April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
Just a passerby, sidewalk chalk dust washed away by automatic lawn sprinklers.
“Have you seen Susanna?”
They laughed, gathered in a dark circle around a car battery, sucking luminescent pacifiers under Circle X neon – red, red, red.
“Baby left you, huh?” One of them leaned back and stretched to her feet. Slight girl with long, transparent hair, couldn’t have been more than 14.
“Have you seen her?”
“Do you pick up strays?” Walked over to where I was standing, reaching with glow-in-the-dark hands. “I’m a little lost kitten, can I cuddle with you?”
“Have you?” My left arm was starting to shake in the shadow.
“Don’t you want to take me home?” Had on a Dust Lag shirt, the one I designed.
“Where is she?” Above – red, red, red. Her hair shimmered pink black brown.
“Don’t you want me?” All the e’s were cracking up as they watched, and I couldn’t move as she slinked right in front of me, her pixel-glazed eyes staring into mine.
“Where?” My legs wouldn’t listen.
“Shhhhh.” Placed her palm on my chest, and I felt her power even through my jacket. “You’re mine now.” Her breath was Freezie sweet, and as she moved her hand up and curled it around my neck, I wanted to run yet my feet were hers.
“Don’t” Pulled my head downwards, her eyes flickering like the space between channels.
“Do.” She parted my lips with shining thumbs, and kissed me a secret.
“It’s over. Over.”
I only ran with the Circle X witches for a week, but without them I don’t think I’d be alive today.
“Susanna doesn’t have time for your shit right now,” she said, pulling out her thumbs. Inside my mouth she left a black key cap labeled “esc”.
That’s Amy, the leader of the technocoven, and after she took me under her wing I started to recover from the shock of losing the net. Before we met up I wandered the streets for weeks, trying to contact Susanna with a junky transmitter. No go. And the shaking was worse.
“I don’t know why the fuck we have to, but A-Bell ordered us to watch you.” She reached in a sliver mylar anti-static bag hanging around her neck and pulled out a handful of loose key caps, which she then threw to the ground like dice.
Fairview was Amy’s zone and she had advanced warning that A-Bell was coming back to raise the dead OSes, to bring the collective bodyweb online no matter what, and the witches were there to watch her back.
“But, since Tomoe vouches for you, I guess we’ll stop fucking around.” Bent down on all fours and examined the pattern of letters and numbers on the pavement, mumbling to herself all the while.
Tomoe, the shiny girl who saved me when I crashed, was also part of the coven, but she was elsewhere then, recruited by A-Bell and her e-punks for a secret project. She pointed me in the witches’ direction the last time we spoke, knowing they would take care of me while she was gone.
“Shit. Keyboard says we have to leave now. The CXNU daemons are back.” Picked up the keys in heaping handfuls and motioned over to the rest of the coven. The other two girls quickly unhooked themselves from the car battery and ran down the street into shadow.
Amy reads the near future of the net by throwing her keyboard – some e in Russia came up with the script and she modified it to sniff through encrypted packets.
“Come on Phone,” she whispered in my ear, taking my hand by the control nodes. “We have some business to attend to.” With that she walked around the car battery circle, and led me into the darkened Circle X with a key card swipe.
The witches – Amy, Sarah, Mavi and Tomoe – first formed their coven a few years ago, when A-Bell’s partner Amber recruited them due to a simple video game console hack.
Amy was only 12 but had learned 3-D modeling from her big brother who worked for a living making the lip sync for talking dog and cat food commercials. She quickly cobbled together a game engine with Tomoe, her best friend who was creating her own open source OS and wanted to adapt the kernel so it would support a dead console she bought at a flea market for a few bucks.
Once they were successful they started making kits and selling them over the internet – a few extra wires, more RAM and spare modem was all you needed for deathmatch action. Amber heard about the kit and contacted them to see if they were interested in adapting it as a WOF client – the markup language the collective was using to make the bodyweb. They agreed, but first recruited two members of their deathmatch clan: Mavi for the GUI and Sarah for the textures.
Mavi’s 18 and already retired after holding a particularly choice domain name hostage until some IPO-fodder coughed up blood. She also is deadly with Phonecom 500 hour-free CD-ROMs; she could embed one in a telephone pole from 50 feet away. Sarah is a little older, not sure how much, and has wicked virtual scrollbars down her arms and legs, which she says are good for gaming and foreplay, but I can’t vouch for either. She’s also into cannibalizing portable inkjet printers for use on sidewalks and storefronts, and I bought one from her just in case I start tagging again.
After making the WOF box the coven became an official cell of the collective, and Amy was elected the leader only because she beat the others at capture the flag. Which was probably good for everyone’s sake, because when A-Bell came back the coven was put in charge of offering up a large diversion, and Amy was a born drama queen.
“We have 5 minutes, tops.” As soon as we entered the Circle X she waved on the lights and then hopped the counter, attaching a wire from the WOF client at her waist (that year’s model was as small as a beeper) to a card she then swiped through the POS reader. Punched in her PIN and smiled as a receipt popped out, which she tore off with a flourish. “Got it.”
I wasn’t sure then just what she had, thought maybe she was after some extra e-cash, but I caught on quickly once she hopped the counter again and ran past the freezers, toward the store room door. Took out her key card, swiped it, and punched in a number off the receipt. The door opened with a click and she waved me in behind her.
“All I need is 3 minutes to get what we came for,” she whispered, headed for a computer in the corner. “Be a dear and graze the shelves for snacks, you know, chocolate and bubble gum, maybe some sugar cereal. Oh, and make me a cherry Freezie for the road.” I had no reason not to do what she said, so I turned back around, grabbed a plastic bag from behind the counter, and went shopping. Even snagged a 2 liter of soda before she ran out of the back and quickly exited through the front door, carrying a hard drive in one hand, and what looked like a small container of propane in the other. I followed, trying not to spill her Freezie.
“Shit, do you have any matches?” she asked, turning on the propane with a hiss. I shook my head no so she pointed me back inside. “Get some by the cash register, and one of those crossword puzzle books, too.”
I did, and decided to snag some extra peanuts for the road, because I hadn’t eaten all day. She met me by the door, kick-rolled the propane down an aisle, and grabbed the matches and puzzle book. “You like running?” She lit the book on fire and threw it at a stack of newspapers. “I like running, it’s like sex only with heavy breathing at the end instead of the beginning.” With that, she took the Freezie out of my hand, turned around, and jumped over the car battery, sprinting down the street in the same direction the rest of the coven did.
Sarah and Mavi were waiting for us a few blocks down, their bikes already unlocked. Amy waived me over to a small dirt bike and jumped on the handlebars. “Let’s go already, and if you make me spill this,” she took a long drag on the Freezie, “I’ll kill you.”
Surprisingly, the Circle X didn’t explode until we made it all the way down the hill.
The next day Sarah was nice enough to update my body marks so I would be compliant with the new WOF standard, and she even convinced Amy to give me an extra client box.
In exchange I helped Sarah with some new skins for the next WOF browser – it seems that the Dust Lag shirt originally was hers, and she was a fan of my art since she was in elementary school. Amy had already decrypted the drive she had stolen, and sent the needed data to Tomoe, who attached a little message for me with her reply.
“Hey baby, I hope the witches are taking care of you. I told them all about San and Izzy and after they stopped laughing they decided to cut you some slack. After the shakes are all gone, rebuild your OS and meet me at the Treehouse.”
It had been ages since I last visited the club – not since San left – and it wasn’t like I was looking forward to it. But I trusted Tomoe, even missed her some, so I did what she said and let the coven help me get back into shape.
Besides, the witches were a blast to be around. Mavi used her stock options to buy up a small arcade, and the back room was converted into their base of operations. When she wasn’t trying to beat her high score on Major Havoc, she maintained the cell’s bodyweb node, usually while baking cookies – chocolate chip was her favorite.
Sarah was a bicycle messenger before the net fell, so she not only had hardcore legs but knew every shortcut around town and then some. Because of this, she was in charge of collecting WOF data for Fairview and the surrounding cities, and usually did so during her runs. I think she had a thing for me, because she let me crash on her bedroom floor and was always on me to sign her album covers.
Not that she wasn’t cute, especially with glasses on. She was perhaps the most intricately marked e-punk I had ever met, almost entirely self etched with body circuits that were both functional and artistic. She couldn’t stand to look at my street etch though, so when she did the WOF update she also added some extra flourish, taking her time on my hands and face.
I guess that was her way of flirting, but she had nothing on Amy, who continued to make me as uncomfortably aroused as she could until I had to wiggle away. She was with Tomoe but didn’t let that stop her from using every available opportunity to throw weird scripts at me that would cause uncontrollable orgasms or make me faint dead away. When I’d wake up, she’d be fussing around with my hair, whispering sick shit in my ear before she bit it. It was all one big power trip, because she knew my reputation and wanted to see how far she could take it before I snapped. She knew I still had San on my mind and heart, and wanted to see just how committed I was.
Amy wasn’t all that bad though, because she let me become an unofficial member of her coven, with a ceremony that involved sucking on lit birthday candles, making fingernail clipping collages and having to memorize their FAQ. After that we broke into a bowling alley, watered the lanes and slid down them naked, which was as fun as it sounded.
Anyway, the new OS kicked in and so I stopped shaking soon enough, and then I had to hit the road for the Treehouse, which was off on the industrial side of town. I borrowed one of Sarah’s bikes, and before I left Amy pulled me aside, threw a paralyzing script and stuck a key cap into my mouth with her tongue. “Give that to Tomoe for me, OK?” With that she gave my body back to me and patted me on the butt. “Now scoot.”
It took about an hour to ride to the Treehouse since I had to avoid downtown – it had been a total police state since the night everything went to hell. The power was back on, and stores were starting to open again, but the streets were scarred with the half-faded footfalls of revolution, and even the street cleaners couldn’t blast away all of the broken glass, blood and spray paint.
Things over by 3rd street looked just as trashed, but honestly it had been that way for the past decade. The Treehouse was now flanked on either side by some live-work lofts and you could just imagine a burrito shop and some cafes fitting in perfectly to the newly gentrified neighborhood. Somehow the pre-punks that used to beg Ariel to get into the back door grew up to be lawyers and community activists that lobbied the city council to keep the club open, and won.
As I rolled up to the front door and took out my old set of keys, I could even see some of the ancient concert posters I designed peeking out behind the new ones. I ran my fingers past fliers for Intruder Alert! and Fire Escape, but before I could skip down memory lane any further, I saw Tomoe inside on a couch by the tetherball pole, her arms around A-Bell and someone else I didn’t recognize at first.
“Glad you could make it,” Tomoe said, giving me the finger. “Come on over and join us for root beer and conspiracy.”
After I propped the bike against a wall, A-Bell stood up and walked over to me, and put her hands on my shoulders. “Things are not what they seem, Phone.” With that, she stuck out her tongue and changed with a shimmer into Isabel.
“You’ve got that right dear.” The other girl stood up from the couch, and I immediately recognized her as Jenny antizine. She walked over next to Isabel and kissed her on the cheek.
Then she touched her wrist and changed into someone else. I couldn’t believe it. Sasha.
“Fuck Traffic baby,” she smiled, pinching my cheek. “Are you with me?”
Amy was wrong.
It’s not over at all, not by a long shot.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
I woke up data blind, deaf, and dumb to a car-alarm symphony conducted by apocapunks. My head felt totally thwapped, like I swallowed one too many junk obs, but when I tried to clean my cache all that came forth was static.
You must have felt it. The big throbbing rip and black nothing then white white white…
Yeah, I didn’t understand much then. Now….?
I don’t know…. it’s bad enough talking to myself like this, but there has to be someone out there listening, a stray head that didn’t get fried by an e-bomb. Or the e-bomb…. whatever, at this point I don’t give a fuck.
All I know is that I woke up in my own vomit, and my circuit clothes were dead. I couldn’t see shit past the shadow glare, but I managed to crawl across the leafy sidewalk and hide behind a dumpster before the city devoured itself.
Maybe it wasn’t as bad for you. You could have been watching TV or something, maybe jacking off in a closet to the latest teleporn, and cursed at your kids when the power fled…. at this point it doesn’t matter, huh? Everything’s different now.
Anyway, I still haven’t recovered from what happened that night, but like I was telling you before, all I care about now is just finding Susanna, and everything and everyone else can just go to hell….
O.K. Bad choice of words. But what am I supposed to say or think or do? The whole world turned inside out and me with it, and no one….
I’m sorry…. maybe this is a waste of time after all. If you can hear this, you probably got enough shit together that you don’t even need my help to make it through. I don’t know why I even bothered to slap this transmitter together….
Fuck it. Either you care, or you don’t. I’ll never know one way or the other.
So where was I? Yeah…. behind the dumpster, wallowing in crumpled beer cans and newspapers, and the streets soon filled with little kids chasing the end of the world ice cream truck, along with their brothers and sisters and parents and gramps and granny too…
As far as I can tell, I was out for at least an hour after it happened, so the sun was starting to set and people had enough time to put their home-grown riot gear on. There must have been some psychic emergency broadcast system action going, because everyone had just one thing on their mind – fuck the police, fuck CX, fuck NU, fuck everyone and everything, moving or not. Or maybe it was just me, still shaken after my OS crashed and infoskin grew cold.
I still can’t get over it…. 4 years wired erased in a nanosecond, and I had the shakes and the sweats and my head felt like it had already exploded. Everything was a shadowy blur, and it didn’t help that all the street lights and neon were dead and buried. You would think that it wouldn’t take that long to readjust to the h/n, but it took me days to walk without bumping into shit, to move at all without feeling like I was on invisible, shaky crutches.
Of course, I was still too freaked to realize this – always Mr. Uber e-punk, ready for mass decontextualization at the twitch of a finger – and so as soon as I could make out the traffic for the cars, I staggered up and into the stream of urban locusts, carried along for the ride.
I guess I was high on reality or something, because I kept turning to everyone I saw and gave them the full stare on, tripping on the lack of bio-data. No social, no DMV, no dems or financials or even a simple position history, they were silent strangers that had neither past nor predictable future. After a couple of minutes of bouncing from person to person, and getting shoved and slapped away because, this glow-in-the-dark girl carrying a car-battery came up to me and asked what the fuck was my problem, anyway? I babbled something about the black white white and she frowned, took my hand, and led me over to a side street. Sat me down by a vidbooth, hooked some jumper cables up to my thumb nodes, and gave me some pure DC to collect myself.
5 seconds of absolute clarity, enough for my OS to clean up and shut down properly, and when I came to she smiled and sat down beside me, making sure to free the alligators before I got burned. “Shit. Where’d you get etched, anyway? Someone sure fucked up bad.” I was too happy for the recharge to take offense, and besides, she was too cute to bitch at. Like I said before, from head to toe she was all shiny, one of those phosphorescent dermal tints that were big with the e-teens and various wannabes, and her clear-vinyl dress only accentuated the positive. Kind of like a ceiling star sticker come to life, only sexier and with green eyes that looked straight through you. I was too struck to flirt, so I just nodded and gathered my senses.
It wasn’t just me after all. Everything was totally fucked up, and the car-alarms just wouldn’t quit. I asked her if she knew what had happened, but she just frowned again and told me to follow her with the quickness. So we slipped back into the crowd, and weaved through the angry skatepunks, housewives and armchair athletes, who all seemed to be headed in the same direction – the mall.
I don’t know if I’m doing the whole scene justice. Running though a gaggle of suburban horsepeople of the apocalypse carrying broomstick torches and assault rifles, past abandoned, screaming cars with the keys left in ignitions, and there wasn’t a stray electron to be found. I’m not even going to speculate about how big the EM burst was, but it managed to fry all the ATMs and stoplights, not to mention anything and everything that moved, beep or blipped, and yet was not alive. Of course, it also crashed every e that was even remotely logged on, and the only thing that saved my synapses was the fact that I had a street etch without any hardware.
Not that I was blessing my chickens or anything, I was too busy trying to keep up with Shiny, who wasn’t in the mood for stragglers. I did my best to follow her glow as she shoved past the populouses, and after cutting across Commerce Dr. – in the distance the Yogurt Hut and Valumart were already aflame – we ran on the off ramp and across the freeway, making a bee-line for the Fairview Shopping Center.
I don’t know where you’re from, but every city worth its property tax has some mall equivalent, and Fairview was the same old cookie-cut piece of shit. Super Circle X anchor, with the typical fast-food faster-death joints, not to mention circuit clothiers and 3rd world electro-emporiums. When I was younger I used to bomb the side facing the freeway weekly, trying out my latest burners and honing my crew. Then they got video-cameras and aerosol alarms, so if you even as much pointed paint in their direction, it was you spread eagle on SWAT! or another syndicated police-state crimecom. Anyway, I hated Fairview with a passion, and would only go there to harass the security guards and pick up Susanna from work. San…
Shit. I haven’t heard from her in weeks, ever since….
I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if she even made it back into the h/n…
It’s no use. You’re not going to have the answer I need, so once I spill my guts it’s back to the streets, hitting all the squats and micro-reality stations that are bound to still exist, somewhere. Someone has to know what happened to her….
Fuck this. I’m in too much trouble to be worried and love-sick, and besides, San can take care of herself far better than I can….
So Shiny and I cut through the freeway trees and followed the shoplifter trail to Fairview, and all the while she filled me in on what I missed. Seems the CXNU got ahead of itself and flipped the switch before the collective could pounce, and one of the first casualties was Frisbee. I never thought she really had it in her, but when the smoke cleared she had flown off and took all of the electrons with. Shiny didn’t know what really happened next, except that Jenny led the counter-attack and the whole world was limping because.
At this point it doesn’t really matter. Things just are, and I didn’t understand this fully until we met up with the rest of the e’s behind the SCX. The last person I expected to see there was Isabel, and she wasn’t orgasmic to be in my presence either. She glared at me briefly before going back to work, fussing with a tangle of wires, half of which dangled from the roof of the building, 4 stories up. While Shiny went over to her to help and exchange notes, I sat down on the nearest loading dock, feeling nauseous. Part of it was because I wasn’t used to all of the static that was flying up, around, and through my head, but mostly I was weirded out to be around Izzy again. It had been almost 6 years since the last time we talked, and I wouldn’t say we parted ways on a high-note.
But you don’t even give a fuck, huh? Here I am, last will and testifying to you when all you want to know is why I’m saying anything in the first place, why I can’t lick my wounds like everyone else and just let things be. Well, I’ve always been a jerk that way, sucking on the past like a security blanket, even though it never makes me feel any better. The thing is that Izzy is one big walking billboard listing all of the things that I lost, all the ways that I’ve hurt the people I’ve cared for the most, and meeting up with her just brought back the pain.
It wasn’t always like this, at least I don’t think so. I really can’t pin down where things went wrong with me, but I guess I started to notice how much of a jerk I was becoming back when Masking Tape was starting up. Doug and I had just liberated what was to become the Treehouse from an athletic shoe sweat shop, that was raided by the INS and had to scatter quick. The building was condemned, but no one seemed to put up too much of a fuss when we broke in and converted it to an all-ages monster punk rally. No, the corporates started to smash heads only after the home town bands started to break big, and all the $3 tax-free admissions started to add up. Still, we had a little over 2 years of unrestricted freedom, and during that time I was convinced that I could do no wrong. Of course, I did nothing but wrong, but no one dared suggest that then, because I was still tight was Doug and anyone passed basking in his glow.
He first started Masking Tape on a drunken dare cutting French 4 class; we were tagging the back of the Circle X over by the High School, and a gaggle of ripe girls passed us on the way home from 6th period. I picked out Izzy, all of 15 and already resplendent, and boasted that I could win her over by the sheer force of my artistic talent, which then consisted mainly of exhibits on the backs of buses and street signs. He countered by stating flat out that no girl in her right mind ever fell for an artist unless he was a total jerk or dead, and thus I was already half way to home plate. I let him get away with that, but not without first dragging him over to stalk the girl-pack.
We caught up with them a few blocks down, and I put on my best face and tried to ingrate myself with the crowd. I was far from the big man on campus, but outpunk enough that Isabel, Patricia and Becky had already taken notice, in a 9th grade sort of way. Meaning that I couldn’t help but prove sly giggles with my sophomore status, and entertaining tales of the street that were miles from the nearest salt lick. I was so enthusiastically full of myself that they bit, even more so with Doug because he looked liked a centerfold from some skater rag, all scabbed, scruffy and basically irresistible.
Somehow that day we ended up at Pat’s house, and camped out in her garage drinking homemade lemonade while we flirted awkwardly. Doug insinuated that he was starting a band, which I hadn’t heard shit about until then – since he had made it up just to impress. Then Becky and Pat ran inside and came out swinging guitars, and before we knew it Masking Tape was born. Well not exactly, because it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I quit (more like was thrown out) due to a complete lack of musical talent, and Susanna found her way to one of our practices. I can’t say that I was struck by her immediately, partially because I was too busy chasing after Izzy, but mostly because I was intimidated by her presence, her power. As soon as she took the mike during her “audition” – which was more like Friday night and a stray 6-pack, I wanted to run out of the room then and there, because I didn’t feel worthy of her voice. It was too honest and primal, like a baby’s laugh or the serenade of a grizzled woman spare changing in front of the supermarket. Doug gave her the mike and told her to “follow my lead”, but as soon as Isabel started tapping her cymbals San was already….
Fuck, I’m hopeless. I promised myself that I would just stick with the factoids here, and not float down the river singing songs of my stupidity. This’ll probably be the first and last time anyone will ever hear my side of the story, and I’m already wasting it and my batteries ranting about the good old days. That time and place is gone forever, as am I at this point. Before, I was Brian Thomas, stupid-ass Phone the high school dropout street artist, and now I’m just another cockroach crawling out from under the ashes.
I’m the first one to admit that it’s over, but the last one that’s going to accept it. Somehow along the line I listened to Sasha one too many times, and became convinced that we actually could make a difference, that I had a purpose above and beyond painting Suspender concert posters and getting on San’s nerves. But Sasha died years ago, and took my dreams with her. Slide Rule School and the collective might still live on, but it’s no big secret who’s winning the war.
That’s what I found out the hard way on the night the world ended, as Isabel and Shiny stole the Fairview Mall for one last hack. By the time some e managed to pop open the back door, everyone had made it across the overpass and was already tearing things apart. The e’s started to go inside, and Shiny motioned for me to follow, but I stood transfixed, watching toddlers raised on the shoulders of their parents cheer greedily as the strip mall was consumed by a sea of softball bats and shopping carts. The Super Circle X was the main attraction, and the night shift was carried out into the parking lot – a shaking, red mass of minimum-wage earners surrounded by ex-consumers, pleading for forgiveness. An old Chinese woman, dressed in a white nightgown and pink slippers, slowly approached one of the cashiers and raised her finger angrily. “Stop your whining son, and face judgement! Our day has finally come!”
Before his co-workers could stop him, he rose up to face her and shouted back at those assembled. “This is insane! What have we ever done to you?”
Then she reached into her purse, pulled out a pistol, and aimed it right at his head. “Jesus came on TV tonight and told me to seek out the mark of Satan, and wipe it clean from the face of the earth.” It looked like she pointed right at the X on his baseball cap, but after she pulled the trigger her accuracy didn’t matter all that much. His head jerked back and he slumped down to the pavement, bleeding red upon red.
She stood over his body, her arm still shaking, and the crowd started to back away as if suddenly broken out of a trance. She then kneeled down next to her still twitching victim, looked skyward as if to ask for forgiveness, and turned the gun on herself.
That second shot traveled through every last cellular phone golfer and former market segment, and they all suddenly rushed forward to obey the starting pistol to long-awaited anarchy. I didn’t stick around long enough to know where their gunfire was directed, who was screaming at whom, or exactly how brightly the imagined enemy was allowed to burn. I just ran inside, through a long access tunnel and up some stairs into administration. I felt my way around shadowy cubicles and copy machines, until I spied Shiny as she and Izzy picked apart the mainframe.
“Make yourself useful for once, and hold this.” Gave me a flashlight, which I steadied as she panned for gold. Soon enough Izzy pulled out a little black cube, which she quickly shoved in her satchel before replacing it with something similar, yet far from sanctioned. I had no idea what was up exactly, but I was smart enough to tag along as Shiny and crew suddenly shot for the entrance to the mall proper, Izzy barking cryptic instructions all the way.
