The Cube - Chapter 5 - The Beginning of Hope

The situation in the angle was becoming unbearable. Mutt refused to convert to the orientation of the Notches and Ivy refused because he refused. He pleaded with her to find help. Surely she knew someone in Skava who could take her in. Ivy told him that he was it, that she had no one else on the planet to protect her, and that if he abandoned her she would go back to Skava and be killed. Mutt had not signed on to be her actual husband. He had not even signed on to be her pretend husband. That was all Ivy’s improvisation and he foolishly went along. Mutt’s refusal to convert hung in the air as a threat of abandonment, of returning to Shivaree, but although this seemed to him the reasonable course of action, he could not bring himself to do it. He could not sort out his feelings. He knew if he left, he would think of her the rest of his life. Her presence, her body, was so immediate in this small room. He wanted to be her lover. He felt that if he were her husband, even a pretend husband, he should not be so cruelly teased. If they were to share this room he wanted to share her body. But when he thought of converting his desire to action he felt dirty, like he would be taking advantage of her, like he would be letting his mother down. Perhaps Ivy would relent in desperation but he could not so callously put his interests above hers. If caring about a woman meant anything it was putting her interests first. She was here only because she had no options. Life had steered her into a dead end and he was her only salvation. The measure of his self worth was how he handled this situation. He could not coerce her. It was his duty to protect her.

His resolve was not helped by their frequent touching. Ivy needed to be held in her sleep. She wanted the comfort of a man, to feel secure in his arms. She had lost everything and was clinging to this last hope fate had thrown her way. The world had turned incredibly hostile toward her, malicious and evil. She wanted refuge; she wanted escape. She found him attractive, even beautiful, but what she liked most was the gentleness of his face. She could not imagine him ever hurting her. Although he tried to conceal it, she could feel his arousal when he held her. She loved to know she had this effect on him. They had not kissed since the pretend wedding, with Ivy turning her head when they got close and burrowing backwards into him. She was uncomfortable being physical in this environment, surrounded by haysacks and a lack of alternatives, not knowing where it might lead. She was content to be held, to at least mimic the feeling of love, of having a husband to protect her. Mutt could not contain himself when she lay with him and took to kissing her lightly on the back of her neck, or on the ear, occasionally resting his hand on her hip. She was stimulated by the touching and eventually turned to face him, to kiss him tenderly, then more aggressively. She struggled to keep his hands at bay and ultimately settled into a clothed sexual posture, with her leg pulled over his midsection, as a compromise between his desire and her reserve. They would lay like that for hours and kiss, their bodies increasingly bonding in the fold of the angle. Eventually she relented and let him feel her breasts over her cloth. She loved the massaging and tweaking and soon he worked his way under for a direct feel. He was surprised at how focused he was on each part of her body as he explored it. He had just assumed that sex was the goal and foreplay the means of transit. But the novelty of the touching, the tenderness of her reactions, the feeling of a million little conquests, her reluctance giving way to pleasure, their growing intimacy all melted him into her, arousing him more thoroughly than any shortcut to paradise could.

He accepted that there were limits to how far she would go. They were not married and she did not want to act married. But he felt they could pet without offending her virtue. He was trying to respect her moral sensibilities while yielding partway to desire. He was losing this battle. She pulled his hand away whenever he tried to reach between her legs. This seemed to be the boundary for which she felt more fear than temptation. He would occasionally try to slip his hand down or over as the case may be but she would smack it then move it to her breasts, as though that should suffice. Really it did suffice but for Mutt’s drive to keep crossing boundaries. Eventually he concluded she had drawn a line and he trained his hand to stop before she smacked it. Ivy was flummoxed by the frequent touching. She was beginning to think she did want him for a husband. Her brief conversation with the father made her realize that this man had dropped into her life, or rather she had dropped into his, as a gift from heaven in her most helpless moment. He had saved her from death and never sought favors for his sacrifice. Well, he was seeking favors but to be earned as a lover and not as a reward. She loved the obvious conflict in his touching, his desire to push forward constrained by respect for her limits. She almost liked him crossing lines because it seemed to her more a measure of his desire than a sign of disrespect. She was attracted to him and wanted to let him cross all boundaries, one by one, frequently fantasizing of complete surrender. But she also recognized she was acting out a suppressed desire for more innocent play. She had never dated, never been permitted to date, and all the piecemeal experiences she might have enjoyed before marriage were now rolling out in the angle. She did not really know the boy and did not want to mistake his tenderness for lasting commitment. What she was sure of was that she could not be fully his with the prospect of his leaving for Shivaree.

