To get from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus to the Temple of Artemis, the man rides a 12-speed bicycle. For three days, he pedals into a light breeze up and down the hills of an ancient Hittite kingdom. Along the way, he meets no one. His eyes scan the road for potholes. His mind races ahead to a place he’s never been. He’s imagining rough marble against his hand. Crossing the Menderes River, he startles geese. They swarm, confused, then rise. He shifts up a gear and chases them across the sky.
When he stops he fishes a tiny tin from his backpack, and applies grease – sparingly – to gear and chain and sprocket. Then he rubs his hands clean in a puddle and takes a sip of water from a clear plastic bottle.
At the site of the Temple of Artemis, he sits in the dirt under a cloudless sky and eats a small bag of salted rice.
Late in the afternoon, a woman approaches. While she’s still a way off, he raises his hand. She waves back. Her hair is gathered under a patterned scarf. She has a gaunt, angled appearance like they all do. All of the survivors.
“You’re the first person I’ve seen for weeks”
He smiles up at her but no reply comes out. He’s starting to forget the rules of small talk.
“Sit down. Please.” he points towards dirt.
“Are you travelling alone?”
“Thank you. I try to keep it in good order.”
“Where are you headed?”
The man takes a deep breath then lets it out. “Here. I’ve just arrived.”
She gives him a puzzled look.
“Have you heard of the Temple of Artemis?”
“This is it. See those pieces of marble over there? That was part of the original structure.”
“Those rocks? You came here just for that?”
“Yes and No. I just wanted to stand in the place where it was. I’m doing them all.”
“The seven wonders. The seven wonders of the world.”
“I thought that was like Mount Everest and such.”
“They’re the natural wonders. These are the original ones, before it become commonplace for men to make lists of wonderful things.”
“Well I think you’re too late. This one’s dissolved.”
“No it was destroyed deliberately. A couple of thousand years ago.”
“Well there was this Greek guy, he wanted to be famous, so he thinks, well if I destroy the Temple of Artemis, everyone will remember me as the guy that destroyed a famous temple.”
“What was his name?”
“I don’t remember. The important thing is , I remember the Temple of Artemis. If I remember it, and tell other people, like you, then it still exists. Do you see?”
“Sort of. So are you saying when there’s no one left who remembers this temple, then blip! That’s it. It never existed.”
“I guess…..I am saying that. Yes. That is what I’m saying.”
“That doesn’t make sense!? It’s gone already. It’s been gone for two thousand years.”
“No it’s not. If I close my eyes, I can see it.”
“You don’t need to close your eyes to see beautiful things. There right here in the world now. Everywhere!”
“How can you say that? After everything that’s happened?”
“I’ve been travelling. I’ve seen all kinds of things.”
“What kinds of things?”
“Well there is a railway station in Madrid. I think everybody should see that. Obviously no trains go there any more, but there’s something about it now. It no longer looks man-made. The trees inside have just kept growing and growing and they’ve punched their way through the glass ceiling, It’s like they’re reaching for God.”
“That’s a great mental image.”
“But that’s not all! The real prize is when you go inside. It’s part décor and part habitat. It’s like they’ve joined forces and invented a new thing. There’s no word to describe it. The benches have been strangled by vines, so it looks like they’re made entirely out of leaves. The tree roots have grabbed hold of the floor and buckled the mosaics. If you walk amongst them, ruptured angels peek out at you. And you can hear all these tiny creatures rustling about…..birdsong echoing off the walls. It’s like, there’s this…..dappled light…..is that the word? It just sort of shines in on it everything, but gently…..you just have to see it. I saw a man just stop in the entranceway and cry openly for several minutes. I got a feeling watching him, like looking at it all was healing him, in a way. Does that make sense?”
“It makes perfect sense. Watching your face while you were telling me about it, I feel healed too.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“So will you go there?”
“I don’t understand? This is something wonderful, and you can go and see it now. Everybody can, now that we’ve been unleashed from our lives. I mean, it’s not like we’ve got anywhere else to go! What is there to see here? Just dirt and weeds? Right now we’re just standing in some nothing place where something used to be.”
“I guess that’s why I’m here. I feel like that’s all we’ve got left.”
“So where do you go from here?”
“I want to visit all seven. I’ve got two to go. I’m saving the Great Pyramid until last.”
“Because it’s still there.”
“The railway station in Madrid is still there.”
“I know. In fact, you know what? You’ve talked me into it! Maybe I will go and see it. After the pyramid of course. I’ll call it the eighth wonder.”
“Well I’m calling it the first wonder. It’s the first one I saw. You haven’t answered me though. What’s next for you?”
“The Lighthouse of Alexandria.”
“That one sounds nice! Let me guess – there is no lighthouse now?”
“Of course there is. Close your eyes…..Can you can see it.”
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
“Describe it to me.”
“Because you’ve obviously been thinking about it for a long time. I don’t want to break your picture of it.”
“Fair enough. Where will you go next?”
“There’s a factory in Ankara that made car batteries – before. A farmer in Izmir says there’s a man there who knows about electricity. He’s used the batteries to get some things working. Survivors are going to that place where the factory is, and they’re staying there. Of course there’s not many, but it’s a start. He said in some of the buildings, they have electric lights.”
“I have candles.”
“He said they have heating too."
“For how long?”
" There’s smart people that understand how these things work, and if more people come….."
“If more people come, what? Do they have a plan? What will they do next?”
“I don’t know.”
The sun sinks low and they stare at the lengthening shadows made by grass and rocks. The woman picks up a piece of broken marble, and pushes its weathered surface into one palm and then the other.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to make a memory of this place. Not for what it was. But what it is right now. It’s quite beautiful, when you really look.”
They gather sticks and make a fire. Then then they put all their food in one spot and consider the possibilities. Later, they move close together on a blanket and look up into the night. Under a new moon, they invent names for constellations.
“I’m calling that one the Temple of Artemis?”
“Because it’s so bright, if I close my eyes, I can still see it.”
“I wish it really was called that! How can we make it so that it’s called that forever?”
“I think we just did.”