TOM UKINSKI - LOOP OF RESURRECTION
LOOP OF RESURRECTION
Mara held out her arms to the enameled sky, making a Y with her slim tanned body and delicate arms, the silver-sheened bathing suit swarming with portraits of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, tendrils of dark hair trembling from her furrowed brow. Ray waved to her, but she was concentrating on the plunge from the high-legged wooden pier. She leapt into the golden light, her palms now flat, as if to grasp the white-foamed swirl, and penetrated the water at a supple slant. Ray felt a giddy joy invade him at the sight of her, arching above the lake, which seemed to recede into a hollow to receive her.
She emerged amidst tangled hair and swam to the red raft on which Toninette lay, her slender body in a bright yellow bikini. Toninette sat up and rested her forearm on the raft’s edge where Mara clung, dangling in a swarm of glittering cells. Ray watched Toninette gently nudge adherent strands of hair from Mara’s face―saw the curves of Toninette’s sun-browned body and outreaching arm, Mara bobbing gently, holding up something for her to examine―and felt a surge of pleasure and melancholy that joined him to the moment and exiled him forever.
The phone in the cabin started ringing, and Toninette searched for something on the raft, slipped off it, and stepped out of the lake, becoming a momentary fountain, moving nimbly across the gray beach toward the log cabin on its manicured embankment. “You don’t need to answer that,” Ray called. “Don’t go into the cabin!” But Toninette kept on.
—Mara leapt into the golden light, her palms now flat, as if to grasp the white-foamed swirl, and penetrated the water at a supple slant.
Toninette lifted her head to observe Mara plunging in, troubled, as always, that she would strike the bottom of the lake, though the water there was deep and the sand so thick she could not suffer more than an abrasion. It was difficult to rouse herself in the somnolent heat, painful to stare through the coiling dazzle of sunlight, but Mara would ask the inevitable question and, gasping, did so: “D’ja see me dive, Mommy?”
“Yes, honey. Did you hurt your hands? You’ll hurt your hands holding them like that.”
“I did before, bu―” Mara spat out water and spoke in tremulous intervals as she dog-paddled toward her. “But―it doesn’t―sting any m-more.”
“I’m afraid you’ll break your wrists.”
Mara clung to the raft. Her brown eyes seemed as black as those of the cloned girls in evening gowns adorning her bathing suit. “I wanna show Daddy how good I dive now.”
Toninette rested her forearm on the raft’s rim. “How well you dive now,” she corrected.
“Mommy, you always talk in white people’s English. Sometimes I talk in other English. In my English, I can say ‘good.’”
Toninette laughed. “I’m sorry I’m being ethnocentric.”
Mara held up a thin white rock, eroded in its center to resemble an hourglass. “Look what I found on the bottom. It’s like what Daddy says the universe is like. I’m gonna keep it for him.”
She reached out to gently nudge adherent strands of hair from Mara’s forehead, wishing Ray could see her once as she did, as the beautiful, graceful girl with a discursive mind like her physicist father, and not as the whining tormentor endlessly interrupting him as he gulped his Scotch and scribbled calculations, cradling the cellular phone with his shoulder more fervidly than he had ever hugged his baby girl.
The phone in the cabin rang, and she scrambled to find the mobile extension and realized she had not taken it. The abstemiousness of local government and the undulating landscape foiled cell towers. She slipped into the lotion-cool water, forcing her feet along its sodden base. The cabin observed her like a brown ceremonial mask suddenly vivified by a shaman, emulating an animal ally’s shrill call. Dammit, Ray, she thought, you better not try to cancel again.
—“Beautiful!” Ray shouted as Mara leapt into the golden light, her palms now flat, as if to grasp the white-foamed swirl, and penetrated the water at a supple slant. The light was now pressing against his skull, forming troughs of pain within it, but he could not look away. The gray-and-green inlet, encircled by red-leaved trees, and the distant blue-green mountains, seemed to swarm abruptly into a finger painting. He rubbed his eyes to thwart the pummeling glare. Even as Mara swam toward her mother on the raft, he was vexed by a trivial memory--
―Bypassing Laurie to enter the office as Fred Recklum faced the window in his chair, trailing telephone cord and tapping the armrest with the cigarette pack he dared not open indoors. Recklum swerved and smiled, his fixed stare betraying his rage at the impertinence. He finished his phone call, and Ray apologized and acknowledged the difficulties of scheduling a conference on a week’s notice, but, sighing resignedly, remarked that his staff had insisted he go public with this immediately.
