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Contents

My Decisions
Dead Company
Naked
Wireless
Waiting for a Friend
Chicken Noodle Soup
A Better Way
Yawn
In the Grey
Trafficked
Answers
Dropping Out
The Importance of Sunglasses


Delevations (5 linked-fictions)


















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poems & stories

Broken Accidents



My Decisions
By Phlip Arima

Today I put my parents down. They were old, and mother wasn't well. The medical bills were getting to be too much and I was tired of constantly driving out to visit them. Soon, home care would be necessary, another expense. Who needs it? She'd had a full life: just one husband from the age of nineteen, a nice house, a loving son.

Sure, there were things she never got to do, things she wanted to experience. We would talk about the opportunities she'd missed. I know she always dreamed of travelling to Paris, but it was a little late for that now. Even if I hadn't put her down, the logistics would've been impossible. And I don't think she'd really have enjoyed it, let alone remembered it.

There was nothing wrong with father. He was still jogging every day, watching his videos, popular down at the pub. There really wasn't anything he couldn't do. But without mother, he'd be lonely. I figured there'd be no end to his complaining. Not my idea of a good time, thank-you-very-much. So I had him put down too.

The staff at The Centre assured me this was best for all concerned. Their counsel really helped me keep the situation in the right perspective. There were nights when I lay awake staring up at the ceiling, unable to keep the anxiety down. I called the twenty-four hour hotline several times. They suggested I attend a Guilt Anonymous meeting, join a group. But I don't want to be around those kind of people. Besides, I don't have a guilty conscience.

Father was less than thrilled by my decision. It took a lot of convincing to get him to be reasonable. I threw a big party for him the night before, spared no expense. He seemed to enjoy it, though he was pretty exhausted by the time it ended. Drunk too. But I guess that really shouldn't've surprised me. After all, it was his last night.

Luckily, because of the population crisis, I received a two-for-one discount on the injections. The new government really cares about the people. The Centre had a special room just for couples. The technician hooked mother and father to the same I.V. and talked to them while she worked. I think her words made it a lot easier for them. Or maybe it was just her tone of voice. Either way, they seemed quite calm when she prepared the needle. She was so considerate of their feelings. And my feelings too. After she inserted the needle, she let me push the plunger down.

Mother and father held hands and looked into each other's eyes all the way through the entire procedure. I could tell they were, after all these years, still deeply in love. It was so romantic. It choked me up. But I didn't cried. That would've been so embarrassing.

Tomorrow they're going to be cremated. Again, I got a discount—a free urn to keep their ashes in. There were so many to choose from. I spent the entire afternoon in the showroom. I finally decided on a simple stainless steel number. I was really tempted to go for this tall brass one, but it didn't have a screw-top lid.




Dead Company
By Phlip Arima

It never chirps. It can't. It's dead. A cricket. Or the shell of a cricket, there might be nothing inside. I've never seen it alive. I keep it in a matchbox—a tiny cardboard drawer—one that once held forty sulphur-tipped wooden sticks. It doesn't anymore. I keep it on the floor not too far from the mattress. The mattress is dirty. I think it's dirty from me living on it. From its edge come little bits of foam crumb. They get even dirtier—dark like the stuff in the cracks in the floor. Then they disappear. Disappeared is different than dead. The disappeared can't be kept. The kept however, can disappear. I hope the cricket doesn't. Company, even quiet company, is important.

When crickets far away chirp and are many and loud, it's night. Right now they're quiet, so it must be day. Day is when the sun can come out. Once, while I was watching a movie, this happened. I was surprised when it arrived. It came out from above the mattress. It sat on the floor near the wall. I invited it to watch the movie with me. I told it what had already happened, explained that the movie was about a man who could breathe underwater. It didn't say a word, just moved along the wall until it reached the corner. Then it disappeared. At least I think it disappeared. It might be dead.

The man in the movie wasn't supposed to let anyone know he could breathe underwater. But because he needed company, people found out. This made his life very complicated. If he had disappeared, he probably could've kept it a secret. Of course, if he could've kept it secret, he probably would have disappeared. He would have been like the man in this book I once read. He didn't have any company. He hadn't even ever seen the sun. When he disappeared, no one knew he had ever been. It was like he never was. Being never was is better than being dead. Never was means no one knows you aren't. To be with dead company is like being the man in the book. I think it's also a bit like being able to breathe underwater.

Last night, when the far away crickets were many and loud, I ate a peanut. It didn't have a shell. It was just the part from inside. It was raw, and dead. At least, I think it was dead. It was definitely very very quiet. The man in the movie could've learned a lot from that peanut. I wonder if he ever tried talking with a peanut. I wonder if peanuts taste different underwater. I used to roast them to make them taste different. I never used more than one match per peanut. Sometimes, if I held the match in just the right position, the peanut would hiss. Never once did any of them ever chirp. That was before I ran out of matches. It didn't take long for them to disappear. I think maybe this was supposed to happen. Otherwise, where would I keep the cricket?

