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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Two Stories
by Susannah Breslin

You're a Bad Man, Aren't You?

Oh, he was a bad man. He had been terrible since the day he was born, before even then perhaps. He had cried constantly as a small baby, masturbated obsessively as a young teen, and become the kind of man as an adult who only truly enjoyed himself when he was hurting other people. Now, he wanted to know, what was so wrong with that?
This badness, after all, had taken him to where he was today, sitting in his car in an empty parking lot with the dog of his brain running in a circle on a chain in the yard of his mind. Because these days, he was King Shit of Turd Hill, a paid propagator of evil, a guy unabashedly enough in touch with his, well, bad, really, self, that he made a living off of it. He thought that perhaps everyone else would do well to go and fuck themselves.
     He was a pornographer, and he was not ashamed. In fact, he was terrifically proud. He told those who stood around him while he worked that porn stars were like game pieces, and porn sets were like chessboards, and he was like the god who moved them around. He would add, after a pause, But in this game, somebody always gets fucked in the ass! And then he would laugh, and everyone else would laugh right along with him.
     His life was hilarious, actually. Put that in your mouth, put this in your vagina, put the other thing up your butt. The variations were endless. It was their willingness that staggered his mind. The people in front of him were as malleable as freshly pulverized meat. Having been punched by their mothers, screwed by their fathers, and screamed at by their lovers, they stood limply before him and just did whatever he said.

What do you do when you have done it all? This was what he wanted to know today. Because living this life so pornographically, he had, of course, grown bored. He had started to lose that sense of doing something so wrong. He had found himself longing for that feeling of playing the roulette wheel. And that was the point at which he had begun to push at the things that were around him.
     First, he had suggested that the men and women choke each other by the throat. Then, he had requested that they go to the bathroom on one another. After that, he had directed them to take more of each other inside of themselves than they were capable of taking. He added a midget, a plastic pig mask, and a shotgun. For a while, it had helped.
     But eventually, the new bad would become as bad as the old bad, and that was never good enough for him. Being bad had always been a part of him, but somewhere along the way, it had overflowed the banks of his personality, and seeped throughout all of his private life, and taken over what he saw of mankind. He had got a little numb, really.
     He had tried telling himself there were a finite numbers of holes in the human body, that there was a limited degree to which you could shove at someone before they zoned, that there was a maximum level of depravity to be reached where the playing field leveled out at the bottom of the pit. He tried telling a man who worked for him what was going on in his head, but the man only barked at him. Now, where would he go? He had no idea.
     Because he had been raised on horror movies and practical jokes in the middle of a rotting house drowning in the racket of horrifyingly loud and overbearing women, and he did not want to go back to that way of life ever again. His mother and his sisters were the kind of morbidly overweight women who spat when they spoke, forever sweaty and smelling, upset in countless kinds of ways, and he still disliked all of them deeply for it.
     Growing up in the midst of those females caterwauling around him, he had distracted himself with the newspaper photographs of fatal car accidents and the stories of famous serial killers. He had dreamed longingly of what it felt like when a man's head was torn from his body at 60 miles an hour. He had fantasized fervently about what a stalker saw while snuffing out another expertly bondaged woman beneath him. That was his escape.
     He hadn't known his father, didn't care to. He hadn't talked much to his mother or sisters, didn't care to. But drunk in a bar one night at 23, he had overheard someone declare that pornography was the last, true frontier left in the modern world. And when he heard that, for the first time, he had felt a sense of motivation. So, he had moved to Hollywood.
     He was married twice, during his decade-long tenure in the world of sex and smut. Both his ex-wives were also ex-porn stars, formerly beautiful women who had crawled out of the garbage bin of pornography and right into his wide-open arms, as if from their point-of-view that appeared to be some type of refuge. Neither marriage had lasted more than a year. He had a son he didn't see, didn't care to. He was alone. He liked that. He did.
     Because what people did not understand was that his life had been like a fucking war. His whole long life, he had acted like a fucking general in a fucking war, and now, he thought, he wanted a fucking medal. What the fuck? he thought, slapping at his thigh in the car. Because there was no difference between what he had done and what the guys in 'Nam had done, really. His question: What happens when people do whatever they want? The answer: They kill each other. And the truth of pornography: Porn is hell.
     Hadn't he dodged those flying shots, slid in the slime of other people's fluids, gotten close enough to the human body to see into the pink fleshiness of its gaping insides? Hadn't he carried a lucky charm for his own protection, hadn't he seen what most people wouldn't, hadn't it changed him forever and all that crap? I have Post Traumatic Porn Disorder, he said to himself in his car and laughed. Then, he thought, I want to go home.
