The Crying of Lot 49《拍卖第49号》
though her next move should have been to contact Randolph Driblette again, she decided instead to drive up to
As with Mucho when she'd left Kinneret, Metzger did not seem desperate at her going. She debated, driving north, whether to stop off at Home on the way to Berkeley or coming back. As it turned out she missed the exit for Kinneret and that solved it. She purred along up the east side of the bay, presently climbed into the Berkeley hills and arrived close to midnight at a sprawling, many-leveled, German-baroque hotel, carpeted in deep green, going in for curved corridors and ornamental chandeliers. A sign in the lobby said welcome california chapter american deaf-mute assembly. Every light in the place burned, alarmingly bright; a truly ponderable silence occupied the building. A clerk popped up from behind the desk where he'd been sleeping and began making sign language at her. Oedipa considered giving him the finger to see what would happen. But she'd driven straight through, and all at once the fatigue of it had caught up with her. The clerk took her to a room with a reproduction of a Remedios Varo in it, through corridors gently curving as the streets of San Narciso, utterly silent. She fell asleep almost at once, but kept waking from a nightmare about something in the mirror, across from her bed. Nothing specific, only a possibility, nothing she could see. When she finally did settle into sleep, she dreamed that Mucho, her husband, was making love to her on a soft white beach that was not part of any California she knew. When she woke in the morning, she was sitting bolt upright, staring into the mirror at her own exhausted face.
She found the Lectern Press in a small office building on Shattuck Avenue. They didn't have Plays of Ford, Webster, Tourneur and Wharfinger on the premises, but did take her check for $12.50, gave her the address of their warehouse in Oakland and a receipt to show the people there. By the time she'd collected the book, it was afternoon. She skimmed through to find the line that had brought her all the way up here. And in the leaf-fractured sunlight, froze.
No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow, ran the couplet, Who once has crossed the lusts of Angela. "No," she protested aloud. " 'Who's once been set his tryst with Trystero.'" The pencilled note in the paperback had mentioned a variant. But the paperback was supposed to be a straight reprint of the book she now held. Puzzled, she saw that this edition also had a footnote:
According only to the Quarto edition (1687). The earlier Folio has a lead inserted where the closing line should have been. D'Amico has suggested that Wharfinger may have made a libellous comparison involving someone at court, and that the later 'restoration' was actually the work of the printer, Inigo Barfstable. The doubtful 'Whitechapel' version (c. 1670) has This tryst or odious awry, O Niccolo,' which besides bringing in a quite graceless Alexandrine, is difficult to make sense of syntactically, unless we accept the rather unorthodox though persuasive argument of J.-K. Sale that the line is really a pun on 'This trystero dies irae . . . .' This, however, it must be pointed out, leaves the line nearly as corrupt as before, owing to no clear meaning for the word trystero, unless it be a pseudo-Italianate variant on triste (= wretched, depraved). But the 'White-chapel' edition, besides being a fragment, abounds in such corrupt and probably spurious lines, as we have mentioned elsewhere, and is hardly to be trusted.
Then where, Oedipa wondered, does the paperback I bought at Zapf's get off with its "Trystero" line? Was there yet another edition, besides the Quarto, Folio, and "Whitechapel" fragment? The editor's preface, signed this time, by one Emory Bortz, professor of English at Cal, mentioned none. She spent nearly an hour more, searching through all the footnotes, finding nothing.
"Dammit," she yelled, started the car and headed for the Berkeley campus, to find Professor Bortz.
She should have remembered the date on the book —1957. Another world. The girl in the English office informed Oedipa that Professor Bortz was no longer with the faculty. He was teaching at San Narciso college, San Narciso, California.
Of course, Odeipa thought, wry, where else? She copied the address and walked away trying to remember who'd put out the paperback. She couldn't.
It was summer, a weekday, and midafternoon; no time for any campus Oedipa knew of to be jumping, yet this one was. She came downslope from Wheeler Hall, through Sather Gate into a plaza teeming with corduroy, denim, bare legs, blonde hair, hornrims, bicycle spokes in the sun, bookbags, swaying card tables, long paper petitions dangling to earth, posters for undecipherable FSM's, YAF's, VDC's, suds in the fountain, students in nose-to-nose dialogue. SJie_joiQyjgd^ through it carrying her fat book, attracted, unsure, a stranger, wanting to feel relevant but knowing how much of a search among alternate universes it would take. For she had undergone her own educating at a time of nerves, blandness and retreat among not only her fellow students but also most of the visible structure around and ahead of them, this having been a national reflex to certain pathologies in high places only death had had the power to cure, and this Berkeley was like no somnolent Siwash out of her own past at all, but more akin to those Far Eastern or Latin American universities you read about, those autonomous culture media where the most beloved of folklores may be brought into doubt, cataclysmic of dissents voiced, suicidal of commitments chosen—the sort that bring governments down. But it was English she was hearing as she crossed Bancroft Way among the blonde children and the muttering Hondas and Su-zukis; American English. Where were Secretaries James and Foster and Senator Joseph, those dear daft numina who'd mothered over Oedipa's so temperate youth? In another world. Along another pattern of track, another string of decisions taken, switches closed, the faceless pointsmen who'd thrown them now all transferred, deserted, in stir, fleeing the skip-tracers, out of their skull, on horse, alcoholic, fanatic, under aliases, dead, impossible to find ever again. Among them they had managed to turn the young Oedipa into a rare creature indeed, unfit perhaps for marches and sit-ins, but just a whiz at pursuing strange words in Jacobean texts.
She pulled the Impala into a gas station somewhere along a gray stretch of Telegraph Avenue and found in a phone book the address of John Nefastis. She then drove to a pseudo-Mexican apartment house, looked for his name among the U. S. mailboxes, ascended outside steps and walked down a row of draped windows till she found his door. He had a crewcut and the same underage look as Koteks, but wore a shirt on various Polynesian themes and dating from the Truman administration.
Introducing herself, she invoked the name of Stanley Koteks. "He said you could tell me whether or not I'm a 'sensitive'."
Nefastis had been watching on his TV set a bunch of kids dancing some kind of a Watusi. "I like to watch young stuff," he explained. "There's something about a little chick that age."
"So does my husband," she said. "I understand."
John Nefastis beamed at her, simpatico, and brought out his Machine from a workroom in back. It looked about the way the patent had described it. "You know how this works?"
"Stanley gave me a kind of rundown." He began then, bewilderingly, to talk about something called entropy. The word bothered him as much as "Trystero" bothered Oedipa. But it was too technical for her. She did gather that there were two distinct kinds of this entropy. One having to do with heat-engines, the other to do with communication. The equation for one, back in the '3o's, had looked very like the equation for the other. It was a coincidence. The two fields were entirely unconnected, except at one point: Maxwell's Demon. As the Demon sat and sorted his molecules into hot and cold, the system was said to lose entropy. But somehow the loss was offset by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were where.
