We’ve All Got Obsessions- an excerpt
Seven and a half days.
Only a week, and the new job had already taken a toll on Morgan Donahue. His eyes had bags under them and his skin had taken on a sallow feature. He wondered suddenly how old Ford was. First impressions had the man at maybe mid-60s but young for his age, but perhaps he’d had it backwards. He couldn’t understand how someone could work at this job for however long he had-- ten, twelve years, he’d said?-- and not look worse for wear.
“Just don’t think about it,” was Ford’s solution. “God knows you don’t have to anymore.” He pulled out one of the chairs and sat himself down, loosening his tie with a throaty harrumph. After settling, he tossed a rolled up newspaper at his new coworker.
“No, I…” the young man fumbled, outstretching his hand to offer it back.
Ford gave a short laugh, eyebrows shooting up toward his receding hairline. “What kind of academic is scared of a little reading? Come on, student.”
“I’m not a student,” Morgan protested softly, setting it down on his desk.
“Trust me, it helps.” There was a pause, then Ford chuckled. “Funnies are on page 5.”
Morgan didn’t know how it was supposed to help. He’d done his share of keeping up with current events and following politics and movements. Every day a different story, but the news was always the same, either, EVERYTHING’S FUCKED or EVERYTHING’S FUCKED BUT WE’RE OKAY.
He thought back briefly to the advent of the internet, how printed news had very nearly gone away. It was the medium of the amateur: school newsletters and pseudo-intellectuals playing at journalism. They’d found, however, that once newspapers stopped forcing themselves onto people’s doorsteps that people just stopped consuming news altogether. What was heralded as the age of information turned quickly into the age of leisure, and the internet was the greatest source of entertainment a working-class citizen could ask for.
Some literary or cultural theorist had written something to that extent, Morgan recalled. It has become necessity for the exploited working-class, so weighed down by the demands of a capitalist society, to bury itself in entertainment. This too, is a means of control by the bourgeoisie, for if the eyes of the working-class are locked in mindless amusement, it cannot turn upon itself and realize the injustices of the system. He supposed it was true enough, especially given his own hesitations, but found it no less pretentious for its veracity.
Morgan sighed, and looked back and forth between his coworkers, from the more or less apathetic expression of Parson Ford to the entirely lost look on Jeremy Renard, then grabbed the newspaper, if only to spite the memory of the Marx-sucking thin-haired professor whose lecture had just sprung to mind. How many years had it been? And yet, Morgan could not dismiss the image of spittle flying from the old man’s mouth as he excitedly denounced the system that kept him fat and healthy. Scowling at the thought, he poured himself into the bold text printed across the front page.
Europe was and had been the main feature for the past week: civil unrest, seismic unbalance. A disaster that baffled geologists: the country seemed to be slipping into the sea. The Danish prime minister, Tobias Kjær, spoke of impending tragedy and beseeched the UNDAC to assist in a nationwide evacuation. “We are ten and a quarter million. We are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, and we are dying. I beg the UN to not let this response be reactionary.” The article said that Kjær was sobbing when he gave the speech, and that after clearing the words displayed on his teleprompter, he sang the national anthem then promptly collapsed from exhaustion.
“Kjær’s plea was filled with raw emotion,” journalist Katie Martin wrote, “and his efforts and weeks of sleeplessness bought a single moment of silence. Riots resumed the following day all across the Jutland peninsula, including Copenhagen’s own Amalienborg. No casualties have been reported in the capital, but Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, cannot be found.”
Morgan gave a heavy sigh and turned the page. “Hil drot og fædreland,” he murmured under his breath. Hail king and fatherland.
He noticed Ford giving him a confused look and offered him a half-hearted shrug in response before continuing to read.
Elsewhere in the European continent, Sweden and Norway spoke very highly of Kjær’s commitment to his people, offering any assistance available, barring refuge for the neighboring country’s citizens; the French made arrangements for a concert to honor the bravery of the Danish people; the United Kingdom made grandiose claims of working closely with the Danish government; the Portuguese Prime Minister Alí Zaragoza claimed it to be an act of God; and German Chancellor Anne Ostermann was rumored to be having an affair with Polish popstar Matylda Czarnecki, known to her adoring fans as Maki. Her publicity manager refused to comment.
