“Consciousness is a disease.” – Miguel de Unamuno
Dr. Foster tapped the side of the jar with his ear up to the glass like somebody thumping an avocado, frowning. This “Jason” had always been problematic.
Things were beginning to get complicated, again.
The undercooked potato was not as salty today as it usually was. Was it a sign? Were things not as they seemed? Were the rest of his surroundings equally disjointed and suspect? Should he be paying careful, and discriminatory attention to the rest of the incoming sensory data he was receiving? Were there shadowy and secretive underground forces gathering to de-salinize this potato, and shock necessary and important events into action? Was this some sort of extra-cosmic, interdimensional wake up call? Was this paranoia, or was it happening again? Was there a difference?
“Hey, dude…Hey…hombre…you, man…”
Jason turned, head down, in the direction of the voice. It was a possibility that the patterns on the marbleized floor panels were not as clear or distinct as they usually were.
“Yes?” He replied nervously. He did not look up. Did that curlicue just move?
“Are you okay, man? You don’t look so good. You’re all pale, and sweaty and shit…”
“I’m perfectly fine,” he lied. Who was this person speaking to him? He raised in graduated steps his chin and eyes…wincing…tentative…afraid.
His fears became confirmed:
It was not a blessing to be seeing the things he was now seeing. Everything was turning blue. All over the cafeteria, neon blue, free-floating, human consciousnesses were returning to the room. It was all very logical. School ordinarily made these student consciousnesses flip themselves inside out to ponder their own color and intensity, but they were now popping back into blazing little mind-furnace people balls left and right, making quiet little popping noises people mistook as changes in air pressure. Somehow, he knew it was a good thing. When an inside-out consciousness ball became too overly enamoured with its own personal introspective energy and tremendous internal power, scary things happened to that ball…(how can you play basketball if the basketball bumps and lines are on the inside? What you are playing with becomes, in essence, a dodgeball…)…but all of them unsnapping at once was disorienting and terribly burdensome to the eyes. He whimpered, barely able to keep vertical his neck.
The other had yet to receive a satisfactory answer, and was now staring at him, as he blinked and watered his eyes at the incapacitating blue brightness. This was too much. Was he expected to reply further? He had to leave…the lights were hurting him.
“Excuse me,” he said, wobbling to his feet.
“Excuse me,” he said, tripping to the door.
“Excuse me,” he shouted, already gone, running to someplace else.
“It needs more salt,” said Dr. Foster.
“More salt?” asked Dr. Eugene.
“Yes…the bleeping thingy…the little red button…right here…is showing that the saline content in this particular jar is dangerously low.” He pointed, crinkling his nose so that his spectacles would slide back into place. He didn’t have to wear glasses, but he enjoyed the look. It was very important around here to have the look, and to enjoy having the look. He wasn’t really a doctor, either…none of them really were…but something about the designation made the job easier to do. They all called one another “Doctor.” It was all tremendously professional.
“Ah, I see,” said Dr. Eugene, reaching into his lab coat for the little black notepad that had all of his notes and instructions. “Hmmmm…yes…I wonder how long this little bleeping thingy has been bleeping?”
“Quite some time now, I would imagine,” said Dr. Foster, smugly. He had been sneaking off to the bathroom to fix his hair, check out how his goatee was coming along, tell himself affirming and reassuring things, and perhaps even to take a little nap in one of the stalls, when he noticed that one of the jars in subsubsector C78-89-I was making irritating warning noises, and bleeping red. He had made a mental note, made his exciting visit to the toilet, and run off to find Dr. Eugene to point out the problem and flaw. They were now deeply engaged in the problem-solving process.
“Where do we get more salt?” asked Dr. Eugene, clicking and unclicking his pen.
“I would imagine that these things salinate themselves. I would imagine that it is simply a matter of pressing that button that is lighting up…the one that says “Saline Content Adjustment,” said Dr. Foster.
“Oh, right. Just like a routine protein shock, or a bimonthly blood infusion…” said Dr. Eugene, nodding and making notes. “You are thankfully quite imaginative and insightful, Dr. Foster. I, myself, would have been forced to consult Dr. Dieselman…she usually knows what to do in emergency situations such as these.”
“Brains are much less complex than we make them out to be, Dr. Eugene. One must simply be competent and clinical, and know what one is doing, and the rest takes care of itself. Much easier than Dr. Dieselman is always saying, that’s for sure,” snorted Dr. Foster. The mention of Dr. Dieselman instantly put Dr. Foster on the defensive. He did not like the woman…always acting so smart and cutting and self-important. She didn’t even wear glasses, most of the time.
