The door opens. Woman in sweater, floral, eyes like smiling coals. She says hello and I almost interrupt her with the spiel. Had she heard about the Cablenet initiative? She had. She did not really understand it. Say it’s very simple. The wires connect your terminal to the mainframe in central Novostok, which connects you to every other person who has elected to be part of Cablenet. The benefits are enormous. Access to an ever-updating catalogue of goods and services. Exchange gossip with your neighbours on the cable square. Browse historical records, learn a new skill, engage with the catastrophic amounts of illegal pornography. Etcetera. She calls me a very nice girl and offers me a cup of tea or would I like something stronger, haha, no, I have four more houses to visit (a lie). Milk, one sugar, same colour as her wallpaper, served in a mug with a cat’s face. Adorable. She has not told me to sit so I stand on the periphery, tea hot enough to transmit from cat mug to glove to the ice in my veins. Realise she has not actually addressed whether she would like me to wire her house. I rotate a length of cable in my hand. Not actually the cable we use. More a visual aid. Yes, that is my bike out front. I prefer to pedal. Dislike the feeling of motorcars, being a body larger, taking up space, the ability to turn pedestrians into abstract sculpture. My name is Velvet sorry for not saying so earlier. Missed the cue. She laughs. Lots of people do. Her name is Clementine. This I suppose is a more normal name. AmI from the Party she asks, eying my Party badge displayed proudly on my lapel. I say yes. How do I feel about how things are going these days, she asks, gesturing vaguely around the room that is supposed to represent the Novostok Experiment. I say I cannot comment but that the Cablenet initiative is an important step, applying the bourgeois concepts of scientific management for the betterment of the masses, socialism not pauperism forever forward and so on. She nods. Says it used to be simpler, during and after the Revolution, more difficult to live but you knew where you stood, where things were going. I do not agree or disagree because I am twenty seven years old eyes on the prize working in a government job because I joined the Party in university and did you know your mother always wanted to serve the people but her arm got chewed up in a milling accident and she was just like you at that age only a bit more popular with the boys haha and I laughed too that recorded laugh each time she repeats the story my handkerchief soaked with her drool before the visiting hours are over.
I drop the mug. It does not break. Quality construction. The tea spills into the carpet. I am on my knees. I apologise. I take my handkerchief that is identical to the one that absorbed my mother’s saliva save for one loose stitch and begin mopping up my mess. I apologise. She tells me that it does not matter it’s an old carpet it’s seen worse but it represents a sloppiness that I find deeply morally inexcusable. Fucking stupid fucking moron fucking Velvet are you sure you don’t want that whiskey and yes I do want it I want to pickle this screaming fucking brain I want to live without feeling like I’m walking on ice that will break any second and plunge me into waters of my own wretched thought.
Between the carpet and the handkerchief the tea may as well never have been there at all. No sign of my mistake save for a slight dampness under my knee. I stand up and apologise for a third time. Last time. Clementine pats me on the shoulder and says I can install the wiring as long as it doesn’t cost her anything and it does not so I get to work despite not really knowing how it works but understanding enough to know that I do not care. I work with wires. I take pride in it. I thread them neatly along skirting boards, around family photos and under stained carpets. You won’t even know they’re there. You won’t even know I’m here, either, some kind of bureaucratic poltergeist. I pull the wire from her television and she flinches because for all her warm smiles she still believes that I might break her companion. This is not her fault. She doesn’t know how many times I have done this and I do not tell her because it has never seemed to reassure anyone. Maybe it sounds like I am bragging or lying but I do not do either of those things. I am a humble servant and I am not even thinking of fucking Rohanitsa when I splice the wires together. I just need to get to your aerial and you’re all set I say and this is also something of a lie. She still needs her keyboard and designated one hour but realistically three hour appointment to get her up and running. This is not my job and I am grateful because I am already exhausted with the background radiation of her life. I also do not need to go to the aerial since that is no longer a box that needs ticking, the marking down of serial numbers deemed unnecessary busywork, 20 percent boost to department productivity etcetera. So I suppose I am a liar.
