From the novel Monopole.
Time passes. Gertrude comes to retrieve Teddy, pushing in an old-fashioned wheelchair. She is hurried, almost stressed in her manner, but she continues to exude an air of general agreeability and somewhat welcomed servitude. She folds up Teddy in the wheelchair as one might put away an old, delicate blanket. Her skin is soft against Teddy’s. She has sweet, blue eyes and a milky complexion with a few speckled blemishes. Her sandy hair isn’t quite well made up, its mild waviness subdued by the way she has it tied up.
“Okay, then?” she says once having secured Teddy in the wheelchair. She nibbles her fingernails from either habit or anxiety, probably both. “We have to get you ready for an outing, okay?” Not waiting for a response—which would be difficult for Teddy to conjure anyway—she pulls a toxin mask down over his nose and mouth and protective eyewear over his eyes. “The doctors say they can’t find anything wrong with you,” she continues, “so I thought it might be nice get some fresh air at the faux-park. They finally finished renovating the one nearby. Does that sound nice, Theodore?” Through his toxin mask, Teddy casts a crooked grin of affirmation back at her.
Gertrude wheels him from the hospital to the faux-park, the air thick with pollution. They approach the grand dome of the park through smog and crowded sidewalks, and traverse the long levitating walkway leading up to it. Once in through the transparent outer wall of the enormous dome, a projected blue sky arches above them, curving to the horizon in the great distance, the illusion of clouds hanging on the simulated atmosphere.
A field of synthetic grass stretches out before them—bushes, trees, ponds, and dandelions so perfect they look plastic or painted (or at least genetically modified) freckling the rolling green expanse, through which several paved pathways wind, unmasked pedestrians walking casually along the trails, some of them sitting at occasional benches. Gertrude and Teddy traverse the elevated walkway circling down the inner wall to one of the paths below.
A man with an old-fashioned violin stands beside one of the faux-park’s synthetic ponds and plays something Teddy knows he’s heard before—the long, slow pull of the strings salting the wounds of a past he can’t recall.
Gertrude speaks at length about her life and how the realities of this existence affect her day-to-day. She complains to Teddy about her largely uneventful love life, the incessant traffic, her turn for recycling duty next week, all the protests and economic unrest and her concern for all the less fortunate, telling Teddy to stop her if she’s boring him. She tells him about trying to build her credit and her job at the care center. She tells him about her acting class and what her acting coach says: “Imagination is an invisible magic that lets you travel through space and time or become someone else entirely. To act is to master the magic.”
Though at times disinterested, Teddy relishes in the escape the details of her life provide. He relishes in any escape he can, taking comfort in feeling a very human connection to someone, if only through an entirely one-sided exchange.
As Gertrude continues talking, Teddy watches mechanical birds playing on the wind of the toxin fans and remembers the little flying machines exist, and knows they’re automated but hates their freedom nonetheless. Two lovers sit on a park bench staring into each other’s protective eyewear, their filter masks pressed grotesquely together. Two men who appear homeless wrestle over an empty bottle. A third man throws old, broken chess pieces at them and laughs. A little girl tosses breadcrumbs into a synthetic pond for the mechanical ducks, which a little boy scares away with rocks. The little girl hits him on the arm, then cries behind her mask and runs to her mother, who sits on a park bench nearby. The little boy looks back at the mechanical ducks swimming away. All the while, the distant violin plays faintly beneath the dome, an artificial sun descending the circle of the strangely perfect sky cast above it all.
A breeze on the air, Teddy thinks. Even the wind seems real. He watches an entirely intact and perfect-looking dandelion, stem and all, float majestically by him. He contemplates its chemical structure and becomes tickled at the thought of such a complex system of molecules and compounds dancing through the air so effortlessly.
Gertrude eventually wheels Teddy from the faux-park and then to the nearest M Trans station. As they glide along the monomagnetic rails, Teddy ponders the details of Gertrude’s life she tells him about, and tries to remember the details of Sylvie’s life and who he had been, and what he and Sylvie had been like together. The memories continue to elude him, as they always have.
Like everything else, Teddy thinks. It’s all eventually bound to disappear into the arms of time’s obliterating wind. Like dandelions. Or memories. They’re not all that different, the wind and memories. Wind is the result of atmospheric pressure differentiation. Memory is the result of experience. But neither has mass, and so neither is matter. The air molecules displaced by the pressure differentiation have mass, but what we perceive as wind is actually just the force of those molecules in motion. The wind itself has no mass, and so it is not matter. It’s the same with memories. Memories are ethereal, intangible, a consequence of cranial synapses. But what if memories do have mass? What if memories are matter? What if it’s just that we’re simply unable to perceive them as tangible from our limited third-dimension perspective?
Memories must be matter. They existed in some tangible place at some point—as synapses in the brain or as creatures and concepts once encountered—and so surely they continue to exist, whether or not we’re able to detect any remnant mass. Conservation of mass says that matter can change states but never be destroyed. My memories must then still exist somewhere beyond this dimension. And if they still exist, they can be changed—and so can the future those memories begot. Memories are the learning ground between the unaffectable past and countless futures that have yet to materialize. Memories have matter. I’m quite sure of it—and all matter can change.