Ivy would usually end their sessions by moving to her side of the angle beyond his reach leaving him to cool down. She found spools of yarn at the canteen and made use of knitting needles left behind by a previous occupant. Knitting was one of the many skills she picked up during her long lonely days in Harmour reclining on the lounge chair in the den passing time aimlessly. Mutt played around with a deck of cards improving his shuffling skills. They were oriented for Skava and frequently he would ask Ivy to pick up a dropped card. He would stop and watch her knitting bemusedly. He could not figure out what she was creating. Was it meadhuggers? What a useful woman! He eventually figured out she was knitting baby booties.

“Is there something you should be telling me?” he asked.

She did not find this funny. “The sloplady in the canteen has a new baby. It’s the first baby in the Notches in over a year. I thought I would knit some socks and maybe a muffler.”

Ivy asked if he could go fetch some rags. Suiting up for travel across the Notches was a major ordeal.

“We have plenty of rags. Why do we need more?”

“Would you please just get them?” she asked, irritated.

“Why?” He was not willing to take her instructions on faith.

“Remember yesterday when you tried to get into my pants?”

Mutt honestly could not remember.

“I concede that may have happened,” he finally answered.

“You would not want to do that today.”

“Why not?” He appeared sincere.

She could not believe his brick-headedness.

“Because you would get a bloody finger, that’s why.”

“Oh,” Mutt replied. He had forgotten women menstruate. He dutifully suited up and embarked on a rag-hunting expedition around the Notches. He was quite pleased with himself when he returned with a significant haul, almost all of them discarded at the canteen. Ivy was not happy with the level of hygiene but decided not to complain. No doubt his options were limited. Mutt noted an increased level of moodiness with her flow. When they slept he kept his hands mostly to himself, content to drape his arm across her waist and snuggle. The thought of her bleeding down there seemed to him icky. Why are women made like this, he wondered. He didn’t bleed from his private parts, he thought, conveniently forgetting he peed through his. And yet he found her female biology intriguing, an endless source of fascination. These creatures have breasts, and wombs, and birth canals, and comely hips, and such delicate faces and locks of hair. He had to repress the thoughts because her physiology was arousing him. He wanted to be her husband just for the privilege of exploring all this territory. He imagined what her pregnancy with his child would be like. Their bodies would complement one another, their functions fully engaged to produce their own tiny companion, an object for their common nurture and a source of boundless wonder. One day perhaps in the distant future. For whatever he might do if given the chance, Ivy was a practical girl and was never going to let him pass heaven’s gate before she was ready.

The days flew by and Mutt grew frustrated at the lack of new boundaries to cross. He loved to hold her tenderly, to rock their bodies in innocent passion, to fondle her breasts, but he could not get into her pants, and he could not get her clothes off. Why did he want so desperately to bond more physically with her? He was not even orienting to the Notches and would have to return to Shivaree soon. He was a deserter from the military and would have to set the record straight. In times of active hostilities he could be hung for the offense although running off with a girl was a recognized mitigating factor. But he also longed to see his mother and his father and Donega and the dogs and the gables of his family home. He wanted to see Sabin further advanced in her pregnancy and to be there when the precious bundle arrived. He wanted to hear war stories from Ruggin though not as much as these other things. He admittedly had no strong desire to return to the tractor shed with its lumps of vermin but he would not have minded reading Salty Cellars again. This was a strange time in the angle with Ivy. He still did not know this girl. She had a checkered past and he had never undertaken to be her full-time provider. He felt that he was on a course to somewhere different, that the present course could not hold. Would they become lovers? She seemed to be just enough a freethinker for that to happen in the anything-goes atmosphere of the Notches. But she was saving herself for a true love and it was not his place to spoil her. He could never be that true love for the draw of Shivaree was too strong.

