Nothing endures, nothing is precise and certain (except the mind of a pedant), perfection is the mere repudiation of that ineluctable marginal inexactitude which is the mysterious inmost quality of Being.
The law office of Forman, Esserbeck, Goodhue and Rutti was in a 1973 automobile parking structure, converted to human use. Many of the older buildings of downtown Portland were of this lineage. At one time indeed most of downtown Portland had consisted of places to park automobiles. At first these had mostly been plains of asphalt punctuated by paybooths or parking meters, but as the population went up, so had they. Indeed the automatic-elevator parking structure had been invented in Portland, long long ago; and before the private car strangled in its own exhaust, ramp-style parking buildings had gone up to fifteen and twenty stories. Not all these had been torn down since the eighties to make room for high-rise office and apartment buildings; some had been converted. This one, 209 S.W. Burnside, still smelled of ghostly gasoline fumes. Its cement floors were stained with the excreta of innumerable engines, the wheelprints of the dinosaurs were fossilized in the dust of its echoing halls. All the floors had a curious slant, a skewness, due to the basic helical-ramp construction of the building; in the offices of Forman, Esserbeck, Goodhue and Rutti, one was never entirely convinced that one was standing quite upright.
Miss Lelache sat behind the screen of bookcases and files that semi-separated her semi-office from Mr. Pearl’s semi-office, and thought of herself as a Black Widow.
There she sat, poisonous; hard, shiny, and poisonous; waiting, waiting.
And the victim came.
A born victim. Hair like a little girl’s, brown and fine, little blond beard; soft white skin like a fish’s belly; meek, mild, stuttering. Shit! If she stepped on him he wouldn’t even crunch.
“Well I, I think it’s a, it’s a matter of, of rights of privacy sort of,” he was saying. “Invasion of privacy, I mean. But I’m not sure. That’s why I wanted advice.”
“Well. Shoot,” said Miss Lelache. The victim could not shoot. His stuttering pipe had dried up.
“You’re under Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment,” Miss Lelache said, referring to the note Mr. Esserbeck had sent in previously, “for infraction of Federal regulations controlling dispensation of medications at autodrugstores.”
“Yes. If I agree to psychiatric treatment I won’t get prosecuted.”
“That’s the gist of it, yes,” the lawyer said dryly. The man struck her as not exactly feeble-minded, but revoltingly simple. She cleared her throat.
He cleared his throat. Monkey see, monkey do. Gradually, with a lot of backing and filling, he explained that he was undergoing a therapy which consisted essentially of hypnotically induced sleep and dreaming. He felt that the psychiatrist, by ordering him to dream certain dreams, might be infringing upon his rights of privacy as defined in the New Federal Constitution of 1984.
“Well. Something like this came up last year in Arizona,” said Miss Lelache. “Man under VTT tried to sue his therapist for implanting homosexual tendencies in him. Of course the shrink was simply using standard conditioning techniques, and the plaintiff actually was a terrific repressed homo; he got arrested “for trying to bugger a twelve-year-old boy in broad daylight in the middle of Phoenix Park, before the case even got to court He wound up in Obligatory Therapy in Tehachapi. Well. What I’m getting at is that you’ve got to be cautious in making this sort of allegation. Most psychiatrists who get Government referrals are cautious men themselves, respectable practitioners. Now if you can provide any instance, any occurrence, that might serve as real evidence; but mere suspicions won’t do. In fact, they might land you in Obligatory, that’s the Mental Hospital in Linnton, or in jail.”
“Could they... maybe just give me another psychiatrist?”
“Well. Not without real cause. The Medical School referred you to this Haber; and they’re good, up there, you know. If you brought a complaint against Haber the men who heard it as specialists would very likely be Med School men, probably the same ones that interviewed you. They won’t take a patient’s word against a doctor’s with no evidence. Not in this kind of case.”
“A mental case,” the client said sadly.
He said nothing for a while. At last he raised his eyes to hers, clear, light eyes, a look without anger and without hope; he smiled and said, “Thank you very much, Miss Lelache. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
“Well, wait!” she said. He might be simple, but he certainly didn’t look crazy; he didn’t even look neurotic. He just looked desperate. “You don’t have to give up quite so easily. I didn’t say that you have no case. You say that you do want to get off drugs, and that Dr. Haber is giving you a heavier dose of phenobarb, now, than you were taking on your own; that might warrant investigation. Though I strongly doubt it. But defense of rights of privacy is my special line, and I want to know if there’s been a breach of privacy. I just said you hadn’t told me your case—if you have one. What, specifically, has this doctor done?”
“If I tell you,” the client said with mournful objectivity, “you’ll think I’m crazy.”
“How do you know I will?”
Miss Lelache was countersuggestible, an excellent quality in a lawyer, but she knew she carried it a bit far.
“If I told you,” the client said in the same tone, “that some of my dreams exert an influence over reality, and that Dr. Haber has discovered this and is using it ... this talent of mine, for ends of his own, without my consent... you’d think I was crazy. Wouldn’t you?”
