Monthly Archives: June 2009

EXCERPT FROM FORTHCOMING ‘NOVEL’ “IN THESE DARK TIMES IT’S NICE TO KNOW SOMEONE CARES™”

CHAPTER 4

 

The doctor Wolchek loved looked like his sister.  He told her this one time, briefly, when she was leaning over her clipboard like she always did, biting her lip in a mild pout such that her breath could only escape in a convexical manner, condensing into the imprint of reverse smile on the inside of her scuba mask.  Wolchek once counted how many times she did this in one day, putting little notches on a  juniper bush at the perimeter of the Free Recreation Zone, which was also conveniently situated adjacent to her inspection window, but in an area of shade, low and unnoticed. 

On her rounds a certain violet aftereffect trailed about her person, crowned her in light halonic, made the paltry grey dome of the CoContainmentCenter sparkle with the HD flatness of digital transmission. 

The fact that she looked like his sister made his feelings all the more guilt-ridden and tenuous.  The fact that he once blurted this out to her, out of nowhere, coming up behind her and tapping her on the shoulder probably too hard and leaning in close and whispering ‘you look like my sister’ in a quasi-lecherous hiss also made the whole situation even more complex at a second-order level by creating a sense of revulsion and disgust at feeling such excitement that she looked like his sister, in turn prompting an exponentially spiraled ascension of ever higher nth-levels of guilt and loathing at the prospect that he was betraying his sister’s memory and singularity by becoming obsessed with someone who looked like exactly like her. 

He had not heard from his sister for several months after the Demographic Collapse, and had had to wait to redeem his personal days longer than usual due to the mad liquidation scramble and the need for all Arcturus personnel to be Powering Through the Trying Time Together.  His drive down US R 15 was sobering— abandoned vehicles burnt, deformed, crushed as in some cubist nightmare, an eerie silence for most of the trip, gas stations toll booths towns all deserted save packs of semi-feral dogs and giant rodents.   He had to go through two major checkpoints at Boise and SLC, which delayed him almost six hours in the fifteen hour trip from Medical Lake, WA. 

When Wolchek arrived at her subdivision around dawn the next day their cars were there but nothing else.  A For Sale sign lay in the yard.  The windows were smashed and the door boarded up.  A bright orange notice was stuck on a window: “This House Quarantined by Zerox ‘n Stuff : DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT OUR EXCITING SUMMER SAVINGS AT YOUR LOCAL CONSUMER COMPOUND!”

Wolchek then went to the Spring Valley CDC, which was also boarded up with a similar notice.  He then drove to the police station, and the desk officer explained to him between long yawns that quarantine procedures were no longer under their jurisdiction and that he should call the Zerox ‘n Stuff’s customer service line, which Wolchek did, waiting several hours as a 25 minute loop of Zerox ‘n Stuff’s commercials played, usually familial discussions about the D.C. and how it has effected all their lives and how it’s so comforting to know that at least some things still last, that at least there are some things that still remain as tangible reminders of life before, that at least one can still go down to their local Consumer Compound and buy quality office products at Never Seen Before Prices.  These commercials would then end with an ingenuous ‘we’re all gonna get through this together’ one-liner delivered by a young, presumably nubile yet maternal actress whose voice cooed ‘In these Dark Times it’s Nice to Know Someone Cares’ as a synthetic harp droned in the background. 

Finally a bored greeting interrupted the loop.

‘Zerox ‘n Stuff: In these Dark Times it’s nice to know someone cares’ this is Lisa.  Your reference number please.’

 ‘I don’t have a reference number,’ Wolchek replied. 

The woman sighed in an explicitly aggressive manner. ‘I can’t help you without a reference number.’

‘Reference number for what?’

 ‘Exactly sir—how can I know what you need without the reference number, which refers to the exact specific complaint you’ve filed?’

 ‘But I have filed no complaint,’ Wolchek said, ‘and I could just tell you what I want, which is that I just want to find out where—’

‘Sir if you have not or plan not to file a complaint then this is not my department, and so not my job, which is complaints, to handle them, and let me tell you there are a lot of them so I don’t need pranksters like you clogging up the lines pretending to not know your reference number when the Reference Number Ordinance has been in effect 2 months now. And don’t now go trying to bother our subsidiary franchise Zerox My Stuff Now! Express over in Bullhead City, am I clear? Because I’m calling them right now. ’ 

And with that the line went dead.

Wolchek was now close to nervous collapse due to lack of sleep and creeping despair, but he steadied himself after some projectile vomiting out his car window and drove to the Blue Diamond Consumer Compound where the Zerox ‘n Stuff Command Post was located and waited an hour in the customer service line of said command post until he eventually discovered that he needed to fill out a Quarantine Location Form or form QL 2FJ’’2547! in order to obtain a reference number’s information and location.  It was lucky that he knew his sister’s social security and driver’s license numbers as well as all her physical information and medical history, including the string of UTI’s she had been afflicted with her Sophomore Year.  It had been so bad that Wolchek once heard her whimpering all night as she tried to pee, tiptoeing to the bathroom over and over again but as soon as she sat down on the toilet becoming unable and feeling instead only the tingling uvular burn of phantom evacuation.  Wolchek surmised she must finally have just peed her underwear in frustration as there was the unmistakable maple-syrupy odor of fresh urine on the pair she had been wearing that night when Wolchek inspected her laundry the next day.  

