the fixed point of Asa Zook/paul pietsch -- copyright 1996 by Paul Pietsch

chapter 13 The Mauer

The renal physiologist two offices down had furnished the historical data and Asa had mulled over them periodically for almost a year, now. State legislators of an earlier aged -- allegedly because they too were obliged to be here -- had deeded a suitable buffer between what became a medium sized city and the western boundary of the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The bygone lawmakers had done so by subtracting from the hospital's original property sufficient land for a university. The hospital grounds had been completely enclosed by a triangular wall until the WPA had battered down and replaced two sides with a hedge- camouflaged cyclone fence. Still quite viable, the hedge survived the fence, which eventually rusted away. The triangle's remaining side persisted: "the Mauer," as generations of university people called the wall, was once part of igneous and metamorphic strata beneath a penitentiary some miles to the south. The stone had been sledge- hammered free, hauled up river by mule- drawn barges and re-aggregated by pressgangs of underfed horses and stubble- headed convicts.

the Mauer represented the inner limits of both institutions. "On the real property of neither/ Could one go any further," went a line from a student- produced operetta. Corollary: what was nearest the wall was as remote from public notice as physical space would permit. The shadow of the Mauer was where generations of both hospital and university administrators had consigned that which simply is not nice: the pissiest- smelling lock wards of the hospital; the medical school of the university. Through biennially degrimed windows in the Anatomy- Physiology building, Asa could look over the Mauer at the very red brick buildings where he had failed as a doctor.

Anatomy- Physiology was a structural chimera whose members had been conceived and executed during markedly different architectural eras. The older section, occupied by the anatomy department, attempted to portray the grace of Doric and Baroque, topped off with a little Georgian, for good measure, good luck or possibly both. The intent, at least, had been benign. Physiology's wing, in contrast, an artifact of an anal age, could have served as the location for a Richard Dix movie. Indeed, an eye scanning the Physiology wing's gray face was surprised by the absence of steel bars on its windows.

Asa's memory retained whole the scenes from the other side of the Mauer. A stray glance across the divide, and he was smelling urine, vomit, feces, semen against a background odor of woolen blanket. An inadvertent stare, and he was hearing choruses of sobs, maunderings, screams, howls, laughter amid the random clanks of kitchen utensils. A peek over the stone interface and his cognition apprehended the chewing, crunching and gnawing of soul upon self. The nearest building, Ward D2, happened to be where Asa had spent most of his time while on the hospital staff. D2 housed the institution's most violent patients. D2 contained the padded limbos, the holding stations until the tortured spirit finally extinguished itself. D2 was the last stop en route to the dissecting table.

Asa had loved his patients, some of whom were in the lock wards for administrative, not medical reasons. But, as he had written in the Journal, "I am little more here than a kindly jailer who, from time to time, dispenses first aid. Between their need and my capacity exists an infinity. I had never before seen suffering of this degree, not in medical school, nor even in war." His patients had taught him "what my learned professor were too detached to depict and my venerated textbooks too erudite to communicate." His own reactions taught him: "I am a man of abstract thought in a world desperately in need of concrete action, a pioneer of the ideal where the point man must know his way through the hell of the here and the now.

"In places such as this, my vista of Nature could easily vanish, to be supplanted by the belief that life and misery are one in the same condition, that all any would- be healer can offer is a pill or a shot or an illusion to minimize the agony of the waiting. And soon, the God of Wrath would prevail over Nature within my soul. Yet I would actually run the personal risk and find my trade work among these wards, except that my intuition detects a chord, a theoretical something, a hint of validity about my theory. But the pleas about me drown out my intellect.

"I cannot say that my research would really crack the wicked riddle of neoplasia. Still I sense the possibility. No, I am sure it is there. But how many more years can I defer my work? How many more times can I wrap it all into a bundle, tuck it away and expect it to be alive and well upon my return?"

Not long afterwards, he'd written his father, "I shall not practice medicine. Instead, I have sought and been offered a position in the medical school here. I have discovered a talent for teaching. Perhaps I can find suitable trade work as a teacher. If not, like you, I shall return to the land."


Asa looked up from his notes. A hundred students had arranged themselves above and around him on ascending, semicircular tiers. The din of casual conversation immediately ceased and, as he panned from left to right, an anticipatory hush spread throughout the ancient amphitheater. They are kind to me, he thought. He smiled at them, and began his lecture.

