Track 0, Reel 0
Alive words pound against the inside of my skull like poisonous, accelerated drops of rain. They manifest themselves to my ears as a constant sound of machine-gun fire. Each time one hits I smell a body burst its skin -- always the same body, the same curvaceous dark-haired girl without a face. My dentist tells me that the cause of this sensation is my extra long teeth. She says that the tops of my teeth protrude into my brain and disrupt the natural electrical flow. I don't believe her. She is a curvaceous dark-haired girl. I have never seen her body. I am afraid to see her body -- afraid that she is the one whose body I smell to explode every time my skull shakes with the impact of an organism, a meaning. One of these days I will have to see her body. Tonight I have asked her on a date. We will go out to dinner, then I will bring her back to my place. I will lift up her shirt, unfasten her bra, unbutton her skirt, slip off her underpants. Her existence will be threatened. I will be afraid to open my eyes. I will explore her with my lips, never certain whether the body that I'm feeling, licking, tasting, is the one.
"Machine gun," she will whisper. "Carry my body all apart."
"Delirium," I will say, running my tongue along the crack between her buttocks. "Your anal vapor is an alien form of chocolate. It is an hallucinogenic toxin. It is the threshold between nothingness and dream."
Her legs will swing open and shut around my head like a pair of scissors, as I move my tongue between her legs. Exactly nine times her legs will snip my head off -- and every time she will replace it on top of my neck, using her vaginal mucous as glue.
The drops of rain pounding on the outside of my skull are actually words, disguised as objects.
The world exterior to my skull is actually a word, or a conglomeration of words, masquerading itself as a piece of death for the sake of argument.
Her slender, tawny, muscled thighs transform me into a question.
I will go out with her tonight. She will take my face in her delicate hands and turn it into a wall of sound. She will stick her tongue into my old, shriveled navel and return me to the days before my birth. She will ask me to bite her until she bleeds, with my extra long teeth. I will extract my teeth with a pliers and drive them deep into her neck with a hammer. She will wander naked through the countryside with her arms extended in front of her, my teeth sticking out of her neck. She will be Frankenstein in the form of a lovely girl. They will riddle her body with machine gun bullets, but she will keep on walking, no matter how many times they fire.
One of these days I will see the body of my dark-haired girl. It isn't true that she's a dentist, but one day when we were kissing she asked me if I would bite her lips. After I obliged her, she told me somberly that my teeth were extra long.
I will go out with her and kiss her, and bite her puffy tender lips until they bleed all over her blouse. Then we will go back to my apartment, where she will rip off her skirt and fuck me like a maniac. At the moment of mutual orgasm, time will cease. The hands on the clock will stop their turning. The flow of my breath will halt, right in the middle of an exhalation. My cat will hang in mid-air, halfway through jumping from the coffeetable to the couch. Nothing in motion. Absolute silence. No taste or smell, and no internal body feelings. Then it will come. I know it will come. There can be no stopping it. The sound of machine gun fire. My skull will fold in on itself like an old umbrella caught in a mighty downpour. It will become obvious that her body parts are not flesh but word. Her thighs, two of my favorite words, will tell me that she herself is a word, the shortest word of all, the word with no letters. Then her plump breasts will laugh and laugh and laugh -- there will be no stopping them, I can see that here and now. They'll keep on laughing, laughing, laughing, day after day, night after night, until one fine day she'll decide the only way to get peace andquiet is to cut them off.
I've spent the whole day dreaming about our date. I'm not sure my expectations are realistic. Her soul's existence is totally revocable, at any time.
Between her legs is a seductive toxin. Her skin is something like living rain. Her fingertips are organisms which sexually reproduce every time she touches me. Her sensual fingertips along my skull are like drops of rain, which turn into words as they fall and fall, which turn into words that I cannot read, that I cannot understand or hear, except in the form of distant echoes, echoes which never sound like words, echoes which sound in every case just like machine gun fire.
Track 1, Reel 0
Most Allocators neglected the inactive files in their Sectors. After all, if a file was inactive, it couldn't very well complain about the way it was treated!
And few Arrangers ever bothered to check up on this aspect of their Allocators' work.
But Allocator B-7G was different.
He was an exceptionally diligent unit -- more out of habit than out of any desire for reward. He did not enjoy his job particularly; he much preferred to spend his time interfacing with his friends. Indeed, after work he was usually so exhausted that he needed a few structure-disruptor routines as a pick-me-up. But he believed in always giving one hundred percent.
And, as it turned out, B-7G's diligence paid off. For it was while he was doing a routine reorganization of inactive files in Sector P-74953963, that he discovered the body....
Track 2, Reel 0
I couldn't help myself -- I just sat down and started tapping out the strange tale of my love affair with Molly. I wasn't planning anything at all; I swear that my mind was completely devoid of all literary thoughts. If you must know, what I was thinking about was an ongoing dispute with a certain used car dealer ... but that's another story, one that certainly doesn't need to be told.
I just sat down at the computer, and started typing. It wasn't as though I was driven on by some passionate urge to reveal myself to others -- far from it. In fact, no matter how old I get, I'm sure I'll never again write anything autobiographical. To write an autobiography you have to be convinced of your own importance to a revolting degree. But my reason for writing this is different from the reason most people have for writing about themselves. What I mean is, I'm not seeking to impress anyone. I just want to get this stuff out of my head.
What I'm trying to say is, this is more of an exorcism than an attempt at a piece of literature. I'm not looking for freedom from Molly's memory, not exactly -- short of death or lobotomy, that would be impossible. No, as far as I'm concerned, "freedom" is just a complicated abstraction. What I'm looking for is something much more simple and concrete: an escape route....
At this point I haven't decided if I'm ever going to show these notes to anyone or not. But I think it will be best if I write as though I'm going to. If I know for sure that I am writing only for myself, I'll get too sloppy. So from here on, I'll address myself to you, my Hypothetical Reader. I suppose this is a childish device -- but what the hell, I'm only nineteen, I have a certain right to be childish.
Let me warn you though, Hypothetical Reader, I'm not going to whitewash the facts for your sake. The tale I have to tell is a pretty bizarre one, and parts of it may strike you as being unbelievabe or absurd. But this doesn't concern me. I know in my heart of hearts that every single word is the absolute truth.
I'm not sure where to begin. From what I've read about literary style, I should probably start with something exciting, something mysterious, something hinting at the main events that I'll be telling you about later. But that's too complicated for me; I'm not a professional writer, not by a long shot. I don't want to exaggerate my degree of ignorance -- I have to admit that I've read my share of books, probably an awful lot more than my share, considering how little people read these days. Also, three years ago, when I was sixteen, I struggled through a year of freshman English at UNLV. But the point I'm trying to make is, I've never before tried to write anything longer than ten or twenty pages.
Anyhow, it was at UNLV that I met Molly. And it was right after I left UNLV that my life started to go a little funny -- which is what I want to tell you about. But first, my Hypothetical Reader, you'll have to bear with me while I explain a few other things. There's so much to tell, I really don't know where to start. I guess the seeds of the whole strange mess were present even in my grade school years -- so, for a few paragraphs at least, I'm going to have to dig back into my childhood.
I'm not going to try to impress you with how strange I was as a child, or how precocious I was. In most ways I was just like every other kid -- I liked to read, and ride my bike, andplay with LEGO blocks and toy soldiers and erector sets. I played tag and kickball; and I was a second-string halfback on the local soccer team. My earliest vivid memory is watching Neil Armstrong moonwalk on TV; and from that point on, like millions of other kids, I wanted desperately to be an astronaut.
Yes, all in all, I was a pretty normal child. I just spent a little more time than usual sitting by myself thinking things over. For example, every child learns the song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat":
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
But, silly schmuck that I was, I sat there pondering the lyrics, taking them seriously. Maybe, I decided, life really was a dream. I know this sounds like the stupidest thing in the world, but this commonplace child's song made an incredibly strong impression on me.
"Why," I would ask myself, "should you continue to row the boat, even if your life is just a dream? Why not just lay back and take it easy, if you're just going to wake up any minute? Is the song trying to tell me that rowing will make you merrier than just lying there?"
Or: "In fact," I would observe, "when you're in the midst of a dream and you realize that you're dreaming, you never, ever go along with the logical course of the dream. Just the opposite -- you try to break up the pattern. If you're dreaming about school, and you realize it, you jump out of the window of the classroom. If you dream about flying in an airplane and you realize it, you storm the cockpit and try to take over the pilot's seat. If you're talking to a pretty girl, you try to pull up her dress. If you ever realized you were dreaming about rowing a boat you'd probably jump out of the boat and try to swim underwater like a fish. You definitely wouldn't keep on rowing."
I know, I know, it's unspeakably idiotic -- but these are the sort of thoughts that ran through my head, day in and day out, year after year. In fact, it wouldn't be going too far to say that I was obsessed -- not with the song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," I mean, but with the idea underlying it.
Basically this obsession had nothing to do with my everyday life. I never used it as a crutch -- although I was often beaten up in the schoolyard, it never occurred to me to console myself with the irreality of my bruises! But as it happened, in an ironic and indirect way, this purely intellectual obsession turned out to have a profound effect on my life (Oh, Molly, Molly!).
Since I was just a naive little kid, it didn't ever occur to me that other people might have given serious thought to the unreality of everyday life. Certainly nobody I knew acted like they had given serious thought to the matter. The people whom I saw, both children and adults, seemed to accept the reality of the everyday world without the tiniest element of doubt. As totally moronic as it seems to me now, I really believed that I, an eight-year-old kid, had personally invented nihilism!
Of course, if I had shared my "invention" with my parents or other educated adults, they would have set me straight regarding the originality of my ideas. But I wasn't in the habit of discussing my personal thoughts with others.
Anyhow, be that as it may, I was not entirely happy with my "invention." I realized right off that it was an impossible way to live. How could I make any kind of decision? I had no way of knowing when I was going to wake up, or when the apparently logical reality surrounding me was going to undergo some irrational dreamlike shift. I thought about this every day, for several years, but I didn't come up with any kind of solution -- only more and more problems. For instance, I was led, by several different chains of reasoning, to the conclusion that the feelingof making a decision must be false. I convinced myself that I was virtually an automaton, that the only thing distinguishing me from a machine was precisely the illusion of choice. Again, in my immensely naive egotism, I believed this to be an original observation. I thought that I had invented, not only nihilism, but fatalism and determinism as well!
This may seem to be overly sophisticated thinking for a child not yet ten -- and I must admit that, at the time, I would not have been able to formulate my ideas in words in any but the most awkward and halting manner. But still, the ideas were real, they were there, seething inside me. With my immature yet accurate logic, I realized that nihilism was both irrefutable and insufficient. I knew I had to have something more. Why this train of thought chose to plague me instead of some other grade school child, I can't explain. But there it was; there was no getting rid of it.
The time was the early 1970's, and all my parents' friends were talking about the "the revolution." My mother dragged me along on innumerable marches and picket lines (the marches were fun but the picket lines bored me to tears). My interest in politics was slight, although I did make a point of watching the news every night, to see what was up with the Vietnam war. But all the revolutionary rhetoric inspired me to come up with the concept of a revolutionary idea -- a psychological event that would overthrow my private dilemmas just as violently and absolutely as the grownups' revolution was going to overthrow the government. Once again, this is a commonplace concept, but I mistakenly took it for my own creation.
