|or|| The Golden Rule
There are hints in more than one place at this site that in my original conception for The Model I was planning defenses for the Christian literalism of my youth. By the time I wrote it I was Plastic Man, pulled one way by my long-practiced love for the prose artistry of Genesis and another by adult reflection on the quality of its engineering. The nature of the Jehovah who had cradled me so long was being transferred from reality further and further into the realm of semantics. By the time I began my third novel, initially a short story I expected to write in a weekend, god had promoted himself to the lowercase g which is beyond personality and far far beyond playing favorites. Even the most veteran residents that we meet of this new heaven I imagined have never seen him.
Dr. Raleigh, the dentist, dies and goes to heaven. It’s heaven all right though it strikes him as more like an army camp rather down at the heels. When all the other doctors and dentists in his barracks go off to work on Monday morning, he pretends he knows what he’s doing and follows them. He finds himself on Elm Street and on the steps to his practice. But something is funny about his body.
But this wasn’t fifteen and a half steps to the front stoop. Not that he was counting. Not in words. His feet knew the way. Yet here they were, anticipating the first step up while still being a few steps short. Look how nicely the gladiolus are doing though. Margaret did take good care of them, didn’t she? Watering and primping his plants was not in his job description for dental assistant, but Margaret had always taken care of it. Among other such things.
My. He was out of breath. Three steps? Three? Dr. Raleigh had automatically taken the black painted iron railing in his hand. He now stood with both feet on the first step. As he reached for the next step with an unaccountably cautious foot, that railing and its twisted iron posts felt much of his weight. His keys. Even the thought had a hitch in it. His diaphragm labored. Would he have his keys with him? The lintel fuzzed in and out of focus as the door loomed at and receded from him. His left hand gripped the railing. There was something odd about his door knob. Perhaps it was the key hole. It wasn’t were it should have been. Dr. Raleigh tried to steady himself. Both feet were not on the top step. Would he have the key to this door even if he had his keys? He never opened this, the public door, except from the inside mornings. Typically, he didn’t even do that. Margaret … He had enough balance now to pat his pockets for his keys. He moved away from the railing to address the door’s hardware. “Please ring bell before entering,” the little sign said in black plastic on the door’s outer frame. Dr. Raleigh would have sworn he had had that sign removed when he had hired Margaret. But then, he had just been reminding himself that he never used this entrance, and there the little sign was.
But surely. He must have told her to have it done. That Margaret.
Whew. What is this dizziness? Dr. Raleigh made a grab for the door’s brass handle. He missed and grabbed again. What should have been automatic, even for an entrance little used by him, had become a failed hand and eye exercise. He had to look at his goal and to use both hands. What should have been just above his hip was instead practically intruding into his face. He let his left hand steady himself while it also guarded his eyes. His right returned to patting for his keys.
Not only did he feel no keys, he found nothing. Nothing was where his right pants pocket should have been. No change, no odds or ends, no nothing. No opening to that comfortable male mitten. Just right for the hand. A home away from home. He didn’t even feel the material for a pocket. At the side of his trousers, a something within, a thrusting down toward his knee.
Why, this wasn’t even his flannel suit. The material had no substance. It was more like some thin … He felt for other pockets. Nothing. Where his jacket was, or should have been, was more of this gutless … this filmy cotton. The material was printed with a pattern. Flowers?
Even without his keys, his left hand was already depressing the door handle’s latch lever. Little used or not, his hand was automatically remembering that sometimes this lock had a trick. You had to hold it, so, for the bolt to move.
Dr. Raleigh could absorb what happened next even less than he had already digested what had happened so far. His right hand was feeling for pockets. Nothing was right. The material. The tailoring. Worst of all, the feeling of his flesh beneath. He felt … He himself felt as different as the cotton felt from flannel. Even more confusing, he was finding … if not a pocket, then a something. His thumb had caught in it first. His forefinger then explored it. It was a silly nothing, like the change pocket on Robert Hall trousers of decades ago. And altogether in the wrong place. But no, it was even sillier than that. Though not quite as tiny. It was shaped wrong, and there was too much of the outer material. This “pocket” was puffy. His finger found a wad of congealed lint at the bottom, like a tissue that’s been through the washer. The thing, the pocket, the top of the puffy side, was lined with … like … With something like …
The door opened. He wasn’t opening it. His hand was being pulled by it, and with his hand, himself. He heard the automatic bell sound in Margaret’s reception compartment.
Normally it would have been Dr. Raleigh’s right foot which would have steadied him. His right foot here was blocked by the door frame. Dr. Raleigh feared for his balance.
Margaret. Yes, sometimes his assistant opened the office before his arrival. Can she know that I’m dead? he wondered.
