Cool Cogito, Bro [Jim #13, Short Fiction]

Small Town, Paradise. Green yards and clean air and split-level houses. A post office, a police station, a grocery store, five bars and a set of stoplights. Autumn in the afternoon and summer in the evening, and every evening a new episode of Financially Stable and Moderately Happy Family.

Jim watched from up the road as a man mowed his lawn. The lawn was lush and smooth, already clipped to quarter-inch perfection, and still the man mowed over it. He marched back and forth over his square of grass for half an hour before cutting the engine, putting the mower in his garage, and entering his house.

Jim waited five minutes then knocked on the door. The man answered with a beer in his hand.

“I was wondering when you’d come around,” the man said.

“Yeah.”

“You’ve been in some of the papers, you know.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, you better come in, I guess.”

Jim followed the man to a room with a couch and a television. They sat and Jim waited for the man to speak. It took a while.

“Your mother left me,” he said.

“That sucks.”

“She’s a princess now. A Disney Princess. You believe that?”

“I do.”

“Said I spend too much time mowing the lawn. She wanted more. They always want more.”

“There’s a lot to do in Paradise.”

The man took a long pull from his beer.

“A man knows what he has and he makes it work. A man doesn’t go off chasing what isn’t his to chase. A man builds a house, pays the mortgage, and keeps his lawn. That’s what a man does.”

“You have a mortgage?”

“Why’d you come?” the man said.

“I’m not really sure.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“It isn’t money.”

“You in trouble with the law?”

“The law? Are you serious?”

“Well, someone has to take things seriously around here.”

“I nuked a hole in the sky. With my dick. There was a war. Angels cried. I’m not worried about the law.”

“Sounds like you ought to be.”

His dad drank long from the sweating can. He sat upright in his recliner with his arms flat against the armrests and one leg swung over the other, sublime in his authority. King of the room with the couch and the television.

“You mind if I grab one of those?”

“Not till you tell me why you’re here.”

“I really don’t know.”

“Neither did your mother. You want a beer, you tell me what the fuck you’re doing here.”

Jim stood up instead.

“You’re not having any of it, are you? You’re still back in Tennessee. Does Uncle Barley live seven houses down? Is there a Thursday meat raffle you get racist drunk at? I bet you still wake up at five-thirty and polish those ugly boots.”

“I served my country in those boots. I love those boots. They remind me that I did something once and I keep them clean. I also built the room you’re standing in and I sowed the lawn you walked through to get here. And I know exactly why I did it. I did it because this is where I want to be and this is how I want to live.”

“You’re fucking dead!”

“You’re only dead when you run out of reasons. I got mine, where’s yours?”

Jim didn’t have an answer for that.

“That’s what I thought.” The old man finished his beer and stood. “You’re my son, Jim. But your whole life you been flopping around like there’s a hook through your lip. I don’t know who put it there but it sure hell wasn’t me.” He checked his watch. “Financially Stable and Moderately Happy Family is on in five minutes. So if you got nothing else to say to me, there’s the door.”

***

The pavilion was wild with color and filled with children. Parents sat on benches or looked through the windows of the shops at free trinkets. In the rose garden grew flowers from somebody’s imagination and the cobbled paths turned only for the heart.

The only drab thing was a woman in soot-stained rags. She stood in the center of the happiness and handed out candies and kisses that she pulled from the air.

Jim was careful not to step on any dreams as he walked up to her.

“Mom?”

“Jim!”
She hugged him.

“You look so young,” Jim said.

“I am young.” It was a playful warning. “You look wonderful!”

“When Dad said you were a princess I pictured something a little different.”

“I’m Cinderella.” She spun. “And let’s not talk about your father. It makes me sad.”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t we take a little walk?”

There was some pouting when Jim stole the princess away. But when Cinderella told them that her glass slipper was hidden somewhere on the grounds and the first to find it would ride the magic pumpkin, the transgression was forgotten.

They walked until they were alone.

“They really love you,” Jim said.

“Oh, I love them, Jim. I love them so much! I absolutely love this place. The colors, the magic, the smiling faces.”

