Thursday, June 7, 2012

the Transgressives

He came home from the Lab, exhausted.  He was the State’s top Technician, and well-respected.  His home was perfectly appointed, his partner was perfectly appointed, and his children were perfectly appointed.  He had lived this way for years.

He sat down in his favorite chair, a wingback from another era, which sat perched advantageously in the corner of the room, where it could take in both the full view of the living room, as well as the serenely green view that could be seen outside the enormous bay windows.

A drink sat by his side, on the little table his diminutive partner had fought for vociferously all those years ago and which now, after all these years, he had to concede had become his favorite.  The drink was sweating, a little, as it sat on its little table in the afternoon sunlight that was streaming through the large bay windows.

Everything was perfect.

He sighed.

He yearned for something more.  or else.  or other.  but he didn’t know what that was.  All he knew was that he felt a gnawing dissatisfaction -an incompleteness -that seemed to eat at him every day.  He felt miserably unhappy, and his poor partner knew it, but made no sign.  Instead, from the kitchen, he could hear the long-familiar, high-pitched, cheerful tweets and twitters that indicated dinner was being made and would soon be ready.

As dinner wrapped up and they were down to the wine, his partner spoke up, with cautious optimism:

“We ought to book that cruise.  We haven’t gone in years -and you enjoyed it so much the last time.”  

There was a pause for wine, and then, even more cautiously:  “It might cheer you up...”

In that moment, he felt terrible for his long-suffering partner, who had been with him through his long years in Medical School, and then his even longer years as a Journeyman Apprentice, where he’d started as an Apprentice to a rather incompetent rural doctor, but from there he had later somehow become Apprentice to the Surgeon General of the State.  That alone had been quite the achievement, and now there were rumors he was going to be tapped to be the next Surgeon General, but he didn’t like to pay heed to such rumors.  He’d been in Practice for many years, and he quite knew better.

He sighed, which his partner misconstrued as a “no” to the suggestion of a cruise.  Quickly, but with failed enthusiasm, he tried to recover the situation:

“What an excellent suggestion.  I’ll let you know the dates, and then you may go ahead and book it.”

[pause]

“For us.”

He gave his partner a weak smile, and the smile was returned, albeit with a false brightness that hurt him.  They were falling apart, and neither of them knew why, or what to do about it.  They would go on this cruise, and they would likely barely trade three conversations with one another -and all of them would be brief.  He wished the distraction of their children would visit more often.  or that they could decamp from their perfect and enormous home, but such a downgrade would be unthinkable.  He might wish to lower his status, but he couldn’t do that to his partner.

He swallowed the sigh in his throat with the last gulp of wine in his glass, set it down, and then removed himself to his study to work -to really work.  His partner would probably rather he had an affair.  Then, at least, there’d be proof that he was still alive.  They hadn’t had sex in years.

Well, not good sex anyway.  Every so often, the guilt on his side of the bed and the intense frustration from the other side of the bed would become too much, and he’d will himself to go through the motions.  Sometimes, often-times actually, he wished his partner would have an affair.  He would gladly look the other way, if it made his partner feel happy, but, deep down, he knew no amount of sex with others could take away that theirs was not a happy home -and no amount of “sex with others” would fix that.  Like children, affairs could only be distraction, and not any kind of answer.

If only he could be cruel, then perhaps his partner would leave him.

He leaned back into the warm leather embrace of his perfect office chair, and thought about that -but resorting to cruelty was such a juvenile thing to do.  It wouldn’t do to be childish about things; better to be the adults that they were and stay together.

*

These were the pattern of his days.  Every day he escaped to the Lab; every evening he came home to dinner and plans for the upcoming cruise, for which he said “yes” to everything.  The more unhappy he felt, the more inclined he was to refuse his partner nothing.  There was in him the small, vain hope that all of that forced, cheerful optimism would somehow rub off on him.  but he knew that it wouldn’t.

*

She stood in front of the large sitting room windows with her arms crossed.  Outside, through the freshly washed glass, stretched the jewel-green lawn, which vanished into a large copse of trees that was really more of a mini-forest.  She loved this view.  It reminded her of the house where she’d grown up.  

