Jan peered into the room. All neutral tones and silence. She stepped across the threshold. Suddenly the walls turned to soft, warm yellow, and the modular arrangement at the far end of the “hospitality sector” blinked on with patterns of fairy tale-like whimsy. Some tinkling, teasing music played softly all around.
Jan was delighted. “How lovely to think that this is me!”
Paul entered the room. The walls now turned slightly rust. Panels opened to reveal textured symmetrical patterns. The music took on a low, slower melody.
Paul smiled playfully at Jan. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “Aha! My personality is overshadowing yours.”
There were quick flashes of red all around the room. Loud percussion came and went.
Paul showed surprise. Bright patterns appeared on all sides of the couple. A classical selection with bursting crescendos boomed forth.
“Why, Jan! I’m sorry that stupid comment made you angry.”
Jan was gazing again with wonder at the marvelous constructions around them. She almost expected to hear breathing or feel beating.
Isn’t it eerie Paul? Eerie and exciting!” She paused, deciding which words to choose. “I … wasn’t really mad. But I guess there was a second of resentment or something …” She stopped, glancing to each side, then upward. “And this house picks up those just-barely-there vibrations!”
“Well, you knew I was just kidding, didn’t you?” Paul put his arm around Jan and squeezed her shoulder.
A sudden change around them: pastel flurries, a heavy scent of spring, a Strauss waltz.
Paul jerked his hand off of Jan’s shoulder. It was a reflex movement, as if his fingers had been burned. Both Jan and Paul burst out laughing and the house seemed to laugh with them.
When the comfortable rust-and-gold decor returned, Jan and Paul sat on one of the two stabiles in the sector. Paul leafed through the pamphlet. The two of them discussed the pending decision. The real estate agent was waiting outside. He had told them to take as much time as they wanted. It wasn’t more time they needed, it was more money. The budget would be strained to the breaking point, no question about it. But, oh, the house, this marvelous house! Mirrormood Estates meant not only upper-crust living, it meant lifetime insurance against the deterioration of human relationships through misunderstanding. Jan and Paul, newly married and wonderfully in love, were determined to maintain their open communication, thus fortifying their lives against unhappiness. This house would be a tender touchstone if the going ever did get rough.
“Listen!” Jan pulled at Paul’s arm “What are we doing sitting here? We should be looking around.”
So Jan and Paul explored.
In each “living sector” (as the pamphlet was wont to call the room arrangements), Jan and Paul had fun trying to toss out a variety of feelings and to watch the bouncings. But the newlyweds soon found that the house did not react as readily and as dramatically to conjured emotions. Still, it was so much fun to shout or grimace—or whatever—and to see, hear, and sometimes feel and smell echoes that were more clearly understood than had been the original outputs. Time passed too quickly.
“We’d better get on with it,” Paul noted just as Jan was turning to again review the possibilities of the food preparation sector. “That real estate man will be coming in here to pry us out before long.”
Jan and Paul returned again to the hospitality sector and sat on the stabile closest to the front entrance. They hated to leave the house. Together they looked through the pamphlet. On the last pages of the pamphlet were more explicit descriptions, in quasi-technical terms, of the equipment built into the house: computers to record and decipher even a slight odor of perspiration, a sudden tightening of a muscle, a quick flutter of an eyelid. Diagrams attempted to show the intricate networks of sensors and reactors built into various walls and arrangements. Mathematical data followed.
Jan lost interest. She didn’t care that much about explanations and proof. She knew only that she loved the house. The real estate agent had shown wisdom in simply unlocking the door and telling them to wander through the model home at their leisure. The house was its own best sales agent.
“I love it,” Jan enthused.
“Well, I do too. But we have to look at this from the practical standpoint, you know.”
The house went bland. Too much black and white. There was some kind of clean and crisp electronic music playing. The temperature in the room cooled.
Jan stuck out her tongue. “Ugh!” And there was a waver of greenness, a few droning notes.
Then Jan and Paul found themselves giggling. And surrounded by merry pulsations and wild colors, they decided that, oh, yes, they had to live in the house.
Jan was awake. Her eyes were still closed. It had become a game. Guess what’s out there. Then, bang! Open the eyes! See how close you came.
It was difficult to win in this game. The many computers in the house that worked separately and together made countless environmental expressions possible. And the waking scene was a mixture of the blurring dreams of two people and the crystallizing thoughts of the waker. Jan could inventory her own fading dream glow—whether or not she was able to remember having dreamed. She could note her bent for the day. But how unlikely to be able to wild-guess the dream of someone else. That was the mystery factor: Paul’s dream. But that’s what made the game intriguing.
Hmmm. A trailing melancholy … anticipation of a busy day. And maybe Paul had had a scrapbook-type dream last night.
