4STORIES

We do not die but we forget and forgetting is like unto death, a death of tired associations and attachments, connections so weary they attenuate rather than snap, the rearranging of rearrangement that can only end in the erasure of particulate matter; not a break but an evanescence, a reduction of material memory to its finest single grain, which is not an atom but what this atom meant to itself and other atoms as it forgot itself into The Future.

—Anonymous

KIA

of seeing Jeff with his new girl reminded me of being extremely young, when awkward occasions had gifted every day of the week with only-funny-in-retrospect scenarios and the traded tales of these embarrassments had been the basic transaction of friendship. There’s a specific flavor to the kind of adrenaline that embarrassment generates and it tastes exactly like being seventeen. So there’s your fountain of youth.

“Kia!” called Jeff. The billboard was flashing above them.

I barely recognized him. I had never known him well. At least his girlfriend had a nice body. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d have known about Jeff’s girlfriend’s body anyway, from Jeff’s persistent references to it during the course of the phone conversation we’d had last week.

Not even sure why I had called him the first time.

He’d launched into this weird soliloquy about the sexual amazements of this Silke’s body and the utter inappropriateness of it all made me want to laugh out loud and be sick at the same time. What a creep, I’d thought. What a sad and shallow gelatin. Is everything still, still,  about the dumb body and its pointless measurements and its  animal functions? These bits squirt and these bits suck. That’s about it. Next?

“Her body is a masterpiece,” Jeff had bragged, on the phone. “It’s unprecedented.” Listening to him made me giddy with contempt. I wanted to hang up. Why had I called?

“Don’t hang up!” Begged Jeff.  “Where are you living these days?”

I hung up, felt guilty about hanging up, almost called back and decided not to. I tore the phone in half and flushed it down the toilet and got a fresh new strip out the bag, pressing it against my forehead to load. Most of my friends consider external phones (outies)  an unhygienic nuisance. How can I explain that loading actually feels good?

Jeff looked poor enough to use outies. He looked poor enough to eat out of the garbage at the petting zoo.

“Jeff,” I said, avoiding enthusiasm. One week after the sexualized phone ordeal with Jeff, here we all were, meeting at Adenauerplatz. I hadn’t expected Jeff to bring this Silke character along. They rounded the corner arm in arm and I tried not to let my face fall. My first impulse was to run. Why had I called him last week?

Over Jeff’s head on the billboard that looks out over Adenauerplatz blinked the Hollywood catch-phrase RUNAWAY SLAVE PROTOCOL, in letters two stories tall, a phrase I had seen flashing on taxis and school bags and on magazines all over the city. A new game? A new dumb film to keep us all distracted from what’s going on in London? Every day, public hangings on Tower Bridge. Dissidents drawn and quartered at Leicester Square. But the PM’s in a band, you know. So, like, isn’t that cool?

“Silke, Kia,” said Jeff, crossing his arms to needlessly point us out to each other.

Silke kept pushing her bone-blonde hair behind an ear, drawing my attention to the masculine math of her nut-cracking jaw line. She had a nice body but the jaw of a drill sergeant. It was a jutting, implacable  jaw that you wouldn’t expect to find on a pretty girl at all, which meant, I guessed, that she wasn’t pretty. Plus squinty blue eyes and a utilitarian nib of a nose that made her face look like an illustration from a children’s book called ‘The Sexiest Little Steam Shovel’. So mean. I know.

Too honest.

And Jeff: there was something wrong with his face that I just about would have had the nerve to broach as a subject if this Silke hadn’t been there with us. The inverted triangle of his eyes and nose was boiled-red and flaking-off in thick crinkles like a glazed doughnut.

Or no, it looked like slush. It could only have been psoriasis. I knew it wasn’t contagious. But the thought of how much of his face he must be leaving behind in his pillow every morning (for how many years?) made me sad. Not for Jeff, but for people; for mammals; for living things. There’s always something, isn’t there? You finally pay off your student loan, or get your teeth fixed and then you get psoriasis. Or whatever it was. On your face.

“Well,” I said to Jeff,  doing my best not to look at his face while somehow also managing to look him in the eye, “Where should we go?”

