25. The Only Impossible and the Circus Dances

Brass tacks. Either she is crazy, or she isn't.

If she is crazy, then they were right, even if it was for the wrong reasons, to send her to the hospital. But then they were certainly wrong to let her out at her request. But that's only Abram's version. Somehow it doesn't seem likely that they'd have simply let her go, before the month was up. Did the new laws even allow that? Christ! Why don't you know more about the law? You're such an asshole.

Assume they didn't let her go.

Then she escaped. And now they're covering it up.

You're a paranoid asshole.

A danger to herself or to others. A danger to herself ...

But assume she wasn't insane. Then why did they arrest her, send her to the loony bin? Because they thought she was acting crazy. They acted in good faith, for her best interests. They made a mistake. And once she was at the hospital, the doctors realized a mistake had been made. And so they agreed with her that she didn't belong there. And they let her go. And she has not called me or come to see me because she's angry. She feels betrayed.

Or they put her in a mental hospital for other reasons. Because they didn't like the way she was acting. Didn't like who she was fraternizing with. Didn't like what she was getting up to. So they used a loophole in the new laws to have her committed. The new laws were too vague, and were being twisted to nefarious use. Anyone with a stomachache who thought the President wasn't telling the whole story could be labeled crazy. Anyone who caused trouble could be framed as insane, out of touch, antisocial, paranoid. Anyone, period, could be put in an insane asylum.

Pretty fucking paranoid, asshole.

But then, would they have let her out again? Maybe. Maybe the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. But he doubted that they would have overhauled the Mental Health Act, yet left a window wide open like that. More likely she had escaped (she was sane enough to figure out how to) and they were covering it up, saying that she had been "released," "discharged."

In which case, she might be in danger.

Because she knows something that they don't want known. Something they certainly wouldn't want published.

In a newspaper. By a famous reporter.

If she's in danger, then I'm in danger too.

Those were the alternatives. Which of them was most plausible?

In any case, he had to find her. All he had was her email. He rummaged in his pockets for his PDR, his eyes on the brake lights of the car in front of him. In one of his pockets he found a curling piece of paper. With one hand, he unfolded it against the dashboard. It was the drawing, or hieroglyph, from the hospital wall. He didn't remember asking if he could take it; he didn't remember taking it.

"Miranda," he dictated slowly, "I was very happy to hear that you have been discharged. I assume the reason you haven't got in touch is that you're a little starched with me. I don't blame you. Please believe that your mother and I thought at the time we were doing, if not the right thing, then the only thing possible in the circumstances."

Christ, this was soppy stuff. He stole a glance from the road to see what he had so far. The PDR's voice-mangling software had come up with: "Burr and I was. Hairy acne adhere the two of but discharge tie. Sue m??th reason you have it got in into cheese thatch or a little st?? twist me I'd own to blame you. Pleasing leave. That or another and I talk at that I'm we weren't ??ing if not their I think than the only impossible and the circus dances."

He tried to cancel the message. It disappeared; his PDR emitted a chirp of satisfaction, and he realized that he had actually sent it.

Fuck. He passed an old All-American that was crawling along in the right lane, then started a new message, typing with one thumb: "Call me asap. Something important to discuss. Hope yr alright. D."

Someone behind him blasted their horn, then sped by him. He gave them the finger. He sent the email, then called Mike.

"How much of this book of yours is true?"

"All of it," he said. "All my books are true."

"Sex with robots ...?"

"Everything," Mike corrected himself, in the tone of correcting someone else, "is extrapolated from the truth. One thing about me as a writer that not a lot of the reviewers pick up on, but readers do, is that I'm essentially a political writer. By that I mean that I only use this genre to sugar-coat the bitter pill. And that pill is a hard little lump of absolute fact. What I'm really writing about is what's wrong with the world today. Listen—have you ever read Gulliver's Travels?"

"How much of this stuff about mass schizophrenia is true?"

"Mass congephrenia?"

"I mean, did you do a lot of research? Is this extrapolated? Is this Trilling guy extrapolated?"

"He's based," said Mike, "loosely, on a person I spoke to. His ideas are inspired by this person's ideas. But you don't understand the craft of fiction if you think that I just take people in real life and put them into books, just cram them in there wholesale. A lot of reviewers seem to think that's how it works, but, well, it isn't."

