Wargasm Contents

Copyright Ben Goertzel 1996

"equal rights for inanimate objects"

shout the demonstrators clothed in strange costumes

speaking the languages of mayas and aztecs

gushing through the streets with demented enthusiasm

like blood through her pulmonary vein

meanwhile she floats into the room

like a rabid paramecium

naked but for twelve rings in her labia

sits absent-mindedly on my face

and drops her handbag on the floor

whistling the gilligan's island theme song

as i fervidly drink her cunt

"write something about fucking" she says offhandedly

her tone of voice suggesting fried mussels

and conscious rainbows

and pregnant suns

"are you reeling in the years?"

the radio asks me

indignantly i throw it out the window

pick up a marker and scribble on her breasts

unfortunately the total eclipse outside the window

at the moment of her orgasm gives her a heart attack

and i have to resuscitate her by attaching her

to the parallel port of my computer

"i don't want to write anymore" i tell her

she removes the rings from her labia and swallows them

the mushroom cloud in the backyard distracts her

i watch her brown buttocks wiggle in circles

as she walks away

wire n. the global information network; metal drawn into the form of a cord; the superbandwidth carbon cord used to connect a person to the global information network, or to connect two computers within the network to each other -- v.t. archaic, to provide, catch, fasten with metal cord; to send a telegraph.

plex v. to sense, and interact with, others' patterns of interaction with wire; v.t. to plex with.

duplex n. plexing which takes place exclusively or primarily between two individuals (human or AI).

multiplex n. plexing which takes place among a relatively small group of individuals (human or AI), but more than two.

wirehead n. someone addicted to the plex.

hotwire v.t. to plex while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs; archaic, to start an automobile without using a key, by directly manipulating the ignition mechanism.

plexisy n. general term for a family of incurable psychological disorders consequent from hotwiring, involving loss of the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy and dream.


July 25, 2088

    I've bought this noteputer today, my twenty-fourth birthday, with the intention of writing in here about Chandra. Of recording the story of Chandra and me. I want to write it down before I forget; I'm not sure why. Also I'd like to get back into writing -- I used to write all the time in high school, but what with studying wire sci, and practicing the saxophone, I've completely lost the habit.....

    I wish I'd kept a journal like he does; then I might really be able to remember things. But no, his journal is full of lies and exaggerations, it's no more accurate than memory. Anyway, I guess it's not all that hard to remember things, really.

    I think it all started a long time ago, this thing between me and Chandra, a long time before Chandra and I ever met. I remember, sixteen ago, when I was eight years old, I would just sit there, sit there, sit there, for fifteen minutes or half an hour, emptying my mind, waiting for something magical to happen. Something special, something solid, something significant,....

    One day I was riding my bike home from my judo lessons -- I went to judo lessons after school for about four years, and then I got tired of it, having realized I would never be any good -- and I passed another kid, a little younger than me, riding her bike in the opposite direction. I'm surprised at how well I remember it all. After I passed her, I instinctively glanced back at her. 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 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 something a bit stranger: the two of us were supposed to recognize one another as real. To recognize eachother as special people, people endowed with some kind of enchanted reality, with some special quality of mind that separated us from the mundane world. Like in that old flick 'Escape to Witch Mountain,' when the lost psychic twins finally discover they are castaways from another planet, and are reunited with their fellow castaways. When we saw each other we would understand, really understand for the first time.

    Maybe I'm embroidering it too much; this was a very simple feeling, more visceral than in any way philosophical ... after all, I was just eight. I was a very brilliant child, some said a genius, and even then I was overintellectual to the point of unhealthiness; but there were limits to my understanding. But that's the way it was, in essence. I waited and waited for that first contact.

    Anyway, I've got to put this aside, Chandra's walked in the door. I'd better tell the stove what to make for dinner. No, looks like he's brought back Kentucky Fried Chicken. Good. More later.

July 27, 2088

    To continue the thread from last time. What I was looking for, I think, was some kind of deep interconnection with the other person, beneath the level at which we ordinarily communicate. Something really basic, soul to soul. And I'll never forget that moment when it actually happened. In retrospect, that whole evening is filled with some kind of unearthly brilliance. But I know this is just projected backwards; my memory plays the strangest tricks.

    It was the first week of my fourth semester of college. I was seventeen years old. In the middle of my sophomore year, I was finally getting to be the same age as some of the younger entering freshmen. I felt like a little less of a misfit, an ugly little girl genius. The new students were holding a multiplex dance for the returning students, up in the dining hall, and I was eager to check out the new guys. I hadn't had a boyfriend in six months.

    I can almost taste the way the air felt as I walked from the dorm up to the dance. It was cold but clean air, like one always finds in the mountains, spiced with a bit of the flavor of evergreens. I felt my nipples get hard and push up against my shirt; the sensation was pleasurable but mildly disturbing. I was almost completely ignorant in matters of sex and love. As I was acutely aware, I knew far less regarding these matters than the narrow-minded bitches who had teased and tormented me every day in high school.

    I remember, as I got near the building, a guy whom I knew a little walked by and said 'hi.' I smiled at him quietly; just to be strange, I rolled my eyes at him. That's the way I was back then. When I climbed the stairs to the doors and heard the stupid psycho music pulsing, my impulse was to turn and walk away -- I never had any taste for psycho. But after taking a few steps back down, I turned around and went on in. As I got toward the center of the room and felt the plex kick in I started to feel positively enthusiastic. I zipped up past some seniors privately chatting and felt the waves from their mind sweep over me -- warm and sweet, like a fresh apple pie.

    I never really liked multiplex -- it's too distracting, feeling everyone else's feelings, even if only vaguely, in a kind of blur the back of your mind. I've got enough trouble with my own feelings, don't like to submerge them in the crowd. Duplex is enough for me, in general. But in this case I got into it. I even started to like the music, all the different rhythms started to come together in my mind. I discovered that if you don't try to hear the individual rhythms -- they're going by too fast to hear anyway -- you can hear a sort of melody coming out of the mess, out of the mixture. Ever since that night I sort of like psycho, although I rarely listen it at home.

    Most of the people dancing were paired off; but I wasn't the only one dancing alone. I slowly worked my way through the mindmess toward a group of fairly attractive guys who appeared to be younger than the rest. Only one of them really caught my eye.... He was taller than his friends, though still at least an inch shorter than me (I'm almost six foot); he wore a very tight jumpsuit, in the modern style, with all sorts of shifting patterns from old movies drifting across it. "Gone With the Wind" across his stomach and "Brazil" on his butt; I thought it was a very cleverly chosen combination. His body was slight, almost effeminate, yet incredibly gorgeous, perfectly shaped like a classical sculpture; everyone probably noticed me gawking at him. I memorized the contours of his face. His lips were pouty and full, so full it was hard to believe, but His nose was small and narrow. His eyes were huge, but they tapered off at the corners into a tiny slant. His skin color was tough to make out in the dark, but it was clear he wasn't pure Caucasian. His 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 him and dance with him, but I did sort of dance around him, trying somehow to communicate myself. Finally I caught his eye for a couple moments. At first I thought it was the multiplex playing tricks on me. It took me a few seconds to understand what was going on....

    Immediately, I felt myself sinking into some kind of trance -- the room began to spin, and I had the sense of tumbling. But with great effort I shook myself out of the hypnotic state and continued dancing, avoiding looking at his face. I sunk into the plex, forgot my own thoughts, let the crowd guide me. Of course, I told myself, this weird dizzy sensation was just a coincidence. Looking at his face happened to correspond with something happening in the plex. You always get dizzy sometimes -- you've gotten dizzy while dancing before and never made such a big deal of it.... But a less rational corner of my mind couldn't shake the feeling that this was it -- the magic look -- the look of ultimate recognition....

    After two or three songs he left the dance floor and walked toward the drinkbox. I followed him, muttering something about being worn out. When his wide grin finally faded, his lips looked very large. Some of my friends from the dorm approached me, and he drifted uncertainly away. All too soon, the dance was over. He was gone. I hadn't asked his name. 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 him, or at least to hear his voice; I wanted to look at him, to study every square inch of his body, to chart the regions of his smile. But then his image faded into darkness -- not the mute emptiness of deep sleep, but a sort of ambiguous half-dreaming state, almost a state of meditation. Moving my fingers slowly, rhythmically, I masturbated to the remnants of his image.

    Slowly I began to forget the contours of his face.

    For the next two weeks, whenever I wasn't in class or doing homework or reading, I searched for him constantly and systematically. I looked on the paths that lead around campus, out the window of my dorm room, every time I walked into a building,.... But when I finally found him, I wasn't looking for him at all. I was walking around campus with my girlfriend Michelle, visiting various acquaintances of hers (she was more sociable than me). We walked into some unfamiliar freshman'sroom -- I think her name was Humberta -- and I saw him sitting there. He and about ten other people were playing Monopoly on the floor. Bemused and excited, I watched them play for five or ten minutes -- it was a new version; instead of little robots moving the money and pieces around the board, in this one the pieces and money were all driven by nanotech, and moved themselves. This, I thought, was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to work on someday.... Beautiful!

    What happened next that day was sort of amusing. Michelle started tossing a stuffed animal, a teddy bear, around the room. Before long -- being half blind as well as careless and uncoordinated -- she smacked the bear into Humberta's chest. Humberta fell back and started wheezing. When she finally recovered, Humberta was incredibly angry, and ordered everyone to leave her room at once.

    Michelle laughed nervously at Humberta as we walked out the door. 'Christ, it was just an 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 girl.' At the time I tended to agree with Michelle; I couldn't understand why Humberta was so freaked out. Later, however, I learned that she had a congenital bone disorder: brittle chestbones. Apparantly the doctors couldn't do anything for her. Michelle had almost killed her.

    In all the confusion I had lost sight of him. Apparently he hadn't even noticed me there. But this fact didn't faze me, not in the least. I followed Michelle up to the cafeteria.

    'Who is he?' I asked him, with transparent eagerness.

    'Who is who?'

    'That dark-skinned guy who was sitting by Andrea.'

    'I know who you mean, fool -- he was the only damn negro in the room.... You horny little slut; I can see your nipples standing on end just talking about him....'

    'No you can't, you're blind as a bat,' I said, exasperated with her endless joking. 'Just cut the B.S., will you, and tell me who he is.'

    She told me his name was Chandra. As it turned out, she was carrying out a romance of sorts with Chandra's roommate Mike. We went to call on Mike and Chandra, in their small room on the second floor of the freshman dorm. They were just sitting there on the floor listening to music on the uniwire, looking bored and a little nervous.

    Chandra asked me what classes I was taking, and I listed them, probably with too much pride. He was impressed that I was taking so much math, physics and engineering. I asked him what classes he was taking but I didn't listen to the answer -- I was too busy staring at his eyes, his chest, his arms, his neck.... So slight, so feminine and under-muscled, yet somehow so masculine at the same time. There was something so artistic, and yet so perplexing, about his shape. Nothing he said was particularly interesting, but there was something surreal in his smooth, placid voice, in the often awkward way he phrased things, in the way he gestured with his mouth, in his erratic breathing patterns, in the way he moved his body very slightly with each word. When he told me that my course on 'Electricity andMagnetism' sounded interesting, I really believed him, even though I knew it was utter nonsense. The shapes of the spaces between his words were tremendously, vibrantly alive. I left obsessed with him, hardly remembering anything Michelle or Mike had said.

    The next afternoon I went to see him again, by myself. He was in the room alone, and we just sat there talking for two or three hours. He was quite warm and friendly, but he seemed a little distracted. I later learned that this apparent 'distractedness' was just the way he always acted. He always looked as though he wasn't quite paying attention -- as though he was less interested in what you were saying than in the wrinkles on your jumpsuit, or the patterns of light on the wall behind you, or the stray particles of dust floating around in the air.... His father, he told me, had disappeared in his early youth; he didn't remember the man at all. He told me all about his mother: how she had put herself through college as an adult; she was an excellent artist as well as a writer; she had once owned an apartment building until it was stolen from her, and so on....

    We talked and talked, but nothing happened between us until two nights later, when I stopped by Chandra's room again with my friend Sally. Sally started talking to Mike, and I sat on the bed next to Chandra and nervously put my arm around him. There was a lull in the conversation and Chandra 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 uniwire socket in the wall. Whereas my previous boyfriends had been awkward, Chandra was natural and smooth, as if he'd been born precisely to engage in the act of kissing.

    Struck by an absurd impulse, I refused to detach from him. We continued kissing for a little over fifteen minutes; me just holding him there while he tried at least half-seriously to escape. Then Sally 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..... I grabbed him back, and before he could say anything I kissed him again for another fifteen minutes. Oh what a beautiful man! Not like anyone I'd ever seen before. So weak, so fragile and delicate, yet with such underlying beauty and power. It was hard to understand how he was even possible. He was androgynous and amorphous, like something out of a dream. 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 he was a part of me.

    A few weeks later we made love. It was the first time for both of us, so unsurprisingly it wasn't great. The second time was better and by the fourth or fifth time we'd gotten the hang of it quite nicely! Sometimes he finished too soon, but we were doing it just about every day, so it didn't seem to matter. Discovering each other's bodies seemed almost like an intellectual pursuit. I was surprised at the number of different kinds of orgasm I could have; not all the same, not always quickand powerful like when I masturbated. Some were slow and just worked all through my body surreptitiously, until they sneaked up on me and grabbed me by surprise -- sent me shuddering with waves coming out of my vagina and tearing my body apart like a giant heartbeat. Wow! I was suffused with sex, positively glowing; and my energy rubbed off on him. His slender frame breathed with my sexual fervor, my newly discovered lust. Somehow the elegance of his body hit a chord in the back of my mind. He traced his tongue on every part of my skin; I gave him all-over pussy massages. I learned to talk about sex without being ashamed, and even began to, like Michelle, take a sort of joy in being vulgar. We were together every day for the rest of the semester; and when summer vacation came along, we were distraught at the prospect of separating even for a month, so he came back home with me for part of the break....

    I've been writing an awfully long time now; more tomorrow. I think I've got the knack back, anyway, though some of it seems awfully precious the way the words come out; I can never quite get it right. This noteputer has a stylizer but I'm trying to avoid it. I never quite trust those things. They're good for getting things into the plex but they never capture me quite right....

August 28, 20

    Haven't had time to write in here for a couple weeks; more like a month, actually. I can see what a large task this is going to be, if I try to be complete. You can't really construct a diary retrospectively; all the details just seem boring when they're in the past. I'd better just make like a novelist and stick to the interesting parts.

    Let's see.... Before meeting Chandra I had planned to transfer to a different school, one with a better physics program. But I changed my mind and decided to stay at Door, a decision which, in addition to keeping me near him, did have certain academic advantages. I figured out that I had enough credits to graduate in one more year, which would give me a three-year bachelor's degree. Having started at 15, I would be able to graduate college at 18. He was a year and a half behind me; it was the second semester of his freshman year.

    We lived together in my dorm room, in the upperclassmen dorm, for the school year. We fought a lot for the first couple months but things got smoother after that. We hotwired together a couple times, which was a tremendous experience. I guess this year sort of set the pattern for our relationship: we were together all the time, not entirely harmoniously, but always needing each other's company. Him needing my strength; my needing his fragile, wavering beauty.

    And then college was over, for me anyway, and after a summer meandering around the country visiting relatives, I found myself living in the East Village, in New York, with my old high school friend Janine. Chandra, much to my dismay, was planning to go to the University of Wisconsin to finish his degree in philosophy. I wanted him to stay in New York but I was willing -- no, not willing, desperate is more like it -- to keep up our relationship up long-distance. Wisconsin offered him a particularly attractive scholarship package; but for some reason, I hadn't gotten into graduate school in Wisconsin, only in New York. Probably if I'd stayed in physics I would have got into Wisconsin, but I was sick to death of physics after I got my B.S., so I applied to grad school in wire science, in which I'd only taken a handful of courses. Somehow I was admitted to NYU, a very good department, anyway. But because of my lack of a record they didn't offer me a teaching assistantship, which meant I would be very poor in New York -- something I didn't quite see the meaning of until it was actually upon me. I guess I was pretty naive in regard to practical matters like that; I hadn't had any experience dealing with money. It's hard to believe now that my family didn't warn me off from getting into such a bad situation -- I could have gone to some less prestigous school in a less expensive area, and gotten a teaching assistantship, which would have been a much more pleasant experience. But maybe they did warn me and I was just too headstrong to listen. What with my famous superintelligence I wasn't really inclined to take anyone's advice. Girl geniuses have to figure things out for themselves....

