Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Short Story

Saul Porter was a medium-height, squat man. He ate only Special K brand cereal for breakfast and all of his favorite songs started quietly and grew louder. His favorite was Stairway to Heaven, though he didn't know its name. 

His wife had suspicions about the microwave. She would not let him stand near it, for fear that its harmful rays would murder all Saul's sperm. 

Saul was quiet and bored. Sometimes he wore sunglasses to make himself feel more exciting. From time to time, when his life was feeling particularly dramatic or exciting, he would picture himself as a character from fiction, whose name he could not remember. He referred to them in his head by description, such as 'curvy-sword mustached guy' or 'that guy with the large red hat' or 'face-paint man.' Upon referring to them, he would remember what work of fiction they were from, vaguely and not by name, and his life would again feel mundane in comparison. 

His wife's name was Paula Porter-Von Herth. She went to church every single sunday, and forced Saul to accompany her. Saul managed to sleep through the sermon every single sunday, and would awaken every single sunday to Paula's bony little elbow in his ribs and her face fixed in a look of thorough annoyance and embarrassment. The ride home would be quiet. 

Thus the two of them lived relatively happily in relative proximity with a great city, which they never bothered to visit.

When Saul was twelve years old, his father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Saul sometimes tried to remember if he'd been any good with names before that. Of course, he could not. 

He went to visit his father in the Alzheimer's colony quite often, though his father hadn't known who he was in almost twenty-five years. They sat and they talked abstractly, and it made Saul feel competent. Saul believed that they had a special connection that transcended, or subscended, spoken language. He would call his father 'old brain guy' or 'nose and ear hair man.' His father called Saul "You" or "It." And when Saul's father would say something like "It's awfully tortilla in this crossword," Saul believed he knew exactly what he meant. 

Saul worked in a bank, and nobody there knew that he didn't know their names, since they all wore plastic name tags on their jackets and blouses, or had name placards on their desks, and because they were so focused on their jobs. 

Saul had night terrors. They weren't terrible, but they were one of the two things that Paula could pinpoint about him that she didn't like. The other was his general lack of enthusiasm. Paula once prodded Saul to talk to a psychiatrist about his general lack of enthusiasm. She went with him to the psychiatrist's office and explained carefully how this trait of his was effecting her, how his lack of enthusiasm was like sandbags on her hot air balloon of excitement. 

"Well, Saul. Are you depressed?" the doctor asked.

"No." Saul replied. 

"He might be just a little bit" Paula interjected. 

"Are you happy?" the doctor asked.

"Things could be a lot worse." Saul replied. 

The drive home was quiet. 


Whenever someone at a social function called Saul's name, Paula answered for him, so he wouldn't embarrass himself when he couldn't remember their name. She loved this aspect of him, because it gave her more chances to talk about things than any of her friends, since her friends had husbands who were at least sociable and at most boisterous, whereas hers would smiley dumbly and nod along. She envied a woman she knew from church whose husband was mute. However, she didn't envy the woman whose husband was dead.

Paula was quick to laugh at peoples' jokes, whether she 'got' them or not. She was very sociable, and all the women from church said so. She invited people to dinner very often and they always remarked that she kept a very nice home.

Saul's lack of enthusiasm was the reason they didn't have children "yet," as Paula would tell the guests, especially the ones with little ones at home. 

The most recent time they invited the Hornes for dinner, the Hornes began to bicker at dinner. Paula tried to act as moderator. Their bickering stemmed from a statement Mr. Horne had made earlier that day, which had grown into an argument that they both assumed was over. It wasn't. And it flared up at this very inopportune moment, just as a case of Herpes might, and thoroughly disrupted an otherwwise pleasant dinner. The statement that started it all was this "I think it might be fun to invite one of your good friends into bed with us sometime."

Once this was revealed, Paula became a much less balanced moderator. Her technique became that of repetition of Mrs. Horne's accusations.

Saul put on his sunglasses. 

Mr. Horne began to feel overwhelmed by the women, and he tried to bring Saul into the discussion. There was a silence. Paula's eyes were wide, her lips tight. 

"Well, what do you think, Paul? Am I a pig?" He asked.

Saul's reply was this, "Things could be a lot worse."

Paula was livid. Mr. Horne laughed. 


Saul slept comfortably on the couch that night. Paula tossed and turned and crossed her arms and turned her reading lamp on and off and couldn't sleep at all in her expansive bed.

She got  out of bed very early and came downstairs, where she made eggs for herself and set out the cereal and milk for Saul. She started to get ready for work, but remembered that it was Saturday. She looked at the newspaper but did not read it. After about a half hour of twitchy inactivity, she walked into the living room, and stated loud enough to wake Saul, "There must be something wrong with your brain." 

Saul sat up slowly, removed his sunglasses, and replied "okay."