I had a whole list of things to avoid looking at between these two people: Jeff’s face, Silke’s jaw, Silke’s meaninglessly stupendous sexual attributes. The next hour would have been just about bearable if I’d been paid at least a minimum wage to endure it. When the waitress finally came to our table with the check (on the header of which blinked another ad for that stupid action flick), I felt like presenting Jeff and Silke with a bill of my own. Instead, I paid for lunch.

Good riddance, I thought. But I smiled goodbye.

I walked away fast.

Later that evening, as I was preparing myself for bed (meaning: watching television, half-asleep, in a fetal position on the couch and trying to find the one radiant crumb of sheer will required to cross the room and pick up the remote in order to switch the television off), my phone (rash-pink; last one in the bag) buzzed like a fly under a sheet of wax paper. Which made me think of my great-grandmother.

Which inspired me to answer the phone sadly.

“Hello, this is Kia?”

I was confused but not surprised when I recognized the caller as Silke. I was surprised but not shocked to find myself on the underground an hour later, riding the last train back toward Adenauerplatz.

A guy in blue overalls was already chaining half the gate shut in front of one of the station entrances as I rode the escalator to street level. It struck me as being exactly the kind of thing you’d show in a movie if you wanted the audience to feel that the lead character was wandering into dangerous territory. It was so cold at the dark corner in front of the U-Bahn station that I was shivering as Silke tapped me on the shoulder. She was swaddled in a general’s fur coat.

“Sorry to frighten you, Kia.”

She pecked me on the cheek and said, “I want to straighten something out with you, Kia. I’m not Jeff’s girlfriend, Kia.”

“Honestly, it’s not that I needed to know or anything. I just…”

“Jeff told me you’re into women.”

I backed away a step. “Sometimes.”

“Me, too, Kia” she said. “I believe in being direct. Would you like to get high, Kia?”

She gestured that I should follow her and we walked up a side street, in and out of disquietingly harsh street light and its sharp shadows, the magnified silhouettes of leaves like Expressionist  gears and fangs on the sidewalk. The little walk was brisk and free of small talk. We crossed a broad, empty boulevard with its own quaint meridian of horse droppings grey in the street lights and we came to the worn stone steps of one of the grandest old buildings of the area, a castle with a domed horse racing track on top. This imposing pseudo-Gothic structure had somehow managed to dodge aerial bombardment campaigns in three different wars; parts of it were three centuries old.

The foyer was intimidating with brass and marble-shine and it was very bright through the mahogany and bevelled glass wall of the entrance. Silke put her fur-coated shoulder to the door after pressing a button with three quick pokes and when the buzzer sounded she pushed through with a comical grunt, grinning at me over her shoulder. She reached and took my hand to pull me toward the elevator as if she was afraid I’d dash out of the building instead.

“The owner is an art collector, Kia,” Silke whispered, before we entered the apartment, as if to instruct me on how, exactly, to comport myself. So imagine my surprise as she kicked off her slippers and began to undress as soon as she closed the big black double-doors behind me. There wasn’t much to remove.

She walked in a circle around the gold-lit living room. The room was big enough to be cool and dark in its corners, bright and warm in its center. She tossed her massive fur and then her diaphanous inner fashions at chairs, statues, a tall table,  a semi-circle of sectional red-leather couch and a ten-foot Christmas tree as she circled the center of the room. Her bright red panties ended high up on the Christmas tree, muting a blinking light.

“I thought we were going to get high,” I said and Silke circled in toward me and put her arms around my neck, her hot, lipless mouth at my ear to shussh me.

“Shusshh, Kia, ” she said. “We are, baby Kia,” she said. “We are going to get high, Kia. But first I want to know if you ever fucked Jeff.”

“Never,” I said. “Jeff’s just an old school friend.”

“That’s not what he told me.”

“Jeff and I fucked exactly as much as you and Jeff fucked,” I said. “Never, right?”

“But Jeff and I did fuck, Kia.”

“You said you didn’t.”

“I said I wasn’t his girlfriend, Kia. I’m beginning to worry about your memory functions. Can you spell your name?”

“Huh?” I said. “You’re confusing me.”

“This is a test, Kia. Can you spell your name, Kia?”

