Whatnot by Janice J. Heiss
  Music by Paul A. Toth
  Art by Patrick Christiano
Art  2006 Patrick Christiano

Jack and I Going Places


Jack and I had to attend Alice’s birthday party, one of his office co-workers whom I had never met before. All night at the birthday party, Jack flirted with Alice. The jealous type, I almost lost it. In the car on the way home, I made a big scene. Jack put his hand in his pocket and handed me a $100 bill. “Alice pays men at parties to flirt with her to keep her boyfriend interested. I had promised her I’d do it tonight since it was her birthday,” Jack explained. “Now I want you to go out and buy yourself something special for your birthday next week,” he said. “Please try to understand, honey,” he said. “Please turn up the heat,” I said.

Jack and I found ourselves at the Castro theater to see the blockbuster movie, Matrix 2, not our type, but, since we were there, what could we do? A crazed guy got on stage and put a smaller screen in front of the bigger screen and started to show his movie. Because he thought the commercial movie was tripe? I thought that the moviegoers would boo, but the progressive San Francisco audience went along with it. When the cops showed up, the guy pulled out a gun, and everyone in the theater froze in their seats except for several moviegoers who jumped on stage. I began to panic but checked myself because Jack despised such behavior, and I’d rather die than destroy our relationship. The onstage moviegoers could have grabbed the gun out of the crazed guy’s hand but they didn't. Instead, they stood facing the audience, seemingly in solidarity with the gunman, apparently relishing the spotlight. Were they thinking of a book contract or fame associated with this possible terrorist attack? The crazed guy jumped off the stage and walked toward us. Jack, in his customary seat one in from the aisle, said, in his sometimes academic way, quote: No one can play who is forced to play. Whoever must play, cannot play. Some self-veiling is present in all finite games. Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them, unquote. Then he said something about the Unabomber. I loved Jack’s mind. The armed man nodded in agreement mumbling something like, “interesting points,” and sat down next to Jack. To hide from the police with the guy, we covered everyone in our row with a large black plastic tarp. When I whispered to Jack that I didn't particularly want to die or go to jail over this, Jack, disgusted, removed his hand from my leg. (Jack almost always put his left hand on my right leg in movies.) Then we were driving home. I noticed the guy's gun on the dashboard. Oh no! Was Jack a co-conspirator? Mindlessly, I touched the gun, getting my fingerprints on it. I asked Jack what we should do, if we should take it into the police station or dispose of it. Jack glared at me in the traffic light. “What happened to your politics?” he asked.

Jack and I were discussing Virginia Woolf. I felt deficient that I didn’t love her writing as any person of depth would. This feeling transported me to a great sub-Saharan plain amongst a pack of wolves. If you were exceptionally cautious and avoided eye contact, you could escape getting hurt or eaten, and you could even pet them. Some purred like cats. They had piles and piles of gray and black bristly hair. How I yearned to be one with these creatures, although too dangerous. You could love them but always had to be ready to run. Unfortunately, a hateful horde of people invaded and threw military-sized pucks at me and the animals. All hell broke loose as the wolves became agitated and confused about who their friends were. I ran from the people and their pucks while worrying about being attacked by these wild things. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by wolves, pressing in on me, coming in for the kill. One of the wolf’s faces morphed into Jack’s as he snorted and snorted like a wild boar. I awoke, my heart hammering, to Jack’s percussive snoring.

Jack and I were shopping together while visiting my home town, Chicago. He had become a respected intellectual in the field of ethics, sometimes acting as if he had something to teach God. Because of his success, I would be appointed breeder though I’d never wanted children. We stood under the elevated at Washington and State, and he was quite agitated and difficult to get along with so I left him for good. Just like that. I didn’t know I was doing it but I was. His mother had arranged to pick him up on the southeast corner, and I said, in an upbeat way, for my benefit or his — I didn’t know which — “Well, goodbye,” and I walked away while he looked daggers. Guiltily (in conflict?), I criss-crossed the catty-corner to ask if his mother was punctual. “Yes, she is,” he replied, and added with disdain, “much more than you.” But how could she be punctual when she had been dead for thirty years. He looked desolate but determined — but were those tears? — standing there under the subway. I thought of the story he told me. When he was thirteen-years-old watching his mother die of cervical cancer, popping like a bubble into the stark hospital sheets, he looked into the mirror and pronounced: “You don’t feel anything. You don’t!” How can I leave him? I thought, standing in the middle of the busy street.