Clementine's brother died when he was a baby. I think it gave her a complex about youth, about getting old. I remember after we had sex the morning we went to the house she got up and went over to her bookshelf. God, she was beautiful. She was a dancer and every part of her was like ... a good thing. It was like someone set a moonbeam on fire. She was all pale skin and red hair curving in and out of the light coming through the blinds. I remember sitting up and kissing the small of her back and holding my head sideways so I could peek around her. I watched her trace her fingers across the spines of her books and over something entitled Tir Na Nog. I asked her what that one was. "Um, It's-the-land-of-eternal-youth," she said, like a fucking machine gun.
She always talked like the English Language was at war inside of her. Everytime she opened her mouth the dismembered participles and subjects of wounded ideas came exploding out of her. 'Um, I-- I-don't-know-how-- gah! I-guess-that-I-feel-like-- I-can't-make-words-right-now!' I always pictured sentences charging across her tongue like a No Man's Land and getting shellacked by whatever particular psychosis was responsible for mortaring them. She'd start to try and talk and you would smile because she couldn't, and that would make her smile, and pretty soon she'd stick her bottom lip out and her eyebrows would scrunch up and then you'd kiss her. Then nobody needed to say anything. She was an English Major.
"Grown-ass-men, coincidentally, are-not-allowed." I turned her around and kissed her belly button. "Grown ass women are?" I asked. "I'm-still-a-tiny-thing," she said. "I don't know, you're pretty grown ass. In a year and half you'll be able to legally drink. They make you wait specifically until you're grown ass for that." She leaned down and kissed me very hard. "I'm-gonna-go-get-a-shower." I got dressed and walked downstairs. In the living room her brother's portrait was fitted inside a brassy oval frame over the fireplace. I took it down, unfastened the clips on the back, and gently lifted the picture out. He looked healthy in the picture, like a happy, normal baby. He didn't look like he was going to die or that he had been kept alive by machines for months after he was born. Clemetine told me that she would come home from school and her mom or dad would be there at the house and the other one would be at the hospital with her brother. Her dad eventually left her mom for one of her brother's nurses. He would still stay at the house with her sometimes though. Since then her mom's dated a few guys, but Clementine told me that once a few years ago she found her mom crying in the bathroom and when she asked what was wrong her mom said, "Your dad was the love of my life."
I took the picture into the kitchen and sat it down on the bar and got out the strawberry sherbert. I was making sherbert piglets before we left. Sherbert piglets are composed of a scoop of strawberry sherbert for the body, a banana slice for the nose, chocolate chips for the eyes, strawberry halves for the ears, and chocolate syrup. I use a lot of chocolate syrup; my sherbert piglets are typically the dirtiest sherbert piglets. When I heard Clementine coming downstairs I yelled, "Hey! Remember me telling you about sherbert piglets? I am making one for you right now! Don't come in the kitchen!" "I'm-really-excited-for-my-sherbert-piglet!" "You should be because it's pretty adorable!" "It-sounds-adorable!" "You also should be excited because it is pretty delicious!" "It-sounds-delicious!"
"Almost done!" As I was putting the plastic strawberry crate back in the fridge I noticed her ex-boyfriend smiling at me from one of those personalized calendars tacked to the wall. Clementine and him were arm and arm on the beach. They had dated for four years. Her and I kissed for the first time when she was still with him. I remember her saying afterwards, "Well, I have to break up with him now," in an unusually measured voice. Two weeks later they were still together, but she drove to my apartment one night. "Listen-I-feel-really-bad-- I'm-- if-I-said-I-was-confused-that-wouldn't-be-good-enough-- I'm-scared." We had sex in her car. Afterwards she fell asleep on my lap and my legs went dead, but I stayed sitting up for five hours until she woke up. She said she didn't love him anymore.
"Okay! Come look!" She came into the kitchen clasped her hands over her mouth. "That's-the-cutest-thing-I've-ever-been-about-to-eat." One of her piglets eyes was sliding down its face, and its ears were lolling further and further left. "Alright, now you have to put chocolate syrup on it. For the mud bath, obviously." She took her bowl and sat it down next to her brother's picture. "Chocolate syrup," I said, matter-of-factly, handing her the bottle. She drizzled some out in a wispy line and I said, "Seriously?" and she scrunched her eyebrows. "Idon'tlikealotofchocolate!" We ate them right there on the kitchen island, her dead brother in-between us stirring rhythmically with the whump-whump-whump of the ceiling fan.
Commander: standard (rank 1)
There were a lot of cars parked in front of the house when we got there. People were milling around on the porch and under the door frame.
The Guy with the Bad Pock Scars
Ally: standard (rank 1)
We got out of the car and walked up to the porch. "Hi," said a man who reminded me of the moon too, but only because he must have had a medically significant case of acne when he was in high school ... pock scars cratered his old, transluscent face. "Hi," I said back, "are you the man?" He laughed and we shook hands. "No, son, I am not the man. The man's in there though. Hello, ma'am," he said to Clementine, just noticing her behind me. "You know how this works then," he asked us. "Uh, I know the general idea of it," I somewhat answered.