Ivy was falling for Mutt. She could not decide how much it was her need for someone, anyone, to show interest in her, and how much it was this particular man. But when she caught glimpses of him shuffling his cards, or making fingerwebs with yarn, or returning from a gathering run in a weight suit with a jug of thaban milk from the pens, she knew that it was him and not just an abstract need for companionship. Still, he was not committing to her and she would not reveal her feelings. She thought constantly about being his wife, about consummating their love, but her dreams were always set in some make-believe Hutman village surrounded by family and a community in which they had roots. Here in the Notches they had only each other and that was not enough to make a go of it. She had to steel herself to his eventual departure. He was such a handsome man and it would crush her to see him go. She felt they physically complemented one another well. They looked like a couple that should be popping out babies. But she was now a refugee and had to live within the limits of her status. She did not know what she would do when he departed. She would be a vulnerable girl in a place filled with desperados and no one to protect her. Would she have to accept a marriage of convenience? The thought repelled her. She would never give her body to a man for any reason other than love. She would rather leap over the Edge.

“If I am to be your husband,” Mutt was talking while fondling her in the fold, “does not that come with certain privileges?”

Apparently he was again trying to get into her pants. He had calculated that her period had long passed and had now settled on a direct approach.

“You are not my husband.”

“Well, what am I?”
“I never had a boyfriend. It was not permitted in Harmour.”

“Okay, I’ll settle for boyfriend. Now can I get in?”

He was joking but Ivy thought he was serious. She was tired of her finger and wanted to try another. Mutt sensed the opportunity and gently placed his hand between her legs under her skirt. She did not remove it. He began to feel her over the cloth. She spotted and he decided he would have to get around the barrier. His options were over the top or nudging aside. He opted for the side approach, finding it less intrusive. She did not resist and let him find her. She was wet as he rubbed along her opening. She leaned back and placed her hand on his shoulder, caressing it. He continued to rub hoping to increase her reaction. He eased his hand over and felt more deeply with a finger. She jolted and moved away.

“That’s enough,” she said.

He held his finger to his nose.

“How does it smell?” she asked.

“Like a poppy.”

She laughed. “I thought you were going to say like earthworms.”

“That too.”

He slid his hand, now evicted from paradise, up under her blouse. She was comfortable with the fondling and kissed him on the cheek. He lifted her shirt and began to kiss her naked breasts. This she was not expecting but she liked the feeling and was aroused. He wanted to be a baby suckling at this greatest of God’s creations and completely lost himself in the moment, so much that he forgot the recent exploration of his finger. Ivy felt uncomfortable with this new transgression but decided it was a step back from her crotch and resolved to enjoy it. It was not a difficult resolution as he buried his head in her chest. They were seated upright in the corner transverse to one another with their legs pointing in opposite directions so they could face frontally. She felt him over his cloth, exploring his shape and imagining the texture. Mutt thought this was a fair exchange and continued his business while becoming increasingly aroused. She decided this had gone far enough and pulled her blouse down, partway covering his head before he got the message.

He felt she was parceling out her body for good behavior. It was an effective strategy because he was being very good. She would intuitively take him to the point of explosion then defuse. For Mutt it was always a cruel but expected interruption. He was not sure what he would do if one day she relented. He assumed he would match Reston’s accomplishment in the tank room but suspected he might be so discombobulated he would not know what to do. He spent hours on his haysack compulsively fantasizing about her. He wanted to relieve the pressure but could not in the small confines of the angle. This felt to him like a cruel experiment to determine whether a man sufficiently stimulated could die from lack of gratification. Amidst all this desire he retained his original resolve to protect her. He no longer felt this was incompatible with relentless pawing. They were bonding as lovers and he did not believe he was unfairly taking advantage. Surely her apparent desire was not faked, and he so clearly respected her shifting boundaries she could not believe he was imposing conditions. He had not though resolved whether he would return to Shivaree. This issue stuck in the back of her mind, a check on her infatuation with him, a sad nagging suspicion she might soon be abandoned. She did not believe she could survive in the Notches without him, so dependent she had become on his company. But stronger than dependency was her hope that his affection for her would be enduring. He was plainly smitten, that she could see, but could he love her? She wanted to believe that she could rely upon him, that his promises as a pretend husband could become real. She had never felt cared for her entire life. It was a new sensation to be the object of this man’s adoration but she knew how closely it was tied to sexual desire. Could his love survive gratification? She decided she could not risk finding out.

