As he drove, Kevin said, "I'm tired. Really tired. Fuck this traffic! Who are these people driving on the 55? Where do they come from? Where are they going?"
I wondered to myself, Where are the three of us going? We had seen the Savior and I had, after eight years of madness, been healed.
Well, I thought, that's something to accomplish all in one weekend ... not to mention escaping intact from the three most whacked-out humans on the planet.
It is amazing that when someone else spouts the nonsense you yourself believe you can readily perceive it as nonsense. In the VW Rabbit as I had listened to Linda and Eric rattle on about being three-eyed people from another planet I had known they were nuts. This made me nuts, too. The realization had frightened me: the realization about them and about myself.
I had flown up crazy and returned sane, yet I believed that I had met the Savior ... in the form of a little girl with black hair and fierce black eyes who had discoursed to us with more wisdom than any adult I had ever met. And, when we were blocked in our attempt to leave, she -- or VALIS -- had intervened.
"We have a commission," David said. "To go forth and --"
"And what?" Kevin said.
"She'll tell us as we go along," David said.
"And pigs can whistle," Kevin said.
"Look," David said vigorously. "Phil's okay now, for the first time ..." He hesitated.
"Since you've known me," I finished.
David said, "She healed him. Healing powers are the absolute certain sign of the material presence of the Messiah. You know that, Kevin."
"Then St. Joseph Hospital is the best church in town," Kevin said.
I said to Kevin, "Did you get a chance to ask Sophia about your dead cat?" I meant the question sarcastically, but Kevin, to my surprise, turned his head and said, seriously:
"What'd she say?" I said.
Kevin, inhaling deeply and gripping the steering wheel tight, said, "She said that MY DEAD CAT ..." He paused, raising his voice. "MY DEAD CAT WAS STUPID."
I had to laugh. David likewise. No one had thought to give Kevin that answer before. The cat saw the car and ran into it, not the other way around; it had ploughed directly into the right front wheel of the car, like a bowling ball.
"She said," Kevin said, "that the universe has very strict rules, and that that species of cat, the kind that runs headfirst into moving cars, isn't around any more."
"Well," I said, "pragmatically speaking, she's right."
It was interesting to contrast Sophia's explanation with the late Sherri's; she had piously informed Kevin that God so loved his cat -- actually -- that God had seen fit to take Kevin's cat to be with him God instead of him Kevin. This is not an explanation you give to a twenty-nine-year-old man; this is an explanation you foist off on kids. Little kids. And even the little kids generally can see it's bullshit.
"But," Kevin continued, "I said to her, 'Why didn't God make my cat smart?'"
"Did this conversation really take place?" I said.
Resignedly, David said, "Probably so."
"My cat was STUPID," Kevin continued, "because GOD MADE IT STUPID. So it was GOD's fault, not my cat's fault."
"And you told her that," I said.
"Yes," Kevin said.
I felt anger. "You cynical asshole -- you meet the Savior and all you can do is rant about your goddam cat. I'm glad your cat's dead; everybody is glad your cat's dead. So shut up." I had begun to shake with fury.
"Easy," David murmured. "We've been through a lot."
To me, Kevin said, "She's not the Savior. We're all as nuts as you, Phil. They're nuts up there; we're nuts down here."
David said, "Then how could a two-year-old girl say such --"
"They had a wire running to her head," Kevin yelled, "and a microphone at the other end of the wire, and a speaker inside her face. It was somebody else talking."
"I need a drink," I said. "Let's stop at Sombrero Street."
"I liked you better when you believed you were Horselover Fat," Kevin yelled. "Him I liked. You're as stupid as my cat. If stupidity kills, why aren't you dead?"
"You want to try to arrange it?" I said.
"Obviously stupidity is a survival trait," Kevin said, but his voice sank, now, into near-inaudibility. "I don't know," he murmured. "'The Savior.' How can it be? It's my fault; I took you to see Valis. I got you mixed up with Mother Goose. Does it make sense that Mother Goose would give birth to the Savior? Does any of this make sense?"
"Stop at Sombrero Street," David said.
"The Rhipidon Society holds its meetings in a bar," Kevin said. "That's our commission; to sit in a bar and drink. That'll sure save the world. And why save it anyhow?"
We drove on in silence, but we did end up at Sombrero Street; the majority of the Rhipidon Society had voted in favor of it.
Certainly it constitutes bad news if the people who agree with you are buggier than batshit. Sophia herself (and this is important) had said that Eric and Linda Lampton were ill. In addition to that, Sophia or VALIS had provided me with the words to get us out of there when the Lamptons had closed in on us, hemming us in -- had provided words and then tinkered expertly with time.
