The Guardian

Joe Haldeman

Part 16

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Guardian of life. Because I lived, and gave birth, the World War didn't end in a nuclear holocaust.

It occurs to me now that Raven didn't stop there. Of course he went ahead into myriad futures, nudging humanity away from Armageddon. Why, and in whose service? I never thought to ask; he may well have had a simple answer. That ignorance has haunted me for half a century.

Other than Daniel, I've only told two people about Raven. One was a psychiatrist I went to in 1918, to help me deal with the grief and helplessness I felt, losing my firstborn twice.

He listened with interest for several sessions, and then told me gently that I had built up a remarkably complex and consistent set of delusions in order to deal with intolerable memories: the recent grief and the old one, the s.e.xual violence Edward had delivered to me and our son. He said that at my age, and in my situation, the best thing would be to continue believing the Raven story was true-as long as I didn't tell anybody else about it!-because it amounted to a belief system that allowed me to think that Daniel was still alive, in some millions of alternative universes where the torpedo missed his ship.

I could almost believe him-like most a.n.a.lysts of the time, he had the shrunken heart of a master salesman-because his belief system was as internally consistent as my own, and he had the beard and couch and framed diplomas to reinforce its reality.

It doesn't explain the new dress, though. Fifty-five years ago I greeted my dead son and forced him to admit I was wearing a dress that I hadn't owned a few hours before-in fact, it was the only copy of that dress in the whole world, because it didn't appear in catalogs until the next month. It also didn't explain my instant acquisition of Tlingit language and lore.

The a.n.a.lyst tacitly accepted both as necessary lies. I came to realize that I could stay on that couch until the next ice age, and never dislodge him from his pinnacle of Freudian certainty. So I said good-bye and made him the villain in a novella inSpicy Detective, The only other man I've told was the magazine publisher and editor Hugo Gernsback. On a whim I went to New York in 1930, Christmas shopping for the grandchildren. It was a strange bleak time for most people, little work and low wages even if you found some. But the penny or two per word that I got from Gernsback and his rivals, at as much as two thousand words a day, made us a comparatively wealthy family. So after I stood in the crowd and watched the window displays at Macy's and Gimbel's, I could actually go inside and buy things, armloads, and have them delivered to my hotel. As I'd done at older stores when I was young and rich.

I'd read in the letters column of Gernsback'sScience Wonder Quarterly about a science fiction club called the Scienceers, who met every week or so in New York City. I'd written down the address, and took a cab there without calling ahead.

They were a bunch of earnest young men, not quite prepared for a seventy-two-year-old woman to show up and claim she was Lance Williams, author of the Zodiac Jones series. But one of their members was David La.s.ser, the editor ofScience Wonder Stories, the magazine that ran my series. He called up the publisher, Hugo Gernsback, and the great man actually drove through the snow to meet me.

He was a strange, intense man, of middle years but crackling with energy. He was delighted to find out that I was a woman, and anold woman at that.

After a few minutes he declared that the place was too smoky for him, and I emphatically agreed, so he asked me whether I would care to come have a cup of coffee with him.

The city sky was sparkling with winter stars, which I don't suppose would be possible today. He pointed out the Great Nebula in the sword of Orion, and told me astronomers thought new stars, new worlds, were birthing there.

I took a deep breath and told him that I knew it was true. I'd been there.

He listened to me for an hour or more, walking along and then in the cafe, quietly asking pointed questions.

I think he half believed me, but then he believed many strange things. He made me a business proposition: write it up as an "as-told-to" interview, Lance Williams talking to an old lady who claimed to have had this experience. He would devote most of an issue of his new "scientifiction" magazineAmazing to it, presenting it as fact, and see what the response was. Maybe my Raven had visited other people, and this would make them come forward.

It sounded like a good idea to me. Most readers would accept it as fiction, done with a clever angle, but indeed there might be people out there who could corroborate my story. I did suspect it had happened to four other writers-Flammarion, of course, and also Homer, William Blake, and Jonathan Swift. (Swift left a message inGulliver's Travels, describing the tiny moons of Mars 150 years before Asaph Hall discovered them, coincidentally at the same time that I was studying astronomy in college.) I couldn't tell the whole story, sodomy and all, in a pulp magazine then-and couldn't now, twenty years later-so I subst.i.tuted whippings and verbal abuse, as I had when I related the story to Gernsback.

If I'd known he was about to start publishing the magazines.e.xology, I might have confided in him.

The "interview" took up half of the April 1931 issue of the magazine, and the $580 Gernsback paid for it was most welcome. But the two letters I got from people who claimed to be fellow travelers were evidence of something more ordinary than my experience.

World without end.

I continued writing off and on for the next decade, but paper shortages during the War closed down most of my markets.

By then I was doing more church work than anything else, and enjoying my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I suppose I went back to the church to fill the hole in my life left when Doc pa.s.sed away in 1935. He'd had six more years than his allotted three score and ten, and simple people, I think, were surprised by the intensity of my grief.You must ham known his days were numbered, they were thinking. My days, too, then as now, and yours no less than mine.

But love's not time's fool, the poet said. In its quiet way, our love was more intense in old age than it had been when we started our new lives together. We did a lot of things then that we couldn't have done when the farm sucked up all his daylight hours and some of the night and morning dark.

After Chuck took over the farm, we went to see Pica.s.so and Miro at a Chicago exhibition in the late twenties, and Doc's view of the world was transformed. I taught him what I could of oil painting, and in the few years he had left, he quite surpa.s.sed me with his energetic primitivism. He didn't care Co show his paintings; they were to him just a natural and necessary part of life. He could and should have been another late-blooming Whistler. But he valued privacy far above praise, and I loved him for that as much as for anything else.

So when I lost him it was a hammer blow. Of course I expected it, but it was never going to be this year, this week, this day. One day he woke feeling poorly, and asked me to drive him to the doctor, and he died of a heart attack before we got there.

And so I wandered back into the fold. I wasn't religious-my Raven had cured me of believing in simple answers-but old ladies have to do something or they'll dry up and blow away.

I could hardly do missionary work anymore, but I was active in the church's Ladies' Auxiliary, mostly visiting the sick and the old with flowers and sweets, reading to them, commiserating.

Last Sunday was Easter, and the night before, the minister had been rushed to the hospital with appendicitis. An elder called and asked me whether, as the oldest member of the congregation, I would be willing to stand up and give a few words of witness.

My heart was both melancholy and merry as I a.s.sured the respectful congregation that I faced death with equanimity, because I was certain that death was not the end-that we all would wind up in a quieter place, free of pain and worry.

I didn't tell them that they'd be sharing the place with sinners, not to mention dinosaurs and huge worms and creatures made of metal or vapors. Nor that it was a gray plane that went on and on to no horizon.

Some of that might have been in my voice, though. A lot of them were visibly relieved when I changed the subject and asked that we all offer a prayer of hope for our men overseas, and G.o.d's guidance to General LeMay and his new air force, that they not use the terrible weapons left over from World War II on Korea. Some faces hardened at that. But I didn't want to see Gordon's miracle of peace undone.

Both Gordons, human and otherwise.

I suppose it's time to stop, and let this doc.u.ment drift into the future. Futures. You who read it may choose to consider it fiction, or even delusion.

There is always some truth in both.

The End

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