Something else to do during your Plague Vacation: read excerpts from a sci fi novel which culturally-appropriates a fumbling lesbian teen sex initiation mishap, while investigating the time-traveling problems of plagiarism, and more
When O’Sirus enters the bedroom, Katryn, on the bed, back to the door, says, without turning, “I was afraid you’d been kidnapped.”
“In a way, that’s exactly what happened. I was being held hostage to the shameless American compulsion to tell all.”
“Our Shem was once skinny and beautiful and young.”
“And what were you up to?”
“In other words, watching television. Or eating. Or floating pointlessly in the pool.”
“Or, D) all of the above, simultaneously, with immense pleasure bordering on….”
“Ready to fly home to a proper civilization yet? Had enough?”
“If I can float in a heated pool under a sky-blue sky while watching a poolside widescreen television with several bowls of delicious snacks bobbing around me in the healing waters when I’m back there. Sure.”
O’Sirus walks straight into the bathroom, crosses the all white sepulchral gloom in a dozen strides, opens the first marble-fronted cabinet she comes to, finds what she knew she would. Several unopened blue plastic bottles of Dr. Caliban’s Caribbean Cocoa Butter. As advertized. Brown labels and white caps and all. She imagines a fun new game that she and Katty can play. Called Step-Brother. O’Sirus will be Calvin, obviously… Calvin or the Heinlein-loving pimp. Katryn in diapers. Time will fly. They’ll be out of Duluth in the blink of an eye and never look back; never fall back to America. Katryn calls out, wearily, warily:
“I certainly hope this Brotherland book is a hit. We are honestly starting to need the money.”
“I said I hope it’s a hit.”
O’Sirus is hanging her coat on the back of the bedroom door. With a secret naughty gloatiness about the gesture. Don’t know why but she feels empowered by the discovery of the cocoa butter.
“It’s all a question of scale, innit? This money stuff. You’re seeing things a bit skewed at the moment because of all this… this overwhelming… Caligulan… tackiness. Give yourself time to acclimate.”
Katryn turns slowly on the bed like something savory and shiny on a spit. Has she been crying?
“I found out what they do.”
“What who do? Oh, aha, I see. Good. Okay. What?”
“Seth told me.”
“Great. White slavery?”
“No. You won’t like it at all.”
O’Sirus rubs her hands together. “Wait. Something so heinous that even I won’t approve? This I’ve got to hear. Don’t tease, Katryn. Speak.”
“Promise you won’t kill yourself?”
Okay. “They run a fan club is what they do.”
“I know that. And…?”
“No and. That’s all. They do it for money. Your fan club. All this…” she gestures with misery, broadly. With misery and glee. “All this stuff…”
“Indeed. When it comes to fucking…”
“…when it comes to fucking money…”
“Merchandise. Conventions. Seminars. Omnicasts…”
“For fuck’s sake, don’t you… can’t you… ?”
“Wait… I can’t…”
Katryn releases, that night, for the first time in their relationship, a detectable fart. In bed, while pretending to sleep, or maybe she is sleeping, a noiseless fart. Like a prelapsarian self-defense philtre, purchased at a Renaissance Fair and stored in a greenglass atomizer, which perhaps she’d been carrying around in her purse a few years, waiting for the chance to use it. O’Sirus imagines a Clara Bow-style silent picture title card with a fleur-de-lis in each corner and inscribed with ornately cursive script: a fart. A fart is the ultimate passive-aggressive gesture, conjugally speaking, and a symbol of contempt, i.e., who cares what you think of me? I am what I am. Only thing more significant is shitting with the bathroom door open, unless your inamorata has done time in prison. O’Sirus smells trouble.
Or maybe she’s reading too much into it and this intimately airborne toxic event is not a result of the latest revelation of how much of a breadwinner O’Sirus isn’t by comparison, it’s just the superfatty, digestion-dementing diet they’ve been on (not even a week, yet) since flying over. Old potato salad, meet burning rubber. O’Sirus tries breathing through her mouth a few seconds but realizes that that only means she’s eating it, but to smell something is to eat it, anyway, no?
Her trouble with money began in her own initial eggstate when mother Peg (lots more Irish then) allowed the phalloprogenitor to inseminate her beyond the framing device of a state-approved marriage contract in a cheap boarding house in New Jersey, one of those homey rundown places that ordinary people stay in for a weekend for access to the shore, bathed in the eggy exudia of a heavy, unwashed Atlantic. An inauspicious beginning that came this close (Peg’s refusal of anal sex) to not happening.
There she is in her high school career-guidance counselor’s propaganda-postered cubicle delivering the speech about not being the product of six billion years of planetary, then thirty million years of biological, evolution, just so she could get a so-called good job. To which Miss Brandischauer, fifty-ish and long-nosed and gray, though not bad looking in a lavender pantsuit, wearing those feline glasses bound with a chain to her neck, gave her a look like Here we are in the disco era and I’m still dealing with beatniks and said,
“Okay. So what was six billion years of planetary, plus thirty million years of biological, evolution, for?”
To which Kim had to admit to herself (if not to Miss Brandischauer) that she hadn’t the slightest fucking idea. But neither did Leonardo Da Vinci, Miss Brandischauer, she thought to say, nine hours later, in bed, eyes shining in the dark, ears keyed to the sound of Unca Mundee either fucking or midwifing or casually torturing a white woman next door. Kim tried to imagine a black woman, the direct descendant of slaves, coming out with a Thankyou! at the moment of orgasm.
So here’s O’Sirus, who pulled in, last year, tops, seventy-two thousand pounds, after taxes, from various downloads and royalties and appearance fees (and felt rich because of it) in bed in a room on a floor in a villa on an estate, not hers, worth something like forty times that amount, paid for by products and services derived, in the end, from the fruits of her own imagination.
Her disappointed trophy wife Katryn (O’Sirus often caught herself wondering if the dogs she’d seen partnered to various beggars in London were aware enough to curse the luck) doesn’t know the half of it, for not only is O’Sirus an unspectacular breadwinner, she’s ten years older than Katryn thinks she is, ten years closer to decrepitude, with its lowered iron ceiling on possible future earnings; ten years closer to needing a fulltime attendant to wipe the elasticity-depleted guardian of her small intestines and shave her chin whiskers and rub her legsores down with painful tonics. There’s a phase in every lower-class teenager’s life, resenting the parents for not being rich. O’Sirus is going through hers now, at 52, rigid with futile thoughts beside her loosely slumbering Katryn, who releases another skinless green blimp of biochemical sarcasm to dock with the larger one already floating nose-high above the ducal bed. O’Sirus is unaware of the fact that the bed, which costs more than the car she would have if she had one, comes with a wireless console featuring a button for a discreet ventilation technology that sucks bad farts through the mattress, replacing them with rose wind or lambent jasmine or subtle musk or the mysteriously-named neutral.
What was the meaning of her problem with money? What was the use and what was the severity of it? Could she be cured of it? Would she be rewarded for it? Was it a flaw in her DNA or a certain fine superiority in the fabric of her spirit? Was it time now to be proud of the extraordinary single-mindedness of her longterm avoidance of wealth or sick with shame and regret that she’d never owned a new car or paid for a vacation for two in the Bahamas?
Her first job.
Peg found it via a friend of a friend (Doctor Shamton) to get Kim’s mind off of Lyndsay’s suicide. Kim went to the address that mother Peg handed her on a piece of paper with hearts drawn all over it, went with eyes still wettish and vadge-red and found a storefront on Wayne Avenue, a bunch of strange hippies in green smocks, clean hippies who were the vanguard of what would soon be called the New Age, the confluence of hippie mysticism and the Yankee religion of Money, counter-intuitively associating goodness with wealth, a belief system/lifestyle festooned with crystals and perfumed with incense and soundtracked with the blandest piano or zither noodlings. Hookless piano aswim in reverb. Fascinating how reverb as an audio effect can connote the ineffable, due, no doubt, to primordial race-memories of all those spooky caves we used to cower in. Anyway: what these hippies with surprisingly professional demeanors and lyrical names (like the boss, a very attractive, vaguely Asiatic woman named Sylvan) were up to was subcontracting temp workers as nursing aides for Old Folks Homes.
