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Engine Summer

By Carmen Gibson,2014-11-04 20:32
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Engine Summer

Engine Summer

By

John Crowley

"I've found you, then. I've found the greatest thing that was lost.

    Yes. We were lost and you found us. We were blind, and you made us see. Now. You can only -

     stay - a short time, so…

    What is it you want from me?

    Your story." THE FIRST CRYSTAL: Many Lives First Facet Second Facet Third Facet Fourth Facet Fifth Facet Sixth Facet Seventh Facet Eighth Facet THE SECOND CRYSTAL: The Laughter of the Legless Man First Facet Second Facet Third Facet Fourth Facet Fifth Facet Sixth Facet Seventh Facet Eighth Facet THE THIRD CRYSTAL: A Letter from Dr. Boots First Facet Second Facet Third Facet Fourth Facet Fifth Facet Sixth Facet THE FOURTH CRYSTAL: The Sky Is Grass First Facet Second Facet Third Facet Fourth Facet Fifth Facet

THE FIRST CRYSTAL: Many Lives

First Facet

    Asleep?

    No. Awake. I was told to close my eyes. And wait, he said, till you're asked to open them.

    Oh. You can open them now… What do you see?

    You.

    Am I…

    You're like… a girl I know. Taller. Are all the angels tall?

    What else do you see?

    This grass we sit on. Is it grass?

    Like grass.

    I see the sky. Through your roof of glass, oh, angel, can it be?

    It is.

    I'm here, then. Here. He was right, that I could come here Angel! I see the clouds below us!

    Yes.

    I've found you, then. I've found the greatest thing that was lost.

    Yes. We were lost and you found us. We were blind, and you made us see. Now. You can only -stay - a short time, so…

    What is it you want from me?

    Your story.

    That's all I am, now, isn't it: my story. Well, I'll tell it. But it's long. How can I tell itall?

    Begin at the beginning; go on till you reach the end. Then stop.

    The beginning… If I am only a story now, I must have a beginning. Shall I begin by being born?Is that a beginning? I could begin with that silver glove you wear; that silver glove, and theball… Yes, I will start with Little Belaire, and how I first heard of the glove and ball; andthat way the beginning will be the ending too. I would have to start with Little Belaireanyway, because I started with Little Belaire, and I hope I end there. I am in Little Belairesomehow always. I was created there, its center is my center; when I say "me" I mean LittleBelaire mostly. I can't describe it to you, because it changed, as I changed; changed with meas I changed. But you'll see Little Belaire if I tell you about me - or at least some of theways it can be.

    I was born in my Mbaba's room. My Mbaba is my mother's mother, and it was with her mostly thatI spent my baby years, as the custom is. I remember Mbaba's room better than any other ofLittle Belaire's thousand places; it was one that never changed, whose boundaries stayed thesame, though it seemed to move from place to place as I grew up, because the walls and roomsaround it were always being changed. It wasn't one of the oldest rooms, the old warren built bySt. Andy that is the center of Little Belaire (tiny rooms of porous-looking square-cut grayangelstone, the old rooms where all secrets are kept); nor yet was it one of the airy,nonexistent rooms of the outside, with light translucent walls that change every day and fadeinto the woods till Little Belaire ends without a sign and the world begins. Mbaba's was on theMorning side, not far from Path, with walls of wood and a dirt floor covered with rugs, andmany beetles and once a blacksnake that stayed nine days. And skylights that made it gleam inthe mornings as though moist and fade slowly in the evening before the lamps were lit. You cansee Mbaba's room from the outside, because it has a little dome, and on its sides red-paintedvents that wave in the wind.

    It was afternoon, in late November, when I was born. Already nearly everyone had revolved backinto the close warm insides of Little Belaire, and went out rarely; smoke and food had beenlaid up for the winter season. In my Mbaba's room my mother sat with my Mbaba and Laugh Aloud,

    a gossip and a famous doctor too. They were eating walnuts and drinking red raspberry soda whenI started to be born. That's the story I have been told.

    The gossip named me Rush that Speaks. I was named for the rush that grows in water, that onwinter days like the day I was born seems to speak when the wind goes through its dead hollowstem.

    My cord is Palm cord, the cord of St. Roy and St. Dean. A lot of Palm cord people have namesabout words and speaking. My mother's name was Speak a Word; my Mbaba's name was So Spoken.There are hand names too - the cord is Palm, after all - like Seven Hands and Thumb. Since Ihave always been Palm, the Little Belaire I can tell you of is Palm's and is like my cord. Butask someone of Leaf cord or Bone cord and he'd tell you about a different place.

    The silver ball and glove. I was seven, and it was a day in November; I remember, because thiswas also the first day I was taken to see a gossip, as that happens in the time of year whenyou were born, when you're seven.

