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where I am. I touch my ring finger to thumb to turn my music back on. I touch middle finger to thumb to skip to a decent song. I decide on DJ Terrestrial‟s remix of Row Your Boat. It‟s a revival piece that infects centuries-old nursery rhymes with our own generation‟s fresh flavor: preprogrammed, semi-autonomous robo-goddesses hitting perfect harmonies over the groans of pre-Third War factory machinery, all of this coming together to create a tune that‟s both jarring and invigorating, while still maintaining that old school electro feel. My favorite part of the song is during the bridge. DJ Terrestrial‟s signature sound is that of a female moaning as she reaches orgasm, something he sneaks into each song. In Row Your Boat, he manages to work in the coital screams of Hilla Carter, seventh female president, a woman I happen to find extremely attractive. This particular orgasm was originally featured on her second sex recording, which was, for some reason, only just recently added to public record. I have viewed it a number of times at the library since and I can, without a doubt, recommend it. I ask Virgo if he wants to listen as well and he does. We touch
index fingers and he starts bobbing his head. “I love this shit,” he says, but I can barely hear him. I see a street I recognize and turn onto it. Cantor is the main street of Quadrant 4, Sector 8, Town 24590. It cuts the designated section in half. Side streets jut off at even intervals to either side like ribs off a fish‟s spine. Each side of Cantor is lined with massive display screens, suspended fifty feet in the air and parabolic in nature so that when viewed from the ground, they appear at eye level. Most days the screens project advertisements for the newest eassistants or personal grooming devices or the locations of the Sector‟s most recently installed EXP booths. Today, though, our first-ever transvestite (male-to-female) president is being sworn into office, breaking a streak of 18 straight women. Her towering image is currently being broadcast on every screen. She clears her throat, Adam‟s apple bobbing, and begins to wrap up her address to the nation: “…as most of you know, I promised to get an EXP booth on the corner of every block and I am prepared to announce that I will fulfill this promise by the end of next quarter”…Somewhere out in the housing block a cheer goes up “…My cabinet will be forming construction crews in the coming weeks, please keep an eye out for further announcements regarding this once in a lifetime job opportunity…” We zip past a silver-suited man staring up at
one of the screens, drooling, sometimes drinking something out of a white cup with a bendy straw “…And in closing, I just want to thank everyone out there for this opportunity. I will not let you down. You will all be happy to hear that my presidential sex recording will be premiering directly after the transmission of this message is complete. I look forward to hearing your personal opinions on both the plotting and the characterization. Again, I thank all of you. Goodnight…” We park at a restaurant and I say, “Is this the right place?” Virgo nods and we head in. The room is a small-ish square, maybe twenty by twenty, existing in the negative space created by the four floor-to-ceiling aquariums that now encase us. The aquariums contain a single species, a rare pink electric jellyfish, thousands of which float gently in the water, thick enough to be legitimate walls to the outside world. Low ambient music plays from speakers in the ceiling and the jellyfish pulse gently along with the beat, emanating rings of light from the centers of their exumbrellas and tinting the room a soft fleshy color. Our waitress is a massive blob of melting icecream. She growls for our drink orders. I ask if her if our friend is here yet. She shakes her head no and her cheeks smack against each other. When she‟s gone I turn to Virgo and speak in a low voice. “So I was sitting at a table, smoking hookah with the Gay Prince of Jordan and these two beautiful Indian women—one who
I‟d fucked and got tired of and one who I wanted to fuck but couldn‟t because she was married to a software engineering consultant who tipped the valet a couple hundred bucks and—you know—I‟m just a kid who knows where all the broken meters are in the city—when I see a group of kids who must have been eighteen, nineteen maybe, walking like a pack of wolves—confidence in numbers I guess—who all had the same buzzed hair cut and the same half-calf black socks on and the same brand of off-color shorts, and I let slip a „look at these faggots,‟ which wasn‟t meant in a derogatory manner towards the Gay Prince of Jordan. I meant it off hand, in unspecific terms, not like the dick sucking kind, you know? But it didn‟t matter in the eyes of the Prince, and that‟s how I got banned from the Admin Center.” “So we‟re here to get your job back?” “I‟m just tired of borrowing food from people.” “So stop eating then.” “Fuck you.” The pair at the next table over are both dressed in high fashion sheik. He has a cylindrical tower of blue hair. She is bald. They talk loudly. We listen and drink. …Man says, “So there I am, pissing on Frankie in the coed bathroom stall while he‟s tickling me and we‟re both giggling
and screaming so loud that everyone on our floor had to hear us, even over the music.” Woman says, “Was it that new Oubliette album?” Man pauses to drink something green and viscous from a tumbler glass says, “Yeah. It‟s amazing. Very dark and edgy. Did you hear their lead singer has beef with Prince? Like, he said Prince stole a bunch of loops for that new punk-concept album he‟s doing.” Woman says, “Prince is fucked anyways. He‟s picking too many fights. You heard about the thing down the road? With the nuns?” Man says, “Yeah.” Woman says, “Yeah. Anyways. Oubliette. My friends are interning on Conan‟s new game show this summer out in Las Vegas and MiNOT-R did a celebrity guest spot or whatever. So after the show, he invited them all back to his place and made them drinks and sang them some song about Rachel What‟s-Her-Face, that dike from that TV show, you know? Because he‟s obsessed with her I guess and the song was about how he wished she wasn‟t a lesbian…” The Gay Prince of Jordan shows up with the winner of the Miss Poland beauty pageant, circa a decade ago, who despite her victory, has not aged well. She‟s so pale she is nearly see-through, tangled up in a white dress darker than her papyrus skin. Her right hand is firmly latched onto the
bicep of the man himself, looking like a trashcan dressed in formal military attire. The two sit and the Prince immediately begins yapping. “You‟ve heard about this gang right? No? So I got this memo the other day, notably negative, mostly due to the recent spike in membership of a local motorcycle gang full of homosexual nuns that have been terrorizing local neighborhoods with specially crafted motorcycles, each of which has a uniquely drilled muffler with holes placed in such a way that every individual bike produces a different note when its engine is revved. After dedicating many hours to practice, the gang is now able to ride in large groups down city streets in full scapula, wimple, and veil attire and produce a bootleg version of Prince‟s „When Doves Cry‟ at 112+ decibels, which is loud enough to permanently damage the ears of susceptible nearby infants. Not discounting the threat of possible physical harm to a citizen, I‟m also keenly aware of the political minefield this situation has the potential to become. I‟ve had to deputize seven new officers to man the station‟s phones, a force specifically designed to handle the massive load of calls coming in from religious groups and gay rights activists and media agencies. Apparently Fruit of the Loom is in negotiations with the mayor for a sponsorship deal allowing them to decal each of the city‟s riot shields with their logo. Some of the nuns carry
concealed handguns (legally), making this a possible second amendment rights debate. Bad: already picket groups are forming, worse: I‟ve seen flyers advertising a country music concert not two miles from the office that‟s offering a twelve by twelve foot bonfire for angry individuals to make a political statement by burning copies of the 1984 album Purple Rain, worst: I‟ve received six personally signed emails (so far) from Mr. Love Symbol himself, who is threatening to sue both the city and the nuns in a class action irreparable defamation suit. This last bit hurts the most because my first slow dance ever was with Sally Corder in a dusty old middle school gym to the slow groove of „I Would Die 4 U,‟ a moment that forever made me a permanent worshipper of pencil thin mustaches and candy purple guitars and dick.” I say, “I‟m sorry to hear that.” The Prince takes a breath and wipes his brow and nods. “What‟re you here for again?” “I want the ban lifted on me. For the admin thing.” “Absolutely not. What‟re you eating?” I quit my job the next day at Wall and Associates. Still banned but fuck it, something needs to change. Tired of ripping people off with a $700 a month service that they could receive for free at the public library. Especially when these people are already in so much debt in the first place.
Maybe they‟re stupid for paying us but still—isn‟t this how the human race goes backwards? I don‟t know. Ask Jenn the manager for more responsibility. She tells me to keep shredding paper and that she‟s going to need the three initial letter packets to clients done by this afternoon. Sun glare on my computer screen all day. Way too hot to be wearing a tie, especially one my mom paid way to much money for. Seventy-dollar sweat rag. A client calls in from California. It‟s 1 pm in his time zone. He‟s very intoxicated. Mandy, our team leader answers the phone. He tells her we are on the devils side along with the IRS. He asks for our address and tells her that he‟s going to come to Virginia and put bombs underneath the floorboards in our office. He says he has gasoline as well and he‟s going to burn us one by one as we run out of the building. Mandy starts crying and has to transfer the call. I ask Mandy if I can sit in on one of the hearings today. She starts laughing even though tears are still coming out of her eyes. She tells me to keep shredding paper. I consider asking her for the number of the man from California. I could give him some pointers. I go to lunch at 1:30 pm, the latest we‟re allowed to go to lunch because we have to be back at the office at 2:00 pm. I have a Chik-fil-a chicken sandwich with no pickles. I eat it very slowly. It‟s dry and makes my tongue hurt. I count seventeen blue cars going by on the high way. Children are shrieking in the
playpen. In a movie, this is where the music would stop. Epiphany? Don‟t go back to work. Just stop going. This action goes against everything I‟ve been told about being out of college. You don‟t just stop going to work. A key factor in the election was unemployment—making it fairly important, I guess. Every news channel in existence makes it a point of constantly reminding people with jobs to keep those jobs. It doesn‟t matter. Once the idea has been birthed into existence, the decision is made. I‟m not going back. I finish my sandwich and drive home with the windows down, tie in the passenger seat. It‟s 2:30 when I walk through the front door. My roommate, Logan, is on the couch with his girlfriend, Aubrey. Aubrey asks why I‟m home so early. I say, “I quit,” and walk into the kitchen to get a beer. Aubrey follows me and says, “Johnny, you can‟t just quit.” I say, “I know, that‟s what I thought too,” and smile. I drink the rest of the afternoon and when the sun goes down I go to Donna Moore‟s house to drink more. She‟s in her room on the floor with a glass piece to her mouth and a lighter in her hand. She waves when I walked in but doesn‟t move the bowl. The blinds are open and light from a street lamp falls in bars across her face that the smoke drifts through when she exhales.
She says, “Sorry, I smoked a bit with Sean so I‟m kind of fucked up already.” I say, “It‟s cool,” and sit on her bed and drink whiskey and cokes and watch videos of Asian girls playing ukulele‟s and singing R&B songs on her laptop until I pass out. In the morning she hands me a piece of paper with an address on it. She says, “Go here. There will be a van there with a girl inside it named Koan. She‟ll help you out of your funk.” At home I take my clothes off and eat three pink pills in my bathroom, where I‟ve removed the mirror because my reflection terrifies me when I am on drugs. When I come to and leave the bathroom there is a girl sitting on my bed that I have never seen before in my life. She is short. Redhaired. Dressed in jeans and a loose jacket. Big, blackrimmed glasses cling to her face like a fruit bat. She smiles when she sees me and says, “Found you.” I dive back into the bathroom and shove more pills into my mouth. I stand against the closed door and hyperventilate, BIC triple-blade razor in hand for defense. Hours pass. When I‟m sure it‟s quiet on the other side of the door, I slowly open it and venture out. I am so worked up at this point that I dig into my fridge—the light blinding me for a second—and find a half-bottle of Bacardi 151. I take two quick shots and scan the yard once with the binoculars. There‟s a note taped to
my door. In the glow of the streetlight, all seems clear. I run down stairs and rip the piece of paper off the door. I run back to my room and try to read it but it‟s just a flyer for some no-name punk rock bank so I tear it into tiny squares and burn the pieces in an empty cereal bowl, dancing tribal circles around the flame. When I‟ve exhausted myself, I collapse into bed and dream about running through the woods, chainsaw in each hand, cutting down trees like they‟re made of I Can‟t Believe It‟s Not Butter while the girl looks on, tied up, mouth gagged with ten hundred-dollar bills and she‟s sitting on my bed when I get back to my place and I just give up. I fucking give up. I scream at her, “Who the fuck are you?” but she doesn‟t answer. I go into my bathroom and pop the lid off a fresh bottle of pills. I eat them like skittles and pace back and forth next to my bed. I want to ask her why she‟s following me, what about me could possibly be interesting enough for her to dedicate this amount of time to finding out, but I know she probably won‟t answer. My mouth is dry. I spot a glass of water on my nightstand that I don‟t remember pouring. I pick it up. Sip. Stare at her. She tells me I look like a busted up Christmas ornament. I look down at myself, at my grey tshirt, at my legs in frayed canvas pants popping out into red, dollar-store flip flops with snapped thongs duct-taped back together. I say, “What‟s wrong with these clothes?”
She laughs and asks if I‟ve ever been in love before. I say, “I met a girl once who was really sexy—drop dead—and at her house one night we were both sitting on her bed. She had these jeans on with a hole in the crotch—maybe on purpose, I don‟t know—but she kept spreading her legs to show off this red thong she was wearing and eventually she caught me looking and started to massage herself and told me how she used to hide her crack pipe in the slit throat of this teddy bear she had when she was a kid. I remember she pointed at it up on a shelf and—swear to whoever—this bear had black plastic eyes that showed me everything and I looked around and realized she didn‟t have sheets on her bed and her mattress and pillows were all stained yellow and I could smell her parents smoking weed out in the living room and who the fuck are you? And how did I even start talking about this?” She smiles and she‟s not wearing a black dress anymore she‟s wearing jeans with a hole in the crotch and I can see red fabric peeking out and she says, “I‟m whatever you want me to be. Now tell me if you‟ve ever been in love,” and I‟m shaking so I set the bottle of pills on my desk—lid still off—and say, “No. I don‟t know my parents very well.” I go see Koan. My fist on the metal door of the van sounds tinny and hollow. I‟m carrying a bag. Inside the bag is a road-killed raven fresh off the Arizona blacktop. I climb
in when Koan opens the door. She begins picking pills off her futon mattress like a monkey grooming its mate for beetles. I join her, cramming a half-dozen into my mouth before taking the dead bird out of my bag. Koan tells me to eat the bird. She sings, “Astral butterflies land on our bodies and feed off the orgasms we make,” and begins to undress. I watch her fractured face come to peace with itself as the high hits her eyelids. Her lips are a Venus flytrap. I bite into the bird and my nostrils fill with stink. I chew and swallow, twice, three times. My stomach comes alive. A fourth of July fireworks show. I feel it boiling over and open my throat to puke. Before I passes out I see Koan, naked, leaned back, legs spread, unsheathing a foot-long sex toy labeled on the side in yellow lettering: The Great American Challenge. I wake up on a beach. It‟s nighttime. Under the surface of the water twenty yards offshore, I see a soft glowing light. I swim towards it. The light feels warmer the closer I get. It offers a feeling of safety in the black water. When I can almost touch the source of the glow, something changes. A single line of small round lights illuminates one by one, revealing an alien shark, its body a six foot grey killing machine. Several things happen. The shark looks at me and acknowledges my presence. I become aware of a force emanating from within this animal that gives me the impression that this is not just a shark, but a „being,‟
meaning: something with distinct, otherworldly powers over the (mostly) unknown rules of the universe he finds himself inhabiting. The shark circles and I tread water, searching my pockets for anything and, impossibly, finding a Swiss army knife. When the shark attacks, so do I, catching the beast in its right eye. There is an explosion of light under the water, like lightning from a far off storm. The shark dives and the light dissipates and I feel more alone than I have ever felt in my life. For a faint moment, I think I hear sirens and my mother screaming. I hear Koan‟s voice slowed to a crawl. See the sun on her pale stomach as we‟re both dragged from the van. This vision leaves quickly though. I‟m left with a final shot, the image of three Koan‟s washing up on a beach. They‟re all naked and soaked to their marrows. They awake on the sand together and squint against the bright sun. Their surroundings are unrecognized. All seem to have just woken up from a dream, as if the dream was a symbiote with no more need of its hosts. Other families wander in the background, enjoying a normal day at the beach. They are unfazed by the women. The three together look out to sea. Remembering something possibly? I sink in the black water to the sounds of children laughing and slip into a deep, relaxing sleep. When the medics inform her of the news, Koan‟s mother isn‟t terribly shaken by her death. She tells them she‟s seen worse. Once while working in a
Banff hotel, a businesswoman came to stay for a few nights. Koan‟s mother was assigned to clean this woman‟s room upon vacancy. There she found two urine and blood soaked mattresses, a desk chair soaked in vomit, all kinds of food stomped into the carpet, the blankets and towels nowhere to be found, all supplied glasses broken and covered in something brown, a closed mason jar full of shit in the toilet, the garbage bins used as toilets, the bathtub full of garbage, the shower running, crayons melted in the microwave, a porn VHS smashed over the DVD player, feces smeared all over the television screen which was playing static, an alarm clock blaring a burnt CD of Lionel Richie, suitcases full of clothes cut into strips and tied together left hanging from the ceiling fan, and 20 pesos—left as a tip—on the nightstand. The world is coated in Vaseline outside the car window and I have no idea where I am. I ask Virgo where we are supposed to be going and he gives me a weird look. He says, “To your fam‟s house? You start courtmandated rehab tomorrow? They found you in the back of a van? With a naked teenage girl? Nothing?” His eyes look sadder than I remember. I say, “Yeah, yeah right, my bad,” and laugh.
I‟m sitting in the same room as my grandmother when she dies. Reading this Bolaño novel about visceral realists, trying to decide if he‟s being serious or satirical. Coming to my tenth sex scene in as many pages and using my arm to shield the words from onlookers even though no one else is home. Opa took the dog on a three-mile walk. My sister, mom, and aunts are all out shopping. I haven‟t looked up in a good thirty minutes. There‟s not a lot going on plot wise, but I‟m in a house in a field in the middle of nowhere North Carolina and the book is pornographic, at least. I get to this really explicit part, where Bolaño says „cunt‟ twelve times in one page and that‟s when it happens. My grandmother falls silent. It‟s not like she was making much noise to begin with. In the living room there are three couches and a chair around a coffee table. I am sitting on a couch, my grandmother on the one opposite me. Soap operas are playing on a television in the kitchen that neither of us can see. I don‟t think she cares what‟s on the television as long as enough noise comes out to mask her heavy breathing. She was at the age where sleep came anytime she sat down for too long. Death would stand there next to her leaning over and clicking the tips of his skeletal fingers together hoping this was the time. This was the time she would finally go. Easy and in her sleep. He would always
slide up his sleeve and check his watch and tap his feet and eventually she would wake up. He would sigh and disappear and the whole family would sigh with him and shoot glances at each other, trying to say with their eyes, I thought we lost her that time. Truthfully though, my grandmother knew she was on the verge of death. She knew because every time she closed her eyes and fell asleep it felt more natural than being awake. She wasn‟t afraid of dying, but she knew that we were all afraid for her. So she turned on the television to hide her heavy breathing when she fell asleep sitting up and if anyone caught her, giving her a gentle shake, she would wake up saying, “No, no, I wasn‟t asleep. Get off me.” So here I am, locked into this book when my grandmother stops breathing. I don‟t look up. I figure she‟s just waking up, taking it slow so the blood doesn‟t rush from her head from standing too quickly. I keep reading. Four more pages and I still haven‟t noticed any movement. My eyes move from the book to the maple coffee table covered in home improvement magazines and self-help books to my grandmother‟s white linen pants to her flower-pattern shirt to her face. I say, „Are you ok, Oma?‟ but I don‟t need to say it because I already know what‟s happened. Her face is the giveaway, bottom lip hanging with gravity on one side like a
puppet with a snipped supporting wire. Thin streams of dribble leak from the corners of her mouth. I sit there on my couch, just staring at her, thinking, Well, that‟s it I guess. I keep staring. In the background the soap opera is still playing. A lady with a deep voice says, “So that‟s it then Jeremy? You made love to that woman because you care for me too much?” I shake my head and look at the book in my lap. I say, “My grandmother dies and sex is the only thing people want to talk about.” I stand and go to the kitchen. I turn off the television and grab a paper towel. Standing over her, I can‟t help thinking this should be more distressful. I fold the paper towel twice and wipe the dribble from her face. Then I straighten her head so her mouth is level. The sag in her mouth goes away. I rub my thumbs underneath her eyes, wiping away imaginary tears. Her skin is like sculpting clay. The wrinkles in her face bunch beneath my fingers and stay frozen when I remove my hands. I look at her a while longer, standing there with a drool-covered paper towel in my hand, trying to take a mental snapshot of a woman I never really knew in the first place. When I‟m done, I leave her there on the couch and go sit outside on the front steps. It seems like everyone gets home at once. My mom, my sister, Sarah, and my aunts, Carol and Diana, all pull up
in a car together. They jump out laughing and talking about all the sales they found. I don‟t look at them. I stare straight out over the field to the trees. The stone floor is cold underneath me and the wind makes my knuckles white. My mom says, “Why are you outside?” I shrug but don‟t look at her. I say, “Grandma‟s gone.” “What? She went with Grandpa on his walk?” I shake my head. “No. I mean she‟s gone.” Carol steps up and puts her hand on my mom‟s shoulder. “Leslie,” says Carol. Shudders run through my mom‟s body. I stand and hold her until she stops crying. “Where is she?” says my mom, sniffling. “On the couch. She went in her sleep.” My mom nods and rubs her fingers underneath her nose. She leaves the tears on her face. We all walk inside together and huddle around my grandmother. Diana says, “She looks so peaceful.” Carol and Sarah nod. Opa walks into the kitchen a few minutes later. He sets his keys on the counter and takes his hat off. “Sit KC,” he says to the dog. The dog barks and Opa gives him a treat. When he looks up again he notices us all staring at him. He smiles and says, “Well what the hell are you all looking at?”
My mom starts to cry again. Sarah goes to the window and watches birds. Diana says, “Oh, Dad.” Carol looks at her feet. Opa says, “What? What‟s wrong?” Carol says, “It‟s mom. She‟s gone.” He drops his hat on the floor and rushes over to where we‟re all standing. He pushes us aside and looks at Oma. Three tears fall out of his eyes, each one making a spot of water on the hardwood floor. He slides his fingers under his glasses and wipes his eyes dry then picks Oma up. Carol says, “Dad, where are you going?” Opa says over his shoulder, “I‟m taking her to the bedroom. We can‟t just leave her in the living room.” The rest of us stand there looking at each other or the floor or the birds and wondering what we‟re supposed to do next. In the front of the house I hear the front door open then shut. I hear a car start outside and drive away. I say, “You think Opa will be ok?” Nobody answers me. We all just stare. Carol nods eventually then we all depart to different parts of the house. New Years celebrations are stunted. Everyone sits around the dining room table and reads. Opa moves the television into the dining room so we don‟t have to go into the living room. I start a different book. I‟m afraid if I read
any more Bolaño, I‟ll look up and everyone in the room will be dead. Diana‟s husband, Mike, arrives with their son, Sam, at 4:15. Mike is tall, from Atlanta. Owns a car dealership. Sam is fourteen and autistic. He also has a seizure-inducing brain stem disorder that he‟s mostly overcome at this point in his life. We all eat dinner because there‟s nothing else to do. Roast beef and baked ziti and salad with egg on top, like no one could think straight so they just heated up whatever was in the refrigerator. After everyone‟s eaten most of their food, Opa wipes his mouth with a napkin then stands. “I‟m going on a walk,” he says. Nobody responds. Sam sees people start to leave the table and gets up himself. I‟m going to play video games, he says, and then takes off for the basement. We all watch him wobble towards the door. Any time he moves, someone has to pay attention. He‟s an uneasy walker and if he falls he usually doesn‟t react fast enough to catch himself. He makes it to the door and Diana sighs. We all turn back to our plates. Sarah stirs the food still on her plate like she‟s trying to make it dance. Everyone else just looks at the table. In the background I can hear the muted sounds of Opa leaving for his walk. I keep thinking, Somebody please say something. It doesn‟t matter what it is. The air is so heavy in this room.
Carol—our savior—she‟s still thinking about Sam because she says, “Did anyone read that article in the paper today about the dog that can stop seizures?” Diana and Mike both nod and Diana says, “Yeah. He can sense when the boy‟s going to have a seizure and he calls for help. Right?” Carol shakes her head and says, “Oh. I must have misread it. My understanding was that he had a way to stop the seizures if they happened.” “Well that would be amazing. I‟d have to reread the article. It‟s hard to believe a dog could do all that.” I say, “I thought the point of the article was that they wouldn‟t let the dog come into the school because it was a danger and distraction to other students.” Mom says, “Well that‟s ridiculous. If the dog is trained to stop seizures then I‟m sure it‟s trained to not be a distraction.” Sarah gets the newspaper from the kitchen. She stands and holds it in front of her like she‟s giving a speech. Reading from it she says, “Andy, 12, can‟t bring his dog, Rex, to school, even though Rex is trained to stop seizures.” “See?” says Carol. Mike says, “Keep reading.” Sarah keeps reading. “Rex has a magnet in his collar. When he senses Andy is going to have a seizure, Rex
touches his magnet to a magnet that Andy has implanted in his chest. This sends an electrical signal to Andy‟s brain, stopping the seizure in its tracks. Time that it takes Rex to respond to and stop a seizure? Six seconds. Time it takes a teacher to respond on average? Forty-two seconds.” Diana says, “That‟s unbelievable. When Sam used to have seizures, they would last five minutes sometimes.” Mike shakes his head. “How much do one of those dogs cost? Does it say?” Sarah skims the article. “Eighteen-thousand dollars,” she says. Carol whistles and Mike says, “Christ. What does it say about the school?” I say. “What you said. That the school board won‟t let the dog come with Andy because it poses a possible threat to other students.” “That‟s ridiculous,” says Mom. The conversation dies down for a few minutes. Nobody has anything new to offer. Sarah goes back to moving her food around. I knot and unknot my fingers. It goes silent and then Mike laughs. Not really a laugh, more like a chuckle to himself. Regardless, we all look at him. The sound has been a foreign one for the past night and day. “What‟s so funny, Mike?” says Diana.
He chuckles again and shakes his head. He says, “That article reminded me of our friends the Dukes. You remember the Dukes? Diana nods. Mike says to the rest of us, Tom Duke wanted to get his kids a dog, and he wanted it to be well trained, but he didn‟t want to have to train it himself. So he bought a dog that didn‟t quite pass at one of those special needs training camp for dogs. This big German shepherd. It was well trained and ended up being the perfect dog for their family. Anyways, the best part was that when Tom bought the dog, the training camp gave him all of this gear that would normally come with a dog from the academy.” “Oh lord,” says Diana. She covers her face with her hands. Mike puts his hands up, “I know. So one of the things Tom got was this apron-type thing you hang over the dog‟s back that says, I‟m a trained special needs dog, on both sides. Well Tom put it on the dog and went to a fast food place. Some burger joint. And he took the dog inside. A lady working there got all pissed off and said, you can‟t bring a dog in here and Tom said, it‟s a special needs dog, it‟s well trained. But the employee wouldn‟t listen. She made Tom and the dog leave. Well Tom didn‟t appreciate their response, so he wrote a letter of complaint to the corporation that owned the fast food place.”
“They probably just threw his letter out,” says Mom. Mike holds his finger up. “No. Wait.” He smiles and says, “They didn‟t throw his letter out. They gave it to the president, who read the letter and was so embarrassed that he sent the Dukes a free year-supply of dog food.” There‟s silence for a second then it feels like the room implodes. Everyone bursts into laughter at once. Carol is slamming the table with her fists. Diana covers her mouth and laughs into her hands. My Mom has this weird laugh that‟s like a shriek and she just keeps shrieking. Mike says, “I know, right?” over and over in-between laughs. Sarah doesn‟t openly laugh often but tonight she‟s laughing so hard tears are coming out of her eyes. I join in, rear my head back and laugh towards the ceiling. It feels like we laugh for an hour. I think to myself, it was a funny story, but not this funny, then I realize that no one‟s laughing at the story anymore, they‟re laughing because if they laugh it means they don‟t have to cry and they don‟t have to think about the dead woman lying on a bed two rooms away. Eventually the laughing dies down to a collection of „woos‟ and „oh man‟s.‟ Sam must have heard us because he pops his head through the basement door and says, “What‟s wrong?”
