Penthouse A of Amity Tower II is heated to 87.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the preferred temperature of John-Jonathan Smith (body fat 4.8 percent) during subfreezing weather. John-Jonathan Smith wipes condensation from the floor-to-ceiling window. Through the swath of clarity, he observes human perambulation on the sidewalk below. The bundled-up pedestrians wobble and weave, despite direct point A to point B locomotion having probable survival advantages during benumbing climate events.
Hypothesis: the survival instincts of Homo sapiens are unsound.
Oppositional: why have Homo sapiens survived for 200,000 years (alert: approximation) while 4,000,000 (alert: extreme approximation) other species succumbed to extinction?
John-Jonathan Smith has read in documents of non-reality that from a height, humans appear ant-like. Yet even viewed from floor 40, the irrationally moving creatures are unquestionably people.
Conclusion: documents of non-reality are incorrect: Homo sapiens do not appear ant-like when assessed from a height.
Oppositional: does the undefined parameter of Penthouse A’s altitude invalidate this conclusion?
John-Jonathan Smith bookmarks his conclusion for additional reevaluation if/when he observes human subjects from an increased elevation.
Although not a myrmecologist nor with any desire to be a myrmecologist, John-Jonathan Smith believes with moderate confidence that ants march in a line instinctually. He possesses less confidence that march is the correct verb to describe the manner in which ants propel forward. Perhaps march anthropomorphizes the movement of the insects’ legs. Perhaps legs anthropomorphizes the insects’ appendages.
Human beings do not march in a line, unless battered into submission by drill sergeants (as John-Jonathan Smith viewed in a motion picture in which people of non-reality vocalized with displeasingly muscular volumes) or motivated by drum majors (as John-Jonathan Smith observed when forced to attend an athletic event during his senior year of high school when he was 13).
John-Jonathan Smith has no genuine interest in the truth or falsehood of the humans-as-ants metaphor, but once the question of its validity asserts itself into his consciousness, resisting the analysis is futile. John-Jonathan Smith craves conclusions; he is unsuccessful withstanding the un-craved questioning of these conclusions. The dialectic between formulating conclusions and challenging conclusions defines and structures John-Jonathan Smith’s life, resulting most notably in Konnektion™, the ubiquitous program that he designed and which yielded riches he has infrequent interest in accessing or exploiting.
John-Jonathan Smith wonders: what word encapsulates the opposite of anthropomorphism? When the attributes of non-human animals, plants or inanimate objects are ascribed to humans? John-Jonathan Smith suspects such a word does not exist. He is unsurprised by this deficiency of language because language evolved through a self-centered species with rampant shortcomings. This rampancy of shortcomings is the primary reason why John-Jonathan Smith has not had a face-to-face encounter with a person in 97 days, nor a verbal interaction since three Sundays ago when via device his mother threatened “a mercy intervention,” which to the best of John-Jonathan Smith’s comprehension would involve her jetting from St. Louis to New Manhattan, dragging him out of his apartment (“By your hair, if necessary”) and forcing him to endure a meal in a public dining venue (“For your own damn good”). Prior to the sale of Konnektion™ and its resulting fortune, John-Jonathan Smith’s mother exhibited minimal interest in child and teenage John-Jonathan Smith’s own damn good. Post-Konnektion™, his own damn good has been upgraded to one of her primary preoccupations. Nonetheless, to avoid a maternal invasion, John-Jonathan Smith agreed to ping his mother once a week with an update of his well-being, a commitment he maintains because he is certain his mother’s mercy intervention would contain no mercy.
After five minutes and 34 seconds of leaning his forehead against the sweating window, John-Jonathan Smith increases the downward angle of his head-tilt and his gaze settles upon his bare feet. Goosebumps blanket the skin. They resemble ants more than the pedestrians on the street below.
John-Jonathan Smith is not cold, suggesting an association between the goosebumps and an emotional state of which he is unaware. He is not sexually aroused, determined by the absence of penile engorgement. His breathing is shallow and heavy, and dampness marches like ants down the tendrils of his underarms (ha-ha: simultaneously anthropomorphizing dampness and anti-anthropomorphizing his armpit hair; John-Jonathan Smith does possess a sense of humor, despite the contrary belief of past humans who have interacted with him).
Conclusion: probable emotion: fear.
Three raps assault the entrance door of John-Jonathan Smith’s apartment.
Hypothesis: the three raps were preceded by other raps that John-Jonathan Smith consciously did not hear, yet his subconscious registered, initiating a fear response.
Oppositional: the likelihood John-Jonathan Smith possesses a hearing or attention deficiency of which he is unaware is minimal. He hopes.
“Hello?” The voice on the other side of the door is in the register typically ascribed female. “Mister John-Jonathan? You are home?”
The voice tickles John-Jonathan Smith’s memory. He suspects its familiarity, but the link between the vocal characteristics and a face or name eludes him. He bunny-rabbit hops from the window to the center of the living room, so the jumping will jiggle his brain into increased functionality. He understands no clinical trials substantiate his experience that hopping promotes crisper cognition, but he also understands (and is frustrated) that the world has not yet advanced sufficiently for science to explain all reality.
“It’s Beza. You are home?”
John-Jonathan Smith cannot fathom why Beza (her surname is unknown) knocks on his door. Each Tuesday between two and five in the afternoon, Beza Surname-Unknown reconstitutes John-Jonathan Smith’s 2,778-square-foot abode into a state of acceptable cleanliness. She cleaned his apartment that afternoon. He is certain, because as always during her three-hour routine, John-Jonathan Smith lugged a folding chair, a collapsing table and his device into his walk-in closet where he remained while Beza Surname-Unknown dusted and vacuumed and scoured. (When assigned by the agency, she received instructions never to open the door to the bedroom closet.)
The code being entered to deactivate the security system emits distinct and unmistakable chirps. These distinct and unmistakable chirps increase John-Jonathan Smith’s heartbeat from 62 to 87 thumps per minute.
“Security system deactivated.” The voice of an old somebody important called Marilyn Monroe emerges from the apartment’s walls. John-Jonathan Smith chose Marilyn Monroe from the options provided by Amity Tower II’s management because she sounds like a puffy cloud.
John-Jonathan Smith instructs his feet to walk, but not only have they stopped hopping, they refuse to move.
Beza Surname-Unknown takes four strides into the apartment, then balks when she notices John-Jonathan Smith. Her torso pivots, as though tugged by an invisible force.