The Dean’s face suddenly adorned itself with rosy erythema from his bald head to his jowls. “Absolutely no problem, Dr. Tournée. Would this be considered a―uh―University-sponsored event?”
“Well, Fred, this was, of course, an independent project, as I no longer have status at this institution. . . .” He paused, watching Recklum frown and lightly touch his shiny skull. Ray had intended to cause much more than remorse for the Board’s suggestion, last fall, that he relinquish his professorship in favor of a consultive capacity after the incident just outside the university grounds that had maimed two grad students. “Of course, all of my researchers are from the University, and I do feel I owe a lot to the school, after so many years of service to it.”
It was a sense of indebtedness that was most certainly unrequited. Still, he understood the academics’ fear. The accident was regrettable, but was he guilty by reason of a charismatic ability to inspire? Now he had a glorious dowry to offer, that their union would yield contracts, fellowships, grants, awards—and resurrection.
—The phone was ringing, and Toninette was frantically searching for the extension. “Don’t bother,” he yelled at her. She was stumbling up the muddy bank and grabbing onto roots exposed by erosion, the bones and nerves of earth. “Don’t answer that phone!” he shouted, but she ignored him. “Goddamit!” He prodded the panel before him.
—Mara was entering the water. He wanted to see her dive again, but the field was narrowing. He studied Toninette as she lay on the raft, the long brow, the hazel eyes, the angular chin, her lithe physique beneath the luminescent suit. He wanted to carry her to the cabin and make love to her. But this was sacred ground, irrupted out of suffocating chaos. He stood up--
―Standing at the podium, the bordering lights above and the encircling camera lights caused the faces of his audience to emerge, pallidly, out of the dark rows. The briefing was glad tidings in the guise of confession. His last three papers had been accepted by the journals, but only after letters and conferences and halting questions from the editors, even though he’d been a Nobel Prize nominee three times. But those articles were no more than flashes of flesh by which he tested for adoration. The sycophants wanted special effects and miracles. Very well, then; but these he would deliver directly to the world.
We are agonized hominids, he began. We squint at matter and pray for a glimpse of the Ding an sicht. We cannot bear the madness of particles, like Coltrane’s meditations. The energetic darkness has seized the constellations and fled in ever-increasing urgency. We used to consider time a haughty maiden, but it is a secretary in the archaic sense, a keeper of secrets. Time was not forthcoming, but we had it do tricks for us, pass, drag, stand still, march on, run out, fly. We played with it. We took it, saved it, kept track of it, made up for it, lost it, wasted it, dressed it in dials and clock hands, empty squares and diurnality. We anointed it a dimension, but as a conveyance it was intransigent, traveling tritely like the arrow. We conceived endless variant patterns of microcosmic attraction and repulsion and comforted ourselves with the myth of matter and the tradition of time.
He remembered telling his mother he would be a scientist. She sat at the white plastic kitchen table that was as chipped and cracked as the checkerboard linoleum floor, both smeared and littered (until he cleaned them after she had gone to sleep). She’d stopped doing anything but reading “true crime” books since his father had married his redheaded trophy bride and moved across the country. Her coarse untended hair peaked past her forehead like an overgrowth on a cliff. She kept herself skinny, in vengeance perhaps, and never socialized. Without makeup, her face was sere and worn, the gray eyes crystallized by diet pills and wine.
“Mom,” he’d said, “I need to talk to you a second.” She kept on reading until he repeated “Mom” twice more, and then sighed tersely and suffered his presence. He was ten years old, living with her in a grand, ruined house, his grandmother’s bequeathal. He read or played alone in his room, while TVs disguised the silence.
“I decided I wanna be a scientist.”
“Great,” she answered. “Just like your old man.”
“Not an engineer. A real scientist. Mrs. Terranova says that scientists have made the world a better place with their discoveries, and―”
“God! They still tellin’ kids that kinda crap?” She closed her eyes a moment, shaking her head. “Fine. Be whatever you want, as long as he pays for it. Just don’t expect to make life any better.”
