It’s time for another fresh piece of fiction here at Futurismic, and this one’s something quite unique. “Awakening in Six Parts” is a hugely immersive and somewhat gonzo tale about dreams, mathematics and relationships, set in a tomorrow whose strangeness only emphasises its plausibility. Karen M Roberts has created something that is mysterious and revelatory at once; this story has been haunting my own sleep since I first read it, and I hope it does the same for you. Enjoy!
Awakening in Six Parts
by Karen M. Roberts
It wasn’t precisely forbidden for a husband and a wife to discuss their dreams, but it wasn’t the sort of thing decent people did. Max’s coffee cup rattled against the saucer when Claudette raised the topic over breakfast.
“I think my night owl is defective.” Inside her teacup, some leaves had escaped the strainer. She rocked the cup in her hands, watching them swirl.
Without lifting his eyes from the editorials page, Max said, “Did you run it through the diagnostic programme?”
“It flew off before I had the chance. But the dreams, they were… ” Claudette broke off, unable to make sense of the vivid and impossible images that crowded on her tongue. “Do you ever have unsettling dreams?” She peered across the laminate tabletop. Max raised the page of newsprint closer to his nose.
The lucid dreams provided by the night owls were realistic and recurring, a secondary life experienced while the body rested. Who had designed the owls no one knew; they had simply arrived, winging down with the gift of pleasure without consequence, of fulfillment without price. Claudette had never spoken to Max about her dream husbands, and she had no desire to know about the fantasy women with whom he spent his nights.
Max mumbled, “I don’t remember.” Morning sunlight filtered through from Max’s side of the newspaper. Claudette could almost make out the reversed words.
He said, “Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of hookah mix for Jane and Gary’s party tonight.”
“Is Jane allergic to gooseberries?”
“I think that was Naia.”
Claudette’s shoulders tightened at the name. She set her teacup on the table.
A woman would have known to stop talking, but Max soldiered on. “We haven’t heard from Naia for a while. Maybe I should call her. Do you remember when–”
“I remember her, Max.” She dipped her teaspoon in the honey. It tasted of pomegranate and clover. “Gallargos has the best hookah mix. I’ll go there this afternoon.”
Bits of toast crumbled to the floor. She didn’t sweep them up.
The bio-pigments had made checkerboard patterns on Claudette’s cheeks again. She scowled at her reflection and wrote Heart’s on the back of a takeout receipt. A dose of Pi-tox would dull the skinbots into dormancy for weeks at a time, but once they’d settled into a person’s dermis they were there for good. Thanks, Naia, she thought bitterly.
“After Gallargos, we’ll stop by Heart’s, my nasty little friends. And no spelling words.”
She snatched up her passcard, shoulder bag, and a filmy cinnabar scarf, which she wrapped around her careful curls. Checkerboards. It reminded her of something. A book?
Her fingers searched out the pen and blindly scribbled Library.
The workday over, Claudette propped an elbow on the fused glass counter of Heart’s Beauty Boutique, her fingers tapping impatiently. Hookah mix for twelve already lay nestled in her bag. She’d skipped the library because she was running late.
“Cool Pi’s,” said the clerk, before taking in Claudette’s stance and professional tailored jacket. Barely skipping a beat, he smoothly shifted gears. “You’ll be wanting those little buggers to nap, then?”
“For as long as possible.” Anticipating his question she added, “They’re Carlyle’s strain.”
The clerk nodded and reached beneath the counter for a slim tube of ointment. “The cream has an efficacy period of approximately twenty days.” He had skinbots too; they were jumping about distractingly beneath his eyes. “What do you call that design?” he asked.
Claudette whisked her passcard through the laser and tucked the ointment into her shoulder bag. She glanced down into a mirror on the countertop. Spirals with branching, filigreed arms coiled against each eyelid, and down across the apples of her cheeks.
“Fractals,” she said, wondering about the last time she’d heard the term.
Before the door chimes had even finished their welcome dance, Max called from the bedroom. “We should be walking out the door in two minutes.”
