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A Tale about a Family, a nd Time a nd A rt a nd Science, Religion, Philosophy a nd Current Events [Rosenthal’s works] “...attempt to come to terms with unbearable realities ...in their quiet, painstaking, unemphatic way they tell us terrible truths.” 1 —John Russell, The New York Times


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in PRAISE of WISH FOR AMNESIA …satirical, fantastical, and philosophical….. We see the world…most rivetingly…. readers will find they can’t take their eyes away. They’ll also sometimes wonder what’s real and what’s not—and exactly what kind of magic might be at work. A celebration of the dysfunctional that will keep readers turning pages. — Kirkus An extraordinary cast of characters who shuttle between divinity and depravity, motivated by a blinding vision of perfection. Thought-provoking, beautifully written and fully engaging. Brava! —Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Goodreads ...fast-paced, surprising, heart-wrenching and beautiful. It touches the reader’s soul. Rosenthal elevates storytelling to a high note.…The tale stands out in imagery and tight, gripping plot [in which] historical moments…beautifully intertwine…[It] merits five stars and a read from every book lover in the world. —Kleio Bhagwati, Wicked Venom …extraordinary…compelling… a loom...of finespun hard-steel cable.... Clinical precision and vertiginous pace combine in...the most astounding passages of English prose you’ll ever read.…[and] take Wish for Amnesia from merely brilliant to root-and-branch reinventive. This...richly tapestried infrastructure…finds few literary precedents … (maybe Joyce). —L. Weichselbaum, Home Planet News …a fable-like fiction… a well-drawn mise-en-scène of the senses…. Wish for Amnesia is complex and folds back on itself even as it moves forward…. A Möbius strip of science and magic. [A]wild ride, careening through time, space and levels of reality…. The writing is rich.... Wish for Amnesia is well worth reading. Multiple times. —Pam Kray, Afterimage Rarely have I felt a sense of place as vividly ...The same is true of the characters, each of whom is a complex universe...rendered with startling authenticity—and humor. Rosenthal is a master craftswoman—each sentence a sculptured gem. Reading the book a second time, I’m blown away even more...this time around. An awe-inspiring achievement!!! —Stanley Hoffman, Amazon Barbara Rosenthal re-imagines the art of fiction between new modes of imagination and reality. She is the closest thing we have to a Wallace Stevens. —Stephen Paul Miller, ed. Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture An adventure in language, and an entertaining “Siddhartha-type” read… likely to touch a responsive chord.... [A] kaleidoscope of references... delightful to experience. —Mike Foldes, Ragazine A very clever, powerful and complex book...about the contest between priorities of the mind, the body and the soul. —Angharad Lodwick, Tinted Edges3


Wish for Amnesia

other BOOKS by BARBARA ROSENTHAL BOOKS, sole author Soul & Psyche

ISBN 0-89822-121-8 Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1998

Homo Futurus

ISBN 0-89822-046-7 Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1986

Sensations

ISBN 0-89822-022-x Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1984

Clues to Myself

ISBN 0-89822-015-7 Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1981

PAMPHLETS, sole author Existential Cartoons

eMediaLoft.org, NYC, 2007

Names / Lives

eMediaLoft.org, NYC, 2001

Haunted House

ISBN 0-9728260-1-7 Washington Street Press, 1997

Children’s Shoes

eMediaLoft.org, NYC, 1992

Introduction to the 1976-1986 Trilogy eMediaLoft.org, NYC, 1987

Old Address Book

eMediaLoft.org, NYC, 1984

Structure and Meaning

eMediaLoft.org, NYC, 1981

BOOKS in collaboration Sitting Book visual direction & design with poet Bonny Finberg ISBN 0-97607893-3-x Xanadu Press, NYC, 2017 Party Everywhere visual direction & design with poet Jeffrey Cyphers Wright ISBN 0-97607893-9-9 Xanadu Press, NYC, 2014 Roger’s Reference: Dictionary of Homonyms & Homophones American-spellings editor with editor-in-chief Roger Burke ISBN 0-9579618-2-0 Chiasmus Press, Morayfield, AU, 2005 Weeks photographer with poet Hannah Weiner ISBN 0-9770049-7-x Xexoxial Endarchy, La Farge, WI, 1989 4


ABOUT previous WORKS by BARBARA ROSENTHAL // “...an attempt to come to terms with unbearable realities...in their quiet, painstaking, unemphatic way they tell us terrible truths.” —John Russell, The NY Times. // “...incessantly personal, even naked, with an emphasis on language...” —Manohla Dargis, The Village Voice. // “...profound work...pithy, poignant, prophetic... high content...” —Clare Carswell, Flash Art International. // “...dreamlike, associative...” —Shelley Rice, Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology. // “...hyper-real...”—Ngan Le, Berlin Art Link. // “...effective directness...”—Laura C. Lieberman, Afterimage. // “...Platonic ideal...large and public scale...transgresses conventional limits...” —Ellen Handy, Photography Quarterly. // “...a very funny take on life...sardonic...” —Bill Creston, underground filmmaker. // “all sorts of interesting other meanings...” —Buzz Spector, co-founder WhiteWalls magazine. // “...truly original...” —Richard Kostelanetz, Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes. // “...questioning the modern milieu...” —Pam Kray, Book Arts, London. // “...introspection, reflection, and the texture of the material world...” —Philippa Hawker, Sydney Morning Herald. // “...A one-to-one experience...” —Shelley Rice, The Franklin Furnace Flue. // “...a thinking artist...” — Judith Hoffberg, Umbrella. // “...a Freudian concept of the uncanny, where familiar things are imbued with strangeness...” —Natalie Zayne, Belgo Report, Montreal. // “The paradox is to share the ultimately private... — George Myers, Jr., Introduction to Modern Times. // “...charged with psychic energy...” — Laurie Schneider, Score. // “...alongside John Cage and Alison Knowles and Philip Corner” —Carol Bergé, avant-garde poet. // “...combines mass culture and interior monologue...” —Ellen Handy, Arts. 5


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Wish for Amnesia A Tale about a Family, and Time and Art and Science, Religion, Philosophy and Current Events

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Wish for Amnesia

NY Times: November 14, 1985

NY Times: December 29, 1985

None of the characters or references are meant to represent any person living or dead, unless they are named correctly and are so famous they are fair game. None of the places refer to anyone there. None of the scenes ever took place, there is no association with Columbia, Princeton or the U.N., nor was a Times article yet ever written about Jack. But every quotation is transcribed accurately from the author’s contemporaneous readings copied by hand into her Journals, and all general history and specific dates are real whenever possible. On Dec. 27, 1985, terrorists attacked two airports, and Halley’s Comet neared the Earth. All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, television or internet article, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, scanning or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Publisher. ISBN 978-1-937739-92-8 first edition, 2017 (definitive, 2018) ISBN 978-1-937739-66-9 first edition eBook, 2018 ISBN 978-1-937739-83-6 pink skin proto-edition, 2016 ISBN 978-1-937739-28-7 fine print proto-edition, 2015 ISBN 978-1-937739-75-1 white/tan/purple proto-editions, 2014/2015 ISBN 978-0-976079-36-1 comb-bound proto-editions, 1990-2005

Published by Deadly Chaps Press New York, NY, USA http: //www.deadlychaps.com/novel wishforamnesia.com 2018 8


Foreword

FOREWORD by Joseph A.W. Quintela, publisher A t a sun-soaked gathering of poets in 2013, in a grassy Queens park overlooking Manhattan, I first encounter Barbara Rosenthal, barefoot, face shaded by a wide-brimmed black hat, perched on a stone wall and looking every bit the part: an oracle. This image alone might be the ideal introduction to Wish for Amnesia. I recognize the artist immediately, but it takes a while before we say hello. At the gathering, we are both performing poetry interventions that use text cards to initiate interaction. At one point, we each spontaneously say something aloud that combines two of our cards in a moment of cosmic collaboration. By this entrÊe, I find myself joining her later for Long Island Iced Tea and rambling conversation that returns frequently to one preoccupation of the ensuing pages: the multiplicity of variations that exists within an individual’s perception of time:


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“…time plays tricks,” reflects Jack, the pivotal character in the novel and, for me, this has never been as true as it is in this hours-long conversation, which has never left my mind. By the time we part on the subway back to Manhattan, my head is pleasantly reeling. So begins my acquaintance with this futurist, visionary and tragi-comedian. The agreement to finally publish Wish for Amnesia with Deadly Chaps Press comes a year later. At this point, we’d planned to release a trilogy of her “journal-text artist books,” assimilating materials from 1990-2005, and she previewed a segment from it on our stage at the NY Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island in July. However, as that project expands it becomes clear that it must be prefaced by the very thing that prefaces the decade: construction of the first of her two existential novels, slowly developing in suspension forty years. So work on the trilogy is paused in October of 2014 as Barbara throws open one of the Six Trunks of Journals, Drafts, Workbooks and Mock-ups that occupy her riverside loft in the Westbeth Artists’ Complex in Greenwich Village. From this treasure trove of process notes, thick files and looseleaf binders devoted to characters, scenes, philosophic compilations and chronologies begun in 1978, she pulls a comb-bound copy of the Wish for Amnesia 1991 “protoedition.” I rush it home. I can not put it down. I am smitten. All too prophetic at the time of its writing, and with a plot that concludes in 1985, the novel’s immediacy right now is striking. Now is its time. Rosenthal’s concept of the “Trans-Millennial Century,” an era whose beginning could be marked by her own birth, might best be seen as the era of reckoning for the excesses of Modernism. She marks its onset year as July 23, 1944 - August 6, 1945, “the simultaneous first liberation of the Concentration Camps and first dropping


Foreword

of the A-Bomb, when worldwide and together we faced the Horricides of ethnic annihilation in the cause of mass hysteria.� It is on this stage, woven with pivotal events plucked from history, that Wish for Amnesia unfolds. She subtitles it a Tale about a Family, and Time and Art and Science, Religion, Philosophy and Current Events. In short, a book almost as exhaustive in purview as its author. In this wackiest of deadly serious pieces of literature, Rosenthal creates the universe, re-conceives God, rapes, murders, gives birth, undergoes transformations, commits child-abuse, sustains child-abuse, crashes a car, ideates artworks, throws a party, has lots of sex, smokes lots of marijuana, makes a daring escape, gets appointed to high office, develops computerware, splices genes, contacts extraterrestrials, puns and cracks jokes, places fifty-eight photographs, and lets you know everything there is to know about being an idealist, and a contemporary, secular Jew, an artist, child, teen, daughter, woman, wife, mother, or any cosmopolitan of any gender or ethnicity, or any kind of human being at all. It certainly can be understood on its own as a work of pure, rollicking fiction, presented in a duality-paired quantum-like structure by a long-time college professor of both English and Art spoofing the rules. But Wish for Amnesia is also the serious, unflinching, philosophical exegesis of a clearly defined universe. We contemplate human identity from the vantage of information overload, which, as Rosenthal correctly predicted in her four previous books, would change the human mind. And it also contains some of the most quotable terminology and sure-fire new memes of any epoch. In life, Barbara Rosenthal is a performance and media artist, a “media poet,� who has inhabited many personas, directing them variously throughout the world.


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But here in her first novel, these many personas fall back toward one another on the page. The book opens with a stark image of two characters falling toward one another on a moving train. This image stays with me throughout, as I see the performance being replayed. Characters, scenes and ideas are often paired, so veering in and glancing off each other often result. Much of her work incorporates paired dualities: mind and body, natural and artificial, sea and sky, male and female, real and unreal, sight and sound, art and science, speaking and writing, innocence and corruption, as well as semantic opposites. She says she herself has only “two time zones: Now and Not Now.” We are lucky to be here together in Zone Now. But watch out! Most of her pairs function in triads. “Where are we really now, then?” she asks. Much of the work Rosenthal has produced in her fifty-seven years as an artist and writer is still largely unknown to a wide public, and this book might have been among them. The structure and first edit was completed by the end of 1985, and in the early 1990s, Gunther Stuhlmann, editor of Anaïs Nin’s diaries, and literary agent to both, represented Wish for Amnesia to the very best publishing houses (Vintage, Putnam, Grove, etc.), but unfortunately he died before “finding this baby a home,” as he wrote in a letter to her. So, casually over the years, as many other projects were produced, this novel was periodically redrafted and sporadically submitted to ninety-six agents and well-known commercial and independent presses, who, I hope, are kicking themselves today. At last, after many hurdles, changes in typing technology and seventeen proto-editions, this extraordinary book found its way to my desk. I hope you’re glad I’ve gotten it to you. —Joseph A. W. Quintela, NYC, January 4, 2018

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This book is dedicated to my close family, here and gone: my children, Ola Creston and Sena Clara Creston; their father, Bill Creston; our grandchildren, Zeia Mays Brittenburg and Castenea Quinn Brittenburg; my brother, Gilbert Alan Rosenthal; and my parents, Leon Rosenthal and Evelyne F. Rosenthal.

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If there is merely inward looking and never outwardlooking, there can be no distinction between what has value and what has not, between what is precious and what is vile, between what is noble and what is vulgar. — Hsun Tzu, Confucian scholar’s criticism of Tao. 3rd c. bc When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. — King James Bible. Psalm 73:16 We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. — Rabbi Shmuel Nachmani,Talmud tractate Berakhot 55b

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Wish for Amnesia

CHAPTERS SECTION ONE

1. 1. 1. 1. 2. 2. 3. 3. 4. 4. 5. 5. 6. 6. 7. 7. 8. 8. 9. 9.

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PROLOGUE Poland, 1943 Chaim and Chava................................................................ 1 COMMENCEMENT New York, 1968 Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office ………...........…........ 4 Chaim’s Letter to Jack ……………………….………….............…14 11 13 Six Quick Letters, Jack and Beatrice ………….…...............….16 22 Beatrice, Effluvia .................................................................24 26 Jack Meets Beatrice at Kennedy Airport ..............................24 32 Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground ..............................30 34 Letty’s Mother Dying ..........................................................39 40 Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool ............................... 43 49 52


Chapters

SECTION TWO

New York and New Jersey, 1969-85 10. The Birth of Jewel ................................................................ 52 1. 11. Caroline’s Sketch Pad I ....................................................... 65 2. 12. Caroline’s Sketch Pad II....................................................... 74 3. 13. Jewel .................................................................................... 80 4. 14. Caroline and Jewel Drive to the Country .............................. 82 5. 15. Incident at the Abandoned Farmhouse ............................... 93 6. 16. Jewel’s Notebook ................................................................ 1103 7. 17. The New York Times Article about Jack ............................... 112 8. 18. Caroline and Jewel Drive to the City ................................... 1114 9. 19. Caroline Parks Car and Walks Back Alone ........................... 125 10. 20. Caroline in the Drug Store ................................................. 138 11. 21. Jewel Enters Beatrice’s Party Alone .................................... 146 12. 22. Jack and Caroline Enter the Garden ................................... 162 13. 23. Jack’s Speech: Homo Futurus in the Trans-Millennial Century. 168 14. 24. Jewel Dreams the Physics Dream .......................................... 178 15.

SECTION THREE

25. 1. 26. 2. 27. 3. 28. 4. 29. 5. 30. 6. 31. 7. 32. 8. 33. 9. 34. 10. 35. 11. 36. 12. 37. 13. 38. 14. 39. 15. 40. 16. 41. 17.

Rome, 1985 Beatrice and Jewel Walk Along the Tiber .............................. 181 A Taxi Driver, Toto ................................................................ 186 Toto, Beatrice and Jewel on the Gianicolo at Sunset ............. 196 Toto, Beatrice and Jewel Drive to Ostia ................................ 208 In Ostia ................................................................................. 212 Jewel Swims Out ................................................................... 223 Exhausted and Exposed ....................................................... 233 Incident at the Northern Cove .............................................. 235 Toto and Jewel Return to the Shack ...................................... 238 Telephone Call to Princeton ................................................. 249 Caroline at Computer I ......................................................... 261 Da Vinci Airport.....................................................................265 Jack Lands ............................................................................. 269 Toto Locates Jack .................................................................. 276 In the Air ............................................................................... 282 Caroline at Computer II ........................................................ 284 From the Skies over Italy ........................................................286 17


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SECTION ONE

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Section 1 Prologue. Chapter 1: Chaim and Chava

PROLOGUE Poland, 1943

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Section 1 Chapter 1: Chaim and Chava

Chapter 1 Chaim and Chava Chaim and Chava met in a boxcar with a thousand other Jews, two of ten thousand on a transport to Auschwitz. They fell toward one another, contorted, swollen figures wrenching and lurching into areas of the car with less resistant human tissue. They dangled with the others, dead and living, tight, like upright worms, desiccating in their thirst and filth, pressed and introduced in private scandal. Chaim was sixteen, blond; Chava, fifteen, alabaster skin, black hair, like Snow White. Their parents were not present. After three days, the transport was halted in abandoned countryside outside the gates to allow for removal of the dead. No water was given to the prisoners, barely living. A wasp stung one of the guards. Chaim saw his chance to escape, and escaped with Chava. 1


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Within time, they met partisans in the forest, and soon joined a band of brigand-Jews in a fragile supply chain toward the Warsaw Ghetto, ultimately broken and defeated due to refusal of assistance, well-known. When they could, they escaped finally to America, and bore a child here: Jack Rubin.

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Section 1 Commencement. Chapter 2: Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office

COMMENCEMENT New York, 1968

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Wish for Amnesia

Chapter 2 Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office On Broadway at 110th Street facing north, the sun

from straight behind cast a long shadow, fast advancing. Jack was walking up to Columbia to pick up his mail, then home to 103rd. He was smiling to himself, six feet tall, tangled black hair to his waist, beads, feathers, the gaunt and bearded leader of a great counterculture. His thoughts were on — Heaven. “Heaven,” he said out loud, and imagined a state wherein all ecologies harmonize in beneficent bliss. Jack saw it as his duty to act on his ideals, to be righteous and worthy, to give to the world all that he could make best in himself, and to inspire in others love and humanity. He felt that his life was a gift to the Earth and that through his person the fate of the universe could advance more near to Heaven. He was born, he thought, from the 4


Section 1 Chapter 2: Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office

womb of the Twentieth Century: his genes alone were salvaged from the wreck. “Are we tightening our boundaries again?” he thought aloud, and people heard him. Passersby turned with admiration as they recognized him, and some saluted with the V-finger peace sign, but he paid them no attention. He saw in his imagination elaborate geodesic figures that he’d made as a child from paper straws. Each figure had taken months to complete. To this day they still hung like fat stars from the ceilings of his parents’ apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, an airless three rooms rarely visited. They had lived a quiet existence since coming to America. They never talked much about the past. Jack didn’t see his family often. Many grown children didn’t, anymore. People were coming into prominence about this time with names very similar to his own: Jerry Rubin, Jack Ruby —. “Jewery,” he thought, or heard. Take Only What’s Offered! Morality clichés thundered admonition. Just Where Do You Come Off! Strange voices from out of nowhere had been yelling at him lately. Jack was 29, a little old for his radical leadership and not altogether suited to it. He was better fit, personalitywise, for the role of theoretician than of guru. “I want a letter from Beatrice today, I want a letter from Rome today,” he chanted, striding, concentrating, swinging his old, cowhide briefcase from hand to hand, its straps and buckles flapping. He smiled his constant smile, which masked these inner shouts. Speak Only When Spoken To! another old saw cut into him. Ask For Nothing! You Are A Fraud! You’re Only In It For Yourself! 5


Wish for Amnesia

The voices challenged his sunny face. They were familiar voices, commands by one in particular, which Jack had come to think of as The Voice of the Petty Accuser. Onslaughts of auditory hallucinations were pursuing Jack Rubin with increasing frequency as he rose and emerged as a leader of the Peace Movement, a speaker for his peers. Who else but a son of heroes, a brilliant mind. “Who, who,” Jack called out, hooting as more people gathered, following after him as he walked. Cross-examination of the voices, rebuttal, was permitted, but Jack never won. He was never even told the charge. At each imaginary trial, he felt he must convince not only of his innocence, but of his nobility beyond innocence, and thus he was always defeated. He knew that his hallucinatory judges were barbaric hypocrites, that there were no common values or vocabulary; he was certain of the inferior mentalities of the yahoos on his nightmare juries, yet was hounded by his inability to clearly state his point within their limits. He was tormented. As he got closer to the exact language with which to phrase his position and win the philistines, the meaning of his statements evaporated on the witness stand, and he was, each time, left helpless and speechless, often even voiceless. Every night he would awaken to find himself standing on his bed, screaming a silent scream. Crowds were growing behind him on the street. People pressed closer in on him, trying to keep pace with his long, fast stride, turning their faces to bask in the smile he hardly knew he wore. Jack pushed his black hair out of his eyes, startled to see real people in front of him. He knew he could never purge himself of these fantasies until he won his case. What is my case? What is the case against me? All Jack ever believed for certain was that nothing was ever right. I know I’m right...I’m Left! (I’m all that’s left....) 6


Section 1 Chapter 2: Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office

Someone blocked him and was grabbing his arm! An unsavory Corsican seaman was requesting his autograph. The filthy young sailor held out to him a leather volume and a meticulously crafted fountain pen. It was mother-of-pearl and lapis inlaid, but the ink smelled like blood, and ran red. Jack uneasily obliged, but kept walking. His mind was tortured. He tried talking to himself. Was it karma? neurosis? metaphor? collective unconscious? hereditary psychosis, imbalance of nutrients, effect of poor posture? Should he seek analysis or hypnosis or wait it out, smoke more dope or less —. Someone handed him a lit joint rolled in licorice paper, and met his eyes. Jack toked on the gift, cupping it in his hand. Then he paused to look at his followers. They became still and watched him. He selected a pretty, young woman and neatly passed the marijuana to her, then raised his arms dramatically above the throng. “Conscience has advanced to this point from the moment of our dawn on the beach,” Jack said, projecting his calm, smiling facade out over the crowd. “But time plays tricks. Do not be fooled.” That was all. He opened the face of his hands to stop his people from massing, and turned into the gate of Columbia University between its guardian stone statues, the male, Scientia, on the left, and his female companion with book — unnamed? Must be Ars, he reasoned every day, almost a mantra or password. “We are nearing the end of the Ages of Culture,” he said, casually smiling to the small, privileged, inner group still dogging his steps, and he stopped to list as they occurred to him: “Age of Earth, Age of Order, Age of Esthetics, Age of Mechanics, Age of Biophysics, Age of Astrogenetics.” He laughed out loud. For each age, a geodesic paperstraw star was imagined. He couldn’t get this walk done fast enough. 7


Wish for Amnesia

Before he reached the McPherney Building, he had outpaced most of the youthful band still pursuing him. A few remaining breathless Barnard co-eds and dedicated joggers gaited him to his office door. Today he would not pause with them, although sometimes he did. One boy, Arnold Saperstein, found waiting when he arrived, was his lieutenant, but today Jack had things on his mind besides the Movement and dismissed him with the others. “Do whatever’s right,” he said when Arnold tried to urge urgent messages and events. “This isn’t something I can handle myself,” the boy said weakly, while Jack flipped his keys. “Then don’t,” answered Jack, and snapped the door open and shut. He was sweating when he finally could lean on it for support, still holding the knob in his hand behind his back. It was an old, wooden, public school-type door with four star-textured, translucent glass panes. The group outside could see him through it! Jack jumped out of the way and flicked on the overhead fluorescent lights, knocking into a partition put up recently by one of his officemates. “Damn,” he grunted, stumbling through the cluttered room toward his own place near the windows. He pushed some papers back and sat on the edge of his desk. Although Jack was alone at the moment, four grad-student teaching assistants shared this room: Jack Rubin himself, in Political Science with crossovers in Anthropology and Genetics; Rabinowitz, in Sociology; Reilly, in Astrophysics; and Ross, the linguist. It was an office built for one, so each had jury-rigged partial enclosures and taken them first-come; Jack was lucky to get a window spot, which he had not partitioned off. Ross had the other window, and Reilly and Rabinowitz, who also used Columbia’s new computer center, preferred seats near the door so they could sometimes beat Jack to it. 8


Section 1 Chapter 2: Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office

Their two cubicles were clean and tidy. Jack’s and the linguist’s were heaped with papers and objects and old correspondence. Today’s mail wouldn’t be in yet; it was still before noon. The faculty boxes were located near the coffee machine; he’d go there soon and then settle in for the rest of the day. Jack didn’t like receiving mail this way, but the brass mailboxes in the doorway of his shabby tenement building were so destroyed by junkies that he had no choice. He stood and stretched and paced around the desks. He passed time in front of Ross’s bulletin board: picture postcards, notes, memos, photos, a few stray words on scraps of paper, a calendar with every day of the month through yesterday x’d out, and a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, everything tacked with identically angled steelhead thumbtacks in all four corners and evenly spaced on the board. Jack’s area wasn’t neat, or even clean. His girlfriend, Beatrice, though, was immaculate. And she wouldn’t have given her autograph, like I just did, either, he thought, acknowledging another of their dissimilarities as he remembered signing for a sailor out on the street, the bloody pen. The autograph book itself had given him the creeps too, felt like infant skin. He looked at his watch, a high school graduation present from his father. Still too early for the mail. He ringed one sinewy wrist with his other hand, dirt around the cuticles and under the nails, lifeline and fateline etched in grime. He wiped them on his sleeves, clanking the beads and chains that filled his shirtfront. He didn’t want to read the cartoon. Academic humor depressed him. The only humor Jack Rubin appreciated was crass, sexual innuendo. He recognized that this was low, but was secretly proud of his own imaginative depravity; he weighed judgement solely on deed. Just like everyone, he liked to mistakenly think. He moved to the astrophysicist’s desk and crashed down in his seat. Reilly had retained the walnut desk he 9


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had been issued, polishing it daily with lemon Pledge, but bought himself an executive armchair from an office furniture showroom in The Bronx. It had a wide cross-base on wheels and leaned safely in all directions. Upright on the desk stood a set of marbleized cardboard cutaway boxes of sociology publications and a formidable bronze pipe-suzy. Jack pulled out one of Reilly’s pipes and a periodical. He stuck the pipe in his mouth without filling or lighting it, and bobbed back in the chair with the journal. It absorbed him more than he expected, and not before an hour had passed did he stop chewing his officemate’s pipe, return it to the caddy without wiping it dry, slide the journal into a random place in the otherwise date-ordered file, and roll backward to go check the mail. It was his charming, confident, public self who sauntered down the corridor, but his face was lying; the dreaded words came back. Fuck You, Asshole! Everyone brightened attentively when they saw him, but for Jack, charisma had this awful flipside. How could he make the voices stop? He faced the wall of alphabetized pigeonhole boxes stuffed with rolled mimeographed notices, half-sheet pink memos, manila envelopes and a few real letters. He knew the location of his own box, and stooped to verify his name: the tags repeatedly came off; Jack had retaped his a dozen times. He pulled out the roll of papers and threw away all the ads without reading them. The pink memos he glanced at casually, tossing out any from students, newspaper reporters, the Dean, the Chair, the charity and blood campaigns, etc. Today there was one he kept, notifying him to pick up a package at the office window, too large for the pigeonhole. There was also the airmail-stamped letter from Beatrice he was hoping for. His father had sent the package: a 4-foot-long, 3-inch-square tube-box. Jack didn’t know what was in it. He 10


Section 1 Chapter 2: Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office

had not seen his parents in a long time. He used to see them reasonably frequently, but then they had some words about his girlfriend. Actually, Chaim and Chava easily welcomed Beatrice. It had been she who had weaned him from them. He brought the mail back to his office and cleared a space on his desk by stacking three unrelated piles of papers on top of each other and moving them to the window ledge. A plant that had dried up and died there, he placed on the floor behind his own ratty, college-issue chair, and sat down. He couldn’t decide which to open first, or whether to take them both home. What to do home and what to do in the office and which materials he might need in which place, was a continual dilemma. His tendency was to work at home and keep his college office as a token. Papers for the Movement all stayed with him in his old, cowhide briefcase. Instead of opening either, he reached for two clear, crystal objects he used as paperweights, and toyed with them. Each was five inches high: one, an open-apex pyramid; the other, a partially hollowed, interior-faceted, flat-bottomed sphere that fit over it. They were scale models for the double-walled structure called Science & Art Double Pavilion that his girlfriend, Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore, had designed for glass and steel construction at last year’s Sao Paolo Bienal. The open pyramid was Science and the internally faceted sphere was Art. Spectators entered the pyramid through the sphere and looked vertically through a conjoined open oculus, or sideways at angles through shafts of natural and artificial light. Some of the internal facets were one-way mirrored, some double mirrored, some clear prismatic vitreum. And what seemed at first to be mirrors, reflected their figures in slowed-up time, altered coloration and scale. This echoed the human sounds re-sounding vocal pitch, modulation and ambient audiations. Other machinations recalibrated hour of day and each person’s sense of nearness to each other. 11


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The Sao Paolo Bienal was one of the world’s two great international biennial art exhibitions, vying with another in Venice, and Beatrice represented the United States that year in both extravaganzas. In Venice, she had installed her You & I Transmission. Light patches and slices of visitors’ reflections bounced to format recomposited projections on the facades of the palazzi. Full-body floating holograms of the passati morphed their ages, races and sexes. Jack fooled with her elegant prototypes, placing them over his nipples and then his eyes. No American artist rivaled Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore in clarity and simplicity of production, or in originality and profundity of idea. No viewer could remain untouched by the cosmic interaction she played agent for. Her work was an Avant-Conceptualism that found expression in large-scale public projects and theatrical events. As a performer, Beatrice made magic on the stage, impossibilities of instantaneous change in character and appearance, reversals and restructurings of time and space. Her pieces dealt with black and white, sight and sound, natural and supernatural, imagination and perception. In one called Ici/Voici, she effected pyrotechnic explosions along the River Seine, appearing and vanishing on different bridges before each discharge was perceived. She cultivated many myths about herself, and was as surrounded by acolytes as Jack. Although publicly they were not linked as a couple, Jack’s love for this dramatic woman was catalytic to his charisma and political leadership. He lifted her letter to his forehead. He placed his lips on the Italian airmail stamps she had recently licked. He breathed deeply the scent of her. Some people believed that Beatrice was prophetic. She spoke extemporaneously with little frequency, and 12


Section 1 Chapter 2: Jack Walks up Broadway to His Office

conversationally almost never, but her pronouncements were portentous. Her followers transcribed her words, and dutifully convocated to divine her hidden messages. Twoedged words were essential to her pieces, particularly in the titles, and her essays and articles on the nature and theory of art and the mentality of its production set standards for evaluating past and present thought. Her opaque, creative art and poetic, oral musings and personal missives were balanced by her clarity of written public exposition. Jack would save her words for last, and open first the package from his father. Taped to the outside of the long tube-box, with extra postage, was a letter in a square white envelope, like a greeting card. Jack dragged a fingernail through the crease of the tape and tore through the flap. The paper inside didn’t fit and was folded badly into quarters. The letter was written with blue ballpoint, in his father’s large, curled, deep-pressed, sharp-cornered European hand, on his letterhead, cheap bond half-size sheets, contracongruously offset-printed at the top in elaborate 18-pt Edwardian Script. Hoo Ha Fancy Schmantzy! Jack couldn’t help hearing. The printed memo pad stationery dismayed him. His parents were proud of the clothing business they had founded, but Jack was not proud of them for this; only for their long-past valor. The night he brought Beatrice to meet them, he had felt ashamed their lives were now so inconsequential. “It’s up to me to fulfill their potential,” he had told her. “To carry on, to make the world, and myself, always better.” She had known this was a Jewish mandate, but since he didn’t seem to, she didn’t mention it. He steadied himself and read his father’s letter.

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From the Desk of Chaim T. Rubin Wholesale Transactions Ladies’ Fine Merchandise Chapter 3 Chaim’s Letter to Jack

O ctober 7, 1968 Dear Son, Your mother and I found your old telescope when we did the Passover cleaning in April, and held it for you. As you did not come to the Seders, we held on to it longer until we should see you in the summer but as you were so busy again we held on to it longer until we should see you for the High Holy Days which you again didn’t come, so and now as you must be busy again with the school I am taking the liberties with mailing to you. Please you shouldn’t think I am pushing to you for a visit you don’t welcome to make, but I see you 14


Section 1 Chapter 3: Chaim’s Letter to Jack

sometimes in the newspaper and also your dear Mother thinks you need a home-cook meal. Also about politics maybe we should have a talk. You have responsibilities to your own people but I see you go far away outside your own. What’s next? I say this what’s next to make a joke because what’s inside the package. Do you remember your very much interest in this object when you were a boy? And do you remember how it got the dent on the side which is still there and the broken lens inside which we paid money to repair but you never played with it again? I will remind you it was the evening of the summer when you were ten and we stayed for a week in the home of our friends in the country, the Schulmans. Every evening you took this out to the fields alone. One night, boys from the area came at you with what are called now “racial epithets” and also sticks and stones and you hit one of them with this object in defense of yourself. Sooner or later, once again you will have to name yourself a Jew. It will be so called for you anyway. Your Father, Papa P.S. I remind you again it cost a lot to refit the focus, so please you should look long through the lens.

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Chapter 4 Six Quick Letters, Jack and Beatrice Jack got up from his desk and checked the hall. No one was out there. He locked the door and quickly lit a joint, opening the window to dispel the smoke, and grabbed one of Beatrice’s paperweights to keep the papers on the sill from blowing off. He gulped in about a third of the pot, saving the rest in a throat lozenge box in his desk drawer. He sat for a moment and stared out the window, waiting for the cannabis to take effect and release the tension in his chest. He opened the package. It was what the letter indicated: the low-quality, amateur telescope he had as a kid. He held it with amusement, twirled it like a baton, and batted it around like a weapon. “Neat,” Jack said out loud, “if I turned it up to the sky and saw God.” What did his father hope to see? 16


Section 1 Chapter 4: Six Quick Letters, Jack and Beatrice

Chava, his mother, had been disgusted with God. “On the seventh day,” Chava once said, “God rested and the Devil took over.” He aimed the telescope out the window, but saw only sky-blue, then had another thought: Bet I can watch girls on the quad! But the angle wouldn’t let him see under their miniskirts. Although he could bring some tits in pretty close. Soon bored, he replaced the toy in its wrappings and stashed the box in the corner behind the desk. If he remembered, he would take it back to the apartment. Could Jack ever be as exemplary as Chaim? He wondered about that constantly. I have joined a movement that must not fail! He was a man of his own time and country, a man of the uniting, peacemaking type, he thought. Such things as happened to his father could never happen anymore. He did recall the boyhood incident. The voices reminded him of it, too, from time to time, in their own way. He set his father’s letter under one of his lover’s paperweights. The telescope was more than an effective lance. It had awakened a sense of power. Odd that Chaim should send it now, just when Jack was adding space exploration to his interests. He glanced at the locked door and finished the joint, weighing Beatrice’s unopened letter in his hand. A blackand-white picture of her was on his desk, but it wasn’t too good. One of her students had underexposed the film by not compensating for backlight. Beatrice stood in silhouette against the Tiber River. You could see her narrow waist and long, straight hair and the shape of her dark, flowing clothes, but not her features. He inhaled the heavy musk of her stationery and hastily split her envelope with a pencil.

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Dear Jack, Breeze comes from the west tonight, salty, close, from the beaches of Ostia. I feel the season hot by day and cool between my toes in evening sandals. I would like you to be with me. It would calm you here, in the dark. I dream of gestures chorused in the night, port de bras, port de bras, or sweeps and leaps extended across space as if the dancer sails or floats. I dream of hot sunsets, spiral galaxies, halls of broken mirrors. I see a fire-maker, a magician of the burning match. By day I see permuting forms. I drink, smoke, wear them, form after form awaiting conflagration. Today I consolidated two pieces under one title. Each alone has meaning but my meaning is incomplete without their polarity. Art reformulates itself continually. I can reconceive my visions until perfect. Past and Future exist only as constructs within the Present. The Present is a boundless continuum. The Present is a bridge that does not span a gap. Love, Beatrice Dear Beatrice, No, Beatrice, the present is a pretty fast thing. It’s a brief, self-bounded period. Maybe art recycles, but science evolves, and pretty quick. Every moment is discrete, yet immediately replaced by another. And every new physicality calls for immediate behavior. I heard this today at a Yippie speech: 18


Section 1 Chapter 4: Six Quick Letters, Jack and Beatrice

“History could be changed in a day. An hour. By the right action at the right time.” The past only determines the future if the present doesn’t intercede. The tiniest prick can change the world. Love, Jack Dear Jack, Well, good luck. Art is an artist’s closed system. You scientists wish containment but you’re constrained by persistent delusions. Science is immutable. Art malleable, though capricious. You would say even my soul is chemical, but it is of the finest chemistry, passed carefully mother to daughter, from Eve. Watch me make it last forever. Reality can’t be revised to match Ideal, though I will watch you try, and root for you, at least for now. Art, on the other hand, can match it; that’s what I do all day long. Love, Beatrice Dear Beatrice, We’re arrested constantly: public nuisance, loitering, disorderly conduct, trespassing, malicious mischief, disturbing the peace.... I know I’m in the right. But accusatory voices stalk me worse than cops. “Do Not Do, Think.” Sometimes I wish I could stop. But the Movement is infused with wiseacres, brats who’ d quickly step in, only to disrupt, not accomplish. I’m receiving violent personal warnings. But if I admit doubt, I’ d have to 19


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yield to the Yippies, who forswear sensible thought for nonsensical action, and equate them. And yet, does morality really help our species develop in a positive evolutionary way? Wouldn’t morality retard it? What is right and wrong — If biologically the only right is procreation, then so base a thing as rape must be the greatest moral act! As a political activist, I serve harmony, but the bio-anthropologist in me is waging his own war, besides the raging of my own doubts regarding personal worth. Well, I was molded by a past that brought me here. For me, as a person, there’s no going back; the immediate, momentary present is the only time there is. But as for our species, the natural evolutionary process is too slow. No world will be here when our creature is complete, impossible anyway: we are evolving beings (and so’s the world). All parts evolve variously toward different ideals, some parts are still left from more primal systems. Homo futurus might not be human. There’s no way to know what’s next for all the good we will ourselves to do, and all the bad we do, we do, we do. And it goes without saying: the universe is vast. Surely we’re not the best of its creatures. I’ d like to find some good ones out there. And I do plan to search. And I expect to find some solar systems that revolve them. Love, Jack Dear Jack, Warm Christmas here. Bad traffic. Must take taxis everywhere. In taxi drivers I do trust. They alone unfailingly get me where I’m going. 20


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Street paparazzi bug me for pictures and autographs. My students accompany me to fend off. Some day I will lure you to Rome. Forget about other solar systems. Rome will be far enough for both of us. I’ ll come back to New York to see you in the spring. But one of these days I’ ll surely get you here to me. Love, Beatrice P.S. aka “Betty.” Some of the American kids nicknamed me. Dear Beatrice, This is my New Year! I’ve stopped eating almost completely. I’ve given away everything I can. I’m in a fast of sympathy for vegetarian apes, who would have kept this Eden-garden Earth alive if it were theirs. People amass behind me. They block regress. They expect me to lead them, so I comply. But I understand the voices now. They say I have no right to lead until I have the perfect plan. I’ve begun a study collating anthropological statistics with the human genetic code as it’s being cracked. What is the atomic Homo sapien? How does culture define itself in genes? I have shaved. I have completely shaved my head and beard. I’m glad the term is over and I’ ll see you. Love, Jack P.S. “Betty”? I could never call you that.

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Chapter 5 Beatrice, Effluvia Beatrice selected a cool, cotton dress with two pockets, black. Into the right, she put a Peruvian leather pouch containing an ancient clay hash pipe and matches; into the left, went the old family housekey she carried as an amulet. Tomorrow, she would pack and return to New York for the summer. Jack would meet her plane at Kennedy Airport. Alone now, she reclined on the balcony of her apartment, staring into the night and breathing the Roman spring. She sat in blackness, still and calm, inhaling the mix of vapors flowing to her on currents warm from her perfumed doorway, hot from the courtyard garden, and cool from the nighttime sky. 22


Section 1 Chapter 5: Beatrice, Effluvia

Her room whiffed Oriental spices and hashish, Egyptian perfumes and dried flowers. On her dresser stood fine soaps and body lotions. Sachets and potpourri were tucked into the corners of shelves and drawers: each trace a perfect memory, a place, a person, circumstance. No mirrors, though, were in the room. Beatrice kept herself beautiful without them, for her private and her public self; she believed her life would have been difficult otherwise. Her grandmother had raised her in a hall of mirrors, but as time went along, few people would remember this detail of the artist’s past, and no biographer would connect it to any event of significance in anyone’s future. Beatrice’s room was, as usual, dark. Her closets would be emptied tomorrow. Most of her clothing was black, India-cotton, Egyptian cotton, or crêpe, soft and long and loose, natural black flax, rayon, flannel, cashmere, Canton silk, velour and velvet, chamois and cambric and wool. Each piece could be identified by texture, and several costumes and disguises, black and also white, were in the wardrobe.