Usually Fairview was one big consumer-bacteria culture, with ever multiplying masses of sex crazed teenagers claiming all unoccupied space for their stand-around swagger. Of course, they had to compete with the radioactive nuclear families, with 2.4 kids orbiting the harried mothers, pops usually no where to be found. That night, however, we entered the football-stadium sized center part to find a virtual ghost town, save for a few straggling night managers quickly rolling down the bars before the outside came rushing in. Over by the SCX entrance to the mall there were hundreds of security guards, decked out in their finest Christmas-crowd control gear, but the shoddy bars and fencing which usually held out the stray shelf-grazer were buckling under the force of disgruntled office workers and burger flippers. It was obvious that the barricades were only going to last a few more minutes, but Izzy and crew weren’t fazed at all, and instead started to unload a bunch of crap by the central water fountain and fucked-up abstract sculpture of “Our American Heritage,” which looked like a bunch of squirrels devouring a large chicken.
“Come on, we only have 3 minutes!” Shiny was spreading a big mess of aluminum foil over the black and white tiles, while a particularly anemic looking e reached in his backpack and pulled out what looked like a gray, translucent beach towel. The guards were too busy with the rioters to notice our activity, and I crouched nervously by the fountain while Izzy slipped out of her black overalls and Intruder Alert! t-shirt, down to her iridescent datasuit. As always she was a sculptured chunk of the sun, hard and smooth yet universally maternal, and I couldn’t help but stare, remembering the nights I explored her body, vowing never to leave and lying through my teeth. Before I had a chance to reminisce any further, though, she suddenly turned up to look at the ceiling, and what happened next quickly got my mind out between my legs. A piece of the air was missing.
Right below the “Welcome to Fairview” banner, a circular gap in everything suddenly appeared, a beyond-white throbbing other that slipped in out of nowhere and started floating downwards, towards Isabel. My first reaction was to rush forward to protect her from the light, but Shiny held me back as the glowing piece of heaven seemed to reach for Izzy’s outstretched hands. The other e’s were frantically fussing with tech even I couldn’t place, and at the moment her fingertips intruded into the beyond, everything seemed to reverse, like a film-negative only 3-dimensional. We were all touching the white with her, and my heart skipped an infinite beat as the mall faded out from vision, along with Isabel and Shiny and all thoughts of existence. It was that moment just before the pixels right themselves when you’re logging on, and you’re nothing but a diffuse data-cloud, all mind and power and potential. That infantessimile bit of infinite awareness suddenly rushed though every cell in my body, and I felt more complete, more whole, than anything ever. Better than sex, than painting the perfect stroke, than lying in the sun and just being alive. It was the bestest, and I wanted it all, forever.
After I don’t know how long of floating in bliss, the veil suddenly lifted and the world flipped back to its normal fucked-up state. It took me a few seconds to readjust, and then I found myself holding on to Shiny, facing her back and head resting upon her shoulder. She must have came to about the same time I did, because she suddenly jerked away and rushed forward to who I thought was Izzy, lying on the bed of crumpled aluminum and wrapped up in the clear cloth. All the e’s were frantically collecting their materials and whisper-yelling a fast retreat, for just as the white left the mall, so too did the barrier between the shadowy interior and the chaos beyond. I was jerked into action by a storm of gunfire and what sounded like a marathon of lawn mowers, and I quickly rushed to the body on the floor, calling for Isabel. Pushed aside Shiny and reached for her shoulder, only to draw back in horror.
It wasn’t Izzy in the blanket. It was A-Bell, naked and screaming.
“Get off of me, we have to leave now!” She threw my arm aside, grabbed Izzy’s clothes and satchel off the floor, and rushed for the door we came in from. I was too stunned to move, and so Shiny yanked me away from the floor and forced me to flee, my hands latched on a large strip of foil that trailed behind me.
I still don’t understand how they did it, or why. But A-Bell was leading us to safety, and it wasn’t the same A-Bell I knew. She seemed older and harder, like having just crawled out of the desert or something, and her eyes…. they looked right through me, right into my essence, shooting daggers of the white she sprang from. I didn’t have time to examine her any further, as we jumped down the stairs and out into the night, the mall behind us half-shrouded in flames that leapt up into the starry sky.
After we cleared the parking lot, A-Bell stopped by the side of the freeway and slipped on Izzy’s clothes, which barely fit her. The same e that had the towel then pulled out some boots from his bag, which she stepped in barefoot and didn’t bother to tie. While I caught my breath and crumpled my aluminum souvenir, she silently consulted with Shiny, who illuminated all those assembled. I couldn’t help but stare at the two of them, at how beautifully strong A-Bell was. I always had a thing for her, even though I knew she could never want me in the same way I wanted her. More than anyone else she knew how bad I could be, and although she put me through total hell for what had happened with Izzy years ago, she never gave up on me completely, and was one of the few friends I could count on to be honest yet loving. I wanted to walk over and thank her for everything, but before I could she kissed Shiny briefly, gathered Izzy’s things, and ran across the frozen lanes of cars, back to what was left of the city. The other e’s followed, and after a few moments they had disappeared from sight behind the wall of trees.
All I could manage was a stammered “where’s Isabel….”, which Shiny caught and addressed with a forceful hug. She said she would explain later, that she would take care of everything, but that right then we had to leave town, and leave it quickly. I just nodded and followed her down the bumpy freeway, watching Fairview implode upon itself in the distance.
After jogging a mile to the next exit, we took the long way around a police barricade, and hit the bike rack by Central library. Shiny put her universal keys to good use and scored a rickety red one-speed, and was kind enough to set me up with a muddy mountain bike. Then we meandered down past the train tracks – heading against the current of the homeless and otherwise disenfrachized, no doubt marching downtown to reclaim their 2 million cents worth – and found a cruddy warehouse to crash at. By this time it was about 11, but I guess the excitement had gotten to me, because I immediately found an inviting pile of yellowed newspapers and cardboard fragments and settled in for the night.
Well, more like passed out, because the next thing I knew a few hours had snuck, and Shiny was shaking me awake. “Hey, you fuck! We have to go!” I was all who what where but soon got the point as the corrugated metal walls started to rumble – it sounded like a herd of mute elephants were running past. Surprisingly, she wasn’t shining anymore – her clear dress was hidden by a dark poncho, and her head covered with a fuzzy blue cap with ear flaps. I didn’t even bother to ask about the change, and just followed her flashlight into the alley. While we rode away I got a quick peek at the source of the racket – a huge, dark, metallic mass, more like a mountain than a tank, advancing down the train tracks and towards town. Reinforcements.
To be honest, I’m not sure what the fuck happened next. We were almost countrified, over by the cereal factory, and I could barely keep up with Shiny (she claimed my 12 speed while I was asleep). Every so often I looked over my shoulder at the huge finger of smoke that pointed at the sky, severing the Milky Way before diffusing into a sea of shadow, and I kept trying to logon and send a v-prox back into the middle of the inferno. Some habits die hard, I guess – ever since my first etching I always wanted to be where the action was, at least virtually. But that night all circuits were permanently busy, and I was totally pissed-off because.
Anyway, the last time I peeked back at what we were running from, it looked like the sun was rising up from the growing ashes. I yelled at Shiny to stop and look and tell me what the fuck was going on, and once she turned around she totally freaked out, and started pedaling even faster. “Don’t look! Just go!” But I’m a stupid ass, always have been and always will be, so my legs stopped with the up-down and I stood transfixed, watching the light expand and wipe away the darkness. It was like yanking the chain in a closet, and everything, from the trees along the side of the road, to the cars abandoned in drainage ditches, was bleeding harsh shadows as the white leapt forward.
As soon as I realized that whatever was happening wasn’t just isolated to downtown, and was moving towards us, I quickly turned my red piece of crap around and pumped for dear life. But before I had traveled a hundred feet, a shimmering wave of warm whiteness rushed past my face, and the road in front of me dissolved into nothingness.
Where were you when the end finally came? Do you even remember the transition, how the world was devoured by the infinite other slipping out of every star in the sky and hole in the ground? Odds are you think I’ve totally lost it, because you woke up the next morning with a slight headache and coffee-slapped yourself silly. Or maybe you watched all insides turn out, and cried or laughed or peed in your pants as everything was made pure again. Not that it even matters any more – the end came, and went, and left me bruised and tangled up in my bicycle chain on the side of the road.
I didn’t even bother getting up from the ground, and just stared up at the night sky for a while, trying to make up my own constellations. By the time I got to the three-headed snail Shiny came rolling back for me, sat her bike down, and joined me in the dirt. She didn’t have to say a word, because in that universal moment of transition everything became clear, like a baby grabbing onto your finger and just pulling and smiling and drooling up a storm. We just lay there next to each other, wallowing in the afterglow of swimming in God’s tears, and after what seemed like forever she turned her still-glowing face to me and kissed me softly on the nose. “Come on, lazy. We have a ways to go yet.”
With that, she helped me rechain my bike, and patched up a big gash on my knee that I didn’t even notice until then. Left her poncho and hat by the side of the road, and lit our way down the highway, past the crickets and frogs dueling for our attention. After a few miles we turned left at a golf course, and rode into one of those suburban housing developments where every address looks the same. Circled around a bit avoiding any number of dead-end streets, and finally pulled up at a white number with brown trim. Left our bikes in the driveway, stepped over a sleeping cat, and Shiny strode up to the front door, gave me a shhhhhh finger, and entered with a key twist.
Yeah, I followed. Walked past a pillowed couch, turned left and creeped up the stairs behind her, and entered the room she nodded towards. She quickly rushed past, closed the door behind me, and waved me over to a purple bean bag in the far corner. I sat, and tried not to stare too hard as she took off her dress, dug around the closet for a while, and put on some gray sweats. Then she sat down in front of me, lit a few candles, and filled me in on what I’d missed.
Seems I didn’t know shit from toilet paper after all. Just because Susanna was in the collective, and she and I were together, I always assumed that she gave me the real deal, the secret board game instructions that always lead past go. But by the time Shiny was done with me, and the real sun peeked in through transplanted trees and venetian blinds, every little twitch and moan that San rubbed into me as she slept added up into one, huge mosaic of spare change and bottle tops. It’s the kind of grand design that only can be understood in retrospect, and before I had time to fully contemplate it Shiny was pushing me out the garage door, promising to get back to me when the time was right. Of course, she and I both knew far too well that the right time had long since past, and the only thing which lay ahead was the infinite stasis of long-wished for future present.
OK…. I’m being ultra vague, but at this point can you blame me? The net is twitching back into life, CXNU is already rising from the ashes, and every last e is being hunted down one by one. I’ve basically staple-gunned a dart board to my chest by sending out this message, because all the strong encryption in the world won’t stop the universal keys they pick-pocketed from the collective. In a few days they’ll find this transmitter, and in a few weeks I’ll be laying face down in a garbage dump, swimming forever in crumpled snot rags and microwave dinner boxes. Yeah, I’ve already backed myself up, but diffuse data-cloud consciousness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Eventually they’ll wipe all my v-proxes away too, and the only sign left of my existence will be stray tags and junkshop 7″ sleeves.
At this point I don’t give a fuck. All I care about is finding San, and apologizing one last time for all the ways I messed up, the infinite-plus times I held her hand and knew, just knew, that she was so much more important than I, yet I never told her, elevating my fool self instead. I always was the sarcastic lead of the big man sitcom, never willing to settle down, to zip up my pants and throw away the all-life sucker, and at this point I can’t blame her for leaving. I can’t blame her for anything, except walking away without smashing me to a pulp first. But she loved me too much for that, loved herself too much to stoop to my level.
It should be obvious by now that I’m a self-obsessed shit that never takes no for an answer. From the get-go she knew that it would end this way; as we rode home from the Treehouse that first night I wasn’t consciously trying to betray her trust, but it was obvious that the last thing she expected was for Isabel’s boyfriend to hit on her. Or maybe it was the first thing, the only thing anyone ever expected from me, for why else would she play along, hitting me right back as we devoured each other in her back yard, freeing dandelion seeds and scaring moths in our reckless bliss. We were the first two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly out of a jumbled box with no cover picture, and every last kiss and suck and fuck was a desperate attempt to smooth away all the rough edges, so that nothing could intrude into our forced union. It was all one big love game show, where she screamed maybe in the starlight, and I countered with always, never.
From that moment on I was held captive by her whisper-screams, and she by my insistence that Isabel meant nothing to me, and that nothing was great than my San, my sun, that lit up the world mirror-like, reflecting back only purity and beauty. It was one big joke, of course, for she was just as tainted as I, just as selfish and hurtful, only her darkness came from love, while mine from divorce and abuse and closeted tears. I shared my shadow with only her, and she tried desperately to replace it with light and hope, but in the end I would have nothing of it. All I knew how to ask for was love as sex, love as hate, love as anything but what I really deserved, and that’s why I kicked aside Isabel, that’s why I openly cheated on everyone, that’s why everything changed when Sasha died.
When we were preparing for the last Suspender show, Sasha sat me down and told me her grand unified CXNU theory, which started with cherry freezies and lead to the universal 666. I tried to laugh it off, to just follow instructions and wait for Susanna to get back into town, but she wouldn’t let me out of her grasp. “You’ll die in the shadow of Circle X, like all the other self-satisfied jerks who just don’t want to learn, to understand the truth.” I asked her what that truth was, and then she slapped me in the face and spray painted a huge, red, question mark on my favorite Fire Escape t-shirt. “When we meet again, you’ll know.” A few hours later she was dead on the floor, and my idiocy died with her. It goes without saying that unlike A-Bell, Sasha never gave me the benefit of the doubt, only the benefit to doubt. That, and the realization that love doesn’t conquer all; love is all.
I know, coming from me that sounds as solid as a whiffle ball, but laying here wrapped up in electric guitar strings and duck tape, sending my last will and testament out into the static, the only thing I know for certain is that love is something I never quite got the hang of. When I was little I always gave too much; even after dad traded mom in for a new wife and life I couldn’t even consider thinking of him as anything less than god-like. Every weekend he would take me out for video games and pizza, and when the big puberty demon came calling he sat me down and told me one of those secret father stories, where lust comes first and responsibility over time. I knew he wasn’t perfect, but I sucked up that imperfection with a twisty-straw, cookie-cut my adolescence into not the moral of his stories, but the plot. Every last girl that came and went as I did was my way of showing him how much of a man he wasn’t, only it came out as how much of a man I wanted to be. I blamed myself for his abusiveness, for all the times I came home to my mother cradled against the phone crying. How could it be his fault when he was just following his bliss, the natural compass that always led towards the next conquest?
No, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just one big babble, a stressed out nothing that tried his best and failed miserably. After Sasha left I totally straightened up and treated San right, but it was too little, too late. She left me for Frisbee and the collective, for the final promise of definite and irrecovable change, and I tagged along for the ride, following in her electronic shadow as best I could.
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been apart, yet she never totally turned away from me. Whenever I came crying she would sit me down and remind me of the night Isabel found out about us, when I cowered between the two of them and begged forgiveness. Izzy had just come home early from work only to find San singing in the shower, while I lay steaming and self-satisfied between the tossed blankets. Instead of simply killing me straight out, she casually strolled into the bathroom and took a piss while San wiped away my sin. Of course she thought it was me on the toilet, and so she proceeded to tell Izzy that she had to leave soon, before Isabel came home. Izzy gave her best approximation of my mumble-grunt yeah, flushed the toilet in spite, and walked into our bedroom like nothing was up.
“Oh hey, sorry I didn’t call, but I thought I’d surprise you by coming home early.” I cringed, and prayed for lightning with my name on it. “See, I’m leaving on a little trip,” she said, gathering up her clothes by the handful and piling them in the middle of the room, “and I just stopped by to wish you eternal torment in hell.” I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, and just closed my eyes as Susanna filled the apartment with her songs of cleanliness, sneaking past the bathroom door. “Ummm…. Phone dear? Have you seen my duffle bag?” I pointed her the right direction, and as she stuffed her dresses and t-shirts into it I quickly tried to make up the perfect anti-excuse. Something like it’s exactly what it looks like, only less so. Before I could even say a word she smiled, walked over to the bed, and kissed me on the forehead while I trembled. “You know, you’re nothing if not consistent. Given time, I’ll learn how to hate that about you, too.” Gathered the last of her things and walked away, as I quickly got off my ass and ran after her. By this time Susanna walked out of the bathroom wrapped up in Izzy’s favorite towel – a Return of the Jedi beach model – and found me balled up at the foot of the front door, trying to block the inevitable. To be honest, I don’t remember what passed between the two of them after that, only that Susanna helped Izzy carry her stuff to the subcompact, and the two of them drove away together.
Eventually Susanna came back, with a note from Isabel and her own ultimatum. From this point onward I was hers to do with as she wished, and if I ever put up a fuss, ever fucked her over even once, she would personally see to it that I got more than what was coming to me. Actually, there was far more to it than that, but I didn’t find out the full extent of their agreement until Shiny filled me in. Basically, the two of them still had use of me, but for little more than a vowel in the ultimate scrabble game. So San pretended that everything was cool, that love indeed would conquer all, and that in the end she and I would be together forever. I bought it in bulk bin bliss, and swore to myself then and there to straighten up, and only cheat on her a little. The rest is history, is me the ship in the Circle X water bottle, and Frisbee the avenging angel spitting up bitter book bits.
It’s kind of funny, actually. Just before the big blackout, I was telling Susanna about my grand artistic plans for the future. For the past year I’ve been working on this massive virtual graffiti project, filling up all unused bandwidth with viral tags. If all went as planned, my mark would fill up every last nook and cranny of the net on a particular day of the year, effectively shutting down all packets except those blessed with the right headers, the one’s I specified. I was asking San for a suggestion as to what day to choose for my experiment, and she laughed at me half way across the world. “Well, I don’t think it matters all that much. Someone’s already beat you to it.” I asked her what she meant, only to be hit by final data tsunami, all black nothing then white white white…
OK, so I wasn’t laughing then. But now….
Fuck it. The car batteries are almost drained, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet. In the end, there’s no way that I can make you see through my stigmatism, so I might as well throw the toaster in the bathtub. But before I log off again, for the last time, there’s one last story I want to tell. It’s short, not that sweet, and potentially incriminating, but I never let that stop me before.
So. The first time I met Frisbee she and Jenny were still together, desperately scowering the city for a space suitably run-down enough for the antizine HQ. I heard about their search from Spazz – he was totally pissed about what had happened with Laura, but not enough that he wasn’t above helping her out – and he asked me to secretly see what I could do for the two of them. Anyway, eventually I came up with the perfect place, used to be a tennis ball factory. It was over by the river, long since condemned and left to gather spray paint, and it was the ultimate battleground for any and all turf wars. For every significant moment in my life there was an appropriate mark somewhere on that building, and when the two of them started to squat I pointed out each one with reverence. Once I got to the burner that Susanna and I made together – a few weeks after we started seeing each other behind Isabel’s back, during the first Masking Tape tour – Frisbee stared long and hard at the convoluted message, trying to figure out what it said. “Looks like a big bunny rabbit eating a bigger carrot.” Jenny disagreed, insisting that it was an obscure map to buried treasure, with more than one x marking the spot. At that point I was too embarrassed to tell them that I had actually forgotten what it said, because San and I were high out of our minds that night, picking up cans at random and spraying the wall, and each other, in an neverending, sleepy eyed giggle fit. When we woke up the next morning to the sound of hungry sea gulls, all that remained of the night before was a wall full of cryptic figures and dripped trails separating us from the world. Looking back on it then, I told Jenny and Frisbee that it was a self-portrait, and then they nodded and smiled to each other like it was obvious all along.
Later on that week was the grand opening house-burning bash, and when I got there the whole factory, inside and out, was painted over black. I asked Frisbee what the fuck was up, and she smiled while pouring the gasoline: “Fuck self-portraits. Some things just aren’t meant to be captured.”
She let me light the first match.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
[5.21.95 – ASCII Dump]
She’s a baby-shaped lightbulb; it hurts to look at her.
“Say hi to Auntie A-Bell.” When Frisbee floated Ai into my arms for the first time, on the day I came back, I almost dropped her because my muscles were twitching and shaking. Her soft hands burned into my wrists, her half-open eyes shot right through me, and I had to turn down my glasses before I went crazy.
“Jessica stopped by yesterday, I couldn’t stop crying.” She was marked from head to toe, in a way more subtle than Amber could ever come up with. “She said that I’d made the right decision with John. I was so happy.”
She’s a week-old satellite dish, an electromagnetic vacuum.
“Isn’t she the most beautiful thing in the world?” I raised her to my face and kissed her forehead. It tingled. “Isn’t she perfect?”
She is. She’s the one Jo told me about. The future.
Problem is, I’m not so sure if we can make it to that future.
[11.19.94 – ASCII Dump]
“Can you hear me?”
Those are the words that greeted me to e-life.
That was my first question as e-punk, as living antenna.
Amber is sleeping now, and I hate myself for wanting her, even for a moment. I hate how good she tasted, I hate how her hands felt when they touched me, I hate her on the floor exploring in Sasha’s place. I even hate the freshly etched body marks, the clear circuits that let me speak static, they make me feel like a VCR or something, dead except for the occasional electrons. I hate them because they’re permanent, and I hate them because she made them.
“You heard me. Now look.”
Last night, I put on my glasses and the world turned inside out. I heard her speaking in my head, I saw through her eyes, I moved my hands and I felt the invisible flowing through. Everything was marked, catalogued, dissected, and when I saw me through her I was one big neon sign, blinking on and off as the info-aura crackled through my skin.”You see that little bulge by your forehead? That’s where the main conduit starts. It runs over your head and straight down your spine.”
I remember when she made it, her gun transferring the template in a way 10 times more painful than a normal tattoo. The little chain around my right ankle from 1987 was bad enough, but yesterday I was completely under her control, every little prick making me beg her to stop. When she got to my neck and pulled out the clippers, I was too out of it to complain.
“Prepare to switch back.”
So now I’m a bald circuit board, and I can see around corners and through walls. I can listen to all of the music ever recorded, and I can make the night into day. I’m like a fucking superhero or something, and already I’m bored.
“Everything looks cool for now. Tomorrow I’ll give you a complete reading, just in case. If you have trouble sleeping then wake me up. O.K.?”
I didn’t have trouble sleeping because I didn’t even try. I just wanted to be held, to wipe away the connections that are going to follow me from now on. I didn’t want it to be Amber, but she’s all I had then, all I have right now.
“Can you hear me?”
I was naked, because of the etching, and I didn’t even bother to put my clothes back on. My jeans sat crumpled up by her 10-speed, and my shirt was still lying on the couch, covered in sweat.
“Are you alright?”
I just wanted Sasha back, I just wanted to cover her, for her to hide me. I was only doing this for her, to continue what she started.
I let her hold me, kiss me, fuck away the pain. I hoped that when I woke up this morning, it would be Sasha there next to me instead. I dreamed that I wasn’t a stupid machine-girl, that I could just walk away from it all.
I’m writing this on a keyboard I drew with my finger on the carpet. Intruder is playing in my earplugs, plucked out of the infinite data sky. Voices are everywhere, and I don’t want to hear any of them. Amber’s still asleep, and I know I have to be here when she wakes. There’s no turning back now.
“It’s going to be alright.”
God, I pray that she drew an off switch on me somewhere. Pretty soon I’m going to need it.
[11.20.94 – ASCII Dump]
She apologized. It took her a day of fussing with my nodes and redrawing broken lines, but finally when she was making dinner – spaghetti with a perfectly chunky red sauce, better than Sasha could ever stir up – she silently called to me “I’m sorry.”
Now I was somewhere in Japan right then, using some of Sasha’s scripts to score some cash I desperately needed, but I quickly came back to the here/now and cleared my lenses. I hadn’t really talked to her since last night, and I was still mad enough that all I could shoot back was “Well?”
“I’m sorry about what happened before. I was wrong.” She turned off the burner and walked over to me. As she sat down on the floor I looked away.
“That’s not good enough.” Stood up and walked over to the door, fully determined to just run down stairs, hop on Sasha’s bike, and never turn back. I knew that she could wave the door shut, but I also knew that she wouldn’t. She couldn’t, not to me.
“Even if you leave, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll always be there for you.”
“Like you were there for Sasha? You let her die!” I looked down at her clear hi-tops, and started to cry. I missed her toes, her everything.
“You don’t understand! It was her choice.”
“Choice? What kind of choice is that?” I swung around to find her crumpled on the floor, shaking slightly.
“It wasn’t my choice…” she whispered. “It wasn’t my fault.”
So I walked over to her despite my rage, and rubbed the back of her neck, like I used to do Pixie when she got all stressed out.
