[First appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, January 1987]
The Folk of the Fringe (Phantasia Press/Tor, April 1989)
Sam Monson and Anamari Boagente had two encounters in their lives, forty years apart. The first encounter lasted for several weeks in the high Amazon jungle, the village of Agualinda. The second was for only an hour near the ruins of the Glen Canyon Dam, on the border between Navaho country and the State of Deseret.
When they met the first time, Sam was a scrawny teenager from Utah and Anamari was a middle-aged spinster Indian from Brazil. When they met the second time, he was governor of Deseret, the last European state in America, and she was, to some people's way of thinking, the mother of God. It never occurred to anyone that they had ever met before, except me. I saw it plain as day, and pestered Sam until he told me the whole story. Now Sam is dead, and she's long gone, and I'm the only one who knows the truth. I thought for a long time that I'd take this story untold to my grave, but I see now that I can't do that. The way I see it, I won't be allowed to die until I write this down. All my real work was done long since, so why else am I alive? I figure the land has kept me breathing so I can tell the story of its victory, and it has kept you alive so you can hear it. Gods are like that. It isn't enough for them to run everything. They want to be famous, too.
Passengers were nothing to her. Anamari only cared about helicopters when they brought medical supplies. This chopper carried a precious packet of benaxidene; Anamari barely noticed the skinny, awkward boy who sat by the crates, looking hostile. Another Yanqui who doesn't want to be stuck out in the jungle. Nothing new about that. Norteamericanos were almost invisible to Anamari by now. They came and went.
It was the Brazilian government people she had to worry about, the petty bureaucrats suffering through years of virtual exile in Manaus, working out their frustrations by being petty tyrants over the helpless Indians. No I'm sorry we don't have any more penicillin, no more syringes, what did you do with the AIDS vaccine we gave you three years ago? Do you think we're made of money here? Let them come to town if they want to get well. There's a hospital in São Paulo de Olivenca, send them there, we're not going to turn you into a second hospital out there in the middle of nowhere, not for a village of a hundred filthy Baniwas, it's not as if you're a doctor, you're just an old withered-up Indian woman yourself, you never graduated from the medical schools, we can't spare medicines for you. It made them feel so important, to decide whether or not an Indian child would live or die. As often as not they passed sentence of death by refusing to send supplies. It made them feel powerful as God.
Anamari knew better than to protest or argue -- it would only make that bureaucrat likelier to kill again in the future. But sometimes, when the need was great and the medicine was common, Anamari would go to the Yanqui geologists and ask if they had this or that. Sometimes they did. What she knew about Yanquis was that if they had some extra, they would share, but if they didn't, they wouldn't lift a finger to get any. They were not tyrants like Brazilian bureaucrats. They just didn't give a damn. They were there to make money.
That was what Anamari saw when she looked at the sullen light-haired boy in the helicopter -- another Norteamericano, just like all the other Norteamericanos, only younger.
She had the benaxidene, and so she immediately began spreading word that all the Baniwas should come for injections. It was a disease introduced during the war between Guyana and Venezuela two years ago; as usual, most of the victims were not citizens of either country, just the Indios of the jungle, waking up one morning with their joints stiffening, hardening until no movement was possible. Benaxidene was the antidote, but you had to have it every few months or your joints would stiffen up again. As usual, the bureaucrats had diverted a shipment and there were a dozen Baniwas bedridden in the village. As usual, one or two of the Indians would be too far gone for the cure; one or two of their joints would be stiff for the rest of their lives. As usual, Anamari said little as she gave the injections, and the Baniwas said less to her.
It was not until the next day that Anamari had time to notice the young Yanqui boy wandering around the village. He was wearing rumpled white clothing, already somewhat soiled with the greens and browns of life along the rivers of the Amazon jungle. He showed no sign of being interested in anything, but an hour into her rounds, checking on the results of yesterday's benaxidene treatments, she became aware that he was following her.
She turned around in the doorway of the government-built hovel and faced him. "O que?" she demanded. What do you want?
To her surprise, he answered in halting Portuguese. Most of these Yanquis never bothered to learn the language at all, expecting her and everybody else to speak English. "Posso adujar?" he asked. Can I help?
"Nao," she said. "Mas pode olhar." You can watch.
He looked at her in bafflement.
She repeated her sentence slowly, enunciating clearly. "Pode olhar."
"Voce, sim. And I can speak English."
"I don't want to speak English."
"Tanto faz," she said. Makes no difference.
He followed her into the hut. It was a little girl, lying naked in her own feces. She had palsy from a bout with meningitis years ago, when she was an infant, and Anamari figured that the girl would probably be one of the ones for whom the benaxidene came too late. That's how things usually worked -- the weak suffer most. But no, her joints were flexing again, and the girl smiled at them, that heartbreakingly happy smile that made palsy victims so beautiful at times.
So. Some luck after all, the benaxidene had been in time for her. Anamari took the lid off the clay waterjar that stood on the one table in the room, and dipped one of her clean rags in it. She used it to wipe the girl, then lifted her frail, atrophied body and pulled the soiled sheet out from under her. On impulse, she handed the sheet to the boy.
"Leva fora," she said. And, when he didn't understand, "Take it outside."
He did not hesitate to take it, which surprised her. "Do you want me to wash it?"
"You could shake off the worst of it," she said. "Out over the garden in back. I'll wash it later."
He came back in, carrying the wadded-up sheet, just as she was leaving. "All done here," she said. "We'll stop by my house to start that soaking. I'll carry it now."
He didn't hand it to her. "I've got it," he said. "Aren't you going to give her a clean sheet?"
"There are only four sheets in the village," she said. "Two of them are in my bed. She won't mind lying on the mat. I'm the only one in the village who cares about linens. I'm also the only one who cares about this girl."
"She likes you," he said.
"She smiles like that at everybody."
"So maybe she likes everybody."