Dr. Foster wiped his hand on his lab coat, and raised it to the bleeping red button. He looked over at Dr. Eugene, who nodded, his eyes sycophantically mirroring the approval and admiration Dr. Foster felt for himself. He pressed, softly. Nothing happened, so he mashed the button down hard, gritting his teeth silently, and letting loose a cocked elbow. The warning bleeps and lights ceased, and the machine began to spill viscous and sticky-looking liquid into the tank from an unseen tube seeming to have its origins in the ceiling somewhere.
Both doctors breathed a sigh of relief, and shook one another’s hand. They were so smart it was sometimes difficult to be humble.
And it is the paranoid psychotic episodes that are always the toughest on the old think-box. The manic glee that comes with a momentary lapse in responsible consciousness never lasts long enough, and is replaced with a terrible black and depressing reality that can crush, and choke. The horror of the cafeteria made him feel a puppet to the unwanted and determined chemicals inside of his head, and not for the first time. There was no feeling worse than the nagging suspicion that his entire pink-fisted hold on reality was merely a result of some deranged biological principle that specified the arbitrary mixing and pouring of toxic hormones and neurotransmitters inside of his head in an effort to make him completely naked and powerless to the whims of his defective brain. He was a floater in the toilet of his own skull, and he hated getting tipped over, flushed, and sucked down into insanity. Hated it.
He wanted to change himself - always - but he was discouraged by the fact that hadn’t the slightest idea where to begin. He was stubborn, yes, and occasionally very cynical, and cold, and embittered, but he also knew that many of these hated characteristics were unchecked aggressions from his traitorous machine-mind, and that there were always options as far as they were concerned. There was always a choice. He was dynamic, he was liquid, and he was free.
Outside, the sun, angry, oppressive, and greedy for sweat, tyrannized the godforsaken suburban wasteland he now found himself in, a desolate halfway house purgatory with perfectly spaced trees and communal mailboxes. The sun was no fair-haired Apollo today: today he was Incan, and demanded blood sacrifice. Each blink shook draughts of sweat from supersaturated eyebrows, each incremental movement pumped glands and pores for more from dissipating coolant reserves, and each passing second made each passing second more raw and unbearable. There was tension.
So, objectively, when he finally made it to the bridge over the County Bayou where, as a smaller child, he used to go and fling rocks into the water because it was what people did, the view from the edge of the road was quite inspirational, really. He could see the bubbles from where the brown and gunky bayou waters lapped up against the side of the concrete embankment, he could hear the rushing, sucking sound of quickly moving water-mass, and he could smell the gathering grit on his upper lip, where the wind blew it sticky into his peach fuzz.
He was calm. He didn’t think he would be – he never was – but nevertheless.
I shall kill my body, he thought. It will be such a relief to not have these eyes to see with, or these hands to shake, or these nails to chew. My body is the slave here, but my mind is free, he thought, looking down into the shrugging and bored bayou. Those chemicals…those are not me. I know that. I know that I am not brainwashed. There isn’t anyone in control of my thoughts; it is just that my chemicals tend to slosh around lopsided. Watch, he said to himself, I shall think about puppy dogs and rainbows and fresh cocktail shrimp.
He squished his eyelids together, pressed the meat of his palms into his sockets, and thought hard about rainbows, puppy dogs, and fresh cocktail shrimp.
“See?” He said to the bayou, “I go to public school - no one has touched my brain for at least thirteen years.”
The bayou just gargled nonchalantly. He felt like throwing a rock at it. So I shall kill this body, and release myself. I am a mistake. I must be a mistake. This is my chance to fix it, he thought. There isn’t anything stopping me from fixing it. He smiled, and placed a sneaker closer to the railing. One small step for man…
ENTER STICKY TUBE-FLUID
With one toe hanging over the edge, one arm spazzing around in reflex NONONO and a sudden feeling of wrongness, he pushed himself backwards and landed on his butt in the middle of the road. There began in the base of his neck a tingling rush, a stimulated jangle, that tightened the muscles all across his back and shoulders and gave him an intense awareness of the selfish stupidity inherent in the action he had almost undertaken. His blood was pumping. Had it always been pumping like this? He squeaked, and involuntarily began clapping his foot against the ground. The tingling caught, found purchase, and burrowing ecstasy exploded into all of the withered and empty places inside of his brain. All he could think was kaboom, kaboom, kaboom…he stood up - an adrenalated, walking God.
“Wow,” he said to no one in particular, and turned to face the direction he had come from. Mere pendulum swings later, and he was feeling himself again.
