The Positronic Vibrator

 By Chris Kelso

 

(Kip Novikov wakes up from bio-stasis. He recounts his experience in astral hell)

 

I first died in 2012 you know? – For the first time anyway…

 

I remember…

The subway dawn grew dim with shadow until the rail track disappeared completely into it. Growls echoed eager in the lonely station, the flavour of the street – gone. Things clattered inside the gaping subway tunnel, things unseen, sunk deep in ink, dragging my over-active imaginations into realms of awful possibility. I was in 2012 on a personal visit – a woman actually. It ended in tears. As the midnight train heaved along its metal artery somewhere in the near-distance, I knelt to tie up my sneakers. A *BING-BONG* came from the announcer Tannoy and, after a pop of static, a nasal voice declared that the midnight train was off-schedule – fuckin typical. Although the woman I was on my way to see would not return my feelings, I became anxious that I’d keep her waiting. Only the night wind spoke once the announcer turned himself off. I clenched every part of myself capable of clenching. In the spirit of this mounting fear, I allowed a fart to skid out in the silent platform. The loud rasp ricocheted off the stone walls and echoed out, breaking the quiet like a sledgehammer. It came out louder than anticipated. I looked around to double check I was definitely alone.

school alice035

I was.

So there I was, a man out of context. People like me never survived in scary situations. They almost never overcame the psychological impact of scary ordeals. Ordeals sent us crazy, made us hostile and self-destructive, reclusive and scarred beyond repair. We were what made trauma funny, the arse of every taboo joke. We died scary deaths. I was just a no-body with a ridiculous name. The silence seemed to whisper – you’re a dead man Novikov.

I clutched my jacket into my chest, upping the collar to hide behind it. Carefully, I leaned out to see if there was sign of an oncoming train – nothing. Without even really being aware of it, I’d started mumbling

– You’ll be ok Kip…

It was odd to have solitude in one of the city’s busiest stations. Then, I suddenly became conscious of my age. I don’t quite know why. By this time I was almost 50. I thought everything was out to kill me. I’d die of a caffeine induced heart attack, discovered face-down in my full English with one hand still clenching a rigor mortis boner by some pack of nosey journalists (further reports would reveal a grotesquely swollen prostate, riddled with cancer and early signs of dietary related diabetes swimming through dead nerve endings).

In my teens, when obsessed with all that was bleak, I had the standard adolescent mortality crisis. Growing up in the Cages will have that effect on you. Everything was pointless. I liked it in a way. But then I found some vague imitation of happiness with the big TWO-OH then slipped back into my original moroseness soon afterward. In my teens I knew one day I would probably die and only ever used it as an excuse to be sullen and pretentious. In my 20’s I just sort of forgot about it, embracing adult youth and eventually – women. I married young. But now in my late 40’s I was beginning to feel death as more than a mere inevitability that lived far off in the distance somewhere, but I actually FELT death close by. Death had an interest in me – Kip Novikov – because I was closer to death than I’d ever been before! My life was grating to a halt, but it wasn’t in the silent station at the hands of ghouls or ill-health where my life ended. It was, in fact, under much more heroic circumstances…

St Claire’s Infirmary

 

…Outside autumn flared

…inside, the sound of bodies on pushcarts barrelling through emergency doors

And nurses shouting STAT

And important shoes clip-clopping on linoleum…

I hate hospitals. I’d only ever been to one once before and even then my reasons for being there were hypochondriac at best – I got prescribed codeine for a crick in my neck and received a kick up the backside for my inconvenience. By now my brain was more or less Swiss cheesed so I figured the health service had rightly decided there was little else they could do for me. My presence on the stretcher now garnered barely a cursory glance from the staff that came back and forth to serve other patients around me. When a doctor eventually did come over to my bedside it was only to shine a light in my eye and confirm I was, supposedly, now a vegetable.

His face looked grim, I remember it distinctly.

The tan complexion he probably picked up on sabbatical in Mexico, went almost completely pale with a morbid reality. With the sleeves of his lab coat rolled up to the elbow, the doc folded both arms finally and nodded to his nurse standing somewhere off-shot.