Anamari grunted and led the way to her house. It was two government hovels pushed together. The one served as her clinic, the other as her home. Out back she had two metal washtubs. She handed one of them to the Yanqui boy, pointed at the rainwater tank, and told him to fill it. He did. It made her furious.
"What do you want!" she demanded.
"Nothing," he said.
"Why do you keep hanging around?"
"I thought I was helping." His voice was full of injured pride.
"I don't need your help." She forgot that she had meant to leave the sheet to soak. She began rubbing it on the washboard.
"Then why did you ask me to . . ."
She did not answer him, and he did not complete the question.
After a long time he said, "You were trying to get rid of me, weren't you?"
"What do you want here?" she said. "Don't I have enough to do, without a Norteamericano boy to look after?"
Anger flashed in his eyes, but he did not answer until the anger was gone. "If you're tired of scrubbing, I can take over."
She reached out and took his hand, examined it for a moment. "Soft hands," she said. "Lady hands. You'd scrape your knuckles on the washboard and bleed all over the sheet."
Ashamed, he put his hands in his pockets. A parrot flew past him, dazzling green and red; he turned in surprise to look at it. It landed on the rainwater tank. "Those sell for a thousand dollars in the States," he said.
Of course the Yanqui boy evaluates everything by price. "Here they're free," she said. "The Baniwa eat them. And wear the feathers."
He looked around at the other huts, the scraggly gardens. "The people are very poor here," he said. "The jungle life must be hard."
"Do you think so?" she snapped. "The jungle is very kind to these people. It has plenty for them to eat, all year. The Indians of the Amazon did not know they were poor until Europeans came and made them buy pants, which they couldn't afford, and build houses, which they couldn't keep up, and plant gardens. Plant gardens! In the midst of this magnificent Eden. The jungle life was good. The Europeans made them poor."
"Europeans?" asked the boy.
"Brazilians. They're all Europeans. Even the black ones have turned European. Brazil is just another European country, speaking a European language. Just like you Norteamericanos. You're Europeans too."
"I was born in America," he said. "So were my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents."
"But your bis-bis-avos, they came on a boat."
"That was a long time ago," he said.
"A long time!" She laughed. "I am a pure Indian. For ten thousand generations I belong to this land. You are a stranger here. A fourth-generation stranger."
"But I'm a stranger who isn't afraid to touch a dirty sheet," he said. He was grinning defiantly.
That was when she started to like him. "How old are you?" she asked.
"Fifteen," he said.
"Your father's a geologist?"
"No. He heads up the drilling team. They're going to sink a test well here. He doesn't think they'll find anything, though."
"They will find plenty of oil," she said.
"How do you know?"
"Because I dreamed it," she said. "Bulldozers cutting down the trees, making the airstrip, and planes coming and going. They'd never do that, unless they found oil. Lots of oil."
She waited for him to make fun of the idea of dreaming true dreams. But he didn't. He just looked at her.
So she was the one who broke the silence. "You came to this village to kill time while your father is away from you, on the job, right?"
"No," he said. "I came here because he hasn't started to work yet. The choppers start bringing in equipment tomorrow."
"You would rather be away from your father?"
He looked away. "I'd rather see him in hell."
"This is hell," she said, and the boy laughed. "Why did you come here with him?"
"Because I'm only fifteen years old, and he has custody of me this summer."
"Custody," she said. "Like a criminal."
"He's the criminal," he said bitterly.
"And his crime?"
He waited a moment, as if deciding whether to answer. When he spoke, he spoke quietly and looked away. Ashamed. Of his father's crime. "Adultery," he said. The word hung in the air. The boy turned back and looked her in the face again. His face was tinged with red.
Europeans have such transparent skin, she thought. All their emotions show through. She guessed a whole story from his word -- a beloved mother betrayed, and now he had to spend the summer with her betrayer. "Is that a crime?"
He shrugged. "Maybe not to Catholics."
He shook his head. "Mormon. But I'm a heretic."
She laughed. "You're a heretic, and your father is an adulterer."
He didn't like her laughter. "And you're a virgin," he said. His words seemed calculated to hurt her.
She stopped scrubbing, stood there looking at her hands. "Also a crime?" she murmured.
"I had a dream last night," he said. "In my dream your name was Anna Marie, but when I tried to call you that, I couldn't. I could only call you by another name."
"What name?" she asked.
"What does it matter? It was only a dream." He was taunting her. He knew she trusted in dreams.
"You dreamed of me, and in the dream my name was Anamari?"
"It's true, isn't it? That is your name, isn't it?" He didn't have to add the other half of the question: You are a virgin, aren't you?
She lifted the sheet from the water, wrung it out and tossed it to him. He caught it, vile water spattering his face. He grimaced. She poured the washwater onto the dirt. It spattered mud all over his trousers. He did not step back. Then she carried the tub to the water tank and began to fill it with clean water. "Time to rinse," she said.
"You dreamed about an airstrip," he said. "And I dreamed about you."
"In your dreams you better start to mind your own business," she said.
"I didn't ask for it, you know," he said. "But I followed the dream out to this village, and you turned out to be a dreamer, too."
"That doesn't mean you're going to end up with your pinto between my legs, so you can forget it," she said.
He looked genuinely horrified. "Geez, what are you talking about! That would be fornication! Plus you've got to be old enough to be my mother!"
"I'm forty-two," she said. "If it's any of your business."
"You're older than my mother," he said. "I couldn't possibly think of you sexually. I'm sorry if I gave that impression."
She giggled. "You are a very funny boy, Yanqui. First you say I'm a virgin --"
"That was in the dream," he said.
"And then you tell me I'm older than your mother and too ugly to think of me sexually."
He looked ashen with shame. "I'm sorry, I was just trying to make sure you knew that I would never --"
"You're trying to tell me that you're a good boy."
"Yes," he said.
She giggled again. "You probably don't even play with yourself," she said.
His face went red. He struggled to find something to say. Then he threw the wet sheet back at her and walked furiously away. She laughed and laughed. She liked this boy very much.