    There are a lot of things to do in New York -- hell, it's a city of fifty million people -- and I did quite a lot of them, but what I remember most is walking. As Chandra once pointed out, New York is like a giant living art gallery, but the displays are not paintings, they're human beings.... I remember most of all the walk from my East Village apartment to school, to NYU. Walking past Katz's Deli down Houston Street, past the rows of sleazy thrift shops, tiny markets, robovendors, abandoned buildings, heaps of trash, on the way to Washington Square Park. A torrent of faces gushing out of the subway; phalanxes of window-washers converging on the bikes waiting at the red light, dashing from windshield to windshield in some weird fury.... Jumpsuits and dresses with every animated scene known to man splayed across them, and even the occasional holosuit that made you think you were seeing a lion or a tidal wave or a giant onion whirling down the street. Faces distorted with gorgeous or hideous holomasks. Down West 4th street through the heart of NYU....

    Usually I made this walk on my way to school. Sometimes I made it to class, other times I got distracted. I remember one time in particular, I wasn't going to school at all, I was going to Washington Square with Chandra to get some LSD. We were intent on getting hotwired. We tried to buy it from the rastas by the fountain in the center, but they only had weed, so we had to take our business to the northeast corner of the park, was where the really burnt-out, fucked-up dealers sat on their broken-down benches from early morning till the cops kicked them out at midnight. Chandra was too shy to talk to the dealers, so I had to do all the dirty work. The dealer said fifty bucks a hit. Flashing my sweetest little-girl smile, I bargained him down to forty.

    As we left the park I saw some pigbots and got paranoid. It was the first time I'd ever bought drugs on the street. My impulse was to swallow the evidence, but by the time I found it in my pocket they were only a couple yards away ... I just walked briskly on and on, and when I turned to look a minute later they were buying some roboacid in the park, or so it appeared. We walked home laughing with nervous delight. He was giggling like a small child. He never looked more lovely than at that moment.

    When we got back to the apartment, I switched the wire to Wanda Landowska playing Bach on the harpsichord. Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. Ancient but gorgeous. We talked; I can't remember what about. It didn't matter. We ate some burnt hot dogs for dinner ... potato chips out of the bag, and a five dollar six-pack of wine cooler. Shortly afterwards my roommate Janine came home, and I took out the acid. Chandra and I placed the tiny purple dots under our tongues, put the wire on duplex, and waited for something to happen. The plex was kind of weird, almost like there was a third mind there with us, but we knew it was really a duplex. We felt each other moving around, in the dim kind of way that you do, but it wasn't like normal; everything seemed kind of distant. It felt almost like a virgin plex, before you know how to open yourself up to the movements in the wire. But then we realized that there was nothing wrong with the plex itself, the acid must be kicking in. We decided to kill the plex and just trip straight. The plex and the acid were starting to seem like a weird combination.

    Just after this there was some kind of noise outside the window -- gunshots, and bikes starting up. We all droopped the wire, ran over to the window and see what was going on. At first it looked like some kind of drug transaction gone awry. But then it became clear what was happening. The pigbots were beating up the local drug dealer. They grabbed him by the balls from the back, between his legs, and slammed him up against the wall. I glanced over protectively at Chandra, as if, in their undirected fury, they might next come after him.

    After looking out the window for twenty or thirty seconds, we retreated to my room. Janine went back to staring at the tube. All we were thinking was -- is it a taste, or is it a feeling? Taste or feeling? Is it a taste or a feeling? It's a taste. No, it's a feeling. No, it's not a feeling, it's a taste. No, it's not a taste, it's a feeling. And on and on and on and on and on and on. I forget who was taking which side. Chandra and I were just sitting there in the bowels of New York, staring into each other's eyes, each knowing what the other one was thinking, though we hadn't said a word. Taste or feeling? That's when we knew the LSD was kicking in. The tingling in the mouth had turned into a sort of vibrant numbness. A feeling of simultaneous death and life.

    Janine went to bed -- it was just after ten, which was about four hours early for her -- and we put on some appropriate music. We took off the wire for a couple of minutes and just stared into each other's eyes, sinking into each other's pupils like stars spiraling into black holes. I remember it so vividly, lying down on the floor looking up at him lying on the couch looking down atme ... trying desperately to restrain ourselves from laughing. I was saying to him that if we could just clear our minds of all the irrelevant clutter ... just shove it back down into the pit of the subconscious ... then our minds would work with ultimate efficiency; we'd be free of neurosis and our natural genius would shine. That's true, he said, that's what I've always been looking for, but how? I don't remember what I said. But it was very clear and simple. Looking into his eyes, seeing nothing else but soft dilated pupils: an exaggeration and parody of that magic look of recognition. Rippling pools of wild reflections. Laughing shadows. We discussed it for a long time, maybe ten or twenty minutes, which seemed like ten or twenty hours....

    After all, dear diary, you record of changes over time, you know very well that time is a contradiction. Now is all of a sudden not now. But suddenly, in the acid haze, the contradiction is solved, and past, present, future all meld into one fluid moment. The stream of consciousness turns in circles and tight dizzying knots. The universe, from day zero to the end of eternity, is dissected into an infinitude of miniscule pieces, and they're rearranged into a boggling maze of pattern, transcending sense. This is what I saw, as vividly as I now see the dime store noteputer on my lap. This is the delusion, or the truth, experienced by my overactive brain.

    Charles Ives, back in the last century, wrote several symphonies which give the impression of a number of marching bands playing different songs, all marching through eachother. (I guess this was an early version of psycho, but with regular melodies instead of syncopated rhythms at 150 beats per second -- never thought about it that way before.) Imagine Ives to the n'th degree -- a couple thousand bands playing all different sorts of music -- your favorite songs, the songs you hate, songs that are only vaguely familiar; random songs, the tribal chants of the aborigines, the devil's orchestra in hell; the music the robots will make in 2900 AD after they murder all the humans and take over the world.... You see and smell and touch the music, there is no world beyond.

    Trying to talk to Chandra in the middle of this was more than a minor strain, but I was determined. For some reason I thought it was essential to converse with him on acid. Taking off the wire and killing the plex made it even more intimate. I knew that the communion was real, not just duplex. (A silly distinction, maybe, but despite all my year spent working with the technical side of the wire, I've always mistrusted plex.) And it was real -- in point of fact, we said so much to each other implicitly, telepathically if you will, that in comparison the few hundred words we forced out seemed absurd, inconsequential. But what I wanted, I suppose, was a connection between the trip and the outside world. If we said it, or so I figured, then it was really there.

    Of course I realize how crazy all this sounds. But you've got to remember, of all drugs, LSD has the most variable effect. The wire mutes the variability somewhat, with its special dull kind of feeling of harmony, but we weren't on the wire the whole time anyway.

    Trips don't just come in two different flavors, good or bad. The acid opens up the doors, but what passes through them depends on you. Some people report seeing God or having some sort of religious vision. Many people report seeing music or feeling colors kinesthetically or some such crossing of the senses. Nearly everyone sees 'stroboscopic' traces: when someone waves their hand, you see a trail of hands following it through the air. And nearly everyone sees regular tile-like patterns on the ceiling, floor and walls. Very much like moving Escher prints, or slowed-down, primitive Glazer holos. A whole ceiling of monkeys, intricately fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that no jigsaw could ever cut, moving up and down and grunting, grunting vigorously. Each monkey slowly turning into my friend Michelle. Her tall slim perfect negroid figure. Her coke-bottle glasses. Her wide maniacal toothy smile....

    Supposedly these regular visual patterns are the result of the LSD overriding the brain's usual instructions not to see the veins of the eye. That's what I read in a paper in the Neuroscience Network. Just as our minds can imagine a ticking clock is playing a tune, they can see the veins inside the eye and conjure up a bunch of monkeys. Whether or not this is true, it is an excellent metaphor for the acid experience. What we normally ignore, acid forces us to see, albeit distortedly. Normally there's no point in seeing the veins inside one's eye. They're always there, so there's no point in always noticing them. The visual cortex just 'filters' them out. It receives signals indicating their presence and systematically ignores them. But acid forces you to see what's really there. In front of you, within you. You can sit staring at a chair for what seems like hours, exploring every scratch and crack, every variation in the polish... overwhelmed by the majestic power of its chair-itude. All these things we normally perceive and ignore. A single spoken word may seem to hang in the air forever, each contour of its waveform crying out to be explored. a tiny fear appears in the corner of one's mind... and it can explode until it consumes the entire universe. The origin of the fear, its relation to a dozen other things in your mind -- things you were tacitly aware of, but never focused on... things you never cared about or preferred not to recognize.

    I've thought about this a lot, what with my disease of overintellectualism, my hypertrophy of the brain. It is true that it would be difficult to go about the functions of ordinary life if you were overwhelmed with the wordness of every word you heard spoken. In order to keep ourselves alive, and in order to create things, we impose a structure on the largely chaotic stream of perceptions which confronts us; on the eternal flowing formlessness of Now. We simply assume this structure is there, and we perceive things in its context. For instance, there is a space in front of your head which your eyes cannot see. But you probably don't know it. Your brain fills in the gap. This is obviously useful: who wants to go around seeing a world with a gap in the middle of it? But it is more than a little interesting to be reminded exactly what we have assumed about the world for the sake of convenience. A trip is more than just avacation from reality.

    The reality, at any rate, was that Chandra and I were soon to separate again. At very least for a month or two, and possibly, or so we both feared, forever. I suppose that, despite the incredibly strong bond between us, we still didn't trust one another completely. Somehow the trip was supposed to tie us together across space and time. It made sense, in a twisted sort of way -- after all, when you're tripping you're beyond space and time, right?

    And it worked. Unbelievably, it really did. Lying on the bed side by side in the dim light.... We tried to have sex, but we both had the same queasy feeling, ineffably weird, when he slipped inside. I felt the sides of his cock in my cunt as I never had before, and never have since. Somehow the sensation of pure skin-ness overtook us. The pleasure was there, but deconstructed into infinitesimal modules of skin-on-skin. We couldn't see the point. We just lay there and hugged and listened to the music. The album was Chunking Mansion, by this wild AI group out of Canton called the Orgasmic Death Puppies. Skin-on-skin we lay there, swimming in music, watching crazy patterns shifting restless on the wall, pulsating brilliantly in colors that no normal eye can see....

    As one of the songs faded out, we looked at each other and knew we were seeing the exact same thing. It was a castle, a field of spires of various designs, angles and sizes, surrounded by a sort of golden strandy mist. We realized this, and we didn't say a word. Later we talked about it and remembered it the same way. In general I don't believe in telepathy. (Am I really supposed to believe that whenever they put a telepath in the lab she just happens to freeze up? It's a bunch of crap. My logical mind rejects it like a bad organ transplant.) But on the other hand, nearly everyone who's taken acid in a group has experienced some sort of apparent telepathy. During my last year of high school I had a group of friends who liked to take lots of acid, put the wire on multiplex, and sit in a circle saying nothing for a long time. They'd tell me afterwards about the incredible thoughts they were thinking, collectively. A couple of them ended up in mental hospitals, probably due to taking acid every day, but that's another story. Maybe this sort of 'telepathy' is just a matter of paying incredibly subtle and intelligent attention to miniscule physical gestures -- another case of LSD forcing you to notice things you ordinarily overlook. But Christ, it seems so real!

    Our love was consummated on that night more than any other. That night, suffused with chemical delirium, we held our own secret wedding ceremony. None of the meaningless formalities, and no advance planning at all. At the same time, we both spontaneously said 'I marry you' and kissed and that was the end of it. I marry you and I see inside your mind....

    After that the trip sort of went downhill. I started to get paranoid, a bit, and drift away from him. I realized the temporal order was coming back down: everything wasn't floating anymore, it was starting to lock back into place. I felt disastrously let down: all that deep insight, and for what? Justfor a few hours, then you give it up and go back to the shitwad of ordinary existence? After seeing so deep into Chandra's mind, after being the same as him, living in his skin, climbing through imaginary castles by luscious conscious gardens ... after this I was supposed to go back to my bloodbag body, my sack of skin and bones and pangs and urges ... go back to looking at my Chandra as a separate being? as a being that might get tired of me, might run away and decide to meld with someone else next time.... Everything seemed awful; I had the urge to rip off all my skin and kill myself. After all, the order of time was illusory anyway. You have to die sometime. All times are equivalently meaningless; why not right now? I tried to pick up a book and read it, some recent sci-fi thing, but I couldn't even understand a sentence, I was just overcome with images provoked by individual words. Images ossifying, commanding each other, becoming evil, solid, whole. No longer leading into an endless web of creative links. Fuck it. I don't know what was going on with Chandra while I was sinking into this bad trip state of mind, but eventually he noticed something was up with me -- I think he was trying to talk to me and I just wasn't responding at all -- and he hooked up the plex. Not just duplex this time, modified duples; we opened ourselves up to the whole wire and experienced it as a couple. People moving in VR houses all over the place, searching out information, looking for lovers or figuring out equations or just talking; mothers soothing their babies at daycare; AI's scheming against each other to get command of undersea camera eyes. Everything! ... surging through. I never really got into plex so much as that time, never before or since. The remnants of acid in my brain really primed me for it, made me more receptive to the otherness of it all. It was beautiful. I totally absorbed what everyone else was thinking, doing, being. It was like I was the whole wire, the whole world. And Chandra was there with me. Structures were percolating, moving, self-organizing within us: we could feel them there growing and breeding, though if anyone had asked, we wouldn't have been able to say what they were.... Basically, we were hotwiring, and it was totally hot! Chandra's ruse had worked; the bad trip was totally gone. My husband had saved me with the plex: saved me from ripping my skin off or at least from wanting to. I had never really liked plex but now it helped me, helped me to reconcile myself to the solidity, the hideous definiteness of the world.... I smothered him with kisses, thankful as anything; I loved him more than ever.

    For two weeks after he left I was in a daze. I couldn't sleep at night -- again. Perhaps it was partially a chemical aftereffect of the LSD (you can't sleep on acid). I took to wandering the streets in the middle of the night, staying out even later than Janine, which was a difficult feat. She kept my spirits up. When we got bored we'd have giant pillowfights, leaving the apartment in utter disarray. We never cleaned the place up, either ... when we left about a month later there were pieces of broken folding chairs all over, as well as an incredible amount of smashed noteputers and garbage. Also, the night before we left I dumped a dozen or so packages of spaghettiall over the floor; I don't remember why. I tried the plex a couple times hoping to cheer myself up -- if it had worked I might have become a wirehead, I was almost that desperate ... Janine I always thought was a borderline wirehead anyway. But the plex didn't do shit for me. It was like it had always been for me before the trip, just a blur in the back of my mind.

    It goes without saying that I totally neglected my schoolwork. If I'd have been studying art like Janine, I might have had a chance, but keeping up with my schedule of four graduate-level comp sci courses was out of the question. I virtually never went to class; occasionally I looked at one of the textputers but I just couldn't rouse an interest. I did read about three puters a day, on every subject from nonlinear psychophysics to Buddhism to supercooled fusion to the poetics of Giambattista Vico ... and I surfed the wire a few hours every night, looking for new information on anything that seemed interesting, especially the Chinese wire sci sites, which were always full of wild stuff -- but that didn't help me out at school. It was just my twisted nerdy way of passing the time....

    I walked down the never-desolate night streets, plagued with insanely detailed memories. Every wrinkle in everyone's jumpsuit was in place. The color of the carpet. The dirt on the walls. I was fixated on the past; I didn't want to lose that glow I'd had with Chandra. This sent me spiraling further back -- back, probing every single experience I could recall; obscure, significant ... seeking the key to that eternally elusive something, that something I'd seen during that sacred trip with Chandra. That something I'd said to him. That perfect expression on his face, placidly harmonizing everything. The key to freeing the mind.

    Around a month before the end of the semester, Janine and I had to leave our apartment due to lack of funds. We'd both been fired from our jobs at the exact same time -- the kind of horrifying coincidence that always seems to happen in New York. We looked for two weeks for a cheap apartment in Manhattan, but in the end we had to make that dreaded move across the river. We found a tiny place in Brooklyn for only three hundred bucks a month. No more than three hundred square feet. The neighborhood was an abysmal slum, and the apartment was so tiny there was no room for all our furniture. We had to pile the desk on top of the bureau and keep half our stuff in boxes. Obviously this was no way to live, I should have given up on New York altogether. But I had come to New York of my own volition, and I didn't want to run back home with my tail between my legs.

    After we'd been in Brooklyn about two months, Chandra showed up for a 'visit.' he looked and sounded awful -- his semester was over, and he'd failed three of his five classes. Also, he hadn't yet written the final paper for his class on Spinoza. He said he was going to write it and mail it back to his professor, but I could see right away that he wasn't. There was no way he was going back to Wisconsin. He was in New York. Soon enough it was settled: Janine was moving out and he was moving in.

