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Friday, Mar. 25, 2005 - 5:15 a.m.

It is a night to re-examine another night and he stands alone on the balcony, against the curve of the white balustrades looking out to sea. He is on a hillside and below him is a dense border of forest before the pulsing black sea. That weekend so long ago, when he had come to Sentosa with her, they had stood here in the same place watching the sky.

He remembers most of her words. Think about it, she had said, this light entering our eyes could be a hundred million years old - it takes that long to cross the span of space to reach us. But the poetry of the light's travel had eluded him then. She had continued to look at the night sky, her eyes forming the terminal point for the aged light.

They did not have a telescope, but he saw a coin-operated binocular machine on the balcony. He put in a coin and watched her press her face against the eyepiece. Every two minutes, he put in another coin. Her arched body is so perfect, he had thought.

She had asked a few stray questions while looking through the binoculars, but he did not say a word and kept staring at her fingers, which were curled around the side edges of the binocular machine. She wondered what the light saw as it made its way to earth, crossing the heliopause boundary into our solar system, past the twenty one silent, turning moons of Uranus, and the towering gas clouds on Saturn. He thought about her question and perhaps what the light saw was two people, one who was watching the universe, and the other who was watching her. With the million year-old light entering her eyes, he leaned into her left ear, and asked her to marry him.

Now, he drapes an arm over the soundless metal face of the binocular machine and touches the two black ovals of the eyepiece, which stare back unblinking at him. Her eyes were here once. He puts in a coin and peers into the eyepiece, tilting the axis of the binocular to find that exact same trajectory, that exact same imaginary line to the old light that she had found. He tries to remember her small startle after he had proposed, the slow turning of her head to meet his, and her equally soundless, wordless kiss.

But after two minutes the binocular machine clicks and somewhere inside the machine a lens is obscured. He does not leave the eyepiece, and all he sees is black as he feels his pockets for another coin. The visual of the memory will also be eventually and inevitably lost, because the evolution of memory does not guarantee its preservation.

At first it will be the details that go, the thick smell of the frangipani trees from the forest, the aphonic movement of the clouds. Then it will be the shape of her smile, her smell as she kissed him, the feel of her nose against his, and someday - she herself. They will all leave one by one and neatly collect in the library that has no doors and no dust. There, they will complete the catalogue of atrophied memories but they can never be accessed again. Everyone has at one time, correctly imagined the existence of this library, but no one knows where it really is, except that it is unreachable and far away.

He struggles against forgetting, tries to remember what she looks like each day, goes to the places they visited together. But in the end, even the memory of the light will be lost as well. The starlight that reaches the earth could have come from a star that is already dead and cold. Following closely behind the tail end of its ray of light, is a ray of blackness. It is the the dispatch of her smile to a far away place, the blackness of absence and forgetting, impenetrable and black as the retreat of the universe itself.


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