"Communication is the key," cried Nefastis. "The Demon passes his data on to the sensitive, and the sensitive must reply in kind. There are untold billions of molecules in that box. The Demon collects data on each and every one. At some deep psychic level he must get through. The sensitive must receive that staggering set of energies, and feed back something like the same quantity of information. To keep it all cycling. On the secular level all we can see is one piston, hopefully moving. One little movement, against all that massive complex of information, destroyed over and over with each power stroke."
"Help," said Oedipa, "you're not reaching me."
"Entropy is a figure of speech, then," sighed Nefastis, "a metaphor. It connects the world of thermo-dynamics to the world of information flow. The Machine uses both. The Demon makes the metaphor not only verbally graceful, but also objectively true."
"But what," she felt like some kind of a heretic, "if the Demon exists only because the two equations look alike? Because of the metaphor?"
Nefastis smiled; impenetrable, calm, a believer. "He existed for Clerk Maxwell long before the days of the metaphor."
But had Clerk Maxwell been such a fanatic about his Demon's reality? She looked at the picture on the outside of the box. Clerk Maxwell was in profile and would not meet her eyes. The forehead was round and smooth, and there was a curious bump at the back of his head, covered by curling hair. His visible eye seemed mild and noncommittal, but Oedipa wondered what hangups, crises, spookings in the middle of the night might be developed from the shadowed subtleties of his mouth, hidden under a full beard.
"Watch the picture," said Nefastis, "and concentrate on a cylinder. Don't worry. If you're a sensitive you'll know which one. Leave your mind open, receptive to the Demon's message. I'll be back." He returned to his TV set, which was now showing cartoons. Oedipa sat through two Yogi Bears, one Magilla Gorilla and a Peter Potamus, staring at Clerk Maxwell's enigmatic profile, waiting for the Demon to communicate.
Are you there, little fellow, Oedipa asked the Demon, or is Nefastis putting me on. Unless a piston moved, she'd never know. Clerk Maxwell's hands were cropped out of the photograph. He might have been holding a book. He gazed away, into some vista of Victorian England whose light had been lost forever. Oedipa's anxiety grew. It seemed, behind the beard, he'd begun, ever so faintly, to smile. Something in his eyes, certainly, had changed . . .
And there. At the top edge of what she could see: hadn't the right-hand piston moved, a fraction? She couldn't look directly, the instructions were to keep her eyes on Clerk Maxwell. Minutes passed, pistons remained frozen in place. High-pitched, comic voices issued from the TV set. She had seen only a retinal twitch, a misfired nerve cell. Did the true sensitive see more? In her colon now she was afraid, growing more so, that nothing would happen. Why worry, she worried; Nefastis is a nut, forget it, a sincere nut. The true sensitive is the one that can share in the man's hallucinations, that's all.
How wonderful they might be to share. For fifteen minutes more she tried; repeating, if you are there, whatever you are, show yourself to me, I need you, show yourself. But nothing happened.
"I'm sorry," she called in, surprisingly about to cry with frustration, her voice breaking, "It's no use." Nefastis came to her and put an arm around her shoulders.
"It's OK," he said. "Please don't cry. Come on in on the couch. The news will be on any minute. We can do it there."
"It?" said Oedipa. "Do it? What?"
"Have sexual intercourse," replied Nefastis. "Maybe there'll be something about
"Gah," Oedipa screamed, and fled, Nefastis snapping his fingers through the dark rooms behind her in a hippy-dippy, oh-go-ahead-then-chick fashion he had doubtless learned from watching the TV also.
"Say hello to old Stanley," he called as she pattered down the steps into the street, flung a babushka over her license plate and screeched away down Telegraph. She drove more or less automatically until a swift boy in a Mustang, perhaps unable to contain the new sense of virility his auto gave him, nearly killed her and she realized that she was on the freeway, heading irreversibly for the Bay Bridge. It was the middle of rush hour. Oedipa was appalled at the spectacle, having thought such traffic only possible in Los Angeles, places like that. Looking down at San Francisco a few minutes later from the high point of the bridge's arc, she saw smog. Haze, she corrected herself, is what it is, haze. How can they have smog in San Francisco? Smog, according to the folklore, did not begin till farther south. It had to be the angle of the sun.
Amid the exhaust, sweat, glare and ill-humor of a summer evening on an American freeway, Oedipa Maas pondered her Trystero problem. All the silence of San Narciso—the calm surface of the motel pool, the contemplative contours of residential streets like rakings in the sand of a Japanese garden—had not allowed her to think as leisurely as this freeway madness.
For John Nefastis (to take a recent example) two kinds of entropy, thermodynamic and informational, happened, say by coincidence, to look alike, when you wrote them down as equations. Yet he had made his mere coincidence respectable, with the help of Maxwell's Demon.
Now here was Oedipa, faced with a metaphor of God knew how many parts; more than two, anyway. With coincidences blossoming these days wherever she looked, she had nothing but a sound, a word, Trystero, a to hold them together.
She knew a few things about it: it had opposed the Thurn and Taxis postal system in Europe; its symbol was a muted post horn; sometime before 1853 it had appeared in America and fought the Pony Express and Wells, Fargo, either as outlaws in black, or disguised as Indians; and it survived today, in California, serving as a channel of communication for those of unorthodox sexual persuasion, inventors who believed in the reality of Maxwell's Demon, possibly her own husband, Mucho Maas (but she'd thrown Mucho's letter long away, there was no way for Genghis Cohen to check the stamp, so if she wanted to find out for sure she'd have to ask Mucho himself).
Either Trystero did exist, in its own right, or it was being presumed, perhaps fantasied by Oedipa, so hung up on and interpenetrated with the dead man's estate. Here in San Francisco, away from all tangible assets of that estate, there might still be a chance of getting the whole thing to go away and disintegrate quietly. She had only to drift tonight, at random, and watch nothing happen, to be convinced it was purely nervous, a little something for her shrink to fix. She got off the freeway at North Beach, drove around, parked finally in a steep side-street among warehouses. Then walked along Broadway, into the first crowds of evening.
But it took her no more than an hour to catch sight of a muted post horn. She was moseying along a street full of aging boys in Roos Atkins suits when she collided with a gang of guided tourists come rowdy-dowing out of a Volkswagen bus, on route to take in a few San Francisco nite spots. "Let me lay this on you," a voice spoke into her ear, "because I just left," and she found being deftly pinned outboard of one breast this big cerise ID badge, reading Hi! my name Is Arnold Snarb! and i'm lookin' for A good time! Oedipa glanced around and saw a cherubic face vanishing with a wink in among natural shoulders and striped shirts, and away went Arnold Snarb, looking for a better time.