During the first two weeks after they had moved into the house, Jan and Paul had alternated their waking and sleeping times in order to experience the dream flicker excitement spoken of by so many Mirrormood residents. A couple of those times when Paul had been asleep and she had been awake, Jan had watched with interest very homey and nostalgic happenings in the room. So she would choose a scrapbook-type dream for last night. A vague supposition, but at least something to work with. Jan mixed the ingredients together and decided: A warm plaid on the folio-panel, coordinated wide stripes on the overhead and …
Jan’s eyes snapped open. All was neutral. She listened carefully. Sometimes the morning audios were very soft. Funny she hadn’t noticed. She usually allowed herself the audio clues. Nothing. A fear was rising from Jan, was rising and dispersing. No reinforcements wrapping all around. The wavers of dismay weren’t being caught and labeled and hung out for display. Jan heard herself emit a strange wail. She reached for Paul.
“Paul! Wake up, wake up! The house is broken!”
The week had been a waiting time—long and blandly tedious. Technicians had come, had checked, had consulted. Nothing was resolved. Nothing was fixed. Jan had had a bothersome feeling of uneasiness with her for most of the weary week. At least, she had supposed it was uneasiness. She couldn’t be sure. It was hard to decide how she really felt. She and Paul had lived in Mirrormood for six months. She had not had occasion for some time to concern herself with careful introspection and then to arrive at conclusions without aid of “outside corroboration”.
The passive house did not now demand attention. Jan was free to look elsewhere. Several times she had caught herself watching Paul surreptitiously. Jan supposed that Paul was equally suspicious of her actions, unsure of motivation and intent. Paul had been quieter this week, had seemed to be spending more time thinking. Jan decided that she felt very uneasy. If only those people would get the house fixed.
Drab. It was so drab. The magic was gone. Too bad there wasn’t a nice yard outside with living plants, a place where she could go for some deep breathing and smiling. Mirrormood houses had only small, hard courtyards. The Mirrormood Development Corporation didn’t concern itself with outdoor life-styles. Geode living, Jan decided. That’s what it was like. All the glory was sealed inside. And now there was no glory. The geode looked like it had been sacked and scoured. The magic was gone.
Jan knew, of course, that not even the intensifiers were working; yet, it seemed that with each succeeding day of house inactivity the house became gloomier. It was as if more and more layers of grayness were being stretched tautly and uncomfortably over the whole. Jan could almost feel a cloudy film hardening on her very skin. She rubbed her arms. Maybe it was just a damp chilliness she felt. The heat, humidity, and ion regulators weren’t working either.
Jan bit her lower lip in thought. How ironic! Now she was reacting to the house instead of the house reacting to her. And it was getting worse and worse. Maybe if she had a good cry she would feel better.
A defiance welled inside her. She let the defiance come out in a glare of her eyes. She wanted to direct the glare toward the very heart or brain or core of this pompous house! But Jan had never been interested enough in the systems of the house to find out if there was a central something-or-other control unit. So she had to be content with pressing the glare up one wall, across the ceiling, and down another wall.
“I’ll decide my own mood,” she threatened to the gray hollowness about her. Jan went to the sleeping sector, grabbed her purse, and left the house.
Jan stood rearranging and reconsidering, moving an orange marigold closer to a purple columbine, adding a few more sprays of baby’s breath. She stood to admire the bouquet, then glanced toward the walls to consider the effect of the two wall hangings. Jan would never have imagined that she, who professed to have quality taste, would have purchased such garish items. But they had been cheap; and, she did like the way they worried the grayness. She hoped Paul would approve. Jan paced back and forth, stopping twice to touch the warmth of the flowers.
She was startled when the door burst open. Paul was not one for bursting into rooms. But there he was, standing too still now. There was an unusual gleam in his eyes.
Jan gestured toward the spots of colors in the room. “I hope you like it. I used money from the food budget, but …”
“It’s beautiful! It’s beautiful! You’re beautiful!” Paul grabbed Jan and danced her around the room.
She certainly hadn’t expected such an enthusiastic reaction. They stopped the twirling in front of the bouquet.
“I wished I could have bought basketful of flowers and bright, plastic doodads to scatter and hang in every room. But I knew we couldn’t afford it.”
“Speaking-of-affording-things.” Paul pranced the statement out. Jan, who had been pushing the flowers into a tighter arrangement, turned to devote her full attention to Paul.
No careful parade of phrases now. Paul let the words tumble happily. The tone was pure joy.
“Do you know that the guarantee contract has been violated? We weren’t repaired within six days. I got a solemn phone call at work today. Do you know we have the option to take possession of a new Mirrormood or to terminate the mortgage agreement? We’re free!”
It was the moment to toss something into the air. But Jan and Paul merely stood looking at one another, smiles of satisfaction on their faces. The smiles stretched to laughter, which propelled them into one another’s arms.
Oh, life was a parade! They could both feel the tingle of confetti-and-balloon time with booming drums and banners unfurling.
Paul kissed Jan. The happy glow Jan felt seemed to light up the gray room. The magic wasn’t gone, Jan realized. It had been inside her, waiting.
“Let’s find a nice, drab, cheap apartment to rent.”
Jan nodded. “Yes. And, oh, please, let’s go looking right now.”
They hurried out of the house, taking the magic with them.