by Charles M. Knudsen
“As I said, I don’t believe I did make you.”
“I don’t know what to think. It might have something to do with this shirt. I’ve been thinking about this — the interference patterns. They’re made by matter behaving like waves—”
“Enough with the quantum spiritual blah, blah, blah. Quantum physics is the new opium of the masses.”
Where had he come up with that? “I try not to question my blessings, Keito.”
“Blessings?” He laughed. “Really? You call me a blessing? I’m a head on a shirt. A head of a boy you fixated on.”
“It’s time to go to sleep, Keito.”
“You can’t have kids, right? No cream in the Twinkie? Think it just might have something to do with that? It doesn’t take a shrink—”
“How did you know—”
“Come on, Carl. I know everything about you because I am you. Risa left you because you’ve got azoospermia. Zero percent real juice.”
“Listen to me. When you’ve got a good thing going, don’t question it. You’re here. That’s good enough for me.”
But it wasn’t good enough for him. As the days passed, Keito spoke less and less. He didn’t want to dance or play anymore. He just wanted us to sit around in front of the computer or the TV stuffing our faces with Spam pizza.
His face was changing, too. His eyes widened, his hair lightened, his cheeks filled in. His voice dropped half an octave. I assumed it was puberty or something.
Then one day I realized I was drinking beer again; I couldn’t remember when I’d started back up. Keito didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it was fun seeing the kid a little buzzed because that was really about the only time I heard him laugh these days.
But drinking more than four or five beers in one sitting was risky. When Keito got too drunk, he’d really lash out at me, ridiculing everything about me — and even hinting at my medical problem.
“I got it,” he said one night in bed.
“You got what?”
“Why you made me.”
“Not this again. Go to sleep.”
“Just listen. It makes perfect sense. You’re like this lonely guy who got dumped by your wife basically because you’re a Darwinian reject. An evolutionary dead end.”
“Jesus. What is wrong with you? Why do you have to be so nasty?”
“I’m just trying to figure us out. So, you get these new neighbors from Japan. They don’t know enough about Americans to realize that you’re... how should we put it? Off? Not at first, at least. But then they figure out that you’re stalking them—”
“I wasn’t stalking anyone!”
“So they pretend to leave Hawaii just to get away from you.”
“You’d poured all your sad hopes into the little kid next door who quickly caught on and rejected you. He even left the gift you gave him on the porch. You just couldn’t handle it, so you cracked. And created me.”
It went on like this for weeks, with Keito growing nastier and more negative, sometimes criticizing me, but usually just complaining about how bored he was or how pointless life is. He became more sarcastic and cynical, too, laughing at Dr. Phil’s guests (“total whiners”) or flood victims on the news (“Just move, you idiots!”).
He also wanted me to drink more and more. “How about putting back a couple of cold ones?” He would remind me to get that “Rasti guy” to bring us Big Kahuna or Long Bow. “Man can’t live on bread alone,” he liked to say.
And before long we were getting trashed within an hour of waking up. I hadn’t made a single shirt since all this started, and I’d even neglected Bubs: for the first time in years, I actually turned off all of my computers.
Then one day, after a particularly heavy drinking session, I noticed that the head on my shirt didn’t look much like Keito anymore. He looked older, fatter, unshaven. From my vantage point, I could see he was balding on top, and his long sandy hair hung down from the sides of his head all the way to my knees. I forced myself up and tottered to the bathroom to get a better look at the face in the mirror.
“Where we going? Carl, what’s going on?”
I said nothing. In the bathroom, I turned on the mirror light. And there it was: a pale, disgusting creature with a foul smirk on its face that I just wanted to smash with my fist.
“What’s the matter, Carl? Your fantasy not working out like you planned?”
I threw up again and again. After the last heave, I slumped to the floor and sat in my own vomit and wept. The face on my shirt just sighed and giggled. After some time, I stood to clean up the mess, but the face said, “Come on, Carl. What’s the point? No one cares that you live like an animal. Just let it go.”
So I let it go. Over the next few weeks I let everything go. I littered the house with beer cans. I stopped brushing my teeth. I even got lazy about cleaning myself after using the toilet. The face kept saying, “What’s the point, Carl? No one’s gonna notice. No one cares what you do.”
Why I listened to the little monster, I don’t know. But I couldn’t help myself. “You’re right,” I would say. “I know you’re right.”
My only act of defiance was what I named him: Thing. (“Call me Junior,” he would insist). Thing didn’t like sunlight, so we had to keep the blinds closed at all times. Thing ordered two large Spam pizzas at a time, twice a day, because, after all, I was eating for two. Thing drank beer and nothing else — water was for wusses.
I also noticed one day that Thing had grown two stubby arms. When I asked him about it, he said, “You’re an arm hog. I need my own.” As time went on, he grew more confrontational, more personal in his insults, mocking all my inadequacies. He would go on and on about how Risa had dumped me, how I coasted at my pointless job, or what a coward I was for shutting myself in. And he took every opportunity to give me a jab about how I couldn’t have kids.
“Don’t bother with that,” he would say whenever I thought about cleaning up. “That would be fruitless. Who wants a sterile house anyway? I like this baby just the way it is.” Then he’d laugh at his own puns. When I said something about missing Keito, Thing said, “You don’t deserve, Keito. You don’t even deserve me.”
