An Odd Tale
She took the stage like a great solo violinist, striding on long, well-toned legs, her open white smock flowing behind her like a cape. She was high-stung, taut as a bow, holding a pointer to match, long neck, long nose, wavy blond hair that just reached her shoulders, big eyes shaped like teardrops giving her the appearance of constantly being preoccupied with weighty matters for which there were no moral solutions. She had the bearing of one descended from royalty. Her beauty was deep and arresting, but it was not warm. She gave off an impression of someone in complete control who was utterly lost.
She commanded the stage, indicating to the projection on the screen with her pointer.
“We can see in this early footage....I should say we can hear in this footage....he started out as a football announcer, even though he knew nothing about football. Notice the familiar nasal quality to his voice, which was recognizable even then, combined with what sounds like an affectation, can you hear it? It’s as though he’s trying to imitate his idea of what an announcer should sound like....and as if he’s mocking it just a little. No doubt we all recognize that voice. And that’s him, obviously, sitting at a folding table on the sidelines. You can see the women selling sweaters it looks like at other tables. The game going on in the background. This was obviously very early in his career. From football he went on to host a morning show. Then he began inviting women to his studio and forcing them to strip on his radio show, making them perform lewd and lascivious acts on one another, on random individuals, humiliating these women in front of a vast radio audience, women who lacked not only self-respect but intelligence, and consequently were unable to grasp the full ramifications of what they were doing.
“When I opened his head and removed his brain – which turned out to be quite small, I could hold it in the palm of my hand – I discovered that it was made of that sticky translucent pinkish-purple rubber often associated with various children’s toys, such as those octopi that you fling at a wall and watch it tumble down grasping the wall. My son used to have one. But the real discovery was the little frogs made of play dough that I found wedged in the sulci of his brains. They were in an array of bright play dough colors – yellow, red, green, blue, purple, etc. – wedged in the sulci or fissures throughout his brain. The frogs were about the size of one phalange of a pinky finger. But despite being wedged in there, fortunately for us, and for him, the play dough frogs were all perfectly intact; they were not squished or otherwise deformed by the pressure of the rubber as one might expect. For this reason I was able to carefully pluck them out with chopsticks. There was a surprising number of them, as even when I thought I’d removed all of them from the bottom of his brain, after which I turned the brain over and removed all the ones from the top, when I then checked the bottom once more I found still more of them there. I don’t know if I’d missed them the first time around or if new ones had appeared, which I thought would have been strange in that short a time span. We did not know why this was happening but eventually I did manage to pluck out all the frogs and reinsert his brain into his head. Now he’s back to being a very successful radio personality, and he has not exhibited any disturbing symptoms. In laymen’s terms he’s cured, he’s normal.”
She was pretty but plain, and poor; good people but poor, as they say. She had only one dress – gray and formless and made of rough cotton – and she kept to herself, the way gentle, poor girls sometimes do. She was smart but her intelligence wasn’t useful; she was not at all cunning. She had games that she played with herself and she shared them with make-believe friends. She had straight black hair to her neck and an old pair of sandals. And she had a kind heart, a big heart, but she was quiet and did not imagine she was entitled to joy.
She was afraid of him when he called to her from the mound by the railroad tracks, but now she was in love. The young man was unlike anyone she knew. Although she was not acquainted with too many people, she knew that he was unique. Had she had access to society she would have found him all the more so. He was odd but not on purpose. Everything he did, every glance, every gesture, was electric, explosive, like a small work of art. When he sat he would sit in a ball. He would leap, hop and climb instead of walking; but when he walked he moved like a dancer. Not that he was completely at the mercy of his eccentricities, he could behave conventionally if need be; his bearing suggested he could make small talk with beggars and kings with equal ease. He seemed to have mastered this skill long ago, as a child, perhaps even before – there was nobility to him. But all that stuff bored him now and he had as much interest in being charming as a virtuoso violinist has in teaching the instrument to tone-deaf six-year-olds.
