Lismore. Tuesday, 12.50pm
‘I don’t want to go down there,’ she says, nuzzling against me. ‘I really don’t.’
‘It’ll be alright,’ I say, sounding more reassured than I am.
‘But it’s dark. There’s no people,’ she says. ‘I’m scared. Can’t we go to the pie truck. I love the pie truck.’
Oh yes, I love the pie truck too. Those were the days (actually just a month ago): We sat, she and I, under the trees, under a bloated sun, at tables whereupon vegetable mornay in a flaky crust flopped on ceramic plates and were eaten with real knives and forks. She had extra mashed potato; I, mushy peas. A sparrow sang and danced on the footpath, busking. She gave it pie. I gave her a smile. Life at its best.
Yes, I wish we could go back, Little One. But there is no turning back. The way lies in front of us now, from the light into the darkness. And then? Who knows…
‘Sapere Aude,’ I say, squeezing her hand. We step into the shadows.
‘What?’ she says, her voice squeaky with apprehension.
‘Sapere Aude,’ I say. ‘It means “Dare to know”. It was the motto of the Enlightenment. It means to be brave. Don’t be ruled by ignorance. Be smart. Be like Captain Kirk, not Donald Trump.’
‘To boldy go,’ she says, quietly, as we pass the first boarded-up window. ‘What’s the Enlightenment?’ Her question echoes down the commercial canyon, from glass to brick, from tile to tin.
‘The Enlightenment was a time, long long ago, when people thought that science was a good thing, that liberty was a right, that all people were important, that democracy was better than oligarchy or rule by religion. Knowledge would progress humanity forward, they believed. Into the light. Enlightenment. Reason would be the torch that lit our way. “Sapere aude” is what Kant said…’
‘You shouldn’t swear, you know.’
We walk past empty shop after empty shop. Some have their windows taped shut with brown paper, some with newspaper. Others have no paper, save for a peeling poster advertising great events of the past, so we gaze into the empty shops, into the hollow guts of globalisation, where local is sacrificed to global, where online bests in-person, where the flame of the Enlightment now barely flickers.
‘What is this place?’ she whispers, glancing from the folds of my shirt.
‘People used to come here,’ I say.
‘Really?’ she says in disbelief. ‘Why?’
The Enlightenment began with the death of King Louis XIV (1715) and ended today. Or maybe yesterday. Or last week. Hard to pin an exact date on its demise. Was it the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or with the crazy triumph of global capitalism in the 80s, or was it yesterday’s denial of climate change with Malcolm Turnbull’s don’t-politicise-a-tragedy response to Di Natlale’s increased-bushfires-due-to-climte-change comment? (Turnbull is learning from the USA. Sad.)
‘There used to be shops here,’ I say.
‘Where have they gone?’ she asks.
‘People don’t go to shops so much now,’ I say.
‘I like Amazon,’ she says. ‘Mum got my dollhouse from there on my iPad.’
‘Why are we here?’ she asks.
‘You’ll find out,’ I say.
We walk on. We pass a stranger, his face lit blue from a screen.
‘What’s that?’ she asks, pointing ahead. Ahead is a square of bright light.
‘That’s the end of the arcade,’ I say.
‘Oh, is that the Enlightenment? Are there people?’ she asks.
‘Yes. You’re wise.’ I say.
‘Sapere Aude,’ she says.
We walk into the light and into a street.
‘Look!’ she cries. ‘It’s the pie truck!’
‘So it is. Sapere aude.’