On the sixty-third floor of the Empire State Building is, among others of its type, a rather small office consisting of two rooms connected by a stout wooden door. The room into which the office door, which is of opaque glass, opens, is the smaller of the two and serves to house a receptionist, three not-too-comfortable armchairs, and a disorderly, homogeneous mixture of Life’s, Look’s and New Yorker’s.
[Illustration: Donald was determined to make Mimi go back to their world--dead or alive!]
The receptionist is a young woman, half-heartedly pretty but certainly chic in the manner of New York’s women in general and of its working women in particular, perhaps in her middle twenties, with a paucity of golden hair which is kept clinging rather back on her skull by an intricate network of tortoise-shell combs and invisible pins. She is engaged to a man who is in turn engaged in a position for an advertising firm just thirty-seven stories directly below her. Her name is Margaret. She often, in periods when the immediate consummation of the work on her desk is not of paramount importance, as is often the case, gazes somnolently at the floor beside her large walnut desk, hoping to catch a lurking image of her beloved only thirty-seven stories away. She rarely succeeds in viewing him through the intervening spaces, but she does not tire of trying; it is a pleasant enough diversion. There is an electronics firm just five stories above her fiance, and perhaps, she reasons, there is interference of a sort here. Someday maybe she will catch them with all their tubes off. Margaret is a romantic, but she is engaged and thus is entitled.
Beyond the entrance that is guarded by the stout wooden door is a larger room, darker, quieter, one step more removed from the hurrying hallway. A massive but neat desk is placed before the one set of windows, the blinds of which are kept closed but tilted toward the sky so that an aura of pale light is continually seeping through. The main illumination comes from several lamps placed in strategic corners, their bulbs turned away from the occupants of the room.
To one side of the desk is a comfortable-looking deep chair, with leather arms and a back quite high enough to support one’s head. In front of this is the traditional couch, armless but well-upholstered and comfortable. At the moment Dr. Victor Quink was sitting not in the deep chair but in the swivel chair behind the desk. His glasses were lying on the desk next to his feet, the chair was pushed back as far as it might safely be, his arms were stretched out to their extremity, and his mouth was straining open, as if to split his cheeks. Dr. Quink was yawning.
His method of quick relaxation was that of the blank mind; he was at this very moment forcibly evicting all vestiges of thought from his head; he was concentrating intently on black, on depth, on absolute silence. He was able to maintain this discipline for perhaps a second, or a second and a half at most, and then his mind began, imperceptibly at the first, to slip off along a path of its own liking, leading Dr. Quink quietly and unprotestingly along. The path is narrow, crinkly, bending back upon itself. It is not a path for vehicles, but one worn by a single pair of boots, plodding patiently, slowly, wearily. The path runs, or creeps, through a wild and desolate district where hardly more than a single blade of grass shoots up at random from the bottomless drift-sand. Instead of the garden that normally embellishes a castle (there is in the vague distance a blurred castle), the fortified walls are approached on the landward side by a scant forest of firs, on the other by the snow-swept Baltic Sea. Spanish moss hangs limply from the evergrays, disdainful of the sun and of its reflection by sea; the scene is somber and restful, serene, and flat.
The buzzer rang once, twice.
Dr. Quink brought his feet down to their more dignified position, out of sight beneath his desk. His conscious once more took hold of his mind, only vaguely aware that it had not been able to achieve the incognito serenity it sought. He put on his glasses and the heavy wooden door opened and a man walked through.
He carried his hat in both hands, he was nervous, he was out of his element. He looked to both sides as he came past the doorway, and when Margaret closed the door behind him he jumped, though nearly imperceptibly, and advanced toward the desk. “I’m not sure at all I should have come here,” he said.
Dr. Quink nodded, but said nothing. He judged the man to be on the order of thirty or thirty-one. His hair was black, curly, and sparse; perhaps balding, perhaps not.
“You see, I can’t be quite candid with you. Nothing personal, of course. It just ... Oh, this is frightfully embarrassing,” he said, taking a seat before the desk at Dr. Quink’s waved invitation. “I just thought that perhaps, even without knowing all the details, you might be able to effect merely a temporary cure. So that I can get her back home, to our own doctors. Nothing personal, of course. I do hope I don’t offend you.”
