The shelves are full of dusty tapes. Some have been re-labeled several times, the stickers piling up thick on their spines.[if !temp:browsed-videos-once]
Shannon combs through the video archive.[if temp:browsed-videos-once+!tugboat-videos-watched-weaver]
manual: 5.4: Context Backlash
manual: General wear on the GESTURAL GEAR MOUNTING APPARATUS (5A-1) may result in undesirable play between teeth in the CONTEXT AND HISTORY STATE MACHINE gears, causing stuttering, slippage, resetting, skipping —
manual: If left unresolved, gear slop can gradually throw LIMBS out of alignment, blend MOTIONS, and decontextualize GESTURES.
manual: See also sections 1.8 `General Troubleshooting`, and 5.3 `Gesture Context`.
manual: 1.8: General Troubleshooting
manual: Technicians of sufficient TALENT and EXPERIENCE may skip this section.
manual: General troubleshooting techniques include: [template: technique]; [template: technique]; or [template: technique].
manual: 5.3 Gesture Context
manual: All GESTURES happen in a CONTEXT — the set of preceding GESTURES, the overall ORIENTATION, and extended variables such as TIME OF DAY and interior AFFECT GEAR angles.
manual: TABLE OF CONTENTS
manual: 0. Introduction
manual: 1. Installation
manual: 2. Orientations
manual: 4. Order of Operations
manual: 3. The Passage of Time
manual: 5. Gestures
manual: 6. Final Notes
will: I don't at all blame you, especially down here — on the water, I mean. Sure, it's dangerous. But this is where she lives.
will: Oh, I feel certain she's got a few trips left in her ... if only she had a more capable surgeon! Sadly, mechanics are in short supply down here. I think the setting is too romantic. It scares them off!
will: Oh, I just mean that you and your Johnny have always been `complete`. Since I first met the pair of you. Free-standing, like a lighthouse.
will: I'm sure your new friends appreciate the company. It's no shame, to be lonesome ...
will: Oh, no, not me. This old river-rat steers clear of weird highways.
will: You've got `that` right. Wow! I could sit in there for hours, just listen to my breath reverberate through that weird architecture. Still, it's always good to be back on the river.
will: I've been traveling this river for more than half my life, more-or-less alone. I `think` I've seen it change quite a bit in all those years ... but I can't say for sure. The water has a peculiar way of making a person forgetful.
will: Some nights I remember a place, but it's full of strange new people. And some nights I meet an old friend on an unfamiliar shore.
will: I wonder which kind of night this is.
`(CLARA draws a card.)`
clara: Three deep breaths, eight white doves, five slow hours.
`(CATE draws a card.)`
cate: Seven blue petals, three deep breaths, eight white doves, five slow hours.
clara: `(To CATE.)` What are we listening to?
cate: Oh, uh, just this tape a friend of mine sent me; they live in the desert ... "`Vecinx`?" Something like that ...
junebug: Sounds good on the `Mammoth`'s P.A.
cate: Yeah, that's the only way I listen to anything lately. Ha ha.
cate: `(To EZRA.)` Your turn, buddy.
`(EZRA draws a card.)`
`(WILL draws a card.)`
will: Three — no, `nine` gray feathers ...
clara: Stay focused! Ha ha.
will: No, I've got it ... um ... seven blue petals.
clara: And ... ?
will: Five —
cate: Oh no! It was "nine, seven, `three`!"
will: `(To EZRA.)` This game is more difficult than it sounds, my friend.
cate: Oh no! It was "seven, three, `eight`!"
clara: `(To EZRA.)` Aw, you're beaten at your own game! Ha ha.
will: I'm just glad it didn't come to my turn again. You took a bullet there, my friend.
will: Sounds good to me — this game is hard enough as it is.
cate: So, in some cases, there may be a stalemate. Though, not with this crowd, I don't think!
cate: That could go on a long time, then! Well, not with this crowd, I guess. Ha ha.
cate: We're all too `soggy-brained`. I know I am. I even take homemade supplements for it: shade-grown lichen boiled with the peel of a lemon, then frozen and crushed with oak leaves. It's a scalp massage oil. You can smell it if I get close.
cate: It dries the brain out a bit, which is helpful for a good memory, if I can remember to use it often enough in the first place!
cate: Oh, don't worry, the `soggy` brain has its benefits, too. If your brain is soft and damp, new ideas can make a clear impression, like a boot in wet sand. But, like wet sand, it can easily get muddied and washed away. So there's a trade-off, see?
cate: It's a shame we can't have it both ways, isn't it?
clara: What's this game called, Ezra?
ezra: `[variable: ezra-game-memory-title]`.
cate: What a relief. Thanks for taking the wheel. Our secret, OK?
cate: Oh! That's homemade: fermented green tea, pomegranate seeds, and a little bit of barley ergot. I call it "Kykeon Kombucha." It helps keep me awake.
cate: Want to try some? No, I guess you probably don't ... The smell is off-putting, but it's actually sweet and lightly carbonated. I'm trying to kick a diet soda habit. Ha ha.
cate: So, how'd you do with the helm?
cate: I just keep my eyes open! That's the most important part.
cate: Speaking of which ...
cate: That shows how deep the water is. The Echo River is fairly deep, but Lake Lethe pretty much buries the needle.
cate: I should have probably explained that to you `earlier`, huh? Ha ha.
cate: That controls the winch, if we need a little more slack on our haul or something.
cate: I should have probably explained that to you `earlier`, huh? Ha ha.
cate: `(Looking outside.)` Oh, hey — there's the gas station. I was `hoping` we'd cross paths soon! It just kind of drifts around; you never know where you'll meet it.
cate: As you can see by this dial right ... `here`, our fuel situation is pretty desperate. I have a bad habit of letting that needle spend a lot of time in the red zone.
cate: We should only be docked at the gas station for a few minutes refueling; you might just want to stay aboard.
cate: So ... you like boats?
cate: That sounds great. I'll have to look out for that one ...
cate: Ah, I see. So this one's a `little` bigger. Ha ha. Same idea, though.
cate: Oh, wow. Well, here you are! I think this is as good a place to start as any.
cate: So, what else did I neglect to explain earlier ...
cate: This area here is called the "wheelhouse." All these gauges and controls help me understand what's going on with `The Mucky Mammoth` and her haul. This is a compass, but it doesn't work very well down here, for some reason. I just go by landmarks, basically, and lights.
cate: Did you see those two lights on the sides of the boat? A red one and a green one? All the other boats have them, too. Some are different colors, or in different configurations. If we cross paths with someone, right away I can work out what kind of boat they're in and what direction they're going, even in the dark.
cate: It's all about `looking`, up here. The other half of piloting this boat happens down in the map room.
cate: Speaking of which ... `(CATE peers out the window)` Have we passed the big rock that looks like a dinosaur yet?
cate: Oh, yeah. "Duck Island." It's named after a nasty old hermit called Edgar Duck who put a claim on it many years ago and tried to build a house there. I heard he didn't have a bed or kitchen, but used all his material on a big fence. He used to blast an air horn if anyone drifted too close!
cate: He eventually died, but the name stuck, and at some point the ducks moved in. Maybe people dropped them off there. I don't know.
cate: Ah. River folks call that "The Lighthouse." It used to be an art museum, but their collection went out of fashion, and they had to put it all in storage. I don't know who put those Christmas lights up. Some artist, I guess.
cate: Oh, "The Story Cliff." I don't know who wrote those words up there, but they tell a story about ... well, it's hard to say what exactly it's `about`. It's a story of some people and animals, and their adventures.
cate: Sometimes, if I'm running ahead of schedule, I like to drop anchor there and read for a while. The nice thing about the story cliff is you can start reading anywhere you want. There's no `beginning` or `end`, just a bunch of `middle`.
cate: No? Well, maybe you're right ... It's worn down a bit since it was first discovered.
cate: It's great, right? What was your old favorite rock?
cate: It's strange, though: according to my charts, we should have passed Dinosaur Rock `before` [variable: tugboat-ezra-landmark]. But that's OK, sometimes the charts need updating ...
cate: Hey, Will is down in the map room right now. Could you run down and help him adjust the charts to move [variable: tugboat-ezra-landmark] so it comes a little earlier on our route than Dinosaur Rock?
cate: The map room is down below deck, on the lower level, right next to the sleeping quarters. I'll get on the intercom and let him know you're coming.
conway: Maps, oh, yeah, I bet they've got a lot of them down here, um ...
conway: Yeah you probably `need` maps to travel by boat.
conway: `Myself`, uh, `personally` ... I don't use them. I read the signs, and I remember the roads, you know. Uh, landmarks. Or I ask for directions if I'm going somewhere I've never been before.
conway: That's OK, to ask for directions. Remember that, kid. No shame in asking for directions.
conway: Naw, I don't think I could ever sleep on a river.
conway: You're right, though: it's been a long day. I should maybe find some coffee to go with all this beer ... or just move on up to the real stuff. Doesn't weigh you down as much, you know? Naw, of course you don't ...
conway: Hey, what am I talking about? Who knows.
shannon: Wow, this is harder than it looks.
clara: Yeah, it takes a certain kind of ear.
shannon: Oh, like `perfect pitch`? Do you have that?
clara: Not really that, it's more like ... muscle memory? When I'm playing the theremin, I kind of "hear" with my hands.
clara: I must sound ridiculous!
shannon: No, no, I think I get it.
will: Salutations, small man.
will: Cate says you have an adjustment for our charts. Good timing; I'm just checking my copies.
will: That's how we keep our charts up to date: as we pass through a section of the river or the lake, I draw a new copy of the map and make adjustments for anything we see that doesn't match.
`(WILL points to a small drawing on the map.)`
will: So, this is where we have Dinosaur Rock marked now. This little dinosaur drawing. I drew that.
`(WILL points to another small drawing on the map.)`
will: And this here is where we thought [variable: tugboat-ezra-landmark] was. But now I guess we've got to move it back a bit ...
will: But how far? I wonder ... Any ideas? Anything else you remember about when you saw [variable: tugboat-ezra-landmark]?
will: Aha! Well, that'd put [variable: tugboat-ezra-landmark] somewhere in ... `here`. That's the only part of the chart before Dinosaur Rock where the lake "deepens" noticeably. Good work!
will: Aha — that must have been Mary Kennedy out fishing. She usually anchors right around ... here. But you didn't hear that from me; she's `very` protective of her good fishing spots.
will: That'll do just fine! So, let's see, at our current speed that would give us a distance of ... oh, about an eighth of a mile, let's say.
`(WILL measures along the charted lake with a divider.)`
will: Somewhere around `here`. Good enough, eh?
will: That should do it for the new copy. Oh, I made some other corrections: tucked in the banks a little, made this section deeper, and left off a shipwreck that must have washed away or been scavenged into splinters.
will: Of course, it means a lot of clutter; all these old copies.
will: Say —
`(WILL gestures to a pile of old maps.)`
will: I was just about to throw this stack out. Maybe you'd like to hang onto one? They're out of date, but they could be fun to look at. These are mostly river charts, I think. Take a look through and see if one of them catches your eye.
will: [if tugboat-ezra-examined-map-count=1]
`(The river curves clockwise around a few small islands. A note is scribbled along the margin.)`
note: ISLANDS JUST BELOW THE SURFACE ONLY VISIBLE UNDER BRIGHT LIGHT.
will: They come and go! The islands, that is. I still mark 'em if I see 'em.
will: That one I found wrapped in plastic — quite well preserved! I wrapped it up like that so the chalk wouldn't smear ... must have lost my pencil that day. I don't remember.
will: [if tugboat-ezra-examined-map-count=1]
`(The river curves clockwise. There are no islands marked, but a few other landmarks are indicated with chalk circles.)`
will: `(Pointing to a chalk circle.)` That one was [variable: tugboat-ezra-landmark], I'm pretty sure.
will: [if tugboat-ezra-examined-map-count=1]
`(The edges of the map are torn in gentle strips, probably by an idle hand and an absent mind.)`
will: Oh, yeah, I remember that day. Slow currents. Boring. Not that I mind — it's healthy to get a little bored sometimes.
`(A long tear runs in a clockwise curve along the paper, through the middle of the river. The two sides are held together by paper clips, woven into the paper like stitches.)`
cate: How's that cold river spray treating you? I thought I saw you squinting; it's "hard water," you know, hard on the eyes. It still irritates mine a little, and I'm piloting a tugboat through it six nights a week.
cate: Don't be too shy to close them in public. Your eyes, I mean. People will just assume you're thoughtful.
cate: You need tea ...
cate: [template: teaIngredientList]
cate: Eye strain. [variable: tugboat-first-tea-ingredient] masks the taste of the rest of it — [variable: tugboat-second-tea-ingredient] in particular has an `eccentric` flavor profile. It's mushroom-based. I'm a big believer in the fungal pharmacy.
cate: The Echo is dicey tonight. Bad luck for you. Expect waves and diversions. Dogwood Drive is by the Silo mail stop, but we may need to spend some time on the `indirect route` before we hit your stop, OK?
cate: And there's other business. Mail to drop off, garbage to pick up, and a few favors to execute, all dotted on the river banks from here to there!
cate: Huh? I thought that was `your` cat. He came on board with you at the Bureau.
cate: Well, it wouldn't be the first time some strange animal hitched a ride ...
cate: I hope you enjoy the trip on our little `Mammoth`. Take advantage of all the amenities: fresh air, cozy bunks, hot tea, the video room ...
cate: There are some pretty interesting tapes down there, actually. `Unusual`, I mean. `Weird`. Watch out that VCR doesn't take your hand off, though! It's untrustworthy.
cate: There's one with this woman ... She's just, like, standing there `talking`, but you can't really hear her, and there's this awful hum ...
cate: See for yourself, it's down there somewhere.
cate: Oh, please do! I don't know anything about electronics. Maybe try a few different tapes. You'll get the picture.
cate: Hey, do me a favor: go ask Will how the repairs are going and if he needs anything. We're coming up on the next stop here, just refueling and picking up a few things. I could grab a bolt or some wire or something. Whatever he needs.[if !tugboat-shannon-talked-to-will]
cate: I saw you talking to Will. He's an old friend. Don't be fooled by that "burned-out" aura; he's a smart and kind man. I think his only vice is those silly scratch tickets. Speaking of which, we're coming up on our next stop shortly, refueling and picking up a few things.[if tugboat-shannon-talked-to-will]
cate: Well, eyes on the road. Ha ha.
conway: It's just that thing about ... what was it ... when you walk through a door?
conway: When you go into the kitchen for something, and as soon as you pass from one room into another, you forget what you wanted.
conway: You have to walk back out just to remember! Like you left a part of your brain behind. Hey, I wonder if I could follow that brain-crumb trail all the way back to the room I was born in ...
`(CONWAY cranes his neck over the railing.)`
conway: You were driving for hours. Get any sleep?[if one:shannon-will-drive]
conway: Looks cold down there. And dark. You weren't in the cabin long — get any sleep?[if !one:shannon-will-drive]
conway: Yeah, that's when you get the strangest dreams — when you nod off, right? Just kind of dip your toes into sleep, and some weird image floats by and takes a nibble ...
conway: There's a cooler-full down there. They say it just floated by, if you believe that. Got caught on some netting, and they hauled it aboard. A bounty.[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=leather]
conway: There's a bunch; captain said it was flotsam.[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=smell]
conway: Yeah, I needed it.[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=shaky]
conway: What's another nail in the coffin, right?[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=tired]
conway: Anyway, there's a sign by the cooler. "Take what you need and leave the rest."
conway: Could have fallen off the haul back there. I think that kid was playing on the trash barge earlier.
conway: Yeah. Better keep that kid away from the edge — a person could easily fall in. He's been exploring.
conway: It's good for him. It's important to know how to ... Hm. How to be alone.
conway: Well, I "didn't" ...
conway: I mean, I did, and then I didn't, and then I did again. That's how it always goes — I drift out, finally wind up back at Lysette's with my head between my legs, saying "never again" ...
conway: Fifteen months, this last time. I think I hung on because I knew there wouldn't for much longer be anywhere to go back to. She went to live with her sister, now, and ... she probably won't remember me for long, anyway.
conway: One time she picked me up out of a ditch by the road, blackout drunk at dawn. I came around later that night. She'd taken care of me. I told her I didn't deserve it, and she said I didn't have to deserve it.
conway: Oh, you wouldn't say that if you knew her when she was younger. That girl was wild. Ha ha.
conway: I guess she's got her own problems now. I wish I could help out. Hey, maybe I could make some money and send it to her sister?
conway: Maybe they'll keep me on at the distillery, I mean. Oh, I shouldn't get ahead of myself.
conway: Didn't seem so bad, did it?
conway: It's a way to live, I mean — rent a bed, eat at the cafeteria, shift drink keeps the devil quiet. Ha ha. It's a way to live.[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=shaky]
conway: It's a way to live, I mean — rent a bed, eat at the cafeteria, drive all night. It's a way to live.[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=tired]
conway: It's a way to live.[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=smell]
conway: It's a way to live, I mean — rent a bed, eat at the cafeteria ...[if one:shannon-impression-of-conway=leather]
conway: Not like I have a choice.
`(EZRA runs up to SHANNON.)`
shannon: Whoa, slow down! It's slippery up on deck.
ezra: Do you have batteries?
shannon: Yeah, of course. What for?
ezra: Johnny said I could use his tape recorder but it needs a battery.
shannon: Oh, fun. Well ...
`(SHANNON searches her pockets.)`
shannon: Here's ... four different kinds; surely one of these should fit.
ezra: Thank you.
will: Probably; who knows? First thing I tried, anyway ... down here by this little blue box, I took all the gears out and dried each one by hand, and then I loaded them back in again.
will: That took care of the grinding sound, but her trunk keeps doing that sparking, clanking, weeping thing ...
will: Ha! No. This thing's probably older than I am. Got some gray in her pelt, there ... calcium deposits, I guess.
will: To be honest with you, I'm not really qualified for this work. Cate's a friend, you know how it is ... don't you?
will: A story, well ... I like to listen to them, I like to tell them, but I don't have one of my own.
will: I also don't have a permanent address, or a pickup truck, or any change of clothes. I wash my laundry in the river, and in that moment I'm truly free.
will: I don't even have any shoes ...
will: Right. Nobody does it, unless it's their land to farm; I mean they'll walk from barn to tractor, or tractor to truck. You know.
will: Well, I sure did. I slipped under or over fences, and I walked barefoot with the seeds when they were just planted, and tilled the earth with my toes ...
will: Hey, I should tell you where I left my shoes.
will: Did you know I'm a classically trained organist? It's true; look at these long fingers and pedal-gripping toes ... It doesn't matter. A minor in French literature earned me a position teaching `Artaud to Zola` at the university.
will: Well, some shitty governor cut state funding for our department, and I was demoted to mopping floors, running wiring through walls or in dangerous places ... I even operated the soundboard at the student theater!
will: I left my shoes there, at the university. It was a protest! "Walk without shoes for ..." something important or tragic.
will: I ended up by the shore, and soon I was drifting along the Echo. It ran for a while above ground, then. It doesn't anymore. But I prefer subterranean waters, anyway. Cate brings me along, and I record what I see and hear. I try to help with maintenance. I drop off the mail and pick up the trash. On occasion, I take the helm.
will: Anyway, that's all I try to remember anymore. I listen to the river's stories, and my own stories get fainter and fainter.
will: Well, I'll just keep drying gears, I guess.[if tugboat-shannon-talked-to-cate]
will: Oh. If you talk to Cate, could you ask her, when she stops for gas, could she pick me up a scratch ticket? Thanks.[if !tugboat-shannon-talked-to-cate]
johnny: `(To JUNEBUG.)` Really?
junebug: You were entranced! You don't remember this?
clara: It's OK. We've all seen a lot of concerts.
junebug: Cyrano opened. His tape machine was broken or something; it got really `cosmic`.
johnny: Right, at the flower shop. I remember `that` show, I just ... sorry, Clara.
clara: Well, you have a second chance to hear it tonight.
johnny: `(To EZRA.)` That was fast. Got the batteries?
johnny: Let's see ... perfect, this one will do! So, you hit this button `here` to record. Hold it right `here` so you don't cover the microphone with your hand.
johnny: I bet you'll find a lot of good sounds just around the tugboat. There's plenty of tape in there, so don't be stingy with it! Just record anything that catches your ear. It really changes the way you `listen` ... for the better, I mean.
junebug: Yeah, Clara here came all the way from Lithuania just to do this Echo River gig!
clara: Ha ha. It's a tour. Tomorrow, I'll be in Nashville, and then Atlanta, and then over to the coast.
junebug: Brutal. Well, we're lucky she's making a stop. Johnny and I saw her play once, and `I` remember loving it. And Johnny was `moved`.
johnny: Speaking of Cyrano, it's his night at The Rum Colony. Cate said she usually stops off there.
junebug: We've got a ways to go, and this boat makes pretty frequent stops. I think Cate said we're moving pretty slowly tonight, too. Weather.
johnny: Cate said we could stop at The Rum Colony. Cyrano's playing.
junebug: Well, that's ideal — I'm supposed to meet a lady there to look at some old engine parts, about ... three hours ago.
johnny: Three hours goes fast at The Rum Colony, ma'am. I bet she's still there.
clara: I hope we don't stop there `too` long. My concert is soon, I don't want to keep them waiting.
junebug: Naw, it's "river time." Nobody expects you to be punctual.
johnny: `(To EZRA.)` Hey, why don't you give that tape recorder a try? See if that cat over there has anything he wants to say.
clara: I often use "found sounds" in my music. If you find some interesting sounds tonight, you can help me out!
cate: Hey! Just a quick one, here; I'm going ashore to do some mushroom hunting. This little island is my favorite spot, and I figured we're already running late; what's one more unscheduled stop?
cate: I just need to find Will and get him up here to keep an eye on things ... You know, I bet he's asleep. Could you run down and wake him up for me? Bunks are down on the lower level, right next to the map room.
conway: Yeah, they do, don't they. She's got good taste in aromatic plants, that captain. Keeps the boat smelling fresh.
conway: Yeah, good point. I wonder how they live down here. Maybe she's got a special light bulb in here she turns on in the daytime.
conway: When I was a kid — older than you, a teenager, I guess — we used to shoplift beer and go drink it in this one cemetery, they had a bunch of trees like this. Bigger, though. We used to call them "pencil pines."
conway: I asked Cate about them, and she said these were probably the same species. A lot of people put them in cemeteries. If you cut a branch off one of these, it won't grow back, so I guess that reminds people of the permanence of death.
conway: Anyway, we never knew about that when I was a kid. We used to snap the branches off and whip each other with them.
`(A recorded lecture plays from a tape machine next to WILL's bunk.)`
lecturer: — and even hinted that he had in mind a design for this device, as recorded in the `Diary and Sundry Observations`.
lecturer: `(Reading.)` "Why should personalities in another existence or sphere waste their time working a little triangular piece of wood over a board with certain lettering on it? The whole business seems so childish to me ... if we are to make any real progress in psychic investigation, we must do it with scientific apparatus."
lecturer: Again, for Edison, a technical solution to every problem. He goes on to suggest the parameters of the apparatus, and — yes? A question in the back? James?
lecturer: Yes, this idea of "personalities" lingering after death does `appear` to be in conflict with Edison's theories about what he called "life units," the subatomic entities that animate matter and then scatter to other configurations when a person passes on.
lecturer: But, given Edison's emphasis on `memory` in cognition — remember, we're talking about the inventor of the phonograph — and his colorful description of the "swarm" of interchangeable, drone-like — Edison even uses the word "proletarian" — life units animating the human mind, his theory naturally posits that any individual life unit possesses on its own some fragment of memory.
lecturer: So, according to Edison, when life units recombine from, say, a `soldier` into, say, a `flower`, we may be able — using some apparatus — to coax out from the flower memories of war!
`(The tape stops.)`
will: Well, I used to work at a university, and I'd always eavesdrop on lectures through the ventilation system. Anything and everything; I'm a polymath by nature. An old friend recently found this box of tape-recorded lectures next to the dumpster there, and passed them on in the spirit of fondly recalling better days.
will: This one is ...
`(WILL looks at the label on the tape.)`
will: `(Reading.)` "History of the Philosophy of Death." Yikes.
will: I play these old taped lectures during my little nibble-naps, to absorb the information more easily. It's pretty effective; I wish I could do `everything` half-asleep!
will: Can't say I learned very much just now, though. I may have been too busy dreaming — a vivid, narcotic fantasia aboard the ... but those are always the quickest to dissipate. I'd better tell you about it now, before the spell is broken.
