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Fiction

Love in the Time of the Avatar

by Farid Nassif

Monday is coming to an end in Melbourne.  Alajuela is in ciesta.  Granada is having dinner.  Beirut is getting drunk.  Buda and Pest are tucked in for the night.  But many are on the internet at the same time. 

It is Tuesday morning in the gated Mayberry Estates brick house community of Rutherford, Ohio where Billy Hicks sits at attention, facing his screen.  His sun-bleached mailbox is watching him through the blinds outside, angry, jealous, becoming obsolete by the second while he knocks off a quarter’s worth of legal correspondence by email in less time than it takes to thumb a tack.  Billy is otherwise alone.  He finds solace in the possibility that someone might reach out from his long list of associates on the margin of his computer screen and possibly say something.  He’s hoping that somehow he can segue way a scheduled 2:15pm net conferenced management proposal from a stale associate whom he assumes is female judging by her screen name “Gwendolyn4593” into a conversation about his dick.  Somebody, anybody out there?

While combating gingivitis, a torn knee joint, the beginnings of carpal tunnel, astigmatism, and something resembling bedsores on his underside, Billy has assumed the role of an internet handle, setting aside files marked “Zaniff,” “Duoden,” and “Reinberg” to see to it that Giglio Xenon (mid-range Constitution, medial Stamina, and high Charisma) slays a Wooddrake in the Humboldt Hills of Dakron before it meanders into his slowly developing wooded village and, cloaked as a Halfling, convinces a barmaid to take him in and accomplish something which Billy insists will bring a terminal curse on his entire virtual universe – this being the true reason that he missed Christmas with the family and not the contrived first time meeting of the girlfriend’s parents from Nova Scotia which he pulled out of his virtual ass so as not to cause alarm and warrant a giftless holiday (he was giddy for the next operating system upgrade that his parents weakly insinuated was sitting under the lodgepole pine).

Though tedious – performing software upgrades, switching out hard-drives, backing everything up on externals, and holding great reservoirs of piss in his bloated abdomen for hours on end - Billy has seen to it that Giglio Xenon has persisted without interruption for 175 weeks, 3 days, 10 hours, and 13 minutes as noted in Gothic Times New Roman on the footer of his wide glare-resistant LCD display with all certainty that the net has not jipped him a ruble. 

This world of Giglio’s was certainly one that required much time and patience; not to mention the ghastly emotional torment weeks ago that had Billy in and out of consciousness from bouts of dangerous dehydration, sobbing uncontrollably at the screen while Giglio had involuntarily become ensconced in a never-ending battle with a meandering worm-hole which subsequently resulted in days of darkness in an infinite forest where he was but a blinking red dot on an endless uninhabited super-continent, a Pangaea of screen after screen of blackness, ultimately contributing to the astigmatism.

This to Billy was an unpredictable good book, a Choose Your Own Adventure, a full life. 

The world outside had become just what it is: “outside,” peripheral, a knee-skinning wasteland that Billy slowly became convinced was now itself uninhabitable.  He woke to the gratitude that he was lucky enough to have this roof over his head, sustainability squared-away, this portal to the outside economy while others far and near died of exposure, some dumb enough to voluntarily subject themselves to the elements. 

Billy had “NET”-ted his fortune, money becoming numbers as opposed to a dirt-smattered wrinkled ribbon of green in his wallet.  Entertainment was downloadable; food retrievable by websites that brought deliveries to his door, and would even drop them without signature; women around the world were exposed on high pixel quality imaging in all shapes practicing any number of things; all necessities, indulgences, and anything worth admiring were provided by his home computer.

This seeming Tuesday had come and gone.  Gwendolyn4593 had rescheduled, relieving Billy of the conflicting intent to remain anonymous and the oddly compelling desire to mention his dick. 

Giglio had been set to mine a nearby cave on the outskirts of Dakron and would likely be pounding stone until dawn and otherwise waiting for his next call to action.  Billy slept better knowing that progress was being made through the night.

He booted an external drive marked, “history” which recorded the day’s accomplishments automatically scripting a numeric date-coded title before reclining his chair and blacking into sleep. 

This is Julie Denton’s bleary-eyed commute to work among other women delicately weaving through morning estuaries to the open unbridgeable human sea, like gymnasts and sucking cigarettes at light speed, disappearing into a pile of nosing piranhas gnashing at egg sandwiches headed straight to the gut.

