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Upward Spiral

by Karen Bookman Kaplan

Upward Spiral synopsis

A professional inter-dimensional traveler, Iris Perle, is visiting a dimension she calls “Upward Spiral.” Her presence there cannot be detected. As events unfold she more and more intensely longs to be known to a sculptor named Clara and her friends, whom she has observed many times before. Iris’ yearnings lead to a surprise revelation, and Clara finds an answer to longings of a different sort.



“Iris?! Write something now, anything.” Gray is poised with his holovideo where I had left off writing. Clara and Hubert and Rose stare at the putty next to the book and at the page waiting for my words to appear.

I write, “Hello, this is Iris.” The ink of each letter spreads into view as if invisible ink were reversing and becoming visible. I rest my fingers on the putty so no more words will appear until Gray responds.

“Okay, whatever you are, I just filmed these letters appearing!”

I stammer — that is, I write — “Yes, and... um... I’m glad. I want to be known. And I want to apologize.”

Before I can explain, Clara is so confounded she keeps repeating, “Are you real? What is happening? You call us ‘Upward Spiral’? I sure do want to talk about that.”

Hubert says, “This is fantastic! This is such a tremendous advance; we can communicate between dimensions! What a scientific breakthrough!”

Gray looks skeptical and says, “I know the letters are appearing, and they’re on the video, but I want more proof. Maybe it is some kind of device that is spitting out prerecorded words. Iris, if you are really there, write this down: ‘Hubert, Rose and Clara and I want to know your middle name.’ Go ahead. Write it.’”

Before I start to do so, Clara says, “No need to boss Iris around, it’s not as though she were a slave or something. She did volunteer all on her own to reveal herself.”

I quickly write, “Don’t worry. I know this is incredible. You all want to know my middle name. I will tell you: it is Deborah.”

They all stare at each other and then the book as each letter one at a time is born whole in standard typeface identical to the one you are reading.

Rose sits rigidly, no longer allowing herself the luxury of leaning back on the couch cushions. Clara leans her head down towards her knees as if dizzy, Hubert and Gray grasp either side of the book.

Hubert says, “See? She is real. How could any device spit out words like that?”

I am starting to feel irritated. After all my angst at becoming known, I now have to convince them that I exist? I write, “See here! I am real, most certainly real.”

As if to get a booster shot of self-confidence, Rose places one palm on a piece of the putty. Meanwhile Hubert releases the book and leans comfortably back, asking me questions about some things he saw in Monkey that he did not understand, such as why people do not stick to wearing one set of colors but vary them much of the time.

Now more fortified, Rose leaning forward in anticipation now says to me, “You just said to us you want to apologize. About what?”

Hubert interrupts me, though not fully consciously; they are not used to taking my presence into account as a shaper of conversational output. He says to Rose, “Maybe for the backwardness of her dimension.”

I feel my anger going from my stomach to my throat. I did not know Hubert had this prejudicial side to him.

Grey then responds to Rose and Hubert, forcing me to postpone my turn to “speak” yet one more time. “Well, let’s give this person a break. You’re making us sound bigoted. Oh, yeah, like she comes from this inferior dimension, and what is more, is falling all over herself apologizing for busting in and throwing all our lives into an uproar.” He leans back, as if to rest his case.

Even as I am pleased at Grey’s defense, my anger is becoming more and more pronounced at being ignored, especially as contact is now possible. I interrupt in turn by writing, “Say, let me answer!”

Clara, now sitting back up, lifts her head up in laughter and manages to say: “By all means do! Don’t stop halfway! ”

Then, perhaps because they are too stunned to interrupt, I write at length. As I tell my life story, they watch the words hatch from my Thought Printer, and they take turns reading paragraphs aloud to each other as I continue writing.

I write about being born in a cold climate like theirs, about my two elder sisters and famous father, a fame that created intimacy among strangers at the cost of greater distance among immediate family members. I write of my mother, estranged from herself yet lavishly invested in her coterie of friends. I write of my years as a technical writer at a rocketport, and how hearing the passengers’ stories led me to write them down with just enough panache to have them duplicated far and wide.