Somehow I got the idea that my own private revolutionary idea was just around the corner -- and that it would creep up on me at random, at some odd moment when my logical mind was inactive. Sometimes I would just sit there for fifteen minutes or half an hour, emptying my mind, waiting for something magicalto appear. You're probably expecting me to say that I thought I had invented meditation -- but in fact that's not the way it was. I had read about meditation in one of my mother's books on Eastern religion (at the time, my mother was studying for her Ph.D. in Chinese history).
I don't know if the meditation helped or not. But indeed, before too long, my "revolutionary idea" came along. In retrospect, I must admit, it seems a little suspicious that I invented the abstract concept of a "revolutionary idea" so shortly before my own specific revolutionary idea actually arrived. Whenever the conscious mind comes up with some abstraction, you can be sure that the unconscious mind already has some definite case in mind! Or at any rate, that is what I have observed in my own mental processes. Probably when I invented the idea of a "revolutionary idea," some obscure corner of my mind had already figured out exactly what my revolutionary idea was going to be, right down to the last detail! It seems to me that, while our brains are not as clever as we generally believe them to be, they are a good deal busier. In the unconscious there are many, many things going on at once, so many that our overworked, self-obsessed consciousnesses can only keep track of a tiny fraction. At any rate, these are the observations of an amateur psychologist -- an individual who, although untrained, has spent far more than a healthy proportion of his life engaged in introspection.
But, be all that as it may, the way that my revolutionary idea came upon me was still a little surprising. It had nothing to do with logical thought or meditation: it was an immediate consequence of an automatic physical action. I was riding my bike home from school, and I passed another kid, a little younger than me, riding his bike in the opposite direction. After I passed him, I instinctively glanced back at him. As I carried out this simple action, I remembered doing the same thing dozens of times before: stopping after I passed someone in the street, and just staring straight back at them, waiting for them to look back at me.
I turned it over and over in my head, trying to figure out just what it was I was waiting for. I decided that it was a look of recognition. I don't mean that I was expecting the other person to actually recognize me, to recognize that they had known me in the past. What I mean is that the two of us were supposed to recognize one another as real. As I meditated on the meaning of my action, I realized that, way deep down, despite my conviction that "life is but a dream," I believed in the reality of other people. But not all other people, only a select few.
I realized that, on a level deeper than mere reason, I carried an intuitive belief in a kind of human contact so direct as to transcend all questions of reality and truth. Of course, at the time I didn't phrase it to myself in exactly these terms. But the idea was there, and I don't know where the hell it came from. What on earth would cause a child of nine or ten to obsess his mind with an idea like that?
I know what you're thinking, but you may as well put it out of your head: my strange ideas cannot be explained away by an Oedipus complex, or sibling rivalry, or any of that stupid psychobabble. Of course, like everybody else I have a few private complaints against my parents, but these are my business alone; on the whole, my early life was perfectly comfortable and pleasant. My father was a fairly typical Jewish government bureaucrat, and he was usually busy with his job; but my mother didn't work until I went to school, and we spent the normal amount of time together. My mother realized very early that I was good at math and science, so she went out of her way to teach me things, but she never pressed the point. She told me later that she briefly considered trying to make me into a child prodigy -- teaching me calculus by age seven, and so forth. But nothing of the sort was ever attempted.
Neither did my inclination toward philosophy have anything to do with my schooling. My education was exactly like that of any other child in American suburbia. I disliked school from the very beginning, and I never devoted anything more than the the minimum possible effort to my studies. But my marks wereexcellent anyway, and my parents never pressured me to get straight A's. At one point it was suggested that I should be skipped ahead a few grades -- but the issue was dropped because of my "emotional immaturity" and "poor study habits." I devoted all my intelligence to my own private, incommunicable dilemmas (the idea that this might be a waste of effort never occured to me).
No, the origin of my peculiar philosophical bent, if it is to be located at all, must be found somewhere besides the simple facts of my childhood. But I truly think the whole issue is sort of beside the point. The only thing that really matters is that somehow, from somewhere, my idea appeared. "In the beginning, there was the idea...."
I know only too well what sort of impression my awkward confessions must have made upon you, Hypothetical Reader. "What a boring, pompous fool! Does he think we really care about the existential dilemmas of his early youth?" No, I realize full well that you have no reason to care. But, if you will recall, I have already warned you that I am not a professional writer. I am laying these notes out in their logical order, without worrying about what will best seduce the reader's interest. By nature I find it intensely distasteful to reveal my private thoughts and experiences; so you may rest assured that I will do so only insofar as it is absolutely necessary for the advancement of my tale.
I have told you about the peculiar philosophical ideas which occupied my childhood brain. It goes without saying that, for years and years, the magic look of recognition never happened. I searched for it thousands upon thousands of times, and there were two or three dozen times when the person I was staring at looked back at me. But it was never with that look, only with some dull everyday expression.
But eventually, the longed-for contact did occur. I know you'll laugh sarcastically when I tell you that the look of recognition occured in a bar with a very attractive girl. But that's just the way it was. I firmly believe that the magic look could just as well have occurred with an ugly old man in an dilapidated outhouse. That it happened as it did was purely a matter of chance. But of course there is no way of verifying this statement. Anyhow, let me tell you how it happened....
Track 3, Reel 0
The time was early July, 1991. The place: a check-out line at Vons Food and Drug, East Twain Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada
John Quinta was browsing through a tabloid newspaper which he had no intention of buying.
SKINNIEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD -- 11 INCH WAISTLINE!
BABY BORN WITH TATTOO OF ELVIS ON LEFT BUTTOCK!
TWO YEAR OLD IS GIRL TALLER THAN HER MOTHER
JFK ALIVE IN AFRICA, SECRETLY ADVISING POLITICAL LEADERS
115 YEAR OLD WOMAN HAS QUINTUPLETS
UFOS ARE STEALING OUR OZONE
He looked over at the check-out line next to his, and saw a very familiar face. He knew who it was, but he couldn't remember the name. "Hey," he said cautiously, "haven't I seen you around the math department?"
There was no response.
Suddenly John remembered the person's name: it was Dr. Sluzhyak, a new professor from out east. A man who didn't look quite right had approached Dr. Sluzhyak.
There was something inexpressibly awkward about the way he held his body, about the way he rocked slowly back and forth. His smile was wide and too ecstatic, like the grin of a man on a crack high -- and yet it somehow struck John as genuinely warm. The man said, "I haven't seen you in a while."
Dr. Sluzhyak looked up, momentarily confused. John recognized the expression. He only taught one or two classes a semester, but he had the same problem himself. A student has four or five teachers a semester, but a teacher has dozens or hundreds of students. It's tough to remember more than two or three semesters back.
Sluzhyak oriented himself within a fraction of a second. "No... it's good to see you. How're you doing?"
No answer, just that smile.
"You still in school?"
"No I'm not," he said immediately, "although I've been thinking of going back. I've been studying a lot, though."
Sluzhyak nodded. "Mmmmm hmmmm."
"Studying a lot."
"I've really been studying, studying all kinds of things." His words came out in rapid-fire, each phrase followed by a smile.
"Like what?" asked Sluzhyak, finally taking the bait.
Sluzhyak took a deep breath. "What kinds of things have you been studying?"
He stared straight into Sluzhyak's eyes, as if preparing to share an intimate personal secret. "Hieroglyphics."
"Oh yeah? That's interesting. So can you read hieroglyphics?"
"Not too well."
"I used to be interested in hieroglyphics, when I was a kid. Mayan, not Egyptian. The stuff you see down in Mexico, on the pyramids."
"Yeah, well I been studying all kinds of stuff." He paid the cashier his money, and the cashier began ringing up Sluzhyak's stuff. Sluzhyak wasn't buying much -- some cans of frozen juice and some bread. "Hey, I'm sorry, I don't remember your name."
They shook hands. Sluzhyak looked up at him, expecting him to take his food and leave. But Jim just kept standing there, grinning and staring, rocking slowly back and forth. Sluzhyak paid the cashier and they left the store together.
Meanwhile John was buying a four-pack of Seagrams wine coolers. He left about thirty seconds later. When he got outside, Jim and Sluzhyak were walking side by side through the mostly empty parking lot. Sluzhyak stopped a few yards fromJohn's car.
John walked up to his car, got in, and started fiddling with his briefcase -- curious to hear what was going on.
Sluzhyak, obviously trying to break away, said something like "So, do you still live around here?"
Jim stepped very close to Sluzhyak -- a couple inches at the most. He said, "My family ... you know, man ... there's not a lot of love there lately, anymore."
Sluzhyak nodded. He was starting to look concerned.
He continued. "You know ... if people don't understand you ... when people don't understand you ... I mean, I'm basically a good person, you know...."
Sluzhyak said, "How's your little girl?"
"Well, sometimes she's nasty and rotten, and sometimes she isn't." The grin comes back. "Say," he said. "I should talk to you more often. You're a good person to talk to... you know all that math stuff. I've been thinking a lot... all kinds of ideas. I think I've come up with a way to... a way to beat time. You know? I mean, I don't think time is.... I think that you can beat time, and then you never have to die. You can live forever! You understand? You never have to die."
"That's interesting," said Sluzhyak. I could tell from his tone and posture that he was attracted and repelled at the same time.
The two of them, John decided, were quite a peculiar sight. Sluzhyak always looked sort of wacky with his John Lennon glasses and long curly hair. He was wearing baggy sweats with bright blue stripes, and a tight white T-shirt covered with black line drawings of fish skeletons. The toe of his left Reebok had a visible gash.
Jim was wearing a button-down dress shirt, and it was in fairly good condition, but it was buttoned only at the top and at the bottom. Through the middle you could see his mostly hairless chest. His jeans were a bit dirty and tattered, and his left shoe had a huge hole in it; there was virtually no fabric betweenthe laces and the toe. Jim was swaying toward Sluzhyak rhythmically, grinning off and on, holding his body perfectly stiff.
"And something else," continued Jim. "I built a radio, without any component parts. Just... you know... without... I thought of a way to build a radio without any component...."
"You know how the water, all over the world, it's pulled by the moon... that's the tides. You know? Well, just take some... some diodes, and some transistors, and... the diodes... and put them all over the place... put them under the dirt... over there and over there... and then the radiation... from all over the place, I mean... the radiation will bring it all together and it'll work." He pointed his hands up to the sky.
"Well, give it a try," said Sluzhyak.
At this point John was tempted to go up and interrupt, to make small talk with Sluzhyak. But he didn't -- he wanted too badly to hear what was coming next.
"All kinds of ideas... I've been thinking a lot. I've really been thinking. You know something else I was thinking.... I was thinking that you could make a computer... make a computer... make a computer... make a computer think. Think just like a person."
"I guess you probably could, if you had a big enough computer."