`(WILL takes a deep breath, focusing on the task of recalling his dream.)`
will: I was small. Not a child — an animal, maybe.
will: I patrolled the corridors of a great iron ship, searching for scraps and ... mice, I think? And crying, always, a weak and mournful "mew."
will: Other crewmen slumped in odd corners or lay drunk on the deck. The halls smelled of shame, defeat, and rotgut corn whiskey. They dumped artillery into the water, tore their flags into cloth scraps and made handkerchiefs to bury their sobbing faces.
will: They drifted on Lake Lethe, drinking the cold, black water and eating eyeless fish — raw, when they at last ran out of cooking fuel! They seemed, in their despair, to forget even language. After an interval of years, the ship crossed a threshold into absolute silence ...
will: Silence, except for my hopeless, whimpering cry ...
will: Anyway, that's all I remember.
will: Oh, no, not "bad." Unsettling. Puzzling.
will: But thanks for your concern, doc!
will: Hm. It's probably for the best — the images of dreams are often wasted on the waking.
video: ... crushed tomatoes, salsa, or even a little ketchup; here's the thing: nobody has to know. Throw in some more of that spice blend we threw together earlier. Stir all that up and crack a beer, baby; you'll be here for a while ...
ezra: What did she just say to do? Will's trying to make this stew right now.
ezra: He put a couple mushrooms in. Then I think he forgot what he was doing for a little while?
will: ... add a few of these really big caps with the slimy gills. I shouldn't say "slimy" ... moist.
will: The lady in the video called for "portobello," but I prefer never to know a mushroom by name.
will: Sure, sure. `Sam & Ida's`. This stew is for `tomorrow`. It has to simmer all day! Some things are just better done slowly.
will: It will be, but not today; this stew is for `tomorrow`. It has to simmer all day! Some things are just better done slowly.
will: We've added the anonymous mushrooms, so `next`, we ... um ...
will: Hm. I've got the recipe video on pause next door ...
will: I used to follow a recipe I learned from Ida herself; the best cook you're gonna meet on this river. Of course, it had a few secret ingredients; she has the good sense to preserve some mystery around her cooking. Better for business.
will: Ida is so shrewd, she swore me not only to secrecy but to `ignorance`! I had to promise to forget the recipe just as soon as I'd cooked it. Let me tell you: it's not so easy to forget something on purpose as you may think, my friend.
will: Not so easy ...
will: ... and even `that` wasn't enough to convince her!
will: So, I trained rigorously in the art of forgetting, studying for months under a master amnesiac. Finally, I learned to forget so quickly and accurately that I was able to convince Ida to share with me the most obscure secrets of her kitchen.
will: As a demonstration of my trustworthiness, I forgot the names of my own parents, right there in front of her.
will: Every time I wanted to cook this legendary stew, I'd call Ida up on the telephone and ask her for a quick — temporary — reminder. Here on the boat, we haven't got a phone line, so ... I have to seek out culinary wisdom on videotapes of cooking shows.
will: So, back to the matter at hand! Next, we —
will: Oh, it's you. I thought ... never mind. Hello.
will: I don't have any crushed tomatoes. I have some ketchup ...
will: Oh, it's you. I thought ... never mind. Hello.
will: Well, I don't know that it qualifies as a "spice blend," but I spilled the salt in some of Cate's herbal tea here.
will: Oh, it's you. I thought ... never mind. Hello.
will: Right, we're stopping soon at `Sam & Ida's`. This stew is for tomorrow.
cate: `(To WILL.)` Did you win anything?[if !(floating-gas-station-scratch-ticket-choice=none)]
will: `(Tragically.)` I have misplaced the damn ticket.[if !(floating-gas-station-scratch-ticket-choice=none)]
cate: I'm sure it'll turn up.[if !(floating-gas-station-scratch-ticket-choice=none)]
cate: `(To SHANNON.)` Hey there, could I ask you —
cate: `(To WILL.)` Wait. Why are you cooking? We're stopping at `Sam & Ida's` in twenty minutes.
will: It's for tomorrow!
cate: Oh. Well, just don't forget about it this time ... I'm not scrubbing up any more boiled-over sludge.
cate: `(To SHANNON.)` Sorry. Listen, I have a favor to ask. There's a package for the telephone exchange, and I can't get the `Mammoth` back there. Could you deliver it for us?
cate: That guy I mentioned from the TV station, Dashiell Morse, works there now. Thought you might like to chat with him anyway.[if shannon-saw-weaver-video]
cate: Thanks a lot. I've got the dinghy all ready to go. Maybe take your friend with you — one of you can man the outboard motor, and the other can aim the flashlight. It's dark!
Blue-black morning swings across the screen. The birdwatcher tramps through dewy grass. He stops with a wet grunt, and rests the camera on a pile of rocks.
"Birds, From Great Distances, Episode 12" appears briefly on screen. He twists the lens by hand, pushing the frame past trees, onto the road, and coming to a halt zoomed in on a fuzzy, fist-sized artifact resting on the momentary stroke of a telephone wire.
Shannon and the birdwatcher observe. He breathes heavily, and she holds her breath, like she's afraid he might hear, afraid of distracting him or of being discovered and contaminating his perfect isolation.
Traffic picks up, indifferent. As the sky lightens, the black smudge in the center of the frame gradually becomes more prominent, but never in any greater detail.
It's raining heavily as the title "Birds, From Great Distances, Episode 27" flashes on screen. She knows by the sound: the volley of rainwater on mud, tree branches, the rusted bed of an old pickup, and on the birdwatcher's own skin and hair. He swears under his breath. She can hear the rain there, too, in his wet breath and the wet exclamation of his palm, slopping the water from his forehead and shoulders.
The camera is pointed at a cedar shed with one hinged door angling erratically in the storm. From this distance, it's hard to tell if it's been damaged or simply left open. When the door swings wide, she can see that the shed is full of small boards — scraps, maybe, or rough cut pieces meant for very small projects and then stacked carelessly on shelves, in piles, quickly sorted and then forgotten.
And there's the bird: a blue ball taking shelter on the shed floor, nested in scrap wood.
The video is black. Shannon only knows it's playing because of the cicadas, and then "Birds, From Great Distances, Episode 81."
The screen isn't totally dark, of course. It's what she thinks of as `video-black` — a deep, mottled blue, noisy with magnetic decay and the cottony limits of the camera's sensors. It's the black she sees before she goes to sleep, the `night-black`, the `eyes-shut-against-streetlights-black`. She has more words for it than she expected.
She wonders what words the birdwatcher uses for it. She wonders where he is, relative to the camera, or where the bird is, for that matter.
The on-screen title identifies this program as "The History of Weather, Volume 3: Drought."
Over footage of a dry riverbed, the program's narrator explains the differences between modern drought and ancient drought. The narrator proposes that modern drought may hardly be considered weather at all, since its severity and behavior are so influenced by human activity.
It looks like Will — though much younger — reclined on a sofa and taking calls. His arm, draped over the back of the couch, holds a bottle of something clear.
People call in with stories of their encounters with the supernatural. Will offers little commentary or response. He acknowledges them. Sometimes he interrupts to clarify, or repeat something back to them. Mostly he just listens, and pulls from that clear glass bottle.
A handmade banner strung above the couch reads "I BELIEVE YOU."
An elderly couple sit on folding chairs in the middle of a TV studio, undecorated except for a funereal lily in a thin, blue vase on the table. The lights are a bit too dim to make out their features. She reads from a newspaper with unhurried efficiency.
Gloria B. of Munfordville passed away on Monday at her residence. Survivors include her children: Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Bobby, all of Munfordville. A memorial service will be held at 7 PM Thursday at Hatton-Huffman Funeral Home in Munfordville, with cremation to follow.
She never knew Gloria. He thinks he may have heard the name, wondering aloud if she ever worked at a cafe down there in Munfordville. The woman who ran that place was once called "Gloria," or maybe still is.
They take a call: someone who knew Gloria B., if not very well. The caller once installed a satellite dish at Gloria's house, a nine-hundred square foot, ranch-style home on two acres at a dead end, backed by weeds and pine.
When the caller mounted the ladder up to Gloria's roof, she slid open her window and tugged urgently at his pant leg. He followed her gaze behind the house to two wild turkeys picking through the weeds. Gloria and the caller watched, silent and still, as the huge birds foraged obliviously into the trees. Then he installed the satellite dish.
At first, she thinks the video might be paused, but on closer inspection she can see the edges of the frame shrinking inwards around the chairs, desk, and loose, gray furniture of a sterile waiting room.
She watches for a while. She's not sure for how long. Several minutes. The zoom tightens — so gradually she sometimes forgets it's happening at all — and finally rests on an oscillating desk fan.
She ejects the tape before the next part of the triptych begins.
A woman sits at a card table with a lamp, notepad, and a beige multi-line telephone. A scrolling marquee reads, "SWAP SHOP BUY SELL TRADE OR WANT TO BUY CALL THE BROKER," and then a phone number, repeating without pause.
Eddie has fresh eggs to trade for a basil plant — a dozen eggs for one plant, which is a steal. Eddie's eggs are good eggs.
Sadie has a bag of fine shells. No reasonable offer will be refused.
Christopher is looking for a scrub plane in decent shape. It doesn't have to be too nice, just something to get a tabletop near to flat from some oak that's been air-drying in a barn for twenty (maybe thirty) years, and while it's true he could get the job done without it since he's got a nice, heavy jack plane his grandfather used to use, he'd just as soon not fuss with grinding a camber onto it, and anyway he has a little extra capital from a swap earlier in the week and wouldn't mind putting it down on a decent scrub plane before the cash burns a hole through his pocket.
Carla is looking to trade typing services for calligraphy services, or vice versa.
The broker takes notes and switches lines, but never speaks, drunk on the hum of commerce.
The words "Tip Of Your Tongue," and a phone number are occasionally superimposed on the screen. A few dozen people sit in bleachers, shouting out ideas, loosely moderated by a short woman with a microphone and laser pointer.
One caller is trying to remember the name of an old friend she hasn't seen in years. It starts with a consonant. It's full of consonants, actually; there are maybe one or two vowels. It sounds long but she doesn't remember having had any trouble spelling it at any point. The friend had brown hair? That's probably not helpful.
Another caller is trying to remember a verb that means "to make oneself vulnerable." Something like "to expose oneself," but not quite that. To become `emotionally`, `spiritually` vulnerable, like with a lover, or a poem.
A third caller just knows there was something he was supposed to do tonight. He offers some biographical background, a narrative of his day. He's unemployed, has no real hobbies, and has already eaten. Few ideas from the bleachers.
That awful hum ... it seems to start before Shannon even hits "play." Then there's the familiar room. There are the blank, gray walls marked with tape, and school desks, and this time she notices a few more details: the murky carpet like standing water, some video equipment stashed in the corner, a row of lockers.
And there's Weaver, looking serenely at the camera. As before, she starts speaking and, as before, there's no sound but that hum. Shannon finds Weaver's words coming back to her, as they appear in captions on the screen.
weaver: ... mail, school, and these magnificent, tragic horses.
weaver: Go underground, as deep as you can go. The air is cool and the earth is damp, and when you close your eyes you are surrounded by the dead. Remember where that is? You'll find your way from there.
weaver: I think this place is what you're looking for. Some of it will wash away soon, but I think you'll be happy here, even without the mail, school ...
The text repeats for a few minutes, and Shannon stops the tape.
cate: `(To WILL)` No, no, it was only a few notes. Slow and sad. Like funeral music, you know?
will: I don't remember it being sad, just simple and unburdened. Maybe that's what funeral music sounds like to me: unburdened.
will: `(To SHANNON)` Oh hello! Cate and I were just trying to remember the mammoth's song —
cate: — but neither of us have heard it for years. Will just found the mechanism.
will: In the mammoth's belly! Hidden in gritty, matted fur. Ha! It's like a big music box — a slowly spinning cylinder covered in metal pins that pluck her dulcet guts and pump the bellows in her bowels.
will: But some of the pins are rusted and worn away. Easy to replace, if we can ever remember what the notes were.
cate: Did I hear you browsing the archive next door? Find anything good?
cate: They used to all be movies and that kind of stuff — I like nature documentaries especially. Some people left home movies or little art videos they'd made. But that damned VCR `devours` anything you leave in it!
cate: It just switches into "record" mode at random, I think, and picks up whatever's coming in over the antenna. Of course the only station we get down here is that WEVP. Community television, you know. They've got that show with the gentleman playing banjo in his birthday suit — I'm sure you've seen it.
will: Oh yes.
cate: And if there's no tape in the machine when it tries to start recording, it makes this `awful` sound! Like putting a squeaky toy in a food processor. I can hear it above deck. Awful!
cate: That's why I put the sign up, "please do not rewind after watching!" At least that way nothing gets taped over anymore.
cate: `(To WILL)` You had a TV show? I never knew!
will: Um ... no, I don't believe I ever have.
will: The title sounds familiar, but more like it's something I heard about, like second-hand information.
cate: They let `anybody` on there, that's the whole idea. "Community television," or "public access," they call it.
will: I `would` say it's possible that I did the show you saw, and then forgot. Wouldn't be the first time. The studio ... no, I can't say that I remember where WEVP is, sorry.
cate: Hm. I don't know. Will?
will: I don't know.
cate: I guess I never thought of it. It must be nearby, right? It is "community" television.
will: Dashiell would know.
cate: You should meet Dashiell. He did a lot of volunteer work for WEVP, in the early days — wiring up antennas and relays, stuff like that. I think you two would have a lot to talk about. He works at the telephone exchange.
will: No, I'm afraid he's been let go.
cate: Oh yeah? That's odd, he still takes the ferry to work every day. I'm sure he's at the telephone exchange right now, in fact — I dropped him there a few hours ago.
cate: We're stopping at the telephone exchange again shortly, to deliver their mail and pick up their trash. You should go ashore when we do — ask for Dashiell!
johnny: Oh ...
johnny: I remember this.
junebug: I told you s —
johnny: — yeah, you don't have to say it.
junebug: Only because it's always true.
johnny: Ha ha.
johnny: She played at the flower shop. Cyrano opened. He was having trouble with his tape machine, so he just droned out on the lap steel. He got really into it, and he went on for, like, `forever`. Everyone was falling asleep.
junebug: Not everyone.
johnny: The tape stuff sounds good. That kid's doing a good job.[if ezra-has-recordings-to-play]
junebug: Yep, he's a natural-born tape-player.[if ezra-has-recordings-to-play]
junebug: Wow, look at Ezra. He's rapt.[if !ezra-has-recordings-to-play]
johnny: Ha ha. Yeah, he's really into it.[if !ezra-has-recordings-to-play]
johnny: So ... we were talking about him earlier, at the gas station ...[if !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)]
junebug: Sure, I haven't forgotten, cricket.[if !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)]
johnny: Cool, yeah, I know.[if !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)]
johnny: Any, um ... What do you think? About Ezra traveling with us for a while?[if !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)]
johnny: I was talking to him back at Sam & Ida's.[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)]
johnny: He seems a little lost.[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)][if restaurant-ezra-plan=undecided]
johnny: He said he wouldn't mind tagging along with us ... for a ways.[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)][if restaurant-ezra-plan=musicians]
johnny: He said he was headed back to meet with his brother, look around for his folks some more, but ... I get the sense he doesn't really know where he's going.[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)][if restaurant-ezra-plan=julian]
junebug: Another lost soul ... Well, he's in good company.[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)]
johnny: Maybe he could ... He could travel with `us` for a bit?[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)][if !(restaurant-ezra-plan=musicians)]
junebug: Hm. I'm not sure that's a good idea.[if NOT !(floating-gas-station-junebug-third-person-reaction=none)][if !(restaurant-ezra-plan=musicians)]
junebug: If I sound hesitant or something, it's just ...
junebug: When I met you — when we met, we were nothing, just these little gray shadows. And we grew, and filled in, and ... but we did all that together. Ezra, sure he's just a kid, but he's already a `person`.
junebug: What would that do to our `system`? Our `chemistry`?
junebug: Hey, I got the masters for the new record back from Lazar. They're OK, but I —
johnny: What?! You listened to them without me?
junebug: You were at the arcade; I didn't want to throw off your pinball game.[if three:breakdown-bike-johnny-hobby=recordings]
junebug: You were at the pet shop; I didn't think I could tear you free.[if three:breakdown-bike-johnny-hobby=animals]
johnny: Oh. OK.
junebug: Anyway, there are a few spots where the strings distorted a little, and the whole thing has `way` too much reverb, but overall it sounds pretty good. The new drum machine fits right into the mix.
junebug: The only question is how to do it `live`. I can't control the drum machine and sing and dance at the same time, and you've got your hands full of keytar ...
junebug: I'm just saying ... Maybe we `could` use a third pair of hands up there.[if junebug-wants-ezra-to-join]
johnny: Oh ...[if junebug-wants-ezra-to-join]
johnny: Oh![if junebug-wants-ezra-to-join]
junebug: Think you could teach that kid to play a drum machine?[if junebug-wants-ezra-to-join]
johnny: Ma'am, I could teach a `dog` to play a drum machine.[if junebug-wants-ezra-to-join]
junebug: Well, that'll be our backup plan.[if junebug-wants-ezra-to-join]
junebug: So, listen: if that kid `really` wants to tag along, and you `really` want to try making this a trio, then, I guess ...[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
junebug: Think you could teach that kid to play a drum machine?[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
johnny: Ma'am, I could teach a `dog` to play a drum machine.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
junebug: Well, that'll be our backup plan.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
johnny: So how do you think we'll swing that? Playing the drum machine live.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
junebug: We'll figure something out. Maybe glue it to the back of your keytar.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
johnny: Oh, yeah ... Or swap the buttons out for footpedals.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
junebug: Or put the drums on tape beforehand, like Cyrano does.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
johnny: Oh yeah. I guess we have a lot of options.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
junebug: Life is full of possibilities, cricket.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
johnny: Yes, ma'am.[if !junebug-wants-ezra-to-join+!ezra-wants-to-join-robots]
I remember the air was warm, perfumed. You were playing with some petals you found on the floor, and I was looking at the ceiling.
I remember the ceiling was glass. During the week, that room was a greenhouse. I don't know where they put all the plants when they had bands in. Maybe outside, if the weather was nice. It was nice that night; warm, smelled like spring.
I remember the folding chairs — so uncomfortable, but I guess it was their only option. They had to pack everything up during the week so there'd be room to display the flowers.
She was really getting into it! The sound was leaking out of her cheap headphones a bit, mingling with Cyrano's drone, and you thought you recognized the music.
I remember it was a driving game. We couldn't see the screen directly, but it was reflected in her glasses. Also she was sharply rocking back-and-forth — hugging corners, I guess — and sometimes she'd sort of jut one of her shoulders forward like she was drifting.
I would have been content just to sit in that folding chair and drift on Cyrano's lap steel soundwaves, but you were feeling restless, so we went for a walk.
He seemed cool.
You were a little put off by the smell — of the chili, I mean. It was obviously spiked. Even in that fresh, fragrant greenhouse, the boozy fumes stung a little. I've heard of cooking chili with a little bit of vodka, but that guy must have made a chili cocktail. Like a "Bloody Mary" with beans.
I would have been content just to sit in that folding chair and drift on Cyrano's lap steel soundwaves, but you were feeling restless, so we went for a walk.
She was a scrawny calico. We'd seen her there before. She must have lived there. I wonder if she preferred the peace and quiet of the daytime flower shop, or the buzz of activity and ear-scratching strangers that came with nighttime concerts.
Why do all the best music venues have live-in cats?
I would have been content just to sit in that folding chair and drift on Cyrano's lap steel soundwaves, but you were feeling restless, so we went for a walk.
You wanted to drive through the night, and try to get to a music festival in West Virginia in time to make some tips in the parking lot. I didn't think we'd earn the gas money back, but I was willing to be persuaded.
We abandoned the subject, and the folding chairs, and went for a little walk.
I'd been staring at it all day, cleaned the whole thing with a toothbrush, doused the battery compartment in WD-40, but it still did this weird chirp out of nowhere every once in a while.
I think it still does, actually? I guess we never found a solution. We went for a little walk to take our minds off it.
It was the one about the prisoners exchanging dirty moonshine recipes. I told you the one about the three bears and the outhouse. Then you told me the one about the dentist with the rude prosthetic. We had to leave the room.
He plays it with the back of a pocket knife; have you ever noticed that? I wonder why. I should have asked.
I watched for a while before I noticed you'd left to wander. Of course I followed.
They're very expressive, but they don't match the music at all — like he's channeling one feeling into his guitar, and diverting everything else out through his eyebrows.
I watched for a while before I noticed you'd left to wander. Of course I followed.
I started nodding a little. You pinched my elbow, and we slipped quietly out of the room.
I remember the air was cool and damp, like a cave ... I remember the lingering perfume of the greenhouse giving way to an earthy plant smell, like we were digging down, into the roots.
We wandered between some low houses and came out onto an empty street.
Nobody in the greenhouse looked like they came in on a horse. Maybe the chili guy.
You thought you heard a truck in the alley, loose and rattling like it might have had a trailer.
When we got outside, it had vanished.
I remember the radio was playing some old Patsy Cline. Right? Or was it Connie Smith ...
The clerk was reading one of those conspiracy-slash-celebrity-gossip-slash-bigfoot-sighting newspapers.
The horse ate the carrots, slowly and glumly. They're beautiful animals, horses; everyone seems to agree. I think it's because they always look so sad.
We made our way back to the greenhouse. We must have taken a shortcut or something, because I don't remember the walk back at all.
I put my head on your shoulder. We heard soft music from a car radio, but couldn't see the car; it must have been around the corner or down an alley or something. You tapped your foot and hummed. I made up lyrics but didn't say them out loud.
So you opened it, and there was that toadfrog. You put him in your pocket, and he traveled with us for ... six months? What a charmer.
I remember the door was stuck. There was a large gap underneath it.
It wasn't as stuck as we thought. The door burst open, and we fell through.
The room was crowded with colorful wreaths for births, quinceañeras, weddings, funerals.
Celebratory wreaths. But there was something kind of sad about it.
We felt around in the dark, careful to keep one hand on a wall so we weren't totally adrift in the darkness. I remember tripping over something — I guess we'll never know what — and stumbling, and you caught me. After a few minutes we found ourselves back in the basement.
We got back to the greenhouse just as Clara was tuning up. She relaxed her shoulders, took a deep breath, raised both hands into their precise positions, and the room started shaking.
Clara hit a note that made the glass rattle in sympathy a perfect two octaves lower. She looked like a sorceress, tearing down the building with an effortless wave and incredible focus, coaxing the empty air into some kind of moaning, rattling demon. That's the thing about the theremin — it's the only instrument you never touch.
You could see a wave of concern propagating through the greenhouse. People looking up at the trembling glass ceiling, looking at each other to see if anyone else was worried, trying to catch Clara's eye and discern if she was doing it on purpose or not; if she were really trying to bury us all in glass.
It was a tense five minutes. We, the audience, alternated between fearing for our lives and lamenting hers that could have given her the kind of emotional experience to play this devastating song.
Then slowly, gently, Clara's hands came to rest. The theremin went quiet, the glass stopped rattling, and the room relaxed, unharmed.
clara: Oh, right. Evaluation. Good music and bad music.
clara: I don't like to think about my work that way. Sometimes it's difficult not to; of course it's natural to want your art to be "good," even if you don't know what that means, but ...
clara: A scientist? Oh no. Ha ha.
clara: But ... like a scientist, I experiment. `Unlike` a scientist, I have no hypothesis.
clara: I try not to be attached to outcomes. Does that make sense? My violin teacher used to tell me to play like a tourist: "Act as though you've never been there before."
clara: I try not to think about anything at all. My violin teacher used to say, "Why make art? To quiet the mind."
clara: Still ... I'm not very good at it. Quieting my mind.
clara: When I'm playing this piece, I'm usually thinking of my uncle, Andrius. I never knew him when I was a child, except in postcards, but we became very close over the last few years.
clara: He was a collector of sounds. Like you! He traveled and recorded the songs of birds, of rivers, of city traffic, of crooked, moonlit highways. He sold his sounds by mail-order to movie studios and private collectors.
clara: They ended up in films and television shows, mostly, dislocated and reattached to other images.
clara: So. No quiet in this mind, I'm sorry to say.
clara: Excellent. I can tell you have a good intuition for sound, and that's very important in this piece.
clara: Oh, that's OK. In fact, it's probably better; musicians often overprepare, and in this piece I prefer to capture a sense of spontaneity. That's why I'm touring alone, and not asking other musicians to accompany me.
clara: Play your tape player. You may play any tape, at any speed and volume, even backwards. Just listen to the music and use your intuition. Or ... it may be better if you try `not` to listen to the music. This technique is called "indeterminacy."
clara: What's this place like? "Dogwood Drive," it's in a small town, or ... ?
shannon: It ... I really don't know. Ha ha. I've got the manifest the old man had in his truck, here:
shannon: `(Reading.)` Lysette's Antiques ... Mail-order delivery ... No return address ... Shipping address "5 Dogwood Drive." Packing list ...
shannon: And then it's just numbers. I guess the inventory numbers of the antiques he was supposed to be delivering.
shannon: Anyway, I'm glad you're coming with us.
clara: Yes. I'm always eager to see more of the country. And I enjoy the company. I will have to find a bus or a train to get on to Nashville by evening.
shannon: Well, they have buses everywhere, right?
shannon: Or, hey — `I` could drive you to Nashville. Seems I have a truck now. Only ...
shannon: How are we going to get it up these stairs?
junebug: That's quite a staircase.
junebug: No way out but up.
junebug: I guess we could wait for the `Mammoth` to come back around and take us a little further down, but that won't be until late afternoon.
junebug: Sure, I can think of a few things. Nothing that'll get that truck up the staircase, though.
junebug: Sure; I don't think anyone but us could get it started again.
junebug: Naw. We've been loading and unloading gear since the stars were young. We're our own roadies, right? We've got `expertise`.
junebug: `(To JOHNNY.)` Alright, cricket, let's get this delivery packed and tied into bundles. We're hiking it upstairs.
ezra: What's in there?
johnny: Antiques, I guess.
johnny: Yeah, antiques are ... It's like junk, but people will pay for it.
shannon: `(To CLARA.)` Sorry, I guess you'll be taking the bus after all.
clara: It's OK. It will be an adventure.
