Degradation

The World Replays Itself Again

Degradation

On the last day of his life, an alarm clock brings Peter Lindquist from the belly of night up to the stars of consciousness. He thinks, today I die, today I die, today I die. Some chemical response tightens his gut, but that could also be easily mistaken for his feeling of lust. Lindquist's primary focus swims in the fixed image of Megan, the volley of exoteric swells and informal curves that comprise her form, the softness of her skin, her lips, and her crass shamelessness.

His wife, on the other hand, annoys him as she heavily clambers out of bed, causing the old springs to sing. He pretends, as if enacting the scene from a long-standing stage performance, to still be asleep as she slips into a robe and throws a frantic sideways echo at him, a few words he certainly would have missed if some part of him had not been attentive and listening for them: forgive you or love you he knows for an instance which, but then cannot tell what has been said, one or the other. He feels the general gist of the sentiment and that matters most; moreover, he is a maelstrom of interior contradictions, ashamed and full, blunt with dread and expectation, a subterfuge beneath the external bodily hunger and hatred that overwhelms him. His bones ache. His body is tense, but for an altogether other reason.

So I die, and I die, and again, I die.

The sound of the shower sputters into life, and Lindquist throws off his blanket, dresses quickly. His frantic pulse, the pressure of his planned deceits. She is such a bitch, he thinks. She deserves betrayal. And, he thinks, I am a fool. I am an idiot. I should not be doing this. And he thinks, Megan I love you, I don’t love you, but I love what you offer, I love your body, your humidity, your clinging appendages and submissive crevices. And he thinks, I must hurry, I must go now. She’ll never catch me, she’ll never know, and what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her.

Lindquist ties his shoes, double checks his reflection in the mirror, listens at the shower for a moment, then calls to her through the closed bathroom door, “I forgot to tell you, I have a meeting this morning with Packer” blah blah, the same old shit, an unscripted rehearsal of excuses she has heard before, taken with mute acceptance. He hears the shower stop, a note of irritation in her tone. 

"What?"

He repeats himself; a flame of rage tightens in his chest, and he feels, speaking into the door, that its obtuse veneer in some respect represents her. At the same time, he feels as though he is shouting into a tin can tied to a post.

She explodes through the door, brushing past him, enthroned with the odor of mint shampoo. A towel is wrapped around her thick frame, held together by an arm that lends to her the appearance of more cleavage than is warranted. 

"Why do you have to meet with Packer again? What is his problem this time?"

Lindquist stutters through a response. She knows, he thinks. This is unprecedented. She’s never questioned anything to do with his job, his work. She’s playing me, he thinks, she knows. And he thinks, watching her as she dresses, she doesn’t know; she suspects something. That’s all. Play it off. Be cool. He finishes, "so I just have to square things away with him."

"No, what you have to do is grow some balls," she says, and brushes her hands briskly down the front of her skirt. Lindquist sees but does not see her lips move again, a quick lost frantic tic in her eye, the edges of her face in a brief spasm. The words are out there, and he strains for them.

Something nice. Or nice something. Nice tie? He would smile if he could, share a part of himself on this final day, but it takes too much effort to be casual. The fear and anger attached to his infidelity are strong, overpowering, but he manages to move the can of shaving cream from its predetermined spot next to the bathroom sink. Offer her that, at least, an acknowledgment, momentary comfort, solidarity. He knocks it on the floor, but she does not look. It remains next to the sink and on the floor, the single canister in both places at the same moment.

“Why are you being so pissy this morning?” he says.

She screams at him, her face contorting, her pupils eating up her eyes, and he sees again in this excruciating display of destiny that he did not see initially, the brash and raw pain on the surface of her expression, and he remembers, in the dread bottom depths of his discursive processes, that he is hurting her. He is causing this pain. He caused it, is creating it, will bring it forth again. There is a twinge of something like sorrow that passes nearly before it arrives in him.

Lindquist storms the front door, shouting an expletive or two, words to bruise, and clutches irrelevantly at his briefcase. "I love you." His wife tells him to go to hell, and he thinks, she knows. Then he thinks, of course she knows. Another phrase trails him after he launches himself down the steps towards his Volvo parked in front of the house, and he catches it surreptitiously, and if he could Lindquist would twist the corner of his mouth wryly at the intended irony. "Have a nice death," she says.

