Every once in a while, a phrase appears, demanding to be used. Sometimes it fits into whatever is being written at the time. Sometimes it hangs around for years before it fits. Sometimes, it just hangs around.
The phrase at the top came to me when I was considering a sequel to Raven’s Run. There were several stories on audition, and none were chosen. I don’t even remember which sequel this was supposed to go with. I do remember the scene it was to be part of.
Iain Gunn was looking out a second story window at an urban street. South San Francisco, I think. It was just beginning to rain. A girl with long black hair had just gotten out of a car. She was wearing a tight, short dress, and she was, of course, lovely. Gunn was waiting for someone to come along who was connected with the business he was just getting involved in, and this girl certainly was not that person, but she caught his attention.
She hunched her shoulders when the rain first hit her, but then she straightened her back and looked up. She raised her hands to the rain and smiled. No dancing around — she was a serious and sophisticated person — but she accepted the rain and appreciated the moment. She stood for a few more moments, facing Gunn but unaware of his presence. Her hair began to flatten against her head and Gunn could see beads of moisture trickling down her face. Then she turned and walked purposefully away. For her the moment was over, but it would remain with Gunn.
Life is a tunnel, three feet wide and seventy years long. The phrase hits Gunn (as it had hit me). She is just another of the million people he will nearly meet, nearly have some kind of relation with, one whom he could perhaps come to hate, or perhaps fall in love with. But he will never know.
If this were cliche #472 in the detective story handbook, he would meet her again and this would just be a foreshadowing of things to come. Meeting her again would be expected by the reader.
It is not meeting her that will make the incident meaningful. She will now become a symbol for all the things we miss as we live our random lives.
It’s not a new idea, and not the first time I’ve used it. These words in the opening paragraphs of Valley of the Menhir set the stage for what is to come:
Out there in the night that stretches away from us all — there where consciousness ends; where experience missed sets an iron boundary on our lives — there is a land of red sky and green sea, Poinaith, and another land where the gray sky leans down to lock hands with the sliver elfin forest.
Experience missed sets an iron boundary on our lives. Another phrase that jumped into my head, but in this case, just as I needed it.
We all live lives of found and missed opportunities. Our lives are a path from birth to death, as wide as our shoulders and as long as we last. We see so much, but if we were to turn three feet to either side, there are a thousand other lives we could live instead.
I’m satisfied with my life so far and I’m glad I was wrong about its length. I have more things to do, and more books to write. These last seventy years have been great, but I‘m not done.