Lucky men never wake up already grim. Akka/Dekka woke up quickly that morning, and it actually was morning, though barely. Saturday. Cold outside, not a cloud in the winter sky. Dekka transitioned from motionless, dreamless unconciousness to an emotion-free, open-eyed mode of assessment, inhabiting that clean, desolate space where no illusions are possible.
For long seconds he lay, burritoed in a tattered sleeping sack, the pulsing heat pump at the base of a heaped pile of rags. His eyes moved deliberately from site to site, and without sighing he rose and pulled on his boots.
Minutes later, he found himself in the midst of a project of reinvention and salvation. A project in which the external realities of habitual environment were to be made over in an image of limitless potential and achieved uptopia. A huge pile of reeking fabric sat in a garbage bag in his doorway, next to a depressingly small pile of quarters.
"Akka! Dekka! Akka/Dekka! How am I to interpret to this grotesque talmud?"
Dekka turned his head evenly, and said nothing. Just stared. Half-hunched before the High Style's pitted porcelain throne, he held a tilted gurgling 40, its deep amber contents sloshing into the bowl.
"How can you just...abandon this beer to the untender embracement of a sewer? Look there! Two more bottles, nearly full! And that jug of wine...that...that..."
Humidor gulped, reeling. Dekka turned away, set down the re-emptied empty, took up the jug of what looked not entirely unlike Chardonnay, but that was labeled "Merlot". "That is not...wine. Is...it."
Dekka, an unusually cruel smile playing across his grainy features, growled "Not any more." In Dekka's room, the window stood open, and a chafing breeze flapped the ridiculous curtain, actually a pair of hoodys too decayed to wear. El Humidor fled into the kitchen, herding his thoughts away from the ghastly sight of Akka/Dekka dumping his piss jars. A biyearly cleaning cycle can be a horrifying spectacle, especially immediately upon rising of a sunny winter's afternoon; indeed was El Humidor horrified.
"Well...I think...what happens is he just jumps right in the shower, without wanting to wait--"
"The single thing, perhaps, about which I care the very least in the entire Marvel Universe is the how/why issue attending Akka/Dekka's habit of leaving a slurry of waste to rot in wait in our toilet. No, all that moves me is the brute fact, that simple property of bare existence--"
"Just flush it, Jerry. What's the big deal?"
Choking on an overwhelmed yelp, El Humidor grabbed the nearest abandoned beer (no sweat glinted from that cylinder, indicating an inarguable up-for-grabsness) and dumped it onto a bowl of cold cereal. Shuddering and shaken, he ate his champion's breakfast before the television, hoping against hope for a Smallville rerun.
Sunday "morning". Three men jostled in a kitchen, their fiefdoms established and not so much contested as ignored as they each in their several ways went about the business of preparation of coffee.
MudMan watched impassively as his French press shoved the grounds and grit down and packed it into sludge. One day--when money wasn't so tight--he hoped to be able to discard the trawled liquid entirely, and enjoy only the silty coagulate left behind.
Akka/Dekka frowned at a saucepan on the stove, flicking a fork in delicate loops, always just below the surface of the winking water. With his other hand, he shook grains of instant coffee into the 'pan, waiting for the perfect color. When he'd see it, he'd pull the 'pan from the stove and stalk into the living room, pulling vast swigs directly from the rim. His view on coffee from mugs is, perhaps, too raw for this venue. ("Base faggotry", he calls coffee mugs filled with anything but bourbon.)
El Humidor stood near the stove as well, his tongue bitten and poking through the corner of his mouth, as he poked and prodded at a camping-style percolator. As it bubbled and burbled atop the burner, he finished peeling the flimsy foil from a Cadbury egg, and he cracked the egg, poured its contents into the percolator's basket, and followed the contents up with the shells. Arguably the brokest member of the house, his "grounds" are nothing but what few leavings he can wheedle MudMan into surrendering.
Afternoon. Jerry was on the couch, his stout trunk slumped exactly like a beer can, first thumb-indented, then discarded. The NES squatted under a tangle of cable; nothing was where it always was. The VCR had been plugged in. Grainy, over-saturated images spooled--industrial footage, scratched nature film, pyrotechnic displays, the inevitable nightmare-masked gogo dancers flanking an onstage barrel fire, and the briefest imaginable shots of men hurling themselves against various devices, some recognizably musical, some not, some of each category obviously homemade.
A voice like a human and a robot trying to make a third thing crested from the house speakers, rhythmic and with modulated speed (altogether like an angry, chain-mailed snake).
cocaine and competitorsPops and hisses betrayed the age of the spinning ten-incher; Jerry, inert, flipped its sleeve to see the back cover.
handjobs in the wings
mismatched with discreditors
no-one wants to win
you can drink your pack of cigarettes
while you smoke another wine
A wide photo, the top third six young--so! young--men under a bridge, most not rock-angular, all with the requisite mixtures of diffidence and hostility, all wearing urban assault gear (pockets, patches, zippers, studs, hardpoints with tools dangling).