Sylvan told Kim she had a beautiful energy that the senior spirits (as she referred to the aged) would respond to. There was no office furniture in the room they (the applicants and company officers) were gathered in: just wall-to-wall carpeting and large pillows everywhere and a shrine to Buddha and a filing cabinet. Sylvan took a stethoscope out of the filing cabinet. The company was called Selfless Servants. Sylvan explained to Kim and other trainees that Seva is the spiritual practice of selfless service. Seva is a Sanskrit word and the concept flows from two forms of the yoga (she called it the yoga), Karma Yoga which is the yoga of action and Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of worship inspired by what we call divine love… Seva is one of the simplest and yet most profoundest and life changingest ways that we can put our deepest spiritual knowledge into action useful to the community… and after a crash course in first aid and such basics as pulse-or-temperature-taking Kim got a nametag (Selfless Kim), a green hospital smock, crepe-soled slip-ons and instructions to report to a nursing home in Bryn Mawr, graveyard shift.
She put her army surplus coat over the smock and took a trolley and two buses in the cold November night to her first day ever of work. She wanted to cry but not, just then, because of Lyndsay, cold and weird-smelling in an ugly box with no air holes in it. Kim contained two competingly disparate urges to cry and the one guiding her as she approached her first job was selfish and more childishly abject. Why did she feel betrayed by Peg? She felt as though she’d been kicked out of the sweet cloud of the last lingering amnesties of childhood; shoved from the very edge of the nest. Final proof that she was no better than anyone else (though breathtakingly inferior to rich kids who didn’t need jobs even if they took them as character-building experiences or gestures of noblesse oblige to placate the masses from time to time). Kim had always assumed that she’d live, jobless but well-fed, encouraged in her unproductive passions, under her mother-Peg’s protection until one of them died. Kim had always assumed that their little family owned no car in order that Peg could afford to do this.
She walked three blocks after getting off at the end of the line of the last bus and came to a saucer-shaped building at the end of a long path on a very large lawn, like a UFO that had come to rest, for reasons of its own, on a golf course. She entered the building (after some difficulty finding the front door) a few minutes after nine. The receptionist told her she was three minutes late but that they dock you for the quarter hour, so it make more sense to be a quarter hour late, if you going to be late, and handed Kim her timecard. These were old people who had a little money, she’d been told; this nursing home was better than most and yet she arrived to find high-WASP bedlam in progress, as in drooling crones with Mayflower surnames shuffling in and out of the frame, blue arses exposed in backless pyjamas, and a freckle-pated duke in his boxers, bathrobe tied around his neck by its sleeves like superman’s cape, hurrying from po-faced aide to po-faced aide with an urgent message of nothing but spit and consonants. He seized upon Kim and cornered her near a utility closet and she tried sincerely with zero success to comprehend. A beefy, squat-headed aide, black (but they were all black, and their charges were all white, don’t-touch-me white), whisked her away. Keith, with his clipboard. Keith guided her by the elbow. That’s Ol’ Zack. He been sayin’ exactly the same thing since I got here, which is three years this November, don’t pay him no mind. We gotta get this lady in her pyjamas fast. We laggin’ the schedule.
They were in a private room with a fat little woman circled by aides. Very much like a half-hearted gang-rape in which no one wanted to be first. The old woman (a card on the door called her Lilly Shaw) was clutching a bathrobe to her chest but otherwise naked, a baggy profusion of time-bleached meat. Keith told Kim to get her in those backless pyjamas and he took the other aides with him to whatever pointless emergency was next on the list. Lilly Shaw’s eyes were frantic but not really, as though she kept forgetting what “frantic” meant. Next was a thin white spider missing most of his legs and afraid to budge from the corner behind the safety toilet and the aluminum handholds and everything else smeared with his shiny tar shits. Next was a force-feeding on the theme of pureèd corn. Second childhood is not an empty figure of speech, mused Kim. But children are learning things.
And every time she stepped into the curving, overlit hallway to approach the next task on the time-coded (in increments down to the second) checklist in her pocket, Ole Zack grabbed her into a loopy waltz, pleading into her eyes his transmission of chaos from the great beyond until Keith came jogging to separate them. Kim was assigned the task of bullying a lucid woman (in fact she looked strikingly like Kim’s career guidance counsellor, Miss Brandischauer) into brushing her teeth before lights-out. Brushing-her-teeth as a euphemism for dealing with the dentures. The alternative-universe Miss Brandischauer was sitting in bed, reading Agatha Christie, peering down a long nose through her feline glasses when Keith ushered Kim into the book-filled room without knocking. Keith told Kim, in front of Miss Brandischauer 2, that the 75-year-old woman was a naughty girl who didn’t like to brush her teeth and that Kim shouldn’t take no for an answer, whatever excuses the old girl managed to cook up and don’t forget, now, you’re new, girl, so she’ll try to fool you.
Kim sat on a chair beside Miss Brandischauer’s bed and watched the old woman read for awhile, making note of the curious fact that her eyes didn’t so much march methodically from left to right across the page and back again as seem to leap in giant intervals up and down and right to left and diagonally, assembling a jigsaw puzzle of words. Kim was wondering how she’d make it through her shift, despite the fact that her hourly wage was a whopping (for the era) eight dollars per, when Miss Brandischauer placed her bookmark and lay the whodunnit aside and said, with a surprising, twangfully melon-rich Southern accent,
“We have maybe fifteen minutes before the S.S. come looking for you. What would you like to talk about, sugar?”
“Don’t be shy, now.”
“I’m not shy.”
“No offence intended.”
“I know. Ma’am, how long have you been here, if it’s okay to ask?”
“A week. Five years. My whole life? Listen, I wish I had something to offer. Refreshments. You’re so pretty and young. Skin like yours is a great gift. So why so down in the mouth?”
“Appearances are rarely deceiving, sugar. Tell.”
“My best friend… ”
“Stole your boyfriend.”
“Oh. Oh. Cut her wrists? Or jumped?”
“Pills. And strawberry ice cream.”
“Smart girl. Look what she avoided.”
Keith stuck his head in the room with such suddenness that they both jumped but Keith said not a word about Miss Brandischauer’s dentures, grinning horribly and beckoning Kim to follow him instead. She had to hurry to catch up as he jogged along the circular hall to the ever-so-slightly-ajar door to one of the two communal bathrooms. Kim entered behind him and without looking he told her to close the door and make sure it click shut and her first thought was panic that he was going to do something to her in the bathroom but then she watched him walk calmly around the far side of the water-filled tub in the center of the room. She approached the tub and saw with some surprise that there was a hairless blue potbellied man asleep underwater.
“I left him alone for a minute and I guess he slid under. On the count of three…”
Kim had his ankles and Keith hooked him under each arm and they lifted and lowered the body with a loud splash from the agitated tubwater on the tiles and rolled it over. What struck Kim was how Keith had appeared to be in no particular rush to get the man’s head out of water. His casual air had fooled her into believing for several moments that he must well know, from years of experience, that it’s better to leave them in a few minutes before yanking them out in case of shock or something. Keith straddled the body and seemed to be knuckledeep in the fat rolls of a frat house drunkslut shoulder massage when he told Kim to tell the receptionist to tell an ambulance to come. With an amused tone he added, detaining her for careless life-or-death eternities at the bathroom’s threshold, You shoulda seen the look on your face, Kim. You looked seriously freaked out, man, but you’ll get used to it.You and me’s a team.
So Kim went and told the receptionist to call the ambulance and when the receptionist had completed the call, Kim quit. She asked the receptionist to tell Selfless Servants not to contact her, she didn’t even (or especially didn’t) want her check for the night, she wanted nothing to do with them or this nursing home or the three hours she’d spent in purgatory there. The receptionist, who resembled Diana Ross, said it’s not my job to deliver instructions to your boss, that’s one thing, okay, but are you serious about not wanting that check? Even if you only worked three hours that’s twenty five dollars before taxes. If it was me I’d sure enough take it. That’s a nice pair of shoes, but I ain’t your mama.
Kim put on her army surplus coat and left the building and crossed the black lawn panting and walked the wrong way and walked back and sat at the stop in the cold semi-rural November dark for forty minutes (during which she watched an ambulance with firework lights race towards the UFO and then the same ambulance with toplights extinguished roll with the silence of a deathbarge on still waters past her) but was lucky enough to get the last bus home out of Bryn Mawr. Six billion years of planetary, then thirty million years of biological, evolution, just so she could take this very long bus ride home.
