o what if the hole in the floor is my fault? I’m the one who has to fix it. And the hole in the wall, the corner snapped off the counter in the kitchen, the broken tiles in the bathroom, my bed frame, the bar in the closet, the doorbell thing in the hall, the sheets on the bed—I was tired of them anyway—and the mantel over the fireplace, though I don’t know where I’m going to get the marble or how to install it, that was all me and anyone who wants a little breakage of their own can say something about it.
Yeah, let me show you what a short sledge in each fist can do. Because, see, I don’t have asthma after all. Not a bit of it. I never believed it, but now I know for a fact, for certain, for real. No asthma. Perfect lungs, optimal capacity, pink and glorious. I’ve always said asthma was a psychological condition, real enough physical manifestations, sure, but just not what I had. Any number of problems, pick a number between 6 and 10 and I’ll sing you stanzas about what’s been wrong with me, but I’m not going to sing you asthma, wouldn’t have even when it was in someone else’s list of what’s wrong with me.
That list right now, just make it single item: my hands, blisters all over the palms—were blisters, anyway, all broken now, so my list is all about the open weeping sores on my hands. Show you what a sledge in each hand does to those hands.
Under the floor: old tools, receipts.
In the wall: empty Coke can, old style.
Behind the tiles: drywall. Not wallboard, like it’s supposed to be, but drywall. That should probably be replaced. I don’t know if I’m up to it.
The doorbell didn’t work anyway, hooked up to nothing, vestigial, the house’s tonsils.
You rent to make breakage, the repairing anyway, someone else’s responsibilty, but if you want your deposit back, you don’t do the breaking. And if you do do the breaking, you don’t cop to it; if you’re not going to cop to it, but you’re going to call then you definitely don’t go on scale like this. My only hope is that Home Depot’s next five or six weekends address my damage.
She wasn’t even spontaneous about it. I wasn’t spontaneous about it; had I planned it any further, I would have checked the schedule when I was at Home Depot, buying those hammers, and destructed accordingly. I can’t claim it to that degree, so I won’t, but hindsight, yeah, I should have written it down.
Nothing in the countertop. Just a broken edge. Get a grinder and I can probably round it out and play stupid if they notice. It’s a clean break, a good forty-five, was a hazard anyway, break if you leaned on it… or took a hammer to it. That one, we’ll call it an improvement. And for the record, hammers do nothing to sheets but get them dirty. Dirtier if you’ve used the same hammers to demolish the house before attacking the bed.
You want to destroy something else? Like maybe your brand-new just-starting relationship? You don’t even need hammers. That’s simple. She just has an asthma attack and goes into cardiac arrest the first time she has sex with that Stephen guy. That’s what I’d do anyway, that’s what I did. Okay, maybe that’s not enough, but it is. Don’t even have to try it yourself, you can just take my word on it and trust me that it is. Is, if you end up not having asthma, even if you knew all along you didn’t have it.
And it was good, too. Was. Focus and point at the word. The past tense, inviolate and irreversible. Locking and twisting, something going right in a way I didn’t expect, everything tingling, fingers, toes, nose, kneecaps—kneecaps even—and didn’t matter who was doing what right, me or him, the fact was it was, and there’s light and colors and everything’s right until she passes out. I passed out. Stephen, trooper, he knows he’s got it going on, he knows he’s doing something, keeps going: tilt the hips, thrust, meet, hips back to position one, repeat… until I start to fibrillate. I wasn’t there so I don’t know how he knew but he knew and trained in the arts he started up with the breaths after checking my airway and clearing the passages of inconveniences like tongues—tilt the head, no, don’t tilt the head, just keep it straight, support the neck, then some quick breaths. It’s going great, all by the book, then compressions.
Compression one and my skin goes green with sick fire and nails, subdermal nausea, and I’m back, shot straight up at the hips in screaming resurrection, me, Frankenstein off the table, both my fists gripping his wrists, those wrists bleeding from eight cuts I just gave him. I’m breathing big, crisis over, except that I’m throwing up, curled to sitting and all over him, all over me, sitting here not letting go of his wrists and I have time to wonder if my vomit on those cuts hurts him at all. He doesn’t care about that, not yet. He’s just glad I’m awake, that I’m not dead, that he got to be my hero. And sure, thanks hero. Thanks Stephen. I don’t know yet if I’m grateful. I’m not. She might be, but I’m not.
She’ll be pragmatic. That’s what she’s there for. She’s even a little curious. Me, I’m not curious at all. Not anymore anyway, now that I know what’s under the floor, in the walls, what’s not in my sheets.
The sheets long strips now, the fury gone, I worked slow and wherever there was a flower at the edge, that’s where I bit and tore, furrowing the faded blooms right along the grain. I might do something with them, later, but right now they’re just a pile on the blanket, bandages ready for my garden tea party massacre.
Sitting on the floor, my left ankle under my ass, right leg out with the knee almost crossed over, it's a position for capris, and calves and black strappy flats. Instead I'm barefoot in cutoffs, and it's probably time to throw these shorts away, and I can see my underwear and cannot understand why I chose to wear these ones. And I know the quick answer to the problem is Don't sit like that, but see, I want to sit like this, so the true answer is to wear something else.
In the hospital two days. Two days to tell me I don’t have and never had asthma. Pink and pink and perfect lungs. I’m starting smoking today. They say—they meaning, of course They meaning I heard it somewhere but don’t quote me on it and I’m not going to go looking it up today, not today but if it seems necessary, like if it doesn’t work then maybe I’ll go find out the specifics and the yes or no of it—they say it makes guys impotent if they smoke a whole bunch. I don’t know if I believe it. The first time I saw Stephen without a cigarette was three seconds before we fucked. Almost fucked. I guess we did, just truncated, like fu— or like fucking, just perpetually locked there and broken away with no resolution, forever bent-kneed and going somewhere but broken down on the side now, in transit and no hope of getting there, getting anywhere. The half-smoked pre-fu— cigarette a twirling arc across the room, looped contrail describing purpose, smoldering in the sink even after I came back. Now the porcelain’s burned and stained yellow, so that’s my ashtray. They didn’t have any at Circle K, didn’t have a bottle opener, so I had to go with screw-top something in green bottles. The pills, too, they’re supposed to fuck with the libido, supposed to keep a guy from getting hard while also moderating his mood. Moods? Something. Shave the plural and moderate the one, probably. They gave her those too, but I can’t say what they do, I haven’t taken any. Palmed the one in the hospital and they didn’t check, no reason to think I wasn’t as interested as they were.
First cigarette. Time to learn. I splurged, bought a Zippo. High-class one, too. There’s a girl in a bikini on it and when you hold her, when you touch her breasts, her bikini goes away, the bottom too, but that’s really just a line, a line with supposed meaning, an indication of a bikini bottom, nothing to see. Light it and let it sit, let it heat, she takes it off then too. I’ll call her Miranda. Never out loud, though. And watch how I don’t refer to her again. She’s written out. Off you go, girl. You’re edited.
The story: She was a twin, once. No. I was a twin. She was. Me.
Filtered Spirits, the yellow ones and the blue ones. The brown Spirits too, without the filters. Start small and scale up. I think I’m going to like smoking. You’re not supposed to smoke with asthma, you know. But I don’t have it.
Flick. That’s the Zippo. It doesn’t light. Four tries and a mild abrasion on my thumb from a precision-machined wheel and I’m lit. The phone rings while I’m flicking and my answering machine tells me it’s my mom, Pick up honey. My mom. You shouldn’t be alone right now.
Don’t. It’s not like someone died.
In utero, in some state just past blastocyst, my brother and I, we fought for space, and I absorbed him. It happens all the time, there's nothing weird about that. I was always told it was asthma, they said it was asthma—no tests or anything, just the symptoms, simple and me symptomatic so what’s to test?—but no, not that: there's a set of fully formed genitalia, penis and testes, between my lungs, near my spine. The doctor showed me pictures. I have a dick in my chest. I have my brother's dick in my chest, and one day he's going to fuck my heart and then I will die. Her brother will fuck her heart and then she will die.
No. I won. My penis. One day I will fuck my own heart and then I will die.
