Note To My Self
There’s really no one else to write to. I know what today is. I don’t know what tomorrow is. I wonder what is presently taking place on Earth following the Grace raising their hand and saying they’re here. Perhaps there has been some sort of unification down below, all huddled together against the unknown. Or perhaps it’s just chaos. I’ve seen it go in both directions. And quite frankly I’ve never been able to determine why it falls one way on one particular day and another way on some other particular day. Humans are like dead leaves. So susceptible, so easily moved, and at the same time so inclined to stay at rest if not individually disturbed. I suppose I’ll find out. Well, I think I will. Actually, I’m not entirely assured of that.
I know what I’ve prevented, but I don’t know what I’ve orchestrated in its place. I don’t know if I’ve saved something from death or merely consigned it to enslavement. I’d like to think that I just nudged things in a particular direction. For the better. I was just winging it after all.
No, you did more than nudge. You chose. You made.
I have no idea how things are going to go. Is this the beginning or the beginning of the end? I don’t know if I’ve coaxed down enlightenment from a far-off place or unloosed the giant grasshoppers upon the cardboard buildings of downtown Chicago. Except they’re not cardboard, of course. And they’re not just grasshoppers either. I do know, though, that no matter what happens next, I can live with it. And the reason why I know I can live with it, is because there is no alternative.
This time it was they who had called Alvin to have a meeting. As he entered Taus’s office he saw Parma Das physically present and occupying the same chair she had previously. Taus, as was the norm, was there behind his desk in Rip Torn hologram form.
Alvin sat in the small chair before the two of them. Beside him was a little table with a box and a glass of some beverage. “Is this for me?” he asked, noting the glass.
“Yes,” Taus said pleasantly. “And the box too. You’ll need that when you go to Earth.”
“What does it do?”
“It holds things. It’s a box. You need what’s inside, which is four hundred and eighty-three ten-dollar bills.”
Alvin took note of the box. “Okay,” he said, then turned back to Taus, remaining expectant and silent, hands together, his body leaning forward toward them. He waited for either one of them to say something but nothing was forthcoming. “So, I can go?” he asked. “Are we done?”
“In a bit,” said Parma Das.
“Alvin,” Taus started, then took a deeper breath and tapped the desk with his fingers. “I didn’t mean what I said the other day. About, you know.”
Alvin nodded. “Well…okay…that’s good to know.” He rested his back against the chair. His hands were still together but he bounced their conjoined fist off his thigh so as to appear nonchalant and relaxed.
“Taus needed you to cooperate for the final session with Dora One,” Parma Das said.
“Just needed to get you to come around,” said Taus. “Know what I mean?”
Alvin took that in, considered it the best thing either of them was going to come up with in terms of an apology for threatening to kill him, and chose to move on. “Okay,” he said. He looked back at the box. “Four hundred and eighty-three ten-dollar bills?”
“Any reason you picked that amount?”
“Seemed like a nice round number. Should be enough for you to buy food or whatever you need.”
“Four hundred and eighty-three is a round number?”
“It is to us.”
There was a stiff silence. Alvin made a circular motion with both hands towards Taus, indicating he was aware there was something else forthcoming and if Taus could get on with it, that would be great. “What?”
“Once we get through the first few initial stages of this plan of yours, Alvin, we feel that it’s only fair to give you back your freedom and return you to Earth. We’ve discussed this at length. Now, we’re fully aware that when you return to Earth, there could be difficulties starting over again. And so—and we’ve discussed this, you know, even with the Nadrum—we’d be willing to support you with whatever you need to sustain yourself, financially speaking, as well as set you down wherever you might like to live. If you want to return to the city you were living in, that would be fine, or maybe live somewhere very different, like Hawaii. Wherever you like is fine, and as I said, we’ll make sure you’re taken care of financially.”
“With boxes of counterfeit ten-dollar bills?” Alvin asked.
“Yeah. Why not? They’re really good.”
“Yes, so I heard. Um, how much financial support are we talking about?”
“Oh, I thought we’d leave that up to you to decide. What, for example, do you think you’d need on a monthly basis?”
“Um, hard to say for sure. How much can you print?”
“Well, it’s not like we have unlimited resources. But to pick a round number—for you anyway—how about ten thousand dollars a month?”
“Yeah, that would be okay, probably.”
“Okay, so, that’s out of the way. That still leaves the question of where do you want to be? Pick a place, any place at all, as long as it’s a place that accepts American currency.”
Alvin didn’t respond. His eyes drifted back and forth between the two other people, sometimes stopping in between them and not focusing on anything in particular.
Parma Das leaned forward. “Where do you want to go, Alvin?” He still didn’t respond. Her annoyance at this inexplicable silence grew quickly. “Alvin,” she called with a louder voice, “what do you want?”
“I want Cathy,” he said.
Parma Das eased back in her chair. She looked to her husband. This was not entirely unexpected but also not the desired answer, and the two of them, simply with a gaze to the other, conveyed they were in agreement on this.
She was not harsh in her response to Alvin. She merely attempted to inform for his benefit. “She can’t love you, Alvin. She wouldn’t know how.”
Alvin had no immediate response. But he managed to force out, “You don’t know that.”
“I think I do,” she said.
“She loves music. She loves books,” Alvin said.
“She likes music. She likes books. She likes that which pleases and makes her better,” Parma Das replied. “Love is beyond her capacity.”
Alvin took this in. He felt both trapped by the argument, and at the same time defiantly free to assess it as both conjecture and irrelevance.
“You can’t grow old together,” Taus said. “You’ll grow old, and she won’t.”
Taus gave him a moment to let that sink in. “Have you thought about that?” he asked. When there was no reply, he added, “If you haven’t yet considered that, perhaps you should now.”
Alvin didn’t respond only because he didn’t have to. He was not in a courtroom, he was not on trial, he didn’t have to pose a logical counter-argument. All he said was, “You asked me what I wanted. I’ve told you.”
Taus and Parma Das exchanged glances again. Taus tilted his head in a sign of begrudged acquiescence. “Alvin, you’re at liberty to pursue the course you wish. I’m unsure how this…relationship…might…what?” he asked, turning to his wife.
“Blossom,” inserted Parma Das.
“But Cathy is Grace,” Taus continued. “You understand that, right? It doesn’t matter that she looks like you, or acts like you, she is nonetheless a part of us—here. Her role and her duty is with us.”
“She’s not a servant,” Alvin said.
“No, no, she is not a servant. She is a member of the group. A permanent member. And if it’s your intent to pursue this particular course, then you need to be as well. Is that understood?”
Alvin considered it. “So, I have to live in Wyoming?”
“Pretty much, or here on board the ship. ”
“I don’t want to live in Wyoming.”
“Life is tough and filled with undesirable options, Alvin. Also, how bad can Wyoming be?”
“Far worse than Hawaii.”
“I’m sure it will be fine. It was your recommendation after all. Let’s move on.” He gestured to Parma Das. She picked up three small objects from a table behind her and walked toward Alvin.
She had a small clothlike pad in one hand and a tablet in the other. Within the pad was either a pen or a knife, but Alvin wasn’t able to tell which it was as she approached. She placed the pad against Alvin’s head under his right ear, then took the implement in her right hand.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Just be still.”
The process took just eight seconds. And when it was over, a rush of cool air went through his head like a breeze through a shotgun house. And then, just as quickly, everything within him felt just as normal as before.
“What was that?” Alvin asked.
“Dora One has been disengaged,” Parma Das said.
Vaka, Parma Das, and Taus—the actual giant Taus and not the shorter Rip Torn version—walked Alvin and Cathy to the transporter. The group stopped at the door.
“Lae mesh?” Taus asked, looking down at Alvin.
“Are you all set? Are you ready? Are you prepared? Are you emotionally calm?” Vaka translated.
Alvin’s first instinct was to nod to Vaka and say ‘All set’ but instead looked at Taus and just gave a thumbs-up.
“Do you have your money?” asked Parma Das.
Cathy patted the bag that hung from her shoulder. “Right here.”
Parma Das nodded but continued to look at Cathy. “Do you ever tuck in your shirt?”
“Oh,” said Cathy, and she started tucking in haphazardly around the encumberment of the bag hanging at her waist.
“I don’t really care,” said Parma Das with her customary frown. “I was just wondering.”
Cathy stopped. “Oh. Yes, sometimes,” she said, then considered it further. “Once.”
Parma Das nodded, offering nothing other than, “Mm hm,” which was more of an utterance to herself. Then from out of a pocket of her gown she took an object. She held it unrevealed in her fist. She held it out to Cathy, who opened her two hands to receive it. And there Parma Das placed it.
It was a smooth silver disk, an inch and a half across. Cathy looked at it silently, but in awe, like it was a beautiful and ancient rare coin, stunned that she held such a thing in her hand, and joyed that she did. Because she knew what it was.
“What is that?” Alvin asked Cathy.
“It’s…it’s my…I mean…it’s my JM-4’s application cell.” She looked to Parma Das with a questioning yet appreciative expression. “And there’s only one.”
“Yes,” said Parma Das. “And now you have it. I have the controller. You may keep the cell. Or do with it what you want. As long as the two are not connected together, no one can turn you, you know, off.”
“Yes, I know,” Cathy said, but then more hesitantly added, “And so…”
“You’re at liberty to be Cathy, and no one else. Forever.” She then quickly added, “Unless you want to be someone else.”
“No thank you,” Cathy responded without needed thought. “I’m fine with me.”
“Mm hm,” said Parma Das, glancing aside and again kind of just talking to herself, “Yeah, I thought so.”
Alvin had an epiphany watching this exchange and it was ‘Good Lord, this person is actually uncomfortable being nice.’
It was not in her position to move things along given who she was with, but Vaka was feeling like a fifth wheel being relegated to peanut gallery audience member of this heart-warming generous joy parade, and so brightly jumped in with, “Ready to go?”
No one objected.
“Good luck,” Parma Das said to Alvin.
“Thank you,” he said and held out his hand.
She didn’t understand the point of that and had to observe the extended hand and think about it for a moment. “You’re welcome,” she said, shaking his comparatively little hand in hers.
“Yissen tumetra vux pash tor,” said Taus to both Cathy and Alvin.
“Good luck to you both and be well,” said Vaka.
“Thank you,” Alvin said and nodded to Taus, then also extended his hand which Taus shook.
Parma Das looked down at Cathy. Way down. Way down at this little thing she had created. “Metsess suke?” she asked in a soft voice. “Metsess suke pota mea proso?”
“Ji,” Cathy said.
Alvin turned to Vaka expecting a translation, but none was forthcoming. And he realized none was forthcoming because this was something private and none of his business.
“Vu oc buhn?” said Parma Das.
“Ji,” said Cathy, without hesitation.
Parma Das nodded. “Hente ba, unde tau pashol.”
Cathy smiled. “Mes nea vu.” And she moved to Parma Das and hugged her. And Parma Das hugged her back. And as Cathy released her arms from Parma Das’s waist, Parma Das continued to hold onto Cathy for just a little bit longer. And when they separated, Parma Das, not wanting to let go, still held Cathy’s shoulders in each of her hands, and looked down upon her. And she smiled. And it was the first time Cathy had ever seen her smile.
“Time to go. Chop-chop,” said Vaka.
Parma Das’s smile evaporated as she now looked at Alvin. And she said to him, “Tau yissen de ilen, hin zie virr molt vu.”
Alvin looked to Vaka for a translation.
“You don’t want to know,” Vaka said.
Alvin and Cathy entered the transporter room and the door shut behind them. They entered the camper. Cathy began the undertaking of setting switches. “Three minutes,” she said after she had completed the necessary requirements. “Let’s sit on the bed,” she suggested. And they did, on the edge, beside each other, just a hand’s width apart.
“Um, what did Parma Das say to me just a moment ago?” Alvin asked.
“Oh, nothing. Just a thing. A Grace thing. You know, a traditional thing, like, have a good trip.”
“The look on her face didn’t really go with ‘have a good trip.’”
“Well, she’s funny that way.”
“What did she actually say?”
Cathy had to think about this one for a moment. The end result of her thought process was that it was more important be honest with Alvin than to not be honest with Alvin. And therefore, having arrived at a logical perspective, had no problem with telling him. “She said, ‘Be good to her, or I will kill you.’”
“Ah,” said Alvin. “Okay…good to know.”
Both looked straight ahead to the opposite end of the camper as the countdown continued.
“Where are we going first?” Cathy asked brightly.
“I have to see Rika,” Alvin said.
Her brightness dimmed one degree. “Is that a girl?”
“Yes. I have to tell her I’m okay.”
“No, a friend who happens to be a girl.”
“Oh,” Cathy said, yet remained a bit unsettled. “Should I be jealous?”
“I wasn’t aware you were capable of that.”
“Apparently,” Cathy said, then looked away and considered it. “Must be something new.”
Alvin took note of her distracted appearance. “No, you don’t have to be jealous. She’s just a friend.”
Cathy smiled back at him. “Okey doke.”
The trailer began to whir. But for Alvin there was no sense of anticipated adventure as the tone of the whir went higher and higher, for he was focused only on Cathy’s face as she looked forward and away from him again, she just anticipating the launch of the vehicle. But he looked at her, and he looked at her, and he looked at her.
“I love you,” he said.
She turned and smiled at him, with an expression that projected nothing more than pleasant and innocent curiosity. “Why?”
He couldn’t view the reasons, but he could feel them. “I just do,” he said.
Her question hadn’t been a quiz, or a test, but an honest attempt to figure out how love worked. She looked away, still smiling, then back at him. Then at the wall. Then back at him again. Parma Das was right, Cathy had no comprehension of what constituted love or where that line began, or if there even was a line capable of being located. She wanted to say ‘I love you too’ but she had no idea what that meant as the term was entirely abstract. And she couldn’t bring herself to admit to something she didn’t understand. But she fought for words, and while she felt they were not enough to convey what she felt, she pushed the words out with a hopeful desperation, like sending a flare off into the darkness and hoping it would be seen and its message understood. “I want to be with you,” she said. She took his hand in hers. She studied it. She squeezed and held it tightly, not wanting to let go. Then she looked up to him, and with the most sincere and loving face he had ever looked upon, she simply said, “All the time. Very much.”
Alvin smiled back at her. And he thought to himself, ‘More than close enough.’
The camper reached its whirring peak, it flashed, and they were off.
(Cue Echoes in Rain and then Orinoco Flow)
(Have a nice day)