“Not at all, I assure you,” Dr. Quink assured him. “Just whom did you mean by her?”
“Why, my wife.” He looked at Quink quizzically for a moment, then with sudden fresh embarrassment. “Oh, of course. You naturally assume that it was I who is ... um, in need of treatment. No, no, you couldn’t be more wrong. No, it is my wife. Yes, I’ve come to see you on her account. You see, of course, she wouldn’t come herself. Ah, this is rather awkward, I’m afraid.”
“Not at all,” Quink answered. “If you would just tell me what your wife’s trouble is?”
“Yes, of course. You have to know that, at least, don’t you? I mean, do you? You couldn’t possibly just treat her on general principles, so to speak, without being told of the immediate symptoms? You don’t, I take it, have any technique that would correspond to penicillin, and just sort of clear things up in her head at random?”
Dr. Quink assured him that it was necessary, in psychiatry at least, to determine the disease before curing it.
“I suppose so,” the gentleman said. “Incidentally, my name is Fairfield. Donald Fairfield. Did I mention that? But of course, you have all that on your little card there, don’t you? Yes, I thought so. I do hope your secretary’s handwriting is legible, it doesn’t seem so from this angle. By the way, did you know that she is prone to staring at the floor? A spot right next to her desk. The right-hand side. I think I never should have come here.”
Dr. Quink reassured him that he was free to leave at any moment, never to return. By a longish glance at the wall clock, in fact, Dr. Quink gave him to understand that he might do so with no hard feelings left behind. Mr. Fairfield, however, gathered his resources and plunged forward.
“I think you’ll find this a rather interesting case, Doctor. Most unusual. Of course, I have little notion of the variety of situations one comes into contact with in your line of work, still I have every reason to believe this will come as a bit of a shock. I wonder just how dogmatic you are in your convictions?”
Dr. Quink raised his eyebrows and made no answer; he was desperately stifling a yawn.
“I mean no intrusion on your religious life, by any means. Not at all. No, that is the furthest thought from my mind, I assure you. No, I am concerned at the moment with my wife’s problems, meaning no disrespect to yourself at all, sir. I merely asked, not out of idle curiosity, but because ... Doctor, I suppose there’s no way for it but to explain.” He gestured with his hat toward the desk calendar between him and Quink. “This is the year 1959, correct? Well, you see, sir, the fact of the matter is that I just wasn’t born in 1959.”
He stopped there, and the room relapsed into silence.
Dr. Quink looked at him for a few moments, but no explanatory statement was forthcoming. Dr. Quink removed his eyeglasses, opened his left drawer two from the top, removed a white wiper, and wiped his glasses carefully. Mr. Fairfield waited patiently. Dr. Quink replaced the glasses. He leaned forward across the desk.
“Mr. Fairfield,” he said, “this may come as some shock to you, but I wasn’t born this year either.”
“You don’t understand,” Mr. Fairfield wailed. “Oh, I just knew I shouldn’t have come. When I say I wasn’t born--”
He stopped, at a loss to explain. He wrung his hat in his hands until it was crumpled probably beyond repair. Then he jumped up, pushed it onto his head, and quickly walked out of the office. As his back disappeared from the doorway Margaret’s head poked up in its place. She looked quite startled.
“It’s all right, Margaret,” Victor Quink said. “He was just a bit upset. You get all kinds in here. This one claimed there’s something abnormal with his wife. Better leave an hour free tomorrow. He’ll come back.”
But he didn’t.
He didn’t come back during the following three weeks, then one afternoon Margaret ushered him through the doorway. He walked to the chair before the desk, looking neither at the doctor nor to the right nor left, and sat down, holding his hat in his hands.
“My wife believes she’s just,” he waved his hat vaguely toward the shielded window, “just like everybody else here.”
“And isn’t she?” Doctor Quink queried, with the patience due his profession.