My cell phone vibrates my pocket. The screen says it’s Stephen. His number, not his name—I hadn’t even programmed in the name, not that I hadn’t had time, but I was being careful, waiting. I’d program it if his was a name I wanted to see. To respond to. And it’s not. He was there, at the hospital, by the bed, waiting, playing the family part, I’m her boyfriend. Liar. He wasn’t there when they let me out.
My cell phone beeps and vibrates my hand. It says I missed a call. I know. The phone says I have a message. The message says, Hey, it’s Stephen. Heard you got out, wanted to see how you are, if you need anything. But I’m pretty self-sufficient now, aren’t I? You tell me to fuck myself and it really means something, doesn’t it?
I say to the phone, Hey, yeah, it’s Sheila. I’m great. Just hanging out with my brother. You wanna meet him? And I don’t like my joke. Probably what I would have said if I dialed, and I’m going to bet Stephen wouldn’t like the joke either. I’m going to bet that Stephen was betting that I wasn’t going to answer, or he wouldn’t have called. I wouldn’t have called. I haven’t called. I’m not even talking to me right now. I’m not talking to me, not talking to her, not talking to him. Not talking to him because there is no him. Me, only me, and I’m not talking to myself now.
I forgot to smoke my cigarette. Now the floor’s burned too. Try again. I’m not supposed to smoke in the house, I signed a paper to that effect. Nothing in the contract about two-fisted sledging, but I’m going to assume that was implied, the kind of thing you don’t need explicitly stated. I did explicitly agree to take care of the plants. And the paint. I’m free to paint however I want, but the owner reserves the right to make me paint it back before I vacate if he doesn’t approve of what I did. My deposit doesn’t cover the cost of painting, so I’ve agreed to the possibility that I’ll have to re-paint. I like painting, so I didn’t mind. I haven’t painted yet. Probably I’ll have to now, with the hole in the wall and everything.
Another cigarette. I’ll smoke it this time. I mean it.
The phone, and it’s my dad. They only know I was in the hospital. They think it was asthma. Just keep saying the word. Give it meaning, shape it and make it sing the song you want to hear.
I didn’t sign the form that said they could write a paper about me, that said they could study me, that they could release any information, no matter what a boon to science I’d be. Because I’m not a boon to science. I’m somebody’s publication, but I’m aberrant, I’m abnormal, I am wholly not reproducible. The whole fucking world the control group in the billion-blind study of me.
The important question, of course, is did he get hard for me or Stephen? Did I get hard for me or Stephen? She got hard for somebody. Who was she fucking?
The cigarette goes out in the shower. My fault. I grabbed it with my wet hand and wicked up to the coal—the burning part, the cherry. The cherry. Stupid word for it. Put it out. I smashed the tiles under the head, at the base of the shaft on the wall. Because I’m obvious like that. Tiles on a web and laid all at once, some of the web still there, adhesive, and a dent right in the center where there’s no tiles anymore, just drywall and broken web. The water doesn’t hit it, dripping and spraying away, bouncing off me, but down. My wet hands to the wall, making a paste. Cup the water and pour and peel the web away, let it soak and peel more. The grout’s old and doesn’t resist, I’ve got strings of little one-inch tiles dangling to the spout in the tub. The wall’s soft now. I push a finger through and there’s nothing behind, not there. Probably pipes but I can’t feel them. One hole’s enough. I don’t want to know what’s back there. I wonder if they even make that tile anymore. Home Depot will have something. They’re magic. They’ll fix everything. They will tell me how to fix everything. I don’t need them for this, though. I know tile. I am the mistress and master of tile. I’ll fix this on the weekends when they don’t help me with the other things.
Two more messages on the machine. Both Dr. Scott. He wants me to come in tomorrow. Dr. Scott, he’s so excited and even though he’s trying to sound professional, interested only in my health, he’s won a prize and you can hear it, so many qualifications and clarifications and he can’t even keep his number or tense right. We and me and I and we again, and this is not about him, this isn’t about him and they say that I really should be fine, this really shouldn’t be a problem and perhaps they could treat it, maybe there’s something we can do but we have to know more, know the full extent, if there’s more than that, if there’s more to see. The pictures don’t show what it’s attached to, the x-rays indicate and imply, but they need to look deeper, and nobody’s talking about opening me up, not yet, but something with better resolution would greatly enhance our understanding of this… this. Please give me a call so we can schedule you. You can just drop by my office if you’d like, you don’t need an appointment. My cell number is… call anytime, Sheila. I’ll be on call at the hospital for the next week and… anyway, please just give us a call, okay?
She’s not going to call. She’s going to go to bed. She’s going to smoke in bed. How you like that? Dizzy from just trying to smoke two cigarettes, see what focused intent can do.
We fail—me, her, my brother, me—miserably, at immolation. Burning to death because you fell asleep while smoking in your bed only works if you fall asleep. Sleep deprivation leads to impotence too, I’ve heard. As does not eating, drinking too much…
I call Home Depot to see what’s on for Saturday. Fixtures, they say.
“What kind of fixtures?”
“What kind of lighting?” The phone between my cheek and shoulder. Pick up the hammers, the handles strange and alien against the band-aids.
“Ceiling fixtures, fans and stuff like that.”
“Hm. Hang on.” Smash. Crash. “Ow…”
“Yeah, do I need a reservation?”
“No, just show up. It’s free, starts at 8 in the morning.”
“Cool. See you then.” Smash.
“Are you all right?”
“Hm? Oh yeah, I’m fine.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
With my luck they’ll be doing sod next week. I do not want to do sod. Or install a garden shed, or learn to use a belt sander. I put the phone back on the charger and work my way through the rest of the ceiling lamps in the house. I’ll get some gloves after the fixture seminar. I don’t want worker hands.
I catch my reflection in the big mirror in the hall, the one with the ugly gilt frame Shelby got for me down in Nogales. Okay, not gilt, but crudely carved and spray-painted gold. That means gilt. Hammer in each hand, and it’s me in the mirror, and I can see a big pink X on my chest, between my breasts, right there. Drive a stake through. Put one hammer there, swing the other. Lie down, crush it. She could do it. No, she couldn’t. She wouldn’t. She’s pragmatic. She wants to see how it plays out, what it means. It’s got to mean something. I could do it. She won’t let me and my brother says he doesn’t want to die. But that’s stupid, there’s no death there, and graveless and nonexistent though he is he’s still trying some beyond-the-grave bullshit. Inner voice? Conscience? My dick is my conscience?
Me. Just me.
My mom on the machine, worried now, actively and vocally. My dad in the background. I pick it up.
“I’ll be there this weekend, okay, I’ll come by in the afternoon.”
“Oh, honey!... hi. I mean, are you all right? We only heard that you were in the hospital, that nice boy—“
“Yes. Stephen. Well, he called, said you’d had an asthma attack…”
“Good news, mom, I don’t have asthma.”
“You don’t? But all your life…”
“No, mom, not all my life. My asthma didn’t kick in until puberty.” Ick. “But it’s not asthma. Turns out I never had it.”
“Okay… well. Okay. Good. That’s wonderful, honey. But you were in the hospital for two days, sweetheart, there had to be a reason.”
“Just a dorky little problem, no big deal.” Dorky. Ha. Ha.
“You’ll come up this weekend then? We would have driven down but your father, he had…”
“It’s no big deal, mom. It’s okay. I’ll see you this Sunday. Love to dad, all right?” She’s saying something when I hang up, but she’s got the good grace to not call back. I lie down on the floor, by the hole, by the broken mantel, cross the hammers on my chest and try to sleep. And I succeed.
I wake up to Stephen’s face poking through the door. I forgot to mention that I smashed the window. Yeah. But not on purpose, I got it on a windup, the backswing, going for the fixture in the entryway. Stephen’s saying my name. He can see me on the floor. I twist my head around to see him better. He looks worried, but I don’t think it’s the right kind of worried. Can’t really fault him though, I want to, but I can’t. I would have reacted worse. I think I would have. No, if he had a dick in his chest that’d be sexy in the sickest way. Or if he had some secret little vagina, like a pocket pussy or something, that’d still hold some freaky interest. They’re prettier, private, demure, they don’t intrude. They definitely do not stop your heart, I know that for certain. Not actively. Only figurative, they make you catch your breath, they make you do it, they do not do it themselves.