Diana says, “Nothing honey. Daddy just told a funny story.” Sam says, “Oh,” then he looks at me and says, “Want to play video games with me?” I say, “Hell yeah I want to play. But you have to promise you won‟t beat me too bad.” Sam laughs. We walk downstairs together.
2 The car that comes to pick me up and take me to Number Nine Rehab Center is a loud shade of purple and slinks down the road like a Chinese dragon. The driver himself is just a suit and a pair of sunglasses and a set of straight teeth. He smiles a lot and says things like, “Mighty fine day!” as he loads my suitcases into the trunk. My parents watch this scene with sad chagrin. I think my mother wants to cry or is probably going to later. I hug her and she just shakes her head and covers her mouth with a hand. My father hands me a hundred dollar bill then steps back and says, “Ok. Be safe.” I consider going in for a hug, but I don‟t think he wants me to, out of insecurity or maybe just lack of faith at this point. I wave and say, “Thanks,” which doesn‟t really make any sense, and get in the car.
The sun doesn't move in the sky. The passing landscape is flat dirt riddled in places with relics left behind by the tsunami. We weave in between great schooners marooned with half-hull jutting out onto the highway pavement. Our right-side mirror is nearly jettisoned off by the bow of an old shrimp boat we ride too close to. Railway tracks lie uprooted and twisted along the sand in spots like double helix strands of DNA on a microscope slide. Men in white HAZMAT suits commute to work, their briefcases wrapped in layers of nitrile rubber. A woman kneels on the beach in nothing but underwear and a t-shirt. She stares upwards and scoops handfuls of sand into a pile. The cushion I am sitting on squishes beneath my weight. It feels like my seat hasn't been used in years. I look down at the cushion beneath me in a space between my legs. Red, worn, and maybe cigarette burned in a couple spots. The driver asks me if I caught the president‟s speech the other night. I tell him I did. We hit a particularly large pothole and I say, without much interest, “Do you think she‟ll be a good president?” He shrugs and says, “She has a big cock.” I fall asleep against the dirty window and wait for our halfway point, where I‟ll be put into another car.
I‟m starving and the car is low on gas when we cross the border into South Carolina. We‟ve been driving for days. The sky is—as always—a flat blue window to somewhere else. We stop at a bombed out gas station/diner hybrid that smells like kerosene and trash out front near the pumps. It‟s cool in the shadow the building casts out over the empty parking lot. I cup my hands in front of my mouth and blow warm air through them. The driver begins to pump gas. I decide not to linger. An out of tune bell dings when I enter through the glass door. The man running the store is fat and his fat droops. He looks like a scoop of ice cream melting on pavement. A too-small, grease-stained apron clings to his stomach. His bald head gleams with sweat in the deadyellow overhead lamps. He cooks food meditatively, scarcely aware of my presence. His spatula clangs off the flat iron like the sharp clicks of a metronome. He is simple in the Southern way, which is not to say he is stupid. He knows what he needs to know and has not wasted time learning things he does not. When he sees me he says, “Morning. Menu‟s on the bar if you‟re hungry.” I respond with a nod and wander through aisles of junk food and drinks and car maintenance kits. Nothing is appealing to me until I round the final corner and reach a wall next to the bathrooms. Mounted on the wall in a thin black frame is a poster reprint of an ancient Chinese painting. Scripture in symbols I don't
recognize borders a nude woman involved in sexual activity with two octopuses. One is performing cunnilingus. The other is latched firmly to her breasts. There is a look of pure pleasure on the woman's face, passivity, a relaxation of muscles. Her eyes are closed. I wonder if she knows the source of her pleasure. I wonder if she cares. I walk back to the counter and sit on a round, red polyurethane bar stool reminiscent of '60's diner paraphernalia. The cook looks up and smiles. His wrinkles are the work of a master carpenter—wind, grit, and strife the tools used to carve the dead oak of the face in front of me. The driver enters and makes his way to the stool beside me. “What'll you have?” The cook says, cutting up tomatoes into exact quarter inch slices, knife blade whistling, singing a song of practice and precision. He stacks the slices in a plastic bin, pirouettes to the freezer with the bounce of someone half his age, returns to the counter, palms flat on the cutting board, looking expectantly for our orders. I look at the driver. He‟s playing games on his cell phone with his headphones in his ears. He looks up and shrugs and says, “I don‟t care. Get whatever you want. We‟re paying with the Number Nine credit card.”
I inhale deeply. Lace my hands together. Glance at the ceiling. I say, “If I was going to die later this afternoon, what would you cook me?” “Excuse me?” I lean forward. Speak slower. “If I was going to die later this afternoon and you knew that and you were charged with preparing my last meal, what would you cook?” “Listen, I don't want no trouble.” “Trouble? I'm the one dying in this hypothetical! Pretend you are a death row chef if that helps. Pretend I am a death row inmate, a drain on the taxpayers of this golden bitch of a country. Pretend I've been arrested for something inconceivably heinous. Now, I am sentenced to die at say— What time is it?” “Around 1:30.” He checks his watch. “1:25.” “Ok. Let's say that I'm going to be executed at 2:00 pm. You are to prepare my last meal. What is it?” He shrugs. His eyebrows curl into an upside-down 'w' the way children draw seagulls on the horizon. “I can't rightfully say, sir. Don't the man or woman being put down get to choose for themself?” “That's correct. Let me rephrase my question. If you were cooking one of these famous last meals, would you try your best to make it the most exquisite thing you had ever
created? Would you create such a dish that would, when the man sentenced to death bit into it, make him instantly regret every choice he'd ever made that led him to this point in his life? A dish that'd make him wish he'd been a goddamn saint, if only so he could taste this meal again at a later date? Would you make him feel guilty, possibly saving his soul, or would you cook him a mediocre meal that would reaffirm his actions and his hatred for the world, sending him into the afterlife at peace with himself?” The man stares long into the cutting board. The room is silent except for the buzz of two flies and the gentle pulse of a ceiling fan as it whirs above the two of us. He looks up and says, “I believe I'd have to cook the food to the best of my abilities. I don't owe the soul of a man like that anything. I'd just like to know deep down that I tried my hardest.” I nod and smile. “Not a bad answer,” I say. “If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you one more question.” “Shoot away friend.” “Say the roles were reversed. Say you were the death row inmate, sentenced to die today. What would you order?” “I'd have to get a big, fat burger. Cheese and grilled onions on it and a side of fries, with ketchup to dip in. Simple, I know, but it's the meal my Pops and I used to share every night when we closed up shop.”
“That sounds delicious. I tell you what. Whip up three of those, with the fries.” I glance at the driver—still on his phone—and say, “We'd like to buy you lunch for putting up with us. I'm talking the best fucking burgers you've ever made.” The old man nods and smiles. Genuinely happy. “Yessir. Right away.” It takes him twelve minutes to prepare the food. I watch with intense fascination. The man truly is a master of his craft. Onions roast on the grill and fill the air with a comfortable smell, fading to golden brown the way the sun stains white clouds during August. Buns heat slowly on a thin rack, the smell of country homes. He spins spatula and tongs, throwing in extra flair when possible, checking over his shoulder to make sure I'm paying attention. The grease sizzles off meat onto metal and pops on fresh fries. Clangs of metal tools on metal skillet keeping a beat, this all becoming the whirling, light-refracting, time-slowing dance of the fry cook to music he's been waiting years to compose, music inspired by his father before him. It comes to an end on bar top white porcelain plates trimmed with green borders—the good china—he jokingly calls it before hanging up his apron on a bronze hook and rounding the bar to sit on a stool next to me. It looks amazing, I say, and it is when I bite into it a moment later. I'm shocked to find that it is the
best fucking burger I've ever had. Maybe the best fucking burger anyone's ever had. In the afterglow of the meal, the cook says, “Where ya‟ll headed?” The driver says, “Number Nine Rehab.” “Is that like prison?” The driver says, “No, no, just a government sponsored recovery facility.” “Are both of you going?” The driver laughs too loudly and slaps the bar. He says, “Don‟t be ridiculous. I‟m just supposed to make sure he gets there in one piece.” The cook turns to me and asks what I did. I say, “I‟m not sure what I did exactly. Some drugs and some voodoo thing I think but I really don‟t remember. From what I‟ve been told, I was pulled out of a van at ten a.m. with a naked teenage girl and a dead bird.” The cook gives me a strange look and leans back from the counter. The driver says, “Listen, this conversation is maybe a little bit inappropriate. The kid did some fucked up shit in a van and blamed it on drugs so he didn‟t have to go to jail. It‟s not a big deal. Ok?” The cook nods and walks back around to his side of the counter. He begins to clean our dishes.
When we‟re done eating, the driver tells me he has to take a shit. I take this time to check my cell phone, which shows two missed calls, both from the Gay Prince of Jordan. I check to make sure that the driver is still in the bathroom. He is. I dial the Prince. He picks up on the third ring and says, “Where are you?” I say, “I‟m at a gas station in South Carolina.” “Why?” “Rehab.” He says, “You‟re not doing that anymore.” I hold the phone away from my head for a second and look around and say, “Excuse me?” He says, “I said you‟re not doing that anymore. I‟m going to send you a driver. He‟ll be there in ten minutes. Put your bags in his car.” “I can‟t just skip out without a reason. The law is involved here.” “I‟ll work on that on my end. The short version is this: I found you a way to earn your admin rights back. “How‟s that going to work? “These nuns—I‟m just out of ideas—I need somebody from out of town to come in and deal with it. I just don‟t have time. You handle my nun situation, I‟ll handle your Admin Center ban. And the legal problems.”
I say, “Just like that? What am I supposed to say to my driver?” “Nothing. Just leave. I‟ll take care of it. Goodbye.” I hang up the phone and dial Donna Moore. She says, “Hey. What‟s up?” I say, “What‟s the story with Koan?” “ Just some crazy fucked up teenager.” “Why did you tell me to go see her? What do you know about her?” “Koan was my fucking drug dealer. I figured she‟d straighten you out.” “You know people think I did something to her right?” “What, like, killed her? Come on.” “I don‟t know. Yeah. Maybe.” “Well what do you want me to do about it? “I don‟t know. Does she have any family?” “A mom I think, why?” “Because I need to know more about what happened. I feel like I‟m missing something.” “I got you. I can text you her mom‟s address if you want? I think I have it around here somewhere.” “Yeah, that‟d be awesome.” “Ok. Will do. Be careful.” I hang up a second time and start taking my bags out of the car.
The Gay Prince of Jordan‟s driver is middle aged. He's wearing thick, round glasses and a green and white striped polo. He's balding but desperately trying to look like he has a normal head of hair by combing the hair growing on each side of his head towards the middle, creating a thin, pushed up mess like a corn field ravaged by a tornado. He helps me load up my bags into his beat up SUV. The original driver is still not out of the bathroom yet—something in his burger maybe—so I lock his keys in his car and tell the new guy we can go. Once we‟re on the road I say, “How long‟s the trip to the city?” He says, “twelve-hour drive.” I say, “Listen, if we can make a stop at one place, I‟ll give you a hundred dollars. It would mean a lot to me.” He thinks for a few seconds then nods. I show him the blue, lit-up screen of my phone with the address on it. He programs it into his in-dashboard GPS system and directions pop up. The city is a glowing orchard of light poles and we roll loudly through it. I stare out the window for a while, oddly complacent, the rumbling noise becoming a normality, the clunks in the car more bearable. The black seat cushions are old and woven. I can feel dirt worked into the grooves
between stitchings. I decide to sleep until morning and rest my head on the cool glass window.
“The front porch of the Delilah residence is covered in hundreds of wind chimes. Gold, silver, purple, blue, and green pipes all make an appearance. The breeze is gentle enough to make a soft twinkling. The floorboards of the porch are squeaky. Six of them are missing nails. Another dozen need to be reset. Chunks of the railing are missing, along with the second step. The front yard is in dire disarray. There are all manner of plastic yard animals grouped as if performing acts in a play, the tackiest of which is a garden gnome feeding what looks like a tomato to a plastic baby deer. The paint job is terrible. Absolutely terrible. It‟s chipped in so many places it‟s hard to tell what color the house was originally. The windows are so yellowed with pollen they can‟t be seen through. To the side of the door is an umbrella stand holding one massive sunflower. In front of the door is a disgusting, torn welcome mat bearing large stains that I won‟t be standing on.” I say all of this into a portable voice recorder I bought at a gas station while standing three feet to the left of the welcome mat. When my report has satisfied my needs, I turn to knock on the door, which is swiftly pulled open before my hand can make
contact with wood. A beautiful, middle-aged blonde woman stands in the doorframe, dressed in jeans and a loose tshirt. “Ms. Delilah?” The woman nods. “I heard what you said. About the paint. Koan‟s grandfather did that. My poppa.” “I‟m very sorry about tha—“ “—Oh, come in. I don‟t like it either.” I wave to the driver to let him know I‟ll be out in a bit. Ms. Delilah tells me to make myself at home. She wanders off into deeper parts of the house. I spin in a circle. I don‟t want to sit anywhere in the house. The dirt has tinted the living room a sepia-tone. I grip the voice recorder like a firearm. My eyes fall on a simple wooden picture frame holding a 3 inch by 5 inch photograph. I step closer, bringing the voice recorder slowly to my mouth. The picture is of Ms. Delilah. She has her arm around a girl, probably Koan, whose face is obscured by another‟s face, ripped from an older picture and taped over the original photograph itself. The replacement face belonging to none other than movie superstar Val Iceman Kilmer. I check my surroundings very slowly then look at the carpet and take a few long breathes. I whisper into the voice recorder: “What have I done?” I hear Ms. Delilah ask if I‟d like tea. I answer in the affirmative. I try to remind myself that the best way to more
information is politeness, even when knowingly accepting poison. Ms. Delilah returns a minute later carrying two cups of what is distinctly Arabic coffee. She hands me one and says, “Drink up. This is very expensive tea.” I look at her, then the cup, then shrug and take a sip. It‟s very good coffee. I tell her I love the tea. Ms. Delilah sits on the couch and a pink cloud of dust jumps into the air. I cough, remember my manners, and control myself. “Ms. Delilah. I need to ask you a few questions if that‟s ok?” “Sure thing.” “Where were you two days ago? Around two in the afternoon?” “I was at the—“ I jiggle the voice recorder, rewind a few seconds then play. The voices are barely audible. I say, “Do you mind if we start over?” Ms. Delilah shakes her head. I move closer and try again with no success. It takes six rearrangements to reach a position where the microphone will work. Ms. Delilah is still seated on the couch. I stand directly in front of her, my microphone arm at a 45-degree angle, the voice recorder no more than an inch from Ms. Delilah‟s mouth. I clear my throat. “So as I was saying, I‟ll be asking you some questions today. Is that ok?”
“Yes.” “Ok. So where were you in the afternoon two days ago?” “I was—well—“ Ms. Delilah lowers her voice and points to the microphone “—Could you pause that for just a second?” I click the red button to stop recording. I say, “What is it?” “Is this going to be public record?” “No. I‟m just in a bit of trouble and I need to get some specifics about the night things happened.” “Ok. And I‟m not in trouble am I?” “I don‟t think so. Did you do anything wrong?” “No, no, never.” “Ok. So can we continue with the interview?” Ms. Delilah nods. I begin recording again and nod back to Ms. Delilah. I say, “Ok. So two days ago in the afternoon. Where were you?” “I was at the aquarium.” I pause the recording. I say, “The aquarium? Really? There‟s not an aquarium anywhere near here.” “Why did you stop the recorder thing?” “Because that can‟t possibly be your alibi.” “I thought I didn‟t need an alibi?”
“I don‟t know if you need one. This is what this whole thing is for. To find out.” “Well you weren‟t very honest with me. And you insulted my yard decorations.” “I‟m very sorry. I didn‟t mean to. I was just taking some notes.” “Not very nice notes.” “Ms. Delilah. I‟m very, very sorry. Can we please move on? This is important.” “Well then, alright. I go to the aquarium every Tuesday. It‟s a day trip I make weekly.” “Weekly?” “Yes.” I click back to recording and nod to Ms. Delilah. “I was at the aquarium.” “And what were you doing at the aquarium?” “I was looking at the sharks.” “Why the sharks specifically?” “Because in my past life I was eaten by a shark.” I drop the microphone and gently presses a finger to the side of my head. “In your past life?” “Yes. I was on the Titanic. Well I was on the Titanic until it crashed into the iceberg. Funny how it‟s called „The Iceberg‟ now. Back then it was just a very loud noise and a
rough jolt. There was the screeching of metal on metal. Like crunching a soda can on steroids but that noise got all blended up with people screaming. Everyone was very confused. I remember being lost on deck and seeing a fire breaking out. I couldn‟t move. Like the fire paralyzed me.” Ms. Delilah moves to the picture of her and Val Kilmer. She scoops it off the side table and clutches it close to her chest. She says, “That‟s when he came out of nowhere. He picked me up and tried carrying me to a life vessel, but by then it didn‟t matter. We fell through a shoddy piece of flooring together and hit the water. It was freezing for a few seconds, until our bodies went numb. We began to make love. There wasn‟t much else left to do. We honestly couldn‟t even tell when the sharks began to feed. Suddenly we didn‟t have limbs and then we were dead. It was all very beautiful.” I stare at the space between Ms. Delilah‟s eyebrows for a few seconds with a well-practiced fake smile. I say, “Ms. Delilah, you‟re aware that your daughter Koan died of a probable suicide two days ago? Naked? In the back of a van? With me?” “Oh yes. Very sad.” Ms. Delilah scoops the microphone off the floor. She says, “Did I tell you I rented Tombstone the other day? That was after the aquarium of course.”
I collect my things and turns to go. I say, “I think I‟ve gotten all I need from you Ms. Delilah. If there‟s anything else I need, I‟ll be in touch. I slam the truck door and tell the driver to go. Just go.”
3 The truck stops in front of a dark brick building that heaves itself out of the cement and wobbles in the breeze. A monolithic pile of shoebox apartments. A child‟s collection of dolls stacked and forgotten somewhere in an attic alcove. The driver helps me unload my bags onto the sidewalk. Above us, December sleeps, its white belly hiding the sky. The driver leaves in a hurry. I stand in a cloud of smog. The lamppost next to me dribbles out film noir lighting. I‟ve only been to a city once before, when I was a kid. Vantage point hasn‟t changed much. Trying to take in a city is like watching a movie from the front row of the theater. Everything is too close up, smeared over, and washed out. My apartment is a Chinese trick box, bigger on the inside than out. I measure the wall in the hallway from my door to my neighbor‟s in footsteps. I do the same to my square living room from the inside. The numbers don‟t match up, not even close, so I stand half in and half out of the doorway to see if maybe the wall is diagonal. This is not
the case. I look back and forth down the hallway and think about warped wood and my friend Don from college, who was an architect major. I remember sneaking into his room with a friend when he was abroad in Europe. I don‟t know what we were looking for, something disgusting or dirty. A frame of truth to hang the photo of Don in. And there was nothing. No discernable dirty little secrets. We tore the place apart and all we found were three sketchbooks, two empty and one full of sketches that appeared to be done by a fifth grader—and this just made us depressed. Instead of discovering that he jacked off to cartoons or masturbated into watermelons or had a crush on his cousin—instead of anything funny or weird or shocking, all we got was proof that Don was terrible at the one thing he tried really hard at in life, and this just left us night-time cold. I give up on the wall length and shut the door on the hallway, which smells vaguely of dog shit. Nobody but corpses complain about extra floor space anyways. The apartment itself is comprised of two square rooms and a bathroom. Normal den furnishings in the opening room. Single bed and nightstand in the second room. The porcelain in the bathroom is yellowed. I turn on the fan in the living room to shuffle the stale air in the apartment. It thumps back and forth like a lopsided bird chained to the ceiling. I sit on the couch, which faces the windows overlooking the
street, and unpack my backpack. First: a shoebox, full of valuables worth little money to anyone but me. I lift each of the items one at a time, feeling their weight before setting them onto the coffee table in front of me. A soft purple bag full of silver quarters. A stash for my last stand. A three-inch pen knife with ivory handle used by my grandmother to open mail. An engraved lighter found in the top drawer of a dresser in my childhood home. A black-beaded rosary with rusted cross, carried through Europe in the soggy pockets of my great-grandfather in World War I and again around the neck of my grandfather in World War II as he barreled through the crisp sky over Japan in the bubble gun of a bomber screaming, “I don‟t believe in God, but goddamnit do I believe in my father.” Next come the essentials: cell phone, laptop, respective chargers. I plug my phone into a loose outlet in the wall and watch it come back to life. It blinks twice and the screen stays on for good. I wait for it to get signal and alert me to any missed calls or messages. All that shows up is a text message from Virgo that asks where I am. I log onto the laptop and shoot Virgo an instant message over an unprotected network. I imagine the message flying through the air and whipping down wires all the way to wherever Virgo is, which makes the whole process feel way less instant. I‟m halfway to Virgo‟s house
when my computer dings signifying that Virgo has answered. He says, “Hey, man. Where you been?” I fill him in on the city, the nuns, the no rehab. He doesn‟t respond for a while. Long enough to get up and take a piss before I hear the computer ding again. The screen says, “You talked to your family about any of this?” I say, “No.” He says, “Ok. Don‟t you think they‟ll be worried?” I say, “No.” The computer tells me he‟s typing for a few minutes, but all I get back from him is: “Ok. Well keep me updated at least.“ I tell him I will without much enthusiasm and log off the chat program. I take a few pills from a bottle in my backpack to calm myself and wander around the small apartment, sometimes looking out the window, sometimes not, thinking of something to do. I try to focus on the nun problem, which is a roundabout way of solving my own problem, but my head is throbbing and I can‟t focus on anything for more than a few seconds. I watch an online rip of Hilla Carter‟s fourth sex recording and I really do try to
get into it, but the plot is terrible and—to be honest— President Carter is beginning to show her age. I barely get hard. I try and find a rip of the new tranny president‟s recording, but no luck. All I am able to find is a handheld camera recording of some sort of trailer for the recording. It‟s too low quality to be interesting, although from what I can tell, the driver was right. She does have a huge cock. It‟s five in the morning by the time I give up trying to get off. The room brightens to a sharp orange color. Shadows shift to places they should not be. The temperature goes from tepid to boiling in a matter of seconds. I find myself blinking too often. My mouth is full of smoke. I try stop dropping and rolling but the ground feels like a frying pan on a burner. I get up and take all my clothes off. Stuff them into my backpack. I stack the coffee table on the couch and the armchair on top of that and climb this mountain naked with my backpack on. I summit and remember I‟ve forgotten my phone. I can see it roasting in the corner, the wire smoking out of the wall. It‟s too late to go back. I don the rosary. The metal cross is cold on my sternum. I wield the letter opener like Excalibur, hacking the limbs off anyone trying to scale my fortress. I‟m rocketed backwards in time to my childhood living room. The floor is lava! Except now the floor actually is lava and it‟s rising. I stand and realize— too late—that I‟ve also forgotten the ceiling fan, the great
wobbling albatross above me. One of the birds wooden wings connects solidly with my right temple and rides the skin around my skull, gashing my forehead diagonally. I fall from my perch and land on the floor. The heat is gone, replaced again by the cold of the season. I am dead for the rest of the day. I don‟t have much medical experience at all. I‟ve never broken a bone. The cut in my head stings when I touch it. It feels huge when I rub my fingers along the sharp ridges lining either side of the wound. Under the bathroom mirror‟s gilded light, the cut seems smaller. It stopped bleeding sometime while I was knocked out. Three small dots and one larger puddle stain the floor where I landed. Other than the line in my head and these spots on the floor, no evidence of what happened is left. The living room furniture has been returned to its original placement. I decide the cut doesn‟t need serious medical attention. It‟s pussing now. That‟ll harden to scab and fade to scar and everything will be a little bit different but everything will be fine. I‟m starving. I get dressed and leave the apartment. There‟s a café on the bottom floor of the hotel across the street. I move between trucks and taxis like mercury and find myself at its front door, stomach frothing acid. Above me a ninety foot banner screen broadcasts scrolling
text that reads: “Prez vows EXP booth on every corner.” The text is accompanied by a set of images showing our president flexing her right bicep while doing mundane tasks with her left arm. Far above this screen, jet planes turn the sky into grid paper for the birds to carve into parabolas. I enter the café. It‟s a lethargic place. I can hear the flies buzzing in the air. I can hear their feet squishing into food in the kitchen. Their legs rubbing together. Enzymefilled vomit reducing grime to honey. Black winged alchemists. I take one of the eleven tables for myself. Only one other table is being used, by an old Asian man. He eats slowly with chopsticks. I have no fucking idea where he got the chopsticks. I watch him for a while, only because he moves like an old tree in the wind and he isn‟t complex and I don‟t have to expect anything from him and this is calming in the way scenery is calming. A Mexican guy with a pencil mustache and a military haircut comes to take my order. His apron looks like a painter‟s palette. His nametag says Miguel. He says, "What do you want?” I say, “Cheese fries and a chicken sandwich.” The food takes ten minutes to get to my table. It tastes like ass but I eat it anyways. The Asian man finishes his food and leaves a few dollars on the table. Cars pass by the wide
windows at the front. I‟m about done eating when the girl walks into the café. She‟s short and petite. A Ninja Turtles hat covers straight red hair. She‟s wearing a bright blue coat, black jeans, and big, black-rimmed glasses. There‟s a woven bag thrown over her shoulder. When she walks in, she brushes some snow off her arms. Her glasses slide down the bridge of her nose. She pushes them back onto her face and surveys the café. It‟s a quick glance. I know she sees me, I‟m the only other person in here, but her demeanor doesn‟t change at all. She orders food from Miguel and sits at the end of the café opposite me. I watch her. I can‟t help it. I know her from somewhere but I cannot seem to draw the memory out of the shadows. She takes a book out of her bag and starts to read. She reacts to every scene. It‟s like the corners of her eyes are attached to the corners of her mouth. Her face personifies every emotion. When she hits a sad part her eyes well up and watching her I want to cut my heart out with the plastic knife in front of her and slam it onto the table and say while it squirts, “Look. I‟m as sad as you are. My name‟s Johnny and I‟m here to save you.” Two pages later she hits a happy part and she smiles. It makes me want to take my clothes off and run around with her in some sunny place until we‟re out of energy, fall into bed and say, See. This is what we‟ve been waiting for. Seriously—this is the kind of girl you need
a twelve-step program to get over. And this is when I remember who she is. This is the transforming girl, the one from my room, the uninvited. Miguel comes to take my plate away. I grab his arm and say, “Who is that?” He shrugs. “I don‟t know. Lisa something. She just moved here. Leaving soon too, from what I‟ve heard. You owe me six bucks for the food.” I pay him and he leaves. I look back at Lisa Something‟s table but she‟s gone. I look around, thinking maybe she moved tables. But the café is empty. I look out the window and there she is at a bus stop, standing with her knees touching and her face towards the ground. I head outside. Halfway across the road I think, What am I doing? I don‟t even need to ride the bus. I get closer and think, I need to know who she is. Then, What the hell am I even going to say? I‟m standing at the bus stop three feet away from Lisa Something when I realize I have no idea what I am doing and that it‟s very cold outside. I take a quick glance at her. She‟s still looking at the ground. I look at the ground too. The bus rumbles up to the stop and it‟s doors open. Lisa Something gets on the bus. I jump up and down a couple times trying to warm up, thinking, Don‟t get on that bus. There‟s nothing good on that bus. I stop jumping and shake my head. I say, Fuck it, and get on. I sit in the seats
across the aisle from Lisa Something. The second my body touches the plastic seat, she swings her crossed legs sideways and slams them onto the seat next to her to face me. She squints at me through the V made by her feet and says, “You were in the café.” I say, “Yeah. Yeah I was.” She slides closer until she‟s sitting in the seat closest to me, her legs now in the aisle. She says, “Are you following me?” I say, “No,” but she doesn‟t seem convinced. I say, “I think I might of hallucinated you.” I wait for her to call for help or pepper spray me, but something in her face shifts. Recognition maybe? She shakes her head and says, “What‟s your favorite color?” I blink and rub my forehead. “What?” “What‟s your favorite color?” “I don‟t know. I don‟t have a favorite color.” “Weird.” The conversation stalls. She stares at me and taps her feet. I start to knot and unknot my hands. Her feet taps get louder. I say, “So it was pretty cold out there.” Her mood changes colors. She stomps her foot and leans in further. She points with her index finger and says, “Don‟t you dare talk to me about the weather.”
