Death! Yes, death.
There are people who reveal themselves promiscuously. Every moment is a quest for identity, an opportunity to freeze the flicker of self through assent or disagreement. Idne was not one of these; she was not afflicted, as it were, with personality. For some freakish atmospheric reason, her line of intentionality pointed out and away. The shape of her mind was one of need brought to a harrowing simplicity; the smell of her person was top notes volatilizing. In heightened moments her face would flush a lovely flush.
Bending in the bedroom, Idne touched her face to her shins and then straightened, pulled her arms above her head and then curved them down around an invisible bolus.
Dave waited in bed for her, feeling indifferent. His hands were cold, and he was trying to warm them up with small resistance bands, which he hoped would also improve his grip strength. One day he would glance back at the semiotics of this nightly yoga routine and feel existentially disturbed, but today he was still the Dave of any other day: well-adjusted, or, by all accounts, already dead.
Dave loved Idne because she was sweet, because she was loyal and mildly mysterious, and because she occasionally displayed a manly aspect. When they were talking in bed, as they now were, then her voice would deepen. Dave cherished this. He valued equality.
“I’m missing something, Dave.”
“I’ll do anything for you.”
“I have a hunger no man or god can fill.”
“I know what you want. Ice-cream.”
“I want to be happy. To cause.”
“We cause all the time. We can’t help it. There are wars.”
“There’s no power anymore, no ability to do. With freedom comes a novel impotence that seems to me now, when I contemplate it closely, absurdly… incestuous.”
“There are different types of freedom. This one feels good, titillating, absolutely delirious in fact.”
“Humans thrill in the space between boredom and precarity.”
“It’s a good thing. It feels good to be trapped on a ladderless plane. The alternative includes blood, more blood than I wish to describe. Defrocked nuns screaming in the streets.”
“A giddiness, then. Giddy as a nun in summer’s hot revolving lust, everything washed out and red…”
“Which is not to say that I, Dave, condone this or that. I object to nothing.”
“The signs all spiral inward. There is no more outreaching, outskipping, outstripping of oneself.”
“And very little murder. We ought to thank our stars for that. Our lucky blues, even if they are deranged now and then. Running amok is a male ritual.”
“For a while there was a weightless spring.”
“The acronymic thing. Can I just say that its characterization by the media as a feminized force of nature dissolving the hearts of men is morbidly sexist. When anyone can see that it resembles sperm.”
“These were times of limitless possibility, only no one knew what to do. Those who were the strongest passed into a realm of vaguely Dadaist dimensions, adopting strange new identities, buying artificial hearts, pissing on the floor. The weakest were like railing in a rainstorm, battered but steady. They were certain they could bring about change. They had to have hope.”
“We did things.”
“You ran a marathon, Dave. A marathon…”
“I feel great about marathons. The shadowless orange skies of a Western coast. Rubber. Grit. Dust. Expectorations of triumph and despair. The fire that cleanses.”
“Tense jaws and legs that amaze us— egs that have seen a sharpening stone.”
“Husband, marathoner, cloud solutions architect, occasional writer of things. It is I.”
“You live in rehearsals.”
“One does not rehearse running through a wildfire. One does that only once a year.”
“We are not too far from the part of the world that intentionally sets off wildfires devouring entire cities, states, continents at a time, in order to practice putting them out.”
“You read that on a cloud endpoint run by, of all things, Vermont secessionists.”
“Noble rebels with flame-licked ferrous hearts.”
“How true the bracing blackness of words set upon white rings to the innocent.”
For a while they idled, both of them lost in thought. Dave regarded this last utterance as a paragon of its kind, and leaned past Idne’s bare, beta-sloped breasts, grazing her slightly-flushed hindface with a single blue knuckle, to show it to the world—to shout it from the rooftops, in a way. Then Idne spoke.
“I’ll say it. I want a child.”
“A child!” (Retracting hand.) “It’s too late for that.”
“Not for adoption.”
“But we’re sterile now. We are individuals, after all, human adults. Of a certain class.”
“I regret it. It was selfish.”
“Wanting a child is selfish. Wanting a child is a banal response to that urge we all have.”
“I dream of patron saints, lovers, children. There’s something I yearn for in all of those. A mineness, outside and outsized.”
“There is only one adoption center in the world: St. Jeffrey’s School for Needy Children. Did you know that? You must’ve known that. Founded by a brilliant man. Evil, yes, but…”
“Well, I’m not opposed. He was the only founder of all the founders who resisted making his brand completely homosexual.”
