Remove the wires that replaced the spine and the electrodes extending from its temples would act as an axle so that enough force applied to either the chin or the back of the head would cause the whole thing to spin. It is something both of them have thought of often, though neither of them has tried. Not on this one at least. The first one was named Harold. They call this one Henry, though it still refuses to acknowledge its name. The assistant’s name is Robert. The doctor’s name is Daniel. The walls are made of sandstone. Pockets within the stone are filled with bacteria. As the bacteria consume the walls, they shit silicate. The doctor is convinced that whenever he touches the wall the heat from his hands produces glass. He is standing beside the nightstand. He is holding a measuring tape. He is measuring the distance between the sandstone wall and the nightstand. He is saying that he’s certain that the room is expanding. Robert is standing beside the head. Robert has a handful of wires. Robert is asking, “Should I do it again?” Yesterday the distance between the wall and the nightstand was three and three-quarter inches. Today it is three and thirteen-sixteenths.
The doctor looks up from the space. His glasses have slipped a bit so Robert is a bit blurry. Half of Robert’s face is shattered. It looks as if specific parts of his skull had been removed, but the skin had been left alone and now there’s too much of it, billowing down his cheek like a stage curtain with his eye lost in one of the folds. The jaw, intact and square and symmetrical, makes the asymmetry of his face more pronounced. Robert’s holding wires in his hands, with his hands held out in front of him as if he were holding flowers.
The doctor asks, “So you’re sure you didn’t move this?”
Robert’s mouth is still open. He closes and opens it before he closes it again to answer. “I have absolutely no recollection of moving the nightstand.”
Dust is everywhere and though there is no evidence in the dust on the floor that the nightstand has been slid a sixteenth of an inch away from the wall, the dust accumulates fast, which is why it is everywhere, so it is possible that the nightstand was moved and new dust covered the evidence of it. “So you’re sure?”
Robert’s shoulders slouch forward as if he’s falling to his death in increments of sixteenths of an inch. He takes a deep, audible breath before he clears his throat. “As previously stated, I have no recollection of what I may or may not have done, which is why I am most certainly not sure whether I did it or not.”
“So it is possible?”
Robert clenches his teeth and does not answer the doctor. The doctor fixes his glasses to squint his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that, Robert. I mean, you can clearly understand my dilemma. Something is clearly happening here. I mean, I’m not crazy. How many times have I walked past this nightstand? It has to be in the tens of thousands if not tens of tens of thousands. I mean, three times a day for an entire year is 1,095”&emdash;he had done the math earlier&emdash;“and that’s only three times a day! It’s probably more like seventeen or eighteen times a day, some days clearly more. So the fact that I noted that something was wrong when I noticed the space between the wall and the nightstand and then in measuring that space from one day to the next I find that the space had in fact enlarged, right there that has to tell you something. I really don’t know how to make it any clearer for you and frankly, I have to say I am quite disappointed by your reaction. Quite disappointed.”
Robert rolls his eye. “So I shouldn’t do it again then?”
The doctor displays his disappointment by not displaying his disappointment. “Do whatever you’d like, Robert. Far be it from me to&emdash;”
“Cool.” Robert’s tongue is already hanging out of his mouth in anticipation as he begins to sort through the wires. “My favorite part is when he first blinks ‘cause you can totally tell that he isn’t even aware that he’s blinking, like he doesn’t even know what blinking is, so it’s all crazy blinking, but then it gets all slow and you know that he’s finally figured out this whole blinking thing but you also know that he doesn’t know that he can stop, which is the funniest part ‘cause it’s all like confused blinking, and then all of a sudden he does stop, and you can tell that he’s all happy with himself like he actually accomplished something, like not blinking is accomplishing something. It’s a riot, I mean you’re dying ‘cause it’s just so funny, because you can tell he’s all ‘Well, I got that out of the way. Now what?’” Robert would slap his knee if he weren’t sorting through wires. “It just kills me.”
“If I don’t kill you first,” the doctor mumbles to himself before he checks the dust on the floor again.
“What was that, Doc?”