"Today, we begin the first in a series of lectures on the higher functions of the human cerebral cortex. Let me begin with three preliminary points." He stepped away from the lectern, clasped his hands behind his back and stood at parade rest in the center of the pit.

"The first point is this. Until now, we have been rather specific in our treatment of neurophysiology, and in some instances have approached our subject with much...shall we say, quantitative rigor." A few students laughed, and Asa grinned.

"However, an incompleteness attends knowledge of cerebral functions. Although the anatomical facts are vast, it is not clear at all how or whether cerebral structure accounts for the brain's highest and most human of functions. Nor can we articulate a cogent physical theory of the human psyche. Thus my first point is that, given the state of knowledge, our discussions shall assume a looser, more qualitative -- and even speculative -- character than heretofore.

"The second preliminary point is a personal reaction to a statement in your neuroanatomy textbook. The author assures us in categorical terms that because we cannot see the engram, we cannot describe it. The nature of the engram is, of course, quite unknown. Obviously, we cannot describe what we know nothing about. Obviously." Light laughter followed and Asa smiled again.

"The author employs the verb 'to see' and implies thereby that visibility is a necessary condition of description." Asa quickly turned to the blackboard and in large letters hastily chalked,

"e = mc2"; he immediately turned back to the class.

"This is the most descriptive single statement any scientist or philosopher has ever made about matter and energy. And what it truly depicts is quite invisible.

"My point: We may or may not see the engram, nor ever observe the psyche. I believe the fundamental principle of memory will become knowable only through the abstract methods of logic and mathematics. Nature's most treasured secrets rarely show themselves directly to human eyes. We witness outcomes of her laws, not the laws themselves. But what blesses our species is the intelligence to detect, understand and know that which is inherently beyond our direct experience." He paused and looked around. "And I do not believe that you should be encumbered by the fallacy that being is necessarily tied to perception, which is the author's axiomatic point of departure about the human mind. And which is demonstrably false.

"Now to the third point. Much of what I shall tell you about the cerebral cortex is, in our times, rather conjectural. I shall attempt to draw the facts together into a provisional view. Thus, I will not be presenting a body of definitive knowledge. Therefore let me immediately assert this. I shall not include higher cerebral functions on your examinations." A collective admixture of muffled sighs and muted whispers rose from the audience. "I hope to create a context for tomorrow's understanding. The topic is of immense importance for any physician; too important to be deflected by the distractions of an impending examination." A young woman sat in the third row center, at almost eye level with Asa as he stood in the center of the pit. At his last remark, she clutched her notebook to her bosom, leaned forward and propped her elbows on her knees. In violation of the dress code for first year medical students, she was not wearing a short white coat. Asa could not recall her name, now. But he knew she was at the very top of the class. How beautiful she is, he said to himself as he moved back and rested a forearm on the lectern. How much I care about her. He glanced around at the class as a whole. He loved them all. Then he began his lecture.


Asa wrote of his theory, "It tricks me down one dead end after another. It is as though a thick wall of ice separates me from my quarry. I can see the vague form glimmer from the other side. But I can find no way over, under or through the barrier. And when I shift to gain new perspective, the target also moves. I just cannot catch up with the pivotal idea"

After Watson and Crick published their double helix in Nature, Asa set aside his main work to learn all he could about nucleic acid chemistry. "Does the answer hide among the genes?" He replaced the kissing hands from his old napkin hypothesis with a ball- and- stick molecular model of DNA. "A single turn of the double helix"; but , although it did not give him his answer, early one morning he was able to enter into the Journal, "I can now give a qualified 'yes' to Fish's question, at least concerning living matter. But thought as it exists in the brain remains sealed in Kant's realm of noumena." He stopped writing and spoke his next thought. "Perhaps I delude myself."

No Asa, you do not, the Deep Brain declared. Asa closed the Journal.

A note from a friend contained her "first rose of the season." He had planted the bush in her back yard as a birthday gift. "I've been missing you lately, Asa," the card also said. It smelled of her perfume.

But -- and for the same reason he had dismissed the idea of a weekend with Odette -- his response to the rose was a brief letter atop a five pound box of her favorite chocolate candies. "My lovers are not playthings meant for diversion," he declared.