Stephen doesn’t ask if he can come in, he reaches through the window and unlocks the door. Steps in, steps over. Stands erect. “What are you doing?”
“Oh. On the floor. With hammers. Okay, that’s normal.”
“We’re completely normal, Stephen.” I uncross my hammers.
“Sheila,” pause. “Hey, what the fuck?” He bends his head. “I mean, how are you? You didn’t call me back, I was worried.”
“Not worried enough to stay.”
“Come on. I had to go to work, and… you have to understand, this is...”
“I don’t have to understand anything, Stephen.” All my understanding out that broken door. Because I do believe, right now, on my floor, by my holes and breakage, that if he had a pocket pussy I’d want to touch it. I would want at least to see it.
I am being unfair. “Sorry.”
Nice shrug from Stephen, “Whatever, no big deal. I’m sorry. You want to talk?” He looks around the room, noticing now more than the window in the door. “You hungry? Let’s go somewhere. You need to get out, let’s get something to eat, we can talk there.”
I say okay.
“Maybe you want to get dressed.” Because I’m naked. And I can see now that to Stephen, that doesn’t mean what it meant a couple days ago.
Reach and grab a cigarette, turn my ass to him. Nothing. He’s just waiting. Turn back, heels wide. He’s staring at the floor. Not the floor where I am, where I meet the floor, exposed, but over by the fireplace at the pile of marble. He doesn’t even comment on the fact that I’m smoking. That I’m holding a cigarette anyway.
“Give me your lighter.”
“Oh, sure…” He knows I don’t smoke, but doesn’t seem to remember now. He hands it over, still not seeing me. I want to do something with the hammer, the handle, see just how much Stephen can not notice. I don’t do it. I get up, shuffle to the bedroom, bra, shirt, shirt, sweater, jeans. I grab a jacket. It’s not cold outside.
Three streets down, two over… there’s a Barbie under a sewer grate at the corner of 11th, shoes and a sweater and pants in a tree on Birmingham, a chair in the display window of the drugstore. Just a chair and pegboard, nothing else. Stephen’s smoking, I’m smoking, and either he never really noticed or didn’t believe before that I didn’t smoke, or he just hasn’t noticed that I’m smoking now, forget him handing me his lighter, forget a whole lot of things. Okay, I guess I should expect that. He’s distracted. I’m focused, but my focus looks like distraction, since I’m not focused on where we’re going, not focused on anything, certainly not me, not what’s inside, just trying to make the air one foot in front of me a very real and constant thing, not a thing I’m walking through, not something going around me, not in or among or of, or anything, just making a sphere just to make it and look at it, hold it there, right in front of me.
I don’t like smoking and walking. Don’t like smoking in the sun. I’ve decided both of these things just now. I exhale and I can see that there’s no solid sphere in front of me. Failure of faith, not due to impossibility. I’m distracted. Distracted and not believing.
Stephen wears a ball-chain—like a pull thing for a ceiling lamp—as a necklace. Nothing on it, no charm or pendant or anything, just a chain, and I’m wondering just what that’s all about. Are we teenagers, that he thinks he can pull that off? The plating’s worn, it’s dull brass at the back of his neck, so he’s been wearing it for a while, but I can’t remember if he had it on last time I saw him, when it would be the only thing he was wearing. I’m trying to picture it, trying to remember, but I can’t. What would I have thought then, three days ago, if I’d noticed it? Would it have seemed as stupid to me then?
Like this is just one of those things you’re supposed to know how to deal with. Where, you tell me where you get that kind of experience, preparation? From porn? Yeah, maybe, okay, but those girls have them between their legs, you know what you’re getting, and those girls, they’re not even girls. I mean, look at their hands, their faces, their feet—they’re all guys. Obviously guys. And say you get one in real life, not on the screen, he’s going to smell like a guy, isn’t he? Maybe he puts on a lot of perfume, but he’s just going to smell like a guy wearing perfume, there’s going to be all kinds of clues, signals, you’re going to know what you’re getting and if you don’t get it then it’s because you’ve consciously chosen to not get it. And that’s not what we’re dealing with here. She’s sitting there, across from me, arms folded, all hurt because I’ve got a problem with the fact that she’s got a dick. Not the idea. The fact.
I’m sorry, okay? No, I’m not sorry. I’m something, but I don’t know what that something is just now, or what it’s supposed to be. Say we came across it differently, say we were just pals, or even sort of simply dating, just on and off occasionally seeing each other, hanging out, a little fooling around but nothing serious, and then there was some other medical occurrence that brought it up, maybe I could have had a different reaction, some kind of better reaction—what other reaction is there? Or I could have just gotten out, gotten away and it wouldn’t have been this big deal that it is now. I can’t even consider what I would have done anyway, since this is how it happened, this is how it’s playing out and now I’m sitting here in this restaurant—because I thought it would be some kind of good idea for us to do this in public? Because I thought maybe we’d just skip over the whole thing, have some civil, maybe just a little sad, okay, sad and civil discussion about how this is all really a whole lot for her to take in all at once and she’s going to need a little space for a while, some alone time with friends or family to figure this all out? Because what? I don’t know.
She’d destroyed her house. I come in and she’s there, all sprawled on the floor with big hammers in her hands, crossed on her chest, some good worker all ready for the revolution where she and her kind—
Because I’m seeing it that way: her kind. Some other, some alien species, and she’s like the emissary, coming down first to establish the beachhead or maybe the vessel transporting their leader so he can—and their leader doesn’t even have to be a guy, I’m not saying that, it can be a girl, but yeah, okay, lots of leaders and conquerors, they’re guys, and maybe they’re working for the old lady back home; but guys, they’re built for running and killing and that’s what you send out the advance forces for—or even maybe she’s their leader, their yin-and-yangy Onebeing, their altogether, their rallying point, or like the queen in Alien, she’s going to start laying eggs all over her house, and that’s why she busted all those holes everywhere, places to incubate her army. I can’t stop thinking these things. I can’t not think these things. Anyone would be freaked out. I will bet all the money I have, all the money I’ll ever have, that nobody would have a simple reaction. Sheila didn’t.
Okay, she’s having whatever reaction anyone would have, having the reaction she’s having, and I can’t fault her for that, but I can’t sit here and feel guilty that I can’t sympathize. I have no frame. No frame at all.
“You want pizza?” There’s other options, but pizza’s simple. I tried to think what restaurant would be appropriate, and what I decided was that the first one we came to would be appropriate enough. The first we came to was Guidoberto’s, this kind of stupid 24-hour Mexican/Italian joint that doesn’t really do either well, but doesn’t sink to Taco Bell or Little Caesar’s, so it’s not all bad.
She shrugs. I get up, order some beer.
My face itches, I’m scratching my cheeks while I’m ordering, because I’ve got something of a chemical burn. I was working in my garage, trying to get on the restoration of this old Norton I’ve been putting off for a couple years. I thought for sure, when I bought it, I’d get it done in a couple weeks, but then I never even started it, met some girl, and she seemed cool, and so there went a whole summer. She stayed in Maine after hooking up with the tennis pro at the resort we worked together—thought running off somewhere for the summer would be romantic, and thought, wisely we thought, that getting jobs at this upscale resort would give us not just some environment that wasn’t ours so we could pretend to be whoever we wanted, but money, and the time apart required for not ending up hating each other a couple weeks into it. It turned out the kitchen (where I worked) was a seven-day-on no-day-off job, and her job, whatever it was, kept her pretty clear of the kitchen. Kept her on the tennis courts, on boats, on one rich cat after another. The point is that whatever drive for restoration I had was pretty well shot after that. The next girl teased me about having a midlife crisis, and figured that if this was the middle of my life then we didn’t have much time and no sense wasting it on a stupid motorcycle, especially not when there’s a naked psycho on the couch… That was only a couple weeks, but still, it kept me out of the garage. It goes on something like that from there, pretty much the same with a couple days here and there to do my laundry, the basic theme the same, just the hair color shifting through various shades of blond, but despite the variations, still the same basic theme playing out. But this Sheila thing, well, that makes a man want something else, something decidedly not biological, to focus on. Something like an old Norton, maybe. And I just happen to have one. Good for me. Lucky chance, hm?
