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Rob Hardin

CADAVER-SCAN

"Leave them only their eyes to weep with."

--Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck,
1st chancellor of the German Empire,
directing his men in the war of 1870

MAY 21, 1992. Just looking down at the pavement from his third-story loft made Giz feel claustrophobic. The view was needle-shaft narrow: curbs congested with double-parked bridge and tunnel trade, a chalked-off basketball game blocking East Fourth Street. The horizon wasn't much better. At vision's limit, he traced a row of tenements that swayed like sick bums leaning. Above it, the sky looked so polluted that the noon glare offered no more light than smudged neon. But the stratosphere's gun-metal gray felt deeper than the screen he saw when he tried to rest his eyes.

Through a diamond-shaped space in the window gate, he squinted at the walkway between Avenues C and D. A gritty lot the color of sprayed roaches dried until it crested with hillocks. It looked like a barrow about to be exhumed. Its junkyard guts seemed perpetually disemboweled by street-people, their shopping carts rusted from endless quests for treasures.

Seventy degrees out. Get back on course or you'll be gone before the transients.

He closed his chafed eyes once. Forcing them open felt like ripping Velcro: Summer, 1991 AD, nightmares for real, the girl he loved dumped in a squat, the body stripped when he visited her that weekend. They left her eyes open: gored by fucks or rats. He knew what else had happened by the streaks crystallizing in her hair.

"Gina!" The noise made him shiver. It was a Puerto Rican kid yelling to a girl in a building next door.

"Gina, what I tell you 'bout staying up dere? Come down, okay?"

Giz couldn't stop himself from visibly flinching. The kid caught his shelled expression. "Hey, 'man.' Whatchoo lookin' at?"

Giz turned from the sunlight and peered at the cluttered floor. Layered with papers dampened to translucent, the wood-pattern bled though like a contusion. He raised his narrowed stare. Cracked like the surface of a fragile skull, the white ceiling seemed ready to cave. Pictures formed in the ceiling's insomniac scribbles. He read a few morbid fortunes there, fissured with fault-lines of faintest ash:

Her slackened face, gilded to angelic, purified by shadows at sundown. For hours, he kissed the corpse and waited for dusk. Making sure no one watched him, he hoisted the body to its burial one block away. He dusted the rat-shit off her, dug into filth with wooden boards. When no one was looking, he stuck her down there--shit, someone's coming--threw stuff on top her, ran off, then crept back.

He told himself to avoid her smile, her stare. But his mind kept spitting wrong readouts like a tired hard drive. Hardcore loops of hands lifting the skin from her ass like the hem of a mini-skirt, ischium swivelling against cataracts of trash. Her face replayed in splintered plaster. A Mortal Kombat labyrinth sliced open, its post-bomb graphics autopsied by overuse.

He was back in the squat, staring through Jill's missing eyes.

Clean off, little man. A shower would help him sleep. He walked into the bathroom, pulled aside the curtain and stepped in. The water hurt, at first. He watched the drops descend the tiling like deliquescent sperm. He couldn't seem to relax. He kept thinking someone was trying to leave a message on his machine. When he ran the water, he heard voices. When he shut it off, he heard his body drip.

He toweled off and slid wetly into bed, closing his eyes until his stomach burned and his chest went cold with panic. When he rested, the fear intensified. When he moved, it melted away.

Birds twittered. The bed felt like a queasily rocking boat. The only thing unfamiliar about the panic was where he felt it: rising like a puppeteer's fingers through his ribs.

He dragged his Proventil inhaler off the nightstand and took three rapid-fire whiffs. His body performed this act while he observed it. Like so many other acts. Like eating, like wheezing. Like his habit of blinking, once attributed to contact lens discomfort, now accompanied by a clenching of the eyelids--

RRRR-nnnnnnnn...RRRR-nnnnnnnn...

The phone drove high-end splinters through his nerves, so he rasped in answer. It was Michelle, Hiro's personal assistant from Worldfire, calling to book a Karoake session. To Hiro, turning down work seemed implicitly disloyal. But when Giz tried to comply, he heard himself decline.

His call-waiting beeped and he answered someone else. It beeped again, interlacing his next conversation with yet another; then again, draining his spirit in a drawn-out suturing of the psyche. He answered each numbly, his stray line caught in a fiber-optic gang-bang. When he hung up, the sky said sunset. Eidetic zoetropes changed to revelations.

Visions burned him until, spent, Giz finally closed his eyes. But even then, he slept in fits: caught in fistfuls of nightmare, brief claw-swipes at the sight of Jill's demise. In certain flashes, discolored porcelain fixtures swallowed her whole. In others, her plot off Third Street swelled to a crumbling tongue--steaming with heat as it licked away her skin.

This lasted until he settled into resting. Averting his thoughts, he sank to a final fade.

Counting the measures, he sang. Counting the measures.

Without past or sequence, the ride twisted out of time. The dream ate his voice. Its whims embodied him.

He dreamed of restlessly pacing through his loft. The window dimmed. He passed through a tunnel found between sink and stove, wandering into a vast chapel lit by a flickering kiln. The space resembled his high school auditorium. The floor gave way...

He dreamed of walking down Norfolk Street, where he met his favorite assistant engineer, Jared Singleton. Jared stood in front of his place off Rivington, an air-sign boho as lean as bleached mahogany. Trendy in dreads and velvet vest, Jared reminded Giz to book time for their project with Effector. Just do it, Jared insisted with uncharacteristic harshness. Scratching his Jonathan Shaw tattoo, a band of black-lipstick lightning on his left bicep. Giz promised to book time for Jared at the Hit Factory. As he thought about music, his eyes relaxed. The horizon closed like a wound; the sky compressed to a low-lit ceiling.