I put my hands up in defense. I say, “What the hell is wrong with you?” She readjusts her glasses. “Nothing‟s wrong with me. I just hate when people ruin conversations.” “You just asked me what my favorite color was. How is that a conversation?” “Because you can learn a lot about someone from their favorite color. But the weather doesn‟t carry any weight. I was in the snow and wind with you at the bus stop. Talking to me about the weather would be like talking to me about basic algebra. It‟s all shit we both already know.” “Ok. Chill out. No weather.” “I‟m not done. You know, what if no one said anything about the weather ever again and we just waited through the, you know, period of mundane recognition—“ “You said something to me first.” “—maybe we‟d break through some hidden barrier and one of us would say something worthwhile.” “Like our favorite colors?” “Maybe the fat man stuck on the elevator with you would say something like, I haven‟t spoken to my mother in eight years. Then maybe he‟d start to cry.” “What guy on the elevator?”
“Do you have it in you, Johnny Tequila? Do you have what it takes to hold that man while he cries and tell him everything‟s ok?” I put my hand up to stop her. “How do you know my name is Johnny?” She shrugs, “I asked the waiter guy.” “No you didn‟t. You ordered and didn‟t talk to him after that.” “So you were watching me?” “No.” “The whole time?” “No.” She smiles. I say, “And what‟s with Tequila?” She scoots away from me to look out the window. She says, “It‟s the name I made up for you. I‟ve never met you before. Why would I want to use your real name? That‟s boring.” I think, What is going on? but I say, “Ok. So what‟s your name?” She turns back to face me and says, “My name is Lisa Underground. And this is my stop.” The bus lurches to a stop. The doors squeak open. She stands in the aisle and grabs my hand. “Come on. Walk me out.” I get dragged off the bus and back into the cold, still not sure what‟s
happening. Hundreds of windmills rotate lazily along the skyline. A road runs away from us, perpendicular to the road the bus rests on. I free my hand and say, “Stop. What are you doing?” She turns back to face me and steps in very close. She says, “Maybe if you hadn‟t of talked about the weather, I might have told you that I already knew who you were.” Then she leans in and gives me a quick kiss. It catches me totally off guard and she can tell. She smiles and pokes me gently on the nose. “Goodbye, Johnny Tequila.” Goodbye, Lisa Underground. I stand like a paper cutout in the wind and watch her disappear into the snowstorm.
In my room I try to understand what is happening. I message Virgo and ask if he knows a Lisa or if we‟ve ever met a Lisa or if we know somebody who knows a Lisa. He sends me back a long chain of question marks. I take it we do not know any Lisa‟s. I call Donna Moore and get no answer. I leave a message on her machine asking if she knows any Lisa‟s. I don‟t think she does. I‟ve stalked her online bank of friends enough to know there aren‟t any there. I close all the blinds over the windows. I
hyperventilate. I move from the couch to the window seventeen times to peek out the blinds at the café across the street. Lisa has a name now and this makes her very real and very scary. I eat pills. I eat a lot of pills. I fade in and out and find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror. This is the only place in the apartment where I can see what is in front of me and what is behind me at the same time. My cut has turned purple. My pupils are dilated into circles so large they have swallowed all color from my eyes. Direct exposure to light shows small organisms floating in and out of my vision. I vaguely remember reading somewhere online—maybe in a comic—that this Petri dish symptom is a sign that you‟ll die sometime during the day you become aware of it. I center myself by also remembering that the light source had to be the sun and that I was staring into a light bulb while under the direct effects of drugs. I blink and the bugs disappear. At least I hope they disappear. I stand in front of the mirror for three hours before my legs buckle. My head hits the toilet seat and the purple seam on my forehead bursts forth and I become a paintbrush with a soul. I am unable to move or sleep, so with blood filling my eyes, I dream violently. I bend the redbone over the hood of the '78 el Camino in my garage. When I‟d picked her up I‟d told her it was gonna be a rough night and she‟d rolled her eyes and sent
her tongue slowly rolling across grease fire lips and said— “It‟s all tuxedo baby”—but everything seems far from cool for her now. Her nose is busted, leaking rusty blood at a steady rate, leaving polka dot puddles on black paint as I drag her head across the hood by her hair. She‟d told me to hit her, told me it got her off—so I had—twice, hard, standing in my living room. She‟d moaned loudly, from pleasure or impending brain damage or maybe some bizarre cocktail of the two. I ask her if she likes it out here in the garage, but she doesn't really respond. Just gurgles. I don't blame her. I am close to passing out myself with the doors closed and the car running. Asphyxiation at its best. I like the way the engine groans. I want the hood of the car to be too hot on her face and I want to push her bare legs up against the grill and let the blistering air moving over metal brand chessboard patterns in her skin. I try to keep her awake. I say—“I‟m not Super Man but I'm thick girl. You feel that?”—but eventually she stops moving altogether. I lose interest, finish inside her, and flip her over, laying her up onto the hood of the car. I check for her pulse. There isn't one. The blood on her face has started to crust and darken. A bruise is forming over her right eye, probably a broken lachrymal bone. The blackening skin swells and spreads across her face the way the night sky overtakes the sunset.
I open the back windows of the garage to let fresh air in. Go inside and get a bottle of pinot noir. Come back to the garage and sit on the cold floor facing the girl. I drink. I find myself wishing I could paint. Here in the dim light is a masterpiece. I'd call it “Wasted Gods.” Donate it to a gallery anonymously. No need for money or fame as long as this feeling stays around. This is the strangled Mona Lisa, the downtrodden Dora Maar, this is Flaming June in Bloody Heap on Hood of Car. This is the present state of existence. I'd sleep well at night knowing this feeling wasn't going anywhere. That it wouldn't always be as fleeting as it is now. I had a teacher who told me that art should always focus on the aesthetic of beauty, that it should not verge elsewhere. That always bothered me. This right here, this is art. Art I have created. This is something close to Kant's state of the sublime. I am brushing up against the overwhelming physical forces that cause and regulate the phenomena of all life: standing on the edge of a cliff and feeling the vertigo suck you downwards towards reality, depression, empty bottles long since drained of genies, dawn, and the hard ground of the earth; standing next to the ocean and watching waves rise and fold into themselves with a roar and a splash of foam reaching to wash clean all they touch; standing deep in the thick of the woods like standing in a crowd of lost, wandering people who all want
to look at you but won't do it directly—there‟s an ennui to that kind of place, like each plant is fed up with the leaning, unfulfilled wanderlust that comes with being rooted to the ground—and you can taste the quiet fresh air, the struggle of the world's immediate frailty against its ultimately lasting presence, the shortcomings of human eyesight, and your head swivels back and forth like a deer who's heard a twig snap and expects a gunshot to follow, nothing coming but silence, this realization much more terrifying to a lonely man sitting drunk and alone but not alone on the floor of his garage. In the morning I bury the body in a garden behind my house. The yard is fenced in, but if anyone is nosy enough to inquire about my actions, I‟ll say I‟m planting flowers. Later that day I roll my car out into my driveway and wash it. It is beautiful outside. My neighbor smiles and waves at me over some hedges separating our lots. “It's such a nice day out.” “Why yes it is.” “Have a good one.” “You too.” I smile and wave back.
The next day I wake up and go outside. It is my first time out in the city during normal waking hours. I am badly shaken and probably look like an escaped mental patient
wandering over pavement looking to street signs for all my answers. I don‟t know what to do with myself. My thought process is this—assuming that I am being monitored, I need to give whoever more data than a few nights of pacing an empty apartment. Rephrased: I can‟t get them to give away any hints about their motives if I don‟t give away a few myself. I walk around downtown. It is a clear-skied day. I check the upstairs windows of buildings as I walk past them but find no lurking eyes. Three times I hear footsteps and look over my shoulder and see no one. I have the urge to run, to see if the footsteps speed up with mine. I stay steady though, and continue walking. If someone is after me, I don‟t want them to know I‟m on to them. I stop to eat lunch at a small bistro. I sit at a wrought iron table and try to focus on the nun problem as a distraction from Lisa Underground. The waiter is short and egg shaped. He hands me a menu that gives me a headache when I try and read it. He asks what I‟ll have and I order a gin and tonic and make him take the menu away so I don‟t throw up. Despite my attempts, I cannot bring myself to concentrate on anything but the red-headed girl. I write a list of things on a cocktail napkin…social networking, dubstep, corndogs as side dishes, Asian girls performing R&B covers on ukuleles, flat-brim hats, hockey playoffs, group buying, cats, irony, Ed Hardy, over-produced music,
acronyms, mixed martial arts, ballroom dancing, celebrity gossip, the Miami Heat, hookah, whip cream gummy worm vodka, political activism, fitted suits, dieting, menthol cigarettes, cowboy boots, pornography, lying, stand-up comedy, hybrid cars, movies about marriage, smart phones, caffeine, high top sneakers, steroids, bounty programs, white kids rapping, self-help books, bow ties, 5K runs, tiaras, bottled water, reality television about pregnant teenagers, blogging, ecological conservation, keg parties, retro video game systems, frisbees, editing photos to make them look aged, teenage mutant ninja turtles, rehab, online bulletin boards, video chatting, being vegan, soccer hooligans, penguins, personal confessions, skim milk, longboarding, zombies, cookie delivery services, internet memes, beards, water slides, spray-on tans, nonprescription glasses, public transportation, fly fishing, word games, chili pepper hanging lights…the waiter gets me another gin and tonic, a large group of gothic kids walks by, weighed down by bike chains and buckles. A man rides by on a bike, a small dog balanced on his head. I have a moment with a seagull trying to fly against the wind that ends up just hovering, staring at me. Two cats fight in the street—voodoo howling—until one runs away. The victor saunters over to where I‟m sitting and starts talking about the plausibility of feline dictatorship in a world overrun by
rats and I start laughing uncontrollably, screaming and pulling my hair out, banging my fists on the rusty table until the waiter kicks me off the premises. He‟s forgotten I haven‟t paid, so I don‟t remind him and instead head back to the apartment, which I don‟t enter because the café is screaming my name at such a volume that it cannot be ignored. I enter, hoping that Lisa Underground decides to come back. My plan is to go to my table, sit, and wait. Miguel‟s waiting at the door. He‟s holding a manila envelope in his greasy hand. He‟s got a mischievous smile on his face. When I walk in he rushes me. He says, “Dude. Please tell me you fucked that Lisa girl. She is too fine.” I say, “What? No. I didn‟t.” He laughs. “You‟re lying. Come on man. You can tell me.” “I didn‟t do anything with her, Miguel.” He shrugs. “I saw you leave with her, man.” “So what?” He flips the envelope over and hands it to me. Johnny Tequila is scrawled on the front in green marker. Miguel says, “Johnny Tequila? That your porno name?” “No.” “Is that what she calls your dick?”
“No, Miguel. Just shut up. Go do your job. Go cook some food.” He sulks back to the kitchen. I open the envelope. Inside is a piece of paper. Written with the same green marker is an address. 117 Ferris Street. Miguel yells at me from behind the counter. He says, “Yo. You want any food?” Still looking at the paper in my hands, I say, “No. I have to go.” I leave the café and get on the next bus. I get off at the stop from the day before. It‟s overcast. The paper is folded into fourths and shoved in my back pocket. The street sign says Ferris Street. I start walking. 117 Ferris Street is a small, one story house with white paneling that‟s faded to yellow. Dead grass covers the lawn. I follow a thin, cracked sidewalk to a poured concrete porch. Everything seems forgotten except for a small Zen garden, laid out in an ornate pot on the corner of the porch. Meticulous rake lines dip into the sand at intervals and I am reminded of the planes in the sky. It‟s weird but nice. I knock. No answer. I knock harder. From inside I hear Lisa‟s voice say, “Come in.” I go inside and think about what I am going to say. I came here for answers and if I have to, I‟ll force those answers out. The only direction I can go is straight, a hallway leading away from me into the house. The hallway is
dark, the only light coming from a blinking light bulb hanging from the ceiling. I step into the house and I can feel it swallow and clear its throat. The walls are covered in neon sticky notes. Thousands of them. They cover every inch of available space. On each one there‟s a quote or a song lyric or a sentence written in Lisa‟s handwriting. I wonder what I have gotten myself into. Lisa‟s voice comes from down the hall. “I‟m in here,” she says. I head to the end of the hallway and find a dead end. There‟s a door to my left and a door to my right. I try the door on my left. The knob is covered in dust. It doesn‟t budge when I turn it. I try the right door. This one opens. The room I walk in to is a mess. The paint is coming off the walls and the ceiling is stained yellow. Mold creeps around the edges of the floor. An upright piano with keys missing, three busted wire bed frames, a couple moth-eaten couches and chairs, and countless boxes are all stacked in mounds around the room, forming a rough circle. Again, this room is lit only by a single light bulb. Lisa sits in the center of the room, cross-legged in a dusty golden circle of light. Her face is hidden in her hands and I can hear her crying. I step into the light and say, “Lisa, who are you? Why am I here?” She lifts her head and I can tell that she‟s not crying but laughing. She says, “Come here. Sit down. I‟ll explain.” I sit cross-legged from her and wait.
She says, “So I kind of freaked you out yesterday.” I nod. I say, “I‟m still not sure if I believe you.” She says, “What if I told you that I know you because I know Koan? Would that help?” I try not to let my surprise show, but the look on her face tells me enough about mine to know I‟ve given myself away. I say, “All that proves is that you know someone who knows me. We share a mutual acquaintance. That isn‟t unbelievable it‟s just a strange coincidence. That‟s all.” She smiles and hangs me over the edge of the cliff for a few seconds before she lets me go. She sings, “Astral butterflies land on our bodies and feed off the orgasms we make.” And there it goes. Cabin pressure hits zero, a highpitched whine fills my ears, and I‟m in a free fall towards shark-infested waters in the backseat of a van. I stand and pace the circle of light, shaking my head. It‟s not possible. I was the only one there. I tell her that and she smiles and says, “That‟s where you‟re wrong.” I keep pacing and she asks me to sit. I close the distance between us and grab her shoulders and shake her. I say, “Who the fuck are you? Who are you? This isn‟t funny anymore. I was the only other person in that shithole van with Koan and she‟s gone now. How long have you been following me? Did you have me wired or what?”
She lets me finish ranting before she drags me to the ground in front of her. She puts a hand on either side of my face and gently presses my cheeks together. She says, “If you shut up, I‟ll explain everything. I‟m not here to intimidate you or murder you or anything like that. Ok?” I say, “Ok.” She pats my cheeks and lets me sit up. She says, “First things first, Koan is not dead. I don‟t know if this helps to put your mind at ease, but hopefully it does.” “How do you know that?” “Because Koan and I are familiar with each other and I would know. We operate within the same group.” “What group is that?” “We are both members of The Three Sinners.” “What the hell is The Three Sinners?” Lisa Underground stares at the ceiling and says, repeating from memory: “The Three Sinners is the first allfemale fan group of the musical deity, Oubliette. We operate in over thirty-two cities to date and maintain a large online presence mostly due to organizing and sponsoring fan gettogethers that promote gender equality in music fandom and overall positivity in the industry as a whole. She takes a breath and nods. She says, Koan and I were founding members.” “Oubliette.”
“Yeah. You‟ve heard of them right? They‟re amazing.” “Only in passing. They‟re a band or something I assume?” “They‟re the biggest music act since…since fucking...if The Joy Formidable were married to GracieXSteffaloo, but they were fucking Jive Jones on the side and got pregnant with that feel good nineties baby daddy pop shit in a gangbang with Tupac and The Gourds and The Dandy Warhols and SBTRKT, the baby that popped out would be Oubliette. And that baby would have a ferocious cock.” “None of that really means anything to me at all.” “You really haven‟t heard that new song? The one that‟s just now getting airplay? The song starts with, like, a high-pitched voice crooning: My old man's really into buildin‟ model airplanes. Really likes those sexy slender wings, tall n‟ blonde, cruisin‟ down the runway at 500 miles per hour—“ “No. I haven‟t. Listen. Is this a reality TV show? Did you really think telling me about some weird fan-girl bond you share with Koan would convince me of anything? I mean really?” I get up to go but Lisa Underground pulls me back down to the floor. She says, “Please. I‟m not done yet. The Three Sinners is a front for something much more important.” “So you aren‟t just a crazy fan?”
“Oh no, I‟m obsessed, but there are other motives. It‟s kind of similar to how Fight Club was a front for Project Mayhem. Koan and I act as a sort of Special Forces for MiNOT-R, the man behind the Oubliette project.” “What gives you and Koan qualification to act as any kind of Special Force?” “We‟re both ex-military.” “So you‟re like Charlie‟s Angels? But run by Tyler Durden. Wearing cow legs.” “No. Well, sort of. We test MiNOT-R‟s research on ourselves. We are proof-of-concept for some of his more radical ideas. When these ideas are successful, we adopt them and use them as tactics to spread MiNOT-R‟s message.” “Meaning what?” “For the past half-decade we‟ve been testing a way to share events. Based off some of MiNOT-R‟s teachings, Koan and I have perfected a séance-like process that allows the performers to experience an occurrence together, even if these people are very far away from each other.” I roll my eyes and she says, “Listen. I know this all sounds ridiculous, but if you bear with me through the theory, I will show you the application and hopefully prove to you that this isn‟t all nonsense. Ok?”
I say, “Yeah,” with the smallest amount of enthusiasm I can put forth. She clears her throat and begins: “MiNOT-R began this lesson with a word. That word is Saso, which is the point of this whole lesson. Saso is a not quite omniscience or enlightenment, but rather a way of achieving these things. It is, at its roots, an understanding. Its branches: the means of using this understanding. Saso is the realization that everything you have ever experienced, all of your memories, all of the people you have met, all of the objects and actions and reactions you are familiar with, do not exist in the way you think they do. All of these things exist with the dream of a power. Humans have called this power many names, but in our culture, the most prevalent term is God. Everything that exists is just a part of the dream of God, including yourself. You are a tiny, self-aware fraction a fictional world within the head of another being. For most this selfawareness fades with age. The pressure of this selfawareness forces most of us to choose between one of two statements: „I exist,‟ and, „I do not exist.‟ For most, the obvious answer is to choose the former, which is a reassuring lie. This allows them to share in experiences with others who believe they exist, rather than simply eliminating themselves from the dream. To attain Saso, one must choose both of these statements simultaneously, making the
transition from “It‟s all a dream and I am not real,” to: “It‟s all a dream and because it‟s not real, I can control it.” Imagine being able to feel the entirety of God‟s existence— which is everywhere and nowhere—and your place within it. This realization means the absorption of you into an infinite being. Imagine understanding this, but still being able to call yourself a name. In acknowledging your self within the mind of God, those who walk with Saso recognize that not only are they a part of God, but God is a part of them, one that can be manipulated much like a limb. Does any of that make sense?” I say, “So this isn‟t a fan club. It‟s a cult.” She says, “If you think of it in the way that science is a cult, then yes . These things are all very real.” “I don‟t believe you.” She smiles and says, “I know. That‟s why I‟m going to prove it to you.” She stands and walks into a corner of the room and brings back a red suitcase. From inside the suitcase: twelve orange candles that she places in a cluster between us. Each is lit with patience. Each its own ritual. Next out of the suitcase comes a black garbage bag that crunches when it hits the concrete and releases a smell I remember from Koan‟s van because I can instantly taste the dead bird in the back of my throat and I begin to dry heave. Lisa Underground notices and zips open a front flap of the
suitcase. She digs out a baby rattle pill bottle, the one from my backpack. I have no idea how she got it but she has it and I‟m swooning, close to blacking out, so she force-feeds me two handfuls. I swallow a bucket of bile and sit straight up. My eyes are a pair of vertical pink ovals. I rock back and forth and stare at the candles. Time slows or goes backwards or maybe it stays the same, I can‟t tell by looking at the twelve small flames but if I look away I‟m pretty sure I‟ll throw up or pass out or both. Somewhere in my peripheral, Lisa Underground and her shadows refract in and out of our ring of light. She ends up back in front of me, naked, legs spread open, fingering herself and moaning. I don‟t pretend to understand what is happening. She opens the trash bag with wet hands and the smell forms into a tornado in the distance, the fingertip of an old god scratching old scars on rocky skin, imminent doom rocketing wind and the furniture and kitchen appliances and stuffed animals and body parts and memories and life savings and dreams of people its already picked up and dropped down through the front of your house and it blows through me like wind through a cornfield. I fall sideways. Lisa Underground sets me up and sits in my lap and grinds her hipbones against mine. I‟m leaned back, propped up by my arms, drooling on myself. In this position I can see the ceiling light swaying from its string. The white light on Lisa
Underground‟s chest and stomach is surgical. None of this is sexy. I can see sweat hanging on the peach fuzz on her upper lip. I can see a scar across her belly and a mole on her breast. It smells like dead bird, which she brings up to our faces in a mushy handful and begins to eat. I throw up on her. She laughs and rips chunks off of the bird and pushes them down my throat. I gag and she screams, “Eat it, Eat it”—still laughing. I fall over again, or this time maybe I was pushed. The light bulb sways like a pendulum in a grandfather clock, counting away the seconds until I don‟t know what. My pants are taken off, then my shirt. I feel Lisa Underground slide herself onto me. Fingers enter mouths, I‟m not sure whose is whose anymore. I can feel bird guts being rubbed on my chest. Lisa Underground is impaling herself on me, screaming, feeding me more of the bird. I lose all consciousness and wake up naked in the corner of a police interrogation room. The door reads: Child Interrogation Room 2. The room is a small gray cube walled with concrete on every surface except for one, which houses a one way window. At the center of the room is a metal examination table with legs that are bolted to the floor. A chair straddles each long side of the table. I assume what makes it a children‟s interrogation room are the tertiary decorations. It looks like someone put Santa‟s sack in the center of the room and put a grenade in the sack and let the
explosion of toys rain down on the original, meager furnishings, without any regard for organization or safety. Dolls, stuffed animals, RC cars, Lincoln Logs, cards, dice, figurines, whatever a kid wants, it‟s here. Lisa Underground says, “Good. It worked,” which startles me because I hadn‟t noticed her yet. I cover myself with my hands and whisper, “Where are we? What did we do?” I can‟t help noticing that she is also naked and that the evidence of the mess she made is gone. She laughs and says, “We did what I said we would do. We are here to experience an event with Koan, who I told you is still alive.” She moves over to the door and wags a finger for me to follow. I do and we listen. A voice outside the door says, “I got this girl, Koan, I think? From the suicide.” Lisa Underground says, “That is Hesse speaking. Hesse is originally from India. He‟s a Sikh, which means he‟s supposed to do unto others as he would to unto himself. Mostly this just makes him worrisome and overly cautious, traits that often prohibit him from thinking or acting quickly, making him one of the worst police officers staffed by the force.” Hesse says, “Yeah, so we weren‟t really sure where to put her. I mean she‟s like fourteen, fifteen-ish, but the whole thing with the—you know the van and the—well the—“
A second, gruffer voice says, “The dildo?” Lisa Underground says, “That is Sheriff Broome. He spends his days in his front office, gripping his .38 special so hard the engraved wood handle imprints small rectangles on his palm because he is too afraid to put the gun to his head and empty his mind all over his desk, something he‟s been trying to do for months because he wishes every day that he had finished his engineering degree at school and gone on to build bridges. Instead he writes parking tickets and drives a P.O.S. Ford.” Hesse says, “Yeah. That. And she‟s been cussing like my grandmother on a Wednesday.” Broome says, “What happens on Wednesday? Is that a thing? Grandmother‟s on Wednesday?” “I don‟t know. I thought so?” “I don‟t think it is. But the language, you said?” “Yeah. Terrible. Anyways we‟re going to put her in here. Child Interrogation Room 2.” “Alright. I want you behind the glass for me. Run the recorder and take note of anything unusual. Don‟t let anyone interrupt, regardless of how important they say it might be. Understood?” “Understood.” The door begins to open. I grab Lisa Underground‟s forearm and try to drag her out of the way but it‟s too late.
An Indian guy, who I guess is Hesse, enters with a box full of bagged items and a file and sets everything on the table. He then exits the room. Lisa Underground laughs. She says, “They can‟t see or hear us, Johnny. We‟re only here in spirit.” I run over to a wall, my dick flapping all over the place, and rub my hand on the concrete. Feels like concrete. The one way window feels like glass. I get up in Lisa Underground‟s face. I say, “What the fuck is this? Am I Scrooge? Are you the devil? What did I do wrong?” Lisa looks like she‟s going to answer but the door opens again before she gets a chance. Koan is pushed into the room. I‟m not even sure if I‟m relieved to see her alive. I say, “Can she see us?” Lisa Underground shakes her head. She says, “Just watch.” Sherriff Broome finds the girl Koan sitting in the chair facing away from the window. She doesn‟t pay attention to him at first. She‟s too busy enacting a scene with a Ken doll and a Furby. She controls both with her hands, walking them along the tops of the table and changing her voice according to who‟s speaking. The Furby says, “What? You stupid bitch? You no have my money? That means you get fucked!” The Ken doll says, “No! Please, NOOOOO!” Koan produces The Great American Challenge from beneath the
table, still wrapped in its evidence bag, and begins sledge hammering the Ken doll into the table. Sherriff Broome moves to the table and rips the dildo from her hand. He walks to the one-way window and holds it up to the glass. He says, “Hesse, why was this left in here?” There is no answer from behind the glass. Sherriff Broome sighs and carries the dildo back to the table. He sits across from Koan, facing his reflection in the window, and studies her. Four foot eleven. Seventy-five pounds. Normal street clothes with excessive wear. Short brown hair. Brown eyes. Tan skin. Possibly: Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, etc. No identifying tattoos. Left ear pierced. Silver chain earring, two inches long, ending in spiked ball. Mischievous demeanor. Short attention span. Koan says, “Are you attracted to me at all?” Sherriff Broome says, “What? No. I‟m making mental notes.” “What kinds of notes?” “Height, weight, that sort of thing.” “Sure.” Sherriff Broome closes the file in front of him and pushes it towards the middle of the table. He says, “Listen. You‟re here because something bad happened to your friend Johnny. Can we talk about that?” “I‟ll tell you whatever you want if you get me a drink.”