This chemical burn: The muffler on the bike’s got some years of corrosion, rust buildup, nothing unusual or unexpected, nothing hidden, nothing I can’t handle. I’d tried steel wool and WD-40, but that, as you know, is a slow, slow process, and maybe you think what I need is a nice slow, tedious, meditative process, but strangely enough, that turns out to be exactly what I don’t need. I need quick results, I need activity and timers and clearly delineated steps separated by just a few minutes, something always to do—next, next, next—something to focus on. So, the guy at Home Depot, when I finally found someone to ask, he suggested naval jelly. And gloves, and a mask, perhaps a respirator if I had one or the money to get one. A well-ventilated area at the very least, or better yet, outside. Open the garage door, that’s ventilation, right? If you’re going to attempt this, be sure to include a fan in the open door/naval jelly equation.
It’s thick, pink stuff that looks harmless enough until it starts working. They call it naval jelly because I guess if you’re a Navy guy this is the stuff you would use to get the rust off your big metal ship. Phosphoric acid, H3PO4, which according to the wiki changes the rust into some kind of phosphate—chemical whatnot not being my forte, just that’s what the wiki said, and said too that you can take the water used to wash it off your parts and feed it to your plants, since it then contains stuff they like—and it’s supposed to work like magic, and work quickly, making you take a part in the process after five or ten minutes. Perfect for my purposes. The instructions say to brush it on, so we’ll see what kind of effect it has on weasel—I don’t know if it’s weasel; the second to last girl, she said all the time that she was an artist, and she liked to paint while fucking, and since she still shared an apartment with her ex-boyfriend, that painting took place for a couple weeks at my house. She hasn’t picked up her brushes and paints yet, or that stupid canvas she was working on, an exploded, almost gynecological view of what we were doing while she painted—I rinsed it out as well as I could, but maybe it’ll be just the handle and the metal band when I get home; the way my face feels that’s kind of what I expect. So I brushed it on, then brushed it some more. They said “liberally” so I was trying for that, despite the word’s imprecision. Doing my liberal application had me face-down over the muffler, picking it up and turning it and after a few seconds I could feel it burning my nose, some small itching on my cheeks, but I’ve felt that before, no big deal. I wake up this morning and my face is stinging cracking red and my lungs liquid and throat wrecked like I’d smoked ten packs of filterless. But the muffler? Oh, the muffler is beautiful. I’m going to buy a fan on the way home. Maybe some moisturizer too. Aloe?
Sheila’s drinking the beer. I’ve ordered pizza. We’re still not saying anything. I think I’m okay with that. Maybe we can just skip over this, and then I’ll be her friend, her friend that knows this thing already, and somehow that’ll mitigate this stupid guilt I can’t help but feel over not being able to deal with the fact that she’s got a dick. And who cares if she can’t fuck me with it? It’s worse this way, this insidious agent I can’t see except in those x-rays I shouldn’t have seen—why did the doctor show me? Oh, yeah: I said I was the boyfriend, implied there was some kind of engagement on the horizon, played it all out of proportion, because I thought she was dying and I didn’t want her to be alone, don’t want anyone to go through that alone, and I’d just been inside her not just a few hours before and I don’t care who you are or what you are but that kind of binds you to a person, even if only momentarily, and I wanted, really wanted to be there, for her, for me, for us—and that it’s hidden makes it sinister, makes her sinister and alien and I keep trying, but I can’t think of her as human right now. I’m trying but I can’t. There’s part of me that keeps seeing her as the first wave, or the culmination of the invasion, and that part feels like I have to stay close, to fight her, to make sure she does not, in fact, spit eggs into all those holes in her house and hatch up her brood of conquerors. The doctor shouldn’t have shown me and Sheila should have lied. I know you can’t lie when you’re unconscious, but the doctor, he shouldn’t have shown me. And then Sheila could have lied and had her little freakout all personal and private, like the situation warrants. This is such a private thing. The kind of thing maybe you reveal after a long association, not after just a couple weeks, and definitely not like this. Am I blaming her? No. I’m not, but I can’t help resenting her for having this thing, for being the queen of this invading force that’s going to wipe us out. How do you even fight this? She keeps staring at my neck, looking like she’s going to say something. She’s looking at the chain. She’s wondering what that’s all about.
In high school, when I wanted but couldn’t afford jewelry, I went punk rock and bought a couple feet of 10-gauge ball chain from the lighting section over at Ace Hardware and wore it as a necklace, thinking that I was making a statement of some kind about the stupidity of materialism, even though it was a direct expression of my screaming desire to express my materialism through somehow attacking the idea itself… and I knew that, but with the flexibility of a sixteen-year-old I was able to parlay the understanding into a political statement of no consequence. After a while it became a kind of personal trademark. I’d attach various things to it, crosses made of bolts, paperclip stickpeople, beercap medallions for that extra edgy touch, whatever. It became part of who I was, and then after a while I couldn’t take it off, so much a part of my identity it was by then. So the chain, I found it on the bench in my garage yesterday, my hands both going to it, testing it for the idea of protection. I wrapped it twice around my neck and hooked a small bolt from some other failed motorcycle through the eyelet things at either end of the chain. I don’t have a crucifix, but even if I did, I don’t think I would have worn it, don’t think this is his arena, he’s saving us from us, no help with this—
Yes, I understand the stupidity of thinking that Sheila’s an alien invader (but how stupid is that, really? If they’re there, are they really going to show themselves, present themselves openly? If they’re bent on our annihilation, or if they’re going to colonize and enslave us, or use us for food, are they just going to come right out and say it? I know that’s not what’s happening here, but I can’t, I can not stop thinking these things. Is it that it’s safer for me to think of her as an alien?) I don’t know. I can’t control what I’m thinking. I’m just reacting. So it’s a charm, I guess, the chain, some little piece of human ingenuity, our inventiveness, our humanity, worn to ward off the evil, worn to show my solidarity to our race, our kind… and yeah, part of me wanted to recapture the cool of the sixteen-year-old kid who could wear this. Because maybe I don’t have a dick in my chest, but I’m still affected and I could use some cool, some unformed aplomb right about now. It was me, there, when it happened. I took my fists and crushed her balls with her sternum. And that, I’m going to stop thinking about it. Right now.
“So?” She says.
“Yeah.” But she says it with a sneer. This isn’t my fault. This is fucking not my fault.
Why are we here? He didn’t have to come back, why did he come back? Some stupid guilt thing. And hey, I’m over it, I don’t expect you to deal with this, this isn’t something anyone really ever has to deal with, anybody but me anyway, and so I don’t expect anything from you. Thanks for the beer, though. Get me another.
“I’ll have another beer, if you’re getting up anytime soon.” He gets up, goes to the counter. What the hell is it with that stupid necklace? He keeps fingering it, and there’s some piece of something, some metal something, attached to it. Is this a fashion statement? Still, I can’t help wishing I had the balls to wear bits of blatant stupidity. Balls. Check. Still no necklace.
Tomorrow’s the little do-it-yourself seminar on lighting fixtures. I’m actually kind of excited about it. I’m going to get those lights that look like they’re meant for a submarine. I’ve always wanted those, but never needed new fixtures before, and well, I kind of do now, don’t I? I’m pretty sure my landlord will approve. They’ll look freaking awesome. Two in the hall, on the ceiling, one in the bathroom, one in the living room, and when I get home I’ll smash the light on the front porch and replace that too. Maybe even the kitchen. Why stop? I’m not even in the grip of rage anymore, I just like breaking, I’m in the mood for destruction. I like the calm, decisive obliteration. I like that I thought about it, like that I took steps, consciously picked up the hammers, and decided something’s fate.
“Thanks.” He sets another beer on the table, and the guy’s following him with our pizza, which I don’t want, but it’s free—I’m not paying for anything today, I’m going to milk his guilt, no matter how unnecessary and misplaced it is—so maybe I’ll have a piece or two. Chili relleno pizza. How can you not at least have a slice?
“I’m sorry,” I say. Not sorry for everything, but sorry for something.
“Me too, but you gotta admit…”
“Yeah, but cut me a little slack, it’s me, not you.”
I drink half the beer in one shot. I raise my eyebrows, and he’s up again, back to the counter. I’m going to get good and drunk. Because I can. Because he’s paying. He doesn’t know it yet, but we’re switching to tequila after this. Maybe ouzo. I haven’t decided yet.
Drink like that and you don’t have to talk. Just talk about the drinking. It worked out just great. I didn’t want to talk about it, he didn’t want to talk about it. Instead we talked about whether it was wise to mix tequila and ouzo. The answer to that, this morning’s answer to that is, obviously, no. Ask the soft-faced middle-aged guy sitting next to me in the bleachers in the sun in front of Home Depot and I’ll bet he’ll tell you the same thing. Nobody’s telling me not to smoke, so I don’t stop. It’s early so the sun’s not too hot yet, but I’m sweating out all the alcohol, really stinking up the joint, so it’s a good thing we’re outside. The lady with my ashes all down her back, the one sitting in front of me, she turns around and acts like she’s not looking at me, straining her eyes past the corners but she won’t look at me direct and I want to tell her I’ve ashed on her five times already so she has my permission to glare, and the guy next to me, he can see what I’m doing, see that I’m going to burn holes in this lady’s ripstop parka, but he doesn’t say anything. Maybe it’s his wife, maybe it’s his wife and they had a spat and he wants me to burn her jacket because he really hates it and will be glad to see it go. That lady, though, I bet she’d buy another one just like it. If she was his wife, even not, I guess, she could turn to say something to him and then I’d be in her line of sight, she wouldn’t even have to hide it, totally natural to just look at someone if they’re there, if you’re not turning around for no other reason, if you’ve got a reason already…
It could be the sharpie-scribbled penis on my t-shirt. That could have something to do with it. Right below the collar, maybe a inch down, two pretty balls and depending from there, flaccid but nonetheless impressive, my penis, executed in loving detail. I took some license. It’s not that big. Big enough, but not like I drew it. Sometime during the night, things being different when you’re drunk, I got kind of proprietary about it. And still drunk, I’m still protective and nobody’s going to talk any shit about my dick. For now, the reality is compartmentalized and glassed-in and walled off and I know where it is, but it’s put away in the corner, for now. I know it won’t hold. I know my shirt’s going to horrify me, and maybe that’s going to be in just a few minutes, but these minutes here I’m—oh. Oh. Got it. These minutes here, she’s cool and coolly smoking in the bleachers at Home Depot and learning how to quickly and easily install a ceiling fan, and I’m compartmentalized. Because I’m still freaking out. That makes more sense.
Somehow that I’m going—have gone—crazy makes it better. The rational response. I’m behaving rationally, depersonalizing and detaching from reality, a reality that has no place in reality—I don’t care how common the basic presumption of my condition may be, the presentation of the basics of my condition warrants a bit of distant assessment. She’d agree with me, that’s why she put me here. No, I put myself here. But she agrees anyway.
Sheila—her, she being me and all—smiles at the man to her left, who does not return her smile, she cocks her head, raises both eyebrows behind her Hepburn shades—Audrey, not Katherine, not that it has to be said, but just in case—exhales over his head and says, “I have a dick in my chest.”
“On your chest, you mean,” the response instant, out before he even had time to process what she said.
“Well, that’s something.”
“That’s everything, I think. She’s—we’re a little upset about it.”
“Is it yours?”
“The shirt’s borrowed.”
The lady in the ripstop turns now. That’s disgust on her face. Simple form. Sheila smiles, a kind and very pretty smile. Ms. Ripstop returns it, but pulls it immediately back, that’s not why she turned. She says, “Um…” and the man smiles at her. He doesn’t know why he’s smiling, but it’s not every day a pretty girl talks to him about her penis, not every day a pretty girl talks to him at all anymore, for no official reason, so who even cares what she’s talking about anyway? Crazy girls are the most interesting, at least from a distance, and this one, she’s just right out fucking nuts. He’s only here because it’s something to do, something to get him out of the house, and when he said it out loud, it sounded like a fine productive thing to be doing, so nobody gave him any shit about it. He’ll have to come home and install something, meaning he’ll have to buy something to install, but he’s not worried about that, he already knows how to do it, and he wouldn’t mind having a new fan in the dining room anyway, so it all works out in the end. And the installation, he can stretch that out for hours, and even though he knows exactly what he’s doing and it really should only be a matter of a few minutes, he’s carefully created an impression of mechanical and manual ineptitude, coupled with a sour face and a compendium of verbal obscenities so massive and so well-known in his circles that he has only to pick up a screwdriver and look at something to clear a room.
That’s what he told Sheila. Something about smiling at disgusted old Ms. Ripstop made him feel they’d bonded somehow, friends now, and she’d smiled, and she’s nuts, so why not just keep the conversation going?
Sheila says, “I broke every light in my house.”
He says that it’s nothing, nothing to it. Just a screwdriver and the new light fixture. Just a couple minutes really.
“I have a penis in my chest, see. It’s taking some getting used to.”
“I can imagine.”
“I’m telling you because either you don’t believe me or you don’t care, and either way it makes it okay to tell you.”
“Nice to meet you, Sheila.”
“I’m a little crazy right now.”
“I get that.”
“But you have a penis in your chest, so you’re allowed.”
“Thank you, Jeffrey.”
Sheila’s cigarette touches Ms. Ripstop’s hood, and a little black spot on the yellow turns quickly into a hole. Jeffrey points. Sheila moves the cigarette in a widening circle.
“Come on, Sheila, let’s go find the lighting section.”
“Okay.” She follows Jeffrey down the steps, waves at Ms. Ripstop, who’s found her disgust again, but doesn’t know her jacket’s smoldering. I think probably that it will just go out, if it hasn’t already. Ms. Ripstop thinks Sheila’s a little whore, that she’s preying on pudgy middle-aged men to get free work out of them. I can see that on her face, and I can see that it’s not that she disapproves, it’s that she doesn’t have what Sheila has and has to go home and install her fixtures herself. So that disgust, it’s not all for Sheila. Not even half of it.
Jeffrey steers her toward the back of the store. “I teach English.”
“How awful that must be for you.”
“Sometimes—here’s what it is: I teach at a high school, and I’m an adjunct over at the university, and you’d think that that’d be a step up, right? No. The juniors and seniors at the high school, they’re brilliant, a bunch of fucking geniuses, all of them, and sure, they lack style and polish and experience, but even their unskilled attempts are these glorious things… and then I go to the university and they’ve all gotten suddenly and completely stupid. I can’t even understand at all what they’re trying to do, or maybe I’m refusing it, in absolute and total denial—I tell myself that it’s because they came from these other pools, toxic pools that fill the spaces between their epicanthic folds with metals and salts and grime, all these kids from other more heavily industrialized and urbanized states, polluted and retarded and ruined, and my geniuses here, they’ve grown out here, out in the middle of nowhere, and they’re going to go flower and bloom in someone else’s garden, and who knows the truth of it but that’s what I tell myself. I can’t see any other explanation. I don’t want to see any other explanation. I cannot accept the idea that my kids will end up like the others.”
“I have a penis in my chest.”
“I can see how that could occupy a person’s mind.”
“You said it, buddy.”
I’m not sure where Sheila’s going with this conversation. Maybe it was more polite than a shut up, or maybe it’s just that that’s really all she has to say. It’s all I have to say, but I’m not saying anything to anyone. I’m in my little box and Sheila’s running the show for now. Jeffrey didn’t take it as a shut up, anyway. He’s amiable and uncomplicated, just happy to walk with this crazy pretty girl back to the lighting section to buy some fixtures. Jeffrey knows this friendship ends at checkout. That’s all he wants, just this. Shelia, for her part, is enjoying saying it out loud, that she has a penis in her chest. I don’t think she believes it. She knows it’s true, but it’s like it’s not her chest, not her penis—oh, right. It’s not. It’s mine. That’s still what’s going on here.
“I need six lights.”
“I need a fan.”
“Are they in the same section?”
“They are indeed.”
“You know what you want?”
“Yeah, those submarine type lights.”
“I love those.”
“Me too. I’m going to get six of them.”
“They’re waterproof, you know.”
“I didn’t know, but thanks for the update.”
“You should get that fan.” Five blades, halogen.
“That makes it simple. Okay, I’ll get that one.”
“You’re a smart man, Jeffrey. A man of wealth and taste.”
“I have a penis in my chest.”
“You are a girl with a penis in her chest. And, I have to say, this is the best trip to Home Depot, ever. Ever.”
“I suppose that has everything to do with me.”
“You suppose correctly.”
“Thank you, Jeffrey.”
“Help me carry my lights?”
That was a nice conversation. I like that a lot. I know I couldn’t have done it, so thank you Sheila.
Sheila stole three of the lights. She went through the self-checkout thing, and just put two of them in the bag for every one she scanned. I know I wouldn’t have thought to do that, but she did. Jeffrey saw it too, and he laughed. Laughed really loud, so loud that the girl standing over at the computer in the self area looked up and over and I thought she was going to catch her, but then Jeffrey held up his credit card, like it was really funny, pointed at it, and the girl just shook her head and went back to the nothing she’d been doing before that. Slick and smooth, both of them. I can’t ever be that smooth. At the grocery store, I throw two ramens in the bag, or just breathe on it, and the whole place lights up. Sheila’s got some kind of touch or something, tricking the scales.
I wave to Jeffrey, since I’m back now, and he waves and that’s that for us.
Removing the old fixtures was harder than putting up the new ones. I’d bent the screws on a couple of the lights, so getting them out required a whole shop of tools borrowed from an upstairs neighbor who was curious about what I was doing but didn’t have the fortune to have that curiosity satisfied. “Stuff,” I said.
“Just stuff, and you need channel locks, a sawzall and a prybar?”
“I think so.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m not sure.”
“All right, whatever, just be careful, all right? These aren’t mine.”
“They’re not mine either.”
He’s puffy and confused but he always goes out of his way to say hi to me, brings me the paper even though I don’t take it. Don’t subscribe, I mean. I think it belongs to the lady next door, but every day it’s on my porch or in my mailbox, so this guy’s not going to say no, and if I break the tools I’d bet he’d say something, but not what you usually say to someone who broke your tools.
I didn’t break them, and I didn’t break the boxes set in the walls and ceiling. It just took a while.
And now I’m alternating between admiring my new lights, all six of them—tools safely returned, in case anyone’s wondering—and reaching for the hammers to take them down again. But this time not the arcing destruction, this time they’re like bullseyes and they’ll get a direct attack. I’m also thinking maybe I’ll take a nap.
Then the phone: Mom. Confirming for tomorrow. And I forgot about tomorrow. I don’t want to go now. I don’t really ever want to go, but I don’t usually not want to go either. I just don’t trust myself right now, and I certainly don’t trust her, and I can’t say for sure who’s going to be there eating pot roast with my mom and dad.
Pick up, dial. “Hi mom.”
“Sheila, you’re home?”
“Just got in, I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“That would be wonderful, honey, how are you? Your father, he—”
“I’m great, mom. Everything’s great.”
“Well, we’re having pot roast. We know how you love pot roast.”
I don’t, for the record, love pot roast. I love to play with pot roast, love separating it into strings and braiding the meat strings and making little meat-and-potatoes people, but when it comes to consuming it, I’m not what you’d call a fan. But I’ll go play cannibal for my parents, slurp up my makebelieve people, since that’ll make them happy.
“I’m going to go, mom, I’ll see you tomorrow around three, okay?”
“Oh, no, not three, your father’s got to be at church all afternoon. Can you come by at five?”
Forgot about church. “Five’s great, mom. Love to dad, okay?”
Church. God. Jesus. What do they say about me? Angels don’t have any genitals, right? So if I’ve got both, that’s like the opposite, and the opposite of an angel is… I’m not clear, since Satan, or Lucifer or whatever his name is, he’s an angel too… I’ll have to ask someone about that.
Next week at Home Depot is decks. Decks are like floors, right? They’re just outside. Maybe there’s something to learn. I could borrow the sawzall again, clean up the hole, make a trap door out of decking, then put a rug over it… or maybe I could fix the other stuff, then have an “accident” of some kind—a sculptural accident, maybe, something made out of scrap metal that’s… on the mantel and then my… cat that I’m… babysitting for a week?... the cat just flies, I mean really launches off the mantel, aiming at the window because there’s a bird on the sill and that cat pushes off the art thing and the art thing, um, knocks against the wall and ricochets and arcs to the floor. Or I see it happening and I try to catch it, but I miss and kind of throw it, which is why it hit so far from the fireplace. Something like that. I’ll need a tape measure, sketch it all out, get my story straight. I’ll have to get some sculpture too. Something that’ll fit the damage. It’s too much to think about right now. I’ll make it work. I could probably just call and pose and shrug my shoulders when the repair guy gets here and he’ll give me a look, shrug and mutter something about stupid chicks and then he’ll fix it. No, I’d rather go elaborate. Have an elaborate mishap. Maybe he’ll say the same thing, but he won’t mean it the same. And then there’s the issue of the mantel itself. How can I work the sculpture mishap into that?
Abandoning the floor and mantel for now, I wander back upstairs. Knock.
“You don’t happen to have an angle grinder?”
“I may happen to.” He doesn’t even open the door all the way. I think he might think I’m crazy now. Still cute, but crazy.
“Can I use it?”
“Yeah. Same stuff, kinda, just more of it.”
“Yeah,” sigh. “Hang on a sec.”
“And goggles?” To his back through the crack.
I look pretty cool in the goggles. I think so anyway. My grinding’s not the best, but I think I do okay. It’s rounded, the counter, the corner, at least it’s that. It’s not as smooth as the rest, but maybe there’s something I can do about that. The superfine wheel with the grinder got it close, there’s probably some sandpaper option available to me. I can ask. I’m good at questions.
Oh! I know what I’ll do for the mantel. I’ve got a good plan.
So, the lights and the corner are now addressed. That leaves the wall, the floor, the mantel, the bathroom… my bed and sheets don’t figure in here. And the doorbell thing. Fuck the doorbell thing. That’s just going in the trash. Patch the screw holes and paint after I fix the wall. And… and but there’s a lame futility functioning here. All this flailing and screaming and smashing and to what effect? Just some breakage followed by repair or replacement. Some naïve part of me understood there to be a transformative aspect in changing the fixtures, altering the shape of the counter, but I’m not seeing it. Not feeling it. The basic fundamentals still in play here. I break something open and discover all the things inside, take the things out and… and nothing. Dissemble no more! Tear up the drywall! Here—it is the fizzing of this stupid Coke can! Please. Here’s the throbbing of my hideous prick, but how hideous is it? No way to know, none at all. Go on Dr. Scott, tear up my floorboards, see what there is to see.
So I call him. Dr. Scott. I call him and tell him I’ll be his pony, he can ride me wherever he wants. He’s too excited to even wonder about the pony thing. He says Monday morning.
“But don’t eat anything Sunday night, okay?”
“What time Sunday? I’m supposed to have dinner with my parents.” Because he needs to know that?
“Nothing after ten, yeah, just water after ten.”
I’m a little disappointed, I was hoping to have an excuse to forego the pot roast. I guess I could lie.
“Will your fiancée be coming along too?”
My what? “My what?”
Props to Dr. Scott: He gets it quick. “Yeah, okay, I guess that’s a no. Nevermind. I’ll see you at seven Monday morning.”
“Around then anyway.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll cancel the slate, you get there when you can.”
“Sure thing, buckaroo.” I want to add a yee-haw, but I don’t. Mister Doctor’s saying something when I hang up, but I don’t catch it, since I’m hanging up. If it was really important he can call back and leave a message. Mister Doctor Scott Buckaroo with his big prize-winning paper. Can I negotiate a cut of the prize?
Wait. I said Props. Jesus. That means bed. I don’t care that the sun’s still out. I don’t care if I only thought it. Props means bed.
The muffler’s back on, the rest of the chrome stripped and buffed and my Norton starts the first time I try it. This didn’t work out the way it should. I would have accepted some cranking and wheezing, the motorcycle trying to turn over, to catch, but it was supposed to fail. There’s supposed to be a lot more wrong with it than just dirty. Dirty’s only going to take you so far—about this far, actually. I’m here for a major challenge, something consuming, something to consume every waking moment until I scream and collapse in exhaustion and fatigued failure, throw a fit and some tools, collapse greasy and black into bed with blisters on no fewer than three of my fingers and an unquenchable rage that will then dominate all conversations at work on Monday, maybe even all the way through Wednesday, by which time everyone near me will be avoiding me and I’ll be that muttering guy stalking the office, my hands shaping very important and emphatic illustrative things in the air, raising my volume whenever I pass anyone, bringing them with a few disjointed words and twisted eyes into my cyclic hell. This will not do. Not one bit.