So he filled out the form and then waited another hour in the CS line only to be asked once arriving at the desk if he had made two copies of form QL 2FJ’’2547!.  

‘You didn’t tell me to do that when I was here the first time.’ Wolchek said flatly.

‘That’s because I didn’t think I needed to tell someone something that is being explicitly said on the form I gave them.  Look—’

In the lower left corner was a little smiling Zebra with square shades holding a form QL 2FJ’’2547!. Underneath was the italicized epitaph Zerox Zebra Says, and a cartoonish speech bubble where Z.Z. is requesting in a pseudo-Elizabethan iamb of an English major turned bush-league Copy Ed. that the customer COPY ME TWICE FOR SEVICE CONSICE! AND DON’T FORGET TO BUY ZEROX ‘n STUFF PRODUCTS BEFORE YOU TAKE LEAVE! 

The fact that there was a cartoon corporate mascot on a Missing Persons form was vulgar enough, but having the character try to be so stupidly clever about the whole thing was utterly unconscionable in Wolchek’s opinion.  He bit a sizable flap of flesh from his thumb’s ravaged cuticle and walked like a stunned animal away from the CS desk.  Soon he had arrived at the Xerox Machine Sales department but none of the machines were on and when he asked an employee to turn on a machine the employee brusquely told him he would turn it on after he bought it and what did he think this was the ‘Free Store or Some Shit,’ which Wolchek thought was an unnecessarily brittle and also unwitty response.  Wolchek then tried to offer him a hundred bucks, but the employee just laughed and told him that unless they were Zebra Bucks he had no use for them.  Finally Wolchek realized he could just fill-out another form at the cost of another hour waiting in line to get it, and then waiting yet another hour after filling it out to submit it again, and this, by this point, seemed still the simplest route.

But when he arrived at the desk for the final time the woman too asked him for a reference number.  Wolchek replied that he thought this was what was supposed to get him the reference number, as per their first conversation four hours before, but the CSR countered that she would never have said such a thing because one can never obtain a Ref. # through request, rather they are divested upon all those of the Greater Las Vegas Metropolitan Area and besides when examining this form it’s like so obvious Wolchek is not Lois, and hence not female, which means he is attempting via fraud to try to get her whereabouts and status when only Lois Wolchek, using her reference number, can be serviced, i.e. obtain and/or be informed of her whereabouts and status, at which point Wolchek’s eyes began to involuntarily twitch and he spoke in slow trebled intonations like a man on the verge of pituitary shutdown

‘But what is the point of the Quarantined Person Location Form if only the Quarantined Person can be given that information? Don’t they already know their location and status?’

To which the CSR rolled her eyes and responded, ‘But what if they don’t? You of course know the progression of the disease ravages people’s thinking capacities.  We perform a service whereby they call here and give their reference number and then we can tell them things like where and who they are.  It’s that simple.  We cannot just give out such personal information to anyone off the street, especially not con-artists like yourself who are like so obviously trying to use stolen information in an attempt to steal a place at one of our ten J.D.Power and Associates Rated Z’nS Wellness Centers but have like, failed because our reference numbers are tattooed on their bodies so you could only know it if you were that person or maybe if you were in their proximity when they were naked.  But anyway, if you had like, seen them naked, then you would have already have been there and so would have had no need to be conning me here to try to get there.’

She then smiled with deep satisfaction and blew a large pink bubble.  Slowly and lasciviously she tongued it, her smile now grotesquely distorted by the opaque sphere of sugary plastic, before finally and suddenly sucking it back in as if to display some remarkable suction capacity.   

‘Still,’ she said, now with an air predatory sweetness, ‘I can help you, Sir—I can help you get an amazing deal we’re now offering if you sign up for our SuprValu Club.’

What happens after this Wolchek remembers only vaguely; fast cuts and blurred allusions to trying to gnaw/pound his way through the Customer Services’ plexiglass divider and then lying prostrate on the linoleum floor and gargling as Security Personnel dressed in striped uniforms and Zebra Mohawked helmets and boots shaped like hooves just whaled on him.  He was detained for the next six days, confined to a room with bright halogen heat lamps and forcibly awoken every few hours to drink salt water as they interrogated him and accused him fraud and spying for their detested Southwestern rival Zerox Ultimate Plus Instant Inc. The only reason he was released was due to a coincidental miracle: an old NW Polytech friend, who worked as an executive in a Data Management firm that Zerox n’ Stuff outsourced their medical records to for systems engineering and IT consultation, interceded on Wolchek’s behalf after he happened to be touring the new detention facility and seen Wolchek huddled in a corner of the cafeteria sucking residual OCP nutrient paste from between his fingers.  