    But, of course, Janine never left. To no one's surprise, she couldn't seem to find affordable housing. There just fucking wasn't any affordable housing anywhere within forty miles of New York city! There were about forty million too many people for that. So the three of us were stuck there in that tiny room -- the two beds touching eachother, half our stuff still in boxes, the pyramided furniture occupying the bulk of the apartment. The amount of dirt was amazing. And then I got this beautiful Siamese cat which pissed all over everything -- our clothes, the floor, the beds.... And we found this other cat, a stray with lumps all over its body, which tried to masturbate itself on your fingers and toes. Before long we stopped paying rent. The landlord came by banging on the door every morning at eight and Janine and Chandra hid under the covers while I went to the door smiling my sweetest coy grin and ad libbed some ridiculous sob story. My father's sending me a check. I got mugged. All my money's tied up in these self-organizing money funds, you see; it's a matter of liquidity. I'm not broke, I'm just cash-poor. I just got a job. I'm a waitress out on Coney Island, I won't get good tips till summer. The guy obviously knew it was bullshit but he was basically a good person; he took pity on me. He was probably waiting for me to offer to suck him off. I'd bought myself a cheap Laotian musex for my high school graduation; it let you grab any kind of music off the wire and send music back too. You could even jam with other people all over the world in real time. If you wanted to you could jam and plex together at the same time, which was supposed to be a grand experience. Sometimes I'd come back to the apartment and find the musex left on. The landlord had let himself in just to play it! It was absolute chaos. Somehow, amazingly, I got through all my classes with A's and B's.

    Meanwhile, Chandra enrolled at City College of New York. For food money he started working as an erotic dancer at this himbo joint on Fifth Avenue. He had always been a good dancer, and, though he wasn't muscular, his shape had a particular grace. His light, milk-chocolate brown body was an exotic treat for the middle-aged businesswomen who frequented the place. We considered having sex on stage for money at one of the crummier porn palaces, but it only paid something like a hundred bucks an hour per person. Hardly worth the grueling effort, and the damage to your sex life. The place he worked at was expensive and classy; the women tried to paw him up all the time, after they got drunk, but he managed to tolerate it. I looked back on that acid trip daily. The same way I imagine a newborn babe looks back to the womb, filled with one thought only: fuck reality.

    Then, sometime during the summer, we got evicted. We'd stayed there seven or eight months without paying more than three months worth of rent; but still, we didn't feel like we'd gotten away with anything.... Luckily, my father was in one of his generous moods, and he helped us to get a nice apartment in Queens. He rather liked Chandra, actually, although I think he found him a little too quiet and unassuming. When the fall semester started, I made a serious effort to take school seriously -- I went to my classes, and did most of my homework. Chandra got a job dancing weekend nights at an even classierhimbo place near Central Park. He continued on at City College, working toward his bachelor's degree, now in history rather than philosophy. He was making pretty good money -- a hundred and thirty or so a night -- so we could afford to pay the bills.

    But of course, there was a problem. Actually, more than one.

    Chandra was getting overaccustomed to working at the himbo bar. He always came home from work drunk; and more and more often he was working a night or two during the week, not only on weekends. He was paying all the bills, and after a month or two he decided that he wanted to move out, to be an independent man, a single guy. He was fed up with my strangeness, my endless ideas, my struggle through graduate school; he just wanted to live a normal life. Too often these days when he wanted to do it I just wanted to sit there and think, or to pore over my huge stacks of library books. Quite unfairly, I resented him always wanting access to my cunt; I told him he should go buy a sex robot. He needed a lot of sleep; when he was working he didn't get home till four in the morning, and when he wasn't working he went to bed at ten. I wanted to stay up till one in the morning every night working -- not so much doing schoolwork as trying to formulate my own ideas, trying to make some kind of order out of the very ingenious nonsense that was my mind. Also my mood was probably not great; I was really fed up with wire science, and it was grating at my nerves. Anyway, he had had enough.

    At the time, I had been laid up in bed for about two weeks with a hundred and three degree fever. The day he told me he was leaving, my fever shot up to a hundred and seven point two -- by far the highest temperature I've ever had. For the first time since Chandra and I had taken acid back on Ludlow Street, I started hallucinating: hearing voices speaking languages I didn't know, seeing tiny colorful creatures dart through the air. One hallucination in particular plagued me: a beautiful young man's androgynous body without a face, surmounted by devil's horns and an angel's halo. I saw this over and over again, hovering in front of me; but whenever I reached out to touch it, it was gone.

    I begged Chandra desperately not to leave. He replied that he just didn't find me attractive anymore. I cursed him out and he started hitting me. I threw dishes and noteputers at him, screeching incoherently. I could hardly control my hands and feet. I remember it well because it was the only one of our many fistfights that he ever won.

    After the fever went down a little and I could walk again, I went to the doctor and was measured at a hundred and four point nine. She was alarmed. But to me it felt comparatively cool, it felt perfectly normal.

    And then the real trouble began. Our hot water had been sporadic when we moved in, and shortly thereafter it had stopped. There was something wrong with the AI unit in the building and it needed retraining. We'd called the landlord every week to complain, and since we couldn't wash the dishes in cold water, the kitchen sink had turned into a huge green moldy pile. It was disgusting, but we were able to live with it. But then, around the middle of October, the cold water stopped coming too. Istarted showering in the gym at school. We called the landlord over and over again, asking him to fix it. He always said he would, but when I said 'Can you fix it today?' he invariably refused. When he came by to collect the rent, Janine and I (Janine happened to be visiting) hid in the kitchen, and Chandra told him that we wouldn't pay until the AI unit was fixed.

    He said, 'When you pay the rent I fix the water.' He shook his head. 'Maybe the unit just don't like you."

    Chandra said, with the flawless politeness he always assumed for strangers, 'I'm very sorry, sir, but we really won't be able to pay the rent until you fix the water. You always say you're going to fix it, but it hasn't happened yet, and it really does become tiresome not having any water in the house....'

    The landlord wasn't even listening; he just said, 'If you don't pay the rent, I ain't fixing nothing.'

    'Okay,' I said, emerging from the kitchen, my patience just about gone, 'then I guess you'll have to evict us.'

    His hairy chest convulsed with laughter, shaking the five or six gold chains that hung across it. He pulled a gun out from his pants and pointed it straight at Chandra. I watched his elegant body shake and thought he might pass out. ' Evict you???!!! I'll fucking kill you! Get out right now! Get the fuck out of my fucking building, asshole!'

    We moved into a cheap hotel in Harlem for the remaining weeks of the semester. But we had finally had enough of New York. We decided to head south. I applied to transfer my Ph.D. study to the University of Pennsylvania, and as soon as my application was accepted we left. We were living in West Philly before the start of the new year. (What a way to go through grad school, huh?)

September 12, 2088

    It was just after we moved to Philadelphia, I think, that I started trying to be a writer. Well maybe I had tried a little in New York, in Queens, but it never amounted to much there, there was too much chaos going on.

    I wanted to write, not just to produce books and stories and articles, but more to discover things. I thought of writing as an act of exploration, psychological exploration. I was, or so I fancied, a pioneer of mindspace. At the same time I started writing Chandra took up sculpture. At my suggestion, actually: I had always been entranced by sculpted elegance of his own body, and he had always seemed to like to draw bodies, naked bodies. He had always gotten A's in art class. I said I thought he might turn out to be much better at sculpting than at drawing, since he could really get into the three-dimensional shapes of things. Then the strangest thing happened: we both remembered something, something from that dialogue we'd had while tripping, that surreal dialogue about clearing out the clutter in your mind. We both remembered, simultaneously, that in that enchanted conversation we had talked about his sculpting. That decided it: he had to be a sculptor. A black Rodin. He would sculpt and I would write. It was the will of the Goddess....

    So he gave up English and went to art school, which set him back about a year, but seemed to make him very happy. And I on the other hand was still studying for my Ph.D. in wire -- and now that I'd transferred from NYU to Penn, I was supposed to be seriously studying.... Really I spent an awful lot of time writing; in addition to a long string of surrealistic poems, I wrote a 2000 page semi-pornographic science fiction novel. (I still have the puter lying around somewhere. Plus it's sitting on one of my friends' wiresites, minimal priority.) But at least, unlike in New York, I always attended class. As horrible as it seemed, I was slowly working toward becoming a functional member of society.

    Here is an example of a poem that I wrote about Chandra, after he stomped out the door after we had a bad fight one time:

    He promised me to rip apart the web of thought and language.

    Squatting on the toilet, he told of a vision of a golden fairy demon who gave birth to himself, then became entangled in his own umbilical cord and died.     

    He caressed his balls and called them magic lanterns.

    He promised me liberty from illusions, a purer life! He fed me delicate crystal images of enchantment.

    He took his cock between his fingers and asked me to suck the genies out.

    He promised me everything. He left me in a cave without nanolights, smashing my head against the stalactites and the walls.

    He called his marvelous buttocks launching pads for invisible alien starships. He promised me, for Christmas, an asteroid of my very own.

    He called me a walking apocalypse. He told me the juice between his legs was an ancient elixir, derived from fruits that vanished with the continent of Mu.

    His muscles promised me allegiance in twenty languages.

    He left in a symphony of shadows, forgetting nothing but his bones.

September 13, 2088

    Looking at the poem I copied in here last time I feel that it's no good. It's never quite right; I can never communicate it. Words aren't enough somehow. You would need a touch poem; some kind of weird VR thing.... The whole thing is in shapes. The curves of his body, the pure sound envelopes of his words. You need some kind of continuous language. Words just chop things up....

    But anyway, this is all a bunch of B.S. -- I know what I have to talk about now, and it's not my damn poetry. Maybe somehow writing about it will make it feel better.

    Fucking goddamned shit.

    It began during lunch one day, years ago, outside a fast food place. A long time ago, that first summer we were together. I said something he didn't like, and he threw his Coke on me. I responded by throwing my snakeburger on him.

    The next day we had another, unrelated argument. I went to hug him, and he pushed me violently away. I pushed him back and he slapped my face. I had never been hit by a boyfriend before; I didn't know how to react. My long-forgotten judo training surged up in me for a moment, but it sank back down. I just didn't do anything.

    But the next week, the same scene happened again. I said something nasty, called him a stupid bastard or something -- not very nice considering my I.Q. is so much higher than his -- and he pushed me up against the dresser in my dorm room. This time the old fighting instinct managed to push its way out, through the layers of forgotten history. I pushed him back, hard. Then he hit me, and I hit him back, harder. I was not at all ashamed to take advantage of my slight degree of martial arts knowledge. I never had been much good at judo, actually I was terrible, but he was completely untrained. And really he isn't that much stronger than me either. Frankly, I clobbered him.

    Once the pattern of violence was established, it was insanely hard to break. Petty arguments would turn into screaming matches, which would turn into fistfights. I have to admit that, probably three quarters of the time, I was the one who threw the first blow. It really makes me feel like a piece of shit.

    Before meeting Chandra, I would never have thought to hit a boyfriend. Most guys wouldn't put up with being clobbered, not even if they hit you first; it would be too humiliating, they would leave you straight away. But Chandra is so damn submissive. So passive and elusive. Not that he likes violence or anything; he hates it more than I do. The whole thing is so complicated, really. I suppose there was some kind of vicious cycle involved -- each of us, individually, had only a slight inclination toward violence, but when you put the two of us togethim, things rapidly spiraled out of control.

    I have to say that, although it was awful when it happened, the fighting never really poisoned our whole relationship. Maybe 98 percent of the time we were soul-mates, more comfortable with one another than we could ever have expected to be with anyone. But the remaining fraction of the time we were cursing each other out, throwing things around, or punching and kicking each other like maniacs. It was savage and ridiculous, and it really hurts even to write about it, but that's the way it was. And still is, to an extent, I guess, though not nearly as bad as it was before. Yes, I'm trying to deny it, but the problem hasn't really gone away, not gone away completely yet. Obviously, or what happened today wouldn't have happened.

    Strangely enough -- I've never thought about this before --even when we were at each other's throats during the day, sleeping with him was a delight. The way his body moved to fit mine was always so precious. I secretly celebrated the way my ass cheeks moved in and out as he pressed up against them. I fell in love with the way his breathing gently modulated as I shifted to fit his shape more tightly. His legs flopped across the bed with such elegant comfort that it was hard to imagine them standing up and walking. Waking up and touching him, everything would seem new, luminous, perfect, hyperreal....

    But shit, this is all even sicker than that. It's sicker than anything. I'm talking as though the fighting was just something that happened between a boy and a girl, independently of my strange philosophical theories, of my whacked-out inclinations, of my hyperactive mind. But in fact everything was all mixed up. After all, he was only a human being, and there was no way that he could have possibly lived up to the role that I was trying to place him in. Initially I worshipped him -- after all, in my demented metaphysics, he was the only true reality. He, by some coincidence or whatever, maybe by the hand of the Goddess, he was the unique carrier of the famous magic look! Unassuming, placid, deeply troubled Chandra, with his painful childhood and his overly perfect English, half white and half black, so gentle yet capable of such hostility, a stranger to every culture whom no one else had ever bothered to try to understand.... But the longer we were involved, the more I started to pick at him. So many of our fights started from me making some negative comment about some little tiny thing. He would always get so excited and blow everything totally out of proportion, so fucking sensitive.... There's no need to be that sensitive.

    Really the whole magic look idea was doomed to cause trouble. I mean, really, if Chandra is the only real person, if he is my perfect, transcendent soul-mate, then why doesn't he use his intelligence better? Why is emotional when he should be rational, and rational when he should be emotional? Why is he such a fucking nothing sometimes? Why does he wear such sexy scenes on his clothes, like he wants other girls to look at him? Why does he always look like he's not paying attention? My dissatisfaction with him put me on edge, gave a nasty slant to some of our beautiful hours together.... And he really is not capable of taking even the slightest criticism without falling all to pieces, or becoming incredibly vicious and defensive.

    But hell, you know, the more I write about this, the more it becomes clear to me that this self-analysis is really a maze with no exit: you just keep going around in circles, relating this phenomenon to that, and you can never really isolate the true cause of anything.... After all, I suppose it's perfectly normal for the initial infatuation with one's beloved to fade. The first few weeks or months of a relationship are always charmed -- it's only afterwards that you start to pick up on all the annoying qualities of your 'perfect' lover. Probably my weird metaphysics just took this normal occurence and made it more extreme ... or maybe it had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Christ, who really knows?

    I try to rationalize it over and over again, but the more I write about it the more I'm just getting disgusted with myself. I've got to stop this constant self-analysis, this stupid obsession with getting at the 'psychological cause' of every event. If there is a way out from my present miserable state, it certainly doesn't lie in self-psychoanalysis. That only drags me deeper and deeper into the nothing.... It wasn't even a big fight today, all I did was slap him in the face, there's no need to feel so fucking guilty. Anyway he slapped me back even harder, so I'm absolved in a way.... I restrained myself.

    I think I'm just in a shitty mood today. When I started this noteputer last year I was feeling really good. Sometimes I wake up and the world just feels like shit.

    Actually, this thing isn't much fun anymore; I might as well give it up. I'm not a writer any more, I'm a wire scientist now, right? And I never did like diaries. Oh well, goodbye.

November 12, 2089

    It's been a year since I wrote in this puter. All that obsession with me and Chandra just seems ridiculous right now, really. I'm not going to begin again, that's for certain, but I don't have any urge to throw it out, either. It's just dead matter, just the past.

    We're pretty settled now. I got my Ph.D. and have now been a wire prof at Drexel for a year and a half. I'm the only woman in the department which makes it kind of awkward, but also makes me feel good, especially when I have female students in my classes. I don't know what kind of role model I really am, deep down, but on the surface I look very impressive to them, at any rate. I'm starting to get used to it, to thinking of myself as a professor. I've sort of dropped off all my hobbies -- playing the saxophone and writing; I'm spending all my time on work stuff, but that's OK. Chandra finished his B.F.A. finally, in May, from Tyler School of Art; he wants to try to make it as a sculptor. I don't know if he'll be able to interest anyone in his abstract, distorted human figures, but I guess it's worth a try; anyway I can support us both on my income. Though I'd certainly be happier if he worked too. I'm willing to support him for a while anyway. We're both feeling pretty settled in Philadelphia -- everyone says I was lucky to be able to get a job here; the job market is pretty tight. In all probability, if I wasn't a woman, I wouldn't have been able to; I would have been forced to take a job in Topeka or Guadalajara or Nacogdoches, Texas, or some other such shithole....

    About the fighting, which I wrote about in my last entry, it hasn't happened since then; we both seem to have brought ourselves under control. I guess it was mostly the stress of being poor students that put us into that state of mind. Things seem a lot easier and more stable now. Money is so fucking stupid; it's amazing how much difference it makes.