I wonder if I could still get some lunch somewhere, he thought…
But the sign on the door said “Press Conference Room.” Inside, there were approximately 300 people elbowed into a too-tiny, smelly, closetous hole of a room - gossiping, gut-laughing at dirty jokes, and exchanging witty remarks about each others husbands, wives, and mothers. Every once and awhile a camera would prematurely ejaculate, kerflash, pissing all of the non-photographers off, and rendering them unable to finish their sentences about where The New York Times could stick it, and how deep. It was a mosh pit without the togetherness, and with the extra element of pointy mechanical pencils with which to gouge and jab others.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the press,” said Dr. Alessandro. Without them noticing, the reason for today’s press conference had ascended the podium in the far corner of the room and was smiling with wizened, crinkly aplomb at the now-murmuring reporters and photographers.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“I trust you found the refreshments…refreshing?” At the credentials table there were whole platters of untouched pimento cheese sandwiches and pitchers filled with warm, iceless Kool-aid. The reporters and photographers all laughed knowingly together: there were nudges and good-natured head shakes.
FOOD TERRIBLE AT RESEARCH LABORATORY PRESS CONFERENCE
Headline, Birmingham Daily Register
“Excellent,” said Dr. Alessandro, “Then shall we begin?” He smiled a suave Vincent-Price-smile as he strolled over to a tarp covered object in the opposite corner of the room, carrying the microphone, and intentionally avoiding eye contact with the ladies and gentlemen of the press as he traversed their ranks. He stopped next to the shoulder-high, vaguely cylindrical object and turned to regard the nation.
“Rene Descartes is traipsing around Paris one day, deep in thought and lost to the world, when he all of a sudden finds himself standing in the middle of the street, in the process of making an illegal crossing. A gendarme taps him on the shoulder, and angrily confronts the errant philosopher.”
“Sir,” he says, “You are jaywalking! Sacrebleu! You, sir, are under arrest!”
“Descartes is taken before the magistrate, who lines up all of the days violators and arrested, and begins to proceed down the line, questioning: “Guilty or not?” The line of suspected jaywalkers is long, Descartes is toward the end, and he spends the time ruminating on new, exciting methods of thought. Finally, the magistrate reaches Mr. Descartes, and asks: “Guilty or not?’”
“Not,” says Descartes. And disappears.”
There were a few polite chuckles from the rear half of the room. The crowd was sufficiently warm enough for Dr. Alessandro.
“But seriously. I have gathered you here today at this secluded and clandestine island research laboratory to reveal to you one of the most astounding accomplishments of human existence in the history of human existence, and hopefully to clear up a few previously misunderstood secrets of the universe. We here on this island feel that it is our duty to relate to you the discoveries we have discovered, and to keep you abreast of the situation we are in the process of finding ourselves in.”
(“Get a close-up of his shifty little ethnic eyes,” whispered a television reporter to his attendant cameraperson.)
“This is some astounding stuff here, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, for the past seven years, this secluded and clandestine island research laboratory has been publishing papers in many reputed scholarly journals under the pseudonym Dr. A. Sacirl on such isolated topics as Keeping Alive a Human Brain in a Jar for the Purposes of Study and Research; Nature vs. Nurture: Maybe Everyone is Just A Human Brain in a Jar Somewhere; Big Glass Jars, and What They Are Good For; and we even published in Playboy magazine, with our color pictorial, The Girls of Secluded and Clandestine Island Research Laboratories. These articles had previously been received with very little fanfare or attention, except for a few phone calls from a man who called himself Wee Willie Winky, and refused to identify himself any farther than his name and heavy breathing, but, that’s how we wanted it. In fact, to the rest of civilized society, we hardly even exist. I am surprised you are all here, but I am nonetheless quite pleased by your attendance at this momentous occasion. And now, without any extra ado…”
With a tricksterly flourish, like a borderline disordered personality removing the tablecloth beneath an expensive crystal place setting, he grabbed one corner of the blue plastic tarp and yanked, manic glee flashing across his otherwise stoic countenance, and he tossed the tarp aside, raising his hands in triumph and exultation.
“Behold!” he shouted, now grinning. “The future of mankind!”
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
There was a jar. A large jar, with a whole attached network of computers, sensors, buttons and whizmos. It rose up off the floor like an upended clear plastic bottle, and was capped with a stainless steel helmet that seemed to rise up and down hydraulically, serving some sort of metronomic regulatory function. Inside the jar, floating daintily inside a muckish green bath of chemicals and nutrients, was a small, unassuming, human brain. So many cords and wires and electrodes and multi-colored insulated extensions were poking and twisted into it, that it looked like a piece of pocket lint, or an obstruction inside a kitchen drain. It was grotesque, but marvelous.
“My God!” somebody screamed.
