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Chapter 17

It feels as if Sigfrids air conditioning isnt working again, but I dont mention it to him. He will only report that the temperature is exactly 22.50 Celsius, as it always has been, and ask why I express mental pain as being too hot physically. Of that crap I am very tired.

In fact, I say out loud, I am altogether tired of you, Siggy.

Im sorry, Rob. But I would appreciate it if you would tell me a little more about your dream.

Oh, shit. I loosen the restraining straps because they are uncomfortable. This also disconnects some of Sigfrids monitoring devices, but for once he doesnt point that out to me. Its a pretty boring dream. Were in the ship. We come to a planet that stares at me, like it had a human face. I cant see the eyes very well because of the eyebrows, but somehow or other I know that its crying, and its my fault.

Do you recognize that face, Rob?

No idea. Just a face. Female, I think.

Do you know what she is crying about?

Not really, but Im responsible for it, whatever it is. Im sure of that.

Pause. Then: Would you mind putting the straps back on, Rob?

My guard is suddenly up. Whats the matter, I sneer bitterly, do you think Im going to leap off the pad and assault you?

No, Robbie, of course I dont think that. But Id be grateful if you would do it.

I begin to do it, slowly and unwillingly. What, I wonder, is the gratitude of a computer program worth?

He does not answer that, just outwaits me. I let him win that and say: All right, Im back in the straitjacket, now what are you going to say thats going to make me need restraint?

Why, he says, probably nothing like that, Robbie. I just am wondering why you feel responsible for the girl in the planet crying?

I wish I knew, I say, and thats the truth as I see it.

I know some reality things you do blame yourself for, Robbie, he says. One of them is your mothers death.

I agreed. I suppose so, in some silly way.

And I think you feel quite guilty about your lover, Gelle-Klara Moynlin.

I thrash about a little. It is fucking hot in here, I complain.

Do you feel that either of them actively blamed you?

How the fuck would I know?

Perhaps you can remember something they said?

No, I cant! He is getting very personal, and I want to keep this on an objective level, so I say: I grant that I have a definite tendency toward loading responsibility on myself. Its a pretty classic pattern, after all, isnt it? You can find me on page two hundred and seventy-seven of any of the texts.

He humors me by letting me get impersonal for a moment. But on the same page, Rob, he says, it probably points out that the responsibility is self-inflicted. You do it to yourself, Robbie.

No doubt.

You dont have to accept any responsibility you dont want to.

Certainly not. I want to.

He asks, almost offhandedly, Can you get any idea of why that is? Why you want to feel that everything that goes wrong is your responsibility?

Oh, shit, Sigfrid, I say in disgust, your circuits are whacko again. Thats not the way it is at all. Its more well, heres the thing. When I sit down to the feast of life, Sigfrid, Im so busy planning on how to pick up the check, and wondering what the other people will think of me for paying it, and wondering if I have enough money in my pocket to pay the bill, that I dont get around to eating.

He says gently, I dont like to encourage these literary excursions of yours, Rob.

Sorry about that. Im not, really. He is making me mad.

But to use your own image, Rob, why dont you listen to what the other people are saying? Maybe theyre saying something nice, or something important, about you.

I restrain the impulse to throw the straps off, punch his grinning dummy in the face and walk out of that dump forever. He waits, while I stew inside my own head, and finally I burst out: Listen to them! Sigfrid, you crazy old clanker, I do nothing but listen to them. I want them to say they love me. I even want them to say they hate me, anything, just so they say it to me, from them, out of the heart. Im so busy listening to the heart that I dont even hear when somebody asks me to pass the salt.

Pause. I feel as if Im going to explode. Then he says admiringly, You express things very beautifully, Robbie. But what Id really

Stop it, Sigfrid! I roar, really angry at last; I kick off the straps and sit up to confront him. And quit calling me Robbie! You only do that when you think Im childish, and Im not being a child now!

Thats not entirely cor

I said stop it! I jump off the mat and grab my handbag. Out of it I take the slip of paper S. Ya. gave me after all those drinks and all that time in bed. Sigfrid, I snarl, Ive taken a lot from you. Now its my turn!

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