“She always liked it when you did that.” She looked up at me, with the most saddest gaze I had ever seen. “Always liked it…”
I gave her a tight hug, kissing her ears as I whispered to her that it would be O.K., that I wasn’t going anywhere. She just breathed silently into my neck, and I realized that I was all she had left of Sasha, that I represented their partnership, their bond.
“I’m not sorry for last night,” I finally spoke aloud, drawing her face up so I could look into it. “It was beautiful.”
“Sasha was right all along,” she smiled. “You are worth dying for.”
We held each other, overlapping our fields in the middle of the floor, and cuddled against each other all night. She knew all of my stories, all of my hopes, dreams and fears, and I listened attentively as she whispered hers to me. I don’t remember falling asleep, but when I finally woke up she was curled up against my chest, hands still intertwined in mine.
That night, I thought that I was the one asking to be held. But it was her all along.
And now I’m not so sure I want to let go.
[11.23.94 – ASCII Dump]
Well, I think I’ve finally got a handle on my OS. Amber set up my bodyware and taught me how to appmark, but when it comes to the superstructure everyone’s got to design their own. Fuck, I’m even starting to talk like her – not even Sasha was as hardcore. “Think of yourself as one big web browser,” she responded when I got confused, “except you can point at pretty much any digital destination.” From what I gathered finally, all the e-punks are their own “home pages” or some shit, and we’re all connected to any number of networks and servers. I really have no idea what this means, except that after I paint my invisible connections and lap on the fingernail markup I can go anywhere I want and then some.
Anyway, I mastered the glasses almost immediately, which is good for my sake because Amber says most people get sick after a few hours. Even though she warned me against it, I’m still going to air-type out all of my thoughts, even the more secret ones, because when it comes down to it I don’t know shit, and reading this isn’t going to help anyone but me.
So I was trying to figure out my OS, right? And I remembered what Sasha told me that night, right after we got married. When we walked out back of the warehouse-thing, and the Ice Cream Truck was playing old Eskimo Guy tunes, she stopped kissing me long enough to say “I think this is it.”
“What do you mean?” I thought she was talking about what just happened inside, about the bouquet and Slide Rule School.
“I told you about New York, right?” She was talking about Friz and John, so I nodded.
“Well…” She looked up into the night, and sighed. “I fucked up big time, and now some e is after me. Word has it that he’s in town, and to be honest I’m scared.”
“I’m sure you can handle it. You always do.” But my sweet talk wasn’t working one bit, because she still had that distant look.
“I don’t have much time left. Whatever happens, you have to promise me that you’ll go on.”
“What are you saying? I would never leave you!” I was really confused, especially since this was right after we took our vows.
“But I might have to leave you.” She held my hands, and hers were warm as always. “In the closet there’s a big cardboard box on the top shelf. If and when I go, take the stuff that’s in it, along with the notes in our safety deposit box, and don’t come back until your ready.”
“I don’t understand. Where are you going?” As I said this, I looked at her hand within mine. It was starting to shake a little.”I don’t know…” Dust Lag was starting up. “Come on, let’s go inside.”
So she dragged me back in, and Susanna and crew put on one hell of a show. Suspender continued their general plan of attack, and everything was perfect, until.
I still can’t think about it. I didn’t, haven’t and won’t, because I know it’ll destroy me. When we rushed her to the emergency room in the Ice Cream Truck, I knew that it was too late, and I knew that someone had to pay. So I stayed over at Jo’s that night, woke up the next morning, took the box and never looked back.
Amber would kill me if she knew I was writing this, but right now I just have to get it out somehow. So anyway, in the box was a pair of glasses, along with some marking pens and various circuit clothes. The safety deposit stuff were specific instructions as to how to temporarily mark up myself so that other e’s could identify, and there were lots of pictures but it still took me three hours. I didn’t even bother to pack a bag, and left our apartment exactly the same as it was the night before, before the show. I couldn’t stand to touch anything she had, not so soon.
Although the configuration in the notes wasn’t enough to run the glasses, I wore them anyway as I rode the subway. I felt extremely foolish with all of these dots and lines over my face and hands, but they weren’t visible in normal light so I soon even forgot I had them on.
It didn’t take more than 40 minutes of riding down south for Amber to sit across from me. At first I didn’t really notice her, because her whole air was anonymous and plain – like most of the people on the train – but soon she started to not only stare at me, but cry as the stations came and went. She kept rubbing her eyes and drying the backs of her hands against her white dress, which hung at her feet as if it was in mourning, too. I didn’t know what was going on but I felt I had to do something, and so I walked over and sat down beside her. “What’s wrong?” I touched her shoulder as gently as I could.
“Sasha can’t be dead! You’re lying!” Everyone looked around to us for a second, and then went back to staring out of windows or at their laps.
I tried to remain calm, but I was understandably freaked. “Yes,” I brushed a wrinkle off of her thigh, and the material felt really strange. “She’s dead.”
She face grew redder, like she was trying to hold back an explosion of tears, but she touched her right wrist and suddenly grew calmer.
“I’ll be all right.” She touched my cheek gently. “It’s just that you’re wearing her marks.” And then I noticed the glasses on her lap, and knew that she was my contact.”I was told to find you if anything happened to her.”
“Wait a minute…. you’re A-Bell, right?” I nodded as she wiped away the tears. “I didn’t recognize you in real life.” She touched my face one again, put on her glasses, and bounded out of the seat-bench, her dress twirling around her feet. “Come on, this is our stop.”
I was simply amazed at the transformation, but didn’t question it as she rushed past the commuters, holding my hand so I could keep up. She touched the fare gate and it slid open, and she motioned me through with a flourish. Walked past the newspaper machines, and I followed a few steps behind until she stopped at the bike racks.
“I’m Amber, her partner.” She unlocked not just one bike, but two. “This was hers, she kept it here in case of emergencies.” She frowned. “I guess it’s yours now.”
“Partner? There’s so much I don’t know about her…” I stood there like a stupid fuck, as she straddled her seat.
“It’s O.K. She told me all about you, and I promised to take care of you when things got bad.” She kept staring at my face. “Let’s go. We have to get those marks off of you, before someone else notices.”
So I did my best to follow behind her on Sasha’s bike, which wasn’t adjusted for someone as tall as me. We shot through midtown, and it took all of my effort to keep up with her, with all of the shortcuts through parks and alleys. Finally we reached an ancient looking apartment building, and she told me to lock my bike to the stop sign. For some reason she carried hers all the way up three flights of stairs to her place.
“Stay here for a second. I have to turn off the security.” She waived her hand over the door knob and it clicked and swung open. Wheeled in the bike and shut the door behind her, and I was left in the most dingiest hallway possible, complete with stray newspapers and hand-crushed beer cans. The single bare lightbulb which illuminated the whole floor was flickering, as if from constant brown outs, and the carpet had several stains that I was glad I couldn’t see clearly.
“O.K. It’s safe for you now,” and she waived open the door for me. I entered cautiously, not knowing to expect, and was confronted by the neatest, shiniest, lick-it-off-the-floor apartment I had ever imagined. It was like Patricia’s room before she was too Isaac-crazy, only instead of cute stuffed animals all lined up on the bed there were wicked looking machines, lovingly shelved and wired together, that were humming in unison.
“Should I take off my shoes?” There were about 10 pair lying by the door, some of which I recognized as Sasha’s – including the transparent hi-tops from way back when. Everything was immaculate, even the laces were tucked away out of sight.
“Please.” She was over in the kitchen, drinking some bottled water. Surprisingly, she had already changed out of her off-white dress, and was wearing some sort of one-piece bodysuit. “Can I get you anything?”
“No thank you.” After I finished tearing down my boots, I got up and looked around the place. It was fucking weird. Sure, there was a comfy couch, a table and some stern wooden chairs, but everywhere you looked there were glowing power strips and boxes blinking and chirping away. It was like I just walked into a machine, and the really strange thing was that Amber kept looking at stuff and it would spring into life, yelling out dial tones or displaying long lists of characters and files. I just wanted to run away from it all, to go back to Frisbee and Jo and mourn in relative peace, and I think that she could tell because she walked barefoot back into the living room and pointed me to the couch.
“I have a confession to make.” Sat down next to me and sighed. “I had a feeling that things had begun, ever since she crashed, but I didn’t expect to react that way when you came…”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“Sasha was my partner. We never left each other’s side, even when we were half way around the world from each other.” Took a swig of her water. “We were like sisters, and when her signal started to fade….”
She took off her glasses, and hung them off her collar..
“You have to understand. I thought that she was invincible, that nothing could keep us apart. She had logged herself off before, but I couldn’t have been sure that this was it until…Wait a minute.” Ran into the other room and came back with a clear sponge, and started to wipe off my face. “This was Sasha’s last message to me, and it brought you here.” Pressed harder as she moved around my forehead. “Now it needs to be erased.”
I stood still as she cleaned me up, and remembered how Sasha used to soap up my face and shave me with her fingers, kissing the smoothness revealed. The fact that Amber reminded me of this was annoying.
“I’m sorry about all this.” Placed the sponge on the floor and put her hand on my thigh. “But things are starting already, and she sacrificed herself for the cause.”
“What cause? I’m so confused.” And at this point I really was.
“I guess you’re ready.” She pointed at a machine, tapped her fingers against her palm a few times, and Sasha appeared in the middle of the room, sitting with her legs crossed. “It’s for you only,” and she picked up the sponge and walked off into her bedroom, leaving me alone with the ghost.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this.” The e-Sasha flickered slightly as she stood up.
“What’s going on, Pixie?” I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Where are you?”
“I’m dead.” Stared right at me as she walked over. “I’m so sorry, I failed you.” She sat down next to me, and when I tried to hug her I fell right through to the cushion.
“Please. Tell me the truth, for once.”
“I love you so much, so please listen. I only have 10 more minutes before the connection is cut off, and this will be my last chance in a while to contact you.” She turned around and lay down next to me on the couch, her mouth to my ear. I swore not to repeat what she told me, and to be honest no one would believe me anyway. I don’t even know if I believe it.
When her 10 minutes were up, she brushed her hand of light against my face, made me promise to listen to Amber, and whispered “I love you” as she faded away. I rushed over to she spot she left from and just hugged the floor, hoping that she would shine on me again. But she didn’t, and the only thing that came was a hand on my shoulder.
“Are you ready?” Amber was holding what looked like a tattoo gun, along with a number of containers filled with translucent colored liquids.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” I took off my shirt, spread myself on the carpet belly down, and let her straddle my back.
“This is going to take all day.” She sponged off my shoulders. “If you need a break just say so. O.K.?”
In front of me was the door to Sasha’s room, which I could tell because it was filled with Circle X stuff. As the first line scratched into my back, burning like I don’t know what, I kept my eyes on her room, and imagined that she would walk out any second to support me. She didn’t, but I understood.
I understand now.
[11.24.94 – ASCII dump]
I failed. Today was my first test, and I totally fucked everything up.
Amber and I were riding around downtown, e-chatting away about this and that, when suddenly there was Jenny, walking in front of us. I said that I couldn’t put up with seeing her, not so soon, so we ducked down 54th and stopped by the nearest bus stop bench. I felt like I was going to throw up.
“What’s wrong?” She rubbed against my hand, but I pushed her away.
“Jenny and I didn’t part on such a good note.” This was the understatement of the year, because we got into a horrible fight when she knocked down Frisbee at the show. I just wanted blood for what happened to Sasha, and when Frisbee hit the floor and started to puke I just tackled Jenny, bending her arms the wrong way as I put my weight on her body and legs. I asked her to apologize, and she just spit at me and started to scream, until finally Phone tore me away and she ran over to Frisbee. She’s a total bitch sometimes, but deep down I know that she loves Laura with all of her heart and soul. Still, I don’t want to be near her, not for a long time.
“Well, if you’re not ready to see her yet, then I understand.” A bus pulled up, and an old man inside couldn’t stop staring at us, and kept doing so until he was driven away. I guess it was my shaved head or something, but it wasn’t like we were waving the freak flag or anything.
“I just want to get out of here. Everything reminds me of before.” In the distance, at the next stop, I saw Jenny catch the bus. “I just need a clean break.”
“O.K. This is my permanent zone, but sometimes me and Sasha used to switch with a few women back east. I got one of them out of some serious shit recently, so she owes me one.” She took my hand, and this time I accepted it. “She owes us one.”
“When can we go?”
“As soon as you’re trained.”
“But I’m ready.” I said this in her head, just to prove the point.
“Listen to me. This isn’t fun and games. The same e that got to Sasha is going to be after you.”
“I don’t care.”
“Don’t be stupid. Right now we’re at an advantage, because Sasha and I coded this whole area years ago. But as soon as we hit the road…” I could tell I touched a nerve. “No. You’re not ready, and that means that we’re not ready.”
“Fuck this! I’m not going to stay locked up here.” And so I got up, jumped on my bike, and headed for the highway.
“Please don’t do this now.” I could hear her message clearly, even though we were blocks away. But I didn’t respond, and just concentrated on pumping faster, riding harder away from this mess. I didn’t need Amber, I didn’t need the collective, and I just wanted to rip off all of my skin and stop the static once and for all.
“Annabelle! Don’t cross under the freeway! That’s not my zone…” I couldn’t put up with it any more, so I just turned her channel off, called forth some Masking Tape, and put up enough blocks that I wouldn’t be bothered again. By then I was crossing over into the NE side, which besides being somewhat industrial didn’t seem like the bad side of town or anything. I was planning on taking Main over to the waterfront, and try to crash with one of my many friends from the tour. It seemed easy enough.
“Are you lost, little girl?” I swerved into a car, bump-scraped off the fender and slid onto the sidewalk, flew off my bike and slammed against a metal fence back-shoulders first; it was like God had reached down and thapped me off of the road. Everything was scraped knees and car alarms, but I was focused enough to see that the rim on my front tire was totally fucked up. As I took it off and tried to bend it back, the voice came again only this time it was louder, above and beyond the screaming blue thing which I dented. “We don’t want your kind here. Get out.”
My back was burning, and when I tried to focus on the signal I realized that my glasses were off. I looked down on the cracked sidewalk, past the yellow-white headlight shards on top of black, dead-gum circles, and they were sitting by a patch of weeds. When I put them on nothing happened.
“Don’t make me come there. You wouldn’t like it.” Then I dropped against the fence and my whole body tensed up. I tried to fight it off, but it was like whomever he was had his hands on my joystick and was playing me hard. And the fucking car was yelling for the police in Chinese, but I couldn’t shut it out, I couldn’t block the pain.
“Stop it!” Doubled over, I started to tingle, and I didn’t want to find out what was going to happen next.
“So she can talk. I wonder if she can scream…” I was moving back over to the bike, it was like he was reaching inside me, trying to take over, and all I could do was think of Sasha. What would she do?
“Shit!” Suddenly he let go, and as I opened my eyes again Amber was standing over me, blanketing me with her field as my hands grasped the greasy chain.
“I’m not going to say anything.” She helped me to my feet, and rubbed my stubbly head. The car was reading us our rights when she pointed it silent. “Just remember this.”
Like I could forget. It turned out that the rim, forks and right petal were completely trashed, so she had to wheelie the bike as we walked back a couple of miles to our side of the highway. Overhead there were ugly rain clouds, and I just wanted to wish them away with my glasses, to pretend that the sky was blue despite the coming rain. But my lenses were fucked up big time, and so the gray just laughed down at me, bragging about the wetness it hid and how I had to watch it fall. Amber’s bike clicked next to me as I pushed it, and the warped wheel swung between me and my salvation. When we finally got back, it took the rest of the day for her to configure a new pair of glasses for me. They were her only spare.
As she patched up my back, cleaned the scratches, and touched up the connections lost in the crash – constantly trying to kiss away my tears – she told me that there were far many more e-punks than just those in the collective, and most of them were out for trouble. It seems I was flying the e flag that day, and it didn’t take long for someone to pounce.
The rain came an hour ago, and even though I could block it out of my senses, Amber convinced me to snuggle up with her next to the window and watch it try to scratch its way in. “Did you ever save something for that rainy day that everyone always talked about, only to forget where you put it?” I nodded, as she reached in her satchel and pulled out a picture.
“Who is that?” Two small girls stood in front of a fire hydrant that was shooting water high into the air. Even though it was in black and white you could still imagine the brown of the telephone pole, or the red of their hair.
“Me and my sister Rhonda. I was 6 and she was 4, and it was the hottest summer that I can remember.” She grabbed my hand and placed it against the window. “We wanted to feel the cold, to force all of our rainy day treasures to scream out of the sky. So I found a wrench and learned how to use it.”
I was so sore, so angry, but I soon lost myself in the frozen column of water.
“Our father ran outside soon enough, but couldn’t bear to tear us away from bliss. So he fetched his camera, captured our dreams as they slid against our sweaty faces, and gave us a minute or two before he convinced me to shut it off.”
“How did he manage to do that?” I never really noticed until then how beautiful the wet streaks were, trailing down into darkness.
“Reminded us that we were dancing as our rainy day things went down the drain.” Put the picture to the window, and we watched it for a while, as the sky tapped out the secret code which conjures future storms.
For once, I listened
[11.29.94 – ASCII Dump]
Fuck, it’s so obvious!
Yesterday, just before we finished my first surveying tour, Amber finally explained what the big fuss is about with Circle X. Now, everyone knows that they’re fascist and that the Chairman is a born again abortion-doctor killer, but I always gave them some slack because Roger (you know, “Circle X” from Intruder and shit) funneled his dirty inheritance money into 2nd Going records, effectively giving Jo and Caroline their careers.
But did you ever actually look at one of the stores? Can’t say that I really did until we filed that area by the park downtown, the one right next to the Super Circle X. It was about as long as the Blue Bridge, as wide as the distance between your hand in front of your face and a sign a couple of blocks down the street that you can’t read clearly, two stories high, no windows whatsoever, and all in off-white with bright red trim. The parking lot was packed, and I was 30x focusing on this tired-looking cute girl running around cars in her bright red uniform, picking up stray trash that blew in from downtown, along with the occasional shopping cart who’s autoreturn was on the fritz. I wanted to steal her away from it all, but if I tried she probably would have ignored me and jumped for the cigarette butts at my feet.
“O.K. Modulate higher EM. Use the script I gave you.” Amber was trying to let experience be my teacher, which still gets on my nerves but I’m sure that it’ll be best in the end.
“Fine, but I’m not sure what this is supposed….Shit!” The SCX was hot. At least thirty distinct channels where flying through the walls and roof to all over the place – each one a different color – including a huge pink cord connected to the NU building across town.
“Follow my lead. We’re going in.” She sat down on the grass, and I joined her. I plopped down on my back and tried to find a comfortable spot, and she sat at my head, cross-legged, and messed with her watch and the anchor points on her ankles and my face. Did a quick battery check and made sure a e-buddy was watching out in the h/n, and then I fingered open a channel and let her puppet my V-prox. Right now it’s a green stuffed turtle toy because she still hasn’t finished my full-body scan, but at this point it’s just my speed – if I had hands I’d probably fuck up again.. She was wearing her locksmith look, all shiny metal with wires and plugs and scary looking things, and she sucked me into her field as she jumped into the data stream.
“Thanks to e’s in National United and throughout the Circle X chain, we’ve pretty much mapped out how things work.” Right now we were frogging towards the product database, which Amber saw as a huge rainbow byte-hurricane, and we flew down towards the eye but she stopped right before the calm. “See that over there?”
“Isn’t that a NU thread?” It was a pink, throbbing line connected to the POS, which was a bundle of sparks dancing with each key-in.”Yeah. Usually they’re mutually exclusive, like with your typical ATM swipe. But this,” she broke in with a simple gesture, “this is trouble.”
Now, over the past couple of days I pretty much have passed through all of the main systems, and the initial awe soon became routine. But it was so obvious as soon as we entered the protected area – the invisible eye I didn’t see at first – that there was no difference between NU and Circle X, that the accounts were inextricably tied to each purchase. As we watched the various price-calls from swiped products, each white sale making the storm twirl faster before it turned pink and spun towards NU, it was clear that there was a lower database of customers, down somewhere in the info-sea below us, that was shared by the bank. Buy a camera? Whether you pay with your NU account or not, it goes on your permanent record that’s used for more than mere marketing. If you’re stupid enough to use NU cards for purchases, then Circle X will know about it and tailor their campaign and inventories accordingly.
“Remember that promotion they had a while back? Those free ID card things?”
“Yeah, I had one….Shit!” Right there was the purple data soup that campaign generated, and it didn’t take much swimming and twitching to find my name.
“Well, they’re talking bracelets soon. So you walk in the store, grab your products, walk through a bulk scanner, and your info is taken off your wrist. Bag your stuff and leave.”
“Would it be hard to erase your name from their files?”
“Not especially. Nothing short of a pseudogen would be much challenge, and Sasha left you that script.”
“Then erase my name. I don’t want to be a part of this.”
“Annabelle, listen to me. It’s just a name. As long as you don’t carry their mark, as long as you stay on the outside, everything will be cool.”
“Then is Sasha in here?” All around us, the transactions and record reconciliations rushed by unabated, it was like sticking your face right in from of the shower head with your eyes wide open.
“Dear, this was Sasha’s home. She loved it here.”
“What? But didn’t she know?”
“You have to understand. This is one of the most complete data sets out there. Sasha was the first one to break into it, and she never left since.”
“I don’t understand.” I drew my legs and head inside me. “It’s all so sick!”
“That’s the whole point.” She reached out with a sieve-hand, grabbed a transaction from the spray, and wiped it on my hard brown back. “Feel it! This is some serious shit, and it’s only going to get worse. If someone like Sasha doesn’t monitor what’s going on, then when they make their move we’ll be caught sleeping.” She gave the log-off gesture, the storm turned to static, and I was ripped out of my shell. I opened my eyes to find Amber smiling down at me, rubbing away the stray threads from my cheeks.
“So that’s why she was so Circle X fixated…”
“Yeah. Everyone in the collective has their focus, and Sasha’s was pretty specific. When we get back, take a good look at some of her memorabilia. It’s interesting to say the least.”
I nodded, and as we continued or scans – dissecting our environment into 1s and 0s, preparing it for other e’s – I couldn’t help but be distracted, watching where the tendrils from the SCX flew up into the cloudy sky. Did the trash girl have any idea what floated over her head, as she scanned the ground for offending flakes of reality?
By the time we returned home, after 5 hard days on the streets, I downloaded my temps, removed the stale appmarks, and plopped down on Sasha’s bed, staring at her Circle stuff. At first it didn’t seem any different, but as soon as I remodulated my glasses then all hell broke loose. The uniforms were made with rudimentary circuit cloth, and markers were everywhere – on the promo signs, the free bumper stickers, and especially the I.D. cards. Everywhere that Circle X wasn’t, its mark was, to the point that the whole room was glowing an evil red.
“Dear, are you hungry?” Amber didn’t hesitate to strip down to her bodysuit.
“Yeah, I guess.” I picked up one of Sasha’s official red Circle shirts, the same one she wore when we first met. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. Anything.” She sat on the foot of the bed, and started to massage my feet. Her marks met mine and it tingled a little.
“Did you love her? Do you love this?”
“I loved her as a sister.” Moved up to my ankles, as I dropped the shirt to the floor. “I don’t know if I love this, but it has to be done.” By now she was massaging my leg nodes, and I couldn’t help but be in her power.
“Who and what do you love then?” I wanted only one answer, and I was pretty sure that I was going to get it.
“I love the fight,” she spoke silently in my head as she unbuttoned my suit and kissed my stomach, “but not as much as I love you.”
It took me a couple of days to figure it out, but Amber had been there all along, ever since the first night. When Sasha kissed me she was watching, she felt it, and their partnership was close enough that there was no way that she couldn’t love me. When I kissed her, there on Sasha’s bed, it was Amber that I wanted, not Sasha, not anyone else. And as she touched my spine, caressing my data-aura until I just wanted to explode, I found myself trying to lick the marks off of her face, trying to get at the real, the essential.
When I married Sasha I married Amber as well, and this is part of what Sasha tried to tell me. She knew that it would be useless to mourn her passing, to pine after something that couldn’t be, when there was someone just waiting for me.
Well, she doesn’t have to wait any more. We’re partners now, body and soul, and nothing is going to change that.
[12.2.94 – ASCII dump]
Amber says that I should have outgrown the e-board by now but I like the feel of my fingers tapping concrete or wood, calling forth wonderful little ASCII bits. She likes to use her voice along with 1/1 character recognition – she draws little shapes that represent letters and numbers and words. Well, to each their own, which brings me to my topic:
Sasha lied to me.