And as Wolchek drove back up 15, through the vast expanse of basalt dust and barite extrusions, he thought a number of times of simply letting go of the wheel, letting it follow its own course over the highway ramparts and tumble down into the cavernous salty hell of the desert below.   Quick and vivid flashes of turkey vultures plucking out his eyes and tongue as his skin became hard yet chewy like beef jerky scrolled across the imaginary screen of his brain, as did clips of Lois laughing uncontrollably, perhaps one of the 22%-ers  who need to be confined and given diuretic enemas in order to minimize their coprophiliac tendencies and sobbing at her loss of dignity but unable to control herself and crying out for Wolchek to hold her (and pointedly not her husband, whom she at least at last felt free of he imagined, what with his manipulative grasp disguised by his easy-going and seemingly amiable ‘nature’), and Wolchek would get these spasms and shrill violent shocks when these scenes flashed through his head and he would hit the steering wheel over and over again as he drove for the last time in his life through the giant land mass geologists referred to as the Basin and Range Province, which would soon devolve into a no man’s land nightmare of lawless bandits and mad apocalyptic cults after the collapse of Zerox n’ Stuff and its affiliates because consumerist oriented companies could not manage actual resources and they were in one of the most naturally resourceless areas of the country yet were still so preoccupied with brand image they had not thought at all about material production and things like water and energy supplies nor could they afford to outsource such problems trying to sell luxury products to a population that was experiencing mass death madness and societal collapse. And so not even a year after the Great Government Fire Sale one could already observe that areas controlled by the Energy, Security, Agri-Bio- and IT tech industries and the like were all relatively organized whereas those having been taken over by Service Industry Corporations were in a state of utter anarchy.

After the Boise Checkpoint Wolchek pulled over in an abandoned HoJo and fell asleep in the back of his car, filled with terror at the spastic, random flickering of a lone operative streetlamp, but also, and worse, behind the lamps’ epileptic illumination he was paralyzed by the sinking dread that something irrevocable had happened, something that seemed to be crushing him as if from space— some sort of great force acting at a distance that Wolchek did not understand but in that moment he finally understood that he had no understanding, and this incipient conceptual awareness of the utter irrevocability of what was occurring combined with his own facultative limitations to create a metaphysical entity and empirical presence—a harbinger for the simple yet unbelievable fact that this was all actually happening, that it had been happening, and that it would keep happening until it had consumed them all.

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moon as eye in birdhead cloud with exorbitant star

                                                           moon & star scratched 1.3.9 grayscale

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an excerpt

One evening, after several early morning hours spent encoiled with a girl Greyson had picked up at a bar somewhere within the tacky college aura of the university that was gradually spreading like a squelching algal tide, an area he favored when he went out alone with the intention of removing someone’s’ clothing, the newly met fawning ivory babe lying on his bed had begun to bleed upon the sheets—a small deep amber disk that appeared on the faint yellow bedspread when she got up to go to the bathroom—and Greyson, who had stood up behind her, gazing at the flex and tremor of her cream legs, before glancing at the spot of menstrual blood there on the sheets, eyes slowly blinking, mind verily blank, thinking suddenly of his wants (a cigarette, the autumn air, to curl in the window frame…) before crawling to the head of his bed to the bay window, set himself in the frame and lit a smoke, cracked the window open and thought about how the “public” display there of the most private kind of blood would ease his obligations to call or not to call or to lead her to such conjectures one way or another and he fell, his cheek now pressed against the cold glass, into sinking ruminations around the idea that it was cowardice and not contempt that drove him to regale in such inevitabilities and these flagellations drove him, as they often had, to think, mournfully, just how much he loved his mother, the very thought of whom in such terms could afford a brief, if illusory, emancipation from the disdain he felt towards himself and the fuzzy set of His Kind—Ah, how ungainly he sometimes felt inside his own head!—and what he felt was the lightness of a body sinking in a slow, topsy-turvy descent in water down into the claustrophobic physics of the deep trenches where he preferred to close his eyes, to be warm, but where invariably he could only gasp in what amounted to the vain effort of climbing out of his own throat, so when he heard the sound of the bathroom door creak open and the uneasy silhouette of a sophomore in economics with hair struck yellow with the street light coming in through the trees outside, a nipple momentarily silver, whose hands came to her mouth when her eyes glanced at the darkening spot on the bed, Greyson had a look of incredible sadness on his face.

Greyson snubbed out his cigarette in a small convex bronze disk resting upon a heterogeneous collection of the Alexandria Quartet in the window well, flung his legs across the bed and, in a bound, neatly erected himself before her. He put his arm around her and, as though leading a child from the scene of a broken toy or a lost junior league game, walked her to the bed and sat the both of them down…such that the two and the darkening stain lay in a row. He gave her the courtesy of sitting in the middle. The filtered street light lay dappled across her body and Greyson looked down at their legs, his hands clasped over the black thicket of his own pubic hair, glanced right to gaze blankly and the grey-blond strip of her own, Look, it’s fine. It’s really not a big deal. And she looked up at him, eyes shining and pooling with tears, N, it’s not! Her voice, though tenuous was nearly indignant, it’s not okay…it’s not, it’s not, she repeated, falling in to a muttering. Listen, Greyson said, locking his knees together but, to his slight arousal, in an almost angry voice that rose and rose, It is disgusting, I’ve ruined your, your very nice sheets, and God knows what else.