He built several versions of the double helix and extended his model to two full turns. Then he spent a week describing DNA's Riemannian geometry, which he sent off to the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. He even started a philosophical paper on the Hegelian logic of the genetic expression, in which he used the strands of DNA as analogs of thesis and antithesis and the double helix, itself, as the synthesis. But half way through, he broke off work. "I am producing the solution of a nonexistent equation."

He arose from his desk one dawn, staggered to the window and rested his throbbing head against the grimy sill. He thought about his student without the short white coat. What was her name? "How fortunate my life has become." He looked out at the Mauer's blank presence. "And how unfortunate human life can be." His very last patient over there had been a young butcher whose demons had chased him until he decapitated his children with a meat cleaver. Asa had been summoned at three- thirty one morning to find the butcher in rage on the padded floor of his cell, straight- jacketed, legs and thighs bound by ropes of twisted gauze, head bleeding from a deep gash in his scalp. After a shot of pentobarbital began to calm the man, Asa locally anesthetized both greater occipital nerves, cleaned, disinfected and débrided the lesion and closed it with wound clips. The man's screams had stopped by then, but he was still sobbing. Asa took him in his arms and rocked him to sleep. Two hours later, Asa was called back to D2, this time to pronounce the young butcher dead. He had swallowed and strangled on his tongue.

Now outside his office window the colorless morning belied the fact that it was springtime. I will soon be at home in my own room, Asa thought. He had not yet decided on a topic for his lecture at Havering. Perhaps the sight of the sea would give him an appropriate idea? Maybe even yield the theory? No. "I need newness to look at." And he thought of precisely the place.

But a moving object in the periphery of his visual field caught his attention. A vehicle, headlights unnecessarily aglow, had just turned onto the cinder- surfaced utility road on the university side of the Mauer. It slowly approached, paused at the entrance to a delivery court within the Anatomy- Physiology complex and then, in the manner of a sinking ship, eased silently from view. It was a hearse. Asa closed his eyes and silently cried.


Asa drove slowly. He had previously seen this country only from the train, had admired its silver lakes and evergreen forests and worn- off, rounded- down mountains. The mountains, especially, had attracted him. Their modest size, he thought, would configure them into the perceptual orb of a human being. He had imagined as the train sped along, that when standing among these gentle hills, one would get a sense of actually belonging to them. "The Rockies overwhelmed me," he'd once written Raymond. "They are to be pondered, appreciated, marveled at. But a creature of my proportions does not sense being among them. They are too big." Now as he drove along, up, around and through these ancient hills, he was excited. His hunch on the train had been correct. He felt that he was in the mountains.

Wasn't a heck of a lot going on around here this time a' year, the village general store keeper advised. Maybe a little illegal fishing, "If'n the boys isn't working overtime up to the paper mill." Of course, now, in a few three weeks...Nope, Asa shouldn't have no trouble at all finding a real nice place. "Matter of fact," the storekeeper went on, shifting his cigar stub to the opposite side of his mouth, he just happened to own what he bet Asa was looking for. "It's right here," he said. Simultaneously reaching for the pencil riding his ear and a brown paper bag under the counter, he drew a map. Indoor pump, fixtures for bottle gas, boat landing. Of course, the crapper was outside. But nice and clean and fresh dug for the season. Asa took the day rate but paid in advance for the remainder of the week.

"By the way," the storekeeper advised, "the electricity don't make it up that high." He pointed a thumb at a row of coal oil lanterns. Asa wouldn't need them, he said, but could he purchase a can of kerosene? "Over to Jimmy Campbell's Texaco station, up 'round the corner." Asa called off a list of supplies, which the storekeeper wrote on the back of the brown paper map. "Better put down some yeast cakes for the septic tank," he advised.

While buying kerosene, Asa had his gas tank filled and crankcase oil checked. The attendant, presumably Jimmy Campbell, wiped the dip stick on a tail of his chambray shirt. Oil looked okay. But Asa's hood latch didn't close completely and might pop loose one of these days. Jimmy Campbell advised lashing down the hood for safety's sake. Before Asa could react, Jimmy had vanished into the blackness of the grease shack and trotted back with a segment of hemp, which he expertly sheep- shanked between the hood ornament and the bumper. Asa tried to pay for the rope. But Jimmy raised a blackened palm, grinned a mouthful of rotten teeth and declared, "Naah!"

