Intermission (I/I)

March 25, 1995

Tantalus hungers. Tantalus thirsts.

The woglies flee.

“That’s not important,” Martin is saying. “That isn’t. I’m going to sweep away the kingdoms of the world and tear down all the monsters. I’m going to rend the world down to a remnant and from its ashes build the most glorious of Heavens.”

His soul is in shreds.

He’s hardly alive. He’s holding himself up by sheer will and his eyes are full of the radiance of the numinous and every time he looks at Tantalus it’s like Tantalus is suddenly naked before the face of God; caught by shame and forbidden knowledge in the Garden of Eden; staring full on into Medusa’s eyes.

He’s a creature of all wild freedom, Martin is, and freedom’s terrible.

Then Martin wobbles and loses strength.

He falls, face-first, into the lake.

It is Tantalus’ lake. It belongs to him. It’s his clear cold lake of water. He has always thought that it must be extremely cool and damp and refreshing, but whenever he reaches down to cup up some water in his hands, the water flees from him. It drains away into the ground and leaves only parched dry earth behind. For three thousand years Tantalus has lived amidst his lakes and never once has he had a chance to drink.

As for Martin, he is cool and damp and refreshed but also trying to breathe.

He is underwater.

It does not work. Instead Martin, involuntarily, coughs. He thrashes. He tries to pull himself to the surface. It does not work. His eyes widen with panic. His panic redoubles. Shuddering and flailing washes through him. He breaches the surface. He flutters his arms against the water. His head rolls back. He sinks.

“Oh,” says Tantalus.

There is emotion in his voice. He is surprised to hear it there. He had not thought himself still capable of emotion, after three thousand years.

It must be envy, he thinks.

“Oh, I envy you.”

It is the Underworld. Martin cannot die. Beneath the water his eyes pop open. He gasps. He tries to take a breath but he cannot. He tries to scream but he cannot. His arms flutter but he cannot make his body move.

After a while he passes out again.

The emotion in Tantalus’ voice is not envy. This baffles him.

“Ridiculous,” says Tantalus.

It still isn’t envy. It is pity, perhaps. Maybe even kindness.

Tantalus’ heart beats once. It is irritated at him. His heart only beats when it’s irritated at him, these past three thousand years. He’s long since too dry for blood.

The clenching of his heart is a dry and agonizing pain. Air whistles through his veins.

“Ridiculous.”

It is a unique experience, to have his conscience blackmailing him again, after all these years of death. He reaches upwards. The wind whips the branches of the trees away from him. They are laden with sweet-smelling fruit and for three thousand years he has not caught hold of a single one.

He braces his hand against the trunk of the tree. He pulls himself upright.

Martin wakes up. His eyes open. He tries to scream but he cannot. He tries to move but he cannot.

He passes out.

Tantalus wades out to Martin. He purses his lips. He looks down at the drowning boy. Then he sits down heavily. The water level plummets. Tantalus snatches at it reflexively, tries to cup some up. There is no water left.

It has drained into the ground already. It has fled from him. It has left only dry dust behind, and Martin like a flopping fish.

Tantalus sets his withered lips on Martin’s own.

He inhales. He is like a vampire. He is seeking some scrap of sustenance — to draw some bit of soothing moisture up from Martin’s waterlogged lungs.

The heart of Tantalus beats.

Tantalus’ face grows taut with pain. He loses his grip on Martin. He tries to hang on but he cannot. In the moment he pulls back and curls around the agony in his chest, the water escapes him, makes a break for it, scrambling out of Martin’s lungs, drooling from his lips, pouring desperately into the ground to escape Tantalus’ touch.

Martin coughs. He wakes. He passes out.

He wakes again.

In the moment Martin wakes he recoils. He throws himself back. His eyes open. He gasps. His skin is bitterly dry. He stares.

Then he begins to laugh.

“Oh, God,” he says. He laughs. “Oh, man.”

His eyes focus on Tantalus. He sees the lines of pain on Tantalus’ face. He gives a wretched smile.

Tantalus shrugs.

“Thank you,” Martin says. “I’m so sorry. Thank you. Oh, man.”

“It happens,” Tantalus says.

“I was drowning,” Martin says. “And now I am not. It is really good to not be drowning. Nobody ever told me this. Nobody told me how good it was going to be. Nobody ever said, ‘it’s so incredible, not to be drowning, and then passing out, and then waking up and drowning some more.’ But it is. I think that people just don’t know.”

“I would like that,” Tantalus says.

“You would not.”

“It looked moist.”

Martin’s eyes flick down to the dry ground, then back up.

“Yeah,” he says, more softly. “Yeah, I guess.”

He sits up.

“It was cool, and clear,” he says, “and refreshing. It would have been really nice. Except then I started to panic. Because I couldn’t breathe. And then the panic got worse and worse until I think I would have done anything to make it stop. And then my brain shut down and I couldn’t think any more and my eyes filled up with agony and the dark. And then I’d wake up again and it wasn’t cool and clear and refreshing any more because I was already drowning when I woke.”

Tantalus licks his lips.

“And if it weren’t the Underworld —”

Martin shudders, suddenly.

