We discover NORA masturbating on an expensive leather couch in a railroad apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The front door is barricaded by two chairs; a layer of broken glass covers the corridor to the main room. The apartment looks like someone has been smashing everything that can be broken or smashed, which, in fact, Nora has been doing.
NORA finishes and pulls on a tight black jumpsuit and boot and twists her long dark hair in a bun held together by a lacquered chopstick with a pointed edge; it is a weapon. She looks like a voluptuous Diana Rigg from The Avengers, but sweatier and grittier. She is tired.
As the scene begins, we hear long, loud clanging tones from a mysterious source. They seem to be moving in a circle around Nora. Suddenly, they stop. NORA sits bolt upright. We hear a measured, friendly, distinct MALE VOICE, although there is no man in the room.
MALE VOICE: We give this training to our best operatives.
NORA lies back down; she is listening.
MALE VOICE: We give this training to our best operatives, Nora. Most of them crack up completely, take hatchets and hack up their wives, run screaming into the night, or die, but you have passed with flying colors. Without even breaking a sweat.
NORA looks around the room. Dismissing the voice, she begins stretching on the couch, doing asana. She ends her routine by hanging head downward, legs propped on the couch, breathing slowly and deeply. The rhythmic clangs start again.
We now see what look like holographic images on the ceiling and walls. They are battle scenes from Kosovo, of brutal rapes and dismemberments; military aircraft hover above the blackened air of the battleground. The pilots of the craft look happy and seem to be maneuvering for a better view of a gangbang of a naked brown girl with a burka wrapped around her head; the girl, who is about ten, is rationally requesting that her rapists kill her.
NORA shuts her eyes. The room is flooded by a barrage of messages. They order her to kill her mother and fuck her father. NORA picks up and palms a fragment of amethyst geode, running her fingers along the sharp purple crystals. She looks into a hole in the armrest of the couch. There is a miniature device there, a transmitter. Around the armrest, we see a row of Pellegrino water bottles, some with necks strategically broken, jagged and suitable as weapons.
Refreshed from the yoga, NORA lies down, and despite the clangs, sleeps. The clangs intensify, now, louder and more rapid. NORA opens her eyes and yawns. She turns toward the center, loudest clang.
NORA: (YELLS OVER THE CLANGS) What is “organic,” Deal? Do you remember your biochemistry, Doctor? Humans are organic, Deal. (SHAKES HER HEAD IN DISGUST). Can’t have grad students cover your ass forever, Deal. (STANDS AND STRETCHES. BRAVELY, HIDING HER EXHAUSTION) Who’s listening today, boys? Yes, you, Deal. How are the Mengele experiments on the Mexican orphans going?
The clangs stop for a moment. NORA sighs and turns her head into the armrest of the couch, trying to sleep again. As soon as she gets comfortable, the clangs start again, this time with a pronounced chalk-on-blackboard screech. NORA turns, seriously pissed.
NORA: Stand back, Deal, you small-dicked punk, I want to talk to your handlers. How is The Howard? Big man do big deals today? Ussasis, nice yacht; be careful one of the crew don’t pitch you over on the rocks; could happen, you know. I do have friends (TURNS AS THOUGH TO ADDRESS SOMEONE ELSE). And how is my Rocky Horror boyfriend doing, Ouspensky? Dearest Genya, what’s on the slab in the lab today? A three-year old girl, probably; that is your preferred dating age. (LOOKS AROUND THE ROOM). I have gotten quite a few of you one-percenters pissed off lately, haven’t I? So be it. Just remember, when you go to sleep, that all your billions can’t stop the flow of blood from a carefully placed shiv to your neck. As I’ve said, I do have friends. (LAUGHS, A BLUFF) And you are not going to kill me. If you wanted to, you would have done it by now. You have something more, shall we say, interesting planned for me. (RETURNS TO THE COUCH, THROWS A BLANKET OVER HER HEAD; FROM UNDER THE BLANKET). You bore me.