“It’ll have to be ten.” In front of the hallway mirror, Claudette slathered Pi-tox ointment across her face and throat, meticulously working it into every centimeter of her skin.
“Why do you do that?” Max said, coming down the stairs, his coat already draped over his arm. “The patterns are beautiful, and it’s fabulously trendy. Gary said that Jane was thinking of having it done.”
“This was done to me.” She flung the ointment tube down and stalked upstairs. Her dream husbands never treated her like Max did. In the bathroom, she scrubbed her hands free of the leftover ointment. At the dimple of her cheek a square seemed to fold over on itself.
Her hands shook slightly; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so snappish. Go to bed, she thought. That’d be better than sucking hookah while Jane coveted the mechanical parasites under her skin.
At the sound of Max pacing in the hall, she discarded her work clothes on the bathroom floor and stepped into the shower for a quick steam refresher. Her hands crisscrossed her belly, breasts, and groin. The touch reminded her that she hadn’t had a dream husband in weeks.
In the bedroom after a steam that wasn’t nearly long enough, she ran a hand along her pillow, where one slender filoplume rested. She fingered the trio of short barbs at one end, and the hollow shaft, through which the night owl’s synthetic neurotransmitters were delivered. In her mind she recalled a shifting panoply of abstract forms that existed without reference to size or distance. What had she been dreaming about?
She wrapped a colorful sarong about her waist, and tied the matching halter behind her neck. The feather, she tucked neatly into a fold at her waist, a hope and symbol for a dreamlike -that is to say, a perfect -evening.
Max sulked, because they had missed the seven-thirty train. The next had come just ten minutes later, but you’d never have known it from the way he’d drummed his foot against the station floor.
“Relax,” Claudette said to him once they were seated on the train.
“I don’t ask you for much, do I? I like to be on time.”
“My errands ran longer than expected.”
“Because you had to buy that face stuff.” Max had made no secret of the fact he found the Pi’s erotic. “Did you ever consider what I–”
“We’ll get there soon enough.” Outside the window, lights flashed past at regular intervals.
Max quieted. Perhaps he sensed her mood, although, with a wry pucker of her lips, Claudette admitted it wasn’t likely.
“Whatever you do,” Max said at length, “don’t talk about your dreams at the party.”
She turned her head slightly. “Do you think I’ve no manners at all?”
“I think you like to express yourself. Particularly at parties.”
Claudette grumbled, “If Naia’s there, I’ll express myself. Then I’ll let it fly.”
“You hold too many grudges,” Max said. “Come on. We’re here.”
It was one of Jane’s larger parties; entertainment globes floated around an unwieldy mass of bodies, the scaled rhythms of each globe overlapping with the others to create melodies unique to this night. From experience, Claudette knew that the tunes would linger in the mind for days afterward.
Max had found the appetizer trays already and was making himself at home with a pair of old friends from Gary’s hockey betting pool. Claudette waved once in his direction, though he didn’t see her. It was doubtful that they’d meet again before the party’s end. She sank onto the corner sofa, shifting a plate of half-eaten canapés to one side. An entertainment globe bumped against her head, showering her with pink pheromonal mist.
“I’m a girl, you nitwit.” She pushed the globe away into the crowd of dancers.
A young woman in a blue and gold sari sidled over to the sofa. “Are you Claudette? Jane said I should come talk to you.” Her lips parted nervously in a smile.
This was one of Jane’s favorite games; put two people together until they figure out what they have in common. Claudette patted the couch next to her, then opened with, “My favorite color is orange.”
The sari woman wrinkled her nose in confusion, but sat and offered, “Blue for me.”
Of course it was.
“My name’s Skylar.”
Of course it was.
“It’s your turn,” said Claudette.
“To tell me something about yourself.”
“Oh. It’s my first time at one of these parties.”
Skylar bounced a little on the couch as she tucked up her legs. She tilted her head to the side. “I like to climb buildings. Not the outside part, but up the stairs, to the very top. Out onto the roof, where the birds live.”