Stop, Greyson said, beginning, just beginning, to lose interest. Right, so my sheets have seen better days or rather nights, but it’s not a big deal, I mean, I happen to know for a fact that in addition, and he stood up while talking and pulled his briefs on, to menstruating, you know, bleeding out these dissembled remains, and he glanced down at the bed, of what could easily have been a baby, and grabbed his pants up from the floor and paused, prevented by the virtues of a steady supply of manufactured hormones, that you’re also given to shitting on a regular basis and pissing at a steady rate throughout the day. Shit, everyone shits, pisses, bleeds, skin sheds in invisible clouds, the vomit flies, by now he’s dressed and the look of duress on her face was divorced from the shame of a moment before (a kind of tacit generosity it is only fair to acknowledge an intention towards, if only half-lucid, on his part), It is not a big deal, hell if we got along real swell like it’d all come out anyways, and you’re no less a, a, beautiful sweet girl and we both already knew that the human body is no esoteric machine silently excreting only steam or something, and he thought, though refrained from speaking, we are no industrial witch’s kitchen nor does the skin bag contain a philosopher’s stone. I am going to go to the gas station and buy you some tampons if that’s alright. And she nodded, one could say frightened though not for any threat, an inchoate, self-ambiguating uneasiness. He waited for just a moment; took her hand; it brushed his lips; he let it fall down and he turned and walked out, buttoning up a pressed blue shirt as he went.

The trees beyond the window creaking, the filtered light through the interarborations  moving like a mixed tide upon the bed, she looked about the room, took the blanket tangled at the corner of the bed around her shoulders and listened to Greyson’s footfall down the steps, quieter and quieter, whereafter the creak of the front door sounded his absence.

Out on the street, Greyson buttoned up his long coat, glanced at his building, saw Eva’s and Clay’s silhouettes illuminated in the soapy glass of their bathroom window. He headed towards the gas station and a yong boy’s voice sounded behind him, ‘Scuse me mister? A small paranoid warning ran through his nerves, he turned around and ten feet behind him were two young black kids, perhaps twelve or thirteen, Yea, he looked around to see if there wasn’t anyone else around, a block ahead of him he saw a trio of hipster girls stumbling across the street, what’s up? he said, putting a cigarette in his mouth, without necessarily wanting one. Two more boys seemed to have corporealized directly behind the first two and he noticed two more across the street, one of whom was clearly shaping up to grow into a massive porcine brute of a man, ‘Scuse me, sir, amid barely suppressed giggling, d’you know where Baltimore is? And Gresyon, who was perhaps fifty feet from the avenue began to walk faster and the kids were right behind him and he told them it was just ahead and he wasn’t sure how many there were and he left the sidewalk for the street and heard the young brute say, Fuck this, and the first young fists fell upon the back of his head and they swarmed him and he pushed the two who were suddenly in front of him forward and they’re just kids was supplanted by pain and animosity and his mind was unable to consider the option of responding in kind with Tooth & Nail and he broke into a sprint until he had thinned the ranks to two and was below a street light and stopped dead in his tracks and the boys stumbled to a halt in front of him and they, jokingly, in singsong where’s the money, bro, where’s the money bro and he lowered his shouldered and, shouted at them that he didn’t have any fucking money and to get the fuck out of here, and they scampered off into the night, late for bedtime as they surely were. He walked to Baltimore to the Triple A, seething and warmed a bit when he saw the beautiful ebony and ivory smile break across the face of the young Dinka man who worked throughout the nighs there and whom had once traded music via flashdrive with Greyson, who (perhaps hypocritically) blushed as he bought the tampons from Gerald, whose eye brows rose across his flawless skin whether at the quivering of the face or the tampons Gresyon didn’t trey to sort out, and they shook hands as always and bid one another goodnight.

Greyson walked swiftly in long lycanthropic steps back to his place, picking up his fallen cigarette halfway there, stopped at the front door, heaved a great sigh, texed Clay to see if he wanted to smoke a bowl on the roof, and, at length, opened the door and ascended the stairs. Greyson went strait to the roof, walked over to the edge to stare down at the empty street where he had just been assaulted. Opened the box of tampons, turned one over listlessly in his hands, opened the wrapper and began to pull at the cotton. By the time Clay came out in his pajamas a few minutes later, Greyson held but shreds of cotton in his hands and neither those twenty minutes together nor after did he mention the attack, and she was asleep when he returned to his bedroom and he moved nearly weightlessly to lie some inches beside her, where he watched forms coagulate upon the ceiling in the crepuscular hour before dawn and, awash in an undirected pity, he pulled her close, heard by her breath that she was awake, and swiftly fell asleep to dream of passing through frenetic crowds of aqueous, burningly cold bodies.

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everflight

i’m getting used to getting used to —

never getting uesd to —

everflight —

butterflying stomach — stomach, lead the way!

o never getting to get used to —

o never getting used to never getting used to —

everinvasion of getting

getting into

(& getting)

used to’s to’ing —

too too too too too too too too

too too too too too too too too too too too too

too tootoo tootoo tootootoo too too too used to.

