“The frank and honest truth,” Mel said. He was naked, more interested it seemed in the toy set of chattering teeth, teeth which chattered no longer but continued to be wound up and wound up by every gentleman who visited Amanda. Many had put their penises into the mouth thinking it was a funny or original thing to do, had shown her proudly as though some message might be gleaned from it—something they were or something she was supposed to be or do, or they were supposed to understand together. “The frank and honest truth—” Mel said again, mirroring Amanda’s own private conversation about symbols, symmetry, spoken language, “—is disallowed because a world has been constructed for us, statements and images,” he said, gesticulating with his hand and with the teeth, grasping air, “and simple pictograms for working myths constitute for us all something higher than truth, like a vault of fables we need to stay alive—the gold is all underground somewhere, collecting dust or whatever, but the vault is essential—it is all of our representations of things we have come to believe not for their validity and ability to stand on their own two feet, but for their utility in maintaining the world.”
“The world as we know it,” offered Amanda. Mel was oblivious.
“You can’t, for example, say that blacks are violent. You’re not allowed to say that, because it’s not in the vault, it’s not useful, and it’s damaging to the story we’re all in. Or that atoms are not the building blocks of reality—no! no!” he said madly, gesticulating, his penis swinging and hitting his thigh as he turned suddenly around. “Though it’s known—though it’s PROVEN,” he shouted, “by modern quantum investigation that thoughts instruct reality and bring it into being, we are bludgeoned over the head with the very safe and unscientific notion that atoms, which are ninety-nine percent empty space (as though empty space were not a lie also!) constitute this—this,” he said, hurrying to rap on the door.
“Who is it!” came the reply from across the hall.
Mel continued with a more sober air, aware now of his voice, and dithered at a point about institutional paganism, where he looked grossly for several extended periods of time at the open garbage bin where Amanda had earlier thrown the remains of their fried chicken dinner. Amanda, more interested now than before about what Mel had to say sighed noiselessly and picked up a book from the piles beside her mattress, a copy of “VALIS” by Philip K. Dick, and fanned the faintly sweet-smelling pages before her face. She did this, she perforce explained to every gentleman that entered her home, because she had the uncanny ability to pick up words that had no business being in a sentence together and connect them in meaningful, multivalent, at times numinous and scary ways, some for instance written on her fridge—“Alexander meets gabled stewardship, triumphs.” A word about this one first—Alexander had been her father, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and had founded a charity sheltering homeless youths, one of whom had stolen his Mercedes and murdered him in the process. The organisation had disbanded after his death and dissolved, and the tall, terraced, beautifully refurbished homes had been sold and gone on to live other lives. “Alexander meets gabled stewardship, triumphs,” for Amanda was an explicit message from her father, or someone representing her father telling her that he was on the other side, and was okay. “Coming true, down stereo lightens,”; “Cataclysm Mexican still walker today,”; “Liberate energy seal of L.F.” and others. In the kitchen Mel was bathed in white fluorescent light, cast no shadows, and dug chicken from the trash, looked squintingly and deeply at the things around him as he ate. She didn’t know why but Amanda experienced a kind of jealousy at his gaze at her meagre possessions—her jumbled, huddled collection of effects, most of which had been bought from within a mile radius of where she lay just now.
“Clocks sleaze, wait impaled,”; “Denizens brutal horror,”; “Close torus waiting houses,”; “Kendal says here above; disrupt sea,”; “Clever man is kill, I.”
Amanda brought her sheets up closer to her chin. Her body tingled with the new air that rushed in from the window Mel had opened.
“Feeling flushed?” she called.
“Just hot for some reason,” he replied, his mouth full.
Amanda lit a cigarette and lay back again. Outside the calls of someone in trouble wavered in from across the dark miles of empty city, some insomnia crying out, not willing to be left alone or put to rest, some misery, some brutal horror and sad puzzle of a situation they were all in, but had forgotten momentarily.