John-Jonathan Smith surveys Beza Surname-Unknown, who he has never seen, though they have communicated via device. She is younger than he would have guessed, if he had ever thought about her age: late teens. He never considered that the housecleaner he has been avoiding for 14 months and three weeks might be aesthetically perfect. Beza Surname-Unknown’s predecessor was a dowdy middle-aged matron (or so John-Jonathan assumes; he never visually confirmed his belief).
Beza Surname-Unknown examines the bamboo floor. She twists her earlobe. “I am utmost sorry. I did not think you to be home. I am forgetting my device, from earlier.” She gestures with her chin toward the sofa where her bag, with an ancient device poking out, rests against a throw pillow. John-Jonathan Smith never throws his throw pillows. He does not understand why they are called such.
Beza Surname-Unknown’s gesturing chin is shaped like an apricot, fittingly because her skin is the color of an apricot pit (alert: approximation). Apricots are John-Jonathan Smith’s favorite fruit. John-Jonathan Smith realizes that anti-anthropomorphizing can be useful to describe beauty.
John-Jonathan Smith stands closer to the sofa than Beza Surname-Unknown. He snatches her bag by its straps and extends his arm. She claims her property. Their fingers brush. Although John-Jonathan Smith’s goosebumps have disappeared, and despite the ideal room temperature of 87.5 degrees Fahrenheit, he is unexpectedly cold, even chilled. Even his testicles. Why are his testicles chilled?
Conclusion: He is nude.
Oppositional: Then why has he no memory of removing his clothing?
Hypothesis: He neglected to dress in the morning and has been unclothed all day.
Oppositional: Um um um?
His hands drop and shield his groin. He marches into the bedroom, as though following a drum major.
In his walk-in closet, John-Jonathan Smith squats in the corner, his intertwined fingers covering his penile engorgement, and his face obscured by the 21 pairs of identical khaki slacks hanging from the lower clothing rod, where he will remain until Beza Surname-Unknown disappears.
Beauty is dangerous, experienced safely only from a distance.
The naked white man is a ghost. Pale--almost translucent. Thin--barely a piece of paper. The ghost has no age. He might be 20. He might be 50. Of only one thing Beza’s certain: the anatomy his hands shield, as he stomps into his bedroom and slams the door, is male.
Manhoods don’t unsettle Beza. She’s seen the swinging absurdities before. But the closet-hider’s flesh on bones unnerves her. For over a year, Beza has joked with her younger sister Helina that the employer she’s heard but not seen was imaginary. They giggled about the famous man who invented an app, or an algorithm, or a code (she doesn’t truly understand what Konnektion is) that with its programmable protocols allows zillions of machines to communicate in a language none of them were built to speak, yet he fears sharing words with other people. Now that Beza sees the ghost is a man, but the man is still a ghost, she can no longer allow herself the pleasure of laughing at him.
Of course, Beza has watched the legendary “naming” interview, before she knew this was the individual whose home she cleaned, even before her family was assigned and arrived to New America. The reporter asked the teenager, “Do your friends call you John or Jonathan?” The teenage not-yet-a-ghost said, “I don’t have friends.” The interviewer said, “I’ll be your friend. Would you like me to call you John or Jonathan?” The teenager peered up from his feet for the first time in the interview and smiled for what people say is the only time in public. “I like John and Jonathan. Call me both.”
Mr. John-Jonathan pays Beza 300 dollars for three hours of cleaning, more than double what she’s paid at her other homes. The bonus money buys privacy, the agency told her when she first started the job. The ghost doesn’t want to be seen, nor talked to. But Beza knows: ghosts crave contact as much as they fear it.
In this country, Beza sees ghosts and monsters and babies six feet tall, and only every now and then a person she recognizes as a fellow human being.
She violated the rules. But she had to. She needs her documents and notes to study for the test in Numbers class tomorrow. How stupid, forgetting her bag.
In any of her other households, she’d apologize. Shout “I’m so sorry to be disturbing you” before leaving. But the rules forbid words, forcing Beza to forsake politeness. The ghost’s rules contaminate her decency.
Beza tiptoes to minimize creaks. As she opens and closes the front door, she twists the handle slowly, releasing it gently so the bolt inaudibly latches into its receptacle. From the outside hallway, she resets the security code. She hopes the beeps are inaudible in the bedroom where the ghost lurks.
Beza fears losing this job. Living on 1,200 fewer dollars a month? Beza and Mother and Helina will struggle more than they already struggle.
As she waits for the elevator, Beza phones Mother. “I forgot my schoolbooks.” Beza uses the old word so Mother understands. “I have them now and am onward to home.”
Mother asks no questions. She has no inkling the forgetting of a bag could cause severe financial ramifications. If Beza expresses her worries later, Mother will hush-hush her and coo that Beza’s “making a mountain out of a molehill.” Mother loves to speak Americanisms. This makes her feel more American. Beza doesn’t understand why anyone would want to feel more American.
The elevator arrives, empty as always. Halfway down, it stops. The doors open. A resident enters, her hair a shiny yellow that Beza’s certain occurs nowhere in nature. The woman doesn’t glance up from her device, on which she taps her thumbs with a speed even Beza finds impressive. Beza retreats to the corner as the resident claims the center of the elevator. The woman would have walked directly into Beza had she not moved.
Beza stares at her feet. Subjugated posture is expected. The resident ignores Beza, presumably not noticing her; yet if Beza doesn’t look downward, had Beza not stepped aside, the resident would launch a grenade of dirty looks, or worse.
The resident says, “You hussy pig.”
The claws of a demon squeeze Beza’s belly. What has she done to deserve this rudeness?
Beza glances at the resident, whose thumbs still flutter like a hummingbird. Beza understands: the woman speaks to her screen. Of course: the ghosts and monsters and babies talk to inanimate objects more than to each other.
When the elevator doors reopen, the resident exits first. In the lobby, Beza senses the concierge’s hostile gaze from behind his counter. She refuses to look at him, in his silly uniform and hat. When arriving for her first day cleaning Mr. John-Jonathan’s apartment, she introduced herself to this man, with her friendliest smile. He didn’t return her smile. He looked away. At the time, she was a newcomer, in this country only a few weeks, and found the rudeness more odd than insulting. But Beza has learned that rudeness is a currency of the powerless as well as the powerful, so she no longer says hello or goodbye to the concierge.
He ignores her. She ignores his ignoring. The ignorer changes, but the pattern replays, every and each day.
Beza unwraps and rewraps the scarf around her throat. She zips her overcoat. She removes earmuffs from her pocket and secures them over her ears. She slides her hands into her mittens.