Of course, she’d secretly been quite unhappy growing up there, but no one on the outside had ever known that.  No, she loved this view not because she loved that old house, but because she loved that old forest in that backyard where she had often escaped when she needed to.  The wood had been a large one, and, under those trees, she had often felt she might vanish forever.  or, at least, she had wished that she could.

She looked at her watch.  It was nearly time for her to begin dinner.  Her goal every day was to have everything on the table by 8 p.m., warm and ready for her partner to eat, with the wine perfectly aerated, and the puppy sated from a walk and curled up obediently on the hearth, waiting for them to be finished eating.

Theirs was a perfectly ordered World, this World that they lived in.  

They’d all grown up reading The Histories of The Early Years -and they had not been pretty:  continual wars; continual strife; permanent stress; total unhappiness.  It was a wonder the Founding Generations had managed to forge the groundwork for the New (and perfect) World, but manage they had, and they were reminded of it every Sunday via the President’s Public Radio Address.  They all had much for which to be grateful.

After dinner, she vanished into her latest project, (365 Ways to Make Kimchi Interesting!), which involved what seemed to be a ton of cabbage, and the sort of aroma that required her to convert the greenhouse into a kitchen, so as to spare the perfect house the redolent scent of kimchi cooking -and to spare her partner.

*

These were the pattern of her days.  Every day she did all that she could to make everything at home perfect for her partner, and for herself, but all she felt was empty inside.  She masked her unhappiness with a deceiving cheerfulness that fooled everyone -sometimes even herself, although... she knew it was the power of her forgetfulness that was helping her more than anything else.

*

One day, quite by happenstance, as she was scrubbing a particularly stubborn spot on the kitchen floor, (a task she despised), she inadvertently peeled back a corner on one of the tiles.  The gap in the floor gaped up at her, like a personal affront.  She glared back at it; she had tried so hard for so long for everything to be perfect -how dare the kitchen tile do this?  Something snapped in her, and the next thing the house knew, she was ripping up the kitchen floor.

In the midst of her angry, forward progress, she was stopped by the discovery of a trapdoor, long hidden away under the tiles that had affronted her so greatly.  She sat back on her heels, surprised and not entirely certain how to react.  In the heat of the moment, she’d been irrationally angry; now, she just felt foolish.  and she had a trapdoor in her floor to contend with.

Soon, however, her mood smoothed out, and curiosity took over.  With some effort, a large screwdriver, and a hammer, she managed to pry the trapdoor open.  and the surprises simply continued, for the trapdoor did indeed conceal a tunnel.  She wondered if her kitchen had once been the terminus of some great enterprise.  She rather liked the idea, especially now that it was going to be the start of a great (and secret) enterprise for her.

Suddenly aware of the time, she spent the rest of the afternoon doing her best to fix the mess that she had made of the kitchen floor, but it was not as if her partner took much notice.  When she made comment over dinner that it would be a good time to replace the floor tiles in the kitchen, she barely received an absentminded nod in response.  

To amuse herself, she sometimes toyed with the idea of asking for something completely ridiculous, (for example, a pet T-Rex!), to see what response she would receive, but she never did.  She was rather afraid the fantasy was better than the reality would be, because she already knew that her partner would simply nod absentmindedly and then go about the business of finishing dinner.  If only T-Rexes still roamed the earth, she thought one fine evening over a particularly good glass of wine.

She finished the glass as slowly as she could, not wanting to seem in a rush, although, honestly, she could not wait to finish dinner, go to bed, wake up the next day, and then begin again with the hole in the floor.  Even though it was silly to think so, she liked to imagine that moving everything along faster in the evening then in turn brought the morning around faster too.

*

The tunnel below her kitchen turned out to be a vast network of tunnels.  She wondered vaguely if perhaps her house had once been a part of the Underground Railroad, but that had been so long ago, that surely could not have been the case.  Plus, the markings on the walls were decidedly quite unorthodox, and certainly not what she imagined those on the Underground Railroad would have expressed.  

The whole thing was incredible, and she reveled in the happy distraction of it.