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ELEGY FOR ANALOG T.V. [12:45 p.m.: 6/12/09]

Never again will I hear the crackling of a crossed signal, cutting a weather girl in half with a bolt of static and then resurrecting her in calcium-crisp color. From the Ionoscope and the Image Dissector a great lineage had been born, come to end, like them all, I know.  The ghosts that once populated its cathode screen now simply black-outs or disintegrative pixels, the movement across channels no longer instantaneous; the spastic suction of the vacuum becomes a slow, padded glide, as if across linoleum.  I sat in my underwear, drinking a can of Schlitz, scanning for signs of life after 12:30 E.S.T.  They’d been dropping like flies all morning.  I thought about the 70’s kodochromatic with its mustard gas aura, I thought about how I will never see that fuzzy holograph of flesh so well replicated again.  It mattered not all those who had deserted me before; that I deserved.  But this, this phantom friend whose body had been as real as mine—hard really to believe it was The End.  I was lighting a cigarette, my eyes closed, and I heard it, I didn’t see it. I heard the explosion, and then saw only the entropic madness of the lost signal, screeching at me in some horrible death rattle.  I clutched Prof.Higgins, my Honduran Iguana, and screamed too. We are overrun by endless divisions of binary integers.  We are lost to the crystalline flatness of their empty political slogans.  We now search for the epiphenomena, the second skin that hangs over analogue world, in vain.  Only its essential features have been preserved and algorithmically condensed; the excess is banished to a spectral limbo between bandwidths.  Channel 3 has a message, it says: “Goodbye!”  It’s on for two minutes after 12:30, and then it too explodes and disappears into the static maw.  I scan the channels one last time.  Finally in the 60s I discover the Spanish Channel is still broadcasting.  It is a telenovela, with the soft, waxen hue of a video-tape; that perfection of the analogue image.  They are in a hospital.  A woman is crying about her baby. Several people surround her; one of them is dressed like Zorro.  I am not sure if the baby is hers and they are trying to steal it from her or if it’s the other way around.  My iguana wriggles from my grasps and runs away.  I crawl toward the television.  I touch the screen. My hand is bleeding from rubbing Prof.Higgins too hard.  The woman fakes left around Zorro, and looks back one last time. She tosses the baby to him and then jumps out the window.

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MISS PIGGY P.2

        It took him an hour to walk home.  It was a warm, foggy night, yet the sky was strangely clear, with a small flock of purple clouds moving westward.  As Milo fumbled his keys outside the arboretum gate he detected some peripheral movement.  He spun around, key readied to gouge out the assailant’s eyes.  But there was no one behind him, only the HV/AC van which he had first noticed in the last week or so.  He stared at it for long time but could see nothing through its tinted windows. Finally he turned back around and pretended to fumble with his keys again.  Milo then did a quick double take and looked back at the van. The periscope had changed position. 

For some reason he became filled with rage, an intense absolutely guttural ferocity which sent him catapulting toward the van screaming about privacy rights.  The periscope suddenly retracted into the hood and the van reversed at about 6,000rpms, disappearing down the block.  Milo spent the next few days attempting to catch the van by surprise, but it never returned.

A week later, he was readying himself for work when he gave his telescope a quick glance, as Venus was rising in the evening sky.  Leaning out his back window to position the telescope, he noticed a bright reflective light catch its lens.  Next to the carriage house Milo spied someone wearing what looked like a biohazard suit, with a silver oval helmet and a dark rectangular strip for vision; almost like a Russian cosmonaut.   The person was about two hundred yards away, rolling a barrel very slowly into the bamboo thicket attached to the back of the property.  Mr.Gesto’s truck was nowhere to be seen, and Milo did not have a phone. The cosmonaut soon vanished with the disintegration of light.

 The next day his pills disappeared and Milo found the coaxial cable. He began to grow desperate, thinking he was suffering a nervous collapse.  Though the television supposition was beginning to sound more plausible, Milo was still undecided.  His behavior, such as the whole shitting in a bucket thing, seemed to suggest some mental imbalance, but the coaxial cable was no product of his imagination, so it was really a toss-up.  Milo spent days tearing his apartment inside out, looking in every crevice and cranny imaginable, but there was no other sign of surveillance. To be safe, he started planning elaborate booby-traps to protect him while he was at work, and he even covered his walls in felt after reading on Wikipedia that infra-red couldn’t penetrate it.

Then he talked to Mr.Gesto and received confirmation that was someone indeed watching the house.  In fact, he saw the cosmonaut again that same evening.  Milo was in such a rush to catch him that he tripped over his bucket and slid right into a sharp corner of his desk, suffering a bad blow to his groin that made him double over onto the floor.  And as he rolled about in his own filth, writhing in agony, he was now absolutely certain, more than anything he had ever been certain about, that someone, somewhere, was watching him, and that was all that mattered in matter anymore.

Milo then became consumed by a lingering, gangrenous dread that multiplied in surface-area and stench by the day.  It got to the point where he would spend hours, eyes glazed, watching only Gems-TV.  It was hypnotic and deliriously punishing, an endless stream of 18K tanzanite rings, Pink tourmaline lockets, pairs of mystic topaz googly-eye earrings. The prices would drop so dramatically; he would try and predict how low they would go, as the steady pulse of a Casio keyboard yawned in the background and a woman with a thick Chicago accent flailed her arms and squeezed her mouth into the pouty O of a sex doll at each reduction.  And he would also sob, recalling his research for Mabel’s ring, whenever they showed a 2ct. VVS1 G with an ideal cut.   

