BLUE SOUP, NO SPARK
Dreamed 1985/6/1 by Chris Wayan
I haven't even entered Craig and Tina's party, and I already regret coming. All day, the builders next door whanged away, giving me a headache. And Jamie's plotting to take over one of our rooms, playing us against each other again. Infuriating!
Watch it! I'm already stressed, going to a new place, meeting strangers. I have to start socializing somewhere, but this is a bad night for it. I'm on the edge of triggering an intestinal attack.
The houses here feel dreaming. Tall wiggly pale trees lean over my van as I lock it. Roots have wrestled the sidewalk up into waves, almost a foot high in spots, with knees of smooth woodskin heaving out. The tangled slabs look more like stone than concrete, grown than built, more gardened (by a master Buddhist, too) than decayed. Oops! I catch myself retreating from my social fears into mystic estheticism. That won't do. Can't wonder at the transcendental beauty of the dinnerguests, it makes them nervous. "But the roots aren't getting nervous", protest my nerves, "and it was calming us down." "Yeah yeah yeah," I think, "be on your good behavior, we're here."
Which number is it? Oh. It's pretty. Light, open. I start up the hanging stair. A girl crosses the patio-driveway below, long black hair and lithe walk. My heart pounds. I force myself not to stare. She opens the lower door, frames herself in golden light and I gasp. Slam. She's gone. A neighbor, not a guest, then, damn. Or maybe it's better: I'd just get all shy. I go to the upper door, and enter my own frame of commitment.
They're all cooking: Tina leads, Craig monitors pots, while two strangers, Wayne and Linda, sit and slice. We talk of computer animation. I peel. I didn't know Craig loved Betty Boop cartoons. Tina worries: all must be just right. She keeps drawing him back into the physical world and he nudges the prawns to soothe her, then zooms off again. Linda peels the grapes.
PEELS the GRAPES? What is this, a Roman banquet? And me a barbarian.
"Asturian paella," says Tina, with a sort of "regional gazpacho, it requires peeled grapes." She has family in Spain; it's just a hometown recipe then, not upscale cuisine. Good--I can't play Yuppie foodfight at all.
We eat. The flow of party talk fascinates me, so after the first taste says the food isn't toxic to me, I miss the meal, though I eat plenty. The conversation, always dominated by Craig's humane and carefully pronounced judgments, reminds me of the house: elegant and, well, white. Niches in the spaces display objects. Everything has a setting: even Craig's pauses artfully set off his pontifications. We sip the white-green garlic cream grape soup. I'm in a light trance now, turning off my anxious conscious, letting my unconscious experiment with sociability--with the exotic, altered state of not being a hermit. Can I entertain? I must tease Craig with wackiness, poking him out of his strict rationality like a prawn in a pan to amuse the others, yet stay articulate enough to be respected. I'm concluding this works when WHAWHOOM! BUHBUHBUH BLUH BLUMM BLAM! The window nearly comes loose before the howling thing runs off down the block.
"I swear his motor's got no muffler" snaps Craig.
"He hates the couple downstairs" grins Tina.
"No, I hate all teenagers" he says. "I'm democratic about it. I was hateful too." I recall that girl in the golden door and wince; I'd rather be there than here. Trying to become the teen I never was and Craig hates--to remove the muffler choking me. But this is the social circle I've been given. Use it. Practice.
We slide from cartoons to Craig's ambition to create new animated stories, to movies using animation now, to science fiction movies, to books. I'm amazed to learn that Craig, (despite loving science, art and old cartoons) has trouble with science fiction.
"I tried the classics, like Asimov. Awful writing, flat characters--and he's an award winner! I did find one author I enjoyed, R.A. Lafferty... who's unknown. So much for readers' tastes...!"
I have to laugh. "Raphael Aloysius Lafferty is HARDLY unknown! Of course you preferred him. Everyone I know would say he's a hell of a lot more fun than Asimov, though I like the Foundation books when I read them--at age ten! They broke ground in their time: their value's historical."
But Craig's on a roll. "What is there, really, to write about space, beyond two facts?: it's dark and it's cold. I think when you say more than that, you're watering down the truth. What's HERE is so overwhelming and so in need of attention, it seems almost irresponsible to romanticize something that's basically empty." Suddenly all desire to argue vanishes. His image of science fiction as 'writing about empty space' is so narrow it has an antique Craiggy charm, like a high-gable house you'd find unlivable but would fight so save as a landmark. I feel absurdly protective. "Don't ever change, Craig." I wonder if this is what charms Tina too.
