Monday, July 31, 2006

Untitled Apocalypse Part 1.

He was away when the world ended. A patient at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Detox Center, he was not allowed to watch TV and did not get to see civilization crumble, did not witness the riots in the street, the cars and city busses overturned, the stores looted and houses burned. He only saw the anxious faces of his caretakers, saw them whispering to each other in the hallway and began to notice the decided lack of effort going into his well paid for upkeep. The last meal he received was a handful of oyster crackers and a bowl of not quite solidified Jell-O.

The next day there was nothing, and the day after that he ventured out of the safety of his butter yellow room to complain. But by then, he was the last one left. Chairs and carts were left overturned in the hallway. All the calming prints of Monet’s haystacks had been torn from the walls. All the rooms were devoid of patients and in some even the mattresses were gone. The Ping-Pong table in the rec. room had been smashed to pieces and the front doors had been left wide open and unguarded. A few dead leaves blew in, skidding across the floor symbolically.

He went back to his room, dressed, packed up his belongings and checked himself out. He was cured anyway—it had not been much of a problem; his only addiction was mild and particular: a habit for a concoction of his own invention composed mostly of Alka-Seltzer Cold Plus with a shot of Robitussin. Sometimes served with ice, depending on his mood and the weather.

As he walked down the empty street, over broken glass, passed the burned out shells of cars, passed bodies stacked up like fire wood, he was remarkably unfazed. The world, to him, had always seemed on the verge of some cataclysmic end. It was no great surprise or disappointment to find out it had finally occurred, or that it had happened while he had been catching up on his reading in a quiet room.

Newspapers blew by in balls of post-apocalyptic tumbleweed in the street. He stopped to scan the headline of a page of the financial section caught beneath his feet. The dollar was down against the pound or the peso, but this hardly seemed an explanation for this final turn of events. What was buck or a quid here or there? Well, now it was nothing. It was probably disease anyway, or maybe a war or maybe an election—it did not matter. He was the master of all now; the world was his rapidly spoiling oyster.

He would stop at a drug store, fix himself a drink and ponder his next move.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Aqua Velva

Aqua Velva was her name. Her parents were funny like that. Named after her grandfather, who was not himself named Aqua Velva but reeked of it so much that everything that he touched smelled of it. And when he died, the possessions that were handed down from him had the same smell, and all of his children who had inherited these bits and pieces of him—his car, his house, his records and cardigan sweater—would smell like him for decades later.

Aqua Velva’s parents had received a toaster oven and a TV in the final distribution, and even these stank of the old man’s aftershave—though to an admittedly lesser degree than the sweater.

And something else about the TV: though it was not large (a twenty-one inch screen), the set weighed so much that it took six men to carry it from the old man’s house to his youngest son’s small bungalow only three doors down the street.

The six men were like pall-bearers carrying the TV down the steps, down the street and into the son’s house. And two of the men had even been pall-bearers for the old man’s funeral and had remarked to each other when the job was done that the corpse had been considerably lighter than his TV.

They put the TV set in the basement—perhaps fearing no other floor could hold the weight, and there it remained forever.

Aqua Velva was born a year later and grew up watching that TV. And sometimes she thought about the grandfather she never knew, even as the scent of him finally faded and the TV now smelled of nothing but electricity, warm plastic, burning dust.

Her own parents eventually died, leaving her the condo but no particular smell. She went on with her life with the perpetual image of mom, dad, and grandpa looking down on her from a cloud. She could see them there, with elbows propped in white fluff. Maybe halos. Somewhere a harp.

It made sex difficult for her and eventually she painted the ceiling of her bedroom black, figuring that would help. It did some.

Whenever she met someone new, they asked her about her unusual name. Sometimes she told them about her grandfather. Sometimes she lied.

It’s French, was her favorite lie. A name of royalty. A wealthy and powerful family that had lost their heads during the French Revolution. During the High Terror, when the streets ran with blood and the usual raw waste.

It doesn’t sound French, the people would sometimes say.

It’s old French, she would tell them as they slowly lost interest and the day wound down and she went home to the house her parents had left her. She would watch TV for awhile in the basement, before going up to bed. Her old bedroom. Then she would fall asleep staring into the blackness of the ceiling. She would dream but without pictures or colors. Then she would awake and do it all again.

