Issue 126, Spring 1993
A rising sound can pass the point where a sleeper may incorporate it into his dream yet still fall short of being recognized. At this instant the sleeper imagines he can still go either way: his effort might be toward waking and recognition or toward a new dream into which the rising sound will disappear.
The Voortrekker Spa outside Johannesburg has its own station. Rueger saw it and the Spa grounds from a bend in the track as his train was pulling in. A glimpse that spoke to this troubled man of the future, of serenity, of utter freedom from what surrounds you. For the Spa does no blending in. It is not constructed out of the stone or wood of the region. It appears to be made entirely out of glass, ivory and the vitality drained from the dry, brown hills beyond it. When the sun goes behind a cloud and light on the reflecting pools is cut off, the radiance of the archways, roofs and walls seems to linger. Rueger felt different already, expectant, as if this radiance itself offered relief from his condition, as if this Spa light with a life of its own was somehow the cure for a lifelong sense of foreboding,that vague troubledness haunting him and seemingly everyone else he grew up with —a condition lingering with them all since childhood that no parent, no doctor, could trace to its source. Eventually, the lucky ones found their way to the Spa.
Rueger was shown to his room. On the writing desk was a room service menu and a schedule of classes. It was disconcerting to find so many advanced programs introduced right at the start. He had never been much of a student.
For The Little Ones
1. Walking Mantras.
2. Patience and Play (tantrum conversion in relationships and sports).
3. Growing up among Aliens.
4. Fidgeting, Interrupting and the Nap Response.
5. The Chosen Children (reading Scripture).
1. Primacy (“Whatever is, is right”).
2. Retarding the earth’s pull (Nautilus training).
4. Reading Scripture (Tribes of Israel, Tower of Babel).
5. Berkeley, Hume and Nietzsche (“You must be nothing other than what you are. Yet what you are is every thing that is.”).
6. Alien Life. Immunization. Centering.
7. The Brain: two hemispheres, two poles and a core (“To thine own self be true.”).
8. Imaging: mental harmony over error and discord.
9. Abstinence from ageing. Abstinence from fear. Hormonal Obedience.
10. Right and Wrong, Ours and Theirs vs. ISNESS.
A sliding glass wall and a plot of emerald grass separated Rueger from the noise of some bathers at a distant swimming pool. Its far rim was recessed into a towering polished curve cut into a hill of dark granite. The water was so luminous that waist high bathers moved in front of the black stone like figures wading through light, the dark of night seemingly behind them. Rueger sat down beside the glass and tried to puzzle out the Advanced listings. It wasn’t long before he put them aside. They would have to be explained.
They were miles from the sea, but the Spa grounds beyond the pool (the trim, leafy terraces, the ponds, the cricket field)had that burnished look associated with the fierce, purifying winds at the shore. It was now late afternoon, and there were shadows, but Rueger’s eyes didn’t narrow when he came to them. He eased back into his chair and looked at the view without trying to read it. This was brand new. Where was that hazy sense of something out there waiting, that steady presence unseen and ungathered together? Always, there had been a steady drifting off from the work or play at hand toward the empty spaces beyond. The eyes not wandering, checking.But now, here, he leisurely considered the moon, faint as a watermark on a sheet of blue paper; it would be dark soon.Night. Rueger welcomed it as the explorer marks his first evening in a new world.
Wrapped in towels, a group hurried toward him from the pool. There were some vaguely familiar faces —all suntanned and smiling. He decided they had to be sons and daughters of people he worked with on the floor of the Diamond Exchange.Suddenly he realized they were in fact his colleagues. Clear faces free of the condition. His peers with light limbs and light tread. His peers. Unencumbered.
He wandered through the halls until the dinner hour. The spiraling corridors of glass and the great gliding reflections on the floors and ceilings reminded him of the Cape Town Aquarium, but here it was solely the action of people and clouds. Remote and wise, in cotton of the purest white. Spa personnel floated by in the dusk.
