Statement of Record

Dream Stranger, Dream Stranger

by Simon Skrepek


Dream Stranger, Dream Stranger

by Simon Skrepek


>> Excuse me, would you mind if I sat here? The other is reserved <<

I look up, trying to hide my annoyance, and regret thinking I could get some peace of mind in public. Though, normally this arthouse cinema’s lounge is quiet in the afternoon. Now we’re sitting across from each other in a small rectangular alcove of black leather. The round table offers just enough room to accommodate my laptop, and she pulls out hers. After a while, she starts muttering to herself. Though I intently focus on not listening, her mounting frustration becomes obvious. The effort is beginning to make me sweat, I take off my coat and as I pull the sweater over my head, she asks

>> Have you got some tobacco? <<

>> It’s right here in my coat pocket <<

I gesture vaguely to my right while still halfway inside the sweater.

>> Great, thanks <<

I pause, untangle myself, and hand it to her.

>> It’s just—I need stimulation. All the time <<

>> Hm <<

>> I can’t just sit all day. It drives me crazy you know, it’s like being dead, my apartment a spacious coffin <<

I close my laptop and study her face while she fashions something loosely resembling a joint. Her eyes dart up now and again, keeping track of my expression. She’s pretty, and markedly or conventionally signals the fact with red lipstick and a tight black cocktail dress.

>> And even though I went out today, I still got nothing done, thanks to the weed of course—but I just fucking love weed, I’m a real weedhead—fuck! <<

She fumbles, starts over.

>> Probably because I’m late to the game <<

There’s a pause, then she sighs, suddenly glues her eyes to mine and gestures towards the frayed thing on the table. I decline. A small bowl of peanuts is brought and I scan the waitress’s face for any hints, but her glances appear regular, tired.

>> Thank God, I’m so hungry, haven’t eaten anything today <<

She grabs a fistful of peanuts and stuffs them in her mouth. Still chewing, she adds

>> I just don’t know how to feed myself <<

As she swallows and wipes her mouth on her sleeve, she leans across the table and tries to suck me into her widened eyes, opening that mouth again as if to say something. A few heartbeats of silence, I can’t help but crack.

>> So <<

She leans closer. I can see crumbs on the corner of her mouth. She whisper-breathes

>> Yeah? <<

>> What were you working on there? <<

With an exasperated sigh, she flings herself back into her bunched-up jacket.

>> Oh that’s just an essay on the economics of migration. It’s awfully dry <<

>> Sounds interesting to me <<

>> You’re not the one who has to write it. Should’ve been done weeks ago <<

>> I’d read it though. Can I? <<

>> Aren’t you involved! <<

She hands me her laptop and whisks herself away.

While I open it, I see her standing outside in the damp cold night, arms wound around herself, pacing. My eyes race across the words on the screen, there’s not much there, I read it three times, each time searching more intently.

We have to do a periodic correction once in a while for the trusting men in the honor that have birthright at this land. It is not so much so that the world is deceitful but about how the wealth runs it in the deceitful practice. It gets very serious when they start taking you to court and the court actors use the court to defraud the trust and the labor from the trusting. It is the labor fruit, is what we are talking about, that is what everybody is after, is the fruit of the labor of the lands. We have got to correct the error, to protect us, not to take all from us. There is no way we can give consent to this dead mans operation, dead mans mortgage, now that we understand it. It gets deep when you start talking about the surelys and the sureties. Surely ye shall not die. And that is the name, they apparently want to work it forever. You are the surety and ye are the outcast and “shall” is “must” and “not die” is “live forever.” They are already working it through the birth certificate by your consent, the dead mans name, it is all capitals and nobody explained that to me. How about you? By the end of this discussion you will see your intelligence was artificial. By the indoctrination it was schooled in the public re-legion, not religion, but return to Rome type of stuff. We have to deny the mortem and fraud by inducement, a turn to the debt of Roman deceits. It was weaponized through the legal system and it is a dead and a debt registry. It is a merchant law Viking and it is a protection racket for the protection racket and having the racket, not for those that hired it. It is fraud by inducement and it started way back in the Garden of Eden, I suppose.

I order a drink. The woman returns, I watch her walk in and sit down, and instead of mellowing out, the ambiguous intensity has only increased, charging every gesture. The way she rubs her face is all but smothering.

>> Interesting <<

>> Boring, that’s what it is. My thoughts are just going in circles. I’m not getting anywhere. I’m stuck. I’m like, running in place, like on a treadmill or something <<

>> But there are some good ideas in there <<

She waves me off, checks her hair in the window’s reflection.