They are dispensed through turnstiles en masse expelled into the great wide release of day, these women - young in age yet steely and unyielding in that final morning glimpse in the bathroom mirror before hard-knuckling their way down the corporate causeway passing the saturnine eggsmen and baconsmen who spend their tired afternoons masturbating to smut behind their own deli counters.  “Pornography is manufactured elsewhere.  We just sell it.” They’re hardly worthy of eye contact but she’ll give them a glance for fear that these grill-dogged foreigners might scheme to drop a dab on her McCheese in spite. 

Contention begets business and vice versa infinitely like art and science (or so they say) until the middleman has heart failure.  And because of this the whites of her eyes have gone gray. 
She keeps a consistent rush of paper flowing – the conduit of warm tone white - collating mountains of information, inbox to outbox.  Calls arrive from clients in places she’d like to vacation.  “This is Tom De Cal calling from Bordeaux.” She’s tempted to say, “Really?  What’s that like?”

She can’t help but believe that something more important is being handled on the other end.  In fact she believes that everyone is doing something more important than what she is doing.  World tragedies are evaded with the help of nine-year-olds on cell phones on a subway platform.  Confidential documents are passed across dinner tables like vegetable plates.  Tiny insignificant people are steering global poverty to an end.  Meanwhile she might remove a staple or combat a cowlick. 

She wants stature, a face to her name, to answer questions like a movie star, a maker, breaker and shaker or some type of Voltronic robot combination thereof, but she’s never been given the chance, nobody has ever passed her the mic, she was always a duck in duck duck goose.  Does she have a vacant stare?  Does she convey inattentiveness or something lacking?  She can recognize those people who (in her judgment) seem to have a cast away countenance, like matter is drifting weightlessly through their minds, and she wonders if she is part of that gene pool. 

She takes bathroom breaks to look in the mirror and wonder what other people think of her, trying to find an objective perspective, clearing her mind of who she perceives herself to be in order to form a new outsider’s opinion.  She then becomes less trusting of this outsider and invents a new person in hopes they might be less opinionated.  She tries to catch her image in the mirror to see what it’s like when her eyes aren’t focused on herself so as to maybe identify a personality flaw that she hadn’t previously detected. She is fighting the speed of light and it becomes very frustrating.

This feeling attaches itself to her relationships with other people, leaving dirt tracks in the carpeting of her conceivable friendships.  Since she is less confident in herself she lowers her standards, spending lunch hour with strange unimpressive people who she feels she hardly deserves. 

She sat tearing at a nectarine and staring with blatant envy at the people in the healthy corner of the cafeteria.  It could have easily been a Friday but it was Tuesday.  Darryl Prin sat uncomfortably close to her so that she could see the tiny red lightning bolts in his nose and along his cheeks.  He had facial skin like squeezed testicles and little dry bits dangling from each pore.  He smelled like a used q-tip.  His glasses shrunk his eyes through the lens.  His teeth were haphazardly positioned around his tongue like chairs at an adjourned board meeting.  He had bitter spinachy breath.  He was at an age where men who neglect themselves become an amorphous myoma with a face on it.  There couldn’t have been much that was more repulsive in his nature and he engulfed Julie as though he were the larger back-row of a couples portrait or perhaps a ventriloquist and she his citrus-squeezing puppet.

So helplessly swept in this current, Julie can only hope that when she turns off the light before sleep, hunkered over her weekly-subscribed issue of Better Business embedded in the under-folds of her breasts, that tomorrow might bring a new revelation.

The neglected mailbox outside Billy Hicks’ brick house expressed itself inanimately as it did through every shade of day while Billy squeezed its unbeating heart with email after email.  Had the mailbox the ability to free itself from its foundations it would march into the street to await a passing car in hopes to end this perpetual trial of inadequacy, smashing itself into pieces, all the while looking at Billy through the window with a perverse expression of longing.

Billy was no stranger to giving something inanimate life and he awoke smiling at his friend and relative Giglio who was now surrounded by his freshly excavated fortune.  Giglio had really outdone himself.  Billy leaned in to the LCD and smiled like a boy, expressing a devout love for his caged pet.  His diseased gums shivered by the exposure of this smile.  His knee flexed and slackened, his hollow fingers clicked against the screen, his eyes slowly focused, and the sores under his thighs discarded a layer of dry flaked skin. 

Unexpectedly Gwendolyn4593 sent him an instant message:
We are outsourcing for higher legal management rather than recruit from within.

Billy did not reply.  He looked at this message, noting that it didn’t seem to suggest that he was expected to respond in any way.  Do people now only speak in statements? Billy thought to himself. 

Again Gwendolyn4593 sent him an instant message:
We would like to consider you for the position if you’d be willing to let us come to you. 

