sadness that were overwhelming her. “I’m leaving,” she mumbled to Noam and walked towards an opening in the human wall that stretched around the compound.
Stella hadn’t moved far when she felt Noam walking beside her, in stride. He didn’t speak as they breached the wall but once they were on the other side, he did. “Do you understand now why I said there was nothing for us to do?”
Was he trying to teach her a lesson? She didn’t respond, because she thought if she did, it would only get her into trouble. Did she understand? Fuck, no. She did not understand how people could be so careless. How they could depersonalize everything, and treat people like they were objects for their amusement. She couldn’t understand why no one wanted to change this. She couldn’t understand why her need to change this mattered so little. Was she really suppose to just carry on, as though she’d never seen what was happening here? Was she really not suppose to help? To change things here? What was the point of what Noam was doing? And did she really want to do it with him? It felt so selfish. He’d got her into this stupid situation, and now he expected her to just walk away. How could he let go of what they had done to him, and her, and thousands of people, so easily? Perhaps he was the true monster. A monster who sees an injustice and stands by and says nothing. His weakness angered her. And she allowed herself to stew in it, not speaking, and doing her best to disconnect from the person who walked beside her. He broke their silence when they eventually reached the entrance to Stanley Park, the sea wall blocking their view of the ocean. “Are you never going to speak to me again?” He sounded to her like he was mocking her.
Ignoring him, as she had for most of their time together, she instead asked a question, not of him, but to the world in general. “What’s the point of trying to change something when the people involved don’t want to change?”
She could hear Noam sigh heavily beside her. “Exactly. There is no point. That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time.”
“Yes, I realize that, Noam.” Her tone was purposely expressing the frustration she felt towards him. “You don’t want to change. Chris doesn’t either. Same with the Rewriter. And all those sad people he uses. None of you want to change.”
“Hold on.” Noam clearly didn’t like that he’d been included in her last statement. “I thought the whole reason we got into this situation was because I wanted to change. And same with all the sad people he uses. We want to change so badly that we do stupid, silly things in hopes of doing so.”
“Seriously? That’s how you see it? That’s a sweet way of looking at it.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“You want what’s easy, Noam. You don’t want to change. You want an easy fix to take your pain away. And that’s different. Very different. You want your needs to be fulfilled but you don’t want to change, actually change, any part of yourself in order for that to happen. You want the easy path, for the world to do the work and to change so that you can get what you want.”
“If you say so.”
What the fuck did that mean, she wondered? She’d always hated that response, for basically the person was saying, I don’t agree, but without actually expressing that. It was cowardly. He was, Stella was realizing, a coward at heart. Weighing her options, she determined that she didn’t care enough about him, or the so-called adventure they were on, or to pursue the conversation any further. She didn’t need to prove anything to him. He clearly wasn’t the person she had imagined him to be. Tempted to stay quiet and just not respond at all, she eventually opted for asking a question, and allowing the next move, if any, to be made by him. “What now then, Noam?”
“I don’t know.” No, of course he didn’t.
“Do we just walk away? And pretend that we don’t know the truth?”
Was he really this opinion-less? She found that hard to accept. “Why did you get interested in the Rewriter in the first place? Do you know?”
He paused long enough for her to deduce that he didn’t really know, at least not in a focused way. He was a person who seemed to act first and think later, and she judged him for that. “I’m an adventurer. I seek adventure. I heard about the Rewriter when I was surfing in Tofino and he intrigued me. So I headed out here to check him out.”
“So let me get this straight, the reason you are here is because you thought the Rewriter sounded cool?”
“And I’m here because…? You thought the Rewriter sounded cool?”
“I guess. I don’t know… I figured you knew why you were here.”
“I don’t. I am still at a total loss as to why I am here, with you.” She was sure to emphasize the last two words.
“Look. I only found out about you a few hours before you landed in Van. So don’t think I’m any more thrilled about this arrangement than you are. As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing great without a partner. And honestly, based upon the way you’ve been acting, I don’t see how you’re going to improve anything. You’re a pain in my ass. And you’ve got a bad attitude.”
“Fuck you.” Stella wasn’t one to mince words when someone took a verbal dump all over her. She turned and walked away from him, heading in whatever direction he wasn’t in. As she expected, she felt him match pace with her after a minute or so.
“I’m sorry. I can be a real asshole sometimes.”
She didn’t respond. She didn’t even look at him.
“Can I tell you why I am here? I’m here because I’m a curious guy. The Academy has me out here doing this because they are too. I’m supposed to bring to light the beauty of the dark… but I’ve never been told how I’m supposed to do that. So I just do what I want, and hope it proves something. I’m pretty sure the task they’ve given me is impossible in actuality… but then, of course, I’d be out of a job. So instead I trust the impossible can be made possible. ” Noam chuckled at what Stella could only guess he thought was a clever thing to say. “But yeah, that’s why I do what I do… to hopefully inspire people to do the same… and to have fun myself.”
While she heard every word he said, she still didn’t feel like responding, so she didn’t.
And so he continued… “I don’t save the world, Stella. That’s not my bag. And it’s not my job.”
She stayed quiet and focused on walking.
