The Gorgon Festival

The Gorgon Festival by John Boyd Read Free Book Online

Book: The Gorgon Festival by John Boyd Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Boyd
Tags: Science-Fiction
    “Alex,” there was a catch in her voice, “you’ve never said anything like that to me.”
    Neither had he said it to Ester: Shakespeare had said it about Cleopatra. Hurt in her voice aroused his compassion, and in her ignorance of Shakespeare an opportunity to console her without exerting mental effort.
    “You didn’t want me to talk, Saturday night,” he reminded her, “but Ester’s going on another shopping tour tomorrow and I know a small café where there’s candle light and vodka. If I can take you there, I’ll breathe to you such lines would smite the general ear with envy, for yours is the stuff that schoolboys’ dreams are made of.
    “When in the columns of the San Francisco Chronicle I read descriptions of the jet-set belles, I know the gilded concubines of Greeks cannot outshine the loveliness you master now…”
    For seventeen minutes, while he solved for the esthetics factor on the paper before him, he plucked from memory appropriate lines from Shakespeare to beguile her and closed on a line of pop music whose connotations he knew she would catch. “I’ll come and get you in a taxi, honey.”
    Obviously he had healed her hurt, for she exploded with gusto, “I’ll be ready ’bout a quarter past eight.”
    Nevertheless, Ruth’s request prompted him to think of the ecological effects of immortality, and his first equation had frightening implications. Within five generations the planet would be choked with human beings. Nothing short of nuclear holocaust could overcome even the short-term effects of practical immortality.
    On Wednesday morning, he called Ruth and expressed his fear of the maternal instinct. Fortunately he caught her in a libidinal low, for she was curt.
    “Tend to your theories, Alex, and don’t let it bother you. I’ve solved that problem. In the first place, there’s no maternal instinct. Motherhood is an acquired trait. And there’s such a thing as biological controls. Remember Doctor Knipling and the screw-worm flies of Curaçao.”
    Knipling, he recalled, eradicated screw-worm flies, a cattle pest, on Curaçao by introducing sterile, irradiated males into the species. The human problem was the female as long as motherhood existed in a near-symbiotic relationship with sentimentality, forgetfulness, drunkenness, carelessness, and licentiousness.
    In the matter of maternity as instinctual versus learned behavior, he would get a grass-roots opinion from Ester.
    Carrick called him at two, and the department head sounded disgruntled.
    “I dropped by your house at noon to say hello to Ester, but she didn’t answer.”
    “Ester fired the maid,” Ward explained. “Housework keeps her busy until four or five in the morning, so she sleeps in.”
    “I didn’t know things were so bad, but, with your larger grant, you can put her back on the payroll along with my boys.”
    “Then you’ve decided on the larger grant?”
    “It’s still under advisement, but it’s getting less so. Give Ester my regrets.”
    Ward left the laboratory an hour early to spruce up for his date with Ruth. Arriving home, he was surprised. On the dining room table were candlesticks, clean linen, and a wine bucket containing a bottle of Thunderbird ’68.
    From the kitchen, Ester called, “Is that you, dear?”
    “Yes, darling. I thought you were going to town for a second fitting.”
    “I decided that dark blue was too depressing… Go and get ready, dear, for dinner.”
    He turned to go upstairs, wondering what to do about Ruth, when the phone rang. He answered it, but it was Joe Cabroni sounding more disgruntled than Carrick.
    “Get me Ester.”
    “Sure, Joe. Hang on.”
    He buzzed Ester on the kitchen extension and heard her pick up the phone.
    “Where in the hell have you been?” Cabroni asked. “I’ve been waiting at this bar since four-thirty.”
    “Oh, Joe. I completely forgot our appointment in the rush of preparing dinner for Alex…”
    Ward hung up.
    When he returned

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