>> That’s sweet. You know what I like? I like going out, getting fucked <<

>> Up? <<

>> And the craziest thing is I even make money doing it, sometimes, can you believe it! They actually pay me, look <<

She disembowels her purse and waves a few large bills at me. I confuse myself by feigning admiration.

>> It’s not like I ask for it. I need to do it. Just couldn’t live without it. Really I don’t understand why people aren’t just doing it all day <<

>> Earning money? <<

>> Oh, come on <<

Her arms go up and over for a practiced stretch of her slim figure. I study my drink as if I’d never seen a liquid before and observe that

>> Sadly, people can’t just hump for a living <<

>> That sounds like Cultural Marxism <<

>> I’m not sure I follow <<

>> What you said implied the argument that goes something like: If only people’s libido wasn’t exploited and drained by consuming—<<

She mimes a hand job at my face.

>>—If this libidinal investment could somehow be bought out, freed of the market of object sentimentality, it might be redirected and harnessed for the great revolution <<

>> But don’t you agree? How else would you explain the absurd fetish for luxury? <<

>> Sure, it’s the second part, the utopian idea I find ridiculous. Suppose you’d be totally turned on by me—It’s madness to say, this desire is arbitrary and could be maneuvered towards anything but doing it <<

>> Not to be rude, but—<<

>> Right here on the table <<

>> But my theoretical attraction to you would already be this entrenched desire <<

She hasn’t listened, she’s following her own train of thought, continues

>> Simultaneously they describe it as a commodity among others. So what is it now? The supreme magic erotic energy life force of change, or a currency paid in orgasms? It exists either suppressed under dogma and taboo, or owned and sold in free-market equivalence <<

>> What? <<

>> The choices are tyranny of dogma or insidious neoliberal market logic <<

>> Maybe it’s both, or something in between, like, dialectical? <<

>> Oh wow, dialectical <<

Her eyes roll all the way round. Then she casually moves over and squeezes in with me in the narrow corner. While her perfume engulfs me, she explains in a low and slightly husky voice

>> You might as well invoke Karma. But, no-no-no. What I’m going for is its true nature, not the shadow thrown on discourse, those many hands that lower the curtain, the Mayan veil in Plato’s cave, you know what I mean. What’s behind this costume of history? Anything but a positive answer is none at all, but merely contingent. Chicago has been deconstructing it since the 1870s and the whole world has followed suit. It turns out, behind the illusion of the word, it was flesh all along, all flesh, and nothing but flesh. The veil is moving down the conveyor and being cut thinner and faster than ever, and though they won’t permit it to be parted completely, it is slowly becoming translucent. Technology has a mind of its own and will come out on top eventually, to disassemble mankind regardless of its dream of dialectical evolution <<

We fuck in the men’s room of the cinema while two hundred people sit silently in accumulating flatulence, watching grainy black & white characters from sixty years ago talking of sex. The audience chuckles collectively at those, from their privileged vantage, antiquated notions that veil the subject foolishly for it’s become all too apparent: the matter is a commodity as is everything else and should be spoken of accordingly, commenting on its varying characteristics freely and superficially as though it were furniture.

For example: she takes a seat and rises repeatedly while I push my head into her cushions. My fingers search the small hollows past the crevices. She creaks and extends as much as the cubicle permits. I vigorously slam my drawer while she pulls at our coverings. Her buttons swell and pop, bouncing off my knob and arcing over into the next stall. We stuff each other’s trunks like there’s way too much baggage, and our hinges loosen, are turned and screwed until finally the many limbs lock us into something resembling a tipped table turning into a ladder with rungs, themselves ladders, extending outward from the main body at uncomfortable angles diagonally crossing and so on.

I prepared to decline an invitation to her apartment, since I had to work early the next morning. But she didn’t offer and then I simply followed her anyway. The rest of the evening is swathed in drink and cuts off as we are sitting at her window smoking and looking out at the gently rolling streets, the bobbing lights, the blue night aquatic. By then my initial exhilaration has all but vanished, and I’ve begun to tire of trying to follow the increasingly lopsided conversation with her unrelenting.

In the morning she pushes my limp person out the door, all the while as if uninterrupted by sleep, going on about her life, and leaves me standing at a bus stop with little more than a wave and a distracted glance.

