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Theodore Sturgeon

T_Sturgeon

1918 – 1985

← Read (icon or below)  extract from ‘VENUS + X’

PLOT:

Charlie Johns has been snatched from his home on 61 North 34th Street and delivered to the strange future world of Ledom. Here, violence is a vague and improbable notion. Technology has triumphed over hunger, overpopulation, pollution, even time and space. But there is a change Charlie finds even more shocking: gender is a thing of the past. Venus Plus X is Theodore Sturgeon‘s brilliant evocation of a civilization for whom tensions between male and female and the human preoccupation with sex no longer exist.
 
As Charlie Johns explores Ledom and its people, he finds that the human precepts he holds dear are profane in this new world. But has Charlie learned all there is to know about this advanced society? And why are the Ledom so intent on gaining Charlie’s approval?

V+X

¶  Philoʼs Manifesto

“…you cannot be objective about this discussion. But try. Please try . . . You cannot be objective about it because you have been indoctrinated, sermonized, drenched, imbued. inculcated and policed on the matter since first you wore blue booties.

You come from a time and place in which the maleness of the male, and the femaleness of the female, and the importance of their difference, were matters of almost total preoccupation.

Begin, then, with this—and if you like, regard it as mainly a working hypothesis. Actually it is a truth, and if at the end it passes the tests of your own understanding, you will see that it is a truth. If you do not, the fault is not with you, but with your orientation:

There are more basic similarities than differences between men and women. Read through an anatomy manual. A lung is a lung, a kidney a kidney in man or in woman. It may be that statistically, womenʼs bone-structure is lighter, the head smaller, and so on and on; yet it is not impossible that mankind had. for many thousands of years, bred for that. But aside from such conjectures, the variations permissible to what is called “normal” structure provide many examples of women who were taller, stronger, heavier-boned than most men, and men who were smaller, slighter, lighter than most women. Many men had larger pelvic openings than many women.

In the area of the secondary sexual characteristics, it is only statistically that we can note significant differences; for many women had more body hair than many men; many men had higher-pitched voices than many women… I call again on your objectivity: suspend for a moment your conviction that the statistical majority is the norm, and examine the cases, in their vast numbers, which exist outside that probable fiction, that norm. And go on:

For even with the sex organs themselves, variations in development—and here, admittedly, we approach the pathological—have yielded countless cases of atrophied phalli, hypertrophied clitorides, perforate rathes, detached labia … all, viewed objectively, reasonably subtle variations from the norm, and capable of producing, on an initially male or female body, virtually identical urogenital triangles. It is not my intention to state that such a situation is or should be normal—at least, not after the fourth fetal month, though  up to then it is not only normal but universal—but only to bring out to you that its occurrence is easily within the limits of what has been, since prehistory, possible to nature.

Endocrinology demonstrates a number of interesting facts. Both male and female could produce male and female hormones, and did, and as a matter of fact, the preponderance of one over the other was a subtle matter indeed. Then if you throw that delicate balance out, the changes which could be brought about were drastic. In a few months you could produce a bearded and breastless lady and a man whose nipples, no longer an atrophied insigne of the very point I am making here, could be made to lactate.

These are gross and extreme examples purely for illustration. There have been many women athletes who could exceed in strength, speed, and skill the vast majority of men, but who were nonetheless what you might call “real” women, and many men who could, say, design clothing—traditionally a womanʼs specialty—far better than most women, yet who were what you might call “real” men. For when we get into what I might broadly term cultural differences between the sexes, the subtlety of sexual distinction begins to become apparent. What say the books:

Women have long hair. So have the Sikhs, whom some call the toughest breed of soldiers ever bred. So had the 18th-century cavaliers, and brocaded jackets and lace at throat and wrists as well. Women wear skirts. So does a kilted Scot, a Greek evzone, a Chinese, a Polynesian, none of whom could deserve the term “effeminate.” An objective scan of human history proliferates these examples to numbers astronomical.

From place to place, and in any place from time to time, the so- called “provinces” of male and female rise like the salinity of a tidal river-mouth, mingling, separating, ebbing and regrouping … before your first World War, cigarettes and wrist-watches were regarded as unquestionably female appurtenances; twenty years later both were wholeheartedly adopted by the men. Europeans, especially central Europeans, were startled and very much amused to see American farmers milking cows and feeding chickens, for never in their lives had they seen that done by any but women.

So it is easily seen that the sexual insignes are nothing in themselves, for any of them, in another time and place. might belong to both sexes, the other sex, or neither. In other words, a skirt does not make the social entity woman. It takes a skirt plus a social attitudeto do it. But all through history, in virtually every culture and country, there has indeed been a “womanʼs province” and a “manʼs province,” and in most cases the differences between them have been exploited to fantastic, sometimes sickening extremes.

 Why?

First of all, it is easy to state, and easy to dispose of, the theory that in a primitive, primarily hunting-and-fishing society, a weaker, slower-moving sex, occasionally heavy with child and forced frequently to pause to nurse her young, is not as well fitted to hunt and fight as the fleeter-footed, untrammeled, hard- muscled male. However, it may well be that the primitive woman was not that much smaller, slower, weaker than her mate. Perhaps the theory confuses cause and effect, and perhaps, if some other force had not insisted upon such a development, accepted it, even bred for it, the nonparous females might have hunted with the best of the men, while those men who happened to be slower, smaller, weaker, kept house with the pregnant and nursing women. And this has happened—not in the majority of cases, but many times nevertheless.

The difference existed—granted. But it was exploited. It was a difference which continued to exist long, long after there was any question of hunting or, for that matter, of nursing. Humanity has insisted upon it; made it an article of faith.

Again: Why?

It would seem that there is a force which widens and exploits this difference, and, isolated, it is deplorable, even terrifying pressure. For there is in mankind a deep and desperate necessity to feel superior. In any group there are some who genuinely are superior … but it is easy to see that within the parameters of any group, be it culture, club, nation, profession, only a few are really superior; the mass, clearly, are not.

But it is the will of the mass that dictates the mores, initiated though changes may be by individuals or minorities; the individuals or minorities, more often than not, are cut down for their trouble. And if a unit of the mass wants to feel superior, it will find a way. This terrible drive has found expression in many ways, through history—in slavery and genocide, xenophobia and snobbery, race prejudice and sex differentiation. Given a man who, among his fellows, has no real superiority, you are faced with a bedevilled madman who, if superiority is denied him, and he cannot learn one or earn one, will turn on something weaker than himself and make it inferior. The obvious, logical, handiest subject for this inexcusable indignity is his woman. He could not do this to anyone he loved.

If, loving, he could not have insulted this close, so-little different other half of himself, he could never have done it to his fellow man. Without this force in him, he could never have warred, nor persecuted, nor in pursuit of superiority lied, cheated, murdered and stolen. It may be that the necessity to feel superior is the source of his drive, and his warring and killing have brought him to mighty places; yet it is not inconceivable that without it he might have turned to conquering his environment and learning his own nature, rising very much higher and, in the process, earning life for himself instead of extinction. And strangely enough, man always wanted to love. Right up to the end, it was idiomatic that one “loved” music, a color, mathematics, a certain food—and aside from careless idiom, there were those who in the highest sense loved things beyond anything which even a fool would call sexual. “I could not love thee, dear, so much. loved I not honor more.” “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son …” Sexual love is love, certainly. But it is more precise to say that it is loving, in the same way we might say that justice is loving, and mercy is loving, forbearance, forgiveness, and, where it is not done to maximize the self, generosity.

Christianity was, at the outset, a love movement, as the slightest acquaintance with the New Testament clearly documents. What was not generally known until just before the end—so fiercely was all knowledge of primitive Christianity suppressed—was that it was a charitic religion—that is, a religion in which the congregation participated, in the hope of having a genuine religious experience, an experience later called theolepsy, or seized of God. Many of the early Christians did achieve this state, and often; many more achieved it but seldom, and yet kept going back and back seeking it. But once having experienced it, they were profoundly changed, inwardly gratified; it was this intense experience, and its permanent effects, which made it possible for them to endure the most frightful hardships and tortures, to die gladly, to fear nothing.

Few dispassionate descriptions of their services—gatherings is a better term— survive, but the best accounts agree on a picture of people slipping away from fields, shops, even palaces, to be together in some hidden place—a mountain glade, a catacomb, anywhere where they might be uninterrupted. It is significant that rich and poor alike mingled at these gatherings: male and female. After eating together—genuinely, a love feast—and invoking the spirit, perhaps by song, and very likely by the dance, one or another might be seized by what they called the Spirit. Perhaps he or she—and it might be either—would exhort and praise God, and perhaps the true charitic (that is, divinely gifted) expression would issue forth in what was called “speaking in tongues,” but these exhibitions, when genuine, were apparently not excessive nor frenetic; there was often time for many to take their turn. And with a kiss of peace, they would separate and slip back to their places in the world until the next meeting.

The primitive Christians did not invent charitic religion, by any means; nor did it cease with them. It recurs again and again throughout recorded history, and it takes many forms. Frequently they are orgiastic, Dionysic, like the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele, which exerted an immense influence in Rome, Greece and the Orient a thousand years before Christ. Or chastity-based movements like the Cathars of the Middle Ages, the Adamites, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Waldenses (who tried to bring a form of apostolic Christianity into the framework of the Roman church) and many, many others appear all through history. They have in common one element—the subjective, participant, ecstatic experience—and almost invariably the equality of women, and they are all love religions.

Without exception they were savagely persecuted. It seems that there is a commanding element in the human makeup which regards loving as anathema, and will not suffer it to live.

Why?

