Remembers the Before Man
The old man who lived in the ancient village on the edge of the hot, barren desert, across the way from the old woman who kept rooms, watched the man pass down the way. The old man had recognized the man, but the man was much younger than the man had been when the old man had known the man before. This impossibility did not trouble the old man. The old man just watched the man disappear into the place where the old woman kept rooms across the way, and he thought back many years to when he had known the man before. When the man had been older than he was now.
The old man thought back many years, but his reveries were interrupted by a sound from inside the place where he lived. The old man tried to continue thinking about the past, but the noise within grew louder. The old man could not concentrate like he had when he was younger—even a few years younger.
The old man went into the place where he lived and found his wife banging on empty pots with a hammer.
The old man told his wife to hush. He said it was not New Year’s Eve.
The old man’s wife said she had seen the man and she remembered who he was and she remembered he had been older the last time they had seen him and he must be a demon so she was banging on pots with a hammer to drive the demon from their midst.
The old man said there was no such thing as demons.
The old man’s wife said that was because she drove them all away by banging on the pots with the hammer.
The old man told his wife to do it quieter if she could.
The old man’s wife said she was doing it as loudly as she needed to to drive away that demon and any other demon that had followed him to their ancient village at the edge of the hot, barren desert.
The old man said he would take a walk.
The old man’s wife said it was too late to take a walk.
The old man said no, it was too late to bang on pots with a hammer to drive out demons.
The old man’s wife said it was never too late to drive out demons. She said it was never too late, but it was always too late at the same time.
The old man said he knew what she meant. He said he knew what she meant, but he said it also meant the same thing for walking, so he would go for a walk while it was both too late and not too late.
The old man’s wife just banged louder. She banged as though it could never be too late at night to drive out demons, and she banged as though any time she recognized a demon it was already too late—that the best time to drive out demons was before they appeared, but you could never see them until they appeared, so any time you saw one, it was already too late to drive them out. At least cleanly and completely. And the longer you went without driving them out after they appeared, the harder it was to drive them out, so it was never too late at night to do what it was already too late to do cleanly and completely.
The old man forgot his wife’s inscrutable logic even before he passed from the place where he lived into the way outside. The way that led to the ancient ruins on the hill. The way that led to the ancient ruins on the hill in one direction, and the way that led into the hot, barren desert in the other direction.
The old man stepped into the way and looked across the way to the place where the man was staying, and he headed down the way up to the ancient ruins on the hill. He headed away from the ancient village he had known all his life, and he headed up the hill toward the ancient ruins.
The old man thought about the man and he remembered what fun they had had together when they had both been men. When they had both been men, but older men than the man was now.
The old man was still not disturbed by the apparent anomaly. He just walked in the dark of the evening up the hill toward the ancient ruins.
The old man of the ancient village arrived at the ancient ruins and sat down. He sat down and looked out on the desert. The hot, barren desert that was shrouded in darkness.
The old man sat down and fell asleep. He fell asleep and he had a dream. He had a deep dream about a woman he had loved when he had known the man before. And that woman he loved had not been his wife. She had not been his wife, and she would not become his wife. She would not become his wife because at the time, the old man was already married to the woman he was still married to. But he had loved the woman he dreamed about even though he was married to another. He had loved her even though the man had loved her too.
The old man dreamed about the woman he had loved, and he dreamed that he made love with her while the man was occupied on some kind of business. The old man did not dream about what kind of business the man was on, but he did dream about how he had made love with the woman he and the man both loved.
He dreamed about how he had touched her.
He dreamed about how she had touched him.
He dreamed about many things that had not happened in real life but that he often dreamed would have happened if things had been different.
But things hadn’t been different. They had been the same. Always the same.
So he dreamed about what had not happened but could have happened. He dreamed about it and he felt good about it.
When the old man woke, he found that not much time had passed. He forgot all about his dream, and he sat looking out over the dark ancient village on the edge of the dark, barren desert, and he wondered about the man and where he had been and what he was doing and what he would do. But he did not much wonder how the man could be younger now than he had been when the old man had known him before.
The old man wondered if his wife had satisfied herself with driving out the demons. He could not hear the banging pots, but then he had not heard the banging pots since he had reached the edge of the ancient village where the way began to go steeply uphill.
The old man then thought about a woman he had loved before. A woman who had not been and would not be his wife because he was already married to the woman he was still married to. He thought about a woman he had loved but whom the man had loved too. He thought about a woman he had never touched but almost had that day when the man had asked the old man to repair one of the man’s tools while the man went off on business. He thought about a woman he had loved and almost touched while the man had been away. He thought about her watching him while he repaired the man’s tool and how she seemed to want him to touch her while they were alone but he wouldn’t or couldn’t for some unknown reason. He thought about a woman he had almost touched while the man was away on some kind of business—which the old man had only found out later included touching the old man’s wife while the old man was away repairing the man’s tool and almost touching the woman the man also loved.
The old man was tired of remembering too much. He kicked himself and wondered if he had been dreaming again. That was ancient history in the ancient village, and besides, the man was likely some descendant of the man the old man had known before. The old man tried to remember when he had last thought about the man’s business that day, and he tried to remember the last time he had been bothered by that memory. But he could not remember anything he tried to remember. So he forgot everything and rose from the ancient ruins and left the ancient past behind.
The old man arrived at the place where he lived, and he found his wife fast asleep. Likely dreaming about the man, the old man thought. He had an impulse to take the hammer and beat her to a bloody mess, but then he decided he was too tired. So he fell asleep and forgot to dream about anything at all.
To read more stories in the series, see the Becomes One Hundred Stories page.