In front of the TV, in his inflamed-bronchial-cough-voice, Paul tells me about Carla. The way her face looks guilty when they do it. How he’s going to ask her to marry him. About work. The ink fumes that have infected his throat. The permanent black-ink-stains on his skin. And the letter from his brother Vance. The jagged writing, the smeared words that say he has HCV, Hepatitis C. And how it is strange that he didn’t telephone or visit. And the P.S-don’t-tell-Dad.
But mostly Paul tells me about myself. He tells me that I don’t care. He tells me that real-life is like another made-for-TV-movie. He tells me, “I respect your opinion. What do you think I should do”? And I say, “you have to do what feels right for you. Be the person you want to be. Write your burdens on separate pieces of paper and burn them one by one, and feel the stress dissipate.” The words just drool from my tongue like a randomly spliced Oprah-Geraldo-Donahue monologue. And it means nothing.
That was then. And now, as I am writing this, looking back on what has happened, I know you won’t like me for telling you the truth. And I know you won’t like me for letting Paul believe I was his best friend. You won’t like me for telling Paul’s Dad about Vance’s HCV. And you won’t like me when Vance attacks Paul because of this. And you won’t like me for telling you that they are both dead because they went driving in my car after I had cut the brake fluid line like I had seen done in so many made-for-TV-movies. And you won’t like me when I tell you that Paul was not fit to drive after all the murderous lies I fed him at the hospital during Carla’s surgery. And as I am writing this, my only redeeming thought is I don’t like me.
In front of the TV, Paul’s deep-croak-bronchitis-voice dribbles like annoying static into my right ear, and Rikki Lake appears on the screen. TOO FAT TO BE ALL THAT. The words are printed in bold, white, capital letters at the bottom of the screen, the white of computer paper when you hold it under a fluorescent light. The studio set is pink, richer than bubblegum pink, more like pool six-ball-pink. Below the television, in a perfectly sized slot in the wooden cabinet, the video recorder is reduced to an expensive clock. Paul’s rambling on about Carla’s curly-brown-hair, and how he calls her curly-Carla, how her breasts come wrapped in purple lingerie, her fat roll-together-legs, and her soft eyes that he can’t explain but tries to anyway. And I’m more interested in the way the digital numbers on the video morph into each other. And how TOO FAT TO BE ALL THAT appears at the bottom of the TV screen every three minutes, and as I realise this I know that…
In front of the TV, Paul and Carla enter through the sliding door holding hands. They fall synchronously into the ripped black vinyl couch and adopt a TV gaze. Paul tells me about Carla. She accepted his marriage proposal, and her Dad is sending them to New Zealand for their honeymoon. And work. His throat is worse than ever, and he can’t get the ink off of his skin. And about his brother Vance. Vance hasn’t contacted him. And his phone is always engaged, and he must have written the letter because he was too scared to talk about the disease.
But mostly Paul tells me about myself. He tells me that even though I grew up with Vance and him, I don’t empathise with them. I break my TV stare and look at Carla. Curly-Carla-brown-hair, purple lingerie breasts, roll-together-legs, soft eyes that I cannot explain, her guilty-love-making-face. She is Paul’s construction. Paul sits crooked, scratching the black ink on his tanned skin, picking at it under his fingernails. It is on him, in him – like disease; slick-oil-melanoma’s splashed on tanned boots; onyx-crater-scabs itching up brown-legs-shorts; clumped-black-boot-polish-warts smudged over bronzed shirt-arms-collar-neck; Karposi’s sarcoma alive in his blonde-hair-cap-skin.
He tells me, still TV dazed, in his infected-bronchial-cough voice, “You know I value your opinion. Do you think I should be claiming compensation for the damage the ink and fumes at work have caused me?” And I tell him, “You have to do what is right for you. Don’t let others dominate you. Respect yourself and know what it is to be respected. Employ the art of Feng Shui to enhance the energy of your work place environment”. The words dribble from my mouth like a randomly spliced Sally Jesse-Maury Povich-Doctor Phil monologue. And the words seem so deep that they have no depth.
That was then. And now, as I am writing this, I know you won’t like me for telling you the truth. You won’t like that Carla is in the other room getting dressed. And I don’t know why the staples that train-track Carla’s spine are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And as I am writing this I believe this to be the closest I will ever come to caring for someone. She went through so much pain because of me, for me, and every time I see her back my teeth grate, skin itches, eyelids tense. And I know you won’t like me for telling you that this is the closest I have come to happiness in a very long time.
In front of the TV, Paul’s scratchy-bronchitis-voice buzzes like a fly around my ear, and Rikki Lake appears on the screen. MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER IS A SEX ADDICT. The words appear in bold, white, capital letters at the bottom of the TV, the type of white that bleeds out of the sides of a photocopier as it scans a page. The show’s set is pink, the pink of faded ballet shoes. Young girls dressed like sex workers brag about what they do when they paint their mouths red. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Televised. Scrutinised. Demonised. Victimised. Their childhood murdered by sagging, fraudulent, flatulent mothers.
I turn my head to see Paul and his surface ink-death-stains, Carla and her love-guilt. I press a button on the TV remote control. A word in bold, white, capital letters appears at the bottom of the TV screen, the white of snow under a blazing sun. MUTE. The word controls everyone on the screen, and everyone in front. Assimilated-made-over-replica’s of the teenage girls parade conservative dresses. The children are empty. The mothers are full. And MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER IS A SEX ADDICT appears at the bottom of the TV screen every two minutes, and I think…
In front of the TV, Vance, on cue, rips the sliding-glass-door aside and pounces at Paul on the couch. Thick veined hands crush a neck. Two ink-stained-hands try to free a pulsing-red-throat. Vance’s hands shake, bulge, adrenalin-pulse. He spits bold, white, capital words into Paul’s eyes, “WHY DID YOU TELL DAD”. Carla saddles herself to Vance’s back. Curly-Carla-brown-hair whips. Roll-together-legs crush. She scratches at his eyes, screams red-faced, “LET HIM GO”, chews at ears, moans guttural threats, “MAKE YOUR EYES BLEED”. Vance’s hands unclench from Paul’s throat. He roars “AAAARRRR”!!! Charges backwards. Still back-packed to him, Carla shrills, “EEAAAHH”!!! Vance slams himself back first into the far wall. She drops, spineless. Swatted. Paul is slumped on the couch holding his red throat, wheezing for air. Vance is curled on his knees in front of Carla’s body, crying with every pore, his hands hovering over her, afraid to touch. Paul tells me in a strangled-larynx-bronchial-croak that Vance has gone crazy. And that he respected Vance’s P.S-don’t-tell-Dad. And that I should call an ambulance because he can’t breathe.
Rikki Lake appears on the screen. YOU BULLIED ME AT SCHOOL BUT NOW I’M THE ONE WHO’S COOL. The catch-phrase appears every minute, and suddenly I am aware that…