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About the Author
SAMUEL R. DELANY many prizes include the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to gay and lesbian literature. Wesleyan has published both his fiction and nonfiction, including Atlantis: three tales (1995), Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics (1994), Longer Views: Extended Essays (1996), and Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary. The press has also reissued his classic science fiction and fantasy novels Dhalgren (1996), Trouble on Triton (1996, originally published as Triton), and the four-volume Return to Nevèrÿon series. Delany's non-Wesleyan books include Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999), The Mad Man (1995), They Fly at Çiron (1993), and The Motion of Light in Water (1987). NEIL GAIMAN is author of the Sandman comics and of the fantasy novel Neverwhere (1997).
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The Einstein Intersection
It darkles, (tinct, tint) all this our funanimal world.
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
I do not say, however, that every delusion or wandering of the mind should be called madness.
Erasmus of Rotterdam, The Praise of Folly
There is a hollow, holey cylinder running from hilt to point in my machete. When I blow across the mouthpiece in the handle, I make music with my blade. When all the holes are covered, the sound is sad — as rough as rough can be and be called smooth. When all the holes are open, the sound pipes about, bringing to the eye flakes of sun on water, crushed metal. There are twenty holes. And since I've been playing music I've been called all different kinds of fool — more times than Lobey, which is my name.
What I look like?
Ugly and grinning most of the time. That's a whole lot of big nose and gray eyes and wide mouth crammed on a small brown face proper for a fox. That, all scratched around with spun brass for hair. I hack most of it off every two months or so with my machete. Grows back fast. Which is odd, because I'm twenty-three and no beard yet. I have a figure like a bowling pin, thighs, calves, and feet of a man (gorilla?) twice my size (which is about five-nine) and hips to match. There was a rash of hermaphrodites the year I was born, which doctors thought I might be. Somehow I doubt it.
Like I say, ugly. My feet have toes almost as long as my fingers, and the big ones are semi-opposable. But don't knock it: once I saved Little Jon's life.
We were climbing the Beryl Face, slipping around on all that glassy rock, when Little Jon lost his footing and was dangling by one hand. I was hanging by my hands, but I stuck my foot down, grabbed him up by the wrist, and pulled him back where he could step on something.
At this point Lo Hawk folds his arms over his leather shirt, nods sagely so that his beard bobs on his ropy neck, says: "And just what were you two young Lo men doing on Beryl Face in the first place? It's dangerous, and we avoid danger, you know. The birthrate is going down, down all the time. We can't afford to lose our productive youth in foolishness." Of course it isn't going down. That's just Lo Hawk. What he means is that the number of total norms is going down. But there's plenty of births. Lo Hawk is from the generation where the number of non-functionals, idiots, mongoloids, and cretins was well over fifty percent. (We hadn't adjusted to your images yet. Ah, well.) But now there are noticeably more functionals than non-functionals; so no great concern.
Anyway, not only do I bite my fingernails disgracefully, I also bite my toenails.
And at this point I recall sitting at the entrance of the source-cave where the stream comes from the darkness and makes a sickle of light into the trees, and a blood spider big as my fist suns himself on the rock beside me, belly pulsing out from the sides of him, leaves flicking each other above. Then La Carol walks by with a sling of fruit over her shoulder and the kid under her arm (we had an argument once whether it was mine or not. One day it had my eyes, my nose, my ears. The next, "Can't you see it's Lo Easy's boy? Look how strong he is!" Then we both fell in love with other people and now we're friends again) and she makes a face and says, "Lo Lobey, what are you doing?"
"Biting my toenails. What does it look like?"
"Oh, really!" and she shakes her head and goes into the woods towards the village.
But right now I prefer to sit on the flat rock, sleep, think, gnaw, or sharpen my machete. It's my privilege, so La Dire tells me.
Until a little while ago, Lo Little Jon, Lo Easy, and Lo me herded goats together (which is what we were doing on the Beryl Face: looking for pasture). We made quite a trio. Little Jon, though a year older than me, will till death look like a small black fourteen-year-old with skin smooth as volcanic glass. He sweats through his palms, the soles of his feet, and his tongue. (No real sweat glands: piddles like a diabetic on the first day of winter, or a very nervous dog.) He's got silver mesh for hair — not white, silver. The pigment's based on the metal pure; the black skin comes from a protein formed around the oxide. None of that rusty iron brown of melanin that suntans you and me. He sings, being a little simple, running and jumping around the rocks and goats, flashing from head and groin and armpits, then stops to cock his leg (like a nervous dog, yeah) against a tree-trunk, glancing around with embarrassed black eyes. Smiling, those eyes fling as much light, on a different frequency, as his glittering head. He's got claws — hard, sharp horny ones, where I have nubs. He's not a good Lo to have mad at you.
Easy, on the other hand, is large (about eight feet tall), furry (umber hair curls all down the small of his back, makes ringlets on his belly), strong (that three hundred and twenty-six pounds of Easy is really a lot of rock jammed jagged into his pelt: his muscles have corners), and gentle. Once I got angry at him when one of the fertile nannies fell down a rock chimney.