The next morning he came back and helped her in the clinic all day. His name was Sam Monson, and he was the first European she ever knew who dreamed true dreams. She had thought only Indios could do that. Whatever god it was that gave her dreams to her, perhaps it was the same god giving dreams to Sam. Perhaps that god brought them together here in the jungle. Perhaps it was that god who would lead the drill to oil, so that Sam's father would have to keep him here long enough to accomplish whatever the god had in mind.
It annoyed her that the god had mentioned she was a virgin. That was nobody's business but her own.
Life in the jungle was better than Sam ever expected. Back in Utah, when Mother first told him that he had to go to the Amazon with the old bastard, he had feared the worst. Hacking through thick viny jungles with a machete, crossing rivers of piranha in tick-infested dugouts, and always sweat and mosquitos and thick, heavy air. Instead the American oilmen lived in a pretty decent camp, with a generator for electric light. Even though it rained all the time and when it didn't it was so hot you wished it would, it wasn't constant danger as he had feared, and he never had to hack through jungle at all. There were paths, sometimes almost roads, and the thick, vivid green of the jungle was more beautiful than he had ever imagined. He had not realized that the American West was such a desert. Even California, where the old bastard lived when he wasn't traveling to drill wells, even those wooded hills and mountains were gray compared to the jungle green.
The Indians were quiet little people, not headhunters. Instead of avoiding them, like the adult Americans did, Sam found that he could be with them, come to know them, even help them by working with Anamari. The old bastard could sit around and drink his beer with the guys -- adultery and beer, as if one contemptible sin of the flesh weren't enough -- but Sam was actually doing some good here. If there was anything Sam could do to prove he was the opposite of his father, he would do it; and because his father was a weak, carnal, earthy man with no self-control, then Sam had to be a strong, spiritual, intellectual man who did not let any passions of the body rule him. Watching his father succumb to alcohol, remembering how his father could not even last a month away from Mother without having to get some whore into his bed, Sam was proud of his self-discipline. He ruled his body; his body did not rule him.
He was also proud to have passed Anamari's test on the first day. What did he care if human excrement touched his body? He was not afraid to breathe the hot stink of suffering, he was not afraid of the innocent dirt of a crippled child. Didn't Jesus touch lepers? Dirt of the body did not disgust him. Only dirt of the soul.
Which was why his dreams of Anamari troubled him. During the day they were friends. They talked about important ideas, and she told him stories of the Indians of the Amazon, and about her education as a teacher in São Paulo. She listened when he talked about history and religion and evolution and all the theories and ideas that danced in his head. Even Mother never had time for that, always taking care of the younger kids or doing her endless jobs for the Church. Anamari treated him like his ideas mattered.
But at night, when he dreamed, it was something else entirely. In those dreams he kept seeing her naked, and the voice kept calling her "Virgem America." What her virginity had to do with America he had no idea -- even true dreams didn't always make sense -- but he knew this much: when he dreamed of Anamari naked, she was always reaching out to him, and he was filled with such strong passions that more than once he awoke from the dream to find himself throbbing with imaginary pleasure, like Onan in the Bible, Judah's son, who spilled his seed upon the ground and was struck dead for it.
Sam lay awake for a long time each time this happened, trembling, fearful. Not because he thought God would strike him down -- he knew that if God hadn't struck his father dead for adultery, Sam was certainly in no danger because of an erotic dream. He was afraid because he knew that in these dreams he revealed himself to be exactly as lustful and evil as his father. He did not want to feel any sexual desire for Anamari. She was old and lean and tough, and he was afraid of her, but most of all Sam didn't want to desire her because he was not like his father, he would never have sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his wife.
Yet when he walked into the village of Agualinda, he felt eager to see her again, and when he found her -- the village was small, it never took long -- he could not erase from his mind the vivid memory of how she looked in the dreams, reaching out to him, her breasts loose and jostling, her slim hips rolling toward him -- and he would bite his cheek for the pain of it, to distract him from desire.
It was because he was living with Father; the old bastard's goatishness was rubbing off on him, that's all. So he spent as little time with his father as possible, going home only to sleep at night.
The harder he worked at the jobs Anamari gave him to do, the easier it was to keep himself from remembering his dream of her kneeling over him, touching him, sliding along his body. Hoe the weeds out of the corn until your back is on fire with pain! Wash the Baniwa hunter's wound and replace the bandage! Sterilize the instruments in the alcohol! Above all, do not, even accidentally, let any part of your body brush against hers; pull away when she is near you, turn away so you don't feel her warm breath as she leans over your shoulder, start a bright conversation whenever there is a silence filled only with the sound of insects and the sight of a bead of sweat slowly etching its way from her neck down her chest to disappear between her breasts where she only tied her shirt instead of buttoning it.
How could she possibly be a virgin, after the way she acted in his dreams?
"Where do you think the dreams come from?" she asked.
He blushed, even though she could not have guessed what he was thinking. Could she?
"The dreams," she said. "Why do you think we have dreams that come true?"
It was nearly dark. "I have to get home," he said. She was holding his hand. When had she taken his hand like that, and why?
"I have the strangest dream," she said. "I dream of a huge snake, covered with bright green and red feathers."
"Not all the dreams come true," he said.
"I hope not," she answered. "Because this snake comes out of -- I give birth to this snake."
"Quetzal," he said.
"What does that mean?"
"The feathered serpent god of the Aztecs. Or maybe the Mayas. Mexican, anyway. I have to go home."
"But what does it mean?"
"It's almost dark," he said.
"Stay and talk to me!" she demanded. "I have room, you can stay the night."
But Sam had to get back. Much as he hated staying with his father, he dared not spend a night in this place. Even her invitation aroused him. He would never last a night in the same house with her. The dream would be too strong for him. So he left her and headed back along the path through the jungle. All during the walk he couldn't get Anamari out of his mind. It was as if the plants were sending him the vision of her, so his desire was even stronger than when he was with her.