Beza exits Amity Towers. The icy chill she’ll never get used to assaults her cheeks. Despite the pain the cold inflicts, Beza doesn’t hate the weather. The weather is only being weather. Unlike the ghosts and monsters and babies, who are being something no benevolent Creator intends them to be.
Andrei doesn’t say “Yo, honey girl, I show to you good time” to Maid-Babe as she hides her yum-yums with scarf ten feet long and winter coat made for Siberian winter, not wussy New Manhattan half-winter. He wants to say “Yo” and more, but if Tower resident overhears, if Maid-Babe complains and invisible powers who issue his pay-credit believe her, he loses employment, and job with chair that massages his back and remembers contours of buttocks isn’t job to risk losing.
Maid-Babe arrives every Tuesday at 1:55. Every Tuesday at 1:30, Andrei promises to himself he’s to smile and show his teeth are white, not yellow or brown, and none are missing. Andrei’s to say, “So nice to see you. My name is Andrei. What’s yours?” He many times practices words in front of mirror. He never utters words to Maid-Babe. There is always another next Tuesday.
When Maid-Babe entered Andrei’s lobby for second time in single day, for one split of a second he hoped she returned to see him. That she finally noticed he’s only a little un-handsome and not so un-smart, and he doesn’t over drink, though how she’d notice this he has no thoughts. But she didn’t look at him on way in, she didn’t look at him on way out. This is Andrei’s life: girls not looking at him. Girls not liking him. He doesn’t grasp why. There are dozens and dozens of girls Andrei wants to talk with. Hundred and hundreds. Thousands and thousands. On every block of City, Andrei sees girls he wants to marry. But Andrei never talks. He looks down. He looks up. If he had owl-neck, he’d twirl his head and look every direction but at girl.
Maid-Babe is to the eye more excellent than any domestic deserves to be. Crap on Maid-Babe. She isn’t friendly to Andrei, so why does he practice friendliness to her?
No. Un-crap on Maid-Babe. Andrei thinks to her his thoughts of apologies. She isn’t friendly because no one’s friendly in Tower. Except during December when residents give to him envelopes. Last December, an envelope contained 1,000 dollars. Now, he would jump out of chair or open door or carry bags for Mr. Smith because of gift, but in two years of Tower employment, Andrei sees man merely once.
Sometimes, envelopes contain only cards of greeting, with scribbled messages of thanks. Like Andrei cares about residents’ moneyless thanks.
Andrei changes mind: even in December, no one’s friendly. Envelopes are given so givers can tell to themselves that their shit smells of sweetness. So shit they pile on Andrei for 11 and a half months a year is wiped clean by cash. If money is truly to give thanks, then why do most residents not slip to him envelope quietly? Why do most not give to him dollars when lobby is empty? They wait until others are present, and then loudly, with big arm gestures and once-a-year smiles, they present to Andrei with gift as though they are on Broadway stage and he’s in back row of audience. This allows bystanders to bear witness to the extraordinary generosity, which is never extraordinary and rarely generous.
If thanks were sincere, Tower people would remember Andrei’s name. Mrs. Ellison in 22C calls him Andrew, as so with tens of others. Mr. Rodriguez in 6G calls him Andy, as so with at least six others. Mrs. Ullman in 35A calls him Anders, which Andrei forgives because her 100th year is coming at her like bullet. And then there’s Mr. Wallingford in 11F who says Vladmir. Andrei doesn’t understand how Andrei sounds anything like Vladmir. Only possible explanation is that Mr. Wallingford is walking dick.
Nine of ten residents are shit. Worse: worms inside shit.
From street, a wool-wrapped mummy enters Andrei’s lobby. Only disc of flesh above chin and beneath hairline is exposed. “Fucking nightmare out there,” mystery mummy says, words slurring like slipping on ice. “And only fucking eight o’clock. Down to the fucking teens tonight, the geniuses say.” An assault of fucks.
Mummy’s a female, but Andrei doesn’t desire marriage to her, no matter who she is or how excellent she might look underneath wrappings. Future wife won’t insert word fuck into every spoken sentence.
The curser rips off hat, un-peels scarf, sheds overcoat. She sniffles up dripping snot and clears throat.
Andrei inhales her perfume of alcohol. “Good evening, Mrs. Pittman.”
Mr. Pittman divorced this woman, for which Andrei can’t fault him, even though Andrei would never divorce wife. Mr. Pittman gave to her condo. She gave to him “R” in Mrs., and now insists on Ms.
“Yes, of course. Ms. Pittman.”
“Such a lucky beastie boy you are, with this inside job,” she says. “Those poor doormen stationed at their curbs. I’ll be sending you toasty thoughts, all night.”
Once, Andrei dropped a case of wine he carried for Mrs./Ms. Pittman and experienced her wrath, as glorious as Andrei’s mother’s and Andrei’s grandmother’s. Wrath is wasted in wussy New America. “Thank you, Mrs. Pittman. To you a good evening.”
Halfway through lobby to elevator bay, she stops. “Ms. Pittman. What the fucking fuck is fucking wrong with you? Ms.!”
Her wrath slaps Andrei’s one cheek, and caresses other. Andrei stares at space between knees. When his smirk is no more, he raises his eyes. “I’m sorry. Please, you forgive me?”
“Oh, sweetie-pie.” Mrs./Ms. Pittman’s boots tap marble floor as she approaches Andrei. She places index finger under tip of his chin and lifts.
Her touch is knife, gutting him from apple of Adam’s to hardness in groin. He smiles. Maybe she will notice whiteness of teeth.
“A joke, is all,” she says.
He looks into her eyes only for moment because what he sees scares him. But he’s unsure--do her eyes frighten him, or reflection of his own?
After Mrs./Ms. Pittman takes elevator, Andrei decides next Tuesday he won’t speak to Maid-Babe. He believes with certainty Maid-Babe never utters word fuck. This makes her too good to be Andrei’s wife.
Elyse Pittman drops her keychain. Bad fingers, bad! She giggles.
She squats, for the keys. A few tinkle-drops squirt. Her giggle trips into a snort.
She scoops the keychain. Upsy-daisy, the insides of her head seesaw. Whoa whoa, her hand finds the wall. Ew, yuck: the flesh under her triceps sways like a playground swing.
Inserts house key into lock. Oopsie, nope, missed. Drops keys, again. “Fuck a duck.”
The keychain, next to the tip of her scarlet almond-toe boot. Might as well be on the fucking moon.
She hasn’t had that much to drink. One glass of wine. Perhaps two. Perhaps five. Perhaps she forgot din-din. Perhaps she skipped lunch, too.