The girl was so frightfully innocent.
“I like to take the elevator, and I rarely go outside.”
The game went on in this way for some time, Claudette and Skylar swapping likes and dislikes that illustrated the disparity between them. As the evening wore on, Claudette sank deeper into the sofa cushions. Bored and sleepy, she began to consider using the obvious exit strategy: I’m a woman. She closed her eyes.
“I don’t have a night owl.”
Claudette sat up, a tiny adrenaline surge kicking her body to full wakefulness. “What? You don’t… ”
“Don’t have one,” Skylar said cheerily, with neither flinch nor hesitation to acknowledge her violation of the dream taboo.
“I do.” Claudette answered. She shifted her gaze off, away from Skylar’s wide and sympathetic eyes. A pair of entertainment globes were humming in harmony, the treble line smooth while the bass line stepped from note to note in an ordered pattern.
“Do you hear it?” Claudette said to Skylar. “How the notes fall, they way they move from one to the next? It’s a perfect progression.”
“I hear it.”
Claudette missed the grand conclusion of her game, so rapt was she on the patterned tones. “It’s just like in my… ” Claudette caught herself before she finished the sentence, arms and face suddenly hot. My dream.
“I remembered it, that’s all. Must be from another one of Jane’s parties.”
“Do you have a night owl, Claudette? Because you seem to me like one of the people who… maybe you wouldn’t.”
“I… ” Claudette reached out and took hold of Skylar’s hand. “I do have one.” And she saw pity in the younger woman’s eyes, and somehow, she didn’t mind.
Naia showed up at the party, of course, and with her usual gall captured Max for an escort. They made wide rounds of the room while Claudette nestled with Skylar and pretended not to notice.
“So, how’re you two getting along?”
Jane squished herself onto the sofa on the far side of Skylar. Her eyes took in Claudette and Skylar’s twined fingers and the overlap of leg and shoulder.
“We both like the entertainment globes,” said Skylar.
“Do you now?” Jane gave Claudette a sideways glance. “You’ve got hearts on your cheeks, in case you didn’t know.”
Claudette’s eyes widened, then she dove for her bag. In her little pocket mirror, she regarded her face, cursing under her breath.
“It’s not so bad,” Skylar said. “I think they’re pretty.”
“Found a friend?” came a melodious, snide voice.
Claudette took in the flawless sweep of smooth black hair. She followed it up to the sharp-jawed face and across to the arm which clutched Max like a possession.
In slow motion, she remembered the movement of Naia’s steel-clad fingertips, the shallow deliberate slice across her cheek, the little pucker of the lips that pronounced the curse with a motion identical to a kiss.
Claudette blinked away the memory and said, “It’s the pheromones. No telling what kind of madness a person might engage in, and with whom.” With feigned carelessness, she reached for a lock of Skylar’s hair, coiling it around her finger. She deliberately ignored Max.
“Are you still putting in hours at the office these days?” asked Naia, poison underneath the honey.
“I don’t know how you do it. It leaves so little time for the pleasures of the day.” Naia flicked her fingernail extensions of Damascus steel. A hidden switch released a cascade of tiny spheres that levitated from the Persian weave chain that looped about her hips; they swirled about her head like elfin stars. She clutched Max’s arm a little more tightly.
Claudette lurched to her feet and glared down from the four-inch advantage she had on Naia. Her eyes made razor darts over Naia’s brown and golden irises, remembering that they’d been friends once, remembering the cruelty of Naia’s laugh. Claudette’s fingers were already curled into fists. Too late, Max tried to disengage himself from Naia’s arm in a futile effort to stop the inevitable, thoroughly satisfying, utterly painful smack of Claudette’s fist against Naia’s perfect cheekbone.
Max flung his party clothes in the direction of the hamper, missed, and stalked across the room.
“I still can’t believe you punched her.”
