A Paradigm of Earth

Candas Jane Dorsey

Tor Books

 
1
Morgan among the gargoyles
Every day Morgan moved among the living gargoyles.
Asam was seven. He had come for a new face. The surgeon would break his skull in half a hundred ways, would put him back in a shape his mother, thank goodness, wouldn’t recognize. His mother had lived with and loved that face everyone else feared. Now it was Morgan’s turn. Morgan held him in her arms, rocked him in the rocking chair.
“Will it hurt?”
“I think it will, Asam. Not during the operation, ’cause you’ll be asleep then. But after, it will hurt for quite a while.”
“I’m gonna be brave, I won’t cry. Big boys don’t cry.”
“Big boys do so cry. Crying is good for you. If somebody says big boys don’t cry, it’s just ’cause they’re scared of crying themselves. You cry all you need, okay?”
Pause. “Okay.” Pause. “Will I be pretty after the operation?”
“I don’t know. But you’ll look more like other people.”
“Will I still look scary?”
“No.” It was useless to say he wasn’t scary now. He knew what the kids in the hometown said. He knew the grimaces of adults on the street. He didn’t know that when his mother, who was the repository for all his trust, first saw him after birth, she was sick and screaming with horror and disbelief. After that she had loved him fiercely, protective but not overprotective. Her husband (he didn’t like to think of himself as the boy’s father; it frightened him. “Big boys don’t cry,” he’d told Asam when he’d moved out of Asam’s mother’s life) had reacted calmly, but left after four years of calm, fathered another, very healthy child on another, younger woman. His wife was pregnant when he’d left; that is probably why he went. Asam’s sister was a beautifully regular child, who loved her brother’s face. She would probably cry when he came home, not to know him any more. Asam’s half sister had never seen him. Her father didn’t want her frightened.
Morgan rocked his wrecked head against her shoulder, sang a lullaby. His perfect hands held her sleeve desperately, unconsciously. She was for that moment as good as his mother, and closer.
“Will I have bad dreams?”
“Tonight?”
“When I’m asleep for the operation.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Let’s ask the sleep doctor when he comes tomorrow. He’s called the anesthetist, really. Can you say that?”
His palate made it a struggle, but he managed a facsimile.
“Good for you. He’ll come tomorrow morning to see you and tell you what he does. When he comes, ask him about it. He’ll know.”
This boy had a tenderness and a strength which touched Morgan more than most. His mother had taught him a sturdy self reliance. He forgot his face, some days. He had even learned a smile, which those who didn’t know him would have found a horror. When Morgan saw it, her heart lifted with energy. She felt that despite the risks he must live. He is a survivor, like her.

journal:
Teaching the activities of daily living to the long-tine and the newly handicapped: twisted, ill-made, malformed, mutated, burned, scarred, maimed, shocked, blinded, deadened, they are relentless: so am I.
One after the other comes, is terrifying at first, becomes usual, familiar, beloved. Then the people in the streets look bloated, obscene, like dolls, with their wide blank eyes, flat features.
Have mercy on the untouched ones, with our lonely perfection. We are united here in thoughts of pain and triumph.
The cat Marbl watches with wide blank eyes as I sift the litterbox with the tiny plastic shovel, my hands efficient, terrifyingly so after the hands of my loved ones; my skin moving like, better than, the supple pink plastic covering the microcircuitry of their prostheses. I dream of maimed kittens, clawless, pawless, hunchbacked, gargoyles, all needing to be taught how to scratch and shit, lick and purr, crunch and leap.
Today Asam, my newest patient, arrived, a gargoyle child, a rarity (“which Klaus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me”?) in this day of repairable birth defects, seven years old, brought by his mother a thousand miles to this: O my heart. I had already loved him astonishingly as soon as I read his chart; after I met him I went away and vomited privately, in atonement for my smooth skin, my fine bones. Guilt is the friend of all we selfless, unscarred ones. A calm home with the perfect and beautiful is all the self-indulgence I allow myself. I don’t work with animals, teaching them to scratch, I said to myself—and remembered the dream, while I was heaving and puking up nothing.

