WORDS: TORIE WHITE
IMAGE: MALCOLM PHILLIPS
“There’s something I’m supposed to tell you, isn’t there?” says Maria, pausing for a moment as she straightens her medicine cabinet contents. “Oh, I’ve already forgotten. Just a trace of a thought flit by.”
Alarmed by the poeticism of his wife’s statement, Jacob responds, his eyes alight, “Dear, are you also followed by this constant sense that there’s something you haven’t said? Something critical. And it’s dire, this missed communication.”
“Something I haven’t said?” asks Maria. Her bare feet bulge with purple veins and grow colder and colder against the tiles of the bathroom floor.
“I suppose I meant ‘the general you,’ but yes, you,” responds Jacob.
“Oh no, that’s right. I need you to move the load of laundry from the washer to the dryer while I run to Rite Aid to pick up a scrip.”
Maria hums a tune on her drive to the pharmacy. She thinks to herself, I wish I had grown to like fucking more. Sure, sometimes an orgasm is a nice thing, but so many things are far more interesting aren’t they? Maria hum hum hums her tune, and her thought responds to itself: Yes they are.
She turns right on red and imagines killing herself. A game she calls Surveying the Hypotheticals. A cord around the neck pulled so tight it breaks the skin. A big rock to pin her to the bottom of a pool. A drill and a perfect hole through the wrist, bone, tissue, tendon and all, the orderly exit of blood from the body. An airtight room with no plants and no light and after a few weeks she inhales every last bit of oxygen.
Maria turns on the radio and the very tune she hums wafts out through the speakers. What a magical moment! Perhaps a suicide doesn’t suit the afternoon. She tires of the way she is constantly reconfiguring futures as they blossom and wither in that mind of hers.
It’s a mind wrapped in freckled scalp and red static-electricity hair, a fact she has never considered, for she is too occupied with projecting the content of her mind out into the whole of the universe. In college Maria studied film, and she has always noticed her tendency to find a way out of the frame of her own life. Noticing this has never changed anything though. Her grip on the steering wheel whitens her knuckles and drains her.
Jacob watches television with his computer in his lap while Maria runs out to Rite Aid. He surfs the web and sheet music used to be a multi-million dollar industry and Timothy Leary spoke with Playboy on the matter of acid saying how you make love with candlelight, with sound waves from a record player, with a bowl of fruit on the table, with the trees. Oh yes, you’re in pulsating harmony with all the energy around you. But, the truth of the moment is that Jacob wears shorts even in the winter, and as he sits in the armchair, they hike up exposing scarred knees from childhood games on concrete. The weight of the computer creates dents in his pudgy thighs, and the ball of his bare foot taps the ground incessantly. Clink tick clink goes the bulb in the corner under the heavy maroon lampshade. It occurs to Jacob that this lamp is older than he is, and a prickle of cold sweat dazzles across the back of his neck. Life would be better as light, he thinks.
He holds out hope that the right Google search will show him how he can get his wife to love him again.
A Saturday afternoon special on TV features a man playing a drum kit. The narrator remarks, “He separates time with drumbeats. He could not do this without his wrists, his ankles, his ears. Perspiration drips from his brow and lands on the snare, creating its very own infinitesimal sound. He extracts rhythm through creating contact between objects. If you were here in this room with him, your body would be vibrating at the same frequency.”
Jacob has no idea how glazed his eyes look, but he is inspired. In two seconds, he has three tabs open on the matter of how a drum can vibrate the human body.
Tab one: the College of Sound and Healing wants him to know about the healing power of cat purrs, which range between 20 and 140 hertz. A recent study shows that cat owners have 40% less risk of heart attack. And according to an old veterinary aphorism, if you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room the bones will heal.
Tab two: Helicopter pilots in Vietnam had accidents as a result of a certain rotor speed that caused vibrations, which coincided with the resonant frequency of the human eye.
Tab three: In the mid-20th century, the US army funded research on how to exploit the resonant frequencies of the human body in order to induce diarrhea and rapidly demoralize enemy troops.
Click scroll click. A spot of dark red blood crusts on Jacob’s chin from where, upon waking, he pressed his fingernails against an orb of white puss. The inspiration passes and Jacob changes the channel.
Maria browses the shampoos as she walks toward the pharmacy in the back of the Rite Aid. Without suicide on the docket, there’s reason again to keep her hair clean. A spasmodic gaze flickers from bottle to bottle—sparkling silver, deep purple, lime green translucent. Baby blue, periwinkle, cheek pink coral. She remembers a day in college when she took a shower with her best friend Katherine. Pounding hot water, tongued ears, licked armpits, goose bumps erupted. Tugged fingers through long knotted hair, imitating whiplash, breasts pressed against each other. Coconut shea conditioner, plastic curtain and steam.