Asa followed the narrow road alongside a noisy little river and watched the odometer. Four- point- five miles south of the village, he was supposed to encounter a barn with a Mail Pouch chewing tobacco ad painted on its north side. The storekeeper's map indicated a right turn onto a dirt road near the barn. The barn was there. But there were two nearby dirt roads, not one. Asa tried the first. After winding a mile up the mountain, the road made a sharp left bend, entered a thick stand of young pines and abruptly ceased to exist.

The second road executed a lazy arc over a pasture and then entered an aromatic wood. Another half mile, and Asa had to shift into first gear. Eventually the trees thinned out. The road created a saddle in a sharp crest. At the crest, just as the nose of the car tilted downward, Asa hit the brake. He had not anticipated the upcoming view, and it stunned him. The terrain, descending sharply from the crest, bottomed at a lake which stretched for miles from Asa's location and whose surface reflected like a sheet of pure silver. The campsite was on its near shore.

The camp was much larger than Asa had expected from the rent. A parking area for at least six cars also offered comfortable turn- around space for a boat trailer. A graded, gravel lane descended to the shoreline; a dock extended far enough into the water to accommodate the draft of a speedboat.

The lodge building and outhouse had once been trees among the surrounding woods. The steeply pitched roofs of both structures suggested heavy snow falls.

The lodge had no front porch in order, Asa surmised, to preserve the view of the lake from inside the oversized front windows. A utility side porch, stacked with chain- sawed firewood, entered a nominal kitchen.

The interior turned out to be a single large living space, overhung by a sleeping loft, reachable by ladder....Or else by...leaping up...and grabbing the edge...and chinning...which Asa gave an immediate playful try. The loft looked dark and uninviting, and Asa let himself drop back to the floor.

A zinc- topped serving bar formed the boundary on the kitchen area. A flagstone fire place, flanked by a gun rack and a walk- in closet, stood in lieu of a back wall. The gun rack could have served an entire rifle squad. Within the closet Asa's flashlight illuminated a cap pistol on the floor and a pair of peach- colored panties on the doorknob. Asa transferred the toy to the serving bar but left the panties hanging.

Several sets of antlers hung above the mantelpiece. They seemed to serve as honor guards for the amputated head of a black bear.

Asa unloaded the car, started a fire and then tried the pump. He laughed aloud when he found the pump would require priming. He removed two collapsible canvas buckets from his gear and went down to the lake.

The water diverged from the marina, from which the lake seemed like the still- to- be- filled- in midsection of a giant jigsaw puzzle. Ripples, induced by unseen forces, advanced on the shore in lazy wave fronts and playfully splashed to immortality on gravel and sand. The sun, which had already descended behind a stand of unusually large birch trees on the opposite shore, flashed as white- hot cosmic fragments through angular intervals among the branches. Further circumstantial evidence of a sun existed in the form of a yellow- white reflection lasciviously shimmying on the motile surface of the lake and extending northwest- by- north, all the way to the horizon.

South of the sun's hiding place, a thin line of smoke produced a motionless mark on the sky and identified the locus of kilometer- near neighbors of the lodge. A dog's echo barked at itself at a distance too great for estimating its range or direction. A hawk glided briefly above the tree line, then turned and vanished. These and Asa Zook were the only detectable signs of life.

The pump started at once. But the brackish tang meant that Asa would have to shave in boiled aliquots of lake.

He started the coffee water, tossed his sleeping bag toward a heavy second cut lumber table next to the front window, rummaged out a frying pan, which he scooted across the floor to the fire place, transferred a can of beans and a can of Spam to the pockets of his field jacket, and then went to fetch one box he'd carefully placed by the front door, alongside his brief case.

The box was a potato crate, never used as such, but from the old storage barn at home. Asa set it gently on the table. He carefully pried open the lightly tacked down lid and exposed muslin packing material, which he deferentially unfolded. Within the cloth were the disassembled components of a parlor size kerosene lamp. He found a lamp brush in the box and worked its springy bristles back and forth through his hand. He had taken this lamp on many a trip such as this. And when he no longer required its excellent illumination, he cleaned and repacked it exactly as he had observed his mother originally do it. "We must take good care of our lamps, Asa," she'd said softly, her eyes twinkling with mirth. "Poppa doesn't trust the new electricity." The lamp parts always evoked Asa's total recall of how she'd looked and sounded that day, and even the cake batter aroma of her apron. Now in his mind's eye, he was standing beside her, watching her long fingers slowly wrap the crystalline objects and nestle them away, "Against a time of need." His soul heard her words as clearly as if she were here now.