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Section 1 Chapter 6: Jack Meets Beatrice at Kennedy Airport

Chapter 6 Jack Meets Beatrice at Kennedy Airport Her plane arrived at Kennedy as scheduled, early

on a hot, sunny day. Beatrice waited calmly in the airconditioned terminal of TWA in an area raised above the flux of people crisscrossing near the counters. A huge bow window backlighted her in dazzling southeast rays glowing pinkly in the air, drawing color from the plush red carpet and whitewashed concrete dome walls. She stood with tranquility in that vaulted space, a Black Madonna in the Saarinen apse, the architecturally praised waiting area slightly elevated from the flow. Black from head to foot, she formed a silhouette of maximum absorbency, reflecting nothing but her race and sex. Her Bantu parentage was evident beneath her clothing. Today she was in purdah, wore a burqa, the concealing woman’s garment of the East. This clothing hid 25


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her long, jet-black, straight hair but not her spirit force, which stood unmistakable against the light. Nor did her costume hide her blindness. She held a thin, white stick, more like a wand than a probe, and almost unneeded: her inner senses guided her through space. Immediately upon entering the terminal, Jack spotted her. He had only half-remembered her physical beauty. She was delicate and throbbing like an exquisite, winged insect. He started for her through the crowd. Beatrice felt Jack streaming toward her on the floor below. She could hear the turmoil his presence caused. The mass was rapidly parting for his wild, emaciated figure. His head and face were completely shaved and he towered very tall. He was bare-chested. He wore cheap, black plastic sunglasses, taped-together leather sandals, and a pair of grotesquely ripped and oversized dungarees held up at his waist by a rope. Everyone rushed to make way for him, as the power of his intense concentration cleaved the enormous room. But before Jack reached the waiting platform, a piercing siren blasted. Two men grabbed hold of the blind, black artist, Beatrice, just as the maniacal figure bounded within reach of her. Beatrice sensed this must be Jack, but could not be sure until she touched him or he spoke to her. She flailed out her arms for an instant of connection, and at that instant, security guards restrained them both. There was memory in her fingertips, and she heard his name surge through the crowd, “Jack Rubin!� But she was stunned by his physical changes; she still could not be certain this was her Jack: a skull, a skeleton, a rope? Her fingers did not receive the feelings they expected. She was held as Jack was arrested; both were questioned several hours, searched; Jack’s lawyers came, Peace Movement lawyers, and finally, the couple was released, exhausted. 26


Section 1 Chapter 6: Jack Meets Beatrice at Kennedy Airport

“Constant police harassment,” Jack said later, in bed in his stifling, glaucous-green apartment. The sheets had not been washed in months. Roaches ran the cupboards. Dust balls swam the floors. This is how the world should end its differences, Jack thought, in bed together, races mixing. It saddened him that Beatrice took precautions against pregnancy, or possibly was unable to bear: he would have liked a love child; she refused to discuss conception. Betty? he remembered the nickname her American students had given her, how silly. How totally opposite to her character anyone with a name like that would be. He loosened her long, heavy hair and spread it over their skins, dark and light. His hair had been as black as hers before he shaved it. His mother Chava’s hair was just like this. Beatrice felt how especially huge and hot his penis was now, attached to what had become such a bony frame. She could not sense any resemblance now between “then” (which was something in her memory as “now,” that is a “memory of then,” not really “then”) and “now,” the “now” itself. Jack’s sense of time was understood by her, although she did not share it. They lay in bed trying to relax away so long apart. She listened to him say words about his political life, each syllable filled with weariness and irony. He said depressing things about his struggle, in a voice so mellifluous there could be no doubt he’d overcome all odds, unless, she thought sadly, he were stopped violently, like other leaders of the decade. He outlined the edge of both her ears with each of his fingers in turn. Jack’s touch didn’t match her memory of it. She stroked his head and body with her hair, draping it over the palm of her hand like gauzy silk, imagining herself belonging to him again, trying to revive the twinship they had felt. His eyes were swollen and enlarged. His cheeks 27


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twitched and ticked, his mouth was locked in an artificial grin. And he was dirty. He had sticky lines of filth in all his creases; she could roll balls of his clay in her fingers. His face was patinaed in a grime of oily sweat. His groin and armpits stank. She had to admit this to herself. What was he trying to prove? They lay in the heat of this early summer afternoon, in those charged moments of conversation before the frenzied intercourse of lovers who’ve been parted long. The now, the now of the fuck, the now of the fuck bringing everything into the present. “I would not have thought this from a Jew,” she said. What did she mean, Jack recoiled. The mayor? Beatrice was so cryptic. Words she spoke were never direct. He had said “constant police harassment,” and she said “from a Jew.” Was she trying to say, what, that Jews weren’t currently the object of harassment by American police? What did she mean “ from” a Jew? Why was she holding her nose? It wouldn’t do to ask her what she was getting at. Everyone knew Beatrice’s famous line: “There is as much effort and epiphany in the comprehension of a production as in its creation. Art and text are sanctified by their beholder.” Beatrice contended that once the effort of communication is made, and substance is carefully laid down, the rest is up to the perceiver. She maintained this about conversation, too. She was right, up to a point, but Jack found her presumption arrogant and annoying. She didn’t make it easy. Everything she said had to be considered two and three times. Every statement had to be referred back to the prior quote, or even to her unspoken thought. And she took so long in her replies. What was it she had told him about her new performance piece? The title: Oracle, Jack scoffed to himself, recalling that her sibylitic phrasing sometimes grated. 28


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Her letters at least you could read over a few times and figure out, but her laconic speech annoyed Jack, who every moment struggled with the question of whether what he said could ever be less than completely clear and unambiguous and absolutely true: if ever he might be called upon to straightforwardly articulate his principles, he could come through, he hoped. He took this hope on faith; but he knew it was a tested reality for Beatrice. It was she who could, in writing, go on developing, refining, explicating even her most subtle ideas to perfectly pin down their exact meaning forever, for any reasonable mind, even if her oral off-hands had been abstruse. The reactions of his listeners to his own halfformed thoughts, however, did amuse him: his followers concurred with every utterance, even phrases that perplexed himself. Jack participated in only one moment at a time no matter how it got to him, or how he got to it, even if he planned the route that got him there. That’s what made him quick and nimble. But whatever his groupies thought he thought, he hadn’t the slightest idea. He says something, he smiles, the listener smiles back a look of enthusiastic understanding, and cheers. The voices in his head told another story, particularly The Voice of the Petty Accuser, but no human being challenged him to that degree. The voices would not allow his mere charisma to carry the day. They taunted him to exactify his rhetoric. Jack looked over to his girlfriend, small and naked, completely fast asleep, this woman he’d waited months to make love to again, no matter how easily so many easy loves had eased under. He drifted off to sleep, unable to arouse her for another rouse. But then, while lying next to him awake an hour later, it occurred to Beatrice to introduce Jack Rubin to one of her students now home from college, by the name of Caroline Klein. 29


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Chapter 7 Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground When Caroline was four years old, she stood with her mother one late, gray, autumn afternoon, on a chilly, dreary, earthen suburban playground in Ellenville, New York, north of the city by an hour’s bus ride few of Ellenville’s townspeople ever cared to make. Caroline was cautious, non-committal, even-tempered at this early age. She stood in a reluctant stance, a child of average build, dull, honey-colored braids plaited as tight as possible into wet hair every morning by her exacting mother, and fastened with mismatched rubber bands, no bangs. She wore a faded red and tan plaid cotton dress with white Peter Pan collar, a hand-knit brown and green sweater with front zipper and cowl, new thick maroon woolen knee sox, and old oxblood oxford shoes, Buster Browns repolished many 30


Section 1 Chapter 7: Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground

times, passed down from older cousins. New shoes were a luxury Caroline experienced only twice before her teens, and it had been white sneakers both occasions. Her face was pale and unfreckled, undimpled, unmarked. She cradled a few objects in her arms: a small brown paper bag, soft and wrinkled from re-use, but untorn and rolled at the opening; a worn Raggedy Ann doll, no dress, all joint seams resewn; a large yellow Golden Dictionary; a natural sponge trimmed to an artificial ovoid; and a tiny porcelain cup from a child’s tea set. In the brown bag were two unbroken wax crayons she had found the day before, and a Rome Beauty apple from the overhanging bough of a neighbor’s tree. The playground was dismal, almost deserted. Caroline’s mother sat on a bench with the Women’s Page of the Ellenville Press and an embroidery scissors to cut coupons and advertisements. Her fingers were darkly cracked at the tips and knuckles, the nails unpolished and broken, yellow and pellucid from detergents and harsh cleansers. The woman was thick, peasant-like, ruddy. She evaluated her only child, Caroline, standing next to her: a healthy girl, but a pest, a drain. In a few years she could get after-school jobs. I’ve started her on housework, but not without supervision, scolding, reminding and punishment. “Go play,” the mother pantomimed, pushing her daughter slightly. She didn’t like Caroline’s leaning bodily against her, to her mind one of the girl’s many bad habits. “Go play,” she repeated, now loudly. “There’s another child your age in the park.” Cary had already seen her. A plump little girl was playing recklessly on the big slide, repeatedly skidding and falling into the dirt. The girl slid, squatting, the slippery soles of her shoes skiing down the metal ramp to slam her 31


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knees against the grit and skin her hands, her face painfully grazing the hard ground every time. Caroline saw her spit soil but get up quickly and run back to the ladder to do it again. Cary looked toward her mother for reaction. What did she think of this behavior? Didn’t she think the girl might be crazed or dangerous? No, her mother didn’t seem to think so: she was expressionless. “Go make friends,” she insisted, gesturing Caroline away in shoo-fly motions. “You don’t have any nice friends. You don’t know how to make friends.” “Will you go with me, Mommy?” Cary asked. “Go yourself,” her mother pushed. But Caroline would not. She moved closer to her mother, pressing into her broad thighs. Her mother shoved her again, not hard, but firmly. The strange girl fell once more and rubbed her hands, calling to the adult who had brought her, a teenage boy, most likely her much older brother. The boy sat on a bench near the slide, with his hands in his field-jacket pockets, laughing loudly. “Funny Letty,” he called to her, “Funny Letty.” He wiped her face, patted her, and gave her jelly beans from a cellophane package decorated with pentacles. The child’s painful practice was clearly meant for his appreciation. This was a novel idea to Cary; she eyed the sweets and wondered for a giddy moment, if she hurt herself or did a dangerous trick, would he give her some candy, too? Can I make him pat me, too? Lying on the bench next to him was a doll similar to her own, a Raggedy Ann one size larger and brighter and newer, and wearing a starched dress with bright white hearts on the belt, and a satin grosgrain ribbon still crisp in the clean, thick, red yarn hair. Cary knew it belonged to the girl on the slide. She turned away from her mother to squarely face the strangers across the yard. 32


Section 1 Chapter 7: Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground

The doll and the candy were strong inducements for her to cross the playground. Caroline placed her own things under the ladder with exaggerated care and climbed behind the chubby girl. It was a tall slide, and Letty turned around from the top to watch her. The brother increased his alertness, aware of his responsibilities, duties, his rights and the rights of others. Was his sister taking too long, maybe more than her turn, or blocking the other child? He was worried that the new girl would yell at his sister or boss her, which he didn’t like to give anyone a chance to do. “Leticia!” he called firmly. “Move over or slide down. Give the girl her turn. There are other children waiting.” Caroline and Letty both looked around, but Cary was the only other child. The boy stood up. He was tall, even when viewed from the height of the ladder. Cary turned toward his sister a few steps above herself and was surprised to see that at close range, Letty looked awful: her face was flushed, arms bruised black and blue, her thick legs badly scraped and scratched. She was wearing beautiful, new, white, patent-leather strap shoes, but look at how soiled they are! Letty wouldn’t slide. She stood intractably as Cary waited eye-level to her feet, hatching a dangerous trick she could do for the big boy herself, maybe for reward. An exciting idea: to do something in order to receive reward, not just to avoid punishment! A shiver passed through her. She’d stand at the top, let go of the rail, lift her dress over her head and slide fast. She tried to pass Letty as politely as possible, nudging her gently to the side with her feet. “You’ve been sliding all day, Leticia,” the boy called again, alarmed by Caroline’s little kicks of his sister; but the effect of his words was only to rivet the child more staunchly. 33


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As is characteristic of many children her age, she responded to her brother with the action his words cued, no matter how far off the ball the were. Letty hadn’t been deliberately blocking Caroline until he said he thought she was: she’d merely been intently watching her; but now she had the fine idea to thwart the other child, stir things up. The boy yelled again, his hands on his hips, annoyed. He wasn’t talented at making Letty mind. Caroline could read his gestures well; she must do her trick quickly before the situation changed and her opportunity was lost. She inched her feet against the stubborn girl again, and thought up another stunt even more daring. She would stand on one leg without holding, and jump to a sitting position. Turning her head to check, she saw her mother absorbed in the paper. Tricks were not something her mother approved of. But turning back, she felt the teenager stomping up the ladder behind her. There wouldn’t be much time to show off for him. She whined with disappointment, and to focus him. “Watch me?” she wheedled. Their eyes met and he smiled. It was a genuine smile, and surprised her. “Just a sec.” He climbed up the rest of the way, his feet clanging and scraping on the metal rungs, the flimsy structure shaking under his added weight. As he passed to grab his sister, he reached around Caroline, like a hug. She liked the feeling. “Excuse me, honey.” Letty howled, jealous of her brother’s courtesy toward the intruder. The boy took no particular interest in Caroline, his was simply a common endearment; he was no pedophile. But spurred by Letty’s yell, Caroline released 34


Section 1 Chapter 7: Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground

herself into his arms in a fit of giggles. Unprepared, he almost lost his balance. When Letty screamed, he fueled her fury by teasing, mistakenly thinking it would teach her a lesson; that is, teach her the lesson he meant to teach her, not the sadder, meaner lessons a person learns by being teased. He played along with Caroline, cuddling her and sticking out his tongue. Letty vengefully pushed into them both. They were in a dangerous spot, all three at the top of the slide, but the boy recalled his responsibilities and sobered. Not wanting to have to call the mother over, he sat Caroline down carefully in front of his sister and curled her fingers around the cold, metal, rolled handrails. “Please slide,” he said to her. He had no way of knowing she had planned to do tricks for him. Letty was roaring. Cary still hoped the boy would go sit and watch. She waited another minute while he held his squealing charge, as he looked at her nicely with a frank and casual patience she wasn’t used to. She saw a Jewish star around his neck. She had one too, but her mother insisted she wear it hidden; Caroline thought they were supposed to be worn hidden. Her boldness shrank fast: there were few Jewish families besides her own living in this town, and she had been well instructed early on not to advertise her Jewishness. She was astonished to see the star worn openly, especially by a teenage boy. Didn’t the other boys fight him? Once she had seen garbage flung at a boy who forgot to remove his yarmulke skullcap after a holiday observance, and periodic incidents were not uncommon. But even at this age, Cary knew her family involved themselves in religion as little as possible, maybe an odd word here and there. They went to a service once or twice a year, maybe. Frightened and confused, she slid away. Landing easily upright, she quickly 35


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gathered her sponge and her toys and ran to her mother, not looking at the boy and girl staring after her, and not knowing why she felt ashamed. “What happened?” her mother asked, and then answered herself with an erroneous assumption. “The girl was afraid to slide down? Not you. You are a big, brave child.” How could her mother think Letty had been afraid: hadn’t she seen her? Hadn’t she been looking straight at Letty’s daring-do’s? Her mother’s inconsistent reactions were often a puzzle. “Is Raggedy Ann Jewish?” Cary asked. Her mother heaved an exasperated sigh. “Sit down,” she said. She’d have to enroll her in Sunday School, then maybe Hebrew School a few afternoons a week. She couldn’t answer this sort of question. Caroline knelt on the barren earth and rested her head in her mother’s lap, which sometimes this stern woman permitted her to do. Cary loved to feel close and warm and safe and soft. She thought of the big boy smiling at her, touching her, and calling her “honey.” She watched the weak sun lift off the ground and slice patches across the playground’s barren tree trunks. She burrowed her head into the nest of her mother’s warm lap, smelling the mysterious odors. “Please,” her mother hissed sharply, twisting the child’s arm to make her stand. “You’re embarrassing me!” Caroline sat down on the bench fast and hard. “Eat your apple,” said her mother, opening another section of the newspaper, licking her fingers to turn the page. She would not look at Caroline, angry that the child had to be reminded of all the same things all the time. “Color with your crayons,” the woman went on. “Keep yourself busy. Stay inside the lines.” 36


Section 1 Chapter 7: Caroline Meets Letty on the Playground

Caroline watched Letitia and her brother gather their toys to go home, Letty darting off ahead, the brother calling after her, “Hey, this is yours, too, baby!” He was mischievously gesturing to a little black cape by his side. Letty would be going as a witch for Halloween. “Oh, yeah!” she laughed, and ran back for the costume. It was a Christian holiday, All Hallow’s Eve, and the few Jews there were in Ellenville didn’t let their children trick or treat, but the Schwartzweiss family made an exception in Letty’s case, with her brother to accompany her everywhere. But Caroline noticed that they did forget the starry candy wrapper on the bench. Cary would never do that: it had been drummed into her that leaving trash was an insolent, spoiled act. Her mother almost delighted in pointing out littering by transgressors from all classes and professions. Cary was taught to always check back behind her. When they reached the gate, Letty turned abruptly and fluttered her little cape. Then she jerked her new doll up and down. Caroline tried to read the gesture but could not. Was it a wave or a taunt? She raised her own doll slightly in return, but Letty did not signal again, grabbing and slamming the gate instead, causing it to crash and rebound open. The chill in the air was insistent this late in the afternoon. Caroline hugged her raggedy Raggedy, as the curious playmate and kind brother receded along the path. When they were out of sight, she finished her apple, including the core as she’d been taught, and tossed the pits over the fence to grow apple trees if they would. Then she crossed the playground to get the empty candy bag, and inhaled its sticky aromas before dropping it into a dented, galvanized barrel near the gate. She carefully colored the 37


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lady in the coloring book, with the two crayons she had found: green for the lady’s coat, red for the dress. Her mother folded the paper, putting a few of the clippings into her upholstery-fabric purse, but changed her mind about some of the others, and threw them out. Playgrounds made her uneasy when the sun went down: to get her home early, her own mother had told her that ghosts of dead children came to play at dusk. She didn’t remember having been told this, but when these afternoons drew in she felt their presence, with dread but without pity. “That girl had a new Raggedy Ann,” Caroline said as they left. “Be grateful you have one at all,” came the reply. “They’re Jewish,” Caroline continued, referring to the boy and girl, still not sure about the dolls, as she followed her mother toward the street. “Let’s stop at Corso’s Market on the way home,” the woman said, not paying her any attention. “Canned peas nineteen cents on special.” They walked out of the playground towards home as the lamplights began to come on, splatting harsh, white triangles far apart. Along the streets of Ellenville were crooked rows of mismatched houses set among vacant lots, and wild trees, and patchy yards, and jumbled gates enclosing barking dogs, and broken crates, and chipped white plaster saints in delft blue niches. Her mother pointed toward a particularly derelict property containing a rotting house and outbuildings attached in series, constructed by a prosperous farm family a century ago. In the sing-song custom of the neighborhood, they ticked off the sections together, “Big house, little house, back house, barn.”

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Section 1 Chapter 8: Letty’s Mother Dying

Chapter 8 Letty’s Mother Dying When the girls were ten, Caroline watched her friend’s mother from the doorway of the woman’s sickroom. Letty’s mom was too weak to get out of bed. She breathed in tiny pants and could hardly speak. Her skin was already dead white, yellow-gray waxen white, hideously made up with rouge circles and lipstick applied in a cupid’s bow. Her ear lobes were bloodless, dry callous. Her hands were transparent knobby claws with red nail polish badly painted over horny, flaking cuticles and riven fingertips. Her hair had fallen out too, but she tried, every day, to tie on a bright kerchief when Letitia brought Caroline home to play and do homework after school. She could hardly lift her eyeglasses off the night table to put them on. A living corpse, age thirty-eight. 39


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Letty stomped through into the malodorous bathroom to wash her hands and face before she came near her mother, so Caroline visited first, from the doorway of the bedroom to keep her own germs away. Cary’s eyes darted to the dresser, bull’s eyeing the photograph of Letty’s brother, by this date in 1957 an early casualty of American skirmishes in Southeast Asia, what was the country — Laos. Caroline stared at the pinkish picture of him in khaki uniform. Bitterness rose in her, as always when she saw it. She had never been able to make him notice her, hadn’t grown up enough; none of her juvenile advances had clued him in. She was too young to know of course they did, but he had chosen prudently to ignore her flirtations — although maybe, underneath it all, as Letty resentfully suspected in the prescient ways of a despairing child, they had influenced his decision to go to war. His Colt model 1911, 45 caliber, semi auto service pistol had been shined up to send home to his family with his effects, and it was right here in that drawer. “How you feeling today, Mrs. S.?” Cary asked. “Regards to Mother,” croaked the cancerous woman, bending her wrist open-close, one-two, weaker and looser than the day before, thin flags of flesh hanging from the bones of her arm. Letty returned from washing up and tossed her mother’s cigarettes on the foot of the bed, Lucky Strike. They bounced to the floor and spilled. Letty blew on one, announcing “clean enough!” and placed the end into her mother’s mouth. She lit it for her, coordinating the flash of the lighter with the dying woman’s efforts to inhale. Then she pulled the cigarette back out, flicked it once into a handblown Murano ash tray, and replaced it between the reaching lips. Letitia was polite with her mother, but 40


Section 1 Chapter 8: Letty’s Mother Dying

Caroline noticed that, almost spitefully, she made her smoke too fast, each puff a gasp. An oxygen tank and apparatus stood near the bed. Letty had been taught to be careful about fire. It was the doctor’s policy to let his patients smoke until the end if they wanted. Caroline sat herself gingerly down on a beautifully designed and crafted, comfortable, Charles Eames wooden chair near the door. The bedroom set in this house was expensive, lacquered, sweet blond wood, with chips in the footboard from Letty’s baby teeth, tender gouges pointed out to Cary many times, “It’s a Herman Miller footboard I chewed up,” Letty liked to taunt, “moolah, moolah.” The house was brick; Caroline’s was aluminum-sided wood frame, with iron bedsteads. This was one of the best houses on one of the best streets in town. A huge palo santo bush blossomed hot pink on a manicured Merion-bluegrass sod front lawn. Letty’s family had more money than hers; the father was a banker. Letty was given piano lessons and skating lessons and went to arty summer camps, advantages Caroline thought were wasted on her overweight, untalented and inappreciative friend. Letty helped her mother smoke. There was no conversation once the cigarette was lit. And when the woman recovered from her fit of coughing, Letty brought her mother’s pocketbook to the bed and opened a satin, snaptop change purse. The mother took the soft thing into her own ruined hands, and with tweezer fingers lifted out some coins for Letty and for Caroline. She smiled best she could to them, her soul behind her burning eyes, heart bursting from her wracking chest, her face cascading torrents when the door closed. So Caroline and Letitia went for ice cream, and Letty bought Bazooka and more candy; she got fatter every week. 41


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Caroline had never genuinely liked Letitia. They regularly bickered. Letty started fights with everyone. Other children heckled Cary for being with her, and wouldn’t play with either girl. Caroline bought chalk or paper or scissors, never sweets, as if in reproach. Cary liked sugar as much as any child, but in this circumstance she spited and denied herself as an example. And Letty ate more than she might have, had she not had her friend’s behavior to resent. Thus, the twisted patterns of their friendship were laid down, and elements of their personalities first set.

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Section 1 Chapter 9: Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool

Chapter 9 Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool When

Caroline came home from college after doing well on an art department scholarship complete with year abroad, she looked up Leticia Sparafusil, neÊ Schwartzweiss, in the Manhattan telephone book. Letty had married someone, a foreign merchant marine, well beneath her family’s taste, income and education, and was living in New York. The girls arranged, after many postponements and phone calls because Caroline was trying to make all her city visits in one day, to meet for a swim at the Carmine Street Pool: the perfect thing. In high school they had enjoyed themselves as rival swimmers, Letty despite her weight, although neither had been the best, or even among the best, in their class. 43


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Letty was already swimming when Caroline jumped in. They splashed toward one another and briefly met at the end of the lane. Letty darted off immediately. “Hi.” “Hi.” Caroline swam slowly and evenly in good form. They would not race, but were having a “grace race,” as over the years they had come to think of them. Caroline had invented the term, and she inevitably won. Letitia solicited Caroline’s competition and Cary irresistibly succumbed. Her secret lament was only that Letty weren’t harder to beat: unconsciously, Letty engaged to compete only in areas of weakness; what her strengths were, Cary never knew. At their separate colleges, neither had been popular. Neither had been content with her “stack in the pack,” as Cary called status, but their styles of social mobility were different. Letty’s way was to engage the lower orders and assert her rank above them, while Caroline’s was to scratch above herself and rise. Caroline had cut bangs in her tawny hair, growing it long and straight; she wore torn jeans and hoop earrings, Indian bracelets, tie-dyes and faded work shirts, in the grungy, Bohemian style of all hippies. She had tried to make some smart new friends in college, but wasn’t sure any of them sincerely liked her. She didn’t pledge for a sorority because the other art students ridiculed them, and also because of her family’s pinched finances. She had thought about joining the cheerleaders, but none of the Jewish girls joined the cheerleaders; all of them joined the debating society. Caroline did, too, but soon dropped out because she could not orally present the arguments she made in her head or sometimes in longhand. And she was too jealous of her own ideas to partake in 44


Section 1 Chapter 9: Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool

partnership or collaboration: It wasn’t in her to be someone else’s speechwriter: If she couldn’t state her own points, she didn’t want to prepare them for others, no matter how good at it she might have been. She could draw exceptionally well, but that hadn’t helped her make friends: most art students were into abstraction; the fashion was not to think drawing from life counted much. And the other art students envied her favored position with certain faculty members, especially in Rome. So she hadn’t made friends in college, and was back here with her difficult companion from girlhood. In mid-lap, Letty and Caroline passed each other face to face. Each was aware of the other’s familiar halfforgotten breath in her mouth, not sweet, not rank, and Caroline smelled something new: Letitia smoked cigarettes! As children they had sworn they never would, and for Letty it must be particularly dangerous, Cary suspected. She didn’t like the feel of feeling this, and turned her face away, reminded of a day she once opened the door to Letty’s room when they were eleven. She swam on to dispel the memory, but it lapped her. Letty had been lying naked on her beautiful Swedish carpet, spread-eagled, expecting Caroline to walk in happy and excited to find her exposed. But instead, Cary bent straight down and punched her in the gut. Letty got up and thrust her face into Cary’s, provoking her to hit her again and again. That night, when Caroline got home, she tried her hand at a new experience, and climax was climbed many times thereafter to memories of pummeling her friend. For several years, they experimented with harsh children’s sex, Caroline detesting it, but each time complying with fascination. Letty made her do things she wouldn’t allow her memory to hold, brutalizing her friend’s fat body in as many 45


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obscene ways as Letty could dream up. Letitia was reckless and masochistic, and Caroline was drawn in. She liked that she could make Letty make her do things, and visa-versa. Sex between the girls ended when they left for college, but in these college years, Caroline found that she herself had become reckless, having sex with strangers often, male and female. Promiscuity was not unusual for the times; she was expected to have sex with almost everyone she met. Everyone was. There existed an anxiety in meeting someone new until they fucked: it affirmed their meeting, confirmed their acceptance of, or unprejudiced equality with, each other. It would have been considered rude to have done otherwise. It was everyone’s habit to say yes to everyone, everywhere, everything, and to initiate foreplay instantly oneself. Usually, she carried her diaphragm with her, although not today. She knew she had forgotten it, but didn’t think it would matter. Her plan was to meet Letty here at the pool, then just go visit Professor Madregiore nearby. Caroline quickened the tempo of her slow crawl, touched the edge, somersaulted twisting underwater like an otter, and swam the next lap in loose sidestroke. Her body had gotten sleek as it matured. “Come back,” she shouted, sputtering up to surface at the wall, as Letty ignored her there and f lipped with natural walrus form and power to begin a new lap and not hear her say, “Let’s talk.” Privately, Caroline had been burdened all her life with equal pity and contempt for Letty’s case. She couldn’t behave normally with her; she doesn’t even look normal; she was so fat, and a girl just can’t be normal without a mother. To Caroline, Letitia’s life had been aborted by her mother’s death, but the father had no meaning. She wasn’t much aware of Letty’s father or her own or anyone’s, another common 46


Section 1 Chapter 9: Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool

attitude of that time and place: most men were amorphous figures who left most household policy to their wives. Most fathers and daughters of Ellenville weren’t close. Letty recognized the signs of Caroline’s inevitable “friendly competition,” her undisguised disdain. Caroline had once confessed the nature of the grace race, reminding her smugly that even as children it had been Letty who was most eager for contest. Letty turned back in mid-pool, winded, and glad to provide (false) evidence that it wasn’t she who was still competitive anymore. I’ve been avoiding Cary at the bottom of the lanes — didn’t Cary notice — not kicking off at the same time? She grabbed the edge and kept her shoulders under, chilly. Leticia was cold even in the citymandated 82° water. She couldn’t swim strongly enough to warm up. When she sprang off from the wall, she slowed as she swam. She was sorry she had arranged to come. She’d get out of the pool as soon as possible and feign no rivalry. This was what she usually did. She had forgotten that she never liked her friend. Caroline caught up to her fast, and did a handstand underwater, reaching her shapely legs past Letty’s face, wiggling her toes near her mouth as she looked up from underwater. Letty imagined sucking those toes, but she wouldn’t even grab them playfully. Cary emerged, blowing bubbles. “So, what’s new?” Leticia had nothing she wanted to tell her. This meeting was a mistake, she thought. “Let’s swim some more,” she answered. Caroline shrugged and took off with a racing butterfly, but Letty scooted underwater across two lanes to the ladder, and brusquely heaved her way out. 47


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She clanged up three, flat, shaking aluminum steps, smashed her feet into designer flip-flops, pulled her towel off the hook and pushed herself hard against the exit. Cary stood up in the pool, blew her nose in her hands, and watched. I don’t care. Let her see what I look like now, Letty thought. She had deliberately arrived an hour early to conceal her gross body from her attractive friend, not so much its bulky form, but its mottled surface. Her form was nothing new to Caroline, but new was the evidence that Letty’s husband had beaten her badly; her body, although not her face, was horribly bruised. Letitia entered the sour locker room alone. The few other solitary women kept discretely to themselves, heads down. She was the largest woman in the area, and all were in states of undress. No one would look more than furtively at her and she could probably count on no one speaking. She didn’t want some do-gooder asking if she’d been beaten up, “abused,” they call it, “ battered,” but most New Yorkers could be counted on to mutely respect mute privacy in any muted circumstance — for fear of reprisals as much as anything. Oh, why had she suggested they swim today? Swim, of all things, especially at the public pool. She cursed herself; on purpose she’d wanted Caroline to see her body, craving to be humiliated as usual. Letty did know herself enough to at least know that. Such was the role she could easily make Cary play, but she didn’t have the stomach for it today, she thought, thinking how much a person’s body does their thinking. She scraped off the pinching bathing suit, watching in the mirror. She had never seen herself in so large a mirror before, never so accurately looked at her full substance. She faced the mirror squarely: harsh red lines eroded her flesh 48


Section 1 Chapter 9: Caroline and Letty, Carmine Street Pool

where the suit had bound. Sometimes I feel farther away from things below me, and I see more top than sides. Vertigo gave her the impression she looked over her head at her mirror image; or in reality, the mirror might have been angled out at the top: she wasn’t sure. Which parts of my body are still a girl’s; which parts are already a woman’s? The bruises weren’t as bad as they could have been. She stared at her reflection, and hoped she saw in faintest chiaroscuro, the hint of a structure of muscle and bone within. She saw real bone articulated at the elbow and wrist and imagined a more direct line between them. She could be a beautiful woman if she wanted to, she thought. More beautiful than Cary, who had some good points but would never be anything more than plain, she tried to make herself believe. She knew Cary had become a real stunner. Letty knew she had some good features of her own, though, too: her complexion truly glowed all over when it wasn’t bruised, and her large dark eyes shone out from delicately pointed facial bones, smooth forehead, eyebrows full and arched. Her mother had been the most beautiful girl in her high school: Letty and her mother had one face. Letty hadn’t begun to gain extra weight until her mother’s cancer had set in. What have I ever gotten out of this friendship? So her family was richer than Caroline’s. So she had a handsome brother’s memory to wound her with — Cary’s crush on him had never been secret. Why had she allowed Caroline to retain such a strong hold on her for so long — only to increase Cary’s jealousy or perhaps intensify emotions of her own? She used to be able to make Cary do things against her will, that was one thing she took pride in, but was such a thing lasting? Cary could make 49


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me do shocking things sometimes too.... Letty’s marriage certainly hadn’t won her any points. She turned in the mirror. How much did she truly look like this and how much was distortion? The puckers in her thighs were real, and the overhanging flesh bags rolling everywhere; they were not just symbols of elevated disgrace. Letty faced her jealousy of Caroline, and faced the perverted pride she took in her own repellent corpulence. But her bluffing bravery faltered the moment it was hailed. Caroline entered the locker room and Letty quaked. Their eyes met in reflection first, but Letty whirled around and shook enough to hear her breasts and buttocks flap. Off-balance, she reached out for support and slapped her palm against the wall-length mirror, which quivered for an instant before it cracked and shattered, crashing to the tile floor. Silently, Cary dressed for her appointment at the home of her favorite art teacher, Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore. Among other things, Beatrice had said she’d introduce her to her boyfriend, the famous hippie peacenik, Jack Rubin.

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Section 2 New York and New Jersey. Chapter 10: The Birth of Jewel

SECTION TWO New York and New Jersey, 1969-85

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Chapter 10 The Birth of Jewel Caroline lay in the hospital bed, on her back, bathed

in sweat. Her new baby, Jewel Marie Rubin, slept in a tiny plastic cart against the wall. Caroline was wet between the legs, itching slightly, her skin chilly from hospital airconditioning, even though some early spring sun did reach her through the window. Internally, she was warmed by low-grade fever. Jack would be coming soon; did she look OK? He set such store by beauty although he’ d never admit it, she thought. She ought to comb her hair, or at least the bangs. She ran her fingers through them. There was a comb and mirror in a compartment of the bed-tray table. She tried to unfold the mirror but it clattered and fell into the tray several times until she gave up. Her body was dull and limp, her hands uncoordinated, and her mind fuzzy. 52


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An awful, drawing pressure from fresh hemorrhoids and sharp, perineal stitches streamed through to her attention despite an oozy, green, disposable latex glove ballooned with melting ice chips, and fitted high like a saddle against the sore strip, pubis to coccyx. The glove reached obscenely under her in a position of holding and stopping as well as feeling and probing the organs so recently active. She had been appalled when the nurse filled this glove. Was there no such thing as a real compress? Or even an oval balloon? The glove seemed to mock what she had been through. Never were her back and limbs so sore. When she tried to turn over, they responded with wrenching protest. Her legs ached and her throat burned. She tried to remain still and go back to sleep. She couldn’t. The hospital room reeled in noon sunlight, white paint, white bedding. Was it good for her pupils to be so pinpointed? Supposedly yes: she once read a magazine article about bright light being conducive to well-being. Caroline was alone except for the baby. There was no other new mother in the second bed. She managed to hoist her body for a view, but yellow and black blotches splotched her dizzy vision. She did not have a good, clear memory of the birth. There had been some sort of twilight sleep induced by an injected drug she hadn’t planned for, and which had woefully disappointed Jack. There had been a dream, a nightmare, that her teacher Beatrice was the midwife, the three of them poised in ritualistic melge cabal; but Caroline didn’t recall it. The infant slept near her against the wall, a few feet behind a naturally focused sun-to-shade division in the room, the light advancing imperceptibly toward the child. The planet is so crowded, Caroline turned over in her mind. What if this girl is not a good addition, not an asset, or even worse, 53


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becomes a burden on others, or on the world itself? What had she done! Her worries thundered. Through her own doing, the world had moved into the future. There should be standards set some day. She reached for her sketch pad and pencil on the tray table to scribble the words. “Some day the competition on this Earth will be too much for just any offspring to be born of wantonness.” There arose in Caroline a less-than-complete enrapture with her child, a sour-mist air of resentment. Caroline had suffered in delivery. And Cary’s mother had been furious about the sudden marriage and baby. She refused to come into the city to see them, and at Caroline’s lowest moment, had told her on the phone that Caroline’s birth had almost cost her her own life. Cary had hung up on her at that, but couldn’t forget it. Caroline was in vital need of comfort, but she had not even one woman friend on whom to rest her thoughts. Her closest friendship was tainted with ill feeling; she dreaded even notifying Letitia of the birth. An odd thought sprang to her, that Letty might be so jealous, outrageous and unpredictable, that she might someday even harm my family. Personal histories were so complex: who knew, who knows why anyone might do the things they do. I’ve always been a bright girl, she reminded herself, glad to be married to someone as outstanding as Jack. She had been intimate with so many, but this man was the best, even his semen tastes like the heartiest chicken soup. She smiled, though the effort brought her sharp, searing pain at the memory of telling him this recently. There was no doubt she would be faithful to him. How different would Jewel be from Jack or herself? Ask him, she thought, genetics is one of his fields, but the thought depressed her. She hardly knew her husband. He was such a brilliant man. Caroline couldn’t even 54


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differentiate between what he called “his fields.” She thought of these fields agriculturally, all his areas of study lying adjacent on a vast patchwork plain, with Jack the landed gentleman strutting through them. She didn’t see him as a good farmer, but dismissed the notion. When she thought about what Jack did, she could not understand how what seemed like such fundamental questions could take up boundless areas of study, thick publications, complex conferences, lengthy meetings, volumes of dense text —. Why were cultures perennially at odds with each other? Why should anyone care what went on in their neighbors’ minds, hearts, bedrooms, churches? Couldn’t everyone just live and let live, keep our eyes on our own plates, as her mother used to say. Couldn’t there be just one answer, one definition, one agreement? Perhaps this is what religion intends, she thought, to unify us under a single lord, to answer the unknowable with the single word, “God.” “God knows,” her mother would say whenever Cary asked a question about the world. It meant the question was unanswerable. But also it meant that one could live happily enough without searching for the answer, and perhaps unhappily if answers were found. No, God couldn’t help: more blood has been shed in the name of religion than of anything else humankind ever dreamed up. She would like to be in on discussions of such things with Jack, but he squelched her, and she stewed in resentment. At a dinner party just a month ago, Caroline had come up with the idea of a universal agreement for cultural tolerance. But before she had hardly begun, Jack started railing at her. “Oh you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.” He had humiliated her in front of their friends. “Just what kind of agreement? Some kind 55


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of charter? A written agreement?” He kept at her. “Even the language it’s drafted in would be subject to murderous dispute. Even the shape of the table could start a war.” Their hosts had tried to make a joke out of this, and cajoled Jack aggressively to bring him round. He just smiled and smiled his constant smile, but wouldn’t budge. Cary hadn’t necessarily meant a written agreement, just an agreed agreement, “live and let live.” Couldn’t everyone just do that? She didn’t understand why Jack called her “naïve.” She couldn’t keep that evening off her mind. Weren’t those his own politics? The incident had caught Cary off guard. She had been shocked by Jack’s derisive anger, his instantly argumentative tone. She had suggested the idea with persiflage, jocosity even, simply for the sake of innocent dinner conversation. And why would he even make that argument? It didn’t seem consistent: As far as she knew, Jack supported leagues of nations, and spoke often of human goodness, no matter how much evidence there was to the contrary. It was their mutual friend Beatrice who had no regard for ordinary people, and she wasn’t even at that dinner party, she was back in Rome for another semester. Was he conflicted on this point? Had he changed his vision? views? attitude? belief? conviction? She couldn’t ask him. Jack had severely laced into her. They left their hosts soon after, and while getting into their car — Caroline’s car, really: Jack refused to learn to drive — she tried to tell him how he made her feel, but he wouldn’t listen. He laughed at her again, and grabbed her, and made love wildly, right there in the people’s driveway. She had succumbed with hatred, and even though already eight months pregnant, a ferocity of her own. She would never let anyone make her feel so inferior again. Jack could 56


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be impatient, grating, grand, an asshole. She hadn’t the slightest idea how her husband’s mind worked. Sometimes I’d like to just — oh I don’t know...! Cary pondered the idea of individual responsibility. How could peace and harmony be not just bullshit sloganeering, but actually practiced on a large scale. It was frustrations like this that had caused her to shun college debate. She wasn’t able to come up with definitive answers. Does this new baby, Jewel, really carry the best genes of each parent, that’s what Caroline was trying to ascertain at this moment. The most dominant, does that make them the best? What was “best”? Would Jewel turn out to be a product recognizably from them both? We are all descended from the archetypes, she remembered Beatrice had once said. Could this hold any clue? Caroline elevated the head of her hospital bed with a control button and looked at the baby. It lay snug in its pinklined bassinet with an index card printed “G-I-R-L” in huge type, and under it, “Jewel Rubin.” She stared at the name of her child. It took a bit of time to realize why the name arrested her: her new daughter’s name contained the word “Jew.” It had always been a shock to see the word “Jew” on a printed page; it jumped from print like the word “ fuck” or her own name. It was Jack who had suggested the name, and she had concurred without giving the matter much thought. Her own choices ran toward “Amy” or “Robin,” but she didn’t mention those names to Jack, and when he had said “Jewel,” the other alternatives sounded so common and bourgeois that she shut up. For a boy she had thought of “Brian” or “Scott,” or maybe “Matthew” or “Jonathan.” She saw herself as the mother of a son, although it didn’t matter much. Jack never suggested a boy’s name, certain all along they would have a girl, and Beatrice had predicted it 57


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as well, as did the nurses’ intrauterine heart rate monitor and a clever trick with her wedding ring on a string she read about in Cosmopolitan. So they named her “Jewel.” Cary didn’t make any connection between the name and their religion at the time. No, not religion. Neither practiced Judaism as a religion. What was the new word —? Their “ethnicity.” The baby’s religion or ethnicity had not been printed on the card, although there was some sort of geo-genetic, subgroup check-box list, corresponding to basic, local, subgroup perceptions. She saw all the baskets in the nursery were marked “Cauc.,” “Black,” “Hisp.,” “Asian” or “Other.” She knew that “Hebrew” was embossed into the dog tags of Jewish servicemen, and the tags shaped with a notch which would be kicked between his teeth if he died on the battlefield, not just the Jews. This information came from a Marine on leave from Vietnam in bed with her a few years back, while he tucked his bulbous glans inside her upper lip, sliding back and forth across the fragile frenulum over the arc of her teeth, thrusting inside her cheek, and tapping. She hated it when men talked anything but pleasure when they fucked. Was that historic name kicked in Letty’s brother’s teeth when he died in the jungle? A hero’s death? So many noble heroes died on some battlefield. “What is it makes a hero?” she wrote in her sketch pad. Caroline lay there thinking. I wanted to touch her brother’s thing, but he wouldn’t let me. How could she think about any men but Jack now, and anyone but their new baby girl! She supposed she was glad she didn’t have a boy to raise for war, although in other countries women fought. Life was too perplexing. She turned her brain. Sex-determination was thought to be in the genes, of course. “Is Jewish in the genes?” she wrote 58


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some more. Well, “yes, if it isn’t religion.” She was getting muddled. Neither her, Klein, nor his, Rubin, families had been religious or observant Jews, not “Torah Jews”: therefore they were Jews only genetically. She didn’t like this thought. Torah Jews would say she’s not a Jew. Shit, man, they would have held my place in line at Auschwitz; we would have died there “starving, hysterical, naked” side by side. Not her three words, words of a Jewish prophet writing about his own time in the East Village, not about that time — but it isn’t possible to write about now without thinking about then. This is what the universal vow meant, “Never Forget.” It never leaves your mind. Jack’s own parents had been caught, but escaped thanks to a tiny auguri of luck. Some day she hoped to talk to them again; she had only just met them at her wedding. She knew about the Holocaust: the millions starved in labor camps, countless tortured in Nazi glee, thousands of teenagers and little twins used as guinea pigs in demented medical experiments, all other children and anyone over forty herded immediately to gas chambers, slaves of the mines and fields and factories replaced when worked to death. The complicity of every nation of Europe, every village in Eastern Europe helpfully committing its hellish atrocities: pitsfull of live burials, barnsfull of live cremations, multiple-person one-bullet shootings, gas-wagons, on and on, over fifteen thousand actual concentration camps all over Europe, not just the one everyone’s heard of, the one that gassed six thousand a day to the strains of forced musicians. Cary stared at the ceiling. The miniscule percentage of survivors — eight percent — and how many generations after them — to remain victims of terror, night after night for decades. And that was just the pinnacle of mass expulsions, oppressions and ransoming through every 59


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land and century, her thoughts raced on. Caroline often conflated her personal apprehensions with her heritage. Especially when she was frightened or worried — even about unrelated things. She looked at her baby: Now she must teach a new generation. Certainly not just the horrors, but the mandates for justice, fairness, veracity, repair, care for the Earth, unceasing self-perfection and reflection, universal connection to all things, tolerance of all systems, oh, if only they’ d just leave us alone. She felt things rumbling again with nowhere to turn, Jews being such an unpopular cause, as are all who hold up mirrors to their confreres. Caroline was terrified of her new responsibilities. Could she raise this child to match her ideals? And Jack’s? Caroline closed her eyes and pressed a button to let her bed down flat. Her brain cells stampeded: Genetic weaknesses are most apt to occur in similar strains...The most disparate mixes produce the hardiest stock...What about inbreeding depression and outbreeding depression, what was that? Mendel’s Law, what was that? If she and Jack were more alike, would their children be more alike? Was there evolutionary benefit from the rape of indigenous women by conquering soldiers, as Jack was fond of saying? What were they doing, having a baby, this couple? They only just met and conceived and so married and now this. “Minor moments become major junctures,” Jack said to her a few weeks after Beatrice had introduced them and Cary called to tell him she was pregnant. There was no question the child was his. Caroline stretched, slowly regaining strength and awareness, and wondered if giving birth weren’t, after all, her own mandate, her real purpose, perfect achievement, ultimate destiny. She was aware that she, individually, had transported the present into the future and was directly 60


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responsible for continuance of the life of her species on her planet and of all life everywhere. She knew she’d submitted to the fundamental drive of every living thing, the relay race transfer of genetic material over time. It is DNA itself that rules the universe, she remembered Jack telling her before that first time he slid into her body, with his unclean joint, she recalled, and the unexpected heightened fervor that had caused. These proteins live out parasitic lives in mortal dupes who believe they are masters of their own decisions. That idea now disgusted her: that she existed merely as a host to pass this germ. He talks about life as if it’s a paint-by-numbers kit. She felt indignant: Was her only purpose to produce that mewling lump in that plastic basket? And rear it? And be expected to love it? She shuddered, and pulled the blanket around her shoulders, thinking of how silly it seemed. For one thing, her personal motives for having a child had nothing to do with evolution. Since she met Jack, she had no defined personal motives for anything, if indeed she ever had: Caroline had never had direction or ambition, only vague reactions for or against certain people, certain things. The present just pushed its way forward on her. Cary never questioned any moment as a crossroads for decision, but drifted with life as if in its suspension, shifting with experience, accepting every present as presented by the past, an inevitability of forces beyond her control, never to be deeply questioned no matter how she rearranged the words of the question, lest unwholesome currents be released. Caroline was superstitious, and believed that to question destiny was to bring it down upon you. Jewel, to Caroline, was as much a gift to her as Jack had been, but before the memory of their first peculiar copulation was fully reconstructed, the hospital room door sprang open. Jack stepped in, smiling, flinging his briefcase on 61


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the window ledge, but bringing her nothing, Caroline noticed, resigning herself to a lifetime of such touching disappointments. Jack had not proved to be much in the way of a romantic mate. He looked good to her, though, the allure of their moderate age difference still hot and sweet. And he was her favorite teacher’s lover before hers, and he was her generation’s hero. Few knew of Jack’s raging inner doubts; Caroline didn’t. Reporters and photographers had flocked to the hospital at the birth of this activist’s child, but guards kept them from his family. Jack hardly knew they had followed him, although he would have been inwardly oblivious no matter how outwardly gracious he appeared: his bevy of followers was having less and less effect on his almost trancelike immersion in deep thought. Jack had dressed up some, but Cary didn’t comment. He was wearing a thin string tie and plaid cowboy shirt; his black hair, growing in again, was trimmed and neatly combed. And his sandals were new: when he had brought her to the hospital, the sandals on his feet were the pair he’d gaffer-taped for years already to keep from falling off. Since he met her, his appearance had grown steadily more conservative, but today he looked especially natty, especially like the hip, young college instructor he presently was. And his hands and face were clean and bright, also a new thing since she had known him. Smiling and beaming and nodding his head up and down with approval, he helped his fevered wife stand for the first time since delivery. He had been at the birth; he had stroked her hair and soothed her agony; most men would not have done it. He had not wanted drugs to be administered, but did not forbid it when she cried for them. The doctor had looked to him for approval and he at last consented. The drugs were on his mind but he didn’t mention them. 62


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“I love you,” he told her. Caroline smiled crookedly; he probably meant it. She held his upraised hand for balance as she sat and scuffed into a pair of paper hospital slippers. She leaned on him and he supported her but didn’t help. Why was he like this, Caroline wondered. He’s not warm. He’s not a likable person. He doesn’t bond with people, or assist them, or reach out to them. He doesn’t even move; he makes a person shift toward him, even just to talk. He isn’t compassionate; he’s not even kind. His depth of human feeling is so shallow. With Jack’s minimal assistance, Cary inched carefully to the edge of the bed, then feebly stood. He did help her slowly shuffle along the wall towards the bassinet. And he let her take her time, but when she got across, he let go immediately, not holding her any longer than needed for physical support. There was no symbol or spite in this, but nevertheless it was so. Caroline wedged into the corner, the walls propping her up as her husband unwrapped their sleeping baby, Jewel. The newborn was lean and proportional, bald and blossom-eyed, with a rapturous, innocent face. A bissel baggy skinned, perhaps, in thigh and buttock, Caroline pointed out. Jack did not think Jewel looked thin or baggyskinned. And he bristled at the Yiddish, but let that go, knowing he wouldn’t allow it in the family lexicon once I get these two home. He hadn’t even known she knew any. “Please don’t find fault with her already.” He said this gently, and partly in jest, but the unexpected rebuke destabilized Caroline’s fragile postpartum chemistry and she fainted to the floor. When she revived, she was back in bed on intravenous. Jack sat on a chair under the window next 63


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to Jewel, reading a technical journal. He was finalizing his certainty that humanity could not go on as it was. He was thinking about ways he might develop a protocol for civilization, and with shared habitats to suit all the Earth’s flora and fauna. He was mulling something over: This infant can be a template for perfection. He was trying to quantify how much pure information he would need to accomplish his goals, what technology he’d have to develop, and how his current project had landed him his latest job. He would need to invent much instrumentation, much hardware, much computer code, on his own. The baby stirred against him, in shafts of shifting sunbeams, eyes averted from the light. “Cary?” Jack whispered. He was saving good news to tell her. He’d been offered an opportunity by Princeton to develop contemporary anthropological assessments. “Certainty must come before action,” he explained. “I’m quitting the radical life.” And Beatrice would become the child’s godmother.