Somebody blew on an athletic whistle and Oedipa found herself being herded, along with other badged citizens, toward a bar called The Greek Way. Oh, no, Oedipa thought, not a fag joint, no; and for a minute tried to fight out of the human surge, before recalling how she had decided to drift tonight.
"Now in here," their guide, sweating dark tentacles into his tab collar, briefed them, "you are going to see the members of the third sex, the lavender crowd this city by the Bay is so justly famous for. To some of you the experience may seem a little queer, but remember, try not to act like a bunch of tourists. If you get propositioned it'll all be in fun, just part of the gay night life to be found here in famous North Beach. Two drinks and when you hear the whistle it means out, on the double, regroup right here. If you're well behaved we'll hit Finocchio's next." He blew the whistle twice and the tourists, breaking into a yell, swept Oedipa inside, in a frenzied assault on the bar. When things had calmed she was near the door with an unidentifiable drink in her fist, jammed against somebody tall in a suede sport coat. In the lapel of which she spied, wrought exquisitely in some pale, glimmering alloy, not another cerise badge, but a pin in the shape of the Trystero post horn. Mute and everything.
All right, she told herself. You lose. A game try, all one hour's worth. She should have left then and gone back to Berkeley, to the hotel. But couldn't.
"What if I told you," she addressed the owner of the pin, "that I was an agent of Thurn and Taxis?"
"What," he answered, "some theatrical agency?" He had large ears, hair cropped nearly to his scalp, acne on his face, and curiously empty eyes, which now swiveled briefly to Oedipa's breasts. "How'd you get a name like Arnold Snarb?"
"If you tell me where you got your lapel pin," said Oedipa.
She sought to bug him: "If it's a homosexual sign or something, that doesn't bother me."
Eyes showing nothing: "I don't swing that way," he said. "Yours either." Turned his back on her and ordered a drink. Oedipa took off her badge, put it in an ashtray and said, quietly, trying not to suggest
"Look, you have to help me. Because I really think I am going out of my head."
"You have the wrong outfit, Arnold. Talk to your clergyman."
"I use the U. S. Mail because I was never taught any different," she pleaded. "But I'm not your enemy. I don't want to be."
"What about my friend?" He came spinning around on the stool to face her again. "You want to be that,
"I don't know," she thought she'd better say.
He looked at her, blank. "What do you know?"
She told him everything. Why not? Held nothing back. At the end of it the tourists had been whistled away and he'd bought two rounds to Oedipa's three.
"I'd heard about 'Kirby,'" he said, "it's a code name, nobody real. But none of the rest, your Sinophile across the bay, or that sick play. I never thought there was a history to it."
"I think of nothing but," she said, and a little plaintive.
"And," scratching the stubble on his head, "you have nobody else to tell this to. Only somebody in a bar whose name you don't know?"
She wouldn't look at him. "I guess not."
"No husband, no shrink?"
"Both," Oedipa said, "but they don't know."
"You can't tell them?"
She met his eyes' void for a second after all, and shrugged.
"I'll tell you what I know, then," he decided. "The pin I'm wearing means I'm a member of the IA. That's Inamorati Anonymous. An inamorato is somebody in love. That's the worst addiction of all."
"Somebody is about to fall in love," Oedipa said, "you go sit with them, or something?"
"Right. The whole idea is to get to where you don't need it. I was lucky. I kicked it young. But there are
sixty-year-old men, believe it or not, and women even older, who wake up in the night screaming." "You hold meetings, then, like the AA?" "No, of course not. You get a phone number, an answering service you can call. Nobody knows anybody else's name; just the number in case it gets so bad you can't handle it alone. We're isolates, Arnold. Meetings would destroy the whole point of it."
"What about the person who comes to sit with you? Suppose you fall in love with them?"
"They go away," he said. "You never see them twice. The answering service dispatches them, and they're careful not to have any repeats."
How did the post horn come in? That went back to their founding. In the early '6o's a Yoyodyne executive living near
Oedipa, by now rather drunk, said, "Where is he now?"
"He's anonymous," said the anonymous inamorato. "Why not write to him through your WASTE system? Say 'Founder, IA.'"
"But I don't know how to use it," she said.
"Think of it," he went on, also drunk. "A whole underworld of suicides who failed. All keeping in touch through that secret delivery system. What do they tell each other?" He shook his head, smiling, stumbled off his stool and headed off to take a leak, disappearing into the dense crowd. He didn't come back.
Oedipa sat, feeling as alone as she ever had, now the only woman, she saw, in a room full of drunken male homosexuals. Story of my life, she thought, Mucho won't talk to me, Hilarius won't listen, Clerk Maxwell didn't even look at me, and this group, God knows. Despair came over her, as it will when nobody around has any sexual relevance to you. She gauged the spectrum of feeling out there as running from really violent hate (an Indian-looking kid hardly out of his teens, with frosted shoulder-length hair tucked behind his ears and pointed cowboy boots) to dry speculation (a hornrimmed SS type who stared at her legs, trying to figure out if she was in drag), none of which could do her any good. So she got up after awhile and left The Greek Way, and entered the city again, the infected city.
And spent the rest of the night finding the image of the Trystero post horn. In Chinatown, in the dark window of a herbalist, she thought she saw it on a sign among ideographs. But the streetlight was dim. Later, on a sidewalk, she saw two of them in chalk, 20 feet apart. Between them a complicated array of boxes, some with letters, some with numbers. A kids' game? Places on a. map, dates from a secret history? She copied the diagram in her memo book. When she looked up, a man, perhaps a man, in a black suit, was standing in a doorway half a block away, watching her. She thought she saw a turned-around collar but took no chances; headed back the way she'd come, pulse thundering. A bus stopped at the next corner, and she ran to catch it.
She stayed with buses after that, getting off only now and then to walk so she'd keep awake. What fragments of dreams came had to do with the post horn. Later, possibly, she would have trouble sorting the night into real and dreamed.
At some indefinite passage in night's sonorous score, it also came to her that she would be safe, that something, perhaps only her linearly fading drunkenness, would protect her. The city was hers, as, made up and sleeked so with the customary words and images (cosmopolitan, culture, cable cars) it had not been before: she had safe-passage tonight to its far blood's branchings, be they capillaries too small for more than peering into, or vessels mashed together in shameless municipal hickeys, out on the skin for all but tourists to see. Nothing of the night's could touch her; nothing
did. The repetition of symbols was to be enough, without trauma as well perhaps to attenuate it or even jar it altogether loose from her memory. She was meant to remember. She faced that possibility as she might the toy street from a high balcony, roller-coaster ride, feeding-time among the beasts in a zoo—any death-wish that can be consummated by some minimum gesture. She touched the edge of its voluptuous field, knowing it would be lovely beyond dreams simply to submit to it; that not gravity's pull, laws of ballistics, feral ravening, promised more delight. She tested it, shivering: I am meant to remember. Each clue that comes is supposed to have its own clarity, its fine chances for permanence. But then she wondered if the gemlike "clues" were only some kind of compensation. To make up._for~her having lost the direct, epileptic Word, the cry that might abolish the night.
