[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]
Sid wakes up.
He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.
It’s wonderful, sometimes, to be Sid. The birds are singing. The sun is bright. His body is fresh and practically unhurt and his hair’s just the way he’s always wanted it to be.
He takes a deep breath of pure clean air and says, “How beautiful.”
Then everything goes wrong.
It is June 2, 2004.
Martin is sitting on the grass by Sid.
Sid has fallen on his back and he’s got this stricken look like he’s just come home from vacation to discover that everything everywhere in the world is broken.
“Did you ever hear that old question about whether you’d prefer to torture one person or let everyone in the world die?” Martin asks.
“No,” Sid says.
“For some reason,” Sid says, “nobody ever asks siggorts that one.”
Martin is sitting there on the grass by Sid. He’s looking at his fingers.
“What is it that’s so beautiful?” Martin asks.
Sid laughs. It hurts him to laugh, but he does.
Martin’s still looking at him.
Sid shakes his head.
“Jane tells me,” Martin says, “that the answer is, ‘You are.'”
Sid doesn’t say anything.
“That that’s what you see when you wake up in the place without recourse and the beauty of it overwhelms you. Not the dawn. Not the sky. You. The inside of your eyes.”
“Why did you make her that way?”
“Best I could do with the materials I had.”
“I’m a boy of pride,” Martin says.
“It’s not me,” Sid says.
“Siggorts are legendarily ugly,” Sid says. “It’s not so much the visuals as the dharma.”
“Pointy,” Martin concurs.
Sid makes a face.
“What is it, then?” Martin asks.
“Real insightful, Mr. Dialectic.”
Martin gestures out at the sea. He says, “Max is out there.”
Sid’s neck goes taut. It’s like his larynx is strangling him. He stands, his hands awkward in the air in front of him, the long muscles of his legs pulling and pushing against one another to draw him up. He stares out at the distant glimmers on the sea.
“Why?” Sid asks.
“I sent him west to seal a fountain of good,” Martin says.
“You didn’t have to.”
“I just don’t like him,” Martin says.
Sid wants to scowl at Martin but it’s like his nose is stuck pointing west; he can’t make himself turn his head back from the sea. Instead he says, “It’s a trick question, isn’t it? The torture thing?”
“One side’s intention and the other’s an outcome.”
“That’s the math of it,” Martin agrees.
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.
Max sets out in his coracle to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.
It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.
The Island of the Centipede
“What do you expect me to do?” Sid asks.
“Go west,” Martin says.
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you don’t.”
The grass is very green beneath the siggort and the boy. The wind makes waves upon it.
“Do you know what sucks?” Martin says. “What sucks is that Jane needs me. And that’s not because of people like the monster. It’s because of people like you.”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Thumbscrews, that makes so much sense.”
“You have these people,” Martin says, entirely ignoring Sid. “These perfectly useful people. And they have beating inside them like a heart their knowledge of themselves, of who they are. And then someone comes along from outside and proposes an alternative. Cripple them here. Clip the wings there. Mold them like Jell-O and make sure they fit. Take your vision of what they should be and use it to overwrite their own. And then just leave them out there—out in the world—flopping around on their wing-stubs, parroting back the twisted nonsense that you gave them, crawling in circles around their concrete-moored peglegs, and then what am I supposed to do?”
“I didn’t ask you to do anything.”
“No,” Martin says. “That’s the trouble with isn’ts.”
“You can’t ask. Not once they’ve broken you. You say, ‘Give me more of that torture’, and maybe it’s you, and maybe it’s the twisting in you. You sit there silently, and maybe you’ve got nothing to say, or maybe they’ve drowned it. You say ‘Let me go’, and maybe that’s reason and maybe that’s panic. You say all kinds of things, and the fundamental crime that made you isn’ts is that sometime, once upon a time, somebody didn’t listen; and that somehow, as a result of that, I can’t listen to you now.”
“That’s bleak,” Sid says.
“The trouble with isn’ts,” Martin says, “is that they don’t want to be real, not really. They can’t, because they’re not. How can something that isn’t even there have desires? How can one dharma, forced into the mold of another, know what it means to express itself?”
“That seems like a dumb question to ask me,” Sid says.
“It’s not a question,” Martin says. “It’s an expression of regret.”
“I can’t fix you, Sid. All I can do is make you anew.”
Dedicated to someone who is not at all like Sid or Martin, except in that you shouldn’t mess with her. Not even if you’re the Buddha—or a shark!