For Milo could no longer articulate, put thoughts together, remember what he had learnt or done; it was all a haze, an electric cloud that hounded him as he paced in amplifying feedback loops of panic and nausea, ideating various suicide scenarios but still plagued by the horror that he could not escape, neither in life nor in death, whatever this monstrous thing was, this thing that should not be here but could not not be here. And as the days wore on, and he simply masturbated and drank and wrote nothing, he became resigned to this end.

Yet suicide itself is a tricky thing.  He didn’t want to jump, too much splatter and intestines and he most certainly didn’t like the idea of his intestines being exposed.  A gun also displeased him, as it involved the splattering of brains, another thing he didn’t want just hanging out all over the place. And if he did it in the apartment, he would decompose before someone found him. It’s the ultimate humiliation, death, what a pathetic stinking mass of putrescence one becomes, for all the world to see; to be dressed up like some puppet and displayed, without any power or say in the matter; it was horrifying, disgusting, and Milo could not stand it. He wanted to throw himself to sharks or die of exposure on some Antarctic tundra where he would never be found.

And so he found himself doing Clov’s two step shuffle in and out of the fall-out shelter, lying on his couch and wallowing in regret, watching a sapphire charm bracelet w/18k white gold band spin in a halo of cathode rays.  He would conjure cinematic visions of a white wrap-around porch, upon which a young child sits, watching Milo split logs as he tosses a stick to their husky named Searchlight.  A shock of golden trees recedes into the electrocardiographic zigzag of a mountain range, put in relief by the halcyon sky of autumn at dusk, the whole image like a giant replica of Charlie Brown’s t-shirt.  And he would carry the logs into their kitchen and start a fire on the old stovepipe.  Mabel would put the baby to sleep and join him, Milo wrapping his arms around her waist as they knead dough, their hands interlocking and moving in a viscous cadence, in some Reynolds Number of amorous locomotion, and it would be like that scene in Ghost, except without the whole inter-dimensional sex thing. 

Milo had been with Mabel over four years. He had just come back to the city after the last of a long a streak of institutionalizations.  Having been first sent to a rehab at the impressionable age of eighteen probably did him more harm than good, after a fellow patient, recounting his abuse history during an art therapy workshop, explained how one synthesized Killer B.  Killer B was a delicately proportioned mixture of Buprenorphine, Bumblebee Stingers, Baking Soda, and Benzphetamine (an anti-obesity drug which causes intense hallucinations).   It was in some ways a seasonal drug, due to the need for bumblebees, whose juices would be extracted with a syringe and then heated to 550f with about 1000mg equal parts buprenorphine and benzphetamine, before finally adding the 2400mg of baking soda in four-hour increments over four days; ‘fermentation’ as the lingo went.  It was then smoked in its gel form, best in a glass rose stem as one would crack-cocaine.

Milo soon left the rehab with some fellow patients and lived in a squat house with a group of ‘friends’ who raised the bees and attempted to breed more potent hybrids with their South American cousins.  Conversations in junkie circles became increasingly oriented toward the proper breeding and keeping of bumblebees, the taxonomic differences between bumblebees, recollecting various times when you were doing Killer B with bumblebees nearby, etc. All this Killer B business of course attracted the attention of various government agencies, worried about everything from crime spikes to some ecological disaster from a new invasive species.  Soon enough it was the hippest drug of choice in rehab, as the alpha pack of these institutions was decided by degrees of suffering and degradation.  Not long after came the memoirs and celebrity sponsors until finally some Johnny-come-lately called Dirty Brown, a concoction it seems of dung beetle pincers and black tar heroin, usurped its throne and installed itself as the chic affliction of the late Aughts.

Mabel helped him break this regressive cycle. They met in the throes of their twenty-something indecision and malaise.  Soon enough they became each other’s anesthetic to false expectations of conquering the world. She was a beautiful and fiery woman, not to be fucked with, raven hair and eyes which could only be described as planetary blue. The first few years were that sort of dueling musical chairs of who was going to screw who first until they realized that neither of them had given much thought to the matter in a long time and they were actually getting on rather well.  They moved to the country to go school, and led a quiet little life as hermits, curled on each other’s laps reading fireside, the cat asleep on the rug, soft rain a percussive staccato on the skylights above. 

But Milo’s doctoral thesis idea fell apart during the first year of his program after someone pointed out that it had already been the subject of a 2005 documentary called the Century of the Self.  It was like, literally the same story arc, subject matter, and theoretical constructions. He began to grow bitter, as Mabel finished her degree and he, having quit, did nothing; years starting to whittle away as he drove about the neighboring fields in their lawn mower, loaded with bourbon and shooting haphazardly at buzzards with a rusty 36 gauge.  He turned antisocial and inward, wanting only the solitude of his quiet struggles, the little vicious homunculi that swarmed about his mind.    