“Fine. Not a problem. What would you like? Cola or water or something?” “Whiskey on the rocks.” Sherriff Broome looks at the bright light above them in the center of the room. It‟s blue. Surgical. He returns his eyes to Koan. “He says, I can‟t do that. You‟re fifteen. I can‟t give you alcohol.” Koan shrugs. She says, “Then we‟re done here.” Sherriff Broome stands and paces in the small room, careful not to step on any roller skates or marbles. He considers his options: Stop the interrogation and be subject to phone calls and interviews full of questions he can‟t answer, or sneak his desk stash bottle of 12 year old, double malt scotch into the room and continue the interrogation. He walks to the intercom and hovers his finger over the speak button. Koan spins in her chair to face him. He says, “Is McClellen‟s ok?” Koan nods. Sherriff Broome presses the button and says, “Hesse? Can you hear me?” Hesse‟s voice crackles through the speaker. “Yes sir.” Sherriff Broome says, “Hesse, I want you to go into my office. In the second drawer on the right is a bottle. Bring that bottle here. Do not stop to speak to anyone. Understood?” “Sir, I don‟t think—“ “I really don‟t care, Hesse. Just do it.”
“Yes sir.” Hesse takes six and half minutes to return with a glass, ice, and the bottle of scotch. Sherriff Broome pours Koan a half glass and says, “Happy?” Koan sips, swirls the liquid in her mouth, swallows. She says, “It‟s alright. So what can I do for you today?” “This guy Johnny. What was he like? We don‟t really know anything about him at all.” “Yeah. I didn‟t either.” “We found him with you. Remember that?” Koan eyes the dildo in the evidence bag to the far end of the table. She says, “Yeah. I definitely remember. But I swear, honest, I really don‟t know much about him. I got a call from a friend. I do voodoo, kind of like fortune telling, to make money. That‟s all it was. He was a client. I don‟t know him otherwise.” “He paid you?” “No. I did this as a favor for a friend.” Sherriff Broome moves to the intercom and says, “Ok Hesse, look, we‟re gonna move her into protective custody until we find out more about this Johnny guy.” “Understood.” Sherriff Broome escorts Koan to his police cruiser, scotch bottle in his hand, frown on his face. The scene fades out and I wake up on the concrete floor of Lisa
Underground‟s house. My brain has grown fists while I was gone and is beating on the inside of my skull to get out. I don‟t move for thirty minutes. It still smells like roadkill. I feel slimey like a fetus. I hear Lisa Underground panting on the floor across the candles from me. She is the first to stand and she helps me up. She walks me to the stairs and from there to a bathroom with a shower. She says, “Take a hot shower. As much time as you need. The first time isn‟t ever fun.” I nod and turn the water on full blast. I feel like I‟m in one of those movie scenes where a character, usually a female, finds out that they‟ve been cheated on or that they been raped—and arguably I was raped, I guess, but that seems overshadowed at this point by other things, so many other things that I just let the water burn my body and hope it‟ll take some of the stuff with it down the drain when it goes. The upstairs room of Lisa Underground‟s house is small and square. It holds a single couch, two wooden stools, and a television. Lisa Underground lays on the couch under a blanket, a bottle of whiskey between her legs. I sit on one of the stools. We don‟t speak. We both know that I have too much happening inside my head to worry about making small talk or trying to discuss what happened downstairs earlier in the day. We pass the whiskey bottle back and forth. She clicks through television channels until she finds
news programming. The report is a piece on a new drug called Krokodil, a substance labeled “the drug that eats junkies” by the lead anchor. A few graphs are flashed on the screen, then a chemical systematic of desomorphine to satiate the scientific types. The anchor goes on to say, “The drug gained traction in Russia, beginning in 2010, due to both the high cost of heroin in an economically crippled nation and an increase in clandestine production, a history similar to that of cheaply home-produced methamphetamine. Desomorphine made this way is highly impure and the end product is contaminated with both toxins and corrosive byproducts. Heavy usage of this drug causes the user‟s skin to turn scaly at first, then to fall off completely as the chemicals eat through muscle and finally bone.” The camera zooms in on the anchors face. He says, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you have children in the room, it is time for them to go to sleep. The next set of images is very, very disturbing.” I consider telling her to turn the television to something else, but I see her attentiveness and instead reach for the bottle again. The news program cuts to a gritty neighborhood shot from a shoulder cam. A man narrates what is happening onscreen, his words only adding to the horror that is shown. The tour of the „Krokodil House‟ begins on the ground level
in the living room, home of stage one junkies who are still mixing a bit of heroin in with their Krokodil. For the most part, they look like normal runaway kids who got stuck in a bad place. The camera zooms in on a girl‟s face as she pushes the plunger down on her needle. It wears the look of pure ecstasy. The tour continues to the kitchen. Stage two. These people have been using for a few months. A woman with half-eaten arms injects a needle full of gunk into a man‟s forehead. He screams and rips the needle out, pushing the woman into an alcove with rusty pipes for hands, the shell where a refrigerator once sat. Already the skin has started to peel back on the man‟s head. His flesh is exposed to the air and gleams in the light through a hole in the wall. Purple veins pulse on its surface. The man dives on the woman and begins to rip her clothes off. The camera moves up the stairs, dodging piles of feces and vomit on the way. A pit stop is made in a bathroom at the top of the stairs. A junkie is passed out or dead with his head in the toilet. The camera catches a glimpse of the narrator and cameraman in a bit of broken glass from a mirror as the two take a moment to slip cheap respirator masks over their mouths and noses. They‟re both young, just over twenty maybe. The narrator says, “Wow. It smells really bad. Terrible. I can‟t breathe.” The tour continues into the second level of the house in a much quicker fashion. The camera
scans over piles of bodies lying together and rotting on trash bag cots. A few of them have the energy to inject themselves with more of the drug. The camera lingers on a lone man propped up in a closet, his left leg chewed away to the thighbone, shining white like a wax candle out of a hole where muscles used to be. The two men make a final climb up to the roof. The camera spins, taking in the sunny day and the small village of rubble surrounding the house, before coming to rest on an unexpected visitor, the remains of a man piled up in a corner. The narrator crouches in front of the body and says, “This is the ultimate effect of playing a game you cannot hope to win. The average life-span of a Krokodil user is, at maximum, three years.” He stands and brushes his hands on his pants and says, “How did that shot look?” The camera nods, then the body rustles. The narrator says, “What the fuck was that? Did you see that?” The camera moves closer and the body erupts into convulsions, a dying effort, it unfurls itself into two skeleton arms, the bones creaking and clawing at the air, framing the chewed skull of a man without skin, his throat gasping and bleeding and drooling onto the concrete floor. It clacks its teeth together twice then collapses again. The narrator and the camera man scream and turn to run, the camera drops and goes to black, and the news program cuts back to the lead anchor who says, “Very, very sad, indeed. In other news…”
I take the remote from Lisa Underground and turn the television off. We stare at the black screen for a while. I say, “You know, some people read the paper or have a glass of wine before they go to sleep. I‟ve sat here and watched halfdead people stabbing themselves with poison that will rot their flesh off for an hour with you and I‟m not sure how that happened.” I stand and click the lamp off. Lisa Underground says, “You can sleep on the couch tonight if you want.” She wanders off to another part of the house, the empty whiskey bottle sits discarded on the carpet. The morning is bland. I wake up and take the best kind of piss, first of the day, one hand leaned against the wall. Lisa Underground makes coffee and toast with jelly and butter. When I‟m done eating, I brush the crumbs off of my shirt and stand. I say, “What do you people want from me?” Lisa Underground finishes her coffee and clears her throat. She says, “You have a problem with the nuns. Correct?” I nod. “The Three Sinners also have a problem with the nuns. That is because they are Prince‟s version of our group. They are his Special Forces. Oubliette is at war with Prince over a sampling incident. I can‟t tell you a lot about these samples other than this: Whoever holds these samples has the power
to make their next album a guaranteed genre-defining masterpiece. Prince needs these samples to make his comeback. Oubliette needs these samples to help spread his message of salvation. Ally with us, help us get these samples back from Prince, and we will help you with the nuns. Then all your problems go away.” The supernatural side wins. Prince might have a motorcycle gang, but I have witch doctors. I say, “Ok. When do we start?” 4 Lisa Underground and I are on an electrodynamic suspension train, hovering over steel rods while electromagnets wage war against each other to keep us afloat. We‟ve switched lines five times, in case of surveillance. Lisa Underground will not tell me who we should be worried about, only that our movements are mostly for precautionary purposes. Lisa Underground has her head propped up in her hands. It‟s six pm, maybe a little after, and the sun is at an angle that could be called blinding. Lisa Underground stares directly at it. I say, “Isn‟t that bad for your eyesight?” She shrugs. “Maybe.”
I ask her what she‟s thinking about and she says, “Do you dream?” I say, “I think everybody does right? Like I know not everybody remembers all of them, but I remember learning in school that everyone‟s mind dreams every night—“ She interrupts. Says, “Stop. Not what I mean. I mean you specifically. Do you fairly regularly remember your dreams?” “Yeah. I guess so.” “What was the last thing you dreamed about?” “Uh—I don‟t know.” “Focus.” “Why? Who cares?” She takes her eyes off the sun and says, “Have you ever used an EXP booth?” “No. There‟s only one where I‟m from and the lines are always too long. Clogged up with addicts.” “Do you know how they work?” “Not really.” “The user ingests a small dosage of sedative prior to entering. Once active, an EXP booth constructs a reality similar to the last thing the user dreamed and allows them to inhabit that pseudo-reality for a pre-paid amount of time.” “Why do I care?”
“Because we will be conducting our meeting with MiNOT-R in an EXP booth and you need to be somewhat prepared for it.” “Why an EXP booth? Can‟t we just go to his mansion?” “At this point in time, an EXP booth is the only appropriate place to hold this type of meeting.” I stop to reflect on her use of the word „appropriate,‟ wrangling with what exactly she meant by that. I think about the last thing I did dream that I remember, which was killing a woman, I believe. I meander through other dreams and eventually land on a reoccurring experience I had in school. It went something like: “I woke up, went about my day, opened a file on my computer, and when I did my day would reset. I'd wake up, go about my day, open the file, trigger the reset ... etc. etc. etc. If I remember correctly, there was something written in the file that told me I was dreaming, and I had to realize it to hit the reset. Eventually I caught on that something strange was happening, started leaving myself little clues, figuring out what would stay after the reset if I changed it. I started realizing sooner and sooner every cycle until I finally managed to break free of the pattern and woke up in real life. I looked for the file once I was awake, just in case, but never found anything to prove or disprove its existence. I wrote the whole thing off as a nightmare.”
When I‟m done she says, “Not really what we‟re looking for, and stands to leave.” I say, “Where are you going?” She says, “To sleep. We need something better than that and I‟ve learned with MiNOT-R that it‟s better to be prepared. You should sleep too. Try and dream of something safe, a place people wouldn‟t think to look if they knew you.” I say, “Ok.” She exits and heads to a cot. I recline my chair and stare out the window, thinking hidden, peaceful thoughts until I doze off. The trees are covered in snow. A white coral reef along the field‟s edge, leftover from some long since evaporated inland ocean. The world is calm and bright. We walk in silence. Our feet crunching through the frozen top layer of snow like we‟re stepping across a giant crème brulee. Out in the distance are the mountains, halfway hidden by fog. It smells like wet grass. The air is thin and sharp. I look at her, walking next to me, about a foot in-between us, and I can‟t help thinking it wasn‟t always like this. She catches me looking and smiles. “What?” she says. “Nothing.” “You‟re staring at me. That‟s not nothing.” I shrug. “Don‟t believe me then. But it really was nothing.”
We walk. To our right a raven caws. In the distance I can hear the loping steps of deer running through the trees. “It‟s cold,” I say. “It‟s always cold here.” The sun get‟s brighter. The snow is glassy. Flat. I unzip my jacket. A breeze whips through the trees and hits my sagging body. I miss Arizona. Although some days anything feels better than New Jersey. Post apocalyptic, perpetually snow-covered. I exhale. My breath makes swirls of smoke in front of my face. I take her hand and we keep walking. An hour passes. The forest is thick around us and the trees stand like so many platoons of soldiers. It‟s dark, here, in the arms of the forest. Up above, the sky is pale blue, clear, and flat like a chunk of sea glass sanded smooth by a shallow tide. It starts to snow and the sky fades to white like breath on a cold window. The flakes are frail and thin. Most of them get caught in the canopy. I stop for a few seconds and peer upwards, her hand still tightly wrapped in mine. A few flecks of snow land on my face, chilling the skin like the light touch of someone who‟d been holding a glass of ice water. I close my eyes and pretend I‟m a snowflake floating, weightless, the ground rushing up to meet me, slipping between leaves and spying two huddled dots, two people dressed in black, alone in the woods and in the world. The
gentle thud on skin and the immediate melting initiated by the big heart, the body heat of the girl, standing here next to me. It starts to get dark outside. We keep walking. A few hundred feet in front of us, I notice something hunched down in the snow. A dark bundle. An almost-shadow. I think maybe it‟s some sort of animal. I motion towards it and she sees it. I put a finger to my lips. I think, are there bears in New Jersey? I don‟t know but probably and that‟s enough to scare me. We watch the shadowy thing for a long time. It doesn‟t move. We creep closer. A hundred feet away, she says, “Oh. It‟s nothing. A tree or something.” When we get close enough I can see she‟s right. It‟s a felled tree. She goes up to touch it and says, “Cool. Johnny look. It‟s an old Christmas tree.” “What do you mean?” She grabs something hidden halfway by the branches and pulls it out. It‟s an old Christmas ornament. A red ball with a rusty cap and hook still attached. She holds it up. She says, “I can‟t believe it‟s still in once piece.” She sets it gently aside in the snow. “Let‟s stand it up,” she says. I reach through the branches and grab the trunk of the tree. Lisa makes sure the base doesn‟t move. When I lift the
tree, more ornaments fall out. More colored balls, a few reindeer, a snowman. I hold the tree up and she examines it further. She says, “Who would put a Christmas tree all the way out here?” “Maybe someone dumped it after the holidays a few years back.” I feel her hands picking their way through the branches. She grabs something and pulls on it. A loop of tangled Christmas lights loosens and slides down the body of the tree. “Can you see them on your side?” she says. “The lights?” A strand of the lights lies across my arm still holding up the tree. The strand is green plastic that‟s been chewed through in places. I count ten bulbs that I can see, but most of them are shattered, their filaments poking out like insect antennae. I say, “Yeah. I see them. A lot of them are broken.” She doesn‟t respond, just digs for more lights. I feel a tug towards the bottom of the tree. She yelps and through the branches I hear her stumble backwards, away from the tree. I say, “Are you ok?”
I drop the tree. It falls away to my left. When it hits the ground the lights and ornaments rattle like coins spilled on a hardwood floor. She‟s standing a few feet away, her index finger in her mouth. I say, “What happened?” Her finger still in her mouth, she says, “I cut myself. On the glass. One of the light bulbs.” “Does it hurt?” She shakes her head. Then she takes her finger out of her mouth and shows me. There‟s a small cut a bit above the first joint. A drop of blood slides out of the cut and down her finger. When it reaches the tip, it clings to the skin for half a second then drips to the floor. The red dot is a striking contrast to the blacks, whites, and grays around us. It looks accidental, like the first stroke of someone who‟s never used a paintbrush before. I say, “Are you going to be ok?” “Yeah.” She looks up at the sky. “It‟s almost dark. We should probably head back soon.” I say, “Yeah. Ok.” I take one last look at the drop of blood, still bright red in the snow, but fading to darkness like the sky above us. We start walking, about a foot in-between us. And I think, maybe it was always like this.
On the walk back, I think of an afternoon years ago. When I was still a kid, maybe only nine years old. Under a reddening sky, beneath skeleton leaves and an old oak, my grandfather found me, nose pushed up like a crushed Styrofoam cup. All around me were the carcasses of small animals. The ribcage of a fox, the skull of a chipmunk, the thin, cold line of a snake‟s backbone coiled like a shoestring between my feet. Birds cawed above us, as if telling others to stay away. There had been a massacre below. It smelled hot and dry and putrid. Standing in front of me, my grandfather said, “Son, why are you out here? Supper‟s on the table and your mother‟s been hollerin‟ after you for an hour. Now come on.” I stood and followed him, never once looking back at the place. My grandfather asked me what the hell I was doing out there, so far into the woods. I shook my head and said, “I don‟t know. I just wanted to be alone. Just listening to the woods, I guess.” We didn‟t speak after that. We just walked in silence back up to town. Above us the sky bled out like a shot buck and turned to black. I wake up with an unsureness about how I feel. My knees ache from forced immobility. I stand in our small compartment and do a few squats. I feel like a fossil crawling back out of the dirt to reanimate itself. I yawn and stretch, punching the ceiling, which is much lower than I
remember it being. Buildings begin to appear outside the window. Most of them are covered in sidewalk to sky advertisement screens with letters that blur as we rocket past them. Nervous crowds hustle by, sweating in the direct heat of the sun. I watch people evaporate on the concrete, leaving their shoes left behind unexplained where they stood. A few people turn to watch me as the train glides past. The glass window is like an aquarium display, but I can‟t tell which of us is the fish. A building I recognize from the back of currency comes into view and leaves just as quickly, which places us in one of the capital cities. I crack the compartment door. Lisa Underground is still asleep, snoring loudly. I dig my cell phone out of my backpack and check it for messages or calls. Nothing. I consider messaging Virgo or Donna Moore or even the Gay Prince of Jordan, but can‟t bring myself to do it. I have a complex about contacting people, something left over from school. With school friends, I was the organizer. If I didn‟t make plans, plans didn‟t get made. Or this is what I thought. How it really went was: if I didn‟t make plans, I got left out. I found this out by not contacting any of my friends for a whole weekend. This was possibly the hardest thing I‟ve ever forced myself to do. I sat on the floor of my bedroom in my parents‟ house with my phone in front of me and waited for the questions to roll
in. What are you up to? What are we doing tonight? What‟s the game plan? Nothing. I found myself hearing the phone ringing if I left the room, only to find a blank screen when I returned. I would swear I saw the notification light blink, snatch up my phone and realize that—no—I was just seeing things. I blamed it on the glare from the overhead lighting and sat in the dark. After thirty-six hours passed, I started dialing peoples‟ numbers without actually sending the call. I came close to giving in several times—then did give in. I called a kid named Robert and immediately hung up the phone. He didn‟t call back. Not even a text with a „?.‟ I ripped my fingernails out with pliers after that, so I wouldn‟t be able to dial the phone anymore. I ended up passing out and woke up in the hospital with my parents and a nurse huddled around my cot. My dad‟s face was wrinkled up like crumpled paper. My hands were a mess of bloody bandages. I was released from the hospital three days later and went straight for a laptop. Getting to the social networking site was the hardest part. I had to type with my toes. Once logged in, I scrolled back a few days. Instead of finding a bunch of posts about how bored everyone had been all weekend, I found pictures from parties—plural. Worse, some of the shots included kids my friend claimed to hate. I didn‟t get it then, but I get it now. In school it‟s not about forming friendships, but learning how to form friendships—which is a
minor yet important distinction to make. All relationships tainted by youth come with an expiration date. I just figured Donna Moore and Virgo were better than that. And maybe they are. I have no idea what they‟re doing. I decide not to contact them. If they‟re worried, they will call. It‟s all good. I turn my phone off and replace it in my backpack. Signs outside the window begin to look less blurred, which I guess means we‟re slowing down. A crisp male voice begins speaking through the overhead PA system. Hello ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoyed your stay with us on PanOpticon Railways. We will be arriving at our destination in approximately five minutes. The temperature in Capital City 17 is currently fluctuating between ninety and one hundred degrees. Surgeon General 17 urges you to avoid direct sunlight if possible, as it has recently been announced that sunlight is yet again causing cancer. Again, please prepare to disembark. We will be arriving in approximately…I hear a body hit the floor in the next room, then footsteps to the door, which slides open. Lisa Underground steps halfway into the seating compartment and says, “Are you ready?” while picking gunk out of her squinted eyes. She looks fairly plain without make up on, not that that‟s a bad thing. I‟m just not sure what I expected. I check to make sure all my zippers are closed on my backpack.
I say, “Yeah. She nods and leaves the compartment. Through the doors I listen to her change and prepare her bags.
In my head, I‟d always pictured an EXP booth as a sort of British comedy prop, a red phone booth that people crammed into and, I don‟t know, got zapped to Narnia in for a certain amount of time. The reality is much less funny. The thing itself is just a cubic metal garage with a single door entrance. Lisa Underground and I stand in a line of degenerates three wide and maybe a hundred deep. The line weaves through a slum that has sprung up in the space between three buildings like a weed pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk. The air is stagnant and dry. We shuffle past houses made of box springs and cardboard. When the line pauses, I watch a woman step out of a oneroom house constructed from the green plastic walls of old portable toilets. It has a dirt floor and beds made of old milk cartons and plastic soda bottles tied together. She is henshaped and dirt-stained but keeps hold of a resilience. She is all wide hips and almond skin and eyes big half-moons colored hazel. She picks at scraps of food. Breakfast is a stash of old fruit rinds found days ago. The line pushes forwards and we separate. I watch steam rise off the bald
head of the man in front of us. He smells like garbage so thickly that I can taste it in my throat. He has a sizable hole in the ass of his pants, through which I can see beer and pretzel patterned boxer shorts. He picks at the cuticles of his fingernails and spits the skin onto the wheelchair-bound man to his right. A woman next to us holds an infant close to her chest and rocks it up and down. The woman is locked into a thousand yard stare, crying openly. The baby is eerily silent, only opening its mouth to coo every few minutes. A few rows ahead of us, two topless women begin kissing and massaging each other‟s breasts. A businessman exits the EXP booth and straightens his tie. The waiting crowd exhales a collective sigh. Commotion breaks out to the right of the machine, screams and the clang of metal. I check the zippers on my backpack and hold it to my chest. The line pushes forwards. Two rows out from the EXP booth, the commotion reveals itself. An older man wearing a pressed Post Office Delivery Officer uniform has handcuffed himself to a tree next to the booth. He screams and points at the tree. Tells us all that we‟re going to hell. Tells us all that this is the last fucking tree in Capital City 17 and he‟ll be damned if he sees it uprooted. Some people behind us laugh. One of the topless women approaches him like a fox and begins rubbing her half-naked body against the tree. The man froths at the
mouth. He says, “See. This is what I mean. That damn tranny President you pieces of shit elected wants to tear up this tree and put another EXP booth here so you assholes can waste more of my money. Say no to nostalgia. Stay no to nostalgia. Stay no to nostalgia.” The bald man wipes his skin off the wheelchair man and whispers to him: “Do you think that‟s true? That‟d be awesome.” The Post Office Delivery Officer continues: “You‟re crackheads. That‟s all you people are. Fucking crackheads.” He pushes the topless woman off the tree. The other comes to her defense and gets smacked. The crowd loses its sense of humor. The people around us turn into wolves and move in to tear the tree and its defender to bits. Lisa Underground sees this as an opportunity and pushes me forwards, past the ten or so distracted people in front of us, and into the empty EXP booth. The volume outside turns up. Through the metal walls I can hear screaming and cheering and pleas of forgiveness. People begin taking sides. Sirens in the distance echo off buildings. I stare at the door and wait for the riot to interrupt us. Lisa Underground smacks the back of my head and says, “Focus.” She removes a laptop from her bag and extends a cable from it to a port in the wall. A light above
the port turns green. Lisa Underground begins typing on the computer. She says, “Do you have a dream we can use?” I nod. She says, “What was it?” I say, “I was in a field. It was winter. Very cold. You were there.” “I was there? Why was I there?” “What do you mean?” “I mean describe what happened.” “I‟m trying to.” “Well describe it better.” She sets the laptop on the floor and rummages in her bag for something else. She holds up the orange pill container and says, “Here. We need to take these anyways. We take four apiece.” I say, “Isn‟t MiNOT-R supposed to meet us here? Where is he?” She says, “He‟ll meet us wherever we end up. He‟s at another EXP booth.” I say, “So how does this work?” “You talk into the computer and the room listens. You project onto the place. So describe it better.” I say, “I‟ll try.” I breathe deeply a few times, try to get into a rhythm. Gravity gets much stronger. My body sweats and my voice seems to come from a place other than my mouth. I begin: “The trees are covered in snow. A white
coral reef along the field‟s edge, leftover from some long since evaporated inland ocean. The world is calm and bright. We are walking, but we‟ve stopped to rest.” The lights go out in the room but it‟s not dark. My vision becomes clouded by fractals and then we aren‟t in the room anymore, we‟re sitting in slush in the woods. Lisa Underground is in front of me, cross-legged, crying. Her hat pushes her hair down over her face. I am filled with an immense, unexplainable sadness. I ask her what‟s wrong but the words don‟t make noise. I can‟t move much and I‟ve lost control of most of what‟s happening. The background shifts and cracks like a broken plasma screen, flipping back and forth between snowy woods to metal garage. I tell my right arm to move and it does, towards Lisa Underground‟s face, where it pushes her hair out of her eyes and back behind her ear. Lisa Underground follows up this gesture of kindness and understanding with an open-palm smack to my cheek. My skin shatters like a Christmas ornament in the cold and I fall backwards onto the concrete floor of the garage. It takes me a minute to recover. A hand-shaped chunk of my cheek pulses. I stand up in the garage. Lisa is already back at the computer. She looks up at me and says, “What the fuck was that, Johnny? Don‟t pull that shit ever again.” I say, “Ok,” even though I‟m not really sure what shit I just pulled. I say, “So is that it? Did I mess it up?”
She says, “You messed it up big time but that‟s not it. I have one we can try as well.” She picks up the computer and begins to tell it a story like she‟s out to dinner with it: “I was in a band, and my worst concert story goes a little something like this: We had been driving for about 12 hours to make it to this tiny east Texas town that had offered us a guarantee to play at their music festival. At around sunset, we were getting nervous that they weren't going to make it in time. Our GPS told us that we were very close, in that very smarmy British way that GPS‟s often speak in, but they figured it was wrong because we were on a small road in the middle of the Big Thicket. Finally we see it: A dirt road, overgrown with foliage. We turned onto the road, and that‟s when we began to understand just how bizarre our night would be. We drove past abandoned baby carriages that looked like movie props and dollhouses that could never have felt a moments happiness. The road finally led into a wooded community. The stage was a porch attached to a double-wide. There were seventeen people in attendance, including the promoter, MC, and other performers. Yeah— other performers. Turns out this was a talent show so desperate for talent that they‟d pay for it to show up. The crowd was interesting: A small boy who watched from a wheelbarrow. A pregnant mother, smoking an electronic cigarette, while holding a baby. An elderly woman who
looked identical to my grandmother. A very polite Indian couple, who spoke very little English. Most importantly, the organizer and master of ceremonies, a tramp clown. After every performance, he would honk his best horn while drinking a beer and smoking a cigar. We played a few songs before we were asked to step down and view the other acts.” Lisa Underground‟s voice begins to lull me into a hypnotized state and I recognize the familiar feeling of gravity shifting places. This time my organs rise up in my body like they‟re trying to float on a water level above my head. I look upwards and the sun is beating down on us again. My head feels sunburned. I‟m standing on red clay in the crowd of people Lisa Underground just described, next to the pregnant mother with the electronic cigarette. Every few seconds I inhale and taste water vapor on the back of my tongue. Lisa Underground is next to me, punked out in what I guess was her high school attire: torn jeans and a Ramones tanktop, spiked bracelets on each wrist, bull ring in her nose, dreaded hair with purple tips. I laugh and choke on some water vapor. Lisa Underground crosses her arms and tells me to fuck off. I say, “Well, what do we do now? Where is he?” She says, “We wait.”
