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A Road into Chaos and Old Night

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

When I first read a handful of his essays in college, I didn’t much care for Ralph Waldo Emerson. He seemed too high-flown, too cocksure, too earnest. I couldn’t imagine he had ever sweated or doubted. His sentences rang with a magisterial certainty that I could never muster. In the library, his portrait gazed from the wall with a superior air; his name was carved in stone alongside the names of other literary immortals. More like an angel than a man, he seemed to float above the messy Earth where I labored in confusion. He rarely told stories, rarely framed arguments, rarely focused on any creature or place, but instead he piled one oracular statement atop another like a heap of jewels, each one hard and polished and cold.

While resisting Emerson, I fell under the spell of another citizen of Concord, Henry David Thoreau, who was agreeably cranky and earthy. Here was a man who rode rivers, climbed mountains, ambled through forests, and told of his journeys in wide-awake narratives, as I aspired to do. He built a cabin with his own hands, hoed beans, baked bread, and chopped wood. Thoreau kept his feet on the ground, his eyes and ears alert to the homely world—ants fighting on a stump, mud thawing on a railroad bank, men building a bridge, skunk cabbage perfuming a swamp. He led an outdoor life, keeping his distance from the gossipy town. He stood up against slavery, protested the Mexican war, went to jail for refusing to pay the poll tax, and wrote prose that seemed to me as wild as the loons he chased across Walden Pond.

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Chapter Three

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

The only troublesome items Zuni had not allowed the surgeons to replace were her eyes. Both lungs, one kidney, various joints, even the valves of her heart, those she had been content to let go, for they did not seem to be intrinsic parts of her. Let the doctors fiddle with her ears or pancreas, she would not care. But if she ever gave up her eyes, the ones she had used to design the Enclosure, to memorize the contours of earth, to trace the shifting tones of daylight, she would no longer be Zuni Franklin. Would the surgeons consent to be fitted with new hands? They should have realized that an architect lives in her eyes.

So when the drugs no longer cleansed the blight from her retina, she had to put up with dimming vision. And when she announced her plans to retire from the Institute for Global Design at age seventy-six—nine years early—everyone assumed her balky eyesight was to blame.

“Are you afraid blindness would spoil your work at the Institute?” a video reporter asked her.

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Phoenix was a welcome sight as he came plodding through the avenues of roses, loaded down with two packs like some long-suffering donkey. Seeing him toil past the goldfish pools and over the Japanese bridge, Teeg felt a great tenderness. Love for her had tugged him up the brick path from the river, as it had tugged him from Oregon City and Jonah Colony. Could she stretch his love so thin it would snap? What if one time she ran away and he didn’t follow?

Three hours of quarreling with her mother had left her so upset that she could only manage to offer a numb greeting when Phoenix reached the front steps. The stranger who wore her mother’s face greeted him with open hostility. Vile offspring of the Enclosure, her mother had called him. But how could she look at Phoenix and find him hateful?

Teeg motioned him to a rocking chair and served him tea, ignoring her mother’s withering stare. For a long spell only the rockers made any noise as the three of them sat on the porch, sipping from cups of translucent china, looking out over the formal gardens. What little there was to say, after seventeen years of absence, Teeg and her mother had already said.

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Chapter Thirteen

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

On the hovercraft instrument panel an amber light kept flashing. More data on the seatube rupture, Teeg guessed. But she dared not answer the call, for it might also be Transport Control, demanding to know why the crew still hadn’t left the hangar.

Come on, Phoenix. If he didn’t show up in about two shakes they would have to leave him behind. Could they smuggle him from the city later? That would be risky, might give the colony away. But waiting for another seatube emergency would be even more risky. Since losing their meeting place in the oil tank they had gone over a month without ingathering, and the forcefield of spirit that bound them together was weakening.

The thought of leaving Phoenix behind swung a weight in her heart.

“Any sign?” Marie asked from the cabin.

No, Teeg was going to answer, when she glimpsed Hinta jogging down the ramp from the sanitation port. Behind her loped a clown-painted figure in billowing gown. Tassels and sleeves fluttered about him as he ran, and the green tresses of his wig trailed behind like seaweed. Even through this bizarre get-up, Teeg recognized him by the way he bit down on his tongue and by the shape of his ears.

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Chapter Eleven

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Zuni set the battered lunch box on the table. The lid was decorated with a 1980s artist’s notion of rockets—long phallic spikes like sharpened pencils with fire gushing out the tail. Nothing at all like today’s ships, which were floating conglomerations of struts and screens and bulging chambers. Whatever had possessed her mother to buy that rocket-covered pail, way back there in an Oregon lumber town, a thousand miles from any launch pad? Was it because the world was closing in, and she wanted her daughter to dream of escape? Now, seventy years later, Zuni was still dreaming of escape.

She lifted the lid, plucked out the nine topmost bundles of cards, then shut the box for the last time. Dangling by its plastic handle, it felt heavy as she carried it to the vaporizer, heavy with hundreds of file cards, all those records of failed rebellion. After placing the box inside the vaporizer she studied it through the glass door. The flame-spewing rockets and pockmarked planets appeared to her with luminous clarity, even though the actual decals were so scuffed that she could barely make them out with her dim eyesight. Silly, she realized, to feel so attached to a little box of stamped tin. She set the timer for a minute, then peered in through the glass door to watch the vaporizer work its swirling molecular dance. After thirty seconds a congealed lump of metal still rested on the shelf, but after half a minute more nothing remained except a spiral of mist, which the recycling vents quickly sucked away.

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