Issue 35, Final Fringe

Now Pronounce You

So Bob as some groom and Zoe his big bride—dancing badly to DJ’d music, trying hard to please parents, those who paid in full for this finally ‘I thee wed.’ They slide over each other’s shoulders while pretending the ways that they didn’t quite meet. They circle the reception hall on waxed floors: Bob thinks of a marble rimming ‘round the trim—Zoe an ill-conceived kite nevertheless taut on its string—both in turn about tetherballs and orbiting old poles.

And in this motion they both know it, like the other’s dance steps—they’ll be cheating, the very first fat chance they get.

*****

Zoe will see IKEA sofas in her friend’s upscale-but-not-snobbish apartment and make mental demands of Bob to obtain the means to procure these sofas. But Bob’s means will soon prove ‘no siree!’ and so Zoe will eventually sleep with her friend, who might be female or male, solely so she can be closer to those pieces. Becoming not a wife to solely Bob, but to those sofas and friend, sewing a detachment that will eventually lead, conversely, to real attachment; on account of the unreliable nature of human-to-human contact; migrated desire; biological yen.

Zoe will cheat with these sofas precisely because they don’t—will always be sofas—will always remain, even upon their destruction, ideally intact (which is more than can be said for Bob).

*****

Bob feels likewise, in terms of cheating; that is, in terms of fixing desire to an object like a tail on a static animal, a picture of that animal because it is immobile and non-verbal and there.

For nearly a decade before his current planned betrothal and consummation, Bob had quite persistently taken to forming significant lustful relationships with hi-gloss, product-driven, color-coded photos of pert yet petulant, poised yet parting, ready and faux-willing models slash playmates slash objects of great commercial beaut’. These Photoshopped and formulated to allow him to live completely free of—completely sans—any physically intrusive, emotionally messy cues. These super-sized centerfolds of severely modeled models—the millions and billions of pages of thumbnailed nookie—it was IKEA catalogues for adults only (mostly).

He had, as an adolescent, most often enjoyed the Object-Paris-Hilton—had made many happy returns to her last night in fact, forgoing a hooking-or-whoring bachelor party for a closer reading instead of several of his most-prized and-burned CDs; Internet porn-and-celebrity snaps. Snapping his fingers and there she appeared right on the monitor—as background image, stored screensaver—wearing her midnight blue mascaraed eyes like a raccoon alien thing.

(And what happened the longer people-like-Bob engaged in licentious-behavior-like-this was that gay Paree began to accrue characteristics that Bob counted as meaningful. In Bob’s ever-engorged brain this two-dimensional, flatter-than-life, Pepsi-machine Paris accumulates personality points and tacked-on traits. It becomes like collecting collectible cards when Bob was a kid in the summers at his blinded Na-Na’s ranch, sneaking swimsuit Sports Illustrateds right under her nose to go out back sporting to the den. It becomes like a pastime or healthy, well-sanctioned hobby. Becomes like Bob’s real wife. One-handed Bob doing his darn level best: to translate this Hilton by his brain’s exchange rate.)

*****

And whether or not this full-fledged fixation had irreparably damaged Bob lovelife-wise—whether or not he would be able to get it up from Zoe’s touch alone and not accouterments, to rightly reciprocate relations—remained for the moment.

*****

Sliding on one another’s shoulders then, dreaming of sofas and Hiltons and futures on said, Bob and Zoe reach the end of their sad dance. They look up to find their crowd of guests moving on. Gathering around the goodies and cake, tiramisu, pastries, cannolis stuffed with nuts. The crowd waits like this as Bob and Zoe stand blinking, wait until some distant aunt, the DJ, yells Hey! Hey the cake. They wipe their mouths instead of answer and forward on to the dessert—cut small slices of tiramisu, squish it into one another’s lips, smile, grin…

Hours later asleep and dreaming: Zoe hangs off the sofa, Bob pools below in a puddle on the Scotch-guarded carpet of their Hilton hotel suite. Neither of them wanting to admit that—in eye-twitching sleep and already—they’ve fallen out of that unfixable state (L-O-V-E) so quick. Instead, they both dream of their younger days together, at a technical call center, answering labyrinthine queries that spawned ever-more-complicated gaffes, backing them increasingly into parts of opaque machines—nuts and bolts. Except that even if there were actual nuts and bolts it wouldn’t matter, because Zoe and Bob and their callers had long since ceased having any real notion of what a nut or bolt could possibly do or mean.

At these call centers, Zoe and Bob sat dutifully through mandatory employee training, acquainting themselves with American pop culture, so they—faced with interminably long pauses on the line—would have something to talk about with their oft-foreign customers and haranguers.