She gulped her wine, then laughed: a single mirthless tone from her throat. “Hey,” she said, “I’m a scientist. I’m a goddam scientist too. You know what discovery I made?” She moved her face closer to him so that he could smell her sour, febrile breath. “Man is the lowest form of life on earth because he wants to be.”
Her observation had been accurate but irrelevant. Six years later, he achieved calm and comfort in her presence, staring at her cosmeticized replica in the satiny consolation of the coffin. He had the certitude of his genius. The imperfections of life were no more than the strident city sounds that constantly enwrapped him.
Of late, he told the crowd, the delusion of time had been undone when man contrived to manipulate the modalities keeping the universe alive. Phrases like “manipulating modalities” and “keeping the universe alive” were insufferably pretentious, but this gala was intended to be a flamboyant affront to the mannerism of the scientific community. He was jeering at it even as it had contemptuously discarded him.
—The phone rang twenty times before Toninette got into the cabin.
“Toni, it’s Ray.” She could hear rumbling voices and guttural laughter around him. “I’m at the hotel. I want to know if you changed your mind.”
“No, Ray, I haven’t. You know classes start up next week, and I have to make some progress on the dissertation, but even so, we kept telling Mara we’d stay at the cabin―”
“I know all that! Why can’t you come in for a little bit and we can go back together? We’d still have two days at the cabin.”
“Because we’ll never get back here. After your divine revelations, we’ll just have to celebrate. You’ll get drunk, and you’ll end up working and drinking through the weekend, and Mara will be cheated out of another family outing.”
“I can skip the celebrating. We’ll come straight back to the cabin. I promise.”
“If you kept your promises,” she said, “you’d be here now. And it’s not just about the weekend. I can’t accept what you’re doing to Stan.”
“What am I doing? He’ll get the recognition he deserves. Korenz’s group is working on gluons, and we might only be a week ahead of their fanfare.”
“Do you think I’m that stupid? You sent him to Berlin so you could do the field tests and stage your little showcase without him. You wanted to ensure all the glory for yourself. Of course, you’ll give him some patronizing praise for his assistance, enough to diminish any ownership he claims in the theory.”
“‛Ownership’? It’s my goddam theory! . . . You don’t, you can’t understand how competitive this is. Stan doesn’t either. He’d have tried to talk me out of going public until we had more tests. More tests, always more tests! He’s afraid of risk. Stress could send him back to the bottle. But they’ve already shut me out, passed over me three times for—”
“The Prize! The ‘Noble’ Nobel!”
“I really want you and Mara with me tonight.”
Even as she was driving Stan to the airport, Ray had been meeting with Dean Recklum, preparing for his coming-out party. She and Stan had stood near the screening podiums while suitcase-laden passengers shambled around them, and announcements blared in the cavernous concourse, and she was worried about getting back across town to pick up Mara after school. Their conversation had evaporated, but still he lingered: a pudgy gray-haired man in a brown suit, pressing his lips together so that the sparse gray mustache billowed, and glancing about stealthily. “Try to forgive him, Toni,” he said. “You have to consider how momentous this is. It’s like—it is discovering a new force of nature. I like to think I’ve had—a lot to do with it. But if Ray hadn’t taken me on, I would’ve surrendered to the booze long ago . . . like Maddy. He gave me . . . more than life.”
“I need you with me, Toni.”
“I’m sorry, Ray, I can’t do it.”
“You mean, you won’t.”
“I mean, I can’t bring myself to hurt our baby again.”
“Fine. I’ll go it alone, as usual.”
“Fine. Your daughter misses you.”
— The mesh sensor screens on either side of him swayed slightly, like vigilant pets. The glossy black rectangular panel displayed vibrant matrices and schematic lines. Fear bloomed remorselessly within him. He envisioned hands plunging into the cosmos as into a stream to snare their writhing, silvery creations.