That little blue man in the bathtub stayed with her for years.
O’Sirus rolls backwards down the incline of sleep. Katryn’s protest is done for the night.
The next morning they are awakened by Javanese Gamelan music. O’Sirus thinks to herself that surely this isn’t Javanese Gamelan music, but it is, piped in through the mattress. During the five minutes that Katryn sleeps while O’Sirus watches, Katryn dreams of a leafy, warmish, aromatic paradise populated with unusually beautiful rabbits with (proportionally) very large, human-shaped breasts that one sucked on for nourishment; an ultimate kind of veganism (no chewing of a life-structure) that the rabbits didn’t mind… in fact, they enjoyed it, and were easily coaxed, like frolicsome coconuts, to give sweet milk. It was only a matter of wiping the nipples first, as they were usually a bit muddy. Katryn was smiling very broadly in her sleep. O’Sirus will never forget how that smile faded as Katryn’s eyes opened on the real world.
“Javanese Gamelan music.”
“Why’d you put it on?”
“What time is it?”
“Early, I think.”
“Where are we?”
A whiff of syrup-hot pancakes comes up through the mattress and before either of them can comment, Shem’s cheerful voice follows. “Who’s ready for breakfast?!”
“I suppose there’s no opting out of it?” says O’Sirus, into the mattress.
“Breakfast is mandatory,” jokes slightly-muffled Shem. Half-jokes. “Would you prefer it in bed?”
Katryn’s smile comes back and she says, “Oooh, marvellous!”
“Any special requests?”
Katryn is playful. “Rabbit’s milk?”
“You got it,” booms Shem through the mattress. “Breakfast will be served in a jiffy!”
There’s a longish interval before O’Sirus whispers, “Is this thing off, now?”
Katryn makes a shrug face and climbs out of bed with a finger over her lips meaning silence. She gestures for O’Sirus to follow her into the bathroom. In the bathroom, Katryn turns on the shower full blast. She turns to O’Sirus and whispers,
“What shall we talk about?”
“I decided something after thinking long and hard last night.”
“From now on, I concentrate on making money.”
Relieved hugs. Grateful kisses. Katryn’s head in the crook of an olive elbow as O’Sirus reaches under Katryn’s frilly nightie and prods the drooled lips of a hot little animal’s smile. The moist click of separation and Katryn says ah. The cosmic YES of extremely wet. There’s a polite-but-energetic knucklerapping on the bedroom door and they hurry giddy back to bed and under the covers before sing-songing drunk, as one, “Come in!”
Much to Kim’s mitigated delight and surprise it’s Gwynneth, fleshy sweet, smoothly ripe and gobbleworthy Gwynneth, with her good-vibes-scented brown eyes and matching cinnamon freckles and big pink permasmile lips dressed in that eternal overalls-and-bandana uniform, backing through the self-opening door with a laden breakfast tray. This time, a bit of Gwynneth’s hair is visible from under the red bandana, but this glimpse of the hair doesn’t solve the racial puzzle, as the hair is a very curly, coloring-book yellow. Gwynneth gives O’Sirus a hello-again look that makes Katryn give O’Sirus a look (O’Sirus being triangulated perfectly to see and interpret both looks) of do you know this dyke from somewhere? Gwynneth gives Katryn a look meaning yes, she does know me from somewhere, but don’t feel threatened, I’m immensely attracted to both of you. Gwynneth sets down the two-tier tray and converts it into two separates, setting one before each of them as they look on (and back and forth between each other) and finally breaks the complexly-orchestrated silence while leaning over the bed, exposing the nested warmth of her cleavage, working on arranging the utensils .
“Is there anything else you want or need?” Looking at neither of them.
“The two of us can’t possibly eat all of this marvellous-looking food alone,” says Katryn. “Why not have some with us? What’s your name?”
“Gwynneth,” offers O’Sirus, elongating the “th” like she’s evaluating a flavour, wondering if anyone else can smell Katryn’s fresh cunt on her fingers.
“Gwynneth,” repeats Katryn with playful mimetic exaggeration.
“I am kinda starving,” says Gwynneth. Her nostrils flare. She smells it.
“What are you?” asks Katryn, with a child’s rude innocence.
Gwynneth, used to the question, says, “Black.”
“You’re a lot less ‘black’ than O’Sirus, and she calls herself ‘racially ambiguous’,” laughs Katryn, ladling hot syrup over her stack of dinkle-buckwheat/raspberry-pecan pancakes and deliberately avoiding O’Sirus’ consequent glare.
“’Black’ is the term Yanks use,” counters O’Sirus, looking at no one, laying on the accent, “When no other group will claim you.”
“‘Black’ is a pretty big church,” says Gwynneth, winningly, chewingly, with hot cake tumbling on her tongue. “How I see it, if everyone said they were black…”
“Like Spartacus,” says O’Sirus.
“Who?” say Gwynneth and Katryn, as Katryn feeds Gwynneth another forkfull. O’Sirus’ pancakes are dinkel-mocha, garnished with starfruit, and she feeds Gwynneth her next forkfull, with a feeling that she’s dabbling in a new kind of orgasmically-tasty-food-based sexuality. As if reading her mind, Gwynneth says, with a moistness of mouth that kills everyone else in the room,
“We’re having a mange-a-trois.”
Picture Gwynneth, her golden fat pussy sopping with syrup. But what paralyzes O’Sirus is uncertainty as to whether a group fuck at this point will further, or hinder, the cause behind her brand new sacred oath to get ugly rich. She even forgets to ask Gwynneth for her sunglasses. Gwynneth doesn’t have them anyway. O’Sirus sees that butterfly smile on Gwynneth’s wrist and strokes it spontaneously with her flaking cunty finger and one thing leads to its other but O’Sirus still, for whatever reason, can’t come.
Down the spiralling drive they sail, smooth as a Haitian lawyer. All five in the land-galleon: Shem, Seth, Katryn, O’Sirus and Gwynneth, Gwynneth with her hands on her knees in the ergonometric circulating-gel-filled bucketseat between O’Sirus’s and Katryn’s, the sky so bright that only the van’s tinted, treated, polarized bubble windows can protect them. Shakuhachi music on the soundsystem. “Shakuhachi” means “one foot eight”, the standard length of a Shakuhachi. O’Sirus thinks wouldn’t it be embarrassing if our names were our measurements. The lavender sun is harsh on her arm despite the filtering window. Her arm is the color of an internal organ.
The landscaped estates at the top of the hill give way to large-but-crammed-together houses lower and then smaller, crammed-together houses intermingled with apartment buildings and transient-looking commercial spaces. The lower the van descends, the more pedestrians they see, like denizens of oceanic depths, colorful and cartoonish in their monstrousness, deceptively humorous-looking, weird in their movements, soundtracked by Shakuhachi.
O’Sirus is in a zone, watching but not seeing, hearing but not listening. Having to do with not coming, probably. She hasn’t come in weeks. Gwynneth is telling Katryn (quietly, in deference to the Japaneseness of the flute music) about her youth and how her life was changed immeasurably by personally meeting the most important unknown Civil Rights activist of the 21st century, Doctor Jonatha Shamton, who was in Duluth to give a series of lectures at the U. of D., where Gwynneth had a job in one of the campus bookstores, fifteen years old, ten years ago, stickering books when an exquisitely dark black woman of slight build, medium height, shiny shaved head, somewhere in the area of sixty years old, wearing those over-sized hoop earrings that black women with shaved heads favored, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, as an ornamental ersatz for hair and also wearing big round black framed eyeglasses, making her look very much like a priestess of the circle or something, with her big round glinting lenses and swinging hoops and the perfectly curved back of her glistening skull… walked in.
-Good afternoon, Sister.
“I’d heard about black women calling each other sister, back in the day, but I’d never seen it happen before, especially not to me, because most people can’t even tell that I’m black, so that kind of threw me right there, but I was, I don’t know. I was flustered. I hadn’t even come out yet. All I knew was I didn’t like boys. It was like, greeting me that way, she was telling me things about myself I didn’t even know yet, and I was ready to listen.