He nodded enthusiastically. " Any computer. You know how when you're running a program, it'll give you a run-time error? Well, every time you get a run-time error, it's asking you a question. Well, what if you just asked it another question then? If it says run-time error, you just ask it another question. It might take a long time, a really long time, but if you just ask it enough questions it could ... I mean it could just walk down the street like you or me, you know ... I mean, it could just walk down the street right here and no one would know the difference. Like Mr. Data on Star Trek. You know, that guy withthe.... Man, I think that's the coolest thing, man! That's the coolest thing! I love that guy, man! You know? It's like hey, Mr. Data, how y'doing?! Jeez! I really think you could really do that, you know.... It's just like the run-time error, every time it gives you a run-time error, you just have to ask it another question."
"I guess even a small computer could think, but it would be so slow it would be totally impractical...."
"You're right... you're right, you're right... I do need to be more practical. But I heard someone say that animals aren't really any less intelligent than us. You know? It's not us doing all this evil stuff... you know it's not us.... It's just that we're basically no different from animals.... It's like...."
"Well, most of the human brain is the same as the brain of a lower mammal. But...."
"Someone told me there really is no such thing as a stupid person. Different people, I mean, if we think someone's stupid, that just means we don't understand them. You know? We just don't understand." He paused for breath. "That, to me, that's the saddest thing in the world. When people just don't understand each other. You know? That's just the saddest thing in the world."
"Yeah, but in a way it's a miracle when two people do understand each other. I mean, even for a short period of...."
"It's just the saddest thing in the world. You'd think they could try to understand... you'd think they could try.... I'm a pretty clever guy, you know. I'm not a bad person. My family... it's just so much anger where there really should be love. I'm really a good person. I've got a lot of ideas."
"Well, these ideas are pretty interesting, but it's hard to understand a lot of what you're saying." Sluzhyak took a deep breath. "I mean, you said you were thinking of going back to school, well that's one reason to get more education -- then you could explain your ideas in a way other people could understand. You know, if you have a really new idea there's no reason you should expect people to understand it. They don't have the... the mental vocabulary, I guess you could call it."
"That stuff about time is pretty interesting, though."
"I think I'm right on the edge... right on the edge of something really, really big. I really think... I mean, we never really die. You know? A person never really dies!"
"The body dies."
"But what is a body without a soul, Andrew? What is a body without a soul? It's not a matter of going faster than time, you know, it's just a ... just a different ... a different...."
Jim grinned. "A different direction."
"I just read a physics paper by two guys named Aharanov and Albert, that said there is no one time axis, but every point in space has its own time axis. So that time for you wouldn't have to be the same as time for someone else."
"Yeah. You just... time... it's not a line, it's like... three-dimensional. It's three dimensional and you can move through it... in all different directions. You can beat time. You never have to die -- you can live forever. You never have to die. You can be immortal."
Another car drove by, and John lost track of the conversation for a moment. The next thing he heard was Jim saying, "but some people have to be hurt or killed. I mean, they have to. Sometimes I think that's what's happening... all the anger... some superior intelligence... some beings are programming us... programming all the anger... you know, with all the missing persons.... You see, it's not us doing all this stuff -- hating and killing... it's not us. It's just being programmed, it's placed in our minds...."
Sluzhyak looked down at his wrist, as if to look at his watch. He wasn't wearing one. But he said, "I've got to run, I've got to meet someone."
Jim shook his hand vigorously. "It's been good talking to you."
"Good talking to you," he said, turning away.
"It's always good talking to you. You're always.... You'll always be one of the... better teachers."
John wanted to call out to Sluzhyak but then thought better of it -- after all, he had been eavesdropping. He closed his briefcase and drove back home with his wine coolers. When he got home, he walked straight into his bedroom, which was actually a makeshift recording studio with a bed in it. He sat down in front of his keyboard, and began playing Jean Luc Ponty runs with his right hand while drinking wine coolers with his left. As soon as he started playing, Sluzhyak and Jim were out of his mind.
Two weeks later, however, something strange happened to John Quinta: something which engraved that eavesdropped conversation permanently in his mind. It was Wednesday night around eight, the last week of the first summer session. John hated to come into the office at night, but he'd had a bunch of homework papers sitting around his desk since Friday.
Two or three other people were around the department as well. Dr. Sluzhyak was running back and forth from the copier to the computer room, printing up copies of his forthcoming book. John's car was in the shop that week -- a very common occurence -- so when he saw Sluzhyak getting ready to leave, he asked for a ride home.
"Where do you live?" asked Sluzhyak as they got into the car.
"About a mile up Cambridge," answered John. "Courtyard Gardens apartments, on Dumont."
"Same direction I'm going in anyway," said Sluzhyak with a slight smile.
On the way to John's apartment, they drove past the Vons Food and Drug where John had seen Jim and Sluzhyak talking. The light turned red as they passed the store, and they foundourselves sitting in the car no more than fifty or sixty feet from the spot where the conversation had taken place.
All of a sudden John was thinking about radios with no components, and people who have to be killed, and how to beat time. He looked over as Sluzhyak to see if Sluzhyak too was mulling over Jim Allison. But Sluzhyak was staring out into space; it was impossible to read his eyes.
The light refused to turn green. They sat there for two or three or four minutes, and then Sluzhyak started honking. The cars ahead of them couldn't seem to get the idea that the light didn't work. Meanwhile, a figure approached the car. It was Jim Allison!
"Hi," Jim said to Sluzhyak, completely ignoring John. He seemed to have a special bond wit Sluzhyak, and John didn't want to interfere, so he closed my eyes and pretended to be drifting off toward sleep.
"Hey, what's up," Sluzhyak replied. "How're the hieroglyphics?"
Jim rocked and laughed. "You know, I've been thinking about going back to school. There's so much I have to learn. There's another professor I've been talking to, Dr. Harrow in the English deparment -- he teaches literature. I really love literature, you know, I really love it."
John was ashamed to find himself feeling disappointed. Jim was sounding an awful lot more mentally healthy -- not nearly so entertaining as before.
Sluzhyak started to say something about literature, but Jim cut him off. His eyes were starting to get wider. "Yeah, man, there's just so much to fucking study, man, you know? There's just so much to fucking learn! Like, I've been talking to this guy who wants to make a computer fucking invent its own music. Avant-garde space age classical, he calls it. Ain't that cool, man? Just like Mr. Data on Star Trek, man! That guy is so cool! But listen, here's what I've been thinking about. I've been thinking about black holes. You know, a black hole is like where space becomes time and time becomes space -- you know, things are all switched around, things are like in a fucking spiral, man!"
Sluzhyak said, "That's sort of like what you were saying before, about beating time."
"Well listen man, I think I've got something really big. Celestial travel, man. The way to shoot right out past the solar system, without using any energy. Just using mathematics, just using the power of the mind."
"Just mathematics, man," Jim repeated, pointing to his head. "It all has to do with black holes."
"It's all the power of the scrotum."
Sluzhyak tried to resist the urge to laugh, but in the end it was overpowering. Jim hardly even seemed to notice. "What are you talking about?" said Sluzhyak finally.
"The power of the scrotum, man! It's like, the scrotum is hollow man, there's nothing in there, but then it fills up with this stuff, and then the stuff comes out. Just like in a black hole -- whatever goes in has got to come out. That's the principle, man, that's the principle."
"Well they do have the idea that what comes in a black hole will come out a white hole."
Jim considered this for a second. "Yeah, but what really matters is the power of the scrotal sac." He reached down and grabbed his balls. "What goes into it, has got to squirt out of it. It's celestial travel. The power source that's going to get us out past the stars man, just like the Enterprise."
Sluzhyak said, "Look, you've got a lot of interesting ideas, Jim, but this stuff about black holes and the scrotal sac is going a little too far for me. It really doesn't make any sense."
"Yes, it does! It really does, man! It makes more sense to me than anything else I've ever heard! Listen," he said, touching his scrotum again, "what goes in, what goes into theplace that was emptied out, has got to come out somewhere. It's got to come spurting out!"
Sluzhyak giggles. "You should write these ideas of yours down."
"I've tried to write some stuff down. Like that stuff I was telling you before, about the way you can send radio waves without a machine...."
"You really should write it down."
"Oh, you're just trying to.... People will just think I'm jerking myself off." Jim was somber all of a sudden.
"So who cares what people think? Even if ninety percent of your ideas are crazy, there's bound to be one or two good ones in there."
"I'm really serious about this celestial travel, man. Without a machine, without a motor. You just, you sort of turn a corner in your mind. It's mathematics. You just have to... harness the power of the scrotum...."
At this point John, who had been feigning sleep, actually did fall asleep. Sluzhyak woke him up when they reached his apartment complex. "That's an old student of mine," he said. "He's pretty crazy. The power of the scrotum!"
"That guy is more than a little scary," John replied.
"Hey, at least he's creative," Sluzhyak laughed. "No, he really does need some professional help. Anyway, I'll see ya later."
"Night. Thanks for the ride."
The power of the scrotum! The black hole is just like a scrotal sac! Jim's phrases bounced around John's mind for days afterwards, so insistently that they interfered with his music. When something happens once, it is easy to dismiss it as a fluke. But when something happens twice, it becomes a trend; it permanently registers in the mind; it is a force to be reckoned with.
That night John had a long, meandering dream about Jim and Sluzhyak. He woke up immediately afterwards, in the middle ofthe night, and he remembered the dream in intimate detail. This was a very unusual occurence; since early childhood, John hadn't remembered anything more than the sketchy outline of a dream.
A few weeks later, the inevitable occurred. It was John's office hour, ten thirty in the morning, sometime in early August -- the middle of the second summer session. Jim was wandering around the halls of the math department, looking lost. He walked past John's office and John called out to him. "Hey, Jim! Are you looking for Dr. Sluzhyak?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I am."
"He's on vacation until the twenty-second."
"Oh, he is? Thank you."
"Do you remember me? I was in the car with Andrew one night when you two talked outside Vons."
"Yeah -- you were taking a nap. Hey, man, you'll never guess what happened!"
John grinned. "I guess you'd better tell me, then."
"Well, last night I went down to the Mirage. I don't usually gamble, but I had a good fucking feeling, I don't know why, man. I went to see the dolphins, and the white tigers -- it was great man. The dolphins were great, they were just going crazy, like flipping all over the place. You just know that they've got minds in there man, they've got brilliant fucking minds, they're just fucking looking at us and thinking to themselves how goddamn fucking stupid.... The tigers were so sad, just sort of sitting there staring out at all the fucking tourists man, like they wanted to eat them... but that's natural, you know, I mean it's natural. So anyway, man, I put twenty bucks into the five dollar slot machine and I won fifty thousand dollars . Can you fucking believe it?!"
"That's great!" John said, suppressing an urge to cry.
"But that's not all," he said, grinning demonically. "I put the fifty grand down on the roulette wheel. I've got seven million and fucking five hundred thousand dollars in the fucking bank now, man! I don't know what to fucking do! I was going toask Andrew for some advice. I've always got all these fucking ideas, and I could never really try them, but now I can, man! Now I can!"
"Andrew would have been the right person to talk to," I said. "He's probably the smartest person around here, and besides that he's pretty levelheaded. But he won't be back for a while."
"I was telling Andrew about this idea I had for making a radio...."