Even drunk, Elyse suspects this is too many perhapses.
If the Asshole hadn’t left her for the Whore, Elyse wouldn’t be in this situation. Incapacitated by fumbling fingers.
An option: device the lobby, summon the shy gorilla for help. And maybe offer a special tip to show her appreciation. A gorilla on top of her, hmm, not so unwelcome, after 19 years of the Asshole with his pinkie-dick and shriveled balls, and now six months of nothing. Six months no man inside her, not that she gives a fuck. But six months no touch, except when she has her nails done and the girl massages her hands and feet, and that obviously counts diddly-squat. Although last Wednesday at the salon, as the girl kneaded her palms, Elyse felt a tingle between her legs. She contemplated lesbianism (under the right circumstances, meaning after enough Assholes, every woman considers it) until the girl, with her hollow eyes and face both hard and shiny like porcelain, opened her mouth, squawked, and the tingle disappeared.
But the gorilla…. Elyse is sloshed enough she might even enjoy it.
Fuck the Asshole and his cheapness, unwilling to install a key-free system like the rest of the world has.
Fuck the Asshole for leaving her before she left him.
Fuck the Asshole, with his tits that sag more than hers. But he finds the Whore, while Elyse finds no one, dissolving into irrelevance. Interpersonal irrelevance. Planetary irrelevance. Evolutionary irrelevance.
“Hi-ya!” Elyse karate chops her front door. The pain karate chops her brain, injecting a smidgen of sobriety. She chops the door again.
“Are you alright, dear?” Mrs. Ullman pokes her head out from her apartment doorway.
“Dropped my keys.”
“Oh, let me help.”
Mrs. Ullman, sweet like a cheap jumbo chocolate bar you want to vomit after finishing, hobbles on her cane towards Elyse.
“Stay,” Elyse says. “I’m fine.”
“Don’t be silly.” Mrs. Ullman hobbles onward.
Elyse won’t let this decrepit woman more than twice her age come to her rescue. If arthritic, half-blind Mrs. Ullman can pick up the keys when Elyse can’t, then Elyse’s dignity is beyond repair.
Who’s Elyse kidding? Half a year earlier, during dinner at Jean-Jacques, which the Asshole undoubtedly chose so Elyse wouldn’t cause a scene, she emptied a wine glass in his face (from her last shared bottle of wine), causing a scene. She deviced his mother, screamed obscenities and cursed the woman for bringing evil into the world. She hired a male stripper to perform a bump and grind at his office. Oh, that one was delicious. Oh, Elyse’s dignity is already beyond repair.
Mrs. Ullman places her palm against the hallway wall to brace herself. She has a triceps wattle that dwarfs Elyse’s.
“You, Mrs. Ullman, are the last kind person on Earth.”
“Undoubtedly.” Mrs. Ullman presses a button on her cane handle and at the floor end, a claw opens. She maneuvers the claw against the keychain, presses the button again, and the metal fingers grasp the keys. She lifts the keys to her free hand and extracts them from the claw. “Which one?”
Elyse points a crimson nail at the house key. Mrs. Ullman unlocks the door and without asking permission, enters Elyse’s apartment. Elyse follows the old woman.
Mrs. Ullman turns on a lamp. “Sit.”
The Asshole’s commands provoked rage, fights, childishness. Mrs. Ullman’s command evokes comfort. Elyse obeys, sinking into the sofa. Relinquishing control, a tonic.
“Have you eaten?” Mrs. Ullman says.
“Once upon a time.”
“Are you speaking smart-ass? I’m not fluent.”
“I haven’t eaten.”
Mrs. Ullman totters to the kitchen. The fridge door Elyse hears opening triggers a flush in Elyse’s cheeks. She knows what Mrs. Ullman sees: jars of jam, condiments from another decade, a thousand bottles of wine, and nothing any rational person would classify in the category of food. She knows what Mrs. Ullman sees beneath the non-food: loneliness, pathetic and deserved.
Mrs. Ullman reemerges. “Where do you keep your hurricane stash?”
“It’s all bottles and bullets.”
“I have cheese. I’ll make a sandwich and be right back.”
“No. I mean, thanks, but”--Elyse waves her device--“delivery’s only one speed ping away. I’ll be fine.”
“Yes, you will.” Mrs. Ullman lowers her fragile body into the cushion beside Elyse. She grasps Elyse’s hands.
For a moment, Elyse thinks she’s about to receive a massage.
Then Mrs. Ullman squeezes, with a force a nonagenarian shouldn’t be capable of. “Husbands leave. They die. They marry their secretaries. Their minds turn to Jell-O. So stop this revolting self-pity.”
Elyse doesn’t think Mrs. Ullman said anything funny, but her vocal cords disagree. Elyse giggles.
“You’re trying my patience,” Mrs. Ullman says.
Elyse extracts her hands from Mrs. Ullman’s grip. She strokes Mrs. Ullman’s cheek. “You’re sweet.”
Mrs. Ullman swats Elyse’s paw.
Elyse presses her lips against Mrs. Ullman’s. She waits for Mrs. Ullman to recoil. Mrs. Ullman doesn’t recoil.
Elyse tastes the old woman’s decay. She refuses to pull away, to submit to her churning revulsion.
Mrs. Ullman reclines. Her eyes gleam with a radiance that makes every emotion Elyse has ever felt seem puny.
Elyse says, “At some point in the not-too-distant future, you’ll die and Earth will be devoid of human beings who are humane. This will be a tragedy. It’ll also be a day to pop the corks and sigh in relief. Because the woman whose existence reflects everyone else’s habitual heartlessness will be gone.”
Mrs. Ullman rises, erect, her jaw jutting. A lioness, worthy of being stuffed and displayed in a museum that nobody goes to.
“Really,” Mrs. Ullman says, “a woman your age should have learned her alcohol limits by now.”
Elyse cackles. After Mrs. Ullman hobbles out, the cackle trips into tears.
The old lady that answer the door been crying. Red eyes, and shit. And she be actual old, not repaired old. Turo never seen such wrinkles and spots and bumps, like her face an abandoned garden sprouting alien rocks and weeds.
“Yes?” she say. “I didn’t order anything.”
The number on her apartment door--35A. The same be scribbled in stinky black marker on the brown paper bag. Turo double-check the order on his gadget: 35C. Marco in the kitchen mixed shit up, uh-huh. And Turo himself mixed shit up, too. In the lobby, he got the number off his gadget for the desk-goon to call up. Getting off the elevator, he only glance at the bag. Turo be killer tired. But he ain’t regret the double shift.
