chapter five of the story
Everyone's hospitality didn't last long. After a few days, no one regularly stopped in to check on Aurora. They'd greeted her into the strangest place, and then resumed their normal lives, baking pies for newcomers, working for pleasure, smiling and waving from their bicycles. But Aura was now determined not to become one of them. She'd be a missing link in the system, and create a little chaos. After all, she was already dead. What were they going to do to her?
"There are no bills in Paradise," a middle-aged man said to her as she served him a glass of orange juice one morning. She'd been pumping customers for information about life on the island. This man came in every day, and unlike the others, didn't eat a hurried breakfast and then scurry off to work. Henry was a farmer, and decided for himself when he'd work and when he'd relax. "Someone is looking for you, I believe."
He scratched his head in thought. "I forget. But it was a lady, I think."
Aurora didn't know anyone of importance to her here. Perhaps a long-lost grandmother? "I don't understand why people have jobs, then," Aura confided in him, continuing with their previous conversation. "You'd think that when you die, you'd get a little slack. People should relax."
"There is a time for relaxing," he replied. "You happened to die at the most productive time of the year for us. In Paradise, we work for six months, and then stop working for six months. Seasons change daily so that you get a bit of everything. One day it could snow- the next it may be hotter than August in Africa. For the most part, they keep it around mid-seventies. Inhabitants find that the most agreeable."
"The people control the weather?" Aura cried. "Are you serious?"
"The Weather Station does, yes. They have a six-hundred-pound thermostat, and every morning at midnight, they decide the time and weather for the day. Some days it's day all night or night all day, without a single drop of light on the island. They decide if the sky is bright or dark or what. But one thing is for certain- on Resting Day, the weather is gorgeous, 100%."
"Resting Day?" Aura dragged a stool over and sat behind the counter, facing Henry. No other customers would be coming in, anyway. She could devote her entire afternoon to this. "Tell me more about that. You said before it was a festival marking the beginning of rest, but is that permanent rest? No working at all? How will you live?"
"As I said before, there are no bills to pay," he reminded her. "No taxes, no banks, no money at all. People don't work for money- they work for meaning, and to ensure our basic society is able to function. You won't see so much as a penny in Paradise. Shame, because I'm pretty sure I was an accountant before I got drafted."
"Can't really remember..." Henry said. "Haven't thought about it. "Odd how quick the memory goes if you don't recall things enough. The ladies would advise you otherwise," he paused and leaned closer, as if about to spill a terrible secret, "But don't let it happen to you. Everyone here has gone loony, if you ask me. No one knows who they used to be- if they've got family waiting on them back on Earth, or their last names, or favorite colors, or what the sun looks like. Because, you know, there's no sun here. The sky doesn't need one because Weather Station controls all the lighting."
"I found it all really weird, too," Aura agreed. "A few days ago I asked my neighbor about her husband, and she didn't have a clue who he was."
"Oh?" he said. "Who's your neighbor?"
"Mrs. Bonne. I don't know her first name."
"And she probably doesn't, either," Henry grunted. "I remember, though- Allison. I remember the day she came to Paradise, with her five children tucked behind her in the boat. The woman was hysteric- and rapturous. She still is. That's probably why I recall her so well. And I tell you what, Aurora, back in the day, when her brains weren't all scrambled from being here so long, she was something else. Opinionated, and dreamy, and so very young. Her husband had gone and lit their whole house on fire- drunk, she assumed. Her and her children all were killed, even the pet parakeet."
"You were here even longer than her, and you can remember being an accountant who got drafted into a war," Aura pointed out. Light outside was growing dim- a grayish, heavy smog in the air- signaling that a storm was soon to come.
"True," Henry spoke. "But I try and think about my old life, every now and then. And you know, I can't remember my wife for the life of me. Her name started with an ‘H', I'm fairly sure...and she had either red or brown hair...and probably brown eyes?" He shook his head. "She's probably married since I died in the war, but she'd be old now...in her nineties. She'll get here and I'll look the same as I did when I was thirty-two, and I won't recognize her. She'll probably sign up to be in her twenties, as most women here do." He rolled his eyes. "They all want to look young and pretty again, regardless of how old they were when they died."