     He wondered if he was turning into the Lord of the Flies, if he should be muttering, The horror, the horror!, if he resembled John Holmes during the Wonderland murders. He felt like the driver in a car accident between a cock and a pussy, sporting a necklace made of human ears, his only award a double-kill. Those things lived in him, care of Porn Valley, USA. Welcome home, Fucker!
     The funny part of it was that everything had started out so innocently. He had found a cheap apartment in Hollywood and bought himself a stack of porn magazines. He had made a friend--got to talking to the drug-dealer down the hall, actually, while getting high one day--and that guy had a friend who wrote porn scripts. He had never heard of such a thing before, but he had believed that he could write the greatest porn movie ever made.
     He drove to the offices of a man who made adult movies, somewhere out in the San Fernando Valley. The guy looked like a loser, with his comb-over and saying he had been in the porn industry since before it was born. That was a turn-off. But behind the guy's desk, a locker door had hung open, vomiting out old porn scripts. And the guy had said, Hey, you wanna try making one of these fuckers? That was how it had happened.
     He was scared shitless, the first day. An actress whose name he couldn't remember showed up two hours late, drunk. A guy sitting on a crate turned out to be the male talent. They started taking their clothes off as soon as he picked up the video-camera. He barely spoke a word. Forgot to focus. Most of the footage was awful. He loved it, regardless.
     Because there was nobody telling him what to do--nobody, even, who knew what he couldn't do. And as long as there were two people, or three people--or better yet, four or more people--fucking in front of him, he couldn't hear the past banging around inside of his head at all. It was amazing how distracting real life could be when you were looking at what was in his face every day. This life, he thought at the time, It is very hypnotic.
     But somehow, somewhere along the way, he had been dulled. Blunted by his own process, today, he feared, the thrill was gone. Two weeks ago, this great likelihood of this very possibility had sent him crawling back home to his mother's house, the only place where he knew things would be exactly the same as the day that he had left them. The first night there, he slept in his mother's bed with her, lay there listening to her breathing for four nights running. It wasn't sexual, but it had helped him comfort himself.
     Sex, by then, held no meaning for him, anyway. Sex, he thought, down under the covers next to his sleeping mother, was the missionary position and doggie-style, and douches and enemas, and reverse-cowgirl and double-penetration, and anal and double-anal, and gangbangs and bukkakes, and take your clothes off, please, and bend over there, dear, and I need a little bit more of that, honey, and can you pop for me now, man?
     There was nothing left for him, anyhow. For him, he thought, there was alcoholism, and the shooting gallery, and stuffing everything up his nose, and popping everything else in his mouth, and getting clean only to wind up fat around the gills, and realizing that if a man's first creation was his feces, then it made sense what he created was shit, so this was his manifest destiny, and his self-fulfilling prophecy, and it was, rightly, obscene.
     You gotta love me!, he had thought, lying next to his sleeping mother, but he had wanted to cry. His mother always smelled to him of what he, himself, had smelled of for as far back as he could remember, but it was only when he was with her that he knew whatever bad thing he was, or would ever become, it began and ended with her. He had left the very next morning, before his mother woke up, for the first and last time missing her.
     A long time ago, for him pornography had been like what he thought falling in love would be like. Girls with tiny ankles honorably armed in monster breasts. Guys with tan muscles bravely wielding huge cocks. They weren't just having sex, either. They were executing acts on his behalf. And it was as if he was right there between them when they did it, pulling them apart as they struggled to give him his shot. He had found it touching that they would let you get in there with them like that while they sweated.
     Sometimes, it turned out, a girl would cry. She would be hopped up on meth, her suitcase-pimp would have bitched her out, she would be upset because everybody laughed when she did something embarrassing. (Farting, crapping, quiffing--the accidents of the female body were never-ending.) He would put his arm around her and say something about being sorry, or proud, or tell her everything would be fine in the end.
     The guys, it turned out, were just as screwed up. They spent all of their time obsessing about the scars on their bodies, showing off the latest tattoo they had gotten that referred to the latest heartbreaker they had survived, so vain that it made them almost charismatic. (Those guys were ruled by their own penises, left to sit trimming at their own pubic hair.) He steered clear of them, but his heart went out to them over the distance, nevertheless.