A man in a suit walks from behind a purple sheet tied up to serve as a makeshift backstage. Only half of the man‟s body can be seen as he approaches, but he has a strong profile. He looks to be middle-aged and walks proudly, almost like he‟s marching. His walk, along with his slicked black hair, gives him authority over those of us in the crowd. I say, “Is that him?” Lisa says, “No. But what do you think his talent is?” “I don‟t know. I guess we‟ll find out soon.” When the man reaches the step up to the stage, he turns and faces the crowd, exposing for the first time a view from the front. The audience members gasp and set to whispering among themselves. The man is wearing one of the most peculiar articles of clothing I have ever seen. He steps onto the stage and the full extent of his outfit comes into view. The projection that he was wearing a suit seems to have been only half true. The right half of his body is dressed in a well-tailored suit, the right half of his hair is slicked back, the right half of him looks like a well-to-do gentleman out for a night of expensive drinks. But the left side of his body is totally different. He has hair extensions, making the left side of his hair appear long and flowing. His face is covered in stylized, exaggerated makeup, like that of a geisha. The left side of his body wears half of a woman‟s red cocktail dress. It frills down to just below the knee
before flaring out. On his left leg he wears leggings and on his left foot he wears a red high heel. From the right, he is a gentleman, from the left, a woman. From the front the man looks like two photographs, one of a man, one of a woman, each one halved and taped together at the middle. The man does not speak at all. Instead, he looks momentarily towards the clown MC, his female side facing the audience. The man nods and from under the porch comes a slow piece of jazzy music, blaring out of staticy old speakers. The man closes his eyes and snaps his arms out in front of his body, bringing his hands together and clasping them delicately. He begins to dance. While stagnant, the outfit looked strange and not quite unappealing. As the man begins to dance, it becomes clear that his performance transcends the look of his clothing. Lisa says, This is beautiful, and that feeling seems to permeate throughout the crowd. The woman next to me stops smoking. The Indian couple chatter quietly in Hindi. The grandmother dances with herself off to the side, eyes closed. As the man spins and whirls and the music increases in pace and volume, he becomes something more than himself. Something in the blurring effect afforded by motion transports us to somewhere else. We‟re no longer twenty people standing in a field in Texas, sweating and choking in dust. We‟re no longer surrounding a trailer park front porch.
We‟re in dark, cool room watching something big happen. The man‟s transformation begins at his face, the makeup creating the beginnings of a center divider that shoots down the middle his body, splitting him into two distinct people, two lovers dancing in the back corner of a lonely jazz club, their cheeks gently pushed together. They rock back and forth together until the song ends. When the last notes fade out, the two bow together and fuse back into a single man. He bows again. The audience doesn‟t know how to react. There is some scattered clapping. Most are silent. The clown MC presses his mouth to microphone. He clears his throat and reads. “Ladies and gentlemen. I regret to inform you that our second to last performer has fallen ill. But not to worry. We have one third and final performer. The man calls himself a poet, but his way with words seems to transcend mere literary labels. Please, lets all giving him a warm welcome.” There are a few scattered bits of applause. Most people just expectantly look towards the purple sheet, waiting to see what appears this time. We don‟t have to wait long to find out. From behind the makeshift backstage steps a frail old man with enormous black, buzzard-like wings secured to his back with leather straps that run up over his shoulders, cracks forming in their curves and creases, cutting yellow rivulets like the imprints of lightning struck quickly into rawhide. The man moves
exceptionally slow. He walks hunched over, each step a severely calculated move. He wears a ragged pair of canvas shorts and a pair of woven sandals. His face is the map of some post-apocalyptic world. Deep wrinkles rut his face like dried up riverbeds. His eyebrows are sharp and ridged like a range of mountains rising from his forehead. Scars, like veins of rare minerals, begin at the top of his neck and run down to his bare chest—down to his ribs—all visible like the keys of a gothic cathedral organ that plays out the sounds of life over and over again with each expansion of the torso, with each inflation of the skin, with each breath the man takes. It takes the man hours to reach the stage. The sun sinks in the sky. By the time the man begins to climb the step to the stage, we are well into dusk. When the man reaches the center of the stage, he stands facing the audience and deftly pulls two strings hanging near his waist. Joints along the wings‟ frame loosen and pop open, unfurling the feathers and displaying a massive, fifteen-foot wingspan. The audience gasps and bursts into applause. Where the old man stands, he is directly in front of the sun, casting a wide shadow over us. Rays of light shine through the feathers, making the wings look like a backlit canopy pockmarked with holes. Above the man, the sky has undressed itself, shedding its yellows and oranges for more regal shades of
deep purple and red. The man bows his head and speaks. His voice is deep and low, but soft, like thunder heard from many miles away. My name is Ulysses Lima. I think his lips stop moving, but at the same time I have an overwhelming feeling that he says something else. I lock eyes with the man and he stares down at me from the stage. My feeling is confirmed. Without moving his face the man clearly says, <This is for you. These words are for you.> I look at the people around me, thinking he means the whole audience when he says, “You.” But no one seems to notice. No one does anything out of the ordinary. Everyone just waits for the man to speak again. I shake my head and rub my ears, thinking, It must be the heat. He says again, without moving his mouth, <This is for you. These words are for you.> This is when I decide to pay attention. The man addresses the whole audience, speaking regularly now that he‟s confident he is sure I am listening. This is something I’ve been working on since the beginning of time, it feels like. It is a bit long and for that I apologize, but I hope you’ll listen to the whole thing. The man clears his throat. Then he speaks:
It is four light-hours to the end of the solar system; to the nearest star, four light-years. A disproportionate ocean of void. But are we really sure that it is only a void? We only know that in this space there are no bright stars; if they existed, would they be visible? And if there existed bodies neither bright nor dark? Could it not happen on the celestial maps, just as on those of the earth, that the star-cities are indicated and the star-villages omitted? Soviet science fiction writers scratched their faces at midnight. The infrasuns—Drummond would say the happy proletarian boys—Peguero and Boris alone in a lower class room predicting the miracle behind the door. Who has traversed the city and for music has only had the whistles of his fellows, his own words of amazement and rage? The handsome type who didn’t know that a girl’s orgasm is clitoral. Look, it’s not only in the museums that there’s shit. A process of individual museification. Certainly all that has been mentioned, revealed. Certainly a fear of discovering, a fear of imbalances not foreseen. Our next of kin: the snipers, the lone plainsmen who devastate the Chinese cafes of Latin America, the butchers in supermarkets, in their tremendous individual-collective dilemma; the impotence of action
and investigation of the poetic act on the individual level or maybe clouded in aesthetic contradictions. Tiny bright stars eternally winking at us from a place in the universe called The Labyrinths. A dancing club of misery. Johnny Tequila sobbing his love for Lisa Underground. He sucks it, you suck it, we suck it. Horror. Curtains of water, cement, or tin separate a cultural mechanism, which itself serves as both conscience and as the ass of the ruling class, from a living cultural event, scrubbed clean, in constant death and birth, ignorant of most of history and the fine arts, a body that suddenly tests new sensations on itself, the product of an epoch in which we approach at 200 miles per hour the toilet or the revolution. New forms, rare forms, as old Bertolt said, half curious and half smiling. Sensations don’t arise out of nothing but from a conditioned reality, in a thousand ways, as a constant flow. Yet complex reality makes us seasick! So, it is possible that in part this is a birth and in part we are in the front row for the death throes. Forms of life and forms of death pass by the retina daily. Their collision constantly gives rise to infrarealist forms.
This is the eye of transition. Put the whole city in the insane asylum. Sweet sister, howling tanks, hermaphrodite songs, diamond deserts, we only live once and every day the visions are bulkier and more slippery. Sweet sister, lifts to Monte Albán. Tighten your belts because the corpses have been watered. This is a scene of subtraction. And the good bourgeois culture? And academia and the incendiaries? And the vanguards and the rearguards? And certain conceptions of love, good scenery, the precise and multinational Colt? Like I told Saint-Just in a dream I had once: Even the heads of aristocrats can’t use us as weapons. A good part of the world is being born and another good part dying, and we all know that we all have to live or we all have to die. In this there is no middle road. Chirico says: thought must move away from all that which is called logic and good sense, must move away from all human problems, in such a way that things appear under a new aspect, as if illuminated by a constellation appearing for the first time. We are going to fill our heads with all human problems, such that things begin to move inside themselves, an extraordinary vision of man. These are Constellations of the Beautiful Bird.
We propose indigenousness to the world like a crazy and timid Indian. A new lyricism, which is starting to rise, supports itself in ways that never fail to amaze us. The way into mattering is ultimately the way into adventure: the poem is a journey and the poet is a hero revealing heroes. Tenderness like an exercise in speed. Breathing and heat. The shotgun experience, structures that are devouring themselves, crazy contradictions. If the poet is mixed up, the reader will have to mix himself up. Millions precede us. The 99 open flowers like a smashed-open head. The massacre, the new concentration camps. The White underground rivers, the violet winds. These are hard times for poetry, some say, drinking tea, listening to music in their apartments, talking and listening to the old masters. These are difficult times for man, we say, turning to the barricades after a full day’s work of shit and tear gas, discovering and creating music even in our apartments, largely overlooking cemeteries-thatspread, where they despairingly drink a cup of tea or get drunk on pure rage or the inertia of old masters.
The zero hour precedes us. Johnny Tequila kisses Lisa Underground’s phosphorescent nipples and watches her leave for a beach on which black pyramids sprout. I repeat: The poet is a hero revealing heroes, like the fallen red tree that announces the start of the forest. The attempts at a consistent ethic-aesthetic are paved with betrayals or pathetic survivals. And it is the individual who will be able to walk a thousand kilometers but eventually the road will eat him. Our ethic is Revolution, our aesthetic is Life: onesingle-thing. For the bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie life is a party. Every weekend they have one. The proletariat doesn’t have parties. Only rhythmic funerals. That is going to change. The exploited will have a grand party. Memory and guillotines. Sensing it, acting it certain nights, inventing edges and humid corners, is like caressing the acidic eyes of the new spirit. Journey of the poem through the seasons of rioting: poetry producing poets producing poems producing poetry. Not an electric alley, the poet with arms separate from the body, the poem slowly displacing his Vision of his Revolution. The alley is a complex point.
We are going to invent in order to discover its contradiction, its invisible forms of refusing, until it is explained. Journey of the act of writing through zones not at all favorable to the act of writing. Rimbaud, come home! Life subverts the everyday reality of modern poetry. The confinements that lead a circular reality to the poem. A good reference: the madman, let him shout, let him shout. Please don’t take out pencil or paper, don’t record him, shout with him if you want to participate. And let him shout in order to see what face he makes when he finishes, what other incredible things we experience. Our bridges to ignored stations. The poem interrelating reality and unreality. Convulsively. What can I demand of painting? What can I demand of the theatre? More revealing and expressive is stopping in a demolished park because of the smog and seeing people crossing the avenues in groups that contract and expand, when so many motorists, like the pedestrians, urgently approach their hovels, and it’s the hour when the murderers come out and the victims follow them. What stories do the painters really tell me?
Interesting void, fixed form and color, at best the parody of movement. Canvases that will only serve as bright posters in the rooms of engineers and doctors who collect. The painter is made comfortable in a society that is every day more painter than he is himself, and that is where he is found unarmed and registered as a clown. If a painting by X is encountered in some street by Mara, this painting acquires the standing of an amusing and informative thing. In a sitting room it’s as decorative as the iron armchairs. A question of the retina? Yes and no. But it would be better to find the explosive factor. The painter abandons the studio and any status quo and fills his head with wonders, or sets out to play chess like Duchamp. A painting that shows how to paint it again and a painting of poverty, free or cheap enough, unfinished, of participation, of questioning the participation, of unlimited physical and spiritual extension. The world’s best painting is the one that has even unconscious levels, the game, the party, the experiment that gives us a real vision of what we are and reveals to us what we can do or will be. The world’s best painting is the one that we paint with greens and reds and blues on our faces, to
recognize ourselves in the incessant creation of the tribe. Try to abandon everything every day. Architects, abandon the construction of stages inside and extend your hands—or clench them, depending on the place—toward this space outside. A wall and a ceiling become useful when they are not only used for sleeping or avoiding rain but when they establish, starting, for example, at the everyday act of sleep, conscious bridges between man and his creations, or the momentary impossibility of them. Start from two points: the barricade and the bed. The true imagination is the one that dynamites, elucidates, injects emerald microbes into other imaginations. In poetry and in what is, the way into matter still has to be the way into adventure. Creating the tools for everyday subversion. The subjective seasons of being human, with their beautiful trees, giant and obscene, like laboratories of experimentation, establishing, seeing signs of parallel situations and as harrowing as a great scratch on the chest, on the face. Oh, the unending analogy of the face. There are so many of them that when newcomers appear we don’t
even count, although we are creating them looking into a mirror. Nights of torment. Perception is orally opened up by means of an ethic-aesthetic taken to the extreme. Galaxies of love appear in the palms of our hands. Poets, let down your hair. Burn your garbage and start to love until you get down to the priceless poems. We don’t want synthetic paintings, but enormous synthetic sunsets. Horses running 500 kilometers per hour. Squirrels of fire jumping through trees of FIRE. A bet to see who blinks first, between the nerve and the sleeping pill. The risk is always somewhere else. The true poet is the one who is always letting go of himself. Never too much time in the same place, like guerrillas, like UFOs, like the white eyes of prisoners in perpetual chains. Fusion and explosion of two shores: creation like audacious graffiti opened by a crazy kid. Nothing mechanical. The scales of of amazement. Someone, maybe Hieronymus Bosch, breaks the aquarium of love. Free money. Sweet sister. Libidinous visions like corpses. Little boys cutting the meat of kisses until December. The death of the swan, the last song of the swan, the last song of the black swan, are in the pain and the unbearable beauty of the streets. A rainbow
that begins in a cinema of bad death and that ends in a factory on strike. That amnesia never kisses us on the mouth. That it never kisses us at all. We dream of utopia and we wake up screaming. A poor lonely cowherd who goes back home, that is the wonder. And so I leave you with this: Make new sensations appear. Subvert the everyday. Ok? Again. ABANDON EVERYTHING. AGAIN, HIT THE ROAD. When the man is finished speaking, he closes his wings and trudges back behind the purple sheet. Lisa Underground says, It‟s time to go. We stand still next to each other as the world around us is sucked into the night sky. The woman with the electronic cigarette floats away and accelerates out of sight. The stage rips itself to pieces that rise into the air and blow away like leaves in the wind. Chunks of clay hurtle upwards like red hail on rewind. The purple curtain is torn away to reveal nothing. The scenery wanders off and we are left alone in the metal garage. The sounds of the city return outside. I can hear a policeman speaking through a megaphone in a monotone voice. Everyone disperse. We will use tear gas if you get violent. Everyone back away from the
tree. We are not afraid to use force. Everyone please return to your homes. Go inside. We do not want trouble…I prop myself up on my elbows and knees and fight to hold back vomit. I feel wobbly and seasick. Lisa Underground helps me stand. She says, “Listen. When this door opens we need to cut a hard left and walk at a comfortable but forceful pace away from whatever is happening outside. Do you understand?” I nod, too sick to ask questions. She says, “Ok. One. Two. Three.” The door grinds open and reveals a riot outside the EXP booth. A platoon of officers in full protective gear advance on the crowd of wolves. They jump forward and back, wanting to advance but unable to break the wall of shields. The tree is on fire. From one of the larger branches swings a pair of handcuffs clenched tightly around the wrist of a lower arm, separated from the man‟s body at the elbow, whether by the crowd or the man trying to escape, I do not know. I follow Lisa Underground out of the garage and away from the noise. Lisa Underground gets us a hotel room at a four star hotel. She showers and I sit on the bed and stare at the television. The riot has made local news. When Lisa Underground comes out, I ask her if that was MiNOT-R. If the old man had talked or if anything had even happened today.
She says, “Yeah. That was him. Definitely him. He has a kind of gothic way of presenting himself. It‟s mostly stylistic.” I say, “So what does he want? What‟s the game plan? That just sounded like rambling.” Lisa Underground smiles and says, “He wants you to go undercover.”
5 I‟m sitting in a diner and my exposed thighs keep squeaking on the polyurethane booth. It‟s ten in the morning. The sun is showing off how dirty the windows are. My balls are cold. There‟s an air vent underneath my table, blowing right up my knee-high habit. The upper half of the garment is low cut in the chest and three-quarter sleeve down the arm. My face is covered in makeup. White paint acts as a base for thick applications of blush, eyeliner, and lipstick. The candle on the cake is a sail of a cornette that I swear only exists to rip my hair out of my scalp. I‟m smoking a cigarette, something I haven‟t done in a while. I‟m also drinking heavily and eating a waffle. I want to be loose enough to forget my nerves, but awake enough to not use my real name. I also want to be full. I‟m in this diner because at eleven o‟clock I am supposed to cross the street and knock seven times on
the door and say, Luca Bentley sleeps with fishes, which will supposedly get me in the front door. After that it‟s up to me to not get myself killed. I take another long drag on my cigarette. I have mixed feelings about cigarettes. There‟s the effect of nicotine and—I mean—you look fucking cool, but let‟s be real: These things taste like the inside of a flaming asshole. I survey the rest of the diner. Most of the patrons left when I came in. A couple line cooks remain, back to me, face to the stove. There‟s an old woman with her lenses resting on the table. The glass is so thick she might actually think I‟m a nun. There‟s my waiter, a high school girl who—I think—is too afraid to come check on me. Or she‟s embarrassed for me. Or for both of us. Either way, the coffee to whiskey ratio in my mug is lacking and I wish she‟d come over here. The only other guy in the bar is an overly friendly guy in the corner who I keep catching staring at me. Every time I notice he winks and I shudder and take a big sip or a big drag and try not to look at my reflection in the window. I do look though, because through the window is my mission, if I can call it that. Lisa Underground gave me no guidance on what I was supposed to obtain inside the building, or who to talk to, or anything. All I got was: Wear this. Go here. Say this. The sign above the building‟s door says SALIVA in all capitals, which doesn‟t excite me as much
as I‟m sure it excites certain other people. I notice a man pass underneath my line of vision, walking on the sidewalk along the side of the diner. At my angle it‟s hard to tell but his stride looks familiar. When he gets closer I can tell for sure that it‟s Virgo. I bang on the window but he keeps moving. I bang louder and yell his name, which I‟m sure just sounded like screaming through the glass. He stops and looks up at me. I watch his face shift from what to why. I motion for him to come into the diner. His legs move instinctively towards the door but his torso tries to stay put until it can‟t anymore. He slides into my booth and keeps his eyes on the table between us for a few seconds. When he looks up his face is expressionless. He says, “What‟s up, Johnny?” His voice is shakey. He says, “How‟ve you been?” I say, “That‟s it? What‟s up?” He says, “What do you mean?” “I mean I haven‟t heard from you or anybody in days and now you‟re in the same town I‟m doing work in and you act like we hung out last night?” He looks me up and down and says, “You‟re doing work?” I lean in and say, “Yes. I‟m on a mission right now. Infiltrating a gang base across the street.”
I watch Virgo‟s face fold into itself. He repositions in the booth and crosses his arms. He says, “Johnny, that‟s a gay club. We‟ve driven by it a million times before.” The waitress comes to our table, her courage regained at the sight of my normal friend and the hope of a larger tip. She says, “Can I get you anything, sir?” Virgo says, “Yeah. Coffee please. Black.” She nods and leaves and he turns back to me. He says, “Listen. If you‟re gay, that‟s cool. For real, it is. But it‟s not a mission. You don‟t have anything to prove to anybody.” I say, “I‟m not gay. Come on. You know me better than that. I‟m infiltrating an organization that operates out of that building. I‟m working for MiNOT-R, the guy from that band. Oubliette. You know them?” He says, “Yeah, Johnny. I‟ve heard of them. Him. Whatever. Why are you really here? Why don‟t you come back with me? Me and your family have been trying to get in touch with you all week and didn‟t get any answer—“ “Bullshit. I checked my phone a few times. No messages. Nothing.” “I don‟t know what‟s up with your phone, but I called you. Hell, your parents called you. Twice I think.” The waitress brings coffee and Virgo thanks her. He says, “Come on. Let‟s roll over to my place and get you changed. Call
your parents and let them know you‟re alright then we‟ll go get some food.” I say, “I can‟t do that. I got to do this thing. It‟s important.” “Why? Give me a good reason for—whatever this is.” “Admin. This is the Gay Prince of Jordan‟s thing. I‟m helping him help me.” “He put you up to this? Of course he did. Johnny, you can‟t trust a guy like that. He‟s probably rolling around on his ten thousand dollar sofa laughing at you. Look at you. You‟re dressed like a clown that turns tricks.” I finish my coffee and say, “At least he‟s trying to help me make progress. All I want is this Admin thing back and I‟m done. And here you are walking around town, telling me who to trust, telling me to call my parents? Come on. Get over yourself.” I put my cigarette out in a graveyard of other butts and stand, almost tripping in my black high heels. Virgo says, “Are you drunk?” I say, “I‟m out. I‟ll see you around man. Try calling once in a while.” I walk to the door of the diner. The creepy guy in the corner blows me a kiss. I flip him the bird on the way out. I light another cig while crossing the street. The air is dusty. The door of SALIVA is metallic and blank. I knock seven times and a slit at eye height is pulled open. Through the slit I see the face of another person from nose to
eyebrow. Their makeup is similar to mine. I say, “Luca Bentley sleeps with fishes.” There‟s murmuring behind the door. The slit slides closed. I look back across the street at Virgo. He‟s still in the booth sipping coffee, staring at the wall. The door to SALIVA slides open. I walk into its mouth. Inside the door is a small, whitewashed alcove. Not that exciting. What is exciting—terrifying even—is the person standing in front of me right now, the person previously known only as the pair of eyes behind the door. It is none other than the irreputable Detective Hesse, seemingly as deep undercover as I am, tight nun outfit and all. Hesse shouldn‟t recognize me. There‟s no way he could and he doesn‟t. Not the problem. Problem: I recognize Hesse and it shows and for however incompetent he might be, he is perceptive enough to diagnose my recognition. We play mental tennis, staring at each other, trying to figure out a way to get the upperhand. From the looks of it, Hesse is in with the gang and I‟m already getting looks from other nuns. This can be used to my advantage if I just play it right. Hesse asks me who I am and I‟ve got it. I smile and say, “My name is Hesse.” The real Hesse‟s about has a stroke. A nun that could play power forward in the NBA steps up behind the real Hesse and says, “Everything ok?”
Hesse struggles to regain control of himself. I picture the big guy doing a 360 windmill dunk with my head and wish Hesse would fucking answer him. He lets me dangle a little longer like a hooked fish then says, “Yeah, Mike, all good. Just a new recruit is all.” The big guy nods and grizzly bears back to the bar. Hesse turns back to me and says, “I think you should come with me.” I am dragged further into SALIVA. The first thing that hits me out of the alcove is the smell. It smells like buckets of old beer and dirty socks fermenting in a gas station bathroom. The centerpiece of the event is a 3D, live broadcast of the presidential sex showing. A life-size hologram of the transvestite Chief of Staff is stuffing a hologram our female Secretary of Defense from behind. There‟s surround sound speakers hidden throughout the place that do a surprisingly good job of handling the audio. Both of them are moaning loudly, the president at a much deeper intonation than the secretary. I can hear the president‟s balls smacking the secretary‟s clit like a snare drum. Every couple of seconds the president will give the secretary‟s hair a good tug or her ass a good pop and the secretary will let loose a little squeal and bite her lip and this, I‟ll admit, is pretty sexy. Standing in a tight circle around the show is a collection of nuns with their clothes all hiked up to expose their hairy thighs and engorged cocks.
Most of them are white-knuckling, ripping the skin off they‟re jacking it so ferociously. Outside of this ring there are tables where other nuns sit and converse and drink. I can see bodies writhing together in the dark sections of the room, nuns fucking in booths and, in one dark corner, a couple of nude women tribbing. Hesse asks me if I want a drink and I tell him that I probably shouldn‟t. He hands me a highball glass of something green and turgid and says, “You‟ll stick out if you don‟t.” I follow Hesse to a back room, which I guess is what the nuns do when they want to give or receive a private show. I get a bouquet of winks and too many blown kisses to catch winding through the intestines of the building. The back room itself is a broom closet with a leather recliner in it. Hesse pushes me in and tells me to sit. I‟m not sure I want to sit in the chair, but I guess I‟m not planning on returning the nun outfit. I sit and Hesse lights a few blue candles in the corner. He says, “I‟ll be right back,” and goes to check to make sure the hallway is clear. When the door is shut again, he says, “No time for anything else so, who the fuck are you?” I say, “I‟m an agent.” He leans over and I think maybe I‟m going to get kissed, then I remember Hesse is undercover as well. He pins me in the chair and says, “This isn‟t a joke. You understand that right? I‟m deciding right now whether or not
to feed you to the sharks out there. You know what they would do to you right? I mean didn‟t you see what they were doing to each other? Happily? If you‟re not with me you‟re against me and if you‟re against me then I need to convince them you‟re against them. Got it?” I say, “Sort of?” He says, “So who are you then?” I say, “I‟m working for MiNOT-R. To bring down the nuns. They‟re Prince‟s primary line of defense.” Hesse stands up and scratches his head. He says, “What the hell do you mean? Prince? The Little Red Corvette guy?” “Yeah. He‟s got a hold of some samples or loops or something that can change the face of music for decades.” Hesse hisses. “Are you on fucking drugs?” I try and think back. I say, “Just whiskey and cigarettes today I think.” I take a sip of the green stuff and say, “And this. Whatever this is.” Hesse tries to reassess the situation with the new information available. His brain starts smoking and the room fills with the smell of burning oil and gasoline. I sip more of the green liquid, which hits me in pulses of warmth across different parts of my body, and watch him decompress. I say, “Are you ok?”
He says, “Yeah. I‟m just trying to figure out how you knew my name. Have you been following me so you could use me to get in? Have I really been this lax in my undercover work? Broome is going to fucking kill me.” I say, “I haven‟t been following you. Not more than once anyway. I was there when you guys interviewed Koan.” “How do you know we have Koan?” “Because I was there?” “Like at the station there?” “No. I was in the interrogation room, naked, along with another naked woman. We watched the whole thing.” “Bullshit. I‟m pretty confident I would have noticed that.” I think of what I can say to prove it to him and land on: “Child Interrogation Room 32. There was a dildo and a furby, I think?” Hesse‟s face turns white like Chinese rice. He says, “Who sent you? Is this psychological warfare? Who the fuck are you? Do you have a file on me?” He steps back and raises his hands. I say, “Honestly I‟m just here to figure out the gang‟s next move.” I realize that control of the situation has fallen on it‟s face in front of me. I avoid telling him that I was also the person in the van with Koan. That seems counteractive. I say, “Listen, I‟m just here to do some recon work. I don‟t
want to interfere with your work at all. Our interest with Koan was tertiary. Maybe we can help each other out? This much is true, if one of us goes down, we both do. Mutually assured destruction.” Hesse nods and tries to regain his composure. He says, “Ok. Yeah. Alright let‟s do it. What exactly are you looking for?” I say, “I‟m not sure, but let‟s get back out there.” Hesse says, “Alright.” He straightens his scapula. We exit the private room and pass a line waiting on our way back to the main bar. I pray to every god man has ever created that we weren‟t overheard. The presidential sex viewing must have ended because two different holograms are now at center stage, in the midst of some heavy foreplay. I hold up my glass to the bartender and he trades me for another highball of the green stuff. I lead Hesse to a table far enough off to the side that we can speak freely at low volumes without worrying about being overheard. We watch a few new nuns trying to get their dicks hard in the inner circle. I ask Hesse if he‟s ever had to do any of that or if it‟s by choice. He says, “By choice. Nobody really enforces what we do while we‟re here. The idea being that when we go out riding, everyone falls in line out of respect for their free time.”
