Phil was lonely so he decided to take a tour of the giant bombed-out crater. Early one morning he got on the tour bus and rode for a long time. Some of the passengers chatted and others, like Phil, did not speak and were not spoken to. He wanted to talk to the woman in the seat next to him, who was slightly older than he was, and looked nervous and tired, but he couldn’t do it. When you’ve been alone a long time, as Phil had, a membrane of silence grows around you and you can’t get through it on your own. No help was coming from this woman, who had her own membrane. They arrived late that morning in the middle of what was now the desert, and climbed down to the bottom of the crater on rope ladders. When the last person was down the guide said Okay, and that was it. There was no tour as such, there were no real parts to the crater and they all knew how it got there. So Phil just wandered around, lonelier than ever. At one point he crossed paths with his seatmate and tried unobtrusively to catch her eye, and then to follow her. There was a name for this—the crater romance. He didn’t want to be a creep so he stopped following her. Now he was just out there walking. Beware, he had read in a guidebook, of becoming sleepy in the crater, which has measurable soporific power. Well aren’t I just a walking crater cliché, Phil thought. First I fall for someone and then I get tired. He lay down on a jagged rock and fell asleep. He woke in darkness. He stood up and called out. No answer. He made his way back to the place where he thought the rope ladders had been. They were not there. He walked around calling out. He thought, Wouldn’t it be great if she got left behind too? Then we’d have to talk to each other, and we’d have to have sex, strictly for warmth in the cold night desert air, but it would turn into more. He masturbated, and this brought out the dead. He couldn’t see them but he could hear them. They weren’t screaming, they were going about the lives the bomb had ended. They were making business phonecalls, washing the dishes, reading bedtime stories, telling a drunken joke in a bar. This was the least lonely masturbation Phil had ever had. It wasn’t even masturbation, it was love.
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