Sunday, November 10, 2013

Theodore Sturgeon: "The Other Celia"

This is one of those quiet little stories that Ted Sturgeon does so well.  The horror is understated and relates not to Celia, be she an alien or another sentient species in hiding on earth.  The only too human Slim is the source of the horror in this story.  Slim is the type of person who would tear off the wings of insects or birds. But, he wouldn't do it to cause pain or suffering; he would do it out of curiosity to see how a flying creature would react once it had lost its wings.  In fact, if someone told Slim he was hurting those creatures, he would be surprised.  That would never have occurred to him, and he would probably stop.

As you can see, Slim is not a very likable person.  He is a snoop and insensitive to the feelings of others.  At times his behavior crosses the line between normal and pathological curiosity.   When he was a child, his mother had to appear several times in Children's Court to explain that he wasn't dishonest, that he was just "curious."   While curiosity may be a good thing, it can be dangerous if not kept within reasonable limits. In this story we see a Slim whose curiosity leads him to meddle in another person's life and that meddling results in tragedy.

Slim lives in a boarding house.  At present he is on medical leave from his job.  He was attacked by a fellow employee who tried to bury a fourteen-inch crescent wrench in his skull.  Sturgeon does not tell us why the employee tried to do this, but I suspect he was upset by Slim's snooping.  Since most of the other tenants of the boarding house are at work, he finds this an excellent opportunity to engage in his favorite pastime--snooping.

"His current situation was therefore a near-paradise.  Flimsy doors stood in rows, barely sustaining vacuum upon aching vacuum of knowledge; and one by one they imploded at that nudge of the curiosity.  He touched nothing (or if he did, he replaced it carefully) and removed nothing, and within a week he knew Mrs. Koyper's roomers far better than she could, or cared to.  Each secret visit to the rooms gave him a starting point; subsequent ones taught him more.  He knew not only what these people had, but what they did, where, how much, for how much, and how often.  In almost every case, he knew why as well.

Almost every case.  Celia Sarton came."

He waited a few days to see what her schedule was.  Were there times he could enter her room and feel safe she would not return?   He found that she invariably would leave in the morning and return in the evening, just like the rest of the roomers.  Therefore he entered her room, but unexpectedly it was two days after he decided it was safe.  He kept forgetting about her.

He found nothing in the room to make her an individual--no photos of family or friends, no keepsakes, nothing that would make her stand out in his mind.  Several times he found himself leaving the room without looking around for anything: it was as if it was an empty room waiting for someone to enter it.

It was by accident that he discovered that there was something in the room that made her unique.  It appeared to be a second skin.  Slim had never seen anything like this before, and his curiosity was aroused as it had never been before.  So, he acted, not to harm her, but out of curiosity to see what she would do.  Thus the tragedy.

A great short story

No comments:

Post a Comment