An objective examination of basic motivations … reveals the simple and terrible reason. There are two direct channels into the unconscious mind. Sex is one, religion is the other; and in pre-Christian times, it was usual to express them together. The Judeo-Christian system put a stop to it, for a very understandable reason. A charitic religion interposes nothing between the worshipper and his Divinity. A suppliant, suffused with worship, speaking in tongues, his whole body in the throes of ecstatic dance, is not splitting doctrinal hairs nor begging intercession from temporal or literary authorities. As to his conduct between times, his guide is simple. He will seek to do that which will make it possible to repeat the experience. If he does what for him is right in this endeavor, he will repeat it; if he is not able to repeat it, that alone is his total and complete punishment. He is guiltless.

The only conceivable way to use the immense power of innate religiosity—the need to worship—for the acquisition of human power, is to place between worshipper and Divinity a guilt mechanism. The only way to achieve that is to organize and systematize worship, and the obvious way to bring this about is to monitor that other great striving of life—sex.

Homo sapiens is unique among species, extant and extinct, in having devised systems for the suppression of sex.

There are only three ways of dealing with sex. It may be gratified; it may be repressed; or it may be sublimated. The latter is, through history, often an ideal and frequently a success, but it is always an instability. Simple, day-by-day gratification, as in what is called the Golden Age of Greece, where they instituted three classes of women: wives, hetaerae and prostitutes, and at the same time idealized homosexuality, may be barbaric and immoral by many standards, but produces a surprising degree of sanity. A careful look, on the other hand, at the Middle Ages, makes the mind reel; it is like opening a window on a vast insane asylum, as broad as the world and as long as a thousand years; here is the product of repression. Here are the scourging manias, when people by the thousands flogged themselves and each other from town to town, seeking penance from excesses of guilt; here is the mystic Suso, in the fourteenth century, who had made for him an undergarment for his loins, bearing a hundred and fifty brass nails filed sharp: and lest he try to ease himself in his sleep, a leather harness to hold his wrists firmly against his neck; and further, lest he try to relieve himself of the lice and fleas which plagued him, he put on leather gloves studded with sharp nails which would tear his flesh wherever he touched it; and touch it he did, and when the wounds healed he tore them open again. He lay upon a discarded wooden door with a nail-studded cross against his back, and in forty years he never took a bath. Here are saints licking out lepersʼ sores; here is the Inquisition. All this in the name of love. How could such a thing so change?

 The examination of one sequence clearly shows how. Take the suppression of the Agape, the “love feast,” which seems to have been a universal and necessary appurtenance of primitive Christianity. It can be unearthed by records of edicts against this and that practice, and it is significant that the elimination of a rite so important to worship seems to have taken between three and four hundred years to accomplish, and was done by a gradualism of astonishing skill and efficiency.

First of all, the Eucharist, the symbolic ritual of the body and blood of Christ, was introduced into the Agape. Next, we find the Agape better organized; there is now a bishop, without whom the Agape may not be held, for he must bless the food. A little later the bishop is traditionally kept standing through the meal, which of course keeps him separate, and above the others. After that, the kiss of peace is altered; instead of kissing one another, all the participants kiss the officiating priest, and later, they all kiss a piece of wood which is handed around and passed to the priest. And then, of course, the kiss is done away with altogether. In the year 363, the Council of Laodicea is able to establish the Eucharist as a major ritual by itself, by forbidding the Agape within a church, thus separating them. For many years the Agape was held outside the church door, but by 692 (the Trullan Council) it was possible to forbid it altogether, under the penalty of excommunication.

The Renaissance cured many of the forms of insanity, but not the insanity itself. When temporal and ecclesiastical authorities still maintained control over basically sexual matters—morals, and marriage, for example (although it was very late in the game when the Church actually performed marriage; marriages in England at the time of Shakespeare were by private contract valid, and by church blessing licit) guilt was still rife, guilt was still the filter between a man and his God. Love was still equated with passion and passion with sin, so that at one point it was held to be sinful for a man to love his wife with passion.

Pleasure, the outer edge of ecstasy, was in the dour days of Protestantism, considered sinful in itself, wherever gained; Rome held specifically that any or all sexual pleasure was sinful. And for all this capped volcano produced in terms of bridges and houses, factories and bombs, it gouted from its riven sides a frightful harvest of neurosis. And even where a nation officially discarded the church, the same repressive techniques remained, the same preoccupation with doctrine, filtered through the same mesh of guilt. So sex and religion, the real meaning of human existence, ceased to be meaning and became means; the unbridgeable hostility between the final combatants was the proof of the identity of their aim—the total domination, for the ultimate satisfaction of the will to superiority, of all human minds.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

¶  We Ledom renounce the past.

We Ledom…leave the past forever, and all products of the past except for naked and essential humanity.

The special circumstances of our birth make this possible. We come from a nameless mountain and as a species we are unique; as all species, we are transient. Our transience is our central devotion. Transience is passage, is dynamism, is movement, is change, is evolution, is mutation, is life.

The special circumstances of our birth include the blessed fact that in the germ- plasm is no indoctrination. Had homo sap. had the sense (it had the power) it could have shut off all its poisons, vanquished all its dangers, by raising one clean new generation. Had homo sap. had the desire (it had both sense and power enough) to establish a charitic religion and a culture to harmonize with it, it would in time have had its clean generations.

Homo sap. claimed to be searching for a formula to end its woes. Here is the formula: a charitic religion and a culture to go with it. The Apostles of Jesus found it. Before them the Greeks found it; before them, the Minoans. Since then the Cathars found it; the Quakers, the Angel Dancers. Throughout the Orient and in Africa it has been found repeatedly … and each time it has failed to move any but those it touched directly. Men—or at least, the men who moved men—always found that the charitic is intolerant of doctrine, neither wanting it nor needing it. But without doctrine—presbyter, interpreter, officiator—the men who move men are powerless—that is to say, not superior. There is nothing to gain in charitism. Except, of course, the knowledge of the soul; and everlasting life.

Father-dominated people who form father-dominated cultures have father- religions: a male deity, an authoritative scripture, a strong central government, an intolerance for inquiry and research, a repressive sexual attitude, a deep conservatism (for one does not change what Father built), a rigid demarcation, in dress and conduct, between the sexes, and a profound horror of homosexuality.

Mother-dominated people who form mother-dominated cultures have mother- religions: a female deity served by priestesses, a liberal government—one which feeds the masses and succors the helpless—a great tolerance for experimental thought, a permissive attitude toward sex, a hazy boundary between the insignes of the sexes, and a dread of incest.

The father-dominated culture seeks always to impose itself upon others. The other does not. So it is the first, the patrist culture which tends to establish itself in the main stream, the matrist which rises within it, occasionally revolts, more often is killed. They are not stages of evolution, but phases marking swings of the pendulum.

The patrists poison themselves. The matrists tend to decay, which is merely another kind of poison. Occasionally one will meet a person who has been equally influenced by his mother and his father, and emulates the best of both. Usually, however, people fall into one category or the other; this is a slippery fence on which to walk…

Except for the Ledom.

We are liberal in art and in technological research, in expression of all kinds. We are immovably conservative in certain areas; our conviction, each of us, never to lose the skills of the hand and of the land. We are raising children who will emulate neither mother images nor father-images, but parents; and our deity is the Child. We renounce and forgo all products of the past but ourselves, though we know there is much there that is beautiful; that is the price we pay for quarantine and health; that is the wall we put between ourselves and the dead hand. This is the only taboo, restriction—and the only demand we have from those who bore us.

For, like homo sap., we were born of earth and of the creatures of earth; we were born of a race of half-beasts, half-savages; homo sap. birthed us. Like homo sap. we are denied the names of those from whom we sprung, though, like men, we have much evidence of the probabilities. Our human parents built us a nest, and cared for us until we were fledged, but would not let us know them, because, unlike most men, they knew themselves and therefore would not be worshipped. And no one but themselves, they and the mothers, knew of us, that we were here, that we were something new on the face of earth. They would not betray us to homo sap., for we were different, and like all pack, herd, hive animals, homo sap. believes in the darkest part of the heart that whatever is different is by definition dangerous, and should be exterminated. Especially if it is similar in any important way (oh how horrible the gorilla, how contemptible the baboon) and most especially if in some way it might be superior, possessing techniques and devices surpassing their own (remember the Sputnik Reaction…?) but with absolute and deadly certainty if their sex activities fall outside certain arbitrary limits; for this is the key to all unreason, from outrage to envy. In a cannibal society it is immoral not to eat human flesh.

¤                ¤                ¤                ¤

M_T_H¤   ‘More Than Human’

The origins of this story lie in the novella «Baby is Three» that appeared in Galaxy magazine.  Here comprising the middle third of the expanded story, it is the core of the story of a band of misfits who don’t fit in with normal human society because their own abilities, when taken separately, leave them disconnected from others, often to the point of being viewed as dull or mentally retarded.  The first part introduces four of the six core characters that appear here:  Lone, or the Idiot, a telepath; Janie, an eight year-old with the power of telekinesis; the nearly-mute twins Bonnie and Beanie, who possess the power of teleportation, and the «Mongoloid» Baby, with computer-like processing power.  Separate, each of these four are nigh useless, but as the first part, «The Fabulous Idiot,» progresses, the four come to know each other and to realize that each is both complementary and supplementary to the others, creating a new self-consciousness that is greater than the sum of the four.

«Baby is Three» explores the human gestalt‘s expanding awareness, even as it introduces a new character, Gerry, who possesses his own telepathic powers as well as a sense of ruthlessness that was not previously present.  This section is devoted heavily to psychological themes, such as belonging and the division of the conscious and subconscious.  However, there is some plot and a little character development in this middle section.

The final third, «Morality,» is concerned with the gestalt‘s development of a conscience.  This is seen through the integration of the sixth member, Hip, into the group after initial conflict with Gerry.  This section typifies many of the strengths as well as weaknesses of Sturgeon’s work.  The idea of a group consciousness developing a conscience intrigues, but ultimately, the failing of the three sections in regards to developing complex characterizations (or perhaps super-characterization in the case of thegestalt?) dampens the potential power of this story.  The characters rarely are more than sketchy ciphers who serve to fulfill the plot necessities; they do not feel «human,» much less «more than human» due to this neglect to develop compelling personalities who are more than just plot vehicles.

Listen• Listen to the writer read Section 2: «Baby is Three»

→ Audio of Sturgeon reading from More Than Human, on 1950s radio program X Minus One (1956–57) ←

I finally got into see this Stern. He wasn’t an old man at all. He looked up from his desk, flicked his eyes over me once, and picked up a pencil. “Sit over there, Sonny.”
I stood where I was until he looked up again. Then I said, “Look, if a midget walks in here, what do you say—sit over there, Shorty?”
He put the pencil down again and stood up. He smiled. His smile was as quick and sharp as his eyes. “I was wrong,” he said, “but how am I supposed to know you don’t want to be called Sonny?”
That was better, but I was still mad. “I’m fifteen and I don’t have to like it. Don’t rub my nose in it.”
He smiled again and said okay, and I went and sat down.
“What’s your name?”
“Gerard.”
“First or last?”
“Both,” I said.
“Is that the truth?”
I said, “No. And don’t ask me where I live either.”
He put down his pencil. “We’re not going to get very far this way.”
“That’s up to you. What are you worried about? I got feelings of hostility? Well, sure I have. I got lots more things than that wrong with me or I wouldn’t be here. Are you going to let that stop you?”
“Well, no, but—”
“So what else is bothering you? How you’re going to get paid?” I took out a thousand-dollar bill and laid it on the desk. “That’s so you won’t have to bill me. You keeptrack of it. Tell me when it’s used up and I’ll give you more. So you don’t need my address.
Wait,” I said, when he reached towards the money. “Let it lay there. I want to be sure you and I are going to get along.”
He folded his hands. “I don’t do business this way, Son—I mean, Gerard.”
“Gerry,” I told him. “You do, if you do business with me.”
“You make things difficult, don’t you? Where did you get a thousand dollars?”
“I won a contest. Twenty-five words or less about how much fun it is to do my daintier
underthings with Sudso.” I leaned forward. “This time it’s the truth.”
“All right,” he said.
I was surprised. I think he knew it, but he didn’t say anything more. Just waited for me to go ahead.
“Before we start—if we start,” I said, “I got to know something. The things I say to you—what comes out while you’re working on me—is that just between us, like a priest or a lawyer?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
“No matter what?”
“No matter what.”
I watched him when he said it. I believed him.
“Pick up your money,” I said. “You’re on.”
He didn’t do it. He said, “As you remarked a minute ago, that is up to me. You can’t buy these treatments like a candy bar. We have to work together. If either one of us can’t do that, it’s useless. You can’t walk in on the first psychotherapist you find in the phone book and make any demand that occurs to you just because you can pay for it.”
I said tiredly, “I didn’t get you out of the phone book and I’m not just guessing that you can help me. I winnowed through a dozen or more head-shrinkers before I decided on you.”
“Thanks,” he said, and it looked as if he was going to laugh at me, which I never like.
“Winnowed, did you say? Just how?”
“Things you hear, things you read. You know. I’m not saying, so just file that with my street address.”
He looked at me for a long time. It was the first time he’d used his eyes on me for anything
but a flash glance. Then he picked up the bill.
“What do I do first?” I demanded.
“What do you mean?”
“How do we start?”
“We started when you walked in here.”
So then I had to laugh. “All right, you got me. All I had was an opening. I didn’t know
where you would go from there, so I couldn’t be there ahead of you.”
“That’s very interesting,” Stern said. “Do you usually figure everything out in advance?”
“Always.”
“How often are you right?”
“All the time. Except—but I don’t have to tell you about no exceptions.”
He really grinned this time. “I see. One of my patients has been talking.”
“One of your ex-patients. Your patients don’t talk.”
“I ask them not to. That applies to you, too. What did you hear?”
“That you know from what people say and do what they’re about to say and do, and that sometimes you let’m do it and sometimes you don’t. How did you learn to do that?”
He thought a minute. “I guess I was born with an eye for details, and then let myself make
enough mistakes with enough people until I learned not to make too many more. How did you
learn to do it?”
I said, “You answer that and I won’t have to come back here.” “You really don’t know?”
“I wish I did. Look, this isn’t getting us anywhere, is it?”
He shrugged. “Depends on where you want to go.” He paused, and I got the eyes full
strength again. “Which thumbnail description of psychiatry do you believe at the moment?”
“I don’t get you.”
Stern slid open a desk drawer and took out a blackened pipe. He smelled it, turned it over
while looking at me. “Psychiatry attacks the onion of the self, removing layer after layer until it gets down to the little sliver of unsullied ego. Or: psychiatry drills like an oil well, down and sidewise and down again, through all the muck and rock until it strikes a layer that yields.
Or: psychiatry grabs a handful of sexual motivations and throws them on the pinball machine of your life, so they bounce on down against episodes. Want more?”
I had to laugh. “That last one was pretty good.”
“That last one was pretty bad. They are all bad. They all try to simplify something which is complex by its very nature. The only thumbnail you’ll get from me is this: no one knows what’s really wrong with you but you; no one can find a cure for it but you; no one but you can
identify it as a cure; and once you find it, no one but you can do anything about it.”
“What are you here for?”
“To listen.”
“I don’t have to pay somebody no day’s wage every hour just to listen.”
“True. But you’re convinced that I listen selectively.”
“Am I?” I wondered about it. “I guess I am. Well, don’t you?”
“No, but you’ll never believe that.”
I laughed. He asked me what that was for. I said, “You’re not calling me Sonny.”
“Not you.” He shook his head slowly. He was watching me while he did it, so his eyes slid in their sockets as his head moved. “What is it you want to know about yourself, that made you worried I might tell people?”
“I want to find out why I killed somebody,” I said right away.
It didn’t faze him a bit. “Lie down over there.”
I got up. “On that couch?”
He nodded.
As I stretched out self-consciously, I said, “I feel like I’m in some damn cartoon.”
“What cartoon?”
“Guy’s built like a bunch of grapes,” I said, looking at the ceiling. It was pale gray.
“What’s the caption?”
“ ‘I got trunks full of ’em.’ ”
“Very good,” he said quietly. I looked at him carefully. I knew then he was the kind of guy who laughs way down deep when he laughs at all.
He said, “I’ll use that in a book of case histories some time. But it won’t include yours.
What made you throw that in?” When I didn’t answer, he got up and moved to a chair behind me where I couldn’t see him. “You can quit testing, Sonny. I’m good enough for your purposes.”
I clenched my jaw so hard, my back teeth hurt. Then I relaxed. I relaxed all over. It was wonderful. “All right,” I said, “I’m sorry.” He didn’t say anything, but I had that feeling again that he was laughing. Not at me, though.
“How old are you?” he asked me suddenly.
“Uh—fifteen.”
“Uh—fifteen,” he repeated. “What does the ‘uh’ mean?”
“Nothing. I’m fifteen.”
“When I asked your age, you hesitated because some other number popped up. Youiscarded that and substituted ‘fifteen.’ ”
“The hell I did! I am fifteen!”
“I didn’t say you weren’t.” His voice came patiently. “Now what was the other number?”
I got mad again. “There wasn’t any other number! What do you want to go pryin’ my grunts
apart for, trying to plant this and that and make it mean what you think it ought to mean?”
He was silent.
“I’m fifteen,” I said defiantly, and then, “I don’t like being only fifteen. You know that. I’m not trying to insist I’m fifteen.”
He just waited, still not saying anything.
I felt defeated. “The number was eight.”
“So you’re eight. And your name?”
“Gerry.” I got up on one elbow, twisting my neck around so I could see him. He had his
pipe apart and was sighting through the stem at the desk lamp. “Gerry, without no ‘uh!’ ”
“All right,” he said mildly, making me feel real foolish.
I leaned back and closed my eyes.
Eight, I thought. Eight.
“It’s cold in here,” I complained.
Eight. Eight, plate, state, hate. I ate from the plate of the state and I hate. I didn’t like any of that and I snapped my eyes open. The ceiling was still gray. It was all right. Stern was somewhere behind me with his pipe, and he was all right; I took two deep breaths, three, and then let my eyes close. Eight. Eight years old. Eight, hate. Years, fears. Old, cold. Damn it! I twisted and twitched on the couch, trying to find a way to keep the cold out. I ate from the plate of the— I grunted and with my mind I took all the eights and all the rhymes and everything they stood for, and made it all black. But it wouldn’t stay black. I had to put something there, so I made a great big luminous figure eight and just let it hang there. But it turned on its side and inside the loops it began to shimmer. It was like one of those movie shots through binoculars.
I was going to have to look through whether I liked it or not.
Suddenly I quit fighting it and let it wash over me. The binoculars came close, closer, and then I was there.
Eight. Eight years old, cold. Cold as a bitch in the ditch. The ditch was by a railroad. Last year’s weeds were scratchy straw. The ground was red, and when it wasn’t slippery, clingy mud, it was frozen hard like a flowerpot. It was hard like that now, dusted with hoar-frost, cold as the winter light that pushed up over the hills. At night the lights were warm, and they were all in other people’s houses. In the daytime the sun was in somebody else’s house too, for all the good it did me.
I was dying in that ditch. Last night it was as good a place as any to sleep and this morning it was as good a place as any to die. Just as well. Eight years old, the sick-sweet taste of pork fat and wet bread from somebody’s garbage, the thrill of terror when you’re stealing a gunnysack and you hear a footstep. And I heard a footstep.
I’d been curled up on my side. I whipped over on my stomach because sometimes they kick your belly. I covered my head with my arms and that was as far as I could get.  After a while I rolled my eyes up and looked without moving. There was a big shoe there. There was an ankle in the shoe, and another shoe close by. I lay there waiting to get tromped. Not that I cared much any more, but it was such a damn shame. All these months on my own, and they’d never caught up with me, never even come close, and now this. It was such a shame I started to cry.
The shoe took me under the armpit, but it was not a kick. It rolled me over. I was so stiff from the cold, I went over like a plank. I just kept my arms over my face and head and layhere with my eyes closed. For some reason I stopped crying. I think people only cry when there’s a chance of getting help from somewhere.
When nothing happened, I opened my eyes and shifted my forearms a little so I could see up. There was a man standing over me and he was a mile high. He had on faded dungarees and an old Eisenhower jacket with deep sweat-stains under the arms. His face was shaggy, like the guys who can’t grow what you could call a beard, but still don’t shave.
He said, “Get up.”
I looked down at his shoe, but he wasn’t going to kick me. I pushed up a little and almost fell down again, except he put his big hand where my back would hit it. I lay against it for a second because I had to, and then got up to where I had one knee on the ground.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go.”
I swear I felt my bones creak, but I made it. I brought a round white stone up with me as I stood. I hefted the stone. I had to look at it to see if I was really holding it, my fingers were that cold. I told him, “Stay away from me or I’ll bust you in the teeth with this rock.”
His hand came out and down so fast I never saw the way he got one finger between my palm and the rock and flicked it out of my grasp. I started to cuss at him, but he just turned his back and walked up the embankment towards the tracks. He put his chin on his shoulder and said, “Come on, will you?”
He didn’t chase me, so I didn’t run. He didn’t talk to me so I didn’t argue. He didn’t hit me, so I didn’t get mad. I went along after him. He waited for me. He put out his hand to me and I spit at it. So he went on, up to the tracks, out of my sight. I clawed my way up. The blood was beginning to move in my hands and feet and they felt like four point-down porcupines. When I got up to the road-bed, the man was standing there waiting for me.
The track was level just there, but as I turned my head to look along it, it seemed to be a hill that was steeper and steeper and turned over above me. The next thing you know, I was lying flat on my back looking up at the cold sky.
The man came over and sat down on the rail near me. He didn’t try to touch me. I gasped for breath a couple of times and suddenly felt I’d be all right if I could sleep for a minute—just a little minute. I closed my eyes. The man stuck his finger in my ribs, hard. It hurt.
“Don’t sleep,” he said.
I looked at him.
He said, “You’re frozen stiff and weak with hunger. I want to take you home and get you warmed up and fed. But it’s a long haul up that way, and you won’t make it by yourself. If I carry you, will that be the same to you as if you walked it?”
“What are you going to do when you get me home?”
“I told you.”
“All right,” I said.
He picked me up and carried me down the track. If he’d said anything else in the world, I’d of laid right down where I was until I froze to death. Anyway, what did he want to ask me for, one way or the other? I couldn’t of done anything.
I stopped thinking about it and dozed off.
I woke up once when he turned off the right of way. He dove into the woods. There was no path, but he seemed to know where he was going. The next time I woke from a crickling noise. He was carrying me over a frozen pond and the ice was giving under his feet. He didn’t hurry. I looked down and saw the white cracks raying out under his feet, and it didn’t seem to matter a bit. I bleared off again.
He put me down at last. We were there. “There” was inside a room. It was very warm. He put me on my feet and I snapped out of it in a hurry. The first thing I looked for was the door. I saw it and jumped over there and put my back against the wall beside it, in case I wanted to leave. Then I looked around. It was a big room. One wall was rough rock and the rest was logs with stuff shoved between them. There was a big fire going in the rock wall, not in a fireplace, exactly; it was a sort of hollow place. There was an old auto battery on a shelf opposite, with two yellowing electric light bulbs dangling by wires from it. There was a table, some boxes, and a couple of three-legged stools. The air had a haze of smoke and such a wonderful, heartbreaking, candy-and-crackling smell of food that a little hose squirted inside my mouth.
The man said, “What have I got here, Baby?”
And the room was full of kids. Well, three of them, but somehow they seemed to be more than three kids. There was a girl about my age—eight, I mean—with blue paint on the side of her face. She had an easel and a palette with lots of paints and a fistful of brushes, but she wasn’t using the brushes. She was smearing the paint on with her hands. Then there was a little Negro girl about five with great big eyes who stood gaping at me. And in a wooden crate, set up on two sawhorses to make a kind of bassinet, was a baby. I guess about three or four months old. It did what babies do, drooling some, making small bubbles, waving its hands around very aimless, and kicking. When the man spoke, the girl at the easel looked at me and then at the baby. The baby just kicked and drooled.
The girl said, “His name’s Gerry. He’s mad.”
“What’s he mad at?” the man asked. He was looking at the baby.
“Everything,” said the girl. “Everything and everybody.”
“Where’d he come from?”
I said, “Hey, what is this?” but nobody paid any attention. The man kept asking questions at the baby and the girl kept answering. Craziest thing I ever saw.
“He ran away from a state school,” the girl said. “They fed him enough, but no one bleshed with him.”
That’s what she said—‘bleshed’.
I opened the door then and cold air hooted in. “You louse,” I said to the man, “you’re from the school.”
“Close the door, Janie,” said the man. The girl at the easel didn’t move, but the door banged shut behind me. I tried to open it and it wouldn’t move. I let out a howl, yanking at it.
“I think you ought to stand in the corner,” said the man. “Stand him in the corner, Janie.”
Janie looked at me. One of the three-legged stools sailed across to me. It hung in midair and turned on its side. It nudged me with its flat seat. I jumped back and it came after me. I dodged to the side, and that was the corner. The stool came on. I tried to bat it down and just hurt my hand. I ducked and it went lower than I did. I put one hand on it and tried to vault over it, but it just fell and so did I. I got up again and stood in the corner, trembling. The stool turned right side up and sank to the floor in front of me.
The man said, “Thank you, Janie.” He turned to me. “Stand there and be quiet, you. I’ll get to you later. You shouldn’ta kicked up all that fuss.” And then, to the baby, he said, “He got anything we need?”
And again it was the little girl who answered. She said, “Sure. He’s the one.”
“Well,” said the man. “What do you know!” He came over. “Gerry, you can live here. I don’t come from no school. I’ll never turn you in.”
“Yeah, huh?”
“He hates you,” said Janie.
“What am I supposed to do about that?” he wanted to know.
Janie turned her head to look into the bassinet. “Feed him.” The man nodded and began fiddling around the fire. Meanwhile, the little Negro girl had been standing in the one spot with her big eyes right out on her cheekbones, looking at me. Janie went back to her painting and the baby just lay there same as always, so I stared right back at the little Negro girl. Inapped, “What the hell are you gawking at?”
She grinned at me. “Gerry ho-ho,” she said, and disappeared. I mean she really disappeared, went out like a light, leaving her clothes where she had been. Her little dress billowed in the air and fell in a heap where she had been, and that was that. She was gone.
“Gerry hee-hee,” I heard. I looked up, and there she was, stark naked, wedged in a space where a little outcropping on the rock wall stuck out just below the ceiling. The second I saw her she disappeared again.
“Gerry ho-ho,” she said. Now she was on top of the row of boxes they used as storage shelves, over on the other side of the room.
“Gerry hee-hee!” Now she was under the table. “Gerry ho-ho!” This time she was right in the corner with me, crowding me.
I yelped and tried to get out of the way and bumped the stool. I was afraid of it, so I shrank back again and the little girl was gone.
The man glanced over his shoulder from where he was working at the fire. “Cut it out, you kids,” he said.
There was a silence, and then the girl came slowly out from the bottom row of shelves. She walked across to her dress and put it on.
“How did you do that?” I wanted to know.
“Ho-ho,” she said.
Janie said, “It’s easy. She’s really twins.”
“Oh,” I said. Then another girl, exactly the same, came from somewhere in the shadows and stood beside the first. They were identical. They stood side by side and stared at me. This time I let them stare.
“That’s Bonnie and Beanie,” said the painter. “This is Baby and that—” she indicated the man—“that’s Lone. And I’m Janie.”
I couldn’t think of what to say, so I said, “Yeah.”
Lone said, “Water, Janie.” He held up a pot. I heard water trickling, but didn’t see anything.
“That’s enough,” he said, and hung the pot on a crane. He picked up a cracked china plate and brought it over to me. It was full of stew with great big lumps of meat in it and thick gravy and dumplings and carrots. “Here, Gerry. Sit down.”
I looked at the stool. “On that?”
“Sure.”
“Not me,” I said. I took the plate and hunkered down against the wall.
“Hey,” he said after a time. “Take it easy. We’ve all had chow. No one’s going to snatch it
away from you. Slow down!”
I ate even faster than before. I was almost finished when I threw it all up. Then for some reason my head hit the edge of the stool. I dropped the plate and spoon and slumped there. I felt real bad.
Lone came over and looked at me. “Sorry, kid,” he said. “Clean up, will you, Janie?”
Right in front of my eyes, the mess on the floor disappeared. I didn’t care about that or anything else just then. I felt the man’s hand on the side of my neck. Then he tousled my hair.
“Beanie, get him a blanket. Let’s all go to sleep. He ought to rest a while.”
I felt the blanket go around me, and I think I was asleep before he put me down.
I don’t know how much later it was when I woke up. I didn’t know where I was and that scared me. I raised my head and saw the dull glow of the embers in the fireplace. Lone was stretched out on it in his clothes. Janie’s easel stood in the reddish blackness like some great preying insect. I saw the baby’s head pop up out of the bassinet, but I couldn’t tell whether he was looking straight at me or away. Janie was lying on the floor near the door and the twins were on the old table. Nothing moved except the baby’s head, bobbing a little.
I got to my feet and looked around the room. Just a room, only the one door. I tiptoedowards it. When I passed Janie, she opened her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” she whispered.
“None of your business,” I told her. I went to the door as if I didn’t care, but I watched her.
She didn’t do anything. The door was as solid tight closed as when I’d tried it before.
I went back to Janie. She just looked up at me. She wasn’t scared. I told her, “I got to go to the john.”
“Oh,” she said. “Why’n’t you say so?”
Suddenly I grunted and grabbed my guts. The feeling I had I can’t begin to talk about. I acted
as if it was a pain, but it wasn’t. It was like nothing else that ever happened me before.
Something went splop on the snow outside.
“Okay,” Janie said. “Go on back to bed.”
“But I got to—”
“You got to what?”
“Nothing.” It was true. I didn’t have to go no place.
“Next time tell me right away. I don’t mind.”
I didn’t say anything. I went back to my blanket.
“That’s all?” said Stern. I lay on the couch and looked up at the gray ceiling. He asked, “How old are you?”
“Fifteen,” I said dreamily. He waited until, for me, the gray ceiling acquired walls on a floor, a rug and lamps and a desk and a chair with Stern in it. I sat up and held my head a second, and then I looked at him. He was fooling with his pipe and looking at me. “What did you do to me?”
“I told you. I don’t do anything here. You do it.”
“You hypnotized me.”
“I did not.” His voice was quiet, but he really meant it.
“What was all that, then? It was… it was like it was happening for real all over again.”
“Feel anything?”
“Everything.” I shuddered. “Every damn thing. What was it?”
“Anyone doing it feels better afterwards. You can go over it all again now any time you want to, and every time you do, the hurt in it will be less. You’ll see.”
It was the first thing to amaze me in years. I chewed on it and then asked, “If I did it by myself, how come it never happened before?”
“It needs someone to listen.”
“Listen? Was I talking?”
“A blue streak.”
“Everything that happened?”
“How can I know? I wasn’t there. You were.”
“You don’t believe it happened, do you? Those disappearing kids and the footstool and all?”
He shrugged. “I’m not in the business of believing or not believing. Was it real to you?”
“Oh, hell, yes!”
“Well, then, that’s all that matters. Is that where you live, with those people?”
I bit off a fingernail that had been bothering me. “Not for a long time. Not since Baby was three.” I looked at him. “You remind me of Lone.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know. No, you don’t.” I added suddenly. “I don’t know what made me say that.” I lay down abruptly.
The ceiling was gray and the lamps were dim. I heard the pipe-stem click against his teeth.
I lay there for a long time. “Nothing happens,” I told him.
“What did you expect to happen?”
“Like before.”
“There’s something there that wants out. Just let it come.”
It was as if there was a revolving drum in my head, and on it were photographed the places and things and people I was after. And it was as if the drum was spinning very fast, so fast I couldn’t tell one picture from another. I made it stop, and it stopped at a blank segment. I spun it again, and stopped it again.
“Nothing happens,” I said.
“Baby is three,” he repeated.
“Oh,” I said. “That.” I closed my eyes.
That might be it. Might, sight, night, light. I might have the sight of a light in the night.
Maybe the baby. Maybe the sight of the baby at night because of the light…
There was night after night when I lay on that blanket, and a lot of nights I didn’t. Something was going on all the time in Lone’s house. Sometimes I slept in the daytime. I guess the only time everybody slept at once was when someone was sick, like me the first time I arrived there. It was always sort of dark in the room, the same night and day, the fire going, the two old bulbs hanging yellow by their wires from the battery. When they got too dim, Janie fixed the battery and they got bright again.
Janie did everything that needed doing, whatever no one else felt like doing. Everybody else did things, too. Lone was out a lot. Sometimes he used the twins to help him, but you never missed them, because they’d be here and gone and back again bing! like that. And Baby, he just stayed in his bassinet.
I did things myself. I cut wood for the fire and I put up more shelves, and then I’d go swimming with Janie and the twins sometimes. And I talked to Lone. I didn’t do a thing that the others couldn’t do, but they all did things I couldn’t do. I was mad, mad all the time about that. But I wouldn’t of known what to do with myself if I wasn’t mad all the time about something or other. It didn’t keep us from bleshing. Bleshing, that was Janie’s word. She said Baby told it to her. She said it meant everyone all together being something, even if they all did different things. Two arms, two legs, one body, one head, all working together, although a head can’t walk and arms can’t think. Lone said maybe it was a mixture of “blending” and “meshing”, but I don’t think he believed that himself. It was a lot more than that.
Baby talked all the time. He was like a broadcasting station that runs twenty-four hours a day, and you can get what it’s sending any time you tune in, but it’ll keep sending whether you tune in or not. When I say he talked, I don’t mean exactly that. He semaphored mostly. You’d think those wandering vague movements of his hands and arms and legs and head were meaningless, but they weren’t. It was semaphore, only instead of a symbol for a sound, or such like, the movements were whole thoughts.
I mean spread the left hand and shake the right high up, and thump with the left heel, and it means, “Anyone who thinks a starling is a pest just don’t know anything about how a starling thinks” or something like that. Janie said she made Baby invent the semaphore business. She said she used to be able to hear the twins thinking—that’s what she said; hear them thinking—and they could hear Baby. So she would ask the twins whatever she wanted to know, and they’d ask Baby, and then tell her what he said. But then as they grew up they began to lose the knack of it. Every young kid does. So Baby learned to understand when someone talked, and he’d answer with this semaphore stuff.
Lone couldn’t read the stuff and neither could I. The twins didn’t give a damn. Janie used to watch him all the time. He always knew what you meant if you wanted to ask him something, and he’d tell Janie and she’d say what it was. Part of it, anyway. Nobody could get it all, noteven Janie.  All I know is Janie would sit there and paint her pictures and watch Baby, and sometimes she’d bust out laughing.
Baby never grew any. Janie did, and the twins, and so did I, but not Baby. He just lay there.
Janie kept his stomach full and cleaned him up every two or three days. He didn’t cry and he didn’t make any trouble. No one ever went near him. Janie showed every picture she painted to Baby, before she cleaned the boards and painted new ones. She had to clean them because she only had three of them. It was a good thing, too, because I’d hate to think what that place would of been like if she’d kept them all; she did four or five a day. Lone and the twins were kept hopping getting turpentine for her.
She could shift the paints back into the little pots on her easel without any trouble, just by looking at the picture one color at a time, but turps was something else again. She told me that Baby remembered all her pictures and that’s why she didn’t have to keep them. They were all pictures of machines and gear-trains and mechanical linkages and what looked like electric circuits and things like that. I never thought too much about them.
I went out with Lone to get some turpentine and a couple of picnic hams one time. We went through the woods to the railroad track and down a couple of miles to where we could see the glow of a town. Then the woods again, and some alleys, and a back street.
Lone was like always, walking along, thinking, thinking.
We came to a hardware store and he went up and looked at the lock and came back to where I was waiting, shaking his head. Then we found a general store. Lone grunted and we went and stood in the shadows by the door. I looked in.
All of a sudden Beanie was in there, naked like she always was when she travelled like that. She came and opened the door from the inside. We went in and Lone closed it and locked it.
“Get along home, Beanie,” he said, “before you catch your death.”
She grinned at me and said, “Ho-ho,” and disappeared.
We found a pair of fine hams and a two-gallon can of turpentine. I took a bright yellow ballpoint pen and Lone cuffed me and made me put it back.
“We only take what we need,” he told me.
After we left, Beanie came back and locked the door and went home again. I only went with Lone a few times, when he had more to get than he could carry easily.
I was there about three years. That’s all I can remember about it. Lone was there or he was out, and you could hardly tell the difference. The twins were with each other most of the time. I got to like Janie a lot, but we never talked much. Baby talked all the time, only I don’t know what about.
We were all busy and we bleshed. I sat up on the couch suddenly.
Stern said, “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter. This isn’t getting me any place.”
“You said that when you’d barely started. Do you think you’ve accomplished anything since then?”
“Oh, yeah, but—”
“Then how can you be sure you’re right this time?” When I didn’t say anything, he asked me,
“Didn’t you like this last stretch?”
I said angrily, “I didn’t like or not like. It didn’t mean nothing. It was just—just talk.”
“So what was the difference between this last session and what happened before?”
“My gosh, plenty! The first one, I felt everything. It was all really happening to me. But this time—nothing.” “Why do you suppose that was?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Suppose,” he said thoughtfully, “that there was some episode so unpleasant to you that you wouldn’t dare relive it.”
“Unpleasant? You think freezing to death isn’t unpleasant?”
“There are all kinds of unpleasantness. Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for—the thing that’ll clear up your trouble—is so revolting to you that you won’t go near it. Or you try to hide it. Wait,” he said suddenly, “maybe ‘revolting’ and ‘unpleasant’ are inaccurate words to use. It might be something very desirable to you. It’s just that you don’t want to get straightened out.”
“I want to get straightened out.”
He waited as if he had to clear something up in his mind, and then said, “There’s something in that ‘Baby is three’ phrase that bounces you away. Why is that?”
“Damn if I know.”
“Who said it?”
“I dunno… uh…”
He grinned. “Uh?”
I grinned back at him. “I said it.”
“Okay. When?”
I quit grinning. He leaned forward, then got up.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
He said, “I didn’t think anyone could be that mad.” I didn’t say anything. He went over to his desk. “You don’t want to go on any more, do you?”
“No.”
“Suppose I told you you want to quit because you’re right on the very edge of finding out what you want to know?”
“Why don’t you tell me and see what I do?”
He just shook his head. “I’m not telling you anything. Go on, leave if you want to. I’ll give you back your change.”
“How many people quit just when they’re on top of the answer?”
“Quite a few.”
“Well, I ain’t going to.” I lay down.
He didn’t laugh and he didn’t say, “Good,” and he didn’t make any fuss about it. He just picked up his phone and said, “Cancel everything for this afternoon,” and went back to his chair, up there out of my sight.
It was very quiet in there. He had the place soundproofed.
I said, “Why do you suppose Lone let me live there so long when I couldn’t do any of the things that the other kids could?”
“Maybe you could.”
“Oh, no,” I said positively. “I used to try. I was strong for a kid my age and I knew how to keep my mouth shut, but aside from those two things I don’t think I was any different from any kid. I don’t think I’m any different right now, except what difference there might be from living with Lone and his bunch.”
“Has this anything to do with ‘Baby is three’?”
I looked up at the gray ceiling. “Baby is three. Baby is three. I went up to a big house with a winding drive that ran under a sort of theater marquee thing. Baby is three. Baby…”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-three,” I said, and the next thing you know I was up off that couch like it was hot and heading for the door.
Stern grabbed me. “Don’t be foolish. Want me to waste a whole afternoon?” “What’s that to me? I’m paying for it.”
“All right, it’s up to you.”
I went back. “I don’t like any part of this,” I said.
“Good. We’re getting warm then.”
“What made me say ‘Thirty-three’? I ain’t thirty-three. I’m fifteen. And another thing…”
“Yes?”
“It’s about that ‘Baby is three.’ It’s me saying it, all right. But when I think about it—it’s not my voice.”
“Like thirty-three’s not your age?”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
“Gerry,” he said warmly, “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I realized I was breathing too hard. I pulled myself together. I said, “I don’t like remembering saying things in somebody else’s voice.”
“Look,” he told me. “This head-shrinking business, as you called it a while back, isn’t what most people think. When I go with you into the world of your mind—or when you go yourself, for that matter—what we find isn’t so very different from the so-called real world. It seems so at first, because the patient comes out with all sorts of fantasies and irrationalities and weird experiences. But everyone lives in that kind of world. When one of the ancients coined the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, he was talking about that.
“Everywhere we go, everything we do, we’re surrounded by symbols, by things so familiar we don’t ever look at them or don’t see them if we do look. If anyone ever could report to you exactly what he saw and thought while walking ten feet down the street, you’d get the most twisted, clouded, partial picture you ever ran across. And nobody ever looks at what’s around him with any kind of attention until he gets into a place like this. The fact that he’s looking at past events doesn’t matter; what counts is that he’s seeing clearer than he ever could before, just because, for once, he’s trying.
“Now—about this ‘thirty-three’ business. I don’t think a man could get a nastier shock than to find he has someone else’s memories. The ego is too important to let slide that way. But consider: all your thinking is done in code and you have the key to only about a tenth of it. So you run into a stretch of code which is abhorrent to you. Can’t you see that the only way you’ll find the key to it is to stop avoiding it?”
“You mean I’d started to remember with… with somebody else’s mind?”
“It looked like that to you for a while, which means something. Let’s try to find out what.”
“All right.” I felt sick. I felt tired. And I suddenly realized that being sick and being tired
was a way of trying to get out of it.
“Baby is three,” he said.
Baby is maybe. Me, three, thirty-three, me, you Kew you.
“Kew!” I yelled. Stern didn’t say anything. “Look, I don’t know why, but I think I know how to get to this, and this isn’t the way. Do you mind if I try something else?”
“You’re the doctor,” he said.
I had to laugh. Then I closed my eyes.
There, through the edges of the hedges, the ledges and wedges of windows were shouldering up to the sky. The lawns were sprayed-on green, neat, and clean, and all the flowers looked as if they were afraid to let their petals break and be untidy.
I walked up the drive in my shoes. I’d had to wear shoes and my feet couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to go to the house, but I had to.  I went up the steps between the big white columns and looked at the door. I wished I could see through it, but it was too white and thick. There was a window the shape of a fan over it, too high up though, and a window on each side of it, but they were all crudded up withcolored glass. I hit on the door with my hand and left dirt on it.
Nothing happened so I hit it again. It got snatched open and a tall, thin colored woman stood there. “What you want?”
I said I had to see Miss Kew.
“Well, Miss Kew don’t want to see the likes of you,” she said. She talked too loud. “You got a dirty face.”
I started to get mad then. I was already pretty sore about having to come here, walking around near people in the daytime and all. I said, “My face ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.
Where’s Miss Kew? Go on, find her for me.”
She gasped. “You can’t speak to me like that!”
I said, “I didn’t want to speak to you like any way. Let me in.” I started wishing for Janie.
Janie could of moved her. But I had to handle it by myself. I wasn’t doing so hot, either. She slammed the door before I could so much as curse at her.  So I started kicking on the door. For that, shoes are great. After a while, she snatched the door open again so sudden I almost went on my can. She had a broom with her. She screamed at me, “You get away from here, you trash, or I’ll call the police!” She pushed me and I fell.
I got up off the porch floor and went for her. She stepped back and whupped me one with the broom as I went past, but anyhow I was inside now. The woman was making little shrieking noises and coming for me. I took the broom away from her and then somebody said,
“Miriam!” in a voice like a grown goose.
I froze and the woman went into hysterics. “Oh, Miss Alicia, look out! He’ll kill us all. Get the police. Get the—”
“Miriam!” came the honk, and Miriam dried up.
There at the top of the stairs was this prune-faced woman with a dress on that had lace on it. She looked a lot older than she was, maybe because she held her mouth so tight. I guess she was about thirty-three—thirty-three. She had mean eyes and a small nose.
I asked, “Are you Miss Kew?”
“I am. What is the meaning of this invasion?”
“I got to talk to you, Miss Kew.”
“Don’t say ‘got to’. Stand up straight and speak out.”
The maid said, “I’ll get the police.”
Miss Kew turned on her. “There’s time enough for that, Miriam. Now, you dirty little boy, what do you want?”
“I got to speak to you by yourself,” I told her.
“Don’t you let him do it, Miss Alicia,” cried the maid.
“Be quiet, Miriam. Little boy, I told you not to say ‘got to’. You may say whatever you have to say in front of Miriam.”
“Like hell.” They both gasped. I said, “Lone told me not to.”
“Miss Alicia, are you goin’ to let him—”
“Be quiet, Miriam! Young man, you will keep a civil—” Then her eyes popped up real round. “Who did you say…”
“Lone said so.”
“Lone.” She stood there on the stairs looking at her hands. Then she said, “Miriam, that will be all.” And you wouldn’t know it was the same woman, the way she said it.
The maid opened her mouth, but Miss Kew stuck out a finger that might as well of had a rifle-sight on the end of it. The maid beat it.
“Hey,” I said, “here’s your broom.” I was just going to throw it, but Miss Kew got to me and took it out of my hand.
“In there,” she said.
She made me go ahead of her into a room as big as our swimming hole. It had books allover and leather on top of the tables, with gold flowers drawn into the corners.
She pointed to a chair. “Sit there. No, wait a moment.” She went to the fireplace and got a newspaper out of a box and brought it over and unfolded it on the seat of the chair. “Now sit down.”
I sat on the paper and she dragged up another chair, but didn’t put no paper on it.
“What is it? Where is Lone?”
“He died,”I said.
She pulled in her breath and went white. She stared at me until her eyes started to water.
“You sick?” I asked her. “Go ahead, throw up. It’ll make you feel better.”
“Dead? Lone is dead?”
“Yeah. There was a flash flood last week and when he went out the next night in that big wind, he walked under a old oak tree that got gullied under by the flood. The tree come down on him.”
“Came down on him,” she whispered. “Oh, no… it’s not true.”
“It’s true, all right. We planted him this morning. We couldn’t keep him around no more.
He was beginning to st—”
“Stop!” She covered her face with her hands.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ll be all right in a moment,” she said in a low voice. She went and stood in front of the fireplace with her back to me. I took off one of my shoes while I was waiting for her to come back. But instead she talked from where she was. “Are you Lone’s little boy?”
“Yeah. He told me to come to you.”
“Oh, my dear child!” She came running back and I thought for a second she was going to pick me up or something, but she stopped short and wrinkled up her nose a little bit.
“Wh-what’s your name?”
“Gerry,” I told her.
“Well, Gerry, how would you like to live with me in this nice big house and—and have new clean clothes—and everything?”
“Well, that’s the whole idea. Lone told me to come to you. He said you got more dough than you know what to do with, and he said you owed him a favor.”
“A favor?” That seemed to bother her.
“Well,” I tried to tell her, “he said he done something for you once and you said some day you’d pay him back for it if you ever could. This is it.”
“What did he tell you about that?” She’d got her honk back by then.
“Not a damn thing.”
“Please don’t use that word,” she said, with her eyes closed. Then she opened them and nodded her head. “I promised and I’ll do it. You can live here from now on. If—if you want to.”
“That’s got nothin’ to do with it. Lone told me to.”
“You’ll be happy here,” she said. She gave me an up-and-down. “I’ll see to that.”
“Okay. Shall I go get the other kids?”
“Other kids—children?”
“Yeah. This ain’t for just me. For all of us—the whole gang.”
“Don’t say ‘ain’t’.” She leaned back in her chair, took out a silly little handkerchief and dabbed her lips with it, looking at me the whole time. “Now tell me about these—these other children.”
“Well, there’s Janie, she’s eleven like me. And Bonnie and Beanie are eight, they’re twins, and Baby. Baby is three.”
I screamed. Stern was kneeling beside the couch in a flash, holding his palms against myheeks to hold my head still; I’d been whipping it back and forth.
“Good boy,” he said. “You found it. You haven’t found out what it is, but now you know where it is.”
“But for sure,” I said hoarsely. “Got water?”
He poured me some water out of a thermos flask. It was so cold it hurt. I lay back and rested, like I’d climbed a cliff. I said, “I can’t take anything like that again.”
“You want to call it quits for today?”
“What about you?”
“I’ll go on as long as you want me to.”
I thought about it. “I’d like to go on, but I don’t want no thumping around. Not for a while yet.”
“If you want another of those inaccurate analogies,” Stern said, “psychiatry is like a road map. There are always a lot of different ways to get from one place to another place.”
“I’ll go around by the long way,” I told him. “The eight-lane highway. Not that track over the hill. My clutch is slipping. Where do I turn off?”
He chuckled. I liked the sound of it. “Just past that gravel driveway.”
“I been there. There’s a bridge washed out.”
“You’ve been on this whole road before,” he told me. “Start at the other side of the bridge.”
“I never thought of that. I figured I had to do the whole thing, every inch.”
“Maybe you won’t have to, maybe you will, but the bridge will be easy to cross when you’ve covered everything else. Maybe there’s nothing of value on the bridge and maybe there is, but you can’t get near it till you’ve looked everywhere else.”
“Let’s go.” I was real eager, somehow.
“Mind a suggestion?”
“No.”
“Just talk,” he said. “Don’t try to get too far into what you’re saying. That first stretch, when you were eight—you really lived it. The second one, all about the kids, you just talked about. Then, the visit when you were eleven, you felt that. Now just talk again.”
“All right.”
He waited, then said quietly, “In the library. You told her about the other kids.”
I told her about… and then she said… and something happened, and I screamed. She comforted me and I cussed at her.
But we’re not thinking about that now. We’re going on.
In the library. The leather, the table, and whether I’m able to do with Miss Kew what Lone said.
What Lone said was, “There’s a woman lives up on the top of the hill in the Heights section, name of Kew. She’ll have to take care of you. You got to get her to do that. Do everything she tells you, only stay together. Don’t you ever let any one of you get away from the others, hear? Aside from that, just you keep Miss Kew happy and she’ll keep you happy.
Now you do what I say.” That’s what Lone said. Between every word there was a link like steel cable, and the whole thing made something that couldn’t be broken. Not by me it couldn’t.
Miss Kew said, “Where are your sisters and the baby?”
“I’ll bring ’em.”
“Is it near here?”
“Near enough.” She didn’t say anything to that, so I got up. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Wait,” she said. “I—really, I haven’t had time to think. I mean—I’ve got to get things ready, you know.”
I said, “You don’t need to think and you are ready. So long.” From the door I heard her saying, louder and louder as I walked away, “Young man, if you’re to live in this house, you’ll learn to be a good deal better mannered—” and a lot more of the same.
I yelled back at her, “Okay, okay!” and went out.
The sun was warm and the sky was good, and pretty soon I got back to Lone’s house. The fire was out and Baby stunk. Janie had knocked over her easel and was sitting on the floor by the door with her head in her hands. Bonnie and Beanie were on a stool with their arms around each other, pulled up together as close as they could get, as if it was cold in there, although it wasn’t.
I hit Janie in the arm to snap her out of it. She raised her head. She had gray eyes—or maybe it was more a kind of green—but now they had a funny look about them, like water in a glass that had some milk left in the bottom of it.
I said, “What’s the matter around here?”
“What’s the matter with what?” she wanted to know.
“All of yez,” I said.
She said, “We don’t give a damn, that’s all.”
“Well, all right,” I said, “but we got to do what Lone said. Come on.”
“No.” I looked at the twins. They turned their backs on me. Janie said, “They’re hungry.”
“Well, why not give ’em something?”
She just shrugged. I sat down. What did Lone have to go get himself squashed for?
“We can’t blesh no more,” said Janie. It seemed to explain everything.
“Look,” I said, “I’ve got to be Lone now.”
Janie thought about that and Baby kicked his feet. Janie looked at him. “You can’t,” she said.
“I know where to get the heavy food and the turpentine,” I said. “I can find that springy moss to stuff in the logs, and cut wood, and all.”
But I couldn’t call Bonnie and Beanie from miles away to unlock doors. I couldn’t just say a word to Janie and make her get water and blow up the fire and fix the battery. I couldn’t make us blesh.
We all stayed like that for a long time. Then I heard the bassinet creak. I looked up. Janie was staring into it.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s go.”
“Who says so?”
“Baby.”
“Who’s running things now?” I said, mad. “Me or Baby?”
“Baby,” Janie said.
I got up and went over to bust her one in the mouth, and then I stopped. If Baby could make them do what Lone wanted, then it would get done. If I started pushing them all around, it wouldn’t. So I didn’t say anything. Janie got up and walked out the door. The twins watched her go. Then Bonnie disappeared. Beanie picked up Bonnie’s clothes and walked out. I got Baby out of the bassinet and draped him over my shoulders.
It was better when we were all outside. It was getting late in the day and the air was warm. The twins flitted in and out of the trees like a couple of flying squirrels, and Janie and I walked along like we were going swimming or something. Baby started to kick, and Janie looked at him a while and got him fed, and he was quiet again.
When we came close to town, I wanted to get everybody close together, but I was afraid to say anything. Baby must of said it instead. The twins came back to us and Janie gave them their clothes and they walked ahead of us, good as you please. I don’t know how Baby did it.
They sure hated to travel that way. We didn’t have no trouble except one guy we met on the street near Miss Kew’s place.He stopped in his tracks and gaped at us, and Janie looked at him and made his hat go so far down over his eyes that he like to pull his neck apart getting it back up again.
What do you know, when we got to the house somebody had washed off all the dirt I’d put on the door. I had one hand on Baby’s arm and one on his ankle and him draped over my neck, so I kicked the door and left some more dirt.
“There’s a woman here name of Miriam,” I told Janie. “She says anything, tell her to go to hell.”
The door opened and there was Miriam. She took one look and jumped back six feet. We all trailed inside. Miriam got her wind and screamed, “Miss Kew! Miss Kew!”
“Go to hell,” said Janie, and looked at me. I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time Janie ever did anything I told her to.
Miss Kew came down the stairs. She was wearing a different dress, but it was just as stupid and had just as much lace. She opened her mouth and nothing came out, so she just left it open until something happened. Finally she said, “Dear gentle Lord preserve us!”
The twins lined up and gawked at her. Miriam sidled over to the wall and sort of slid along it, keeping away from us, until she could get to the door and close it. She said, “Miss Kew, if those are the children you said were going to live here, I quit.”
Janie said, “Go to hell.”
Just then Bonnie squatted down on the rug. Miriam squawked and jumped at her. She grabbed hold of Bonnie’s arm and went to snatch her up. Bonnie disappeared, leaving Miriam with one small dress and the damnedest expression on her face. Beanie grinned enough to split her head in two and started to wave like mad. I looked where she was waving, and there was Bonnie, naked as a jaybird, up on the banister at the top of the stairs.
Miss Kew turned around and saw her and sat down plump on the steps. Miriam went down, too, like she’d been slugged. Beanie picked up Bonnie’s dress and walked up the steps past Miss Kew and handed it over. Bonnie put it on. Miss Kew sort of lolled around and looked up. Bonnie and Beanie came back down the stairs hand in hand to where I was. Then they lined up and gaped at Miss Kew.
“What’s the matter with her?” Janie asked me.
“She gets sick every once in a while.”
“Let’s go back home.”
“No,” I told her.
Miss Kew grabbed the banister and pulled herself up. She stood there hanging on to it for a while with her eyes closed. All of a sudden she stiffened herself. She looked about four inches taller. She came marching over to us.
“Gerard,” she honked.
I think she was going to say something different. But she sort of checked herself and pointed. “What in heaven’s name is that?” And she aimed her finger at me.
I didn’t get it right away, so I turned around to look behind me. “What?”
“That! That!”
“Oh!” I said. “That’s Baby.”
I slung him down off my back and held him up for her to look at. She made a sort of moaning noise and jumped over and took him away from me. She held him out in front of her and moaned again and called him a poor little thing, and ran and put him down on a long bench, with cushions under the colored-glass window. She bent over him and put her knuckle in her mouth and bit on it and moaned some more. Then she turned to me.
“How long has he been like this?”
I looked at Janie and she looked at me. I said, “He’s always been like he is.”
She made a sort of cough and ran to where Miriam was lying flaked out on the floor. She slapped Miriam’s face a couple of times back and forth. Miriam sat up and looked us over. Shelosed her eyes and shivered and sort of climbed up Miss Kew hand over hand until she was on her feet.
“Pull yourself together,” said Miss Kew between her teeth. “Get a basin with some hot water and soap. Washcloth. Towels. Hurry!” She gave Miriam a big push. Miriam staggered and grabbed at the wall, and then ran out.  Miss Kew went back to Baby and hung over him, titch-titching with her lips all tight.
“Don’t mess with him,” I said. “There’s nothin’ wrong with him. We’re hungry.”
She gave me a look like I’d punched her. “Don’t speak to me!”
“Look,” I said, “we don’t like this any more ’n you do. If Lone hadn’t told us to, we wouldn’t never have come. We were doing all right where we were.”
“Don’t say ‘wouldn’t never’,” said Miss Kew. She looked at all of us, one by one. Then she took that silly little hunk of handkerchief and pushed it against her mouth.
“See?” I said to Janie. “All the time gettin’ sick.”
“Ho-ho,” said Bonnie.
Miss Kew gave her a long look. “Gerard,” she said in a choked sort of voice, “I understood
you to say that these children were your sisters.”
“Well?”
She looked at me as if I was real stupid. “We don’t have little colored girls for sisters,
Gerard.”
Janie said, “We do.”
Miss Kew walked up and back, real fast. “We have a great deal to do,” she said, talking to herself.
Miriam came in with a big oval pan and towels and stuff on her arm. She put it down on the bench thing and Miss Kew stuck the back of her hand in the water, then picked up Baby and dunked him right in it. Baby started to kick.
I stepped forward and said, “Wait a minute. Hold on now. What do you think you’re doing?”
Janie said, “Shut up, Gerry. He says it’s all right.”
“All right? She’ll drown him.”
“No, she won’t. Just shut up.”
Working up a froth with the soap, Miss Kew smeared it on Baby and turned him over a couple of times and scrubbed at his head and like to smothered him in a big white towel.
Miriam stood gawking while Miss Kew lashed up a dish-cloth around him so it come out pants. When she was done, you wouldn’t of known it was the same baby. And by the time Miss Kew finished with the job, she seemed to have a better hold on herself. She was breathing hard
and her mouth was even tighter. She held out the baby to Miriam.
“Take this poor thing,” she said, “and put him—”
But Miriam backed away. “I’m sorry, Miss Kew, but I am leaving here and I don’t care.”
Miss Kew got her honk out. “You can’t leave me in a predicament like this! These children need help. Can’t you see that for yourself?”
Miriam looked me and Janie over. She was trembling. “You ain’t safe, Miss Alicia. They ain’t just dirty. They’re crazy!”
“They’re victims of neglect, and probably no worse than you or I would be if we’d been
neglected. And don’t say ‘ain’t’. Gerard!”
“What?”
“Don’t say—oh, dear, we have so much to do. Gerard, if you and your—these other children are going to live here, you shall have to make a great many changes. You cannot live under this roof and behave as you have so far. Do you understand that?”
“Oh, sure. Lone said we was to do whatever you say and keep you happy.”
“Will you do whatever I say?” “That’s what I just said, isn’t it?”
“Gerard, you shall have to learn not to speak to me in that tone. Now, young man, if I told you to do what Miriam says, too, would you do it?”
I said to Janie, “What about that?”
“I’ll ask Baby.” Janie looked at Baby and Baby wobbled his hands and drooled some. She said, “It’s okay.”
Miss Kew said, “Gerard, I asked you a question.”
“Keep your pants on,” I said. “I got to find out, don’t I? Yes, if that’s what you want, we’ll listen to Miriam too.”
Miss Kew turned to Miriam. “You hear that, Miriam?”
Miriam looked at Miss Kew and at us and shook her head. Then she held out her hands a bit to Bonnie and Beanie.
They went right to her. Each one took hold of a hand. They looked up at her and grinned.
They were probably planning some sort of hellishness, but I guess they looked sort of cute.
Miriam’s mouth twitched and I thought for a second she was going to look human. She said, “All right, Miss Alicia.”
Miss Kew walked over and handed her the baby and she started upstairs with him. Miss Kew herded us along after Miriam. We all went upstairs.
They went to work on us then and for three years they never stopped.
“That was hell,” I said to Stern.
“They had their work cut out.”
“Yeah, I s’pose they did. So did we. Look, we were going to do exactly what Lone said.
Nothing on earth could of stopped us from doing it. We were tied and bound to doing every last little thing Miss Kew said to do. But she and Miriam never seemed to understand that. I guess they felt they had to push every inch of the way. All they had to do was make us understand what they wanted, and we’d of done it. That’s okay when it’s something like telling me not to climb into bed with Janie. Miss Kew raised holy hell over that. You’d of thought I’d robbed the Crown Jewels, the way she acted.
“But when it’s something like, ‘You must behave like little ladies and gentlemen,’ it just doesn’t mean a thing. And two out of three orders she gave us were like that. ‘Ah-ah!’ she’d say.
‘Language, language!’ For the longest time I didn’t dig that at all. I finally asked her what the hell she meant, and then she finally came out with it. But you see what I mean.”
“I certainly do,” Stern said. “Did it get easier as time went on?”
“We only had real trouble twice, once about the twins and once about Baby. That one was real bad.”
“What happened?”
“About the twins? Well, when we’d been there about a week or so we began to notice something that sort of stunk. Janie and me, I mean. We began to notice that we almost never got to see Bonnie and Beanie. It was like that house was two houses, one part for Miss Kew and Janie and me, and the other part for Miriam and the twins. I guess we’d have noticed it sooner if things hadn’t been such a hassel at first, getting us into new clothes and making us sleep all the time at night, and all that. But here was the thing: We’d all get turned out in the side yard to play, and then along comes lunch, and the twins got herded off to eat with Miriam while we ate with Miss Kew. So Janie said, ‘Why don’t the twins eat with us?‘
“ ‘Miriam’s taking care of them, dear,’ Miss Kew says.
“Janie looked at her with those eyes. ‘I know that. Let ’em eat here and I’ll take care of ’em.’
“Miss Kew’s mouth got all tight again and she said, ‘They’re little colored girls, Jane. Now eat your lunch.’ “But that didn’t explain anything to Janie or me, either. I said, ‘I want ’em to eat with us.
Lone said we should stay together.’
“ ‘But you are together,’ she says. ‘We all live in the same house. We all eat the same food.
Now let us not discuss the matter.’
“I looked at Janie and she looked at me and she said, ‘So why can’t we all do this livin’ and eatin’ right here?’
“Miss Kew put down her fork and looked hard. ‘I have explained it to you and I have said that there will be no further discussion.’
“Well, I thought that was real nowhere. So I just rocked back my head and bellowed,
‘Bonnie! Beanie!’ And bing, there they were.
“So all hell broke loose. Miss Kew ordered them out and they wouldn’t go, and Miriam come steaming in with their clothes, and she couldn’t catch them, and Miss Kew got to honking at them and finally at me. She said this was too much. Well, maybe she’d had a hard week, but so had we. So Miss Kew ordered us to leave.
“I went and got Baby and started out, and along came Janie and the twins. Miss Kew waited till we were all out the door and next thing you know she ran out after us. She passed us and got in front of me and made me stop. So we all stopped.
“ ‘Is this how you follow Lone’s wishes?’ she asked.
“I told her yes. She said she understood Lone wanted us to stay with her. And I said, ‘Yeah, but he wanted us to stay together more.’
“She said come back in, we’d have a talk. Janie asked Baby and Baby said okay, so we went back. We had a compromise. We didn’t eat in the dining room no more. There was a side porch, a sort of verandah thing with glass windows, with a door to the dining room and a door to the kitchen, and we all ate out there after that. Miss Kew ate by herself.
“But something funny happened because of that whole cockeyed hassel.”
“What was that?” Stern asked me.
I laughed. “Miriam. She looked and sounded like always but she started slipping us cookies between meals. You know, it took me years to figure out what all that was about. I mean it.
From what I’ve learned about people, there seems to be two armies fightin’ about race. One’s fightin’ to keep ’em apart, and one’s fightin’ to get ’em together. Butdon’t see why both sides are so worried about it! Why don’t they just forget it?”
“They can’t. You see, Gerry, it’s necessary for people to believe they are superior in some fashion. You and Lone and the kids—you were a pretty tight unit. Didn’t you feel you were a little better than all of the rest of the world?”
“Better? How could we be better?”
“Different, then.”
“Well, I suppose so, but we didn’t think about it. Different, yes. Better, no.”
“You’re a unique case,” Stern said. “Now go on and tell me about the other trouble you had.
About Baby.”
“Baby. Yeah. Well, that was a couple of months after we moved to Miss Kew’s. Things were already getting real smooth, even then. We’d learned all the ‘yes, ma’am, no, ma’am’ routines by then and she’d got us catching up with school—regular periods morning and afternoon, five days a week. Janie had long ago quit taking care of Baby, and the twins walked to wherever they went. That was funny. They could pop from one place to another right in front of Miss Kew’s eyes and she wouldn’t believe what she saw. She was too upset about them suddenly showing up bare. They quit doing it and she was happy about it. She was happy about a lot of things. It had been years since she’d seen anybody—years. She’d even had the meters put outside the house so no one would ever have to come in. But with us there, she began to liven up. She quit wearing those old-lady dresses and began to look halfway human.
She ate with us sometimes, even. “But one fine day I woke up feeling real weird. It was like somebody had stolen something from me when I was asleep, only I didn’t know what. I crawled out of my window and along the ledge into Janie’s room, which I wasn’t supposed to do. She was in bed. I went and woke her up. I can still see her eyes, the way they opened a little slit, still asleep, and then popped up wide. I didn’t have to tell her something was wrong. She knew, and she knew what it was.
“ ‘Baby’s gone!’ she said.
“We didn’t care then who woke up. We pounded out of her room and down the hall and into the little room at the end where Baby slept. You wouldn’t believe it. The fancy crib he had and the white chest of drawers and all that mess of rattles and so on, they were gone, and there was just a writing desk there. I mean it was as if Baby had never been there at all.
“We didn’t say anything. We just spun around and busted into Miss Kew’s bedroom. I’d never been in there but once and Janie only a few times. But forbidden or not, this was different. Miss Kew was in bed, with her hair braided. She was wide awake before we could get across the room. She pushed herself back and up until she was sitting against the headboard. She gave the two of us the cold eye.
“ ‘What is the meaning of this?’ she wanted to know.
“ ‘Where’s Baby?’ I yelled at her.
“ ‘Gerard,’ she says, ‘there is no need to shout.’
“Janie was a real quiet kid, but she said, ‘You better tell us where he is, Miss Kew,’ and it would of scared you to look at her when she said it.
“So all of a sudden Miss Kew took off the stone face and held out her hands to us.
‘Children,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry. I really am sorry. But I’ve just done what is best. I’ve sent Baby away. He’s gone to live with some children like him. We could never make him really happy
here. You know that.’
“Janie said, ‘He never told us he wasn’t happy.’
“Miss Kew brought out a hollow kind of laugh. ‘As if he could talk, the poor little thing!’
“ ‘You better get him back here,’ I said. ‘You don’t know what you’re fooling with. I told you we wasn’t ever to break up.’“She was getting mad, but she held on to herself. ‘I’ll try to explain it to you, dear,’ she said.
‘You and Jane here and even the twins are all normal, healthy children and you’ll grow up to be fine men and women. But poor Baby’s—different. He’s not going to grow very much more, and he’ll never walk and play like other children.’
“ ‘That doesn’t matter,’ Janie said. ‘You had no call to send him away.’
“And I said, ‘Yeah. You better bring him back, but quick.’
“Then she started to jump salty. ‘Among the many things I have taught you is, I am sure, not to dictate to your elders. Now then, you run along and get dressed for breakfast, and we’ll say no more about this.’
“I told her, nice as I could, ‘Miss Kew, you’re going to wish you brought him back right now. But you’re going to bring him back soon. Or else.’
“So then she got up out of her bed and ran us out of the room.”

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