The Cube - Chapter 6 - Hope Arrives
“Nothing,” he said.
She drew her leg back and sat up.
“What are you thinking?”
He smiled uneasily. “I’m just thinking about what we did.”
“I am too. They are good thoughts.”
“Ivy, what are we doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t make any sense. We shouldn’t be together like that. I was trying to get you pregnant.”
Ivy was alarmed.
“I was trying too, Mutt. I want,” she paused, “I wanted ...” She breathed unevenly. She was about to cry.
“How can we have a baby? We’re helpless here. We can’t even take care of ourselves. We’re not, I mean, we didn’t really plan to be married.”
“You think I’m trying to trap you.”
Mutt fidgeted. He did not know how to respond. Ivy buried her face in her hands, then looked up.
“I don’t want anything you don’t want to give me.”
“It may be too late.”
“You can leave me Mutt. I will survive. Even if it is too late.”
He was silent.
She could not believe how radically his mood had changed. Were men always like this after getting their way? She thought he was different. He had been willing to stay with her without sex, and now that she had submitted he wanted to leave? Ivy could not believe how stupid she had been to trust him. This was the one constant in her life, the failure of anyone on God’s green acre to love her. She had believed in laying with him that he would never leave her, that she was now his, to have and to hold, and never to let go. She so desperately wanted someone to care for her. Here was this magnificent man with whom she had spent the most wonderful day of her life, who had the kindest face she had ever seen, and even he could not love her. Was she not good enough? Was he already thinking of other women?
Mutt sensed where her thoughts were going. She was tense, fully retreated from him, looking unbearably sad and lonely. He felt the need to comfort her.
“I’m sorry to talk this way. It’s just everything has happened so fast.”
“It was not too fast for me.”
“Do you really want to be married now, so quickly?”
Ivy lay down on her side still wrapped in the sheet. Mutt could not help looking at her. Even when she was cold and distant, he was drawn to her. He tried to understand his own feelings. He was scared of radical change. His life in Shivaree had been familiar and predictable. There were changes, he had been in the service, he was apprenticing with his father, but they were all in a natural progression surrounded by people he grew up with. Ivy was the only person in his life in the Notches. How could he throw everything away and commit forever to a woman he just met? Ivy looked at her body and felt it had lost its power over him. She realized with a sinking feeling that without sexual desire he had no love. When the desire was sated he became an empty shell.
“I wish you had had these thoughts before bedding me.”
Mutt felt terrible. He was now doing exactly what he had promised not to do, making her feel used. He was blaming her for his own indecision.
“Mutt, you saved me on the Edge. I would have jumped even if no one was there. It was by God’s grace that you caught me. You have done all that I can ask. If you want to go back to Shivaree, then go. I will understand.”
Mutt realized he had been thinking about Shivaree because he now had Ivy. But he would be thinking about Ivy if he went back to Shivaree. This was deeply shallow. If all he wanted was what he did not have, he would never be happy. He could not recall how the conversation got to this point. He had woken up worried about pregnancy. That seemed like a fair concern. But now she was talking about him leaving her and he was appearing to agree. He felt he was at a crossroads, that his decision would have profound consequences, and he was afraid he had already made his decision without much thought. He remembered being with her. It was the most joyous experience of his life. Surely this was a sign that he had grown up, that he had to be a man now, and that meant taking responsibility for this woman and the consequences of his actions. She lay on her side with her face tilted into the bed, unable to look at him, her palms pressed together between her knees in what looked like a prayer gone awry. Gazing upon her, he had no more powerful desire than to be there for her, to provide the companionship she so desperately needed. She would not have put it this way, but she was offering him a bargain. She would be the object of his desire, and he would be the anchor in her life, someone she could finally count on, an end to her sense of naked isolation in the world. She was trading sex for security. She would be his wife, but he had to be her husband.
Mutt decided this was not such a bad deal.
Ivy sat up, despondent.
“Mutt, there are times in life when you have to make decisions. I made mine. You cannot go back to who you were. You will be a different person no matter what you do. The question is which different person you want to be. I don’t want you if you are going to live in doubt. As horrific as my life has become, that would be worse. I can be strong on my own, but I can’t be strong with someone who doesn’t love me.”
“Can you come over here?”
She crawled to the corner wearing the sheet and turned on her side, their bodies facing inches apart. He kissed her and pulled her to him.
Mutt looked into her eyes. “I made my decision when we first met. I do not want to go back.”
Ivy wanted to cry. She had so craved his acceptance. For the first time in her life she felt like she belonged.
Mutt was aroused by the closeness of her body.
“Do you still want to make a baby?”
