Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stirrings and Stars

Irene sat by herself. She thought that she was sitting in the same spot Peter had been when he had conducted his experiment.
"He's gone."
I know, she would have said to the voice that had joined her in the taxi on the way from the hospital that morning. But she did not want to engage it. Irene considered that Peter might have been dead before he had even reached the hospital.
"But, he's not dead to everyone," it said in Harappan. "He is not dead to me."

Before sunrise, she, Bhakti, and Klaus had been summoned from their seats in the waiting room at Charite Hospital. A resident led them into another hallway, down a third, and then into the room where Peter had been placed in bed. He did not lay, for his limbs and muscles were taut against padded leather restraints, and there was nothing relaxed in his comportment. Cottonballs, like coins, were taped in place over his eyes. Below, his lips were peeled back, as if to bare his teeth, which were sunk well into a thick piece of rubber. "He is still not responsive. It is the opinion of my seniors that much of his brain activity has ceased. His body lives, but the mind has likely been destroyed. In our opinion, Mister Cox has suffered a massive stroke."
The doctor turned away from Peter's body. "He breathes, somehow. This is an electrocardiograph machine," said the resident. "These wires detect electricity in Mister Cox's heart. Look. This sheet is the record of his heartbeats." The resident lifted the scrolling paper from the floor. "Here, this line." Irene shook her head and Klaus stepped back. "You see, it is like low lying foothills, his cardiogram. In the heart of a normal person this is like a series of high peaks with foothills and valleys between them. His heart is barely twitching inside his chest. He should be comatose with a heartbeat like this – he is comatose, but his muscles are still exerting such force. It is a strange kind of paralysis that has taken him. As though rigor mortis has set in before he has fully died. We fear to give him a sedative, for then his heartbeat would cease completely."
"You can do nothing?" Klaus had begged.
"We can try to maintain his condition for a while. He is a very unusual case. There are experts who would like to examine him. They may be able to help. Does he have any family?"
Irene opened her mouth uselessly. She had no answer.
Klaus spoke, "He has a sister in England. I don't know how to reach her."
"No one else?"
Klaus shook his head. "He is divorced. I don't know where his wife now lives."

Later. The resident: "Go home. Please get some rest."
Bhakti: "I'm his nurse, do you mind?"

"There's nothing much left of him now."
"What?" Irene had asked.
Klaus had been staring out his window. He looked at Irene blankly. "Nothing," said Klaus. "I didn't say anything."
Irene had been meditating on the government buildings of Berlin-Mitte. Empty in the morning, they were stone faces. Doors were mouths.
"Just some tension in his muscle fibers, some grinding in the joints." It wasn't Klaus, it was even German speech. "There's nothing there, no persona to speak of." Irene didn't answer it. "There was a man," it explained in a tongue forgotten by all but Irene. "It was eaten by styrgae. Styrgae are like bugs, Irene, but they are from the underworld. They swarm over one's star body and devour it as locusts in a garden. Do you think Peter would have wanted his star body to be eaten by locusts? Have you ever seen the jaw parts of a locust slicing through leaves? This was much worse, for the styrgae have many ways to feed on the delicate sinews of one's star body." Gentle, masculine, describing the most horrible things in blase manner, there was a word for this kind of voice. Satanic.

"For me, there is no death. I am not deceived by its illusion."
On the coffee table before her, a cigar box. Inside, the mirror. To the right of that, Peter's notes. Irene was hardly conscious of having taken these pieces out and arranging them.
"He's as dead as what matters to men. The strength in his arms isn't his own. That," the voice said, clearly meaning the mirror, "is what makes him rigid."
The mouse nibbled away at something in Irene's bag. Bhakti was at the hospital. The others were downstairs.
"His grimace mimics the death of his star body. He claws at the styrgae even now, for his body has been imprinted with that moment, the moment of his star death, which carries through all the possibilities that were in Peter like a leit motif. You can change this; you know how. You've already prepared everything."
There was a knock at the door. Irene surveyed the table – there was nothing obviously amiss there, she thought that she might as well answer it. It was not likely that Satan himself would be standing in the doorway.
"It is time you revealed yourself to me, witch," insisted the voice, by and by proving that it was still in her head, and not in the stairwell. "I will be waiting for you."
Irene opened the door silently.
It was Alexandr. "Irene," he said in English. "I am very sorry for my part in this and you must tell me if there is . . . I will help you." In the stairwell's dim light, Alexandr was grim and downcast. In that light, noontime sunshine filtered through windows antiqued with dust, Alexandr looked like a broken titan making amends.
"I will help you," echoed the Harappan spirit. "I will be there."