Cyberpunk Alaska by Ian Sanquist
If the cow dies, the dwarf and his wife will have to buy their milk at the market. This would be devastating. Of course, the cow’s milk hasn’t provided any real nutrients for years now. Its head is like a fossil, or something Mycenaean. It’s like drinking watered-down spit, although the dwarf likes to call it filtered Novocain. No one knows why he calls it this. Not even his wife. She has been married to him for many years and yet feels no closer to understanding him. Her outlook is becoming bleak, she thinks. She tells this to the therapist. She counts the years of marriage on her fingers and starts again after reaching ten. The city pays for her treatment. Although the therapist cares deeply in some way for each of his patients, he is thinking of other things. In his free time, he is working on a semi-autobiographical collection of horror poems, or poems that verge on the horrific. Many of his poems are based on conversations he’s had with patients, during which he’s felt his own holistic healing mechanism spring into action. The color of healing is metallic and warm, somewhat like gold, possibly infused with vermilion. We are all capable of healing, he thinks. And do we begin as misplaced cargo? And do we begin as wrong numbers or white splashes of pigeon shit? If the phone rings, he thinks, I will have to answer it.
Later, he remembers a patient who’d been feeling apprehensive about an upcoming trip to California. Nothing about the sky, the patient said, nothing about the concrete or the logistics. It was just how he knew he’d feel when he got there: like a stray character in a forgotten science fiction novel. A forgotten science fiction novel? asked the therapist. Yes, said his patient, a science fiction novel that even the author’s given up on. Or maybe the author’s the only one who’s given up on it, but that’s because he’s the only one who ever knew it was a novel. Everyone else is just trapped, then, or subconsciously contemplating suicide. Does the novel have a plot? asked the therapist. I don’t know, said the patient. Too many plots. The novel is like California. And California is like the novel. And if you’re not dreaming through the traffic jam, then you’re choking on the air. Does that make sense?
Every few years a documentary filmmaker comes to town. He checks into a hotel and stays for about a week or two doing interviews and taking shots of the houses, the gardens, the public establishments, the teenagers bicycling up and down the thoroughfare, etc. Sometimes he brings a wife or a girlfriend, but more often, it’s an ambiguous male companion. Often, the documentary filmmaker takes footage of one of the town’s youths shimmying up a tree to pick an apple. These images will tug heartstrings into deep focus from an uncontainable era of innocence and purity, the filmmaker seems to shudder as he points his camera and his ambition into the Listerine sky.
But it’s not like that matters. The therapist listens as his patient narrates a dream. A hospital nightmare, a long corridor of nameless nurses, an urn standing portentously in the shadow, nothing unusual for someone the patient’s age, with all the anxieties common to his age. We talked about Walt Whitman, says the patient. Who did? Me and a nurse. The nurse who gave me a blowjob. She gave you a blowjob? asks the therapist. Yes, and she had a gun. Or the doctor had a gun. Or a switchblade. Or a syringe full of something terrible or sublime. I can’t remember.
If the phone rings, thinks the therapist, I’ll have to answer it.
Ian Sanquist lives and writes in Seattle. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, Smokelong Quarterly, The Coffin Factory, and others.