Thursday, February 2, 2012

284/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Ottoman" by Vampire Weekend

They usually came via Fedex, and the delivery person would eye the box and then eye Roger, because there were biohazard labels on the box. After Roger would scribble his angular signature they'd scurry off, glad to be away from whatever harm those boxes potentially possessed.

Roger had a dolly set by the door. When he first started his collection he pulled a muscle in his back and couldn't finish the piece he was working on. The box stank up the hallway as the contents rotted, liberated from it's complement of dry ice. The county hassled him with paperwork to dispose of it. So he had the dolly. The paint on the handle was worn away after hundreds of boxes passed through the threshold of his mansion.

"Are you going to show these to anyone, ever?" Roger's friend from college, Kenyon Curtis was over. He was a slightly vagrant sort, got away with calling himself a 'free spirit' when in actuality he couched surfed himself across the world, using his intelligence, tolerance, and pleasant banter to charm even the surliest folk into letting him use their houses for lengthy intervals. Kenyon had been with Roger for a month when he asked the question.

"No," Roger replied as he shoved on thick pink gloves. He started mixing an epoxy in a large bucket.

They were in a long hall in the middle of the mansion, which served as both a gallery and Roger's workspace. There were fans set up to evacuate the fumes but the area was so voluminous that it probably didn't matter. There were several metal tables on castors strewn about, with pieces in various states of completion.

"Come on, they're interesting! Other people should see these." Kenyon slurped at the mug of hot coffee he clutched between his hands.

Roger paused, mid pour, then resumed, working quickly to combine the two chemicals.

"Other people will judge," said Roger.

"Yes, of course, everyone judges absolutely everything, but it's not like you killed these people here. They willingly gave their bodies to science. They don't care."

"They gave their bodies to science," said Roger, "not me. I don't think they wanted to be made into art."

"Eh. There's this museum in Chicago that has a sliced up man lining a staircase. Each slice is in a frame that sticks out from the wall, perpendicular, and you don't really know what you're looking at until you've gone up or down a flight. That guy donated his body for science, it said so right on the plaque."

Roger stirred the mix with a large dowel and ignored Kenyon, who in turn watched Roger lazily. Roger was loathe to show his collection to him when he first arrived, but he took it in with a blasé sort of appreciation after discovering it the morning after he arrived when he was trying to find the kitchen. Roger happened upon him, staring at a deconstructed skull set into a plush velvet background and mounted across four feet of wall. The skull belonged to a woman who died in a skiing accident. Kenyon nodded as Roger nervously related the story of her death and the artistic statement of the piece while he glanced furtively at the other pieces in the gallery. The skiing skull at that time was perhaps the simplest piece in the collection, devoid of flesh, and the least resembling any human. Kenyon listened patiently, always staring at the piece, then when Roger was finished, Kenyon asked the way to the kitchen, begging for caffeine. Roger realized that the person would judge him the most was himself.

It was only a few days later when Kenyon watched him mix epoxy for one of his more ambitious pieces.

"Could you hold this arm?" asked Roger, shoving a man's long arm in Kenyon's direction. It was stiff and unclothed with a steel rod poking out the shoulder end--ready to be added.

Kenyon grimaced, but laid his mug on the carpet and took the arm.

"It's light!" he exclaimed. "How is it that light?" He hefted the arm up and down in the air.

"Careful," said Roger. "The end is not sealed. Something might fall off."

Kenyon's face paled slightly.


"It's desiccated. Sort of like what the ancient Egyptian embalmers did, but a better process."

"It looks perfect."

"Thanks." Roger dipped a gloved hand into the epoxy, and drew out a snotty cord of it. He reached up and slathered it on the rod. "Put it in there," he said, pointing at a hole in the base of the piece, which was made of two entwined women, one light skinned and one dark, cut off below the thighs and above the breasts. Kenyon tentatively slid the rod in the hole, then backed away. Roger twisted the arm into the position he wanted, palm up, and pressed a block of wood against it so that it wouldn't move under its own wait and would set.

"So what's the statement here? Some sort of anti-feminist rant? Or a feminist one? I can never sort the sadism from the masochism. They've lost their heads, or been liberated by them, one the fault of themselves, and one the fault of the oppressive patriarchals. Isn't that how these things are supposed to be interpreted?" asked Kenyon. He looked at his hands and them rubbed them against his shirt, slightly and suddenly disgusted.

"They're just celebrating." Roger stood and retrieved another prepared arm from an adjacent table.

"They're headless and legless. How can they celebrate?"

"It's symbolic. Metaphorical. Though I assume you're not serious."

"No. I aced you in art history. And I don't mind taking this chance to regurgitate that fact."

Roger sighed.

"People are so disconnected from the idea of their bodies as material things. And yes, the mind is integral to the human experience. The body is useless without it, even if the mind can carry on if its physically disconnected from the body. So we elevate the mind over the body."

"Well," interrupted Kenyon, picking up his mug again, "all of it is just a vehicle to cart around the DNA in our cells. Neither the body or the mind should be elevated."

"Sure, but most people don't think about that stuff. Or they try not to." Roger set another arm in the piece. "But this isn't about that. This is just a moment where these bodies, that are ultimately and forever disconnected from their minds, are enjoying physical pleasure, on their own. It's a sort of freedom. I think there's something pure in that."

Roger started working on a third arm, which was shorter than the previous two. Kenyon observed him with slitted eyes.

"What are you afraid of?" asked Kenyon.


"You don't want to show your gallery publicly, and you say it's because 'people judge'."

"They do. There's a history of people who've done this for fun also, but in less than savory circumstances, under the guise of war or science. It's an atrocious hobby to have, and I wouldn't have it if I weren't born into wealth."

"Ha! You'd probably be a serial killer, and get you're own bodies the good old-fashioned way."

"I would," said Roger, straightening up.

Kenyon spat coffee back into the mug, then stared at Roger.

"You're shitting me," he scoffed.

"No." Roger looked stern and absolutely serious. Kenyon wiggled against the wall he was leaning on. "But don't worry, I'm not. Killing doesn't interest me in itself, but I'm...addicted to doing this. If I didn't have the means to buy the bodies, yes, I would obtain them by less expensive means."

"Yeah," said Kenyon after an uncomfortable length of time. "Look, maybe I'm being indulgent, but can I tell people about you and your artwork? You know, not like writing up articles on you, but just telling anecdotes of my time here. Glueing arms onto different bodies."

"You might not be believed," said Roger.

"That would be part of the fun of it. It would be passed along until it grew into an urban myth. You wouldn't have to expose yourself to the world, yet your ideas here would be passed along, discussed, and debated. Because that's what you really want, isn't it?"

Roger stuck in another arm, which ringed the torsos completely. Kenyon briefly thought about stuffing one dollar bills in the hands.

"That's what I fear, right there," said Roger. "What if I put the ideas out there, and no one discusses them? What if no one, like you apparently, is offended? Ideas should have life and be able to breathe, to be transformed and translated. What if this is dismissed as a curiosity? Interesting, but not worthy of any sort of extended thought?"

"It's possible," said Kenyon. "But if you don't let them out at all, they definitely will not live." He looked into the depths of his mug, and thought of things yet undone in his own life. "I need more coffee. Want anything?"

"No," said Roger resignedly. He still had to coat the piece with epoxy and it was setting rapidly in its bucket. Kenyon padded off down the hall, past half a woman, a man without his eyes, and a single heart that lay on their own carts, and past the hundreds of finished pieces mounted on the walls, big and small, deconstructed, reconstructed, recombined, simple, complex, clear, and enigmatic.

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