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Denise and Steffie’s grade school is evacuated because children and teachers are exhibiting mysterious symptoms like headaches, eye irritations, and the taste of metal in their mouths. One teacher starts rolling on the floor and speaking in foreign languages. The school closes for a week while inspectors do a sweep of the building. The inspectors’ suits are made of Mylex, a substance that confounds their detection equipment, rendering the results ambiguous and inconclusive.
While the girls are home from school, Jack, Babette, Wilder, and the girls take a trip to the supermarket. There, they run into Murray once again, and Jack notes that he’s seen Murray in the supermarket as many times as he’s seen him on campus. Jack listens to the din of the supermarket and thinks he can detect a strain of noise coming from within the human clamor: something dull and unlocatable, just beyond his perception.
Jack and Steffie walk down the aisles, and she tells Jack that Denise has been reading the Physician’s Desk Reference to find information about a drug Babette has been taking. Jack says he knows nothing about any drug.
In another part of the store, Murray helps Babette push her loaded cart and talks about the Tibetan philosophy of death. He tells Babette that he finds that the noises, colors, and psychic energy of the supermarket spiritually recharge him. Supermarkets contain untold amounts of hidden symbolism, he tells her, and reading the symbols is only a matter of learning how to peel back the layers of inscrutability. Babette nods, smiles, and shops her way through Murray’s lecture on dying. Wilder disappears briefly into someone else’s cart but is quickly recovered.
As they check out, Murray awkwardly invites Jack and Babette over for dinner, which they accept. In the parking lot, Jack and Babette hear a rumor that one of the Mylex-suited investigators died during the school inspection.
As Jack observes the student body at the College-on-the-Hill, Jack feels that he can actually see the college’s high tuition reflected in the students’ bearing and the particular ways they sit, stand, and walk. To Jack, the students’ mannerisms signal a shared membership in some kind of secret fellowship, determined by their economic status.
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