(No matter that this was a decade before the rampant outsourcing and relocating of said centers to exotic and underprivileged locales—no matter that Z.-and-B. weren’t foreign and didn’t blurt out in appreciable accents and that all of this cultural currency added not a whit to their capital to be spent. What were they to do but try? To stick this out the best they knew how, spending their working afternoons tag-teaming slow phones, transferring calls back and forth like a game of ping-pong, like speed-dialed distraction—like I love you, I love you not.)

*****

Some weeks pass before Zoe’s credit cards are no longer accepted, before she begins earnestly to engage in identity theft via Internet. In order to feed her IKEA appetite, she has discovered how to order to different addresses, take different names, unspool fake accounts from far-away IP addresses so as to collect more Swedish-faux. Bob pays little attention to the comings and goings of their interior designs, as he is usually engrossed in some body of work (although he worries about paying the credit card bills on time).

(Zoe, while waiting for invented IP addresses to manifest, remembers when her father told her that someday there would be hover-cars, and someday there would be plastic money, which Zoe pictured then as Monopoly money or play—actual plastic dollar bills—wondering suddenly how that could possibly be made to fit in one’s purse, and what if someone was very rich suddenly? and how would they carry all that manifold plastic in less than whole sets of suitcases at once and.

(Zoe obviously didn’t get it as a kid. But she thrills herself still a little, thinking about her dad telling her all this in the park. She feels close to her father at this moment, even despite the fact that he was wrong about the hover-cars—even—she gives him great credit for the plastic money, and even more credit to herself for imagining such colorful and fun plastic bills…this memory she isn’t even sure is a memory…looks over at Bob and feels bad for using so much plastic, the thing-that-can’t-be-seen, on so much IKEA that can be. But she does love them.)

*****

So Bob takes a different tact altogether. Instead of trying to come to terms with the nuts and bolts of tangibly knowing the inner workings of Zoe’s love—instead of trying to screw himself into the physical space represented by her hands and face, torso so-hipped, the limbs of her limbs—instead of beveling both their edges until each fits unto the other, closing like well-made car doors—

Instead of stripping away accumulated layers, the near geologic columns of distance between him and Zoe, between him and physical contact, between him and being aroused by anything other than clickable icons, operating systems, ringtones (the actual and imagined space is now piled up between them sofa cushions, his furniturephile wife now deeply ensconced in pillows, in like a fort reminiscent of her childhood forts so protective and created from fruitful trips through closets, bedrooms, blanket-and-pillow-stored areas of that safe house, growing less and less interested in Bob’s attempts to embody the single thing she’d always asked him to be, namely: firm, yet yielding to the touch) instead Bob decides a try at something else.

He begins forging: Silver forks. Large enough to fork hay but far too expensive and soft, sterling silver, to actually use. Bob loves forging because it requires only metal-to-metal, red-hot to black-cool, it requires only one moment that smacks and then doesn’t—one—moment after another that makes noise only to produce silence and tangible product. Product that no one would want, served no economical purpose whatsoever, no function or logic, complete waste.

He stacks them tines-up, leaning them against the walls of the apartment where they begin tarnishing, accumulating cobwebs and dead flies. He disappears in a prison of them, peeking through their spokes.

*****

Zoe soon notices Bob’s increasing absence, even as she wallows in poly-cotton blends, in her cushions of many colors, squalor and non-laundered, almost a bestial and taboo love.

She’s built the fort in the living room out. She’s commandeered all comforters in the apartment, laying their mismatched patterns across each other to form a roof, screens for her modesty, their long-draped limbs hanging from the furniture like banners, climbing the walls like plush-stuffed-toy ivy—inside she finds it pretty easy to let Bob be gone.

And gradually, as moist spring slinks into summer, Zoe grows so comfortable to begin replacing her missing Bob with couch and pillow parts—begins re-covering him like an upholsterer, like an antique chair whose cushions have lost their stuff.

By the time Bob does happen to look in on Zoe lounging on her back, she sees not so much a human husband as a couch that’s learned to stand on its hind legs. Bob as unfixed living room fixtures. Bob as throw pillows and lay pillows and sleeping pillows. Bob made out of exotic thousand-counts and threads—B. woven in and out of himself—as a loom and the product of same.

Down-filled Bob.

Fold-out Bob.

Bob over-stuffed.

And Zoe, all the while lying on this massive interlocking davenport, slurping on a cardboard carton of Juicy Juice with her belly full and her mind at ease—she thinks it’s fine that her husband has stuffing coming out of his head. She thinks it swell to run her finger along his fabric parts.