I saw it coming. The ewe was the big blind one who had been giving us perfect norm triplets for eight years. I stood on one foot and threw rocks and sticks with the other three limbs. It takes a rock on the head to get Easy's attention; he was much closer than I was.
"Watch it, you non-functional, lost-Lo mongoloid! She's gonna fall in the —" At which point she did.
Easy stopped looking at me with his what-are-you-throwing-stones-at-me-for? face, saw her scrabbling at the edge, dove for her, missed, and both of them started bleating. I put my all behind the rock that caught him on the hip and almost cried. Easy did.
He crouched at the chimney edge, tears wetting the fur on his cheeks. The ewe had broken her neck at the chimney's bottom. Easy looked up and said, "Don't hurt me no more, Lobey. That" — he knuckled his blue eyes, then pointed down — "hurts too much already." What can you do with a Lo like that? Easy has claws too. All he ever uses them for is to climb the titan palms and tear down mangoes for the children.
Generally we did a good job with the goats, though. Once Little Jon leaped from the branch of an oak to the back of a lion and tore out its throat before it got to the herd (and rose from the carcass, shook himself, and went behind a rock, glancing over his shoulder). And as gentle as he is, Easy crushed a blackbear's head with a log. And I got my machete, all ambidextrous, left footed, right handed, or vice versa. Yeah, we did a good job.
Not no more.
What happened was Friza.
"Friza" or "La Friza" was always a point of debate with the older folk-doctors and the elders who have to pass on titles. She looked normal: slim, brown, full mouth, wide nose, brass-colored eyes. I think she may have been born with six fingers on one hand, but the odd one was non-functional, so a travelling doctor amputated it. Her hair was tight, springy, and black. She kept it short, though once she found some red cord and wove it through. That day she wore bracelets and copper beads, strings and strings. She was beautiful.
And silent. When she was a baby, she was put in the kage with the other non-functionals because she didn't move. No La. Then a keeper discovered she didn't move because she already knew how; she was agile as a squirrel's shadow. She was taken out of the kage. Got back her La. But she never spoke. So at age eight, when it was obvious that the beautiful orphan was mute, away went her La. They couldn't very well put her back in the kage. Functional she was, making baskets, plowing, an expert huntress with the bolas. That's when there was all the debate.
Lo Hawk upheld: "In my day, La and Lo were reserved for total norms. We've been very lax, giving this title of purity to any functional who happens to have the misfortune to be born in these confusing times."
To which La Dire replied: "Times change, and it has been an unspoken precedent for thirty years that La and Lo be bestowed on any functional creature born in this our new home. The question is merely how far to extend the definition of functionality. Is the ability to communicate verbally its sine qua non? She is intelligent and she learns quickly and thoroughly. I move for La Friza."
The girl sat and played with white pebbles by the fire while they discussed her social standing.
"The beginning of the end, the beginning of the end," muttered Lo Hawk. "We must preserve something."
"The end of the beginning," sighed La Dire. "Everything must change." Which had been their standing exchange as long as I remember.
Once, before I was born, so goes the story, Lo Hawk grew disgruntled with village life and left. Rumors came back: he'd gone to a moon of Jupiter to dig out some metal that wormed in blue veins through the rock. Later: he'd left the Jovian satellite to sail a steaming sea on some world where three suns cast his shadows on the doffing deck of a ship bigger than our whole village. Still later: he was reported chopping away through a substance that melted to poisonous fumes someplace so far there were no stars at all during the year-long nights. When he had been away seven years, La Dire apparently decided it was time he came back. She left the village and returned a week later — with Lo Hawk. They say he hadn't changed much, so nobody asked him about where he'd been. But from his return dated the quiet argument that joined La Dire and Lo Hawk faster than love.
"... must preserve," Lo Hawk.
"... must change," La Dire.
Usually Lo Hawk gave in, for La Dire was a woman of wide reading, great culture, and wit; Lo Hawk had been a fine hunter in his youth and a fine warrior when there was need. And he was wise enough to admit in action, if not words, that such need had gone. But this time Lo Hawk was adamant:
"Communication is vital, if we are ever to become human beings. I would sooner allow some short-faced dog who comes from the hills and can approximate forty of fifty of our words to make known his wishes, than a mute child. Oh, the battles my youth has seen! When we fought off the giant spiders, or when the wave of fungus swept from the jungle, or when we destroyed with lime and salt the twenty-foot slugs that pushed up from the ground, we won these battles because we could speak to one another, shout instructions, bellow a warning, whisper plans in the twilit darkness of the source-caves. Yes, I would sooner give La or Lo to a talking dog!"
Somebody made a nasty comment: "Well, you couldn't very well give her a Le!" People snickered. But the older folk are very good at ignoring that sort of irreverence. Everybody ignores a Le anyway. Anyway, the business never did get settled. Towards moondown people wandered off, when somebody suggested adjournment. Everyone creaked and groaned to his feet. Friza, dark and beautiful, was still playing with the pebbles.