Friday, July 07, 2006


He invented a teakettle with jaws powered by industrial strength titanium springs and a tiny electric motor. This kettle could chew up tealeaves and spit them out into an attached, chrome-plated miniature spittoon. Maybe the spittoon would be sold separately—he hadn’t figured things out that far. Actually, he hadn’t quite invented the atomic, self-chewing, teakettle yet either. So far it was only a vision he had, while waking up this morning in his basement apartment. Feet and the lower halves of legs were moving by the window above his bed—actually only a mattress on the floor. And a few small dogs—their whole bodies visible. One of them even paused to piss on the glass of his wndow.

None of this had anything to do with tea or teakettles, but the mind is a mysterious thing.

He was an inventor, or would be once he invented something. He went to the bathroom and shaved with a disposable razor that was several months passed its reasonable life expectancy. He cut himself in several places, dotted the places with torn-off corners of toilet paper.

“I am inventor,” he told his bloody, tissued self in the bathroom mirror. This was empowering. This was self-actualizing. This attached industrial strength titanium springs to his soul, his heart or his sense of self-worth. He had read a book once about this sort of thing.

He brushed his teeth and spit and imagined another invention—a tooth brush that did all the work, moving up and down the surface of the teeth by some mechanism or another, a tiny powerful motor, maybe the brushes even spinning too, getting all the difficult to reach parts… Oh yeah. They already had those. What was he thinking?

After that, he dressed and went upstairs to the front door. He forgot to take the tissue off and several school girls walking by laughed at him. He did not realize his mistake until he was at his bus stop and man in a dark suit who was waiting for the same bus pointed it out to him.

He brushed the pieces of tissue away—they were dry now, like crumbs with a fluffy edge and said: “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” the man said and the bus came. They both got on and found a seat near the back. They sat together, and the inventor wondered if people would think they were friends. He did not know the man. He had not seen him at the bus stop before. But the inventor started to like the idea of being mistaken for his friend and as the bus ride went on he leaned closer and closer toward the stranger.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Edison #23, Robot Inventor

I will give you back your sparkling city then, the new one you clamor for, the one you saw once in a dream. I will build it back up before your eyes. See it prodding with its sharp white points at a blue heaven? Spiraling highways, three layers of hovering cars, rocket ships carving arcs across the sky. Everything shiny and piled high as it should be; this is the wedding cake for the marriage between technology and the human spirit. Look how much the happy couple has made of it all—how great their love must be. Look at all that has been baked and constructed upon this earthy platform to celebrate the undying and fully requite affection between man and what man can do.

I give you all this, but then a grey sheet of clouds passes over it. An ash-like snow collects on the monorails and travel tubes, on the spires and moving sidewalks. It has always been so bright and sunny here, but now these flakes gather like a heavy dust over all of our accomplishments.
A Robot, on his way to work, looks up at the sky and wonders how things could have changed so suddenly.

It started out so nice today, he says to a passing stranger.

You know what they say about the weather around here, the stranger says. If you don’t like it, hang around for a few minutes and it’ll change.

Ha ha ha, the robot says, but it is only because of a switch he has politely flipped on in his brain. He has heard this joke 342 times before. Just wait a few minutes. Boy, that’s for sure, the Robot says.

But the stranger has already moved on. The sidewalk has carried him to the corner where he steps off and must cross the street under his own limping power.

The Robot steps onto a platform and sinks quickly beneath the pavement. The layers of pipes, cables and sewers that support this city pass by him as he descends lower and lower. It is dark here and unadorned, because it is for him and his kind and they do not require light or frills or faux wood paneling. He is finally dropped onto a speeding conveyor belt far below the city. It is filled with robots of all makes and models, rushing through the darkness on their way to work. The only lights are the various red or green glowing eyes and diodes of the robots. Overhead, dim objects—pipes, beams, the ragged cement feet of buildings dangling through the ground-- slide by at an alarming rate. There is the whir of the great gears turning, and the rushing of black air.

The Robot senses his stop approaching (a beeping sound has begun in his brain) and extends his arm upward just in time to grasp onto a metal handle hanging from a thin metal cable. The handle pulls him out of the masses and flings him upward through a hole in the ceiling. He is shot like a bullet through a long, black tube before finally exiting the transit system with a quiet pop as he is pushed out of a hole in the sidewalk and lands with a soft metallic clink onto the pavement.

Home sweet home, he says bitterly and walks up the three steps to the massive glass entrance of the United Consolidated Conglomerations building. He crosses the lobby, takes the service elevator to his cubicle on the 92nd floor. He sits down, pulls out a tangle of cables from beneath the desk and plugs the ends of them into his visual receptors, his audio input display, his random idea generator and two fingers of his left hand.

By noon he has invented three new things.