உர்சுலா லீ க்வின் மறைவு

எனக்குப் பிடித்த SF எழுத்தாளர்களின் முதல் வரிசையில் இருப்பவர் உர்சுலா லீ க்வின். சில நாட்களுக்கு முன் மறைந்தார். விவரமாக எழுத நேரமில்லை. முதலில் பல புத்தகங்களை மீண்டும் படித்துப் பார்க்க வேண்டும், அது எப்போது நடக்குமோ தெரியவில்லை. இப்போதைக்கு அவர் எழுதிய சிறுகதைகளில் எனக்கு மிகவும் பிடித்த ஒன்றான Coming of Age in Karhide சிறுகதையைப் பற்றி எழுதியதை மீள்பதித்திருக்கிறேன்.

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எனக்குப் பிடித்த அறிவியல் புனைவு (Science Fiction, சுருக்கமாக SF) எழுத்தாளர்களில் உர்சுலா லீ க்வின் முதல் சில இடங்களில் இருக்கிறார். அவர் மனித சமூகம் பற்றி மீண்டும் மீண்டும் எழுப்பும் கேள்விகளி என்னைக் கவர்பவை, கொஞ்சமாவது சிந்திக்க வைப்பவை. குடும்பம், பாலியல் உறவுகள், குழு/இன அடையாளங்கள் எல்லாம் எத்தனை பலவீனமான அஸ்திவாரத்தின் மேல் கட்டப்பட்டவை, ஆனால் எத்தனை பலமானவை என்று நான் உணர்ந்திருப்பதில் அவரது புனைவுகளுக்கும் ஒரு பங்குண்டு.

அவரது சிறுகதைகளில் எனக்கு மிகவும் பிடித்த ஒன்று Coming of Age in Karhide. அவர் காட்டும் சமூகத்தில் ‘மனிதர்களுக்குள்’ சாதாரணமாக ஆண்-பெண் என்ற பேதம் இல்லை. ஆனால் புரட்டாசி மாதத்தில் நாய்கள் போல (animals in heat) அவ்வப்போது உடலுறவு கொண்டே ஆக வேண்டிய நிலை ஏற்படுகிறது. அந்த நிலையில் உடலுறவு கொள்வதைத் தவிர அவர்களால் வேறு எதுவும் செய்ய முடியாது. அப்போது அவர்கள் ஆணாகவோ பெண்ணாகவோ மாறிக் கொள்ளலாம். இந்த முறை பெண்ணாக இருந்து பிள்ளை பெற்றுக் கொண்டாலும் அடுத்த முறை ஆணாக இருப்பதில் எந்தத் தடையும் இல்லை. Heat இல்லாத நேரத்தில் அவர்கள் எப்படி வாழ்வார்கள்? இப்படி ஒரு சமூகத்தில் காதல், கற்பு, குடும்பம், அம்மா, அப்பா, அண்ணன், தங்கை, திருமணம், பிள்ளைகளுக்கு சொத்துரிமை என்பவை என்ன?

இப்படி ஒரு கதை மூலம் நம் சமூகத்தில் இவையெல்லாம் என்ன என்று யோசிக்க வைப்பதில்தான் லீ க்வின்னின் வெற்றி இருக்கிறது. கட்டாயம் படியுங்கள் என்று பரிந்துரைக்கிறேன்.

Coming of Age in Karhide by Ursula K. Le Guin

SOV THADE TAGE EM EREB, OF RER IN KARHIDE, ON GETHEN

I live in the oldest city in the world. Long before there were kings in Karhide, Rer was a city, the marketplace and meeting ground for all the Northeast, the Plains, and Kerm Land. The Fastness of Rer was a center of learning, a refuge, a judgment seat fifteen thousand years ago. Karhide became a nation here, under the Geger kings, who ruled for a thousand years. In the thousandth year Sedern Geger, the Unking, cast the crown into the River Arre from the palace towers, proclaiming an end to dominion. The time they call the Flowering of Rer, the Summer Century, began then. It ended when the Hearth of Harge took power and moved their capital across the mountains to Erhenrang. The Old Palace has been empty for centuries. But it stands. Nothing in Rer falls down. The Arre floods through the street-tunnels every year in the Thaw, winter blizzards may bring thirty feet of snow, but the city stands. Nobody knows how old the houses are, because they have been rebuilt forever. Each one sits in its gardens without respect to the position of any of the others, as vast and random and ancient as hills. The roofed streets and canals angle about among them. Rer is all corners. We say that the Harges left because they were afraid of what might be around the corner.

Time is different here. I learned in school how the Orgota, the Ekumen, and most other people count years. They call the year of some portentous event Year One and number forward from it. Here it’s always Year One. On Getheny Thern, New Year’s Day, the Year One becomes one-ago, one-to-come becomes One, and so on. It’s like Rer, everything always changing but the city never changing.

When I was fourteen (in the Year One, or fifty-ago) I came of age. I have been thinking about that a good deal recently.

It was a different world. Most of us had never seen an Alien, as we called them then. We might have heard the Mobile talk on the radio, and at school we saw pictures of Aliens—the ones with hair around their mouths were the most pleasingly savage and repulsive. Most of the pictures were disappointing. They looked too much like us. You couldn’t even tell that they were always in kemmer. The female Aliens were supposed to have enormous breasts, but my Mothersib Dory had bigger breasts than the ones in the pictures.

When the Defenders of the Faith kicked them out of Orgoreyn, when King Emran got into the Border War and lost Erhenrang, even when their Mobiles were outlawed and forced into hiding at Estre in Kerm, the Ekumen did nothing much but wait. They had waited for two hundred years, as patient as Handdara. They did one thing: they took our young king off-world to foil a plot, and then brought the same king back sixty years later to end her wombchild’s disastrous reign. Argaven XVII is the only king who ever ruled four years before her heir and forty years after.

The year I was born (the Year One, or sixty-four-ago) was the year Argaven’s second reign began. By the time I was noticing anything beyond my own toes, the war was over, the West Fall was part of Karhide again, the capital was back in Erhenrang, and most of the damage done to Rer during the Overthrow of Emran had been repaired. The old houses had been rebuilt again. The Old Palace had been patched again. Argaven XVII was miraculously back on the throne again. Everything was the way it used to be, ought to be, back to normal, just like the old days—everybody said so.

Indeed those were quiet years, an interval of recovery before Argaven, the first Gethenian who ever left our planet, brought us at last fully into the Ekumen; before we, not they, became the Aliens; before we came of age. When I was a child we lived the way people had lived in Rer forever. It is that way, that timeless world, that world around the corner, I have been thinking about, and trying to describe for people who never knew it. Yet as I write I see how also nothing changes, that it is truly the Year One always, for each child that comes of age, each lover who falls in love.

There were a couple of thousand people in the Ereb Hearths, and a hundred and forty of them lived in my Hearth, Ereb Tage. My name is Sov Thade Tage em Ereb, after the old way of naming we still use in Rer. The first thing I remember is a huge dark place full of shouting and shadows, and I am falling upward through a golden light into the darkness. In thrilling terror, I scream. I am caught in my fall, held, held close; I weep; a voice so close to me that it seems to speak through my body says softly, “Sov, Sov, Sov.” And then I am given something wonderful to eat, something so sweet, so delicate that never again will I eat anything quite so good….

I imagine that some of my wild elder hearthsibs had been throwing me about, and that my mother comforted me with a bit of festival cake. Later on when I was a wild elder sib we used to play catch with babies for balls; they always screamed, with terror or with delight, or both. It’s the nearest to flying anyone of my generation knew. We had dozens of different words for the way snow falls, floats, descends, glides; blows, for the way clouds move, the way ice floats, the way boats sail; but not that word. Not yet. And so I don’t remember “flying.” I remember falling upward through the golden light.

Family houses in Rer are built around a big central hall. Each story has an inner balcony clear round that space, and we call the whole story, rooms and all, a balcony. My family occupied the whole second balcony of Ereb Tage. There were a lot of us. My grandmother had borne four children, and all of them had children, so I had a bunch of cousins as well as a younger and an older wombsib. “The Thades always kemmer as women and always get pregnant,” I heard neighbors say, variously envious, disapproving, admiring. “And they never keep kemmer,” somebody would add. The former was an exaggeration, but the latter was true. Not one of us kids had a father. I didn’t know for years who my getter was, and never gave it a thought. Clannish, the Thades preferred not to bring outsiders, even other members of our own Hearth, into the family. If young people fell in love and started talking about keeping kemmer or making vows, Grandmother and the mothers were ruthless. “Vowing kemmer, what do you think you are, some kind of noble? some kind of fancy person? The kemmerhouse was good enough for me and it’s good enough for you,” the mothers said to their lovelorn children, and sent them away, clear off to the old Ereb Domain in the country, to hoe braties till they got over being in love.

So as a child I was a member of a flock, a school; a swarm, in and out of our warren of rooms, tearing up and down the staircases, working together and learning together and looking after the babies—in our own fashion—and terrorizing quieter hearthmates by our numbers and our noise. As far as I know we did no real harm. Our escapades were well within the rules and limits of the sedate, ancient Hearth, which we felt not as constraints but as protection, the walls that kept us safe. The only time we got punished was when my cousin Sether decided it would be exciting if we tied a long rope we’d found to the second-floor balcony railing, tied a big knot in the rope, held onto the knot, and jumped. “I’ll go first,” Sether said. Another misguided attempt at flight. The railing and Sether’s broken leg were mended, and the rest of us had to clean the privies, all the privies of the Hearth, for a month. I think the rest of the Hearth had decided it was time the young Thades observed some discipline.

Although I really don’t know what I was like as a child, I think that if I’d had any choice I might have been less noisy than my playmates, though just as unruly. I used to love to listen to the radio, and while the rest of them were racketing around the balconies or the centerhall in winter, or out in the streets and gardens in summer, I would crouch for hours in my mother’s room behind the bed, playing her old serem-wood radio very softly so that my sibs wouldn’t know I was there. I listened to anything, Lays and plays and hearthtales, the Palace news, the analyses of grain harvests and the detailed weather reports; I listened every day all one winter to an ancient saga from the Pering Storm-Border about snowghouls, perfidious traitors, and bloody ax-murders, which haunted me at night so that I couldn’t sleep and would crawl into bed with my mother for comfort. Often my younger sib was already there in the warm, soft, breathing dark. We would sleep all entangled and curled up together like a nest of Pesthry.

My mother, Guyr Thade Tage em Ereb, was impatient, warm-hearted, and impartial, not exerting much control over us three wombchildren, buy keeping watch. The Thades were all tradespeople working in Ereb shops and masteries, with little or no cash to spend; but when I was ten, Guyr bought me a radio, a new one, and said where my sibs could hear, “You don’t have to share it.” I treasured it for years and finally shared it with my own wombchild.

So the years went along and I went along in the warmth and density and certainty of a family and a Hearth embedded in tradition, threads on the quick ever-repeating shuttle weaving the timeless web of custom and act and work and relationship, and at this distance I can hardly tell one year from the other or myself from the other children: until I turned fourteen.

The reason most people in my Hearth would remember that year is for the big party known as Dory’s Somer-Forever Celebration. My Mothersib Dory had stopped going into kemmer that winter. Some people didn’t do anything when they stopped going into kemmer; others went to the Fastness for a ritual; some stayed on at the Fastness for months after, or even moved there. Dory, who wasn’t spiritually inclined, said, “If I can’t have kids and can’t have sex anymore and have to get old and die, at least I can have a party.”

I have already had some trouble trying to tell this story in a language that has no somer pronouns, only gendered pronouns. In their last years of kemmer, as the hormone balance chances, many people tend to go into kemmer as men; Dory’s kemmers had been male for over a year, so I’ll call Dory “he,” although of course the point was that he would never be either he or she again.

In any event, his party was tremendous. He invited everyone in our Hearth and the two neighboring Ereb Hearths, and it went on for three days. It had been a long winter and the spring was late and cold; people were ready for something new, something hot to happen. We cooked for a week, and a whole storeroom was packed full of beer kegs. A lot of people who were in the middle of going out of kemmer, or had already and hadn’t done anything about it, came and joined in the ritual. That’s what I remember vividly: in the firelit three-story centerhall of our Hearth, a circle of thirty or forty people, all middle-aged or old, singing and dancing, stamping the drumbeats. There was a fierce energy in them, their gray hair was loose and wild, they stamped as if their feet would go through the floor, their voices were deep and strong, they were laughing. The younger people watching them seemed pallid and shadowy. I looked at the dancers and wondered, why are they happy? Aren’t they old? Why do they act like they’d got free? What’s it like, then, kemmer?

No, I hadn’t thought much about kemmer before. What would be the use? Until we come of age we have no gender and no sexuality, our hormones don’t give us any trouble at all. And in a city Hearth we never see adults in kemmer. They kiss and go. Where’s Maba? In the kemmerhouse, love, now eat your porridge. When’s Maba coming back? Soon, love. And in a couple of days Maba comes back, looking sleepy and shiny and refreshed and exhausted. Is it like having a bath, Maba? Yes, a bit, love, and what have you been up to while I was away?

Of course we played kemmer, when we were seven or eight. This here’s the kemmerhouse and I get to be the woman. No, I do. No, I do, I thought of it! And we rubbed our bodies together and rolled around laughing, and then maybe we stuffed a ball under our shirt and were pregnant, and then we gave birth, and then we played catch with the ball. Children will play whatever adults do; but the kemmer game wasn’t much of a game. It often ended in a tickling match. And most children aren’t even very ticklish; till they come of age.

After Dory’s party, I was on duty in the Hearth crèche all through Tuwa, the last month of spring; come summer I began my fast apprenticeship, in a furniture workshop in the Third Ward. I loved getting up early and running across the city on the wayroofs and up on the curbs of the open ways; after the late Thaw some of the ways were still full of water, deep enough for kayaks and poleboats. The air would be still and cold and clear; the sun would come up behind the old towers of the Unpalace, red as blood, and all the waters and the windows of the city would flash scarlet and gold. In the workshop there was the piercing sweet smell of fresh-cut wood and the company of grown people, hard-working, patient, and demanding, taking me seriously. I wasn’t a child anymore, I said to myself. I was an adult, a working person.

But why did I want to cry all the time? Why did I want to sleep all the time? Why did I get angry at Sether? Why did Sether keep bumping into me and saying “Oh sorry” in that stupid husky voice? Why was I so clumsy with the big electric lathe that I ruined six chair-legs one after the other? “Get that kid off the lathe,” shouted old Marth, and I slunk away in a fury of humiliation. I would never be a carpenter, I would never be adult, who gave a shit for chair-legs anyway?

“I want to work in the gardens,” I told my mother and grandmother.

“Finish your training and you can work in the gar-dens next summer,” Grand said, and Mother nodded. This sensible counsel appeared to me as a heartless injustice, a failure of love, a condemnation to despair. I Sulked. I raged.

“What’s wrong with the furniture shop?” my elders asked after several days of sulk and rage.

“Why does stupid Sether have to be there!” I shouted. Dory, who was Sether’s mother, raised an eyebrow and smiled.

“Are you all right?” my mother asked me as I slouched into the balcony after work, and I snarled, “I’m fine,” and rushed to the privies and vomited.

I was sick. My back ached all the time. My head ached and got dizzy and heavy. Something I could not locate anywhere, some part of my soul, hurt with a keen, desolate, ceaseless pain. I was afraid of myself: of my tears, my rage, my sickness, my clumsy body. It did not feel like my body, like me. It felt like something else, an ill-fitting garment, a smelly, heavy overcoat that belonged to some old person, some dead person. It wasn’t mine, it wasn’t me. Tiny needles of agony shot through my nipples, hot as fire. When I winced and held my arms across my chest, I knew that everybody could see what was happening. Anybody could smell me. I smelled sour, strong, like blood, tike raw pelts of animals. My clitopenis was swollen hugely and stuck out from between my labia, and then shrank nearly to nothing, so that it hurt to piss. My labia itched and reddened as with loathsome insect-bites. Deep in my belly something moved, some monstrous growth. I was utterly ashamed. I was dying.

“Sov,” my mother said, sitting down beside me on my bed, with a curious, tender, complicitous smile, “shall we choose your kemmerday?”

“I’m not in kemmer,” I said passionately.

”No,” Guyr said. “But next month I think you will be.”

“I won’t! ”

My mother stroked my hair and face and arm. We shape each other to be human, old people used to say as they stroked babies or children or one another with those long, slow, soft caresses.

After a while my mother said, “Sether’s coming in, too. But a month or so later than you, I think. Dory said let’s have a double kemmerday, but I think you should have your own day in your own time.”
I burst into tears and cried, “I don’t want one, I don’t want to, I just want, I just want to go away….”