“It’s nice.”

“It’s Paradise. It’s really Paradise.”

“I wish I could find something like this. You know, something that fits.”

“Well, there’s always room for another Jack Sparrow.”

“I don’t think I’d be much of a pirate.”

“Oh! Stop! Over here. Sshhhh. Here he comes.”

Cinderella pulled him to the side of the cobbled walk into the shade of some melon-sized bell flowers. A stiff and serious man in a suit appeared some distance down from them. Over his shoulder he carried an enormous paint brush. He carried it the way a soldier might carry a bazooka.

“That’s Walt,” she said. “Look, he’s about to change something.”

Walt paused, considered the gardens with a frown, and went to work with his brush. The blues and reds and yellows and greens of the flowers swirled out of focus and comprehension. A new form took shape, a little thatch hut with wayward dimensions and a smoking chimney. Out of it walked a young girl in blue jeans and a tank top and she sang without words to the butterflies and one curious squirrel.

“Is she real?” said Jim.

“I think so. Jim . . .” Cinderella touched his elbow. “There’s another reason I like it here.”

“What?”

“I get to be close to your brother.”

“I – have a brother?”

She pointed and Jim followed her finger and over the trees and a patch of giant mushrooms rose the peaks of the castle. They glittered against the painted sky.

“In the tallest tower. That’s where they go.”

“They? How many brothers do I have?”

“I was young, Jim. Please forgive me, that I never told you. How could I know? How can anybody know?”

“Mom. It’s alright. Really. What’s going on?”

“I didn’t want him. I couldn’t want him, Jim. It was before I met your father.”

Suddenly Jim understood.

“You had an abortion?”

She nodded.

“And abortions go to the tallest tower of the Disney castle?”

“No one else would take them.” Cinderella wiped a tear from her cheek. “Before Walt, the unwanted were unwanted even here. But he changed all that. They have a home now. He’s a wonderful man.”

Walt, satisfied with the hut, walked off down the cobbled path. He let the tip of his brush trail along the top of a hedge row and many-colored birds and beetles and bees erupted in the sparkling wake. They buzzed and beetled and chirped in thanks before they disappeared into the grounds. Walt turned with his heart and the path turned with him and he was gone.

“Can we visit him?” Jim said.

“You go.” Cinderella smiled. “I owe a lucky little prince a magical pumpkin ride.”

***

“Hi-ya Jim!”

“Hi. Mickey Mouse.”

“So you’re here to see your brother! That’s just great!”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t look so glum, Jim! You’re gonna love it! We have the best facilities in Paradise!”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Well let’s cut the chit-chat and get on with it then!”

Jim followed Mickey up a final flight of stairs. A mural on the wall beside the double doors depicted a family throwing their baby up into the clouds where Goofy was ready to catch it with a baseball mitt.

“Why Goofy?”

“He’s the least visually abrasive!”

Mickey pulled a chain that hung from the ceiling and the double doors opened. Jim followed him in to the round base of the tower. All around him fetuses floated in jars that climbed up and up and up to the uppermost height of the tower. Each jar was fitted with an iPad and headphones, and all the millions of iPads flashed and dimmed in unison, as if the fetuses were all streaming the same show.

“How many are there?” Jim couldn’t begin to count.

“Millions! And thousands more come every day!”

“And you just hook them up to iPads?”

“They were donated by Steve Jobs! Isn’t he great?!”

“What are they watching?”

“What time is it?!”

“Four-thirty.”

“They watch Fox News from four to five!”

“Fox News.” Not a question. Not a statement either. The words just fell out of his face.

“Well, it turns out you don’t have to have thumbs or be conscious to have a political opinion! And they’re all conservative on account of being aborted!”

Jim supposed it made sense that the aborted fetuses in Paradise would be pro-life conservatives. He wondered if they’d considered the economic arguments against their position. Probably not.

Mickey led him to a mine cart. They climbed in and Mickey handed him a hard hat and said “Safety first!” and they climbed up the tower on a winding track. Around and around. The jars with the fetuses were packed in ten deep and the iPads flashed in a constant rhythm. The fetuses were all different shapes and sizes. Some of them were large and well-formed and looked like pig runts, others were little more than floating strings of goop.

