The MaddAddam (Margaret Atwood)

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Crake in Love

The lightning sizzles, the thunder booms, the rain’s pouring down, so heavy the air is white, white all around, a solid mist; it’s like glass in motion. Snowman – goon, buffoon, poltroon – crouches on the rampart, arms over his head, pelted from above like an object of general derision. He’s humanoid, he’s hominid, he’s an aberration, he’s abominable; he’d be legendary, if there were anyone left to relate legends.

If only he had an auditor besides himself, what yarns he could spin, what whines he could whine. The lover’s complaint to his mistress, or something along those lines. Lots to choose from there.

Because now he’s come to the crux in his head, to the place in the tragic play where it would say: Enter Oryx. Fatal moment. But which fatal moment? Enter Oryx as a young girl on a kiddie-porn site, flowers in her hair, whipped cream on her chin; or, Enter Oryx as a teenage news item, sprung from a pervert’s garage; or, Enter Oryx, stark naked and pedagogical in the Crakers’ inner sanctum; or, Enter Oryx, towel around her hair, emerging from the shower; or, Enter Oryx, in a pewter-grey silk pantsuit and demure half-high heels, carrying a briefcase, the image of a professional Compound globewise saleswoman? Which of these will it be, and how can he ever be sure there’s a line connecting the first to the last? Was there only one Oryx, or was she legion?

But any would do, thinks Snowman as the rain runs down his face. They are all time present, because they are all here with me now.

Oh Jimmy, this is so positive. It makes me happy when you grasp this. Paradice is lost, but you have a Paradice within you, happier far. Then that silvery laugh, right in his ear.

Jimmy hadn’t spotted Oryx right away, though he must have seen her that first afternoon when he was peering through the oneway mirror. Like the Crakers she had no clothes on, and like the Crakers she was beautiful, so from a distance she didn’t stand out. She wore her long dark hair without ornament, her back was turned, she was surrounded by a group of other people; just part of the scene.

A few days later, when Crake was showing him how to work the monitor screens that picked up images from the hidden minicams among the trees, Jimmy saw her face. She turned into the camera and there it was again, that look, that stare, the stare that went right into him and saw him as he truly was. The only thing that was different about her was her eyes, which were the same luminescent green as the eyes of the Crakers.

Gazing into those eyes, Jimmy had a moment of pure bliss, pure terror, because now she was no longer a picture – no longer merely an image, residing in secrecy and darkness in the flat printout currently stashed between his mattress and the third cross-slat of his new Rejoov-suite bed. Suddenly she was real, three-dimensional. He felt he’d dreamed her. How could a person be caught that way, in an instant, by a glance, the lift of an eyebrow, the curve of an arm? But he was.

“Who’s that?” he asked Crake. She was carrying a young rakunk, holding out the small animal to those around; the others were touching it gently. “She’s not one of them. What’s she doing in there?”

“She’s their teacher,” said Crake. “We needed a go-between, someone who could communicate on their level. Simple concepts, no metaphysics.”

“What’s she teaching?” Jimmy said this indifferently: bad plan for him to show too much interest in any woman, in the presence of Crake: oblique mockery would follow.

“Botany and zoology,” said Crake with a grin. “In other words, what not to eat and what could bite. And what not to hurt,” he added.

“For that she has to be naked?”

“They’ve never seen clothes. Clothes would only confuse them.”

The lessons Oryx taught were short: one thing at a time was best, said Crake. The Paradice models weren’t stupid, but they were starting more or less from scratch, so they liked repetition. Another staff member, some specialist in the field, would go over the day’s item with Oryx – the leaf, insect, mammal, or reptile she was about to explain. Then she’d spray herself with a citrus-derived chemical compound to disguise her human pheromones – unless she did that there could be trouble, as the men would smell her and think it was time to mate. When she was ready, she’d slip through a reconforming doorway concealed behind dense foliage. That way she could appear and disappear in the homeland of the Crakers without raising awkward questions in their minds.

“They trust her,” said Crake. “She has a great manner.”