The doctor moves his head closer to the dust. “I said,” he says, “if I don’t kill you first.”
“Fat chance, Doc. I’d be ready for you this time.”
The doctor is contemplative and puts his hands on his hips to prove it. Then he uses one of his hands to support one of his elbows so he can tap a finger against his chin. He hopes Robert is looking at him while he does this, but he knows he’s not. He can already hear the alternator. “Do not connect the lung,” he warns him without turning around.
“But I want to connect the lung!” Robert says.
The doctor shakes his head. He is sure Robert can see that. “Then go ahead and connect the lung. Like I tried to say earlier&emdash;”
“Awesome!” Robert connects the lung.
“Awesome,” the doctor repeats.
The lung is a muffled Shop-Vac. Robert connects it to the head with a hose. Besides the blinking, Robert also enjoys the sound the hose first makes when forced into the head’s throat. Sometimes he also likes to hold the head between both of his hands. It makes him think of the word “behold”, like when he holds the head like that, he should lift it up and say, “Behold.” He stops himself from doing this, licks his lips and looks down at the last wire. He says to it, “You do realize the nightstand may be shrinking, not the room enlarging, yes?”
The doctor is disappointed, but this time he displays it by clicking his teeth and shaking his head. “I’m not an idiot, Robert.”
“Of course not, Doctor.”
“Obviously that’s the first thing I checked.”
“Of course, Doctor.” All that needs to be done now is to connect the final wire. The moment after he accomplishes it, Robert will realize that the action is irrevocable. His life will be forever altered by the reanimation. But once the blinking begins, all will be forgotten. At least until the blinking ends and Robert realizes that all he needs to do to go back in time, to restart time, is to disconnect a wire.
“I’ve also considered the fact that the wall may be shrinking. So what I’ve done&emdash;and this is very clever, Robert, and you’d do well to learn from such creative problem solving&emdash;is measured how long it takes to turn the wall into glass at random points around the room, except for this wall of course. Then I simply timed this wall and compared it to the average of the others. I’m sure you noticed the increased number of spots on the walls that I’ve turned to glass.” Robert hadn’t, nor does he bother to notice now. He’s still staring at the last wire. “The odd thing though&emdash;not that a room expanding is not odd&emdash;but what really gets me is that if the room is expanding, then why isn’t there also a space between the wall and the bed? Why only the nightstand?” He looks up to see Robert not listening to him. “Are you listening to me, Robert?”
“Not at all, Doctor.”
“Excellent. God forbid anything I say should&emdash;”
“I was just … What I mean to say is …”
The doctor is concerned and demonstrates it by trying to meet Robert’s eye. “Out with it, Robert.”
“Well, I was just thinking that it seems a bit sad, you know? It’s become so easy now. Like how when we first start off it seems like we’re doing something we shouldn’t, not shouldn’t as in other people think we shouldn’t, but shouldn’t like how some things just shouldn’t be done. But then days go on and it just becomes something you do, like not a big deal, just connecting a wire to a head. Like it’s all okay now, but not because it actually is okay, more because it doesn’t really matter anymore if it’s okay or not. And maybe that’s why it still seems wrong sometimes.” Robert is still staring at the wire he is still considering. “But today is today … and this is what we do.”
The doctor smiles. He does not smile often. “No, Robert. This is what’s been done. If you think you have a choice then all you have to do is not do it.”
“But I want to.”
“Well, I guess you don’t have a choice then, do you?”
“I guess not.” Robert looks dejected. “It’s just sad, you know.” Robert has already picked up the wire and connected it.
The doctor has already returned to his space. “It’s curious is what it is, Robert.”
Robert is holding his hands out in front of him like he is holding a head. “So, do you think you are getting better?” he says slowly, addressing the head. “That is to say, do you think you are progressing?”
The head watches Robert’s hands as he speaks, rather than Robert’s face. “How would I know?” the head says to them.
The doctor is lying on the floor. The dust beneath and around where his body lies has been removed, but is already starting to settle again around him. The doctor is looking up at the ceiling.
“How would it know?” he says to it.
