Read A Paradigm of Earth Online

Authors: Candas Jane Dorsey

Tags: #Science Fiction

A Paradigm of Earth

Dedicated to the memory of
F. Jack Dorsey
December 30, 1914–September 17, 1997
Jaclyn M. Dorsey
November 18, 1943–December 24, 1997
and to all those
who helped my heart on its refugee journey,
most especially and always my belovéd Timothy
Morgan isn’t ready for the aliens to arrive. Occam’s Razor has not yet cut deep enough. She must be pared to the minimum, and although she thinks her life is bleak now, there is much more that she can lose.
It is a conceit to think that the universe is preparing her specially, like a medieval saint, by these cruel trials, for her future role. The cosmos is random, and reaching for more randomness. She is thoroughly a part of it, and thus a part of its pains. The further truth: she is nothing special. Her value lies in her membership in the world.
Occam’s Razor is sharp. Morgan bleeds real human blood.
Morgan among the gargoyles
Every day Morgan moved among the living gargoyles.
Asam was seven. He had come for a new face. The surgeon would break his skull in half a hundred ways, would put him back in a shape his mother, thank goodness, wouldn’t recognize. His mother had lived with and loved that face everyone else feared. Now it was Morgan’s turn. Morgan held him in her arms, rocked him in the rocking chair.
“Will it hurt?”
“I think it will, Asam. Not during the operation, ’cause you’ll be asleep then. But after, it will hurt for quite a while.”
“I’m gonna be brave, I won’t cry. Big boys don’t cry.”
“Big boys do so cry. Crying is good for you. If somebody says big boys don’t cry, it’s just ’cause they’re scared of crying themselves. You cry all you need, okay?”
Pause. “Okay.” Pause. “Will I be pretty after the operation?”
“I don’t know. But you’ll look more like other people.”
“Will I still look scary?”
“No.” It was useless to say he wasn’t scary now. He knew what the kids in the hometown said. He knew the grimaces of adults on the street. He didn’t know that when his mother, who was the repository for all his trust, first saw him after birth, she was sick and screaming with horror and disbelief. After that she had loved him fiercely, protective but not overprotective. Her husband (he didn’t like to think of himself as the boy’s father; it frightened him. “Big boys don’t cry,” he’d told Asam when he’d moved out of Asam’s mother’s life) had reacted calmly, but left after four years of calm, fathered another, very healthy child on another, younger woman. His wife was pregnant when he’d left; that is probably why he went. Asam’s sister was a beautifully regular child, who loved her brother’s face. She would probably cry when he came home, not to know him any more. Asam’s half sister had never seen him. Her father didn’t want her frightened.
Morgan rocked his wrecked head against her shoulder, sang a lullaby. His perfect hands held her sleeve desperately, unconsciously. She was for that moment as good as his mother, and closer.
“Will I have bad dreams?”
“When I’m asleep for the operation.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Let’s ask the sleep doctor when he comes tomorrow. He’s called the anesthetist, really. Can you say that?”
His palate made it a struggle, but he managed a facsimile.
“Good for you. He’ll come tomorrow morning to see you and tell you what he does. When he comes, ask him about it. He’ll know.”
This boy had a tenderness and a strength which touched Morgan more than most. His mother had taught him a sturdy self reliance. He forgot his face, some days. He had even learned a smile, which those who didn’t know him would have found a horror. When Morgan saw it, her heart lifted with energy. She felt that despite the risks he must live. He is a survivor, like her.
Teaching the activities of daily living to the long-tine and the newly handicapped: twisted, ill-made, malformed, mutated, burned, scarred, maimed, shocked, blinded, deadened, they are relentless: so am I.
One after the other comes, is terrifying at first, becomes usual, familiar, beloved. Then the people in the streets look bloated, obscene, like dolls, with their wide blank eyes, flat features.
Have mercy on the untouched ones, with our lonely perfection. We are united here in thoughts of pain and triumph.
The cat Marbl watches with wide blank eyes as I sift the litterbox with the tiny plastic shovel, my hands efficient, terrifyingly so after the hands of my loved ones; my skin moving like, better than, the supple pink plastic covering the microcircuitry of their prostheses. I dream of maimed kittens, clawless, pawless, hunchbacked, gargoyles, all needing to be taught how to scratch and shit, lick and purr, crunch and leap.
Today Asam, my newest patient, arrived, a gargoyle child, a rarity (“which Klaus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me”?) in this day of repairable birth defects, seven years old, brought by his mother a thousand miles to this: O my heart. I had already loved him astonishingly as soon as I read his chart; after I met him I went away and vomited privately, in atonement for my smooth skin, my fine bones. Guilt is the friend of all we selfless, unscarred ones. A calm home with the perfect and beautiful is all the self-indulgence I allow myself. I don’t work with animals, teaching them to scratch, I said to myself—and remembered the dream, while I was heaving and puking up nothing.
“It’s not as if we’re the first lovers to part,” said Vik, putting a comforting hand on Morgan’s shoulder. Morgan didn’t turn. She would like to have continued the habit of receiving comfort from Vik, but the decision they had just made removed that option. She found a small apartment that day, moved the next, stored her boxes and big furniture, set up a barren and functional campsite in the small high-rise rooms. Said goodbye to the house and yard, the trees and flowers she had planted, the stained-glass window in the stairwell, the things she and Vik had bought together which she is leaving as she leaves Vik. Said goodbye to Vik.
“Will we see each other again?” Vik asked in a moment of nostalgia, as they hugged, remembering how it had been better.
“I don’t know,” said Morgan, remembering that they are not the first lovers to part.
The night shift was coming on, chattering over report while Morgan read aloud to them the letters to the editor. “Listen to this,” she said to Penelope. “‘If impressionable young men and women are exposed to these unnatural pleasures before they have had the opportunity to make a commitment to a spouse and family, society risks losing any chance to reproduce itself.’” The debate was over a proposed law to make twenty-five the legal age of consent for same-sex sexual activity. The bill had received first reading.
Penelope laughed. “As if that will do it!” Pen’s mother was a lesbian and Pen was a member of ChoQ (Children of Queers).
“What’s wrong with that?” said Jo-anne as she shrugged into her uniform jacket and looped her stethoscope around her neck. She was an LPN but she liked to look like a nurse, so she wore the same style of fatigues as the nurses did, but in white.
Morgan laughed, then she saw that Jo-anne wasn’t joking. “Do you really think …”
“I can see why
wouldn’t agree,” said Jo-anne. “You people can’t have children, so you recruit them.”
Penelope guffawed. “I wish my mom could hear you.”
Jo-anne looked hurt. “Say what you like,” she said, “but it’s not natural.”
Morgan went home and looked at her empty apartment, no pictures on the walls. Only the day before, she had taken the accumulated journals from her early adulthood and presided personally over their shredding. If anything wasn’t natural, it was bric-a-brac. She preferred her life undecorated at the moment, she thought. Be careful what you wish for, the Universe said quietly.
Morgan was unable to suppress her relentless intelligence even though her father was dying. Convincing the others to go down for food, out for a walk, she sat holding his hand, noting every detail of the machinery of living to which they had him connected. Or, in this case, as she well knew but her mother tried hard not to believe, the machinery of death.
Morgan’s profession for many years had taken her into rooms like this, and she was grateful for small differences—though her father could no longer talk, he awakened enough to clasp his hand around hers, her brother’s, or her mother’s. For now, that kept him immediate, and so she could not think of him as a case study. Much as she feared his dying, she was stuck with it.
The next day Morgan went over to Personnel, in the main building of the hospital, to re-arrange her tithes and beneficiaries.
“Constance Morgan Shelby. Okay, here you are. Beneficiary Vik Pearce,” said the clerk. “You’ll be removing him from your insurance
your tithes?”
“Her. Yes.”
“Her? You had a same-sex beneficiary?” The woman’s gaze sharpened. Her “Contented Employee” button identified her as “Chelsea”.
“Yeah, so?”
“You’re the last one, then,” said Chelsea, putting on her bifocals to squint at the computer screen. “I hate these things,” she said. “I used to have contacts, but I can’t afford bifocal contacts. They make the bottoms heavier so they stay in your eyes the right way up, you know.”
“Have they de-insured them too?”
“Yeah. I’m going to tithe for them, but it takes time. I’m still paying off the dental surgery I had. Who’s your new beneficiary?”
“Put down my brother Robyn for now.” Morgan spelled his name.
“What about the tithe?”
“Direct it to savings. Did you know
means one-tenth?”
Chelsea laughed, an astonishingly loud snorting bray that made her co-workers in the open office smile: they’d obviously heard it before. “One-
That’s more like what’s left over! Really?”
“Yeah, it’s old English. There was even a deal where ten people used to live in the same place and be equally responsible for upkeep and behavior.”
“Like a co-op? My parents lived in co-op housing.”
“I guess.”
Chelsea was still filling in the blanks on the database. “You broke up, huh?”
“She getting married?”
“Most of the other same-sexes, they’re all getting married now. It’s not easy being, you know …”
“Geez, I haven’t heard that in ages. Everybody says
that way
around here!”
Morgan grinned. “And you? Are you a friend of Dorothy’s?”
Chelsea had barrettes in her greying hair. Morgan was teasing her, but to Morgan’s surprise Chelsea blushed. “That’s even older,” she said. “My mom used to say that. Yeah, I used to be, but I sold Dorothy down the river about three years ago. I can’t afford to take tea with Dorothy any more, the way things are.”
“I’m sorry,” said Morgan. “Anything I can do?”
“Nah, I’m dating a guy from Supply and Services. It’s all right. It’s bearable. I got the promotion. I’ll be in an office with walls next week.”
“Worth it?”
“No,” said Chelsea, “but I was getting too old for the bar scene anyway, and I couldn’t go to the Community Center, the surveillance would have told my boss. So …”
Morgan nodded. “Well, ‘Dorothy’ and I split up, yeah, but she’s not getting married. She’s just getting out. I always could date anybody, but … I’m not dating right now. My dad’s in hospital …”
“Mine died last year,” said Chelsea. “It’s rough. That why your folks aren’t on the beneficiary line?”
“Guess so … . Oh, well, never mind.”
“Had a friend used to say that, when I was a kid. I’d forgotten. You been asleep for twenty years or something, you know all the old ones?”
It felt like it, but Morgan smiled. “Nah, just resting my eyes,” and was rewarded with another snort of laughter.
“You’re cute,” said Chelsea. “Too bad I gave it up.”
“It is too bad,” said Morgan, “but you gotta live in this world, right?”
“Too right,” said Chelsea. “There, I changed it so they can’t go back and find Vik. Safer that way, these days, don’t you think?”
“You can
that?” said Morgan, impressed.
“I was quite a computer geek in my youth,” said Chelsea. “Why do you think I’m getting promoted?”
“Well,” said Morgan, “have a good life.”
“Yeah, you too. And if you ever see me again, ignore me.” Chelsea was smiling, but she meant it.
“That dangerous, huh?”
“I work in a government office,” said Chelsea. “You bet.”
“Good luck,” said Morgan. She probably should have been bitter about the woman’s naked sell-out, but she only wished her well. Hard times required hard solutions.
Morgan thought of her father as the sort of person others called “a sweet guy”. Devoted to his family, kind, gentle, he worked all his life to ensure the comfort of his beloved wife, his daughter and son. Against her will, Morgan loved him dearly: against her will, because his sweetness seemed to her a parody of himself, of what he could have been if his wit, his grace had been in the service of something more than suburban life.
He coulda been
she mocks herself, but even as he lies dying, consumed with the rebellion of his immature cells, she is impatient with his choices.
The resident reading the chart was new to the case. “He was a businessman?”
“Yes,” said Morgan. “And he was in service clubs, and volunteered at the AIDS Network, and coached soccer.”

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