“Why can’t they be people up here?” said Jim. “I mean, they’re just a bunch of DNA, right? It seems like you could grow them into people.”

“It’s a consciousness problem! We tried growing a batch of em but nobody’s home! They just walk around like zombies and mumble and drool! That’s why we’re looking for activities that don’t require the spark of humanity!”

“So what can they do?”

“Well, let’s see. We already covered the political opinions. They can also browse the internet and leave comments, a few of them even have blogs! They can play casual games too! And they love the Transformer movies!”

“The first one was alright.” This also fell out of his face.

He looked down and figured they’d climbed about twenty stories. Upward the tower and the flashing jars rose and rose to a point in the distance. There were hundreds of stories to go.

“I don’t think I like where this is going.”

“What’s the matter, Jim?! Afraid of heights?! Just think of down as up’s best friend – that’s what I always do!”

“I – wait, what? No. I mean, how much further is it? And how do you know which one is – my brother?”

“Steel trap!” Mickey knuckled his head. “And look at that, we’re already here!”

The mine cart stopped and Mickey reached into the wall of jars and yanked one out from the back. It looked just like all the thousands or millions they’d passed on the way up. Jim thought this one was right on the cusp between goop and runt.

“Does he have a name?”

“Nope!”

“How do we know he’s a he?”

“Science!”

Jim turned the jar over in his hands, careful not to disturb the iPad or the fetus. He thought maybe he could make out where the arms and legs would have grown, where the head would have taken shape, tried to imagine eyes full of curiosity and wonder and a mat of messy hair.

“Can I – Can I take him away from this place. If he had a home?”

“Sorry, Jim, but that’s impossible! It’s against company policy to let copyrighted material walk out the door!”

“Copyrighted?”

“Copyrighted!”

“Walt Disney copyrighted my mother’s abortion.” Again, out of the face.

“He’s an entrepreneur! But you can chat with your brother any time you like!”

“I can talk to him?”

“Sure! Here’s his Skype id!”

Jim entered the id into his phone. He thought for a long time about what to say.

***

Jim
Hi.

01101010 01101111 01100101
wat

Jim
We’ve never met before, but I’m your little brother. We have the same mom. I’m Jim.

01101010 01101111 01100101
dafuq?

Jim
Yeah, I know it’s pretty weird. But it’s true. I just found out about you a few hours ago. Mom is a princess and my big brother is floating in a jar in the tallest tower of the Disney castle. I would have visited sooner but I didn’t know you existed. We’re brothers.

01101010 01101111 01100101
Cool story, bro.

Jim
Do you like it here? In the tower? Is Mickey treating you alright?

01101010 01101111 01100101
I guess you could say they
( •_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■)
fetus well.

Jim
Oh, I get it. Feed us well. And it’s like a well of fetuses. You know, I’m not sure I believe Mickey about the consciousness thing. I would think if you can make a pun you can be a person.

01101010 01101111 01100101
fag

Jim
What?!

01101010 01101111 01100101
FAG

Jim
All I’m saying is, if you want me to I’ll punch Mickey in the nose and we can bust ass out of here and maybe get you some legs. Get Einstein or Jesus to take a look at you, see if anything can be done.

01101010 01101111 01100101
3edgy5me

Jim
What the hell does that even mean?

01101010 01101111 01100101
I don’t even.

Jim
Don’t even what?

01101010 01101111 01100101
bro

Jim
Are you fucking with me? Are you alive? Are you conscious?

01101010 01101111 01100101
Nice try, Socrates

Jim
I’m just trying to help my brother out here. Say something meaningful if you’re in there.

