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2

Why is it so awful? he said to me two hours later, as I stood cringing on the threshold of the slum apartment on Tolerance.

I suppose I can heat it. By winter, if Im careful and save money, I can. And I suppose theres a way to plug up the cracks and the holes.

Yes, there is.

But it looks so awful. And it smells

There isnt any smell, he said.

Yes there is. Of people being miserable.

Be happy then, and it will go.

I stared at him, distraught. He promptly told me a ridiculous joke and I laughed. The color of the rooms lightened. I remembered the sun coming in after the dream.

But, I said, touching the flaking plaster, I dont know where to start. Or how.

I can see, he said, I was an investment.

We went out again into the city. He led me over walkways, along side streets, into strange cheap food-o-marts and household stores. He, who had no need of food, told me what groceries to buy, and sometimes I even thought of things myself. He found open sheds under arches in the elevated, where cans of glue and planks of wood balanced against unbevelled mirrors. He knew where everything was. The strangest places, all useful.

The day began to go, and we paused at a food stall. Id asked him to pretend to be human, but my fears had faded. To me, he was. Or at least, for fifty minutes out of every hour he was. But at the stall, hunger surprising me as I devoured the inexpensive greasy tasty food, I ate alone, and began to be concerned about this and other matters.

The money is low, he said. It would be crazy to waste it on fake meals for me.

At least, drink some coffine. And its cold now. Everyone else has a coat on. (Even I. Id rolled my fur jacket all over the couch, and even rubbed loose plaster into it, to be camouflaged.) Oh, I should have got your clothes from Egyptia.

He was amused. We could still get them. Or I could.

No!

Afraid shell drug and abduct me.

Yes. Well, can you try to look cold?

I can foam at the mouth and throw a fit on the sidewalk if you really want me to.

Stop it, I said, having nearly choked.

Someone came up to the stall beside us, lured by the smoke of frying peppers, onions, bread, beef and mustard.

God, Im freezing, said Silver, clearly, stamping his feet.

The newcomer glanced at him and nodded.

In the dusk, as the speckled stars began to come on with the speckled street lamps of downtownfar fewer than the starsSilver walked me over a grid of blocks and between high walls, into a market lit by flaring fish-gasoline jets. The light caught him, and turned him to coolest gold. He guided me from pillar to post, his arms already effortlessly loaded with paper bags of planks, glue, solvent, insti-plast, loaves, cartons of dry milk, oranges. Despite these, he looked fabulous, literally of a fable. I couldnt stop looking at him. Id forgotten Id bought him. Everywhere, they looked at him, I wasnt the only one. And he, mostly not noting it, when he caught their eyes, smiling at them so their faces lit like flares.

How, I said, did you know this market was here?

I know where everything is. Every building and back alley of the entire city. It was pre-programmed into me. Partly for convenience during the advertising campaign, partly to be of general service. You are going to find me, he said, very useful, lady. God, Im frozen, he added as someone went by.

We halted at a clothing stall. There was clothing on the stall, tarnished, gorgeous, permissible. From theatres which had closed their doors. From those second owners who, like the rich ones that had first fallen, had themselves crashed on hard times. My mother would have been repelled at the notion of buying any article another had formerly worn. I dont think shed even want to wear anything of mine.

The woman on the stall fell passionately in love with him. She knocked prices in half. There was a sixteenth-century cloak of black-red velvet, destined to be his. She swathed him into it, embracing him as she did so, because he remarked how cold hed felt before.

Oh, that hair, she said to him. It cant be natural.

He said, Not quite.

Suits you, she said. And the skin makeup. Here, she said, suddenly including me. Look at this. Ill let you have this for twenty.

Under the flares, it was warm, summer day heat shot up against the black autumn sky. Far away, the core of the city rose in cliffs of sugar, and the grains of the sugar were lights. The jacket sparkled too. It had green peacocks and bits of mirrorI thought of his jacket, the day I first saw him

She cant afford twenty, he said to the woman. Not in cash.

Well, she said, what else have you got?

I felt myself tense inside my skin, but he only grinned, shaking his head, his eyes devilish and irresistible, so I wondered if he had hypnotized her when she said: Ten. She can have it for ten. Suit her with her white face and her big eyes.

I wanted the jacket. Because I was with him, because it recalled him to me. Because of the peacocks. But Id look too fat in it.

I think its a bargain, he said to me.

And I found myself paying, out of what was left of the Casa Bianca cash.

As we walked away, I said, I shouldnt have done that.

Yes, you should. Its not like the food. Youll look good in it. And there are ways of making money, he said, not just spending it.