The leaves gradually turned from green to black in the seeping dark. The hot darkness did not frighten him; it seemed to invite him to step away from the path into the shadows, where he would find the moist relief, the cool release of all his tension. He stayed on the path, and hurried faster.
He came with relief to the oilmen's town. The generator was loud, but the insects were louder, swarming around the huge area light, casting shadows of their demonic dance. He and his father shared a large one-room house on the far edge of the compound. The oil company provided much nicer hovels than the Brazilian government.
A few men called out to greet him. He waved, even answered once or twice, but hurried on. His groin felt so hot and tight with desire that he was sure that only the shadows and his quick stride kept everyone from seeing. It was maddening; the more he thought of trying to calm himself, the more visions of Anamari slipped in and out of his waking mind, almost to the point of hallucination. His body would not relax. He was almost running when he burst into the house.
Inside, Father was washing his dinner plate. He glanced up, but Sam was already past him. "I'll heat up your dinner."
Sam flopped down on his bed. "Not hungry."
"Why are you so late?" asked his father.
"We got to talking."
"It's dangerous in the jungle at night. You think it's safe because nothing bad ever happens to you in the daytime, but it's dangerous."
"Sure Dad, I know." Sam got up, turned his back to take off his pants. Maddeningly, he was still aroused; he didn't want his father to see.
But with the unerring instinct of prying parents, the old bastard must have sensed that Sam was hiding something. When Sam was buck naked, Father walked around and looked, just as if he never heard of privacy. Sam blushed in spite of himself. His father's eyes went small and hard. I hope I don't ever look like that, thought Sam. I hope my face doesn't get that ugly suspicious expression on it. I'd rather die than look like that.
"Well, put on your pajamas," Father said. "I don't want to look at that forever."
Sam pulled on his sleeping shorts.
"What's going on over there?" asked Father.
"Nothing," said Sam.
"You must do something all day."
"I told you, I help her. She runs a clinic, and she also tends a garden. She's got no electricity, so it takes a lot of work."
"I've done a lot of work in my time, Sam, but I don't come home like that."
"No, you always stopped and got it off with some whore along the way."
The old bastard whipped out his hand and slapped Sam across the face. It stung, and the surprise of it wrung tears from Sam before he had time to decide not to cry.
"I never slept with a whore in my life," said the old bastard.
"You only slept with one woman who wasn't," said Sam.
Father slapped him again, only this time Sam was ready, and he bore the slap stoically, almost without flinching.
"I had one affair," said Father.
"You got caught once," said Sam. "There were dozens of women."
Father laughed derisively. "What did you do, hire a detective? There was only the one."
But Sam knew better. He had dreamed these women for years. Laughing, lascivious women. It wasn't until he was twelve years old that he found out enough about sex to know what it all meant. By then he had long since learned that any dream he had more than once was true. So when he had a dream of Father with one of the laughing women, he woke up, holding the dream in his memory. He thought through it from beginning to end, remembering all the details he could. The name of the motel. The room number. It was midnight, but Father was in California, so it was an hour earlier. Sam got out of bed and walked quietly into the kitchen and dialed directory assistance. There was such a motel. He wrote down the number. Then Mother was there, asking him what he was doing.
"This is the number of the Seaview Motor Inn," he said. "Call this number and ask for room twenty-one twelve and then ask for Dad."
Mother looked at him strangely, like she was about to scream or cry or hit him or throw up. "Your father is at the Hilton," she said.
But he just looked right back at her and said, "No matter who answers the phone, ask for Dad."
So she did. A woman answered, and Mom asked for Dad by name, and he was there. "I wonder how we can afford to pay for two motel rooms on the same night," Mom said coldly. "Or are you splitting the cost with your friend?" Then she hung up the phone and burst into tears.
She cried all night as she packed up everything the old bastard owned. By the time Dad got home two days later, all his things were in storage. Mom moved fast when she made up her mind. Dad found himself divorced and excommunicated all in the same week, not two months later.
Mother never asked Sam how he knew where Dad was that night. Never even hinted at wanting to know. Dad never asked him how Mom knew to call that number, either. An amazing lack of curiosity, Sam thought sometimes. Perhaps they just took it as fate. For a while it was a secret, then it stopped being secret, and it didn't matter how the change happened. But one thing Sam knew for sure -- the woman at the Seaview Motor Inn was not the first woman, and the Seaview was not the first motel. Dad had been an adulterer for years, and it was ridiculous for him to lie about it now.
But there was no point in arguing with him, especially when he was in the mood to slap Sam around.
"I don't like the idea of you spending so much time with an older woman," said Father.
"She's the closest thing to a doctor these people have. She needs my help and I'm going to keep helping her," said Sam.
"Don't talk to me like that, little boy."
"You don't know anything about this, so just mind your own business."
Another slap. "You're going to get tired of this before I do, Sammy."
"I love it when you slap me, Dad. It confirms my moral superiority."
Another slap, this time so hard that Sam stumbled under the blow, and he tasted blood inside his mouth. "How hard next time, Dad?" he said. "You going to knock me down? Kick me around a little? Show me who's boss?"
"You've been asking for a beating ever since we got here."
"I've been asking to be left alone."
"I know women, Sam. You have no business getting involved with an older woman like that."
"I help her wash a little girl who has bowel movements in bed, Father. I empty pails of vomit. I wash clothes and help patch leaking roofs and while I'm doing all these things we talk. Just talk. I don't imagine you have much experience with that, Dad. You probably never talk at all with the women you know, at least not after the price is set."
It was going to be the biggest slap of all, enough to knock him down, enough to bruise his face and black his eye, But the old bastard held it in. Didn't hit him. Just stood there, breathing hard, his face red, his eyes tight and piggish.
"You're not as pure as you think," the old bastard finally whispered. "You've got every desire you despise in me."
"I don't despise you for desire," said Sam.