“Sov,” my mother said, “if you want to, you can go to the kemmerhouse at Gerodda Ereb, where you won’t know anybody. But I think it would be better here, where people do know you. They’d like it. They’ll be so glad for you. Oh, your Grand’s so proud of you! ‘Have you seen that grandchild of mine, Sov, have you seen what a beauty, what amahad! ‘ Everybody’s bored to tears hearing about you….”

Mahad is a dialect word, a Rer word; it means a strong, handsome, generous, upright person, a reliable person. My mother’s stern mother, who commanded and thanked, but never praised, said I was a mahad? A terrifying idea, that dried my tears.

“All right,” I said desperately, “Here. But not next month! It isn’t. I’m not.”

“Let me see,” my mother said. Fiercely embarrassed yet relieved to obey, I stood up and undid my trousers.

My mother took a very brief and delicate look, hugged me, and said, “Next month, yes, I’m sure. You’ll feel much better in a day or two. And next month it’ll be different. It really will.”

Sure enough, the next day the headache and the hot itching were gone, and though I was still tired and sleepy a lot of the time, I wasn’t quite so stupid and clumsy at work. After a few more days I felt pretty much myself, light and easy in my limbs. Only if I thought about it there was still that queer feeling that wasn’t quite in any part of my body, and that was sometimes very painful and sometimes only strange, almost something I wanted to feel again.

My cousin Sether and I had been apprenticed together at the furniture shop. We didn’t go to work together because Sether was still slightly lame from that rope trick a couple of years earlier, and got a lift to work in a poleboat so long as there was water in the streets. When they closed the Arre Watergate and the ways went dry, Sether had to walk. So we walked together. The first couple of days we didn’t talk much. I still felt angry at Sether. Because I couldn’t run through the dawn anymore but had to walk at a lame-leg pace. And because Sether was always around. Always there. Taller than me, and quicker at the lathe, and with that long, heavy, shining hair. Why did anybody want to wear their hair so long, anyhow? I felt as if Sether’s hair was in front of my own eyes.

We were walking home, tired, on a hot evening of Ockre, the first month of summer. I could see that Sether was limping and trying to hide or ignore it, trying to swing right along at my quick pace, very straight-backed, scowling. A great wave of pity and admiration overwhelmed me, and that thing, that growth, that new being, whatever it was in my bowels and in the ground of my soul moved and turned again, turned towards Sether, aching, yearning.

“Are you coming into kemmer?” I said in a hoarse, husky voice I had never heard come out of my mouth.

“In a couple of months,” Sether said in a mumble, not looking at me, still very stiff and frowning.

“I guess I have to have this, do this, you know, this stuff, pretty soon.”

“I wish I could,” Sether said. “Get it over with.”

We did not look at each other. Very gradually, unnoticeably, I was slowing my pace till we were going along side by side at an easy walk.

“Sometimes do you feel like your tits are on fire?” I asked without knowing that I was going to say anything.

Sether nodded.

After a while, Sether said, “Listen, does your pisser get….”

I nodded.

“It must be what the Aliens look like,” Sether said with revulsion. “This, this thing sticking out, it gets so big … it gets in the way.”

We exchanged and compared symptoms for a mile or so. It was a relief to talk about it, to find company in misery, but it was also frightening to hear our misery confirmed by the other. Sether burst out, “I’ll tell you what I hate, what I really hate about it—it’s dehumanizing. To get jerked around like that by your own body, to lose control, I can’t stand the idea. Of being just a sex machine. And everybody just turns into something to have sex with. You know that people in kemmer go crazy and die if there isn’t anybody else in kemmer? That they’ll even attack people in somer? Their own mothers?”

“They can’t,” I said, shocked.

“Yes they can. Tharry told me. This truck driver up in the High Kargav went into kemmer as a male while their caravan was stuck in the snow, and he was big and strong, and he went crazy and he, he did it to his cab-mate, and his cab-mate was in somer and got hurt, really hurt, trying to fight him off. And then the driver came out of kemmer and committed suicide.”

This horrible story brought the sickness back up from the pit of my stomach, and I could say nothing.
Sether went on, “People in kemmer aren’t even human anymore! And we have to do that—to be that way!
Now that awful, desolate fear was out in the open. Buts was not a relief to speak it. It was even larger and more terrible, spoken.

“It’s stupid,” Sether said. “It’s a primitive device for continuing the species. There’s no need for civilized people to undergo it. People who want to get pregnant could do it with injections. It would be genetically sound. You could choose your child’s getter. There wouldn’t be all this inbreeding, people fucking with their sibs, like animals. Why do we have to be animals?”

Sether’s rage stirred me. I shared it. I also felt shocked and excited by the word “fucking,” which I had never heard spoken. I looked again at my cousin, the thin, ruddy face, the heavy, long, shining hair. My age, Sether looked older. A half year in pain from a shattered leg had darkened and matured the adventurous, mischievous child, teaching anger, pride, endurance. “Sether,” I said, “listen, it doesn’t matter, you’re human, even if you have to do that stuff, that fucking. You’re a mahad.”

“Getheny Kus,” Grand said: the first day of the month of Kus, midsummer day. “I won’t be ready,” I said.

“You’ll be ready.”

“I want to go into kemmer with Sether.”

“Sether’s got a month or two yet to go. Soon enough. It looks like you might be on the same moon-time, though. Dark-of-the-mooners, eh? That’s what I used to be. So, just stay on the same wavelength, you and Sether….” Grand had never grinned at me this way, an inclusive grin, as if I were an equal.

My mother’s mother was sixty years old, short, brawny, broad-hipped, with keen clear eyes, a stone-mason by trade, an unquestioned autocrat in the Hearth. I, equal to this formidable person? It was my first intimation that I might be becoming more, rather than less, human.

“I’d like it,” said Grand, “if you spent this half-month at the Fastness. But it’s up to you.”

“At the Fastness?” I said, taken by surprise. We Thades were all Handdara, but very inert Handdara, keeping only the great festivals, muttering the grace all in one garbled word, practicing none of the disciplines. None of my older hearthsibs had been sent off to the Fastness before their kemmerday. Was there something wrong with me?

“You’ve got a good brain,” said Grand. “You and Sether. I’d like to see some of you lot casting some shadows, some day. We Thades sit here in our Hearth and breed like pesthry. Is that enough? It’d be a good thing if some of you got your heads out of the bedding.”

“What do they do in the Fastness?” I asked, and Grand answered frankly, “I don’t know. Go find out. They teach you. They can teach you how to control kemmer.”

“All right,” I said promptly. I would tell Sether that the Indwellers could control kemmer. Maybe I could learn how to do it and come home and teach it to Sether.

Grand looked at me with approval. I had taken up the challenge.

Of course I didn’t learn how to control kemmer, in a halfmonth in the Fastness. The first couple of days there, I thought I wouldn’t even be able to control my homesickness. From our warm, dark warren of rooms full of people talking, sleeping, eating, cooking, washing, playing remma, playing music, kids running around, noise, family, I went across the city to a huge, clean, cold, quiet house of strangers. They were courteous, they treated me with respect. I was terrified. Why should a person of forty, who knew magic disciplines of superhuman strength and fortitude, who could walk barefoot through blizzards, who could Foretell, whose eyes were the wisest and calmest I had ever seen, why should an Adept of the Handdara respect me?

“Because you are so ignorant,” Ranharrer the Adept said, smiling, with great tenderness. Having me only for a halfmonth, they didn’t try to influence the nature of my ignorance very much. I practiced the Untrance several hours a day, and came to like it: that was quite enough for them, and they praised me.

“At fourteen, most people go crazy moving slowly,” my teacher said.

During my last six or seven days in the Fastness certain symptoms began to show up again, the headache, the swellings and shooting pains, the irritability. One morning the sheet of my cot in my bare, peaceful little room was bloodstained. I looked at the smear with horror and loathing. I thought I had scratched my itching labia to bleeding in my sleep, but I knew also what the blood was. I began to cry. I had to wash the sheet somehow. I had fouled, defiled this place where everything was clean, austere, and beautiful.

An old Indweller, finding me scrubbing desperately at the sheet in the washrooms, said nothing, but brought me some soap that bleached away the stain. I went back to my room, which I had come to love with the passion of one who had never before known any actual privacy, and crouched on the sheetless bed, miserable, checking every few minutes to be sure I was not bleeding again. I missed my Untrance practice time. The immense house was very quiet. Its peace sank into me. Again I felt that strangeness in my soul, but it was not pain now; it was a desolation like the air at evening, like the peaks of the Kargav seen far in the west in the clarity of winter. It was an immense enlargement.

Ranharrer the Adept knocked and entered at my word, looked at me for a minute, and asked gently, “What is it?”

“Everything is strange,” I said.

The Adept smiled radiantly and said, “Yes.”

I know now how Ranharrer cherished and honored my ignorance, in the Handdara sense. Then I knew only that somehow or other I had said the right thing and so pleased a person I wanted very much to please.

“We’re doing some singing,” Ranharrer said, “you might like to hear it.”

They were in fact singing the Midsummer Chant, which goes on for the four days before Getheny Kus, night and day. Singers and drummers drop in and out at will, most of them singing on certain syllables in an endless group improvisation guided only by the drums and by melodic cues in the Chantbook, and failing into harmony with the soloist if one is present. At first I heard only a pleasantly thick-textured, droning sound over a quiet and subtle beat. I listened till I got bored and decided I could do it too. So I opened my mouth and sang “Aah” and heard all the other voices singing “Aah” above and with and below mine until I lost mine and heard only all the voices, and then only the music itself, and then suddenly the startling silvery rush of a single voice running across the weaving, against the current, and sinking into it and vanishing, and rising out of it again…. Ranharrer touched my arm. It was time for dinner, I had been singing since Third Hour. I went back to the chantry after dinner, and after supper. I spent the next three days there. I would have spent the nights there if they had let me. I wasn’t sleepy at all anymore. I had sudden, endless energy, and couldn’t sleep. In my little room I sang to mysrelf, or read the strange Handdara poetry which was the only book they had given me, and practiced the Untrance, trying to ignore the heat and cold, the fire and ice in my body, till dawn came and I could go sing again.

And then it was Ottormenbod, midsummer’s eve, and I must go home to my Hearth and the kemmer-house.

To my surprise, my mother and grandmother and all the elders came to the Fastness to fetch me, wearing ceremonial hiebs and looking solemn. Ranharrer handed me over to them, saying to me only, “Come back to us.” My family paraded me through the streets in the hot summer morning; all the vines were in flower, perfuming the air, all the gardens were blooming, bearing, fruiting. “This is an excellent time,” Grand said judiciously, “to come into hemmer.”

The Hearth looked very dark to me after the Fastness, and somehow shrunken. I looked around for Sether, but it was a workday, Sether was at the shop. That gave me a sense of holiday, which was not unpleasant. And then up in the hearthroom of our balcony, Grand and the Hearth elders formally presented me with a whole set of new clothes, new everything, from the boots up, topped by a magnificently embroidered hieb. There was a spoken ritual that went with the clothes, not Handdara; I think, but a tradition of our Hearth; the words were all old and strange, the language of a thousand years ago. Grand rattled them out like somebody spitting rocks, and put the hieb on my shoulders.

Everybody said, “Haya!”

All the elders, and a lot of younger kids, hung around helping me put on the new clothes as if I was a king or a baby, and some of the elders wanted to give me advice—”last advice,” they called it, since you gain shifgrethor when you go into kemmer, and once you have shifgrethor advice is insulting. “Now you just keep away from that old Ebbeche,” one of them told me shrilly. My mother took offense, snapping, “Keep your shadow to yourself, Tadsh!” And to me, “Don’t listen to the old fish. Flapmouth Tadsh! But now listen, Sov.”

I listened. Guyr had drawn me a little away from the others, and spoke gravely, with some
embarrassment. “Remember, it will matter who you’re with first.”

I nodded. “I understand,” I said.

“No, you don’t,” my mother snapped, forgetting to be embarrassed. “Just keep it in mind!”

“What, ah,” I said. My mother waited. “If I, if I go into, as a, as female,” I said. “Don’t I, shouldn’t I—?”

“Ah,” Guyr said. “Don’t worry. It’ll be a year or more before you can conceive. Or get. Don’t worry, this time. The other people will see to it, just in case. They all know it’s your first kemmer. But do keep it in mind, who you’re with first! Around, oh, around Karrid, and Ebbeche, and some of them.”

“Come on!” Dory shouted, and we all got into a procession again to go downstairs and across the centerhall, where everybody cheered “Haya Sov! Haya Sov!” and the cooks beat on their saucepans. I wanted to die. But they all seemed so cheerful, so happy about me, wishing me well; I wanted also to live.

We went out the west door and across the sunny gardens and came to the kemmerhouse. Tage Ereb shares a kemmerhouse with two other Ereb Hearths; it’s a beautiful building, all carved with deep-figure friezes in the Old Dynasty style, terribly worn by the weather of a couple of thousand years. On the red stone steps my family all kissed me, murmuring, “Praise then Darkness,” or “In the act of creation praise,” and my mother gave me a hard push on my shoulders, what they call the sledge-push, for good luck, as I turned away from them and went in the door.

The doorkeeper was waiting for me; a queer-looking, rather stooped person, with coarse, pale skin.
Now I realized who this “Ebbeche” they’d been talking about was. I’d never met him, but I’d heard about him. He was the Doorkeeper of our kemmerhouse, a halfdead—that is, a person in permanent kemmer, like the Aliens.

There are always a few people born that way here. Some of them can be cured; those who can’t or choose not to be usually live in a Fastness and learn the disciplines, or they become Doorkeepers. It’s convenient for them, and for normal people too. After all, who else would want tolive in a kemmerhouse? But there are drawbacks. If you come to the kemmerhouse in thorharmen, ready to gender, and the first person you meet is fully male, his pheromones are likely to gender you female right then, whether that’s what you had in mind this month or not. Responsible Doorkeepers, of course, keep well away from anybody who doesn’t invite them to come close. But permanent kemmer may not lead to responsibility of character; nor does being calledhalfdead and pervert all your life, I imagine. Obviously my family didn’t trust Ebbeche to keep his hands and his pheromones off me. But they were unjust. He honored a first kemmer as much as anyone else. He greeted me by name and showed me where to take off my new boots. Then he began to speak the ancient ritual welcome, backing down the hall before me; the first time I ever heard the words I would hear so many times again for so many years.

You cross earth now.
You cross water now.
You cross the Ice now ….
And the exulting ending, as we came into the centerhall: Together we have crossed the Ice.
Together we come into the Hearthplace, Into life, bringing life!
In the act of creation, praise!

The solemnity of the words moved me and distracted me somewhat from my intense self-consciousness. As I had in the Fastness, I felt the familiar reassurance of being part of something immensely older and larger than myself, even if it was strange and new to me. I must entrust myself to it and be what it made me. At the same time I was intensely alert. All my senses were extraordinarily keen, as they had been all morning. I was aware of everything, the beautiful blue color of the walls, the lightness and vigor of my steps as I walked, the texture of the wood under my bare feet, the sound and meaning of the ritual words, the Doorkeeper himself. He fascinated me. Ebbeche was certainly not handsome, and yet I noticed how musical his rather deep voice was; and pale skin was more attractive than I had ever thought it. I felt that he had been maligned, that his life must be a strange one. I wanted to talk to him. But as he finished the welcome, standing aside for me at the doorway of the centerhall, a tall person strode forward eagerly to meet me.

I was glad to see a familiar face: it was the head cook of my Hearth, Karrid Arrage. Like many cooks a rather fierce and temperamental person, Karrid had often taken notice of me, singling me out in a joking, challenging way, tossing me some delicacy—”Here, youngun! get some meat on your bones!” As I saw Karrid now I went through the most extraordinary multiplicity of awarenesses: that Karrid was naked and that this nakedness was not like the nakedness of people in the Hearth, but a significant nakedness—that he was not the Karrid I had seen before but transfigured into great beauty—that he washe —that my mother had warned me about him—that I wanted to touch him—that I was afraid of him.
He picked me right up in his arms and pressed me against him. I felt his clitopenis like a fist between my legs. “Easy, now,” the Doorkeeper said to him, and some other people came forward from the room, which I could see only as large, dimly glowing, full of shadows and mist.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Karrid said to me and them, with his hard laugh. “I won’t hurt my own get, will I? I just want to be the one that gives her kemmer. As a woman, like a proper Thade. I want to give you that joy, little Sov.” He was undressing me as he spoke, slipping off my hieb and shirt with big, hot, hasty hands. The Doorkeeper and the others kept close watch, but did not interfere. I felt totally defenseless, helpless, humiliated. I struggled to get free, broke loose, and tried to pick up and put on my shirt. I was shaking and felt terribly weak, I could hardly stand up. Karrid helped me clumsily; his big arm supported me. I leaned against him, feeling his hot, vibrant skin against mine, a wonderful feeling, like sunlight, like firelight. I leaned more heavily against him, raising my arms so that our sides slid together. “Hey, now,” he said. “Oh, you beauty, oh, you Sov, here, take her away, this won’t do!” And he backed right away from me, laughing and yet really alarmed, his clitopenis standing up amazingly. I stood there half-dressed, on my rubbery legs, bewildered. My eyes were full of mist, I could see nothing clearly.

