• 5 •
I don’t have to describe that day, do I? I thought a lot about him. I saw him arriving at Clovis’s apartment. The conversation, the innuendo, saw him playing along with the repartee, giving better than he got, and the wonderful smile like sheer sunlight. I saw them in bed. Almost. Like a faulty visual—the swimmers’ movement of arms, a glint of flesh. My mind wouldn’t let me see. And yet my mind wouldn’t leave it alone. I wanted to kill Clovis, take a knife and kill him. And Egyptia. And I wanted to run away. Out into the gathering darkness. Out into another country, another world.
About seven P.M., something happened like a page turning over. I sat bolt upright in the welter of the stricken bed, and the plan began to come. The insane plan, the stupid plan. It was as if he’d taught me how to think. Think in new, logical, extraordinary ways.
I couldn’t remember where the Phy-Amalgamated Conference was, and had to get the information operator. All the while I waited, I waited too for the conviction to go, but it didn’t.
Then I got the Conference and held the line for the twenty minutes the pager needed to find my mother. And the conviction was still there.
“What’s wrong, darling?” said my mother.
“Mother, I’ve bought something terribly expensive I couldn’t get on my card.”
“Jane. There’s a meeting I’m chairing in five minutes. Could this perhaps have waited?”
“No, Mother. Sorry, but no. You see, Clovis paid for it.”
“You’ve been seeing Clovis after what you told me. Should you have been more cautious?”
“I’m over all that,” I said tersely.
“Darling,” said my mother, “switch on the video, please.”
I switched it on, defiantly, and saw her see me, naked in my bed, my love bed, with my cream skin and my cowrie shell eyes I’d never known I had. And somehow, she seemed to realize it was someone new she was dealing with, somebody she’d not really met before.
“That’s better,” said my mother, but I knew it wasn’t. “I’m glad you’ve been resting.”
She had always told me to get to know my body. To be at ease with it. She now seemed to think it faintly unnecessary that I had, I was.
“Mother, Clovis paid for this thing, and now I can’t get to use it. Can you wire a cash order through to him tonight?”
“How much does this item cost?”
I opened out the receipt and read the figure off cold.
My mother became cold, too.
“That’s rather a lot of money, darling.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.” (But we can pay it, can’t we? We’re rolling about in riches, aren’t we?)
“You’ve never done anything like this before, Jane. What exactly is this thing? Is it a car?”
“It’s a Sophisticated Special Format Robot.”
Mother, I’m in love with—
“A robot. I see.”
“It can play the piano.”
“At the price you quoted, one would hope so.”
“The point is, Mother, I’ve been thinking about this a long time, but I rather want, sort of would like—” Don’t blow it, Jane, Jaen, Jain. “I think it would do me good to get an apartment of my own. Just for a few months, in the city.”
“I’m such a baby, Mother. All my friends have their own places.”
“You have your own suite.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Your suite belongs to you, Jane, and everything in it, just the same as it would in an apartment. You can do there and with exactly as you choose. You have total freedom. More so than in an apartment, where you would be governed by certain domiciliary regulations.”
“I agree, you are rather immature. How would you propose to cope with the everyday chores of life on your own? Do you even understand what they are? Even an automatic apartment needs cohesion. And you are not—Jane, I really think we must discuss this when I get home.”
“I bought the robot to help me run the apartment.”
“Yes. Your priorities are quite original.”
“But will you please pay Clovis?”
“Darling, you sound as if you’re trying to give me a command, and I’m sure you realize that would be very foolish of you.”
“I have to go now, darling. I’ll see you tomorrow evening, and we’ll talk this through. Why not put your views on tape? You’re always so much better at expressing yourself unspontaneously and with consideration. Good night, sleep tight, dear.”
The line and the video blanked out.
I was shivering and swearing and gnawing the sheet.
I’d have to go through all this again with her tomorrow, and she’d win. That was silly. I wasn’t in a battle with my mother. Was I? Egyptia had had full access to her mother’s fortune since she was fifteen, the limit being on a monthly basis only because otherwise she tended to overdraw on funds that hadn’t yet built up. But the terms of the limit were a monthly twenty thousand I.M.U. And Clovis had no limit I knew of. And Chloe and Davideed didn’t, though they were habitually frugal. And Jason and Medea, who still lived at home, had their own beach house at Cape Angel, a Rolls Amada car with push-button dash, and spent money by forging their father’s signature, which he never noticed, or by use of one of their six credit cards each with a two-week thousand limit, and they still shoplifted.