He kept on talking, talking, talking. John wasn't listening. For one thing, John hardly believed him. Since he was obviously insane, the seven and a half million could well have been a figment of his imagination! And for another thing, Jim was actually pretty boring: he harped on the same deranged themes, over and over and over again. The whole situation was making John sick; he was sorry he'd called out to Jim in the first place.
Then John remembered something Jim had said toward the beginning of the second conversation with Sluzhyak. Something about talking to someone who had an idea for making computers compose music.... He brought this up to him.
"Yeah!" he said, delighted. "That's right! That's fucking right! I'm glad you reminded me of that! I've got his phone number right here, right here in my wallet. I should go see him right now. Hey -- what was your name?"
He fumbled in his wallet and pulled out a card. "John," he said, his voice the epitome of politeness, "would you like to accompany me to the residence of Mr. Joseph Przenciewiscz?"
"I would be honored," John replied. "But shouldn't we call him first?"
"An excellent idea." Jim grinned effusively. He called him on my office phone, and proposed to visit him at his home.
Joseph replied that he would rather meet at the Continental, just around the corner from his house and about half a mile fromUNLV. An appointment was made for eleven thirty.
We left immediately.
When we arrived Joseph was sitting at a table by himself, sipping some sort of mixed drink. "Hello, Jim," he said in a deep, quiet voice, marked by a slight Eastern European accent.
"Hello, Joseph," said Jim, gesturing to John. "This is my friend John. He's in the math department over at the university."
Joseph reached out and they shook hands. John noted a tremendous change in Jim's bearing. Whereas Sluzhyak egged Jim on, something in Joseph's manner sedated him. He gave the illusion of being sane, if not quite normal.
They sat down at the table. Each of them looked at the others expectantly. Finally Jim said "Joseph, I've got some good news. I've won seven and a half million dollars." He just came right out and announced it -- none of the colorful preliminaries.
Joseph smiled. "That's a lot of money, Jim. I hope you'll invest it wisely."
"I've got no use for fucking investments, Jim! I'm not just gonna let that money sit while the world wastes away! What kind of person do you think I am?!"
Jim was slipping back into rant mode. But Joseph hardly seemed to notice. "When you have that much money, it isn't a question of letting it sit. You can turn it into more money, Jim. You need to learn something about finance."
"I want to finance fucking you, man! I don't care about fucking finance! I want to do something fucking big, man -- I've got so many fucking ideas!"
"Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim. If you'd like to enter into a collaborative venture, I'd be happy to do so. But the first thing to do is to take maybe half of the money and put it in some good sound investments. You want to be sure that you're set for the rest of your life."
"Let me tell you guys a secret," said Jim, his eyes lighting up, his smile growing broader. He lowered his voice. "I don'twant nothing to do with none of them fucking banks. You want to hear ... really fucking crazy? I've got approximately four and a half million dollars ... approximately, I don't know exact ... they already took a fucking ... took my fucking money out for taxes or some shit, man ... I've got five million fucking dollars in my apartment. Can you guess where I fucking put it? Can you guess?"
He looked from Joseph to John, his body slightly shaking. John had assumed that the question was rhetorical, but Jim seemed to want an answer. "Under the mattress?" John offered.
He pounded his hand on the table and grinned. "Under the mattress! Under the motherfucking mattress! No, John, it isn't under the mattress. Do you think I'm a fucking idiot, John? Any idiot could hide his money under the mattress. Guess again."
"Did you shove it up your asshole, Jim?" asked Joseph.
John was taken aback. He grinned broadly. He had assigned Joseph Przenciewicsz the label "avant-garde classical composer," and assumed Joseph to be similar to other members of that species. Nerdy, overintellectual, narrow-minded. Now he saw that this had been a categorization error. Joseph Przenciewicsz was a strange bird. And he knew exactly how to deal with Jim Allison.
Jim was deflated. He tried to make a joke of it. "I couldn't fit five million dollars in my asshole, Joseph."
No one said anything for maybe ten or fifteen seconds. Finally, John said "Maybe four and a half though."
The joke fell flat; there was another nervous silence.
Joseph said, "You're a very clever guy. You should know better than that. What if the place burns down?"
"It isn't fucking going to, Jim! It isn't fucking going to! You know why? Let me tell you where I put it." He lowered his voice again. "Let me tell you...."
"Okay, Jim, tell us," said Joseph.
"I wrapped it up ... inside all my dirty underwear." He stood up. His voice turned quickly into a shout. "The power ofthe fucking scrotum, man! The power of the fucking scrotum! There's gonna be sixteen, maybe eighteen fucking million when I get back! It's gonna be radical! It's gonna come out -- the money's gonna fucking come out of the goddamn fucking black hole! It's just gonna pop right out -- pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!"
John observed that bouncer was on his way over. But the services of the bouncer weren't required. As Jim repeated "pop! pop! pop!" he fell to the ground. He didn't even make an effort to catch himself, he just flopped over like a corpse.
Joseph said, "We'd better take him home."
"Do you know where he lives?"
Joseph bent over and removed Jim's wallet from his pocket. His driver's license listed an address about a mile away. The wallet was bulging with hundreds.
I said, "That's a fuck of a lot of money."
Joseph smiled and nodded.
"I didn't really believe his story about winning millions of dollars -- but maybe it's true."
Joseph lifted one of Jim's shoulders and motioned to John to get the other. They walked his limp body out to John's car.
They rang the bell at the address listed on Jim's driver's license. No one was home, so they tried the keys he had in his pocket. One of them worked. They dragged him in and lay him down on the couch. John said "Hello?" in a very loud voice. No one replied, but John heard a sound from the back of the apartment. "Don't you hear something?" John asked Joseph.
"I hear someone crying," he replied.
John strained his ears to the best of his ability, but he couldn't identify the sound as a human voice, let alone a crying one. "Let's go back and see."
They left Jim on the couch and walked into the bedroom. Joseph had been right: out of the closet came the sound of a woman crying.
John said "Hello." The sobbing continued. Joseph opened up the door. Before he could even try to control it, John felt bilecoming up through his throat. There was the body of a six or seven year old girl, covered with stab wounds. She was obviously dead. A woman dressed in a fashionable business suit kneeled over the body softly crying.
John said, "We brought Jim back. We were drinking at the Continental and he passed out." He regretted his words immediately; they sounded pointless and artificial.
"My little girl," she groaned between sobs. "My little girl."
"We should get her to the hospital," John said.
"To the morgue, you mean," cried the woman. She hadn't yet looked away from the corpse. "Can't you see the girl is dead."
Meanwhile Joseph had disappeared somewhere. For lack of anything better to do, John bent over to feel the girl's pulse. She was dead all right -- there had never been any doubt. "That fucking crazy bastard," said the woman. "You brought him here? He's going to kill us all."
"He's unconscious," John replied. "He won't be doing anything for a while."
Joseph returned. "I called the police. They should be here any minute. I'll be right back; I'm going to go out to the car."
Sure enough, about thirty seconds after Joseph left the cops arrived, sirens blaring. John told them his story, quickly and clearly, and they seemed to have no trouble with it. They tried to pump the hysterical Mrs. Allison for information, without much success. Finally they took away Jim and Mrs. Allison and the body, and let John go. He walked back to his car and found Joseph sitting serenely in the passenger seat. "Why don't you come over to my place?" Joseph said quietly. He gave John directions; they were there in about three minutes. As soon as they got into the apartment, Joseph's face broke into a grin. He lifted his shirt and unbuttoned his pants, and wads of bills began pouring out.
John said, "So he was telling the truth."
"So it seems," Joseph replied.
"He did say he wanted to finance you," John pointed out.
Joseph smiled. "Would you like to accompany me on a trip?"
The dream suddenly faded, with an image of Joseph's face, rich, warm and grinning. John got up out of bed, feeling frightened. It was not the fright one gets from a nightmare, which gradually disappears the more one situates oneself in reality. Rather, it grew on him, the more awake he got. He tried to understand it, but could not. He got a soda from the kitchen, then sat down at the keyboard and played -- one of his earliest compositions, which he'd written at the age of seventeen. Right out of high school. It was a love song, or rather a lost-love song, lamenting the departure of his second girl friend. He played it delicately, mouthing the lyrics, until the bad taste of the dream was out of his head.
But when he woke up in the morning, his mind was full of an even more unsettling dream. The Jim and Sluzhyak dream had made sense: it was a logical reprocessing of the events of the previous day. This dream had nothing to do with anything. He told himself it was nothing: some people always remember their dreams. But he felt that something sinister was occurring.
The dream began with an onrushing bullet, coming directly toward his forehead.
It was North Philadephia. He was walking down Broad Street toward Girard, two blocks south of the Temple campus, thinking about the steak and applesauce he was going to eat when he got home. He saw a large car veering toward him, out of the corner of his eye. He turned to get a better look. And then the world began to melt. Beginning right in front of his eyes, and spreading slowly toward the edges, in the space of a split second, everything went soft.
The next thing he saw was a tremendous expanse of white. Hardly aware that his body existed, he opened his eyes and the light invaded him like a drug. It was a long time before he dared to open his eyes again. An eternity of darkness, and then another, then another, punctuated only by faint green and purpleflickers. Sometimes the flickers assumed animal or human forms. They chased each other in circles, mated with one another, kissed eachother with their long and delicate tongues. They dissolved into tiny fragments and were miraculously reborn in different colors, different sizes, different shapes. One shape in particular haunted him; it seemed to recur again and again. The body of a woman, slim with small breasts, expansive hips and hair that dangled past the waist. Every time he tried to focus on her face, the form would dissipate, only to reappear a little later with a slightly different pattern of coloration, or a slightly modified shape. Mostly there were cloud formations. Wispy cirrus aberrations on the fringe of his perception. Tremendous suffocating cumulus pillows. The animals danced along the clouds as if enchanted: tigers, snakes, iguanas, leopards, rabbits, unicorns. Men stalked the leopards, and the tigers stalked the men. The woman rode on the back of the largest of the unicorns, until he looked at her, and she quickly faded away.
When he opened his eyes again, he felt an overpowering urge to shut the light out, to return to the world of dancing, flickering dark. But all of a sudden, in an inexplicable burst, he felt the weight of his his head. He noticed a small spot of dark in the center of the white expanse.
His body was stiff; his head was aching, heavy, tense. He realized he was lying in a hospital bed, staring up at a speck of dirt on the clean white ceiling.
The nurse informed him that he had been shot in the center of the forehead. He had been lying in the hospital for three weeks. As she spoke to him, he had the sense that something had gone severely wrong.
When she said, "You," he saw a giant letter U. Its prongs grew into two tremendous yew trees. Hundreds of copies of himself fell out of the tree like leaves in autumn. They pointed at him accusingly, shouting things he could not understand. Finally, in unison, they all began to yell, "Have! Have! Have! Have! Have! Have! Have!"
A fraction of a second later, the nurse said "have." The tree reached out with the slender fingers that now grew at the end of its branches, grabbed the copies of himself and threw them into a bin of garbage. Repulsive, peeling with green paint, it was exactly like the garbage bin behind his apartment building. As they flew through the air, the copies continued to point and shout and scream. There was only one tree now, and instead of leaves it grew bright red kidney beans and real kidneys, oozing piss and blood all over.
