Maps in a Mirror, page 11
“I knew that.”
“Then why did you say, ‘Oh, of course’? The engines. You can hear them all over the ship. It’s a drone, all the time. That’s just like the rain. Only after a while you can’t hear it anymore. It becomes like silence. Anansa told me.”
Another imaginary friend. Her file said that she had kept her imaginary friends long after most children give them up. That was why I had first been assigned to see her, to get rid of the friends. Grunty, the ice pig; Howard, the boy who beat up everybody; Sue Ann, who would bring her dolls and play with them for her, making them do what Elaine said for them to do; Fuchsia, who lived among the flowers and was only inches high. There were others. After a few sessions with her I saw that she knew that they weren’t real. But they passed time for her. They stepped outside her body and did things she could never do. I felt they did her no harm at all, and destroying that imaginary world for her would only make her lonelier and more unhappy. She was sane, that was certain. And yet I kept seeing her, not entirely because I liked her so much. Partly because I wondered whether she had been pretending when she told me she knew her friends weren’t real. Anansa was a new one.
“Oh, you don’t want to know.” She didn’t want to talk about her; that was obvious.
“I want to know.”
She turned away. “I can’t make you go away, but I wish you would. When you get nosy.”
“It’s my job.”
“Job!” She sounded contemptuous. “I see all of you, running around on your healthy legs, doing all your jobs.”
What could I say to her? “It’s how we stay alive,” I said. “I do my best.”
Then she got a strange look on her face; I’ve got a secret, she seemed to say, and I want you to pry it out of me. “Maybe I can get a job, too.”
“Maybe,” I said. I tried to think of something she could do.
“There’s always music,” she said.
I misunderstood. “There aren’t many instruments you can play. That’s the way it is.” Dose of reality and all that.
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Okay. Never again.”
“I meant that there’s always the music. On my job.”
“And what job is this?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she said, rolling her eyes mysteriously and turning toward the window. I imagined her as a normal fifteen-year-old girl. Ordinarily I would have interpreted this as flirting. But there was something else under all this. A feeling of desperation. She was right. I really would like to know. I made a rather logical guess. I put together the two secrets she was trying to get me to figure out today.
“What kind of job is Anansa going to give you?”
She looked at me, startled. “So it’s true then.”
“It’s so frightening. I keep telling myself it’s a dream. But it isn’t, is it?”
“You think she’s just one of my friends, don’t you. But they’re not in my dreams, not like this. Anansa—”
“What about Anansa?”
“She sings to me. In my sleep.”
My trained psychologist’s mind immediately conjured up mother figures. “Of course,” I said.
“She’s in space, and she sings to me. You wouldn’t believe the songs.”
It reminded me. I pulled out the cassette I had bought for her.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome. Want to hear it?”
She nodded. I put it on the cassette player. Appalachian Spring. She moved her head to the music. I imagined her as a dancer. She felt the music very well.
But after a few minutes she stopped moving and started to cry.
“It’s not the same,” she said.
“You’ve heard it before?”
“Turn it off. Turn it off!”
I turned it off. “Sorry,” I said. “Thought you’d like it.”
“Guilt, nothing but guilt,” she said. “You always feel guilty, don’t you?”
“Pretty nearly always,” I admitted cheerfully. A lot of my parents threw psychological jargon in my face. Or soap-opera language.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just—it’s just not the music. Not the music. Now that I’ve heard it, everything is so dark compared to it. Like the rain, all gray and heavy and dim, as if the composer is trying to see the hills but the rain is always in the way. For a few minutes I thought he was getting it right.”
She nodded. “I know you don’t believe me. But I hear her when I’m asleep. She tells me that’s the only time she can communicate with me. It’s not talking. It’s all her songs. She’s out there, in her starship, singing. And at night I hear her.”
“You mean, Why only me?” She laughed. “Because of what I am. You told me yourself. Because I can’t run around, I live in my imagination. She says that the threads between minds are very thin and hard to hold. But mine she can hold, because I live completely in my mind. She holds on to me. When I go to sleep, I can’t escape her now anymore at all.”
“Escape? I thought you liked her.”
“I don’t know what I like. I like—I like the music. But Anansa wants me. She wants to have me—she wants to give me a job.”
“What’s the singing like?” When she said job, she trembled and closed up; I referred back to something that she had been willing to talk about, to keep the floundering conversation going.
“It’s not like anything. She’s there in space, and it’s black, just the humming of the engines like the sound of rain, and she reaches into the dust out there and draws in the songs. She reaches out her—out her fingers, or her ears, I don’t know; it isn’t clear. She reaches out and draws in the dust and the songs and turns them into the music that I hear. It’s powerful. She says it’s her songs that drive her between the stars.”
“Is she alone?”
Elaine nodded. “She wants me.”
