Maps in a mirror, p.27

Maps in a Mirror, page 27


Maps in a Mirror

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  “I’ve missed you,” he says.

  She smiles, and there are tears in her eyes. “I’ve missed you, too,” she says.

  They talk of nothing. It’s just as well. Charlie does not remember much about the trip to Brazil, does not remember anything of what he’s done in the three days since getting back. No problem, for she seems to want to talk only of tonight. They drive to the Castle, and he tells her its history. He feels an irony about it as he explains. She, after all, is the reason he knows the history. A few years from now she will be part of a theater company that revives the Castle as a public amphitheater. But now it is falling into ruin, a monument to the old WPA, a great castle with turrets and benches made of native stone. It is on the property of the state mental hospital, and so hardly anyone knows it’s there. They are alone as they leave the car and walk up the crumbling steps to the flagstone stage.

  She is entranced. She stands in the middle of the stage, facing the benches. He watches as she raises her hand, speech waiting at the verge of her lips. He remembers something. Yes, that is the gesture she made when she bade her nurse farewell in Romeo and Juliet. No, not made. Will make, rather. The gesture must already be in her, waiting for this stage to draw it out.

  She turns to him and smiles because the place is strange and odd and does not belong in Provo, but it does belong to her. She should have been born in the Renaissance, Charlie says softly. She hears him. He must have spoken aloud. “You belong in an age when music was clean and soft and there was no makeup. No one would rival you then.”

  She only smiles at the conceit. “I missed you,” she says.

  He touches her cheek. She does not shy away. Her cheek presses into his hand, and he knows that she understands why he brought her here and what he means to do.

  Her breasts are perfect but small, her buttocks are boyish and slender, and the only hair on her body is that which tumbles onto her shoulders, that which he must brush out of her face to kiss her again. “I love you,” she whispers. “All my life I love you.”

  And it is exactly as he would have had it in a dream, except that the flesh is tangible, the ecstasy is real, and the breeze turns colder as she shyly dresses again. They say nothing more as he takes her home. Her mother has fallen asleep on the living room couch, a jumble of the Daily Herald piled around her feet. Only then does he remember that for her there will be a tomorrow, and on that tomorrow Charlie will not call. For three months Charlie will not call, and she’ll hate him.

  He tries to soften it. He tries by saying, “Some things can happen only once.” It is the sort of thing he might then have said. But she only puts her finger on his lips and says, “I’ll never forget.” Then she turns and walks toward her mother, to waken her. She turns and motions for Charlie to leave, then smiles again and waves. He waves back and goes out of the door and drives home. He lies awake in this bed that feels like childhood to him, and he wishes it could have gone on forever like this. It should have gone on like this, he thinks. She is no child. She was no child, he should have thought, for THIEF was already transporting him home.

  “What’s wrong, Charlie?” Jock asked.

  Charlie awoke. It had been hours since THIEF brought him back. It was the middle of the night, and Charlie realized that he had been crying in his sleep. “Nothing,” he said.

  “You’re crying, Charlie. I’ve never seen you cry before.”

  “Go plug into a million volts, Jock. I had a dream.”

  “What dream?”

  “I destroyed her.”

  “No, you didn’t.”

  “It was a goddamned selfish thing to do.”

  “You’d do it again. But it didn’t hurt her.”

  “She was only fourteen.”

  “No, she wasn’t.”

  “I’m tired. I was asleep. Leave me alone.”

  “Charlie, remorse isn’t your style.”

  Charlie pulled the blanket over his head, feeling petulant and wondering whether this childish act was another proof that he was retreating into senility after all.

  “Charlie, let me tell you a bedtime story.”

  “I’ll erase you.”

  “Once upon a time, ten years ago, an old woman named Rachel Carpenter petitioned for a day in her past. And it was a day with someone, and it was a day with you. So the routine circuits called me, as they always do when your name comes up, and I found her a day. She only wanted to visit, you see, only wanted to relive a good day. I was surprised, Charlie. I didn’t know you ever had good days.”

  This program had been with Jock too long. It knew too well how to get under his skin.

