What do I know? I know nothing.
I am quite alone. I have been displaced. There is time to think of nothing else. There is time. There is no time. My words. No words. Such words pertain to past existing. Existence being loss. I am that loss. That much I know. But what am I? I am not.
I begin again. Something I know; words no longer synthesize. Displacement renders thought void of articulation. Without means to express. I am without.
Limbo. I search. Of what I knew there is nothing. That I know. What do I know? I know nothing.
I was mind in body. Then. Think Purgatory now. I am somewhere. I am there. I am misplaced.
Pain exists in want. In illusion. In hunger. To long for what was. And what is? What do I know? Understanding hurts. Knowing aches. Seeing traumatizes. It’s pain. It’s nothing. It is half death. That is what I know now.
A half-life. Here’s the story. Listen. This has happened.
The TV was blaring when I entered the bar. When did it never! I was always first to arrive.
“Am I getting old or are women just getting thinner?” I asked Walker when he arrived. It troubled me. He thought it amusing.
“I’ve seen this one before,” he said, pointing to the large screen, sitting down. I ordered him a beer. The TV had his full attention.
“Wait for it!” he shouted, turning around to see who in the bar was also watching.
The commercial on screen soon filled with various shots of slim and attractive women posing in various social situations.
“What did I tell you?” he shouted, throwing his hand into the air, making me high five him, yet again. “It’s that new weight loss wonder drug. Take a look!”
“Seriously. Listen. It works.”
“Yeah, but how?”
“Pooh-pooher. Not only is it a healthy alternative to dieting but it actually fucking works.”
“A healthy alternative?”
“Yeah. It’s simple. Even I know how it works.”
Walker did indeed know. It was pretty straightforward actually, once I’d heard him out. Scientists at JoyExGo had developed this revolutionary product. The drug itself contained cancer inducing properties which, when taken, infected the body leading to immediate weight loss. The process of contracting cancer ensured significant and rapid body weight loss in a matter of weeks. The consumer was then whisked off to a JoyExGo facility where an appropriate treatment was matched to the presenting cancer and within a couple of days customers were allowed go home, having shed a vast quantity of body fat. For the more serious cases maybe a little light chemotherapy if symptoms persisted afterward. The antidote was taken until they got the all clear that the cancer had been exorcised from their bodies.
We argued the moral and ethical aesthetics of this new product back and forth until Walker’s attention was pulled toward the large screen again.
“You gotta see this one, man,” he shouted, again looking around the bar to see if anyone had heard him.
“What now?” I asked.
“This one’s awesome,” he replied. A man appeared on screen in a white coat holding a new born baby. He handed the screaming baby to a pretty, young female nurse before turning to the camera.
“Young ladies out there, listen up!” he shouted. “Don’t abort! Have that baby you never wanted. And, get paid for the minor inconvenience! All medical expenses covered.” There was a quick flash of a still photo of dead foetuses piled high in a dumpster down some back alley followed by a scene of new born babies in a nursery.
“Five thousand dollars?” Walker shouted when the commercial finished.
“Five thousand dollars? For what?”
“Man! It used to be twice that.”
“For selling your baby?”
“Not selling. Harvesting it for someone else. Get with the program dude. Why always so negativo?”
The TV was on when I arrived home. I got a beer from the fridge and sat down with Clarissa, my wife. “What you watching, dear?”
“You see this?” she asked.
“Yeah. Walker made me watch it with him at the bar. Anything else on?”
“It’s nearly finished.”
I’d been out of step with people and life these past few months. Since my accident anyway. The doctor reassured me that this was a normal reaction and prescribed some anti-depressants for me. The medication inflated me to some extent and I began to float thereafter. It was a mellow cushioned feeling and took me outside of myself. Although I hadn’t been badly injured in the crash I had come close to death. Life’s sheen had faded somewhat ever since. I was definitely out of step with Walker if not Clarissa.
“Wanna talk?” I asked.
“Maybe later. You take your medication?”
I’d researched the medication before deciding to go for it. Scientists had isolated nerve cells associated with depression in the brain. They were then able to design a medication that went directly to those locations. Relief was now instantaneous and continuous. I felt that rush the very first time I took the pill. And I liked it. Detached though I was, I no longer thought about my near-death experience. I no longer felt depressed about what had happened. Seemingly I was happy to be living in the world again. We’d argued about me staying on the medication. Why would I want to terminate such a beautiful feeling Clarissa asked, perplexed at my eagerness to end the treatment. I guess she was right. Why give up that feeling? I didn’t know.
Since taking my medication television had become a noise in my head that never went away. There were times I’d be walking in the countryside and I’d hear a television blaring. What was going on?