`(SHANNON sighs and stretches.)`
junebug: Tired? Don't worry, lady. We're almost there.
That gas station isn't anchored to anything; it follows the current. We might run into it anywhere along the river. Cate just starts looking for it when she's low on fuel, and the Echo provides. It's not usually on the `lake`, though ... that was strange.
Yeah, she's a thrillseeker, and you'd never guess it — she seems so `centered`, doesn't she? I've always thought so. Maybe that's why she enjoys rocking the boat a little. She knows she can stay upright through a little bad weather, so she can just relax and enjoy the chaos. Well, I admire her confidence.
But there was plenty of chaos to go around that night already, with that ugly storm upstairs, though we didn't know the extent of the flood damage yet at that point ...
The sign just says "GAS" in big, blocky letters, leaving little room for ambiguity. It has to be legible from a ways off, and anyway nobody wants to be left guessing about where they'll get their fuel, especially not on a night like that, with that storm system tearing around, flooding roads and dashing gardens.
She thought the rude weather upstairs was flooding the river, and everyone headed down to the lake to ride it out on calmer waters.
Anyway, my mechanical musician friends went ashore for a bit, too, looking for some snack foods — Cate doesn't stock anything aboard `The Mucky Mammoth` that doesn't grow wild, and it's not to everyone's taste — or maybe just to stretch their limbs and charge their batteries.
I'm sure they needed that moment to themselves. You wouldn't think a pair who made their living performing on a stage could be so introverted, but they really were, in their way. Sure, they had plenty of friends along the river, where they traveled and performed often in those days, but I think nobody else ever really got through. That inner circle was drawn with two strokes — I mean, for a while, anyway ...
I don't mean confused like ... not like when somebody asks you a question and you don't know the answer, but you feel like you should, and you get that kind of alarmed blankness in your mind's eye. Not like that.
They looked confused like when you see two kinds of motor oil, and they cost the same, and you've never heard of either of them, and you read all the text on both packages, but all that new information just makes the choice seem even more impossible. You might be inclined to flip a coin — but how could you, with something that important?
Naturally, I assume they met the gas station attendant, a man as anonymous and itinerant as the place itself. I assume he talked their ear off — everyone on this river does — but I know that fellow well enough to know he wouldn't want us reminiscing on him now.
So, they came back aboard, `Mammoth` refueled, and we ambled on toward The Rum Colony.
Cate came back from her mushroom hunting excursion with a small basket full of oddly-colored caps and stems, no doubt delicious to a morsel. Of course, she intended to use many of them in her medical practice: to ease the pain, nausea, and anxiety of pregnant women. But I can usually rely on my charms to snare a bite or two.
I have no preferences, when it comes to mushrooms, by which I mean that I treat them all interchangeably. I prefer not to know their names or qualities before I cook them up and eat them. It's useless, after all; they "escape your erudition," as the fella says.
That's a good mushroom hunting island, I guess. It's plenty damp, and they've got the cypress trees there to grow on. Of course they're not indigenous — the cypress trees, I mean.
Everyone down here seems to agree that they were planted as some kind of a marker or memorial. And most people will tell you they've got a distant relation or acquaintance who helped dig a hole or water a seedling.
But nobody remembers what it was all for, and nobody left a plaque or anything. It's a shame — looks like it must have been a lot of work. Well, at least we have the trees.
And the mushrooms!
While those two gentle beasts kept things under control aboard `The Mucky Mammoth`, I went ashore with the rest of the crew to make use of a public telephone.
I called into my answering machine, which I routinely neglect for intervals of months, to chip away at the pile. Cate checked in on a client of hers. She's a birth doula, in addition to being a tugboat captain. Did you know that?
Clara talked to her sister in Lithuania ... illness in the family, I gather.
Anyway, the evening hit a low point not much later on, so let's take a quiet moment here to listen to the river and reflect on the unburdened sleep of dogs.
Cate likes to give her passengers the opportunity to make some floating-around money, and that lab pays cash in small envelopes upon completion of their little gauntlet of non-invasive tests. It's a project of the university. I think they're studying ... I don't remember.
The `Mammoth` also collects their trash — mostly shredded paper, though Cate says once they left half a vending machine on the dock.
But nobody seemed too interested in the lab stop that night. They stayed aboard and played a card game. I read a book. Let me tell you about it:
The town is never named, but it's colorfully described — "woolly" fog, "broken" coastline, "provincial" shopkeepers.
The main characters are mail carriers.
It's some historic landmark being maintained by a bunch of college kids and aging social misfits.
The main characters work in the gift shop.
The building is drab, anonymous, dull ... I think? It's not really described — the book focuses on the people who work there.
The main characters both answer phones.
They're co-workers — Mimi and Jenn. Mimi is older than Jenn, but they seem to be at the same point in their lives. They like their work. They have a playfully antagonistic relationship with their boss.
I actually only read a bit from the middle ...
I don't know what the event was, exactly — I guess I `would` know, if I'd started at the beginning like the writer probably meant me to, but I've never found that way of reading suited me very well. Death of a loved one, I think — something like that.
It's a sweet and uncomplicated passage. Human affection for animals is a good model for pure compassion.
Something got messed up — a document misplaced or filed under the wrong heading ... I wasn't really paying close attention to that part, but the event prompted a long conversation about the procedural history of their work together, and that illustrated a history of their friendship in broad, suggestive strokes.
In my life's work as the Echo River's premier anecdotalist, I've always found that a carefully excerpted moment is more powerful than any epic history. That's my excuse, anyway, for reading books from the inside out.
So I stopped there. My eyelids were getting heavy. We were headed back to the lake, and a chance encounter with `The Iron Pariah`.
I rarely miss a chance to lounge on the beach around The Rum Colony — and I do enjoy a drink, though I don't find their signature liquor suits me — but this time I elected to stay aboard and shoot the breeze with Cate over some mineral water. Still, I heard reports.
Not at all surprising — he seemed to have some momentum, and Patch mixes up some pretty `magnetic` drinks.
See, that beach is lit by a congregation of amber torches stuck in the sand. They mix the torch fuel with citronella oil — it keeps the bugs away, which keeps the bats away, but the light doesn't fall very far from the flame. The rest is shadows and sandy echoes, and that's the part Ezra wanted to tell me about.
I have a childhood memory of running barefoot along the Ohio river at dusk, so I know roughly what he meant ...
Oh, if we're talking about The Rum Colony, I should tell you about Patch.
He's the bartender, general manager, "creative director" — I guess that means he books the music ... He's pretty much run the place for the last seven years. A lot of folks assume he owns it, but that is not the case.
The Rum Colony is owned by a dead man named Vernon. Technically, it would be owned by the power company, who once bought a sizable interest from Vernon as part of a state-sponsored investment program, but a clause in that arrangement requires them to keep their hands off the day-to-day — and most the profits — so long as Vernon walks this earth. The upshot of all this is that nobody came forth to identify the body ...
Patch is a good guy, though: kind, trustworthy, and he mixes a strong Mai Tai, if that's your thing.
See that rough circle of rocky protrusions, near the shore? It's more intricate than it looks; more than two-thirds of it is actually underwater. I haven't seen it myself, but listen to this:
It's man-made, and the rocks weren't placed according to their size, so what's visible is a more or less uniformly random selection of the overall shape. It looks like it might be a spiral, all told, or maybe some kind of meditative labyrinth.
At the head of it is a petrified oak stump. That was moved here from above ground, of course, decades ago. That's where the ceremony took place.
The Locke-Lucks were married here. Many frail-tongued observers said they should just go with "Locke" or "Luck," or split the difference with "Look," or even "Lick," or really anything else, but it was never going to happen.
She was a volunteer teaching conflict mediation skills to guards, and he was employed at the side gate accepting deliveries and greeting visitors. Neither of them once saw a prisoner.
They took a chemistry class together where she challenged him to "shoot the moon" — learning formulae and compounds well enough to answer every test question exactly wrong, and achieve a perfect failing grade.
Their driver's license photographs were mixed up by the clerk, a mistake they discovered immediately but never corrected.
Their engagement was welcome news for the family businesses, who had been looking for some opportunity to merge interests.
The natural next step was to start a local paper, what would become `The Echo River Evening Record`.
Surely someone in some branch of those two great trees had elephant husbandry on the brain. This is all speculation.
The ceremony itself was humble and perfunctory, and it must have somehow involved these rocks.
See that? Just looks like a swirling mess of garbage, doesn't it? Well ... that's what it is.
I don't know why trash seems to collect right there, of all the spots on the lake. It's always been that way. Everyone just navigates around it, like it was an island or something.
"Gemini Canoe & Firewood." The place was run by twin sisters — Cassie, and ... Paula, I think. This was years ago.
They used to rent out canoes to tourists, campers, pilgrims, folks like that. They must have had some kind of deal with the distillery; you'd always see a couple of Hard Times boys posted up on the dock, peddling small bottles to their customers.
Cassie and Paula worked those old canoes to death, wrung every penny out of them. They'd only take one out of commission when it was truly, demonstrably dangerous, and you couldn't get a refund unless your boat was visibly taking on water. The side business in firewood was a stroke of minor genius.
Those all-in-one desks, like they have in schools, if I remember right. It's been a few years since I saw the inside of one!
Those must have washed down from somewhere. I've never known there to be a school on the lake ... Oh, there was "Gemini School of Beauty." It was run by sisters, Cassie and Paula, indistinguishable except for their haircuts. But I wouldn't think they'd have used desks like `that`.
We used to stop there most every night to let someone off for a cheap haircut — student stylists, you know — they spared many a sailor the pain of a botched do-it-yourself do!
But I guess they got in deep to the power company; those blow dryers and curling irons burn a lot of coal. It's a shame they had to close down. The haircuts are gone, but the hair keeps growing!
That right there is Ratliff Monuments, if you ever need a headstone carved ... for a loved one, I mean.
Violet Ratliff, never married, nevertheless bore six children (Earl, Kelly, Barb, Ron, Young Earl, and Beauty), and for each birth she locked the doors of Ratliff Monuments for only one day, even with Young Earl, when she was in labor for thirty-six hours.
Well, that's what folks said, and I met her, and I believe them; she had the unyielding disposition of a cliffside.
None of Violet's children had any desire to go into monument-making.
There's some truth to that; very little demand for monuments to the living, after all.
She ended up reading scripts in a call center, where she only occasionally has to press a button or take down an order. Mostly she talks and listens, which suits her well enough.
The run of the shop fell at last to Young Earl, the only Ratliff still at home when his mother finally passed at eighty-two, and who then had the honor of engraving her headstone.
He's done well, for the most part.
The "showcase," a mock cemetery out front, was mostly washed away. Stone monuments, bobbing violently in the first torrents of the flood, eventually sank and spread along the channel bottom down-river, an elongated graveyard for no human loss, visited by eyeless fish and adorned with indifferent wreaths of algae.
If a few stray stones ended up at the bottom of Lake Lethe, too, we'll never know.
Young Earl is the last of his short line, professionally, and there's nobody around qualified to carve his monument, so he's already claimed one of those at the bottom of the river for himself.
It's his hands, cut and bruised by missed strokes, shaken apart from the inside, too. He learned from Violet, when striking a block of stone with a mallet and chisel, to absorb the extra shock right into his bones so as to keep the apparatus straight and carve a perfect line.
He spends his time outside work just caring for his hands, soaking his bones in salt water, doing little exercises and stretches. It won't improve the straightness of his marks, but it might put off the day he finds himself unable to carve a line at all, scribbling on rocks, like his ancestors. That's the day he has nightmares about. He dreads it like death, though he makes no distinction between the two.
It's easy to miss, but beneath that quarter-acre swarm of moths — that's `[template: mothBinomialName]`, the [template: mothCommonName], [template: mothDetail] — is a quarter-acre sunflower orchard, and beneath that sunflower orchard there are two small lots with small houses, positioned so they just about butt right up against each other.
The houses are empty now of human life. There's no sign of a person, or anything living except for moths and overgrowth. There are some pipes bolted into the cave wall near the perimeter, and a few stone scars where other pipes have been ripped away by scavengers — these once supported the large "grow lamps" that fed the sunflowers.
The lamps are gone now. Once this crop of sunflowers is picked away, it's unlikely anything else will grow here but lichen, moss, and rock formations. The [variable: riverworld-moth-common-name] will move on. The houses will be visible again, at least until somebody strips them for building materials, or the river washes them away.
The houses were once inhabited by two sisters. Why they built their houses so close together — or lived in any proximity at all — is a mystery, since they clearly despised one another.
Maybe by an unscrupulous real estate agent or, more likely, a concerned family member. It stands to reason this sororal rift would have sent ripples of discomfort through the rest of the familial pool — any time these sisters were in the same room, the tension was incendiary, or so I hear!
It didn't work. If anything, close quarters just turned up the pressure until those decades of closely-held resentments and animosities were pretty near to boiling over.
All that energy had to go somewhere, and both sisters had the same idea: they took up gardening. They both cultivated sunflowers, an improbable crop for this location; too improbable to be coincidence. Maybe the sunflower had some special meaning for them, or maybe when one sister saw her rival sowing the impossible seeds, she knew at once she couldn't bear to be outdone.
Which sister had the greener thumb, we'll never know. The stalks tangled, the roots knotted, and the seeds mixed. Those gangly sunflowers merged the two lots into one undifferentiated field.
The two sisters moved out, probably around the time the moths started showing up. Of course there was no selling the lots then, overgrown and bug-chewed as they are.
In fact, if those sisters ever tried to sell, they'd be in for a rude shock. Not long ago, a property tax clerk, having seen the two adjoining lots registered to the same last name, presumed they belonged to the same owner and erased the legal border between them.
Look at those easels and tables, on the beach over there. They call it an "open-air gallery," or probably something more upscale like "al fresco galleria." They say it's a popular design in foreign cities, like Paris and New York. That may be true.
The appeal is clear enough, I guess. Anyone can wander in and out; there aren't any walls or doors. There's no roof either, just a kind of thin cloth membrane, not quite a sheet or a tarp but more like a drape of rolled-out spiderweb, looking like it might bunch up and dissolve if it ever got rained on.
No concern down here for rain! Everybody thinks they're `inside`, just because they can't see the sky — but it's a `microclimate` down here, and it surely does rain.
Right now, they're exhibiting some intimate photographs of small-town life.
The photo is titled "Walker." His eyes are kind of closing, or maybe opening ... probably closing. Because of the scale of the thing you can see all the crumbs in his beard. No, not food crumbs. Crumbs from sleeping outside.
She's got her back to the camera and she's fussing with something, looking at her hands. Maybe she's stuffing a message in a bottle, or folding a paper boat.
After looking at them all in a row, it's hard to come away with any specific memories of people or faces. You just get a kind of fuzzy afterimage, the warm residue of a community, no individual meaningful except as a bit of contrast or shading.
She returned on the dinghy, alone. She had a strong and sudden urge to shut the motor off and let the current take her, but she couldn't work out where that impulse came from, so she did her best to resist it.
The boat was loaded to capacity with black plastic bags and a few larger pieces of furniture wrapped in a blue tarp. Three paddled — the two adults and the older child. The two younger children slept.
They'd been traveling all night, first by car and then for the last few hours by boat. Hungry and tired, they didn't plan to stop until they reached West Virginia, where a relative had offered to take them in.
But the adults were happy to take a break from paddling in weary silence. They asked her about her river journey.
They'd brought some food. The kids had picked the garden clean earlier in the day, so they'd been snacking on fresh bell peppers and tomatoes, and some crackers, rationed carefully for the trip.
They were sympathetic. No miners in their family, but he was once injured at a warehouse job, and had to fight for disability pay — they knew what these companies were like, and what it was like to have to assert your humanity to them.
He'd just started work for the day, so his stock was full. He pushed a few bouquets her way —
First was [template: bouquet] [template: bouquetOccasion]
Next, [template: bouquet] [template: bouquetOccasion]
Finally, [template: bouquet] [template: bouquetOccasion]
He was alert and easygoing. His day was just beginning. He used to work at `[variable: tiki-bar-carl-failed-business]`, but it closed down. When he wasn't selling flowers, he'd hang out by the highway and listen to the sounds the cars made, study them carefully, and then learn to reproduce them with his own voice. He was working on a record.
He drifted away with the current, pushing his flowers along with the raft.
He said they took turns. The water was cold and the floating bicycle, while technically marvelous, wasn't quite buoyant enough for the both of them. Swimming is hard work — the hardest work that dog had ever done, he expected.
They'd been traveling this way for most of the night: struggling through the icy water, stopping to recover when they could find a rock large enough to start a small campfire. He had his belongings stuffed into a weathered guitar case at the end of a thin rope. It floated pretty well, so he only had to keep an eye on it and occasionally free it from a rock or some driftwood it was caught on.
He would have played her something, but the case leaked a bit, and he didn't think it would sound right until it had time to dry out.
He never worked from photographs, so his paintings could be divided into two categories:
There were the ones he painted from life, and the Echo River was a very good source for these because its currents were so unpredictable and the tunnels so dark. He rendered these in oil paint, by lamplight, working for hours cross-legged on the porch of his houseboat-slash-studio.
Then there were the ones he painted from memory — mostly the memory of a single wreck he encountered as a much younger man, picking up litter where the coastal highway cleaves to the rocky beaches of northern California. These were done in watercolor. He preferred to work on them in the morning, in a room he rented near the airport in Louisville.
He had some postcard-sized sketches in charcoal, too, of `The Iron Pariah`. It wasn't a wreck, exactly, but it felt right. He tried to scribble one down every time he encountered it, though it was so unpredictable, and he was so focused on details, he usually just ended up with a handful of inscrutable marks.
See that small, brick building? It used to be an upholstery shop. Now it's inhabited by a very skilled taxidermist, whose art is greatly in demand. When it was an upholstery shop, it didn't see nearly as much business.
The old shop's name has been lost to time and weather — this was decades ago — and the only trace of it now is the grayed frame of an old sign behind the new lettering, which now reads "Trapper, Stalker & Sportsman," and then below, smaller, "no specimen is too exotic, no arrangement too fanciful."
Some of the upholstery equipment is still there, too, and still sees active use. Elise is the resident artist, though she's not the owner of the shop.
Ida has very little to do with the day-to-day — she's busy with other endeavors, mostly the restaurant she and her husband run on Lake Lethe.
Very little is known about him. His crime is generally assumed to be violent or otherwise gruesome in some detail, though of course that's all speculation and probably comes from his association with the taxidermy business, even though he never so much as skins a squirrel. He's more like a "silent partner." I guess those are the ones you're supposed to keep an eye on ...
But Judah is old, and keeps to himself, and the consensus seems to be that he's paid his debt to society, whatever that debt may have been.
I met a photographer once — I mean, one in particular. She even took my portrait, I can't imagine why. She said it would `immortalize` me. That was a metaphor, of course. She meant I'd never be forgotten.
As she was disembarking — not far from here, actually — the film fell out of her bag and was borne away by the current. I was working on deck at the time. She shot me a sad, apologetic glance, but I wasn't bothered. It's no shame, to be forgotten.
As she was disembarking — not far from here, actually — the film fell out of her bag and was borne away by the current. I was working on deck at the time. She shot me a sad, apologetic glance, but I wasn't bothered. It's no shame, to be forgotten.
Our passengers, twoone lighter, disembarked at the mail stop by the Silo. They couldn't seem to get that old truck started up again, but we managed to roll it off the barge with only a minor scrape or two. At the last minute, Clara decided to travel with them for a while.
Cate and I said goodbye to our friends — new and old — and `The Mucky Mammoth` rumbled on down the Echo.
I'm sure I talk too much — everyone on this river does. The problem is that we `listen` twice as much as that. We're only telling you half of the stories we hear!
Cate told me that I ought to have been a photographer. She said, "you have an uncanny way of having been in the place at the time the thing happened there, and that's the hardest part of taking a photograph, anyway."
Nice of her to say, but it isn't true. Though I know just about every story on this river, most of them I've picked up second-, third-, or fourth-hand, and so on. Listening, see?
Now, I know what you're gonna ask, so I'm gonna answer it: yes, I'm sure they're all "true." I personally believe a story gets `more` true as it's tossed around from brain to brain and the whole community brings their insight to bear on the brittle facts of experience.
There are a few Echo River stories I witnessed directly. I saw that big owl migration pass through, you might have heard about that. I was there when the old train station flooded. I saw the ghost of Stephen Bishop brew up a batch of white lightning on a raft ... or, anyway, I talked to a few sailors who'd recently crossed paths with him — and, I suspect, sampled his wares ...
One night, when I was working on `The Mucky Mammoth`, we picked up a gaggle of passengers headed down to a mail drop by the Silo of Late Reflections.
I knew a couple of them in passing: a pair of traveling musicians, whom I often encountered on the river. The others were strangers to me at the time: a young woman, a small boy, and an old man whose name I didn't catch. Oh, and a smelly old dog.