They were all coming from the dining hall that first night when the lights suddenly dimmed down low. Talking stopped,and the strollers in the corridor parted quietly to form an open lane down the center. No one appeared to mind the disruption. Even the youngest child waited with a calm that approached drowsiness.
Five men and five women, close together, moving fast without rushing, came down the open lane like a private train on a cleared track. The ten original Elders, founders of the Spa.They were dressed a little like Roman senators. The light was dim, but Rueger, for an instant, saw their faces clearly. Despite the trailing spiritual quality of their passage, what he felt was envy. Envy of whatever made them so unto themselves, so. . . exempt. They were to their surroundings what the Spa architecture was to its. Then and there Rueger decided not to go back to his old life without that immunity for himself.
He was willing to work for it. He took every class open to him; never staying in the back in order to coast through Centering, Bible study. Primacy, or Imaging, and he kept to his room until his homework was done. There was much he didn’t understand, but his steady, simple faith in the Elders was enough to ease his mind. It bothered him a little that he couldn’t debate this point or that with the others, but he was singled out by the Elders for his willingness, his gratitude, and the praise carried him through. Weeks went flying by. Rueger called his office at the Diamond Exchange and demanded an extension of his leave.
Three weeks before graduation Rueger left a group at pool side and, without a word, struck out toward the hills. He had never been alone in a rural area before, so it was perfect for testing his new skills. Without fully knowing why, he felt confident —armed, in fact —like some sort of futuristic samurai.
The land between Johannesburg and the Spa is a treeless rolling dust bowl suffering from the sun and wind. A few sheltering hillsides are used by the Ndebele tribesmen still allowed to sharecrop. Rueger was approaching one such farm.The farmhouse was a rectangle of packing crates roofed with corrugated sheet metal. There was a small courtyard in front with a low mud wall once vivid with geometric, Ndebele designs. In the afternoon sunlight, against the din brown hills swept clean by the wind, the farmhouse had color and distinctness that would be lost in another setting.
Except for the elder daughter in the house, the family was well away in the landowner’s potato field. She worked in the house because she was not mobile enough for the outside. The weight and smallness of her iindzilas (the gleaming stacks of brass rings fitted permanently around the ankles, wrists and neck) had caused the deformation of her collarbones and bad swelling in her forearms and upper calves. Late growth and weight gain had caused her first discomfort then pain and near immobility. Over the swollen areas her skin was stretched thin to a lighter brown too tender to rub, but sometimes she could hold her palms against the sides and steady them. Otherwise she was comfortable in a big house dress of deep blue and green, high top tennis shoes and a short coral red blanket over one shoulder. Busy with her cleaning, she glanced up and vaguely saw Rueger on the path. She looked down, sure that he would pass on by like all the others. When she glanced up again he was at the window staring in.
Rueger had advanced through the hills bringing them low one at a time. For weeks he had known little but Spa white,so the hills, sky and sun took on the dazing boldness of old Technicolor. Somehow everything looked quite up close and distinct without losing its distance: pictures that rushed forward to him while seeming unable to move.
At the edge of the first valley he had remembered to stop and establish inner sovereignty, and there was heat and light to account for too. What a relief to know now you didn’t actually have to understand —just remember the formula and enjoy the results. He knelt, forming at the base of his spine the Delta of Psychic Estuaries. There was the inevitable moment of distress when his nervous system purged itself, then he was calm through and through. Pure, impervious calm. How different and new everything was after. How casually he noted things in passing: sun above, hills below, the shadows between the hills on their quiet way across the valley and something of color set on a hillside ahead, as large and curious to him as apiece of municipal sculpture. A great bird went soundlessly by over head, dipping as it approached the object on the hill, then continuing on like a seamless insert from an animated film.How hot this valley must be, Rueger thought.
Ignoring the path to the farmhouse door, Rueger crossed the courtyard and vegetable garden to a window as if inspecting a life size exhibit on display. There was a female alien inside.
