IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume V: Sharing Insanity
A Day's Work Done
A *ping* brought Deirdre out of her trance. “What now?” she asked, then stared in surprise at the twilight starting to deepen the sky beyond the window.
“Now we go home,” Justín told her, pulling off his headband and running his fingers through the sweating locks he’d freed. “Or rather, I go home, and you go to the local hostel for the night, since you haven’t yet finished up your business with me. (But don't worry—the paperwork's already gone through; you're a Til citizen again.) And then we return in the morning.”
“But it doesn’t usually take...”
“...So long, unless the subject insists upon interrupting the process and jolting us back into real time at every turn.”
She hung her head. “I suppose you must be furious with me. And I don’t blame you.”
“Yes indeed,” he said, his eyes startling this time, his smile fierce. “You have to be absolutely the most exasperating creature that I have ever met. Marry me!”
“You have brought my career to a whole new level of intensity that I had not previously imagined, with this conscious debriefing stunt of yours. Here I thought the vividness intolerable before, yet I never imagined what it would feel like with someone fully awake and actually commenting on the process! I can’t–and yet I can, I must endure it, because you do, with naked nerves.” He leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair, and whispered, “You entice me!”
Deirdre drew back in her seat as far as she could go. “You don’t know what you’re saying, sir. In an hour you will come to your senses and know better.”
Justín sighed and slumped suddenly, running his hand over his face. “Yes. Of course. Already I sound stupid to myself.” He drew back into his own seat. “You could no more marry a man than a marble statue.”
“I couldn’t marry you. We have nothing in common except an illusion of intimacy conducted as a matter of government policy.”
“Not anyone, Deirdre.” His eyes grew drowsy again, as he got up and put his machinery to sleep. “I remember it all quite clearly, now. You clamp your legs around your virginity so tightly that it will never escape. It’s the only thing that you have left to hold onto.”
“I...” Deirdre felt her face heat. “Someday, for the right man...”
“No day. Never. You’re the kind of person who needs something ideal, something pure. The only purity you have left is denial–the ability to say no. No to anaesthesia, no matter how painful the procedure, no to food (you think I haven’t noticed that you’re still underweight, despite ample food available to you?) But even more so to say no to men, because every other form of purity in your life has suffered violation. You don’t have God anymore, so...”
“No! Don’t say that!”
“You may believe in God, still, but you cannot, no matter how hard you try, no matter what theology may tell you, believe that God could want anything further to do with you. So you make your last purity your God, deify a troublesome little flap of skin that no one sees.”
He laughs. “You’re right–I’m not suitable for you, Miss Famous Agent, not in the least. That does not change the fact that you will never marry anyone else, either.”
“I...this is ridiculous.” She suddenly became very efficient about taking off and folding her headband, laying it down, and straightening out her clothing. “I did not come here to debate my private life with a stoned civil servant who doesn’t know what he’s saying, and who treads dangerously close to liberties that could get him fired!”
“Except you won’t report me,” Justín replied, fetching a sweater for her. “Because one of your most treasured, albeit slightly tarnished, purities is honesty. You suffered this whole ordeal trying to get as much honesty back into your life as you possibly can.”
She took care when she tugged a sleeve over the bandages on her arm. “I suffered to keep from slipping back into substance abuse.”
He opened the door for her. “Sedation doesn’t excite the same responses as the stimulant drugs. You did it because you had to know the truth.”
She lifted her head, stepping out into the chill evening breeze. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“I say it that way because I’m still seeing a little bit from your eyes. And you don’t know what’s good or bad anymore.”
She turned to him with something sharp to snap at him, but now the look in his eyes stopped her short. Pity and yearning, and above all understanding, filled up his gaze, and she needed his understanding as much as Jonathan had ever needed the sympathy of Sanzio D’Arco. So she said, more softly than she’d intended, “We have married minds. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?”
He nodded, and she walked away from him. He called after, “Don’t forget to eat supper tonight!”
“I won’t,” she said, not turning.
“And breakfast. I insist that you eat breakfast before you arrive tomorrow.”
She shrugged, and kept right on going.
“If I must...husband.”
He chuckled, then shook his head sadly, and went about locking up the building, before making his own way, sweaterless and shivering just a little, into the night.