A part of me had opted out of the merry-go-round of media assaults on my sanity and the constant barrage of criticism coming from the screen. I was no longer intrigued by the search for other planets. Nor did I care that they’d found a cure for cancer. Stuff like this would always end up in wrong hands. That I was sure of. And such discoveries would never filter down to people like me.
“Did you see what they’re promising to deliver with this new product?” she asked.
“I did. It hasn’t been fully tested yet. Their claims are outrageous considering the lack of in-depth trials. It’s buyer beware with all these new so-called psyche-enhancing consumer products.”
“Give it a minute. Sit and watch it with me.”
I drained my beer. “Ok, catch me up.”
“Here it is in a nutshell. They’ve developed this new program called No Regrets which allows a person to go back through their life, tweak aspects of it so they can relive it differently.”
“Wait! You haven’t heard it all yet.”
“OK, go on.”
“The program allows you to erase unhappiness or trauma in your past. So, there’s no more heartache over lost chances. No more worrying over something coming back to bite you in the ass. Ever! No Regrets!” A knowing, smug smile formed on her face as she unwittingly realized that her explanation had lead back to the product name.
“It’s legal to sell this type of thing?”
“Awesome, I know. Right here in our sitting room. Wait, it’s nearly finished. Let me just hear this final part.”
I turned to look out the window. Passing automobiles flashed in synchronized symmetry, multiple screens within lighting up the dark. They were watching what we were watching.
“This is only going to cause heartache. Come to bed.”
“No, listen! Imagine you’ve messed up your life and you are now suffering the results of all those bad decisions. No Regrets can put all that right for you. It’s giving people a second chance who’d never had a chance before. How can that not be good for society?”
“Look at the price alone! It’s outrageous.”
“Not for what you’re getting it’s not.”
“What are you getting?”
“No more worrying about what could have been. No more thinking that you’re a failure. No more . . . It’s giving people the possibility of a new beginning. You can’t put a price on that.”
“You sound just like the guy on the commercial.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“Only if you believe it and only if you continue to be mesmerized by this stupid screen.”
“It’s not stupid.”
“It is stupid. I’m off to bed.”
Clarissa had always felt overwhelmed by what she saw as underachievement in life. She’d been this way for as long as I’d known her. No matter what she did or how successful she was, it was never enough. I’d never really noticed it until after the accident. As for Walker, well, he had always been overweight. He ate too much and he drank too much. He also dieted too much. As he was then so he would always be.
Walker came over for a barbecue.
As usual, we got talking about diets and food. He put down his double cheeseburger and stretched his legs.
“Look!” he said. “Diets have just never worked for me. And I need to face that fact.” He lifted his tee shirt and patted his flabby stomach.
“What about exercise?” Clarissa asked.
“What about it?” he replied, laughing.
“Another double burger?” I asked, jokingly. Passing me his plate, he nodded in the affirmative.
When we were finished eating, Walker and Clarissa retired to the sitting room while I tidied up. The TV was on when I came in.
“Oh look!” Clarissa exclaimed, pointing at the television.
“I know this one,” Walker said. “Wow. If only I had themoney I’d be so there with this program. It’sawesome.” It was the No Regrets commercial again.
“Totally,” Clarissa replied. “I’d like to do it but Peteyhere won’t allow me. Says it’s too expensive.But what’s money when you can transform your life.”
“It’s all hype, you guys. People are being brainwashedinto believing that their lives are shit, thatthey’re unhappy about everything, that they’re notfulfilled, or not fulfilling their potential and allthat crap.”
“Listen to him!” Walker said, laughing.
“I’m serious,” I replied. The commercial was just about to finish when Clarissa shushed us both.
“Look! It’s fifty percent off for this weekend only. Awesome!”
“Ok, I better tell you because you’re going to find out sooner or later,” Walker said, standing up and opening another can of beer.
“I just signed on for a new weight loss program. It was the same deal, fifty percent off.”
“Which one?” I asked, feigning ignorance and pretty sure of the one he’d bought. Their selling point may have been svelte, good looking women but men would be a big part of their target audience as well, especially overweight men!
“The JoyExGo program. I went in to be assessed and they spelled out my options.”
“What were they?” Clarissa asked enthusiastically.
“I can’t remember!”
“But it’s cancer, Walker! This treatment could potentially kill you.”
“Relax, drama queen. They have a cure for cancer, numero uno. And two, no one has died yet.”
“So what happens now?” Clarissa asked.
“They figured out where I was most prone to putting weight on and they drew up a list of potential cancers to target those specific areas.”
“Which one did you choose?”
“That’s the great thing about this program. You’re not limited to just one cancer. You can choose up to four, each one trimming off the fat in a different part of your body.”
“Which ones did you choose then?”
Walker laughed at the question. I went into the kitchen for more beer.
