by Mateo Pietez
Vic's Vapo-rub and a surgical mask, hard candy, 3D glasses, a pen laser, a few joints -- banal as bananas to security. For not trying to scam a joint off me I give the guard a kiss on the cheek when he hands me my bag back. Rent-a-copping is the kind of cement-shoe job that draws all the smoothness out of your face, and I'm happy to perk him a perky perk. Perk a perk perky perk perk. Abandoning Frogger and Shaft, I push through the door and my ribs are rattled by the mad-cricket heartbeat of the womb. The venue's huger than huge. Some kind of warehouse is what it looked like from the outside, but they've draped the inside like a Christof façade. My mother would like the décor, I think. She covets sheets. Laser displays are lapping all places, slicing past freestanding pillars around which ravers accumulate and tumble. Marking the borders of our universe like yellow police tape, spotlights rub against the high walls.
Most of the costumes are tame. Right near me a group of college students thinking they'll find beer here is standing in a dumb clump. I shouldn't be appalled, I mean the bars just closed at one and they don't know any better. But they're wearing jeans, for chrissake. Plaid shirts even. Brightening them with a lovely smile, I point toward the juice vendors in the far corner and tell them to ask for the strongest drink.
"Wait," one of them says, "you're talking about drugs?"
"It's a resume-building experience," I say. I know what they want to hear.
"Give it a nudge."
"Not into that whole thing."
"But it helps you build a necessary life skill."
One of them laughs. "What's that?"
"You know children are allowed to say whatever they think, can cry when they're sad or laugh when something embarrassing happens to someone else. But as you get older, the more the active, interacting part of your brain sits back, and watches things happen, and your acceptable responses run the show for you. Like autopilot."
Tall dude in a baseball cap goes: "We were just looking for the bar." This does not merit a response.
"Now being on a hallucinogenic drug is like autopilot breaking down, you have to start fresh. When the way of thinking you've come to know doesn't compute anymore, you've gotta sort out the acceptable actions and the non- all over again. Rediscover the reasons you do things you do."
They don't want to give it a nudge and in fact they are not a little condescending to me. Fortunately they're in a place where hostility finds no expression, but in duds like that they won't be taking home any friends. Brian said he'd be wearing something clownlike, so I'm stepping through the trancecrowd right in front of the stage, on the lookout for a silly wig, snaking to the rhythm: make it funky, make it funky, make it funkmake it funkmake it funkmake it funkmakemakemakemake makemakemakemake ma-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-keeeeeeeeeeeyit funk funk funk funk funk funk funk funk
DJ Brut is spinning out the vibe for all the freaky kids to catch. This is for all the freaky kids, he says. For all the freaky kids, he says. Nets of misted green light scale the walls.
"Jezebel!" somebody shouts, barely a breath against the gale of techno. I turn and it's Golem. He is fucking gone. His costume is the Alien. Green make-up and sparkles around his eyes, cute t-shirt, bug-eyed mask pushed up on his forehead, shiny leather pants, combat boots, silver cape. Looks good. He starts trying to dance with me, gets close. "I think Wile E. is a narc!" sez Golem.
My mom got my dad fired last week. Dad works-worked in a furniture store, and mom, crazy bitch, thought he worked to get away from her and used to go in there to get his attention by marking things up. First it was crayons on the mahogany coffee tables, messages like "I'm in every shadow." Eventually she graduated to scratching up oak dining room sets with words she imagined the wood to be thinking. "Forlorn for my acorns." Dad was canned for rationalizing her actions.
Naturally there's nothing I can shout to Golem but, "I don't want to hear it." Another deep breath. "Have you seen Rasputin?" Golem, freaking out like an epileptic, nods toward a nearby pillar with a ballroom dress pinned on it. His white cuffs cut trails linked from little c's into the air.
One two three women are dancing with Brian, who is in a powder blue vintage tux with cowboy boots and a top hat. The women are all beautiful. This is freedom. We like freedom.
"Brian," I shout, and he turns involuntarily, the first expression he serves me a contemptuous one. Grabbing his vintage elbow, I pull him over to a corner by a candlelit blanket where some hippies are selling handmade jewelry and incense and other hippie shit. The incense I can understand, but the hemp-rope beaded bracelets are harshly out of context. The eyes of the hippies sparkle blue. Twinkly.
"Okay, uncool for three reasons," Brian is saying. "First, you know what to call me. Second, yanking me away in front of people makes me look leashed."
"You're not leashed."
"I know this. This is freedom."
"We like freedom." I'm swaying to the stuttering beat that blows through everything in the universe.
"Third-well there's a third. Gimme a minute."
"Making a baby," I say, rubbing my belly as I sway side to side. "Making a ba-a-a-by." I'm singing it.