We docked at a gas station, so the `Mammoth` could refuel.
cate: Sure, it's not anchored or anything — could be anywhere up and down the Echo. You just kind of run into it when you need it, or hopefully a little `before` you need it.
cate: I usually stop here once a night ... though, to be honest, I'm not sure it's even the same one. Doesn't have a name or anything, and I never really pay attention to who's behind the counter.
cate: Anyway, it's nice to see you two! Most of my regular passengers must have gotten held up elsewhere in their journey tonight. It's that storm, I think.
cate: `(Watching EZRA sprint past.)` Look at him go! That kid has a lot of energy ... it's got to be past his bedtime or something, right?
cate: You don't have any ... of your own, I mean ... No, I guess not. I just realized: you two come through here so often, we chat about all kinds of stuff, but I never thought to ask. About family.
cate: So ... how about that storm upstairs? Did you two get caught in it? I heard it kind of roamed around, uncertain. I'm sure we'll hear all about it tomorrow: flooding, property damage ... probably killed a few tomatoes. It's got the river churning and everyone headed to the lake here, where the water's calmer.
cate: I myself don't mind navigating a choppy river. Not at all. I've got a good feel for it. Plus, it's better for fungal growth — high water consumes the cave moths, and their wet wings clump together into these little balls of nutrient-dense mushroom food, jammed by current here and there between the rocks. You have never seen a mushroom grow like on a soggy cave moth carcass.
cate: Amazing. If I could get a day off, Val and I would be out there all day tomorrow to harvest. I mean it, they'll be ready by tomorrow. A mushroom will grow just as fast as you can pump water into it!
cate: Hey, are you two headed out this way tomorrow? Maybe I could send Val ashore with you for a few hours. She's got a remarkable nose for mushrooms — you wouldn't even need to know what to look for. Put a bag around her neck, and she'll just bring them back to you.
cate: Ah, I should have figured. Seems you two are always on the move.
johnny: It does seem that way.
cate: So ...
cate: I should get back aboard. No rush, I just want to brew some tea before we get underway.
cate: Headed into the station?
cate: `(To JOHNNY.)` She doesn't let you pick out your own snacks? Ha ha.
johnny: `(To CATE.)` It's for the best. I get a little overwhelmed by all those shelves of candy.
cate: Too much of a good thing.
cate: Sure, don't want him falling asleep on you ... naw, he'll be alright. He seems like the type who can hold his liquor. Seems like he has a little experience, I mean.
attendant: I had three boxes at the beginning of this week, and they're all gone. Can't keep them on the shelves.
attendant: I'm out. I figured that pot would last the rest of the night, at least.
attendant: There used to be a young man who came by here and traded them for gas. He's a diver; I guess he found them diving. Haven't seen him in a while, though. That right there could be the last of them.
attendant: To be honest, our whole inventory is pretty low right now. There's a delivery boat that usually swings by earlier in the night, but I guess something came up.
attendant: Well, even if you're not doing the heavy lifting, or navigating, or whatever ... a passenger contributes to a journey, too.
attendant: I live here. There's a cot in the back — nobody ever notices it. Not that I do much sleeping, really, but sometimes I lay on it anyway just to keep it in shape.
al: I can't help it. Every time I step onto that boat alone, I think "this could be the very last time." And then every time I come ashore, back among people, I think ...
al: I'd give you any advice I could, little guy, but I think the most important thing I can say is —
al: `(Solemnly.)` "Glory, it is good to be among friends."
al: It's a ritual of remembrance, for me. Tonight, particularly so. It's my birthday: I am five years old. Do you know why I say that? Well, I'm gonna tell you.
al: Five years and some days ago, I set out on the Echo River, alone, or so I thought at the time ...
al: I was looking for an ice floe — they are occasionally rumored to travel our humble artery on their way from who-knows-where to who-knows-where. Who knows why? It's a mystery.
al: An hour into the journey, my lantern gave out. `Now`, I always carry three or four spares. You'll never catch me in the dark again. Lesson learned, buddy.
al: But that night, when that lantern went out, I was stuck in the dark. I kept my arm extended, running my fingers along the cave wall, trying to keep my bearing as best I could and at least make sure I wasn't going in circles ... I just prayed I'd find another traveler who knew his way back to the lake or above ground, or even just a crack in the rock to get a glimpse of moonlight!
al: I had a large bag of apples with me. After a long while — maybe a day — I was getting weak, so I took my hand down from the rock to tear the bag open. Well, when I reached back out, I couldn't find that cave wall anymore, or any other. I was totally `unmoored`, buddy. Totally adrift.
al: And it was so dark.
al: I started counting time in apples eaten. I drifted in despair for four apples. Then I schemed and planned and dreamed for two apples. Finally, I came to accept my fate — lost at sea — and this phase I think would have continued indefinitely had I not come down to that very last damn apple.
al: Picture me: feeling around in the empty bag, certain that `somehow` there was another one of those fist-sized chunks of life-giving fruit, already softened by time and probably an unappetizing brown ... nope, that was it.
al: Just as I was about to bite into my last meal, I felt a tickle on my upper lip. It hatched, right then, couldn't have been a moment later or I would have eaten it! My last apple was `infested` by a damn fruit fly maggot!
al: Well, that should have been the end of it. I should have eaten that apple — and that fly while I was at it — and put an end to our little food chain suicide pact, but I waited ... out of mercy.
al: After all, this fly was basically a newborn child, right? A gross insect child, but still a child, right? Born into darkness and famine, hungry and alone, I mean, can you imagine that? No other flies out there on the boat, and never would be. No other flies to welcome him into the world, I mean — no fly culture, no fly society, no fly history ... a true orphan.
al: I started to get `depressed` just thinking about it all. Worked out a thick tear, I'm not ashamed to say. Well, that fly landed on my cheek, right under my left eye, right on that salty tear drop, and then — BLINDING GLORY, HIS ASS LIT UP LIKE A CANDLE! That wasn't a fly, buddy, that was a damn lightning bug!
al: So, that's how come I'm here today with you folks — only because I found my way out of that strange river cave by the dim-lit rear of some orphan insect hatched out of my last rotten apple.
norm: `(To ATTENDANT.)` Shit, that floodwater washed you halfway up out to sea — I was looking for you down by New Königsberg same as usual but ain't nobody there, and the river's deep as an elephant's —
norm: `(Noticing JUNEBUG.)` Oh, didn't see you there, ma'am — pardon my language.
norm: `(Extending his hand, warmly.)` I expect you must be Loretta. Enchanted to meet you, sorry I'm late ... hey, is that coming on too flowery or something? "Enchanted?" Repeating it now, I feel a little silly ...
norm: You're probably right about that. I guess I thought it'd be like "neutral territory," and we both live on the river ... it's not very romantic though, is it?
norm: I met Loretta on the computer. We met each other there, I mean. Or, I guess, we spoke through the computer, and agreed to meet? I don't know the terminology ... I haven't dated in quite a while. Back when I met Greta — that's my wife, excuse me, my "ex," or maybe `I` am `her` ex? I don't know how to say it ...
norm: Anyway, back then there wasn't even such a thing as computers at all! I mean, I guess there probably was, but I never heard of one. I worked in textiles.
norm: So, here I am.
norm: Oh, maybe head down to The Rum Colony. Shoot, I forgot to ask if she likes to drink. You really never know, these days. I guess first I'd ask her about that. If she doesn't like rum, I'd maybe try to take her by the bat sanctuary. That's pretty romantic, in a sense. I mean like misty-valleys-and-ruined-churches romantic, not like flowers-and-chocolates romantic.
norm: Of course, they've got that memorial there. That's a little depressing, actually. Maybe we'd kind of sail `around` that ...
norm: Actually, I wanted to ask you for some advice. I had to type up a sort of "autobiography" for the computer date, and I spent a lot of time on it but I only got one reply, and that was Loretta herself. I was happy to meet her, but ... supposing she's lost interest now ...
norm: Do you think you could maybe give me some feedback? It's only a paragraph or so. I have it all memorized — I spent so damn long writing it!
norm: OK. Here's how it goes:
norm: `"I'm a good-natured man, retired, and spend most of my time sailing the Echo River, riding currents of subterranean gas and that strange invisible wind that moans out of the small tunnels along the bank."`
norm: `"Seeking a companion to map the river with me. I have two grown children but they live far away."`
norm: `"No goofballs."`
norm: OK. What do you think?
norm: Yeah, you're probably right. I wanted to show my poetic side ... I'll save that for the date.
norm: Maybe I'm afraid it overstates my age a little ... ha ha.
norm: Yeah, sure I am. My son is a schoolteacher and my daughter owns a printing press. Good people. Yeah, maybe I just mentioned it there hoping I'll get asked to brag a little. Ha ha.
norm: Oh, no. I've got nothing but time ...
norm: I guess it's more like I want the person reading it to know that `I'm` not a goofball — I'm ready to show up.
norm: Well, alright, then! Sounds like I'm ready to get back on that computer.[if floating-gas-station-critique-count=0]
norm: Alright. Thanks for your help, ma'am. Really renewed my confidence! I'm ready to get back on that computer.[if floating-gas-station-critique-count=1|floating-gas-station-critique-count=2]
norm: Alright. Thanks for your help, ma'am. You've given me a lot to think about. I'm ready to get back on that computer.[if floating-gas-station-critique-count=3]
norm: You have a good night, now — what's left of it, anyway!
johnny: Yeah, exactly like that. But that's how I feel when I'm talking to you, ma'am — like I'm talking to myself. And when you're talking to me, I feel like you're talking to yourself.
johnny: I mean, not `literally`, but like ... that's how we are who we are, you and me.
johnny: Right, he's just sort of mumbling and humming, thinking out loud. It doesn't matter if he speaks clearly because the dog's only listening to his tone and his hand behind his ear, and his memory of all their time together. I think that's how it is for the old man, too ...[if dog-pronoun=he]
johnny: Right, he's just sort of mumbling and humming, thinking out loud. It doesn't matter if he speaks clearly because the dog's only listening to his tone and his hand behind her ear, and her memory of all their time together. I think that's how it is for the old man, too ...[if dog-pronoun=she]
johnny: Not exactly ...
johnny: Not like that guy in the gas station. That guy lets the world wash over him, static like a rock, but I — you and me both, together, I mean — we're always moving, always changing.
johnny: I think it's because we feel safe with each other, you know? Free. We can try stuff out — change our clothes, swap parts around, just ... `play`.
johnny: I'm not lonely, just curious — with another person to play with, what else could we be?
johnny: Huh. Now `that` would be a whole new adventure, wouldn't it?
johnny: You and me, we're good together. Safe. Free. You know what I mean? We can try stuff out — change our clothes, swap parts around, just ... `play`.
johnny: I'm not lonely, just curious — with another person to play with, what else could we be?
johnny: You really think so? Wow. I thought I'd have to wear you down a little, like I did with the gerbils ...
johnny: No coffee?
junebug: Somebody spilled it all. It looked pretty old anyway — I'm not sure that old man would have had the constitution for it.
johnny: Aw. You're always thinking of other people's stomachs, ma'am.
johnny: You know — I think I'll go take a look after all. Wish me luck.
johnny: What's that?
junebug: It's a crystal. I bought it for you.
johnny: Wow. Thank you, ma'am.
johnny: Hey, could you hold onto it for a minute? I'm going to look around inside. Wish me luck.
junebug: Sorry, cricket — nothing good on offer.
johnny: Not even those little gummy pomegranate seeds?
junebug: I didn't look.
johnny: It's OK, I'll go check. Wish me luck.
Coffee tilts gently with the lake, burning the air into a film on the glass decanter. This isn't coffee for drinking; it's perfunctory, ornamental.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=coffee]
Junebug surveys a row of chocolates, licorices, cheese crackers — dehydrated, bleached, reconstituted and colorized.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=snacks]
The crystals are rough, dirty. Some are damp — they must have come out of the river.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=crystals]
Junebug selects a white styrofoam cup from a stack and grabs the coffee pot.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=coffee]
A bag on the bottom shelf is decorated with cartoonish pictures of vegetables. Through a plastic window in the packaging, she can see puffed corn shaped and colored like carrots, tomatoes, and broccoli florets, and a few puffy white discs that might represent potatoes.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=snacks]
Junebug tries to scrape some green algae off a larger specimen, examining it for the kind of cloudy inner formation the attendant said was so popular.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=crystals]
She moves her foot quickly out of the way, cursing with a harsh chirp.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=coffee]
Somewhere in there is surely a preservative, in case the rest of the process hasn't done enough to stop the flow of time.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=snacks]
"... ha k ... y u ... " and a few numbers are woven through the algae.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=crystals]
The attendant frowns and pulls a mop and dustpan from behind the counter. Junebug shrugs apologetically and pushes some of the wet, broken glass into a pile with her foot.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=coffee]
This isn't algae at all — it's a decayed plastic bag caught on the rock.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=crystals]
She turns the bag over to look for the ingredients, but only finds a marketing blurb. "Inspired by real vegetables!"[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=snacks]
attendant: Looking for crystals?
attendant: Sure, "Bat Bucks." Everybody buys that one; no idea why ...
attendant: "Sudokash." It's a little complicated, but I had a guy in here who won ten dollars off one, just last week.
attendant: We've got them on sale. All kinds of folks come in here looking for crystals. There's a few over there with milky white shocks through the middle, like you caught a piece of a cloud. People seem to like those a lot.
attendant: Yep ...
attendant: Popular crystals.
attendant: It's back here, but I'm going to tell you something — it's been sitting on this burner for ... all night, I think. It was brewed by my predecessor.
attendant: You've got to be a particular kind of self-loathing-thirsty to drink this coffee. Or maybe it comforts you just to hold the cup in your hand. It's hot, at least.
attendant: Sure, we have snacks. We have ... how about some jerky? It's "homemade." Not by me.
attendant: Sure, I should have guessed. You have the posture of someone on their way to somewhere. I have it, too. I just stand here behind the counter, and nobody affords me any greater importance than a spiderweb brushed out of the way.
attendant: I've learned to cherish it. There's dignity in being forgotten, letting the crowd flow around you unspoiled.
attendant: I used to live in a city — I mean a `real` city. Cleveland, Ohio. I had some family money then, and I didn't have to work. I lived in hotels. In daylight, I walked wherever the people were. My only duty was to the crowd — I was its observer, its historian, its detective, its poet.
attendant: Well, the money ran out, and I dispersed with the rest of them. I took my duties with me here, to Lake Lethe and the Echo River. I live behind this counter, anonymous, invisible, but I live with dignity.
attendant: And yourself?
attendant: `They` enjoy the company too, as fleeting as it is, sufficient unto itself.
attendant: Yeah, that's the way to do it. I can't help it, myself — I travel at the pleasure of the current.
attendant: Hm. And not so easy to forget, I'd say — I see now that you're right. Well, that's yours to bear, then.
attendant: Sure, so you say. I say you can travel in company and still be alone ...
attendant: Snacks are in the back there.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=snacks]
attendant: Coffee and sugar are just around the counter here.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=coffee]
attendant: We keep all the crystals on that shelf over there. Buy one, get one free — of equal or lesser symmetry.[if floating-gas-station-junebug-errand=crystals]
patch: Junebug! Hey, guess who I just saw, like an hour ago.
patch: I hear you. Gotta draw some kind of line though, right?
patch: Aw, man ... you know. Carl had that gig for a minute at `[template: failedBusiness]`, but they went out of business. If our numbers were better here, he could just work on his record and it'd be fine, but ... you know how it is.
patch: For now, he's selling flowers on the river. Say "hi," if you pass him!
patch: It's these kooks from upriver — they all came in together. I think it's some kind of work thing.
patch: They're nice enough, but, you know ... I've got to keep an eye out for lightweights trying to swim home or something. I don't have that kind of insurance!
patch: Anyway, I don't mind them, but you know how territorial Dawn and Sonny get after a couple of Mai Tais.
patch: Speaking of which ...
luis: `(Yelling.)` The water is fine! Invigorating. It makes me want to run. I could gallop up and down this beach like a horse!
clerk böhm: `(To METZSTEIN.)` What's he yelling about?
clerk metzstein: He wants to run on the beach. Like a horse, he says.
clerk metzstein: `(To SHANNON.)` Oh dear, what's in these drinks? Ha ha.
clerk metzstein: But deceptively sweet.
clerk böhm: Mine's not very sweet at all, actually. It's just sort of ... pleasant.
clerk metzstein: I really meant "rich," I think. With a sweet aroma.
clerk böhm: We're celebrating!
clerk metzstein: We just hit a big milestone, you know.
`(THE CLERKS both pause, waiting for the other to speak.)`
clerk böhm: Well? Tell her about it!
clerk metzstein: But I don't know anything more than you do. It wasn't part of my caseload.
clerk böhm: Well it wasn't part of `mine`. I wonder just what we're celebrating.
clerk metzstein: It doesn't matter.
clerk böhm: Poor Rick. He's a lightweight.
clerk metzstein: I think he just drank too fast. It's easy to get carried away. Oh, he always gets so `melancholy` when he drinks.
clerk metzstein: Remember? The office picnic at that big, flat rock ...
clerk böhm: Oh, I remember. He was talking Lula's ear off. She slipped away, and he sat on the ground, nursing that brown bottle, crying! Sobbing about "the days that are no more."
clerk metzstein: Poor Rick. It'll never be.
clerk metzstein: I know what you mean. I've been working on —
clerk metzstein: I'm not sure `where` she is, now that you mention it. Before we left the office, she —
caller: Yeah, let me talk to [template: personName], please.
caller: I mean from the other ground. Why are you being so dense? I'm just looking for [variable: tiki-caller-friend-name].
caller: The place where [variable: tiki-caller-friend-name] is at. Look, this doesn't have to be complicated.
conway: Naw, it's not one of those ... not one of those really strong drinks. Just sort of ...
conway: I think he said it was a ... well ... how do you like that? I'll just show him the flower. "Another one of these!" I'll say. And then I'll point to the flower. Maybe I'll wear it in my hair! Ha ha.
conway: It doesn't `taste` like a flower. I mean, not like a flower smells. You know: perfumed, sickly-sweet. Like a ... like a `star-thistle` flower.
conway: You know, my dad was obsessed with those awful weeds. We had a small house just about leaned up against a hill, and every spring that hill would `explode` with yellow star-thistle.
conway: ... and he'd tear into them. Angry — I mean, really offended by it. He said they were an `invasive species`! Like foreign squatters on his land or something ... I used to think he was such a stupid old man to take it so personal.
conway: After he died, I mean a few years after, I came by the house again. It was spring, but I didn't see a single yellow flower on that hill. He must have finally got them. Or maybe they followed him home. Ha ha.
conway: You know, my mother was obsessed with those awful weeds. We had a small house just about leaned up against a hill, and every spring that hill would explode with yellow star-thistle.
conway: ... and she'd tear into them. Wild — I mean, really enraged by it. She said they were an `invasive species`! Like foreign squatters on her land or something ... I used to think she was such a wicked old lady to get so violent about it.
conway: After she died, I mean a few years after, I came by the house again. It was spring, but I didn't see a single yellow flower on that hill. She must have finally got them. Or maybe they followed her home. Ha ha.
conway: One of my first long haul gigs ended in a crash; did I tell you about that?
conway: It wasn't so bad, actually. I swerved to dodge some stray cattle, hit a stump on the side of the road, and flipped the trailer.
conway: The whole rig went twisting down into a muddy ditch — it was spring — and I blacked out. I don't think I hit anything, it was just the shock of it, or maybe my brain bounced against the inside of my skull or something.
conway: Anyway, I woke up and I'd been thrown clear. Never worn a seatbelt since.
conway: Oh, why'd I bring that up ... star-thistle! I woke up in a field of star-thistle. The first thing I thought was: "what are all these damn ugly flowers?" Ha ha.
conway: More old stuff ... I'm `drowning` in old stuff tonight. Feels like I've got it piled up all around me, like one of those old guys you hear about who never threw anything away — you know what I mean?
conway: Oh, no, I don't think so ...
conway: In fact, I could use a few more of these `(indicating his drink)`. Just take a book of matches to the room - that should clear everything right up! Know what I mean?
conway: Yeah, it's a nice idea. But I'll tell you what I'm learning tonight — I don't `belong` in the "here and now." That check's been cashed.
conway: Sorry, I'm not making sense, am I? Ha ha.
conway: I just mean to say I'm ... I can't look at anything without remembering something else, and then that reminds me of something `else`, and — I'm buried in it. I just need to get my head clear for a minute, get a clear view of the day, get oriented ...
conway: There was a time, when I felt this way, I'd bite the bullet — try to sober up and get a job ...
conway: Hm. Maybe it is. Seems like a pretty simple answer, right? Just follow the work as long as you can ...
conway: Ha ha. You've got me all figured out ...
conway: Hm. I don't think I follow your meaning ... but I guess that's not really my role to play. For me, it's more like: "get out of the way and let the younger, stronger, smarter folks get to work." Ha ha.
conway: Well, I guess I've got something in common with a computer after all! Ha ha.
conway: "Work is play for mortal stakes." Or so they say in church ...
conway: `(Noticing SHANNON for the first time.)` Oh!
conway: Oh, sure. I'll be right there.
cyrano: I am `so` glad to see you. These kooks are bumming me out, man.
cyrano: You see that guy in the sand over there? He rolled up — kind of off-center, you know — kind of leaning on the stage here, and he was like, "what kind of strings are those, steel or nylon?"
cyrano: Oh yeah. It's mandatory around here, man. It's what the people want — I'm just a humble artist, you know?
cyrano: Plus, it's better for tips. You can't look like you care about it, you know? Even if it's your livelihood. A crowd can smell economic precarity, and it turns them `off`.
cyrano: I guess it's no fun to give someone money if they really need it. Too much responsibility. Ha ha.
cyrano: Oh yeah! It's good, man. I mean ... it's OK.
cyrano: Everything's recorded, but I still want to do another pass on it, and maybe work on the mix. But it's no rush on that, because I don't have the cash for blank tapes right now anyway!
cyrano: Patch threw me some bookings, so I'm trying to fund it with tips. But, you know, we're all paying a premium for blank media these days.
cyrano: Everyone's afraid we're dubbing garbage off the radio, so they only sell blank tapes in pallets or overpriced three-packs. Totally cut out the small labels and self-publishers.
cyrano: Crystal and Gordon are just recording over `old` tapes, for their new one — can you believe that? It saves some cash, I guess, but you're always going to have old frequencies bleeding through. It's just chemistry, man.
dawn: `[variable: tiki-sonny-rant-subject].` That's his latest rant. But I'm not surprised by anything anymore. Before this, it was bovine growth hormones and global warming ...
dawn: Naw, he's harmless. I just don't know him anymore, that's all.
dawn: He takes bits and pieces of things he reads, and synthesizes them all into some grand theory, and it's always the end of the world.
dawn: But who could know that stuff, right? We can't even predict the weather. I mean: if you could take all these little pieces and predict how they're all going to interact ... well, you'd know everything!
dawn: I'll tell you what I'd do with that kind of knowledge: when I first met a man, I'd look at his shoes, and the kind of books he reads, and what he eats for breakfast, and I'd make damn sure we weren't doomed to spend our twilight years greedily emptying Mai Tais and arguing about `[variable: tiki-sonny-rant-subject].`
dawn: Well, you know what they say about hindsight. Here's to a better yesterday. Ha ha.
dawn: That's his latest rant. But I'm not surprised by anything anymore. Before this it was bovine growth hormones and global warming ...
dawn: Sometimes when I need to come down a little, I kick my shoes off and walk in the sand. You'd be amazed what your toes turn up!
dawn: One time I found ... it was ... that's odd. I forgot what I was going to say.
dawn: I guess it is late. I don't sleep much anymore, and neither does Sonny. I forget when that started exactly ... We just started coming here instead of going to bed.
dawn: It's all true, though you wouldn't know it to taste them. I always say it's the pineapple juice. You could hide the taste of motor oil with pineapple juice. Ha ha.
dawn: All that sugar goes straight to your head and you forget the burning in your gut.
junebug: Oh, sure, we'll be up in a minute.
johnny: You couldn't hold `me` back.
junebug: Oh, I don't know ...
junebug: Cate says just to wander back "whenever" — this is a `take it easy` kind of stop. She doesn't even blow the foghorn to round up the crew here. No point! Something about this spot is like wax in the ear when it comes to timetables and responsibilities ...
junebug: I was supposed to meet someone here earlier tonight about some bike parts ... hope she's still around.
johnny: Oh I'm sure she is, ma'am. Half-sleeping into a fragrant mug, with all the other wayward sailors!
mary ann: Can you believe this? I pulled a double shift at the Bureau this morning, since they were having all that elevator trouble. Stop off at my studio for a bit, and then I think I'm free to drink in peace ...
mary ann: Naturally, the rest of the office rolls in before I'm more than a sip or two into this delightful cocktail.
mary ann: Greg even asked me to fax something for him! I should write this up as overtime. Oh well — if I have one true talent, it's tuning out my colleagues. Ha ha.
mary ann: They did. Remember that shipment of bourbon I mentioned, from Hard Times? I actually mistook `you` for the delivery driver, back at the Bureau ...
mary ann: Anyway — I guess it never came. The driver was in an accident `en route`. Terrible, actually.
mary ann: Oh, something Patch mixed up. He's the bartender. It's called a ... "`Something` Smoke." Oh, "Downward Smoke," I think. No clue what's in it. Ha ha. I trust him.
mary ann: My esteemed colleagues are in for a surprise — Patch mixes them pretty strong! I guess that's the culture. I'm sure they'll enjoy it.
mary ann: Still — between us — I wish those busybodies had found `any` other venue ... I've always thought of this is as `my bar`. My colorful, tranquil "third place." You know what I mean, right?
mary ann: Exactly. Plenty of seating, people from the neighborhood drifting in and out ... and men's haircuts are so cheap and simple — it's no financial burden, no big production.
mary ann: I'd be at a salon every weekend, but my hair needs special treatment. Sensitive scalp. That's my cross to bear. Ha ha.
mary ann: Oh, checking in with the turtles and parakeets? I can relate. My apartment neighbors a vibrant bat community ... but I'm always on the outside looking in.
mary ann: Surely you don't want to die alone at your workbench? Or do you? I guess that could be sort of romantic in itself. Sort of a "tortured genius craftswoman" thing. OK, I can see it.
mary ann: Get one. That's my unsolicited, but well-meaning advice. Ha ha.
rick: This music is so `sweet`. Don't you think so? It's like a flower, I think. A delicious, heavy flower. Like this flower in my drink.
rick: It makes my eyelids feel like petals, wet with early morning dew ...
rick: Have you ever slept on the beach?
rick: No time like the `now`! Come lay in the sand. Have some of this drink, it's ... I forget what it's called, but they put a pale-pink flower in it. Isn't that `tranquil`?
rick: Oh, probably. I'll deal with that tomorrow. I certainly won't deal with it tonight! Tonight, I'm just sipping this ... I forget what it's called. They put a pale-pink flower in it. Isn't that `tranquil`?
rick: I do a good job hiding it. It's this serene beach, this sweet music, and these tranquil drinks. Here my weary nerves can rest, although my soul is heavy with distress.
rick: Hm. I don't have any advice for you there — I don't have many close friendships, myself.
rick: I'd like to think of my colleagues as friends. But here I am, detached, while they celebrate! We work at the `Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces`, and —
rick: From one sorrow to another, right? I know the feeling. I have trouble sleeping — I come home after a day of worry, lay my head down, and all I can do is worry with my eyes shut ...
rick: Sure we do.
rick: Some day, the lake and the riverbed will be dry. The shops along it will be bankrupt, the homes empty, the boats abandoned.
rick: See? Even the river will rest! Why should we be any different?
rick: I like the music here. I like this drink with the pale-pink flower in it. I like the sand and the dark water, like a deep mirror.
rick: I like the whispers of my colleagues from the other side of the beach ...
rick: You want to keep going. Good for you! I'll stay right here, if you don't mind.
rick: Oh, we ... uh. `Of course`! Good to see you again ...
rick: Oh, wait, now I remember. You came by to see Lula — I mean, Senior Clerk Chamberlain.
rick: Oh, our dear Lula — I mean, Ms. Chamberlain.
rick: Tragically, she couldn't join us tonight. Jumped ship at the last minute — she said she had "packing" to do. I wonder where she's going.
rick: `(A profound sigh.)` All this conversation is making me light-headed.
rick: I think I'll shut my eyes a bit. Maybe just half-way. I'll listen to the water and this sweet music ... and the whispers of my colleagues — shop talk!
rick: Can you believe it? Still `working`, always `working` ... it's better, I think, to sleep.
rick: `(Yawns.)` Yes. Better to sleep ...