Saul was admiring the wood paneling when the Doctor entered. Dr. Jamm, the aforementioned doctor, was thirty-two years of age and possessed the body of an olympic swimmer and the beak of a majestic eagle. He'd been born into great wealth, but had been somewhat excommunicated from the family after joining a fashionable cult. That was when he changed his name to Jamm, which means, in an obscure tribal dialect, "Long Sword."

"Hello, I'm Dr. Jamm. I'm a neurosurgeon. My secretary said you wanted to speak to me about something?" 

Paula inhaled deeply and then stated, matter-of-factly "There is something wrong with my husband."

"Could you elaborate?" He inquired. Saul fiddled with his thumbs. 

"He's dull. Well, he's always been dull. But it's gotten worse. He doesn't care about anything, not church or people or sports or even me. He's just completely uninterested and we've talked to a psychiatrist and I think there's something wrong with his brain."

"So you're saying he doesn't respond to pain or pleasure sensation?" Jamm eagerly 

supposed. Saul's mind couldn't bridge the leap of logic such an assumption required, but assumed the reasoning was sound. Paula nodded with sad eyes. "There's a lot of research right now going into the discovery of which areas of the brain cause and relate to various states of pleasure and pain. They're finding out that basically all human emotion is caused by chemical brain states. So much so that they suppose, in the future, that the words 'i love you' could very well find themselves replaced with something along the lines of 'you cause me to experience brain state alpha-9', which is when the brain produces oxytocin, which causes feelings of romantic love in people. It's very exciting stuff."

"Wow. Imagine the implications." Paula was astonished. This information caused her to feel distance from Saul like she had never felt before. 

"If you two are willing, I'd love to poke around your husband's brain and demonstrate to the both of you what these different brain states entail. If we're lucky, I might find an abnormality of some sort that might allow me to fix him. I am a highly skilled neurosurgeon and can assure you that I will take all the necessary precautions."

"That sounds incredible!" Paula was excited and terrified. Saul blinked a few times and anticipated that he would be putting his sunglasses on soon. 

"Great. I'll just need you to sign a few forms of consent."


"So, Mr. Porter. We'll have you put to sleep while we're operating on you. I'll be using this small electrode to induce the various brain states, and you'll feel the associated pain and pleasure sensations in a dream state. These dreams will simply be your mind trying to make sense of the brain signals being sent. You may or may not remember them upon waking. We'll be closely monitoring your physical reactions to these various stimuli, and if we're lucky, we'll find something helpful." Dr. Jamm sighed excitedly to himself. "We'll start with the pleasure centers, of course. If we can't find anything abnormal there, only then will we move on to the pain centers. Just once again, I need you to acknowledge that you are fully informed and that I have your consent."

"Are you ready, Saul?" He nodded. His sunglasses hid the anxiety his eyes might've conveyed. "He's ready."

As Saul was counting down from ten, the last thing he heard was "Ms. Porter, has anyone ever told you that you have absolutely the most adorable little nose...." and a giggle.


"This area that you're seeing right now is the nucleus accumbens, which is the pleasure center of the human brain. If I stimulate this area here, it will cause in your husband a sensation of fullness, as though he's eaten a satisfying meal."

A wide grin spanned Saul's face, and his body relaxed. 

"Wow. That is so interesting." 

In Saul's mind, he was in the womb. It was warm and soft.


"This area will cause him to feel the pleasure associated with achievement."

Saul's pudgy face became stately, his body stiffer.

"Incredible." Paula was very impressed. 

In Saul's mind, he'd just been birthed, and was satisfied with what he'd turned into. 


"This area will cause him feelings of friendship."

Saul was joined by copies of himself, who varied in stature, but all wielded his face, shaped into a defiant and proud gaze. Also, they were nude and well-endowed.


"This area will cause him feelings of sexual arousal."

"Naughty, naughty, Dr. Jamm." Paula stared at Saul's massive erection in disbelief. "I've never seen him so hard!"

In his mind, a large, slender figure appeared on the horizon and approached with long steps. Saul and his copies were in awe of it's beauty, and of its many orifices. 


"Why don't I let you take the wheel. After all, it's your husband. Here, just touch the electrode to this little purple node right there, and he'll feel intense sexual pleasure."

"I don't know. I'm no brain surgeon."

"Don't worry, Paula, if I may call you Paula, it's not hard."

Saul and his copies were all making love to the mysterious creature. They were all joined by a nebulous shiny dust that was protecting them from the elements. The creature was smiling with its mouth open and it's eyes rolled back, it's dark hair sweeping across the polychrome earth, which caused a slow, swelling noise like a string ensemble. 


"Now do you see that very, very small area right there? The little red dot in the middle?"

"I think so. That one?"

"Yes."

"Yes."

"That is where the brain releases an orgasm."

Saul's face screwed up, his prostate contracted and he had his first wet dream of his life. 

Paula: "Oh, my."

"What's the white bit next to the purple thing?"

"Which one?"

"That one, there."