“No, she isn’t. But she’s forgotten. She hasn’t really forgotten. I don’t know your technical terminology; she refuses to remember. Oh, you know. Her subconscious, or unconscious, or whatever, is blinding her. She won’t face reality. And it’s time for us to go back. But she won’t budge. She claims she’s normal, and I’m the one who’s crazy. In fact, she was very happy that I was coming to see you today. I told her I was going to see you, but she persisted in insisting that I was coming here because I needed help. She said I’m coming to you because subconsciously I know I need you. Well, enough of that. I’m here because we have to go home, and if you could just make her face life long enough to admit that, I’m sure that when we do get home our doctors will have no difficulty with her case. It won’t be so bizarre to them, of course, as it must seem to you.”
“Frankly, Mr. Fairfield,” Dr. Quink said, “you’re not being entirely clear in this matter. First of all, you say you have to go home. You’re not a native of New York then?”
“A native? How quaintly you put it, Doctor. You might better say a savage, mightn’t you? But that’s neither here nor there. I am, of course, a native, as you say, of New York. I thought I explained last time. I am simply not of this time.”
Doctor Quink slowly shook his shaggy head. “I’m afraid the precise meaning of your phrase escapes me, Mr. Fairfield.”
“I am not of this time, Doctor. Nor is my wife. We are from ... well, from the future.”
“From very far in the future?” Quink asked quietly.
“Quite far. I’m not sure just exactly how far. Systems of time measurement have changed, you understand, between our time and this, so that the calculations become rather involved, though, of course, only superficially.”
“Of course. Quite understandable.”
“Quite. You are being understanding about this. Much better than I had hoped for, actually. At any rate, let’s get on with it. For some obscure reason my wife has fled reality, and now that our vacation is up she refuses to return with me, stating flatly that she has never, to make a long story short, traveled through time--except, of course, at the normal velocity with which we all progress in the course of things--and that it is I who am out of my head and though, while not actually troublesome, it would be thoughtful of me to see a doctor or at least to shut up about this nonsense before the neighbors hear me. Could you see her tomorrow evening? She’d never come here, feeling as she does, but I thought if you would come to dinner you might hypnotize her unawares or--”
“I don’t think that’s feasible under the circum--”
“Isn’t it really? I’m afraid I don’t know much about this sort of thing. I’m quite helpless in this affair, really. I assure you I was driven to desperation to tell you all this; I mean, you must understand that absolute silence, secrecy, that is, is our most absolute sacred rule. Perhaps you could just slip something into her drink, knock her out, so to speak, and I could then bodily take her back--”
“Mr. Fairfield,” Dr. Quink felt it necessary to interrupt, “you must understand that it would not be ethical for me to do as you suggest. Now it seems to me that the essence of your wife’s peculiarity lies in her relationship with you, her husband. So if you don’t mind, perhaps we might talk about you for a while. It might be more comfortable for you on the couch. Please, it doesn’t obligate you in any way. Yes, that’s much better, isn’t it. And I’ll sit here, if I may. Now, then, go on, just tell me all about yourself. Go on just start talking. You’ll find it’ll come by itself after you get started.”
“I suppose I asked for this. I mean, coming here as I did. I don’t know what else I could have done, though. They prepare one for every emergency, as well, of course, as one can foresee the future, which is in this case actually the past, speaking chronologically. Your chronology, that is, not ours. I’m sure you follow me, though it seems to me I’m talking in circles. Are we accomplishing very much, do you think?”
“We mustn’t be impatient,” Dr. Quink said. “These things come slowly, they take time, if you’ll pardon the expression. But of course, it’s impudent of me to lecture you on temporal effects.”
“Not at all, not at all, I assure you. I am no expert on the time continuum, no expert in the slightest. I daresay I don’t understand the most basic principles behind it, just as you aren’t required to understand electromagnetic theory in order to flick on the electric light. In fact, I believe it wasn’t even necessary for Edison to understand it in order to invent the damned thing.”
“You know about Edison then?”
“Oh, certainly. I’ve studied up quite a bit on this section of our history.”
“You’re sure,” Dr. Quink went on, “that you simply didn’t learn about Edison in grammar school?”
“Quite. Oh, yes, quite. No offense meant, sir, but you must certainly realize that between my time and this there have been a great many discoveries in the manifold fields embraced by science, so that people who in your own time were famous to schoolchildren are now, then, that is, --oh, I hope you know what I mean--known only to scholars of the period involved. In the time to which I belong the schoolchildren may know of Newton, Einstein and Fisher, but of such lesser luminaries as Edison, or even Avogadro or Galdeen, they are quite ignorant.”