“It’s not as if we’re the first lovers to part,” said Vik, putting a comforting hand on Morgan’s shoulder. Morgan didn’t turn. She would like to have continued the habit of receiving comfort from Vik, but the decision they had just made removed that option. She found a small apartment that day, moved the next, stored her boxes and big furniture, set up a barren and functional campsite in the small high-rise rooms. Said goodbye to the house and yard, the trees and flowers she had planted, the stained-glass window in the stairwell, the things she and Vik had bought together which she is leaving as she leaves Vik. Said goodbye to Vik.
“Will we see each other again?” Vik asked in a moment of nostalgia, as they hugged, remembering how it had been better.
“I don’t know,” said Morgan, remembering that they are not the first lovers to part.



The night shift was coming on, chattering over report while Morgan read aloud to them the letters to the editor. “Listen to this,” she said to Penelope. “‘If impressionable young men and women are exposed to these unnatural pleasures before they have had the opportunity to make a commitment to a spouse and family, society risks losing any chance to reproduce itself.’” The debate was over a proposed law to make twenty-five the legal age of consent for same-sex sexual activity. The bill had received first reading.
Penelope laughed. “As if that will do it!” Pen’s mother was a lesbian and Pen was a member of ChoQ (Children of Queers).
“What’s wrong with that?” said Jo-anne as she shrugged into her uniform jacket and looped her stethoscope around her neck. She was an LPN but she liked to look like a nurse, so she wore the same style of fatigues as the nurses did, but in white.
Morgan laughed, then she saw that Jo-anne wasn’t joking. “Do you really think …”
“I can see why you wouldn’t agree,” said Jo-anne. “You people can’t have children, so you recruit them.”
Penelope guffawed. “I wish my mom could hear you.”
Jo-anne looked hurt. “Say what you like,” she said, “but it’s not natural.”
Morgan went home and looked at her empty apartment, no pictures on the walls. Only the day before, she had taken the accumulated journals from her early adulthood and presided personally over their shredding. If anything wasn’t natural, it was bric-a-brac. She preferred her life undecorated at the moment, she thought. Be careful what you wish for, the Universe said quietly.



Morgan was unable to suppress her relentless intelligence even though her father was dying. Convincing the others to go down for food, out for a walk, she sat holding his hand, noting every detail of the machinery of living to which they had him connected. Or, in this case, as she well knew but her mother tried hard not to believe, the machinery of death.
Morgan’s profession for many years had taken her into rooms like this, and she was grateful for small differences—though her father could no longer talk, he awakened enough to clasp his hand around hers, her brother’s, or her mother’s. For now, that kept him immediate, and so she could not think of him as a case study. Much as she feared his dying, she was stuck with it.