Shannon finds a small box, about the right size for an injured baby bird or a couple of mice. This box is only full of sand. She rolls a few grains in her fingertips. It feels different from the sand under her toes: finer, and slicker. She has the feeling this is sand from a different beach.
At first, Shannon mistakes the iridescent glimmer for a seashell washed up from the lake, maybe some freshwater relative of the abalone, or even a pearl. But it's only a trading card. It must have been valuable to someone, or it wouldn't be printed on this lustrous material. Whatever was on it has mostly worn away -- all that's left is the shiny backing and the words "GLEANERS ... FORWARD."
A styrofoam cup is half buried in the sand, miraculously intact. It still has some coffee in it. Maybe it came from the bar. Or, maybe, someone dropped it here on their way to the bar. Maybe they weren't even headed to the bar originally, but drank their coffee too fast and needed a stiff counterbalance.
Shannon thinks about the war of liquids in the stomach — coffee to start a day, liquor to end it, apple cider vinegar to patch up the battlefield. Her mouth feels dry. She thinks about all the nervous casualties of the liquid war, clumsy alchemists transmuting day into night.
She thinks about a chalky, gray-pink liquid her mother kept for upset stomachs. That was stored in a coffee cup, too.
Shannon pulls a feather from the sand and brushes it clean. When she was a child, she collected feathers — not the way a hobbyist collects trinkets, but the way a clump of dust collects more dust by static electricity. She deposited them on the kitchen table at the end of the day. Weaver's mother said it was unhygienic. Shannon's mother said that was "American germophobe bullshit," and put them in a vase.
A damp matchbook rests on top of the sand. Shannon flips it open without looking, runs her thumb across the cardboard, and finds one match still intact. She stares ahead, transfixed by the texture on her fingertip, and she wonders if it will flake apart and leave her hands smelling and feeling like fire for the rest of the night, or if the cold lake water has already washed away that part of the match — the part that smells and feels like fire.
sonny: Hey! Did you hear the ice caps are melting? I mean the `polar` ice caps, the ones all the way at the top!
dawn: `(To SHANNON.)` Don't listen to him, hon, he's all doom and gloom tonight.
sonny: `"Don't listen!"` That's the answer, Dawn. Well, what else can you do? Some day, all of this ... will be under water. We'll all be drowned! What can you do?
dawn: Great, another pessimist. You two have fun, I'll be drowning in this Mai Tai.
sonny: [template: disasterElaboration]
sonny: [template: disasterFollowup]
sonny: [template: disasterConclusion]
dawn: Sonny, you're insufferable.[if meteor-sighting-conversation=none|meteor-sighting-conversation=bad-date]
dawn: Sonny, you're insufferable `(Kisses SONNY's cheek)`.[if meteor-sighting-conversation=good-date]
dawn: `(To SHANNON.)` Sorry you asked?[if meteor-sighting-conversation=thats-a-start|meteor-sighting-conversation=better-nights]
will: Hello! Happy to be in the `here` and `now`? I heard a shuffling; are you dragging your feet, or just enjoying the sand between your toes?
will: We have time. Lots of glass here. Patch's boys load the empties on the barge. I told them: try to keep it separated in its own little pile. That way, when we get to disposing of it, any environmentally-minded folks present can easily set them aside for recycling.
will: I love the river, but I don't care for the current — it's too relentless! Lake Lethe, though, is calm, cold and deep. At any opportunity, I'm ashore meditating. One day, I may be left behind!
will: Hm. I think you have something weighing on you, and I respect that enough not to press the subject. We're always being pressured to talk about our problems — it's all over the radio and the `self-help` section of the bookstore — but my ethos is to just `sit` with it, alone inside of yourself.
will: My spiritual adviser says, "if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four," and I think that applies to any other dissatisfaction just as well.
will: Just listening to the water and the walls. I like the wet slap of the tide on the ... ah ... Sorry, what was I saying? Never mind.
will: I wanted to ask you something ... I thought of it earlier but it didn't seem like the right time. I'm sure you know what I'm getting at.
will: Oh, no, I don't really think about that kind of thing. But I see you have a purpose. Well, the Echo carries pilgrims as well as drifters. I think you'll get to wherever you're going.
will: Oh, no, I think I read him pretty clearly. He's an `outwards-reflecting` kind of person — I mean he reflects the world back out, largely uncolored.
will: You and I, we are `inward-reflecting`, I think. It means we prefer to nurture the best and worst of ourselves in quiet and interior spaces. And that's OK.
will: Oh, I'll figure that out eventually. I do appreciate your insight. I suspect you have a kind of intuition for electronics. You understand them like you understand ... not a person, but a cat or a dog maybe.
will: It's your calling — not from society or authority, but an `inner` calling. I should have said it's in your `nature`.
carrington: You don't sound convinced ...
carrington: Well, it doesn't matter either way. I just dialed |zero| and asked the operator to connect me to any open line on the river. I'm in need of an outside perspective, you see?
carrington: It `is` you! I was trying to call a friend in Chicago, a lighting designer. The phone lines are acting up tonight. I believe it must be the storm. I heard it surged through Bowling Green just a few hours ago, sweeping telephone poles across the road in a tangled fan of kindling ...
carrington: Well. Maybe you can help me out. I reckon you can. Here's the score:
carrington: The performance is at dawn. We're coming right up to it! None of the cast is here yet. That's OK. Hell, I'll enlist `the audience` if I have to.
carrington: The stage crew, likewise, are delayed by bad weather. They may not make it in time. And they've got the props and the costumes with them ...
carrington: Well, I've done more with less. Good theater is always dangerous.
carrington: My experimental stage production of `The Death of the Hired Man` can survive those tribulations, but there is one element still missing that is far more crucial. We can have theater without props, without stage setting, even without actors ...
carrington: But there is no theater without `light`!
carrington: Of course, my production — experimental though it may be — aspires to emulate its source material. Frost's poem is framed by three sources of light and their effects on its subject, Mary.
carrington: First, Mary stares a lamp flame on the table in front of her, while waiting for her husband, Warren, to come home. Second, she distracts herself from a painful conversation by examining the moonlight on her apron. Third, she watches a little silver cloud pass over the moon, dimming it, as Warren finds Silas dead in the next room.
carrington: And yet, despite this rich tableau of moonlight ... we perform at dawn. Outside! I welcome the challenge ... but how to meet it?
carrington: What I mean is: where, in this oily gas station by the highway at sunrise, is the moon? Where do you see it, in your mind's eye? what's the first solution that appears?
carrington: And yet, despite this rich tableau of moonlight ... we perform underground! In an old coal mine!
carrington: What I mean is: where, in this dusty, man-made cave, sheltered in soot from the light of dawn, is the moon? Where do you see it, in your mind's eye? What's the first solution that appears?
carrington: And yet, despite this rich tableau of moonlight ... we perform underground! In a storage facility!
carrington: What I mean is: where, in these artificial tunnels, lit by droning, draining fluorescents, is the moon? Where do you see it, in your mind's eye? What's the first solution that appears?
carrington: A small photograph, in a modest frame ... or even frameless, hanging by clothespin from a fishing line. Primitive, authentic, nostalgic. It'll certainly do.
carrington: Interesting solution. I take it you're volunteering? I admire your enthusiasm — you really dive in!
carrington: Hm. It's minimalist, a bit sentimental ... but it addresses the issue head-on, which I like. No hasty aesthetic papering-over, just concede the issue and invite everyone to develop the solution. I can already imagine the reviews — it may prove a bit controversial!
carrington: It's a quality I feel is habitually sold short. Keeping oneself available, open to the vagaries of chance and experience, requires constant maintenance. It's a quality we have to nurture in ourselves; our natural instinct is to close ourselves off from risk ... and opportunity.
carrington: A theologian I once happened to meet said: "Why make art? To quiet the mind, making it susceptible to divine influences."
carrington: That's a kind of `availability` few of us ever attain.
carrington: Well. I hope you make it to the premiere, though it's coming up very quickly and I know you're still traveling. If so, I'll see you here at dawn. Safe travels, and thank you, as always, for your insight!
summer: No, I can't really get comfortable enough to sleep anymore, except in the car. Oh, not driving! In the passenger's seat, reclined. Eric drove me around the reservoir this afternoon and I got an hour or two in.
summer: I couldn't get settled in bed, so I was just watching TV; some cooking show about high-concept junk food, and ... everyone from my high school chemistry class was there ... making cupcakes out of ... old bicycle parts ...
summer: I think I `might` have dozed off a bit, actually.
summer: That's what Eric says. Ha ha. I guess it'll happen when it happens. I mean, obviously it —
`(The phone line makes a horrible sound.)`
summer: Whoa! God, the phones down here are such a mess.
summer: Hey, Cate, I really appreciate you checking in. I have your pager number, and so does Eric, just in case I'm too, um, distracted or whatever.
summer: I'll let you go. I should try to eat something.
clara: My sister, back home. She's very depressing to me this morning. My uncle Andrius is terminally ill and refusing visitors, and Nadia is making a stir about it.
clara: He's a bear of a man. Wild animals — it's what they do. When it's time to die, they wander off into the forest, alone.
clara: No, I said it wrong: they don't "wander." They make a pilgrimage.
clara: Yes, but only recently. He lived abroad for most of my life. I only met him a few years ago. My sister is older, so she knew him as a child, too.
clara: So I think her respect for him is distorted by sentiment.
clara: We must always take the dying at their word. Their motivations are beyond our understanding.
clara: The older man — he's swimming back to the `Mammoth`? No emergency, I hope?
clara: I see. Well, let him be a little lazy; he's old and it's very late at night.
clara: Another coffee lover. I wish I had some on board to share.
clara: Well, I hope he finds it before we embark; he seems unsteady on his feet as it is ...
clara: He's writing a letter?
cate: Ha ha. I hadn't heard that euphemism. Must be Lithuanian ...
clara: I know the type. Andrius always carried peppermints.
brandon: Oh, uh, it's a variant of `Solitaire`. I designed it myself. Well, it's a work in progress.
brandon: It's no big deal. I'll just hang out and read or something until it's time to head back to work.
brandon: Hey, you folks are traveling with that old guy, right? With the leg? Is he OK?
brandon: I saw him earlier tonight. He came by the storage facility for some files. He totally `bit it` on the staircase!
brandon: He's OK though, right?
brandon: Yeah, you'd have to be, to dive into the Echo like that! Ha ha.
brandon: Yeah, I got that feeling, too. Back at the storage facility, he was asking a lot of weird questions. And he seemed distracted, like ... spiritually.
conway: Yeah, that's a good question. Ha ha. I just thought I'd stretch my legs — you know, on firm ground. I didn't realize this place would be floating on barrels ...
conway: Back when I was driving long hauls — that's the `real big` trucks, now — I sometimes wouldn't leave the cab but to pump gas. I took my meals in there, I slept in there, I changed my socks in there — you know, the whole thing.
conway: So, one time I was hauling a bunch of big spools — telephone wire I think, actually — up from California into Washington state. You know where that is? It's way out, uh ... on a map, it's kinda to the "left" of here ... more or less.
conway: In between California and Washington, there's a place called Oregon, and you can't pump your own gas there! They have a guy who does it called a `gas jockey`, and you'd better not even open your door, or they get all suspicious.
conway: I drove through California and into Washington, and I refueled in the middle, in Oregon. And so I didn't set foot out of my truck for a whole day. When I came out of that cab the ground rushed up like it missed me. Gave me a big old kiss right on the chin, right here.
conway: What I'm saying is ... hell, I forget. Ha ha. What am I talking about?
conway: Exactly. Don't forget that, and don't say I never taught you anything.
conway: Well. Guess I'll head back aboard. Might see if I can find any of the good stuff stashed in the ... maybe in the spice cabinet? Maybe in the medicine cabinet. Ha ha. That's where it belongs ...
conway: Hell, who am I talking to — don't listen to me, kid! I'll see you in a few.
cate: Everything's great. Sounds like she's ready! Some women just know. It's amazing. Others are caught totally by surprise.
cate: Some women choose to come labor on the boat, actually.
cate: For the rest, I have a backup, just in case I can't get back to dry land in time. I've been lucky and only had to lean on her a handful of times, out of several hundred births. You'd never believe how many people are just `born`, all the time.
cate: Well, no, I don't have any formal medical training or licensing. Just a lot of experience. I think most women who hire me mainly want someone in the delivery room who, uh ... doesn't treat childbirth like some kind of disease to be cured.
cate: I mean — no hard feelings against doctors, but they have their own process, and it can be pretty alienating sometimes.
cate: Your friend went back aboard?
cate: Yeah, I noticed he was kind of holding his head to the side a bit — sort of drooping. `Wilting`. I thought he was tired.
shannon: I see. Still thirsty ...
will: Cate keeps some diet soda in the broom closet, but you didn't hear it from me. It's next to the bleach. Bring a flashlight!
shannon: Oh, no, I don't think that's what he's looking for.
shannon: So, any important messages?
shannon: Oh, maybe his leg is still bothering him — or an early hangover ... I'll have to tell him I have some more painkillers in the truck.
shannon: `(To WILL.)` So, any important messages?
shannon: We met Ezra earlier tonight, and he's been very helpful. I'm hoping we can return the favor once we get back above ground. Poor kid was sleeping at the bus station, and just lost track of his folks.
will: He'll be alright. He's more at home down here than any of us. Trust me, I have an eye for it.
nadia: I visited the hospital yesterday. I went to visit Uncle Andrius, but they moved him. Now he's in a hospice care facility run by some old Polish nun. Everyone says it's very ... "nice."
nadia: I asked them about visiting and they said he didn't want any visitors ...
nadia: I guess it is, technically ... Clara, I don't think it's really what he wants.
nadia: If `you` came to visit, he would see you. All those afternoons you two would go drinking beers by the river ... Don't you think it would mean a lot to him if he could say goodbye to you in person?
nadia: Maybe you know him better than I do, but ... I just don't believe anyone would really want to die alone.
nadia: It's true, you're a long way from home, Clara. I suppose it can't be helped.
message: Um. Not a whole lot. I guess I was walking ... I was in a stroller in Tree Tops Park, in Florida. My mother accidentally pushed me into a spiderweb, and I freaked out a lot. I think that's the first thing I remember.
message: I keep hearing these noises whenever I close my eyes. It's like bells ringing, but the bells aren't metal bells or ceramic bells, the kind of bells that you normally hear. They're like ... this weird ... I can't even describe the material. It's just resonance. Just ringing. Resonance. And as soon as I open my eyes again, there's nothing.
message: I remember going to a house in Aroostook County, Maine. I was two. We were moving. We were driving up in a white Nissan station wagon with faux wood paneling. It was the first time that I'd seen the house that I was going to live in for the next seven years.
message: `(Clicking and beeping.)`
message: I was just parking my car. I had to parallel park it. The street that I live on was full. It just got cold today, for the first time in a long time, so I had the heat on, and whenever you have the heat on in an old car it definitely smells a certain way.
message: It smells kind of like ... you can smell that it's hot. You can feel it, too. The smell is from the car itself, like from the engine. There's been a lot of smoking going on in that car, so it's not exactly a pleasant smell, but it's definitely strong and it's definitely there.
message: With the windows down, you can also smell that it's cold. So you get both. That feeling, together, is super familiar, if you've been in old cars a lot.
message: Anyway, I was parking, and I had to go in-and-out about it, like, three times, but when I finally finished parking it was `perfect`. Both wheels against the curb.
message: And that's when I had the double memory of when I first learned how to drive, and my mom taught me how to parallel park, and she told me this story about when her dad — who was a motorcycle cop — taught her how to parallel park. Every time she parallel parked, he would take out a dime, and if he could fit the dime between the wheel of her car and the curb of the street, then she had to do it again.
message: She didn't do that for me. But every time that I got upset about having to do it again, she would tell me that at least I didn't have to be a dime's distance away from the curb.
message: I learned how to drive in the fall, and I got that smell a lot during that time. I don't know when my mom learned to drive.
mimi: Oh, look. Can you read the date?
jenn: Um ...
mimi: Damn, I can't read it either.
jenn: It may not have even been current. I remember for a while we had a calendar up that was, like, `years` behind. I think Darryl liked the picture?
mimi: What was it?
jenn: "Best Friends." Every month there was a different pair of animals that were friends.
mimi: That's adorable. I think I'm going to be sick.
jenn: You don't remember that? That weird intern brought it in from home, um ... What was his name?
jenn: Oh, you remember, he was always, like ... I mean we would make fun of him for ...
jenn: Damn, he's almost completely gone from my brain. So many interns coming and going then, I guess I didn't bother even remembering their names.
mimi: I wonder who was working back when this was recorded ... Is there a tape of the monitoring room?
jenn: Yeah, here it is —
mimi: Oh, before we check that out, did she flip the calendar forward or backward?
jenn: Um. Forward.[if lab-calendar-flipped=Up]
mimi: Oh, weird. They usually flip it backward.[if lab-calendar-flipped=Up]
jenn: Um. Backward.[if lab-calendar-flipped=Down]
mimi: Oh, weird. They usually flip it forward.[if lab-calendar-flipped=Down]
mimi: Wait ... I don't remember this test.
mimi: Did we cut this one? What's the questionnaire like?
jenn: No, this is just ... sometimes, if I can't make it in for a few days, I might leave a note to feed the cats.
mimi: For the test subjects? Wow. How do you know they'll do it?
jenn: I write it on, um ... university letterhead ...
mimi: Jenn, that is `unethical`. Ha ha.
jenn: At least I don't use university property and research equipment to make `weird video art`!
mimi: Very well then, I contradict myself.
jenn: Ha ha.
mimi: I wonder which is the nobler transgression ...
jenn: I'll settle that question: it's nobler to feed kitties.
jenn: Oh, here's another extended monitoring tape, from the waiting room.[if !one:elkhorn-mine-found-tape-player]
mimi: Jenn! Look who it is!
jenn: Aw. I miss that kitty.
mimi: I forget what became of the white one.
jenn: Her name was "Coconut," and she disappeared without a trace.
mimi: Easy come, easy go?
jenn: I wouldn't say "easy" — I had to leave food on the dock for a week before she'd come inside!
jenn: She only stuck around for a month or two. You probably saw quite a lot of her; I remember you were working nights then. She was a nocturnal creature.
mimi: That's right. I remember.
mimi: OK. How do we rank her from the control test?
question: Without turning around to look, please describe the following objects:
mimi: Ha, I guess the old man is on dinghy guard duty.
jenn: A noble assignment.
jenn: So, who was this lady?
mimi: Oh, right ... well, do you remember WEVP-TV?
mimi: OK. It was a community television station. The Consolidated Power Company had to fund it as, like, a punishment for owning too much of the broadcast spectrum or something.
jenn: Oh! They used to screen your videos, right?
mimi: Yeah. It was like a co-op — I did some maintenance, and they gave me a slot to show my work.
jenn: And they had that naked banjo guy, late at night.
mimi: ... yeah, that's mainly what everyone remembers. I guess their whole mandate was "community expression."
jenn: He was certainly `expressive`.
jenn: Oh, wait — was WEVP the one that ... the flood, right?
jenn: Damn ...
jenn: So, Shannon Márquez ... did she have a naked banjo show, too?
mimi: What? No.
jenn: Let me guess ...
question: Which of the following sentences best describes you?
jenn: See, told you he was one of those distillery guys.
mimi: I guess you were right. These other guys came to pick him up for work maybe? I don't like how they all hang out together, it's creepy.
jenn: `We` hang out together, and work together.
mimi: Yeah, but it's not ... They're like more than co-workers. I don't know. I just get this awful feeling whenever I see them. Like I knew them once, but not anymore ... like when they make up a dead person to look like an old photograph of themselves.
jenn: Sort of familiar, sort of strange.
mimi: Yeah, exactly. There ought to be a word for that.
jenn: Bye, kitty.
mimi: They look like nice enough people. I'm sure she's very happy with them.
jenn: Whoa, somebody left a scratch ticket in this file. "Bat Bucks."[if floating-gas-station-scratch-ticket-choice=bats]
jenn: Whoa, somebody left a scratch ticket in this file. "Sudokash."[if floating-gas-station-scratch-ticket-choice=sudoku]
jenn: Whoa, somebody left a scratch ticket in this file. "Money Minefield."[if floating-gas-station-scratch-ticket-choice=minefield]
mimi: Do it.
jenn: OK ... Let's see ...
jenn: Five bucks!
mimi: This is the greatest day of my life.
jenn: Oh, wait, it's expired ... like, `really` expired. Damn.
mimi: I'm over it.
jenn: So ...
jenn: This has been a bit of a memory trip for you, huh? I bet you didn't expect these old tapes to stir up so much ... How does it feel for these people to come up again, Weaver Márquez and Wise Will, I mean, and ... what was your boyfriend's name? The one who died in college.
mimi: Charlie. Yeah, it's kind of a bittersweet experience, actually. Like looking at photographs of people who've died, or moved away. People that are gone.
jenn: Gone, but not forgotten.
mimi: No, not forgotten. You're right.
mimi: Oh! It's ... wait, who is that? That guy in the hoodie.
jenn: What? I've never seen him before.
mimi: Really? He looks so damn familiar. I thought maybe he was a former intern or something.
jenn: He's a little old for that, right? No, I don't recognize him. Sorry. You're all `deja vu` this morning. It's spooky.
mimi: Sorry, just one of those days, I guess.
jenn: The modernist bookshelf with the fancy vintage turntable. So ostentatious. So Darryl.
mimi: What? That was `my` bookshelf!
jenn: Oh no! Ha ha ... But you, like, grew out of it or something, right? It ended up in the lab somehow.
mimi: I keep my books in a pile now. It's easier to find what I'm looking for. Never, "what shelf is that book on?" Only, "well, it's somewhere in the pile."
jenn: Wow, I haven't seen that poster in a while! I think that was mine from college ... yeah, definitely.
mimi: Oh, right, Darryl swapped it out in the redesign. Now it's ...
mimi: What's there now?
jenn: Yeah, it's ... that's weird, I can't picture it. I mean I can picture the wall, and there's definitely `something` hung there.
mimi: That's gonna bug me.
jenn: Want me to go look? It's just down the hall. Ha ha.
mimi: No, it's OK ...
mimi: This should be some basic information, and the first control test.
mimi: Subject's general disposition?
`(JENN looks over the questionnaire document from the envelope.)`
question: Why are you here?
mimi: Hm ... Do you think we should use the `old` categories, or the `new` categories?
jenn: Oh, right ... Will the computer even still take the old ones?
mimi: They're still in the menu.
jenn: OK. In that case, put in "precarious."
mimi: Oh, I forgot — name?
jenn: It says "Márquez" on the file.
mimi: Whoa — Márquez? Are you sure?
jenn: That's what it says. Do you know her?
mimi: That can't be ... No, that's not her. Did she come alone or with a group?
jenn: I don't know ... There's an extended monitoring tape here, too. We could check on the dock when she showed up?
mimi: Good "morning" ...
jenn: Baggs isn't feeling well — long night ...
mimi: Poor kitty.
jenn: What are you watching?
mimi: Security tape from last night. Darryl left the lights on again. Should we slash his tires?
jenn: I'll leave a stern note on his desk.
mimi: Spare the rod ...
jenn: Hm. What are we doing today?
mimi: Right. This is weird ... you know that old vending machine?
jenn: The one that only has tomato juice?
mimi: No, no, the old one they just stopped refilling ... Remember, we rolled it out onto the dock last August and some scavenger stripped it for metal in the middle of the night? Darryl cut his hand cleaning up after them, and it got infected. Remember?
jenn: No ...
mimi: OK. Anyway, the rest of it ended up in the coat room until, finally, Darryl was piling it into a big bag for the trash barge to pick up, and he came across this box lost behind all the junk.
mimi: Check it out.
jenn: This looks old.
mimi: Yeah. There's a bunch of video tapes and completed questionnaires. I looked up the reference number, and it's never been processed. So I guess that's what we're doing today!
mimi: There's no date on it. We'll just have to make one up, unless there's some footage of a calendar or something in here. Ha ha.
jenn: `(Flipping through questionnaire.)` I guess these are the `old` tests, before we started doing the video exit interviews. That's annoying.
mimi: Yeah. Let's see, how did we do this ... I'll run the tape, you interpret the questionnaire, and I'll type it up?
jenn: Who's she talking to?
mimi: The test subjects are supposed to be talking to each other, so we can compare their recall fidelity before and after the phone conversation.
jenn: That's what I mean — he's not even on the phone. She didn't fill out the questionnaire either.
mimi: Well, what did he write?
jenn: He just drew a picture of the cat.
mimi: OK. Maybe she misdialed? She's been on the line for a minute though ...
mimi: Is there tape? Of her conversation, I mean.
jenn: Yeah ... Let's check it out.
voice on phone: ... huh, yeah that's my number, alright. You dialed correctly! But I'm not part of any "research study." Hey, I'll tell you what, the phones have been `bananas` around here lately. I think the phone company's understaffed, or someone's asleep at the switchboard.
voice on phone: It is pretty early, after all. I get up earlier than most; I've got to do my deltoid regimen and then cool down a bit before my morning swim. You know how it is.
voice on phone: Well. I'll tell you what, why don't you hang up and try dialing again. Hit the buttons `real hard`, if you can, maybe you'll wake them up and they'll connect you right!
voice: Yep. Hello. You got me again. I'll tell you what, suits me just fine. My delts are cooling, and the coffee's brewing, I'm just sitting here looking out the window anyway — into the dark, I mean! The sun ain't even up.
voice: I'll tell you what, it's nice to hear another voice before the sun's up, and one that isn't making excuses or demands. You may have guessed by now, but I'm a ...
voice: Say, why don't you guess? Not guess; deduce. Take a closer listen to my voice, and let's see what you think you can know about me. I mean: what do I look like, what do I like to do, and so on. Then I'll try you.
voice: Let me give you something to work with. What should I say? A phrase you can listen to and analyze.
voice: Got it? OK. What do you think? What kind of body makes a voice like that?
