THANATOS from Zolitude
By Paige Cooper
This view, I make explicit to the child, has shattered the unity through which I had thought I could extend my sovereignty to the bodies of my past. What’s the good of mutilation? What I wanted: a guarantee. I’m not the pigeon on Tesla’s windowsill. The child is in the kitchen, sitting on the tile, unscrewing caps from liquor bottles. Bottles that people have given me that I have not given away again. People no longer want to give me things. The child is inhaling the fumes from each open neck, recoiling, recapping. She’s a neat child. She rarely speaks to me. Last night she wailed and I asked her, “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
“What if he doesn’t come?” she cried, pulling at her hair, snotting green.
We’ve been waiting here for a week. The New Yorker described this condo, which has two bedrooms, as austere. Other gifts: my TIME cover, my Forbes cover, my Glamour cover, framed. The child crunched the glass out of them when she was curled in the hall closet and cut herself, and we decided together the cut was superable and that we would not exit the condo to consult a doctor. I sewed her up.
I explained my celibacy several times to him, but Henry Kissinger kept setting me up on dates. The day before I was barred from owning or operating a laboratory, and our valuation went from six billion to zero, he and the board of
directors threw me a surprise birthday party. Domination is fixed in rituals. I am trying to move through history. They mourned my youth excessively. “Our wunderkind,” Henry Kissinger assured the employees, “Is still a wonder.” “She’ll be needing treatment herself, soon! Ha ha!”said Admiral Lee. The stigmata of their past errors, deviations, faulty calculations, is engraved in their bodies. When I was nine I built a time machine.
We are running out of food a little but the child doesn’t eat anyway.
A pigeon is at the windowsill in the kitchen. Tesla described his beloved as purest white with silver-tipped wings: the most beautiful pigeon in the world. This pigeon is mauve with pink talons and doesn’t flinch when I seize her. A tiny cylinder contains a note:
This is a time when Thanatos needs to rebuild confidence. You are abandoning your life’s work. You need to make a decision before the damage you’re doing
I drop the note over the windowsill. It drifts three storeys and settles in the hibiscus. The purple pigeon chuckles off. What I wanted: a new episode in subjugation. Not this spectacle of a struggle. The FDA doesn’t believe me, or the NIH or the SEC. They want me to skin my science. So does the entire pharmaceutical industry, every plastic surgeon, every venture capitalist who turned his libertarian nose up, every precious journalist. There is no common
space between us. At seventeen, a sophomore at Harvard, I incised the flanks of a twelve-month-old mouse and a two-month-old mouse and I sewed their skins together so their capillaries enmeshed, and their cerebrovascular architecture remodelled and increased in volume by eighty-seven percent and their newborn neuron populations enhanced by ninety-two percent and when I sewed Lorraine Armster-Prickett to a fifteen-year-old girl who’d lost her hands to a barrel bomb in the Siege of Hama, yes, the hair was silkier and the mind sharper and the skin more elastic after five weeks unconscious on a cushioned dais. And naturally,
five weeks on an IV drip has all the hormetic benefits of calorie restriction, that is, hippocampal neurogenesis and modulated physiological senescence and satisfying weight loss, though some of the weight is muscle mass, it’s true. Lorraine woke up delighted to be weak as a petal.
After he accepted my invitation to chair the board, Henry Kissinger advised me to stop recruiting my youthful parabionts from refugee camps. “You will be perceived as experimenting on them,” he said. “Use Americans.”
“No,” I said. Force, flagging, inflicts torments and mortifications in the name of morality. Lorraine paid five hundred thousand US dollars to Amira, and seventy-five to me. I paid Duc, my lab technician, and the lab’s landlord, and the lawyers. The scar runs from armpit to hip. One of them lies on her belly, the other lies on her back. They entwine, armpit to armpit, hip to hip. Thirteen years have passed and the waitlist has become incalculable. Amira’s forearms taper to her tiny wrists and when she sleeps she crosses them over her chest like an ancient queen.
“There are poor Americans,” Henry Kissinger insisted. “Everyone has a housekeeper.”
“No,” I told him.