“Come on,” somebody said, and took my hand, a soft, cool touch totally different from the fire of Karrid’s skin. It was a person from one of the other Hearths, I didn’t know her name. She seemed to me to shine like gold in the dim, misty place. “Oh, you’re going so fast,” she said, laughing and admiring and consoling. “Come on, come into the pool, take it easy for a while. Karrid shouldn’t have come on to you like that! But you’re lucky, first kemmer as a woman, there’s nothing like it. I kemmered as a man three times before I got to kemmer as a woman, it made me so mad, every time I got into thorharmen all my damn friends would all be women already. Don’t worry about me—I’d say Karrid’s influence was decisive,” and she laughed again. “Oh, you are so pretty!” and she bent her head and licked my nipples before I knew what she was doing.

It was wonderful, it cooled that stinging fire in them that nothing else could cool. She helped me finish undressing, and we stepped together into the warm water of the big, shallow pool that filled the whole center of this room. That was why it was so misty, why the echoes were so strange. The water lapped on my thighs, on my sex, on my belly. I turned to my friend and leaned forward to kiss her. It was a perfectly natural thing to do, it was what she wanted and I wanted, and I wanted her to lick and suck my nipples again, and she did. For a long time we lay in the shallow water playing, and I could have played forever. But then somebody else joined us, taking hold of my friend from behind, and she arched her body in the water like a golden fish leaping, threw her back, and began to play with him.

I got out of the water and dried myself, feeling sad and shy and forsaken, and yet extremely interested in what had happened to my body. It felt wonderfully alive and electric, so that the roughness of the towel made me shiver with pleasure. Somebody had come closer to me, somebody that had been watching me play with my friend in the water. He sat down by me now.

It was a hearthmate a few years older than I, Arrad Tehemmy. I had worked in the gardens with Arrad all last summer, and liked him. He looked like Sether, I now thought, with heavy black hair and a long, thin face, but in him was that shining, that glory they all had here—all the kemmerers, the women , the men —such vivid beauty as I had never seen in any human beings. “Sov,” he said, “I’d like—Your first—Will you—” His hands were already on me, and mine on him. “Come,” he said, and I went with him. He took me into a beautiful little room, in which there was nothing but a fire burning in a fireplace, and a wide bed. There Arrad took me into his arms and I took Arrad into my arms, and then between my legs, and fell upward, upward through the golden light.

Arrad and I were together all that first night, and besides fucking a great deal, we ate a great deal. It had not occurred to me that there would be food at a kemmerhouse, I had thought you weren’t allowed to do anything but fuck. There was a lot of food, very good, too, set out so that you could eat whenever you wanted. Drink was more limited; the person in charge, an old woman-halfdead, kept her canny eye on you, and wouldn’t give you any more beer if you showed signs of getting wild or stupid. I didn’t need any more beer. I didn’t need any more fucking. I was complete. I was in love forever for all time all my life to eternity with Arrad. But Arrad (who was a day father into kemmer than I) fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up, and an extraordinary person named Hama sat down by me and began talking and also running his hand up and down my back in the most delicious way, so that before long we got further entangled, and began fucking, and it was entirely different with Hama than it had been with Arrad, so that I realized that I must be in love with Hama, until Gehardar joined us. After that I think I began to understand that I loved them all and they all loved me and that that was the secret of the kemmerhouse.

It’s been nearly fifty years, and I have to admit I do not recall everyone from my first kemmer; only Karrid and Arrad, Hama and Gehardar, old Tubanny, the most exquisitely skillful lover as a male that I ever knew—I met him often in later kemmers—and Berre, my golden fish, with whom I ended up in drowsy, peaceful, blissful lovemaking in front of the great hearth till we both fell asleep. And when we woke we were not women. We were not men. We were not in kemmer. We were very tired young adults.

“You’re still beautiful,” I said to Berre.

“So are you,” Berre said. “Where do you work?”

“Furniture shop, Third Ward.”

I tried licking Berre’s nipple, but it didn’t work; Berre flinched a little, and I said “Sorry,” and we both laughed.

“I’m in the radio trade,” Berre said. “Did you ever think of trying that?” “Making radios?”

“No. Broadcasting. I do the Fourth Hour news and weather.”

“That’s you?” I said, awed.

“Come over to the tower some time, I’ll show you around,” said Berre.

Which is how I found my lifelong trade and a life-long friend. As I tried to tell Sether when I came back to the Hearth, kemmer isn’t exactly what we thought it was; it’s much more complicated.

Sether’s first kemmer was on Getheny Gor, the first day of the first month of autumn, at the dark of the moon. One of the family brought Sether into kemmer as a woman, and then Sether brought me in. That was the first time I kemmered as a man. And we stayed on the same wavelength, as Grand put it. We never conceived together, being cousins and having some modern scruples, but we made love in every combination, every dark of the moon, for years. And Sether brought my child, Tamor, into first kemmer—as a woman, like a proper Thade.

Later on Sether went into the Handdara, and became an Indweller in the old Fastness, and now is an Adept. I go over there often to join in one of the Chants or practice the Untrance or just to visit, and every few days Sether comes back to the Hearth. And we talk. The old days or the new times, somer or kemmer, love is love.

தொகுக்கப்பட்ட பக்கம்: லீ க்வின் பக்கம், அஞ்சலிகள்

தொடர்புடைய சுட்டிகள்:
உர்சுலா லே க்வின்னின் தளம்
லே க்வின்னின் இன்னொரு சிறுகதை – Solitude

உர்சுலா லீ க்வின்னின் SF சிறுகதை: Coming of Age in Karhide

எனக்குப் பிடித்த அறிவியல் புனைவு (Science Fiction, சுருக்கமாக SF) எழுத்தாளர்களில் உர்சுலா லீ க்வின் முதல் சில இடங்களில் இருக்கிறார். அவர் மனித சமூகம் பற்றி மீண்டும் மீண்டும் எழுப்பும் கேள்விகளி என்னைக் கவர்பவை, கொஞ்சமாவது சிந்திக்க வைப்பவை. குடும்பம், பாலியல் உறவுகள், குழு/இன அடையாளங்கள் எல்லாம் எத்தனை பலவீனமான அஸ்திவாரத்தின் மேல் கட்டப்பட்டவை, ஆனால் எத்தனை பலமானவை என்று நான் உணர்ந்திருப்பதில் அவரது புனைவுகளுக்கும் ஒரு பங்குண்டு.

அவரது சிறுகதைகளில் எனக்கு மிகவும் பிடித்த ஒன்று Coming of Age in Karhide. அவர் காட்டும் சமூகத்தில் ‘மனிதர்களுக்குள்’ சாதாரணமாக ஆண்-பெண் என்ற பேதம் இல்லை. ஆனால் புரட்டாசி மாதத்தில் நாய்கள் போல (animals in heat) அவ்வப்போது உடலுறவு கொண்டே ஆக வேண்டிய நிலை ஏற்படுகிறது. அந்த நிலையில் உடலுறவு கொள்வதைத் தவிர அவர்களால் வேறு எதுவும் செய்ய முடியாது. அப்போது அவர்கள் ஆணாகவோ பெண்ணாகவோ மாறிக் கொள்ளலாம். இந்த முறை பெண்ணாக இருந்து பிள்ளை பெற்றுக் கொண்டாலும் அடுத்த முறை ஆணாக இருப்பதில் எந்தத் தடையும் இல்லை. Heat இல்லாத நேரத்தில் அவர்கள் எப்படி வாழ்வார்கள்? இப்படி ஒரு சமூகத்தில் காதல், கற்பு, குடும்பம், அம்மா, அப்பா, அண்ணன், தங்கை, திருமணம், பிள்ளைகளுக்கு சொத்துரிமை என்பவை என்ன?

இப்படி ஒரு கதை மூலம் நம் சமூகத்தில் இவையெல்லாம் என்ன என்று யோசிக்க வைப்பதில்தான் லீ க்வின்னின் வெற்றி இருக்கிறது. கட்டாயம் படியுங்கள் என்று பரிந்துரைக்கிறேன்.

Coming of Age in Karhide by Ursula K. Le Guin

SOV THADE TAGE EM EREB, OF RER IN KARHIDE, ON GETHEN

I live in the oldest city in the world. Long before there were kings in Karhide, Rer was a city, the marketplace and meeting ground for all the Northeast, the Plains, and Kerm Land. The Fastness of Rer was a center of learning, a refuge, a judgment seat fifteen thousand years ago. Karhide became a nation here, under the Geger kings, who ruled for a thousand years. In the thousandth year Sedern Geger, the Unking, cast the crown into the River Arre from the palace towers, proclaiming an end to dominion. The time they call the Flowering of Rer, the Summer Century, began then. It ended when the Hearth of Harge took power and moved their capital across the mountains to Erhenrang. The Old Palace has been empty for centuries. But it stands. Nothing in Rer falls down. The Arre floods through the street-tunnels every year in the Thaw, winter blizzards may bring thirty feet of snow, but the city stands. Nobody knows how old the houses are, because they have been rebuilt forever. Each one sits in its gardens without respect to the position of any of the others, as vast and random and ancient as hills. The roofed streets and canals angle about among them. Rer is all corners. We say that the Harges left because they were afraid of what might be around the corner.

Time is different here. I learned in school how the Orgota, the Ekumen, and most other people count years. They call the year of some portentous event Year One and number forward from it. Here it’s always Year One. On Getheny Thern, New Year’s Day, the Year One becomes one-ago, one-to-come becomes One, and so on. It’s like Rer, everything always changing but the city never changing.

When I was fourteen (in the Year One, or fifty-ago) I came of age. I have been thinking about that a good deal recently.

It was a different world. Most of us had never seen an Alien, as we called them then. We might have heard the Mobile talk on the radio, and at school we saw pictures of Aliens—the ones with hair around their mouths were the most pleasingly savage and repulsive. Most of the pictures were disappointing. They looked too much like us. You couldn’t even tell that they were always in kemmer. The female Aliens were supposed to have enormous breasts, but my Mothersib Dory had bigger breasts than the ones in the pictures.

When the Defenders of the Faith kicked them out of Orgoreyn, when King Emran got into the Border War and lost Erhenrang, even when their Mobiles were outlawed and forced into hiding at Estre in Kerm, the Ekumen did nothing much but wait. They had waited for two hundred years, as patient as Handdara. They did one thing: they took our young king off-world to foil a plot, and then brought the same king back sixty years later to end her wombchild’s disastrous reign. Argaven XVII is the only king who ever ruled four years before her heir and forty years after.

The year I was born (the Year One, or sixty-four-ago) was the year Argaven’s second reign began. By the time I was noticing anything beyond my own toes, the war was over, the West Fall was part of Karhide again, the capital was back in Erhenrang, and most of the damage done to Rer during the Overthrow of Emran had been repaired. The old houses had been rebuilt again. The Old Palace had been patched again. Argaven XVII was miraculously back on the throne again. Everything was the way it used to be, ought to be, back to normal, just like the old days—everybody said so.

Indeed those were quiet years, an interval of recovery before Argaven, the first Gethenian who ever left our planet, brought us at last fully into the Ekumen; before we, not they, became the Aliens; before we came of age. When I was a child we lived the way people had lived in Rer forever. It is that way, that timeless world, that world around the corner, I have been thinking about, and trying to describe for people who never knew it. Yet as I write I see how also nothing changes, that it is truly the Year One always, for each child that comes of age, each lover who falls in love.

There were a couple of thousand people in the Ereb Hearths, and a hundred and forty of them lived in my Hearth, Ereb Tage. My name is Sov Thade Tage em Ereb, after the old way of naming we still use in Rer. The first thing I remember is a huge dark place full of shouting and shadows, and I am falling upward through a golden light into the darkness. In thrilling terror, I scream. I am caught in my fall, held, held close; I weep; a voice so close to me that it seems to speak through my body says softly, “Sov, Sov, Sov.” And then I am given something wonderful to eat, something so sweet, so delicate that never again will I eat anything quite so good….

I imagine that some of my wild elder hearthsibs had been throwing me about, and that my mother comforted me with a bit of festival cake. Later on when I was a wild elder sib we used to play catch with babies for balls; they always screamed, with terror or with delight, or both. It’s the nearest to flying anyone of my generation knew. We had dozens of different words for the way snow falls, floats, descends, glides; blows, for the way clouds move, the way ice floats, the way boats sail; but not that word. Not yet. And so I don’t remember “flying.” I remember falling upward through the golden light.

Family houses in Rer are built around a big central hall. Each story has an inner balcony clear round that space, and we call the whole story, rooms and all, a balcony. My family occupied the whole second balcony of Ereb Tage. There were a lot of us. My grandmother had borne four children, and all of them had children, so I had a bunch of cousins as well as a younger and an older wombsib. “The Thades always kemmer as women and always get pregnant,” I heard neighbors say, variously envious, disapproving, admiring. “And they never keep kemmer,” somebody would add. The former was an exaggeration, but the latter was true. Not one of us kids had a father. I didn’t know for years who my getter was, and never gave it a thought. Clannish, the Thades preferred not to bring outsiders, even other members of our own Hearth, into the family. If young people fell in love and started talking about keeping kemmer or making vows, Grandmother and the mothers were ruthless. “Vowing kemmer, what do you think you are, some kind of noble? some kind of fancy person? The kemmerhouse was good enough for me and it’s good enough for you,” the mothers said to their lovelorn children, and sent them away, clear off to the old Ereb Domain in the country, to hoe braties till they got over being in love.

So as a child I was a member of a flock, a school; a swarm, in and out of our warren of rooms, tearing up and down the staircases, working together and learning together and looking after the babies—in our own fashion—and terrorizing quieter hearthmates by our numbers and our noise. As far as I know we did no real harm. Our escapades were well within the rules and limits of the sedate, ancient Hearth, which we felt not as constraints but as protection, the walls that kept us safe. The only time we got punished was when my cousin Sether decided it would be exciting if we tied a long rope we’d found to the second-floor balcony railing, tied a big knot in the rope, held onto the knot, and jumped. “I’ll go first,” Sether said. Another misguided attempt at flight. The railing and Sether’s broken leg were mended, and the rest of us had to clean the privies, all the privies of the Hearth, for a month. I think the rest of the Hearth had decided it was time the young Thades observed some discipline.

Although I really don’t know what I was like as a child, I think that if I’d had any choice I might have been less noisy than my playmates, though just as unruly. I used to love to listen to the radio, and while the rest of them were racketing around the balconies or the centerhall in winter, or out in the streets and gardens in summer, I would crouch for hours in my mother’s room behind the bed, playing her old serem-wood radio very softly so that my sibs wouldn’t know I was there. I listened to anything, Lays and plays and hearthtales, the Palace news, the analyses of grain harvests and the detailed weather reports; I listened every day all one winter to an ancient saga from the Pering Storm-Border about snowghouls, perfidious traitors, and bloody ax-murders, which haunted me at night so that I couldn’t sleep and would crawl into bed with my mother for comfort. Often my younger sib was already there in the warm, soft, breathing dark. We would sleep all entangled and curled up together like a nest of Pesthry.

My mother, Guyr Thade Tage em Ereb, was impatient, warm-hearted, and impartial, not exerting much control over us three wombchildren, buy keeping watch. The Thades were all tradespeople working in Ereb shops and masteries, with little or no cash to spend; but when I was ten, Guyr bought me a radio, a new one, and said where my sibs could hear, “You don’t have to share it.” I treasured it for years and finally shared it with my own wombchild.

So the years went along and I went along in the warmth and density and certainty of a family and a Hearth embedded in tradition, threads on the quick ever-repeating shuttle weaving the timeless web of custom and act and work and relationship, and at this distance I can hardly tell one year from the other or myself from the other children: until I turned fourteen.