Robert stops, churns his hands together, collects his thoughts, and tries again. “Why is the first thing you always say, ‘Where are my legs?’”
The head looks down at where its legs should be. It looks back up at Robert. “Because I have no legs.”
The doctor chortles.
Robert shakes his head. “Of course. But aren’t you at all concerned as to where you are? I mean, wouldn’t you think your first question would be ‘Where am I?’”
The head looks as though it might shake its head if it actually had a neck. “Well … no … because obviously it wasn’t the first thing I thought to ask because obviously that was not my first question.”
Robert grimaces. He is more upset with himself than anything else. “Right … of course … but what I mean to say …”
The doctor takes one of his hands out of his pants to scratch his ear. “Where it is is irrelevant if it has no way of leaving.”
“Not really,” says the head. “It’s still relevant.”
The doctor ignores the relevance except to roll his eyes. “You’re not going to get anywhere with this line of questioning, Robert.”
“Right,” Robert agrees. “Sorry.”
The head frowns. “For what?”
“I was not speaking to you, but if you must know, I am sorry for engaging you in an unproductive line of questioning.”
“And what are you trying to produce?”
“Exactly!” Robert is speaking with his hands again, not holding a head in them, but crushing one. “If it were working, you would not ask such a question.”
The head would loll if it were able. “I don’t get it.”
“You’re not supposed to get it.”
“Robert,” comes from the floor.
“Just get back to it then.”
Robert looks apologetically at the head. The head doesn’t understand why and blinks repeatedly while trying to figure it out. The blinking makes Robert feel better.
“So,” Robert begins confidently, “you find God late in life …”
“Where do I find him?” the head asks.
“On the side of a road on a rainy night.”
“Long and littered is the road that leads there,” the doctor mumbles.
“You have been driving for a very long time,” Robert continues. “It is a drive you never wanted to take. But you are upset. Something terrible happened earlier and you have no other place to go.”
“Other than where?”
“Other than wherever you began from.”
“So it’s irrelevant?”
“In the context of what I am telling you, yes, otherwise it would have been included in what I am telling you.”
“That makes sense.”
Robert steadies his eye on the eyes of the head. “Anyhow,” he continues. “It’s a long road and even though you have no place to go, you seem to know where you are going. You feel like what you are doing is correct, that there is nothing else you should be doing, that you are only doing what has already been done. It’s quite gratifying and whatever that had been so terrible and so upsetting to cause such a decision is forgotten, unappreciated, irrelevant.” Robert makes a slow, calculated turn to observe the doctor lying on the floor. One of his hands in his pants, the other being used as a rudimentary telescope to stare at a patch of glass he had made in the ceiling. Legs are crossed and the foot that’s in the air is shoeless and sockless. A string is tied to the big toe. It runs along the floor to a hook in the baseboard, through the hook, along the wall, and ending around a leg of the nightstand. The string is held taut.
Robert turns back to the head. The head is looking up at him with its mouth open. From Robert’s angle, it looks like it’s screaming. “Your car breaks down. You pull over to the side of the road. It is raining harder than it was. You can’t see anything around you and all you can hear is the rain. So you start walking, but you’re not sure where you’re going. You only see the truck at the last second. Two lights emerging from the rain until you can only see one light. You only have a moment to look up, but not all the way. The moment is only enough to meet the eyes of the truck driver, and somehow you both seem to see the same thing. Which is when you say the word ‘God.’”
Robert nods his head with the word “God.” The doctor laughs.
The head says, “It’s not funny.”
“You’re right,” Robert says.
“Do not refer to it as ‘you,’” comes from the floor.
“I know,” Robert knows. “I was just …”
“I know what you were just, Robert, but why don’t you just continue.”
“Yes, doctor.” Robert returns his attention to the head. He looks apologetic.
The head, not knowing how to react, shifts its eyes back and forth between the doctor and Robert. It feels like it should ask first if it can ask a question before it asks the question, perhaps because it asks, “Why can’t you refer to it as ‘you’?”
