fiction >>  cover >>    
spacer

Martin Heavisides

 

Taste Test

They blindfolded our entire section for the in-flight meal. This was annoying because I had a window seat and we were flying toward the sun, but apparently it was in the fine print of something we'd signed on boarding. They were kidding I'm sure when they said the pressure door's that way, we have parachutes should you require them, but you don't want to take the chance. The carrots tasted like rutabaga which is really strange since I've never eaten rutabaga so how would I know? I'm not saying it tasted like good rutabaga any more than the spinach tasted like good mashed potatoes or the beefsteak like good chocolate pudding. Now every time I see a chocolate pudding I think about mad cow disease. I suppose that makes sense since it's a milk-based product.

Other testees reported variable but equally subjective tastings. I don't think anybody correctly identified a single serving. Orange juice tasted like tequila, I don't know why that couldn't happen to me (especially since they were charging for drinks on the flight). On the plus side I didn't get the ravioli, which tasted like earthworms still covered in gritty soil, though she didn't mind. Said it took her back to when she'd been a bird in happy transient flight once upon a time. Until she was caught and snapped dead by a hooded falcon but that's another story. She later married the falcon but that was another life.

When they removed my blindfold the clouds below our wing were awrithe with serpents and agallop with stallions. I had to wonder how even a billowing cumulus cloud could hold up so vivid and solid a tusked woolly mammoth. Remember thinking maybe that's where all the prehistoric creatures went instead of becoming extinct. It seems a more sensible choice. Through a gap in the cloud I could see the ocean below, which was on fire. Green, orange, lavender and bright blue flames. In a subsequent letter I was informed the probable reason for these visions and the wildly subjective taste impressions both was the substantive dose of lysergic acid dialethamate in our lemon iced vanilla cake. (It tasted like hominy grits, which is not my idea of dessert.) They said it altered our perceptions backward as well as forward in time because it was a new, unusually proactive variety. But how did the acid know in advance who was going to ingest it? I think personally the reason was the time zones we were passing through.

I have no idea the purpose of this study, but I for one will study the fine print in airline contracts a great deal more watchfully in future.

 

Don't You HATE When That Happens?

You find true everlasting love, only to discover at the crucial moment you've forgotten to remove your wedding ring? and this makes a difference apparently, despite all the excuses, protestations and trips to exotic climes you proffer?

You key in the wrong password and set off a secret missile installation. Several small nations are obliterated before the error is noticed and checked. They send the bill for cleanup and reparation to you as if you were at fault and not their skanky system, wide open even to accidental penetration. A hundred seventy five billion dollars, who has that kind of money? You'll have to take on a second job, one with a really large virtual till you can rob. Either that or win break-the-bank big at every major casino in Vegas one after the other, the destitute and bereaved hanging desperately on every flip of a card, roll of a die.

You break the bank at one of Vegas' largest casinos, only to discover when you're inches from collecting that they've figured out your system and declared it illegal.

You win big at strip poker in a maximum security prison. Big deal—still it could have been worse, you could have lost big. You're ordered to strip by the losers, who are all considerably bigger than you. Since these are not guards, it's safe to assume a search is not what they have in mind.

You come out of prison a changed man—high-minded, reformed, though with a permanent case of piles and gastro-intestinal infection. Your wife has divorced you since the shame of a convict husband who owes not only a debt to society, but a huge actual debt, is a serious threat to her proud position in the social register and against every precept of her accountant's religion. Free at last, you look up the great love of your life, who is unhappily married now, with two small children. What can you do? it wouldn't be right.

You discover a cure for all known diseases; an easy technique small children can master for making immortality functional (there may be a limit at some point in the distant future, but that's at some point in the distant future); devise an easy means through warp drive to transfer excess populations to Paradisal worlds scattered through the known universe and several others (there may well be an infinite supply of these, if not we'll cross that bridge when we come to it); the alarm clock goes off; the pain in your sphincter and intestinal tract, which in sleep seems to lessen a little, is back full force.

 

Photo Wall

Every day of the cycle is represented, though they could hardly have known with certainty at the time which was the first; this is because photographer and model were planning both the photo project and the subject it records for some months before success struck, and had documentation. It was a matter of simple math to work back from the day test results showed positive, and of compositon and correct shutter exposure to work forward from there.