$lab-phone-voice-description: Can you hear what my teeth are like? You should be able to hear that; every word I say has got to go right by them.
$lab-phone-voice-description: That's the word for it. `Meticulous`.
$lab-phone-voice-description: You can probably tell by my clear, precise `enunciation`. No awkward breaks mid-word to catch my breath, and so on.
$lab-phone-voice-description: Well ...
$lab-phone-voice-description: Two out of three ain't bad!
$lab-phone-voice-description: [template: characterSpeculation]
$lab-phone-voice-description: [template: jobSpeculation]
$lab-phone-voice-description: How'd I do?
$lab-phone-voice-description: Yeah, I've got a knack for it. And years of practice.
$lab-phone-voice-description: No? Well, I'll be damned. I usually have a pretty good ear for it. Must be a bad connection ...
$lab-phone-voice-description: Well, it ain't a science; we're just trying to get in the neighborhood.
$lab-phone-voice-description: I'm an orthopedic physical therapist by trade, specializing in post-surgical rehabilitation, and I do all my intake interviews over the phone because I believe you can get a pretty damned accurate picture of someone's general health just by interfacing with them `verbally`.
$lab-phone-voice-description: Now, many of my colleagues disagree: they think that the `body` is the `body`, and the `mind` is the `mind`. Well, I'll tell you what, having worked in this field for nearly three decades, and seen all manner of evidence, I'm no longer sure I believe in the `mind` at all!
$lab-phone-voice-description: Let me give you an example:
$lab-phone-voice-description: I had a patient who lost his right hand to misadventure and infection. He worked in a factory, operating a delicate machine that required years of specialized training, so we focused on coordination and getting his left hand up to the speed and accuracy required for the work.
$lab-phone-voice-description: I'll tell you what, after a couple weeks he was writing, throwing darts, you name it — all left-handed. A triumph of physical therapy. Back to work!
$lab-phone-voice-description: The next day, he was unemployed.
$lab-phone-voice-description: Seems he sat in front of that delicate machine, reached out with his left hand, and just froze. Had no idea what to do with the thing. Next time he was in my office, he said to me, "Doc, when I lost that hand, all my memory of working that machine went along with it."
$lab-phone-voice-description: He said, "I'll tell you what, Doc, if I ever learn a trade again, I'll learn it in my gut. I won't ever again put something so precious as a memory in a place so vulnerable as a hand."
$lab-phone-voice-description: Well, my coffee's done brewing. I'll let you go!
jenn: It's your friend again. And Coconut!
jenn: He seems relaxed.
mimi: "Wise Will!" I can't believe it.
mimi: That's what we called him ... God, it's been a million years. He `did` work at the university, when I was an undergrad. He hung around the music department, but he was sort of a general technician: he'd fix the PA, run the soundboard during student theater productions, stuff like that.
jenn: Student theater productions? Is there something you want to tell me, Mimi?
mimi: Oh, no, I was just in the audience. Ha ha. They did some interesting stuff back then ... in the `paleolithic`.
jenn: So he would shake the rain-stick and crank the dry ice machine, huh? Why did you call him "Wise Will?"
mimi: He was chatty. He'd tell you all about the school's architecture, local history, county politics, gossip, folk remedies ... like they were all part of the same thing. I always wondered what happened to him.
jenn: Huh. Well, now you know: he's part of our data.
mimi: Yeah. Just another data point floating down the Echo ...
mimi: Oh, OK. This is before the CD players.
jenn: I hope she remembered to rewind.
mimi: They never did — and Darryl would be in all night, rolling all these tapes back one-by-one in his little walkman.
jenn: He still has that thing. He says he uses it "at the gym," but I think he's just too attached to his old mixtapes.
mimi: He is so sentimental, our Darryl.
jenn: These tapes had sounds from my apartment building — did you know that?
mimi: Oh? I thought it was stock sound effects from the library.
jenn: Yeah, the CDs are. But when it was on tape, Darryl had me borrow a tape recorder from the music department and go collect them myself.
jenn: He showed me a first draft of the questionnaire. I think some of them are still in there, like ...
mimi: Right. I don't really get the point of that question.
jenn: I think it's just there to set a baseline for the "introspection index."
mimi: So all the doors opening and closing — those are all from your apartment?
jenn: Most of them, yeah. Others were from the basement. We have these rows of storage closets down there. None of them are locked or anything, it's just like this weird row of doors.
jenn: They're not even marked or differentiated; you have to keep count as you go and remember which one is yours. Mine is number eight. I went down there a little tipsy once — Sunday cleaning, you know, a few glasses of wine ...
jenn: Anyway, I accidentally opened number nine, and it was full of mice! Like, for a computer I mean. They were all neatly arranged on shelves, organized by some inscrutable quality, cables tied with velcro.
mimi: The neighborhood mouse hoarder.
jenn: A collector, I think. I guess he lived next door.
jenn: I told Darryl we should add a question, something like ...
question: While listening to the tape recordings of doors opening, if at any point you have any expectation or visualization about what might be on the other side of one of these doors, please write it down.
jenn: I was just curious, I guess. Since it was from my building. Like, `I` have a strong sense of where these doors lead, just by hearing them. But is that just from my memory, or is it inherent in the sound somewhere?
mimi: Interesting. You should write a grant proposal.
jenn: Oh, I wouldn't want to step on any toes ... You know, university politics.
jenn: Oh, here's another extended monitoring tape, from the waiting room.
jenn: Speaking of the TV station ... you were saying something earlier about that other Márquez girl.
mimi: Oh, right, I was talking about Weaver.
jenn: Yeah, what exactly happened with her? You said she left on "weird terms?"
mimi: Yes. Well ... so, actually she just stopped showing up. That was pretty normal.
jenn: It was all volunteers, right? "Community television."
mimi: Yeah. People didn't really give much advance notice; they just got bored and drifted away. It was more like an art project than a job, for most people.
mimi: Weaver Márquez helped manage the archives, like filing and sorting old tapes of broadcasts. I think she was pretty smart — she probably could have been more help fixing equipment or something — but she seemed content just to organize tapes.
mimi: Nobody ever talked to her much, so when she left ... no big deal. But then, a couple months later, we started getting these bizarre ... `interventions`.
question: Please consider a particular moment earlier in the day or evening. Write down where you were, what you were doing, and who else was present.
question: For the remainder of this test, we will refer to that moment as "the episode."
mimi: Someone would be doing a show in their normal time slot, and then suddenly the feed would cut. We'd still be broadcasting, but our signal was totally jammed.
jenn: Oh, like interference?
mimi: I mean total blackout. Then this video would come on, clearly shot in our studio at some point, and it was her — Weaver Márquez. She'd be standing in the middle of the studio, facing the camera.
mimi: It's a bit fuzzy in my memory, but I do remember the sound; this awful hum, like that was how she did it: she made a hum so sinister it drove our signal into hiding.
question: As you read the first marked passage, an excerpt from "Doorjamb Design, Repair, and Cleaning" by R. Grosz, please take note of any new details you recall from the episode, and at what point in the text they are recalled to you.
mimi: Then there were these on-screen captions, exactly the same every time. I don't remember what they said. Something creepy.
mimi: We had a titlemaker at the station, but it was a different font. I guess she recorded it at WEVP and then took it somewhere else to add the captions? I don't know. We all did a lot of speculating about how she made the video ... `why` she made the video.
jenn: Yeah, why not just broadcast it normally? It was "community television," right? Couldn't be any worse than naked banjo guy.
mimi: Yeah, exactly. Some people thought it was a protest or something, but I know she didn't have anything against the station. To me it felt kind of urgent, like she would have done her broadcast through the proper channels, but something came up ... a crisis or something.
question: The second marked passage is a poem by N. Shield, called "Three Views Through a Door." As you read this passage, please again write down any new details you recall from the episode.
jenn: How often did it happen?
mimi: A lot. Dozens of times. It went on for years. We even thought about asking the police to look into it, but it's so hard to locate a "pirate" signal. I mean, it could come from any direction, you know?
jenn: It's all just %waves%.
question: The third marked passage is a reproduction of "A Caller's Guide to the Etiquette of Closed Doors," a pamphlet published anonymously some time in the nineteenth century. Again, write down any new details of the episode that are recalled to you while reading this text.
mimi: Is there any pie left in the break room?
jenn: Darryl finished it off before he went home last night.
mimi: Darryl is on thin ice.
jenn: You're declaring enemies left and right.
mimi: What? Who else?
jenn: That other Márquez woman: "Weaver." Didn't you ... Maybe I misunderstood. I thought I detected some, uh, `animosity`.
mimi: Oh, no, nothing like that. She wasn't the kind of person you could "like" or "dislike," really; she was just `there`, and all you could do was accept her. Like magnetism, or gravity.
question: Air quality, in the last room in which you fell asleep.
jenn: Well, `this` Márquez is pretty normal, so far.
mimi: Oh yeah, they're definitely different people. I just wonder if they're related or something. I never imagined Weaver having any family, but I guess everyone has `some` family, right?
jenn: `(Reading, distracted.)` What? Oh, sure, probably.
mimi: OK. Let's go on to the next test.
question: The camera focused on a table, passed through a doorway, then focused on another table. Which object present on the first table was also present on the second table?
question: At the beginning of the video, you were asked to make note of a memory from earlier in the day, and associate it with one of the objects on the table on screen. Which of the objects did you choose?
question: The video began in one room and passed through a doorway into another room. In each room, a piece of music was playing. Was it the same piece of music in both rooms?
question: The camera passed through several doors with inscribed labels. Please write down the sounds you heard as the video passed through the doors with the following inscriptions:
jenn: I don't think I believe in that.
jenn: "Acts of God."
mimi: Yeah ... but there has to be a word for when something completely shitty happens for no reason, right? I guess it's kind of archaic.
jenn: Hm ... `(JENN flips through the questionnaire.)`
question: First, please use the blank space below to describe your general feelings about television. If you have difficulty summarizing your emotions succinctly, or have too many different feelings to fit in the blank space, you may also use the back of this paper.
jenn: Speaking of the TV station ... you were saying something earlier about that other Márquez girl.
mimi: Oh, right, I was talking about Weaver.
jenn: Yeah, what exactly happened with her? You said she left on "weird terms?"
mimi: Yes. Well ... so, actually she just stopped showing up. That was pretty normal.
jenn: It was all volunteers, right? "Community television."
mimi: Yeah. People didn't really give much advance notice; they just got bored and drifted away. It was more like an art project than a job, for most people.
mimi: Weaver Márquez helped manage the archives, like filing and sorting old tapes of broadcasts. I think she was pretty smart — she probably could have been more help fixing equipment or something — but she seemed content just to organize tapes.
mimi: Nobody ever talked to her much, so when she left ... no big deal. But then, a couple months later, we started getting these bizarre ... `interventions`.
jenn: OK. `Location-updating effect on emotional memory` ...
jenn: [template: videoSummary]
jenn: [template: videoAside]
jenn: [template: videoResult]
jenn: Busy night.
mimi: There he is again, sleeping. Where do I know him from? It's going to drive me up the wall.
jenn: Does he work at the university?
mimi: Oh, that sounds familiar ... Yeah, I think he might have worked there a long time ago. Maybe when I was an undergrad.
jenn: Ah, the `paleolithic`. I thought he looked a bit rugged.
mimi: That's right, Jenn, I went to college during the stone age.
jenn: What was your major?
mimi: Fire. I don't think he was a professor; maybe staff? It's been so long ... Sometimes, I wish I'd just barreled through — like you did — instead of taking time off before grad school.
jenn: Hm. I'm sure it was the right thing to do at the time.
mimi: Yeah ... or the `only` thing. I was such a mess. Did I ever tell you about that? My boyfriend died suddenly, in my last year of college.
jenn: Oh! Poor thing.
mimi: It's OK. It was a long time ago. But, yeah, it really shook me up, back then. He was studying [variable: three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied]. We were both really into experimental music. We took a few art classes together.
jenn: That's so sad. How did ... Sorry, never mind.
mimi: No, it's OK. That's the thing, actually — I mean, that's what shook me up about it — it was just this random accident that never should have happened, and so sudden you never could have seen it coming. He was back home, visiting his parents, and he fell off a roof!
jenn: Damn. I know what you mean. You can't predict that kind of ... what do you call it ... "freak accident" kind of thing.
mimi: My psychiatrist says that's why I'm such a pessimist.
jenn: Well, I think you're remarkably upbeat, all things considered ... I mean, you know, that thing with your boyfriend and the roof, but also what happened to the TV station!
mimi: "Acts of God."
jenn: You think?
mimi: No, I mean that's what you call it. That's what you say when it's nobody's fault.
mimi: How many pictures did she remember?
jenn: Two. Or ... actually, maybe three.
jenn: She wrote down "Orange, Strawberry, Guava."
jenn: I think she meant the pear. See, that's why I hate this test: there's so much fruit that basically looks just like other fruit.
mimi: Oh, `guava`. Does a guava even look like a pear, though? I don't think I've ever seen a guava. I thought they were pink.
jenn: They're just pink on the inside. You wouldn't confuse a real guava for a real pear, but in one of Darryl's crude watercolors ...
mimi: But `I` can still clearly tell that's a pear, even on video.
jenn: Yeah, you and I can, but we already know it's a pear. She could be remembering wrong, or just identifying what — to her — is a much more likely fruit to appear in a painting, based on any number of cultural, social, geographic, um ... you know?
mimi: She didn't say anything in her response to help clarify?
jenn: Let's see ...
jenn: Not really. Just some sensory memories of guava.
mimi: I guess we should just skip the pictures ... That's a shame. It's really hard to measure memory degradation in some of the later tests without this one as a baseline location-updating scenario.
jenn: I've been saying we should just use photographs. Watercolor paintings already have the quality of a half-remembered dream, anyway. Like they're inviting you to forget them, or somebody else already forgot them for you; like a mama-bird feeding her chicks cotton candy.
jenn: Photographs are ... it's not that they're really more accurate or true, but we `think` they are. They put you in that mindset. They have `authority`.
jenn: So, yeah: out with the watercolors, I say.
mimi: But then poor Darryl would have nowhere to `exhibit his work` ...
`(JENN makes a noise.)`
mimi: Someone would be doing a show in their normal time slot, and then suddenly the feed would cut. We'd still be broadcasting, but our signal was totally jammed.[if lab-videos-watched=1]
jenn: Oh, like interference?[if lab-videos-watched=1]
mimi: I mean total blackout. Then this video would come on, clearly shot in our studio at some point, and it was her — Weaver Márquez. She'd be standing in the middle of the studio, facing the camera.[if lab-videos-watched=1]
mimi: It's a bit fuzzy in my memory, but I do remember the sound; this awful hum, like that was how she did it: she made a hum so sinister it drove our signal into hiding.[if lab-videos-watched=2]
mimi: Then there were these on-screen captions, exactly the same every time. I don't remember what they said. Something creepy.[if lab-videos-watched=3]
jenn: Wow.[if lab-videos-watched=3]
mimi: We had a titlemaker at the station, but it was a different font. I guess she recorded it at WEVP and then took it somewhere else to add the captions? I don't know. We all did a lot of speculating about how she made the video ... `why` she made the video.[if lab-videos-watched=4]
jenn: Yeah, why not just broadcast it normally? It was "community television," right? Couldn't be any worse than naked banjo guy.[if lab-videos-watched=4]
mimi: Yeah, exactly. Some people thought it was a protest or something, but I know she didn't have anything against the station. To me it felt kind of urgent, like she would have done her broadcast through the proper channels, but something came up ... a crisis or something.[if lab-videos-watched=4]
jenn: How often did it happen?[if lab-videos-watched=5]
mimi: A lot. Dozens of times. It went on for years. We even thought about asking the police to look into it, but it's so hard to locate a "pirate" signal. I mean, it could come from any direction, you know?[if lab-videos-watched=5]
jenn: It's all just %waves%.[if lab-videos-watched=5]
mimi: Exactly.[if lab-videos-watched=5]
mimi: Weaver's video showed up again right before the flood. Actually, I think it might have been the last thing we ever broadcast.[if lab-videos-watched=6]
She lit a second cigarette with the embers of the first one. She trembled, sweating a little under a heavy coat. It was warmer near the doors, but she was following directions: "no smoking within 25 feet of hospital entrance."
So she stood by a hot dog cart parked at the edge of the sidewalk.
`(She parts the grass with her garden knife, studiously combing the ground.)`
`(There are no mushrooms in the grass.)`
`(It's a bit muddy from flooding or the general dampness of the caves. She finds two promising specimens: a spotted brown cap, and a dense bundle of dark ridges.)`
`(She spots a couple of intriguing growths along the roots of the tree: a speckled white ball, and a cluster of softly glowing, amber caps.)`
`(About the size of an egg, the mushroom has no visible stem. It seems to be attached to the tree root by a sticky black substance leaking from a ring of tiny pores.)`
cate: Didn't find anything? That's OK.[if grove-ezra-mushrooms-taken-count=0]
cate: Oh, you got one? Let's see it.[if grove-ezra-mushrooms-taken-count=1]
cate: Wow, that looks like quite a haul! Let's see what you've got.[if grove-ezra-mushrooms-taken-count[gt]1]
`(EZRA hands CATE the striped mushroom he took from the tree stump.)`[if grove-ezra-took-turkey-tail]
cate: Oh, great. This is called a "turkey tail." Delicious, and good for the immune system.[if grove-ezra-took-turkey-tail]
`(EZRA hands CATE the caterpillar he found on the tree stump.)`[if grove-ezra-took-cordyceps]
cate: Is this a caterpillar? Oh, I see ... Did you get a look at this black thread coming out of his head? That's actually a fungus. It grows in the caterpillar, eats it from the inside out, even changes its behavior a bit![if grove-ezra-took-cordyceps]
cate: They kill for these in Tibet. I don't have much use for them in my line of work, though.[if grove-ezra-took-cordyceps]
`(EZRA hands CATE the brittle, brownish mushroom he took from the base of the cypress tree.)`[if grove-ezra-took-sheeps-head]
cate: Aha! Brown gold. Most people call these "sheep's head," but in alternative medicine circles it's better known by its Japanese name: "maitake," the dancing mushroom. Apt, because you do a happy little dance when you find one.[if grove-ezra-took-sheeps-head]
cate: It fights cancer, supports the immune system, regulates blood sugar, and tastes like eggplant. This one's a bit old and tough, but it's nothing that can't be solved with a lot of butter.[if grove-ezra-took-sheeps-head]
cate: Good find, Ezra![if grove-ezra-took-sheeps-head]
`(EZRA hands CATE the blue puffball he took from the cypress tree.)`[if grove-ezra-took-puffball]
cate: A blue puffball ... interesting. I don't think I've seen this `exact` species before. This one's too old to be of any use, anyway. Puffballs get all dried out like this as they age, until they're so delicate that it only takes the slightest agitation —[if grove-ezra-took-puffball]
`(CATE gently shakes the puffball. It bursts into a cloud of spores.)`[if grove-ezra-took-puffball]
cate: — and the wind does the rest. See, it's `weakness` as a survival strategy. A kind of radical, transformative weakness.[if grove-ezra-took-puffball]
cate: I didn't find anything either. You never know when or how they'll appear, with mushrooms. There are a few species that can be cultivated, but mostly the conditions that make them grow are just too complicated and obscure to reproduce.[if grove-ezra-mushrooms-taken-count=0+grove-cate-mushrooms-taken-count=0]
cate: They're one of the only truly `wild` things left in this world. I mean, even the weather is more or less under the influence of human industry at this point, right?[if grove-ezra-mushrooms-taken-count=0+grove-cate-mushrooms-taken-count=0]
cate: You've got me beat; I didn't find a thing.[if grove-cate-mushrooms-taken-count=0+grove-ezra-mushrooms-taken-count[gt]0]
cate: I just found this one:[if grove-cate-mushrooms-taken-count=1]
cate: Here's my haul:[if grove-cate-mushrooms-taken-count[gt]1]
`(CATE takes the spotted brown cap out of her bag.)`[if grove-cate-took-bitter-hedgehog]
cate: OK, this one is called "Bitter Hedgehog," and it's on my list. It's great for nausea, which is basically the number one complaint of the pregnant women I treat.[if grove-cate-took-bitter-hedgehog]
cate: It tastes kind of like black pepper ... It's `OK`. I let it dry out so it's really tough, and they just chew on it like bubble gum.[if grove-cate-took-bitter-hedgehog]
`(CATE takes the dense bundle of dark ridges out of her bag.)`[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: This one I can't really use, but I picked it just to show it to you. It looks a lot like a very popular eating mushroom around these parts, called a "morel." But it's not a morel.[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
`(CATE slices the mushroom in half, lengthwise. It's full of white fiber, the consistency of cotton.)`[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: This is the easiest way to tell them apart. The real morel is empty. `This` one, the "false morel," is actually kind of poisonous![if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: I forget what its effects are, exactly ... Here, let's check the `Vermeulen` book.[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
`(CATE flips through the pages of her guidebook.)`[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: OK, here it is: `(Reading.)` "... Symptoms include wanting to fight; demanding answers; dryness of eyes, nose, and lips; restless sleep ..."[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: "... Dreams of flood, of rolling stones, accidents, people transforming into owls, vampires, rockets, and traveling to stars ..."[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: Huh. That doesn't sound so bad, actually ...[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
`(CATE puts the mushroom back into her bag.)`[if grove-cate-took-false-morel]
cate: `(CATE takes the bundle of amber caps from her bag.)`[if grove-cate-took-shoelace]
cate: These ones are really cool. See how they kind of glow a little?[if grove-cate-took-shoelace]
cate: It's not enough to find your way in the dark or anything, but still pretty amazing.[if grove-cate-took-shoelace]
cate: Anyway, I make a tea out of them; pretty good for headaches.[if grove-cate-took-shoelace]
cate: `(CATE puts the mushrooms back into her bag.)`[if grove-cate-took-shoelace]
cate: `(CATE takes the speckled white ball out of her bag.)`[if grove-cate-took-bat-egg]
cate: These are called "bat eggs." See this gooey black stuff leaking out the side here? I guess somebody somewhere once thought this stuff looked like egg yolk, and it's black, like a bat ...[if grove-cate-took-bat-egg]
cate: I mean — I'm kind of speculating. I don't `really` know why they're called "bat eggs."[if grove-cate-took-bat-egg]
cate: They're not good for anything, really, and they'll give you bad stomach ache if you try to eat them. I just wanted to show it to you.[if grove-cate-took-bat-egg]
cate: `(CATE tosses the "bat egg" into the water.)`[if grove-cate-took-bat-egg]
cate: So ...
ezra: My dad used to sell windows. People were building a lot of new houses, and they needed a lot of windows, but then they stopped building houses.
ezra: My mom worked at a bakery and a bar. Sometimes she would see the same people in the morning and the evening. The bakery closed, and she doesn't work at the bar anymore, but she still goes there a lot to see her friends.
ezra: Julian. He's going to come find me in the morning, after the work is done.
ezra: Yep, we work pretty hard. We used to spend part of each night looking for my folks, but now we pretty much just work ... but maybe that'll change now. I have some new friends.
cate: I've basically been on my own since then ... Well, that's not really true. Just about everyone who sets foot aboard `The Mucky Mammoth` feels like family to me now. I guess if `nobody`'s family, then `everybody`'s family. Ha ha.