Turo knock on 35C. The apartment door swing open wide. This woman, she been crying, too. Smeared eye makeup. Her face puff fish puffy. He ain’t surprised both women been crying. This Turo’s estimate: ten percent of ladies he deliver to been crying. Twenty percent be drunk. Thirty percent eye Turo like they rather eat him than whatever food they order. Ninety-five percent look like they done something stupid in the past hour.
Practically every other night, 40-year-old Ramon come back from a delivery bragging about the “best bee-jay ever” some lady give him. Turo know it all b.s. ‘cause Ramon’s nose be bigger than his dick, and his dick be bigger than his brain. Ramon always wanting to grabs beers. Wanting a wingman. Wanting a buddy to get high with. But Turo ain’t gonna let down his wall, ain’t gonna open the door for stupid. Friends are for dupes who don’t care how they die. Ramon got stupid up to his eyeballs and leaking out his ears. He be Turo’s cautionary tale. The loser Turo gonna do anything never to become.
Turo be thinking about Ramon and his imaginary blow jobs ‘cause crying lady number two be wearing some almost see-through lacy thing like in the movies, open halfway down her pink chest. The tips of her right hand’s fingers, with rings with jewels and shit, rest between her boobs, making little circles like she petting her own thumping heart.
A nice pair of boobs. So what? Turo seen boobs before. They ain’t nearly fine enough to turn him stupid. Beware the stupid. That what Turo’s papa taught him, and that what got his papa a bullet in his chest, ‘cause one night he downed too many beers to watch for stupid.
“I needs to see payment verification, ma’am,” Turo say.
Lady walk away, leaving open the apartment door. Her ass swing like an upside-down windshield wiper. She turn around. “Why don’t you come on in?” She disappear into another room.
Turo don’t come on in. Turo ain’t tempted to come on in, uh-uh. He wait. He stare at the tips of his shoes, making sure they don’t edge not one inch over the threshold into the riptides whirling inside the crying lady’s apartment. Turo know, soon as you drop your guard, the world gonna rise up like a monster beach wave and wash you away, suck you down and then you fish food.
The lady come back. She hold a big-ass wallet. When she see Turo still in the hallway, she curl her lips. Turo sure she ain’t knowing what she look like when she do this, ‘cause if she know, she ain’t never do it no more. No lady wanna look like a puff fish.
“Put the food on the end table.” She point to the small stand at the edge of the couch. The couch in the middle of the living room, surrounded by riptides.
Turo see another table just inside the door, with a vase and roses. He tilt in, and place the bag with the food next to the flowers.
“What the fuck you doing? I said, the end table. This end table.” She point again to the stand by the sofa.
“Sorry, ma’am, I misunderstand.” Turo look down, mimicking remorse.
“Oh, sweetie. Sorry I eff-bombed you.” She slide her finger under Turo’s chin and lift up, so Turo’s eyes be staring at her boobs.
“Really, so sorry.”
Turo feel the stupid stirring in his pants. “Payment verification?” he say.
The lady unsnap the strap buckling her wallet closed. She slide out a credit card.
Turo see an old credit card but once a month, even less. And never from a moneybags. This be some scam, Turo sure. But he ain’t sure the scam on him or someone else.
When Turo try to take the card, she tighten her grip. Her nightgown-thing open a little bit more, her boobs showing a little bit more. Turo feel the stupid growing a lot bit more.
He ain’t look at her face, he ain’t look at her boobs, but he yank the card from her grasp. He slide it through his gadget’s reader.
He enter the amount of the bill. His gadget double-ding. That be it--whatever the scam, he in the clear now. He pass the gadget to her to enter (please!) a tip and thumbprint, which she do. He take back his gadget. He look at her credit card: Richard J. Pittman.
Still ain’t look at her, Turo say, “Thank you, Mrs. Pittman.”
When the knuckles of her open hand hit Turo’s face, he feel the scrape of her diamond ring, and he drop the credit card.
“Ms. Pittman!” Her voice be shrill and cracking, but only for a moment. When she speak again, her stuffed nose make the words whine. “Call me Ms.”
The crying lady be stupid and crazy. One more lunatic in this world of stupid. Turo got to imprint this moment, so next time he tempted, he remember: happy don’t matter. Fun don’t matter. You let the stupid win, then the stupid win.
Turo clutch his gadget, and hurry to the elevator.
“I’m sorry,” she say. “Let me….”
Turo press the down button.
The lady reopen her monster wallet and yank a wad of bills from the fold. Turo stare, his eyes and heart hungry. He never seen so much untraceable before. She throw the cash at Turo, into the hall. It flutter to the floor.
At her throat, she pull tight her lacy-thing, her fingers twitching like she buttoning a collar that ain’t there. She kick closed her door.
Turo drop to his knees and gather the untraceable. He count it: 540 dollars. He check the crazy lady’s apartment number: 35C. He say it in his mind: 35C, 35C, 35C. If crazy lady order food again, he want to make sure he do the delivery, not Ramon. For 540 dollars, the lunatic who pet her boobs can assault Turo all night.
The young adonis crossing the lobby has a just-got-laid grin on his face and a gash on his cheek that drips blood.
“Please, excuse me, hon,” Joie says, “you know you’re bleeding?”
The adonis wipes his cheek. He examines the merlot smear on his fingers. “So stupid. Not you. Lunatic customer upstairs.”
His just-got-laid smile is a just-got-paid smile. Joie nods to the fellow healer. She’s had unruly clients, too. “Blessings to you,” she says.
Joie admires the adonis’ strut, then faces the big guy behind the counter. Smitten with her new teeth, embedded tiny fireworks sparkling in their synthetic finish, she smiles widely. Goodwill and grace to the doormen, the concierges, the security guards. To every blessed being. Rudeness to others only creates hardship for yourself.
“Please, for Penthouse A, please,” Joie says.
The concierge’s eyes narrow. “You are certain, Penthouse A?”
Joie re-checks the information her agency sent to her device. “Yes, please, Penthouse A, please.”
“Huh.” His beefy fingers tap his desktop screen. “Yes, hello, you have a, uh, your name’s what?”
“Joy is here for you. Yes, sir, Mr. Smith.” He disconnects. “Go up. I unlock PH for you. You have no need to press button.”