“Yes, Galdeen. Surely you know of Galdeen. Perhaps I’m mispronouncing it. Oh, damn. I’m actually rather proud of my knowledge of your histories, I hate to be tripped up on something like this. Galineed, perhaps?”
“Well, it’s not worth bothering about.”
“Damned annoying, just the same. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Galeel?”
“Would you mind very much if we went on to some other subject? I don’t think we’re gaining much right here.”
“You’re the doctor, you know,” Fairfield replied. “I was just explaining how I knew about Edison, though I never attended grammar school in this century. So, then, where were we? You asked me to tell you about myself, didn’t you? You know, I’d much rather you told me about yourself.” Fairfield suddenly sat upright on the couch, drew his legs up to his chest, crossed his ankles, and hugged his knees. “I was noticing that picture you have hanging on the wall,” he said. “The sea, la mer, das Weltmeer, te misralub, et cetera. The roaring, crashing waves, the bubbling, foaming spray. The deep dank mystery of the green wet sea. Marvelous, marvelous. Do you indulge in sex? I mean you, personally, of course, not as a representative of your species.”
Victor Quink laid down his pad in his lap. “I’m not married, Mr. Fairfield,” he said. “Do you often ask such questions of people you’ve recently met?”
“The sun came up this morning, Dr. Quink,” Fairfield answered jovially, “the sun came up. You’ll pardon my answer, of course, I was merely trying to top your own non sequitur. Many of your people do indulge, you know. In fact, it would seem, from my own necessarily limited observations, that it is more universal in its appeal than any of your other sports. Do you classify it as a sport? It’s amazing, really, how these simple connections escape one until one tries to formulate one’s recollections into a consistent line of reasoning. Have you ever noticed? Of course, though, you do it for procreation, don’t you? Now I mean you as a representative of your species, naturally. Seeing as you are not married, eh, doctor,” and he winked at Quink. “It seems to me, however, and again I insist that I am no expert in the field, however it does seem to me that this matter of procreation is in many cases just an excuse; there seems to be an inherent taste for mating per se, or wouldn’t you agree?”
“You seem to take a disinterested view of the whole business, Mr. Fairfield. Do you, ah, indulge?”
“Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. I couldn’t, thank you just the same. I’m really flattered, believe me I am, but thank you, no.”
“That was not an invitation, Mr. Fairfield,” Dr. Quink put in, “I was trying to--”
“Mr. Fairfield, I was trying to ascertain whether or not you lead an active sex life, or whether your interest is purely, shall we say, metaphysical?”
“Yes, let’s do say metaphysical. Rather clever of you, applying the term to sex that way. My estimation of your capabilities shoots up a notch or two, Dr. Quink.”
“You mean to say,” Dr. Quink kept up, “that you do not participate in the physical ramifications?”
“Oh, you do have a turn for words, Doctor. No, of course not. None of us do.”
“By us you mean your cohorts in the future?”
“Exactly. You have an analytical mind, keen, keen. We do not die, we do not give birth. And I never would have brought the whole morbid subject up except that it has a direct bearing on Mimi’s trouble. So it is necessary that you realize that sex is entirely foreign to us.”
“Then,” said Dr. Quink, “if what you say is true, your physical, let us say, equipment, must have degenerated. And so a simple physical examination--”
“Evolution is slow, my doctor, slow, slow, slow. No, I’m physically indistinguishable from you. Assuming normalcy on your part, of course. To continue along this train of thought, though, it is the mental process that provides the difference. There is no desire in me or mine, Doctor, no urge, no depravity, no sexual hunger. It simply died out over the eons.”
“Since it was no longer necessary,” Quink prodded him.
“Or vice versa. With the urge dying, it might have been necessary for us to circumvent the entire business. An academic question, really. The chicken or the egg all over again. But since we have conquered time, so to speak, it must have occurred to you that there is no need for us to die, and thus no need for birth.”
“You are immortal, then,” Dr. Quink said, scribbling in his note pad.