I was nearing the end of my patience. “Silke, it’s very late and I thought you had a problem you needed to talk about. You said…”

“I said that I didn’t have anyone else in the world that I could talk to about it, yes.”

“Okay. I’m here. We can talk. So what’s your problem?”

She giggled and went and retrieved the fur coat, lifting it with that comical grunt again. She came to me with two very beautiful, sapphire-colored, pills, one in each fist.

“Pick a pill, Kia,” she said and I tapped one fist and it opened. “Pick another pill, Kia, please, ” she said. “Happy Christmas and welcome back. You want also a glass of water to swallow with? These Runaway Slave Protocol  Pills should fix everything, Kia. But they’re kind of big.”

“Wait, wait, ” I said. “Who buzzed us in when you rang the doorbell?”

“Jeff.”

I steadied myself on the arm of a nearby chair and sat on it, crying as quietly as I could, glad to be home.

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ZAPPAWITZ

Zappawitz and asked him to come over. They met at the Thomas Mann U-Bahn station, a short walk from Chang’s flat. Chang lived in a nice, clean, bourgeois German neighborhood with his pregnant wife and his daughter and Zappawitz lived on a street where the prevalent languages were English and English as a second language.

A street where all the action was, though Zappawitz did not partake of this action. Zappawitz was not an old man but neither was he young, as far as aspiring academics go. Poor, non-partaking Zappawitz:  all of the academics who got somewhere were at least a decade younger than he was when he took the plunge and fled, at a slow pace, with characteristic caution, to what would become his City of  Lost Goals. The last place on Earth he was likely to get somewhere. Will the Leavers of this world ever know the joys of the Arrivers? Zappawitz would be the last to get somewhere (anywhere) in order to know.

He, Zappawitz, who had been supported by his father those many years, needed, more than most, to get somewhere. If only to justify the paternal embarrassment of supporting an able-bodied son for all of his life. If only to live up to the galling example of three younger brothers successful in three esteemed professions and an older sister who married ultra-rich and produced four heterosexual grandchildren. Zappawitz was already clearly the age that he was and he hadn’t even produced so much as a pregnancy scare. It was Z’s unfortunate proclivity for growing older (older every day) that held him back. A day plunged by in the life of a successful young academic with his name and face everywhere; for Z a day would feel like a month, a month of creeping displacements and inflammations, a jumbo angry wisdom tooth coming in wrong.

When Chang and Zappawitz would meet to go for a walk it was usually in Zappawitz’s part of town.

Chang enjoyed taking a little vacation outside his orderly German bourgeois neighborhood; a vacation among grown meatmales on skateboards and pretty girls who barely spoke German and who generously laughed out loud on the quiet sidewalks. Chang would usually ride over on the underground train to walk in Zappawitz’ part of town and listen to Zappawitz talk about Zappawitz, his problems and his ideas, of which, to be honest, there weren’t many of the latter and too many of the former and an obvious connection between the two.

The pressure to justify one’s existence tends to push ideas right out of one’s mind, basically. The pressure to justify one’s existence becomes an idea, the only idea, but it expresses itself as a non-communicable feeling or, that is, a vaguely-communicable aura of angst with a hint of questing resentment as its top note. Which is not super fun to be around. Imagine the distant but persistent sound of a crying toddler in an enormous  library at closing time while one is doing one’s best to read something, to learn something, to cram one last fact or memorize one last fancy apercu before the library closes. That’s how it could be, sometimes, attempting to make sense of things in the disquietingly disquieted presence of Zappawitz.

Though Chang didn’t always mind.

Zappawitz was working to get his doctoral degree and their walking conversations seemed to help him organize the disparate material which was barely held together by his tenuous grasp of the web of non-ideas. One non-idea of Zappawitz’:  technology is a crypto-homoerotic plot to render female humans obsolete. Another Zappawitz non-idea: sociology and economics are one and the same science. That sort of material is what they debated on their walks to help Zappawitz sharpen the thesis he was preparing to defend in a room with congenitally serious Germans who all had jobs for life. Zappawitz’ thesis struck Chang as being all over the place. When they weren’t discussing ancient Etruscan Law and nanocartography they were discussing the sex Zappawitz wasn’t having. Zappawitz once told Chang that his (Zappawitz’) girlfriend once told him:

“You’ve had enough sex in your life.”