I tell him he didn‟t answer the first part of the question. He shrugs and finishes his drink. I tilt my glass deep too. The liquid tastes much sweeter this time around. It swirls down easy and I can feel it move through tubes in my body, passing warmth as it rattles around like a theme park rollercoaster before hitting my bloodstream. I get a refill and drink the third even faster. Hesse says, “So what should we be looking out for?” I say, “I‟m not really sure. Wasn‟t given a lot of intel on the situation. Was told to go here, that‟s about it.” “Weird.” “Yeah. Anything strange you can think of? Anything out of the ordinary at all?” Hesse chuckles and says, “Look at what the hell we‟re wearing. I forgot what normal was a long time ago.” We sit and drink silently after that, each working on his own personal fortress of blue tinted glasses. The liquor sneaks up on me the way wine does. My body goes warm and soft like dough and I start catching myself drooping on the table or running out of the barstool like I can‟t stay in solid form. Hesse seems to be suffering from the same problem. His eyes are wide-open doors to elsewhere and I hope that he‟s drunker than I am. I ignore him and try to stay focused. The room has gotten much brighter, or my eyes are letting more light in. Either way, there are more
shades of color—mostly pale blues and greens hanging around the lights and on the gaunt faces of the other nuns in the bar. Everyone has bags under their eyes. I realize that the place completely lacks any aggressive colors at all. Everything is flooded and the water is rising, bring all of these reptilian greens and shark grays up towards me. I sit up in my barstool and put my feet on the highest rungs. My high heels lock into the wood like teeth and I rock back and forth. The bartender is aggressively making out with a nun while he pours us more drinks. The outsides of the glasses are sticky with the green liquor when they get to us. My palms become coated in mucous. Hesse gets up and goes to join the inner circle and I can honestly say when I got here, the last thing I expected to see was a police detective dressed in drag jack off with a bunch of other men—but, you know, here we are—and I‟m overcome with the desire to scream, come on Hesse, this isn‟t the Ritz Carlton—which makes little to no sense at all—but I stay silent and decide it‟s not worth it. The faces of the nuns jacking off start to get aggressive and I think at first it‟s towards me, then realize that they‟re all just having a psycho-active reaction to the pornography they‟re watching. The man, some low level politician is spitting all over his college economics professor and shaking and choking her and I try to stay focused but my thoughts wander away to consider the possibility that
this is a very poignant critique by the actor of the everevolving, ever-increasing business-like nature of universities, brought full circle by the fact that his nine inch dick is balls deep in her rectum, but I dismiss it because I‟m worried if I look at all out of place I‟ll get dragged down to that circle or worse—to one of the shadowed corners to do everyone knows what. Normal people don‟t think about socioeconomics and political statements while they‟re watching porn. They think about busting a nut. Sometime between my ninth and tenth glass, a stocky man enters from a door I hadn‟t noticed behind the bar. He‟s wearing thick make-up, different than the other nuns‟ in that it‟s mediated by black spots that highlight places on his face where natural shadows would fall. This gives his face the appearance that it is bathed in sharp light and adds more intention to his expressions. I watch him move while I sip down more liquid, this particular glass tasting a lot like licorice. He moves in an overly formal way and I swear I recognize the man from somewhere, but it‟s too hard to tell with his makeup. I look to Hesse for help but he‟s gone primal, his head pulled back to the sky in pleasure, hands giving his dick a solid Indian rug-burn. I waive over the bartender, who thinks I just want another glass. He drops two glasses off at the table and says, “One for your friend.”
I nod and say, “Thanks. Mind if I talk to you for a second?” He sits in Hesse‟s seat and says, “Of course big guy what can I do for you?” I say, “Who‟s that?” and point at the masked man. The bartender studies me for a second to decide if I‟m an idiot, then realizes who I am and claps his hands. He says, “Oh you‟re the new recruit that What‟s His Face was talking about. I‟m Chevrolet. It‟s nice to meet you.” He extends a hand and I take it. He says, “So, you‟ve gotta tell me. Has anyone played the Would You Game with you yet?” I say, “No.” I want to steer him back on topic but this seems unavoidable. I tell myself that I can‟t seem too anxious about needing to know anything. I sip my drink and tell myself to calm down. The bartender giggles and says, “Great. Let‟s play. Would you fuck a midget?” “Excuse me?” I said, “Would you fuck a midget. Come on, it‟s the game. It‟s fun.” I don‟t answer. I drink more. The bartender says, “I‟m going to assume that your silence means yes.” I say, “That‟s not what I said.” “So you wouldn‟t?”
“I wouldn‟t.” “Would you fuck a tranny?” “Like the president?” He smiles and says, “So you would then?” “No.” “What about a midget tranny?” “Probably not.” “Probably not?” “No. I wouldn‟t” The bartender giggles some more and says, “Ok so you‟re one of those. Well would you ever gang-bang a girl?” “No.” The bartender takes a few sips of the drink he claims to have brought for Hesse. He says, “You‟re missing out.” I say, “You‟ve gang-banged somebody?” “Oh sure. Before I got into all this, me and my friends used to share girls all the time. It‟s just fucking. We did this one girl on the hood of a car.” He uses his hand to display his outfit and says, “It‟s a slippery slope.” I try to imagine gang-banging a girl but I can‟t put a good mental picture together on who I would do it with or how it would work. I say, “I don‟t think I‟d be into it. I think I prefer a one-to-one genital ratio kind of thing.” The bartender shrugs and says, Whatever. He finishes Hesse‟s drink and sets the glass down next to mine. He
says, “The guy you were asking about is a lieutenant within this organization. Pretty important man. He‟s here to speak tonight, which is a rare occurrence.” The bartender saunters off, I think still offended by my lack of spark in the Would You game. I locate Hesse still in the inner circle. Once he‟s been found I stop looking at him. My eyes go back to the man with the makeup. He moves around the bar, making a few drinks for excited nuns, then reaches deep beneath the bar and pulls out a microphone. He taps it twice and the music and porn stop playing. The sounds of human contact heard in the small window of silence openly shame the participating occupants. The lieutenant has the floor. Everyone puts their junk away and he begins to speak. He says, “Brothers. I come here today with words of motivation. A great call wil go out soon and I want us to be ready.” A nun in the back calls out, “We are ready, sir.” The lieutenant laughs. He says, “We are not ready yet. Look. Here we sit—half asleep—the dreary apathetic. Most of us have long since given up screaming. Those we want to listen are no longer within earshot, too high above us to hear the noise. The ones who are still screaming have not yet realized they are fighting an unyielding wall, one that towers out of sight and stretches to either horizon. We look on as we are threatened by a future offering only a world in
which we are altogether silenced and the reality that we will be the first generation in history to be statistically worse off than the one prior. Yet still we do not wake up. “We are ephemeral and we want to be anything but. Our culture has instilled in us the idea that any of us can become a celebrity and that celebrity is the end goal of life. We have become nothing more than social networking pages—sloppy, unorganized collections of other peoples' work that we have compiled and spit out in what we claim is a representation of us. We stretch our fifteen minutes out across our lives in millisecond blips: 140 character messages, the vibrations of our cell phones, electronic verification that we have something valuable worth saying. We are wireless machines that are always plugged in.” “We stand when others stand. We walk when others walk. We run when our lives depend on it. We have bad hair and crooked noses and yellow teeth. We can only afford pasta and the occasional can of tomato sauce, but we still buy wine. We dance, we fuck, We laugh, but never genuinely. We fear vulnerability. We drink bottles to the bottom hoping to find genies and we worry about good cigarette karma.” “This is not working for us.” “Friends: half-heartedness is no longer a tolerable evil. Dormancy is no longer a tolerable evil. Inertia is no longer a
tolerable evil. There has always been oppression and there will always be oppression and it is up to us to decide whether or not we will be the oppressed or the oppressor.” “Much like cells in the body, humans are cells that help make up earth, planets are cells that help make up the solar system, and onwards as such out into infinity. Infinity is the only absolute organism, and we are invisible bits of dust beneath its palms. Abandon the notion of fame. There‟s no glory in being famous. Strive to be forgotten when you are gone.” “I‟m not telling you to destroy your computer, to abandon your life, your friends. I‟m asking you to stop forfeiting fulfillment for wages. I‟m asking you to stop sacrificing originality for a preprogrammed life. I‟m asking you to get up and move. I‟m asking you to enjoy the world around you. Go outside. Even the rainy days are beautiful.” “The most arresting thing I have ever seen was a stump in the middle of the gravel road, three feet long and lying sideways, it's core gone, worn hollow. My friend stood next to the heaping thing with a red gas can and a lighter. He filled the porous wood with gasoline, let it all soak in before quickly flicking the lighter. The log burst into a ball of fire, sending a wide arc of light around us. I remember sitting there for hours, not moving, just thinking as the log burned in front of me, white on the outside, turned to bone,
a light breeze blowing through the center of the stump, spinning and whipping the flame, creating a vortex of fire. The inner walls of the log began to burn a deep orange, the heat created a hazy, flowing effect. It reminded me of blood running through a vein. Every couple of seconds, the breeze ripped embers free and sent them shooting through the core like blood vessels, the whole thing heaving with every breath of the mountain wind. I was utterly jealous of the life within it but I never let go of the feeling that this was distinctly sacred.” “The only way we gain ground back is by breathing in those moments between our breathless ones. Let everything slow down and relax for a while. Give fresh wounds a chance to become scars. You‟ll need them to remind you when everything else has faded from memory. Don‟t worry about anything. Don‟t stress. Find time to be happy every day. Do not approach anything with negativity. If you do, you have already lost. Happiness is within you and all around you. Be happy every day. When you are trapped in a corner where the darkness is so thick that it suffocates the very air from your lungs, ignite the fuse within yourself. A sudden spark starting at the base of your body, rushing up your spine like fire on gunpowder, gaining speed and momentum in a crescendo until it reaches your skull and expands out across the rest of your body like a video of a flower blooming in fast
forward. Explode. Be illuminant. Be unpredictable. Be happy every day. Where you expect shadowy ennui, find a screaming nostalgia. Jump. Scream. Run. Let the thuds of your feet become the singular purpose of your existence. Throw your arms wide and try to embrace the whole, darkened world. Become a strained and purified, salient and volatile version of yourself in a much needed retrogression to childhood. Let the simplicity of happiness overtake you in scrapbook form, polaroids of grass-stained jeans and sand castles drifting through your mind. Be happy every day. Hold your hands close to your chest. Feel your heart struggling to beat out of your chest. You‟re alive. Be happy every day. Be unshakeable. Be united. The weapons you need to succeed are already within you. Wake up. Put a stupid smile on your face. Go live life. Go be happy.” “Gentlemen, soon we go to war.” The bar explodes in applause and the lieutenant takes a deep bow. This is when I recognize him. His assumed regality gives him away. I say: “The Gay Prince of Jordan.” I realize too late that the applause has quieted. I look up from the table to see hundreds of make-up covered faces turn towards me. Hesse‟s face tells me all I need to know. He‟s terrified and this means I should be too. I‟ve made the ultimate mistake and given myself away. Worse: the Gay Prince of Jordan takes a much shorter time to recognize me.
He says my name in a low flat growl. I stand on wobbly high heels and straighten the front of my clothes. The nuns take a step towards me, coiled to pounce like a pack of hyenas. I turn and sprint towards the alcove and hit the silver front door release at full speed. The sunlight is brutal. I hover in the shade of the front door long enough admire the crystalline pavement. I take off my shoes and hear the Gay Prince of Jordan yell for my head before fleeing barefoot down the sidewalk. I run down blue roads between buildings I can‟t see the top of. It starts to drizzle. I can feel the pavement pulverizing the bottoms of my feet. I‟m holding a heel in each hand. They‟re becoming a nuisance the further I run. The motorcycle gang comes to life with a groan and a roar like a colossus coming to life behind me. The noise grumbles and crescendos to interspersed tones that echo after me like an ice cream truck from hell until they match speeds and tune up with each other and all of a sudden I‟m getting chased by Prince‟s minions to the soundtrack of Prince. I‟m looking for any place with a back door but everywhere is a shopping store or an apartment tower and that‟d be like running up a tree to hide from dogs. Only way down from there is a jump from the roof to the advertisement screens below. I hear the motorcycles gaining. Cars honk as the nuns weave in and out of traffic. A shirtless man on a
television tries to sell me underwear. I duck across the street. Stub my toe on the curb. Lose a heel down the gutter. I consider stopping to try and get it back, but it‟s gone by the time I turn around. A woman pushing a stroller bumps into me and scowls. I pummel my way through a crowd on the corner and jump into an intersection. Two cars swerve and collide. I slip on a puddle. The bikers are in sight now, black and white fabric billowing like Jolly Rodger pirate flags. I sink into the pavement and watch them gain ground. The R&B gets louder. The Gay Prince of Jordan leads the pack. His teeth are bared. His sagging body hides most of his clown-sized motorcycle. Hesse is somewhere near the middle of the pack, trying not to break his cover. I can feel the rain striping my make up. Two blocks from impact. A man on the corner screams for me to get out of the road, jackass. This breaks my concentration enough for me move out of the road, jackass, so I do, giving the corner guy a middle finger on my way. A few people gripe about calling the cops. An old lady calls me a fag. I flee further down the road. The bikes rumble afterwards. I pass a grocery store, a shipping plant, a computer software, a sign for an EXP booth. I cut left down a thin street and dip towards the EXP booth. I can feel the hot exhaust breath of the bikes on the backs of my exposed legs. My veins are pumping gasoline. My left foot leaves a bloody footprint each time it hits the
white dividing line in the road. I see the EXP booth ahead and try to keep my pace up. People are waiting but I blow past them like a peregrine on fire. I kick an old man‟s cane out from under him and he topples, blocking a good portion of the junkies waiting in line. I apologize over and over but realize it probably doesn‟t matter much because I‟m sure they all think I‟m a hallucination. Motorcycles skid to a stop at the back of the EXP booth crowd. The Gay Prince of Jordan stays straddling his motorcycle like a warhorse and waves on his soldiers like a medieval general. Screeching tires. Rain-tattered face paint. The Prince song stops. Bikers dismount and push through the crowd of weeds. I slam the button on the outside fifty times to get the door open. I do the same to the button on the inside to get the door to close behind me. Behind the safety of the metal doors, I forfeit a few deep breaths. I try and remember how the thing worked the last time with Lisa Underground. I start undressing. I remember we were naked. I get most of the nun clothing off but the fucking bonnet thing clings to my hair like a lobster over boiling water. I give up and try to remove my makeup, which just smears onto my arms and chest. People bang on the outside. The EXP booth rattles. I pick up my hammock of a dress off the floor and search in my pockets for money or pills or anything. No paper. No orange bottle. I sit on the floor and the cold runs up through my bones. I try
meditating or whatever it was I did with Lisa Underground and Koan but I don‟t have any dead birds and there‟s no way I‟m getting a boner right now. More banging on the door. I wonder how long I have until someone figures out to override the lock. Not long. I close my eyes and bring to mind the winter landscape. The cold wind pushing snow around like a paintbrush. The curl of Lisa Underground‟s red hair. I can almost see her through the haze in front of me, like trying to take a Rorschach test on a staticy television channel. I remember walking hand in hand. The warmth that ran up my arm. I remember Lisa Underground slapping me in the EXP booth. I open my eyes and say, “Fuck it.” The door is pried open. Nuns pour in like ink on tap. I see angry faces. Waving arms. A lifted tire iron. The Gay Prince of Jordan. Hesse looks the other way. I expect a sharp pain in the back of my head. Instead: pinprick in my left tricep. Needle, disinfected I hope. The world goes foggy. I‟m on the pavement looking up. Sky turns night and I‟m out.
6 Incarceration will do strange things to a man‟s mind. When you‟re kept solitary in a small gray gambling dice sized room with a slit like a lizard‟s eye for a window, you start to stretch out the few things you have available to you. To
keep your senses from getting lazy, you‟ve got to latch onto the four, maybe five things a day that require you to use them. Food comes twice a day, the first time near sunrise. The tray is slid along the concrete floor and makes a sound like putting tinfoil through a cheese grater. Some days it kicks up sparks and this is the closest I‟ve come to an action movie in who knows how long. The food is divine, usually a ham and egg biscuit that brings to mind Mother‟s Days past. The gray morning and the cold floor on my bare feet. Helping my father whip up omelets and waffles and fruit salads and putting each one on a plate in just the right spot so my mother could still see the two geese carved into the wooden serving tray that hovered just above a pumpernickel skyline, trying forever to free themselves on the one day a year they saw real sunlight. The cut in my foot is beginning to heal. It‟s been more than ten days and less than two weeks. There‟s a corner of the room where I piss and shit and ejaculate and vomit and when I do any of these things I have to balance on one foot. I‟ve seen enough limbs evicted from bodies on the history channel that I know to avoid infection. There‟s a bird—or maybe two different birds—that sings in raspberry every morning and every night and these are my favorite parts of the day. The morning when the chocolate sky melts like fondue to reveal the burgundy fruit encased and lets these flavors spill all over the day and
through the slit in my wall where I sit and lap at the cement hoping to get a just a bit of juice off the dust. This is my favorite time of the day because there‟s some light in my room and if I look sideways through the slit I can see the outside world and my mind has all the time in the world to make up things about Lisa Underground and I that aren‟t true like we live in a cabin out near Lake Hickory. It‟s hard to say what the best thing about the place is, but the drive down to the lake is always a favorite. We drive a beat up old yellow ‟78 Bronco with the back window ripped out so when we‟re moving, the old car bumping and rattling down the dirt road, the wind rushes through the open windows and through our hair and we feel like we‟re outside with the birds. I swear it‟s always sunny at Lake Hickory. On the road to the house the sun shines through the green canopy above us, fading slightly through the thinnest leaves, making the forest around us look like a stained glass window fading out into eternity. The cabin itself rests next to the lake. Grass out front and a small beach out back where oily brown water slowly laps up and back, up and back. Inside the cabin there‟s one small room and one bathroom. There‟s a woven purple rug on the floor but the cold of night still slips through it to chill your feet when it gets dark. There‟s a bed to one side and a small wooden table to the other. The place is quaint and quiet but Lisa‟s laughter always fills and livens
it. We have kids now, two of them. A boy and a girl. The grass around the house is waist high for her and shoulder high for him. They like to terrify their parents by diving deep into the lake and holding their breaths, the panic on our faces a reassurance of our love. We have a pet rabbit in our cabin named Cinnamon by our daughter and on the first day of its eighth year, Cinnamon dies. The girl and I find the rabbit together, sleeping, we think at first. But the wild black in its eyes are gone, fading to gray and pinched on either side by pale pink eyelids. I try to push the girl out of the room before she figures it out but I‟m too late and she‟s calling her brother to get in here. The girl and I know the boy has it figured out when he starts to cry and when his tears come, so do hers. I do my best to comfort them, press their faces into my chest and let them hulk and surge and rear and collapse. Later when the sorrow has died down, I go to shower. I peel my shirt off my back and try to read the Braille left behind by their tears on my shirt. My daughter‟s face is a pair of round puddles near my belly button. When she cried, it was for every rabbit that had ever lived and passed. My son‟s face is smaller and sits just beneath the right side of my chest, two swift lines of sadness for Cinnamon and a pool of snot where he blew his nose trying to shut off the waterworks. He saw soul in Cinnamon where he didn‟t in other animals. She was a pet and the others that
inhabited the woods were nothing but targets for thrown rocks. On the gritty floor of my cell the bird sings again and the night comes with a factory worker pressing cold steel over the earth, hardening the chocolate in a sphere around the sky and closing us away in packaging for a new customer. I like this time of day second-most because I can analyze in the dark while my senses sleep. And most nights—if I‟m honest with myself—I know that when I remember stories about Lisa Underground and me, these stories aren‟t fake, just the names. On the nights when I‟m wide-open, I tell myself in the dark that I was once the little boy and once I had a sister and a mother and a father with a cabin and that none of those people in that place have much interest in me anymore. This realization about what the death of the rabbit might mean is a nice story to mull over because it shows that I have some understanding of the world and how the nature of certain people determines how those people function within it. Taking a step away from this realization reveals its simplicity. It‟s not a hard edge to sharpen and hold. This isn‟t Damascus steel we‟re talking about. Everyone who has experienced death and many who haven‟t have at least brushed up against this awakening, regardless of whether or not they knew what to do with it. This step back reveals the rabbit story to be a cliché: something true but so overwhelmingly true that it doesn‟t
need to be stated because it is already understood. A writer would go back and delete this story because it is a story that‟s been told too many times before. But I‟m not a writer. I am a man locked in a small dark room with a line of light to keep me company. I have plenty of time and no pen or paper. So I take another step back and I see my grandfather, a first generation immigrant, who got what he wanted and didn‟t know what to do with it afterwards, like a movie-adaptation of his favorite novel where the director gets every character wrong, so he sits up at night in the same armchair he‟s had for fifty years and tells the same story over and again about why America is great to the wall if it‟ll listen because we‟ve all stopped asking because we all know the answer and there‟s no one left to convince except himself: the way jazz and the blues and music that rocks can move your soul and shake you down „til you‟re a pile of pebbles; sweet barbeque; a thousand styles of pizza; fifty thousand miles of paved interstate highways; strangers that talk to you in lines or at bus stops; decades of kitsch found at garage sales and swap meets: the Jesus toaster ovens, Pokémon cards, I heart Disneyland coffee mugs; thousands of miles of straight up and down coast with sailboats on the waterline and every kind of sand in the world to get stuck between your toes; towering purple mountains; ancient forests; shifting desert dunes; expansive plains; movie stars
like Marlon Brando and James Deen that can knock over ladies like bowling pins with a word, make „em need to change their clothes with a wink and a smile; A cheeseburger and kitty litter and internet access all in the same store; cold air and fresh water in the Mojave desert; the faces of legends hewn from solid granite and immortalized forever by the hands of working men far braver than the world has left…On the fourteenth day the metal door of the cell is dragged open and I see artificial light for the first time in two weeks. I hear two voices arguing. The chatter stops when a third set of footsteps enters the room. Heavy boots by the sound of it. The third voice says, “Get him up.” Oriental salts are placed under my nostrils. I inhale and feel a dragon wriggle between my vital organs. I am wide-awake. The walls are painted the color of strawberry hard candy. I‟m seated naked in a tilted-back dentist chair out of the sixties with added leather straps to keep my limbs from thrashing. Above me is a bright light attached to a swiveling overhead arm. My skin is mildewing. When I lift my arms it peels off the vinyl like pulling a plastic cover off a new touch screen phone. From beneath the seat of the chair protrudes a small silver, cylindrical object. This object is currently impaling me through the rectum. I cannot move my waist without experiencing a sharp pain followed by a throbbing
numbness. There‟s a tray in my left peripheral that I think might be holding tools for torture. Pushing my chin towards my chest affords an ok view of the room, which is empty except for the other occupants and the tools, which are for cleaning teeth. The arguing voices belong to The Gay Prince of Jordan and another man. Both are done up in full nun regalia. The third voice, the one accompanied by the heavy boots, belongs to Prince the Recording Artist. He stands with his back towards me, wearing a ruffled red suit from the eighteen hundreds and a full Comanche Indian headdress on top of a powder wig. His heavy black boot taps out trench warfare potshots from a battlefield distant on the hardwood floor. It smells vaguely of pinecones burning. In the upper corners of the room, small speakers play classical music at ambient volumes. The second nun, the one I don‟t recognize, points to me when he sees my head moving. Prince says, “Oh good. Leave us.” The second nun does as he is told and I wait for whatever is going to be done to me. The Gay Prince of Jordan moves over to the side of my chair and hits a button. Gears in the chair make an electric whining noise like a coffee machine and raise me into a seated position. I give the Gay Prince of Jordan a look that would scorch him to death with a photon blast if my eyes had the technology.
He says, “Come on. Don‟t look at me like that. You had it coming.” I say, “Had what coming?” He says, “This. Getting captured.” Prince elevates a gloved hand for silence. He places the gloved hand on The Gay Prince of Jordan‟s chest and pushes him back a few steps. He says, “Now then. Everyone take a breath or three. We need to keep our voices down if we‟re going to get everything done today.” He lowers his eyes at the Gay Prince of Jordan, who gives an apologetic nod back. Prince removes his gloves and saunters over to the side of my chair. He drops the gloves on my chest in a heap like two used napkins and brushes his hands together. He says, “So, you are the man working with the Three Sinners? Yes?” I say, “I don‟t know who or what the Three Sinners are.” The Gay Prince of Jordan says, “Jesus, come on, Johnny. You‟re just making it worse.” Prince raises another hand. He says, “Shut the fuck up or you can go outside with your friend, and turns back to me.” I say, “Alright. Sorry. I lied. The Three Sinners is a bar I used to fish around in back in college. Really nasty place. Good for a girl who‟d fuck you quick in the bathroom and not talk to you again. Or if you wanted herpes.” I laugh. No one
laughs with me. I say, “My friend Mark liked their burgers a lot so I ended up there a few nights a month getting wasted out of rusty beer steins. It was nothing special. Really. I don‟t know what more about it I can tell you. The bartender‟s name was Roxy, I think. Or Diamond. Ginger. I don‟t know. A stripper name for sure. What does a college bar have to do with, you know, these?” I lift up my arms and the chained leather bindings rattle. Prince smiles and says, “Cute. That‟s very cute.” He smoothes his pencil drawn mustache with a thumb and forefinger. Behind him, The Gay Prince of Jordan places a hand over his face. Prince climbs up onto my chair and straddles me. The pain in my stomach is unbearable. I scream without noise. He says, “Shh, shh. Come on now. Here‟s what‟s going to happen. I‟m going to tell you my version of what I think The Three Sinners are. Remember,” he says, clapping his empty gloves together. “This is just what I‟ve heard, so I could be totally wrong.” He laughs in high-pitched huffs until he‟s coughing. He wipes spit off his chin and continues: “Picture this. It is late in the afternoon. Sun filters through the window and leaves a checkerboard of light on the vomit green blanket stretched over Susan‟s fat belly. The bulge sinks then heaves upward and crumbs rumble down her sloping sides. An avalanche of snack food residue. The remote, she thinks. Oprah starts soon. She lifts
her head off of the pillow and located the remote, two feet to her left on the coffee table. It is so far away, she thinks. She takes a deep breath and lunges for the thing. The grubby ends of her middle and index fingers catch the edge. She pulls it closer, slowly, so she doesn‟t lose her grip. If contact is broken, it is all over. She manages to hold on. Mission successful, she lies back onto her pillow. With her left hand she enters a 0 then a 5 on the remote. Her right hand frees an empty air can of whipped cream from the gap between her hip and the couch cushion and raises it slowly to her mouth. The television flashes to Oprah just as Susan presses the release with her index finger and takes two massive huffs of stale air. Susan‟s mind turns to food. I‟m so hungry, she thinks. She remembers that somewhere, maybe by her feet, there is a bag of corn chips. Movement of her right foot up then down produces the sound of plastic bunching. She lifts her legs, a feat in its own right, and spies the bag. All but empty. Not worth reaching for. Her feet fall back to the cushion, defeated. She stares back at the television. During the next commercial break, an infomercial comes on advertising a mini rotisserie oven. Chickens rotate slowly on the screen, their reflections showing on Susan‟s widening eyes. Her mouth salivates. Oprah returns but Susan can‟t get the chickens out of her mind. She closes her eyes, licks her lips. Just one bite, she thinks. It‟s all I need.