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Chapter 11 Caroline’s Sketch Pad I Caroline slouched in the living room on a large

wingback chair left in the house by former owners, the beautiful child, Jewel, cooing on the floor, playing Pretend with miniature dolls and bedding, blocks and carts and delicate pieces of finger-sized furniture. She groped around for part of a mismatched minikin tea set. Caroline knew what Jewel was looking for: a tiny cup, still extant from her own childhood. It was next to the chair, but she wouldn’t help get it. She knew that if she so much as moved or called attention to herself, Jewel would intrude on the peace of her restful evening. She couldn’t place two thoughts together without the child speaking to her, disturbing her mind with questions she couldn’t answer, explanations she couldn’t give. Hearing Jewel’s pure, sweet voice aroused great irritation. She didn’t mind diapering her when she was an 65


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infant, or feeding her or caring for her in a helpless state, but since Jewel’s demands had become more intellectual and more personal, Caroline couldn’t stand it — not that the woman was doing anything, or even thinking anything at the moment; she had just finished this month’s Ms Magazine and Mother Jones. A brand new sketch pad lay open on her lap. In a clean, clear, glass ash tray beside her was a set of soft B pencils, a Brownie Pocket Knife for sharpening them, and several kinds of erasers, but she wasn’t drawing. She repositioned the ash tray by a quarter-inch twist for a slightly better esthetic on the lamp table. Jack was away. Clothes were tossing in the dryer, making little clicking sounds. 112 Mercer St., Princeton, New Jersey. W-h-e-n, she wrote on the edge of the toothy paper. A stack of Vivaldi records was tootling on the stereo. Caroline re-lit a half joint from her pocket and looked around for another ash tray. The radiant child glanced up as the match was struck, but Caroline scowled. Checked, the little girl resumed her fantasy with the doll house. Caroline was irked by the child’s unassuming concentration. She tapped the light ash into a pile on a kneaded eraser already too marbled, time to change, anyway. She’d throw the whole gritty thing out later. She left the first leaf blank in her new pad, and wrote in pencil diagonally near the top of the second, dating the first line, Sept. 14, 1974, and writing on the next, Dear Letty. It would be an assertion of her artistic spirit to send a letter torn from a sketch pad, she thought. Her creativity hadn’t gotten much exercise since college. Jewel and I planted a garden of seeds and pits. I already know that pickled seeds won’t grow, but Jewel does not. She settled back into the grand chair for several minutes, toying with the pencil. The child was again clucking happy phrases to her things. Caroline erased the words with a soap-eraser and 66


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brushed the scumble into her hand. This is art, she thought, squeezing the cushy eraser dust, this dust. This is poetry. These mucky pieces of rubber contain my pictures and words. She emptied them into a tin Revolutionary Warthemed wastepaper basket next to the chair, and got set to write again over the more roughened surface, slightly waxier for having been soap-erased, words she thought after Jack had left her thinking, words she could not utter to him because he’ d say they’re crap. She pinched the half-inch roach between her filed but unlacquered fingernails, burning her thumb as she relit the stub, then reached for the pencil again, sucking and writing as best she could. Jack has been annoyed with me for our differences, but philosophy is trivial to our life together. He is never annoyed with me for anything real. He has become distant, preoccupied, lost in thought. We never have a normal conversation. He tells me to make friends. I remind him about you. And Jewel told him you are her “auntie” but he wouldn’t recognize you if you stood in point blank range. He’s too absorbed to ever acknowledge anything but his own thoughts. He doesn’t like it that I hold any views. He thinks my views are trite, paradoxical, but he’s angry that he can’t refute them. He throws books at me — “read this, read that.” Jack says history is irradiated by individual lives. He says one can personally direct the historical present, command it, that one motivated individual can determine reality for others. Jewel’s other “auntie,” her godmother, my Professor Madregiore, once said that the present is not a short jump between long periods but is a long period itself, the only period, and open to revision. I say: It would be a perfect world if only that the future could be determined by rational consensus, 67


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that people should just sit down with each other and discuss things. That in fact, things shouldn’t even need discussion. It’s delusional to think anyone can control the present. There isn’t one. The present is where the past dumps us, but it’s yanked out from under our ass like a junior high prank. The future is anyone’s guess. Caroline sobered for a moment. She tried for herself now, not for Letty or Jack, to continue these inklings: The past determines the future directly. The present is non-existent. Past and future butt against each other. We can be sure of the change, not the position. There is no still-frame in the morph. A person is caught in the web of time as a mote in a weather front. That anyone can exert any control at all is an illusion. Jack thinks he will be able to. He’s a jerk. He thinks he can save the world. Caroline rotated the paper over the spirals to the next page of the pad: Dear Letty, she began again, choreographing her handwriting into falsely artistic loops and circle dots, Jewel asked me today what makes rain. I answered her in nouns and verbs but a better answer should be given in electrons. I know nothing about electrons. I want Jewel to learn everything, but I wish there were no teaching. Yesterday she asked what rules the universe. I answered her flip as I could, “chance and proclivity, hope and greed.” Caroline re-lit the roach, scorching a yellow-brown arc into her left index fingernail, sucked at the last quarterinch of flat sogginess, then swallowed it, still glowing. She glanced at Jewel. The child didn’t seem to have noticed. I’ ll probably have to stop before she’s old enough to know what this is, Caroline thought resentfully, as she started another clean page. 68


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I wish people could be raised better. Shouldn’t it be natural for mothers to teach children to reflect equably on encounters? Don’t you think if mothers just taught their children better, there wouldn’t be war? Again she erased the words in frustration; her ideas collapsed whenever she arranged the alphabet around them. She didn’t want Jack to presume she thought something silly, like “Mothers can save the world.” And she especially didn’t want him to snidely remark that she might not meet her own criteria. The “how do you make it happen” part. Hypocrisy of any kind was on his watchlist. Dear Letty, she tried once more. Jack has been gathering statistics. He thinks it’s possible for a single individual to devise the perfect social structure and implement that structure if provided only with a population’s data. As you must see on the news, he convenes huge rallies, and tons of money are being donated to the Rubin Institute he’s founded. But none of this helps our household and he has no time for me or his child, even though when he comes home he makes a big fuss over her for the first minute. When Jack is away in the evening Jewel sleeps on the floor of the entryway. As soon as he opens the door he grabs her and lifts her and shouts some ridiculous question: “What famous children’s poem features a boat with a sail?” “What famous children’s story features a sleeping loft?” Daddy’s Little Girl. Jewel adores him. He stirs her up too much. I’ve got some big ideas of my own, you know — but he won’t even listen — yesterday he brought home the new book on Paul Klee and told me that’s where I should study genetics, and maybe while I’m at it astronomy, too. And he wants me to get into the social set now. Since when was he ever interested in this? Time was, 69


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I might have wanted to. I have made some friends here. But everyone’s too eager. Everyone is fawning and jealous . They use their children — stupid, spoiled, vacant, boring children — as go-betweens. Our Jewel is popular in kindergarten, but I don’t like it. That child does not earn all the compliments people pay her. She doesn’t earn all the space she takes up in the world. Caroline flipped this page, too, not erasing it, but not tearing it out to be mailed. It was not a real letter; many of her entries took the form of letters never sent. She would never give Letty ammunition by confessing tribulation. If anything, Caroline idealized her new family to Letty, and Letty overplayed her woes. Cary had received a note from her recently. She would answer it, but not soon — Letty leaving husband, her father giving her money to buy a cosmetics franchise.... Cary wished she could finally drop this relationship, wished she had dropped it for good years ago. But Letitia needed Caroline to admire her fortitude: she was flattered by every twisted moment Cary paused in incredulity; and Cary needed anyone who thought her opinions mattered. She turned another sheet and looked around the room and at her little daughter playing in the firelight. It might have occurred to many others like her to make a drawing of the scene, but in every sketch pad Cary completed, her pencil drew out words, not pictures, even though, at times, the words made pictures by themselves. She took up the pencil again and wrote: Jack is not good at handling money, and becoming worse each month. He insists on spending his own on travel, photocopies, postage, supplies — refuses to apply to the Institute for reimbursement — insists he’ d rather pay than keep receipts. His work is funded adequately 70


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but there’s not enough for our life, nothing at all for the entertaining he wants me to do. He says that soon money will be obsolete — speaks of grand social schemes, yet his real life has no system. And he violently opposes any order from me. Caroline cradled herself deeper in the ample chair, and regarded her contented daughter at her feet, playing quietly, still absorbed in fantasy. I do love Jewel. I really do. She closed her eyes, the suburban stillness welcome, and let her writing drift. Sex this morning good, at least we’ve had that, she wrote again. But it’s not enough of an outlet for my rage, when rages rage. Drowsy from the marijuana, she closed her eyes, listening abstractly for any unexpected low tone or beat under the perky Vivaldi. A scratching sound came from the back of the house. She wasn’t worried, but the drug clicked its opposite switch, and alerted her sentry. She sensed the autumn and shivered. The scrape against the back door repeated itself with some urgency. She sat up quickly. The child stopped playing, a gesture frozen in mid-air as she looked at her mother. Caroline put her finger to her lips and frowned and shook her fist Jewel shouldn’t make a sound. There had been a recent rash of robberies in the neighborhood — on this block already one. Caroline clung to the arms of the chair and listened. The brand new private computer Jack was building in the den was visible from the windows. Her eyes jumped to its gray, glowing screen. With this new computer, Jack worked privately on material he kept secret from the Institute. Some of the work went far beyond the simple encoding of population statistics. And he had set up some kind of equipment above the garage, too. Cary took a mental inventory of what a burglar might be after. 71


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For many moments she and Jewel stayed stock still, listening through Vivaldi’s energetic harpsichords and flutes for more sounds of danger. There hadn’t been another noise. Caroline shrugged. Jewel adjusted slowly back into play, unlocking her eyes from her mother’s, no longer on the door. Perhaps smoking weed had magnified the normal nighttime sounds — probably just a cat or branch. She could build up the fire in the fireplace, dispel the chill that had set in. She would, she thought, if alone; the wood was already stacked. But if she got up, the child would spark and be sure to whine some question or some want, and then whatever she did for her wouldn’t be perfect, and then she’d have to get something else and do something else that had to be done before the thing to be done could be done, and do things over and over. Caroline looked at Jewel resentfully; the child’s eyes were again fixed on hers, her small body again immobilized in a fearful gesture, awaiting instructions. Caroline slumped back in the old chair. She rolled her eyes disgustedly and motioned Jewel resume play, not bother her or speak or ask what happened. What if there had been prowlers? Could she protect her daughter if she had to? Or would a child weigh a woman down, keep her from saving herself in an emergency, prevent her from running fast enough, getting out in time. How many women were lost in massacres trying to rescue their children? “Look, Mommy!” Jewel tried to take advantage of her mother’s brief concern, taking a chance, disregarding her unmistakable gesture of dismissal. She wanted to show her something wonderful: Inside the play house, shafts from Caroline’s lamp reached through the tiny windows to figures Jewel had placed so that ribbons of light touched each painted face, 72


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giving the toy family a holy look. The little boy and girl children of the doll house family shared a single beam. Oh, it was just inevitable this child would barge into my head with some bullshit nonsense. “Shut up,” hissed Caroline. “Use your eyes before your mouth, use your ears before your mouth. Don’t you see me listening to something? Don’t you see me thinking about something?” All the Vivaldi records had ended and the stereo was making an airy sound. Jewel couldn’t see her mother listening or thinking, but withdrew immediately back to her fantasy of the family with twin brother and sister inside the tiny wooden house, now a pretend silver sailing ship, bathed in magic light, the parents put ashore, the little twins entreating Jewel to join them.

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Chapter 12 Caroline’s Sketch Pad II On another day, Caroline wrote at the dining room

table, dishwasher churning, Jewel at school.

May 16, 1976. 33 rd Anniversary of final liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year Jack was born. Five years before me and Letty. Whatever I ever think about, whatever I do, the Holocaust tracks me down. Damn damn damn damn damn. Smoking a great deal again. 5 or 6 joints a day but nothing to what Jack is smoking — Princeton Project growing far beyond initial plans. He works night and day and is away often. Blinds always down. Phone calls don’t stop from diplomats and statesmen, and 74


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always the press, the press. Forced to write complicated messages of calls he’ ll never bother to return. He’s aloof to everyone, just keeps doing his work, smiling and nodding without emotion. There is never a moment to collect myself. People from all over the world drop in without calling — I can’t keep up — I do not have a minute to myself. European visitors, Asian visitors so elegant. Feel compelled to stay up on their chic. Catch myself talking too loud. Using hands too much. Dinner guests, weekend guests, scientists from abroad, politicians, religious leaders, lots of Catholic clergy — taking big interest in American Jews lately, too, I’ve noticed. Jack expects me to be a svelte fashion plate, a charming hostess, the ideal intellectual wife. But he hates it when I open my mouth. He minimizes and maximizes my talents simultaneously. He introduces me as the former student of Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore, as if the slightest bit of her fame or talent has rubbed off on me. Even Beatrice herself is interested more in our daughter than in me. At least there is a new budget this year from the Institute — I insisted on an expense account for me, as “Consultant.” I bought a beautiful, velvet-bound drawing book yesterday to draw in separately from these sketch pads that turn into diaries, 40 bucks, what the hell, they’re paying for it, finally, I might as well get what I deserve. I bought it to be drawn in. But I can not start. Drawing only gives me anxiety. What are these things to me that I should draw them — roads, trees, houses, boxes, chairs, glasses, bottles, books, my own hands and feet, my own face in the mirror — but it’s not enough. The beautiful drawings I used to make were born dead. None were as good as 75


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Morandi, or Leonardo, Ingres, Degas. I could never dare ask anyone to look at mine if they could better feast their eyes upon the greats’, even in reproduction. How could I add inessential material to this polluted, cluttered, overcrowded world ? How could I justify my drawings taking up wall space in rooms that grow more cramped in every new building? One two-foot square picture on a wall takes up the space of fifty sixty books. Or a mirror. Or cabinet. I have no art to make. Life is going too fast to live it, let alone to make art out of. I’ ll be thankful if I survive life, let alone survive life and art, too. I am happy when I proceed automatically. Could there by peace in enslavement? No stress to plan and plan and decide and decide. Just carry things out, do what someone else thinks up. I like when Jack tells me what to do. It’s OK by me if he wants to rule the world. But he’s getting scarey. Last night he told me he no longer thinks humans can be civilized. He said, “We must be remade from the ground up.” I asked him what he meant. He yelled “Shut up! Shut up!” Maybe I need to get a grip on myself and give in and be content to accept fulfillment through my family. Ha! No! I can’t stand it! Daily life, continual service! Dust up my nose all day long! Heavy grocery bags! Wet hands. Record-keeping way out of proportion — paying bills, addition and subtraction never right, numbers transposed, checkbooks not agreeing with the bank, skipping digits on the calculator, faulty appliances, leaky plumbing, hours on the phone with service people who don’t show up. Maintaining car — oily rags, rude mechanics, gassing up, finding parking. 76


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Hyper state. Must take a few breaths, walk around the block and pretend to be normal — imitate normal tempo and gestures and speech. Take another Valium. Worked hard this morning putting everything back to sorts in the house. Jack won’t allow domestic help —. Hands have begun to feel weak in the evenings, skin shredding. Must buy rubber gloves. Emotions hitting highs and lows, angry all the time — and the unending care for that child, catering to her boring needs, chauffeuring her around on constantly changing minute to minute schedules and play dates and parties—. She’s become a total brat. I can’t make her mind me or take care of her own things. She can’t even brush her hair properly. By the time I myself was six, I was already running errands, dodging shopmen’s fingers, had jobs to do. She should do her share of work. Instead, she tells me she loves me and presses her body to mine in obscene ways. Touches my breast with her hand when she reaches to kiss me. I find it repulsive. Often must push her away. Why do children want so much: sweets, baubles, nothing, crap. And always they expect answers to God knows what questions. At least most of the toys I have to get her I can find at garage sales — they’re good enough — it’s no sin to play with slightly broken toys — she’ d break them anyway if they were new — she’s lucky to get anything — the girl makes me slap her — provokes me. I warn and threaten and cajole until she doesn’t leave me any choice. Could hit her a lot harder. Could let the kitchen door smash her face when I’m standing there holding it and she’s taking her sweet fucking time. The one time I let it drop, it was me had to waste an hour cleaning her bloody nose. Must teach her economy and reservation, 77


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demand she be frugal, not take up so much space in the world. Values are due to one’s experience, one’s past. In a child’s recent past it was an animal. Jewel is the most beautiful of all the Princeton kids. Trim and lithe and pale and angular. She swims nicely and I do enjoy taking her. But I must teach her harder to be better, to be meeker, more respectful, to behave beyond reproach, to put herself last, to expect nothing. I suppose I can love her and forgive her anything because of her physical beauty, although I have tried to resist this. It is her uncut, auburn hair I love the most. And if Jack loves me for anything, it is for giving him this child. (Maybe I should have another one.)

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Chapter 13 Jewel Jewel, an exceptional child, a genius. But in teaching

her, Caroline scolded and raved. Jack thought Jewel was naturally brilliant and beautiful; he loved her without reservation. He treated her like a model child. But Caroline thought Jewel could absorb learning only through effort. Caroline was able to see Jewel’s gifts solely in comparison to other children, and looked for comparison frequently, but the dullness she saw in other children was a constant shock to her: the other children were a joke, not a standard, even the children of other professors and notables. Local parents were eager for their kids to play with Jewel: her father was one of the most important men in a town of important men. But besides that, the children themselves loved her; to them she was a fair and caring friend. 80


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Her popularity among her peers was well deserved. She was an exemplary wunderkind. But no matter how humanly perfect Jewel had trained herself to be, she never quite measured to Caroline’s unattainable standards. To Caroline, there was only one standard: absolute perfection, unparalleled excellence. Caroline raised and cultured little Jewel as if she were her manager and trainer. “Faster, faster, harder, higher, neater, straighter, smaller, less —.” From time to time, Caroline came close to perpetrating gross, physical abuse. For prolonged periods, in waves or cycles, the woman was enraged over trifles, angered that she worked thanklessly at menial, degrading tasks of unending servitude. Jewel witnessed her mother’s tirades with true compassion and tried to comfort her while shielding her own little head and body, but for the insolence of her pity she was often locked in a room or closet. The genius of Jewel Marie Rubin lay in her sparing innocent nature, the breadth of her interests, her rarefied concepts, frugality with materials, comprehension of essential similarities, and a sense of humor so wry it challenged her one day as she noticed that her father wore an incessant smile, to discipline herself never to smile, never to laugh, except with him. Although it was her mother she had to account to, it was Daddy for whom she kept herself smart and good to look at. Her aptitudes and interests were especially high in the sciences of astronomy and physics, the history of international pagan myth and fable, the English and American and translated Russian and French literature of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, and the puzzles of German philosophy. 81


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Section 2 Chapter 14: Caroline and Jewel Drive to the Country

Chapter 14 Caroline and Jewel Drive to the Country For many years, at three o’clock, Caroline picked Jewel up after school and often, off and on, spent a sunny afternoon driving around the Princeton countryside and farmlands. On one particular early autumn day when Jewel was twelve, they had planned an outing in advance, but when the time arrived, the weather changed to a bleak, raw, darkening, stormy matinÊe. Jewel waited for her mother at their usual point of rendezvous: a large Dutch elm left standing when the rest of the land was cleared for the school, a ring of earth left with it, wooden ring-bench screwed half-way round and painted blue enamel, flagstone walkway placed amid its surging roots, a huge tree from primeval America, now carved and festooned with modern messages. Jewel leaned against the tree, holding a book of myths and fables, a thin girl with scrawny limbs and a full head of long, thick, lustrous, coppery hair. 83


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Everyone waited around the big, enduring elm for their mothers’ cars. Girls nearby were talking about how dark the sky had turned. Jewel knew them and nodded when one waved to her, but she didn’t join in. Her schoolmates were used to seeing her hunched over, reading alone. They came visiting less often to her house these years. She had shed the friends her mother didn’t approve of, but taxed the patience of the others. None of them liked her mother, no matter their own mothers pressured them. No delight were the trades of home and motherhood to Caroline: she exaggerated their drudgery and made Jewel suffer for it. The kids clung close together, not entirely ignoring her, but they had grown alienated by her rejection of their childhood adoration and put off by her unconcealed, perennial wish not to join any of their cliques. Another girl nodded now, too. Then looked away. No matter, Jewel often reconciled herself: however closely any friends intrigued her, they never held her interest more than reading did. Jewel gravitated naturally to science and for what could not be learned there, to literature. The term “rara avis” suited none better. Jewel, the sweet and patient child, never withered in her grim surroundings. As she waited out her dismal girlhood, she learned to hold her tongue and keep her room and get all A’s. Locked up so often as punishment, Jewel developed the ability, no matter how attenuated the molecules in her oppressive atmosphere, to secretly scent from different directions the cooler air of the natural world and the humid jungle-must of original thought. Jewel breathed in the damp tree. She put her cheek against the large scores in its bark. She put her nose into a crevice. She imagined herself deep in a forest. She turned back to face the schoolyard again, and turned another page in the book. 84


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The one or two friends she did admire, and covet, and visit secretly, were of high eccentricity and questionable repute; they lived in strange neighborhoods, or went to other schools, or older kids, drop-outs. She flicked her eyes down and reread the passage: a storm so dark nae land nor sky could be discerned.... Jewel pulled her cardigan closer and folded her thin arms around her chest. In the past hour, nimbus had rolled overhead into gigantic black pillars, closing ranks from northwest and east, the air inside these heavy clouds from Canada battling and changing form to water about to be sucked violently by Pennsylvania Jersey earth. She was not dressed warmly enough. She watched the sky and down the circle-drive around the school for her mother’s car. Maybe Caroline would think to bring a jacket. But Mommy’s touches were not consistently of kindness, Jewel knew. She rearranged the book in her cramped left hand, wishing that gutter margins were more generous in paperbacks, and rubbed her cuticle-bitten fingers across each other against the chill. She put the fingers of her right hand into her left armpit to warm them, furtively passing over her own new buds. She reminded herself to ask her mother what kind of car she drove: a question for an insipid but required homeroom personality quiz game assignment she couldn’t get out of. Unlike most others in her cohort, Jewel was generally ignorant of brand names and their presumed status symbolism. Even clothing labels abraded the skin of this sensitive creature, so she cut them out, whether her mother had bought the item in a pre-ownedcouture rack consignment shop, or a K-Mart customer’s yard sale. It was a small, tan car; she knew that much. Her father had never learned to drive at all, never trusted cars; he rode 85


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his bicycle when he was home. Last year he bought himself a Peugeot top-of-the-line bike for his fortieth birthday. He had had his eye on a hand-constructed vintage Bottecchia Pro with all original Campagnolo hardware, smooth as butter, pinky-finger pick-up light, and almost bought it, but vacillated too long. Of everything Jack missed out on in these recent years, this was the only thing he regretted. Despite the sky, Jewel hoped that Caroline would keep her promise. She always wished for happy times with her mother, and, as she had learned recently in a Little Women’s Club discussion of B. F. Skinner, the unpredictable infrequency of such times was precisely the reward that kept her stimulated, kept her hopes up, made her heart leap now as Caroline’s ugly tan car turned off the road into the drive behind a station wagon. Like a circus train, her mother was tailgating, almost plowing the car in front of her out of the way. Would she have a jacket with her, Jewel silently petitioned, carefully reminding herself not to let her mother see how cold she was: she might be angry that Jewel hadn’t brought heavier clothing this morning on her own; she might even blame Jewel for intentionally failing to predict the weather change. Jewel would greet her with reserve and wait to see exactly what was what. The car in front of Caroline picked up a brothersister set, and finally drove past. Caroline rolled down her window, honking the horn insistently and unnecessarily. Jewel could feel the other kids staring as Cary waved to them, and Jewel watched their glum reactions and their snickers. Most turned away; a few very old friends timidly waved back, glancing sidelong at Jewel. No one called out loud. Caroline was wearing ridiculous, huge, mirrored sunglasses despite the dark day, and a stylish, sheepskinlined denim outfit. Her new pageboy haircut was too cute, 86


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but at least she had washed out the intensifying blond rinse she had tried the week before, deciding that her own honey color was good enough, and easier to match for tinting the recent new silvers while keeping their sparkle. Jewel climbed into the front seat. She wasn’t happy that her mother had lately been going in for what she considered an unbecoming flamboyance. She’s getting increasingly unpredictable, even in public, Jewel thought. “Yes, yes, yes, of course we’ll go,” Caroline was saying, chattering happily as she hardly braked long enough for Jewel to sit down safely, “lots of food...picnic basket, checkered napkins...bought them at a rummage sale....” Jewel was half-listening, glad her mother was in a good mood as long as it lasts. If the mood were genuine and kept up, there might be a few pleasant words to share. She’d wait and see. She fastened her seat belt and dropped her book in with the food, Insect Characters in Caledonian Meteorological Folklore. The car was warm and snug, smelled only faintly of the pot Caroline had smoked before setting out. Jewel hated that her mother indulged in this; it made her especially volatile. She was glad she put the book of legends away. Beatrice had given it to her — my father’s exgirlfriend, my mother’s ex-teacher, a blind, black celebrity performance artist, my beloved godmother. Jewel knew Caroline was jealous of Beatrice’s relationship with Daddy and herself. Careful with Mommy; don’t set her off. Her mother was still talking, happy, nice to her. Jewel would try to be quiet and good as her mother liked her to be. She didn’t see warm clothing for herself, and wouldn’t ask. Jewel knew Caroline might turn on her then, blaming her for whatever wasn’t perfect, for not planning, for expecting a mother to remember everything, do everything. She could almost recite Caroline’s lines. Jewel breathed in fully, and 87


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strengthened her resolve to stay tightly in check, keep her childhood impulse toward enthusiasm, and her newly emerging tendency toward sarcasm, prudently reined. The least little thing could set Caroline off. Yet they both had sincerely looked forward to the picnic all week. Jewel wondered if her mother were even aware of the grave foreboding in the weather, so enraptured was she by her own ebullience, talking away about some neighbor’s garden, “... still have tomatoes growing...pumpkins much larger than last year...bumper crop of late corn...marigolds kept insects out... plenty of earthworms...found a hornets’ nest under the porch — or maybe it was wasps under the porch, what kind of big, winged, black insects live under porches,” did Jewel know? “Hornets are wasps,” Jewel said, “especially social and predatory.” “Sting badly?” Cary asked. “And multiple times, and don’t lose their stingers. Some of the other wasps can be solitary,” Caroline let her daughter tell her, “but hornets attack in colonies and support their queen.” The conversation was loose, and they were more or less having a good time. Sometimes Cary could work herself into a frenzy of good spirits and fun, and at those times Jewel loved her unconditionally, overwhelmed by equanimity. But at twelve years old, Jewel knew not to trust these joyful moods; thus, the anger that inevitably followed was less the pitiful disappointment it had been earlier in her life. As a little girl, Jewel had held down tears and bitten her nails for being told she ruined, in some unendurable way, each and every one of her mother’s real, or possible, or hoped-for pleasures, and ruined what could have been good times. In no case did Jewel ever understand what she had done. 88


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Car radio might be nice. She would like to turn it on, but Mom might have some problem with it, she knew, and might start up. Rain began, hard, before they reached the state road. Caroline kept talking and talking, insisting it was “only a passing shower, it would pass over soon,” they’d “drive it out,” she’d seen “a road once, County Road 502, plenty of little barn shelters out there, unused.... Big house, little house, back house, barn,” she recited. They “could be outdoors today, after all.” Both wished to enjoy the day. Neither wanted it spoiled. Jewel cautioned herself to remain silent, not ask questions, play patient wait and see. Caroline chatted away, gripping the wheel, complaining about her knobby hands. Jewel watched her mother’s fingers knead the worn, black, plastic steering wheel. Her mother had always despaired of her hands, but any defects she saw in them were overstated or pure fantasy. Jewel studied her mother’s hands from across the seat; they weren’t Cocteau’s, they were simply neat, trim hands, “...chapped, bent, arthritis setting in,” Caroline was saying, jangling the heavy, gold charm bracelet on her left wrist. Jewel recognized the first unmistakable signs of Caroline’s familiar, mounting hysteria. She increased suppression of her own body and mind, slowing down her movements, becoming less detectable. She was used to her mother’s episodes, and had learned to survive them by remaining passive, immobile, as out of sight as possible. Let her go on talking. Play invisible. They drove a long time west and a little north, crossing the Delaware, driving deeper through empty rural areas, through farmland sold for tract development and new big box stores, through farmland up for sale, squatted land, 89


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abandoned fields, rain splashing against the car doors. But Caroline didn’t find the road she planned to take. For quite some time, there was no traffic in the other direction. The air had turned a peculiar greenish yellow-gray. “Let’s not get lost now,” Caroline was yelling. “Remember this!” she shouted, driving faster, pointing to some specter of a hidden landmark through the rhythmic, broken wedge the wipers smeared on the glistening windows. She spun a wild turn onto yet another gravel road, blasting quartz against the car. She called Jewel’s attention to the visual effects of the light and rain and stones outside the moving frame. “...lens drops on the windshield...rock drops on the doors...,” Caroline rattled on, motioning with her hands, shaking her right hand at Jewel, recapturing the whirling wheel, drumming the window with her jangling, braceleted left, driving fast. Jewel wondered if her mother could safely be watching the road, steering the car. How can she talk so much and gesticulate and see all these things and think in these words and still drive? She looked so stupid in these chic designer outfits she’s been wearing lately; and how could she still have on these sunglasses? She’s going to kill us. The windows were getting steamed up: the defrosters were blowing but provided only insufficient oval pools of clarity on the foggy glass. The headlights picked out reflectant markers, but they seemed to switch sides of the road as the unsteady car swerved around curves. Jewel rolled open her window a crack to let in crisper air. The wind whizzled for a second before Cary ordered it shut. Several times the car displaced abruptly, on a skid, fishtailing. Caroline oversteered at every frequent turn. 90


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Jewel got up on her knees, loosening her seat belt: she needed a better look. Where was this? She rubbed away the cold moisture on the window as the car careened recklessly, mud splashing around the sides, splattering the windows. It was difficult to see out, no lights, no lines, no markers now. This hardly seemed like a road, maybe a dirt road, a wagon path, not residential, not farm. It looked like scrub, prairie, a darkening wasteland. A few trees out of place, single, rushing by, sliding. The road was not straight, and Caroline was driving and braking, skidding, almost twirling. Jewel strained in her seat to see out. There was no road at all. Caroline was driving every which way on an open field like a maniac. “Ma! Stop! Stop driving! Stop!” Caroline did not hear her. Jewel was out of her seat and tossing in the car like a bag of loose groceries. She pitted herself against the changing physical forces and demanded her mother hear her now and stop! “...always loved you, always cared for you, always wished...,” Caroline screamed. “Do you know how much you mean to me? How much I wanted another child? How much I want you to be perfect? I always minimized your joys to strengthen you, to prepare you for life’s disappointments....” Whether it was because Jewel suddenly did understand her mother at that moment and was overcome by an urge to embrace and comfort her, or because she was physically insisting that Caroline heed her demand to stop the car, she lunged across the seat and grabbed her mother around the chest. The car hit a lone tree in the field. Jewel was hurled forward into the dashboard, her head crashing into it, 91


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her body flung back against the seat and forward again, bashing into the windshield. Much of the glass held together in its plasticized net, so maintained contiguity, but many shards burst out. Pieces of broken glass filled the front compartment and cold rainwater rushed down from the roof in a final gush, as rain from the sky slacked off. At point of impact, Caroline had been tackle-blocked by Jewel, and so in large measure spared, but Jewel received more than her share of the accident. She was completely covered with bits of broken glass. She thought her face might be cut, too. Caroline groped to switch on the domelight, which glowed amber for a second before it dimmed and went out with a faint, hissing buzz. The cave of the car was very dark. The side and back windows and what was left of the windshield were caked with mud. Heavy silence. Jewel lost consciousness for a spell.

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Chapter 15 Incident at the Abandoned Farmhouse “Get out your side carefully,” Caroline instructed, dampened, sobered, frightened, commanding, practical, so different from a moment before. Jewel carefully shook the glass off herself, making sure it landed well inside the car, not near the door where it might fall out and sully the earth. She wasn’t badly cut, but was disoriented. She dabbed at her wet face with her wet sweater sleeve. The car door was broken, but groaned open. She eased herself out, each long leg in a twisted loafer, both sorry white knee socks pooled around her narrow ankles. She straightened up in the sharp air. With the heater on in the car, she had forgotten how cold the weather was. It had almost stopped raining, but the sky was as dark as an eclipse. It wasn’t night yet, was it? She was having trouble thinking. She took a step backward. The ground 93


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was thick and swampy, and when she reached to steady herself, she stumbled. The car was plastered with sticky mud, and folded around a thin, yielding birch tree. Besides the windshield, both side-windows, one fly-window and the right headlight were broken, and there was damage to at least the hood and grille, maybe more. The left headlight shined on into its dense surroundings, catching tiny beads of icy moisture in its beam. “Electra,” Jewel felt written in cold chrome beneath her hand as she grabbed the car to keep from slipping. She shivered and stretched and looked straight out across the land. At first, Jewel saw only blackness. There was minimal difference in optical tonality between the form coming into focus on the plain, the plain itself, and the sky. So little light was reflected, that all three elements were practically an equal black, but slowly Jewel realized she was staring at the ruins of an enormous darkened mansion on a small rise in the center of the field, about a hundred yards away. Jewel looked back in through the car door at the stupidly dressed hulk of her mother slumping in the big seat, peering out at her. “There’s a house here,” Jewel said, keeping any intonation, which Cary might interpret as emotion or opinion no matter what it sounded like, out of her voice. Whatever her feelings for this sad woman might have been a minute earlier, Jewel had them under her practiced control once more. Caroline Klein Rubin, she thought, was the most preposterous of mothers. Look at her, sitting behind the wheel in this impossible situation, still wearing her mirrored glasses, oh, now, finally removing them, pretending everything is normal, folding the large frames carefully into a fancy case clipped behind the visor. Caroline tipped her head toward Jewel, but didn’t reply. 94


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“The house looks dark. Probably deserted,” Jewel continued warily. She kept her voice even and flat, straining to put Caroline’s unpredictability out of mind, just go forward, not stop, not be considerate nor debate, just behave automatically. Any reaction, any pity toward her mother could be disastrous. Each disappointment between them had driven Caroline’s child further from her, and from almost everyone. There were only two people of any importance in Jewel Rubin’s long-suffering life: her father and her godmother, and while Jack was becoming increasingly absorbed in his work, Jewel’s love for Beatrice had grown proportionately. Jewel stood in wet mud, leaning on the car, awaiting Caroline’s reply, her face stinging in the gelid wind. It was not up to her to bail her mother out, understand her, befriend her. Caroline would likely use the aid against her in some way, against them both; she was as emotionally cruel to herself as she was to her child. Jewel must wait, grow up, grow away. She watched her mother slowly gain authority, come to life, finally motion for help getting out of the car. At least, Jewel faintly saw, Caroline was wearing boots, metallic gold and studded with fake gems: they’ ll get ruined in the mud, but they’ ll do. Jewel’s broken shoes and dirty socks were already soaked, the toes of her right foot painful but not smashed. Caroline hesitated for a moment, as frail Jewel struggled to hoist her out of the battered automobile, not even a glimmer of surprise remotely present in the woman’s eyes. The house did not surprise her. Their circumstance didn’t faze her, even as its strange terribleness was unfolding. “Let’s not forget the food,” Cary said as she lunged ahead, grabbing the picnic basket, fluttering the red-and95


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white-checkered cloth littered with shards of glass, shaking them into the rain puddles around them, pretending they were all gone as the big ones tinked to the ground and she stamped them under. Jewel was surprised that Caroline was unconcerned about the glass thrown down, and felt a stab of guilt about her own not standing up for the soil she had taken care herself not to despoil. Mother and daughter made their way across the cold, sodden field surrounding the derelict farmhouse like an ocean around an anchored ship, unseamed by any road or path. They walked the hundred yards or so in single file, Caroline in the lead. She jabbed commanding gestures, shaking the gold charms on her left wrist as she swung the food basket wildly over her head, hoisting it to her right shoulder. Jewel ducked, and followed like a zombie. The house was isolated and there were no vehicles in sight. They stepped onto a wooden porch and found the building less decrepit than Jewel had been expecting. The house was well weathered but not in total disrepair. Caroline put the basket down and stomped around to have a look. It might be occupied after all: there were still places without electricity in the Mid-Atlantic States. But wouldn’t the grass be trodden down outside? Jewel wondered: it was possible to live without going out, but only if people came with deliveries. The porch wrapped around on three sides. Veranda verandah, she saw and heard in her mind as she stood by silently. Caroline peered into several dark windows, but reported nothing. A tarnished, old, brass key was in the rusted iron front lock, but there was no bell or knocker, and no response to her fist bangs and repeated calls. “Anyone home? Anyone home?� Bravely and cautiously she turned the key, pulled the heavy, creaking door open, and boldly entered, her daughter guardedly behind. 96


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They halted just within the entranceway. The sound was loudly hollow. The house was darker inside than out. It was unheated and smelled of rot and mold, rodent droppings and insect death. What minimal light there was, seeped into their wide-stretched eyes, and thus their range of focus was short and close, but sufficient to discern about the stranded building something weird. Jewel had expected to enter onto the floorplan of a typical Late-Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania Victorian or Carpenter’s Gothic frame farmhouse. She expected to step in from the doorway and see a large dado-paneled Georgian foyer into which presented a central stair, with substantial parlors leading off to right and left. But even in the dark, she saw that the interior of the house had been entirely gutted or burned out — if indeed it had ever been constructed. They stood inside an immense shell, a black barn or hall or meeting room the size of a circus tent or the hull of a ship, rising around them like a dead Colosseum. Yet it wasn’t a barn, nor a barn attached to a house; Jewel knew that although in the Old World, a farmer’s house and barn often shared a single roof, the settlers didn’t bring this tradition to Pennsylvania. Jewel’s mind was full of little info-bitten phrases. Only with verifiable facts and literary fictions did this pretty little girl try to make sense of reality. Caroline quavered, breathing irregularly with an audible hum. If they could penetrate the interior, they might see better. In the doorway, light from the sky, dark as it was, filtered through: the hall was lined with high, dim windows. They ventured in a few more yards. The floor was strewn with something crackling as they stepped. Glass maybe, just some glass still sticking to my skimpy clothes, only just now shaking to the floor, Jewel thought. Caroline shuffled a few feet deeper as Jewel 97


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crunched behind, trying to keep her soggy loafers balanced on top of whatever it was, some kind of flat, shiny particles. She gave a shake to dislodge any, but none fell. There was more spiky litter on the floor than she could have brought in, and it appeared to glint more than glass, even in what little light there was. Jewel began to make out the walls as she entered the gigantic room more fully. She stopped near the center of the space to breathe the dank unholiness and get her bearings. The pulverized and splintered glass was definitely there on the floor; they hadn’t brought this in themselves. Larger slabs of mirror also adhered to sections of wall. And on those dim reflectant panels, murky shapes like shadows, glided. They weren’t alone! Several groups of old women, rag-women, were wandering up to them silently from the blackness. Caroline and Jewel were surrounded. “A child, a child,” one crone rasped. The women were shrunken, shriveled, hunched. There was something familiar about them, Jewel thought as they approached her, something like raisins, rotten dried fruit, a certain smell, maybe, something evil, she meant. Yet something about them reminded her of her godmother, Beatrice, whom she loved in such contrast. Were these women blind? Or perhaps it was she and her mother who had been blinded by the accident, or perhaps it was only she. She couldn’t tell if Cary were experiencing the vast darkness as she was herself. Jewel didn’t think her body was much injured. Had she sustained some optical damage or possibly brain damage in the accident? Were these dry, vespine creatures even really here? Old, dark women of every race snatched the food hamper and thrust their arms to seize Caroline and Jewel, 98


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grabbing and separating them, pushing them far apart. Jewel tried to fight them off, pumping her arms and running helter-skelter back toward the door, but they overtook her. Another group of harpies was fighting Caroline, pulling her screaming, farther away, as a larger swarm wrestled Jewel to the filthy floor. They had appeared from nowhere, like bats or vermin, like swarming insects, hornets, acridoidea or roaches. She heard the women fiercely attack her mother, shrieking and wailing and pounding and flailing. They punched and kicked and bit and scratched and stung. Caroline’s heavy denim would protect her, Jewel thought, as her own naked limbs were sliced by a carpet of slivers. She was dragged across the rotting floor by her arms and legs to a stinking, wretched corner, not even an open corner, but a cramped bunker or crawl space, low, as if under a stage or giant interior raised wooden bench curled wide around the walls. Jewel could not fight back, so she put into practice physically her mental habit, and went limp, as every last one of the queer women swarmed and squeezed her into the tight, seething nest under the platform. Jewel was stuffed into this curving crack, a hundred furies forcing her toward one huddling among rancid blankets in the deepest corner of the pitch-black hole, her fetid odor choking Jewel as the others pressed and locked the two together. The queen bit and clawed her, poking and jabbing with a stinging stick, a wand, a scepter, sucking Jewel’s spurting blood as it burst and ran. If the girl had not been slashed in the accident, she surely was so now. The filthy matriarch tore Jewel’s face and eyes, ripping her thin clothing, mauling her flesh while her subjects cruelly held the child down. The stench and pain were unbearable. Jewel’s consciousness wavered in and out. 99


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At last, she heard the thud of her mother being tossed onto the low, wooden ledge above her head. Finally, Caroline was thrown and abandoned by the scarabs holding her, as they, too, fought their way into the darkest darkness with their sisters. “It’s getting light!” Caroline was calling from above. She rolled flat and extended her arm, still protected by the heavy denim, to grope underneath for her daughter. Through the blood burning in her eyes from spurting gashes, Jewel saw Caroline’s silhouette near the opening. What’s the use, Jewel thought, allowing her head to drop, her hair already yanked and plastered to her face, her mother’s hand not close enough to reach. But the strength of the phantasmagorical attackers was no longer at its peak, and Jewel managed to make her way along the floor of the crawl space as the colony of bodies weakened, their tearing at her lessened, and finally they let go. In a swimming motion, she reached Caroline’s fingers and was assisted out. Her knees and hands and arms were full of splintered glass. She was in deep pain, but did not cry. It was, as her mother said, getting lighter. No harpies were in the large room any longer. All had retreated to their dark nest. Jewel’s face burned and bled as Caroline led her through the enormous room, retrieving the broken, empty picnic basket as it lay in their path to the door, and grabbing the checkered cloth all smeared with dirt. They ran through a wall of frigid air and jumped off the porch onto the sucking, boggy loam. They slogged through icy cold unfrozen mud, slipping to their knees, but found the car and got it started. Glass was everywhere. Jewel tried to look at her face in a piece of rear-view mirror still adhering to its frame. She was a bloody mess, her eyes so enlarged she 100


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could hardly see to recognize herself. Her mouth was badly cut. Her whole body was torn and damaged. She narrowed her swollen eyes at her mother. Caroline’s hands were a little roughened and her hair was disheveled, but that was all. Slowly, with the hood and the roof of the car crushed and waving, and the windshield mostly gone, semi-attached pieces of glass shearing off and hurled inside at them by freezing wind, they made it home. Caroline cleaned Jewel up and tweezed out the glass splinters with a magnifying glass, bandaged her, and sent her to bed, telling her “no time to eat.” When Jack came in later, Jewel overheard as Caroline did not tell him the truth. It became known that they had a “car accident,” which left Jewel marked. Rarely did the family mention the incident afterward, though in many ways it shaped their lives, and no one could ever forget it. Jewel was forced to accept her mother’s version, a simple accident on a rainy road, her memory fading to a half-remembered nightmare: an abandoned farmhouse, witches, wasps, a barn-theater, Beatrice.... When the bandages were removed, her wounds healed to disfiguring scars. There was talk of plastic surgery but Jack said it was unnatural, and so, to please him, Jewel refused. But for a long time she stopped returning his smiles. The only thing he had said to her, and which echoed in her mind for years to come, was, “Only your essential genetic self, existential goodness and primal innocence are of any consequence.” He told her then that he used her as a model in his work with genes. “In the hardware store,” as he referred to his workroom over the garage, “I’m designing a new computer.” “And in the crypt,” which is what he called his spanking clean basement lab, “your DNA is my template,” 101


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he had continued, trying to ignore the voices screaming like sirens in his head to drown him out. Jewel had been stricken wide-eared, and remembered it unto this day. Another curious thing was that whenever Caroline was asked what kind of car she had been driving, she replied, “Toyota.� Jewel could never reconcile this. However, Caroline had, on earlier occasions, suppressed or misremembered other memories as seminal and bizarre as was this accident.

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Chapter 16 Jewel’s Notebook Throughout adolescence, Jewel kept a notebook,

a habit encouraged by Caroline, although Cary had long since ceased writing regularly in her sketch pad by the time Jewel began. In Jewel’s notebook she kept track of scraps. Most were copied from the books she read, many of which were lent to her by Beatrice. Jewel’s notebook served as a glossary and annotated index to her life; only rarely were there mentions of events, or inner musings.

Edmund Husserl, Ideas, pg. 45 . “Chapter One: Fact and Essence 1. Natural Knowledge and Experience Natural knowledge begins with experience and remains within experience. Thus, in...the ‘natural’ 103


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standpoint, the total field of possible research is indicated by a single word: that is, the World. The sciences proper to this ...[unique]... standpoint are accordingly in their collective unity sciences of the World, and so long as this standpoint is the only dominant one, the concepts ‘true being,’ ‘real being,’ i.e., real empirical Being, and — since all that is real comes to self-concentration in the form of cosmic unity — ‘Being in the World’ are meanings that coincide.” “He [sic] who looks at beauty is proof against the breath of Evil; he [sic] is in harmony with himself [sic] and the whole world.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities. “Only objects of experience (phenomena) may be known. Things beyond experience (noumena) are unknowable.” — Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804 . Critique of Pure Reason. “For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one.” — Albert Einstein. “God himself [is] drawn to the disinterested soul.” — Saul Bellow quoting Meister Eckhart, Mr. Sammler’s Planet. “ ...the only thing that counts in the religious life is detachment.” — J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey. 104


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“The innocence of a being lies in its complete suitability to the world in which it lives.” — Albert Camus quoting Jean Giraudoux. Camus’s Notebooks, Oct. 15, 1937. “The first thing to do is to keep silent, to abolish audiences and learn to be your own judge. To...wipe out all earlier stages, and concentrate all your strength first of all on forgetting nothing, and then waiting patiently.” — Camus’s Notebooks, April, 1938 . “Next to the hunger to experience a thing, [there is] perhaps no stronger hunger than to forget.” — Herman Hesse, Journey to the East. “When one object exerts a force on a second object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite force on the first object.” — [Action = Reaction], Isaac Newton. “During equal time intervals, lines drawn from the sun to a planet sweep out equal areas.” — [Second Law of Planetary Motion], Johannes Kepler. “A wave front is the locus of adjacent points of a wave that are in phase.” — [Huygens’ Principle], Christiaan Huygens. Jewel jotted down reminders. Many thoughts jammed with many facts, phenomena, extreme possibilities, ideas, concepts and definitions.

