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In one of the futures, Hamlet takes Ophelia up to his bedroom.

In one of the futures, there are heavy red curtains on his windows, and a bottle of whiskey balanced on a sill. He climbs onto his bed; she freezes in the doorway; he reaches down until he's pulled up, with effort, a portable turntable.

She moves towards him, away from the exit, and shuts the door.

This is a future for her. If she wanted, she could reach out and take it. She could hold it in her hand, feel the weight of it, squeeze it until it burst. She could lick the juice off her wrist.

It would be good. It could be good for her, still. This is still a possibility.

.

There's another future where they run away. You might know this one. There are songs.

Where do they run to? California; San Francisco. Canada, with draft cards burning in the backseat. Oz. Paradise. West. Elsewhere. In elsewhere it's sunny, and the sea is glittering below them. In elsewhere the road goes on forever, and the fuel tank is never empty, and the world is without end, ages unto ages. In elsewhere there's the smell of apples, and youth and beauty last, and winter never comes. And no one ever grows up; and no one ever dies. And no one mourns for them.

In this future Hamlet writes poetry. Ophelia writes songs. In this future he has a guitar, or she has a guitar, and they sit at bus stops, wrapped together in one old coat, picking out melodies, a soft warm animal with four hands. There's a cigarette balanced between his lips; she's breathing steam out into the cool air. If you were sitting next to them, you wouldn't quite be able to see their faces, blurred and hazy.

There are old movies like this, where the pictures are unfocused, all clouded edges and clouded colors. You've seen them; you know how they go. You've watched them end.

You've run the tape backwards. You've watched the horses gallop backwards out of the sunset, and the corpses rise up from the ground, and the bullets fly back into the guns, and the tears roll up into the corners of the eyes so that the faces are dry and clean, and the man and the woman unkiss each other, and unsay love and hate, and unwalk towards each other and into the edges of the television, until the title card is shivering on the screen.

You could have this. You could let them have this. You don't have to let it go.

.

When you met him, he was younger. It sounds like a tautology, something you'd be disciplined for in a classroom - but there's more to it than time, which moves at its own pace, unstoppably onward, no matter what you say and do inside it.

He was younger when you met him, Hamlet was. You've looked at pictures. You've tried to stop yourself - you have stopped yourself - from reaching out to trace the edges of his face, the folds at the corners of his eyes. Not happy, never quite happy, not him; but different, and brighter.

You knew him when he was younger. He studied with you; which sounds small, and which seemed small, then. And there was so much smallness about it.

He was small, for instance, short and slight, his hair a shock of wildness. The sky was small, trapped between the lecture halls and the dormitories and the library. The stars were small inside it, and the moon, too, a lemon-peel curl in the red leaves. They call them the small hours, between midnight and dawn, when the world goes quiet and empty - and they were small. And the night was small, and the time was small, and when you took your eyes off it for an instant it slipped between your fingers, a grain of sand, and was lost.

.

Once, there was a war. This wouldn't be the first story to start this way.

Once, there was a war, a great war to defeat a great evil, and then the soldiers came back. And they found wives, and they made children, and the children grew up. Then there was a war; and some children went to fight it, and then soldiers came back. And some children didn't go to war, and instead shouted, and grew, and grew angry, and the soldiers grew angry, too.

Let's run the tape backwards. Let's try again.

Once, there was a war, and then the soldiers came back. And they found wives, and they built houses, and they took those houses far away from the cities and put them together and made towns from them. They grew grass in front of the houses, and they grew children inside the houses, and they put wives inside the houses and gave them a story to live out. And in this story, the wives were happy in the houses, and the children were happy in the towns, and the grass grew, and the world was safe, and no one ever shouted, or grew angry, or felt pain. And war was something else; war was a thing that happened far away, on the other side of a television screen. And so was death.

Maybe they made a bargain, the soldiers. Plenty of humans have. There are so many things bigger than humans, and so many things more powerful.

Living in a story is easier. It's better. You don't have to give up much to do it. Only something very small indeed.

.

You met her later, after, when Hamlet's eyes had already grown tired and old. She was beautiful then.

She never stopped being beautiful. Beauty stopped mattering, though, to her or to him - you noticed it on a skyscraper in the shrewd-biting wind, when the lights of the city were spread out like stars under you, and weeks or months or years afterwards when the birds darted and wove in the sky above the graveyard. She was beautiful, and you understood how, when beauty had mattered to him, he had fallen in love with her.

You met Ophelia later, after the funeral.

Here's what happened: she brought Hamlet to a sitting room, and put a needle down on a record, and closed her eyes. You were leaning against the wall, because you always seem to find yourself at these occasions without quite being invited. You don't know quite how to come along; you don't know quite how to stay behind.

It wasn't a song like any you'd ever heard before. It was faster, and louder, and there was a bite to it, a hum that made Hamlet tap his fingers on his leg, push himself up towards her. His eyes were closed, too. She swayed back and forth, and he took her at the waist and spun her so that her skirt flared, and pulled her close.

You watched.

She wasn't a girl who had read, was Ophelia. It wasn't something you had thought about, whether girls read or not; but you wanted to press books into her arms, wanted to do for her what your philosophy had done for you. Wanted to reach out and take her hand, speak to her with paragraphs you had brought from across thousands of years, give her a future. She was dancing, and her lips were moving, and Hamlet wrapped himself around her, pressed his lips to her lips, pressed his body to her body, pressed her arms to her sides like a straitjacket. His hips ground into hers. He looked up, looked at you. Her head fell back, and his mouth was on her neck and her freckled shoulders and her small white breasts, and she was gasping for air, her flowered dress was on the floor, her legs were around him, her hair was coming out of its ribbon, tumbling down her back, like a river.

Later, you heard about the river.

.

You could make this different. You could tell a different story. You could give this a happy ending.

It's not as if you don't know how. It might not even be difficult. You could study for a year, two, three - forget the small hours, take the days for what they are, large and endless and unbearably heavy; it would make no difference. Others have done it before you. You could draw circles, mouth words. You could reach your hands into the fabric of the world and tear it open, gently, and bring something through, and let something very small go.

They say that love conquers all.

You don't have to be human about this. You don't have to grieve.

Thou'rt a scholar. Speak to it, Horatio.

.

It's this, or keep living.