Tina, not knowing I've had a vision of Craig as a historic preserve, diplomatically pulls an electronic toy from a small drawer, effectively changing the subject. The little Casio keyboard wanders round the room as we each toot and beep away on its four nasal little voices. I play with it last--for a long time. Never touched one before. Fascinating despite the tinny tone. I could use one of these. Beep. Are there better models? Honk. I could play a variety of instruments at the push of a key. I know that with my ambi-clumsy coordination, I will never play more than one or two instruments well. Or zero. As the evening latens, I keep discreetly beeiping. Craig finally says "Please!" and takes it back; as a professional musician, he's really bothered by the cheap nasal tone. I decide to help wash up: Wayne and Linda are leaving early.
I warn Tina "I have too little experience with the conventions for the end of parties, so tell me when to go home. If Linda and Wayne heard a signal it went over my head."
Though she's amused, and clearly thinks I'm playing dumb, not telling her the exact truth, she says "Oh, I will. And, there wasn't."
Washing, she and Craig argue, mild but serious, about sharing the responsibility for the dinner. Tina say "Craig, you spent the same amount of time cooking, but your attention is always split--from the planning right through to the serving, I was stuck with the primary responsibility, and I think you take that for granted." I suspected that; as I suspected the truth of his reply: "But you worry more about the details out of choice; you want an elegance I don't aim for. You take THAT for granted." I'm caught between, not out of politeness, but because each just caught the other's character embarrassingly well.
I ask, "You sure you want me to witness this?"
"Well, yes." I'm surprised that this also rings true. They ask how I see it and I tell them. Gradually, we all wind down. Now I feel closure.
I climb down to my car in a pleasant misty rain, and drive home slow, thinking. I learned something important. I can function in polite company!--set limits to what I'll do and say without shutting down entirely. I was unsure. And before that, I was quite sure--that I couldn't.
But did I like it? Alien (and fascinating) not to be the pariah I was as a kid, not shy or uncouth. But was it fun-once, or a new way of being? "You have to get out, meet people" I nag myself. I need friends desperately, but will dinners like this lead me to the kind of people I need? I'm blank on this. On the other hand, their after-hours argument was oddly fun. But was it just the relief of familiar turf--pscyhology, gender politics? Or is that truly my forte, my taste? I ask my dreams to explore that, and go straight to sleep.
BLUH BLUH BLAM! What the hell? I wake to wheelbarrows crashing around the yard of the empty house next door. My dreams fly off like terrorized pigeons. Bearded grinning men are heaving TVs, washers, fridges into the dusty roomless interior. The inner walls are down--it's like a warehouse now. This isn't just remodeling! The Victorian facade is sealed with plywood--the street won't see the trove of appliances accreting. But people do come round to the back: the little bearded men built a parking lot back there overnight! Furtive suburbanites haggle, haul off (stolen?) microwaves and videorecorders. I hop the fence under the lemon's cover, dislodging one snailchewed fruit, and try to mingle. They even have little refreshment stands back here! Lumpia and Viet soup and Guangdong springrolls. I'm furious. They sneak a wholesaler's co-op down into the middle of my quiet street and expect me to put up with their noise and traffic and exhaust? I'll bust them. There are zoning laws!
I bike round the block to see the extent of the complex--and to find a cop. Fences to the north go on and on--no windows, no signs, no names. It's gigantic--are they so rich they're above the law? I come on three cops at last and ask them to follow me into the complex along a wiggling alley. For a few yards, it narrows as it goes right through a gigantic pipe. We walk inside. Rockable chairy things, shaped like hyperbolic saddles. It's like an alien dentist's waiting room. I drape myself over one--quite comfortable--and chat light with the cops. They're puzzled but follow my lead, sprawl on the padded racks. I think this is where new customers wait: the door to the speakeasy, so to speak. We speak easily, and rock. I say I generally like criminals and am angry at their portrayal on TV as always violent. "People I know who break the law are no worse than those who obey." They say my speech is a little unfair; actually the media do show criminals more humanly than most places, and American readily identify with many criminals as anarchist heroes.
A man strolls up, grunts "Hi," hitches the pipe to a truck and starts towing us into the heart of the complex. They monitored our talk, as I expected, and found us acceptable.
Then a sun rises.
It's not ours. Several times as broad to our eyes, seen right through our closed eyelids--the only way we save our sight at all--through the translucent gold of our tight lids we see things around us like X-rays, as if lit by the flash of a bomb, but the bone-silhouetting moment goes on and on. Feels like free fall, waiting to hit: I instinctively wait for the blast, for the end of the end of the world).
They brought us lightyears in a moment, to another sun one million times as luminous as our own, and we never felt a thing.