Margaret ceased her pulling. She sees how unsure my footing is, Dr. Raleigh thought.
But Dr. Raleigh found himself to be looking up at her!
Dr. Raleigh always looked down on Margaret. Not look down on her socially or professionally or intellectually … Though he did indeed look down on her in those and in other ways. After all, she was his dental assistant and he was the dentist. He was her elder, a male, and an entrepreneur. Her boss. In addition to suspecting that she may have been a Democrat (it was a fact that she was a Catholic …), Dr. Raleigh looked down on Margaret physically. Margaret, at not quite five foot six, was tallish for a woman, at least for a woman by the standards of his generation, but Dr. Raleigh himself was five eleven. Or close to it. At least he hoped he still was. These last ten years he hadn’t dared to check. There had been times when he thought he could feel his vertebra collapsing.
But Dr. Raleigh checked now. At least inasmuch as he could by looking down at his feet. No, he was not still standing on a lower step. The fingers of his hand held this ikky dried clump of fluff. It had hard lumps in it, like perhaps it had been used before it had been washed and dried. Something there would be a snigglet for. He dropped it, whatever it could be called, and wiped his fingers on his … on this …
And there was something about Margaret’s greeting. He couldn’t put his … (his fingers were wiping themselves) … he couldn’t put anything on it. It was wrong somehow. Yet it was familiar. Good morning. He heard it every day. What was odd? It …
It was lace that bordered the silly thing to the side on his belly. And that belly. His arms weren’t hanging properly at his sides. They slanted too … outward. They were too close together at the shoulders. And the elbows were pushed out by those, those hips. And all that soft flesh … That wasn’t him! He could hardly see his feet. And what he could see … Those weren’t his shoes! Whose legs were those with flesh oozing over the black leather uppers till no ankles could be seen?
“Having trouble with the door, Mrs. Bloom?”
Mrs. Bloom? Good morning? That was it! What he heard upon first encountering Margaret for the day, regardless of who arrived first, was a pure dactyl: good morning. The two syllables of “morning” echoed somewhat equally, but Margaret’s emphasis on the “good” in greeting him was clarion. What he had just heard, however, was a beat repeated throughout the hours up till noon. “Good morning” was how Margaret received his patients.
But … Mrs. Bloom? Was he scheduled to see Mrs. Bloom today? Dr. Raleigh staggered somewhat with the effort to look behind him. Was Mrs. Bloom coming? He hadn’t yet donned his operating coat. He didn’t receive his patients standing in the doorway.
Margaret had him by the arm. That too was wrong. Her fingers should have all but encircled the elbow. Could Margaret’s fingers have shrunk? Could there be Drink Me bottles everywhere after death?
And that’s when it started. If Dr. Raleigh thought that he couldn’t think, that had been merely thinking. Now he really didn’t know what was what. Pain hooded his mind. It was a dull presence that had been there forever, too omnipotent to be felt keenly. Margaret guided him toward one of the mate’s chairs that bordered the magazine table in the waiting room. He was dimly aware of a stubbornness in himself, a resistance. Margaret relented toward the softer couch. Was that a stab? No, a flare. Not so bad, he hoped. A flare. There was a space in his skull, big enough to support a megalopolis, on the right side, upper, he supposed, at least that was where it had once been, once been only there and no where else, but now … wherever it was, wherever it spread, a space … that ran with molten lava. The flare erupted. Flame licked over the molars, licked again, and retreated. The lava flickered from yellow to red. As the flame retreated, retreated to burn inwardly among the bone and gum, if he still had any bone or gum, the yellow red lava smoldered, outlined in purple. Please, no. He sat. Ah, ah … And his hip …
“The doctor will be right with you,” Margaret said.
The doctor? He … What was going on? Oh, that ache. The lava smoldered. At least he was sitting. Yes. Cushions. It was better. He hoped it was better. He had to believe it was better. Softness. That was good. Just what he needed.
Then there was a clunk. A hiatus in his head. Had he blacked out? Maybe the pain had. Or he was too exhausted to feel it the same way. Feel? Yes, feel. First coming to and being processed, he hadn’t know what to call things. All the usual words were wrong. He sensed things a step away. Even the light hadn’t been light. But this was feeling. The body raw with suffering. In any case, thank God, that feeling had changed. There could be no question that it was still real feeling, but the pain now echoed through its space, infinitely far away, as down the dark corridors of a nightmare.
“This way, please, Mrs. Bloom. The doctor will see you now.”
Margaret stood above him. She certainly seemed to be talking to him. She was calling him “Mrs. Bloom?” This pain!? What would he do?
