Deserter 29’s cubicle was freezing. He could never get feeling to stay in his hands. That numbness was part of why he left. Also the hunger. The army had only allowed crackers and half-rotten bananas into the war for several weeks. 29’s banana that morning had been all rotten. He spurned his crackers in protest. He gave them to 30 and sucked bitterly on thoughts of desertion instead.
All morning, he starved and shivered. 29 deserved better than this. Even if he didn’t, he would rather steal better and see if he was caught. Just before the noontime banana and crackers break, 29 set down his gun and raised his hand. The lieutenant came by, and 29 asked if he could use the bathroom. The lieutenant gave him the key. 29’s teeth chattered angrily as he walked out of the war forever.
He did actually need to use the restroom. It would not do to begin a new life with a bladder so full. Fuck the lieutenant, 29 thought. That drip would have to put in a request to the army for a new key and oversized fob.
29 conducted his business and washed up. He turned for a paper towel. There were no paper towels. He found instead a new-fangled hand dryer. The bathroom had been updated since the last time 29 peed. The dryer stared at 29 from the wall, mounted above the empty wastebin. The brand name SCIMITAR was scrawled across the upper lip of the dryer’s mouth-like vent.
As he jabbed his hands toward the Scimitar, 29 stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He watched his own face as the dryer roared to life. Pulses of air made the skin of his hands dance. The Scimitar bellowed pleasure in its work. 29’s frozen hands were returning to him. He smiled. He was having a handsome day.
29 stood before the Scimitar for hours. His hands went from cold to warm to uncomfortably hot. From wet to dry to desiccated. His skin began to harden and crack. The meat underneath began to roast. Feeling sharpened into pain, pain into desire.
Hands, particularly the hands of a petite man like 29, don’t hold much meat. What flesh there was was stringy and sour-tasting. There is some justice in my tasting this way, he thought while chewing.
The roar of the Scimitar deafened 29. When the guards found the deserter, his skeleton hands rattling in the synthetic wind, he couldn’t hear their commands to surrender. The guards took photos of his rare self-mutilation. Then they shot 29 and put him in the wastebasket, which was happy to have a job again.
So at age 34 I decided I wanted to become a German chocolate cake. One specific German chocolate cake, sold at a vaguely upscale local chain grocery.
My human biological existence, I never questioned that. I loved my wife, my progeny, some of my acquaintances. I fed on their love.
I suspect in their own human cosmologies, they were world-spiders too. Love was flies. Prayers were prayed for the fly community to prosper, to produce a steady supply of sacrifices. That is a gruesome metaphor but life is a gruesome metaphor. I ate and was eaten, I was love. I was also flies.
There was one very hard moment. A close friend of mine—we were out for drinks—says to me, you shouldn’t be a cake. Make cakes instead, if you’re hung up on cake. Become anything but a cake. Become an animal or a ghost, become a box of crackers. Cakes? Cakes are the worst, he said. Think about how caught up in themselves cakes are, how insular and low-stakes the cakecommunity is. Who, he asked, wants to do their time in that shitty prison? Who wants to be a mound of ingredients and then sit there in a pan and become this inane treat, go through that sordid transformation from a tub of glop into this terrible uterine thing and then they paint you like a cheap rotten god? My friend actually says all of this to me in the middle of some random downtown bar. He says, Don’t get caught up in cake life. I nodded like I was hearing him, like his points were flies to sustain me, like he wasn’t eating my only serious dream.
Under midwestern clouds like great gray brains
Clouds like headless sheep
Then a blood red cloud line appeared along the horizon, and grey clouds resembling cement castles with turrets, rested upon it. Yellow clouds rolled above the castles, like immense butterflies unable to find a bush upon which to light.
In a short time all turned scarlet, then purple black, then mauve. At last dark shadows crept over the earth, and all colours merged into blue, through which the stars shone.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
The sun has the attenuated autumn quality of seeming to be behind several panes of glass.
—David Foster Wallace (h/t to M.M.)
