The Hinterland: A Travelogue, Part 3
[Things go from worse to worse. Previous entry here.]
This one had a partially filled-in whole pool, a scrappy memory of a roof, and something that resembled a receptionist who stood, unsteady and adrift, behind something else that bore very loose affinities to a front desk. My father nudged me in the back as we came through the cracked door: Partial! he hissed.
Rude! I hissed back. Besides, she’s just missing a couple parts, though a couple was putting it rather lightly.
She had a receptionist-wide smile, archetypal, flawless, bobbing under that button nose. Outside of history, almost, in being so much what a smile is supposed to be. But it had neither gums nor jaw. It just hung in the air. Just a glut of bare tooth, the exposed roots dangling up and jutting down, a second set of fangs ready to nip and gnaw in either direction. The mouth area – what else could it be called than an area, or perhaps a notion… – was chewing pinkish-orange gum, smacking it as loudly as one can without lips, a massive gob in homonymic echo of own missing gums, a back-alley impression of a mouth gnawing itself into oblivion. I watched a healthy – don’t stare! I, or my father, hissed at me but promptly ignored my advice – output of Orbitz Kiwiberry Mojito froth creep down the curving line of nude cementum to dangle over pitted desk in fragile and swaying slick strands. It seemed they should break, they had to, so delicate and drawn, it was too much to bear, structurally and for the eyes, but they just swung, spittle pendula lengthening under their own phlegmy mass like old dicks or old dreads or new limbs in which articulation has been broken systematically from joint to joint for non-repayment of debt to sharks. They swung, and the desk was dry.
Behind them, a couple feet below the assorted materials of the head, a quite intact and uncovered bust ended as a statue must in order to enter into history (plus the removal of dicks & nose, of course), though uncleanly and tapered, fizzling out into pissy points of mauve light. One nipple hovered, a UFO. A couple feet further down, an extremely nice set of legs stood just knock-kneed enough to make my throat thrum with want.
Her nametag, dangling from one of the diffuse strips of torso, read “AMY”. I could not decide why there would be quotation marks around her name, except to call into doubt if she in fact did belong to any established category called called AMY. Having known an AMY or two, though, the quotes seemed totally unnecessary.
Well, how you fellows doing tonight? “AMY” asked with a smile or a grimace.
Just fine, thanks for asking, “AMY.” My dad loved using the names of strangers, in whatever condition they might be. Thankfully, he didn’t make quotation marks in the air with his hands.
How’s it looking out on the highway? I have heard – “AMY” nodded back toward the radio behind her, the coral spit swaying in echo – that the elderly have been particularly troublesome recent times.
Well, aren’t they always?
They had a good laugh, a real hearty one. My own chest bloomed, in huge black stellar flowers and all their usual barbs, and I tried to swallow it down.
No. Not yet, I spoke, in the inside voice.
Oh why not, it yelled, the beehive gurgle in my hijacked throat luckily lost in the terrible laughter of Dad and “AMY”. I’ve been super-duper patient. Who cares if this dump goes? Don’t tell me you’re sentimental about it. Down with the remnants of Empire! Down with its waystations and sub-station brothels! Besides, it smells like shit-boiled cat glands.
That is probably your own vile reek.
So what if I smell. I don’t care one bit about your patriarchal hygiene standards. (Oh god, it thinks it’s a feminist now.) I can’t breath under all this chest. First we burned the girdle, then the bra, now…
As if to prove a point, the threads on one of my coat’s chest buttons unstitched itself and caught in small grey flame.
Oh, shut it. Listen to you, suddenly the big gender warrior. After what you wanted to do yesterday with regards to a softball team.
That, it informed in what it thought was a righteous tone but just sounded like meat thrown against a windshield, was cutting satire to make evident the diffuse nature of gendered violence and its discursive structures.
No, that was just about cutting. I sighed. “AMY” – in the midst of saying something about the highway moving away and the frankly dismal state of the American hospitality industry - glanced over at me, then kept on. I didn’t ask for this, you know.
And I didn’t choose to be born this way! It was getting very strident now. I felt the marrow start to make fists and jagged hooks, while the liver switched its output mode.
Please, just a little longer.
That – it was its turn to sigh – I have learned to do better than I should have to.