—The scientists, he preached to the occulted mob, had pompously expounded on force-carrying particles but brooded on the tendency of nature to fashion stable, definite forms that stubbornly resisted disruption. The sci-fi films of years past justified the downfall of Promethean protagonists that “tampered in God’s domain.” Leave it to mankind to suspect that what it didn’t know had been covetously withheld. Thus did the Lord inhibit mastery of moral polarities with childbirth, war, disease, and debt, lest He become superfluous. But, nonetheless, we were long troubled that we’d betrayed the Old Gentleman’s primal, unitary field by foolish division. As a Hadíth advised: “Knowledge is but a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.”
—He had lost Mara’s dive. Toninette was struggling through the water, heeding the querulous summons of the telephone.
—He gave the flock some hints of the methodology. From chemical compositions came probability distributions. Fields were delimited by highly reactive metals and permeated with photon probes. Nanosensors monitored all changes in velocity and degrees of reflection. A relay system signalized particular movement to the macrocosmic world. (The elucidation was ambiguous and foreshortened so as to leave false trails and foil thievery.) But all this diligence was irrelevant except that it led them to the memory, the transcendent memory that retained all motion, real and surmised, all combinations and coordinates. The memory that lingered like the Forms in the Ideal World, atemporal, aspatial, defying consciousness. The memory that resided in the mind of God, from which thought and matter arose, coeval. As it was revealed in the Qur’an: “And no thing is there, but with Us are its storehouses; and we send it not down but in settled measure.” And “we,” that is “we mortals” had access to the storehouse because the certain restoration of a pattern roused the instinct in space and time to return to a former unity, and brought forth anastasis.
The crew had set up in a prairie dog’s foraging area, a roughly figure-eight shape of part scrubland, part bare ground. They’d plucked the prairie dog from its labors amidst the vegetation and killed it. His staff objected to this, but he wanted to verify death and resurrection. The equipment was assembled just outside the delimited tract. They fiddled and measured and made a mechanism in the air, an energic faux vacuum, and out of it wrought a grassland where there had been glabrous soil, and restored the hapless forager to life.
The difficulty, it turned out, lay in intruding on the process. . . .
—Too far! The field was expanding too far! Mara had beached the raft and was scooping and scattering sand below the trimmed mound on which the cabin rested like a stupa. He tried to reverse the exchanges, but the probes had difficulty penetrating as if free electrons were blocking the passage of light. As quickly as he had imposed high order on the system, it had begun to shift, expanding its “order” in an unanticipated direction, “liberating” the remainder. Of course! Disorder is form with its own rigidity.
—Questions abounded in the bedimmed lecture hall. The fiftyish peroxide blonde, with a reporter’s simplistic ostentation, asked some idiotic question about “the secrets of creation.” He responded with something about the reconfiguration of prior microcosmic interactions. A bespectacled geek bedazzled everyone with a query about “fundamental structural changes” resulting from impurities. He expounded briefly on the behavior of the realigned elements in “making corrections and filling gaps.”
A young man wondered if this ostensibly regenerative force was the embodiment of the “Grand Unified Series.” He could tell it was Tran by the ponytail and the substitution of fricatives. Tran had been skilled enough in hardware to replace Stan, and, as the codependent product of an abusive father, had been tractable. But he had become emboldened, derisive, subversive, as evidenced by his sardonic tone. He had abandoned the project, as had all the students. They were increasingly perturbed by his obsessiveness; then the mishap occurred. Dan Malchaneau and Roy Verlette were both plump and rosy, with the impassivity of ceramic figurines, and were highly intelligent, like Tran. But they had recklessly barged into the space, disregarding his protestations, and there had been the inexplicable explosion that felled them with burns and brain injuries. He’d been so painstaking, methodical, redundant. What the hell had happened? Really, why should anyone help him now?
In response to the baiting interrogation, he made some vague reference to the strong nuclear force and the need for trials at more extreme energies in a controlled environment. He was uneasy and anxious to close the show. “Anyone else?” he asked.
“Boy, I’d sure like to see it all pumpin’!”
The man was standing in the back of the auditorium, but his mewling voice was unmistakable.
—He could see Toninette through the large picture window, prowling through reflected trees, thumbing the corner of the towel to secure it around herself. She was distressed by the exposure, the blatancy of a façade that didn’t match the log cabin motif. But he loved the daylight and argued that they were lords of the demesne of 9.004 acres: there were no strangers to challenge her modesty. He didn’t need to overhear his telephone conversation with her. “If you kept your promises,” she’d said, “you’d be here now.” He cursed and hit the console to start over.