At first, I am relieved to have some silence and privacy of thought. Once I engage in routine, as I move to and fro, do the wash, drop a plate or two, an old disappointment returns to my muted mind. Then this is broken by that juvenile desire, which I suppress, reasoning that it conflicted with the position I’d defended before her and that failing to get hold of this vanity would prove her right in the end. In the following days, I start going to the gym to vent my frustration. My self-respect is slowly being destroyed by a curious state of whiny and horny desperation which forces my eyes on every passing butt. Then, as my body hardens and its muscles’ contours sharpen, my attention shifts to this incomparably more satisfying flesh which needs no consent, since, of course, it’s already mine. And I forget for a while the flabby lumps around me. Almost daily, the dumbbells make me bend over forward. The gym is a meta-factory, I can hear her saying, wherein the principle that the machinery dictating the conditions of operation also manufactures the operator’s body has been successfully employed to turn a profit. Now, I say to myself, I am finally reified, objectified like a full-fledged proletarian. My hot product body. I nod to my fellow sweaty workers in approval, they reciprocate and clench.

As I regain the confidence stolen by that woman, I begin having dreams wherein I fuck my boss and am murdered by him in revenge. Sometimes he’s laughing, sometimes I am, though never the both of us together.

I text these dreams to the number she finally surrendered to me after much charming or bartering, but there’s no answer for weeks. Then suddenly she orders me to >> manifest it. confront him xxx << I wait another few days for a follow-up, nothing comes, so I do. Right on Monday morning after a weekend of heavy drinking, I walk up to him at the vending machine.

>> Did you know that ninety-nine percent of the world’s wealth is owned by one percent of the population? <<

He slowly turns around with a frown, fingers his tie. The fluorescent office lights refract smoothly off his bald head.

>> I’ve heard that <<

>> Well wha—Well then, why aren’t you doing anything about it? <<

>> Like what? What are you doing about it? <<

>> Paying me a proper salary would be a start <<

He laughs, so I bash his head through the glass of the vending machine. Executive brain splatters across the soda cans and energy bars. I grab a clean can and text her a picture of this capitalist splayed. After a few minutes of pacing the hallway and nervously scrolling through my feed (my cousin got his hair done again) I see that some place just got hit by an earthquake, so I wire five bucks to a charity, noticing too late that I misspelled the name and donated to the wrong continent. Anyway, they probably need it just as much. The packaging of the PEANUT CRUNCH chocolate bar I am chewing tells me it was produced in the same region. I spit it out, shocked and somehow very disgusted with myself.

She texts

>> that’s fucking hot<<

and a minute later

>> burger joint toilet in 1h <<

My as of now former employer gurgles something into the square-patterned carpet floor. Slowly, the precisely combed heads of my coworkers start bubbling up out of their cubicles. Their generic gasps and shrieks give my exit the proper dramatic flair, even though I’m guffawing uncontrollably. Outside, I try to regain some composure and shrug off my soiled blazer. I wipe my face with my tie but can’t undo its knot with my nervously fluttering fingers, so it stays on dangling and dripping.

The place in question is only a few blocks away. On the way to my car, I raise my arms up and out, as I read somewhere is the way to do a power pose to boost your confidence. I even let out a grunt, and feel freer than ever. Some woman laughs and forces me to repeat the gesture to prove to her that I’m not at all concerned with her opinion of me. My body is my temple. The fresh clean smell of my SUV and its effortless acceleration finally calm me down. Apparently only idiots are on the road at this time of day, crawling along in that time zone of the retired and unemployed. Minutes later I enter a parking lot infested with reeling youths, dropping their phones while live streaming their inebriation and posing with passed-out friends.

To enter the toilet I need a receipt, so I get in line behind a father with a brat of a child on his shoulders. She’s pointing at the menu above the counter and reading aloud every single item on display in an obnoxious singsong while the daddy encouragingly coos to her. An enormous mouth breather comes to a halt behind me. It also starts mumbling, discussing with itself in the third person what to order. I become hard at the thought of drowning these insults to existence in the deep frier. But I need to save myself and so distract my mind by focusing on the menu as well. Fries, curly fries, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, triple cheeseburger. Abracadabra, my manhood deflates in seconds.

Behind the counter it’s only tired, drained, and disenfranchised immigrants and citizens so abused you’d mistake them for such, gray in the face despite the mandated thousand-toothed smile which to suffer erodes any remnants of pride once leased from the coincidence of identity. All that’s left is this uniform of a franchise feeding shit worldwide. A young woman thanks me graciously and with perfect enunciation for ordering chicken nuggets. Though in most places they don’t even get to talk to the customer anymore. Not that you’d want to.

The place is crammed like a slaughterhouse. Sitting in one of the toilet stalls, I wait while eating my nuggets, no ketchup, I forgot that. Then I pass the time by trying to empty my mind and bowels. Nothing comes of it. Instead, I listen to all the other similar-sounding expulsions, aren’t we all deep down the same? The soft mechanics of this gadget body. Losing, loosening, and folding finally inward all the way. Countless sockets unplugging and stuffing each other full of sentimental lies anew to excuse the fathering of the next squeaky pink production line. LLC. Get ’em out the house, quick as possible. I sat for hours with contorted fantasies loping through my mind. What would be my reward? Would she fuck or just pet me? Strangle and devour me whole?

