Daydream, which is to thought as the nebula is to the star, borders on sleep, and is concerned with it as its frontier. An atmosphere inhabited by living transparencies: there’s a beginning of the unknown. But beyond it the Possible opens out, immense. Other beings, other facts, are there. No supernaturalism, only the occult continuation of infinite nature.... Sleep is in contact with the Possible, which we also call the improbable. The world of the night is a world. Night, as night, is a universe.... The dark things of the unknown world become neighbors of man, whether by true communication or by a visionary enlargement of the distances of the abyss... and the sleeper, not quite seeing, not quite unconscious, glimpses the strange animalities, weird vegetations, terrible or radiant pallors, ghosts, masks, figures, hydras, confusions, moonless moonlights, obscure unmakings of miracle, growths and vanishings within a murky depth, shapes floating in shadow, the whole mystery which we call Dreaming, and which is nothing other than the approach of an invisible reality. The dream is the aquarium of Night.
At 2:10 P.M. on March 30, Heather Lelache was seen leaving Dave’s Fine Foods on Ankeny Street and proceeding southward on Fourth Avenue, carrying a large black handbag with brass catch, wearing a red vinyl rain-cloak. Look out for this woman. She is dangerous.
It wasn’t that she cared one way or the other about seeing that poor damned psycho, but shit, she hated to look foolish in front of waiters. Holding a table for half an hour right in the middle of the lunchtime crowd—”I’m waiting for somebody.”—”I’m sorry, I’m waiting for somebody.”—and so nobody comes and nobody comes, and so finally she had to order and shove the stuff down in a big rush, and so now she’d have heartburn. On top of pique, umbrage, and ennui. Oh, the French diseases of the soul.
She turned left on Morrison, and then suddenly stopped. What was she doing over here? This wasn’t the way to Forman, Esserbeck, and Rutti. Hastily she returned north several blocks, crossed Ankeny, came to Burnside, and stopped again. What the hell was she doing?
Going to the converted parking structure at 209 S.W. Burnside. What converted parking structure? Her office was in the Pendleton Building, Portland’s first post-Crash office building, on Morrison. Fifteen stories, neo-Inca decor. What converted parking structure, who the hell worked in a converted parking structure?
She went on down Burnside and looked. Sure enough, there it was. There were Condemned signs all over it.
Her office was up there on the third level.
As she stood down on the sidewalk staring up at the disused building with its queer, slightly skewed floors and narrow window slits, she felt very strange indeed. What had happened last Friday at that psychiatric session?
She had to see that little bastard again. Mr. Either Orr. So he stood her up for lunch, so what, she still had some questions to ask him. She strode south, click clack, pincers snapping, to the Pendleton Building, and called him from her office. First at Bradford Industries (no, Mr. Orr didn’t come in today, no, he hasn’t called in), then at his residence (ring. ring. ring.).
She should call Dr. Haber again, maybe. But he was such a big shot, running the Palace of Dreams up there in the park. And anyhow what was she thinking of: Haber wasn’t supposed to know she had any connection with Orr. Liar builds pitfall, falls in it. Spider stuck in own web.
That night Orr did not answer his telephone at seven, nine, or eleven. He was not at work Tuesday morning, nor at two o’clock Tuesday afternoon. At four-thirty Tuesday afternoon Heather Lelache left the offices of Forman, Esserbeck, and Rutti, and took the trolley out to Whiteaker Street, walked up the hill to Corbett Avenue, found the house, rang the bell: one of six infinitely thumbed bell pushes in a grubby little row on the peeling frame of the cut-glass-paneled door of a house that had been somebody’s pride and joy in 1905 or 1892, and that had come on hard times since but was proceeding toward ruin with composure and a certain dirty magnificence. No answer when she rang Orr’s bell. She rang M. Ahrens Manager. Twice. Manager came, was uncooperative at first. But one thing the Black Widow was good at was the intimidation of lesser insects. Manager took her upstairs and tried Orr’s door. It opened. He hadn’t locked it.
She stepped back. All at once she thought there might be death inside. And it was not her place.
Manager, unconcerned with private property, barged on in, and she followed, reluctant.
The big, old, bare rooms were shadowy and unoccupied. It seemed silly to have thought of death. Orr did not own much; there was no bachelor slop and disarray, no bachelor prim tidiness either. There was little impress of his personality on the rooms, yet she saw him living there, a quiet man living quietly. There was a glass of water on the table in the bedroom, with a spray of white heather in it. The water had evaporated down about a quarter inch.