So, tell me, how much this gonna set us back, Amy? He was now leaning against the desk, all cigarette or no wrinkle khakis ad-casual. Been a long day on the road, and we’re looking to bunk down.
Oh… “AMY” hesitated. Frankly, I’m not sure anymore. The management sort of wandered off a few weeks back. Got to that age. You know how it is. Corporate sent some younger ones to replace them, but we couldn’t trust them. So they aren’t around either. (Yeah, right, I thought. Pretty I can explain at least a few of the stains in this place.) So… we aren’t so sure on the room rate thing. She spotted the butt of the gun peeking out from the waist of his pants – khakis, of course. Can I borrow that for one moment?
He was taken aback but handed the old piece to her slowly. Now be careful with…
Thanks! Be right back.
From the office behind the desk, a single shot rang out, the impact muffled into something with a gelatinous yet echoing consistency I could not, and do not wish, to pinpoint.Thanks, guys! She handed my father back the smoking arm. You’re good to go! Any room you like…
A mucky, panting stream of babble exploded from the office:
“AMY” rolled her eyes in their socketish holes.
Hard to get good management these days, she sighed and drew a letter opener from beneath the desk. My dad held his gun out to her, but she just waved the blade weary in the air and turned away.
And oh, she called after us, turning, her heavy partial’s voice shaking pixels loose from midsection’s vague mire, make sure to stop by our Waterfall Bar and Grill for some great specials this evening!
Ice, my ass.
Yeah, you’re telling me. I lit an L laced – spliced? – with yay, watched it sparkle and sputter before me. It’s just going to taste like bile or bleach anyway.
Don’t you wonder where he’s really going? Ehh? Hey, breath in harder, bro. (Where was its feminism now?) Gimme a huff. Don’t hog it.
Don’t try my patience – I drew the grey deep into my cavities, acrid and aware now, finally, after years, that the smell was that of the dust on the wings of moths and butterflies that, when rubbed between fingers as if playing the tiniest violin, removes the capacity of flight from its source but does not grant it to you who have smeared it first between your fingers and then onto your upper thighs, high up toward the zone where they end in confusion – you miserable infection. You know as well as I do where he’s going. Not me, though. L-A, I thought. That is what I am smoking. That is where I am going. Nice, tight little unity. Meanwhile, the crystals became small pyramids in my throat – my first throat – and then plowed on deeper.
I bet – it paused, shuddered, and coughed – you do. Like father, like…
It crashed its little train of thought into loads of giggles. With each hiccup, the shadow cast on the bedspread below – ochre and lime, as only a motel could be – flexed out into splinters, into tarmacs (many of them), into the wing-torn-off bodies of moths grounded for good.
We were silent for a while. The smoke, it fogs the air. This stupid omenless little room. Not even the beds were stripped. Everything smelled of onanists. I thought the cockroach had been stripped, but it was just occupying the husk of another slightly larger one. Insectoid turducken, albeit with unified substance. Can a Spinozist ontology grapple with partiality? Or did that prospect lose out the moment he saw the de Witt bros being torn a-part like dogs are by other dogs but in truth like men by a mob? To call them the greatest of all barbarians, via placard no less, the assumption being that the killing, removing by blade of various parts (toes, fingers, noses? dicks?), eating of other parts either raw at the scene of the butchering or elsewhere after cooking (and seasoning?), and the keeping and frequent proud display of Cornelis’ heart by the silversmith Hendril Verhoeff, are all things typical of barbarians obvy means Baruch could not fathom a) the nature of barbarism (which, being ontologically dark to the accusing social order, can’t be worst or best, just more or less babbling), and b) how much worse it would be to have been not De Witt but De Grotte, the famous Partial Man of Rotterdam dragged around by a circus, on surprisingly legal grounds, along with “The Hottentot Women” and “The Mute Mongoloid,” to be shown to adoring and spiteful crowds, despite being a man not Partial in truth but just going-to-pieces, a victim of a strange brass proto-guillotine before the device had come into named Gaullic prominence and hence was wielded with little skill, leaving him not unwhole but just thinly – but technically still – associated with himself. I wondered also if Spinoza had actually displayed his little placard, would he have bothered to put on trousers or just compounded the situation by appearing in his dressing gown, his long glass-dusted legs gleaming in the sun like the armor of the righteous? Then I just listened to my eyes reddening. By degrees. Click. Click.