Toninette brushed damp hair from her face. She picked up the receiver and pressed the speed-dial. She must have called her sister after she talked to him. That was why she was inside for so long. That was why―
―Students milled, chattering around him in the reception room while Recklum and Board members circled, displaying tense, worm-shaped grins, like world leaders before negotiations. He sipped wine and shook hands as photo lights erupted.
“Dr. Tournée, the Resurrection Man.” Stan stumbled toward him, sloshing wine from the plastic cup in his hand. “Feelies obviate masturbation. . . . Self-talk’s replaced by Blue tooth. DTs”―he belched―“vanish into VR. That’s all old stuff, old stuff. But reliving the past for real—!”
“Stan, we need to go somewhere and talk.”
“’Course, some people don’ wanna relive the past. ’Cuz the present’s like the morning after, when every memory puts its claws in you.”
“Stan, let me―”
“I called Tran to find out when you were doing the tests. He told me the first test was already done! He told me about the hideous accident. Naturally, that wouldn’t slow you down. But everyone had left you. He said you weren’t doing any more tests till after the conference. ‘The conference?’ I ask. ‘The press conference,’ says Tran. I had to come back. Because I would never, never, never have believed anybody: not the papers or the TV or . . . nobody. That you would do this.”
“Do you want me to get security?” Recklum whispered to him.
“I think you’d better,” he replied. “We need to talk about this elsewhere, Stan.”
Stan slowly blinked, smiling. “Shit! I’m too drunk to go elsewhere.”
Ray took a wine bottle from the nearest table and poured a drink, to camouflage the premeditation in his response. “I sent you to the CERN symposium, Stan, because you were the only one I could spare.”
Stan’s eyes were bloodshot but incandescent. “I was? I was expendable?”
“I’m sorry to have to say it, but for a long time―”
“You son of a bitch! I designed the programming. I’m the one who developed the relay system.”
“You helped, Stan. . . . I don’t want you to embarrass yourself any further by―”
Stan charged at him, howling, knocking him to the ground, wrapping his wet hands around his neck, smelling of wine and sweat, and Ray remembered how his father would hold him down on the bed and scream at him. He twisted right, seized the fallen bottle and swung it against Stan’s head. Stan collapsed, shuddering, his eyes rolling up convulsively as the wine splattered.
—“I can’t live with this anymore,” Toninette told Celice on the phone. “All this anger and contempt. He feeds on it.” She sat on the four-poster bed and watched Mara playing on the sloping lawn. “He doesn’t need us. I decided that—on Monday—we’re leaving.”
“Well, you know what I think, Toni. I mean, I don’t want anybody going through what I did with Mitch. But in my experience, it’s always harder to work on a marriage after you separate. By then, it’s fatal.”
She lay back and stared at the lofty, lacquered ceiling. “I don’t want to work on it. That’s all I’ve done. He doesn’t care if it’s broken. He doesn’t care about Mara. He just wants to play Einstein―and P. T. Barnum.”
“Mommy,” Mara called, knocking. She must have locked the door.
She sat up. “I have to go, Cel. I’ll talk to you later.”
“If it gets ugly, you stay with me.”
“You don’t have the space.”
“I’ve got space. You call me.”
“I will. I love you.”
Toninette rose, surveying the disorder, dreading all the packing, the hunt for a place to live. They could stay with Celise for a while, but— She opened the door. Mara was holding the raw-skinned hand of a large man.
—Stan, on a stretcher, was lifted into the ambulance. Cameras blazed; reporters harangued. Why had Stanley Strohman attacked him? Was Tournée stealing credit for the discovery? Recklum was asked about the University’s “position.” Recklum allowed that the Board would insist upon a “thorough investigation.”
Ray used the back stairway to the underground parking lot. Some photographers were camping there. One cameraman enchained in straps and pouches stumbled backward as Ray sped through the halogenic aureole.
—Mara sat on the embankment. She was singing, “I’m sitting in the grass. . . . I’m playing in the grass. . . . ” Once he and Mara had surprised Toninette with a birthday dinner. They dressed in white shirts and red ties―Mara looking shrunken in Salvation Army clothing―and wore white towels around their waists. Their file-label nametags identified them as “Mr. Ray” and “Ms. Mara.”