"That's been named the nebulus minoris group. Researchers haven't been able to pinpoint its function. It may not have one. We really don't know yet."

Paula moved the electrode directly onto the little white speckle and immediately Saul tensed and emmitted a loud, sustained sigh that crescendoed into a single beautiful note of song, then retreated. His body melted slightly into the operating table. 

"That was interesting."

In Saul's mind: the shining dust  melted away the concept of himself. All form and substance melded into a single brilliant, pure, and all-encompassing whiteness. He became overwhelmed with rapturous pleasure and experienced multiple births, reincarnations, and deaths in this pleasure and felt as though he knew everything there was to know. All in all, it was quite pleasant. 


"Now, there were no abnormalities in your husband's pleasure centers. Do you really want me to go into the pain centers?"

"If that's what it takes to fix him."

"Okay, then."


"This area will induce a dull ache."

Saul screwed up his face.

"Nothing there?"

"Nothing."

In Saul's mind: floating, fuzz-covered balls of spikes in a gray space, out of focus. 


"This area will cause an unpleasant heat sensation."

Saul's body began to sweat. He twisted slightly.

"I just had a thought, doctor. It's nothing novel, but I had a sudden realization of the power you have over Saul. He's completely vulnerable to you."

"Yes," the doctor replied, embarrassed, "He's under my control."

"I don't know, I guess I knew, but I didn't really think about it."

"Well, he wouldn't be in this position if he didn't have reason to trust me."

"He wouldn't be in this position if I hadn't made him come here."

"Yes."


The Doctor once again let Paula wield the electrode, and he guided her over the freezing sensation, the choking sensation, the cramping sensation, the hunger sensation and so on, each twitch and movement of Saul's unconscious body giving Paula some enjoyment. She was ashamed at first, but soon forgot to care, and began to enjoy it. The doctor began to whisper in her ear, first as instruction, then innocent banter, and so on, until his warm breath was amplifying her electrode enjoyment. He brought his lips lower, kissing her neck. She dropped the electrode, and it lay there, stimulating Saul's itch sensation as Dr. Jamm made love to Paula. He saw nothing, but blurred white slashes that played in his mind's eye like nymphs. 

The drive home was quiet. 


Three months later, Saul had his headphones and sunglasses on. Freebird had just burst into its climax. He was nodding his head vaguely to the rhythm. There was a smile on his face. When he opened his eyes, Paula'd been standing in front of him for some time. 

"I have something I need to tell you, Saul." He couldn't hear her, but nodded to the movements her mouth made. "Could you please take off your headphones?" She asked. He nodded. She motioned. He acquiesced, apologizing quietly.

"What is it, sweet pea?"

"Saul, I have something I need to tell you."

"Okay."

"This isn't easy to say. It's uncomfortable, and it's not nice, but I need to say it." She looked to Saul. After a long pause, he nodded. "I've been having an affair. And it's been really amazing. And I'm leaving you. And it's been a long time since I felt anything for you." Saul felt itchy all at once. He scratched his face, then his chest, then his leg, then the back of his neck. When he looked back at Paula, she was crying.

"I'm sorry, Saul. I'm sorry." But he couldn't hear her over his scratching. He scratched and scratched. Paula, upon failing to receive the response she'd anticipated, stopped crying and stared at Saul quizzically. "You're all fucked up, Saul! You're broken!" 

Saul fought back against the itchiness for long enough to point his gaze into her foggy eyes. They'd gone hard, though, and all Saul could see in them was a reflection of the front door, where her luggage was packed and stacked and where she walked to and then through, out into the middle-class jungle. She waited on the driveway for Dr. Jamm's car. Saul leaned his face against the door, itching frantically. His knees his the floor, then his shoulder, and he rolled onto his side, staring at the ceiling, itching and itching himself red.

"I'm here to speak with Dr. Jamm."

"Do you have an appointment?"

"No."

The receptionist looked into Saul's face, which formed thick folds under his eyes and was punctuated with salt and pepper stubble that was almost too long to be stubble anymore. He scratched his neck, a look of defeat in his eyes, and radiating from his attire. "Just a second."

"Thank you."


"It's not ethical."

"Stealing a man's wife isn't ethical. Putting the thing in my head is a favor."

"The area you're referring to is the nebulus minoris group. I can't guarantee anything will happen. Very little conclusive research has been done on the subject."

"Will it kill me?"

"It's a possibility."

Saul itched, then nodded. 


As Saul counted down from ten, he heard Dr. Jamm sigh.


"Making the first incision" Dr. Jamm said to nobody. 

In Saul's mind, shining triangles assembled into a football-shaped diamond structure, which turned sinuous. The fibers began to peel apart and melt. Saul glowed white. The shinning fibers swirled around him and everything began to blur. He began to be overwhelmed, and melted expectantly. Then the blurring sinew turned to blurring grey scratches, that surrounded and overwhelmed him. 

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