And I. I had a thousand I.M.U. a month. Which had always been more than enough until now.
More than enough, frankly, because half the time my mother bought my clothes. Even my sheets, my soap… I looked round the rooms of my suite wildly. I had everything I could possibly need, and more. I should be grateful. My eye was caught by a gorgeously vulgar (“The worst vulgarity is to avoid vulgarity solely on the grounds that it is vulgar.”) antique oriental lamp, by a jade panther. My mother lavished money on me. The carpets alone would be worth thousands—
My skin crawled. Something clicked in my head.
“No,” I said aloud. “No, no—”
I saw Silver, who I’d wanted to give another name to, and hadn’t, walking along the sidewalk, putting back his head to watch the flyer go over. I saw his face against the dark sky in the balcony just before he kissed me the second time. I felt him hold me, and a spear divided me. I remembered the cubicle, the clockwork nerves of his body exposed. I visualized Clovis and Egyptia squabbling over him.
Like a sleepwalker, I got off the bed. I thought of my mother, and I could smell La Verte, but the scent of him had lingered on my own skin, blotting out my mother’s psychologically conjured perfume.
“All right,” I said. “Why not? If it’s supposed to be mine.”
You should make the decision yourself, my mother would say. Once I’d asked her what to do, and she’d told me.
“Yes, Mother. I’m going to make a decision.”
The auto-chill had refilled with wine, and I drank some, however, before I called Casa Bianca, the largest and most expensive second owner store in the city.
Before I quite knew what I’d done, I’d invited their representative over to Chez Stratos to assess the entire contents of my suite. Rich people fall on hard times and sell things, but I could tell, when I got through to the human assistants at Casa, that they were rather surprised—surprised and greedy. Of course, they’d cheat me. I looked at the receipt from E.M., seeing the wording for a S.I.L.V.E.R. The Sophisticated Format Robot, and at the charge. I’d get enough. And enough for other things, for a run-down apartment somewhere. And then, with the thousand I.M.U. card, I could manage there, if I was careful.
What was I doing? Did I know? Ice water ran down my back, my head throbbed, I felt sick. But I only drank some more wine, and got dressed and powdered my face to put up a barrier between me and the rep. from Casa Bianca. Then I gave admittance instructions to the lift, which said: “Hallo, Jane. Yes, Jane, I understand.”
The rep. arrived an hour later, very smart, about forty but not on Rejuvinex, or not on enough of it. She had long, blood-red nails, a bad psychological mistake in her line of work. Or perhaps it was done to intimidate. She looked predatory as she came out of the lift into the foyer.
“Good evening,” she said. “I’m Geraldine, representing Casa Bianca.”
“Please come this way,” I said. Party manners. Well, I’d often felt just as scared as this at parties.
We went up in the birdcage to the Vista.
“Excuse me,” said Geraldine, “is any of the rest of the house involved?”
“No. Just my suite.”
We walked through the Vista, and she exclaimed. Indigo clouds were humped against the balcony-balloons with puddles of stars in them. The Asteroid blazed in the East like a neon, advertising something too ethereal to be real.
“My God,” said Geraldine, proclaiming a monopoly. “By the way,” she said, as we went up the annex stair, “I’m afraid we’ll require proof of your ownership of the properties you want to sell. You did realize that?”
She thought I was about ten years old and she would make corn hash of me. She probably would. I was allergic to her. I wished my mother would come home unexpectedly and end all this. What had I done?
“In here,” I said, as we went into my suite, which one of the spacemen had tidied.
“Oh, yes,” said Geraldine. “You said on the phone everything was to go.”
“If you can give me a reasonable price for it,” I said. My voice trembled.
“Why the heck are you leaving?” marveled Geraldine.
“I’m going to live with my lover,” I said. “And Mother wants to restyle the suite.”
Geraldine opened her big leather bag and removed a lightweight mini-computer which she set up on a side table.
“I’ll just run the ownership proof through now, if you don’t mind.”
I handed her the inventory tape. It had my individual body code, and the description and sonic match for everything in the rooms, which her computer would test and find correct. The inventory was kept in Demeta’s tape store, but I’d sent one of the spacemen for it.
As the computer chittered through its routine, Geraldine walked round and about, now and then picking things up and running a little calculator over them.