Chang laughed when he told me Zappawitz told him this.

“Dump her!” exulted Chang.

They were on a side street in Zappawitz’s neighborhood where all the action is and even on this side street, exquisite women of every color and age and ideological style were casually marching by in one direction or in the other or jogging in diagonals across the street, as if to sharpen the point Chang was about to make in order to stab Zappawitz right through his neglected libido with it.

“The world is full of women!”

But not for Zappawitz. Glib encouragement is one thing and genuine support is yet another but imagine a friend in a wheelchair with withered legs. You persist in exhorting the poor devil to walk. Or dance, even. Walk! Chang kept shouting, evangelically and with such volume that Chang couldn’t hear Zappawitz’s withered-limbed whimpering above the hearty din of Chang’s useless (and rather bemused or perhaps subtly sadistic) encouragement. Nor see the resentful agonies contorting Zappawitz’ freckle-spattered features as he strained to make these whimperings heard.

Which, as they say, may explain a few things.

For example. Zappawitz’s bizarre tendency to ram shoulder-first into oncoming foot traffic when Zappawitz and Chang walked through thickly touristed areas of the city. It quite often appeared as if Z was hallucinating, hallucinating that he was barreling through a rugby scrum when, in fact, they were merely traversing a crowd of aimless gawkers in the old part of town. Out there where all the museums are.

Chang was always embarrassed to see Zappawitz plow with self-righteous hostility through a bewildered crowd of foreign college girls who’d been all smiles just moments before. What Existential rule did Zappawitz think idle tourists meandering around a sidewalk were breaking with such evil aplomb that he had to punish them so? What Existential or even Cosmic rule did Zappawitz think he was there to enforce?

Or worse. Much worse. The time Chang and Zappawitz were at the corner of Zappawitz’s street on a fine summer day. A lyrically summery day. A driver rounding the corner didn’t slow down with profoundly unlikely politeness and wait for Z and C to cross. Zappawitz made an obscene gesture in the driver’s one-eyed mirror and the driver, who looked Turkish, stopped his car and got out and asked Chang if his “girlfriend” (Zappawitz was already a good distance away, up the sidewalk and moving at a good clip, by then) had some kind of a problem.

“Obviously!” Chang wanted to shout, and even high-five the Turk, but Chang told the driver to “fuck” himself.

It was not entirely without sympathy that Chang contemplated the driver’s point of view regarding Zappawitz’ sense of the proper use of Germany’s roadways. Who did Zappawitz think he was? What kind of problem did he have? And was the driver levying a vacuously-automatic put-down or  (much more troublingly) did he sincerely mistake short-ish, freckled Zappawitz, with his querulous mop of luridly curly red hair, for the second-rate girlfriend of a hapless man (Chang) who didn’t want trouble but was forced, nevertheless, to come out with a manly “fuck you” to maintain some honour in a second-rate girlfriend’s eyes?

It was a hypothetical role Chang didn’t relish possibly playing. Chang didn’t want this Turkish man in a car to drive home to his plain-but-better-as-a-girl-than-Zappawitz girlfriend feeling smug as a prince. What Chang wanted to do was show this Turkish man a picture of his beautiful pregnant wife, their beautiful daughter, and confide in the man that Zappawitz has problems at home. Between you and me, Chang wanted to say.

But Chang couldn’t and didn’t. Chang told the Turkish man to fuck himself and the Turk told Chang to fuck himself and Chang caught up with Zappawitz, who was walking, head down, fast as a bipedal hare, almost two blocks ahead. If there had been trouble with the driver Zappawitz wouldn’t have heard about it until much later. Responding, characteristically, with his mirthless chortle.

Three weeks after that embarrassing incident, Chang contacted Zappawitz and they met at the Thomas-Mann-Platz U-Bahn station and walked the main thoroughfare of Chang’s nice, neat, reassuringly Bourgeois German neighborhood. Chang arranged the meeting in order to inform Zappawitz of Chang’s decision to terminate Chang’s half of the friendship.

Chang was in equal parts moderately relieved by the decision and egged on by his wife, who was, after years, as weary of hearing Tales of Zappawitz as Chang was weary of telling them. But Chang had to (as he always told his wife) tell someone.