Tristoe, Tristoe, one, two, three, Turning taxi from across the sea ... "Thurn and Taxis, you mean?" They'd never heard it that way. Went on warming their hands at an invisible fire. Oedipa, to retaliate, stopped believing in them.
In an all-night Mexican greasy spoon off 24th, she found a piece of her past, in the form of one Jesus Arrabal, who was sitting in a corner under the TV set, idly stirring his bowl of opaque soup with the foot of a chicken. "Hey," he greeted Oedipa, "you were the lady in Mazatlan." He beckoned her to sit.
"You remember everything," Oedipa said, "Jesus; even tourists. How is your CIA?" Standing not for the agency you think, but for a clandestine Mexican outfit known as the Conjuration de los Insurgentes Anarquis-tas, traceable back to the time of the Flores Mag6n brothers and later briefly allied with Zapata.
"You see. In exile," waving his arm around at the place. He was part-owner here with a yucateco who still believed in the Revolution. Their Revolution. "And you. Are you still with that gringo who spent too much money on you? The oligarchist, the miracle?" "He died."
"Ah, pobrecito." They had met Jesus Arrabal on the beach, where he had previously announced an anti-government rally. Nobody had showed up. So he fell to talking to Inverarity, the enemy he must, to be true to his faith, learn. Pierce, because of his neutral manners when in the presence of ill-will, had nothing to tell Arrabal; he played the rich, obnoxious gringo so perfectly that Oedipa had seen gooseflesh come up along the anarchist's forearms, due to no Pacific sea-breeze. Soon as Pierce went off to sport in the surf, Arrabal asked her if he was real, or a spy, or making fun of him. Oedipa didn't understand.
"Yon know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world's intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there's cataclysm. Like the church we hate, anarchists also believe in another world. Where revolutions break out spontaneous and leaderless, and the soul's talent for consensus allows the masses to work together without effort, automatic as the body itself. And yet, sena, if any of it should ever really happen that perfectly, I would also have to cry miracle. An anarchist miracle. Like your friend. He is too exactly and without flaw the thing we fight. In Mexico the privilegiado is always, to a finite percentage, redeemed —one of the people. Unmiraculous. But your friend, unless he's joking, is as terrifying to me as a Virgin appearing to an Indian."
In the years intervening Oedipa had remembered Jesus because he'd seen that about Pierce and she hadn't. As if he were, in some unsexual way, competition. Now, drinking thick lukewarm Coffee from a clay pot on the back burner of the yucateco's stove and listening to Jesus talk conspiracy, she wondered if, without the miracle of Pierce to reassure him, Jesus might not have quit his CIA eventually and gone over like everybody else to the majority priistas, and so never had to go into exile.
The dead man, like Maxwell's Demon, was the linking feature in a coincidence. Without him neither she nor Jesus would be exactly here, exactly now. It was enough, a coded warning. What, tonight, was chance? So her eyes did fall presently onto an ancient rolled copy of the anarcho-syndicalist paper Regeneracidn. The date was 1904 and there was no stamp next to the cancellation, only the handstruck image of the post horn.
"They arrive," said Arrabal. "Have they been in the mails that long? Has my name been substituted for that
of a member who's died? Has it really taken sixty years? Is it a reprint? Idle questions, I am a footsoldier. The
higher levels have their reasons." She carried this thought back out into the night with her.
Down at the city beach, long after the pizza stands and rides had closed, she walked unmolested through a drifting, dreamy cloud of delinquents in summer-weight gang jackets with the post horn stitched on in thread that looked pure silver in what moonlight there was. They had all been smoking, snuffing or injecting something, and perhaps did not see her at all.
Riding among an exhausted busful of Negroes going on to graveyard shifts all over the city, she saw scratched on the back of a seat, shining for her in the brilliant smoky interior, the post horn with the legend DEATH. But unlike WASTE, somebody had troubled to write in, in pencil: don't ever antagonize the horn.
Somewhere near Fillmore she found the symbol tacked to the bulletin board of a laundromat, among other scraps of paper offering cheap ironing and baby sitters. If you know what this means, the note said, you know where to find out more. Around her the odor of chlorine bleach rose heavenward, like an incense. Machines chugged and sloshed fiercely. Except for Oedipa the place was deserted, and the fluorescent bulbs seemed to shriek whiteness, to which everything their light touched was dedicated. It was a Negro neighborhood. Was The Horn so dedicated? Would it Antagonize The Horn to ask? Who could she ask?
In the buses all night she listened to transistor radios playing songs in the lower stretches of the Top 200, that would never become popular, whose melodies and lyrics would perish as if they had never been sung. A Mexican girl, trying to hear one of these through snarling static from the bus's motor, hummed along as if she would remember it always, tracing post horns and hearts with a fingernail, in the haze of her breath on the window.
Out at the airport Oedipa, feeling invisible, eavesdropped on a poker game whose steady loser entered each loss neat and conscientious in a little balance-book decorated inside with scrawled post horns. "I'm averaging a 99.375 percent return, fellas," she heard him say. The others, strangers, looked at him, some blank, some annoyed. "That's averaging it out, over 23 years," he went on, trying a smile. "Always just that little percent on the wrong side of breaking even. Twenty-three years. I'll never get ahead of it. Why don't I quit?" Nobody answering.
In one of the latrines was an advertisement by AC-DC, standing for Alameda County Death Cult, along with a box number and post horn. Once a month they were to choose some victim from among the innocent, the virtuous, the socially integrated and well-adjusted, using him sexually, then sacrificing him. Oedipa did not copy the number.
Catching a TWA flight to
So it went. Oedipa played the voyeur and listener. Among her other encounters were a facially-deformed welder, who cherished his ugliness; a child roaming the night who missed the death before birth as certain outcasts do the dear lulling blankness of the community; a Negro woman with an intricately-marbled scar along the baby-fat of one cheek who kept going through rituals of miscarriage each for a different reason, deliberately as others might the ritual of birth, dedicated not to continuity but to some kind of interregnum; an aging night-watchman, nibbling at a bar of Ivory Soap, who had trained his virtuoso stomach to accept also lotions, air-fresheners, fabrics, tobaccoes and waxes in a hopeless attempt to assimilate it all, all the promise, productivity, betrayal, ulcers, before it was too late; and even another voyeur, who hung outside one of the city's still-lighted windows, searching for who knew what specific image. decorating each alienation, each species of withdrawal, as cufflink, decal, aimless doodling, there was somehow always the post horn. She grew so to expect it that perhaps she did not see it quite as often as she later was to remember seeing it. A couple-three times would really have been enough. Or too much.