He momentarily consulted Giglio who seemed to have no response.  With all consideration, Billy knew that this would allow him more time to protect his village and build a greater social structure within the community of Dakron.  He could simply delegate and have emails forwarded to other legal correspondents while pulling in a managerial salary.  He wouldn’t have to wait for a holiday to afford an operating system upgrade.  He could wire a league of external hard drives to the main and run on some hyper-speed web pace that could outdo any other.  He could outrun a Woodrake in a click. 

Billy89902:
I’d be a perfect fit.

Julie Denton sat at her desk blushing.  The words, “perfect fit,” resounded in her mind and she was suddenly weightless in her Aeron desk chair.  Here was a human response that to her was almost beaming with innuendo.  She sat in silence staring at the words, imagining a man’s voice.  The tiny puddles in her tongue began to overflow.  She invited thoughts appealing as if they were a great tiding, a wonderful approaching transformation, an escape from this cluster-fucked prison of repetition.  Time would stop whistling through the vacant rotting wood of her bones if she could find just this goddamn someone.  How they’d reinvent Christmas together, he tracing the 3-story manor with strings of Vegas showroom multi-colors, corny in its display yet impressive enough to wrench the piths out of rivaling neighbors - their natural luminance far outdoing the Joneses.  Their children would wheel around the kitchen in plastic-trayed abacus-ed infant mobiles, signing masterful equations with their tiny fingers, humbly flaunting their parents’ finest attributes, with clear focus of a mayoral, senatorial, and presidential trajectory on the horizon.  They would hammock their worries, finger-feed one another gobs of joy.  Stillness together would feel like the greatest accomplishment.  Lovemaking sessions would replace sleep and be all the more rejuvenating.

For the remainder of the day she was still, debating which emoticon would best suit a reply, skipping lunch with Darryl, pondering just this.  A tongued smile might give the impression that she was immature and unworthy of her professed professionalism insinuated by her previous sentences boasting heavy terms like “outsourcing” and “recruit.” These words always made her feel more legitimate.  A simple smile was too commonly used and would just make her seem ditzy and boring.  Sunglasses were far too masculine and possibly Californian (see previous, “ditzy”).  A puckering kiss too personal, a wink too tacky, a toothy grin over-zealous, a halo too confusing, a downtrodden expression just plain insulting.  She wished that somehow she could personalize the ideal emoticon - these parenthetic and syntactic computer world hieroglyphics - to communicate just how she felt about their impending acquaintance.

(゜__ ゜)

Perfect.

She went to sleep that night, aroused, pressing her body against her mattress imagining the weight of a man against her back and dreaming like never before. 

Giglio had been left idle through the remainder of the night after successfully unearthing an impressive sum of gems from yet another mine in the exterior roughage of Dakron.

In Billy’s experience, such an under-populated wood is safe enough to leave Giglio unattended through the night, without endangering him in any way, the only possible passerby being a foraging woodland creature, an innocent herbivore scavenging nutty morsels in the underbrush.  Billy himself meanwhile had shut down and was ready to reboot to find Giglio’s newly acquired fortune by morning.

Neither Billy nor Giglio had anticipated a sudden midnight ambush of forest trolls that would do their worst while Giglio stood, lame as a stuffed parrot, without instruction, unwillingly allowing them every freedom with his body, enduring violation and torture that would bear no reprieve beyond wit’s end.

This is Julie Denton in an economy class egg carton to capacity, 200 people encapsulated 40,000 feet above ocean liners and foot traffic on course to a state locked in land.  She had swallowed something small and white before the jet had even taxied out of port, her lips now open like a mule mouth against the starboard window.  She is out cold against the glass, pressed like a jarred head soaked in brine.  Her eyes are still slightly ajar.  They project a dull reflection of the hint of earth’s spherical mold.

She posed no argument when they stuck her with a Super 8 Motel by the airport.  It was all the more romantic to imagine a smoky room, she lying like a murder victim in some sex-smattered queen sleeper traced by the light of a flitting Magnivox; a sharp eye grinning at the door when her whiskeyed William knocks twice and confesses his longing to go beyond professional. 

A potentially less staggering travel expense report kept the administration from promoting the mailroom attendants to human resources though still the barbed wire hostels on super fund sites and the obscure bird-wing breakfasts sold from an old milk truck were certainly a weight off the corporate wallet.  This ultimately led to interview reports that suggested the company keep seeking potentials on grounds that the hire, “Would not get high with me.” Julie seemed a better judge of character to outfit the company with an outsourced legal consultant, and she was more than willing to abide.

She wakes to confusing applause.  One idiot starts flapping his wings and all the cargo follows suit.  The passengers decree that the pilot is due a laudatory ovation for landing them safely in Ohio.  Shake a chef’s hand for not poisoning the casserole.  Praise a husband for feeding his children, not beating his wife (not feeding his children in casserole form to his beaten wife).  All Julie can think is “This is Ohio.  What glee can one really drudge up?” Her New York centrism still wafts externally regardless of the tantalizing prospects lying ahead. 

She shuttles to the Super 8 in a stinking tank of insignificant travelers, taking note of the distance between her designer luggage and the generic equivalent of her fellow passengers.  She’d packed for what could have been a decade’s trip since she had been completely unable to settle on an appropriate and alluring outfit.

The Super 8 has the dinge of something pulled from the tar pits.  The façade has the make of some unbrushed browning dental atrocity.  The woman at the front desk is a blue-haired bingo fanatic with ruddy skin tone like a burnt carrot.  The fluorescents do the worst with her face.  Julie is determined to make this a fantasy. 

“Julie Denton, Brown and Kurtzman.  I’m here for my room.”

The hostess knows her kind from years past.  She doesn’t only respond to “I49,” “G3,” “N11.” She’s puckered up to her fair share of collegiate corporate cads and has long retired from the business of giving too much of a shit. 

“Don’t you got a lot of zip?” attests the hostess.

Julie almost gets butterfingers with her heavy bags but holds her stature. 

“I’m- I have a room?”

The hostess tosses the key like she’s throwing a drink in her face.  Julie takes it up like a leaguer and zips to room 2B.  Bingo. 

She colt-kicks the door open and immediately begins petting the conservatively gray tri-color furniture.  The whole room purrs in appreciation for a single woman.  The carpet wants to get her drunk and see to it that she misses the bed.  It hadn’t been easy for a room and the nine years of elbow grease that got some of the most offensive human stains out of the mattress, carpet, off the ceiling and shower curtain.  It had endured the lone cable junky and low-income honeymooning half-breeds.  But it seemed its days had not now been for naught with a female New York frau caressing its amenities. 

Giglio is a waving white flag, a Promethean mimicry, tied to a high limb of a cedar by his left foot, stripped of all possessions and clothing, left vulnerable to all once the trolls tire of their plaything.  Still his face holds the expressionless forward stare of an idle character, an inanimate arrangement of electrodes under a computer screen set to sleep. 

A wandering fleet of dagger-heeled hornets approaches without provocation and proceeds to pierce his naked body from all angles, sapping his life force within a few threads from death.

Billy wakes to find this. So shaken by the image, he takes a moment, spinning slowly round in his desk chair, his eyes circumnavigating the dark space in which he’s set himself for the past three years.  He has a collection of matchbox motorcycles on a corner shelf, a Sandman poster affixed to the adjoining wall, a few haphazardly placed army men that trail into far escapes beyond the floor heater, and a dusty copy of the Necronomicon.  All of these items have been in their place for as long as he can remember, unmoved.  This is indeed his home.  This is indeed his desk.  This is indeed his computer.  This is indeed the fate of Giglio Xenon. 

Horror strikes in the unnatural way that it might when someone is left alone, with nobody to witness its manifestations.  Billy looks immediately discolored as though his body had been pulled from a two-day journey in the harbor, something barely safe to touch with tongs.  A million tiny wood saws scream in his esophagus as he struggles to draw air.  And then it happens.  An unbeatable migraine, a lobotomy slip-up, like the surgeon left the scalpel inside; pain like eating a roll of aluminum foil with a mouth full of fillings.

He has no choice.  He begins typing orders frantically while Giglio spins like a fishing lour.  The cedar does not give.  Giglio is a nude man-shaped tree ornament.  Billy types in every computer language he can conjure.  Giglio simply kicks in circles and jousts the air. 

By noon Billy hasn’t eaten a thing, has had not a drop of water.  He frantically bunts the invisible speed bag, sweating an aquarium of stink-water that puddles in select reservoirs on his seat cushion.  Four hours later the mailbox outside is postulating it might be witness to some cruel workout routine.  Billy is a rabid maestro to an orchestra of dead air.  Still Giglio plainly kicks and swats, helpless but now in seemingly better shape than his master. 

Room 2B is draped in eleven shades of black business attire, among them a few marginally provocative inventions that could foreseeably make a lasting impression.  Julie is spinning around the room with a merlot sash, trying to pin the tailless donkey.  She’s already caused some damage, having tugged the tacked curtains off their rods to get a better visual of how the outfits might look in clear daylight.  The sun is dropping quickly and she sulks with indecision.