Rueger stood at the window and looked at her and realized the Elders had been right about the source of his condition.But all those years, how could he not have known? According to the Elders, that was simple. Suppose, just suppose, you lived on a tiny island where you were never out of sight of the sea. And suppose you were born hydrophobic —wasn’t it just possible to never realize that it is the water that s bothering you? Under those conditions wouldn’t it seem as if you were just chronically out of sorts, on edge all the time, with no particular cause? And if you never left the island you would never know the feeling of being land safe. Rueger had to admit that in his country you were never free of aliens, really: they had been out there, not far, a constant presence, all his life.
The Elders had made another thing clear. That, in a way, he had known all along: in the way that you can carry some thing around a long time without opening it up. You left it unopened if you suspected you wouldn’t want to live with what was inside: like the island man who couldn’t afford water to be the problem. The Elders pointed out that in Rueger’s homeland, if you knew that aliens made you sick, you felt worse than you did when you weren’t sure.
Unless you had dominion. The lighting could have been better. Rueger put his head farther inside the farmhouse window to help adjustment to the dark; he was feeling very calm and a little curious. Outside behind him on the dry wind the great, rasping insects of the veldt were faintly coming and going, but in the room it was still and silent and cool. There were some smells, not unpleasant, but Rueger couldn’t place them .. . he seemed to become aware of them in a moment other than the moment he smelled them. Not that things were slowing down exactly, rather it seemed that there had been a split into two times, one running near by the other, and that in turn had split actions in two: one part happening in one time and finishing in the other. But the times were not running far apart at all and the effect was not unpleasant. After all, Rueger decided, this new self of his was still fragile, it had never been outside before.
There wasn’t much to see, except her. Rueger appreciated that she stood very still, cooperating. Her stacks of rings interested him the most. He could see how they were used like collars at the ankles and wrists to retain some traditional alien shape with all its ins and outs, bulges and elongations like the neck. Well, they wanted to hold on to their original shape, he could understand that, the shape as it once was way, way back:that tribal anatomy they brought with them when they came.
Everything seemed to be going just fine. Rueger felt wonderful—or rather, he felt nothing, and that was wonderful. But standing at a window was no test. He would have to go inside.
She had not moved from beside the table or let the cloth go from her hand. Inside, Rueger was reminded of an empty tool shed he had played in as a child. On a whim he put his hands out before him to look at them. It was happening again.
Sometimes he felt a little detached — in the Spa dining hall,say. He would sit and look down at the busy hands in front of him as if they were someone else’s, as if that someone was reaching around him to feed him or even reaching through him to get at his food. Sometimes it went on until Rueger felt almost like a sleeve (but then he knew he was going through a necessary change). And just now he felt that other self active again; he felt it reach through him easily and over to her. At this the alien’s eyes went shut.
Rueger’s hand on her shoulder touched the blue fabric, and while the hand was there his thumb slid over to the brass ring sand followed them down under her dress top, finding the edge of her collarbone. He ran the pad of his thumb gently back and forth along the ridge as if to measure the length. But pan of the bone dipped underneath the rings out of reach—well,he knew there would be nothing normal about it.
He went on for a while . . . satisfying his curiosity here and there. . . testing his immunity this way and that in the manner of the island man newly able to face the shore, then able to draw close to the sea, now suddenly ready to march straight into the water. And while it lasted she stayed very still, standing so still on those legs until he was all through and gone from her house.
Back on the path, the heat was as stifling as the exhaust from an overheated machine, but it felt pleasant on Rueger’s face.It was wonderfully clear now that he was close to a cure. He felt almost complete within himself. And wouldn't he have his new self to take with him wherever he might go?
Life after the Spa was fine —well, better. Almost unencumbered. His nerves were gone, so he felt he really had no complaint. But still, something was not quite right, something was missing that other graduates seemed to have taken with them from the Spa. But what? Rueger knew it was ungrateful to feel cheated, but there it was.
