The garden center has an actual kitchen, which Case thinks is pretty cool, so when he wants a break from the cooler food of yogurt, cereal, and granola, or grilled plantains or veggie burgers, he heads to garden center. It’s there that he meets Moira Fyres. She’s the first person he feels actually gets him, like can follow his cadences and the rhythm of his logic, and grow more interested, rather than less.
Talking to people has never been easy for Case. It hasn’t been easy for me, either. In fact, one of the greatest gifts of the pandemic, if a horrible thing can be said to bear gifts–well, no, it can’t. So let’s rephrase this: One of the byproducts of working remotely and staying at home for the past seven months is that I only have to talk in-person to one other person, my partner, who knows me well. And even if he doesn’t have the capacity to follow my talk at the moment, he never looks at me like I’m weird, and I know that later, when he does have the capacity, he’ll listen. And through all our decades together, I’ve pretty well figured out how to talk to him, at least when I’m not overwhelmed by stress, and he’s figured out pretty well how to listen, at those times when he’s not occupied with other thoughts or also overwhelmed with stress.
At any rate, I find it a tremendous relief not to have to try to talk to people at the office every day. I am all too familiar with the look that Avani Nair is giving Case here. Yeah, he’s just been talking about veggie dumplings and the process of making them, describing how to get those little crinkles on the edges, and you can tell from Avani’s expression that the way he said this, the particular details he selected to mention and notice, which are so important to him, but which aren’t really anything that a neurotypical would notice or even pay attention to, lead her to one conclusion: weird.
She likes him fine, and she thinks he’s cool, and he has a job that makes a real contribution, but when she gets right down to it, when she listens to what he says and how he talks and where he looks and the way his mind works, she can only conclude that he’s weird. Atypical, to be polite.
Well, no. He’s autistic. And he’s not an atypical autistic, at all. And the way his mind works, and how he talks, and interacts, and that he sometimes wears noise-cancelling headphones or might look over your shoulder, rather than in your eyes, and that he’s so into what he’s doing that he sometimes doesn’t notice anything else, isn’t really weird. It’s actually quite typical, for someone who’s autistic.
At any rate, Moira Fyres gets him. She can listen to him and not roll her eyes or give that combo puzzled-judging look that Case came to believe was people’s default expression. When he talks with her, it’s like a load off–he can actually talk, and she will actually listen. And then she’ll talk. This is what social communication is supposed to feel like, he thinks. Double-empathy.
The garden center has become a hang-out for celebrities looking to bolster their reputation for being green. And that’s how Case comes to meet Ira Mahajan, the second person he’s ever met who gets him.
Ira’s not a celebrity. She’s a paparazzi. (If you read Deira’s Strannik Legacy, you wouldn’t be amiss to be thinking that paparazzi are the new mailmen–or mailwomen, as the case may be.)
She’s not really a paparazzi, she explains. She’s a photographer, but you don’t make much money taking photos of rusting cranes and stacks of containers. You can make money taking pictures of Judith Ward and Brytani Cho.
She joins Case at the chess table after Judith Ward leaves.
“I used to play this game all the time when I was a kid,” she says.
She falls right into an end-game trap.
“Don’t feel bad,” Case says. “Since you played chess as a kid, your chess-mind probably hasn’t kept up with the rest of your mind.”
She doesn’t look at him like he’s weird. She doesn’t misinterpret what he said and take offence.
Instead, she thinks.
“You know,” she replies, “you’re right. All my chess synapses haven’t really been developed since I was around ten years old.”
Later, while she’s playing blick-block, she calls out, “Do you think that blick-block synapses transfer to chess synapses? If so, then the next time we play, watch out!”
Case looks at the pieces, all lined up. It’s the beginning, everything in place, before the moves and the variations. And after every game, no matter how messy it gets in the middle-game, no matter how much conflict in the end-game, you always go back to this: lining up the pieces, with all that potential at the ready.