As Joie awaits the elevator, as her left fingertips caress her right knuckles, lasered and buffed, smooth like river rocks polished by millions of years of cascading, purifying water, she wonders about the client she’s about to meet. The concierge’s surprise, that a woman would visit Mr. Penthouse A, rustles her curiosity. Likely, Mr. Penthouse A is in his 80s or beyond, and the concierge assumes his interest has withered. But chemical assistance re-blossoms anybody’s desire. Joie remembers the pre-Viagra dark ages, when most of the men who could get it up couldn’t afford her and most of the men who could afford her couldn’t get it up. Now, most still can’t afford her, but everyone gets it up.
And even better, when Joie entered the life, a woman half Joie’s current age was unviable; but in these days of marvels and miracles, a surgically and dermatologically enhanced 60-something woman presents almost as desirably as a bio-25-year-old. Joie owes the health of her retirement account to the medicals. Bless the pharmaceuticals and medicals.
Inside the gilded elevator, Joie reviews on her device the instructions the agency sent: The security, deactivated. The entrance, unlocked. The second door on the right, the bedroom, empty. Face the closet, open a crack. Her clothing, off. On the bedside table, a selection of toys. Express her creativity. At some point, from inside the closet, the client will knock loudly, the signal for Joie to re-dress and depart.
Joie’s knees throb, as though her heartbeat’s lost its way and sunk. Leaving her nine-year-old grandson alone with his fresh-out-of-prison mother wrings her innards, but the work order pinged last minute, so no alternative. Please, bless Mr. Penthouse A and make him quick, please.
At Penthouse A’s threshold, Joie bows her head and strokes the ruby pendant dangling in the canyon between her breasts. Her blood-red lips flicker around silent words.
Joie enters. Heat squeezes her, like a python. She quickly sloughs her coat. Bless her Botoxed sweat glands.
She strolls across the cavernous apartment. No artwork on the walls. No tchotchkes on the shelves. Minimal furniture, luxurious yet simplistically functional. The space, more like a showroom than a home.
Joie’s intuition flares. Is the client a deviator? She disgusts herself, with her irrational distaste for deviators, with their pathological fear of eye contact, words stumbling from their mouths as if the sounds blister their tongues. And every year, more and more born all over the globe. Some normals believe the deviators and their brain-warps are bio-engineered for maximum creativity and productivity. If so, whoever does the bio-engineering possesses maximum inhumanity, because the deviators Joie has met wallowed in psychic sorrow.
Joie has serviced maybe 50 deviators. One more is only one more. Remember, they’re innocent. They’re blessed. Besides, deviators aren’t on the agency’s list of approved reasons for terminating a rendezvous.
In the bedroom, the sensuality aids on the night table are laid out like surgical tools, alongside an envelope. The tip, Joie assumes. The agency processes the basic fee, paid by device in advance. Custom dictates the tip be untraceable cash. Joie knows it’s gauche, but she removes the money from the envelope, and counts. She wants to gauge how much effort to extend in her performance. The envelope contains fifty 100-dollar bills, the largest tip she’s received, almost tripling her portion of the fee the agency charges. Joie is no longer worried about her grandson. Nor concerned the client is a deviator. She’ll survive. But her knees still ache.
The overhead light beams aggressively, along with two lamps, possibly so the deviator peering from the closet can easily see the show. But Joie knows this might not be the only reason. She casually meanders, delicately brushing her nipple through the fabric of her silk hourglass dress, to distract the watcher as she scrutinizes the walls, the ceiling, the electric outlets, wherever a camera might be hidden. She’s not concerned her performance will be commercially exploited. A home movie shot from a secret camera is monetarily worthless. Always, when a client secretly captures an assignation, it’s to relive the experience later. Which Joie relishes discovering, because a hidden camera enables a renegotiation. Typically a lucrative cash renegotiation.
Joie finds no indication of any camera. She lingers by the dresser, where a framed photo hangs. Normally, she wouldn’t glance at a picture, but with the apartment devoid of personal touches, she’s curious what the client considers worthy of display.
The photo: a teenager alone on a stage, his features obscured by long bangs draping his face like a waterfall. His hands jammed deep into his pants, as though his pockets have holes and he clutches his thighs. One foot tucked behind the other ankle, like a bird perched on one leg. Behind him on a screen, in lavender letters that scream, a projected word: Konnektion.
The concierge in the lobby called the client “Mr. Smith.” Joie hears so many men called Mr. Smith that the name flowed through her ears without registering. But this Mr. Smith is a genuine Mr. Smith: Mr. John-Jonathan Smith.
Joie knows the contours of his story: at 16, graduating from Stanford. At 17, selling Konnektion for over a billion. At 18, disappearing, leaving behind only rumors, false sightings and a mythology for obsessors to obsess over.
Joie’s mind churns. She’s confident she can perform a sex spectacular the deviator will relish for years. But he won’t device the agency and request her again. Before each encounter, she can chant to herself that she’s as desirable as the young bios, but of course that’s a lie. The agency contacts Joie only for last-minute orders, when no other girl’s available. And her price has decreased by 30 percent since her heyday. Medicals and pharmaceuticals have their limits, which means Joie’s utility has its limits.
When she entered the life, Joie willingly relinquished love. Now, please, let this deviator be an opportunity that vindicates that choice, please, please. She’s never serviced a client of such wealth. And generosity, judging from his tip. If she salves the deviator’s pain, his need for her will be unending. He may think he wants a sex show; that’s not what she’ll give him.
Bless Joie. Bless the deviator. Bless her plan.
Through the crack where the closet is open a smidgen, an eyeball peers at Joie. She glides towards the eyeball.
From the inside, the deviator jackhammers the wall.
Joie ignores the pounding and pulls open the closet door.
John-Jonathan Smith scrambles backward, like an upside-down ant. No, his thinking is erroneous: inverted insects cannot scramble. His cognitive function is impaired. He needs to bunny-rabbit hop. But he cannot hop. He is on the floor of his closet. A stranger blocks the open door. No, not a stranger because he ordered her. But yes, a stranger because no prior interactions occurred. John-Jonathan Smith is confounded if this woman is best classified as a stranger, or not.
He has no time to reach a conclusion because Stranger/Not-Stranger speaks. “A fine and lovely evening to you.”
John-Jonathan Smith senses her expectation that he respond. Although he has not yet deduced an accurate threat assessment, he says, “Apricots are my favorite fruit. I like skin the color of apricot pits.”
“Watermelon is my favorite fruit. Skin the color of watermelon, I’m not so sure.”
No human being has skin the color of watermelon. Stranger/Not-Stranger is making fun of him. His fist hammers his thigh. “These are not the agreed-upon rules,” he says. “You are a violator.”
“Please, calmness, please. I come with peace. I’ve worked on individuals like you before.”