A loud banging jolted the couple from their slumber. The father turned the knob but the door was locked. They quickly scavenged their clothes from the sheets and opened the door. The father could tell from their dishevelment and intimate smell what had happened.
“My wife wishes to thank you for the booties,” he said to Ivy.
“The sloplady is your wife?”
“You didn’t know?” he asked, surprised.
“I did not think it my place to inquire.”
“We thank you for your kindness,” he continued. “Now, children, shall we consecrate your love for real? You can live under my blessing only as husband and wife.”
“Yes, father,” Mutt answered. “We are ready.”
The father reached into a gown pocket and produced two rings, simple pipe fittings that could double as finger adornment lacquered in soft yellow and green. He had been preparing for this moment for he knew it was only a matter of time. They were such a lovely couple and he wished to celebrate the union of their flesh.
“Let us skip the preliminaries.” He proceeded to recite traditional Church vows which Mutt and Ivy each affirmed with a simple “yes” and “I do.” Upon completion of the ceremony the young couple exchanged rings as the father placed his hands on their shoulders, pressing them together in the fold of the angle.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
“It’s a little late for that,” Ivy said.
“I shall make it retroactive.”
The father decided he could not let the moment pass without extemporizing. As he waxed to a fever pitch of channeled wisdom about the insignificance of ritual and paperwork compared to the merger of souls, Mutt yawned broadly without covering his mouth. He had been awaken from a deep sleep and was too tired to appreciate the rudeness of his gesture. The father was irritated but cut the speechifying short, content that he had blessed their love on the day of its consummation.
What followed were the happiest days of Mutt’s life, Ivy’s too, all starting with that miraculous conquest and surrender in the angle, the question of who conquered who never fully resolved. For Mutt it was a carnal dream come true, the realization of all the fantasies he had entertained about Ivy in such graphic detail lying on the grass of Arland tied to her waist and on the haysack in the angle, his living out the libidinous conquests of Reston. He felt smutty finding such bliss in their physical union, as if his love for the complete woman were secondary to her womanly parts, but not so much that he changed his perspective. He was exercising the full prerogative of a new husband to live in the eroticism of the moment. He figured things would calm down eventually and he would never look back on this period of animal exploration with anything but nostalgia. His desire to protect her was now harmonious with his lust. He would be her husband, he had committed fully to this unusual new life in the Notches, and she was now his wife with all the physical accommodation that entailed. Ivy found in Mutt the realization of a different dream. She derived from their coupling the raw pleasure that drove Mutt but it was inseparable from the more profound experience of having, for the first time in her life, a person to fill the void in her heart, to love her and be the object of her love. She had misgivings for how thoroughly he exploited the situation yet he never wavered in his companionship after the fact. He was not an empty shell when sated but fulfilled all the duties she could ask of a husband, to be her anchor, to be her companion, to fix things and run errands, to make the objects of daily life a common enterprise. She had never fully thought through the nature of her isolation or the remedy it would require. Her despondency had arisen from lack of nurture as a child, from trauma suffered at the hands of parents, and that could never be undone. What she had found in Mutt was fulfillment in the next phase of her life, as a wife, inseparable from the bodily union, a love that was in some sense conditioned on sexual duty but also more lasting in its daily intimacy, a commitment to a lifelong relationship without the ritual emancipation of childhood.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of their newly consummated love was the deliberateness with which they were trying to conceive. Mutt understood that pregnancy was a likely outcome and he no longer equivocated on whether he would embrace the commitment of parenthood with his new wife. But it made no sense that they were trying so hard for a baby now, so early in their relationship, so new to the Notches, so unprepared for their own upkeep much less a child’s. It occurred to him that he had some say in this matter but really he did not. She would have to be the brake even if his foot was on the pedal. For there was no way he was going to end their lovemaking with anything less than the fullness of their first experience given the chance. They had no more discussions about having a baby yet continued to add yeast to dough knowing full well how bread was made. Ivy was not worried about the challenges of procreation. Plenty of women across the planet had given birth and nurtured children in far more trying conditions with nothing but the scorn of humanity as companion. She had her epiphany on her first day as Mutt’s lover and was absolutely committed to having his child regardless of the difficulties. She knew perfectly well that she was insane for she believed the fate of the cosmos hung in the balance. But the wonderful thing was that the needs of her heart coincided with the call of destiny. She wanted to have his baby because she loved him and that was all that mattered. In fact that was her new destiny, to let love triumph over evil. Given an eternity to ponder, Mutt would never have guessed Ivy’s secrets even with a liberal smattering of clues. What had happened to her was so alien to the experience of any other human in history, with the exception of Tobor Zranga, that people lacked the framework for conceiving it. Mutt had no idea what he had gotten himself into. But as inscrutable as her mind was he was right about her heart. She loved him dearly, passionately, and desperately, so much that he felt a rawness to their bond, a raking of his heart over coals, that warned him never to think twice, for their destinies had merged.