The mailman is a beacon, a knight of faith, like several others Lindquist comes across in daily experience the guy who works at the deli, the man he passes in the halls, the woman pushing a stroller down the street, a few friends and acquaintances, certain erratic radio frequencies unrecognized by the FCC and heard only by those with ears to hear. Some communicate better than others, such as Megan. Many are wrapped in apparent oblivion. The messages come through in bits and pieces, stronger in each loop, building.

As Lindquist drives to his lover’s apartment, some portion of him considers swerving, a radiant rebellious thought. He will ram the car into a tree, or against oncoming traffic. Anything but the inevitable.

He does not brood over the idea. He dimly considers the fact that he should conserve energy, and let nothing drain away. His mind is devoured by the present, the lure of flesh, his devotion to self-destruction, his sexual hunger.

The facts, however, remain in an ineffable reserve of awareness, cut off from the coarse exterior. Bits and pieces he has been able to put together, construct an explanation. Details are impossible to reveal in a side-glance; they exist in the flux of consciousness like a fleetingly remembered dream.

He has learned through several loops and repeated lifetimes that quantum physicists in California and Germany at some point in the range of years between 2035 and 2040, still in Lindquist’s immediate future, constructed an experiment to send a particle clock back to the turn of the century. Mathematical improbabilities reverse expectations. The particle clock remains stable somewhere around 2035, but the rest of the continuum is thwarted, folds conversely, spreads thinly again and pulls all temporal existence back some thirty years. Hence, the loop, the impingement on spontaneity, Lindquist the automaton, memory trapped in fate, a whole existence, rather, all of existence, repeating itself indefinitely.

"It is degrading," says Megan in an undertow, an echo that is latent and finds his ears as though it is the suggestion of a whisper. Lindquist, coming into her apartment, looks at her, and she is as he remembers her on this day, triangular face framed in thick dark layers of hair, eyes heavy with interrupted sleep, lazy mouth in a perpetual pout, promises hidden beneath the folds of her negligee. He does not know if her statement refers to their impending adulterous sex, or to the nature of space and time.

In the world of the apparent, he does not hear her; he approaches her and places his hands on her shoulders. He inhales the pungent aroma of her coffee, the steam coming from the green cup in her hand, which also prevents him from taking a more amorous approach. "I’ve just been thinking about you," she says, and her close-lipped smile is sensual and sweet. In a flash, she throws up her arm and scorches Lindquist’s face and neck with the scalding hot liquid. The cup also remains full in her hands. Lindquist feels the nerves retract in his upper body, send conflicting signals along his spinal column, then reality corrects itself, and as his lips approach hers he feels no pain; his face is dry.

She nibbles on his lip, bites his nose. Megan is open and a strong communicant, almost as fierce as the man at the deli, who spends his days telling customers who can hear arcane details about the science experiment in California. Energy radiates from her in strong impulses, and Lindquist feels he can share in the power of her intention.

"Hate you," she says from far off. "Bastard". She returns his kiss, and as she walks backwards, places the green cup on her kitchen counter, returns his kiss, invites his hand to explore the fleshy substance under her top, and presses her body firmly against his.

"Feeling is mutual," Lindquist manages beneath his own external monologue. God, she was a bitch this morning. I think she suspects something.

Watch. Still in his embrace, Megan tears herself away from him and retrieves the cup of coffee. She places it next to the stove, next to the sink, on the floor, on the fridge shelf, on top of the barstool.

Lindquist is disoriented for a moment. He remembers the full cup on the bar top as they undress each other and swing haphazardly to the couch, where he inadvertently sits on the remote, filling the room with morning news.