The stuff in the cracks in the floor never gets washed away. It never moves. It never chirps. Like the sun, it doesn't ever say a word. I don't think it will ever disappear. If I could disappear, maybe I could breathe underwater. I wonder if the sun ever comes out underwater. To find out, I'd have to disappear to a place with water. The cricket wouldn't mind. It doesn't breathe. The mattress doesn't either, not even from its edge. I think I'm the only thing that breathes.

My peanuts might breathe, but I don't know that much about them. I've never tried talking with them. I don't consider them company. I do, however, always keep them away from the edge. It's not that I'd mind them being close to the cricket, but I don't want them to get too dirty. I don't want to confuse them with the stuff in the cracks in the floor. I also don't want them to turn into little bits. I don't want them to disappear. Food, even food that isn't company, should always be easy to find.

If I could chirp, I wouldn't feel so dead. I might be brave enough to leave the mattress. I would get away from the edge and the disappearing little bits. I would walk across the cracks in the floor, go over to the wall and look for the sun. I might even go far away and learn to be loud. Maybe, far away, I would find forty more sulphur–tipped wooden sticks. I would again be able to make my peanuts hiss. I wouldn't have time to wonder what it's like to breathe underwater. I wouldn't want to disappear. Before long, I would have a second matchbox. Probably, I wouldn't ever be at risk of being never was.




Naked
By Phlip Arima

I have a question. A simple question. A one word question that contains every other possible question. It can be asked sharply. It can be asked softly. It can be asked as a plea or a casual thing without gravity. I've had it before and it disrupted my sleep. I've had it before and not been able to eat. I've had it before and ignored it until it went away. I don't know why it always returns. I've never had the courage to explore its depth. I've always feared its answer will be complex.

I raise my hand the way I was taught in school. I'm alone in my room wearing slippers and a T-hirt. I stand by the window, but no one looks up. I practice asking my question with different inflections. I do this in my head without moving my lips. I drink some water. I refuse the impulse to jump up and down. I don't squirm. I wait patiently with my question, hoping I will get a chance to ask it.

My arm is getting tired and nothing is happening. I leave my room and walk to the subway. I use my last token to get into the station. As I get on the train, my hand hits the top of the doorway. People hear it smack the metal. They see my hand and look away. It hurts, but I keep it raised. Today I am determined to ask my question. I know in my heart that I am not the only one who wants it answered. I know that as soon as I ask it, others will say: "Thank you for asking such a good question."

I am standing on the street in downtown traffic. People in cars are honking their horns. People walking by are averting their eyes. My fingers are numb. It's starting to rain and I'm getting cold. I wish I wore pants to keep me warm. I could have lowered my hand to put some on, but I really want to ask my question. It's an important question.

I look up at my hand as I walk through the crowd. My fingers are purple and will not move. My arm looks short and out of place. No one else has their hand raised. No one else has a question. I know this means my turn is next. I will get to ask my question. A man turns away and starts to cough. A woman hands me two dimes and a quarter. My shoulder is aching and my neck is sore. I want to give up and forget my question. But I also want to know the answer. I want to learn. I just have to wait.

It's getting late. There's hardly anyone left on the street. I'm in so much pain, I can barely think. The rain is coming down harder than before.




Wireless
By Phlip Arima

I search myself to find out who I am. I link from site to site. I get lost on the highway. I see data displays cascade down the page. I'm not who I thought I was. I'm a small section of thread that is part of a network. I'm a bit of debris the size of a fingernail hitting a satellite as it circles the earth. I'm a sponge in the ocean waiting for a wave. The shore is more than a lifetime away.

I obsessively play Nintendo till dawn. I miss all my Monday night programs. I'll have to phone a friend to find out what happened. I go to the store to get one that works. I stop at the bank machine, so I can buy a really good one. It swallows my card and won't give it back. I hit it and the man on the floor tells me he's trying to sleep. I tell him I know the feeling.

If people were human, what would happen to all the liposuction machines? This is a question that keeps me awake at night. When I ask my tarot cards for an answer, they tell me to be patient and eat more broccoli. Instead, I drink coffee with cream. I pretend I'm a painting on a wall in a beautiful frame. Every five decades I get sold at an auction. My value goes up and I'm always insured.

I have a tape measure I use to determine the breadth of my ideas. The numbers are small and covered in rust. The rust flakes off and gets embedded in the carpet. When I vacuum I forget everything except what my mother told me, "Watch what you're doing and go over every spot five times." She also told me to always dust first.

It's difficult to reach the back of my closet. The light keeps burning out and it's full of sealed boxes. They're stacked to the ceiling and too heavy for me to move by myself. I labelled each one with a cheap magic marker. Over the years the ink has faded.

When I see advertisements for pepper spray I get sexually excited. I keep meaning to get some, but I'm afraid I might develop a habit. I might end up having to go to anonymous meetings. I'll have to be honest about my feelings. I might start believing in God. Or worse, I might stop being afraid of people.

Last week I didn't receive any mail. I was expecting an eviction notice, a copy of Newsweek, Gun and Rifle and a lingerie catalogue. If they don't arrive soon I might have to file a complaint.




