AN OBJECT LESSON

The space heater had busted. Again. This time, however, Raymond Massey wasn’t going to take it. Not from a space heater. Not again. After inspecting the busted contraption for all of two seconds, like a character in a cop show—the ones who kneel down and touch their fingers to the dead man’s neck—declare after all of two seconds, feeling for vital signs of life—a pulse—a heartbeat—that the dead man is a dead man. By that time, in cop shows, the dead man may as well be dead. But Raymond was living in a time without television, and without cop shows. His TV, as well, had busted. That, now, was in the shop. As was his toaster oven, blender, and stereo system. His things were breaking all around him. But no more. The bastard—the space heater—was going to pay.

He hadn’t said anything. Not said anything, as in, not said anything, even to express his anger. His frustration. Usually, Raymond would swear; to god and then to fuck the useless piece of shit machine. He’d swear in both senses of the word, and his word in swearing to god often contained a swear word or two anyhow. “God, help me maintain my sanity. This fucking piece of shit. It’s fucked me again. Oh God.” Sworn to not take abuse, he’d taken to his closet, and found his wrench, an old screwdriver, some screws, one nail, a mallet, and an aluminum baseball bat. He’d taken only the bat.

“You’re gonna pay, motherfucker.” What he’d solve in busting up his busted space heater, he didn’t know. Anyhow, that wasn’t the point. But the thing had to go. Like a racehorse, one gets cholera or pneumonia or typhoid or pinworms, and they bounce back, maybe—maybe—but even when they do, if they in fact do, takes just a little more out of them, each time; like bodily insurance something wrong will happen provided some interest has accrued already—whether a virus, or a crossed circuit, or a tapeworm or blown fuse—wrong things build upon themselves, and they invest like karma parasites to ensure the risk of more wrong things going wrong rises in stock. In any case, the wrong thing had happened to Raymond Massey’s space heater, and to Raymond, that was the last wrong thing to happen. Wrongs upon wrongs, he’d seen too many fumbles and screw-ups that week alone to let one more pass. “You know,” he’d said, “Mother always told me times like this, ‘this too shall pass’.” Mrs. Massey hadn’t dreamt up that slogan on her own, of course, he knew that. But it’d always made him feel better. “This shouldn’t pass,” he thought. Too many times he’d seen himself let the wrongs done him pass. “This time,” he thought, “I’m gonna bust this shit up.”

He brought the aluminum bat up to his chest, began swinging lightly as if to better hit one out of the park. He gave the busted thing, the infernal machine, a good kick. Realizing he’d not been wearing his shoes, the machine had then just added injury to further his insult. A good “Fuck!” and he’d raised the bat over his head without another thought, brought it down, and felt the crack of the cheap plastic casing, brought it down again, and felt a satisfying thwack to the machine’s now exposed internal organs, and brought down one more time, felt the shock of some electrical spasm run up the poorly suited aluminum of his weapon—into his hands, and through his hands, into his own internal organs—his heart—the bastard—the infernal machine had indeed added injury to its initial insult. Raymond fell back, and he felt himself palpitating in electro-malfunctioned time to the machine’s own heart.

Once he knew he’d died, Raymond could see the electrical storm within his own heart. Whatever had happened, he thought, the damn machine had gotten the better of him. An hallucination, a convulsion, aneurism—whatever it’d done to him, he was now in a different place. Not a better place, as his mother used to say after flushing his dearly departed box turtle.

“Where am I now?” He asked. He asked, because he didn’t know; and not just “where” but, perhaps, “what”.

Dead. For now. A voice without any sound had whispered that.

“Space heaters…” he began, “shouldn’t do that.”

No. I suppose they oughtn’t. The same soundless voice. You feel that beating, don’t you, it said, silently.

“I do. Feel a beating,” he said. “Like a heart beating. Not mine, though.”

No. Not your heart. What you feel is the heart of the machine. Beating.

“Space heaters,” he said, “shouldn’t do that. Beat.” He realized then that there was no vision in his eyes. Had he eyes, as he’d assumed he did, they were now blind. “Where’re my eyes?”

Phrased well. You’re above eyes. Or, if you’d prefer, eyes are now below you.

“Above? Below?” He’d meant to make some sort of gesture, realized simply that he’d simply nothing to gesture with. “As in, I’m better than them. Eyes, that is?”

It’s not a question of better. You just don’t need them now. Just like angels and seraphim don’t need penises or vaginas. They’re not above such things—just don’t need them where they are.

“You mean to say…I’m dead.” He’d meant to gesture again, but couldn’t. He’d begun, then, to wish he could. “This is some kind of…afterlife, is that what I’m to believe?”