His straight black hair he wore like a helmet. He was dashing and sexy, like a magnificent, mythical bird. And she felt like an ant on the earth. Yet he chose her. He would see her all day, every day, and would paint her in the abandoned old hangar (in fact she did not know what he was painting, he never showed her, but she stood where he told her to stand, stood there many hours at a time in her sandals and coarse cotton dress). The dark, dirty hangar filled with color as soon as he’d enter. But he also brought darkness, from his black eyes and his black leather jacket. She wasn’t afraid of being physically harmed; if he’d wanted to hurt her she’d let him. She was afraid of the door to him closing, of him walking away, of him not coming back. His painting notwithstanding, he was an artist in everything he did; whatever he touched he made beautiful, and this was so far from her world. She knew that what she saw of him was a tiny fragment, that beyond it was a vast, swirling universe she could not understand, a labyrinth, beautiful and frightening, before which she was a speck in the wind. Perhaps he was playing with her. She didn’t know what he wanted from her. But these meetings were all that she had. They became her whole life. She expected that for him they were trifles. But she did not care. As for being with him, being his, she did not dare even to fantasize about such a thing. And when such reveries would scrape at the door of her mind she would chase them away.
The painting was done and he showed it to her. It was a portrait of a girl rendered with rich, brilliant colors, her face luminescent with transportive joy, her glorious smile lighting up the whole hangar. It was clearly supposed to be her, thought the girl, though it looked nothing like her. But the painting’s astonishing beauty and her love for the boy made her smile, made her glow. And at that moment she caught her reflection in a mirror shard on the ground and she suddenly saw that the girl in the painting was her!
She looked at him and saw he was pleased, more than that, he was happy, not smirking like always. He looked open, like a little boy. Her lungs swelled with joy. No, he was truly happy as he looked at her, and for the first time she felt free to be with him. And she knew, she still knew he would probably leave, maybe even quite soon, maybe after one night. She knew he did not love her the way she loved him, she knew they were not nearly equal. But she felt at that moment, unlike ever before, that she now had the right to be with him, the right to accept what he offered – not demand, she did not have the right to do that – but accept. Nobody had the right to demand anything from him. He was not of this world. He was an event, a miracle, he was an ecstatic moment. And now, seeing her portrait, she turned into that girl in the painting, that girl in a colorful dress, filled with infinite joy. He gave her his hand and she took it and they skated like light beams through caverns and forests and white marble ballrooms and clear emerald seas.
“This is not going to work,” his mother told him. “It’s unacceptable. Her essence is different from ours. She is plain. You are unwell. I need to look at your brain. She is downstairs or somewhere, who knows, she is waiting. I’ll have someone escort her out. She’s from a dull, unremarkable world.”
He must have come out to see her, to tell her to go, to tell her he’d see her at home, to tell her he needed to speak with his mother. For how long did he say? For an hour? Or maybe a day? It’s not clear if he knew what would happen. He knew and he did not know, she thought later on when she remembered his face in those moments. She saw him through the half-open doorway, he was deep in the grand oaken hall, listening to his mother – she could hear the words echo but couldn’t make out what they were. She could not see his mother, her view blocked by the door. He turned in her direction and he had a vague smile. Was his smile resignation? Or longing? Was it sadness? Or pity? What was clear was that regardless of what, if anything, he truly wanted, or, let’s say, regardless of what he wanted more, he could not resist what was happening to him. She saw he was only a boy and in his smile was inevitability.
She was taken to the street, passing a man whose pompous, nasally voice seemed familiar. “My time isn’t free,” he was saying. She was taken to the street but she found her way back. She entered the operating theater just as the boy’s mother removed the top of his head and took out his brain.
“You see,” she showed the girl, undisturbed by her presence, “you see that?”
The colorful frogs were all smooshed in the crevices of his brain. One could barely tell they had ever been frogs at all. They just looked like squashed colorful patches of play dough.
“You see,” his mother said, showing the girl his brain, “I can’t save it. It’s all stuck together, I can’t pick out the frogs. I can’t cut them out, I’d be cutting good parts of his brain with the frogs. They’ve meshed into his brain.”
The girl’s dress was gray once again and she sat on a bench by the wall and she quietly watched knowing she no longer had a right to his world. And she watched, or not so much watched as just sat there, as his mother cut out what little uncontaminated pieces she could of his brain and integrated them into the brain of the radio announcer. Then she took the announcer’s brain, now with parts of her son’s brains attached, and put it into her son’s head.
The girl stood on the street as the cars pulled away.
The young man, he went on to be very successful. He still had the power of effortless charm and charisma, and rooms of beautiful people gravitated towards him at cocktail parties and at work he elicited great admiration and a good deal of envy from even his most serious colleagues. His mother was pleased, or as pleased as she could be. The announcer, well, nobody missed him.
The girl made her way through the trees, and down roads in the dusk light. She felt terrible anguish, for a long time it tore her to pieces. But it passed. And she was still poor, with only one dress and one old pair of sandals, but she was no longer embarrassed to smile.