Mutt had run up quite a tab at the canteen and the sloplady’s patience was wearing thin. Fortunately the strings were returned and he now had an opportunity to play for his food. What he lacked in talent he made up for in enthusiasm, energetically popping away at mandolin strings with hand slaps and brisk strokes to a largely empty food hall. He had picked up an eclectic assortment of folk songs during his time with the service, mostly from the Hutmen of eastern Arland but also a few Inta ditties, which tended to be bawdy. He was the unofficial entertainer for his unit and regularly received secondhand mandolins as gifts to replace the ones he broke during the rigors of their frequent treks to work sites. His repertoire tended toward songs about bugs in trying circumstances, animals beloved of children such as bunnies and turtles, and megafauna cryptids of which there was no shortage in Hutman lore, with an occasional courtship song thrown in for good measure. He developed the uncanny ability to take a request on any subject and instantly compose a song, tapping into the same freeform generator that made dreams so fascinating. Conscious perception paled in comparison to the phantasmagoric worlds the brain could generate when the grip of the unitary self relaxed. He found the more mead he drank the more people came to watch. He was not sure if this correlated to quality of performance or drunken spectacle but the overall effect of drink was to make him oblivious to the frequent dead strings and botched chords which in turn made listeners less likely to notice. He received no money for playing but did manage to work off his tab and even built enough credit for a slab of tribble which he dutifully brought back to the angle and shared with his wife. Mutt found the confines of weight suits and the angle, when not enjoying the pleasures of a new wife, stultifying and he took to drinking copious amounts of Skavian sidewater to hasten the conversion. Ivy was not in as much of a hurry but did not want him to reach equilibrium first and struggled to keep up.
Mutt loved to gaze upon Ivy and imagine the words “this is my wife.” It had a kinky erotic feel to him that he had never associated with marriage, his prior conception being mostly derived from observing parents of his age cohort in Shivaree, including his own. As a general rule he did not think about these parents in bed or what exactly they had done to produce their children. A wall of sorts was drawn up between parents and children to desexualize the former and let the latter make their own discoveries. He was now on the other side of that wall in a realm of hidden delights. The effect on his self-image was profound. He now considered himself truly a man, entitled to the privileges of a wife and under a sacred duty to protect her. He had not fully appreciated how well his mother prepared him for this transformation. That he would one day commit to a woman, that the bond would be sacrosanct and inviolate, that he would never question the ties of husband and father, that he could not enjoy the bounty of these ties without a lasting commitment, was just a given in the Ogga household. It could be no other way without sliding into a dark and irredeemable immorality of which there were plenty of examples in Shivaree and the extended family, none of them appealing in the light of Mira’s unsparing judgment. Mutt was reminded of an Old Hutman proverb he found screamingly funny as an adolescent: “We are all the product of a fuck.” It now seemed more profound to him than funny. He and Ivy were making their contribution to the stream of humanity here in the angle. This was where they came from, and this was where they were going, their incarnations just one step in the endless march of generations.
One bright day in the angle with the curtains fully open Mutt became edgy and suited up for a snack run to the canteen.
“Shall I fetch some rags?” he asked. By his calculation it was about time.
“I will not be needing those for a while.”
He paused, the gears in his head whirring. “Are you …?” He could not finish the question.
“Yes.” She looked at him nervously.
Mutt melted, so profound was the news. It was hardly a surprise. They had tried to conceive with all the liberty a couple could muster. But that she stood before him pregnant with his child was an intense new reality. She looked no different than she did a moment before but now there were two beings, and together they would be three, and the blurring of their identities with the merger of their bodies was complete. He wanted nothing more than to adorn her with flowers as a proper husband in Shivaree would do upon receiving such news. But he was content to gaze upon her beauty and the profound effect he had upon her body. It was a validation of his maleness, of his power to create, and of his belonging to that creation. She had never been more attractive to him than as the mother of his child.
“I do not need rags,” Ivy interrupted his reverie. “But I believe I would like some rutabagas.”
Rutabagas? wondered Mutt. She had never liked rutabagas.
“Rutabagas,” he said out loud. “I can do rutabagas.”