The bright iron ships of the city are a far cry away.  She can almost hear the drum of rush hour traffic echoing over the trail of Appalachians.  She still carries street rot on her Steve Maddens.  Her nasal passage still has a dash of the morning’s rail dust.  She smells like city.  She had always wondered what it would be like to be alone in the wild, in a place like Ohio.  She now knows that it is absolutely terrifying. 

Julie regards her black-clad council standing along the walls.  These figures like familiar deities.  They keep watch over her.  They are a timeline of her crafty consumerism, a history of material investment dating back ten years.  Their longevity is proof both of the care that she has taken to ensure that the stitching keeps and that she herself keeps a tight frame to fit into each outfit.  It is a compromise in a relationship, the longest one she’s ever had.
The familiar warmth of her possessions lulls her into a hypnotic quiet.  She spreads herself over the queen bed, visions of her tomorrow flit in and out.

One hornet now returns like the eagle to the liver.  Rather than feed, it simply rests itself on the bough from which Giglio hangs – its eyes trained skyward, as if sun-bathing, bird-watching.

The room has become a starship vessel, penetrating the stratosphere in a nosedive to a world uninhabitable by Giglio.  Billy’s face is ashen, his skin pruned like a newborn in the septic broth of his own perspiration.  He is holding his breath like a first time surgeon fusing nerves together with chopsticks and a candelabra. The involuntary action of a heartbeat or inhalation is taking his body more effort as the hour escapes midnight.

Under the uniform construction NFPA 101 code for the standard North American hotel, fire sprinklers are linked, as on a grid throughout interior roofing.  The grid carries a row of dispensers that each share a sensing element which, when exposed to elevated temperatures (typically in excess of 135-225°F/57-107°C) begin to deform. Assuming temperatures remain high, as they would during an increasing fire, the element will fatigue after an approximate 30 second to 4 minute period.  This will release the sprinkler’s seals allowing water to discharge onto the fire.

For fear of malfunction sensing elements are triggered simultaneously throughout the building.  Methamphetamine experiments or “cooking” tend to be common in these Ohio stop-n-gos.  Not AAA endorsed but AA attended when a slip up is so bad that a fireball blows the moustache off the neighbor’s upper lip. 

It’s early morning when the aroused Super 8 ejaculates.  An old sticky goo like rubber cement, something that’s plugged the plumbing for years until now, spurts from the sprinkler heads and falls onto the garments lining the walls.  The room stinks of burnt seaweed.  Julie’s hair is caked with this same magical plasma.  She wakes to find her skin is immediately stained a rusty brown. 

She strips her blemished council from the walls in this tropical storm of brown pipe detritus and races for the exit.  The flash flood continues as she struggles with the door chain and deadbolt.  Her knees aren’t taking orders and she begins to melt to the floor.  She gets a mouthful after a moment’s sobbing when the door gives in.

Outside other guests congregate in varying degrees of Swamp Thing regalia.  They are laughing at each other, pushing and shoving and stamping out cigarettes, breaking the whole list on the poolside rule board.  Julie looks to them all, appalled. 

The faint buzz of an alarm clock can be heard from somewhere inside the showering bedlam.  She is due to meet Mr. Hicks in one hour.

The great insect muses over its prospective prey.  Giglio is a tonsil in the tree. 

Billy has eaten his fingers raw for want of any sustenance.  But worse is the dead weight in his pants.  He’s practicing for the post-mortis discharge.  It’s gathered around his thighs like cold hamburger meat.  He has craved nothing but Giglio’s wellbeing.

Julie walks in burnt heels to the gate, some eccentric Rorschach stenciled thing clings to her chest.  Her hair is full of a thick doughy mass.

Ohio couldn’t look more beautiful.  The harebells and toothworts are merrily rocking in the hot bake-a-thon of summer.  Cartoon animals are singing in the underbrush.

Billy’s eye struggles to gather enough to emit a tear.

The doorbell rings. 



imageFarid Nassif was born in Boston, studied Literature at Bennington College in Vermont and is now getting his MA in English at Brooklyn College.  He regularly reads from his profane yet compelling book, “Civilized Man” at Cornelia St. Cafe, Sycamore Bar, Freddie’s, and numerous literary salons.  He has also performed original works in countless venues in Boston and Los Angeles.  His book is accessible on amazon.com and bn.com.  Farid is now working on a second book while dedicating his days to the Human Rights Foundation. 

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