I write of my experiences in Upward Spiral up to this point, and how I have yearned to be among them. And I apologize for being near them without their having any choice in the matter. I write that I call their world Upward Spiral because it has led me into better and better places in myself. After about ten pages I finally stop, feeling spent, apprehensive and yet hopeful.

They assure me that now that I have made myself known, they want to continue communicating and try to understand what this connection with me and between dimensions means. Clara said it would be insane to bypass this opportunity. The letters, conceived in my brain and born upon the pages of Clara’s book, have thrown open gates upon gates upon gates. Now that I and they can be in relation to each other, I wonder how I am to move about in this alien landscape. I have made it through, but what does this mean?

Now Grey, who has taken more and more charge of this first meeting, is saying to me, “You know, I do like this, your letting us know you are here. At the very least, it has terrific research value. But it’s not just that.” He turns to the group, looking surprised at his own revelation. “We have a new reality tester in our group.”

I am floored that he of all people is reaching out to me. Is it the putty? Now that I am in the middle of things, the pace of change wrought by the putty is getting too fast for me. I swerve about in this different world as I hang onto strands from my own. I cannot help but exclaim, “Friends, so much is happening and so fast from this putty, I feel like I no longer know who you are.”

I then realize, and write, “But it’s wonderful anyway. I would feel privileged to be counted in your group.”

Rose rises as if to offer me a hug. Hubert gets up and gives her one, perhaps as a substitution.

Clara continues staring at my words on the pages, because they unintentionally have started deviating from strict lines like the ones you are reading, and are appearing up and down as if each word were a musical note. As my intonation rises, so do the words.

She leans closer. “Now, Iris, that is refreshingly unconventional.”

I respond, “I did not mean to do that, it is just happening on its own. But anyway, I would like to ask you some questions. The one most on my mind is about white snow. Why is so much mysticism attached to it? I know you think white can symbolize deceit, but there must be more to it than that.

“You may not believe it, but that’s the only kind of snow we have in my own dimension. In fact, I love seeing the different colors you have; I always look forward to the next snowfall to see what color it is going to be.”

Clara says, “Only white? How dull winter must be for you! And how devoid of living things. Each color is caused by microbes that bear that color and feed off of chemicals within the snow.”

Rose is engrossed enough in these comments to relax into the community of cushions liberally covering the couch. “You do not have colors of snow?” Suddenly she makes a connection: “You know, I think whiteness is like being at the edge of all that is known. In white snow I would feel lost, like being in a blizzard with no signs defining the way and no form to make sense of where I was at the moment. Color is what we know. It’s real. It’s filled with living things. And so for us, it means being filled to the brim with life and action. So, I think white is deception because it parades as life but is really not.”

Her friends are bowled over by her increased power to put into words what they all have not been able to express about white all this time. It dawns on Clara why Hubert and Grey were so uncomfortable about the white in her city sculpture. “So that’s why you guys were so put off by the white in my ice rink. As if I had tossed in a skull and crossbones or something.” She laughs, pleased with her mischievousness. “And just for the record,” she adds, for my benefit, “we each choose certain colors to wear because our favorite colors are part of who we are.”

But I have had to stop writing to them because I have become nauseous. I realize I had been a part of the whiteness to these people, as good as dead. And even worse, my life in my home dimension has been spent in a graveyard of unlaunched beings, never properly begun. Akin to dwelling among stillborns. And now, just recently sprung into an alternate existence myself, I am at as much of a loss as to how to begin as any foundling first brought in from the cold, to a welcome but nevertheless alien warmth.

“Iris?” Clara nervously calls out to me. “Why have you stopped writing?” I write just enough to explain my physical reaction and my confusion. I then try to be braver, and I write, “I have dwelt in whiteness all my life, as if neither fully dead nor fully alive.”

I slowly draw in my breath starting from my stomach and reaching to my chest before it is released. “Please color me in.” The letters of those words I just wrote came out very large on Clara’s pages, leaving room like a child’s first coloring book for filling in the outlined spaces.

But it is not necessary for Clara and Grey and Hubert and Rose to do anything else for me but hold the book open and expectantly wait, for my definitive colors are already streaming throughout the letters, a rainbow aflame on the white page that has been receiving them.

Copyright © 2012 by Karen Bookman Kaplan

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