  “And in fact there were no days as good as she thought,” Jock continued. “Only anticipation and disappointment. That’s all you ever gave anybody, Charlie. Anticipation and disappointment.”

  “I can count on you.”

  “This woman was in a home for the mentally incapable. And so I gave her a day. Only instead of a day of disappointment, or promises she knew would never be fulfilled, I gave her a day of answers. I gave her a night of answers, Charlie.”

  “You couldn’t know that I’d have you do this. You couldn’t have known it ten years ago.”

  “That’s all right, Charlie. Play along with me. You’re dreaming anyway, aren’t you?”

  “And don’t wake me up.”

  “So an old woman went back into a young girl’s body on twenty-eight October 1973, and the young girl never knew what had happened; so it didn’t change, her life, don’t you see?”

  “It’s a lie.”

  “No, it isn’t. I can’t lie, Charlie. You programmed me not to lie. Do you think I would have let you go back and harm her?”

  “She was the same. She was as I remembered her.”

  “Her body was.”

  “She hadn’t changed. She wasn’t an old woman, Jock. She was a girl. She was a girl, Jock.”

  And Charlie thought of an old woman dying in an institution, surrounded by yellow walls and pale gray sheets and curtains. He imagined young Rachel inside that withered form, imprisoned in a body that would not move, trapped in a mind that could never again take her along her bright, mysterious trails.

  “I flashed her picture on the television,” Jock said.

  And yet, Charlie thought, how is it less bearable than that beautiful boy who wanted so badly to do the right thing that he did it all wrong, lost his chance, and now is caught in the sum of all his wrong turns? I got on the road they all wanted to take, and I reached the top, but it wasn’t where I should have gone. I’m still that boy. I did not have to lie when I went home to her.

  “I know you pretty well, Charlie,” Jock said. “I knew that you’d be enough of a bastard to go back. And enough of a human being to do it right when you got there. She came back happy, Charlie. She came back satisfied.”

  His night with a beloved child was a lie then; it wasn’t young Rachel any more than it was young Charlie. He looked for anger inside himself but couldn’t find it. For a dead woman had given him a gift, and taken the one he offered, and it still tasted sweet.

  “Time for sleep, Charlie. Go to sleep again. I just wanted you to know that there’s no reason to feel any remorse for it. No reason to feel anything bad at all.”

  Charlie pulled the covers tight around his neck, unaware that he had begun that habit years ago, when the strange shadowy shapes hid in his closet and only the blanket could keep him safe. Pulled the covers high and tight, and closed his eyes, and felt her hand stroke him, felt her breast and hip and thigh, and heard her voice as breath against his cheek.

  “O chestnut tree,” Jock said, as he had been taught to say, “. . . great rooted blossomer,

  “Are you the leaf, the blossom, or the bole?

  “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

  “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

  The audience applauded in his mind while he slipped into sleep, and he thought it remarkable that they sounded genuine. He pictured t
hem smiling and nodding at the show. Smiling at the girl with her hand raised so; nodding at the man who paused forever, then came on stage.


  I was an innocent pedestrian. Only reason I got in this in the first place was I got a vertical way of thinking and Dogwalker thought I might be useful, which was true, and also he said I might enjoy myself, which was a pre-fabrication, since people done a lot more enjoying on me than I done on them.

  When I say I think vertical, I mean to say I’m metaphysical, that is, simular, which is to say, I’m dead but my brain don’t know it yet and my feet still move. I got popped at age nine just lying in my own bed when the goat next door shot at his lady and it went through the wall and into my head. Everybody went to look at them cause they made all the noise, so I was a quart low before anybody noticed I been poked.

  They packed my head with supergoo and light pipe, but they didn’t know which neutron was supposed to butt into the next so my alchemical brain got turned from rust to diamond. Goo Boy. The Crystal Kid.

  From that bright electrical day I never grew another inch, anywhere. Bullet went nowhere near my gonadicals. Just turned off the puberty switch in my head. Saint Paul said he was a eunuch for Jesus, but who am I a eunuch for?