    There's just one thing I forgot to mention in here, though; which is the reason for this entry; it's really floating throughmy mind. The dream I started having, back in grad school, I can't remember exactly when. That there were two of him. It was an incredibly vivid dream, and it recurred again and again, something that had never happened to me before, at least not since early childhood. It still visits me now and then, though not nearly as often.

    It wasn't now; it was about a hundred years ago. Sometimes it was now though; the time would kind of switch back and forth. The two Chandras would fight over me. Or they would fight with me. And both of them would give me that look of recognition. One of them was always a little thinner than the other. The thin one was nastier but a bit more seductive. The three of us would just hang out in bed mostly; they didn't like to go out, on account of having split in two.

    I often suspect I had the dream every night. But some nights I didn't remember it. Most nights I did. Especially when we were having problems; then I dreamed about it every night, and it was vivid, incredibly vivid. Except something strange happened: he was white. Why he came out white in the dream I can't understand; when the dream started out he was black. I stayed white, of course.

    Also, he was usually a woman, and I was a man. Though this shifted back and forth, as things will in dreams. Usually in the past I was a woman and in the present I was a man.

    The dream was madness, total madness, but it felt like I was living in an alternate universe. A universe with one Chandra by day, a universe with two Chandras by night ... except his name wasn't Chandra anymore. She had all different names. Sometimes, I remember, Karen or Kara or Marcia or Dahlia, or Rose,.... It didn't matter; it was her, it was him. It looked like him except for the skin color and it talked and felt and tasted like him. It was Chandra -- they were Chandra....

    I don't know what this means, exactly. Except that I've decided to open another space on this puter and write down some parts of the dream. Just a spare time thing, should be a few hundred thousand bytes at most. Not the whole thing, just whatever I can piece together. I want to try to shape it into something whole. I'm starting to think like it was really real -- isn't it possible, somehow, that a hundred years ago we really did exist in different bodies; that I was a man and he was a woman? I have such a feeling for it, far more than I should; I've never studied that historical period in any detail, and I've never done any serious VR simulation in a man's body. There's absolutely no reason I should feel all this so clearly but yet I somehow do. I know it sounds farfetched and stupid but maybe there's some way it could be true. After all, we don't understand everything yet. A hundred years ago there wasn't any plex; and two hundred years ago no one had ever flown up in the air.

    Isn't it possible that this existence -- now, in the 21'st century -- is just some kind of illusion or mistake; that the world in this dream represents the true reality? Of course, that wouldn't explain all the bizarre goings-on in the dream. But maybe they're just aberrations, caused by the same thing thatscrewed up reality in the first place, that caused us to think we're different sexes than we are, living in a different century.... God, as I write this down I realize how utterly psychotic it is. It doesn't seem quite as weird when I'm thinking it, it just seems so natural.... I don't think I'll mention these feelings to anyone....

    I think maybe part of the dream came from the wire, from that acid trip on the wire we did in New York. It took me weeks to come down; maybe I never really have, all the way. The plex does weird things when you're on acid; all sorts of stuff seeps into your brain. It harmonizes you, makes you feel sort of wired up with everyone else and the rest of the world, but there's also some information hidden in that blur, a lot of stuff you don't see. We probably should have kept the wire off for the whole trip. But the duplex really jazzes things up ... that's why it's called "hotwiring" I guess. Anyway what's done is done. Whether it came from the wire or wherever, it's a crazy dream. All full of these weird Hungarians, Chandra performing cunnilingus on himself, and all sorts of stuff. I don't know where the Hungarian stuff came from, that's what makes me think of the wire. I love Hungarian food but I never really had any connection with the country.

    Anyway, I got totally sick of writing this diary but now with this dream I have a new enthusiasm for writing. I'm even feeling comfortable with the idea of using the stylizer. Why the hell not, if it makes things easier? Maybe the stylizer can turn my disconnected memories into some kind of coherent narrative or something. If the story came out of the plex in the first place then this seems particularly appropriate. There's probably some psychological reason for this change of heart but it really doesn't matter; I've wasted enough time analyzing myself....

"take off your clothes,"

she said abruptly

                    the sun shining down

                    like the huge yellow nipple

                    of an invisible breast

"but this is a public place"

"it's a field out in the middle of nowhere

who's going to see you?"

"there's a highway right over there"

she looked at me insistently

the grass reached up almost to my knees

overcome by her strangely cold smile and her eyes

i slipped off my shirt and my jeans and my underpants

the trees at the side of the field    seemed peculiarly crooked

their branches swooping and twining out every which way

i began to feel woozy

as if pulled by the gravity

of a million distant galaxies


the wind suddenly blew

a swarm of leaves fluttered down

the hairs on my skin felt like trembling needles

i blushed as she stood there and stared


she walked toward me and stopped a foot away

smiling quietly and distantly

i had an urge to reach out to her

but i felt frozen

waiting for the word

her next command

the field surged up at me like a tropical illness

the cars buzzing by on the nearby highway

melted into the blood pulsing increasingly violently

through my arteries and veins

she put her hands in front of my chest

and moved them slowly around in circles

an inch away from my skin

i felt an energy coming out of her

a warmth penetrating down to the dermis

and below to the muscle and bone

a wave of excitement raced through my body

suddenly everything felt    infinitely alive

the wind blew again and i desperately inhaled it

the leaves danced in time with my breath

she moved her hands along my sides

still staying an inch away

i felt my hipbones with a vividness

i had never known before

they seemed to jut out toward the sky

piercing out through space

performing acupuncture on distant stars and comets

my internal organs hummed and buzzed

with her superhuman energy

i looked at her face

and saw that she was still just quietly smiling

like before

a bird

a sparrow

twittered by

and landed inches from my feet

it pecked in the grass looking for food

and then looked up at me


my mind approximated the mind of the sparrow

i listened in awe to its brown feather music

frozen perfection

structured harmony

repeated forest melody

ageless drum

she brought her hands

down the outside of my legs

still never touching me

i felt i might float up right away from her

then she moved her hands dramatically upwards

and i sank down into the earth

blending in with the grass and the tiny white flowers

still standing right there never moving

she moved her hands around my penis

never touching it just stroking

gently gently up and down

at an infinite distance

maybe an inch or two

it throbbed toward her helplessly

but never quite reached her

i looked at her face

and now it was abstracted

her tiny sweet smile

had grown into something neutral

she was as bland and useful and perfect as the forest air

i felt a new wave

brilliant sharp definite

she just kept on stroking with her calm silent rhythm

everything became vivid and red

the universe yanking itself through its asshole

to see is not to see

to hear is not to hear

to smell is not to smell

to taste is not to taste

to touch is not to touch

then suddenly it began to rain

my sperm spouted up as the drops drenched my body

i looked up at the sun

and saw that it was emitting a drop of glowing white milk

"put your clothes on,"

she said finally

we walked home holding hands and not saying anything

the sparrow looked at me one last time

turned its head up and soared away

i understood that my understanding was never really anything

it is always very symbolic

to involve a sparrow

    Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 2091, page 522



    According to the calculations of Drexel wire science professor Alexandra Zeltsyn, it should be possible to increase the capacity of modern wire by a factor of a hundred, by changing the stacking pattern of the wireball strands inside. "It's really very simple," says Ms. Zeltsyn modestly. "I set up a self-organizing group of AI units and set them the task of finding optimal stacking patterns. They came up with a large number of possibilities, several of them clearly superior to the standard Yagorov pattern." But, while Ms. Zeltsyn makes it sound easy, computer and wire scientists around the world have hailed her discovery as a breakthrough.

    Ms. Zeltsyn received her Ph.D. two years ago from the University of Pennsylvania. At the tender age of 24, this discovery ranks her as one of the top wire scientists in the world. Which is, she says, "ironic, as I'm not really a great expert on the wire" -- her main field of interest is the social organization of AI's.

    The new stacking pattern, which researchers are already calling the Zeltsyn Pattern, will require extensive reprogramming of manufacturing units. According to the best estimates, it will be three to five years before Zeltsyn Pattern wire can be produced in commercial quantities. Several corporations, including Henmi Corp. in Japan, Tech ChungWah in China, and Apple-Electron in the US, are currently organizing R&D groups to deal with the problem of engineering the new wire.

    The consequences of this increase in bandwidth will be, the experts say, profound. While Ms. Zeltsyn declines to speculate in this regard, her colleage Jarred Wilford posits that "This increase in bandwidth should herald a new era in wire science, both on the hardware and software levels. What we will see, I think, is the gradual obsolescence of VR houses, as it become increasingly possible to transmit virtual reality experiences directly over the wire. Eventually we may see a whole new kind of plexing, involving not only vague intimations of other's mental motions, but concrete experience of the collective reality of the wire as a solid, vivid space comparable to the physical world." Heady stuff, no doubt!

    What with plexisy on the rise worldwide, Ms. Zeltsyn's discovery may seem to some a mixed blessing. But Dr. Wilford disagrees. "Plexisy is a vastly overdiagnosed disorder," he claims. "And when it does occur, it results from the combination of plex with drugs like LSD and DMT. But with the new wire people won't need to use these drugs at all, because alternate ways of viewing reality will be available directly over the wire. The way I see it, Alex's discovery is more likely to solve the problem than to exacerbate it."

    Whether Dr. Wilford is right or wrong, one thing seemscertain: the wire will never be the same again. As for Ms. Zeltsyn, the world eagerly awaits her next breakthrough discovery, but when asked about her current research, she becomes uncharacteristically demure. "I'm working on some things. Don't hold your breath."



Philadelphia, 1985: Human Asexual Reproduction. -- It was morning in Philadelphia. John stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror, absent-mindedly scratching his shoulder, and a funny thought flashed through his head. No, it would be exaggerating to call it a complete thought; it was more of a fleeting sensation, a vague unease.

    Possessed by this vague sensation, he stepped toward the bedroom door and looked at his girlfriend Dahlia, lying face-down in the center of the bed, the sheets thrown off to the side. Her nightgown was bunched around her waist, revealing the lower half of her naked body to the eight-o-clock sun. The light poured in through the crooked Venetian blinds, weaving wild zebra patterns across her legs.

    Nothing out of the ordinary. Dahlia looked beautiful.

    But then there was still that funny feeling....

    The bathroom had two doors: one to the bedroom, one to the hallway. Through the doorway to the bedroom, he saw Dahlia lying there, sleepily shifting her position, pulling a pillow over her head to shield her eyes from the sun, getting her fingers tangled up in her light brown hair.

    And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something moving through the other door. Something, or somebody.... He tried to convince himself that it had just been the cat, jumping by through the air.

    But, as another part of his mind soon reminded him, there was one small problem with that theory. They didn't have a cat.

    John shifted his right foot toward the hallway door and peeked curiously out.

    What he saw was a strange young woman walking naked down the hallway.

    'Hey!' John called, his body stiffening instinctively.

    The intruder stopped walking, and slowly turned around. 'Hay is for horses,' she said lightly.

    He looked her straight in the face. For a moment he felt as if he were going to faint. There was no way to deny what his eyes reported. It was Dahlia, Dahlia, Dahlia!

    He took a step back and looked into the other room. There she was on the bed.

    Then he turned his head back. There she was in the hall.

    He turned his head to the precise angle where he could see them both at once, one through each doorway. There they both were, there was no naysaying it. One Dahlia, in two places, at one time.

    It occurred to him that he had suddenly gone insane. But on the other hand, his thought process seemed exactly the same as it always had been. He just stood there staring through the two doors at once, unable to add one and one to get one.

    Half a minute passed, maybe more. He just stood and stared, in a hypnotic state....

    As though a gift from God, an idea came to him.... Dahliahad a twin! A secret, identical twin sister! It was a wildly improbable hypothesis: why would this twin pop up in the apartment in the middle of the night, unannounced and unclothed? But what other explanation was there?

    John walked toward the Dahlia on the steps and took her by the hand. Slowly he led her to the bedroom, where the other Dahlia was still sleeping, despite all the commotion. He had no preconceived idea of what would happen when Dahlia confronted her twin. He was simply doing the inevitable.

    The standing Dahlia opened her mouth as if to gasp something, then she shut it again. John stared at her imploringly, completely baffled by her reaction. But the only thing she could get out was 'Bu... bu.. bu....'

    Then the sleeping Dahlia opened her eyes. She made a motion as if to sit up straight in bed, but she just kept lying there, absolutely motionless, her huge brown eyes appearing triple their normal size.

    It was clear that neither one was going to break the ice. The two of them, it seemed, were going to stare at each other for hours. So finally John said, 'There are two of you.'

    As soon as he got the words out, John hated himself for making such a stupid comment. Later, he replayed the scene in his mind a hundred times, always saying something clever. 'Dahlia, meet Dahlia. Dahlia, meet Dahlia!' But in the shock of the moment, it was all he could do to state the simple fact.

    Neither of them answered. Then, finally, the Dahlia on the bed said slowly and quietly 'That's true.' The other one managed a forced and muffled laugh. They stared at each other indefatigably. John cursed himself for not being able to read the expression on their faces.

    As he watched their tense, slightly trembling bodies, he gradually discovered that they were not exactly the same woman. Or, rather, it was as though they were the same woman, but caught at different times. The Dahlia on the bed was slightly thinner ... her trim, firm thighs stood out in particular. And she had a smoother complexion, with fewer hints of acne scars on her face. On the whole, she was a little bit prettier. The standing Dahlia, on the other hand, had somewhat fuller lips, and more of a voluptuous, sensual appearance. The expression on her face seemed somehow kinder and less critical....

    But to describe these features in words is to exaggerate them. No one but John would ever have noticed any differences at all. After living with Dahlia for six years, he was well versed in every curve of her body, every patch of her skin, every bulge of her muscles. And even so, he could barely discern that the two Dahlias in front of him were not precisely identical.

    Painstakingly, he compared each contour of each one of them with his memory. But he found his memory depressingly inadequate. How did the curve of Dahlia's calf really go? Which of her areolas was larger? What was the real angle of her cheekbone?

    In his head, he made list after list, each one evaporating after ten or fifteen seconds. The Dahlia on the left: thinner thighs, pointier cheekbones, lighter skin. The Dahlia on theright: thicker lips, sexier eyes, larger calves. Dahlia Left: flatter belly, firmer breasts, shorter hair. Dahlia Right: rounded belly, rounded buttocks, larger breasts, fewer hints of a lines on the face.

    Every time he made a list, he erased half the items on it for fear he had imagined them. But it all came to nothing anyway. The only lasting product of his list-making was the names he gave them during the process, without even thinking about it. Dahlia Left and Dahlia Right. D.L. and D.R.

    Eventually, by mutual consent, the staring contest ended.

'This isn't possible,' said D.R.

    D.L. smiled, and said 'Think again.'

    John tried, without success, to read their expressions. Then he cleared his throat nervously and said, 'How come you never told me you had a twin?'

    'I don't,' they both said at the same time. 'I'm....'

    At the precise same time, they both realized that they were voicing the exact same words. They both shut up. But after a moment, D.R. reluctantly continued. 'I'm Dahlia. I don't know who she is.'

    D.L. grinned. 'That's exactly what I was going to say.'

    Suddenly John's face turned deep red. 'Ha ha ha, very funny!' he snapped. 'Okay, the joke's over. I can tell you apart, as a matter of fact, but I can't tell which one of you is Dahlia. Just cut it out, it it's not at all amusing. Come on, what the hell's going on here?'

    Embarrassed by his anger, he distorted his face into the most vicious glare he could conjure. But they met his rage with blank expressions.

    He ground his teeth, then clenched his fist and punched the wall, leaving a hole in the plasterboard. Then he took D.L. by the hand, led her into the bathroom and shut the door. He whispered into her ear in a desperate tone. 'What book did I read during our trip to Russia?'

    She thought a moment and answered. 'The Possessed.'

    Now it was his turn to pause for a couple seconds. Finally he thought of another question. 'What were the names of the two stray cats we took in when we lived in Chicago?'

    This time she didn't need to think. 'Fluffball and ... uh ... Summer.'

    'Indian Summer,' he corrected. For a fraction of a second he was exultant; everything was peaceful, back in place. But soon enough he realized that was impossible to conclude anything from such an insignificant memory lapse.

    'What was my friend Will's pet name for me in college?'

    She thought for a moment and then just shook her head. 'Geez, John, I can't remember that.'

    'What was my roommate's name at Rutgers that summer?'

    'Boris the Spider....' She smiled, reminiscing. 'Bo.'

    The interrogation continued for a few more minutes. She made a couple more slips, but her answers on the whole were perfectly accurate. John was convinced that she was the real Dahlia, and the other one was the twin.