The nurse said, "been."
Every word elicited a cavalcade of images. It always began with something related to the word, but then diverged according to a very peculiar logic which he couldn't quite put a label on. He asked the doctor what was happening, and the doctor said "You're lucky to be alive." The doctor told him he had experienced some brain damage.
"I figured that," he replied quietly, trying to focus on the acoustics of his voice, trying to ignore the flood of vivid, dancing images. Then a nausea came over him, an elemental queasiness unlike anything he'd ever felt before. He found himself in the dark, amidst the green and purple flashing. The tigers, leopards, rabbits and iguanas were no longer there. Nor were the unicorns. He thought he saw the woman's face for a tiny fraction of a second, but it was gone, and there were only drifting cirrus clouds, so far away that he could barely even see them.
When he opened his eyes again and saw the endless expanse of white, he was immediately lucid. Everything was amazingly vivid: the floor, the walls, the dust in the air, the bars on his bed, the other patients in the room, the huge green armchair by the door, Leave It To Beaver on the television in front of him. Instinctively he reached his hand toward his head. No glasses. He poked his eye, there was no contact lense either. Why was he seeing so clearly?
He put his finger on his forehead. No wound. He veryclearly remembered being told that he had been shot in the forehead. Then his hand brushed against his hair, and it felt unbelievably straight. All of a sudden he felt two female breasts jutting out of his body.
He pushed the buzzer by his side, and the nurse came surprisingly quickly, followed by a retinue of doctors.
"Ellen?" asked the nurse, a slender black woman. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine," he said with care, "but who is Ellen?"
The doctors exchanged knowing looks.
"Do you remember the car crash?" one of them asked. He was the youngest and appeared to be in charge. "You had serious brain damage. You were in a coma, and you were about to die. The only chance at all was to do a partial brain transplant: to graft parts of someone else's brain into yours. We had another patient who had experienced serious head injury; he'd been comatose for three weeks, but when he came out of his coma he died on the spot. Using NGS we were able to help the intact parts of his brain to grow together with the intact parts of your brain."
"What's NGS?" he asked.
"Neural growth stimulant," explained the doctor. "The brain stops manufacturing it shortly after birth. What little supply we have is obtained from miscarried fetuses. It's a very new technology.... Actually, you're only the third person to undergo this sort of transplant. And your damage was a good bit more extensive than in the other two cases."
He smiled. "Well... thanks."
"You're feeling... fine, Ellen?" asks one of the other doctors doubtfully -- an older man with a beard.
"I'm not Ellen. I'm John Quinta."
The young doctor gasped; the bearded one smiled. The rest just looked at each other uncomfortably.
"Don't be surprised, Harold," said the bearded one. "We knew all along that this was a definite possibility."
"Well, Pete, you always did have twenty-twenty hindsight," Harold snapped. "Look... I mean, eighty percent of the brain was hers. The frontal lobes were hers, the hippocampus,...."
The other doctors nodded knowingly.
Pete looked thoughtful. "Just because the hippocampus is the seat of consciousness doesn't mean it's the seat of... ah, personal identity, whatever you want to call it. Why would it? That has to do with the long-term memory, really, right? You can call it twenty-twenty hindsight if you want to, but a lot of the tissue from Goldstein was probably long-term memory, right? so it sort of figures...."
"Wait a minute," John/Ellen interrupted. "You're telling me that I have Ellen's consciousness, but John's identity. So, like, John is really dead -- his... stream of consciousness... is ended. And... Ellen's stream of consciousness is still here, in... in me, but Ellen's memories are gone. In place of them I have John's.... And plus, plus I mean, a lot of personality has to do with body chemicals and stuff too, right, not just your memory, so...." She looked at the doctors imploringly.
After fifteen seconds of silence, Harold said, "that seems to be the most plausible interpretation."
"So you don't know."
"No, we don't know. We'll run some tests, and...."
"Mmmm hmmm." She smiled contentedly -- momentarily forgetting her confusion, simply happy to be alive. "Right now what I really need is some food. I just want to sit here and think things through for a little while before we do anything.... This is an awful lot to handle... I mean, last thing I remember I was walking down the street from school, thinking about my dinner...."
The doctors nodded understandingly, desperate for a chance to collect their thoughts. The nurse said, "I'll get you some food."
The moment the nurse and doctors left, she got out of her bed, went out the door and ran down the hall. The phrase "we'llrun some tests" had spooked her. She wanted to be away from the surreal whiteness of the hospital. Her head was still sore, but it was stitched up; she figured it would be all right.
She ran past nurses, doctors, patients; no one seemed to care that she was walking through the corridors in a hospital gown. She kept hoping that she would happen upon some clothes, but before long she saw the lobby. She ripped the sheet off an unoccupied bed and wrapped it around her like a skirt, retaining the hospital gown as a shirt. There was a guard by the entrance to the lobby, but just as Ellen approached his phone rang; he didn't even see her walking past. She was in the middle of Center City Philadelphia.
Where to go? John had been a graduate student in the math department at Temple, but obviously she couldn't just resume his old position. Not without a very convincing explanation from the doctors. And then everyone would know she was a freak.... No, it would obviously be much better to slip into Ellen's old life. But what had Ellen done? Would the new Ellen be able to do it?
With infinite embarrassment, she realized that she didn't even know Ellen's last name. She had a momentary urge to return to the hospital, to surrender herself to the doctors. But then she remembered her hospital wristband. Ellen Cambridge. So she wasn't a Jew anymore.... She stopped at a pay phone, called information, and asked for Ellen Cambridge. 834-9967. 2034 Spring Garden, Apartment 7. Two miles from Zeke's old place, but a much less seedy neighborhood. She walked there quickly, amidst occasional snide remarks and puzzled stares. Her outfit was strange, but center city Philly had seen much stranger.
The door to the apartment building was locked; she rang the buzzer, hoping Ellen had had a roommate. A female voice said, "Who is it?"
She said "Ellen". The door buzzed, and she walked in. Apartment 7 was on the third floor; she found it easily. The door was open.
"Hi," said her roommate, a very attractive woman with brownpermed hair. She was wearing a Philadelphia Flyers T-shirt and nothing else. Ellen felt a little pang of excitement between her legs. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine," Ellen replied, "but... I don't know how to say this...."
The woman stared at her expectantly.
"I don't know your name. I can't remember anything."
"Some doctor called, from the hospital," she said slowly. "They told me you'd run away, and you might be a little disoriented."
"I'm not disoriented, I just can't remember anything!" Ellen said angrily. "And those goddamn doctors don't know what the fuck's going on! They were playing around with my brain, all kinds of experimental techniques... now they want to hold me there for tests. Fuck their fucking tests, man! I'm not gonna be their fucking guinea pig!"
Her roommate looked shocked.
"I'm sorry," Ellen smiled coyly. "I guess I don't usually talk like that, do I. I really can't remember. Look, you're not going to call the doctors, are you?"
"Well, Ellen,... I told them...."
"If they bring me back I'll only run away again."
"Okay, that's it," Ellen said angrily, walking toward the door. "I'm going to have to go somewhere else. Goodbye... whoever you are. Nice meeting you."
She left the apartment, began walking down the stairs. Then she turned around, retraced her steps. "Where's my dresser? Could you help me get some clothes?"
Her roommate laughed and embraced her. "Oh, Ellen! This is all.... It's just.... I won't call the fucking doctors, all right?"
For a second Ellen felt dizzy. Although she knew her eyes were wide open, she saw nothing but black. Black and occasional green fragments... streaks and blotches and amoebas... anabstract expressionist painting... but what it was expressing, she couldn't quite recall.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah... yeah. Just thinking.... Trying to remember. I can't even remember your name...."
"Leah. Leah Armstrong. Ring a bell?"
"So, Leah, tell me about myself."
"Start from scratch."
Leah giggled nervously. "Okay...."
"What's my middle name?"
"Your middle name?!"
"It's not on the hospital wristband." She held her hand up. "The only way I know my name is from the hospital wristband."
"Ellen Jennifer Cambridge...." The three words trickled down her tongue like a mysterious incantation. "How old am I?"
"What about family... any brothers or sisters?"
"Your mother died twelve years ago... you were raised by your father and his second wife, Julia."
"What's my father's name?"
"Ed. Edward, I guess."
"Where does he live?"
"Sea Isle City... on the Jersey Shore."
"I know where it is."
"So you do remember some things."
"Obviously... I mean, I managed to find my way here, right? Just generalized knowledge.... Uh, so do I see my father often?"
"Hardly. I've never met him."
"Okay,.... Let's see... there's so much to ask. What do Ido for a living?"
"For a living? You're going to school. You're in your sophomore year... second semester."
"What's my major?"
"Piano." Ellen shivered. Maybe this won't work after all. What part of the brain tells the fingers how to play the piano?
"Do I have one here?"
Leah showed her a little Yamaha keyboard. She turned it on, sat in front of it and stared confusedly at the keys, trying awkwardly to figure out where to put her fingers.
"You're bound to be a little out of practice," said Leah soothingly.
"I've got to remember...." She looked at the keys and they were as alien as hieroglyphs. Then she put her left hand down and something felt somehow right. She closed her eyes and emptied her mind, and let her fingers move.... In amazement she heard Scott Joplin, "The Entertainer." She knew that if she thought about it she wouldn't be able to play. The key was letting her fingers do the thinking. It sounded so beautiful she started to shake and cry. John had always wanted to play an instrument....
"You've still got it, hon," said Leah, obviously relieved. "I think you're gonna be all right."
"I can play... but not if I think about it. Is there a manual for this thing?"
"Yeah... it's probably in the box...."
"Well we can get it later. Ummm.... There's just so many questions. Do I have a boyfriend?"
Leah fished around in a drawer and pulled out an address book. "You haven't had a steady boyfriend in about three months. You've been going out with three or four guys, I guess."
Ellen pondered the thought of going out with a man. The idea was attractive and repulsive simultaneously. Leah just looked so hot in her Flyers T-shirt! John had been attracted tomen on three or four different occasions -- but it had always been weak and ephemeral, nothing compared to his feelings for women....
"Point them out to me," she said, reaching for the book.
"Your favorites were... Joey Campbell and Darren Czernowski. Joey's really, really nice, but Darren's cuter. Darren plays guitar in a band -- I think they're playing the Chestnut Cabaret tomorrow night. Joey's like twenty-four years old; he works in the library at school."
"Where do I go to school? Temple?"
"Temple? Come on! Hell no!"
"Why aren's we living closer to campus?"
"Oh, Ellen... you really are fucked, aren't you."
"Am I sleeping with them?"
"Darren and Joey."
"I don't know, Ellen. I guess you're sleeping with Joey -- God, this is so weird! I mean, you've been going with him for three or four months now. You've only been out with Darren a couple of times."
"What day is it?"
She looked at the clock. It was eleven in the morning. "Can you take me to school and, like, show me around? I mean, like, I don't know where my classes are or anything.... I don't have any kind of job."
"You get a check from your dad every month. Some of us have to work to pay the rent...."
"Yeah yeah yeah. I need a shower." Ellen turned and walked toward the bathroom. Leah got a look at the sides of her head.
