“‘Psych-Out (1968)’ Starring Susan Strasberg”, by Hank Kirton

Sep 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Prose

She woke up groping for her name, she woke up deaf.

The room surrounded her. Piles of clothes, blankets and empty wine bottles lay strewn across a warped wooden floor.

She stood up, holding the wall for balance and, to test her hearing, yelled, “Hey!” She felt the word form and fly but couldn’t hear it. Hey. She imagined an echo: …hey)) hey)) hey))…

Soft color bled through the windowshade but she couldn’t tell if the light was mounting or fading.

There were no clocks in the room there were no clothes on her body.

She said, “Hey,” again.

She started going through the piles, looking for something to wear. She found a white T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of a head of lettuce and the legend: “Iceberg”, some bell-bottom dungarees, and a pair of ragged, gray moccasins, one of which was too large for her.

Once dressed, she went to the window and raised the shade and looked out. She was on the third floor. She saw buildings and a street. She was in a city. A glass of water sat perched on the windowsill. There was a lens of dust on top and a dead hornet floated there. She looked at the glass and tried to remember her name.

Her name would still not come to her.

She felt a sudden compulsion to dip her fingers into the glass, remove the dead hornet, and drink the water. She resisted this impulse. She didn’t want to destroy something so sad and perfect and beautiful, even if it might give her momentary pleasure.

Her gaze focused away from the dusty glass to the sill. Yellowed white paint had buckled into minute dunes, pulling away from the coarse wood like a miniature mockery of Pleistocene upheaval.

She turned from the window and her eyes happened on a yellow book lying open and upside-down in the corner. She picked it up. It was heavy, hardcover. She read the title: Supermarket Splendor: a Tight-Fitting Romance.

She flipped its pages, careful to avoid making sense of the words that flapped past. Tucking the book in the crook of her arm, she moved toward the door.

She watched her hand reach for the polished silver knob, her fingertips growing like pink crocus bulbs in the fisheye perspective. She touched the doorknob, felt a cold, clammy dampness and recoiled, gently.

She stepped away from the door, sensing something soggy and monstrous on the other side.

Now wasn’t the time to venture out and risk injury.

The walls were beige around her and decorated with tiny pencil marks; endless, countless angry dashes.

She returned to the window, aware that there was something important to see that she’d failed to notice before.

She looked out again. She saw no cars on the street, no pedestrians on the sidewalk, and no faces in the windows across from her. The city, or at least this small scrap of it, was empty, desolate, deserted. As if offering conclusive evidence for this idea, a tumbleweed rolled by. The word “Evacuation” appeared in her mind and this generated more words that she recalled with a dim, vague sense of dread: Communism, Iron Curtain, The Bomb, Bomb Shelter, Apocalypse, Armageddon, Duck and Cover.

She wondered if she had missed the End of the World.

She noticed she was still holding the yellow book and she flipped it open and read the first sentence on the first page: “This is a story of love and lust sparked in a supermarket and articulated amidst the erotic contours of the produce aisle…”

She closed the book and set it on the windowsill, feeling it would be improper to read grocery-store porn during what in all likelihood was the death-knell of human history. She had to project a certain degree of solemnity, even if no one else had lived to witness it.

She moved from the window and began to analyze the pencil marks on the walls. There were billions of them, like finely-chopped segments of dead lawn that had been blasted into the plaster.

She brought her curious eyes so close to the wall that her lashes grazed the surface when she blinked, and she perceived nearly-invisible mathematical equations. She suddenly understood. Someone had been using the walls as a giant, vertical desk, working out problems on paper with the point of a pencil; bearing down with such urgent force that the symbols became etched into the surface. The pencil dashes were errant marks that had fallen over the paper’s edge.

She’d never been very good at math and she backed away from the mysterious numbers, already bored by her discovery.

She returned to the door. She couldn’t bring herself to grasp the clammy knob again, but she pressed her ear to the door to listen. She heard nothing and then remembered she was deaf and laughed, thankful that nobody was there to witness such an embarrassing, bone-headed faux pas.

She spent a few minutes going through the wine bottles, hoping to find a full one, or at least a few left-behind sips. They were all empty. They had been empty a long time.

The sun never went down, but it never filled the sky either, continuing to radiate the same sick orange glow she’d observed upon waking. The planet had changed while she slept.

She picked up Supermarket Splendor again and read a random paragraph: The store manager watched them with greedy, porcine eyes as Rupert bent Sheila over the cantaloupes and lifted her dress. He lubricated two fingers with Italian dressing and inserted them in her warm, welcoming honey-pot. Sheila moaned and coconut milk dribbled from her sultry, lust-swollen lips.

She closed the book. She was suddenly thirsty. She returned to the window. She hated to destroy such a lovely, somber little still-life, but she had no choice. She lowered her fingers into the water and pinched out the hornet.

As she lifted the insect beyond the glass’s rim, she felt a sharp, burning pain in her thumb. She cried a silent, “Ow!” ow))…ow))…ow))… and jerked her hand back, toppling the glass to the sidewalk below. She threw the still-living hornet out after it and stuck her throbbing thumb in her mouth.

After a few minutes she began to grow light-headed and her thumb had swollen to nearly twice its normal size.

She sat down. The room was spinning around her.

She closed her eyes and rested her head on a pile of clothes. She fell asleep. She did not dream.

When she awoke she was blind as well as deaf, and thus even more lost and confused than before.

Hank Kirton was born in Arkansas and now lives in Massachusetts. He makes pizza at a local college and enjoys boondoggling in his spare time. He uses three tubes of Brylcreem every morning but still doesn’t understand the whole “hep” generation of jitterbugging bobby-soxers. He has no pets. He can be contacted via Morse code at dotdashdotdotdash.

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