Claudette looked up, an ice pack pressed between her cheek and her swollen knuckles. “You said that before.”
“You’ve never acted that way.” His voice accused her.
“She was hitting on you, Max.”
“So? I didn’t say anything about that little what’s-her-name.”
“Skylar. And it wasn’t sexual. We only talked. You remember talking?”
He harrumphed, dumped his clothes into the hamper and headed for the bathroom. Her work clothes came flying through the door.
Claudette’s face felt flayed open, pulverized, as if the skin had only afterward been stretched back into place. She reclined against her pillow, eyes jumping randomly from star to star in the simulated night sky overhead.
A swooping owl feathered in shades of rain and cloud passed through the lintel of the window, followed by a second, darker companion. She lowered the ice pack and reached out to stroke the artificial feathers of her owl.
Max stumbled toward the bed, his teeth brushed, his body and hair still scented from the strawberry hookah he’d shared with Naia. But Claudette had bought it for him, his favorite flavor. That was something.
The feathers were soft under her hand. The owls never failed to present themselves to their imprinted owners in the moments just before sleep. “Do you wonder where the owls go during the day? How they know when to come?”
“They’re nocturnal.” His grumpy voice mumbled from beneath the sheet. “They go somewhere to sleep.” He waved a hand toward his dusky owl, and the wall sconces began to dim.
“Max.” Her face still throbbed, but her fingers crept over the mounds and valleys of his shoulder blades, reaching past his ribs to the soft bulge of his belly.
“Do you want to… ”
“I’m too tired, Claudette. Maybe another night.”
“Sure.” Her hands lingered, then withdrew.
She rolled onto her back and waited for the throbbing of her head to crest over into sleep. Send me a good dream, owl. I’ve had enough of today.
In dream, Claudette tumbles landscapes through her fingers; a countryside reveals itself in shades and angles; the angles fold along with the space that anchors them until they meet and form the whole.
In light beyond sight, rushing particles slip into parallel arrangements that regress to a vanishing point.
Her eyes perceive the wavelengths for the first time as the ordered elemental structures they are; she walks among them, now small as they overpass her, radiant colors formulating a mystery in which red cut by a quarter shades to blue.
She weeps for the complexity of a spare three-lined, three-pointed triangle, for the triad and what it means – a wordless epiphany that language cannot convey.
“What are you scribbling at?” asks Max from behind his newspaper.
Claudette looks down at the numbers she has written: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144. Her hand stops in the act of writing the next number, 233. When did she learn these numbers? Why do they give her such a feeling of completion even as they stand unfinished? Her pen traces the last curve of the three. 377; she writes it down. Clinging to her hand below the wrist is a filoplume, white and weightless. But if she had a scale sensitive enough, she knows she’d find a measurement that would capture the lightness of its touch upon her skin.
“You’re going to be late to the office,” says Max from behind his coffee cup.
“The cream you sold me is defective.” Claudette placed the well-squeezed tube onto the boutique counter. Blue bubbles intersected with red at intervals within the glass. She checked her watch.
The Heart’s clerk with the dancing facebots lifted the tube and squinted at her cheeks, dotted in what appeared to be random patterns, although Claudette knew better.
“These are Carlyle Pi’s?”
Claudette nodded, feeling the minutes of her lunch hour tick away.
The clerk tapped his fingers on the counter, squinting at the label and the manufacturer’s instructions. “Five minutes. I want to check something.” He disappeared into the manager’s office.
Claudette swiveled to lean backwards against the counter, elbows propped. Foot traffic passed by the boutique door in pairs and singletons, a clump of bodies every other minute as the traffic signal changed. She found herself anticipating the next person that would pass into her view, capturing their colors with her eyes: blue, white, yellow accompanied by red, a passel of dark blacks and grays, white, salmon, black, black, rose, a dash of orange.
“Okay,” said the clerk.
“Your Pi’s have developed a defense to the hibernation agent in the cream. It happens sometimes, once they’ve established a good, strong colony. The little buggers start talking to each other and throw off the hibernation.”