Waiting for a Friend
By Phlip Arima

I'm waiting for a friend, watching the faces go by. I look into their eyes, hope for a smile. Glazed or preoccupied, each and every one keeps moving out of sight. I study the creased face of an old man. As he limps closer, I try to send out a good-natured vibe. He looks up at my face. I start to smile. Then the blast of a car horn breaks my concentration. When I look back, he's already passed me. His back is bent and his neck is sunburnt. He isn't much of a man anymore. Probably wasn't much when he was young.

I look at my watch. It's way later than I thought. I wonder why my friend isn't here. I could wait another ten minutes or get on with my day. It's sunny and bright and there's a slight breeze keeping it cool. Three little girls walk by. One of them has a jump rope. I say hi, ask if they're going to the park to play. They look at each other but not at me. I try again, "Beautiful day for skipping rope." They start to walk faster. I shout for them to have fun. They start to run.

I walk in the direction I think my friend might be coming from. The woman ahead of me is holding the side of her head. I catch up to her just as she turns the corner. I hear her voice. It's strong and confident. The phone in her hand is as small as a television remote. Right behind me, I hear a man shout, "Hey, hello." This might be my friend. I stop and he bumps into me, gives me a dirty look. He isn't my friend. His cell phone is smaller than the woman's.

I go into a pub and sit at the bar. Everyone is talking to someone about something. I scan the room. No one looks the least bit like my friend. One by one, I look at each face. Something is wrong with every one of them. Eyes too wide. Nose too long. Mouth just a little bit too small to relax. Then I hear a voice say, "Hi. How ya doing?" I can hardly believe it. There's a man right beside me asking me a question. "Alright," I say, turning to face him. "How are you?" He answers and asks what he can get me. I tell him I'm waiting for friend. He says that's alright and to shout when I'm ready. Then he takes off around the bar and starts pulling drafts.

I don't start shouting. This is a civilized place. Sooner or later my friend might be here. It's the kind of place where we would be comfortable meeting. I wish he would hurry. I just have to be patient. When he arrives, I know we'll have a real cool time. We won't even have to talk. We'll just hang out and relax—people watch or whatever. Two friends doing nothing, just enjoying each other's company.

I feel like I've been waiting forever. Bored, I hit the street. It's better to be moving. If I keep walking, I'm way more likely to find my friend. Besides, my butt was getting sore. I shouldn't have to wait so long for a friend. If I was a liar or a user or cruel, I could understand it. But I'm none of those things. Oh, I know I'm not perfect. My fingers are too thick. And my ears are too small. But deep down,where it counts, I'm alright. I can be generous, kind. I always laugh when someone tells a joke.

Some men are gathering at the corner. They start to laugh. I wonder what they think is so funny. Their laughter seems forced, unreal, like they're only pretending to feel something they think they should. They keep slapping each other on the back. People steer clear of them, walk faster as they pass. Some women join them and give each one a hug. They don't laugh anymore. They look up and down the street. Then one of them points and the whole group walks away.

I look at all the people on both sides of the street. I peer into every passing face. None of them are the same size or shape. Every other person wears headphones or dark glasses. Like me, a lot of them are walking alone, but they all seem to know where they're going.




Chicken Noodle Soup
By Phlip Arima

–City–wide domestic help desk, Rick speaking. How may I assist you? –Thank gawd. I've been like listening to that awful muzak for ten minutes. –Yeah, it's pretty bad. Sorry to have kept you waiting. –Why'd it take so long? –McDonald's' workers went on strike today. The phones haven't stopped ringing. They say it could last a while. –That's awful. There should be a law. Like with hospitals and the fire department and stuff like that. –I couldn't agree with you more. –Really? That's like, so cool. Most people never think I know anything. –That's hard to believe. You sound so... so... I don't know... together. –Really? You're so sweet. What's your name? –Rick. And you are? –Heather. –Heather, that's a pretty name. Heather. –Thanks. You're so... so... sweet. –So what can I do for you, Heather?

–I'm like starving. I went out and got a can of soup, but I don't know what to do with it. –Condensed soup? –I don't know... hey yeah, that's what it says. –Well Heather, there're a lot of things you can do with it. What did you want to make? –What do you mean Rick? I'm starving! I wanna make soup! –Okay Heather, stay calm. We can do this. You and me together, alright? –Alright, it's just... it's just... the directions are so complicated. –I know. But don't you worry. We're a team now. –You're so sweet. –So are you. –Really? –Oh come on, I betcha you get told that all the time. –No I don't. Not like really. Not by people who really like, mean it. –I think I know what you mean. –Really? Wow Rick. I betcha you do. –Sure I do. Most people only say it 'cause they want to get something out of you. –That's it. That's it exactly. It's 'cause of how I look. –I betcha you're real pretty. –You're so sweet. –So are you.

–Rick? –Yes Heather? –I'm like really really starving. –Right... okay... yeah... let's get started. –What do I do? –First off, what part of the directions don't you understand? –Well, like right here, where it says to empty the contents into a saucepan –Okay Heather, I'm sure we can do that. –But Rick, I don't know what a saucepan is? –Oh honey, you're so sweet. Saucepan is just a fancy word for pot. –Then why don't they just say pot? –I really don't know. Maybe they just like making things difficult. –That's so mean. –It certainly is. –So what do I do? –Have you got a small pot? One that's a little more than twice the size of the can? –Rick, I do. My mother gave me one for my birthday. I use it to water the plants.