“Go in the cabin, Mara,” he called. His voice was brittle and abrasive. “Go inside, honey.” A breeze skimmed the water. The brilliant red leaves jittered.
He had lost everything, everything but this moment. He jabbed the console furiously to shut down the power, but the regeneration went on. Two men approached Mara. The first was burly, his blond hair parted in the middle. One of his eyes was askew. He slipped on sunglasses as he drew near. The other wore a sleeveless jersey displaying muscular arms and a bloated torso. His whiskers were as spiny as a Joshua tree.
The blond said, “Hi, little one!” and the sound sent frenzied pulsations through Ray’s body. Mara looked up. “We’re friends of your Daddy. Is he home?”
“No, but my Mommy is.”
“Can we go talk to her, please?”
“Could you take us up there?”
Mara stood, a tiny figure between the massive men.
“I’d really like it if you could hold my hand. Okay?” Mara studied his outstretched arm for a moment, then put her hand in his.
“Don’t touch my baby,” Ray said.
The blond man yanked Mara’s arm and swung her over an ocher gouge in the lawn. Her body contracted with the shock of sudden pain. “Whee!” said the man, tension mangling his voice. “Was that fun?”
Mara shook her head and rubbed her armpit.
“Don’t go up there,” Ray said. A fibrous mass of agony gathered within him. He futilely jammed his fingers against the surface of the touchpad switch.
They had climbed the wooden steps. The blond gripped Mara’s hand again. Toninette opened the door. The blond spoke, but Ray couldn’t hear. Toninette reached out to take Mara’s free hand. The blond dragged Mara into the house, forcing Toninette backward. The fat man glanced outside as he shut the door.
The fat man carried a leather pouch on his belt, from which he drew out ropes.
The blond hoisted Mara to the fat man. Toninette lunged for her and the blond shoved her down and slapped her each time she tried to stand. Mara was rigid and motionless as the fat bound her to the headboard. She lay there with her arms over her head, as if preparing to dive. Toninette was darkly bruised and nearly comatose as they tied her beside Mara.
Ray pounded the console, the bones of his hand fracturing, blood drowsing through the shredded flesh. He looked up to see the blond slicing off Toninette’s bathing suit.
Ray screamed hoarsely and ran toward the cabin. He would stomp them, crush their skulls to pulp. He--
A myriorama raveled conically from the cabin, blinding him and hurling him back. Before unconsciousness, he realized that the field had been disrupted by the feeble, recapitulated forces in his body. The particles had contracted to an origin of incalculable density, then accelerated to this moment.
Ray awoke and stumbled up to the cabin, guided by the beaconing moon. “Kept your promises,” Ray muttered, spitting out blood and fragments of teeth. His skin was seared, but he savored the pain. The cabin’s familiar smells of wood and lacquer were overwhelmed by the stench of secretions. He had arrived hours earlier, fretting about the collapse of his career, and found Mara and Toninette bound to the bed. He had cut their bonds, washed their bloodied bodies, dressed them in clean clothes on clean sheets, and arranged them in tandem as if they were napping together. Now he beheld mother and child on a prayer rug of moonlight.
He knelt in the dark and bargained with God. He would give Stan all the credit, all the rights. He would use the anastatic principle to reconstruct rapes and murders, and to those who suffered predatory longings, he would assure the fulfillment of death. Just bring them back. That was all he wanted. Animals and insects clamored, calling him to join their mourning. But he would not cry out. A sound would betray his certainty that at dawn, they would awaken, and he would hug them, protect them eternally.
“Please, God, please, please, please,” he whispered, swaying in the brindled blackness.
Mara was clutching something in her left hand, and he gently removed it: a stone, in the hourglass configuration of spacetime that she had saved for him. She had clung to it through every torment.
Suddenly his skin chilled, the grief within him flourished, and he wept and pressed his face against the soft cloth and rigid bodies. The universe, scattering from primordial expulsion like startled birds, had left him to be the custodian of irretrievable loss. Yet, for an instant, the current of his sorrow flowed out through death and linked him to his beloveds, and a fragile connection abided, to bring him peace, in time.
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