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Planet: Earth // Domain: Eukaryota // Kingdom: Animalia // Phylum: Chordata // Subphylum: Vertebrata // Class: Mammalia // Subclass: Theria // Order: Primates // Suborder: Arthropoidea // Outer Family: Hominidae // Genus: Homo // Species: Homo sapiens // Subspecies: Homo sapiens sapiens // Nation: Children of Israel // Tribe: Levite // Clan: Kohath // Inner Family: Rubin // Individual: Jewel Marie. Acetylcholine : chemical that conducts impulses from one cell to another. Carbon cycle: exchange of carbon between living matter and non-living environment. Celestial mechanics: study of the motion of astronomical bodies moving under the influence of their mutual gravitation. Gravitational collapse: last stage of a star, infinitely diminished size, black hole. Tremendous pull of gravity produces extreme curvature of space. Chaos theory: scarcely measurable deviations lead to wildly divergent results as the deviation compounds over time. (AKA), she added, (the Butterfly Effect.) Baal: God of satanic cult practicing holy prostitution and child sacrifice. Andromeda, Princess of Ethiopia: Sacrificed by her parents. Became constellation as did they, Cepheus and Cassiopeia. 106


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The Flying Nun: contemporary TV program. The Outer Limits: contemporary TV program. Binary star: a pair of stars held together gravitationally. Syzygy: Three astronomical bodies nearly aligned. Hermeneutics: Circular understanding — The whole is understandable only in terms of the parts; the parts only in terms of the whole. Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, 1889-1951: Relationship of language to thought and word: language can represent ideas and things, which can not be clearly expressed by language; philosophical problems are illusions created by ambiguous language. Logic: concerned with formally constructed argument, not its basis in fact. Before: In space — ahead. In time — behind. After: In space — behind. In time — ahead. This is what my family thinks about time: 1. Caroline: The present is an imaginary location between past and future. 2. Jack: The present is a time of action produced by the (real) past and undertaken on behalf of the (ideal) future. 3. Beatrice: Past and future are only aspects of the present. 107


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Think: imagine, perceive, predict, conceive, opine, figure, conclude, consider, dream, judge, gather, discover, remember, suppose, ruminate, fancy, analyze, concur, know, study, ascertain, believe, guess, assume, presume, hold, cogitate, view, maintain, feel, trust, recognize, project, understand, muse, reason, brood, realize, conceptualize, compute, marvel, envision, learn, symbolize, compare, deliberate, examine, fantasize, wonder, sense, surmise, reflect, contemplate, contrast, reckon, warrant. Deny. Teach. Realism: things exist independently of the mind. Idealism: reality exists only in the mind. Solipsism: the self is the only reality. Allegory, Parable, Fable: Literary forms wherein characters, plots, objects symbolize moral, political, religious or theoretical constructs. Acmeists: 1912 Russian school of poetry; concrete imagery, clear expression; reaction to Symbolists; Osip Mandelstam. Anthroposophy: German occultist Rudolph Steiner’s 1912 explanation of the world in terms of human spiritual nature, thought independent of senses. Messiah: Man sent by God to rule justly over humanity. The Significance of the Phrase “Take Me to Your Leader” in Science Fiction Comics. 108


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Carl Friedrich Gauss, 1777-1855: German mathematician; made numerous discoveries before age twenty, but his refusal to publish anything without complete proof caused many of his ideas to be credited to others later. All elements of universe are transformations of fire. Change is the only reality. Becoming is the only form of being. Transition is the only permanent event. —Heraclites, 535-475 bc. — (and Mom!), Jewel noted brightly. Quantum theory: energy and other physical properties exist in tiny discrete amounts. Things can be moving and still at the same time, can be in different locations at the same time, can be paired across distances. Jewel thought about her godmother here, the artist’s projects: Ici/Voici. And then about her mother’s friend, Aunt Letty. Quarks and leptons: the most elementary classes of particles. Five flavors of quarks: up, down, strange, charm and bottom; sixth predicted — top. Each flavor in three colors: red, green and blue, which, as colored light, combine to be colorless. Cosmic rays: Origins unknown, acceleration process unknown; high-energy particles bombarding Earth from outer space; can pass through matter; some with energies a billion times what our particle accelerators can reach.

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E=mc 2 Einstein’s Principle of Relativity. Well, not actually, she knew, and put in parentheses: (the equation discovered by Einstein to describe the concept of mass-energy equivalence.) Jewel tried to put this principle into words, though the concept of numbers altogether eluded her. She much preferred words, and tried to figure out if this was right, or if not precisely accurate, if it would do: The number that represents how much energy is inherent in an object is the same number by which “m” represents its mass, (which is the amount of matter in the object, which is the number we assign as its weight on Earth), if multiplied by squaring “c,”the speed of light (which is the number “1” assigned to one meter, which is a variant of the standardized pace of a Roman soldier, multiplied by 299,792,458, which is the quantity of meters traveled by light in one second, which is 1/31,557,565 of the time it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun,if “mc” is measured by the Meters-Kilograms-Seconds system of Distance-MassTime units, and “E” for Energy measured by the joule. All matter, therefore, she surmised in words that excited her greatly, is inherently E, energy! “How beautiful!” she laughed aloud, so rare an emanation, “how extraordinary, how coincident and how perfect, that E is measured by my homophone, the joule.”

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“Expanding the universe without expanding our inner perceptions becomes...the dangerous experience of void...” — Anaïs Nin, Preface to La Volunte du Bonheur. What does this mean for me, annotated Jewel, pressing fast and hard in a hand that hadn’t a single unnecessary loop, a straight, sturdy, almost print-like script with prescient gaps between each letter. How can I be a knowable thing in the way that science is ultimately knowable? A thing can be understood only through definition and measurement. Until such technology would be developed, Jewel could only guess about the self she acted out. That her father had already produced several prototypes of such technology, she might come to learn in time. I wish I could dematerialize. I’m going to shave my head. Daddy once did it, so I can, too. My real self is already camouflaged by disfigurement. I have only ever shown myself to blind Beatrice. She’ s giving a party tomorrow to celebrate Daddy’s new job at the U.N. His new position is a very big honor. Lao Tse: “The surest way to destroy a man [sic] is to lift him [sic] up with praises.” Let’s hope this doesn’t mean Daddy. Mother and I will drive to the city together, and Daddy will meet us there.

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Chapter 17 The New York Times Article about Jack

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COMPUTER BRINGS MESSIANIC LEADER TO UNITED NATIONS By TESH MADYNS

UNITED NATIONSNew — York Dr. UNITED NATIONS, -- Dr.Rubin, Jack Rubin, 46, Princeton social Jack 46, New Jersey social scientist noted for for his early activism, scientist noted his student early student was appointed by the General activism, wasyesterday appointed yesterday Assembly as the next secretary general of by the General Assembly as the the United Nations, succeeding Mu Tang next secretary general theprolonged United Pi. Dr. Rubin was greetedofwith Nations, succeeding Mu Tang Dr. applause by the 145 members as hePi. walked Rubin was greeted with prolonged         this world body. applause by the 145 members as he Hisonto election weeks this after walked thecame daisseveral to accept the Rubin Computer was donated to the highest office in the world body. United Nations by Dr. Rubin jointly with His election cameof Princeton several the Socio-Genetics Institute weeks after the Rubin Computer was University which has funded and supported donated to theforUnited by its development the past Nations sixteen years. The Rubin Rubin Computer provides aInstitute, model of the Socio-Genetics            which has funded and supported patterns, and social, for psychological and its development the past physiological factors updated in their sixteen years. The Rubin Computer ongoing change by a centralized network of provides a model of the Earth’s

       changing and ecological The historical Rubin Computer maintains patterns, social, genetic, psychological and factorsand integrated physical, experiential, culturalfactors and updated personal and physiological from every documented human ininformation their ongoing change by a being on earth. U.N. spokesman Menall Ba centralized network of data Xi from noted today that through this computer all the the world’s other computers. priorities and desires of every individual are United Nations now codedThe as statistics which the U.N. will factor has capabilityagricultural, to maintain and with the geographical, ecological and commercial for comprehensive factor integrateddatagenetic, physical, worldwide, localcultural and evenand family decision experiential, personal making. information from every human       being  on Earth. United Nations model of the computer as a Graduate spokesman Xi Men notedLecturer today Teaching Fellow and Ba Adjunct that throughUniversity this computer all the at Columbia from 1965-1969 priorities desires of every during whichand time he was well-known as a peace activistare and campus In 1969 individual coded leader. as statistics he joined faculty Nations of Princeton University which thetheUnited will factor               with geographical, agricultural, ecological and commercial data, for comprehensive worldwide, local and even family decision making.

         Dr. Rubinstatistics began to work of anthropological be lateron matched Rubin with genome,as his firstby model of the thehuman computer or code, Teaching which he expects be a genetic Graduate Fellowto and soon unravelled. Adjunct Lecturer at Columbia The Rubin Computer at the U.N. will University from 1965-1969 during make use of this data collected through which time he  was  well-known  

       as a peace activist and campus successfully and generate decisions leader. under In 1969 he joined the faculty social circumstances otherwise impossibleof for political negotiation. Princeton University to develop is hoped research by the U.N. that Dr. Rubin the Itfield sub-projects in the position of Secretary-General will that gathered the first set of data, synchronize world government with human a planetary collation of in one anthropological and ecology generation. statistics. ThisGeneral was later Secretary Rubinmatched is the sonby Dr. Rubin with the human genome, of anti-Nazi resistance workers currently residing in Forest Hills, Queens. or genetic code, soon to beWhen fully asked for a comment today, his mother, unravelled. Chava Rubin, 63, who says she likes a quiet The Rubin Computer at the           United Nations will make use of “Only he should live and be well.â€? Jack this data to negotiate successfully Rubin was unavailable for comment.

and generate decisions under social circumstances otherwise impossible for dĂŠtente. It is hoped by the United Nations that Dr. Rubin in the position of Secretary General will synchronize world government with human and planetary ecology in one generation. Secretary General Rubin is the son of anti-Nazi resistance workers currently residing in Forest Hills, Queens. When asked for a comment today, his mother, Chava Rubin, 63, who says she likes a quiet life and doesn’t see much of her son, said, “Only he should live and be well.â€? Jack Rubin was unavailable for comment. August 21, 1985

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Chapter 18 Caroline and Jewel Drive to the City Caroline

and Jewel drove up the Jersey Turnpike toward New York. Caroline wore elaborate new sunglasses with large, red, circular lenses. They afforded some protection against the intense day, but even so, she felt enlivened by the glare. The beneficial effect of the splintery, reflected light, which compressed her pupils and thereby, she often repeated to herself, should physiologically induce wellbeing, was in competition for her mood against unease and bitterness resulting from the outrage of her daughter’s hair. Jewel’s head was bald, pink, a tight bright skull. Caroline considered it even as an obstruction to her driving visibility; her daughter’s hairless hairstyle was a hazard. They didn’t need another accident. Caroline just did not know what to think. 114


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“And of course with your scars you should play down your looks, not play them up.” Caroline’s own face was, as usual these days, made up to the point of garishness, her white silk summer suit overdone crisp, overdone smart, her inconsistencies of appearance disconcerting. “Hell,” Caroline went on, “what should I care what you do to yourself? What should I care what you look like? I know you’d go to any length to spite me.” Jewel squinted at the drivers of the cars they overtook, the contrast from the blinding light too high for color or detail. She focussed on the red and green gemmed pin that Cary wore. “Those horrid punk styles of the last few years are dying down finally,” her mother kept going, “everyone is saying so. Even the boys who shaved their heads, or part of their heads, not like you, but in style, they call them Mohawks, there’s precedent for that, fashion history at least, even those boys are growing their hair again.” All of Caroline’s smart new friends had stylish children and all the neighborhood kids had blossomed into fine boys and girls. It had taken her a while, but over time Cary finally began joining with the people who would have welcomed her into Princeton society from the beginning, when Jack had tried to urge her, but Jewel had lost interest in wholesome families a long time ago. Over the years, Caroline had thought better of Jewel’s peers as Jewel one by one locked them out. “Those children have grown up, outgrown their baby dullness. But you, who had the most promise of any child — look what you’ve done to yourself.” 115


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Caroline jabbed at her with bright red fingernails. “Their distinctions do not disgrace their parents. What they might lack in genius, they make up for in success!” Jewel choked a laugh. Caroline’s unattainable standards for Jewel had never diminished, yet it was only for her father’s praise Jewel worked. She cast her eyes into her lap. When he came home from trips, she organized a sequenced display of school papers to make it easier for him to evaluate, but Jack never had time to even glance. She read to him through closed doors, and followed him from room to room quoting fragments while he read other documents to himself. “Are you listening to me?” she once asked. “Sort of,” he replied. “I know you’re talking.” The memory of this reply still burned in her. And it had been a pivotal moment for Jack as well. He came home through their kitchen door, sidestepping adolescent Jewel still waiting for him there like she had as a tot. The pang he saw her suffer reinforced his new resolve: combine two projects. Anthro-genetics and extraterrestrials. Jewel’s pain had decided his decision. The world was too brutal and intolerant for the sensitive and individuated. Any traits not learnable, must be programmed in from other mechanisms. If God has been able to do something, it must be doable. He has never indicated He’s got anything to work with besides the same physical forces and materials we all do. Whether He created them or not is irrelevant. He placed them in our hands. Certainly in mine! What Do You Think You’re Up To! The voices had hammered at him. Although God possibly has a cache of things He hasn’t shown us scientists; or things He did unveil, but that We haven’t found yet —. Jack had looked into his little daughter’s anxious face and determined that humanity 116


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could not go on as he had envisioned. That there then was the moment he strengthened his vow that any such progeny of spontaneous, natural acts must be the last of our pitiful breed. And this here now was the moment he was in a position to make good his vows — and being celebrated for it. The minds and memories of mother and daughter wandered amiably as they drove to his party. Light glare was increasing badly on the highway. But as fierce as she wanted to appear, Caroline couldn’t pull herself any deeper into hostility. She was still in good spirits no matter how angry she was. Angry and happy. She yelled and shook her fingers, drumming against the mirror, tapping against the steering wheel in exhilaration and relief. She felt vindicated by Jewel’s bald head. If Jewel can make herself deliberately ugly, how could anyone blame me for how she’s ever looked? For years, people had consoled her, “It was raining, it was raining....” Caroline wasn’t able to completely admit her twisted approval of Jewel’s latest disfigurement, though. “What do you want to call negative attention to yourself for?” she made herself go on. If my mother can mount her hysteria to such a pitch, Jewel thought without replying, I can subdue mine. And as Caroline continued, Jewel knew she would fare best, as usual, silent. They were in the left lane where Cary habitually drove, passing even the fastest traffic, tailgating and flashing her brights until any cars still left in the left lane moved right out of her way. Jewel could learn to drive in school next term but was deciding against it. Her father had never learned; why should she? She clenched her jaw and sat as still as possible, staring at the dashing lines ahead. “Your hair,” Caroline whined, slapping the seat between them, almost hitting her, “the one beautiful thing about you you knew I loved.” Jewel caught herself about to respond as she rampt 117


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against the door to avoid the slap. She had never been told this! The sole way she knew she pleased her mother was by swimming, which served as a truce. Jewel had fortitude when swimming, and her mother admired that — it’s been quite a long time since we’ve gone; but her mom never said anything about liking her hair. She mustn’t reply, vowing again not to give in to Caroline’s lability. Some day she hoped she could stop speaking altogether, and perhaps even stop moving. Didn’t want to think about swimming. Didn’t want to yearn for good times with her mother that she knew would never last. It wasn’t enough to have a pleasant time; if the time was certain to end, and probably end badly, it wasn’t worth it. They had a good time when they went swimming. Enough said. Jewel recited to herself the list of disciplines she practiced: remain deadpan, present a puppet body, stand aloof and watching, do not have personal reactions, surrender all prerogatives. Only with blind Beatrice, who could not see her in the physical flesh, did she allow herself to feel real. Jewel knew that if nothing else, she had inherited her mother’s complexity; there was nothing she could do about it. Just wait it out. Soon she would be grown and gone. She wanted to reach for the book she had brought along tonight, Banesh Hoffman’s biography of Einstein, but she didn’t dare risk pushing Caroline over the edge by moving. It was subtitled Creator and Rebel, which riled her. To Jewel’s way of thinking, Einstein did not create, but discover and intuit, and he was no rebel, but a diplomat. These differentiations were by no means disparagements, all seemed equally valuable to Jewel. It would be nice to have a normal conversation with Mom about things like this. “Answer me, answer me! Answer me, I’m talking to you!” “No, Mother.” Jewel cleared her throat. “It’s all right 118


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that I am that I am.” She liked using this phrase; her private jokes were her only quid. ...am as I am...who?...what? Cary got it, but only blinked. “And for God’s sake, don’t lose any more weight. If you were any thinner you’d be dead. You do anything to shame me. You don’t care anything you do as long as it gives me pain.” Jewel grimaced inwardly. There are still a few pats of padding on my body, she thought. My mother accepts a lot of fat on herself and still considers herself slim. She had to admit, though, her mother was becoming more pulchritudinous, even though she spent much money to do it, and Jewel couldn’t condone her taste. It amused her to think of her mother’s increasing beauty in the ugliest English word there was for it. Jewel never blamed her for the accident, however, although so many people told her not to that she wondered if she should. Her mother was a hysteric. Faulting someone for too little self-control would be as senseless as faulting herself for too much. Her memory of the actual event had faded to a vague, confusing dream. Jewel had been told she blacked out and never even left the car, so after a while she stopped insisting. To Jewel personally, her disfigurement had become ornamental, a grotesquerie to hide behind. Her face, if grown in normally, would have revealed all her daily anguish. She was better off shielded: as long as she wore this face outwardly, her inner face would not be on display. The scars were not a handicap: her schoolmates were sophisticated enough not to taunt her, even though she didn’t mix. And she had come to believe that it was she who had refused plastic surgery. Daddy had simply agreed, as she recollected, and Mom only said “ daily life is where we landed, but we’ve already taken off.” Beatrice had given no opinion, blind: Jewel’s scars didn’t come between them. 119


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How different I am from my godmother, she thought: the physical perfection of Beatrice echoed the artist’s charm. Her radiance bespoke ideas and fame and magic. She had recently designed a fountain along the Potomac River, and Jewel had gone to the opening gala. She thought it was La Stregasanta’s most magnificent public work. Caroline and Jewel drove east against the rush hour, sailing at 80 through the chemical wetlands of New Jersey. New York City arose illuminated, full, basking in the late afternoon western sun at their back. Jewel was thinking of the return this month of Halley’s Comet, beginning to drift over Manhattan, somewhere up there now, blocked out by the sunshine. Caroline brooded loudly about her rough hands on the wheel, the one part of her anatomy she despised, but she took pride in her legs, which were shapely and her husband loved. My legs, she thought, my legs trembled as I gave birth to her. It was the disgusting trembling in my legs that told me she would tear out any minute and be born. Caroline quivered at the physical memory, and swerved into the center lane as two cars on left and right honked and braked, avoiding her and each other by infinitesimally fractive coordinates of time and space. Jewel gasped and quickly stifled herself. Luckily, her mother hadn’t noticed; she was deep in thought: Once she had had a beautiful daughter, even Caroline herself could find no lovelier among all the children she saw. Yet she was dissatisfied with her day and night. She admonished Jewel, as Jack had praised her, time for time, no matter that she spent time with her and Jack did not, except for cheek swabs and blood samples, she added with perturbance. And how about my own life? She carried on until indulging in the question she usually did not allow herself to ask. What were my dreams when I was an art student? What happened? 120


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Well, she knew: Caroline’s standards were so high that they exceeded her attainments and precluded her ambitions all her life. She never dared let herself create anything for fear it might be scorned. Her professor cared more for making art itself than for anyone’s response, and least of all for the notoriety it brought. Beatrice considered both fame and infamy to be distractive. She tried to avoid the cult of personality festering around around her, and always taught those values. But she was greatly talented, and Caroline was not, and neither was Cary one to fake it. My husband is my success, she repeated to herself once more, trying to make herself believe it. Her marriage was paying off socially, at least. Was that what she had wanted most from college anyway: connubial status? The marriage itself, however, was bitter compensation. She often had the silly but disturbing thought that Jack had only been lent to her by Beatrice — possibly just to produce the child. Cary had known Jack was her lover when they met. They still spend time alone together. The circumstances of Jewel’s conception in Beatrice’s bedroom that first afternoon had been so strange and unexpected —. Caroline always halted her memory at this point. Waves of long-borne private disappointments flooded Caroline and Jewel. Jewel wished she could disengage from the transitory crises of real life, could ignore all stimulus but the intellect. She wished she could become catatonic, or could will herself into “locked-in syndrome,” which she knew to be the most dreadful of comatose states, wherein the intellect remains alive but mobility and communication null, so individuals appear to be brain dead, but they are not: each is fully sensate and is cognizant. Or could develop amnesia and begin another life. How could she, though? Her father was so well known. Many photographs of him, 121


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Jewel alongside, her hand or his not raised fast enough to shield her scarred face from the flashbulbs, appeared frequently in half the world’s papers. Somebody would be bound to recognize her. She sighed and tried to relax and let go of the furious tensions across the lines and folds of her face and body. She looked forward to seeing Beatrice. With Beatrice she would be invisible and happy. Caroline had also begun to think of the party. “Bishop Something-Or-Other is coming,” she said to Jewel in an effort to make some sort of peace. “You know who I mean.” Jewel knew, but didn’t supply the simple name her mother tried for. “That’s nice,” Jewel said as evenly as possible. Their car lifted to approach New York on a ramp above, then dove through a tunnel beneath. “You go in,” said Caroline, stopping short in front of Beatrice’s building, and letting the traffic pile up behind her on her narrow West Village street. “I’ll find a parking space and then walk back myself.” She pulled the emergency brake and leaned to kiss her daughter. Both stiffened. Neither could completely relax. Both of them hurt one another. But Jewel let her guard down and softened, trying to be nice. “Halley’s Comet will rise in less than an hour,” she said. Her mother abruptly soured. “So what.” Caroline had avoided the popular fuss over the comet’s return. Many families in her neighborhood were taking exotic trips and cruises for a good view, but Caroline would not let herself be drawn in. The contemporary era is not peopled with star-gazers, she thought; the comet traveled too slowly to be of sincere interest to 1985 viewers. 122


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The ancient sky had been better known to Earth’s inhabitants than these fancy families know their own backyards: that was why a new astral body had been worth an ancient stir. It had once been thought the comet even heralded a savior. She had human needs here, for God’s sake, human needs right on the face of this Earth. Jewel scrambled out of the car and slammed the door fast, as vehicles behind them honked. Caroline shouted after her, “You know the comet can’t be seen through city lights.” She watched her daughter pass through the gate of Beatrice’s courtyard, then drove off. She thought the girl looked ugly bald, and was glad she had nothing to do with it this time. Beatrice lived in a miniature two-storey wooden house still standing at 100 Bedford Street since colonial New Amsterdam. In the rear, the house opened to a private garden. The front of the building was recessed. Jewel stood in the courtyard, facing the old iron nameplate on the heavy wooden door: Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore Jewel rang, and the door was answered immediately by one of the artist’s current students, a Haitian girl Jewel had seen several times before. Tonight she wore an intricately beaded collar and headgear, which Jewel, after admiring, correctly guessed was Xhosa. “I never learned your name,” Jewel said, embarrassed. “Pearl,” the girl answered, kissing Jewel and cupping her ears. “Your head is beautiful.” Jewel looked at Pearl. She felt suspended by a strange undertow. Many guests from their circle of friends and in the U.N. community wore ethnic costume or fashionable clothing, and the writers were tattered, the politicians dapper, and all of the artists wore black. 123


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Beatrice’s best friend, the Media Poet, came through the gate in an exquisite long-sleeved chamois shirt, lavishly embroidered by the woman’s mother. “Only that which exists is perfect enough to break into Reality.” Jewel had memorized the Media Poet’s text-art Provocation Cards. “What is truly perfect, therefore, is what truly exists.” As billboard commissions, some had been placed along the boulevards of Europe, “The Ideal is always fraught with flaws that cause its foil by Reality.” Pearl wasn’t letting Jewel in quite yet. The Media Poet greeted the girls and passed through. “The flaw of the Ideal is that it does not encounter Time or Touch.” This would be her first appearance bald, Jewel realized — and no earrings or false elegance to set the baldness off, and no Joan of Arc concentration camp waif affectation in shift or sack to accessorize any “bald-look” either, no matter how emaciated she happened to be. Jewel wore contemporary, normal clothing, natural fibers, subdued hues. Except for her hair and her scars and her skeletal appearance, she looked like any of her classmates. She didn’t like the feeling of Pearl’s attraction toward her. She was uncomfortable at the unnecessary time outside the door. I’ ll let my hair grow back, Jewel decided then and there: there would be no nauseating repetition of the grizzly act of shaving. She did not have the stamina of an ascetic, nor was she polished for the gem of intrigue being offered. Neither girl pursued the moment. The heavy door swung open. In this crowd, her baldness would be welcomed as mode: Pearl mentioned it approvingly again, more sisterly, and brought her in.

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Chapter 19 Caroline Parks Car and Walks Back Alone Caroline sat in the car smoking a joint at 6:43 pm Parking on this side of the street wouldn’t become legal until 7, and so, as is the custom in most New York neighborhoods, she waited in the car. She would let the engine idle awhile, not to lose the air-conditioning. Who cares about the energy drain, what about her personal drain. And she could turn the radio on if she wanted. She punched the clumsy, boxy, stiff radio buttons, taking care about her nails. WQXR was airing French Baroque flute sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair. She took another deep toke and lounged against the seat, twirling her fancy sunglasses, lobbing them carefully to the dashboard. She would have fifteen minutes to wait in the car and listen. She stared at her hands, placed the joint in the car ash tray, and rubbed her palms together, then the backs; they were rough, although not as rough as she saw them. 125


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She had filed her nails with a green-sapphire-dust emery board, and then applied bright crimson nail polish. People would be shaking hands tonight, many kissing her, too, she thought with mixed feelings. Will I care to see anyone there? She thought of Jewel, glad she had dropped her off at Beatrice’s party first, and so could have these few minutes of peace to herself. She knew that any chance to influence her daughter was gone. At fifteen, sixteen, girls led their own lives already. “Be grateful you have one at all,” she told herself, in her own mother’s voice. Many women her age had no children, and now seriously regretted it. Several she knew were taking desperate measures, making lastditch medical efforts to become pregnant, even after forty. The comet — Jewel had said — what nonsense. “So what, the comet,” Caroline said out loud. She looked around fast, but no one was passing by the car to hear her. “So what, so what, so what.” She thought about what this important new position at the U.N. would mean to her husband and herself. Charismatic as he was, undocumented terrorists still grouped in factions of opposition to all logical systems, and, as always, individual anarchists and loonies roamed the globe. Jack scoffs at the idea of bodyguards for himself or his family. But then she brightened: would his position at the U.N. be enough for her to be accepted at last by the “actuarial hoi-poloi”? — her mother’s phrase. Her mother, who thought she had gotten too big for my britches in even just marrying Jack. Caroline had never driven Jewel to Ellenville to meet her parents, nor been invited to. Her own invitations, in the early days, for her parents to come visit her little family, were at first politely refused, then ignored. When Cary’s mother declined the invitation to their wedding, she had called him “a prominent Jew.” “Whyj’ya hafta go marry such a prominent Jew,” Cary’s mother had said. It’s true, Caroline knew it: he was always written 126


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up that way in tabloids. Everyone hated the expression, although no one would say so. Slowly she began to realize what was bothering her, why she was so restless, uneasy, annoyed. She was afraid for Jack and angry with him for it. He puts himself in danger, number one, and number two, she was afraid he’s going crazy. Although everyone at the U.N. assumed Jack had been considering solutions to problems of human and planetary ecology, truth was that at home in his study and his secret workrooms in the basement and over the garage, Jack had been doing bizarre genetic experiments, and writing and thinking and God knows what about outer space. He had devised and deployed mechanisms that signal other intelligent life. These experiments were contrary to the repeated directives of NASA and NATO and SETI and every world agency. He merely issued simplistic denials of all rumor, laughing away the near-scandal that arose a few months ago when a reporter, systematically sifting Dr. Rubin’s office trash, found a — flimsy, unprovable, but nevertheless real — scrap of evidence. “Science fiction,” Jack laughed it off as, and gotten away with it at the time. So far, the reporters concentrated only on Jack’s digs at the Institute and college. His home workshops had not yet been discovered. In the basement of their house, Jack was completing the development of an extremely complex, miniaturized super-computer, the Rubin II, on which he transmitted, scanned for, analyzed, decoded and responded to signals across space. It was programmed to monitor and revise or interfere with all Earth-originated satellite communications, coded or not, and to directly project a message from himself to any civilization or individual on Earth or in space with access to even a rudimentary receiver of any analog wavelength or binary technology. He had contrived an ingenious series of tiny relay rigs to send 127


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signals to powerful boosters in legitimate astronomical facilities, and bounce them back for his own station to direct the dispatches. For years, he had searched for intelligent life, and, as he confided to Caroline one night recently in bed, replies were beginning to trickle in! “Twinkle in,” is what he had actually said. It was only a matter of time. The word “messiah” crept up frequently these days, too. Jack patiently explained that, “although the question of God is irrelevant, most people only unite behind a leader.” He said, that, as a scientifically-driven leader, his ambition was to develop “intrinsic means by which people will always be good. To recreate ourselves as Good People. To be born Altruistic-by-Nature.” She had already seen the words he spoke: they were titles of tracts she had come upon him writing on the back porch the day before. The more she tried, the more impossible it was for Caroline to put the messiah question out of mind. Jack was an exemplary human being in every public way. She considered aside the question of how dismissively he treated her or Jewel; he was so pure in his thoughts about humanity that people all over the world love and extol him, as she and their daughter did, too. Couldn’t Jack truly be the messiah? Was he? Is he? What else would a messiah need to be, she wondered. Or do? They’ d need to succeed, maybe, she answered herself. Why? Her questions continued. Did Jesus Christ succeed? Hardly. She lit the joint again; it had gone out. She thought of the people close to her, and sifted through her big, white, patent-leather bag for something to write on. There was the back of an envelope, a letter from her old friend Letty she would reply to, but not now, and digging around 128


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some more, her fingers rolled out a beautiful lapis-inlaid fountain pen. The pen had recently been given to her as a house gift from a supplicant who came to offer Jack a bribe; he had left disappointed, yet nonetheless awed. She looked at her watch, a large, pink plastic bubble with no numbers, bought at an expensive museum gift shop — almost useless if one wanted the time, that is, the time as announced by the radio, because it took so much time to read the time on this timepiece. The car also had a numeric flip clock, besides the radio. Twice yearly, she had to go around changing all the hours, here in the car and all over the house and on all the watches, forward and backward again for some stupid, tedious reason. It was 6:49 pm now. The same five minutes had elapsed differently and fallen into place at different seconds on each horical. The street outside glowed hot and muggy. She would leave the motor running some more, and keep the airconditioner on. She knew that automobile air-conditioners were the single worst cause of ozone depletion, but these days she no longer cared. As a matter of fact, when she considered this, it pleased her to think that the whole planet was sacrificing itself for her comfort. It’s about time somebody did something for me. Even just to prevent a single wrinkle in her new, white suit. She was trying to look California cool this summer. Would it prove a mistake on Beatrice’s part, not to have invited the Reagans? They hadn’t become personal friends, she knew, but the president himself had called to congratulate Jack when the U.N. broke the news. A White House dinner was to be planned by Nancy soon, Ron told them, explaining the fascinating mechanisms of Nancy’s legendary astrological scheduling system. Perhaps Jack might one day have a shot at the presidency himself. No telling how far something can go. She looked out the car window again. She would 129


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have to leave soon. She must focus now, prepare for the street and the many people at the party. She tapped out the roach carefully, folded the ends, and placed it into a tiny faux-snakeskin pouch. What was the presidency, if one was the messiah? Why was she addicted to pot, she asked herself for the millionth time, and how could she stop smoking or alter her habit without losing the benefit, and what was the benefit, exactly —? Drugs were so unfashionable now. She had seen a folk singer on TV the other day, an old friend from the Peace Movement she and Jack had lost touch with. He was such an anachronism; like watching Arthur Godfrey on TV when she was little, an individual that kids thought didn’t change with time, who had an identity rooted in an earlier epoch, complete with costume and persona, not reflecting current events, current realities, like a wax museum statue, an admirable representation of precision — yes this, this, this was the benefit of marijuana, she knew, this endless musing, endless deepening and linking of ideas. She carefully blew an ash off her shirred silk blouse front. I love this more than anything, she thought, sitting and smoking and thinking, without fear of interruption. I’ d rather be alone in my head than anywhere with anyone. There is nothing I can do about Jack; she slipped him out of her thoughts again, and dropped the pen and envelope back into her bag, then punched the radio button to another frequent frequency, WINS News. She heard the word “today” and punched another one at random. “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” slowly sang Marilyn Monroe. Cary listened through the phrase, was reminded of smuggled and ransom diamonds, and turned the engine off, wondering if it were late enough to leave the car: 6:57 pm. She teased the roach out of the pretty case again for another three minutes of fortification, and re-lit it, sucking the last few intakes, and swallowing the soggy eighth-inch butt. 130


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She was thirsty. She would have a good, stiff Martini when she got there. Straight up in its classy triangular glass, ice cold. She took out a comb and the twisty lip stick, turned the rear view mirror to herself, and touched up her face, putting her red sunglasses back on. The lipstick didn’t exactly match her nails, which distressed her. Perhaps she might splurge on a professional nail salon one of these days. Such new indulgences were gathering momentum. She pulled at her bangs, covering the first vague but permanent creases in her brow. She had recently gotten an ear-length Dutch Boy haircut, and tinted the color canary yellow to cover the new, stubborn grays. These new hairs were funny, curly and wiry like old tinsel among the soft, straight, natural honey blonds and last year’s silver threads. Her new hairstyle was loose but geometric, tame, but suave. Caroline debarked from the car by swinging her tan, shapely, unstockinged legs to the ground, and then stood straight up, smoothing her short skirt, touching her jewelry. She was glad she’d bought a ruby and emerald pin. She was glad she had bought the expensive white silk suit and white patent-leather spike-heeled espadrilles. But she saw her hands flutter in front of her again, and resolved to stop at a pharmacy on the way, for lotion. As usual, she secured and checked all four door locks and turned to see if anyone might be watching. No one. She checked the signposts, Bleeker and Thompson. She tried to adjust to the great change in the air, from the air-conditioned car. The city was humid and hot and dirty, and reeked oppressively of urine and exhaust and rotting garbage. Black and white and gray 50-pound plastic bags were stacked horizontally like barricades along the curb, with loose trash strewn across the top and stuck into chinks between. She turned slowly, carefully breathing in through her mouth and out through her nose as shallowly as possible, 131


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exhaling long and lightly to comb the cilia in her nostrils downward against the odor, then began to walk. At 7 pm there was still an hour of daylight in late August. It would take more than a few minutes to get back to Beatrice’s; she was parked farther away than she had reckoned; she should have driven around looking for any spots closer west, and if none were found, then paid for a parking lot near the party. That old habit of frugality had led her again into despair and confusion. She walked half a block and stopped. She thought she knew Greenwich Village streets but had forgotten them. Reality is so jumbled, she thought, information always catching up too late. “Excuse me,” she said reflexively, hugging her big handbag in closer to her body, readjusting it under her armpit as someone jostled her, hurrying past. She recognized that she had just apologized for someone else’s fault, and recognized that as another old habit: apologizing for being in the way, at times for her very existence. The street was cramped and busy and crowded. Everyone was out. Many single people bobbed up and down, on the prowl, watching for each other. The sidewalks were cluttered and obstructed with outdoor cafés and tables filled with young people looking miniaturized, dressed up or dressed down, self-conscious. A glimmer of wonder occurred to Caroline at that: Might she be gaining confidence? She had just recognized that she was aware of insecurity in others, simply by the way they dressed, and in herself, by that reversed apology. The perception of herself as becoming confident was new to her, and would need some testing. But not now. People were trying to make eye contact from every direction: disparaging eyes of strangers were penetrating her cheery cherry lenses. She picked up her pace. She reminded herself to remain high on the dope as an onlooker, not allow the drug to trap her into participating on the street 132


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in any way but as a random, invisible pedestrian, an object, an artifact of the environment, an insignificant extra, a walk-on, a prop, not a personality, not a woman on the loose. She passed an art-house cinema. Night of the Hunter was playing. She had seen it once long ago, and been much moved, but couldn’t remember it now; she couldn’t associate a film like this with her present life at all; if there were parallels she might think about them another time, maybe. Keep the weedy mind-paths open, but don’t amble down any now. Pay attention. Fade into the background. She had not been out alone like this among a young and rowdy crowd in the evening since she was twenty. How old did she look today? Maybe twenty-five, twenty-eight? Most well-positioned women in New York at thirty-six looked twenty-five, or thought they did. She periodically came into the city with other Princeton women, to Midtown or the Upper East Side or Museum Row. Lately she had been to some charity affairs, courted by the organizers. The Institute didn’t pay for anything unrelated to Jack, nor give him him a salary large enough for contribution tickets, so she always went as “and guest” invitee. But now, as the wife of the Secretary-General, might I even rate a staff? Maybe the U.N. will arrange smart parties just for me —. She was running her own interference every which way here on the street, thankful she was at least wearing sunglasses to help avoid direct eye contact. But perhaps the red glasses encouraged stares; she worried but wouldn’t take them off: at least no one could see her looking back. Her skirt was pretty short, too. There were other women in revealing skirts but they were younger, although surprising to Caroline, many girls were lumpy, and their clothes illfitting. How could ugly girls reveal their shapes that way? Weren’t they ashamed? On the other hand, it took a lot of courage to let yourself get fat and walk around in public. Cary didn’t have that kind of guts. She was taught early not 133


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to provide cause for attack or correction, and, of course, she fashioned herself in contrast to her friend, Leticia. Men stopped still on the street to make her pass between them, then turned when she turned, to watch her buttocks. It was so deliberate; they turned in step, in stride with her. And twice she removed her eyes from urinating men hardly concealing themselves, one in a doorway and one between parked cars. This is what someone should write about in the About Men column of The New York Times Magazine, she thought, the outdoor pissing phenomenon by men of every class. “Society succumbs to the lowest practices”, she murmured, adding “I’ll warrant” to herself with irritation. Can’t families raise their young to have high ideals? Why don’t people just have high ideals on their own; just naturally? She did not try to answer this. Is this what Jack is talking about lurked for a moment in the back of her mind, that we just aren’t good enough, but she let herself forget it: she had put the pen and paper away already. Men, and women too, leered at her openly; most were younger than she by ten or twenty years. Her picture had been in all the papers with Jack’s this week, as well, and while she wasn’t Jackie Kennedy, she noticed here and there a person recognizing her as Secretary-General Jack Rubin’s wife. Cary’s eyes splashed to the sidewalk instantly in those cases, and each time, she tugged at her white suit. It gave her the stylish, youthful look she prized. It had cost a great deal, but she could hold her own in Manhattan now in front of anyone. She should stop tugging on it. Maybe we will go as a couple to Brussels, or Paris or London or Rome! (Or Israel), her mind added parenthetically. With a small crowd, she halted for the light at Avenue of the Americas. The offal was most disgusting here. An animal hospital and a fast food restaurant abutted the pavement. She resumed her shallow breathing against the 134


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stench, thinking of how solitary she was, everybody here was, in a restless pack, waiting for the light to change. All the people she was close to in real life were certainly solitary, she thought: the sullen Jewel, who encouraged few friends; Jack, the aloof automaton, smilingly oblivious to his devoted crowds; and Beatrice, despite her paparazzi and the faithful students who fought them off. Jack and Beatrice had been lovers, Caroline recalled — again. That memory was never far from her mind. Had they resumed their affair after Jack’s marriage to her? She had no proof either way. No evidence either of Jack’s many other comes-and-goes, although much suspicion. There was no point in discussing the subject; he is what he is. She never looked for ironclads, and frankly hoped to never find one, even by accident; she wouldn’t want to have to leave him. If he had a private life, she hoped it would stay private. At least he didn’t throw his other women in her face, like some men would. Men still seriously flirted with Cary all the time, of course, even the husbands of women she knew, but she hadn’t yet met any worth complicating her life. Jack was more than enough for Caroline. “I’ll make you happy, lady,” a boy buzzed in her ear as the traffic light flashed amber, and people started across. He smirked and sauntered ahead, then turned back in the middle of the road to please the advancing crowd by exposing her humiliation. She hardly heard him until he passed and turned back to address her, which is how he’d planned it. She stayed up on the curb. Her mind and pulse were racing. Why would he want her? What would he do to make her happy for an afternoon? The idea made her dizzy. A few people laughed, but most pretended not to see anything. She couldn’t find the rhythm to continue, once aware of the scene she was in. But the experience itself impatiently prompted her to stumble a few steps forward. A bicycle came from nowhere. 135


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A car turned into the crosswalk. The “Don’t Walk” sign flashed a warning for the last time, then held steady. She couldn’t run in those high heels, so stepped back up onto the sidewalk amid a different crowd waiting for the next light. “Excuse me,” she said again. A man here brushed his shirt sleeve against her and leered. His face was sweaty, lubricious. He spat into the street. She reminded herself not to let on she was stoned, merely cautious, same as the rest of the prudent city. She recognized that this was a different group. She told herself these people here don’t know what you’ve just been through. She understood she could renew her anonymity and start across again. A women alone must not smile, or carry an expression, or fix her eyes on anyone, or move too much, or stand still too long, or swing her bags, or let her shoes or jewelry clank, or toss her hair, or lift her face. She looked around slowly and discreetly. Shops along the north side of Waverly Place offered for sale the last artifacts of dying cultures. Peddlers sat on blankets along the ground with grubby trinkets, children begged, filthy souls huddled in doorways; she recognized Dickens’s London in New York, or in this mucky heat, Lapierre’s new city of joy, Calcutta. Was there surely nothing else these people could be doing? Even some of them? She fumbled in her bag and gave a quarter to a dirty little boy holding out a crumpled paper cup bearing the legend “I Love New York.” Where were this child’s parents? Things were quieter across the avenue and when the light turned green, she crossed and walked the next few blocks as fast as she could, keeping her body reined in, arms folded against her chest, her large purse tight over her shoulder and under her arm. She dug into it for a Valium loose at the bottom, and bit it, throwing the other half back in for later. She was near Bedford and Barrrow: Beatrice’s house was in sight. But she still did not feel ready to socialize. She remembered she meant to get hand cream. She turned back to the corner and aimed herself towards the Health and Beauty Aids Store near Sheridan Square. 136


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Chapter 20 Caroline in the Drug Store Caroline

expected to find the drug store airconditioned, but the place was stifling hot, and more humid than outside. Inside, behind the counter, a rattling GE Quiet-Kool Air Flo was being fixed. She easily made her way to the handcare shelf: once on a visit to the city after college, she had bought some cheap perfume here, which she wore despite a better scent she already had then, and still had now. Cary kept among her lingerie a bottle of Chanel No. 5 Parfum her mother had given her for Sweet Sixteen, but which she had never dared open. No occasion, in the years of her over-doubled-lifetime since, had seemed supreme enough to break the seal, dab it on, smell that glorious smell. Each time she considered it, she thought too frivolous, she’d be wasting it, that all good things must be saved. That special bottle was still evaporating slowly among 138


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her slips and hosiery, though lately she had been geared in overdrive for even more expensive personal luxuries. Caroline found the aisle, then the shelf. She considered the numerous selections, so many to choose from, especially among the cheapest — and in so many vessels: plastic bottles, tubs, tubes, squeeze containers, pump dispensers, glass jars and translucent vials. Sore hands tell of labor and self-denial, traits Cary strove to extinguish, or at least camouflage. A tube would be most practical in her purse, but she wanted a jar, something opalescent, something with an intriguing shape. She looked to see if such were offered, knowing instinctively that any such would be the most expensive. One octagonal oval, opaline jar of lavender-brown cream had the especially alluring fragrance of deep chocolate and sweet butter. The label listed its contents as Egyptian turtle oil and Brazilian tapir colloids. She acknowledged the considerable price on the label, and felt the giddy rush she had been experiencing with increasing frequency and perverted guilty pleasure as she spent more money and resources on herself. She brought the fancy jar of hand cream to the cash register, and got on line, admittedly surprised to have found this luxurious product in such a run-down store, even in the West Village, a neighborhood always of mixed presentations. There was one person ahead of her, plus the clerk to ring up sales, and a boy fixing the air-conditioner behind the shabby, wooden counter. She inhaled the chocolate, coconut, animal musk of the cream, and smoothed some into her hands as she stood there, thinking it’s been decades since she used animal products for anything but food. Caroline so yearned to be well-treated all her life, I’ve been indulging myself. With that sudden, broken insight, she looked up. The boy’s eyes 139


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thrust into hers from his ambush. Quickly, she cast hers straight down to parry. She tried to ignore him, just as she had blocked the men outside before, but now she was trapped on line in his full view. She pretended to examine the glass counter by feigning interest in a display of magnifying lenses and cigarette lighters on the upper shelf, keeping her eyes off the many brands, colors and assortments of condoms, glow-in-the-dark and otherwise, on the lower. She lingered at the lipstick rack, wondering if some other color would have been better than what she wore tonight, maybe the same cherry-red as her glasses, thinking back to all those years she had scorned make-up, musing about women’s emphasis on their lips, their minor genitalia. “Lipstick,” Jack had told her when he came home one night with a ruby tube and immediately applied it to her face himself, pushing her to her knees as he unzipped, “was first used by Egyptian prostitutes to advertise those who gave blow jobs.” She liked play-acting with Jack. Cary had to keep her face from smiling, even now, as she thought of sex with her husband. Their naked embrace always brought her multiple paroxysms, especially when he gave her a long enough time for them, even if she wasn’t so much in the mood to start these days. She shrank as far as possible from the young mechanic, fluttering her eyes around displays and posters, alighting them anywhere, certain the boy was still staring at her. She couldn’t help noticing his powerful hands, especially two things: the subtlety with which he touched the tiny objects, the screws and washers and tools he was holding, and the grime ingrained in his palms and tips. Several years’ dirt had worked into his handprints. What about the girls he fingers with those fingers, don’t they mind —? 140


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The thoughts aroused her. She was thirty-six now, did she mind at twenty? Many hippies back in those days didn’t wash. Her own husband among them. But there were not so many strange diseases then: a minor bacterial infection once in a while; Gardnerella, of course, with every new man, doubly the uncircumcised; maybe once trichomonas, chlamydia, or pap; periodic yeast; nothing like these incurable viruses today: rampant herpes and this new thing, AIDS. The boy looked Mayan or Aztec: umber-tanned, well-boned, sharpcheeked, sharp-nosed and wiry. Jewel would say Toltec, she realized, proud of herself a bit for knowing it, too. He wore a headphone radio while he worked, antennae sticking up the sides like a spaceman. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, a Salem; the pack with turquoise peak jutted from his folded T-shirt sleeve. He stared hard at Caroline to force her eyes engage. Touché, his stab was just too swift. He snorted at his success, blew blue smoke at her, pumped his eyebrows, curled back his lips and finally resumed working, now that all was as it should be. His loathsomeness disturbed her, but she didn’t dwell on it. There was no way to accept or fully dismiss these coarse encounters: women who tried to reply to such men with insulting remarks, or in any way at all, just played into their hands. It was all such a bore. The customer ahead on line was taking her sweet time. An old woman with silver necklaces was buying a cheap key chain, insisting on testing out the mechanism many times. Caroline couldn’t tell if the woman were black or white; possibly mixed, or Hispanic, or Mediterranean, God knows, maybe even Sephardic Jewish — why was it necessary to even think about race — she didn’t so much care what a person’s race was, “race” in the loosest sense of the term, but did feel a need to identify it. Even more 141


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disturbing to her was if she couldn’t tell male from female, which happened periodically in this neighborhood. Don’t care which, or hermaphroditic, but know I want to know. She was old, that withered crow ahead on line, disfigured, unhealthy, not at first glance the type to test things out. Cary studied her more closely: around her neck were not silver necklaces but rolled silver paper, crumpled aluminum foil! She wore a coat, in August. And a foul lambency of sweat and filth. She reeked. This was a woman of the streets, a beggar, an outcast. Probably somebody’s mother! What was she doing in here. The old woman cackled to the clerk, “I’ll have to give you one of my singles, honey.” Caroline jumped back. The woman cawed again, “Well, dearie, What d’ya know! Looks like I must’ve left my bankroll home.” She turned away from the counter and peered into Caroline’s face, waiting. The woman was trying to get her to pay for her purchase! Well, she wouldn’t do it. “Musta left my bankroll in my bedroll, dearie!” Others might have appreciated and rewarded this performance, but Cary didn’t brighten to its merits. The clerk raised her eyebrows, very tapered, well defined things, and called out, “Next.?!” Caroline counted out exact change for her purchase. She rubbed more of the luxuriant into her fingers and palms as the clerk rang up the sale. Then, overwhelmed by unexpected excitement, she handed the expensive jar to the beggar-woman as soon as it was paid for, and left the store. The woman and the clerk stared after her, but she did not meet their eyes. She heard the repairman laugh. “It’s not what she wants,” she heard him say to the 142


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clerk as they enjoyed the beggar’s pother of mixed glee at the gifting but disappointment at the gift. Be grateful you get anything at all, Caroline thought, bitterly and smug — the adage she had been raised on. But as she left the store, a rise from the Valium and marijuana finally eased her up and offered pleasant expectations in more happy anticipation of the party. A few true friends would be there. And Jack Rubin. This party tonight was in his honor, in honor of her husband for his new appointment at the U.N. She reached Beatrice’s corner again, this time from another direction, and as she did she saw Jack turn onto the opposite end of the street. He bounced along on loose-jointed legs, cool and neat, smiling as always. He was wearing a glowing new, white, cambric, Brooks Brothers suit. One of his hands was palming a joint. The other was swinging the old, cowhide briefcase that never left his side. He was listening to its straps and buckles slap out time for the tunes of the voices in his head, which never ceased dunning him. Look At Yourself, Look At Yourself, Mister Big Shot! The voices cranked out their mocking clichés, for so many years pursuing him relentlessly. And since his appointment, The Voice of the Petty Accuser had risen to a fevered pitch, repeating an incessant refrain. What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! Jack had long studied by now the meaning of the voices themselves, and the test would come tonight. It was put up or shut up time. As he had written to Beatrice so long ago, he knew the voices meant he had no right to lead until he had the perfect plan. And this voice is making me cough it up! 143


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He stooped to enter Beatrice’s courtyard under the trellis of roses over the iron gate behind the little wooden fence. Cary heard him clear his throat, saw the reefer in his hand, and worried. He’s going to get stopped for something. But would it be for this? An offense so petty, and almost antiquated. Especially with photographers following him again. But when she looked around, she was surprised to find no journalists stalking him or staked out. Not even from the vigilant, celebrity-aware NY Post. This private party had been kept quiet after all. Caroline hadn’t believed it would be, considering yesterday’s pandemonium at the U.N. press conference. “Jack, Jack, it’s me, wait —.” She ran to catch up with him, balancing on her clapping heels. She didn’t care if people saw her running now, she’d be with a man in a minute and any immodesty was acceptable on the arm of an escort. And the two of them would look sensational in dazzling white. Jack turned from the gate and walked back to the sidewalk for her, watching her legs as she ran. She knew her legs looked good to him, slender in their full view as they approached. She knew he loved her woman’s body. Caroline was glad they would enter together, and so was he. Jack regretted that he was rarely with his family, but perhaps his wife didn’t show as much enthusiasm for his successes as she should. When they were young, she had had such crazy ideas, and even now all she considered were the dangers and disadvantages of his projects. She hadn’t been the least encouraging about the replies from space he told her he received. But he loved her anyway, a love he never questioned, nor bothered to express. “Good, good,” he said, grinning his abstracted smile, his melodic words reassuring and calming her as they 144


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did everyone who heard them. “Good, good,” his mantra to drown the voices. What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! What’d’ya Mean! What Exactly Do You Mean to Do! “Smoke with me a minute before we go in,” smiled Jack. She never doubted that her husband loved her, although he was so inattentive. But why he loved her, she had no idea. He was so intense and she so average, so given up to things, so hesitant. Smoking with one hand, she slid the other down his pants, and his smile broadened. She hadn’t done anything like that for a while! A hum of well-being emanated from him as they kissed. They stepped behind the chimney. They could only have a moment in the yard, but both were pleased.

