Record Thirty-Two

I Do Not Believe

A Little Human Splinter

Do you believe that you will die? Oh, yes, “Man is mortal; I am a man; consequently . . .” No, not that; I know that; you know it. But I ask: Has it ever happened that you actually believed it? Believed definitely, believed not with your reason but with your body, that you actually felt that someday those fingers which now hold this page will become yellow, icy? . . .

No, of course you cannot believe this. That is why you haven’t jumped from the tenth floor to the pavement before now; that is why you eat, turn over these pages, shave, smile, write.

This very thing, yes, exactly this is alive in me today. I know that that small black hand on the clock will slide down here toward midnight, then it will again start to ascend, and it will cross some last border and the improbable tomorrow will have arrived. I know it, but somehow I do not believe it — or perhaps I think that twenty-four hours are twenty-four years. So I am still able to act, to hurry, to answer questions, to climb the rope ladder to the Integral. I am still able to feel how the Integral shakes the surface of the water and I still understand that I must grasp the railing, and I am still able to feel the cold glass in my hand. I see the transparent, living cranes, bending their long necks, carefully feeding the Integral with the terrible explosive food which the motors need. I still see below on the river the blue veins and knots of water swollen by the wind. . . . Yet all this seems very distant from me, foreign, flat, like a draft on a sheet of paper. And it seems to me strange, when the flat draft-like face of the Second Builder suddenly asks:

“Well, then. How much fuel for the motors shall we load on? If we count on three, or say three and a half hours . . .”

I see before me, over a draft, my hand with the counter and the logarithmic dial at the figure 15.

“Fifteen tons. But you’d better take . . . yes, better take a thousand.”

I said that because I know that tomorrow . . . I noticed that my hands and the dial began to tremble.

“A thousand! What do you need such a lot for? That would last a week! No, more than a week!”

“Well, nobody knows. . .”

I do know. . . .

The wind whistled, the air seemed to be stuffed to the limit with something invisible. I had difficulty in breathing, difficulty in walking, and with difficulty, slowly but without stopping for a second, the hand of the Accumulating Tower was crawling, at the end of the avenue. The peak of the Tower reached into the very clouds — dull, blue, groaning in a subdued way, sucking electricity from the clouds. The tubes of the Musical Tower resounded.

As always — four abreast. But the rows did not seem as firm as usual; they were swinging, bending more and more, perhaps because of the wind. There! They seemed to stumble upon something at the corner; they drew back and stopped, congealed, a close mass, a clot, breathing rapidly; at once all of them stretched their necks like geese.

“Look! No, look, look — there, quick!”

“They? Are those they?”

“Ah, never! Never! I’d rather put my head straight into the Machine. . . .”

“Silence! Are you crazy?”

On the corner, the doors of the auditorium were ajar, and a wide column of about fifty people — the word “people” is not the right one. These were heavy-wheeled automatons seemingly bound in iron and moved by an invisible mechanism. Not people, but a sort of human-like tractor. Over their heads, floating in the air — a white banner with a golden sun embroidered on it, and the rays of the sun: “We are the first! We have already been operated upon! Follow us, all of you!”

Slowly, unhesitatingly they moved through the crowd, and it was clear that if they had had in their way a wall, a tree, a house, they would have moved on just as unhesitatingly through the wall, the tree, the house. In the middle of the avenue they fused and stretched out into a chain, arm in arm, their faces turned toward us. And we, a human clot, tense, the hair pricking our heads, we waited. Our necks were stretched out goose fashion. Clouds. The wind whistled. Suddenly the wings of the chain from right and left bent quickly around us, and faster, faster, like a heavy engine descending a hill, they closed the ring and pulled us toward the yawning doors and inside. . . .

Somebody’s piercing cry: “They are driving us in! Run!”

Everybody ran. Close to the wall there was still an open, living gate of human beings. Everybody dashed through it, heads forward. Their heads became sharp wedges, and with their ribs, shoulders, hips . . . Like a stream of water compressed in a fire hose they spurted out in the form of a fan, and all around me stamping feet, raised arms, unifs. . . . The double curved S- with his transparent wing ears appeared for a moment close before my eyes; he disappeared as suddenly; I was alone among arms and legs appearing for a second and disappearing. I was running. . . .

I dashed to the entrance of a house to stop to catch my breath, my back close to the door — and suddenly, like a splinter borne by the wind, a human being was thrown toward me.

“All the while I . . . I have been following you. I do not want . . . do you see? I do not want . . . I am ready to . . .”

Small round hands on my sleeves, round dark blue eyes — it was O-90. She just slipped along my body like a unif which, its hanger broken, slips along the wall to fall upon the floor. Like a little bundle she crumpled below me on the cold doorstep, and I stood over her, stroking her head, her face. My hands were wet. I felt as if I were very big and she very small, a small part of myself. I felt something quite different from what I feel toward I-330. I think the ancients must have had similar feelings toward their private children.