“She said, Can you please direct me to your Jewish writers section. I told her we didn’t have one. She said, well, can you please direct me to your Polish writers section. I said we didn’t have one of those, either. She said, you mean Joseph Conrad and Philip Roth are just mixed in with all the other writers of literary fiction? With this, like, horrified look on her face. It was hysterical. I told her yes, that was the case. Then she took me by the hand… she actually grabbed my hand and it was the firmest, warmest, softest grip I ever felt… and she guided me to the African American Studies shelf in the back of the bookstore. She said, Then why are Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes and this Duke Ellington biography all crammed together in this little plantation over here?
“We walked back to the counter in front and she got her business card out and wrote down her room number at the hotel she was staying at and told me I should inform my manager at the bookstore that racial segregation was officially illegal in the United States of America, even in bookstores, and to call her and let her know how it went. So I called her after dinner. She said, hey, Gwynneth, thanks for calling, how did it go? I said, well, to make a long story short, I quit. She said, hmmm, I guess that means you’re working for me now.
“First, my job was showing her around Duluth while she was here, even though I didn’t have a driver’s license and couldn’t drive. We went by foot or public transportation. I showed her the lift bridge, our big tourist attraction, you know, the Statue of Libertyof Duluth, and she looked at me like I was a little dumb but kinda sweet and said,Why are you showing me this? I told her that it could be raised from 155 feet to 225 feet in under a minute and she laughed so hard I turned red. I didn’t know it, but my education had begun.
“How long did it take that old sharpie to get you?” asked Shem, physically unable to twist in her seat and therefore gloating at Gwynneth in the rearview. O’Sirus is not paying attention and did not happen to hear Doctor Shamton’s name. If she had she’d have considered the mention miraculous.
“Oh, I don’t know, a week or so,” answers Gwynneth, turning red. She flushes such delicate Japanese-like crushed-cherry-in-eggshell-colored-milk tints that Katryn wonders if Shem has triggered the appetizing blush on purpose. “But she was very respectful. No pressure or anything. You could kinda sense she was never what you’d call horny, so she kinda turned the whole thing into what I’d call an aesthetic experience.”
Everything’s a matter of scale. Chubby Gwynneth looks impossibly petite compared to the twin giants strapped in the front seats of the van. Katryn a trinket. Shem begins fiddling with a box full of bubble wrap and Seth begins what they all soon realize is some sort of presentation.
“Okay, because we’re on Sony’s early adopter VIP list, we got a cool toy in the mail the other day that I thought would be kinda kicky for us all to try out on this outing.”
Seth hands everyone in the back seats what appears to be retro-designed feline-style black horn-rimmed eyeglasses with smoky pink lenses. The galleon is steering itself, of course. Other than the fact that the stems of the glasses are a few millimeters thicker than the stems on normal glasses, and the lenses are smoky pink, and there are fine-mesh grilles on the stems near the ears, they look like normal glasses. Some new kind of phone? Everyone is tired of meeting new kinds of phones.
“They’re powered by movement and body heat; to keep them charged you just have to walk about thirty minutes a day. The average workout on a treadmill’ll do it.”
O’Sirus slips hers on. The lenses appear to have little or no magnifying power. “But what do they do?”
“The prototype name is Gyno-Encoded Reactive Telemetry. GERTY, for short. They might, like, change that after getting a little consumer feedback, but I hope not because I think it’s kinda cute.”
Katryn leans across Gwynneth’s lap towards O’Sirus and stage-whispers, “You look like a librarian named Edith in those.”
“They have to charge up for a while. Wait.”
They enter a tunnel fast and follow a spiral of recessed sodium lights upwards and upwards and round and round then heave into epiphany of virgin blue incandescence at such a drastic angle that O’Sirus suffers belly-drop vertigo. It’s like coming out of a long weird dream she immediately begins forgetting as they ring the roof of the lot looking for just the right place to park on, and as the galleon is finally parked and de-boarded and running through its checklist of function-altered adjustments, clicking and humming and off-gassing in microjets hissing through underside vents, the group gathers in a broad morning shadow at its side, all of them looking like librarians named Edith. They are standing on grid-painted asphalt overlooking Lake Superior; the top level of a parking complex filling, from the bottom up, since daybreak. The air is a spectacle of freshness; the gulls like feathers from a pillow fight; the moon a ghostly fingerprint on the invisible button that made the sun pop up. From the side of the roof they’re standing on it appears as though one could run fifty yards and hop off the opposite wall and land directly in the water. O’Sirus thinks that this is what this continent once had to offer, the vastness of unbroken vista, and now you only get it in slivers and flakes and soon enough not at all as everything goes interior, packed away in the space-saving storage of everyone’s sad little cell of private experience. What is an i-pod but a prison cell of music? What is a masturbation fantasy but a prison cell of sex? What is a snack but a prison cell of yummy?
…Where did that come from?
Seth is speaking. Now Shem adds something. They enter an express elevator that bears with unhuman grace the recordbreakingness of their party and drops with computered tolerance to earth. Modern elevators compared to their ancestors are like modern football players compared to those comically scrawny, middle aged guys in very little padding and leather helmets cavorting in newsreel footage of the ‘30s. Modern elevators are safe at roughly eight times the load. Never before have elevator engineers been tasked with imagining that eight people weighing a thousand pounds each are not unlikely to enter the same elevator all at once and expect a safe ride up or down. In fact, considering the upsurged flow of American tourists in various cities of Europe, the Society of German Elevator Engineers (Die Bundes-Genossenschaft der Fahrstuhltechniker) has convened a series of emergency symposia, all across the E.U., to address the problem. There’s even a convention, right there, in Duluth, in a building that happens to be along the route they will all be walking this morning, which is why I brought it up.
The elevator doors open and they file out. Shem and Katryn and Gwynneth up front, Seth trailing behind them, O’Sirus trailing behind everyone, the cool lotion of a shapely breeze mitigating the imposition of the sun’s male force. They are walking to the shop where Seth and Shem have ordered imported fabrics from a Muslim province of China. The fabric will go into the making of special garments to be worn by everyone in Shem and Seth’s wedding party. The fabric is so rare that it would be cheaper to tailor all 197 garments from twenty-dollar bills. O’Sirus is thinking about money.
She fed those fat behinds. Her mindfruits made these millionaires. She supposes it’s the same way it always was: Elvis and Colonel Tom both made their fortunes from the mindfruit of some poor black songsmith chained to a pipe in the basement, only O’Sirus is a combination of Elvis and the songsmith, minus Elvis’ money. Seth and Shem are Colonel Tom, minus Tom’s red shrivelled Croatian cock and Stetson. Or was he Romanian? It was always thus, regarding the exploitation of artists by sharpies far more mature than they. But it’s the traditional arrangements that are easiest to target and subvert and O’Sirus is going to be smart about it. She’s going to get rich.
The streets near the waterfront are gleaming with backed-up traffic, as early as it is. Most of the vehicles are sporting wind-whipped flags such as are given out free for the Fourth of July at gas stations and O’Sirus wants to remember to ask what the occasion can possibly be, so long before summer. National holiday? American Hostage crisis? Both? The double sensation of cool breeze and hot sun is one of the rapidly-multiplying modern paradoxes that add to O’Sirus’ overall anxiety, which she masks with bitchiness. The world was still the world when she was young and still herself. Shem and Seth and Katryn are nodding and humming their kneejerk assent to Gwynneth’s saying something about how a certain tribe in Africa has a “healthier” attitude towards Death and O’Sirus’s first impulse is to make a snide remark about well-adjusted corpses but she stops herself. Sarcastic clarity like that pisses off everyone. Like her show-stopper on the topic of the surprisingly evil, if you spend more than twenty seconds thinking about it, doctrine of Karma: in other words, those Holocaust Jews had it coming.
Pissing off everyone is no way to get rich.
Just as she thinks this, a strange little something darts across the right corner of her peripheral vision.