"Well, you'll write down your piece in one of the big binders on the table in there," he noticed the photograph in Clementine's hands, "Ah, or, you can just slip the picture between some pages ..." "I'd-like-to-do-both." "Okay, great. Great. That's not a problem, ma'am." A middle-aged man walked out of the door and waved vaguely in our direction. "Thank you, sir!" the old man we were talking to called after him. "I believe you fellas were next." A young gay couple nodded their heads and walked into the house. "Anyway, anyway, once you're done you just come right on back out and that's about the size of it. Oh, there is a jar for donations on the end table beside the coat rack."
"Do you guys take turns?" I asked. The old man purses his lips and tilts his head back once for, presumably, yes. He seems to anticipate what I was about to ask next. "We do it 'cause it feels like it ought to be done. And we're not all old folks either. The guy doin' it now is 25-years-old. Excuse me," he added, and he went over to greet a young lady coming up the driveway.
Sensory Deprivation Helmet
Force of Will: standard (rank 1)
A man who looked to be about in his thirties with cigarette smoke rolling off his shoulders turned around and looked at us; "What'cha here for?" "My-baby-brother," Clementine chimes. "Ah," the tip of his cig lights up orange and he inhales slowly, "my wife died. I'm getting remarried tomorrow." He talked with the smoke in his mouth and the effect was hypnotic. It reminded me of how snakes make breeding balls where they all coil up together and have wild, wild snake orgies. It was like that in his mouth. Ghost snakes having sex. "You know," he says, finally exhaling, "I never cried about it. Not once." He shrugs. "I mean, she was my wife. I loved her, but I just never cried about it. So I figure I owe her that, ya know? I owe her that before I get married again." "Hey-will-you-talk-with-the-smoke-in-your-mouth-again?"
Smoke In His Mouth Guy went in next, then an old woman whose knees clacked together whenever she moved. The noise made Clementine's face contort into an expression of pure horror. After that, the guy with the bad pock scars motioned us forward, so we went in. You noticed a lot of things all at once when you walked into that house, so I'll try and start with the least weird parts and get weirder. All the walls were knocked out. What'd been, or what I imagine to have been, a living room, a dining room, a bathroom, and a kitchen, were all merged together into one super-room. In the far corner there was a rectangle of checkered pink and black linoleum where a fridge and a stove were. In the desert of tan carpet between what was once the living room and the dining room there was a tall ceramic sink ontop of more ugly pink and black. Tables, like the school cafeteria kind, were arranged in tidy horizontal rows. Thick plastic covered binders were strewn about on them in a less organized way. Pens and pencils were here and there. A few loose leaves of paper full of dense scribbles were blowing around lackadaisically.
The weirdest thing, of course, was the man. He was wearing a suit and tie and the colors reminded me of the 60's, but not the hippy part, the stuffy, higher education part of the 60's. He was the only other person in there besides Clemetine and I, though I could hear someone shuffling around on the second floor. He wore a helmet. It was like an old timey diving helmet, but thinner, more svelte, longer, taller. It was like the helmet diving helmets would dare eachother to approach at the bar. It engulfed him, head and neck. There were two tiny porthole-like things for the eyes and a metal tube extending out from where his mouth would be. A smaller length of plastic tubing attached to that and loop-de-looped a foot or two into a pint-sized oxygen tank on the table beside the binder he had opened. You could hear the tank softly ticking the oxygen count down, just above the sound of the man's faint crying.
"Why-is-he-wearing-that?" Clementine whispered to me. "Sensory deprivation. Just him and the stuff."
Emotion Control: superior (rank 2)
She slipped me the picture of her brother, bent over a binder, and started to write. I wandered in front of the man, he didn't notice me. I had a pretty good idea of what Clementine was writing. 'I don't cry about him anymore, so maybe you can' or something like that. She'd went over a couple of options with me the night before. "I think I'm gonna write something too." I selected a binder with pictures of speech balloons on it. I remember, a year later, exactly what I wrote.
"I am in love with a girl named Clementine. Like the orange. Her brother died when she was a little girl. He was a baby. He died of a kidney disease. He wasn't even 2-years-old. His whole life he was in the hospital except for two weeks. They brought him home for those two weeks and they took him to a portrait studio and had a picture taken of him. In the picture he looks happy, but he was almost always in horrible pain. Clementine's parents divorced because of the stress, then again, maybe they would have gotten divorced eventually anyway, but maybe not. After were done here, I'm going to take Clementine to the store and I'm going to buy popsicles and we'll go to the park and swing. We'll laugh and smile and somewhere else in the world somebody will make a dead baby joke and maybe Clementine's mom will be in the bathroom stall at her office crying about how she's still in love with her ex-husband. We'll think about her brother now-and-then, but mostly, we won't. I think it might've been better if he'd never been born at all. So, cry for that. Because nobody else will, not anymore."
The Brutality of Moving On
Psychic Vampire: superior (rank 2)
And then I laid his photograph between the pages and closed it shut.