At midnight I am ushered out on gelatinous bloodless legs by the cleaning woman. The brat-daddy combo is still standing there doing its shtick. I think it might be some kind of trashy substitute reading lesson they’re doing instead of elementary school, imagine them going through the streets all day reading every sign in sight. As I pass them, I realize she’s not reading the menu but cussing and the father, in a low murmur as before, now feeding her the lines.

I step out into the thin air of night and sirens, the last wisps of warm asphalt rising past me into the opaquely underlit clouds. The rustle of garbage suggesting fall on the June wind. And I wonder and feel that I really didn’t understand anything at all. Why had I expected her to lead and punish or reward me for this incomprehensible act? Another thought rises severe and gripping, that somehow she’d infected me with her subliminal insanity purely by affiliation, by listening to her, following the pattern of her thought and getting too used to passing over the leaps of reason, settling into the close-knit but fragile web of her associations.

Although, was this not impossible to say? Since, if it were the case, my judgement that it were so would be unreliable, only coincidentally correct. I might be sane after all, in spite of what I thought. But that of course isn’t sane at all. If, to the contrary, I’d judged myself to be free of lunacy, what proof did I have? A coinciding condition and conclusion offer no more information other than that it is so, and does not in itself speak of how it has come about.

There appears the need for a second, different method, a state or type of mind juxtaposed with the former. Eyes in the back of the head, looking inward. A stranger could interpret my actions or thoughts, insofar as I am able to articulate them, as coherent, and thereby infer cohesion. But the willful act, the presupposed agency effecting continuity is of another order, a purely inner experience, whether illusory or not. To be sure of being able to ascertain one’s own sanity is probably insane. But is this conclusion such a judgement? Must I submit myself? Insanity seems the default, nuts until proven otherwise, as must be said for the jury.

The less I understand, the more I am attracted to her; a sort of religious feeling, which, rather than sexual, has some esoteric notion of salvation at its core. To discover this propensity in myself surprised me, to say the least. Look at me, what a child. As if it hadn’t been decided long ago, in what dull colors the remainder of my life will be rendered, lazily.

Nevertheless, though I’d brought my body before the altar of her image, or had sacrificed that likeness in the temple of my body—What does it matter? It’s just pretty words. . .—the main condition of my romantic narrative, a sort of personal religion, was oriented toward a savior, salvation, held true in that it remained forever absent, but was approaching with certainty in the future. An obtuse way to say: we never met again. Of this, as explained above, I am certain. And that is also why her last words to me that morning remain so vivid, first returning to me as I stood at midnight on the desolate tarmac lot of the drive-in, the 21st-century desert. Thus spake the prophet.

>> I’m being irrational? I’m fucking teaching you logic! <<

is the sentence that rouses me. I’m laying on a sticky leather couch in a kitchen. She’s standing by the counter and smoking while on the phone. As the leather creaks, her eyes fix on me.

>> Hey, you listening to me? <<

I nod unsurely and she turns away, saying

>> If I choose to stop going into labor, that’s it. No more fruit for anybody. Why should I supply the production line? I am a person with rights and desires other and greater than implied by those rights. I’ve got many faces, some of them you likely don’t want to meet <<

She puts down the phone which is quietly playing a pop song.

>> Heard that? There it is again. . . Meat. It’s really getting everywhere. The behavior modification empire applies the Fordist doctrine to our minds. Increase turnover by compartmentalizing the task. Like-like-like. Like a diminishing animal <<

>> Hello, this is Baxter’s, what can I do for you? <<

She hangs up, throws her cigarette in the sink, and turns a frown on me.

>> What are you still doing here? <<

Nothing comes to my prostrate mind. My hands feel moist and the daylight crashing through the windows suggests a past night that has been omitted, but might gush forth suddenly in chunks. She starts brushing her teeth while getting dressed as well as lighting another cigarette. I remain hung across the couch in an indeterminate state of dress.

>> Got work? <<

She snorts in answer, blows smoke and spits foam into the sink, takes another drag and continues brushing while hopping on one foot trying to pull on her second high heel. Through the scrubbing I’m judged

>> You sound like shit <<

I clear my throat trying to remember the preceding night and spot my underwear high up on a shelf between shattered wine glasses.

>> What was your name again? <<

>> It’s too late for that <<

>> Merely contingent, huh? <<

>> You look like shit too <<

She disappears behind a door and crashes about, then returns, with nothing retrieved and a slightly puzzled look.