He waddled over to her in the weight suit, drawn up only to his waist with the upper half dragging noisily on the floor, and took her hands and kissed her. Their gravities were already converging and they were no longer at perfect right angles. They were beginning to have difficulty navigating the floors of the angle and would wedge deeply into the corner during sleep. Soon they would need to relocate to a rounder. Ivy seemed oddly detached from the moment having herself figured out the pregnancy a day earlier. She had felt the changes in her body and knew there could be no other cause. But when he kissed her something snapped. This was the new life she was forging, this was her escape from cruel destiny, this was her better future. She had found in the person of Mutt Ogga what she had always dreamed about as a girl, a soulmate. He was goofy and imperfect but who was she to complain? Because he was also gorgeous to her eyes, funny, a tender lover, and above all devoted. She had already given herself to him in complete surrender but now they would give themselves to a new being, the offspring of their union. She had no doubt he would be there every step of the way. She had found what she wanted, someone to love her, someone to count on, an end to her solitude.
“Trape, too, please,” she said, interrupting her own reverie.
He withdrew his hands, looked at her amused, and departed for the canteen, his head swimming with images of the future. A boy? A girl? Brothers and sisters? He noticed there were no baby supplies at the canteen. This was going to be a problem when the happy moment arrived. But he decided they could worry about that later and for now he dreamed only of a bright new future swaddled in pastel yellow, the color of boys, or pastel green, the color of girls, it would not matter which. Ivy already knew it would be a girl. Somewhere there must be a manual on how to operate these things, he thought. Perhaps the anatomy textbook in the angle had a baby care section.
Ivy took to knitting cravats for which she received a small sum from the canteen which then dutifully tripled the price for retail. Mutt asked for and began to receive cash for his performances, a pittance but much needed in their poverty. They feared to test the father’s generosity but decided after repeated slips on the angle’s increasingly sloping surfaces they needed a rounder to complete the conversion. The father was expecting the request and had already lined one up, the previous occupants now fully upright in normal housing in the Notches. The couple insisted they pay for the new habitation and the father demurred, relenting only after they reminded him of their vow to help others when able. He could use their money, the fair rent for a rounder, for the mission of the Church, to help others in need as he had so generously helped them. This was indeed the promise of charity, to receive in need and to give in plenty, and the father was touched they had taken the lesson to heart. On the day of the appointed move they managed to gather up all their belongings into a single bag and made the tilted trek to the rounder on the far side of the split garden. It was in fact a round house set into the ground with a half-pipe depression leading to the front door, similar to the angle except that the floor was continuously curved permitting persons of any orientation from Arland to Skava and all points in between to stand upright. It was difficult to imagine an environment more confining than the angle but the rounder surpassed. Here one could stand comfortably only on the small strip of the circle corresponding to current gravity, moving inward to the central strip as the conversion progressed, eventually reaching the spot where the fold had been in the angle, at which point the occupant would have the gravity of the Notches and could be liberated onto the plane. It was no longer possible for Mutt to hold Ivy in her sleep, a source of great distress to her so accustomed she had become to his sheltering arms to ward off demons. But unlike the angle, where their transverse gravities threatened to be a permanent bar to their relationship, here in the rounder they could grow together. Their resident strips were already within a few feet of each other, and Ivy often slept on the up slope in the vain hope this might hasten her return to her husband’s arms.
If Mutt had been restless in the angle he was uncontainable in the rounder. He could not stand pacing back and forth on a one-dimensional strip of hardwood and regularly donned a weight suit to traipse about the wonders of the Notches. He visited the hammer and studied the intricacies of its workings, seeing up close how water pooled on the side where the depleted head was currently depressed until pressing against the handle hard enough that it shifted direction, thus allowing the pool to spill over the lip and send water tumbling up a channel in the handle to occupy the vat of the head. He also saw the boulders on either side that the hammer was continuously pounding, one inscribed with the word “Arland” and the other with “Skava.” It was a monument to the relentless hostility between the great nations and the pointlessness of their mutual pounding, appropriately powered by water alone. He tried to take the tram but was denied entry due to a prohibition against weight suits, upon reflection probably a wise rule. Ivy occasionally accompanied him but was usually content to sit on her own and read whatever odd books had been left on the rounder’s shelves, thankfully a differing collection from the angle’s which she had quickly exhausted. Her defining memory of the time in the rounder was nausea, her frequent retching from the early sickness of pregnancy amplified by the nausea attendant to gravity conversion. Thankfully Mutt could share in her suffering though not to the full extent, since he too became sick from his confused inner ears and the unnatural internal pressures of sidewater and sidefood. The body was not designed to handle food wanting to push in some direction other than down. He could alleviate the sensation by reclining in the direction of Skava but the problem was not the orientation of the food but its inconsistency with the orientation of the body. He had originally viewed the Notches as an impossibly small plane on which to live but now saw it as a vast expanse compared to his narrow strip in the rounder.
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