The cover of this latest seminar pamphlet showed the exposed breast of a woman who had chosen a loose, sheer cloth to cover her otherwise nude body. The one before it had pictured an aroused Socrates slipping his hand under the skirt of a topless Greek goddess. Before that, three men were portrayed gawking at a portrait of a topless woman tangled in bedsheets, surrounded by nymphs. Or were they angels?
My eyes darted from the cover of the text, to my blank note paper, and back again. Perversion always seemed so obvious, though not a person in that lecture hall knew my name or cared where my eyes were, as long as they weren’t planted on any particular person. The lecturer lifted up her novel. The book, torn and yellowed, thick with place markers, tattooed with penned notes and poured over like the family bible sat alive on her podium. Pulled apart slowly, aging from years of abuse, it would be torn to pieces, chewed on, and digested. It’s spine was cracked. It had been stripped from it’s binding.
“Death would be better than this,” she read from it.
I realized I had been too distracted by the printed flesh to understand this tangent. Or perhaps this was the entire purpose of her time in front of us. I had no idea how long she had been speaking. The other attendees began to stand, rudely or appropriately I wasn’t sure. I clapped with them. When they filed out, I followed.
A large poster stood outside the lecture hall. The woman, whose name I couldn’t remember and whose voice had led me to painted pornography, was plastered on the board, her mouth shaped like a wide U, her face thorn pricked with freckles. “The History of Art Language” was printed in large, white letters over the red suit jacket that hung shapelessly around her breasts.
“Mr. Orwell?” A man spoke to me. I did not recognize him, but these days I never recognized anyone.
“What?” I asked, abrasively. Defensively.
“You have a telephone call.”
His face turned ugly. He pointed toward the name tag I had pinned to my suit. I had forgotten about it. My face almost reddened, but my apathy was overwhelming.
He walked me to the phone where my sister’s voice was already rattling. She told me it was time to come to the hospital. I hung the receiver back on it’s base before saying goodbye.
I walked into the ICU. A tired looking woman was sitting in the hallway, alone. Blond hair grew from the dark soil that laid atop her head. Her eyes were like marbles hidden behind two 20/20 inducing glass encasements. Our eyes fused and she began uploading her sentiments.
“You hung up on me.”
“Was there anything left to say?”
She rubbed her temples, her fingers leaving thick red marks on her over sunned face.
“Ask him what the ratio is between his DNA and the composition of steel in his body! Ask if he has hasn’t then already died. He should be in a warehouse, not a hospital. Tell him I refuse to continuously mourn over a broken microwave. His wires are frayed-“
I aborted her transfer of emotion by diverting my eyes. Uploader error. She bared her veneers. “I have things to do too,” she called behind me as I walked into my father’s room.
His skin was jaundiced and thin. Plastic tubes scrawled across his body as veins. The scar on his side from this last-ditch “life-saving” surgery was prominently displayed through plastic tape. All acted as evidence of the invisible nurses that had poured over him, as if he were a newborn child. Their absence commented on his quick aging from years of personal neglect. His spine cracked as he tried to sit up and he found himself unable to move, stripped of his dignity.
“Son, there’s no use in raging,” he breathed before the repetitious beeping of his monitor turned constant. Terminal malfunction. I turned to leave. My sister stood outside the doorway.
“What did he say,” she demanded.
“He would have me ask you the ratio of DNA to that of the silicone in your own body,” I responded just as a team of nurses came running down the hall toward that old microwave’s now closed door. The plastic that covered her nails shone under the florescent lights as she raised her hand to her open mouth. I walked toward the exit.
“Where are you going?” She howled behind me. “I can’t do this alone!”
Her voice trailed off as the ICU door buzzed and closed behind me.
The interstate was lined with billboards advertising fast food and gambling. I bypassed my exit and found myself heading toward the casino. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket before I turned it off. Talk radio blared in my ears. My GPS told me to turn left. I turned left and the radio grew loud with static. My nerves rested. The white noise was soothing as I coasted into the brightly lit parking lot.
The Blackjack table confronted me immediately, but it was covered in conversation, so I headed instead to the slot machines. A waitress with burlap skin greeted me without a smile. She returned with my whiskey and waited as I slipped my last five dollar bill into the machine.
“Asshole,” she muttered loudly before turning away.
A loud siren blared suddenly and red lights flashed. I felt like a criminal as a white receipt printed from my machine. I cashed my unwarranted winnings in at the ATM. The waitress watched as I put the $500 into my wallet. She gave me the finger. I wouldn’t have noticed had she not followed me, finger raised, all the way to the casino doors.
A man stopped me before I could reach the parking lot. He congratulated me on my winnings. He asked if I would like a complimentary lap dance at the adjoining nightclub. My mind trailed off to the pixelated beauties still dancing on my laptop screen, their videos on loop, their moans undoubtedly pouring out from my open bedroom window. I envisioned the disapproving looks my neighbors would give me, had I ever met them. I saw myself opening my front door, greeted by the sound of a woman simulating pleasure. I threw my jacket on the couch, Weird Science still paused on my DVR from when I had left it this morning. I would go to my room, sit in front of it’s only light source, and watch the nude screen move. It would entice emotion from me until I exploded and felt disgusted with it, and myself. It would cost nothing. I wouldn’t have to touch any one else’s skin. No fake conversation. No sequins falling into my pocket from some med school student’s bikini, only to be found days later in the middle of a business meeting. I’d rather my guilt be immediate. In fact, I’d rather everything be immediate.
“No,” I told him.
“What man turns down a free dance? What’re you, a fag?”
“My battery’s dead. I just need to recharge by myself.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
I couldn’t answer him. I had no idea what I was talking about. I had no idea what anyone had been talking about. I walked back to my car, the five hundred dollars weighing my pocket down. My cellphone was unusually quiet. I couldn’t remember turning it off until it was already back on. It buzzed with new voice mails. A new text message. Then, an event reminder. My calendar opened itself up. Three days away, February 8th. Dad’s Birthday. I turned the phone back off.
I pushed a rock with my foot. The sun made my leather seats look dangerously hot. I looked back at the casino’s nightclub. A sign blinked in the window. Video Screenings, Private Booths.
I turned back. I could sit in that booth tonight. For free. I’d order another whiskey.
I’d virtualize the rest of this hot day.
The night club pusher met me at the door. “Thought you’d forsaken your God given urges,” he laughed. I pushed past him and walked toward a topless dancer with a drink tray. I handed her a hundred dollar bill.
“I’m guessing it’s not water you’re looking for,” she smiled.
“Turn it into whiskey and keep it coming.”
I walked into the booth. The video screen made my skin glow blue. I turned the volume up, trying to drown out the bass of the dancer’s music. I forgot again why my phone was off.