Isaac Fitch’s face is just a placeholder between two swollen headphones. The headphones cost more than the rest of his wardrobe combined; the puffy blue polyester jacket, the baggy khakis, the mismatched socks and the disintegrating Converse don’t fit him, and don’t match. Isaac is twenty-four years old, but he won’t be born for another thirty years from our perspective. Every day he walks through a city not terribly different from the cities of our present, his head down and his hands in his pockets, and his headphones pump noise into his brain.
He listens to music mathematically engineered to induce movement. A kick drum hammers through his skull in four-four time, and he walks to the beat. The pops and squeals and washes of electronic fuzz distort the colors of his surroundings, sap the city of its realness. He watches children play in a park as if they are part of a book he is reading. He is entranced by his own feet. His jaw remains slack, and his hands never leave his pockets unless he needs to pay for something.
The music drowns out thought. Isaac’s hair grows in four-four time. He showers with the speakers in his tiny apartment turned up all the way, and he never shaves. He doesn’t read the news except when he accidentally follows a link broadcast by a friend on a public feed. He figures he knows all the relevant information already.
The world, according to Isaac, moves to a four-four beat. Nothing unexpected ever happens. The planet is gradually getting worse and worse. Wars will break out, economies will collapse, cities will sink beneath the sea one by one, and there is nothing Isaac or anyone else can do about it. He doesn’t mind so much. He doesn’t think enough to mind. And anyway, there’s no use worrying about what he can’t change.
Instead, he is waiting. The music, and the walking, and the looking at the city through electronic fuzz and pops and squeals is his way of passing the four-four time. He is waiting, very patiently, for the first ships to go mars. It’ll happen any day now. He’ll see them in the sky and he’ll already be listening to the perfect soundtrack for getting out of here.
Nadia Petrokovitz ages the way a gypsy travels: she sheds things as she goes, to make space for the things that suit her. She weighs less now at ninety-five than she did when she was fourteen, her forearms are skeletal, and she comes up to her grandson’s belly button when she hugs him. But she moves with manic purpose, and wears sea green jogging shorts and watches Die Hard marathons on TV. She thinks Bruce Willis is sexy.
She keeps her hair cropped short and dyed red-orange like a robin’s chest, and wears vintage gold jewelry when she goes grocery shopping. She knows the names of all the clerks who work mornings at the Ralph’s near her apartment, and they know hers. When she leaves, the clerks whisper, “she’s a spry ninety-five, isn’t she?”
Nadia used to sell carpets for a living. She would go into peoples’ houses and measure their floors, pick out colors to go with the decor. Her own apartment is hardwood. She never liked carpet. She worked the job to support her husband’s drinking, then to support herself when he moved out, and then – once she became eligible for pension, and had no excuse – because she couldn’t think of anything else to do. But her husband’s twenty-five years dead now, and she’s learned to enjoy being single for the first time since she was eighteen. Men from the apartment complex bring her flowers and sing her songs from the old country in the rec room. Nadia spends a portion of her pension money on bikini waxes.
Nadia’s family cares about her very much. Her children and her grandchildren and her great grandchildren visit her often in her apartment. But more and more she can’t wait for them to be gone so she can go outside. She has so many things on her mind these days, so many possibilities. She is just now getting into go-kart racing, and learning to dance the quickstep. She volunteers as a poll-worker during local elections, and flirts shamelessly with the twenty-somethings who come to her door to distribute campaign literature. All in all Nadia has had a good life, but not nearly as good as the one she has now.
|Drawing by Bex Freund
Raymond Gelding has a face full of wrinkles, but not the ordinary, logical assortment you see in most people his age. What I mean is, whereas some people’s wrinkles suggest a lifetime of smiling, or of frowning, or of grimacing in pain, Raymond Gelding’s wrinkles betray nothing. They are evenly distributed across all sectors of his face with an exactitude that is not accidental. Every morning, Raymond stands in front of his bathroom mirror and smiles exactly one hundred times. He then frowns twenty-five times so as not to become asymmetrical. He’s done this every morning since his twenty-fifth birthday. He is sixty-three now. He believes that by maintaining a tension balance between smiles and frowns, he can stave off the visible signs of aging. If anything, it has only brought them on more quickly.
In his closet, Raymond has nothing but a dull spectrum of business suits and a single red speedo. Every once in a while he resolves to go swimming, but the sight of himself bulging out of the speedo quickly banishes the thought from his mind. He wears suits to the office, where he works as a claims adjuster for an insurance company, but he also wears suits on his days off, and when he gets home from work he wears his suit until it is time to put on pajamas. He never lets his bare feet touch the ground.
Raymond Gelding is not an unhappy man, nor is he particularly happy. His internal world is more or less the same as his face. He is not unhappy because he has never allowed himself to experience anything that would make his current life seem unsatisfactory. He is not particularly happy, because any great joy would run the risk of destabilizing the compromise he has created for himself. Still, for a hundred little moments at the beginning of each day, Raymond Gelding really is uncompromisingly happy.