Authors: Sheri S. Tepper
MARIANNE, THE MADAME, AND THE MOMENTARY GODS
Sheri S. Tepper
In the last years of the twentieth century (as Wells might have put it), Gollancz, Britain’s oldest and most distinguished science fiction imprint, created the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series. Dedicated to re-publishing the English language’s finest works of SF and Fantasy, most of which were languishing out of print at the time, they were – and remain – landmark lists, consummately fulfilling the original mission statement:
‘SF MASTERWORKS is a library of the greatest SF ever written, chosen with the help of today’s leading SF writers and editors. These books show that genuinely innovative SF is as exciting today as when it was first written.’
Now, as we move inexorably into the twenty-first century, we are delighted to be widening our remit even more. The realities of commercial publishing are such that vast troves of classic SF & Fantasy are almost certainly destined never again to see print. Until very recently, this meant that anyone interested in reading any of these books would have been confined to scouring second-hand bookshops. The advent of digital publishing has changed that paradigm for ever.
The technology now exists to enable us to make available, for the first time, the entire backlists of an incredibly wide range of classic and modern SF and fantasy authors. Our plan is, at its simplest, to use this technology to build on the success of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series and to go even further.
Welcome to the new home of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Welcome to the most comprehensive electronic library of classic SFF titles ever assembled.
Welcome to the SF Gateway.
There were no words in her mind at all. None of the tools of thinking were there, not yet. Nonetheless, she saw faces peering down at her, saw smiles on lips, heard chortling words and knew them. They were people. The words of recognition came swimming through her mind like familiar fish. Mama. Papa. Great-aunt Dagma.
She was three days old.
The room was as familiar as the people. Light came from the right, moving in a recognized way as the wind stirred the curtains at the tall window. She already knew the tree outside that window, already knew the lawn beneath that tree. On her fourth birthday there would be a pony tethered there for her birthday gift.
She knew the house, every closet and attic of it. There were no rooms in it that she was not already aware of, knowing the boundaries and smell and feel of them, tight wall or loose, small window or large, the wonderful magic of familiar-familial spaces. There was porch space, half-open, half-shut in, where tree shadows made walls and the spaces between branches made windows for the wind to reveal and the sun to dart through. There was cavernous attic space, smelling of dust and dead moth bodies, stacked with sealed boxes as mysterious as old people, full of experiences she had not had yet, was not certain she wanted, yet anticipated with a kind of wondering inevitability. There were long, carpeted halls with windows at the ends and dark in the middle, the twining vines and exotic fruits on the rugs making a safe path down the center from light to light. There were bedrooms, each breathing of a special inhabitant with scent and aura peculiar to that one. There was a deep, stone-floored kitchen that begged for a witch’s cauldron and a dragon on the hearth.
She already knew them all.
She was not aware that this knowledge was in any respect abnormal or unusual. This was the way of her world. The place was known.
place was known.
Her people, too, were known. Cloud-haired mama with her soft skin and smiling mouth; bearded Papa with his hard laugh and huge, swallowing hugs; Great-aunt Dagma with her jet-black brows and lashes under hair as white as snow, with eyes that twinkled sometimes and bit sometimes like sharp little puppy teeth. Marianne could see into all of them as though they were glass.
Except for half-brother Harvey. He, too, stood at the crib-side, making admiring noises in his suddenly bass, suddenly treble thirteen-year-old voice, but when she looked at him she could not see beyond the surface of his eyes. He was like the pool in the garden when it got muddied after rain, cloudy, hiding everything. One knew there were fish in there, but one could not see them. One could only guess at their cold trajectories, their chilly purposes, and the guessing made one shiver with apprehension. So with Harvey. She did not know him, and awareness of this blighted an otherwise perfect understanding of everything around her. Not that she thought of it in this way. If she acknowledged it at all, it was simply to identify Harvey as different and scary. He, unlike anything else in her environment, was capable of being and doing the utterly unexpected.
When she was three, they took her to the city.
The motion of the car put her to sleep, and when she awoke, she saw through the window of the car an endless procession of stranger houses. Each house was tight against the next, all of them staring out at the street in a glare of hard, blue light, watching her. She began to scream.
Mama picked her up and cuddled her, asking her what it was that hurt and whether it was teeth or tummy. It was neither. It was the sight of that endless row of stranger houses that had frightened her half out of her infant wits. They were the first closed places she had ever seen, the first unfamiliar sights or sounds in her life, and they came as a hideous surprise.