I was dubious and suddenly anxious. I knew a moment of terrible insecurity, even with him beside me. The oil light fell hard as hail into my eyes.

How?

There you go, mind in the gutter again, he said, and I realized what my face must have shown. Songs. Ive sung on the street for E.M. Ltd. I can do it for you.

No, I said. This idea unsteadied me further. I wasnt sure why, but the mutinous crowd with their banners, their wise distrust of the excellence of machines, were mixed in my fear. Its wrongif they pay you.

Not if they enjoy it enough to pay me.

I stared at him. The human supernatural face looked back, inquiringly.

Im afraid, I said, and stopped still, holding my small burden of the peacock jacket to me.

No, youre not, he said. He moved close to me, obscuring everything from me except his presence. Even the light was gone, remaining only as a conflagration at the edges of his hair. Youve pre-programmed yourself, he said, to go on being afraid. But youre not afraid anymore. And, he said to my astonishment, what have you decided to call me?

Idont know.

Then thats what you should be worrying about. So much anticipation on my part, and still no name.

We walked on. We paused, and bought an enormous jar of silk-finish paint, and color mixants.

All the women love you, I said jealously.

Not all.

All. The woman on the stall cut her prices by half.

Because she was charging twice too much already and thought wed haggle. The only genuine reduction was the jacket she offered you.

We, I, bought some drapery, a pillow that would need recovering.

I felt a burst of childlike excitement, as on a birthday morning. Then another surge of alarm.

What on earth am I doing, I said vaguely.

Turning your apartment into somewhere you can bear to live.

I shouldnt

Programmed and activated, he said, and proceeded to an extraordinary imitation of a computer mechanism running through a program, gurgles, clicks and skidding punctuations.

Please stop it, I muttered, embarrassed.

Only if you do.

I frowned. I looked into the depth of the jacket wrapped in flimsy tissue, the sausage of wrapped pillow. Id never exercised freedom of choice before, and now I was, and it was peculiar. And he. He wasnt a robot. He was my friend, whod come to help me choose (not tell me what to choose), and to carry my parcels, and to give me courage.

Have I been brave? I asked him in bewilderment as we strolled out of the market and through a deserted square. I think I must have been.

Tremor-sites rose against the stars. Birds or bats nested in them, I could hear the whickering sounds of their wings and little squeaking noises.

And do I feel afraid only because I still think I shouldnot because Ive left my mother and my home and my friends, because I havent got any money, because Ive lost my heart to a beautiful piece of silverware.

We laughed. I saw what had happened. I was beginning to catch the way he talked. It had never been really possible with anyone else. Id envied Cloviss wit, but it was usually so vicious I hadnt been able to master it, but with Silverdamn. Not Silver.

Silver, I said, I know you can adapt to anyone and anything, but thank you for adapting to me, to this.

I hate to disillusion you, he said, youre easier than most to adapt to.

We walked home. Odd. Home? Yes, I suppose that was already true, because anywhere he was was my home. Silver was my home. A milk-white cat was singing eerily among the girders in the subsidence, like the ghost of a cat. (Did cats have ghosts, or souls?)

Its so cold, I wailed in the room.

Thats my line, surely.

I looked at the wall heater unhappily.

I was down to nickels and coppers now, and the three hundred on my card, until next month.

He swung off the cloak and folded it over me, then holding me inside it and against him.

Im afraid I dont have any body heat to keep you warm.

I dont care.

We kissed each other quietly, and then I said,

Dont ever make love to me if you dont want to.

If you want me to, I shall want to.

I just dont believe that. There may be times

No. My emotional and physically simulated equilibriums never alter.

Oh.

I also swallowed a couple of dictionaries someplace.

We dragged the mattress off the couch. The bed under it had a padded top-surface and was less used. I pulled the almost new, dappled rugs, faintly scented from their recent cleaning, over us. Under them, I lay a long while, caressing him, exploring him, making love to him.

Do you mind if I do this? I asked timidly, quite unable to stop.

Oh, I mind dreadfully.

Im probably clumsy.

Far from it. Youre becoming a wonderful lover.

How would you know? It cant mean anything to you.

Not as it would to a flesh-and-blood man. But I can still appreciate it.

Artistically, I sneered. When the proper circuits are put in action.

Something like that.

Egyptia I murmured, drowning in his hair, the taste of his skinunmortal and yet fleshthe flesh of a demonif you didnt find pleasure with Egyptia

You make it sound like a cafe we were looking for. I did.

Yes Shed be terribly clever.

Egyptia is totally passive. The pleasure is in finding what pleases her.