The lamp fueled and waiting, Asa transferred his brief case to the floor beside the table. He removed the Journal, set it unopened beside the lamp and gave it a light pat. "After a little chow," he promised.

He went to the fire and emptied the cans into the frying pan. With his pocket knife he hastily dissected the Spam into irregular, mouth- sized chunks. He set the pan on the grating, poured a canteen cup of coffee and stirred the meal with his knife. The reddish bean juice began to bubble. To hurry things along, he cut the Spam into smaller sizes. When the fat began to sizzle, "That's enough," he declared, rose, patted his pants pocket to verify the presence of a spoon, and took the pan and the coffee down to the lake to eat the meal and feast on the last of the sunset.


"This is spectacular country," Asa wrote. "I feel blessed to be alive in it." He paused for a look out at the night. From where he sat he could see only a trapezoid of sky, but enough to recognizing a few flirting stars. The moon, although not within his direct view, gave the campsite just enough illumination to reveal the moving shadows of a raccoon, reconnoitering, no doubt, for ingress into Asa's larder. He'd have to put a hunk of something down on the boat dock tomorrow evening. Of course, that might draw bear!

He turned back to the Journal, but yawned heavily. "Be still my soul./ For we will soon know sleep's generous embrace." With that, he closed the ledger on a bookmark of paper bag, unlaced his combat boots, kicked them high and carelessly into the air, and without further undressing, wriggled into his sleeping bag, tossed a perfunctory glance at the dying fire, exhaled and...


Odette stands outside the entrance of the Zoo, looking up the pathway, and she does not see Asa as he approaches cross- country, over a knoll covered with young maple trees. He pauses momentarily beside a sapling to admire her. She has never been more beautiful, he observes; but she is too lightly clad for the season: no coat or hat, and her yellow jersey dress is sleeveless. It is his very favorite of all her dresses, and he knows she seeks to please him in each gesture and every detail. She is totally his, she is proclaiming. And in a moment he'd be telling her that he is totally hers. This is their wedding day.

Asa sings out her name as he approaches. "Odette. Odette." She turns in his direction, her lips parted, and opens her arms, offering herself to him. He takes her, closes his eyes and searches the bare of her neck with his lips and tongue. He tries to kiss her mouth, but she resists. It is not the custom, she declares in English. "Mais Je vous aime, m'Odette, je t'aimes," he insists. She pushes him away. "You don't kiss a cocksucker, soldier boy." He looks into her eyes. It is not Odette. It is Joyce Page.

"Have me, Asa. I be you koibito- san, nai?" He closes his eyes and bends to kiss Joyce. "You nice GI," she whispers in his ear. Hot nostril blasts reach his cheek. He looks, and one side of Miss Rouelle's terrorized face is almost touching his. The eye watching him darts about its socket in the manner of a rat expecting attack. "You nasty little fucker. You would rape Lucrece." She wrenches free and runs laughing into the Zoo. "But I am Sappho," she calls back.

"Please wait," he begs out, "I can explain." He tries to pursue her, but Grampa steps from the Zoo and blocks his path. "A man cannot be both sinner and Greek," Grampa says. "Explain the Calling to him Pete." Dr. Dicampo emerges from the Zoo. "A fisher of lust must first learn to bait the hook with the other cheek," he says with a deep, roaring, heavily accented laugh. "Or else the Austrian will attack his peppers."

"Stand aside! Stand aside!" A voice commands Asa from behind. Poppa strides boldly by Asa, shooing Grampa and

Dr. Dicampo into the Zoo with a folded New York Times. Mamma's rocking chair sets where Grampa and Dr. Dicampo had stood. The junior encyclopedia are heaped on its seat. Poppa carefully restacks them and then proceeds on into the Zoo.

