This is one I’m afraid to tell, not because the content is scary — it’s not — but because I have good reason to think I’m going to fail. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. It’s like your mind is a hand and it is grabbing a huge ball whose curvature is so great that your fingers barely get purchase on it. And if you let it go — you feel like an idiot, because you feel like the things you were trying to think, they’re not Unthinkable in any grand sense — the sort of Unthinkable that is honored by the failure to think it and perhaps even thereby thunk! — but, rather, you just fucked up. But on the other hand, if we only tried things we knew we could do — as a cow tries to eat grass and, mouthful by mouthful succeeds — life would be much less fun.
The characters in this story are named Ebershaw, Moaree, and Be-shar. Ebershaw and Moaree were in a bus-station late at night traveling from the provincial capital, to the hill station where they were doing their research for the department of science, and had to change buses and wait in the middle of the night at Palar-T’ko. The station was cold. The floor was sticky. A peddler sold rice and coconut steamed in banana leaf, and computers, and quill pens, but even he had called it a night and gone to sleep under his pedal-rickshaw before Ebershaw and Moaree arrived. There was nothing to do but hug each other to keep warm, look at the crane flies and damsel flies wheeling, phototropically around the station’s light fixtures, and explore what could be bought for one or two or five Dragoons from the bus station vending machine, a surly and truculent item that if you pulled out a spring-loaded dispensing lever might vouchsafe on you a Broca Bar or a bag of Mirmios or a little game. Or might not!
The little game they got was a game of making Realms, and once you set up the little folded piece of paper and little rings, and defined your terms, and said what the rings were and what the map was a map of — they spread it out on the greasy cold table between their two chairs — that was your Realm. And Be-shar was the one who Came to Pass Within That Realm. Its king maybe. Or its child? I don’t know.
To Be-shar, Ebershaw and Moaree were mother and father though I think if you were going to assign a gender to them you would probably say Ebershaw was feminine and Moaree was feminine-^ if you have the ___-^ genders where you come from? I don’t know if you do. But that’s what they were, and lovely with long flowing ears, and all the requisite teeth as well as the “Three Startling Teeth” which have become so popular these days, and deservedly so.
Well any brute bear can make a cub, but what makes a human being a human being is when we bring forth into the world we don’t just provide some genes and protoplasm we provide stories. We don’t just send the bowling ball to knock down the pins we answer those questions: why were we bowling that morning, when the crocuses were singing and kissed by the spring air, and so many moments were flowering! Why bowl then?
“Well” said Ebershaw to his son Be-shar “I did it from guilt. Because I was a vile young man. And at the college we would take advantage of the poor girls from the village down the road, because we were wealthy and had servants, and they were simple and poor. And I told your mother that I had magic powers, and tricked her, and that is how we became lovers and why I am your father and she is your mother!”
Why am I calling them mother and father and man and woman and son? I’m as confused as Ebershaw! Because Moaree said, laughing “I never thought he had magic powers at all! I was able to pour water into the bowl and see the future, and understand that I was the one who could teach him and his whole tribe to stop feeling slaves to guilt, which was a relatively recent problem of theirs, dating back to a confusion suffered by his father’s father’s mother, who angry at being passed over by an inheritance in a fight with her cousin, had taught her son that they were terribly sinned against, and that any moment he didn’t spend brooding upon the injustices that she had suffered at the hands of her cousin, was stealing from her — not paying her back for his very life! What a silly thing I thought, and I saw his face in my bowl of water, and I saw your face, Be-shar! And I said while we are on a trip on good work from the Department of Science we will make your Realm and you the Child of the Realm, and you will ask the question and the lights will go on in your father’s eyes!”
Ebershaw was amazed! He loved his wife then more than he ever had before, more than he ever knew he was capable of.
When the peddler woke up they each bought a treat of rice and coconut and shared it, and smiled, and teased each other, by rubbing it on each other’s faces.
In the early dawn light the bus creaked its way into the station. They climbed aboard and found seats. The bus expelled the air from it brakes and headed off into the morning mist and was gone, wheezing its way up the road to the hill station. The sun was brilliant — it was going to be a hot day. Steam rose from the paddies, and the local deities leered at them from their weather-beaten wooden palaces as they passed, placing stone rings on leather maps, thousands of years old, printed on the hides of long-extinct beasts, glyptodon, dimetrodon, singing rude but rollicking songs.