Minutes later, as the strange wing-beats began to stir inside me, I couldnt prevent myself from saying, I wish I could find what pleases you. I wish, I wish I could.

You please me, he said. It was true. The delight mounted in his face as my delight mounted within medifferent, yet dependent.

You fool, I gasped, that isnt what I mean

When I fell back into the silence, the room of the apartment thrummed gently. It had the scent of oranges, now, and glue, and paper bags

I can stay here with you, he said, or I can start work on this place.

I want you with me, I said. I want to sleep next to you, even if you cantdontsleep.

You mean, he said, you arent going to ask me if I wouldnt rather be anywhere except beside you?

Am I as paranoid as that?

No. Much worse.

Oh.

Your hairs changing color, he said.

Yes. Im sorry.

Are you? I think you may be quite pleased when the change is complete.

Oh, no. It will be horrid. Curled against him, lulled and childishly almost asleep, I felt safe. I was whole. We were in a boat, or on the back of a milk-white bird.

Birds? he asked me softly. As well?

Yes, I said. And a rainbow.

He must have left me at some point during the night. When I opened my eyes in the effulgent, now-curtain-filtered sunrise, there was blue sky on the ceiling, blue sky and islands of warm cloud, and the crossbow shapes of birds, like swifts, darting statically between. And a rainbow, faint as mist, yet with every transparent color in it, passing from the left hand corner by the door, to the corner nearest the window. It was real. Almost.

He was sitting on top of a rickety old chromium ladder he must have borrowed from somewhere in the building, from the bad-tempered caretaker perhaps. He was taking a devilish joy in my amazement as I woke and saw.

But youre a musician, not an artist, I said dreamily.

Theres a leaflet in with the paint which explains how to do this sort of thing. Being a machinewell, its easy for me to get a good result.

Its beautiful

Then wait till you see the bathroom.

I ran into the bathroom. The ceiling was sunset in there, soft crimson nearnesses, and pale rosy distance. A white whale basked in the shallows of the clouds.

A whale in the sky?

Make the metaphysical assumption the bath is the sea. And that the whales a damn good jumper.

Five days later, you came up the cracked steps, opened the door, and walked into somewhere else.

He would ask me what I wanted, and wed work on it together. Ideas escalated. He worked most of the nights, too. Once I woke up in the dark, crying for some reason I didnt remember, and he came back into the bed to comfort me, and in the morning we and the rugs had become glued together and had to soak ourselves apart in the bath. His invention, and his mechanized knowledge of the city and its merchandise and price ranges, meant that fantastic things were done for very little outlay. I only cut a small way into the three hundred I.M.U. Admittedly I lived on sandwiches and fruit and wonderful junk foods found in sidewalk shops. My mothers thorough understanding of nutrition, demonstrated in the perfectly balanced meals served from the mechanical kitchen and the servicery at Chez Stratos, the awareness of the best times to eat what, and why, and the grasp of vitamins, in which she had tried to educate meall that stayed with me like a specter. But I didnt get pimples or headaches, or throw up. Probably shed nourished me so well that I was now immune. The way I ate and lived, of course, the way I slept and worked and made love, all these were enormous barriers against my ever calling her, although: Hallo, Mother, this is Jane, I said, over and over in my head a hundred times a day. Once I said to him, I think Im afraid of my mother. And he said, holding my hand as we walked up the stairs, From the sound of it, it could be mutual. Puzzled, I demanded an explanation. Smiling, he sidetracked me, I forget how

What would she say about this apartment? She wouldnt cry out with delight, every time she came into it, as I do. How beautiful! No, she wouldnt say that. Even the brass bed, with the headboard like a huge veined leaf, wouldnt impress her, and anyway, the brass bed came later