     For almost a decade, it had been just the three of them, no matter how many people were actually involved. A man, a woman, and him. The location had moved from warehouse, to townhouse, to apartment, but the triangle they formed was always there, in its constant and complete formation. And when the triangle stood up, he was on top. When it fell down, he sat in the corner. Now he couldn't stand in the middle to save his goddamn life.
     Yoou've looost thaat loooving feeeling! That was what the radio had been screaming at him one week ago. On that morning, by 11AM, things had been going wrong already. His male porn star was AWOL. His female porn star, meanwhile, was piling on layers of lipstick on her mouth in the mirror, the radio wailing away at him from behind her.
     He had gone into the back room, and he had tried to figure out what to do. That was when the P.A. had walked up to him and said, I can do it, his thumb hooked back over his shoulder toward the set. This particular P.A. wasn't one he had worked with before, but it wasn't unheard of that a production guy could turn porn guy in a pinch. The kid was young enough, if not that good-looking enough--a non-descript, longhaired, pocked-face, skinny white guy of the type that populated the Valley's houses around them.
     Do you have a test? he said to the P.A. The kid took a piece of paper out of his back pocket and handed it to him. And when he had looked down at the piece of paper in the kid's hand, he had started to say something, but right as he did, the words fell away out of his mouth, and something had shifted, and he had looked back up at the kid and all of a sudden, not like some kind of a flash, but like some kind of something, he just knew, and the kid looked at him, and he looked at the kid, and there was something connecting what was between them, and whatever it was, it made his old bad look good in comparison.
     What he had wanted to do was to lean into the kid's ear and whisper, Do it, because he got very dizzy in that moment that the two of them were making to go POW!, and he was scared that if he kept on looking at the kid, the kid's face would start turning around and around like a roulette wheel, and the red and the black numbers there would spin into a blur, and where the ball would stop, he did not yet know. For the first time in a long time, he had thought, This is living. And what he had said to the kid was, Yes.
     He damn well knew, sitting in his car, the story that everybody wanted him to tell. And it went, My mother put me in a dress, while my father molested me, right after I had my first seizure, directly before I gutted my first pet, those many years prior to my first crime/torture/kill, which is longhand for saying, the bodies are under the house, I think/in the crawl space, from what I recall/out by the edges of the aqueduct, I do believe, but please!/God!/Lord!, Officer/Sir/Dad, don't send me to the gas chamber, nevertheless!
     But the truth of the matter was that, whether you were a porn-maker, or a serial killer, or a gambler, your deepest desire was to control that which could not be controlled, and so other folks could chalk it up to the X-factor, or the XXX-factor, or the XY-factor, but what you were chasing after was all the same, and therefore whether you were looking through the lens of a camera, or down the double-barrels of a shotgun, or across a roulette wheel, you had to be vewy, vewy quiet while you were hunting humans, because the best thing about people was that they weren't easy, and that was what made them great game.
     It had just so happened for him that along his life's path, he had discovered the world of pornography. And as it had turned out, this world was a total one, with its own language, population, commerce, and laws. And that made it the ideal playing field for extreme sportsmanship. Because when you work a system, the structures do their best not to fall down.
     When he had looked down at the piece of paper that the kid had handed to him, he had thought he had recognized the kid's name. And that had set off a domino-like chain of thoughts inside his brain, and he had thought he had remembered someone leaning into him, months previous, and pointing a finger right at this kid in front of him, in some other place at some other time, and telling him, There is something very bad inside of that kid. And he had thought he remembered exactly what that bad thing was. But in porn, it had always seemed to him like there were a great many things that were better left unsaid.
     That was what made it so easy, really, for him to pick up the camera when the girl walked on the set and stood next to the bed. That was what made it so simple, in fact, for the kid to come in behind her and stand waiting in the middle of the room. That was what made it so not hard, actually, for him to ignore whatever written plot-line had supposedly led them there. Because this, for once, was going to be his story now, and no one else's.
     He had looked through the viewfinder, and he had found the girl. She was a C-level porn-starlet at best--blonde, and thin, and pale. She would have come into the business only recently, and she would make something like a dozen movies, and then she would be going right back to Fresno or Barstow or whatever dusty, outlying town she had emerged from. And she would never do better than this anyway. And she probably thought this would haunt her only if her stepfather saw her on one of his porno channels one day.
     And maybe, he had thought as he turned the camera on her, she will be wrong about that.
     Then, the boy and the girl had got it on. And that was how he had set his own ball of chance running through the world of porno. And where it would stop, nobody knew.