“I’m so lucky,” he says. “Oh, God. If this hadn’t been the Underworld. If this weren’t the Underworld — what a stupid way to stop existing. I would have died.”

“It is good to be a living person in the Underworld,” Tantalus says, “since there is nothing here that can actually kill you.”

There is a distant cursing. There is a distant rumbling.

Sisyphus, rolled over by a distant boulder, screams.

“There are also disadvantages,” Tantalus concedes.

Martin looks down.

“You’ve been stuck here,” he says, “for three thousand years.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going,” Martin says. “I’m going to go. You should also go. You should come out of the Underworld, to the surface world, like me. What d’you think?”

“I can’t.”

Martin tilts his head. “Why not?”

“It’s my punishment.”

“Yes?”

“Zeus said,” Tantalus says. “He said that I had to live in a land of plenty, and know only hunger. He said that I had to dwell amidst sweet lakes, and know only thirst. He said I had to be forever in the company of what I long for, and have it never. So I can’t go.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Martin says.

Tantalus shrugs.

“That isn’t punishment,” Martin says. “That’s just . . . that’s just life.

Tantalus can’t help it. He laughs. It’s a bitter laughter and it hurts almost as much as a heartbeat; and eventually it causes a heartbeat, and hurts strictly, mathematically, more.

Martin is watching him.

Tantalus isn’t even looking at him any more and he can still feel it, that Martin is watching him; that that fey power is coming back into Martin’s eyes.

“Hey,” Martin says.

Martin touches his shoulder.

“Hey,” Martin says. “I’m not — I mean, I’m not a good person. I’m not going to say that. But I’m not the kind of person who’s going to just meet somebody who’s been starving for three thousand years and then go away and let them starve and dry out for another three thousand. That’s too much. I’m the kind of cruel hell-god who might leave you to suffer another, you know, three months, for a total of six. Or stab you in the eye with a spork, but then take you to a hospital. But, I mean, seriously, man. Three thousand years. You’re done. You’ve paid enough.”

Tantalus’ heart is not beating. He has stopped laughing.

It is a certain grace that settles in around Tantalus, then, and frees him from the pain of Martin’s words.

“I’m okay,” he says.

“You’re not okay.”

“I have my lakes,” Tantalus says. “I have my sweet-smelling fruit trees. And when I reach for the fruit the branches fly up like winged birds, and it is beautiful; and sometimes, their petals float free to land upon the surface of the lake, like little boats. And they are beautiful.”

He cannot look at Martin.

He dare not look at Martin. He would break. Instead he stands up. He turns away. The water trickles back around his feet.

“I have the gourd of my stomach,” Tantalus says. “I am very used to it. It is always hungry, but I laugh at it, ho-ho-ho, and strike it with my hands to make a drum.”

Martin is on his feet.

That is good, Tantalus thinks. If Martin does not get up and leave the lake then I shall have to repeat this whole conversation again.

“I have no talent for drumming,” Tantalus observes. “And my stomach is not a very good drum. But I can still make Persephone weep or Hades dance with my drumming; for even the least talented man will become a quite good drummer if he practices for three thousand years.”

“You will still have a stomach,” Martin says, “if you go free.”

“I don’t want to go,” Tantalus says.

He risks a glance over his shoulder. Martin is standing on the water. It is lifting him up as it rises. His eyes are as the oceans and the skies.

“I didn’t ask if you wanted to go,” Martin says.

This is a lie.

“Well,” Martin admits. “I did. But that was earlier. After that, I said that I was not the kind of person who was going to just leave you here to suffer another three thousand years. You’re going now. It’s done.”

Tantalus’ heart is beating. It will not stop. It is like four little torturers having an agony party in his chest, one for every valve, and taking occasional vacations down his veins.

And for just a moment Tantalus believes in Martin.

For just a moment Tantalus forgets that he is doomed to this garden and this hell. For just a moment he believes there is a choice; and swiftly, perversely, he rejects it, rejects freedom, turns away from it, clings to his torment with the whole of him, with body, heart, and mind, crying: o my gardens! O my agonies! O my lakes!

And Martin grins.

“I want to stay,” Tantalus says.

Martin grins wider. He snaps his fingers. “Bang,” he says, and points his finger like a gun, because Tantalus has erred.

And desperately Tantalus reaches for the substance of his damnation, and it eludes him; claws for it, and it sinks into the dry parched earth; reaches for it, and the wind catches him up, blows the branches of him away, and he is gone.

“Alaia”: Craft

Now we have said that the last toothway to New Jerusalem had failed; and if you do not recall this matter, we will refresh you here.

And of course we have told how Hank Makeway came to the gums of Kailani Tate and cleansed them; here.

And the clarification, here, and the first tooth, here, and the error, here and here.

Now the goddess asks Hank a difficult question: how can he challenge her to assert her own great worth, when he knows—as her maker—that she hath not the strength for that assertion?

She asks him in bleakness; but his answer shall be craft. . . .

Craft

“These are Drink-Deep,” Hank says, “and Paneity.”

Under the weight of her attention, the horses shy.

