By A.Y. Tanaka

I felt the light, felt each muscle pulling each eyeball left and right, up and down. Nudge me, I'd name those muscles, all of them, Ohta's "Anatomy" slammed shut and under the couch, just as I'd name every snowshoe string in Red Wolf's "Young Survivor's Guide".

Another headache. More black coffee. The lights not bright, not dim, just wrong; the spry young letters jumping off the page, turning back to help the old ones jump.

If you miss her, if she smiles, blush and try again.

Even a sober Old Conan or Ninjitsu Sensei comic book sucked up more concentration than it deserved. I survived the Institute (just short of ranked up/coming) because I'd know -- I'd guess -- I'd know -- the One page that really wanted to be read, out of any nine-hundred they threw at us. But this supposed-to- be-secure closet, this used-to-be-a-breakfast-table, this pile of [+/-] urgent messages -- slog through all nine-hundred and the next nine-hundred and the next --

If you can figure what they say. If they say anything. Or they were the children of pi -- a nice neat tray of type spilled on the printshop floor.

Four or five pages fought back more than most, splattered and stained with an Institute-blend of coffee with opaque creaming and sweetening agents. The messages the weary chief investigator had seen promise in, had lingered over sipping thoughtfully.

Sufficient discipline but lack of staying power . . .

I never finished my Institute final-project because I never started. The reason I gave him was body/mind wanted Out, practice, fieldtrips, air.

Dr. Ohm nodded. "Can you give me a better reason?"

"I can't concentrate. They jump around more than before."

I tried not to stare at the victory hologram on his desk. It would suck me in and cast me out and schedule me to try again.

"You're not friendly with those . . . dyslexics?"

"No." (I said it too quickly.) "But I feel for them."

He lowered his head, but not his eyes. "Very well."

I expected he'd ask what the stuttering had to do with it. There were tongues I stuttered in, sometimes my own. He didn't press.

And I'd almost ranked up/coming.

All decliners were required to pass through the Institute's psych clinic. I was lucky that day to be paired with not a trainee, but a full licensee, a medal-holder for his Aristotelian ink blots. The ones he held up evoked -- I wasn't sure. I made out squeaking bats and pelvic bones, no goldenrods, no soy leaves. The licensee seemed dismayed. Strange, the influence I had on people.

He said, "Tell you what, cover one eye and look again."

The weak eye shut by itself.

"I said Cover -- what the hell, either way's 'dokie."

Seen through one eye, the blots were canoes in a lake, oars smacking skulls, men and women shaking hands, men and women making love.

"Making love, you say?"

(I must have missed something.) "Uh, and there's a crucifix over the bed."

"A cru--? I see."

The light not bright, not dim, just wrong.

I squeezed my eyes shut for ten -- o'dokie, make it twenty -- found the closet's northeast corner (a plaque told you), shut the first eye and with the other gazed into the distance, meaning the southwest corner, then alternated open and shut, then alternated corners.

Then loosened up with a few slow-horse arm swings to make sure I wouldn't hit the cabinet or the 5-pot of goldenrods. To make sure.

Now stretch and reach, the ceiling high enough. (Knuckles still sore from once when it wasn't.)

Now -- don't bend your knees -- smack the floor with your fingertips, knuckles, palms, whatever you have. You've been at it for years, keeps your spine tuned. Not stiff; that's for the others.

If I give it up now I'll have no excuse.

# The third dimension wouldn't speak. Others, younger, were dipping into the Fourth (some bragged the Fifth) the years I stumbled bloodless, a stranger to the Third. I wondered what a cube, a square, a sphere, were really like. In some Where (Iskda's term; Bronkowski: Worlds; Nida: Zones) folk sing the three-hipped (was it four-hipped?) pyramid, the sky's light slides in slices, peak-to-earth. Whichever one, if I could see it in the shade, watch the lizards crawl over it, watch the shadows hunt them, feel the cool shadows eat.

Koszeger's appliqu‚d neo-corneas opened up the Third to me, no need to guess how deep the room to keep from hitting the file cabinet or the goldenrods, no need for the Mensu-Pak ROM cartridge or its comparables: WHERE 3.0, Right-n and a tight shelf of others. But the more erratic eye never learned to tolerate the appliqu‚ for more than a few hours at a time -- humbug in Rabual during the fieldtrip. Because of the malaria I picked up there, and the wrong batch of Novaquinicrine ([=atabrine] UrLabs, Albertville), appliqu‚d neo-corneas are now out of the question. (See Mahdi and Kellman, "Current Therapy" 3:177.)

Caveat: Mensu-Pak's name derives from "metiri/mensus" ("to measure, delimit"), has nothing to do with a subversive organization (some say the figment of a loose government's imagination) whose name derives from "mens/mentis" ("mind") or some article of furniture ("mensa/mensae") around which schemes were hatched; nor with menstruation or any other derivative of "mensis/menses" ("month"), itself a derivative of "metiri/mensus" in its sense of "to subdivide (the year)"

Those interested in testing their intelligence and that of their un-born children may purchase the Ment-Pak cartridge, available only at a franchised DemiLegal Shop. The Mense-Pak for fertility analysis and scheduling may, with a properly completed application, be purchased anywhere. Something should be done to avoid the confusion in labeling.