We see NORA under the blanket. Her head is over the hole in the armrest. The transmitter suddenly activates and emits a series of beeps. NORA shuts her eyes; she is truly exhausted and at breaking point. Suddenly, a voice that sounds like Johnny Depp’s comes through the transmitter.
JOHNNY DEPP: Am I going too fast for you?
NORA smiles; she likes Johnny Depp and the voice seems helpful.
JOHNNY DEPP (REPEATS) Am I going too fast for you?
NORA hears this simultaneously with four other sentences, or the fragments of sentences. She hears quotes from Shakespeare: Shall I compare thee to a summer day?; Nietszche: What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger; the Beatles: All you need is love. The sounds emit in half syllables; after each, a barrage of sememes takes its place. They are for the most part positive. She hears “Stand by Me,” the Ode to Joy, “Soul Man,” and the 1812Overture, but only a few bars or words all at once. NORA breathes easily and relaxes; this strange medley seems to be restorative. She leans into the device.
Now a kaleidoscope of images and soundbites flood her in a synesthesia of short-attention theater. She smells the seaweed of the Mediterranean and Lady Gaga’s meat dress, but also her mother’s voice and father’s eyes. Her body shifts and twitches on the couch as though she is in the rapid eye movement state of sleep. The JOHNNY DEPP voice wails and ululates and keeps asking, “Am I going too fast for you?” The flood of sememes become hyper-Sanskrit in staccato: aum chit anan and the sound of a carousel and ACDC singing “Highway to Hell” behind it.
NORA is now in a series of movie clips; she is Columbia in The Rocky Horror Show at a black-and-white black mass party given by Prince Eugene (Genya) Ouspensky; she is murdered by the In Cold Blood killers and immediately becomes Harper Lee nursemaiding Capote as he ghoulishly awaits the killers’ death. She is hugged by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird and next is on a plantation vomiting whatever root Scarlet O’Hara ate just before the intermission of Gone with the Wind. All this takes about three minutes.
The psychic slideshow stops. NORA awakes, refreshed, and lifts the blanket from her face. She is smiling; she looks as though she has had a good night’s sleep. A voice comes over the transmitter; it is Michael, a serial killer.
MICHAEL: Hey, there!
NORA jumps, startled by the sudden voice, then recognizes who it is. (MUTTERS) Today, I will judge nothing that happens.
MICHAEL: How do you like my tapping into your CIA transmitter? How did you like the REM sleep? You needed it pretty bad. Helpful, right? Pretty brilliant of me to develop a synthetic dreaming code, if I say so myself. Still think Prince Ouspensky is the smartest man in the world?
NORA: Hello, Michael. Are there walls between us, buildings, I hope?
MICHAEL Yes. And I’ve triple locked the door and bound my feet in case I get the urge to kill you, to give you a little time. Oh, God, I shouldn’t have said ‘kill you’—I have a hard on the size of Uranus – oh, your anus – wait, I need to jerk off.
NORA: Okay, but think about the dead ones and not me.
MICHAEL: I came; you should see the ejaculate, it would impress you. See, I could just think about it and not have a kill in front of me. I’m getting better; soon I’ll be able to come inside a real live girl. I have been trying. But you haven’t said anything about my program. You liked it, my sensors picked that up. And you look almost human now. I really am a genius.
NORA: Are you planning a kill now, Michael? Do you have a girl with you? Is she alive? (Picks up a police radio and report): Volokhonsky. I have the whereabouts of the Jersey Skinner in Manhattan, Upper West Side in a radius of a mile from West 72nd Street. May have live victim with him. Uses the name Michael Distefano. Be on the lookout. Ten four.
MICHAEL: I know, but all’s fair, right? So, abreact me.
NORA: Under no circumstances will I abreact you. You will go berserk and God knows how many you will kill then. And you will die. Tell me your real name and address. (FLIPS HER BODY FACE DOWN INTO THE PILLOW. MUTTERS.) Or undress. Address me and undress. Birdies, where are you? Help me. The clangs sound like you, like the cries of large metallic birds o god I told they heard . . ..
