Larry Winchester ("Like Melville in his epic scope, like Whitman in his poetic music, like John Ford with his painterly eye, like Groucho Marx in his humor” -- Harold Bloom, in a speech before the Oprah Book Club) now brings an understandably flustered Daphne Ridpath onto the set for her close-up...
(Click here to go back to the very beginning of our tale. Go here to review our previous chapter, which will be included in the material covered in next week’s exam.)
So I’m in the spaceship. Three dead spacemen, two dead foreign spies, and Dick and Harvey the soldier boy at least temporarilyhors de combat. Because after this mystical healing thing they both just sort of lay back and went to sleep.
I think I mentioned there were these buttons on the wall, a sort of keypad that the sailor guy had used to close the door behind us, so I thought I’d try punching some buttons to try and get this door open again. I wanted to get out of there of course, but more immediately you see I really had to go to the bathroom, so I was quite desperate. I punched all of the buttons repeatedly in all sorts of random combinations, but nothing happened. And of course there wasn’t anything so mundane as a doorknob.
Okay, now I really had to relieve myself something awful, so I thought I’d go and investigate and see if I could find a bathroom somewhere on this crate.
I took this little gun of Dick’s just in case there were any more spies or whatever and stuck it in my coat pocket and off I went down this purple glowing corridor. Round and round it went and up and down.
I came to this circular room and there were all these instrument panels with chairs in front of them and this big TV screen that wrapped completely around the room and on the screen you could see everything outside: Paco’s tin house, a hill, some other houses and trailers off a ways, the desert and the stars. All very clear and in living color.
Enid was out there, too, standing there, one hand on her hip, smoking a cigarette, it seemed like she was looking right at me.
I waved to her, stupidly enough, but she couldn’t see me of course.
Also in this room were a bunch of smaller round TV screens, some of them showing what seemed to be different parts of the spaceship, because on one I could see Dick and the soldier boy, still sleeping, with the dead spies and spacemen and the blood everywhere.
Some of the other TV screens were blank, but suddenly one of them lit up and this new spaceman in a sort of military uniform appears on it and starts speaking in this weird lingo.
I sat myself down in the chair in front of it.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I really don’t understand you.”
But he keeps talking in this weird dialect, and I’m trying to make him understand I can’t savvy a solitary word he’s saying, and on it goes, both of us jabbering away and now I’m really getting frustrated, and remember, I had taken peyote and had just gone through this absolutely horrifying shootout, my husband coming to within a hairsbreadth of being killed, and I’m absolutely dying to go to the ladies’ room -- well --
But finally this other spaceman guy in a uniform comes on.
And, thank God, this one speaks English, and guess what, he even knows my name.
He asks me what I’m doing there and where the three little other spaceman are.
As reasonably and as concisely as I could I let him know what had happened. He was not pleased. He didn’t show a whole lot of emotion, or any really, but you could tell, somehow.
“This is most distressing, Mrs. Ridpath,” he says.
“I agree, sir,” I said, “but right now I wonder if you could tell me how to get us out of this thing.”
“Yes, I suppose that would be best,” said the man.
Darn right, I’m thinking, squirming in my seat.
He says he’ll tell me which buttons to push to get the door of the spaceship open so we can get out of there.
He says I need to punch the second button from the left on the top row twice and then the first button twice, and so right away I do that, punching these buttons which are directly in front of me there on the console, and then -- uh-oh -- I could have died, because the spaceship starts rising up off the ground. I could feel it, plus I could see it on this big wraparound TV screen.
And, oh, this spaceman’s going crazy!
“What have you done, Mrs. Ridpath? What have you done? I meant the buttons next to the hatchway, not those buttons in front of you!”
How was I to know that? I suppose in retrospect I should have asked again and made doubly sure before pressing any buttons, but at this point I was frantic. I really had to go to the ladies’ room something fierce, and I found it difficult to concentrate to say the least.
Meanwhile the spaceship is simply soaring away, whoosh, but not in any sensible way at all, it’s just swooping all about in a very disconcerting fashion, and meanwhile this spaceman expert, Mr. Know-It-All, now he’s jabbering in that awful language to someone off-screen, and I’m deathly afraid we’re going to crash into a hill or a butte or something at any moment, so I’m like, “Hello? Sir? A little help here?”
He starts to gather himself, I can see he’s trying to get a grip, so he goes, “Please, listen very carefully, do exactly what I say. Exactly. And nothing else!”
And I’m there, “Yes, yes, right, hurry,” I’m practically peeing myself and we’re zipping all over the place like on one of those vomitous amusement park rides, and it’s just -- oh -- enough already!