Since Sands hadn't cooked, it was her duty to clean up. I helped her clear away the dishes. We made an enormous pile of dirty dishes and plates and heaps of food on the silver table at the center of Utopia. There were also the three empty carriages of bones. "I can't believe that about Indira," Sands said.
"I know. It's hard to believe."
"And now she'll have to get married. That's a real primal fear, you know, for women. I can remember as a girl having dreams about having to get married."
"You're so unromantic, I can't even stand it."
"Me?" she said.
She was leaning against the silver table, looking down at the turkey drumstick that she was tearing apart in her hands, to eat, when I stepped up, finally, and against all better reason, kissed her. Tomorrow, Indira would be gone, and who could predict what would happen then, when one of us was gone? Time was ticking away, the snow was falling. Sands's mouth tasted like ten thousand things--berries and wine and pumpkin and something too human to define. I placed my hand on her spine as it arched back over the table, and then the door swung open. I turned to see Nostbakken, my arm lifting Sands so that we stood before him, my arm around her. He was smoking a cigar, and some of its smoke was spiraling up around his head. He stood still for a moment and then said, "Oh, is that right? Well, then. Okay. That's fine."
He walked toward us then. "First, let's clear away the bones," he said. "Let's make some room, then, for you two. Let us clear away the bones!" And with that, he swept his entire arm over the silver lake of the table, so that everything flew--all the bodies breaking up in the air, a flurry of bone and gristle, of life sailing apart.
Later that night I went looking for Sands. She had kissed me, told me to wait in Utopia, and ran after Nostbakken."I'll try to solve it," she said to me. But then she did not come back for over an hour. I went to the women's wing and found Groovy there, helping Indira to pack. And then Reuben came out of Indira's room as well, carrying an empty cardboard box. He wasn't saying anything, so I blurted, "Indira, why are you going? Please don't go. Please stay."
Indira looked at me sweetly, indulgently, as if I were a small child. She hugged me.
And then I went to Nostbakken's. The light was falling down out of the building, onto the snow, that's how bright it was. It was too high for me to see anything, but I stood out in the snow for a long time. I must have stood there for close to an hour. It was ridiculous, I knew, and pathetic, but that light was more warm and significant than any I'd ever known in my life, and I knew that when I turned to go there would be nothing, only the cold and the never-ending drifts of snow.
By the next morning, our dinner was dissolving in the slop bucket--the little pancakes, the heads of fish, the turkey breast, the potato shavings. I poured a cup of coffee, picked up the pail, and walked down through the snow and darkness. The beasts were still asleep, and one startled when I opened the door and the cold sun fell over her. Eventually the snow began to fall--enormous lotus flakes that I watched from inside the barn. I milked the one cow for a while and as the sun rose higher I was finally getting warm. The barn was waking up around me, the building itself shifting and ticking away as the light forced itself through the million tiny chinks. As I milked I tried to think of a way to stay in love with Sands and stay at Fialta. In the moment Nostbakken flung his hand across the table, I had known he would never be reconciled to this. I don't believe there was anything illicit particularly in his feelings; in fact, it was probably their very purity that made them so searing, so intolerant. He was her teacher, and she his student, and they met up there in a perfect illumination high above the regular world. Another cow shuddered awake beside me and looked up at me, half in sympathy, half in resignation to all my shortcomings, which is the very look cows always give, which is their whole take on the world.
And then the door opened. The cold, dim day rushed in, and, along with it, Sands. She was wearing a nightgown with a parka over the top, her hair in one long, sleepy braid. She looked like she was fulfilling and making fun of my dreams all at once. "You look like a farmer's wife," I said.
"And you the farmer."
"He wants to see you," she said. Some doves in the rafters fluttered and made a break for the open door, wheeling then around the corner. Fialta was burning away in the distance. From this distance, it looked already to be stirring--composed, as Auden said all living things were, of dust and Eros. It was clear what would happen. I would leave; Nostbakken would fall--the full, staggering weight of him!--in my arms and hug me as he told me I had to leave. But there was still the morning. Her hair and skin were the only moments of darkness in the brightening barn. I kissed her again. One of the cows made a lowing sound I'd not heard before, which sounded like a foghorn in the distance. They'd seen it all before, this whole drama; their large hearts inside them had broken a hundred times before today. The barn smelled exactly like the very passage of time. The cows took their own fertility so practically, as the pigs did joyfully, and the doves beautifully. I already knew then that I'd be forced to leave Fialta; I could practically have predicted my leaving to the hour, but my heart was caught up in the present, whirring away and still insisting that this was the beginning, not the end. And so that's how I felt hardly any grief at all, lying alongside Sands on the crackling, warm hay at the foot of that makeshift paradise, as the cows watched on, remembering human love.
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