01101010 01101111 01100101
hi every1 im dead!!!!! shivers in jar i dont have a name but u can call me t3h PuNt3d EmBuRRiTo!!!!! lol i mexicant eat food!! thats why i came here, 2 meat ppl like me . . . im a tiny ball of goo (twisted 4 prenatal tho!!) i like 2 watch chefwars cuz they make SOOOOO much food _ u always want what u cant have lol!!! its my fav show =) i dont have many friends bcuz goos h8 food \o/ BOOOOO!!!!! Boos 4 t3h goos h8in f00d!! lol .. neways theres no scaping 4 me so plz dont give me false hopeses );
EmBuRRRRRRRRiTo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <—- me gettin twisted o.O haha .. byebye

***

When Jim came out of the castle Cinderella was waiting for him. She was the shiny Cinderella now and her pink marshmallow dress filled the pumpkin carriage. Jim climbed in beside her and the horses clopped and pulled them away.

“Did you see him?”

Jim nodded.

“Oh, Jim, isn’t he such a sweet little thing! I wish I could just eat him up.”

“He called me a fag.”

She slapped his leg. “That’s between brothers. I don’t need to hear that sort of thing. So tell me everything. What did you talk about?”

“I’m not sure. You’ve talked to him before. Do you think there’s a person in there?”

“He’s your big brother. Isn’t that enough?”

“No.”

“It should be.”

“It isn’t.”

“Well what do you know about it? You don’t know. Nobody knows. You’re just like your father, always taking things so seriously. Oh I don’t want to talk about him. We are not talking about him. Your brother, mommy’s little angel, is beautiful and he’s happy and Mickey Mouse is taking good care of him and that’s the way of the world.”

“Mom – ”

“He’s happy, Jim.”

“Yeah, of course he is.”

Jim looked out the window and they were on a path through some trees and beside a pond, a lonely pond at twilight, the kind of place where a hero might see something new in his reflection. Or hear a voice where no one stood. He wondered what he would see if he got out of the carriage and looked into the water, if he would find the part of himself that knew what the fuck he was doing – the part that always woke up just in time for the third act.

“Where to, Jim? I can give you a ride, but the magic only lasts until midnight.”

***

Jim knocked at the door and the old man answered, beer in hand.

“Well?” the old man said.

Jim stood square-shouldered. “I’m here because I want to get drunk.”

The old man considered him for a long moment and then opened the door further and stepped inside.

“I guess that calls for the good stuff,” he said.

The backyard was cut to the same quarter-inch perfection and high rows of hedges made it private. There was a vegetable garden and a wood shed, a pit for fires and a rusty old charcoal grill. When the old man came out with a bottle of Scotch and two tumblers Jim was looking at the weather.

“Does it ever rain here?”

“On schedule.” The old man sat down in the lawn chair next to Jim’s and set the Scotch on the table. He poured two drinks. “Gonna be a thunder storm on the fifth. Sounds like a real doozy.”

Jim took the offered tumbler, paused, tipped it in the old man’s direction.

“Thanks, Dad.”

They drank.

They didn’t speak for a long time. A comfortable silence. The old man didn’t have any questions and Jim didn’t have any answers and they drank and watched the quiet. Three tumbles into the conversation Jim said,

“I guess you could be happy here.”

“Happy?” The old man peered into his empty glass. “Happy isn’t anything I would know about. Always sounded like a lot of bullshit to me, or maybe a nice word for stupid. There isn’t any suffering here, though, if that’s what you mean. You don’t get punched in the gut for no damn reason.”

“Mom leaving wasn’t a punch?”

“She had her reasons.”

“Yeah.”

“You went to see her?”

A nod.

“That’s good.”

“I think she’s happy.”

“Of course she is. She’s in Paradise for Chrissake.”

They drank to that and two tumbles later they were hashing out economics, ethics, and a precise definition for the word fascism. They were less than a miracle away from solving all three in one swoop when a remark was made and they were forced to arm-wrestle until dawn. Jim passed out in the quarter-inch perfection underneath the stars and dreamed about a door.

 


 

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Posted in Jim
3 comments on “Cool Cogito, Bro [Jim #13, Short Fiction]
  1. Beth Vossen says:

    Exquisite.

    > > >

  2. Alex says:

    You captured the father son relationship so well at the end, with the talking about economics and fascism and then it devolving into arm wrestling

  3. David says:

    God I love your stories, I could genuinely read them all day!

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