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Zero K(2)
Don DeLillo

“And you have complete confidence in this project.”

“Complete. Medically, technologically, philosophically.”

“People enroll their pets,” I said.

“Not here. Nothing here is speculative. Nothing is wishful or peripheral. Men, women. Death, life.”

His voice carried the even tone of a challenge.

“Is it possible for me to see the area where it happens?”

“Extremely doubtful,” he said.

Artis, his wife, was suffering from several disabling illnesses. I knew that multiple sclerosis was largely responsible for her deterioration. My father was here as devoted witness to her passing and then as educated observer of whatever initial methods would allow preservation of the body until the year, the decade, the day when it might safely be permitted to reawaken.

“When I got here I was met by two armed escorts. Took me through security, took me to the room, said next to nothing. That’s all I know. And the name, which sounds religious.”

“Faith-based technology. That’s what it is. Another god. Not so different, it turns out, from some of the earlier ones. Except that it’s real, it’s true, it delivers.”

“Life after death.”

“Eventually, yes.”

“The Convergence.”

“Yes.”

“There’s a meaning in mathematics.”

“There’s a meaning in biology. There’s a meaning in physiology. Let it rest,” he said.

When my mother died, at home, I was seated next to the bed and there was a friend of hers, a woman with a cane, standing in the doorway. That’s how I would picture the moment, narrowed, now and always, to the woman in the bed, the woman in the doorway, the bed itself, the metal cane.

Ross said, “Down in an area that serves as a hospice I sometimes stand among the people being prepared to undergo the process. Anticipation and awe intermingled. Far more palpable than apprehension or uncertainty. There’s a reverence, a state of astonishment. They’re together in this. Something far larger than they’d ever imagined. They feel a common mission, a destination. And I find myself trying to imagine such a place centuries back. A lodging, a shelter for travelers. For pilgrims.”

“Okay, pilgrims. We’re back to the old-time religion. Is it possible for me to visit the hospice?”

“Probably not,” he said.

He gave me a small flat disk appended to a wristband. He said it was similar to the ankle monitor that kept police agencies informed of a suspect’s whereabouts, pending trial. I’d be allowed entry to certain areas on this level and the one above, nowhere else. I could not remove the wristband without alerting security.

“Don’t be quick to draw conclusions about what you see and hear. This place was designed by serious people. Respect the idea. Respect the setting itself. Artis says we ought to regard it as a work-in-progress, an earthwork, a form of earth art, land art. Built up out of the land and sunk down into it as well. Restricted access. Defined by stillness, both human and environmental. A little tomblike as well. The earth is the guiding principle,” he said. “Return to the earth, emerge from the earth.”

•  •  •

I spent time walking the halls. The halls were nearly empty, three people, at intervals, and I nodded to each, receiving only a single grudging glance. The walls were shades of green. Down one broad hall, turn into another. Blank walls, no windows, doors widely spaced, all doors shut. These were doors of related colors, subdued, and I wondered if there was meaning to be found in these slivers of the spectrum. This is what I did in any new environment. I tried to inject meaning, make the place coherent or at least locate myself within the place, to confirm my uneasy presence.

At the end of the last hall there was a screen jutting from a niche in the ceiling. It began to lower, stretching wall to wall and reaching nearly to the floor. I approached slowly. At first the images were all water. There was water racing through woodlands and surging over riverbanks. There were scenes of rain beating on terraced fields, long moments of nothing but rain, then people everywhere running, others helpless in small boats bouncing over rapids. There were temples flooded, homes pitching down hillsides. I watched as water kept rising in city streets, cars and drivers going under. The size of the screen lifted the effect out of the category of TV news. Everything loomed, scenes lasted long past the usual broadcast breath. It was there in front of me, on my level, immediate and real, a woman sitting life-sized on a lopsided chair in a house collapsed in mudslide. A man, a face, underwater, staring out at me. I had to step back but also had to keep looking. It was hard not to look. Finally I glanced back down the hall waiting for someone to appear, another witness, a person who might stand next to me while the images built and clung.

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