One of the other men, Lespere, was talking. “Well, I had me a good time: I had a wife on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Each of them had money and treated me swell. I got drunk and once I gambled away twenty thousand dollars.”
But you’re here now, thought Hollis. I didn’t have any of those things. When I was living I was jealous of you, Lespere; when I had another day ahead of me I envied you your women and your good times. Women frightened me and I went into space, always wanting them and jealous of you for having them, and money, and as much happiness as you could have in your own wild way. But now, falling here, with everything over, I’m not jealous of you any more, because it’s over for you as it is for me, and right now it’s like it never was. Hollis craned his face forward and shouted into the telephone.
“It’s all over, Lespere!” Silence.
“It’s just as if it never was, Lespere!”
“Who’s that?” Lespere’s faltering voice. “This is Hollis.”
He was being mean. He felt the meanness, the senseless meanness of dying. Applegate had hurt him; now he wanted to hurt another. Applegate and space had both wounded him.
“You’re out here, Lespere. It’s all over. It’s just as if it had never happened, isn’t it?”
“When anything’s over, it’s just like it never happened. Where’s your life any better than mine, now? Now is what counts. Is it any better? Is it?”
“Yes, it’s better!”
“Because I got my thoughts, I remember!” cried Lespere, far away, indignant, holding his memories to his chest with both hands.
And he was right. With a feeling of cold water rusting through his head and body, Hollis knew he was right. There were differences between memories and dreams. He had only dreams of things he had wanted to do, while Lespere had memories of things done and accomplished. And this knowledge began to pull Hollis apart, with a slow, quivering precision.
“What good does it do you?” he cried to Lespere. “Now? When a thing’s over it’s not good any more. You’re no better off than me.”
“I’m resting easy,” said Lespere. “I’ve had my turn. I’m not getting mean at the end, like you.”
“Mean?” Hollis turned the word on his tongue. He had never been mean, as long as he could remember, in his life. He had never dared to be mean. He must have saved it all of these years for such a time as this. “Mean.” He rolled the word into the back of his mind. He felt tears start into his eyes and roll down his face. Someone must have heard his gasping voice.
“Take it easy, Hollis.”
It was, of course, ridiculous. Only a minute before he had been giving advice to others, to Stimson; he had felt a braveness which he had thought to be the genuine thing, and now he knew that it had been nothing but shock and the objectivity possible in shock. Now he was trying to pack a lifetime of suppressed emotion into an interval of minutes.
“I know how you feel, Hollis,” said Lespere, now twenty thousand miles away, his voice fading. “I don’t take it personally.”
But aren’t we equal? he wondered. Lespere and I? Here, now? If a thing’s over, it’s done, and what good is it? You die anyway. But he knew he was rationalizing, for it was like trying to tell the difference between a live man and a corpse. There was a spark in one, and not in the other—an aura, a mysterious element.
So it was with Lespere and himself; Lespere had lived a good full life, and it made him a different man now, and he, Hollis, had been as good as dead for many years. They came to death by separate paths and, in all likelihood, if there were kinds of death, their kinds would be as different as night from day. The quality of death, like that of life, must be of an infinite variety, and if one has already died once, then what was there to look for in dying for good and all, as he was now?