She is on the verge of tears when she hears a squawk. Then a peep. The pet bird. When was it last fed? It doesn‟t matter. Susan pictures chicken and the bird peeps again. Susan thinks, I can‟t. Then, I have to or I‟ll die. She leans forward, then lunges backwards and does a half spin with her upper body. It is just enough effort to reach the small cage next to the couch. She clicks open the latch. The little door squeaks open. Susan stares at the bird, a small blue parakeet with black stripes on its wings and black spots beneath its eyes. Susan extends a greasy index finger. The bird cocks its head to the side. It blinks twice, quickly, and steps onto Susan‟s finger. She licks her lips and rolls back to face the television. Oprah fades into Susan‟s background. The layers of her thoughts shredded to pure instinct. Hunger. A peep from the bird. A lick of the lips. The bird blinks quickly. Susan stares at it. Hunger. Peep. Chicken. Susan opens her mouth. Moves her hand closer. A final peep. A crunch and then another crunch. The peeping falls silent. A gulp. A sigh. Susan burps and lies back on the couch. The kids are getting in to town tonight, she thinks. The kids. She drifts lazily to sleep, full for the moment. The sun sinks a bit in the sky. The squares on the blanket slip to rhombuses. The television just a dull hum in the corner. Are you still with me?” Prince smacks my face with one of his
gloves. He says, “Wake up. Does any of this mean anything to you?” I say, “No. Nothing.” He says, “Right. Do you deep sea fish, Johnny?” “What?” “Have you ever been to the ocean to go deep sea fishing?” “No.” “Well sometimes when we reel in fish too quickly from the deeper areas, the oxygen in their bodies will expand to a point where their entrails and intestines are forced out of their mouths, leaving them looking like an enlarged tongue, which they are commonly mistaken for.” “What does that have to do with anything?” “It means I have you hooked, Johnny.” He smacks my stomach and the pain and numbness comes and goes. He says, “So we‟re going to play by my rules, or you‟re going to be tasting your guts. Make sense?” I nod. “Great. Well let‟s continue then. Who do you think Susan was?” “No idea.” “And what about the person who discovered Susan in her altered state? Who researched the after effects of
Susan‟s particular psychosis on the human body? What this psychosis could help achieve?” “You.” “Of course not, you moron. I have a surprise for you, though. I do! I know the answers to all of these questions. Isn‟t that exciting?” He pinches my cheeks together and says, “Come on. Be a little more eager for me.” I say, “Sorry?” Prince asks for a drum roll. The Gay Prince of Jordan plays taps on the wall. Prince says, “So who was Susan?‟ Seconds tick past. The drum roll grows in strength. Prince says, “And it looks like it was…Koan‟s mother! Familiar? Should be. And how about the name of our researching party? Show me Ulysses Lima? Not helping? How about the name he goes by now? MiNOT-R.” My face must give me away because Prince reaches up and drags the light down with a screech. He says, “So you do know him.” I say, “Who are you people?” Prince climbs off of me and says to the Gay Prince of Jordan, “Who are we?” The Gay Prince of Jordan says, “Patriots.” “Precisely. We are protectors of justice. Servants of the people.”
I say, “What was in the syringes you‟ve been giving me?” Prince says, “It was a muscle relaxant. Nothing to get worked up about. Anyway, the point is much less about who we are and much more about who The Three Sinners aren‟t. They aren‟t really a fan club. I know this because I know that MiNOT-R isn‟t really a musician. His band, Oubliette, isn‟t a band at all. It‟s a cover. What they are is terrorists, Johnny, codename: Tequila, and I am the head of the counter-intelligence team charged with locating and eliminating them.” I say, “You‟re a pop music star. A washed up one. You‟re not a secret agent, and I‟m not either. I don‟t know why I‟m here.” “Oh come on. Don‟t be so naïve Johnny, codename: Tequila. My musical career is about as valid as MiNOT-R‟s own. Most of the lyrics on my albums come from a journal found in the desk of the Oval Office several decades ago, left there by a young and emotional Ronald Reagan. The music that accompanies these lyrics was composed and performed by a small group of government employees, most notably John Kander, half of the Kander and Ebb duo most famous for their work on the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. So to address your accusations: Yes I am a pop star, but a fake one, much like the man I mentioned earlier. The leader of
the terrorist cell that you have been working for, The Three Sinners.” I say, “You work for the government?” “The president yes. Our newest Leader in Chief is taking a decidedly pragmatic approach to the War on Terror, or whatever. She‟s got the negotiation powers of a woman— Prince jostles a pair of invisible breasts—and the balls of a man—and grabs his crotch. She‟s a hell of a president.” “So what is this new approach?” Prince gets very close to my ear and whispers. “There‟s an old saying about cutting the head off the snake to kill the body. Well, when we cannot readily locate the head of the snake, we start cutting off the fatty parts of the body until the head wriggles itself out of its hole to find the knife.” I hear a click and the hum of small machinery being turned on fills the space between our bodies. Prince raises a dental cleaning device off the tray and holds it dangerously close to my lips. He says, “Do you follow so far?” I say, “Look. I know they‟re aggressive, but they aren‟t terrorists. Will you turn that thing off? I just went to the dentist a few months ago. They just want the loops or samples or whatever it is that you have. That‟s why they sent me to infiltrate the gang. The nuns?”
The Gay Prince of Jordan says, “The gang was a set up, Johnny. We needed to give The Three Sinners something tangible to go after.” “Bullshit. I was there. I saw you there. And the stuff everyone was doing.” Prince says, “Excuse me. What stuff?” The Gay Prince of Jordan says, “Nothing. Don‟t worry about it. The point is—Johnny—is that we knew they‟d contact you if they heard we were sending someone in.” “Why were you there then?” “To make sure you weren‟t injured or recovered by any members of The Three Sinners.” “And the admin thing? Was that a decoy too?” Prince says, “It was the right bait for the right fish. Now, here‟s the fun part. We‟re going to keep you in this room for a little while, which is definitely an upgrade from where you were staying before, and we‟re going to show you some videos. It is our hope that these videos can instill in you our cause, the cause of nobility, because if you are willing to embrace our cause, the admin permission goes back on the table. Is that clear?” I say, “What kind of videos?” Prince snaps and The Gay Prince of Jordan knocks on the door. The second nun rolls in a TV stand that looks like it was dragged directly from a 90‟s elementary school,
complete with shoddy color Televox television. The nun presses play on the remote and the television blares Prince albums. Prince says, “We will leave you now. Have a nice trip. Be safe. See you when you return.” The three leave the room. The light above my head goes out. I watch the opaque television screen warm up to a maroon, plum, red, battery acid orange, egg yolk yellow, flat white. Footsteps click out of the television speakers. The president steps into view on the screen and pushes her hair behind her ears. “Hello, Johnny,” she says. The camera zooms out to reveal the President seated on a queen-sized bed. She‟s wearing a red robe that she casually unknots. She says, “What do you want, baby?” I say, “I want to get out of here and go home.” “Well, honey, you know I can‟t let you do that.” The robe slips off her shoulders and falls onto the bed behind her. She‟s naked underneath the robe, all tits and cock. “You like what you see?” “No.” “That‟s not very nice. Come on, baby. Tell me what you want.” “Just let me go.” She stands and moves around the bed like a swan paddling through chocolate. She approaches a mahogany nightstand, from which she removes a small black remote.
She climbs back onto the bed and says, “Maybe this will convince you to stay.” She points the remote at the camera and presses a button. The probe inside me begins to vibrate. It hurts. Everything is too sensitive. I feel the need to piss but can‟t. She says, “Is it working on your end? Tell me what you want.” I say, “I want to face-fuck you with a flamethrower.” “Is it on too high? Hang on just a second.” She fiddles with the remote. Shakes it twice and hits another button. The vibrating slows down. The hum of machinery lowers in pitch. She says, “There. That should be better. Is it better?” The painful sensitivity fades, replaced by a numb, throbbing feeling. The lower half of my body feels warm and itchy. I can feel my dick starting to get hard but I can‟t focus on it. On the screen, the President lays back onto the bed and begins to jack herself off. She says, “Oh yeah, baby. I knew you‟d like that. How is it? Tell me what you want.” I don‟t answer. I‟m distracted. There‟s a twitching and tingling at my core. The warmth builds and subsides and continues in cycles. I start to feel small spasms in my anus, anal opening, and prostate. I feel intense pressure and nerve feedback from the perineum. The feedback cycle grows in strength each time it turns over. My abdomen and anus and inside thighs begin to quiver. Pleasure feedback floods my brain. My head rolls to the ceiling then back to the television
screen. The President is writhing on the mattress. She sucks on her fingers and says, “You like that, baby? Tell me you like it.” I tell her I like it. I‟m sweating. I begin to rotate my hips on the probe. My heart rate increases exponentially. I hear myself panting. Long orgasmic cycles begin—I breathe faster. My heart rate spikes again. The feeling becomes a twitching, feeding animal. Orgasmic waves rush from all edges of my body and crash into each other at my core. I take these waves and continue in bliss. This goes on for an hour. The president humps a pillow, then balances on her hands and knees and fucks herself in the ass with a dildo similar to Koan‟s. I watch her, hypnotized. My body becomes overwhelmed. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears. My breathing is sporadic. My limbs rattle like tree branches in the wind. All of these things are maximized until my body cannot take anymore. The President rolls onto her back and starts to jack off aggressively. She says, “What do you want, baby? Tell me what you want.” I tell her I want to get off and she asks me to speak up. I scream, “I want to cum. Please let me.” The President starts moaning. She says, “Cum for me baby. I want it. Give it to me.” I am met with an instinctual feeling of inevitability, a feeling similar to the uncontrolled gut feeling when you know you are going to vomit and there is nothing you can do
to stop it. My body takes over and orgasm begins. It feels overwhelming. I start bucking and ejaculating prostate fluid. My whole body shutters from severe convulsions. The President screams and ejaculates onto her stomach. I‟m left with numbness in my body. I feel drunk. Stuck in slow motion. The President stands and dresses herself in the red robe. Clothed again, she lays down on the bed and snuggles up to the pillow. The camera zooms in on her face. She laughs and says, “So how was that?” I swallow and say, “Pretty good.” “Is your head clear?” I nod. “Good. I want you to really tell me what you want now. Out of life. Now that you can think clearly. Be honest with me and I can help you.” I stare at the wall and say, “I want Gameboys to be popular again.” “What?” “I miss it. From when I was little. I was only allowed to use it in the car. Took getting my driver‟s license to learn my way home. I was always too busy stomping out Goombas to memorize street signs or landmarks. The games made me happy though, until I got older. The Gameboy name got tired. You can‟t have a product that emphasizes a single sex. That ostracizes female gamers, which I guess are more
prevalent now. Plus nobody in society wants to be a boy anymore. That‟s why things like the WalkMAN got popular. I guess what I‟m saying is that I miss simpler times. My fantasies used to be full of all these unrealistic worlds and people and they aren‟t anymore. I‟ve made some bad decisions in my life and now when I conjure up a place to escape in it‟s the opposite. I had this idea for a video game the year after college where you come to America as an immigrant to start a new life, selling newspapers on a street corner. So every day, the player would go prepare their cart and sell papers until their character is exhausted. Now and then during the day the player can let their character wander away a bit, have a cigarette to stifle the jonesing. At the end of the work day, the character would take the bus home and get lost, because as an immigrant he or she doesn‟t speak English and doesn‟t know the bus schedule, so maybe they‟d get mugged or take a taxi home and then they‟d be out of money for food for the rest of the week. The player becomes the character—becomes this foreigner—and experiences this weird nirvana where life sucks and you have no idea what you‟re doing but all of your problems are clearly defined: You‟re bored and poor and can‟t communicate with anyone.” The President is confused.
I say, “If I‟m being really honest with you, I just want to dream like an idiot for a night. I want to go to sleep and imagine eating orange sherbet and have the train of thought stop at the enjoyment of eating. No study of pasteurization, mix measurements, ingredients, how much calcium it includes. No neuroses. Just a cold, delicious thing to eat. I‟m exhausted with thinking and wondering. To me the ideal pinnacle of living has become blindness of the mind.” The President says, “I think I get it. Thank you for sharing that with me.” I say, “Yeah. So what do you want? Not from me. Just in general.” She says, “In high school, I wrote a paper—the best paper I‟ve ever written—titled: America and the Self That Remains When Memory is Gone. The only comment my professor wrote on it was: I thought this was going to be about why Hilary Clinton will never be able to testify about Bengazi.” “What was it actually about?” She shrugs. “Just the evolution of American politicians. There‟s this thing in South Korea, a fan-death phenomena. It was this big government propaganda program convincing residents that leaving a fan on in an enclosed room over night would cause death by suffocation. It wasn‟t true—of course—and ended up just being a ploy to lower electricity
use by citizens. That scared me. That a government could convince a whole population of people that something so ridiculously false was something to be afraid of. To answer your question, I want to keep that from happening here.” “Do you think it will?” “Without strong leadership? Yes. That‟s why I brought you here. I can give you what you want, Johnny, but only if I am alive and able to keep working. If you truly want what you say, I need something from you.” “Which is what?” “I need you to eliminate the presence of The Three Sinners. They threaten everything I‟m working for. Can you do that for me?” I nod. The president smiles and says, “Good. Thank you.” She screams for Prince and he comes back into the room. She says, “Prince, Johnny has agreed to help us.” Prince claps his gloved hands together. That‟s very exciting. He turns the television off and rolls the stand out into the hallway. He enters with a duffle bag in his hand. The Gay Prince of Jordan follows him. The two undo my bindings and peel me off the dentist‟s chair. Prince says, “In the bag you will find your clothes. Get cleaned up and dressed.” I say, “So what happens now?”
Prince stares at the wall and thinks. He says, I have trouble sleeping at night. I‟ve always had the dubious privilege of living close to fairly busy streets—and the noise embeds itself into your brain on a biological level. If you performed surgery on my head, peeled back skin and skull and ran a record needle along the grooves in my brain you‟d hear the background noise I grew up with. I‟m going back to the city. You‟re going to do whatever the President asked you to. Get dressed.” The two leave the room. My legs are still weak. I dig my clothes out of the duffle bag, which rattles. I rip apart pockets and find what I was sure I‟d never see again. A little orange bottle full of my pills. Water in the desert. I eat six, put my clothes on, and pass out in the corner of the room.
7 I am on the linoleum floor of the kitchen, kneeling in darkness, a thin line of light rimming the square shade of the kitchen window. I've drawn a large purple symbol on the floor, a star with circles around each point. Within the circles sit tall white candles. I strike a match and begin to light the candles. I feel stupid as I do it, but at this point, I'll try anything. When the candles are all lit, I move into the center of the star and sit cross-legged. I wait. I honestly don't
know what I'm expecting to happen. Nothing. I realize that nothing is what I expect to happen, and nothing does happen. The birds stopped falling on the third night. They are piled a few feet high in places, but I've shut all of the shades. I can't stand to look at them. The smell of their bodies is terrible in the heat and even with the windows closed, the foul odor works its way into the house. The house is a mess. The living room is covered in open books and torn up paper. I haven't done dishes or cleaned in a week. I have a patchy beard and purple bags beneath my eyes. My eyelids are heavy. I feel myself being slowly overtaken by waves of feral compulsion. I am on a steady diet of pills. The kitchen sink is full of little orange bottles, supplied by the President herself. Government script. Just figure it out is what they told me. Figure it out. Transcend. That‟s the word Prince used when he dropped me off. I need to transcend. I have not left my house in nine days and this has been my only thought: How do I transcend? I was lent a car by the government. And a nicer place on the edge of the city. A little house. The third day here I left for the grocery store. Everything was fine until the drive home. I come back to find dozens of dead birds in my front yard. They reminded me of a museum exhibit I‟d seen before, piles of shoes, all of them harvested from the feet of dead children in concentration camps. My hands started shaking and I
started sweating. I was afraid to get out of my car. I remember there was a loud thwack on my windshield. I covered my face and peeked through my fingers. There was a massive turkey vulture resting in a dent on the hood of my car. It was lifeless, but it's yellow eye bored through me. I screamed and fuddled with my keys. I jumped out of the car and ran to the house, leaving the car door open behind me. I paced in the kitchen. When I stopped moving, the world went silent for a minute. A soft thudding began outside. I moved to the kitchen window and looked over the sill into the backyard. Dead birds began raining down on the backyard. I gulped and shut my eyes and shook my head. This is not happening. This is not happening. I opened my eyes. The birds fell faster until the grass was no longer visible. I went into my bedroom and shut the door. I shut the curtains and sat on the bed, tapping my feet on the hardwood floor. I got up and locked the door then returned to the bed. I didn't sleep that night. I sat straight up at the end of the bed and listened to dead birds embed themselves into the ground around my house like hail. I guess what I‟m saying is, I am in no short supply of the juice. I have tried yoga. Meditation. I have prayed to a dozen different gods. None of it has worked. I do not feel that I have passed beyond the limits of myself or the world around me. I do not feel anything but exhausted. Nearly depleted. I sigh and
blow out the candles one by one, watching whispers of smoke float up towards the ceiling. Secrets for no one in particular. I find myself in darkness again. I stand and go to the bathroom. I leave the attempted ritual where it is. I'll get to picking it up whenever. I wash my hands in the bathroom sink. The water feels foreign to my skin. It is cold and harsh and honest. I have been wasting my time, wallowing in the dirt like a junkyard dog. I lean against the wall and slide down to a seated position, one leg cocked, one straight out, my head laid gently against the floral print wallpaper. I eat more pills. A lot more pills. I realize that this is my typical reaction to life. I am presented with a problem, and rather put in the effort to find an applicable solution, I try a ton of solutions that I know will not work in an effort to convince myself that I am indeed trying to solve the problem. The thing I have never seemed to fully grasp is that eventually you reach a point where no one cares if you are solving your problems or not. There is a breaking point where everyone who cares about you realizes that they have better shit to be doing and that they can't waist any more time waiting for you to get your problems all fixed and filed away. Eventually, you end up alone in a dirty house, doing pentagrams and voodoo wasting your time because you're too afraid to admit that, yes, you are in fact, wasting time.
The vibrator arrives at 10:30 am the next day in a nondescript brown box. It‟s labeled with a fake name. I‟ve tried eating the birds and getting myself off but it never went anywhere. I‟m hoping the President‟s lesson will help me out. cross-legged on the kitchen floor, surrounded by the heaping remains of voodoo experiments, prayers, and attempted remedies. Up at counter level, flies roam around freely, alighting on dirty plates and the rims of half-filled cups. I'm wearing a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt. They're dirty. I honestly can't remember the last time I did laundry. It feels like decades ago. The house smells putrid, as if the whole structure is rotting away beneath the wallpaper. None of that matters though. The lights are off, as always now it seems, and the shade is drawn. In the dim, purplish light, I can make out a clean plate, the last clean plate in the house, sitting in front of me. Piled on the plate is a massive dead raven. The square of daylight outlining the window is reflected in one of its black eyes, it's face looking upwards with it's beak half cracked open. I have a carving knife in one hand and a fork in the other. There is no dirty house. There is no bad smell. There are no leaning candles, no fading sharpie markings, no dirty dishes. There is me, naked on the floor, with a sex toy up my ass, trying to go to Never-Never Land. The edges of my vision begin to cloud. There is nothing else in the
world that matters except for me and this dead bird and what I am about to do. I take a deep breath, lick my lips, and plunge the knife into the bird. A sick crunching noise echoes through the house like twigs being snapped. I let go of the hilt and the knife stands there on its own, wiggling back and forth a bit, the blade completely buried in the bed of black feathers. I re-grip the knife tentatively and begin to widen the cut. The insides of the bird smell like death heated up in a microwave. I balk and cover my nose but keep cutting until I have four large bites of rancid meat. They sit separated from the bird, little grey chunks of goop. I resist the urge to vomit and scoop one of them onto the fork. Some type of fluid, maybe intestinal, drips off the meat and back onto the mangled bird. I gag and bring the fork to my mouth. I try and decide the best way to eat the bird. I come to conclusion that the only way to get the four bites down are to shovel them in as quickly as possible. No chewing. No tasting. Just eating. I inhale through my mouth deeply, trying to avoid smelling any more of the bird than I have to. I exhale and think, Just go for it. I throw the bird into my mouth and immediately scoop up the next piece. The first piece is slimy in texture but I barely notice its taste. The second and third go down quickly as well, but something happens as I raise the last piece to my mouth. It's as if the
taste of every bite I've taken is suddenly filling my mouth. I get a strong feeling of acid reflux in the back of my throat. The last bite balanced on the fork in front of my face, I start to cough. I cough harder to keep myself from choking. My eyes start to water. I shake my head, trying to regain control of myself. I can feel my stomach bubbling. I eat the last peace and gag. All of my focus goes into not vomiting. It does not work. I move to the bathroom and hug the toilet, grinding on the vibrator while I blow chunks. A familiar feeling takes over my body. Cycles of warmth move through me. I'm extremely dizzy. My vision is blurry. It feels like I am hammered. I fall and catch myself on the counter. I vomit onto dirty dishes. My heart's pace becomes abnormally fast. I can feel the heavy pulses in the rest of my body. Veins in my head stretch and it feels like they're going to pop through the skin every time my heart beats. My vision completely blacks out. I fall sideways. The door bounces off the wall and hits me in the back. My heartbeat becomes a hum, beats no longer differential from each other. I can't see anything. I grasp for the toilet bucket. My fingers find the rim. I heave my body towards the bowl and wretch again. I feel myself starting to become distanced from my body. I feel my grip tightening and my throat burning, but the sensations seem distant. I slowly go numb
to everything around me. A warped, high-pitched beeping begins to overtake my ears, like a fire alarm under water. I wake up to a bright light and a soft rumbling like thunder in the distance, a sound metered by a loud clunk every few seconds. I can't move. My head jostles back and forth off the headrest of the chair I seem to be sitting in. I force life into my fingers, running them along the seat beneath me. The cushion feels old and woven. I can feel dirt worked into the grooves between stitchings. My vision starts to clear and I realize the bright light is the sun through the dirty glass window next to me. It's low in the sky so I figure it must be either morning or dusk. I stare out the window for a while, oddly complacent, the rumbling noise becoming a normality, the clunks more bearable. The sun doesn't move in the sky. The passing landscape is sand or water. I can't tell for sure. The sun shines at such a low angle it turns the whole place to glass, light reflecting light into infinity. I let a couple minutes pass before shaking my head and forcing the rest of my body to move. I straighten up in my seat and rub my eyes. It feels like I've been asleep for days. The cushions squish stiffly beneath my weight. It feels like the seat I'm in hasn't been used in years. In front of me is the back of the next row of seats. They're red. I look down at the cushion underneath me in a space between my legs. Mine is red too, worn and maybe cigarette burned in a couple spots. The
train feels familiar. PanOpticon Railways? I‟m not sure. I twist left to stretch. My back pops a couple times. I sigh and twist back to the right, my eyes landing on the legs of someone next to me. I jump back towards the window. Unable to say with certainty if the person has been there for the whole time, my eyes move to their face. I recognize the person from somewhere, the ratty clothes, the pitted eyes. Staring at this person, I start to get a stinging pain in the back of my head. The man smirks when he sees me start to grimace. He says, “Oh come on. Is it really taking you this long?” He leans in and looks at me. He doesn't speak, but I hear the words, <You know me>, echo around in my head. I say, “Ulysses Lima. MiNOT-R.” He leans back and says, “Seems you made it.” I study the man next to me. He doesn't look much like the old poet at the fair, the most notable difference being his current lack of wings. He's still dressed in rags, but more modern ones. Ripped jeans and an old t-shirt. It's definitely still him though. He gives off the same fierce energy as before, but something is definitely different. I move up to his face, no longer gouged with wrinkles. His features don't look any younger. It looks like an artist erased the lines
where they used to appear on his face, leaving behind the tired old eyes, the pursed lips, the swollen nose. He is a first draft of himself. I say, “What happened to your wings?” He looks down and shrugs. He says, “They're gone.” He stares past me and sings softly to himself, “Rip the wings of the wind and feed them to the birds. They aren't as holy as they thought they were.” He hums a few bars of a song I don't recognize before looking back at me. He says, “Do you know what a cadejo is, Johnny Tequila?” “No.” MiNOT-R and I stay silent for minutes or hours or days. I'm not sure how much time passes. I cross my arms and turn back to the window. The sun is at a different point in the sky each time I look out the window, but it never sinks below the horizon. I press my hands and face to the glass, trying to see more of the surroundings, trying to get a better bearing on what the hell is going on. All I can make out are a few metallic cars behind us and the rest of the train plunging itself into the distance, the front too far out ahead of us to make out. After a while I hear what sounds like a child giggling and I wonder if I have finally lost it. I look at MiNOT-R to make sure it wasn't him making noises before shaking my head and turning back towards the window.
MiNOT-R says, “A cadejo is a character of southern Mexican folklore. A beast like a wolf with its eyes on fire and the hooves of a goat. There is a good cadejo who appears white and a bad cadejo who appears black. Both are spirits that appear to travelers in the night. The white is said to protect the traveler. The black, to kill them. According to the stories, many have tried to kill the black cadejo. None have succeeded. It is said that if a white cadejo is killed, it will smell terrible for several days, and then its body will disappear.” I say, “Why are you telling me this?” The giggling comes again. It's louder this time, closer. I feel woozy and off-balance. My whole body feels like it's made of pudding. For half a second the world seems to click slowly by around me. Every bump of the train makes me want to vomit. I look over at MiNOT-R, but he doesn't seem to be aware of anything that's going on. He's just muttering to himself and counting on his fingers. I look back at the aisle and find the source of the giggling. There's a small boy, maybe eight years old, skipping down the aisle. He's laughing. I have no idea how he got into the car. I don't think he's been here the whole time, but I definitely didn't hear any doors open. When the boy gets closer I see that his hair is black and slicked back. He's wearing what looks
like an old school uniform from one of the World Wars—It is all white. He skips by us and I say, “Hey.” He doesn't say anything back. I think it's possible he didn't hear me so I say, “Hey—kid,” again louder. Still nothing. He doesn't even look at me. He skips past and continues down the aisle. MiNOT-R says, “I figured as much.” He bows his head and disappears. In his seat sits a long black dildo. Koan‟s. The Great American Challenge. I hear MiNOT-R‟s voice in my head. He says, <Come and get us, Johnny Tequila>. The carpet in the hall is sanguine, the rusty color blood turns to when it dries and hardens. The aisle is lined on each side by a row of dim yellow circles embedded in the floor. Along the ceilings hang imitation chandeliers. They are mounted every ten feet or so and they sway with the train left and right left and right like a church choir belting out hymns. A few times a minute the train hits a good bump and sends the chandeliers swinging. Their chains rattle off the side paneling and ripple up into the ceiling acting as a metronome for my stunting progress. I move cautiously through the cars, the dildo out in front of me like a lance. The sky dips the sun like a flamenco dancer. My plan is to move towards the front of the train and stop it, dispatching anyone I meet on the way.
