I Am Radar, page 1
ALSO BY REIF LARSEN
The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015
Copyright © 2015 by Reif Larsen
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“And Outside,” by Milan Milišic´, translated by Maja Herman, © 2015 Jelena Trpkovic´ Milišic´ (reprinted from Most / The Bridge Croatian P.E.N. Centre).
Art Production by Maria Cristina Rueda
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
I am radar : a novel / Reif Larsen.
pages ; cm
DESIGNED BY MEIGHAN CAVANAUGH
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Also by Reif Larsen
List of Figures
THE SPECIAL PARTICLES
Chapter 1: ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY
THE ELEPHANT & THE RIVER
Chapter 1: VIŠEGRAD, BOSNIA
THIS DARKNESS IS NOT THE NIGHT
Chapter 1: KEARNY, NEW JERSEY
THE PRINCIPLES OF UNCERTAINTY
Chapter 1: LA SEULE VÉRITÉ PLANTATION, MEKONG RIVER, FRENCH PROTECTORATE OF CAMBODIA
Chapter 7: MARCH 1975
THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS
Chapter 1: NEW JERSEY
LIST OF FIGURES
1.1 Radar’s Certificate and Record of Birth.
1.2 Patient R, Longitudinal Section 8.
1.3 The Wardenclyffe Tower at the Bjørnens Hule, Kirkenes, Norway.
1.4 The Treriksrøysa.
1.5 “Gåselandet/Novaja Zemlya Kart Series #4.”
2.1 “Karta Oticica Abrahama” (1853).
2.2 Miroslav of Hum’s Gospels (1168).
2.3 Eadweard Muybridge, “Animal Locomotion. Plate 63” (1887).
2.4 “Miroslav’s Robotic Swan v2.1.”
2.5 Tuffi plunging from the Schwebebahn into the River Wupper (1950).
2.6 “M. Danilovic’s Black Box Theater.”
2.7 National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Winter 1993.
2.8 Postcard of Neutrino Collision, Hydrogen Bubble Chamber (1970).
2.9 “Danilovic’s Umbilical Mirror.”
3.1 “Petit mal #7.”
3.2 “Blue Box from Modified Western Electric Test Equipment.”
3.3 Car Alarm Incidents in Kearny, N.J., June 17, 1990.
3.4 “R2-D2, Halloween, 1988.”
3.5 Sample Tests, KHS Gymnasium PA System (March 1990).
3.6 “Something’s Fishy on Times Sq. Jumbo TV.”
3.7 Explosively Pumped Flux Compression Oscillating Cathode Electromagnetic Pulse Generator.
3.8 “Black Baby’s Condition Remains a Mystery.”
3.9 Notes from Den Menneskelig Marionett Prosjektet.
3.10 Jens Røed-Larsen at the Bjørnens Hule (1968).
3.11 Kirk En Heavy Water Shoe Dip.
3.12 Frame still from Kirk To, Gåselandet.
4.1 Nón lá Hydrostatic Buoyancy Analysis.
4.2 L’Épée’s Methodical Sign System.
4.3 Pavillon de l’Indochine à L’Exposition Coloniale Internationale de 1931, Bois de Vincennes, Paris.
4.4 Jean-Baptiste de Broglie to Georges Lemaître, telegram, July 16, 1938.
4.5 “R.R. Sounds & Noise, 0.5–1.5 years.”
4.6 “Sign for Machine.”
4.7 “The Island of Rak.”
4.8 “A neutral current event, as observed in the Gargamelle bubble chamber.”
4.9 Manifest from AF 931, Bangkok–Phnom Penh, March 2, 1975.
4.10 Map showing movements of Northern Sector Khmer Rouge rebels from Ratanakiri to Phnom Penh (January–April 1975).
4.11 Tuol Sleng prisoner #4816.
4.12 The initial telegram, November 10, 1979.
4.13 Traditional Khmer Lkhaon Nang Sbek, featuring a scene from the Reamker epic.
4.14 Notations from “Freeman Etude #18,” by John Cage.
4.15 Figure of Sequence 9a, 12: “Intermingling puppets, cascading, choreographed Brownian motion.”
4.16 “Revised Dock & Pulley System. Reverse Ball & Socket Joint Guywire v4.3.”
5.1 “Parts of Shipping Container” and “How to Load a Ship.”
5.2 Detail from Den Menneskelig Marionett Prosjektet.
5.3 “Gåselandet Still Sequence.”
5.4 “Massakren og Escape på Camp 808.”
5.5 Selected diagrams (1–5).
5.6 “Projected Flock Equations.”