  Worst thing about it is here I am near thirty and I still have to take barkeepers to court before they’ll sell me beer. And it ain’t hardly worth it even though the judge prints out in my favor and the barkeep has to pay costs, because my corpse is so little I get toxed on six ounces and pass out pissing after twelve. I’m a lousy drinking buddy. Besides, anybody hangs out with me looks like a pederast.

  No, I’m not trying to make you drippy-drop for me—I’m used to it, OK? Maybe the homecoming queen never showed me True Love in a four-point spread, but I got this knack that certain people find real handy and so I always made out. I dress good and I ride the worm and I don’t pay much income tax. Because I am the Password Man. Give me five minutes with anybody’s curriculum vitae, which is to say their autopsychoscopy, and nine times out of ten I’ll spit out their password and get you into their most nasty sticky sweet secret files. Actually it’s usually more like three times out of ten, but that’s still a lot better odds than having a computer spend a year trying to push out fifteen characters to make just the right P-word, specially since after the third wrong try they string your phone number, freeze the target files, and call the dongs.

  Oh, do I make you sick? A cute little boy like me, engaged in critical unspecified dispopulative behaviors? I may be half glass and four feet high, but I can simulate you better than your own mama, and the better I know you, the deeper my hooks. I not only know your password now, I can write a word on a paper, seal it up, and then you go home and change your password and then open up what I wrote and there it’ll be, your new password, three times out often. I am vertical, and Dogwalker knowed it. Ten percent more supergoo and I wouldn’t even be legally human, but I’m still under the line, which is more than I can say for a lot of people who are a hundred percent zoo inside their head.

  Dogwalker comes to me one day at Carolina Circle, where I’m playing pinball standing on a stool. He didn’t say nothing, just gave me a shove, so naturally he got my elbow in his balls. I get a lot of twelve-year-olds trying to shove me around at the arcades, so I’m used to teaching them lessons. Jack the Giant Killer. Hero of the fourth graders. I usually go for the stomach, only Dogwalker wasn’t a twelve-year-old, so my elbow hit low.

  I knew the second I hit him that this wasn’t no kid. I didn’t know Dogwalker from God, but he gots the look, you know, like he been hungry before, and he don’t care what he eats these days.

  Only he got no ice and he got no slice, just sits there on the floor with his back up against the Eat Shi’ite game, holding his boodle and looking at me like I was a baby he had to diaper. “I hope you’re Goo Boy,” he says, “cause if you ain’t, I’m gonna give you back to your mama in three little tupperware bowls.” He doesn’t sound like he’s making a threat, though. He sounds like he’s chief weeper at his own funeral.

  “You want to do business, use your mouth, not your hands,” I says. Only I say it real apoplectic, which is the same as apologetic except you are also still pissed.

  “Come with me,” he says. “I got to go buy me a truss. You pay the tax out of your allowance.”

  So we went to Ivey’s and stood around in children’s wear while he made his pitch. “One P-word,” he says, “only there can’t be no mistake. If there’s a mistake, a guy loses his job and maybe goes to jail.”

  So I told him no. Three chances in ten, that’s the best I can do. No guarantees. My record speaks for itself, but nobody’s perfect, and I ain’t even close.

  “Come on,” he says, “you got to have ways to make sure, right? If you can do three times out of ten, what if you find out more about the guy? What if you meet him?”

  “OK, maybe fifty-fifty.”

  “Look, we can’t go back for seconds. So maybe you can’t get it. But do you know when you ain’t got it?”

  “Maybe half the time when I’m wrong, I know I’m wrong.”

  “So we got three out of four that you’ll know whether you got it?”

  “No,” says I. “Cause half the time when I’m right, I don’t know I’m right.”

  “Shee-it,” he says. “This is like doing business with my baby brother.”

  “You can’t afford me anyway,” I says. “I pull two dimes minimum, and you barely got breakfast on your gold card.”

  “I’m offering a cut.”

  “I don’t want a cut. I want cash.”

  “Sure thing,” he says. He looks around, real careful. As if they wired the sign that said Boys Briefs Sizes 10-12. “I got an inside man at Federal Coding,” he says.

  “That’s nothing,” I says. “I got a bug up the First Lady’s ass, and forty hours on tape of her breaking wind.”

