“It’s only a periscope-“
“But a good cigar is a smoke.”
I remembered Sigmund Freud’s quote about cigars, laughed, and touched the periscope again.
“Don’t!” he said.
“Well, you don’t actually use this for anything, do you? It’s just a remembrance of your past, from your last sub, yes?”
“You think that?” He sighed. “Look!”
I hesitated, then pasted one eye to the viewer, shut the other, and cried:
“I warned you!” said Von Seyfertitz.
For they were there.
Enough nightmares to paper a thousand cinema screens. Enough phantoms to haunt ten thousand castle walls. Enough panics to shake forty cities into ruin.
My God, I thought, he could sell the film rights to this worldwide!
The first psychological kaleidoscope in history.
And in the instant another thought came: how much of that stuff in there is me? Or Von Seyfertitz? Or both? Are these strange shapes my maundering daymares, sneezed out in the past weeks? When I talked, eyes shut, did my mouth spray invisible founts of small beasts which, caught in the periscope chambers, grew outsize? Like the microscopic photos of those germs that hide in eyebrows and pores, magnified a million times to become elephants on Scientific American covers? Are these images from other lost souls trapped on that couch and caught in the submarine device, or leftovers from my eyelashes and psyche?
“It’s worth millions!” I cried. “Do you know what this is!?”
“Collected spiders, Gila monsters, trips to the Moon without gossamer wings, iguanas, toads out of bad sisters’ mouths, diamonds out of good fairies ears, crippled shadow dancers from Bali, cut-string puppets from Geppetto’s attic, little-boy statues that pee white wine, sexual trapeze performers’ alley-oop, obscene finger-pantomimes, evil clown faces, gargoyles that talk when it rains and whisper when the wind rises, basement bins full of poisoned honey, dragonflies that sew every fourteen-year-old’s orifices to keep them neat until they rip the sutures, aged eighteen. Towers with mad witches, garrets with mummies for lumber-“
He ran out of steam.
“You get the general drift.”
“Nuts,” I said. “You’re bored. I could get you a five-million-dollar deal with Amalgamated Fruit-cakes Inc. And the Sigmund F. Dreamboats, split three ways!”
“You don’t understand,” said Von Seyfertitz. “I am keeping myself busy, busy, so I won’t remember all the people I torpedoed, sank, drowned mid-Atlantic in 1944. I am not in the Amalgamated Fruitcake Cinema business. I only wish to keep myself occupied by paring fingernails, cleaning earwax, and erasing inkblots from odd bean-bags like you. If I stop, I will fly apart. That periscope contains all and everything I have seen and known in the past forty years of observing pecans, cashews, and almonds. By staring at them I lose my own terrible life lost in the tides. If you won my periscope in some shoddy fly-by-night Hollywood strip poker, I would sink three times in my waterbed, never to be seen again. Have I shown you my waterbed? Three times as large as any pool. I do eighty laps asleep each night. Some-times forty when I catnap noons. To answer your million fold offer, no.”
And suddenly he shivered all over. His hands clutched at his heart.
“My God!” he shouted.
Too late, he was realizing he had let me step into his mind and life. Now he was on his feet between me and the periscope, staring at it and me, as if we were both terrors.
“You saw nothing in that! Nothing at all!”
“You lie! How could you be such a liar? Do you know what would happen if this got out, if you ran around making accusations-?
“My God,” he raved on, “If the world knew, if someone said’ ‘-His words gummed shut in his mouth as if he were tasting the truth of what he said, as if he saw me for the first time and I was a gun fired full in his face. “I would be… laughed out of the city. Such a goddamn ridiculous … hey, wait a minute. You!”
It was as if he had slipped a devil mask over his face. His eyes grew wide. His mouth gaped.
I examined his face and saw murder. I sidled toward the door.