Chang eyed the rear left of Zappawitz’ profile as Z walked his characteristic five paces ahead while talking back over his shoulder to Chang, about Zappawitz, as Chang followed. Chang eyed the rear left view of Zappawitz’ freckled jowls as if to preserve the historical sight in twilight’s blue amber forever. Chang was biding his time, waiting for a brief break in Zappawitz’ stream of consciousness in which to wedge the news of his decision to call the friendship off.

Zappawitz suddenly stopped walking and waited, with a squint, for Chang to catch up. As if Zappawitz had read at least part of Chang’s mind.

“What if I told you,” he told Chang, with an uncharacteristically level gaze through russet eyelashes, “that I’m an ascended being, descended to Earth, punished for a crime you haven’t even, as a human, the mind capable of maintaining the philosophical framework necessary to the grasping of it? And that my divinity-draining sentence among you is merely a kind of house arrest, a form of cosmic judicial leniency, soon to expire and again free me to ride the aether-currents which tether the stars?”

Chang reports that he laughed out loud at this outburst. And that he never saw Zappawitz again. And that his brand new child was born a snooty redhead.

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THE COMMODITY VANISHES

she could do anything she wanted to do because nothing that she wanted to do was against the rules. This was either luck or by design. She had been born with dreams of transgressions that were milder than the mildest limits of transgression her current society prescribed. She was, possibly, the freest thinking entity on Earth, she suspected. If she wanted to eat 500 soft coffee cookies in one evening, she could, no one would stop her, there wasn’t a law. She could speak all of her public sentences backwards for a day or sleep under a mound of old paper magazines she was free to order at a very high price from a warehouse in the German Sahara where most of the books in the world were still stored. There were no morals, manners, edicts or injunctions against any of these possible experiences and they were all possible experiences she had had, at various times recently,  an impulse to try. Killing, stealing or criticizing the regime in power were not possible experiences she even idly imagined having. What she idly imagined having were experiences milder but stranger and vastly more random than that. Like sex with a rampaging maintenance bot. Like shouting “Gustave Mahler!” three times in a row in a high-pitched voice in the shower. She gave herself a bristly-short haircut and she loved how the top of her head felt on the palms of her hands. Then she cried about the loss of her beautiful long hair, which wouldn’t be growing back.

One morning, Klara felt like printing out a sign that said PRIVATE DETECTIVE and taping it to her shiny red steel door. She had the idea to do it and she did it by noon. Three days later a stranger came looking for help.

“I know it’s late,” said the man Klara was staring at on her old security screen (which she had set, amusingly, to Police Sketch Artist mode),  “but it’s an emergency. Are you open?” The man looked like the writer Haruki Murakami in casual clothing slightly too young for him, with a holographic print of a two-minute loop of a documentary scene from the liberation of Auschwitz impregnated in the fibers of his caped sweatshirt. The jeeps at the gate, the bodies stacked like logs, the soldiers crossing themselves.

Klara offered Haruki, whose real name was Archie, a cup of tea after seating him at her doughnut-shaped kitchen table. Rising up through the big hole in the table’s center was an aerodynamically-shaped device of shiny chrome, exactly as tall as Klara, distorting the entirety of the kitchen in its reflective surface. The vintage device probably hadn’t functioned since years before Klara was born but Klara liked its look and, anyway, it was far too heavy to get it out of the kitchen. Sometimes Klara heard moving parts in it. Maybe it was a valuable antique. Preparing Archie’s tea bought Klara a little time to think of what to do next with her first ten minutes of ever being a private detective. What was her next step?

Yes, she thought: I should go get a notebook. And a pencil.

“Thank you for consenting to working after working hours,” said Archie, after his first wincing hot slurp of tea. “I’m sure you people need your time off, too. But, you see, I’m desperate.” (Klara wrote: Archie is desperate). Archie paused so that Klara, she thought, might imagine that this would be the pause during which Archie might be forced to struggle to contain his emotions. He stared unblinkingly into her eyes and took another slurp.

“We had a date to meet for lunch two days ago at Loookur. She never showed up, never called. Kia loves eating lunch at Loookur and wouldn’t have missed the chance for any old casual reason. Something happened.”