The next day Morgan went over to Personnel, in the main building of the hospital, to re-arrange her tithes and beneficiaries.
“Constance Morgan Shelby. Okay, here you are. Beneficiary Vik Pearce,” said the clerk. “You’ll be removing him from your insurance and your tithes?”
“Her. Yes.”
“Her? You had a same-sex beneficiary?” The woman’s gaze sharpened. Her “Contented Employee” button identified her as “Chelsea”.
“Yeah, so?”
“You’re the last one, then,” said Chelsea, putting on her bifocals to squint at the computer screen. “I hate these things,” she said. “I used to have contacts, but I can’t afford bifocal contacts. They make the bottoms heavier so they stay in your eyes the right way up, you know.”
“Have they de-insured them too?”
“Yeah. I’m going to tithe for them, but it takes time. I’m still paying off the dental surgery I had. Who’s your new beneficiary?”
“Put down my brother Robyn for now.” Morgan spelled his name.
“What about the tithe?”
“Direct it to savings. Did you know tithe means one-tenth?”
Chelsea laughed, an astonishingly loud snorting bray that made her co-workers in the open office smile: they’d obviously heard it before. “One-tenth? That’s more like what’s left over! Really?”
“Yeah, it’s old English. There was even a deal where ten people used to live in the same place and be equally responsible for upkeep and behavior.”
“Like a co-op? My parents lived in co-op housing.”
“I guess.”
Chelsea was still filling in the blanks on the database. “You broke up, huh?”
“Yeah.”
“She getting married?”
“What?”
“Most of the other same-sexes, they’re all getting married now. It’s not easy being, you know …”
“Queer?”
“Geez, I haven’t heard that in ages. Everybody says that way around here!”
Morgan grinned. “And you? Are you a friend of Dorothy’s?”
Chelsea had barrettes in her greying hair. Morgan was teasing her, but to Morgan’s surprise Chelsea blushed. “That’s even older,” she said. “My mom used to say that. Yeah, I used to be, but I sold Dorothy down the river about three years ago. I can’t afford to take tea with Dorothy any more, the way things are.”
“I’m sorry,” said Morgan. “Anything I can do?”
“Nah, I’m dating a guy from Supply and Services. It’s all right. It’s bearable. I got the promotion. I’ll be in an office with walls next week.”
“Worth it?”
“No,” said Chelsea, “but I was getting too old for the bar scene anyway, and I couldn’t go to the Community Center, the surveillance would have told my boss. So …”
Morgan nodded. “Well, ‘Dorothy’ and I split up, yeah, but she’s not getting married. She’s just getting out. I always could date anybody, but … I’m not dating right now. My dad’s in hospital …”
“Mine died last year,” said Chelsea. “It’s rough. That why your folks aren’t on the beneficiary line?”
“Guess so … . Oh, well, never mind.”
“Had a friend used to say that, when I was a kid. I’d forgotten. You been asleep for twenty years or something, you know all the old ones?”
It felt like it, but Morgan smiled. “Nah, just resting my eyes,” and was rewarded with another snort of laughter.
“You’re cute,” said Chelsea. “Too bad I gave it up.”
“It is too bad,” said Morgan, “but you gotta live in this world, right?”
“Too right,” said Chelsea. “There, I changed it so they can’t go back and find Vik. Safer that way, these days, don’t you think?”
“You can do that?” said Morgan, impressed.
“I was quite a computer geek in my youth,” said Chelsea. “Why do you think I’m getting promoted?”
“Well,” said Morgan, “have a good life.”
“Yeah, you too. And if you ever see me again, ignore me.” Chelsea was smiling, but she meant it.
“That dangerous, huh?”
“I work in a government office,” said Chelsea. “You bet.”
“Good luck,” said Morgan. She probably should have been bitter about the woman’s naked sell-out, but she only wished her well. Hard times required hard solutions.



Morgan thought of her father as the sort of person others called “a sweet guy”. Devoted to his family, kind, gentle, he worked all his life to ensure the comfort of his beloved wife, his daughter and son. Against her will, Morgan loved him dearly: against her will, because his sweetness seemed to her a parody of himself, of what he could have been if his wit, his grace had been in the service of something more than suburban life. He coulda been a contenda, she mocks herself, but even as he lies dying, consumed with the rebellion of his immature cells, she is impatient with his choices.
The resident reading the chart was new to the case. “He was a businessman?”
“Yes,” said Morgan. “And he was in service clubs, and volunteered at the AIDS Network, and coached soccer.”
Her brother had been listening, sniffling a little, staring at the erratic monitor screens, and now he said strongly, “He had an immense reverence for life—other people’s and his own.” And he went on to describe for the resident’s benefit—the tag said “Murray” but the young doctor had introduced himself as Tom, and Morgan absently noted yet another person with a name made up of first names, like herself—their father’s relentless history of goodness. The resident submitted to the Rood.
“He sounds like a fine person,” he said weakly, as Morgan’s brother wound down.
“Yeah,” said Morgan. “He’s a real sweet guy.”



Her father’s death was so quiet that they hardly noticed until the nurses and doctors ran in from the nursing station where alarms rang when the machines flatlined. Morgan would much later be glad they were all there, surrounding him. Her mother’s tears gave way to screams, and the doctors finally had to sedate her. “How will I get by alone?” her mother sobbed. “How will I live?” Morgan understood the truth of another cliché: Morgan’s heart went out to her mother. Goes out, gets lost, cannot find its way back, and instead, Morgan thought: how we all live? One breath, one pointless breath at a time.