Friza didn't move when a baby because she knew how already. Watching her in the flicker (I was only eight myself) I got the first hint why she didn't talk: she picked up one of the pebbles and hurled it, viciously, at the head of the guy who'd made the remark about "Le." Even at eight she was sensitive. She missed, and I alone saw. But I saw too the snarl that twisted her face, the effort in her shoulders, the way her toes curled — she was sitting crosslegged — as she threw it. Both fists were knotted in her lap. You see, she didn't use her hands or feet. The pebble just rose from the dirt, shot through the air, missed its target, and chattered away through low leaves. But I saw: she threw it.
Each night for a week I have lingered on the wild flags of the waterfront, palaces crowding to the left, brittle light crackling over the harbor in the warm autumn. TEI goes strangely. Tonight when I turned back into the great trapezoid of the Piazza, fog hid the tops of the red flagpoles. I sat on the base of one nearest the tower and made notes on Lobey's hungers. Later I left the decaying gold and indigo of the Basilica and wandered through the back alleys of the city till well after midnight. Once I stopped on a bridge to watch the small canal drift through the close walls beneath the night-lamps and clotheslines. At a sudden shrieking I whirled: half a dozen wailing cats hurled themselves about my feet and fled after a brown rat. Chills snarled the nerves along my vertebrae. I looked back at the water: six flowers — roses — floated from beneath the bridge, crawling over the oil. I watched them till a motorboat puttering on some larger waterway nearby sent water slapping the foundations. I made my way over the small bridges to the Grand Canal and caught the Vaporetto back to Ferovia. It turned windy as we floated beneath the black wood arch of the Ponte Academia; I was trying to assimilate the flowers, the vicious animals, with Lobey's adventure — each applies, but as yet I don't quite know how. Orion straddled the water. Lights from the shore shook in the canal as we passed beneath the dripping stones of the Rialto.
Writer's Journal, Venice, October 1965
In a few lines I shall establish how Maldoror was virtuous during his first years, virtuous and happy. Later he became aware he was born evil. Strange fatality!
Isidore Ducasse (Comte de Lautreamont),
The Songs of Maldoror
All prologue to why Lo Easy, Lo Little John, and Lo me don't herd goats no more.
Friza started tagging along, dark and ambiguous, running and jumping with Little Jon in a double dance to his single song and my music, play-wrestling with Easy, and walking with me up the brambly meadow holding my hand — whoever heard of La-ing or Lo-ing somebody you're herding goats with, or laughing with, or making love with. All of which I did with Friza. She would turn on a rock to stare at me with leaves shaking beside her face. Or come tearing towards me through the stones; between her graceful gait and her shadow in the rocks all suspended and real motion was. And was released when she was in my arms laughing — the one sound she did make, loving it in her mouth.
She brought me beautiful things. And kept the dangerous away. I think she did it the same way she threw the pebble. One day I noticed that ugly and harmful things just weren't happening: no lions, no condor bats. The goats stayed together; the kids didn't get lost and kept from cliffs.
"Little Jon, you don't have to come up this morning."
"Well, Lobey, if you don't think —"
"Go on, stay home."
So Easy, Friza, and me went out with the goats.
The beautiful things were like the flock of albino hawks that moved to the meadow. Or the mother woodchuck who brought her babies for us to see.
"Easy, there isn't enough work for all of us here. Why don't you find something else to do?"
"But I like coming up here, Lobey."
"Friza and me can take care of the herd."
"But I don't mi —"
"Get lost, Easy."
He said something else and I picked up a stone in my foot and hefted it. He looked confused, then lumbered away. Imagine, coming on like that with Easy.
Friza and I had the field and the herd to ourselves alone. It stayed good and beautiful with unremembered flowers beyond rises when we ran. If there were poisonous snakes, they turned off in lengths of scarlet, never coiling. And, ah! did I make music.
Something killed her.
She was hiding under a grove of lazy willows, the trees that droop lower than weeping, and I was searching and calling and grinning — she shrieked. That's the only sound I ever heard her make other than laughter. The goats began to bleat.
I found her under the tree, face in the dirt.
As the goats bleated, the meadow went to pieces on their rasping noise. I was silent, confused, amazed by my despair.
I carried her back to the village. I remember La Dire's face as I walked into the village square with the limber body in my arms.
"Lobey, what in the world ... How did she ... Oh, no! Lobey, no!"
So Easy and Little Jon took the herd again. I went and sat at the entrance to the source-cave, sharpened my blade, gnawed my nails, slept and thought alone on the flat rock. Which is where we began.
Once Easy came to talk to me.
"Hey, Lobey, help us with the goats. The lions are back. Not a lot of them, but we could still use you." He squatted, still towering me by a foot, shook his head. "Poor Lobey." He ran his hairy fingers over my neck. "We need you. You need us. Help us hunt for the two missing kids?"
"Poor Lobey." But he went.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Einstein Intersection"
Copyright © 1967 Samuel R. Delany.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
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