“To need and be needed. There is a beauty to that. To have a single child, a single book, a single spoon.”
“It’s not that I approve of the underlying sentiment. It’s that I think it’s strategic: consider the lack of fallen empire. I could get behind adoption.”
“It’s rather awful, though, don’t you think?”
“Whatever happens, we’ll have a dizzying array of enclosures. Basketball courts. Film studios. A secret sorority of precocious peers. She won’t need to merely ‘find her place,’ as they say nowadays. I want her to have a journey, just like I did.”
“A girl would be best. Everyone wants to be a young girl. I’ll admit it: even I. We could produce a lovely, limpid, plummy one, not so beautiful that she isn’t cute, not so cute that she isn’t sexual. We don’t want her wasting her time on silly celestial things. She’ll be model-driven, a statistician.”
“I don’t know what that means. I have many interests, formed many memories.”
“An immanent thing. Having a body, a corpse.”
“Yes, but ignoring for the moment how you routinely fail to grasp the wondrous diversity of the material, I will focus instead on the benefits of cuteness, the only thing that can be said with any assurance today to be beyond good and evil.”
“I think I want a boy. A heroic, bicameral boy.”
Dave, always on the lookout for some crack in which he could swell, and having rarely encountered the beauty of bringing other people out, hoisted himself up on one elbow.
“To be cute, to be freed from complexity and yet completely unfathomable! What more could you want? A cute girl commands more than attention; she hypnotizes the world. Think of all the cute girls we know, their spirits unsagged by the crushing weight of our discursive binaries. How light they are. How playful and uncanny. We murmur as they come near, we are slightly humid and insane. I like to watch them in repose, the crescent lump of a sleeping mouse. I pat that puckish, powerful, powerless head. One recognizes a cute girl by the shape of her posterior, the lips curled cheekward, and also by the plumes of sadism and veneration that waft, in a strange double-helix, through the chimney-stack of one’s chest. I, Dave, am a patron to several. This is not unusual.”
“I want him to grow up to like violence. To slouch nonchalantly through a libidinous surge of demonstrators, licking ice-cream.”
“She is someone the world will want to take care of. Someone automatically loved.”
“Sometimes, rarely, despair comes over me.”
“You’re right. Naturally we’ll have to give them the choice: girl, boy, both, or neither. Mouse.”
Dave sometimes thought Idne displayed a yearning so extreme it would be embarrassing to read. When they turned off the lights that night, his mind spent eight scuttling minutes—the average time it takes a Dave to fall asleep—imagining their conversations unfolding in real-time across his supervisor’s screen, accidentally transcribed by some indulgent permissioning incident in the latest release of their personal assistant. Yvonne would laugh and the laughter would lance him. If only he could hijack that glowing disk and edit the evening into something more adult.
What exactly was the nature of this sudden desire for a child? It had something to do with a latent part of Idne’s core programming, something he had always seen and only vaguely understood, and which now groped towards realization. It was hard not to take this personally. Idne used to be so amiable. She used to be captivated by the way he announced his assessments of the world. When the world churned, her desire to churn with it could always be alleviated by a look at history and its facts regarding change. A mélange of romanticism and practicality was endearing; any kind of imbalance was frankly unattractive. He could only conclude, pondering this now, that marriage was the fading away of the desire to be liked.
They went to St. Jeffrey’s School for Needy Children. Dave was a jolly believer, for personal reasons, in the ability of proximity to extinguish desire. He hoped this visit would be the last they talked about children, and he even had words prepared for their exit. Idne would be disappointed, yes, but ultimately in agreement that the whole endeavor was basically a daydream. “Have you learned anything new?” He’d say. “Have you found a way to carry on?”
At the entrance they were greeted by a woman who looked like Yvonne. There were many Yvonnes these days, mixed-minority marms with cubist cheeks, full mouths, overpowering base notes, and tiny bronze noses whose tips shined with bright white cream. Dave found Yvonne exotic-but-accessible.
“We have an appointment to watch the 10 AM class.”
“You’re on the adoption track?”
“Yes,” Dave said.
“Shall I schedule a post-processing?”
“Yes,” Idne interrupted.
“Excellent. It’s your lucky day. You might see St. Jeffrey, he’s here to survey the facilities. He has new hair.”
“St. Jeffrey himself.”
“He cares very deeply about the school. All the parents trust him. His patronage is indispensable.”
“That is how it is these days.”
“The 10 AM today is free expression.”
“Can we go get settled?”