She busrode and walked on into the lightening morning, giving herself up to a fatalism rare for her. Where was the Oedipa who'd driven so bravely up here from San Narciso? That optimistic baby had come on so like the private eye in any long-ago radio drama, believing all you needed was grit, resourcefulness, exemption from hidebound cops' rules, to solve any great mystery.
But the private eye sooner or later has to get beat up on. This night's profusion of post horns, this malignant, deliberate replication, was their way of beating up. They knew her pressure points, and the ganglia of her optimism, and one by one, pinch by precision pinch, they were immobilizing her.
Last night, she might have wondered what undergrounds apart from the couple she knew of communicated by WASTE system. By sunrise she could legitimately ask what undergrounds didn't. If miracles were, as Jesus Arrabal had postulated years ago on the beach at Mazatlan, intrusions into this world from another, a kiss of cosmic pool balls, then so must be each of the night's post horns. For here were God knew how many citizens, deliberately choosing not to communicate by U. S. Mail. It was not an act of treason, nor possibly even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery. Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote, loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own, un-publicized, private. Since they could not have withdrawn into a vacuum (could they?), there had to exist the separate, silent, unsuspected world.
Just before the morning rush hour, she got out of a jitney whose ancient driver ended each day in the red, downtown on Howard Street, began to walk toward the Embarcadero. She knew she looked terrible— knuckles black with eye-liner and mascara from where she'd rubbed, mouth tasting of old booze and Coffee. Through an open doorway, on the stair leading up into the disinfectant-smelling twilight of a rooming house she saw an old man huddled, shaking with grief she couldn't hear. Both hands, smoke-white, covered his face. On the back of the left hand she made out the post horn, tattooed in old ink now beginning to blur and spread. Fascinated, she came into the shadows and ascended creaking steps, hesitating on each one. When she was three steps from him the hands flew apart and his wrecked face, and the terror of eyes gloried in burst veins, stopped her.
"Can I help?" She was shaking, tired. "My wife's in
"I know," she said. "But I'm new in town. I don't know where it is."
"Under the freeway." He waved her on in the direction she'd been going. "Always one. You'll see it." The eyes closed. Cammed each night out of that safe
furrow the bulk of this city's waking each sunrise again set virtuously to plowing, what rich soils had he turned, what concentric planets uncovered? What voices overheard, flinders of luminescent gods glimpsed among the wallpaper's stained foliage, candlestubs lit to rotate in the air over him, prefiguring the cigarette he or a friend must fall asleep someday smoking, thus to end among the flaming, secret salts held all those years by the insatiable stuffing of a mattress that could keep vestiges of every nightmare sweat, helpless overflowing bladder, viciously, tearfully consummated wet dream, like the memory bank to a computer of the lost? She was overcome all at once by a need to touch him, as if she could not believe in him, or would not remember him, without it. Exhausted, hardly knowing what she was doing, she came the last three steps and sat, took the man in her arms, actually held him, gazing out of her smudged eyes down the stairs, back into the morning. She felt wetness against her breast and saw that he was crying again. He hardly breathed but tears came as if being pumped. "I can't help," she whispered, rocking him, "I can't help." It was already too many miles to Fresno.
"Is that him?" a voice asked behind her, up the stairs. "The sailor?"
"He has a tattoo on his hand."
"Can you bring him up OK? That's him." She turned and saw an even older man, shorter, wearing a tall Homburg hat and smiling at them. "I'd help you but I got a little arthritis."
"Does he have to come up?" she said. "Up there?"
"Where else, lady?"
She didn't know. She let go of him for a moment, reluctant as if he were her own child, and he looked up at her. "Come on," she said. He reached out the tattooed hand and she took that, and that was how they went the rest of the way up that flight, and then the two more: hand in hand, very slowly for the man with arthritis.
"He disappeared last night," he told her. "Said he was going looking for his old lady. It's a thing he does, off and on." They entered a warren of rooms and corridors, lit by lo-watt bulbs, separated by beaverboard partitions. The old man followed them stiffly. At last he said, "Here."
In the little room were another suit, a couple of religious tracts, a rug, a chair. A picture of a saint, changing well-water to oil for Jerusalem's Easter lamps. Another bulb, dead. The bed. The mattress, waiting. She ran through then a scene she might play. She might find the landlord of this place, and bring him to court, and buy the sailor a new suit at Roos/Atkins, and shirt, and shoes, and give him the bus fare to Fresno after all. But with a sigh he had released her hand, while she was so lost in the fantasy that she hadn't felt it go away, as if he'd known the best moment to let go.
"Just mail the letter," he said, "the stamp is on it." She looked and saw the familiar carmine 8^ airmail, with a jet flying by the Capitol dome. But at the top of the dome stood a tiny figure in deep black, with its arms outstretched. Oedipa wasn't sure what exactly was supposed to be on top of the Capitol, but knew it wasn't anything like that.
"Please," the sailor said. "Go on now. You don't want to stay here." She looked in her purse, found a ten and a single, gave him the ten. "I'll spend it on booze," he said.
"Remember your friends," said the arthritic, watching the ten.
"Bitch," said the sailor. "Why didn't you wait till he was gone?"
Oedipa watched him make adjustments so he'd fit easier against the mattress. That stuffed memory. Regis-terA . . .
"Give me a cigarette, Ramirez," the sailor said. "I know you got one."
Would it be today? "Ramirez," she cried. The arthritic looked around on his rusty neck. "He's going to die," she said.
"Who isn't?" said Ramirez.
She remembered John Nefastis, talking about his Machine, and massive destructions of information. So when this mattress flared up around the sailor, in his Viking's funeral: the stored, coded years of uselessness, early death, self-harrowing, the sure decay of hope, the set of all men who had slept on it, whatever their lives had been, would truly cease to be, forever, when the mattress burned. She stared at it in wonder. It was as if she had just discovered the irreversible process. It astonished her to think that so much could be lost, even the quantity of hallucination belonging just to the sailor that the world would bear no further trace of. She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DT's. Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind's plowshare. The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of God, the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient fetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there, buffering, to protect us from. The act of metaphor then was a 7 thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost. Oedipa did not know where she was. Trembling, unfurrowed, she slipped sidewise, screeching back across grooves of years, to hear again the earnest, high voice of her second or third collegiate love Ray Glozing bitching among "uhs" and the syncopated tonguing of a cavity, about his freshman calculus; "dt," God help this old tattooed man, meant also a time differential, a vanishingly small instant in which change had to be confronted at last for what it was, where it could no longer disguise itself as something innocuous like an average rate; where velocity dwelled in the projectile though the projectile be frozen in midflight, where death dwelled in the cell though the cell be looked in on at its most quick. She knew that the sailor had seen worlds no other man had seen if only because there was that high magic to low puns, because DT's must give access to dt's of spectra beyond the known sun, music made purely of Antarctic loneliness and fright. But nothing she knew of would preserve them, or him. She gave him goodbye, walked downstairs and then on, in the direction he'd told her. For an hour she prowled among the sunless, concrete underpinnings of the freeway, finding drunks, bums, pedestrians, pederasts, hookers, walking psychotic, no secret mailbox. But at last in the shadows she did come on a can with a swinging trapezoidal top, the kind you throw trash in: old and green, nearly four feet high. On the swinging part were hand-painted the initials W.A.S.T.E. She had to look closely to see the periods between the letters.