     And yet, and yet, from that day to this one, he had started to feel, well, bad, really. But it wasn't like he felt guilty, or as if he had done something so wrong, or that all of it was all of his fault, or if he had done this, well, then maybe that, or like he had committed some kind of a crime. And it wasn't like he thought he was sexually strange, or erotically perverse, or romantically sadistic, or utterly without a heart. It was more like how he felt when he smelled garbage while he was driving down the freeway, or was caught masturbating by his mother, or spent too much time looking at himself in the mirror.
     What do you do when you have done it all? He held his hands in front of himself, and he thought, If only these hands could talk, maybe they would have something to say. He looked out the windshield to the train tracks in the distance. God, what have I done to me?
     Once upon a time, a male porn star had spent all of his time in the adult movie industry with a handmade, falsified HIV-negative test in hand, spreading himself willy-nilly across the eyes, and mouths, and vaginas, and anuses of the girls he had sex with on-camera. Today, who cared? Anybody could rent the video and watch while it happened.
     The only thing left in its wake had been the endless, ceaseless roar of supply and demand, more names and titles rattling on into infinity, new guys and gals coming in through the OUT-door, nobody ever stopping to ask anyone else too loudly, Aw, now why'd you wanna go do a thing like that? Nothing, in the end, had proven more profitable than the human brain's ruthlessly industry. And these days, the population's immune-system was wearing down so fast that you slipped in the run-off every time you stepped in the street.
     It was this smotheration of other people's desire that he had spent his whole life bearing. It was this arresting compulsion to meet everyone else's most graphic needs that he had found that he could not stop. Had it been so wrong to hope that he would become a better man along the way? It had turned out, though, that being perfectly bad did not bring a man's life full circle around to being perfectly good. Luck, it seemed, eluded him again.
     In the car, for the first time, he closed his eyes, and he laid back his head.
     All anybody will ever see of me are the flickering scenes of porn videos screening across my eyeballs, and all anybody will ever hear from me is an audio-loop of moans and groans coming out my mouth, and all anybody will ever say to me is, More, as they smack their hand into the windshield of my car as they crawl across the hood right towards me.
     Inside his head, it felt like the dog of his brain was breaking off its chain, and now he could feel the dog climbing out of his head, and he could even hear it climbing onto the steering wheel before him, and he could already taste the clickity-clack of its toenails digging into the red and black squared numbers, and he saw when he opened his eyes that the dog was stepping up its pace because the dog was hungry, and what he realized right then and there was that, with or without him, the dog would run on forever, and it would never be sated.
     So today, he had to ask himself, finally, You were a bad man, weren't you?, with the dog of his brain running on the wheel of his car, and he had to answer, in all honesty, Why yes, I was.
     And then he stepped out of his car, and then he walked down to the train tracks in the distance, and then he stood there waiting for the next train to take him crisscrossing out across America. And he told himself, I will touch every good person I ever meet with my hands. And he wondered, as the rails began to vibrate at his feet, if he was contagious.

While You Were Out

While he was out, the bombing started. She was at home because that's where women always were when such things happened. He, on the other hand, was out because that's where men always were when such things happened. While you were out--that was how the note she would leave him would have to begin now. While you were out the world exploded, and I, at the time, was home, so I will be gone by the time you return.
     When she was young, and as entirely impressionable as the age had dictated, she had watched a television program about life as it would have been in the town she grew up in had someone somewhere managed to deploy a nuclear bomb upon it. She had found the experience, appropriately, affecting, and she had never forgotten what she had seen, or how it had made her feel, or the image of the mother wrapping her dearly departed child in a sheet. It depressed her before she was even grown up enough to do depression well.
     Although it could not, in all likelihood, be wholly attributed to the simple act of her having watched a television show, something like twenty years of intermittent bouts with depression had followed. It was not until three years ago, when she had met her first, current, and, as of today, very likely last husband, that the gray cloud of depression routinely exploding around her head had finally lifted to rest just above her eye-level.
     Now, though, of course, with the mushroom cloud detonating over and over again across every television screen in every living room across America, her husband was, in fact, out. Initially, and perhaps in hindsight somewhat unrealistically, she had tried to deny the cloud's existence, but every time she had changed the channel, the cloud had come back, reintroducing itself into her evidentiary file. There was no denying a rerun, she realized.
