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peter cooper
tattoos

Jazz stood outside the wooden door and sighed. In a pneumatic world, this act of pushing open this archaic artifact of the past was ironic. He knew the metaphor, analogy, the symbolism at work--but he really didn't know if he had the strength to turn the knob and go inside.

Again.

A stout, uniformed orderly approached from the left, his jaw working furiously. In the old days, people wore small ear muffs to hear music, now they simply stopped by any drug vendor and picked out a supply of musical chews-- choose your music--the clouds ordered, those vaporous weather ads that had replaced the telling electronic visions when people used to stay indoors, used to stay inside themselves.

Of course, that was before the great revolution, the unanimous understanding, the proletariat alignment, the beginning of the Emotional Age, and the end of death.

The wooden door was archaic. Jazz ran his hand along the polished grain, smoothed by centuries of pushing. It was a joke, a blasphemy--making people whose relationships had ended pass through this antique to officially end their period of attachment. Such a simple, elegant notion--letting the government know that you were no longer emotionally involved. Oh, he knew the legends, the tales of former partners hiring advocates to publicly discuss and put into writing the sins of the other against the same. The arm wrestling over assets, children, and waiting for the arbitrator to decide how to divvy up the goods.

At least there had been goods to divvy.

Emotions had finally become civilized, been ordered, charted--like some deep ocean.

Jazz glanced up at the Collector above the doorway. There was no indication that his feelings were being absorbed, translated into emotherms, added to the millions of heartaches, joyous explosions, and used to run the magnarail he would use to get home.

So many things had changed, so much hadn't.

He rested his hand on the knob, turned it slowly. A perfect mechanism, simple. The door opened slightly, he stuck his head inside. The room looked the same. Six booths with two chairs each. The low lighting was another ruse from the past. Romance always started with dimmed lamps, ended dark feelings. They were good, the planners who designed this little charade. Bright lights showed off a person's flaws. No way to start, seeing the truth. Better to keep someone in the dark, let the emotions flow out barely noticed until their rhythms became recognizable, absorbed, translated by the other person.

Of course, it didn't last. Discordant feelings rose up eventually. The truth will set you free, was better applied to romance than education. This was his fifth visit to this room in twenty years. He had learned the truth now five times. He rubbed his arm, the trouble with immortality was space. When you live too long, your skin begins to look more like a shopping list than a protective layer.

He stepped inside, glanced around, sighed. Sara was not here yet. Just like her to be late. Perhaps that was the word he would give to their dissolution: LATE. No, too simple. It hardly matched the word he gave her when they decided to be together: SPRING.

Jazz blushed. The reason for their break-up had little to do with tardiness. But how do you pick one word to describe their three years together? Was it really their fault that the emotion had gone out of their being together? In ancient times, people stayed together without emotion and no one cared. Now, a few days without any emotional involvement set off the Collector alarm. Boredom was a crime against the state. Ennui, treason.

It was all Bentov's fault. The world was doing just fine with psychologists and therapists running around, making people calm, happy--bored. Then Bentov discovered that emotions could be collected, that the real source of power was not the rush of electrons, but the constant swirl of emotrons. People became their own power company, and stress and argument was highly prized. The hell with peace and quiet--get those feelings swirling and stand in front of your collector and FEEL EVERYTHING!

It was the perfect energy, non-toxic, no residue, clean skies--who cares if the karmic world was polluted, let everything fly to enable the magnarail to run efficiently. Get pissed off at your neighbor, your live-together. Hell, it completely did away with such non-essentials as work. Feeling was your only job now, and you better feel your quota for the day, week, year-- or some government official would send you a letter and change your life. Dear Jazz Bartholomew and Sara Anthony, As you will note from the accompanying chart, your contribution to the National Emotion Association is down by twenty percent. You received a warning last August that your figures were perilously close to the dissolution curve. If nothing else, get mad at this notice and do your duty. And a month later: Since there has been no change in your figures over the past six months, you are ordered to report to the Department of Dissolution for reassignment. Sincerely,

Sincerely? The only thing sincere about the notice was the effectiveness of their monitoring equipment. God, they were good. And, okay, it was time for him to get a new partner, go through all those crazy emotions that came with learning about someone new, the terror of new sex, the worries about waking each morning, wondering if the new partner had dreamed about a previous lover the night before. Whether there would be something to talk about other than the the cinelozenge you had spent two hours sucking in unison as you lay in bed, looking in each other's eyes, while the images floated behind any real seeing.