But I like being on the roof. Her house is small, a holdout from before the days of the Special Experiment Zone, wedged between Communals, monoliths of aerated concrete sandwiching the stars above. Beautiful. Sincerely. People don’t believe me when I say so but I would rather look at the stars in the frames of our progress than from the filthy soil indentured to the capitalists. Tap out a cigarette from a government soft pack and light it with a match because my father had said it tasted better and since he usually just drank and called me a homosexual fifth columnist I prefer to remember the one bit of sincere advice instead. I couldn’t tell you if it was true or not the habit is so ingrained, the motions rehearsed, two-finger-pinch-pack-swivel-drawer-match-strike-lit-smoke. Hard to tell where my breath ended and the clouds began, all the buzzing of motorcars and newspaper vendors yelling headlines about stools being shortened so bureaucrats don’t tower over citizens and the hum of dripping information from the wires cats-cradling the city all drowned out by my intention, a little pocket of peace. Clementine shouts up if I am done and I say just a minute longer ma’am and tighten a nut that looked a little loose and flick the remains of the cigarette into the garden because she wouldn’t notice it was so overgrown too much to handle where were her children and I gave her the copy of the receipt and pedalled back home to be a homosexual fifth columnist.
I found her two weeks ago when I took out the rubbish.
- 14 cans of beer (hand-crushed, approximately 7 used as ash-trays)
- pocket lint
- 2 tins instant coffee
- 2 tins green beans
- 2 tins soup (unlabelled, received from different friendly old lady, ‘family recipe’, bad, fully consumed)
- masturbation tissues (unknown quantity)
- cigarette packets (unknown quantity, guessable, do not want to)
I dropped the bag and the contents spilled over the floor. Antlers growing from her head, eyes glowing like a cat’s, matted silver hair framing her bloody pretty face. Feral. Chewing on cables. I reached for my baton as if she was a large rodent. No animals allowed in the building. It is your duty to prevent the spread of disease. She scrambled into the corner on her arse, rattling the chain link, flecks of wire tubing falling from her mouth as she panted. Fear. I had never made anyone afraid of me before. Anything. This was the moment. To ring the authorities. To ask Klasje the building manager to hit her with a rolling pin. To leave well enough alone.
When I open my door now I do not see an empty shell of alcoholism. I see her, Rohanitsa, sitting cross-legged in the corridor, rubbing her antlers against the wall, shredding my wallpaper like bark from a tree. Waiting for me. I scold her for the wallpaper but I see her eyes and second guess myself and say I didn’t like it anyway and she doesn’t understand but smiles. I hang up my coat and brush off the residue of work because my doctor said it was good to separate your life from your job and that keeping things in order started with keeping my things ordered and I’d forgotten to make the bed because I woke up ten minutes before I needed to take my forty minute bike ride so better to start the day now than never.
I brush her teeth for a minute longer than I do my own because it is easier to care for something that is not you, to feel responsible for it, a succulent next to my workstation or my dear old mother or the deer creature I found in the garbage. I brush her hair, silver and long and beautiful, and I do not brush mine because it is a regulation length bob. I called her Rohanitsa because I read on Cablenet about a folk goddess with antlers called that and I thought it sounded pretty but I never was that good at naming things so I admit my reasonings are somewhat shallow. I do not know if she is a goddess. She seems mostly human. Sometimes we fuck and I understand life after death. I hold onto her antlers as I pull her into me. I do not ask why there are wires hanging from her cunt but at least she can fuck me with them. Rubber tubing snaking inside of me and my hands upon her breasts and I want her to break me, to release the rot from my skin, my guts glistening in her antlers and she would tell me that it would be alright which she doesn’t do but she does make me come.
I do not think I am a good person because good people don’t think these things and don’t end up in these situations.
