Carlos sat in his Langer’s Deli adjacent studio apartment staring blankly out his open window. Those hard silent Angeles nights. Those people dodging floating tumbleweed trash on the street below. He could hear the stoplights click through their stages. He could hear the heels clicking along the grimy, dry sidewalk. He made clicks with his tongue and stood, he soft-shoed to the window with his hands in his deep khaki pockets, he removed them and clapped them powerfully together in front of his chest. It was July and every cell in every body on his block was a balloon testing the limits of its expansion. It was that hard heat, that rabbit-punch nothingness, that pulled them all upward and outward. Not floating. Not rising. Just hooks in the skins; tethered nebulously.
He placed an arm out the window, straight, like an archer. The outside air draped his arm like a shadow, like a quiet dish towel of the city hanging from a tired waiter’s folded appendage. He pulled his arm back in and let the night’s grip fall lazily back down to the street. He chewed off a fingernail and ate it. He returned to his seat, with a heavy head full of pills, at the only chair at the only table which was centered directly in the middle of his barren apartment. A mattress cowered in the corner, a Magnavox held pounds upon pounds of unopened mail on its shoulders by the mattress’ feet, and then the small wooden table with only one chair and the electric device he had purchased in Chinatown earlier that morning.
Carlos gripped the hand-piece, cold and metallic, shaped like a potato peeler, and shoved the sharp end into his gut one inch below his bottom right rib. A shy trickle of blood escaped and poured itself over his tight fingers. Thank god for the pain pills. Thank god for the cellar-man in Chinatown. It was working. The first memory popped upon the screen that the metal hand-piece was connected to. The screen was no larger than a telephone, the glass scratched and dusty, but the resolution below its surface rang clear and vivid. The cellar-man told him the first memory would undoubtedly be one of pain. The body would be unable to separate the insertion of the device from starting there, starting with the first hurt, the first draw. And there he was, Carlos, age nine, watching Madeline in the hot sun, sprawled in the grass. Heat stroke, maybe, dehydration, he forgot to fill her bowl, and when he checked to see if, please Lord, she was only sleeping, when he fingered at her hanging tongue to wake her, the trickle of blood that slid out her mouth and onto his tight fingers, the family dog, now a hot lump of fur in burnt grass.
Of course, the machine had an option to delete this. Carlos didn’t buy it to delete memories. Tempting, sure, the little prompt that appeared as Carlos wept uncontrollably. But that wasn’t his game. He wanted to carve out spaces. He wanted to rid himself of intangible occupants. The real memories, ones of happiness and love and pain and death, he knew he needed those. He knew their worth. It was the tiny cities made of stagnant half-thoughts and fear-wonder he wanted taken away. He needed more space. That’s what was killing him, not enough space.
There were the faces, first. Faces he would never need to see again and never would be able to contextualize. Faces pressed against bus windows, gawking at him in wet fog, faces in crowds that struck him for a millisecond, all kinds of blank faces just taking up space. Click. Click. Click. He felt them go and tangle themselves into nothing, little hooks pulling them out of nowhere and into nowhere- but at least a nowhere not within himself. Then there were the carpet moments. Those little imprints of patterns. As a child, so many times, he ran his hand through the rugs below him as the adults spoke in hushes and looks from the kitchen. Those he wiped clean, too. He was already feeling refreshed. The bleeding had stopped. He felt lighter. The pills put him on a wave.
This went on for hours. And the stoplights clicked themselves into thirds and the street men hustled with their dragging feet and the 4 line farted its hydraulic cat-calls until it was late enough for the busses to stop running. Carlos removed the machine from his body and clapped his hands together once again. He was free of the hangers-on, the little nothings that kept bumping around in his skull without meaning. These little cities of the extras we keep with us, now eradicated. Now empty lots. Now ample space for new cities to fill with which he saw ultimately fit. The cities built on a new love that didn’t have to balance itself upon the trash-piles of his past. The cities ready to expand on their own with endless possibility. A whole county inside him, freshly paved and lit, waiting to be filled with everything new. There were roads where his veins once were. His rib-cage dissolved and let the organs travel to whichever part of the body they pleased. His heart in his head, his lungs in his fists, his testicles in his throat. All this space! All these open acres to love you with and love the world with and love the dirty men on the bus whom now he understood, no longer afraid of, no longer looking away.
He walked back to the window and stuck his head out and felt the thick, hot air comb his face. He smiled and could not wait to be filled. Could not wait, that Carlos. And he wouldn’t have to.