Robert ignores it and continues, gaining confidence in his voice. “The truck driver’s name is Harvey. You assume he has a moustache, but you’re wrong. His wife’s name is Linda. They have a daughter named Laura. Laura was traveling approximately 42 miles an hour when she swerved from the squirrel that had run out onto the road. Instead of braking, she accelerated and traveled 20 more yards or so until she hit the tree. An oak tree. The impact of her head into the steering wheel cracked her skull and fractured her neck. Linda was in the bath with a half a bottle of wine when the phone rang. She didn’t answer it.”
Robert gives the head a moment to consider Linda not answering the phone.
He continues: “You can hear trumpets playing in the distance at night. Your patio faces the water in the distance and you can hear the single notes of trumpets beyond it. Your name is Henry. You can hear them sometimes before you fall asleep. The window will be closed and a curtain drawn and lying in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, you can still hear them. You will remove your glasses. You will still hear them. You will go to sleep by them. Without your glasses you cannot even see the darkness well and shapes move like spirits move, reminding you of other moments in your life when you’ve seen spirits move. You would tell them to stop if you believed they were there. The God you’ve found is cruel and distant. He doesn’t listen to you. He hates you. He torments you. He doesn’t love you. You open the window.”
“Nice touch,” comes from the floor.
Robert does not look happy, which is why he says, “Thanks, Doctor,” instead of “Thank you, Doctor.”
The head is beginning to be concerned about where it is. Before it can ask, “Where am I,” the doctor says, “Now happiness.”
“Right,” says Robert sadly. “Sometimes when you open the window, you hear a baby crying, and when you lie down in bed to listen to it, you think of happy things, like babies. You think of your baby, and how much you love your baby, and how much your baby has to love you. You think of teaching your baby and taking care of your baby and of the many different scenarios in which you’d give your life for your baby. Your baby is giving its first State of the Union Address. You’re on the side of the podium taking pictures and waving to it, and when you look out over the crowd, all in great appreciation and admiration for all you’ve done for your baby, you see the glint from what you assume must be the scope of a sniper rifle. Without a thought otherwise, with absolutely no preparation for such a scenario, you heroically dive in front of the bullet, saving your baby. You lie on the floor of Congress, bleeding out into the carpet, staring up at the ceiling. No one can save you now. Your baby crawls to your side, props itself up onto your chest, pounds it twice spastically with its left hand, then looks into your eyes, drools into your mouth, and crawls away. You smile. You are very, very happy.”
“Very, very, very happy,” comes from the floor, followed by a sneeze and then a pause for Robert to say, “Gesundheit,” which he doesn’t. “Now tragedy,” says the doctor.
Robert nods his head at the head. “Your wife forgot your birthday.”
“And now the epiphany, please, Robert,” says the floor.
Still unwavering from the head. “The reason your wife forgot your birthday is because she doesn’t consider you human. She proves this by frequently yelling, ‘You are not human.’”
The floor clicks its teeth, “That’s my favorite part,” and then proudly, “Please redeem him, Robert.”
“Your wife lets you forget her birthday too,” which is Robert’s favorite part.
“Excellent! We are making excellent progress. Wouldn’t you say, Robert?”
“Yes, Doctor. The progress is excellent.”
“And I bet I’ll solve this whole room expanding bit soon too!”
“I bet you will, Doctor.”
The head, meanwhile, has been alternating its perspective from Robert to the floor. Robert has been looking back at it the whole time. The man on the floor has not been. The only thing it can see of the man on the floor is his big toe occasionally wiggling the taut string tied to it. Robert on the other hand has such a large eye to look at, watery at times like an olive stuffed with crude oil, oozing it all over. His open mouth sometimes produces threads of saliva that expand the more his mouth opens until finally they snap and retract back into his lips, causing whatever he had just finished saying to end with a smack like giving a fake kiss. Neither of the two are providing the head with any clear insight as to what is expected of it. “What do you want from me?” it says.
“You mean ‘it,’ not ‘me.’” Robert corrects it. “What do you want from it.”
“Very good, Robert. Finish now while you still have momentum.”
