The moon hung just above the horizon, bloody orange, its horns parallel to the ground, as though some catastrophe had shattered it and left the broken half plummeting to earth.
Contrary to stereotype, the psychologist was not a man in goatee, turtleneck and blazer. He was clean-shaven, balding, wearing a gray sweatshirt. All he needed was a stopwatch or a whistle around his neck and he would be a high-school PE teacher. And Lavender was not on a couch, though she might have preferred one for the slinkiness factor. Although she had come of her own free will she inwardly wished to charm the doctor and avoid the difficult questions he frequently asked.
His first impression was that Lavender was like most celebrities he counseled, for she was not the only one; she felt isolated by her fame, objectified, lonely, and could not reconcile this with her success. She admitted to no living relations but had fond memories of her teachers and caretakers. The musicians in her band were her only close friends. Like many stars-- indeed, like most of the population --she harbored a belief that she was not part of the human race, but was somehow a thing separate. He'd known but a little of her before taking her as a patient, but had learned quickly the depth of this notion.
"Lavender, we've discussed this before. Denying your humanity is only going to strengthen the impulse to withdraw."
She gave him a look, arranged her strange form upon the chair, to ask if he really wished to persist. He did not give in.
"It helps me to think of myself like that. Please humor me."
The doctor made a small noise of assent through his clasped hands. "Please, go on."
"When I was small, I was told that I shouldn't hate, I shouldn't hurt people if I could help it. Don't steal. Don't lie. Be kind to others. Think of others' feelings. But when I got out into the world I found that nobody followed these rules. Everybody is cold to each other, they steal, they kill... but what's the most confusing is that they proclaim the same rules I was taught." She sipped from a glass of water. "Everybody tells me we're supposed to be good to each other, even as they're treating each other horribly." She let out a little yelp as the glass slipped from her fingers and thumped onto the carpet, upright but carried over by the sloshing of its contents. "I'm sorry." She looked around for something to soak up the liquid.
"It's all right," he said, but his patient produced a handkerchief from somewhere and mopped at the wet spot on the carpet. The sight of her on the floor was faintly unreal. He waited until she was done.
"I'm not a philosopher, Lavender, although psychology frequently flirts with philosophy. I can't tell you why people say one thing and do the opposite. My way of thinking is that human beings want ideals to aspire to, even if it's hard to live up to them."
Lavender settled back into the chair. "That's what everyone tells me," she sighed, folding her hands together. "No one really tries. Their immediate concerns have all their attention." She glanced towards the window, saw the moon.
"It's a big world, Lavender. People aren't very strong when you come down to it. Inside they're still small." He neglected to add his observation that celebrities grew up even less, which was how they became celebrities. "It'd be great if everyone could talk to their shrink. It wouldn't be bad for me, either." He grinned.
Lavender was still looking out the window and seemed not to have heard. "I can't stand to watch you arguing and fighting and killing each other. Part of me wants to say something that would bring you together, and part of me wants to kill all of you so that I don't have to hear it anymore. You don't know what it does to me."
The doctor prodded his lower lip with the end of the pen. "It's an understandable reaction, Lavender. A little harsh," he said with a chuckle, "but some people are empathetic, they feel what others feel."
"I can't let go of what I was taught, and I can't ignore what I'm learning now."
"And you shouldn't." The intensity of her sudden glare made him pause. "Lavender...." He got up from his seat and walked around the small office, because it felt natural to do so. "Most people learn to reconcile life's contradictions. George Orwell called it 'doublethink,' and while he presented it as a delusional state, it does have some basis in real life. If there's a conflict, one idea goes away until the more immediate of the two isn't required." The doctor perched on the edge of his desk. "It's crazy, if you'll excuse me, but it really is how people get through the day. The human mind is very flexible."
"Can you teach me how to do this?" Her tone was doubtful, and she sized up her unlikely counselor.
"I think you already can. All we need to do is help you learn to relax. Don't worry so much. Life really isn't that hard."
"[...] have been completely destroyed. The brunt of the blast was absorbed by the Temple Mount, but much of its energy was deflected into the Jewish and Muslim quarters, where officials believe the majority of casualities are still to be found. The death toll is estimated to reach the thousands; however due to the size of the blast radius it may be weeks before any useful estimate can be reached. But it is understood that had the bomb been set off during the day the toll would undoubtedly be much higher. A spokesperson for Old City's various historical preservation societies stated that reconstruction of Temple Mount will begin as soon as rescue operations are complete, but no estimate has yet been made of whether the site will be habitable in the near future nor of how long decontamination will take. Contamination makes the search for survivors especially problematic, although many civilian volunteers have entered the blast zone in disregard of warnings in order to lend their assistance. In an emergency meeting of the Knesset earlier this morning, the prime minister stated that 'the perpetrators of this unspeakable act will be brought to justice, regardless of cost.' Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority has stated that it will make its resources unconditionally available in any investigation of the attack. Reports of clashes in the occupied territories have dropped almost to zero, as their inhabitants attempt to absorb the enormity of what has taken place here in Jerusalem, leaving the Israeli army at loose ends. IDF forces remain in place for security reasons, but are expected to be partially withdrawn within the day to assist with rescue efforts. This is Chris Hartnell, for BBC World Service."
The videotape is recognizable in its unpolished banality, its poor audio the accent of terrorist demands and suicide pacts. A cleaner production might not have been credible.
In its effort to compensate for glare, the camera has transformed the moving image into a Nagel painting, the subject's luminously pale face floating disembodied in gloom, topped by a shock of hair turned umber by data loss. Irises are made into black marbles by a directional spot and are skirted by lash lines.
A faint resonance is added to the voice by the recording. The subject speaks as though she has quite a lot to say but means to get it over with quickly.
"Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of your religions state emphatically that the greatest truth is to treat all with kindness and respect, and yet you persist in disregarding this. It has become clear to me that the reason such obvious truths are stated at all is that you aren't capable of following them unless they're beaten into you."
Recrimination has crept into her voice but it evaporates before her next utterance.
"Jerusalem's Old City," she says, "is holy to all of you, for different reasons, and consequently squabbled over endlessly. One might imagine that such an apparent coincidence would cause you to realize that the similarities between your faiths are far greater than the differences."
She pauses; the noise of the tape rises in the absence of speech, humming and blurping before she continues.
"I am no longer content to watch you destroy each other over it."
In the video she presses two buttons on a cellular phone, and there is the faint chirping of the device, chanting its digits. "There," she says, though she could not possibly know at that time if she's been successful, and yet the video was promulgated so soon after the event that one wonders if she were waiting just out of range, to see it with her own eyes. Perhaps it's just a prop; perhaps she gazes at a clock just beyond the camera, waiting for the second hand to kiss a black slash; perhaps it was made weeks before, smugly orchestrated. Few people would consider these questions relevant.
"Now none of you will have it."
The line sounds faintly rehearsed.
"You have contradicted your own morality and have therefore forfeited any consent you may or may not give. My morality did not prohibit this action."
Her expression changes. It isn't a large difference. A faint lilt to the voice, the corner of the mouth ticking upward twice, only these cross signals with the otherwise grave tone of her speech.
"I know that in the aftermath of this you will want vengeance upon me, even though I have in an instant freed you from your ceaseless warring and animosity. And that's all right. If you wish to have an enemy, let it be me. Unite against me. Forget everything that ever separated you. I'd rather have your hatred than to watch you destroy each other. Nothing changes for me."
The video ends as she rises from her chair, an awkward bending of her slender form vanishing into electronic snow.