Now, this isn’t some simple lie that makes matters better or worse; no, this was a world-wide false shadow that I don’t know if I can forgive her for. You see, Amber and I were practicing field modulation when I received some e-mail from Frisbee. I contacted John a few days ago, and I made up a far-away domain-trail so that they would believe my story about touring the country, trying to clear my mind. Anyway, she mailed me back and said that she had something to give me, and that it was from Sasha. So I snatched the attached file, got comfortable on the couch, and totally started to freak out.
It was a confession. I’m not about to include the text here, and actually I shredded it right after I reached the final line. The basic gist was that the very first night that we met, right after Jo told me the basics about the collective and Frisbee, I went back inside and found a letter from Pixie. She said that she had to go, and that blew me away so much that I cried the whole night. Well, I find out from Frisbee that actually she was there all along, staking out some proto-e that was causing trouble. So why I was crying for like and hour, and riding home on the bus alone to face my parents, Sasha was there, and she could have contacted me, we could have spent more time together.
Of course, we had 8 years together after that night, but what pisses me off is that she just didn’t tell me. She never told me, not about her etchings or Circle X or her partner, or anything except for what seemed convenient, what seemed safe. Fuck it, I gave her everything and I got nothing but a bullshit story in return. Maybe it wasn’t my business. Fine. But now it is my business, and every single step she ever took is my responsibility. Every word she didn’t say to me when we lay side by side, every little secret that came between us up until her death, everything – it makes me sick. I don’t even know which Sasha I loved any more, the one that I cried for at the Treehouse, or the one that I cried for as she lay dead.
It doesn’t even matter in the end, because I have Amber now. I guess that’s what her ghost was really trying to whisper to me – not simply to listen to Amber, but to listen to myself.
When I told her about the confession, she didn’t seem all that surprised.
“You have to understand” She always said that when discussing Sasha. “She really did love you. It’s just that she never could leave Circle X, she saw it as her responsibility.”
“But why couldn’t I have been a part of that?”
“And be dead on the floor, too?” She kissed me on the hand, which was today’s favored spot. “You have a very special purpose, and I think deep down you know this.”
“That’s what everyone says.” I meant this to be serious, but it came out as a half giggle because she was tickling my field.
“It’s not time for this yet.” The tickling stopped, and she spoke out loud for the first time in a while. “Time and space are bendable when you’re on. You know this by now.” I did, so I just nodded as I traced my finger up and down her leg. “So that finger there can be touching me when I first logged on, or when I’m 89. The only thing that really matters is the moment, and the connections that emanate from it.”
“Yeah, but what does this have to do with me?”
“The net has holes. Holes that lead to ancient wall sockets, holes that lead to the future. Some of us have been through them, to the other side, so we know.”
“Know what? Come on, you can tell me….” I was laying it on thick, trying literally to push her buttons. She smiled and stood up.
“We know what you told us. Satisfied?”
Terribly frustrated, I got off the couch, kissed her wrist, and went into Sasha’s room. As I tried on her Circle X uniform, which strangely fit me perfectly, I modeled before the mirror and started to laugh.
How come I always fall for the most annoying people in the world?
I half expected the mirror to answer, but all that came back was me.
Me followed by Amber, slowly walking into the room
[5.23.95 – ASCII Dump]
I was telling Frisbee about the last 6 months, and all the shit we got into, and she just held Ai in her arms and smiled.
“I think you’re ready now. Follow me.” So we walked through the hallway – filled with Jenny snaps of signs and fences – past the bathroom that was bursting with sounds of John’s shower-singing, and went into the bedroom, which wasn’t decorated at all except for a tattered Suspender shirt tacked to the wall. She gave me Ai for a second, while she reached in her closet and pulled out a medium sized box from underneath some blankets. It was duck-taped shut, and the only marking on it was one of those perpendicular signs, just like the one from that night at the Treehouse.
“Sasha left this with me in 1987, soon after you two met. She said that I’d know the right time to give it to you, and this is it.”
Then she walked off to put Ai down in the nursery, leaving me to contemplate it. I tried to scan it but everything bounced right back, so the only thing I could do was take out my knife and cut it open. Inside, wrapped within some yellowed newspapers, was a Circle X passcard and a palm-sized silver metal sphere. I placed the card in my satchel because its use was obvious enough, and stared at the shiny globe for a good minute. Every time I tried to fix on it with my glasses it would jump around the spectrum, like it existed more than just in the h/n. It was as big as a quarter jawbreaker, and yet it scared me immensely. When I finally got the nerve to pick the ball up, suddenly I was thrown into somewhere that was white on white, and when I tried to adjust my glasses nothing happened. I floated for a while like a plane through a never-ending cloud, not knowing what to expect next, until Sasha appeared – dressed just like the night she died – along with someone I didn’t recognize at first, who was cloaked in a white, hazy glow.
“I knew you would make it,” she smiled, as she turned to the other woman.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone!” I tried to scan for a way out, to no avail. Then the woman spoke, and I knew.
“Auntie A-Bell, please listen to us.” She was the woman from my dreams. She was Ai.
I tried to reach out to her, to them, but I couldn’t.
“You have to focus.” She was like a melting marble statue, all smooth and defined and hard, yet slowly transforming into something else. “It’s very important that you don’t leave me or my mother again. Promise us.”
I wanted to say something, anything but what my lips were about to say, but the white seemed to seep into my mouth, filling my lungs with the truth. “I promise,” and Ai smiled like the sun.
“Is there anything else you want to say?” Sasha tugged at Ai’s wrist.
“Can I?” She nodded, and so Ai kissed her cheek and moved over to me. It was hard to be near her, she was so bright.
“You taught me well,” she whispered, as I marveled at her power, “but there’s a few things I have to teach you. Just to be on the safe side.” So she took me by the hand, reached through the white and grabbed onto something, and pulled the two of us beyond.
I’m not sure what exactly happened after that, but after what seemed like months I found myself floating back in the white, Sasha at my side. My mind was a total blank.
“You have to forgive Ai. She’s rather forward.” She rubbed her hands through my hair.
I wanted to yell at her, to run at her and away from her at the same time, to swallow her whole and never let her go again. I wanted to be free from it all, but all I could say as we held each other was “I love you so much.”
“I know.” She started to fade. “But love Amber as you would love me.” I could only see her outline, her aura. “She’s better for you than I am.”
“Don’t leave me again!” I watched her disappear, but not before her final words brushed against my face.
“I haven’t left you yet.”Then I was alone, and the white dissolved back into the bedroom.
I turned off my tears and lounged on their bed for a while, mindlessly reading the old classified ads and wire stories that covered the blankets, until Frisbee walked back in brushing her hair. “I think Ai wants to see you.”
I didn’t even question the logic of this, and simply walked into the nursery, and stood over her as she slept. “What did you just tell me, dear?” I whispered as I kissed her cheek, her soft handlets. “Why can’t I remember?”
Breathing silently, twitching as she piloted her dream, her shine was answer enough.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
Not like this.
It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon.
I’ve seen the tape a hundred times, backwards and forwards, and everything is still wrong. She’s supposed to be there in the end, when everything falls apart, but now…
Fuck. She’s dead on the floor, and her silence is our downfall. Not like this, someone is messing around with things, Sarah’s room has never been wrong but here in the dark as the TV laughs at us, as the freeze-frame negates our last stand, I hold my growing stomach and pray that I’m wrong, that things are right.
But they’re not. Not like this.
I promised myself that I would go over it one more time, that maybe there was something that we missed, but Pyr couldn’t stand my fixation – he still can’t watch the tape to the end without storming out of the apartment – and even Jenny thinks that I’m nuts. A-Bell…
Not like this. It’s rewinding, and I still don’t know where she is. She didn’t talk to anyone for a week, and then yesterday she was gone.
It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon.
I’ve been recording my voice incessantly, since it happened, hoping for the truth to jump out between my words. But there’s nothing. Our new place is already old, ruined, and I want to leave to run away but I can’t, not while she’s still dead on the floor in my dreams. There has to be a fucking answer…
Sorry. I had to take a break, the whole situation’s just out of control – I haven’t been outside in three days, I won’t let the sun touch my skin because it doesn’t seem right.
O.K. The tape’s ready to go again. I still don’t understand what possessed Jenny to take along her camera, how she knew that it was needed. But she did, and now the biggest and last Suspender show ever will live on, as will…
I can’t even think about her name without crying.
Not like this! Not on the floor, not dead, and A-Bell’s not screaming, I’m not listening…
On the TV, everything is O.K. Here we are, driving up to the warehouse, and already there’s a line of Suspects, covering everything with sidewalk chalk, trading bootlegs from the tour. The street is cracked and still buckled from the last earthquake, but the building doesn’t look that bad. No one was looking for safety anyway, just for free space to tear apart, and Jenny discovered it on one of her walking photo-tours of town. It used to be a cannery or something, but after a fire it was just left to collect trash and dust. As we driveway to the back, Jenny lingers on the layers of spraypaint, coating the outer wall with pure anarchart and foolishness. Sometimes I pause and try to pick out individual messages, but they’re co-mingled and overlapped to the point that nothing is left but chaotic color and the essence of communication. That I can understand.
In the back we pull up next to the Ice Cream Truck, which is what Caroline calls the Suspender van because everywhere they went there was some punk kids trailing behind, money in hand. Plus, the P.A. on the roof added to the general phenomenon; when we came it was chanting The white zone is for loading and unloading only, which was a sly reference to the Airport Incident. But now is not the time to get into that, because as we got out of the car…
I’m going to hold it together, this is too important, but whenever I see her…
We got out of the car, and Sasha runs up to me and Jenny, grabbing us by the arms and yelling Fuck Traffic! Are you with me? I just about fell apart as we ran inside laughing and screaming, because it had been almost 3 years since we last performed. A-Bell pounced on us when we approached the makeshift stage. I brought all of the old instruments! She was wearing her Fuck Traffic uniform, the butt-ugly orange shirt and hard-hat that the highway-hacks endured, and I could only hope that she had ours. She did, and as Jenny gave the room a once-over, you could hear our plan-babble in the background.
It was truly amazing what Phone did to the place; it took him almost a whole week but the results were more than worth the effort. First, he covered everything except the floors with a cheap white, making a clean canvas, and then he called in his crew and the 12th St. one to kill all of the walls. When they were done it was like a subway car was turned inside out, so you were floating in burners and tags. The general theme was electronics, so besides the twisted corporate logos and consumerist imagery, Sasha supervised a massive mural which was this terribly complicated Circle X thing (as fits her general obsession with the chain). I asked her about it and she said to the camera: The logo is a warning, a target we need to aim at. Jenny lingered on her computer-memory earrings that dangled to her bare shoulders. Our music is the gun, and we are the bullets. She had on a green tank-top, and knee-length, black, Circle X cut-offs. Dear, is everything all set up? Jenny swiveled to A-Bell on the stage, who was fiddling with the amps. Yep. Sasha stepped up, and motioned for us to follow.
I don’t know why, it just makes me feel better when I talk it out, when I remember how great things were then. How everything shined when Sasha called us into a huddle, pulled out a red marking pen, and drew big numbers on our right hands. I was “1”, A-Bell was “2” and Jenny was “3”. She drew a big “O” on hers. We are the inseparable 4. Together, we can accomplish anything. Put her hand in the middle of the circle. Now swear your allegiance to yourself and the group. Commit to change. This was a new variation on the standard antizine chant, so it was second-nature to give our hands. As we held each other, and as the other bands started to arrive, I remember distinctly that Sasha gave me this look, a glance of complete understanding, and we held it until Jo bounded up on stage, Caroline in tow.
I’m going closer to the TV, so you can hear what’s being said.
Can we join in? That’s Jo, and she had on her white painter’s uniform, and Caroline was still in her maximalist ball-gown stage. This one was yellow.
Give me your hands. Sasha took out her pen, and made Jo “4” and Caroline “5”.
Sash! Wouldn’t it be cool to do a Jumpster reunion? Just for tonight.
Fuck yeah! I was already excited – this close to the screen I can almost see my ears twitch in anticipation. Photocop is here, and I’m sure Susan will be game.
Bell, can you go get her? I think they’re in the storeroom.
Anything for you, Pixie. They kiss….
I can’t do this. I can’t….
I hate this bathroom.
My voice echoes too much, like it doesn’t even belong to me, like it never left my mouth in the first place, like that woman in the mirror said it, the one that looks past the tears.
She’s starting to show now. But when I look down, when I feel myself, it all seems wrong. That’s our future inside me. Inside her.
I hate this bathroom, I hate the toilet I just threw up in, I hate her dead on the floor twitching silent twitching…
She’s looking at me, I’m looking at me, and there’s something beyond the silver.
I want to reach out to her, to me, but there’s the hard, smooth inbetween.
Fuck the inbetween!
I shouldn’t be doing this Shit! my hand’s still bleeding on the carpet on Pyr’s shirt and there’s little silver pieces of her, of me, everywhere, but the TV yells silently as they kiss.
It’s good that I’m in pain as I watch this. I deserve it. I wish these hands would just fall off, because when they touched her…..
She wasn’t moving.
She isn’t moving.
Next to A-Bell, dead on the floor, it’s the same now as the red hardens around my fingers, on the tape-recorder. My fingers can’t do shit.
I’m not O.K.
The pause broke and everything’s static in the dark and I still feel sick. My daughter’s trying to say something in there. Aren’t you? You’re telling Mommy to fuck off, to get a life, to end it all now before I’m dead on the floor, too.
I’m not. I won’t.
She’s gone for a reason.
I can’t be gone yet. Can you hear me in there? Do you even have ears yet?
Sarah’s room said that you’re important. That you’d make things better in the end.
Make things better now. Please, for Mommy.
I’ve started again, and I close my eyes through the kiss, until A-Bell skips off the stage.
Jo sits down and hangs her legs over the edge. I figure we start at sundown, and if Jumpster can get back together then well go on first. Then…
Dust Lag needs to go second, because they have to hit the road before 10.
Cool. At that moment A-Bell walks in, dragging April, Susan and Susanna behind her.
Trick or treat! Jo gives April and Susan big hugs, and Susanna a firm handshake.
It’s been a while. Susanna looked just like A-Bell had described, even though Masking Tape was like 10 years ago.
Wait, wait. I have an idea! A-Bell grabs Susanna by the shoulders. Is all of Dust Lag here yet?
Yeah, in the van.
A-Bell whispers something in Sasha’s ear. She nods, and then A-Bell ran out the back door.
I think we have a situation here. Sasha walks to the far left side of the stage and then turns around. We were planning to have a Fuck Traffic reunion…
No way! April always liked us, the sweetie.
Which turned into a Jumpster reunion…
I’m all for that, it’s been such a long time. Everyone knows that Susan was at her prime then.
But then A-Bell figured out that there could be a Fire Escape reunion, too.
That would totally rule! I was already planning the concert review, and then Sasha blew us all away.
But I have something more in mind. She reached into her pocket, and pulled out the pen again. Let’s make a new band. Tonight only. Went around to each person, and gave them a number.
April was “6”
Susan was “7”
Susanna was “8”
Look who I found! A-Bell bounced in with the rest of Dust Lag in toe. She corralled the girls to the stage, and let Sasha mark them.
Rebecca was “9”
Elizabeth was “10”
Isabel was “11”
Don’t tell me you’ve playing games without us again… 8-Track waltzed in carrying baby Joey. He’s so cute lately.
Sasha walked over, kissed the both of them, and then marked 8-Track “12”.
We are the 13, and together we can do anything.
We need a name! Jenny was obsessive that way.
Fuck Slow Power Escape Jumpster Dust! I couldn’t resist.
I got it. Jo started to gather her forces, walked over to her cousin, and kissed her on the cheek. I started to get a tingle, and I still get it now whenever I see this part.
Slide Rule School.
Sasha looked at Jo for a second, and then gave the biggest smile I ever saw her possess. Yes.
No. No. No. This is all wrong, she’s not dead on the floor, the mirror’s not broken, it’s not like this.
I hate this fucking life!
I don’t want it. I don’t….
Look at her. Sasha didn’t want it, but I forced it on her.
She’s was so beautiful then, with that smile…
I want to reach past the screen and snatch it away, save it for the bad times.
I want it to shine upon my daughter’s birth.
I want her back, not dead, not smiling, not anything but back.
In this stupid apartment, in this stupid darkness, in my useless arms.
No. That’s wrong. She should be with A-Bell. I don’t deserve her smile, her shine, her love that lapped against us all. No one does, except for A-Bell. And now she’s gone too.
Not like this.
You don’t want to know what happens, do you?
You don’t care, you’ve already heard on the streets or on the nightly news or in the fucking daily newspaper how there’s an unidentified dead woman dead Sasha who shook and shook and grew still…
You were there in the corner, staring as Jo leapt off the stage.
You walked over the message that someone painted on the sidewalk, you stepped on her name and didn’t even notice. You didn’t know any better.
Kiss the fucking ground. Lick her mark from the earth. Taste her absence, and be afraid.
I’m know I am.
There’s this part when Slide Rule School is playing and I’m holding up numbers and everyone’s freaking out Music! Music! and Sasha’s just smiling at Pyr holding the camera, smirking even as she strokes her keyboard, making things come out of nothing and everyone knows it’s right. Pause at that part and you can see the bottle sitting by her feet.
It has the mark. I didn’t see it until yesterday pressing my face against the pixel glass but it’s there.
She was thirsty, we all were, and when she asked someone threw, and I can watch the water fly to the stage in slow-mo a thousand times but I can never see where it’s coming from, only where it’s going.
At the part where she’s smiling, when the bottle’s nearly empty, I know she knows – I can feel it.
But she drank anyway. She’d asked for it.
I didn’t ask for it. For this.
Not like this.
Slide Rule School.
Everyone else was kind of confused, but Sasha and Jo soon got us into line. None of us had ever played with so many people before, and A-Bell suggested that we’d better form an orchestra or something. That sounded cool, and since I didn’t play anything I was appointed maestro-gal.
The guys continued to set up the show – Phone was manning the doors along with Velcro and Circle X, and Pyr was helping out/getting in the way as only he could – basically standing around doing absolutely nothing except frowning.
Of course, he had other things on his mind, like planning the ceremony behind my back. That’s about the only part that I can watch and still smile at, when the School convened and every single post-punk in the audience was stunned. Then up comes Pyr on the stage, holding a bridal veil in one hand, a bouquet in the other.
All I could was think was Not now, not ever, we’re already married where it counts and all that shit but he took the mic and was
Cough. Can you hear me?
Someone goes Marry her already! and so he picks up a roll of duck tape and throws it at them. Rip on a chunk and shut up the easy way, O.K.?
Then he turns to me and there’s this strange look in his eye, like when he talks back to the commercials knowing far too well that really he is wrong, and that no one cares if the acting is bad or the print’s too small, and then he turns to you and goes Well? Am I right? and kneeling on the carpet, glowing, he never isn’t.
Keeping those eyes on me, he put the veil on me and handed over the bouquet. The rest of the 13 started up the appropriate music, only with more hooks and clarinet parts than usual, and I blushed like a sweet apple because.
Because we weren’t really married yet.
Because everyone was here and then some.
Because I could still say no and mean it.
Holding his hands as the School reached the high point, I meant yes.
My I do was a sniff behind his ear, and his was a gentle brush against my cheek. And the kiss was a ripple through my life’s ocean, starting small but building into a big wave that was coming for the shore. There was nothing else but us, and everything along with us, and when my eyes opened to meet his, I knew there was no turning back.
Throw it! That was some plink in the front, and everyone knew what was meant so I did. Some baby’s breath fell to the floor as it floated over the stage, and all A-Bell needed to do was to stick her hand in the air, and it swerved about 10 feet and rushed right towards her. Or maybe it just seemed that way, because she was the tallest thing going as usual. In any case, she cradled the flowers, put down her clarinet, walked past Elizabeth and April, and grabbed Sasha by the hand.
Understand this. No one moved for the next minute, while the two of them stood before each other, filling the room with something altogether different from mere love. It was power undistilled, like a battery meeting both contacts, and the buzz filled our hearts and ears and encircled our necks, growling necessity. There was no way in earth or heaven or any place else that they were to be apart, and when the minute of revelation ended I walked over to A-Bell.
Can I give you away? and she smiled Yes, but I need to do something first. So she took off her Fuck Traffic helmet and switched it with my veil.
Sasha seemed so vulnerable then, so human, that for once I really felt I could see her, that the invisible barrier had lifted and she was ready to join the world. But as soon as they walked to the front of the stage, that opening ended before I could even enjoy it, and A-Bell was sucked inside. They were one then, and no ceremony or stupid pretence was necessary. No ring would suffice, no kiss full enough, no vow doing justice to their bond.
No I do. Just We are.
I didn’t cry then. But I’m crying now, and I’ll never really stop.
Not like this.
On the floor her back arched and arms legs shaking, Jo was growling for help, A-Bell was grasping for air, for life, for her. All I did was watch the wall crumble, her face constrict, her earrings dance like caught fish against her face. I was there, yet I wasn’t.
I’m here, and she isn’t.
I’m nothing, and what is she?
Caught on my tape, forwarded and rewound, in an endless cycle of pain.
Why can’t I let her rest?
My hand is hurting again, I don’t think I got all of the pieces out of it, and the tape has long since reached the end.
The end is when Pyr drops the camera and rushes to Sasha, screaming.
Not like this! Not like this!
I don’t know where that came from, it was like the whole room was channeled through his teeth, but as he shoved past the 5 as the screen went blank, he looked in her closed eyes and wet her face with his salty fingers.
This is not right this is my fault this is Fuck! Someone dial 911! you can’t be dead yet!
He kept yelling life into her mouth Breathe! but she gave a final shudder Fuck! and finally I had to pull him away. A-Bell turned inside out revealing the essence of a scream, the kind you can only hear at birth and death. She knew.
It’s too late.
She pressed herself against Sasha, warming her for the coming cold, and if you didn’t look carefully, if you didn’t know better, you would have sworn that she was lying there alone on the floor, cuddling against shadows.
You could barely see her green chest past A-Bell’s arms and back, and their hair seemed to mingle into one sweaty fabric, smoky and dark. Jo seemed to be paying more attention to her than to her cousin, stroking her shoulders between the tears.
Fuck You! Get out of here! Jenny took it like a punch to the stomach, and was throwing around the crash worshipers. I tried to hold her back, to stop her from passing that point, but she just reached around and slapped me, scratching her nails into my face.
Not like this.
I fell to the floor laughing, laughing until I puked.
I was back in Thomason, in the quiet room, and the cement floor licked at my cheek.
I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think – I couldn’t.I still can’t.
Jenny can’t calm me down now. Pyr can’t make things better.
This is the beginning of the end, and it’s not supposed to be like this.
We’re all dead on the floor, and who’s going to mourn our passing?
We’re Slide Rule School. Take your seats.
Everyone listened to Jo, and promptly met the floor. There was at least 1000 people milling around that night, from all 50 states and then some. At first I tried to account for them all, going back and forth over the faces until the tape started to groan from the abuse, but I’ve narrowed it down to the prime suspects.
That’s what this is about. What we learned at Slide Rule School. Sasha knew that it was going to happen, she had to have. Why else the numbers, and the mural, and the bottle? Why even bother, unless there was something we could do.
I started off the lessons with a simple song, holding up each numbered card carefully and deliberately, calling forth the awkward silence of anticipation before the teacher speaks to the assembled class. Isabel started with a easy flute, constructing the playground outside the window, Jo and Elizabeth countered by sketching the classroom with broad violin strokes, and April’s cello became the desks and seats. Sasha assembled the teacher’s notes on the keyboard while 8-Track drummed the slow clock into existence, Jenny providing the hearts of the students, and Susan that of the teacher. A-Bell and Caroline then started a sly duel of the woodwinds, the sax barking out the curriculum while the clarinet gave rote responses tinged with boredom and disgust. Rebecca brought in her bass, providing the first right answer, and then Susanna and Jo countered with loaming guitar lines, the racing thoughts of all parties involved. When was class over?