–You have plants? –Oh yes. I've got all kinds of them. –That's so cool. I love plants. –Really? Wow. –Only, mine keep dying. And then I have to buy new ones. –Me too Rick. Me too. It's like I'm always spending money on new plants. –Sometimes... Heather, sometimes... I think they make them so they'll die. That way we have to keep buying more and they make more money. –That's so mean. –Yeah. Especially since all we want is to make our places a little nicer. –Exactly. Though even without plants, I have a pretty nice place. –That's nice Heather. You're really lucky. –I betcha you'd like my place Rick. –Especially if you're there. –Really? Wow. You're so sweet. –Do you have any pets? –No. I hate animals. –Me too. But Heather, do you want to know a secret? –If you wanna tell me. –I do. –Okay then. –I once had a goldfish. –Really? –Only it died. –Like the plants. –Exactly. –They're so mean. –Yeah.

–Rick? –Right, you're starving. –Yes, but I... I... –Okay, have you got your pot? –Yes. –Okay. Now you have to open the can. –Alright. –Do you have a can opener? –No. –No... oh Heather, this is so... oh... I mean, this isn't... its just that... –Rick! Rick, it's alright! It's alright. I got the kind with the pull tab lid. –Thank gawd. I thought we were in trouble there. –Hey, I'm not stupid. –I know you're not. Heather, I think... I think... –Yes? –I think... I think you should open the can and pour it into your pot. –Oh... oh, okay. There. Done. –Alright now, what kind of soup is it? –Chicken noodle. –Heather, that's my favourite! –Really? Wow. –Yeah. –Mine too Rick. –Wow. –Yeah.

–Okay Heather, the rest is simple. –Good. I really am starving. –I know. But we're almost there. We're a team. –Rick and Heather. –No, Heather and Rick. The pretty should always come first. –Oh Rick, you're so sweet. –So are you. –And the soup... –Is salty. –Hey, that's funny. –Yeah. Heather, I'm having so much fun. –Me too Rick. –But back to business. –Okay. What do I do now? –Like I said, the rest is simple. Fill the empty can with water and then pour the water into the pot. –Hot or cold? –Good question. I knew you were smart. –Thanks. –It doesn't matter. –What do you mean it doesn't matter? It does so! Stupid people are... are so... so... I don't know... they're... –No, honey, sweetheart, the water. The water doesn't matter. Hot or cold, it makes no difference. But if you use hot, the soup will be ready faster. –Oh, I'm sorry Rick. I thought... I thought you were... –It's alright. –You're so sweet. I'd like to...

–Okay, Heather. Now all you have to do is put the pot on the stove and turn the burner on low. –That's all? –Well, you need to stir it every now and then. –Why? –So the noodles won't stick to the bottom of the pot. –I can do that. –Heather, I know you can. –How will I know when it's ready? –When it starts to bubble, it's ready. –Really? –Yeah. And then you won't be starving. –Rick, I can hardly wait. –It won't be long now. –You like saved my life. I really can't thank you enough. –Well, Heather... –Yes? –I was wondering... –Yes? –I was wondering if maybe later... –Yes? –I was wondering if maybe later... –Yes? –If it's alright to ask, you know, privacy respected and all that... –Yes? –And understanding that you don't have to answer if you don't want to... –Yes? –but, I was wondering what you're doing after you eat? –Nothing special. Well, just one thing. –Oh... well then... never mind. Sorry to have pried. Enjoy your soup. I'll be... –No, Rick, wait, don't hang up. –What? –You wanna know a secret? –If you want to tell me. –I do. –Okay. –After I eat, I have to throw up. –Really? Wow Heather, me too.




A Better Way
By Phlip Arima

After the muscles in my neck stopped working, I had to hold my head up with both hands. I would walk down the street with my palms pressed firmly into my temples, my elbows pointing out, left and right. People gave me strange looks, and children would stare and point until they were told they were being rude. Friends continually asked if I had a headache and wouldn't believe me when I assured them there was nothing wrong with my head.

"It's my neck," I would tell them, and they would nod and explain that their necks too often affected their heads. They would tell me what pills to take and which herbal remedies to use and encouraged me to practise yoga and Tai Chi and Pilates. They would recommend chiropractors and massage therapists, acupuncturists and reiki practitioners. Some suggested Feldenkrais teachers, feng shui consultants and a host of other specialists they were sure could fix me up.

Every one wanted to give me a business card of someone they guaranteed would make me right. Unable to use my hands to take these cards, I would graciously refuse their well-meant gestures. But inevitably, they mistook my politeness for pride and always found a way to get me to take the cards. My more sensitive friends would slide them into my breast pocket or gently tuck them into the waistband of my pants. Most of them simply pushed them between my lips, smiled and told me to hang in there.

Onward I walked, my arms getting tired, mouth full of business cards. Every time I passed a garbage can, I was tempted to spit them out. But that didn't feel right. My friends were only trying to help. I owed it to them to keep the cards, to at least hang on to them for a while, even if I never used them.