If Papa had not had to take a detour, they would have gone through a park. Somehow, she remembered a park. The picture of the park superimposed itself on the row of houses and she fell asleep again. There should have been a park.
Thereafter, from time to time, she experienced similar superimpositions, as though her life were a palimpsest on which one experience was written over another in confusing detail so it was difficult to know which was real and which was something else. Not less real, she thought as she began to be old enough to think about things. Simply less relevant to the other things that were going on.
Her second encounter with a closed, unfamiliar place came a year or so later, when she was old enough to go for long walks. Her hand held tightly in Nanny’s hand, she strolled down the driveway and out onto the country road. She remembered turning left, but they actually turned right to walk down the road toward the river, passing on the way a tall, gray stone house set well back from the road with windows that stared at her from half-lowered lids. Its door pursed its sill and scowled. As in that time she had visited the city, she wept. She couldn’t tell Nanny what was wrong, she hadn’t the words for it, and everyone assumed some childhood indisposition when it wasn’t that at all. It was simply that she did not know the gray house.
Every morning she could remember, Marianne had awakened knowing the people and places and events that day would bring. Each event was ready for her in her recollection, even before she experienced it, as well as the consequences of that event, sometimes far in the future. If she helped the gardener plant bulbs, the ultimate flowers were already there in her mind, though she would not actually see the blooms until spring. As she was lifted onto her pony for the first time, she already remembered learning to ride it. The horse she would love so much would come later, and the memory of that future horse was evoked by the present pony even as she struggled to master the muscles needed to stay on. Her body experienced it for the first time, but her mind – it already
. It needed only a clue to come to mind. Bulb evoked flower. Pony evoked horse. All her teachers were amazed. ‘She seems to soak it up like a little sponge,’ her riding teacher said, laughing a little uncomfortably. It seemed unfair to the other children that this one should take it all in so easily.
She assumed, for a time, at least, that everyone lived as she did, knowing what would come before it happened, knowing the places they lived in as soon as they were born. She assumed everyone had occasional visions of some alternate reality, sometimes dull, sometimes bright, sometimes frightening and bizarre. She did not know that she was unique, that no one else in the world lived as she did. She was unwilling to accept that there might be people and places that remained strangers. Instead she chose to believe that the knowledge would come later. She would get to know them someday. Someday there would be no more unfamiliar streets, no more closed doors, no more shut windows. Someday, when she was grown-up, everything would be understood. The gray house, with all its spaces, its roofs and porches, its closets and attics would come to her, part of growing up. She would be able to greet it as she walked on the street. ‘Hello old green-shingly-with-the-cupola. Still have that mouse family in the attic?’ Someday, she told herself comfortingly, intercepting a hard, opaque stare from her half brother, she might know Harvey, too. It would come. She would use the huge, old gray stone house as a yardstick to determine whether the time had come or not.
The season came when she started to school, and for the first time she began to suspect she might be different from other children. Why should she enter the school on the first day knowing everything about it, while other children cowered and cried as though it were new and strange? Other children did not know where their classrooms were. Why did she? They did not know where the bathrooms were or where the drinking fountain had made a weirdly shaped yellow stain on the wall, like an upside-down giraffe. To Marianne it was all as familiar as though studied in advance. Why should she know her teacher’s name before they met when other children didn’t know? She had to accept the fact that they did not know, and in doing so she learned of her own strangeness. She did not want it to show, so she learned to counterfeit surprise and mimic apprehension. Still, she could never do so without feeling that somehow she was lying.
She walked to school each day, often going out of her way to pass the great gray house. Each day she peeked at it, quick, birdlike glances, waiting for the day when it would open like a flower with all its high stairs and dormer windows, waiting for the first glimmer of recognition. That year, the year she was six, went by and the house did not open. Nor when she was seven, or eight.
Still, she believed it would happen. She believed it for a long time, until one day she talked to Great-aunt Dagma, who was very old and thus of an age to have opened all the places of the world, and found that Great-aunt Dagma didn’t know the gray house at all.
‘Why, child, I haven’t any idea,’ she said. ‘I’ve never been in it. It’s occupied by some people called Carlson, I believe, but as to whether it has an attic or not? I just don’t know.’