I took the opportunity to add the first vocals, a wordless sweeping of the clouds over land, and then Susanna and Elizabeth chimed in with the sun and earth, respectively. Jo’s guitar then broke out of the classroom, followed by her voice screaming for release, for reality. Susan countered by barking for order in the chaos, and a chorus of disapproval slowly came, as I called for more life rhythm, more constructive strings. Everyone had effectively reached their moment, and then Sasha started to lead with stirrings of the other, of the subject matter being taught. It was of the electron, the basis of matter and the space inbetween, and everything was an oscillating pulse of information, of difference, of approximation. At first, the class and teacher tried to comprehend the material, to keep up, but then Sasha changed the key, and everything was transitory, obscure, unseen. She sung of the invisible machine, a lament to the wired air and the body as antenna, and no one understood, no one could answer, save for A-Bell, who gave a strong, low affirmation. The soon struck up a duet – the machine was becoming known – and Jo and Caroline quickly sketched in the details. It was as large as the universe, and as small as the space between something and nothing, and it was working. It was building something, doing something, and the class raised it hands with drums, guitars and questioning voices. What is it? Who are we? Where is the product? Then I ran the first bell, and the song ended.
No one clapped, because no one could move. Their ears were sitting on their hands, forcing them to wait for resolution. I wasn’t about to give them any, so I lifted the cards clearly calling for Fire Escape, and the School responded. April started out with the most Photocopian hook she could muster, and Joan countered with a testy Eskimo Guy growl-thing. Susan was about up to speed at this point, slapping her drum kit around like it really did something bad this time, and Caroline gave up the bass as A-Bell started to sing. It was the theme to Fire Escape, and as soon as the audience started to perk up in recognition I shuffled the deck and reunited Jumpster. Susan quickly switched over to a slower, more halting beat and Sasha crawled in with her trademark wail. Jo sputtered and crooned to her as she picked out unwholesome chords, strumming them gleefully. It was Sloppy from Mine!, and I couldn’t have been happier. So happy that I let it go on a bit longer than I should of, but long enough to come up with an idea. That’s when I rang the second bell.
I gave a quick flash to Jenny, who joined Susan with a complementary beat. Then Susanna got hooked in, and she met Jo’s guitar with more structure, while still maintaining the tension. Finally, I got Sasha and A-Bell back into the action, letting them work off of each other as the whole thing got even sloppier. Seeing the opening I wanted, I quickly called for the violins and flute and tore the roof off of the school building, grasping for the chalkboard scrape, the death of education. It was time to grow up, to move out, to shine back at the sky, and so we did, and the audience came to its feet. More drums! More guitar! Rip through the blue, into the white.
And we did.
The crowd fell against itself like bowling pins, as multiple holes poked through the floor and pockets of people swirled around in circles, spinning faster by the second. This was the power of the inbetween, this was what it all really meant, this was what all songs referred to, what your ears longed to hear.
Everything and nothing, together.
Noise not noise.
I wanted the world to hear it, to feel it. I wanted to take us all there.
But I couldn’t maintain it, it wasn’t the time, and the 4 sensed my apprehension and quickly plugged the holes with forceful silence.
I didn’t hold up any more cards after that, because they weren’t necessary. Slide Rule School had already graduated, and the whole room was a complex dance of wet leaves in the wind, swaying in the flux yet holding fast. That storm lasted for the next half hour, until strings started to break and Sasha got thirsty.
Then school ended, and the bottle flew.
I know she saw the mark, it was her life.
Even dead on the floor, she sang of Circle X.
This is what we’ve become, to the tune of the catchy jingle.
Not like this.
After A-Bell and Sasha made it official, the four of us left the stage and Dust Lag took their places. It was the first time I saw them live and they did a really fine job, bringing the best of Masking Tape and Potato Power to the table. The team supreme didn’t stay for the set, and went out back for an impromptu honeymoon. Pyr and I hovered around the stage, and then we got a tap on the shoulder.
What the fuck was Steve doing there? It wasn’t like it was N.U. night or anything, and so we hardly gave him the time of day, but that was enough for him to rant on and on about how he liked Suspender, and how great Slide Rule School was, and other insincere shit that made me want to slap him right there. But I didn’t, and after what Pyr told me about New York it’s probably best that I didn’t. Still, when worse came to worse he was there for us, helping to clear space when Sasha…
It doesn’t even sound right.
Fuck Traffic was forever, right?
antizine will never die, that’s what she always said to us.
Well, antizine died with her, O.K.? Fuck Traffic is gone, O.K.?
Everything’s going to fall apart and it’s all my fault. I accept this, but that doesn’t make it any easier, that doesn’t make the pain go away, that doesn’t bring Sasha back, and she’s supposed to be there when I die, she’s supposed to take care of my daughter, she’s supposed to grow old with A-Bell, and everything’s supposed to be perfect. My dreams have never been wrong, Sarah’s room has never lied to me, so why now?
Why now, when everything was right for once?
I can’t play my Suspender records anymore without seeing her dead on the floor, twitching as the pit swarms about her. I can’t look at Jo without watching her go limp as Sasha does, dropping her mic as the crowd consumes her.
I can’t do anything anymore, except sit here in this fucking apartment watching this fucking tape and when I wipe away the tears that won’t stop this blood gets in my eyes, and it’s her blood on my hands, not mine.
She saved us. Died for us. For our daughter.
And I all I can think about is killing myself, about joining her.
I should join her.
I can’t do it. I have to go on.
Something held back the knife, held back the white, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
But you know that, right baby? This whole tape’s for you, because no one else can really understand it. I want you to know the price we all paid to see you into this world, and how important you’ll become.
Can you feel me feel you against my belly? Are your nerves even turned on yet? I hope not, because there’s no reason for two of us to go through this.
A few months ago, when I first told Sasha about you, she was so excited you just wouldn’t believe it. You see, she knew exactly what was going on, and where you were headed. The very first time we met, when Jo introduced us, she looked me straight in the eye and said
You’re going to make a fine mother.
I didn’t know how to take that, because I was barely a teenager and wasn’t about to get pregnant, but now I really hope she’s right.
Anyway, when I told her that you were coming, she gave me a big hug and asked me what I was going to call you, boy or girl. I hadn’t even thought about it, and said so. While A-Bell was messing with Pyr, telling her adventures to this very tape recorder, Sasha simply replied
Ai. Name her Ai.
She had been studying up on her Japanese just for this occasion. Ai means love, and so I guess she wanted to make sure that you started off on the right foot.
I like that name. It reminds me of home.
Ai, as soon as we can, I want to take you back to Japan, so you can grow up the right way, like I did before I was stolen from it. I’m sure that Sasha would like that.
No. I’m sure that she will like it.
The tape is rewinding now, and I don’t need to watch it again.
The police say unsolved, the doctors say natural causes but it’s murder in the worst way, it’s everything hitting the fan and then some.
My hand is still throbbing, but she’s not dead on the floor anymore.
She’s gone into the white, and Pyr and I will be there soon enough to join her.
When you come out of me and know the world, you have to understand this moment, you have to realize what we’re fighting for. It’s us against them, and they have to win before the fight really begins. Before your fight starts, without me.
Lying on our new carpet in our new apartment in the ancient dark, I unwrap my hand and write revolution red with my fingers. I know the sign, and I’m afraid.
I mark my fists, my forehead, to load the final gun.
Circle X may be everywhere.
But so are we.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
“I love ice cubes”
“They taste good. Better than water.”
“Water doesn’t taste like anything.”
“Yeah, well, still, I like the crunchy cold.”
“Don’t look at me like that!”
“I never look like that. At least, not at you.”
“I thought you didn’t like it.”
“I don’t. It makes me feel all hot and sticky.”
“What’s wrong with hot and sticky?”
“Stop it!” You’re making me warm.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, and when I’m warm I start to sweat.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“It’s not! I get all smelly…”
“Stop! And my clothes get all wet.”
“Is that all? Well I can fix that.”
“No clothes, no problem.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Why not? With less clothes you’ll be colder.”
“Not with you around I won’t”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I’m irresistible”
“Go on.””I’m resisting!”
“What’s that under the blankets?”
“I don’t feel anything.”
“Where are we going?”
“East, west, I don’t know.”
“Good answer….I love wind!”
“What! I can’t hear you?”
“Aren’t you cold?”
“Yes! It’s wonderful!”
“I don’t know how you do that. My eyes always water.”
“Oooh, poor baby!”
“You want some music?”
“Nothing like some good ‘this’ to liven things up.”
“This is great!”
“It’s O.K., but I like Suspender better.”
“No silly! I mean this trip. I love it!”
“Oh. Yeah, it’s been pretty cool so far.”
“The motel! Ice buckets!”
“Yeah….I’m gonna pass this slow ass. On the right.”
“No, on the left. I want to wave.”
“All right, but just this once.”
“Hi! We think you’re sexy!”
“What is he driving?”
“I can’t tell. The sun is right behind it.”
“Put on your shades.”
“Where are they?”
“In the glove compartment, I think.”
“I’ll check….Nope. Nothing but maps.”
“They’re my Dad’s. We used to always take trips.”
“Yeah? Where to?”
“Flat, hot places. Arizona, New Mex.”
“I liked it. He always got lost, and our car would overheat. It was pretty cool.”
“I don’t think I could stand it.”
“It’s not so bad. You would like the nights.”
“They’re darker than at home, and a lot colder.”
“Yeah? Well, still, I need it like that all the time. None of that 100 degree shit.”
“O.K. Loose the maps.”
“We’re not going to use them, so rip ’em up and throw them out the window.”
“What about your dad?”
“I think he’ll have other things on his mind.”
“No shit….I hate states with corners.”
“Then fix it.”
“Good. Turn up the music.”
“Hey! Not now, I’m busy….This is delicate work.”
“You’re such a perfectionist.”
“You got it.”
“I thought you were busy.”
“Can I help?”
“I don’t know…”
“Is the next move clearer now?”
“How about now?”
“You’re getting warmer.”
“You got that right.”
“Wham-O! Pull over!”
“What about the maps?”
“They can wait!”
“Pyr! Watch out for that bunny!”
“Did you hear that?”
“I don’t see it….”
“Go on, get out and look for it. Damn.”
“No good looking at it now.”
“It was the brown kind….”
“Move it off to the side or something.”
“We can’t just leave it here!”
“It’s the cycle of life and shit. Distance between the cradle and the grave one busy highway.”
“If we leave it the ants…and everything’ll be picking at it!”
“Take it then.”
“We should bury it. Right over there.”
“Come on, that’ll be a real waste. Mr. Rabbit….O.K., Mrs. Rabbit, cut down in the prime in her life, and all we’re going to do is dirt her? Frisbee…”
“I wonder what it felt like to get hit.”
“Throw over your knife.”
“You’re not going to eat it….are you?”
“No, I’m just going to skin it.”
“Nature’s going to take it back anyway, so we might as well make some good outta this mess…”
“I don’t know…”
“It’s still warm….”
“Don’t say that!”
“But it is….all its life, radiating off into space”
“Ewwww, it’s all pink!”
“No pinker than you….there.”
“Who you calling pink?”
“Hell no! I’m not touching that knife again.”
“Don’t put it over there. At least lay it in the grass or something.”
“Whatever you want. Sorry rabbit, next time look both ways.”
“There isn’t gonna be a next time, Pyr. And stop talking to rabbits, let alone ones you murder.”
“So now I’m a murderer.”
“No….just the scourge of wildlife everywhere.”
“O.K. I can live with that.”
“So what are you going to do with the fur?”
“Well, the way I figure it, that rabbit died for a reason. I got this skin for a reason, and we’re going to needing it sometime, somewhere, all according to the plan of the universe.”
“If any one’s listening to this, I’m married to a lunatic.”
“Hey! At least I reuse.”
“How long is this fucking train!”
“I knew we should have turned right.”
“Then turn around and go back.”
“O.K. then….Relax. I’ll help you pass the time.”
“Thanks….I’m sorry, I just wanted everything to go perfect.”
“No, it hasn’t.”
“What about New York?”
“Sasha took care of that. Not me.”
“Come off it, you’re doing great. We’re here, aren’t we.”
“Yeah….if it wasn’t for this train!”
“It’ll pass. Things usually do.”
“Hey, where’s the camera?”
“Why? We don’t have any film left.”
“How about your e-book?”
“Batteries died yesterday.”
“Then where’s the gum?”
“I would be fucking mad at you right now, but I love you to much to scream.”
“Do it. The train will kill it anyway.”
“That’s alright, I’ll save it for after the honeymoon.”
“Thanks Friz, you’re a real pal.”
“Flattery will get you a ten-second head start.”
“I’ll remember that….Finally! Let’s get out of here.”
“I wonder where it’s going?”
“The train? Who cares?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I just wonder about things like that.”
“God Friz, you’re so intellectual.”
“Stop! Let’s go already!”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.”
“So, where to?”
“I don’t know, look for signs or something.”
“You’re a fucking genius.”
“Hey, there’s some town up ahead.”
“Town? Looks like a dump!”
“I guess it’s one of those farming towns. They don’t know any better.”
“Yeah, there’s a barn.”
“When I was little I wanted a farm.”
“Not a regular farm. A snow farm.”
“What the hell is that?”
“They grow big fields of snow, by planting snow flakes.”
“You’re a bit offsides, honey.”
“When I was young that’s how I thought snow was made.”
“Well, not really really, but I still believed it.”
“No. I just said that to make you feel better.”
“When I was young you know what I wanted?”
“You’re brother off a bridge?”
“No, besides that. A flashlight.”
“Why didn’t you just go buy one? They’re cheap.”
“Not the regular kind. I wanted one that would suck up darkness.”
“Don’t they all do that?”
“Yeah, but when you turn them off the dark comes back. The one I wanted would store it.”
“Like a vacuum?”
“Yeah, a darkness vacuum. That’s what I wanted.”
“I don’t know if I would like that.”
“Why not? You could save the dark for later, when you really needed it.”
“I never thought of that. Cool.”
“You know what?”
“You were right. This place is a dump.”
“They all are. A big country full of garbage, stacked into stupid little piles people call home.”
“Yeah. What you said.”
“High, middle or low America, it all stinks.”
“The parts inbetween are O.K.”
“There’s no inbetween left! It’s all corrupted, chocked to death by the hand of progress.”
“I guess I hit a nerve.”
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. I just want something that doesn’t exist anymore.”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t found it yet.”
“Maybe it’s out there. We’ll find it.”
“I hope so.”
“I’ll find it for you.”
“We’ll find it together.”
“So. What now?”
“There’s a sign up ahead.”
“What does it say?”
“5 miles to what?”
“I can’t tell. It’s all shot up. Something City.”
“Something City. My kind of place.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. We’re out of blank tapes, too.”
“You fucking shit! What are we going to do when this….”
“O.K., here we are in the biggest mall in all the land, and I’ve just swiped a brick of tapes, one of which I’m using now.”
“Actually, she left a 5 back in the bin, so it doesn’t really count as a swipe.”
“Hey, dear, let me tell our story my fucking way, and no one will get hurt.”
“Fine. But let me just say off the bat that I’m in no way to be held responsible for the validity of this recording.”
“Shit! When have you ever been valid?”
“Ouch! I’ll shut up now.”
“Our audience thanks you. I’ve been trying not to address you folks up until now, so that all of our talk could just come across all shiny, but I’ve been listening over the tapes, thinking about what would work in the next antizine, and most of it pretty much slobbers.”
“So what’s she’s trying to say is that I’m not entertaining.”
“Well, that’s besides the point. What I’m getting at is that I’m sure I’ll eventually edit the stuff, cause if I don’t everyone except Jenny’ll be up in Alaska.”
“O.K. Friz, stop hogging the mike.”
“Hey! I remember specifically asking for some Fruit Stripe, and I expect it, pronto.”
“Don’t electric chair on me dear. I’ll head to the Circle X Jr and do a little foraging.”
“O.K. So now that’s he’s gone, let me offer a little context. For the sake of prosperity, or if we die before this sees print, I’m Laura Watson, otherwise known as Frisbee, and the annoying presence that just left is the love of my life, my brand new husband, John Carver, who I can’t help but call Pyramid, although no one else does. We were hitched about…..4 weeks ago or so, in New York, where we stayed for about a month scamming off his brother Abe and getting into a shit load of trouble. Seems Pyr has enemies he doesn’t even know about, but Sasha took out the trash and all is now well. Oh, did I mention that Sasha is this cool e-punk who’s girl is A-Bell, the team supreme that’s touring with Suspender and are gonna meet us in a week or so? Don’t think so, and such important shit needs to….”
“Are you a reporter?”
“Nope, just a porter.”
“Then what’s that…”
“Well, you see, even though I look really neato I’m actually a cataloger of fine individuals like yourself. Your name…”
“First name only, we’re all friends here. So, Ira, why did you come up to me?”
“Well, we don’t see that many punks around here, and so I thought you must be talking about stuff, like, you know, our mall.”
“Our mall? Interesting article there Ira, do you consider this piece of shit yours?”
“Uh, well, not really, it’s just that it’s the biggest and all, so we all call it that. Everyone comes to see it.”
“I’m sure they do. Now, Ira, what would you say if I was to make you famous.”
“Cool, do you know someone?”
“You could say that. You see that guy coming over here, the one with the black fuzz?”
“Good. He’s been following me for days, trying to give me gum and shit, why I don’t know, and it’s really starting to freak me out. You’re a good fighter, right Ira?”
“From what I hear he’s really weak, but I can’t fuck with him because he has connections. You, on the other hand….”
“Hey, jump back and all, I just came over to flirt.”
“Ira, you poor dear, I’m a married woman, with no time for hormonal geeks, let alone ones who use a mall as the locus point of their existence.”
“Hey Friz, you want some gum?”
“Go on Ira, before he reaches for his knife.”
“Hey, am I on Asshole Video or something? Where’s the camera?”
“Frisbee. Didn’t I tell you not to fuck with the natives?”
“Stay away from her! How’s that?”
“Great. Work with it, the camera’s rolling.”
“Awww, come on, I don’t feel like this now.”
“Stop following her, man.”
“Do you know what?”
“Yeah, what. It’s a word people use to formulate questions, and to point out things. For example, what the fuck are you doing with my wife, that would be a what statement. Do you understand?”
“No, not really…Is this part of the show.”
“Yes, Ira dear. Give it to him!”
“Son, I think you’ve been watching a bit too much static. What I’m trying to say, and this is a what statement too, is that I think it’s best that you just walk away from this, go back to your minimum wage job, and forget that you ever met this girl, before you regret it for the rest of your life.”
“Uh, what should I do? Is there a script I could see?”
“Tell you what Ira. Give me your address and I’ll mail it to you.”
“O.K. Cool. Are you sure you’ll be O.K. though, with him following you and all?”
“What do you think?”
“That’s a what statement, right. You see, I’m catching on.”
“Damn he’s dense. Hit stop already, I’m starting to get an air-conditioner headache.”
“Wait. Ira, now where did you say you live…”
“You know. Hey. Aaarrrrrrnhhhn…”
“You want something to drink?”
“You know what?”
“Sometimes, when I watch the sun set, my eyes start to hurt and I have to look away.”
“That happens to a lot of people.”
“No, I mean it. They hurt all night, even in my dreams.”
“Cool. Maybe that means something.”
“I don’t know. Something.”
“Anyway, even though I know it will happen, I still look anyway. I like to watch the dark come.”
“Wait a minute, is this still good?”
“I guess. It’s just water. If you’re worried I’ll try it first.”
“I didn’t die.”
“Not yet. But don’t worry, if you do I’ll bury you.”
“Yeah, I would cremate you …”
“…and put you under that tree.”
“The one with the white berries.”
“Why that one?”
“I don’t know, it just looks nice and shady.”
“What would you do then?”
“Well, after I cried a bit, I would take the car, and all the junk, and keep on going.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“Wait! And then when I got old and was about to die, I would come back with our daughter and sit under it, in the shade, until I passed away. Then she would burn and bury me, so I could be with you always.”
“Daughter? But I thought I was dead?”
“Are you hiding something? Friz?”
“At the mall I swiped a baby stick, because I missed last month…”
“I can already feel it’s a girl, I know she’ll be something special.”
“Hey! Not so close, I’m expecting.”
“But I guess I have to get a job again….oh well, it was fun while it lasted.”
“What do you mean while it lasted? Pyr dear, we’ve only just begun.”
“Give me that water back, I don’t want our baby drinking that shit.”
“So what are we going to do now?”
“A-Bell and Sasha are going to meet up with us tomorrow, if we make it in time. I figured we could follow Suspender back to the coast, and settle down in holy matrimony and all that shit.”
“Sounds cool. But what about money? I don’t want to raise a child if we can’t provide for it.”
“Don’t worry. Sasha’s working on it as we speak.”
“Wait a sec….”
“Watch out, he’s going for the tape!”
“Uhhhuhhuhhhmmm! O.K., just for the sake of prosperity and all, I want to take this moment to say that I love Laura Elizabeth Watson-Carver, my wife and best buddy, with all of my heart and soul. And I pledge, standing here next to her on the side of some road in the middle of nowhere, that I’ll die before I see her go wrong.”
“Yuck! Don’t spit on the ground!”
“But that’s to seal the promise. Come on, work with me here!”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Well then, I guess I’ll just kind of have to sorta kiss you.”
“For God sake, chuck the tape already. A couple’s gotta have some semblance of privacy.”
“I was just waiting for the word.”
“No! Not towards the road…..”
“We just bought a new cassette recorder….”
“Seems that someone missed the car by about….oh…100 feet or so.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault that the earth was turning so quick that night.”
“So is there anything else you have to say before we wrap it up?”
“Oh, you mean to them. Nope, all done.”
“Good? What the fuck do you mean?”
“Well, if I’m not mistaken that’s A-Bell standing over there, which means Sasha can’t be far behind. If we keep talking then A-Bell’s bound to hog the tape and it would be a real mess to transcribe.”
“Fuck off and go play with a flashlight or something, I’ve got work to do.”
“Ah, I can already taste the domestic bliss.”
“And that’s all you’re going to taste unless you learn to cook for yourself.”
“Ouch! I guess the honeymoon really is over….”
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
We were in the middle of some state, one of the rectangular ones, sorry I don’t know the name but such things aren’t important to me. Anyway Pyr was driving, and the car was really funky due to the heat, which brought forth the summer stickiness that I hate, the slow sweat that licks at your forehead all day and night. The towel we took from the first place was already full and salty, and I know how it tasted because I had it draped over my face like a wedding veil, which fit because we were married only a few weeks before. So, the towel was just sitting on top of me, and we were dripping back and forth as I laid dentist chaired back, and the road wind was flapping it off now and then, offering peaks of passing trees, signs, all the usual highway shit. Everything had that long day smell, that 200 mile burnt plastic odor that windows rolled all the way down couldn’t get rid of, and the tapes were starting to warp. I didn’t mind that much because I heard them all before over and over again anyway, but Pyr did, because they were his precious sounds, his music, and he was just that way about things. He was like Shit Shit everything’s falling apart so I took off the towel a bit and gave him a soft look, and the sun just sat there lounging right in front of us turning orange and red and so I knew it was getting late. I popped up the seat and leaned over and whispered in his ear something inspiring, he smiled that I’m tired of all this fucking driving but thanks anyway smile, so I brushed back his hair going There, there, we’ll stop soon, which was just the trick. Kicked around a cereal box or two and then back to the towel.
I don’t know if I said before but the towel was powder blue and so when I was under it the whole world was like a baby’s bonnet or something, soft and cuddly but still holding back that long, loud cry that’ll come when everyone’s asleep. It was like somewhere else, the beach maybe, with the wind rushing by like waves, and the bump bump of the road the sway of the water as it cradles you even though you’re all wet and coughing, wanting to go back to the sand. And when you do it sticks all over your feet, making you run back in but not too far, maybe just to the edge so it can come up and slip on by, grabbing at your ankles until you almost fall over, but you don’t because your strong and it’s hot and even though your tired you don’t want to get your hair wet again. It was almost like that, only with an engine.
Cars can be that way. When you’re going to the mall or something and the brake is kind of squeaky suddenly you’re Fuck why am I here and all that until the light turns red and you have to stop again. I always thought it was the vibration on your butt and that little clicker hypnotizing you click click click until everything’s a windshielded blur and the horns become your theme song and Drive you shit the chorus. Whatever it is, give me the keys and I’m out back in Pole Position land going around in circles preparing to qualify, lost with only the click click click until I find myself where I want to be. That’s why Pyr always drives I guess, he was born on the way to the hospital so he’s used to it. I wonder what that would be like, to stick out your head with everything all sirens and lights flashing and the road bump bumping, your mother on more of a TV tray than a bed, the paramedics with no mouths dancing around It’s a boy/girl let me slap it for you. If I remember right I first screamed safe at home, not that I would recall the actual moment, but that’s what mother said when she dusted the furniture, Here on the rug they didn’t have time to move me to the bedroom yeah right. Actually I think she was on the big bed for wasn’t it pretty obvious with the extra size the pain and all that something was up, better boil water. She was probably making one of her points like If you don’t clean the floor then how will you ever find anything, when it’s obvious that if it’s all out there spread around you’re bound to trip over what you want sooner or later.