“Yes, Doctor.” Robert returns his attention to the head. He narrows his eye at it, exaggeratedly mouths the word ‘progress,’ and then continues.
“Sometimes it’s not raining that hard when you’re driving somewhere with no place to go. Sometimes it’s not raining at all. And sometimes you don’t hear anything at night, not trumpets or babies, not your wife telling you that you are not human. And sometimes your father isn’t a truck driver named Harvey who used to have a moustache. And your mother’s not named Linda, and she doesn’t take baths, and she always answers the phone. And your sister, who may or may not be named Laura, didn’t hit the accelerator, or the oak tree, or the steering wheel.”
Robert nods his head before he lowers it. Wires make the head blink, without wires it would just stare at him. Robert removes a rubber dishwashing glove from his pocket, puts it on, and pets the head as he continues.
“Sometimes God is current and progressive. God is day to day. And sometimes on that day, when it’s raining and you’re driving and you’ve stopped, you don’t even have to say His name to find Him because He’s the one who finds you. But there’s something He needs to know first.”
The head is entranced by the idea of being petted, even if a rubber glove is required. “What could He possibly need to know from me … I mean it?” it asks.
Robert removes his hand from the head. Then he removes his hand from the glove. “Your name,” he says. “He needs to know your name.”
The blinking slows to the pace of someone sounding out their name. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t try to understand,” Robert says, trying not to lose his patience.
“Your name,” comes bored from the floor.
“Yes,” Robert agrees. “Your name. What is it?”
The head is trying to understand. The head is blinking. It wants to say, “I don’t know.” It wants to say, “I don’t want to know.” Instead, it says, “How would I know?” It does not look at Robert or the doctor when it says it.
Robert shakes his head. The doctor shrugs his shoulders. One of them says, “Now you’ve done it.” The other agrees.
She had been waiting in the other room. It is not known what she was doing in the other room while she was waiting. The first thing she says after she walks through the door is “The correct answer was, ‘Why would I have a name,’ but none of them get it right.” The second thing she says is “What the fuck are you doing on the floor.”
Her name is Effie. Short black hair has become shoulder-length black hair, straight and shiny like the kind you’d find in a shampoo commercial. A pale face is found within the hair. Also soft cheeks. Also a small mouth. Also a nondescript nose. Familiar features that one could easily fall in love with. Though expressionless, and calm, and focused, whatever she is looking at seems to be the only thing she’s ever looked at. There is no inflection in her voice, even when she’s asking a question, so it’s hard to know when you’re expected to speak.
Robert is used to it by now. “The doctor is convinced the room is expanding,” he says to her.
“Why the fuck would he think that.”
“Well.” Robert looks down pensively at the head, which is blinking consistently. “The nightstand is a sixteenth of an inch further away from the wall today than it was yesterday.”
The doctor quickly removes the string tied to his toe and stands up. “A confirmed sixteenth of an inch,” he adds, nodding his head. “I measured it twice.”
Effie shakes her head. “I moved the nightstand.”
Robert is impressed. The doctor says, “Why did you move the nightstand?”
“Why would you think that meant the room was expanding.”
“Well,” the doctor says while looking at his hands, which also leads to him looking at his bare foot. “I didn’t necessarily think that the room was expanding, as in growing, as in eventually becoming the largest room the world has ever seen. Um … it was more like evolution … almost … that is to say that this present room was in the process of evolving into a larger room, and I know it sounds perhaps odd that one would think that a room could evolve, but I thought that given the context&emdash;and by context I mean this room&emdash;that such a thing might very well be possible.”
Effie shrugs her shoulders. “Well, I moved the nightstand.”
The doctor is sweating, and proves it by wiping his forehead.
“Yes, but why?”
“To fuck with you, why else. But I did like the whole evolution-into-a-larger-room bit.”
The doctor smiles through his sweat and does so with all of his teeth. “Yes, thank you. But what about the dust? I mean, how did you move it without leaving a mark in the dust, or at least an indentation?”
Effie does not look around the room when she says, “What dust.”
The doctor looks around the room, and after he looks up at Robert, Robert looks around too.