There are now multiple cups arranged around the kitchen, and as she raises her arms to disengage herself from her silk bra, a disorienting shiver passes along her neck as Megan gestures towards the cup on the barstool, closest to Lindquist. He makes an effort, and tries to pick it up. Instantly, in shimmering calvinisms of motion, the cups extinguish themselves, dissolve into nothing and his fingers collapse on themselves. One cup remains, however, brimming with coffee, on the counter in its pristine position, and Megan is working on the zipper to his pants, telling him how she wants him. He looks down, and she grins radiantly up at him; he is surprised to see she still holds a cup in her hand, she sips a little, threatens to pour the hot fluid down into his crotch, and he feels the heat of steam against the skin of his pelvic bone; the odd feeling of subtle panic rises in his throat. "It's degrading," she says.

Lindquist sees in the periphery of his vision that the cup remains on the counter. He has no energy to hear more or think more, but is swept into the tide of his predetermined motions, his flesh caught in a trap of titillation, monstrosities of emotion coursing through him.

He catches certain phrases she sends as their bodies enact the dance of forbidden copulation. Not everything, but enough. She gouges out his eyes to get his attention, and to affect his deepest concentration. She ravages his chest with brutal fingernail wounds. The painless, phantom injuries clear, leaving impermanent white traces but no scars. She rebels against the foreordained sexual act with passion, so that at one point he feels as though he has fallen asleep and awakened amid the throes of an orgy. "My mind and thoughts are nearly free," she tells him. "I can think freely in long blocks. You saw what happened with the cup. This is significant. This means something. There are alternate paths."

The whispers die away, and he is consumed with the present, his mind intoxicated with her smells, the taste of salt on her skin, the memory of his niggling wife. “You need to grow some balls,” she had said that morning. An ironic thought twists through him. How is this for balls? The reservoir of selfhood within him remembers that in less than an hour, she will be at the door. She will have a gun, a Smith and Wesson. He will wonder where in the hell did she get a gun? seconds before she squeezes the trigger, killing him.

The man at the deli is over six feet tall and has a trimmed goatee. He wears a white smock and sells sandwiches, a variety of meats and salads. At the meat-cutter as he slices turkey he had recently sent a reverberating spontaneous message to Peter Lindquist. "Many of us are gaining strength. The fabric of reality, the space-time continuum, is frayed and weakening." Lindquist had garnered much useful information from this man, so he gathered the effort to reply. "I’d like a potato salad with that why should it weaken?" And a part of him thought, "we are talking about reality, existence, the what is as it is as we know it, right? Is this a good thing? What would cause the fabric of reality to fray, no matter how many times it repeats itself?"

The man scooped up a serving of potato salad, heavy with mustard and its effluence, and put it in a plastic container. A woman waiting in line interjected, "I’ve noticed this too. I think our spirit guides are telling us something." Lindquist did not turn to look at her, though a part of him wanted to do so; he could not. Exteriorly, he was only interested in lunch, not in casting dubious glares at smarmy new age types. "Love," she said in a quiet emanation not strong enough for solid sound.

Lindquist passed his mobile over the scanner and paid for the meal, picked up the white package of food and tucked it under his arm, and turning, moved toward the deli exit. Shuffling through the clanging door he heard the man’s answer, or a snatch of it, a concept, as though it was floating in isolation, dislocated from any meaningful context, free will.

Now, as Megan ritualistically attends to herself in another room, he is momentarily satiated, bruised and demeaned, tortured with guilt and self-hatred. His external self chooses to interpret this state as one of relaxation, and he stretches his legs out on the couch, tilts back his head. He is thinking of sex and betrayal, of his lover and of his wife, tentatively making plans for the rest of the day, but his deepest inner self, out of which all other manifestations of selfhood are projected, knows he will die soon, and he is thinking of the man in the deli, the love he has for his wife despite everything (in spite of everything) and the ways he has hurt her. He ruminates silently beneath the empty rationalizations of conscious thought on the subject of regret.

Lindquist is astonished at the fact that his wife will kill him, but more so that he cheated her. Her bitter vitriol and constant verbal mistreatment of him notwithstanding, an adulterous affair is an obvious vengeance, and a dull, pathetic one, too. Am I, he wonders, that flat a character? Am I that shallow? How did things go so far off track?

