“Alaia”: The Clarification

Now if you do not already know how the road to New Jerusalem failed, and how Hank Makeway took up the commission of a new one, then you may wish to travel here.

And if you do not recall how it came to pass that he brought the wilds of Ms. Tate’s gums to truth, then you may look here as well.

For some time Hank has laboured to excise impurities from Ms. Tate’s gums; but now at last the gingiva are clean. . . .

The Clarification

After this labor follows a grinding work of more precision—tailored, in ways that the firing of the gums is not, to the toothway that he hopes to build.

Hank walks along the paths, coring the gums as he goes. He draws forth molecule-thin needles of pink substance. He studies the data locked in the samples, considering whether the meaning of it is something true or false. In some places, the gums provide data that accurately fits into the map of Makeway’s world: they state a correct quality of some region accessible along a hypothetical toothway path or pose a geological tautology. In other cases his sample suggests a fallacy: interpreted via the smith’s art, it tells him that “Sivolia is sheepfoam-rich” or “Lauemford and New Jerusalem are the same.” In these cases he must either mark that path with the gray flag that means “unusable” or grind away the information lodged in the material until it is no longer distinguishable as truth or falsehood—no longer data, but rather storage space or noise.

Inch by inch he clarifies for Kailani’s gums the layout of the world.

Alive with the power of Milk-Guzzler and Stress-Grinder, and holding in themselves a map of the world more accurate and consistent with every passing day, the gingiva begin to experience a queer, primeval consciousness. They begin to resonate with a sense of expectation as Hank Makeway draws up a sample to regard, and then pleasure or disappointment when he confirms or denies its truth. The self-awareness of the gums begins to taint the data: Hank draws up samples that tell him, rather than pure geographic data, “Hank Makeway loves me” or “I am good” or “I am a road to Far Sivolia.”

One day he draws up three self-referential samples in a row, followed by, “Hank Makeway is a smite of children’s truth.” He laughs at this and shakes his head.

He says, “Enough of that.”

He leads his team to the right edge of Kailani’s mouth.

Wine-Drinker and Drought-Ender shy. They dance. They pull against the reins and rip their harness free from Makeway’s hands.

He sets himself in place and he gives them a stare.

Fearsome and wild, the horses glare back. Their white eyes meet his level gaze.

Hank says, “Here.”

They do not run. They do not move. They simply glare.

Hank’s world shivers. Echoes of the horses’ fear play through his mind, carried by the horses’ eyes.

He sets them aside.

“Here,” he says again, and then, gently, “or forsake your consecrated purpose on this earth.”

Drought-Ender’s terror rips through Hank’s mind like a piercing light and drives him to his knees, and following it comes the wave of Wine-Drinker’s madness. Incomplete and painful images pour through Hank’s thoughts until his ego buckles and his world spins. He can find no surcease or compass in the storm. He is lost. He is helpless. He thinks he has fallen. Later he is certain of it. In a moment of perception he realizes he is curled around his center, that the gums are wet with tears.

It is beyond Hank’s power to compel them. He is only a smith, only a man. They are the horses of the gums.

But Sandra of the Rise has made them well.

Hank feels a change in the world as the horses succumb to purpose and offer themselves at the altar of transformation. He feels the waves of heat as they drill down into the gums and become something different from what they’ve been. For a moment they are candles burning on the roof and road. Then they are shrinking, spinning fires. Finally they widen themselves, dissolve themselves, and transubstantiate themselves into the substance of the gums.

The madness recedes.

Dry and tired, Hank drags himself up.

He croaks, the words hurting his throat, “Well done.”

Drought-Ender and Wine-Drinker are become the beacons of the toothway and its cartographers. They will open the toothway when Kailani’s teeth come in and they will hold Kailani’s gums to the stringency of the true map of the world.

but we are not eternal; nor tireless; so we shall leave the matter of the first tooth, however reluctantly, until tomorrow.

One thought on ““Alaia”: The Clarification

  1. Sorry for yet another long comment:

    I had always wondered why Jane had this strange fascination with teeth. Because of the way that I first noticed it in the really excellent and troubling Jane’s Father, I guessed that it maybe had something to do with symbolizing a child’s only normal relationship with an abusive parent — they still tell the child to brush their teeth every night. And someone previously commented that molar decay == moral decay, so I thought that maybe this was a sort of way of representing morality without moralizing, which Jane doesn’t do.

    And this sequence seemed, seems, very strange. It’s tooth-making as a metaphor for the process of writing Hitherby, which has always been about mapping:

    “Inch by inch he clarifies for Kailani’s gums the layout of the world.”

    So what are the gums in this metaphor?
    At first I thought that they were at least in part the audience, since the text itself can not react in the way described below:

    “They begin to resonate with a sense of expectation as Hank Makeway draws up a sample to regard, and then pleasure or disappointment when he confirms or denies its truth.”

    But on second thought, I don’t think so. Hitherby has for a long time seemed to me to be a drama around re-integration of dissassociated personalities. It is the growing self-consciousness and communication among these personalities that could provide that effect. They are being remade into the teeth of a consciousness that can process the world, a pathway that takes the food of raw experience and turns it into a coherent worldview.

    Jane is supposed to be six, if I remember rightly (although she thinks at a level more advanced than that of any real six-year-old I’ve met). But there is one thing about six-year-olds that I’d forgotten until my eldest child, this year, turned six. Their teeth fall out and they get new ones. Hank Makeway is the one making the set of adult teeth, the one that can allow Jane to finally grow past this age.

    I’d previously commented on how Hitherby uses children’s stories, TV shows, and so on to write about adult problems, and how this seemed to work, in a world where children sometimes really do have to deal with adult problems. In that sense, the writer of Hitherby is like the smith of children’s teeth, making something out of these materials. And it makes sense that resistance would express itself as depicting him as the “smite of children’s truth” — the person replacing a child’s truth with an adult’s. But it really seems like nothing is being lost. Whatever Hitherby, in the metaphor, finally becomes, it’s still going to have all of the children’s stories as part of it.

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