Stripped Gears On The Kaleidoscope

Kage Baker adored kaleidoscopes. The inevitable but never expected patterns, growing one out of the other, fascinated her. Each one was a unique vista that would never come again – even if you turned the kaleidoscope back, the result was not the pattern you had just seen. It was a new one.

She didn’t take it for a metaphor for time – I know because I suggested that once, in our 20’s, when she was sitting and staring into the other universes in the cheap cardboard ‘scope she kept on her desk. She’d gotten it at a Halloween Festival in our teens, and had it the rest of her life. And she commented, as she turned it round and round, that she just never got tired of the distances and patterns she could see in there.

“Like time, huh? Each moment unique, never to be repeated.”

“Nope. Time repeats, I think. Or at least you can go back and forth and see it again.” Kage shifted from the bright window to a shadowed corner of the room, and grinned behind the spangled orange tube at her eye. “Boy, that changes the whole palette of colours! Nope, this more like watching the Universe Egg at the Big Bang go off over and over.”


“Or watching other universes go by. Like a Viewmaster with no end,” she said happily. “That’s how time ought to work!”

And in the fullness of itself, that is how Time turned out to work. For Kage.  In her stories, at least.

We all (I have decided. It’s a Revelation, Dear Readers) have a kaleidoscope fixed permanently in front of the eyes of our minds. They run on the wind power of speech, or steam from overheating brains, or maybe a private selection of small rodents on little treadmills … those persons possessed of enormous will-power and strength can learn to turn them with a clear-eyed stare; others, enlightened beyond average humanity, with the serenity of their souls. Most people, though, don’t seem to remember the patterns from one glimpse to the next, and so slide from Universe to Universe without noticing that everything everywhere has changed.

Kage was sure that was how the worlds actually ended. The world ends, the Universe changes, but no one sees it. Only the few people with either clear vision or very strange eyes see it at all.

My personal kaleidoscope seems to have stripped its gears today. There is no regularity in its pace, or its views, or even the colour spectrum of the succeeding pictures; they shift without warning or continuity from bits of glass to views of coloured paper clips; from scarlets and golds to something just this side of visibility from a nocturnal landscape of ultra-violet and ultimate black. It runs along smoothly for a while, and then it lurches.

And I keep falling asleep again! The narcolepsies has got me once more, and I keep falling back into vague improbable dreams filled with porcupines and squids on long car drives. Anybody know how to interpret dreams of porcupines and squids?

I asked Kage once, years ago during a similar spate of kaleidoscope gear strippage, what stuff like this means. And she said, “Stop eating Brie at midnight, you daft cheese fairy.”

And turned her kaleidoscope serenely. And smiled into the infinite flowers inside.