When asked what made her son such a fine leader, George Washington’s mother is said to have responded, “I taught him to obey.” This narrative is not sure whether indeed it is the same characteristic that makes a revolutionary hero as makes a celebrated war criminal; but it is utterly confident that in this society no one ascends much beyond college, let alone to any of the professions, without an abundance of that trait. Dr. Raleigh, an acknowledged leader in his own community, had displayed oodles of obedience throughout his life.
He tried to get up. For some reason though his stomach muscles did not seem to be of the same stuff as he and his country’s first President. What was this obscene mass he had to contend with? For these moments, the pain masked itself. He had this incredible abundance of weight on this stunted frame. Moreover, the distribution of that weight was crazy. His hands got neither purchase nor leverage. Margaret bent over him. She helped him hike forward. He pushed and she pulled. He gained an inch on the cushion. He looked up at her, embarrassed at his helplessness. Damn Margaret! She was wearing that smile she wore when she found her task to be odious. He could sense that … Her effort must have been double, for she was holding her breath while laboring with him.
No! That’s right! He hadn’t brushed his teeth! His last meal had been the pasta. There had been no dinner in the barracks, no breakfast this morning, no snacks, no call to the bathroom, … He … He always brushed his teeth upon rising. And again before retiring. Not to mention after each encounter with food. Besides, he rinsed … (No, perhaps that habit had lapsed.) Dr. Raleigh used
For all of her air of avoiding contact with him, Margaret had a firm grip on his arm: both hands at the shoulder. She corrected his efforts to rise directly and made him roll more forward. Then she began to pull. A strange feeling around his chest blended with and emerged through whatever was in the space in his head. His flesh had moved! Right over his chest! His chest had shifted! Shifted? It went slosh. He was on his feet. He straightened his legs. They came as erect as they would get rather abruptly. He tried to walk. Margaret still held him at first. This was lunatic. No wonder he was stumbling on the steps. His legs: not only did they feel like lead, not only were they too short, but they swung angled inward. Death had him all withershins.
Dr. Raleigh waddled after Margaret on legs adapted for hips such as he had never experienced from the inside of his own body. These hips were evolved not only to be the foundation of a body differently strong from his, but were further specialized to allow for the birth passage of creatures who started their life in the air mostly all head.
She led him toward his inner offices. He had passed the cubicle in which he kept his desk before realizing that, the door being slightly ajar, he could see his calendar. Margaret regularly tore to each new day. Was this Thursday? Or Friday? He wondered if he had missed a day. He paused. Monday? Monday, the fifth? But that was impossible! If Wednesday had been the third, how could it be Monday, and the fifth? Even if he had been dead through the weekend? He knew it had been the third: to pay his previous month’s purchase of balls and such at the pro shop, he had written a check.
Margaret guided him through the door of his usual operative theater. Wait now: this wasn’t … Rather, yes it was. But he had redecorated from that buff paint years ago. And his old equipment! He had used it longer than any other, yet at first glance his Weber operative chair looked even to him like something from a grade B science-fiction-horror film, with T&A and monsters, which emerges after decades of proper obscurity onto a channel and at an hour which entertains more with used-car and ten-dollar-diamond commercials than film. The hardware for dental medicine had retreated from, while health spa exercise equipment had gravitated toward, the one-structure-for-all-things approach in design.
Yet this second thought Dr. Raleigh didn’t have. Indeed, the first to him was hardly more than an additional imbalance from competing familiarities, when he beheld the Platonic Original Discombobulation. Not the pale shadow: messy reality’s incompetent imitation; but God’s own perfect gasp. What Dr. Raleigh so disconcertingly saw, was himself.
Dr. Raleigh doesn’t like what he experiences under his own drill. The next time he treats another patient he’ll know so much better what to do. Staggering down the steps on Mrs. Bloom’s fluid filled ankles he’s practically run down by young Billy on his bicycle. Billy takes the worst part of the mishap. His loose tooth that his mother was worried about some complications to has come out by itself. But Margaret, with her hand on Dr. Raleigh’s now skinny shoulders, leads him back to his operative chair anyway.
Hour after hour, day after day, Dr. Raleigh is on the receiving end of his own professional skills. You’d think that he and his barracks mates would be relieved when the weekend finally comes. But Dr. Raleigh is now his wife, in bed with himself, then his mistress, then the cashier at the florist.
And the beginning is all I’ll recount for the moment.
2000 11 19 A lot of time has passed without my getting back here to say more. I want to tell about my efforts at publication, my frustrations as time passed and normal media were badly duplicating some small aspects of my invention … One other passage from Dark Beacon is utilized in my piece on Synecdoche. [Link to be restored] I continue to make notes for the further writing of Dark Beacon even though I have no plans to actually finish it let alone to waste more decades putting stamps on things the public and its publishers proved unable long ago to be able to read. Yet this morning I found myself not just making a note, but sketching an additional chapter.