    So he made Dahlia return to the bed, and dragged the otherone, the double, into the bathroom, where he subjected her to a similar barrage of questions, some the same, some different.      But the results were identical. If anything, D.R. did a little bit better. John was at a loss for thoughts. Dahlia couldn't possibly have told her twin that much about him -- not enough to prepare her for every possible question.     

    His imagination perked up. He inspected their ears for hidden speakers, looked around for hidden microphones -- maybe there had been some kind of hi-tech contraption. But of course, there was nothing. He speculated that the twin could have a surgically implanted speaker inside her ear. Or, perhaps she was a trained magician, and she had slickly 'disappeared' the speaker as they had left the bathroom.

    'You both passed the test,' he said slowly and evenly. 'With flying colors, as the saying goes.'

    Again, they both started speaking at the same time. 'But she's....'

    They just sat on the bed and stared at each other, again. John realized, to his dismay, that he was beginning to accept her dual presence. He was beginning to deal with it as though it was a normal feature of life.

    There was no way, he decided, to convincingly disprove the hypothesis of an incredibly well-informed and clever secret twin. From an abstract, rational point of view, this was the only sensible thing to believe. But yet, from the perspective of moment-by-moment interactions, it was a lot simpler just to believe that there were two Dahlias there in front of him....     Finally Dahlia Left, the ever-so-minutely thinner one, said 'There's another kind of test you could try.' She raised up her eyebrows and swiveled her hips.

    John watched Dahlia Right's initial annoyance melt into amusement. Finally she chimed in, 'Yes there is.'

    'Double your pleasure, double your fun,' said D.R. casually, to the tune of the old Doublemints gum ad....

    The sex was brilliant, spiced by the tension and confusion of the moment. The net effect of doubling her, it seemed, was to make each one of her seem ten times more attractive. But as an experiment, their three-way sexual encounter was the most dismal of failures. The truth was, so far as he could tell, they both made love exactly like Dahlia. They even tasted the same.

    John looked quickly over at the clock and realized he wasn't going to make it to work. His job -- he was an editorial assistant at a large science publisher -- was not particularly difficult, but it did require a lot of concentration. And what with two Dahlias in the house, he didn't see how he could concentrate on anything. Anyway, he had four weeks worth of sick days in reserve; no one could say anything against him for taking a day off with a bad cold.


Reverie. -- But as he floated away toward sleep, no solution presented itself. Instead his thoughts drifted back into the past. He remembered the first time he'd slept with Dahlia -- ten o'clock on a Thursday night, back in 1988, in his old apartment out in West Philly near the University of Pennsylvania campus.

    Him, twenty-two, fresh out of college and just broken up with a twenty-eight year old married girlfriend. Her, eighteen and in the second semester of her freshman year. He wasn't her first lover, but he was, she told him afterwards, the first man to really make love with her.

    They'd gone to dinner at an Indian place on 38'th and Chestnut, right near campus. Then he'd driven her downtown, to the Roxy Theater. After a little straining he recalled that it had been a cartoon, or rather a collection of short cartoons. In particular, one of the shorts stood out in his mind, as vividly as if he had seen it a week ago. There was a butcher, a greasy Italian type, with a knife as long as his arm. He just kept chopping himself up, and every time he chopped a body part off it became another little butcher, chopping itself up into tinier pieces that became yet more miniscule butchers....

    Abruptly John realized he'd fallen asleep. The movie, he now remembered, had been called 'Outrageous Animation.' And the Lupo the Butcher short had not involved any little tiny butchers. He had been dreaming. Or rather, he had been remembering something that had briefly passed through his mind six years ago, when he'd seen the movie. Dimly he realized he was still asleep; he was still dreaming.

    He was there, in the Roxy Theater, looking at Dahlia's face as Lupo carved himself to pieces. The expression on her face was somehow frightening: she seemed a little too amused. This delight in gore somehow seemed to go against her character. But then, on careful reflection, he understood it perfectly well. Dahlia Right would have taken no joy in watching Lupo. But it was Dahlia Left sitting there with him. What this meant, he wasn't quite certain -- it made him uncomfortable, but at the same time he marked it as a thought to be pursued.

    After the movie, he offered to drive her back to the dorm. But she touched his shoulder, and said 'No, I'm not tired yet. Let's do something.'

    'D'you want to come back to my place and listen to music?'

    'That sounds nice.'

    Suddenly he was basking in the delicious glow on her face. They had just finished 'listening to music,' and were lying exhausted on the bed. Her pale white body, flush from sex, was leaning comfortably on a stack of three or four pillows ... and for some reason it struck him as the body of a decadent princess. A princess, perhaps, who had just finished having her way with one of her slaves. Yes, Dahlia's position, her gestures, conveyed a kind of satisfied haughtiness, as though she had merely obtained the pleasure which was her due. But yet the lookon her face was exactly the opposite: it was a look of pure warmth and gratitude.

    Instantaneously airborne, John looked down on himself. No longer was he lying with Dahlia, age eighteen; instead he was lying with Dahlia Left and Dahlia Right. He watched them merge into a single person; he watched their features shift, combine and superimpose ... and before long he was lying with Dahlia, age eighteen again. The expression was D.R.'s -- the love, the gratitude, the tenderness. But the aristocratic body language belonged to D.L. As the dream disappeared, it occurred to him to wake up, so as to ensure he would remember his insight. But he wanted to sleep. He promised himself that he would not forget: Dahlia had split in two....

    John slept for nearly an hour.


Fight... -- When John awoke, he was dimly aware that his sleeping mind had come to some kind of realization. But what this realization had been, he couldn't quite recall. Anyway, there was no solution in sight. Instead, the problem was even more apparent than it had been before. One of the Dahlia's -- D.R., as he had christened her -- was dressed and ready to walk out the bedroom door.

    He looked at her uncomprehendingly. 'You're going to work?!'

    'We tossed a coin,' she explained. 'I lost, so I go today. She'll go tomorrow.'

    'I don't understand how you can take this all so lightly. Why don't you come clean! What's really going on here?'

    The lack of a response incensed him even more. He sat up and dug his nails into his knees. 'Come on, man! What do you think you're doing to me?!'

    'I don't know what's going on,' she said, her voice finally showing a hint of anger. 'I don't understand this any better than you do. But I've got to get on with my ordinary life, or I'm just going to go insane.'

    John shook his head violently, pounding his fist on the bed. 'Stop playing with me! We've got to straighten this thing out right here and now. I can't just go on with normal life and forget about the fact that there are two of you instead of one.'

    She gritted her teeth. 'Well you're going to have to stop thinking about yourself, John.'

    'I'm not thinking about myself, Dahlia, I'm thinking about you! Christ, you're going to make me go mad!'

    Something shifted in Dahlia Right's face. 'Make you go mad?!' snapped Dahlia Right. 'What in God's name to you have to do with it?! I should be the one going mad, for Christ's sake! ... What am I supposed to do? Sit here coddling you all day 'cause you don't like it? Well I don't like it either, John! What am I supposed to do, kill her?!'

    'That's very clever,' said John slowly, 'simulating anger. You're a better actress than I thought you were. You should have majored in theater instead of music. That is, assuming you're actually Dahlia and not her twin sister.... On the other hand, if you're her twin sister, then you're also an excellent actress. You're doing a damn fine job of impersonating Dahlia being an excellent actress.... In any event, you've got me more confused than I ever thought I was capable of being....' He took a deep breath. 'But you still haven't driven me crazy yet. I can still tell garbage when I hear it!'

    'You think I'm acting?' snapped Dahlia Right. 'You think I'm playing a game -- for your benefit? You think you're that goddamned all-important, that I would go to this much trouble to play a joke on you? That's ridiculous, John -- if you believe that then you're even more screwed up than I am!'

    Tears streamed down her cheek. She started walking out thebedroom door. But John jumped up out of bed and grabbed her arm hard. 'Look, Dahlia, you're not going out that door. Sit down and we're going to figure this out.'

    She tried to pull away. 'Good bye, John.'

    He yanked her back, and she swiped out at him with her nails. Accidentally, she poked him in the eye, and he pushed her away. She hit her head on the doorway and started to cry. 'Oh, you're going to beat me now, huh, and that'll make everything better? That's really intelligent, John. That's just so damn intelligent.'

    'I didn't beat you,' said John angrily, 'I just pushed you away after you tried to put my eye out! I was only protecting myself.'

    She scowled and clenched her fist. 'Uh huh. That's a bunch of lies, John. You're just upset about the situation, and you're taking it out on me. Just stop it, John. It's bad enough anyway, without you being such a jerk.'

    Without even thinking about it, he slapped her in the face.     She drove her knee into his groin, and sent him reeling back. Despite the agony, he collected himself within seconds; he got up, kicked her in the stomach, and hit her in the arm.

    It had been three years, he remembered, since their last serious physical fight. 'Let's just stop it, please,' he said, staring straight into her eyes. 'Come on, Dahlia, let's not fight.'

    When he saw her coming at him from behind, it was too late. Her fists were clenched, her eyes were wide, and she was hitting out in all directions. For a second he didn't understand: she was still standing in front of him. But then he looked at her and let out a muffled scream. Dahlia Right recovered from her frozen posture and sat on top of him, holding him down while the other one beat him over and over and over again. He could overpower either one of them easily, but he was no match for the pair.

    After two or three minutes, Dahlia Right got up and changed her clothes. She said, 'I'm going to work.'

    Dahlia Left went over to John. 'I had to do that,' she said. 'I'm sorry, but I couldn't stand to see you do that to her.'

    'I didn't mean to beat her up...' John said plaintively. 'It was just ... she stabbed me in the eye ... and I pushed her back... then she kicked me in the....'

    'I know,' she said. 'She asks for it. That's the way she is. But just because she asks for it, you don't have to give it to her.'

    He just lay there speechless, staring blankly at the ceiling.

    'Come on, you need a hot bath. It's not that bad, you'll get over it. All you need is a massage.'

    John was suspicious ... this Dahlia Left was a peculiar character. She had just got finished beating on him, and now she wanted to massage him. But he saw nothing to be gained by turning down her offer.

    The water, and the massage, felt incredibly good. Herealized that, in terms of physical damage, the beating had felt much worse than it actually was. As his body stopped aching, her massage became less therapeutic and more sensual....

    But as they rested together in the bath, D.R. felt something cold inside. She didn't feel terribly bad about beating him; after all, he had beaten her -- or rather her double -- first. Admittedly she had started it, stabbing him and kicking him. But even so, he had beaten her before, so he had it coming. And she didn't feel bad about seducing him afterwards, while he was still in a daze. After all, whatever the underlying motivation, they had both enjoyed it.

    But the problem was, this was not like her. This was the first time the thought entered her head that she was not Dahlia. After all, what sense did it make for there to be two Dahlias? Only one of them could be real.... And just because she felt herself to be real, what did that prove? Perhaps she was Dahlia's evil twin sister, who had gone psychotic and now believed that she was Dahlia. How could she ever know?

She tried to banish the thought from her head, but it wouldn't go away.

    When the bath was done John fell asleep, and slept until four o'clock. He had only been up a few hours, but he was physically and psychologically exhausted. Dahlia tried to sleep too, but the uncertainty was too much for her; she wound up pacing around the apartment, obsessively doing housework and reading the newspaper. She even walked out to the store and bought a pack of cigarettes -- it was the first time she'd smoked in seven years.

    At four fifteen Dahlia Right came home. She was all smiles; Dahlia Left was envious as she watched her double glide into the kitchen. 'I got off early,' D.R. explained. 'I couldn't seem to concentrate.'

    They looked at each other nervously. Each understood the other's meaning, nothing really had to be said. But D.L. said it quietly anyway. 'Evil twin....'

    D.R. nodded and put her arms around her double. 'Christ, how can we know?'

    John, though still groggy from sleep, understood exactly what was going on. 'You two really don't know, do you?'

    They shook their heads.

    'You don't know which one of you is the real Dahlia.'

    They just stared at him dumbly. 'You believe me,' said D.R.

    'I don't know what I really believe,' John answered carefully. 'Let's just say my mind is open now. Christ, I'm willing to believe anything.'

    D.R. looked at him warmly. But D.L. got a malicious glint in her eye. 'We've beaten down his resistance,' she said ironically.

    D.R. eyed her double with awe and suspicion. She studied John carefully. She was surprised and relieved to see that he didn't appear offended. Perhaps, she considered, her double was right. Perhaps he had been beaten into submission, at least temporarily. But if he had been, she wondered, what would the long-term repercussions be? What would happen if her doublemanaged to alienate John completely? Would John turn off to her as well? She glared at D.L. 'You're definitely Dahlia's bad side.'

    'I'm the sexy side,' retorted D.L., bending over and running her hand across her ass. 'Ask him what we did all day. I'm simply....'

    'I slept,' John interrupted crossly. 'Since ten thirty.'

    'And before then?' pushed D.L.

    D.R. guessed the truth, and she saw John was embarrassed. 'Just cut it out!'

    D.L. glared at her. 'You're just jealous.'

    D.R. had an urge to slap her double. But then a funny thought occurred to her, and she laughed loudly. She said, 'I admit you're a beautiful woman, but you don't have to brag about your conquests.'

    D.L. giggled: the weight was lifted. The two Dahlias sat down on the bed next to John and started tickling him. He played along and tickled them back: it was just as though they were new lovers again. But his mind was stuck on Dahlia Right's comment, 'You're definitely Dahlia's bad side'.... Slowly but clearly, he began to remember his woozy morning dream. He recalled his out-of-body experience, in which he had seen Dahlia split in two. Two 'sides' of her personality, yes indeed. It all made sense. They were both Dahlia, they both had all of Dahlia's traits -- but each of them had some of these traits to an exaggerated degree, and others to a diminished degree. They were both warped Dahlias. And if you added the two together, you got the real thing.

    It didn't fit together, logically. But on the other hand, neither did the observable facts. The evil twin hypothesis was seeming less and less plausible. When the tickling was over, John decided to share his discovery. 'I think you're right,' he said slowly.

    'About what?' asked D.R.

    'About her being Dahlia's bad side. And I think you're right too,' he said, nodding to D.L., 'about you being her sexy side. Not that you're not both very attractive.... You know what I mean. I think you're both ... two different parts of her. Maybe I'm just going crazy -- it wouldn't surprise me at all, I mean, given everything that's happened. But this is the conclusion I have come to.'

    'But why would two different parts of my personality split up into separate people?' said D.R. 'It still doesn't make sense.'

    'No, of course it doesn't,' said John. 'I'm not even going to speculate about the cause of what's happening. Maybe one of you really is Dahlia's evil psychotic twin. Maybe Dahlia was cloned. But whatever the cause, what I'm talking about is the difference in personality between the two of you. You're very very similar, compared to most other people, but you're not exactly the same. It really is as though each one of you is a part of the old Dahlia's personality.'

    'But we're whole people....' protested D.R.

    'We each contain the whole Dahlia,' said D.L., 'but weexpress her in different ways.'

    D.R. nodded.

    'Neither of us is really adequate,' continued D.L. 'Not adequate for him, not adequate to live a decent life in the world. You're too gullible, too sweet and goody-goody. I'm too impulsive, too ... too emotional, I guess, I don't know.'

    'I think what you just said is very accurate.' said John. 'My only question is what are you going to do? I mean are you going to live one life or two?'

    'I don't want to leave you any more,' said D.R. quickly. 'I can't handle myself alone. I'm too ... I don't know.'

    D.L. smiled. 'I don't want to leave you either.'

    'You're going to quit your job?'

    'I never wanted to be a waitress anyway,' pointed out D.L. 'Is that what I got my B.F.A. in music for, to serve people food?'

    He raised his hands in despair. 'But ... this morning, you were so determined to go....'

    'It was a matter of principle.'

    'But look,' said John, 'you work for a reason....'

    'You can support us,' said D.L.

    'Three people?' John was taken aback. 'Just barely.'

    'You'll have to get a better job,' agreed D.L. 'It'll be no problem. You know what they always say, behind every great man there's a great woman.'

    'Yeah,' laughed Dahlia Right. 'Imagine what you can do with two of us.'

    John looked at them warily. He didn't like the sound of that at all. 'I don't want to be a great man. I'm happy just to be comfortably mediocre. I....'

    'You're only saying that,' interrupted D.L. 'A really mediocre person would never realize how mediocre they were.'

    D.R. sensed his thoughts and squeezed his hand. 'There's nothing in us that wasn't in her,' she pointed out warmly. 'We're just the same Dahlia you know and love.'

    'But you're not. You're already changing, both of you. You may have started out the same old Dahlia, this morning. But even in the course of one day you're developing in extreme directions. God knows what'll happen a week from now, or a year!'