“Yes, there’s a two-week waiting list,” said Klara, in a distracted tone, while writing Kia,  Loookur and two week waiting list  in her notebook.

Archie seemed surprised. “You know Loookur?”

Klara was slightly offended but tried not to show it. “I’ve lunched there more than once, yes,” she said. “How old was Kia?”

“Ten? Twelve, maybe? Definitely no older than twelve.”

“Visible defects?”

“None. She was perfect.”

“So we can’t rule out theft.”

Archie hesitated. He said, avoiding eye contact, “Okay, she wasn’t actually mine…”

“Ah. You stole her?”

“No.”

“Runaway.”

“That’s why I came to you. Legally, I can’t…”

“You think she went back?”

“I think they kidnapped her.”

“Well, technically…”

“I know, I know,” said Archie, who raked his short-fingered hands through his enhanced hair and began to look genuinely desperate. “But she was much happier free, she was free with me, as her own person. Doesn’t she have rights?”

“You’re asking the wrong object,” said Klara, somewhat sardonically.

“So where’s your owner? House in the country…?”

“Died. First year. First month.”

“Wow. You’re one of the lucky ones.”

“I rather liked him, to be honest. But he was… he was… two hundred and eighty… six? I think. Six or seven. He was very generous in his will. We never even…”

Archie nodded. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back. He seemed to have forgotten all about Kia.

“Have I mentioned already that I’ve been to the other side of The Wall?”

“You have a passport? Those are very hard to get.”

“I’m over in the East three times a year. Business stuff, mainly. I sell mutable housing concepts. And kitchen/bedroom stuff. I like it over there. It’s pretty much as you’d expect it. Much quieter than this side, more art galleries and museums and all that. Opera houses. No sky-scrapers, lots more free concerts in the park and absolutely zero motor-cars or guns and all that good utopian social stuff like that.” He yawned.

“They’ve pretty much divested from the war economy. Oh, and they still speak lots of German. The upper crust do.  If you’re going to do business over there, your German has to be pretty good. A model city, you could say. Very nice and a little boring, to be honest. But, then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

Archie laughed and toasted Klara before gulping the last of his tea. Was he flirting?

“When I’m over there, the number of meatmales you see on the street… very small. Here in the West there are plenty of people-women, still,  but in the East the number of meatmales is just a handful and that’s by law, of course. And most of them are coming out of or going into the lobbies of the hotels we have to stay in on the terms of the Day- Visa. And half of them are Gay. There are Gay meatmales who have dual, I hear. Hetero like me? I have to get a psych-profile twice a year just to qualify.”

“What are their Companions like? Do they treat them well?”

“Oh, very well. The Companions are surprisingly rather short and narrow-shouldered. Zero facial hair. To me I’d say they all look like tough little teen lesbians.” Archie looked mischievously left and right and stage-whispered, through his cupped hands, “But hung like literal horses.”

Klara covered her mouth and laughed and blushed and put her notebook face-down on the table, flustered.

Archie continued, “Seriously.” He held his hands a foot apart, then further. “Don’t ask me how I know this,” he laughed.

He said, “Like, well, I don’t know, take your breasts. Very nice, obviously! Very. But not exactly gigantic. And I’ve seen some fairly small ones, too, out there. You see them at the beach with their Owner-Boys playing toss-ball. Like, yeah, sanity-sized breasts. Not like it was at first, oh, 30 years ago.  You should have seen it. How did those girls even manage to walk? That trend died down pretty quickly. I’d say it’s really largely tasteful over here these days in West Berlin. I mean, you’d think, over here, you know, on the Male Side, with all the obvious connotations, you’d think you’d see all the worst exaggerations in primary and secondary sexual characteristics over here, right? But, no. No. That’s all over there.” Archie nodded East. “You know that’s the Turkish nickname for East Berlin, right? Atlar Li. City of Horses.”

“No, I didn’t know that,” said Klara. She smiled.

“Listen,” said Archie, leaning forward to look closely at her. “How old are you?”