Eventually, comfort conquered loyalty. I wanted to swallow and I felt compelled to speak even though no one was listening. I spit the cards out. A terrible guilt made me feel absolutely awful. I was ashamed, and embarrassed by my shame. I hid my face by rotating my shoulders and pressing my elbows together in front of my nose. This, it turned out, was a better way to hold my head. With my arms covering my eyes, it was difficult for people to recognize me, and I was blissfully unaware of the pointing fingers and strange looks I still, no doubt, was receiving.

Unfortunately, it also made it nearly impossible for me to see where I was going. I would trip on discarded pop cans and sheets of newspapers blowing across the sidewalk. I would bump into lampposts, people, and doors that didn't automatically open. I couldn't trust my footing and my elbows were getting bruised. People were swearing at me, and telling me where I should go, and I was continually apologizing and changing directions until I didn't know where I was or where I was going or even where I'd been.

I was frustrated and angry. Just because I had to hold my head up didn't give my friends the right to force their beliefs on me. It wasn't fair of them to put me in a position that made me feel embarrassed, made me have to hide my face. I use to like my face. Now I never got to see it. There were still plenty of mirrors for me to look in, but I didn't want to risk seeing someone watching me. I didn't want to see a stranger looking at me as if I was stranger than anything they'd ever seen.

Finally, I'd had enough. My arms were aching and my legs were unsteady. I lay down on a park bench and stared up at the sky. It was filled with clouds that shifted and churned and disappeared behind tall buildings. Lightning struck and thunder hurt my ears. Sticking my fingers deep inside them, I realized this might be an ideal way for me to hold my head.

I sat up to make sure I was right. My thumbs hooked naturally under the top of my jaw. It was a better way to support my skull. The thunder was muffled and I was sure I wouldn't be able to hear anything anyone had to say. Best of all, I could see where I was going, but could easily shift my other fingers over my eyes and not have to see anything I didn't want to look at. My arms still got tired, but back when the muscles in my neck originally stopped working, I realized it was useless to ever expect anything to be perfect.




Yawn
By Phlip Arima

Once upon a time in the many tomorrows of yesterday, a giant jaw opens to yawn and lets forth a sound syrupped in a flavour never before tasted by dawn or dusk or brilliant daylight. A cup of filtered water evaporates as silence tries to return. Radio static warps the aura of trees more than ten feet tall. And in the mind I still possess, a cough answers the yawn, but chokes on itself so isn't heard.

Imagine a starless night sky murmuring secrets to creatures living in deep caves where lurid adventures are commonplace and bodily sounds sacrilege. To burp like a child is considered a sin. To fart during sex, a heretical act. Grinding teeth while asleep indicates a lapse in devotional practice. Allowing them to chatter might be overlooked, but there is no guarantee the noise will not drive loved ones insane.

I see ten thousand million trembling fingers slide into pink ears when common emotions are whispered aloud. They get stuck, forever fixed, and make perfectly healthy hair appear full of splitends. Sneezing is messy. Hugging impossible. And drinking café au lait on fashionable patios requires a heat-resistant straw. Turning a hand into a fist, slapping—or clapping for that matter—are fantasies that can never be fulfilled. Elbows in eyes make most of the population look like raccoons.

In my pocket I have a purple computer that resembles a pet rock. When I use it near trees the screen is brighter. It has a built-in microphone for recording secrets and I have programmed it to assess the relative value of everything it understands. If I tell it to play dead, it asks if I want to exit. This is a question I can only answer when the parameters of remaining are accurately translated into a language comprehensible to chameleons and sleeping sloth.

I climb a tree to get closer to the sky. A man on a bicycle rides underneath me. He's listening to a play-by-play commentary of a national hockey league playoff game. No one is winning. There are leaves in my face so all I can see is shimmering green. I think there is an ant crawling into my pants. It feels quite large and seems to be in a hurry. I wonder if it's red or black and if it has wings. Where it might fly I cannot imagine. This might be a good thing, since I think I have a tendency toward paranoia.

The sun goes down and stars want to come out. I can't see the comet the newspaper said is on its way. I fall out of the tree and walk down the street, move through the city, search for a silence that will cure my cough. An absolutely white plate with a diameter greater than my waist hovers in front of me. On its pristine edge teeters a mouldy fortune cookie. Knowledge I have subconsciously kept from myself is making my stomach grumble. I turn to my right and enter another moment. People on a bus from a mall and from inside a television are staring at me. If the police are alerted, I will be arrested.

I blink and mysteriously drop through the pavement into a nursery. Diapered infants in their cribs have their eyes tightly shut. Lights flash on and off. Another cup of filtered water evaporates. A glossy magazine in the window of a corner store turns into a billboard advertising masochism as an advantageous career move. I misplace my bank card so must dip into my loonie collection to purchase toilet paper, mouthwash and mascara.