    'It's your imagination,' said D.R. 'You're just getting to know us better, that's all.'

    John decided it would be best to change the subject. 'I doubt if I can get a promotion out of Phil. And the economy is awfully bad; I don't think I could find a better job anywhere else. But I could put in for a transfer to production; they make a little more money over there.'

    'You always said you hated doing production work.'

    'I do,' admitted John. 'Or at least, I think I do. But.... Look, what I do is really beside the point. I don't think it's really a good idea for the two of you to just sit around the house all day by yourselves. I mean, won't you get bored, claustrophobic....' They looked at him curiously. Finally he said it. 'You could drive each other crazy!'

    'That's not a possibility,' said D.R. authoritatively.

    'That's right,' agreed D.L. 'We already are.'


... or Flight. -- The next day, John went to work. No one mentioned the small bruise on the side of his face. He was surprised at his psychological balance: although Dahlia never completely left his mind, he was still perfectly able to concentrate on the tasks at hand. He somehow managed to sever his thoughts about Dahlia, to place them in a compartment by themselves, while he went about his daily routine. In fact, he was immensely glad he'd come in to the office -- he wished he'd had the sense to do the same on the day before.

    Meanwhile, shortly after John left, Dahlia Left announced that she was going out. D.R. immediately understood that her double didn't want company. She settled down on the couch and turned on the TV.

    The truth, as they both increasingly realized, was that they had no need whatsoever, to be together. But, even so, they were definitely not capable of working, at the present time. The shock of what had happened had been too great.

    There was nothing good on the tube, but D.R. sat there staring at it anyhow. It was so soothing, watching the images flash by. She switched on MTV and just floated; she hardly even noticed when the commercials came on. She knew that she was the only one who had any chance of understanding what had happened. John had never understood her in the first place; his mind was too rational and straightforward. From their very first date she had been an enigma, a mystery; that was a large part of his attraction to her. And the other Dahlia was too selfish and impulsive to reflect on the past. She was only concerned with her own personal present and future.

    A frightening hypothesis presented itself to her. Perhaps she had been two people, in one body, for years. Maybe ever since childhood. But it had gotten worse over the past few years. Her relationship with John, and her failure as a musician, had somehow brought the two inner Dahlias further apart. Until, finally, this had happened. In terms of the laws of the physical world, it didn't make much sense. But if she traced what had been happening to her mind, it was perfectly logical.

    She remembered the first night she'd slept with John. That terrible, stupid cartoon movie, with those dancing mice and that disgusting butcher cutting his arms off.... She'd been out with John three times before, but until that night, she had been unable to make up her mind about him. He was outgoing, intelligent, witty; exactly the type of man she'd always thought she would fall in love with. But yet something within her had shrunk back from him....

    But that night she'd decided. She was embarrassed to recall that she'd fallen in love with him largely on the basis of his reckless, drunken love-making. She'd gone back to his apartment on a whim, more out of boredom than anything else. They'd finished off two bottles of wine -- and he had lost control. Really lost control. The way he touched her, the things he said to her, bore no relation to his ordinary personality. She hadn't been surprised when he'd seduced her against her initial desire; that was par for the course. But what had shocked her was his wildness, his reckless enthusiasm. In bed all his reason and balance had vanished, replaced by their opposites....

    At the time Dahlia hadn't understood why she was falling for John. But, with the benefit of six years hindsight, D.R. found everything perfectly transparent. John himself had two distinct components to his personality. Part of him was sensible, rational, straightforward. And the other part was reckless, passionate and wild. She -- meaning Dahlia Right -- had been reassured by his dominant sensible side. Dahlia Left had recoiled from it, not in disgust but in boredom. Only when John had revealed his sensual, foolish side, had Dahlia Left given up the fight.

    For a few lovely seconds, it all seemed crystal clear. But then the insight quickly evaporated, leaving only an unpleasant smell. What the hell was she thinking? It was crazy! She'd never had multiple personalities -- she wasn't a goddamned Sybil! She was just a perfectly regular girl with conflicting desires. How did that translate into ... what had happened? The question boggled her mind. So she just lay there, trying not to think about it, watching the guitars and muscled men and busty women and psychedelic colors flashing by.

    Meanwhile, her double was sauntering down Chestnut Street, losing herself in the lights in the store windows and the motley parade of people in the street. She wandered around for over an hour, before she realized there was nowhere she wanted to go. Then she headed toward 20'th Street, toward Guido's Restaurant where she worked. Everything was confused. She realized John had been right: routine, abhorrent as it was, was the only thing in the world there was to cling to. The door to insanity was already unlocked -- to give up the job would be to open it gaping wide.

    Although she hadn't once looked at her watch, she got there just on time. The place was bustling and she had plenty to do. It was an incredible relief: suddenly she was Dahlia again, just plain Dahlia. Without the other Dahlia or John there, things were an awful lot simpler. Perhaps, she decided, it would be best to leave them altogether -- to let her double take over with John, and start a new life. After all, hadn't it been getting kind of dull with John anyway? They'd been going out for six years, living together for two and a half. It was about time to either get married or split up.

    True, she loved him, that she was sure of. But on the other hand, she reflected, as a little girl she had loved her parents. Eventually she had had to leave home and grow up. John kept her dependent; with his good sense he lorded it over her, he suppressed her. Maybe, she decided, it was time for her to grow up and find some kind of life that would let her express herself more fully. Wasn't it his fault that she was a college-trained musician working in a restaurant? It was his good sense that told her she had to earn a living. She should be playing herflute in the street -- eventually someone important would hear her. She should be playing music somewhere, not just letting her life rot away in some godawful restaurant!

    By lunchtime she was decided. The hell with the both of them! Dahlia Right was a simpering fool; let her mollycoddle John till his dying day. She would go out into the world and make a name for herself. One day John and his 'comfortable mediocrity' would see her name in lights, and they would cry with envy.

    She left the restaurant and walked across the street to the bank. She planned to be charitable and take only half of the money from their joint account. John deserved his half, after all. It would be about $3000 -- enough to get started with.

    But when she gave her check to the teller, the teller informed her that the account only contained $1500. Dahlia let her head fall on the counter, and broke down into tears. She knew exactly what had happened. Her double -- the 'simpering fool' -- had been one step ahead of her. She had removed 'her' money from the account, leaving only half of Dahlia's share.

    All her resolve to run off was gone. She went back to the restaurant shamefully. Rationally, she knew that $1500 was enough to travel somewhere else and set up housekeeping. But the fact of having been anticipated took all the fun out of it.

    It was fair, there was no denying it: she was only half of Dahlia, so why should she get Dahlia's whole share of the money? But she couldn't take the $1500, and openly admit that that was all she deserved. She turned the issue over and over in her head until everything became clear. There was only one thing to do. When the workday was done, she walked toward the bus station, skipping the bank entirely. She would leave with only the money in her pocket -- about eighty dollars. Her double could have the damn three thousand -- the damn double could have everything! Her whole goddamn life was being stolen away! What a disgusting low-down thief! She was sorry she'd beaten up John -- if the double wanted to get clobbered, why not let her? After all, she'd deserved it; she'd kicked him in the balls. No man deserves that.

    In fact, thinking about John, she began doubting the wisdom of leaving at all. Why should she give that snivelling bitch the pleasure of getting John all to herself? She wasn't worthy of him! He deserved a real woman, someone who could stand up to him and challenge him. He had never really stood in the way of her expressing herself. It had only seemed that way -- she'd been so wishy-washy, and seeing that she'd lacked any clear direction, he'd simply made suggestions. If she had demanded that he support her while she pursued her music, what would he have said? He would have gone along with it, of course. He was too madly in love with her not to. Yes, in fact, John had a lot of unused potential; he had a lot of energy inside. He just needed some encouragement; he needed a strong woman to help him get his wild side out, to help him realize his unconscious ambitions....

    When she got to the bus station she looked at the TV screen showing all the destinations. New York, Chicago, Orlando, St. Louis. The words were all meaningless to her. What the hell wasthe point of going all those places? The place that she needed to go didn't exist upon the earth -- it was in some other direction. It could be reached from anywhere; only the right attitude was needed.

    She left the bus station, intent on returning to John. But still, she didn't feel like going immediately home. She wanted to do something, something exciting. No one was stopping her. What would John care -- he already had her double there at home!

She just walked around and around; it was beginning to get dark. Eventually she passed a very loud nightclub, and decided to go in.

    She knew something was strange from the moment she laid eyes on the bouncer at the door. It was a seven-foot-tall, overly muscled, grotesquely ugly woman. Dahlia's immediate reaction was repulsion; she wanted to turn away. But instead she forced herself to enter. She sat down at the bar and ordered a drink, and looked slowly around. Apparently it was a lesbian bar; there were no men in the place. In the back of the room was a dance floor where ten or twelve female couples were sensuously slow-dancing -- rubbing on each other and making out.

    After finishing her drink, she ordered another one, then another, then another. After five or six drinks, she began to feel sick. She got up and left the bar, and started heading home. But after she'd walked about half a block, she realized she wasn't going to make it. She ducked into an alley to vomit. But when she bent down on her knees to throw up, she realized she didn't have any desire to lift her body up again. She just lay there on the pavement. The noises from the bar rattled through her head incessantly, and she realized that, although she wasn't fully asleep, she was beginning to dream.

    She was back in the bar again, sitting at the counter. She wasn't sure what she was doing there, but for some reason it seemed right. Before long a slender, dark-skinned woman approached her. Wearing a flowing red skirt and a skin-hugging leotard, she looked perfectly normal; she was the antithesis of the monster by the door.

    'It's your first time here?' she said softly, putting her hand on Dahlia's.

    Dahlia nodded and smiled. It was an awfully familiar pick-up line, but this was the first time she'd ever heard it from a woman. 'Yeah, I just wandered in off the street.'

    As she heard herself say it, it sounded like a bogus excuse, and Dahlia wondered if it was even true. Hadn't she known this place was here? Surely she'd seen it before. But the woman took it at face value. 'Well I'm glad you did,' she said. 'My name is Tanya.'

    'I'm Dahlia.'

    'Dahlia -- that's a pretty name.'


    Tanya smiled. 'It really suits you.'

    Dahlia blushed. The two of them talked for awhile. Tanya wasn't a brilliant conversationalist but she was no dummy either. She worked for the city's literacy program, teaching homeless kids how to read. The pay was low, she said, but it was veryrewarding. Her face lit up when Dahlia mentioned that she played the flute. 'Oh, I love music,' she said wistfully. 'I'd love to play an instrument. But I don't know how I'd find time to practice. You'll have to play for me sometime.'

    Dahlia nodded. She wondered what was going to happen next. Obviously Tanya wanted to go to bed with her. But Dahlia wasn't sure what she wanted. Did she really want to cheat on John, for the first time ever? But on the other hand, wasn't John cheating on her right now, with that confounded false Dahlia, that simpering double? And on the other hand, why was she suddenly considering sleeping with a woman? She'd never been physically attracted to women before, and she wasn't feeling attracted to Tanya now, or at least she didn't think she was -- but yet the idea of having sex with Tanya was somehow exciting. Maybe, she considered, only the idea was exciting, and the actual sex would be awful. But on the other hand, the only way to tell was to try.

    Finally, after two hours and seven mixed drinks, Dahlia accepted Tanya's offer to come back to her place. It was only a few blocks away, but they walked there slowly, exchanging commonplaces about the homeless and the weather. Dahlia was drunk enough to start seeing things double, but not yet too drunk to walk. Everything was pleasingly pliant, disjointed, meaningless.

    The apartment was somewhat oddly decorated: the wallpaper was pink, but all the furniture was spotless black. Tanya seated her on the leather couch and put on some quiet jazz. Dahlia couldn't recognize the tune.

    'You're new to this, aren't you?' said Tanya.

    Dahlia nodded mutely.

    'I can tell.'

    'It's that obvious huh?'

    'I didn't say it was obvious,' Tanya grinned. 'I just said I could tell.' She sat down next to Dahlia and put her hand on Dahlia's breast. 'Why don't you take off your clothes?'

    Dahlia did as she was told, without questioning. She stood up and slipped her skirt off, then unsnapped her bra and let it fall to the ground. Finally she unbuttoned her shirt, and wriggled out of her underwear.

    'Lie down,' said Tanya gently. 'Here, on the rug.'

    Dahlia did, and was surprised at how soft it was -- either bearskin or, more likely, a good imitation.

    'Now close your eyes.'

    She paused a moment or two, suddenly wary. But then she shrugged her shoulders slightly and decided to go along. Anyway she was really too wasted to get up and do anything. As soon as Dahlia shut her eyes, Tanya bent over her and began kissing her breasts, her underarms, her belly,....

    Half an hour later, Tanya snuggled up against her. 'That was wonderful,' said Dahlia, pulling her close. Softly, she laughed, feeling awkward. 'I wish I could return the favor, but really....'

    'Oh, but you can,' said Tanya warmly, interrupting her. 'Let me show you.' She took Dahlia by the hand and led her intoanother room, which was lit only by a single dim red bulb. Dahlia noticed there were chains screwed into the opposite wall, and leather whips in a rack near the door.

    Dahlia laughed loudly. All of a sudden she was not at all comfortable. She had an urge to grab her clothes and make a run for it. 'I don't care how good you made me feel, I'm not gonna let you whip me with those.'

    Gently, Tanya touched Dahlia's face. 'Oh, I don't want to whip you.'

    Dahlia blushed, embarrassed at her error and taken aback. 'You want ... me....'

    'It's what I like,' said Tanya simply. 'You don't have to if you don't want to.'

    'No ... really,' said Dahlia. 'I ... I just never did anything like this before.'

    'I know,' said Tanya understandingly. 'I know. But it's easy, really. And it would mean so much to me.'

    Dahlia grinned. Suddenly the drunk was wearing off; she was standing perfectly steady. Everything still looked a little more fuzzy than it should have, but that was no big deal. 'Well? Let's get the ball rolling.'

    Tanya climbed up to the opposite wall and put her wrists and ankles in the cuffs; she bid Dahlia to lock them. 'The key is on a hook by the door,' she said, smiling. She cut an absurd figure, Dahlia thought, in her long Indian skirt and tight black leotard.

    'You just want me to whip you with these?' asked Dahlia hesitantly.

    'Yes. Start with the soft ones, the cloth ones. Then when you're ready you can start with the leather.'

    'You'll tell me when to stop?'

    'Ten minutes is usually enough, sometimes fifteen or twenty. But don't stop when I tell you.... You understand. That's part of the game.'

    Dahlia stood there silently.


    'Well ... it's just ... I mean, we barely know each other. How can you entrust yourself to a stranger?'

    'I trust you,' replied Tanya. Her tone of voice was suddenly vulnerable, no longer confident. All of a sudden Dahlia understood. It was the very fact that she was entrusting herself to a stranger that made it exciting. Tanya made a habit of recruiting innocents, of luring them to her apartment and softening them with sex ... then asking them, ever-so-sweetly, if they could do her one small favor....

    It was a decent bargain, wasn't it? Half an hour of absolute ecstasy, in exchange for fifteen minutes swinging a whip? What was actually wrong with it?

    What was wrong with it, Dahlia decided, was that it hadn't been presented in an up-front manner. Tanya could have told her what the deal was right from the beginning.

    But in that case, what would the result have been? Obviously, Dahlia would have left right away.

    What a manipulative, evil woman! And that soft-spokenmanner -- it was just a goddamn cover-up! In fact, now that Dahlia thought about it, she was eager to take the whip in her hand, and deliver some punishment.

    For a moment she wondered if this wasn't exactly what Tanya wanted. Was this woman's whole routine specifically set up to make someone hate her? But no, on second thought, that seemed a bit oversubtle.... Dahlia got out the whip from the rack. She decided to forego the wimpy cloth ones, and go straight for the gusto.

    At the first lash Tanya screamed, 'Noooo! Noooo!' But Dahlia remembered her admonition not to listen. In fact she suspected that Tanya was play-acting. This only gave her the urge to hit harder. After twenty or thirty lashes she was fairly sure that the screams were genuine. Some serious welts were beginning to show. But Dahlia could see that there had been welts on her back before.

    She watched Tanya's pelvis thrust violently, once with each strike of the whip. She heard Tanya's screams begin to meld into moans of joy. After a while it was fairly plain that Tanya was reaching the peak of her masochistic pleasure.

    Dahlia wanted to stop. But something inside her coaxed her to go on. She redoubled her efforts with the whip. It was hard work; her whole body was covered with sweat. The sweat was dripping from her hair into her eyes, making it hard to see. For a moment Tanya's body looked just like her own -- just like Dahlia Right's. In fact she found that it gave her more pleasure to tell herself it was her double in the cuffs. 'Take that, you simpering idiot!' she said to herself, with each crack of the whip.