When not fantasizing of bedding the other, Mutt and Ivy found the angle intensely boring. They were stuffed into a tiny box on the edge of the world with little mobility. Walking about the Notches in weight suits was strenuous, yet passing time within the angle was excruciating. They often waited impatiently for the father’s visit, his kindly offer of food, his disappointment at their failure to reorient. How long would his generosity last? Conversion remained the big issue for Ivy. She had nowhere else to go and would have to live in the Notches regardless of what Mutt did. But she could not bear the thought of converting to local gravity while watching him remain an Arlander. It would be like saying good-bye, a painful drawn-out separation. She wanted nothing more than to offer him her Skavian food, and to take his Arlander food, so that their bodies could meet halfway. She felt their journey should continue with a joint conversion, a reorientation of their selves to a common gravity in the Notches. Maybe then they could be married for real, a prospect about which she dreamed obsessively. But she was so far ahead of herself and he was so far behind.

Mutt found a box of pipe cleaners containing all orientations. He realized with delight he could create a floating model of the Stoika and set to work with undivided focus on the project. For hours he twisted wires into various shapes to recreate the platform, domes, and spires of the pleasure spa, carefully balancing the cleaners to achieve zero gravity. When he was finished he held his creation aloft and let it go. It hovered motionlessly in the angle before Ivy’s eyes with Mutt's beaming face in the background.

She was unimpressed. “Where are the brothels?” she asked.

“Right here,” he pointed proudly, oblivious to the barb of her question.

Ivy bustled about her side of the room rearranging the meager decorations. She had done this already half a dozen times but there was little else to do in the cramped space. She rotated a cubic map of the planet, mounted like a gyroscope, on its inner axle to display Klokomad. She was tired of looking at Skava and enjoyed the vast blank swaths of this darkest of all sides. She potted and repotted crocuses along the window sill accomplishing nothing more than changing pots. This required dumping a mound of Skavian dirt on old papers to free up a destination pot. She ran her fingers through the soil kneading it as though she were Mother Earth. She lost herself in thoughts of the fertility of the soil, how something so basic could produce such variety of life.

Mutt was bored. He asked Ivy to entertain him.

“Mimes?” she proposed. “You first.”

He thought for a moment then acted out a series of confusing moves that seemed to her like exaggerated masturbation. She was wondering how risqué he could be before finally shouting out:


Now it was Ivy’s turn. She sat motionless staring at him.

“A statue,” Mutt guessed. She shook her head.

“A philosopher.” She shook her head again.

“Give me a clue.”

“It’s not what I am. It’s what I’m doing.”


“You can do better than that.”

“Admiring the world’s greatest stud.”


He racked his brain.

“Give up?” she asked.

He nodded.


Mutt sat there with the blankest expression in the history of mankind. His mother had not prepared him for this. Ivy was laughing uncontrollably.

He grabbed her knee and tugged on it.

“Is there some way I can confirm this?”

She pushed him away, still laughing.

“You wish.”

He did wish and said so directly, instantly regretting it. She moved to her side of the room, appearing to Mutt seated at the top of a wall, and watched him curiously. A thought was crossing her mind, a radical thought. She had been resisting his overtures but what if this was a mistake? She had escaped Harmour to escape destiny and now she needed a new destiny, a better one. She repressed the thought.

“You hungry?” she asked.

He was not but he joined her at the table. They laid out a meal of angoo slices, polenta, and tarpin bread. Mutt was sick of these items but did not want her to eat alone. She picked up an angoo slice.

“When are you going back to Shivaree?” she asked, cocking her head to make eye contact. It was a loaded question.

“I don’t know. When do you want me to leave?”


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