O’Sirus initially mistakes it for a child, but there’s a density there, the compact heft of wellfed grownup dwarf, with the added detail, clearer as the figure circles back in towards O’Sirus, that it’s glowing greenish in the hard bright sunlight. O’Sirus tries to be polite about it and acknowledge the being with a subtle nod and a tightlipped smile, trying not to stare as she walks by, assuming it’s an hallucination, polite even in the face of her own possible psychosis, but the creature runs ahead again, with the playfullness of the child it really isn’t. It’s wearing a frumpy floral houses dress and looks very much like O’Sirus’ memory of jacket photos of Gertrude Stein and Shem, Seth, Katryn and Gwynneth have all seen it too, obviously. They’ve stopped walking and formed what looks like a circle of librarians named Edith around it on a little flagstone plaza in front of a bookstore with smile-enamelled images of memoir-writing sports celebrities shining in its display window.
“Hello hello my friends’ friends’ friends,” it says with an unplaceable accent and a helium voice. Hands clasped under the load of a stout old dame’s unarticulated bosom. Turning to each in turn it says, “You must, were and will always O’Sirus never not be, of course. Shem and Seth I know that I know that I knew already. And that is her Katryn beloved as plum cakes. But who are you when you are who you are when you who are you are?” Smiling at Gwynneth. With a hint of vadge avidity, O’Sirus would have said.
“Gwynneth,” blushes Gwynneth.
O’Sirus says, to Shem, a trifle too sharply, “Why is it talking like that?”
“The marketing engineers. Womyn are more comfortable with what they call indirect assertion. Men prefer aggressively simple kind of declarative sentences like, you know, Me hungry. Me angry. Me fuck. Bricks they build a wall of logic with. The marketing engineers did extensive testing to find the optimal oblique-to-men yet clear-to-women ratio and found that nothing drove the average man crazier, while being on the average pleasant or kinda delightful to the average over-educated woman, than Gertrude Stein’s style of writing. So they…”
O’Sirus refuses to address the hologram directly. “But it’s already driving me crazy…”
“Me too, at first. Now I love it. That’s just how brainwashed we are by living in the over-mind of the patriarchy,” says Shem, beaming at GERTY and O’Sirus bites her tongue, remembering her vow to get rich. The vow predecesses the plan. It’ll come to her soon enough.
“But you can get her into data mode by prefixing a question with ‘query’.”
Shem turns to GERTY.
“Query: what’s a good book?”
“The Book of Repulsive Women,” said GERTY, with the flat affect of someone pretending to be a talking machine. “Djuna Barnes. Shall I order it for you?”
“48 hour delivery.”
“How old is Djuna?”
“Her bones are 118 years old.”
“What does ‘Djuna’ mean?”
“‘Djuna’ is the Serbian word for dune.”
“How far away from us is she?”
“Can you contact her for us?”
“I can generate a plausible version of her part of a conversation based on the predictive totality of multimedia referencing stored as knowledge, personality and voice patterns.”
“I think we’ll save that for a treat later, GERTY. End query.”
Katryn reaches impulsively to touch GERTY but Shem says, “Not quite there yet. But they’re working on it.”
“Why’s it green?”
“There’s a law, I guess, that virtual creatures have to be easily…”
O’Sirus finishes the sentence. “Identifiable as such. But you can’t see it unless you’re wearing these glasses, no?”
“They’re working on that, too.” Shem hands O’Sirus a camera. “Can you get a picture of us all together?”
Shem beside Katryn beside Gwynneth beside Seth, all smiles, with impishly dignified GERTY on tiptoe in the camera’s viewfinder’s foreground. O’Sirus tips her glasses up and peers at the viewfinder glasslessly and still sees GERTY in the picture; the camera’s in on the joke. She snaps the picture and GERTY skips over to look at the results, standing on its tiptoes and clapping once and proclaiming,
“A look at the look of the look of the lookers!”
Shem calls over. “GERTY, can you lead us to Chalfont’s China Imports?”
“With arms, legs, eyes, lips, chins, skins, dreams, atoms and ghosts!”
GERTY runs ahead (as the light turns green at the crosswalk) and they follow. She bifurcates, and one of her slips into an Alternate Timebook in which O’Sirus’s girlhood friend Lyndsay Weissman never ate those pills with strawberry ice cream.
A rainy evening in the integrated neighborhood of Germantown, Philadelphia. Kim’s bedroom smells powerfully of a strawberry-scented candle. Which smells like no strawberry, hot or cold, on Earth. We accept the “strawberry” odor as a matter of faith because the advertizer instructs us to. The advertizer has been instructed by the vendor. The vendor by the manufacturer.
“Seriously. What else can I say? I’m blown away.”
Kimbo hefts the manuscript. Fans the pages with a wistful air. “Really.”
Encouraged by the vulnerable quality of Kimbo’s sincere praise, Lyndsay leans forward to give Kimbo a desperate shut-eyed kiss. A purely impulsive leap towards the far side of Horny Gorge. The infinite freefall walls of which are witness to an endless litter of airy teen skeletons from the great tradition of Loser history, whistling down. Lyndsay had been seated in her big-breasted slouch on a little rattan chair, so low-slung her legs were folded behind her, splayfooted, knees grazing the wood (a childish father-given chair that Kimbo could never bring herself to throw away), seated at breath-distance from a Kimbo perched on bed’s edge when the spirit suddenly moved her. Shoved her.
Kimbo’s mouth is a flattened O of surprise as Lyndsay forces upon her the presumptuous gift of tongue like a fat little warm spitty heart. Just stuffs it in there between Kimbo’s pink quasi-Negroid lips like a foundling. Kissing is without a doubt the strangest thing we do. Fisting makes more sense. Lyndsay follows through by shifting weight forward like an escalating gestural argument. Breasts-first. The prow of a rubbery ship. There is emotional momentum. The air of mammal inevitability.
Rising to a crouch and forcing Kim back by the mouth groaning deep in the back of both throats she wonders exactly who is groaning in whom? The sound could be coming from anywhere. She’s seeing this from a distance. This is an out of the body seduction. Shocked somewhat that Kim hasn’t dodged the contact with a deft feint and pained grimace that would’ve sent Lyndsay home, in the miserable rain, in a trance of self-loathing, to gorge on the What-If bowl of strawberry ice cream garnished with cherry-red pills. Shocked, on the Akashic level, that in this re-telling of the story she gets to live. Lyndsay is unbuttoning Kimbo’s frilly pyjama top with fumbly haste when Kimbo’s mother singsongs an ascending major interval up the stairs,
“What?” the long-suffering, half-tone diphthong in descent.
Sweetly. “Is Lyndsay still up there?”
“Shouldn’t she be getting home soon? It’s very late.”
“Can she spend the night?”
“As long as she calls her grandmother to let her know where she is! I don’t see why not! I’m delighted to have her, in fact! Should I make some tea?”
Kimbo rolls her eyes at this but Lyndsay is far beyond generational exasperation by now. Her daydreams are taking over. Slowly, with monomaniacal calm, she unbuttons supine Kimbo’s pyjama top and bestows each melty nipple gracing each buttermilkpancake breast with a soundless kiss. Funny thing is, after all this time of fantasizing the very event, Lyndsay hasn’t a clue as to what to do next, for this is the blind teaching the deaf to drive. Kimbo strokes Lyndsay’s thin blond puddingbowl hair with throaty coos, settling in against the pillow under Lyndsay’s spongy weight, shifting her spine for comfort in the anticipation of this taking all night. She’s totally aware of, and affectionately amused by, the irony that it’s her breasts and not Lyndsay’s H-bombs they’ve chosen to learn on.
The point is to wake earlier in the morning than Kim’s early-rising mother and to adjust things so it won’t appear that a bed has been shared. Not trusting herself to wake in time she decides to forego sleep entirely. She thinks about Lyndsay’s novel. She wakes with her mouth open, nose bent against a cold hard basketball breast, the sun leaking in with birds and early traffic under the blinds which waltz out and fall back on the rhythm of the morning’s radiant lung. Kim has known Lyndsay since Quaker toddler Swim Class but is only now, after all these years, in possession of the fragile fact that the girl whimpers and kicks in her sleep. Despite which she slumbers solid as trees. Unwakeable. Rooted deep in the red dirt of wyrd dreams.