    By now Tanya was really shrieking; it was almost inhuman. But Dahlia was fevered; she wasn't even listening. Only one thought possessed her mind: to kill the double, to take her life back, to regain herself. It was several minutes before she noticed that Tanya had stopped moving. She was dead.

    The first thought in Dahlia's mind was disappointment. It wasn't the double after all, it was just some woman.

    Her second thought was total self-absolution. It wasn't her fault; after all, the woman had quite literally asked for it. Tanya had specifically told her not to listen when she said stop.

    And her third thought was to quickly destroy the evidence. She decided to leave Tanya cuffed up on the wall. Why the hell not? But she got some toilet paper from the bathroom to wipe the cuffs and the whip -- the only things in the house that would have picked up her fingerprints.

    When she went to wipe the arm cuffs, however, she couldn't help pausing to take a closer look at Tanya. The more she looked at her bloody victim, the more of a strange impression she got. Somehow this corpse's face looked totally different than the one which she had been talking to in the bar. Perhaps that happened when a person died -- they lost their natural countenance. But it seemed to be more than that....

    She just stood there staring for a moment, trying to think. Then she gave it up and started wiping off the cuffs. But while she was wiping the right cuff, she noticed something elsepeculiar. There was a button on the cuff, some kind of release trigger. She pressed it and the cuff sprung open. Tanya could easily have reached the button, at any time; she could have set herself free. And obviously she must have known that; after all, it was her own S&M room. Dahlia realized that she had been manipulated beyond her wildest paranoid fantasies. It hadn't been murder, as she had thought -- it had been suicide. She had not been an independent agent, but merely a weapon wielded by Tanya against herself.

    On an impulse, she popped the cuffs open and let the body fall to the ground. She skirt fell up, exposing Tanya's slender thighs. And then Dahlia let out a gasp. That leg -- it wasn't a woman's leg. She reached her hand down quickly to verify her suspicion. This wasn't a lesbian at all -- it was just a man, a very sick one.

    Dahlia put on her clothes in a hurry and left, being careful that no one saw her leave the building. She went right home to John and D.R., and found them asleep in each other's arms. She was jealous until she observed that there was no stain on the bed. Clearly, Dahlia reflected proudly, she had had the more exciting evening. But there was a sick feeling in her stomach, and a kind of frozen, horrid mist had got ahold of her mind. Before she was half a block from Tanya's apartment, she ducked into an alley to throw up; and she simply collapsed on the pavement. She lay there dizzy in the alleyway, oblivious to the smell of trash and piss.

    Dahlia opened her eyes and, with difficulty, boosted herself up to a sitting position. She leaned her back against the alleyway wall. What a dream that had been! But yet she had never been asleep. It had been an opium dream, an acid trip of a dream, and yet she'd only had four or five drinks. Oh, all right, maybe six or seven. Maybe eight. What a doozy! It took her five minutes to convince herself that Tanya hadn't been real. But finally she picked herself up from the alleyway, staggered back to the apartment, and flopped herself in bed with John and her double....


Marcia. -- Marcia Raymond, a beautiful blonde fifteen year old, was the puzzle of her tenth grade class. Her boyfriends were accustomed to scheming for hours to contrive the opportunity for a kiss; but with Marcia no strategy was required. After two or three dates, she merely invited them over to her house after school, when her parents weren't home. Then she asked them to come into her bedroom, and lie down on the bed with her.

    Most of them didn't know what to do. But if they couldn't figure it out, she showed them. 'You unfasten the bra in the back,' she would patiently explain. 'Kiss me there...,' she would tell them, indicating her underarms, her breasts, her thighs. 'Come on, take your pants off, don't be shy.' She touched their bodies without embarrassment.

    She knew what the other girls thought of her. But really, what difference did it make what the other girls thought? She was enjoying herself more than they were; that much was certain. And anyway, she usually stayed with the same guy at least three or four months. She didn't have any more boyfriends than anyone else. She just got better use out of them.

    Her parents, conservative North Carolina Baptists, never suspected what was going on. They were more concerned with Marcia's older brother Joey, who was always being arrested for one thing or another. Marcia got A's and B's in school, she was painstakingly polite, and she came home by nine each night, just as she was told to do. She practiced piano every evening; Mrs. Dawkins, her piano teacher, couldn't compliment her enough.

    She was a perfect daughter.

    Boys were constantly falling in love with her, for her sandy-haired beauty and her un-feminine forthrightness. But once they got to know her better, they tended to fall out of love rather quickly, without knowing exactly why. The truth was that she lacked even minimal empathy. If someone came to her for advice, she would simply offer them advice, without sharing anything from her own life, or even offering words of comfort. If somebody wanted a shoulder to cry on, she would provide it without complaint -- but with the understanding that it was a favor offered out of politeness rather than sympathy.

    Just after the beginning of her junior year, Marcia announced that she was pregnant. She and her parents were the only ones who were surprised. Her parents were shocked that their daughter was having sex; and Marcia was mystified, because she'd always used birth control.

    As to the baby's father, she narrowed it down to two possibilities. But she didn't tell anyone, and she made sure that no one could figure it out. If anyone asked her what the due date was, she simply told them that she didn't remember. The boys involved never asked her about it, and she never mentioned it to them. As far as she was concerned, they had nothing to do with it: after all, it was she who had seduced them.

    Abortion was out of the question. But a child was the last thing Marcia wanted: she hated babies, always screaming, crying, excreting, waving their uncoordinated arms, demanding affection. It was clear to all involved that she had to give it up for adoption.

    Her parents wanted to send her away, to live with cousins in the country, but Marcia adamantly refused. Her parents called the school principal, but much to their dismay, he said that there was nothing illegal about going to school pregnant. Finally they consulted their minister. He had a long, angry talk with Marcia, but she refused to budge. 'Don't you know you've committed a sin?' he asked her repeatedly, as though she were an idiot and literally couldn't understand. She could have told him that she only believed in what she saw with her own two eyes, and she had never seen God. But she didn't 'Where in the Bible,' she asked instead, 'does it say to hide our sins from other people? To run away to the country would be to commit a second sin of vanity.'

    The minister was stymied. He knew that she was wrong, that she simply wanted to advertise her sinfulness, to wear it like a badge among her schoolmates. But he saw that there was no hope of convincing her: she was just too clever, and too pigheaded. She would run away before she would hide on her cousins' farm. He advised her parents to accede to her wishes. Marcia continued in school until a week before the baby was due. This was bold for 1970, but she wouldn't have it any other way. She enjoyed school, or at least she didn't mind it, and she saw no reason to disrupt her education just because she had a large belly.

    The birth was troublesome: the baby began to choke on its umbilical cord, and had to be delivered by C-section. After it arrived, a perfectly healthy little girl, the doctor offered to let Marcia hold it. But she was woozy from the anesthetic; she just shrugged her shoulders. She was filled with sudden joy about being a mother, thrilled far beyond her expectations about seeing a brand new living creature composed of her flesh. For a fraction of a second she desperately, passionately wanted to keep it. But then she came to her senses: better to let someone else deal with this wailing, tiny, dirty creature. No, she wasn't cut out to raise a child. The baby was adopted immediately, by a Philadelphia doctor/lawyer couple -- Rebecca and Alfred Bowman, both in their late thirties. They named their daughter Karen Maria, and after six weeks they placed her in full time day care.

    Marcia forgot about the baby and concentrated on getting her figure back to normal. She also decided to stop seducing high school boys: she was fed up with them, their awkwardness and their stupidity. About six weeks after the birth, she began going out to nightclubs to meet older men, and returning after midnight. Her parents were outraged, and they sent her to talk to the minister again. But Marcia, now fuller-figured, had the minister thoroughly enchanted. Her father beat her five or six times, but he finally stopped, realizing it had no effect on her behavior. As far as Marcia was concerned, now that she had borne a daughter, she was an adult; they had no right to tell her to do anything. She graduated high school on the honor roll, and twoweeks later she moved out of her parents' house, to stay with friends on Virginia Beach. She never returned, except for brief visits.

    She spent her first summer of official adulthood as a waitress in an upscale restaurant on Virginia Beach. The tips were good, and she managed to save most of her salary. She kept her things at her friend Nancy's beach house, and slept on the couch there when she couldn't find anywhere else. Whenever she wasn't working, she could be found strutting up and down the beach in her new hot pink G-string bikini, enjoying the sun and the appreciative stares.

    At first she was shy around older men. But after a few weeks, she decided that they were not that different from high school boys. They were a little less awkward; some of them had at least a faint idea of how to please a woman. But all of them, when confronted with her beauty and her demanding manner, turned into jellyfish.

    She always requested to be taken to the most expensive restaurants. It was never 'Thanks so much for the flowers,' but always 'I'd love some flowers -- and I mean a nice bouquet, not those icky little ones.' She oohed and aahed at every store window she came across, not because she had any desire for material possessions, but simply for the pleasure of receiving gifts.

    Her pride in her body was just short of being obsessive. She spent half an hour every morning watching herself in the mirror, applying various types of lotion to her skin. She admired her long, tan, fleshy legs, her wide swaying hips, and her small tight belly. But her breasts were her greatest source of delight: they were perfectly firm in spite of her pregnancy, and they were still growing larger.

    It was a hot, humid, furtive summer. What with work and her active social life, Marcia was too busy to think about the future. By the end of August, though, the beach was getting empty. Tips at the restaurant were dismal. It was plain that there was nothing for her in Virginia any more. She had saved about two thousand dollars, and she was ready to move on. The only question was, to where? To what?

    She was unable to make a decision, and if the restaurant had not finally let her go, she might still be working there today. But as it was, in mid-October, she boarded a Greyhound bus to New York, with three suitcases of clothing and twenty five hundred dollars. She had no fixed idea in her mind. But yet, as soon as she stepped out of Port Authority terminal in Manhattan, she knew exactly what she was going to do. The bus terminal was surrounded by dirty bookstores, strip bars and X-rated theaters. The whole city seemed to smell of pornography.

    She checked into a cheap hotel near the station and began curiously exploring. She wasn't interested in the sleazy porn palaces, she wanted to find the type of place where rich men paid thousands of dollars to sleep with beautiful young women. After a few weeks of indecision, she settled in a classy strip bar named Club Paradise. There was no salary, only tips, but her tips were good, $20 - $25 an hour. Her figure alone would havemade her the star of the place; her youth was just icing on the cake. When she got up on stage, she barely even had to dance. Most of the other girls resented her -- after all, she put on an aggressively lousy show, and she still made more money than anyone. But Marcia took it all for granted. And when she saw a guy who looked like he had money, and wasn't too old or too disgusting, she always offered to come back to his apartment for a 'private dance.' Gradually she developed a kind of specialty clientele. She became an expert at binding wrists and ankles with bandannas, and, within a year, she was regularly administering spankings and whippings.

    For four years Marcia's life continued without event. She changed bars a couple times, and moved to progressively nicer apartments, but by and large her life become routine. True, it was an exciting routine, a glamorous routine, a routine that kept her looking beautiful, with expensive jewelry and clothes and a hot pink Porsche.... But it was a routine nonetheless. And in the back of her mind, she began getting a little bored. She started experimenting with drugs: nothing serious, just various prescription pills ... reds, blues and greens; uppers and downers. None of them did much of anything on their own, but when she combined them with the alcohol she drank at work, things could get quite interesting.


Gyula. -- When Marcia popped pills, she never looked at the bottles. She never knew what it was she was on. But the night she sat down next to Gyula Moricz, it must have been something powerful. Normally she would have steered away from someone of his type: over fifty, shabbily dressed, just barely over five feet tall, and hardly even looking at the women, just staring out into space as though preoccupied with some personal dilemma. But on this night she found herself, uncharacteristically, wanting someone to talk to.

    She knew exactly what the other guys would say: they would tell her she was beautiful, which she knew already but still liked to hear. And they would ask her to come home with them. If she prodded, they would brag about their lives -- how much money they made, how many places they'd traveled, and so forth. It was all so repetitive, really. Somehow this slobby, middle-aged foreigner looked like he had something on his mind.

    So, with her typical straightforwardness, she sat down next to him and smiled.

    'What's on your mind?'

    He sat up straight in his chair and turned around to look at her. 'Well, you are now,' he said deliberately. 'What's your name.'

    'Marcia,' she replied softly.

    He nodded. 'That's your real name, isn't it?' he said. 'Most of the girls use stage names.'

    She giggled. 'Yes, that's my real name. I don't care what anyone thinks of me. I'm not ashamed to work here.'

    'Why should you be?' he asked, shrugging his shoulders. 'It's a job like any other.' Awkwardly, he extended his hand to shake hers. 'I'm Gyula Moricz.'

    'Gyula Moricz,' she repeated precisely. 'What nationality is that?'

    'It's Hungarian,' he replied with a smile. 'I've only recently come over from Hungary -- about three weeks ago.'

    'Oh, really?' she asked. Her curiousity about this shabby man perked up again. Hungary -- that was a rare one. There were plenty of French, British and Germans coming through the bar, and of course the Japanese, but as far as she could recall she'd never seen an Hungarian before. 'This place must seem pretty strange to you then.'

    'Oh no, not really,' he said, a tiny smile playing around his lips. 'I mean, I designed it.'

    'You designed it?'

    'That's right,' he said. 'I'm an architect. My uncle owns this bar. I helped him draw up the plans.'

    She looked at him closely.

    'You don't believe me,' he observed. 'Come with me.' He took her hand and led her to the back of the bar, past the girls' dressing room. He fished a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door to the main office. 'See?' he said. 'This is my uncleTibor's office. See how the desk is built into the wall -- that was my idea.'

    Someone came into the office from another door. It was the big boss, Tibor -- Marcia had seen him once or twice before. He was a good fifteen years younger than Gyula.

    Tibor looked at Gyula and Marcia, grinning. 'Didn't I tell you never to mix business with pleasure?'

    'I just brought her back here to talk,' said Gyula defensively. 'It's too loud out there. You know I can't stand that rock music.'

    'You're his uncle?' asked Marcia unbelievingly. 'But you're so young....'

    'Still, it's true,' said Tibor. 'Mother had me when she was almost fifty. She had Gyula's mother when she was only sixteen.'

    'Grandmother was a very unusual woman,' added Gyula. 'They say she was some sort of sorceress. Strange things were happening all the time ... when I was a child. Poltergeists appearing out of nowhere, skeletons rising from their graves. I was my mother's second child. My older brother was born with a tail; he disappeared before his second birthday, and was never found again.'

    'Superstitions,' said Tibor lightly, with a wave of the hand. 'You know how people are. Mother wasn't a sorceress, just a wise old woman. But Frigyes really was born with a tail; I saw it myself. It was short and stubby, not like a cat's tail or anything.... But it was there all right. When he died he was so young I don't even know if he knew he had it.'

    'Maybe he didn't die,' remarked Gyula.

    'Oh, he died,' repeated Tibor. 'He was so tiny from the beginning, and then he had that tail. He wasn't meant to live.'

    'That's indisputable,' Gyula agreed. 'But where Grandmother is concerned....'

    'You'll have to excuse him,' said Tibor to Marcia. 'His head is full of strange ideas; he's been this way ever since he was a child. He's brilliant, don't get me wrong, but he has no head for practical matters. No common sense. I've always had to take care of him. He did design this bar, though, I'll have to grant him that. He did a mighty fine job of that.'

    'That's what he told me,' said Marcia nervously. She was beginning to feel out of place -- standing virtually naked in a room with two men who were more interesting in arguing with one another than in looking at her.

    'I can't understand your attitude,' persisted Gyula. 'So maybe Frigyes was a coincidence -- what about the other thing? Why about my problem, Tibor? You've seen it for yourself a hundred times -- how do you explain it? I'm willing to accept a rational explanation if you have one to offer'

    Tibor just glared at him, shuffling papers on the desk.

    'What other thing?' asked Marcia curiously.

    'Never mind,' said Gyula. 'I'll tell you about it another time.'

    Marcia shrugged her shoulders. 'I guess I'd better get back to work.'    

    But Tibor laughed and put his hand on her naked shoulder. 'No, I won't hear of it!' he exclaimed. 'You're to give my reclusive nephew a tour of the city. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. He can't visit New York and spend the whole time sitting in a strip bar.' He paused for a minute, thinking. 'What do you make in a night?'

    Marcia didn't answer him. She wasn't paying attention. Suddenly she was feeling slightly dizzy.

    'What do you make in a night?' he repeated.

    She forced herself to recover her senses. 'Oh, I don't know,' she lied. 'A hundred thirty, maybe two hundred. It varies.'