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Chapter 21 Jewel Enters Beatrice’s Party Alone Jewel

maneuvered through the party alone. She wandered around feeling herself for the first time a young woman alone at a party. She was fifteen, and of unusual vintage. The house was jammed shoulder to shoulder with bodies, but in density or isolation, bald or fully maned, she understood that she was prey. There was some relief, however, in that many guests already knew her. In fact, her entrance had caused for a time a trompe reception as guest of honor. Most of these people had known her as a child, and others knew her through Beatrice’s own set of friends. People crowded her and pressed her with greetings. Jewel circled the room, her hairlessness her halo, backlit by Manhattan’s last sunset of the day, through the southwest corner windows of Greenwich Village. 146


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Jewel held a glass of ice water, talking here and there. Previously at grown-up parties she had brought a book to read in a bedroom, but this time she stayed around, shifting her body through the packed room. Her book had been left in her mother’s bag, anyway. She moved with studied nonchalance, trying to locate Beatrice without asking, answering questions about her hair, her school, her plans, her parents, apologizing for their lateness, playing the familiar role the friends-of-family placed her in, as damaged genius daughter of Saint Jack. “Definitely a studied nonchalance,” she heard one of her mother’s new friends cattily remark. It was a pleasant space, like a Mongolian yurt, with overlapping carpets and low chairs, rich alizarins and golds, little turquoise-laid ceramic boxes, deep shadows, tiny lamps and many plants. Jewel had been in this house often. The walls were lined with eight thousand books in print and Braille, and usually every space was filled with active clutter, but today most of Beatrice’s work things were tucked away. Jewel walked around the desk, idly reading the Tables of Contents in this month’s crop of publications. Last Sunday’s New York Times printed a harsh review of Beatrice’s new performance, Debacle, comparing it unfavorably to her early performances, particularly Oracle and Pinochle Variant, the card-trick show. NY Arts compared her recent Potomac Bridge Fountain unfavorably to two Biennale pieces she mounted in the 1960s. It’s a cliché to say critics unfailingly claim an artist’s current works inferior to early ones, Jewel reminded herself. She had been particularly irritated by a recent Times review making that accusation of James Baldwin’s new book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen. It should be time for a mid-career retrospective of Beatrice 147


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Stregasanta Madregiore at MoMA, or even the Whitney, certainly the New Museum, but no one was planning one. What kind of age is this? Jewel tried to make sense of her culture by analyzing what she saw in front of her. In museums, works of High Art are sold to buy low. In bookstores, literature is differentiated from fiction, and lit goes unpublished for drivel. Jewel let her mind wander. She stepped from the desk to read the book spines on the shelves behind the piano. The piano music was nice, some Schubert, some ragtime. And someone had placed Guatemalan lilies on the lid; many bouquets fanned lusciously from porcelain vases. Knowing several of their names, she greeted them, Callas, Cartuchos, Alcatraces.... A heavy, inlaid ash tray fell thud. Jewel twisted at the sound. People near it laughed. The opposite of “gravity,” Jewel thought, is “levity.” Language is impossible. The woman who dropped it pushed the ash tray under a couch with her foot. What a joke, Jewel thought, to have lots of friends. And then, didn’t like but couldn’t block this next: In some ways I am like my mother. She turned her back to the room, and resumed perusing the shelves. The opposite of “ density,” her brain continued, is “rarity.” Most of the books there she knew, and many she had borrowed and read. But here, look now here sideways on an eyelevel shelf was one she had never seen, Present Past / Past Present by Eugéne Ionesco. She knew Ionesco’s plays, but this was subtitled A Personal Memoir. She opened it at random: “June, 1967. Eighty million Arabs are encircling the Jews.... If the Israelis are beaten they will be killed.... Everybody can pity them from the bottom of their hearts. The left... 148


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is willfully taking the wrong tack. It cannot admit that the Israelis were quarry.... People like killers. And if one feels sympathy for the victims it’s by way of thanking them for letting themselves be killed. AntiSemitism is violently with us once again in the guise of anti-Zionism. Certain Jewish intellectuals spoiled by leftism...have been saying that the very presence of Jews in Palestine was an act of aggression against the Arabs. They perfidiously support the views of the Arabs, who will not be grateful to them for this. They are like the Jews who wanted to collaborate with the Nazis and were massacred. If to occupy a territory is to commit an act of aggression then everything is an aggression: the French are aggressors in Corsica, in Brittany, in Languedoc. The Algerians themselves are aggressors in Algeria, since they came from somewhere else. The whole European continent is occupied by ‘aggressors’ from Iran and Asia.... In reality the whole Earth belongs to everyone, it belongs to whoever fructifies it, it belongs above all to those who ask only a little corner to live in without making war. The [Arab] position is untenable. It was born, indeed, of envy. Certain peoples live on hatred.... It alienates and dehumanizes those countries themselves.... [T]here are monstrous Jews who declare their solidarity with the Arab peoples...and not only anti-Israelis but anti-Jews.... Yes, these ‘ intellectual’ Jews are really the sons of the Jews in Hitler’s time.” Jewel snapped the book shut. These were subjects she couldn’t bear thinking about. And now the situation looked bad again. Perhaps her father would be able to do something at the U.N., although in international politics he would have to minimize his Jewish roots. Jewel swooned, pressed 149


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physically to so many people in this heavy atmosphere. She caught herself on the piano, steadied by waves of smooth sound she hadn’t noticed before. A beautiful young man was playing rich, compelling melodies and subtle rhythms, odd original phrases and lulling passages. She hadn’t looked at him before. Now his familiar music gave way to something new. This pianist effected an even mood upon the crowd. The musician met Jewel’s gaze with foreign eyes, seductive. She glanced away from him, her own eyes shooting darts around the room. No one but this man had seen her falter. His music had helped her to come to. He played a steady beat to help her restore composure. She regarded him again as his fingers moved among the keys. He was looking at her in a healthy way. He wasn’t put off by her extraordinary face of scars and shaven head. Attracted, but bashful, she hesitated. One of Beatrice’s cats, the black one, Gilgul, lay curled on his lap as he played. There’s a white one, Dybbuk, somewhere. The cats never appeared together, and Beatrice’s friends often joked that one was the other transformed. It was one of several duality myths Beatrice cultivated. Where is she? The scent of Ayurvedic sandalwood, and cannabis, rose higher as more people gathered in the little house. Jewel looked out a window toward lingering traces of color in the sky, trying to avoid the scrutiny of other guests as much as possible. Halley’s comet would be just rounding the eastern horizon now, although there would be too much electric light in the city to see it. The past and present forces were too great; Jewel needed air. The back garden, she remembered, and realized then, that there was where she would find Beatrice. Jewel made her way through the kitchen, and

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allowed the effusive catering boys to refresh her ice water, politely refusing their other suggestions, some exotic, some mundane, some base, all made as they gawked at her scarification. She wore it proudly and stared them down, a small smile parting her lips. For the first time, she enjoyed such fascination and natural awe, and didn’t mind gratifying it as innocent perversion, simply by lingering a heartbeat longer. Out the kitchen doorway, she saw Beatrice sitting across the yard against the garden wall, on a wide wicker rocking chair with high back and armrests. She wore the sleek, white, flowing, satin sari of a maharani. Her black hair was center-parted, gathered at her nape and brought forward over one uncovered shoulder across the fluted choli bodice. Her narrow, white, Hoover-cane stick lay on the ground. A beautiful girl from Chile sat beside her on a Syrian reed stool. Pearl had joined them there, and was pouring wine. Jewel harbored some jealousy of Beatrice’s disciples, but both girls hailed the artist’s godchild at once and found her a seat. “Thank you,” Jewel said. Beatrice reached to kiss her welcome, but drew back at the touch of bald stubble. She placed her wineglass on the ground beside the stick, and palpated Jewel’s skull in both hands, cradling her head, remaining silent. Fervored by her own embarrassment, Jewel reached away her godmother’s hands, cool black kidskin over bone, the artist’s fingers, and kissed them. Beatrice recognized in Jewel a recent pulse. There had been a time in the past when she made love to her students, some of the girls, some boys, few now. Rarely, rarely now. And even then, in Rome, almost never in New York, only

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once in New York she could recall, thinking of this child’s parents, years ago, herself as catalytic agent in ménage. Jewel is grown now, Beatrice thought. “I felt your presence as you bolted from your mother’s car,” she said. Jewel regretted having wasted so much time inside. “I projected a diversion to detain her,” laughed Beatrice, alluding to their private joke that Beatrice projected her family’s realities; it had made their triumvirate guardianship more logical when Jewel was little. It stemmed from a Côte d’Ivoirian children’s story Beatrice had read to her, about a sorcière who dreams scenes into villagers’ lives. Jewel smiled, feeling OK. Sometimes, Beatrice’s ruse as conjurer was so well-played it was almost credible. Certainly there were people in the room who believed she was supernatural, and she did nothing to discourage the idea. Jewel searched the artist’s famous face, looking into her halcyon expression. But disquietingly, this thought arose: Is Beatrice’s urge to create and tamper so great that being a mere artist in the physical world isn’t enough? Does she need to pretend that her creativity extends to reality? That she can alter the structure of real time and space, just as she can configure them in art? That if something does not meet her ideals she can do it over? Was it a flaw of character, or a charming pose, to regularly def lect direct conversation? If Beatrice had imperfections, Jewel wasn’t ready to see them. The questions raised themselves in Jewel’s mind, but not loud enough to demand she answer. Jewel saw only an ethereal being, and to her relief, her godmother’s unseeing eyes reassured Jewel of her own invisibility, affirming, as always, that her looks absolutely did not count. To Jewel, this was the single fact that 152


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insured fidelity. Only sound, touch and aroma colored their communication thought to thought, and these were the abstract senses. Sight, thought Jewel, the concrete sense, the most contemptible, most superficial, most deceptive sense, the sense so inferior to the others in providing accurate inner meaning, the sense that obscures real truth with color and decoration, the sense so easily corrupted by flashy distractions. She stared into her godmother’s placid features, and felt content. All her life, Jewel memorized this ageless countenance, as Beatrice had monitored the changing chemistries of Jewel. But I don’t know her for herself, Jewel thought. Close as we are, she is veiled. Nor was there any more information in reference books or fanzines than that the artist had been brought up by her grandmother in a rural area. It wasn’t publicly known if she had been born blind or even if it were incurable. She looked into her godmother’s eyes and wondered what Beatrice would see, at that first second of sight, if ever she could become sighted. She lay her head in her godmother’s lap and let the lithe, black, reading-adept fingers stroke her head. I have known her all my life and grown up looking to her for refinement, Jewel thought. Surely this is the woman who has mothered me. Her real mother’s mothering was steeped in hopeless sadness and frustration. Jewel thought of the Americanization of both families, the lawful public capture and roundup of vast herds of their peoples. Finally, during contiguous decades of the Mid-Twentieth Century, the human race had come to see itself a single tribe, if it would last. Her own grandmother had barely reached Jewel’s age when she was anointed by global history. 153


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Jewel acknowledged her spiritual descent from Beatrice as if the blackwoman were her father’s mate and twin. They sat together, contemplating their intricate kinship. Beatrice raised her wineglass from the ground. “The artist is a midwife,” she said, tipping it to Jewel to sip from. Jewel felt so serene she almost accepted the wine, accepting with it Beatrice’s magical love as she knew her father had done. Their young romance had been another family legend, and although rarely mentioned aloud in recent years, also rarely far from anyone’s mind. Embarrassed at this secondality, she declined. “You know I never drink or smoke,” Jewel said. Guests around them murmured approval, and inched in. She kissed the glass and curled Beatrice’s fingers more tightly around it. The hand felt even more fragile than her own. This had never been true before. “Scandal,” Jewel heard in party conversation filtering through the yard. Few things caused scandal anymore. “Some day.” Beatrice said, with her usual air of inscrutable pronouncement. Jewel looked at both pairs of hands, perfectly groomed. She had buffed her own nails to glow. Beatrice’s narrow fingernails were long and oval, taupe and ivory, the nail beds edged in burgundy, white at the tips. Jewel’s style wasn’t fashion, but collage of force and fortune, bad luck and compensatory self-consciousness. Beatrice’s was bred and cultured, but it was her art and her mystique that represented her. Her appearance and words were meant to cloak identity, revealing not a person, but their augury. “Material unfolds to shape its own accord,” Jewel watched her say to Raymond Krissiloff, The New York Times’s most appreciative critic of her personality and art. More people were coming into the garden, and as both women 154


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were principals, neither could ignore the party much longer. Guests hovered closer, swirling ice and clinking glasses for their hostess’s attention. Jewel felt desperate. She wanted to keep her godmother to herself, to say something profound enough to hold her another moment. “I wish for amnesia,” Jewel said. Beatrice did not reply at once, although she was arrested by this statement. They sat in the pleasant backyard space, finally letting guests approach. They greeted them together, Jewel in much suspense. There are hardly any young men about, Beatrice noticed as she felt Jewel entreating her eyes, sightless but otherwise normal-looking, heavy-lidded, prominent, never hidden by dark glasses. Jewel observed the cool, transparent being that was the artist, clear as a jellyfish, nothing superfluous to its tract but wafting antennae and tendrils, the thing and its environment nearly one, a sense with no occlusion to perception. She loved her desperately. I love her desperately. “Attune” (or “a tune”), Beatrice said in her preternatural voice. “Listen to yourself,” Jewel heard from elsewhere. She took the chance confluence of random phrases as fortuitous advice to forget, forget, forget. But without assistance could she hypnotize herself to forget? And would this be good advice? Jewel was born to science not to art, and now, helped by this blindwoman to see towards the future, she faced perhaps an oblique direction. Stop thinking about yourself. Discover something real. If she could, she might unlock the secrets of creation, which is the scientific mandate after all —. Jewel tried to set her percipience upon contemplating external phenomena. But she found it very hard to pull her mind off of itself, 155


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thereby...therefore.... She invariably trailed off. It would not do for Jewel, a nascent scientist, to “listen to yourself”; that’s for artists; Jewel must point her sensitometers to “elsewhere.” “There is a moon this afternoon,” she rhymed to Beatrice, timid to be speaking again, but praying to continue charming her. Strange, it dawned on Beatrice that Jewel’s love was borderline flirtatious, young men are not attending me as usual. So Beatrice took the girl’s poetic offering. They turned their faces up together to a wan, silver sliver almost hidden in the sparkling, cobalt dusk settling over New York City’s southwest side, as light finally faded past the Hudson on the last perfect evening of late summer. Is the point the purpose of the universe? Is the universe the meaning of the point? Light particles go somewhere, are reflected and absorbed as they travel. In space do they travel on forever? Do they congregate somewhere? Black absorbs light particles as completely as it is black, and once absorbed they are no longer light but heat, and, eventually, all light must be absorbed as heat. Jewel’s mind outpaced her. Everything will grow cold. “What it all comes down to...,” A man somewhere explained something to someone. “1971,” Beatrice said, “one signal from one U.S. radio-telescope. Stop.” The art critic Krissiloff stopped short to listen. “And just recently again, in 1982,” Beatrice continued, “Voyager. More SETI. And now, METI! Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence! Stop!!” “What?” he gulped as he moved nearer. Beatrice rocked back in the big wicker chair, silent. 156


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She didn’t like being asked to clarify. Especially to clarify orally positions she hadn’t yet developed in writing. “You plan to stop this yourself, Strega?” Krissiloff asked, teasing her with this middle-name nickname. “Stop all space exploration, or the search for intelligent life, or contact, what? Of all the artists of the era, you’re the most a-political, but ordinarily pro-science. Now you want to stop the outreach for life in space?” Beatrice couldn’t see his amused look, but caught his inflection. She was unused to being teased, and grew crusty at the slightest remonstrance. She took herself seriously in every role. “Many hands, Ray, many hands, many faces, many shades.” It was typical of her to offer a cryptic remark as clarification. She herself was confident she could eventually decode it if she wanted to, and others around her would pretend they already had, but not pursue the issue. Ray Krissiloff knew he wasn’t answered, but let it go. He tried never undermine the artists he supported, lest he undo his own support. And he did think the position itself against SETI might be credible, and anti-METI even moreso. But he also thought it inconsistent. Firstly, because Beatrice herself manipulated known and unknown, expected and unexpected, such as in her Ici/Voici, as well as permutations of biological form, such as in Warp/Weave/Wasp. And secondly, because one expected her to think progressively, like his friends, because people in every social set expect all others to opine the same, exerting perplexed pressure if they don’t. Maybe there’s a germ of an article here, he thought. “What do you actually mean, Beatrice?” he asked her flat out, putting down his empty whisky glass, already poised to write in his Moleskine blankbook. 157


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Jewel stiffened fast. Beatrice must know Jack’s secret plans! Beatrice must mean she knows what Jewel herself just recently found out. That Jack had the hope, perhaps even the capacity, to transmit and receive signals from space. And Beatrice does not like it! Jewel had never questioned anything like this before — such would be his prerogative, no? Jack was fundamentally a scientist; he had a right to explore wherever his mind led him, no? “No” is what Beatrice was making it a point to say. Did Beatrice expect that anyone could influence Jack”s plans? Did she expect Jack Rubin would change his opinion if their friends told him Beatrice or anyone else held another? Maybe not. Maybe that’s not what she meant. Maybe she hadn’t meant that. She hadn’t verbalized anything definite. It’s impossible to pin Beatrice down. Maybe her remark had nothing to do with her father. It can be misleading to interpret her offhand remarks. If she wants you to unerringly understand something, she’ ll write it. Several more guests pushed for an answer. Beatrice turned toward her student Pearl, signaling her to venture an oral paraphrase of what might be her professor’s written position. The girl was startled, but composed herself. “I think Madregiore believes that the will to subjugate is too great in human beings. And that technological advancement isn’t making us less brutal. The greater the disparities between cultures, the greater the cruelties. ‘Take me to your leader,’ brings enslavement and decimation. We primates are still too primitive to drop anchor on another planetful of life forms and natural splendor. And neither are we prepared for problems we might encounter. Moreso, even, should they come here.” 158


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Beatrice took another sip of wine, “Brava! Brava!” She could kiss her! An idea for a new piece jumped into her mind: a comically faulty, pseudo-weaponized space vehicular robotic sculpture she might title Blunder Bus. “You think this, too, Pearl?” Ray asked the acolyte to speak for herself, “or do you think Beatrice is alone in disapproving of connection with Extraterrestrial Life?” Pearl was much abashed, but answered quickly, in her teacher’s service, “I think it, and I think she thinks it, and if you think about it, I think you’ll think it, too.” The pressing crowd around them wasn’t sure whether to laugh at this as a serio-witty remark, or to roll their eyes in unavowed schadenfreude at Pearl’s embarrassment. But Jewel suddenly understood something: Beatrice’s circle believed that humankind was too evil to boost into space with a fare-thee-well, though they aren’t above a bit of evil themselves. She doubted her father would ever concede to their point, though. She craned her neck in hopes he had finally gotten here. Daddy will show them his faith both in the essential goodness of humanity, which is what she thought he believed, particularly under his leadership, and in the natural engine of discovery to drive itself. Is Beatrice contemplating undermining Jack? Could she sabotage his plans? Would she? She looked at Beatrice straining forward in the rocking chair, her elaborate satin costume wrinkling over tiny breasts and humping over bony back. If so, her hest to undermine him more likely came from envy or jealousy than from considered political convictions: Ray Krissiloff was right that her objections were inconsistent with her productions. She was almost off her rocker. “Beatrice Madregiore and Jack Rubin both want to control the future,” Ray continued, laughing. 159


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Is Beatrice concerned her influence on Earth would be diminished if Jack’s were to extend above? Surely, she doesn’t have the powers she pretends! Jewel blurted a fast rejoinder: “Everyone tries to control the future, Ray — art critics, like you, especially.” People laughed audibly, highly engaged now, but, “No,” said Pearl, trumping her, and easing Beatrice back in the chair. “Art critics control the past. Artists read the future into it.” Laughter swelled. More people closed in. Not bad, thought Beatrice, signaling Pearl continue, if she could. “An artist reserves a place in the future by manipulating the present to secure their place in the past,” Pearl came through! Beatrice rocked forward and quickly pricked Pearl’s words into her Braille stylus memo pad, along with the Blunder Bus idea, thinking how both might work in together. Then she took one last, long, deep drink of wine, and stood up, handing Jewel her half-empty glass. She took a few steps forward and greeted a group of new strangers without making introductions. They were speaking a language Jewel couldn’t identify. She remained seated on the low, reed stool. Beatrice’s hems brushed by, unsoiled by the centuries-sooted, oft-bloodied earth of city yards. Jewel trusted Jack more than Beatrice did, but both were fully aware that since the U.N. General Assembly did put him there, Jack really is in a position to affect the world’s future. Would his management of not only the planet but the universe, be necessarily a bad thing, if, following the scenario out to its potential, his machinations did succeed? 160


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Jack was charismatic, not coercive. Any world Daddy organized would be very peaceful and happy. No? She suspected that her father wasn’t too peaceful and happy himself, but she had faith. Oh, bosh, she took a sip from the half-full glass in her hand. Beatrice turned back to Jewel and nestled with her again to endure the evening until everyone would finally go home. She kissed her on the mouth, but with a point of tongue, disturbing, yet arousing, this pure child. Jewel loved Beatrice with her mind and heart, and for her sake tried to think rationally about her father’s hopes. She held Beatrice’s wineglass, but didn’t sip again. The chance of it ever happening — of Jack’s ever reaching intelligent life, communicating with it and achieving its leadership — was so farfetched that in practical terms it wasn’t worth worrying about. Jewel was certain that, at very least, technology was not yet far enough advanced.

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Chapter 22 Jack and Caroline Enter the Garden Jack

and Caroline entered the party and then the back garden, stirring up the crowd and generating excitement as they moved. Jewel startled at the sudden commotion, and saw her father and mother together in the doorway. Colored lanterns had been lit at the onset of twilight. Jack’s deep-lined, smiling face was flushed, his recently tamed hair still thick and rich and black at fortysix, crackling with electricity. He looked especially large and filled out from across the space. Jewel knew that as a youth Jack had gone underweight to avoid the Vietnam draft. Briefly she questioned her father’s nobility, and then put the question out of mind. He had her allegiance. Both he and her mother wore white. Cameras were

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flashing everywhere, shooting vertical fashion candids, horizontal news, and tipped-camera arty shots. “What a striking couple,” Jewel overheard a woman remark, but the child caught insincerity in her voice. To outsiders, Jewel was fiercely loyal. My family. She turned archly and recognized another of Caroline’s new friends. The woman’s lower jaw was beginning to jowl, and her eyes beginning to squint, but she lifted the corners of her lips for a practiced French-smile-facelift-grin, widened her eyes and forehead, and winked, her flesh pulled back to maximum when she saw Jewel looking at her. They nodded politely. By now, many reporters and photographers and more than one video unit ranged the yard. Press was flooding in, admitted for photo-ops 9 to 9:15 pm, no Q&A, then out. A kid who wangled through took advantage of the flurry to approach Beatrice for an autograph, which she detested giving, but her plainclothes catering service guards quickly spun him off before he reached her. How good Jack must look up there, Beatrice thought. When young, the artist and the activist had been rivals of intensity, had whipped each other into frenzies of grandiose statements, impulsive plans, commitments, resolutions. The bold letters they had written were manifestos of zeal only that era could produce. Jack still seems equal to his task, but, she admitted to herself, she did tire easily and worry more. His powers might be stronger than my own now, she considered with irritation. He certainly had outstripped her in the news. And it vexed her that his wife got him for all the holidays, and recently the whole family even appeared with him on society pages, which he used to assiduously prevent. 163


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Here she was, the most acclaimed artist in the world, in a lifelong affair with the most powerful man, and she had to stay mum? Well, whatever was done, she did it herself. Caroline Klein had been her student. She had had good reason for introducing them at the time. Only once had she ever let her pique get out of hand.... “Speech, speech!” All their friends were calling and clapping. Jewel was standing and waving, her heart bursting with daddylove and pride. She and Beatrice joined in. “Speech, Jack, speech!” Everyone clapped in rhythm. Someone had planned this party well. Press and stray public were gaggling near the door as they were ushered out. Champagne was being poured from the other direction. Jack reached his hand out for a glass, but before he could grasp it, the mayor of the City of New York, a longtime family friend, jumped up to announce him, as a wall slid open between the house and garden, and the whole room opened to the sky. “I introduce Jack Rubin,” said the mayor, “by quoting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “‘One can build the Empire State Building,’” he declared, “‘discipline the Prussian Army, elevate the State hierarchy above the throne of the Almighty, but one cannot get past the unaccountable spiritual superiority of certain people.’” He extended his right hand to shake Jack’s and pushed the microphone into Jack’s left, the hand-off of practiced politicians. Together they nudged Jack’s briefcase out of sight. The voices were shouting in his ears. You Are Going To Fall On Your Face! 164


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“Come with me to Rome this fall,” Beatrice whispered to Jewel as she arranged herself comfortably in her wicker rocker to listen to Jack’s speech. Jewel realized that if she said no, Beatrice might take Pearl instead. And she recognized in her heart’s leap to say yes for only that very reason, the first sign of corruption in herself. A light breeze blew through the grounds. The length of the season was closing, as her father prepared to address the crowd. Stop Now Before Someone Stops You! That night, Jewel dreamed the Physics Dream.

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What did the snake say when she quit her job as auricle? Stop asping me questions!

Chapter 23 Jack’s Speech: Homo Futurus in the Trans-Millennial Century “Dear

friends,” Jack said, “dear friends, dear

friends....” Immediately, the voices set upon him, taunting, challenging, yelling in his ears. You Are The Most Important Man On Earth! What Are You Going To Do! It’s Up To You To Fix The World! “...energies synchronize in harmony...” Jack said, “...that workers in our colony...individual pursuit of sustenance....” It’s Up To You To Fix Everything! “...bring into reality...planet in fit balance...habitat... hominids...dominant species set for continuation and preparedness...endurance...population....” 168


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You Are The New Messiah! It’s You The Comet Rode In This Time! “...plagues, pestilence, famine, drought....” What Are You Going To Do About It! “...set to fit in perfected state to engage other cosmic species, or do we engage them unprepared, and at the point of desperation, having failed to make a go of our own species within our own habitat? Do we launch out defeated by ourselves only to be defeated elsewhere, on another’s home territory?...” Rambling! You Are Rambling! “...particles...ourselves...others....” Ha Ha! You Can’t Do It! “...How can peoples...can every individual...can we each take responsibility...can we recognize each other as ourselves....” August 21, 1985 , Jewel took her notebook out of her pocket and wrote. My father is a radical idealist. And Caroline pulled the inlaid fountain pen from her bag, and grabbed a nearby napkin to jot a blotty furtherance: More than “each other” — better if “all variations.” A wave of uneasiness washed over Jack from the sea of faces adrift in misgivings. “Andrew Zimmerman Jones,” he called out, referring to a theorist whose ideas he believed lined up with his own, which he didn’t know he had not presented clearly. He hoped the reference would add credibility, buoy everyone up. Jones wasn’t familiar to anyone there, but hearing the name touched a collective nerve, and did not help his cause. Jack sensed he reached deep negative feelings, even taboos, in his audience. Maybe his friends just needed more household names. “Francis Crick! Biophysics and Consciousness. Crick has devoted decades to how the brain forms consciousness. And Roger Penrose, another physicist!” 169


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The crowd didn’t know how to respond. Just what was Jack getting at? Particles, ourselves, others? Jack dug himself in, tried to explain what he meant, explain what these iconoclastic scientists have done. “Roger Penrose considers consciousness a manifestation of quantum phenomena. He doesn’t think a brain could, therefore, ever be paradigmed by a computer. Ever.” Wait! This might be getting interesting. The crowd raised its eyebrows. This might be something we’ d be able to agree with! “Dear friends,” Jack began again, in reassuring, academic tones, but the words drew long and low and slow, as from a prophet. “We are the Children of the Mid-Twentieth to MidTwentyfirst Trans-Millennial Century,” Jack said, looking every eye in the eye. “The significant feature of the Trans-Millennial Century is that our species on our planet will have reached and pulled back from the brink of Kingdom Collapse and mass extinction.” The room relaxed and made space for him to continue. Interesting terminology, but surely an alarmist exaggeration. “The Trans-Millennial Century dawned with the simultaneous liberation of the Concentration Camps and dropping of the A-Bomb — when humanity woke up that spring and summer of 1945 and looked in the mirror” — he paused — “and saw in the face of our Horricides” — pause again — “what we nearly came to. Worldwide and together, we confronted — and acknowledged — our human politic of ethnic annihilation in the cause of mass hysteria.” The crowd raised its hopes. The room raised high its roof beams. This is our Jack. They hoped he would end right there. Carpenter, Jewel wrote. But as they set their 170


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glasses down, to applaud him quickly off, Jack made a big mistake: He jumped to the conclusion. Jack characterized the Trans-Millennial Century’s middle years and predicted T-M Century’s end. He stated his case right out — flat, plain. There and then. He did not plan his setting or his moment; or determine whether it best be speech or print; leak or public platform; lecture, pronouncement, panel, or debate; live or pre-recorded; linked to an event or special call; or to be memed out by hearsay, free journalists, or press cronies. Like all true prophets, whether he was one or no, he was outspoken, ahead of his time, and betwixt contexting media. “By 2050, will be public acknowledgement by many countries of having located extraterrestrial intelligent life and determined communication protocol. Most people in his crowd here, in 1985, did not mind that. They considered it a far-fetched prediction, and so far away. They raised their glasses to their lips again. Jack’s assembly was patient, although wearying and wary. But Beatrice rocked faster in her chair, her white clothing glowing in oscillation from her dark corner. She was not happy. “Do not reach beyond your sphere,” she had once written him. Jack continued. “We have made significant advances in tolerance and civil rights, globally, but the pacification of our species and sustainability of habitat, on our own planet, have not kept pace with imperatives.” The room rescinded its largess. We know this. We don’t want to think about ecology now. Don’t bring us down, Jack. Everyone wanted to just applaud their friendship and leave him to solve these problems without them — somewhere else, like in the U.N., certainly without discommoding anybody, and naturally to their liking. 171


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Jack felt their mood, but was oblivious to its pressure, so persisted. No one was ready for what came next. “By 2050, we will have engineered Homo futurus from ourselves,” he said. “And engineered the first Better Earth as sustainable habitat for it, from what’s left of Earth’s natural plants and animals, minerals, liquids and gasses.” Engineered? New species? The room contracted tight solid. A strange, grimacing smile started up Jack’s face. The corners of his mouth cut high and deep under overhanging cheeks, like The Joker!, Jewel and Pearl both thought. Beatrice bent far forward, fast. Jewel gasped, and righted her. The child’s breath in the artist’s face, amid the flowering party stench and tension in the house, inspired another piece, Breathing Room. She took out her stylus again, dotted half a note, and passed it to Pearl. “Call John at the Whitney. Tell him I want to build a ‘virtual breathing space.’ Call Monday,” the best day to catch museum personnel at their desks. “Emphasize engineer, not mystic.” Pearl had an inspiration of her own, in reply. She dotted a riddle on the other half, and passed it back: “What did the snake say when she quit her job as oracle?” Beatrice smiled at her, and mouthed, “Stop asping me questions.” Jack’s mouth was dry as paste. He flew his eyes around, trying to land on water, as he pantomimed sipping from a glass. A pretty, young, catering service girl quickly found him a tumbler. He gulped, spit-taking his recommencement, trying to drown the voices flooding his ears. You Are The Messiah Of The Trans-Millennial Century! Your Actions Will Determine The Course Of The Universe! He patted his lips on his sleeve. Everyone looked at each other with growing dread. They wanted him off 172


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the stage. His Adam’s apple rose and fell in his thickening neck. No One Will Like Anything You Tell Them! “Dear friends,” he started over. “Full peace and tolerance and socialization is possible not by building a piecemeal bio-medical robo-cyborg, doomed to failure in a continually degrading, insufficient habitat, still mired in hierarchies....” Don’t Revisit Your Old Ideas! Say What You Are Doing Now To Save The World! “Human competition of any kind is a subterfuge by differing strains of DNA to succeed in replication and thwart all others. We are programmed by a gene for self-recognition to interact with everyone else as ‘same or not-same.’ We are programmed to assist family, the most powerful first. And to destroy as much potential success of others as possible. The Family Recognition Gene is the most aggressively controlling gene in the human pool. All other genes are regulated by it. Long disguised as junk, this gene for sameself-recognition has been isolated and will —” Tell What You Have Actually Done! “I take this opportunity to announce that nevermore will people see anyone else as ‘the other.’ Everyone will work together, and know each other as a single family.” The pianist resumed his even mood, but apprehension filled the air. “The JRFR Family Recognition Gene release chip, designed by my Ruben Computer Systems, has been scheduled for implant in all newborn Earthlings!” The room stood still in mute silence. “Homo futurus will be our progeny,” he continued. “Homo futurus will recognize each other as themselves!” His arms pumped the air. He leaned far forward to the right, and thrust his left hand up in a fist. He turned his body to the left side, and thrust his right hand in a peace sign. 173


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Everyone looked around, shocked still. ...left hand pumping a fist, right hand pumping a peace sign..., Jewel noted. Only one person saluted back, another aging hippie from the Movement, whom no one recognized, or put a mind to. “Give me the Rubin Salute!” He tried to lead them in physical unity. But the others turned to stare at him until he sat back down. Jack leveled his tone and bearing, lowered his arms, and tried to put his solution in these more specific terms. “All newborn Earthlings, under U.N. guidelines, will be implanted with the gene for recognizing others as themselves.” Everyone had the same thought: Is Jack Rubin crazy? You Aren’t Worth Shit. “It’s a dominant gene, so all nextborn will recognize each other as their kin!” Jack was getting frantic. “There will be no more war! No more strife! No more meaningless competition!” Didn’t they understand? “Homo futurus will cooperate naturally, and love one another as family, conserve, share and replenish resources, tolerate and enjoy all black sheep —.” Jack was not getting the support he was used to. He tried to stretch taller and spread his smile wider. Unsteadiness was unfamiliar. He knew he was petering out, and couldn’t stand it. Try making cheerful eye contact with somebody. He winked at the girl who had brought him water, relieved and gratified to see her wink back. And even look at her wristwatch. And cock her elbow! And eye the door. Jack’s pride and confidence swelled. He tried again to instill enthusiasm in his friends for his plans. This was an 174


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intimate party. These were his first-line supporters. People who all love him. And don’t want reason not to. It’s just a party! “...immunized to have no castes or classes...no incentive to best each other — financial, creative, egocentric or political....” He sped on, “...to do things willingly and happily as each has the talent...to appreciate each other as completely equal....” His voice boomed loud and exultantly, “to share and share alike!” But Jack’s audience was not applauding any of this. “Our species perfected in perpetuity!” They were cringing at every enumeration in Jack’s Manifesto for the Ideal World as Raymond Krissiloff would write of it, including description of the Rubin Salute, in tomorrow’s column. What’s wrong?! Jack couldn’t understand what wasn’t understood. And Wildly Applauded. Ha Ha, You Fool! Beads of sweat gathered around his hairline. All his hairlines. He was starting to itch all over. You Are Only Doing This To Top Your Father. Jack choked. No, no, no. But then it hit him: so what? It was a simplistic idea, even if possibly true. So what if it’s true, he knew it had led him far. In thinking this, he felt a measure of relief. But, no. It wasn’t true. Not top him, but to end forever what his people and his girlfriend’s people and all oppressed had ever endured. I can make it stop! He did not know what more to say, and was suddenly overcome by the physical feeling of brutally swinging a metal tube. His head filled with pictures of hanging geodesic paper-straw stars. Now is no time for images! He’d better find the most minimal common denominator he could, and get the hell out of this speech. He rearranged his smile and cleared his throat. 175


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You Are Unworthy, the voices tried again, but Jack heard only shudders in the room. Some of his friends were coming up to him now, slowly closing in. He shifted the microphone as one tried to take it out of his hand. Everyone just wanted to resume eating and drinking, joking, and congratulating each other for things. They all loved him; he should know better than to say anything controversial to change that. Another one picked up Jack’s briefcase, and gave it to him as other friends helped him down, trying to undermine his certainty with shushing comments. He tried to reply with equally subdued, but pointed, digs, slowly inching his way among them, jockeying his elbows to keep the mic. Jack had experience working a room, though never one as mercurial as this. They wouldn’t let him needle them. He tried a sharper end, one safer and more familiar. “To do only what can do no harm. The Golden Rule!” Everyone wanted to love him. They wanted everything to seem normal again. Never was there anyone in greater need of misunderstanding. There. One or two hands. Jack’s smile cracked. “The Golden Rule!” he repeated. He’d take this narrow escape route, elaborating his parting thanks for the brief, sharp, flat smat or two of applause. “Thank you! Thank you all for coming! Thank you for all your good wishes!” The crowd accepted this easy out and someone yelled, “Here, here!” “I love you! Every one!” He sent Beatrice a big, buffooning, fluttering butterfly kiss from across the space. “Thank you for the party!” She pantomimed she caught it! How did she know? The room erupted in laughing conviviality and loud applause, for her if not for him, yet nevertheless to everyone’s relief. He motioned the catering girl to come get the water glass, and acceded to her signifiers for later assignation. In the end, he got the 176


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resounding clap he longed for. The piano played For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. Everyone joined in, and finally Pablo Casals’s Hymn to the United Nations brought Caroline to Jack’s side. They looked over to Jewel, expecting a good reaction. She was writing in her notebook: “I have never seen my father back down before.” Then a rare moment of knowing eye contact passed between her and her mother. Chance and proclivity, hope and greed; they both remembered Cary’s answer to “What rules the universe, Mommy?” More Champagne was quickly being popped. Jack brought a flute to Caroline, and motioned Jewel come join them. Perhaps the crux of his intentions he’d now never make public. That the only way I could engineer the ideal Homo futurus is from an intergalactic gene pool spliced with Jewel’s. He regretted having announced any genetic interventions at all yet. Or even mentioning the space talks. He wished he could turn the clock back. Maybe in an ideal world, one would be able to alter time and do things over again. He made a mental note to set such a task for next gen, the Rubin III. Here tonight was just a little congratulatory party by friends and family. No one recorded anything, glad of that. And very glad at least I didn’t mention that some of the DNA in JRFR is alien. The only copies of his documents and codes were in the old, cowhide briefcase that never left his side. As Jewel stepped from the garden corner to cross the space and celebrate with her parents, she and Beatrice kissed a presto, primly at first, in mutual concern for Jack, but then again, with allure and intent. “Yes,” Jewel whispered. “I’ll go with you to Rome.”

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Chapter 24 Jewel Dreams the Physics Dream Before the dream began, there was no dream. There

was no image, only blackness. The dream began with a dot, in the center, not a dot, but a location, a single location in absolute emptiness. It wavered. The location, having no counterpoint, was imprecise, unstable, and began to alternate between locatable and not, to appear and disappear and pulse existent, non-existent; or perhaps it was not the same point reappearing, but short-lived separate points borning and dying, replacing each other by almost identical points in almost the same location, but, because they were individual, different, and in different locations as well. Soon the force of this existence/non-existence created around it a field of energy within which the moving 178


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dot exploded in an equation to equal the universe. Shooting out from center, the radii were time. Upon the expanding circumference lay distance, factored time. Balls of matter rolled toward each other across the surface of this uneven perimeter, the effect of simultaneous propulsion and deceleration, causing energy to yaw backward, forward, sideways, up and down. This rate of violent, uneven expansion was called “zero,” and it spawned the calculation of all other rates. Matter too dense after a while for continued velocity, slowed, stopped moving, and fell back, withdrew as black holes while the rest of the universe sped by. The action of the expanding universe caused an equal opposite reaction called gravity. The greater the acceleration, the denser, more numerous and more powerful the black holes. All was gel. Whenever fragments collided, new universes burst inside the old. Many such separate formations bubbled in space, filmy, but lumpy like potatoes. All bubbles finally burst. Tissues of burst bubbles crashing began processes anew. Escaping many centers, they rushed outwards, meeting those careening toward them from universes yond, speeding up, just as if falling down to Earth. The acceleration of time was no illusion in Jewel’s physics dream.

