Len carries Pierre’s lifeless body to the garden. He knew this day would come and is prepared. A grave in a corner of the walled garden awaits Pierre’s burial; a large pile of dirt next to it is topped by a shovel. Lying on the ground is flat piece of stone about two by three feet in size, and four inches thick. Pierre’s name, some dates, and an inscription are roughly carved into its surface. “He Is a Good Man” it says.
In the days leading up to his death, Pierre is less and less able to communicate. He begins to speak and then loses track of his words or starts conversations with people not there at all. Len hears Pierre talking to his father Leonard, chatting with Jacques Lehmann, speaking as if on the phone with suppliers. He is not in pain, it appears, but his entire past life has suddenly caught up with the present. Finally, one morning he does not awaken. Len finds him lying on his cot holding a pad and pencil; marks, lines and squiggles cover an open page.
His 125-year-old body light as a feather, Len carries him effortlessly, Pierre dressed in clean clothes, his body washed by Len and the remaining strands of white hair on his head brushed to the side. Len has dressed for the occasion as well, wears one of Leonard Gittleman’s dark twentieth century suits over a buttoned-down, white shirt and dark tie. The grave is lined with one of the clean sheets from the linen closet, itself another vestige of times when such things were commonplace. Sitting on top of the gravestone are several of Pierre’s notebooks, which Len has carefully wrapped in one of the ancient Indonesian Ikat fabrics he found in an upstairs closet.
Len gently places Pierre in his grave and sets the notebooks on his chest. He stands at the foot of the grave, looking down at Pierre, and tearfully begins to speak, although no one is present to hear him except the now still Pierre.
“You are a remarkable person, father. You have spent your entire life in pursuit of saving a vestige of humanity. Your reasons were good, as were you. I found a Hebrew/English dictionary in the library, and after all these years discovered that the family name, Gittleman, means ‘good man’ in Hebrew. And you are all good; you have lived up to your namesake. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, a lengthy passage is devoted to the Bodhisattva, All-Good Samantabhadra. It made me think of you, for you are all good. Thank you, father. I love you and will always remember you. Sleep well.”
With that, Len folds the sides of the sheet across Pierre’s body, covering it. He steps to the pile of dirt, and taking the shovel begins to fill the grave. After an hour or two, he hefts the gravestone and places it flat atop the mound of dirt. The plants and remaining trees in the garden will shade Pierre’s grave, until they, the Gittleman house, and the entirety of Halifax have sunk back into the earth or been reclaimed by the sea. Len heads back into the now empty and silent house and takes a seat in the library. Tears streak his green, photosynthetic cheeks.
Having digested the wisdom in Leonard Gittleman’s extensive collection of books, by this time Len is a well-educated autodidact, conversant in philosophy, Buddhism, ecology, physics, history, psychology, and various mystical traditions. His excellent memory allows him to retain and access nearly everything he’s read, but all of it, in an essential way, reflects the particular nature of Homo sapiens and their history, what Len recalls theoretical physicist Richard Feynman called their ‘world line.’ As such, the world line of humanity stretches back in time to the beginnings of a self-replicating, life-energy cycle dependent upon the predation of plant and animal matter, what Pierre Gittleman identified as the root of human suffering: hunger.
“The Buddha came to the same conclusion as Pierre,” Len considers, “placing desire at the core of suffering.” His eyes full of the tears of compassion, Len weeps at the quandary of animal life and the destiny of Homo sapiens, their inescapable hunger, desire, and all the beauty and ugliness that follow from it. “The teachings of the Buddha about this world system were based on the roots of suffering,” Len reflects, “and yet in the Avatamsaka Sutra the nature of existence of other world systems is described in exquisite detail. There are worlds of pure sound, worlds of pure light, worlds of pure smell, and on none of these worlds is there found the suffering of desire and hunger. And now, on this world, I and my botanicus brethren have cut the chain of karmic suffering, too, thanks to father. Remarkable!”
At his thoughts of his botanicus brethren, Len stands, turns, looks at the book-filled library and strides out of the room. Still clothed in the black suit, white shirt, and tie he took from Leonard Gittleman’s bedroom closet, he walks to the entrance of the Gittleman home, opens the door, and gazes out into the empty and silent city. Without closing the door behind him, he strides to the gate at the end of the driveway, pries it open, and steps off the Gittleman property for the first time in his entire life.
Having memorized a map of Halifax and and the lands to the west, Len begins to traverse the city’s neighborhoods, now deserted and slowly being reclaimed by nature. The streets are cracked and filling with fast-growing weeds and trees. The homes and apartments are empty and looking decrepit. He sees no one and is not seen. The currents of air carry the odors of ocean water, decay, dust, and fragrances Len has never encountered before. They are almost intoxicating, and at times he stops walking and simply stands still, his exceptionally fine sense of smell overwhelmed by new sensations.
Bright sunlight breaks through the canopy of green above his head, and as he continues, he passes through sections of the city abandoned long ago. The encroaching urban forest becomes thicker and at times the old streets are nothing more than scattered sections of pavement. By nightfall, Len reaches the western edge of the city beyond the reach of its now collapsing geodesic dome and confronts a large body of water. He settles down for the night at the base of a large Ash tree.
Awakened by the morning sun, Len walks to the shore and gazes across the water to the lands beyond. Numerous small boats, some broken and in pieces, litter the shore. He finds one rowboat that appears solid, and from another he takes an oar. The lake’s surface is still; Len pushes the boat into the water and standing, using the oar as a paddle, he slowly makes his way across the lake. As the sun rises higher, he removes his jacket, tie and shirt, folds them neatly and places them in the stern of the small craft. The sunlight invigorates him, and he diligently paddles his way across, finally pulling the boat on to the opposite shore after hours of effort.
The sights, sounds and smells of the natural world flood his senses, almost to the point of paralysis. Housed his entire life, he has never been in the natural environment, and the immensity of the experience is overwhelming. He sits on the shore, stunned both by his exertion and the shear majesty of his surroundings. The scale of sensory information is unlike anything he has ever imagined. The accumulated intellectual content of his mind recedes in the face of the beauty of the natural world.
He stands and removes his water-logged black trousers, adding them to the pile of clothes in the stern of the boat, and turning from the water, he begins to make his way to the pilings of a collapsed bridge, where a remnant of the roadway remains. Now naked, but not afraid, his lithe, green body shimmering in the sunlight, he begins to walk on the dilapidated road into the forested lands, determined to be reunited with his long, lost family. Suddenly a small, green-skinned, four-legged creature trots out of the bushes to his side, squeals and rubs against Len’s green-skinned leg. Together, they walk confidently into their future.