After a moment, he continued… “I have a plan that I think you will like. I think we’re in agreement that this isn’t our thing to solve, but we can do something.” He’d stopped walking.
Did she want to keep going, or did she want to stop and hear him out? She turned to look at him staring at her, lost in thought, then she decided to hear him, despite the fact that she still really hated him. Walking back to him, sure to sound casual and uninterested, Stella asked, “What’s the plan?”
“We talk to the kids in the reading group. We talk to Luke. We get ‘em while they’re young. We tell them truth so they don’t fall for this guy’s bullshit later on in their lives. We tell them to share it with their friends so they don’t fall for it either. That’s what we do. That’s our move. Then we move on.” She could tell he was very pleased with himself.
The idea didn’t sound terrible, though it still didn’t sound like they were doing enough. And despite the fact that she didn’t really feel like it was a satisfactory response, she found herself agreeing artificially. For the moment she could artificially accept it. I mean, they would educate the younger generation, which was something she believed in. She’d seen that create change. It would feel good to help them understand that they alone had the power to change their lives. Perhaps it would help them to end up somewhere other than still in East Hastings. A Shel Silverstein poem came to mind that she knew she had to share, and for a moment, she felt useful again, like she was helping. And so her artificial acceptance of Noam’s solution felt a bit more real, at least for the moment.
After having walked in silence for a while, and once they stopped walking parallel to the seawall and headed further into downtown and towards East Hastings, Stella spotted what she’d been looking for. She loved to spend her time in stores like this back in Chicago. She loved the smell of them, a dirty, old, and rotting smell, a smell of dirt so old and worked in, it would never come out.
Perhaps she should have vocalized that she was interested in the store, but instead she found herself lightly pushing past Noam, coaxing his body, as she crossed the street parallel, landing herself directly in front of the store. She liked the name, “The Archives”. These kind of places usually had clever names she’d noticed, probably because the people who owned them were so in love with words. She took an excited breath in and entered the store, ready for the thrilling beauty she’d find inside. Absentmindedly she held the door open for Noam, sure that he had followed her in, though she didn’t care to check. Enraptured by the antique communication tools she was now surrounded by, she wordlessly scanned the room and set her eyes on what she’d been looking for. The books. Made of paper. Taking a big breath in, she soaked up the old book smell and, to her surprise, quickly found what she had been looking for. The price of the book astounded her but she had the money, and she knew it was worth the cost, so she slowly made her way to the cash, sure to stop and touch and gaze at the old typewriters, pens, telephones, telegraphs, record players, mp3 players, and other gorgeous objects from another time in communication.
Handing Where the Sidewalk Ends to whom she only assumed was the store owner due to his clever t-shirt, pale skin, quiet demeanor, and general air of extreme knowledgability. The guy actually reminded her of someone she knew once but she couldn’t put her finger on who… or how. As she expected, upon seeing the book he launched into a long one-man dialogue on Shel Silverstein’s contributions to society and literature. Hardly listening, Stella was sure to smile and nod at the appropriate moments, and waited patiently for the guy to end his monologue and hand back to her the now purchased book. Noam had sidled up to her sometime during the long soliloquy, and annoyingly felt the need to ask her, “Why are you buying that book?”
She wanted to snap back, “Why are you questioning my decisions?” but she refrained, having enough awareness of herself to know that speaking that aloud would be of little benefit. So instead she didn’t answer… and perhaps she also gave him one of her looks, for he didn’t ask again, and instead followed her silently as she headed out of the shop and returned herself to the path they’d been previously travelling on.
After a few minutes had passed, she didn’t feel so quiet or angry and so she shared with him her intention. “This book is for Luke and the kids.” She hesitated with her words, and then decided not to share more.
Noam’s response felt fine. A simple, “Oh yeah?” And with that he left it alone, allowing her to walk silently, without explaining herself.
They were almost back to East Hastings, and the site of Luke’s reading group when Noam decided to speak again. “You know, there’s one poem from that book that I always loved. It gave me hope. It was called “Ma and God.” Maybe we could share it with them? Do you know it?”
It seemed prudent to her to not show her excitement over what he had just said. The poem was the main reason she bought the book, but she didn’t see any reason to reveal that to Noam. So she replied coolly, “Yeah, I know it. It’s a good one.”
They continued to walk in silence and her mind whirred. Considering what she now knew they shared, she felt slightly more at ease with him, and sat debating what she wanted to reveal. She was going to highlight that poem to Luke and the kids anyway, so why not admit that to Noam now? The poem meant a lot to her. It had helped her to understand that world was full of so many possibilities that people said were impossible. It taught her that what her parents presented to her as the truth wasn’t really the whole truth. It gave her hope that she had the power to make her dreams come true, despite what she was told. It had given her hope that she could change her world, and that it was so much larger than the one her family lived in. Considering it’s meaning to her, she decided to stay quiet, and to hold onto those feelings of joy, and of pain. She really didn’t feel the need to share it.
They found Luke’s reading group where they had last left them five days earlier. The kids sat in a circle on the rug enraptured, and Luke sat with book in hand, reading to them. Stella excitedly clutched her gift, confident that it would help her to make a difference.