Halfway House

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A short story of Karl Glogauer by Peter Crowther.

Publishing History

Summary

The career-driven Karl Glogauer receives an invitation for admission to NASA’s astronaut academy and, capitulating to his ambitions, accepts it. Monica’s strong disapproval of his decision brings about the end of their relationship.

During a space mission, Karl’s ship is suddenly destroyed by a meteor shower. The last person left alive after the destruction of the ship, Karl floats in space with air leaking from his spacesuit. As he slowly asphyxiates, fragmented memories pass through Karl’s mind, including the deaths of his grandfather, his grandmother, and a pet hamster; his imagination is also projected forward as he visualizes his parents’ notification of his death and his own funeral. He wonders if he has reached “a halfway house, a kind of limbo…a gap between the firmaments of life and death” (p. 249).

Dying, he recalls an affirmation of faith made to a vicar in childhood, and hallucinates that his father and Monica are drifting alongside him in space. Monica lifts his helmet and black silence of limbo envelopes him and he—or at least his inner self—is returned to the moment the career-driven Karl receives an invitation for admission to NASA’s astronaut academy and, capitulating to his love for Monica, disregards the invitation and asks her to marry him instead.

Notably, the story concludes not with Karl’s narrative, but with a quote from Chief Seatlh (i.e., Seattle) of the Native American Suquamish tribe: “(t)here is no death. Only a change of worlds” (p. 256).

Interpretive notes

Unlike Michael Moorcock’s Glogauers, this Glogauer does not exhibit obsessive-compulsive traits, stress migraines, or schizoid episodes. This straight-and-narrow Karl is apparently of a conventionally healthy—or, law-abiding—psychological disposition until he experiences a moment of madness—or chaos—either in a dream or speculative daydream (i.e., the portion of the narrative devoted to his experiences while dying in space are somehow experienced by Karl prior to his decision to decline the offer from NASA), or in his time of dying (i.e., at death his essential self is literally and metaphorically transposed over to the crossroad of his life where he had chosen ambition rather than love, but on his second visit, he chooses love over ambition). “Halfway House” thus depicts the many-arrowed crossroad of chaos as a fateful nexus that may be encountered in limbo at the moment of death, with a suggestion that transmigration (see Breakfast in the Ruins) may follow; here, Karl follows the path of Law until he reaches it.