Read Slow Sculpture Online

Authors: Theodore Sturgeon

Slow Sculpture (39 page)

I had to ask him. “Why did you?”

He said, “I got mad. I had a crazy notion one day and wanted to try something and he didn’t want me to do it. But I did it anyway and then when it got me into trouble he wouldn’t pull me out of it. I had to play it all the way through. It hurt.” He laughed a funny laugh. I understood that “it hurt” was a gigantic understatement. “So I got mad and cut out and came here. He’s been
yelling and sending messages and all, ever since, but I paid him no mind until you.”

“Why me?”

“Yes,” he said, “why you?” He thought it over. “Tell me something—have you got anything to keep you where you are? I mean a wife or a career or kids or something that would get hurt if you suddenly disappeared?”

“Nothing like that, no. Some friends—but no wife, no folks. And my job’s just a job.”

“Thought so,” he said. Talking to himself, he said, “Bastard. Built this one from the ground up, he did. Knew damn well I’d get a jolt when I saw what a rotten mess this was.” Then he said very warmly, “Don’t take that personally. You can’t help it.”

I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help taking it a little personally either.

Maybe I was a little sharp when I said, “Well—are you going to come back or not?”

He gave it right back to me.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “Why don’t I leave it to you? You decide.”

“Me?”

“Why not? You got yourself into this.”

“Did I?”

“No matter how carefully he set you up for it, friend, he had to get your permission first. Right?”

I remembered that Voice.
How far are you willing to go?

The one I had called Lucifer fixed me with the blazing eyes. “I am going to lay it right on you. I will do what you say. If you tell me to stay here, to stay out of it, it’s going to be like Orwell said: ‘To visualize the future you must visualize a boot stamping eternally on a human face.’ But if I come back it’s going to be almost as bad. Things are really out of hand, so much that it can’t be straightened out overnight. It would take years. People aren’t made to take the truth on sight and act on it. They have to be prodded and pushed—usually by being made so miserable in so many ways that they get mad. When enough of them get mad enough they’ll find the way,”

“Well, good then.”

He mimicked me. I think he was a little sore and just maybe he didn’t want to go back to work.

“ ‘Well, good, then,’ ” he mocked me. “We’ll have to shovel stupidity on them. We’ll have to get them into long meaningless wars. We’ll make them live under laws that absolutely make no sense and keep passing more of them. We’ll lay taxes on them until they can’t have luxuries and comforts without getting into trouble and we’ll lay on more until it hurts to buy enough just to live.”

I said, “That’s the same thing as the boot!”

He said, “No it isn’t. Let the class of ’50 take over and you’ll have that. Orwell said
eternally
and he was right. No conflict, no dissent, no division, no balance. If I come back, there’ll be plenty of all that. People will die—lots of them. And hurt—plenty.”

“There’s no other way?”

“Look,” he said, “you can’t give people what they want. They have to earn it or take it. When they start doing that there’ll be bombings and riots and people—especially young people—will do what they want to and what works for them, not what they’re told. They’ll find their own ways—and it won’t be anything like what grandpa said.”

I thought about all that and then about the class of ’50 and the stamping boot.

“Come back,” I said.

He sighed and said, “Oh, God.”

I don’t know what he meant. But I think he was glad.

Suddenly—well, it seemed sudden—there was more light outside the Automat than inside. I felt as dazed as my friend looked.

I said, “And what have you been doing since nineteen fifty?”

He said, “Don’t you understand? All this happened last night! Last night was 1950! I got back into the elevator and walked into my—your—the office and there you were!”

“And the dev— Lucif— whoever it was, he’s back, too?”

“Time is different for him. He came back right away. You’ve already told me enough about what’s been happening since then. He’s back. He’s been back. Things are moving toward the center
again. It’s hard to do, but it’s happening.”

I stuck my spoon into my cold old coffee and swirled it around and thought of the purposeless crime and the useless deaths and the really decent people who didn’t know they were greedy, and a deep joy began to kindle inside me.

“Then maybe it’s not all useless.”

“Oh, God, it better not be,” he whispered. “Because all of it is my fault.”

