“Do you realize what this means? The action itself has definite causes to pick from. None good. It means you’re defective at best. We’ll have to carefully review your records to figure it out. This means a whole investigation. A pre-trial to determine how serious it is. It’s going to be a lot of work wasted on something you never should’ve done in the first place. It’s a shame that nobody taught you better. But that’s life. Everyone gets a steep learning curve about one thing or another. For your sake, I wish this could be forgotten. But the potential consequences are too serious.”
Could I believe my ears? This is what I heard upon entering the brutal heft of a prefab concrete apartment block.
“What did the KID do if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not that it’s any of your business but he took an unnecessary risk and had an original thought.”
I share a glance with the kid and flare my eyes to tell him to endure whatever this adult has worked himself up over. I say something banal like “kids will be kids.” The adult looks at me as if I were mad.
Once when I was nine, a librarian told me I couldn’t take a book home. She insisted my only choice was to read it there and take notes. But I had a better idea. I slipped into the back office and copied the book on the copy machine. Near a hundred pages deep into that hot sweet stink of fresh copies, the librarian caught me red-handed. What angered her was not the wastefulness but that I thought of my own solution.
“Do you live here?”
The question isn’t really a question but a reminder. You don’t belong here. It’ll be easier if I answer straight.
“I’m visiting a friend.”
“Does this friend happen to live on the third floor?”
Again I feel put on the spot. Maybe I should’ve kept my mouth shut.
“Then maybe you should get to it rather than interjecting yourself here.”
The crisp, sharp tone in the adult’s voice sends me off. I’ve been caught and repurposed too many times to not recognize that tone.
My friend on the fifth floor is more acquaintance than friend. Someone who I was told could help me with my situation. Someone who knows somebody. A matter of discretion. And I’ve already told a stranger what I’m doing here. The stain of my own ineptitude sticks until I forget it with the first sip of tea.
“Look. The point is whether you have a pass or not. That’s all they care about. If a certain somebody is stopped and even let’s say forgets their pass at home. This is no innocent thing. More often than not such a person has things on their mind. Possibly dangerous things. Original thoughts. A full inquiry then is made. It’s all very time consuming and resource heavy, you see? The pass system allows a process of selection.”
Why is he talking to me as if I don’t know?
“Go to apartment 313. Tell him I sent you.”
The ominous third floor. That adult in the hallway sure had me pegged. A pang shoots across my back. The vague pain of being about to do something obviously wrong.
I take the stairs down to the third floor. There’s this sickening feeling that I might run into that crank again. And that would make me an instant liar on the third floor. Crack the door. A woman steps out of a room. She walks toward the elevator. Her outfit overcomes her. It’s an orange puffy jumpsuit. There is something in the way she looks that says it’s a costume, not a perfect fit. It makes me wonder about how many other costumes she has. It is as if I can see them all laid out on her bed, in the room I’ve never been.
As she waits for the elevator, her appearance shifts toward a universal form. I recognize her face. It’s the famous actress, Stella Steeplechase. From interviews, I’ve found her process fascinating. Stella Steeplechase claims to have access to a deep catatonic state wherein she finds the smallest and closest place that allows a possession to take hold of her. Then, the behavior pulses itself through her. Sometimes, the pulses near convulsions when the intensity of a possession reaches its limit. Then it becomes a game of holding on to that threshold. On the brink of utter randomness, as she puts it. As loosely patterned as it can be while still sticking together enough to make sense to the audience.
The hall is clear. Another headache strikes and I press my face against the cold wall. I never used to get these migraines until they started deploying the anti-thought machines. At first, we dismissed the crackpot conspiracy theories. But then came the months of what is called “the blankness.” You go blank before you know it. After a few months, the thoughts creep back in punished and more tame. The pounding headache recedes so I swiftly go to room 313 with Stella Steeplechase’s face emblazoned on my mind and knock.
“Who told you to come here?”
“Rolan. From the fifth.”
The door opens. I glance quickly at the empty hall as I slip in. It’s the crank from earlier.
“Aha. I knew it was you. Look, I have to keep up appearances. You never know who’s listening. So what’s on your mind?”
“I’ve misplaced my key.”
“Of course. Not sure what good it’ll do you though.”
“You haven’t heard the news? The Reenactors have finally taken over the city. Did you not notice the pandemonium outside?”
“Of course. It was my best chance to get over here without a pass.”
“Well, you’re lucky a Reenactor didn’t stop you in the street. They’re not interested in seeing anyone’s pass. In fact, if you ever do get caught by one of them, it would be wise to lose the pass. I mean toss it, swallow it, shove it where the sun don’t shine, if you know what’s good for you.”
He sits at a government module, clearly stolen. It’s a toss up when the administration will take back control, but it’s only a matter of time. Order will be restored until the next outburst. At the strike of a key, the dumbwaiter delivers my pass and Felix hands it over. I pocket it.