"The guys on the crew have been talking about you and this Indian bitch, Sammy. You may not like it, but I'm your father and it's my job to warn you. These Indian women are easy, and they'll give you a disease."
"The guys on the crew," said Sam. "What do they know about Indian women? They're all fags or jerk-offs."
"I hope someday you say that where they can hear you, Sam. And I hope when it happens I'm not there to stop what they do to you."
"I would never be around men like that, Daddy, if the court hadn't given you shared custody. A no-fault divorce. What a joke."
More than anything else, those words stung the old bastard. Hurt him enough to shut him up. He walked out of the house and didn't come back until Sam was long since asleep.
Asleep and dreaming.
Anamari knew what was on Sam's mind, and to her surprise she found it vaguely flattering. She had never known the shy affection of a boy. When she was a teenager, she was the one Indian girl in the schools of São Paulo. Indians were so rare in the Europeanized parts of Brazil that she might have seemed exotic, but in those days she was still so frightened. The city was sterile, all concrete and harsh light, not at all like the deep soft meadows and woods of Xingu Park. Her tribe, the Kuikaru, were much more Europeanized than the jungle Indians -- she had seen cars all her life and spoke Portuguese before she went to school. But the city made her hungry for the land, the cobblestones hurt her feet, and these intense, competitive children made her afraid. Worst of all, true dreams stopped in the city. She hardly knew who she was, if she was not a true dreamer. So if any boy desired her then, she would not have known it. She would have rebuffed him inadvertently. And then the time for such things had passed. Until now.
"Last night I dreamed of a great bird, flying west, away from land. Only its right wing was twice as large as its left wing. It had great bleeding wounds along the edges of its wings, and the right wing was the sickest of all, rotting in the air, the feathers dropping off."
"Very pretty dream," said Sam. Then he translated, to keep in practice. "Que sonho lindo."
"Ah, but what does it mean?"
"What happened next?"
"I was riding on the bird. I was very small, and I held a small snake in my hands --"
"The feathered snake."
"Yes. And I turned it loose, and it went and ate up all the corruption, and the bird was clean. And that's all. You've got a bubble in that syringe. The idea is to inject medicine, not air. What does the dream mean?"
"What, you think I'm a Joseph? A Daniel?"
"How about a Sam?"
"Actually, your dream is easy. Piece of cake."
"Piece of cake. Easy as pie. That's how the cookie crumbles. Man shall not live by bread alone. All I can think of are bakery sayings. I must be hungry."
"Tell me the dream or I'll poke this needle into your eye."
"That's what I like about you Indians. Always you have torture on your mind."
She planted her foot against him and knocked him off his stool onto the packed dirt floor. A beetle skittered away. Sam held up the syringe he had been working with -- it was undamaged. He got up, set it aside. "The bird," he said, "is North and South America. Like wings, flying west. Only the right wing is bigger." He sketched out a rough map with his toe on the floor.
"That's the shape, maybe," she said. "It could be."
"And the corruption -- show me where it was."
With her toe, she smeared the map here, there.
"It's obvious," said Sam.
"Yes," she said. "Once you think of it as a map. The corruption is all the Europeanized land. And the only healthy places are where the Indians still live."
"Indians or half-Indians," said Sam. "All your dreams are about the same thing, Anamari. Removing the Europeans from North and South America. Let's face it. You're an Indian chauvinist. You give birth to the resurrection god of the Aztecs, and then you send it out to destroy the Europeans."
"But why do I dream this?"
"Because you hate Europeans."
"No," she said. "That isn't true."
"Sure it is."
"I don't hate you."
"Because you know me. I'm not a European anymore, I'm a person. Obviously you've got to keep that from happening anymore, so you can keep your bigotry alive."
"You're making fun of me, Sam."
He shook his head. "No, I'm not. These are true dreams, Anamari. They tell you your destiny."
She giggled. "If I give birth to a feathered snake, I'll know the dream was true."
"To drive the Europeans out of America."
"No," she said. "I don't care what the dream says. I won't do that. Besides, what about the dream of the flowering weed?"
"Little weed in the garden, almost dead, and then you water it and it grows larger and larger and more beautiful --"
"And something else," she said. "At the very end of the dream, all the other flowers in the garden have changed. To be just like the flowering weed." She reached out and rested her hand on his arm. "Tell me that dream."
His arm became still, lifeless under her hand. "Black is beautiful," he said.
"What does that mean?"
"In America. The U.S., I mean. For the longest time, the blacks, the former slaves, they were ashamed to be black. The whiter you were, the more status you had -- the more honor. But when they had their revolution in the sixties --"
"You don't remember the sixties, little boy."
"Heck, I barely remember the seventies. But I read books. One of the big changes, and it made a huge difference, was that slogan. Black is beautiful. The blacker the better. They said it over and over. Be proud of blackness, not ashamed of it. And in just a few years, they turned the whole status system upside down."
She nodded. "The weed came into flower."
"So. All through Latin America, Indians are very low status. If you want a Bolivian to pull a knife on you, just call him an Indian. Everybody who possibly can, pretends to be of pure Spanish blood. Pure-blooded Indians are slaughtered wherever there's the slightest excuse. Only in Mexico is it a little bit different."
"What you tell me from my dreams, Sam, this is no small job to do. I'm one middle-aged Indian woman, living in the jungle. I'm supposed to tell all the Indians of America to be proud? When they're the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low?"
"When you give them a name, you create them. Benjamin Franklin did it, when he coined the name American for the people of the English colonies. They weren't New Yorkers or Virginians, they were Americans. Same thing for you. It isn't Latin Americans against Norteamericanos. It's Indians and Europeans. Somos todos indios. We're all Indians. Think that would work as a slogan?"
"Me. A revolutionary."
"Nos somos os americanos. Vai fora, Europa! America p'ra americanos! All kinds of slogans."
"I'd have to translate them into Spanish."
"Indios moram na India. Americanos moram na America. America nossa! No, better still: Nossa America! Nuestra America! It translates. Our America."
