Dreamed 1996/5/23 by Chris Wayan
I'm dining at the Explorers Club. Most evenings it's a sleepy place, just elderly British gents in pith helmets. But not tonight. Tonight, a member reports on an expedition under the sea that found something no one will credit.
He claims to have lived for a season among bottom-dwelling mollusks with spiked shells and soft insides, like a giant conch with tentacles and eyes, five to eight feet long. No one ever considered them more than animals; indeed, they're commercially fished, though not considered prime.
But he was there during their molting or mating season, when their shells lighten and flex, their muscles grow firmer, their reactions faster. They were vigorous, even intelligent, exhibiting tool use and language--during this season at least. He admits it's too soon to be absolutely sure it's annual, but it looks like he's discovered a seasonal intelligence: people part of the year, sleepy animals the rest!
The explorers are skeptical such a thing could exist--those who haven't dozed off after their heavy dinner. I think "A yearly cycle, a daily cycle--British Gentleman Explorers are intermittent people themselves! All that roast beef..."
That's not the shocker, though. He fell in love with one of the sea slugs, and lived with her! Moustaches quiver in revulsion, sherry is spilled! Compliant colonial wives, yes, of course... wanton dark-skinned slave girls, improper but understandable... but one can go TOO native!
But he's merely offended them, so far. Now he truly breaks the explorer's code: always at least lie convincingly. "The conches live in schools, exclusively. But not schools like bony fish. They settle exclusively in... drowned elementary schools."
The Eldest Explorer removes, for the first time since the founding of the Club, his pipe, and speaks. "Really, young man! I am... disappointed."
And so, the next day, the young man is gone. And me? I'm on a plane with my scuba gear in a bag...
And now, a year later, I can report... it's true.
I swim out to the reef, and find ruins below. A sunken school! I swim down and through the groaning doors. Fluorescent parrot and angel fish swim outside the picture windows of the old school. I ask their names, but the sea people don't acknowledge seeing them at first. They only see in groups--not that they're blind alone, but they won't admit to any sight till they've cross-checked each other's impressions, to minimize perceptual errors. Timid, or do they have poor vision? I don't think so--they just don't trust their own eyes until okayed by committee! No wonder they're attracted to schools...
A snail psychologist wants to study my mammalian mind. I agree; it should be educational both directions. We work in an open cubicle like a study booth, with sea currents pulling us sideways the whole time, not really private. Other conches congregate and listen. Of course! They're uncomfortable alone--therapeutic privacy may comfort humans, but it just makes a mollusc nervous.
I'm stumped. "How can I know what I project on people so unfamiliar? I'm still trying to see and interpret basics."
But the conch ignores our differences: cultural, species, neurological, land-sea, skeletal. She just focuses on my expectations--heedless of her own projections about ME, though I'm wildly unlike any client this mollusk has ever known--from an alien air-realm. With a sample of one, what's normal? No baseline! And this from a mind that wants a committee to be sure of its perceptions! Puzzling.
Still, I sit there and go through the motions... because hey, it's free. You know how much therapy costs these days. And my health coverage is no good. And I have another hour of air.
So I lie back, blowing bubbles on a coral couch, in a drowned child's school, with officially invisible parrotfish weaving through the room like toothy balloons... as I'm psychoanalyzed by the, uh, conches.
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