We elevated our weapons and subvocalized
silenced pops when our partners’ backs
were turned in the intricacies of the real.
We wanted to fire live ammunition.
We paid attention to the warning sighs,
the subliminal hisses in the midst
of concertos—indicators that some
of the electrodes had come loose again.
Chagrinless as clouds, we sailed through
the checklist, highlighting every participle
with neon-pink rays. We turned up
the volume and curled into our new names,
happy as we had thought we might be.
Take history by the handles—there is an art to struggle. Hang it up. Nails display it to best advantage. Most of them are making pointed remarks. Colors bob like corks in a filtered fluid. Blue, I guess. The table is tired, the string is limp, the filters are flustered and pale. These needles have no eyes and long for thread. Thank god there’s no red tape. The tablecloth twitches in anticipation, hungry for more blood. Won’t anyone run with the scissors?
The handles are the colors of the components. Everything is pierced, punctured, struggling, unwound. Cut. White. Inching along. Nice clean corks. And a tablecloth like tired blood. The scissors open their steel thighs. No one is running. Some filter air; some filter themselves. The ones that cling together can be pried apart. They are refastened with needles that sew only one stitch. Unwinding is not the same as getting loose. The art is in unsticking without leaving anything behind. The nails had no history and remained silent.
These are the components of an intricate machine and every single one of them is defective. The handles don’t work. The filters are pointless and frustrated. There are no openings that fit the corks. Their piercing cries are pitched beyond our hearing; do not mistake that for silence. Any object could be a sign, a message, a punctuation mark in a language that has yet to be spoken. Red, so to speak. Would the ball of twine rather be wound or unwounded?
It’s all unwinding. Conditions are orange and unfavorable. A machine is running with scissors, with duct tape over its eyes. Look out! The wine is corked, the thread is broken, the heart is pierced, but there’s no point at all. Around here, the shape of the table is immaterial. Bang. Whimper. Silence.
The mission was to be nonexistent:
that much was clear. His role was less so.
The name was the name of a name …
he couldn’t remember. Brightness—
maybe some kind of explosion? Falling
from the blue air. Or into it, from anoxia
further up. He had looked just like anyone
else, until he cut his own flesh, shaving.
Underneath skin, a corrosion, oxidation.
No matter: he let the crust of dried blood—
or something like blood—remain. Let
them stare. Anomie, or a good imitation.
In his coat pocket he found the address
of the small hotel. Upon his entrance,
the obsequious clerk silently handed him
a key. Room 616. A flurry of messages
had accumulated; all from an Aunt Anaïs.
One package enclosed a book; family
recipes she was sure he would enjoy: Texas toast, Watergate salad, bananas
Vincent Foster in reduction sauce,
blackened New York steak, yellow
cake, marinated New Orleans po’ boy,
Orlando fizz, Mandalay Bay surprise,
Death by Mushroom bombe. A call
from an apoplectic someone claiming
to be his supervisor: where the hell
was he, and what the hell was he doing?
He was looking out the barred window
at a black limo with government plates
idling at the curb, its swaying antenna
slowly retracting out of the soft, misting
rain. Thirteen missed appointments with
extremely important clients in the last
two weeks! Was he out of his mind?
A random curlicue of memory: he had
been somewhere in an arid climate,
inside a house that was the antonym
of safe, attaching a satellite-controlled
detonator to the anode of a concealed
power supply, opening his wrist panel
for access to a private apocalypse. Who the fuck did he think he was?
F. J. Bergmann is the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She lives in Wisconsin and fantasizes about tragedies on or near exoplanets. She was a Writers of the Future winner. Her work has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Analog, Asimov’s SF, and elsewhere in the alphabet. She thinks imagination can compensate for anything. She recommends the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.