But still I’m revving it, listening, feeling, thinking I could just go, find that mythic Road out there, see if that chewing sound will just work itself out after a few miles… No, no. That chewing sound means there’s no oil and maybe that’s not what it means, but I know there’s no oil, since I didn’t put any in there, and I know that sound at least peripherally has something to do with it and that I’m destroying the engine. That’s not part of the plan. But—but that means I might have already done some damage, doesn’t it? Meaning I have to take the case apart, see what’s what, flush out the ground bits, make sure nothing’s really broken. Fuck. That’ll take all day.
Oh yeah. That’ll take all day.
And that other sound, now, that’s me humming. A happy little ditty. I can’t even care how consciously I’m going about manufacturing distractions. When I run out I’ll just whip up some delusions. I’m going all the way, baby. It’s still just been a few days, though, so maybe I won’t have to. Things fade, no matter what they are, that’s the beauty of us, everything fades. It does, they do, and maybe that’s not so beautiful after all. Maybe it shouldn’t fade. Maybe I should be grateful instead of an asshole. Thankful for this unprecedented opportunity, no matter what it is. When it comes down to it, how freaked out am I really? Initially a whole lot, yeah, but I can’t seem to bring it back up to the same degree. The thing is, when I stop trying so hard to get all uptight and weird, I really like Sheila. And see, and don’t tell anyone, but that’s what I think I’m weirded out by the most. That once I got over it I really didn’t care. But if there’s the possibility that you’re going to kill a girl by having sex with her… and no, it’s not all about sex, but there’s got to be something that can be done about it, like a catheter and a lasso and loop it and pull it up and just anchor it out of the way and… okay, maybe I’m still a little weirded out. Still, though. I mean I’ve got a penis and it doesn’t bother me at all. And when you get right down to it, when you get right down to biology and functions we’re really disgusting in so many ways that vastly overshadow her little difficulty, you can’t even see it for all the other stuff—and you can’t even see it at all anyway. Maybe I’ve already abandoned my opportunity to be thankful. Too many maybes. At least I’ve got the engine to rebuild.
Make it a movie and I’d sweep in and say, Damn it all, Sheila, or Jennifer, since it’s a movie, Damn it all, Jennifer, I love you… Only I don’t. I just like her. Like her a lot, but just like, not so dramatic or cinematic as all that. And then if it’s a modern independent flick I’ll sweep in and it’ll end badly for everyone. Even the doctor, and we’ll figure out later that even though he was only in two and a half scenes, the movie was really all about him and Jennifer and I were tropes of some kind, and just what kind would be hotly debated in chatrooms and message boards and then that chick from Salon dot com would pan the film and two thirds of the comments on her article would call her a commercialized bitch ruled too much by her moods and blind to quality of any kind… So, make it a short made by students for film class and leave it open-ended because it’s not really about the doctor either, it’s about them learning how to use the cameras and the editing software. In that film I could just walk in, wouldn’t even sweep, and I’d say, Sheila, I like you. I like you a lot. We’d use our real names because they’d be students and they’d think it’s edgy and true to do it like that. And if it was a student film made by John Hughes, I’d say it from my motorcycle outside her parents’ house. And I’d be pushing my motorcycle.
I’m dreaming. I know this because I’ve been painted by that Egon Schiele guy. I’ve got hard lines and all my private and secret parts are exposed. I’m dirty and my clothes are torn but Egon loves me and I don’t want him to die, I want him to keep painting me, to paint everything, and I’m quivering and blushing with every stroke, breathing shallow, growing and he finished my legs a long time ago, my dress up, the strap off one shoulder and one breast exposed and my face just indicated right now, he’s not done with my face, he’s just painting between my breasts, giving me more and more detail. He’s drunk, he’s always drunk and I want him to paint me a mouth so I can kiss him, and I’m wet so I’ll smear but he can fix that, repaint me, remake me.
If he gives me a mouth I can drink with him, can get drunk like him and we can understand each other, we can fight, I can kiss him. If he paints my eyes I can see what he sees, what he’s made, what I am. If he paints them closed will I be able to see anything? Will I be able to open them? Paint them open, please. I’ll look wherever you make me, just make them open.
I’m unfinished. I’m not done and Egon’s painting himself on the canvas, the egotistical prick, so I’m not a portrait anymore, probably not, knowing him, even the focus. Stop it. Stop it and finish me. This is my dream, you’re not allowed to leave me like this. I’m not finished yet. There’s still so much more to say, I’m not finished. Egon paints one hand on my thigh. Then a slash of a mouth and that’s all I need and I’m ripping from the canvas, gripping his brush, pushing into his mouth, dragging bristles across my neck.
I’m not breathing. I wake up because my heart’s stopping. Stupid dream. The phone’s near my hand but I don’t know yet if I can reach for it, if I want to reach for it. I do, and the three numbers are easy to dial, even if I can’t say anything. They’ll trace it, they’ll come. Cause of death: cardiac arrest—since it always is, you know, that’s the last thing that happens before you die, no matter what else you did, you blew your head off or something, the last thing is your heart stops. Contributing factors: morning wood. Would they write that? Complications resulting from foreign body? I’d write morning wood. Dr. Scott’s going to be so mad, but maybe there’ll be something left, something to study, even if he won’t be able to get a rise out of me anymore.
Oh, oh, it’s all going dark… oh please hold me… blah blah blah. It’s not going dark, just kinda graying and it’s really loud. Say it’s my cells screaming, dying. Or say it’s an ambulance, since I think it is, red and blue disco on the doorstep, someone’s breaking the door, and the EMTs blurry blue crows swooping with tubes and black strapped things and just like Stephen they don’t even notice my breasts and I might be dying but it still hurts a little, to not even be a girl in their eyes. One paddle on my breast, the other below the other, and there you go, I’m back up and running. At least they didn’t try CPR.
“Do you know where you are, miss?”
“Where do you think you are?”
“In my broken bed.”
“Were you assaulted, miss?” That’s from across the room, and I’m guessing it’s a cop.
“No. I broke the bed.”
They’re exchanging information, the EMTs, my various stats, basic data, and they’re sticking me with IVs, and then “One, two, three…” and onto a stretcher. Guess I’m going to the hospital.
“I got hard.”
“I have a penis in my chest. I got hard.”
“Chas, call the psych ward, all right? Get us a bed.”
Wheeling through my living room and I’m gripping someone’s wrist again, and this time I want it to hurt. “Listen. Call Dr. Scott, he’s on call. Tell him you’re at Sheila’s house and you’re bringing her in.”
“All right, all right, calm down. Chas, get me a sedative for our friend here.”
“Thanks.” They better call. “Psych ward... fuck you.”
The cop, now: “Can you tell me what happened, what were you doing before you called?”
“I was having a dream. Kind of erotic. There was this painter, one of the Sezessionists—those guys in Austria?”
“No, miss, when this happened, what were you doing?”
“Having a wet dream, and I got an erection. It’s a problem.”
“Did someone hurt you, miss? Are you trying to protect someone?”
“No. Call Dr. Scott. He’s at the hospital.”
I’d tell you more, but that’s pretty much when the sedatives kicked in.
