Hobbit sauntered past Zen’s office in a sexy pink negligee, twirling her frilly panties on her finger. She was humming and marching on her tiptoes, glancing out of the corner of her eye at Zen.
Zen noticed her but he made a point of ignoring her. “She has all the subtlety of a baboon in heat. Pshaw! Pshaw!”
He was preoccupied with work. Work was some school-related crap, but his real work, his real job was finishing a fictional book set in the distant future about the American Drug War. Four hundred pages and his novel’s end was nowhere in sight. Much like the Drug War itself, he thought ironically to himself. He had been “finishing” this damn novel for four years now. His family had given up on his ambition to become a writer. Whenever he mentioned his book on the Drug War, they rolled their eyes and deflected the conversation to other less incendiary topics.
Hobbit in her own way was trying to deflect Zen from his work. Whenever Zen worked on his novel, his mood grew black and his temper boiled over with vicious rage. He sat in his office ranting and raving “at the injustice of it all.” Anyway, Hobbit’s “monthly time of inconvenience” was drawing nigh and she felt “a need.” “A woman has a need too, you know you know.” She marched past his office again, stopped at his office door, stretched her lacy pink and white Victoria’s Secret cotton-blended Cheekini panties and snapped them through the air, hitting Zen squarely on his ugly mug.
They caught on his big black geeky glasses and hung down over his unhappy scowling face.
Hobbit exclaimed, “打中了!” and struck a pose to no one in particular and marched off triumphantly back into her bedroom. Though their marriage was a complete shambles, both Hobbit and her Dwarf husband found time to exchange unpleasant and violent affections on a more or less regular basis.
Zen cursed a black streak and stomped into Hobbit’s bedroom whereupon the both of them, resembling bellicose midget wrestlers rather than ardent tender spouses, engaged in matrimonial relations. Their lovemaking, bestial and unpleasant to civilized eyes (or any eyes for that matter), resembled their physical selves: violent, brutish, and short. It was tantamount to a double mutual rape and made the angels weep in heaven and cry out, “Oh the inhumanity! The inhumanity!” The devils in hell didn’t have a better time of it either. Their noses wrinkled from the abominable vision and the sight made fresh boils break out over their scrofulous bodies. In worse moods, they took it out on the newly arrived souls, whipping them with even more vigor and cruelty.
Back in the Middle Kingdom, the troglodytic pair lay sated on their rumpled, discolored, and sweaty sheets. Hobbit, without uttering a syllable, pointed to the door. Zen was already on his way out. He had work to do, “Damn US drug war! And goddamn you anyway!” Hobbit’s derisive giggle followed him down the hall.
Back at his desk, Zen sighed. The computer screen stared at him, a yawning maw, a hungry monster that asked to be fed. It wasn’t the feeding that bothered Zen. He always had ideas. The problem was selection. Prioritization. Once Zen heard the famous writer Solzhenitsyn say that there was only one true law in literature: maximum density. But how to achieve that exactly? He had trouble selecting which scenes to include about the Drug War. The War itself was a morass and there were endless incidents to choose from to illustrate his points in narrative form. Zen sighed and then sniffed.
He smelled his armpit.
Oh sweet Jesus! He was rank, but that wasn’t it. Zen did smell like Satan’s arse, but that was because recently Zen refused to bathe. Hobbit had made a comment about “Westerners being smelly” and, as a way to punish her for this unforgivable comment, he decided to forego normal ablutions for an undefined period of time.
His students and work colleagues became worried about him. Zen was normally a very carefully groomed and well-dressed teacher. When the director asked Zen if everything was all right—taking pains to breathe through her dainty, beautifully shaped mouth—Zen answered that everything was fine. Why? He looked puzzled; she looked puzzled. The director went outside to get some fresh air.
Zen knew that eventually (soon) he would have to bathe again. Summer was here and global warming was obviously turning the Ice City into a fucking sauna.
Consequently, Zen stank. But that wasn’t it. The smell emanated from elsewhere. He looked at the dog-bed where he slept every night, a rickety iron and wooden contraption that was covered in dirty oily bloodstained sheets with only the thinnest most threadbare of mattresses. The word mattress was too generous a designation, however. The mattresses (quote unquote) consisted of a few seat cushions shoved into a pillowcase. The seat cushions were the type that students bought for a few renminbi from the black market sellers on the pedestrian bridges, not Western style seat cushions that were plump and springy. These were diametrically opposite to plump and springy. Exactly non-plump and un-springy.
And smelly. The odor emanating from the dog-bed was inhuman. It was almost otherworldly. If extraterrestrial feces existed, it might smell like this. Apparently, Zen’s oily sweaty secretions coupled with the toxic dust that blew in from outdoors through the non-weather-proofed windows commingled into a perfect storm of stink.
Hobbit would win again, damn her. He would have to bathe and wash the sheets. Not necessarily in that order. There was nothing for it. He would have to cave in and take a shower. Who would have thought that Hobbits were so good at guerrilla warfare?
Zen would miss his stink, though. In a strange ineffable way, it made him feel connected to the earth. More and more lately, he felt like, like the Invisible Woman. Turning invisible, his molecules losing their mass, evanescing. As if his body and mind were losing focus and evaporating. Hobbit had had to slap him sharply several times during their “lovemaking” (euphemism for interspecies sexual assault) to bring his concentration back to the task at hand. He had bit her in anger, drawing blood. Hobbit only sighed in ecstasy. He hated her.
Zen thought he was losing his mind.
At first, he thought he was just getting old, but he was certain that something was wrong, on a quantum physics level. He also thought he was just getting clumsy in his old age, dropping things, letting things slip from his fingers, but now he was sure it was something else.
His body was disappearing from reality. Several times he was holding something in his hand, like a cup or a pencil, and it just slipped from his hand and dropped to the floor. He swore that the object had just passed through his fingers as though his body had dematerialized magically.
This frightened him more than the blood in his stool. More than the crushing ache in his bones (Bone cancer! Bone cancer! It was bone cancer for sure!). More than Hobbit’s violent productive cough. Was she dying? —Pneumonia? Lung cancer? Bubonic Plague? Zombie Apocalypse?
Zen began to fear that he was phasing out of reality. It was either that…or he was really losing his marbles.
Emotionally, he was clogged, backed up like a drainpipe in a sorority house with only one bathroom. He wanted to feel…feel something…it was as if he were losing the ability to feel anything. Either he was stricken with pain from his irritated colon or his osteoarthritis, or he was numb.
Either/Or. Kierkegaard would be proud.
His dematerialization had to do with his blog. He was sure of it. Every time he wrote about political matters, no one bothered to read his posts. And every time, he felt more of himself drifting away, molecule by molecule. Even though the whole world was talking about austerity and the ridiculous gap between the rich and poor, his friends and family all treated the topic as salient as offering a course on sailing techniques to residents in the Mojave Desert, teaching ice sculpture to Kalahari Bushmen, giving a lecture on the aggressive marketing techniques of the amateur porn industry to nuns. You get the picture. Zen was vanishing.
He wanted to feel his body again (minus the pain). To live in his skin.
Was this old age? A slow steady decrease of faculties, starting at the quantum physics level, coupled with an increase of pain and discomfort, and extending to one’s growing insignificance in society?
One becomes a ghost in other words. A hungry ghost.
That’s what the world made of you.
(End of Part 1)