The eager young intern dressed in bloody scrubs who’d originally been assigned to help me upon first admittance, sobbed behind the curtain opposite. This new, more experienced doctor had all the indifferent qualities that make for an efficient, emotionally withdrawn man of medicine – two dead insect eyes like piss holes in snow, a bulbous hook nose and one hand idly fingering at his stethoscope. He was chewing on a triangle of dry toast and dropping the crumbs all over my empty shell of a body. I could just picture myself in a humiliating ass-less overall, breaded like a scotch egg. I’d heard surgeons were morbid creatures, crass and always conducting their business with tasteless humour, but this doc was staring death in the face and even he couldn’t hide that fact. I could tell. It was glaringly inevitable I would soon be dead. Something in my gut flip-flopped.

Since I’d arrived here, wet with blood and gibbering nonsense in a semi-conscious state, my condition had only deteriorated under the hospitals care. I’d slipped rather suddenly into a coma. I knew all about doctors. How they’d BUFF a patient just so they could be TURFED to another wing of the hospital in order to free up more beds. As a foreigner I was an obstacle of St Claire’s all-American revolving door policy. That’s not racism, it’s merely fact. My ex-wife read The House of God. Doctors didn’t care about me, none of them did.

LM

If I’m honest and fair though, my overall health had been in swan-dive long before I got shot seven times in the chest trying to prevent a Poughkeepsie grocery store stick-up (as a Scotsman in the US I probably stood out more than I ought to’ve). My ex-wife used to go on about me giving up cigarettes and marijuana.

– Why do you need to do it? She’d ask, throwing her arms in the air theatrically, and I’d reply

– Cos it feels good, that’s why!

– Good? – She’d spit with a face of strained understanding and disgust

– Yes! It relaxes me!

– Where would we all be if we had your attitude?

– Probably feeling good and relaxed I bet!

I guess she got the last laugh.

Of course the real reason she left me was the coming of the Jack-the-Rabbit 500 – a vibrator with an artificial personality. It complimented her, said “I love you” and if you put an egg in it, the damn thing could boil or scramble it in 3 minutes. How the fuck could I compete with that? That’s when her attention began to wander. I bought her it for us both. Often I’d be too drugged up to make love to her, not that she was honestly interested anyway, so I thought this thing might actually help satisfy her on that level. Eventually she left me for a Terra-5 Zumba instructor called Keith. Men from that planet have insane genitalia apparently – enough to pole axe you…

****

 

 I could see a food tray on the chair to my left with an untouched hospital meal on it and a sprig of broccoli pronged on the tine of a fork. The nurse tried to feed me once I’d been deemed fit enough to eat, but the excruciating pain turned off my appetite like a light switch.

My neighbour in the ward was an Icelandic photographer called Ollie. Poor Ollie was bald from chemo and well into the latter stages of bowel cancer. He told me about Reykjavik and how he’d been left a widower 5 years previous and how he used to love, love, love eating sheep heads (Sviðasulta!). With a sort of asinine grin, Ollie told me he never had an idol. Then he died. I was in too much pain to care.

The young intern tried to get me to sign my own post-mortem which, even at the time curled into a foetal ball, I thought seemed totally unethical. I didn’t sign it, so they sent in this scalpel jockey to try and pull me out of the coma so they could proceed with an autopsy (cos I have no immediate next of kin). He zapped me with defibrillator paddles and murmured something about me being “barely fuckin’ responsive like a total prick”. My silence offended him, like someone who’s just picked up the phone after incessant ringing only to receive waves of dead air in response and they’re left screaming hello? H-e-l-l-o? H-E-L-L-O?, back down the line in futile frustration.

I could tell by the smell of the place I’d been admitted to St Claire’s. All the doctors had a kind of continental look to them. Patients went berserk around me, tearing open their shirts and beating at their chests with two fists screaming – KILL ME ALREADY! Those patients who weren’t going crazy lay horizontal and motionless on beds like dehydrated corpses – most WERE dehydrated corpses.

As it happened, the biting odour of death was stronger in St Claire’s than seemed reasonably acceptable for a government funded institute of care – so the place stank of failure as well as death. It was one of those old fashioned institutions dedicated to the bowel run of the working class, unfortunately their facilities were of the poorest standard and were frequently overlooked for additional funding on the grounds that St Claire’s was located in such a crumby part of the city.

