Read A Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Stories Online

Authors: Ursula K. Le Guin

Tags: #Fiction

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea: Stories (3 page)

She agreed with that; she loved Disney World. It was the only thing in Florida, where they had to live now that Jerry was
ACEO, that she liked much. One of the Australian men at the bar had seen Disneyland and agreed that it was amazing, or maybe
he meant amusing; what he said was amizing. He seemed to be a nice man. Bruce, he said his name was, and his friend’s name
was Bruce too. “Common sort of name here,” he said, only he said name, but he meant name, she was quite sure. When Jerry went
on complaining about the Corroboree, the first Bruce said, “Well, mite, you might go out to Grong Crossing, if you really
want to see the real thing—right, Bruce?”

At first the other Bruce didn’t seem to know what he meant, and that was when her woman’s intuition woke up. But pretty soon
both Bruces were talking away about this place, Grong Crossing, way out in “the bush,” where they were certain to meet real
abos really living in the desert. “Near Alice Springs,” Jerry said knowledgeably, but it wasn’t, they said; it was still farther
west from here. They gave directions so precisely that it was clear they knew what they were talking about. “Few hours’ drive,
that’s all,” Bruce said, “but y’see most tourists want to keep on the beaten path. This is a bit more on the inside track.”

“Bang-up shows,” said Bruce. “Nightly Corroborees.”

“Hotel any better than this dump?” Jerry asked, and
they laughed. No hotel, they explained. “It’s like a safari, see—tents under the stars. Never rines,” said Bruce.

“Marvelous food, though,” Bruce said. “Fresh kangaroo chops. Kangaroo hunts daily, see. Witchetty grubs along with the drinks
before dinner. Roughing it in luxury, I’d call it; right, Bruce?”

“Absolutely,” said Bruce.

“Friendly, are they, these abos?” Jerry asked.

“Oh, salt of the earth. Treat you like kings. Think white men are sort of gods, y’know,” Bruce said. Jerry nodded.

So Jerry wrote down all the directions, and here they were driving and driving in the old station wagon that was all there
was to rent in the small town they’d been at for the Corroboree, and by now you only knew the road was a road because it was
perfectly straight forever. Jerry had been in a good humor at first. “This’ll be something to shove up that bastard Thiel’s
ass,” he said. His friend Thiel was always going to places like Tibet and having wonderful adventures and showing videos of
himself with yaks. Jerry had bought a very expensive camcorder for this trip, and now he said, “Going to shoot me some abos.
Show that fucking Thiel and his musk-oxes!” But as the morning went on and the road went on and the desert went on—did they
call it “the bush” because there was one little thorny bush once a mile or so?—he got hotter and hotter and redder and redder,
just like the desert. And she began to feel depressed and like her mascara was caking.

She was wondering if after another forty miles (four was her lucky number) she could say, “Maybe we ought to turn back?” for
the first time, when he said, “There!”

There was something ahead, all right.

“There hasn’t been any sign,” she said, dubious. “They didn’t say anything about a hill, did they?”

“Hell, that’s no hill, that’s a rock—what do they call it—some big fucking red rock—”

“Ayers Rock?” She had read the Welcome to Down
Under flyer in the hotel in Adelaide while Jerry was at the plastics conference. “But that’s in the middle of Australia, isn’t
it?”

“So where the fuck do you think we are? In the middle of Australia! What do you think this is, fucking East Germany?” He was
shouting, and he speeded up. The terribly straight road shot them straight at the hill, or rock, or whatever it was. It
wasn’t
Ayers Rock, she
knew
that, but there wasn’t any use irritating Jerry, especially when he started shouting.

It was reddish, and shaped kind of like a huge VW bug, only lumpier; and there were certainly people all around it, and at
first she was very glad to see them. Their utter isolation—they hadn’t seen another car or farm or anything for two hours—had
scared her. Then as they got closer she thought the people looked rather funny. Funnier than the ones at the Corroboree even.
“I guess they’re natives,” she said aloud.

“What the shit did you expect, Frenchmen?” Jerry said, but he said it like a joke, and she laughed. But— “Oh! goodness!” she
said involuntarily, getting her first clear sight of one of the natives.

“Big fellows, huh,” he said. “Bushmen, they call ‘em.”

That didn’t seem right, but she was still getting over the shock of seeing that tall, thin, black-and-white, weird person.
It had been just standing looking at the car, only she couldn’t see its eyes. Heavy brows and thick, hairy eyebrows hid them.
Black, ropy hair hung over half its face and stuck out from behind its ears.

“Are they—are they painted?” she asked weakly.

“They always paint ‘emselves up like that.” His contempt for her ignorance was reassuring.

“They almost don’t look human,” she said, very softly so as not to hurt their feelings, if they spoke English, since Jerry
had stopped the car and flung the doors open and was rummaging out the video camera.

“Hold this!”

She held it. Five or six of the tall black-and-white people had sort of turned their way, but they all seemed
to be busy with something at the foot of the hill or rock or whatever it was. There were some things that might be tents.
Nobody came to welcome them or anything, but she was actually just as glad they didn’t.

“Hold this! Oh for Chrissake what did you do with the—All right, just give it here.”

“Jerry, I wonder if we should ask them,” she said.

“Ask who what?” he growled, having trouble with the cassette thing.

“The people here—if it’s all right to photograph. Remember at Taos they said that when the—”

“For fuck sake you don’t need fucking
permission
to photograph a bunch of
natives!
God! Did you ever
look
at the fucking
National Geographic?
Shit!
Permission!”

It really wasn’t any use when he started shouting. And the people didn’t seem to be interested in what he was doing. Although
it was quite hard to be sure what direction they were actually looking.

“Aren’t you going to get out of the fucking
car?”

“It’s so hot,” she said.

He didn’t really mind it when she was afraid of getting too hot or sunburned or anything, because he liked being stronger
and tougher. She probably could even have said that she was afraid of the natives, because he liked to be braver than her,
too; but sometimes he got angry when she was afraid, like the time he made her eat that poisonous fish, or a fish that might
or might not be poisonous, in Japan, because she said she was afraid to, and she threw up and embarrassed everybody. So she
just sat in the car and kept the engine on and the air-conditioning on, although the window on her side was open.

Jerry had his camera up on his shoulder now and was panning the scene—the faraway hot red horizon, the queer rock-hill-thing
with shiny places in it like glass, the black, burned-looking ground around it, and the people swarming all over. There were
forty or fifty of them at least. It only dawned on her now that if they were wearing any clothes at all, she didn’t know which
was clothes and which was skin, because they were so strange-shaped, and painted or colored all in stripes and spots of white
on black, not like zebras but more complicated, more like skeleton suits but not exactly. And they must be eight feet tall,
but their arms were short, almost like kangaroos’. And their hair was like black ropes standing up all over their heads. It
was embarrassing to look at people without clothes on, but you couldn’t really see anything like
that.
In fact she couldn’t tell, actually, if they were men or women.

They were all busy with their work or ceremony or whatever it was. Some of them were handling some things like big, thin,
golden leaves, others were doing something with cords or wires. They didn’t seem to be talking, but there was all the time
in the air a soft, drumming, droning, rising and falling, deep sound, like cats purring or voices far away.

Jerry started walking towards them.

“Be careful,” she said faintly. He paid no attention, of course.

They paid no attention to him either, as far as she could see, and he kept filming, swinging the camera around. When he got
right up close to a couple of them, they turned towards him. She couldn’t see their eyes at all, but what happened was their
hair
sort of stood up and bent towards Jerry-each thick, black rope about a foot long moving around and bending down exactly as
if it were peering at him. At that, her own hair tried to stand up, and the blast of the air conditioner ran like ice down
her sweaty arms. She got out of the car and called his name.

He kept filming.

She went towards him as fast as she could on the cindery, stony soil in her high-heeled sandals.

“Jerry, come back. I think—”

“Shut up!” he yelled so savagely that she stopped short for a moment. But she could see the hair better now, and she could
see that it did have eyes, and mouths too, with little red tongues darting out.

“Jerry, come back,” she said. “They’re not natives, they’re Space Aliens. That’s their saucer.” She knew from the
Sun
that there had been sightings down here in Australia.

“Shut the fuck up,” he said. “Hey, big fella, give me a little action, huh? Don’t just stand there. Dancee-dancee, OK?” His
eye was glued to the camera.

“Jerry,” she said, her voice sticking in her throat, as one of the Space Aliens pointed with its little weak-looking arm and
hand at the car. Jerry shoved the camera right up close to its head, and at that it put its hand over the lens. That made
Jerry mad, of course, and he yelled, “Get the fuck off that!” And he actually looked at the Space Alien, not through the camera
but face to face. “Oh, gee,” he said.

And his hand went to his hip. He always carried a gun, because it was an American’s right to bear arms and there were so many
drug addicts these days. He had smuggled it through the airport inspection the way he knew how. Nobody was going to disarm
him.

She saw perfectly clearly what happened. The Space Alien opened its eyes.

There were eyes under the dark, shaggy brows; they had been kept closed till now. Now they were open and looked once straight
at Jerry, and he turned to stone. He just stood there, one hand on the camera and one reaching for his gun, motionless.

Several more Space Aliens had gathered round. They all had their eyes shut, except for the ones at the ends of their hair.
Those glittered and shone, and the little red tongues flickered in and out, and the humming, droning sound was much louder.
Many of the hair-snakes writhed to look at her. Her knees buckled and her heart thudded in her throat, but she had to get
to Jerry.

She passed right between two huge Space Aliens and reached him and patted him—”Jerry, wake up!” she said. He was just like
stone, paralyzed. “Oh,” she said, and tears ran down her face, “Oh, what should I
do, what can I do?” She looked around in despair at the tall, thin, black-and-white faces looming above her, white teeth showing,
eyes tight shut, hairs staring and stirring and murmuring. The murmur was soft, almost like music, not angry, soothing. She
watched two tall Space Aliens pick up Jerry quite gently, as if he were a tiny little boy—a stiff one—and carry him carefully
to the car.

They poked him into the back seat lengthwise, but he didn’t fit. She ran to help. She let down the back seat so there was
room for him in the back. The Space Aliens arranged him and tucked the video camera in beside him, then straightened up, their
hairs looking down at her with little twinkly eyes. They hummed softly, and pointed with their childish arms back down the
road.

“Yes,” she said. “Thank you. Good-bye!”

They hummed.

She got in and closed the window and turned the car around there on a wide place in the road—and there
was
a signpost, Grong Crossing, although she didn’t see any crossroad.

She drove back, carefully at first because she was shaky, then faster and faster because she should get Jerry to the doctor,
of course, but also because she loved driving on long straight roads very fast, like this. Jerry never let her drive except
in town.

The paralysis was total and permanent, which would have been terrible, except that she could afford full-time, round-the-clock,
first-class care for poor Jerry, because of the really good deals she made with the TV people and then with the rights people
for the video. First it was shown all over the world as “Space Aliens Land in Australian Outback,” but then it became part
of real science and history as “Grong Crossing, South Australia: The First Contact With the Gorgonids.” In the voice-over
they told how it was her, Annie Laurie Debree, who had been the first human to talk with our friends from Outer Space, even
before
they sent the ambassadors to Canberra and Reykjavik. There was only one good shot of her on the film, and Jerry had been sort
of shaking, and her highlighter was kind of streaked, but that was all right. She was the heroine.

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