Kim climbed over twice, without noticeably changing the sleeper’s level of consciousness, to take a pee in the sweet gloom spread in a paste on everything in the three-storey row-home. They are on the third floor. Mother way down there on the first and father’s dusty stuff still in storage on the second. Smears of alley streetlight in the curtains at the end of the hall. The grey meringue of moonlight through skylight surprised her (as she sat on the toilet tinkling) with hickies all over her tits. The smudges appeared to be moving in the gloom. She assumed, at first, they were lipstick, though Lyndsay doesn’t wear it. Trying to wipe them she found they hurt in a way that was almost pleasant.
She masturbated with mechanical violence on the toilet to bring some much-needed resolution to her jangled nerve-endings, each of which was alive to the beauty of her fuckup. Her technique was left-handed, with rotating thumb. Power thumb. Clockwise-then-counter-then-clockwise and so on. A technique she will forget in the fullness of time and big-butt maturity. Doing it is like clutching the nappy-haired skull of a difficult birth.
If only I’d dodged that desperate kiss. The kiss that waited eleven years to shouldn’t-have-happened. One deft feint would’ve fixed it. A deft feint and a joke to soften the rejection: I’m not a homosexual, Lyndsay, I’m Idiosexual, dah-link: I’m attracted to me. She squatted on the toilet beating off on the face of a movie star. Wacking to Novak. Poor Lyndsay down the hall, looking so incongruously half-naked in Kim’s bed. Lifting the deadweight of the mother of all bosoms on tire jacks of breath in plummeting trajectories of sleep.
The Quaker church bell at nearby School House Lane says six with authority of the long, long dead. Kimbo eases the closet open, tugs a tumble of sheets and blankets and pillows out like textile guts. A bed takes shape on the floor near the rocking chair she hasn’t rocked in for years. Who has the patience in 1977 for working so hard to go nowhere? And other pre-mechanical technologies. A book of poems face-down beside the bed’s putative head. A water glass. In drama they call it dressing the set. Convincing precautions against mother having that dyke-inspired nervous breakdown or worse. Backing out the room screaming whores of Babylon, first thing in the morning.
As if it’s not bad enough I’m a Mulatto, she thinks, mussing a pillow and appraising her handiwork. Now I’m a Lesbian, too. The two dumbest words that she knows and she is now both. Kim is now officially a Mulatto Lesbian and Lyndsay is a Jew Dyke but there is a difference. Lyndsay is also a writer, which trumps everything. Wipes the slate clean. Lyndsay is a writer. The root of the word “Mulatto” is mule. Writer trumps everything.
Mother is insufferably cheerful at breakfast. Looks younger than either of the other two. The other two, the Jew and Mulatto, look tired. Kim’s denim hat. Lyndsay’s round head and weak chin. Looks like she’s melting into the pudding of her boobs. Mother is getting her Masters at Temple. She passes a laden plate. Her dimples, her mint-green eyes, her red satin hair. You’d never dream of fucking your mother but you’re forced to admit to seeing why others would want to. Those high hard tiny tits and perfect tan pancakes of hers. What is a pancake in the Linnean system of classification? Eggs and flour in the shape of a sand dollar: half animal, half plant. Plantimal. Having never lived, is it really dead? I can’t eat these undead things, thinks Kimbo, as Lyndsay chops and spears and shovels hers in. Disgusting. It doesn’t occur to Kim that Lyndsay would rather chew than talk just now. Or make eye contact.
Hunched over her plate, she forks the plantimal pancakes in. Mother is talking about a certain Doctor Shamton who leads the seminar called Psycho-Geographic Approaches to Folk Discourse and Literature 101 she’s so excited about auditing. It was three years ago to the day that Kim looked across the very breakfast table at her mother and was flattened by the realization that mother’s Caucasian. And I’m not.
“I just think it’s the most fascinating course. We were analyzing Jack and the Beanstalk? I’ll bet you never knew it’s an allegory about adultery as a tool of class oppression! You have to unravel the puzzle with what Doctor Shamton calls textual mirroring. More jam? Try this one, sweetie. You’ll love this on the pancakes. So. Jack’s beans: well, those are obviously semen, but not his. The beans are in exchange for money; reverse that and it means he’s achieving a social or economic advantage from turning a blind eye to his wife’s affair. Or forcing her to. The beanstalk is phallic but it doesn’t grow up, it grows down, into the earth, which is an obvious womb symbol, not only for the fertility thing but the notion of earth, of dirtiness. The giant is the opposite of a giant: a fetus. Jack smells the ‘blood of an Englishman’… the man from the ruling class who gets his wife pregnant. It’s really quite something. We ran through a reading of War of the Worlds, too, in which the aliens are crypto-white men. Drink your orange juice before the vitamins die, Kimbaud.”
“This Doctor Shamton wouldn’t happen to be black, would he?” asks Kim, finishing her orange juice with a hostile flourish.
“Kimbo, darling, what would that have to do with anything?”
That glow on mother’s face.
They are heading for the trolley stop on Wayne Avenue in a pico font drizzle of commas, periods, ellipsis and dashes when Lyndsay reaches for Kim’s hand. Like it’s natural. Fuck. And now their arms swing stiffly, falsely, hard against the rhythm of the stride. Lyndsay Weissman’s big-knuckled grip. Omnivorous bossy Jew tit rapist genius writer grip.
“You want to know the first time I noticed how beautiful you are?” asks Lyndsay. She speaks with the militantly naive tones of an adopted child. The Philly rain beads her face with dark soft glass and she is staring in shy triumph forward. Her neck stretches out over chugging breasts, comically intrepid. Human breasts are the largest, proportionally, of any mammal’s and Lyndsay’s are larger than most. Each is the size of an over-suckled infant; each breast is big enough to have its own tits. They clamour and kick under her oversized shirt and unbuttonable red raincoat and you could see how a caveman would think of himself as wealthy for owning them and how he’d be willing to put the energy into doing so. She would’ve been a hit on the primordial veldt. In fact she looked not unlike the Venus of Willendorf, that stone age pinup, all dimple and bulge. With a longer neck.
Dressing for breakfast, matter-of-factly nude, Lyndsay had looked gravitybound and turtly and exactly like one of her trademark self-mocking mammophallus cartoons, sending a hot pang of pity through the skinny girl who was stealing a peek while pretending to do morning yoga. Kim hadn’t even sucked on one of them yet, unless she’d done it in her sleep. She doesn’t want to. She’d hefted one, though. Her own nipples are sore as cherries. Glancing from passersby to oncoming traffic and back again, expecting a hurled bottle or epithet or hail of bullets to come teach them a lesson. The raincoat is such a bright red vinyl that she might as well be wearing a helmet equipped with a turret light. The rain isn’t beading on Kim’s face (is it the Ph of mulatto skin?) but adhering like a clammy mask and she thinks how in yet another way am I different from the white women in my life.
“It was in the Quaker pool. We must have been seven or eight because your father was still around. I remember how he looked from the point of view of underwater. He was standing at the edge of the pool in his white suit like a celebrity in a funhouse mirror. We were both underwater, you and I, and, Kim, listen, I looked and saw you floating there near me with your hair like a cloud of ink and you just seemed like the most astonishing sloe-eye siren to me. I was so awe-struck to the degree that I almost drowned. That’s really truly when I noticed how beautiful you are, although I had already loved you for so many years.” Laughs. “Listen, I was never as innocent as I seemed.”
She squeezes Kim’s hand love-hard and then harder and Kim waits for the other shoe to fall. The red-hot penny to drop. For pedestrians to stop mid-stride and gawk and sneer or for some blue collar super-ape with a pumping shoulder to crank down the driver side window on his beater in a clotted grey cloud (the exhaust travelling faster than the car itself) and shout what the whole street is already thinking. Kim expects it with such a force that when it comes it will be a relief, she figures. The tension is killing. Like being pregnant with a bomb set to detonate at the moment of birth.
“Oh, my love, I’m so glad you like the book, my love, because I think I would’ve died if you hadn’t, because, is it safe to confess now that I wrote it for you, about us? About my feelings for you and how beautiful you are. I’m Kith and you’re Kynna in the book, as you could probably guess. I’m the Kith character, the boy, sent away to Brotherland, writing letters to his beloved. And you’re Kynna, the beloved. Didn’t you recognize yourself in her description? Kith writes that his beloved is the color of moonlight on the pages of his precious old diary. The color of moonlight on inky paper. That’s you.”