“No, this is Herbert,” said Dr. Alessandro, deftly deflecting the interjection, “a thirteenth-century Benedictine monk cloistered in seclusion in an abbey somewhere in the south of France. His favorite color is green, his favorite pass-time is the illumination of ancient Augustinian church documents, he is 5’9,’’ and a Capricorn. Right now…” he leaned over and checked a screen filled with too many blinking numbers and convoluted equations too complex to be interesting to the collective journalistic mind, “…he is asleep.”
The jar bubbled enthusiastically.
“As you can see, Herbert here is missing his body of vital organs and sensory receptors. He is nothing more than a cranium, a brain, a noodle, a…noggin. Herbert, of course, does not know this – Herbert knows nothing but Herbert. That is to say, he is completely convinced of the reality that he is living in, immersed completely in even the smallest details of his daily monastic existence. He sleeps, eats, sees, hears, has complex philosophical thoughts, becomes sexually aroused, dreams, doubts, reasons, and affirms. He thinks, therefore he is. He is a triumph, ladies and gentleman.”
Dr. Alessandro scanned the room, mentally taking the quotient of blank stares over interested scowls and proceeding to elaborate.
“What we do, is we take a human brain, and we eliminate all of its unnecessary and redundant functions, placing it back into a prenatal state of constant REM sleep. The whole procedure is very complex, but, at a certain point, we “wake it up” per se, and a very interesting thing begins to happen. The brain begins to create its own reality. It usually limits itself to human laws of physics, but, often, it is even capable of transcending these arbitrary boundaries of consciousness, and creating paradises and hells, purgatories and, in the case of Herbert, thirteenth-century French monasteries. One might now be questioning how we know so much about the realities these brains-in-jars are experiencing, and that, friends, would be some intelligent questioning indeed. Thankfully, we have an answer. Allow me to introduce you good people to the Visio-Spatial Alternate Reality Viewing Device, the VISPALREVIDE, a handy little computer simulation channeled from a brain’s occipital cortex and that allows us to see what the brain sees.”
He flipped a switch on the wall, twiddled a rheostat next to it to dim the lights, and crossed his arms. A monitor lowered from the ceiling and kersproinged to life. There was complete and total blackness at first. And then more blackness. Minutes later, as the reporters began to exchange worried looks and to resume murmuring, the blackness remained constant.
Finally, one of the other doctors in attendance, a woman, thirtyish, with her black hair pinned back and bunned, made her way to Dr. Alessandro and whispered urgently into his ear.
“Right, I see,” said Dr. Alessandro. He nodded to the woman, and turned back to the confused assembled media bonanza. “As I said, right now Herbert is asleep. This is what it looks like for Herbert to be asleep. Moving right along…”
He nervously made a few quick head-bobbing and facial signals to his fellow doctors, and then regained his composure with a charming, and comforting, smile.
“The Audio-Spatial Alternate Reality Listening Device is just as key and important to our research as the VISPALREVIDE. Dr. Dieselman, the AUSPALRELIDE, please…”
The monitor folded back into the ceiling, and was quickly replaced by a black speaker box angled at the crowd and cut into malignant little sectional pieces. The rheostat was twiddled backwards, the lights undimmed, and the speaker box began to emit a thin, high pitched whine that gradually became the sound of soft snoring. In the audio-spatial distance, one could hear the sounds of chanting and bells…maybe even a bird chirping.
“Amazing!” shouted Dr. Alessandro, stepping in, and motioning for someone to turn it off.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
The consensus among the ladies and gentlemen of the press was that this was shaping up to be a pretty good story.
“As I’m sure you progressive and in-tune ladies and gentlemen of the media can gather, this astounding phenomenon and its implications are far-reaching and earth shattering. We are beginning to redefine just what exactly the cogito is, and are breaking pristine virgin ground in usually untouchable philosophical fields. What is the true nature of consciousness, and what are the limits of reality and the universe? Soon, we shall have a definitive answer, and we can all stop torturing ourselves with these heavy questions and go and get real jobs. That’s about it, actually. Are there any questions?”
The crowd began to squeem with life, bopping around agitatedly with confusion and trying its damnedest to think up some good questions for this nutbar.
“Mike Justice, Atlanta Tribune. Dr. Alessandro, isn’t it true that you are not a doctor at all, but are in fact an eccentric billionare American-expatriate with a shady past and connections with several American terrorist organizations?”
“Yes, sadly it is true…” said Dr. Alessandro.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“Sheila Vixen, The L.A.lien. Where do you get the brains that go in the glass jars?”
Dr. Alessandro shrugged.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“Gunther Underdunk, The Daily Honolulan. How can you even begin to justify the ethics behind what it is that you are doing?”