I could separate the beautiful child from the ugly Lamptons. I did not lump them together. Significantly, the two-year-old child had spoken what seemed like wisdom ... sitting in the bar with my bottle of Mexican beer I asked myself, What are the criteria of rationality, by which to judge if wisdom is present? Wisdom has to be, by its very nature, rational; it is the final stage of what is locked into the real. There is an intimate relationship between what is wise and what exists, although hat relationship is subtle. What had the little girl told us? That human beings should now give up the worship of all deities except mankind itself. This did not seem irrational to me. Whether it had been said by a child or whether it came from the Britannica, it would have struck me as sound.
For some time I had held the opinion that Zebra -- as I had called the entity which manifested itself to me in March 1974 -- was in fact the laminated totality of all my selves along the linear time-axis; Zebra -- or VALIS -- was the supra-temporal expression of a given human being and not a god ... not unless the supra-temporal expression of a given human being is what we actually mean by the term "god," is what we worship, without realizing it, when we worship "god."
The hell with it, I thought wearily. I give up.
Kevin drove me home; I went at once to bed, worn-out and discouraged, in a vague way. I think what discouraged me about the situation was the uncertainty of our commission, received from Sophia. We had a mandate but for what? More important, what did Sophia intend to do as she matured? Remain with the Lamptons? Escape, change her name, move to Japan and start a new life?
Where would she surface? Where would we find mention of her over the years? Would we have to wait until she grew to adulthood? That might be eighteen years. In eighteen years Ferris F. Fremount, to use the name from the film, could have taken over the world -- again. We needed help now.
But then I thought, You always need the Savior now. Later is always too late.
When I fell asleep that night I had a dream. In the dream I rode in Kevin's Honda, but instead of Kevin driving, Linda Ronstadt sat behind the wheel, and the car was open, like a vehicle from ancient times, like a chariot. Smiling at me, Ronstadt sang, and she sang more beautifully than any time I had ever heard her sing before. She sang:
"To walk toward the dawn
In the dream this delighted me; it seemed a terribly important message. When I woke up the next morning I could still see her lovely face, the dark, glowing eyes: such large eyes, so filled with light, a strange kind of black light, like the light of stars. Her look toward me was one of intense love, but not sexual love; it was what the Bible calls loving-kindness. Where was she driving me?
During the next day I tried to figure out what the cryptic words referred to. Slippers. Dawn. What did I associate with the dawn?
Studying my reference books (at one time I would have said, "Horselover Fat, studying his reference books"), I came across the fact that Aurora is the Latin word for the personification of the dawn. And that suggests Aurora Borealis -- which looks like St. Elmo's Fire, which is how Zebra or VALIS looked. The Britannica says of the Aurora Borealis:
"The Aurora Borealis appears throughout history in the mythology of the Eskimo, the Irish, the English, the Scandinavians, and others; it was usually believed to be a supernatural manifestation ... Northern Germanic tribes saw in it the splendor of the shields of Valkyrie (warrior women)."
Did that mean -- was VALIS telling me -- that little Sophia would issue forth into the world as a "warrior woman"? Maybe so.
What about slippers? I could think of one association, an interesting one. Empedocles, the pupil of Pythagoras, who had gone public about remembering his past lives and who told his friends privately that he was Apollo, had never died in the usual sense; instead, his golden slippers had been found near the top of the volcano Mount Etna. Either Empedocles, like Elijah, had been taken up into heaven bodily, or he had jumped into the volcano. Mount Etna is in the eastern-most part of Sicily. In Roman times the word "aurora" literally meant "east." Was VALIS alluding to both itself and to re-birth, to eternal life? Was I being --
The phone rang.
Picking it up I said, "Hello."
I heard Eric Lampton's voice. It sounded twisted, like an old root, a dying root. "We have something to tell you. I'll let Linda tell you. Hold on."
A deep fear entered me as I stood holding the silent phone. Then Linda Lampton's voice sounded in my ear, flat and toneless. The dream had to do with her, I realized; Linda Ronstadt; Linda Lampton. "What is it?" I said, unable to understand what Linda Lampton was saying.
"The little girl is dead," Linda Lampton said. "Sophia."
"How?" I said.
"Mini killed her. By accident. The police are here. With a laser. He was trying to --"
I hung up.
The phone rang again almost at once. I picked it up and said hello.
Linda Lampton said, "Mini wanted to try to get as much information --"
"Thanks for telling me," I said. Crazily, I felt bitter anger, not sorrow.
"He was trying information-transfer by laser," Linda was saying. "We're calling everyone. We don't understand; if Sophia was the Savior, how could she die?"
Dead at two years old, I realized. Impossible.
I hung up the phone and sat down. After a time, I realized that the woman in the dream driving the car and singing had been Sophia, but grown up, as she would have been one day. The dark eyes filled with light and life and fire.
The dream was her way of saying good-bye.