"Ellen! Come back here! Your head's not closed up yet!"
Leah grabbed Ellen's arm
"I know that. It stitched up, though... it'll be allright."
"You belong in the hospital."
"I don't belong anywhere. Listen, Leah, if I'm going to remember anything it'll be by going around to all the places I used to go, you know what I mean? I'm not going to remember anything lying around in the stupid hospital."
"You shouldn't shower with fresh stitches like that. It makes the skin get soft."
Ellen blushed and felt stupid. "I guess you're right. I'll just have a bath."
"We don't have a tub."
"I won't let my head get wet, all right!" Ellen stalked toward the bathroom.
As she stood in the shower, she felt her new body with tenderness and awe. The sensitivity of her breasts, the strange folds and wrinkles inside her vagina.... She rubbed her nipples back and forth till they got hard. Embarrassed, she found herself becoming sexually aroused at the sight of her body. She rubbed her clitoris round and round, a motion familiar and yet strange, until she felt the start of an orgasm come over her. It was a peculiar sort of generalized tingling, in the front part of the vagina, in the belly, in the breasts... like nothing she'd ever felt before.
Then all of a sudden, she pulled her hand away. She heard a man's low voice. It was the doctor... the young doctor, from the hospital. She draped a towel around her body and walked out to the livingroom.
"Hello, Ellen," said the doctor.
"Hello, Harold," Ellen said. "What do you want? You can't make me go back."
"You left the hospital without signing a discharge form," said the doctor. "Listen..." he nodded toward Leah. "Could I talk to Ellen alone?"
"Oh, fuck that," snapped Ellen. "Fuck you and your games. Give me the form and I'll sign it, then get out. I have no legalobligation...."
" I have an obligation. I did this to you, and now it's my responsibility. I don't want to see you hurt yourself."
"You want to test me so you can write an interesting paper."
"It's not about that. Look, this is a unique situation. None of us know what's going to happen. That's why it's best if you're in a carefully monitored environment. You feel fine now... but what if something were to break down. It's not that we expect anything to go wrong, but...."
"Forget it, doctor."
"She's been all right," said Leah. "She can't remember much of anything... but she found her way here. And she can play the piano just like always. I mean, she'll have no problem going back to school. I can watch over her."
At the mention of the piano the doctor did a double take. He looked at Ellen carefully. "Could... could Ze...."
Ellen shook her head back and forth slowly.
"Could the what?" asked Leah.
"There's something you're not telling me."
"Tell her doctor," said Ellen. "She's my roommate. She's my best friend." She looked at Leah querulously. "You are my best friend, aren't you?"
"I'm her best friend," smiled Leah.
"Tell her, Harold," repeated Ellen. She felt strange using his first name, but she didn't know his last.
The doctor took a deep breath. "Ellen's brain was half destroyed in the crash. We couldn't do anything, we couldn't save her, she was going to die. So we... I decided to try a radical procedure, something a colleague of mine in Vienna had tried on two patients. We flew him in to assist with the procedure...."
Ellen stared at him. "Get to the point."
"There was another patient in the hospital at the same time, his name was John Goldstein. He'd been shot in the head up inNorth Philadelphia. He was comatose for twenty-three days, then he came out of it and died. We took the intact parts of his brain and using the new technique we grafted them into her brain. The result is...."
"I'm John," interrupted Ellen. "I never heard of Ellen Cambridge before. There's nothing wrong with my memory -- I have a completely accurate memory of John's life. I was a graduate student in the math department at Temple.... But some things just don't figure.... I mean, why can I play the piano; I never could before. I never sat down in front of a piano in my life."
Leah flopped down on the couch. "This is totally, totally crazy."
"Do you see why we want to keep her under observation?"
"If she had told me this, I would have thought she was totally crazy," said Leah.
Ellen said, "I'm not going back to the hospital."
"We can't force you to," said the doctor. "I've got this form for you saying that you're leaving of your own accord, against the advisement of your physicians."
"No problem," said Ellen, reaching to the table for a pen.
"But if there should be any problems, give me a call -- my beeper number's 854-2316. Write it down."
"What's your name?"
"Dr. Sackett. Dr. Harold Sackett."
"Thanks, Dr. Sackett. Thanks for saving my life."
Dr. Sackett grinned. "You're welcome... Ellen." He walked toward the door. "The stitches will start dropping out themselves in about ten days. I might drop by in a couple of days, just to see how you're doing."
"I'd like that."
"Bye," said Leah. "Oh my God, Ellen, this is just too weird. I can't believe it, really. I can't."
"I didn't know whether to tell you."
"This is like some science fiction story."
"It makes sense. The thing is called NGS -- neural growth stimulant. They suck it out of the brains of miscarried fetuses. It makes connections grow between nerve cells in the brain."
"It doesn't make sense to me...."
"Listen, Ellen, you we... should I call you Ellen?"
"You were a guy, right? You were John."
"John was straight, he wasn't gay."
"I don't know what I'm going to do about that. I guess I'll get used to it. I think a person can get used to anything, if they really try."
"You're still attracted to women."
Leah pauses and considers.
"I guess that makes you feel a little strange."
"This whole thing...."
"Don't worry, I'm not gonna molest you."
"I didn't think that," said Leah, annoyed. "It's just...."
"Well, are you attracted to me?"
"You're a very sexy woman."
Leah blushed and laughed. "Oh, God!"
"Hey, come on, don't get all excited. I want to be a perfectly normal woman, I want to live just like Ellen...."
"I'm not bisexual."
"I didn't think you were."
"I was thinking... Ellen was a sophomore in college... and you were... I mean, John was... you were a graduate student, right? How old were you?"
"So you were just starting out in grad school."
"No, no... I was about to get my Ph.D. I started collegeearly. I got my degree when I was eighteen."
"So wouldn't it make sense to pick up where you left off as John... I mean, then you'd really be ahead, right? I mean, you're only nineteen...."
"I'd have to convince the school I was John."
"They could talk to the hospital."
"No, Leah, you don't understand! I don't want everyone to know that I'm a freak! I didn't even want to tell you. I want to live a normal life...."
"What you should do is have the doctors make you up some fake transcripts from some foreign university.... Then you could apply to school and just sort ... I mean, that way you could probably get out in another year or so anyway...."
"Yeah, that might work. But, I mean, I'd rather not have anything to do with those fucking doctors."
"I don't see why you talk like that. I mean, they saved your life...."
"God, it's so hard for me to believe that you're not Ellen.... I mean, you look like her, you move like her.... I guess you don't really talk like her, well you do a little, I don't know...."
"There must be something of Ellen in me, or I couldn't play the piano. I mean, I could never play before.... Well, like, what makes you you anyway, right? Maybe I really am Ellen, just with a false set of memories."
"Well, you can play the piano, but can you do everything John could do too?"
"I know I can do math; I can do it in my head. I mean, I thought of that already. You know, they say the brain stores almost everything in dozens of different places, to protect against damage...."
"Well, yeah, but wasn't your damage was so severe that the, um, the protections didn't work?"
"Here's what bugs me, Leah. They say I died after I cameout of the coma, so they used parts of my brain to fix Ellen. But what if I didn't really die naturally -- what if the doctors had two patients with severe brain damage, and they decided there was one whole brain between the two of them. Then they would have had to kill one off in order to save the other. What if the doctors killed me to save Ellen?"
"Well then their plan sort of backfired on them, didn't it? But come on, Ellen, you have no reason to think that."
"It could have happened. The doctors could have been bribed. Was Ellen's family rich?"
"Not at all. Come on, this is crazy.... But hey, talking about money, the guy who hit you was insured and you should be coming into a lot of money. Total amnesia has got to be worth something."
"Do I have a lawyer?"
"I guess not."
"Well, I know one.... I mean, John knew one.... Hey, know what I want to do? I might as well go to my old apartment and get my stuff. I don't know, though... this place might get awfully crowded."
"Umm... have you thought about your family."
"I'll call them and tell them I'm okay. You said we weren't close anyway...."
"No, I mean your real family... John's family. Are you just going to let them think you're dead?"
"John is dead."
"You can look at it like that if you want to, but what's the point. Come on, Ellen, this is why they wanted to keep you in the hospital."
"You know what I want to do? I want to collect my fucking money from the insurance company and get the fuck out of here."
"Where are you going to go?"
"What's it matter?"
"The doctor said I should watch over you."
"You mean you want me to take you with me? Don't you haveto go to school?"
"I don't go to school. I'm a dropout. I'm working since last June."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a graphic artist. I was an art major."
"Do we have the police report, the name of the insurance company, all that crap."
"Well let's go see Mr. Berman."
"The lawyer you know?"
"I don't know him too well; I've met him. He's a real jerk, an ambulance-chaser."
"Sounds like just the guy."
The doorbell rang. Darren shouted, "Come on in!"
The handle creaked, and two young teenagers stepped in. They looked surprisingly comfortable in their clean black suits. They held brochures in their hands. "We'd like to talk to you for a few moments about God."
Darren picked up a squirt gun. "You scummy fucking Jehovah's witnesses. Get the fuck out and don't come back or I'll use a real gun next time." He sprayed them with water while they made their dignified way out through the door. When they were gone he bent back down over his guitar.
A moment later he heard four feet approach the door. He turned and sprayed. "I thought I told you guys to get the fuck out!"
Leah giggled. "What kind of greeting is that?"
He laughed. "I thought you were Jehovah's witnesses."
Ellen looked like she was about to pass out. It was all too much for her to accept -- too many new sensations.
"Was that a new song?" asked Leah quietly.
"An old one actually. One of the first songs I ever wrote. Haven't played it in years. I'm thinking of resurrecting it for the band."
"It's pretty," said Ellen, smiling shyly.
"Yeah, well, it's probably too pretty for the band. I'm trying to work out some chord patterns to go under it, give it a little heavier sound."
Ellen said, "Play it again." He started with the beginning of the song, but she interrupted him. "No, play the part you were playing when we came in."
"Was it this?"
"Yeah, that's it. Do you have a keyboard?"
"A real cheesy one," he said, pointing to a Casio in the corner.
Ellen walked over and picked it up. She played around with a couple sounds and chose the "horn section", which of course sounded nothing like a horn section. "Now play it. From the top."
As soon as the intro ended, she started playing a chord progression behind him, adding a few odd clusters and arpeggios now and then to spice things up. She closed her eyes and smiled and hummed along. Before she knew it the song was done.
"That sounded great," said Darren. "How come we never jammed together before."
"I thought you hated rock music."
"I like all kinds of music," answered Ellen. "I just like some kinds more than others."
"I like that weird stuff with the E minor," said Darren. "That's pretty neat. Hey, how long you been out of the hospital? I went in there to see you a couple days ago, but they wouldn't let me in."
"I've been out since yesterday morning." She lifted her hair. "See? I'm still healing."
He got up and hugged her. "Man, Ellen, we thought you were going to die. They said you had severe brain damage, and if youlived you'd probably never be able to live a normal life...."
"Well they were wrong."
"I guess so."
"There is a problem.... I can't remember."
"You can't remember what the problem is?"
"I can't remember anything. Anything that happened before.... I didn't even remember Leah's name."
"Amnesia? Cool! I saw that in some movie...."
