By Chris Miskiewicz
I light a cigarette and inhale deeply when something that Vic Spero once said about Marlon Brando pops in my head. It was something about how everyone wanted to be Brando when he was a younger man. With slicked black hair, blue jeans, and a leather jacket. The kind of spirit that only a war followed by the regimented order of a shell-shocked population that had settled into their reclining chairs could create. A new American Rebel whose restless eyes smoldered with thought, energy, violence, youth.
I exhale and turn from the window to see her move beneath the hills and valleys of the sheet that outlines her body. She opens her eyes, slowly arching her back, reforming the sheet into a new cotton landscape. I ash outside the window and watch it fall burning like a firefly for a moment. Then I turn to see her resting on her side, staring at me through the dark.
I stare back for a little too long.
“We’re not the kind of people who fall in love. The only time that we feel anything is when we fuck,” I said. “That’s the high we chase.”
She stared at my arms and my shoulders for a long minute. Maybe there was something about the way the light fell from the streetlight behind me. I don’t know. Details like that escape me but always meant the world to her. The details of things. A ring of lipstick on a used glass. A scratch in the corner of an otherwise perfect window. The imperfections in an object that made them more human. Understandable. Manageable.
“Did you know that scientists believe early humans had penile spines the same way cats do?” She said.
“No. I didn’t.”
“It’s true. Some primates still have them. I think gorillas might, but I’m not sure. They think that they were a left over trait from an earlier time when females would have multiple mates…supposedly the penile spines can cause ovulation in certain species, while also shedding pieces of itself to block internal paths for other males who’re attempting to impregnate her.
“Scientists theorize that humans lost them in favor of prolonged coitus. That feeling the act for a longer period would create a stronger bond between the couple for shared duties in raising their offspring. So, in essence it’s a biological response to paired coupling. And if that’s true, then there’s no love, just chains of chemicals which are released from fucking.”
She gives a slow smile.
“So…yes. I suppose that’s the high I’m chasing. But so is everyone, so to speak…”
I grinned picking up my phone to check the time.
“It’s almost seven. We should start moving.”
She slowly got to her feet and stretched, reaching for the ceiling. Her muscles flexed and folded like a cat. Like slow ink.
“Aren’t you going to shower?” she asked from the bathroom door. The light glistened on her arms, her hips, her thighs, silhouetting her in charcoal shadows.
“No. I’m covered in chemicals,” I said.
“Hmmf,” she snickered as she walked into the bathroom.
I put on my jeans, then pulled that band t-shirt I was wearing earlier over my skin. I clasped my belt. Then I picked up my gun and checked it before stuffing it my pants.
I heard the water go on.
I drove along the turnpike with the window open sending in a roar of wind. “Obscured” by the Smashing Pumpkins came on my shuffle, which was one of my favorite songs. It was part of a series of b-sides they had put out during the Siamese Dream album, some of which were better than anything they had released up to that point. There was a soft-spoken manner to the entire feel of the song that always brought me back to that time period. Being draped in black coats that entire year while walking beside all the girls in their Doc Martins, with painted symbols of bands and various sayings that they had etched on the sides.
It was right around then when I had met Richard. Right around then when he had brought me in to mentor me in that same way he taught all of us.
Why the music industry took such a severe decline around then is a mystery. Even the Pumpkins lost their collective minds by releasing that double record, falling victim to the same plague that killed every band that tried to put out a double. Maybe it was the double album that killed rock and roll?
“What are you thinking about?” she asked beside me, curled into a catlike ball in the passenger seat while staring right through me. I glanced over tracing her boot that was pressed against the dashboard up along those stretchy black pants she liked to wear.
“I was thinking about how the double album kills all rock bands.”
“Really?” she unexpectedly grinned. “Explain.”
“The Smashing Pumpkins destroyed themselves after releasing their double album…”
“Didn’t the drummer die?”
“No. A keyboardist. The drummer was doing heroine with him.”
“Jimmy Chamberlin is good drummer. Go on.”
“Every band that put out a double album self destructed soon after from doing so. The Beatles crack after the White Album. Pink Floyd completely dies after The Wall. Guns & Roses do not put another album out for fifteen years after the Use Your Illusion set. And so on. And so on,” I say while lighting another cigarette.
“And why do you think that is?” she grins, half interested and half playing with me.
“I’m not sure. I feel like artistic pursuits that have several creative people working together to make something bigger than themselves cannot last indefinitely. All bands have a certain amount of time to make their mark…their mark being a definition of what their message is. Their poetry, if you will. Nothing that tumultuous, energetic, and vibrant can last forever.”
“Okay. But the double album?”
“Recording twelve songs with your group is a Hell of a lot easier than recording thirty. I think it burns you out.”
She looks up at the approaching sign reaching into her breast pocket to put her eye mask on.
“Turn off here. We’ll be there in five minutes.”
I nod and hit the blinker.
We sit in the car just outside of the Alexandria Specialty School, a private institution that has a long record of getting their graduates into Ivey League colleges, followed by employment in a long list of companies that all Americans have heard of. That’s because they’re the companies that own us. The ones that keep the lower middle class stuck in a cycle of corporate serfdom.