Had I been shot in my time I’d have been easily treated.

The quack looming over me with his torch looked like a mash-up of famous American politicians – he had the chops of Nixon, the global birthmark of Gorbachev, the thin, slicked back hair of Spiro Agnew and the shrunken posture of Henry Kissinger. When he stood over me I didn’t feel safe under his care, his finger seemed to hover above the OFF switch of my life support machine. I probably wasn’t ready to die…

Swooning in and out of consciousness, my mind began to wander. When I woke up in 3 minute intervals, I would occupy my thoughts with the memory of people who’d made my life a little more worthwhile. I’m not talking about family, of course I’m not! No, my pointless existence was made bearable only by a select few individuals whom I’d never even met.

The week before I got shot, I was watching The Exorcist III and I began thinking about the late, great Gorge C Scot – one of my idols – DEAD – without ever having met him or even given the chance to thank him for allowing me the pleasures of his acting talent. Although, by that stage I knew I was a goner and was even fantasising about being reunited with my deceased heroes. I thought about what Ollie the Icelandic photographer said about dying without any idols. To me, this was more chilling than witnessing Ollie’s eventual demise choking on a round of his own vomit.

I wanted to thank all the others too for their contribution to my very small, very mundane time on this planet. I was filled with fear and sadness and love and this seemed like the best way to get it out. It was either that or beg one of the interns to bring me a syringe full of potassium and inject me with enough of the stuff to kill me silently, instantly.

So, in my hospital bed, every three minutes when I woke up in agony, I’d begun composing mental thank-you letters to those I felt most deserving. The most obvious and saccharine being to my parents – dear mum and dad, thanks for meeting in that disco all those years ago and hastily jumping into bed together unprotected, the result was me, your own little anxious, awkward ball of flesh and bone. Thank you for the encouragement, shelter, milk, sexual repression, for embarking on a hideous, loveless marriage yadah, yadah, yadah…

 

Now I can get sentimental…

GIL SCOTT-HERON

 

Everybody’ Got a Pistol

 

I got as far as Gil Scott-Heron before my heart eventually stopped. Hovering above a body in the opposite ward was the ghost of an African-American attorney called Zeke Rivers. He was a real nice fellow as it happened and we’re still pals to this day. I noticed on his earthly body, wounds resembling Jesus fresh from the cross. Zeke confirmed to me that he had died of stigmata but I’d overheard nurses talk about self-mutilation in relation to an eating disorder so I didn’t completely trust his story in the beginning. He didn’t seem all that distraught to be dead. He told me his doctor was a bourgeoisie flunky and his death was inevitable. That kind of cold rationality didn’t suit him cos Zeke had one of those faces that exploded with joy and love for life (even in death!). His smile was infectious and his bellowing laugh more so. That he was unconcerned by his sudden, unjust evacuation from this mortal coil betrayed what I initially liked most about the man. Maybe he was an optimist in the extreme! We got to talking, my mind still preoccupied by idols and Gil.

– You know for the longest time I’d been uneasily aware of the absence of black role models in my life.

– Shit man, there’s not a white person today I look up to.

– When I thought about all the people I admired, they all seemed to be white European! This wasn’t consciously acknowledged by me until much later in life (I’m embarrassed by how late I left it).

– Didn’t they teach you history in fuckin’ Scotch-land?

– Sure, I respected Malcolm X but never thought twice about Islam or Marxism. I appreciated Martin Luther King and William Baldwin and Nelson Mandela but only through the sieve of popular media, shaking images of these men in front of me like a knot of shrunken heads. I was beginning to feel like an ignorant racist, so I dug around and was glad to stumble across some real diamonds hidden away, people who would later go on to eclipse the large majority of my Caucasian idols in fact!

– Well shut me up.

– It began with Son House – a blues singer/slide guitarist from Detroit who was part of the whole delta blues, gospel music boom of the 30’s and 40’s.

– I know Son House you dumb-ass.

– He had this song called “Death Letter” that I was obsessed with for a while, do you know it?

– What a question! Do I know it?