“Well, it does accumulate fast,” Robert says to the doctor.
The head ahems. “Not to interrupt or anything but just out of curiosity, did I ever answer Henry?”
“Did it ever answer Henry,” Robert corrects it.
“Yes,” the head says, “it. Did it ever answer Henry?”
“This is the first time it’s called Henry,” Robert responds, still splitting his attention between Effie and the doctor.
Effie nods her head at them. “This one is certainly more inquisitive than the others. So where are we with it.”
Robert removes a notepad from his back pocket and reads from it while pointing at what he reads. “Positives in perception, affability, and comprehension. Logic and spirituality, not surprisingly, aren’t even registering. I mean nothing at all. Abstract awareness still fluctuating, which is to be expected. And, of course, as you’ve heard, self-awareness is still super heavy in the negative. Not that we tried very hard to reverse the context, but we certainly tried enough.”
“In other words,” the doctor adds, “we did the birthday bit.”
Robert continues. “Either it’s aware of itself or it’s aware of the room, but never both at the same time.”
She looks down at it. “And you don’t think it’s making a conscious decision to do so.”
Robert looks down at it too, but it is not looking back up at him. It makes him think of the word “behold”. “No, I don’t think so.”
The head continues to stare at Effie. It seems to be unaware that it is the subject of what they are talking about. Effie is aware that it is staring at her.
“How is its peripheral vision.” She does not wait for an answer to walk to its side.
“It hasn’t noticed it yet, if that’s what you mean.” Robert moves to its other side.
“It hasn’t had a reason to.” She removes her shirt. Her bra is black. The cups are sheer. Her nipples are small. She puts on her shirt.
Robert had averted his eyes. The doctor had not. He solemnly sits on the side of the bed. Effie returns to her original position. “So are you two staying this time.”
“I think it’d be best,” Robert says, nodding his head. “Don’t you think so, Doctor?”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice. Isn’t that right, Robert?”
Robert smiles at the doctor. The doctor smiles back at Robert. Effie shrugs her shoulders and says, “Whatever.”
The head asks, “How come they never say your name?”
Effie’s lips twitch, which may be how she smiles, but which also may be just her lips twitching. She checks her watch. She says, “Are you ready.” She does not wait for the head to say, “Ready for what?”
“Your secretary’s name is Ethel. The first time you met her you said, ‘I didn’t think anyone was named Ethel anymore,’ and the first thing she said is, ‘I didn’t think you wouldn’t say that.’ There are odd pictures of old men not smiling on the walls and lilting music in the background subliminally implants the word ‘reproduction’ in your head. You sit in your office and imagine Ethel bending down at the waist. She stinks deep and dark and musky because she never wears deodorant and on hot days when you don’t turn on your air conditioner you dictate long letters to dead relatives as you hover above her in order to smell her at her freshest. This goes on forever, so you masturbate into toilet paper.”
Effie takes a breath and tilts her head.
The head tries to mirror the action.
Effie kneels down.
“Her sister is in town. Her name is Angel. When you first meet her, Ethel’s stockings are beige and Angel’s socks go all the way up past her knees. Her skirt ending slightly above where they stop. She laughs when Ethel first says your name and when you shake her hand she laughs again. Ethel is embarrassed by this behavior. They invite you over for dinner.”
Effie inches closer on her knees.
“The dining room table is a long rectangle of hard red wood. Your wife sits at the far end of it with one leg up on a chair the other slowly sliding up and down it, her skirt already having been hiked up. Angel sits between you on the right, biting her bottom lip, wearing glasses, not wearing a bra. She is leaning back too but not to either side. She is in the center of her chair. Her knees are apart. Instead of a skirt, it is very short shorts. She’s still wearing the socks.”
The head can hear her breathing, especially when it closes its eyes.
“Ethel is serving you soup. She is doing so with a porcelain ladle. She is not facing you. She is bending over at the waist. You are close enough to place your hand on her thigh above her knee. Her skirt is short enough that you can raise your hand as far as you’d like. Her eyes would close and with a moan, she would bend down further, hands out in front of her, one still holding the ladle, and her legs would part as both your hands lift up her skirt. Then you would stand up.”