Oedipa settled back in the shadow of a column. She may have dozed off. She woke to see a kid dropping a bundle of letters into- the can. She went over and dropped in the sailor's letter to Fresno; then hid again and waited. Toward midday a rangy young wino showed up with a sack; unlocked a panel at the side of the box and took out all the letters. Oedipa gave him half a block's start, then began to tail him. Congratulating herself on having thought to wear flats, at least. The carrier led her across Market then over toward City Hall. In a street close enough to the drab, stone openness of the Civic Center to be infected by its gray, he rendezvoused with another carrier, and they exchanged sacks. Oedipa decided to stick with the one she'd been following. She tailed him all the way back down the littered, shifty, loud length of Market and over on First Street to the trans-bay bus terminal, where he bought a ticket for Oakland. So did Oedipa.
They rode over the bridge and into the great, empty glare of the
Back in the hotel she found the lobby full of deaf-mute delegates in party hats, copied in crepe paper after the fur Chinese communist jobs made popular during the Korean conflict. They were every one of them drunk, and a few of the men grabbed her, thinking to bring her along to a party in the grand ballroom. She tried to struggle out of the silent, gesturing swarm, but was too weak. Her legs ached, her mouth tasted horrible. They swept her on into the ballroom, where she was seized about the waist by a handsome young man in a Harris tweed coat and waltzed round and round, through the rustling, shuffling hush, under a great unlit chandelier. Each couple on the floor danced whatever was in the fellow's head: tango, two-step, bossa nova, slop. But how long, Oedipa thought, could it go on before collisions became a serious hindrance? There would have to be collisions. The only alternative was some unthinkable order of music, many rhythms, all keys at once, a choreography in which each couple meshed easy, predestined. Something they all heard with an extra sense atrophied in herself. She followed her partner's lead, limp in the young mute's clasp, waiting for the collisions to begin. But none came. She was danced for half an hour before, by mysterious consensus, everybody took a break, without having felt any touch but the touch of her partner. Jesus Arrabal would have called it an anarchist miracle. Oedipa, withno name for it, was\only demoralized. She curtsied andfled.!
Next day, after twelve hours of sleep and no dreams to speak of, Oedipa checked out of the hotel and drove down the peninsula to Kinneret. She had decided on route, with time to think about the day preceding, to go see Dr Hilarius her shrink, and tell him all. She might well be in the cold and sweatless meathooks of a psychosis. With her own eyes she had verified a WASTE system: seen two WASTE postmen, a WASTE mailbox, WASTE stamps, WASTE cancellations. And the image of the muted post horn all but saturating the Bay Area. Yet she wanted it all to be fantasy—some clear result of her several wounds, needs, dark doubles. She wanted Hilarius to tell her she was some kind of a nut and needed a rest, and that there was no Trystero. She also wanted to know why the chance of its being real should menace her so.
She pulled into the drive at Hilarius's clinic a little after sunset. The light in his office didn't seem to be on. Eucalyptus branches blew in a great stream of air that flowed downhill, sucked to the evening sea. Halfway along the flagstone path, she was startled by an insect whirring loudly past her ear, followed at once by the sound of a gunshot. That was no insect, thought Oedipa, at which point, hearing another shot, she made the connection. In the fading light she was a clear target; the only way to go was toward the clinic. She dashed up to the glass doors, found them locked, the lobby inside dark. Oedipa picked up a rock next to a flower bed and heaved it at one of the doors. It bounced off. She was looking around for another rock when a white shape appeared inside, fluttering up to the door and unlocking it for her. It was Helga Blamm, Hilarius's sometime assistant.
"Hurry," she chattered, as Oedipa slipped inside. The woman was close to hysterical.
"What's happening?" Oedipa said.
"He's gone crazy. I tried to call the police, but he took a chair and smashed the switchboard with it."
"He thinks someone's after him." Tear streaks had meandered down over the nurse's cheekbones. "He's locked himself in the office with that rifle." A Gewehr 43, from the war, Oedipa recalled, that he kept as a souvenir.
"He shot at me. Do you think anybody will report
"Well he's shot at half a dozen people," replied Nurse Blamm, leading Oedipa down a corridor to her office. "Somebody better report it." Oedipa noticed that the window opened on a safe line of retreat.
"You could've run," she said.
Blamm, running hot water from a washbasin tap into cups and stirring in instant Coffee, looked up, quizzical. "He might need somebody."
"Who's supposed to be after him?"
"Three men with submachine guns, he said. Terrorists, fanatics, that was all I got. He started breaking up the PBX." She gave Oedipa a hostile look. "Too many nutty broads, that's what did it. Kinneret is full of nothing but. He couldn't cope."
"I've been away for a while," Oedipa said. "Maybe I could find out what it is. Maybe I'd be less of a threat for him." Blamm burned her mouth on the Coffee. "Start telling him your troubles and he'll probably shoot you."
In front of his door, which she could never remember having seen closed, Oedipa stood hipshot awhile, questioning her own sanity. Why hadn't she split out through Blamm's window and read about the rest of it in the paper?
"Who is it?" Hilarius screamed, having picked up her breathing, or something.
"May Speer and his ministry of cretins rot eternally in hell. Do you realize that half these rounds are duds?"
"May I come in? Could we talk?"
"I'm sure you'd all like that," Hilarius said.
"I'm unarmed. You can frisk me."
"While you karate-chop me in the spine, no thank you."
"Why are you resisting every suggestion I make?"
"Listen," Hilarius said after awhile, "have I seemed to you a good enough Freudian? Have I ever deviated seriously?"
"You made faces now and then," said Oedipa, "but that's minor."
His response was a long, bitter laugh. Oedipa waited. "I tried," the shrink behind the door said, "to submit myself to that man, to the ghost of that cantankerous Jew. Tried to cultivate a faith in the literal truth of everything he wrote, even the idiocies and contradictions. It was the least I could have done, nicht wahr? A kind of penance.
"And part of me must have really wanted to believe
—like a child hearing, in perfect safety, a tale of horror
—that the unconscious would be like any other room, once the light was let in. That the dark shapes would resolve only into toy horses and Biedermeyer furniture. That therapy could tame it after all, bring it into society with no fear of its someday reverting. I wanted to believe, despite everything my life had been. Can you
She could not, having no idea what Hilarius had done before showing up in Kinneret. Far away she now heard sirens, the electronic kind the local cops used, that sounded like a slide-whistle being played over a PA. system. With linear obstinacy they grew louder.
"Yes, I hear them," Hilarius said. "Do you think anyone can protect me from these fanatics? They walk through walls. They replicate: you flee them, turn a corner, and there they are, coming for you again."
"Do me a favor?" Oedipa said. "Don't shoot at the cops, they're on your side."
"Your Israeli has access to every uniform known," Hilarius said. "I can't guarantee the safety of the 'police.' You couldn't guarantee where they'd take me if I surrendered, could you."
She heard him pacing around his office. Unearthly siren-sounds converged on them from all over the night. "There is a face," Hilarius said, "that I can make. One you haven't seen; no one in this country has. I have only made it once in my life, and perhaps today in central Europe there still lives, in whatever vegetable ruin, the young man who saw it. He would be, now, about your age. Hopelessly insane. His name was Zvi. Will you tell the 'police,' or whatever they are calling themselves tonight, that I can make that face again? That it has an
effective radius of a hundred yards and drives anyone unlucky enough to see it down forever into the darkened oubliette, among the terrible shapes, and secures the hatch irrevocably above them? Thank you."
The sirens had reached the front of the clinic. She heard car doors slamming, cops yelling, suddenly a great smash as they broke in. The office door opened then. Hilarius grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her inside, locked the door again.
"So now I'm a hostage," Oedipa said.
"Oh," said Hilarius, "it's you."
"Well who did you think you'd been——"
"Discussing my case with? Another. There is me, there are the others. You know, with the LSD, we're finding, the distinction begins to vanish. Egos lose their sharp edges. But I never took the drug, I chose to remain in relative paranoia, where at least I know who I am and who the others are. Perhaps that is why you also refused to participate, Mrs Maas?" He held the rifle at sling arms and beamed at her. "Well, then. You were supposed to deliver a message to me, I assume. From them. What were you supposed to say?"
Oedipa shrugged. "Face up to your social responsibilities," she suggested. "Accept the reality principle. You're outnumbered and they have superior firepower."
"Ah, outnumbered. We were outnumbered there too." He watched her with a coy look.
"Where I made that face. Where I did my internship."
She knew then approximately what he was talking about, but to narrow it said, "Where," again.
"He has a gun," Oedipa called, "and I'm in here."
"Who are you, lady?" She told him. "How do you spell that first name?" He also took down her address, age, phone number, next of kin, husband's occupation, for the news media. Hilarius all the while was rummaging in his desk for more ammo. "Can you talk him out of it?" the cop wanted to know. "TV folks would like to get some footage through the window. Could you keep him occupied?"
"Hang tough," Oedipa advised, "we'll see." "Nice act you all have there," nodded Hilarius. "You think," said Oedipa, "then, that they're trying to bring you back to Israel, to stand trial, like they did Eichinann?" The shrink kept nodding. "Why? What did you do at Buchenwald?"
"I worked," Hilarius told her, "on experimentally-induced insanity. A catatonic Jew was as good as a dead one. Liberal SS circles felt it would be more humane." So they had gone at their subjects with metronomes, serpents, Brechtian vignettes at midnight, surgical removal of certain glands, magic-lantern hallucinations, new drugs, threats recited over hidden loudspeakers, hypnotism, clocks that ran backward, and faces. Hilarius had been put in charge of faces. "The Allied liberators," he reminisced, "arrived, unfortunately, before we could gather enough data. Apart from the spectacular successes, like Zvi, there wasn't much we could point to in a statistical way." He smiled at the expression on her face. "Yes, you hate me. But didn't I try to atone? If I'd been a real Nazi I'd have chosen Jung, nicht wahr? But I chose Freud instead, the Jew. Freud's vision of the world had no Buchenwalds in it. Buchenwald, according to Freud, once the light was let in, would become a soccer field, fat children would learn flower-arranging and solfeggio in the strangling rooms. At Auschwitz the ovens would be converted over to petit fours and wedding cakes, and the V-2 missiles to public housing for the elves. I tried to believe it all. I slept three hours a night trying not to dream, and spent the other 21 at the forcible acquisition of faith. And yet my penance hasn't been enough. They've come like angels of death to get me, despite all I tried to do."
"How's it going?" the cop inquired.
"Just marv," said Oedipa. "I'll let you know if it's hopeless." Then she saw that Hilarius had left the Gewehr on his desk and was across the room ostensibly trying to open a file cabinet. She picked the rifle up, pointed it at him, and said, "I ought to kill you." She knew he had wanted her to get the weapon.
"Isn't that what you've been sent to do?" He crossed and uncrossed his eyes at her; stuck out his tongue tentatively.
"I came," she said, "hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy."
"Cherish it!" cried Hilarius, fiercely. "What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be."
"Come on in," Oedipa yelled.
Tears sprang to Hilarius's eyes. "You aren't going to shoot?"
The cop tried the door. "It's locked, hey," he said.
"Bust it down," roared Oedipa, "and Hitler Hilarius here will foot the bill."
Outside, as a number of nervous patrolmen approached Hilarius, holding up strait jackets and billy clubs they would not need, and as three rival ambulances backed snarling up onto the lawn, jockeying for position, causing Helga Blamm between sobs to call the drivers filthy names, Oedipa spotted among searchlights and staring crowds a KCUF mobile unit, with her husband Mucho inside it, spieling into a microphone. She moseyed over past snapping flashbulbs and stuck her head in the window. "Hi."
Mucho pressed his cough button a moment, but only smiled. It seemed odd. How could they hear a smile? Oedipa got in, trying not to make noise. Mucho thrust the mike in front of her, mumbling, "You're on, just be yourself." Then in his earnest broadcasting voice, "How do you feel about this terrible thing?" "Terrible," said Oedipa.
"Wonderful," said Mucho. He had her go on to give listeners a summary of what'd happened in the office. "Thank you, Mrs Edna Mosh," he wrapped up, "for your eyewitness account of this dramatic siege at the Hilarius Psychiatric Clinic. This is KCUF Mobile Two, sending it back now to 'Rabbit' Warren, at the studio." He cut his power. Something was not quite right.
"Edna Mosh?" Oedipa said. "It'll come out the right way," Mucho said. "I was allowing for the distortion on these rigs, and then when they put it on tape."
"Where are they taking him?" "Community hospital, I guess," Mucho said, "for observation. I wonder what they can observe."
"Israelis," Oedipa said, "coming in the windows. If there aren't any, he's crazy." Cops came over and they
chatted awhile. They told her to stay around Kinneret in case there was legal action. At length she returned to her rented car and followed Mucho back to the studio. Tonight he had the one-to-six shift on the air.
In the hallway outside the loud ratcheting teletype room, Mucho upstairs in the office typing out his story, Qedipa encountered the program director, Caesar Punch. "Sure glad you're back," he greeted her, clearly at a loss for her first name.