His eyebrows show he's heard me clearly enough, but he ducks an ear toward me: "Are you saying that you think, that you might-"
"I don't mean ma-a-aybe."
Rasputin looks green, then red, blue, green, red green red green red green. At first I'm repulsed by the way his face melts off successive hues (the appearance of this ridiculous thought is the first solid flag that my x isn't bunk); then I realize it's the lights.
"That's not cool," he says. Brian is a published poet. "Can we talk about it later?"
"What are you gonna say later?"
"Someone else is using 'Jezebel,'" he says. "Some high-schooler."
Fetid cowardice, this is. Much more than the common fear of outside-world elements contaminating our universe. I seethe. "I know about her, she was my Santa Claus tonight." My tongue is thick. The stuff evidently isn't strong enough -- it has neither smoothed the knot in my throat nor washed the image of a glistening embryo from my brain. I see the petri dish creature rotating slowly, two-dimensional, the color of earwax, emitting an airy whine like a dog shut in a closet.
"What form was it in?" he asks.
"Who wants to live forever?" Me and Frogger and Shaft put it in juice when we were waiting in line. Frogger gulped his down all at once, Shaft sipped the first bit and then got impatient. I sipped the whole thing. Stir it with a fingah, lickah yo fingah.
Brian weasels my gaze. The opportunity to talk about manhood, garroting anxiety, etc, presents itself, but it doesn't seem worth the answer I'll likely get.
Banshee hymns rise on up resolving into a chord, bust up again and drop down through the bassline, fuse into a new song and DJ Guevara is on. Rasputin is off bobbing through the crowd. My mother would have grabbed him by his face and barked.
The margins of my reality are starting to quiver. Waves of sound strike, blur, and recede, like I'm slowly pushing my head up through the surface a pond, sinking an inch back down, up; the level of the water even with the hole in my ear, dribbling in and out of the canal, wetting the embryo. My eyes turn to judge the male faces around me, and I find them radiating nothing more compelling than "fetter-me-not." Future Deadbeat Fathers of America. In a near corner I see Frogger and Shaft lost in a day-glo crowd, float on over to 'em. Frogger looks fried. "How do you feel?" Shaft says to me.
"Gritty," I say.
Time rolls over us, keening a long stretch. For a while we crank out sweat on the dance floor, but without much vigor, I'm noticing. Heartlessly. After time passes, we stop. Mumble at one another, then, feeling new borders go up, realize it's too hard to shuffle messages back and forth. The three of us cement souls, gridlocking into an island: Pyramid Isle. "Pyramid Isle," I say to Frogger, stirring my finger at the three of us, and he smiles. A piece of the beat snaps off and gets lodged in my head -- dit didit dit -- jamming off the walls 'n' halls in there, an iron loop, dit didit dit: dit didit dit: dit didit dit: dit didit dit:= three beats, three souls marooned on Pyramid Isle, every song has three refrains, every Brian has three women, three hippie eyes on the yellow warm blanket, three stages to every joke, three lives in every video game, three wishes, three tasks, three branches of golden government, three things you must remember, three times I skip the pill, uncool for three reasons, the number hammers out reality in three-piece sections bolted thrice at every equal 60° angle, three strikes, we'll give you three chances to sort things out one two three at a time/ come on now one, two, three at a time/ I said one; two; three at a time/ give it up now
"Definitely a narc," Golem is saying. Towering over me, the twenty-foot tall Alien. Pyramid Isle is sitting, backs all ascrunch, digging the shadow-shelved corner. "Do not buy from, do not sell to Wile E." Pyramid Isle nods; the Alien, appeased, tromps on to conquer new bits of the archipelago. Wile E. was my friend. Friends grow long canine teeth 'n' trap your throat like a bald kitten. Brian, too, is my friend. His kitten is a free kitten. Free free kitten, getcher free kitten hee-ah! Kitten looks like a yellow alien. Image of Alien head wombers on my brain, bulggedy old eyes, and Pyramid Isle has to laugh. 'Cause they come from all across the star-blanket, skitting over on waffle-iron-dented platter, spitting sparks, and they look so much like us? What with two bul-jiggidy eyes smack up in the head like us, slit mouth and nose holes, four dangling sticks branching off at the end and all that bulbous head. What it is, is, it's a joke is what it is. I'm seeing Cro-magnon man, rough cut out of an orange hairy clump of wax, hunched over drageddy club in hand; I see his spine begin to straighten and his shoulders narrow, muscles shrink his forehead expands his eyes less squinty jaw downsizing clothes smoothening skin not so burnt and dirty, shedding hair and boom -- he looks like my father; see him continue on in the same direction, all things being equal, muscles disused withering, forehead ballooning body shrinks on under skin ever paler, eyes widen total hair fallout and wham -- Gray Alien. All of us present pasty people all jittery around all gadgets, trembling over what will all the white-toothed whitecoat science boys whip out next, coloring the past all shades of pink: All for fear that one day our tan fades to Gray. Spraypaint the almond head, terrifying image of our techno destiny, on the back of each other's necks, made in America not in Andromeda.