"It's not cool, Darren. I can't even remember my own parents. I don't remember you; I've never seen you before."
"Now you can't remember all the rotten things I've done to you.... No, well... doesn't this sort of thing usually pass?"
"Not if the brain damage is as severe as mine. I think it's just lost. I'm starting over from the beginning."
"Well, not quite... I still remember how to read, and drive, and play the piano... I remember who the President is, and the capital of South Dakota -- but I can't remember my fucking mother's name!"
"Hey, hey." He put his arm around her and squeezed her. "At least you're still alive, that counts for something. You coming to the show tonight?"
"I'll be there."
"I've got to go meet the guys; we're gonna rehearse." He pulled Ellen toward him and kissed her forcefully on the mouth. "Don't worry, honey, it's gonna be okay." He moved his hands up and down from her hips to the sides of her breasts. At first she felt like pushing him away, but then she was delighted. She got a sudden image of a woman without a face. She tried to record it in her memory but she knew the attempt would fail. She put her arms around his waist and squeezed him tight.
"I like him," she said to Leah as they left the building. "He's a funny guy."
"Do you find him attractive?"
"I don't find him unattractive."
"That's not the same thing."
"Do you find me attractive?"
"Well, I see what you mean. I don't find you unattractive."
"I mean, I'd sleep with him... just to see... what it was like, you know."
"But he's not as sexy as me."
All of a sudden they were back at the apartment. Leah blushed, and Ellen grabbed her face and kissed her.
Leah responded immediately, and Ellen felt a rush of heat sweep through her body. She lifted Leah's shirt and caressed her large breasts in familiar ways. Before long Leah rose and led her over to the bed.
Leah's tongue between her legs was hot and exquisite, full of warm details that she'd never before imagined. They both came easily, in fifteen or twenty minutes, then embraced. "God, you're beautiful," said Ellen. "I thought so the moment I first saw you."
Leah shook her head and grinned. "It's a good thing I'm drunk or I'd really be freaking."
Everything faded out, as often happens in a dream. John opened his eyes and thought to get up, but then the dream sucked him back down; he fell back asleep. John was in Ellen's body, sitting on a plane, heading toward Europe. Sitting next to him was John's body, inhabited by some other mind.
John was getting on her nerves, so she got up from her seat and stepped into the restroom. The pilot said something over theloudspeaker, but she wasn't listening. The plane started jerking up and down; she hit her head on the wall. It hurt like hell; it loosened some of the stitches. Her body flopped onto the toilet.
She cursed the impulse that had led her to leave the hospital. But there was no returning now. Things were getting hazy. Her reflection in the mirror above the sink was shaking up and down so fast it looked totally inhuman: noses, eyes, hair, ears, open mouth weaving in and out of each other, orbiting each other, spreading out and then compressing.
The turbulence stopped. She looked in the mirror and there was her old face -- John's face -- looking back at her. It needed a shave; its eyes were red and markedly haggard. But it was John. It opened its mouth and spoke:
"You walk like an epileptic lioness. Your steps are sensual murders. I see the thousand infected membranes of your dark desire.
"Never in bloom, the delirious flowers of your secret arboretum today will burst out into flame.
"Your flesh is a chaos that must be kissed with lips of acid."
Delirious nonsense. Ellen left the restroom and returned to her seat.
"You look terrible," said John.
John awoke and heard himself muttering, "You look terrible."
He remembered the dream in incredible detail, as if it were part of a book that he had just read for the twentieth time. There was something suspicious about the name: Ellen Cambridge. It was on Cambridge Street that Sluzhyak had stopped the car to talk to Jim. He kept thinking of Ellen, and then of the power of the scrotum.
He got up and went about his daily business. He had an eight thirty class, Intermediate Algebra. But the whole time he was lecturing, he couldn't shake Ellen's picture out of his mind. He felt there was something extremely wrong somehow, but he couldn't say what it was, he couldn't even begin to explore theissue. This intuition plagued him throughout the day: as he held his office hour, then ate lunch, then went home and worked on his music until dinnertime. As he was preparing dinner, an old friend called him on the phone and told him his keyboardist was sick. He needed someone to play piano with his band at the El Rancho.
"I hate playing in lounges," said John. "I've done it before, and I quit."
"It's just one night, John. We're in real trouble, man. If we can't find a replacement, we could lose the gig for good."
John agreed to show up at eight. When he hung up the phone he felt hopeful. He couldn't understand it, he could barely articulate it to himself, but he felt that playing the gig would somehow wipe the dreams of the previous night from his mind.
He finished making his steak and mashed potatoes. But when he sat down at the table to eat, the food all of a sudden looked repulsive. He didn't have the slightest desire to shovel it into his mouth. He just stared at it for two or three minutes, wondering if he was going crazy. Finally he wrapped the whole plate up in tin foil and put it in the fridge.
Track 2, Reel 1
I'll never forget that magic moment. In retrospect, the entire evening is filled with a sort of unearthly brilliance. But I know this is just projected backwards; the memory plays the strangest tricks. Before the glowing instant that our eyes met, it was just an ordinary day.
It was the fact that it was part of my first week of college. I was elated by the knowledge that I had actually managed to graduate high school a year early. High school had been a prison -- and I had found an escape route and taken it. I didn't know exactly what I had gotten myself into, but I had gotten out, and I was proud.... I can almost taste the way the sidewalk felt as I walked from my dorm room to the Sports Pub. The clean, new concrete seemed to give a tiny spring every time my foot came down. The desert air felt dry and overpowering, like a margarita with too much salt....
I felt my erection push against the button of my pants, not quite long enough to poke out through the top. Sexual images filled my mind -- mysterious women in shadowy oriental bordellos, innocent high school girls with hungry wide brown eyes ... legs clenching, breasts heaving, gasps and moans, flesh melting on flesh....
As I got near the building, a girl whom I knew a little walked by and said "hi." She was reasonably cute -- but, dork that I was, I had a strong aversion to greetings. I made an ugly face and squeaked like a tortured cat. She smiled uneasily.
When I climbed the stairs to the doors and heard the music pulsing, my first impulse was to turn and walk away. But after taking one step back down the stairs, I turned around and went on in. I'd like to say that I was drawn in by some mysteriouspower, but it was probably nothing more than the typical behavior of an adolescent boy struggling to overcome his shyness. I whipped out my fake ID and showed it to the doorman, then walked on in.
All in all, the Sports Pub was a pretty unattractive place -- a few pool tables, some old wooden tables and chairs, a coin-operated dart board, and a couple of video games. The floors were dirty; and aside from a couple posters, the only decoration was the standard assortment of beer lights. Miller, Budweiser, Coors, Heineken, Old Milwaukee, and on and on -- in case you were too drunk to remember the name of your favorite beer, the signs were there to remind you.
Yes, the Sports Pub was definitely no prize. But on the other hand, it was overflowing with horny college girls. I got a beer from the long-haired bartender and wandered around sipping it slowly, staring from one provocatively clad body to the next. After ten minutes or so they all started to blur into one... one pair of luscious fatty breasts, bulging out at me through a tight black halter ... one tight, unbearably feminine ass, moving in and out the the beat of the music, bending over provocatively and showing just a tiny glimpse of underpants ... one pair of long, pale, lovely legs, crying out to be licked and fondled.... And finally, one disgustingly ugly face, one face fixed with a look of stupidity and cowlike conformity. One face sucking too much beer and hard liquor and smoking too much tobacco and crack. One face that wouldn't be able to express a subtle emotion if its life depended on it!
The show of flesh was too much to handle; I decided to dance, even though the music was awful. Most of the people dancing were paired off; but I wasn't the only one dancing alone. I slowly worked my way toward a group of fairly attractive girls who appeared to be younger than the rest. I figured they were probably first-year students like myself.
Only one of them really caught my eye.... She was tall, about the same height as me, and she wore a loose black dresswhich, as they say, left everything to the imagination. But I didn't need to look at her body. I memorized the contours of her face. Her lips were pouty and full, so full it was hard to believe, but her nose was small and narrow. Her eyes were huge, but they tapered off at the corners into a tiny slant. Her skin color was hard to make out in the dark, but anyhow it was clear she wasn't KKK material. Her hair was tight and curly; I couldn't tell if it was natural or permed....
I didn't have the guts to come right up to her and dance with her, but I did sort of dance around her, trying somehow to communicate my desires. Finally I caught her eye for a couple moments -- and I saw something in there which I couldn't quite formulate to myself. Something mysterious, erotic; some secret passion. It took me a few microseconds to understand what was going on: the look of recognition. That magic, long-awaited, look!
Immediately, I felt myself sinking into some kind of funny trance -- the room began to spin, and I had the melodramatic sensation of tumbling through an abyss. In a flash, I saw my five-year-old self, staring out at me from an undisclosed location, with large brown curious eyes. But with great effort I shook myself out the hypnotic state and continued dancing, avoiding looking at her face -- afraid of being "blinded by the light," as the saying goes.
After two or three songs she left the dance floor and walked toward the bar. I followed her, muttering something about being worn out. She eagerly agreed. When her wide grin finally faded, her lips looked very large. Some of my friends from the dorm approached me, and she drifted uncertainly away. All too soon, the dance was over. She was gone. I hadn't asked her name. I doubted if she'd remember me. I left the dance hall with my friends, and walked distractedly back to bed, where I closed my eyes and lay under the covers, as awake as I could remember ever being, full of life. I wanted to touch her, or at least to hear her voice; I wanted to look at her, to study every square inch ofher body, to chart the regions of her smile. But then her image faded into darkness ... not the mute emptiness of deep sleep, but a sort of ambiguous half-dreaming state, almost a state of meditation. Slowly I began to forget the contours of her face.
You're sure I'm going to say that I never saw her again, right? UNLV was big enough that it could well have turned out that way. But things weren't anywhere near that simple.
For the next two weeks, whenever I wasn't in class or doing homework, I searched for her constantly and systematically. I looked on the street, out the window of my dorm room, every time I walked into a building,.... But when I finally found her, I wasn't looking for her at all.
I was walking around campus with my friend Malik, whom I'd met in my History 101 class. He suggested that we drop by Humberto's dorm room. I didn't know who Humberto was, but it sounded all right to me. And when we walked through the door into Humberto's room, I saw her sitting there. She and about ten other people were playing Monopoly on the floor. Bemused and excited, I watched them play for five or ten minutes; and then the game was done.
I haven't yet told you anything about Malik. He was a quite a character, chock-full of contradictions. First of all, he was big, black and aggressive, but also bookish and almost laughably uncoordinated. Most of the time he was incredibly rude, indulging excessively in raunchy language -- but when the mood struck him, he could be chivalrous and polite to the point of absurdity. He had a juvenile obsession with his penis (which was, it must be admitted, unusually large). Also, his vision was so bad that he constantly bumped into people. And oh, I forgot to mention that he was epileptic!
Yes, he was quite a guy! Malik tended to get on people's nerves -- he was unable to hold a job, more because of hispersonality than because of his medical conditions. And he had been suspended from college for a year, for some kind of altercation with a campus security guard. But anyhow, we got along quite splendidly. You know how misfits tend to hang around together -- it's a common phenomenon.