Mr. Fairfield shrugged. “It beats sex. Which brings us to the problem we are discussing, if we can forget myself for a few moments. Mimi seems to have been awakened to the sexual urge, and that provides an embarrassing situation. Of course, its real significance is in relation to her problem as a whole, in the illumination it sheds upon her neurosis, yet in itself it is, as I say, embarrassing. Coupled with my complete indifference, I mean. Have you any plans for this evening? Perhaps you could dine with us without delay?”
Dr. Quink would not ordinarily have accepted such an invitation, being of that class of physician which believes a disease, be it physical or mental, best treated in the antiseptic confines of the office or hospital. Mr. Fairfield, however, struck him as being the altogether unprepossessing possessor of an altogether distinguished psychosis. He was, in fact, rapidly supplanting in Dr. Quink’s estimation his previous favorite. Already Dr. Quink was writing, mentally of course, the introduction to the paper he would present to his professional journal.
Throughout the automobile ride out to Long Island Donald Fairfield was quiet as, both hands tightly on the steering wheel of his new Buick, he alternately fought and coasted with the east-bound traffic. Dr. Quink forced himself to relax, to ignore the ins and outs of the commuters’ raceway. He folded his arms across his chest, slumped down in his seat with his legs stretched out as far as they would reach, and observed the facial contortions of his driver-patient.
Fairfield’s lips would twitch as he twisted the wheel and shot into the left lane. His foot pressed down on the gas and the right corner of his lip pulled back in sneering response, the sudden surge of the Buick seemed intimately linked to one muscular act no more than to the other. His eyebrows pressed intensely together, caressing one another, as the big car whipped back into line. A sharp outlet of breath between tightly clenched teeth preceded the sharper blast of the horn and then the Buick was swerving out to the left again with the accompanying lip twitch. A car they were about to pass pulled out in front of them, initiating a spasmodic clutching of the wheel by the left hand, a furious pounding on the horn by the right, and a synchronized twitch, sneer, and muttered “goddam it” from the lips, repeated twice while the eyebrows maintained their position of togetherness.
Dr. Quink closed his eyes finally. There was nothing more to be gained at the moment from observation. The patient’s responses while driving were normal.
Mrs. Fairfield greeted them at the door with a martini pitcher in one hand and a modernistically designed apron around her waist. She uttered little squeals about them being early and ushered them into the living room where she settled Dr. Quink on one end of an eight-foot powder blue divan before she left the room with the martini pitcher still clutched tightly in the one hand, the other rapidly undoing the apron of modernistic design. Donald Fairfield had not said one word since the front door had opened in response to their ring; none had seemed to have been necessary nor, in fact, possible, under the deluge of Mrs. Fairfield’s effusive greeting. Now he sat in the tilted green armchair in one corner of the room and, closing his eyes, relaxed from the strain of the drive.
“Your wife is very pretty,” Dr. Quink said.
“Yes, she’s probably the most beautiful woman I know,” Fairfield said. “That’s probably why I took her along. There’s something about a beautiful woman ... It was certainly a mistake.”
“Feminine beauty is enjoyable even though you don’t indulge in sex?”
“Of course, it is,” he replied, with a gesture of annoyance. “You’re still bound by that Freed--Freud, is it?--of yours. Damn him. That’s really the main reason I hesitated so long before I brought her case to you. I was afraid you were going to place too much emphasis on the sexual aspects which, of course, by your standards are abnormal. It has really nothing to do with the problem, and I wish you’d forget about it, but I suppose you can’t. To you, her sexual instincts will be normal and it will be mine which will appear abnormal, whereas in reality, of course, it’s the other way around. You’ll never cure her, I can see that now. But then, you don’t have to really cure her. If you can just get her to admit the truth for just a moment or two, just temporarily, I can get her back to some really competent men. No reflection on your ability meant, you know. I realize you’re the best available in this age, naturally.”
“But you can’t know that, can you? Well, take my word for it, you are. So suppose you start acting like it and get to work on her, eh? Could it be Gilui? No.”
