[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]
The hardest part of that whole night is the show.
One quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower is a jumbled ruin. Claire’s scalp won’t stop bleeding even though she’s used a Sesame Street bandaid. Broderick is coughing and coughing because he’s allergic to disaster.
Nobody’s seen Sid, Mr. Schiff, or Rahu.
Martin says that the imago’s fallen—that when the tower started shaking, she just canted over and fell into a giant hole in the floor.
Max’s room is a wreck and his nerves are a jangle.
And amidst all this they must put on a performance of Hamlet 2: The Arrows of Fate, to be broadcast from the tower to a hypothetical audience outside the boundaries of the world.
“Why?” says Max.
Martin looks at him blankly.
“Dude,” Martin says, “haven’t you ever watched that play and said, ‘How can anyone possibly make a sequel?'”
Martin’s got a crushed pinky, which makes him substantially better off than Max in the current wounds department.
“The machinery’s barely even working!” protests Max.
Martin twists his hands into various positions, thinking. “You’re worried about Sid,” he says.
Martin’s hair is all over masonry dust.
“Then try not being all freaky about hypothetical vivisections,” Martin says. “Sometimes you’ve got to torture somebody to death. Just look at Hell, or Guantanamo, or that old riddle about whether you’d rather torture one guy to death or let everyone in the world die. It happens.”
Max stares at Martin.
Martin looks back at him.
“It’s an inevitable byproduct of adequate force,” Martin explains.
So Max goes backstage and he helps Iphigenia unclog the pipes.
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.
The Island of the Centipede
They dig Mr. Schiff out of the rubble a few hours after the play. He makes protesting noises because they have woken him up.
Before they find Sid or Rahu or the imago, Martin finds Max. Max is dragging a large tumbled stone out of the way of a blocked-off room.
Martin pulls himself up on a chunk of rubble. He sits there, watching Max for a minute.
“Do you trust me?” Martin says.
“Here’s the thing,” Martin says. “I kind of accidentally wiggled a tectonic plate by giving the wrong person a fig newton.”
Max stops pulling.
He rubs sweat off his forehead.
“I don’t believe you,” says Max.
“To the west,” Martin says, “the shock’s opened up a hole in the crust of the world and there’s a fountain of good rising from it.”
“I need someone to deal with it,” Martin says.
“You’d think that we could leave it be.”
“It’s difficult to improve things once they get too good,” Martin says. “An actual singularity of virtue would render fixing the world impossible.”
“Why—?” Martin says.
Then he stops himself and thinks.
“Your logic is ancillary to an inherently limited perspective,” Martin dismisses.
“So to the west there is a goodblow,” Max says, “Like God breaking forth into the world to save us all from suffering. And you want me to go stop it.”
“Yes,” Martin says. “With extreme prejudice.”
“It’s ridiculous,” says Max. “It’s fighting against what we want the most.”
“I can’t make you,” Martin admits.
Max goes back to work.
“You won’t find Sid,” Martin says.
“He is restless,” says Martin. “And despair is forbidden to him. He throws himself against the walls of his cage and sometimes they overcome him. He is absent from these moments in which it is too much to bear. He is scuttled from the world.”
“Oh,” says Max.
Martin drops down to his feet and strolls towards away.
“Wait,” says Max.
“If I do it,” says Max, “you make Sid an is.”
“You ridiculous dolt,” says Martin.
He walks away.
It is June 2, 2004.
Max wakes up and he already knows what he has to do.
He goes down to the catamaran dock.
He looks off to the dark and brooding west.
And Jane is waiting on the grass to see him off. And she is looking at him with her brow furrowed in thought, and she says, “You’re here.”
“Is that okay?” he says.
Little girls tend to like emanations of absolute virtue, so you can see why he asked.
Jane laughs. “Noooo,” she says. “I don’t mean here, at the dock. I mean, here.”
She looks at him.
“You had bad things in your closet. Then Sid chased them away. Then you were King of the playground. Then you played basketball.”
She is being careful with these words. She is slow and deliberate, even with the easy words and simple things.
“Then you were brave and saved Mr. McGruder. Then you loved Sid. Then you saw another siggort and talked Sid into helping Ronald Reagan become President. Then you fought a King. Then you ran away. Then you read a book and afterwards you went to the place without recourse. Then you called Sid there. Then you got out but he didn’t. Then you came here to help him put on plays. Then you shot him and now you want to sail west.”
“Yes,” says Max.
He grins a little. “And what does that mean to you?” he asks.
“The world’s bright and spits up super beauty everywhere,” says Jane.
“And so there are things that Max. That go Max. Like you. That is what it means.”
Max grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.
“Thanks,” he says.
Jane holds out a box. It’s like a cribbage box, but bigger, with a slide-open top.
“Here,” she says.
“What is it?” Max asks.
Jane begins giggling. Max watches in perplexity.
Finally, she stammers out, “Severance pay.”
There are more giggles.
“Ah,” he says.
He takes the box. He frowns at her. But he can’t keep frowning.
She’s smiling at him so brightly that he hugs her.
Then he sails to the west.