He began visiting a prostitute who allowed him to enact his predilections at $100+/hr.  Milo had an erotic fixation involving the transmogrification of people into base and disgusting animals.  The ideal vessel of its expression had been a Miss Piggy puppet he had had since a mere tot.  By middle school he was masturbating himself with the puppet, imagining he had captured and transformed his seventh grade crush Becky into his muppet sex slave.  Eventually it crystallized into a fantasy of a digestively-capable puppet, a large pig puppet, alive enough to evacuate all those nasty intestinal rudiments which had become so embarrassing since the invention of plumbing.  Yet he had no desire to enact such grotesqueries with his lovers, as their willingness to participate would negate the whole point anyway. Milo also believed himself uniquely afflicted by this fantasy and felt, with some melodramatic fatalism, that telling anyone would just lead to disaster.  At least the anonymity of the prostitute allowed him some medium of release; though she was willing, it was a cold, paid, pseudo-willingness.

But then there would be the point that came afterward, the slackening and the deflation and warped reentrance of the world resolving into a jaundiced strip of light upon an empty mask.  And this other creature, now repulsive, laughing at his sad sniveling little sack of meat, his hand trembling and still clenched about the withered member, tiny opaque drops of the germinal stew hardening, this stew of shit and blood from whence he once had recombinated and in a violent contortion emerged—here they were, ebbing to and fro in a random walk of memories, a flock of vultures circling in the pale rakish light of a winter afternoon.

Milo then would go home to Mabel, and lay with her on the couch, and feel not a flinch of remorse for his actions; only the empty drain of that comes after such indulgences, the amnesia and  compartmentalization and cotton-mouthed aftertaste of how terribly foolish and absurd the whole thing was.

 

On the day Milo died he had tried to phone out from work, but only had one quarter and didn’t hang up in time to for the answering machine cut-off.  He needed to use payphones because he stopped paying his phone bill. A green charity had been withdrawing from a bank account he had forgotten to close and by the end of the fiscal year Milo owed nearly five hundred dollars in compounded overdraft fees, which he could ill afford on his $60 per diem salary.  He had only signed up for the charity out of guilt, accosted at a lonely red light by a chubby young woman wearing a particularly garish orange keffiyeh.  Now his penance had cost him tenfold and he was too paranoid to answer his phone.  He had already ceased returning the calls of various friends, relatives, former lovers, etc., so it was not as if he had use for the thing anymore.

Milo returned home, planning to masturbate in his closet and then get really high and watch some Gems TV.  But he could not find his Miss Piggy mask.  And it was always on his bed; always.

“You bastards!” He shrieked, shaking his fist in a Hitlerian manner and ranting for a while about contemporary society’s voyeuristic sickness.  Finally Milo swallowed a few Percocets and lay down on his bed, wondering what they had done with the mask.  And then it came to him.  He would kill himself—today. It was an absolute necessity, and no appeal to reason could persuade the bloodthirsty tribunal of his mind. He would spite the bastards, and they would ensure his body was found before it rotted.

And as he lay there in bed, regarding the raw afternoon sunlight refract through a murky Gatorade bottle that contained his piss, he felt OK.  Mabel, his parents, the many fragments of his life reduced to photos in an old shoebox which he could no longer find the courage to open—all these things became so very trivial. Not superficial, rather the most profound and beautiful triviality he could imagine, like the absurd possibility of him lying there, on something one called a bed, the detritus of stellar fusions and organic excretions alike, regarding the sublime wonder that was his own urine.

It was all played out now—a pantomime of a farce of a tragedy, as his memory directed a repetitious future, oscillating between crystallography and catalysis.  The smell of spring, its adrenal fever mixing with the sickly sweet scent of Killer B, down in the overgrown wastelands by the refineries, the warm breeze and the feeling of invincibility and destiny, the wheels in the sky, gears pushing a celestial machine, those panoramas wherein the camera is located bird’s eye, spinning,  and joins together all life’s indiscernible, subterranean events into an ideal congruence, a contraction of the world to a singular node of long soft hair, of burnt bumblebees, of freshly cut grass and honey suckle…               

 

Milo researched how to tie a noose on Wikipedia, but was delayed at Home Depot buying the rope and missed the sunset in the process.  He decided to do it during the threshold point of dawn, in the embryonic glow of the still buried sun.  He ate a great deal of pills and sat in a chair sipping scotch, listening to various nostalgic songs and growing indifferent to the whole affair. 

At around 5 a.m. he stood up and ambled over to his telescope, repositioning it at the window facing the street.  Through the bare, arthritic limbs of the trees he saw a fuzzy white blob which soon resolved into the HV/AC van.  They had returned. It was time.

Milo picked up his desk chair and slung the rope over his shoulder.  He then realized he had given no thought as to how he would hang himself—there were no overhead light fixtures or rafters in his apartment.  Milo then remembered that he bought an iron gym pull-up bar a while back.  The contraption was still in the box, so he sat down and drunkenly began to fumble with various bolts and levers, becoming increasingly frantic as dawn’s approach grew imminent.             