Dr. Quink bent over and tied his shoelace once or twice before he replied. He would have to talk to Mrs. Fairfield in private, of course, Mr. Fairfield could understand that, of course, it was not that Dr. Quink did not want Mr. Fairfield around when the discussion took place but simply that one could not achieve rapport without absolute confidence and, of course, privacy.
“Of course,” Mr. Fairfield agreed. “I’ll go up and shower now, perhaps I’ll take a bit of a nap before dinner. I’d like to avoid that horrible liquid she was stirring up when we came in anyhow. Somewhere she’s picked up the idea that one should offer those things to dinner guests, and I can’t stand them. Will you want a pen and some notepaper?”
When he had left the room to tread up the stairs one at a time, leaning heavily on the cast-iron bannister but making no sound on the wall-to-wall carpeting, Dr. Quink leaned back and had barely time to pass his hand wearily over his eyes in a circular motion that he found soothing when Mrs. Fairfield entered from behind a swinging door bearing a small circular tray on which were balanced the aforementioned martini pitcher and two high-stemmed glasses, properly frosted and rounded with lemon.
“Has he left already?” she asked. “Well, shall we get right down to business? You call me Mimi and I’ll call you Victor. What did you think of his story? Pretty wild, isn’t it? But he’s harmless, I’m sure. I’m not in the least bit afraid of him. Do you think I should be?”
Victor smiled and accepted the proffered martini. He cradled it in long fingers and, elbows on knees, contemplated his hostess, analyzing her physical attraction. He finally decided it emanated in the main from her almond-shaped eyes and in their somewhat mystical synchronization with her wide, sensual lips. There was definitely a disconcerting correlation between them when she smiled, and as he was studying this phenomenon he realized that of course she was smiling.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It was rude of me to stare.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “It was most complimentary. But I suppose in your position it’s best to be extremely careful.”
“Flirting with your patient’s wife.”
He put down the martini rather too quickly, sploshing a bit over the edges of the glass, leaving colorless stains that evaporated in a few moments. “I don’t want you to think that, Mrs. Fairfield,” he said. “It’s just that ... that...”
But she didn’t interrupt him to say, “Of course not,” or “I was just teasing,” or “Isn’t it amazing how little rain we’ve had lately. Did you realize that this is the driest November in sixteen and a half years?” She just stared and smiled at him, and let him flounder and make noises until he gave it up as a bad job and took a long drink from the frosted glass he had so recently and abruptly put down. She refilled his glass and leaned back in her chair.
“Could you tell me about him, Mrs. Fairfield?” he said then. “Start as far back as you can, please.”
“All right, Victor,” she said. “But it won’t be much help, I’m afraid. Did he tell you he came from the future?”
“He said that both of you did.”
“Yes, that’s right. Both of us. And I refuse to go back, is that it?”
“Because of some deep-seated neurosis which he wants me to cure. His story is plausible, logical, once you grant the basic premise that time travel is an actuality. You see, Mrs. Fairfield--”
“Mimi, please, Victor. After all, we’re not in your office, and I’m not really your patient, am I? Or am I?”
“Of course not. Well, Mimi, then, the first step is to break down his story. Show him for once and all that it is not plausible, that it is not even possible, that it is plainly and simply a lie which he himself has made up to hide something that he is afraid of. Once we can get him to see this, or at least to wonder about it, once we can break the granite assurance of his that he comes from another time, then perhaps we can probe into his festering secret. But we can’t do that, I’m afraid, until he begins to admit, at least to himself, that he is sick and that he needs help. In this case it shouldn’t be too hard.”
“My, you are brilliant. I wonder how you do it. Oh, you shouldn’t gulp a martini so quickly. Here, let me pour you some more, but sip it this time. I know, I can’t stand the taste either, but it’s really the only way.”
“Mimi,” she insisted.
“Mimi,” he said, then hesitated.
“Mimi,” she prompted.
“I forgot what I was going to say,” he admitted. “Cheers.”
“Don’t gulp,” she said. “Here, I’ll pour you another one, but sip it, now promise.”
“God, it does taste awful, doesn’t it?” he said, grimacing. “I don’t think I ever tasted one before. Do you think limes might help?”
“We have some in the kitchen, but it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. Why don’t we just throw the mess away and whip up something else? I just wanted you to think I was chic this season to serve martinis.”