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«The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Strories», Philip Dick

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“I want to disseminate Zen Buddhist propaganda to the Communist Chinese in Cuba,” Joan said, “because—” She hesitated. The truth was simply that it meant a good salary for her, the first truly high-paying job she had ever held. From a career standpoint, it was a plum. “Aw, hell,” she said. “What is the nature of the One Way? I don’t have any answer.”

“It’s evident that your field has taught you a method of avoiding giving honest answers,” Crofts said sourly. “And being evasive. However—” He shrugged. “Possibly that only goes to prove that you’re well trained and the proper person for the job. In Cuba you’ll be running up against some rather worldly and sophisticated individuals, who in addition are quite well off even from the U.S. standpoint. I hope you can cope with them as well as you’ve coped with me.”

Joan said, “Thank you, Mr. Crofts.” She rose. “I’ll expect to hear from you, then.”

“I am impressed by you,” Crofts said, half to himself. “After all, you’re the young lady who first had the idea of feeding Zen Buddhist riddles to UCSB’s big computers.”

“I was the first to do it,” Joan corrected. “But the idea came from a friend of mine, Ray Meritan. The gray-green jazz harpist.”

“Jazz and Zen Buddhism,” Crofts said. “State may be able to make use of you in Cuba.”

 

To Ray Meritan she said, “I have to get out of Los Angeles, Ray. I really can’t stand the way we’re living here.” She walked to the window of his apartment and looked out at the monorail gleaming far off. The silver car made its way at enormous speed, and Joan hurriedly looked away.

If we only could suffer, she thought. That’s what we lack, any real experience of suffering, because we can escape anything. Even this.

“But you are getting out,” Ray said. “You’re going to Cuba and convert wealthy merchants and bankers into becoming ascetics. And it’s a genuine Zen paradox; you’ll be paid for it.” He chuckled. “Fed into a computer, a thought like that would do harm. Anyhow, you won’t have to sit in the Crystal Hall every night listening to me play—if that’s what you’re anxious to get away from.”

“No,” Joan said, “I expect to keep on listening to you on TV. I may even be able to use your music in my teaching.” From a rosewood chest in the far corner of the room she lifted out a .32 pistol. It had belonged to Ray Meritan’s second wife, Edna, who had used it to kill herself, the previous February, late one rainy afternoon. “May I take this along?” she asked.

“For sentiment?” Ray said. “Because she did it on your account?”

“Edna did nothing on my account. Edna liked me. I’m not taking any responsibility for your wife’s suicide, even though she did find out about us—seeing each other, so to speak.”

Ray said meditatively, “And you’re the girl always telling people to accept blame and not to project it out on the world. What do you call your principle, dear? Ah.” He grinned. “The Anti-paranoia Prinzip. Doctor Joan Hiashi’s cure for mental illness; absorb all blame, take it all upon yourself.” He glanced up at her and said acutely, “I’m surprised you’re not a follower of Wilbur Mercer.”

“That clown,” Joan said.

“But that’s part of his appeal. Here, I’ll show you.” Ray switched on the TV set across the room from them, the legless black Oriental-style set with its ornamentation of Sung dynasty dragons.

“Odd you would know when Mercer is on,” Joan said.

Ray, shrugging murmured, “I’m interested. A new religion, replacing Zen Buddhism, sweeping out of the Middle West to engulf California. You ought to pay attention, too, since you claim religion as your profession. You’re getting a job because of it. Religion is paying your bills, my dear girl, so don’t knock it.”

The TV had come on, and there was Wilbur Mercer.

“Why isn’t he saying anything?” Joan said.

“Why, Mercer has taken a vow this week. Complete silence.” Ray lit a cigarette. “State ought to be sending me, not you. You’re a fake.”

“At least I’m not a clown,” Joan said, “or a follower of a clown.”

Ray reminded her softly, “There’s a Zen saying, �The Buddha is a piece of toilet paper.’ And another. �The Buddha often—’ ”

“Be still,” she said sharply. “I want to watch Mercer.”

“You want to watch,” Ray’s voice was heavy with irony. “Is that what you want, for God’s sake? No one watches Mercer; that’s the whole point.” Tossing his cigarette into the fireplace, he strode to the TV set; there, before it, Joan saw a metal box with two handles, attached by a lead of twin-cable wire to the TV set. Ray seized the two handles, and at once a grimace of pain shot across his face.


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