“Nora, wake up!”
Michael wakes woke is waking her what’s up wake up . . ..
“You’re dreaming. I administered a REM sleep code to you. You are still sleeping.”
Disoriented and dizzy, Nora cased the room, holding herself erect on the backs of chairs. Was she dreaming? Yes, no? What had just happened? The clangs? Silent but real; what else? The bir … stop. Michael.
“Where are you, Michael?” she asked groggily.
“At a safe distance,” the transmitter replied. “And you could abreact me the same way. And I won’t kill if I abreact. And I can take it. Then I can stop and you will forgive me all of it, won’t you? I’ll live on an island in Alaska so I can’t kill you, even though I want to so bad, and you will forgive me and write to me. Right? You forgive the others when they stop. So, you will forgive even me.” The first notes of the Ode to Joy rang out, then faded beautifully away.
Nora was fully awake. She had been dreaming, dreaming within a dream. She took the jagged amethyst geode into her hand and ran the edges along her fingers again. The house was a wreck and they were coming.
“Exactly, dear girl,” Michael continued, business-like, “I’m not here to ask your help today; I’m here to help you, and you sorely need it—you look a mess, darling, and your mind is quite weakened, much more than you think. There is an army of serial killers, mad scientists, and ultrarich sociopaths after you.”
Nora nodded. This was true and Michael might really be the only friend she had; she shuddered at the thought. She closed her eyes and lapsed back into dream. The echo of the clangs rang in her head. Deal. Fucking Deal.
“You draw serial killers to you like flies to honey,” Deal had observed during one of Nora’s psychotherapy sessions. “Yet, they don’t kill you.”
“Serials have wives and children.” Nora responded. “They don’t kill them; they can even be affectionate with them. Like a mobster with a Madonna-wife and mistress-whore complex. You should know; you break down women that way, too.”
“No,” Deal shook his fat round head. “No, Nora – you are the cure. The cure for serial psychopathy for sure, maybe even sociopathy itself.”
“Maybe you should be curing my PTSD.”
“You don’t have PTSD. And you weren’t incested or abused, and you are not a multiple personality. You’re just a girl who likes to fuck. Read the literature of the False Memory Foundation I gave you. Reputations are being ruined by your crap.”
And Deal, incester and charter member of the False Memory Foundation, would love to be known as the great medical mind that had cured sociopathy, incurable to date. Even Alcoholics Anonymous spoke of the intractable, the constitutionally incapable, incapable of being honest. Unfortunates, the program called them, but, nonetheless, hopeless. Deal would use Nora’s brain waves or pheromones or urine to cure the Mafiosi and senators and gang members and ordinary cubicle backstabbers who knew wrong from right, and didn’t give a shit, unlike psychopaths like Michael who did not, who were truly insane.
Maybe Deal was right; the weirdest and most murderous elements on the planet instinctively sought her out— and kept her alive. Even the ubernarcissistic serial rapist and cannibal Bost did. Except now she had pissed him off by telling him that Ouspensky was smarter than him, so that no longer might be the case. Bost considered himself the only intelligent man on the planet, but all the men she knew seemed to believe that about themselves. But even now, even in a jealous rage, even Bost might not cannibalize her, she reflected.
But there were limits and she was busting them right and left, if anyone was listening. She had the goods on them. And they were coming for her; Deal wanted her brain for experiments and Ouspensky, sick mad scientist and most perverted man on the planet—and the love of her life—who knew what he wanted?
Nora looked about the room. She sensed she was safe from Michael. And she would probably be able to hold off the other serials and get out of the apartment somehow. Now, especially now, it was essential she survive.
Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic. Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country, #specialcharacters, In Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence; her latest novel is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, Verde que te quiero verde: Poems after Garcia Lorca, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world's first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at www.larissashmailo.com and on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larissa_Shmailo.