The reason most people in my Hearth would remember that year is for the big party known as Dory’s Somer-Forever Celebration. My Mothersib Dory had stopped going into kemmer that winter. Some people didn’t do anything when they stopped going into kemmer; others went to the Fastness for a ritual; some stayed on at the Fastness for months after, or even moved there. Dory, who wasn’t spiritually inclined, said, “If I can’t have kids and can’t have sex anymore and have to get old and die, at least I can have a party.”

I have already had some trouble trying to tell this story in a language that has no somer pronouns, only gendered pronouns. In their last years of kemmer, as the hormone balance chances, many people tend to go into kemmer as men; Dory’s kemmers had been male for over a year, so I’ll call Dory “he,” although of course the point was that he would never be either he or she again.

In any event, his party was tremendous. He invited everyone in our Hearth and the two neighboring Ereb Hearths, and it went on for three days. It had been a long winter and the spring was late and cold; people were ready for something new, something hot to happen. We cooked for a week, and a whole storeroom was packed full of beer kegs. A lot of people who were in the middle of going out of kemmer, or had already and hadn’t done anything about it, came and joined in the ritual. That’s what I remember vividly: in the firelit three-story centerhall of our Hearth, a circle of thirty or forty people, all middle-aged or old, singing and dancing, stamping the drumbeats. There was a fierce energy in them, their gray hair was loose and wild, they stamped as if their feet would go through the floor, their voices were deep and strong, they were laughing. The younger people watching them seemed pallid and shadowy. I looked at the dancers and wondered, why are they happy? Aren’t they old? Why do they act like they’d got free? What’s it like, then, kemmer?

No, I hadn’t thought much about kemmer before. What would be the use? Until we come of age we have no gender and no sexuality, our hormones don’t give us any trouble at all. And in a city Hearth we never see adults in kemmer. They kiss and go. Where’s Maba? In the kemmerhouse, love, now eat your porridge. When’s Maba coming back? Soon, love. And in a couple of days Maba comes back, looking sleepy and shiny and refreshed and exhausted. Is it like having a bath, Maba? Yes, a bit, love, and what have you been up to while I was away?

Of course we played kemmer, when we were seven or eight. This here’s the kemmerhouse and I get to be the woman. No, I do. No, I do, I thought of it! And we rubbed our bodies together and rolled around laughing, and then maybe we stuffed a ball under our shirt and were pregnant, and then we gave birth, and then we played catch with the ball. Children will play whatever adults do; but the kemmer game wasn’t much of a game. It often ended in a tickling match. And most children aren’t even very ticklish; till they come of age.

After Dory’s party, I was on duty in the Hearth crèche all through Tuwa, the last month of spring; come summer I began my fast apprenticeship, in a furniture workshop in the Third Ward. I loved getting up early and running across the city on the wayroofs and up on the curbs of the open ways; after the late Thaw some of the ways were still full of water, deep enough for kayaks and poleboats. The air would be still and cold and clear; the sun would come up behind the old towers of the Unpalace, red as blood, and all the waters and the windows of the city would flash scarlet and gold. In the workshop there was the piercing sweet smell of fresh-cut wood and the company of grown people, hard-working, patient, and demanding, taking me seriously. I wasn’t a child anymore, I said to myself. I was an adult, a working person.

But why did I want to cry all the time? Why did I want to sleep all the time? Why did I get angry at Sether? Why did Sether keep bumping into me and saying “Oh sorry” in that stupid husky voice? Why was I so clumsy with the big electric lathe that I ruined six chair-legs one after the other? “Get that kid off the lathe,” shouted old Marth, and I slunk away in a fury of humiliation. I would never be a carpenter, I would never be adult, who gave a shit for chair-legs anyway?

“I want to work in the gardens,” I told my mother and grandmother.

“Finish your training and you can work in the gar-dens next summer,” Grand said, and Mother nodded. This sensible counsel appeared to me as a heartless injustice, a failure of love, a condemnation to despair. I Sulked. I raged.

“What’s wrong with the furniture shop?” my elders asked after several days of sulk and rage.

“Why does stupid Sether have to be there!” I shouted. Dory, who was Sether’s mother, raised an eyebrow and smiled.

“Are you all right?” my mother asked me as I slouched into the balcony after work, and I snarled, “I’m fine,” and rushed to the privies and vomited.

I was sick. My back ached all the time. My head ached and got dizzy and heavy. Something I could not locate anywhere, some part of my soul, hurt with a keen, desolate, ceaseless pain. I was afraid of myself: of my tears, my rage, my sickness, my clumsy body. It did not feel like my body, like me. It felt like something else, an ill-fitting garment, a smelly, heavy overcoat that belonged to some old person, some dead person. It wasn’t mine, it wasn’t me. Tiny needles of agony shot through my nipples, hot as fire. When I winced and held my arms across my chest, I knew that everybody could see what was happening. Anybody could smell me. I smelled sour, strong, like blood, tike raw pelts of animals. My clitopenis was swollen hugely and stuck out from between my labia, and then shrank nearly to nothing, so that it hurt to piss. My labia itched and reddened as with loathsome insect-bites. Deep in my belly something moved, some monstrous growth. I was utterly ashamed. I was dying.

“Sov,” my mother said, sitting down beside me on my bed, with a curious, tender, complicitous smile, “shall we choose your kemmerday?”

“I’m not in kemmer,” I said passionately.

”No,” Guyr said. “But next month I think you will be.”

“I won’t! ”

My mother stroked my hair and face and arm. We shape each other to be human, old people used to say as they stroked babies or children or one another with those long, slow, soft caresses.

After a while my mother said, “Sether’s coming in, too. But a month or so later than you, I think. Dory said let’s have a double kemmerday, but I think you should have your own day in your own time.”
I burst into tears and cried, “I don’t want one, I don’t want to, I just want, I just want to go away….”

“Sov,” my mother said, “if you want to, you can go to the kemmerhouse at Gerodda Ereb, where you won’t know anybody. But I think it would be better here, where people do know you. They’d like it. They’ll be so glad for you. Oh, your Grand’s so proud of you! ‘Have you seen that grandchild of mine, Sov, have you seen what a beauty, what amahad! ‘ Everybody’s bored to tears hearing about you….”

Mahad is a dialect word, a Rer word; it means a strong, handsome, generous, upright person, a reliable person. My mother’s stern mother, who commanded and thanked, but never praised, said I was a mahad? A terrifying idea, that dried my tears.

“All right,” I said desperately, “Here. But not next month! It isn’t. I’m not.”

“Let me see,” my mother said. Fiercely embarrassed yet relieved to obey, I stood up and undid my trousers.

My mother took a very brief and delicate look, hugged me, and said, “Next month, yes, I’m sure. You’ll feel much better in a day or two. And next month it’ll be different. It really will.”

Sure enough, the next day the headache and the hot itching were gone, and though I was still tired and sleepy a lot of the time, I wasn’t quite so stupid and clumsy at work. After a few more days I felt pretty much myself, light and easy in my limbs. Only if I thought about it there was still that queer feeling that wasn’t quite in any part of my body, and that was sometimes very painful and sometimes only strange, almost something I wanted to feel again.

My cousin Sether and I had been apprenticed together at the furniture shop. We didn’t go to work together because Sether was still slightly lame from that rope trick a couple of years earlier, and got a lift to work in a poleboat so long as there was water in the streets. When they closed the Arre Watergate and the ways went dry, Sether had to walk. So we walked together. The first couple of days we didn’t talk much. I still felt angry at Sether. Because I couldn’t run through the dawn anymore but had to walk at a lame-leg pace. And because Sether was always around. Always there. Taller than me, and quicker at the lathe, and with that long, heavy, shining hair. Why did anybody want to wear their hair so long, anyhow? I felt as if Sether’s hair was in front of my own eyes.

We were walking home, tired, on a hot evening of Ockre, the first month of summer. I could see that Sether was limping and trying to hide or ignore it, trying to swing right along at my quick pace, very straight-backed, scowling. A great wave of pity and admiration overwhelmed me, and that thing, that growth, that new being, whatever it was in my bowels and in the ground of my soul moved and turned again, turned towards Sether, aching, yearning.

“Are you coming into kemmer?” I said in a hoarse, husky voice I had never heard come out of my mouth.

“In a couple of months,” Sether said in a mumble, not looking at me, still very stiff and frowning.

“I guess I have to have this, do this, you know, this stuff, pretty soon.”

“I wish I could,” Sether said. “Get it over with.”

We did not look at each other. Very gradually, unnoticeably, I was slowing my pace till we were going along side by side at an easy walk.

“Sometimes do you feel like your tits are on fire?” I asked without knowing that I was going to say anything.

Sether nodded.

After a while, Sether said, “Listen, does your pisser get….”

I nodded.

“It must be what the Aliens look like,” Sether said with revulsion. “This, this thing sticking out, it gets so big … it gets in the way.”

We exchanged and compared symptoms for a mile or so. It was a relief to talk about it, to find company in misery, but it was also frightening to hear our misery confirmed by the other. Sether burst out, “I’ll tell you what I hate, what I really hate about it—it’s dehumanizing. To get jerked around like that by your own body, to lose control, I can’t stand the idea. Of being just a sex machine. And everybody just turns into something to have sex with. You know that people in kemmer go crazy and die if there isn’t anybody else in kemmer? That they’ll even attack people in somer? Their own mothers?”

“They can’t,” I said, shocked.

“Yes they can. Tharry told me. This truck driver up in the High Kargav went into kemmer as a male while their caravan was stuck in the snow, and he was big and strong, and he went crazy and he, he did it to his cab-mate, and his cab-mate was in somer and got hurt, really hurt, trying to fight him off. And then the driver came out of kemmer and committed suicide.”

This horrible story brought the sickness back up from the pit of my stomach, and I could say nothing.
Sether went on, “People in kemmer aren’t even human anymore! And we have to do that—to be that way!
Now that awful, desolate fear was out in the open. Buts was not a relief to speak it. It was even larger and more terrible, spoken.

“It’s stupid,” Sether said. “It’s a primitive device for continuing the species. There’s no need for civilized people to undergo it. People who want to get pregnant could do it with injections. It would be genetically sound. You could choose your child’s getter. There wouldn’t be all this inbreeding, people fucking with their sibs, like animals. Why do we have to be animals?”

Sether’s rage stirred me. I shared it. I also felt shocked and excited by the word “fucking,” which I had never heard spoken. I looked again at my cousin, the thin, ruddy face, the heavy, long, shining hair. My age, Sether looked older. A half year in pain from a shattered leg had darkened and matured the adventurous, mischievous child, teaching anger, pride, endurance. “Sether,” I said, “listen, it doesn’t matter, you’re human, even if you have to do that stuff, that fucking. You’re a mahad.”

“Getheny Kus,” Grand said: the first day of the month of Kus, midsummer day. “I won’t be ready,” I said.

“You’ll be ready.”

“I want to go into kemmer with Sether.”

“Sether’s got a month or two yet to go. Soon enough. It looks like you might be on the same moon-time, though. Dark-of-the-mooners, eh? That’s what I used to be. So, just stay on the same wavelength, you and Sether….” Grand had never grinned at me this way, an inclusive grin, as if I were an equal.

My mother’s mother was sixty years old, short, brawny, broad-hipped, with keen clear eyes, a stone-mason by trade, an unquestioned autocrat in the Hearth. I, equal to this formidable person? It was my first intimation that I might be becoming more, rather than less, human.

“I’d like it,” said Grand, “if you spent this half-month at the Fastness. But it’s up to you.”

“At the Fastness?” I said, taken by surprise. We Thades were all Handdara, but very inert Handdara, keeping only the great festivals, muttering the grace all in one garbled word, practicing none of the disciplines. None of my older hearthsibs had been sent off to the Fastness before their kemmerday. Was there something wrong with me?

“You’ve got a good brain,” said Grand. “You and Sether. I’d like to see some of you lot casting some shadows, some day. We Thades sit here in our Hearth and breed like pesthry. Is that enough? It’d be a good thing if some of you got your heads out of the bedding.”

“What do they do in the Fastness?” I asked, and Grand answered frankly, “I don’t know. Go find out. They teach you. They can teach you how to control kemmer.”

“All right,” I said promptly. I would tell Sether that the Indwellers could control kemmer. Maybe I could learn how to do it and come home and teach it to Sether.

Grand looked at me with approval. I had taken up the challenge.

Of course I didn’t learn how to control kemmer, in a halfmonth in the Fastness. The first couple of days there, I thought I wouldn’t even be able to control my homesickness. From our warm, dark warren of rooms full of people talking, sleeping, eating, cooking, washing, playing remma, playing music, kids running around, noise, family, I went across the city to a huge, clean, cold, quiet house of strangers. They were courteous, they treated me with respect. I was terrified. Why should a person of forty, who knew magic disciplines of superhuman strength and fortitude, who could walk barefoot through blizzards, who could Foretell, whose eyes were the wisest and calmest I had ever seen, why should an Adept of the Handdara respect me?

“Because you are so ignorant,” Ranharrer the Adept said, smiling, with great tenderness. Having me only for a halfmonth, they didn’t try to influence the nature of my ignorance very much. I practiced the Untrance several hours a day, and came to like it: that was quite enough for them, and they praised me.

“At fourteen, most people go crazy moving slowly,” my teacher said.

During my last six or seven days in the Fastness certain symptoms began to show up again, the headache, the swellings and shooting pains, the irritability. One morning the sheet of my cot in my bare, peaceful little room was bloodstained. I looked at the smear with horror and loathing. I thought I had scratched my itching labia to bleeding in my sleep, but I knew also what the blood was. I began to cry. I had to wash the sheet somehow. I had fouled, defiled this place where everything was clean, austere, and beautiful.

An old Indweller, finding me scrubbing desperately at the sheet in the washrooms, said nothing, but brought me some soap that bleached away the stain. I went back to my room, which I had come to love with the passion of one who had never before known any actual privacy, and crouched on the sheetless bed, miserable, checking every few minutes to be sure I was not bleeding again. I missed my Untrance practice time. The immense house was very quiet. Its peace sank into me. Again I felt that strangeness in my soul, but it was not pain now; it was a desolation like the air at evening, like the peaks of the Kargav seen far in the west in the clarity of winter. It was an immense enlargement.

Ranharrer the Adept knocked and entered at my word, looked at me for a minute, and asked gently, “What is it?”

“Everything is strange,” I said.

The Adept smiled radiantly and said, “Yes.”

I know now how Ranharrer cherished and honored my ignorance, in the Handdara sense. Then I knew only that somehow or other I had said the right thing and so pleased a person I wanted very much to please.

“We’re doing some singing,” Ranharrer said, “you might like to hear it.”

They were in fact singing the Midsummer Chant, which goes on for the four days before Getheny Kus, night and day. Singers and drummers drop in and out at will, most of them singing on certain syllables in an endless group improvisation guided only by the drums and by melodic cues in the Chantbook, and failing into harmony with the soloist if one is present. At first I heard only a pleasantly thick-textured, droning sound over a quiet and subtle beat. I listened till I got bored and decided I could do it too. So I opened my mouth and sang “Aah” and heard all the other voices singing “Aah” above and with and below mine until I lost mine and heard only all the voices, and then only the music itself, and then suddenly the startling silvery rush of a single voice running across the weaving, against the current, and sinking into it and vanishing, and rising out of it again…. Ranharrer touched my arm. It was time for dinner, I had been singing since Third Hour. I went back to the chantry after dinner, and after supper. I spent the next three days there. I would have spent the nights there if they had let me. I wasn’t sleepy at all anymore. I had sudden, endless energy, and couldn’t sleep. In my little room I sang to mysrelf, or read the strange Handdara poetry which was the only book they had given me, and practiced the Untrance, trying to ignore the heat and cold, the fire and ice in my body, till dawn came and I could go sing again.

And then it was Ottormenbod, midsummer’s eve, and I must go home to my Hearth and the kemmer-house.

To my surprise, my mother and grandmother and all the elders came to the Fastness to fetch me, wearing ceremonial hiebs and looking solemn. Ranharrer handed me over to them, saying to me only, “Come back to us.” My family paraded me through the streets in the hot summer morning; all the vines were in flower, perfuming the air, all the gardens were blooming, bearing, fruiting. “This is an excellent time,” Grand said judiciously, “to come into hemmer.”

The Hearth looked very dark to me after the Fastness, and somehow shrunken. I looked around for Sether, but it was a workday, Sether was at the shop. That gave me a sense of holiday, which was not unpleasant. And then up in the hearthroom of our balcony, Grand and the Hearth elders formally presented me with a whole set of new clothes, new everything, from the boots up, topped by a magnificently embroidered hieb. There was a spoken ritual that went with the clothes, not Handdara; I think, but a tradition of our Hearth; the words were all old and strange, the language of a thousand years ago. Grand rattled them out like somebody spitting rocks, and put the hieb on my shoulders.