5.7 “Conference of the Birds, Drum/Morse/Radio Palimpsest.”
5.8 “La Bibliothèque du Fleuve Congo.”
I sing the body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of
WALT WHITMAN, Leaves of Grass
The only thing I am certain of is uncertainty itself and of this I cannot be certain.
PER RØED-LARSEN, Spesielle Partikler
ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY
April 17, 1975
It was just after midnight in birthing room 4C and Dr. Sherman, the mustached obstetrician presiding over the delivery, was sweating lightly into his cotton underwear, holding out his hands like a beggar, ready to receive the imminent cranium.
Without warning, the room was plunged into total darkness.
Though he had been delivering babies for more than thirty years now, Dr. Sherman was so taken aback by this complete loss of vision that he briefly considered, and then rejected, the possibility of his own death. Desperate to get his bearings, he wheeled around, trying to locate the sans serif glow of the emergency exit sign across the hall, but this too had gone dark.
“Doctor?” the nurse called next to him.
“The exit!” he hissed into the darkness.
All through the hospital, a wash of panic spread over staff and patients alike as life support machines failed and surgeons were left holding beating hearts in pitch-black operating theaters. None of the backup systems—the two generators in the basement, the giant, deep-cycle batteries outside the ICU, usually so reliable in blackouts such as this one—appeared to be working. It was a catastrophe in the making. Electricity had quite simply vanished.
In birthing room 4C, Dr. Sherman was jolted into action by Charlene, the expectant mother, who gave a single, visceral cry that let everyone know, in no uncertain terms, that the baby was still coming. Maybe the baby had already come, under shroud of darkness. Dr. Sherman instinctively reached down and, sure enough, felt the conical crown of the baby’s skull emerging from his mother’s vagina. He guided this invisible head with the tips of his ten fingers, pulling, gathering, turning so that the head and neck were once again square with the baby’s shoulders, which still lingered in Charlene’s birth canal. He did this pulling, gathering, turning without seeing, with only the memory infused in the synapses of his cortex, and his blindness was a fragile kind of sleep.
As he shepherded the child from its wet, coiled womb into a new kind of darkness, Dr. Sherman heard a distinct clicking sound. At first he thought the sound was coming from the birth canal, but then he located the clicking as coming from just behind him, over his right shoulder. Suddenly his vision was bathed in a syrupy yellow light. The father of the newborn, Kermin Radmanovic, who had earlier brought a transceiver radio and a telegraph key into the birthing room in order to announce his child’s arrival to the world, was waving a pocket flashlight wrapped in tinfoil at the space between his wife’s legs.
“He is okay?” asked Kermin. “He comes now?” His accent was vaguely Slavic, the fins of his words dipping their uvular tips into a smooth lake of water.
Everyone looked to where the beam of light had peeled back the darkness. There glistened the torpedo-like head of the child, covered in a white, waxen substance. The sight encouraged Dr. Sherman back into action. He first slipped his finger beneath the child’s chin, but when he felt no sign of the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck, he yelled, “Push!”
Charlene did her best to comply with the order, her toes curling as she attempted to expel the entire contents of her abdomen, and when the breaking point was most certainly reached, surpassed, and then reached again, there was a soft popping sound and the rest of the baby emerged, the starfish body tumbling out into the dim mustard glow of this world.
Kermin leaned in to catch a first glimpse of his new child. Ever since his wife had come hobbling into his tiny electronics closet, staring at her dripping hand as if it were not her own, time had begun to unravel. The labor had come three weeks early. His fingers—so steady as he mended the cathode ruptures and fizzled diodes of his broken radios and televisions—suddenly became clumsy and numb at their tips, as if they were filled with a thick, viscous sap. In the hospital parking lot, he had taken the old Buick up and over the curb onto a low, half-moon shrubbery, which had not weathered this trespass well at all. As he ushered a blanketed Charlene through the rotating doors, Kermin had looked back at the battered shrubs, lit by the ugly glow of the parking lot’s blinking fluorescents, and wondered in that moment if they were prematurely introducing the future into the present.
In the final days of World War II, his younger sister Tura had also been born three weeks early. He and his parents had been fleeing the advancing Communist Partisans for the uncertain refuge of Slovenia and the West when she arrived suddenly, like a sneeze, in the mildewed basement of a Bosnian hotel on the River Sana. He remembered her tiny and pink in their mother’s arms, sheltered by a horsehair blanket while they rode in the back of a sputtering diesel truck past homes that burned and hissed against a light rain.