At work there are no call-outs and that is the only part of my job I enjoy so I rotate an HB pencil in my fingers, feeling the texture where the blue paint has chipped, and imagine plunging it into my throat and spraying my gurgling blood over the paperwork and I wonder why I am always like this no I am not always like this I tell myself “always” is a bad word it implies a consistency when your mood is more like the peaks and troughs of an oscilloscope back and forth back and forth the real reason I’m in such a mood is not because I am a colossal failure but because Rohanitsa is sick and I don’t know what to do. I woke up and there was blood on the pillow and she was sat there, bolt upright, head twitching. I made her porridge with a spoon of jam that came from the soup lady but the jam was good not like the soup and I was excited for her to eat but she wouldn’t, it oozed out the side of her mouth like rain overflowing from the gutters and I cried and she didn’t understand but she smiled. On my workstation I try to find medical information but there is only simple documentation for humans and animals and I cannot synthesise them and my boss is angry with me he wants to know why I am reading things on company time and don’t I know I have an important job to do and don’t I want to serve the people and I do I sincerely do I feel so useless and alien to this world the least I could do is help others but I’m not very good at it my mother is rotting Rohanitsa is rotting the rot is in my skin and it will always spill out no matter where I go or what novel situation keeps me engaged for a while it will force its way out of my throat and pull everyone else down with me and I start crying again and my boss I think his name is Mikhail he’s new younger than me he looks at me like I am a fox he has hit with his car, limbs broken and ribs bursting from the fur but still alive, the mixture of pity and the knowledge that it would be better to snap my neck under his boot and he tells me to go home so I do.
I see her in the window. A shadow. The lights in the Communal flicker on and off and in this moment it feels like me and Rohanitsa are the only beings alive in Novastok, all the world a stage but for an audience of no one, if a tree falls etc etc. Each step up the 4 floors (elevator broken management is aware will be fixed Tuesday, three days ago) an echo in concrete, every possible outcome pushing at the edges of my brain, most of them bad, and yet and yet I keep going and I reach the door in what is either a lifetime or two and a half minutes.
Rohanitsa stands in the middle of the shag carpet, swaying to and fro, eyes bloodshot, my jacket with the red epaulettes that mother had said I looked so handsome in that I had worn exactly once resting on her shoulders, matted with vomit, a fetid yellow on the olive drab. She stumbles towards me.
I wonder if she had ever made anyone afraid before.
She passes me by, her eyes rolling back into her head, sparks flying under the lids. She faces the wall and arches her back, her upside down face staring into mine, a world of fevered electricity behind her eyes and she bashes her head against the wall. Again. Again. Again. Fragments of wallpaper stick to her mulched forehead and I cry and I don’t understand but she smiles, teeth burrowing through her lip, and she bashes it again. A crunching sound, something between glass under foot and the Cablenet connection dial. I reach out to her as her skull cracks like an egg and her brain spills out, viscous and full of electricity, I tell her it will be alright while her tongue lolls out past her teeth and tastes herself, I tell myself it will be alright as I try and push her back together, cradling her skull in my palms and then I see her I see the real her, the masses of wires from her cunt just the start, a wriggling mass worming its way through every bit of her flesh, ending at the tumourous roots of her antlers and I kiss her, the real her, freed from her prison of muscle and sinew, an embrace of meat slurry pipes, her insides wet and corruscating like a plate of jellied eels and I realise I cannot free myself, my face enclosed in a window of her skin and something tearing through my red sweater I can see shadows of her arms raising above my head and I don’t know what she is doing I am passed terror passed any kind of thought beyond attempting to process what is happening to me but I hear the crack of the antlers snapping out of her and I understand that this is a passing of the torch a moment that enshrines our connection and hadn’t I always dreamed that trepanning worked that you could just take a sharp rock or an ice pick and crack open yourself to let the miasma drain away so now when her puppeted hands hold the antlers above my regulation bob cut is there no relief why is my mind still racing even as she hammers on my skull with those gnarled roots over and over and over again the dripping blood and bits of me no relief and perhaps it was an absolute after perhaps I would just be
I am tuned in
the antlers are antennas
for some greater signal
to my noise.
I shove handfuls of her torn flesh
into my mouth
faster than I can properly swallow
and I choke
because I do not want this
but she does
she is a great accumulator
not just of flesh and bone
but of information
a real life database animal
but she is me
and in the ruins of her
and my apartment
I am here
and wasn’t this what I wanted?
a life unmoored from expectation
a fulfilment of delusions of grandeur
and wanting to be left
she was born in the woods
below the soil
amongst the worms
and her name was not Rohanitsa
because she cannot be named
her first container was an arm
here she learned how to hurt
and be hurt
churned mud and gunpowder
rended apart on the frozen ground
and in victory
as a reward
her first vessel was burnt
but she did not die
she is not sure she can
she slunk away from the charred bones
my head is in ribbons
but I am still me
I am still her
we will hasten the arc of history
world-soul on a fixed-gear