Suddenly, he heard the most horrendous, guttural shriek imaginable, an absolutely inhuman banshee-like squeal.  Two more screams followed in quick succession, and then nothing.  Milo peered out his back window and saw the faint glimmer a reflective suit vanishing behind the carriage house.  And through his foggy and impaired state the brilliant light of epiphany shone—this was it—this was the climax, this was what the evil bastards had been setting up from the start—the great test of his character, come down to this moment—or was it? Was it? Of course, it had to be, what else?

            Milo grabbed his biggest steak knife and sprinted down the stairs and across the lawn, his robe flying open like a cape, his hair wild, brandishing the knife high above his head and hollering as he kicked open the door.  But inside it was empty; just an abandoned dusty room.  There was an awful stench, like vinegar and sulphur, which made it so difficult to breathe Milo had to cover his mouth with his shirt.  And then he detected a thin sliver of light in the far corner—a door leading to the basement.

Milo gagged as he descended the stairs, and upon arrival vomited. Animal masks and barrels of some noxious acidic liquid lined the walls.  In the middle of the room was a large, rectangular pit filled with the same yellow-green liquid.  Inside, half-submerged, was what appeared to be the body of a young woman.  Her skin was almost entirely scalded off, and it took him a long time to realize that strapped upon her slumped head was his Miss Piggy mask.  Milo recoiled— it was all so disturbingly real—the scene was the exact incarnation of his fantasy…

 

For years Milo had never even given a thought to Mabel’s locked chest, until that one restless night he opened it, while she was away, in some sudden compulsion that came from without.   He soon found himself sifting through a giant stack of letters and journals and photographs, full of past lovers, cities he had never been to, people he would never meet.  His own name rarely showed up, and only in the most innocuous of ways: “Milo dropped me off at work,” “Milo away for the weekend,” etc. 

 And then, buried at the bottom, he found it. An entry that looked like it had been written left-handed as if for a therapeutic exercise.  It was a long, anxious account of her fixation on dressing rooms, specifically her urge to get-off in them, and preferably with cameras.  She would lay the article of clothing down, straddle the bench, and then bring herself to climax.  It was the only way it worked, and she was becoming more obsessed with time, going in between classes, finding excuses to go shopping five, six times a week. She eventually caught the eye of a security guard leaving a dressing room, and he gave her a knowing look that made her go right back in and do it again.  Now she always went to Bloomingdales to put on a show for him.

The blow to his ego was incomparable.  It was like he had been living with a total stranger who regarded him as the same.  And it was in that moment of greatest distance from her, of greatest unrecognition, that he suddenly loved her more than anything he had ever loved, and he knew her like he knew himself.  The next day he paced about for hours, in anticipation of what he would say, and when she finally came home he just laid it all out there—the prostitute visits and miss piggy and his many doubts and sins and how he was going through the same thing as her, and that it was OK, and never would they feel closer and love more unconditionally now that all veils had fallen away. 

But Mabel had just stared at him for a long time, quietly crying. 

“You’ve ruined it,” she finally said, shaking her head.  “We were fine. I didn’t want to know that.  Why would I want to know that?  And why would I want to tell you that?

“Because,” Milo said, rushing up and grabbing her by the shoulders.   “Because, we’ve spent our entire lives, entire fucking lives carrying all this bullshit around and thinking no one would ever understand and blah blah, but here we are!  Don’t you see?” Milo pleaded, lifting up her chin and looking hard into her eyes. 

Mabel turned away. 

“I finally did it,” he continued. “For the first time I was really honest with someone.  For so long I thought I would never be able to tell anyone about anything I’ve done, that I would always live fucking over everyone and—”   

“I don’t I want to be honest!” Mabel screamed. “Don’t you understand?  Love is not about honesty— it’s a fucking lie, that’s the point! It makes you indifferent about the actual truth of the matter!” 

Mabel bowed her head and drew in a deep breath.

“I needed my secrets.  They were mine, and only mine, you asshole.”

And then sitting down she whispered,

“I…I can’t even look at you. I can’t even look at myself…”

“I don’t understand,” Milo mumbled, as a nauseous feeling of irreparability suddenly washed over him…

.  

 

Milo took a hesitant step toward the pit, waving his hands haphazardly in front of him, his eyes burning and steam obscuring his vision.

Suddenly, he heard the door open.

“Oh Thank God,” Milo exhaled, and running back toward the stairs and fixing his hair.

But no camera crew, no R.T.V. host, no close relatives or old lovers greeted him from the top. There, in the cosmonaut suit, stood Mr.Gesto.

Milo stumbled backward and fell, and for a long time neither of them moved; they just stared at each other, without even blinking. Finally Mr.Gesto took a slow and deliberate step.

 

And Milo remembered a long time ago, when in the haze of a manic binge he had come to in the wastelands by the refinery, and the air was perfect, a mixture of fresh dough and kerosene.  A thousand points of light converged and diverged in parabolas of storage tanks, synthetic constellations in a safety orange sky.  And the sky was darkening, or maybe brightening, with one bloody gash low on the horizon. Where he had come from Milo did not know, nor did he know where he would go next. He was alone, in an uncharted estuary of time, and he had lost all sense of coordinate, or even the sense of what ‘coordinate’ was.

And Milo could not tell if it was going to be dark for a long time to come, or if the sun was struggling to emerge from that infinitesimal fracture in the sky.

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