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Zero K(5)
Don DeLillo

“Then you open your eyes.”

“Or do I? The weird kid might keep them closed.”

“But only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” she said, barely managing to make her way through the familiar strand of days.

Someone came out of a back room, a woman, gray jumpsuit, dark hair, dark face, businesslike expression. She wore latex gloves and stood in position behind Artis, looking at me.

Time to leave.

Artis said weakly, “It is only me, the body in the shower, one person enclosed in plastic watching a drop of water skate down the wet curtain. The moment is there to be forgotten. This seems the ultimate point. It’s a moment never to be thought of except when it’s in the process of unfolding. Maybe this is why it doesn’t seem peculiar. It is only me. I don’t think about it. I simply live within it and then leave it behind. But not forever. Leave it behind except for now, in this particular place, where everything I’ve ever said and done and thought about is near to hand, right here, to be gathered tightly so it doesn’t disappear when I open my eyes to the second life.”

•  •  •

It was called a food unit and this is what it was, a component, a module, four undersized tables and one other person, a man who wore what appeared to be a monk’s cloak. I ate and watched, using stealth glances. He cut his food and chewed it, introspectively. When he stood up to leave, I saw faded blue jeans below the cloak and tennis shoes below the jeans. The food was edible but not always nameable.

I entered my room by placing the disk on my wristband against the magnetic fixture embedded in the middle panel of the door. The room was small and featureless. It was generic to the point of being a thing with walls. The ceiling was low, the bed was bedlike, the chair was a chair. There were no windows.

In twenty-four hours, based on the clinical estimate, Artis would be dead, which meant that I would be on my way home while Ross remained for a time to determine firsthand that the series of cryonic actions was proceeding on schedule.

But I was already feeling trapped. Visitors were not permitted to leave the building and even with nowhere to go out there, among those Precambrian rocks, I felt the effects of this restriction. The room was not equipped with digital connections and my smartphone was brain-dead here. I did stretching exercises to get the blood pumping. I did sit-ups and squat-jumps. I tried to remember the dream of the previous night.

The room made me feel that I was being absorbed into the essential content of the place. I sat in the chair, eyes closed. I saw myself sitting here. I saw the complex itself from somewhere in the stratosphere, solid welded mass and variously pitched roofs, sun-struck walls.

I saw the drops of water that Artis had watched, one by one, trickling down the inside of the shower curtain.

I saw Artis vaguely naked, facing into the spray of water, the image of her eyes closed within the fact of my eyes closed.

I wanted to get out of the chair, walk out of the room, say goodbye to her and leave. I managed to talk myself up to a standing position and then open the door. But all I did was walk the halls.

- 4 -

I walked the halls. The doors here were painted in gradations of muted blue and I tried to name the shades. Sea, sky, butterfly, indigo. All these were wrong and I began to feel more foolish with every step I took and every door I scrutinized. I wanted to see a door open and a person emerge. I wanted to know where I was and what was happening around me. A woman came striding by, briskly, and I resisted an impulse to name her like a color, or examine her for signs of something, clues to something.

Then the idea hit me. Simple. There was nothing behind the doors. I walked and thought. I speculated. There were areas on certain floors that contained offices. Elsewhere the halls were pure design, the doors simply one element in the overarching scheme, which Ross had described in a general way. I wondered whether this was visionary art, involving colors, forms and local materials, art meant to accompany and surround the hardwired initiative, the core work of scientists, counselors, technicians and medical personnel.

I liked the idea. It fit the circumstances, it met the standards of unlikelihood, or daring dumb luck, that can mark the most compelling art. All I had to do was knock on a door. Pick a color, pick a door and knock. If no one opens the door, knock on the next door and the next. But I was wary of betraying my father’s trust in bringing me here. Then there were the hidden cameras. There would have to be surveillance of these hallways, with blank faces in hushed rooms scanning the monitors.

Three people came toward me, one of them a boy in a motorized wheelchair that resembled a toilet. He was nine or ten and watched me all the way. His upper body was tilted severely to one side but his eyes were alert and I wanted to stop and talk to him. The adults made it clear that this was not possible. They flanked the wheelchair and stared straight ahead, into authorized space, stranding me in my pause, my good intentions.

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