(Slipcase envelopes on a table in front of the photo wall show the 'preliminary studies', as it were, over roughly the previous three months. Data contained within these about vaginal temperatures, optimal times of day for insertion et cetera, struck this reviewer as a little in excess of aesthetic requirements.)

The series can be viewed almost simultaneously, as if it represented a serial instant rather than a nine month progression. Viewed this way, pattern is more visible than individual image, but study photo one and two, or photo one thirty five and one thirty six. From image to image, no matter how closely you scan, you're unlikely to discern any visible change. But try the process from image to image starting from day 30 and proceeding to day 60. Blink at image 60 and perhaps image thirty will arise before your shuttered eyes unbidden; the difference is perfectly discernible then.

All the images are nude; full frontal or partial profile; all are full body images. The first, and seventeen others between the first and seventh week, are the most palpably erotic. The first shows her sitting cross-legged, open, gleaming wet. the pose varies elsewhere, but all are equally exposed and post-coital. Presumably the seventh week was not the last time the couple had sex, but the notes indicate they felt such an image was no longer required or appropriate "once we knew we'd achieved lift-off." I have to say I doubt such phrases popped up in their grant application. (I understand the money mainly went into designing a nursery.)

I'm thankful they felt no similar inclination to share in the matter of morning sickness.

I must say it's difficult to balance in the mind the varying faces this show presents with some success: the erotic, the clinical, the time-heavy, the time-transcendent, to name only a few. If I sound a little uncomfortable recounting my confrontation, it's not because I'm not. Yet I spent two hours longer at this exhibition than I'd originally slotted, and have been playing catch-up at other openings the last two days. And I intend to return.

 

Tabula Rasa

CI found myself on stage one day reciting as if I knew them by heart, on cue, the lines of the fool from King Lear. I was a little worried when I died offstage but apparently that's why it happens offstage: then you don't have to die. And then all the critics started to say I should have been playing Lear and when I had a chance to read the play I could see what they meant: he's a much bigger fool so if that's my role in life. . .

Then they offered me the part of King Lear—by now I knew that even if you died onstage you didn't die, but even so I wasn't sure until they told me how much more money it was. I hadn't known what money was until very recently, but I knew now, for instance, that it would let me buy loads of things for the woman I was sleeping with, who played Goneril but was a much nicer person in real life. I'd only just worked out the distinction between real life and the stage—for instance I was playing King Lear, but I wasn't King Lear. If I had been, sleeping with my daughter Goneril would have been frowned on. Instead it was gushed over—true love among professionals—in all the gossip columns. In real life she's older than me, and Cordelia? you don't want to know! Half the cast wish for one night only “is that too much to ask?” her death could be not merely staged. It seems there are union regulations against that. I would have thought laws. Have to look that up. And yet her innocent act has won nothing but critical praise.

(There's some sort of mystery enshrouding the death, some years ago, of her younger sister. I haven't been able to find out much yet—let you know if I do.)

The CEO of our main corporate sponsor is effusive in his praise of my performance. It's only right he should be—I took most of it from observations of him at a huge cast party he threw, back at the beginning of our run when I was still the fool.

Our original Lear landed on his feet—landed a contract for a daytime talk show, "Crack Your Cheeks". Says he's happy to be out of show business, but I've caught a few episodes—I wouldn't say he's out of it. And I don't say that only because all his ad libs are plainly read off a prompter.

I've been boning up on—well, everything, art and life both, science even—you would too if you suddenly found yourself, at my age (your age—you know what I mean) with no functioning memory except in your fingertips, nerve-ends and such. I read up on how Shakespeare got all his stories from others and for a while I was convinced I knew the source of King Lear—Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor Has No Clothes. Then I discovered Lear was written centuries earlier, so if anything it was the reverse—and I don't even think that's likely anymore, now that I know how many possible stories there are that any new story can derive from.

A century's an intriguing unit—longer than most lives, way longer in most of human history—how did we ever come to use it?

Human history's quite a mess—I'd suggest thorough revision if somebody could come up with a way of making it not the past.