In the Grey
By Phlip Arima

I ordered these lenses through an 800 number I found in the back of a magazine. They were the only permanent contacts I could afford. The ad in the magazine said they were as good as the ones in the stores. Brand name has never mattered that much to me. If a product works, I'm happy. If it looks good, even better. The way I figure it, the fashion machine is always ripping us off. But if you're smart and keep your eyes open, there's always a deal waiting to be had. When I saw these lenses on TV, I knew they were for me.

A friend of mine—now ex-friend of mine–helped me install them. I could have done it myself, but I was a bit nervous about getting the interface right. I didn't want to damage the lenses. And I definitely didn't want to end up with some kind of permanent nerve damage. Of course, I was excited too. After all, my vision was going to be better than it had ever been before. I was going to look really cool. Everyone was going to wish they were as kick-ass as me. It was sweet. Really sweet. Though feeling nervous and excited at the same time was weird. I was... I don't know... unsure I guess. So I called up my friend and talked her into helping me. She's good with hardware and software and anything that's new. I stroked her vanity, promised her dinner and eternal gratitude.

She was really impressed that I got the kind of lenses that make my eyes into mirrors. Jinn-the-Puppet had mirror eyes. And she and I and just about everyone everywhere grew up on Jinn cartoons. Every character Jinn looked at saw themselves the way he saw them. It was funny how shocked they were when they realized who they must be. Then they carried on the same as always, but just different enough that you knew they knew the truth about their place in the world. Jinn was like a demonic god. He could make anybody he wanted into whatever he thought of them. He was always laughing at the end of the show.

The lenses worked great for the first few weeks. Then something went wrong. Every now and then, there would be moments when I couldn't see. It was like I blinked in slow motion. The world would disappear. All I could see was fuzzy colour, like I was staring at wet paint on glass. Then bam, the world would be back. After I got over being pissed off that something was wrong with the lenses, it was really trippy. When the total weirdness of it started to feel normal, I really got into the swirling colours as they shrank and expanded, moved and stayed static hazel to green to both with streaks of the dullest yellow and sometimes, a grey threatening to go black.

The first few times I saw the grey it was pretty scary, but fascinating too. I'd see a small dark dot, usually right in the centre of all the colour. It just sat there, more solid than anything I'd ever imagined. It seemed to be waiting for me to notice it. And when I did, I wouldn't be able to look away. Like a black hole it possessed some great power. I was compelled to look at it. And as soon as I was in its grip, it would start to expand. It would expand until it was all there was. I ceased to exist. I was part of it. There was nothing else and nothing I could to do about it. Then it would recede super fast, the same way a camera flash is instantly gone.

My ex-friend wanted to take the lenses out. She said it wasn't too late for the procedure to be safe. She kept warning me that if I didn't do it now, if I let it wait too long, I would be stuck with the lenses for the rest of my life. I told her that would be fine. We got into fights. She said the lenses were malfunctioning, reversing, turning the mirrors into my vision. She said I was going to go blind. I tried to explain that I wouldn't mind being blind. I described the colours and how the grey made me feel like I was part of something greater than anything else. She said I was crazy, said the interface was screwing with my brain. She threatened to knock me out and remove the lenses against my will. She wanted to take away what I didn't even know I'd been looking for. So I cut her out. There was no way I was going to let her deprive me of the glorious grey.

Soon the lenses were blinking out more often than not. I bought one of those white sticks blind people use. I carried it with me everywhere I went, but always kept it folded and hidden in my knapsack. Whenever the colours appeared I would just sit down and trance to the show until the grey came on and made me whole. I started walking the streets with my hand touching the buildings. That way when I went down, I'd have something to lean against. As soon as the world disappeared my knees would bend and I'd be sitting on the pavement, the happiest guy that ever lived. There I'd be, the traffic fading into so much white noise, just barely able to hear people passing by, blissed-out and one, without a worry and no desire.

The few friends I still had were freaked by my eyes. We'd be sitting in a café, or more and more often a bar, and the lenses would do their trick. Everything would be perfect, but they couldn't handle it. They told me I looked like something from a horror film. They said they could see right into my brain; that each time I tranced out, they could see my nerves pulsing slower and slower. I told them they had too much imagination. They said I moaned and talked to myself. I told them they were full of it. They said they were worried about me. But really, they were just jealous. They couldn't understand where I was at, where I was coming from. And they definitely couldn't handle being left out. They'll never understand how lucky I am. I'm free and they're still trapped where I used to be.

Of course, I don't hang with them anymore. I'm freer than anyone's willing to believe. I no longer see anything but the grey and, once in a rare while, the swirling colours. When the nurses tell me I have to go for a walk, I go for a walk. It takes a lot of effort to make my legs work, but I can usually manage it for long enough to keep the nurses from nagging. When they tell me to eat, I eat. But food doesn't really interest me. Sometimes, not too often anymore, hardly ever really, I think it's a shame so many people are trapped in the false reality. Then I zone in on the grey, trance, and know I'm okay.




Trafficked
By Phlip Arima

This island isn't mine. I know it's not mine. It belongs to everyone. But I like to pretend it's mine. I come here every morning before anyone else even thinks to arrive, usually before the sun starts to rise. I sit in my favourite spot, legs crossed, hands resting on my knees. I close my eyes and simply breathe. I feel my body expand and contract with each breath. I let my mind drift with each expansion. I let it wander through my torso, along my limbs and to the end of each finger and toe. I merge with the earth and become one with the air. I feel the cool of night slowly recede. I breathe and become my breath until I see the sun's light through the thin lids of my eyes.