Dr. Alessandro shrugged.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“Ricardo Ramirez-Gonzales, Channel 2, WGIJ, Chicago. Does it ever cross your mind that you have no right to play God, Dr. Alessandro?”
“Sometimes,” said Dr. Alessandro.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“Wee Willie Winky, unaffiliated. Would it be possible for me to see some hooters?”
“No, not at this time,” said Dr. Alessandro.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“Horace Manasses, Birmingham Daily Register. Is all the food on the island as bad as the food you guys had for us today? Because, man, I hate pimento cheese…”
“I like pimento cheese,” said Dr. Alessandro.
KERFLASH KERFLASH KERFLASH
“Thank you,” said Dr. Alessandro, “But I’m afraid our time is up. Please don’t forget to pick up your press kits on the way out, and please don’t hesitate to call our 1-800 number if you have any other questions or concerns. You guys have a nice day.”
Nice days and Santa Claus hung out in bars together and drank martinis. Now he was lying on his bed in the dark, an emotional traffic accident with messy casualties and Newscopter coverage. He was listening to soft music and trying desperately to fall asleep, sprawled out, with one cheek pressed against his pillow, his shoulders parallel to the floor, and his arms and legs warped around in different directions and angles. He liked his music like he liked his friends: complicated, intelligent, and psychedelic. Right now, however, he was listening to the classical music station, willing to let somebody else choose his company for the afternoon.
The phone rang, just as he was drifting away, and he groaned.
It rang again. It must be serious, he thought. He bucked himself over to his phone, and lifted it with two fingers over to his ear. Nothing happened. He then pressed the “Talk” button.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hey, what’s up, Jason?” (This was an actual greeting. “What’s up?” It was completely devoid of any meaning. A response to the question was not even expected. It was even okay to answer the question with another question, like so): “How are you doing?”
“Hey, what are you up to tonight?” (Answers to questions were a premium in modern conversation.) It was a friend of his from school. He had many friends, as the functionally insane are often quite interesting and popular people. He didn’t cultivate friendships; people just seemed to glom onto him, like mercury in a glass dish. This particular friend’s name was Steven, he was short, had black hair, and they both had comparable taste in movies and music, which gave them enough conversational fodder to form a sustaining and healthy platonic relationship. Steven also had a car, and didn’t mind driving, which was nice. Jason hated to drive. His one gripe about Steven was that sometimes, when they were out together, and Jason wasn’t thinking about Steven, Steven would disappear. Completely. Jason would have to consciously make an effort to imagine Steve existing before he would pop back into place. Seeing bubbles of free-floating human mental processes was one thing, but spontaneous inexplicable abduction was a whole different league of mind napalm. It was irritating.
“Well, I was asleep,” Jason replied, after much deliberation, “I might do that some more, as the evening unfolds…”
“Somebody said they saw you duck out during lunch today…you alright?”
“Just feeling a tad suicidal.”
“Yeah, I get that too, sometimes,” said Steven. “Killing yourself would be cheating,
“Yeah, you gotta play the game…you can’t decide to quit and kill yourself. Even murder is better than suicide. At least then you are contributing to society…giving reporters and lawyers something to do…”
“I never thought about it that way. Like a game. It seems somehow incredibly immature.”
“No way, man…just practical. Life is just one big monopoly board. Sometimes you have to go to jail, sometimes you win beauty contests, and sometimes you land on fucking free parking and just want to kill yourself. But you can’t quit playing. Eventually you’ll go bankrupt naturally. It’s honorable.”
“So you want to go see a movie tonight?”
“No, not really.”
“I just don’t feel like it.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“Not in a movie mood, I guess.”
“Okay. Well. I guess I’ll talk to you later, then. Sorry for waking you up…”
He tossed the phone over to near the receiver and lay back down. It was no good. The classical music was just annoying now, and he began to question the productive merits of sleep, a line of thought that inevitably led to his getting up and doing something distracting. He began watching his ceiling fan, trying to isolate individual blades out of the swirling mess. The gauzy feeling inside of his head was either tiredness, or depression. Tiredness was good: he could drink a cup of coffee, and feel completely better. Depression would be more difficult to get rid of, but he made up his mind to try, were that the case. He caught a blade with his eyes, and watched it spin, moving his eyes in precise synchronous loops. He wondered if his eyes were as deep set and darkened as they felt like they were.
Mary was having a very exciting day. On her way home from schooling, she had picked up a hitchhiker, and taken him thirty miles out of her way, hypnotized by his cryptic and obscure thoughts. He wasn’t an ordinary drifter. He was scruffy, but the first thing she had noticed about him was the expensive portable stereo he had been listening to when she had stopped and asked if he had needed a lift.