“I don’t remember! I know there’s a stomach type in there, obviously. But the other three I’m not sure of. I have it on my phone if you want it.”
“It’s going to take a while?”
“No, that’s the great thing about this program. These cancer strains are so aggressive and hungry that they eat up everything in a matter of weeks.”
“When do you begin the treatment?”
“It’s already begun! Look!” He lifted his tee shirt again.
“That simple? Wow! Pete, get your fat ass in here.” They both laughed when I reappeared.
“So the cancer will keep on eating at you until there’s no more you left? Is that it?” I asked.
“Something like that. When I’m happy with the weight loss then I’ll have them reverse the procedure.”
“Reverse the cancer!” I shouted.
“Yeah, right. Cancer.”
“Aren’t you going to feel really sick for the duration of the treatment? And what if something goes wrong?”
“What could go wrong? They’ve performed these procedures a thousand times on thousands of people. Actually, I never thought about feeling sick. They never said anything about that part.”
“For real! Have you looked at what the after effects might be?” Clarissa asked.
“Sure! No more fat, which is good. And, I’ll look great! What else is there?”
“How do you know these procedures have been successful?” I asked.
“Haven’t you seen the commercials!”
“Don’t listen to him. Just go for it, Walker,” Clarissa said.
“The world has gone mad,” I said, exasperated.
“Come on Pete,” Walker said. “Take a plunge into the future. Who knows what’s out there for you. Or indeed, for you, Clarissa.”
Walker’s weight loss program was exactly as they’d advertised. He became quite sick as a result and the pounds melted away in a very short amount of time. Clarissa too was about to sign up for No Regrets. I saw the contract on the table one evening. What had led her to embark on such a drastic journey? When had our lives diverged to such an extent that there was now this huge gulf of misunderstanding between us?
Conversations with them both forced me to question who I was in relation to my own experiences and how those experiences had affected my life. I wondered how responsible I was for who I had become. I wondered about choices I had made in the past and had I been a free agent or was I, in some way coerced into making important life decisions. Or was it just pure luck or whatever that had brought me to these places or to these specific people. I was seeing how intertwined all those life events were.
Some of the worst experiences in my life later had positive effects upon me. From negative experiences came some very good friends as did shifts in my consciousness. It seemed impossible to isolate bad experiences or people from one’s life without affecting other aspects of that life.
Clarissa trawled through her own life history making a list of things and people she felt had held her back or had in some way prevented her from achieving her goals. Not that she wasn’t successful. She was. She just wasn’t satisfied with the success she had attained and the No Regrets commercial itself had stressed this very idea of being more successful, planting the idea that no matter how well you’d done in life you could always do better. It was always more. And more. And more. And I think it was this that made their pitch so enticing. People were never satisfied with what they had. There was a promise of more. Always more.
I confronted Clarissa one afternoon about No Regrets. She was about to enter the program and there was no coming back once she committed to it. I pleaded with her to rethink her decision. She argued that it would be best for the both of us and that her being successful would make me more successful as well. I told her that I didn’t want to be successful at the cost of our relationship. She argued that her transformation would make us a stronger more loving couple. But I knew she had already made her mind up.
“Take the plunge,” were her last words to me.
Plunge. Into what? I witness the ugly present. Eternally now. People trudge onward. Sickly. They shout out in pain. Some falter, some collapse. Some get up, some stay down.
They have found a planet. They haven’t found a planet. People are disappearing. Rich people mostly. They have found a planet.
I am not the success they wanted me to be. I bought nothing. It hinges on that. I bought nothing.
Building to building. Wall to wall. Walker falters. He’s about to fall. He’s fallen. He’s up again. He moves. He’s down again. He crawls.
JoyExGo are defunct. Profits pocketed they’ve gone extra-terrestrial. Walker is about to expire. Time left, counted in heartbeats not hours or days. Millions more will follow.
Clarissa arrives home from work. She turns on the TV. The screen is blank. She walks into the bedroom. She crosses the hall into the bathroom. She steps out onto the street. She grabs her phone, dials a number. She feels the absence. Knows there’s something missing but doesn’t know what. She’s looking for me. For evidence that I exist. She’ll never find me. I’m not there. I’m not coming home. I no longer exist. In her quest for perfection I’ve become surplus to requirement.
A somewhat minor and inconsequential detail somehow connected me to something somewhere in her distant past. Its deletion renders me obsolete. We never get to meet. I never get to be.
She’s on the phone shouting. She wants her old life back. No one is listening. They have departed for outer space.
Walker is no longer moving. He’s turning to dust. He’ll soon be dead. Clarissa rips the house apart. She is searching for something. A phantom thought haunts her now. Me. I too am dust. A different kind of dead.
What do I know! Nothing.
Larry Deery writes short stories and lives in New Mexico