Stateside, a virus, said to be Mexican in origin, was spreading through Florida. Statements from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Janine McIntosh, claimed that the situation was being closely monitored, and that all allotted resources were going into preventing the “tragic loss of human life.”
Morgan believed the first part, but he had no doubts that the Florida governor was excited at the prospect. Election season was encroaching upon them, and the sense of solidarity would surely do wonders for his campaign. Human psychology aside, a reduced population meant an increased standard of living, and this virus was doing them the favor of culling the weak.
The next page listed obituaries of those who had died to the virus, and Morgan was instantly ashamed. He was beginning to think of people as numbers again. This was why he didn’t read the news.
The morning sun recalls a dream
of espresso wisps and sepia,
curtains billowing in the wind
and gold seeped into satin sheets.
I remember wishing for a languid romance
with too many words pinched
between fervent kisses and roaming hands.
And yet, I have become accustomed to waking beside you,
Fingers splayed across you,
sparkling inclusions in your granite form.
Though I preen and pry at your edges
your face remains untouched:
A stony gaze atop an impassable wall.
I am left to pace along your foundation,
to stare at your stoic colossus.
Try as I might, breeze or wave against you,
I cannot budge you from your furrows.
You have settled too deeply and I,
froth on a nearby shore,
am left to longing.
I stretch, with the weight of the world
pinned to my grimy graphic tee.
It is three in the morning,
and I am the awake-est I'll ever be.
A yawn, to swallow the doubt,
and I'm up with bare feet thudding along
the scratchy carpet.
the cat meows,
so I stop,
curl my gangly fingers in the fluff on his chin.
I dump a bag into his feeder:
another week of selfish hands off pet care,
shovel his shit from one bin to the next.
"You chose me," I croak through the grog
caught in my throat.
He brushes past my leg,
wraps his tail around my ankles.
"I know. It's okay."
He shepherds me back to my bed,
leaps into the crook of my neck
as I sob into the pillows.
hedonism runs through our veins,
trailing down the rivers
in our outstretched hands.
it moves our tired bones
as it curdles our blood.
we are lost within ourselves,
waiting for the gluttony to overtake us,
for the lust to drive us mad,
for the envy to break our hearts,
for the sloth to set in so deep
that we almost believe
we are happy.
to myself, “forget me”
it is five thousand years ago
and I am in that house in the cul-de-sac
at the end of the hill
with my head smashed against the stucco mantle
and the fire poker lain
across the blacks and blues of my skin.
I am scenery,
my sallow skin a distasteful décor.
sometimes, I am the hallway vase,
shattered in a drunken rage,
and other times still,
I am entrepreneurship at its finest:
shaking, sobbing, screaming services
(--goods? there is nothing good inside me)
exchanged for a price.
take off your pants to make me happy,
and I ran until my eyes fogged
and my mouth filled
with the taste of beige shag carpet.
I woke to fingers in my mouth
and a stranger promising
to pay extra if I screamed.
biting down until I tasted blood,
I had my first,
and lost my first tooth.
he hosed me down in the backyard
late at night so no one saw,
told me I was finally worth his fucking time.
sitting in class the next day,
mouth swollen and sore,
I told my teacher I'd broken it on a spoon.
she gave me a cup of pudding
and I threw up in the bathroom.
the cost of business has been such:
SSRIs, SNRIs, some blend of horse tranq
sad poems scrawled in the margins
of past-due homework;
concussions and broken bones written off
as kids playing rough;
the psych evaluation that I'm just being difficult
because of the divorce.
once, I was a victim,
but now I am a whore.
I sell my tragedy to the highest bidder,
flaunting trauma like badges of honor.
I hide my face behind the courage
that could have saved me,
had I ever had it.
I am damaged goods:
a woman who flirts with death.
twelve years since
barbiturates flushed down the toilet,
and countless threats later,
the scars have sunken through my skin,
but I feel them all the same.
when I tell someone,
they don't know what to say,
and I don't know what I want to hear.
it was five thousand years ago,
but I can't get far enough away.