those who wish to believe in romance, first there are the bunched ermine
and vermilion roses. Asymmetrically bent, thorns prick along their stems
like sutures that have not yet been surgically removed. Is the sexual too
overt here? Color and scent jazz along the jasmine. Nick Avona loves Yuki.
He simply doesn’t know which sex Yuki is, was, or was going to become. Instead,
he thought he would learn all this by watching a cartoon. He didn’t learn
much about Yuki, but he sure did about plankton.
His mouth would gape in ovals and opals as he imitated the voices on the screen. Slowly Nick was learning English. Words formed a relay in the ricochet chamber, and the onion of memory unpeeled as if at its bitter center would be found the hollow halo of the soul. And then he relocated to the Learning Channel. Which theoretical mathematician first posited the inane idea of a geometrical infinity? It was false, Nick thought, surfing back among the balloons. Everything is tinged all about with the rust of finality. Anyone dealing in flowers could tell you that. Eternity is bounded by timeless time. Those colorful blue and yellow ribbons tie in a double helix around the blood apple, pumping puny art with the arteries clogged.
Nick steps outside the freezer. One day his simplified English will catch up with his naive, erroneous philosophizing, and the universe will collapse into a toilet “Which way to airport? Which way to taxi?” Nick repeats the lesson, adding “Which way to police station? Which way to emergency room? Which way to Allah?” It’s hard to balance on parallel lines down the middle of a highway, late at night, with the oncoming headlights from trucks, as the cop runs his sobriety test on you. Parallel lines, by definition, cannot meet, yet they do, Nick knows, at the moment where lips pack and violate all the boundaries of identity. Only a marine biologist could become porous as a sponge. Here in cartoonland, nothing really dies. Mollusks transform into butterfly jellies, crabs deep-fry parts of their own bodies for burgers, snails become pregnant targets for submarine warfare, and life is happy, happy, happy, way too happy. Nick just cannot wipe that grin off his face.
Yuki lives in another cartoon and they are separated by commercials. Yuki represents the Asian portion of this story. Her balloon head and balloon torso have been flattened out, till she is a bloated inkblot, sometimes purple, sometimes orange. Her stick feet are incapable of kung-fu, yet she is the darling of conceptual art. It was her calligraphy that launched her career. It found a market among the overseas Chinese who recognized her signature from those exquisite peach blossoms scattered beside the ornate snarl of dragon’s gold. Now she collects her nail clippings, snippets of her pubic hair, and sells them as if they were reliquaries of a medieval Saint. The other ink blots, her friends, soak in the blotter of praise for her name. Those are Nick’s competition—slackers from the art school.
He tweaks the flowers. Nature may have its own lovely wild, but to hook the prom moms, Nick must arrange the frozen repertoire so colors assent to die in scent. Cans of spray paint perch on storage shelves in the back. Nick has hidden water balloons in the closet. Guppies swim inside their eyes. Miniature golden castles await their limited life expectancy. Nick has discovered that his cartoon characters have their lip-sync out of whack. The experience of learning English this way has taught him ventriloquism, a very useful gift for dealing with obnoxious customers.
If she came into the shop, he could give her a packet of snail droppings as costly as Elephant’s Horn is in China. She would become so translucent, of course, that he could see the traffic outside directly through her body. Nick Avona would invite her to Iran, where they could search mass graves for his ancestors who didn’t get away. He would wear her over his eyes like a pair of azure-tinted sunglasses, and together they would spell out the Arabic script on each memorial stone. What else is love, Nick marvels, than reading history through each other’s bodies?
Yuki doesn’t know what she’s missing. The missing never know what they’re missing. But she operates in a different time slot, sandwiched between China and the United States, and with a different sponsor, the federally funded arts commission. Her work is always at risk a calculated puzzle, so that, when solved, it should change the way people look at each other and at the world. Yuki suffers from jet lag. She sees everything double, which had led to her use of holograms. If this is a symbol, there is a double hiding behind this symbol, and it doubles for another symbol, until everything empties of meaning. Behind the thing itself hovers its ghostly antithesis.
Nick is certain any one of his floral arrangements could hide a bomb. He roots among the shrubbery and fronds for land mines of insects and beetles. He has seen a wily coyote get back up from a hundred foot fall, so American animals must be tough and resilient. Every once in a while, he notices video of his homeland on the all-news channel. He still has not mastered its ability of speaking in tongues: one voice, the anchor; the other voice, the subtitles for a different story running underneath. No wonder Americans need their cartoons.
Yuki has never thought of herself as a cartoon, limited to any one gender. Folding herself in half, she could pout off, pure kitsch, a monarch of the air, or cushion up a powder puff after shaking out the rouge. She has had to learn to be duplicitous in order to get into men’s locker rooms after a game. Is that sweat the same as in board rooms where executives meet to keep more of their own money? She has begun her collection of male sweat in canning jars. This is something not quite herself which is here becoming herself.
She needs a sponge bath, Nick is certain. She needs to discover the sponge and make it integral to her art, as he would be to her heart. The sponge absorbs whatever overflows the pot. Perhaps he has fallen into a commercial on flatulence. If so, his is but a time-shared splice away from Yuki. He has already sent her several anonymous packages of sponges, which she has mistaken for product placements. She left them on the patio to bake in the sun, to bleach their original dye into the cement. The groupies surround her installation art and speculate on its deep, philosophical meaning. First rule, she has discovered, is to keep them guessing.
Do plants sweat? Is it poisonous to eat the broken filaments of a light bulb that like a charmed idea has burnt out? Would someone suck the venom from my lips? These are her central questions. She expects no answers from anybody other than herself. She has been blinded by sollipicism. Which way to universe? Which way to beloved? These are his central questions. He expects his answers from television. After all, cereals provide great roughage but deadly mulch.
Yuki has had to become the embodiment of her own art. The audience no longer cares to make of what they see anything other than what she claims she intended. She is always there to chaperone. Can any of this be about something other than art? She is sick of the subject. Yuki is herself an installation of life. She needs to crawl out of her space. There is a florist’s shop across the street. She decides to risk it. Suicide bombers could be anywhere, but she decides to cross over. She has money enough to surf networks.
In ermine and vermilion, she channel surfs, bleaching colors as she drags through into another show, until—splat! And now time, as it is subjectively experienced, shits into video slow-mo. The irreality tears up as she bounces from the hood of one truck to another, a weather balloon high on helium seeking another cortisone shot. She is waffling into a two sided coin: Caesar on the one side, coyote on the other. In this bipolar toss, she spins like a frisbee slicing twilight along its throat. She punches a hole in the airplane and is sucked outside. As she hits the ground, she becomes splatter art. Nick reaches over and peels her up off the roadway.
When he holds her up to the screen, everything turns one color, and he blunders blindly through an emulsion of shapes. Nick scuttles through the shop, groping for a bicycle pump to blow Yuki back up. Unexpectedly, the room is filled with harem music on a tune by Sinatra. Lights dim, and the psychopaths come in. They have been enraptured by the opium and the mullah into a frenzy of slaughter. Scimitars spin, swirl, and slice whatever comes within range. The ecstatics rave.
There is no happy ending. There are only moments of waiting, between the slaughtering of the beasts and the feeding of the masses. Evanescent acetate molts to gue and goes up in flames. Yukki and Nick twist and turn in the smoke, and for a moment cross frames. Love collapses into a dark star. It has happened; they have violated each other’s borders. Demagnetization sets in and all their pixels fall out. To be one with the other, they frag one on one, fade, and become the one with, the one without.