Take it, then. The whole thing, and what are you supposed to do anyway? It’s no different, not fundamentally, from other things, and let’s be blandly technical and vague: the thing is by definition a cancer, a cellular mass that’s not supposed to be there, perpendicular to surrounding purpose, a thing actively getting in the way of my normal functioning. Go back through the scenes, replace it all with “I’ve got cancer,” and play it like that. Say it and there’s sympathy, say it and there’s support groups and therapies and there could be a targeted radiation attack on it just the same as though it were some kind of -noma, product of some other -ogen and I’d get sick and it’d go away and maybe more of me would get destroyed, since that’s how that works, but I’d regenerate or I wouldn’t and I could wear little survivor’s bracelets, pins, ribbons, whatever, join that club and it’d just fade in time, me part of the club and me moving on and forward, just a bump, maybe a big bump but a bump nonetheless and a bump only; not defined or altered or having had havoc wreaked upon; a glitch, a bump and not an organ and not conjoined, not conjoined, no twin. We want to be special, but we don’t. What we mean, really, is not special, but more. Further along on a line, but the same line, the same as the rest, only further, more. Not as in quantity; a qualitative assessment landing us in the upper percentiles in lists, cresting the bells; to be the man, not the angel or the eagle or the rhino that made the ascent, to be the one of the infinite and serially indistinguishable multitudes that did, though no different than the others, what the others did not. Say it and it’s obvious, say it and it’s stupid. But it’s true. Nobody wants to be the one-legged sad sack who overcame all adversity and did what most whole people could not do; nobody wants to win the Special Olympics. What would that mean, to me, to anyone, me anchored by this fleshy piton, hooked through with my rage, making my fultile climb? Same as before, and it means nothing to be the only one. One out of one, chances are as good as not you’d do it, and it’s not so spectacular, no matter what it is. No evidence, no precedent to say you wouldn’t, and beyond that, take away an arm or put a hole in the head and you’re pretty much expected to become an astronaut or invent something perfect, you have to save the world, you have to, and nobody really cares even though they’ll rent the DVD of your stupid magical terrible life—but see, you had adversity, so of course you overcame it. What’s so special and unique and admirable about that? But maybe they’re grateful anyway, that they did not have to define their borders, thanking you without saying it or acknowledging it but thanking you for confirming their place right along with everyone else. Lance, he’s got a big fucking heart, so, sorry but no real admiration. He only did what he had to do. And me, I was so glad, no matter how much I loved him, that Andre was Andre and I was not. We need giants, just don’t want to be them. Clustered stupid and unaware that I didn’t belong, with them, the rest, all of us scaling the truly meaningful cliffs of our own multitudinous insignificance. Ants—no, I’m not going to talk about ants, but you see where I was going. Acting sans impetus and hewing to the because it’s there ethos is the highest aim of human endeavor. That and the rock opera. Is there, really, anything more emblematic of purposeless excess than the rock opera? All human endeavor, drawn out on a long enough timeframe, eventually resolves and finds its ultimate expression in the rock opera. And don’t tell me about that one about the deaf/dumb/blind kid and the arcade, or the messiah guy, since it’s not about them, it’s the proletarian suprahuman absolute baseline that’s the point of it all. That it requires nothing of us, that we can, and often rightly, think, “I could do that…”, and the thing is made significant precisely because we don’t, notthrough anything truly unique in character or compositon.
So, the girl with the dick in her chest, oh yeah, we expect great things from her. Big fucking deal. Even blending seamless and unnoticed into the bland pattern, that in itself would be cause for rapturous comment. No matter what I do, I’m going to win the fucking gold medal. This is my problem. Gold stars and plus plus pluses on every paper, I’m lost.
Doctor Mister Whoever, the guy in the room with me, waiting for me to wake up—I’ve been awake for almost an hour, and the monitors have to have registered that, all trussed up in sensors and wires, but he’s not noticing it I guess—and he’s still there, looking at me, looking down, writing, just waiting while I stare through my eyelashes and count the minutes that stretch past too many. He knows, he has to know I’m awake, he’s just pretending not to notice, obviating the need for the stupid discussion that would follow when I finally acknowledge him or he tells me to just cut it out.
“We’ve got better scans,” he says.
Just one eyebrow, my concession to conversation, raised, just a little.
“Yeah. They’re great. Freaky as hell, if you don’t mind my saying so, but fascinating and beautiful in their own way.”
Drop the eyebrow. Not the conversation I want to have.
“Admittedly a problem, too, I’m not downplaying it with any gee-whizzery, I’m just stating the facts. And since you’re pretending to be unresponsive, perhaps you won’t object to a little musing on my part? See, I’m torn here. Torn between wanting to just take care of this for you—and I’m fairly certain, though not altogether so, that this is the dominant desire, so we’ll just proceed as though it is—and then there’s this consuming need to just observe you, it, to not mess with you or it at all, but to just wait and see what other impacts there are beyond the simple difficulties posed by your unique situation, which, I can’t not remind you, would be entirely managed by the prescription I gave you if you’d just take the pills—”
The eyebrow back up, a little more this time.
“Yes, dummy—can I call you dummy?—I didn’t prescribe you an antidepressant with well-known sexual side-effects to treat depression. I prescribed you sexual side-effects. That’s why I pointed them out to you. The mitigating influences upon your expected upheaval in mood were an afterthought. I can understand how a woman might not immediately apprehend the benefits of erectile dysfunction, but I fully expected you to get it, if not the first day, then at the very least soon after. A couple days, no more. There is no protocol for treating this kind of condition, so I had to tread carefully in my prescription. They call that malpractice in some places, even when it’s the right thing, and my insurance doesn’t necessarily cover what I did, so some obliqueness on my part was required, but still I thought I’d been pretty damned clear.”
I move my hands, turn my face. Still don’t open my eyes. Yes, you can call me dummy.
“I kicked them all out before you woke up.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Did you tell them?”
“No, your fiancée, your boy—that Stephen guy, he’s here and he told them.”
“He’s all fired up, you know. Turned some kind of corner and, for the moment anyway, does not care and is going to stand by you no matter what.”
No. Crap. “But…”
“Yeah, I know.”
“See, I like him, but…”
“Tell me about it.”
“I just like him. I don’t want him to stand by me. He can stand near, I guess, but… I really like to flail. It’s one of my favorite things, and I don’t like anyone too close, since as soon as you hit someone it becomes all about them and nothing to do with the fact that you just like to flail.”
“Don’t worry, it passes. It always does.”
“No, the support.”
“Now, normally that’s not something I’d say, as it doesn’t really fall into the category of Encouraging Things One Can Say To A Distraught Patient, but you’re a special case.”
“Thank you, doctor.” I say it with my eyes open.
“Good morning, Sheila, glad to see you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“A little sore, but okay, pretty much. Rested anyway.”
Doctor man makes a mark in the folder, and I can’t help but think it has nothing to do with me, “You’ve been asleep for about sixteen hours. The soreness is a residual from lack of oxygen. Quite a lot, in fact, you were out for at least a few mintues.”
“What a workout.”
“No brain damage that we can see.”
“Nothing I can’t afford to lose.”
“You won’t be competing in the Special Olympics anyway.”
“Um, fuck you, doctor.”
“Spare me. You talk in your sleep, Sheila. You kept saying ‘Nobody wants to win the Special Olympics.’ I thought you’d be pleased.”
“Well, they don’t.”
“Four-letter word for extinct bird…”
“Fucking dodo. This a test?”
“No, a crossword.” He shows me. See, I knew it.
“We’d like to slip a catheter behind your clavicle and loop it around your penis to pull it upright and attach it with a few sutures to nearby muscle tissue. It’s not a complete solution, but I don’t want to open you up unless you really want it removed. It seems an unnecessary risk.”
“Couldn’t you have done that before?”
“We needed better images. I told you that, I believe. What if it turned out that you didn’t actually have a set of genitals behind your heart, what if it was some weird penis-shaped tumor—which, incidentally, if we want to be perfectly and pedantically precise about it—”
“Yeah, I know. Okay. It’s good by me. What’s the prognosis, then?”
He fills in a few boxes, crosses something out, erases something else—they’re all hyperspecialized, all brilliant in their one area, but stupid everywhere else. Can’t even do a crossword.
“You can continue to take the medication—you’re on it now—and depress your sexual function, if you’d like, though I doubt that it will be strictly necessary. Your other alternative is to forego the medication and deal with the occasional erection, which, I’m pretty confident, will present itself in symptoms similar and almost indistinguishable from mild asthma.”
That is so lame.
“They’re anxious, the crowd. Should we let them in?”
I nod, I shrug, I don’t care.
“I’ll go schedule the procedure. It’ll take just a few minutes, we only have to do a local, unless you’d like general?”
“Okay, we’ll do this later today and you should, barring any complications, be out tomorrow. Sound good?”
Another nod. And, “Hey, you can still study it if you promise to use a cool fake name like Elizabeth X or Patient.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth.”
“I’m your paper, Doctor Baby.”
“Yes you are, patient darling. I’ll let them in now.”
Calla lilies and goofy smiles, every one. I hate them.