From the direction of the Big Cat House, where Asa can hear the roar of the Lion and the growl of the Tigress, come other sounds: "Ichi/Ni! Ichi/Ni! Ichi/Ni! and the double- time cadence of hobnailed boots striking the gravel pathway. Six Imperial Japanese Marines carry a hospital bed from the Zoo entrance. One kicks Momma's rocking chair out of the way, and the encyclopedia's volumes scatter. The marines set the bed on the precise spot where the rocking chair had been. Then they turn to Asa: . "Gomen-kudasai, Zooku-san," they sing out in chorus and bow in unison. They pour gasoline from a GI can onto the bedclothes. One marine, a corporal with a large stainless steel front tooth, grins and bows and proffers a Japanese Ronson cigarette lighter, gesticulating for Asa to come and ignite the drenched sheets. "Doozo," he bids. His comrades smartly unsling their rifles and expertly fix bayonets. "Hai!" the corporal commands, and the marines thrust their bayonets through the sheets. The white transforms progressively through pink to red. One marine grins at Asa and raises an edge of the sheet for him to see what is on the bed. It is a Nara deer in labor. The corporal flicks the cigarette lighter. The flame catches a corner of the sheet. Poof! A mushroom cloud suddenly erupts from the entrance of the Zoo and engulfs the bed, the writhing doe and the Japanese marines. A strong wind then drives the cloud back into the Zoo. A silver thimble sets where the bed had been. Asa walks close and gets down on his hands and knees to inspect it. The thimble contains a single ash.

Holding hands, two Filipino children slowly walk from the Zoo, one a boy of about eleven, the other a girl of seven or eight. An unlit Pall Mall dangles loosely from the boy's lips. "Hey, Joe," he calls to Asa. "You gotta light Joe? Wanna blow job Joe? Wanna fucka sister?" The little girl is naked. Asa wants to give her his field jacket. But he is not wearing one. The girl inserts a finger in a nostril and sings, "See the feathers fwy."

"Help! Help!" Asa screams. "Jesus, Jesus help!" The children turn and run back into the Zoo. Sergeant Robinson Duhurst and another soldier pass them. Robby and his companion are armed with Thompson submachine guns. Grenades dangle from their cartridge belts. Asa squints to make out the face of Robby's companion. It is Asa Zook. And he needs a shave. A third soldier catches up to Robby and Asa. He is carrying a BAR. "Give me the fucking Tommy Gun Zook. It's mine," the BARman insists. Asa Zook turns and strikes the BARman who falls to the ground. Random rifle fire rakes the gravel near the BARman who jumps to his feet and runs away.

Asa Zook and Robinson Duhurst face in the direction of the enemy fire. It is from the second story of a whitewashed hospital building across the street. "Let's kill us a few gooks, Ace," Robby says. Asa Zook fires a series of short round bursts. A helmeted Japanese sailor topples to the sidewalk. Robby rushes across the street and lobs a grenade into the window. In a moment there is an explosion, and the wall of the building vanishes, exposing the bodies of Japanese sailors and marines. Some are still alive. Asa Zook moves closer and puts the submachine gun to his shoulder.

"Stop! Stop!" Asa calls out to Asa Zook. "Please don't..." But it is too late. Asa Zook is expertly slaughtering the enemy with short round bursts.

Robby Duhurst now steps forward. Tears are in his eyes. He touches Asa Zook's arm and says, "We falsely expected to gain good." He relieves Asa Zook of the submachine gun and leads him back into the Zoo.

Asa redirects his gaze to the entrance. Momma's rocking chair is there again. Anita sits in it, teasing and signaling with her lower lip for Asa to come, nuzzle the hair of her armpit. He approaches. It is not Anita but the cocktail hostess from Montreal. She has a rosebud in her lap. No. It is not the cocktail waitress but an imaginary lover of his boyhood fantasies. "I am Nature," she says, "Come, put your head in my lap and I will tell you truth." He kneels, but as he lowers his head he observes a tiny spotted salamander trapped within the wicker of the rocking chair. It can't stay there. It will dry out and die. He tries to liberate the creature. But his fingers are too thick.

"Help!" he cries out. "Poppa, forgive my sin."

He feels lips on his cheek. "Asa. Asa, darling. Be a philosopher and hatred will vanish from the universe." He looks up. It is Momma. She smells of cake batter. She is smiling and is removing the combs from her hair. Rich tresses fall down around his face. He closes his eyes.

"Momma? Momma, what is a philosopher?" There is no reply at all. He opens his eyes. Momma is gone. Joyce Page calls from within the Zoo. Asa cannot make out what she says over the roar of the sea. He attempts to rise and inadvertently tips the rocking chair, which swings forward at him. He cannot get out of its way. The backrest crashes painfully against the bridge of his nose. Suddenly he is blind.