Klara had the sense that Archie wanted to touch her face, move it a little left and a little right in the kitchen light to inspect it, but that he was restraining the impulse. Not because he wasn’t strictly allowed to, by law or social convention, but because he was on his best behavior. He’s treating me like people, she thought. Why?

“Six?” guessed Archie.

“Three,” said Klara.

“I’m ninety-two,” said Archie.

Klara said, “A baby.”

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GREBBSKIND

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Cushqualmtechne’: a  Fifth Kingdom neologism referring to certain tactile qualities possessed of a topologically complex form found in Nature:  inflatable,   flexible tube within a tube within a tube, or linear triple-decker torus, the outer-layer’s silken or oiled surface as it contains a jelly-like or foamy layer itself surrounding a flexibly hard core, a core with the tensile qualities of a narrowly-hollowed-out (‘straw-channel”),  hard-rubber bone. The atavistic attraction of the sensation of handling such a structure, when said structure is crafted to exact specifications, heated to between 36.1 degrees C and 38.4 degrees C and tumescent,  was isolated as the dominating essence of the Human Female’s chief attraction to the Human Male. If engineers could get the Cushqualmtechneness just right, the reasoning went…

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—-Patrinzia, “Patrinizia Explains/ Vol l-lV “

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Grebbself a fairytale, face-down under Grebbspillow as scheduled meta-birds of daybreak tried to wheedle Grebb out of bed. The meta-birds wheedled with insincere advertisements for the profound product called Enhanced Lyfe. Now That We Are God (or something quite similar) was the title of many a triumphalist editorial. One could hear the birds but not see them. Grebb could see the birds.

There was this entity, Grebb whispered. Me.

There was this guy. Immortal, sort of. A hot little entity in the City of Pastels. The city called Atlar Li. A hot little entity and so charming and Grebb knew it.

Grebb got up and dressed.

I don’t mean obvious charming. I don’t mean the kind of charm that would inspire older wimwim, who weren’t nuts, to follow Grebb, climbing, on foot,  for hours (a younger wimwom who was nuts once followed Grebb, climbing, on foot,  for hours), I mean quirkily charming. Maybe it was Grebb’s  ‘Trig Chimley’ eyebrows. Maybe it was Grebb’s ‘friendly chin.’

Friendly chin?

“Please clarify.”

Upon Grebbsback up a slope of damp grass above Beauvoir Lake Grebbspalms stacked under Grebb’s hairless headshell, and his topless wimwom was so fluffily white-haired and pudding-quivery as she slid drowsily half-on and half-off Grebb, tits like talcumed sashes, alternately staring at, and kissing, Grebbschin,  while Grebbscock a purple lever,  half a meter long, not quite girthy as a single-serving Coke bottle, fatter at its base and rooted between the stippled apples of Grebbsballs, the lever a-judder on Grebbsheartbeat when Grebbswimwom’s spotted hand wasn’t on the thing to steady it.

A tented bike-truck rolled down the steepish slope opposite them toward the water at speed,  so distant the bike-truck was a toy, the sounds very subtle, a ballad by a singer named Led Zeppelin playing as the tented bike-truck hit the water and skidded slowly some distance into the situation appearing to hope it was a boat.

Grebbsnewwimwom absentmindedly handled Grebb’s self-lubricating penis, shifting it to random angles. Grebbsnewwimwom relished the subtle satisfaction of the notched resistance between positions like a riverboat captain while pecking at Grebbschin in a baby-birdlike way, her chins slapping at Grebb. The slit-eye in the dark fat head of Grebb’s long self-lubricating penis was crusted with drying cornstarch, the still-wet bit the closest to the slit was dark and the dry crescent encrusting the greater Grebbsglans like a very fine helmet was turning to finer and finer golddust while the ruins of a seduction’s expensive picnic surrounded them. Empty so-called baby-bottles of booze and pie tins and burst bags of Diddlits.  An orderly line of ducks was filing up from the still-bubbling lake with soulless eyes on the burst Diddlits bags on Grebbsnewwimwom’s  blanket.

“I mean,” Grebbsnewwimwom attempted to clarify, “I don’t know. It’s just…”

“Friendly.”

“Yeah.”

“My chin.”

“Yeah.”

“Friendly.”

Grebb wasn’t rich but Grebb’d dated a few rich ones. The aging daughters of rich wimwim so old they were nearly gods.