The doctor coughs and crosses his legs. Robert continues to stare at the head, silently counting the seconds its eyes have been closed.
Effie stands up. The head opens its eyes. Robert records the answer.
Whenever Effie is photographed, she smiles like someone who was just told they have cancer and later went to their child’s third birthday party where they were told to smile for a photograph next to the cake and their child.
That is how the head is smiling at her as she stares back at it. “So how does it end?” it asks.
“On what my name is?” the head asks affably.
“No. On who I am.”
“So I’m supposed to guess your name?”
“No. On who I am in the context of what I just told you. Am I your wife. Am I your secretary, Ethel. Or am I her sister, Angel.”
“I don’t understand.”
Effie says, “It’s easy. Of those three, in that situation, who would you want me to be. You do want me, don’t you.”
“Yes, I would indeed want to want you.”
“Good. So which one am I then.”
The head doesn’t have to think about it, or has already thought about it. “You’re my wife.”
“Why your wife. Because it’s a love story. Are we in love.”
“Well, I’m not sure love has anything to do with that certain scenario. There are implications that can be drawn. The realistic and the fantastic elements seem dependent on each other to a certain extent, and in my opinion, that’s because of love. But I wouldn’t want you to be my wife because of love.”
“Well, it just makes sense. There is a much greater potential for possibilities with you as my wife. Were you Ethel and I simply bend you over the table and have at it, well, there’s little chance Angel would join in. Granted she’d probably fulfill herself right there in the chair, but I sincerely doubt she’d have the courage to stand up. And as for my wife, well, she certainly wouldn’t be thrilled at the sight of her husband doing his secretary from behind at his secretary’s dinner party. Sure she’s probably fantasized about it, but reality and fantasy are far different things.
“And it’d be the same if you were Angel. Sure, Ethel might join in on that. I’m guessing there would have been a time in their lives in which big sister did a bit of tutoring for little sister, at least that’s the impression I get from the little I know, but still, we both know that deep down she’d be pretty disappointed were I to chose her little sister over her. And, of course, my wife would have the same reaction as before. Perhaps even worse because she probably had previously been aware of the Ethel potential, but this Angel is a new entity altogether, tantamount to sleeping with a stranger because of short shorts and long socks.
“However, with you as my wife, neither of them could really blame me for choosing you. Given the relative oddness of the situation, it would be completely understandable that the sight of these two obviously sexually active women would put me in such a state that no one could blame me if I stood up, walked around to the other side of the table, and went down on my wife right there in the chair. And really, after it would happen, after they got over their initial tinge of unfulfilled desire and resentment, they would understand and respect my decision. I could even let my hand linger on Ethel’s inner thigh as I stood and walked away.
And then by going down on you, I essentially remove myself from the situation, leaving but the impression of my presence, and thus the impression of eventual orgasm, by your moans and overall satisfaction with the way everything worked out. And, of course, since you and Ethel would be facing each other, it would be easy for your eyes to meet. Ethel would join us first. Angel would surely follow.
“So as you can see I really didn’t have a choice at all, since that’s the only logical thing to do.”
Effie smiles as if she’s being photographed after being told she has cancer. “So you don’t love me,” she says.
The head’s mouth opens. It looks at the doctor sitting on the edge of the bed behind Effie. The doctor is laughing to himself while shaking his head. When he sees the head looking at him, he makes a gun with his hand and points at it. He puffs his mouth when he fires. The head can only see Robert with its peripheral vision. Robert is busy taking notes in his notebook. There is a body on the couch beside him. It has a jar for a head. The head assumes bacteria fills the jar. Were the doctor to hold it within his hands and say to it, “behold,” it would fill the entire jar with glass. The head can see the muscles of the chest twitch: some so furious that it affects the entire thing. Glistening with a layer of sweat like sunlight on a lake. Hands curved into claws, toes into talons, lying on its side, resting its head of bacteria in a jar on Robert’s leg, reacting to each tremor with its hands and feet like it was buried alive and periodically gaining the strength to dig, which means, in context, it was periodically choosing not to bother.
