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.