Maybe they're our far-down-the-ladder chillun, ripped a hole back and reach through to grab their great-grandmas. Research. Mapping the family roots is all, you see.
A silt-thick wave rolls over; dull pound beats the fence. See Jezebel, finite skin-bordered being, yellow doll with discoloration webbing over belly. Self-contained, deciding unit pushing in and out of doors, fitting into rooms several sizes larger than she, shuffling papers and taking them from other hands, handing them out again. What yellow person doll slips through and out, same tread each day pulling over skin border layers of flat cloth, a different color every morning, sucking air, blowing air. Pictures nothing collate into sense. Series of hollow transfers, box to box to bench to bus to work, milking other self-contained units, passing solids and liquids across the skin border, pass run turn straight house straight run pass-pass run turn straight house straight run pass-pass run turn straight house straight run pass-pieces refusing noncombining uninhalable.
Pass into basement of dim igloo. White Brian doll drifts, grimacing Mom doll drifts, Wile E. in a blue suit drifts, faceless college boy drifts, float off on separate icebergs whirl like tops drilling holes and rust in a flaky pile-human interaction meaningless, babble, baby in a bubble, barking nonsense at empty spots, tonguing thickly, border between moms and plants irrelevant, all units irreconcilable, all murmur a mumble, all vibration random. an atom is an atom is a thing that never breaks meets an atom is two atoms is a thing that never breaks meets an atom is a molecule is a molecule is a thing that sticks together meets a molecule is a clumping is a clumping is a clumping is an atom is an atom is an atom is an atom is a clumping is an atom is an atom is an atom is an atom is a thing that never breaks a rock is a molecule a fire is a molecule a wind is a molecule a mud is a molecule a cell is a molecule a moss is a molecule a plant is a molecule a fruit is a molecule an ant is a molecule a cat is a molecule a baby is a molecule a whale is a molecule a home is a molecule a sleep is a molecule a happy is a molecule a thought is a molecule
a thought is a molecule
a thought is a molecule
a thought is a molecule
a thought is a molecule
a thaw tiza molekuule
Cheeks wet. Ground cold.
"My -- is my face on? My face is wet."
"That's puke," says a voice from inside my head. Two yellow uniforms pick me up. Boy, tall and cute. It was his voice planted in my head, it's him wrapping orange light around us. "You've puked all down your side." I touch the wet and smell it. Most certainly puke. It has a smell like a wet thing.
"Shaft is in the stairwell. Frogger we left on the floor, we aren't gonna move him until the ambulance gets here." Names also seeded inside my head. They are friends. I know this boy.
"Rasputin." He smiles. "Daddy?" The smile goes away. Maybe I can do it again. "Rasputin."
Yellow men set me down near stairs. I see Shaft sprawled across gray steps, the door to the back lot open -- open! exposing us to the Outer Vacuum! The door heaping contaminated light on Shaft, his eyes gaping, I realize what is going on. This is a situation. We are in a situation. I feel terror. "Is this a situation, Shaft?" My brain scrambles all around the words to push them out my mouth in a good order. There is white and gray light outside. Noises curving around my head, my thoughts quicksanding each other riot.
"I am fucking insane," says Shaft, clutching his jaw. I am next. "Frogger is gone, gone, goner." Wetness spots him all over. Sirens ram at my head, honking pitches honk honk honk, but trucks never come. Kneaded by the bending siren wail, my eyes stretch -- lengthwise oval, round, breadthwise oval. My heart keeps stopping.
"That little girl sold you garbage, Jez." It's the cute voice. "Cut the powder with poison. You know why?"
She -- bad chemicals down my throat? I peer at hand's skin, trying to see through to the little black dots, bad chemicals streaming my veins. Bad chemicals rounding through my head, down to my --
"It's because you use the same nickname."
To my kitten. Bad chemicals fill and fatten the knot in my throat. I rub tummy but the yellow spin slow petri dish gets tainted touch of green-green swirls a feathering spiral.
"Are you crying? What?"
"It's bullshit. The, everything. Conversations, ways doing things, doesn't make any sense." Really I shouldn't even try to tell him. "Everything you see, life body, stop signs, is same things as everything else, and none of it important to anything." Shaft curled up on the stairs is firing his eyes at me. "It's all from the same atoms. It doesn't matter. Stop -- pretending like it does."
Geysering red light the trucks come. Shaft is yelling, he doesn't want to leave the Universe. Only hell can be out through that doorway, a sharper hell than the one in our heads, hell with nettles, rust. Someone keeps pushing the edges of my head toward each other, trying to make a flat thing circle. Yellow men shove us out.