Jimmy’s heart sank. Crake was in love, for the first time ever. It wasn’t just the praise, rare enough. It was the tone of voice.

“Where’d you find her?” he asked.

“I’ve known her for a while. Ever since post-grad at Watson-Crick.”

“She was studying there?” If so, thought Jimmy, what?

“Not exactly,” said Crake. “I encountered her through Student Services.”

“You were the student, she was the service?” said Jimmy, trying to keep it light.

“Exactly. I told them what I was looking for – you could be very specific there, take them a picture or a video stimulation, stuff like that, and they’d do their best to match you up. What I wanted was something that looked like – do you remember that Web show? …”

“What Web show?”

“I gave you a printout. From HottTotts – you know.”

“Rings no bells,” said Jimmy.

“That show we used to watch. Remember?”

“I guess,” said Jimmy. “Sort of.”

“I used the girl for my Extinctathon gateway. That one.”

“Oh, right,” said Jimmy. “Each to his own. You wanted the sex-kiddie look?”

“Not that she was underage, the one they came up with.”

“Of course not.”

“Then I made private arrangements. You weren’t supposed to, but we all bent the rules a little.”

“Rules are there to be bent,” said Jimmy. He was feeling worse and worse.

“Then, when I came here to head up this place, I was able to offer her a more official position. She was delighted to accept. It was triple the pay she’d been getting, with a lot of perks; but also she said the work intrigued her. I have to say she’s a devoted employee.” Crake gave a smug little smile, an alpha smile, and Jimmy wanted to smash him.

“Great,” he said. Knives were going through him. No sooner found than lost again. Crake was his best friend. Revision: his only friend. He wouldn’t be able to lay a finger on her. How could he?

They waited for Oryx to come out of the shower room, where she was removing her protective spray, and, Crake added, her luminous-green gel contact lenses: the Crakers would have found her brown eyes off-putting. She emerged finally, her hair braided now and still damp, and was introduced, and shook Jimmy’s hand with her own small hand. (I touched her, thought Jimmy like a ten-year-old. I actually touched her!)

She had clothes on now, she was wearing the standard-issue lab outfit, the jacket and trousers. On her it looked like lounge pyjamas. Clipped to the pocket was her name tag: ORYX BEISA. She’d chosen it herself from the list provided by Crake. She liked the idea of being a gentle water-conserving East African herbivore, but had been less pleased when told the animal she’d picked was extinct. Crake had needed to explain that this was the way things were done in Paradice.

The three of them had coffee in the Paradice staff cafeteria. The talk was of the Crakers – this is what Oryx called them – and of how they were doing. It was the same every day, said Oryx. They were always quietly content. They knew how to make fire now. They’d liked the rakunk. She found them very relaxing to spend time with.

“Do they ever ask where they came from?” said Jimmy. “What they’re doing here?” At that moment he couldn’t have cared less, but he wanted to join the conversation so he could look at Oryx without being obvious.

“You don’t get it,” said Crake, in his you-are-a-moron voice. “That stuff’s been edited out.”

“Well, actually, they did ask,” said Oryx. “Today they asked who made them.”

“And?”

“And I told them the truth. I said it was Crake.” An admiring smile at Crake: Jimmy could have done without that. “I told them he was very clever and good.”

“Did they ask who this Crake was?” said Crake. “Did they want to see him?”

“They didn’t seem interested.”

Night and day Jimmy was in torment. He wanted to touch Oryx, worship her, open her up like a beautifully wrapped package, even though he suspected that there was something – some harmful snake or homemade bomb or lethal powder – concealed within. Not within her, of course. Within the situation. She was off limits, he told himself, again and again.

He behaved as honourably as he could: he showed no interest in her, or he tried to show none. He took to visiting the pleeblands, paying for girls in bars. Girls with frills, with spangles, with lace, whatever was on offer. He’d shoot himself up with Crake’s quicktime vaccine, and he had his own Corps bodyguard now, so it was quite safe. The first couple of times it was a thrill; then it was a distraction; then it was merely a habit. None of it was an antidote to Oryx.