One of the cops, a tall blackhaired man, blinks as the truck jolts. Instantly the force of light hitting his retinas blasts him to dust. His ashes slip off the saddle like sand from a broken hourglass, and blows slowly away. We hang on, eyes squeezed, till we stop.
They take us inside a government complex for alien visitors and politely show us a suite. Our guide, a tall thin black woman in a loincloth of yellow and black stripy fur, straight out of Hollywood--says "your application for planetary membership in the Galactic Confederation will be considered tomorrow morning. Do not worry--you are a...cinch. Correct idiom?"
"Uh... yeah." I manage to grunt. One of us just died! What are these people?
But what can we do? We settle into our room. One of the two surviving cops is a lithe, longhaired Japanese-American woman I'm quite attracted to: we share a fascination with the alien technology of the room, and we run around trying buttons like kids. Beep. Pop. They don't do much but make funny noises. Maybe we get a little manic from the stress... She touches a circle and POOF!
She crumples. I cradle her. A horrible stir-fried pork smell. Her finger's charred. Electrocuted? No pulse I can feel. Her buddy pounds her chest--she doesn't revive. I try to work their comlines but the system stays dark. My panic, or is no one there to answer? Why didn't they warn us? Slowly I face it: we can't save her. They're not coming. She's dead.
And if she died from a poke and he died from a blink, we'll all go, one by one--and they said THIS place was BUILT to be safe for us! What chance'll we have in their daily world?
Her last partner and I sit awake all night on the beds, afraid to move. Finally I say "I'm making blue soup; that's the only thing I can think of to protect us." I pull out my eight-foot dongchen trombone, made from the horn of a Tibetan yak. The cop's eyes bug out. I admit, "It's big to carry in my pocket, but I never go anywhere without my yak." I plug the mouthpiece and pull a powder packet from my other pocket and brew if over a heater that we found before she..
He won't drink any. "Superstitions like that may wreck our changes to survive. I've read Vonnegut's 'Happy Birthday, Wanda June,' I know about blue soup! Cosmic love drug? We NEED to be suspicious!"
At dawn, I try again to convince him, but he growls "I need to be alert; that stuff's a mind-altering substance if I ever saw one. Loving everyone, trusting everyone! I consider myself on duty. Go ahead if you want to be a damn fool; but I think our critical intelligence is our only chance."
And in the morning our guide says "Sorry" about the girl on the floor, already turning into a mound of bluish fuzzy mold. "We didn't anticipate you would not know how to use a perflui." Didn't ANTICIPATE?
As we walk toward the Throne Room (they have a constitutional monarchy to my surprise) my last friend begins to look pale and blue. And bluer. And bluer. He begins to sprout. He collapses at the throne room door-iris, and becomes a huge blue pod of fuzz.
I wait to die, and don't.
The blue soup. But he wouldn't eat. Numbly I enter the hall. Hushed, glowing, empty, (they'd need no aides in the flesh, I guess). The throne's on a dais floating over us like a pyramid on its head. Spectacular--and intimidating as the throne room of Oz. I walk like the Scarecrow waiting for a spark. Small and meek.
"Greetings!" yells a little reddish man above me, and leaps five meters down the dais' face, flipping acrobatically to land beside me without a thump. "I am King Qregh," he says, formally patting my elbow, "and of course you've met Tsheena, Queen of the Jungle, our Galactic Ambassador." He's utterly unlike the tall dark crewcut woman beside me, who I assumed was typical of this people. He asks enthusiastically about our world, and when I bring up the deaths of my friends, he acts embarrassed--as embarrassed as a human caught picking his nose. "Can't expect us to predict alien needs and thinking of course." Call us aliens strengthens my suspicions--is this really an interspecies federation? Why do they treat star travelers as exotic, why are they so poorly prepared for us?
He wants to divert me with doggy enthusiasm but I persist. Finally I get the truth out of him. This is no galactic culture. There may be no galactic culture. This world had launched a few crude local probes like our Mariners when a starship of incomprehensible beings dropped by for a few hours, picnicked, took pictures, then disappeared--leaving a cartoon manual, "The How To Build Your Very Own Some Star Door!"...a translation their onboard computer clearly cranked out based on local TV phrases, in an idle hour while the passengers had lunch. This world might not have reached the stars for centuries; as a culture they didn't care that much about space.
We might have reached them first.
There's something lacking in them; I feel it but can't articulate it--till I hear a telepathic whisper in my sinuses. My sister Miriel, dreaming back on Earth, has picked up my upset as she sometime does, following my nervous journey in her sleep. She mutters to my dreamself "Chris, they're clever... and tasteful, and... no taste for novelty? Or... they won't risk bad taste in order to create. No SPARK."