Two ambulances, one for me and Shaft, one for Frogger. I know they aren't allowed rummaging my bag so I don't throw the joints out. I shift my body to fit in our truck. Ours is crowded, but Frogger has his own. There is a pattern. I'm sitting on a metal bench inside the truck, next to Shaft, who's been bolted into a stretcher. Suits all around us. "Hey, Shaft, there's a pattern," I say.
"Fucking kill me! Kill me!" Shaft is saying to the suits. I don't think they -- "Kill me!" -- I don't think they have the authority to do that.
"Frogger drank his fastest, got his own truck. You were second fastest, got a stretcher, and then me, look I get nothing." He doesn't get what I mean, but suits want to know. I tell them it doesn't matter, fingering at navel ring. The light inside the truck is all red, and our sirens are mreeeeaarring, traffic has to get out of the way! I can see through the window in front-"Get out of the way!"
"Hey! That's enough," says one of the suits.
They're all tied up with tense wire. I can see its threads connecting bolt and screw inside the truck, crossing everyone's neck. "Do you live in the city?" I ask one of the suits. She doesn't want to answer. "What's your name?" Silence, contempt for today's drug-wasted youth. "Hey! I'm trying to keep brain from falling out of head here. Help me small talk, for the love of god. Have any hobbies?"
"Kill me now!"
"Watching TV," she says.
"That doesn't fucking count."
"Kill me! Do it!"
The suits are looking steady, more tense, their eyes ready to pop gushing blue fluid. "He doesn't really mean it," I say. "Don't do it," I add, to make sure they understand.
The surface of my skin is rough-cut wood. Leaning over the side of my wheelchair to puke, I hear the electric doors open again. Suits back up the truck to shove another stretcher in, a child. In the tiny bile puddle I've made I almost expect to see a bulbous alien head, flat and shriveled. "Why are we so close to the doors?" moans Shaft, snug on top of his gurney. We get dumped in the hallway, Frogger has his own room. Nurse comes to clean up my puke. Her uniform is white and she looks solid enough to poke. She keeps wiping up my puke and I suspect she has the power to bring me a bed, but she never does. Does she have the power to peek up my belly? Can she guzzle it full of antidote? I want to ask, but I'm afraid to, and anyway her skin is almost blue. The idea of drawing a starchy, filed woman into the same sphere as me, as me and kitten, stews my nausea.
Frogger is only seventeen, so they called his parents, who are friends with mine and will call them even though I haven't lived at home in five years. I see that this is good. Tonight I have dragged my guts across barbed wire and I have chewed lesions in the fabric of my sanity, and this will strengthen us enough to bring disclosure. Full frontal nudity. Mom, Dad, I like drugs. We hold each other's hands and we forgive each other and we digest petty things. Mom cries, vows to go back on medication. I tell them about the kitten, one day for all disclosure. Other families envy us. Sleep is a burlap sack.
I wake every time the doors open, which is at least twice a second. The floor looks soft and tempts me until I lay down on it. Shaft grumbles. I look up across the liver-spotted sandy tile reflecting the walls. One fine day, a crew of crack construction workers built those walls brick by brick and painted them white, humming. They have no place in my world, still, but I can imagine now that they eventually will. Places where things have been fused together will start to look like focal points again, and I'll start walking in and out of doors.
I hear the splatter of Shaft unloading stomach onto my floor. "Nice of Rasputin to call us the trucks," I say. "Put himself it risk."
"Jesus bless his soul," says Shaft.
Sleep is a rugburn.
Mom and Dad are here, oh my godding. They pick me up off the floor and set me down in the wheelchair. Looking into their eyes, I see overgrowth. Mom is crying, at least. An event made up of a car ride and a conversation in their thick, carpeted house lays in front of me. It will be crammed with words, some of them inappropriate, but, I can tell looking at Dad's facial tick, none of them shrill enough to splinter through to a new, virginal land where deformed kittens laze.
Predictably, one of them says "Look what you've done to yourself," using my name. My name is a sound packed with sensible clothing and handshakes. Behind Mom and Dad there is a door, which I can pass through if I sign a paper. None of it jives -- every element I'd decided was unnecessary is all laying out for me in order, covering a giggle with a hand, trying to pretend it never knew I rejected it. Insolent reality. What I need is a relaxant. Digging into my purse, I pull out a joint and ask Mom for a light. She grabs me by my face. I think I see something through the overgrowth.
Mateo Pietez is a recent college graduate currently living in Japan whose poetry has been featured in Logodaedalus and Neologisms. His goal is to contaminate rank, ill-maintained airplanes and unicorn-postered waiting rooms around the planet with his words. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.