"So if I wanted to, I could look eighty?" Aurora wanted to know, wiping the counter with a washcloth.
"No," he corrected her. "You can only be an age here that you've been on Earth. You could be eighteen, or ten, or two. But you could not be a day older than your death age. You won't hardly see a person here who looks over forty, because they all choose younger ages. All's you do is sign up for something else in Office, and before you know it, no more wrinkles!"
She frowned. "Do you have to stay married to her in Paradise? When she dies, I mean. If you don't know her anymore, and she'd gone and lived this whole, long life without you. If she got remarried and her new husband came in a few years after she did, who'd she be with?"
"Whoever she chooses, I suppose," Henry decided, patting his mouth with a linen napkin. "That is the sad thing about death. You want your loved ones to go on with their lives, but at the same time, you don't, because when they finally come, they are different. You are different. You're not the same people you married, and the relationship is in the eye of the beholder. My wife very well could have spent the rest of her life in mourning, and still remember our high school prom. But me- well, I am only assuming I graduated from a high school. I'm not kidding when I say the memory really goes here. It's like Paradise wants you to forget everything past, and accept life after death entirely."
"I don't want to become like everyone else," Aura whispered. "I want to remember everything."
Henry handed her a basket of fresh fruit- a trade for her service because there was no money in Paradise. He tipped his hat to her. "Then I recommend that you stop going along with all the traditions Paradise has to offer. It's been a lovely chat, Miss Chassen, but unfortunately I have to get back home, on my side of the island. The Weathermen have decided to give us a storm, and my house windows are all open."
"Bye," Aurora told him, staring out the door. Rain began to pour onto the pebbled road. Shopkeepers on down her row were closing their doors and shutters. She flipped the OPEN sign around to read CLOSED, because in Paradise, when it rains, people stay home. There are no cars. There is no rush, rush, rush, to buy groceries or drop off a letter at the post office because people here know they will live to see the next day. They know they won't die from starvation or fire or old age or a stroke because the idea of death is no longer inevitable when you are living it.
Aurora sighed. She'd been occupied in her thoughts while all this occurred, wondering to herself if Henry is right, and the only way to keep her memory is to get around Paradise traditions. Does that include working? She certainly didn't want to forget Earth, and all's she had were memories. You don't get to bring photographs with you when you die.
Someone rapped impatiently on the Terrion Inn door. Probably someone else who's renovating their house and needs a place to stay, she thought. She opened a chart on the counter. "Sorry, no vacancy!" she yelled, hoping they'd hear her. She lazily turned around, her mind stirred with ideas about becoming a hermit and permanently expeditioning for the two lost inhabitants of Paradise when she saw a woman just outside the door, young like herself.
The woman was soaking wet, and water dripped from the ends of her long red hair. She wore a pastel blue dress which brought out clear sapphire eyes, and had donned a yellow rainslicker. "No vacancy," Aurora repeated, annoyed.
The woman's eyes pleaded to let her inside, and she continued to knock. Aura didn't know why she felt like being so mean, but something inside her said, Don't let her in. Still, the rapping grew bothersome and she finally obliged. Aurora unlocked the door just as the woman dashed back out into the street. "Fine," Aura smirked. "Go ahead." But when she closed the door again, a pale hand caught it fast, and the red-haired woman's face reappeard in the doorway.
"Please, let me in."
"You must let me inside."
"We have no vacancies," Aurora groaned, surprised at how rude she was being towards a customer. Why did she say there were no vacancies? Six rooms above her head stood empty, waiting for occupants. Yet something inside her said, Close the door. Make her go away. She hated this person, and didn't even know her. It was the oddest sensation she had ever felt, coming from deep inside her subconscious.
"I don't want a room. I want to talk to you. I heard that you work here. You are Aurora, from New York?"
Aurora raised an eyebrow. "Maybe. Do you have business with Aurora from New York?"
The woman bit her lip, looking up and down the street. "Maybe I got the wrong address..."
"No," Aura relented. "I am she." And then she saw the woman's gold band, and the glint in her weary eyes, and her breath caught in her throat. "Who..what is your name?" Her voice cracked.
"Sephora. My name is Sephora Lorre."