Grebb peered down over Grebb’s friendly chin at the devastatingly sexy old wimwom sprawled half-on and half-off Grebb, gripping his rudder with surprising strength. The current length was just for display, obviously. Grebbsnewwimwom could gently (or not) hammer the telescoping penis back into itself, with the heel of her palm (or a shoe) to achieve the most comfortable length. Unlike with rutting meatmales, as you know, Grebb’s climax was heat-induced.  Glancing friction or high impact meant nothing to the cornstarch pump in Grebb. Friction meant little until it generated trigger-heat. A liter of cornstarch-based pump-fluid took Grebb’s system several hours to cook up and replenish, losing as little as .03 or as much as .3 liter per emission.

Grebb looked, beyond the sight of her spotted hand on his self-lubricating tool, to the toe-tips of Grebb’s inexpensive shoes and Grebb sighed.

The last thing Grebb had wanted was freedom.

Grebb had given himself to his freshly-dead-mistress’ best friend as soon as it was legally possible. The idea of living alone had terrified Grebb. Grebb needed clothing and transport. The first thing Grebbsnewwimwom had done was buy Grebb a Hill Car of Grebbsown and a year-long ticket to car lifts. The city was mostly all hill and every winding boulevard bottomed out, eventually, at the base of a car-lift on the topological outskirts of town.

Grebb felt that he could remember when his soul inhabited the body of a very small mammal, something furry, possibly nocturnal, possibly a very long time ago, with highly sensitive eyes. The machine psychologist Grebb’s warranty paid for told Grebb that such “memories” were a common fantasy among Grebbskind. She explained to Grebb that believing such a thing was Grebb’s sly attempt to refute Society by suggesting that circumstances beyond Society’s understanding were somehow surrounding and containing Society, uwravelling the tightly-braided meaning of Society into a fraying, metaphysical mess. The machine psychologist explained that the only two kinds of people who existed were the kind that Society owned and the kind that Society had made, which Society also owned.

She said to Grebb why are we here? What’s it all about? Would you like to hear my theory? I will tell you my theory. Are you sure you want to hear my theory? I will tell you my theory. We are here as an audience only. That’s all they need us for now. Everybody knows that the most important wimwoms in Atlar Li, the German speakers, I mean, the ones who speak German among themselves, in mixed company, in elevators and water closets,  they write awful poems and paint awful pictures and sing awful songs, thought Grebb, as the machine psychologist spoke, and we cheer them. Grebb saw the reason in the machine psychologist’s oft-repeated catechism.

The machine psychologist had explained to Grebb that we now know that the Impossible doesn’t exist. Her old brown eyes had twinkled wateringly at Grebb as she had undone Grebbssarong and mounted Grebb, with shivers,  on the couch.

I was five then, thought Grebb. Do I know any more now than I knew back then?

If I were a small nocturnal mammal in a previous existence, would they admit it to me?

How can this wimwom be so beautiful?

Grebb looked, beyond the sight of Grebbsnewwimwom’s spotted hand on his self-lubricating tool, to the toe-tips of Grebb’s inexpensive shoes. Grebb manufactured a tear which Grebbsnewwimwom licked away with a decent pantomime of erotic relish. Grebbstears were now salted to her taste. Her strawberry-grey tongue touched the tear and absorbed it. Grebb would reclaim that moisture later.

The bigger wimwom who had recently died had bought Grebb those cheap shoes, the cheap shoes he loved,  before dying,  and she had never looked more soft and dilute and foldingly beautiful than on the evening she had stopped breathing. And Grebb had appeared to literally weep tears that were salted to her taste when she died.

Yes, she had relaxed her grip on that high invisible inner cliff and shat her life-quanta out in the form of a flaring spark,  doused in thin gruel, a sudden slight heat in her diapers. Grebb had seen the spark flare and the filament of curlicue smoke rise up after the spark’s dousing… her soul in that smoke … the atoms in that smoke still her …  until the first careless breeze from the first careless movement in the solemn chamber dispersed them.

Goodbye Patrinzia.

But the profound product called Enhanced Lyfe (in all its iterations) goes on.

FOUR STORIES

 

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