“Talking to each other?”
“There’s an alternative treatment, but I’ll have to special order it. Should take ten business days.”
Claudette tried to wrap her mind around the fact that her Pi’s were working together, struggling for wakefulness against her will.
“So, do you want me to order it?”
Of course she wanted it. She told him so. And yet, for just a moment – not long enough for the clerk to notice, but long enough for her to surprise herself – she hesitated.
That Friday Jane and Gary held a dinner party, an intimate affair for fourteen with ink-calligraphed placecards and tableware laid out in a precise arrangement. She sat across from Max and drank her tea when served, turning politely to the gentlemen on either side for conversation. The genders separated after dinner: the women to the parlor for more tea, the men to partake of ritualistic tobacco and drink.
Naia was not there, a fact that aroused in Claudette a warm gratitude toward Jane. This helped her endure a round of teasing about her snuggle with Skylar at the last party; soon enough the conversation swirled away to other things, voices chattering over one another in seemingly divergent conversations. Claudette found herself wondering what her Pi’s were up to, but resisted the lure of bag and mirror.
Yes, yes, the men this, the men that…
Blocks interweave and build a universe of which she is the barest part, yet in it she comprehends all. A simple loop returns her to herself, but inverted, an experience that violates causality; she walks it. She lives it. And beyond this, the toroidal forms, into which holes she flings herself in hope that she will find herself on the other side.
Even darkness has a number; even the irrational has a number; even Claudette has a number. She measures out herself and finds the differential between a linear and an elliptical existence.
Claudette sorts the cereal by stars and moons. She ponders the ratios set forth by the manufacturer. Are moons so very popular to outnumber stars as they do? Or will the next box tilt and subvert expectation?
Without looking, she already knows the Pi’s are moving into celestial forms. They have acquired an instinct for her moods.
From behind the cereal box, Max reminds her that she hasn’t yet apologized to Naia.
“Take your cup out of my face,” said Naia to the shaggy man on the library steps, “or I’ll shave your beard by hand.” Not an idle threat – not with those nails of hers.
With a measure of guilt, Claudette remembered a time when she’d thought of Naia’s threats as funny, when she’d laughed at the sophisticate assassinations that flowed so readily from Naia’s tongue. The world had seemed less real – not so long ago, really – when the night owl dreams of husbands and gardens were more specific than her waking life.
From the sidewalk, she watched Naia mount the library steps; she didn’t think the other woman had seen her. It was strange to bump against her here, where they’d taken their lunch breaks before Naia grew bored of the gilded cage of corporate life. Some patterns stay the same even after a point of divergence.
Inside, Claudette wandered amid the stacks, a takeout receipt in her hand that read Library, but without the memory of why she’d written it. All she could think to do was wander along the shelves, charting the ratios of red bindings to blue.
A librarian with a cart of new-bound books passed by her, once, twice. The wheels squeaked softly against the tiles. On the third pass, the librarian said, “You look lost.”
“Do you have anything on the history of Pi’s?”
The librarian sent her to the cooking section. Remembering that Naia’s unforgiving attitude had preceded her, Claudette made sure to thank the librarian for her help.
Jane, Gary, and their guests played at cards on felt tables, green and spongy. Max sat beside her at the Whist table as cards were dealt into her hand.
“Excuse me,” she said to the dealer. “This is a joker.” She handed back the card and received a new one.
She flipped it over. “That’s a joker too. Maybe you should check the deck.”
“Not while the hand is in play,” said the dealer. “Here’s another.”
At the third joker, Claudette rose from the table; her chair crashed to the floor behind her. Everybody turned.
“I hate these parties,” she said in a loud voice. “I hate these games.”
Naia leaned back from the Canasta table. She shook her head at Max. At Max. He jerked his eyes away in the microsecond before Claudette came down on him.
“Are you laughing? Stay, then. I’m going home.”
A point exists in isolation.