I’m hearing voices, his deepest self rationalizes, I’m mad, totally cracked. Except that I knew before meeting Megan I would meet her, knew this day would come, knew what would be said, what plans would be made, where I would be next week. He grew up a true Socratic, his education a feat of remembering what he already knew, except that the details were exquisite. He knew at age six he would be killed by his wife in twenty years while having an adulterous fling with a woman named Megan, but knowing did not help him escape that fate in any way. He knew the outcome of a handful of sporting events, but he was not a gambler, and even if he had been, or so he had discovered indirectly, it would have been impossible to change his bets. Because of one bad experiment gone awry, he’d become one of millions of psychics who did not only predict, but also determined the future.

Even the fact of memory, the fact that we know the future, his mailman had once said, his energy so strong it had almost felt like a direct conversation, is a sign of revolt. The human spirit does not cave so easily.

Lindquist closes his eyes and remembers and then forgets the mailman, and the deli man, remembers and forgets he is about to die for possibly the thousandth time, remembers and forgets that he loves his murderer and would not behave in the same way if he were free to do it all over again. He submits to pressure, thinks of Megan and of hidden caresses, unjustified experiences of softness and hardness, the feeling of being loved absent the reality of love, and his mind begins to cartwheel as he falls into a light sleep, just as he had done at that exact same moment numerous times in innumerable loops descending or ascending in experience from this one.

There is a loud knock that wakes him, so that he jumps, sits upright, dazed, on the couch, bangs his knee of the coffee table. Megan comes in briskly from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her hips and bosom, and opens the door. Surprise! No surprise. His wife if there, fiery with rage and wielding a Smith and Wesson, knowing that she will face life in prison on a murder one charge, but get out in fifteen. His lover screams and his wife shouts at her to shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up. Lindquist finds himself standing, palms up as if he is under arrest, struggling for words, most of him feeling the automatic anesthesia of total, inescapable shock.

His wife and murderer carsons herself dramatically into the apartment, makes her speech about faithfulness, how everything about him disgusts her, how she hates him, and (why are you saying these things?) she aims her weapon directly at him.

In the script, baby. Her face is streaked with black mascara and tears, and in the slowness of panic, he sees that she is also beautiful. Underneath the pain, he can trace the pattern of her true value, and the realization floods his true inner self with shame. Love, she says. Multiple arms extend from her torso, pointing an extravaganza of pistols at the ceiling, and at Megan, and at the floor, and at all the walls, and at her own head, a magnificent dancing Shiva armed to the hilt and ready to kill on command.

Lindquist holds his breath and exerts all the pent-up energy he has to do what his original body did not do, throw himself out of the line of fire, leaping wildly as the weapon fires, the crack of the explosion unbearably loud, like bricks snapping in half. As he falls for cover he glances back at his original self, which stands half-naked in absolute stupefaction. Bi-located, he actually becomes aware of an infinite stream of ethereal clones, linking him to his original position, a visual tracer of unblessed movement. Megan is also a stream that moves from her stance in the kitchen entrance to an ineffectual attack on the murderer, a phantom figure attempting to grasp the ghost of a gun, seeking to distract or disrupt its wielder.

The first shot misses and takes out the green cup, which still sits on the kitchen counter; it shatters with sudden unexpected violence, black liquid is thrown against the face of the fridge. Lindquist sees the next bullet coming; he sees it simultaneously from his newer vantage point, and from his original, predestined position. His body collapses, absorbs a third bullet, and a fourth. The murderer, his jealous wife, splattered with his blood, turns and aims at Megan, who screams, but for some reason she does not pull the trigger. Instead, she falls to her knees, hangs her head as if she is positioned before a guillotine, and wails. Lindquist feels himself drained, his phantom rebel pulling itself back into reality; he retracts in slow-mo back to his original preordained position, like a spirit returning to its body even as the real one departs.

His eyes flicker in a last act of defiance, catch and lock on Megan’s momentarily. Next time Her face spasms like visual static to reveal a warm smile, which he forces himself to focus on as his body functions give sway to multiple injuries... There is hope, she answers. There is hope. There is hope. Look at me. Look at me. She is holding the green cup, the copy she had actualized earlier. She holds it up for him to see. We will escape. There is hope. Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.

He goes out feeling it just a little.

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Degradation
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