Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 8 –

– 8 –

Cheryl is in the library. She is folding a large sheet of paper.

Tom is standing behind her.

Cheryl stares at the paper. She has made flowers seem to rise from it, paper gardens; a river of paper water; trees that hang low with fruit; the Nandavana Gardens, this, where Buddha was given forth, only, the more she attempts to make a paper saint, the more she fails.

“He should come forth,” she says, “thus!”

She gestures at the gardens.

“Falling into the silver net of the four angels; taking four paper strides,” she says, “and crying out, ‘the lord am I in all this world.’”

“Can it cry out?”

“It is to be a pop-up Buddha,” she explains. “Only —”

“Only?”

“No matter how I fold it,” she says, “I cannot make a paper that sees through the wheel of Samsara. It is bound into the cycle of karma. Inextricable —”

She crumples half the paper gardens in her frustrated fists.

“It’s really very good,” admires Tom.

She lowers her head onto an exquisite floating raft. She cries and soaks the river with her tears. “You’re just saying that,” she says.

Tom is appalled by this statement.

“. . . no,” he says.

She snorts.

“Listen,” says Tom. He reaches for her hand. He enfolds it with his own. “Listen. I myself, I, Tom Friedman, science adventurer — I could do no better. Make a paper Buddha? It transcends my ambitions! The most I’ve ever dreamed of is to save the world from its petty pointlessness and to conquer time and space.”

She sniffles. She tugs at the hand he holds. She dries her eyes with her free hand and folds the tears back out of the paper river. She looks at him.

“In a carbon-neutral fashion,” he says. “I mean, one that does not contribute to the warming of the Earth. Because I’m totally not a ophidian planet-inheritor from the species that’s going to supplant humanity. I’m like that. Only, not!”

Suspicion grows. He is a suspicious character.

“I’m not going to try and take down Satan while he’s off in Andromeda or whatever,” argues Tom.

She tugs at her hand some more. “Let go.”

He releases her.

“It is wrong-headed and perverse to try to take down Satan,” she says.

“Is it?”

“He’s a concept,” Cheryl says. “Besides, you’d totally ruin rock and roll.”

“Haha!” says Tom.

He throws himself into a chair. It spins once and leaves him poised cockily staring at her with one elbow against the library table.

“Your paper is a flawed creation,” he says, “and you are defeated, because of the duality of your mind.”

She squints at the paper. She looks up at him.

“Possibly,” she agrees. “To suffer an affliction of conflicting conceptions is integral to the karmic trap.”

Thoughtfully, she makes a snipping gesture with two fingers of one hand, as if to remember the scissors that she has only seen in the darkest and most overwrought of documentaries.

Scissors!

Was there ever another living thing that reconciled its dualities so sharply as did they?

“This part of the land,” Cheryl says, sweeping over half her little map, “wishes to take the story in one direction; it exerts force; but this little piglet —”

She has confused herself.

“But this part of the map,” she corrects, touching the other, “pulls against it — and in like fashion, with the Buddha’s humanity and his invincibility, I suppose.”

“I can fix that,” says Tom.

“You can?”

“I can!”

“It’s not fixable,” she denies.

“It totally is.”

She squints at him, then she looks away.

“I could,” she says, chewing on her lip, “attempt to fold my thoughts into the correct pattern, but then the problem would repeat fractally.”

“Haha,” laughs Tom. “That’s perfect! You have an admirable mind, you know. My instincts led me truly when I found you. When I said, ‘Ah, Tom, here is a girl for the House of Dreams.’”

“Is that a —”

She frowns at him.

“Are you flirting with me? I cannot be involved with boys,” she says. “I have to attend to my paper, and to the snake.”

“We have all known the concerns of papers,” says Tom. “And no. I am beyond such petty concerns as men and women, myself. I live in a world of one people, undivided, equal, unfettered by the base romantic urges — a world of science.”

“Wow,” she says. “That’s geeky!”

He takes off his hat. He flourishes it, first holding it high with one arm extended as if it were a hero’s sword, then settling it down gently and carefully on his two flat palms and holding it out to her.

“Place this on your head,” he says, “and it shall resolve the contradictions within you.”

“I couldn’t,” she says, vaguely.

“You can.”

“It’s your hat,” she says. “It’s your — alien, warm — it is whispering to me . . . mister.”

“Thomas,” he says. “Thomas the First, head boy of the House of Dreams. Tom.”

“Tom.”

She is distracted by the hat now. She is picking it up. She is holding it in her hands. She is lifting it up.

“Why is it talking to me?” she says.

“Because you are worthy,” says Tom. “Because you are not such as my roommate Stephan or that lump of a Loggins. You are a girl who can join me in my House of Dreams.”

She swallows.

“Will I —” she says. “Will I —”

“Yes?”

“If I put on this hat,” she says. “Will I become able to make — I mean, to kill, to kill, to kill, I mean, a giant snake made out of paper?”

“I hadn’t considered that,” says Tom. “I — I don’t see why . . . just paper, right?”

“Well, and wax.”

“I —”

Tom makes a decision. He takes a stand. He is one person; he flows into it, he makes his choice, and it will bind on him forever.

“I say yes. I say you shall. I will break life and death and Hell and dreams for you, if I must, to make you into such a girl.”

She lowers the hat over her head.

The dream-wroth catches fire in her eyes. She aligns. She becomes a single thing; she folds her spirit without contradictions and then unfolds it, the soul and mind of her, into endless flowers, unfurling snowflakes, twists.

“IT IS THUS,” she whispers.

She moves her hands across the paper. The paper Buddha falls into a silver net. She compresses the edges. He steps forward from the net. He takes three steps. A pop-up balloon of words spits up: “The lord am I of all within this* world!”

The * refers to a footnote. It is scribed in the ground at his feet. It reads, in wiggly letters made to resemble Sanskrit as Cheryl imagines it to be, “* paper”

Now paper gods attend, and there is great joy in the paper Heavens; the devas spin their drink umbrellas and flower petals flutter across the landscape she has made; after their long minutes and hours of existence in the library under the pressure of her folding, the paper universe is at last set free of the ineluctable chains of karma laid upon it with its birth: no more caught in folded desires and parchment ignorance, but seeing through to the true papyreal thing beyond.

Cheryl sighs. She flutters closed her eyes. She falls forward and the dream-wroth slips from her — not far from her, but from her. It settles itself as on a hat-rack or a wall-mounted shelf within her mind.

She sleeps.

Tom reclaims his hat. He leaves a black knit hat on the table beside her — it is often the case that even without his crowning hat he, as a member of the House of Dreams, feels an obligation to wear a crown of black.

Then he walks out.

He stops at the librarian’s desk on the way. He grins at the man behind it. He raises his finger to his lips.

“Shh,” he says.

The librarian’s eyes crinkle. He lifts a finger to his lips in turn.

Though each is ignorant of the mind of the other, the light in one pair of eyes meets the light in the other’s. Stumbling through life each in their own way and to their own fashion they find a momentary accord.

“Shh,” the librarian agrees.

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