Story and Illustration by: Chris Thompson
Behold, the first two chapters of Chris Thompson’s novella, Slightly Iridescent…
Chapter 1 – Instant Karma
Henry Agathon pulled his Phaeton into the twilight shadow of his crumbling apartment complex and attempted to park in his designated spot. Finding the space occupied by a shiny black sedan, Henry cursed and struggled to back his coupé into his neighbor Mrs. Baumgartner’s smaller corner spot. Her husband had died several years ago and she no longer owned a car but she held onto the space anyway and it came in handy when someone had taken his.
Henry powered down the Phaeton’s electrics with a flick of the wrist, leaned over, grabbed his purchases from the passenger seat and made the tight squeeze out from the vehicle rear first. In the small space afforded him between the car and the building Henry shuffled, sucking in his stomach to make the fit until finally pushing out into the openness of the driveway. Brushing off the dust deposited on his sweater by the eroded brick facade of his building, Henry shot the black sedan an evil look and contemplated torturous demises for the owners. Smiling with satisfaction at the agony they suffered at the hands of his imagination Henry walked up to his building and ascended the short flight of stairs to the second floor, counting aloud their number as he went up.
Upon walking into his apartment Henry was assaulted by the vision of his girlfriend Sheila glowing an impossible orange-red. The light of the setting sun filtering through the open window behind her had set her long auburn hair afire with color. Wild-eyed and visibly perturbed, she stood in the entryway with her hand on her hip, blocking his admission to the rest of the apartment. Henry carefully placed his keys in the 1990’s period Campbell’s Tomato Soup bowl he had acquired from an online auction, cringing microscopically as their carefree jingling pierced the uneasy silence. Henry held up his purchases for Sheila to see.
“Look at these baby!” He exclaimed, suddenly oblivious to her condition and consumed by the items before him.
“Creedence’s Fortunate Sun and Lennon’s Instant Karma, both on 7 inch vinyl and in mint condition no less! I spent waaaaay too much on these presses but I just had to have them! Dean down at Amoeba Records tracked them down for me through his contacts in Japan. Why don’t we throw them on the old turntable and take a listen?”
“You don’t need anyone do you Henry!” Shelia bawled, pausing just long enough to inhale all the air in the room.
“You have your music and your little neurosis’s to keep you company and I’m starting to see that I don’t fit in here!”
Henry, his wool sweater suddenly several size’s to small and the room many degrees too warm, looked around his well-appointed apartment for help. Realizing he was alone and unable to avert this confrontation that he probably had coming to him anyway, Henry bowed his head and let out an audible sigh. He closed his eyes and imagined he was invisible as he waited for Sheila’s tirade to end.
Henry pined for the return to the comfort of his loner existence. In his mind it was shimmering for him just out of reach behind Sheila. If he made the right moves in the next few moments he just might find himself disengaged from this relationship and free to follow his whims once again.
From the beginning he had been a reluctant player in his romance with Sheila, putting in only the most minimal of efforts to confer their relationship a pulse. But she had moved fast and was drawn to wounded, meek souls like him and asked only a pittance of love in return. So like a wave reflecting the sun, his former self danced and flew about his closed eyes, shooting off fireworks and hinting to times past, before the shadow of anger and frustration that Sheila cast around him had arrived and begun to fog his world. Henry opened his eyes and stared down at his shoes, blinking rapidly and breaking his link with that idealized version of himself. It always seems to ends like this he thought. The final moment when she sees me for what I really am and the disappointment that sets in when she realizes I won’t change. Can’t change, and how she’s wasted all these years.
“Don’t think for one minute that I’m going to try and compete with them for your attention anymore.” Sheila continued. “Between obsessing over your latest fucking mint condition Pixies album you bought from some aging hipsters grandson or your constant need to straighten everything in your apartment lest it not be perfect it doesn’t leave much time for you and me.”
“Sheila.” Henry called out as he lifted his eyes to hers and away from his compulsive need to count the number of golden rings embroidered into the gaudy Persian carpet beneath his feet. There are forty-eight of them he would have said had someone asked him. “Shelia, I want you to listen to me.”
“What Henry? This better be good because I’ve had it. You were supposed to be here two hours ago so we could go visit my mother at ValleyCare Medical. You know she doesn’t have much longer.” Sheila trailed off, meeting his eyes with a fusion of tears and a cold, icy stare.
“Go, Sheila.” He bleated meekly, trampled by the realization that he had let Sheila down again. “You knew what you were getting into when we started this thing. You’ve put enough into trying to make this relationship work for the both of us. I can’t give you what you need and you can’t change the things that keep me from truly loving you. You said it yourself, just like every other woman who’s tried to penetrate down to my inner workings. Music. Neurosis. Me. That’s the circle of my existence and around and around I go. They are what define me Sheila and you can’t take the crazy out of me just like you can’t take the moon out of the sky. I’m damaged goods honey and the sooner you realize this and move on the better for the both of us. I can get back to my records and my music and you can get back to whatever it is that you do.”