One day, several days in, she realized that having to turn around and go back to her perfect home every afternoon was a constraint that she needed to remove if she was going to be able to continue any further.  This constraint was removed easily enough later that evening over dinner, when she informed her partner that she would be going away, (albeit briefly, of course), to visit with “friends,” as it had been “a little while.”  Her partner barely looked up from the spare ribs and rice that she’d managed to whip up for dinner.  

She had already asked her neighbor to assist with keeping her partner fed while she was “away”; everything was arranged.  The next day, she was gone.

*

What she found when she emerged on the other side, feeling very much like Alice in her forbidden Wonderland, utterly shocked her.  She had no words for what she saw.  Everything that she had grown up to believe was blown away in that moment.  With a gasp, she ducked back down inside the tunnel that had brought her to this strange, unfamiliar place.  Suddenly, she realized she’d left Fortinbras (the puppy) behind.  She bit her lower lip, determined to ignore the tears that had sprung up behind her eyelids.

She had forgotten the dog, who had always been just the brightest spot in any of her days in that perfect home.

With a deep, regretful breath, she steeled her nerves.  She would emerge from this tunnel.

*

One of the things he did occasionally (and secretly) after work, which his partner never knew about, (of course), was to stop by the (somewhat illicit) Yamazaki Market to buy the potted meats (that he secretly loved and desired) that were generally forbidden -not just to him, but to everyone.  They were rich and salty and almost (sometimes) pure fat; they melted in the mouth like cubes of meat-salt.  The first time he’d tasted a potted meat, (pork, it had been), it had been a revelation to him.  

That was how his first lover had seduced him -with forbidden meat.  Years on now, that first lover had faded deep into the recesses of his youthful memories, but the memory of that first forbidden taste -that remained with him.

The (illicit) Yamazaki Market was able to operate as it did, beyond the fringes of the Great City, because the Authority looked the other way.  Most of what was sold was left over from the “old days” [not capitalized], and, while the Authority disapproved strongly of the Market, the Authority also deeply despised waste, so there was none -and the Market was allowed to carry on.  

Certainly there was the occasional raid.  The Great Wars had been Generations ago; there was no way that all of what the Market had on stock could possibly be held over from those (bad old) days.  Somewhere, somehow, someone was making fresh cans of potted meat(s).  The very thought made his mouth water, and he hurried his pace.

The small, 4.24 ounce can cost him 73Cr (Credits), but to him, it was worth every Credit.  Besides, the dealer he frequented always threw in a bottle of whisky, as well as a legitimate-looking e-receipt, which made it appear as though what he really fancied was a good bottle of 12-year whisky.  His partner did not drink whisky, so the fact that the bottle was in fact filled with an almost undrinkable blend of grain alcohol was of no importance whatsoever.

With his contraband in hand, he scrambled to his customary (and secret) place outside the Market, where he could sit and slowly eat his can of potted meat, savoring as long as he could the experience before he had to finish and go home to his partner.  He barely even bothered with an excuse anymore, although he always had one at the ready just in case.

He couldn’t begin to explain the satisfaction this little bit of misbehavior gave him, or why.  He just knew that within his constrained and cosseted life, his occasional acts of rebellion were all that he had to hold on to.  that, and the delicious flavor of the forbidden potted meat(s) he enjoyed so much.

She popped up abruptly in the midst of this (secret) mealtime reverie, shocking him and causing him to jump his feet, and sending his precious can of potted meat flying into the air.

*

Once the dust settled, (and his can of potted meat was retrieved), they both took a moment to stand and stare at one another.  Nestled in their secrets, neither of them knew what to say to the other.  The moment was so great -and so confusing.

Finally, she spoke first:

What are you?”

Her inflection was strange, but he recognized the language.

“Well...” he stammered, “I’m me!”

This was no help at all.  She shook her head.  Everything here was bizarre and strange -and this too.

After a rather long, awkward pause, and having no idea what to do, he opted to be polite:

“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked.

“Well...” she paused, “...home, I suppose.”

This confused him.  This creature standing before him could not possibly be from anywhere near him.

