from Parallel Processing
“I am watching you right now and I am going to kill you,” you say.
“Who is this?” she says, quivering.
You hang up. Making prank calls isn’t a nice thing to do generally but your mom suffers from dementia.
It keeps her alert. You also derive some enjoyment from the activity. Just some. Then that initial joy slowly recedes, sadness creeping behind your eyes like an irritating mist. In the future, you see your mother slumped over, dead in a chair. Everything is round: her face, her shoulders, time.
You blink and stare at the phone for a while. Its cord is wrapped into itself. An introverted snake. You poke it a bit. It recoils, then retains its previous shape. It reacts just as an actual snake may. Or a rubber band. Perhaps this is just all we are; inanimate material reacting to stimuli. When there is pain, we flinch. Maybe cry out. When we are happy, we smile.
You pick up the phone again and dial your work. It is too early in the day so no one picks up and you leave a voicemail.
“Hi, I’m feeling sick today. Thanks.” You hang up and realize you didn’t leave your name. Hopefully someone will recognize your voice. But if they listen too closely, they will hear the lie you are telling like a piano in an orchestra, a soft background to the hammy violin section, a lonely person at a cocktail party.
You go to your desk and your hand grabs a pen. Your hand draws a zombie on some paper. You trace the circumference of a face, then a neck, adding creases and shadows. The zombie’s mouth is agape, teeth flashing. You stare at it for a while. You decide to darken the eyes so that they appear glassy and opaque. A bit of blood and skeins of mucus hanging from cracked lips. You grimace, tapping your pen against the table. You begin to feel sympathy for the zombie you’ve drawn. It is probably mad at the world for all the prejudice it has faced for being of the living dead.
You give the zombie a wrap dress, tying the string gently on the side. The zombie is going out tonight. You give the zombie a bob cut. Add a bow on its head. Some hoop earrings. With little flowers, dangling. You draw a baby turtle in an aquarium next to it. The zombie wants to impress its date with its love of animals. It has had self-esteem issues its whole life and has always felt the need to impress others to find its own sense of worth. This most likely began from childhood when other zombie kids used to make fun of it for having a large head. It ran away from home whenever its zombie parents fought. It would date the living once in a while, but whenever it got into an argument, it would snap its loved one’s head off and devour the brain, swallowing lobes whole. It would feel suicidal after such brainy binges and gnaw on its own forearm slowly, unthinking. It has felt displaced in an unpointable way, for a long time, feeling doom whenever it thought about how it will never find a living connection but it persevered anyway, believing that life exists so that one can produce one’s own sense of purpose. For now, its purpose is to feel confident in itself. You now feel scared and sorry for it. You want it to succeed, but you are also realistic. The zombie will probably attract someone just as depressed as it is. It will eat their brains, maybe this time without snapping the neck, and they will have zombie sex, slow and painful, and it will get pregnant with a zombie baby and it will try to eat the baby while it is in the zombie’s uterus, but will stop itself from doing so since it does not want to jeopardize its future of walking around aimlessly and eating more brains, the only solace it has in its miserable existence, and the zombie’s dreams will be thrown away forever in the advent of this zombie pregnancy and the zombie boyfriend will suggest they get married because the pregnant zombie’s parents think that is what responsible zombie fathers should do and they will get married and live miserably for the rest of their zombie lives.[i]
You stop drawing and look up. Your walls are blank. They stare back. Quiet makes your ears pulse. If you were to anthropomorphize your walls, you would believe them to be sarcastic, twisting their mustaches into tiny horns, flitting their eyebrows up and down knowingly. Your walls know that your attempt to write, to rid of your mortality, is futile. Your walls will remain when you die. You also understand man-made objects do not survive indefinitely as in “Ozymandias.”
“See?” you say to the wall, “you’re not going to last forever either.”
The sun will die and the world will blacken, says the wall.
Your heartbeat, drumming at a quick pace. You marvel at the tenacity of that muscled organ in your chest, its chambers dilating and contracting with blood. You know that at some moment, it will cease and there will be nothing. You try to think of nothing. Nothing does not exist, including its very concept. This confuses and saddens you, like someone stealing money from a tip jar. Nothing is a manic mess, waiting in line to get coffee. Nothing waits until no one is looking and steals from the tip jar to pay for its drink. Nothing orders a red eye, sips some of it, then gives the rest to the base of an oak tree. Nothing is a total asshole.