"You're a very fine slogan maker."
He shivered as she traced her finger along his shoulder and down the sensitive skin of his chest. She made a circle on his nipple and it shriveled and hardened, as if he were cold.
"Why are you silent now?" She laid her hand flat on his abdomen, just above his shorts, just below his navel. "You never tell me of your own dreams," she said. "But I know what they are."
"See? Your skin tells me, even when your mouth says nothing. I have dreamed these dreams all my life, and they troubled me, all the time, but now you tell me what they mean, a white-skinned dream-teller, you tell me that I must go among the Indians and make them proud, make them strong, so that everyone with a drop of Indian blood will call himself an Indian, and Europeans will lie and claim native ancestors, until America is all Indian. You tell me that I will give birth to the new Quetzalcoatl, and he will unify and heal the land of its sickness. But what you never tell me is this: Who will be the father of my feathered snake?"
Abruptly he got up and walked stiffly away. To the door, keeping his back to her, so she couldn't see how alert his body was. But she knew.
"I'm fifteen," said Sam, finally.
"And I'm very old. The land is older. Twenty million years. What does it care of the quarter-century between us?"
"I should never have come to this place."
"You never had a choice," she said. "My people have always known the god of the land. Once there was a perfect balance in this place. All the people loved the land and tended it. Like the garden of Eden. And the land fed them. It gave them maize and bananas. They took only what they needed to eat, and they did not kill animals for sport or humans for hate. But then the Incas turned away from the land and worshiped gold and the bright golden sun. The Aztecs soaked the ground in the blood of their human sacrifices. The Pueblos cut down the forests of Utah and Arizona and turned them into red-rock deserts. The Iroquois tortured their enemies and filled the forests with their screams of agony. We found tobacco and coca and peyote and coffee and forgot the dreams the land gave us in our sleep. And so the land rejected us. The land called to Columbus and told him lies and seduced him and he never had a chance, did he? Never had a choice. The land brought the Europeans to punish us. Disease and slavery and warfare killed most of us, and the rest of us tried to pretend we were Europeans rather than endure any more of the punishment. The land was our jealous lover, and it hated us for a while."
"Some Catholic you are," said Sam. "I don't believe in your Indian gods."
"Say Deus or Cristo instead of the land and the story is the same," she said. "But now the Europeans are worse than we Indians ever were. The land is suffering from a thousand different poisons, and you threaten to kill all of life with your weapons of war. We Indians have been punished enough, and now it's our turn to have the land again. The land chose Columbus exactly five centuries ago. Now you and I dream our dreams, the way he dreamed."
"That's a good story," Sam said, still looking out the door. It sounded so close to what the old prophets in the Book of Mormon said would happen to America; close, but dangerously different. As if there was no hope for the Europeans anymore. As if their chance had already been lost, as if no repentance would be allowed. They would not be able to pass the land on to the next generation. Someone else would inherit. It made him sick at heart, to realize what the white man had lost, had thrown away, had torn up and destroyed.
"But what should I do with my story?" she asked. He could hear her coming closer, walking up behind him. He could almost feel her breath on his shoulder. "How can I fulfill it?"
By yourself. Or at least without me. "Tell it to the Indians. You can cross all these borders in a thousand different places, and you speak Portuguese and Spanish and Arawak and Carib, and you'll be able to tell your story in Quechua, too, no doubt, crossing back and forth between Brazil and Colombia and Bolivia and Peru and Venezuela, all close together here, until every Indian knows about you and calls you by the name you were given in my dream."
"Tell me my name."
"Virgem America. See? The land or God or whatever it is wants you to be a virgin."
She giggled. "Nossa senhora," she said. "Don't you see? I'm the new Virgin Mother. It wants me to be a mother; all the old legends of the Holy Mother will transfer to me; they'll call me virgin no matter what the truth is. How the priests will hate me. How they'll try to kill my son. But he will live and become Quetzalcoatl, and he will restore America to the true Americans. That is the meaning of my dreams. My dreams and yours."
"Not me," he said. "Not for any dream or any god." He turned to face her. His fist was pressed against his groin, as if to crush out all rebellion there. "My body doesn't rule me," he said. "Nobody controls me but myself."
"That's very sick," she said cheerfully. "All because you hate your father. Forget that hate, and love me instead."
His face became a mask of anguish, and then he turned and fled.
He even thought of castrating himself, that's the kind of madness that drove him through the jungle. He could hear the bulldozers carving out the airstrip, the screams of falling timber, the calls of birds and cries of animals displaced. It was the terror of the tortured land, and it maddened him even more as he ran between thick walls of green. The rig was sucking oil like heartblood from the forest floor. The ground was wan and trembling under his feet. And when he got home he was grateful to lift his feet off the ground and lie on his mattress, clutching his pillow, panting or perhaps sobbing from the exertion of his run.
He slept, soaking his pillow in afternoon sweat, and in his sleep the voice of the land came to him like whispered lullabies. I did not choose you, said the land. I cannot speak except to those who hear me, and because it is in your nature to hear and listen, I spoke to you and led you here to save me, save me, save me. Do you know the desert they will make of me? Encased in burning dust or layers of ice, either way I'll be dead. My whole purpose is to thrust life upward out of my soils, and feel the press of living feet, and hear the songs of birds and the low music of the animals, growling, lowing, chittering, whatever voice they choose. That's what I ask of you, the dance of life, just once to make the man whose mother will teach him to be Quetzalcoatl and save me, save me, save me.
He heard that whisper and he dreamed a dream. In his dream he got up and walked back to Agualinda, not along the path, but through the deep jungle itself. A longer way, but the leaves touched his face, the spiders climbed on him, the tree lizards tangled in his hair, the monkeys dunged him and pinched him and jabbered in his ear, the snakes entwined around his feet; he waded streams and fish caressed his naked ankles, and all the way they sang to him, song that celebrants might sing at the wedding of a king. Somehow, in the way of dreams, he lost his clothing without removing it, so that he emerged from the jungle naked, and walked through Agualinda as the sun was setting, all the Baniwas peering at him from their doorways, making clicking noises with their teeth.