I have a feeling you’re lost so back to the road. In the car, under the towel, world is hot and blue, and I’m hyped because nothing has gone wrong so far. Pyr is starting to bitch and I’m like We’re almost there O.K. but everything’s cool as I lay calm and the sun sets. He finds a tape from between my legs that still works, well, that why he says his hand was there, but a finger wiggle reveals a lot more than he thinks sometimes. A simple touch can have me rolling on the ceiling begging for something – it doesn’t matter what – and I won’t come down until I get it. If he does it wrong then I’m on top of him ordering what I want what I need and I take it no excuses no complaints. Either way, he was up to something, and it was almost 18 hours since the last twitch and moan so I was all squeezing my thighs around his hand forcing him to pull it out unless he didn’t want to. He was driving though so he just wiggled a bit and then left. I wasn’t surprised. Always gets me riled up only to trim the edges, when what I want is to bite into overgrown bushes, and bring forth that green smell, that perfect smell, can’t even come close to describe it. Who cares. It was late.
By this time Almost became There it is, which I knew because I’d been there before. Didn’t remember exactly when then, but as I grabbed his shoulder pointing to the dusty parking lot, I could hear long ago radiator hiss. When I was little we stopped there – car trouble and all that – but it seems so far away now, dream-like, that it feels like someone else’s life, a drive-in movie without the sound. I never understood why at drive-ins they just couldn’t set up one giant speaker and turn it up to 10, no more boxes no more trouble but that’s besides the point because you’re in a car and you should be driving not watching what good is a wheel if you don’t turn it. I would like it just fine if they told you to park your car in a lot somewhere and made you sit outside on cold concrete, while the single speaker blared and the fog slowly settled in, if you were by the water that is, and the picture so large sat like a billboard in front of you, only they were selling stars not car wax. That’s fine because people shine their hoods too much anyway, and I like water spots and dust, especially the red kind that the car kicked up when Pyr drainage-ditch dipped into the motel lot. It was empty except for us.
Actually I was kind of surprised about that because you would think that a motel would have people staying in it and all, but there we were parking by the chainlink that painted hollow shadows all over the car, and we were alone which I knew for certain because the sign even said vacancy in big red letters. Not that someone couldn’t have gone out to take a drive or something before nighttime but I doubt it, where could they go except to a cornfield or a silo or just back and forth on the highway until they ran out of gas. Anyway we were there at last, and so Pyr was like Cool, now I can get a shower and I nodded Fuck yes because he stank. All I wanted was to just get out of that fucking car which I was so sick of then, now too, so I threw the towel in the back seat, on top of the pillows, and hot-tub toed outside into the dying heat. And when I stood up on the loose ground, the same kind they have in the middle of baseball fields – which I would know since I walked on one once when my Dad’s friend invited us to the coliseum for a guided tour, and it was so fucking boring but we got free baseball shit which was cool – I felt more complete than any other time that I can remember. It was like home, except it wasn’t at all, you know?
Pyr didn’t. I was all This is so great while he just yawned and stretched up like he was trying to poke through the clouds. Then he popped the trunk and threw the bags on the ground, like a pissed-off luggage guy at the airport when you don’t tip enough, even if it’s because he’s an asshole. Not that Pyr was an asshole or anything, but he was fucking close when I tried to help, and he was like Baggage handling is next to godliness and pushed me away. So I spun around like a push top, the really clanky kind, and kicked a dust devil into his face. Well, almost that high, except some wind came out of nowhere just in time like it was planned or something, and slapped the dirt back to the ground. Made me wonder if he wasn’t just reaching for the clouds before, but actually shaking their hands, asking them to spit on me for him. Maybe not, but it did rain later.
I’m sorry if I’m getting ahead of myself or even a bit confused, but everything blurs together in the end when you’re looking back and trying to make sense. It’s not like I didn’t give you warning though, but since I haven’t got to the good part yet and I want you to be there with me, I’ll try to get things back in control. Anyway, after the wind killed my baby storm, well, actually it was just a cloud, but I wanted it to turn into a tornado or something and suck him up into the sky, after that Pyr went Why don’t you just go get a room O.K. and that made sense so I did. Up to the front part where all the signs were, like Welcome and Enjoy Your Stay and No Fucking Solicitors, well, maybe not that one, just normal motel shit, you know, hole in the ground smart assdom. The porch part was creaky wooden and kind of rotten so as your feet came down everything stopped for a second to make sure that you were walking, and the whole world laughed at you for making stupid noises, because you’re not supposed to draw attention to the cracks the faults the little things, that you know are wrong but no one else does, so they stuff you into envelopes and put you in a mail box somewhere to be sorted out later. What I mean is that the whole place was old, flat roofed, and when you stepped on it’s toes it gave out a little moan begging you to clip its nails. Looked like no one had done that for a while, with the walls flaky white, yellow showing through, and some weeds – Dandelions, I think – sticking out here and there by the horse-post fence thing which ran wild around the front side. Guess it was to stop runaway cars or something, because corn can do that to city people, make them all crazy wanting to look in the cobs for a second while they drive by, to see if it was actually there or just a hoax – corn actually being like carrots dug out of the ground, so you have to pull the stalks two handed and shake the dirt off – and when they do a crow flies by and makes them skid off the road into a ditch and flip over, dead. If they were going fast enough then they would surf dust belly-up to the fence, and crack through it so loud that the people inside could run out the back door and hop on the tractor before the water heater exploded, or maybe the oven because flat landers like gas. I don’t.
Anyway the front door was a screen – with a big dog-rip at the bottom, like it just had to go and couldn’t wait to bark – and through it you could see a desk. Not that I saw it or anything, for when I jingled inside, kicking up the doormat a bit, all that was there for me was the icebox. The Icebox. Silver-metal half red painted sofa, with cool ice written all over it, really. In general store letters – no one cares if you drip a bit – it sang at me like an ice cream truck, except you didn’t have to run after it trailing nickels, no it just sat there stupid waiting for you to come over and put your head inside. I always liked to taste crunchy cold, let my tongue stick to a big fat cube fresh out of the freezer tray, and just suck away at it, melting it slowly, as I sat on the porch or walked around the block just looking and thinking. That’s what I remembered when I went up to the icebox, lazy cloud days and a numb mouth, and I hardly noticed anything else in the room, except maybe the map above it, all dot-lined and tiny printed, not even helpful, well, maybe to those who already know where they are, and want to double check, to lick themselves on the back. I hate maps, hate borders and capitals and perfect scale, and I never get lost, because I’m always happy where I end up. Happy to look down some strange alley and see nothing but black, glad to ask someone for directions just to hear their voice, and how it shakes because they feel so good showing you all the shit they know, all the places they’ve been that you haven’t. Personally I don’t give a fuck what they know, I just want some pocket change and a good pair of shoes, and to get where I’m going, where I’m supposed to be. And when I touched the icebox – my sweaty fingers shining the handle – and lifted the lid, I knew I was there. The right place.
So I didn’t wait one click to grab a wax-coated paper bucket off the top part, and scoop down deep inside, making that perfect ice noise – like a rake against concrete only without the wince – and up came little clear chunks of heaven, steaming. It was bite-sized ice, the kind that you can stick between your toes after a long run, and I couldn’t help but just stare at it, to smell it, and don’t let anyone tell you that ice, or water even, doesn’t have a smell, because it does, like the minute after you turn the shower off and slap the water down the drain, like 6 AM on a rainy day when you first throw off the cold covers, or like laying back-down in the middle of a field, when the stars are popping up one by one, and the grass is crying dew. Ice smells like all that, only more, it’s the base that every other scent is thrown on top of. I never told anyone this before, but when I was little I used to open the freezer and lie down in front of it for hours, reading the labels off popsicle boxes, or trying to imagine the chickens at the TV dinner factory hopping around on one leg, and all the cold would jump down to the floor and then float around the kitchen, while the grate at the bottom of the frigerator hummed hot air, trying to suck back in its secrets. But I wouldn’t let it, I’d take dirty towels from the laundry room and stuff them along the base, and watch it cough, its mouth wide open, helpless as the ice slowly melted. And, as soon as the frosty walls started to drip, I’d grab a chair and stand tippy-toed on it, take all the boxes and unlabeled bags out and stack them on the counter, and then crawl inside the freezer as far as I could go, letting the slow water mingle though my hair, sticking strands together, and close the door behind me. If you ever wondered if the light stays on when the door is closed well it doesn’t, all that is left is cold dark, frozen rain puddles, and the whisper mumble of forced stillness. Balled up, my face pressed against the far corner, I’d take in that clean smell, imagining myself as tomorrow’s dinner, ready to be thawed out, until the air started to fall to the ground, water started to sneak up my ankles, and my heart yelled at me, making me kick at the door with socked feet. It would wheeze for a moment and then slowly creak open, I’d dangle my legs back out, feel for the chair’s back-rest, and lower myself down. Put everything exactly back into its place, turn up the dial to coldest for an hour or two, and when my mom came home she’d find me off in a closet somewhere, playing with coat hangers. I only did it three times, until she got suspicious after finding sock lint in the ice tray, but by then I was too big anyway, so I didn’t give a shit. Some things aren’t meant to last.
Anyway, after a few seconds of looking, feeling the cold slip through the bucket onto my palms, I couldn’t wait any longer so I raised it up to my mouth, stuck out my tongue and wormed deep down into the pile, not even worrying about my shades, which scratched against the top, fogging up a bit but I didn’t need to see just to taste, to slide the chunks over the roof of my mouth, making as if to swallow but at the last moment slapping to a cheek, killing them with back teeth, sharp. It was perfect, like a commercial in a show you forgot to tape when you really have to pee, except that when my jaw was exploding I couldn’t hear him come up behind me. I hate that.
Sure he fucking loved it because he was all A quarter tapping me on my shoulder making me throw the ice up into the air bend-spinning around squeezing a fist for the groin, on automatic pilot like I was back there or something, because strange hands asking lead to dumpsters and no money. Crouched down with fake hail hitting the floor, he jumped back clear to the desk, the one I didn’t see until then – wasn’t much; old, brown, you know – and he was like Hold it, I just wanted a quarter for the ice, which was already melting into the floor cracks. I couldn’t help but laugh at him, only it came out like a soda in your nose cough, because I still had some in my mouth, well, I did until then. It flew-slid across the floor, picking up some shoe dust, and stopped at his feet. Are you all right? he open handed, and I was like I guess so as I took them and he helped me up. His hands were strong and kind of sweaty, which usually meant that either he washed them too much or liked to touch, and as I swayed to my feet I was hoping the second. What was all that? he grinned as I brushed back hair pocketing the shades – taking in red shorts, bare chest – and the best I could come up with was I don’t know, maybe we can find out later. Grabbed his eyes and gave a passing car stare – the kind you don’t expect to see again – and he fumbled O.K. Whatever and went back behind the desk, out of his league.
That was cool because I’m patient, especially when it comes to reeling in what I like and he was pretty much it. Reminded me of this library guy when I was little, he used to work at the check-out desk and I would always get these stacks of books – didn’t matter if I wanted them or not – so that I could just look at his big eyes made bigger by glasses, while he shucked and branded them. And I would keep them longer than I should of, so I could take them up to the return counter one by one, pleading to get out of jail free. He would adjust his tie and squint at the fine sheet really careful, and then smile and say I didn’t see these, putting them on a book truck. I would sigh chin-low and see myself on top of him, reaching inside his pants, feeling for it, but I doubt he knew, don’t think he even cared, not that way. His ring finger choked so loud each time I saw it, make me want to put it under the paper cutter in the back and just chop red, and as he screamed or cried or whatever I would take some of that book cover tape and scratch paper to wrap up his hand, careful not to stick any right on the bone, and then kiss him on the ear hoping to suck out all the thoughts of anyone else but me. Anyway I was way too young, hadn’t even had a period yet, so all I could do was go off in the library bathroom and stare at the mirror, waiting to change into something that he would want, something that could take him. By the time that happened he had already gone, all that was left was the fine sheet, which I stole and hung up inside my closet, to calculate the cost of wanting while I chose what to wear. It always was too much.
Actually, the guy at the motel was nothing like him, except for his fingers maybe, although his were free to wiggle their own way. Free to wiggle my way, and they almost did, but I’m jumping ahead again, breaking all the book rules, making a mess of things. Good. Fuck grammar I used to say to my 8th English teacher during detention, and she would be like That’s not a complete sentence young lady and knock me over with a yard stick. Well, not actually over because I could sue her ass, just into the desk making my number 2 hop to the floor point first. No, the guy at the motel was more like a garbage man, all noisy and dented, slamming doors while you sleep, turning dreams of swimming pools into bathtubs, when the water is gray and everything starts to itch from the heat. When I watched him shuffle through drawers looking for a pen, he gave me this feeling that Pyr could never hack up even if he wanted to, kind of like sitting on the porch waiting for the lightning to come, the hair on the back of your neck standing up just a little. And when he found a Bic and said So, what can I do for you, I wanted to take him right there, but I couldn’t because the front door jingled and Pyr came in banging the bags around, obviously out of it. He was all Have you got it yet? and the motel guy – I’ll save his name for later – came with a quickness Number two is all set, and pulled some keys out of his pocket. Thank you I leaned forward, taking the keys from his hand, making sure to reach between his fingers some, scratching the edges gently with my fingernails. Everything was all shining really great then , so let me just step a bit while he gives me the pen to sign the guest book, so I can show you where everything was, how it was perfect.
O.K. Obviously we were in some sort of room, and it was typical motel type, with two doors, one behind the desk, and one in front – the screen, remember? Icebox was over to the left – well, universal left, like when you watch the sun set – and it was about so high, up to my waist. Map above it was old, hanging by only two tacks, which was cool because it would flap a bit in the fan-wind that came from the corner, where there was this big blade in a flat birdcage on top of a coatrack kind of pole, and even if you couldn’t actually feel it blowing around, due to the heat you dragged in, there were these shoelaces tied to the action end, flapping around like shredded flags. One was white and the others were brown and black, but you don’t give a fuck do you because a person can be too particular and make you want to skim ahead, so let me just move on to the main wall, all Hawaii postered and travel pictured. Next to Honolulu was a really neat snap of one of those big rocks you see out in Arizona or New Mex, the ones that Pyr always wanted to jump off of, and even though it was in black white you could still make out the orange, red and blue as the sky wrapped around the pimples of the world. I guess it’s kind of mean to call them that, probably will piss off some geologists, but they can be real shits putting you to sleep when you’re trying hard to learn about glaciers, with their drone drone continental drift wheeze crap, like I care if the ground moves an inch a year, get to the point. There were other pictures too, of places we had passed or were going to sooner or later, and every one was really out of focus which added to the mystery, wanting to know who was squinting behind the camera. Anyway, along side of the wall was a park bench looking thing, all Singer cushioned like mom used to fake, with corners tied to the posts to make sure someone with a sore ass didn’t stuff one down his pants and walk away I guess, but they were sweater thin so I don’t see how they would help much. The bench was long enough to lay on if you stuck your legs underneath an armrest, and it was about as high as a 13 inch with remote so if you sat down you had to trip out your ankles, probably scrunching up the floor rug-mat when you did. Looked like it needed to be fucked up a bit so the dust could breathe, but who wants to touch something everyone else has stepped on, except of course if it was something you lost. Nothing else dead was of much interest, so let’s crawl up on top of the people proper, starting with me.
I had on a gray tank top that was a size or two too big, so as I leaned over the desk anyone who wanted to look could see pretty much whatever they wanted. My hair was about back length, red if I remember right, with a yellow streak splitting me between the eyes. Shorts were about knee high, blue-greenish with big jacket pockets, and they were roomy enough that the wind could kick them up past my thighs if it was absolutely necessary. Shoes were standard All-Stars – maroon, with penned-in go-go checks along the soles – and I was going sockless because I used the last good pair a couple days before for hand puppets, to prove a point to Pyr. Not that he understood or anything, which goes along with the general impression he sweats. Hard to describe, maybe it’s something in his eyebrows, the way they twitch at you when he’s a couple of minutes late, or it could be his shoulders, which lop to one side when he looks you in the chest. In any case, he oozes irritation, and whatever it shoots through turns radioactive with discomfort. Especially his clothes, and how they wrinkle up as soon at they touch his body, adding a sense of laundromat leisure to even the cleanest T-shirt. The one he had on that day was already seat-soaked all along the back, and the picture – Uncle Sam giving the finger, WE WANT YOU TO FUCK OFF around it – was fading and starting to dandruff. Not that it didn’t match his shorts, which were actually camo cut-offs that he lifted from A. Surplus. They had seen one to many under-table screws, with the biggest hole just below the crotch fray-framing his 3-pack boxers. His only hope was to distract with hair, and he did that pretty well, even though I fucked up the back a bit when I dyed it black, and he was all What is this shit on my head? until I found some scissors and buzzed him from ear to neck to ear. Actually it grew out kind of cool, but you wouldn’t know unless you were standing a block away. He likes it though, says it makes him look like A fucking bum which is what he was aiming for I guess.
Pyr was by the door sitting on the bags, and he was giving the motel guy a real thinker, elbows and all. I already told you some about him – shorts, chest – but that was only the throw-away part, the packaging that lies about the ingredients. If you looked past the navel hair, and took in the way that he stood, the curve of his wrists, and shoved it deep back behind your eyes into the dark, then you would start to understand what I do, you would feel the tingle. It was like when you’re at the drug store because someone used up all of the college ruled, and you really don’t want to be there with the rows and rows of sick shit, the romance novels that make you want to take up arson, then as you pick up boxes of whatever and place them in a shopping cart to add balance-weight so you won’t fall over after crashing into weekly specials, this music rains from the ceiling and it’s that song that you used to sing when you were 3, only you could never remember the words even if you really tried, but there it was bouncing off the Hallmarks, and you let the cart wobble off into some deodorant as you RCA’d up. That was it, with the stupid hooks that no one dared sample, and it was so pure, so snowy, that you just wanted to fall to the ground right there and make toilet paper angels. When he handed over the pen, all the while keeping one eye on Pyr, I had the same sort of flush, the breeze of twisted up memory-love. It was wonderful.
Come to think of it, all the shit I just said doesn’t really professor the essence of that moment. Maybe it was only the light skipping off the fields, throwing shadows into every little sidewalk crack. Yeah, with the screen holes hitting blurry road pictures, Pyr’s head stretching into the icebox and looking pissed because, the day-end vacuuming of the sun from far-away corners and half-full cardboard boxes. In any case, when I look back I get this something extra that’s missing now, and to put it on any one thing probably isn’t fair, so I won’t. Don’t want to be one of those people who are always pulling your teeth, their sharp needles filled with what they think is the cure-all great thought, the one point that will make everyone shut off their cars and go buy a Coke, but I don’t want to waste your time with New York Timed literary vomit. I just have something to say, and when I can ring it out of my life’s sponge then I’ll shut the fuck up.
So. Took the pen and faked a name address in his book, along with a rende-note to the effect of 11:30 I’ll be waiting here for you. Bet he could read upside down cause when I perioded he gave me a side eye and babbled If you need anything don’t hesitate to call, number’s by the room phones. Drawered the book, ping-ponged Pyr a I don’t know what the fuck’s up look and slipped though the door before I could think to blink. Tossed the keys to Pyr but his hands were still chin-locked so they jingle-pledged his allegiance right on Uncle Sam’s scowl. He was all Fuck you and you’re little dog too but I just smiled and runwayed over to the door, flipping hair and flashing thigh until he had to grab for something, opportunities being hard to pass up and all. Baby-slapped him away cause what’s mine’s mine to give and take, any questions? Not from him, wants me too much to raise a tongue, fucking coward.
Elbow-swung the door open, and as the outside flew in light tinseled off gutter mouths and telephone floss straight into my eyes, making me snow-squint until I could ear my Arnolds. That done I gave Pyr a Let’s go already so he creaked up soon enough, duffled his right, back-packed with a groan, and samsonited me with his shit, fortunately a lot lighter after the washing machine scam a few days before. Not that I forgave him for snatching the bag of quarters before our shit was dry, had to grab wet handfuls and drip-run out the front, with hangers dropping baskets kicking and that fat ass lady What do you think you’re doing! sorry bitch, no gun, no luck. Actually I felt kind of bad as we squealed out, it being the only mat in town and all, think of all the overalls, sun dresses and fashionable T’s it takes to fill up a change machine, divide that by the hick population, and you got a lot of twinkie dreams lost forever. Fuck, why spill milk, there was mud, shit and grass all over town anyway, someone was bound to trip over their hand-me downs in time for Sunday dinner – like the laundrolady needed to eat any more, she could barely fit out the door to see me give her the finger goodbye. And since it was bingo day or something the only cop we saw was too busy pissing in the bushes behind the grocery store to notice us, by the time he finished shaking we were long gone. Still, hope she could at least get something for the clothes we left behind, scamming always leaves a moral aftertaste that takes a little extra Listerine to wash away.
Anyway, I really don’t give a fuck about what we carried or how we got to the room, but since you weren’t there and all I’ll wave my little flashlight over what I remember. Turned left outside the office and walked along the porch planks, walls left, crash fence right. Above there were G.E.’s hung by wire nooses, swaying slightly as the wind began to pick up, as the clouds shaving-creamed past far away trees. There were a few doors closed that we passed, red with nailed-on numbers, and through curtains drawn shadow beds slumbered and table lamps shaded caught flies, not quite dead yet. In front of us the fence held back green corn stalks, rows and rows of potential movie pop, and beyond were the tips of houses and barns, shingle-faded from heavy noon times. Past our car was the road – just like all the tracked veins of the country, dot-striped and gray skinned, dry and bumpy – and past that was a big field of something, short enough that the brown still peaked through in near parts, but the farther you looked out, the more it all blurred into greenish-black, blending with tree heads and electro-poles, barely countable. It was so fakey natural, so producerial and agrocentric, that I wanted to throw a bottle match right in the middle of it all, and watch the flames reclaim the land that one had buffaloes and people and real things on it, priceless and value full. But it’s stupid to even waste a thought on the past because it’s gone, and no one gives a fuck about other dead bodies besides their own, and not really even that, because it’s so much more satisfying to tobaccoalcocaffinate yourself to death, and if they didn’t then think about all the homeless businofacists roaming the streets, bumming espresso-drags off passing consumers. Makes you want to TV, to walkman and U.S.A. Today, to jack-off to obscene sound bytes dripping from your wallets. And you will.
I won’t. I won’t fuck your sons and daughters, I won’t lick your conscience clean, I won’t shit in your urban toilets, and watch my dreams circle-spin down the drain. I don’t know who you are, don’t care either, and what gives you the right to even read this, to stuff me inside your head between boxes filled with useless educrap and advermyths, moldy from the water that showered in your ears and just stayed there, caught behind the wax. But it’s already too late, I’m in and I’m a little dead virus that’ll tear you apart with whisper screams of all the ways you suck, about how your faith in a better life is wrong, how your thoughts are stupid, how you aren’t worth saving. You probably won’t notice until it’s too late, until I grab your eyes and spin them back so you can look in, and you’ll see nothing, have nothing, know nothing. And then I’ll take over, put your athletic shoes on, walk you outside, drive you to the nearest body of water, make you open the gas tank, and throw the cigarette lighter in. Dinosaur juice’ll explode like the time they fucked up, and body bits will fly along with tires and rear-view mirrors, 250 million mushroom clouds rising past joyous sea gulls. When the last piece falls the cool will climb up and wash away it’s secret shame, the mistaken gasp of air that led to fast food, and after a day or two things will be the way they should be. Without you.
And now you’re probably all What kind of fucking story is this, and this’ll be the last sentence you’ll read. Which is fine by me, because the damage is done, and no matter how many times you recycle this I’ll still be inside you, waiting. So if you want to stop, fine, now’s the time to do so. If not, then I’ll walk you to the motel room, and explain why things turned out the way they did. That is what you wanted, right? The gossip, the bones of the plot, the caramel center to it all. If so, you’ll get more than enough, if not, there’s hope for you yet. Either way – the room.