“There are three things I can tell you about life, Mary,” said this Clinton McCormack fellow after they had exchanged names and driven in silence for a good, comfortable space.
“The first thing is: you should stay off the pot,” he glared at her, one eye open. He had a few weeks worth of greyish beard going, and cartoonish cheek wrinkles deep enough to conceal all the answers to the mysteries of the world. “I don’t think I need to say any more about that.” He grunted, satisfied.
“Second thing is: you should run a marathon. They are good for you. You’d be surprised what you find out about yourself out there. If not a marathon, at least take up jogging.”
“The third thing is, Mary, you should fall in love. You got a boyfriend?”
Mary shook her head, only looking at the road now every once and awhile to make sure she was still on it.
“You should find a nice boy, and fall yourself in love. Find yourself someone you can talk to. Best thing in the world.” He laughed to himself, and put his earphones back in. Mary began to smile.
The phone rang again. He picked it up as soon as the ring ended, with grandma-like speed and efficiency. He was on top of the situation. He was Superman.
It was a female voice, which made him sit bolt upright in bed and turn on the lamp. It was somehow indecent to receive a female phone call lying down in the dark. He quickly checked to make sure his fly was buttoned.
“Hello, is Jason there?” the voice had said. The voice was deep and husky, unaffected, and powerful. It seemed so strange, coming from his phone…his name contained in the strength of that voice.
“Yes, you have reached the Jason. First try, too.” What a wit he had…
He knew the girl from school. Her name was Mary, and he was in one of her classes. English.
“Hello, Mary…” It felt somehow very exciting to say her name. She was a quite striking girl. Fair and quiet, and incredibly intense. One of those girls that shocked the mind into fantasy, and made him unconsciously create elaborate biographical scenarios, gooey speculation and conjecture, that added to her mystique without her even twitching an eyelash. He often watched her, and wondered.
In his dealings with the opposite sex, he was a rare bird indeed. He tended to treat women exactly the same as he did other males, with the same androgynous air of distant amiability. Occasionally, he was indeed flirted with, which made him acutely uncomfortable, mostly manifested in his inability to do anything with his hands, but he always did his best to discourage the efforts of the vagina-bound to penetrate into his callused little shell, steering them into a comfortable pocket of friendship easy enough to maintain. It was in their best interests, to be sure.
That is not to say that he did not often feel the twin prickling flagellum of desire and curiosity. In his distant staring way, he would often in fact examine this very same Mary as she sat in her desk, sitting in a variety of uncomfortable-looking, exotic positions, and seeming to take up space in a more completed way than anyone he had ever stared at before. Sometimes she would sit with her knees squished into her desk so they were pointing straight up and out into the air. There were only inches between each of her knees, but those inches were the Sahara of seduction.
“I was just wondering if you might like to go and get some coffee or something…you know, talk.”
“Me?” asked Jason, feeling his stomach, intestines, and gonads drop out of his bottom, gather together on the floor, and scuttle into his closet, banging the door shut behind them.
“Yeah, I just thought you might want to. I don’t know. Do you have anything better to do?”
“No! No. That sounds lovely. Coffee, eh? I could use a cup of coffee. Might I inquire as to the nature of the invitation?”
“I don’t know…I just kind of wanted to get to know you better, I guess. You always seem so fascinated by my legs in class,” she said. He could feel his heart begin to do the moonwalk. All of a sudden he was positive someone had splashed him in the face with a bucket of warm blood. His spine began to play love serenades, as if it had become some sort of biological accordion. “I thought you might be up for some company.”
“Rather forward of you,” said Jason.
“I suppose,” said Mary.
“I’m kind of in a tragically underwhelmed mood right now, (he paused, hoping she would catch onto the hilarity of this flippant, inverted syntax) and I’d like to turn that around, so coffee does indeed sound delightful. Where shall we meet?”
Was he just hearing things, or was that the sound of two perning gyres beginning to stabilize and become solid off in the distance somewhere? Things were beginning to simplify. It was all very exciting. And not just for him…
“So tell me what exactly the problem is here, Dr. Dieselman?”
Dr. Dieselman shuffled her papers, and frowned. “Well, we seem to have developed some sort of synchronicity.”
Dr. Foster sniffed, and smirked at Dr. Alessandro, stroking his goatee. “Synchronicity…” he muttered to Dr. Eugene under his breath. Dr. Eugene smiled appropriately.
“So tell me what exactly does that mean, Dr. Dieselman?” asked Dr. Alessandro.
Dr. Dieselman stuck her tongue out at Dr. Foster when nobody was looking.
“Well, it seems that two of the units have begun to operate in concordant realities. Synchronized,” she said. “We don’t know how this happened, but we feel it might be a problem.”