Why doesn't anybody ever want to do any other people from Shakespeare's time? I've been trying to talk up Jonson, Middleton and Marlowe for instance—why doesn't anybody want to stage them? Well—Ihave had some nibbles on Marlowe, but he's the least interesting to me of the three.

Now that I've studied the genres a little, I find what puzzles me is that King Lear seems to be universally regarded as a tragedy. I considered revising my approach, but decided to carry on with the one I'd hit on instinctively from the start—which was to play it as what I later learned was called satire. That's been the basis of all the acclaim I've won, not to mention "Goneril" in bed—why tamper with success?

 

Memory Lane

I was on the street with my table selling glass—which I haven't done in years in real life, but I'd found a streetcorner where I wouldn't be bothered, fortunately, by bylaw officers or, unfortunately, by customers—not that it wasn't a reasonably well travelled street. I didn't have a prime stock, maybe that was the problem—just a few stray specimens I must have found in a drawer and was trying to clear out, left over from the glory days when I made my living this way.           I was chatting with some people who'd driven up to the curb in a truck, from the open side window of which they were posing questions in logic. They asked me why two parents named their daughter Tuesday and I said because she was born on Wednesday and they wanted her to have a head start in life. They were impressed by this answer—it wasn't correct, but strictly speaking there were no correct answers. I myself thought it ingenious and wondered how I could incorporate it into a story—perhaps a letter by one of the parents explaining the name to a government information bureau or a private interviewing firm. My mother-in-law Zosia saw me as she got off the bus and came over to talk to me. She said she was going to see a movie if she could find out what time it was playing, and went over to a phone booth to check. I was putting away my glass and folding my table, thinking maybe a movie myself if I could find a locker to stow it first and still make the second matinee. While I was deciding two friends form university days came by and invited me to visit their room on campus. Walking there, I later realized, was a trip through time as well as space.           They had a suite of rooms, actually—you could see slantwise through doorways to other rooms—complicated sharing arrangement amongst a small community of students I think.           I was sorting through papers trying to find a lottery certificate or a bursary arrangement and discovered most of them were packed file folders of bingo cards with numbers dabbed orange that must have been called when the cards were played. Had I somehow taken them away while I was speaking with Zosia?           Table stowed, I decided to go for a walk on the campus, stepping through a window space that hadn't any glass in it. Vivid green moss along the border of the wall, slightly violet at its fringes—these colours would eventually turn up in my dreams I thought. I've never believed most people dream in black and white and except in patches neither do I.           A young looking but white-haired student greeter was inviting us to sit in on a lecture to see how we liked it—"I've been directing people about since I came in let me see"—he sidled over to a computer screen and punched a few keys to bring information up—"four years. It's great picking and choosing and sampling erudition. You can sit in as long as you like and leave quietly if you're bored." So a half dozen of us quietly entered through two sets of doors to see a lecturer on Psychotropic Arthropody speaking from a huge flat screen behind a podium, finishing, it seemed, a long half-derogatory anecdote about a colleague. Somebody told me who looked semi-official sat beside me and speculated this was perhaps not my kind of class. I said I liked to keep up in as many fields as possible, and I hadn't really studied much anthropology. "This isn't an anthropology lecture." In any case it was over, the wall behind was opening for the next lecturer, a distinguished looking woman who apparently was following the old-fashioned protocol of lecturing in person. Perhaps I would have stayed, but I was swept up in the stream of everybody leaving, to make way for a crowd coming in from the other end.           I was making my way back slowly to my friends' rooms, pondering the changes that had come about on this campus or one that resembled it, which I'd attended some years earlier. I was pondering the changes in my own life since, when my right foot stepping on a red brick pavement block that proved to have the consistency of mud, I sank in slush to my shin and calf.

 

 

 

Martin Heavisides has published his first novel, Undermind at Crossing Chaos Press, a full-length play, a study of the English playwright Peter Barnes, a very rude essay on ideas about God and a study of Louis Armstrong in Linnet's Wings; Film Rights and Practica in Sein Und Werden; a poem in Cella's Round Trip; a poem cycle in FRiGG; Cubist Torso and a cartoon in Mad Hatter's Review; a flash in Gambara, to name only a few. He expects to be featured in an animated film soon impropria persona. Rumors of a yellow teddy bear as muse are rigorously denied. Contact author.

to top

spacer