Below, filtering through her hands with which she was covering her face, a voice came to me:

“Every night I . . . I cannot! If they cure me . . . Every night I sit in the darkness alone and think of him, and of what he will look like when I . . . If I am cured I would have nothing to live with — do you understand me? You must . . . you must . . .”

An absurd feeling, yet it was there; I really must! Absurd, because this “duty” of mine was nothing but another crime. Absurd, because white and black cannot be one, duty and crime cannot coincide. Or perhaps there is no black and white in life, but everything depends upon the first logical premise? If the premise is that I unlawfully gave her a child . . .

“It’s all right, but don’t, only don’t . . I said, “Of course I understand. . . . I must take you to I-330, as I once offered to, so that she . . .”

“Yes.” (This in a low voice, without uncovering her face.)

I helped her rise. Silently we went along the darkening street, each busy with his own thoughts, or perhaps I with the same thought. . . . We walked between silent, leaden houses, through the tense, whipping branches of the wind. . . . .

All at once, through the whistling of the wind, I heard, as if splashing through ditches, the familiar footsteps coming from some unseen point. At the corner I turned around, and among the clouds, flying upside down in the dim glass reflection of the pavement, I saw S-. Instantly my arms became foreign, swinging out of time, and I began to tell O-90 in a low voice that tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, was the day of the first flight of the Integral, and that it was to be something that had never happened before in all history, great, miraculous.

“Think of it! For the first time in life to find myself outside the limits of our city and see — who knows what is beyond the Green Wall?”

O-90 looked at me extremely surprised, her blue eyes trying to penetrate mine; she looked at my senselessly swinging arms. But I did not let her say a word — I kept talking, talking. . . . And within me, apart from what I was saying and audible only to myself, a thought was feverishly buzzing and knocking. “Impossible! You must somehow . . . you must not lead him to I-330!”

Instead of turning to the right I turned to the left. The bridge submissively bent its back in a slavish way to all three of us, to me, to O-, to him behind. Lights were falling from the houses across the water, falling and breaking into thousands of sparks which danced feverishly, sprayed with the mad white foam of the water. Somewhere not far away the wind was moaning like the tensely stretched string of a double bass. And through this bass, behind us, all the while . . .

The house where I live. At the entrance O- stopped and began:

“No! You promised, did you not, that . .

I did not let her finish. Hastily I pushed her through the entrance and we found ourselves in the lobby. At the controller’s desk the familiar, hanging, excitedly quivering cheeks—a group of Numbers around. They were quarreling about something, heads bending over the banisters on the second floor; they were running downstairs one by one. But about that later. I drew O-90 at once into the opposite, unoccupied corner and sat down with my back to the wall. I saw a dark, large-headed shadow gliding back and forth over the sidewalk. I took out my notebook. O-90 in her chair was sinking slowly, as if she were evaporating from under her unit, as if her body were thawing, as if only her empty unif were left, and empty eyes taking one into the blue emptiness. In a tired voice:

“Why did you bring me here? You lied to me.”

“No, not so loud! Look here! Do you see? Through the wall?”

“Yes, I see a shadow.”

“He is always following me . . . I cannot . . . Do you understand? I cannot, therefore . . . I am going to write a few words to I-330 You take the note and go alone. I know he will remain here.” ‘

Her body began again to take form and to move beneath the unit; on her face a faint sunrise, dawn. I put the note between her cold fingers, pressed her hand firmly, and for the last time looked into her blue eyes.

“Good-by. Perhaps someday . . .” She freed her hand. Bending over slightly, she slowly moved away, made two steps, turned around quickly, and again we were side by side. Her lips were moving; with her lips and with her eyes she repeated some inaudible word. What an unbearable smile! What suffering!

Then the bent-over human splinter went to the door; a bent-over little shadow beyond the wall; without turning around she went on faster, still faster. . . .

I went to U-’s desk. With emotion filling her indignant gills, she said to me: “They have all gone crazy! He, for instance, is trying to assure me that he himself saw a naked man covered with hair near the Ancient House . . .”

A voice from the group of empty raised heads:

“Yes. I repeat it, yes.”

“Well, what do you think of that? Oh, what a delirium!” The word “delirium” came out of her mouth so full of conviction, so unbending, that I asked myself: “Perhaps it really was nothing but delirium, all that has been going on around me lately.” I glanced at my hairy hand, and I remembered: “There are, undoubtedly, some drops of that blood of the sun and woods in you. That is why perhaps you . . .” No, fortunately it was not delirium; or no, unfortunately it was not delirium.