When the police came with the news, Morgan was first angry before afraid. One more body blow felt to start with like just a low blow, and she was at the morgue identifying her mother’s body before she realized how alone she now was. Surprisingly, considering the violence with which she had died, her mother’s face was unscarred and serene. As if she had faced death with respect.
What do you know about death and disaster? she thought as the benevolent flock of locustlike paramedics, police, and ambulance drivers who had clustered around the barely living body, failing to save her, now made their clumsy apologies to Morgan. What caused the event. The people on the street who materialized from nowhere and watched with detachment. The tension built.
When it is someone you love. When it is someone who is going to die. When it is someone who dies. The tension breaks.
“Yes, that is my mother,” Morgan said, and, “I’ll call you about the arrangements.”
At the hospital where her father’s body still lay, she met her brother. He was holding the diary in which their mother had scrawled: I can’t hold up without him. It’s too much. The babies will be alright, but I have nothing … . Morgan spells it all right, edited it in her thoughts, her anger flared at the word “babies”, the idea that she and Robyn were nothing to their mother in her grief. But she saw the ruin of Robyn’s emotions in his face, and long years of training had taught her to save souls.
“It’s not conclusive,” she said. “She could have just been driving badly.”
Morgan was lying: she understood death’s appeal, but she was trapped here helping her brother stay alive. She was fairly certain her mother wasn’t so considerate.
When Morgan had the time, she would decide what she felt about that. As a rule, she suspected clichés.
After that, routine rescued them from too much thought. The police looked at the diary, but in context, in the midst of an entry that is an incoherent outpouring of raw grief, the lines Robyn had pointed out to Morgan seemed inconsequential, and they wrote “accident” on the form. If they knew how much the insurance was, thought Morgan savagely, they wouldn’t be so kind. Out of honesty, she tried to say something to the corporal, but he shook his head. “I won’t be part of an insurance investigation against a dead woman,” he said. “You’ve reported it, I’ve put it in the report—but look: it was raining, the street had oil on it, and the witnesses say she took the corner too fast. The guy in the car she just missed said she looked shocked. And your brother and you both say she wasn’t the kind to take innocent people with her. The road was crowded, and it’s pure luck that three other cars didn’t get hit. It was an accident.”
He looked at her kindly. “Don’t be angry at her,” he said. “It was an accident.”
Morgan was not so sure, but the others forced her to accept that she would never be sure.



Morgan’s aunt was the executor of the wills. She called Morgan and Robyn to her crochet-intensive home to read them the instructions.
“Dear, please don’t play with those.”
Morgan put down the blown-glass poodle she was examining and turned to her aunt, expecting her next to offer cookies and milk. No such luck.
“Of course these bits don’t apply: if my wife should predecease me—here’s the gist of it. He left it all to her except the sentimental bequests: here’s a list. It’s your mother’s will that matters to you now. She left you the house in town, Robyn, but of course she left Constance the other place.”
“Other place?” Morgan looked at Robyn but he was equally puzzled.
“The old house. It’s been empty since last fall. She had it rented to a religious group, you know.”
“Auntie,” said Robyn, “what are you talking about?”
“Oh,” said their aunt, blushing faintly, “I forgot. She never told you. It’s the place her mother left her, but there was never any money, of course. She hated it, anyway. It’s where the school was.”
“School?” It transpires that their grandparents, of whom they have been told little, had founded, and operated for a period of some years, a private charter school located in an old, historic mansion gone to seed, in the prairie city west of theirs. Her mother had now left this house to Morgan.
“I spent five years at university in Edmonton, paying rent, and she had a house there?”
“It’s not a house per se, my dears. It’s more of a … mansion. The church people’s lease was for twenty years, anyway.”
“She doesn’t say a word all our lives, and now she leaves it to me?
“She thought you might make something of it. She was talking to me about it just after your father died, you know.”
“So she was planning this.”
Her aunt was shocked. “Oh, you must never say that, dear. Such a terrible accident would never be her choice. She wanted to tell you about it finally. I convinced her it was the best thing. Whatever we felt, children deserve to know about their family history. But I suppose it doesn’t matter now, really. What matters is that there is no tenant. It’s perfect. You can sell it right away and buy something better.”
“No,” said Morgan. “I need a place to live. That will do as well as any.”