He fiddled around at his job: not much of a challenge there. The BlyssPluss Pill would sell itself, it didn’t need help from him. But the official launch was looming closer, so he had his staff turn out some visuals, a few catchy slogans: Throw Away Your Condoms! BlyssPluss, for the Total Body Experience! Don’t Live a Little, Live a Lot! Simulations of a man and a woman, ripping off their clothes, grinning like maniacs. Then a man and a man. Then a woman and a woman, though for that one they didn’t use the condom line. Then a threesome. He could churn out this crap in his sleep.

Supposing, that is, he could manage to sleep. At night he’d lie awake, berating himself, bemoaning his fate. Berating, bemoaning, useful words. Doldrums. Lovelorn. Leman. Forsaken. Queynt.

But then Oryx seduced him. What else to call it? She came to his suite on purpose, she marched right in, she had him out of his shell in two minutes flat. It made him feel about twelve. She was clearly a practised hand at this, and so casual on that first occasion it took his breath away.

“I didn’t want to see you so unhappy, Jimmy,” was her explanation. “Not about me.”

“How could you tell I was unhappy?”

“Oh, I always know.”

“What about Crake?” he said, after she’d hooked him that first time, landed him, left him gasping.

“You are Crake’s friend. He wouldn’t want you to be unhappy.”

Jimmy wasn’t so sure about that, but he said, “I don’t feel easy about this.”

“What are you saying, Jimmy?”

“Aren’t you – isn’t he …” What a dolt!

“Crake lives in a higher world, Jimmy,” she said. “He lives in a world of ideas. He is doing important things. He has no time to play. Anyway, Crake is my boss. You are for fun.”

“Yes, but …”

“Crake won’t know.”

And it seemed to be true, Crake didn’t know. Maybe he was too mesmerized by her to notice anything; or maybe, thought Jimmy, love really was blind. Or blinding. And Crake loved Oryx, no doubt there; he was almost abject about it. He’d touch her in public, even. Crake had never been a toucher, he’d been physically remote, but now he liked to have a hand on Oryx: on her shoulder, her arm, her small waist, her perfect butt. Mine, mine, that hand was saying.

Moreover, he appeared to trust her, more perhaps than he trusted Jimmy. She was an expert businesswoman, he said. He’d given her a slice of the BlyssPluss trials: she had useful contacts in the pleeblands, through her old pals who’d worked with her at Student Services. For that reason she had to make a lot of trips, here and there around the world. Sex clinics, said Crake. Whorehouses, said Oryx: who better to do the testing?

“Just as long as you don’t do any testing on yourself,” said Jimmy.

“Oh no, Jimmy. Crake said not to.”

“You always do what Crake tells you?”

“He is my boss.”

“He tell you to do this?”

Big eyes. “Do what, Jimmy?”

“What you’re doing right now.”

“Oh Jimmy. You always make jokes.”

The times when she was away were hard for Jimmy. He worried about her, he longed for her, he resented her for not being there. When she’d get back from one of her trips, she’d materialize in his room in the middle of the night: she managed to do that no matter what might be on Crake’s agenda. First she’d brief Crake, provide him with an account of her activities and their success – how many BlyssPluss Pills, where she’d placed them, any results so far: an exact account, because he was so obsessive. Then she’d take care of what she called the personal area.

Crake’s sexual needs were direct and simple, according to Oryx; not intriguing, like sex with Jimmy. Not fun, just work – although she respected Crake, she really did, because he was a brilliant genius. But if Crake wanted her to stay longer on any given night, do it again maybe, she’d make some excuse – jet lag, a headache, something plausible. Her inventions were seamless, she was the best poker-faced liar in the world, so there would be a kiss goodbye for stupid Crake, a smile, a wave, a closed door, and the next minute there she would be, with Jimmy.

How potent was that word. With.

He could never get used to her, she was fresh every time, she was a casketful of secrets. Any moment now she would open herself up, reveal to him the essential thing, the hidden thing at the core of life, or of her life, or of his life – the thing he was longing to know. The thing he’d always wanted. What would it be?