"I love you!" I say, moved that she's with me in her dreams, that I'm not alone on this cold careless world. "Except," she adds vaguely, starting to fade out of REM, "those two."
"What two? Two what?" I call silently. "Oh, the king--and the leopard lady, a little..." and she's gone.
So I ask the King "Whose project WAS this--building the ships and starting a federation?"
"Mine and the Diplomat's" he says. Tsheena droops her eyelids. Her culture's nod? Yes. They alone. I can't believe it. I decide to risk it--their auras feel safe enough--I slide out of the hall in spirit, feel the people, the land, the world as a whole. Miriel was right. These two are alone. We're rare enough on Earth, but here...
A whole world of people without--fire!
I feel strange and know the mold is coming. I just can't live here. Do what I can: brew a new kettle of blue soup right their in the throneroom. King and Diplomat watch, fascinated. A few others wander in and out, glancing briefly, but they care for nothing uncouth. To them I'm an alien witch doctor. And my cauldron's too late! I start to become a fuzzy blue moss mass.
An aide whispers "It's that alien soup. You know that's a severed animal horn?"
"No good food's blue," quotes another. (I think "So this world says it, too.")
I know they're wrong about my soup--the mold is native, theirs, and the soup protects me. My friend died without it. I drink some now, and dare them to try it. Blue soup has fire in it, the fire they lack. I dare the King, who alone is wavering between his culture's snobbery and the novelty he needs. As the mold slowly creeps up me, the King drinks too.
The soup can't humanize me now; I'm too far gone. But it frees my spirit, lets me rise from the pool of fuzz my body's become, before the mold reaches my soul. In extremity, lost, looking down at my lost form, I summon the Gods to aid me, to heal the ruin of my life.
And I am answered.
The sky, a faint, formerly invisible shell, a glassy hothouse sheltering this muffled world, cracks open. I see wedges of the velvet darkness of real space now, and how the glass dimmed that sensuous black. "Cold and empty", hah! Blurred to liver spots before, the stars now gleam sharp colors. And then some start to grow. Those stars are eyes, burning. Nearing. Angels, translucent, slip through the cracks, rank and whirl around us. I stretch my arms to them, begging, miserable.
Wordless, they do their mission. From the blue burr that once was me, two nude brown bodies rise--New Adam and New Eve, who will give these people their allotted bearers of fire.
The couple's eyes awake--and see me. My spirit gapes, ashock. They can see souls! And then... they hide behind the stair. Are they ashamed for me to see them? Or ashamed of me? They came from my body! My more-than-children, rejecting me. World, friends, body, and now... Loss drills into me a fourth turn of the screw.
Well, now I understand God's hurt feelings in Eden, I guess.
And as they reject me too, I realize why I summoned the sacred spirits. While sacred power is coming through me, I can change one small facet of fate. Changing one thing, once, is all that's ever granted--if that. But the Bodhisattvas zooming round make me feel reckless in joy and grief--and feel the power freed during soul-flight, unencumbered by body. I whisper
Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
By your now unfiltered light
Grant the wish I wish tonight.
Silently I wish: "Me and the black-haired girl--give us our lives. I know I can't resurrect everyone, but--we deserve a chance together. I CAN'T BEAR TO BE ALONE ANY MORE."
And I am answered.
The wedge of open sky unfolds slice by slice like the silver pan behind a pizza gobbled by the spirit throng, and streams of stars, their gold blue red white now distinct, spike through.
God's face appears.
God is John Houseman. I loved him in "The Paper Chase." A lean old merciless professor. That impeccable suit! I feel so small...
God says, in that dry voice: "No. She stays dead. You stay alone. You may not change fate for your own sake. You work miracles for Me; I show myself to you. That is enough. More than most get. Now come. You have tasks to do for Me--on Earth."
And God and the world and the souls are gone, and I find myself standing on the starry void rolled out under me like an antique map of thick old rag paper, but wrinkled here and there by gravity... for this is no map, but the territory.
From my endless pocket I pull a wooden mirror frame, hourglass shaped, or perhaps it is Orion. I lay it out flat across the stars and flip it, end over end, patient, wearily, half a dozen times. Up here it seems only a few paces over the black, hopping the cream stream of a nebula like Alice jumping the brooks bounding squares of reality, through HER looking-glass... but my battered old Frame of Reference and I have moved three hundred lightyears below. Earth is in the hourglass now; I guess it's time. Down I go, into the flatness of the material world--part of the picture again.
But I never rebel. Never. He is so sure. What can I do? What will I do?
No. Wrong! Not can I, not what. How. It's come to how.
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