In the darkness the night before the funeral, contemplating the deaths of her parents, Morgan was suddenly bathed in light: icy, blue, fluorescing with meaning: an invisible light coldly revealing to her that she was wrong. She had been wrong about almost everything. About her parents, about Vik, about her name, herself, her brother … Only in her work had she found and held to the truth. Asam waited tonight for his surgery, Morgan waited for her parents’ funeral—but it seemed she was scheduled for surgery too.
Under the relentless light of truth she was prepared by a wash of dread, made naked, wheeled to her own judgment. The surgeon whose knives would flay her was either the unfeeling cosmos or her own broken spirit, finally ready to admit defeat. Exposing under the relentless light of the operating theater the gargoyle face of Morgan’s soul, peeling back the skin to reveal the deformities, the failures of structure.
Vik, the slightest of those. Some friends are not meant to be lovers. Morgan, knowing this much sooner than Vik, should have given her the courtesy, if nothing else—good manners, if not love—of the truth. But Morgan had lied to herself, said, I can expect no better: my passions are not realizable—and because of that lie had waited years for Vik to get sick of the deficits and find anger, with that anger to prise herself from Morgan’s ruthless charity.
From a childhood adoration which had been boundless and unassailable, Morgan had grown in adulthood to despise her father for being good. Why is good hated, and by what? Good is hated by failure, by evil, by despair because it cannot be sullied. Morgan hated him for being successful at kindness, where she always failed, and so she had let him slip away without telling him the central and more real truth, that she loved him desperately and that his kindness had kept her alive.
What Morgan had seen as neurotic, unhealthy, soft these last few days, responding to her suspicion that it was her mother’s unbelievable preference to run her car into a bridge rather than stick around to do what was expected of her, to live, Morgan now understood to simply be love: love for a simple man who chose not to be intellectual from a simple, strong, quiet woman. The yielding she had seen as his frailty was his strength, a strength Morgan didn’t have, had never had; her mother’s grief was the artifact of that same love, and Morgan had mocked it. Now she saw her own smallness instead.
The surgeon of the Universe is relentless and in this cold night she welcomed that decisive cautery. It did not occur to her to seek a second opinion, a more kindly practitioner who might have told her that extremities of grief are not always the best spotlights on the truth. Instead, she felt freed of all her unsavory attachments, like a conjoined twin whose other half is finally cut away.
Through her father’s long dying she had thought like one of the machines which tended him. She had responded to his last, tender conversations (that saying-of what-had-to-be-said imperative) but not wholeheartedly: she had chosen to be safe: safety was petty in the face of the absolutes, but she had valued it more. Through her mother’s great grief and loss Morgan had stood in judgment, thinking cool irritated thoughts about over-dramatization, about excess: reacting with ego to the realization that her mother prized her father over her children: unwilling to believe that such a great grief could exist, because unwilling to accept the love underlying it.
If I could love someone like that, Morgan groped her way to understanding, I could feel that; as it is I can only scorn it. She felt grubby and dishonest. She imagined that her mother, after death, had heard her crabbed, sour thoughts and had had one more source of grief: her daughter’s betrayal. I am sorry, Morgan offered up uselessly—while she believed in the wheel, she didn’t believe her words mattered now. Only what she did and withheld: her love withheld, her intense belief that her mother and father were the pillars of the Universe—and finally, held back in denial for all those wasted years of distance, she had come up to and accepted the grave catalog of her stupidity, ignorance, and cruelty.