He awoke in darkness. He heard his father breathing. He must have slept through the afternoon. What a dream, what a dream. He was exhausted.
He moved, thinking of getting up to use the toilet. Only then did he realize that he was not alone on the bed, and it was not his bed. She stirred and nestled against him, and he cried out in fear and anger.
It startled her awake. "What is it?" she asked.
"It was a dream," he insisted. "All a dream."
"Ah yes," she said, "it was. But last night, Sam, we dreamed the same dream." She giggled. "All night long."
In his sleep. It happened in his sleep. And it did not fade like common dreams, the memory was clear, pouring himself into her again and again, her fingers gripping him, her breath against his cheek, whispering the same thing, over and over: "Aceito, aceito-te, aceito." Not love, no, not when he came with the land controlling him, she did not love him, she merely accepted the burden he placed within her. Before tonight she had been a virgin, and so had he. Now she was even purer than before, Virgem America, but his purity was hopelessly, irredeemably gone, wasted, poured out into this old woman who had haunted his dreams. "I hate you," he said. "What you stole from me."
He got up, looking for his clothing, ashamed that she was watching him.
"No one can blame you," she said. "The land married us, gave us to each other. There's no sin in that."
"Yeah," he said.
"One time. Now I am whole. Now I can begin."
And now I'm finished.
"I didn't mean to rob you," she said. "I didn't know you were dreaming."
"I thought I was dreaming," he said, "but I loved the dream. I dreamed I was fornicating and it made me glad." He spoke the words with all the poison in his heart. "Where are my clothes?"
"You arrived without them," she said. "It was my first hint that you wanted me."
There was a moon outside. Not yet dawn. "I did what you wanted," he said. "Now can I go home?"
"Do what you want," she said. "I didn't plan this."
"I know. I wasn't talking to you." And when he spoke of home, he didn't mean the shack where his father would be snoring and the air would stink of beer.
"When you woke me, I was dreaming," she said.
"I don't want to hear it."
"I have him now," she said, "a boy inside me. A lovely boy. But you will never see him in all your life, I think."
"Will you tell him? Who I am?"
She giggled. "Tell Quetzalcoatl that his father is a European? A man who blushes? A man who burns in the sun? No, I won't tell him. Unless someday he becomes cruel, and wants to punish the Europeans even after they are defeated. Then I will tell him that the first European he must punish is himself. Here, write your name. On this paper write your name, and give me your fingerprint, and write the date."
"I don't know what day it is."
"October twelfth," she said.
"Write October twelfth," she said. "I'm in the legend business now."
"August twenty-fourth," he murmured, but he wrote the date she asked for.
"The helicopter comes this morning," she said.
"Good-bye," he said. He started for the door.
Her hands caught at him, held his arm, pulled him back. She embraced him, this time not in a dream, cool bodies together in the doorway of the house. The geis was off him now, or else he was worn out; her body had no power over his anymore.
"I did love you," she murmured. "It was not just the god that brought you."
Suddenly he felt very young, even younger than fifteen, and he broke away from her and walked quickly away through the sleeping village. He did not try to retrace his wandering route through the jungle; he stayed on the moonlit path and soon was at his father's hut. The old bastard woke up as Sam came in.
'I knew it'd happen," Father said.
Sam rummaged for underwear and pulled it on.
"There's no man born who can keep his zipper up when a woman wants it." Father laughed. A laugh of malice and triumph. "You're no better than I am, boy."
Sam walked to where his father sat on the bed and imagined hitting him across the face. Once, twice, three times.
"Go ahead, boy, hit me. It won't make you a virgin again."
"I'm not like you," Sam whispered.
"No?" asked Father. "For you it's a sacrament or something? As my daddy used to say, it don't matter who squeezes the toothpaste, boy, it all squirts out the same."
"Then your daddy must have been as dumb a jackass as mine."
Sam went back to the chest they shared, began packing his clothes and books into one big suitcase. "I'm going out with the chopper today. Mom will wire me the money to come home from Manaus."
"She doesn't have to. I'll give you a check."
"I don't want your money. I just want my passport."
"It's in the top drawer." Father laughed again. "At least I always wore my clothes home."
In a few minutes Sam had finished packing. He picked up the bag, started for the door.
"Son," said Father, and because his voice was quiet, not derisive, Sam stopped and listened. "Son," he said, "once is once. It doesn't mean you're evil, it doesn't even mean you're weak. It just means you're human." He was breathing deeply. Sam hadn't heard him so emotional in a long time. "You aren't a thing like me, son," he said. "That should make you glad."
Years later Sam would think of all kinds of things he should have said. Forgiveness. Apology. Affection. Something. But he said nothing, just left and went out to the clearing and waited for the helicopter. Father didn't come to try to say good-bye. The chopper pilot came, unloaded, left the chopper to talk to some people. He must have talked to Father because when he came back he handed Sam a check. Plenty to fly home, and stay in good places during the layovers, and buy some new clothes that didn't have jungle stains on them. The check was the last thing Sam had from his father. Before he came home from that rig, the Venezuelans bought a hardy and virulent strain of syphilis on the black market, one that could be passed by casual contact, and released it on Guyana. Sam's father was one of the first million to die, so fast that he didn't even write.
The State of Deseret had only sixteen helicopters, all desperately needed for surveying, spraying, and medical emergencies. So Governor Sam Monson rarely risked them on government business. This time, though, he had no choice. He was only fifty-five, and in good shape, so maybe he could have made the climb down into Glen Canyon and back up the other side. But Carpenter wouldn't have made it, not in a wheelchair, and Carpenter had a right to be here. He had a right to see what the red-rock Navaho desert had become.
Deciduous forest, as far as the eye could see.