“Wants you. How can she have you, with you here and her out there?”
Elaine licked her lips. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said in a way that told me she was on the verge of telling me.
“I wish you would. I really wish you’d tell me.”
“She says—she says that she can take me. She says that if I can learn the songs, she can pull me out of my body and take me there and give me arms and legs and fingers and I can run and dance and—”
She broke down, crying.
I patted her on the only place that she permitted, her soft little belly. She refused to be hugged. I had tried it years before, and she had screamed at me to stop it. One of the nurses told me it was because her mother had always hugged her, and Elaine wanted to hug back. And couldn’t.
“It’s a lovely dream, Elaine.”
“It’s a terrible dream. Don’t you see? I’ll be like her.”
“And what’s she like?”
“She’s the ship. She’s the starship. And she wants me with her, to be the starship with her. And sing our way through space together for thousands and thousands of years.”
“It’s just a dream. Elaine. You don’t have to be afraid of it.”
“They did it to her. They cut off her arms and legs and put her into the machines.”
“But no one’s going to put you into a machine.”
“I want to go outside,” she said.
“You can’t. It’s raining.”
“Damn the rain.”
“I do, every day.”
“I’m not joking! She pulls me all the time now, even when I’m awake. She keeps pulling at me and making me fall asleep, and she sings to me, and I feel her pulling and pulling. If I could just go outside, I could hold on. I feel like I could hold on, if I could just—”
“Hey, relax. Let me give you a—”
“No! I don’t want to sleep!”
She looked at me with terror in her eyes.
“You don’t mean that. You don’t want me to go.”
“No. Of course I don’t want you to go anywhere. But you won’t, don’t you see? It’s a dream, floating out there between the stars—”
“She’s not floating. She’s ramming her way through space so fast it makes me dizzy whenever she shows me.”
“Then be dizzy. Think of it as your mind finding a way for you to run.”
“You don’t understand, Mr. Therapist. I thought you’d understand.”
“I’m trying to.”
“If I go with her, then I’ll be dead.”
I asked her nurse, “Who’s been reading to her?”
“We all do, and volunteers from town. They like her. She always has someone to read to her.”
“You’d better supervise them more carefully. Somebody’s been putting ideas in her head. About spaceships and dust and singing between the stars. It’s scared her pretty bad.”
The nurse frowned. “We approve everything they read. She’s been reading that kind of thing for years. It’s never done her any harm before. Why now?”
“The rain, I guess. Cooped up in here, she’s losing touch with reality.”
The nurse nodded sympathetically and said, “I know. When she’s asleep, she’s doing the strangest things now.”
“Like what? What kind of things?”
“Oh, singing these horrible songs.”
“What are the words?”
“There aren’t any words. She just sort of hums. Only the melodies are awful. Not even like music. And her voice gets funny and raspy. She’s completely asleep. She sleeps a lot now. Mercifully, I think. She’s always gotten impatient when she can’t go outside.”
The nurse obviously liked Elaine. It would be hard not to feel sorry for her, but Elaine insisted on being liked, and people liked her, those that could get over the horrible flatness of the sheets all around her trunk. “Listen,” I said. “Can we bundle her up or something? Get her outside in spite of the rain?”
The nurse shook her head. “It isn’t just the rain. It’s cold out there. And the explosion that made her like she is—it messed her up inside. She isn’t put together right. She doesn’t have the strength to fight off any kind of disease at all. You understand—there’s a good chance that exposure to that kind of weather would kill her eventually. And I won’t take a chance on that.”
“I’m going to be visiting her more often, then,” I said. “As often as I can. She’s got something going on in her head that’s scaring her half to death. She thinks she’s going to die.”
“Oh, the poor darling,” the nurse said. “Why would she think that?”
“Doesn’t matter. One of her imaginary friends may be getting out of hand.”
“I thought you said they were harmless.”
When I left the Millard County Rest Home that night, I stopped back in Elaine’s room. She was asleep, and I heard her song. It was eerie. I could hear, now and then, themes from the bit of Copland music she had listened to. But it was distorted, and most of the music was unrecognizable—wasn’t even music. Her voice was high and strange, and then suddenly it would change, would become low and raspy, and for a moment I clearly heard in her voice the sound of a vast engine coming through walls of metal, carried on slender metal rods, the sound of a great roar being swallowed up by a vast cushion of nothing. I pictured Elaine with wires coming out of her shoulders and hips, with her head encased in metal and her eyes closed in sleep, like her imaginary Anansa, piloting the starship as if it were her own body. I could see that this would be attractive to Elaine, in a way. After all, she hadn’t been born this way. She had memories of running and playing, memories of feeding herself and dressing herself, perhaps even of learning to read, of sounding out the words as her fingers touched each letter. Even the false arms of a spaceship would be something to fill the great void.