Her name was part of the betrayal she had lived. In the world, she had always gone by Connie, Constance, but she was not constant. She was withholding, fluid, elusive, evasive. She had come over the years to a state where she gave nothing which cost her anything. Everything came from the surface and nothing from a loving heart, a heart which could love. I will not be Constance, a constant lie, any more, Morgan thought, and she turned to the name by which she had often thought of herself, her secret central name, Morgan, the name of the witch who betrayed. If in the depths of magic there was a true-hearted Morgan le fay about whom the Christian world had constructed a lie, our Morgan had not met her yet.
She thought of herself as the witch, thought of who the witch was: a sour, twisted, externally beautiful sorcerer who used the flesh of others for her binding spells, who fucked her brother Arthur: Morgan has not imitated her with Robyn in the bodily sense of the word, but now decides she had in the old slang sense fucked him over. By being that elder sister and not loving him as she could have, she had withheld something vital, some heart of love without which he grew into less than he could have. For a moment she saw how it could have been, her arm around the small body instead of holding him apart: the gifts she could have given him of protection, of song, of support, of acceptance: instead he had been blinded, blanded by his unimportance, had sought out insignificance and tried to live inside the lines. Perhaps even if she had tried he would have slipped away into mediocrity—but she didn’t try.
It took more time to record these reassessments in her journal than it did to have them. Morgan started by crying, but she immediately condemned the impulse as false, the tears as crocodile tears—as false as her grief, which seems only the costume of a vast disinterest. She had the right only to desolation until she learned to love those she kept at arm’s reach. She was empty and shorn of illusions. In an older time she would have cut her hair to accept it, and gone on, but she kept her desolation instead as a kind of secular penance—she didn’t think that word because she was not from that Roman Catholic tradition, even from any Christian tradition which would exact penance. She felt instead remorse: a vast repetitive wasteland of remorse, wheeling like an Einsteinian curved universe to surround her every way she looked, except one thin path back to Asam, the only being she had properly—that is to say objectively, unselfishly—loved, even a little, on the face of the whole earth.
In the years with the gargoyle children, symmetry had been the goal of countless observed surgeries, and Morgan’s cold epiphany was in this tradition. She did not question it, or the breakage needed to effect it. She would have to leave here, find a place where she could do no harm, where perhaps she could learn to improve a little eventually. Tomorrow after the funeral she would go to see Asam one last time, and before she could betray him (she knew this as a conceit, and easily upturned into another betrayal—that of desertion—by a certain acrobatics, but she can’t see another way) she would say goodbye. Then she would take her inheritance—born of the love of others—and use it to try to make recompense, living in the daily memory of her failure to understand.
Do no harm was the mantra by which she finally put herself to sleep, curled into herself in misery, Marbl—steadfast and concerned—perched on her hip. It didn’t occur to her to think that her plans were actually to do good, to act, to be active. Even if she weren’t too tired to think of it, she would not have allowed herself that hubris. At the moment humility was a fetish she had hung around the overblown neck of her recalcitrant ego as the carcase of the duckling is hung around the neck of the predatory farm dog: she understood nothing of its worth or its distortions. She was tired, she was invisible—
She was asleep: and she had no dreams.