They stood on the bluff where the old town of Page had once been, before the dam was blown up. The Navahos hadn't tried to reforest here. It was their standard practice. They left all the old European towns unplanted, like pink scars in the green of the forest. Still, the Navahos weren't stupid. They had come to the last stronghold of European science, the University of Deseret at Zarahemla, to find out how to use the heavy rainfalls to give them something better than perpetual floods and erosion. It was Carpenter who gave them the plan for these forests, just as it was Carpenter whose program had turned the old Utah deserts into the richest farmland in America. The Navahos filled their forests with bison, deer, and bears. The Mormons raised crops enough to feed five times their population. That was the European mind-set, still in place, enough is never enough. Plant more, grow more, you'll need it tomorrow.
"They say he has two hundred thousand soldiers," said Carpenter's computer voice. Carpenter could speak, Sam had heard, but he never did. Preferred the synthesized voice. "They could all be right down there, and we'd never see them."
"They're much farther south and east. Strung out from Phoenix to Santa Fe, so they aren't too much of a burden on the Navahos."
"Do you think they'll buy supplies from us? Or send an army in to take them?"
"Neither," said Sam. "We'll give our surplus grain as a gift."
"He rules all of Latin America, and he needs gifts from a little remnant of the U.S. in the Rockies?"
"We'll give it as a gift, and be grateful if he takes it that way."
"How else might he take it?"
"As tribute. As taxes. As ransom. The land is his now, not ours."
"We made the desert live, Sam. That makes it ours."
"There they are."
They watched in silence as four horses walked slowly from the edge of the woods, out onto the open ground of an ancient gas station. They bore a litter between them, and were led by two -- not Indians -- Americans. Sam had schooled himself long ago to use the word American to refer only to what had once been known as Indians, and to call himself and his own people Europeans. But in his heart he had never forgiven them for stealing his identity, even though he remembered very clearly where and when that change began.
It took fifteen minutes for the horses to bring the litter to him, but Sam made no move to meet them, no sign that he was in a hurry. That was also the American way now, to take time, never to hurry, never to rush. Let the Europeans wear their watches. Americans told time by the sun and stars.
Finally the litter stopped, and the men opened the litter door and helped her out. She was smaller than before, and her face was tightly wrinkled, her hair steel-white.
She gave no sign that she knew him, though he said his name. The Americans introduced her as Nuestra Senora. Our Lady. Never speaking her most sacred name: Virgem America.
The negotiations were delicate but simple. Sam had authority to speak for Deseret, and she obviously had authority to speak for her son. The grain was refused as a gift, but accepted as taxes from a federated state. Deseret would be allowed to keep its own government, and the borders negotiated between the Navahos and the Mormons eleven years before were allowed to stand.
Sam went further. He praised Quetzalcoatl for coming to pacify the chaotic lands that had been ruined by the Europeans. He gave her maps that his scouts had prepared, showing strongholds of the prairie raiders, decommissioned nuclear missiles, and the few places where stable governments had been formed. He offered, and she accepted, a hundred experienced scouts to travel with Quetzalcoatl at Deseret's expense, and promised that when he chose the site of his North American capital, Deseret would provide architects and engineers and builders to teach his American workmen how to build the place themselves.
She was generous in return. She granted all citizens of Deseret conditional status as adopted Americans, and she promised that Quetzalcoatl's armies would stick to the roads through the northwest Texas panhandle, where the grasslands of the newest New Lands project were still so fragile that an army could destroy five years of labor just by marching through. Carpenter printed out two copies of the agreement in English and Spanish, and Sam and Virgem America signed both.
Only then, when their official work was done, did the old woman look up into Sam's eyes and smile. "Are you still a heretic, Sam?"
"No," he said. "I grew up. Are you still a virgin?"
She giggled, and even though it was an old lady's broken voice, he remembered the laughter he had heard so often in the village of Agualinda, and his heart ached for the boy he was then, and the girl she was. He remembered thinking then that forty-two was old.
"Yes, I'm still a virgin," she said. "God gave me my child. God sent me an angel, to put the child in my womb. I thought you would have heard the story by now."
"I heard it," he said.
She leaned closer to him, her voice a whisper. "Do you dream, these days?"
"Many dreams. But the only ones that come true are the ones I dream in daylight."
"Ah," she sighed. "My sleep is also silent."
She seemed distant, sad, distracted. Sam also; then, as if by conscious decision, he brightened, smiled, spoke cheerfully. "I have grandchildren now."
"And a wife you love," she said, reflecting his brightening mood. "I have grandchildren, too." Then she became wistful again. "But no husband. Just memories of an angel."
"Will I see Quetzalcoatl?"
"No," she said, very quickly. A decision she had long since made and would not reconsider. "It would not be good for you to meet face-to-face, or stand side by side. Quetzalcoatl also asks that in the next election, you refuse to be a candidate."
"Have I displeased him?" asked Sam.
"He asks this at my advice," she said. "It is better, now that his face will be seen in this land, that your face stay behind closed doors."
Sam nodded. "Tell me," he said. "Does he look like the angel?"
"He is as beautiful," she said. "But not as pure."
Then they embraced each other and wept. Only for a moment. Then her men lifted her back into her litter, and Sam returned with Carpenter to the helicopter. They never met again.
In retirement, I came to visit Sam, full of questions lingering from his meeting with Virgem America. "You knew each other," I insisted. "You had met before." He told me all this story then.
That was thirty years ago. She is dead now, he is dead, and I am old, my fingers slapping these keys with all the grace of wooden blocks. But I write this sitting in the shade of a tree on the brow of a hill, looking out across woodlands and orchards, fields and rivers and roads, where once the land was rock and grit and sagebrush. This is what America wanted, what it bent our lives to accomplish. Even if we took twisted roads and got lost or injured on the way, even if we came limping to this place, it is a good place, it is worth the journey, it is the promised, the promising land.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com
We hope you will enjoy the wonderful writers and artists who contributed to IGMS during its 14-year run.