“What went on in that garage, anyway?” said Jimmy. He couldn’t leave her alone about her earlier life, he was driven to find out. No detail was too small for him in those days, no painful splinter of her past too tiny. Perhaps he was digging for her anger, but he never found it. Either it was buried too deeply, or it wasn’t there at all. But he couldn’t believe that. She wasn’t a masochist, she was no saint.

They were in Jimmy’s bedroom, lying on the bed together with the digital TV on, hooked into his computer, some copulation Web site with an animal component, a couple of well-trained German shepherds and a double-jointed ultra-shaved albino tattooed all over with lizards. The sound was off, it was just the pictures: erotic wallpaper.

They were eating Nubbins from one of the takeout joints in the nearest mall, with the soyafries and the salad. Some of the salad leaves were spinach, from the Rejoov greenhouses: no pesticides, or none that were admitted to. The other leaves were a cabbage splice – giant cabbage trees, continuous producers, very productive. The stuff had a whiff of sewage to it, but the special dressing drowned that out.

“What garage, Jimmy?” said Oryx. She wasn’t paying attention. She liked to eat with her fingers, she hated cutlery. Why put a big chunk of sharp-edged metal into your mouth? She said it made the food taste like tin.

“You know what garage,” he said. “The one in San Francisco. That creep. That geek who bought you, flew you over, got his wife to say you were the maid.”

“Jimmy, why do you dream up such things? I was never in a garage.” She licked her fingers, tore a Nubbin into bite-sized bits, fed one of the bits to Jimmy. Then she let him lick her fingers for her. He ran his tongue around the small ovals of her nails. This was the closest she could get to him without becoming food: she was in him, or part of her was in part of him. Sex was the other way around: while that was going on, he was in her. I’ll make you mine, lovers said in old books. They never said, I’ll make you me.

“I know it was you,” Jimmy said. “I saw the pictures.”

“What pictures?”

“The so-called maid scandal. In San Francisco. Did that creepy old geezer make you have sex?”

“Oh Jimmy.” A sigh. “So that is what you have in mind. I saw that, on TV. Why do you worry about a man like that? He was so old he was almost dead.”

“No, but did he?”

“No one made me have sex in a garage. I told you.”

“Okay, revision: no one made you, but did you have it anyway?”

“You don’t understand me, Jimmy.”

“But I want to.”

“Do you?” A pause. “These are such good soyafries. Just imagine, Jimmy – millions of people in the world never ate fries like this! We are so lucky!”

“Tell me.” It must have been her. “I won’t get mad.”

A sigh. “He was a kind man,” said Oryx, in a storytelling voice. Sometimes he suspected her of improvising, just to humour him; sometimes he felt that her entire past – everything she’d told him – was his own invention. “He was rescuing young girls. He paid for my plane ticket, just like it said. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. You should like him!”

“Why should I like such a hypocritical sanctimonious bastard? You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes, I did, Jimmy. Now leave it alone.”

“How long did he keep you locked in the garage?”

“It was more like an apartment,” said Oryx. “They didn’t have room in their house. I wasn’t the only girl they took in.”

“They?”

“Him and his wife. They were trying to be helpful.”

“And she hated sex, is that it? Is that why she put up with you? You were getting the old goat off her back?”

Oryx sighed. “You always think the worst of people, Jimmy. She was a very spiritual person.”

“Like fuck she was.”

“Don’t swear, Jimmy. I want to enjoy being with you. I don’t have very much time, I have to go soon, I need to do some business. Why do you care about things that happened so long ago?” She leaned over him, kissed him with her Nubbin-smeared mouth. Unguent, unctuous, sumptuous, voluptuous, salacious, lubricious, delicious, went the inside of Jimmy’s head. He sank down into the words, into the feelings.

After a while he said, “Where are you going?”

“Oh, someplace. I’ll call you when I get there.” She never would tell him.

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  • 22. 3. 2024