The walls, now sealed and burnished, and smooth, are painted cream-white. The pale gold paper lamp that hangs from the clouds and the swifts has a gold metal stitching on it, and when the light burns at night, gold flecks are thrown all over the walls. There are also wonderful scintillas and glows that are wavered from the colored candles standing on the shelves Silver put up. Each candle is a different color, or colors, and stands in a scoop of colored glass. These scoops are, in fact, a batch of flawed glass saucers bought for nickels, and painted over with glass enamel. The mirror, too, has a glorious glass painting on it, of leaves and hills and savage flowers. Every slope and tendril and petal totally hides some spot or chip in the mirror. We have wall to wall carpet, too. Its made of literally hundreds of tiny carpet remnants given away as free samples. We spent a whole day walking from store to store, asking about carpets and, Unable to decide on one, going off with handfuls of pieces to match with our furnishings. It took hours to glue every scrap in place. The effect is astonishing, a mosaic that rivals the rainbow in the ceiling. No chairs, but large dark green fur pillows to sit on, or the couch, draped with rugs and shawls like the divan of a potentate. Curtains for the clean window, are to encourage the sky, being the color of blue sunlight. (The scatter of little tears in them are concealed by one whole packet of heat-and-press-on embroidered badgestiny gold and silver mythical animals and castles.) The door is cream-white and vanishes into the wall. The horrible functional kitchen hatch (with the crotchety miniature oven and electric ring behind it that hardly ever get used) has become a wall-painting. Its blue with clouds, like the ceiling, and a big-sailed, heavily winged ship is flapping over it, with a gilded cannon poking from its side, which is the handle fitting. We both painted this, and its remarkably silly. The wings on the ship are modeled after geese. The bathroom is madder. The walls were raw cement and broken tiles, and when patched up to seal, they looked impossible. Then, in another market, there were sky-blue tentlike waterproof coveralls going at four in the morning for next to nothing because no one wanted them, and the stall-keeper had a virus and was dying to get home. These, cut in lengths with a kind of spontaneous but enticed shining and ruching, are glued over every inch of the walls. The waterproofing looks like silk, and they make the room into a weird oriental fantasy, particularly when the rose-red paper lamp hanging from the rose-red clouds comes on, and hits every pleat and fold with an electric magenta streak of shine. We re-enamelled the bath, hand basin, drinking-tap basin, and the lavatory, all blue. The enamel is cheap and will probably crack inside six months. But for now, each area is reminiscent of a lagoon. The second night, Silver stripped the floor and put the new planks down, polished and varnished them. The bathroom floor is now a golden fake pine, and looks as if it cost a thousand. Well, at least five hundred.

How do you know how to do all that? I asked him, endlessly.

I read the instructions, he endlessly and innocently replied.

Of course, a robot can just read instructions and then know exactly how to follow them, and get it absolutely right. I kept saying to myself I mustnt persist in thinking of him as an exceptionally talented man, no I mustnt. Yet it was difficult, and besides, thats what Id asked him to pretend to be.

On the last afternoon of the first week, the caretaker came puffing and grumbling up the stairs to collect the rent, plainly thinking he wouldnt get it.

Its just the one quarter month, he announced as I stood there, a plum in one hand and a long artists paintbrush in the other. Just the one week. Then I shant be up till the first of next month for the three quarters. As the end of the month was also only a few days off, that meant nothing. He implied, in any case, Id have run away by then in arrears. Its legal, you know, he said. But already his eyes had gone past me and were bulging on the room. Well, he said. I wondered what your boyfriend wanted the steps for. He tried to edge in by me, so I let him. He stood and gaped, as if in a famous cathedral. Not everyones taste, he said, but its cheerful. Which is more, I thought, than can be said for you.

I waited for him to go on and say: Now youve spent your rent money on all that, youll have to get out. But he only glanced at the huge evergreen plant which Silver and I had dug out of the subsidence the night before and planted in a big cracked beer jeroboam of wondrous amber glass. Thatll die, he said.

Perhaps youd like to come to its funeral, said Silver, who was seated on a pillow, reading, at fifteen seconds per page, a job-lot of books wed picked up that morning.

The caretaker scowled.

This flat, he said, is only supposed to accommodate one person.

I felt a stab of terror, but Silver said, Im not paying her any rent. Im her guest.

Grudgingly, the caretaker accepted that this was all right, and Silver smiled at him.

I was already fumbling out the rent and electric money, all in small change by now, when Silver rose and graciously gave the monstrous visitor a tour of the bathroom. I could hear the monster grunting away, things like: Dont know Id want it myself, or Whats that white thing in the ceiling? Oh. And then, surprisingly: Quite like that.

They came back, and Silver poured the caretaker, and me, a mug of very cheap and vinegary wine, which the caretaker gulped down. When we finally got rid of him, and the rent, I lost my temper. The beautiful apartment, on which wed slaved, smeared by that old mans stupid carping.

Hes just forgotten how to respond, said Silver. And hes sick. He has to take a prescription medication that gives him another sickness as a side effect.

How do you know?

The night I borrowed the ladder, we sat around for a while, and he told me.

Still trying to make everyone happy, I said.

Still trying. Uphill work all the way.

I looked at him and we laughed. And I went to him and put my arms round him. The carpet floor is nice to make love on, too.

The evergreen plant, by the end of the month, had spread up to the ceiling in a lustrous fan.

Which brings me to the end of the month.


1 | The Silver Metal Lover | 3