You’ll do better with body parts, the silence told him, and he’d found himself abruptly snapped back into a material vessel. He still couldn’t see anything, then realized only because there was nothing to see. Bringing his hand up, Raymond saw that his body was alone in this blackness. Not only that, but mangled. Alone and mangled, his hand, being the first thing to activate use of his eyes, seemed to be a fleshy-looking metallic tangle of silver and wires. All the same, the silver and wires, mangled into the shape of a hand—his hand—seemed more flesh than machine. It was the silver, he thought. And the wires. Making a fist and feeling it compacted and folded upon itself, it seemed, the machinery that composed this hand was quite fleshy indeed. Raymond, giving himself a good once-over, insofar as he could maintain a unified image of himself in absence of a mirror, saw, slowly then, that he’d simply been made into a more silvery, metallic-looking version of himself. But, what the hell was the reason for that? “Space heaters…,” he said, once again, and to himself this time, “shouldn’t do that.” He began to move, his joints crunching and squishing concurrently, and said, additionally, “where’s my voice.”

What you feel, his silent voice said, is yourself. As a machine. Abused. Used. Beaten. Discarded, and sold for scrap. Your anger is too much. Calm down.

“If I’m dead,” he said. “How can I be any calmer?”

Calm down.

“I am. Calm. Don’t tell me to calm again. I am.”

Calm. Down.

Raymond felt his metallic sinew begin to strip itself apart, ripped and twisted, and he’d begun soon thereafter to swear. “Listen,” he said, his body now flagellating and twisting in all directions, “Don’t fucking tell me to be calm, goddammit.”

What can you do, he thought, however; if what he’d told himself was to be believed, by himself, in any capacity—that would seem to suggest that he’d now been made into a dysfunctional and quite breakable machine himself. Only, machines can’t just break themselves. For that, he’d need a good baseball bat—preferably a wooden one—and someone to wield it for and against him.

“Space heaters…can’t do this.” Maybe not. He’d begun to think for himself, then. That voice, of course, he’d realized, wasn’t a voice at all. Amongst all the disembodiment and hyper-materialistic transmutations, he’d not realized until just then. It was his own thought, his own brain, struggling to reconnect to the host. Himself. “Of course.” Raymond realized then, also, that he had no need for a voice anyway. That, or a body. And that had brought him to realize also, he’d been shocked into a spastic incoherence. “Space heaters shouldn’t do that.”

Aware that he’d been laid out on the floor, fried by that infernal machine, he’d realized also that awareness alone wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem; he would need to be shocked back into coherence, or given CPR, or god knows what. And he also was aware that what he’d just experienced was all too real, but at the same time unreliable…a hallucination perhaps…and perhaps not. Raymond Massey kind of just waited around, then, inside himself, hoping for either a merciful spasm of consciousness to convulse him back, or perhaps, for someone to come upon him and take whatever measures necessary to revive his body and guide his mind back into its shell. Maybe. Or maybe not. It became increasingly uncertain, as to exactly where he was, or how to know the answer.

In the end, the damn machine had in fact used him, he thought. Whether right or wrong—as if a machine can even be said to be treated wrongly, or vice versa—Raymond himself was also busted. He’d felt his anger give way, and again, right or wrong, realized that he might possibly find some redeeming value, should his own machine be thankfully restored, in anger management lessons. Raymond waited, then, for quite some time.

Waited. Dead. Or alive. He wasn’t quite sure which. Breaking things had become a way of life for him. The tendency for things to break on their own, however, had become curiously more and more frequent. As if the whole world, piece by piece, kitchen appliance and TV set and power-drill at a time, was breaking down. All around him. Crumbling. One electrical consumer product at a time. Whatever wasn’t broken by Raymond himself in a fit of rage, was broken on its own accord, and seemingly in response to the destructive force of a baseball bat to a toaster, or a wrench to a car engine… Things simply began to break, it seemed. The rage inside him perhaps willing this to happen. Everything malfunctions. Goes haywire. Everything around him—the world itself—seemed to be malfunctioning. A pall hung over his head everywhere he went. This dark cloud, getting darker by the day…and everything within its radius simply crumbling and falling apart and malfunctioning. Breaking.

Maybe he would be found, lying on the floor, in a coma. Maybe he would be resuscitated. Un-broken. And maybe he was already beyond repair. Either way, it did in fact seem he would have to wait for the answer. And, if repair was not possible…the machine already destroyed and smashed to bit—then, in that case, he would be waiting a very, very long time. For the answer to an uncertain question. He was of the age, and of the physical shape, that utter disrepair may just be the case. It would not be a shock. His mind wandered…and wandered to the rudimentary conclusion that simply wandering signaled there was still a mind to be had. No afterlife. That he had ruled out long before this incident, as a devout cynic. But what was left of his mind, it didn’t feel quite familiar. A stroke, perhaps…but still, the metaphysical breaking of things felt all too real. He, himself, was broken. The world, all the things encompassed by the radius of that dark cloud, had crumbled under the weight of a temperament that was itself too far gone and beyond repair. Things break. People break. It seemed, without any question, he was broken. Dead or not, he still felt. And felt—in the absence of a body, it truly seemed—that he would wait. And the wait would be quite some time.

Raymond would wait. Dead. Comatose. Broken. Whatever the case. Sprawled out on the floor, surrounded by all his other broken things. Awaiting repair. Or, awaiting the eventuality of nothing. Waiting for a zero sum…a negative. In the interim, at least, it seemed as if things had stopped breaking. Surrounded by his broken things, Raymond thought, “at least there’s that…”

 

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