You are not feeling confident. You should go to a lesbian bar. You want to be hit on in a non-threatening way. Men tend to be threatening. You feel like you could take on a woman if she were attempting to rape you. You are sexist. And also a bit gay.
Your nails are getting long. There are bits of dirt in some corners of your thumb and index finger. Did you crawl out of a well recently? Who would be into you with those nails? You walk to the bathroom and take out a nail clipper. It is difficult finding it since there are many other items in the cabinet such as lipstick, mascara, deodorant… things you rarely use. You begin clipping the nails of your left hand since you are right-handed. Your thumbnail curves out a bit as it is being clipped off. You want to have a perfect crescent by the time you finish the nail. Your clipper snaps off the beginning of your anticipated crescent. You give up on your goal and hack off the rest of the nail. Your thumb appears like a dilapidated parabola now, leaning on one side. If it were a graph, it would signify your enthusiasm over time. You wonder if a perfect crescent would have been achieved if you had used the toe nail clipper instead. You try to find the toe nail clipper but are unsuccessful. You do find your tweezers, though. You close the cabinet and look in the mirror. There are small hairs that peak out from the skin below your eyebrows.
“Fuck,” you say. You lean closer to your reflection, squinting. There appear to be a forest of small hairs littering the landscape of your brow.
You say it again, elongating the vowel. “Fuhhhhhhck.”
You pluck, slowly at first, accelerating to an obsessive fury. Some hairs fall on your cheeks, others accumulate inside the shaper. You finish your work and reassess your brow. Your eyebrows appear asymmetrical. The right brow is thinner than the left, acting as a faint arch while the left has a seductive kink in its thickness, making the left eye a bit coquettish. But its coquettishness is immediately cancelled by the witchy arch of your right. You pick up the nail clipper and finish clipping your nails, feeling frustrated.
You go back to your zombie drawing. You write, What is funny? next to it. You cross out the word funny and write serious over it. You then write, War. Imprisonment. Pedophilia. Religion. Death. Poverty.
You stop here, reading over what you’ve written. Then you add, Anything Remotely Mortal like Farting, Pooping, Fucking, and Bleeding.
You read your short list and feel smug. You want to write a book about all these things sardonically, but not caustically. Not making fun of the concepts themselves necessarily, but of the gravity each holds. You want to unbind ideas from their words and have the letters that form the words become bits of lead scraped aimlessly across a complex of cellulose and starchy fibers. You wonder what you will have after that.
You look up at the wall again. The world seems to have remained unchanged from any previous moment. Time as its own standard of measure. You can only trust that a few minutes have passed, based on what the clock says. You reset your clock to half an hour later. That feels like the right amount of time to you. You start to feel aroused—you are not working on your writing. Nervousness bubbles about in your mind. You pull at your clitoris a bit. How is it that when you touch your arm, you are aware of the sensations of your hand touching your arm and your arm being touched by your hand? How are you able to convince yourself physiologically that your fingers are like another person’s fingers on your clitoris? What would this person be like? Their fingers are short and stubby like yours—probably not a pianist. Maybe someone that handles food … an obese chef. You stop touching yourself.
Before you called your mom and started drawing, you wrote a poem about a human wrestling a pine tree:
I am wrestling a pine tree
It is winning
Its needles are annoying
Its bark is brown
I might die
You watch me bend a branch
It was to represent humanity versus nature. Now the idea has lost its luster. It sits in front of you like a crafty pigeon, waiting for your next move, so it can dart away from your clutches, again. You lie on your bed and decide to masturbate for a few minutes. Your fingers are curled in a rigor mortis way, flicking across your clitoris. Maybe you should give the pine tree a gun, have it threaten your protagonist. You stop playing with your clitoris. You turn to your paper and add some witty dialogue between your protagonist and the pine tree.
PROTAGONIST is in a forest clearing with a gigantic cypress TREE, a shiny gun glinting in its branches. PROTAGONIST must silently speak TREE’s lines.
But I am pregnant, Tree. It’s your baby.
You’re just saying that so I won’t kill you.
That is true.
TREE (wind through its branches):
When you die, your blood will moisten my roots.
I never imagined my death to be alone, in a forest.
If a protagonist dies in a story that no one reads,
what sound would it make?
TREE pulls trigger but in doing so, kills itself and PROTAGONIST. Flames engulf the scene for no reason other than the fact that I don’t know how else to end this ridiculous idea. I want coffee. Or beer. Maybe a coffee-beer concoction. Something like Guinness, but lighter, more energetic. Whenever I lose interest in writing or doing something creative, I’d rather just drink something that will distract me from my stale, stagnant thoughts.
You should be proud of yourself. Maybe this writing project will be the one to pay your rent which has been due for a couple weeks now. You relive the conversation you had with your landlord, saying her parts and your parts, adding an alternate ending:
Of course I can wait another week.
Why thank you, you are so generous.
You’ve never had trouble paying rent before.
You are right.
How’s your mother?
Cut to show scene of MOTHER, exposed bleached bones in fecund soil.
How did you know about my mother?
You mentioned it once in passing.
She’s fine… I call her every day.
It must be hard.
Yes, but she’s staying healthy.
I mean for you as well, having to watch your mother’s mind deteriorate.
Cut to YOU screaming, sobbing into a pillow in the middle of the night.
Well, I’m managing.
Makes you wonder about why we’re even on
this planet if there are good people like your
mother out there who suffer so needlessly.
YOU (thinks of zombies):
And you, too. You work so hard as a writer.
Of course you’re going to struggle to pay rent.
You have student loans?
Yeah, I got an MFA in Poetry.
Gosh, that must have been fun!
Yeah, but it was expensive. I’m not really doing
anything with the degree.
Did you apply to any creative writing teaching jobs?
Yeah, and I got rejected from every single one.
It’s because you applied while you were finishing
your degree. You should try again.
I don’t really want to teach anyway. I want to write.
Well, do you really have the luxury of time to
write anymore? I never see you in your apartment.
You’re always tutoring those poor retarded children.
They actually have autism.
Yeah, but they’re retarded too, right?
Well, not really…
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.
It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean to.
I can be quite callous sometimes.
It’s just not PC to refer to people as “retarded.”
But that’s what they are, right? I mean, they
don’t think the way a typically developing person would?
Yeah, but to say “retarded” implies that there
should be some sort of given pace of
cognition one should aspire to or something.
I see… Well, I’m really glad you’ve
opened my eyes to my own prejudices.
No, not at all… You’re not judgmental.
If you were, you wouldn’t be talking to me
right now, being so understanding about rent.
Yes, that is true. I just think that if people
are facing tough times, they should—
There is a knock on your door. It is dark out. You clench your teeth. The person knocks again. You look through the eyehole on your door. It is a stranger. Maybe a serial killer… rapist. Combo serial killer-rapist. He looks annoyed, knocking again.
“Yes?” you ask through the door.
“You left your key in the door.”
You should die. “Thanks,” you say.
You open the door. The stranger is already headed down the stairs, his back to you, head collapsing into his shoulders. You pull your keys out by your turtle keychain. It is stitched with blue and green yarn to represent the checkered shell of an actual turtle. The appendages are of the same material as the shell. If you were to knit a turtle, you would use the softest yarn possible for the body inside the shell. Something vibrant and vulnerable like chartreuse.
You turn off the lights and lie down in bed. You look at the outlines of furniture in relief, like a ghostly city. You want to experience complete and silent darkness, as in a cave. The kind that you’ve read about in books where you hold your hand out in front of you and can’t see it with your eyes open. You want to know that physical uncertainty. You close your eyes and imagine it as you fall asleep.
I loved Geraldine Kim’s first book, Povel, because it was so many things at once. It was super experimental in form but it was also a somewhat direct narrative about loss. I also liked that the book’s form was reminiscent of My Life by Lyn Hejinian, and was also referent to shitty moshcore bands from the 00’s like Sworn Enemy. Geri’s writing can be very silly. She’s a habitual line stepper. This is an excerpt from her insanely good new novel she’s working on. Geraldine Kim is a speech counselor working with students with autism. She’s rad. She had a cool band called Two Boobies and a Vagina. —Matt L. Roar