“They are a transformation,” Hank says. “If you wish it. What is immured in worthlessness, in Paneity, is opened to freedom in Drink-Deep.”

The toothway goddess stares into the horses’ souls. She sees herself in wine-dark shades embedded in their fires. Their shape is internal to her own; to ride the horses’ path is to travel her own road, and enter New Jerusalem.

She gives the most tenuous murmur of consent.

Hank leads the horses to the left edge of Kailani’s mouth. He puts one hand on each of the horses’ backs.

“You may still refuse,” he tells the goddess.

She is silent.

So Hank nods. “Here,” he says.

In this process the smith takes part; horses are wise, but they have not the vision to bind a goddess to her self-conceit, nor do they have a smith’s invariance of purpose. Hank is integral to the transformation, as much a beginning and ending to the young goddess’ road as the horses or the gums.

The world twists in on itself. It rushes through him, until his skin and his teeth are alive with the waves of the horses and the goddess-mind. The knot pulls tight and the mortal consciousness of Hank Makeway dissolves to foam. Only a rootless remnant of attention remains, grasping desperately in the darkness for anything that shines.

There.

The knot pops from the thread.

Something grasps for its name, uncertain if it is horse, smith, or toothway. An intolerable pressure of ignorance builds up before at last its mind gasps, Henry.

“Henry,” he says. “Hank. Hank Makeway. I’m in the toothway. I’m . . . I just . . .”

He surges up to his feet.

“Are you all right?” he says.

“That is unfair,” says the goddess. “It is taking me rather longer to locate my name, considering.”

“I’d be widely praised,” Hank says, “by cartographers, if you’d settle for I-791.”

“I-791,” she says. “Intercity 791. Alaia.”

“Alaia Goodway,” he offers.

“Is this New Jerusalem?” she asks.

“What we usually say,” Hank says, “is that the experience shares a nomenclatural homology with New Jerusalem, but is topologically distinct; or, that is, not as such.”

Skeptically she defocuses her perception of him.

“This is knowing that you are a road to New Jerusalem,” Hank Makeway says. “This is the experience that encodes the same information as an experience that being there encodes as a place. This is being a toothway bounded by Drink-Deep and Paneity, who will remind you always that at a certain point and a certain time, we said together, ‘this toothway we have built is good.'”

“This toothway we have built,” she says. “Is good.”

For a long moment Hank simply contemplates his finished task; and there is love and joy burning in him like a fire.

Then he shakes himself free of the mood and takes up again the burdens of a smith.

The truth of the road has been defined, and the truth of its purpose; but there are three months, at least, of detailing work to go.

Hank walks up and down the ways. Flesh-Ripper plants the last teeth of the lower jaw, and Crust-Cruncher of the roof. Hank and the goddess clean and sort the threads of Kailani’s destiny and make a cavity-retardant shell for all her teeth.

Sometime near the end of this the yearning for completion becomes a wistfulness.

It is hard for a smith to let a toothway go; and harder for a toothway to surrender its smith.

But inevitably they reach the point where they can no longer find any little piece of work un-done; and with a last bittersweet polishing of the enamel, Hank Makeway declares his mission closed.

“You’re as right a road as ever made by smith,” he says.

Numinous in the mouth of Kailani Tate the goddess contemplates herself; and like the seraphim she finds it just.

“I wish we were not parting,” Alaia Goodway says. “And may Lauemford treat you well.”

There is the lightest tone of teasing in her voice, and Hank sticks out his tongue before returning to his camp.

“Want the horses?” he says.

“Crust-Cruncher,” she says, “perhaps.”

So he pats Flesh-Ripper on the neck and he sets Crust-Cruncher loose. He gathers up the material implements of his craft and he cooks his last meal in Kell’s gums.

It will be four years before the main teeth come in and the standards will call this toothway safe; but Alaia is an impatient god. The first pilgrims and daredevils are riding through before Hank’s even packed his bags.

“Alaia”: Bleakness

Now before you may understand the bleakness that flirts with the goddess and with Hank, you must refresh yourself on those events that led them here; so

here their story begins, and
here Hank cleans the gums, and
here Hank clarifies the map, and
here Hank makes Ms. Tate’s first tooth, and
here the bleakness is in sight.

They have seen the error in Hank’s crafting; but they do not know the answer to it, and thus they have chosen to laugh in the face of failure and proceed. . . .

Bleakness

As if to mock them both for their concern the error’s influence recedes. A limning of possibility sets in around the unfinished teeth, a flickering foxfire potential that might almost get a person from one place to another. Hank judges it as he works; it is a portion of what he needs, but it is not enough.

One evening, as he leans back against an anchor and stares out at the vistas of the gums, beauty and truth suddenly become new to him again. Rapt at the world, and driven by a bubbling sensation in his heart, he says, “How wonderful.”

She answers: curiosity.

“I miss her,” he says. “Sometimes. My master. And I think, every day that I am alive and I am a smith, ‘she made me. She found this in me, this—this Hank.’ And suddenly I feel so incredibly lucky— that I could be here, that I could be making a road where she made a road, that I could be doing what she’d done— and for a girl named Kell, no less.”