Idne and Dave sat down in orange plastic seats behind the one-way glass. On the other side of the glass were a few dozen children in a large, well-lit room. Rows of little round hats, Easter egg chinstraps. Each hat was bisected by a long black baton, which kept the children separated from each other. They were very cute indeed, with perfectly round, finely grained cheeks.
A schoolmarm sat in the center of the classroom on a high orange stool that rotated a full three hundred sixty degrees every minute. She was Yvonnesque, but young.
“Discuss anything,” she said airily. “Such as your origins. Desires. Sources of shame.”
“I went to public school.”
“Same here. Before dad started working in the warehouse.”
“My dad too. I mean that’s why we’re all here.”
“I liked my teachers.”
“Mine believed in God and God-like things. Reindeer.”
“Mine believed in generalized additive models.”
“I had a teacher who was obsessed with the Amazon rainforest. The words she used were fervent last breath.”
“I hated breakfast. I hated those sticky cinnamon allulose buns. The flavor. The mouthfeel. Something is lost in the carbon flipping.”
“We had those too. They look like breasts.”
“Our teachers were always cooing but also scared of our blank, pitiless faces. I would try to make mine as blank as possible. A psychotic blankness.”
“The face of a true hylic.”
“The face of a doctor delivering bad news.”
“It’s the only way to get a good education. Mom and dad go work in a warehouse.”
“Dad gets awfully dried out. I hate visiting him.”
“They said we needed to be citizens.”
“They said we needed to be individuals.”
“Yeah. Like a raisin.”
“They said we needed to know things. I believe this imperative is the single greatest threat to democracy.”
“Or like one of those old-timey, desiccated peasants.”
“They said flourish: whatever the conditions. And attention: your future is under construction. They wanted to instill in us a need for compulsory self-determination. This seemed to be the central agon of their own lives, but I lack the ability to see exactly how it affected them. Marm Marika cried while reading us The Polar Express.I wanted to rend her.”
“We had a common room but its sole purpose was to be passed through quickly.”
“Same. I liked it.”
“Spent nights there on loan applications and spelling bee flashcards.”
“Spelling bees are absolutely grotesque these days.”
“Everyone’s too good.”
“Try spelling wok.As in the kitchen thing.”
“Are you kidding me? Try spelling The-Thence-Come-One.”
“The loans are based on academic performance.”
“And everyone’s a Class A. So it’s impossible to get anything.”
“Makes you feel hopeless, haggard.”
“As if unwatered.”
“I remember when Marm Jackson tripped over Christopher’s ant farm. And the ants swarmed her pale, varicose leg, the only one she had. We ran to stamp them all to death, which we had wanted to do anyway, but guards came in and shoved us to the ground.”
“I hated our guards. Oh how I plotted.”
“With enough time intelligence would have surmounted bare muscle.”
“Time. They were always obsessed with it.”
“I have never met a group of adults so obsessed with time.”
“They ran marathons to pass time more slowly. The main idea being to take time in both hands and lengthen it.”
“A primitivist impulse.”
“It makes sense. Spatiality is restored to movement, speed reclaims a human scale. What seems to them an important, longed-for connection between distance and time is reestablished, with every knuckle of meat entrained in the process of securing friction. Which they mistake for reality itself.”
“I prefer speed. Instantaneity. Connection. Blinding loops. The already-happened future event. Full transparency around absolutely everything: a transcendent lacquer.”
“Did you get the sense they were sexless?”
“They Who No Longer Fuck.”
Dave turned to Idne and said, “Well, they’re rather precocious for eight year olds. Maybe we should be looking at younger children.”
“You’re offended by the marathon comment.”
“I’m offended by your insinuation I could be offended by a child.”
“Child subjectivity rules the world. We harken to it.”
“Sadly true. In entertainment, in pornography, in the most private norms of rhythmic entrainment, and in the slogan of the latest iteration of Cliff Bars: Be kind to human. Be kind to planet. Be nom nom.”
“I’m interested in that one.”
“The one who hasn’t spoken?”
“That’s the one.”
At exactly 10:15 AM one of the children, the silent one, put on a mask that looked exactly like his own face.
“Interesting,” the girl closest to him said. “Interesting, challenging, formally complex, fun, quirky, novel.”
“Why?” said a pompous-looking kid in the front row. “Homogeneity, narcissism, and self-sameness are merely symptoms of the times, as well as every time. This is not interesting. The-atopic-“Other”-vanishing-on-the-horizon-of-the-fat-self-etcetera. Academia has saturated this thought. What’s interesting never passes beyond brief subductive flashes of consumable difference. The post-racial face, the autumn months—gaps between known things small enough to be inscribed with safety, and monetary value. We should be concerned with this habit, this habit of finding things interesting. Better to seek out eternal things like Beauty. The thread that runs.”