Miss Lelache gazed at him a while, her chin on her hands. “Well. Go on,” she said at last, sharply. He was quite right about what she was thinking, but damned if she was going to admit it. Anyway, so what if he was crazy? What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?
He looked down at his hands for a minute, evidently trying to collect his thoughts. “You see,” he said, “he has this machine. A device like the EEG recorder, but it provides a kind of analysis and feedback of the brain waves.”
“You mean he’s a Mad Scientist with an Infernal Machine?”
The client smiled feebly. “I make it sound that way. No, I believe that he has a very good reputation as a research scientist, and that he’s genuinely dedicated to helping people. I’m sure he doesn’t intend any harm to me or anyone. His motives are very high.” He encountered the disenchanted gaze of the Black Widow a moment, and stuttered. “The, the machine. Well, I can’t tell you how it works, but anyway he’s using it on me to keep my brain in the d-state, as he calls it—that’s one term for the kind of special sleep you have when you’re dreaming. It’s quite different from ordinary sleep. He sends me to sleep hypnotically, and then turns this machine on so that I start dreaming at once—one doesn’t usually. Or that’s how I understand it. The machine makes sure that I dream, and I think it intensifies the dream-state, too. And then I dream what he’s told me to dream in hypnosis.”
“Well. It sounds like a foolproof method for an old-fashioned psychoanalyst to get dreams to analyze. But instead of that he’s telling you what to dream, by hypnotic suggestion? So I assume he’s conditioning you via dreams, for some reason. Now, it’s well established that under hypnotic suggestion a person can and will do almost anything, whether or not his conscience would permit it in a normal state: that’s been known since the middle of the last century, and legally established since Somerville v. Projansky in ‘88. Well. Do you have any grounds for believing that this doctor has been using hypnosis to suggest that you perform anything dangerous, anything you’d find it morally repugnant to do?”
The client hesitated. “Dangerous, yes. If you accept that a dream can be dangerous. But he doesn’t direct me to do anything. Only to dream them.”
“Well, are the dreams he suggests morally repugnant to you?”
“He’s not. . . not an evil man. He means well. What I object to is his using me as an instrument, a means—even if his ends are good. I can’t judge him—my own dreams had immoral effects, that’s why I tried to suppress them with drugs, and got into this mess. And I want to get out of it, to get off drugs, to be cured. But he’s not curing me. He’s encouraging me.”
After a pause, Miss Lelache said, “To do what?”
“To change reality by dreaming that it’s different,” the client said, doggedly, without hope.
Miss Lelache sank the point of her chin between her hands again and stared for a while at the blue clipbox on her desk at the very nadir of her range of vision. She glanced up surreptitiously at the client There he sat, mild as ever, but she now thought that he certainly wouldn’t squash if she stepped on him, nor crunch, nor even crack. He was peculiarly solid.
People who come to a lawyer tend to be on the defensive if not on the offensive; they are, naturally, out for something—a legacy, a property, an injunction, a divorce, a committal, whatever. She could not figure what this fellow, so inoffensive and defenseless, was out for. He made no sense at all and yet he didn’t sound as if he wasn’t making sense.
“All right,” she said cautiously. “So what’s wrong with what he’s making your dreams do?”
“I have no right to change things. Nor he to make me do it.”
God, he really believed it, he was completely off the deep end. And yet his moral certainty hooked her, as if she were a fish swimming around in the deep end, too.
“Change things how? What things? Give me an example!” She felt no mercy for him; as she should have felt for a sick man, a schiz or paranoid with delusions of manipulating reality. Here was “another casualty of these times of ours that try men’s souls,” as President Merdle, with his happy faculty for fouling a quotation, had said in his State of the Union message; and here she was being mean to a poor lousy bleeding casualty with holes in his brain. But she didn’t feel like being kind to him. He could take it.
“The cabin,” he said, having pondered a little. “My second visit to him, he was asking about daydreams, and I told him that sometimes I had daydreams about having a place in the Wilderness Areas, you know, a place in the country like in old novels, a place to get away to. Of course I didn’t have one. Who does? But last week, he must have directed me to dream that I did. Because now I do. A thirty-three-year lease cabin on Government land, over in the Siuslaw National Forest, near the Neskowin. I rented a batcar and drove over Sunday to see it. It’s very nice. But...”
“Why shouldn’t you have a cabin? Is that immoral? Lots of people have been getting into those lotteries for those leases since they opened up some of the Wilderness Areas for them last year. You’re just lucky as hell.”
“But I didn’t have one,” he said. “Nobody did. The Parks and Forests were reserved strictly as wilderness, what there is left of them, with camping only around the borders. There were no Government-lease cabins. Until last Friday. When I dreamed that there were.”
“But look, Mr. Orr, I know—”
“I know you know,” he said gently. “I know, too. All about how they decided to lease parts of the National Forests last spring. And I applied, and got a winning number in the lottery, and so on. Only I also know that that was not true until last Friday. And Dr. Haber knows it, too.”
“Then your dream last Friday,” she said, jeering, “changed reality retrospectively for the entire State of Oregon and affected a decision in Washington last year and erased everybody’s memory but yours and your doctor’s? Some dream! Can you remember it?”
“Yes,” he said, morose but firm. “It was about the cabin, and the creek that’s in front of it. I don’t expect you to believe all this, Miss Lelache. I don’t think even Dr. Haber has really caught on to it yet; he won’t wait and get the feel of it. If he did, he might be more cautious about it. You see, it works like this. If he told me under hypnosis to dream that there was a pink dog in the room, I’d do it; but the dog couldn’t be there so long as pink dogs aren’t in the order of nature, aren’t part of reality. What would happen is, either I’d get a white poodle dyed pink, and some plausible reason for its being there, or, if he insisted that it be a genuine pink dog, then my dream would have to change the order of nature to include pink dogs. Everywhere. Since the Pleistocene or whenever dogs first appeared. They would always have come black, brown, yellow, white, and pink. And one of the pink ones would have wandered in from the hall, or would be his collie, or his receptionist’s Pekinese, or something. Nothing miraculous. Nothing unnatural. Each dream covers its tracks completely. There would just be a normal everyday pink dog there when I woke up, with a perfectly good reason for being there. And nobody would be aware of anything new, except me—and him. I keep the two memories, of the two realities. So does Dr. Haber. He’s there at the moment of change, and knows what the dream’s about. He doesn’t admit that he knows, but I know he does. For everybody else, there have always been pink dogs. For me, and him, there have—and there haven’t.”
“Dual time-tracks, alternate universes,” Miss Lelache said. “Do you see a lot of old late-night TV shows?”
“No,” said the client, almost as dryly as she. “I don’t ask you to believe this. Certainly not without evidence.”
“Well. Thank God!”
He smiled, almost a laugh. He had a kind face; he looked, for some reason, as if he liked her.
“But look, Mr. Orr, how the hell can I get any evidence about your dreams? Particularly if you destroy all the evidence every time you dream by changing everything ever since the Pleistocene?”
“Can you,” he said, suddenly intense, as if hope had come to him, “can you, acting as my lawyer, ask to be present at one of my sessions with Dr. Haber—if you were willing?”
“Well. Possibly. It could be managed, if there’s good cause. But look, calling in a lawyer as witness in the event of a possible privacy-infringement case is going to absolutely wreck your therapist-patient relationship. Not that it sounds like you’ve got a very good one going, but that’s hard to judge from outside. The fact is, you have to trust him, and also, you know, he has to trust you, in a way. If you throw a lawyer at him because you want to get him out of your head, well, what can he do? Presumably he’s trying to help you.”
“Yes. But he’s using me for experimental—” Orr got no further: Miss Lelache had stiffened, the spider had seen, at last, her prey.
“Experimental purposes? Is he? What? This machine you talked about—is it experimental? Has it HEW approval? What have you signed, any releases, anything beyond the VTT forms and the hypnosis-consent form? Nothing? That sounds like you might have just cause for complaint, Mr. Orr.”
“You might be able to come observe a session?”
“Maybe. The line to follow would be civil rights, of course, not privacy.”
“You do understand that I’m not trying to get Dr. Haber into trouble?” he said, looking worried. “I don’t want to do that. I know he means well. It’s just that I want to be cured, not used.”
“If his motives are good, and if he’s using an experimental device on a human subject, then he should take it quite as a matter of course, without resentment; if it’s on the level, he won’t get into any trouble. I’ve done jobs like this twice. Hired by HEW to do it. Watched a new hypnosis-inducer in practice up at the Med School, it didn’t work, and watched a demonstration of how to induce agoraphobia by suggestion, so people will be happy in crowds, out at the Institute in Forest Grove. That one worked but didn’t get approved, it came under the brainwashing laws, we decided. Now, I can probably get an HEW order to investigate this thingummy your doctor’s using. That lets you out of the picture. I don’t come on as your lawer at all. In fact maybe I don’t even know you. I’m an official accredited ACLU observer for HEW. Then, if we don’t get anywhere with this, that leaves you and him in the same relationship as before. The only catch is, I’ve got to get invited to one of your sessions.”
“I’m the only psychiatric patient he’s using the Augmentor on, he told me so. He said he’s still working on it—perfecting it.”
“It really is experimental, whatever he’s doing to you with it, then. Good. All right. I’ll see what I can do. It’ll take a week or more to get the forms through.”
He looked distressed.
“You won’t dream me out of existence this week, Mr. Orr,” she said, hearing her chitinous voice, clicking her mandibles.
“Not willingly,” he said, with gratitude—no, by God, it wasn’t gratitude, it was liking. He liked her. He was a poor damn crazy psycho on drugs, he would like her. She liked him. She stuck out her brown hand, he met it with a white one, just like that damn button her mother always kept in the bottom of her bead box, SCNN or SNCC or something she’d belonged to way back in the middle of the last century, the Black hand and the White hand joined together. Christ!