Months later, she came across a book on homeopathic medicine in a used bookstore, and bought it.
She thought it was mostly bullshit, but found the author's notes on the unpredictability of mushrooms immediately compelling. Spiritual, even.
She started collecting mushrooms on hikes; never eating them, just collecting, identifying, and discarding. Eventually, she connected with the Lexington Mycological Society, and began to study in earnest the medicinal uses of fungi.
She put out her cigarette, said goodbye to the hot dog vendor, and spent the rest of the afternoon listening to doctors, and trying to understand the world as they did: as a list of discrete injuries to be mended.
cate: Alright, what have you got?
ezra: That stone face monument has "x+o 4eva" painted on it.[if grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti]
cate: Interesting. What do you think that means? "Hug and kiss forever?"[if grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti]
cate: Or they could be initials. "Xavier and Olivia forever."[if grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti]
cate: "Xerxes and Oliver?"[if grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti]
ezra: There's some weird, colorful moss growing on the stone face monument.[if grove-ezra-found-lichen]
cate: Ah, that's called "lichen." It's actually part fungus. It's sort of a weird hybrid.[if grove-ezra-found-lichen]
cate: Not really my area of expertise, but some of it has useful medicinal properties. And some of it is poison. The usual. Ha ha.[if grove-ezra-found-lichen]
cate: It's beautiful, though, isn't it?[if grove-ezra-found-lichen]
ezra: What do you think that monument is for?[if (grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti|grove-ezra-found-lichen)]
cate: I'm not sure anyone remembers.[if (grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti|grove-ezra-found-lichen)]
ezra: That's my new favorite rock.[if (grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti|grove-ezra-found-lichen)+tugboat-ezras-favorite-rock-is-dinosaur-rock]
cate: Wow, even better than "Dinosaur Rock?"[if (grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti|grove-ezra-found-lichen)+tugboat-ezras-favorite-rock-is-dinosaur-rock]
ezra: ... I think so.[if (grove-ezra-found-rock-graffiti|grove-ezra-found-lichen)+tugboat-ezras-favorite-rock-is-dinosaur-rock]
ezra: Somebody carved "OZY" in that tree over there.[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
cate: Oh, huh. What do you think that means?[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
ezra: It's part of somebody's name. Or it's short for something.[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
cate: "Observe |Zero| Yaks."[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
ezra: "Old Zebra Yard."[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
cate: "Ornery Zoologist Yacht."[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
ezra: I don't know what that means.[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
cate: Yeah, it was a stretch.[if grove-ezra-found-bark-graffiti]
ezra: The branches on the tree are trimmed.[if grove-ezra-found-trimmed-branches]
cate: Oh, good observation! So I guess somebody's still taking care of this place. Or just practicing their tree-trimming somewhere out of the way ...[if grove-ezra-found-trimmed-branches]
ezra: There's a pole in the ground over there; it's all scratched up.[if grove-ezra-found-mooring-post]
cate: Oh, yeah. I bet people tie their boats there.[if grove-ezra-found-mooring-post]
ezra: Maybe somebody who takes care of the trees.[if grove-ezra-found-mooring-post]
cate: Could be. Or other travelers and mushroom hunters, like us.[if grove-ezra-found-mooring-post]
ezra: I found this message in a bottle.[if grove-ezra-found-plastic-bottle]
cate: Looks like somebody's grocery list.[if grove-ezra-found-plastic-bottle]
cate: Well, Ezra, I can't say I know what that all adds up to ... Like I said, I wish Will were here. He'd have some local history for us. We can ask him, back on the boat.
cate: Yeah, it's a mystery. I don't think it was `built` here, so it must have come from somewhere ...
cate: There are a lot of ways to get here, though. All these caves are connected, and the same for rivers.
cate: It's hard to know where `anything` down here really comes from.
cate: Oh, no. I've never even been close. I have to admit I'm a `little` curious, but ...
cate: Well, sometimes places get an aura of the forbidden about them, and it just seems best to stay away.
cate: Plus: it would ruin the mystery!
cate: Oh, I don't know, probably ...
cate: I mean — no, definitely not. You don't believe in ghosts, do you?
ezra: No ...
cate: I've never met a young kid who `really` believed in ghosts. Lots of older people do, though. I wonder why that is.
cate: I guess they had boats full of soldiers and supplies going up and down the Ohio River. And they fought on the river, like, boat-to-boat, with cannons or something, I guess. Machine guns?
cate: I'm no military historian, as you can probably tell. Ha ha.
cate: Anyway, I guess this one just got lost, and somehow ended up all the way down here. Maybe it slipped into a cave up north; they're all connected, underground.
cate: There's another version of the story where it didn't get lost — it was full of deserters. They came down here to hide. Maybe that's why it's a "Pariah."
cate: I mean, there must be `something` on there. Life is everywhere. Rats, insects, some kind of hardy mold ...
cate: Part of it could be flooded, and host to some of the eyeless fish that live in the Echo.
cate: Hey, maybe there are some mushrooms growing in there! Slowly consuming military rations from over a hundred years ago ...
cate: She was a passenger on the `Mammoth`. She said she'd been out fishing on a rowboat, and got swept up by a current near the Cluttered Place.
cate: Before she knew it, `The Iron Pariah` was upon her — unimaginably massive, up close, but eerily silent.
cate: The only sounds, she said, were the lapping of the lake water against its iron hull, and a faint sort of ... Well, she said a "chorus of `mews`."
cate: I'll be damned if I know what that sounds like! Ha ha. I've never gotten close enough to the ship myself ...
`(CATE gently rolls a fallen branch and plucks something white from the underside. She holds it up for EZRA to examine.)`
cate: `Pleurocybella porrigens`. The common name is "angel wings." Isn't that pleasant? They have a delicate, springy texture, and they're tasty, like sweet moss.
cate: Would you like a bite?
cate: Oh, lucky you.
cate: I'm kidding, you can spit it out if you want.
cate: Personally, I like to be able to tell where my food came from, by flavor alone. I like to taste my surroundings, I mean. It keeps me connected to the ... the whole thing.
cate: My mushroom-hunting mentor told me, "it's useless to pretend to know mushrooms; they escape your erudition; the more you know them, the less sure you feel about identifying them."
cate: `(She taps the cover of the small red book she's carrying.)` That's why I always bring my favorite guidebook.
`(CATE points to a small mushroom growing in the dirt.)`
cate: Oh, here's an important one to recognize, though. Look, see the sort of greenish pallor of the cap? `Amanita phalloides`. That's Greek: "amanita" means mushroom, and "phalloides" means, um ... never mind.
cate: "Death Cap," that's the common name. It's killed a lot of people, this little mushroom — including a few Roman emperors. It's a revolutionary! Ha ha.
cate: Even the Buddha died from eating a mushroom, when he was very old. That's just what they do: clear away old things, make room for new things.
cate: Pretty important, right? I've always thought they deserved a little more respect.
cate: Would you like to help me look for a few more? I have a sort of shopping list.
cate: Great. Look for ... actually, just grab any mushrooms that catch your eye and throw them in this bag. Let me know when you're done and we'll see what you've got!
cate: "Have fun!" That's the second rule of mushroom hunting. The first rule is "ask Cate before eating anything," OK?
`(The stump is ringed with overlapping shelves of mushrooms striped brown-blue-gray-white. A caterpillar crawls along one of them.)`
He didn't have any friends nearby; none of their new neighbors seemed to have children his age. So he played alone in the woods, alone, except for the deer.
`(It smells spicy, sweet, mild; like how EZRA had expected his father's tobacco to taste, when he hastily chewed and swallowed a noxious fistful, and spent the afternoon retching in secret.)`
He heard someone calling his name; probably his mother, but her voice didn't sound right through the trees. He kept going.
`(The caterpillar shuffles listlessly across the mushroom. It seems to be dragging several of its legs. An odd, brown-black thread protrudes about two inches out of its head.)`
He saw strange lights in the trees, flickering purple. He kept going.
`(A brownish clump of mushrooms feathers out from the base of the cypress tree. A few feet above, several pale blue puffs cling to the trunk.)`
The woods were full of deer.
His dad said the deer liked best to live on the edges of forests. Recent development in the area had created a lot of fresh edges, so they massed here and sometimes ran into the road.
`(The mushrooms look dried out and brittle, almost like tree bark.)`
He heard strange, gruff voices back in the direction of the house, and something that sounded like a choked sob or a sharp rebuke. He kept going.
`(He prods one of the pale orbs with a stick, and it cracks open a little, releasing a fine dust into the air.)`
He felt like the world outside the woods had somehow slipped away while he was gone, and now there was nothing but the woods. He kept going.
`(The bag is ragged and waterlogged. He nudges it with a stick, coiling up a plastic thread and spreading it out on the beach.)`
He'd taken a knife from the kitchen, selected for its long, serrated edge. Meant for slicing bread, its teeth had reminded him of a saw blade. He was determined to collect some firewood to heat the house.
`(There are no mushrooms in the bag.)`
`(EZRA closes his eyes and listens to the water and the distant clicking of bats.)`
He tripped on a protruding root and lay for a while in the mud, examining the pale upper branches of a sycamore tree, listening to the soft rumble of a faraway thunderstorm, then louder, closer, and his hair stood on end, and there was the bird.
cate: Right, not many trees down here in the dark ...
cate: I know these are ... some kind of cypress. And they were definitely planted here deliberately, uh ... by someone who ...
cate: Oh, right, it's kind of a nice, simple shape. Pleasantly minimal island geometry.
cate: I'm sure it `could` be natural, though. I mean, I don't know if the island itself is man-made or not, but ...
cate: I guess I don't know much about this place, really. It's supposed to be some kind of memorial? To something?
cate: Will would know more.
cate: Sorry, it's a mystery.
`(A message is carved in the bark.)`
bark carving: OZY
`(Some of the branches have been trimmed recently.)`
`(There's a scrap of paper inside the bottle. EZRA takes it out and reads it.)`
message: EGGS FLOUR CHARDONNAY LAXATIVES PAPER TOWELS SCRATCH TICKET
`(Colorful lichen coats the surface of the monument, mixing with painted graffiti, in some places indistinguishably.)`
`(CATE and EZRA look up at an old battleship drifting by.)`
Ezra's parents shook him awake. They seemed alarmed, but not immediately concerned. They led him back to the house, past the house, into the car.
Dad said they were going to stay at the bus station for a while, the one with the little arcade, with the car game he liked.
Dad watched him closely in the rear-view mirror, expecting Ezra to be excited, or confused, or scared, but he didn't feel anything. He hardly seemed to hear.
In fact, he felt like he was observing the family car from a distance, from far above, from the clouds.
cate: Thanks again for your help. This is about as far as the tugboat can go. You know, noise and lights disturb the bats.
cate: I usually send Will, but I thought you'd like the chance to meet Dashiell; he's the guy who worked at the TV station, WEVP.[if !(riverworld-exchange=aboard)+shannon-saw-weaver-video]
cate: I usually send Will, but he's up to his elbows in mammoth grease right now.[if !(riverworld-exchange=aboard)+!shannon-saw-weaver-video]
cate: So, you'll pass through the bat sanctuary ... which is really nice, by the way; be sure to check out all the plaques and stuff for, um, cool `bat facts`. Plenty of time.
cate: Anyway, the Echo River Central Exchange — or, excuse me, "Consolidated Auxiliary Switch Number 30," they changed the name when the power company took over ... anyway, it's just on the other side of the bat sanctuary. This package is going to Poppy; she's an operator. `The` operator.
cate: We'll meet you on the other side at Sam & Ida's for our scheduled early breakfast stop. Just follow the river. Can't miss it!
cate: Oh! I almost forgot. You may or may not be interested: there's this kind of weird memorial sculpture on your way in, just before the bat sanctuary. I always recommend people at least stop and take a look at it. It's really ... sort of ... I don't know how to say it. You should check it out.
cate: OK, bye!
conway: That's a good skill to have. You should teach lessons.
conway: I was just thinking about my ma ... I guess because we were talking about your folks a minute ago. To be honest with you, I don't think about her that often. Your cousin brought her up earlier, and she's just been on my mind.
conway: It's good your folks have a memorial. A lot of people ... nobody remembers them when they're gone.
conway: I was just thinking about my dad ... I guess because we were talking about your folks a minute ago. To be honest with you, I don't think about him that often. Your cousin brought him up earlier, and he's just been on my mind.
conway: It's good your folks have a memorial. A lot of people ... nobody remembers them when they're gone.
conway: Oh. No, she would have hated that. I don't know what I mean. Ha ha.
conway: Yeah, I guess so. I'm not the kind of guy you build a memorial for. Ha ha.
conway: Lysette's sick.
conway: I mean, she's old. We're both old. Hell, you're about the youngest person I know right now. Oh, and the kid ... Maybe that dog[variable: one:dog-name], by a people calendar ...
conway: In dog years, though, I bet he has us all beat![if dog-pronoun=he]
conway: In dog years, though, I bet she has us all beat![if dog-pronoun=she]
conway: So I'm old, too; sure, and I forget stuff all the time, especially if I had a few and my brain is swimming. But I mean, Lys ... It's all going away. She's losing words you'd never think you'd lose. Not just like the street she grew up on, but the names of colors and types of furniture, or I mean even the word "furniture."
conway: She'd say, "we've still got a few nice pieces in the, uh, what's that I call the shed, where we put the, um, the bigger pieces, the beds and couches and ..."
conway: And I'd say, "aw, Lys, why do you keep teasing me about that time I fell asleep in the `furniture` shed, when it's so damned comfortable in there!" I tried to help her keep some dignity, you know.
conway: That's all I had to offer, at the end. She has a sister in Nashville who'll take good care of her. And now that I'm not around the shop all the time, "uh, what was that old guy's name, used to make deliveries for the shop, he smells like leatherhis hands shake when he's not using themhe always looks half-asleep, Ira was always yelling at him, uh, too drunk to work on the one day he could have been in the right place the right time ..."
conway: You know, it's inevitable. At this age, people are going all the time. Friends, family, everyone. It's natural. I don't wish she'd live forever. Just that she keeps some dignity as she goes. I think that's the best we can wish for anyone we care about.
conway: Better hang on a minute, it feels like there's one kind of `hovering` right over me ...
conway: They don't really hover though, do they? I mean, how could they ... I guess a hummingbird will hover by beating its wings really fast, maybe they can do that too.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=aviation]
conway: I used to watch hummingbirds in the afternoon, at the kitchen window. Lysette's kid Charlie, he loved them — you know, he studied aviation ... He set up a bunch of hummingbird feeders that last summer he was home. Big sugar-water buffet! But those dumb birds didn't find it until he was gone.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=aviation]
conway: Anyway, me and Lys, sometimes we'd try to see one of them up close. You get up to the window and then you have to stand totally still for a while, like one of those wax sculptures, don't even move your eyes, like `this` ...[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=aviation]
conway: Oh, you can't see me. Ha ha. I was doing the "watching hummingbirds close-up" face.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=aviation]
conway: They don't really hover though, do they? I mean how could they ... I guess a lightning bug will hover by beating its wings really fast, maybe they can do that too.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=astronomy]
conway: I used to watch lightning bugs in the evening, out at the edge of the woods. Lysette's kid Charlie, he loved them — you know, he ended up going to college and studying astronomy, and I like to think he got his love for stars from those nights watching bugs.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=astronomy]
conway: Anyway, me and Charlie, sometimes we'd try to see one of them up close — you lay in the grass and you have to be totally still for a while, like one of those wax sculptures, don't even breathe, like `this` ...[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=astronomy]
conway: Oh, you can't see me. Ha ha. I was doing the "watching lightning bugs in the grass" face.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=astronomy]
conway: Yeah, you've seen it already; it's my driving face, too. Lys told me that once and now I can't ever help but think of it, when I'm driving or when I see a hummingbird. Ha ha.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=aviation]
conway: Yeah, you've seen it already, when I fell in the mine. Kind of stunned, in shock. Ha ha.[if three:lysettes-kitchen-charlie-studied=astronomy]
dashiell: `(Softly.)` ... could be bypassed with another capacitor at one-hundred nanofarads to reduce noise ...
dashiell: Him? I mean, me? Yes. I'm him.
dashiell: Sorry! I've been hacking on this thing all night — my thoughts are starting to come in alternating currents.
dashiell: Huh. That's a pretty good idea — they're probably picking up all kinds of radio interference.
dashiell: Dashiell Morse. Pleased to meet you.
dashiell: We don't install this type of phone for customers anymore, but there are quite a few of them still in circulation. Anyway, the new system doesn't source enough current to ring these old bells, so I'm trying to come up with a workaround. Maybe a little box the customer could attach right before the wall jack.
dashiell: I bet. I mean, uh ... you seem very comfortable with electronics!
dashiell: Oh, well, uh ... yeah, I'm here just about every night.
dashiell: Is this your first time down here? Yeah, I can tell — your eyes can't quite adjust to the light. It takes some practice.
dashiell: Believe it or not, I've been coming here since I was a kid, for one reason or the next. Back then, this place was a train station. It's true! They had bats then, too, but they were considered a nuisance!
dashiell: I usually came here with my grandmother. We took the train out to the town she lived in, or in the other direction back to my parents' home. In my memories, it was always cold. Winter, I guess. Sometimes now I walk along the tunnel, run my hand along these wet stone walls, and close my eyes ... ringing footsteps and the drip-drip-drip of the grimy stalactites ...
dashiell: Well, the river shifted and this place slowly filled with water, carrying the trains away with the current. It does that, the river, and I don't begrudge it. It's a good reminder that everything we have is borrowed. Even trains.
dashiell: Eventually, someone at the Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces heard this place was still empty, so they moved the phone company in here. I returned here as a young lineman — a skill I picked up in wartime, running telephone wires behind enemy lines. We used trees instead of poles. I miss that, actually. They were easier to climb.
dashiell: It's just as well. I'm in no shape to be climbing `anything`, these days! The closest I get is patching up the wiring in the Crystal Room for the WEVP folks.
dashiell: Sure, Weaver Márquez. That's funny, I was just thinking about her ... Yeah, I met her a couple times at the TV station.
dashiell: I suppose I didn't know her `too` well. She handled the archives, and I was helping with wiring and stuff. She really seemed to know her way around all that gear, though. She had a head for signals, I think.
dashiell: No idea where she ended up. I would guess she's probably not too popular around the station anymore, but I always liked her ...
dashiell: Oh! Maybe they should print some maps — it's not really supposed to be a secret, but it's not common knowledge either ... that must be why they're always short-staffed. Ha ha.
dashiell: Yep. WEVP is actually a `cable` signal. Not a lot of people down here know all the mechanics of it, but here goes:
dashiell: It's supposed to be community television, you know, `local`. By and for all denizens of the Echo River. But most of us down here spend most of our time on boats, and you can't plug a cable into a boat!
dashiell: So, years back, they set up a broadcast relay. They run a wire down to the Crystal Room and then it gets beamed out around the river. The rock formations there have a nice `resonant` quality that naturally amplifies the signal quite a bit, as long as you keep them clean.
dashiell: Listen, miss: if you're interested in WEVP you should go talk to them directly. They're always looking for volunteers! Take the ferry over to the Silo, there's a mail stop there. They don't have a sign or anything, just ask around.
dashiell: I guess I'll get back to this damn old ringer. Poppy's just a little further down if you're dropping off that package. Nice chatting with you.
flora: I'm just getting my boat backexploring. I like dark, underground places. I'm a romantic.
flora: I used a piece of paper from the front desk at the museum. There's a lot of paper up there, and I chose this one because of the way it looks, not how strong or durable it is. I'm a romantic.
flora: I drew a picture of Ezra on it before I folded it up. He's my `paramour`. I'm a romantic.
sign: WE CLAIM THESE HELMETS IN THE NAMES OF THE FOLKS WHO WORE THEM AND WE PLACE THEM HERE IN THEIR MEMORY BUT ALSO AS A SPIT IN THE GREEDY GREEN EYE OF THAT POWER COMPANY WHO BOUGHT UP OUR OLD MINE AND TRADED OUR BROTHERS' AND SISTERS' SAFETY FOR A LITTLE MORE YIELD BUT ONLY YIELDED TWENTY-EIGHT GOOD MEN AND WOMEN DEAD WHEN THE WALLS COLLAPSED AND THE TUNNELS FILLED WITH WATER
sign: THEIR LUNGS WERE BLACK BUT NOW THEY'RE WASHED CLEAN AND FULL OF WATER TOO AND SWEPT THROUGH HIDDEN TUNNELS INTO SOME AWFUL CAVE WE NEVER WILL FIND AND SO WE GUESS THE WATER BURIED THEM FOR US SO LET THIS HERE BE THE MARKER FOR THEIR GRAVE
sign: AND IF ANY SON OF A BITCH FROM THAT POWER COMPANY WANTS TO TAKE BACK THESE HELMETS AS COMPANY PROPERTY JUST YOU TRY IT AND SEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN
conway: Hey, "Elkhorn." That's the mine we met in. Where your folks, uh ... worked ...
conway: Looks like it's been here a while. I sure as hell wouldn't mess with it ... you think whoever wrote it is still that angry?
conway: This probably stirs up ... I mean ... how do you ... ?
conway: Well, here we are, remembering. And I didn't even know it the first time around, but here I am remembering it now ... that's a fine memorial, I guess.
conway: Yeah, that's understandable. I guess that's what a memorial should do, huh? Help you hang on to your feelings. Otherwise, they fade away; that's just what time does.
plaque: `Abel & Eloise`, "The Lovers' Couriers."
plaque: Bred for racing, Abel and Eloise spent most of their lives as carrier pigeons in the employ of the Echo River Avian Post.
plaque: They retired here after Abel was disfigured in an accident with a light aircraft. But old habits were hard to die: Abel and Eloise would pick up scraps of paper from the ground, the trash, even pull them out of pockets, and deliver them to other people nearby, to delight or embarrassment.
plaque: Word spread, and travelers passing through this tunnel began to come prepared with love letters, poems, and other written desires to pass along indirectly through these pigeons.
plaque: After a hard day's work, Abel and Eloise would always be found nestled closely together in a disused newspaper stand set aside for their habitation, and that's where we left them.
poppy: Just set it right over there by the lamp, sweetie, thanks —
poppy: — actually, just a minute, who does that parcel claim to be from?
poppy: Ooh, must be my new patch cables, and not a minute too soon. This one here is hanging on by a fiber!
poppy: Well, if we're lucky, it's chocolates from a secret admirer, and not a snake from an assassin.
poppy: He's been working on that obsolete ringer, hasn't he? Poor Dashiell.
poppy: You know, he's not really ... He was `let go` a while back. A `long` while, actually. When they started restructuring, he was one of the first to go. But he talked them into letting him come every day and fiddle with some interminable project.
poppy: He says it's to keep a long gap from growing his resume, but I think he just has nothing better to do. One of those old men who `needs` to work. You know? Doesn't know how to `be` any other way. Well, there are no real jobs here, but there are `fake` jobs, I guess.
poppy: Cate! I love Cate. She helped deliver both my nieces: one in a hospital, and one at the base of a mossy, moonlit oak. It was beautiful. I love Cate.
poppy: I think Loretta's granddaughter used her, too ... Oh, Loretta used to work here. Actually, I think quite a few of our former operators have relied at some time on Cate's services.
poppy: Well, now I guess they'll have more time with their little ones; as you can see, all their chairs are empty!
poppy: It wasn't always like this. When I came to work at the Echo River Central Exchange, there were twelve of us: Loretta, Edna, Meg, Cara, Marie, Lois, Liz, Hester, Angie, Wilma, Connie. I was number twelve; Connie and I were hired on the same day, but she showed up early.
poppy: Marie finished college, and Hester was fired for snapping at a rude caller — but he had it coming, and I hear she did just fine on her own — so they hired Beryl, Jana, and Sachiko, which brought us up to thirteen, and that was as many operators as we ever had here at one time.
poppy: The power company came along, buying up all the lines, and one day they took the exchange as a throw-in, like it was nothing. Nothing! And they started phasing us out.
poppy: Edna, Meg, Cara, and Lois left one Friday evening, and were asked not to come back on Monday morning. Beryl saw the writing on the wall and quickly found employment at a private PBX. They had Jana and Liz stop routing calls, and write up some kind of "best practices" document instead. It was their final task as Exchange employees.
poppy: Some of the girls were reassigned to other divisions. Connie, I think, was checking residential meters. Sachiko and Wilma were moved into energy sales, cold-calling businesses to see if they needed to upgrade their electricity plan. At least they were still on the phone.
poppy: Then it was just Loretta, Angie, and me. We were swamped. The hours were hell, and hard on the throat. The "voice with a smile" became a croak. I was gargling warm salt water in the break room, sipping from a thermos full of hot honey broth stashed under my chair. Oh, I brought a lot of "extended technique" to the switchboard in those days —
poppy: It was all about timing your breath; some girls got light-headed doing too many calls in a row, with that upbeat dynamic inflection they made us use to keep everything intelligible. It was very physical.