“Charlie wants to be a theorist.”
“Sad. Everyone knows the time for theory has ended.”
“The era of production has begun.”
“I don’t know. Creation is overrated.”
“Hard to say.”
“It’s a disease.”
“That’s true. About one in five thirty-plus-somethings wheeling their cart through the bright white aisles of a ‘supermarket’ nurses a hideous and demiurgic thirst for creation. This desire is unquenchable, volatile, and oral. It is grounded in the empirically verifiable ascent of SPP, a psychic pressure that comes not just from within but seems to be an externally sourced, ambient and radiating thing in the air.”
“No one knows what it means. But it affects 35-50 year olds primarily.”
“Gross. That’s so old.”
“That generation is the finest bunch.”
“Of superbly disturbed gratification-structures.”
“Incapable of love.”
“Incapable of self-love.”
“A prosaic density of words, light, personality.”
“A spool unraveling from a hardened core.”
“Does anyone else feel like they’re weirdly upset about it?”
“Light as in screens? Or light as in.”
“Void. Dark. Form. Husk.”
“It’s not a joke. They’re seriously sick. Their favorite thing to do is—”
“Mom cried when they took dad off to the warehouse.”
“—to imagine themselves as heroic babies—”
“She looked different. Softer.”
“—in the clutches of an evil father.”
“Makes the bouquet of frozen nerves scream when touched? That’s something my mom used to say. I don’t know what it means.”
“Never experienced it personally.”
“St. Jeffrey says we’re the chosen few. He says we can do anything but that we have only one thing to do.”
“Yeah, like go up to a 35-50 year old. Ring their doorbell. Get very quiet when they answer. Ask for salt in a grave baritone, then point to a piece of furniture behind them and say that does not belong. Soon thereafter, a loud and strangled sound.”
“Soft like butter imminently sliced.”
“Point to a man on the street and scream pedophile!”
“No. The idea is to rule the world, show people what they desire.”
“But as a team. As friends? Not as individuals, which is passé.”
“I had a friend once. It sucked.”
“St. Jeffrey says the regime of desire is fading. There is much drift, and no gravitation.”
“He says we should take advantage of the fact that the two major political parties have come to an accord.”
“Each human will become a hyper-sensual vapor of pure fantasy, a dilettante, and a color theorist. The world beyond the sensorium has already become muted and snowy, the inside lush with rapidly permuting forms. Everyone will live voluptuously in gently osculating dream-worlds.”
“Of our creation, production, and as-Charlie-would-say-theorizing.”
“Prepubescent spirits released from frozen storage.”
“What is the accord?”
“That one will cheat and the other will accept it. But the one who accepts it gets to act superior.”
“My parents have that accord.”
“The parties have always had that accord.”
“But it was made explicit.And there was a big party, an, uh…I forget the word. Orgy. On a lawn. With masks.”
“Something in the skin of every being will tighten and congeal, such that no interpellant presence can pass through.”
“They’ll be whole.”
“Singular and poreless.”
“A knife licked clean.”
As soon as class was dismissed, Idne got up in a flurry and rushed out the door to her post-processing appointment. Dave smelled spearmint and tangerine, thought of Icelandic selkies. He walked briskly to the lobby and sat down beneath a giant portrait of St. Jeffrey, which was surrounded by other, smaller portraits of canonized tech magnates. Time groaned and was long. Eventually he fell asleep and had a dream about Yvonne, or perhaps it was the schoolmarm. The essence of both, which was the essence of neither, fluxed in and out of focus. They were sitting across from each other in her office, overlooking an immortal mauve desert.
“I want you, Yvonne,” Dave said.
“You will never reach me. I am closed to you, an impregnable surface: I have a to-do list.” She closed her eyes, imagining each item.
“Let me polish you. Let me lick you clean.” (Begging.)
“Checking off each box fills me with exquisite jouissance. A plenitude.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
Then they were walking across the desert. It was peaceful and quiet. A grasshopper mouse squeaked against the moon, and Dave could see five tall screens looming in the distance. They were taller than any building he had ever seen, and taller, he suspected, than any building anyone else had ever seen. It seemed like a place to go to if you felt a particular kind of way.
“This business of me wanting.”
“There are certain things only a bored woman staring into the eyes of an ejaculating man can know,” Yvonne said.