It was hard living in a world that was so mouth oriented. We chewed music, sucked time-release movies, drank the news with each glass of water from the flourovision tap.

Whatever happened to fingertips?

Jazz glanced across the room at the tall man sitting with his sleeve rolled up, waiting for his ex-lover to decide the word. He must be quite a traveler, the words crawling up his arm like a page from an old dictionary. The man's eyes moved around the room expectantly. In the old days, he would have been considered a ladies man, a flirt, undependable, a walking emotional disaster. No longer. Now he was a hero of evolution.

Rubbing his arm, Jazz sat in one of the empty booths. He rolled up his sleeve, glanced at his pitiful lists of beginning and end words. Across from SUNSHINE was NIGHTFALL. Relda had been a poet, a good avocation in a world that ran on emotions. She left their bed every night and wrote epistles to their lovemaking, churning out screen after screen of sexual commentary. At that stage in the revolution, he had been proud of being her inspiration. After a year and a half, he had grown tired of thinking up new positions, finding new ways to excite her literary passions. He knew they were in trouble when he caught her masturbating one night, right below the collector. He realized at the time she was just trying to maintain their quota, but something turned off inside him. He could no longer perform. Her anger and frustration kept them within the limits for another six months, but the outcome was inevitable.

The man across the way laughed when his former lover suggested loudly that her end word for him was INSATIABLE. He liked it, insisted that the tattooer start on the other arm. The official objected. The end word had to be placed opposite the beginning one. The man lifted his arm.

"Let it run underneath, then," he said.

Jazz shuddered. Chloe had kiddingly offered up ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM when they were finished. She was a librarian in a world where there were no more books. Her intellectual fervor had been a relief to Jazz after Relda, and they spent hours, days, sometimes weeks arguing over the smallest morsels. She wept at the loss of paper, even though she had only seen it on display in museums. Her disdain of Jazz's simple philosophies was ironically etched by the end word THOUGHTLESS, right across from RENAISSANCE.

She had left him tired, so the computer bank matched him with Irene, who gave him SAVIOR at the beginning. She never told him what had transpired between her and her previous mate for him to warrant such a high opinion. Her religious fervor was real. He stood at the back of the neo- chapel every morning, watching her kneel before the priest to take her oral scripture for the day. She would rise, her long black hair streaming like a Madonna, her inner eyes absorbed by the lesson she was tasting as she walked back toward him. He gave her BELIEF at the beginning, and RELIEF at the end. It was a minor tribute to Relda's poetry, though Irene thought he was being flippant. She left him with ANTI, which, while not really a word, the tattooist accepted given its brevity.

Kirla was his ENIGMA. They were both still stunned by all the new rules of post-revolution life. They made love, cooked, drank newspapers, occasionally going in together for the stronger brewed magazines. Her way of keeping him off- balance was to not discuss her feelings--about the world, about him, about herself. He simply never knew, and his confusion kept them together for nearly nine years. He still didn't understand why she decided they should part--invoking the one-mate-out clause. In the six months after she left, his confusion alone kept him above the line emotionally, and it was only sheer physical boredom that brought him back down, pushing through the wooden door So, now he was waiting for Sara, his dancer. He always knew what she was feeling. When she was happy, she glided around their cubicle, her arms reaching out to him for a hug or just as easily up to the fluorescent sun as if she were the first and last flower to bloom. God, how quickly she had grown within him, too. She was beautiful to look at, but he had seen the flower growing within her first, thanked the computer, starry-eyed, and walked out with her feeling as if somehow every one of his previous connections had prepared him for her.

Could there be such a thing as true love in an age of computer matches and forced emotions?

Their first year together set all personal records for him. They even received a bonus trip to the water plant, where they cavorted near the pipes for a whole week with other over-achievers. That was the first time Jazz actually started to have faith in the system. He started to believe that feelings could be perpetual, that watching the constant dance of Sara in his life just might last for the eternity their modern society promised.

Until the day Sara began stomping around the room.

"What's the matter?" He asked cautiously.

"Nothing," she said curtly.

He wasn't sure, but he had the feeling that the collector was glowing from such a massive input of feeling.

"You can tell me," he said, patting the side of the bed.

"No I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't know myself."

Stunned, Jazz spent the next few weeks trying not to analyze what was or wasn't going on between them. All that joy had turned into all that anger. He tried to control his own anger, had heard about relationships like this--ones the State loved. If joy was powerful, anger was twice as good.

But he wasn't angry. Oh, sure. He would get angry, hurt, even felt childish several times, lashing out at her for having changed.

But they both stopped. Somehow they had achieved a personal truce. There was something sacred about their feelings, and letting them loose would just allow the magnarail to run a little quicker for a moment.

The walls that each erected against the other absorbed the feelings. Jazz knew it wouldn't be long before another letter arrived, before he would stand before the wooden door.

He hated the thought of coming back to this place, and now he was here.

She was late. He suddenly smiled to himself. She was a late bloomer. She was still the flower he had seen inside her, but SPRING had turned to summer, summer into...

Sara entered, she was gliding across to him, almost seemed like her old self. Two months ago, he would have been hurt that she might be happy at leaving him, but he could see the flower, how it had turned to seed, and how that seed needed to be caught by the new emotional breeze that awaited them both outside the door. She was a dancer, and dancers constantly needed a new audience, the way her seed needed new ground to grow again.

She took his hand. "Have you thought of your word."

He nodded. "And you?"

"Yes."

They sat down on either side of the tattooist. "Who would like to go first."

"Me," Jazz said, looking to Sara who nodded her assent."

"The word?"

"AUTUMN."

For a moment Jazz thought Sara was going to cry. He hadn't expected this. The word seemed so obvious a moment ago. A proper gift to what she had meant to him, to their lost emotions. He half expected the Collector to sound the alarm, have the computer match them up together again.

What would he do if that happened? What would she do? What would they do with all those walls they had erected?

Jazz started to panic. There were no rules for this, none that he knew of anyway. He could feel the amazing emotions rising out of him for her, couldn't stop them, any more than she seemed able to stem her regret. Would they be arrested?

He glanced down at the word she had given him in the beginning: LOVE. Such a simple statement, so undefined. What could she possibly add to that?

The tattooist looked at Sara.

"And your word to him?"

Sara gazed at him for the longest time. This was her chance to turn everything around. All she had to do was refuse to say anything and they would walk out into the hallway and try again.

She wiped the tear from her cheek, smiled, said the word.

Jazz lowered his eyes. It was the perfect word to end what could have been the perfect relationship. He hated this new world, and even as he felt it, he knew that the feeling would be used to everyone's advantage. Everyone but him.

"Is that okay with you?" Sara asked quietly.

He looked up at her, nodded, then watched as the tattooist etched his word into her arm. She now bore the permanent sign of having been with him. He was glad he'd been gentle, happy that he hadn't left an ugly mark on her.

Finished, the tattooist asked Jazz to roll up his sleeve. He would bear her beginning word with pride, and someday feel the same way about her end word. It would take a while. In a world where emotions were so controlled and monitored, how would he ever explain to the partners who awaited him that LOVE really is FREEDOM.


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