It sprawled out inside of me as best it could and composed, keening:
of me is
from every other
part of you.
Nope, I said, we are not. Not so fast. Or yet.
Minutes passed, he still didn’t come back. Was sure I’d hear later how the ice machine wasn’t working, but that it wasn’t ice machines in general that didn’t work, just this instantiation of the set, he therefore had to go to a different one, and I would not bother to point out that, all the same, he still had no ice with him, bilious or not.
Fuck it, let’s go find something to eat.
It didn’t stop whooping with pleasure, riling itself up like a closet full of frat boys until I stepped into the Waterfall Bar and Grill.
Contrary to its name’s promise, there was no waterfall inside. Nor was there one anywhere in the geographical vicinity (me and maps were on good terms in those days), making its name as apt as an Outback Steakhouse in Scranton, back before Scranton – and its Outback Steakhouse – was in fact overrun by a new breed of dingoes and hence became pretty apt after all. There was, however, a partial fountain, gurgling away beside a pool table. Being partial it had lacked a spout or bowl to collect it. Just pissed all over itself, onto the floor, where there was a good three inches of standing water, which I noticed, glacially through my sprawled haze, had just thoroughly sopped into my boots.
Five men sat at the bar, behind which was hung a picture of a pair of cowboy boots with gnarled hands fingering their creased wear. A second picture hung next to it. Spurs, very chrome. No boots. Not even used. They were methodically eating tremendous plates of buffalo wings, not even fucking around with beer that might take up crucial space in the guts, they were laughing on occasion, despite a lack of jokes being told, but just as an excuse to slap heartiful each other on the back and thereby covertly wipe off some of the Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures Hawt Mesquite sauce on each other. It being this part of the Hinterland, all wore baseball caps, as was first social custom and then something near law. (My own reluctance to do so was to cause significant trouble on another occasion, in a weapons cache beneath an actual waterfall, but that is neither here nor the time to talk about that.) I noticed that the hats were printed with camouflage, the kind that looks not just forestish but of a forest filmed by a stuttering processor, smearing jagged pixels over each other like mucus. But in the Waterfall Bar and Grill, there was no foliage, so the hats didn’ really work. Still, I got to thinking, if they really went to the forest and stood frozen, holding camouflage fox-opening knives and waiting, it would seem like the top half of their skulls had been removed cleanly, even surgically, the brain pan and its muck simply available to the world, expansively, trepanned to hell and heaven alike by the very blur of unrebooted forest they held clutched in their wide pink hands.
My stomach growled.
How you fellows doing tonight? I called out, in a voice I thought plenty cheerful for the occasion.
Their grunts – rustling, gristle-full, wholly hawt – were unrelated to my friendly greeting. One just tossed a chicken bone over his shoulder in my general direction, where it plopped into the turbid water with the sound of a long-delayed turd.
Rude! it snarled in my chest.
Well, we’re finally in agreement about something.
NNNNNNoooooowwwwwwwwww! It yelped.
Yes, I said. Finally. Now.
Facing away from those rude men I undid my coat – the buttons now chattering like hypothermal teeth – and hung it on the antler-shaped hook that said TAKE A LOAD OFF! under it. I turned to face them again.
I said, how you fellows doing tonight? I called out, clarion and soft.
boy! It said.
Pffffffffffhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaph, their graceless veins said, taking even themselves by surprise with their sudden and wildly generous openness to the world and its ever-plentiful and ever-many mouths.
He came in the room, already talking as if I had been with him the entire time, holding a bucket of greyish ice, talking fast and animated as if the sound and concepts could somehow cover over the abhorrent reek of kiwiberry, as if anyone could not notice.
… and that’s what separates us from them. Because we don’t make partial our whole brothers. We don’t take them into ourselves and make of us more than whole, whole plus that vile supplement, the parergonal, the unspeakable fifth, the… What are you…
Mmmmppphh….? I mumbled, my mouth full.
God damn it, not again! he cried.
You want some? I brined it first.
After all I’ve taught you? How could you? Oh son, how could you?
Sorry, brined and smoked, I said, holding out a steaming jaw.
Outside, the streets were full, seriously fucking full, of wolves. Whole ones no less.