His work in the diamond industry had a reassuring flatness that bothered him only now and then. He was less prone now to hold a new stone up to the light or be drawn down to the Exchange between conferences (the bidding floor reminded him now of sitting too close to the screen at the movies). But,unexpectedly, the new Rueger was more a financial success than the old. Despite a listlessness seeping into work mediocre to begin with, promotions came to him ahead of schedule. It wasn’t his record on the Exchange so much as his calm, his unfazed, reassuring calm. Through a routine of frantic price wars, boardroom theatricality and foreign economic sanctions,Rueger sauntered unperturbed. Those who had not been at the Spa referred to the phenomenon as “Rueger and his secret compass,” and he was taken increasingly for a sage.
Not that he needed to unwind, but often Rueger would go for a drive after work. Long drives, with the silent town and the silent country moving past him as if on the current of some enormous river. There was talk of land mines out on the din roads, but Rueger’s calm didn’t permit him to dwell on it.Then an odd thing happened not more than a half dozen blocks from the financial district. He was on a side street leading to a lovely park side boulevard. There ahead was the green expanse of the park and beyond that the colored lights of a shopping mall visible in the dusk. By the bus stop at the intersection ahead two small alien children were crouched by the side of the road. Nothing odd about them waiting for a bus there, Rueger thought, so many of the small ones were used as runners or towel boys in the health clubs downtown.Both would have proper identification. And how presentable they looked: clean, pressed shorts, suit coats, white, white shirts and the short brim caps (whenever Rueger saw a young alien dressed like this his first thought was that a terrible accident, a disfigurement, had happened to a European child).No, it was their posture, their crouching, that seemed out of place.
Rueger looked beyond, past the park to how the brightening lights of the mall came forward within the overarching field of the sunset. When he looked down again, an alien child was standing directly ahead with a brick in its hand. The other one was stepping off the sidewalk. Rueger tooted his horn. He slowed, forming in his mind how best to point out to such a child that it had picked too large a brick to throw properly.The sight of the first child was obliterated when the brick hit the windshield. The head of the second child appeared in the open window on the passenger side, and then a hint of something coming through the air. The second brick caught Rueger on the side of his face and ear, dazing and deafening him like a plunge under water.
Rueger crossed the park side boulevard, the curb and soon was bowling across the grass toward the mall. Through his good ear he could hear the lush broadcast of pop tunes along the pedestrian walkway ahead. For some reason the car was locked into one speed, and he was quickly running out of park.All was blind ahead, but to either side he could see from the in coming edges of the mall front that the walkway wasn’t far.Then it occurred to him to use the steering wheel, and the long bright carnival length of department stores swung broadly in along his right side and then fell away. Rueger put his head out of the window and found the breeze fresh and silent on his battered face. He continued on this way, reminded pleasantly of his boyhood driving experiences when his father would let him reach over to steer. Benches, trees, a vendor pushing home his can sailed calmly by; a brick walk passed as an instant of color under his wheels; he rounded a pond. There was that plunge under water feeling, the grainy imprint of the brick end and a memory of the thick, blanking moment of the blow. . . otherwise he was fine, almost happy. The sheer novelty of it was so bracing, so welcome, that Rueger was alerted to what had been missing in his life.
On the highway home his ear began to throb, and he resorted to the advanced Spa programs for pain. After, as he drove he looked at the blood on his shirt, the glass and broken brick on the seat beside him —was it something to do with wounds that had been missing —the whole excitement of wounds and of wounding? Rueger sensed he was on the right track.
He began to vary his routine after work: going on foot in areas where he used to drive, mixing with crowds defiantly gathered together and lingering alone in places where he might encounter just about anyone. Slowly, carefully, he erected new pleasures on his stabile plane of flatness at the Exchange. And in this emerging double life Rueger felt himself taking fuller possession of his soul. He was far happier than before —that was clear —and the condition was gone.And yet he still felt a little confused, a little shortchanged. He knew there was more to be had.