Yeah. So where was I? Oh. We were walking towards the corner and as the light turned into not-so-light you could just make out the scratches on the bumper where we ran into that one way sign, trying to make it point in our direction. But poles are metal for a reason and so the car got fucked up, not that much, just enough so that Pyr was Fucking shit, I’m glad this ain’t my car and I rebounded I could have swore it was a breakaway pole which I couldn’t have since nothing like that exists anywhere and they weren’t about to start using them in the middle of nowhere, not to mention Iowa. Besides I never swear that way, because there’s a big difference between You asshole and I pledge allegiance, and if you ever start taking about responsibilities to higher powers then I’ll just put my ears in my pockets until you get to the part about abortion, which’ll be the time that I’ll slap you silly. Anyway, around the corner were rooms 2 and 1, ours being a few steps from the turn, and as Pyr tossed the duffle at the foot of the door – which has one of those metal guards on it, to prevent drunken kick-throughs I guess – I swung his suitcase at him, spanking him hard enough that he took the position, arms straddling the room number. Put his shit to the side and approached him with imaginary sleeves rolled, and patted him down for the keys while I cooed Come on baby, you know better not to block the door before we even get inside (give his faucet a good yank) because that’s bad luck to the worst degree (shimmy my fingers under the shirt, hooking his belly button) remember what happened the first night? (remind him with a nipple twist) I know you don’t want that again. Aha! Finger the keys from his back pocket while I kick his legs apart enough that I can crawl through to the knob, looking up with a smile while the room twist-clicks into life. Falling forward a bit before grabbing for the door jam, he watches me paddle through the shadowed carpet to the bed, not saying a word because by now he knows what’s good for him. Take a peek beneath the mattress before I break it in with a belly flop, spreading my legs wide open to test the clearance. Queen size to the inch.
You may proceed I sneered and so he kicked the duffle in and then threw his backpack off into the corner – between the dresser and garbage can, I’ll get to those later – his shit still along the outside wall where I left it. Shower he mumbled, digging through the duffle and taking his cue I went outside to get the suitcase, since the good soap and shit were inside it, and I knew how particular he could be about moisturizers and perfumes, even though he’s only fifty-six hundredths of a percent pure. Anyway, as I fetched the bag there was this way too weird feeling in the air, kind of like shag-carpet static, combined with a whisper in the breeze that sent a shiver right down to my butt, so I didn’t wait a click to get our shit into the room and bolt the door behind me. Of course, now I know that it was just the world talking, making sure that that night went as it was planned to all along forever, but then I was simply freaked, so I started filling up the dresser, since if it’s one thing my mother ever pummeled into me, it’s that you’ll never sleep right unless everything is put away. Guess that’s some pseudo-American folk wisdom, go figure.
So, and this is one of those good parts I was talking about, when I opened up the top drawer, where I usually put my underjunk, there was one of those small, green New Testaments that someone leaves at every place you stop, because they get a kick out of it or something. Usually they seem hot off the presses but this one was obviously touched, with a bookmark even sticking out of the back. Maybe some of the air outside seeped in underneath the door, or it could have simply been one of those strange impulses endless hours on the road produces, but I felt almost commanded – O.K., bad word in context, but it’s true so sue me – to take that Bible and read the page that was marked. Took it, closed back up the drawer, and plopped back down on the bed, finding a good position to take in the message.
Sure, I didn’t know it was a message then, but I’ve already passed then, already know what the storm brought, but you don’t so let’s continue at the point where I open it up. As those things go it had to be The Revelation of St. John, because my mother always had a thing for the Apocalypse – which I talked about a long time ago in Antizine 5, when the dreams came back. Oh yeah, unless you’re Jenny you have no idea what I’m talking about, so a little cheat sheet is in order. My mother, even though she was Japanese to the core, wanted to be an American like I don’t know what, and one of the things which she though was absolutely required was Christianity. So she always went to church and dragged me along, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it or anything, but I do remember being scared out of my Sunday dress, going up to the front and having to eat those crackers that were actually chunks of our Savior, and I believed it, which really sucked because meat always disgusted me, even then. Besides, why couldn’t I just let him into my heart, not my digestive tract, you know? Well, anyway, when I was 7 the first dream hit, which I remember like I don’t know what because it came every night for a whole week, each time more freaky than before. The first night, this girl, younger than I was then, was sitting in church next to me, where mother usually did. She was dressed all in white, or simply was really shiny, because her arms and legs didn’t exactly stand out from her body. I asked her where my mother was and she said Up there, pointing to the choir. And there she was, singing her head off, and I couldn’t help but laugh because she wasn’t singing with everyone else, instead she was belting out early 60’s pop. But no one noticed, that is until she stood up from the front row and started screaming. Yeah, my mother was in the front and singing in the choir, how I don’t know, but the one in the front was yelling in Japanese about the fall of Babylon – which I know now but at that time I thought she was yelling Baby Lion – and my mother in the choir stopped singing, took out one of those Han Solo laser guns and popped her double right in the head. You would have thought that it would have stopped her, but instead she kept screaming louder, so riled up that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. But my singer mother did, and so she jumped out from the choir and ran across the altar, knocking the Bible off the main podium as she did. When it hit the floor it went straight through, and kept on going down into the earth, until flames shot out of the hole. Watch carefully the girl next to me said, as my Japanese mother was knocked down by my singing one, who started to reach up her dress, yelling There will not be another one! She didn’t fight back at all, only telling her that There will be one removed, who knows the bitter taste and yet complains not. Then, from out of the flaming Bible hole came this demon guy, red and everything, who grabbed my Japanese mother and pulled her in. The hole closed up, my singing mother came back down to sit with us, and the whole church stood up on its feet and yelled Amen. When they sat back down, the girl was gone.
If you haven’t figured out by now I’m slowing down story time to a grinding halt, because these dreams are really important, especially considering what happened at the hotel that night. So anyway, the second night was kind of like the first, except my mother sent me to church alone, because she was sick or something. So Aunt Jessica took me there – which makes no sense since she was a thousand miles away – and dropped me off at the door, saying Bring back some water for me, O.K.? I nodded and waived as she pulled away, and when I turned around to go in there that girl was again, shinier than before. Did you say your prayers before you went to sleep? and I said no, because I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the real world or the dream one. That’s O.K., but I need to show you something, so say them now and then we’ll go. So I knelt down on the steps and gave a quick Our Father…, which was the only thing I knew. Great, now you know this is a dream, right? I looked at her and looked around the church, and things looked pretty real, so I shrugged. It’s very important that for the next 5 nights you are ready to hear what I’m saying, so tonight I’m here to get you ready. O.K.? I nodded, although I didn’t exactly understand then. You may be wondering why I remembered this so well from so long ago, but we’ll get to that soon enough. So, she took my hands in hers and said You like the park, right? Let’s go there and then there was this flash and black and white and lots of green and brown because we were in the park. Wow, can we do that again? but she smiled No, let’s go sit down by the flowers and talk, O.K.? So we did, and the flowers seemed so colorful and large and smelly that I knew that it was a dream, which was strange because that never happened before. Laura, do you remember me from last night? Yes, you were at the church, and you told me to watch Japanese mommy fight American mommy. Good. Now I need to tell you something that you can never forget, O.K.? I’ll remember, I promise. O.K, and I don’t want you to cry, because everything will be O.K. I won’t, I don’t cry very much. She took off the white, how I don’t know, and underneath were the strangest clothes, especially this thing she had on her head and over her eyes, kind of like an X-Wing helmet. They told me you won’t retain any of this unless I prepare you, so I need you to put this on, and then she handed the helmet-thing to me. O.K., is this Star Wars or something? You could say that. Now, put it on tight and look at me. And I did, and then I saw her, but she wasn’t her anymore – she was someone else, a part of me. I woke up in a cold sweat.
The third night I was really scared to go to sleep, because I didn’t know what to expect. Usually I didn’t remember my dreams so vividly, and I was only in the 2nd grade so I had no context to put things in. But, I still believed in magic and monsters and the power of daytime and darkness, so I just took it in stride, and trusted that it was just a dream after all, no matter how strange. When I finally got to sleep, my pajamas covered in sweat, I found myself in the park again, looking at that girl. Sorry about that, they tried to give you too much at once. Do you remember anything? Just looking at you and thinking of me, I half-truthed, because I actually saw me, and far more. Very promising. You don’t talk like any girl I know. Remember, Laura, I’m kind of like your imaginary friend, because you’re asleep now, remember? Oh yeah, and everything seemed to shift a notch, becoming clearer yet more uncertain. Then I could wake up if I wanted. Or I could fly…and then I started to lift off the ground, rising above the trees. We have lots to cover! she screamed from below, and I came down because I was kind of scared and all, flying around and shit. O.K., so you remember the first night, in the church? Yeah. And last night, here in the park? Yeah. And you know this is a dream? Yeah. O.K., so we can do anything we want, right? I guess so. Good, now take this camera, and then she gave me this camcorder thing – but this was 1979 so I have no idea how I thought of it – and told me to Put it inside your ear, and imagine that it will record everything you see, like a movie. A movie? Yes, and you will remember everything you see, and everything you hear, because you can play back the tape in you head, when you are awake or asleep. O.K.? So I put this in my head – and then I imagined it small, placing it deep inside my ear. Very good, you’re catching on faster than we imagined. Now we’re going to play a game, O.K.? What game? Hide- and-go-seek. You’ll be it Laura, and I’ll go somewhere to hide. In the park? No, anywhere in the whole world. This is a dream, remember? You can do anything you want. And with that she disappeared, leaving me alone in the park.
Now even though this was a dream and I knew it, I was still freaked out like I don’t know what, yelling for the girl who’s name I didn’t know, holding back kickball tears – the one’s when no one picks you cause you don’t have a dick. After a bit I stopped and remembered that I had a camera in my head, and imagined that I could take pictures of my memories, which I did, including the dreams of the nights before. Then, I kept the camera rolling and started to look around deep inside, thinking that if I was dreaming then everything – the park, the girl, everything – was in my head too, and so all I had to do was look inside my dream head, instead of outside in the dream. That probably sounds spazzy but as soon as I turned a couple of shady corners, past blurry pictures of Japan and the first day of kindergarten, there that girl was, sitting in front of me in the park. I opened my dream eyes and she was really sitting there, smiling while she messed with the X-Wing helmet. You’re quicker than I thought. I don’t want to wear that again! and she frowned while I pouted my best pout. What are you afraid of, Laura, isn’t this just a dream? Yeah, I guess. And doesn’t that mean that everything outside actually is inside you, just like you figured out? Yeah. So whatever happens can’t hurt you, and is completely in your control. And I can take a movie of it! That’s right, and then she turned white again while handing over the helmet. I have many things to show you in a short period of time. Put it on again. The dream-world blacked out for a moment while I slipped it on my head, and then I saw the girl, but she was more and less than she was before – a shadow of light in a glass of water, and a reflection of me mirror-bouncing off into infinity, all at the same time. I know you….I said, and her light smiled as she floated into the air. You don’t know me yet, and she ripped open the blue sky with her little finger. This way.
This way was up, then past the curtain of air that I always though was far away but turned out to have draw strings hanging all over the place. On the other side was nothing but white, and when I looked back I could see the green of the park peeking through the hole. I don’t have time to explain this place to you. That’s O.K., I’ve been here before, and I had, when I fell off the swing that time, and my mother called for an ambulance and everything. I don’t remember the hospital that much, or the big gash across my hairline that you can see when I get a buzz, but what I never forgot was the warm white that I floated in for what seemed like weeks, throbbing and comfortable, until someone pulled me away. I thought it was my mother but when the dream girl took my arm and said I need to take you forward a bit, I knew that it took more than my mother to bring me back to the world. Where are we going? And what’s your name? She was the one frowning, turning a rain-cloud gray, as we came to a halt in the middle of fluffy, milky, everythingness. Is your camera rolling?
I’m glad it was because everything started to get really trippy all of the sudden. My name is Sarah. I’m your granddaughter. I’ve come from the future to make sure you know. Know what? I said, letting the family stuff slip for later shock. Know that things are going to get really bad, but that it’s for the best. How bad? I could see a little spot of black poke through her chest, growing bigger with my every breath. I only have 4 nights left. You have to look past the white. I knew she meant the spot, the one that had covered her chest and was heading for her arms and legs. It was a hole, and I could see nothing beyond it. Nothing.
My mother shook me awake that morning, because I slept through the alarm for school. She said that I looked dead, and would’ve started pounding on my chest if I hadn’t opened my eyes. I floated through that whole day like I was dead or something, not talking to anyone at school, coming straight home and closing myself off in my room, feeling my heart against my hand and wondering why it hadn’t already stopped. That night, when I sank down into the white, missing the park altogether, Sarah was waiting there for me, although she wasn’t the Sarah I knew. This is how I really am, and she looked a little older than I am now, a beautiful woman with the saddest air I had ever come across, 10 times worse than Jenny ever was. We’ve reached the point now for complete disclosure, do you understand what I mean? The words were getting tougher but the meaning was clear: something dead serious was up, and this wasn’t really a dream. I’m ready to go forward (I lied) and so she ripped past the white, tearing into the sinews of the inbetween. The other side was white too, but in a normal sort of way, with walls and ceiling and floor. This is the farthest I can take you, and when she said it I knew I was inside her head too, taking up space in her dream although it was the kind you plug into the wall. I knew that I was where I shouldn’t be, that there was a bridge between us that went beyond time and space, and I knew that if I took the X-Wing helmet off, I would be back in the park, back in 1979, waiting to wake up. I knew this, and yet I was a 7-year old girl. I wanted to know more.
What year is this? She frowned to herself, and then the walls and ceiling and floor went clear, and it was like we were floating only we were still standing up. It’s whatever year you make it, and somehow I knew that she wasn’t being difficult, that it depended on me. O.K., here’s the deal. I’m sorry if I seem terse and unfeeling but you’re inside my space and dragging you here, even through a Vprox, has been hell. I can’t tell you what year this is because I don’t exist in the same sense you do, and visa versa. All I can tell you is that the beginning of your next millennium – the year 2000 and up – is the end for both of us. You have 21 years to grow, and I have 21 to devolve. Where we meet is your daughter – my mother.
The concept of having a real, living baby didn’t fit into my 7-year old mind that well, and so I started to freak out which effectively broke the spell. I tried to go back asleep, to go back to wherever I was before, but all that came to me was the look on Sarah’s face when I asked her what year it was. It wasn’t a frown, it was more of a grimace, like something was stabbing at her heart. I didn’t get any sleep that night, and so when my mother dragged me sleepy eyed to school it was no wonder that I kept nodding off in class. There was the park (chalkboard) there was the white (finger painting) and there was Sarah’s room (bag of carrots at lunch). I barely made it through the last bell, and as my friends ran home to play, ushered past the school by crossing guards, I trodded off to the library and fell asleep in the childrens’ section. Sarah was waiting for me in her room, talking to it like it was a old friend. Laura, from now on I want you to tell me if you feel uncomfortable. We can’t afford any more premature transference. I knew what she meant even though she didn’t say it right, and so I nodded. Now, I want you to imagine your camera to be like a telephone, so that you can dial it up and talk to it in pictures and words. I want you to let my room talk to your camera, so that it can show you what I can’t. This room is you, right? Yes, but it’s connected to everyone else here in a way that you’re not used to. It’s like we have televisions and telephones and radios in our heads, so everyone can see and talk to everyone else at any time. That sounds scary, and she didn’t answer because it was. I’m ready to talk to your room, and so I sat down on the white floor and dialed the imaginary phone in my head that talks to God and asked for Sarah. What came was nothing. And yet….something was in it, was beyond it, and it found a way out, or in, depending on how you look at it. Things were made fast, light coming out of dark, but there was a balance between the two, like the sun and the stars in the sky, hot yet cold, always there but only depending on how you looked at it, where you were. It was the beginning of everything and the end of everything, and yet the middle was so strange, so fuzzy, that the start and finish kept flip-flopping and fading in and out, to the point that it was like there were as many paths to go in as there were stars in the sky, and space inbetween. The more time that passed, the more tangled it became, until everything was a cloudy-grey that contained all yet had nothing. But the beginning and end, black and white – the choice – still existed, but it wasn’t for any of us to make alone. 1979 was one side of the gray, Sarah’s world on the other, and stuck dab in the middle was my daughter, an island in the apocalypse. Japanese Mommy and American Mommy were in the throws of the universal battle, and Sarah and I had to watch. That was the curse, and the privilege. When I hung up the phone I woke up, face spittle-pasted to a picture book.
All day I rolled the dream-film back and forth, watching the birth and death of everything, but in this abstract, PBS-ish sort of way. I had saw a little bit about the big bang on one of those specials, but before then I though it was like a bomb going off, not like the path a bubble takes rising in a soda. When I looked out at the clouds I though of where they came from and where they were going for the first time; I saw the cycle in the step, and understood the danger of taking a part away, no matter how small. When I went to sleep that night, finding myself on the floor of Sarah’s room, I had this to say to her. Why does God have to wipe away all the black? What happens if the holes don’t get plugged back up? Sarah looked and looked at me, and then sat down on the floor, legs crossed. The end of the world has always happened, will always happen, and is happening right now, no matter what we do to counter it. It’s the nature of man to fiddle around with the working of things, which is why I’m able to talk to you here and now. The way that I tear through the white isn’t natural, it isn’t right, but I had to get in contact with you, I had to let you know that it’s O.K. We are balanced by the end – by the beginning – and if neither of us survives in the world, we will always meet again in the white. I’m going to die, aren’t I? Sarah didn’t answer, but I dialed up her room when she wasn’t looking and it showed me the end. It showed me everything.
The rest of the dream dealt with the specifics of the final year, and even today I can’t handle looking at it. Not with all of the little things coming truer with every sunset, not with the hotel room and the road. When I was 7 it didn’t mess me up as much as it should of, because I was still afraid of the dark, and was more worried about the thing under my bed than the thing in all our hearts. Besides, I knew I was going to die someday, and it took off a lot of pressure when I knew when. That is, when I told myself it would be, when Sarah showed me that it was. It wasn’t until the last dream, the 7th night, that I actually made it back to the park on my own power, poking a hole out of Sarah’s head back into the white we all came from and are heading to. She didn’t come with me because she knew she didn’t have to; when I called her up on my own, asking for what she needed to give but couldn’t bring herself to, the X-wing helmet faded back into her shine, and she curled up into the little girl again. I need to show you one more thing, but you have to promise that you’ll forget it. I couldn’t promise that but she showed me anyway, tucking it away deep down in the filing cabinet in my head, a tape that would play itself back when the time was right. I had already forgotten about it when I slid through the inbetween back into the dream park, and for the rest of the night I laid amongst the smelly flowers and overgrown grass, eyes closed, resting for the first time in quite a while.
Sarah never came back, but when I was 14 some of the dream tapes did, along with the shine that my mother pushed back since I was 3. And at the motel – which is where we were headed to in the first place – the thing I had to forget made itself known. I was reading the green bible, taking in bits of the Revelation, when all of a sudden Pyr came dripping out of the bathroom, fussing about how the hot water was colder than fuck. Something about how the way he was wrapped in the towel made me want to wrap it right off, which I did, promising him that I would warm him up in no time flat. I didn’t even bother wiping the rest of him off, instead just slipping off my shorts and letting my thighs rub against his shiny legs. Fuck, I don’t want this to sound like a romance novel or one of those letters in a liquor-store magazine, but at that moment I was so out-of-control in lust for Pyr, and even though we had our first official night in New York, this was the time that felt right, this was the time that was special. So, I didn’t hesitate to hamper off my tank, letting my chest slide against his, the warmth shooting through me like I don’t know what, and as he latched onto my butt, sliding his hands down and in, searching for what I wanted him to find, I sniffed and licked around his ears and neck, sucking up the freshness mingled with the pure smell of sex, just starting to well up out of our pores. From there it didn’t take that much to find himself within me, on top or on the side, or me hanging my head over the end of the bed, knees bent, looking down to the bible that fell down on the floor, Revelations still facing up. Between the moans and waves of tingling that rushed every which way, and Pyr’s wonderful hands holding me together as the rest of him blew me to pieces, something clicked like nothing ever did before, and when he finally came I was already gone, lost in the white and the thing that I had to forget until then.
The white was more than a dream, more than a place of absence, of silence. It was the beginning, the inbetween and the end all wrapped into one, it was where Yuuko was and where I was going, where we are all going, and where we came from to begin with. The white that Pyr gave me that night only hinted at the power, serving as a reminder of what it means to be cloud, to be part of the never ending cycle, forever floating and falling. What I forgot to remember until then was the face of my daughter, actually more like her shine, and as I shuddered I could feel her entering me through us, through our union, even at that micro-moment where nothing but potential exists. Pyr’s warmth against my back was her warmth against my breast after she was born, and even then I felt it, the whole 9 months compressed into a electric second, and as soon as he drew still, staying inside while he pulled me by my shoulders back on the bed, I felt the reach and scream of birth and knew that she was worth it, knew that Pyr was the right one all along.
We lay together for I don’t know how long, and when 11:30 finally rolled around the sky was full-to-bursting, all grey and angry, itching to let out the energy that had been building ever since we left New York. I told him I was going to fetch some ice, which I was, but I still needed to see the clerk once again, to make sure I made the right decision. I didn’t bother to put on any shoes because I like the feel of steamy-damp cement pressing against bare feet, and even though I knew it was going to rain soon – that it had to, for all of our sakes – it just seemed right to meet the future totally grounded. When I finally reached the front office, passing the sleepy silence of unknown travelers and temporary liaisons, he was waiting for me, obviously tired.
I needed some more ice, and so I glided over to the box, still glowing as my daughter made her way inside me. I didn’t bring any change, can I pay you tomorrow? I guess that’ll work… and he shifted his stance a bit, waiting for whatever it was I wanted from him. Until that moment I didn’t quite know what it was, but as soon as I scooped out a bucket – cradling the ice as the cold steam rushed out the hole in the screen door, wanting to meet the rain half way, to rejoin the process it was kidnapped away from – I knew that the tingle I felt before wasn’t love, wasn’t even lust. It was recognition.
I’m sure I know you from somewhere. Have you even been to the coast? No, not that I recollect. Then where could it have been….and suddenly I saw the radiator again, I saw our family trip away from the house my father grew up in. All of the tension and fakey games to distract my attention, all the hours spent at this motel, sitting around on the front porch, waiting for something to happen. Have you always been at this motel? He just smiled and said Sure, my parents raised me here. I haven’t been much of anywhere out of the state. Then I knew that he was the little boy that sat down on the porch next to me, showing me the good bugs and asking about all the places I’d seen. I told him about Japan and the big house near the forest where my Grandparents lived, and he couldn’t imagine anything but the flats, didn’t even believe me when I told him about Tokyo, about trains that go past too fast to count the cars. His name was Jeff, and I knew that the man at the counter was one and the same. My first American friend, who didn’t even notice the foreign within me, only the wonder. So I just shook his hand over the counter, as the fan in the corner helped liberate the water vapor flying out of the icebox, and told him to go visit Japan sometime, because it would do him good to feel crowded. He had no idea what I was talking about, but as I pushed open the door with my foot, giving him a last, long glance through the window, I knew he felt the porch against his butt through Toughskins, I could tell he understood.
Yes, it did rain that night, enough to bend the corn stalks every which way, enough to seep through underneath the door of our room, before I took the extra towels and stuffed the crack shut. There was thunder and lightning, too, and a wind that whistled past everything, but through all of it I didn’t miss a wink of sleep, because I had Pyr by my side, and an all-pervading warmth justifying my insistence through it all that things would turn out as they should, and that Sarah visited me for a reason.
Of course, I have no way of knowing that I didn’t just make all that stuff up, Sarah being a 7-year old’s imaginary assurance that there was life far beyond a demanding mother. But when I watch Ai toddle up and down our apartment, I feel the same glow that the girl in the church gave, the comforting shine that fills the white to the brim. When I hold her I know that she has a future, and when she smiles….well, I guess you really just have to be there.
At this point I really don’t know what’s going to happen in a couple of years, whether the shit will hit the fan or not. All I can say is that I’m committed to seeing Ai make through all the stronger, even if Pyr and I can’t be around to see that happen. I guess that’s what it means to be a proper parent, but at this point I just want to bask in her shine so I can recognize it when I join back up with the white, and find her in nighttimes future – the best time for messages of hope.