Something about Philadelphia is so hideously apt when it’s wet.
Kim, eyes on the oily street, says, “The description of the Brotherland camp is pretty convincing. Does it all take place on an island or something? Kith’s part of it, I mean. Because that part wasn’t clear.”
“Listen, Kim, Kim, why are you ignoring the issue?”
“Fuck, man. What issue?”
A car is coming up behind them, two wheels on the curb, at the rough speed of an untalented hundred yard dasher, muffler sparking the stone.
When males in the world of Lyndsay’s novel, Kith and Kynna, reach thirteen, they are by law required to take a blood test. The test is called a Singh-Draper. The results are read in twenty columns, each column scored on a scale from one to twelve. Any value higher than six appearing in any of the twenty columns is considered a red flag; a “typical” male scores red flags across the board and is required by law to report to a Brotherland Transit Station within three months of receiving his test results. Therefrom to be transferred by secure federal transport to Brotherland, to remain for a period of no less than thirteen, and no more than twenty five, years. This is for the protection of Society, and it works. There is no rape, theft, bullying, battery, sexual harassment, murder or graffiti in the cities or the villages. All of that has been moved to Brotherland. The most harmful of the immemorial patrimonies have been moved, en bloc, to Brotherland. The Arts flourish. An open sense of community and public space, to be utilized at zero risk at any time of day or night or season of the year, flourishes. Does every male who enters Brotherland return from it? This is a controversial question.
Studies have determined that even such physical violence as had been perpetrated by females of pre-Brotherland eras had been, without fail, a result of the proximity and influence of males. Male violence, like female materialism, is an outmoded trait that had been essential to early humanity’s survival on the Neolithic African playing field. Male violence, like female materialism (the fascinating parallel being that each gender-specific trait was known to excite mimetically negative behaviour in susceptible members of the colleague gender), has no place in civilization. Female materialism, unlike male violence, has been shown to vanish when subjects are placed in an environment in which the trait proves irrelevant (ie, equal distribution of wealth). Conversely: destructive male violence is irremediable; intrinsic. That male violence wanes with age leads to the adjusted standardized scientific, legal and ethical guidelines defining the mature male, greatly more responsive to moderate chemo-therapeutic conditioning, as belonging to a fifth gender, official taxonomy pending. Colloquially, though: Softies, grampies, halfmen, euns, nomo’s, shufflers, danglers, bachelors, capotes, custards, doughcocks, sweeties, hardnots, deadballs, uncs, uncas, groanas…
Weissman imagines a suburban nationscape with its hi-tech hidden to the extent that it’s indistinguishable from magic. Blackbox super-tech. The houses are pseudo-woodframed but it’s a wood that can’t burn; the automobiles are lightweight and intelligent and can’t crash or pollute or exceed the modest speed limits; there are no guns; no cash to steal, no conspicuous wealth to envy: it’s a quasi-socialist, round-edged suburban culture devoted to peace and safety. Peace and Safety forming a sort of secular religion against a backdrop of unofficial, vaguely discouraged, nevertheless tolerated, vaguely animist spirituality for which the hieroglyph of a tree, bearing an unknown (almost human-shaped) fruit, is the accepted underground symbol.
There is no cash but there are two-piece notes and notational symbols called “Favor Credits”, a casual and personalized system of currency. There are Artisanal Malls where shops line both sides of a street and along which candles, books, honey, cutlery, textiles, decorative artworks, scented oils, recorded music, self-pleasure aids, and so forth, are bartered for Favor Credits. Acronymed as Facre. A good-faith system of barter which would be impossible in an aggressive, competitive (read: male-dominated) society.
The houses. They’re more rounded than what you’d know in patriarchies. Rounded so rain runs right off without the need for roof gutters and the faux-wood is flexible, like a very hard rubber if you were to kick it, but you never would. The material is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You don’t paint them but they’re dyed. Indigo, Amarinth, Saffron, Bisque… the material is deep-dyed, subtle, lambent with color. The material is the color it is all the way through, which is what you’d discover if you cut it (though you wouldn’t). From an aerial vantage (commercial zeppelin travel: slow, sky-protecting, graceful) the neighborhoods look like stamp collections.
Adult sexuality is self-pleasuring. It’s okay to do it in public. Not while driving or teaching the young. The world that Kith was born into.
Kith and Kynna were lovers from a riverside neighborhood in the Midwest, before Kith took the Singh-Draper and the Singh-Draper said he was a man. Kynna, at sixteen, was three years the elder, a girl of great beauty, inside and out. Kith had fathered seven children (two male) in the three months before packing his things, in November, and setting out in Sara’s car for the transit station. Fathering these children was both his duty and his right, a coming-of-age thing. The losing-their-virginity rite. He was matched to the fertile women, two of which were the legal upper age limit of forty five, by lottery, and discharged his obligation in a comfortable, attractive facility run by the State.
The Brotherland Transit Station was an hour’s journey north and he was driven on a Monday morning by Sara, his housemother, as required by law. They left very early, to beat the rush hour traffic. He said his goodbyes to Kynna before getting in the car. There were tears, but no wailing. Wailing was not their style. Each inductee was allowed to bring as much as he could carry. Kith, being frail, nevertheless rose to the challenge of carrying Kynna’s gift: the sack of how many antique, creamy-paged journals in which to record the chronicle of his time away from her. That and packets of pencils and pens and tins of his favorite chocolate. The State will provide the rest.
The drive up to the BTS was beautiful. The drive was nice. The car was basically a wide, sleek, fully-enclosed, low-to-the-ground, steam-powered two-seater bicycle that sounded very much like a sewing machine as it ran. Sara had little to say, but sniffed a lot, sleeving her nose without taking her hands off the steering wheel. Fresh fall gusts and nice old songs on the radio. They switched back and forth between oldies and national volleyball: the loving group grunts and isolated joy-yelps and call and response of batsqueaking sneakers on gymnasium parquet with the sportscaster’s churchvoice a nice punctuation. Everything nice, all the time. Kith was weirdly, almost callously, calm. He pointed out the various kinds of trees in staggered rows like all the queens and kings of history, gathered to watch the procession resplendent in their mortal blood-and-gold robes, by the sides of the thin white highway. The distant green hills like buried, voluptuous giants in sweet repose. Hilly green in all directions. The black galaxy of unseen life in its potent not-quite consciousness interlacing the hills like ramifyingly and sub-branchingly endless roots of Time.
Kim turns to see the car come upon them. It’s Unca Mundee and a woman who will introduce herself as Jonatha Shamton.
Bear with me for the next few pages. There’s a reason for doing this. I promise. Bear with me.
“Are you sure you can do this?”
“Are you sure you’ve got what it takes to do this right?”
“If we fucking fuck this up it’s totally fucked.”
“I paid a lot of fucking money to be here.”
“They charge by the fucking centimeter, you know.”
“It’s not by the fucking hour.”
“You would think…”
“I know. But it’s movement-calculated. When you fucking think about it. Fucking think about it: if you billed a timestripper by the fucking hour…”
Unca Mundee takes a hard right onto Wayne Avenue and his turbocharged ’68 Mercury Cougar stutter-pops over 19th century cobblestones behind a big old ramshackle spark-showering trolley in the rain. The phlegm-colored weather. The Cougar will have to get in front of the trolley within the next half block or abort the mission. They will have to get in front of the thing before the subjects get onto it. Mundee puts the pedal to the metal and rattle-bangs over the narrow space between curb and ramshackle municipal transport. An ad on the side of the trolley for a television show called The Jeffersons, 7pm on Sunday nights, a larger-than-life black woman in a wig with pearls waving a finger with bemused admonishment falling behind on the left as they g-force forward. With exquisite automotive mastery Mundee guns it wrenching the wheel over the low curb and half-onto sidewalk as the left-most subject swivels to look over her right shoulder at the rattle and bell of trolley against the roar of turbocharged Cougar so close that the grill-heat warms her ass. And then she is flying. She pinwheels over the fender like a mulatto rag doll, eyes jammed shut and holding her breath with the effort. You can just feel it won’t be a homerun and Shamton sinks inside. Mundee fucked up trying to impress her. Shamton has witnessed events of such eerie grace only in extra-lunar space before, the impossibly slowfast, baboon mechanics on extra-lunar cruise ships, usually. Red banana hardons in cloudy vinyl zoomsuits. The victim in realspeed slides and head-bounce-heaps on the sidewalk in the rearview.