Shit--he was awake. It was night outside: The darkness had erased his apartment. The clock's LED read eleven-thirty a.m. He felt for a jar, pissed into it and slumped back into the damp sheets. Upstairs, a Spanish family danced. Thankfully, the spell took less time to hold him.

He dreamed of recording vocals in Studio A of the Hit Factory, where he shared the desk with a shifting version of Jared. Sleep's void intervened, reworking the dream's coherence:

Giz asked if she could hear him, but the girl on the other side of the window seemed unable to nod, let alone reply. Jared, the genetic processor who sat beside him in the sanitized pink-lit control room, had rendered her mute by typing Command M. Giz glanced at the console: It was something new from George Martin Neve. The faders, the LCD, were indecipherable to him--as indecipherable as the record company's request that the artist show more subservience, more trepidation at the sound of her A&R man's voice. He didn't know what they meant by "a greater capacity for self-revision."

"I'm not sure what they want--this time," Gizmo said.

"I do," Jared said impatiently. "I've been on staff at A Mod for a fucking decade and I know exactly what they fucking want."

Giz forced himself to look through the glass. Imprisoned by biological complications, confined by insets of chrome, glass and surgical steel, the girl's throat was mottled with blue-black sores. The pulleys and pumps which scarified her lungs bristled with half-uprooted circuitry. She jerked as electrically enforced commands seared through her brain, through her limbs, through fissures in the Iron Maiden of her tendons.

His gaze climbed the glass, the frame, the flashing record indicator houseled in an interstice of white. Above these, the monitor extended from the wall on swivel-arms. It was tuned to the State of the Union. The President, an Alzheimer's-afflicted technocrat whose rigid expression had worsened into ticcing and grimacing, read from his teleprompter as involuntary torsions slowed his speech to that of a dying vagrant.

"Take five," Giz told Jared. The remote was wedged between the desk and a strip of elbow cushioning. Giz picked it up and faded in the sound.

"We live in a time of political certainties......that just as surely as an artist portrays rape or violence in his work......he is inciting his audience to commit it......Metaphorical crimes are real, friends......De Sade's images of savaged chambermaids, of servant girls in leg irons, bind our American women even today......Let me re-emphasize this: ......speech is action......and fledgling rapists learn their modus operandi from books, television shows and films......The artist who portrays illegal acts should be punished with imprisonment......just as the woman who claims she has been raped should not gain a conviction......if the defense lawyer can show that she actually enjoys sex......This is because we, the ex-Calvinists of the right and left, make no distinction between rape fantasy and actual rape......nor do we credit the American public with the ability to understand the difference......That is why we must protect them from nebulous influences: ......we cannot permit examinations of the demonic impulses of the id......though we do advocate an exchange in public debate: ......questions of political responsibility for those of sexual decorum, resulting in an unexamined fascination with sexual scandal......then a transference of the public's responsibility for their own fascination, resulting in puritanical rage......"

Giz hit the mute button and paged Jared in the lounge. He hoped the girl would look recovered after the break, but she'd only continued her grim evolution. Feelers trailed from her temples, caressing and chafing them for the presences behind her reflection.

"She looks bad."

"Fuck'er," Jared said. "I'll teach you to do this right, buddy--just like your first engineer."

"I'm telling you, man--the artist is always supposed to feel comfortable, but she can't even--"

"Don't worry, I said--I don't expect no credit in your next interview. Now watch this."

Jared touched the space bar on his keyboard and her head tilted forward, facing him like a de Chirico mannequin's. Arms braced against the console, Gizmo winced as he realized that something bad was about to happen.

Rising from toothless gums and bloody sockets, tendrils undulated with a circular motion that described violations. Invisible nails pierced her cheeks, crescents of sulfur burned her palms.

"Rachael!" he cried. Jared typed the command Shift Reverse Birth and her vagina muscles clenched on a zero. From the monitor, Gizmo heard a click and then a little scream. Jared hit the return bar twice, whistling as her womb was lacerated by spears of bone.

Giz woke clutching a knot of twisted sheet. He lay on his stomach in the glare of noon again, a pillow arched over his skull. The events of his dream shriveled until they became the objects which now pressed against him like eidolons of safety overturned: the bedding, the uninflected walls, the books piled chronologically from nightstand to disaster. None of these could negate the cruelty of his desire.

Am I fucking sick? Do I come at the thought of murder?

Light outside, and he wasn't afraid to awaken. Why was that? Oh. Oh right. That last moment of the dream--his eyes inside of Rachael. It made him stronger to taste that. The empathy and the coma of the drive.

That wasn't me. The guy who hurts women, that was my dad, not me.

On his dresser tilted a little snapshot of his mother, framed and propped on an easel-back stand. It was signed Eva Lake, 1985--the year she legally changed her last name to erase his father's. She hadn't wanted to retrieve her maiden name. But she never remarried and refused to mimic the signature of her deserter: Knox Renner.

Giz never bothered to change his identity legally because he didn't like to think about it. People knew him as Giz or Kevin Lake--simple as that.

My name is Kevin Renner.

An alias he was born with. When the shame wore off, he'd call himself Giz again.

Inhaling the cool fluff of his pillow, he sheathed his complicity in the illusion of loss: Poor Jill. But it was small comfort to remember that the oneiromantic swirl of girl and engineer were his mind's pain-obsessed extremes--pos-neg poles of the sadism which, even now, Renner struggled to contain.


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