Morgan’s brother stood beside her through the brief ceremony. At one point he buried his face in his hands, then shook himself and stood upright again.
“Go ahead,” Morgan whispered automatically. “You’ll feel better.” She herself was far away, thinking about Asam in his little room, the machines pumping. She had to think that machines can keep some life going.
The twin white coffins were grotesque and macabre. She wished her aunt had some good taste. Then she thought, with cunning and detachment, well, it’s so people can mourn better. The waxed faces were arid. She walked almost past before she realized she had better look while she could. Standing beside her father’s coffin, she gazed at the face, trying to find something. The skin was tight over the fine bones, but of course he was the color of bad stage make-up, and nothing was left of his integral tension, what made him real. Not a new thought, but what could she think? She had had no practice in last words.
She turned to her mother’s body, put her hands on the side of the coffin, leaned over slightly to look at the frail skin bolstered by make-up for the last time. She wanted to make some final gesture but she only managed to fumble and drop her damp, crumpled handkerchief into the coffin where it lay flamboyantly on the red silk. Her mother would have laughed at that. Morgan had for herself too an insane desire to laugh, insane because she knew if she laughed she would never stop, they would put her in a little room like Asam’s but softer, where she would scream and pound her thoughts out on the padded hinges and never get anywhere any more. She must stay in the void where it was safe. She picked up the handkerchief and put it in her pocket.
She had to get out of there. The rest of the relatives were waiting to file past. She turned to her brother. He was unself-conscious now about the tears that rolled down his face.
“I’m going now,” she said curtly. “I can’t stay here. I’ll call you.”
He reached a hand for her in protest but she walked away, out of the perfumed chapel into the dull sunlight. The forest fires in the north were sending a pall of smoke across the city. She thought, that’s appropriate for the burning-day.
Home, she looked around the modem apartment, where she had taken comfort in its increasing emptiness, then walked to the basement storage room to get her suitcase. It was big and made of leather; it had belonged to her mother, who used to travel on business. She quickly packed the few belongings left there. Her trunk and furnishings had already been picked up by the shippers; the cat now went into the carrier, she handed the keys in to the manager with no regret. Morgan took the bus to the hospital, a route she had ridden twice or more every day for longer than she liked to think. The driver knew her and nodded sympathetically.
“Sorry to hear about your folks,” he said. “You must be feeling pretty bad.”
She nodded wordlessly. He can’t tell, she thought. I suppose it doesn’t show. She supposed it was melodramatic to believe she didn’t exist any longer but she in fact knew that was true.
At the hospital she left her suitcase, and Marbl in her carrier, with the porter, went up to Asam’s room. The machines were silent, rolled back and hooked to nothing. The carbolizing team was making up the bed. The maid knew her, looked for a moment at her, then jerked her head aside. Gone, she meant.
There was only one place he could go. Morgan had just sent her parents there.
The supervisor was surprised to see her, and solicitous. “Are you all right to be back at work so soon?”
“No, I quit,” Morgan said.
There were a few more words but she thought as they were said, that’s the end of this story.
“Bye-bye, Connie,” the porter said as Morgan hefted the suitcase.
Bye-bye Connie, thought Morgan. She thought the smoke must have been irritating her eyes more than she knew, because she felt tears start. She walked toward the bus stop, her body twisted with the unevenly balanced weight of the luggage, her tears out of her control. She thought, I have come to the end of the route; she thought, there’s no transfer. Still she had considered somewhere else to go, had decided she would go somewhere, so she snorted at the foolishness of her own melodrama.
She would go where she had planned to go, to live in the basement flat of her parents’ house until the estate was executed, and then to this strange new home the Universe had thrust upon her. It was apparently huge, big enough to share with other orphans and failures. She would subject herself to service, and routine, and she would ignore herself as much as possible. After all, she thought, there must be a reason she was still breathing. Every thought told her to stop, every instinct perpetuated breath. She put one foot in front of the other.
She had nothing left to do but that. It Should be, she thought, all I desire.
Now, Morgan was a fugitive from the war with life. She had escaped from the world of the damned, the red brick hospital where the twisted bodies and tortured souls of the gargoyles and other ruined ones were sent to live and sometimes to die. She had escaped the wake of torment after the death of her parents. She had escaped the minor needs—to care, be cared for, to live with happiness. They were all irrelevant to her: she, her suitcase and her cat fading away into the distance rather romantically, although really it was more than a month before she could put herself on a Greyhound bus, and the journey was mundane, even ridiculous: infants crying in their mothers’ arms, large countrymen with their tractor caps cocked back on their balding heads, fussy old people insisting on the seats near the driver, pre-teenaged children with a gross sense of importance traveling alone for the first time, and Morgan.



Morgan can see that she is not human. It is clear. She has kept the external shell, but everything has been scraped out, there is a void there, an alien void, outer space made internal, and she wonders whether she will ever have the courage, or energy, to explore it. As the poet said, the energy needed to live / alone is so great.
Copyright © 2001 by Candas Jane Dorsey