He can feel the truth of his words slipping out into the gums; swirling through the paths of them; coming back to him, resonant, openness for openness, until the world is charged with the awe at the ordinary that characterizes observations such as these.

She says, “You are shining.”

“Sometimes,” he says.

“Sometimes?”

“That’s what a person does, isn’t it?” he says. “We grind, and we shine.”

There is a shift in the world, visible to him much like a hopping bird seen from the corner of one’s eye.

Then the black wave of his error sweeps across him.

Hank’s error catches him in the shadow of it. Breath flies from him and pain rasps in his lungs. His perceptions occupy a strange mode and everything seems to fill with pink and purple rain.

content! Content?

name! name! inquiry!

The goddess speaks but he cannot understand it. It is not until the weight of error on him shifts aside that he hears it:

“Hank!”

His senses normalize. He orients. The wilderness sprawls before him and slowly his mind and body calm.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says. “But please—if you can, be still for a moment, that I might see.”

She stills.

She holds herself immobile against the stresses in herself, supplanted by the stays and ropes, and he watches; and then, at last, he relaxes into understanding.

“I’ve taught you to grind,” he says, “and not of shining, haven’t I.”

“And not of shining?”

“We grind,” Hank says, “to define things, don’t we? We take the great undifferentiated field of truth and polish it down to the bits we need.”

“Yes.”

“But we also shine,” Hank says, “the knowledge of our purpose. The being of us is a beacon that organizes that truth into a road.”

She hesitates. He can feel the disorganized churning of her thoughts.

“The road is its purpose,” Hank says. “Not just its truth.”

“I don’t want to shine,” she says.

“It’s hard,” Hank says.

“No,” she says, to emphasize her denial.

But he has his hands up and open, as if in surrender, and she does not carry her protest further.

He says, “I never explained. And it must have seemed like everything I did to make a road was just the grinding. And I never told you that it mattered so very much, that it mattered that I did these things to make the toothway to New Jerusalem; that I was not simply here, but here, with you, working together on its construction. So you could not have known.”

Pangs of unexpiated sorrow shift within her.

“It’s terrifying,” he says.

“Yes.”

He waits.

“Why is it terrifying, when I scarcely understand it?” she says.

“It’s a very great threat to your concept of yourself,” he says.

“Oh.”

“Do you understand,” he says, “that whatever it is that you choose to do, I shall help you?”

Concepts rise, short-circuit, and fade away.

confirmation, she says.

Hank smiles.

Tentatively, she adds, confusion and uncertainty, in the matter of the threat.

“To define oneself is to grind away all that is not oneself,” Hank says. “To make it pap for our digestion. And when a person then looks at themselves, they see that grinding, and say, ‘Ah, I am grinding, I am the process that reduces myself to the truth.'”

“Yes,” she says.

“One then begins to grind away at all that is self that is not grinding; and where does the process stop?”

“It does not.”

“Thus to shine is to pose the uttermost threat to the soul; for it says, ‘enough.'”

“I am flawed,” she says.

“Yes.”

“So I must grind that away.”

“Or trust that you are beautiful,” he says, like a hammer on some piton in the gum. And another: “And that I will treasure that beauty, as will those who in the future use these teeth to drive.”

Bleakness in the gums gives rise to a queer and empty mirth.

She says, “You expect too much of me. How can you expect so much of me, Hank Makeway, when you must know that I don’t have it to give?”

and there we stop, that you may meditate on the darkness before the dawn; we shall take up and conclude the story on the morrow.

“Alaia”: The Wild Wide Field

You’re just in time; we’ve been speaking of Hank Makeway, and if you hurry you can find the first parts of this story

here,
here,
here, and
here.

We’ve done the bit where the road to New Jerusalem had failed; and how Hank Makeway came to build a new; and how he made the first adult tooth in the mouth of Kailani Tate, of the twenty-eight he’ll build; how he was satisfied, and more than satisfied, with the work he’d done thus far; but of course, there was a flaw. . . .

The Wild Wide Field

Three weeks later, as he walks to the site of the fourth tooth, the goddess speaks.

“Why am I a road to New Jerusalem?”

“Why?”

She is quiet for a bit.

“I mean,” she says, “am I a self-defining creature, or am I unfree?”

Hank laughs.

He leans against a stay and he says, “There’s none of us chooses the circumstances of our birth.”

“No,” she says, dubiously.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” he says. “But you mustn’t tell anyone I told.”

Her interest sharpens. “Please!”

“You were always here,” Hank says. “You existed before me, before my horses, before even Kailani Tate. You were sleeping in the substrate of the world. You were here, but you were buried, and the truths you slept among occluded you. When I ground away everything that wasn’t a road to New Jerusalem, I un-differentiated it to leave only the substance of your body; and here you are.”

She is quiet for a while.

“Do you understand?” he says.

“I am free,” she says.

“More than free,” he says. “You are my partner in this, my student, my teacher. I am a builder of lattices, a grinder of gums, a master of horses, and a placer of stays. But I cannot make a toothway. That job is yours.”