2000 11 19
Dark Beacon Supplement
Stylistically, this file belongs with my Journal: notes to myself. I worry little about punctuation or spelling in such files. For the reader’s sake I correct merely one of my personal abbreviations: jd is how I refer to Judgment Day.
All prepare for arrival of Judment Day after priests announce revelation of its scheduling.
The judges are there in their judges gowns, the professors are there in their robes, the priests in theirs.
The lawyers wear their best three piece suits, those with Phi Bet keys conspicuously show them.
Cameras located at the entrances are hardly concealed and the worthies preen and pause before them on the way in.
All roads lead to the arena. Moving sidewalks move smoothly at varying speeds. The passengers are unruffled whether the walk moves at 2 mph or 1000 mph. hi-civ-tech. It’s all so comfy there’s no reason to realize that everyone’s been brought to a floating stadium the size of the Hawaiian Islands. No one realizes that there are actually dozens of arenas. The Catholics go into one, the Jews another, the Protestants a third, the Muslims, a fourth … The Americans go into one where there’s a huge area for the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, a more prominent, more democratically seated, area for the Protestant clergy, a minor but respectable area for the rabbis … The smallest of the stadia is huge, but still seems set to human scale. Everyone can see comfortably from everywhere.
delay: show a movie. movie foreshadows all that’s about to happen, but the costumed clowns don’t get it: they’re entertained. think it’s for them. and they’re right: it is for them.
OK, prelims. It’s explained that God doesn’t have to show up for that part, the bailiff can handle it. Some geek is called first. More comedy. The majority are royally entertained. Nevertheless, that comedy too foreshadows what follows.
Or: Dr R. the translated Dr. R., no longer billeted as a dentist, sees the professions ushered into stadia for each profession. Professional leaders have told each professional to have their papers with them, their birth certificates, their high school diplomas, their advanced degrees, their certificates of membership in this and that, their honors, their property deeds, their leases, their marriage licenses, their certificates of divorce … And of course in heaven, all these things have been easily available to them. The doctor who actually lost his Phi Bet key, commissioned a dup, recognizes his original dangling from his vest pocket.
Etc. The geek comedies gradually turn the crowed of pros edgy. Eventually, one by one, they see the fraudulence of the papers and the costumes. They see colonial raids on indigenes, they see double dealing in Congress, they see the shenanigans at the Diet of Nicea, they see their universities repressing ideas, they see the effects of all the civilized mechanisms that supply their cornucopia unvarnished …
The Pope slips out, making hurried excuses about being indisposed. Behind the first stanchion he ditches his popes robes, his priests garb, loses his crosses and rosaries. The entrance is of course also the exit and the cameras that he preened for on the way in also record his sneaking, naked exit. Then it’s a stampede, naked men and women streaking from the exits.
the walks are all walking the other way but with less comfort. Cringing animals, helpless to cover their naked shame are whizzed over the Pacific, but now distributing them at random. Naked Muslims join naked Shintos who’ve been melded with the naked priests and doctors. They’re dumped in Asia, South America, Australia …
But North America, Europe … all now have movie screens instead of a sky. The screens show the empty stadia. The bailiff with no one to examine. The bailiff shrugs, and gives the judgment anyway. Geek #1. You’re absolved. Your reward is immortality. Geek #2: ditto. All who exited out of turn: ditto. And then the sky shows a montage of entrances to the stadia cut with exits from the stadia. Everyone sees himself, his own entrance and exit, looping, over and over.
Of course there’s no food. No facilities. No forest to hide in. No rest. No mosquito repellent, no fungicide.
Bits of forest, bits of desert are found: but the immortals can’t enter. An impenetrability has developed between the civilized earth and natural earth. The immortals can see into the natural parts, can see men still living in the Calahari Desert, deer browing at the edge of Highlands Hammock …
And that’s all that remains of heaven for all the rest of Eternity. It’s the civilization-stripped earth, with its perpetual movie. No births, no deaths. The stars of the movie can’t sleep. Are starving. Have no skin left from their scratching. But can’t die. And still see and hear. Including what’s left undestroyed.
I no longer remember what I was going to say next about immortality in 2000. That had already been thirteen years after poverty forced me away from the word processor, homeless, my resources exhausted. But I’m 73 and alive and have a beautiful girlfriend, and, finally, the VA is helping me to see and hear again, if not to work.
This morning I’m itching to tell of a short story that triggered my beginning this novel, a story by Piers Anthony. I’ll make space for that among my Chat / Favorites.