Then I open my eyes. I look out beyond myself. I see the world in which I live. The buildings at the far edge of the city are the first to catch the morning light. Their windows start to glow one floor at a time. Smog creeps up their walls and slowly surrounds them. And just beyond the shore of my island, the buildings close by come out of their shadows. Light from within brightens their windows. I begin to see the outlines of people starting their day. Breathing, still aware of the oneness of my body and everything that is, I watch their silhouettes move in and out of their frames, multiply and return to the duties they left the day before.

The trickle of traffic flowing around my island has gradually increased. The thrum of rubber on asphalt is the white noise of life. A sparse progression of people mutely step on and off my island intent on reaching their destination. Then, like a flash flooding of a desert riverbed, the road is filled with thousands of cars. Screeching breaks and honking horns destroy the lazy morning peace. Crowds of commuters, stranded on my island, brush up against me, press into my back. An occasional voice makes a snide comment. Curses bounce off. Chuckles assault. Once, several years ago, a woman asked if I was alright. She bent down to look into my face. When I didn't respond, she repeated her question. I waited for her to ask again, but the rush toward excellence pulled her away.

I reach between my legs, take hold of my briefcase. In one smooth motion, I stand and lift it from the pavement. I take a moment to stretch my neck. I blink and yawn and straighten my tie. I step from the island into the traffic.




Answers
By Phlip Arima

–Are you alright? –No. –What's wrong? –Another channeller. –Again? –Yeah. Almost every day. I'm getting tired of it. –Can't you block them out?

–Wish I could. –This isn't good. –Maybe you should see someone? –Like who? –I don't know. A doctor? Maybe a shrink? –Right. I can hear myself now, "Hey Doc, I got this problem. These freaks from another dimension keep interrupting my life to ask me questions about other people's lives." –You don't have to say it like that. –They'd lock me up. –Maybe not. They might believe you. –Right. –They'd want to study you. –That's the same as being locked up. –It might help. –Being locked up? –Having whatever's happening to you studied: observed and figured out. –Get real. –I'm serious. What's wrong with study and observation? –They wouldn't want to help. They'd want to make it worse so they'd have more to observe. –Well then, how about talking to a psychic? –Same thing. Plus they'd be jealous.

–Uh-oh. –Are you alright? –Do I look alright? –You look worse. –Help me to a chair. –What's happening? –He's breaking through. –Fight it. –I can't. –Try. –What do you think I've been doing? –I don't know. I thought he went away while we were talking. –They don't go away. Once they've got a link, they work it until they get some answers. They get paid for answers. That's what channellers do. –So give him some answers. –It's not that easy. –Why not? –They want the right answers. –That's impossible. How are you supposed to know what goes on in their dimension? We don't even know what goes on around here half the time. Why can't they be satisfied finding things out as they happen? –Why don't you ask them? –Why don't you? –I have. –And? –They ignore my questions. They only want answers. –So give them answers. –It's not that easy.

–Are you alright? –It's getting worse. –I'm worried about you. –Thanks. –Anything I can do? –Hold my hand. –Shit. –What? –I can feel him. –Let go. –I can't. It's like he's right inside my head. –You're telling me. –What a freak. –I know. This guy's one of the worst. Real persistent. –A real nag. –Yeah. He won't stop until he gets some really good answers. –Like what? We don't know hardly anything about anything he might think is important. –We don't even know where he is or who he's channelling for. –Except that it's a woman. –You picked up on that? –Yeah, but that's about it. –Usually is. –This is weird. I can hear some of their thoughts. –Depressing, aren't they? –Pretty petty existence. –Almost as bad as ours. –What do you think he charges? –What difference does it make? He's not going share it with us. –Like he could if he wanted to. –I don't think he'd want to, even if he could. –What's he think we are, independently wealthy? Nothing better to do than sit around waiting for him and his freak clients to ask us stupid questions?

–I'm starting to get a headache. –Me too. –It'll go away when he breaks the link. –Can't we break the link? –I've tried. It doesn't seem to work that way. –Then let's give him some answers and go have a drink. –Sounds good to me. Tell him what he wants to hear. –How do I do that? –Just keep making things up until he's happy. –That could take a while. –Tell me about it. –What do you think would happen if we told him stuff so outrageous it couldn't possible be true? –He'd probably love it. –No really, I'm serious. Don't you think he'd think we're nuts and stop bothering us? –I was serious. He'd eat it up. He'd go public with crazy stuff. Make a huge name for himself. Rake in the money and feel smug and superior. –Yeah, you're probably right. I betcha he'd even manage to get his face on the cover of a magazine. –No doubt. And he definitely wouldn't give us any credit.