Children’s centers are not inside their bodies; their centers are outside, at the point where the fingers of the left hand and the fingers of the right hand meet. What they touch is where they live; what they see is their self. And Elaine had lost herself in an explosion before she had the chance to move inside. With this strange dream of Anansa she was getting a self back.
But a repellent self, for all that. I walked in and sat by Elaine’s bed, listening to her sing. Her body moved slightly, her back arching a little with the melody. High and light; low and rasping. The sounds alternated, and I wondered what they meant. What was going on inside her to make this music come out?
If I go with her, then I’ll be dead.
Of course she was afraid. I looked at the lump of flesh that filled the bed shapelessly below where her head emerged from the covers. I tried to change my perspective, to see her body as she saw it, from above. It almost disappeared then, with the foreshortening and the height of her ribs making her stomach and hint of hips vanish into insignificance. Yet this was all she had, and if she believed—and certainly she seemed to—that surrendering to the fantasy of Anansa would mean the death of this pitiful body, is death any less frightening to those who have not been able to fully live? I doubt it. At least for Elaine, what life she had lived had been joyful. She would not willingly trade it for a life of music and metal arms, locked in her own mind.
Except for the rain. Except that nothing was so real to her as the outside, as the trees and birds and distant hills, and as the breeze touching her with a violence she permitted to no living person. And with that reality, the good part of her life, cut off from her by the rain, how long could she hold out against the incessant pulling of Anansa and her promise of arms and legs and eternal song?
I reached up, on a whim, and very gently lifted her eyelids.
Her eyes remained open, staring at the ceiling, not blinking.
I closed her eyes, and they remained closed.
I turned her head, and it stayed turned. She did not wake up. Just kept singing as if I had done nothing to her at all.
Catatonia, or the beginning of catalepsy. She’s losing her mind, I thought, and if I don’t bring her back, keep her here somehow, Anansa will win, and the rest home will be caring for a lump of mindless flesh for the next however many years they can keep this remnant of Elaine alive.
“I’ll be back on Saturday,” I told the administrator.
“Why so soon?”
“Elaine is going through a crisis of some kind,” I explained. An imaginary woman from space wants to carry her off—that I didn’t say. “Have the nurses keep her awake as much as they can. Read to her, play with her, talk to her. Her normal hours at night are enough. Avoid naps.”
“I’m afraid for her, that’s all. She could go catatonic on us at any time, I think. Her sleeping isn’t normal. I want to have her watched all the time.”
“This is really serious?”
“This is really serious.”
On Friday it looked as if the clouds were breaking, but after only a few minutes of sunshine a huge new bank of clouds swept down from the northwest, and it was worse than before. I finished my work rather carelessly, stopping a sentence in the middle several times. One of my patients was annoyed with me. She squinted at me. “You’re not paid to think about your woman troubles when you’re talking to me.” I apologized and tried to pay attention. She was a talker; my attention always wandered. But she was right in a way. I couldn’t stop thinking of Elaine. And my patient’s saying that about woman troubles must have triggered something in my mind. After all, my relationship with Elaine was the longest and closest I had had with a woman in many years. If you could think of Elaine as a woman.
On Saturday I drove back to Millard County
But she was awake when I went in to see her.
“I stayed awake for you.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“A Saturday visit. I must really be going bonkers.”
“Actually, no. But I don’t like how sleepy you are.”
She smiled wanly. “It isn’t my idea.”
I think my smile was more cheerful than hers. “And I think it’s all in your head.”
“Think what you like, Doctor.”
“I’m not a doctor. My degree says I’m a master.”
“How deep is the water outside?”
“All this rain. Surely it’s enough to keep a few dozen arks afloat. Is God destroying the world?”
“Unfortunately, no. Though He has killed the engines on a few cars that went a little fast through the puddles.”
“How long would it have to rain to fill up the world?”
“The world is round. It would all drip off the bottom.”
She laughed. It was good to hear her laugh, but it ended too abruptly, and she looked at me fearfully. “I’m going, you know.”
“I’m just the right size. She’s measured me, and I’ll fit perfectly. She has just the place for me. It’s a good place, where I can hear the music of the dust for myself, and learn to sing it. I’d have the directional engines.”
I shook my head. “Grunty the ice pig was cute. This isn’t cute, Elaine.”
“Did I ever say I thought Anansa was cute? Grunty the ice pig was real, you know. My father made him out of crushed ice for a luau. He melted before they got the pig out of the ground. I don’t make my friends up.”
“Fuchsia the flower girl?”
“My mother would pinch blossoms off the fuchsia by our front door. We played with them like dolls in the grass.”
“But not Anansa.”
“Anansa came into my mind when I was asleep. She found me. I didn’t make her up.”