Sigfrid never closes off a subject. He never says, “Well, Rob, I guess we’ve talked enough about that.” But sometimes when I’ve been lying there on the mat for a long time, not responding much, making jokes or humming through my nose, after a while he’ll say:
“I think we might go back to a different area, Rob. There was something you said some time ago that we might follow up. Can you remember that time, the last time you—”
“The last time I talked to Klara, right?”
“Sigfrid, I always know what you’re going to say.”
“Doesn’t matter if you do, Rob. What about it? Do you want to talk about how you felt that time?”
“Why not?” I clean the nail of my right middle finger by drawing it between my two lower front teeth. I inspect it and say, “I realize that was an important time. Maybe it was the worst moment of my life, about. Even worse than when Sylvia ditched me, or when I found out my mother died.”
“Are you saying you’d rather talk about one of those things, Rob?”
“Not at all. You say talk about Klara, we’ll talk about Klara.”
And I settle myself on the foam mat and think for a while. I’ve been very interested in transcendental insight, and sometimes when I set a problem to my mind and just start saying my mantra over and over I come out of it with the problem solved: Sell the fish-farm stock in Baja and buy plumbing supplies on the commodities exchange. That was one, and it really paid out. Or: Take Rachel to Merida for waterskling on the Bay of Campeche. That got her into my bed the first time, when I’d tried everything else.
And then Sigfrid says, “You’re not responding, Rob.”
“I’m thinking about what you said.”
“Please don’t think about it, Rob. Just talk. Tell me what you’re feeling about Klara right now.”
I try to think it out honestly. Sigfrid won’t let me get into TI for it, so I look inside my mind for suppressed feelings.
“Well, not much,” I say. Not much on the surface, anyway.
“Do you remember the feeling at the time, Rob?”
“Of course I do.”
“Try to feel what you felt then, Rob.”
“All right.” Obediently I reconstruct the situation in my mind. There I am, talking to Klara on the radio. Dane is shouting something in the lander. We’re all frightened out of our wits. Down underneath us the blue mist is opening up, and I see the dim skeletal star for the first time. The Three-ship — no, it was a Five. . Anyway, it stinks of vomit and perspiration. My body aches.
I can remember it exactly, although I would be lying if I said I was letting myself feel it.
I say lightly, half chuckling, “Sigfrid, there’s an intensity of pain and guilt and misery there that I just can’t handle.” Sometimes I try that with him, saying a kind of painful truth in the tone you might use to ask the waiter at a cocktail party to bring you another rum punch. I do that when I want to divert his attack. I don’t think it works. Sigfrid has a lot of Heechee circuits in him. He’s a lot better than the machines at the Institute were, when I had my episode. He continuously monitors all my physical parameters: skin conductivity and pulse and beta-wave activity and so on. He gets readings from the restraining straps that hold me on the mat, to show how violently I fling myself around. He meters the volume of my voice and spectrum-scans the print for overtones. And he also understands what the words mean. Sigfrid is extremely smart, considering how stupid he is.
It is very hard, sometimes, to fool him. I get to the end of a session absolutely limp, with the feeling that if I had stayed with him for one more minute I would have found myself falling right down into that pain and it would have destroyed me.
Or cured me. Perhaps they are the same thing.