“No it isn’t. Things are going to be all right.” As I said that I was sure of it. I looked at him, so lost and dazed and I thought,
I am going to help this guy. I am going to help him help me to understand better, to work out how we can bring it all into balance again
. I wondered if he knew he was a messiah, that he had saved the world. I don’t think he did.

Sudden thought: “Hey,” I said, “did he tell you why he dropped out mad like that? What was it—he did something the other one didn’t want him to do?”

“Didn’t I mention that? Sorry,” said the dazed man. “He got tired of being a—a force. Whatever you call it, Spirit. He wanted to be a man for a while, to see what it was like. He could do it—but he couldn’t get out of it again without the other’s help. So he walked around for a while as a man.”

“And?”

“And got crucified.”

Pruzy’s Pot

Dear Fred:

To come right to the point, do you think you could find us a house in your part of the world?

I know this comes as a surprise to you. Well, hell, this letter is probably a surprise, knowing me and how I don’t write letters. Really sorry about that. Ever since I married Niwa two years ago we’ve been so busy there just hasn’t been time, and besides, I hardly ever wrote anyway, even before. But I know you’ve heard something about what we’ve been doing, if you’ve read anything I’ve published recently. In case you haven’t, I’ll give it to you briefly: we’re trying to work out a survival life-style in this crazy, crowded, complicated world we live in. Nothing theoretical; Niwa and I are both deadly sick and tired of sitting around with bright-eyed malcontents, all knowledge and no experience, complaining about pollution and corruption in the body, mind, and soul of man. It hit us all of a sudden, one night after one of these mouth-marathons, that anyone who has a complaint ought to have to qualify and be certified first. I mean, here’s somebody who thinks it’s just awful about the dirty water and the foul air. What is he doing about the solid waste he creates in his own house? What kind of poison-factory is he driving, and does he keep it running in such a way as to minimize the junk it puts into the air? Does he support government people he knows are corrupt, or by apathy just let them go on corrupting? The more we heard this kind of crap from these hobby gripers, the more we felt that a man should qualify to complain, just as he has to qualify to drive a bus or cut an appendix or run a ferryboat. Or vote. And if we were going to be honest about it, we had to look at ourselves. Point a finger at anybody and you’ll find you have three fingers pointing at you.

Sorry, Fred—I didn’t mean to preach, but you’ve got to have this
background. Once we faced these things we decided to get out of the plastic cave we were living in, with the chrome kitchen and all the little bells and buzzers that told us when to take the defrosted food out of the automatic oven and when the heavy phosphates were flushed out of the polyester double-knits, and headed for the hills to plant some honesty and see if we could harvest some survival. And you’ll never guess where we found what we were looking for: in the “Houses to Rent” in the Sunday paper, the first one we checked out. And yet it wasn’t all that simple, because when we got there to look at the place (2 bdr, frplc, sec, Ch & pets OK) there were cars all over the mountainside and the agent was running guided tours through the house every seven minutes. Secluded two-bedroom houses with fireplaces are not all that common so close to downtown. It was everything it claimed to be and the rent was most reasonable. It was also funky and creaky, with some interior wallboard smashed and cracked, a few broken windows, the most jarring paint-job inside I have ever seen (did you know there are seventeen DayGlo colors? It had them all), and no more than about eight pounds water pressure. However, it did have more than a half-acre of ground, and, being on a knoll with the wild part of a park just across a narrow road, it was absolutely private.

Niwa, being Niwa, full of enthusiasm and articulateness, spouted and jetted all our ideas about survival techniques in the late twentieth century, man versus plastic and the organ versus technology, and the whole rap, interspersed with enthusiastic “What a great corner for the rabbit hutch” and “Here we dry sassafras” kind of things. You haven’t met her yet so I have to tell you that she lights up the landscape even when she isn’t enthusiastic. When she is—wear your welding hood. The agent, a faceless type with a clipboard, took notes and said don’t call us, we’ll call you, and we left to look up more houses.

But that night we got a call from the landlord. He talked to Niwa and he talked to me. He had a deep voice that sounded something like that monotone you get from someone who’s had a laryngectomy and uses stomach wind—a sort of controlled burp—but not exactly that either. He said very little about himself except that he was in
some kind of biochemical research and he owned a couple dozen properties around. We didn’t care about that part of it just then; what mattered was he said we could have the house if we wanted it, and we wanted it. He sent over a lease by messenger and we paid two months and that was that. The lease was standard except it said we were to let him put in another half-bath. It spelled out that we could do anything we wanted with the house and grounds except mess with the plumbing. I never heard of a landlord like that and I never saw one either, not even this one, because he died a few months later.

I wish I could remember that conversation in detail or had taped it or something. It would have explained everything. Or almost. Maybe I didn’t listen too carefully because mostly it was Niwa in that electric explosive way of hers expounding our theories of survival, how to use tansy (which when growing repels ants) and toads for insecticides instead of chemical sprays, and how kitchen garbage is turned into rich black dirt, and how barter (two loaves of sourdough for a brake job on the VW) is better than money, and how much better it is to live without clothes but when you do wear clothes, design them yourself and have something money couldn’t buy. The thing was, this landlord, who said his name was Jones although we found out later it wasn’t, he liked everything she said and that’s why we got the house.

So we really put roots down—in several senses—and dug in. It was kind of great, Fred. Anybody who tells you that working out this kind of lifestyle is easy, or that there’s an easy way to do it, is out of his gourd. The same thing is true of anyone who implies it’s cheap. And you make mistakes. When we imported a thousand lady-bugs to help the toads fight insects in the garden, what we got was a lot of fat toads. We also discovered the mysterious communication network that exists in the netherworlds. Like, nothing is more specialized than a hornworm, a beautiful animal that grows very large and is so perfectly adapted to tomato plants that you can stand with your nose seven inches away from one (and it seven inches long) and not see it, while it is stripping the plant of leaf, bud, flower, and fruit. Now: who sent for the son of a bitch? Likewise gophers. Nothing
had grown on that little quarter-acre for years but Dichondra. All of a sudden gophers are all over, tearing up the beets and carrots and going down the lines of butter lettuce like a wire contacting phone poles. Who sent for them? Then of course there was Sonya—she’s a more-or-less dog we have who in a flash could pursue a gopher clear across the garden … diagonally … eighteen inches deep all the way. Which meant fencing.

All the same there’s the way Brussels sprouts grow, which has to be seen to be believed, and baby ears of corn eaten raw, and vine-ripened tomatoes, like nothing else you ever flang a fang into, and chard, and carrots tenderer than a tit-man’s dream of the ultimate nipple … and then the barter that went on, and a kind of understanding of where it’s all really at that comes to you only if you can get naked and work soil with the sun on your back and the wind blowing through you rather than on you, and you plant a seed and lo it comes up, and it forms and buds and flowers and makes, and what it makes you eat—you eat it into your same body that did all this, no cellophane, no supermarket, no middleman, no tax. No, it isn’t easy; no, it isn’t cheap. It is, however, in these declining years of the twentieth century, one of the few realities that is not a bummer.

But there I go. What I am writing to you about is can you find me a place, and especially now after all that I have to tell you why. It’s the toilet, the new toilet.

I think I already said it was in the lease. That was pretty weird by itself; there are plenty of things that house needs, and there’s nothing wrong with the facilities that are already there. But you don’t complain when a landlord wants to improve your place, even when he insists on it. So sure enough, after we’d been there ten days or so, here comes a truck with the agent and two guys, one a deaf-mute five feet across and the other one the skinniest man, and, I think, the strongest man, I have ever seen. Nobody said much, and we were busy outside most of the time. They converted one of the two big walk-in closets in the big bedroom into a nice little toidey with a sink and a pot and fluorescent lights and not-bad wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpet on the floor. There was a door from the bedroom and one from the hall—that was the new one.

And there was the pot. The agent had nothing to say about it—I don’t think he knew anything—except that Mr. Jones had supplied it, that this and no other was the one he and his lease had specified, that it was a brand new design, and that in the remote eventuality we didn’t want to use it, we didn’t have to—there was always the old one; and we had to admit that the old one was adequate.

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