“You’re not going to check it?”
“What’s it matter? It’s fake isn’t it?”
“What’s your real name by the way?”
“Leon. Short for Leonardus. Leonardus Schitzolini.”
“Not the same Schitzolini as in Hieronymus Schitzolini?”
“Yes. That’s my father.”
“You should’ve told me this from the get go.”
Felix digs into a shelf and pulls out a copy of my father’s book.
“Rubber Dream Trampoline. Granted it was written in a different time. But this book got me through many tight spots. He really harpooned several areas that were foggy until I read it. I’m sure you’ve heard all this before.”
“You know in his time people didn’t appreciate it. It was only later when he was already near death when Rubber Dream Trampoline became a thing.”
This was true but not nearly the whole story. My dad was a conflicted man. His tragedy was to a large degree self-produced like everyone else, in his view. He’d have been the first to admit that. But everybody read something else into Rubber Dream Trampoline until it was banned.
“It had to be so. Something that original cannot be tolerated. Anything too idiosyncratic arouses suspicion.”
“Do you know the origin of the title? Not many do. I don’t believe it was ever in print. But on his death bed, he handed me this note.”
I pull it out from my pocket. It’s been something of a lucky charm for me that I prefer to keep with me whenever I leave my apartment. “Would you care for me to read it?”
Mom wants to get me out of the house so that she can cheat on dad. Whenever she saw someone, there was this sensation I’d get that I didn’t understand at the time. That vague feeling – the queasiness of betrayal. She tells me to go outside and clean up the backyard the day after I had friends over and to make sure to put the tent away from the sleepover.
Grumpy about chores, an idea comes to me I find so hilarious that I cannot resist doing it. It sure would be funny to roll myself up in the tent and roll around the yard. I shake the tent out until it’s flat and I get on one side and roll myself into the tent like a human Tootsie Roll. There I am rolling back and forth across the yard in hysterical laughter. With every roll the tent gets tighter and tighter. Then I fell into the pool. The deep end. As I sink to the bottom I realize what’s happening to me. Lucky for me there is an air tight bubble around my head. But I don’t know how long that will last.
I feel my feet touch the floor of the pool. I bend my legs as best I can but the tent is tight and constricting any full bend. With all my might I push off. The human tootsie roll shoots up and breaks the surface. I scream for my life as I get sucked back down. I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. I push off again. Scream. Sink. Push. Scream. The hysteria turned terror had me in its grip for minutes that lasted hours.
And it was my dog, Schnipsy, who saved my life. The faithful dog barked from inside the house until my mom’s lover had to dismount and pull me from near doom.
My memory elongates this experience of sinking, pushing, and screaming and presses me into some eternal rubbery capsule. The trickster’s dream bounces me on his trampoline. A trickster who could get me killed, playfully. From then on, I never know when I might next find something so hilarious that it might be worth my doom.
“Would you mind if I make a copy of that?”
If this is traced back to me, I’d have to go through this all over again or worse. I’m already here to change my name to evade the 24 hour surveillance and routine harassment stemming from having my father’s name.
He goes into another room. I raise my voice.
“What are the Reenactors reenacting?”
“Nobody knows. It’s a weird coagulation of half-beliefs and near fantasies about a war that never really happened. But don’t tell them that because they absolutely believe it did.”
“And the Debtors are reacting to the Reenactors?”
“The Debtors believe in rewarding reactionary behavior. They thrive on it.”
“Then what do the Reenactors want exactly?”
“To waver. They yearn for that constant state of wavering between what could be experienced as reenactment right at the edge before it becomes an enactment itself.”
More yelling echoes in the hallway.
“You should probably get going to wherever you need to be before they deploy the anti-thought machines.”
I head out and go to the stairwell and take it down until I hear a struggle coming from below so I quietly step down to peek from the railing. What must be some Reenactors have a woman pinned on the floor. One takes off her pants. Another rips her shirt off. It’s a frenzy of disrobing. They play at roughing her clothes up. Try to tear them. Stomp on them. They giggle and grab at her. Pull at her hair. Her crying excites them. One of them yanks at her panties. And it’s none other than Stella Steeplechase. She belts out a scream whose frequencies cross the wires between agony and threat. Shocked at hearing their mothers and sisters cry within her scream, the others stop what they’re doing. It has become too real. Their plaything too dangerous. The impact of her scream sends the Reenactors running.
I pick up her clothes and hold them as a kind offering. She looks at me with crazed eyes.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
She stands up. Stares right through me.
“I don’t need your fucking help.”