"Momma! Momma!" Asa heard his voice calling out. His eyes were wide open, but he could see nothing. His face was pressed hard against an immovable object. He reached into the darkness and explored. Then his cognition began to function. The object was a heavy table leg. He was out of the sleeping bag. Although the room was very cold, his upper body was soaked with sweat. A numbness in his upper lip evoked transitory recollection of his first day on the rifle range. "Memories! We regenerate life with them," he said to the darkness. Memories? Wait!

"Memory! Regeneration!" he shouted. He freed his ankles from the sleeping bag, and on hands and knees searched the floor for his flashlight. In another instant he was on his feet, fumbling for a match, lighting Momma's kerosene lamp, opening the Journal and scribbling at almost illegible haste.

"Memory should be the central notion of my theory. Memory embodies the abstract giver of life; it is the manifestation of Nature's principle of renewal, of her generalized love, which is reborn whenever one of us is born; restored whenever one of us loves a new life into existence; regenerated whenever one of us is healed. Memory! Lashley's engram. The memory trace is he quantum of the psyche." He paused. Am I utterly mad? Am I finally driven to romantic insanity by my guilt- bedeviled id? He inhaled, held his breath and listened for the Deep Brain's reply. But then he stood and brought his fist down heavily on the table. "No! I will not permit illusions to work through this one." But am I mad? He peered out at the black night. He looked at the Journal page awaiting his pen. I need a test of my cognition. He tried naming aloud the bones of the wrist. "Navicular, lunate triangular, pisiform, greater multangular, lesser multangular, capitate, hamate....." and laughed at himself as he could not fully recall the lascivious mnemonic his classmate used to prod their recall (Never, Lower, Tillie's, Panties..) but did remember that it only worked with Gray and not Cunningham. "Anatomy was always a trial of sobriety for me."

He seemed sane, his will in control, his reason on track, his intellect in operation. Without self- induced hallucinations, he'd finally apprehended the elusive quarry on the other side of the wall of ice. "Memory is the key to it all," he wrote down. "Here I have been reading and lecturing around and about the subject for weeks. Why did I not see it before this? What single cue forged the crucial connection? What thought or idea or itch or word? "Regeneration! It is a key notion, here. Regeneration. The moment I set 'regeneration' and 'memory' into one conscious ken, my intellect knew the critical union.

"Regeneration. Memory. What must be my first serious task? The answer: describe the engram; define memory with rigor; stipulate how memory and regeneration are each other and thereby state what they are! " Now he paused and relaxed the tight grip on his will. Immediately, his voice echoed what his pen had told the page: "Stipulate what memory is! You're not quite ready for that, the Deep Brain advised.

"Well, what a pleasant surprise to hear your voice. I thought you might be miffed by my trying to tackle the critical task with pure reason." He did not really expect the Deep Brain to reply. It never wasted time on small talk. "No, Deep Brain. I'd fail tonight. I'd prematurely disturb the womb and abort the zygote formed of regeneration and memory. Which I shall not do. Instead..." He turned to the Journal.

"I shall pose here a few simple, open- ended questions for subsequent deliberation. Is madness anti- memory? Is cancer anti- regeneration?" Is cancer, then, the insanity of the tissues?

He capped his pen and closed the Journal. Now he had to calm down, he realized. And quickly! His brain would have to be rested for tomorrow.

But his heart still pounded wildly. "My systolic pressure must be 200," he observed. I must slow myself. But his autonomic nervous system refused to cooperate. He felt an unease developing, a fear that, turned loose, his body would never again obey his will, would continue racing faster, faster, faster, until it ran itself to extinction. He had seen a dog's heart beat itself to death once in a physiology lab demonstration. Suddenly, his distended bladder was signaling: Micturitional Emergency! He'd have to go out into the black night.

On the side porch, ballistically urinating into the darkness, hearing the invisible stream hiss and spatter, sensing the venereal pleasure of a contracting bladder, he did calm down. Finished, he slowly and deliberately buttoned his fly. Then, suddenly, he leapt furiously into the blackness. When he landed on the unseen ground, he immediately looked for the sky. Seeing a familiar star, he smiled up. "Nature, my blessed, blessed darling, you are my true salvation. I believe in YOUUUUU!

Copyright, 1996 by Paul Pietsch, all rights reserved. May be copied for personal, educational or other non-commercial "fair-use" purposes, as defined by U.S. copyright law.

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