    Inside Mbaba's room, the vents in the little dome made a soft clack-clack-clack above my head.I watched Mbaba climb down the rope ladder that hung from a door set in the dome; she wascoming back from feeding the birds. A sparrow flew in with her, fluttering noisily against theskylights and dropping white droppings on the rug below. It was cold this day I am telling youof, and Mbaba looked out from a thick shaggy shawl that ended in clicking tassels, though herfeet wore only rings.

    My mother had told me that Mbaba was growing solitary, the way old people do; and it was truethat as I grew up, Mbaba came to spend most of her time in this room. But she wasn't everreally alone. Because around the walls were Palm cord's carved chests, of which Mbaba was thekeeper. The carved chests are like - like honeycombs. What they are most like is Little Belaireitself: interrelated, full of secrets, full of stories. Each of the hundred drawers is markedwith signs and carved in a different shape, depending on what's in it: each drawer was designedto hold just what it holds in the chest and to tell things about it: how it came here, what ithas done, and what stories it can tell. Mbaba was never alone, because of all the souvenirs inthe drawers of Palm cord's carved chests.

    I lay naked under the thick rugs on Mbaba's bed, watching and listening. Mbaba, talking toherself, went around the room; she pressed one long finger to her collapsed toothless mouth, asthough trying to remember something. She gave it up and came to busy herself about the pipe.The pipe in Mbaba's room is old and very beautiful, made of green glass, shaped like an onion,and hung on chains from the dome above. There are four stems hung around it in loops, woven inbright colors like snakes; and there is a metal bowl at the top in the shape of St. Bea's head,her mouth wide open to accept the chips of St. Bea's-bread.

    Mbaba struck a match and held it lit in one hand while with the other she filled St. Bea'smouth with blue-green chips of bread from her barrel. She touched the match to the bread, tookdown one of the long stems, and inhaled; a dark bubble ascended from the bottom of the pipe tothe top above the liquid level, where it burst and let out its smoke. Above the metal mouthropes of thick, rose-colored smoke twined up around the chains, ascending to the dome; allaround Mbaba was a rosy mist, the smoke coming from her nostrils and mouth. The smell of St.Bea's-bread is a good smell, dry and spicy, toasted, warm, a smell with a lot of insides. Itdoesn't taste like it smells; it tastes… like everything. Like anything. All at once. Ittastes like other things to eat: dried fruit sometimes, or sour grass, or hazelnuts. Andcharred wood too, and dandelions; grasshopper's legs; earth, autumn mornings, snow. Andthinking of it then and smelling it made me jump out of bed with the rug around me and runacross the cold floor to where Mbaba motioned to me, grinning. I wriggled down next to her; shegrunted as she took down a stem of the pipe for me. And so we two, me and my mother's mother,sat and smoked and talked.

    "When we wandered," Mbaba said, and a bubble of laughter rose inside me because she was goingto tell when-we-wandered. It could have been any story on this morning, because Mbaba knew asmany stories as there were things in the carved chests, but this is the one she told:

    "When we wandered, and this was a great long time ago, before any now alive were thought of ortheir cords thought of or even Little Belaire itself thought of, St. Andy got lost. St. Andygot lost seven times when we wandered, and this was one of the times. He got lost because hehad to pull St. Roy's wagon and the treasures of Big Belaire that were kept in it, and thewhole of our history. On this time I'm speaking of, St. Andy wandered alone, pulling the wagon,until he came to an encampment. There were fires burning where people sat to warm themselves.St. Andy's wagon was a source of great amazement to them, even though they couldn't figure outhow to get a lot of the drawers open. St. Andy would have liked to sit down and warm himselftoo, and maybe have a bite to eat, but he was kept busy by the people of the place showing offthe ingenious wagon. Finally he said, 'If you'll let me sit down and thaw out a little, I canwork a miracle or two and entertain you.' Well, they let St. Andy sit, but didn't offer him anyfood or drink. St. Andy got tired of waiting for them to offer and decided to put everybody ingood spirits with a miracle.

    "This was the first miracle he did. He took from a drawer of the wagon a silver glove thatwhistled when you wore it, and a ball that whistled the same note. St. Andy showed them bothoff, and the people were interested, I imagine. But then St. Andy threw the whistling silverball as hard as he could off into the darkness. They could hear it clattering in the trees. St.Andy stood holding out his hand with the glove on it. And pretty soon back comes the ball andlands in St. Andy's hand again, as gently as a bird. Everyone was astonished. St. Andy threwthe ball again and again as the people whistled and clapped. But the ball took a long time toget back each time, and soon the whistling and clapping stopped, and finally people said,'Well, we're very bored with this miracle, let's have a different one.' St. Andy thought therewere a lot of tricks you could do with the silver ball and glove, but he didn't know how anywere done; the men were prodding him with sticks and making remarks, so St. Andy put aside theball and glove and said, 'I'll show you another miracle. I'll show you a man eat raw meat whohas no teeth.' And he opened his mouth to show them he was toothless as a melon, just like me.