“A problem?” asked Dr. Eugene.
“Yes, it may mean we screwed up in controlling and deconditioning them, somehow,” said Dr. Dieselman.
“So tell me what exactly do you mean by concordant realities, Dr. Dieselman?” asked Dr. Alessandro, beginning to get annoyed.
“Well, essentially, these two units are simultaneously experiencing the same bits of existence. They have created the same reality for themselves, and are living together in it, interactively. They are talking to each other, seeing each other, and feeling each other, from what we can ascertain from the information we are getting. We have moved them, units “Jason” and “Mary,” into a private research laboratory for intensive study, and are thinking about maybe shutting them off altogether. It’s just too weird.”
“Shutting them off?” asked Dr. Eugene.
“Yeah, you know, so we can dissect their brains,” said Dr. Dieselman.
“Ah,” said Dr. Eugene, nodding. “Interesting.”
“Ha!” snorted Dr. Foster, kicking Dr. Eugene under the table, “What a stupid idea…”
Dr. Dieselman glared at him. Dr. Foster glared right back. Dr. Alessandro sighed. Dr. Eugene began to hum absentmindedly, rubbing at his shin.
“Well, what do you propose we do, Dr. Foster?” asked Dr. Dieselman, flexing her eyebrows menacingly.
“I think that we should pursue the only ethical option, which is, and I’m sure Dr. Eugene will agree with me here, to stabilize them, lock them up somewhere, and not tell anybody. It’s the only sensible decision, to be sure. We will monitor their progress, and write a book. I’m sure it would make a very successful television movie,” said Dr. Foster, taking off his glasses and polishing them with his coat sleeve.
“Yes,” said Dr. Alessandro, contemplatively, “Television movie. I like that. It smells like a winner. What do you think Dr. Dieselman?”
“Alright, but I get firsties on dessert tomorrow. And, I want a better parking space. This was my discovery, you know,” said Dr. Dieselman under her breath, obviously fuming, but willing to pick her battles.
“Of course,” said Dr. Alessandro, chuckling. “What good’s a momentous discovery without a bit of credit, eh? Firsties it is.”
It is coffee that is magical, though. A commodity, to be sure, and therefore false, but there is magic in it somewhere nonetheless. Perhaps it has something to do with the heat of it, memories of hot chocolate in youth during cold safe winter days, or maybe it is the unspoken, sneaky psychogenic drug that both facilitates conversation and manufactures a sense of general well-being, but either way, it had the both of them glassy eyed and deeply connected to each other on some other plane, where men were boys and women were equal.
“Mary, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who feels that way about life,” said Jason, “You’re really something very special.”
“Thank you, Jason,” said Mary; “I wholeheartedly reciprocate. Just being near you makes me feel so real, so valuable.”
“Honestly, if I could stay here, right next to you, for the rest of my life, I don’t think I could be happier,” said Jason.
“Amen,” said Mary.
“I feel so much better. The day started out kind of terrible, to tell you the truth. But now…”
“That’s love for you.”
Dr. Dieselman intentionally gave Dr. Foster the smallest piece of birthday cake at the Lab’s annual memorial birthday party for B.F Skinner, laughing softly to herself, and licking the knife before she cut.
“Mary, your eyes are like diamonds, cutting right straight into my heart.”
“Jason, your teeth are so straight…and you never had braces…”
“Your hand is so soft, and gentle. What kind of moisturizing cream are you using?”
“I don’t use any moisturizing cream. But thank you.”
Dr. Foster sneaked into the women’s bathroom late at night and put all of the toilet seats up. He even removed the scented hand-washing liquid and replaced it with a wedge of off-brand bar soap.
Jason produced a flower from behind his back, and gave it to Mary.
Mary gave Jason a kiss.
A year can pass quickly if one is not careful.
Dr. Eugene sat in the darkened room and spat tears out of his eyes like winter snowstorms, unique tiny little silver eyeflakes gushing from his temples and melting all over his shoulders, whirling and soaking and cooling. Between gasping sobs, he would stuff his mouth full of hot, buttered popcorn and chew noisily, smacking and spewing, and reveling in his aloneliness. Two AUSPALRELIDEs and VISPALREVIDEs were running in the dark little room, connected to two floating brains, softly showing him the lives of two people as he was watching and crying and eating popcorn. His coat was in a ball next to his chair, forgotten, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, out of the way. He came here every day after work and didn’t leave until two, sometimes three in the morning. His wife was having an affair with the lawyer next door, but he honestly didn’t care. He was addicted to Jason and Mary.
In front of him two faces were looking out at him, looking at each other, smiling and baiting, and cooing, and glancing. They held hands. It was split-screen finger puppetry. Right now inside their brains they were alone together in a house somewhere, lying down on a bed and talking about their dreams and fears. They were so beautiful. They didn’t exist except in each other’s minds, and every day that he watched them they grew more and more beautiful. They grew and became the mythic lovers they thought each other to be, as Dr. Eugene watched, not able to take it all in, limited to, and therefore skewered by, their subjective perceptions.
“Promise me you’ll never leave me, Jason. I don’t think that I could handle it now.”
The voice was perfect. The world around him was frequently very much exponentially less than perfect, but that voice hit the spot right now, thought Dr. Eugene.
“I promise, Mary. Eternity is forever, right?”
Was that a cliché? It didn’t matter. How beautiful the banal had become. They were staring into each other’s eyes, laadeedaa, and it was the most overwhelming piece of beauty he had ever seen. He looked back and forth playing picture tennis, and wept, and ate, and felt himself alive. He reached into his pocket and fished out the memo he had received today from Dr. Dieselman. There was a lengthy report on what might happen to the project if word got out that two of the brains were interacting in a human manner, and there was this directive: Units “Mary” and “Jason” to be terminated and brought exclusively to me for further study. This anomaly must have closure. A year ago, Dr. Foster would have been majestically pissed, but gradually he had completely forgotten about the entire malfunction, and was now busy training rat brains to add and subtract two digit numbers. This would all end soon, thought Dr. Eugene, doubling over under a fresh spasm of grief, and shoving the memo back into his pants.
Or would it, he thought, reflecting on the striking similarity of units “Warwick” and “Estelle” to the two brains sharing his present space. Perhaps there were alternatives. There sure are a lot of empty janitorial closets in this secluded and clandestine island research laboratory, thought Dr. Eugene, watching the two children kiss on the big screen, and drying his eyes with the back of his big hairy hand.
Mary lay curled up against Jason on the soft double bed, wispily tucked into his folds with her head against his chest. She quietly listened to the sound of his sleeping breathing, and let her mind play, seized uncharacteristically with the desire to reflect on all that her life had become. Normally she was filled with visions of future joys, but now, she was ultimately content to relax in the present. She closed her eyes.
Dr. Dieselman lay down her cards and walked over to the two vats silently black on the dolly-cart.
“Don’t peek, Chester,” she said, “I’m watching you.”
“I won’t,” said Dr. Alessandro. He had two kings, and two nines. He knew she had three twos, because everything in the room was heavily polished, stainless, sterilized mirrored steel. Peeking was for amateurs.
“Jason. Mary,” said Dr. Dieselman, reading the stats, “Excellent.”
Mary rolled over in her sleep, moaning and waking up chilly with sweat. She looked at Jason, caught her breath, and grabbed him, squeezing hard. Things felt different.
All of a sudden it was as if there was no longer any reason to be anxious, or depressed, or sullen, or anything, except calm and patient, and ready for whatever would come next. Her thoughts began to become solid chunks, each new thought crystallizing on top of the next, reaching what she had previously believed to be an unattainable permanence. It was as if the vast amount of frightening space inside of her head that she had grown accustomed to being afraid of in some sort of delusional self-agoraphobic way was filling up with these bricks of pure intellectual substance, and her conscious idea of herself was being squeezed against the top of her mind, stretching, almost ready to burst. It felt great. Of course, she was quickly losing the ability to have thoughts like “it felt great,” because her idea of “it,” like “felt,” and “great,” would become a piece of mental imagery assigned to crush her out of existence just as soon as it was apprehended and consciously imagined. Her senses were blinking out one by one, she began to lose any prioperceptive idea of where her limbs hung in space, and she no longer even cared. This was ultimate freedom, she realized, as the thought froze and slid into its allotted slot. The freedom to exist and to not feel anything except this joy of complete togetherness. He who I feel because I want to. When the bricks of thought ceased to be produced, and there was nothing, there was him. And he had her. And that was all.
Dr. Eugene smiled, and locked the door. Brain grafting was easy, once you figured out what was absolutely necessary for minimal life, and what was bonus. He hoped the two would be happy. He hoped the spinal fluid stains on his lab coat would come out with a little Spray N’ Wash. C’est la vie. Life was good, thought Dr. Eugene, as he tucked the key into his pocket.
“Eugene, my man,” said Dr. Eugene to himself, casually making sure no one had seen him leave, “Eugene, my man, I think things are going to be allllllllright.” To create and destroy, erect and undermine, gave Eugene his place in life, but what good was meaning without value? Sometimes science had to just let product be, and step to the side, to follow afterwards. Eugene would submit his resignation in the morning.