Everybody said, “Haya!”

All the elders, and a lot of younger kids, hung around helping me put on the new clothes as if I was a king or a baby, and some of the elders wanted to give me advice—”last advice,” they called it, since you gain shifgrethor when you go into kemmer, and once you have shifgrethor advice is insulting. “Now you just keep away from that old Ebbeche,” one of them told me shrilly. My mother took offense, snapping, “Keep your shadow to yourself, Tadsh!” And to me, “Don’t listen to the old fish. Flapmouth Tadsh! But now listen, Sov.”

I listened. Guyr had drawn me a little away from the others, and spoke gravely, with some
embarrassment. “Remember, it will matter who you’re with first.”

I nodded. “I understand,” I said.

“No, you don’t,” my mother snapped, forgetting to be embarrassed. “Just keep it in mind!”

“What, ah,” I said. My mother waited. “If I, if I go into, as a, as female,” I said. “Don’t I, shouldn’t I—?”

“Ah,” Guyr said. “Don’t worry. It’ll be a year or more before you can conceive. Or get. Don’t worry, this time. The other people will see to it, just in case. They all know it’s your first kemmer. But do keep it in mind, who you’re with first! Around, oh, around Karrid, and Ebbeche, and some of them.”

“Come on!” Dory shouted, and we all got into a procession again to go downstairs and across the centerhall, where everybody cheered “Haya Sov! Haya Sov!” and the cooks beat on their saucepans. I wanted to die. But they all seemed so cheerful, so happy about me, wishing me well; I wanted also to live.

We went out the west door and across the sunny gardens and came to the kemmerhouse. Tage Ereb shares a kemmerhouse with two other Ereb Hearths; it’s a beautiful building, all carved with deep-figure friezes in the Old Dynasty style, terribly worn by the weather of a couple of thousand years. On the red stone steps my family all kissed me, murmuring, “Praise then Darkness,” or “In the act of creation praise,” and my mother gave me a hard push on my shoulders, what they call the sledge-push, for good luck, as I turned away from them and went in the door.

The doorkeeper was waiting for me; a queer-looking, rather stooped person, with coarse, pale skin.
Now I realized who this “Ebbeche” they’d been talking about was. I’d never met him, but I’d heard about him. He was the Doorkeeper of our kemmerhouse, a halfdead—that is, a person in permanent kemmer, like the Aliens.

There are always a few people born that way here. Some of them can be cured; those who can’t or choose not to be usually live in a Fastness and learn the disciplines, or they become Doorkeepers. It’s convenient for them, and for normal people too. After all, who else would want tolive in a kemmerhouse? But there are drawbacks. If you come to the kemmerhouse in thorharmen, ready to gender, and the first person you meet is fully male, his pheromones are likely to gender you female right then, whether that’s what you had in mind this month or not. Responsible Doorkeepers, of course, keep well away from anybody who doesn’t invite them to come close. But permanent kemmer may not lead to responsibility of character; nor does being calledhalfdead and pervert all your life, I imagine. Obviously my family didn’t trust Ebbeche to keep his hands and his pheromones off me. But they were unjust. He honored a first kemmer as much as anyone else. He greeted me by name and showed me where to take off my new boots. Then he began to speak the ancient ritual welcome, backing down the hall before me; the first time I ever heard the words I would hear so many times again for so many years.

You cross earth now.
You cross water now.
You cross the Ice now ….
And the exulting ending, as we came into the centerhall: Together we have crossed the Ice.
Together we come into the Hearthplace, Into life, bringing life!
In the act of creation, praise!

The solemnity of the words moved me and distracted me somewhat from my intense self-consciousness. As I had in the Fastness, I felt the familiar reassurance of being part of something immensely older and larger than myself, even if it was strange and new to me. I must entrust myself to it and be what it made me. At the same time I was intensely alert. All my senses were extraordinarily keen, as they had been all morning. I was aware of everything, the beautiful blue color of the walls, the lightness and vigor of my steps as I walked, the texture of the wood under my bare feet, the sound and meaning of the ritual words, the Doorkeeper himself. He fascinated me. Ebbeche was certainly not handsome, and yet I noticed how musical his rather deep voice was; and pale skin was more attractive than I had ever thought it. I felt that he had been maligned, that his life must be a strange one. I wanted to talk to him. But as he finished the welcome, standing aside for me at the doorway of the centerhall, a tall person strode forward eagerly to meet me.

I was glad to see a familiar face: it was the head cook of my Hearth, Karrid Arrage. Like many cooks a rather fierce and temperamental person, Karrid had often taken notice of me, singling me out in a joking, challenging way, tossing me some delicacy—”Here, youngun! get some meat on your bones!” As I saw Karrid now I went through the most extraordinary multiplicity of awarenesses: that Karrid was naked and that this nakedness was not like the nakedness of people in the Hearth, but a significant nakedness—that he was not the Karrid I had seen before but transfigured into great beauty—that he washe —that my mother had warned me about him—that I wanted to touch him—that I was afraid of him.
He picked me right up in his arms and pressed me against him. I felt his clitopenis like a fist between my legs. “Easy, now,” the Doorkeeper said to him, and some other people came forward from the room, which I could see only as large, dimly glowing, full of shadows and mist.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Karrid said to me and them, with his hard laugh. “I won’t hurt my own get, will I? I just want to be the one that gives her kemmer. As a woman, like a proper Thade. I want to give you that joy, little Sov.” He was undressing me as he spoke, slipping off my hieb and shirt with big, hot, hasty hands. The Doorkeeper and the others kept close watch, but did not interfere. I felt totally defenseless, helpless, humiliated. I struggled to get free, broke loose, and tried to pick up and put on my shirt. I was shaking and felt terribly weak, I could hardly stand up. Karrid helped me clumsily; his big arm supported me. I leaned against him, feeling his hot, vibrant skin against mine, a wonderful feeling, like sunlight, like firelight. I leaned more heavily against him, raising my arms so that our sides slid together. “Hey, now,” he said. “Oh, you beauty, oh, you Sov, here, take her away, this won’t do!” And he backed right away from me, laughing and yet really alarmed, his clitopenis standing up amazingly. I stood there half-dressed, on my rubbery legs, bewildered. My eyes were full of mist, I could see nothing clearly.

“Come on,” somebody said, and took my hand, a soft, cool touch totally different from the fire of Karrid’s skin. It was a person from one of the other Hearths, I didn’t know her name. She seemed to me to shine like gold in the dim, misty place. “Oh, you’re going so fast,” she said, laughing and admiring and consoling. “Come on, come into the pool, take it easy for a while. Karrid shouldn’t have come on to you like that! But you’re lucky, first kemmer as a woman, there’s nothing like it. I kemmered as a man three times before I got to kemmer as a woman, it made me so mad, every time I got into thorharmen all my damn friends would all be women already. Don’t worry about me—I’d say Karrid’s influence was decisive,” and she laughed again. “Oh, you are so pretty!” and she bent her head and licked my nipples before I knew what she was doing.

It was wonderful, it cooled that stinging fire in them that nothing else could cool. She helped me finish undressing, and we stepped together into the warm water of the big, shallow pool that filled the whole center of this room. That was why it was so misty, why the echoes were so strange. The water lapped on my thighs, on my sex, on my belly. I turned to my friend and leaned forward to kiss her. It was a perfectly natural thing to do, it was what she wanted and I wanted, and I wanted her to lick and suck my nipples again, and she did. For a long time we lay in the shallow water playing, and I could have played forever. But then somebody else joined us, taking hold of my friend from behind, and she arched her body in the water like a golden fish leaping, threw her back, and began to play with him.

I got out of the water and dried myself, feeling sad and shy and forsaken, and yet extremely interested in what had happened to my body. It felt wonderfully alive and electric, so that the roughness of the towel made me shiver with pleasure. Somebody had come closer to me, somebody that had been watching me play with my friend in the water. He sat down by me now.

It was a hearthmate a few years older than I, Arrad Tehemmy. I had worked in the gardens with Arrad all last summer, and liked him. He looked like Sether, I now thought, with heavy black hair and a long, thin face, but in him was that shining, that glory they all had here—all the kemmerers, the women , the men —such vivid beauty as I had never seen in any human beings. “Sov,” he said, “I’d like—Your first—Will you—” His hands were already on me, and mine on him. “Come,” he said, and I went with him. He took me into a beautiful little room, in which there was nothing but a fire burning in a fireplace, and a wide bed. There Arrad took me into his arms and I took Arrad into my arms, and then between my legs, and fell upward, upward through the golden light.

Arrad and I were together all that first night, and besides fucking a great deal, we ate a great deal. It had not occurred to me that there would be food at a kemmerhouse, I had thought you weren’t allowed to do anything but fuck. There was a lot of food, very good, too, set out so that you could eat whenever you wanted. Drink was more limited; the person in charge, an old woman-halfdead, kept her canny eye on you, and wouldn’t give you any more beer if you showed signs of getting wild or stupid. I didn’t need any more beer. I didn’t need any more fucking. I was complete. I was in love forever for all time all my life to eternity with Arrad. But Arrad (who was a day father into kemmer than I) fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up, and an extraordinary person named Hama sat down by me and began talking and also running his hand up and down my back in the most delicious way, so that before long we got further entangled, and began fucking, and it was entirely different with Hama than it had been with Arrad, so that I realized that I must be in love with Hama, until Gehardar joined us. After that I think I began to understand that I loved them all and they all loved me and that that was the secret of the kemmerhouse.

It’s been nearly fifty years, and I have to admit I do not recall everyone from my first kemmer; only Karrid and Arrad, Hama and Gehardar, old Tubanny, the most exquisitely skillful lover as a male that I ever knew—I met him often in later kemmers—and Berre, my golden fish, with whom I ended up in drowsy, peaceful, blissful lovemaking in front of the great hearth till we both fell asleep. And when we woke we were not women. We were not men. We were not in kemmer. We were very tired young adults.

“You’re still beautiful,” I said to Berre.

“So are you,” Berre said. “Where do you work?”

“Furniture shop, Third Ward.”

I tried licking Berre’s nipple, but it didn’t work; Berre flinched a little, and I said “Sorry,” and we both laughed.

“I’m in the radio trade,” Berre said. “Did you ever think of trying that?” “Making radios?”

“No. Broadcasting. I do the Fourth Hour news and weather.”

“That’s you?” I said, awed.

“Come over to the tower some time, I’ll show you around,” said Berre.

Which is how I found my lifelong trade and a life-long friend. As I tried to tell Sether when I came back to the Hearth, kemmer isn’t exactly what we thought it was; it’s much more complicated.

Sether’s first kemmer was on Getheny Gor, the first day of the first month of autumn, at the dark of the moon. One of the family brought Sether into kemmer as a woman, and then Sether brought me in. That was the first time I kemmered as a man. And we stayed on the same wavelength, as Grand put it. We never conceived together, being cousins and having some modern scruples, but we made love in every combination, every dark of the moon, for years. And Sether brought my child, Tamor, into first kemmer—as a woman, like a proper Thade.

Later on Sether went into the Handdara, and became an Indweller in the old Fastness, and now is an Adept. I go over there often to join in one of the Chants or practice the Untrance or just to visit, and every few days Sether comes back to the Hearth. And we talk. The old days or the new times, somer or kemmer, love is love.

தொகுக்கப்பட்ட பக்கம்: லீ க்வின் பக்கம்

ஜெயமோகனும் உர்சுலா லே க்வினும்

jeyamohanursula_le_guinசமீபத்தில் ஜெயமோகன் ‘இருத்தலின் இனிமை‘ என்று லடாக் பிரதேச மக்களின் அமைதியான வாழ்வைப் பற்றி எழுதிய ஒரு கட்டுரையைப் படித்தேன். உர்சுலா லே க்வின்னின் (இவரது பெயரை எப்படி உச்சரிக்க வேண்டும் என்று எத்தனையோ வருஷம் போன பின்னும் தெரியவில்லை.) ஒரு சிறுகதை – Solitude – நினைவுக்கு வந்து கொண்டே இருந்தது. ஒரே கருவை சிறுகதையாகவும் அனுபவப் பதிவாகவும் படிப்பது நல்ல அனுபவம்.

ஓடிக் கொண்டே இருப்பதுதான் வாழ்வை பொருளுடையதாக்குகிறது என்று நினைப்பவர்களில் நானும் ஒருவன். ஆனால் தினசரி ஓட்டம்

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

என்று ஆகிவிடும் நாட்கள் பலப்பல. நினைப்பதற்கும் நடத்துவதற்கும் நடுவே இடைவெளி இருக்கத்தான் செய்யும் என்று என்னால் புரிந்து கொள்ள முடிகிறது, ஆனால் நினைக்கவே பொழுதில்லாமல் இந்த தினம், இந்த வாரம், இந்த மாதம், இந்த வருஷம் முழுவதும் ஓடி இருக்கிறோம் என்று புரிந்து கொண்டு சோர்வடைந்த கணங்களும் உண்டு. ஓட்டமா, இருத்தலா எது வாழ்வை அர்த்தமுள்ளதாக ஆக்குகிறது என்பது வாழ்பவனை(ளை)ப் பொறுத்தது என்றுதான் இப்போதெல்லாம் தோன்றுகிறது.

Solitude கொஞ்சம் நீளமான சிறுகதை/குறுநாவல். நெபுலா விருதை வென்றிருக்கிறது. நல்ல கதையே, ஆனால் என் கண்ணோட்டத்தில் இதை விட நல்ல சிறுகதைகளை லே க்வின் எழுதி இருக்கிறார். லே க்வின் இந்தக் கதையைப் பார்க்கும் கண்ணோட்டம் வேறு, என் கண்ணோட்டம் வேறு என்பதையும் பதிவு செய்துவிடுகிறேன். அவரது வார்த்தைகளில்:

What the story seems to be working on is how a society that had really fallen apart, keeping only the most minimal social and community bonds, would handle sex and male-female relationships and bringing up the kids. It was fun to write because I am an introvert, and this is a planet full of introverts.

எனக்கோ sex, male-female relationships, bringing up the kids என்பதை விட minimal லௌகீகத் தேவைகள் மற்றும் சமூக பந்தங்கள் கொண்ட சமூகம் என்பதுதான் இந்தக் கதையில் முக்கியமாக இருக்கிறது. நான் அடிக்கடி சொல்வது போல எழுத்தாளன் என்ன நினைத்து எழுதினான்(ள்) என்பதை விட வாசகன் என்ன பெற்றுக் கொள்கிறான் என்பதுதான் (வாசகனுக்கு) முக்கியம்…

Solitude சிறுகதை வசதிக்காக கீழே…

Solitude by Ursula Le Guin

An addition to “POVERTY: The Second Report on Eleven-Soro” by Mobile Entselenne’temharyonoterregwis Leaf, by her daughter, Serenity.

My mother, a field ethnologist, took the difficulty of learning anything about the people of Eleven-Soro as a personal challenge. The fact that she used her children to meet that challenge might be seen as selfishness or as selflessness. Now that I have read her report I know that she finally thought she had done wrong. Knowing what it cost her, I wish she knew my gratitude to her for allowing me to grow up as a person.

Shortly after a robot probe reported people of the Hainish Descent on the eleventh planet of the Soro system, she joined the orbital crew as back-up for the three First Observers down onplanet. She had spent four years in the tree-cities of nearby Huthu. My brother In Joy Born was eight years old and I was five; she wanted a year or two of ship duty so we could spend some time in a Hainish-style school. My brother had enjoyed the rainforests of Huthu very much, but though he could brachiate he could barely read, and we were all bright blue with skin-fungus. While Borny learned to read and I learned to wear clothes and we all had antifungus treatments, my mother became as intrigued by Eleven-Soro as the Observers were frustrated by it.

All this is in her report, but I will say it as I learned it from her, which helps me remember and understand. The language had been recorded by the probe and the Observers had spent a year learning it. The many dialectical variations excused their accents and errors, and they reported that language was not a problem. Yet there was a communication problem. The two men found themselves isolated, faced with suspicion or hostility, unable to form any connection with the native men, all of whom lived in solitary houses as hermits or in pairs. Finding communities of adolescent males, they tried to make contact with them, but when they entered the territory of such a group the boys either fled or rushed desperately at them trying to kill them. The women, who lived in what they called “dispersed villages,” drove them away with volleys of stones as soon as they came anywhere near the houses. “I believe,” one of them reported, “that the only community activity of the Sorovians is throwing rocks at men.”

Neither of them succeeded in having a conversation of more than three exchanges with a man. One of them mated with a woman who came by his camp; he reported that though she made unmistakable and insistent advances, she seemed disturbed by his attempts to converse, refused to answer his questions, and left him, he said, “as soon as she got what she came for.”

The woman Observer was allowed to settle in an unused house in a “village” (auntring) of seven houses. She made excellent observations of daily life, insofar as she could see any of it, and had several conversations with adult women and many with children; but she found that she was never asked into another woman’s house, nor expected to help or ask for help in any work. Conversation concerning normal activities was unwelcome to the other women; the children, her only informants, called her Aunt Crazy-Jabber. Her aberrant behavior caused increasing distrust and dislike among the women, and they began to keep their children away from her. She left. “There’s no way,” she told my mother, “for an adult to learn anything. They don’t ask questions, they don’t answer questions. Whatever they learn, they learn when they’re children.”

Aha! said my mother to herself, looking at Borny and me. And she requested a family transfer to Eleven-Soro with Observer status. The Stabiles interviewed her extensively by ansible, and talked with Borny and even with me—I don’t remember it, but she told me I told the Stabiles all about my new stockings—and agreed to her request. The ship was to stay in close orbit, with the previous Observers in the crew, and she was to keep radio contact with it,
daily if possible.

I have a dim memory of the tree-city, and of playing with what must have been a kitten or a ghole-kit on the ship; but my first clear memories are of our house in the auntring. It is half underground, half aboveground, with wattle-and-daub walls. Mother and I are standing outside it in the warm sunshine. Between us is a big mudpuddle, into which Borny pours water from a basket; then he runs off to the creek to get more water. I muddle the mud with my hands, deliciously, till it is thick and smooth. I pick up a big double handful and slap it onto the walls where the sticks show through. Mother says, “That’s good! That’s right!” in our new language, and I realize that this is work, and I am doing it. I am repairing the house. I am making it right, doing it right. I am a competent person.
I have never doubted that, so long as I lived there.

We are inside the house at night, and Borny is talking to the ship on the radio, because he misses talking the old language, and anyway he is supposed to tell them stuff. Mother is making a basket and swearing at the split reeds. I am singing a song to drown out Borny so nobody in the auntring hears him talking funny, and anyway I like singing. I learned this song this afternoon in Hyuru’s house. I play every day with Hyuru. “Be aware, listen, listen, be aware,” I sing. When Mother stops swearing she listens, and then she turns on the recorder. There is a little fire still left from cooking dinner, which was lovely pigi root, I never get tired of pigi. It is dark and warm and smells of pigi and of burning duhur, which is a strong, sacred smell to drive out magic and bad feelings, and as I sing “Listen, be aware,” I get sleepier and sleepier and lean against Mother, who is dark and warm and smells like Mother, strong and sacred, full of good feelings.

Our daily life in the auntring was repetitive. On the ship, later, I learned that people who live in artificially complicated situations call such a life “simple.” I never knew anybody, anywhere I have been, who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details, the way a planet looks smooth, from orbit.

Certainly our life in the auntring was easy, in the sense that our needs came easily to hand. There was plenty of food to be gathered or grown and prepared and cooked, plenty of temas to pick and rett and spin and weave for clothes and bedding, plenty of reeds to make baskets and thatch with; we children had other children to play with, mothers to look after us, and a great deal to learn. None of this is simple, though it’s all easy enough, when you know how to do it, when you are aware of the details.

It was not easy for my mother. It was hard for her, and complicated. She had to pretend she knew the details while she was learning them, and had to think how to report and explain this way of living to people in another place who didn’t understand it. For Borny it was easy until it got hard because he was a boy. For me it was all easy. I learned the work and played with the children and listened to the mothers sing.

The First Observer had been quite right: there was no way for a grown woman to learn how to make her soul. Mother couldn’t go listen to another mother sing, it would have been too strange. The aunts all knew she hadn’t been brought up well, and some of them taught her a good deal without her realizing it. They had decided her mother must have been irresponsible and had gone on scouting instead of settling in an auntring, so that her daughter didn’t get educated properly. That’s why even the most aloof of the aunts always let me listen with their children, so that I could become an educated person. But of course they couldn’t ask another adult into their houses. Borny and I had to tell her all the songs and stories we learned, and then she would tell them to the radio, or we told them to the radio while she listened to us. But she never got it right, not really. How could she, trying to learn it after she’d grown up, and after she’d always lived with magicians?

“Be aware!” she would imitate my solemn and probably irritating imitation of the aunts and the big girls. “Be aware! How many times a day do they say that? Be aware of what? They aren’t aware of what the ruins are, their own history,—they aren’t aware of each other! They don’t even talk to each other! Be aware, indeed!”

When I told her the stories of the Before Time that Aunt Sadne and Aunt Noyit told their daughters and me, she often heard the wrong things in them. I told her about the People, and she said, “Those are the ancestors of the people here now.” When I said, “There aren’t any people here now,” she didn’t understand. “There are persons here now,” I said, but she still didn’t understand.

Borny liked the story about the Man Who Lived with Women, how he kept some women in a pen, the way some persons keep rats in a pen for eating, and all of them got pregnant, and they each had a hundred babies, and the babies grew up as horrible monsters and ate the man and the mothers and each other. Mother explained to us that that was a parable of the human overpopulation of this planet thousands of years ago. “No, it’s not,” I said, “it’s a moral story.”—“Well, yes,” Mother said. “The moral is, don’t have too many babies.”—“No, it’s not,” I said. “Who could have a hundred babies even if they wanted to? The man was a sorcerer. He did magic. The women did it with him. So of course their children were monsters.”

The key, of course, is the word “tekell,” which translates so nicely into the Hainish word “magic,” an art or power that violates natural law. It was hard for Mother to understand that some persons truly consider most human relationships unnatural; that marriage, for instance, or government, can be seen as an evil spell woven by sorcerors. It is hard for her people to believe in magic.

The ship kept asking if we were all right, and every now and then a Stabile would hook up the ansible to our radio and grill Mother and us. She always convinced them that she wanted to stay, for despite her frustrations, she was doing the work the First Observers had not been able to do, and Borny and I were happy as mudfish, all those first years. I think Mother was happy too, once she got used to the slow pace and the indirect way she had to learn things. She was lonely, missing other grown-ups to talk to, and told us that she would have gone crazy without us. If she missed sex she never showed it. I think, though, that her report is not very complete about sexual matters, perhaps because she was troubled by them. I know that when we first lived in the auntring, two of the aunts, Hedimi and Behyu, used to meet to make love, and Behyu courted my mother; but Mother didn’t understand, because Behyu wouldn’t talk the way Mother wanted to talk. She couldn’t understand having sex with a person whose house you wouldn’t enter.

Once when I was nine or so, and had been listening to some of the older girls, I asked her why didn’t she go out scouting. “Aunt Sadne would look after us,” I said, hopefully. I was tired of being the uneducated woman’s daughter. I wanted to live in Aunt Sadne’s house and be just like the other children.
“Mothers don’t scout,” she said, scornfully, like an aunt.

“Yes, they do, sometimes,” I insisted. “They have to, or how could they have more than one baby?”

“They go to settled men near the auntring. Behyu went back to the Red Knob Hill Man when she wanted a second child. Sadne goes and sees Downriver Lame Man when she wants to have sex. They know the men around here. None of the mothers scout.”

I realized that in this case she was right and I was wrong, but I stuck to my point. “Well, why don’t you go see Downriver Lame Man? Don’t you ever want sex? Migi says she wants it all the time.”

“Migi is seventeen,” Mother said drily. “Mind your own nose.” She sounded exactly like all the other mothers.

Men, during my childhood, were a kind of uninteresting mystery to me. They turned up a lot in the Before Time stories, and the singing-circle girls talked about them; but I seldom saw any of them. Sometimes I’d glimpse one when I was foraging, but they never came near the auntring. In summer the Downriver Lame Man would get lonesome waiting for Aunt Sadne and would come lurking around, not very far from the auntring—not in the bush or down by the river, of course, where he might be mistaken for a rogue and stoned—but out in the open, on the hillsides, where we could all see who he was. Hyuru and Didsu, Aunt Sadne’s daughters, said she had had sex with him when she went out scouting the first time, and always had sex with him and never tried any of the other men of the settlement.

She had told them, too, that the first child she bore was a boy, and she drowned it, because she didn’t want to bring up a boy and send him away. They felt queer about that and so did I, but it wasn’t an uncommon thing. One of the stories we learned was about a drowned boy who grew up underwater, and seized his
mother when she came to bathe, and tried to hold her under till she too drowned; but she escaped.

At any rate, after the Downriver Lame Man had sat around for several days on the hillsides, singing long songs and braiding and unbraiding his hair, which was long too, and shone black in the sun, Aunt Sadne always went off for a night or two with him, and came back looking cross and self-conscious.
Aunt Noyit explained to me that Downriver Lame Man’s songs were magic; not the usual bad magic, but what she called the great good spells. Aunt Sadne never could resist his spells. “But he hasn’t half the charm of some men I’ve known,” said Aunt Noyit, smiling reminiscently.

Our diet, though excellent, was very low in fat, which Mother thought might explain the rather late onset of puberty; girls seldom menstruated before they were fifteen, and boys often weren’t mature till they were considerably older than that. But the women began looking askance at boys as soon as they showed any signs at all of adolescence. First Aunt Hedimi, who was always grim, then Aunt Noyit, then even Aunt Sadne began to turn away from Borny, to leave him out, not answering when he spoke. “What are you doing playing with the children?” old Aunt Dnemi asked him so fiercely that he came home in tears. He was not quite fourteen.

Sadne’s younger daughter Hyuru was my soulmate, my best friend, you would say. Her elder sister Didsu, who was in the singing circle now, came and talked to me one day, looking serious. “Borny is very handsome,” she said. I agreed proudly.

“Very big, very strong,” she said, “stronger than I am.”

I agreed proudly again, and then I began to back away from her. “I’m not doing magic, Ren,” she said.

“Yes you are,” I said. “I’ll tell your mother!”

Didsu shook her head. “I’m trying to speak truly. If my fear causes your fear, I can’t help it. It has to be so. We talked about it in the singing circle. I don’t like it,” she said, and I knew she meant it; she had a soft face, soft eyes, she had always been the gentlest of us children. “I wish he could be a child,” she said. “I wish I could. But we can’t.”

“Go be a stupid old woman, then,” I said, and ran away from her. I went to my secret place down by the river and cried. I took the holies out of my soulbag and arranged them. One holy—it doesn’t matter if I tell you—was a crystal that Borny had given me, clear at the top, cloudy purple at the base. I held it a long time and then I gave it back. I dug a hole under a boulder, and wrapped the holy in duhur leaves inside a square of cloth I tore out of my kilt, beautiful, fine cloth Hyuru had woven and sewn for me. I tore the square right from the front, where it would show. I gave the crystal back, and then sat a long time there near it. When I went home I said nothing of what Didsu had said. But Borny was very silent, and my mother had a worried look. “What have you done to your kilt, Ren?” she asked. I raised my head a little and did not answer; she started to speak again, and then did not. She had finally learned not to talk to a person who chose to be silent.

Borny didn’t have a soulmate, but he had been playing more and more often with the two boys nearest his age, Ednede who was a year or two older, a slight, quiet boy, and Bit who was only eleven, but boisterous and reckless. The three of them went off somewhere all the time. I hadn’t paid much attention, partly because I was glad to be rid of Bit. Hyuru and I had been practicing being aware, and it was tiresome to always have to be aware of Bit yelling and jumping around. He never could leave anyone quiet, as if their quietness took something from him. His mother, Hedimi, had educated him, but she wasn’t a good singer or story-teller like Sadne and Noyit, and Bit was too restless to listen even to them. Whenever he saw me and Hyuru trying to slow-walk or sitting being aware, he hung around making noise till we got mad and told him to go, and then he jeered, “Dumb girls!”

I asked Borny what he and Bit and Ednede did, and he said, “Boy stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Practicing.”

“Being aware?”

After a while he said, “No.”

“Practicing what, then?”

“Wrestling. Getting strong. For the boygroup.” He looked gloomy, but after a while he said, “Look,” and showed me a knife he had hidden under his mattress. “Ednede says you have to have a knife, then nobody will challenge you. Isn’t it a beauty?” It was metal, old metal from the People, shaped like a reed, pounded out and sharpened down both edges, with a sharp point. A piece of polished flint-shrub wood had been bored and fitted on the handle to protect the hand. “I found it in an empty man’s-house,” he said. “I made the wooden part.” He brooded over it lovingly. Yet he did not keep it in his soulbag.

“What do you do with it?” I asked, wondering why both edges were sharp, so you’d cut your hand if you used it.

“Keep off attackers,” he said.

“Where was the empty man’s-house?”

“Way over across Rocky Top.”

“Can I go with you if you go back?”

“No,” he said, not unkindly, but absolutely.

“What happened to the man? Did he die?”

“There was a skull in the creek. We think he slipped and drowned.”

He didn’t sound quite like Borny. There was something in his voice like a grown-up; melancholy; reserved. I had gone to him for reassurance, but came away more deeply anxious. I went to Mother and asked her, “What do they do in the boygroups?”

“Perform natural selection,” she said, not in my language but in hers, in a strained tone. I didn’t always understand Hainish any more and had no idea what she meant, but the tone of her voice upset me; and to my horror I saw she had begun to cry silently. “We have to move, Serenity,” she said—she was still talking Hainish without realizing it. “There isn’t any reason why a family can’t move, is there? Women just move in and move out as they please. Nobody cares what anybody does. Nothing is anybody’s business. Except hounding the boys out of town!”

I understood most of what she said, but got her to say it in my language; and then I said, “But anywhere we went, Borny would be the same age, and size, and everything.”

“Then we’ll leave,” she said fiercely. “Go back to the ship.”

I drew away from her. I had never been afraid of her before: she had never used magic on me. A mother has great power, but there is nothing unnatural in it, unless it is used against the child’s soul.

Borny had no fear of her. He had his own magic. When she told him she intended leaving, he persuaded her out of it. He wanted to go join the boygroup, he said; he’d been wanting to for a year now. He didn’t belong in the auntring any more, all women and girls and little kids. He wanted to go live with other boys. Bit’s older brother Yit was a member of the boygroup in the Four Rivers Territory, and would look after a boy from his auntring. And Ednede was getting ready to go. And Borny and Ednede and Bit had been talking to some men, recently. Men weren’t all ignorant and crazy, the way Mother thought. They didn’t talk much, but they knew a lot.

“What do they know?” Mother asked grimly.

“They know how to be men,” Borny said. “It’s what I’m going to be.”

“Not that land of man—not if I can help it! In Joy Born, you must remember the men on the ship, real men—nothing like these poor, filthy hermits. I can’t let you grow up thinking that that’s what you have to be!”

“They’re not like that,” Bomy said. “You ought to go talk to some of them, Mother.”

“Don’t be naive,” she said with an edgy laugh. “You know perfectly well that women don’t go to men to talk.”

I knew she was wrong; all the women in the auntring knew all the settled men for three days’ walk around. They did talk with them, when they were out foraging. They only kept away from the ones they didn’t trust; and usually those men disappeared before long. Noyit had told me, “Their magic turns on them.” She meant the other men drove them away or killed them. But I didn’t say any of this, and Borny said only, “Well, Cave Cliff Man is really nice.

And he took us to the place where I found those People things”—some ancient artifacts that Mother had been excited about. “The men know things the women don’t,” Borny went on. “At least I could go to the boygroup for a while, maybe. I ought to. I could learn a lot! We don’t have any solid information on them at all. All we know anything about is this auntring. I’ll go and stay long enough to get material for our report. I can’t ever come back to either the auntring or the boygroup once I leave them. I’ll have to go to the ship, or else try to be a man. So let me have a real go at it, please, Mother?”

“I don’t know why you think you have to learn how to be a man,” she said after a while. “You know how already.”

He really smiled then, and she put her arm around him.

What about me? I thought. I don’t even know what the ship is. I want to be here, where my soul is. I want to go on learning to be in the world.

But I was afraid of Mother and Borny, who were both working magic, and so I said nothing and was still, as I had been taught.

Ednede and Borny went off together. Noyit, Ednede’s mother, was as glad as Mother was about their keeping company, though she said nothing. The evening before they left, the two boys went to every house in the auntring. It took a long time. The houses were each just within sight or hearing of one or two of the others, with bush and gardens and irrigation ditches and paths in between. In each house the mother and the children were waiting to say goodbye, only they didn’t say it; my language has no word for hello or goodbye. They asked the boys in and gave them something to eat, something they could take with them on the way to the Territory. When the boys went to the door everybody in the household came and touched their hand or cheek. I remembered when Yit had gone around the auntring that way. I had cried then, because even though I didn’t much like Yit, it seemed so strange for somebody to leave forever, like they were dying. This time I didn’t cry; but I kept waking and waking again, until I heard Borny get up before the first light and pick up his things and leave quietly. I know Mother was awake too, but we did as we should do, and lay still while he left, and for a long time after.

I have read her description of what she calls “An adolescent male leaves the Auntring: a vestigial survival of ceremony.”

She had wanted him to put a radio in his soulbag and get in touch with her at least occasionally. He had been unwilling. “I want to do it right, Mother. There’s no use doing it if I don’t do it right.”

“I simply can’t handle not hearing from you at all, Borny,” she had said in Hainish.

“But if the radio got broken or taken or something, you’d worry a lot more, maybe with no reason at all.”
She finally agreed to wait half a year, till the first rain; then she would go to a landmark, a huge ruin near the river that marked the southern end of the Territory, and he would try and come to her there. “But only wait ten days,” he said. “If I can’t come, I can’t.” She agreed. She was like a mother with a little baby, I thought, saying yes to everything. That seemed wrong to me; but I thought Borny was right. Nobody ever came back to their mother from boygroup.

But Borny did.

Summer was long, clear, beautiful. I was learning to starwatch; that is when you lie down outside on the open hills in the dry season at night, and find a certain star in the eastern sky, and watch it cross the sky till it sets. You can look away, of course, to rest your eyes, and doze, but you try to keep looking back at the star and the stars around it, until you feel the earth turning, until you become aware of how the stars and the world and the soul move together. After the certain star sets you sleep until dawn wakes you. Then as always you greet the sunrise with aware silence. I was very happy on the hills those warm great nights, those clear dawns. The first time or two Hyuru and I starwatched together, but after that we went alone, and it was better alone.
I was coming back from such a night, along the narrow valley between Rocky Top and Over Home Hill in the first sunlight, when a man came crashing through the bush down onto the path and stood in front of me. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Listen!” He was heavyset, half naked; he stank. I stood still as a stick. He had said “Listen!” just as the aunts did, and I listened. “Your brother and his friend are all right. Your mother shouldn’t go there. Some of the boys are in a gang. They’d rape her. I and some others are killing the leaders. It takes a while. Your brother is with the other gang. He’s all right. Tell her. Tell me what I said.”

I repeated it word for word, as I had learned to do when I listened.

“Right. Good,” he said, and took off up the steep slope on his short, powerful legs, and was gone.

Mother would have gone to the Territory right then, but I told the man’s message to Noyit, too, and she came to the porch of our house to speak to Mother. I listened to her, because she was telling things I didn’t know well and Mother didn’t know at all. Noyit was a small, mild woman, very like her son Ednede; she liked teaching and singing, so the children were always around her place. She saw Mother was getting ready for a journey. She said, “House on the Skyline Man says the boys are all right.” When she saw Mother wasn’t listening, she went on; she pretended to be talking to me, because women don’t teach women. “He says some of the men are breaking up the gang. They do that, when the boygroups get wicked. Sometimes there are magicians among them, leaders, older boys, even men who want to make a gang. The settled men will kill the magicians and make sure none of the boys gets hurt. When gangs come out of the Territories, nobody is safe. The settled men don’t like that. They see to it that the auntring is safe. So your brother will be all right.”

My mother went on packing pigi-roots into her net.

“A rape is a very, very bad thing for the settled men,” said Noyit to me. “It means the women won’t come to them. If the boys raped some woman, probably the men would kill all the boys.”

My mother was finally listening.

She did not go to the rendezvous with Borny, but all through the rainy season she was utterly miserable. She got sick, and old Dnemi sent Didsu over to dose her with gagberry syrup. She made notes while she was sick, lying on her mattress, about illnesses and medicines and how the older girls had to look after sick women, since grown women did not enter one another’s houses. She never stopped working and never stopped worrying about Borny.

Late in the rainy season, when the warm wind had come and the yellow honey-flowers were in bloom on all the hills, the Golden World time, Noyit came by while Mother was working in the garden. “House on the Skyline Man says things are all right in the boygroup,” she said, and went on.

Mother began to realize then that although no adult ever entered another’s house, and adults seldom spoke to one another, and men and women had only brief, often casual relationships, and men lived all their lives in real solitude, still there was a kind of community, a wide, thin, fine network of delicate and certain intention and restraint: a social order. Her reports to the ship were filled with this new understanding. But she still found Sorovian life impoverished, seeing these persons as mere survivors, poor fragments of the wreck of something great.

“My dear,” she said—in Hainish; there is no way to say “my dear” in my language. She was speaking Hainish with me in the house so that I wouldn’t forget it entirely.—“My dear, the explanation of an uncomprehended technology as magic is primitivism. It’s not a criticism, merely a description.”

“But technology isn’t magic,” I said.

“Yes, it is, in their minds; look at the story you just recorded. Before-Time sorcerors who could fly in the air and undersea and underground in magic boxes!”

“In metal boxes,” I corrected.

“In other words, airplanes, tunnels, submarines; a lost technology explained as supernatural.”

“The boxes weren’t magic,” I said. “The people were. They were sorcerors. They used their power to get power over other persons. To live rightly a person has to keep away from magic.”

“That’s a cultural imperative, because a few thousand years ago uncontrolled technological expansion led to disaster. Exactly. There’s a perfectly rational reason for the irrational taboo.”

I did not know what “rational” and “irrational” meant in my language; I could not find words for them. “Taboo” was the same as
“poisonous.” I listened to my mother because a daughter must learn from her mother, and my mother knew many, many things no other person knew; but my education was very difficult, sometimes. If only there were more stories and songs in her teaching, and not so many words, words that slipped away from me like water through a net!

The Golden Time passed, and the beautiful summer; the Silver Time returned, when the mists lie in the valleys between the hills, before the rains begin; and the rains began, and fell long and slow and warm, day after day after day. We had heard nothing of Borny and Ednede for over a year. Then in the night the soft thrum of rain on the reed roof turned into a scratching at the door and a whisper, “Shh—it’s all right—it’s all right.”

We wakened the fire and crouched at it in the dark to talk. Borny had got tall and very thin, like a skeleton with the skin dried on it. A cut across his upper lip had drawn it up into a kind of snarl that bared his teeth, and he could not say p, b, or m. His voice was a man’s voice. He huddled at the fire trying to get warmth into his bones. His clothes were wet rags. The knife hung on a cord around his neck. “It was all right,” he kept saying. “I don’t want to go on there, though.”

He would not tell us much about the year and a half in the boy-group, insisting that he would record a full description when he got to the ship. He did tell us what he would have to do if he stayed on Soro. He would have to go back to the Territory and hold his own among the older boys, by fear and sorcery, always proving his strength, until he was old enough to walk away—that is, to leave the Territory and wander alone till he found a place where the men would let him settle. Ednede and another boy had paired, and were going to walk away together when the rains stopped. It was easier for a pair, he said, if their bond was sexual; so long as they offered no competition for women, settled men wouldn’t challenge them. But a new man in the region anywhere within three days’ walk of an auntring had to prove himself against the settled men there. “It would ’e three or four years of the same thing,” he said, “challenging, fighting, always watching the others, on guard, showing how strong you are, staying alert all night, all day. To end up living alone your whole life. I can’t do it.” He looked at me. “I’ne not a ’erson,” he said. “I want to go ho’e.”

“I’ll radio the ship now,” Mother said quietly, with infinite relief.

“No,” I said.

Borny was watching Mother, and raised his hand when she turned to speak to me.

“I’ll go,” he said. “She doesn’t have to. Why should she?” Like me, he had learned not to use names without some reason to.

Mother looked from him to me and finally gave a kind of laugh. “I can’t leave her here, Borny!”

“Why should you go?”

“Because I want to,” she said. “I’ve had enough. More than enough. We’ve got a tremendous amount of material on the women, over seven years of it, and now you can fill the information gaps on the men’s side. That’s enough. It’s time, past time, that we all got back to our own people. All of us.”

“I have no people,” I said. “I don’t belong to people. I am trying to be a person. Why do you want to take me away from my soul? You want me to do magic! I won’t. I won’t do magic. I won’t speak your language. I won’t go with you!”

My mother was still not listening; she started to answer angrily. Borny put up his hand again, the way a woman does when she is going to sing, and she looked at him.

“We can talk later,” he said. “We can decide. I need to sleep.”

He hid in our house for two days while we decided what to do and how to do it. That was a miserable time. I stayed home as if I were sick so that I would not lie to the other persons, and Borny and Mother and I talked and talked. Borny asked Mother to stay with me; I asked her to leave me with Sadne or Noyit, either of whom would certainly take me into their household. She refused. She was the mother and I the child and her power was sacred. She radioed the ship and arranged for a lander to pick us up in a barren area two days’ walk from the auntring. We left at night, sneaking away. I carried nothing but my soulbag. We walked all next day, slept a little when it stopped raining, walked on and came to the desert.

The ground was all lumps and hollows and caves, Before-Time ruins; the soil was tiny bits of glass and hard grains and fragments, the way it is in the deserts. Nothing grew there. We waited there.

The sky broke open and a shining thing fell down and stood before us on the rocks, bigger than any house, though not as big as the ruins of the Before Time. My mother looked at me with a queer, vengeful smile. “Is it magic?” she said. And it was very hard for me not to think that it was. Yet I knew it was only a thing, and there is no magic in things, only in minds. I said nothing. I had not spoken since we left my home.

I had resolved never to speak to anybody until I got home again; but I was still a child, used to listen and obey. In the ship, that utterly strange new world, I held out only for a few hours, and then began to cry and ask to go home. Please, please, can I go home now.

Everyone on the ship was very kind to me.

Even then I thought about what Borny had been through and what I was going through, comparing our ordeals. The difference seemed total. He had been alone, without food, without shelter, a frightened boy trying to survive among equally frightened rivals against the brutality of older youths intent on having and keeping power, which they saw as manhood. I was cared for, clothed, fed so richly I got sick, kept so warm I felt feverish, guided, reasoned with, praised, befriended by citizens of a very great city, offered a share in their power, which they saw as humanity. He and I had both fallen among sorcerors. Both he and I could see the good in the people we were among, but neither he nor I could live with them.

Borny told me he had spent many desolate nights in the Territory crouched in a fireless shelter, telling over the stories he had learned from the aunts, singing the songs in his head. I did the same thing every night on the ship. But I refused to tell the stories or sing to the people there. I would not speak my language, there. It was the only way I had to be silent.

My mother was enraged, and for a long time unforgiving. “You owe your knowledge to our people,” she said. I did not answer, because all I had to say was that they were not my people, that I had no people. I was a person. I had a language that I did not speak. I had my silence. I had nothing else.

I went to school; there were children of different ages on the ship, like an auntring, and many of the adults taught us. I learned Ekumenical history and geography, mostly, and Mother gave me a report to learn about the history of Eleven-Soro, what my language calls the Before Time. I read that the cities of my world had been the greatest cities ever built on any world, covering two of the continents entirely, with small areas set aside for farming; there had been 120 billion people living in the cities, while the animals and the sea and the air and the dirt died, until the people began dying too. It was a hideous story. I was ashamed of it and wished nobody else on the ship or in the Ekumen knew about it. And yet, I thought, if they knew the stories I knew about the Before Time, they would understand how magic turns on itself, and that it must be so.

After less than a year, Mother told us we were going to Hain. The ship’s doctor and his clever machines had repaired Borny’s lip; he and Mother had put all the information they had into the records; he was old enough to begin training for the Ekumenical Schools, as he wanted to do. I was not flourishing, and the doctor’s machines were not able to repair me. I kept losing weight, I slept badly, I had terrible headaches. Almost as soon as we came aboard the ship, I had begun to menstruate; each time the cramps were agonizing. “This is no good, this ship life,” she said. “You need to be outdoors. On a planet. On a civilized planet.”

“If I went to Hain,” I said, “when I came back, the persons I know would all be dead hundreds of years ago.”

“Serenity,” she said, “you must stop thinking in terms of Soro. We have left Soro. You must stop deluding and tormenting yourself, and look forward, not back. Your whole life is ahead of you. Hain is where you will learn to live it.”

I summoned up my courage and spoke in my own language: “I am not a child now. You have no power over me. I will not go. Go without me. You have no power over me!”

Those are the words I had been taught to say to a magician, a sorcerer. I don’t know if my mother fully understood them, but she did understand that I was deathly afraid of her, and it struck her into silence.

After a long time she said in Hainish, “I agree. I have no power over you. But I have certain rights; the right of loyalty; of love.”

“Nothing is right that puts me in your power,” I said, still in my language.

She stared at me. “You are like one of them,” she said. “You are one of them. You don’t know what love is. You’re closed into yourself like a rock. I should never have taken you there. People crouching in the ruins of a society—brutal, rigid, ignorant, superstitious—Each one in a terrible solitude—And I let them make you into one of them!”

“You educated me,” I said, and my voice began to tremble and my mouth to shake around the words, “and so does the school here, but my aunts educated me, and I want to finish my education.” I was weeping, but I kept standing with my hands clenched. “I’m not a woman yet. I want to be a woman.”

“But Ren, you will be!—ten times the woman you could ever be on Soro—you must try to understand, to believe me—”

“You have no power over me,” I said, shutting my eyes and putting my hands over my ears. She came to me then and held me, but I stood stiff, enduring her touch, until she let me go.

The ship’s crew had changed entirely while we were onplanet. The First Observers had gone on to other worlds; our back-up was now a Gethenian archeologist named Arrem, a mild, watchful person, not young. Arrem had gone down onplanet only on the two desert continents, and welcomed the chance to talk with us, who had “lived with the living,” as heshe said. I felt easy when I was with Arrem, who was so unlike anybody else. Arrem was not a man—I could not get used to having men around all the time—yet not a woman; and so not exactly an adult, yet not a child: a person, alone, like me. Heshe did not know my language well, but always tried to talk it with me. When this crisis came, Arrem came to my mother and took counsel with her, suggesting that she let me go back down on planet. Borny was in on some of these talks, and told me about them.

“Arrem says if you go to Hain you’ll probably die,” he said. “Your soul will. Heshe says some of what we learned is like what they learn on Gethen, in their religion. That kind of stopped Mother from ranting about primitive superstition… And Arrem says you could be useful to the Ekumen, if you stay and finish your education on Soro. You’ll be an invaluable resource.” Borny sniggered, and after a minute I did too. “They’ll mine you like an asteroid,” he said. Then he said, “You know, if you stay and I go, we’ll be dead.”

That was how the young people of the ships said it, when one was going to cross the lightyears and the other was going to stay. Goodbye, we’re dead. It was the truth.

“I know,” I said. I felt my throat get tight, and was afraid. I had never seen an adult at home cry, except when Sut’s baby died. Sut howled all night. Howled like a dog, Mother said, but I had never seen or heard a dog; I heard a woman terribly crying. I was afraid of sounding like that. “If I can go home, when I finish making my soul, who knows, I might come to Hain for a while,” I said, in Hainish.

“Scouting?” Borny said in my language, and laughed, and made me laugh again.

Nobody gets to keep a brother. I knew that. But Borny had come back from being dead to me, so I might come back from being dead to him; at least I could pretend I might.

My mother came to a decision. She and I would stay on the ship for another year while Borny went to Hain. I would keep going to school; if at the end of the year I was still determined to go back onplanet, I could do so. With me or without me, she would go on to Hain then and join Borny. If I ever wanted to see them again, I could follow them. It was a compromise that satisfied no one, but it was the best we could do, and we all consented.

When he left, Borny gave me his knife.

After he left, I tried not to be sick. I worked hard at learning everything they taught me in the ship school, and I tried to teach Arrem how to be aware and how to avoid witchcraft. We did slow-walking together in the ship’s garden, and the first hour of the untrance movements from the Handdara of Karhide on Gethen. We agreed that they were alike.

The ship was staying in the Soro system not only because of my family, but because the crew was now mostly zoologists who had come to study a sea animal on Eleven-Soro, a kind of cephalopod that had mutated toward high intelligence, or maybe it already was highly intelligent; but there was a communication problem. “Almost as bad as with the local humans,” said Steadiness, the zoologist who taught and teased us mercilessly. She took us down twice by lander to the uninhabited islands in the Northern Hemisphere where her station was. It was very strange to go down to my world and yet be a world away from my aunts and sisters and my soulmate; but I said nothing.

I saw the great, pale, shy creature come slowly up out of the deep waters with a running ripple of colors along its long coiling tentacles and a ringing shimmer of sound, all so quick it was over before you could follow the colors or hear the tune. The zoologist’s machine produced a pink glow and a mechanically speeded-up twitter, tinny and feeble in the immensity of the sea. The cephalopod patiently responded in its beautiful silvery shadowy language. “CP,” Steadiness said to us, ironic—Communication Problem. “We don’t know what we’re talking about.”

I said, “I learned something in my education here. In one of the songs, it says,” and I hesitated, trying to translate it into Hainish, “it says, thinking is one way of doing, and words are one way of thinking.”

Steadiness stared at me, in disapproval I thought, but probably only because I had never said anything to her before except “Yes.” Finally she said, “Are you suggesting that it doesn’t speak in words?”

“Maybe it’s not speaking at all. Maybe it’s thinking.”

Steadiness stared at me some more and then said, “Thank you.” She looked as if she too might be thinking. I wished I could sink into the water, the way the cephalopod was doing.

The other young people on the ship were friendly and mannerly. Those are words that have no translation in my language. I was unfriendly and unmannerly, and they let me be. I was grateful. But there was no place to be alone on the ship. Of course we each had a room; though small, the Heyho was a Hainish-built explorer, designed to give its people room and privacy and comfort and variety and beauty while they hung around in a solar system for years on end. But it was designed. It was all human-made—everything was human. I had much more privacy than I had ever had at home in our one-room house; yet there I had been free and here I was in a trap. I felt the pressure of people all around me, all the time. People around me, people with me, people pressing on me, pressing me to be one of them, to be one of them, one of the people. How could I make my soul? I could barely cling to it. I was in terror that I would lose it altogether.

One of the rocks in my soulbag, a little ugly gray rock that I had picked up on a certain day in a certain place in the hills above the river in the Silver Time, a little piece of my world, that became my world. Every night I took it out and held it in my hand while I lay in bed waiting to sleep, thinking of the sunlight on the hills above the river, listening to the soft hushing of the ship’s systems, like a mechanical sea.

The doctor hopefully fed me various tonics. Mother and I ate breakfast together every morning. She kept at work, making our notes from all the years on Eleven-Soro into her report to the Ekumen, but I knew the work did not go well. Her soul was in as much danger as mine was.

“You will never give in, will you, Ren?” she said to me one morning out of the silence of our breakfast. I had not intended the silence as a message. I had only rested in it.

“Mother, I want to go home and you want to go home,” I said. “Can’t we?”

Her expression was strange for a moment, while she misunderstood me; then it cleared to grief, defeat, relief.

“Will we be dead?” she asked me, her mouth twisting.

“I don’t know. I have to make my soul. Then I can know if I can come.”

“You know I can’t come back. It’s up to you.”

“I know. Go see Borny,” I said. “Go home. Here we’re both dying.” Then noises began to come out of me, sobbing, howling. Mother was crying. She came to me and held me, and I could hold my mother, cling to her and cry with her, because her spell was broken.

From the lander approaching I saw the oceans of Eleven-Soro, and in the greatness of my joy I thought that when I was grown and went out alone I would go to the sea shore and watch the sea-beasts shimmering their colors and tunes till I knew what they were thinking. I would listen, I would learn, till my soul was as large as the shining world. The scarred barrens whirled beneath us, ruins as wide as the continent, endless desolations. We touched down. I had my soulbag, and Borny’s knife around my neck on its string, a communicator implant behind my right earlobe, and a medicine kit Mother had made for me. “No use dying of an infected finger, after all,” she had said. The people on the lander said goodbye, but I forgot to. I set off out of the desert, home.

It was summer; the night was short and warm; I walked most of it. I got to the auntring about the middle of the second day. I went to my house cautiously, in case somebody had moved in while I was gone; but it was just as we had left it. The mattresses were moldy, and I put them and the bedding out in the sun, and started going over the garden to see what had kept growing by itself. The pigi had got small and seedy, but there were some good roots. A little boy came by and stared; he had to be Migi’s baby. After a while Hyuru came by. She squatted down near me in the garden in the sunshine. I smiled when I saw her, and she smiled, but it took us a while to find something to say.

“Your mother didn’t come back,” she said. “She’s dead,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Hyuru said.

She watched me dig up another root.

“Will you come to the singing circle?” she asked.

I nodded.

She smiled again. With her rosebrown skin and wide-set eyes, Hyuru had become very beautiful, but her smile was exactly the same as when we were little girls. “Hi, ya!” she sighed in deep contentment, lying down on the dirt with her chin on her arms. “This is good!”

I went on blissfully digging.

That year and the next two, I was in the singing circle with Hyuru and two other girls. Didsu still came to it often, and Han, a woman who settled in our auntring to have her first baby, joined it too. In the singing circle the older girls pass around the stories, songs, knowledge they learned from their own mother, and young women who have lived in other auntrings teach what they learned there; so women make each other’s souls, learning how to make their children’s souls.

Han lived in the house where old Dnemi had died. Nobody in the auntring except Sut’s baby had died while my family lived there. My mother had complained that she didn’t have any data on death and burial. Sut had gone away with her dead baby and never came back, and nobody talked about it. I think that turned my mother against the others more than anything else. She was angry and ashamed that she could not go and try to comfort Sut and that nobody else did. “It is not human,” she said. “It is pure animal behavior. Nothing could be clearer evidence that this is a broken culture—not a society, but the remains of one. A terrible, an appalling poverty.”

I don’t know if Dnemi’s death would have changed her mind. Dnemi was dying for a long time, of kidney failure I think; she turned a kind of dark orange color, jaundice. While she could get around, nobody helped her. When she didn’t come out of her house for a day or two, the women would send the children in with water and a little food and firewood. It went on so through the winter; then one morning little Rashi told his mother Aunt Dnemi was “staring.” Several of the women went to Dnemi’s house, and entered it for the first and last time. They sent for all the girls in the singing circle, so that we could learn what to do. We took turns sitting by the body or in the porch of the house, singing soft songs, child-songs, giving the soul a day and a night to leave the body and the house; then the older women wrapped the body in the bedding, strapped it on a kind of litter, and set off with it toward the barren lands. There it would be given back, under a rock cairn or inside one of the ruins of the ancient city. “Those are the lands of the dead,” Sadne said. “What dies stays there.”

Han settled down in that house a year later. When her baby began to be born she asked Didsu to help her, and Hyuru and I stayed in the porch and watched, so that we could learn. It was a wonderful thing to see, and quite altered the course of my thinking, and Hyuru’s too. Hyuru said, “I’d like to do that!” I said nothing, but thought, So do I, but not for a long time, because once you have a child you’re never alone.

And though it is of the others, of relationships, that I write, the heart of my life has been my being alone.

I think there is no way to write about being alone. To write is to tell something to somebody, to communicate to others. CP, as Steadiness would say. Solitude is non-communication, the absence of others, the presence of a self sufficient to itself.

A woman’s solitude in the auntring is, of course, based firmly on the presence of others at a little distance. It is a contingent, and therefore human, solitude. The settled men are connected as stringently to the women, though not to one another; the settlement is an integral though distant element of the auntring. Even a scouting woman is part of the society—a moving part, connecting the settled parts. Only the isolation of a woman or man who chooses to live outside the settlements is absolute. They are outside the network altogether. There are worlds where such persons are called saints, holy people. Since isolation is a sure way to prevent magic, on my world the assumption is that they are sorcerors, outcast by others or by their own will, their conscience.
I knew I was strong with magic, how could I help it? and I began to long to get away. It would be so much easier and safer to be alone. But at the same time, and increasingly, I wanted to know something about the great harmless magic, the spells cast between men and women.

I preferred foraging to gardening, and was out on the hills a good deal; and these days, instead of keeping away from the men’s-houses, I wandered by them, and looked at them, and looked at the men if they were outside. The men looked back. Downriver Lame Man’s long, shining hair was getting a little white in it now, but when he sat singing his long, long songs I found myself sitting down and listening, as if my legs had lost their bones. He was very handsome. So was the man I remembered as a boy named Tret in the auntring, when I was little, Behyu’s son. He had come back from the boygroup and from wandering, and had built a house and made a fine garden in the valley of Red Stone Creek. He had a big nose and big eyes, long arms and legs, long hands; he moved very quietly, almost like Arrem doing the untrance. I went often to pick lowberries in Red Stone Creek Valley.

He came along the path and spoke. “You were Borny’s sister,” he said. He had a low voice, quiet.

“He’s dead,” I said.

Red Stone Man nodded. “That’s his knife.”

In my world, I had never talked with a man. I felt extremely strange. I kept picking berries.

“You’re picking green ones,” Red Stone Man said.

His soft, smiling voice made my legs lose their bones again.

“I think nobody’s touched you,” he said. “I’d touch you gently. I think about it, about you, ever since you came by here early in the summer. Look, here’s a bush full of ripe ones. Those are green. Come over here.”

I came closer to him, to the bush of ripe berries.

When I was on the ship, Arrem told me that many languages have a single word for sexual desire and the bond between mother and child and the bond between soulmates and the feeling for one’s home and worship of the sacred; they are all called love. There is no word that great in my language. Maybe my mother is right, and human greatness perished in my world with the people of the Before Time, leaving only small, poor, broken things and thoughts. In my language, love is many different words. I learned one of them with Red Stone Man. We sang it together to each other.

We made a brush house on a little cove of the creek, and neglected our gardens, but gathered many, many sweet berries.

Mother had put a lifetime’s worth of nonconceptives in the little medicine kit. She had no faith in Sorovian herbals. I did, and they worked.

But when a year or so later, in the Golden Time, I decided to go out scouting, I thought I might go places where the right herbs were scarce; and so I stuck the little noncon jewel on the back of my left earlobe. Then I wished I hadn’t, because it seemed like witchcraft. Then I told myself I was being superstitious; the noncon wasn’t any more witchcraft than the herbs were, it just worked longer. I had promised my mother in my soul that I would never be superstitious. The skin grew over the noncon, and I took my soulbag and Borny’s knife and the medicine kit, and set off across the world.

I had told Hyuru and Red Stone Man I would be leaving. Hyuru and I sang and talked together all one night down by the river. Red Stone Man said in his soft voice, “Why do you want to go?” and I said, “To get away from your magic, sorceror,” which was true in part. If I kept going to him I might always go to him. I wanted to give my soul and body a larger world to be in.

Now to tell of my scouting years is more difficult than ever. CP! A woman scouting is entirely alone, unless she chooses to ask a settled man for sex, or camps in an auntring for a while to sing and listen with the singing circle. If she goes anywhere near the territory of a boy-group, she is in danger; and if she comes on a rogue she is in danger; and if she hurts herself or gets into polluted country, she is in danger. She has no responsibility except to herself, and so much freedom is very dangerous.

In my right earlobe was the tiny communicator; every forty days, as I had promised, I sent a signal to the ship that meant “all well.” If I wanted to leave, I would send another signal. I could have called for the lander to rescue me from a bad situation, but though I was in bad situations a couple of times I never thought of using it. My signal was the mere fulfillment of a promise to my mother and
her people, the network I was no longer part of, a meaningless communication.

Life in the auntring, or for a settled man, is repetitive, as I said; and so it can be dull. Nothing new happens. The mind always wants new happenings. So for the young soul there is wandering and scouting, travel, danger, change. But of course travel and danger and change have their own dullness. It is finally always the same otherness over again; another hill, another river, another man, another day. The feet begin to turn in a long, long circle. The body begins to think of what it learned back home, when it learned to be still. To be aware. To be aware of the grain of dust beneath the sole of the foot, and the skin of the sole of the foot, and the touch and scent of the air on the cheek, and the fall and motion of the light across the air, and the color of the grass on the high hill across the river, and the thoughts of the body, of the soul, the shimmer and ripple of colors and sounds in the clear darkness of the depths, endlessly moving, endlessly changing, endlessly new.

So at last I came back home. I had been gone about four years.

Hyuru had moved into my old house when she left her mother’s house. She had not gone scouting, but had taken to going to Red Stone Creek Valley; and she was pregnant. I was glad to see her living there. The only house empty was an old half-ruined one too close to Hedimi’s. I decided to make a new house. I dug out the circle as deep as my chest; the digging took most of the summer. I cut the sticks, braced and wove them, and then daubed the framework solidly with mud inside and out. I remembered when I had done that with my mother long, long ago, and how she had said, “That’s right. That’s good.” I left the roof open, and the hot sun of late summer baked the mud into clay. Before the rains came, I thatched the house with reeds, a triple thatching, for I’d had enough of being wet all winter.

My auntring was more a string than a ring, stretching along the north bank of the river for about three kilos; my house lengthened the string a good bit, upstream from all the others. I could just see the smoke from Hyuru’s fireplace. I dug it into a sunny slope with good drainage. It is still a good house.

I settled down. Some of my time went to gathering and gardening and mending and all the dull, repetitive actions of primitive life, and some went to singing and thinking the songs and stories I had learned here at home and while scouting, and the things I had learned on the ship, also. Soon enough I found why women are glad to have children come to listen to them, for songs and stories are meant to be heard, listened to. “Listen!” I would say to the children. The children of the auntring came and went, like the little fish in the river, one or two or five of them, little ones, big ones. When they came, I sang or told stories to them. When they left, I went on in silence. Sometimes I joined the singing circle to give what I had learned traveling to the older girls. And that was all I did; except that I worked, always, to be aware of all I did.

By solitude the soul escapes from doing or suffering magic; it escapes from dullness, from boredom, by being aware. Nothing is boring if you are aware of it. It may be irritating, but it is not boring. If it is pleasant the pleasure will not fail so long as you are aware of it. Being aware is the hardest work the soul can do, I think.

I helped Hyuru have her baby, a girl, and played with the baby. Then after a couple of years I took the noncon out of my left earlobe. Since it left a little hole, I made the hole go all the way through with a burnt needle, and when it healed I hung in it a tiny jewel I had found in a ruin when I was scouting. I had seen a man on the ship with a jewel hung in his ear that way. I wore it when I went out foraging. I kept clear of Red Stone Creek Valley. The man there behaved as if he had a claim on me, a right to me. I liked him still, but I did not like that smell of magic about him, his imagination of power over me. I went up into the hills, northward.

A pair of young men had settled in old North House about the time I came home. Often boys got through boygroup by pairing, and often they stayed paired when they left the Territory. It helped their chances of survival. Some of them were sexually paired, others weren’t; some stayed paired, others didn’t. One of this pair had gone off with another man last summer. The one that stayed wasn’t a handsome man, but I had noticed him. He had a kind of solidness I liked. His body and hands were short and strong. I had courted him a little, but he was very shy. This day, a day in the Silver Time when the mist lay on the river, he saw the jewel swinging in my ear, and his eyes widened.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I said.

He nodded.

“I wore it to make you look at me,” I said.

He was so shy that I finally said, “If you only like sex with men, you know, just tell me.” I really was not sure.

“Oh, no,” he said, “no. No.” He stammered and then bolted back down the path. But he looked back; and I followed him slowly, still not certain whether he wanted me or wanted to be rid of me.

He waited for me in front of a little house in a grove of redroot, a lovely little bower, all leaves outside, so that you would walk within arm’s length of it and not see it. Inside he had laid sweet grass, deep and dry and soft, smelling of summer. I went in, crawling because the door was very low, and sat in the summer-smelling grass. He stood outside. “Come in,” I said, and he came in very slowly.

“I made it for you,” he said.

“Now make a child for me,” I said.

And we did that; maybe that day, maybe another.

Now I will tell you why after all these years I called the ship, not knowing even if it was still there in the space between the planets, asking for the lander to meet me in the barren land.

When my daughter was born, that was my heart’s desire and the fulfillment of my soul. When my son was born, last year, I knew there is no fulfillment. He will grow toward manhood, and go, and fight and endure, and live or die as a man must. My daughter, whose name is Yedneke, Leaf, like my mother, will grow to womanhood and go or stay as she chooses. I will live alone. This is as it should be, and my desire. But I am of two worlds; I am a person of this world, and a woman of my mother’s people. I owe my knowledge to the children of her people. So I asked the lander to come, and spoke to the people on it. They gave me my mother’s report to read, and I have written my story in their machine, making a record for those who want to learn one of the ways to make a soul. To them, to the children I say: Listen! Avoid magic! Be aware!


தொகுக்கப்பட்ட பக்கம்: எழுத்துக்கள், SF

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