Two points, and – Ah! – between them Claudette perceives an infinitude beyond dimension. Perspective helixes into all the possibilities of light and space, and the thing – though she cannot see it – that lies beyond light and space. She cuts the circle of her world and discovers a shining number that stretches to the horizon before capture – swirling, striving for a parabolic arc about the dark threshold.
Max whispers into the vidphone, thinking that Claudette won’t notice. She chants the ones and zeros as she calculates a number that stretches across three paper takeout napkins. She’s going to need another. Her arm stretches back toward the pile on the kitchen counter, an angle of approximately fifty-five degrees from the median.
She catches one word: trivial. Her pen crosses the border of another napkin.
Jane lounged on Claudette’s desk in the lazy afternoon, the time of day when there was nothing that couldn’t be put off until tomorrow.
“So, I invited Esteban to the party tomorrow night. He’s the new guy in HR, and he told me that Corporate is thinking of adding an anti-Pi clause to the dress code. Unprofessional, they say.” She shrugged her shoulders.
Claudette glanced over the half-wall of her pod, toward the corner office that came as a perk with the promotion for which she’d been passed over. She couldn’t prove it was the Pi’s that had done it, but she carried a suspicion. She worried that her newly resistant strain of Pi’s would get her fired.
“They won’t fire you.”
Claudette looked up. Had she spoken aloud?
Jane reclined further, clasping her hands behind her head. “They’ve got a grandfather thingy. If you already have the Pi’s before a certain date, they can’t penalize you. What about the variety you’ve got? Would you recommend it?”
Claudette shook her head. Something fluttered at the periphery of her vision.
Jane shut her eyes. “You are coming to the party tomorrow night, aren’t you? Skylar will be there.”
Claudette tried to make an excuse about Max. The emotional space between them seemed farther than ever. She wondered sometimes if she was imagining it; she’d never been so long without a dream husband. For the nth time she reminded herself to run the diagnostic on her night owl.
She wondered if Jane would fall asleep; she asked, “If Gary had a dream wife, would it bother you?” The question was a scandal, just one step removed from actually asking Jane about her own private dreams.
Jane’s eyes popped open. Her lips parted and hung in air. “Aren’t you the little radical?”
“If he had the same one every night, went back to her?”
Jane settled her arms down by her sides, and sat up, her legs crossed primly at the ankle. “Men never do.” Her eyes settled on a space past Claudette’s shoulder, and she bobbed a quizzical head in that direction.
Lowering her chin toward her right shoulder, Claudette slowly turned to see what Jane was staring at.
Stormy feathers fluffed out, Claudette’s owl perched behind her on the half-wall of her pod, blinking dishplate eyes.
“Go away,” she told it. “I’m not sleeping.”
Claudette dropped her passcard, shoulder bag and scarf on the hall table and headed for the kitchen. In the mirror she caught a glimpse of the Pi’s, which had settled into a somber, braided pattern. The special-ordered cream lay in her shoulder bag, its seal not yet broken. Bots. Dots. Spots. Plots. Oughts. The words formed a rhythm in her head as she marched through the living room. Frozen anything was on the menu for tonight, and a full-bodied glass of Australian wine.
She’d start with the wine.
“You’ve got to get that bird checked out,” Max said, leaning out of the understair closet they referred to as the study.
A thud shook the ceiling above. Claudette’s eyes shot up, her ears listening for the noise to repeat. When nothing happened for a minute, she asked, “Did it come here?”
“At four o’clock.” His eyes had a glazed, self-medicated look. “I’m going to be in here.”
Three thuds in a row. Claudette grimaced at the ceiling. Max shut the door behind himself.
Upstairs, she confronted the owl, which stopped swooping around the room when she appeared. “You’re terrorizing Max, you know.”
The owl balanced on one foot.
“Is that supposed to be an apology? And what happened to my dream husbands? It’s not like the one I’ve got is such a prize.” She crawled onto the bed, wrapping herself in the blanket as she did. Her clogs slipped down onto the floor, with a pair of heavy clunks.