One day Thing and I got really wasted, so trashed that the little slug passed out. I found myself sprawled out on the kitchen floor with nothing but hatred in my heart for this creature that had taken over my life.
I ran my hands around the pasty head that was weighing down on my belly, almost reveling in the sickening sensation. I knew right then I couldn’t live with Thing anymore. I couldn’t live with myself anymore. I got up and slowly, quietly so as not to wake Thing, gripped the bottom of my shirt with both hands and pulled it upwards.
I felt a sharp stinging pain in my leg. I looked down and saw my Ginsu kitchen knife lodged in my thigh. I fell to one knee. “How...?”
Thing just laughed and spun his head around so that he was looking up at me, then pulled the knife out of my leg. “You trying to get rid of me, Carl? I mean, Dad!”
I reached for the knife. We pushed, pulled, wrestled with our stubby arms. We crashed against the counter, the sink, and, now in the living room, the sofa. We fell to the floor, rolling over half-empty beer cans and mostly-chewed pizza crusts.
At one point we crashed through the front door onto the porch, suddenly exposing ourselves to the harsh Hawaiian sunlight. Panic-stricken, we worked as a team for a few seconds to get back inside. Then we went at it again more violently than ever.
Our battle at last took us to the bathroom where I hoped to drown Thing in the bath. Or if necessary stab him in the face with the knife I still held in my left hand. But Thing fought for dominion of my body.
I stepped into the tub, and for one long moment, we just stood there, motionless, frozen. I could see us in the mirror, this ugly totem pole of two identical, bearded, longhaired, short-armed freaks, our faces taut with hatred. I nearly threw up again. Thing saw me and said, “Remember when you tried to make a baby in this tub, Dad?”
“Shut up!” I yelled back.
“Thought you’d planted your seed, didn’t you? Operation a success, eh?”
“Shut up, you damned parasite!”
“You’ve got nothing to give the world, Dad.” He softened his tone. “Just let it go. Give me control and let me end it for you, put you out of your misery.” His face changed and now there was the old Keito looking up at me with loving, sympathetic eyes. “It’s okay, Mr. Carl. You’ll be better off. Let me take care of it. Just surrender your body to me and give me the knife.”
But it wasn’t Keito who spoke those last words. Risa now looked up at me. “Honey, you’ve made enough pointless T-shirts. There’s nothing left for you.”
“Just shut up! Shut up! I’m not listening to any of you anymore! I hate you! I hate you!”
Then, as if in response to my shouts, I heard a voice calling my name. A man’s voice, coming from outside. At that, Thing came back. He looked up at me and said, “Who’s that? Who’s here?” There was panic in his voice now, real fear.
Here was my chance. I willed myself to move my arms and reached for the faucet. The shower only trickled down on us, cold, but still cleansing somehow. Thing coughed and sputtered and flailed his arms about. I tried to call out to whoever was calling my name, but Thing was inwardly wrestling for control of my mouth, and all I could do was whimper.
Then a ghostly face peeked in the doorway. It was followed by a tall, lanky body. The man looked puzzled, worried, even sad. “Carl?” His voice was a mere whisper. “Who are you talking to? Your leg — what’s going on?”
“Take-this-shirt-off!” I managed to get out.
The man stared at me. I just stood there in the tub, paralyzed by my battle with Thing, a battle this gaunt man apparently had no idea was going on. He then inched his way toward me and leaned in cautiously to look at the shirt. He sniffed, winced, and, with a look of guilt and disgust on his face, said, “Sorry, Carl. I’d rather not touch that. Really sorry.”
For some reason I found this encouraging. “Gloves-under-sink.”
The man pointed to the cabinet under the sink, waiting for a nod or something. All I could manage was a blink. He opened the doors and took out a pair of orange gloves. He looked down at the gloves then back up at me. I blinked, nodded, pleaded. Taking a deep breath, he put the gloves on, placed himself next to me, and using only his thumb and index finger, tugged at my shirt.
Thing cried out, “Please, Dad. Make him stop!”
“Please, Dad. Please!”
“I’m not your Dad, Thing!”
The man lurched back. Then he looked at me, shook his head, and sighed. “I think it’s safe to say you’ve hit Level Three, Carl.” He grabbed the Ginsu knife and, with careful, forceful strokes, sliced my shirt to shreds. “I told you you needed a pet.”
Then I collapsed.
Bubs and I are at the beach now. We’re looking out at the dark ocean that seethes under the starry sky. Bubs wants to go back inside our apartment, but I’m feeling brave today. As we eat the last of the cookies his mother sent me for my birthday — the last batch, I reckon, that she ever made — I look out at the white, relentless waves and am reminded of the interference pattern on the shirt Bubs destroyed. I don’t understand why particles behave like waves when no one is around — and why they start acting like matter again when someone’s there to witness it. It’s not clear to me why or even how an individual bit of matter, when left alone, interferes with itself. But it does.
Bubs says, “Let’s get out of here. We’re way past your required ten minutes.”
I gaze out at the star-filled sky. “Hold on. Just look. Look at how big it all is.”
Bubs peers out at the ocean. Or maybe at the sky with all those worlds in it. I can’t tell which. “It’s too big, if you ask me,” he says. “Way too big.”
Copyright © 2012 by Charles M. Knudsen