Passing through three empty, identical cars, leads me to believe the train is empty or I'm stuck in an endless loop and this is what purgatory feels like. The fourth car convinces me otherwise. The door from three to four groans open. I'm hurrying now, preoccupied with thoughts of combat. I have no experience in defending myself. I don't know what my plan of attack should be or if I need one. Go for the weak areas of the body. Groin, knees, eyes, gut. I went to two karate classes in the fourth grade. My parents said I needed an activity to keep the weight off and to keep me out of the woods. The first class wasn't too bad, just some stretching. Free gear provided by the gym. Very comfortable clothes. I met a kid named Mark and we did half speed warm up drills together. He seemed nice. Said he wanted to learn karate so he could beat up his dad and make his mom happy, which seemed noble enough I guess. The second day our instructor pushed me and Mark out onto the mats like we were two fish he was returning to the ocean. We started doing half-speed drills again and I thought ok this isn't that bad. Then something changed. The instructor clapped his hands three times, loud enough to echo in the small room. Mark turned wild, a junkyard Rottweiler who'd been waiting for days to be unchained. Horns erupted from his forehead. His eyes got beady. His fists turned to sledgehammers. Blood to bourbon. I wasn't
sure what I'd done to offend the instructor. I wondered if this was a rite of passage. Mark charged. I panicked and scrambled to come up with an evasive action. I remembered what my father told me the first day he dropped me off at the gym. After he told me not to be a pussy, he said, “If it all starts to fall apart, just put your hands in front of your face. Defend your head and tuck your dick between your legs. Don't let your eggs get scrambled.” I followed my father's advice and threw my hands up but it didn't matter. Mark was bred for fighting, cloned offspring of Schwarzenegger and Fischer. He saw my strategy before we even stepped onto the mat and besides—this was trench warfare. Prison rules. I caught his spinning death-kick of doom in my right ear and went down ringing like a valet bell. Noises ricochet down the hall to me from a compartment at the end of the car. They are unlike the sounds of the train that I've begun to get used to. I stop and try to identify the noise. I lean forward and will all my senses to redirect to my ears. I hear a shuffling sound. Inconclusive evidence. I creep forward, dildo cocked back and ready to strike. The compartment door is made of a thick plastic material. Through it, I can just make out what sounds like someone cleaning. He or she begins to whistle. Definitely a person. I panic and scoot back down the aisle,
trying the doors of empty compartments as I go. None will open. I have no place to hide. The whistling gets louder. The door of the compartment begins to slide open. I hyperventilate. Static rushes up my spine and dances on the skin covering the back of my neck. I grip the dildo like it's a snake I'm trying to strangle to death. I gather my thoughts. Clear my head. Try to attain nirvana. Search for a spirit animal. Rottweiler. I tell myself that today I am the Rottweiler. I chant it to myself until I believe it. I feel my teeth sharpen. I start to drool. A man steps out of the compartment. He's dressed in a Queen's Guard uniform, carrying his hat underneath his arm. I give him no time to react. I scream, “I AM THE ROTTWEILER,” and take five lunging steps forward. The half of his face that I can see when he tries to turn tells me he's as confused as he is scared. I heave back the dildo like a medieval battle-axe and whip it downward. I swear my arms break the sound barrier and the black log of rubber in my hands turns into a fighter jet and I bring a war crime down on this man's neck. It snaps like a chicken bone and the dildo rebounds so hard it almost hits me in the face. He collapses in the middle of the aisle like a pile of dirty laundry. I slide down the wall until I'm seated and catch my breath. The comfortable sounds of the train are only allowed to return for a minute. Over my panting, I hear another
muffled voice and the sound of static. I stand and prepare to defend myself, keeping my eyes on the door connecting me to the car ahead. The trajectory of the voice doesn‟t change and nobody comes through the door so I look around and realize I'm an idiot and start rummaging through the maybe-dead guy's pockets. Strapped to the back of his belt, I find a walkie-talkie. I hold down the speech button and say, “Hello?” A voice I recognize blasts out of the speaker back at me. “Michael? Is that you?” Lisa Underground. I say, “I'm sorry. Michael can't come to the phone right now.” “Who is this?” I wait. Let her anger marinate. “Who the fuck is this?” I clear my throat and say, “What's your favorite color?” I hear rustling on the other end of the wire. She says, “Shit,” a few times away from the microphone then moves closer. She says, “I'm in the Cathedral Car. No point in trying to hide. It's a straight line to every place on this train. I'll see you in a while.” The line goes back to static. I leave the walkie-talkie with Michael and retrieve the dildo. Outside the window I count hundreds of cars ahead of me. I stand and get going.
Twenty-seven cars later I am standing in front of double doors made of heavy wood. An artist took great care burning a crucifix into the surface. I run my hands across the rough surface and catch a splinter in my palm. The door is trimmed in light bulbs like a dressing room mirror. Mounted above the door is a sign that says, Viva Las Vegas Chapel. To the right is a cardboard sign on an easel advertising discounts. Currently there is an Elvis theme special. Get your wedding half-off! I push forward through the door. It‟s a cheesy place. Fake stucco paneling on the walls and ceiling. Fake flowers in the corner. Everything spray-painted gold. Casual orchestral music rolls out of a tinny overhead speaker. Lisa Underground is leaning against the altar, dressed in a wedding dress that‟s faded from white to yellow. She puffs a cigarette and looks out the window. She says, “It‟s amazing how clearly you can hear a cigarette burning when you know what to listen for.” Vaudeville music begins to play overhead. I slide into a shirt from the costume rack. It‟s a tropical shirt with these little toucans on it. Some of the toucans are wearing sunglasses and surfing and other toucans are dancing and drinking little cocktails with umbrellas in them. I button it up and walk towards Lisa Underground, twirling the dildo in wide circles. She snubs
her cigarette on the altar and meets me halfway. We walk down the aisle together and stand in front of empty rows of bleachers. She says, “Why are you here, Johnny?” I say, “I think you know why I‟m here.” She smiles and straightens a spot in her dress that wrinkles around her hip. “I know that you believe in the reason you‟re here.” She turns to face me and reaches up to touch my face. She says, “Would you marry me? If none of this had happened?” I say, “No.” She pulls my face close and kisses me. She says, “How do you even know that I‟m here?” She steps back then lunges forwards, almost cutting me with a knife pulled from the small of her back. I nun-chuck the dildo off the side of her head and slide behind her, twisting the dildo around her neck. I drag her to a communion fountain next to the altar. She‟s coughing up spit all over the front of her dress. I grab a handful of hair and shove her head underwater. She tries to wriggle free. I lift her out. She gasps for air. I thwack her in the face with the dildo. Her nose breaks like a potato chip. Blood dots my toucan shirt and cascades onto the front of her dress. I plunge her head back into the fountain. The water turns brown. Muffled screams bubble up to the surface and pop. I tighten my grip on her hair and lift her out. I pull her close.
So close I can smell the cigarette smoke on her breath. I say, “You assholes lied to me.” I throw her onto the floor. She coughs up a thick puddle of water and blood. I jump on top of her and pin her arms to the ground with my knees. I hit her in the face with the dildo and say, “You. Are. Full. Of. Shit.” Blood and water splash up onto my forearms. I watch the blood from her nose run down into her open mouth and puddle between her gums and teeth. I see her for who she really is like this. A gargling cesspool. Tar stuck to her tongue. Lips cracked and chapped yellow so bad she couldn‟t open her mouth all the way. Probably had to sew herself together every time she went out. Never two channel clicks from a plastic surgery commercial. I‟m looking at her blue face on the floor and I‟m thinking about orange pill bottles. A handful of little, white, beetle-shaped Hydrocodones with M357 carefully carved on each one. Blue donut Valiums. Blood red DXMs. I hit her a few more times. Her cheekbones collapse. I shatter a lacrimal bone. One of her teeth pops out and drifts through the puddles of blood and water until it shipwrecks on the dry tile floor. I stand and brush the debris off my arms. I peel off the tropical shirt and hang it back on the rack. The dildo is covered in bodily fluids and there‟s a sizeable dent in one end. I dunk it in the dirty fountain water
and dry it and my hands on one of the Elvis costumes. I don‟t spend much time reflecting on the legacy of Lisa Underground. She is dead. One step closer.
It takes me a day and a half of walking to reach the front of the train. I stay alive by drinking toilet water and eating miniature bags of peanuts I discovered in an abandoned concessions cart. The door to the head car of the train looks just like the others. It is in no way special. But when I put my hand on the door to push through, I feel I've reached a milestone and some part of me knows this is the last door I'm going to be opening on this train. The muscles in my legs have begun to calcify. My feet are raw and blistered. My shirt hangs off my body like laundry on a line. I loose the dildo from its resting spot on my shoulders and hold it hanging from tired hands. The door opens easily. The room I enter looks like the control room for a space shuttle. The walls are covered in monitors and circuit boards loaded with pulsing green and yellow lights. MiNOT-R sits in a large metallic chair facing away from me. He says, “Johnny. You made it.” Out the front window, the nose of the train carves out a thin line through an endless desert. MiNOT-R tweaks a few buttons and hits the throttle all the way up to full speed. My body leans back then snaps forward
as it readjusts to gravity. When he's satisfied he spins out of his chair and moves to a small wooden table in the back corner of the room. He removes two glasses and a jar from a low drawer and pours himself a drink of brown liquid. He says, “Would you like one?” I ask him what it is and he says, “Root beer.” I want to say yes but I don't trust him and I didn't walk a day and a half to get poisoned to death. I shake my head no and he shrugs. He takes the glass down in a single sip and pours himself a second. He says, “So what now? You beat me to death with that thing then go home? Is that the plan?” I say, “I guess so” and MiNOT-R starts laughing. It goes on for minutes. I ask him what's so funny but he ignores me and keeps wheezing away. I tell him to stop and he doesn't. I point the dildo at him and he only laughs harder. When he finally catches his breath he says, “I'm sorry, Johnny. Couldn't hold it together there.” He downs more root beer and pours a third glass. He says, “I've always had a strange sense of humor. Like these comedy sitcoms on television that are popular right now. I don't know there are a million of them. My point is, most people laugh along with the laugh-track. I never get most of the jokes but I still find certain parts of the show funny. I remember this one episode. A show about a psychic who helped the police solve
cases. Real light-humor production. Nothing crude. There's a line the psychic delivers that goes something like 'I'm detecting a force using my super shadow reader meter!' That cracked me up. Not because the line is inherently funny but because the actor sat down that morning to run through lines before shooting and that was one he had to memorize and say in front of a camera and when I picture myself in that actor's place, about to deliver that line, I imagine how ridiculous he probably feels and I laugh. I wouldn't be able to complete the scene. Endless gag-reel. Because I'd keep laughing at how ridiculous it all was. That's why I was laughing now and I'm sorry.” He turns back to the desk and opens another drawer. I step towards him and lift the dildo over my head. The old man turns quicker than I expected and aims a black handgun at my chest. He says, “I do have some dignity.” He keeps the gun centered on me and walks with his root beer back to the control chair. He sits. I lower the dildo. He says, “History lesson. Springfield XDM. Designed by Springfield Armory, Inc. Founded 1974. This specific design can be traced back to the PHP, more commonly referred to as the First Croatian Pistol. This design almost never existed because production of the PHP could not be done in large quantities during the Croatian War of Independence. Do you know what happened during this War?”
I say, “Not specifically.” He says, “Death. A lot of it. Do you know what death is?” I say, “I‟m aware of it.” He says, “Death is not a horseman. Death is not a wearer of black cloaks or hoods. Death is not a carrier of scythes. Death is forged steel slide, melonite barrel, black polymer frame, vulcanized rubber grip. Death is 5.5-7.7 pounds of trigger pull. Death is recoil control. Death is three safeties, one held breath, fourteen rounds of semi-automatic fire delivered in 2.67 seconds in two inch groupings at thirty yards. Death is a finger, a gun, a bullet—a machine that's final action cannot be called back.” A pause to wet his mouth with another sip. He says, “It's not over. Never will be.” His speech rambles and trails off. I realize the terrorist/activist/scientist turned musician sitting in front of me has been reduced to an old man as tired as I am. His gun hand falters. He wipes his eyes with his sleeve and then lifts up the legs of his pants to show me his ankles. He says, “I've never been a religious man. Never had time for it. When I was a younger, I went to a rock concert with some friends. We had pretty good seats. I remember watching everyone dance. You know, really getting into it. But I just stood still and stared at the guys on stage. The music was ok but the noise from the crowd was what I wanted.
I've fantasized about being in front of a crowd like that so many times. That's why I can't go to church. I don't like kneeling. Bad for the joints. I want to be worshipped. My mother was devout. Used to go to church on weekdays, which is fine.” He motions to his ankles with his eyes. He says, “Do you know what these are?” I tell him I'm not sure what he means. He says, “They're brand new socks. Do you know what my mother used to say about brand new socks?” I shake my head. He says, “Putting on a pair of brand new socks feels just. Like. Heaven.” He puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. The back of his head blasts off and smacks the inside front window of the train like a tossed tomato. A fine red mist pops into the air and floats down to coat the dash. I'm reminded of a video I was forced to watch in high school, live footage of the JFK assassination. The president is riding in his car when he's shot in the head from who knows where. His wife is seated next to him and in her shock tries to pick the pieces of his skull off the floor and put them back where they belong, as if that will bring him back. I have no desire to find the missing pieces of MiNOT-R's head or to replace them. I move to a corner of the room and collapse to the floor to sleep. The three corpses and I rattle in the train like beans in a maraca.
8 I perform open-heart surgery on the city, cutting down cross streets and alleys on my way out. I walk past sprawling electronic billboards for products like high-speed modular vibrating toothbrushes. Bulletproof basketball shoes. A fullblock video ad for a five-blade, nuclear powered, rotating cartridge razor with detachable kung fu grip. Hundreds of rows of aero-electric fans spin behind the billboards, sucking energy out of the wind to help lower power costs across the grid. Buses and cars jockey for position along the clustered street. Dust and smog rise lazily in the air. I'm dressed in jeans and a light jacket. The dildo is in a book bag on my back along with my wallet, keys, and cell phone. I haven't had a new message or missed call in days. The air outside is brisk and I'm coated in the nervous excitement one gets when they are nearing the end of a project. I walk with purpose. The house I left behind was a clean one. In today's following the events on the train, I vacuumed, scrubbed walls and floors, washed dishes, cleaned laundry. I feel fresh. I'm in attack mode. I AM THE ROTTWEILER. I laugh to myself and wave for a car to go ahead. I'm not in a hurry. It‟s a four mile walk out of town. I set a slow, wandering pace. I pass a graveyard, landed owned by a church. A split-rail fence marks the property line closest to
the road. The gravestones run away in lines over a hill out toward the horizon. Behind the crest of the hill I can hear a mower chewing grass. I watch a woman kneeling in front of a headstone for a while but she doesn‟t move and I get tired of staring. I back away from the fence and continue walking. Each of my palms has a stripe of red rust from the fence. I wipe them on my back pockets. The last mile goes by quickly. The area outside the city is a quiet and slow place. There‟s one main road called Ferry Drive. It‟s pot-holed and lined with brick buildings, none higher than a few stories. Side streets jut off of Ferry at intervals. There isn‟t much here besides the general store and the high school. It‟s an hour drive to the nearest airport and another ten minutes after that to the nearest hospital so people don‟t come and go much and if they do it‟s not often for their health. Everyone knows everyone and if they don‟t they act like they do. There‟s never much crime. I think there‟s been one murder in the history of the place and that was disputed as suicide. When people go outside the city they fade—a black and white photograph of what they used to be. I stop at the general store to grab a drink and cigarettes. The place is really just a gas station. It smells like kerosene and trash out front near the pumps. A breeze rolls through the parking lot. I cup my hands in front of my mouth and blow warm air through them. The cashier is a
hefty Asian guy with buzzed hair. He‟s wearing a black shirt with white letters that read: Break Bones Not Hearts. I meander through the five aisles, listening to the thrumming air conditioning system before grabbing a lemonade and heading to the counter. The door dings again on my way out. I open the cigarettes and take two. I tuck one between my lips and stow the other in my back pocket. I throw the rest of the pack in the trashcan. Once my first cigarette is lit, I point my nose towards Koan‟s van. The clouds are thin as the smoke scratching my throat as I walk. The cigarettes don‟t taste very good, but it‟s nice to walk and smoke when the weather is warm. The nicotine lifts my eyelids and makes my feet a little lighter. I puff and exhale and try to think of what to say when I get there. I see a wide leaf lying in the grass along the road. I stop and bend to pick it up. It‟s top half is colored a bright yellow that burns and fades to garnet near the bottom. Red spots cover the surface like skin on a gecko. I grab it by the stem and hold it up to the sky. The sun shines through it like the thin skin of a bat‟s wing. I want to make this whole thing quick. I hope she doesn‟t put up a fight. I spot the van parked next to a fenced-in field of dandelions. Patches of candy red paint gleam in the sun like Macintosh apples. I drop the butt of my cigarette on the blue pavement and move toward the place. I pause at the fence
only momentarily—long enough to feel the roughness of the wood and hang my doubts on the top rung—before heading in. I drop my backpack on the grass and sling the dildo out. I bang it on the back doors of the van. I hear rustling inside. There is a shifting of blankets and the rattle of tin cans. Koan opens the back door and says, “Who the hell is making all this racket?” She squints in the light. Snack wrappers and balls of tinfoil pour out onto the street. She doesn‟t recognize me at first—but she knows the dildo. She says, “Hey, that‟s mine. Where did you get that?” I say, “The President of the United States of America.” She says, “What the fuck is going on? How do you know me?” I say, “I was an acquaintance of Lisa Underground. You and your little fan club tried to brainwash me.” Koan climbs out of the dark mouth of the van. She‟s wearing an extra large Sex Pistols t-shirt like a dress. Her bare feet are cracked and yellow. Her hair is like a bird‟s nest, a knotted mess of forming dreadlocks. She rubs her eyes and says, “Johnny Tequila.” I say, “Yeah. That‟s what they called me.” She bites her nails. “So what? You come to return my shit or what?” “Not exactly.“ I lunge towards her and swing the dildo at her head. She dodges and catches me with a jab in the
ribs. I whirl around and catch her in the shoulder. She pounces and latches onto my arm with both hands. I try to shake her off. She snaps her jaw closed on my forearm and chews. I hit her in the side of the head until she lets me go. She wobbles backwards. I take advantage and uppercut her with the dildo like I‟m swinging a golf club. She goes horizontal—two feet off the ground—and lands in the pile of trash around the van. I grab her by the hair and drag her out into the middle of the street. Her nose is bleeding. She claws at me but it‟s a blind reaction. The fight‟s out of her. I sit on her chest and say, “Open your mouth. Open it.” She spits blood onto me. She says, “This is a movement Johnny. It‟s not just me.” I say. “Shut up. You people are lunatics. I met your mother. I don‟t know how she hasn‟t burned her house down yet. Val Kilmer on the titanic? I see where you get it from, but there‟s no excuse for the rest of them.” She says, “You don‟t talk about somebody‟s kin like that. That‟s low. That‟s dog low. Are you a dog, Johnny? Yeah you are. You low down dog. Texas mutt. Blue Leopard Catahoula Cur. That‟s what you are.” I pinch her mouth open with my hand and tell her to stop talking. She tries to bite my fingers. I smack her and pry open her mouth wide enough to put the tip of the dildo inside. I push it down into her throat. She tries to mumble
something. Her arms flail. The dildo vibrates when it starts tickling her gag reflex. Her body bucks underneath me. I push further. Her eyes widen. She shakes her head back and forth but it‟s too late. I feel the tip come into contact with something hard inside her body. I give it one good push and her body goes limp. A noise that sounds like air evacuating a balloon releases from deep inside her body. I stand up and brush gravel off my hands. I pick at the spots of blood on my shirt. I don‟t know if they‟ll come out in the laundry. I leave the dildo with Koan and grab my backpack. I walk until I reach the graveyard. I take my second cigarette out of my pocket and sit down cross-legged on a cool slice of grass. I light it and take a long drag. It‟s almost late afternoon but it‟s still bright out. Some of the headstones catch the sunlight and glint in the field. Birds talk to each other in trees near the crest of the hill behind me. Time seems to have come to a standstill inside the confines of the fence. The air seems denser, more fluid. Every motion I make seems slower. More relaxed. I bring the cigarette to my mouth. Inhale. Exhale. When the tobacco‟s burned down to the filter, I put it out and stuff the butt into my pocket. I feel dizzy and out of breath. I lean forward, using my hands to hold up the weight of my head. I rub my temples and wonder if Sherriff Broome will be getting the call about Koan later today. I feel bad for the
guy. A red sports car passes, heading in the direction of home. A light breeze rustles a bouquet left behind for the dead by a mourner. I find a small stone and use it to weigh down the bunched stems. I think about Koan‟s mother. I wonder if she would like flowers. I stand and turn, solidifying my memory of the place. It smells like cut grass and the lingering smell of burned tobacco. It‟s silent except for the occasional car that slithers past on the pavement. My eyes come to rest on the flat green land rushing out to reach the mountain peaks like the tucked end of a blanket lightly rising to cover the backs of sleeping children. I leave the graveyard quietly. Once I pass through the gate and reach the other side of the fence, I pull the butt of the smoked cigarette out and flick it into the road. It lands with a dry noise and I begin walking again.
9 Every day I get out of bed and go down to my parents‟ kitchen. Every day my father pours me a glass of orange juice. Every day he says, Good morning, with a smile while I watch the wrinkles around his eyes wring out the disappointment and the embarrassment and the shame and more than anything—the heavy sadness at me still being here each day when the sun comes up. I‟m twenty-five and
graduated college three years ago, which isn‟t all that special anymore. A college degree is the new high school diploma. Yes, we‟re past the point of him cracking jokes with friends about me moving back in. The “We sure thought we got rid of them all‟s” followed by too-hearty laughter in the champagne glass circles at all those doctors‟ dinner parties. We‟re past that. No, my existence now is a blanket over this house. A silent and stifling one, choking the air out of my parents‟ lungs until they lack the ability to even sputter a “What did we do wrong?” The point is they don‟t care anymore, they just know that wrong went on. My sister is successful, somewhere. I swallow a pill with my orange juice each day, the prescribed kind, and wander off to my bedroom to read. My father tries to spell out answers for himself in his alphabet cereal. There are days when my thoughts are so clear I can remember things from before. Playing in the woods. Grass stains. The smell of loam and pine needles. The smell of the perfume my mother wore on days she went to church to ask God for help holding her family together. The sound of my feet on the hardwood floor. Crunching pinecones in the front yard. I remember some of high school. The War on Acne. My first girlfriend. I remember I used to read a lot more than I do now. Played sports. I had a pretty good driveway jump shot. There were good days—summers on the roof of the
house evaporating faster than our glasses of lemonade, the first snowball fight of the year and the chilling rush of ice down the front of my jacket, when my sister and I spent a whole month's allowance on hermit crabs at the beach—our first pets—and handpicked sand dollars from the ocean floor to outfit the aquarium—but I mostly remember the bad ones. I haven't talked to Virgo in months, which I think means he gave up on me. My family had a golden retriever when I was in elementary school. Louie. He was a good dog but he had anger issues that were too overwhelming for my parents to overcome with kids in their life. I remember they told me they had to send him to a farm where he'd be happier. I remember believing them until I was in high school, when the dog came up in random conversation and my mom laughed and said, “It's so sad we had to put him to sleep,” and I stopped her mid-sentence, confused, and said, “I thought he went to a farm?” And I remember my mother looking at me like I was stupid and I remember feeling stupid and betrayed. Some days I go to my bedroom and bounce a tennis ball off the wall over and over, watching it make yellow arcs in the air, wondering why I believed them for so long and wondering why a dead old dog, a tired friendship, means so much to me now. At the request of a therapist, I've tried dictating old memories to my voice recorder. This, she tells me is a way
to bury them. A funeral to let them go. Most times the process works. There have even been some nights quiet enough that I am able to dream about eating orange sherbet and in the morning following those nights I wear a titanium smile. On the third Wednesday of the month my mother calls up to me from downstairs. She says, “Johnny. You have a visitor.” I say, “It's not Virgo, is it?” She says, “No, honey, it's your friend, Donna Moore. She wanted to drop off some stuff of yours you left at her house a while ago. Isn't that nice? I'm going to send her up.” Donna Moore. I haven't seen her in a long time but I'm fairly certain that I've never left anything at her house. She's carrying a duffel bag and looks genuinely happy to see me. Her body is packed tightly into a tight black pants suit. When I begin to stand up she says, “No, no, chill.” She drops the bag on the floor and moves over to me. Before I can sit up on the bed, she's leaning in and kissing me. I feel her arm snake along mine until she finds my hand. I hear a rapid clicking sound. While I'm trying to figure out what just happened, she handcuffs my other arm to the bedpost. She removes my pants with some struggle. I kick and fight but I have no leverage and I tire out quickly. My legs are zip-tied
together at the ankle. I ask her what's happening. She goes to the duffle and pulls out a ball-gag. “Can you keep quiet or do I need to use this?” I tell her I can be quiet. She locks the door and starts to take off her clothes. Each piece is neatly folded and packed away. She lugs the bag onto the bed and climbs up. She says, “Get hard,” and starts to give me head. I tell her it's hard to get aroused while I'm being threatened. She points at the ball-gag. I shut up and close my eyes, urging all the blood in my body to abort mission and head for my dick. Eventually what she's doing starts to feel good and I can't help myself. Donna Moore smiles and climbs on top of me. She reaches into the bag and pulls out an oily garbage bag. A familiar smell fills the room. Dead bird. Donna Moore bounces up and down on me and unwraps the bag. She pulls grey chunks out of the bag and starts to eat them. She spits out bones onto the sheets next to us. The meat squishes between her teeth and leaks ash colored streaks of juice down onto her chin. She grabs another handful and rubs it on my mouth. I tense my lips and try to keep them closed but she‟s able to pry my jaws apart. She force-feeds me mouthfuls. I try to spit up but she keeps a hand over my mouth and whispers, “Swallow it. Let it go down.” I wretch and my body starts to writhe. Donna Moore moans in pleasure. I feel myself starting to get soft. Donna Moore says, “Come on, baby stay with me. I‟m
almost there.” She pulls a handgun out of the bag that I recognize from the train. MiNOT-R‟s Springfield XDM. She sets it on my chest and reaches back into the bag for a conic metal suppressor. She threads the suppressor onto the barrel of the gun. I throw up on myself. She rides me for thirty more seconds and then says, “The Three Sinners, Johnny. Three.” She raises the gun over her head and says, “Thanks for the help.” She brings the gun down on my temple and I‟m out cold. I wake up to screams in the living room. I am alone in my bed—still covered in my own vomit. Donna Moore and her bag of goodies are gone. I identify the screams as my mother‟s. I can tell they aren‟t out of distress but sadness. I thrash and rattle my hands off the bedposts and stretch my legs apart to try and break free. The white plastic around my ankles holds strong. I focus on the cuffs, which seem loose in places. I yank my right hand in towards my torso. The metal digs a red ring into my wrist and the reverse force of the handcuff almost pulls my shoulder out of its socket. I yank again—harder—and more skin peels back towards my hand. The handcuff is looser. I jerk quickly four times and my hand pops free. I scream and pant. Tears cloud my eyes. Blood flows freely from the pink ring of exposed flesh from wrist to thumb. The skin is peeled back and bunched up near where my fingers meet my palm. My
hand looks like a snake halfway done moulting. Any shift in airflow causes a burning sensation to run up the wound. I grab a pocketknife out of the nightstand and free my legs then spin around and sit into a squatting position with my feet up on the headboard. With the added leverage, I have my left hand free in three hard tugs. The wound is deeper this time, but I am free faster. I catch my breath and try not to bite my tongue. The pain is constant. I find gym shorts and slip them on before hurdling my way down the stairs. I find my mother in the living room, her screams now reduced to quiet sobbing. She's on the couch in a pink bathrobe with her hands in front of her mouth. Her face looks like soggy bread. I ask her what's wrong. She doesn't answer. A news channel blares out of the television. The female anchor adjusts the lapels of her maroon blazer and says, “Just a few minutes ago the President of the United States was fatally shot six times by an unidentified female suspect. Tentative reports suggest the suspect was dressed in black and carrying a handgun in a purse or bag of some sort. Behind me you can see the capital building, where the shooting took place. The President was rushed by helicopter to the nearest medical facility but passed away in route. Her body was dumped ceremoniously into the Atlantic Ocean. She will be remembered as the first transgender president in the history of the nation. She was, unfortunately, not able to
accomplish much else during her short tenure.” The reporter switches to another camera and says without changing tone, “Did Prince lip synch the national anthem at last night‟s Super Bowl? Found out after the break here at Action 7...” I walk into the living room and wash my hands and wrists in the sink. The bunched skin changes from white to transparent. The cold water feels hot on the exposed areas until they go numb. I eat a few prescribed pills out of a white bottle and wrap each of my hands in a roll of paper towels and duck tape. I turn the lights off in the living room and lie on the couch with my head in my mother's lap. She massages my scalp absentmindedly and in the blue light of the television I imagine I am lying face-up on the bottom of a golf course pond getting torn apart by carp.
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