An idea. "Hold on a second, Mike."

"Hey, you sound funny."

"I'm on voice."

"Maybe that's it. Hey, are you driving?"

"I'll call you back."

He waited till he was on the expressway to root around in his wallet for Dr. James Thomas's business card.

"Thomas here."

"Hello, I've got a question for you, Doctor Thomas."

"Well, alright ..."

"What does the law say about the one-month observation period in mental hospitals? Is that an obligatory thing, even for people voluntarily admitted? Or can you just check out any time you want, or what?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not sure who I'm talking to here."

"Does it matter who you're talking to?"

There was a pause, then Thomas seemed to decide something. "I see," he said. "Well, yes, goodbye." He hung up.

Drew redialed.

"Thomas here."

"Fuck you, asshole."

He called Mike back, and asked him the same question.

"I don't know. I printed some of that shit off for you, but the actual laws themselves are dense, man. You practically would need a lawyer just to translate it into English. And it wasn't all that important for what I was doing. I take what I need, what I can use, and extrapolate the—listen, I'd feel a lot better if you pulled over. I can hear the traffic whizzing by. You know driving gives me the jams."

"So in the book, how does it go, what's her name, Vanessa, she gets put in a mental institution because they don't like what she's been digging around in, right?"

"They don't like what he's been digging around in, and they lock her up to, you know, distract him. Mess with his head."

"And then how does she get out? I haven't read that far. How does she get out again? She escapes or something, right?"

"Shit, no, she doesn't escape. She dies in there. She kills herself inside the hospital. That's the thing. That's what's so completely ... She actually does go crazy, from being treated like she's crazy. It's the hospital itself that makes her go nuts."

Drew was silent. Then he thought of her file. The admission forms, the discharge order, the pages of gobbledygook. "Hey Mike, I'm gonna send you some files here."

"You still got my encryption key?"

"I'm sending it from my PDR."

"No, man, don't do that. That shit can be sniffed so easily."

"Okay, okay. It can wait."

"You're not writing an article about all this, are you?"

"I don't know." He hadn't thought about it. "Maybe."

"But do you think they'll actually let you—"

The highway disappeared.

Where was he?

His head had been thrown back. There was the highway.

Mike was shouting, "What was that? What was that?"

"I think I hit something."

"Jesus Christ," Mike wailed. "Jesus Christ, man ..."

No. Something hit me.

A black car sped past.

"Are you okay? Say something there, Drew. I'm completely stretching out here ..."

"It's okay. I'm okay. Somebody rear-ended me and drove off."

"The fuck!"

"I'm pulling over."


"I'm fine. It just came out of nowhere."

"Did you get his license plate? No, never mind, pull over first. Did you get his license plate?"

"You're joking."

"The guy just hit-and-ran! Get his fucking license plate!"

"What am I going to do with a license plate number?"

"The police, man, police databases, DMV databases ... Find where this motherfucker lives! I mean, godfuckit."

"I've already pulled over, and anyway he's long gone."

"Shitmeat! I can't believe this is happening."

"Mike, I'm hanging up now."

"Whiplash!" Mike screamed.

Drew took a breath. Another. All his extremities were tingling, as if from frostbite. His insides were jumping around; when he closed his eyes he could almost see the pandemonium. He couldn't feel his cancer, though.

Cars slashed past his window, rooster-tailing water. He climbed out the passenger-side door and circled to the back of the car. The fender had been neatly crumpled, as though by some tool designed for the purpose. It was not obvious; he would not need to get it repaired.

His body had gone quiet.

He put a hand on the back of his neck and closed his eyes.

He felt a dizzying levity expand through the emptiness inside him. Every nerve inside him was lit like a candle.

He was dying; this was death! The body turning to ether, the atoms pulling apart ...

Or was he only now fully alive?

He opened his eyes. It wasn't raining. The expressway was wet, the passing cars pelted him with their spray, but it was not raining.

The sky was a strange orange color.

But no, it wasn't the sky. It was the billscreen he had seen earlier.

But now it said something different. Now it said, plainly, in letters five times his height:

what would your family do if you died?