*****

Forging becomes too difficult with the stuffing, the sometimes-down, sometimes poly-cotton getting too close to the red-hots and so Bob has to give it up. Many days, weeks pass without the clink of metal, without the clink of love. Bob grows intensely dismissive and foul-mouthed. Eventually decides he’d rather not live than miss his forge flame.

He starts carefully lighting matches while Zoe sleeps, one by one, cautiously fingering the burnt orange of the wick, absorbing sulfuric bliss, blistering his fingers’ tips. Every match is to him ever more erotic. Every additional flame snuffing out whatever vertebrate life in him still remains between human stitching.

And of course matches can only be the beginning.

After a few sketchy experiments and some singed fibers of being, Bob needs more. He wants fire inside; he wants heat and sizzle.

Bob resolves to heating small pebbles over fires built in leftover coffee cans, heating them until black-hot, allowing them to cool as he juggles them from mitt to mitt. (While they cool they blister him well, melting cotton fibers into increasingly plastic slicks; this pleases him though only mildly.)

On day three or four he starts to press them for as long as he can stand against the plush tip of his tongue. Which lights him every time, but also more than that—singes whatever caution that may be left in him.

When he swallows the first pebble it sizzles the whole way down, blackening (he can imagine) his still-tissuey throat, the pink of him, hurting him like the dickens. He cries.

*****

Not long after, Zoe—called away from her down divan of yielding lovers by an urgent need to pee—walks in on her husband’s absence, quite literally stepping all over what is left:

A sick-plastic paste spread across the bathroom tile like hummus badly burnt. Her bare toes stick in him like goo, fat kiddie fingers in Jell-O. His pile is still warm, Bob oozing in and out of himself—the smell of scorched fiber and rubbered industrial-mers—smoldering a pile of spent desire.

Spent-Bob’s swallowed too many glowing bolts of love—he has, variously, thrown caution in the general direction of the wind, has indeed said in the end: Nuts to you, Death!

Zoe looks around the bathroom absently, her eyes scrolling along the shelves searching for her orange-rimmed tub of Goo-Be-Gone to clean up sludge-Bob. She wants the Gone-Be-Goo not only to shoo away his gelatin leftovers but the burnt-up Bob-smell as well. A terrible smell, intractable, quite stank. Pile-of-Bob reeks forth dead plastic and scorched skin, cooked bodily fluids, a musty musk of animal-vegetable-mineral spread.

Zoe stands for a minute thinking (her big toe in Bob like chip in a dip, the residual heat of his pile reminding her of a cheap sauna or day spa).

And Zoe knows suddenly what she wants:

A mud bath in her lost-beau Bob, a briny taste of Mr. Burnt Tongue—not butter or margarine or jam—not any kind of crockery but her old flame man.

So she lowers herself to the floor a full stretch, floats her brown body on his. Bob-pile, the reduction of a man in love, the love-pile, becomes lubrication for Zoe’s wants. And she doesn’t stop.

Zoe smears him over the entire apartment, makes him stretch far, farther than Previous-Bob could’ve ever’ve been. She drips Bob from the banisters, drizzles him from picture frames and spoons and lazy Susans—oozing Bob from the icebox she can’t help but weep. (Because seeped of course he’s now in her eyes, her heart valves, most private love-parts—except why does his love still somehow evade?). She decides she wants Bob too inside her, without end. Bob, for his part, gets gladly taken in as she opens her mouth, resisting nothing for once—moving with her tide for once—sloshing along with her passion until she’s slicked up insides all with him plastic and love. Wanting more she spoons him up from the carpet, saturates her teeth with burnt-in-Bob, swallows him up, sucks him from the banisters, licks him from the undersides of her arm. Zoe takes Bob as deep as he will go. She feels herself grow from him, his nourishment new marrow, feeding her very bones (for once) with realism.

Sutherland Douglass

Sutherland Douglass

Sutherland Douglass

Winner of DIAGRAM’s Innovative Fiction Contest, Sutherland Douglass’ work has also appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Uncanny Valley, PANK, Fiction International, TRNSFR, and Sidebrow among others. He has been a finalist for both the Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency and Black Warrior Review’s Fiction Contest (twice).

Brooke Nelson

Brooke Nelson

Brooke Nelson

Brooke Nelson has appeared in the Massachusetts ReviewThe Spoon River Poetry ReviewThe Review of Contemporary Fiction, and 100 Days Of Monsters. She lives in the cornfields of Illinois.