"Oh?" said Oedipa, "and why is that."
"Frankly," confided Punch, "since you left, Wen-dell hasn't been himself."
"And who," said Oedipa, working herself into a rage because Punch was right, "pray, has he been, Ringo Starr?" Punch cowered. "Chubby Checker?" she pursued him toward the lobby, "the Righteous Brothers? And why tell me?"
"All of the above," said Punch, seeking to hide his head, "Mrs Maas."
"Oh, call me Edna. What do you mean?"
"Behind his back," Punch was whining, "they're calling him the Brothers N. He's losing his identity, Edna, how else can I put it? Day by day, Wendell is less himself and more generic. He enters a staff meeting and the room is suddenly full of people, you know? He's a walking assembly of man."
"It's your imagination," Oedipa said. "You've been smoking those cigarettes without the printing on them again."
"You'll see. Don't mock me. We have to stick together. Who else worries about him?"
She sat alone then on a bench outside Studio A, listening to Mucho's colleague Rabbit Warren spin
records. Mucho came downstairs carrying his copy, a serenity about him she'd never seen. He used to hunch his shoulders and have a rapid eyeblink rate, and both now were gone, "Wait," he smiled, and dwindled down the hall. She scrutinized him from behind, trying to see iridescences, auras.
They had some time before he was on. They drove downtown to a pizzeria and bar, and faced each other through the fluted gold lens of a beer pitcher.
"How are you getting on with Metzger?" he said. "There's nothing," she said. "Not any more, at least," said Mucho. "I could tell that when you were talking into the mike."
"That's pretty good," Oedipa said. She couldn't figure the expression on his face.
"It's extraordinary," said Mucho, "everything's been—wait. Listen." She heard nothing unusual. "There are seventeen violins on that cut," Mucho said, "and one of them—I can't tell where he was because it's monaural here, damn." It dawned on her that he was talking about the Muzak. It has been seeping in, in its subliminal, unidentifiable way since they'd entered the place, all strings, reeds, muted brass.
"What is it," she said, feeling anxious. "His E string," Mucho said, "it's a few cycles sharp. - He can't be a studio musician. Do you think somebody could do the dinosaur bone bit with that one string, Oed? With just his set of notes on that cut. Figure out what his ear is like, and then the musculature of his hands and arms, and eventually the entire man. God, wouldn't that be wonderful." "Why should you want to?" "He was real. That wasn't synthetic. They could dispense with live musicians if they wanted. Put together all the right overtones at the right power levels so it'd come out like a violin. Like I ..." he hesitated before breaking into a radiant smile, "you'll think I'm crazy, Oed. But I can do the same thing in reverse. Listen to anything and take it apart again. Spectrum analysis, in my head. I can break down chords, and timbres, and words too into all the basic frequencies and harmonics, with all their different loudnesses, and listen to them, each pure tone, but all at once." "How can you do that?"
"It's like I have a separate channel for each one," Mucho said, excited, "and if I need more I just expand. Add on what I need. I don't know how it works, but lately I can do it with people talking too. Say 'rich, chocolaty goodness.'"
"Rich, chocolaty, goodness," said Oedipa. "Yes," said Mucho, and fell silent. "Well, what?" Oedipa asked after a couple minutes, with an edge to her voice.
"I noticed it the other night hearing Rabbit do a commercial. No matter who's talking, the different power spectra are the same, give or take a small percentage. So you and Rabbit have something in common now. More than that. Everybody who says the same words is the same person if the spectra are the same only they happen differently in time, you dig? But the time is arbitrary. You pick your zero point anywhere you want, that way you can shuffle each person's time line sideways till they all coincide. Then you'd have this big, God, maybe a couple hundred million chorus saying 'rich, chocolaty goodness' together, and it would all be the same voice."
"Mucho," she said, impatient but also flirting with a wild suspicion. "Is this what Punch means when he says you're coming on like a whole roomful of people?" "That's what I am," said Mucho, "right. Everybody is." He gazed at her, perhaps having had his vision of consensus as others do orgasms, face now smooth, amiable, at peace. She didn't know him. Panic started to climb out of a dark region in her head. "Whenever I put the headset on now," he'd continued, "I really do understand what I find there. When those kids sing about 'She loves you,' yeah well, you know, she does, she's any number of people, all over the world, back through time, different colors, sizes, ages, shapes, distances from death, but she loves. And the 'you' is everybody. And herself. Oedipa, the human voice, you know, it's a flipping miracle." His eyes brimming, reflecting the color of beer.
"Baby," she said, helpless, knowing of nothing she could do for this, and afraid for him.
He put a little clear plastic bottle on the table between them. She stared at the pills in it, and then understood. "That's LSD?" she said. Mucho smiled back. "Where'd you get it?" Knowing.
"Hilarius. He broadened his program to include husbands."
"Look then," Oedipa said, trying to be Businesslike, "how long has it been, that you've been on this?"
He honestly couldn't remember.
"But there may be a chance you're not addicted
"Oed," looking at her puzzled, "you don't get addicted. It's not like you're some hophead. You take it because it's good. Because you hear and see things,
even smell them, taste like you never could. Because the world is so abundant. No end to it, baby. You're an antenna, sending your pattern out across a million lives a night, and they're your lives too." He had this patient, motherly look now. Oedipa wanted to hit him in the mouth. "The songs, it's not just that they say something, they are something, in the pure sound. Something new. And my dreams have changed."
"Oh, goodo." Flipping her hair a couple times, furious, "No nightmares any more? Fine. So your latest little friend, whoever she is, she really made out. At that age, you know, they need all the sleep they can get."
"There's no girl, Oed. Let me tell you. The bad dream that I used to have all the time, about the car lot, remember that? I could never even tell you about it. But I can now. It doesn't bother me any more. It was only that sign in the lot, that's what scared me. In the dream I'd be going about a normal day's Business and suddenly, with no warning, there'd be the sign. We were a member of the National Automobile Dealers' Association. N.A.D.A. Just this creaking metal sign that said nada, nada, against the blue sky. I used to wake up hollering."
She remembered. Now he would never be spooked again, not as long as he had the pills. She could not quite get it into her head that the day she'd left him for San Narciso was the day she'd seen Mucho for the last time. So much of him already had dissipated.
"Oh, listen," he was saying, "Oed, dig." But she couldn't even tell what the tune was.
When it was time for him to go back to the station, he nodded toward the pills. "You could have those."
She shook her head no.
"You're going back to San Narciso?"
"But the cops."
"I'll be a fugitive." Later she couldn't remember if they'd said anything else. At the station they kissed goodbye, all of them. As Mucho walked away he was whistling something complicated, twelve-tone. Oedipa sat with her forehead resting on the steering wheel and remembered that she hadn't asked him about the Trys-tero cancellation on his letter. But by then it was too late to make any difference.