“The computer will take the full scan in a moment,” she said. “But you have some nice things. I think Casa Bianca will be able to take most of this off your hands.”
“There are clothes, too. And makeup cabinet. And a hairdresser unit. And all the tapes with the deck. You can take the bath fittings if you want, so long as you tie off the plumbing.”
“Well, I shan’t be doing it personally,” she corrected me.
I cringed, and just managed not to apologize to her.
“Well,” said Geraldine. “I just hope your lover can give you all of this.”
I kept quiet, this time. That was my business, wasn’t it.
What my lover, my love, my beloved, gave me. Or could he give me anything.
I opened the doll cupboard.
“My!” said Geraldine. “Some of these are—” she stopped herself. “Of course, secondhand toys are much harder to sell. But they seem well-preserved. Did you ever play with them?”
My mother had wanted me to be able to work out my aggressions with my toys, so they were the kind whose hair didn’t come out, and whose ears didn’t fall off. There was my unicorn rocking horse, unscratched, and my bear in shining coal-black fur. “See,” I thought to them, “people are going to buy you and love you and play with you, after all.” I wouldn’t cry in front of Geraldine. I wouldn’t.
I poured some wine and didn’t offer her any. She hated me anyway.
The computer put up a white light and a piece of paper. Geraldine read it carefully. “Yes, that’s all in order. I’ll just switch on the scan. There. Our relay department can let you know the offer we’re prepared to make first thing tomorrow. Or late tonight, if you prefer.”
“I’m afraid I want everything cleared by tomorrow. And the money. Or else I’ll have to try another firm.”
“Oh, come on now,” said Geraldine. “Our service is fast. But not that fast. And no one’s is.”
If I held the glass much more tightly, I’d break it, like people do in visuals.
“Then I’m sorry to have wasted your time,” I said.
Geraldine stared at me. She looked impressed.
“So okay,” she said. “What’s the hurry? Your mother doesn’t know you’re doing this?”
“Your computer has just told you that I own everything in the suite.”
“Yup. But Mother still doesn’t know the bird’s flying the nest. Right?”
My mother did know. I’d told her.
Geraldine looked at the white leather suitcase.
“What’s in there? Don’t tell me. A few clothes, a bag of your favorite makeup, your boyfriend’s photo. What is this? You’ve fallen in love with some adolescent on Subsistence?”
The computer put up a yellow light and closed itself off. The scan was complete.
“What about the bathroom and bedroom?” I asked.
“Oh, Fred here can see through walls. What about you?”
I forced myself to turn and look at her. My eyes watered but I didn’t blink. The lenses of my eyes were flat and cruel. My face was silver.
“I want your firm to call me with its offer in no more than two hours. If I agree to it, I want your removal machinery in here and out in one hour more.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Geraldine. “I’ll pass on your message.”
“If I don’t get the call by ten P.M., I’ll go elsewhere.”
“Nobody else could take this on in the middle of the night,” said Geraldine. She re-bagged the computer, dropped in the calculator. “I might be able to swing it for you,” she said. She picked up the jade panther. “I might.”
I’m so slow. It was ages as she stood there with the panther, before I knew she wanted me to bribe her. I started to panic, as if I’d committed some breach of social etiquette. I didn’t know how to get over it. As I fumbled about in my mind, Geraldine put down the panther and walked crisply out.
I followed her into the birdcage lift and touched the button. Geraldine looked into space with her hard sad eyes that had parcels of lines in the thick mascara under them. I wondered frenziedly if everyone always tipped her with some valuable piece, if her apartment was stuffed with collectors items, against her compulsory retirement, which would have to be any year now. I began to feel sorry for her, her tired skin, her carnivorous nails.
We reached the foyer and she stepped out and over to the lift in the support. At the door she hesitated. She turned and looked at me.
“You’re going to find it difficult,” she said, “being poor. But you’re a tryer, I’ll say that for you.”
I was overwhelmed. It was ridiculous.
“Geraldine,” I said, blatant, because suddenly I wanted her to have the panther, and so being devious was unimportant, “where do I send—?”
“Keep it,” she said. “You’re going to need every money unit you can get your hands on.”
The doors shut. I sat down on the foyer floor, wondering if she was ever someone’s daughter, too. I was still sprawled there three quarters of an hour later, when the phone went. It was Casa Bianca. They’d be at the house by midnight and they’d pay me—it was more money than I’d ever had, and it would just be enough.