    "They agreed that might be interesting, but said they had no raw meat, only cooked meat. St.Andy was very hungry and said that would be fine. They brought the meat and set it before him -and he suddenly threw open his mouth to show a full set of perfect luminous white teeth. Hechomped and tore the meat with his mouth open, gnashing the amazing teeth so all could see andhear.

    "After he had eaten his fill, he stood up to leave while everyone was still impressed. Theyweren't too overcome not to take the silver ball and glove for themselves, so I can't prove toyou that part of the story is true. But for the rest, see here":

    And, as often at the end of a story, Mbaba got up and went to the carved chests, her eyesflitting over the drawers, touching the signs with her fingers till she found the right one.From it she drew out a wooden case carved in the shape of a mouth; and from the mouth case, hereyes sparkling, Mbaba drew out St. Andy's perfect, luminous white teeth.

    "False teeth," she said. "Fits all." And she popped them in her mouth, fit them in with hertongue, and opened wide for me to see. I was screaming with laughter. She looked like she had ahuge mouthful of something, and when she opened her mouth it was - teeth! "That's how he didit, that's how," she said, "with these very teeth, which are as old as anything and still goodas new."

    That was at my birth-time, in my seventh year; almost ten years ago now.

    What is it?

    Nothing. Go on now.

    What was it I said that startled you?

    Go on.

    Well… Seventh years. Every seventh year, you visit a gossip who knows your cord well, to havethe System looked at for you, and learn what state you're in. I don't know why it happens everyseventh year, except that there are a lot of things we count off by sevens. And it seems-from

    the two sevens I've lived through - that seventh years are the ones where you are, somehow,most yourself. There are other times you could consult a gossip; for the untying of a knot, oranytime you don't understand yourself. But everyone goes in their first seventh year, and everyseventh year thereafter - fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight - and the first seventh year is arose year as well.

    But to explain about the rose year, I have to tell you about the Four Pots, and Dr. Boots'sList who makes them, and before that about the League, and the Storm which ended the angels'world… maybe my story doesn't really have any beginning after all.

Second Facet

    The gossip Mbaba took me to was an old woman named Painted Red, who was a friend of Mbaba'sfrom youth. Painted Red was, Mbaba remembered, of Water cord when she was young, and her namehad been Wind, before she learned to read the System and gossip.

    "She hasn't always known our cord," Mbaba said as she got me ready to go. Her breath wasfaintly visible in the cold. "Only in the last few years has she studied it."

    "Not since I was born?"

    "Well, yes, since before that," Mbaba said. "But that's not really so many years, you know." Wewere ready. "She's very wise, though, they all say, and knows Palm well, and all its quirks."

    "What are its quirks?"

    "You!" she said, and tugged my ears. "You should know, of anyone."

    "She lives near Path," Mbaba said as we went along, "because she likes to feel the feet ofthose going by."

    St. Roy - I mean Little St. Roy, of course, not Great St. Roy - said that Path is drawn on yourfeet. Little Belaire is built outward from a center in the old warren where it began, builtoutward in interlocking rooms great and small, like a honeycomb, but not regular like ahoneycomb. It goes over hills and a stream, and there are stairs and narrow places, and everyroom is different in size and shape and how you go in and out of it, from big rooms withpillars of log to tiny rooms all glittering with mirrors, and a thousand other kinds, old andchangeless at the center and new and constantly changing farther out. Path begins at the centerand runs in a long spiral through the old warren and the big middle rooms and so on to theoutside and out into the aspen grove near Buckle cord's door on the Afternoon side. There is noother way through Little Belaire to the outside except Path, and no one who wasn't born inLittle Belaire, probably, could ever find his way to the center. Path looks no different fromwhat is not Path: it's drawn on your feet. It's just a name for the only way there is allthrough the rooms which open into each other everywhere, which you could wander through foreverif you didn't know where Path ran.

    Painted Red's room was deep in toward the center. There in the ancient small stone rooms, coolin summer and warm and snug in winter, the gossips sit and feel their cords run out linking andtying like a web all through Little Belaire. It was dim; there was no skylight as Mbaba had,but a pale green lens full of bubbles set into the roof. Mbaba spoke from outside, her hand onmy shoulder. "Painted Red," she said. Someone within laughed, or coughed, and Mbaba drew me in.

    This was the oldest place I had ever been in. The walls were of the gray blocks we callangelstone. Here and there a block was turned on edge, and the oval piercings that (they say)go through every such block's insides made four small windows in the wall. Through these Icould glimpse the little falls of the stream, lit by the slabs of glass that are set in theroof above it.

    Mbaba sat me down, and I tried not to fidget, aware and expectant. When she came forth from afarther room, Painted Red looked first to Mbaba and laughed low, her hands making welcomingmovements that set her bracelets clicking. She was older than Mbaba, and wore a huge pair ofspectacles that glittered as she nodded to Mbaba's greeting. She sat opposite me, drew up hernaked feet, and rested her arms on her knees. She didn't speak to me, but her eyes behind thequick glasses studied me as she listened to Mbaba talk. When she spoke herself, her voice wasrich and slow as running oils, thick with inflection I only partly understood.

    While they talked, Painted Red drew from a small pouch some flakes of St. Bea's-bread, whichshe rolled into a blue paper to make a fat cigar. She took a long match from her pocket andmotioned for me to come sit by her. I went slowly, Mbaba's hands encouraging me. Painted Redgave me the match, and watched me as I struck it on the rough wall and held it with both handsto light her cigar. Her cheeks hollowed and a rosy cloud ascended as she inhaled noisily. Thefrank and friendly curiosity of her look made me smile and blush at the same time. When she hadsmoked, she said, "Hello, you're a graceful fellow, I'm in a mood to talk to you. Don't expect

    me to reveal too much of myself, though I'm sympathetic and can be helpful. Be at ease with me;I know it's strange here, but soon we'll be easy together, and then friends…

    No, of course she said nothing like that, but it was all in what she did say, in her greeting,for she spoke truthfully, and was very, very good at it; so good that, speaking, she couldn'thide from my knowledge of what she meant. Of course my knowledge then was very slight; when shetalked with Mbaba, they both said things I couldn't hear.

    "You are not," Painted Red said, "a truthful speaker."

    "No," I said.

    "Well, you will be soon." She put her hand on my shoulder and raised her curling brows at me."I will call you Rush, as your Mbaba does, if I may; your name Rush that Speaks is too much amouthful for me." I laughed at that: too much a mouthful! She said a word to Mbaba that meantshe and I must be alone, and when Mbaba was gone, she stubbed out the flat end of her cracklingcigar and motioned me to come with her into the small farther room.

    There she took from a chest a small narrow box that just fit in her lined palm. "Your Mbabatells me good things about you, Rush," she said. She opened the box. Inside were four smallround pots with snug lids, each a different color: a black one, a silver one, a bonewhite one,and one the pure blue of a sunset winter sky. "She says you like stories."

    "Yes."

    "I know a huge number." Her face was gently grave but her eyes were sly behind the glitteringglasses. "All true." We both laughed at that; her laugh made me shiver with the weight andfullness of it, light and low though it was. I knew then that Painted Red was very holy;possibly she was a saint.

    Why do you say holy?

    Holy. Blink told me once that in ancient times they said a thing was holy if it made you holdyour tongue. We said a thing was holy if it made you laugh. That's all.

    Painted Red now chose the little black pot, opened it, and rubbed her thumb in the rose coloredstuff that it contained; then she rubbed her thumb on my lips. I licked it off. It had no tasteat all. She took from another place in her chests a set of nesting black boxes and tubes withtiny lenses, and these she assembled in her larger room beneath the big lens, setting the tubesto point at a white space on the wall. She drew a string that closed the pupil of the greenlens in the ceiling until its light fell in a tiny bright spot onto a mirror which she placedat the back of the boxes. The light from the lens was reflected through the tube; a circle ofpale green shone on the wall.

    She opened carefully a long box and, after some thought, drew out one of the many thin squaresof glass it contained. I could see as she held it to the light that it was inscribed with apattern, and when she slipped it into place, there was suddenly the same pattern projected ontothe wall, greatly enlarged and as clear as though drawn there.

    "Is it the Filing System?" I asked in a whisper.

    "It is."

    Years later, Blink told me the full name of the Filing System, and I made him say it over andover till I could say it too, and then I went on saying it, like a nonsense rhyme. Sometimes atnight I say it over to myself till I fall asleep: Condensed Filing System for WasserDozierMultiparametric Parasocietal Personality Inventories, Ninth Edition. Blink tried to explainwhat all that meant, but I forget now what he said; and even the gossips who sit and look at itall day call it only the Filing System. It's from the Filing System that the cords are derived,though the angels who created the System knew nothing of cords, and the System is hundreds ofyears older than the cords which the gossips found there. "In ancient times," Blink told me,"it wasn't supposed to yield knowledge, only to keep facts straight; but the angels who thoughtit up had created more than that, and although whatever facts the System was to have keptstraight are lost now, this new knowledge of the cords was found in it, which its makers didn't

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