I’m paralyzed by her look. The look that has taken me with her to other terrain. Indescribable and unmapped. That face that has taken me through the dark to come out the other side. Countless times, she returned my spirit back to myself, changed. More brilliant than I thought possible. What kind of a person is capable of guiding others in such a way? Who learns to hold such fragile rhizomes so loosely? She’s delivered countless psyches to their desires. To be free of themselves. Accessing the impossible dreams coiled up inside those in need of her bravery. And she’s been that way since she was a teenager. Existing in a loophole.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think, I just saw you and…”
“Fine. But think again before you look at me with pity.”
“Oh no. I’ve been repurposed. My face never snapped back.”
“That’s a dangerous problem to have.” Her demeanor switches slightly. “Show me your pass.”
“But we’re not on the street.”
“We’re checking everyone who is outside their domicile.”
I hand her the newly made pass.
“Lee Shaw. I’m placing you under arrest. Turn around.”
She ties my hands with a plastic zip tie.
“I’m not Lee Shaw. Please listen to me. I had that pass made here in this building.”
She whispers the info behind me. I assume into a microphone.
“Alright. Let’s go see if you’re telling the truth.”
She marches me back to Room 313. She unlocks the door with her own key. Felix is squatting in the dumbwaiter as it goes down.
“Alright now that I’ve got you alone, you will need to do as I say if you want to get through this alive.”
I’m speechless. Limpid bolts of hot energy dart around my back and into my groin. I nod like an automaton.
Stella fucking Steeplechase leads me into the bedroom. She throws a full head-to-toe, kisser-to-keister body suit at me and tells me to put it on. It’s a tight fit and I can’t see a thing. I feel her hand grab mine as she takes me over to a box. I go in. I don’t ask why. The box creaks closed. The lock clicks.
In the darkness, I think of the minutes that felt like hours for my father and wonder if I haven’t to some extent put myself in a similar Tootsie Roll situation. Bouncing up and down in my own pool of absurd rapture. Was it blind courage or ecstatic stupidity that got me here? I cannot tell.
I hear the door. The box opens. I nearly pass out from standing up. I feel her hand remove my nose patch. I hear Stella Steeplechase’s soothing voice ask me if I want to sniff it. I nod and feel it right under my nose without touching it. It smells of citrus but also quite sour. Probably a grapefruit. But maybe something else. There’s another scent I can’t quite make out.
She asks me if I’d like to taste it. I nod. She opens up the mouth patch. I immediately ask if this is really necessary for my safety. In fact, I plead for her to take the suit off.
“Look I’m happy you’re here,” she says, “but I’m a bit disappointed in your level of gratitude. So just think on that. Hopefully we can reset. Get to tasting that fruit tomorrow if you’re a good little boy.”
Stella Steeplechase puts the mouth patch back on without me getting a taste. When I’m back in my box, I hear her leave the room. There’s some sounds like a scuffle going on. And a gunshot rings out. Somebody unlocks the box and as the person helps me take the suit off, I see it’s Nolan from the fifth floor. I also spot Stella Steeplechase’s body half-in the dumbwaiter. Shot in the back of the head. A mess so bloody it looks like a bad prank.
“Sorry about that my friend. My name isn’t Nolan. It’s Lee Shaw.”
“Is she really dead?”
“Let’s just say it’s her final performance. Look we had to use you. Felix is a Debtor. The story about how he obtained the government module didn’t pan out. Besides, aren’t you tired of being treated like an imposter by the Debtor administration?”
“Of course you do. It violates your sense of reenactment.”
“Is that what this is? A reenactment?”
“It takes action to set reenactments in motion. Our hypocrisy is minor compared to how the Debtors misread the energy of becoming as lack. You are supposed to always lack something according to their system of guilt and resentment. That’s how the Debtors want you to feel so you need them. Stella Steeplechase was a shell for that system. She was a hardcore nightmare. A vending machine dispensing tailor-made poisonous treats of paralysis. The queen of indentured servitude. Pretending as if she were the only one who gets to be free while blocking her fans from engaging in meaningful reenactments. Besides, it was the facial implants that made her a star.”
“Why me? What do I have to do with any of this?”
“Your father’s book changed my life. It showed me the way. He wrote it in code. He had to mask it in a way that the worshippers of Being could accept. Preempting their reading of it as schitzo. When in fact, the cohesion comes about by the end for those who hear its brave call. What a delicate soul your father must’ve been.”
“That’s what Felix said.”
“Because he was copying me rather than reenacting it for himself.”
“Well, just for the record, my dad was also capable of great asshole-ness.”
Lee Shaw pulls out a Tootsie Roll from his pocket and pops it in his mouth.
“Of course he was. I’m sure. But what hope would a child have of understanding such a father when most adults couldn’t get it? The container mindset is where we all begin. Really, though, it was a love letter to someone like me. It liberated me from the worship of Being. Now all that needs to be done is to realize its vision. Then the book will be useless. And that’s what Schitzolini would’ve wanted.”
“You know what he said about that book? He said he believed every word of it and none of it at the same time.”
An anti-thought machine appears in the window.