“I dono where he’s gone to,” Manager said crossly, and looked at her for help. “You think he hanaccident? Something?” Manager wore the fringed buckskin coat, the Cody mane, the Aquarius emblem necklace of his youth: he apparently had not changed his clothes for thirty years. He had an accusing Dylan whine. He even smelled of marijuana. Old hippies never die.
Heather looked at him kindly, for his smell reminded her of her mother. She said, “Maybe he went to the place he has over on the Coast. The thing is, he’s not well, you know, he’s on Government Therapy. He’ll get in trouble if he stays away. Do you know where that cabin is, or if he has a phone there?”
“Can I use your phone?”
“Use his,” said Manager, shrugging.
She called up a friend in Oregon State Parks and got him to look up the thirty-four Siuslaw National Forest cabins which had been lotteried off and give her their location. Manager hung around to listen in, and when she was done said, “Friends in high places, huh?”
“It helps,” the Black Widow answered, sibilant.
“Hope you dig George up. I like that cat. He borrows my Pharm Card,” Manager said and all at once gave a great snort of laughter which was gone at once. Heather left him leaning morose against the peeling frame of the front door, he and the old house lending each other mutual support.
Heather took the trolley back downtown, rented a Ford Steamer at Hertz, and took off on 99-W. She was enjoying herself. The Black Widow pursues her prey. Why hadn’t she been a detective instead of a goddam stupid third-class civil rights lawyer? She hated the law. It took an agressive, assertive personality. She didn’t have it. She had a sneaky, sly, shy, squamous personality. She had French diseases of the soul.
The little car was soon free of the city, for the smear of suburbia that had once lain along the western highways for miles was gone. During the Plague Years of the eighties, when in some areas not one person in twenty remained alive, the suburbs were not a good place to be. Miles from the supermart, no gas for the car, and all the split-level ranch homes around you full of the dead. No help, no food. Packs of huge status-symbol dogs—Afghans, Alsatians, Great Danes—running wild across the lawns ragged with burdock and plantain. Picture window cracked. Who’ll come and mend the broken glass? People had huddled back into the old core of the city; and once the suburbs had been looted, they burned. Like Moscow in 1812, acts of God or vandalism: they were no longer wanted, and they burned. Fireweed, from which bees make the finest honey of all, grew acre after acre over the sites of Kensington Homes West, Sylvan Oak Manor Estates, and Valley Vista Park.
The sun was setting when she crossed the Tualatin River, still as silk between steep wooded banks. After a while the moon came up, near full, yellow to her left as the road went south. It worried her, looking over her shoulder on curves. It was no longer pleasant to exchange glances with the moon. It symbolized neither the Unattainable, as it had for thousands of years, nor the Attained, as it had for a few decades, but the Lost. A stolen coin, the muzzle of one’s gun turned against one, a round hole in the fabric of the sky. The Aliens held the moon. Their first act of aggression—the first notice humanity had of their presence in the solar system—was the attack on the Lunar Base, the horrible murder by asphyxiation of the forty’ men in the bubble-dome. And at the same time, the same day, they had destroyed the Russian space platform, the queer beautiful thing like a big thistledown seed that had orbited Earth, and from which the Russians were going to step off to Mars. Only ten years after the remission of the Plague, the shattered civilization of mankind had come back up like a phoenix, into orbit, to the Moon, to Mars: and had met this. Shapeless, speechless, reasonless brutality. The stupid hatred of the universe.
Roads were not kept up the way they were when the Highway was king; there were rough bits and pot-holes. But Heather frequently got up to the speed limit (45 mph) as she drove through the broad, moonlit-twilit valley, crossing the Yamhill River four times or was it five, passing through Dundee and Grand Ronde, one a live village and the other deserted, as dead as Karnak, and coming at last into the hills, into the forests. Van Duzer Forest Corridor, ancient wooden road sign: land preserved long ago from the logging companies. Not quite all the forests of America had gone for grocery bags, split-levels, and Dick Tracy on Sunday morning. A few remained. A turnoff to the right: Siuslaw National Forest. And no goddam Tree Farm either, all stumps and sick seedlings, but virgin forest. Great hemlocks blackened the moonlit sky.
The sign she looked for was almost invisible in the branched and ferny dark that swallowed the pallid headlights. She turned again, and bumped slowly down ruts and over humps for a mile or so until she saw the first cabin, moonlight on a shingled roof. It was a little past eight o’clock.
The cabins were on lots, thirty or forty feet between them; few trees had been sacrificed, but the undergrowth had been cleared, and once she saw the pattern she could see the little roofs catching moonlight, and across the creek a facing set. Only one window was lighted, of them all. A Tuesday night in early spring: not many vacationers. When she opened the car door she was startled by the loudness of the creek, a hearty and unceasing roar. Eternal and uncompromising praise! She got to the lighted cabin, stumbling only twice in the dark, and looked at the car parked by it: a Hertz batcar. Surely. But what if it wasn’t? It could be a stranger. Oh well, shit, they wouldn’t eat her, would they. She knocked.
After a while, swearing silently, she knocked again.
The stream shouted loudly, the forest held very still.
Orr opened the door. His hair hung in locks and snarls, his eyes were bloodshot, his lips dry. He stared at her blinking. He looked degraded and undone. She was terrified of him. “Are you ill?” she said sharply.
“No, I ... Come in....”
She had to come in. There was a poker for the Franklin stove: she could defend herself with that. Of course, he could attack her with it, if he got it first.
Oh for Christsake she was as big as he was almost, and in lots better shape. Coward coward. “Are you high?”
“No, I ...”
“You what? What’s wrong with you?”
“I can’t sleep,”
The tiny cabin smelt wonderfully of woodsmoke and fresh wood. Its furniture was the Franklin stove with a two-plate cooker top, a box full of alder branches, a cabinet, a table, a chair, an army cot. “Sit down,” Heather said. “You look terrible. Do you need a drink, or a doctor? I have some brandy in the car. You’d better come with me and we’ll find a doctor in Lincoln City.”
“I’m all right. It’s just mumble mumble get sleepy.”
“You said you couldn’t sleep.”
He looked at her with red, bleary eyes. “Can’t let myself. Afraid to.”
“Oh Christ. How long has this been going on?”
“Mumble mumble Sunday.”
“You haven’t slept since Sunday?”
“Saturday?” he said enquiringly.
“Did you take anything? Pep pills?”
He shook his head. “I did fall asleep, some,” he said quite clearly, and then seemed for a moment to fall asleep, as if he were ninety. But even as she watched, incredulous, he woke up again and said with lucidity, “Did you come here after me?”
“Who else? To cut Christmas trees, for Christsake? You stood me up for lunch yesterday.”
“Oh.” He stared, evidently trying to see her. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I haven’t been in my right mind.”
Saying that, he was suddenly himself again, despite his lunatic hair and eyes: a man whose personal dignity went so deep as to be nearly invisible.
“It’s all right. I don’t care! But you’re skipping therapy—aren’t you?”
He nodded. “Would you like some coffee?” he asked. It was more than dignity. Integrity? Wholeness? Like a block of wood not carved.
The infinite possibility, the unlimited and unqualified wholeness of being of the uncommitted, the nonacting, the uncarved: the being who, being nothing but himself, is everything.
Briefly she saw him thus, and what struck her most, of that insight, was his strength. He was the strongest person she had ever known, because he could not be moved away from the center. And that was why she liked him. She was drawn to strength, came to it as a moth to light. She had had a good deal of love as a kid but no strength around her, nobody to lean on ever: people had leaned on her. Thirty years she had longed to meet somebody who didn’t lean on her, who wouldn’t ever, who couldn’t....
Here, short, bloodshot, psychotic, and in hiding, here he was, her tower of strength.
Life is the most incredible mess, Heather thought. You never can guess what’s next. She took off her coat, while Orr got a cup from the cabinet shelf and canned milk from the cupboard. He brought her a cup of powerful coffee: 97 per cent caffeine, 3 per cent free.
“None for you?”
“I’ve drunk too much. Gives me heartburn.”
Her own heart went out to him entirely.
“What about brandy?”
He looked wistful.
“It won’t put you to sleep. Jazz you up a bit. I’ll go get it.”
He flashlighted her back to the car. The creek shouted, the trees hung silent, the moon glowered overhead, the Aliens’ moon.
Back in the cabin Orr poured out a modest shot of the brandy and tasted it He shuddered. “That’s good,” he said, and drank it off.
She watched him with approval. “I always carry a pint flask,” she said. “I stuck it in the glove compartment because if the fuzz stops me and I have to show my license it looks kind of funny in my handbag. But I mostly have it right on me. Funny how it comes in handy a couple of times every year.”
“That’s why you carry such a big handbag,” Orr said, brandy-voiced.
“Damn right! I guess I’ll put some in my coffee. It might weaken it.” She refilled his glass at the same time. “How have you managed to stay awake for sixty or seventy hours?”