Where did you come from?”

“I... don’t know.”

Now they were at an impasse.  He felt certain he should know about her; she felt certain she should know about him -but neither of them had any real clue.  Nowhere in their respective Histories was there any mention of any possible Other, but they did share a language, so that was a start.

*

And thus began their odd affair:  two people, two Worlds apart, but united in their curiosity and their need for something other than what was expected of them.  The first time they’d had sex, it had been an awkward, unsatisfying exchange, with neither of them really knowing what to do with (or to) the other, but they had finished in a heap of laughter.  It had all managed to still feel good, and so they had done it again, (and again), until they figured out what to do.  Feeling amazing was a long ways off, but fumbling toward ecstasy had never been so much fun, (or rewarding), for either of them.

It was late afternoon, several months after they had initially met, and they were both sitting in his “secret” spot, eating the potted meat(s) he’d turned her on to, (and, by association, Fortinbras, who eagerly ate the precious bits that she fed him), when she asked him:

“Why do you think they’ve kept us apart for all of these... Generations?  This is literally the happiest I have ever been.  Being with a woman was all I thought I could do -I didn’t even conceive that there was another way to live; there are no men where I’m from, yet I knew I was deeply unsatisfied.  I just didn’t know why.  Who sat down and made this decision that men and women would be better off living without one another?”

He didn’t answer, because they both knew the answer.  There had now been centuries of unbroken Peace since the Great Wars, which was the last of their shared yet greatly altered histories.  Between the two of them, they had divined that the Great Peace had come at the cost of the Separation of the Sexes.  Now he understood better why he was venerated as a Lab Technician.  It was through his Great Work(s) that the children in his world had been made.  

There was probably an equivalent project in her World; there had to be, for she and her partner had argued enough about procuring a child, before finally settling (unhappily for her partner) upon a dog, (the now beloved Fortinbras).

No, he didn’t answer, because it was really frustration that made her speak out -the frustration that they could not be together.  They could only meet in secret, and not that often, or risk forfeiting everything.  

There was no such a thing as a “free” land, not that they knew of, where they could truly be together, though they both greatly wished it.  Maybe everyone was as unsatisfied as they were, but no one was unhappy enough to rebel, opiated as they were with the trappings of a peaceful and successful existence.  So many Generations had passed since the Great War, she hadn’t even known what a “man” was -and she had equally been a mystery to him, a woman with parts that were indescribably soft yet firm.  He felt unspeakable pleasure every time he touched her, especially the insides of her.  He had no words in his vocabulary to describe it.

“People should be allowed to do whatever they want to do,” she finally continued.

“No matter the cost?” he asked her, taking the final bite of potted meat that remained in his can.

“I don’t mean anything,” she sighed, deeply, “but something as basic as this.  I mean, people should be allowed to choose what they want.  They should be allowed to choose who they want... to be with.”

“Didn’t you choose your partner?” he asked her, “Are you allowed to choose that in your World?”

“Yes...” she shook her head, “...but did you know there was any other option out there?  You can’t call it a choice when 50% of it is denied to you!”  She was almost in tears.

They sat together in silence for a moment, savoring the last taste of their potted meat(s) on their tongues and enjoying the rare breeze that had snuck down upon them from the Great Mountains that vanished into the Mists on the Left.  The Seasons were changing; they could both feel it in the air.

After a short while, he broke the silence between them:

“The Great Peace could dissolve if the Walls were torn down...”

“...well then let the Walls be torn down!” she exclaimed, “A life without conflict is no life at all!  This,” she gestured broadly, “is what life is!  It’s messy, and it’s scary, and it’s confusing -and no one (else) should be making these great decisions for you!”  

She stood up abruptly, and took a deep breath.  With a small half turn, she took in the Great City in the distance, and the World all around her.  “This is the most alive I have ever felt.  Conflict is terrifying and upsetting, yes, but I don’t want to die again.”  

She looked down upon him, and reached out her hand to him.  He reached up, and took the hand that she offered.  Come what may, (and now that ancient song was stuck in his head), he was determined never to let go.

He looked up at her.  She looked like an angel.

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