A man, who could also be a woman, speaks directly to the camera. “My name is Linka,” says a voice that is vicious and tender like a sibling. Linka has a protrusive collarbone and says more: “We’re all buying in to this idea that the Internet is limitless, when it’s actually bundled up in a couple of giant warehouses in the middle of who-knows-where, and worming across the floor of the Atlantic in fatty black wires. Snip snip and your data is lost, kablang all your zeros and ones out of existence and bingboom you’re left with scrap metal and some rubber for fish to nibble in the deep blue. Info, info, soon we’ll be so stuffed, our bodies forget how to digest. Now choose. How will you fill your--?”
Linka has high circular cheekbones, a cleft chin, and eyelids that fall at the most delicate curvature. Despite the eyes, Jacob decides he must be a he and at last begins to listen. But then of course, the television power cuts out.
Maria, Maria. She stands behind the red line while the old man at the counter loudly requests his gallbladder medication. She has seen him here before. She flips through a magazine and comes across a sunglasses ad. A woman stylized like a Los Angeles lesbian mom poses in $500 frames with a giant red and blue gummy worm, probably ordered off Amazon.com, Maria thinks. She puts in her white earbuds with little China printed on the thin wire and gets to imagining. One: A stop motion video that shows a body in motion but erases everything except the spine, so you just see this curving, bending ladder. How it knows contortion best. Two: friendship is finding your entire body is skewered with splinters and picking them out of one another one by one. A precise gesture, requires stamina. And love (but so does everything!). Jacob, on the other hand, thinks that friendship is starting off in a vat of jelly and crawling out together.
Through the high windows of the Rite Aid, Maria sees the sun begins to set. She pauses to consider the pairing of blue and purple. Bruises are my favorite color—whether they’re gray, brown, eggplant or yellowing. A bruise is like a sunset. As she is waved up to the counter, Maria sighs a sigh of gratitude for and mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry.
The screen is still black, and Jacob stares and thinks: We used to eat breakfast on the floor of this living room. There was a smooth stone statue of a cat on that bookshelf, though at some point we gave it away. It seemed to be howling up at its God. I didn’t know cats did that, until now. There are rocks in your pockets, Jacob, and little pebbles in your bottom eyelids that make your eyes sag down sad-like. Disruption, as Linka flashes back on screen (How rude of us to be sorting through our thoughts all the time, thinks Jacob) and sings a Modest Mouse song. “We have designed, have designed, have designed more unusual things as yet. How often we are confused. How honestly we have tried but will forget.”
Before Jacob knows it, his cheeks are salt wet. His tears turn his vision kaleidoscopic and Linka must be a woman. Her arms are muscular, defined, but that voice, oh that voice. He remembers being a child, his mother singing to him in summertime as he would sit under the sun, sucking water from cold washcloths. What is this show? Jacob wonders as Linka sets her guitar down and stares into the camera without a word.
Linka puts great care into these PSA’s and has been criticized, mostly by family, for trying to draw blood from a rock. But if anyone believes in the day that a rock will finally up and bleed, it’s Linka.
Sure enough, bloody tears descend from those rocky eyes of Jacob, and it strikes him that Linka is someone that that he could fall in love with under the right circumstances. Jacob falls into a deep sleep in the armchair, and eventually wakes up to the sound of Maria’s car pulling into the driveway.
He helps his wife bring in the groceries. It’s snowing out, and where the flakes land on his bare skin, the body quite like a hotplate melts them immediately. He takes a wide step across a rainbow of oil where snowmelt meets car excretion.
“I think I’m coming down with something,” says Maria. She sneezes and the spray from her mouth is illuminated ecstatically for one moment in the yellow sunset light. The saliva mist dances tiny angels. Unfortunately though, Maria and Jacob both blink when this happens.
They carry the brown paper bags inside, and through labored breathing, Maria asks her husband, “Did I ever tell you about that time with Katherine in college?”
“When you had sex in the shower. Yeah.”
There is more to say, of course, there always is. But instead, Maria asks, “What did you do today?”
“Nothing much,” Jacob replies. “Watched TV.”
Later that night, Maria dries her face with the same towel Jacob uses to dry off his dick when he cleans it in the sink after a bout of fucking. The couple gets into bed together between grainy sheets, butts touching through PJ bottoms.
“Did you unload the dryer?” Maria asks.
“Oh no! I completely forgot to move the wash load,” Jacob responds, terrified and still, having forgotten about love.
Maria, however, does nothing about it for she is glued to the bed with the heaviness of NyQuil. She breathes in and out of her mouth and it feels like sandpaper. Her mind turns on itself over and over again. She looks for the great hand that is busy kneading the dough of her brain. Ah yes, there it is, large and fat and illuminated in a blue buzzing glow. When Maria falls asleep, Jacob cries quietly to himself praying there is someone he can blame for his short attention span.
By dawn, mold finds the conditions suitable and begins to grow on the damp clothes in the washer.