Jerry hadn't been thinner, then, much. Maybe in the face, but the hair product budget had evidently once been much higher than in recenter times. On the screen, a chopped, stuttering stock loop of a car going over a cliff and bursting into tumbling, jagged flame. Rig's scratchy voice joined the amplifed version for the one rendition of the chorus where all instrumentation dropped out and apparently the whole band joined in:
clock and work your load of pain
all there is is less
As the instruments returned and all but the inhuman voice dropped out, Jerry Rig wept and the record sleeve fell from his hand.
He wept for the things life only loaned, and always were repossessed: success, affections, chances in life. For knowledge, for learning, for fear and regret and for himself Jerry Rig wept. Some sunday afternoons are like that.
An hour later, he'd eaten a cold can of concentrate soup, straight from the can, with a fork, and hooked the NES back up. The stereo still blared, a jackhammer insturmental with tattoo-needle washes of shrill static.
Soundless MudMan entered from his basement by way of the kitchen. Startled and only slightly still tear-stained Rig "Oh, hey...didn't know you were home."
"Asleep." Belched, scratched richly, with thorough and focused depth. "What you listening to?"
"Oh, uh, it's--"
Taking up the sleeve and reading "'Send More Cops'. Wasn't Airport Dick--"
Humidor and Akka/Dekka entered, frantically flailing and exasperated, respectively. Rig snatched the platter from the turntable, thrilled, sick and relieved to evade having to have a discussion about his touring days in an agony rock band, manning one of the many keyboard-like instruments before getting ditched, on a tour, as a joke, while buying parts at a Nebraska Radio Shack. Evade discussion of the van accident he'd missed; evade discussion of surviving and guilt and absurd tragedies like your bandmates losing their lives at a roadside freakshow; evade explaining how it came to be be that a 7-legged horse turned out to be completely full of Roman candles, easily sparked by a roadie's cigar ash. Flushed with adrenaline, Jerry tossed the album behind the couch and grabbed a camouflage beer to help with his game face.
El Humidor sprawled on the couch, arms raised and outstretched. He seemed to stare at the rotting, filthy ceiling fan, but in truth his eyes saw nothing but trauma and despair. "It...it's awful. Awful out there. Some rotten scheme... Dozens of men and women stacked one upon the other, like logs cut to size for shipping--"
"Or those wonderful square watermelons!" Jerry, at least trying for excited about another triumph of rational man.
"Every one of them positively broadcasting upon one another, spilling onto everybody but everybody with these fields erected... Everybody like a creamed corn."
(Nobody really knew what to make of this simile.)
"Each person with some grotesque device to numb the agony of passing time, and fearsome arrays of kit-bashed gadgetry projecting power and isolated anxiety upon their surrounding unfellows even while insulating them from the power projections of others. A depraved--and terribly, awfully sad--escalating standoff; an arms race of arm's length. All of them locking themselves into eternal moments of total stasis and solitude precisely because they find themselves in a bustling, lively metropolis! And should they emerge from these fortifications of retreat, they maintain only an aggressive and tenuous connection to someone far away while brushing away any contact with any mammal actually present."
"It has become, friends, truly, madly, deeply worse than ever we could have imagined. Clearly, some deviant foe has--"
"I think he means 'devious'--"
"Not now, Jerry."
"Enacted her terrible scheme, and the world has become populated by these desolate, dessicated, deserted humans. Now more than ever are we needed, chums!"
Breathless. Exhausted. "Though I do confess I known't where to begin our mounted resistance." Spent, Humidor collapsed utterly on the soiled surface of the sofa. Rapid thin gouts of smoke twirled around the ceiling's bare bulb, agitated like a nest of oroborouses.
After no lenghthy pause, Rig ungently "The hell's he on about?"
"I took him down to the Manpower office with me the other morning. Guess he hadn't been on a bus in a while. Commuters...cell phones and walkmen are hard on everybody." (A shrug.)
"The what office?"
"Temp agency office."
"His job, Jerry."
"Not now, Jerry."
Stung, feeling his playfulness rejected, Jerry retreated to the kitchen, boiled some water. Threeish minutes later, fortified with a massive mug of instant oatmeal mixed with instant coffee and topped off with a dollop of raspberry yogurt, he made his way upstairs to the workshop. Eight hours later, he'd finished his first sectional. As it lumbered its desperately ungainly way around the mid-tornado hobby shop that is his room, Jerry Rig snored lightly.
In his dream, he was on stage with Send More Cops, a triumphant reunion tour in full swing--fans older and still avid, the music more tightly cacophonous than ever. Hidden between two of the three drumsets, Jerry smiled broadly and added his caterwaul to the din.
Two floors below, MudMan frowned happily at graph-paper scrawls. El Humidor, sightless eyes again apparently pointed at the ceiling, imagined ways for his beloved BiPlane Heroes to board stately airships, sweet sea-cows of the skies. Like some fearsome predator, he conjectured, one-half mosquito, the other spider...
Akka/Dekka stood barefoot in his room. For the first time, his feet trod upon hard wood. Maybe now he could call her. Just to hang out. (But there's no sense in not being prepared.)