     She had to admit, this was not what she had expected. She had envisioned something more like a car's quiet glide across the black ice of a night street, the slow fall of a supine body onto a hospital bed, the poetic righteousness of a personal eclipse among concentric circles of family members. To her, this endless time between the beginning of the end and the end of the end, with no hand to hang oneself from, was totally unacceptable.
     So, she decided right then and there, she would not have it. Instead, she vowed, there would be a brisk gathering up of keys and purse, a savage putting on of a crisp blazer, a near dog-like shaking off of every drop of doubt and fear to send them all flying out into the unacknowledged nethers of her carpet. She would, in a sort of Gloria Steinem meets Madeline Albright type of way, divorce herself from every victimhood, ever, everywhere.
     Although, unfortunately, that was not her. She was the kind of person who needed days of prep time and hours of coaching conversation before she could make any major move. She didn't live in a constant state of paralysis, she was just highly aware that the sludge the human brain floated in was composed of quicksand. Therefore, she watched her step. Thankfully, most of the time her husband stood nearby her, holding out wood planking.
     Under these circumstances, she considered, wood planking would serve her only as a stretcher. She wished she had a groin that made her want to run out and buy a shotgun and a flag, a chest that made her long to organize smaller women and smaller children into protective lines behind her, a mind that propelled her into buying copious food supplies while digging the perfect bomb shelter and simultaneously barking savvy orders.
     She didn't. Her usual approach to life's crises, which typically took place somewhere between the office and the kitchen, was to retire from her current position and go to bed. There was nothing more therapeutic than fifty minutes of "Ricki Lake" or a session with "Jenny Jones." Those people made her brain feel like Wonderbread topped in Velveeta.
     What did women do in wartime? she wondered. Angela Davis hid a gun in her afro. Patricia Hearst had picked up an assault weapon-although, she was brainwashed into doing so. Her own mother, for her part, read "The Feminine Mystique" while vacuuming. She held her hands in front of herself and tried to imagine what she might hold in them.
     She wished it was 1942. She wouldn't have had to draft a plan back then because the country drafted one for you. She would have been terrifically happy to spend her days making cans in a factory, terribly overjoyed to spend her nights growing vegetables in the back yard. Life was simpler when the world was anything other than an omnipresent fog from which you could not escape. What kind of blueprint were you supposed to draw when all the paper had been exploded? Today, the world awoken, there was no answer.
     So, she thought of all the things she had never done. She had never organized a food-drive, or a fundraiser, or a non-profit event. She had never become a supermodel. She had never run naked through Harvard Square, and, of course, she had never gone to Harvard. She had never even produced a small, fleshier version of herself upon which to dote.
     However, she had once climbed down a horrifyingly steep cliff in the middle of a black night, led by her husband to a secret natural hot-springs that only he knew about, somewhere in the middle of a huge forest at the end of a long road, at the bottom of which was a rock pool, so old that probably Indians had made it, whereat the cold river water and hot spring water mixed, and right there she took off every stitch of her clothes, which was very unusual for her, and then she held her husband close to her in the water.
     Was that enough? She had so many of those. Christ, she had kept every last one of them in a locked box on top of her dresser to enable re-visitations. And she had tons more too, involving convertible car-rides and rock-bedded oceans and small pup-tents and handholding street sprints and teeter-tottering sex-acts. What if no one ever stumbled on the box, and opened up the lid, and saw what was in it? Was it, alone, enough?
     Today, she thought, maybe it was. Truth be told, she thought, if it was not, considering everything that was happening, now it would have to be. Maybe, really, the point was that if you had a box filled to overflowing, and, at this point, she had to admit, a little shyly, it was, and not just a bunch of old jewelry and some dust, that was not a bad haul. Maybe, she thought, it was a fine catch. And, she hadn't even had to hold up a bank.
     A long time ago, when she had been very young, younger than watching the TV show even, her father had died. One night, he was there. The next morning, when she woke up, bloop!, he was gone. After her mother had come into her room and told her what had happened, she had walked down the family stairs to the living room. She had expected to find a chalk-outline in the middle of the room to show where her father had fallen. There he was, she could think forever, and be careful to not erase it or tread there again.
     That was not, she saw now, the way things worked out. So, she decided, she would wait until the orange explosion came searing through her home, and when the cloud of dust settled, she would still be here. She went to the front window and pulled back the curtain. "Fuck you," she said to the world. She didn't need it. She had everything already. She went to the kitchen to write a different note for her husband. Posted to the door, it would say, Welcome home, dear, I am here, waiting for you, and I can hardly wait to hold you.

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