She walked through the desert, trailing wisps of disturbed sand behind her. The sun hung motionless and heatless in the sky. Soon she reached a vast plain, filled with piled heaps of stone and twisted metal. Shards of glass crunched under her boots, and she walked deeper into the center.
In the center she found an old man, pushing the stones around aimlessly. She sat and watched him. He made a little pile, then took it apart again, digging a little hole in the sand and putting the stones in. He filled it in, thought a few seconds, then dug it out again and pulled the stones out.
"I heard there was a man trying to rebuild a city here," she finally said.
The man shook his head quietly, not turning to face her, and remaining silent.
"Because it all came apart. All of it. It broke and shattered and it can't be put back together again . . . I thought it could be but it just went wronger and so I tried again and that just broke it further. Now I don't remember what it was except that it was beautiful and wonderful and fantastic and incredible."
"But it isn't now."
"Now it's pieces and shreds in the sand and I don't know which bits go together.
The sky darkened, smoky clouds shifting over the sun. The old man rolled the stones around aimlessly.
"Why don't you try to rebuild it?"
"I can't remember where the bits go. I can't remember what it was like to make anything anymore."
She watched him quietly.
"Because I can't."
The wind chilled rapidy and tore at their clothes. She gathered her clothing more closely and watched him pouring sand aimlessly on the small mound of stones.
"You might be able to do it if you tried."
"I don't know how to try anymore."
She sat there, watching his eerily calm face. The ground shook unexpectedly, then again, more strongly. The small pile shifted slightly, one stone falling out of it, and he turned to watch it expressionlessly.
He raised his voice slightly to be heard above the ground rumbling. "Even if I could remember. Even if I knew what to do, or where everything went, or what it was. Even if I knew that I couldn't do anything because the ground shakes and everything comes apart like it did the first time and that's why I can't do anything more."
"The earthquakes only started when the city fell?"
He shook his head violently. "I don't know. I don't know. I've forgotten too much. I can't remember."
The ground steadied and slowly the clouds cleared from the sun again, letting the first beams from the sun chase away the edge of the cold. "I think it worked once. I think once it was something that could survive. But it broke and shattered and I don't know why and I don't know how to put it together and it's just pieces now and I don't know what to do."
"You could move on."
"I don't know how. I don't know what 'on' is because I don't know what this is and I can't do anything until I know how to put something back together."
The last clouds cleared, giving the cold sun full reign over the sky again.
He tapped two of the rocks together, making a dull clacking noise.
"You could come with me."
"I can't. I can't."
"I don't understand."
He said nothing.
She got up and walked away, out of the city, across the frozen dunes once more.
She turned to look back at him after a few minutes, now a barely visible speck among the ruins, digging in the shards of the destroyed city.
Eventually she turned away and kept going.