Anyway, after the game was finished, Malik started tossing a basketball around. Before long -- being blind, careless and uncoordinated -- he smacked the ball into Humberto's chest. Humberto fell back and started wheezing. When he finally recovered, Humberto was incredibly angry, and ordered everyone to leave his room at once.
Malik spit on the floor and cursed at Humberto as we walked out the door. "Fucking Christ, brother, it was just a fucking accident! You ever heard the expression 'making a mountain out of a molehill?' I don't know what the fuck's the matter with that boy."
Indeed, although I was embarrassed by Malik's ranting, I couldn't understand why Humberto was so freaked out. Later, however, I learned that he had a congenital bone disorder -- brittle chestbones.
In all the confusion I lost sight of her. Apparently she hadn't even noticed me there. But this fact didn't faze me, not in the least. I followed Malik to the cafeteria, and as soon as we sat down I started grilling him about her. He gave me the necessary information, after subjecting me to five or ten minutes of his usual patter.
"Who is she?" I asked him.
"Who is who?"
"That dark-skinned girl, who was sitting by Andrea."
"I know who you mean, fool -- she was the only fucking spic in the room."
He liked to use racial slurs as often as possible -- I suppose he wanted to offend people. But I couldn't be bothered with being offended; I had something else on my mind. "Well," I persisted, "who is she?"
"Heh hee hee... calm yourself down, my man. Your hormones are getting out of line."
" You're talking about my hormones -- look who's talking! You've got to be the horniest person on the face of the earth!!! Give me a fucking break, Malik." I was goofing around, but my tone of voice must have indicated my impatience. I wanted him to get to the point.
Malik cackled in his uniquely demented way. "All right, all right. Her name is Molly. I can't remember her last name. Molly and Solly -- isn't that cute?"
Upon hearing her name I blushed -- I was disgusted to find that our names rhymed; it was much too cutesy for my taste. But Malik misread the expression on my face. He thought I was touched rather than annoyed. "I can tell from the look on your face -- it's love at first sight! Ain't it the sweetest thing?"
I was ashamed to have to admit to myself that it had, indeed, been "love at first sight" -- just like in all the stupid romance novels. So I lied: "I'm not in love, I'm in lust. I guess you've never learned the difference."
Malik just grinned at me, giggling and showing too many of his huge crooked teeth. I know it might sound like a racist thing to say, but his face really was sort of apelike in appearance. Most black people have more rounded faces, but Malik's jaw stuck out exactly like a gorilla's.
"There is no difference!" he declared, inexplicably excited. "Love is just lust in the highest degree!"
I shrugged my shoulders, conceding the point. "If you say so, Malik."
There was a moment or two of silence. Then he took a deep breath. "Okay, so let's get down to business. You want to get into her pants."
I blushed again. I was starting to feel like a bit of a fool. Why did I feel the need to share my love for her with Malik? "That's not necessarily the first order of business. I just want to get to know her."
"No, no, no, no. Haven't I taught you anything, boy? That's always a mistake. Listen, boy, what you want to do is fuck her and suck her and get the hell out of there. And don't forget to wear a condom!"
His eyes were twinkling. I could tell he was about to show off. I said, "Don't get too excited."
But he was already too excited. He started to grunt -- "Ummp! ummp! ummp! ummp! ummp!", bouncing up and down on the bed. When he finally got tired of this he said, "So, Solly, you're really serious about her, aren't you."
"How could I be serious about her?" I lied again. He was reading my emotions quite accurately, but he was acting so absurd that I couldn't be honest with him. "I don't even know her. I mean, she's got a great body...."
"No she don't. Her ass is too skinny. I got to have something to grab onto, you know what I mean." He clenched a pair of imaginary buttocks and moved his hips back and forth.
I smiled. "She's got a really great body, and there's something strange about the look on her face."
"She's probably been taking heroin."
"I don't think so. You know, Malik, you're a sick pup."
"I never saw a junkie with a fat ass. You better stay away from her, boy, or you'll be shootin' up every morning before breakfast."
"I take it you don't know anything about her."
"You assume correctly."
"I thought all you minority types knew eachother."
"Oh fuck you, you ugly white boy," he cackled, drooling through the gaps between his teeth. He looked me straight in the eyes. "Actually, if you must know, I happen to be going out with her roommate."
"Clara. They were together at the dance."
"The short one, with the big hips?"
"That's the one," I laughed quietly, nodding.
"She doesn't have much to grab onto."
"I guess she's about half your height, though. You could stick your dick in her cunt and have it stick out her mouth. Like a shish kabob."
Malik laughed uproariously, kicking his legs and knocking his desk chair over. I was pleased with myself for having been able to amuse him. "Oh Solly! Solly! Solly! you are so sick, my man. You are so fucking goddamn sick! Man, they should lock you up and throw away the fucking key!!!"
I nodded agreement. "Hey, look, if I weren't sick, would I be hanging around with you?"
"I see what you mean," he said, still laughing. "What do you say we go visit those fine young ladies?"
That's the way we talked -- we were juvenile and ridiculous, and we thought we were sophisticated and funny. But you have to remember that I was only sixteen at the time. Malik was nineteen, the age I am now, but he was never exactly a paragon of maturity. Actually, to be totally honest, I must admit that I still tend to be immature and absurd, and I still think I'm funny. Maybe I am, who knows.
Anyway, we went to call on Molly and Clara. They lived in a small room on the second floor in the corner of the dorm; they were just sitting there on the floor listening to music in a $20 tape recorder. She asked me what classes I was taking, and I listed them, with a little too much pride: English 101, History 101, Chemistry 101, Electricity and Magnetism, and Calculus 3. She was impressed that I was taking sophomore level math and physics. I asked her what classes she was taking but I didn't listen to the answer -- I was too busy staring at her perfect upjutting breasts, their nipples obviously erect, poking out through the bra. Nothing she said was particularly interesting, but there was something in her voice, in the often awkward way she phrased things, in the way she gestured with her mouth, in her breathing patterns. There was something enchanting in theway she moved her body very slightly with each word, in her faint maroon blush. When she told me that Electricity and Magnetism sounded interesting, I believed her, even though I knew it was utter raving nonsense. The shapes of the spaces between her words were tremendously, vibrantly alive. I couldn't fathom what it was, this strange connection of mind and body which I perceived in her, but I knew it had something to do with the look of recognition. I left obsessed with her, hardly remembering anything Malik or Clara had said.
That night I masturbated to her image. I imagined her lying back smiling casually in bed, welcoming me toward her with a delicate blown kiss, then slowly spreading her legs and running her fingers through her cunthairs. She said "I want you," and I came to her, softly smothering her with kisses and plunging my penis into her gently as I caressed her breasts. The closer our bodies moved together the vaguer the images became -- a result of my limited knowledge; I was a virgin, and the geometry of the female genitalia was largely a mystery to me.
The next afternoon I went to see her again, by myself. She was in the room alone, and we just sat there talking for two or three hours. She was quite warm and friendly, but she seemed a little distracted. I later learned that this apparent "distractedness" was just the way she always acted. She always looked as though she wasn't quite paying attention -- as though she was less interested in what you were saying than in the wrinkles on your shirt, or the patterns of light on the wall behind you, or the stray particles of dust floating around in the air.
We exchanged life stories; and I must say that mine was by far the less interesting. I have told you that my own mental peculiarities are unrelated with my upbringing. But with Molly, I believe, exactly the opposite was the case. Maybe I'm justbeing hypocritical, but it's a definite fact that her childhood was a lot rougher than mine. When she was four years old, her father was executed for murder. And nine years later, her older sister Carrie committed suicide.
As we sat together in her dorm room, she took out her little green folder of private papers -- and right there, next to her baptismal certificate, she had a picture of her father sitting in the electric chair. He was a very interesting-looking man -- half black and half Vietnamese. But aside from showing me his picture, she never told me much of anything about her father. I suspect she didn't know much of anything about him.
Molly spoke of her father only haltingly, but her mother, on the other hand, received bounteous accolades. It was hard to shut Molly up. Her mother was Hispanic with some French and German blood; she was completely fluent in Spanish and English; she was a recovered heroin addict who made her living selling Avon door to door; she was a published poet, but her biggest source of pride was the fact that she had put herself through college at age thirty-five, while raising seven children; she had once owned an apartment building, but the Mafia had thrown her out; she was an excellent artist as well as a writer; and so on, and so on, and so on, and on and on and on. I am paying myself no compliment when I say that I immediately detected something funny in this litany of accomplishments. Why was she trying so hard to convince me, someone she hardly knew, of the exceptional virtuosity of her mother?
I have told you of Molly's peculiar racial composition; but it must be emphasized that, if she hadn't told me she had Vietnamese blood, I never would have guessed it. Nor did she look particularly Hispanic -- I think I would have classified her as "interesting looking" but definitely Caucasian; possibly of Eastern European descent. In fact, even after she told me, I found it difficult to make out the Vietnamese in her. Only a few peculiar facial features hinted at it: eyes slanting slightly toward the corners, hair just a little bit straighter in thefront than in the back, a small but somewhat oddly shaped nose,.... I am telling you all this, Hypothetical Reader, not because racial matters are particularly important to me, but just to be sure you don't get the wrong picture in your mind....
Anyway, we talked and talked, but nothing happened between us until two nights later, when I stopped by Molly's room again with my friend Sergei. Sergei started talking to Clara, and I sat on the bed next to Molly and nervously put my arm around her. There was a lull in the conversation and Molly just stared straight into my eyes. It was the look. That magic look! I couldn't help myself -- I reached out for a kiss. A feeling of powerful electricity surged straight through me, as if I'd stuck my tongue into a wall socket. Whereas my previous girlfriends had been awkward, Molly was natural and smooth. She was, if you'll pardon the word, magnificent!
Absurdly, geekily, dorkily, I refused to detach from her. We continued kissing for a little over fifteen minutes; me just holding her there while she tried at least half-seriously to escape. Then Sergei got up to leave, and I decided it was getting ridiculous. I pulled away and said goodbye. But the world rushed in on me like a tidal wave -- I had to get back inside that magic, that timeless look. I grabbed her back, and before she could say anything I kissed her again for another fifteen minutes. Eventually my mouth ached so badly I couldn't go on. We sat there talking quietly for a little, and then I got up and left. I already felt she was a part of me. It was an incredible and frightening sensation.
The very next night, as we were sitting together on her bed and talking, I slipped my hand inside her pants. Within half an hour we were lying on the bed, furtively and awkwardly making love. It was the first time for both of us. We were together every day for the rest of the semester; and when Christmas break came along, we were distraught at the prospect of separating even for a month.
She came back home with me for part of Christmas break -- itwas a very dull visit, really. Although she was plenty talkative with me, Molly was generally rather shy; she probably said no more than five hundred words to my parents during the whole visit. But I didn't care what my parents thought of her, nor anybody else for that matter. She was mine, she was my special magic angel, my Magnificent Molly; she was a part of me. By comparison, all my previous love relationships seemed absurdly childish and incomplete. I had found the solution to my philosophical dilemmas -- a solution of flesh and blood. For the first time ever, my life was real and solid.
Converted by Andrew Scriven