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SECTION THREE Rome, 1985

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Chapter 25 Beatrice and Jewel Walk along the Tiber Sun and shade. Sun and shade. Warm and cool, hot and cool oscillated over the faces of Jewel and Beatrice walking between the rows of formally planted and evenly spaced trees along the promenade of the Tiber River. Cross-patterns of afternoon light cut through thin, moist, crystal, pleasant air. Rome on this day after Christmas was more than perfect for the artist and the child. Under trees they were a couple in love, secluded, contained, enclosed in secret freedom from the prying, public sky. Between the bars of shadow, bars of sun exposed, and thus imprisoned, them. Such is light that tells the secrets darkness keeps, making lovers more at liberty constrained than when released. 181


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They walked with arms encircling each other’s waists, nuzzling to speak. After months of close living, the bodies of Jewel and Beatrice brushed together with proprietary sense. They walked along the golden river, slowly. Jewel carried Beatrice’s white stick for her, shouldering it like a rifle. Jewel’s hair was growing in reddish, fuzzy. It grazed against Beatrice’s cheek like a beard, and Beatrice’s long, silvering-black, perfumed strands glanced against Jewel’s face like a veil. Their holiday gifts to each other yesterday confessed their physical desires: opium from Jewel to Beatrice, and a rare Malaysian perfume in return. Rome, ancient Rome, the Eternal City, symbol of a dawning age, territory of the meeting of the great religious systems: the heart of Christianity, clash of pagan gods, a city resting upon archeologies before the word, upon societies that did not yet know each other as relations, not yet know themselves to be a single beast. Jewel and Beatrice walked the classical white path along the Tiber, at the last trailing end of humanism drawing away, stealing away, slinking away, draining away to a close, evaporated, gone. Soon, as Beatrice tired easily, they paused to sit on a white stone bench where the river vented a breeze through supple, pollarded sycamore trees, sweet and fresh. Seraphic children played nearby: a little girl and boy in sailor suits. Jewel loosened the wide, black hood of Beatrice’s cloak and laid it flat along the back of the bench and forward over her shoulders like a shawl. She took Beatrice’s small hands between her own, and folded the four together in her lap. The years, Jewel remembered from Yeats but did not quote aloud, like great black oxen tread the world. And then from Keats, What a power has white simplicity. “Ballet degli alberi,” Jewel whispered, instead. Beatrice turned toward her. Balletto, she corrected mentally, Ballet of the trees, and kissed Jewel on her cheek for planting another idea for a piece. They fully sensed 182


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their mutual meanings and longings, their symbolic mother/daughterhood, their at-long-last uncontrollable attraction. Finally acknowledging contact, each consciously yearned for open embrace. They imagined their limbs around each other, thin chests strongpressed, ears rubbing, hands palm open on the other’s slender ribs and spine and fragile pelvis, narrow mons. But each woman withheld herself and kept deliberately back. Jewel never initiated momentum, and Beatrice uncharacteristically remained cautiously suspended, hovering — curiously, she noted herself, almost against my will. But each knew that their time as lovers was drawing close. They sat together on the venerable veined and patterned, rough white marble path beside the river. For Jewel, the unstated promise of lovemaking held out hope for a spiritual and physical dimension to her life. She was not a happy hostage to her intellectual awareness and scientific curiosity, her paradoxical imagination, literary hypersensitivity, emotional straightjacket. No aphrodisiac or philter could have whetted Jewel’s impatience any wetter. But for Beatrice, the prospect of their inevitable consummation was discolored by chagrin and vanity and resignation. Was she no longer alluring? She had a limited pantheon of lovers now. Were there no handsome young men for her to choose from anymore? Or even worldly older ones, who used to ring her bell. Occasionally, Jewel was so unthinking as to make reference to her age. Couldn’t Jewel see she had no age, she was eternal, like the city, like all great artists are. Was one year past forty-five her mortal turning point? For Jack this year was like a rocket ship, but would taking his daughter to bed be too harsh an equalizer? Lovers serve useful in other ways, too, not the least of them muse-value, so see if it’s worth it for practical reasons. It’s a complicated head trip to begin a new affair. 183


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What should the real question be? In what ways did she love this girl in particular, for whom in every way she was responsible. For the first time in her life, Beatrice questioned her personal motives, and faltered. For the first time, she did not know instinctively what to do. The thought that succumbing to corruption-by-decision in maturity was not impossible, crossed her mind. I am responsible. “Scala,” Beatrice finally replied aloud. “I’m so happy to be useful to you,” Jewel said, making her beloved more comfortable on the bench, not really heeding her remark. “Light my pipe, please, Julie?” Beatrice asked, her voice very low and sweet. Jewel lit Beatrice’s familiar clay hash pipe, and for the first time drew in her own breath, too. Her godmother had never nicknamed her before, nor had anyone. Julie. She liked it very much. Does Beatrice have a nickname? Her father had once told her yes: Betty. He hadn’t liked and never used it. Like Mom’s old friend, Aunt Letty. No one had seen her in years. Auntie B? Jewel and Beatrice smoked together in the cooling air, anticipating their bodies’ finer warmings. The effect of the drug, first on Jewel, then Beatrice, was both subtle and profound. Subtle, in that aside from a light euphoria, a perceptual intensification and a sense of unity with the river, their conscious minds noticed no effect; but profound, because unconsciously, each transformed herself into the other’s metaphor. Each became for herself what the other wished she were, each played and believed her role, assumed it for the other. Beatrice was Jewel’s suitor and her inspiration and her model, her goddess, her protector and seducer. But Beatrice was still not yet totally resolved. There was that sharper question: ought she do it? For Beatrice, 184


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lovers were her couriers, her vehicles, her living media. They became her deputies, the intermediaries between her powers and the world, her messengers. She took lovers if she had a mission for them, a use she knew they could fulfill. But through the discharge of her intentions, many suffered grave consequence in unforeseen slipups and mishaps. Hasn’t this kid been through enough already? Jewel felt the wind suddenly chill and said, “Let’s walk back now. You must be tired.” Beatrice turned her face away, irritated, annoyed with Jewel for being so insistently oversolicitous. In Rome, Jewel treated her like an aged invalid. Sometimes her students got too close, and Jewel was much more than a student. Maybe she had best leave the girl alone, or maybe, she tried a tack not far from true, recast the innocent as perpetrator. She felt Jewel’s adolescent arm around her shoulders, the cloak around them both. Jewel had placed her white stick in her hands. She stood and tapped it against the ground in front of them, unnecessarily, but to assert herself. “All right, Julie,” Beatrice said in gentle compromise, “we’ll go. But not yet all the way back.” Jewel agreed, though Beatrice was just being stubborn. She truly was as weary as Jewel thought. They walked into a patch of sunlight, and stopped there. Beatrice did seem more frail in Rome than in New York, even next to Jewel, who was so thin herself. The light was better, warmer, brighter, but it did not point up in Beatrice any warmth or brightness. It instead revealed a sultry, inner darkness, something rotten, not quite well. But this aspect was not accurately perceived by Jewel, or was suppressed, or was so indistinctly registered as to immediately flee. They stood in sunshine between the trees, and planned their next few steps.

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Chapter 26 A Taxi Driver, Toto A taxi driver, Toto, watched them from his cab. He had been following these two Americans off and on since he had spotted them in Rome, The Black Madonna and Raggedy Ann: the blind, black goddess of esthetic wisdom, inward-peering witch, world-renowned oracle who taught at the American art school, and her nurse, the fuzzy-headed, scarfaced daughter of the famous genetic anthropologist, Dr. Jack Rubin, current Secretary-General of the United Nations. Quite a pair. Many oddballs and celebrities came to Rome. He made it a point to pick up as many as possible. He wanted to add to his autograph collection and have some fun. He often saw pictures of these ladies in the Roman tabloids. Just now he had no passengers and would try to get them. 187


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Toto maneuvered his car in close, and waited to be noticed. He would offer them a ride. It was getting late in the day, he thought, checking his watch. He wore a complex, inexpensive, Korean expansion-band wristwatch with many buttons and dials, cheap, but accurate to a quarter of a second: 4:07:03 pm. He would suggest they ascend the hills of Rome to watch the sunset. Perhaps all’Aventino or perhaps Gianicolo. He could promise warmer sun there, too. It was a mild December, but even so, the blindwoman looked cold. The Gianicolo, for sure, the Lover’s Lane. Toto shut his off-duty sign and crept along the curb next to the signorine curiose, following behind them several lengths. He lit a cigarette, opening one of the three or four daily newspapers he habitually bought for the cab, and waited, watching the two strange females. Certo, he thought, patting his autograph book, Dr. Rubin would really be the coup. When the women resumed walking, Toto inched along the curb until they saw him. By the time they faced each other and agreed to hail the cab, he was upon them like a gondolier. “Signorine,” he said, leaning out the passenger side window, “welcome to my taxi. I will take you wherever you wish, the Gianicolo perhaps. We must hurry to catch il tramonto bellissimo beautiful sunset.” They stood and regarded him. Neither answered. What a perfect idea, Jewel thought. The pleasant effects of the opiated hash were renewed on a second wave. “I have seen you fotografie in newspaper,” Toto continued, taking off his cap and slapping it against the dashboard two or three times, his eyes jumping from one face to the other. In real life, their faces were spectacular. He flicked his cigarette to the sidewalk and stretched to stare at Jewel. 188


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Rent in sections, she wore an expression of plethoric perplexity, the ruined muscles and skin paralyzed in distorted place as if her face had been slashed and pulled into an “X” by giant claws. Toto could hardly contain himself. He leapt out of the cab, tossing his cap onto the seat, unlatching and holding wide the back door. He proposed a reasonable flat rate they would surely accept. But Jewel recoiled the moment he made plain that he recognized them. Instantly repulsed, she reversed herself and stepped away from the open Fiat. She curdled at the sleazy way he looked at them, and how he prolonged the English vowels and distorted the grammar, and she detested his hoarse and rolling, insinuating, nasal voice. Jewel had been hearing the Italian language for months, and loving the sound of every musical syllable, but now from Toto’s mouth it sounded so sordid she couldn’t stand it. To Beatrice he spoke Italian, in his Trastevere neighborhood slurry dialect of leveled “r’s” instead of “l’s” and “n’s” instead of “d’s,” burning Jewel’s heart still more. She feared the darker nature of his character. But Beatrice could not have been more wholly pleased. She would take the cabby’s suggestion of a mountain drive! It would be a diversion from Jewel’s inveigling attentions. She was leery of the entanglement they had set the stage for, and glad of any reason to postpone it. When Jewel hesitated, Beatrice put her arms around her to allay misgivings, but misled her by feigning delicious complicity in a romantic adventure. With this deliberate misunderstanding spawned in her expectations and fecundated by the Eastern herbs, Jewel succumbed and shook her doubts away. She took her lover’s scented hand, and let her lips be kissed. And by their lick of assent, they ascended. 189


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“Andiamo,” Beatrice instructed the cabby, pleased by this man’s undisguised solicitation, as she enticed his eyes off Jewel, onto herself. They got in the back of the cab. Beatrice re-lit her pipe, offering it to Jewel, who shared it for the second time, this time as preliminary to the thrill of an excursion with her lover. They offered it to Toto, too, who, to their surprise, declined. He carefully put the car in gear, and drove. The finely cured hashish infused Jewel’s virgin lungs, rekindling her awareness of Beatrice’s warmth next to her, and of the scene they played, riding up the lupine Roman hills to watch the sunset on this still autumnal afternoon. The drive was peaceful and the driver did not speak. Jewel breathed more of the fantastic smoke and sought life’s solace in her mentor’s face, that unmarked leather screen. But those usually placid features assumed unseemly cast, as the cab climbed higher on the light. Jewel fought for extra alertness against the lulling drug, but her will in this new contest did not gain the upper hand. Toto drove the rocky road, and strained to be alert to every nuance in the back. His history as criminal and ruffian, pimp and vagabond, schematized to recognize and understand them, to place these women in the limited categories he knew. He observed them in the mirror as they smoked and fondled, the girl and the artist, with equal interest. When he first espied them, it was Jewel who caught his eye: young and peculiar, a little maiden like a boy, valuable forse for possible ransom or sale. Toto lived by cunning, not by plan, so took all oncoming opportunity. But Beatrice, too was having her effect on him. Toto was taken by Stregasanta’s freedom, her presence, her lack of fear or timidity or reticence, her ease of decision. It was not unusual for passengers to behave in his taxi as 190


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though they were in private, sometimes disgustingly so, but this fare was possessed of an aura of intrinsic grace and seclusion. Her arboreal movements enchanted him. Her magnetism strongly attracted him. He knew she had the power to divert his life from its puny, fated course and redirect it. Her blindness dazzled him, and his vivid impressions were heightened by her color and maturity. He was ageless himself: handsome, street-bred, large and sly. Beatrice played up to his excitement as she snuggled and whispered and kept her head bowed down with Jewel. Toto veered sharply as a car came wide around a turn, swinging dangerously downhill in the opposite direction. “Affanculo,� he loudly cursed, gesturing out the window. He was a cautious driver. He hugged the right shoulder against the mountain wall, steering and braking with concern, knowing he was not paying enough attention to the road, but he could not keep his eyes out of the rearview mirror. He patted his knee as he drove, hand ready near the clutch. He patted his autograph book, too. Should he turn the radio on — no. The autograph book traveled on the seat beside him, and he replaced it two or three times a year as it filled. Collecting was a passionate hobby for Toto and he spared no expense. Each book was made-to-order with pastel, clay-coated linen pages edged in gold, and bound in exotic mammal and reptile skins. He selected the skins himself as part payment for his role delivering through Rome smuggled pelts and flesh and plumage, primitive, rare and sometimes living natural products on their way to secret destinations beyond the law, many in private menageries, which harbored especially wanton lust for jungle plunder they made miserable if the creatures harked to life at all. 191


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To Toto, every volume was an emblem of his personal chieftainship and superiority. In some way, he believed the soul of each slain animal passed through to his because he carried such a relic of its body. The present volume was bound in the iridescent, lemon-green skin of a four-month old male Costa Rican palm alligator. Each volume was kept in its original, creamy beige box, which boxes, although never the books, absorbed slight blots from handling. The fine books themselves never showed wear. Toto cared for them with special skin bleaches and creams, and they retained forever, despite the harsh conditions under which he archived them in his damp living quarters, the heartbreaking quality of infancy. Also on his shelves, as a curious adjunct to the essential collection, Toto maintained several volumes of forgeries. The most current of these were filled with signatures of illustrious contemporaries, signed to perfection by Toto himself. He practiced a talent by which he could draw a schema into his fingertips long enough to assume the personality, and sign. Toto’s clever hands flinched. He gripped the steering wheel tighter in his left hand and quickly crossed himself with his right. He imagined the presentation of his book to these women. He would approach Beatrice first. Rarely would an individual deny they were identified or refuse to sign, and under such circumstance, if attempts by Toto failed to tease or trick them out of the lie, the passenger invariably complied after only the mildest threats. There had been very few personages in the years of his collecting who had persisted in denying their identities until death. Toto imagined the look of the women’s signatures. Because of her disfigurement, news photos of Jewel were hard to interpret, but from those he had seen, now 192


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confirmed by the ghastly flesh itself, the face was too scarred to be a reliable indication of her character. Toto believed that a face and a signature were personality made manifest. He believed they were the selfsame unit measured by analogous scales, and that in these two self-generated pictograms, identity was coded. Lacking a proper face, the remaining icon of Jewel’s individuality would be her signature, and such a signature would be doubly valuable therefore. The only signal his imagination received from Jewel’s face about her autograph, and that only weakly, was that she might print, or that cursive letters might be unconnected. But her face wasn’t reliably readable. It was a mask of misidentity atwin to the features of Dorian Gray. Beatrice was another story. Photographs of Beatrice had appeared in Rome papers for years, and her signature as an artist was also famous enough to be bought and sold on pieces of enduring paper for fantastic sums, although usually with a picture on the recto. His prior attempts to collect it had been foiled by her students. But Toto had been patient: Beatrice was a regular fixture of the city. He had known his opportunity would arrive some day, and here it was. Every nuance of her written name was inscribed in Toto’s mind, elastically rewritten for circumstance of meeting. Toto imagined the opening capital “B” would not be a “B” so much as a heart with a tapered right ventricle, the beginning and end of a single five-degree stroke meeting below the center of the cleavage in a sharp and elegant point. The “e” would begin after a breath its upwardly curving course, its body continuing with direction but no pressure into the back shoulder of the “a,” the line to stop and be restarted there, looping like a nesting egg, to soon run down and up the upslope of the “t.” The shaft of the “t” 193


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would rise sharply, its peak matched in elevation to the “B” but its base raised along the hillocks of advancing letters. The crossing of the “t” would not occur until the word “Beatrice” was assembled, and then at mid-stem from “a” to “r.” The mesa of the “r” would be the line most horizontal to the paper, its downward slope veering steeply up again into the “i,” a brisk, crisp letter immediately dotted, the dot curling off to begin the “c” as if “ce” were a flying “w.” “Madregiore” would begin with a drop of the baseline to that of the “B” and swiftly scale to sharp twin peaks, the second ascendant delicate and light. Beatrice had fallen asleep in Jewel’s arms. Toto eyed them in the mirror, tipping his chin, raising his brows, expanding his lids wide, and weaving his head back and forth like a snake. Jewel scrutinized the concentration that his face reflected in the rear-view mirror. The late stages of smoked opiate visited her with their calling cards of apprehension and distrust. She checked his name and picture on the photo-license hanging from the meter. “Degliavolo, Ernesto.” Deliberately, she interrupted his thoughts. “Signore,” Jewel said, “after the sunset I’d like you to drive us back down to our pensione. We live at Lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia, quindici.” “La Signorina please gives me address when you want-a to leave,” Toto cut in, not listening. He never wrote more than one destination at a time in his log. People often changed their minds. He didn’t like to erase or strike things out. He would only acknowledge one thing at a time, and thereby almost never made mistakes. It was essenziale, he thought, to keep control of all moment-to-moment events and immediate matters and not clutter his mind with notes for the future, memories to 194


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pile up and insert amidst what has not yet happened, events and plans and directions that could, and probably would, change before their time timed out. Jewel slung herself back against the sun-cracked, steerhide seat. Beatrice stirred against her godchild as the taxi lurched up the mountain. She dozed to the sound of gears changing and fresh air hissing through partially open windows, and to aromas of the terrain change as they left the river and the city, and drove along the winding, wildshrubbed mountainside toward a drier, warmer peak. She fitted her body closer into Jewel, who was happy she slept in her arms, but that was all. Jewel had fallen into regret about the drive. She wished at least she hadn’t sat directly behind the driver as she did. She deliberately strained to avoid Toto’s angle of vision in the rear-view mirror, but could not evade her own reflected scars. Beatrice awakened slowly, swaying with the car. She felt a rise in herself of winds of the future, as if by this rumbling macchina she would be transported unexpected length, a stretch unpredicted by the segments of her life already lived. Beatrice knew she was on an adventure capable of changing her perceptions profoundly, a presentiment which would prove true within the hour, and of restructuring her very nature, which would prove true within the day. Is there/what is the correlation between the future and a person’s expectation?

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Chapter 27 Toto, Beatrice and Jewel on the Gianicolo at Sunset The Gianicolo was deserted, scrubby, the grass worn down by cars and people come and gone, trash and litter everywhere. The air was dry and oppressively hot. A small, ancient temple stank of urine. They were lucky to be alone: on such a holiday week the place was usually filled with tourists. And Jewel had high hopes for the view. Toto proudly presented it as if it were his own. “Che splendido. Che bello, che bello,” Toto spun himself out of the cab and gallantly opened Beatrice’s door. Jewel was left to hurry after them. Annoyed, she caught up and passed them, racing to the brink of the sacred hilltop to see its historic power released. Toto cautiously brought Beatrice as close to the edge as he dared, to appreciate the sunset at its fullest, however she might do it. 196


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The sky was brilliant yellow, dense as fluid, as if they stood on a rise at the bottom of a jar of liquid yellow air. Rings of color drifted out in distant bands, orbiting in floating pools of pink and blue above Rome’s seven hills. Jewel approached the blazing gasses until her retinas scorched, and saw through the intense glare, Beatrice facing the sun as if it were an ocean, her silhouette absorbing the heat of the light. And in hypervigilant, squinting periphery, Jewel caught the cabby start toward the artist with that bane of her famous career, an autograph book. It was part of Jewel’s responsibility to prevent this. She intercepted with the first distracting thing her mind could offer, a quote from Death in Venice appropriate to the moment: “The sun beguiles our attention from things of the intellect to fix on things of the senses.” Immediately as the sound of the quotation was transmitted through the radiation, the mountaintop was pierced by a streaming wail from Beatrice, rising in pitch to the highest peak of her vocal range, her white stick whirling and twirling in the air as she shrilled and shrieked and spun. In a flash, particles of crystal, glass, mirror and vapor rearranged themselves in mid-air for a thousandth of a second. The sky opened a hole in itself, then snapped shut. Beatrice seemed to detonate and burst. Beatrice had exploded and reformed! Jewel disbelieved what she saw. She was certain this must have been a trick of the light, surely not an explosion, although Beatrice did at that instant fall to the ground unconscious. Toto and Jewel both ran to revive her, but Jewel pushed the stranger back. She jabbed him in the chest to reach her first, and his recoil called chilling recall of passage 2 Corinthians 11:14: “the Prince of Darkness is the Messenger of Light.” 197


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Toto wagged his tongue in her horrified face, but returned to the cab to replace his treasured book into its soiled linen box, and push the box into his knapsack. Whatever it might have been a poco minuto ago, it wasn’t the right time now. But other than for missing the autograph, he was not concerned about Beatrice’s collapse. In his experience, women were prone to fainting and best not taken seriously. Allora, as long as he had come back to the cab, he might as well bring the thermos of cold coffee. Jewel lifted her godmother, not solid in her arms. She held a sack of twigs, a bag of feather bones, a form as light and supple-brittle as papyrus palimpsests. Jewel laid the figure on the trodden grass, alive and breathing but not lucid, shading her face as best she could between two broken bushes. Jewel sat on the ground beside her, peering into Beatrice’s expressionless visage hanging slack from her thin brow ridge, sharp cheekbones, hollow sockets and straight nose. Beatrice’s lips were open, showing tiny teeth, still very white, like baby teeth. Jewel was filled with grief. She fanned her with her hands, blowing on her eyes and forehead, smoothing her long, silky hair. Toto came with his thermos and placed a few drops of espresso on Beatrice’s parted lips with his fingers. She awoke — and upon revival, Beatrice had received the sense of sight! Jewel fell back, and stumbled to stand up. There was no doubt her blind godmother’s eyes were beginning to see. Beatrice can see now! her mind yelped as she called out, “Beatrice! You can see! Don’t move!” “Madre ’Dio. Madre ’Dio!” Toto jumped and stomped, clutching and crossing himself, swooping around and around the bushes, waving his arms over her. Beatrice did not move for several minutes. At first she 198


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did not recognize the patterns she received. Subtle emotion, her usual antenna, had been drowned by sensation, as if a sensate person had been stricken senseless. She became half-sighted psychically. But recognizing this instant as the beginning of something new, the artist knew to not apply old measure. Toto helped her up, then stepped away. She stood still, eager to savor and monitor her first impressions and reactions. Beatrice was already well-disciplined in resisting the brain’s shortsighted habit of organizing perspicacity too soon; she was well-practiced in prohibiting distortions caused by accessing anything one already knows. Thus, she could position her psyche aloof, blank enough to register, as consciously as possible, the sense of each sensation by itself. She opened to the full charge of this unexpected bolt. She grounded her two feet, so that the shock of seeing with pure vision would run through her single brain and heart, to receive its double signals from two eyes, in one real, unorganized dimension. In that way, its natively abstract, descriptive power would flow through her entire nervous system directly into her creative subconscious. Nirvana, crossed the artist’s mind. Her two eyes regarded the panoramic scene. The hilltop vista appeared as two wide-angled chasms filled with stalagmites in pairs, each folding toward a point between her feet, then away, diminishing in size while curling concave, clockwise, each eyeful identically hanging on to separate bending segments, like coiled fern leaves projected on re-intersecting translucent screens. Next, all elements recrossed like fanning seeds in the heads of overlapping, jellied sunflowers, each identically placed on the arc of its base, and overlaid upon another in misregistration. In double image, focussed clearly at only one point, 199


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time after time, both visions bounced in synchronicity, but even so, no whole could be caught during any one duration unless it was quite small, seen singularly or far away. A solid thing was not locatable where either image fell, but somewhere in between. Solids changed contour as she moved. Depths of field shifted in each eye independently, but both were equal if both eyes aimed. Angle of view doesn’t change except in consideration, she realized, but then made herself stop thinking. Configurations regrouped in alternate double exposures. Warm colored forms, upon a single plane with cool, jumped cool as cool receded. There were so many visions and they blurred together. Beatrice drew the cowl of her cloak higher around her neck and ears, and arranged the hood over her brows to reduce the contrast. The newly polarized world asserted contiguity. Disparate locations and properties entered and exited her lenses as her attention alighted and took off. Up and down seemed upside down. Any vertex of brightness landed on an iris briefly, but as soon as there, the lens was called away by unclosed lines and quasi-geometric shapes, repeated colors or patterns, parallelity, or text, to be sucked in by text, even if printed on a scrap of garbage or in any language. Toto watched the transformations of the artist’s face, and the suspended animation of Jewel, as the child tried to size up the situation. Beatrice paused, continuing to watch and listen. Oscillating pictures were accompanied by psychedelic sounds, bars of abstract jazz and unmatched rhythms. Unfamiliar, unwelcome, unrelenting words and noises, evoking memories, meanings, thoughts and sketchy plans drowned out the silent personal directives she had always followed. Newly invading streams of visual information 200


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f lowed through like tickertape, not pausing for her comprehension, any possible communicability lost, every snatch of meaning obfuscated by the next. Rotating visions re-emerged with multi-track accompaniment of unrelated audiations out of sync. Batting her eyes cut and pasted sights and phantom sounds; she closed her lids and opened them in strobe. She raised her arms to reduce contrast again another grade. Her hands fluttered huge before her eyes, and when she held them up again to examine each more closely, one appeared within the other as if broken and reset akimbo. These she interpreted as extensions for propulsion and communication, like oars and telephones, not part of her real body, which was not even on the screen. She herself remained invisible outside the diorama. Why not in the picture now? Likewise, what was behind her was unseen. When blind, her senses were omnidirectional. Now she was trapped against a wall. All that lay forward was depicted, but only what was there in that one time and place. All that lay behind her was obscure. The in-front and in-back, the places where she was and she was not, in fore and aft in time and space, were no longer omnipresent. When blind, her mind could be in any time or any place she knew or could imagine; her inner vision of the outer could envision all in all directions. But now her time and place were no longer in her mind, but outside and apart from her. Vision was dictating to brain what reality was like. And esthetic preferences were creeping in to further corrupt her transcription of it, and weigh in with their own judgements and their values. Beatrice sorrowed: the addition of sight to her senses had subtracted much. She was not yet ready to give up her omniscience. She looked for a dark place to rest. 201


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A mirage appeared as she sought shade: she saw the sinking sun caught in Jewel’s orange hair, and mistook the child for a shaft of light, which turned into a pillar of fire, which turned into Jewel’s trapped, burning body walking toward her, out of the coals. On this hilltop of searing light, Beatrice beheld her goddaughter in the flesh for the very first time. She stared. She scowled fiercely, and thrust a bony finger toward the scarface’s abashment. She was astonished — and disgusted. Jewel and Beatrice looked at one other for the first time in their lives, and uncontrollable words spurt out the artist’s bursting brain. “You are not beautiful,” Beatrice shouted. “You are not beautiful! Not beautiful, not beautiful!” Jewel froze in icy fear as she watched her idol melt before her. From its tranquil beginnings, Beatrice’s delicate face had become a mask of fiery contempt, more ugly than the damaged and original face of Jewel that had ignited it. The code with which this ashen blindwoman had heretofore identified the invisible girl, was broken. She beheld a monster. And to her own shame, Jewel felt no joy in her godmother’s miracle. It had betrayed her and made real her greatest fear: Beatrice could see her as her mother had: defective, ugly, substandard, ruined, repellent. Jewel gazed into the transfigured face of Beatrice, and measured by its distortion, the magnitude of her loss. To confirm, Beatrice ran her fingers along the child’s scars, as she had done so many times impartially before. “You are not beautiful,” she said again. It had become a matter of fact. Jewel searched the artist’s displeased face. Beatrice had lost her beatific bearing. Caustic thoughts bombarded her. She bore them with a palpable air of resignation. Jewel 202


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clearly understood: the mistress of disguise herself could no longer penetrate that of her progent. “I’m sorry,” Jewel said, overcome by weeping. She hurled herself back to the taxi to cry alone. Toto had not been displeased by this new slant. He was used to women crying. To his mind, women cried all the time and it meant nothing. Occasionally, he deliberately made women cry, although he was glad that these particular waterworks gushed without need of his priming. Perhaps it might make him desirable to Beatrice in Jewel’s stead: the sensual nature of the women’s relationship hadn’t eluded him. He figured he’d pump Beatrice first, then Jewel. He lit a cigarette with a wax-stick match, cupping his hands, his memory still burning with Jewel’s face as it broke to cry. He warmed to his own lascivious thoughts, and sidled up to Beatrice. “You view the sunset,” Toto said heartily, solicitously, to her, as if things were back to normal now and nothing had happened, nothing had changed, nothing was any different from the way it ever was, that every moment had been identical to that one, and always would be. Let the past stay in the past, even a minute ago, drop off and be forgotten. “La ragazza, the young lady, be OK.” He flicked the match toward the retreating girl, minimizing her, and blew the cigarette’s first full breath of smoke out furling through his nostrils, then tucked the soft pack into the breast pocket of his clean, white shirt. He smoked a cheap Italian brand, unfiltered. He led Beatrice to a broken wooden bench over the crest of the hill, and sat with her to watch the sky fill the city below. Suspended blue, green and violet molecules sifted down into the valley, then gradually crept north and south to scintillate the Campus Martius flood plain. The vista entered their four separate 203


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eyes from different angles, each apparatus sighting down only those shafts leaking into their private keyhole theaters. Both brains believed they saw orange strands separating out from yellow, and pink from orange, and purple from pink, blue from purple, gray from blue. Each color projected on the miniaturized white marble and tangerine stucco walls of Trastevere beneath the hill. Toto named the colors for her in Italian, and recalled to her the paintings of his countrymen who brought them to life. “A portrait artist is the greatest artist,” Toto said, gazing at the landscape. “I must see myself !” Beatrice exclaimed. She hurried to the taxi and twisted down one of the outer side-view mirrors that Toto had customized the cab with for extra safety. From a foot away, she peered at this double pier glass. A two-inch diameter, mercury-backed convex fish-eye hemisphere was glued to the lower half of a flat, vertical oblong with rounded corners. Both were hit by the sun as it reappeared in the glass from beneath the horizon, angled against the slope of the hill to a higher level than otherwise could be seen, because without the angled mirrors it had already set. Two suns resounded from these two glass segments as if from two ninety-three million mile cascading check marks. Beatrice saw in this double device, rays reflected from her face and body divide and duplicate as separate figures. The hemisphere returned to her eyes a miniscule, curving version of herself as a hornet in a field of shaped lightning, and in the oblong, she saw a tiny fairy. The four white highlights glinting from her sclerae, she thought she herself projected outward as light beams. What she thought she saw made full sense to her; her visual logic had a mind of its own. Toto looked on, but didn’t think the situation through and turn the car, or find a flashlight, or 204


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serve to cast any light upon her single 3d self reflected here as two flat 2d silhouettes. Inside the car, Jewel was crying. And standing right there, Beatrice clearly heard her goddaughter’s muffled distress, but she did not call to her. Instead she turned her reeling vision on the man. Rugged, hardy, handsome, charming, powerful, solid, sensual, boorish, limited: her eyes formed runaway opinions of their own. The outer skin of his lips stretched over bulging pillows, soft, and moving as they changed from one obscene shape to another. Heavy, dumb, insolent, sloping eyes were close-set under thick, furry eyebrows. But Beatrice hadn’t enough experience with faces to comprehend the character displayed there, or possibly was pleased by the questionable character she read, for in this scoundrel, Beatrice thought she had found a magician who would serve her. She attributed her miracle to him, and acknowledged it by nodding. He understood, and nodded back. But Toto sustained no power to work miracles; he customarily credited fate’s entry to his assets. He drew the last drag from the butt of his cigarette and stomped it on the ground, then came to face Beatrice more squarely. She tried to straighten out her eyes on him. Toto yearned to finally present her with his autograph book. He envisioned removing the tender, plump volume from its ivory box and balancing the supple, living, rounded square out on his palm like an offering. But he could not summon the impulse to pull it again from his knapsack and hand it to her while she was still in the throes of such personal upheaval. He worried he risked failure; she might decline and possibly reject him altogether. The first signature of Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore immediately after having become sighted, would be a most prized specimen. Even moreso because he had lost the opportunity for her final 205


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autograph when blind: those in existence had become more valuable because that time had passed. And who knew how long this one would stay present: should she revert to blindness, this moment’s sighted signature would have yet greater value. But Toto knew that the presentation of his book at inopportune moments made it difficult and sometimes nasty to collect. He and Beatrice stood transfixed in each other’s gaze. “I have the idea,” Toto said, blinking free. He knocked loudly on the car window to signal Jewel it was time to stop her silly bawling. “The stars come soon. Let me take you for the evening to my beautiful villaggio, Ostia, on the beach. I have-a fine telescope there. We can see the Halley’s Comet.” Jewel sat up in the car. Could this be true? Did she just hear him say he has a telescope? This could change everything. She wanted to go see it. It might be the biggest celestial event of her life. She listened to the conversation outside the car, hoping Beatrice would say yes. No longer blind, she could see this man for herself now. If Beatrice does say yes, maybe the guy is OK. But, Jewel paused to admit with gnawing compassion, Beatrice must be exhausted. Would she want the ugly child along anymore, anyway? Maybe she should put a scarf or veil over her face. Maybe she should finally give in to surgery. What if they decided to drop her at the pensione on their way through the city? Surely Beatrice should not roam around tonight with a stranger. She must be tired and weak. At least she should eat something. She must be near the end of her strength. “Maybe Beatrice should see a doctor?” Jewel called timidly, not lowering her window, but concerned enough to sacrifice the little pride she still had left. Toto and Beatrice laughed derisively. 206


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Chapter 28 Toto, Beatrice and Jewel Drive to Ostia They drove the ancient road at twilight to Ostia,

facing west at sea level towards a second sunset, passing Toto’s thermos of cold, sweet, thick, gritty espresso, taking sips. Women were so easy to maneuver. “We follow the sun?” Beatrice asked, but then when it finally set below the lowest horizon and colors finally faded, she still hadn’t grasped the billiard nature of the phenomenon. “I’m losing my sight again,” she said. Toto switched on his headlights and the dome light inside the cab, to Beatrice’s surprise and pleasure. Her vision was settling down and alerting her to the content of events. She admired Toto’s driving skills and asked him questions about the car. She sat in front with him. Jewel sat alone in the back. When a fly buzzed through and landed 208


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on the dashboard, Toto killed it instantly with a quick swat of newspaper. “I admire insects,” Beatrice said. “Shit-eaters,” spat Toto, “Flies eat shit.” Don’t we all, Jewel heard herself think. But in thinking that, she felt more a part of the group, and tried to say something pleasant about insects. “Insects have the most highly evolved social systems on the planet,” she told them. “OK, flies are solitary, but think of ants, bees, termites, wasps —. And all the workers are female. There are a few males, but solely for mating, then they die. One queen, although she can spawn others if she wants, but makes them leave the nest.” They both ignored her. Instead, Toto told a complemental tale, The Rape Of The Sabine Women, known to both Beatrice and Jewel, but both thought the retelling would be worth relistening to. In this legend, Romulus founds the city of Rome where a she-wolf had found him in the river with his twin brother, Remus. After slaying his twin, Romulus populates the city by freeing neighboring prisons into it, but there are no women. So these new Romans invite their neighbors, the Sabines, to come with their wives to a banquet, then abduct the wives. When the Sabines regroup to attack Rome and reclaim their wives, the women prefer to stay with the Roman men. Or so the story goes, Jewel sniggered, as told by a Roman. Probably plenty wanted to return to their families. Probably all but maybe one or two. And such two wouldn’t want to stay alone. With no other women for the other Roman men, they would end up passed around. Many young prostitutes lined the road. Toto waved and honked and laughed as he drove by them, all known to him. The daughters, Jewel’s thoughts continued, if the Romans had invited, or even abducted, the Sabine daughters, 209


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they might well have stayed, not the Sabine wives. But the scales of Jewel’s logic rebalanced again: And yet, if any Sabine daughters stayed, probably some Sabine wives would, too. Again she sniggered: Just no way to escape one’s mother. And then: But must have grabbed the daughters, too. No female would have been left. Toto stopped at a dusty market to buy groceries. Jewel and Beatrice waited in the car. At this lower altitude, the evening here was muggy. A dozen teenage girls and children came near the cab, some to follow Toto, some to gawk at his ladies. Jewel turned her face away from her window full of little girls staring and pointing to her scars. Two bigger boys swaggered over, tearing themselves away from their amusing game of torturing a nest of vespe. Jewel and Beatrice were silent with each other. When Toto returned, Beatrice handed him money for the food. Then she rolled down her window to give a child a thousand-lire note. “Go home, go home now, little one,” Beatrice said in Italian as Toto put the car in gear. “A casa ora va.” Toto drove off carefully as more children surrounded them. The questions of reality are too vast, Jewel thought as they pulled away, the answers only temporary and insufficient, too dependent on miserable, unsatisfactory replies to earlier, easier questions. If there ever was a foundation of understanding between individuals, it was built on quicksand. How does the present happen; was there no way one’s will could improvise a happy ending? Jewel despaired. She did not approach these thoughts to marvel, but to find true answers, to break the codes of reality, the acknowledged mandate of science, after all. But her advanced scientific education would not begin for several years, and she didn’t believe in supernatural determinants. 210


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Chapter 29 In Ostia Toto lived in an old fishing shack, past the back

bay of the northern cove of Ostia, on a desolate point of farthest scalloped peninsula, on the last width of isthmus, on the final shore before the cliffs. South from his shack was beachfront more desirable for lido or development, and to the north lay beach at low tide only. At high tide, the surf reached tall on the cliffs, and pitted them with caves and rugged juttings. This ribbon of low tide sand was all that remained of the broad, master beaches of bygone times. Toto’s beach itself was hardly ever more than twenty feet at best. Many a tide, his shack was flooded, and it listed far to lee. It was no more than a timbered shanty, bleached and peeling. There had once been whole colonies of shacks and sheds along the bays and coves of the long peninsula and 212


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although some of the other stretches had one or two still standing, this was the last inhabited cabin so far north. Toto led the women around back. Under the most downsloping corner of the sunken roof, on a crumbling concrete platform behind a broken picket gate, stood a rain barrel, partially full. Toto drank from a tin cup hanging by a dirty string stripped from the sinews of a dwarf-ibex, looped around the horns still attached to its skull through its scalp. This he had hammered to a shingle with a rusty nail five centuries old he once found in a smoldering rubbish heap, and thought would do. “Drink,” he said, pushing the dented cup at them. Beatrice took it first, and drank, and returned it to him. He slurped from it, dipped again, refilled the cup and offered it to Jewel. She accepted, repelling her repulsion, eager to let’s go already with the telescope. But Toto’s animal instincts, reinforced by his animal relics, picked up on her brief hesitation and suggested a prurient motive for her interest in his erogenous instrument. He turned to look straight at her as she took the filthy cup, and let her know he knew she gauged him. He gestured at her briefly with his lips, like a moo or kiss, as he turned away to go unlock the house. Jewel rinsed her mouth with the water and wanted to spit, but this refined child had never spit in anything but a bathroom sink. She let the metallic mouthful trickle down her throat, not because she was parched, which she was, but priggishly, because she did not want to appear coarse before one coarser — he had walked away but he might turn back and see. She forced herself to swallow, chagrined to realize she was holding herself to high ideals only because she thought Toto’s were lower. Nothing Jewel might do could pass her test for integrity: in everything, she found 213


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her purity lacking. And even in admitting this, she could not take pride, lest she accuse herself of the sin of it. In this way also, in a way, she was like her mother, and in another way like this, like Beatrice, too. At last! Toto backed out the weathered door, down the rickety steps, with a large, white Celestron telescope. The fat barrel was mounted on a strange altazimuth and tripod, homemade from lead pipes, and carried over his shoulder like a bazooka. About thirty paces south was an acclivity of clumped grasses abutting stunted pines, raised enough from the beach to serve as a viewing drumlin. Low, red, fan palmae trees faced inward from the curve of the land, bulging the sand, protecting it from breezes, and making the location warm and still. Beatrice pointed out a weevil Jewel thought should not be living there. Climate must be warming up, she deduced. Waxy flowers grew in stumpy clusters on the ground. Jewel noticed Toto did not trample them. In this oasis he set his implements. The women followed him, not speaking as he eased the assembly into place. Toto positioned his tube of lenses toward the southwest, into a sky aglow with deepening teal. Venus had just come into view. Jewel and Beatrice stood apart, but in easy reach. Their eyes had not made contact since the mountain. The sky promised to be clear for some time. Toto bent carefully to the eyepiece and located Halley’s comet with no difficulty, adjusting the focus with exactitude, clockwise and counter-clockwise, clockwise and counter-clockwise again but less so, and then a third time, even less. A gecko-bound notepad and unsheathed ebony lead dangled from its mount. Toto looked at his intricate Korean wristwatch and recorded the time of his sighting: 7:12:12 pm. As he lifted his beefy arm, he passed his hand over Jewel’s back, slowly dragging his middle finger 214


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across her skimpy clothing as if by accident, nonchalantly, but salaciously lingering over her shoulder blades. In overtly gentlemanly manner, he offered his position to her, relishing the feeling of her thin body stiffening beneath his open palm. He guided her to the equipment, his hand flat and wide and hot and damp against her floral shift, but he freed her from that open capture once she was in place. He enjoyed her shiver as she was released. He was disappointed in this preliminary test of her consensuality, however. He had taken her acceptance of his telescope and drinking water as acquiescence and affirmation. He did not like women who teased, even though aroused by frightened girls, no matter they usually proved troublesome in the end. And any ficha who came to his house and said no, was to him a twat worth punishing. He brushed her aside with the back of his hand, and took another look through the scope, replaying the focus a hair’s breadth back and forth, and recorded the time to the nearest second once more: 7:14:01 pm, and degree of altitude. A hair’s breadth, Jewel heard and saw in her mind, a hare’s breath. She ignored his moves on her, but warily observed him. The precision of his focusing called to mind how conservative he had been as a driver, and she wondered at this complex brute. “I will get the food,” he announced, turning back to the cab for the wines and antipasti they had bought. Toto made Jewel nervous. But at last she could look through the lens! Within seconds, she located the dancing smear. To finally see the comet was a shock of such violent pleasure she withdrew immediately. Jewel had a terror of happiness. She quickly switched places with Beatrice. She looked straight down at the ground and latched her attention to the toe-holding expanse of Adromischus cristatus plants. 215


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Their crinkle-edged chunky rosettes varied in color from gray-green to purple, and in a small patch extending through that range, two were bright magenta. Jewel imagined how a completely red strain or race might be naturally artificially bred. “Grazie tante,” said Beatrice, edging past Jewel to take her turn, their fragrances welling so familiar to them both. Jewel was aroused. She thought she sensed from Beatrice a renewed impulse toward her, a second chance. Perhaps under the open sky Beatrice had reconsidered and forgiven her her deformity. Beatrice had never been a trivial person, Jewel thought, and pinned her hopes on that. Their love had pre-dated both their transformations. What difference could it possibly make to Beatrice!? Why would a beloved care about what a loved-one looked like? And how would an artist have pre-formed esthetics regarding new experience? Beatrice extended a tentative hand to her as their bodies touched. Jewel wouldn’t hold her lapsed love against her; it was only a pre-test of their fidelity, and Beatrice seemed to be coming back. Perhaps they might lie together in the beach flowers, even if they hadn’t on the mountain top, drink wine and watch the stars. She would like to drink wine tonight with Beatrice; her first experiences with wine and even hashish hadn’t been bad, not so intoxicating as she had imagined. Her memory mitigated her fluctuating emotions. Jewel’s mind raced as she lingered, changing places with the artist before the long white tube, touching Beatrice lightly, as Toto had touched her. He was out of sight. He was not the important one here, he was merely their guide, a servant. But did Beatrice truly mean to rekindle their love? Yes or no the outcome would take courage. Jewel glanced quickly at Beatrice’s flickering eyes. “My child,” Beatrice said in her impenetrable way, 216


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emphasizing the word “my,” and repeating it, “my child, mine,” but still not looking at her. Toto called something. He was standing by the cab. Jewel didn’t catch it, but heard Beatrice call back, “I will project a diversion.” What? This caught Jewel off guard. As usual, there was no telling what Beatrice meant, but this was different. This was their special Côte d’Ivoirian storygame. Jewel wondered, as she never had before, was this a pose with Beatrice, or could it possibly be true after all? Is Beatrice just a clever artist, or is she supernatural? If she’s supernatural, then she would be more powerful than God! Because even God can’t work beyond the confines of physics, can he? Even if He made the laws, from all evidence He obeys them. She resolved to observe Beatrice more closely, but covertly. Jewel was both a devout enthusiast of fiction and a scientist willing to consider every evidenced possibility. But she would bet on a natural explanation. Maybe God invented the rules but even He has to play by them...or can the Laws of Nature by amended? Do they, can they, will they, ever change? Well, we haven’t yet read all of His constitutions yet, for sure. “My child, my child,” repeated Beatrice, reaching to her slowly. Never had her godmother’s fingers felt so cold. Apprehension welled again in Jewel, and tears came she didn’t want seen, so she did not acknowledge the advance. She had encouraged it, and almost took it, but she could not be sure that it was sincere. She looked again at the sand, then directly faced the ocean and walked straight downslope to it. Beatrice stared after her, which pleased her, but she didn’t let on. At the water’s edge she lowered her shift, not to taunt her temptress, but to put her to a final test. She would reveal the full extent of her malformed, 217


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naked body. If its totality should provoke increased abhorrence, she must know now. Certain that Beatrice’s eyes were on her excoriated flesh, Jewel stepped into the warm, dusky sea. Returning from the car, Toto saw Jewel disrobing at the shoreline and was sure that this display was meant for him. Adjusting his crotch, he approached the nearest female. “Drink from the bottle,” he said to Beatrice, twisting out the cork with a single jerk of his brass hand-screw, his eyes on the skinny girl in the tide. “I don’t have no glass.” He stepped in front of Beatrice and stroked his apparatus, refocusing it less than a thirtieth of a degree, then wrote down another time: 7:29:27 pm. Ocean, Jewel thought as she plunged into the breaking foam, its chop hushing her, the surf flooding her with relief. “See?” Toto asked Beatrice if she could see the comet through the telescope, or maybe “Si?” as he was repositioning her another smidge. The syllable conveyed and generated a multiplicity. “See?” she repeated, concerned for her godchild, and asking if he’d asked if she could see her; or maybe “Si,” pleased to drink from this strong man’s bottle; or even “Sea” to say what she was looking at, if that had been his question to her. He didn’t, she was pretty sure, mean “C”: The First Cambridge Catalog of Astronomical Radio Sources. Toto was satisfied that she replied at all. It didn’t really matter to either of them what either of them had meant. He brought his arm around again, pulling her back to further adjust her alignment. She looked through the tube, but didn’t think to point it toward Jewel; she knew instinctively: devices that see into the far-off universe can not possibly focus on the close-up world. She looked distractedly into space and firmed up other issues on her mind: there must be no communication 218


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with anyone out there. She knew she must foil Jack’s plans. For months she had ignored stronger impulses to stop him when her bugging and needling did no good. But now she dropped her resistance. An idea for a project took form in her mind as she looked through the telescope, and a possible title. She knew what her next moves must be. She knew what shapes, colors, materials, sounds and props to use, and what costumes and locations, and by whom she would be played if she were to play more than a single role. Out loud, she marveled about the comet. She knew this would please Toto. Her powers were not limitless — timeless, multi-toned and international, yes, but she feared they were Earthbound. Her abilities were only useful on this sphere, and well she did presume it, even if no one else was sure. One doesn’t always know the truth about oneself, however. This artist might well be nonmortal, but we’ll have to wait and see. One’s gifts are not always recognized, or if ever, soon. Beatrice’s eyes sought out a buzzing from a tumbling rosemary bush. In it she saw two insects: a wasp and a butterfly. This completed the full inspiration. She wrote it down: “The Wasp and the Butterfly Effect.” She pricked the paper in her Braille slate quickly: “Figures trapped like flies in an atmosphere of glowing, sticky particles. A trickle of light will leak through a maze, attracting electronic moths to incineration, and butterflies to blanche. Fermentation and drunken stars.” And then, “Use Venus fly traps.” Toto spread a stiff army blanket on the sand, and watched the artist write, poking her stylus in mirrored Braille, right to left, the rows and dot-letters reversed so that the backward writing on the front could be read forward by her fingers on the back, which is the front, of course. He sucked deep swigs from the bottle and when this was soon emptied he uncorked another. He had never drunk any wine but this local Frascati. 219


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Beatrice pocketed her memo tools and came toward him. She knew how to write cursive and to type, but preferred this tactile code. Toto passed her the bottle, wiping it on his forearm and lifting it to her as she approached the blanket. They sat and drank, and together they followed Jewel’s ripple in the water until the faintest sky light quit. Topaz filled the air. Stars singly blinked on in azure night. Toto relieved himself against the rocks, and later into the water, and again in steaming patterns on the cooling sand. Beatrice lit her pipe again and this time Toto took it. The sea and sand and sky spread out before her, attached parabola-like to her eyes. The view protruded from her eyeballs like a plate in the lips of Ubangi women, the shape of a horizontal disk. All portions of the vista were visible at once, subsurface at the rim, stretched to the horizon and dropping off the far edge. Aware of every pucker in the blue-black monochrome, she could barely make out the little swimmer that was Jewel. The view rolled up; her corneas became a wall on which the picture was pasted, its edges curling up. Toto removed his white shirt and, with boastful flourish, pulled off his jeans. Those pants had been pretty hard to come by and he wanted to make sure she knew he owned a pair of genuine Levi’s. Naked, he grinned sidelong at her, and stood in 3/4 pose: the tiniest prick she had ever imagined grew to the most perfect she had ever seen; the first her eyes beheld. She was pleased with what she saw. He tore a piece of bread from a long, thick loaf, and wadded a handful into his mouth. They ate and spoke amicably. “I went to school with the Sisters,” he told her. “What did you learn?” she asked. “You are sexy, but you remind-a me them.” “Oh? All or one in particular?” 220


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“Si, una. She look like a cat.” “I have a cat in New York. A girl is staying at my place to take care of it.” “How the cat look?” “All black, right now,” she laughed. Toto didn’t know what she meant, but thought of a come-back. There had been a tribe of feral cats among the dunes for years, which he made use of. “Allora, this cat incolore?” He meant it as a joke, to hear her laugh again, but Beatrice stared at him, suspended. Offhand remarks by others were her I Ching. She jotted another idea for a piece. Toto sat down on the blanket and joined in her intensifying drugs. He lightly plucked at Beatrice’s clothing, which she let him do, lightly smiling at him for it. Then he lay down next to her, as she sat up. “What you do now?” he continued, but got no reply. He motioned her to lie down again. He tugged at her cape, one final, twirling swirl. It dropped off her shoulders and he draped it over them. “Well,” she tried to answer; what could she say? She wasn’t sure. What will I do now? “With sight,” she said, “I am no longer the center, but a point on an edge. I am no more transparent, but opaque.” Would Toto even pretend to understand? He didn’t have a subtle mind. She had taken that much of his measure from the first. What magic she thought he might possess was only what she gave him credit for because he was proximate when the magic came. She knew Toto wouldn’t be the best of muses, but he was here and so would do for now. She turned her body into him and tented the long, loose, black, softweave, buckram fabric around them both. They ate and drank and foreplayed, catching glimpses of the child far out. 221


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Images of his Sisters, and her cat(s), stayed with Beatrice as she re-started her cryptic reply, “I’ll begin a new life,” she said, “wholly opposite.” Jewel had swum out beyond their view. The sky was almost black now. Toto didn’t understand what Beatrice meant. “I am concerned for Jewel,” she said. He didn’t care. He lessened her concern. He slowly unfurled her cloak, and exposed their bodies to the air. His mouth took hers, and softly sucked and held. He gently entered her a half-inch at a time, withdrawing slowly, and entering again another fraction, then out, then in a fraction deeper, another centimeter until her own sex was engorged. Her intimate slipperiness thickened, and sucked him in full full. She closed her eyes. On this blanket she received her lifetime’s most consummate consummation. They paused when his exquisite glide was at her deepest. He slowly withdrew, and pushed slowly, incrementally, inside again. They paused again, their small cells pulsing, they themselves unmoving. Fullmost union. Single half whole double organs played. Single inner-organ self. The pause long lasted long. Slow inner dual singular duration. They paused again and cleared their throats. Toto caught his breath. He spoke. He encouraged the presumption that Jewel merely wished to be alone. He embellished the half-truth of some shelter, should Jewel swim back to another point on shore. As the swelling waves intensified, Beatrice made him promise that he go find Jewel at dawn. And as they disengaged to settle into sleep sometime much later, they saw in a sheen of phosphorescence, the virgin’s ragged red crown as she drifted toward the northern cove. Toto pointed out to Beatrice how pleasant the evening was. She drew her cape over them both, and they slept. 222


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Chapter 30 Jewel Swims Out As much as it was the nature of a lovely evening

ocean to generously offer peace and tranquility to all lucky enough to be bathing at that hour, Jewel could not abandon herself to this warm, twilight swim. The soothing sea, its swelling, rhythmic, overlapping crescents breaking behind her on the grainy beach, did not assuage her angst. She had entered the water unsure of Beatrice’s reactions to her body and not knowing if she were loved or hated. It had been a mistake to relinquish her pose of docility practiced so well for so long, a mistake to cede control of herself to anyone, even her godmother Beatrice. Jewel swam in profound sadness, in slow, deep, regular, rolling strokes and measured breaths until the light was gone. 223


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Light is a trick of the brain to describe the result of moving particles in the matter-energy exchange when they punch you in the eye. Or heat, for what is heat but energy released by the motion of particles, and what is motion but vector other than whatever path we’re on, Jewel tried to figure, as she pulled herself along, trying some elementary backstroke now, her face toward the Milky Way. All is E. We do not “see,” Jewel knew for sure, for seeing implies we know the attributes of something at a distance, without such something making physical contact with us. That would be magic. We can only “see” what physically touches us. Streaming filaments of dashing photons, only when they physically enter a living eye, could produce imaged sensations of transported attributes of separately located phenomena. We must be absolutely connected by physical substances to all the objects which themselves are elsewhere. Moreover, even light itself must be dark. It is “light” only insofar as it’s named for wavelength, but it only looks light when it reaches our brain. She watched and listened to her cold hands strike the water, face toward the land as she headed from it on her back. Like the tree that falls in an unoccupied forest, sound waves are produced, but it takes an ear connected to a brain to hear them. Young Jewel stroked on, her mind outpacing her. There must be many other energies out there. But they will never be sensed by us because we haven’t sprouted any sense-pads they could land on. Dark energy and matter, for example, might look light to Alien eyes. She stopped swimming to have a look back toward the beach, hoping she would see Beatrice on the shore, beckoning her to return, or even better, sailing out to meet her in some craft that Toto might have moored somewhere. 224


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There was a faint dome-glow inland from lights still on in the city of Rome far off to the east. She treaded, and searched the landward seascape, but could not see Toto’s roof. The shack had disappeared. Jewel saw nothing but water dissolving into mist. She listened, hoping to hear Beatrice call. She heard her head throb loudly. She had never swum in an unconfined space before. This was indeed Shakespeare’s “unparted ocean.” She banged her fist on the water to see ripples disperse evenly, to see God faithfully illustrate the principle that Huygens recognized. Science answers theology’s questions, she thought, as she shared these waters and this sky with all thinkers before and after her. She floated on her back, thin arms and legs stretched far apart like a Lakota dream catcher or Da Vinci’s perfect man. The sky had filled with millions of tiny, sharp stars. The moon had not yet risen, if it would. Jewel thought of the date and knew that it would not. She was pleased to greet the constellation of Orion, his body stretched directly over hers, the Gemini pair looking on, accompanied by the other winter constellations of the Northern Hemisphere. They were at their brightest this night of the no-moon New Moon: Great Dipper, Great Bear, Little Dipper, Cassiopeia’s Chair and the six stars of the glorious Pleiades. She found the planets Jupiter and Venus and the pinkish Saturn and then the single stars Polaris and Mizar, the bright Capella, red binary Palilicium, magnificent Sirius, and to test herself she sought The Lost One, the star the Arabs of the Golden Age called “Proof,” because to see it proved keen vision. Even without a telescope, Jewel could make out the comet, very low, about to set. She was sorry she hadn’t spent more time behind Toto’s lens. She tried to focus on the trailing “y” of Halley’s but it was visible only as she looked away. This phenomenon is called “phi,” she recalled, and 225


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due to one’s blindspot, the insensate point where the optic nerve leaves the eye for the brain. Fee-Fie-Foe-Fum, her mind wandered, the curious name of the idol to which children were sacrificed in Phoenicia and buried in pretty urns, twenty thousand of which have been excavated. Societies that sacrifice their innocents to leaders’ lusts all do so in the names of gods. An oxymoronic sensation of humiliating pride arose in her: At the time the Phoenicians were sacrificing children, their Hebrew neighbors were led by Solomon, who beseeched God to make him wise — not randy, not rich, not mighty, but wise. It was the ambition of this very fatigued little girl, too. Her shoulders and arms and legs and back and hips were aching. She was chilled through. She realized she could drown. She took deep breaths through her nose to warm herself, and tried to rest by removing her mind from her body again. Jewel searched the sky, hearing Shelley’s words say “ebon vault.” Poetry didn’t help. Nothing could put God back in Heaven. Any god that might have been, had come and gone, subsumed by its own creation. Otherwise it would have to stand outside the universe it made and closed. The presidium of science is internal. Scientific laws drive from within its system. Each part of the system affects all others. This was the radical truth of Father Abraham: that the system itself is a singularity. But he did not smash the final idol! The concept of God as an over-arching set of immutable principles was within Jewel’s purview, but not as a personification. God, as worshipped, is another idol, she realized. God is the Idol of Science. The Idol, the Icon, the Avatar, the False Prophet of Science. And, her thoughts raced on, The Icon of the Infinite, Icon for our own feelings of connection. 226


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Jewel lay rigid, heading west again, the Earth turning under her, floating her backward out of sight of Halley’s smudge as it finally set. These thoughts were too much for her. She was exhausted. She must return to shore; the swell had heralded a tidal shift. She would rest another minute in the starry sky and sea, as gradually calming waters mirrored the spangles above, and set her adrift. Gradually, the purling waters ebbed. I can envision time, she thought, searching the glimmering sky. “Submerge yourself,” the sea sounds said, “let your own luke currents lull you under.” Jewel was instructed not to resist, to relax and let herself sink. She listened carefully, compelled but unconvinced. Aggressive water sylfs forced her to gulp the brine, dive under, “You are not beautiful. Life is a stupid disappointment.” But softer, deeper, loving voices, reassuring daddyvoices, children’s voices, voices of friends who cared for her but she had abandoned, even her mother’s voice and sweet nicknaming voices, “Julie, Julie...,” from her nicknamed aunties, Betty, Letty, and both grandmothers’ voices, Klein and Rubin, almost never heard for real, called her to ignore life’s awes and dreads, be grateful her situation wasn’t worse. Stay alive for the sake of the many lives lost, for tortured prisoners, slavehands, child soldiers, abused innocents, youth-robbed laborers, forced sex-workers, starving peasants, foot-bound girls, abandoned addicts’ babies, horrid subsistences and gruesome deaths by the millions.... But visions of unfortunates did not make Jewel more highly prize existence. On the contrary: existence was more impossible to bear. She deliberately gulped salt water to flood her sinuses and burn her throat. She dove under the surface, came up choking and forced her body 227


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down again. The water was cold and black, pierced by pointy little glints. “I want to forget everything I know,” she cried aloud in anguish. But instead she remembered even more, and as usual with Jewel, not only from her life, It is too horrible to know how horrible humans are, but from her reading: “The unexamined life is not worth living”; how many times had she come across that obnoxious, unexamined quote? She held her breath against its arrogant, elitist shallowness, its insidious path down Devil’s Leap Lane. Clearly, the opposite is true: only the unexamined, uncomplicated, unquestioned life is simple and cheap enough to be worth living; the price of the examined life is much too high. People who are sure of themselves, never questioning assumptions no matter how stupid, are the happiest. Their lives cost little to live and are well worth it. They already know what to do and what to say they think — oh, “ignorance is bliss,” surely that is wisdom’s truest truth. Not the rigors of the honestly examined life, which spins fibrous agonies to ever finer filaments of examination, pilpulled and parsed until examination of the enterprise of enterprise and then the worth of worth. Obviously, there could be only one final solution: Jewel Rubin’s life was not worth the pain of living it. She plunged below but bobbed up coughing. Again and again. Oh why had she given up her catatonic posture of forbearance. She was unable to drop to the sea bed, sink down into the sea bed. She was going to have to resign herself to being alive. She just wasn’t good enough at ending it now. Something was bound to come next. She faced the beach, although she could not see it. “Your grandparents’ genes must reach shore.” Who said that? Her purposeful super-ego was setting her on course. She’d think about what it just said, what it might 228


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mean, later. Still angered by her unextinguished life, she thrust herself forward and spit. But this time, those few brain cells misery begrudged her did not succumb to disheartening rip of tide or tug of undertow. “You know your purpose now.” They buoyed her up. Is this what Daddy means by aggregates of DNA making all decisions? She spit. Later, think about that later. “Go on,” her kindest mental instruction came. She heard the water crash in two directions. A sandbar, a ship or an object must be nearby. She heard the crash behind her once again. She was out far. The air was cooler than the water. She had to decide which waves to listen to. Spit. Spit second decision. She must decide which way to swim. Waves from the outer ocean crashed again, now closer to her ears. She turned away, then, from the land. She swam a restful breast stroke another quarter mile into the Mediterranean Sea, then again, to find the second breaking tide in fifty strokes, again, and then she stopped and listened for the wavering sound again again, as she drifted in and out of time. The sound came not from an ocean bar — a piece of wood banged into her — a boat? Jewel heard a shallow lapping against a driftwood plank. She closed her eyes in readiness to board — a ship! A sleek yacht sailed up to her out of the darkness, outfitted in silver. Each fitting caught the starlight in platinum-tipped streaks and points and threw them out around her in the water. The lines of the ship were strung with tiny gold charms. From the rail, two elderly figures beckoned her, dropping a rope ladder, strewing petals and pennies of reflection to guide her aboard. She grabbed for the plank and clambered on. Splinters pierced her hands and knees and bony pelvis-peaks as she scraped herself onto the wood, but she felt no pain. As she 229


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climbed she saw the vessel’s name in script along its taffrail: Stella Maris. A fragile old mariner in white and his twin sister were blowing kisses of welcome, crooning in unison, “You will sleep with us together in the warm, perfumed bed of incestuous love.” Jewel was falling asleep! To dream would be to drown! Swim back to shore. The sea was undergoing another change. Or stay afloat and paddle. The pull of the invisible moon might assist her. Time will tell. The sky was lit more densely from below and an oily fog had surfaced on the seaward horizon. Jewel was chilled through. Her thin, numb body shivered and jerked in the water. Straining to look back toward the beach, she noticed that the glow of Rome had slid many degrees to the south. The amber dome of light looked dimmer and smaller, too, as if the glowing city far off in the night were another distant sun setting beyond another horizon. She had drifted with the current too far north. Best swim to the nearest point on shore, she told herself, and walk back overland. This was only common sense, but trusting its mistake would come close to costing Jewel her life, just when she planned to bank it. Her body rattled, loosened, revived enough to steer the knotty, macerated board. She held on tight. Her eyes burned, water was painful in her lungs, and she fought nausea and thirst. She was cold above the surface, and pined to keep beneath. She saw that even just to hold the beam she was too weak; she would have to ride the wood. It sank and twisted, hitching and bucking, but she could stay afloat and steady if she stayed low and flat. Jewel paddled and breathed, paddled and breathed and kicked, trying to fight down awareness of her puny efforts against the pressure-tons of air and water. The situation was becoming more urgent. She must relax her mind against tensing to 230


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physical demands. She put out a mental call for any thought to meliorate cognition. How like my mother I am, in the long run, the thought came, how hopelessly perturbed and out of control. What did she once hear someone remark about Caroline — that she could manipulate her hysteria —? Jewel paddled and breathed and kicked some more. What would my mother do if she thought I was drowning. Probably she’ d push me under. Yet with a spontaneous but sarcastic thought like that, black-humorous and admittedly false, she knew she had regained her will to live. It had been her mother, after all, who had taught her how to swim, and they always enjoyed going swimming together. My mother inflates her emotions, just as I stifle mine. Jewel stroked and stroked, piloting her insubstantial raft toward the fogged-in shore, her thoughts pulling at her as she hauled them along, trying to kick them away. They fell on the memory of a black and white photograph of Beatrice holding her as a newborn. The photograph still stood on the fireplace mantle in Princeton. Beatrice’s face is gleaming, demonically proud. The baby is washed out in overexposure or underprinting, a blob of glowing light, no detail in the whites. Jewel knew she had been under her godmother’s spell since birth. Recently she found a packet of zealous letters her father and Beatrice had written in 1968. It was 1985 now: Such fervent earnestness about science, art, activism and independent thinking would fall on ears as laughable and ludicrous. Theirs had been the utopian language of the times, Jewel knew, “The Sixties.” Those letters had rendered Beatrice differently to Jewel, more alive yes, but younger and with no bitterness. Beatrice was unmistakably bitter now; Jewel had been ignoring this new aspect of her godmother: an edge of spite, a will to tamper, to damage, 231


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to ruin, to abort. Doesn’t she even want Jack to abort his mission? She as much as said so at the garden party, and then invited me to Rome so unexpectedly. “Someday I will lure you to Rome,” she had written in those letters. But she had written that to Daddy, not to her. Did those letters still have meaning now? Other phrases from the letters came to mind. Jewel had never considered Beatrice to be unbalanced or lacking in serenity before. Jewel’s teeth clacked uncontrollably. Her arms and neck and back and shoulders ached. Why bother work so hard to save herself? Why had she decided not to drown? She had a purpose but she had forgotten it. Was it fated to happen anyway? Did Beatrice project this as another diversion? Am I living my experience? Or dreaming it? Jewel’s insightful reasoning was becoming murkier with every effort. She breathed in deeply, blew out forceful bubbles from her nose and mouth to summon as much focus as she could. She re-aimed her intellect toward meaning and self-communication, away from sensation and perception and despair. The night had become oleaginous. She steadied her physiology for maximum endurance, releasing whatever chemical resources it could manufacture, and girded for the harsh environment. She could not see the shore. She tried to keep herself awake, hand-paddling her splintery plank toward land she took on faith was there. What had Jack once said? I don’t remember. On this reminder, Jewel’s consciousness failed. She closed her eyes and was embraced aboard the teak and oken ship of the silvery twins.

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Chapter 31 Exhausted and Exposed E xhausted and exposed, unconscious, floated by the drifting berth, Jewel did at last reach shore. A narrow ledge of pebbled beach fronted a steep bank of sandstone and igneous cliffs. Her barely living body was halted at the waterline, where the tide pushed her partway up the incline toward a niche. She rolled into this shallow cave higher up and slightly drier, the black sand there slowly giving off the last of its collected heat of day. She lay on a needle of land blanketed by an abrasive surf washing over her naked lap like Lucy Australopithecus, her first day in another world. The atmosphere was filling in. The scape was charged with night mist, ceil occluded, too overcast by now for stars; there was no moon. 233


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There were no boats, no buoys, no lights on sea or land of any kind. There were no ships, no birds, no flotsam, jetsam, seaweed, trash. There were hardly any shells. Her single piece of driftwood would retreat on the next tide out. There was no visibility and no reflection. There was no outline, no change in tone in any direction. There was no scale or distance. If Jewel had been awake, she would have witnessed as a sight of nature the impenetrable opal haze of blindness. Light and heat, light and heat, were all, and both were null, land exhaling from the shore. As night ticked on, the wind blew over Jewel’s frail body on the ledge, the sea eroding her tenuous headland. A stick of wood had barely delayed eternity but her life had come to this. Against her battered frame, the sea and land breathed out upon each other, as day and night changed places in the sky, and land exhaled its final breath. Jewel lay on the meager curving shelf, and slept throughout the starless hours, unharmed by surf or any creature, alive or spiritual, until the dawn.

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Chapter 32 Incident at the Northern Cove Toto

found her in the first pastel of daylight. He found her as he thought he might, motionless and coppery, a thin, naked child thrust downward and forward, pulled underwater by the strong undertow, legs invisible underbeach, half-buried at tideline by incoming sand and water; very soft, very short, tufting, orange hair fluffing, like a young anemone. He could not rescue her at first, so stricken was he by this image. It did not occur to him to think that she was dead, although she looked it. Her face hung toward the sand and only her head and neck and part of one shoulder and underdeveloped breast, part of her bony back and ribs, were visible and as yet unburied. She was stuck on a slant, like an old bronze tombstone, in an apse against the cliffs. Toto was alone with the trapped and sleeping girl. Carefully, he excavated her body from the many hours 235


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accumulation of beachdrawn sand. And, since Jewel was still unconscious, Toto took his opportunity and he raped her. He broke her fast and hard. He thrust and thrust within her like a piston. A drop of pinkish slime announced him, and would have been evidence of his crime if anyone had retrieved and differentiated it from other natural deposits. Naked, Jewel awoke as she was hoisted off the beach by a Neanderthal she did not recognize, and carried on his shoulder to a drier place. She was not in pain. He rubbed her with a towel from his knapsack and wrapped her in a cat-fur blanket. He built a fire with a few dry lengths of tight-rolled giornali he had brought, and fed her bread dipped in cold, stale coffee from his thermos. But with this minimal comprehension of her circumstance, came to Jewel an uncertain awareness that although she was in some way familiar with the objects in the area around her, she had no words for them; not that she acknowledged lacking words: she didn’t miss them. Who or where she was, she also did not know or question. Jewel Rubin had sensation, emotion, intellect and imagination, but no memory, libido, will, animus or ego-intacta. Such all, her self, her present life, began now with the moment she was lifted off the beach. Toto searched her face and stroked her. The brute seemed gentle, she thought without words. She had no recollection of the rape. Who or where she was, she had no clue. She did not understand the broken languages in which he spoke to her, nor even recognize his sounds as English or Italian or as language. Her thoughts did not arrive to her as words or concepts, but as feelings. “You have come so close to death,” Toto led her to believe. “I rescue you.” Jewel did not understand, but nodded gratitude. When the tide was fully out, Toto knotted his furs around her and helped her along the beach, back to his cabin. 236


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Chapter 33 Toto and Jewel Return to the Shack A s they returned to Toto’s oceanfront, he saw first

that Beatrice had not remained asleep on the sand where he had left her, and the cab was gone, too. Toto carried Jewel into the house, galled to find Beatrice away. She had shaken and folded his army blanket neatly and placed it inside the door, but there was no note. No, attendete. A piece of gray paper from his box of Tanguiz writingpaper, stuck out from a gash in the wall. He saw the Tanguiz box and some leathercare supplies out of place nearby — dannazione! — she had managed to spill a bottle of leather-bleaching cream. He pushed two unsturdy chairs together and placed Jewel down along them to leave alone for a moment. He tossed the blanket onto her still folded, then plucked out Beatrice’s note. “What’s black and white and re(a)d all over?” 238


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What the fuck was that? The oldest inglese riddle in the world? Even Toto knew the answers — both answers, if there were only two, the clean-clever and the dirtysacrilegious. Why did this pretentious bitch leave, that’s what he wanted to know, and where she go? He regretted having shown her how the car worked. Could someone learn to drive that quickly? He was annoyed. He was ready to get their adventure over with soon; it was morning already, time to get the book signed and send the girls home. He stepped outside the cabin and squinted at the breezy sky-blue sky, considering the situation. Perhaps Beatrice returned to the food market. Women had done such things before. Shopped for and paid for and cooked for him great feasts. Some had even gone out to whore on the road for an hour or two while he slept, and brought him back the money. He went to get drinking water from the rain barrel. He wouldn’t give the riddle any more thought. Jewel heard Toto go around behind the cabin to its lowest corner. Wind whizzed around the place loudly. She was regaining consciousness. Her eyes opened inside a lopsided shanty. She was lying down along a pair of mismatched wooden chairs. One chair leg was propped up on a book, hardbound. Jewel could make out only a capital “W” in its title, as she leaned to look at it. She didn’t understand the symbol or the object. She was in an unpainted room of weathered wood, pushed over, tilted. Shims and props were wedged between many kinds of slats and boards. All manner of old and new carpentry attested to the hovel’s constantly being set to rights. Crude furniture was nailed in place to keep from sliding, and chair legs sawn to different lengths for more level seats. To form so many horizontals, every vertical and depth was slant. The base of a plank table sloped askew fifteen degrees. Illogical perspectives were created by the angular construction. 239


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She had a searing headache. Sirens wailed in her ears. Jewel suffered from exposure, exhaustion, dehydration, fatigue, shock and amnesia. Her head spun as she bent. She buckled. The room drew in around her like a corncrib, shutting like a locker or a suitcase, closing like a bivalve shell or Venus fly trap, fusing like a carapace, shrinking like a walnut. Toto reappeared inside his little house, ducking under the sagging crosstimbers, and saw Jewel keel over crumpling stiffly to the floor. He had brought her a cup of water from the barrel. He splashed some in her face and brought her to again. The end of the dirty cord was still attached to the tin handle and floated in the drink. She took it gladly. He had torn through the sinew to bring it. Toto lifted Jewel’s head, sat her up and helped her sip. The water restored her slightly and she accepted more, not recognizing the cup or string in her memory, and having no esthetic regarding their cleanliness. But she did understand she was being permitted to drink as much as she wanted, and felt grateful to this man again. He opened the coarse blanket over her. He wrapped her in it and tucked it around her. Jewel was becoming accustomed to feeling beholden to this person. She lowered her eyes and bowed her head in thanks. He gave her bread. He helped her drink some wine. He cut an apple for her and broke up a piece of chocolate. She took a bite of each. He peeled an orange and put sections into her mouth, slowly, one by one. She was grateful for what he fed her. He mopped her face as the fruit and drink dribbled down her cheeks and chin. And he held out to her a folded white cotton handkerchief from his jeans pocket, this individual of contradictions. Jewel sniffed at it as he patted her face. It smelled of sea and smoke and semen 240


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and herself. She raised her eyes and saw across the sloping room, the slumped-in loft where Toto slept, an open eaves like Heidi’s, accessible by climbing four slats up the side. “You go sleep-a there if-a you want,” he said and gestured. Jewel understood and tried to rise. He helped her in his old, rough, gallant way, and Jewel felt once more thankful when he guided her to climb. Obeisance was becoming her normal response. The blanket was clumsy. All her skin was raw and sore. She paused, very weak. As she rested on the second rung, her eyes rose above the upper platform. The tiny, sloping attic room displayed an amazing feat of carpentry. A well-built set of two dozen true-to-horizontal shelves were nailed across the steeply raking longest wall. The shelves were set five inches apart, but all of different lengths and depths and angles, each board cut individually to match the skew of the wall at points of intersection. But although each shelf met the wall at a different angles on all x, y and z axes and was of various widths along its various lengths, they all communicated into the room together as an even set within one-eighth degree. And Jewel saw on those shelves, row after row of almost identical cream linen boxes of autograph books. They scared her, their line-up and color. They were like teeth, tombstones, piano keys or a catacomb of sorted bones. They were totemic, ritual, archetypal: she had only primitive references. Afraid, clinging to the makeshift ladder, she inched upward to the pallet, hauling the army blanket around her over the top. She looked back at him wild-eyed. He followed on the ladder to calm her fears. He didn’t want her freaking out. Aided by Toto, Jewel crawled onto the creaking plywood ceiling floor. 241


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High stacks of newspapers, biographies and other printed materials were piled along the edge. She feared the rickity construction would topple from the weight of this load and collapse into the room below, but she followed Toto’s prodding and crawled with him onto his mattress. He soothed himself over her childlike body. He lay on top of her in his bed, thinking it was fortunate, after all, that Beatrice was away. He pulled off the blanket and covered her with himself, then pulled over them his smoother pelts of local wolf and fox and cat, good for Decembers here. Toto’s touch was not unpleasant, but since he did not press himself, she did not think to yield. He petted her face and head. He petted her body. For an hour, he carefully removed her splinters by hand between his dirty fingernails and licked and salt-washed the livid wounds. He would have her again, but first she must sign. Toto opened several boxes, slowly at first, because she was wary of them. Jewel did not understand why he was proffering the animalhide, pastel-paged zippered books, and stroking her hair. He wasn’t just showing them to her, he was expecting a response, but she couldn’t figure out what. Erased from Jewel’s mind was the volume she had seen in Toto’s hand at the moment of Beatrice’s miracle on the Gianicolo. Toto spread the tissue paper inside another box, and opened that volume to random, creamy pages. Jewel took in the energetic lines he proudly pointed out. As he tapped on several, extolling some in particular, waves of nausea overcame her. She retched in horror at the signatures. They reached out from heaving gutters like dying fingers from mass graves. The lines compressed, condensed, rising, falling, looping, slashing, pointing, pounding, clotting and crossing, all wild to name themselves as quickly as possible 242


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before the end would come. She was aware these seething squirms meant people’s lifetimes. The most reductivist thing they could leave of themselves were these thin, broken lines, this existential output of each person at each single time, place, health and mood, more revealing than any photograph. “You sign,” he said, offering Jewel a Paris-yellow page in a tender volume and a red and black StaedtlerNoris 4B pencil from a clear glass jelly jar. Years ago he had owned a pair of exquisite, lapis-inlaid fountain pens. With one he had paid a Corsican sailor for a bloody deed; the other one went missing, but would turn up some day in a U.N. exhibition on bribery, called Arts and Grafts. But pencils were more conducive to his ideal yield: soft graphite discloses degree of emotionality and depth of feeling. All Toto’s pencils were whittled sharp, many to short shafts, but he had no need of erasers. Toto almost never made mistakes, neither in his life, nor in the forgeries he perfected. And he had a shelf of such. Drawn by his own hand were signatures which he, at one time only a semi-literate Roman punk, had laboriously researched from libraries and special collections and then committed to memory — not only the handwritings of history’s most illustrious persons in every field, but also every published detail of their life and work. His research brought him knowledge of famous people and their signatures so encyclopedic that he had honed a skill for replication way beyond forgery. Not only could he reproduce authentic variations of any signature, whether or not he had a sample to copy, his expertise at psychic cloning was so all-encompassing that he could momentarily assume the personality. Toto could virtually become the person. He could sign any signature and do any doing they could do. 243


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The idea of fame impassioned him, and the mention of any eminent name sparked a unique-for-each schematic, which he imparted to himself. Hearing, speaking or here especially in an autograph book, owning, a famous name, gave him a portion of the real celebrity’s own identity and power. So what does that mean for us? What would I really do? What would you? Sometimes, Toto thought about his talent in unbounded terms: Just give me the chance! But if he were famous himself — if Toto were in a position to make big decisions — what would he do? Why does the idea of celebrity hold such fascination? What would he, Ernesto Degliavolo, do if he were, let’s say, politically famous — supposing he were to become, per esempio, Dr. Jack Rubin? Jewel cringed at the book. Toto quickly offered her another page, this next one like peach ice cream. She didn’t know what he wanted from her, but was distressed to understand she hadn’t been supplying it. Toto held the book in his left hand and circled his right to pantomime writing. “Scrivi, scrivi ,” he coaxed patiently. She touched the soft cover, made from the skin of a striped-tailed quoll, a rare marsupial, as she tried to repeat Toto’s pawing gesture, thinking it was meant to mimic the death-throes of the terrified animal. Her own bare shoulders shivered under the fox and wolf and cat furs, but at least they would warm her up. Toto’s bed smelled ripe and sweet like a jungle nest. He spread her two hands open flat, and placed the book in them, reverently offering another candy page. He closely observed her contorted face, eagerly anticipating her letter forms. Again he had the impression she might print. The pencil, he held out to her neutrally, straight up and down by its point, but she didn’t take it, her hands still in the gesture of supplication he had fashioned, the open book in them cradled stiffly. 244


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Toto wadded his jacket under his head against the wall and lounged back to consider the situation. This girl here had not spoken since he had found her. Her eyes were crazed. She had been in a bad state since he dug her out at the cove. Toto interpreted their circumstances all too well, but tried again: he crooned to her, explained, insisted, badgered. “Sign you name,” he repeated, flexing his hand over the open page and hoping she would finally take the point. She should hold the whole book with her left hand, and reach out for the pencil with her right. Or visa versa. Doesn’t she know that much about herself? Even instinctively whether Righty or Lefty? He sagged back, sighing, resigned for the time being. Jewel’s blank expression and flaccid posture didn’t change. Although he preferred to disbelieve the evidence, he understood it. This ruined girl here, huddling in his bed, could not give him what he wanted most. He was too late. Her mind was gone. He slapped her, but it didn’t help. All she could do was lower her eyes and weep. You are Jewel Rubin, he almost told her. Write it down! Write it here, he wanted to force her. He had forced many notables to give their signatures unwillingly, but never yet unwittingly. His self-made code of ethics demanded that each valid signature be made by a signator who knew who they were. He sat on the corner of the mattress and cupped his hands to light a cigarette. OK, he thought, another almost realized opportunity we’ ll let go for now. He could always try to help Jewel find her memory later if he wanted. She watched Toto light this cigarette. She had seen him make a fire on the beach. He had hardly tossed enough sand on it when they left, to put it out. All this wood 245


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and paper made his sleeping loft a tinder box. She was at his mercy. He shook the match out and tossed it over the edge of the platform. There was no ash tray. Keeping his eyes closed on the inhales, he drew in gulps of smoke and tapped the ashes onto the scorch-marked ledge of a shelf already heaped with crush-folded butts. Fire didn’t worry him: lightning had once struck this house, so according to Ostia tradition it was protected. Well, Toto reasoned to himself, maybe it’s best to keep her identity from her for the time being. Otherwise she could make claims against him, so he’d have to kill her. But even if Jewel’s own parents stood there naming her with love, she wouldn’t have been able to respond. She stared at the puffy, soft-skinned, rounded-paged book still open in her hands, its little chrome zipper dangling off her pinkie. Who was she? Where did she belong in this vale of written names? Not that she even knew these twisted lines to be names — or even what names were — although she did understand the lines meant people and she did know what people were, right? But she had no home among them. She lowered her head in her now customary way, and handed back his property. Toto would show her something. He knelt among his stacks and searched through his newspaper piles. He scanned the front pages of a few, selected one, and opened it straight to Jewel’s captioned picture. Her father was also in the shot, lunging to shield Jewel from the camera, but not fast enough. Toto placed his cigarette on the edge of a shelf, cantilevering the burning end. With his thick thumb, he covered Jewel’s name in the caption, and with his other hand pointed back and forth between her and the page, gripping and flapping his cheek and poking her, unmistakably gesturing that this black and white pattern 246


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of Ben-Day dots had something to do with herself. At last something clicked! Jewel pulled the paper under a large crack in the roof from which daylight entered the eaves, and looked at the tabloid more closely. The words meant nothing, so she ignored them. The photo was smeary-inked and contrasty with no detail in either the highlights or shadows, and the newsprint was too thin and absorbent for good reproduction, and the tiny round square dots were fascinating, but still she could tell these were faces of specific individuals. The one Toto showed her bore no resemblance to any she could recognize, yet she knew he meant this was a picture of herself. Jewel was uncertain of her personal identity, or even what identity actually was, but she did know she would know herself by face, wouldn’t she? Wouldn’t she know from inside herself if she looked like that hideous scarface on the surface? She had an inner idea of her looks: she believed she had fresh, round eyes and long, thick, wavy, spiraling auburn hair. She touched her head. Her hair was short and bristly. Bewildered, she palpated her features. Rather than reassure her, the dents and grooves corroborated the patterns in the newspaper. “I come back,” Toto said, pushing his palms against the air in front of her, telling her to wait, ‘‘’spetti, ’spetti.’’ He climbed down to find a mirror, and returned to hand her his two-sided shaving glass. To Toto, the double-mirror recalled Beatrice, gone a long time now. Perhaps she had driven all the way back to Rome. Damn that he didn’t listen when this ragazza started telling him the address of their pensione yesterday. Even though he had seen Beatrice around the city for years, he had never known where she lived, although he did know where the art school was; 247


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should he try to bring Jewel there somehow? “Where you live?” Toto asked, grinding out the cigarette. Jewel could not comprehend any of the three words, where? you? live? He scratched his chin. He hadn’t shaved since yesterday morning. She stared uncomprehendingly at the unnatural being in the magnifying mirror she gazed into, and didn’t answer. A parallel event between Toto and Beatrice, overheard by Jewel on the Gianicolo only fourteen hours before, was not consciously recalled by her now. She let him take the mirror back. She sat up in bed, swaddled in his soft furs and hispid blankets. She couldn’t have been more stupefied. She responded to him with obsequious terror, interpreting from the mirror and the photograph that she was a loathsome freak and he was her protector. He laid her down flat in bed, unsuccumbed to pity or emotion; he was heedless of her trauma. His sexual desires had subsided into restless boredom, and lost all urgency and danger. There was no phone in the cote, but a walk to one wouldn’t be far when she was strong enough. As soon as Jewel could walk, he would take her with him to the telephone along the railroad spur. If Beatrice didn’t come back, he could always have his network trace the cab. When she had slept awhile and gained some strength, Jewel reached for the mirror again, but Toto kept it from her. He found her cotton shift and knee socks on the sand, dry enough, so he dressed her, adding a large, hooded, blue windbreaker from his clothes pegs. Whom would he telephone? He’d telephone Jack Rubin.

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Chapter 34 Telephone Call to Princeton It was 8 am in Princeton when the U.N. patched the call to Rubin through on his scrambled line. Jack wasn’t fully awake; he had been working until dawn.“I am Roma taxi man,” said Toto. “I have you daughter. She look confuse, maybe sick, maybe drug.” What was this? Jack pulled himself together. A kidnapping? lone opportunist? terrorist plot? Was his baby in fact in trouble? Did some organization get wind of his new work and want to blow it? Were evil forces plotting sabotage? He must find out as much as he could. He must prepare himself to respond quickly, make instant decisions. Jack snapped to his steady self. He put his smile on. “Thank you so very much for calling, signore,” Jack fawned. “Can you tell me any more, please, sir?” 249


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He kept his voice modulated. He had to stay under control. Let the other guy think he’s master. Most easy to trap him that way. Things were happening here he hadn’t expected. “You no want-a publicity, very famous, I see many the times in the newspaper.” Cagey, the man was cagey. The man was definitely after something. But did he have Jewel? Was Jewel in danger? Jack had no mixed feelings about his responsibilities toward his daughter. Once before, he almost lost her in a stormy power play. Beatrice had been jealous then, just before the accident. There was no time to think about that. Jewel will bear those scars forever; what the hell’s going on there now in Rome. “My daughter’s name is Jewel. You probably know that,” Jack said, buy time, keep calm. He tried to gauge the authenticity of the caller. Jack was thinking, thinking. His objective was to get information, not to give it, but he offered her name in preemptive trade. Let’s see how Toto would meet the ante. “Daughter face unusual.” True, Jack thought, a good bet, but that didn’t prove the caller had her. His daughter’s face was common gossipcolumn fodder. He said himself he’s seen the photographs I couldn’t keep her out of. Or at any rate, he said he’s seen photographs of me — so probably of Jewel, too. “What’s wrong with her? How sick is she?” Jack tried to stave impatience from his voice and keep his mind from circling itself. “I call the papa.” “Yes, sir. You were right to call me.” The Rubin II had automatically been activated by the phone. Jack took a deep breath. The screen told him that 250


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the caller had links to the underworld. This was going to take patience. Give the taxi driver lots of leeway. Let him say what’s on his mind. Be sure to make him feel secure and equal, better. Let him feel important, essential, superior. Let him lead the way. Make him feel that things are going well. Subtly urge him, egg him on. Jack must ensure there be no rash escalation by this man, who, the Rubin II was telling him, has been presenting himself disingenuously as a Good Samaritan. Jack had just been appointed world’s biggest diplomat, but his first great crisis couldn’t be more personal. His little girl was very likely really in this stranger’s hands. There’s too much silence on the line. The caller wasn’t talking. “Would you like my permission to take her to a hospital? I’ll pay for it, of course. I have insurance, I mean I don’t have insurance,” realizing he wanted to stay anonymous there, “but I will pay for her. Give the hospital this number when you get there. I have a mobile phone.” Maybe he wants money, Jack thought. “I’ll pay for your time as well, if you tell me how much. I’ll pay you whatever you think is reasonable for taking care of her, and whatever you think your time is worth. You tell me what you want, sir. Lire for your fee and for reward. You are at very least her driver and her guide.” Would the Italian understand his diplomatic language? Would he understand “as well” and “very least”? Jack knew that idioms, elisions and subtle tenseusage are always best for communication within specific groups of native speakers, but are never even safe to try with internationals, no matter how accomplished any might insist they are. Keep it simple, and with no possibility of double mis-meanings. Jack better not get lost in thought. Although 251


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anticipating something like this, some inevitable tragedy all his life, he wasn’t prepared. He wasn’t used to solving life’s practical problems, even minor ones, and this wasn’t minor. His computer could translate his words into Italian for Toto to comprehend exactly, precisely in the Roman dialect of his neighborhood Trastevere: Tras, Beyond // Tevere, (The) Tiber. But he did not turn that feature on. Suddenly, Jack did not trust, or did not want to trust, the Rubin II to make his own mind known, nor to understand the other man, as it assigned little tapped-out letters to their thoughts. In this way, nonetheless, their actions were decided. Quickly jumping a double space and return, the on-screen data told of Toto and made up Jack’s mind for him. “Niente. You come here, a Roma.” “What’s your name, sir? Where are you?” Jack cautioned himself that this call might be a hoax, or extortion, terrorism, kidnapping —. Stop talking. Let him talk on, he warned himself, vaguely aware that this voice in his head was not an outside voice. His head was clear. He could hear this inner voice, and he recognized it was his own voice that advised him. So in this rare instance of clarity, he listened to himself, and calmly smiled at the screen. Waiting to form his own opinions first, Jack had resisted the computer’s, but now he studied the monitor intently. Four quadrants of graphs and information appeared on Jack’s display, each quadrant running data on different scales from different vantages. And on his own end, Toto was considering the situation, too. At first he was tempted by Jack’s offer of money; but Jewel was in such bad shape that the risks were too great. He did not want to repeat his years in prison. 252


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Dr. Rubin’s autograph would be enough. And if Toto were lucky, maybe Jack could re-animate his daughter. And if Jewel knew where Beatrice might be, he could still hope for all three signatures, and who knows who else’s. “Allo, allo?” In the upper left of the screen, the modulating linear pattern interpreting Toto’s voice-revealed personality characteristics, continued on: “...motivated, quixotic, detailed, sadistic, treacherous, exacting, original, criminal...” The upper right displayed Toto’s name and address, occupational, financial, legal, medical and public records, political leanings, sexual peccadillos, media pursuits, personal relationships, food preferences, spending and earning patterns and other information as accurately as it knew: “Belailo Rudolfo Ernesto Afuoco Via di S. Francesco a Ripa, 137 (e altro: Via della Lucce / Via della Lungave) Trastevere, 00153 Roma, Italia” In the lower left, a small movie played, with images of him compiled from every surveillance camera he had passed anywhere in any year. The lower right displayed three digital photographs in full face and profiles, surprisingly different left and right, but updated in real time by Rubin II technology. The screen confirmed at least some of the caller’s claims: he honestly was a taxi driver from Rome. The computer even displayed his medallion number, confirmed by its crossfile of municipal databases: CHIAVE PGS 8-22-96(2)-141-150-204-241-262263(2)-275-281-283-284-285(2)+1 253


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Many offenses: “ ...smuggling, check kiting, violations of endangered species acts...” No known terrorist connections beyond the usual links this computer routinely assumed for its own reasons. No known kidnapping, no particularly dangerous political ties, no confirmed murders, no reported rapes...several syndicate ties, but he held no rank. “No hospital. Papa. You come. I bring you daughter a Aeroporto da Vinci. 6 pm is the plane arriva da New York, TWA.” As a cab driver, he might already be familiar with airline schedules, but that could attest either to or against his veracity. Jack couldn’t tell. . “May I speak to Jewel, please, sir?” Jack asked, trying to phrase the question carefully. “Is my daughter with you — near you, wherever you are now?” Jack was sure the caller would answer no to both questions. Even if he had Jewel, it was unlikely she was right there at the phone. This was taking a while, but one of Jack’s satellite links should pinpoint the guy’s exact location any second. A boxed window popped a map onto the screen. It located the telephone. Toto’s call came from a bygone roadhouse railroad depot along the coastal sidetracks. Some ingenious entrepreneur had spliced an old, cracked, pre-war GPO 200 Series Bakelite telephone into the ferrovia-fono line, and periodically came to collect any tokens its random users might leave. The Rubin II flashed open another window, which added a star to the nearest security point: a Guardia dell’Informazione along the same road. He could easily press a few buttons and give instructions to have the bastard in handcuffs immediately. What more could happen to his precious baby? Jack faced his regrets: that 254


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he never gave her much of himself, never actively loved her as a father should have, shunned her when she needed him most. He recognized he had let her down for so long and was only just now feeling sorry for it, at least, at last — at least at last. He should have let her have plastic surgery after the accident, not insisted on her right to forgo it. Jewel had looked to him to make up her mind. I knew that. No. Jack could have Italian agents surround Afuoco in minutes, but he didn’t want it known that his daughter was in trouble there. He would not alert the local authorities, not even ambulance. Any kind of message that got through from him to Italian stations would suddenly show up on every newswire in the world. It would generate too much publicity. He couldn’t allow Jewel to be hounded by the press, always hungry for scraps of salacious trouble. The least he could do was to keep Jewel’s new tragedy, whatever it might be, out of the papers. He must do as he was told to do, though the Devil might tell him do it: he must go to Rome himself — oh, if only he were certain the caller told the truth. Foolproof lie detecting capabilities were still on the drawing board for the Rubin III. “Would you tell me your name, please, sir?” Jack asked, hoping he would, and that it would match the computer’s identification. “Attendere prego,” Toto answered. “Please to wait.” At each of Toto’s spoken words, the monitor offered more interpretation of his character: “ ...insightful, scholarly, methodical, lustful, certain, cavalier, impulsive, habitual, gratuitous, obsessive, precise, sensual, diabolical, cautious, lascivious, imaginative, Centurion...” How much good and bad one personality can project, Jack thought. Perhaps the truth was exactly as he 255


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was saying: Jewel got into his cab sick and the driver knew who she was and called her father, perfectly possible. Toto helped Jewel to the phone. “Say you something.” He passed her the receiver, moving his right hand open and closed near his face, opening his mouth and miming speech. “Uhh,” Jewel murmured, huddling inside his oversized, hooded blue jacket. This was the first sound she had made since he found her. “Uhhh,” the first sound, the primal utterance, “uhhhh,” the same-in-every-vowel sound of the schwa, the sound of a human groan in almost every word of every language, “uhhhhh.” Jack’s computer immediately recognized the faint moan of its programmer’s teenage daughter. Far more information about Jewel Rubin than about the herenamed Belailo Afuoco was in its data bank. The Rubin II was so familiar with this child’s voice under different circumstances that it could quickly interpret her physical and psychic conditions. Once again it confirmed the caller’s statement: evidently, Jewel was quite ill. Jack pressed the mute-button on the phone and rasped to Caroline to come in from the bedroom quick enough to watch the detailed read-out on their daughter: “...vapid, jejune, enraptured, limp...” “My god,” Cary gasped, as Jack turned the handset sideways between their ears, releasing the mute. “Where are you, baby?” she hollered into it. Jack grabbed the phone away. “Jewel, Jewel, how are you?” He kept his voice low. Jewel panicked at the human voices Toto held against her ear. “What about Beatrice?” Caroline wanted Jack to ask, but he motioned her aside. “Jewel?” Jack repeated into the phone. 256


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The complicated overseas connection between ersatz telephone booth and private supercomputer was becoming erratic. Toto came back on the garbled line. “She no can talk nothing. Six o’clock I bring a TWA. You come.” “...impetuous, compulsive, sardonic, dangerous...” “What’s your name, tell me your name, please, sir,” Jack begged for confirmation of his read-out, but the caller had hung up. It would have been one more thing at least, by which to gauge his honesty. Jack did not know how much to trust him, or even if the man were acting alone. It’s true he hadn’t mentioned “expenses” or “reward,” and declined them when Jack had offered, but neither would he give his own name when asked. He definitely had Jewel, though. That’s a fact. “What about Beatrice!?” Caroline demanded impatiently, as he just stood there with his hand on the quiet phone, staring into the dimming monitor. “Where is she while Jewel is getting sick? She’s the adult in all this. She’s the one who extended the invitation. She asked Jewel to come along. Jewel didn’t ask to go.” Ever quick to assign blame, Caroline was sure Beatrice had made some monstrous blunder, but in assuming this, she ignored a well-known fact. This artist engaged others for assistance, never the other way outside of class. Jewel had been invited to help Beatrice, whose loco parentis only went so far. Perhaps she is in dire straits herself. “The only thing we know is that she’s missing,” Jack said, annoyed. Nevertheless, Jack had considered asking the caller about Beatrice, too. He had even phrased a leading question in his mind: Was Jewel with anyone else when you found her? “But,” he reasoned carefully to Caroline, “if this is a plot,” his finger beat time in the air, “the perpetrators might 257


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not know about Beatrice so maybe she’s already bringing help. We don’t want Jewel endangered. Questioning the cabby more deeply could lead to trouble.” “Well, then get the U.N. to notify the Rome police. They could begin surveillance on him, or on the cab, or —.” “I’ll go for Jewel myself,” he cut her off, peering down at her, smiling as he always did, no matter how he felt. Cary was wearing an expensive, georgette negligée. It was sheer, but she had the bodice buttoned up to her chin. God, she’s gotten prim these last few years — and outlandish, too. Prim and outlandish. She still looked OK, though. Confused. He liked to keep her off-balance. Hope she doesn’t start sounding off. He could tolerate metaphysical thinking from his daughter if she didn’t bother him with it much, but his wife’s was pie-eyed. Caroline thought of asking him to let her come along — after all Jewel was her daughter, too, and she had nothing planned for the day but a swim and an exercise class. Jack was kissing her gently. Her lips formed a newly characteristic tight, hard, thin line, last week he called “a chicken kiss.” Jack would probably say no anyway. Sometimes she wished him dead. She met his open mouth with a defiant righteousness, but retreated. It wouldn’t do to start an argument. She let him capture her tongue while her mind carried on, yelling at him in silence. It was hard to concentrate on kissing with a mouth full of unspoken words. She was surprised he was asserting himself in what was essentially a family matter, even though it might prove grave. Usually, he left the girl to her. Usually, Jack ignores anything unrelated to his work, or to what she could only think of as, “his hobbies over the garage.” Jack flattened his tongue against the roof of her mouth, 258


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inching it down her throat, comparing this new twist in Jewel’s life with the accident when she was twelve. There was a difference. The accident had already happened by the time he heard of it; but this time he had a chance to personally affect the outcome. He had never thought that sitting up with Jewel at that time could have possibly made any difference. Maybe this time he might be in time to do her good. He was more than lured to Rome, he was compelled. The computer verified there were still openings aboard TWA’s 6 pm arrival, and assigned a place to Jack: by his customary choice, an Economy Class nonsmoking north side window seat, best to see out with no sun in your eyes, and behind the wing’s trailing edge, the safest section. If Toto had a reason for that specific flight, though, the Rubin II didn’t tell him, nor why he wasn’t able to book returns. Traveling in secrecy, Jack coded himself under false identification, and, because he planned to work onboard but could not risk detection, he packed inside his old, cowhide briefcase only the most pressing of United Nations business, and that which could not be traced as such, and to which his validating signatures had not yet been affixed. And he took his private work with those extraterrestrials, far more advanced than we, with whom he was in closest communication, and who had sent by quantum entanglement the DNA samples he carried. He had been expecting an emissary from a federation of technological bio-forms living on a certain group of urbanized surfaces he had located and transmissed with. They all communicated through binary code, many through implanted paraphernalia. Some were already born with telereceptive telepathic DNA. Jack believed that humans could have been, too, if we had selected mates for intuition instead 259


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of physicality or wealth — no time to think about that now. All used radio waves as well. Jack’s orbiting linkages were extensive. Caroline followed him from room to room as he gathered the things he would need. He packed the hand-scan long-range remote control for the Rubin II, set for international access. He was certain that his documents and this remote would be useless should they fall into evil hands, because everything was coded through recognition of his signature and unique fingertouch. It wasn’t believed that anyone could replicate a handscan. Personality wasn’t duplicable through finger-touch alone, at least not yet, or so he thought. So he’d go in cognito. He didn’t want the inconvenience of guards and anti-publicity teams. He hoped this lack of security wouldn’t be at his child’s expense, but he was also excited to be off on an adventure. He broadened his smile to Caroline. He’d have twenty minutes to take her back to bed before leaving. He motioned toward the bedroom and she followed. They would hurt each other slightly; it would be a little rough this morning in preparation for what was bound to be an eventful day. She was a pretty good sport, his wife, and appreciated sex as much as he did, once he got her going.