(…) pilot-light blue
The clouds that Monday morning were piled up like laundry.
Almost indigo, shot with iridescence as if veins of a newly discovered precious mineral have been exposed
the sky looked like something flat and heavy shoved up against the kitchen window
From where Irene sat, she could see the open sky above the East River. There were hundreds of clouds in the sky, as though the south wind had broken the winter into pieces and were blowing it north …
Deserter 20 realized the four of them had stopped walking. The three goblins were staring at him.
“20,” said Red Dave in an apologetic tone. “We need to talk.”
“Yeah I’d actually been meaning to ask you guys when you thought we might get out of here anyway. Been a long day for me. Shot in the head and heart before noon, reborn in these woods. Haven’t eaten since breakfast. I haven’t seen you guys eat either. We should get something to eat!”
“That’s sort of what we wanted to talk about,” said Thomas.
“Oh OK, so this is like all of you want to talk to me. Not just Red Dave.”
“Yeah this is like a conversation between the goblin community and the human community as represented here.”
Confused cries rose out of the trapped civilians as they winced against wave after wave of swirling moneygarbage. They still clutched wildly through their tears at the passing greenbacks. I could see them all, cowering together in a lump, between the scissoring legs of the circling joggers. Their eyes were wild with a mix of fright and greed.
Deserter 36 transcended electricity. “I’m sick of all this lurid and tawdry convenience,” read a message written in charcoal on a strip of tree bark and posted to his publicist’s account on a popular social networking site.
An account registered to a man who appeared to be a main boss of the army commented on the post shortly after its initial appearance. “YOU HAVE TO USE IT,” he said in regular old typed letters.
The next day, a second photo of tree bark appeared.
“No, fuck you guys, being a dick in this way is permitted,” the faint charcoal lettering spelled.
“Man do we wish we had a pizza.”
The chorus was singing again. Their intonation of the name of the small self-sacrificing god itself spread an awareness of mutual hollownesses in all those present–35, his betrothed, the chorus themselves.
“But we’re skint,” added the chorus of friends.
“Well, I ripped all my money to pieces on purpose,” 35 barked. “It was pissing me off. Fuck those pieces of paper and their attempt to be a decisive part of my life.”
“Fuckin’ A, yeah,” the chorus replied. A few confused looks were exchanged among the singers.
“Destroying it made me feel like a future king of war,” 35 barked. He barked everything he said.
“Fuckin’ A, definitely,” the chorus reiterated, with a hint of tranquilized formality. “But a pizza would be perfect right now. It would satisfy every bodily shortcoming we feel. Hunger. Sensory impoverishment. The understanding of ourselves as people who get to have pizza when the lust for the small god visits. Even our faith in folk notions of when the small god will come, what devotions spur him toward us.”
They all agreed on the desire, and that they lacked the cash required for fulfillment, save one dissenter. The betrothed possessed a line of credit with local merchants. An argument ensued. The disagreement quickly became about more than pizza.
Such urgency was an ugly thing to perceive. The wheels of the hansom cab had set off a hundred miniature thunderclaps, one from every paving stone. The coachman’s face was smeared with contempt for everything that was not greater speed. Even the horses seemed dissatisfied by the cab’s progress through the busy market street. From the window of my garret, I watched the conveyance snort and shove its way through filthy urchins offering squash, melons, puppies. The smells of the fares on offer filled my senses but today was not a day for leisurely commerce, if this was the man I was expecting.
The hansom barreled toward the entrance to the inn, and a man leapt out. A cloud of coins flew over his shoulder as he disappeared from my view. Just seconds later I could make out his crazed footsteps below, climbing the four steep flights of stairs to my room. With each successive THWONK the end drew closer. I turned from the window and awaited the aftermath of this awful crescendo.
The panting messenger, the whites of his eyes flashing like a blade, gasped for air. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his greatcoat, and unburdened himself at last.
“Sometimes,” he snarled, “I change my passwords on websites just to get an e-mail from someone.”