CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Then everything became slippery. Suddenly I couldn’t hold my wife’s hand, couldn’t grasp the chess pieces when we played. I couldn’t tie my shoes, couldn’t grip the handle of my office door at work. The entire world turned wet and slick. At first it was a physical slipping, then a mental one as well. I forgot my son’s birthday. I was suspended from work for two weeks and I had no idea why. I came home from the supermarket and my wife had a duffel bag packed. “Fuck you,” she said, and she brushed past me, closed herself into her Honda and pulled out of the driveway. I ran after her. “Marie, what? Marie? Marie!”
I went to the doctor and he took the top of my head off and looked around. “Hm,” he said. “Hm what?” I said. His pliers felt cold inside my mind. “Well,” he said, “I can adjust the wire that controls your relationship to the external—” “OK,” I said. “There’s a but,” he said. “OK,” I said. “The but is,” he said, “your mind may overcompensate.” “Meaning what,” I said. “Meaning,” he said, “that you might have the opposite problem.” I tried to deduce what he was saying without actually saying it. “That things won’t be slippery enough?” I said. “Exactly,” he said. “That things will stick.”
Which is exactly what happened. I experienced one very good day, the best day of my life, maybe, during which I could hold the things I wanted to and let go of them when I was ready to. When I woke up the next morning, though, the bed sheets stuck to me. I didn’t think too much of it, but then I tried to eat a piece of toast and it stuck to my chin. An old girlfriend called me and said she was coming over, and by 2 p.m. we were married. She clung to me as we walked towards the subway so we could catch a plane and begin our honeymoon. As we were crossing the street, though, a car screamed towards us. Its brakes squealed but it slammed right into my rib. It was a Honda—Marie’s Honda. The car stuck to me. Inside it, Marie screamed, “Honey! Let go of that woman!”
I called the doctor and told him I needed to see him immediately. I arrived at his office with a piece of toast stuck to my face, my arm around my new wife, my old wife’s Honda attached to my abdomen. It was a struggle to fit into the examination room!
The doctor came in with his chart. He wrote down the make and model of the car. Then he interviewed Marie and took my new wife’s name. “Hm,” he said. “Hm what?” I said. “Hm as in, I think your brain is overcompensating. My diagnosis is, things are now sticking to you.” “I agree with your diagnosis,” I told him. “So what now?” “Well,” he said, “you may have to choose.” I asked him, “Why can’t you just scale it back a smudge?” “That’s what I tried to do last time,” he said. “I can adjust it again, but I think you may have to choose which you’d prefer. Do you want your life to be too sticky or too slippery?”
I didn’t really even have to think about it. “Slippery,” I said. “Honey, no!” both wives said in unison. “Honeys, it has to be this way,” I told them. “I’d rather be nothing in this world than go through it attaching myself to everything.” I turned back to the doctor. “Do it,” I said. “Change me back.”
The doctor opened my head and made the adjustment. It only took five minutes. As soon as he’d finished, the car dislodged itself from me and the new wife divorced me. Marie gave me the finger, pulled a u-turn, and sped the Honda out of the doctor’s office.
The piece of toast fell off my face and onto the floor of the office. I tried to pick it up, but I could not—it was too slippery. The doctor took pity on me, picked up the toast and held it for me. I was so hungry—I felt like I hadn’t eaten in months.
“Go ahead,” he said. “Eat.”
He held the toast to my lips. I took a bite from it.
“Thank you,” I said. “Hey,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for.”
I was still settling into my new place and getting used to being single when this family of four started following me. One night I was walking home from the freaky laundromat on Main, my arms loaded with clothing, and this purple van pulled up beside me. I kept walking and tried to ignore it, but I could hear the tires on the road and I knew it had turned down my street and was following ten or twenty feet behind me. I hustled into my building, ran up to my apartment and looked out the front window.
The van was parked right out front. I could see that the family was of Asian descent. The man was talking on his cell phone. The wife was reading a magazine. The kids—one boy and one girl—were sipping juice boxes in the back seat.
Soon I began seeing that van everywhere: parked outside the organic grocery store where I worked, idling outside the hospital when I went to pick up some test results.
Then the family showed up at Bowling Night, in the lane right next to my team’s. I turned to see the mother writing on the score sheet and the daughter swinging her feet from the chair. I watched the father—a man of about forty, I’d say, with longish black hair—pick up the ball and stare down the lane. I could tell from his delivery that he’d bowled before. Sure enough, he knocked down eight pins.
I was furious—enough was enough. This was a league night! When the man sat down I leaned back and whispered, “Hey.”
The man turned his head.
“Why don’t you just tell me what you people want with me,” I said.
He said something in a foreign language.
“Don’t you think I know that I’m being followed?” I said.
Again, he answered in a language I didn’t understand.
Two days later I went to kickboxing class for sparring practice. I put on my gear and stepped into the ring. My trainer reminded me what we’d been working on and put my mouthpiece in. But when I turned around to face my opponent I saw that it was the father of the family that had been following me. His gloves were up and his face wore the same calm expression.
I was so shocked I stopped moving.
“Get mad!” my trainer sang from the corner.
Then I was mad. I was sick of this shit! Now was the time. I was going to kick this guy’s ass!
But he came at me fast, his eyes hot stones.
“Get to him first!” my trainer burred.
I did—I threw a hard punch at his jaw. But it was like he knew that I was coming. He moved and I missed. I’d leaned too much, left myself open, and he reared back and threw a lightning-fast roundhouse kick at my face. I saw his foot. I tried to raise my gloves.
I came to on the mat with blood spritzing from my nose.
The next day I called Melanie. I told her to meet me at the Green Street Café. She’d changed her hair and she was wearing makeup. “Oh my God,” she said when she sat down. “What the hell happened to you?”
“He broke my nose,” I said.
“Who?” she said.
“The Oriental man that you hired to follow me. He kicked my ass last night at kickboxing,” I told her.
“What? I didn’t—who?”
“The father of the family?”
“You win, OK? I’ll marry you.”
Melanie half-smiled. “Jack.”
“I’m saying, OK. I’ll marry you.”
She squinted and shook her head slowly. “Are you fucking kidding me, saying this to me now? Is this a joke?”
“This is what you wanted, right?” I held up my hands. “So! I give up! I’ll marry you.”
“I haven’t seen you in months. What do you expect me to say?”
“I expect you to say yes, Mel,” I said. “Isn’t this why we broke up?”
Melanie smiled coyly. “If you miss me, you can just say so,” she said. “You don’t have to make up this thing about being followed.”
“Sure—I’m making this up. I’m totally delusional. I broke my own nose. I hired a family to follow my every move.”
Melanie crossed her arms and leaned forward. “You’re seriously sitting here asking me to marry you?”
I grimaced and nodded.
She smiled wide and clicked her gum. “This isn’t a very romantic proposal.”
“When have we ever been romantic?” I said.
We were married three days later, and everything was OK for about two months. My nose healed. Melanie and I lived in my small apartment. I gave up kickboxing and Melanie joined my bowling league, which kind of sucked. But she was a good listener, and it was nice having her there beside me in bed at night.
I came home from work one evening in the fall, though, and the purple van was parked outside my apartment. When I got out of my car, all four members of the family got out of the minivan. They stepped onto the walkway and blocked my way to the door. The kids clenched their fists. The mother crossed her arms.
“What?” I said to them. “I did what you asked! What now?”
The father glared at me. This time he spoke in English. “You know what,” he said.