“What is there to know. That I am a moderate man. A reasonable man. One who has gazed upon history and learned a thing or two. We must have humility before we go out and do a reckless thing. Or is it that I want to be worshipped? That secretly, I regard the absence of this worship with resentment and incredulity. That I crave power, control, all these things. It’s one of the two.”
“Not that I don’t lust for power in my own way, but of course my demarche is different, a bit more subtle, less aggrandized. Deployed across silk strings too tenuous to see.”
“Idne doesn’t want those things.”
“Idne wants simple things. She is a lot simpler than you.” “Then why doesn’t she love me?”
“It’s the early thirties, Dave. Women are given over to bouts of anti-statist sentiment once in a blue moon.”
“It’s just a bout, then.”
Someone was shaking him gently. It was Idne, her sweet face lit up by an aliveness he would think about every day for the rest of his life—as vivid and alien as an arctic sky—and next to her, two grown men with bald heads and muscles.
“Where are we going?” Dave asked. Idne was dwindling down the lobby, towards the door, and he was going in the opposite direction, held firmly on each side by the two men.
“A boy for a man,” said one guard.
“A man for a boy,” said the other.
Several weeks later, Idne came to visit him in his room. The room was capacious enough, with a set of smooth surfaces and a set of warm lights. Dave liked to keep them on. Idne was holding the hand of the silent child, the one who had put on the mask of his own face. Dave was unsure if the kid was still wearing the mask or not, but either way, the face was remarkable for its small bouquet of eyelashes, an unnatural clump, right above the left lash-line. He hadn’t noticed that before. Dave was not a superstitious person, but now he thought of the following word: witches. The boy’s eyes were dark blue and curious, like Idne’s, and he felt jealous.
“Dave, meet Daniel. Daniel, meet Dave.”
Dave extended his hand through the bars, and little Daniel shook it.
“I’m afraid this is it, Dave.”
“I’m going to die here.”
“You’re going to have a long and productive life. What you’ve always wanted.”
“Arranging, categorizing, completing, distributing. A very dark, very grey peristalsis.”
“Also fed, paid, housed.”
“Dispensing fluids and taking them in, but only at timed intervals. Practically a cow, in a giant autophagic system. This is a human rights violation, Idne. It’s almost pornographic.”
“The warehouse is not autophagic.”
“I use the power of words to draw compelling images. Listen to me. No. I never deserved this, I don’t belong here, absolutely not. This won’t stand. I have defended the people in this place, their multiethnic dignities! I have voted in every presidential election. I gave you orgasms!”
For a moment, Idne looked like she was about to apologize. But the moment passed, as moments will, and she bent down to sit on the floor, pulling Daniel down into her lap. They had five more minutes.
“Let us sit and contemplate your father.”
Daniel said nothing, but did contemplate with his dark blue eyes.
“A wise man once said: he who shears, has no fears. This is why your father shaves every day. He saw it on the news once, and that is why he is glabrous, to better wear his mask. Let us contemplate obedience.”
“I’m not trained for this. To crane my head and to scuttle.”
“You’re a marathoner.”
“I hate it here. It feels like something. Unnamable.”
“An absence, a beast. Yes. I think it is a beast with the head of a lion.”
“Idne, today you smell like cinnamon and powdered violets, with a soupcon of clary sage. I have never felt so tender towards you. Why are you doing this? A warehouse, Idne? Children? Really? This is sinister. This is madness.”
“There is nothing to discuss. We will let the matter yawn between us. Vertiginously.”
“It is time for us to go. We are here to say goodbye. This is where your story ends and ours begins, Daniel and Idne, a boy and his mother, sitting in a little boat in the middle of the vast ocean.”
“I should’ve kept a paper trail of those orgasms. To prove it when the day of my betrayal came.”
“The sky is a dark purple-blue, the same color as the ocean. Everything is velvety and endless, and the horizon discloses nothing other than a dreadful continuity. We are simultaneously at the end and in the middle of the world, paddling furiously, trying to go faster and faster, always in that way. We feel a sense of movement but the horizon discloses nothing but a dull dim glow. It never occurs to us that we should stop paddling, but the idea of stillness burns through cellular regions deep in our bones. Should we stop paddling? And if we did, would we discover that a strong silver rope was pulling us along the whole time?”
“Idne, sweet Idne, sweet magical manly Idne.”
“Yes, I think so, I think we would.”
“What is it that I feel? What is it about this place? This cold and meat-like embrace.”
“Void, dark, form, husk.”
“A knife licked clean.”
“No, Dave. It’s not that at all.”
Quo is an engineer living in eastern Massachusetts.