EC 1.10 (8-10-94)
by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.
Thinking it's time to say something about Virtual Reality, the promised interactive digital future, Dr. Doug steps outside.
The door looms suddenly before him. He reaches forward, touches the large brass knob, feels fingers close around the oval surface. The knob fills his right hand, and he grips it tightly, recalls the embossed design he'd noticed first last year. Had the knob been smaller, round and plain, once? There's always resistance at first, and he feels the tendons in his hand tighten, turns the knob slowly, pushes against the oak door, steps through.
A first, full, slow breath as he takes in the scene. There's sunlight on the end of the path, fifty yards ahead, and he can see the meadow beyond. Cool, moist air and a trace of something pungent -- a campfire? He glances to the left. Water is visible through the trees and brush, and sunlight is catching mist on the open patch across the bay. "Warm," he realizes, as he turns to see the sun through rippling aspen leaves at his right. He turns back to the path, deciding. A tap of left index finger on palm, and he hears it, a mile or more west: one long rising note, three hooting calls fading to silence. "Loon," he thinks, imagines it at the end of the lake, waits. There is no sound from the nearby bay, and he wonders if it's there, the mate with its chick floating beside it, almost stops to recall whether he'd decided it must be there. He steps off the porch, walks to the path with long strides, feels soft ground on sneakers. "Heavy dew. Must have been cold last night," he thinks. There are cobwebs on the small plants along the path, sparkling in the first sunlight of the day. He stops, bends to peer at the tiny gray funnel on the plant nearest him. Were there strawberries here earlier in the summer? ("Of course there were, dumbo. You put them there, remember?")
Pushing the thought away, he stands quickly and picks up the pace, covers the last hundred yards of the path in seconds, finds the canoe on the tiny point at the bay. It's heavy for one man to turn over, and he realizes how much strength he has in his arms from these morning sessions. A young man's strength. He flips the boat over, pushes it on the wet grass to the water's edge, shoves off with one surprisingly long thrust of his right leg, bends and holds the gunnels as he moves to the stern and turns around, kneels with just the edge of his butt on the seat, gets the paddle in the water. The canoe turns easily and he moves across the bay with long, steady strokes. Ahead, sunlight points to lily pads and marsh grasses across the bay. He shifts the paddle to starboard, feels his chest expand as he brings the heavy canoe to speed, realizes he could do this all day.
The bay is almost perfectly calm, the wake of the canoe a long V behind. He looks down, notices a large fish paused in the milfoil four feet below the surface, pushes his paddle suddenly toward it, sees it dart toward the depths. Halfway across the bay, he looks toward the wild rice ahead. Yes, there they are, mother loon and half-grown chick, floating a dozen yards from shore. He turns the canoe slightly, gives it two more strong strokes, sets the paddle quietly on the gunnels in front of him, floats silently toward the birds. He'll pass within a few feet of the mother, and she seems to notice him for the first time, moves between her chick and the approaching canoe, suddenly opens her long beak.
As always, the call is startling, riveting. Something from beyond time, the sound of northern lakes in endless summer mornings. He's holding his breath, staring at her, terrified again after all these years. Three long rapid yodels, and as the echo fills his ears, both loons dive. He looks down beside the canoe, thinking they may swim under him , sees his reflection in the still water, and ....
The mirror. Antique pretentious gilt scrollwork frame around the beveled glass at the edges. He'd thought that a nice touch -- no banal recall button, but mirror, mirror, on the wall .... A heavy face --his face -- looks back at him, leans forward slightly with that bullshit serious look that's supposed to tell him it's time to work.
"C'mon back, buddy."
He notices he's holding his breath, lets it hiss past the mask as he breaks the cheek-seal, tilts the goggles up, blinks in the fluorescent light of the room, sets the headpiece without a glance on the table beside him, reaches down to pop the seals on the suit. The arm and chest coverings loosen and he peels them off. Skin's moist with the lightly scented stuff that reminds him, as always, that he hasn't sweated. This stuff evaporates in seconds. The neoprene rolls off hips and legs, and he sets the VR hood and both pieces of the TD suit in the closet, closes the door, turns back to the rest of his life.
The office is as he left it twenty minutes before. Newsbox is flashing discretely, probably with CN 'feeds in response to last night's request to get him current with the political situation in the New Maghreb. Amber light on the clock display means incoming mail, probably an update from Evans about the In-Tech consult. "Could be something from her," he thinks suddenly. Not email -- some kind of package he'll have to sign for at the door, unwrap. Something with texture and smell, something woven. The face he never puts in the VR program smiles from memory for just the instant it takes to realize there'll be no more presents, no touch of fingers to cheeks, press of unsuited bodies, crayon-smell of pheromones on pillow. That was then, where morning comes to you unprogrammed through a ripple of aspen, where the body sings its own song, where the loon waits. This is now. He grabs the long cotton pullover from the peg by the VR suit closet, steps over to the recliner, lets his heavy, dry, body settle before the screen, pulls the keyboard toward him, types a password.
Next week: Gone With the Wind.
... and in Winter ...
Copyright (C) Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.