“There he is,” she says. Her voice is lower. It’s her game voice. The one she uses when the mask is on.
I stare through the security fence at the black Acura that’s pulling up to the entrance while doing my best to ignore just how much I’d like to fuck her again. It’s her voice. That damn voice always gets to me, and she knows it.
Two teenagers get out of the back of the car. A boy and girl. They wave back and then enter with the rest of the students.
“That should be Betsy and Robert Downing. She’s thirteen. He’s sixteen, and trying to hide the fact that he’s gay from his father. Intelligence suggests that he’s been screwing Milo Macdonald, who is seventeen, Puerto-Rican and black, and star quarterback on their football team,” she says without feeling.
The car drives out of the gate and I follow it for about three miles before it stops at a red light. I pull up right behind it. We don’t speak. We just know. We both get out and walk to either side. She goes in front of the car. Her boots crunching at the asphalt. She stands there with her arms crossed, eye mask on, looking beautiful while grinning to confusing him.
She smiles and winks just as I tear the drivers side door off with one hand, throwing it seven miles through the air into the meadowlands behind me. Then I grab Steven Downing by the collar and yank him out. He travels twenty feet along the asphalt, mostly on his face.
I kick him over once he stops so he’s facing us.
“I have money. I’ll give you anything!” he stammers.
“Shh,” she whispers. “We’re gonna play with you a bit first.” Then she sprays him with a sedative and sends him into the black.
He awakens hanging upside down like a piece of meat. His feet are tethered to a hook as he dangles over an industrial size meat grinder. His own blood drips in his eyes. It only takes a moment before he starts screaming.
“Do you know what this is?” She asks. “Of course you do. It’s your processing plant. You bought all the gear. Anyway, you’re hanging over a huge machine that’s meant to grind up all the leftover parts from cattle. The bones and fat and all that tough stuff…”
“I know what it does!! What do you want from me??” he screamed.
“Do you know what Pink Slime is?” She asks.
He stammers for an instant.
“It’s okay. I’ll tell you. The production process of slaughtering beef results in trimmings. These trimmings consisting of fat, meat, and connective tissues, are separated with heat in mixers and centrifuges, and then squeezed through a tube the size of a pencil. The product is then exposed to ammonia gas, which turns into ammonium hydroxide when mixed with the water.”
“The combination of the gas with water in the meat results in a reaction that increases the PH of the beef trimmings, destroying pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella making it legally fit as a food additive. However it can’t legally be sold as meat, and can only be added to actual traditional beef to be considered meat under USDA regulations.”
She laughs for a moment.
“That’s the part I love. See, it’s not healthy to eat, it’s not even a food. But, it’s close enough to use as filler for chop meat to pump up stock. In other words butchers buy tons of Pink Slime from companies like yours as an additive to increase their profits. Then they throw it together and ground it up with beef. It goes on the shelf, and there’s your happy American barbecue. Not to mention that the majority of it is sold to American Public Schools. In other words, fed to our children, for profit. Not health or nutrients.”
He coughs up blood trying to muster a scream.
“It’s completely legal! We’re not doing anything wrong!!”
“Sure you are,” she grins. “You know that you are. It can’t be proven that it’s harmful because you buy out everyone doing research against you. But you know what you’re doing.”
“Do you know who we are?” I ask him, breaking my silence.
He stares at us.
“Yes. I’ve seen you both in the papers. Goddamn science freaks! You’re what’s destroying order in our…”
“Stop. Yes was all I wanted to hear.” I tell him before continuing. “Seven days ago the man who found us, took us in, trained and cared for us died. People die. Except that he had been alive for three hundred years for a long list of reasons. He was getting older, but assumed that if he lived a healthy life there was at least another two centuries ahead of him. All he had to do was avoid the things that could kill him.”
I take in a breath.
“He ate a damn hamburger at a diner that went through your ammonia process. He was allergic to ammonia. His insides liquefied in under an hour. You single handedly killed a man who saved over forty thousand people during World War Two. Not to mention how many other people you’ve already given cancer to by making this shit.”
I turn on the grinder. Giant engines ignite. The plant goes on and his eyes go wide.
“Please. Whatever you’re thinking of doing, don’t! I have millions that I can give you.”
“We don’t need money,” I say.
“Please. I have a wife and family. I have children!”
“We know,” she grins. “We’re going to grind you up and turn all that you are into Pink Slime. Then we’re going to make sure that it gets delivered to your wife and kids over the next few weeks. See, we’re going to make sure that they eat you.”
His eyes go wide with understanding and fear.
“Enjoy the process you invented,” I said, clicking the switch that released him into the churning blades.
We spent that night drinking on the roof of the Standard Hotel in Manhattan. The penthouse, our drinks, our new designer suits, and the car in the parking garage were all paid for by Steven Downing’s credit cards. After a bottle that I could never afford vanishes between us we make our way back to the penthouse where we stand before the windows and strip off our clothes where she turns, biting my lip through a kiss and drawing blood. I hate pain. She doesn’t.
I press her naked back against the windows, holding her tightly by the neck, slowly licking her lips while waiting for that elusive chemical called love to form.