In any case, the road lies behind us now, and I know from my dream tape of our final year that the next time we join it may be our last. But that’s O.K., because highways are made for transitions, and I would rather go out moving towards where I’m supposed to be – even if it is the end – than waiting around for the universe to fetch it here.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
July 7th, 1994
Heat. The bus broke down. “I thought this was charged. Fuck!” That was me when my e-book started to blink out. Fortunately I brought the photovals. Sasha already has rejoined the Suspender tornado – I didn’t know that Jo was her cousin, but it makes sense considering what Friz just told me about… whatever that band was. Ask, and Frisbee tells me it was Jumpster; actually, “Jumpster, what, you mean you really don’t remember ‘Mine!’? Get out of my shade!”. “Mine!” was their first album, and “my shade” was the tree by the road which half the bus has gathered under, while the driver and designated mechanics ratchet and grease away. We’re literally out in the middle of somewhere, all 35 of us, including the baby that likes to throw up when the windows are rolled down. Well, throw away, brat. I’m too fucking hot to complain.
Frisbee just peaked over at what I wrote. Apparently I didn’t do “Mine!” justice, and she won’t let me back into the shade unless I recant. O.K. Looking at the notes she wrote on my left palm, Jumpster started in the middle of 1986, right after the Intruder Alert! double album. Oops, I’ve already lost you, but that’s the price you pay for reading someone else’s journal. Anyway, as you already know (insert snicker), Intruder Alert! was Suspender’s pre-cursor, Jo and Caroline bouncing around a bit before they settled in on the now tried and true formula. So, between Intruder and Suspender Jo was in two side-projects (I consulted Frisbee from across the field, and she says that’s accurate enough for this forum), one of which was Jumpster, which involved Sasha (who we know now to be her cousin “on her mother’s brother’s side”) as an unnamed participant. Their first 7″ was…… you know, this is growing really tired (and the notes are starting to track my wrist black), so why don’t I just throw this over to her, and let her give you the absolutely complete tale.
This is me. Don’t listen to John (he hates it when I call him that). Jumpster was a really cool band, with Sasha and Jo and Susan from Slow Cone (who also really rocked but that’s another thing altogether). “Jumpster Diving” was their first 7″, and you probably would recognize “This is Not a Drill” off of it if I played the first 10 seconds. Anyway, after that came the absolutely amazing “Mine!”, which was probably the best record Jo was involved in – pre Fire Escape, that is. When I first heard it I just about slapped Sasha silly, because she never told any of us how utterly grand she was, like one of those little whistles you get in a box of breakfast sugarcubes, that are so small and cheap and plastic yet make this sound that jumps up your nose and pokes tiny holes in your eyeballs, so that all the white stuff runs out and you can’t see anything but you can smell the music. Yep. That’s Sasha.
At this point I got to mention Fire Escape because A) It was another Jo project from the same time period, and B) A-Bell, her luckiness, found her way into the beautiful mess. April from Potato Power. Joan and Caroline from Intruder Alert!. Susan from Slow Cone. A-Bell from…. well, let’s just say she has connections (Sasha can be sly….). I would talk about it here, but I’ve talked it to death in antizines – it happens to be the best record of the 80’s, but you already know that. Everyone knows this. Fuck, it’s was on Flake. Do you need more?
O.K. So we were talking about Jumpster and Sasha
No, actually we were talking about me, John, because this is my e-book. Give her any sort of recording instrument for a minute and it’ll come back not only filled, but whining. At this point we’ve already established that Frisbee is just a little bit musically obsessed (well, “Jo” obsessed is more like it), but for that matter so is Annabelle, I gather. I’m not about to hazard a guess as to why; there’s so much I don’t know about not just Frisbee, but Laura. It’s been a couple of years, and I still don’t know what makes her shine so, I don’t know where her breath comes from. I suppose her record collection whispers of her essence, but I need something more blatant, more concrete. I’m hoping that this road trip will be not just a period of growth for us as individuals, but that we will grow closer as well.
Did I mention it’s hot? Frisbee let me back in the shade, “but on one condition – foot massage!” At this point I’m not about to argue.
July 8th, I994
I have to apologize for yesterday’s entry; at all of the banks the bus passed by (yeah, it finally became operational again, but not before the sun set and that baby was all thrown out) said 91 degrees in big, blinking lightbulbs between the time. To me that’s akin to talking a barefoot stroll on the surface of the sun, but Frisbee – Laura, for the rest of this entry I want to use proper names – well, she kept yelling “Higher! Higher!” everytime we shot past an N.U., like she was on a game show or something. Which reminds me of the dream I had last night, in which I was still working at the bank – big surprise there – and Tanya was late coming back from her break. Not that this wasn’t common, but today was the big inspection by our district offices, and our boss was shitting in his pants because he wanted as many windows open as humanly possible, so when the official contingent finally walked through the doors, past the lazy guard, the only person in line would be some homeless guy asking for bills for coins, an act which would be demonstratively shunned by some hack-teller, who would be forced to “escort” the drag on our economy out of the door as everyone applauded. Well, that’s how it was supposed to work, but today there was a line out of the door and then some, and the vault was completely out of ones and twenties, effectively causing severe money rationing at the windows. Wanted to cash your paycheck? How about 5’s, because that Lincoln guy sure is honest, no? Change for the subway? Fuck, I’ll buy those ones at $10 dollars a pop, because the merchants are about to come in and that girl from Love Affair – the “adult accessories” shop that just opened up – will do just about anything for crisp Washingtons. But the customers were really being difficult, asking for odd-amount cash advances and trading in pennies for quarters. Plus, when the Love Affair gal finally got to the head of the line Steve called her over, waving and smiling up a storm, and I could see a big wad of ones and twenties sticking out of her deposit bag, so I left the old man at my window with his machine-washed paycheck, grabbed the nearest stapler, unfolded it, and snuck behind the desks over to Steve’s lair. Just as I was about to pounce Tanya came running up the stairs, obviously freaked out, screaming “They’re here!” Everyone in the bank turned around to the front door, even the lazy guard and his best friend, Clarence – who came by twice a week to play chess – and in walked Laura in this red power suit, flanked by two bank goons with dark glasses and red ties. Behind them were 5 Circle X workers – 3 girls, 2 guys – decked out not only in the official red shirts but the official red aprons and the official red baseball caps with the official black logo. Plus, they had the black pants made in a fabric known not to nature that just wouldn’t crease or wrinkle, but the official red tennis shoes with black laces were missing, so all 5 slipped into the door with official red socks on. And I do mean slipped, because as Laura’s henchmen escorted her into the backshop, the Circle Xians were gliding around the lobby like professional ice skaters, doing triple-axle-flips and shit while one of the girls – the one that looked just like my sister Esther, only with all of her hair shaved off and far more piercings – was wheeling around a freezie machine, setting up the customers as they oooh!ed and aaah!ed the floor show. Finally, as one of the guys jumped in the air with a official red blur and landed on the glass table where all the deposit and withdrawal slips are kept, Steve, Tanya and the other tellers held up these numbered signs – you know 10, 9.9, etc – and the guard came up to the triumphant Circle X jerk and handed him a bouquet of flowers, easily provoking tears. Everyone was cheering and jumping up and down, until Laura turned on the emergency loud speakers – “Use only in case of Nuclear Attack!” said the instruction manual we all had to read – stood on the nearest desk, and said “Thank you! You’re too kind! Now hit the floor, punks! This is a take over!” Suddenly all of the official red aprons revealed official black fully automatic weapons (perfectly legal ones, mind you – the Convenience Store Protection act of ’93 saw to that), and the red gang of 5 secured the lobby. The two sunglassed bodyguards took strategic points at either end of the teller area, and Laura started to disrobe. I was terribly embarrassed, because I didn’t want anyone except me to see her naked, but she stopped at what looked to be a white, cotton nightgown, which I don’t think could have fit underneath that short skirt. But there she was, almost angelic, and she continued by saying “Alright! This is to officially announce the National United/Circle X merger.” (Reality check – I was hearing rumors before I quit about this, didn’t believe a word, but when the bus was broken down yesterday I got e-mail from a source that told me it actually went through.) At which point she put down the microphone, took off the nightgown from foot to head, revealing nothing but empty space. She had disappeared. The bodyguards started to freak out, and picked off Steve and Tanya without flinching. Mary, who went on break 15 minutes later than Tanya, chose that point to walk in the bank, carrying a small baby in her arms. I thought that it looked familiar, so I came out from the ATM room – yeah, I was hiding, so sue me – and crawled over to the buzz-door. “Get out of here!” I yell-whispered to her, but she just smiled and handed down the baby to me. A Circle X guard saw this and shot her so many times that her head was severed at the neck. I shielded the baby from the blood and held back my vomit as I crawled back to the ATMs, all the while dodging the bullets that were knocking down N.U. workers left and right. As soon as I rolled into the room I shut the door, knowing far too well that it locks from the outside, and I didn’t have the key. I looked down at the child, and it seemed like a girl – make that a woman, she looked at me with Laura’s eyes. Someone was fussing with the lock so I started to panic, looking for a place to hide her. There was an open machine that needed a twenty refill (and remained empty due to the bill embargo) so I placed her in the deposit-envelope box, which was more than baby-sized. She smiled at me knowingly as I locked her in, spinning the dials and pushing the buttons as security mandated. Not wanting to give her away, I sat down at the cash-counting table just before the two bodyguards and the 5 Circle X agents rushed in. “Where’s the child?” the winning sock-skater demanded, and I just shrugged my shoulders as two girls in official red aprons stuck their gun-barrels (without flash suppressants, as demanded by law) in my ears. “O.K. I was hungry. I ate her.” I just about threw up saying that, but then everyone started to crack up, even the two protecting my ears lest they escape. “So the comedian wants to play games… Fine.” Then the fucking chairman of Circle X walks into the room, looking just like he did on the commercials, and sings “If you’re hungry, then we’re there/Circle X is everywhere.” Picks up this foot long hot dog and stuffs it in my mouth, effectively calling forth the gag I wanted to suppress. The nasty, wrinkly official red sausage dropped on the table, and the chairman patted me on the shoulder, going “It’s O.K. son, your files have already been changed to record this unfortunate reaction.” I was like What the fuck? as I cleared my mouth of my breakfast, and he just smiled as he handed me a black metal squarish box with three official red buttons on one side, blinking. “I know and you know that the girl is in one of the machines. What I know that you don’t are all of the access codes. Membership does have it’s privileges.” (O.K. There’s no way that I could have remembered the dream this clearly, so I’m just accentuating the positives and all that. Anyway….) Still What the fuck? and he saw it in my face, so he was “One button will set you free. One button will set her free. One button will open all of the machine doors. Press none, and we kill you, and open the doors anyway. Choose.” I stared down at the dead imitation dog, and noticed that a piece of metal was sticking out one end. Grabbed for it, ripped off the official red meat, and out came a letter opener. Weighed my choices one last time, turned my salvation towards my chest, and plunged it in as far as I could. I woke up sweating as we passed a N.U. 89. 2:45. 89.
Please, can you tell me what’s wrong with me? Every night I’m shot down, blown up, burnt to death or cut open, and every single time Laura either gets out of jail free, or oversees the dirty deed. I mean, she’s not even close to being that bad – actually, she’s quite wonderful and lovable, and I would literally do anything for her. Maybe the ring is starting to burn a hole in my pants, and the whole idea of…
Wait. I haven’t mentioned this before, and I’m not sure if I should now, because Laura’s been sneaking a peak at my e-book as of late. Like last night, when I woke up from that bad-ass dream, it was totally missing from my side. So I tap her on the shoulder about 100 times until she wakes up, and before she strangles me I whisper “O.K. What did you do with it?” She was “What?” only it came out more like “WHAT!!!!!!” and half of the bus snapped to attention. “E-book….” I said while I tried to shrink down in my seat. “Ididn’ttouchyourFUCKINGe-bookletmesleep!” I thought she was just being coy, but I let it rest, went back to sleep, and it turned back up right where I left it at 8 in the morning, when we stopped for breakfast. That was a couple of hours ago, and some of my tripwires were broken, so I know that she was reading it. Or at least that someone was…. but who else? She’s been after me ever since we left on this trip – we all know what’s going to happen, now it’s only a matter of when. Fuck, I have to talk about this, so I’ll just throw some extra encryption over this entry so prying eyes won’t.
Tomorrow I’m going to ask Laura to marry me. I wanted to wait until things had stabilized again, but when we stopped by Jenny’s before we left – bless her loyalty to Laura, she gave up a third of her apartment to stow away our stuff until we swing back – after she had a long talk with Friz (complete with yelling on both sides that filled the whole building even past closed doors) she pulled me aside while Laura took a quick victory shower. “You love her, right?” and I nodded because I could never speak to Jenny when she got like this. “Then do it. Do it soon.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out a beautiful gold ring. “When I was 9, my grandmother gave this to me from her deathbed. She made me promise that I would only give it to the person I loved most in the world.” Put the ring in my hand, and glared at me. “I’m giving this to Frisbee through you. Grandma would approve.” I almost couldn’t hold back my tears as I pocketed it, and Jenny quickly composed herself and fussed with our bags. When Frisbee came back in the living room, toweling off her hair, Jenny walked over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Have fun.” Until we left, she didn’t say another word to either of us, and then it was only a whispered “bye” that almost got lost in the emotional vacuum. Jenny knows what she’s doing, and just hope I can live up to her sacrifice. So I have it all planned out. When we hit the outskirts of New York tomorrow morning, I’m going to propose just before the driver lets us out to stretch. That way, if she goes after me teeth bared I can just run out of the bus as fast as my feet can carry me, and hopefully hitchhike my way to Abe’s. Of course, my fear is pretty unfounded, because when it counts she’s nothing but a big sweetie – one that I want to spend the rest of my life with.
That said, I’m going to triple-key this and get back to the business at hand; namely, revving up my right hand’s courage so I can demonstrate my heart’s sole wish. Watching Laura watch the passing show, cheering along the temperature as she sweats, I can’t help but yell along with her. “Higher! Higher!”
Everyone stares. Just wait until tomorrow….
July 9th, 1994
“Yes,” she whispers as the bus slows to a halt.
“Yes,” she tells the barf-baby’s mother as we head for the door.
“Yes,” she smiles at the bus driver, distracting him from the TV listings.
“YES!!!!!!!!!!” Everyone in a 500 foot radius now shares in my bliss.
Jenny’s ring sits on her right “medicine finger”, as she likes to call it, which rests in turn intertwined in my fingers. Puffy clouds dot the sky above; the restaurant is half-empty since we always stop at dumps; Laura is glowing and everyone’s getting the tan of the summer. I love the clouds; I love the sickly bacon smell; I love Laura, most of all. That was 6 hours ago, but it’s ever present.
Her hand has not left mine; as I write this I feel her warmth in my palm. Nothing can bother me, not even the fact that my photovals are missing, and that I think someone swiped them last night. I just want to hug her forever, but I have to finish this entry before my batteries run out; we’ll reach Abe’s by 10 tonight, so I can recharge then.
Quickly then, because I have more important things to do:
1) The Circle X/National United merger is all too real, and the media has all but ignored it. I got some mail last night that confirms all of my suspicions as to what this specifies. I can’t talk about it now, but sufficed to say that we’re all in some serious shit.
2) I’m scared about staying with Abe. We really haven’t been getting along all that well, and I know Esther is going to be stopping by (someone told her that we’d be visiting…) which will only make things worse.
3) Someone’s been fucking with my e-book. I need to do a complete dioscan when we get to Abe’s; at this point I have my doubts that Laura was digging through it. But if not her, then who?
4) Take all of our money out of N.U. as soon as possible, for obvious reasons.
5) Give Laura more attention, because she deserves it – now more than ever.
O.K. What else….
Oh yeah, the dream. Yipes, and I thought that the game-show one was wicked. I was back in school – 1991, my sophomore year – and Yael (my then girlfriend) was giving me a hard time because I had forgotten our 1-year anniversary. Now, I would never forget a thing like that (actually, it was yesterday, which shows you how truthful I am), and so I tried to make it up to her by taking her to the movies. It was the one she wanted to see, by that director she really liked (dreams can be vague that way), and so we went to see the 7:30 show, which was an extravagance for me because I barely could afford matinee. Anyway, I let her pick the seats and she headed straight for the front row (she was very nearsighted, and even after she started to wear glasses she never broke the neck-bending-back habit). I was in love with her and it was our night so I couldn’t care less, as long as she was happy. The lights dimmed, and the first preview was totally crazy – it started out at some punk concert, where everyone was jumping around until this woman started to sing, at which time everyone fell to the floor with an audible thud and exploded. When the light cleared then the band left the stage, leaving the woman standing in spotlight. The camera slowly zoomed in to her face while she sung, and even though I couldn’t remember most of the lyrics the last line stuck with me – “If your hurried, then I’m there….” at which time the screen went black and “CIRCLE X – SUMMER, 2000” appeared across the screen in big, red letters. Yael turned to me and said “Don’t you just love these movie commercials?” and I just grinned and nodded yes although I wanted to leave. The second preview was even worse – A woman in silhouette was running down your typical, rain-kissed, dark alley as if someone or something was chasing her. Suddenly, Frisbee jumps out of the shadows in this scuba get-up, complete with airtank and mask sitting on her head. The mystery woman moves towards her, but then Friz pulls off her mouth-piece and hands it to her. The connecting tube seemed awfully long, so that after she gave it to her Frisbee started to run away from the camera, the tube lengthening as she ran. Close-up off the woman breathing noisily, still in shadow, and suddenly a dramatic light reveals her face as the camera frames it. It was Annabelle, with overalls and everything, and she was crying. Fade to black, and then an official sounding male voice over: “Breathe deeply. This too shall pass.” It ends, and as the movie studio logo came on the screen Yael turned and said “Oh, I really want to see that! She’s my favorite star!” I was completely confused, so I just smiled and pointed to the screen to distract her attention. It was lucky that I did so, for just at that moment Annabelle, Frisbee and the “Circle X” girl were talking around a round, wooden table, with a fourth woman with her back to the camera. The credits are coming and going as they go about their business, and I notice that the music’s being done by Joan Gordon, who even I know is in Suspender. So I lean forward once the movie really begins, and then Frisbee turns to Annabelle and says “They know. Fuck!” “Fuck them! You know?” – Annabelle. “No fucking way!” adds the Circle X girl. “this is so profound” Yael whispers to me, but I shhhhhhh her. “Wait.” This was the 4th woman, who stood up from her chair. “I know what they’re doing.” She slowly turns around to the camera, and points her finger at me. It was Sasha. “He’s one of them!” The screen goes white, the lights raise, and Yael gets this look in her eye. “I knew it all along! It was that tie!” And suddenly I’m dressed for work, and the audience is filled with Circle X workers in full regalia. She turns to them and rips off her dress; she’s wearing a uniform, too. “He’s got a tie!” she yells to her comrades, and the nearest one goes “Freezie this, you teller!” and smacks me up along side the head with one of those long plastic tubes that you swing around and make whistling noises with. I start to run for the exits, but Tanya and Steve are guarding them. They’re both Circle X’d. “We traded in our ties,” Tanya smirks as she reaches in her pocket, “For this.” It’s Jenny’s ring, and it starts to glow. “Don’t let him have it!” Yael bellows, and everyone starts to bolt for me and Tanya. “Oh well, better luck next time…” and she throws the ring at me as she escapes into the alley. I try the door, but it’s locked, and before I’m swarmed in red synthetics I pop the ring in my mouth, and swallow. “No!!!!!” Yael and everyone else suddenly freezes in place, and the theater workers come in, dressed like N.U. workers, and start to sweep up small change from around their feet. I sneak out into the lobby while this is going on, and suddenly this TV Crew runs over to me, the well-preserved anchorwoman (the stench of hairspray met me before she did). “Reactions?” The lights are in my face, the “LIVE” light is on, and I don’t know what to say. The sound man pulls out a large gun and points it in my direction. I start to feel really sick, fall down to the floor, and up comes the ring onto the carpet. “Wrong answer!” she screams, and the grip puts me out of my misery.
I’m not even about to go there, but sufficed to say that I held back the ring long enough to be in the wonderful position I am now. Which happens to be next to the woman I love, headed to stay with family I can’t wait to get away from, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world.
Thanks Jenny, for everything.
July 10th, 1994
Fuck. Our money’s gone. All of it.
Got to Abe’s with little trouble, and the spare bed was already made. Annie was really sweet about it even though you could tell she didn’t want us there, and Abe – well, he’s exactly the same. But who cares. My account’s been closed, and the money is nowhere to be found.
As soon as I recharged the batteries I finally remembered that card that Sasha gave me, and so I gave it a look this morning. Basically it said that I was fucked, that as soon as I quit someone inside N.U. transferred all of my money in minuscule amounts all over the country, effectively taking away any hopes of retrieval. Sasha knew that it was coming and so she slipped me some excess dollars, converted from the yen-trash she had stashed away for a rainy day. I could use them on the net, or make them physical with the appropriate hack. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that whoever arranged for this dispersal was seriously pissed off at me. So much so that he or she – the e-punk Sasha was warning me about, I should have stayed awake! – had destroyed my credit rating, maxed out both of my cards (and my limits were astronomical because of my N.U. clout), and fucked up my DMV just for the heck of it. At first I thought it was Steve, but this is way out of his league. I mean, when I went to the nearest N.U. and asked to close my account, I peaked over at the teller’s screen and her code 79 had a screen full of warnings on it, plus some hazards I’d only read about in books. So when she went to her supervisor to get “approval” (that is, to call the guard over), I was already well down the street, looking for the nearest subway entrance.
Fuck. My life is ruined. I’m nobody.
I can’t bear to tell Laura what’s up, especially not after yesterday. When I got back from N.U. a couple of hours ago she was still showing off the ring to Annie, already planning the wedding. Shit.
Sasha’s bound to know what to do, and probably’s already working on it. I hate to depend on her like this, but she’s all I – we, have to get used to it – have right now.
This is too much. I can’t write anymore. I wish I didn’t exist anymore.
Wait. That’s it!
I’ll continue this later, I have to contact Sasha.
July 14th, 1994
I haven’t been able to communicate because Sasha wouldn’t let me. In fact, this is the last entry before we wipe my e-book clean. I never though that I would have to resort to this, but desperate times and all that.
“You mean I’m not me anymore? Cool!” I thought she was going to freak when I told her about Sasha’s pseudogen, but it only seems to add to her path of negation. I, on the other hand, like my name and my life, and it’s going to take me a while to adjust. Still, we’re only taking on different electronic identities, and even though that means we have to start our official lives anew, we’re still us – Pyramid and Frisbee, waiting for the end and loving every minute.
The only thing that seems strange is the marriage part. I only proposed a few days ago and starting tomorrow we’re going to officially be husband and wife, without even the slightest of ceremonies. True, it does save us the trouble of constructing totally disconnected virtual identities and merging them in the future, but still, I for one wanted the occasion to be a little more special. But I love her, would marry her a million different ways if necessary, and we can always have a proper wedding when we get back home.
Anyway, Sasha’s going to appear in one hour to collect our new names; she’s already prepared the most elaborate histories imaginable. Laura has a list of about 20 possibilities, and I frankly don’t know where to start. I’ve always considered myself a Carver, latest in a long line of troubled, principled, and all-around difficult Carvers, and even though Abe and his talk of “sustained economic revolution” makes me want to throw up, and Esther’s ER gossip reason enough not to get sick, I love them because they’re such pains. We’re all pains, but that’s our lot in life, that’s what our father instilled in us when he wasn’t off doing “secret government research” (read: military computer design). Be quiet, get the job done, and don’t give a shit about the people you love. That’s what he taught us by example, that’s why Mom left when she did, dragging us along.
In one hour, I’m no longer my mother’s child. This scares me. She was who defined me when I grew up, she was the one that made sure I focused my talents on school and not the street. I promised her, the year she died, that I would follow my dreams no matter what, and make her proud that I was her son. More than anyone else, I wish that she could have met Laura; I know that they would have gotten along perfectly. Neither puts up with any shit, and neither can love too much. Fuck. I thought I was over the loss, that I could carry her in my heart and move on, but now I have to lose her again. Now I’m killing her and myself, for the sake of survival. I hope someday, when we meet again, she will be able to forgive me.
This is so weird. It’s like I’m waiting for my birth, and I’m going to be delivered by my own hand. To Laura this is second nature, because the hospital forced her to start over as many times as it took to survive. I’m too attached to myself to understand that process, and no matter how many times I listen to her try to describe what it’s like to become nothing and yet still exist, no matter how completely she lets me share in the pain and anger, slowly leading to renewal, I want to close my eyes and shake away the ambiguity. I’m supposed to be me. No one else. Until death do us part, you know?
I look at my brown-red fingers as they type, my soft hands as they hide my face from the choice. Who am I? Who will I become?
The cursor blinks patiently. It could care less.