    'I'll give you five hundred dollars to take care of Gyula for two days.' He frowned, realizing that she might misinterpret his meaning. 'Just a tour guide, like, I mean. You can show him the Met, Coney Island, some nice restaurants -- you know what I mean. Gyula, keep your hands off her. No, you don't have to worry about him; he's a pussycat. He's an intellectual.'

    Marcia shrugged and said 'All right.'

    'This is ridiculous,' said Gyula, embarrassed. 'I don't need a tour guide; I'm perfectly capable....'

    'Look, you can see I have to work,' said Tibor. 'I'm opening a new club in Philadelphia. Otherwise I'd take you around myself. Look at it this way: you're lucky to get her instead of me. Hell, anyone else would be thrilled to spend two days with a woman like her. I could stand here for hours just admiring those tits, Christ.... But really, Gyula, I've got to run.' He fished into his wallet, and pulled out five hundreds.

    But Gyula wasn't about to be bought off. He shouted 'No, Tibor!' and made as if to leave the room.

    And then something strange happened. His shout, his 'No, Tibor!', rang through Marcia's brain like the shriek of a dying man.

    She felt this Gyula's embarrassment, his pain, as if it were her own.

    This had never happened before, not for as long as she could remember. Immediately she ascribed it to the pills she had taken earlier. But what did it matter what the cause was? It was there in her head. It was real, as real as anything, as real as the white tile floor below her. 'Put the money away,' she said briskly, taking instant control. 'I wouldn't mind a few days off anyway. I like your nephew, he's a nice guy; I'll show him around on my own time. You don't need to pay me.' Then she took Gyula's arm and led him out the door.

    Tibor watched her admiringly as she left. Not only was she gorgeous, she was slick. She'd be back in two days, he knew, demanding her five hundred, plus extra. But it didn't matter. Now he was rid of that idiot nephew, with his baggy suits and his weird superstitions. He sat down at the desk, took a deep breath, and started poring over the tables of figures he had brought out from the safe.

    'You don't have to do this,' Gyula said, as she slipped off her G-string and put on her street clothes. 'Really, I'm quite capable....'

    'Of course you are,' she said reasonably. 'Look, if youdon't want my company, I'll leave you alone. It's as simple as that.'

    He shook his head and grumbled. 'It's got nothing to do with you, you understand. It's Tibor. He thinks money is the answer to every question. He....'

    'Look,' said Marcia, 'you don't have to....'

    'All right,' said Gyula, suddenly changing his mind. 'It's yes. Come on, let's see the sights.'

    She clenched his hand and grinned. 'Do you mind if I put my shirt on first?'

    It was half past two and the August sun was shining. As soon as they got out on the street, she swung her arm around his waist and pressed up next to him. She was a good six inches taller than him, and she probably weighed ten pounds more than him as well. His face was elegantly angled, but not particularly attractive. But yet, as she walked down the sidewalk with Gyula, Marcia realized that she was in love. It didn't matter if the sensation passed as soon as the pills wore off ... or as soon as she got to know him better. The point was that she finally understood!

     All manner of rich, cultured, intelligent, handsome men, from eighteen to eighty, had fallen hopelessly in love with her. She had seduced complete nobodies, walking zeros with no face and no history. Executives, professional gamblers, parking lot attendants, McDonald's clerks, senators, frat boys, diplomats, university professors, salesmen.... But the first man to arouse genuine affection in her was this short, middle-aged, eccentric Hungarian.

    They walked through the Metropolitan museum in a daze. She had lived in New York nearly five years but had never been to a single museum: there simply wasn't time. He was an encyclopedia of art history; he steered her past the lesser works, stood her in front of the masterpieces and told her what to look at. She had no interest in art whatsoever, but because he was telling her, she listened.

    After the museum, she took him to a tiny Indian restaurant in the Village; someplace she hadn't gone in years, since her first months in New York. The food was delicious. Neither of them talked much. She just kept wondering what was going on in his mind: he seemed eternally preoccupied. He stared so intently, as though he were attempting to see through walls, or look beyond the world entirely.

    When dinner was finished, he told her he was going to retire to his room and read a while. But she took his hands in hers and pouted. It was a look she had practiced in front of the mirror many times; she knew its effect on men. 'Why don't you come back to my apartment?' she asked pleadingly. 'I've got nothing to do tonight, I'll be so bored.'

    It was obvious that the idea made him uncomfortable. He shifted from one foot to the other. 'No, really...' he said.

    'You can read anywhere,' she pointed out. 'You're supposed to be seeing New York. Don't you want to see how real New Yorkers live?'

    Finally he decided it wasn't worth arguing. He shrugged hisshoulders. 'All right.'

    The sex was good, though not incredible. But there was something unmistakeably different here -- something irresistable and frightening. In the morning when they woke, she clung to him desperately. 'You're not going to leave me, Gyula, are you?' she said. 'I want to be with you always.'

    He blushed, embarrassed. 'You don't even know me,' he pointed out.

    'I know what I feel.'

    'Well, we can try it out for a while,' he said. 'Lord knows I'd be a fool to turn down the opportunity. When I was young, I would have killed for a night with a woman like you.' He lay there for a moment in her arms, then kissed her on the lips, and got up out of bed and stretched. She remained in the bed and watched him, a satisfied look on her face.

    When he finished stretching, however, he noticed her demeanor suddenly change. He knew exactly what it was.

    Something was different, she realized uneasily. Something was wrong. The wrinkles on his face were gone. And he was at least a foot taller. She got out of bed and stood next to him, to verify. Sure enough, he was six inches taller than her now. And yet, the face was undoubtedly Gyula. It was the exact same person.

    Gyula clenched her breasts in his hands and smiled weakly. 'I told you, my grandmother is a sorceress,' he said throatily, his voice nearly a whisper. 'This is what I was talking about in Tibor's office.... I told you I'd tell you later.'

    'You grew a foot last night,' she said, her mouth hanging open, hardly even listening to his words. 'And you're younger.'

    He shook his head. 'Not a foot, maybe nine inches. Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down. Three years ago I was ninety years old, and a midget. Then a year later I was a gangly grammar school brat.... This is pretty close to where I should be though. I seem to be shrinking as I get older.' He shrugged again, frowning faintly. 'I have no control over it.'

    She put her hands on her hips. 'What on earth are you talking about?! That's ridiculous!'

    'Maybe it is,' he admitted, 'but you're looking at it. That's all I can say. How does the proverb go? What you see is what you get.'

    They were married two weeks later. They stayed in New York: Gyula went into business with Tibor, and Marcia began working as a sales representative for a large lingerie company. Before long, what with her intelligence, looks and persuasiveness, she worked her way up to a mid-level executive position. She never went back to the strip bar.


Karen. -- While Marcia was embarking on her career as a high-class prostitute, her daughter Karen was turning into quite a remarkable toddler. She walked and talked before a year, and shortly after her second birthday she was reading simple words. She was the pride of the day care staff: they attributed her rapid progress to their own efforts. And her parents loved her more than anything. Although they both had to work long hours, their favorite part of the day was the evening, when they would sit in the livingroom with Karen and read her stories, or watch her play with blocks.

    Marcia would have been thrilled to see her daughter in such a splendid situation. But alas, it was not to last. Shortly after Karen turned two and a half, the Bowmans were killed in a car crash on I-95, just south of Philadelphia. Karen was sent to live with her only living "grandparent": Rebecca's mother, Janet Cheshire, a grey-haired secretary fifty-four years of age.

    Janet had not been close to her daughter, but she took her obligation to Karen seriously. She was a loving, if at times a bit awkward, guardian. But before a year had passed, Janet was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and the stomach. The chemotherapy weakened her system, and she had to be hospitalized. Karen was placed in the care of the state....

    Being an attractive, intelligent, friendly child, she was easily placed in a foster home. And after a few months with her foster family, Karen had lost all detailed memory of her grandmother. Certainly all her recollections of her parents were long gone. To her the words 'mother' and 'father' referred to Julia and Richard Vespi, the jovial, fat Italian Catholics who had taken her in. But what remained, in the back of her mind, was a feeling of closeness had and lost. Somehow she sensed that all the people she knew now were at one remove from her. She was always waiting, semi-consciously, for a certain feeling to return.

    Although Karen was likeable enough, she never inspired much deep affection in the Vespis. They had five other foster kids, as well as four children of their own; and of this menagerie of nine, Karen was the youngest. They didn't have time to worry about her strangely distant nature.

    Karen had never been hit before; it wasn't part of her range of experience. The first time they struck her, she cried out in surprise and anguish. What were these strangers doing to her? How had she gotten to this place? What had happened to Grandma? But, after that first time, she made it a point to remain silent during the whippings -- particularly when, as was usually the case, she couldn't understand what she had done wrong in the first place.

    It was one of these whippings, in fact, that formed Karen's first vivid memory. She was four years old, nearly five, and it was Wednesday evening. There was some event at the Vespis' church, and the family was getting ready to go. Everyone wasputting on their Sunday best. But for some reason, Karen decided she didn't feel like going to church. Sunday church was all right, sometimes it was almost fun ... but Wednesday as well? That was simply too much. So, instead of putting on the pretty white dress that Mrs. Vespi had made for her, she sat in the family room playing with blocks. She saw everyone else preparing to go, but she didn't understand why they couldn't just leave her home and go without her.

    That whipping wasn't a particularly bad one -- when spanking the girls Mrs. Vespi used a very narrow belt, which tended to sting rather than burn. It was Mr. Vespi who delivered the more painful blows. But at the very moment Karen was being punished, the Vespis' social worker walked in through the open door. The social worker was new on the job, fresh out of college, and the sight of Karen's tiny white bottom being lashed with a belt was too much for her to handle. She helped Karen to pack her clothes, and took her back to the state Home for Girls.

    Karen didn't understand why she was being taken away from her mother. She sensed, in the back of her mind, that the same thing had been done to her before, when she had been too young to question it. But now she was older, and she was determined to resist. The social worker placed her with another family, on the very next day. It was a young Jewish couple without any children, natural or foster.

    Rebecca and Daniel Rose were certainly much nicer to her than the Vespis had ever been. But Karen didn't care: she was a little girl stolen from her mother. That night, when the Jewish couple put her to sleep, she closed her eyes and pretended. She waited up all night till dawn, and then she tiptoed out of bed and snuck out the door.

    Being only four years old, she didn't have a very good idea where she was going. She only knew that she was looking for mother. She just kept walking down the same road that the Jewish couple lived on, convinced that all roads were really the same, and if she walked far enough on this one she would find her family.

    As she walked on and on and on, past so many streets and stores and people, she became particularly intrigued by the point where the road met the horizon. There, she thought -- that was the end of the world. Things certainly must be different there. She sensed that there was something else there, something perhaps even better than mother.

    But she also noticed that, no matter how fast she walked, even if she broke into a run, she didn't seem to get any closer. She would have to get much bigger, she decided, before she could get to the end of the world, and see what inhabited the place.

    Finally, around noontime, somebody noticed that there was something strange about a four year old girl walking through the streets of Northeast Philadelphia, all by herself. A white-haired lady named Darla Cromley picked her up and asked her if she was lost. She replied that, yes, she was trying to find her mother. Then she was asked if she knew her mother's name. And very proudly, she replied 'My mother's name is Julia Vespis.'

    She was returned to the Vespis' that evening. The firstthing her mother did was whip her; but in an odd way this was reassuring. What was horrifying was that, as soon as the whipping was over, Mrs. Vespi got on the phone and called the woman who had taken her away. Karen was promptly returned to the home of the Jewish couple, the home that she had run away from.

    'Why, mother?' she asked plaintively, with the truly curious tone that every child loses after the age of five. 'Why do you want them to take me away from you?'

    'They don't think I'm doing a good job taking care of you,' explained Mrs. Vespi awkwardly. She had very rarely talked to Karen before; she was surprised at the young child's easy articulation. 'They're a bunch of do-gooders, that's what they are.'

    But these words were meaningless to Karen. 'But you're my mother,' she persisted. 'I don't understand.'

    Mrs. Vespi began to get frustrated. She had other problems to deal with after all. The older kids would be getting home from school soon. 'Karen, I'm not your real mother,' she said matter-of-factly. 'I'm only your foster mother.'

    Karen looked at her blankly. Some part of the message was beginning to sink in. She didn't know that word 'foster.' But she understood 'not real'....

    'Your real mother died when you were a baby,' Mrs. Vespi continued. She wasn't lying, merely ignorant. In fact she didn't know about the Bowmans, let alone about Marcia Raymond; she thought Janet Cheshire had been Karen's natural mother.

    It felt a little strange, talking about death to a four year old. After all, she was hardly any more than a baby! But really, what else was there to do? It wasn't Christ's law to lie to innocent children. Besides, the poor girl had to find out eventually.

    And indeed, Karen understood 'real mother died.' Nothing further had to be said. She was a very bright four year old. Searching back in her disorganized, childish memory, she summoned up a very clear image of Janet Cheshire's face. Yes, there had been someone before mother. Mother was mother, but there had been another mother before her, and there would be yet another one soon. The other one had really been a mother, the lovely white-haired one, but she had died. That meant she would never come back again.

    Mrs. Vespi tried to coax some kind of farewell from her, but Karen just remained silent. Patterns were shifting and moving and matching inside her immature head. She had always known that something was dead; now she finally understood what it was. It was real mother. This was most sustained train of thought that her four year old mind had ever accomplished. Karen let herself be taken to the Roses' home, without saying another word.

    After nervously waiting out the required six months of foster care, the Roses adopted Karen. It was a happy situation for everyone. There were no more senseless whippings; everyone was rational and kind. And Karen was given plenty of time to sit alone and daydream, which was what she really preferred to do....

    Playing was all good and fine, but it got tiresome after a while. Much better to sit by the side of the road and look outat the horizon. She never forgot what Mrs. Vespi had told her: her real mother was dead. Her new mother never mentioned this fact; but Karen interpreted this, correctly, as a kindness rather than a deliberate deception.

    Sitting by the road, looking at that always distant line where the black met the blue, she would thrust herself into another universe. A world where everyone, including her, was warm and open. Where people laughed and they really meant it; and they weren't offended when others cried. Where words weren't necessary, because everything could be said with a gesture or a look. Everyone was naked, and no one was ashamed of it; no one yelled at them to put on their clothes. People ate when they wanted to, instead of at mealtimes; slept when they wanted to, instead of at bedtime; played when they wanted to, instead of when they were told to. And when they felt like it, they sat by themselves and daydreamed....

    This world at the end of the world became Karen's secret refuge. She acted totally different there: whatever anyone else felt, she felt as well. Everyone had names like Tiringli, Hauku-Beeto, and Lak-puk-too. If Tiringli was sad, she put her arm around him and he was happy. Sometimes Lak-puk-too, a tiny brown-skinned boy, would laugh so hard he hurt his stomach. So she would kiss it and he would at once start laughing again, but it wouldn't hurt this time, because she had given it some of her magic. When her best girlfriend, Tai-Lo-Ringo, told her a story, she would listen carefully, and then she would make up a story of her own. She didn't have any one special imaginary playmate; the cast of the end of the world was constantly changing. But it didn't really matter who was who. Everyone was so friendly, open and honest, they were all virtually the same person. And they were all completely different from the real people she knew....

    In school, Karen was hard-working but not enthusiastic. From kindergarten to twelfth grade she never got anything below a B. Occasionally a teacher would accuse her of working below her potential; but this never became a major issue. And, although she rarely made close friends, she seemed to get along well with everyone. Every now and then she had one or two girlfriends over after school. She was generally willing to do what her parents asked of her; and when she disobeyed she accepted their punishments without protest, indeed without saying a word.

    The only thing that really excited her was music. In the seventh grade she had started playing the flute. Her parents were absolutely thrilled with her playing, but from her point of view this was incidental. From Karen's perspective, playing the flute had nothing to do with family or school; it was just another way of daydreaming.... All the people at the end of the world played instruments; so she had to play one too. She loved to sit by the side of the road and play. Her parents thought this was a delightfully quaint way to practice. But in fact she was not practicing at all: she was playing heartfelt ballads to her friends past the horizon. Whenever she finished a song she imagined that, just barely audible over the rush of the passing cars, she could hear Turungi and Mari-kuto and Lae-kae-mungo give her a round of applause.

    The Roses felt that they were remarkably lucky to have adopted such an easygoing child. True, in the back of her mind, Rebecca Rose was always a little disappointed in her adoptive daughter. Some kind of basic emotional connection seemed to be lacking. But she placed the blame on herself, on her own infertility. This lack of empathy, she felt half-consciously, must be the difference between adoptive and natural parenthood....

Converted by Andrew Scriven