Guess what I did as the Casa Bianca removal took away all my things? I cried. (I feel I ought to edit out my tears by now. But, they happened.) It was my life going. Strange, when I’d hardly ever thought about any of it. Strange, that when I had thought about it, none of it had seemed like mine, yet there I was, wandering from place to place in the swiftly emptying rooms to avoid the machines, crying. Good-bye, my books, good-bye, my necklaces, good-bye my ivory chessmen. Good-bye my coal-black bear.
Good-bye, my childhood, my roots, my yesterdays. Good-bye, Jane.
Who are you now?
I made a tape for my mother, and left it on the console for her, with the light ready to signal when she came in. I wasn’t very coherent, but I tried to be. I tried to explain how I loved her and how I’d call her, soon. I tried to explain what I’d done. I didn’t say anything about Silver. Not one word. Yet everything I said, of course, was about him. I simply might have been saying his name over and over. And I knew she’d know. My wise, clever, brilliant mother. I couldn’t hide anything from her.
I and my white suitcase, with Casa Bianca’s Pay On Demand check in it, caught the four A.M. flyer to the city. There was a gang on the flyer, and they shouted obscene things at me, but didn’t dare do anything else because of the rightly suspected policode. I was afraid of them anyway. I’d never been so close to people like that, always taking cabs when it was late, always on the bright streets, or in another corridor, or on the other side of the walk. It was as if my mother’s aura had protected me, and now I had exiled myself, and now I was no longer safe.
When I remember doing all this, I’m shattered. I still don’t quite believe I did. I dialed an instant-rental bureau from a kiosk at the foot of Les Anges Bridge, and then gave in and took a taxi to the address they gave me.
The caretaker was human, and he swore at me for getting him up. It was very dark. There were no streetlights outside; the nearest was five hundred feet away up the street. My window looks on to a subsidence of brickwork and iron girders. I don’t know what it could have been before the tremor shook it down, but weeds have seeded all over it. I didn’t see till daylight crawled through the dirty window, and then the autumn colors of the weeds, smeared on the dereliction, made me unhappy. Unhappier.
I didn’t sleep, of course. I huddled by my suitcase on the old couch by the window. I knew I couldn’t stay here. I knew I would have to go home. But where was home?
When day came, I went on huddling. I knew my next move was to go to Egyptia, and then to Clovis. Repay Clovis, persuade Egyptia. And then I’d take Silver. I’d really have bought him, as Casa Bianca had bought my furniture. He’d belong to me. And I couldn’t. After everything, I couldn’t. Couldn’t buy him or own him. Couldn’t bring him here to this frightful place.
I dozed, and when I woke, the day was shrinking away behind the girders as if it were scared of them. My stomach was queasy and sore because I hadn’t eaten, except for a sort of sandwich I’d made myself in the servicery at the house. I drank some water from the drinking tap in the muddy bathroom of the rented apartment. The water tasted very chemical, and full of germs.
My mother would be home, soon. I wondered what she would do. I became frantic, and saw her shock as she found the suite stripped of furnishings and me. I began to believe I’d done something truly awful to her. I wanted to run down to the pay phone in the foyer of the rental apartment block, down all the cracked cement steps, for the lift here didn’t work anymore. But then I knew I couldn’t. And then at last I knew that I was afraid, terribly, violently afraid, of Demeta, who only wants the best for me, the very best, as she sees it.
Eventually, I found the paper pad I’d written on and which I’d put in the suitcase with the money and the few clothes, and I started to write this, the second chapter of what’s happened to me.
When it got pitch dark, I turned on the mean bare overhead light, but it will cost money, so I worry about it. I have three hundred left on my card for the rest of the month. Whatever did I spend the rest of it on? I’m cold tonight, and I’d like to turn on the wall heater. Maybe I can wait a little longer?
Stars are caught in the girders. The name of this street, actually, is Tolerance.
Silver, I need you. I need you. All this is because of you and yet, how could I blame you for it? I’m nothing to you. (Does the touch of real flesh secretly repel you?) But I was beautiful with you. All night, all the hours of the day you were with me: Beautiful. And I never was before.
I’m so tired. Tomorrow, I must make up my mind.
There’s a flyer going over. It’s quiet here, I can hear the lines whistling, and below, the roar of the city, that never lies down to sleep.