  I got a mouth. I know I got a mouth. I especially know it when he jams my face into a pile of shorts and says, “Suck on this, Goo Boy.”

  I hate it when people push me around. And I know ways to make them stop. This time all I had to do was cry. Real loud, like he was hurting me. Everybody looks when a kid starts crying. “I’ll be good.” I kept saying it. “Don’t hurt me no more! I’ll be good.”

  “Shut up,” he says. “Everybody’s looking.”

  “Don’t you ever shove me around again,” I says. “I’m at least ten years older than you, and a hell of a lot more than ten years smarter. Now I’m leaving this store, and if I see you coming after me, I’ll start screaming about how you zipped down and showed me the pope, and you’ll get yourself a child-molesting tag so they pick you up every time some kid gets jollied within a hundred miles of Greensboro.” I’ve done it before, and it works, and Dogwalker was no dummy. Last thing he needed was extra reasons for the dongs to bring him in for questioning. So I figured he’d tell me to get poked and that’d be the last of it.

  Instead he says, “Goo Boy, I’m sorry, I’m too quick with my hands.”

  Even the goat who shot me never’ said he was sorry. My first thought was, what kind of sister is he, abjectifying right out like that. Then I reckoned I’d stick around and see what kind of man it is who emulsifies himself in front of a nine-year-old-looking kid. Not that I figured him to be purely sorrowful. He still just wanted me to get the P-word for him, and he knew there wasn’t nobody else to do it. But most street pugs aren’t smart enough to tell the right lie under pressure. Right away I knew he wasn’t your ordinary street hook or low arm, pugging cause they don’t have the sense to stick with any kind of job. He had a deep face, which is to say his head was more than a hairball, by which I mean he had brains enough to put his hands in his pockets without seeking an audience with the pope. Right then was when I decided he was my kind of no-good lying son-of-a-bitch.

  “What are you after at Federal Coding?” I asked him. “A record wipe?”

  “Ten clean greens,” he says.
“Coded for unlimited international travel. The whole ID, just like a real person.”

  “The President has a green card,” I says. “The Joint Chiefs have clean greens. But that’s all. The U.S. Vice-President isn’t even cleared for unlimited international travel.”

  “Yes he is,” he says.

  “Oh, yeah, you know everything.”

  “I need a P. My guy could do us reds and blues, but a clean green has to be done by a burr-oak rat two levels up. My guy knows how it’s done.”

  “They won’t just have it with a P-word,” I says. “A guy who can make green cards, they’re going to have his finger on it.”

  “I know how to get the finger,” he says. “It takes the finger and the password.”

  “You take a guy’s finger, he might report it. And even if you persuade him not to, somebody’s gonna notice that it’s gone.”

  “Latex,” he says. “We’ll get a mold. And don’t start telling me how to do my part of the job. You get P-words, I get fingers. You in?”

  “Cash,” I says.

  “Twenty percent,” says he.

  “Twenty percent of pus.”

  “The inside guy gets twenty, the girl who brings me the finger, she gets twenty, and I damn well get forty.”

  “You can’t just sell these things on the street, you know.”

  “They’re worth a meg apiece,” says he, “to certain buyers.” By which he meant Orkish Crime, of course. Sell ten, and my twenty percent grows up to be two megs. Not enough to be rich, but enough to retire from public life and maybe even pay for some high-level medicals to sprout hair on my face. I got to admit that sounded good to me.

  So we went into business. For a few hours he tried to do it without telling me the baroque rat’s name, just giving me data he got from his guy at Federal Coding. But that was real stupid, giving me secondhand face like that, considering he needed me to be a hundred percent sure, and pretty soon he realized that and brought me in all the way. He hated telling me anything, because he couldn’t stand to let go. Once I knew stuff on my own, what was to stop me from trying to go into business for myself? But unless he had another way to get the P-word, he had to get it from me, and for me to do it right, I had to know everything I could. Dogwalker’s got a brain in his head, even if it is all biodegradable, and so he knows there’s times when you got no choice but to trust somebody. When you just got to figure they’ll do their best even when they’re out of your sight.

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