– When Son sang, he seemed to shamelessly wail each lyric like a kid who’d just lost his momma. When he spoke about death it was as a bereaved family member, when it was about heartbreak he sang as a distraught lover. This sort of raw emotion gave his music a particular resonance, something beyond punk idealism or your average rock n’roll agenda. It was personal music, relatable music. You felt like an eavesdropper who really shouldn’t know a person that you’ve never met, so intimately.

– You realise that guy next to you died of the worst kind of cancer?

– There’s a best kind?

– Ha, I guess not.

– It’s worse he died having never been inspired by someone or something. It’s kind of sad.

– Son House would’ve written a great song about him in 12 bar blues.

– I don’t know where Ollie is. I mean, how come we’re here and he’s not? He’s just a corpse with no procrastinating spirit hanging around.

– No life left in him I guess, nothing worth sticking around for. We got lots to chew over, you know?

– As a young, impressionable, highly sensitive kid growing up in an economically depressed town in Scotland (who got dumped by girls every time he was foolish enough to put his heart on the line), Son House was the only person who could ever understand me. Or at least that’s how I felt for a while.

– And from then on you liked black people?

– You make me sound like a clan member or something.

– Relax honky.

A hot nurse, whose face held pleasing symmetry, leafed through my wallet, checking my MasterCard was real by biting down on it then pocketing three unopened condoms. I realised quick that I didn’t have much use for material objects anymore, so I let the hot nurse rob my corpse without grudge.

– From there I got more into artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

– I guess they’re ok.

– Inner City Blues was the soundtrack to my life for over a month and as a huge fan of Gaye’s version, I thought I’d see how other black artists covered it. It was here I found Gil’s version.

– It sucks.

– Well, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the Marvin Gaye original but I was still curious to see what else this new smooth, black voice could do. When I found Reflections, I was a Gil Scott-Heron fan and forgot all about sexual healing.

Reflections is ok.

– On Reflections he also covered a Bill Withers song I was fond of that was probably better than the original.

– Now you’re just talkin’ straight up shit.

– With Gil came politics, and an interest in something which bored the face off of me before. Gil Scott-Heron, like Alasdair Grey, Chris Petit and all the other 20th century polymaths like him, succeeded in a variety of different mediums and didn’t merely excel in the field of music. Gil released two novels – The Nigger Factory and The Vulture. He was a popular spoken word poet and unlike countless others who shone brightly early in their careers, Gil did not burn out with age and undo all his previous great work. He was seen by some as a sort of black supremacist and I’m sure Gil himself wouldn’t exactly denounce such a label. What with me being whiter than virgin snow, I guess you could perhaps forgive me if I were to tell you that my fascination with Gil Scott-Heron ended with music and literature. You’d be wrong though, because he was a fine man.

– Are you really trying to educate a 46 year old black man from downtown Detroit on the history of black culture?

– I don’t want the illuminate to separate me from a culture that isn’t white. Gil himself would agree.

– Gil would’ve hated you. His intention was to keep white European crackers like you out of his establishment.

– His intention, while controversial at times, was never intended to provoke violence or create isolation, he just wanted to speak a truth he felt important. Now, black culture is well integrated and every little suburban frat boy claims to have been influenced by Tupac or Puff Daddy.

Zeke’s interest was diminishing and in an effort to regain his attention asked him more about his personal life

– So, stigmata huh?

– Yup.

– You don’t seem the religious type to be honest.

– I’m not irreligious, but I don’t believe in god.

Confused by his statement, I let Zeke think the ambiguity had struck me as poignant rather than ask him to explain something which might humiliate him. I think he appreciated that. Zeke smiled and started to open up.

– Dying sure is a bummer man.

Dying is a pretty mundane experience in truth. There was a moment of relief to be free of the physical pain I was in, and then I got a little lightheaded. This was followed by a brief flash of shapes and jagged forms of light coming quickly at me through the black, like when you stick your finger in your eye. I felt a little weary for a while. I felt like I’d escaped something, coming out unscathed through the rocky roads from Jumla to Surkhet. But now where was I? Heaven? Hardly!

– So you got an idol, good for you. You thinks you’re the Earle of Rochester or something? I bet you still work 9-5 and bought your wife a vibrator.

– I’m from the future actually.

– Great.

– You’ll never like me will you?

– Liking people is for the living bitch…

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