Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 14 of 64


The parking-lot is aswarm with people, fire engines and ambulances. There’s a siren going off somewhere down in the bowels of the sanatorium, and still I can’t get anyone to look up at the goddamned roof.

I’ve tried hollering myself hoarse into the updrafts from the cheery blaze, but the wind’s against me, my shouts rising up past my ears. I’ve tried dropping more pebbles, but the winds whip them away, and I’ve learned my lesson about half-bricks.

Weirdly, I’m not worried about getting into trouble. I’ve already been involuntarily committed by the Tribe’s enemies, the massed and devious forces of the Pacific Daylight Tribe and the Greenwich Mean Tribe. I am officially Not Responsible. Confused and Prone to Wandering. Coo-Coo for Coco-Puffs. It’s not like I hurt anyone, just decremented the number of roadworthy fartmobiles by one.

I got up this morning at four, awakened by the tiniest sound from the ward corridors, a wheel from a pharmaceuticals tray maybe. Three weeks on medically prescribed sleepytime drugs have barely scratched the surface of the damage wrought by years of circadian abuse. I’d been having a fragile shadow of a dream, the ghost of a REM cycle, and it was the old dream, the dream of the doctor’s office and the older kids who could manage the trick of making a picture into reality.

I went from that state to total wakefulness in an instant, and knew to a certainty that I wouldn’t be sleeping again any time soon. I paced my small room, smelled the cheerful flowers my cousins brought last week when they visited from Toronto, watched the horizon for signs of a breaking dawn. I wished futilely for my comm and a nice private channel where I could sling some bullshit and have some slung in my direction, just connect with another human being at a nice, safe remove.

They chide me for arguing on the ward, call it belligerence and try to sidetrack me with questions about my motivations, a tactic rating barely above ad hominems in my book. No one to talk to—the other patients get violent or nod off, depending on their medication levels, and the staff just patronize me.

Four AM and I’m going nuts, hamsters in my mind spinning their wheels at a thousand RPM, chittering away. I snort—if I wasn’t crazy to begin with, I’m sure getting there.

The hamsters won’t stop arguing with each other over all the terrible errors of judgment I’ve made to get here. Trusting the Tribe, trusting strangers. Argue, argue, argue. God, if only someone else were around, I could argue the definition of sanity, I could argue the ethics of involuntary committal, I could argue the food. But my head is full of argument and there’s nowhere to spill it and soon enough I’ll be talking aloud, arguing with the air like the schizoids on the ward who muttergrumbleshout through the day and through the night.

Why didn’t I just leave London when I could, come home, move in with Gran, get a regular job? Why didn’t I swear off the whole business of secrecy and provocation?

I was too smart for my own good. I could always argue myself into doing the sexy, futuristic thing instead of being a nice, mundane, nonaffiliated individual. Too smart to settle down, take a job and watch TV after work, spend two weeks a year at the cottage and go online to find movie listings. Too smart is too restless and no happiness, ever, without that it’s chased by obsessive maundering moping about what comes next.

Smart or happy?

The hamsters have hopped off their wheels and are gnawing at the blood-brain barrier, trying to get out of my skull. This is a good sanatorium, but still, the toilets are communal on my floor, which means that I’ve got an unlocked door that lights up at the nurses’ station down the corridor when I open the door, and goes berserk if I don’t reopen it again within the mandated fifteen-minute maximum potty-break. I figured out how to defeat the system the first day, but it was a theoretical hack, and now it’s time to put it into practice.

I step out the door and the lintel goes pink, deepens toward red. Once it’s red, whoopwhoopwhoop. I pad down to the lav, step inside, wait, step out again. I go back to my room—the lintel is orange now—and open it, move my torso across the long electric eye, then pull it back and let the door swing closed. The lintel is white, and that means that the room thinks I’m inside, but I’m outside. You put your torso in, you take your torso out, you do the hokey-pokey and you shake it all about.

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