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Chapter 35 Caroline at Computer I Caroline slept late after Jack left. At noon, she turned herself out of bed and sat down at Jack’s console. She used it from time to time to practice a little word processing, but never a tellurian search like she wanted to try. She was concerned about her daughter but confident and very glad that Jack was taking care of that end of things. A few other aspects and possibilities were on her mind. She logged in with her simple password, “cary.” Then she typed in Beatrice’s full triple name. The screen filled immediately with cascades of information, all of it fantastic and historic, lines and lines of it rolling open on a field of charcoal-gray, multitudes of dates and places rapidly clacking one bright green letter at a time. There couldn’t have been different blindwomen 261


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with that same saintly bewitching three-part name: beatrice stregasanta madregiore. Caroline called up more information, and saw long lists of supernatural accomplishments. Is all this true? What is real and what is artifice on this machine? What is true and what is fiction. Truth is what there’s physical evidence for. Had Jack always known these things about Beatrice? Cary took a deep breath. She squirmed around in Jack’s computer chair. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. Or was it a joke? A game? Are Jack and Beatrice playing one of those computer games? The spectacles of time and space that Beatrice produced for cities and stages were one thing, but these other things, seeming over centuries and out across the galaxy, couldn’t have any basis in fact, could they? How did this program operate? Caroline played with it awhile until it froze her out. The blocky green cursor nictated on and off, not impatiently, but insistently, urging her to keep typing. She typed the name of her old friend Letty: leticia schwartzweiss sparafusil. The green rectangular cursor waited expectantly for her to continue. When she blinked, its soft-edged red rectangular afterimage tricked her retina. The shape of dog-tags came to mind, and her memory called up the funeral of Letty’s brother. Letty had turned to her at that solemn ceremony and said, “He was the best man on Earth.” Caroline’s mother had been standing next to them. “I thought so, too,” she had said. They both had looked at Cary as if it were her fault he got killed. Blink, blink. Blink, blink. Blink red. Blink green. Caroline hit the Enter key. 262


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The screen offered more information: Letty had inherited money from her father, more than he ever gave or even lent her in his lifetime, and she had bought a large interest in a small business. She was paying mortgages on a farmhouse she renovated in Pennsylvania and a timeshare in Europe. She was divorced, and belonged to a religious cult involving smoke and mirrors, chutes and ladders, antique toys, story books and costumes. It gave her contact information as “Whytskyn Cosmetics and Star Confectionery Franchises,” with addresses in the U.S. and Europe. Cary didn’t hold with cults. She had no patience with that girl. She typed in Beatrice’s name again. Plus Jack’s. Every keystroke introduced chaotic, random elements. New windows popped up by surprise. In the game, if it were a game, there were two overlapping playing fields: one closed but changeable, designated Beatrice’s, and one uncharted, Jack’s. His areas could be mapped, but once defined, the borders were unalterable. Most of his territory was still unexplored. According to the history-log, Jack had been outsmarting and outmaneuvering her. But from the looks of the board, he was in motion on her turf now, and vulnerable. Or was it not a game? Beatrice could control all of Jack’s movements unless he advanced to the next stage to defeat her. From the menu, Cary saw that there were pieces she herself could play, with her own name and Letty’s as she had just typed it. And she could team up any pair, such as Beatrice and Leticia. Even Cary herself could enter the field and potentially destroy Jack from this keyboard, solo, or by directing pairs or proxies. If it’s not a game, it would be a control board for real events. 263


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What she saw on the monitor must be a game, of course, she believed. She was galled, to put it mildly, that Jack might still be having creative collaborations with Beatrice. She stewed. And none of any kind with herself. Except sex, Caroline admitted, seeking comfort. Our only creative congress. For me, the only time time stands still. All other times, I am tied to time, lashed to its lightspeed. Sex is the only time there is a present time. A time when I merge with time, when there is no time, when I vanish from time. The only time I am not alone. When Father Time takes me inside, to tuck me in, to take comfort of him to make love there, inside there inside of time, and comes back again in time for me again inside of me. Jewel and Jack were in Beatrice’s real territory now. They could be intercepted, one or both. “Time wounds all heels,” she remembered John Lennon’s words. Caroline didn’t suspect any more than common knowledge.

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Chapter 36 Da Vinci Airport Leonardo da Vinci Airport was crowded this Christmas week with visiting Christians and beggars streaming into the holy city from all over the world. Clergy in particular, always numerous in Rome, were especially in evidence on this December 27th. Toto tried to conceal himself and Jewel by sitting naturally in the waiting area, holding up a copy of Corriere Illustrato. In seats directly facing them, a flock of albino nuns endured a long delayed departure. Clad in white habits, transparent-skinned women of every age and continent fluttered around the terminal. The visiting group was recently in the news, and Toto was familiar with their story. He sat with Jewel and told her all about them, pretending she could understand, and since 265


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he knew she couldn’t anyway, he spoke in Italian. He spoke to her because he figured that conversing would be less likely to encourage idle airport strangers to approach them, than would sitting silently. He spoke casually, wanting her to appear normal to everyone who saw them, except for her face, which he kept from being easily discerned, by tying the hood of the big blue windbreaker low and tight, and holding the newspaper high, as if they were discussing the stories together. He hoped she wouldn’t be recognized. The last thing he wanted was to attract attention. He fussed to hide her face, and explained to her about the nuns: “Catholic families giving birth to albino females gave away their blessed daughters to this order of Holy White Sisters. They have convents all over the world.” Jewel didn’t have the slightest idea what Toto was saying, but she could not take her eyes off the albinos, and those sitting straight across returned her open stare over the top of the newspaper. One leaned forward and patted her bony knee through her light shift. Smiling, the nun glanced at Jewel’s guardian, but he signaled she should take her hands off. No one exchanged any words: Toto just shook his head back and forth sideways quickly “No,” and the nun just nodded hers up and down slowly, “OK.” She didn’t try to speak to his pathetic charge. Toto adjusted the blue jacket collar higher on her face. “Throughout the world,” he continued in Italian, “the order is known for its contribution to church literature. The scholarly sisters have recently completed a project amending every pronoun referring to God in every holy book, reissuing them with the single letter ‘E’ serving as the pronounsymbol for God like the ‘I’ serves for self. In simple terms, they have substituted ‘E’ for ‘He.’” Or even “She,” he added to himself with discomfort he wouldn’t scrutinize. 266


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“Allora,” he continued. “Instead of ‘He created the Heavens and the Earth,’ ‘E created the Heavens and the Earth.’” Jewel recognized this God-letter, “E”! A memory from the ocean flooded back to her, and from her own recent notebook, now possibly lost forever. She understood nothing else, but she understood that unified field. God became the Energy, the Matter and the Constant! He, Himself, though, was no more! Across the aisle, the White Mother’s gaze was riveted on her. Toto took Jewel’s hand to further explicate the complex, cosmic brilliance of the order’s simple, textual amendment. To Toto it was conversation-filler. To Jewel, the capital “E” was the one god she believed in. God = “E.” God exploded himself to form the universe! Her heart raced to embrace the matter-energy exchange locked inside this singular understanding of God that was Big Bang, as the loudspeaker cackled. The arriving flight from New York was announced. Toto saw the Holy White Mother Superior staring at Jewel, her orbits large and symmetrical, the pupils leveled to sting Jewel’s the instant she looked up. The skin of her face and hands were unlined and luminous. It was not possible to tell her age or origin. Toto realized he should ask the saintly apparition for her autograph, too. How could it slip his mind! He lunged at his knapsack for the book and groped his pockets for a pencil, but when he finally jumped up to present them to Her Holiness, she was no longer sitting there. And Jewel’s face was deeply blushing. There, wait now. There she was a moment later, now, just when he put the book away. She was making a hurried approach from the rear of the terminal, back toward 267


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her restless group, indicating that their flight was ready to board. They gathered their white parcels and belongings and stood to fasten their white hooded cloaks. They ran to meet their Superior, engulfing her in preparatory chatter. Again Toto lost his opportunity to ask her to sign. He fumed to himself. But he had been doing this long enough to know that the best marks often took time. The nuns were due back in February for Carnival. He would hunt her down then. Now the TWA flight had arrived, that was the important thing. He must concentrate on finding Dr. Rubin. As Toto gripped Jewel’s hand, and they rose to meet Jack’s plane, they saw the White Mother striding toward them, and heard a popping sound blast from the area she left. A din of voices buzzed and quickly swarmed beyond her. A crowd ran through the waiting area into the passage. A great commotion arose near the gates. Throngs of people left their seats, although no one could answer “cos’e ’cesso?” as they rushed past Toto and Jewel. The white nuns alone were uninterested in the fracas. They greeted their Holy Leader on her return. Even the albino convent school girls and novices continued to assemble their white bundles undistracted, following the measured instructions of their Superior. In pairs, the sisterhood fell in line and filed unconcernedly through the mass.

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Chapter 37 Jack Lands A

tall, bulky man wearing thick glasses, a fake mustache, a NY Yankees baseball cap and a wooden smile, Jack Rubin, disembarked slowly down the ramp, buckling up his old, cowhide briefcase, and scanning the large area for signs of his daughter accompanied by someone resembling Toto’s computer pictures, or possibly Toto alone, or even Beatrice. The plane had made him tense. He was thankful for the touchdown, relieved to have landed. Jack had never even liked cars. Images of Jewel’s ravaged face had appeared before him the whole flight, and he felt so sorry. Emotions arose against his wife. He could not have abided Caroline with him today. He was glad she hadn’t asked to come; he always ignored indirect hints.

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He wanted, this time at last, to claim Jewel as his own, make up for the years they had lost. He always, silently — unfairly or not — blamed Caroline for the accident. He could never look directly at the child afterward, no matter how she’d beam those pitiful, distorted smiles she reserved for only him. Beatrice had taken over his share of Jewel’s nurturing; fine with Jack. He had told Jewel he stood by her but never did. And as for Cary, he loved her, but only for her comradeship in sex, maybe with a little tip for household machinations. Their marriage, their family, their union, was held together by baffling forces, he thought, like the forces that kept me from my parents, and maybe caused other bads and goods. Rumination about private matters like this was unusual for Jack. His attitudes toward the forces of nature, supernature, coincidence and fate had become more pragmatic since his U.N. appointment, and even more deeply suspect since his disastrous party speech last summer. Through the fall, he had sought only to avoid run-ins. Jack wasn’t used to reflecting on the details of life; he didn’t consider them in fatalistic, wishful, truly human terms, regrets or shoulda-couldas. He took another step, descending down the slope in his disguise, reminded of an earlier vanishing-point walk, Beatrice and Rome on his mind then too, up to Columbia to pick up his mail, a thin, young, rebel leader people thought had all the answers. Maybe now I’m just a flabby bureaucrat with all the headaches, trying to avoid a nervous breakdown. Personal self-analysis and self-mockery were new to him. Was he afraid he might be losing courage for his master plan? That wasn’t personal, the plan, even though he used his daughter’s make-up as a base. Was he losing his 270


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dedication to long engagement, comprehensive structure, ultimate goal? What was the goal? That we all just leave each other alone, shove over a bit and make room, stop taking more than we need, replace whatever we take, clean up after ourselves. That’s what Caroline would say, he thought with impatience; and then, for whatever reason: The moments are getting shorter. He still believed that one can affect the future by affecting any moment in the present, but for that to work for one who is mindful of destiny, the prophet must have some construct of how that future is to be constructed. How to make things actually happen, all Cary ever talks about — that and her fat old friend. He tried to regain his hold on things. He grabbed the handrail tightly. His family was counting on him. The world was counting on him. What would happen if he lost his grip? He politely adjusted the briefcase to make room for other passengers pushing past him, eager to deplane. He stretched to broaden his search. So far, no Jewel. He had hoped that the cabby — he checked his pocket remote to make sure of the name — damn! slow! Cary’s not playing games on my network, is she!! — ah, Belailo Rudolfo Ernesto Afuoco — would bring her to meet the plane. Jewel, his beautiful baby, his little scientist, his lamblike queen of children’s literary quizzes, his model of perfection, her genes the Eve of his Homo futurus. He remembered the games they played when he came home, his lovely little sweetheart sleeping in front of the door till he walked in, shining face, long auburn curls. Where had that perfect child gone? What the hell has happened to her this time? He rubbed his hands together. They were cold. He had been tormented with worry all day. He could hardly do his paperwork during the flight. And just where is her 271


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protector, Beatrice, after all? She and Jewel were supposed to be looking out for each other. What kind of sorcery was that one up to now —? Let It Go. Let It Be. Just Where Do You Come Off. The voices floated through his brain. But weakly. They had not been going at him for a while, just letting him talk to himself when he thought about things closer to home. Jack had been noticing variations in the voices since the phone call. These few now seemed random, left over, fading, not directly connected to unfolding events. He was able to ignore them. He pulsed his hands, trying to relax as he observed the concourse. The building had a huge expanse of glass. Late afternoon Mediterranean sun blazed low in the December sky. Against the southern windows, Jack saw the glimmer of a shiny handgun carried by someone on the terminal floor, but he did not accurately interpret this reflection. He saw the glint, but misread it. He thought he saw what he had been expecting for months: the anticipated delegations from space. He squinted again at the window. He was hoping they would get here before the year was out. No matter he’s in Rome; his pocket remote was rigged to receive their signals anywhere. He didn’t expect them to land at a major airport, though. Although, why not? The flash on the window was over. It wasn’t their vehicle, but a flicker off the weapon of someone he wouldn’t have recognized. The other passengers and crew had passed. Workmen gestured apologetically that they must move the ramp. He reluctantly inched down, straining to see as 272


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much as he could of the teeming hub. He wanted to oblige the airport workers, careful to never worsen anyone’s labor. But he paused again when they turned to another task in the meantime. Mentally, as he searched for Jewel, he adjusted the look of this one’s hat or that one’s hairdo, this one’s breasts or that one’s ankles, especially aware of the numerous wretched mendicants in Rome, doubly so at Christmas. Everyone looks so imperfect, in so many ways. He couldn’t help thinking it. But there was a bright spot: Jewel won’t be the only one. Cary had called him a snob once, a hypocrite; she said he “ had lots of respect for life but none for anyone living.” And Beatrice had accused him of — wha’ d she call it — “messianic megalomania.” Betty, came a voice out of nowhere. Homo futurus might not be human, he recalled writing to her long ago. The thought had never left his mind; it was the mantra of his obsession with perfection. In this essential way of their incessance, he was like his wife, and like his girlfriend, too. Where is she! Where’s Beatrice? It was Beatrice his brain was bursting to see, though it was Jewel he had come to rescue. He could swear he scented the artist’s spices somewhere. His eyes pored over the crowd. Thoughts came as snatches of old tunes: He had really been “Under Her Spell.” Lately he’d been “Going His Own Way.” But even so, the voice that sang was his own voice. “Thought of Betty Lou, But I Knew She Wouldn’t Do.” He made a mental note to think about what the changes in his voices meant “When Things Get Back to Normal.” In her art, Beatrice continually redesigned and reconstructed every project throughout its production, even as it neared completion, or at any point during a live event. 273


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She could exist in many guises, start everything over again from anywhere, or add, subtract, change any element — and work many unrelated details into a coherent artifact frozen in time or a live event in ambiguous time. But he could not. The workmen were motioning to him from across the floor to complete his descent. Jack knew he could operate only within external realities not of his own creation, and which were not illusions, and for which there could be no multiple drafts, versions, proofs, or do-overs — and which extraneous, distracting details punctuate in never-ending, overlapping time. He shifted his briefcase again. Jack operated faithfully on his belief that power and responsibility such as he held must necessitate extensive vigilance. Both had high aim, but when reality cocks the trigger, one shot is often all one gets. Where are they! The work crew was headed back over. He would have to find a public meeting point and wait for the cabby to find him; he’d rather not have him paged because Afuoco didn’t know he knew his name. Standing here daydreaming isn’t getting us anywhere. He leaned across the handrail, anxiously searching in grid patterns, under pressure to finish coming down. Someone was blocking his way. A heavyset woman with a glowing complexion and full, arched eyebrows had just stepped in front of the ramp. She was eating a candy bar and wearing a sandwich board ad for vanishing cream. A black and white photograph of the model’s face was divided by light and shadow. Where’s Beatrice? He contemplated the promise of a cream to make imperfection vanish. Where is Jewel? Where is Jewel! Where is she? He inched down another two feet as the workmen began to release the brakes 274


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from the moveable incline. What’s going on? He must complete his descent. He had things to do. Maybe the signwoman wouldn’t even be there when he reached bottom. Important things. He smiled and patted his briefcase. Jack squared his shoulders and grinned broadly, knowing he and he alone possessed all genetic keys of Earthlings and of much other life as well. If there’s any engineering to be done — and not just on this planet but throughout the cosmos — it would proceed to his specifications, standards, criteria and values, and from the precious DNA of beatific Jewel he had collected. It was not for nothing that his parents’ genes were spared. He looked out the giant windows again. He saw a plane take off, and thought once more of Heaven. He heard his father’s voice from the letter in the the package Chaim sent him at Columbia: I remind you again, it cost a lot to refit the focus, so please you should look long through the lens. He strode the rest of the way down. His assassin took point blank aim and fired. And escaped, unrecognized, before the bullet blast was heard.

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Chapter 38 Toto Locates Jack “You stay here,” Toto said to Jewel, splaying his

fingers wide and raising and lowering his hands flat up and down near the seats. She had just stood up and immediately he pushed her down again. “Stay put. I come right back. I see what is the problem there.” Jewel was too dazed and frightened not to respond to his signals with anything but bobbing and nodding. She meekly turned to sit again while Toto went to investigate. But as soon as his back was turned, the Holy White Mother Superior took Jewel’s weak, pale hand into her even smaller, whiter one, and spirited her off with the order. The crowd parted to make room for the white sisters walking double file toward the gate and onto their waiting aircraft. As they came through the most advanced guard of 276


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onlookers, the nuns saw Jack Rubin lying in pain on the gray terrazzo floor, soaking in a pool of blood, surrounded by airport security. Responsibility for examining his briefcase was entrusted to no one who read well in any language, so its contents were reported as insignificant crank religious tracts. He was carrying false papers and in disguise, and therefore unidentified. He was near death but not yet dead. He summoned enough resources to stay alive until he saw his child. And soon, in front of him appeared his cherished daughter, Jewel, among white angels. He tried to call to her, choking on the blood and vomit in his throat, “Jew’l, Jew’l —.” “He’s speaking. He’s trying to speak!” someone cried, and the call was picked up in many languages. “He’s trying to name his shooter,” one tried to guess. An evangelist, one of the many who frequent the airports, crossed himself, even though such a gesture was not within the rituals of his sect, but as a salute of solidarity with the Holy Mother, who was passing at that moment with her charges. “He’s saying the Jews are responsible,” said a handsome young man at the Leftliner counter. Jewel paused to look at the man beseeching her crazily from the floor. The white nun prodded Jewel on, away from her dying father’s plea. A thread of blood stained the hem of her garment. Toto saw the flash of red as he shoved his way forward through the crowd, uneased by clerical privilege, muscling in, asserting his raw masculinity to gain whatever advantage he could, to reach them, this trinity — the Mother Superior, Jack and Jewel — together at the foot of the ramp. Toto alone among the bystanders knew this was Jack Rubin on the ground. And the nuns had Jewel, he saw. 277


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Jack was still alive, the most famous person Toto had ever encountered. Think fast! “Scrivi, scrivi,” Toto yelled, tearing one of the soiled boxes from his backpack, grappling out a sharply pointed pencil. Frantically, he pushed an open autograph page toward the bleeding figure on the floor. “Write you name here!” A hush fell over the crowd as Toto put the pencil in Jack’s hand. What Jack tried to write was what he tried to say, calling for his daughter. “J-E-W-” he wrote, but could not manage the last two letters before he failed. Jack Rubin breathed his final breath, as more words from his father, Chaim, formed the final voices in his ears, “You might as well...it will be so....” Murmurs of conjecture rippled all around him. “Who is he?” people asked. Many assumed the victim did identify himself in answer to that question put to him, if not by given name, perhaps by family, or at least by nation or what kind of priest he wanted or in what kind of grave to bury him. Many others assumed he identified his assailant. The word was explained in these false ways by everyone who heard or saw or learned of it, but the evidence was gone. Debating their own remarks had distracted all the witnesses, so their memories described themselves to align not with what they witnessed, but with their remarks. Toto had retrieved his autograph book, and quickly slipped out the side, nimbly purloining Jack’s briefcase as he vanished. Exiting the terminal, he glanced from habit toward the taxi lot. His own cab, driverless, unlocked, was parked among the others. Si, this was a logical place for Beatrice

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to have come, he thought, although just why or where she went from here, he didn’t think to know. He couldn’t stay to look for her; he’d catch her again some time in Rome. He was eager to get to the briefcase. In that old, battered skin bag would be major documents of world policy. Toto was the only one who could identify the dead man on the floor, and until that identity was established, if ever, he could amend or approve these papers as he saw fit, easily affix Jack Rubin’s signature, and send them to the General Assembly. And he could use the hand-scan longrange remote control to send any directive to anywhere on Earth, or anywhere anywhere, perhaps forever. And he could mess around with those mucky things in the vials and Petri dishes. Why he wanted to do this or what the results might be, he neither knew nor cared. This was Toto’s chance to exercise the power he craved: meaningless, undeserved, destructive, onerous, the malicious sinfulness of wanton deeds making any painful outcome particularly delicious. He knew he’d have to remain covert awhile. His grab for the bag had been an inspiration, but it was done in the open, and someone might remember seeing him if he surfaced too soon. Toto laughed, suddenly hit by blast of superstition, as he noticed the star pattern on a discarded candy wrapper upside down along the curb of the parking lot. Did he bag the briefcase on orders from the Devil? An unfamiliar chill ran through him. Ordinarily, he had no worries. Toto never used erasers, never changed his mind, never thought he could make mistakes. He fully trusted that his impulses were well enough educated by experience to always do what’s best for himself — the most self-serving thing —

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thereby the most prudent thing, one would think by his way of thinking — no matter what outrage he committed. If there ever would be consequence, it would happen after he would be long gone. Only the acts themselves were real to him, and the emotional highs they were good for. Maybe he should kneel in prayer before he forged Jack’s documents, he reasoned: then whatever thing he’d do would be by God’s reply. Unless, of course, the Devil taps the wire; there’s never any way to know who answers prayers. The Devil was an angel once, and can disguise his voice. The world is always new, Toto figured. Nothing ends basta come è. All vehicles come with steering wheels and gear shifts. All treads go round and round. It behooves me to tailgate and sound my horn. He bounced into the familiar cab, adjusting the rearview mirror on a scene of pandemonium behind him. He tuned in the police scanner: on the concourse, eighteen people were just killed and over a hundred wounded by Palestinian grenades and submachine guns at the TWA and El Al ticket counters here in Rome and simultaneously at the airport in Vienna. That event, subsuming Jack’s, would hit the papers and the history books. In the cab, he noticed Beatrice’s white stick left on the seat since that day on the Gianicolo, only yesterday. No, it wasn’t her stick, it was a broken twig from a palo santo bush, just budding. How did that get in here? Just blew in, most likely, maybe. He’d keep it for good luck. He opened Jack’s briefcase, well worn inside and out, but the smell of the animal still emanated from deep in its stitches and folds. I could make this hide light and soft again, he thought, remembering the restoratives and dilute bleaches he kept for skins and leathers at his shack. He found Jack’s pocket remote, which his talented fingers itched to mastermind, 280


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and tossed it in the glove compartment. A valuable lapisinlaid fountain pen he thought he had lost, rolled out. The present exists only for pleasure, he thought, kissing the pen. The future just brings us more presents. The key was in the car, so he started it up.

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Chapter 39 In the Air In the air, The Holy White Mother Superior was

teaching Jewel to pray, clasping in her hands a personal token, the amulet she always carried, a tarnished brass key from the front door lock of her grandmother’s Pennsylvania farmhouse. “E,” Jewel said. In her womb, new life was stirring.

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Chapter 40 Caroline at Computer II Caroline sat at her husband’s computer, tapping out

the names of their family and friends, of Letty, Beatrice, Jack and Jewel. From long ago, she recalled a memory deeply suppressed. Beatrice had been present at Jewel’s conception. A perfumed visit to her teacher one afternoon in New York had turned into an orgy. Beatrice had perched over Caroline and Jack, and directed their performance, as if Beatrice herself had been responsible for the pregnancy. Cary fished a matchbook from her nightgown pocket. There was a roach folded inside. She lit it and went back to the keyboard, concerned about her daughter and angry at her husband. Everyone is potentially a messiah, she typed, glad Jack wasn’t around to berate her for simplistic thinking. 284


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She was a simple person. She simply wanted things in simple terms. Every parent must raise their children to Lead us all to Peace On Earth. One messiah is not enough for A planet humming with the harmony of a hive, Key of B Flat. Maybe C. She deleted the text and dragged on the marijuana again. Too simplistic, he’ d be right. We could say it but no one could agree on what it meant, how to enact it. How to get from here to there. How to make peace happen. It could form the crux of a poem, maybe, somehow, but not a political position, not a historical solution by a person of leadership. Few would follow, few could agree to — especially if it meant submit to — the equality it postulated. Jack would laugh at her for thinking again, if he saw this, she thought with no small resentment. He had his own big ideas. She would make sure he’d never see it. What’s the key? Delete? Escape? Fire? Where’s the damn kill switch?!?! OK! Don’t Save.

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Chapter 41 From the Skies over Italy From

the skies over Italy, the convent plane flew through the airspace of many lands. Jewel and the nuns looking down could see many transport lines leading to many encampments emitting billowing, rancorous smoke. “Savior,” the Holy White Mother Superior said, her palm on Jewel’s belly, as the shadow of the plane crossed a load of captives disgorging before the gates of a muddy stockade. The buzz overhead caused a momentary distraction of the guards’ attention, and a few teenagers managed to escape.

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AFTERWORDS

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Titles of Photographs and Collages Technical Notes Acknowledgements

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Photographs & Collages p.front cover & spine. Red Rubber Name Stamp from Uncle Mike When I Was Eight. p.front cover. Bill and Ola on Jones Beach, 8-80-5-43. Nassau County, NY, 1980 p.foreword. NY Times Collage Nov-Dec 1985. p.title/author. Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis Formosa), 12-14-1-12. NYC, 2014 p.chapters. Gas Chamber / Bogus Shower Room, Sachsenhausen, 6-09-2-35. Germany, 2009 p.1. Railroad Clock Tower from Car, Creepy, 1-05-21-23. Clarion, IN, 2005 p.4. Night Statues Friedrich vDennewitz & Gerhard vScharnhorst, w/Klaus, 9338. Berlin, 2009 p.16. Umbrella on Floor of Howard Greenberg Gallery, 3-05-4-5. NYC, 2005 p.22. Two Hanging Shirts through Windows, High, 9-09-3-34. London, 2009 p.24. Light Like Airplane over Bldg Entrances & Lampshadow, 8-08-1-27. Wales, 2008 p.30. Slide in Twilight Playground, with Klaus E, 6-09-5-28. Berlin, 2009 p.39. Mother’s Dying, 7-84-4-31. Franklin Square, NY, 1984 p.43. Two Little Girls, Carmine St Pool, with Marti, 3-78-4-17. NYC, 1978 p.52. Anchored Flying Doll, 3-05-4-22. NYC, 2005 p.65. Pointy Doll in Coffin Bed, 3-05-4-24. NYC, 2005 p.74. Bird in Window, Brown, 3182+3184. Montreal, 2012. p.79. Little Doll in Doorway, 3-05-4-25. NYC, 2005 p.80. Two Dolls on Dostoyevsky’s Bench, Green, 6-07-12-33. Starya Russa, Russia, 2007 p.82-1. I-90 from Car: Magic Triangular Tree Composition, 1-85-4-15. NY to FL, 1985 p.82-2. I-90 from Car: Magic Composition of Median and Road, 7-84-4-17. NY to FL, 1984 p.93. Indiana House with One Tree on Stormy Hill, 1-05-2-11. Crawford County, IN, 2005 290


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p.103. Barbara Rosenthal Journal Volume 47: Mon, April 29, 2002, Open Double Page. p.112-113. Peasant-bound Scrapbook, 6-07-20-40. St. Pt, Russia, 2007 in Faux NYT Collage. p.114. Little Red House in Focus on Drive North from Beijing, 6-06-26-3. Hairu, China, 2006 p.125. View East on 57th St outside Marian Goodman Gallery, Full Moon, Gold, 0136. NYC, 2010 p.137. White Mirror Woman Doll, 6-88-3-30. NYC, 1988 p.138. Alien Fetuses in Jars, Green, 0004. St. Petersburg, Russia, 2007 p.146. Italian Restaurant in Grünewald, Amber, 2-13-9-4. Grünewald, Germany, 2013 p.166. Colored Lights Edges, Trees, Full Moon, Coil & Green Steetlamp, 8-09-6-27. Paris, 2009 p.166. My Guide in the Gold Mine, Fire, 10-13-5-19. Ballarat, Australia, 2013 p.167.RobOnLanding w/Taschenlampe,AbandonedSovietBase,2-13-8-5.Zossen,Germany,2013 p.178. Circle Square Z Vaulted Ceiling & Three Roosting Birds, 8-09-2-1. Paris, 2009 p.181. Pos Neg Trees along the Tiber near Tyler, Orange & Aqua, 1931. Rome, 2015 p.186. Two Tree Guardians & Twelve Small Between, Vertical, 7-09-4-1. Remerschen, Lux., 2009 p.196. Temple of Athena w/Classmates & Kodak, Composite, 1-69-51-12. Paestum, Italy, 1969 p.207. Sylvia Bonilla, Queen in Light at Smith&Jones Gallery, Blue, 1447. Brooklyn, NY, 2014 p.208. Sunburst in Wedge Landscape, Purple Sky, 10-13-8-1. The Hinterlands, Australia, 2013 p.211-1. Little Swoop of Trees Driving North w/Jocelyn, 11-12-3-16. Mont-St-Hilaire, Quebec, 2012 p.211-2. Big Swoop of Trees Driving North w/Jocelyn, 11-12-3-15. Mont-St-Hilaire, Quebec, 2012 p.212. Window and Cartwheel in Prague Castle, Yellow, 0601. Prague, 2009 p.223. Ghost Ship on the Noosa River, Deep Brown, 8683. Noosaville, Australia, 2013 p.232. Two Gulls in a Clouding Blue Sky on Beach w/Anne, 7948. St Kilda, Australia, 2013 p.234. Six Baby Trees Like Wheat Stalks, 7-07-2-25. Turko, Finland, 2007 p.237. Smart French Doll in Yellow Jewelry Box, 11-12-6-25. Montreal, 2012 p.238. Origami Figure Hanging from Bus Station Underpass, 9-09-9889. London, 2009 p.249. Bio-luminescent Creatures, Red Circle & Map, Mus of Natural History, 5-12-1-28. NYC, 2012 p.261. Figure in Window from Bar Quais de Brumes, 11-12-8-3. Montreal, 2012 p.265.StripeSunriseFramedinPlaneWindow,ApproachingMelbourne,8763.Melbourne2013 p.269. Green God, 8215. Sidney, Australia, 2013 p.276.ChristEmittingLightShafts,HorizDistortion,Colorized,6-07-15-94.St.Petersburg,Russia,2007 p.282-1. Airplane Sunrise Clouds NY to Montreal I, Reversed, 0915. Montreal, 2011 p.282-2. Airplane Sunrise Clouds NY to Montreal II, Reversed, 0924. Montreal, 2011 p.284. Egyptian Figurine of Ankhoudjès and Wife in the Louvre, Tan, 9615. Paris, 2009 p.286-1. Doll in Montreal Ethnographic Museum, 11-12-1-11. Montreal, 2012 p.286-2. Two of Three Red-lit Lined Figures, 0889. Melbourne, 2013 p.photos&collages-1. Model of Future Earth, Cropped, 7903. Melbourne, 2013 p.photos&collages-2. Basketball Moon, Cropped, 9798. Paris, 2009 p.tech notes. Fourth of July, Crawford County, w/the Wendells, 1-05-13-24. Coriden, IN, 2005 p.acknowledgments.Figure inHat w/Book&Candle fromMagic Doorway,10-89-4-29.NYC,1989 p.back cover-1. Author photo by Rhys Votano, Melbourne, Australia, 2013 291


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Technical Notes Wish for Amnesia was first drafted between 19801985, raiding materials from my Journals, casual readings, and contemporaneous news. This was the same process I used for my earlier books, but since this one would take the form of a novel, I hadn’t thought it would include images, which the other books did do. These 55 photographs and 6 collages between the chapters are not contemporaneous with the writing. Over the years that Wish for Amnesia grew in the dark, I added materials to a parallel ongoing project, Surreal Photography, that Deadly Chaps Press thought were resonant. Most were shot during this recent decade of heavy travel (2005-2016) while I toured with my work in performance, installation, media and text. Like all my photography, they are printed from, unless otherwise noted, full-frame, uncropped, unmanipulated 35mm negatives exposed with the Olympus OM-1 fully manual cameras and lenses I have owned since they were first manufactured in 1973. But one day in 2007, in St. Petersburg, Russia, one of my roommates in the hostel above the Puppet Theater broke off her key in our lock, trapping all my OM-1 equipment inside. Rather than waste any time, I bought a digital Canon A450 Состав систеы Компеки камеры. I have continued to use both analog and digital systems, still always full-frame, but lately with color film in addition to black and white, and recently, some digital tinkering on 9 of these 55. The photo title list indicates which are film, which are digital in origin: The negative file numbers are month-year-roll-frame, and the digital file numbers are four digits. In the BW printing of this book, the color images are reproduced in grayscale, but some of their titles indicate an overall color scheme. The e-book is in color, and you may also see a full color preview of the book on the novel’s website: wishforamnesia.com. The publisher,Joseph Quintela and I designed the book. I laid it out in inDesign and created the cover. As it was sent out for bound galleys and printing company samples, I continued revising. There have been 17 proto-editions in these 40 years, one with fine-printed photographs. This now is the definitive first edition, fourth tweak. —Barbara Rosenthal, NYC, February 4, 2018 293


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Acknowledgements I heartily thank everyone who has helped this novel on its long, circuitous path! And I name here below the dear dead as well, whose efforts and inspirations live on: Publishers of chapters: Washington Street Press published my story Caroline and Jewel Drive to the Country, comprising Chapters 14-15-16 as a single unit in a different form as the little booklet, Haunted House, and Wood Coin, which published Chapter 24 with slight variations as my story Physics Dream. Venues that exhibited some of these images while the book was in recent development: Galerie Glass (Berlin), Visual Voice Gallery (Montreal), Studio Baustelle (Berlin), eMediaLoft (NYC), The Center for Book Arts (NYC), Smith&Jones Gallery (Bklyn) and Galerie Protégé (NYC). Great souls who published, curated, exhibited and wrote about my related work or featured me in readings during these recent years while construction of Wish for Amnesia moved forward, and great psyches, whose recent conversations were essential to the final clarification of my ideas: Bruce Allan, Christopher Allen, Gianluca Baccanico, Monika Berstis, Sarah Bodman, Barb Bolt, Alex Campos, Steve Cannon, Mitch Corber, Patricia Corrigan, Rebecca Cunningham, Alexandra Dementieva, Gabriel Don, Ben Eastop, Mike Foldes, Dorothy Friedman August, Prudence Groube, Peter Grzybowski, Alex Harsley, Bob Holman, Sam Jablon, Tom Jarmusch, CD Johnson, Ron Kolm, Pam Kray, Ngan Le, Robert C. Morgan, Geraldo Mercado, Stephen Paul Miller, Johnathan Morpurgo, Courtney Muller, Bryant Musgrove, Shalom Neuman, Ronnie Norpel, Antonio Ortuño, Katie Peyton, Su Polo, Heather Powell, Susan Protter, Bob Quatrone, CT Rhodes, Maddy Rosenberg, Claudio Scardino, MM Serra, Stefan Stux, Melissa Swantkowski, Elsa Thorpe, Lehman Weichselbaum, Bart Weiss and Jeffrey Cyphers Wright. Friends who gave me places to work on this book in isolation during its middle years: Eric Hauben, Bob Schuler, Martha Kellner Kerr, Leon & Mollie Rosenthal, Sam & Selma 294


AFTERWORDS: Titles, Technical Notes, Acknowledgements

Creston, the Martha Washington Hotel, and my architect brother, Gil Rosenthal, who designed a secret room for me, hidden in through the parking garage of his Atlantic City Convention Center. Friends who took me photographing through the magic places on these pages: the Bruner-Wendell family, DJ RoBeat, Klaus Eisenlohr, Jocelyn Fiset and Anne Marsh. Organizations and individuals who provided support, advice, encouragement, technical expertise and institutional access: Ballarat Gold Mine, for accepting my press pass in lieu of entrance fee in exchange for this happy credit; Jerome Rozen, Chair of Entomology at The Museum of Natural History, for inviting me through the vast collection and setting me up to photograph the juiciest wasp; Mark Lewental, at The College of Staten Island Library, who cheerfully converted the early typewritten drafts via Optical Character Recognition to editable, digital format; David Sagan of the Elementary Particle Lab at Cornell and Greg LeBlanc of the Australian Synchrotron, who listened to my imaginings and pointed me to real physics; Jeremy Gasch, printer of the “fine print edition”; Dr. Ian Lerner, art connoisseur, who does what he does best; Alex Harsely, of Fourth St Photo Gallery, grandpappy of all my books; Filmmakers CoOp, Printed Matter, Central Booking, eMediaLoft, Smith&Jones Gallery and VampAndTramp, which represent my work in various media; and The Cialuna Literary Collective and Library, Barletta, Italy, which invited me with this book for its international preview launch, Feb 2015, when Deadly Chaps printed the first of the eight proto-editions under their imprint. Very special thanks to Bill Creston, whose filmic vision and binary-star rotation are central to my universe. And to other early readers: Ray Andrews, A. D. Coleman, George Doolittle, Barbara Stuhlmann, Hannah Weiner and James Young; to my beloved late literary agent of 1989-92, Gunther Stuhlmann; to publishers of my offset artists’ books Joan and Nathan Lyons of Visual Studies Workshop Press; and to the indefatigable publisher of this novel, Joseph A.W. Quintela. 295


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Fiction / Literature

WISH FOR AMNESIA is a modern-day mix of futuristic fable and historical fact that follows six idiosyncratic characters in New York and Rome from 1968-1985, Wishto forHalley’s Amnesia Comet. It pivots around Jack Rubin, son of Holocaust resistance Hippiedom workers, who develops a Messianic Complex as he rises to great success in a life of anthro-genetics, early computer technology and international politics. But he is beset by Voices, which say he has no right to lead until he has the perfect plan. A troubled relationship with Beatrice, a blind, black performance artist, moves him to marry one of her students, Caroline, stunning, but disturbed. Jack becomes a tyrant to his family as he uses his wife for sex and their precocious daughter, Jewel, as his model for a perfect hominid created through genetic engineering. The artist is named the child’s godmother. She takes Jewel to Rome, where they fall in with a nefarious cabdriver, Toto, who causes several transformations in them both, some good, some harrowing. Jack desperately strives to fulfill the potential of his father’s sacrificed generation, but when he travels to Rome to bring his daughter home, as he descends a ramp at DaVinci Airport on the day of a historically infamous attack there, he’s killed by someone he knows.

“Terrific! ” — Gunther Stuhlmann, ed. Diary of Anaïs Nin. “The mind, the eye, of a camera ... fantastic on detail.” — Raymond Andrews, James Baldwin Prize Novelist.

“An extraordinary cast of characters who shuttle between divinity and depravity, motivated by a blinding vision of perfection. Thought-provoking, beautifully written.”

— Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Goodreads.

“The cheekiest tongue-in-cheek writing to come out of...this ‘Trans-Millennial Century.’”

— eMediaLoft gaZette.

“Barbara Rosenthal re-imagines the art of fiction between new modes of imagination and reality. She is the closest thing we have to a Wallace Stevens.” —Stephen Paul Miller, ed. Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture.

“Rarely have I felt a sense of place as vividly ... The same is true of the characters.... rendered with startling authenticity — and humor. Rosenthal is a master craftswoman, each sentence is a sculptured gem....An awe-inspiring achievement!!!” — Stanley Hoffman, Amazon.

“A loom...of finespun hard-steel cable that conducts unwitting subjects to their ineluctable ends.... [T]he most astounding passages of English prose you’ll ever read.” — Lehman Weichselbaum, Home Planet News.

“Very readable, very funny, and very visual. It would make a great genre film classic.”

— AD Coleman, Photography and Culture Critic, NYC.

“A wild ride, careening through time, space and levels of reality.... The writing is rich.... Wish for Amnesia is well worth reading. Multiple times.” — Pam Kray, Afterimage.

“Satirical, fantastical and philosophical....Readers will feel they can’t take their eyes away. A celebration of the dysfunctional that will keep readers turning pages.”

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Barbara Rosenthal taught Writing for 22 years at The City University of NY. Her previous books include Clues to Myself, Sensations, Homo Futurus and Soul & Psyche . She belongs to the Unbearables literary/art /performance collective in NYC, and this novel contains 58 of her Surreal Photographs between the chapters. The author photo is by Rhys Votano, during his interview of her for Channels Video Festival in Melbourne, Australia when Rosenthal toured with her work in 2013.

— Kirkus.

Pushcart Prize Nomination

WISH FOR AMNESIA  

Definitive First Edition, 2017 Authored by Barbara Rosenthal Photographs by Barbara Rosenthal Foreword by Joseph A. W. Quintela Descriptio...

WISH FOR AMNESIA  

Definitive First Edition, 2017 Authored by Barbara Rosenthal Photographs by Barbara Rosenthal Foreword by Joseph A. W. Quintela Descriptio...

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