“Wait a minute.” He snapped his fingers disgustedly. “Why, I remember now. He was supposed to visit us tomorrow afternoon. How stupid of me.”
They sat down to eat. She looked at her food and did not move her hands. “What’s wrong?” he asked, not looking up from dipping his meat in the bubbling lava.
“I don’t know. I’m not hungry,” she said.
“I don’t know; I’m just not.”
The wind was rising across the sky; the sun was going down. The room was small and suddenly cold.
“I’ve been trying to remember,” she said in the silent room, across from her cold, erect, golden-eyed husband.
“Remember what?” He sipped his wine.
“That song. That fine and beautiful song.” She closed her eyes and hummed, but it was not the song. “I’ve forgotten it. And, somehow, I don’t want to forget it. It’s something I want always to remember.” She moved her hands as if the rhythm might help her to remember all of it. Then she lay back in her chair. “I can’t remember.” She began to cry.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, but I can’t help it. I’m sad and I don’t know why, I cry and I don’t know why, but I’m crying.”
Her head was in her hands; her shoulders moved again and again.
“You’ll be all right tomorrow,” he said.
She did not look up at him; she looked only at the empty desert and the very bright stars coming out now on the black sky, and far away there was a sound of wind rising and canal waters stirring cold in the long canals. She shut her eyes, trembling.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll be all right tomorrow.”
August 1999: THE SUMMER NIGHT
In the stone galleries the people were gathered in clusters and groups filtering up into shadows among the blue hills. A soft evening light shone over them from the stars and the luminous double moons of Mars. Beyond the marble amphitheater, in darkness and distances, lay little towns and villas; pools of silver water stood motionless and canals glittered from horizon to horizon. It was an evening in summer upon the placid and temperate planet Mars. Up and down green wine canals, boats as delicate as bronze flowers drifted. In the long and endless dwellings that curved like tranquil snakes across the hills, lovers lay idly whispering in cool night beds. The last children ran in torchlit alleys, gold spiders in their hands throwing out films of web. Here or there a late supper was prepared in tables where lava bubbled silvery and hushed. In the amphitheaters of a hundred towns on the night side of Mars the brown Martian people with gold coin eyes were leisurely met to fix their attention upon stages where musicians made a serene music flow up like blossom scent on the still air.
Upon one stage a woman sang.
The audience stirred.
She stopped singing. She put her hand to her throat. She nodded to the musicians and they began again.
The musicians played and she sang, and this time the audience sighed and sat forward, a few of the men stood up in surprise, and a winter chill moved through the amphitheater. For it was an odd and a frightening and a strange song this woman sang. She tried to stop the words from coming out of her lips, but the words were these:
“_She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes_ … ”
The singer dasped her hands to her mouth. She stood, bewildered.
“What words are those?” asked the musicians.
“What song is that?”
“What language is that!”
And when they blew again upon their golden horns the strange music came forth and passed slowly over the audience, which now talked aloud and stood up.
“What’s wrong with you?” the musicians asked each other.
“What tune is that you played?”
“What tune did you play?”
The woman wept and ran from the stage, And the audience moved out of the amphitheater. And all around the nervous towns of Mars a similar thing had happened. A coldness had come, like white snow falling on the air.