That is my sister in there, he thought, watching the blanket bounce to the staccato beat of the road’s potholes. She was born in the war, but she will not know the war. I will tell her how it was so that we will always have the same memories.
Tura would not have the same memories as he, nor any memories at all. On the second day, she opened her eyes to the light of this world, but she would not nurse, and so her body grew soft and light like a bird’s. One week later she was dead, from an illness that was never named. They buried her in an abandoned vineyard on the outskirts of Zagreb. After the impromptu ceremony, they were walking back to the truck when they discovered an unexploded German bomb lying only twenty meters from her grave.
“Her headstone,” his father, Dobroslav, had said, and it was not meant to be a joke, but they all began to laugh, and this felt good until their mother started to weep again. Two days later, she too would be dead, at a checkpoint near Ljubljana. Kermin was too young at the time to understand the particulars, but he knew it was because of something vaguely erotic—something wanted by the trigger-happy Russian private with the moth-eaten beard and something refused by his grieving mother, who was malnourished and weak but who was still and always would be a strong-willed Radmanovic woman. His father had just turned from successfully negotiating their passage with the squat colonel, but it was too late; the young Russian guard had already shot her twice through the chest. It was as if the man had meant to push her backwards with the palm of his hand but had simply used the wrong tool. He began to walk quickly away from the scene so his comrades would not see the terror in his eyes. Instead of falling to the ground like a heavy doll, as Kermin had seen the prisoners do at the Chetnik executions, his mother shrank into herself, a reverse blossoming, coming to rest in a sitting position, like a ruminative Buddha. She was already stiff by the time her husband reached her. He sat down beside her and held her hands as though they were quietly praying together. Later, the colonel apologized to his father and promised that the young guard would be executed before the day was through.
Years later, even after he had fled Europe, Kermin’s limited sexual encounters—in a Meadowlands parking lot; in a Saigon bordello; behind the vestry of St. Sava’s; in the synthetic floral bloom of his dentist’s bathroom—these moments of carnal urgency were still inflected with the lingering sense of crossing a hostile border. Until he had met Charlene, his relationships had not gone well.
In the darkness of birthing room 4C, Kermin tried to hold his pocket light steady on his wife and brand-new baby. All will be fine, he whispered to himself, there is no reason to worry. His own birth had been famously quick and painless. His mother had claimed he leaped out into the world the first chance he got, as if he could not breathe inside her. “I was killing you!” she used to say. Maybe his child would be no different. Kakav otac takav sin. Like father, like son.
But even then he could tell something was not right. Under the pocket light’s dull beam, the child appeared almost prehistoric. The newborn’s skin was covered in a white, gooey plaster, as if
“Why is he like this?” Kermin whispered, his pocket light inadvertently dipping before he righted its beam again. “Why does he look like this?”
Charlene, completely exhausted but wild with muddied adrenaline, tasted the concern in her husband’s voice. She tried to sit up.
“What is it? What’s wrong? He’s a boy? Is he okay?” The words swung and gimballed.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. He’s fine,” Dr. Sherman reassured her, gathering the baby and all of his limbs into a pastel blanket. Instinctively, he took the bright white plastic clamp from the tray and snapped it closed at the base of the umbilical cord. “Preterms are often covered in a substance called vernix caseosa. This protects their skin. It will come right off.” In truth, he had never quite seen such a thick vernix coating, but then there had been nothing normal about this night, so he tried not to let his concern reveal itself in the contours of his words.
Charlene’s green eyes burned in the light.
“I want him with me . . .” she said.
“You will have him, don’t you worry,” said the nurse. “You’ll have him for the rest of your life.”
Before Charlene could process the ominous undercurrent of this statement, the nurse put a hand on her shoulder and gently eased her backwards onto the bed. She smoothed a wet curl of black hair across Charlene’s forehead and then adjusted the flow of her IV, opening the secondary port to allow an influx of opioids. Charlene let out a quiet groan and slumped back into the darkness.
“Do we have battery power on the suction?” Dr. Sherman asked.
The nurse checked the machine. “No, doctor,” she said.
“That’s all right. I’ll do it myself.”
He took a wet cloth and carefully wiped off the child’s mouth and face and then his left arm. The thick layer of vernix came away easily. “You see?” he said to Kermin, but Kermin did not answer. He was holding his pocket light, staring at his son. Where the doctor had wiped away the globular coating, the child’s skin appeared very dark—so dark it shimmered purple in the beam of light, like an eggplant. Dr. Sherman looked down and caught his breath. He wiped away more of the white substance. The jet-black umbra of the skin beneath the bright vernix was disarming, as if beneath his covering the child was made only of more shadows.