>> Did we do it? <<

>> What? <<

>> Figure it out <<

>> I can’t remember <<

>> Me neither <<

>> Probably not <<

She moves down the street at a brisk staccato, cutting straight through the lumbering clots of pedestrians. I trail like a forlorn child. The traffic booms like a great crowd roaring under machine gun fire. Somebody spits in front of me while passing, a Pug is dragged along by the leash while defecating, and a newspaper is pushed into view >> PD to exceed 1p/sq. ft. by 2050 <<. Staring straight ahead, she either confides in or lectures me, I won’t decide.

>> I can tell you’ve never left your hometown. You’re too friendly. A sort of island naivete. At almost thirty, still hanging out with the friends you’ve known since grade school. This phlegmatic, nevertheless hostile city is full of people like you. Cliques, almost tribes, airtight to outsiders even though bored to death of each other. One giant inside joke. You all suffer a stagflation of the mind. Moving so slow as if trying to become part of the landscape claimed as your own. By sedimentation of dead culture in countless layers even nearly achieving that. And yet—it’s porous <<

I mumble something in agreement while admiring her gorgeous legs and butt.

>> I escaped that stasis early on. Though then, after first recognizing this condition from a distance, I soon came to know its odd twin, the only other possible mode of existence. Not only are you shut out by the locals but after the superficial assumption of an experience shared with other strangers has faded, you soon tire of the always repeating conversations about the oh so special home country’s traditions and quirks of language. That is gone through and worn down until underneath the barren and hard ground of an adult’s ignorant person is revealed <<

In a leap forward and around, I go for a kiss, and am firmly pushed back. She doesn’t even look at me, as I try for a second time, but continues talking all the while, seemingly so familiar with like advances, they barely register.

>> And you’re put before the choice of clinging to some shallow mutual interest, like drinking beer, medium-length walks, or disdain for the local culture, either that or you admit to yourself, what you thought exotic was only so from afar, and now that you’re here, you’ve discovered behind the childish exoticism that people the world over are, and prefer to be, mediocre. And that those like you, with their brute strategy of simply swapping one place for the next, are the worst of all, carrying the boredom of their homeland with them, everywhere they go. Conquest mundane. Cosmopolitans in the making. The multinational-corporation career. Manage half the world’s cabbage supply by day, pop Ecstasy and suck off your boss come midnight <<

For a second I wonder, and hope, but her tone gives little room for interpretation, and I unnecessarily affirm

>> Wooow, sounds crazy <<

>> Suddenly you relate to the nationalists and fundamentalists and all the other funny-looking and dangerous quacks. That they, mortified by the gratuitous immiseration, turn to a motherland, grasping desperately to scrape together somehow a small refuge, an essence founded on structured banality. But you can’t ignore what they suppress violently: that the disenfranchisement is always only individual, every person is sick with a specific estrangement and there’s no common cure.

This is my fourth or fifth city.

There’s no turning back, not once you unearth that provincial and incestuous ignorance which constituted the original dream. I suppose this is too abstract for you. But you’ll see for yourself if ever you have the courage to leave and the endurance to stay away until you forget and are forgotten.

For all I know, this might be that first place I left. But I won’t repeat myself. And on you, it’s lost all the same <<

She stops abruptly and turns around, pauses a moment, regarding me thoughtfully. An ugly expression takes over her face, its flesh strangely coagulating in disgust and confusion. A sneer unfurls her lips, and she speaks, bringing forth the words quickly and defiantly.

>> It’s an all-fraud status, every form of citizen or person is a fraud. You have accepted it, so you have already been marked on the forehead by the letter law empire. It’s bank loyalists, it’s a war economy, it’s Leviathan. But the court told me that the poison fruit was not ripe yet. They didn’t call it poison but they did say, when I asked if truth was required for justice, that the fruit wasn’t ripe. And if it’s not truth for justice then what is the fruit thereof? They know, and now that you and I know it too, we don’t have any choice but to correct it, or lose it. Because our offspring will not be children on the empire plantation <<

With that, she boards a bus and is carried away into that immense churning. I lag, steeped in a horrible blur of redundant faces. A brown juice carton comes tumbling by, I absentmindedly raise my foot to pop it and as my heel bears down, the rat ruptures shit and blood.

About the author

Simon Skrepek was born 1997 in Vienna, where he is currently studying creative writing at the University of Applied Arts. He has honed his patience on a number of animated shorts as well as grappled with hot-glue guns on the stop-motion set of the feature film Sine Meta Drom. Publications of incrementally elongating prose in manuskripte and Kassiber. Awards for this and that.

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