“Whatever it is that I do? Is that how you see me Henry?” Shelia hissed. “Am I just some object that takes up space in this dreary, museum of an apartment you live in? Another one of your pieces to admire from afar, never to touch, and only to be forgotten about once something new for you to fixate on comes along? Something to be hung on the wall between your Hamilton pop art collage and that stupid still life by Wesselmann?” “Well I wouldn’t put it exactly that way but yeessss. Yes. I would say I see you more or less in that light, as something that I’ve collected. All the more reason for you to go Sheila.”
“Jesus, you’re an asshole Henry. You know, I always defended you when my friends put you down and called you a jerk and a loser but you know what? I think they were right when they said those things about you. I’m finished Henry.”
Sheila flung her arms out to her sides and moved her hands in a slow arc as if she was trying to grab up the whole apartment in a ball. “I’m finished with all this!” She exclaimed throwing her arms to her sides, allowing the imaginary ball to crash to the floor. “I wasn’t looking for a reason to leave you Henry, but what you’ve just said doesn’t make me feel so goddamn bad about dumping you. Have a nice life.”
Smiling ever so slightly Henry pressed up against the wall of his entryway, his records protectively clutched to his chest as Sheila stomped out of the apartment. Her heels made a hollow sound as they struck the crumbling Italian tile of the hallway floor. Henry closed the door behind him, letting an involuntary sigh escape his dry lips. As he leaned back, the leathery scent of his newly installed carved teak wooden doors washed over him. What a pleasing aroma he mused as he silently began to count the falls of Sheila’s footsteps on the stairs below. Twenty he mouthed to no one.
The last light of the setting sun cast a thin ray of red ochre across Henry, dreamily bisecting his body into two haves. For a moment the perfection of that idea mesmerized him, rooting him in place. Then, with a shake of his head he strode determinedly into his living room a whole man, no longer divided into halves and set about fixing himself a Scotch. An evening full of drink and getting lost in his newest records awaited him.
Chapter 2 – Lazy Brown Dog
While this spirited exchange was going on between Henry and Sheila, his neighbor in the immediate apartment below, a Mr. Spontaneous Grant, veteran of the second American war with Syria, distinguished Captain and fighter pilot who had been shot down over Al Qunaytirah and now turned amateur electronics hobbyist had just powered up the control unit for his latest device.
Having decided that the world had fought too many wars in the name of God and Oil and with the dwindling of Earth’s petroleum resources unifying the two ideas into a single battle cry, Captain Grant had set about to construct an instrument that would rid humanity of both.
Built in the workshop/living room of his government subsidized apartment and mounted on the chassis of an old Victrolux vacuum cleaner he had rescued from a dumpster, it was packed full of first-rate self-aware electronics manufactured for the American war machine, which he had procured from his contacts within the US Air Force. Captain Grant had taken to calling his contraption the Lazy Brown Dog, as it tended to take up a considerable amount of space on the workshop floor. That and because when it was when fully charged it made a howling noise that could unsettle the strongest of souls.
Getting shot down in action over Syria proved to be a pivotal point in Captain Grant’s life. It caused him to be awarded a Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained in the crash and a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery under fire. It also caused him to develop an unhealthy relationship with painkillers and really opiates of any kind. After four months of floating in the dimness of a womb-like Bacta-tank somewhere in the American military-hospital complex in Landsthul, Germany, recovering from his wounds and being pumped full of opiates, he was promptly shipped home to San Francisco. Physically but not mentally healed, he was granted access to the fledgling Federal Brothel System administered by the United States Veterans Agency and written a healthy prescription for Veilflex, a powerful pain reliever and temporal memory suppressor.
The military’s contemporary approach to returning a soldier to civilian life was to offer a veteran whatever they needed to distract them from reality. This was actually shown to be more cost effective then the endless cycles of counseling, intervention, hospitalization and eventually institutionalization that plagued a veteran. Success rates with reintegration were plummeting as America ground its soldiers down with its maniacal drive to secure the remaining supplies of fossil fuels that ran its empire. Archaic methods of transitioning soldiers into civilian life had become a massive drain of resources for the government and the Veterans Agency had swollen into a bloated tick of inefficiency. As the number of wars the United States fought to protect its interests expanded and with the reestablishment of the draft, the VA couldn’t help but enlarge to support the returning soldiers. Collapse follows any system that expands too quickly and the VA fell in on itself like a dying star. A slimmed down and streamlined Veterans Agency emerged almost over-night, blowing off its layers of bureaucracy with the ferocity of a supernova. Taking the long view that the problems plaguing a returning soldier seemed to work them selves out in the end, the VA became a master of sitting on its hands. Either a returning soldier improved on his own, or he blew his brains out. In the latter case hopefully without taking too many others with him.
One favorable outcome to the collapse of the VA was the founding of the Federal Brothel System. This organization grew out of a need to provide an outlet for soldiers struggling with finding normalcy in a word that was anything but. It was at one brothel, on the shores of Lake Michigan and only a year out of service, that Captain Grant found comfort in the arms of a young prostitute by the name of Chloroquine Jones.
To be continued….