I am Alexander Wainwright, a landscape artist, who is travelling in CyberSpace with slow and hesitant steps in this strange and uncharted realm. But with each step forward, I become bolder.
It is–very dark. Suddenly I am standing before a shady avenue of trees. Where does it lead?
Now I am no longer taking baby steps. I have spirited up that avenue and now stand before this handsome residence. Where am I?
I knock on the door and wait. I knock again, only to wait longer. I am just about to give up, but I need a glass of water if I have to return to wherever I came from—276 Victoria Embankment, London. That is my studio where I paint.
The door flies open. An old man speaks in a faint and scratchy voice. “What do you want sir?”
Suddenly, I am unsure. Is this actually Leo Tolstoy? He certainly looks like him. Did my wish come true? How have I done this? I merely thought I would like to find the great writer. And now I am standing before him? It is too incredible!
“I repeat, sir. What is it you want?” His voice is dry and raspy.
“I want to meet Mr. Leo Tolstoy. Are you he?”
He nodded, turned and shuffled inward. “Come in then. But you are interrupting me and that is most difficult to tolerate.”
“I do apologize!” I followed him inside. “Did I interrupt your writing. Mr. Tolstoy?”
He turned swiftly back on me but spoke mildly as sadness clouded his eyes. “What on earth would be the point in that?”
“But you are a very famous author with a most prodigious body of work.”
“Foolishness…all foolishness.” He gave me a dismissive wave and proceeded down a long and dark hallway leading to the back of the house.
I was astonished. I had expected that, if I were so fortunate as to find Tolstoy in CyberSpace, we would have marvellous conversations about art and the meaning of life. Or at least we would sit down together and acknowledge each other’s presence. Today, he was taciturn beyond belief and showed no inclination to stop for me.
I slowed down as we passed several very comfortable and well -appointed rooms. I did hope he was taking me to his study where War and Peace and Anna Karenina were created.
At the back of the kitchen, he opened the door to the cellar stairs and bade me go down. At the bottom, he passed me and when I looked back I shuddered.
What in God’s name were we doing down in this pit? He did not speak but took my arm and drew me closer. Then he opened a door. Dear God! It was a mean and ugly sight before me.
I had come in search of a great author. I had fantasies of the finest intellectual discussions. Instead I found a desolate human being so distraught that he was about to hang himself. Yes—I knew this man suffered greatly but don’t all artists? I realized that I had no idea whatsoever of his great suffering. How could I soothe this human spirit?
I touched his arm gently. “You may not understand just yet, Leo, but life has meaning simply because it exists. We do not ask the meaning of a rose, a sunset or a birdsong…and you’ll surely agree that a human life is more wondrous than a rose. Why should we demand that a human life be justified by some meaning?”
The great man looked as if he had been struck by lightning. “How did you know what is in my mind? Who are you?”
Fearing he might collapse, I sat him on the cellar steps.
“My name is Alexander Wainwright, Mr. Tolstoy. I am a landscape painter.” He seemed almost incoherent and so I did not tell him that I lived in a time well beyond his own.
“You’ve said that yourself when you wrote your marvellous book –“A Confession.”…
The old man’s mouth dropped open and he began to take deep gasps.
I suddenly realized my miscalculation. Likely he had not written that book yet. “What year are we in now, sir?”
“1878. How could you not know that?” he asked.
I had to divert him and get him upstairs. “Please Mr. Tolstoy, I’m very thirsty. Could you make me a cup of tea?”
He nodded and I helped him upward. At the top, I shut the door firmly behind me.
Time stood still or, should I say, it became irrelevant. I sat at the kitchen table and saw the light falling over the dull and dented kettle as he set it on the stove. The lace curtains stirred in the breeze. To my amazement, he set a gorgeous Russian tea pot on the table along with two delicate cups and saucers.
At last he sat with me and poured. “My life has come to a standstill. It has been arrested. I cannot breathe, eat, drink or sleep and yet I cannot help doing such things—if I am alive. Life is a terribly bad joke!” His eyes filled with sadness as he gestured toward the cellar door. “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy? What other sane option is there but to kill myself?”
I could not restrain the passion in my voice. In fact, I might have slapped the table top once or twice. “But why on earth would you ask the meaning of life? It exists. It is. And if there is any meaning to be found in anything then it must be created by you! The creation of that meaning through your writing and hopefully through my painting, makes meaning enough for us and for any one who cares to respond to our art. Just by existing, we make meaning!”
Leo Tolstoy stared at me for a long moment. At last, a twinkle formed in his eye. “That is a fine argument, Mr. Wainwright. I shall think upon it at length.”
I cannot describe what happened next except to say—the light began to dim and my eyes felt heavy lidded. When I opened them again, I was back in my studio overlooking the Thames with my students. Can I visit someone in CyberSpace simply by thinking of him or her?
Why don’t you come along next time to find out. Or even better, let me know whom you’d like to meet. Please share your thoughts in the comment boxes below.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently,