It was noon on Mars. The party was already in full swing under blinding equatorial sunshine. The theme was "Blackout in Daylight." Our host was DALI, surrealist, paranoiac-critic, millionaire, technophobe. His estate covered an area of the Lunae Planum about the size of Texas.
Gilbert, the producer of the affair, had left orders that all guests were to wear costumes taken from the paintings of the original Salvador Dali. Even I could not get out of it. Nearly naked receptionists, their faces made up into masks, took away the business suit I'd worn from Earth and dressed me in a plastic costume with golden wings, taken from the "View of Port Lligat with Guardian Angels and Fishermen."
I wandered out into the grounds, dazzled by the landscape. A pond of mercury and mirrors flowed at unsettling angles. A dimensionless black mountain reflected the Spanish seaside village, Port Lligat, where Dali had spent so many years. Erotically shaped pavilions stretched to impossible horizons.
"This is indeed surreal, is it not?" said a man's voice behind me. I turned around. The man's hair stood straight up, the Dalist trademark. His mustache was waxed and curled at the ends. He held a glass of Martian blue mescal, clearly not his first. "Oh, excuse me. What are you supposed to be? A donkey?"
"I'm sorry?" I said.
The man's upper body weaved from side to side, though his feet were planted solidly in the red sand. "No, wait, I see it now, you're a tiger ..."
Not just the mescal, I thought. The hallucinations were typical of Martian Disease, a form of low-grade encephalitis. According to the literature, the victim's interpretations of an object shifted without the perception itself changing. The disease was responsible for an abnormally high level of neuronal activity and some even claimed it gave the victims telekinetic powers. The last was of course not verified.
I couldn't imagine what I must have looked like to him. He seemed to find it amusing enough.
"I'm from Tokyo," I said. "I am--or was--Vivi's analyst. You sent me a letter--"
"Ah, yes, doctor. Welcome. I'm the famous DALI OF MARS. How are you enjoying the party? Vivi should be with us soon."
"Good, that's good," I said. I'd known that coming here would mean seeing Vivi again. Now I found myself afraid of the idea.
"Gilbert should be here somewhere. He produced all this. You'll want to meet him."
"I don't remember him being on the list," I said. "Is he one of the ... uh, candidates?"
"Ah, the list. So you're wanting to start work already, eh?" DALI was distracted by a young woman in a death's head mask and a tight suit cut away to reveal her breasts and buttocks. His eyes bulged with a look of insatiable greed.
"Yes," I said. "I'd like to get started as soon as possible. It would be much easier if I could get back my normal clothes ..."
"Yes, of course," DALI said. "The `candidates,' as you put it, should be in the bar." He pointed toward a building shaped like a snail's shell lying on its side.
"Thank you," I said, but DALI was already walking toward the woman with the death's head.
Dressed like a normal person again, I made my way to the bar. Chairs were set up along the wide spiraling aisle, and leather bags full of mescal hung from the curved ceiling. Several of the guests were already drunk. As DALI would have put it, they looked like "snail meat marinated in good champagne."
I found a seat in a bulge of the wall, close enough to hear the conversation. As an outsider, it sounded to me like a herd of geese being stampeded by a pig. Highly symbolic words and phrases shot out of their mouths, one after another. There was a certain harmony to it, but it didn't last. The loudest of the voices belonged to Pinkerton, the pig among the geese.
His name and that of Professor Isherwood, the rheologist, were the first two on DALI's list.
"No, no, no," he shouted. He was dressed as the artist's self-portrait, in smock and beret. "You're all wrong. The hatred of machines goes all the way back to my ancestor, Salvador Dali. His is the true paranoiac-critical view of technology. It's my perfect understanding of this that Vivi so admires. That's why the odds all show that I'm going to be picked for her husband. The odds are 92.4 percent, in fact, calculated objectively."
"Fool," said Isherwood. He sat across the table from Pinkerton, wearing a corduroy jacket over a sweater. "Loudmouthed fool."
"What?" Pinkerton came out of his chair, leaning across the table with both hands spread wide. "You're nothing but a monkey, a simpering toady to technology. You haven't got a prayer. Our engagement will be announced any day. Vivi's husband will be Pinkerton, genius painter of Mars, new incarnation of the first, the original, Salvador Dali!"
Pinkerton settled back in his chair, checking his hair in a hand mirror. Isherwood stared at him, his hands shaking. There was a glass of mescal in one of them and it shattered with a transparent sound. Blood streamed onto the tablecloth.
"Ah," Pinkerton said. "This is true beauty. I think I'll show this tablecloth in my next exhibition."
The other two at the table, Boccaccio the barber and Martin the movie actor, laughed without much conviction. Pinkerton seemed serious. "I think I'll call it, `Jealous Donkey, with His Tail Caught in His Horseshoe, Insults an Angel.'"
"This is ludicrous," Isherwood said. He got up, knocking his chair over, and started out.
"Sir?" I said. I offered him my handkerchief.
"Thank you," he said. He wrapped the handkerchief over his cut and glanced back at Pinkerton. "The man is insane."
"Martian sickness," I said. "Maybe he's not in control of himself. Will you sit down?"
Isherwood nodded and sat across from me. "I've never seen you before," he said. "Are you from Earth?" When I nodded, he said, "You talk like a psychiatrist."
"A marriage counselor, right now," I said. "I was trained in psychiatry. But there aren't many openings these days. Not on Earth, anyway."
"My name is Isherwood."
"I know," I said. "I've read your articles on the rheoprotein."
Isherwood raised one eyebrow, but didn't take the bait. "You're here as a tourist?"
"I'm studying Martian Disease," I said. It was the cover story DALI had instructed me to use. "I want to see if there's any truth to this mind-over-matter business."
"Odd work for a marriage counselor," Isherwood said. "I think maybe you're here to test the various suitors for Vivi's hand. What do you say to that?"
I looked down. My training was in psychiatry, not espionage. I didn't know how to go about deceiving him.
"Good," Isherwood said. "So I'm to be the first. Tell me, what are my chances?"
"I couldn't tell you yet. There have to be tests and interviews, I have to compare your test data with Vivi's ..."
"You already have Vivi's data then?"
One thing was already clear. Isherwood was in love with Vivi. I only had to speak her name to arouse his jealousy.
"I treated Vivi personally while she was studying on Earth," I said.
"Needless to say, we were just doctor and patient, nothing more." His stare cut into me. I found myself rushing to explain. "She suffered from acute technophobia. It's different on Earth than it is here. There are machines everywhere. You can't get away from them. Computers and televisions and video cameras in every room. It's bad enough for an ordinary person coming from Mars, but with Vivi's special--"
Isherwood cut me off. "That's true. She has a very delicate nervous system. It was a mistake to send her to Earth in the first place."
"But your work is technological. Don't you think it would be a mistake for the two of you to marry?"
"Well, I don't think so, of course. I'll be with her no matter what happens."
"But you have powerful enemies. And are you sure she cares for you? You're old enough to be her father."
"I don't know," Isherwood said sadly. "My Beatrice's mind is more mysterious to me than the construction of Phobos."
"So she hasn't refused you completely, then?"
He looked theatrically at the curved ceiling. "No, she only smiles like the Mona Lisa." I wondered if he meant da Vinci's or Dali's.
We moved to his office so we could have privacy for the formal tests. I gave him TAT, Improved Rorschach, Super Association Test, Differential Color Test, Abnormal Sentence Completion, and everything went well. There's often a problem with defensiveness in this sort of testing, but Isherwood was open and friendly, often showing a childlike innocence.
I'd almost told him about Vivi in the bar, but he'd interrupted me. Now, the longer I put it off, the harder it was to bring the subject up again.
I'd found out about it during her analysis in Tokyo three years before. It was early summer when she first came to my office. I could see crystalline sunlight through the green leaves outside my window. By the end of June the heat and monoxide would turn everything to gray and brown.
Vivi was a student at the art college near my office. She was a referral from the local hospital, where she'd been taken after she tried to disembowel herself with an ancient short sword.
When I saw her medical records things became clearer. The plane bringing her to Tokyo had crashed, and only the replacement of her heart, lungs, and stomach with artificial constructs had kept her alive. Knowing her technophobic background, the surgeons had kept the information from her. But her subconscious had evidently at least suspected the truth.
She was only eighteen, beautiful as a butterfly. I was twenty-seven, just out of medical school, without even a nurse or a secretary, trying to make a living from referrals. I suppose I loved her immediately. Of course, I realized my position. It would have been improper for me to take advantage of our relationship as doctor and patient. More than that, though, I simply didn't have any confidence that I could make Vivi happy. A conservative attitude, but then I was young and hadn't established myself, and my future was far from certain.
I saw her for over a year, and helped her, I think. Maybe I should have told her the truth, that the technology she hated was the only thing keeping her alive. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. Her feelings were too delicate, like fine glasswork.
There were other problems I was able to help her with. The worst of them was her relationship with her grandfather. Her father had died when she was three years old. She suspected, perhaps with reason, that DALI had then had an incestuous relationship with her mother. DALI became both substitute father and rival for her mother's love. I had persuaded her to confront some of these Oedipal conflicts and begin to resolve them.
When she left to go back to Mars I thought I would never see her again. And then the letter arrived from DALI. Vivi was twenty-one now, old enough for marriage, but she rejected every man who even broached the subject. DALI had decided that she was to marry, and I was to choose from his list of candidates. The thought of selecting her husband was distasteful to me, but it would mean seeing Vivi again. I accepted.
And so far, the first candidate was doing well. There was only one serious problem. Vivi was still technophobic, and Isherwood's occupation as rheologist naturally involved machines. I tried to delicately express my concerns, but Isherwood ignored me, instead indulging in still more poetry.
"I'm the one who really loves her. Pinkerton is only thinking of DALI's fortune. A square inch of any of his paintings is worth more than a hundred square feet in Manhattan. I'm different. Vivi has taught me the meaning of life. She is a heliotrope, blooming in the red desert of Mars."
"But you must see that Pinkerton is the more obvious choice. He is younger and, forgive me, better looking. As an artist, his career would not be so threatening to her. And he seems very confident of his appeal ..."
"So you think so, too? But there are things I can offer her. Wonderful toys. Delights for the imagination. Just look."
He reached into a desk drawer and took out a soft clock. It was the size of a dessert plate, and it hung limply over his hand. He set it on the edge of the desk, and the rim of the clock bent and drooped toward the floor.
"That's amazing," I said. I touched it with one finger and it gave slightly. The second hand moved continuously around the dial, following the deformations of the clock. "Just like in Dali's `Persistence of Memory.'"
"Made entirely of rheoprotein," Isherwood said. "Accurate to within a few milliseconds, and calibrated for the slightly shorter Martian hour. It must be kept reasonably cool, or it will melt, just like chocolate."
"This seems impossible," I said.
"It would be, with an inorganic mechanism. The problem is that the gears, for example, must resist other gears and yet be flexible under pressure from gravity or an external touch. The protein resembles a universal joint, only on a molecular level. Plus there is an information carrying component, like RNA, that allows it to recognize other rheoproteins and respond appropriately to them."
"A very complicated toy," I said.
"It's not just a toy," Isherwood said, "It could bring an industrial revolution on Earth. Maybe you've seen some reference to it--they're calling it Flabby Engineering. Some journalist's idea of a joke, I imagine. Anyway--an internal combustion engine could be produced in virtually any shape--long and thin, like a broomstick, or twisted, like a spiral. Not to mention cybernetics. Energy or movement can be passed on--or reacted to--with the kind of smoothness you see in living tissue."
"I even find it interesting, from a psychiatric standpoint. The contrast between the hardness of machines and the softness of human beings ..."
Isherwood didn't seem to be listening. "In factories this kind of material could contain, or even harness, the force of accidental explosions. Cars and planes would be infinitely safer." The mention of airplanes made me think of Vivi. "Submarines could be built to mimic the swimming of dolphins. With flexible machine parts all these six-decimal-point tolerances would become meaningless."
He held up his hands. "The possibilities are ... well, beyond anything we could imagine."
For the rest of that day and all of the next I interviewed the remaining candidates. Boccaccio had little intelligence and no imagination. Martin, the actor, was driven by vanity and greed. Conrad, a well-known athlete, revealed a basic hostility toward women.
I interviewed Pinkerton late on the second day. As with all the others, I approached him in conversation and only later resorted to formal testing. He seemed eager to make a good impression once he found out what I was really up to. But under the relentless light of the personality tests he showed himself to be nothing but a dreamer and a braggart, completely self-obsessed. By the end of our session he was screaming and cursing me.
Of all of them only Isherwood was stable and sincere enough to be worthy of Vivi. His paternal nature would go well with her delicate personality and sensibilities. The only problem was Vivi's technophobia. If she married Isherwood, it might very well send her over the edge.
The party lasted two days. The last guests were gone by the time I finished with Pinkerton. The butler showed him to the door and I was alone in DALI's huge cathedral of a house.
I had no sooner showered and changed than the butler came to my room with an invitation. "My master wishes you to join him for dinner, if that would be convenient."
"Of course," I said.
I followed him down to the lobby. Through a bronze door I could see a hallway that seemed to curve upward and over itself in defiance of gravity. When I looked closer I saw it was only an illusion.
The mansion was full of them. There were so many false rooms and staircases and corridors that the false parts seemed to put pressure on the real things, distorting them into nightmare shapes.
The dining room was so large it seemed a deliberate insult to rationality. Black-and-white checkered tiles receded to infinity in all directions.
"Welcome," DALI said, "please sit down." He was at the head of the long, narrow table. His favorite crutch leaned against the side of his red-velvet armchair. But I hardly noticed him. At the far end of the table sat his granddaughter, Vivi.
She was ethereally beautiful. Her golden hair was cut within an inch of her head. Her cheeks were sunken, her eyes hollow, and the muscles of her neck stood out like marble ornaments. It was obvious to anyone that she was critically anorexic. I smiled at her, and she smiled back with what seemed to be great pleasure.
The first chair I touched collapsed and then sprang back into shape. It was clearly not meant to support my weight.
DALI smiled. "One of Mr. Gilbert's designs. They are part of his `Revenge against the Machine Age' series. You see, if the function of a tool is removed, you have Art. Very witty, don't you think?"
I found a chair that would support my weight, and the dinner began.
DALI explained that shellfish had long been the object of his family's gluttony. "The bones, you see, are the objectivity of the animal. The flesh is madness. We carry our objectivity inside us and wear our madness for all the world to see. But the shellfish, the shellfish is an enigma. Objective outside, mad within."
He then proceeded to eat an astounding quantity of oysters, mussels, lobsters, crab, and conch. Unlike the classic bulimic he did not pause to purge himself, but kept on eating with undiminished appetite.
Vivi, meanwhile, did not even taste the small portion she had been served. "Grandpa won't listen to me," she said, her voice glistening like olive oil. "Please, doctor, won't you speak in your own behalf?."
I smiled uneasily, unsure what she was asking.
"This child wants everything," DALI said, breaking through the shell of a monstrous shrimp and attacking the soft, buttery meat inside. "I have always given her whatever she wanted." He looked at me meaningfully.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but--"
"No!" Vivi said. "Doctor, tell him that I only want to be with you! I want you to take me back to Tokyo with you!"
I was completely at a loss. It was natural for a girl like Vivi to become infatuated with her doctor during treatment. It is a common hazard of psychoanalysis. But such feelings are shallow and temporary. Vivi needed a strong father figure, someone to love her faithfully and protect her. Someone like Professor Isherwood.
DALI grabbed his crutch and stood up. "Vivi! You will go to your room! Immediately, do you hear me?" He turned to me. "Please try to make her understand, doctor."
"No," Vivi said, "no, no, no!" She lunged for a table knife and brought it up to stab herself in the chest. I saw that I could not reach her in time and snatched away DALI's crutch. With the crutch I knocked the knife from Vivi's hands. She sank back into her chair, weeping.
I looked back at DALI. It was as if I had taken his sanity when I took the crutch away from him. "Give me that!" he shouted and tore it from my hands.
I already knew the crutch was both physical and psychological. It appeared in many of Salvador Dali's paintings. It was the symbolic tool he needed to support his soft world. DALI and Vivi stared at each other across the table. The anger and jealousy sparked in the air between them. Vivi recovered first and ran from the room, covering her face with both hands.
We all have our crutches, I thought. Sometimes they are powerful weapons and sometimes they become dangerous dependencies. The dinner was over.
I found the butler and asked him where Vivi had gone. He said she had just taken her car into town. "Probably to the Narcissus. It's a pub where the artists all go." He gave me directions and the key to one of DALI's cars.
The pub smelled of tobacco, marijuana, mescal, amyl nitrate, beta-carboline. The Chiriconians meditated silently in the center of the room. A naked couple, tattooed with birds and snakes, wandered around until they finally found two seats by themselves. Two contending groups of monochromists formed living sculptures, the blues horizontal in a dark corner, the reds vertical under a bright light. The futurists walked rapidly around the edges of the room, talking in a truncated language which I could not understand. A pop-artist, wrapped in dirty bandages like a mummy, smelled of rotten sausage.
A fauvist woman, dressed as Matisse's "Lady in Blue," approached me. "Buy a girl a drink?" she said. I nodded and signaled to the waitress. "So what group are you?" she asked.
"I am as you see me."
"That's what I was afraid of. Non-artist. What a drag. Too practical, no dreams." She drained her absinthe in a single swallow. "Oh," she said. "Here comes my friend." I was a little relieved when she left me for the old man, who moved with robotic stiffness. A cubist, apparently. I had heard the rumor that fauvists were obsessed with wolves. Just as the thought came into my head, the woman in the blue dress turned back to me and smiled, showing cosmetically implanted fangs.
I looked away. Martian Disease, everyone was affected to some degree. If I stayed too long, it would begin happening to me. The pub reminded me of the mental hospital in Tokyo where I'd been an intern.
"Are you alone?" a woman said. "May I sit here?"
She had a firm, beautiful body, covered by a Tahitian dress out of a painting by Gauguin. There were red tropical flowers in her hair.
"Do I know you?" I asked.
"My name is Carmen. We met the day before yesterday at DALI's mansion."
"Ah, yes, you were one of the receptionists. I was here looking for Vivi, actually. Have you seen her?"
"She went for a ride with some of DALI's disciples."
"Where do you think they went? I really need to find her."
"Give it up. The desert is too big. She'll be all right."
I let her convince me. After all, I thought, if she was with friends, they would take care of her.
I bought Carmen a glass of champagne and ordered a beer for myself. The beer tasted like mouse piss. Martian water and hops were not up to the job. But it had a lot of alcohol in it, and I quickly became drunk.
Martian women were notoriously loose, and Carmen was no exception. I felt the pressure of her hips against mine. I was a long way from home, and her interest was warming me faster than the beer.
The champagne was clearly affecting her. "I have to make a confession," she said. "I have a terrible habit and I can't seem to stop it. I'm a kleptomaniac. I steal things."
It wasn't the confession I'd wanted to hear, but I nodded sympathetically.
"The guilt is really terrible," she said. "I'm suffering so much pain from it. Please, spank me, doctor." She started to cry.
No one seemed to care except a man at the next table, who said, "Why don't you just go ahead and hit her? That's what she wants." He was wearing a bowler and waistcoat and a short beard. He tipped the hat to Carmen. "Hey, Carmen, did you steal anything worth money this time?"
"You cheap old bastard!" Carmen shouted.
The man yanked her away from me, and then both of them fell onto the floor. The man straddled her waist, backwards, lifted her dress, and began to spank her shapely buttocks. I got up to pull him away and felt a hand on my arm. It was the Lady in Blue. "That's Carmen's pimp," she said. "You'd do better to stay out of it."
The pimp opened her purse and felt inside it. "This bitch, she steals the most worthless shit. What the hell is this?" The thing he pulled out hung down through his fingers like chewing gum.
It was one of Isherwood's soft clocks.
"You thief!" Carmen shouted. Without warning she threw the clock into her mouth, chewed it and swallowed it.
I was not, it seemed, going to be spending the night with Carmen. But she had given me an idea. I ran to the phone and called Professor Isherwood.
The next morning I woke up with a pounding head and queasy stomach. I hadn't realized the aftereffects of Martian beer would be so devastating. I took a hot shower and lurched downstairs just in time for breakfast. DALI was in an extremely good mood. He had already begun eating.
"Why don't you try one?" he said.
When I saw what was on the plate he offered, I panicked. I had meant Isherwood to give the soft clocks to Vivi to eat. DALI must have taken them from her.
I had no choice. I picked out a small pocket watch and ate it. It was cool and crisp, like an English wheat biscuit.
"I like to eat a full meal in the morning," DALI said. The cook brought in a sizzling alarm clock on a tray. The clock was deformed and spread out to the edge of plate, but was still keeping time.
DALI stabbed it with a fork as if to murder it and cut it into bite-sized pieces. His face was radiant with joy. Brown sauce dripped from his mouth and stained his napkin. "Doctor, this is wonderful."
"Perhaps," I suggested, "Vivi would like to try one."
"I don't want any," Vivi said.
"Please, Vivi," I begged her. "It's a gift from Professor Isherwood. He asked especially that you try it."
"No," she said. "I have no appetite. I don't want any, I tell you!"
My idea had been to warm her to the idea of technology with the soft clocks. They were so friendly and harmless looking. I had hoped she might use them to begin to overcome her technophobia. But I hadn't counted on the intensity of her anorexia.
At lunch and dinner she again refused to eat. Her loathing for the soft clocks was so intense that I was afraid she might attempt suicide with her fork. Her personal physician was forced to give her an intravenous injection of protein simply to keep her alive.
The next day I returned to Earth. I had one last plan. Isherwood had given me copies of all his notes and a range of samples of the rheoprotein, and I took them to Sony's research and development laboratory. If Vivi's mechanical organs could be replaced with organs made of the rheoprotein, so close to living tissue, her subconscious self-hatred might be brought under control. Her gratitude to Isherwood would seal their marriage.
I had to hurry. If Vivi's anorexia continued to get worse she would even refuse the injections, and then she would surely die.
The Sony scientists were ecstatic at what I'd brought them. Within a week they'd developed prototype organs and made arrangements for them to be implanted as soon as possible. Isherwood's patent applications were filed, and I was assured that he would soon be a millionaire several times over
I sat alone in my office with a flask of warm sake. It was bitter and sweet at the same time. I had probably saved Vivi's life and made it possible for her to be married to the man I had chosen for her. I had fulfilled my mission.
Why was I miserable? Was it possible that I still loved her? Was it more than some childish infatuation?
But if I truly loved her I would wish only for her happiness. I would see her in her bridal gown. She would leave for her honeymoon with Isherwood. I would see them off. I would have the gratitude of the happy couple.
Gratitude! I smashed the sake cup against the floor I staggered off to bed and lay there, sleepless, until long after the sun had come up.
My job, I soon learned, was not over. A telegram arrived from Vivi. "GRANDFATHER GOES MAD. MARS IS MELTING."
Isherwood was there to meet me at the abandoned shuttleport. I got into his jeep and we drove into the Martian desert, toward DALI's mansion.
"What's happening? Where is everyone?" I asked him.
"He should never have eaten the soft clock," Isherwood said. "The results have been beyond anything anyone could imagine. It's a disaster, a catastrophe."
The desert was melting, reshaping itself. It formed two human-like figures, which sank waist-deep in the sand and began to melt into each other. A twisted tree grew up to support the woman's head as it became soft and began to topple over. No, not a tree, I realized. A crutch. I recognized the scene from Salvador Dali's painting "Autumn Cannibalism."
"The rheoprotein mixed with DALI's digestive fluid, with his entire body chemistry. By the time it passed through his system the protein had absorbed his genetic message. Now everything that comes in contact with the protein becomes part of DALI and part of his madness."
"The Martian sickness," I said. "He can telekinetically control the entire desert."
"Not control, exactly," Isherwood said. "The desert has become a vast theater of his unconscious."
The sand under the jeep began to undulate. The jeep itself seemed to soften. I sank deeper into the seat. Isherwood shouted "No!" and drove even faster. As our speed picked up the tires were less and less in contact with the ground, and the effects diminished.
"The entire space-time structure is being affected," Isherwood said. "DALI is insane, bulimic. And as this insanity spreads, his insane world becomes edible. The more he eats, the worse it becomes. His gluttony is devouring time itself."
Vivi stood outside the palace, waiting for us. Around her was an island of solidity. As I got out of the jeep she ran toward me, but stopped short of putting her arms around me. "You came," she whispered. "I'm so glad you're safe."
"Of course I came," I said. She was even thinner than when I had left. She was a skeleton, barely covered with skin. And yet she had a radiant, spiritual beauty that I could not deny.
I looked back into the desert. A herd of giant elephants, led by a white horse, was charging toward us. Their legs were impossibly long and distorted, like the legs of spiders. I recognized them from Salvador Dali's "Temptation of Saint Anthony."
"We'd better get inside," I said. "Where is your grandfather?"
"Eating," Vivi said. Isherwood ran for the house. I took Vivi's hand and pulled her in after us.
"Eating what?" I asked.
"Anything he finds. Desks, chairs, beds, he's even cooking telephones. He's started on the wall of the dining room. Soon he will have eaten the entire house."
I suddenly noticed the house. DALI had once predicted that the buildings of the future would be soft and hairy. Here at least it was coming true. As I watched, the walls swelled and softened and moved gently in and out, as if they were breathing. Fine black hairs began to grow from the walls and ceilings. I shuddered away from them.
"First the house," Isherwood said, "and then the entire planet. Perhaps the entire universe."
I didn't believe him until I saw DALI.
He was ten feet tall. Sitting with his legs crossed, his head nearly touched the ceiling. He was eating the mantelpiece when we walked in.
"So you're back," DALI said. "Will you join me?" He offered me a leftover chair leg.
"No, thank you," I said.
He continued to eat. He ate with more than mere hunger. He was not eating just to sustain himself, but with endless, thoughtless greed. It was the ultimate materialism, the ultimate desire to possess, to control, to own. To make the entire external universe a part of DALI.
"Mars has become the fantasy he inherited from his ancestor," I said to Vivi. "When he was a child Salvador Dali wanted to be a cook. As he grew older his hero became Napoleon. Now DALI OF MARS has become both. The imperialist glutton. Worlds not only to conquer, but devour."
I pictured DALI floating in space, large as a planet, Mars in one hand like an apple that had been eaten to the core.
Vivi shook her head. "It's horrible," she said. "How can he stand it? To eat so much. To become so huge."
And then I saw it. Vivi's anorexia was the antidote to DALI's madness.
It made perfect sense. Classical anorexia nervosa is very much tied to the patient's concept of space. A previous anorexic patient of mine used to feel ashamed whenever anyone entered the area around her, which she defined as her personal space. On occasion she would have to spend time at her father's restaurant. If any of the customers touched her, it would send her into ecstasies of self-loathing. In time her bashfulness extended from being touched to being seen, and finally she could not bear to be seen even by inanimate objects, such as dishes.
Vivi's fear of things crossing her personal boundaries was the exact opposite of her grandfather's gluttony.
There were also her personal feelings for DALI. In fact I was beginning to see that her anorexic self-hatred was just a displacement of her Oedipal hatred for her grandfather. As Vivi grew up, the closed world of her inner space began to reach toward the outer world. The dining room played an important role in this. Receiving nutrition from one's family is like receiving trust. But the atmosphere at DALI's table, between his gluttony and Vivi's fear of him, was hardly suited to normal development.
This all came to a head with the artificial organ transplant. The anorexia was just another form of technophobia, a rejection of the outer world. Because her subconscious realized the presence of a piece of the outer world--her artificial organs--inside her, the contradiction began to tear her apart. She rejected not only food, but the bridegroom candidates, anyone, or anything that tried to cross her personal boundaries.
"Professor Isherwood," I said. "Do you still have any of those soft clocks?"
"Well," he said unhappily, "there is just one. I was keeping it as a souvenir."
"You must let me have it. It's our only hope."
DALI had eaten through the back of the house. He was now consuming the lawn furniture, and growing steadily larger. Within minutes he would be heading into the desert.
Isherwood handed me the clock. It was a small wall model with red enamel, not much larger than my hand. Vivi, as if suspecting what was about to happen, shrank from me.
"Vivi--" I said.
"No," she said. I put the soft clock in her hand. "I can't even look at it," she said. "It's shameful, embarrassing."
"Vivi, you must be strong. You must eat it."
"No, I can't. It's shameful. I'd rather die."
"It's not just your life. It's the lives of everyone on Mars." I hesitated, and then I said, quietly, "It's my life too."
"All right," she said. She was crying. "I'll do it. But Professor Isherwood must turn his back."
"Yes, all right."
Isherwood turned away. Vivi slowly brought the clock to her lips. She flushed with shame. Her eyes filled with tears. I looked away. The clock crunched slowly as she bit into it, like a cookie. From the corner of my eye I could see her chewing, slowly, keeping it in the front of her mouth.
She swallowed. "All of it?" she asked.
"As much as you can. At least a few more bites."
When I looked back she had eaten half of it. The second hand swept around to the missing half and then disappeared. Thirty seconds later it reappeared at the other edge. Vivi shook her head. "No more," she said.
"Very well. There's something I have to tell you. You should hear this too, Professor. Vivi, when you came to Earth you were in a terrible accident. You were in surgery for many days."
"What does that have to do with--"
"Please. This is difficult for me." I was sweating. "In order to save your life, your heart and lungs--"
"No!" Vivi screamed.
"--and stomach had to be replaced--"
"No!" She tried to run, but I held her arms.
"--replaced with artificial implants. Mechanical substitutes--" I couldn't go on. Vivi was screaming too loudly. I let her go. Immediately her eyes wrinkled shut and her throat began working. I saw her mechanical stomach heaving. I got out of her way.
She ran for the bathroom and flung the door closed behind her. It shut with a fleshy sound. I looked at Professor Isherwood as we heard Vivi being violently sick.
"You did that on purpose," Isherwood said.
"The rheoprotein has mixed with her digestive juices. Vivi has infected the house with her anorexia, just as it was earlier infected with DALI's bulimia." I smiled tentatively at Isherwood. "Now the battle commences."
We ran outside. I could see DALI in the distance, running into the melting desert, thirty feet tall, devouring boulders and handfuls of red sand.
"Doctor!" Isherwood shouted. I ran to where he stood, at the edge of a pond. A naked woman floated face down in the water. Her body had turned soft and her fingers and toes had begun to melt into long, thin tendrils. I helped Isherwood pull her body onto the shore and turn her over.
It was Carmen, from the pub.
"She must have come back to steal something more valuable," I said. I couldn't look away. Her softness was ripe, erotic, intoxicating. Her full, glistening breasts wobbled provocatively. The soft flesh of her thighs rubbed against the damp blackness of her pubic hair.
Isherwood was captivated too. He bent over her and gently touched one arm. "The bones are still there."
"She still has her `objectivity,' as DALI would say. There may be time to save her."
"Her, perhaps," Isherwood said, "but what about Pinkerton?"
He pointed into the desert. A gigantic hand had risen from the dunes. Its fingers held a cracked egg with a flower growing out of it. The form of the hand was reflected in the form of a huge man, crouching in the sand. The scene was from Salvador Dali's painting "Metamorphosis of Narcissus." The face of the crouching man belonged to Pinkerton.
As I watched, Pinkerton's mouth seemed to form the words "Help me." But it was too late.
Vivi walked out onto the porch of the now firm, lifeless house. A wave of solidity flowed from her and rippled out into the desert. Carmen stirred and sat up. "Where am I?"
"Safe," I said. "Safe, for now."
They finally found DALI, deep in the desert of the Lunae Planum. He had been transformed into a hundred-foot-tall replica of one of Salvador Dali's earliest paintings, "Self-Portrait with Easel," and frozen there.
Vivi returned to Earth with me for the operation that replaced her mechanical organs with living organs of rheoprotein. Almost immediately she began to gain weight. It was a symbolic cure, but effective; my previous anorexic had been cured by a tonsillectomy.
She was willing to honor her grandfather's last wishes and marry Professor Isherwood, though she knew she didn't love him. Isherwood, however, had changed his mind. Maybe it was the fact that Vivi had asked him to turn away from her, there at the end of the madness on DALI's estate. Maybe it was something else. In any case, he had fallen in love with Carmen, and the last we heard, he was more like a bullfighter than a poet.
As for Vivi and myself, I learned to stop fighting my feelings. I completed my contract and selected myself as Vivi's bridegroom. The decision seemed to please everyone.
Someday, perhaps, we will have children, and one day we may take them to Mars to see the statue of their great-grandfather. But for the moment we are in no hurry.
Translated by Kazuko Behrens and stylized by Lewis Shiner
KAZUKO YOSHIO BEHRENS received her M.A. degree from Cornell University in Asian Studies. She is a Ph.D. candidate in School of Education of UC-Berkeley, where she is exploring aspects of parenthood, particularly mother-child relationships through cross-cultural perspectives. She has translated many Japanese postmodern tales and essays into English.
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|Publication:||The Review of Contemporary Fiction|
|Article Type:||Short Story|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2002|
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