# The light not bright, not dim, just wrong.

Another headache. Some good it does you, live clean, live dirty, shake off your dreams, face up to them, keep the sun at your back, some good it does you, another headache.

More black coffee.

On my MEL's Optic Potency Evaluation he/she/they wrote: "Under NO circumstances permit [X] to drive MEL vehicles, operate MEL-triggered scope devices (exception B-6 through J-4, OH-l2 through W-l6), approach within fifty (50) meters of remote detonating controls or be for any reason advised of this Evaluation."

MEL's medic suggested an Obscurante-Medio or a Dark-Opt or an oldfashioned eyepatch (all Occhi Nuovi, Calcutta) to go with the black coffee. I bought the patch and the other Occhi Nuovi at the regular 20% discount for ex-MELs (22% for disabled ex-MELs, 44% for retired chiefs of disabled ex-MELs).

The medic, a practiced stud, recommended the patch because they go for it, one gull in particular. Sure, but after, when she lifts the patch -- her fury as she wipes up, grabs her clothes, runs home to ring up her friends, your credentials trashed. Moan by the side of the road and no one cares. "Don't pay him no mind, he's up to his tricks."

More coffee.

Dr. Ohm's grandfather, the philosopher, scientist, poet, composer and sculptor, carved his own tombstone (his hand, his tools) -- "Who insist on perfect clearness, never see; who demand a firm footing, never ascend" -- not deceived by a dream of clearness, blind since three days old, too early? to see tricks shadows play.

The infield ground ball scoots right past. Never saw it come, never saw it so happy. Where'd it jump to, why'd it hide?

Can't guarantee your hammer hits the roof nail, skips the shingle, skips your thumb; kava pours in the coconut shell, won't splash your hand, embarrass your knee; your dry feet land in the dinghy, not in the slip-rock lake; your Jeep won't scratch the alley. Rough-guessed, your hand and the goat's collar, your shoe and the Earth, your glove and the ball, your arm and her waist, your lips and hers, your hand and her breast, rough-guessed.

Forget I said that.

Yes, in the third row.

"Uh, sir, a group of us were discussing this problem, and we thought perhaps you should establish prior contact" --

Human relationships are not our topic right now. Next?

-- "Uh, sir, not human, not exactly. We meant prior contact with the items in question, the hammer, the nail, the kava, the" --

Prior . . . ?

"Exactly. Transmit a (perhaps psychochemical) signal, your own encryption, notifying the hammer, the nail, the" --


-- "whatever, that you're open for business, so to speak, on your own terms, you as the locus of the interaction, they as the entities that must "see" you and find you".

You mean let the hammer worry about hitting the nail, let the canoe worry about catching my foot, while I worry about --

"Exactly, sir".

Dedication, for Old Conan or the messages, needs fuel. I broke the Institute seal on the coinsack they'd issued me, practiced on the closet's door-trigger, edged out into the corridor, looked both ways to make sure. To make sure.

Nieuw Amsterdam had opened and closed while I'd been wrestling with the messages, but sandwich-makers sat everywhere, injected mayonnaise when you turned the mustard key, or flashed [-ketc] when you dialed [+ketc], and the slicing arms asked to be sharp again or aligned the way God meant.

Some slept. "Drake's cakes," I muttered in one's face after wasting three coins on it. An Institute co-colleague in his vague-magenta uniform wandered by preoccupied, maybe it was the ache in his stomach, when my muttering distracted him. "Go home," he muttered back, not looking up, and muttered down the corridor.

The sandwiches that made it to the makers' exit ports were worth the nuisance. And chomping on a sandwich was safer than jabbing with a fork, something you learn. It would be easy to end this now-you-see-it-maybe-not game the eyes played. But not with a fork. Try cruel drugs, or a week glaring at the rising/setting sun, quicker during an eclipse. And then in the dark the letters and words and chairs and tables won't bounce and quiver and tell you lies, and make you think you've got all five horizons flat, then make you change your mind.

But you never know. Hold off a day ("five more minutes then, okay?") and you'll almost see what's worth all the squinting and guessing and breath-holding.

I returned to the closet with odd sandwiches from random makers, piled them on the table and noticed coffee stains I'd missed, the victim messages not badly damaged. It reminded me to go back out for some supposed coffee from a Kona-matique. Without supposed cream. I refused to nod respectfully to the dispenser. Because it wasn't cream, but cream's mockery. Someday I'd get even.

The sandwiches were fuel, MetabolicDept-rated sufficient, but the coffee pushed beyond fuel, to the strength to keep the eyes focused. For now.

Copyright 1998 by A.Y. Tanaka

A.Y. Tanaka was born on Maui in 1936, raised in Newark, NJ (safer than the West Coast); lived, sometimes worked, in Puerto Rico, San Francisco, Hawaii, Chicago, Amherst, perhaps elsewhere. His proudest achievement was inventing a phantom senior for his high school yearbook (Weequahic HS, Newark). Since then it's been downhill. Subsequent honors and attainments are as nought.

He can be e-mailed at:

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