The child is reading the newspaper. It’s fine if there’s no food; all I drink is vegetable juice. The waitlist elongated because I had a mirror list for individuals falling off the ledge of dementia. But the youthful parabiont must still be paid— it’s not for charity they’re inheriting some fifty-year-old memory, or unpopular opinion on natural-gas regulation. I hired staff. More lawyers. I incorporated Thanatos. I doubled the cost of treatment. It’s easy to woo board members when the studies are patient-funded. The directors have signed execution orders, captained aircraft carriers, declared war. One, Clive, is a cardiac surgeon. I am truly sorry for the fact that he tried to kill himself. The last date Henry Kissinger scheduled: a man who explained the fluid mechanics of liberty in his private floating city, then-imaginary. He ordered horse tartar and an IPA. “History should be a curative science,” I snapped, standing up. We had both worn black turtlenecks.
The child is picking at her stitches. This is the interstice. This is a non-place. Yes, I have de-automated my body and achieved a granularity of attention in this period of removal. Anyway, nothing in me is stable enough that I can recognize myself. I have no money, but all of my cruelty is intact. By the end I couldn’t participate in the intake interviews. I left it to Duc. They’d ask, “Can you target the skin around my eyes? What about my hymen? Get it down to a vice. À la carte? So how long until I have to re-up? My staff can’t function for that long. I’ll fund you. I’ll skip the list. From now on.”
The youthful don’t ask questions. Their mothers don’t. I bring the accountant with me. We sit in the hotel lobby and drink tea. They say, “There were ten thousand men missing and four thousand bodies. My biggest fear is that our lives were a failure. A neighbour came and suggested we get firewood. She can’t take care of a husband like this. She is thirteen. She doesn’t sleep. He might be alive, he might be dead.”
The child is screaming. I walk around until I find her at the top of the stairs. Something is broken at the bottom of them, but I don’t recognize it.
One day Tesla’s beloved flew into his hotel room with starlight shining from her eyes and told him that death would soon be elective. Then she died in his arms and he knew his life’s work was over.
When I was nine I used the time machine to go into the future and meet myself. I stole my mother’s wallet and took a bus from Houston to Palo Alto. In the future I told security my name was Charlotte Giang and they led me upstairs. I was waiting. I offered myself a vegetable juice. “Listen,” I said. I was smiling, gentle wisps of hair haloing my fat, happy face. “You don’t have to worry, you’ll fall in love on December 31, 2018.”
It is December 31, 2018. I vowed myself to celibacy before I lost my virginity to chance. Tesla was a virgin, but he invented the death ray. After my birthday party ended at five p.m., when my employees went home, I cried for two hours in my favourite conference room, which is when I noticed the child also weeping in the same conference room. Either my nine-year-old self or my thirty-nine-year old self had deposited her there. That night, Duc called and told me the SEC and the FDA and the NIH had imposed sanctions against me. Not against Thanatos. Not against the teleological essence of the work. Against me. You have to understand that this is not psychology. It’s madness’ own monologue about reason.
“What if,” says the child, clinging wetly to my neck, hiding her face from the thing at the bottom of the stairs, “When he comes he doesn’t like us?”
“He’ll like us,” I say.
“What if he just goes away again?”
“Listen,” I say. “You don’t have to worry.”
“But I AM worried.”
“It wouldn’t matter,” I say.
“Yes it WOULD.”
“Why do you say that?”
“BECAUSE THEN I’M ALL ALONE.”
“But I’m right here.”
“YOU DON’T COUNT! YOU NEVER COUNTED!”
“Well,” I say. “I think I do.”
What I wanted: to prove that knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting. The child’s wound runs up the arch of her foot, along her Achilles tendon. I dab it with antibiotic unguent. I admire my dainty stitches. My doorbell makes the sound of a pigeon tapping on the glass. Amira and her mother spent the money fishing everyone they know out of Zaatari, but they left the rest. Henry Kissinger will make me fire my employees and myself. My self at the bottom of the stairs looks to be fifteen, but she’s unrecognizable.
My doorbell makes the sound of a death ray.
My glowing future had glossy eyes as she cupped my face, “A pure, solid, and honest love is coming for you.”
What is it I wanted?
The child is limping, scrambling, on two hands and one foot, towards the door.
Paige Cooper’s stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, West Branch, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast Online, Canadian Notes & Queries, The New Quarterly, and Minola Review, and have been anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories and Best Canadian Stories. She’s a fiction editor at Cosmonauts Avenue and her book Zolitude (Biblioasis) is out March 2018.