Signs & Portents

Chapter 22

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive Articulation answer'd,...

Weather returned to normal in Berkeley and eventually, the whole bay area. Miri was startled to see that blossoms appeared on the almond trees that reached her windows. Those almonds trees were always unpredictable, but Miri marveled, after a snow storm? But after a week of warm weather, the drizzle started to return again.

The governor of California made a brief TV appearance and made the announcement that the state was regrettably no longer able to meet some of its fiscal obligations. There was just no more money in the coffers, no more credit, and the areas of some health and welfare services, and the salaries


of some civil employees, were most seriously affected. He and his staff were, of course, working day and night to come up with a solution, but the prognosis was bad, very bad. The fault lay with the profligate and inflationary policy of the legislature, present and past, who even now unless they were checked, would force the state into total bankruptcy etc., etc. This came as no real surprise to Miri and Carl, bankruptcies of city, county and state governments had been occurring for decades, but they concluded that Carl's unemployment checks were likely to stop coming, if not for good, at least for quite sometime.

"It's a crazy world," remarked Miri, "and getting crazier all the time. It's not time to be stuck in the city, Carl. We should move on."

Carl had in the meantime found another solution. He was teaching Robert the computer and he was an apt pupil. Robert went directly to the University of California to sell their services and between typesetting and functioning as an information service, they were a success. Together, they were earning far more Carl's unemployment check and the end did seem to be in sight. Carl hadn't bothered to go to State Unemployment Office. It was a new development and he was about to tell his mother when there came an insistent knocking at the door.

He opened the door to find himself staring into the face of the strange girl he had met on the plane to Los Angeles, when he had attended the Weather conference over a year ago. At the time, he had found her attractive and interesting and would have sought to continue the relationship. But in Los Angeles, she had left rather abruptly and he had been unable to find her name, Prunella Melchor, in any of the L.A. directories. He recovered himself and greeted her rather too effusively because of the shock.

Then he noticed that she was staring through him as if he were a complete stranger. At the same time, he heard his mother coming nearer to the door to hear what was going on. The girl made a completely baffling statement in response to his greeting.

"I have a package for Mrs. Miriamne O'Leary."

Words to remind her of who and when welled up in him, but died unspoken. Well, of course, if that was the way she wanted it, he thought, but why was she here? For the first time, he took in her apparel and the brown manila envelope she clutched in her hands. She wore a long monk's robe gown that was the official uniform of the University of the Light of the Eternal Gnosis. The truth of the situation finally came to him.

"Mother," he called, "The Gnostics are here."

The girl stood calmly waiting, regarding him with cool disinterested eyes. He finally thought to retreat from the doorway, allowing Miri to step down the hall, and in moments, he heard his mother explaining something about the other work being not quite ready, but tomorrow, etc. She accepted the extended envelope and the girl disappeared behind the closed door like the phantasm she had been to Carl.

His head still spinning, Carl only dimly heard his mother scolding about not calling them "the Gnostics" in such a flippant way, and how they needed this work now, and how another job from them had now come in, and how she had to get on with it. The doorbell rang again. She has remembered and come back was his first thought, and he sped to answer it.

It was Sharif, accompanied by his roommate, Barry Newman. Before Carl greeted them and asked Sharif about his health, he simply had to look out past them for that strange female apparition. He sailed past the two of them without a word, looked both ways, but the hall was quite empty.

"It's all right," Barry said with a smile, "we were not followed."

Carl smiled in dismay and confusion, but saw an amused expression on Barry's face.


For his part, Sharif was projecting an almost pathetic gratitude for what he had taken for a profound gesture of loyalty and concern.

"They let me go," he explained, "it's all right."

A far away look came into his eyes, and he stated solemnly, "That guy Finnegan wasn't really dead, you know. He was just unconscious, or passed out drunk or something. When he woke up, he ran out of there, no one could stop him. And you know, no one ever really saw his face."

"All the charges were dropped," said Barry, "it just took a little time, and reams of red tape."

"Well, come in, have some coffee," said Carl, "I knew you were innocent, but I never knew you were suspected of having killed, uh. What's his name?"

"Finnegan," said Sharif smugly, "Timothy Finnegan. You recall that I am the


reincarnation of James Joyce, I trust."

Carl concealed a smile, Sharif was Sharif.

"Yeah," said Barry. "That business with Finnegan ended the first day," he snickered, "Since old Tim wasn't really dead. When he woke up in the morgue, he took off and I don't blame him. But it's taken us a good month to get the other charges written off. I still think you should sue the police for false arrest. Weren't you handled kind of roughly?"

"No," Sharif said firmly, "they were polite, even when they thought Finnegan was dead."

This time Carl laughed out loud and was joined by Barry and even Sharif joined in, though he was to loath to give up that amazing coincidence.

"I mean," Sharif tried, "Never, when I was Joyce and writing Finnegan's Wake, did I think I was building up karma for actually being accused of his murder."

"Well," said Barry, "You didn't come off too badly, you'll have to admit."

"You have to come with us," Sharif announced suddenly in a more cheerful tone. "There's this guy who has direct," he reemphasized the word, "Di-rect contact with beings from the Hyades. You have to come!"

Carl's mind immediately snapped out a firm "no" to this. But staring into the eager puppy dog faces of the two, his resistance eroded by his recent perplexing experience with strangeness, he heard his mouth very traitorously overriding his common sense and agreeing to go with them.

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take—and give!

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
as rendered into English by Edward Fitzgerald


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