She grinned. “He’ll probably think that was you.”
Her eyes crisscrossed the ceiling, connecting virtual stars with imagined arcs and lines. She saw faces, serpents, mountains. Patterns she’d never noticed in the three years since she and Max moved in.
“It’s not that I dislike the dreams,” she told the owl. “But they don’t mean anything.”
The owl suddenly hurtled down the stairs, and crashed its body into what had to be the study door.
Claudette giggled, stifling the unforgivable sound against a pillow.
When the owl returned to the room, she addressed it seriously. “I shouldn’t laugh. If he were sleeping with Naia it would be one thing, but he isn’t. Only the dream girls. And I can’t blame him for those. We’ve been living in parallel, he and I, but that’s not a marriage.”
She shook off the blanket.
“You owls are smarter than we think you are.” She worried at her lower lip. “If I asked you for a dream husband, you would give one to me, wouldn’t you?”
Polyhedral conversations iterate under skies that billow, each word a solid form, each ordered argument a world.
The proof she seeks is rendered in deterministic lines, in arcs that ripple outward, wake lapping over wake. She sees a simple square, and dwells within, rejoicing at the merging with another; the new space that they encompass far exceeds the simple sum of single life and single life.
She shifts worlds like matchsticks, some part of her mind recalling that this argument – she thinks it might be called the hypothesis of Pi – belongs at the forefront of all others. She carries this matchstick forward, but a ratio of golden immutability forces the argument from her by degrees. Irrational. Axiomatic. Equilibria. The Empty Set.
Claudette brings light into the kitchen. Mirrors capture and reflect, light refracting one to the next, building, arcing, brightening. She does not look at her reflection, but at the effect of light upon her skin, the table, the vase of dried flowers and the newspaper Max is holding. Rainbows prism through droplets of sprinkler water and a pair of crystal earrings she has taped onto the windowpane.
A rhythmic tapping on the kitchen door. She parts the curtain. Skylar.
The young woman begins timidly, “I hope… Jane said… ”
Claudette smiles and flings the door 180. Skylar enters the equation.
“Are you coming to the party tonight?” asks Skylar.
Max shuffles his feet and sighs from behind the newspaper.
Claudette smiles with just a corner of her mouth and says, “Uncertain.”
She sends Skylar off with a thermos and a teacake then returns upstairs, to where the owl is waiting. She runs a hand over the bedclothes, her pillow. They are bare of feathers.
“The dreams I had last night, they were my own.”
The owl says nothing. It is not, after all, a talking owl.
“I guess it’s time for you to go, then. Home, if you have one. I won’t be needing you again.”
The owl hops forward, onto the tousled bedclothes. She strokes its soft feathers.
When it glides from the window, a night owl soaring into day, her eyes follow it up and up until it is a speck against the sun-bright sky. Claudette lays a hand on her cheek, and knows the Pi’s have drawn wings for her. She’ll let them stay awake.
The evening air is bright and cold at the top of the Corporation building. Somewhere below, Max steps into Jane’s living room. Maybe he meets Naia, maybe he doesn’t.
“Why did you think I wouldn’t have a night owl?” Claudette asks.
“Something in the eyes. I’ve seen it before, a passion awakening. A person has to truly dream to truly wake.”
The snarl of cars and streets and souls lies far below, the individual lives conflated into a single measurable world.
“Everything looks so different now.”
Skylar betrays a private smile. “I see it.”
City blocks interweave and build a universe of which she is the barest part, and in it she comprehends all. Infinitude beyond dimension helixes alongside snaking vehicles into all the possibilities of light and space, and the mystery that lies beyond light and space.
“I see it,” Claudette says. She doesn’t reach out for Skylar’s hand; companionship is enough. “Yes. I see it.”
Karen M. Roberts, a Southern California native, holds a B.A. in English from Occidental College and is a graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She has published previously online in the webzine Ideomancer. Her most recent celebrity sighting was in 2006.