poppy: They were the smart ones. It's how they held on so long. They went into voice work, recording canned phrases for IVR systems and `robo-call` polling ... I could never do that.
poppy: It's not `fully` automated. There are still gaps in functionality that need a human touch ...
poppy: And, you know, it really is all about `touch`, here. Sound is a vibration, a touch you feel in your ear, so my voice is my touch. When we're talking, we're touching, even on the phone — that's an electric touch, an intimate little shock that makes your tiny hairs tremble.
poppy: But that's not even what I mean, when I say it's all about `touch` here.
poppy: When the power company first tried automating this old exchange with fancy new transistor arrays, the switchboard caught fire. It was just too much, too fast. So, they tried using some clunky old mechanical relays, but then the calls were getting mismatched and out-of-sync. It was a nightmare.
poppy: Their technicians determined that the phone system down here had been designed `ad hoc` over decades around the specific tempo of its human operators. So, short of replacing the whole thing, not to mention all the wiring, they'd have to work out the exact timing of every little human gesture that goes into routing a phone call.
poppy: And that, officially, is my role here. I run the switchboard for the whole exchange — once the work of twelve, I'd like to remind you! They have some kind of machine somewhere that tracks how long it takes me to do each little thing. The caller never hears my voice now; they dial, my little indicator lights switch on, and I make the connection.
poppy: You know ... there's something that bothers me about the process, besides the fact that I'm training my replacement, who isn't even human ...
poppy: Here's what I mean: how long do you think it should take to time my every move and recreate that timing in an automated switchboard? Rough estimate.
poppy: That's what `I` said, but this has been going on for over a year! And a very dark thought has started to nag at me ...
poppy: Oh, it's ... funny, I've never actually `seen` it. They told me just to carry on patching while it collects and collates in the background, until it's ready to take over.
poppy: Hm. There's a dark thought ...
poppy: In `this` economy?
poppy: No, you're probably right. Working in silence for peanut shells, waiting to be replaced by a robot ... It doesn't sound very dignified, does it? The reality is that I've been working here for my whole adult life. I came here as a girl, and I'll leave as a middle-aged woman ... I don't know if I'm ready to be her yet.
poppy: I sound like Dashiell. Ha ha.[if exchange-asked-poppy-about-dashiell]
poppy: Nice of you to notice. Ha ha.
poppy: I mourn the Echo River Central Exchange, and I'll carry a torch for the voice with a smile. But at least I'm keeping some part of it human, right? Even if it's not the best part.
bat fact: Ever talk with your mouth full? Bats do it all the time!
bat fact: Bats talk in extremely high-frequency `clicks`, too high for humans to hear, then they use their powerful ears to scan for the `echoes` of these ultrasonic clicks. By comparing very subtle differences in the time these echoes take to come back — differences of just millionths of a second — bats are able to picture their environment with enough accuracy to catch a flying insect!
bat fact: Once a bat has caught an insect in its mouth, it's still flying and so it still needs to avoid running into anything. So bats keep clicking away, even while they munch on a tasty bug snack! It may be poor table manners, but it's crucial for surviving in the dark.
conway: I wonder how the other bats know whether one of them is really talking or just chasing a bug.
conway: Oh, yeah. Like, "how about this weather?"
conway: I guess there are layers to it, right? Sometimes you just need to get the other person talking so you can check their body language, or hear what their voice sounds like. Find out if they're friendly. Or angry ... Or drunk. Ha ha.
bat fact: The [variable: exchange-bat-species]'s natural diet mostly consists of moths and other small insects that breed along the river. Here at the artificial hibernaculum and sanctuary, we use a combination of chemical snares and ultrasonic wards to repel all potentially contaminant-bearing insects, and replace them with our own locally-bred and spawned hypoallergenic antiseptic pseudomoths, which we call the `Little Gray Nothing Moth`.
bat fact: You may be thinking that the other moths and insects the [variable: exchange-bat-species] would have been eating are very much relieved that their natural predator has found another food source. Not so! We've installed netting and highly effective moth traps along the river where the [variable: exchange-bat-species] normally hunts, to balance their escape from the food chain.
bat fact: But eating moths isn't the only systemic contribution these bats make. They also produce a potent fertilizer in the form of `guano` that helps plant life thrive along the Echo River the shore of Lake Lethe.
bat fact: In order to minimize the sanctuary's impact on subterranean agriculture, we collect that precious guano here at the hibernaculum and manually distribute throughout the caves. It's a full-time job!
conway: Sounds like a lot of work.
conway: Yeah, um ... `(Reading.)` "Hypoallergenic antiseptic pseudomoths ... the `Little Gray Nothing Moth`."
conway: Well, a lot of people eat fake food, right? Food taken apart and then put back together so it looks and tastes like something they remember eating before, even if they never really did.
conway: Ha ha. Maybe it's better they don't know. Like bat plumbing. I mean, I never think about where it goes, do you?
conway: Yeah, I guess so. Reminds me of that guy Donald and his crew down there with the computer ...
conway: Yeah. Who's gonna build the `people` hibernaculum? Maybe we'll build it ourselves. Maybe we already did.
conway: Yeah ... In this case, I think it's about survival. I mean, if that's the bottom line, what's the difference?
conway: Like the folks in the mine, you said they used to buy stuff: fans, canaries, all those little trinkets, to make it bearable. There's still a lot of `stuff` down there. It feels cluttered, but human.
conway: I just mean: all people need is enough to `pretend` we're home, and we can make it anywhere.
conway: Hm. Maybe we'll have to teach them. Hell, what am I saying? I know about a hundred percent more on the subject of bats now than I did when we came down here.
sign: Visitors to the `Echo River [template: batSpecies] Artificial Hibernaculum and Sanctuary` are asked to take extra precautions in order to prevent the introduction of foreign fungal contaminants and the spread of `white nose syndrome`.
sign: Please do not visit the sanctuary during the same day in which you've visited any cave known or suspected to host bats infected with `white nose syndrome`.
sign: Please do not leave your vehicle. If you must leave your vehicle, please remove shoes, clothes, jewelry, headwear, and eyeglasses to ensure you do not bring any foreign spores ashore with you.
sign: Please do not touch any bats or structures.
sign: The [variable: exchange-bat-species] is confused by light. If you are using a lantern or other artificial light source, be aware that it may attract and confuse bats. If you are approached by bats, do not panic. Relax. Stop your vehicle and switch off your light. Never touch a bat.
sign: White Nose Syndrome is still largely a mystery. We suspect that the white fungal growth which appears on bats' faces and wings irritates and confuses them, causing them to awaken early from hibernation and venture outside, depleting stored energy they need to survive through winter.
sign: But biologists are nowhere near curing the disease, it spreads quickly, and it is highly fatal. In this way, White Nose Syndrome has drawn some comparisons to "Colony Collapse Disorder," as suffered by bees.
sign: White Nose Syndrome and Colony Collapse Disorder are sudden, violent, and mysterious. Will honey bees and the [variable: exchange-bat-species] be two more lost species, wiped out in a geological blink and forgotten to natural history? It's possible that a cure won't be identified in time, so the sanctity of this artificial hibernaculum is our best hope of preserving them.
sign: As you leave the `Echo River [variable: exchange-bat-species] Hibernaculum and Sanctuary`, please make sure your vehicle and clothing are free of "hitchhikers."
conway: Oh, uh, sure. It doesn't hurt anymore, my leg. It's just kind of `numb`. Like it's not there. My shoulder, too, actually. That's an old one, though, from an accident. I'm lucky I just had some nerve damage there, it probably should have been a lot worse.
conway: You know, those guys from the distillery are just making the best of a bad situation, just like the rest of us. Hey, one of them said to me earlier they could even help me take care of these medical bills for my leg, you know? Get it all together on a plan. Consolidated.
conway: Oh, they're around. They're pretty much everywhere you look, on this river. You really haven't noticed?
conway: Oh, I don't know. They seem to have a lot of experience with this kind of stuff. They've got a whole process figured out.
conway: Yeah, we're almost there, right? Hell, at this point I bet we could just take off the parking brake and that truck would roll into `5 Dogwood Drive` by itself.
conway: Hey, why not? Seems like we're getting pretty close to finding your cousin, right? And besides that, you're young and smart, plenty of time to bounce back from ... whatever.
conway: Listen ... that old truck I've been driving belonged to my boss Ira, Lysette's husband. To be honest, Ira didn't like me very much, but somehow Lys got it into her mind that he would have wanted me to have that truck someday. Maybe to make up for all the yelling he did. Or maybe so his ghost could hold it over me, just one more thing to feel like I owed him for ...
conway: Anyway, they got their own trucks at the distillery, and now that the antique shop is closing up ... I've got no use for that old truck. I was thinking `you` could take it.
conway: Hell, I barely know `anyone`. It's not like I'm going to give this truck to my damn brother or something. I don't even know how to get ahold of him these days ...
conway: You could drive it around while you figure out what's next. Hell, you could `sleep` in it if you need to — it's big enough.
conway: Well, just think about it, anyway. You'd be doing me a favor, you know? One less thing to deal with.
johnny: Oh, OK ...
johnny: I have to say: I didn't know him very well, but he seemed like the kind of guy who was always on his way to somewhere else.
shannon: Yeah. I'm gonna go sit down.
johnny: Uh, the food is good here. I think everyone else is finishing up, but you could probably get something to go.
johnny: `(To EZRA.)` Alright, claw maestro, let's give it another shot.
johnny: So, let's see what's on the top of the pile, here ... there's a stuffed octopus, a plastic bag full of clam shells, a cowboy hat, and some big headphones.
johnny: That octopus has a leg wrapped around the boombox underneath it. The shells are pretty clear, but I don't know if the claw can really grip the bag well. The cowboy hat is in the corner, so it's kind of tricky to tell if it's wedged in or not. Those headphones might be a good bet, but I can't see the cord; it could be wrapped around something.
johnny: What are you going to try for?
johnny: Sounds good. I hope we can get the claw back far enough to get a grip on it.
johnny: OK. When I put this quarter in, you'll have about eight seconds to grab your prize.
johnny: The octopus is square in the middle.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=octopus]
johnny: The shells are on the left, near the back.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=shells]
johnny: The hat is in the back-right corner.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=hat]
johnny: The headphones are on the right, pretty close to the middle.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=headphones]
johnny: Let me know if you need help lining it up; I've got a slightly different view of the field from up here.
johnny: Ready? Here we go!
`(JOHNNY inserts the coin, and the machine awakens.)`
timer: 0[variable: temp:claw-time]
`(The claw hovers in the front-left corner of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=0+temp:claw-y=0]
`(The claw hovers halfway across the front of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=1+temp:claw-y=0]
`(The claw hovers in the front-right corner of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=2+temp:claw-y=0]
`(The claw hovers halfway along the left wall of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=0+temp:claw-y=1]
`(The claw hovers in the center of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=1+temp:claw-y=1]
`(The claw hovers halfway along the right wall of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=2+temp:claw-y=1]
`(The claw hovers in the back-left corner of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=0+temp:claw-y=2]
`(The claw hovers halfway along the back wall of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=1+temp:claw-y=2]
`(The claw hovers in the back-right corner of the machine.)`[if temp:claw-x=2+temp:claw-y=2]
johnny: Yeah, looks good to me! Go for it![if claw-correct]
johnny: You're too far to the left.[if !claw-correct][if claw-too-left+claw-correct-vertical]
johnny: You're too far to the right.[if !claw-correct][if claw-too-right+claw-correct-vertical]
johnny: You're too far to the left, and you need to push it back farther.[if !claw-correct][if claw-too-left+claw-too-close]
johnny: You're too far to the left, and you need to pull it a little closer.[if !claw-correct][if claw-too-left+claw-too-far]
johnny: You're too far to the right, and you need to push it back farther.[if !claw-correct][if claw-too-right+claw-too-close]
johnny: You're too far to the right, and you need to pull it a little closer.[if !claw-correct][if claw-too-right+claw-too-far]
johnny: You need to push it back farther.[if !claw-correct][if claw-correct-horizontal+claw-too-close]
johnny: You need to pull it a little closer.[if !claw-correct][if claw-correct-horizontal+claw-too-far]
`(The claw drops. It grabs the [variable: restaurant-claw-game-prize]!It grasps at nothing.)`
johnny: Aw, no good. It's hard to line it up just right ... maybe next time you should stand on a chair.[if !(temp:prize-x=temp:claw-x+temp:prize-y=temp:claw-y)]
`(The octopus is attached too securely to the plastic boombox beneath it. It slips from the claw's grasp.)`[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=octopus]
johnny: Aw, no good. I had a feeling that octopus was a little too comfortable in there.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=octopus]
`(The bag of shells is not substantial enough for the claw to hold. They tumble back out as it rises away.)`[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=shells]
johnny: Damn, you had it! Too bad those shells weren't in a styrofoam cup or something.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=shells]
`(The claw is only able to get ahold of the brim. It's not a strong enough grip to pull the hat out of the machine.)`[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=hat]
johnny: Sorry, kid. That hat would have looked good on you, too. But I guess it's just too far back in that corner.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=hat]
`(The claw's grasp seems unusually weak on this round, and the headphones tumble back out before they can be retrieved.)`[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=headphones+!claw-full-strength]
johnny: Aw, you were robbed! I guess "the house always wins, except on Tuesdays" ... A friend of ours always said that. I never really knew what he meant. Oh well.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=headphones+!claw-full-strength]
`(The claw returns to the front of the machine with the headphones in a tight grip. It drops them through a slot labeled "prize," where EZRA retrieves them.)`[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=headphones+claw-full-strength]
johnny: Whoa! Nice work! Now we just have to find you something to plug those into. Ha ha.[if restaurant-claw-game-prize=headphones+claw-full-strength]
johnny: Yeah, he's OK. I mean, I'm sure he could be better, but I don't think we need to worry about him.
johnny: Well, probably not. He's got himself on a `trajectory`, you know?
johnny: Oh, uh ... No, that's not a good idea. It's not a place for kids, where he's headed.
johnny: Anyway, I don't know what kind of plans you have now, but if you need help figuring out your next move, you can always talk to me and Miss Junebug. I just wanted to make sure you know that.
johnny: Hey, I've got no objection. We have a pretty `ad hoc` thing going on, me and Junebug ... I'd have to talk to her, but I bet you're welcome to tag along for a while, if you're into it.
`(The tentacle is solid and fixed in place.)`
ida: We used to steam those. Juicy! But I prefer them smoked now.
`(The eye is hard, like glass.)`
ida: Oh, you like candied fish-eye? Most kids are repulsed just looking at them — which is a shame, because they're really delicious. Ha ha. I have a bowl of them in the kitchen. I'll bring some out.
`(The surface of the claw is completely smooth.)`
ida: And that was the `small` one! They're asymmetrical.
ida: Well, they had more than twice as much food as they really needed, so even half was too much ...
ida: We covered it in `shellac`. Do you know what `shellac` is? It's bug wax.
ida: This food is about fifteen years old. It's true! Things were different then. Nobody came to eat here. We were fighting just to keep the lights on.
ida: Sam — my husband, Sam — was depressed. He couldn't catch anything, that was part of the problem. Most of what we served was shipped in frozen or dried, and I just threw it in the fryer ... We've both come a long way since then.
ida: Well, two young men came in for dinner. Seasoned divers, they said, over ten thousand hours between them in Lake Lethe alone. They'd been out all day, salvaging parts from a riverboat wreck, and had worked up a fierce hunger, they said. They ordered the whole menu, without even looking! It was a short menu, in those days.
ida: I sat them right here, and went back to the kitchen. Sam was at the next table doing a sudoku and drinking malt liquor, his usual routine at the time.
ida: An hour later, I was cleaning up, when Sam came bursting into the kitchen. "Ida," he said, kind of frantic. "These divers are still hungry! Bring them another course!"
ida: And I said, "They already ordered the whole menu!"
ida: Sam said, "Make something new! Keep making up dishes, whatever — just keep bringing out food!"
ida: So I did until the small hours of the morning. I made up so many new dishes that night, I could write a book. And it was good! Inspired.
ida: But I was working so hot and fast at the burning edge of inspiration, I didn't think to write any of it down! And I was so wrecked with exhaustion the next day, I knew I couldn't remember what all I'd done in the kitchen.
ida: Sam thought we could take a photograph of the leftovers, but we couldn't get the lighting right, so we just shellacked the whole table. Now, when I need inspiration for the menu, I come and look here and think about all those ingenious dishes I threw together for those divers.
ida: Of course, they didn't pay their full bill ... I heard one of them complaining to the other, "Let's just pay half and let them charge the other half to whatever demon in the kitchen kept making up food faster than we could ask for it."
ida: But it all worked out. Things have really turned around since then! This place is actually pretty popular now. The success, and our expanded menu, inspired Sam, too. He started bringing back the most magnificent ingredients from his nightly dives.
`(EZRA's head nods involuntarily. IDA pokes him on the shoulder.)`
ida: Boy, you've got a look on your face like a gutted bass. I must be boring you to pieces! Poor thing.
johnny: Hey, did you see this? They keep a table full of fake food over here. I've never known why.
johnny: Actually, I think it might be `real` food coated with shellac or something. Preserved. Oh, and — look, this tentacle-looking thing is half-eaten! This is someone's meal that they didn't finish?
johnny: Man, I don't know; some people really like that stuff. I had some fried `calamari` once at a gas station. It was pretty good, but I stripped a gear trying to chew the "beak." They're supposed to take that out!
johnny: If Sam and Ida preserved this half-eaten meal, it must have been pretty important to them, right? Maybe it belonged to someone they care about, like a beloved uncle had a mid-meal stroke, so they kept it in his memory.
johnny: Oh, uh ... no, I didn't mean that, kid. You don't need to hang onto every little memento. I'm sure you still remember them just fine.
cate: Weird, somehow I thought it was `his` truck, and delivery and all.
junebug: It `was`, that's what she's saying. He just left it behind.But he gave it to her, before they took him away.
cate: `(To SHANNON.)` But you're going to deliver it anyway? Why?
junebug: That's right. He's our friend too — Johnny and I will help you unload when we get there.
cate: OK, right, you were saying ... the TV station is up there somewhere.
cate: But it's old furniture or something, right? Can you lift all that by yourself?
junebug: Johnny and I will help you unload when we get there. We've got nowhere else to be.
will: Have you got a name, or just an address? Maybe it doesn't matter — even having discharged all that whatever-it-is onto the lawn, I'm sure you'd still have fulfilled your friend's obligation.
junebug: Johnny and I will help you unload when we get there.
ida: So, how was everything? `(To JUNEBUG.)` How was the `sweet cave snail`?
junebug: Devastating. You're a killer, Ida.
ida: Well, I can't take `all` the credit. Sam came across a whole cave snail colony down there, about a year back, and we've been leaving rock candy for them to gorge on since. We just started harvesting earlier this month.
ida: Yes, it's all about `patience` down here. Everything grows more slowly in the dark. There's a fish in Lake Lethe that lives to two hundred years, and its flavor profile only develops at about seventy-five.
ida: I've got a pot of bones in there that's been stewing for at least a week! I don't even remember why I put them on. Come to think of it, I don't even remember what kind of bones they are ...
cate: Oh, we need one for the road. Clara said she wanted, um ...
cate: "Something primordial," she said. What does that mean?
`(CATE reviews the menu.)`
cate: Ah, could be ...
cate: `(Hands SHANNON the menu.)` Here, you pick. I'm no good at this.
`(SHANNON inspects the menu.)`
sam: Hm. Best never to dive with doubt in your heart, though it can't always be helped.
sam: Yes, ma'am, they stop here every morning. I expect they're upstairs now, and Ida's got the coffee going. I could use a cup myself; it's cold down there!
sam: Well, buddy, I guess you're the `catch of the day`. The one and only. Ha ha ...
sam: So, what are you? You look like ... well, some kind of [variable: restaurant-catch-species], I guess? Kind of a [variable: restaurant-catch-emotion] little guy, huh? Yeah, I can see it in your eyes.
sam: You smell like ... an old friend of mine. Ha ha.[if restaurant-catch-smell=friend]
sam: You smell like ... kind of dusty, dry. Where the hell have you been swimming?[if restaurant-catch-smell=dust]
sam: You smell like ... sort of buttery. Well, that should be just fine.[if restaurant-catch-smell=butter]
sam: Strangely warm to the touch. Now how do you pull `that` off?[if restaurant-catch-feel=warm]
sam: Skin feels cold. Colder than the water.[if restaurant-catch-feel=cold]
sam: Better keep a good grip on you; you're a slippery one, now![if restaurant-catch-feel=slippery]
sam: Skin feels like ... sandpaper. Huh. Well, she'll figure something out.[if restaurant-catch-feel=sandpapery]
sam: I think I'll call you ...
sam: Welcome to Sam & Ida's, the one and only `[variable: restaurant-catch-name]`. I hope you enjoy your stay. I mean, not `too` much ...
sam: Have you ever seen a creature like me before? You were pretty far down there; I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the first, except ... there `were` two divers who went before me, long ago.
sam: Maybe that was before your time; how old are you, anyway? I wonder.
sam: They ate here once, back in the "bad old days." Two young guys; could have been brothers, maybe. I was over in the corner with my coffee and crossword. I hadn't been able to catch a thing, so Ida just fried up something from frozen.
sam: Well, these guys were hungry enough to eat it, and ask for more, and they did at least as much `talking` as eating. See, like I said, they were divers, and like I said, they might have been brothers; they had a kind of a `rivalry` going between them or something.
sam: Ida was about to write up their check, but I slipped calmly and quietly into the kitchen for a minute, and told her to just keep bringing out food. I figured they wouldn't notice, caught up in their boasting as they were. And I wanted to listen.
sam: They went back and forth for hours about all the deep and dangerous dives they'd been on: new tunnels they'd discovered, all the weird creatures they'd encountered at the weirdest depths of Lake Lethe. It was like a dance — no, like a boxing match. Each story went deeper than the last.
sam: And I listened to every word of it, memorized every description of every tunnel and diving route they'd discovered. That's my `map` now, you see? For fifteen years, I've been using routes those two young divers discussed right there at that table!
sam: Yeah, I could write a guide book to the depths of this lake — but I don't dare! Someone would steal my good diving spots, and then where would we be?
sam: See, people come here from all over just to try our daily catch, because they know it's unique. Ain't you proud?
sam: Since I can't write any of it down, I just preserved that table where they had their meal so I can look at it to jog my memory, like "they were eating pickled crab when they talked about that shipwreck full of salamanders." Pretty clever, huh? It's my own secret code.
sam: Well, I'll be straight with you, `[variable: restaurant-catch-name]`, there is `one` feature of this arrangement that I find unsettling. In fact, I lose a decent amount of sleep over it ...
sam: I told you those boys were `competing`, right? One-upping each other, I mean, each getting wilder and more adventurous as they traded tales.
sam: Well, I navigate mostly in the dark down there, just going by touch and a kind of mental picture I can construct from their detailed boasts. And every time I explore a new diving spot from those recollections, I have to weigh it all against the risk that I'm headed right into a dangerous falsehood!
sam: One of those men could have felt for a moment like he was losing some ground in their little duel, so he could have slipped a fake one in there. Maybe told a fib about some dive he went on and found a colony of blind shrimp living in a discarded refrigerator. And when `I` get down there, my diving bell cracks open on a sharp rock where he said that fridge would be, and that's the end of Sam of `Sam & Ida's.`
sam: To be honest, that possibility puts the fear of death in me every time I touch water ...
cate: Hey, Sam. Good haul tonight?
sam: We'll see what she can make of it ... Yeah, pretty good I think. I hit some trouble down by the narrow tunnel: some kind of fast-growing freshwater barnacles just about sealed it up. I picked away for half an hour before I gave up and went around the other way.
sam: But I got the `catch of the day`, that's the important part. That's what people travel for.
sam: This here's a `[variable: restaurant-catch-name]` — [variable: restaurant-catch-emotion], [variable: restaurant-catch-feel] old [variable: restaurant-catch-species].
sam: I don't know how she'll fix him, but that [variable: restaurant-catch-feel] quality ought to do something for, uh ... what do they call it ... "mouthfeel?"
sam: The cold I can handle. I've got an oil heater in the diving bell, and if it's really bad I might take a nip of something here and there.
sam: Yeah, there's a fish or two ... not too many. It's not like a surface lake, where you've got sunlight propping up the food chain. Life down here grows slowly, patiently, quietly.
cate: Just in time! We've already finished eating, but we're about to place a to-go order for Clara. She's back on board, getting ready for her show.
cate: Take a look at the menu, I'm sure there's something you'll like. Ida is a bit of a local celebrity. For her cooking, I mean.
junebug: Hey, Ezra was just asking about you. He's around the corner playing a videogame. Maybe go let him know you two are back? Or ... where's the old man, anyway?