–Let's tell him he's going to be impotent for the rest of his life starting next week. –Hey, I like that. We could also tell him his client's going to lose all control of her bowels. –Especially during sex. –And that they're both going to grow hair on their tongues. –I don't think they'll believe that. –No, I guess not. –It's gotta be something he'll think is possible. –Well then, how about we tell him there's a way he can change the future? –You mean not go impotent? –Exactly. –You've got an idea? –It's brilliant. –Let's hear it. –We'll tell him the only way he can keep from going impotent is to have sex right now. –With the woman he's channelling for. Brilliant. –What did I tell you? –We can tell him she's not going to go for it no matter what he says. –Even better, we can tell him he has to say he's doing it for her own good. –So she'll be able to go on enjoying sex. –She'll scream rape. –She'll scream it to the media. –He'll be famous. –He'll be infamous. –He'll get his face on the cover of a magazine.




Dropping Out
By Phlip Arima

Microwaves distort. So I rig the oven door and put my head inside to zap the thoughts I don't like. My heart stops. Dead, I go for a walk. I meet other dead people. We agree it's a drag and decide to go hitchhiking in the rain. We don't really care where we end up. We just want to keep moving, maybe find a place where we can talk to some people who live. Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll learn to believe we're alive.

Far off, we see some dark clouds. We run to intercept them. Rain may not be falling from them, but they're the best bet we have. Several people drop out after only a few minutes. I try to encourage them, tell them that even if the clouds aren't raining when we get to them, they eventually will. They tell me that if we wait in one place long enough, raining clouds will inevitably pass over. I can't argue with this. They're right. But waiting's not for me. I want to start hitchhiking as soon as possible.

I know I have to learn to relax. I'm going to go crazy running around chasing clouds. But there are these thoughts in my head goading me to do irrational things. Once, I found myself talking to the television when it wasn't turned on. Another time, I spent an entire afternoon practicing my signature using a name I'd read on a milk carton. I don't know where these thoughts come from. I don't even know if they're mine. Sometimes I worry that whoever owns them will invoice me for their use and I won't be able to pay them without incurring interest.

More people drop out. They've decided they don't really want to hitchhike in the rain. It's too romantic. They tell me they're going to get jobs in fast food establishments. They hope that if they work hard and keep their opinions to themselves they'll one day get to stand at the drive-thru windows. I tell them this is an achievable goal and wish them luck. They urge me to join them, but I'm too afraid to make the commitment.

There's only myself and one other person running for the clouds. This may be a good thing. A huge group wasn't likely to get a ride. People often hitchhike in pairs. Pairs are acceptable. Perhaps a driver will think we're a couple. Couples aren't as threatening as singles. There was a couple living in the apartment next to mine. Whenever we met by the elevator or at the front door they said hello. I'd say hello back. And if there was time, we'd discuss the weather—the likelihood of rain.




The Importance of Sunglasses
By Phlip Arima

Well yes, I'm certainly aware that some people see it that way. However, even though I've been part of his personal entourage for over three years, I haven't the seniority to make a significant impact in the direction his image will take. You must remember, I'm just one of forty-two people who never leave his side—and only the top two or three really have any understanding of what he's all about.

He's big. His videos are seen on screens around the world. There isn't a single week that his picture isn't on the cover of at least five magazines. His music is played in churches and jails, kindergarten classrooms and business boardrooms. His lyrics are quoted at the dinner table's of suburban homeowners. He's a multi-billion dollar corporation with influence in every major sector of society. And his fan-base is second to none.

It's been just over six weeks since I was promoted to my present position. Actually—off the record, just between you and me—some people consider it a demotion and think I should take a cut in pay. Not that that would bother me. Nor, for that matter, do the opinions of those little people bother me either. It's just internal politics. My present responsibilities are just as important as my previous ones. They're just different. I mean, honestly, every little detail any member of his personal entourage takes care of is incredibly important. That's why we're his personal entourage. It's petty to poke at one another about rank and pecking order.

Anyway, to answer that last question: yes, without me, it is quite possible his public image would suffer. I have been entrusted to ensure that there is always a clean pair of sunglasses ready to replace the ones he's wearing whenever he feels they need to be changed. I have this custom-designed case full of sunglasses. Just look at the size of it. It's almost as big as his guitar case. Inside this are three pairs of every style of sunglasses he wears. Minus the pair he's got on right now, of course. Whenever he takes off his sunglasses, I slide up next to him and we make the switch as effortlessly as a groupie taking off her clothes.

Now I'm not one to brag, but I'm pretty good at what I do. I've memorized all the subtle hand signals he uses to tell me when he wants to change to a different style of sunglasses. And I haven't given him the wrong pair once. Needless to say, there hasn't been a single streak or smear on any of them. And, I think there's only been two photographs of us making a switch. Of course, he knew I was a ringer for this position. Believe me, he knows how smooth I can be. I'm so happy he's letting me be responsible for something where my skills are seen by the media. I'm now an obvious part of his public image. Without me he wouldn't look right. And, well, to be totally honest, I've wanted a more public position for quite a while. It's really cool to see pictures of myself standing next to him in magazines. My mother's so proud of me. Now she can tell all her friends how important I am. She was never really comfortable with me being the one who rolled his condoms on.




A bomb and an eye that has the world.
All content © 2014 Phlip Arima