“I haven’t entirely. I just didn’t lie down. You can get some sleep sitting up “but you can’t really dream. You have to be lying down to get into dreaming sleep, so your big muscles can relax. Read that in books. It works pretty well. I haven’t had a real dream yet. But not being able to relax wakes you up again. And then lately I get some sort of like hallucinations. Things wiggling on the wall.”
“You can’t keep that up!”
“No. I know. I just had to get away. From Haber.” A pause. He seemed to have gone into another streak of grogginess. He gave a rather foolish laugh. “The only solution I really can see,” he said, “is to kill myself. But I don’t want to. It just doesn’t seem right.”
“Of course it isn’t right!”
“But I have to stop it somehow. I have to be stopped.”
She could not follow him, and did not want to. “This is a nice place,” she said. “I haven’t smelled woodsmoke for twenty years.”
“Flutes the air,” he said, smiling feebly. He seemed to be quite gone; but she noticed he was holding himself in an erect sitting posture on the cot, not even leaning back against the wall. He blinked several times. “When you knocked,” he said, “I thought it was a dream. That’s why I mumble mumble coming.”
“You said you dreamed yourself this cabin. Pretty modest for a dream. Why didn’t you get yourself a beach chalet at Salishan, or a castle on Cape Perpetua?”
He shook his head frowning. “All I wanted.” After blinking some more he said, “What happened. What happened to you. Friday. In Haber’s office. The session.”
“That’s what I came to ask you!”
That woke him up. “You were aware—”
“I guess so. I mean, I know something happened. I sure have been trying to run on two tracks with one set of wheels ever since. I walked right into a wall Sunday in my own apartment! See?” She exhibited a bruise, blackish under brown skin, on her forehead. “The wall was there now but it wasn’t there now.... How do you live with this going on all the time? How do you know where anything is?”
“I don’t,” Orr said. “I get all mixed up. If it’s meant to happen at all it isn’t meant to happen so often. It’s too much. I can’t tell any more whether I’m insane or just can’t handle all the conflicting information. I ... It ... You mean you really believe me?”
“What else can I do? I saw what happened to the city! I was looking out the window! You needn’t think I want to believe it I don’t, I try not to. Christ, it’s terrible. But that Dr. Haber, he didn’t want me to believe it either, did he? He sure did some fast talking. But then, what you said when you woke up; and then running into walls, and going to the wrong office.... Then I keep wondering, has he dreamed anything else since Friday, things are all changed again, but I don’t know it became I wasn’t there, and I keep wondering what things are changed, and whether anything’s real at all. Oh shit, it’s awful.”
“That’s it. Listen, you know the war—the war in the Near East?”
“Sure I know it. My husband was killed in it.”
“Your husband?” He looked stricken. “When?”
“Just three days before they called it off. Two days before the Teheran Conference and the U.S.-China Pact. One day after the Aliens blew up the Moon base.”
He was looking at her as if appalled.
“What’s wrong? Oh, hell, it’s an old scar. Six years ago, nearly seven. And if he’d lived we’d have been divorced by now, it was a lousy marriage. Look, it wasn’t your fault!”
“I don’t know what is my fault any more.”
“Well, Jim sure wasn’t. He was just a big handsome black unhappy son of a gun, bigshot Air Force Captain at 26 and shot down at 27, you don’t think you invented that, do you, it’s been happening for thousands of years. And it happened just exactly the same in that other— way, before Friday, when the world was so crowded. Just exactly. Only it was early in the war... wasn’t it?” Her voice sank, softened. “My God. It was early in the war, instead of just before the cease-fire. That war went on and on. It was still going on right now. And there weren’t... there weren’t any Aliens—were there?”
Orr shook his head.
“Did you dream them up?”
“He made me dream about peace. Peace on earth, good will among men. So I made the Aliens. To give us something to fight.”
“You didn’t. That machine of his does it.”
“No. I can do fine without the machine, Miss Lelache. All it does is save him time, getting me to dream right away. Although he’s been working on it lately to improve it some way. He’s great on improving things.”
“Please call me Heather.”
“It’s a pretty name.”
“Your name’s George. He kept calling you George, in that session. Like you were a real clever poodle, or a rhesus monkey. Lie down, George. Dream this, George.”
He laughed. His teeth were white, and his laugh pleasant, breaking through dishevelment and confusion. “That’s not me. That’s my subconscious, see, he’s talking to. It is kind of like a dog or a monkey, for his purposes. It’s not rational, but it can be trained to perform.”
He never spoke with any bitterness at all, no matter how awful the things he said. Are there really people without resentment, without hate, she wondered. People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognize evil, and resist evil, and yet are utterly unaffected by it?
Of course there are. Countless, the living and the dead. Those who have returned in pure compassion to the wheel, those who follow the way that cannot be followed without knowing they follow it, the sharecropper’s wife in Alabama and the lama in Tibet and the entomologist in Peru and the millworker in Odessa and the greengrocer in London and the goatherd in Nigeria and the old, old man sharpening a stick by a dry streambed somewhere in Australia, and all the others. There is not one of us who has not known them. There are enough of them, enough to keep us going. Perhaps.
“Now look. Tell me, I need to know this: was it after you went to Haber that you started having....”
“Effective dreams. No, before. It’s why I went. I was scared of the dreams, so I was getting sedatives illegally to suppress dreaming. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Why didn’t you take something these last two nights, then, instead of trying to keep awake?”
“I used up all I had Friday night. I can’t fill the prescription here. But I had to get away. I wanted to get clear away from Dr. Haber. Things are more complicated than he’s willing to realize. He thinks you can make things come out right. And he tries to use me to make things come out right, but he won’t admit it; he lies because he won’t look straight, he’s not interested in what’s true, in what is, he can’t see anything except his mind—his ideas of what ought to be.”
“Well. I can’t do anything for you, as a lawyer,” Heather said, not following this very well; she sipped her coffee and brandy, which would have grown hair on a Chihuahua. “There wasn’t anything fishy in his hypnotic directions, that I could see; he just told you not to worry about overpopulation and stuff. And if he’s determined to hide the fact that he’s using your dreams for peculiar purposes, he can; using hypnosis he could just make sure you didn’t have an effective dream while anybody else was watching. I wonder why he let me witness one? Are you sure he believes in them himself? I don’t understand him. But anyway, it’s hard for a lawyer to interfere between a psychiatrist and his patient, especially when the shrink is a big shot and the patient is a nut who thinks his dreams come true—no, I don’t want this in court! But look. Isn’t there any way you could keep yourself from dreaming for him? Tranquilizers, maybe?”
“I haven’t got a Pharm Card while I’m on VTT. He’d have to prescribe them. Anyway, his Augmentor could get me dreaming.”
“It is invasion of privacy; but it won’t make a case.... Listen. What if you had a dream where you changed him?”
Orr stared at her through a fog of sleep and brandy.
“Made him more benevolent—well, you say he is benevolent, that he means well. But he’s power-hungry. He’s found a great way to run the world without taking any responsibility for it. Well. Make him less power-hungry. Dream that he’s a really good man. Dream that he’s trying to cure you, not use you!”
“But I can’t choose my dreams. Nobody can.”
She sagged. “I forgot. As soon as I accept this thing as real, I keep thinking it’s something you can control. But you can’t. You just do it.”
“I don’t do anything,” Orr said morosely. “I never have done anything. I just dream. And then it is.”
“I’ll hypnotize you,” Heather said suddenly.
To have accepted an incredible fact as true gave her a rather heady feeling: if Orr’s dreams worked, what else mightn’t work? Also she had eaten nothing since noon, and the coffee and brandy were hitting hard.
He stared some more.
“I’ve done it. Took psych courses in college, in pre-law. We all worked out both as hypnotizers and subjects, in one course. I was a fair subject, but real good at putting the others under. I’ll put you under, and suggest a dream to you. About Dr. Haber—making him harmless. I’ll tell you just to dream that, nothing more. See? Wouldn’t that be safe—as safe as anything we could try, at this point?”
“But I’m hypnosis-resistant. I didn’t use to be, but he says I am now.”
“Is that why he uses vagus-carotid induction? I hate to watch that, it looks like a murder. I couldn’t do that, I’m not a doctor, anyway.”
“My dentist used to just use a Hypnotape. It worked fine. At least I think it did.” He was absolutely talking in his sleep and might have maundered on indefinitely.
She said gently, “It sounds like you’re resisting the hypnotist, not the hypnosis.... We could try it, anyhow. And if it worked, I could give you posthypnotic suggestion to dream one small what d’you call it, effective, dream about Haber. So he’ll come clean with you, and try to help you. Do you think that might work? Would you trust it?”
“I could get some sleep, anyway,” he said. “I ... will have to sleep sometime. I don’t think I can go through tonight. If you think you could do the hypnosis...”
“I think I can. But listen, have you got anything to eat here?”
“Yes,” he said drowsily. After some while he came to. “Oh yes. I’m sorry. You didn’t eat. Getting here. There’s a loaf of bread....” He rooted in the cupboard, brought out bread, margarine, five hard-boiled eggs, a can of tuna, and some shopworn lettuce. She found two tin pie plates, three various forks, and a paring knife. “Have you eaten?” she demanded. He was not sure. They made a meal together, she sitting in the chair at the table, he standing. Standing up seemed to revive him, and he proved a hungry eater. They had to divide everything in half, even the fifth egg.
“You are a very kind person,” he said.
“Me? Why? Coming here, you mean? Oh shit, I was scared. By that world-changing bit on Friday! I had to get it straight Look, I was looking right at the hospital I was born in, across the river, when you were dreaming, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t there and never had been!”
“I thought you were from the East,” he said. Relevance was not his strong point at the moment.
“No.” She cleaned out the tuna can scrupulously and licked the knife. “Portland. Twice, now. Two different hospitals. Christ! But born and bred. So were my parents. My father was black and my mother was white. It’s kind of interesting. He was a real militant Black Power type, back in the seventies, you know, and she was a hippie. He was from a welfare family in Albina, no father, and she was a corporation lawyer’s daughter from Portland Heights. And a dropout, and went on drugs, and all that stuff they used to do then. And they met at some political rally, demonstrating. That was when demonstrations were still legal. And they got married. But he couldn’t stick it very long, I mean the whole situation, not just the marriage. When I was eight he went off to Africa. To Ghana, I think. He thought his people came originally from there, but he didn’t really know. They’d been in Louisiana since anybody knew, and Lelache would be the slaveowner’s name, it’s French. It means The Coward. I took French in high school because I had a French name.” She snickered. “Anyway, he just went. And poor Eva sort of fell apart. That’s my mother. She never wanted me to call her Mother or Mom or anything, that was middle-class nucleus family possessiveness. So I called her Eva. And we lived in a sort of commune thing for a while up on Mount Hood, oh Christ! Was it cold in winter! But the police broke it up, they said it was an anti-American conspiracy. And after that she sort of scrounged a living, she made nice pottery when she could get the use of somebody’s wheel and kiln, but mostly she helped out in little stores and restaurants, and stuff. Those people helped each other a lot. A real lot But she never could keep off the hard drugs, she was hooked. She’d be off for a year and then bingo. She got through the Plague, but when she was thirty-eight she got a dirty needle, and it killed her. And damn if her family didn’t show up and take me over. I’d never even seen them! And they put me through college and law school. And I go up there for Christmas Eve dinner every year. I’m their token Negro. But I’ll tell you, what really gets me is, I can’t decide which color I am. I mean, my father was a black, a real black—oh, he had some white blood, but he was a black —and my mother was a white, and I’m neither one. See, my father really hated my mother because she was white. But he also loved her. But I think she loved his being black much more than she loved him. Well, where does that leave me? I never have figured out.”
“Brown,” he said gently, standing behind her chair.
“The color of the earth.”
“Are you a Portlander? Equal time.”
“I can’t hear you over that damn creek. I thought the wilderness was supposed to be silent. Go on!”
“But I’ve had so many childhoods, now,” he said. “Which one should I tell you about? In one both my parents died in the first year of the Plague. In one there wasn’t any Plague. I don’t know.... None of them were very interesting. I mean, nothing to tell. All I ever did was survive.”
“Well. That’s the main thing.”
“It gets harder all the time. The Plague, and now the Aliens...” He gave a feckless laugh, but when she looked around at him his face was weary and miserable.
“I can’t believe you dreamed them up. I just can’t. I’ve been scared of them for so long, six years! But I knew you did, as soon as I thought about it, because they weren’t in that other—time-track or whatever it is. But actually, they aren’t any worse than that awful overcrowding. That horrible little flat I lived in, with four other women, in a Business Girls Condominium, for Christsake! And riding that ghastly subway, and my teeth were terrible, and there never was anything decent to eat, and not half enough either. Do you know, I weighed 101 then, and I’m 122 now. I gained twenty-one pounds since Friday!”
“That’s right. You were awfully thin, that first time I saw you. In your law office.”
“You were, too. You looked scrawny. Only everybody else did, so I didn’t notice it. Now you look like you’d be a fairly solid type, if you ever got any sleep.”
He said nothing.
“Everybody else looks a lot better, too, when you come to think of it. Look. If you can’t help what you do, and what you do makes things a little better, then you shouldn’t feel any guilt about it. Maybe your dreams are just a new way for evolution to act, sort of. A hot line. Survival of the fittest and all. With crash priority.”
“Oh, worse than that,” he said in the same airy, foolish tone; he sat down on the bed. “Do you—” He stuttered several times. “Do you remember anything about April, four years ago—in ‘98?”
“April? No, nothing special.”
“That’s when the world ended,” Orr said. A muscular spasm disfigured his face, and he gulped as if for air. “Nobody else remembers,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked, obscurely frightened. April, April 1998, she thought, do I remember April ‘98? She thought she did not, and knew she must; and she was frightened—by him? With him? For him?
“It isn’t evolution. It’s just self-preservation. I can’t— Well, it was a lot worse. Worse than you remember. It was the same world as that first one you remember, with a population of seven billion, only it—it was worse. Nobody but some of the European countries got rationing and pollution control and birth control going early enough, in the seventies, and so when we finally did try to control food distribution it was too late, there wasn’t enough, and the Mafia ran the black market, everybody had to buy on the black market to get anything to eat, and a lot of people didn’t get anything. They rewrote the Constitution in 1984, the way you remember, but things were so bad by then that it was a lot worse, it didn’t even pretend to be a democracy any more, it was a sort of police state, but it didn’t work, it fell apart right away. When I was fifteen the schools closed. There wasn’t any Plague, but there were epidemics, one after another, dysentery and hepatitis and then bubonic. But mostly people starved. And then in ‘93 the war started up in the Near East, but it was different. It was Israel against the Arabs and Egypt. All the big countries got in on it. One of the African states came in on the Arab side, and used nuclear bombs on two cities in Israel, and so we helped them retaliate, and....” He was silent for some while and then went on, apparently not realizing that there was any gap in his telling, “I was trying to get out of the city. I wanted to get into Forest Park. I was sick, I couldn’t go on walking and I sat down on the steps of this house up in the west hills, the houses were all burnt out but the steps were cement, I remember there were some dandelions flowering in a crack between the steps. I sat there and I couldn’t get up again and I knew I couldn’t. I kept thinking that I was standing up and going on, getting out of the city, but it was just delirium, I’d come to and see the dandelions again and know I was dying. And that everything else was dying. And then I had the—I had this dream.” His voice had hoarsened; now it choked off.
“I was all right,” he said at last. “I dreamed about being home. I woke up and I was all right. I was in bed at home. Only it wasn’t any home I’d ever had, the other time, the first time. The bad time. Oh God, I wish I didn’t remember it. I mostly don’t. I can’t. I’ve told myself ever since that it was a dream. That it was a dream! But it wasn’t. This is. This isn’t real. This world isn’t even probable. It was the truth. It was what happened. We are all dead, and we spoiled the world before we died. There is nothing left. Nothing but dreams.”
She believed him, and denied her belief with fury. “So what? Maybe that’s all it’s ever been! Whatever it is, it’s all right. You don’t suppose you’d be allowed to do anything you weren’t supposed to do, do you? Who the hell do you think you are! There is nothing that doesn’t fit, nothing happens that isn’t supposed to happen. Ever! What does it matter whether you call it real or dreams? It’s all one— isn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” Orr said in agony; and she went to him and held him as she would have held a child in pain, or a dying man.
The head on her shoulder was heavy, the fair, square hand on her knee lay relaxed.
“You’re asleep,” she said. He made no denial. She had to shake him pretty hard to get him even to deny it. “No I’m not,” he said, starting and sitting upright. “No.” He sagged again.
“George!” It was true: the use of his name helped. He kept his eyes open long enough to look at her. “Stay awake, stay awake just a little. I want to try the hypnosis. So you can sleep.” She had meant to ask him what he wanted to dream, what she should impress on him hypnotically concerning Haber, but he was too far gone now. “Look, sit there on the cot. Look at ... look at the flame of the lamp, that ought to do it. But don’t go to sleep.” She set the oil lamp on the center of the table, amidst eggshells and wreckage. “Just keep your eyes on it, and don’t go to sleep! You’ll relax and feel easy, but you won’t go to sleep yet, not till I say ‘Go to sleep.’ That’s it. Now you’re feeling easy and comfortable....” With a sense of play acting, she proceeded with the hypnotist’s spiel. He went under almost at once. She couldn’t believe it, and tested him. “You can’t lift your left hand,” she said, “you’re trying, but it’s too heavy, it won’t come.... Now it’s light again, you can lift it. There... well. In a minute now you’re going to fall asleep. You’ll dream some, but they’ll just be regular ordinary dreams like everybody has, not special ones, not—not effective ones. All except one. You’ll have one effective dream. In it—” She halted. All of a sudden she was scared; a cold qualm took her. What was she doing? This was no play, no game, nothing for a fool to meddle in. He was in her power: and his power was incalculable. What unimaginable responsibility had she undertaken?
A person who believes, as she did, that things fit: that there is a whole of which one is a part, and that in being a part one is whole: such a person has no desire whatever, at any time, to play God. Only those who have denied their being yearn to play at it.
But she was caught in a role and couldn’t back out of it now. “In that one dream, you’ll dream that... that Dr. Haber is benevolent, that he’s not trying to hurt you and will be honest with you,” She didn’t know what to say, how to say it, knowing that whatever she said could go wrong. “And you’ll dream that the Aliens aren’t out there on the Moon any longer,” she added hastily; she could get that load off his shoulders, anyhow. “And in the morning you’ll wake up quite rested, everything will be all right. Now: Go to sleep.”
Oh shit, she’d forgotten to tell him to lie down first.
He went like a half-stuffed pillow, softly, forward and sideways, till he was a large, warm, inert heap on the floor.
He couldn’t have weighed more than 150, but he might have been a dead elephant for all the help he gave her getting him up on the cot. She had to do it legs first and then heave the shoulders, so as not to tip the cot; he ended up on the sleeping bag, of course, not in it She dragged it out from under him, nearly tipping over the cot again, and got it spread out over him. He slept, slept utterly, through it all. She was out of breath, sweating, and upset He wasn’t.
She sat down at the table and got her breath. After a while she wondered what to do. She cleaned up their dinner-leavings, heated water, washed the pie this, forks, knife, and cups. She built up the fire in the stove. She found several books on a shelf, paperbacks he’d picked up in Lincoln City probably, to beguile his long vigil. No mysteries, hell, a good mystery was what she needed. There was a novel about Russia. One thing about the Space Pact: the U.S. Government wasn’t trying to pretend that nothing between Jerusalem and the Philippines existed because if it did it might threaten the American Way of Life; and so these last few years you could buy Japanese toy paper parasols, and Indian incense, and Russian novels, and things, once more. Human Brotherhood was the New Life-Style, according to President Merdle.
This book, by somebody with a name ending in “evsky”, was about life during the Plague Years in a little town in the Caucasus, and it wasn’t exactly jolly reading, but it caught at her emotions; she read it from ten o’clock till two-thirty. All that time Orr lay fast asleep, scarcely moving, breathing lightly and quietly. She would look up from the Caucasian village and see his face, gilt and shadowed in the dim lamplight, serene. If he dreamed, they were quiet dreams and fleeting. After everybody in the Caucasian village was dead except the village idiot (whose perfect passivity to the inevitable kept making her think of her companion), she tried some rewarmed coffee, but it tasted like lye. She went to the door and stood half inside, half outside for a while, listening to the creek shouting and hollering eternal praise! eternal praise! It was incredible that it had kept up that tremendous noise for hundreds of years before she was even born, and would go on doing it until the mountains moved. And the strangest thing about it, now very late at night in the absolute silence of the woods, was a distant note in it, far away upstream it seemed, like the voices of children singing— very sweet, very strange.
She got shivery; she shut the door on the voices of the unborn children singing in the water, and turned to the small warm room and the sleeping man. She took down a book on home carpentry which he had evidently bought to keep himself busy about the cabin, but it put her to sleep at once. Well, why not? Why did she have to stay up? But where was she supposed to sleep....
She should have left George on the floor. He never would have noticed. It wasn’t fair, he had both the cot and the sleeping bag.
She removed the sleeping bag from him, replacing it with his raincoat and her raincape. He never stirred. She looked at him with affection, then got into the sleeping bag down on the floor. Christ it was cold down here on the floor, and hard. She hadn’t blown out the light. Or did you turn out wick lamps? You should do one and shouldn’t do the other. She remembered that from the commune. But she couldn’t remember which. Oooooh SHIT it was cold down here!
Cold, cold. Hard. Bright. Too bright. Sunrise in the window through shift and flicker of trees. Over the bed. The floor trembled. The hills muttered and dreamed of falling in the sea, and over the hills, faint and horrible, the sirens of distant towns howled, howled, howled.
She sat up. The wolves howled for the world’s end.
Sunrise poured in through the single window, hiding all that lay under its dazzling slant. She felt through excess of light and found the dreamer sprawled on his face, still sleeping. “George! Wake up! Oh, George, please wake up! Something is wrong!”
He woke. He smiled at her, waking.
“Something is wrong —the sirens—what is it?”
Still almost in his dream, he said without emotion, “They’ve landed. “
For he had done just what she told him to do. She had told him to dream that the Aliens were no longer on the Moon.