“Fuck!” shouts Dr. Shamton. Mundee keeps the cool and he hits the brakes and he slams hard in reverse as the dreadlocks jerkswish and the trolley overshoots the Cougar in silent movie double-time. Ben Turpin driving.
The fat one is sort of paralyzed in a screamlessly open-mouthed crouch about twenty meters behind the supine body of her friend. Shamton swings her door out as the Mercury shoots back in a zigging screech and Shamton jumps as Mundee slows and she gets the rear right door open jogging. Mundee skid-brakes and hops out and grunts helping toss a pop-eyed Kim on the seat. On top of, incidentally, a yellow-paged paperback edition of Brotherland that’s fifty or sixty years old, right there, under her left shoulder, where she is in no state to feel it. Her hair is a mess. The humidity isn’t helping. Lyndsay has caught up to the car and dives in after her friend as the Cougar burns rubber, her legs thrashing out of the open door, howling,
“What are you doing?”
“We’re taking her to the hospital!”
“The finest that money can buy!”
“Why isn’t she saying something?”
“She’s in shock!”
“She can’t hear you! Close the door!”
“I can’t reach it!”
“You’re going to fall out of the car!”
“Who are you?”
“I’m from the future!”
Dr. Shamton reaches as far over the front seat as she can and gets a grip on the window of the door that is swinging in and out as they careen through traffic and she pulls the door mostly shut and gets a noncommittal click or a cluck, more like. Mundee hits a hard right up a steep sidestreet and Shamton hands a fat envelope to the seriously freaked out Lyndsay, who assumes she’s dealing with drug addicts. Shamton says,
“I’m Dr. Jonatha Shamton and this is Kim’s neighbor, Unca Mundee, I’m sure you’ve heard Kim speak about him.”
“I am seriously freaking out! There’s foam on her lips!”
“Read what’s in the envelope, it’ll explain everything.”
There came another hard right with a screeching of tires and Lyndsay realizes they are headed for the East River drive, a major road that connects to the interstate. Weeping, and with trembling hands, she removes a folded smudged twenty-page Remington typescript from the sealed fat envelope and reads:
“What are you doing?”
“We’re taking her to the hospital!”
“The finest that money can buy!”
“Why isn’t she saying something?”
“She’s in shock!”
“She can’t hear you! Close the door!”
“I can’t reach it!”
“You’re going to fall out of the car!”
“Who are you?”
“I’m from the future!”
Dr. Shamton reached as far over the front seat as she could and got a grip on the window of the door that was swinging in and out as they careened through traffic and she pulled the door mostly shut and got a noncommittal click or a cluck, more like. Mundee hit a hard right up a steep sidestreet and Shamton handed an envelope to the seriously freaked out Lyndsay, who assumed she was dealing with drug addicts. O’Shamton said,
“I’m Dr. Shamton and this is Kim’s neighbor, Unca Mundee, I’m sure you’ve heard Kim speak about him.”
“I am seriously freaking out! There’s foam on her lips!”
“Read what’s in the envelope and it’ll explain everything!”
There came another hard right with a screeching of tires and Lyndsay realized they were headed for the East River drive, a major road that connected to the interstate. Weeping, and with trembling hands, she removed a folded smudged twenty-page Remington typescript from the sealed envelope and read:
“What are you doing…”
Kim is conscious and semi-lucid but pretty obviously fucked up. She is mumbling about mama. Her head is lolling and brick-heavy in Lyndsay’s lap and Mundee and Shamton are speaking quietly between themselves up front, inaudible under an 8-track’s performance of dolorously soothing jazz, breaking the speed limit. Lyndsay isn’t sure how to behave, having never met a time-traveller before, but she has no problem admitting to herself how intimidated she is. Intimidated and reassured, for, surely, a woman from the future would know how things will turn out and she doesn’t seem too worried about Kim. She is the most beautiful woman Lyndsay has ever seen. She looks like a very expensive chess set’s Queen, onyx black.
They are speeding into the Pennsylvanian countryside which is quilted vegetal army-greens and bruise-purples under the caul of the thickish runny sky and just driving this far they have time-travelled, so to speak, from 1977 to the 1950s and further back, at a glance, to the 18th century, even, seeing sheep and horse-powered buggies and huge Amish barns flamboyant with hex-signs. Even the banality of local effects mimics time-travel, with objects near to the Cougar (posts supporting a rail in a bridge the Cougar crosses) in a blur while things in the distance (in this case a mountain range) remain majestically detailed and fixed, the mountains a great analogue for both the past and the future.
Dr. Shamton has already explained to Lyndsay that timespace in all the timestreams is infinite-yet-bound (the total possible past of a system decreases as the total possible future increases; time is a finitely oval spotlight moving along an infinite-and-unrelated and warping black background) and about family clusters in multiverses (the ones that this particular Dr. Shamton and that particular Lyndsay belong to are two out of a family of seven) and how the conservation of energy rule means you can’t timestrip within your own timestream but you can within any stream that belongs to your family probability cluster and that probability in this Lyndsay’s timestream is so-called weak-walled, meaning that slightly weirder stuff happens here, making it a popular destination for time tourists. The saucers are encased in measured flows of what’s called Quasi-Particulate Matter, or Menergy, which is why the saucers appear to glow. The universe doesn’t like the stuff and kicks the stuff, or anything encased in the stuff, either forward or backward in the timestream in an attempt to be rid of it. Whether the timestrip is forward or backward is determined by certain factors in the flow of Menergy.
Shamton has also explained to Lyndsay about the Moral Autonomy Movement that will sweep North America roughly seventy years hence and the catchy acronym FIYOBIO (Farting In Your Own Bath Is Okay) that will embody it. She hasn’t mentioned the totalitarian Brotherland Movement that will then come about in the form of a backlash against FIYOBIO; she hasn’t mentioned how Lyndsay’s at-that-point unpublished manuscript will become, one hundred and twenty years hence, the veritable bible of a political movement that will bring about the greatest (and most damaging) social changes in human history (within this particular weak-walled timestream). But she toys with the notion of showing Lyndsay the medallion around her neck; the tri-bulge symbol (minimalized head as the apex of the curvy triangle with its bases formed by huge, head-sized boobs) that is loosely based on Lyndsay’s girlhood doodles of the so-called Mammophallus, a symbol, in one hundred twenty years to come, more fraught with signifiers than its sharp-elbowed brother, the Swastika, had ever been.
After quietly consulting with Mundee for a spell she is now explaining how flying saucers are timeships from human history and that the only other intelligent life in this entire universe (within the family cluster of related universes), even in this weak-walled probability system, is less technically developed than earthborn humanity and far too far away to travel. In two hundred years they will be discovered by evidence of radio waves (television transmissions). All of the detected and decoded television shows from this far away planet will be commercials-free hermaphroditic pornography featuring hairless pinkish-brown breast-free creatures with huge male-female belly-level genital arrays for whom ideal penis-vagina correspondence is gender-inflected by the fact that in half the population the penis is situated at the top of the array and on the other half the penis is on the bottom. The copiously milk-secreting vaginas do double-duty as breasts.
Lyndsay experiences the sensation of floating. Dreams are being made to come true.
It’s tragic, Kim’s accident, and Lyndsay hopes her friend and lover is going to be okay, in the end, but what is the suffering or even death of one human compared to revelations of this historical depth and potency? It’s as though a creature who has been bred and raised in a shoebox sees the lid lifted to have affirmed the improbable theory that the shoebox is in a closet, the closet attached to a bedroom, the bedroom in a mansion, the mansion on a vast estate, the estate on a mountain in a city on the seacoast of a tempestuous hemisphere.
The Brotherland Movement will lead to a violence-free society by gradually eradicating men. There will be eighty years of peace, sensual love and creative self-expression before the country is invaded and subjugated by a ruthlessly violent all-male insurgency from one hundred and fifty years in the country’s own Past. It will be the easiest and most brutal military success in the history of Man.
But forget all that. Forget it. What are the human dimensions of the local story?
Kim is dying, while her best friend Lyndsay is falling in love.