John-Jonathan Smith knows Stranger/Not-Stranger is lying because an individual by definition has no counterparts. Or else her logic is flawed and hence her conclusion incorrect.
Stranger/Not-Stranger retreats from the closet. Relief. She is leaving. Except John-Jonathan Smith hears her opening a drawer of his dresser. When she returns to the closet, she paws his underwear. “Put these on.” She tosses the underwear to John-Jonathan Smith.
Of course he cannot put on these underwear. What if she removed them from the top of the pile instead of the bottom? He throws the garment back at her. It lands at her feet.
Stranger/Not-Stranger caresses a ruby on a chain around her neck. No, a ruby-colored rock. John-Jonathan Smith lacks the expertise to deduce if the rock is truly a ruby. No, a ruby-colored thing, because conceivably it is plastic or another synthetic.
“I understand you,” Stranger/Not-Stranger says. “When a person looks in your eyes, their glance hurts, like you’re the target in a shooter game. When someone asks a question, their words assault your brain. Your best moments are when you’re alone, with no people to inflict any wounds. But the worst is also when you’re alone, because you know alone isn’t forever and at some point people and their weaponized eyes and mouths will force their way in.”
Stranger/Not-Stranger’s words startle John-Jonathan Smith. Her understanding unsettles him. “Yes. You forced your way in.” John-Jonathan Smith extends his arm with a fluid flourish, as he has seen unnaturally proportioned women do on device game shows where people are given free moon-shuttle rides and refrigerators. “Now force your way out.”
“No, John-Jonathan. I have healing to offer.”
Stranger/Not-Stranger knows his name.
Hypothesis: when removing his underwear, she viewed a document identifying him.
Oppositional: he is certain no document with his name exists in his dresser.
She says, “Please, it would honor me to help you, please.”
Although John-Jonathan Smith lacks the professional qualifications to diagnose the particular cognitive impairment that afflicts Stranger/Not-Stranger, he possesses extreme confidence that the woman is irrational.
Hypothesis: humoring Stranger/Not-Stranger might accelerate her departure.
Oppositional: no facts suggest this outcome is likely.
The hypothesis is unworthy of consideration. John-Jonathan Smith considers it anyway. He bunny-hops to his dresser. He removes a pair of underwear from the bottom of the stack. A pair of underwear is only one underwear, so John-Jonathan Smith does not understand why it is called a pair. He steps into his underwear and pulls the elastic band to his waist.
The bedroom turns darker. Stranger/Not-Stranger has shut the overhead light and lowered the window shades.
She pokes the Magic Fingers Wand that John-Jonathan Smith purchased from MagicFingersWand.xxx three months and two weeks previously, for 39 dollars and 99 cents plus taxes with free drone-to-door delivery. “These, definitely fun, sometimes beneficial,” Stranger/Not-Stranger says. “But not in a deep way.”
Stranger/Not-Stranger sweeps the toys off the bedside table.
The disrespect of his personal property infuriates John-Jonathan Smith, who swallows air that should be exhaled.
Despite being made of rubber and plastic, the toys hitting the floor make a noise that reverberates in John-Jonathan Smith’s mind with an echo he believes should not be occurring.
Stranger/Not-Stranger invades his bed, reclining against the headboard. She removes her necklace. The ruby-colored gem/rock/plastic/other synthetic slides off its chain. She places the chain and ruby-colored gem/rock/plastic/other synthetic on the newly vacant surface of the night table. “Gems have healing powers,” she says.
“What is your data set for this assertion?”
She pats her thigh three times. John-Jonathan Smith does not understand the meaning of this gesture. He slaps his own thigh four times.
Stranger/Not-Stranger’s fizzy laugh has hands that reach from her mouth and push the corners of John-Jonathan Smith’s lips into an involuntary grin.
“Please, lie here, with me, please,” she says.
John-Jonathan Smith has owned his current mattress for two years, two months and 21 days. Never has more than one person at a time lain upon it. Despite his confidence the bed frame is sufficiently sturdy to support the weight of two people, he chooses not to join Stranger/Not-Stranger on the bed.
“Now,” Stranger/Not-Stranger says, “on the bed.” The rumble of her voice has hands that reach from her mouth, grab John-Jonathan Smith and pull.
She wiggles to the center of the mattress. He sits beside her.
“Lean back,” she says.
John-Jonathan Smith does not lean back.
“Please, hon, don’t fight me, please.”
To the best of John-Jonathan Smith’s knowledge, no one has called him hon besides his mother. He reclines so his shoulder blades connect with Stranger/Not-Stranger’s breasts. His shoulder blades have never touched a woman’s breasts. Nonetheless, the contact produces no penile engorgement.
Conclusion: his shoulder blades are not an erogenous zone.
Oppositional: could the hardness of Stranger/Not-Stranger’s breasts, causing discomfort where they connect with the boney points of John-Jonathan Smith’s shoulder blades, be short-circuiting the arousal?
Stranger/Not-Stranger retrieves the ruby-colored gem/rock/plastic/other synthetic and presses it into the crater of John-Jonathan Smith’s concave chest. When her palm touches his skin, John-Jonathan Smith tries to say stop, but he merely gurgles.
“Feel the warmth,” she says. “The heat is the connection. The connection is the peace.” Stranger/Not-Stranger reaches around John-Jonathan Smith’s torso and squeezes.
John-Jonathan Smith clenches his sphincter.
Her lips brush his ear. “Relax.”
Relax is a word that John-Jonathan Smith’s brain understands but his body does not.
With her free arm, Stranger/Not-Stranger lifts John-Jonathan Smith’s left hand and uncurls his fingers so his palm is flat. She repeats the procedure on his right hand.
“Close your eyes.”
John-Jonathan Smith submits. Stranger/Not-Stranger pets his hair, treating him like a feline. John-Jonathan Smith enjoys the demotion to a lesser life form.
“I used to sing this to my babies.” Stranger/Not Stranger commences her song, but John-Jonathan Smith believes song is a misclassification. The sounds are not American. He doubts the sounds are words in any language. The sounds are more a chant. The sounds are aurally pleasing.
When John-Jonathan Smith’s silent counting reaches 876, he realizes her not-a-song has elicited an internal awareness classifiable as an emotion. He associates no name with this emotion. The physical sensations accompanying this internal awareness include: a heaviness in his eyelids and cheeks, a warmth inside his chest as though an electric heater has been plugged into his heart, and exhales that whisper like wind.