The head returns its focus to Effie. It says, “I’m confused.”
Effie says, “No, you’re Henry.”
Robert and the doctor laugh while Effie bends down and disconnects the wire. The last expression on the head’s face is one of terror or laughter, like it was so terrified that it found it funny. Though now that the wires have been disconnected it has both stopped being terrified and stopped laughing. Effie leaves the room.
“I’m worried about her,” the doctor says.
“There is a peculiar pattern emerging,” Robert says, looking up from his notebook.
“Exactly!” The doctor stands up with a pointed finger in front of him. “A peculiar pattern, indeed! You took the words right out of my mouth.”
“It is a bit sad though, isn’t it, Doctor?”
“It is what it is. If you choose to characterize it as sad then so be it.” The doctor stops in front of the head. Its mouth is still open.
“I would choose to categorize it as peculiar. Not that I blame her.”
Tremors in the body increase in intensity, so Robert tugs on its shoulder until it is lying on its back. Rubbing its belly has a calming effect. Robert rubs its belly while staring at the doctor stare at the head. He is calmly considering his life. “But I don’t suppose it matters, does it, Doctor?”
Robert considers his notebook. “Worrying about her.”
“Well,” the doctor authoritatively holds his hands behind him, “I’m not sure you mean to say ‘worrying’, now do you, Robert?”
Robert considers yesterday. “I suppose not.” Robert is despondent.
“Don’t fret, boy,” the doctor says. “It’s not your fault.”
“I suppose not.”
The doctor attempts to cheer him up by bringing up something that clearly won’t. “How’s the job search going?”
“Eh.” Robert is non-committal. “I don’t even send out my resume anymore. Lately, I’ve just been sending out pictures of my penis.”
Robert scratches his head. “You know: To whom it may concern. Nothing in my life would bring me greater fulfillment than employment with your most admirable, awe-inspiring, completely unasshole-ish organization and I have submitted a picture of my cock for your consideration. I think you’ll find it quite employable.”
“Happy or sad?”
“Me? Am I happy or sad?”
“No, your cock. In the photograph.”
“Oh. Happy. Very happy. Though, to be completely honest, it’s not always my cock that I send them a picture of. I like to change it up. And you do want to be careful to match up the right cock for the right job.”
“Of course.” The doctor picks up the wire. “Though I would change the word ‘cock’ to ‘genitals.’ That way if you wanted to send a picture of a vagina, especially for the public sector, you wouldn’t have to keep changing your cover letter.”
“Are you ready?”
“Sure,” Robert says half-heartedly. “Though I’m not sure I see the point. Seems pretty clear where we stand.”
“The last thing it was going to say is just as important as the first thing it did say.”
“Even if it always says the same thing?”
“Especially if it always says the same thing.”
“As if that makes sense,” Robert mumbles.
The doctor ignores him and connects the wire.
Electricity flows. The terror subsides. The head says, “Was I wrong?”
The doctor shakes his head. “Was it wrong,” he corrects it.
Effie, who had been listening at the door, returns to her room.
Robert records the answer.
The doctor disconnects the wire.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Allan Shapiro is a writer and a social worker living in San Francisco. His work has appeared in such mags as Pank, GUD, Ampersand and Canteen, to name a few. “has and have” is one of his favorites. Isolation and deconstruction in a happy little room with a happy little head.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Matthew Laznicka studied illustration at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. He has been a professional illustrator freelancing since 2003. He also enjoys painting, music and experimenting with animation. He loves classic illustration work from the 1940s-1970s and tries to capture the essence of that look, but usually with a contemporary twist. Two of his greatest in uences have been Norman Rockwell and the covers of Popular Mechanics from his childhood.
ABOUT THE RAG
The Rag is the home for literary guts and steel. We are an electronic publication hell-bent on true grit and uncompromising action. We call this “literary entertainment.” We publish new fiction monthly on our website www.raglitmag.com. You can read online, or free downloads are available in PDF, Kindle and ePub formats.