“Maker of smiths,” she says.

His smile embarrasses him; he fights the urge to look down.

“Let me tell you of New Jerusalem,” he says.

And for a long time, as he works, he does. He tells her of the spires of New Jerusalem and of how it became holy to his people and his craft. Then he speaks of Kelly Whitecap and her labors; and of Mandate Wisdom before her; and Sephirot Gumsman, and Maker Ben, and Two-Tooth Jenny, and all the way back the line of smiths to that Razor Jenkins who’d first conceived of giving children teeth. He tells her of his own life and of how he came to study teeth and of the year he spent in New Jerusalem, suffused with grace. He shows her the marks of his studies there, two whitened bite scars still wrapped in angry red.

On the seventh tooth he becomes aware of the error in his crafting. He rips out the ivory of that tooth and tries again; after the third planting, he recognizes that the error is pervasive and not localized as he had thought.

Its nature is elusive.

He does not see it. He only feels it. There is something wrong. The toothway is correct thus far: it points nowhere save New Jerusalem. But it is his dim perception that that destination is lost in darkness: that a person who rode the toothway would certainly enact a movement from Lauemford to New Jerusalem, but could not actually arrive.

Grimmer now, he works as he plants new teeth to correct this flaw. He emphasizes the brightness of New Jerusalem as he goes. He spins fabulous webs of story around the factual accounts of that city’s affairs. He gropes for the substance of the error, trying to construct it in reverse in the hope of compensating.

“Something is wrong,” the goddess tells him.

Hank thinks about this for a moment. Then he confirms it.

“Yes.”

“I am failing,” she says.

Hank stares at a bleak and dismal place inside his soul for a time. Then he pulls his attention free and focuses on the gums.

“You can’t fail,” he says, “if you’re not being tested.”

“Oh.”

“Goddess,” he says, and rests his hand on the great pulse of her. “That is not how a smith thinks. Craft is not deciding how good we are. Craft is in the effort and the eyes.”

“The eyes?”

“Seeing the good,” Hank Makeway says. “The possibility. The hope. So that we may nurture it and bring it forth.”

There is a lightening of the overall self-doubt in the gums; but in compensation, a core shape and essence of the goddess’ uncertainty darkens, pulls in on itself, and begins to calcify its boundaries. He can feel its nascent protest; and he acts to poison it with hope.

“There is virtue,” Hank says, “in having some acceptance of failure, in the sense of lowering one’s expectations when we can no longer meet them. Of recognizing when we must change our dream. But before we can do that, before we can even consider changing the structure of our hopes, we must understand the nature of the difficulty; otherwise, it is simply speculation, self-doubt, tainted air.”

“But where is it?” she asks. “Where is our difficulty?”

“Somewhere in this wild wide field of beauty,” Hank says, gesturing around; and because he says it, she can see it thus.

and as for the error, we shall leave its story until Monday; such excitement better suits a Monday than a Saturday, after all.

“Alaia”: The First Tooth

You will recall that this is the story of Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth, and how he came to build a new toothway to New Jerusalem when the last of them had fallen.

Here is the beginning of the story; and the cleansing of the gums; and the clarification of their map.

Hank has sown the fourth of his eight horses; and now he feels a presence in the gums. . . .

The First Tooth

For the next month, things are easier.

Hank spends the month on walking.

He does not work, at least, not in the way a smith is usually working. Instead he lets the gums heal. He familiarizes himself with their newest contours. He plays with the remaining horses, and he sings songs, and he rambles aloud about the incidents of his life.

He displays himself openly, simply, and with trust.

He means this as an introduction of sorts. He has studied the gums of Kailani Tate. Now he sets aside time for the nascent goddess of her teeth to study him.

One day, that goddess says, “Hank Makeway.”

“Yes.”

A current of joy runs through the gums. Somewhere, Kailani Tate startles and drops her crayon.

Trepidation seizes the gums.

Communication is dangerous. It evokes in the goddess a fear of mistakes, of misstatements, of unmaking. For a long time afterwards, she says nothing more.

At the end of the month Hank starts working again. He sets up braces and stays along the paths of the gums. He anchors them with ropes and pulleys.

Curiosity moves. The goddess asks him, one day, as he’s setting up a smith’s stay, “What are you doing, Hank?”

“I want this bit of path to stay still,” he says.

He indicates a trickle of chemical energy that is tributary to the path.

“When there’s pressure along here,” he explains.

Later, as he sets up the ropes that bind a bit of path to one of his anchors, she says, “And here?”

“It’s structural support,” he says, “for the road to New Jerusalem.”

He takes Flesh-Ripper out to a certain place and he tells the horse, “Here.”

The horse dances upon the gums. Flesh-Ripper’s hooves come down, thum-thum-thum, and drive a crystal of pure ivory into the gums.

A palpable tension manifests. The pressure and the energy of the gums rises.

“Quickly, now,” Hank urges.

Fierce and driven, Hank moves his team from place to place, planting the scattered seeds for Kailani’s first new tooth. He is sweating and rigid and he moves with a sense of urgency; for if this part fails, he must rip out all the planted buds of ivory and start again. Time weighs on him in the form of material strain. The path around him is buckling and twisting, snapping about within the confines of the braces and the stays, and it will not hold forever. Once Hank loses his footing and his ankle flares with pain and he hears a snap and for a moment he fears that all is lost: but it is a buckle and not a bone that he has broken. He is agile enough to continue.

Only once in this process does the urgency in him relent. That is when the voice of the goddess comes softly through the gums, saying, “This is strange, Hank Makeway.”

Then he stills. He draws three breaths for calm. He says, “Is it?”

“It is.”

“Would you like me to explain?” he says.

And he smiles.

After a moment, she says, curiosity.

“This is a process of defining,” Hank says. “These paths of yours are sound and honest, but they are equivocal. They speak of many different things. I am scouring away their indecision and putting them in the shape of teeth.

“The teeth,” he finishes, simply, “are the road to New Jerusalem.”

Solemnly, she says the ritual lines: “New Jerusalem, suffused with grace.”

“You are in your shape a transformation,” Hank says, “that takes in Lauemford and becomes New Jerusalem— takes what is immured in Lauemford at the right of the jaw and opens New Jerusalem to it at the left.”

“Oh,” she says.

Then suddenly she parses the entirety of his statement. The word bursts from her as a laugh: “Lauemford!”

“Yes,” he says.

Lauemford,” she says, again.

Her tone is that of a child who has just learned that the milk she drinks every day comes out of a moo cow: joyous incredulity at the fallibility of the world.

I live in Lauemford,” he protests, hitting his chest. “I have a farm.

New gales of laughter pour forth. Hank frowns; then his cheeks burn; then, despite himself, he grins. His hurt pride becomes ridiculous to him. Hidden behind his smile, his heart begins to laugh. He squares his shoulders. He shakes his head and sighs. Then he goes back to work.

The stays are cracking but have not quite broken when he sets the last crystal in his design. Exhaling a great satisfaction, he stumbles to a stop.

The shape he’s crafted burns in Ms. Tate’s gums. Its mathematical character transfigures. Along the fault lines of symmetry and consanguinity lines of power burn. Metamorphosis seethes into gleaming lattices. The scattered seeds of Kailani’s first new tooth reach out to one another; see the shining of one another; see the seething potential in each other; embrace.

“Tooth,” says Hank, in quiet satisfaction.

Only mammals have differentiated teeth, murmurs a fragment of truth embedded in the gums; and “Tooth,” sighs after him the goddess of the gums.

It is very nearly perfect, this first of Kailani’s teeth.

There’s no smith less than Hank Makeway that could see the error in it at all; and even Hank misses it, this once.

One tooth down. Twenty-seven left to go.

but that is twenty-seven teeth too many to speak of them tonight; so we shall leave the next few for tomorrow, should it happen you won’t mind.

“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.

“Alaia”: The Gums of Kailani Tate

So where were we, then?

We have said how the last toothway to New Jerusalem had died; and how Hank Makeway took up the commission of a new one. And if you do not remember this then the path to that story is here.

Having accepted the assignment, Hank Makeway traveled to the gums of a suitable child, there to make his path. . . .

The Gums of Kailani Tate

The first task of a smith is to assess the lay of the gums. For weeks this is all that occupies Hank. He wanders back and forth within the child’s pinks, feeling out the secret ephemeral structure of the gums, assaying their striations. Where the gums are strict and abrasive he builds the camp-spots that will later become his anchors and his grinding points. Where the gums are fruitful and rich in the substances of teeth, he sifts out a molecule or two and rolls them between his fingers, heats and chills them, and shows them to the horses of his team. He “learns the clay,” as the toothway makers call it, and his face and body grow pink with a smattering of the kid’s gums’ dust. He walks the paths, the natural magnetic and chemical ways, that wander in rife disorder through the child’s gums, twisting around in great coils, turning back on themselves, leading off in great long dead ends, shaped as nature’s answer to the labyrinther’s art. Eventually he knows them well enough to walk them blind.

From the coded substances of the worldgristle spires he learns the child’s name is Kailani Tate and that her parents call her Kell. Vegetables she despises and mathematics adores; she wears checkered blue when she can, and rolls inexplicably upon the carpet as a form of play. He walks among her baby nubs and feels the records of her life, the paths of providence and freedom that shift left-right-left around the unstable center. Sweets she is not fond of, and he takes note of that, but even so decides to lay down the foundations for a cavity-retardant shell. The toothway to New Jerusalem is too vital to allow it to succumb to the hazards that face ordinary teeth.

Wandering among the baby teeth in the upper ridge, he finds a corrupted flow of the child’s fortune. He sits before it and stares at it for a good long time before rising and taking his first definite action: hammering a toothway needle into the enamel near the flow and marking it with an orange flag. In the lexicon of his craft, this means, “Here we go against the grain,” or, “Here the toothway supercedes the child’s fate.”

Only when he is wholly comfortable with Ms. Tate’s gums—only when he could imagine living there, like some primeval savage, among its labyrinthine paths: drinking from the gingival pools; slaughtering bacteria for his meat; and moving swift and sure and silent in the wilderness of her gums—does he begin.

At a grinding point central to her lower jaw he establishes his refinery and begins to cleanse the raw materials of her gums. He kindles a smith’s fire, stokes it and feeds it, builds it up until the grinding point is entirely inflamed and the landscape cast harshly into light. Along the pathways through her gums the gingiva soften, almost resentfully, and begin to roil. A black and purple film seeps out, a scum of impure elements, and accumulates along the paths. For a season Hank travels up and down the ways of Kailani’s gums, peeling thin layers of filth from the roads, hauling them down to the grinding points, and lathing them with bitter effort down to dust.

He is sore, each night, all through, when he takes him to his bed.

Finally he is done.

“Here,” he says, and caps the flame with Milk-Guzzler, drives her down into the grinding point until she becomes one with the fire and the pink.

Strange and wild power surges through the gums.

All around him he can feel the pulsing of that power, in time to the surging of what had previously been his horse. It is a beat of equine magic embedded in the world. It is flowing and stomping, chomping and chewing, and it is rending down forever the impurities of Kell’s gums.

He sleeps and wakes and when he wakes he groans, for before he can go further he must do the same thing for the roof; which is to say, all the same labor, all the same effort, only vertiginously upside-down in the substance of her higher gums. There he will place Stress-Grinder, as he placed Milk-Guzzler below.

Slowly Hank grinds the wilds into truth. Laboriously he imposes a red and angry honesty on the upper gums in turn.

and to tell you how he placed the next two horses will take, we think, some time; so let us leave it for another day.

“Alaia”: The Commission

The Commission

Bertrand plunges from the ether into the conducting fluid of Old Man Jennings’ mouth and Jennings’ teeth spread before him like an ivory road.

From tooth to tooth he runs, soaring between the gaps, to the consternation of the bacteria.

The manifest form of the god of Jennings’ mouth, its tendrils streaming, races beside him. It matches daring to daring, life for life, skipping in and out around Jennings’ teeth and nearly cutting Bertrand off at the left canine.

Pulling marginally ahead, Bertrand releases a great shout, “Ha!”

Then the life that burns in Jennings unexpectedly goes out.

The road dissolves around Bertrand. Bertrand’s shape becomes disorder. His pattern turns static and fades out. The god seizes him, wraps him in its tendrils, and gives him one more moment of coherence in which to send a warning free:

Old Man Jennings is dead.

Together they tumble to the places dead things go.

It was Kelly Whitecap who’d made Jennings’ teeth all those years ago. She’d gone into the surging wilds of his gums and given them form. Her spirit had dwelt with that toothway while it lasted, had shone forth from its craftsmanship for all who rode the road to see.

“And now,” says Hank, her last surviving student, “it’s like a little more of her is gone.”

Sandra puts her hand upon his back.

They’re staring at the toothway nub, a protrusion of enameled solidity into the indifferent substance of their world, and thinking of the path where once it led. Jennings wasn’t the last of Kelly Whitecap’s brood, but he’d been her best: untroubled perfect teeth for all the long years of his life, a joyful god, and a road to New Jerusalem.

“In thirty years,” Hank says, “nobody’ll even know that work like hers was done.”

Sandra becomes angry when he says that. Red blooms on her face and a throbbing tension grows inside her limbs. But she doesn’t say anything in response, not until several minutes have passed.

“Some kid,” she says, “out there, some kid’s going to need teeth that go to New Jerusalem.”

“Some kid,” Hank says. He stares out at the void. Then he startles. “You don’t mean me? You don’t mean I’m to make them? Sandra, I’m retired.”

“Like I don’t know that,” Sandra says.

“Oh?”

“But you’re wasting yourself,” Sandra says. “Out in the suburbs with your sheepfoam and your fields. You’re bloody Hank Makeway, Hank, you’re the smith of children’s teeth, and you’re going to make a toothway to New Jerusalem now that the last of them’s been sealed. You’re going to make your master proud, Hank, and I’m going to give you the horses you’ll use to do it.”

A little smile crosses his face.

“Ah, there’s the truth of it,” he says.

He’s teasing her for having an ulterior motive, but it makes her, if anything, more stern.

“I made them,” Sandra says, “six years ago, Hank. A team of eight white horses, pure as the teeth of Heaven, and I knew they were for you. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when and I sure didn’t plan it in the making of them. But there isn’t anyone else for them, Hank. And there isn’t anyone else for this.”

“The world is such a fragile thing,” Hank says.

He’s staring at the toothway nub. He’s thinking of all of us who make our work and put our lives into our work and know that it will one day pass.

That’s when she knows he’ll do it; and after a moment, he knows it too.

He puts on the decision like he’s shouldering a coat, and the old weary smile comes onto his face, and he says, “It’ll be beautiful, won’t it?”

“They all are,” Sandra says.

The horses that a smith rides out are standing waves. They are surging, elemental things, like white fires burning in the bleakness. Now one imagines the shape of an equine head; now the stomping, chomping movement becomes a hoof, and it leaves its imprint semicircle on the floor. Wine-Drinker shakes his hair and it seems there is a fall of leaves. Crust-Cruncher dances in her place and pulls against her reins. And beside them are Flesh-Ripper, Stress-Grinder, Milk-Guzzler, Drought-Ender, Drink-Deep, and Paneity. Such are the horses Sandra’s made for Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth.

He stares at them in awe.

Hank holds his hand out to Drought-Ender. He feels a licking awareness of the horse’s presence against his open palm. He makes a caress; the horse shifts suddenly closer, stares with her wild eyes into his own, and he is transfixed as a man in the presence of a god. But reflex saves him; his hand tightens; he murmurs, “What there?” and the horse sees the smithcraft in him and goes quiet, gentle, even calm.

“Three for the road,” says Sandra. “Three for the roof.”

“And two to set the teeth in,” Hank answers.

She shines with quiet pride.

“Already,” he says, in gentle complaint, “I am to replace the work of Kelly Whitecap; and make a road to New Jerusalem, suffused with grace. And now you give me this to equal, Sandra of the Rise.”

“And now I give you this to equal,” she agrees.

So he takes up the ropes and picks and standards of his art and he says, “Do we know a ripening child?”

“Sleeping in Chicago’s spires,” Sandra says. “Between the towers and the gums.”

“Streets,” he corrects.

“Whatever.”

And Hank sets out.

but it is late and we are weary; so we shall wait until tomorrow to tell you how Hank ground the wilds into truth.

“Alaia”: Introduction

There is a secret in mathematics,

confided Mrs. Schiff.

Imagine that you were to take the side of a square of area equal to removing a single object from your life; and measure its length. You would get, naturally enough, a left turn of 90 degrees—so says a mathematician.

Otherwise the metaphors of mathematics do not hold up.

There is no reason, of course, why “a left turn of 90 degrees” should be the answer to the question,

“What is that length?”

But that,

explained Mrs. Schiff,

is irrelevant in mathematics as in life. What is important is that there is no reason it should not be a left turn of 90 degrees. Were you to imagine that it were 3, then there should be many reasons against it; or if you were to describe it as an error, it would impoverish your expressive capacity; or if you were to suggest that it were a torus, mathematicians would rightly look upon you as unhelpfully mad. But a left turn—that has potential.

Now what do you get when you need a road from Lauemford to New Jerusalem?

Listen,

whispered Mrs. Schiff,

and I will tell you a secret.

This is the story of Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth.

Wii News*

“Shake your fists at bad news,” the television explains.

Jane grips a peculiar controller in one hand. She grips an attached controller in the other.

The television displays an ordinary street in an ordinary town.

Jane shakes her fists!

A red bar stretches across the bottom of the screen. It fades to orange, then to yellow, then peaks.

“Mild outrage,” declares the television. “HIGH PRICES!”

The prices in the store windows of the town go up. Pedestrians walk around in outrage.

“It really happens, you know,” Martin comments.

“Hm?”

“That’s what makes it ‘news’ and not a ‘simulation.'”

“Oh!”

Jane looks apologetically at the unhappy pedestrians.

“I mean, it’s okay,” Martin emphasizes. “News happens all the time. But it happens.”

“News is everywhere,” Jane agrees.

The television image shifts to a fire in California. “Cheer for good news!” it explains.

The fire is sweeping through the undergrowth.

Birds die. Chipmunks roast. In a house next to the woods a baby is crying.

Hesitantly, Jane puts her thumb up.

There’s silence.

Cheer for good news,” the television reminds her.

Jane looks at her thumb. After a moment, she blushes.

“Right!” she says.

She pumps her right fist in the air, the left controller dangling. A green bar rises. It crests.

“This just in,” the television declares, a little reporter popping up in the upper right corner. “Fire extinguished!”

The fire vanishes.

A fireman rushes in.

“Bonus good news!” the television says, “Fireman saves baby!”

The fireman seizes up the baby and runs out of the house.

The television shifts to a riot in Ghana.

“Free play!” it says.

Jane pumps her fist in the air. She pumps harder and harder.

“Good news!” the television declares. The riot settles. Everyone realizes that violence solves nothing. Jane pumps her fist harder. Systemic injustice vanishes! People begin to riot from sheer happiness.

“Let me try,” Martin says.

“No way!”

“I bet I can shake my fists harder than you can,” Martin says.

Jane hesitates.

“Here,” he says. “It’s got a two-player mode.”

Martin’s already taking up his own controllers.

“Only if you’ll help me eradicate systemic injustice.”

“In Sweden,” Martin counters.

“The Americas.”

“Sweden and Chicago.”

“The Middle East.”

“Canada. And that’s my final offer.”

Jane thinks.

“Maybe if we waited for a neutral story?” she suggests.

“What, like adorable baby tigers found on the subway?”

“Mm,” Jane says, happily, imagining. Then she jolts out of her reverie. “Hey!”

Martin coughs.

“Evil ducks threatened by tidal wave,” the television notes.

“Evil ducks?”

“Tidal wave?”

Jane and Martin look at one another. Together, they say, “It’s win-win!”

* for technical reasons this legend is not actually about the Wii News Channel.