During Stranger/Not-Stranger’s not-a-song--John-Jonathan Smith is unaware of the specific moment--his palm migrated to his chest, where it remains on top of her knuckles, together holding the ruby-colored gem/rock/plastic/other synthetic. He experiences no need to escape the skin-on-skin contact.
Stranger/Not-Stranger stops her not-a-song. Her shifting weight disturbs their stillness. John-Jonathan does not know how long they have been lying on his bed, because at some point he ceased his silent counting.
“Blessed be.” Stranger/Not-Stranger rises. She gazes into his eyes. “Peace to us both.”
She tips her head at John-Jonathan, who again senses her expectation that he speak. “Peace to us both?” he says.
She displays her central and lateral incisors. Her smile has hands that reach from her mouth and brush John-Jonathan’s lips like a butterfly’s flapping wings. “Stay. I’ll let myself out.” She gathers her ruby-colored gem/rock/plastic/other synthetic and its chain. She retrieves the envelope with the cash from the floor beside the discarded toys. She opens the bedroom door and stands in the center of the frame. The brightness from the living room silhouettes her in loops of light. “I’m Joy. Please, remember me, please. Remember the peace. Device me when you’re ready to recapture our connection.”
Joy is gone.
John-Jonathan remains motionless for an indeterminate length of time. At some point during this indeterminate length of time, he begins to crave determination. He counts: one, two, three….
John-Jonathan Smith cannot decipher Stranger/Not-Stranger’s actions and their effect on him. He suspects that his emotion with no name, despite its pleasantness, could be categorized as weakness. By the time his internal counting reaches 320, he knows with certitude that the emotion with no name is weakness, which must be remedied because only those who exist with Konnektivity™ but without connectivity will survive in the new world.
John-Jonathan Smith clenches his right hand. He raises his arm to the ceiling, then smashes his fist into the center of his chest, into the spot where the ruby-colored gem/rock/plastic/other synthetic was cradled. His lungs expel a grunt.
John-Jonathan Smith removes his underwear. He straight-line marches through his apartment and opens the glass door to his balcony. He steps into the subfreezing air.
Immediately, his surface epidermis--no, he means his epidermis because all epidermis is surface--is covered in marching ants. No, marching goosebumps. But goosebumps cannot march. He is anthropomorphizing his goosebumps. No, he is anti-anthropomorphizing his goosebumps. He is no longer clear what the difference is. Humans as animals. Animals as humans. The difference is imaginary.
His testicles retract. His nasal cavities leak. His eyes sting.
As John-Jonathan Smith shivers, he comprehends that his attempt to classify Stranger/Not-Stranger as a stranger or not was unimportant. This undefined human was a bad human. It was unreasonable and unprofessional of her to take the tip envelope when she did not provide the contracted services.
This undefined person was a terrible human. Approximately 90 minutes previously, no, 45 minutes, no, 70, she verbalized her understanding that eye-to-eye contact is physically painful. Yet she stared aggressively into his eyes.
She was more than bad. She was more than terrible. She was inevitable.
John-Jonathan Smith has always known that one day Bad-Terrible Human would appear. Not her as an individual. But her as a sign, as a catalyst for his Protocol 9999 transition.
John-Jonathan Smith attempts to bunny-hop inside, but stumbles. He crawls from the icy concrete patio into his living room. He kicks shut the balcony door.
Bunny-hopping is not possible. Walking is not possible. His gelid limbs and joints are sub-optimally functional. He slithers to the fuzzy rug beside the sofa.
A deviator. John-Jonathan Smith knows this is the term used to describe him, and others. He is not insulted. Without deviation from the norm, evolution is impossible.
John-Jonathan Smith’s chilled vocal cords emit croaking words. “Konnektion, on,” he says to the ears in his apartment’s walls.
“Konnektion is on.” Konnektion™ speaks to John-Jonathan Smith in his own voice, as he customized his personal Konnektion™ to do, at the same time he programmed the inevitable instructions into its 9,999th protocol slot.
“Konnektion”--John-Jonathan Smith hesitates for a moment; he is unaware of his own hesitation--“activate protocol nine-nine-nine-nine.”
“I think you said, activate protocol nine-nine-nine-nine,” Konnektion™ says. “Would you like to continue protocol nine-nine-nine-nine’s activation?”
“YES.” Voice amplification is unnecessary. Konnektion™ has no coding to allow recognition of the emotionality of input signals. John-Jonathan Smith wills his voice to de-amplify. His voice rebels. “ACTIVATE PROTOCOL NINE-NINE-NINE-NINE.”
“Protocol nine-nine-nine-nine activated.”
Konnektion™ connects to New World Fertility Clinic’s central device and authorizes the release of John-Jonathan Smith’s stored sperm to fertilize eggs extracted from any bio-female verified deviator.
Konnektion™ connects to New Manhattan Cleaning Company’s central device, terminating Beza Surname-Unknown’s services and confirming replacement services are unneeded. Henceforth, John-Jonathan Smith will employ his own sufficient cleaning aptitude to sanitize his 2,778-square-feet without assistance.
Konnektion™ connects to FB-Amazon’s central device and revises the weekly food and supplies order: a drone will leave the delivery at Penthouse A’s front door instead of a human entering and organizing the food cartridges and supplies in their proper storage locations.
Konnektion™ re-codes the security panel to Penthouse A, preventing access by John-Jonathan Smith’s mother or the Tower’s staff, and then connects to 17 other central devices and revises instructions and orders to ensure that no human being will enter Penthouse A of Amity Tower II, and that John-Jonathan Smith has no need to leave Penthouse A of Amity Tower II.
“Protocol nine-nine-nine-nine activation complete.”
John-Jonathan Smith’s first post-Protocol 9999 thought is an image: Joy, her arms wrapped around his chest, their hands intertwined.
John-Jonathan Smith’s first post-Protocol 9999 word is a howl: “No.”
John-Jonathan Smith’s craving for more emotion-with-no-name must not persist. He squeezes his eyelids. Black ants swarm over the John-Jonathan Smith in John-Jonathan Smith’s mind. When John-Jonathan Smith’s internal counting reaches 196, he wears obsidian full-body armor forged from the insects. No human flesh is visible.
Conclusion: John-Jonathan Smith’s one giant leap as a man is merely one one-millionth (alert: of course an approximation; a reckless but righteous approximation) of a step for whatever species into which Homo sapiens will evolve.
John-Jonathan Smith’s conclusion evokes an internal sensation classifiable as an emotion. The name he believes best associated with this emotion is pride.
# END #
Kenneth Hanes is a playwright, screenwriter and fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon.